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Stories of Self-Awareness and Gay Culture

Oct 29, 2005 (Weekend Edition Saturday)

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For one man, it was watching the Dating Game as a boy and imagining himself in the bachelorette role. For two others, it was keen youthful interest in TV's Tarzan series. In one way or another, the accounts of the contributors to When I Knew are tip-offs — whether to others or to themselves — that they are gay.

Robert Trachtenberg collected the colorful vignettes found in When I Knew, which find men and women recognizing and sharing their homosexuality. The well-known (columnist Michael Musto, actress Tammy Lynn Michaels) and the not-so-well-known are represented. The stories run the gamut from hilarious to poignant.

Meanwhile, writer Andrew Sullivan weighed in a New Republic article entitled "The End of Gay Culture." He talks with Linda Wertheimer about his piece.

Stories from When I Knew

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As a kid, I became obsessed with the man on the Doan's Pills box. His back was so sexy. When my mom's supply ran out and she threw the box away, I went to the drug store and stole another. I stuffed it down my pants, where it's been ever since. -- Jon Kinnally

Twelve years old -- and all the boys used to roll their sleeves up to the tops of their biceps in a tight, haphazard rings. One day I noticed an eighth-grader named Larry Klein with his rolled up competely differently. I practically swooned when I saw it. I'm not sure exactly how I would have described the feeling at the time, except to say that I felt as if I was discovering the secret to masculine, adult, sexy style. He carefully folded the cuffs of his shirtsleeves up over themselves only two or three times, so they ended up at the middle of his forearms, flat and relaxed. I went into a stall in the boys' room and copied hiim. I remember checking myself out in the mirror and feeling particularly cool. At the end of the day, my locker mate saw what I had done and derisively asked. "Why did you roll your sleeves up like that?" I said, "I like it. And Larry Klein wears his like that." He said, "Larry Klein is a fag." I felt completely ashamed but had no idea what he meant. The next day I was reading Ann Landers' column in the Sun-Times and saw a letter from a seventeen-year-old boy who said he was certain that he was a homosexual, and should he tell his parents? I had never heard the word before, but I instantly knew what it meant and that I was one, too; and that I would have to tell my parents one day, and show them how I rolled my shirtsleeves.

The Paramount Theatre, 1965, Denver, Colorado: I was sitting next to my mother, munching on popcorn, watching The Sound of Music, and I wondered in my little five-year-old brain if it was wrong to want to be Christopher Plummer, a.k.a. Captain von Trapp. It was the only way, as a girl, that I could imagine being able to be with the beautful Julie Andrews... I made my mother take me back to see the movie several times that summer, which she was more than happy to do as she just assumed it was because I wanted to be a nun -- not that I wanted to be with a nun. -- Kate Nielsen

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