What was it like to be gay in the late 60s and entire 70s?

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    Nov 23, 2012 4:29 AM GMT
    i have always wanted to understand (in depth) the difference between the two in contrast to modern society. Is there any real jock member who knew about certain events during such time period? What was the way of life for gay men? How did they meet, socialize? How did they maneuver a career while being gay? How was it perceived to be gay honestly? I googled and i say lot of articles but i tend to never believe the press as they tend to exaggerate information. I also googled images and i saw lots of gay erotica pictures, but they were mostly underground work which never got published nationally. I also saw allot of gay pictures of male couples. Pictures taken in the 1800s to the 1930s and on ward. So im wondering how progressive was the gay movement? Did it really start with stonewall? Or was it already in motion from the times of the Harlem Renaissance? They were of taboo mags. So really if you were an adult during the 70s, and for some of you 60s. How does being gay differ from our current social norms? Was the word gay ever mentioned in your household or seen written in print? Like ive been volunteering at an old age home and i met this man, he is in his 80s and he is kind of well..fiery and i want to ask him if hes gay and just chat him up to hear all that hes done in his life..but im afraid to ask or approach him about it as i dont want to come off rude asking him. But i am interested as so much history is recorded during ones life experiences.
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    Nov 23, 2012 4:40 AM GMT
    for me,,it was far from fun.....for a long time past the 60s...
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    Nov 23, 2012 4:50 AM GMT


    This used to go on...I've read the material and it isn't exaggerated..I'm approaching 58 and remember well the time before 1973.

    ""Treating" Homosexuals during the 1940s, the 1950s, the 1960s and up to 1973
    Having defined homosexuality as a pathology, psychiatrists and other doctors made bold attempts to "treat" it. James Harrison, a psychologist who produced the 1992 documentary film "Changing Our Minds", notes that the medical profession viewed homosexuality with such abhorrence that virtually any proposed treatment seemed defensible. Lesbians were forced to submit to hysterectomies and estrogen injections, although it became clear that neither of these had any effect on their sexual orientation. Gay men were subjected to similar abuses. "Changing Our Minds" incorporates a film clip from the late 1940s, now slightly muddy, of a young gay man undergoing a transorbital lobotomy. We see a small device like an ice pick inserted through the eye socket, above the eyeball and into the brain. The pick is moved back and forth, reducing the prefrontal lobe to a hemorrhaging pulp. Harrison's documentary also includes a grainy black-and-white clip from a 1950s educational film produced by the U.S. Navy. A gay man lies in a hospital bed. Doctors strap him down and attach electrodes to his head. "We're going to help you get better," says a male voice in the background. When the power is turned on, the body of the gay man jerks violently, and he begins to scream. Doctors also tried castration and various kinds of aversion therapy. None of these could be shown to change the sexual orientation of the people involved."
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    Nov 23, 2012 4:52 AM GMT
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    Nov 23, 2012 5:04 AM GMT
    My very limited personal experience was this:

    I was in high school from '65 to '69. As high schoolers, we knew about homosexuals. I knew I was one. I felt that there was nothing wrong with me. It was the world that was wrong. But there was no support for homosexuals (I dont say gays because we didnt use the word back then.) I knew to not acknowledge that I was homosexual. I didnt know any homosexuals. I was evidently perceived as homosexual. In an anonymous gift exchange in Latin class, I was given a girl's comic book. I had one guy ask me what it was like to have a mouth full of homosexual sperm. Those are the only overt occurrences I can remember.

    by the mid to late '70s, after the Stonewall Riots, things began to change. There was a gay character on a TV show called, Family. Of course, anything like that was a HUGE event in society. Very daring. It got lots of press.

    In graduate school, I remember going to a gay "support" group, or something like that. It was extremely depressing. The whole organization was so unfunded.There was nothing. Just a few hippy-like people. It was a great culture shock to me.

    So coming out was largely an on-your-own deal. You went to a gay bar. Started meeting guys. And started learning about what there was of gay culture by talking and living it.
  • MikeW

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    Nov 23, 2012 7:21 AM GMT
    Wow. Not an easy question to answer. I'm sure books have been written. It depended on how old you were, what social conditions you were living under, where you lived.

    For me it was very confusing and difficult growing up. I grew up in the rural Midwest. Guys did play around with one another, so it wasn't like it didn't happen, but it was all very NOT OK. Given the amount of playing around that was going on, it was sort of schizophrenic, really. All totally "closeted" but we didn't have that word for it. No one talked about it and it was just plane scary.

    I'm not sure when I first heard the word "homosexual" (as opposed to faggot, queer and a few others) but I think I was a teenager. I went to high school in Florida. Very different from my pre-adolescent years. For sure I remember reading a magazine article about police arresting homosexuals in public restrooms in LA. This came as a total shock to me as my 16 year old mind put what this meant "together" with sex. To me this information was frightening, illuminating, embarrassing and titillating all at once. I realized that I *am* a "homosexual" but what that meant to me at the time was basically "pervert." Not happy news.

    My first year of college (1967/68 ), in Chicago, I had a crush on a rugby player who was a year older than I and he introduced me to the first "out" man I ever met. It sort of blew my mind that the rugby guy even knew the guy or admitted to it (the rugby player was straight). The gay man was about 9 years older than me but he was a real nice guy. We weren't lovers but we ended up sharing an apartment together and he sort of helped me understand some things about the "gay" world. I met quite a few gay people living on the North Side of Chicago but I didn't go out much myself. For one thing, I was still under 21.

    Also in 1967 I had to go for my (military) draft physical in down town Chicago. I was scared to death for a lot of reasons. The man I was sharing the apartment with suggested I talk with someone at the Mattachine society. Turned out they had volunteers and a card table set up outside the Induction Head Quarters. So I was told to go to that table before going into the facility. The guy at the card table basically told me what to do and kind of gave me an idea of what to expect during the physical and afterward. I felt like freaking out but basically I checked the little box on the form saying I was a homosexual. This was a BIG DEAL. Confession. Permanent record. I got questioned about it. Interrogated might not be too strong a word. Basically I was told I'd need to get a psychiatrists statement to back up my claim. When the ordeal was over, I reported back to the Mattachine guy and he gave me a phone number to call and the person there referred me to a psychiatrist for the purpose of diagnosis. That all went very well, actually. The psychiatrist was mostly interested in educating me, basically letting me know there was nothing wrong with being homosexual. I didn't totally *buy* that at the time but it was reassuring. Moreover, although I now had to live with a 4F classification (which could be a stigma when looking for a job), at least I knew I wasn't going to have to kill or be killed in some far away war that made no sense at all.

    For the next few years I sort of 'bounced around', being a bit of a hippy type. Lots of interesting things happened but none of it having to do with gay culture or history. I didn't go to my first gay bar until 1972 (in Milwaukee) and, tbh, I didn't like it at all. Although I was living in a ménage à trois with a bisexual man a year younger than I and his soon to be wife (I'd met the guy freshman year of college), and although we knew a few gay men, I just didn't "hunt." I tried a couple times but it always felt very uncomfortable to me. I just wasn't into random sexual encounters.

    After that I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area (1973) and I'm not going to be any help to you here, either. I was aware there was A LOT of sexual activity going on around me but I wasn't a player. I seldom went to the Castro or Polk St. I never went to clubs, bars or bath houses. That said, I wasn't the least bit surprised when the gays rioted after the Moscone and Milk assassinations. By this time I was already in a relationship with a woman that would last 10 years. So, as a gay man, I sort of "missed" the 70s and early 80s -- which, in part, is why I'm alive today.

    It may have been a "happy time" for some people. It wasn't for me.

  • calibro

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    Nov 23, 2012 4:51 PM GMT
    it was the best of times, it was the worst of times
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    Nov 23, 2012 5:24 PM GMT
    MikeW saidWow.



    Also in 1967 I had to go for my (military) draft physical in down town Chicago. I was scared to death for a lot of reasons. The man I was sharing the apartment with suggested I talk with someone at the Mattachine society. Turned out they had volunteers and a card table set up outside the Induction Head Quarters. So I was told to go to that table before going into the facility. The guy at the card table basically told me what to do and kind of gave me an idea of what to expect during the physical and afterward. I felt like freaking out but basically I checked the little box on the form saying I was a homosexual. This was a BIG DEAL. Confession. Permanent record. I got questioned about it. Interrogated might not be too strong a word. Basically I was told I'd need to get a psychiatrists statement to back up my claim. When the ordeal was over, I reported back to the Mattachine guy and he gave me a phone number to call and the person there referred me to a psychiatrist for the purpose of diagnosis. That all went very well, actually. The psychiatrist was mostly interested in educating me, basically letting me know there was nothing wrong with being homosexual. I didn't totally *buy* that at the time but it was reassuring. Moreover, although I now had to live with a 4F classification (which could be a stigma when looking for a job), at least I knew I wasn't going to have to kill or be killed in some far away war that made no sense at all.



    After that I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area (1973) and I'm not going to be any help to you here, either. I was aware there was A LOT of sexual activity going on around me but I wasn't a player. I seldom went to the Castro or Polk St. I never went to clubs, bars or bath houses. That said, I wasn't the least bit surprised when the gays rioted after the Moscone and Milk assassinations. By this time I was already in a relationship with a woman that would last 10 years. So, as a gay man, I sort of "missed" the 70s and early 80s -- which, in part, is why I'm alive today.

    It may have been a "happy time" for some people. It wasn't for me.



    both these paragraphs stood out to me as you pointed out that at some point during the draft, you were basically medically diagnosed as defective. So it suggest that the medical world, saw homosexuality as a defect, somewhat a disease to be diagnosed and treated. And because of this you were spared from that war that lasted awfully long. So maybe it was a gift then that you were gay as who knows you might have been a victim of war. But this also opens the door for another discussion. How many straight men do you think actually played gay so that they would not be drafted for war? And why was that placed on your employment record? Is it the same now? Like is that on my medical record, in case i start looking for a job in the Legal world? Because i think thats awfully personal and somewhat seems like they are placing you in a separate group than straight people.

    The other thing you mentioned was the fact that you were in a somewhat polyamory relationship. Was that due to the idea of "free love"? Or was that the norm? The other thing that was key that you said was the fact that you were involved with someone which you apply to being alive today. As i know patient zero Gaetan Dugas who was one of the first carrier of hiv (original carrier) was one of the first who was diagnosed with the disease. And it was around 1974 to 84 that the rise in hiv occurred. So its safe to say that if you weren't involved with a woman in a monogamous relationship..then you might have been caught up in the aids epidemic of the late 70s early 80s. Its fascinating how social norms affect us and navigate us through life.
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    Nov 23, 2012 5:49 PM GMT
    I realized I was gay at about the age of 12. I didn't know the term gay, but I had suddenly had the realization that the pictures I'd seen in friend's stolen copies of playboy had little interest to me unless there was a man in the picture as well. I also knew that bodybuilding magazines were objects of desire on a level that was more primal than informational. The best thing to happen was when I stole a book at a library book sale (it was only 5 cents, but I didn't want anyone to see what the book was) called "Society and the Healthy Homosexual." It was a life changing experience, since this 'phase' I was going through seemed to not ever being coming to an end. Though the book is probably so dated now, the single most prominent thing I learned from it was that being gay was neither unhealthy or unnatural. The problem is society, self-hatred and worse of all, trying to change who you naturally are.

    I hadn't acted upon any urge (with anyone else) until my junior year in college. But even then, I was terrified of being out. Most of society that I was exposed to at that time had at rare 'good' moments an 'it's OK so long as you keep it to yourself. It isn't acceptable to look gay, act gay in any stereotypical manner, or even acknowledge it. The remainder of the time, it seemed acceptable to not merely ostracize, but to beat-up, even fatally, someone who was gay. Because being gay was 'just cause'. You were not a victim, but rather something to be removed from society.

    I was lucky enough to let my terror of death by torture give me the survival tools to avoid it to the best of my abilities. Sadly, this meant learning to be a good liar, even to those you cared about.

    I went into my first gay bar around 1978, just off the Yale campus in New Haven CT. It was both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. It was another year before I went into a gay bar again. At that time, there were no community centers or support groups, so an environment saturated with alcohol, dance music, and smoke was the only place to go. Given that, it was a hidden piece of heaven in a terrifying world.

    After coming out 2 years out of college, I went through stages of slow self awareness, then militancy, then community service, then comfortable acceptance over the next ten years.
  • MikeW

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    Nov 23, 2012 6:29 PM GMT
    tereseus1 said ... as you pointed out that at some point during the draft, you were basically medically diagnosed as defective. So it suggest that the medical world, saw homosexuality as a defect, somewhat a disease to be diagnosed and treated. And because of this you were spared from that war that lasted awfully long. So maybe it was a gift then that you were gay as who knows you might have been a victim of war. But this also opens the door for another discussion. How many straight men do you think actually played gay so that they would not be drafted for war? And why was that placed on your employment record? Is it the same now? Like is that on my medical record, in case i start looking for a job in the Legal world? Because i think thats awfully personal and somewhat seems like they are placing you in a separate group than straight people.

    The other thing you mentioned was the fact that you were in a somewhat polyamory relationship. Was that due to the idea of "free love"? Or was that the norm? The other thing that was key that you said was the fact that you were involved with someone which you apply to being alive today. As i know patient zero Gaetan Dugas who was one of the first carrier of hiv (original carrier) was one of the first who was diagnosed with the disease. And it was around 1974 to 84 that the rise in hiv occurred. So its safe to say that if you weren't involved with a woman in a monogamous relationship..then you might have been caught up in the aids epidemic of the late 70s early 80s. Its fascinating how social norms affect us and navigate us through life.


    Yes, "homosexuality" was regarded as a mental disorder, a sexual perversion. Although attitudes were beginning to change among some within the psychiatric field during the 60s, it was 1973 before the American Psychiatric Association dropped "homosexuality" as a term from its diagnostic handbook. I was VERY relieved to hear this, btw. Suddenly, I was no longer considered "mentally ill" by professionals around me. Imagine that! icon_smile.gif

    As for Selective Service Classifications, yeah, see this page. The specific 4F classification was a physical, mental and MORAL code: "Registrant not acceptable for military service. To be eligible for Class 4-F, a registrant must have been found not qualified for service in the Armed Forces by a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) under the established physical, mental, or moral standards." And yes, you had to carry your Draft Card with you. Prospective employers wanted to see this card. Ostensibly to see whether or not you might get called up for the draft. But they also had the right to QUESTION you about a deferment such as this. "Why 4F?" Well, you either lied or told the truth.

    Not sure how many straight men would try to use this classification to evade service, especially at that time because there was quite a stigma attached to it. I suspect as the anti-war fervor of this country increased, especially among young, eligible men who wanted nothing to do with the war, yeah, that happened. BUT, that is precisely why I couldn't just 'check a little box' and answer some threatening questions and be believed. I *had* to have a written diagnosis from a licensed professional mailed directly to the proper authorities.

    As for the Manage... Yes, I'd say 'free love' had a lot to do with it. The guy was in my class at college and we met in the dorm. He had never been sexual with anyone before me. As should be obvious, I wasn't exactly a sex hound but I had more experience than he did. Not quite sure how the whole subject came up but I'd already started meeting gay guys so it wouldn't have been too strange for this to come up in conversation. He was only 17 when we met so we were both horny teenagers. Nothing too strange about us 'hooking up'.

    What was a bit stranger by today's standards, perhaps, is that we were friends to start with and remain friends to this day. He's still married to the same woman. They have two grown children, and their son is also gay. The 'Manage' was a bit strange but it worked for a couple years, even after they were married. This guy I'm talking about *was* a 'hunter' and the wife and I would often sit home alone watching TV and complaining about HIM catting around! LoL. It's a wonder he didn't get infected w/ HIV and I suspect the primary reason he didn't is he was a total top. We all parted on good terms. They moved to the South West and I moved to California.

    Beyond that, yes, had I not been in a monogamous het relationship, I very likely would have been + very early on.

    The first guy I knew with AIDS was a nephew six years younger than myself. He was very sexually active and a tweaker. He had been out here to visit me and my lady in 1981 (clubs, bathhouses) . But he'd also been to NY, Chicago and Atlanta, so difficult to say where or when exactly he got infected. Nevertheless, he was dead by May of 1985 after suffering horrendously. Anyone who hasn't witnessed it first hand can not, and doesn't want to, imagine it.

    You might be interested in knowing that prior to this he was not out to his family (my sister and brother in law). When he became hospitalized they went through everything in his apartment and very quickly discovered his sexual orientation. My whole family is NUTS but my sister and her husband were born again Christians. SO... while my nephew lay dying in his hospital bed, they regularly performed exorcisms on him attempting to expel the "demon of homosexuality."

    I kid you not. And people wonder why I refuse to speak with my sister to this day or why I cheered when her husband finally DIED. He was a mean, nasty son of a bitch. The only human I've ever truly hated and will continue to hate beyond the grave.

    Yes we are still struggling inside a homophobic culture and struggling under ALL the problems that we internalize due to that -- but, still, it is far better now than it used to be.

    You young folk have a responsibility: Don't EVER let the religious bigots have their way politically. Ever. If you do, you and those who come after you will suffer unbelievably. We have separation of church and state for a reason. They ARE a minority and should never have the right to enforce their beliefs on the rest of society.
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    Nov 23, 2012 6:54 PM GMT
    Its always humbling to see that some of our senior members of rj accounting their stories.

    There so many aspects of your stories that I can relate to.

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    Nov 23, 2012 8:48 PM GMT
    Great stories MikeW, thank for sharing
  • offshore

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    Nov 23, 2012 8:50 PM GMT
    Thanks.for sharing the stories. These are.really eye.openness. maybe one day we will have our own "Roots"
  • offshore

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    Nov 23, 2012 8:57 PM GMT
    I am a pacifist but I will fight the religious zealots.
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    Nov 25, 2012 9:49 PM GMT
    bgcat57 saidI realized I was gay at about the age of 12. I didn't know the term gay, but I had suddenly had the realization that the pictures I'd seen in friend's stolen copies of playboy had little interest to me unless there was a man in the picture as well. I also knew that bodybuilding magazines were objects of desire on a level that was more primal than informational.


    After coming out 2 years out of college, I went through stages of slow self awareness, then militancy, then community service, then comfortable acceptance over the next ten years.


    I really loved the way you mentioned that at the age of 12 you realized that the women anatomy did not appeal to you visually. I suppose thats how it is in general for most. But i can def say that i was interested in seeing both when i was younger. This however brings in the debate of being born gay vs. adapting to gay sexuality. I no doubt believe that might cause a frackas on here debatably.

    The other important thing that i wanted to highlight from your response was the origins i guess from which you gained self acceptance. You mentioned that "slow self awareness, militancy and community service led to your comfortable acceptance". I understand what you meant but the "Militancy" part was kind of vague/ hit me for a loop. Did you mean that you relied on self control to fully understand yourself which led to self acceptance? Or did you mean it in the sense of you being determined to accept yourself as being gay or straight to function properly in the society of that time. Granted in modern society, i believe that young gay men dont fully go through self analyzation. And i believe this is how we finally accept ourselves for the lifestyle we have either chosen or gravitate towards. I believe this is why some gay men self hate and shun others that might not be just like them.
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    Nov 25, 2012 9:59 PM GMT
    MikeW said
    tereseus1 said ...

    You young folk have a responsibility: Don't EVER let the religious bigots have their way politically. Ever. If you do, you and those who come after you will suffer unbelievably. We have separation of church and state for a reason. They ARE a minority and should never have the right to enforce their beliefs on the rest of society.


    But religion ties in with politics. Both are of the same origins. Also, the few that do care for social reforms have little clout to influence change when you have the masses catering/showing interest to things that wont benefit them in the long run. Universal change on any topic of social issues tends to lags and ultimately never get a following unless there is a direct threat to the whole. Its kind of fascinating as if young people ( gay individuals on a whole) actually cared then there might actually be a future whereby religious politics wont affect their way of life.
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    Nov 25, 2012 10:11 PM GMT
    There are two films, "Before Stonewall" and "After Stonewall" available on Netflix.

    Very informative!
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    Nov 25, 2012 10:36 PM GMT
    n8698u saidThere are two films, "Before Stonewall" and "After Stonewall" available on Netflix.

    Very informative!

    Even the early pre-internet eighties were like the late sixties and entire seventies because we bought into limited images fed us on the news and in films. Back then I was uptight and knew nothing about Stonewall or the gay community, thinking it only a subculture from which to distance myself of lisping limpwristed mustachioed disco sissies, cruising leathermen, butch lesbians, late stage AIDS victims and cinematic transvestite serial killers until late one night, flipping channels and landing on PBS, I stumbled upon and surreptitiously watched, with the volume turned low, the documentary "Before Stonewall" and the interviews given by gay seniors alone changed my perspective and my life. Suddenly I was no longer alone and was proud, not only comforted by the unexpected images of traditional masculinity to which I could relate but moved and impressed by each and every grizzled bulldyke and faded queen waxing nostalgic who, by the end of the program, evolved in my mind from stereotypes to honorary aunties and role models, gay godparents one and all. Within a year I moved to Greenwich Village and was happily getting wasted at lesbian weddings.
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    Nov 26, 2012 4:18 PM GMT
    tereseus1 said

    I really loved the way you mentioned that at the age of 12 you realized that the women anatomy did not appeal to you visually. I suppose thats how it is in general for most. But i can def say that i was interested in seeing both when i was younger. This however brings in the debate of being born gay vs. adapting to gay sexuality. I no doubt believe that might cause a frackas on here debatably.

    The other important thing that i wanted to highlight from your response was the origins i guess from which you gained self acceptance. You mentioned that "slow self awareness, militancy and community service led to your comfortable acceptance". I understand what you meant but the "Militancy" part was kind of vague/ hit me for a loop. Did you mean that you relied on self control to fully understand yourself which led to self acceptance? Or did you mean it in the sense of you being determined to accept yourself as being gay or straight to function properly in the society of that time. Granted in modern society, i believe that young gay men dont fully go through self analyzation. And i believe this is how we finally accept ourselves for the lifestyle we have either chosen or gravitate towards. I believe this is why some gay men self hate and shun others that might not be just like them.


    Actually, regarding women's anatomy, I was as intrigued as I thought every other guy was. I just slowly came to realize that when there were men in the pictures, I felt far more. I began to realize that the way I responded to the men was the way the straight (and I presume bisexual) men responded to the women, which was clearly in a more primal and physical way.

    As for militancy, I went through a stage where I was ready to pick a fight with anyone who said anything remotely homophobic or ignorant of the repression of gays. That changed abruptly when I verbally attacked a bank teller who questioned my pink triangle pin that I always (at that time in the 80's) wore on the collar of my shirts. She had innocently asked where I got the 'pretty pin'. You'd have thought she called me a 'fag' in public. I went off on the fact that gays were amongst the first to be put into concentration camps by the Nazi's, and so on... I stormed out. About a week later, when I went back to the bank, I profusely apologized to her and explained why I said what I said. She was very understanding (though she didn't need to be) and that was the end of my militancy.
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    Nov 26, 2012 4:47 PM GMT
    I am going to answer this in a when I have time to really sit down, 'cuz it's a lengthy subject. Basically for me, though, I always was who I was, and steered clear of being typecast because I believed myself to be and individual. I will tell you about the the world I experienced around me on a later post