Christopher Lawrence – Identity and Awareness

“We all smoked from the same joint.”

I knew my whole life that there was something about me that was different. I knew that I was attracted to men—boys, and men—when I was [still a] pre-teen. I didn’t know what it meant. Of course, I had no role models at all. By the time I was a young teenager, the only thing I had were stories about how horrible child molesters [were] and that sort of thing. I remember my mother telling me a story about a man who walked by himself through fairgrounds one night and a bunch of men raped him. So that’s what I thought that was all about. When I finally did have a [role] model, it was this couple that had grown up with my parents, who were their age. They were very stuck in the stereotypes: one week one of them would be the “husband” and the other one would be the “wife;” the next week that one would be the husband and the other one would be the wife. So, one would be very effeminate and passive . . . It was very, very odd, and they scared me. It was before I was a teenager. Then, by the time I was a teenager, I knew that I liked men. I just didn’t know what to do about it. I thought I was damned to hell and that I was a bad person.

I had quite a struggle. It took me years of going back and forth, deciding whether I was gay or bisexual. Well, I tried [avoiding my sexuality] all through high school. I had quite a reputation. But I never actually dipped my wick. I just had the reputation. I was a real good make out artist, but that was as far as I went—because I was totally terrified about having sex with a woman.

For the first six months I was in Seattle, sort of figuring out who I was, I didn’t even know if I was supposed to get a sex change and be a woman or what, because I didn’t have a role model. I considered [a sex change] very carefully. [Laughs.] I wasn’t really ready to have anybody cut anything off. [Laughs.] I didn’t have any role model that made any sense to me.

Well, once I took LSD I got it. You are just who you are. You create what’s goin on around you. I didn’t completely get that part: that I actually had the power to change everything around me. But I did get that, “You’re fine, whoever you are.” “Wear Your Love Like Heaven.”[1] I was a Donovan follower, you know. That was the kind of hippies I was involved with—just love. Some of them were bisexual and some of them weren’t, but they didn’t care if you were. It was free love, so you got to be with anybody [you] wanted to be [with], and that usually meant both sexes. Even if you preferred men, you were with men, and women who were wanting to be in groups.

There was very little discrimination against somebody who was gay, although most guys who were gay probably were leaning toward being bisexual. It seemed more balanced. Not quite as much as the regular straight community, by any means, but, you know, you wanted to make yourself open to being with women. There were a few [women] that that was very easy to do with. Some women just didn’t care. I was married to a woman who didn’t care that I was gay. We didn’t get married until long after she knew I was gay. In fact, we didn’t sleep together until after she knew I was gay, because I didn’t want to do that.

[Other hippies] weren’t afraid of you. We all smoked from the same joint; we all smoked from the same hookah. We all enjoyed the flowers together, we all enjoyed going to the lake together, we all enjoyed doing these recreational things together, and sex was a part of that too. Some of us did it together, and some of us didn’t. It was very nurturing. I think it’s the very reason I got out my fear of homosexuality to the degree that I did.

I’m really out there. I’m not trying to be effeminate. I’m just who I am. I’m a mix of masculine and feminine, and that’s fine with me. What I believe [is] whether they’re straight or gay, if [people are] balanced, they’d have qualities of both. Most people do have qualities of both, they just don’t know it.

Well, you know who the berdache are don’t you? I’ll try to see if I have it here, the book on Native Americans and the berdache. It’s called Spirit and the Flesh.[2] You ought to read it. It’s very nice. It’s the best explanation for the two spirits I’ve seen in years, and why they disappeared. The white missionaries [laughs] basically told them not to do that anymore. But [Native Americans] really elevated us to an incredible position in their society. Books like that have really re-formed my sense of what being queer is. I do think this whole study about queer identity is fascinating, because I don’t mind identifying as queer. Or gay.

[1]The title of a Donovan song.

[2]Walter L. Williams, Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture, Boston, 1986.

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Source: Interview with Maureen Nickerson, 8 August 2007; audio held in the Museum of Arts and Culture; transcribed and edited by Laura S. Hodgman.