Who the Enemy Isn’t

Lots of people in front of a building, in the middle ground people holding 4 signs that read "...Even in Alabama!" 'OUT in the SOUTH" "Gay Vote" in the fore ground two bikers one femme and one masc apparently waiting around looking out past the camera

Gerald Jones

This article originally appeared in Southern Exposure Vol. 16 No. 3, "Mint Juleps, Wisteria, and Queers." Find more from that issue here.

APRIL 1968 

Fort Benning, Georgia. Three months after returning from Vietnam, three months before discharge from the Army, my weekend pass is denied because Martin Luther King Jr. is dead. If there arc riots in Atlanta, we’ll have to go. 

I have a far more important reason to go to Atlanta: My Afghan hound will likely be a champion there this weekend. The gall of that man. Getting shot THIS weekend. 

I go AWOL. Some loudmouthed preacher gets himself shot and makes the best little WASP boy in the world risk court-martial. Martin who? 


Izods & Weejuns 

I had, I suppose, heard of Dr. King prior to his death. Middle-class white boys raised north of Buckhead aren’t ignorant. They read the papers. 

But cars, football, Izods, and girls (for most of us) were more important than a bunch of blacks who wanted to ride in the front of the bus. Fine with me. I had a car. A bright red MG. Makes no diff to me where THEY ride. 

And we had our own pool so it didn’t really matter that THEY might be swimming at Chastain next year. 

A civics teacher hinted at the possibility of racial prejudice. Proudly I parroted a phrase learned from a friend’s dad, “I’m not prejudiced. I hate blacks (we used the “n” word then), Catholics, Jews, Poles, and all other minorities. That’s not prejudice. That’s equal opportunity.” Bright boy. 


The Man 

Black Atlanta had the good grace not to riot that weekend. My unit was never mobilized, my absence never detected. 

Returned to civvies, driving a red Jag, and married to a wife whose blindness to bigotry mirrored my own, I marched toward the dream: money, connections, house (with pool) in Buckhead. 

Acting liberal, we hired black employees. Even had them over for ribs and a dip when the weather was fine. So what if the neighbors gawked, whispered? So what if their stares made our employees so uncomfortable they never returned? Not our problem. 


Free At Last? 

On Independence Day, 1979 my wife declared her independence from me. And I declared my freshly found gay identity to the world. 

Enter Donna Summer. Exit Barry Manilow. An androgynous amalgam danced, drank, and partied ’round the pool. Those same neighbors gawked and pointed. At least the visiting blacks had behaved respectably. 

(Especially irate, one neighbor took to guiding his riding mower, full throttle, in constant circles around the parking area behind his house when our afternoon party began. That sent ME scurrying to Midtown.) 


Tables Turned 

Latency turned to blatancy. Proper couples introduced at church soirees were replaced by men met in smoky bars and at sybaritic celebrations. Gene, a black man found frequently in both places, challenged me: Accept him as an equal. We made out madly in a bar one night. And then, in front of a crowd, he said, “No.” 


Dr. King . . . Again 

I first heard Stevie Wonder’s birthday paean to Dr. King at a birthday party. My birthday party. Ecstasy. Until some spoilsport made me listen to ALL the words. Stevie wrote that song for Dr. King, not me. That’s twice, Dr. King. 


Love’s Light 

Age, AIDS, psychotherapy, real friends brought increasing awareness of my responsibilities as a gay man. Sometimes involved enough to claim myself an activist. Often aghast at abuse piled upon abuse. (A friend arrested for indecent exposure after a trio had beaten him nearly to death and taken all his clothes. Another, who lost her job and child when she publicly acknowledged her lesbianism. The list seems endless.) 

And Al: smooth and shiny as aubergine velvet. Passion’s fruit. Soul’s mate. Arguments and understanding. Equality. However briefly, free at last. 


Happy 59th, Martin 

Fear flashes. Dirty ice recalls January 1987 in Forsyth County. It’s OK, we’re marching toward Auburn Avenue, not Cumming’s courthouse. Bands, floats, and banners, not helicopters and guns. Nothing to fear here? 

Our posters proclaim, “Civil Rights, Gay Rights. Same Struggle, Same Fights.” Some smile, offer “Right on, brother” and break into restrained applause as we pass. Their respect is trashed by others hurling icy stares, sneers. Hoots, hollers, and epithets extinguish the glow. 

Those so offended by our participation in Dr. King’s birthday parade are me 25 years ago. Cars, clothes, girls (for most) and peer pressure inform their actions. 

Grim-faced, I march on. And pray that it doesn’t take them as long as it took me to figure out who the enemy isn’t.