The Face of Gay 39 (Lee Martindale)

I remember the first time I experienced Lee Martindale during a GLBT Literature panel she was moderating at DragonCon. And I say experience because one does not exactly ‘meet’ Lee. You experience her and then you either appreciate her candidness, her methods and her views or you get the hell out of her way. She has a wheelchair and she’s not afraid to roll over you if you annoy her. I really suggest you don’t annoy her.

Lee is in high demand at many conventions throughout the US and probably abroad to boot, so I was especially honored that she agreed to write something for this series. I had no idea what she’d come up with, but I knew it was going to be damn good. As always, she didn’t disappoint. Welcome to Lee Martindale’s Face of Gay.

The Face of Gay 39 (Lee Martindale)
For me, being a straight ally isn’t just about what’s right, although that’s a big part of it. It’s also about the people – co-workers, colleagues, friends, and family-of-the-heart – who’ve made activism for gay rights personal. There have been many, but when Kage asked me to contribute a piece here, my thoughts immediately went back more than forty-five years, to the two men who began my journey as an ally.

David and Jeff were, literally, the All-American boys next door. They grew up on neighboring farms and were best friends from the first day of grade school. Good-looking, athletic, popular, solid grade point averages, dated the prettiest girls, on the football and basketball teams…you get the picture. And, as they told me later, they spent most of their lives trying to hide being gay from each other. They managed to sort things out during the summer before they started college and, by the time I met them in 1967, they’d been together as partners for a year.

I was a freshman that year, away from a very sheltered home life for the first time. To say I was naive is an industrial-strength understatement. My survival that first year of college can be laid squarely on the two of them, who took me under their collective wing and kept me from getting into the kind of trouble that it would have been so very easy to get into. They were the older brothers I never had and, as corny as it may sound, we were “family”.

Being included in their lives was a constant learning experience. They were my first exposure to two people of my generation in love and, apart from my grandparents, the only such relationship of any generation I’d seen. They were the first to suggest that my mother’s evaluation of my value as a human being was wrong, and the start of my journey toward healthy self-esteem. And, I suspect, David and Jeff are at least partially responsible for the fact I genuinely like men.

They exposed me to facets of society I didn’t even know existed. That, in that time, in that place, at least to my admittedly-inexperienced eyes, being a gay man was tough. There was no support, no networking as we think of it now, no inroads by a gay rights movement that was rising elsewhere, little in the way of “community” beyond the gay bars. For many it meant a life of lies – to themselves, their parents and siblings, the women they married, their children, to the lovers and casual partners they hooked up with on the sly. That the raids and harassment of patrons by police that, in the near future, would fuel the Stonewall Riots were common, as were the gangs of local thugs who hunted the alleys and parking lots near the bars around closing time. That, even in the face of all that, two men who loved each other as much as they did, could form what, in all respects save legality, was a marriage.

But they were a product of their time and, except in the safety of their apartment, intent on keeping their “secret”. It bothered them, but not enough to risk hurting the families they both loved or jeopardizing their future. When their parents showed increasing concern that neither talked about the girls they were dating and brought “someone special” home to meet them, they enlisted my aid. David, being an only child, was feeling more pressure from his folks than Jeff was from his, which is how I became, at least as far as the families were concerned, “David’s girl”.

The Viet Nam War was in full and bloody swing, and every eighteen-year-old man I knew sweated blood every time he went to the mailbox. With the coming of his nineteenth birthday, the pressure was supposed to be off. Why David suddenly got an induction notice no one ever figured out, just as no one ever found out why his student deferment was canceled or his lottery number went from high 3 digits to “you’re up, kid.”

There was only one other way out of it…David telling the draft board he was gay. Jeff was more than willing to back him up and testify to the fact from first-hand knowledge as his lover. As someone who practically lived with them, I was willing to testify, too. In the end, however, it was the effects on the families that made up David’s mind.

You know where this is going. Just before Christmas 1968, David’s parents were informed that he’d been killed on patrol. Jeff didn’t come back to school after the semester break and, after a few short letters from various places around the country, I never heard from him again. But I’ve thought about him, and about David, many times over the course of the last forty-five years, and about how different things might have been for them if the changes happening now had happened then.

Being a straight ally isn’t just about what’s right. It’s about the people in our lives who make it personal, the people we love. And I’ve been very fortunate in that regard.


If you would, please leave Lee some hug noises, wave wind or thoughtful comments in the comment section below. And if you have something of your own you’d like to share, please give me a shout. I’d love to have you featured in the series.

The Previous 5 entries in the Face of Gay Series:

The Face of Gay 34 (Joelle Casteel)
The Face of Gay 35 (Will Parkinson)
The Face of Gay 36 (LuvWarrior)
The Face of Gay 37 (Dennis R. Upkins)
The Face of Gay 38 (Wade Kelly)

Kage Alan is the Flashdance watching, Expose listening author of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to My Sexual Orientation,” “Andy Stevenson Vs. the Lord of the Loins,” “Gaylias: Operation Thunderspell,” and the short story, “Spacehunters: Master Elite and the Maternal Order of Loganites Beyond Uranus,” featured in the “Butt Pirates In Space” anthology.

12 Responses to “The Face of Gay 39 (Lee Martindale)”

  1. Dorien says:

    This is the stuff of which novels are made. Wonderful job! Thank you, Lee.


  2. To say your story impacted me is an understatement, and by the time I finished, I had wet eyes. Thank you for sharing with us. They sound like truly wonderful men, and you were a true friend, indeed. What wonderful memories…

  3. Tina Black says:

    As always, Lee, you’re the best. I have had family of the heart who were gay, and old friends, and mild acquaintances. I have always considered it pretty normal. I am sorry your friend did not tell all to the draft board.

  4. JP Adkins says:

    Now that I can see through the tears I would like to say thank you. Thank you for telling this beautiful story of love and life. Thank you for carrying it with you all these years and living it’s effects of confidence and openness. Thank you for simply being you.

  5. Wow, thanks for sharing the story. I think it’s so important for people of my generation (I’m 35) and younger to hear about the realities of pre-Stonewall life. Sure, it’s not the same thing as living through them, but I think sometimes we forget how much better things are today. Just that we can have straight allies such as yourself who speak for us GLBTQI people.

  6. Monique says:

    Wow thanks for the tears..wow skippy you had this woman write such a powerful post…now I need a drink to calm my neves

  7. Wow, Lee. I am crying. How devastating to lose someone so beautiful for such a war. It makes me cry for them both and for you. I can’t imagine how devastated you all must have been and for the men to have had to live such a lie. It makes me proud that we have made these small steps to freedom yet long for all the lives that “could have been”. I am touched to no small measure and I hope you’ll accept my thanks for sharing.

  8. Kelly LaPlante says:

    Lee, you know how I feel on this. I have had the pleasure of have many LGBT friends and “family” in my life for as long as I have been alive. I do not know what it is like to not have friends or family in this community. I am now and always will be a supporter. Thank you for sharing and touching our hearts.

  9. Christine Piesyk says:

    Beautifully said, Lee. Like you, I take great pride in being a “gay ally” — as a writer, I could not have said it better than you. Bravo.

  10. Thank you all for your kind words and for helping me pay homage to two very good men. It’s said that those whom we remember are not dead, just apart from us for a time, and I thank you, and Kage, for helping me bring them back to dance among us again.

  11. G. A. Hauser says:

    that is such a powerful story. Thanks for sharing it.

  12. Lloyd says:

    Thanks for sharing such a moving tale of love, kindness and devotion for family. I went through a similar situation going to get my physical but decided to just be myself and tell them the truth about my sexual preference for men. I owe this largely to the fact that my parents were supportive and also my close friends. You tell such a sad story of love and compassion in an arra that was so conventional and unaccepting of social abnormalities. I am so Sory that you had to lose your family to such an unjust and unacceptable set of false social mores. My sincere condolences and heartfelt thanks for sharing your touching story.

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