Back before Stonewall, and even after for many years, "gay" was barely visible. People worked hard, some very hard at hiding their true selves from the world. Why? Discrimination. A known homosexual could be fired, denied housing, bashed, beaten, or raped and no one would bat an eye. Often gays would be identified by other gays hoping to throw suspicion off of themselves. The old pot calling the kettle black thing.
Anti-discrimination laws don't exactly protect us, but it was a step in the right direction. I grew up in a time when being gay was still considered deviant, sick behavior by most. We didn't have gay characters on TV, with the possible exception of the spineless traitor Dr. Smith on Lost in Space, but we never really knew for sure. We didn't have pride parades, or community centers, or websites, or movies, or dating sites. We did have unmarked doors down dark alleys that opened to the secret world of lesbians or gays, or sometimes both. They were usually located in undesirable parts of town, and were subject to raids and other forms of harassment.
Many gay men and women married, to throw others off the scent. Then had their secret lovers discretely on the side. Today, this is certainly no longer necessary. Gay folks are more visible than ever, and while we are still fighting for equal rights in every state in this country but Massachusetts and California, we have made great strides against the fear and ignorance we faced just thirty years ago.
When I was in the military, I had a marriage of convenience myself. This was the only way I could live off post. I had a girlfriend, and sneaking her into the barracks was more than a little risky. I married a gay guy and was allowed to live off post. Breaking this ridiculous rule seemed justified to me. I wasn't even supposed to be in the military, and could have been dishonorably discharged if anyone could prove I was gay. It would have been easy to prove, but no one was really trying.
This weekend while in New York, some friends and I had dinner at a nice restaurant on the Hudson river. There were six of us total, three guys and three girls and I would say it was not a secret to anyone nearby that we were all gay! I saw a woman at the end of the bar giving me the once over more than once. I met her eyes, and smiled politely. She was quite attractive, and did a little check to make sure her pockets causing any unsightly bulges in her tight fitting black jeans, then looked back to see if I was still watching her.
Friend: She's straight!
Me: No she isn't.
Friend: Yes she is. She's married. She and her husband own this place, and you should see him. What a flamer!
Me: She might be married, but she's not straight! We just had a conversation with our eyes, and this is not my first time on this ride.
Friend: Ha! No, you could blog about that!
Me: Shut the fuck up!
The woman came over to our group and introduced herself, standing right by me, and shaking my hand firmly. I think I was the only one out all six, she hadn't already met. She asked if we'd like to sit outside, if we did there would be a wait, or inside. If we wanted to stay in the bar she could seat us now, and she'd prefer to be able to "keep an eye on us" she said looking directly at me when she said it.
We did sit in the bar, but I gave the woman no encouragement. I would not want to be the discrete lover a married, in the closet woman, no matter how attractive she might be. I'm sure there must be a reason for the arrangement, but I would not want to live in her world. I am out and plan to stay out. I'm here, I'm queer, and I don't care who knows it!