A couple months ago, I was at my friends Trent & Martin’s house for dinner. I was begging them to write out their story so that I could share it in this blog series. (Because the more others write, the less I have to!!) Trent countered my request with this, “You need to talk to my friend Roger from church. He’s 70. I was at his late wife’s funeral this January and he came out as gay to my entire table. And now every time I see him, he can’t stop telling me about how excited he is to go to Fresno Pride. He’s fantastic. I bet he’ll want to write something.”
Through a chain of sporadic, mish-mashed, lots of ALL CAPS emails, I got Roger’s story and I enthusiastically and joyfully share it with you today. Roger is a fantastic writer and superb storyteller. He writes with breathtaking honesty about all of his experiences --about his discovering his sexuality, his faith life, his navy life, his sex life, about the love for his late wife of 34 ½ years, Lorraine, and about what life has in store for him now.
From his own words, here is the story of Roger Brown.
“I am only now, once again, calling myself what I’ve always been --from as far back as I can remember the feelings and the fear.
Now, again, I’m accepting the term for me who’s been so many things over the decades. Young boy catching pollywogs, drawing dress designs, shying away from sports and finding laying with my friend’s brother exciting.
Of course, as a good Catholic boy, I was going to be a priest… as long as there was no sex with girls, I’d be safe. Ha!
Anyway, it was a noble goal that put me in the favorable eyes in my mostly Catholic community. No one pushed. I really believed I was called to be a missionary to Africa. I believed it so much I spent seven years after high school studying to be a priest. There were a few “adventures” along the way!
At the end of the seventh year, I approached a person who took great offense and turned me in. I was given a short retreat by a priest, instructed “not to label myself” and sent home. There were many priests and sisters leaving during those days after Vatican II. Three of my spiritual directors left. It provided great cover for me to tell my family that I wanted to “take a break” to be sure the priesthood was right for me. I told them that I wanted to avoid being a priest who later left.
Devastated as I was to be a seminarian without a vocation, instead of a priest with a problem, I tried to find a direction. In college, I filed with the military as a conscientious objector, but when leaving the priesthood, changed my status to 1AO meaning I would serve in a non-combatant role. That service would become my escape from home and a way to see the world…so I thought.
It was 1972. After boot camp, where my singing voice got me into the Blue Jackets chorus, I went to corps school as an enlisted man a little older than most of my classmates. They loved taking the ex-seminarian out to the bars and watch my eyes as I saw women move their bodies in ways I had never imagined!
Then, while serving in the Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego and singing at the chapel services in the choir, I met HIM. He was a Vietnam vet reservist. He sang also. He became my best friend and, finally, clandestine lover. I sort of seduced him, he says, into a life he had never lived, but one that a guy in this active duty platoon told him he would one day understand.
JT and I became fast friends and sexual partners. We lived in separate apartments, both in the Hillcrest area near Balboa Park. I continued to work at the Naval Hospital and he at the VA hospital. After one year, I was given orders to go to the east coast and work at the St. Albans Hospital in Queens, New York. I didn’t want to leave JT, but I had to.
I went… I worked for a while as an office assistant to the commander. I sooooo missed JT and everyday that I was drinking and depressed. I went AWOL, got a flight to San Diego and showed up unannounced and scared at JT’s door. Shocked, we talked for hours and he convinced me to go back BEFORE I was found and declared a deserter.
I DID fly back and only worked a few weeks until one night after a huge amount of alcohol, I decided to overdose on pills. I swallowed a giant sized bottle of something and after waiting a while I got dizzy and scared and stumbled into the infirmary.
I confessed everything, had my stomach pumped, and was placed in the psych ward. I was there for a couple weeks I guess. Feeling so free to just let all of my secrets out, I did just that. From the childhood experiences with a boy named Clarence, to various seminary encounters, to JT. BOOM!
Dammit. I can’t live without JT!
Thankfully, I was given an honorable discharge after those in the psych ward understood what I had done. They even, after my pleading, called the reason for discharge something other than homosexuality.
I went back to San Diego and to JT. I explained to my family that my breakdown was my reaction of going from the seminary-controlled environment to the Navy-controlled environment, when really what I needed was freedom from both to learn who I was as an autonomous adult. Most of them bought it… even if I had told my older brother the truth... but I don’t think he accepted it.
JT accepted me back, but still NOT openly. He would not accept a label or openness about our “friendship.” We got an apartment together, this time in Pacific Beach. (It was in that apartment that I had my first sexual experience with a woman. Fumbling, not repeated. Vaguely even remembered.)
Anyway, JT and I continued our encounters, but kept them and our relationship beyond friendship to ourselves. He did not want to out himself and neither did I. If I suggested we open up, he would vehemently resist and I couldn’t lose him!
Anyway, by this point, I was free. From the Navy at least…
Even with my BA and post-graduate theology work behind me, the VA was still begging me to use my benefits. And doing NOTHING was getting boring. So I took up their offer, went to city college and took theatre arts classes. I really enjoyed set design and acting. I was Elgamore in “Two Gentlemen of Verona” and a Fury in some Greek trilogy thing. I went to a number of wild parties with theater people and felt VERY uncomfortable with all the drugs and promiscuity. I KNEW this was not for me. A good little Catholic boy from the Adirondacks!
JT and I later bought a house together in Encinitas. An aggressive sales agent said that since we were both military folk, houses were being nearly given away. He convinced us to buy one and later just split it if and when we went our separate ways. JT grew up poor and really wanted a piece of land to call his own. So I lied about my recent unemployment, we were given a mortgage, and we got the house together.
Sex continued when and if JT was into it. He was moody, happy only when he was working in the yard on his plants or with his canaries. He had the big bedroom. I had the smaller one. (We shared bed space sometimes!)
Often I was reading theology or similar. Other times I was wishing we could be open, but JT wouldn’t allow it!
I dreamed of finding a religious community I could join or finishing my studies to the priesthood, still believing I could become and remain celibate. I would take time building up money for this damn house payment and then go off on a journey to a new community for a bit. I felt an emptiness and wanted to fill it. Over the years I went to Arizona, New Mexico, Georgia, and Oceanside.
For years, I FITTED back and forth across the country, looking for monasteries, religious communities, etc that might be where I should “finish my studies to the priesthood.” I knew I didn’t fit in the work-a-day world. I was living by moving from job to job to keep our damn house going.
After one of these escapes, I don’t remember which, just again one of those times I came back with my tail between my legs having been turned down AGAIN. It was coming back that time that I noticed SHE had joined our singing group.
JT and I liked her and we became friends. I found her fascinating and very attractive intellectually. I found myself wishing singing practices were over so I could spend more time with her.
Now there were three of us: ME and HER and HIM!