Bobbi Keppel: I think I had really very different kinds of experiences. I came from a very political family. And, in fact, when my father was eighty-six and I came out to him, I presented being bisexual as a political issue. He never even batted an eye. I gave him a copy of Our Paper, which is the Maine gay and lesbian newspaper. (It doesn’t really include bisexuals as much, although I work for them.) Now, the Civil Rights issues — he’s ninety-one now and he’s been working until this year — he’s worked on Civil Rights since 1917. And so he’s the first person to ever try to integrate Black-white fraternities at the University of Massachusetts. And it happened like fifty years later.
Also, my stepmother was a really wonderful role model. She arrived in the family. I met her actually, I guess, the week I came to Oberlin. She had never been married before and had very staunch relationships with women. My father was a pretty staunch feminist before there was a word like that. She was one of the founders of the Women’s Strike for Peace. So all this political stuff was going on in the family all the time, not about this issue, but about other issues. And I certainly had role models of women who were very staunch feminists, which was a big help to me. I married somebody who was really the staunchest feminist I had ever met in my life.
I got married a couple of years out of Oberlin. We’re talking like 1957; there wasn’t a word for it, and he (my husband) definitely put his money where his mouth was without anybody asking him. When I went back to graduate school in the 1970s, I signed up, came home, and said, “Well, I signed up to go to graduate school for social work.” He said, “Well, we need to sit down before classes start and decide how we are going to work this out, because now I’ll have to drive the kids to school, and do the grocery shopping, and shoulder my share of cooking.” I said, “Huh!” He said, “Well, you did all that stuff when I went to MIT; it’s your turn.” I went, “Oh, okay.”
So when I figured out that I was bi, I really didn’t have any problem talking to my husband about it. It was just like I told him my eyes were blue, and it was part of who I was, and he was okay about that. He wasn’t always totally thrilled with my choices of female companions, but most of them he said, “You pick out women who make wonderful friends for me, too. That’s great.” I told my daughter, who was a teenager at the time, and my son. And my daughter just looked at me (she was thirteen) and she said, “Oh, I didn’t know there was a word for people like us.” I said, “Us?” And it turned out, as long as she could remember, since the first time she’d ever had sexual thoughts, she knew she was bisexual, but she didn’t know there was a word for it. That certainly made for some very interesting mother-daughter relationships. My son is straight. He kids me a lot. He’s a graduate student at the University of Washington — Seattle, and he loves to kid me; “You still love me, don’t you, even though I’m straight?” I say, “Yes.” Both my kids and my husband, I felt, were very, very supportive. I didn’t come out too much to the rest of my family until much later.
I was in a ten-year relationship with another woman. And a lot of my friends, after I came out as bi, thought about that for a while. Some said, “Oh, I’m bi, too. It just never crossed my mind; that totally explains what my experience was about.” Some of them chose to act on it; some of them didn’t choose to act on it. But suddenly I had this big bi-support system that was in Omaha, NE, which is where I came out. Everybody says, “Well, that’s the derriere guade if there ever were one.” But really I would say on the whole it was a lot better than coming out in Oberlin. That part of it has really been okay for me.
Allan Spear: I wanted to ask Bob, you said last night that you came out at the age of twenty-three, which by my calculations would have meant you were out before 1940, which I think is very extraordinary. I would like to hear a little bit about what it was like to be out in…
Bobbi Keppel: The Middle Ages.
Allan Spear: Yeah, that period when there must have been only a very, very small number of people who were really out.
Bob Diehm: Well, there were only a small number of people who were out, because right after that was World War II, and there were all sorts of people that I’d met in World War II both in this country and over in the South Pacific. Some of them were openly out. They just flaunted themselves, almost, and others just were very conservative about it. If you were gay, you knew they were gay. Then, after the war, in the late ‘40s and ‘50s we kind of stayed to ourselves. I had gay friends in New York City; I’d go visit them. My roommate from Oberlin was gay, and he lived in New York City, and it just went along. Then of course, when Stonewall happened.
Bobbi Keppel: […]
I want to say when you were talking about the McCarthy era, when my father was dismissed from the United States government, it was under statute number — I don’t know, 1099 or something. And he was dismissed for an alleged tendency towards subversion. That’s what it says. But if anybody asked for a reference, what they got was a statement that said he was dismissed under this particular statute, which covered homosexuality, tendencies towards subversion, alleged tendencies towards subversion, it was just a basket. The government would not specify which of these things had been the charge against him. For the five years that he was suspended, until he got through the Supreme Court, that’s what followed him around. So he either had to get a job for which he didn’t have to have references about what he had been doing, which covered most of his adult life, or he had to live with the fact that it could be quite a few different charges.
Allan Spear: Of course, one of the many ways in which we have been written out of the history books is that when the McCarthy period is discussed, it’s usually discussed solely in terms of redbaiting and going after people on the political ladder. It was also very much a crusade against, as they called them then, `sexual perverts’ in the government. And that was a major campaign that began with McCarthy and the federal government, which filtered down to the state level and to some extent private business. And, of course, the irony of it all was that one of McCarthy’s top aides was — I wouldn’t even call him gay — a closeted homosexual. McCarthy himself may have been.
Roger-Michael Goodman: I arrived at Oberlin in September 1964, a twisted, self-hating, 217 lbs, constantly horny, gay young man, having known I was gay from the time I was approximately four years old. Coming to Oberlin was both freeing and terrifying for me. For the first time in my life, I could have some control over my life, and, for the first time in my life, I could act on the fantasies about men which had been playing in my head for as long as I could remember. This freedom was so frightening for me, I ended up in the Psychological Services Office, seeing John Thompson weekly for quite a long part of that first year of college.