[Luke Warmer, pseudonym, ‘52]: The ages eighteen through twenty-three are full of excitement and discovery as one completes puberty and begins adulthood. I was an extra year at the Oberlin Conservatory, September 1948 to July 1953, because I was not qualified to begin my major in composition as a freshman. (I had nightmares after leaving Oberlin that I was still there, year after year unable to graduate, as younger students came and went.) My father died at sixteen and as my mother gave up our home in Bethlehem, PA, Oberlin became my home those five years, through all the vacations when the campus was serene, the halls were empty, and all those 200 practice grands were mine. The vacations were my favorite times, as I liked being alone, free to discover music, my nature, and the nature of my opening world, undisturbed by bustling students, and my insecurities, and the inevitable comparisons, worries, fears they fostered, especially in a very actively sexual `homo.’ Realize, please, `gay’ didn’t exist; there was no support, corroboration, only secrets, maybe another found out but not admitted; there wasn’t even `a closet,’ only an ocean in which you sat alone in your little boat.
I was sexual early and regularly with the handsome boy next door when I was ten. From then sex was constant with him and anyone else I could seduce in between playing, improvising, composing and listening to music. Sex and music were everything. In a journal my sister gave me when my father died, I wrote of all my discoveries and thoughts about them. In a world where one couldn’t speak of the most wonderful discovery of one’s life that journal saved me many-a-time from suicide, I figured, as I struggled with being `queer as a $3 bill’ in an oppressive society, more so when I and my peers were in a period of discovering what we were becoming. Attractions, joys and loves were always where they couldn’t and shouldn’t be. These traumas were especially strong at Oberlin, when I was hitting my prime and the men about were hitting theirs.
I was generally excited. In the morning I would hop out of bed in anticipation of the pleasures of the day, music, life, and erotic stuff, beauty. When autumn brought the first cold I would walk across campus without a jacket, feeling the change. Very soon in my first year, I found a fellow in the janitor, who remained my friend forever after. We gave each other pleasure regularly, the phrase `hard at work’ becoming a cliche and a signal when he hello’d me in my practice room.
Lovers one didn’t have in those days when queer and homo were the only terms for us. There were encounters, at least for me. Guilt was too ingrained to allow for permanence in a relationship. It was only urges that were met, and one could never count on a repeat. Sex was secret and, therefore, always a seduction. So strange and oppressive, that one could do something so glorious yet not be able to admit to it, not even to each other. How enviable that straights could talk for hours about their encountering while I could only write about it in my journal.
I worked at the Oberlin Inn for four years, first as a waiter, then printing up the menus, then clerking the front desk in the evening, sometimes doing all three. For two summers I waited lunch, did the lunch and dinner menus, then desk-clerked from five o’clock to midnight seven nights a week, never seeing the sun go down the whole summer. The half-owner of the Inn, Mr. Bradbury — who revealed, after The Fly was published, that Ray was his brother — introduced all the waiters to the word `plethora,’ his harried description of the customers waiting outside the doors. When sometimes I would hurry in with only ten minutes before the doors opened to type the menu and run off copies on the ditto-machine (no xerox then), he’d be stressed; “What if you get hit by a car and you can’t do them?” A touch of his brother, I’d say.
Two older student workers, both with pretty girl friends, who put it together that I was attracted to them and would likely act on it, each separately let me know as they left the Inn late that they were available, maybe sympathetic. I was so terrified that I’d been found out by the `other side,’ that, while I would have died at the `catch,’ I ended up blowing only the opportunity, and leaving my life with two gaping holes permanently and two indelible memories.
A memorable moment of another kind happened in one of those wonderful practice rooms high on the top floor of Warner Hall. A spring evening it was with dark clouds brewing for a storm, a breeze stirring the leaves outside the open window. I was happy and exhilarated by it, and feeling almost in the trees, when a feeling of joy, almost sexual, occurred. That famous `one with nature’ experience. It was if I suddenly believed in something. Now, since God had gone out with Santa Claus for me, it made no sense to put his name there. Yet since the feeling was real, I decided that the feeling was centered in the verb and the sentence didn’t need an ending. Nature has always been enough for me. Sex was natural. Music with its constant passing between tension and release was nature and sex manifest. In these there are no moralities that people hold. When I later taught music at the San Francisco Conservatory the male and female properties of notes and intervals and chords impressed themselves upon me more. Being now happily bisexual, the bisexual nature of music seems right.
Oberlin did not always provide me with wonders. The feeling of play and freedom that music gave me in my teens was altered as I was expected to follow rules that were necessary for me to learn. It might have been the teacher’s mission but it wasn’t mine. Teachers disapproved of me because I could/would not follow the rules in the creative assignments. I loved composing, needed to make discoveries, look for what was pleasurable in sounds, melodies, rhythms, but the teachers naturally weren’t interested. “It sounds nice, [Luke], but you didn’t do what you were supposed to.” When God and Santa Clause went out so did rules, I think. But the situation came to a head when the assistant director, who was handsome to look at, (and who had a daughter, equally beautiful, whom I later visited at her home — if you don’t think that was confusing) called me in my last year, and threatened `expulsion’ if I couldn’t submit to the requirements.
This affected me, perhaps longer and more crucially than I care to think. Graduating and leaving Oberlin by car for San Francisco in August of 1953, to wait for a response to my application to graduate school at the University of Southern California to study with my favorite movie composer, Miklos Rosza. I received my acceptance, but as soon as I packed I unpacked, deciding against any more schooling. It was a rash and unwise decision by someone with low confidence, made even lower by being in the terrible minority. Five years at Oberlin hadn’t improved my confidence. Being homosexual, and fatherless, I believe were crucial to that. I got work accompanying modern dance classes, had difficulty composing, and switched to photography to create freely again. It was not until I was thirty when a musical I was asked to compose (with sixty songs!) had a successful six-months run, got me an interview on KCBS radio, and an option for an off-Broadway production, that I got back confidence to compose. I’ve composed in San Francisco ever since for the San Francisco Ballet, the American Conservatory Theatre, more musicals, films, The National Center for Experiments in Television, one of five PBS programs winning an Emmy, played electronic music in the ‘60s for exhibits at every museum in the Bay Area, even at an Oscar de la Renta fashion show. But I never made it to Hollywood to write for movies as I’d always wanted. Confidence was never my forte, more my piano. The world is far different toward homosexuality than it was, as this convention proves. I commend you all for what is happening here tonight. I hope it will benefit the students of Oberlin as well as its alumni, but, of course, in a far different way.
Judith Klavans: I am a forty-five-year-old/young woman who never knew what the word `lesbian’ meant until I was well into my twenties. Even in the ‘60s at Oberlin, no one would ever admit gay-ness or lesbian-ness. Such behavior was reason for expulsion, or at least for ostracization and exclusion. Changes in the society of the `70s brought changes in my personal life. I married a man in 1972, had two children, but heterosexual marriage was not right for me. I was divorced in 1980. I have been living with a wonderful woman for nearly five years. The children are now seventeen and fourteen. We have all been out and open with as many family and friends as we can. My daughter even spoke at a conference for daughters and lesbian mothers last year at Hunter College.