Personal Histories – David Fisher (OC 51)

Essay written July, 2004.

Fisher I had no concept of “gay” at Oberlin. I grew up in mostly rural Ohio and had no exposure to gays although I knew without any conscious instruction that expression of same gender affection was not accepted socially. I’d had a crush on a male junior high school classmate that got only so far as holding hands in church surreptitiously, or so I thought. A slightly older girl in the choir told me in a slightly teasing way that she saw us holding hands…

I don’t recall any open discussion of same-sex desire. At the men’s cafeteria during my sophomore year we waiters went out to Presti’s one afternoon to celebrate something, I don’t know what. We staggered back an hour or so before the evening meal and collapsed in a heap in the back room. As my head started to clear I realized that another fellow and I were groping each other…The other waiter and I never talked about the incident. A year or two later I heard that the waiter had attempted suicide, and I wondered if it was somehow related to our furtive episode.

Meanwhile I dated a woman classmate, kissing but never getting passionate…One evening as we were kissing she became passionate and I got uncomfortable with her passion, certainly I was not sexually aroused. I pulled back and we later split up. In my junior year I dated another woman classmate whom I enjoyed kissing. Intellectually I pondered how I might approach getting sexually involved, but never developed the urge to act on it…

I danced in a couple of dance pieces with Mummers [during my senior year]. When the Pearl Primus troupe performed on campus, one of the male dancers attended a rehearsal of our piece. In showing me a move, he had me place my hands on his hips, saying something like, “Don’t go any farther.” Others sniggered and I embarrassedly smiled. In retrospect, I realize he was gay.

I fell in love with a male classmate and found myself walking with him one day, telling him that I had some feelings for him. As I went on to say that maybe I should date a big-bosomed woman, he stopped me to say that he had the same feeling for me. That walk continued into a drenching rain. We ended up that evening in the dressing room of the two-room suite I shared with two roommates. We hugged, kissed, [and] sank to the floor together…He ended up staying the night in the bed of an absent roommate. I remember saying goodnight silently with our hands clasped briefly between our separate beds.

During the rest of the year I saw very little of him. I always wondered what had happened until forty years later over lunch together, he told me that he thought that he might be corrupting me, so ended our intimacy. He reported that five years after graduation he found a therapist who helped him accept his gayness. I let him know that I thought we were both fortunate in having loved one another without serious repercussions.

It wasn’t until two years after I graduated and at the end of a two-year hitch in the U.S. Army that I consciously told myself that same-sex activity was not socially productive. This was after several brief encounters with gay men in the service, only one of which could be called sexual. I also dated a woman for a year and a half, kissing but never getting sexual. I then was fortunate to fall in love with a woman medical school classmate. We married, had two children, and enjoyed 25 years together before I became aware that I had current attraction to men. We soon separated, divorced, and I pursued finding a primary relationship with a man. I’ve been with my partner Paul thirteen years now…

After practicing internal medicine from 1957 to 1974 I went to seminary, during which time I realized I was gay. After graduation in 1978 I chose not to go into parish ministry but went into psychiatry training instead.

In the early 1980’s I became liaison between the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Office of GLBT Concerns and the Ohio Valley-Meadville District of the Unitarian Universalist Association…I gave my “coming-out” sermon at several UU churches in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. After moving to New Haven, CT in 1983, I worked with Aids Project New Haven for two years…I spearheaded the UU Society of New Haven’s becoming a Welcoming (of GLBT) Congregation. At Yale-New Haven Hospital I co-led the psychiatry residents’ course in Minorities for two years, focusing on people of color and GLBT…In Maine during the 1990’s I’ve worked for the equal rights amendment (no wins, unfortunately), given sermons at the Lovell UCC Church in support of welcoming GLBT, and worked with the Clergy of the Eastern Slope in Conway, NH, developing a High School Essay Contest on Tolerance in 2001.

As for Oberlin’s influence on my activities, I can only cite a general emphasis on clear thinking, good scholarship, and pursuing one’s best.