Chapter 24

There are two ways to be fooled.  One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.  Søren Kierkegaard
There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true. Søren Kierkegaard

Click on the link below to read Chapter 24 of Homo! in the pdf format (better formatting).

Homo!: Chapter 24

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SUMMARY: What if you were homosexual but refused to admit it to anyone, especially yourself? The year is 1971 and fourteen year old Jimmy Barnes has discovered growing up in a small town can be boring in a way not even the solitary masturbation sessions he enjoys so much can relieve. When his best friend takes a job at the local newspaper, Jimmy finds himself on his own for the summer. What follows is a decade long saga with numerous twists and turns, a tale that’ll reveal the best and the worst of the nineteen-seventies and beyond.

WARNING: This story is a work of adult fiction and intended for mature audiences only. Unless otherwise noted, all of the characters in the story are fictional; any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. While some of the places described or mentioned in the story are fictional as well, others may be real. However, some liberties may have been taken with the truth to enhance the story. Please note that the story may describe, depict or otherwise include graphic portrayals of relationships between men and/or adolescent boys that are homosexual in nature. If you do not like For approve of such discussions or it is illegal for you to read such material, consider yourself warned. If you continue to read this story, you are asserting you are fully capable of understanding and legally consenting to reading a work of adult fiction.

NOTICE: This story is my property and protected by the copyright laws of the United States and other countries. It may not be reproduced in any form without my written permission. You may download a single copy to read offline and to share with others as long as you credit me as the author. However, you may not use this work for commercial purposes or to profit from it in any way. You may not use any of the characters or fictional places in the story in your own work without my explicit permission. Nor may you use, alter, transform, or build upon the story in any way. If you share this story with others, you must make clear the terms under which it is licensed to them. The best way to do that is by linking to this web page.

NOTES: Please check these notes every week. If there’s something I want to alert you to as I post each chapter, this is where I will I do so.

HOMO!

Part IV – May thru July 1982

Chapter 24

When they had finished talking, Mark and Leo agreed to the plan we had proposed. After filling out the necessary paperwork, Mark was released and the three of us headed back to Capitol Hill. I showed them around my basement unit and could see immediately Mark was impressed. Unlike Leo, he understood how much the place would command as a rental.

“The Center has authorized me to fill the refrigerator,” I said when we finished the tour. “Why don’t the two of you decide what you want while I talk to my, uh . . . my roommate.”

While they did that, I brought Jimmy up to date on the latest developments.

“That kid Leo is a cutie, no doubt about it,” he volunteered. “And Mark’s pretty hot as well. They make a cute couple, don’t you think?”

“They do,” I said. “They’re gay, but Leo says they’re not having sex because Mark thinks they should wait. I give him credit for that given how young Leo is, But I’m not sure keeping them together is the right thing to do given the age difference.”

“You were older than Mark when we had sex the first time,” Jimmy replied.

“And I still wonder whether that was a mistake,” I countered.

“I don’t,” Jimmy responded. “It was the best thing that ever happened to me. Is Leo willing to go home?”

“No,” I said, “at least not voluntarily.”

“Well there you go,” Jimmy replied. “If that’s the case, there aren’t a lot of good options for him here in Washington. Mark sounds like the best to me.”

Returning to the basement unit, I asked Mark to accompany me to the supermarket. I wanted to talk to him privately after we finished shopping. Once we had, I came straight to the point.

“Listen, Mark, one of the things they teach volunteers like me at the Center is not to get personally involved with the cases we handle,” I said. “But that’s hard with you and Leo. I like the two of you. But I also think Leo is pretty young to be on his own. Do you think there’s any chance you could persuade him to go home?”

“No,” Mark responded. “I’ve tried and he won’t do that. Based on what he’s told me, I can appreciate why. Even if you force him to go home, he’ll only run away again. But I can make another effort if you think I should.”

“What do think?” I asked. “You know him better than me.”

“I think trying to get him back in school here in D.C. makes the most sense,” Mark responded. “That’s one of the reasons I agreed to go along with what you and the Center are proposing.”

“Look, I don’t know you very well, Mark,” I said, “but from what Leo’s told me you seem to be a good influence on him. He says you’re his boyfriend, but he also said you told him the two of you needed to wait before having sex. I don’t know why you did that, but I give you credit for not taking advantage of him.”

“Leo’s gay and desperately wants a boyfriend,” Mark replied. “But he doesn’t understand people that well or what to look for in a real boyfriend. Knowing how many guys would take advantage of him, I’m happy to be his boyfriend for now until he figures things out and learns how to better judge people.”

“As for telling him we couldn’t have sex, yeah; it’s not something he should be rushing into,” he added. “But I also told him that because sometimes I have to do things I’m not proud of to make ends meet.”

“I have a job at a restaurant cleaning up, but it doesn’t pay very much. So sometimes I, uh, you know, do stuff for money I’d rather not. I’ve gotten the clap and syphilis more than once; and since I just had sex with a stranger before meeting Leo, I didn’t want to take a chance of infecting him until I knew for sure I’m healthy myself.”

As with all the answers I had gotten from Mark that morning, I was impressed. It seemed to me he was mature far beyond his years.

“You must really like Leo to do something like that, Mark,” I said; “and also to stay with him when the guy you were living with said he didn’t want Leo at his place. In any event, gonorrhea and syphilis aren’t the only dangers out there. Have you heard about this new gay cancer disease that’s actually killing people?”

“I’ve heard a little from some guys I know at the Café Palermo,” Mark responded, “but they say it’s a New York City disease; not a problem here in D.C.”

“I wish they were right, Mark, but they’re not,” I said. “When we get back, I hope you and Leo will have lunch with me and my roommate. He has gay cancer and the doctors say it’s going to kill him. I think you and Leo could learn something from him if you get to know him better.”

“Not that you have to, but he’s younger than me and a nice guy. He just made a mistake. As you found out last night, trying to sell pot to get some money was a mistake, but everyone makes mistakes. I’ve made some myself. The question is where you go from here.”

“Like I said, I think you’re a good influence on Leo, but you have a chance to take things further now and be a good role model for him as well. He likes you. He walked all the way from the Greyhound bus terminal to our building north of Dupont Circle because he does and wanted to help.”

“I hear you,” he said. “I’m a runaway myself and I’ve had to do some things over the years I’m not especially proud of. Living on the streets gets old pretty fast and I’m trying to turn things around. It’s not easy, but I know what’s waiting for Leo if someone doesn’t help. If I can help him avoid some of the mistakes I’ve made, I’m willing to do so. But Leo’s not the only one who could use some help.”

“I understand,” I replied, “and I can probably help you find a better job if you’re interested; one that pays more and provides some good benefits as well. If you’re willing to go to school in the evenings, you might even be able to move up.”

“But it’s up to you, Mark. I can’t make you want that. You have to want it yourself. As important, you have to be willing to work hard for it. In any event, that’s the end of my sermon today. I won’t bother you anymore.”

“You’re not bothering me,” he said. “Look, I know you may think I’m conning you. But I actually do like Leo and I’m willing to help; and I’m not too proud to accept help myself. I want to turn things around. That’s why I agreed to what you and the Center are proposing. But don’t take my word for it. Watch what I do, not what I say.”

Nodding my head to show I understood, I started the car and drove us back to the townhouse. When we got there I was surprised to discover Jimmy had come down and already introduced himself to Leo. They had apparently become fast friends.

“What are you guys talking about?” I asked.

“You,” Jimmy replied, causing Leo to giggle.

“It’s a lie,” I said to Leo. “Whatever he told you is a lie.”

“I hope not,” Leo responded. “He made you sound like a pretty cool guy rather than just another old fart.”

After stocking the refrigerator the three of us went upstairs and had lunch together. Later I drove Mark over to the restaurant where he worked. Jimmy, Leo and I had dinner that evening and then rented a movie to watch together. Finally Leo and I drove back to the restaurant and picked Mark up after work.

If nothing else, it had been an interesting day.

****

Up until then I thought I had been living a pretty busy life. But in the weeks that followed things got busier still as Jimmy and I worked out the routines of daily life we would share in the months that followed.

Although I spent a lot of time in those first few weeks trying to get appointments with some of Washington’s most prominent physicians, I never succeeded. Once they heard Jimmy had been diagnosed with AIDS, they would refer me to the same handful of doctors who were the only ones treating people with the disease.

Not surprisingly, those doctors were overwhelmed by their caseloads so you had to take whatever appointment you could get; and while Jimmy insisted on taking the bus initially, I finally put my foot down and ended up driving him to his appointments or insisting he take a taxi.

I also found myself spending a lot more time at the Whitman Walker Clinic. Sometimes it was a question of driving Jimmy to medical appointments or his counseling sessions. But that changed when Ned announced he was starting a group counseling session for couples, a chance for people like us to discuss anything and everything, including our sexual frustrations.

Initially I was reluctant to join, but Jimmy thought we should so I went along. I was glad about that. Just hearing what Jimmy and I were experiencing was not unique, that others were going through the same thing, helped. It seemed like the longing for intimacy was universal and yet everyone knew the dangers intimacy posed.

Separately, I found myself becoming more involved with Leo and Mark. For Leo that meant getting him into summer school so he could make up the work he would need to enroll as a high school freshman in September. Mark proved to be a steadfast ally in this and soon enough Leo was thriving at the alternative school where the Center helped place him.

Mark made his arraignment Monday morning and agreed to enter the Center’s diversion program. While he did that and continued working, I spent a lot of time on the phone networking with my friends on the Hill. That paid off several weeks later when Mark was offered and accepted a job in the mailroom of a Congressman a gay friend of mine worked for.

Although the original plan had been for Leo and Mark to transition into the home of one of the Center’s volunteer couples, I was involved by now and agreed to let the two of them stay in my rental unit instead. Indeed, Mark and I agreed on a rental payment he could afford. That provided a major boost to his self-esteem and he never looked back after that.

Even Jimmy got into the act, spending time with Leo after school ended each day. He never preached to Leo and Mark, but he was candid about the mistakes he had made and how they had affected his life. The message didn’t go unnoticed, especially as the disease progressed.

****

While all of this was going on, I found myself thinking about AIDS more and more; that was the term people seemed to be settling on to describe the disease that was taking its toll on Jimmy. The more I learned, the more frustrated I became. I felt like I should be doing more than just educating myself about the disease.

Finally I decided to take the bull by the horns and offer my resignation.

“Why?” Jimmy asked, surprised when I told him one evening. “You love your job. You always have.”

“I know,” I responded, “and that hasn’t changed. But I feel like I need to be more involved in the fight against AIDS. I still think we can find some kind of cure if the Federal government would make AIDS research a priority.”

“Yeah, the government should be doing more, no doubt about it,” Jimmy said. “The gay community should be doing more as well.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, surprised.

“Look around, Jeff,” Jimmy said. “All the people at the Clinic who know anything about this disease think the city should close the gay bathhouses; that they play a big role in spreading the disease. But the politicians here in D.C. keep refusing to do anything because they want our votes and they know closing the bathhouses wouldn’t be popular with us.”

Jimmy was right. I had heard all the arguments about how closing the bathhouses violated our civil liberties and that was probably true. But people, including gay people, were sticking their heads in the sand. They didn’t want to admit we were dealing with a public health crisis of staggering proportions and that strong steps needed to be taken to stop the spread of the disease.

“Uh, well, you’re right,” I said. “But I work for Congress and that’s where I can make the most difference. Tim Ward and Susan Simon do a terrific job, but their bosses don’t serve on the Appropriations Committee like mine. Bresnahan is one of the good guys, but I don’t think he has a clue about AIDS. That needs to change. I need to get him to focus on this. I’m hoping offering my resignation will prompt him to do that.”

“But what if he accepts your resignation?” Jimmy asked. “Not that I think he will. He’d be crazy to do that knowing how hard you work and how devoted you are to him. But what if he decides he isn’t interested in AIDS? Not many people are, Jeff.”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I just know I can’t go on like this anymore.”

****

Over the course of the next week to ten days I worked on my resignation letter. In the end, I wasn’t sure how persuasive it was.

Dear Congressman Bresnahan:

I am writing because I’ve decided to resign from your staff. This is something I do with great regret.

As you know, you were my favorite teacher in college and graduate school. You taught me being a good citizen carried responsibilities, not just rights and privileges. Taking that message seriously, I was happy to campaign for you throughout the district and I was honored when you offered me the opportunity to serve on your staff in Washington.

I’ve enjoyed working for you very much. You’ve always given me great leeway to pursue issues I consider important. Unlike many of your colleagues, you’ve always treated me and the rest of the staff fairly. My seven years working for you have been an honor.

But there’s something I feel I must tell you.

I’m gay.

I’ve never told you this because it didn’t seem relevant to our relationship or to the work you’ve entrusted me with. But that’s changed in recent months. My best friend has become infected with a disease that not many people are even aware of. The disease goes by different names, but most recently the medical profession has been calling it Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

I won’t go into a lot of detail about this disease except to say it’s spreading rapidly in the gay community and among drug users who share needles. There is great concern it will soon begin spreading among the general populace via blood transfusions and possibly by the transmission of the disease from infected mothers to their babies.

As I mentioned, not very many people are aware of AIDS, but it’s a public health crisis that Americans will soon be discussing a lot more as it spreads. And yet in spite of the seriousness of the problem, the Federal government is doing nothing to address the crisis.

Nothing!

That’s not my view alone. Talk to two of your colleagues, Congressman Wellman of California and Congressman Wilson of New York. They’ll confirm everything I’m telling you.

The primary reason the government is doing nothing is that the Reagan administration has its head stuck in the sand on this issue as on so many others. From the day it was inaugurated, it’s been seeking massive cuts in Federal health spending; and even though its own health experts have told key political leaders in the Administration that AIDS is a menace to the American people, the President and his advisers won’t listen or do anything.

I feel compelled to become involved in the fight against AIDS and to secure the funding the Federal government needs to be spending on research and public education; and while I realize you don’t serve on the Labor-Health and Human Services Subcommittee, I feel like we could be doing more.

I also understand the issues you’re already dealing with are important and that spreading yourself thin to take on this issue might be counterproductive. But I simply can’t stand by in silence and do nothing any longer. The issue is both personal and professional for me.

As I said, it’s been a privilege working for you all these years and I’ll remain a fan forever. It’s only with the greatest regret that I submit this letter of resignation, but I hope you’ll understand my reasons for doing so.

Sincerely,

Jeff

Having written the letter, I pondered it for a few more days. If the Congressman accepted it, I would be without a job. I had put aside a ton of money over the years for a rainy day so I knew I’d be able to survive without any problem for at least a year.

Although I had also received plenty of job offers over the years, I had never seriously thought of leaving. Even now I didn’t want to leave and it was by no means certain I would be able to find a job that permitted me to focus more time and effort on AIDS if I did. But I felt like I needed to try.

Two days later I asked Annie to block out five minutes on the Congressman’s schedule for the two of us to meet. Later that day she buzzed me.

“The Congressman can see you now, Jeff,” she said.

Picking up the letter I marched into his office. He smiled at me as he always did whenever we talked.

I handed him the letter.

“What’s this?” he asked, examining it.

“It’s my letter of resignation,” I said.

Lifting his head, he stared directly at me.

“What’s this about, Jeff?” he asked, softly.

“The letter explains everything,” I said. “If you have any questions after looking at it, I’ll be happy to answer them.”

“Please sit down while I read it,” he replied, pointing to the couch.

I felt awkward being there while he read it, but did as he said. It seemed to take forever, but once he was finished he stood up and walked over to me.

“Here,” he said, handing the letter back to me.

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“I refuse to accept your resignation, Jeff,” he replied. “I’m somewhat aware of AIDS and how devastating it can be, but I’ve felt up until now that other members were better positioned than me to do something about it. But if no one is doing anything, I’m not going to stand by and become part of the problem. What’s the strategy, Jeff? What do we need to do first? Where do we begin?”

“Uh, well, I’m not exactly sure, sir,” I responded, surprised at just how genuinely interested he seemed to be. “Like I said in the letter, Congressmen Wellman and Wilson have been the leaders on this issue in the House, Wellman as chairman of the Health Subcommittee and Wilson as chairman of the Intergovernmental Relations Subcommittee that has oversight over the health agencies. “

“Both of them have terrific staffers who’ve been doing important work. But they don’t understand how the Appropriations Committee works; and although they’re quite knowledgeable technically about AIDS, they don’t really have the political skills needed to fight this battle.”

“They’re used to people doing the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. When it comes to putting pressure on people who don’t want to do the right thing, they’re not the most politically savvy people in the world. They can’t be too partisan in any event.”

“I would say the place to begin is by talking to Wellman and Wilson,” I continued, “and letting them know you want to help. And for me I think it probably involves trying to create a larger staff working group of people who might be interested in this issue and willing to push their bosses to become more involved as well.”

“That might include a lot of staffers who are gay but not necessarily out to their bosses,” I added, looking at Congressman Bresnahan. “Unless you think the involvement of gay staffers might be counterproductive.”

“The more people we can get involved in this fight, the better off we’ll be,” he responded without hesitation. “I don’t care about anyone’s sexuality. What’s important is whether someone can work well as a member of a team, not whether they’re gay or straight. What we don’t need are any prima donnas. Understood?”

“Absolutely,” I said.

****

Having dodged a bullet when my boss refused my resignation, I put in a call to Tim and asked whether I could join Susan and him at one of their weekly luncheons where they tried to coordinate their response to the Reagan Administration. He quickly agreed.

I spent a large part of the afternoon developing and going over the points I wanted to make. The next day I joined them at the Hawk and Dove.

By now I had a good working relationship with Susan. Tim was a bit more of a mystery for me. Like his boss, he was from Los Angeles and I always found dealing with people from California hard as they were usually laid back and relaxed, not intense and pushy like me.

You need to keep that in mind, Jeff. They’ve been working this issue for a long time. They won’t be happy if you start trying to dictate strategy to them.

“So why did you want to join us?” Susan asked, turning to business.

“The main reason is because I’ve finally talked to my boss and he’s willing to play a more active role on this issue in the Appropriations Committee,” I replied. “As you know, we don’t serve on the Labor-HHS Subcommittee that funds the different health agencies; and we don’t know nearly as much as the two of you and your bosses about the disease. But we want to help. What can we do?”

“I wish I knew,” Tim sighed. “We don’t really have any allies on Appropriations. I mean, Henry knows a couple of members from California who serve on the Committee and they’re supportive enough. But like your boss, neither serves on the Labor-HHS Subcommittee.”

“As for staff over there, forget it,” he continued. “Susan and I have tried talking to them, but they all work for the chairman, Jamie Wheeler, one way or another. Wheeler is from Mississippi and pretty damn conservative. Neither Henry nor Teddy find the guy at all approachable; and, believe me, they’ve tried, just like we’ve tried with his staff. It’s hopeless.”

“That’s interesting,” I said. “My boss serves with Jamie on the Military Construction Subcommittee. They’re good friends actually. That surprises me given how liberal my boss is. But Jack is pretty personable. He knows how the Committee works and he’s not a bomb thrower. Jamie likes him. I think he considers Jack his pet liberal.”

“That could be a plus,” Susan volunteered. “Up until now, Appropriations has been our Achilles heel. We can hold all the hearings we want, but we don’t actually control the purse strings. Both of us have thought for a long time it would be helpful to have a friend on Appropriations; and we’re familiar with Congressman Bresnahan’s reputation. Both Teddy and Henry speak highly of him.”

“And we know who the experts are,” I said. “We’re not looking for any laurels out of this. We just want to help.”

It was the truth, of course, but I was laying it on extra thick for Susan and Tim. No one on the Hill liked members or staff who were only in it for the publicity they could get.

“That’s great to hear,” Tim said. “It isn’t really a question of who gets the glory. It’s a question of getting something done; and, sad to say, we haven’t gotten as much done as we’d like up until now, have we, Susan?”

“We haven’t,” she agreed. “These Reagan people are great at stonewalling. They make Nixon look like an amateur when it comes to that.”

“I understand,” I said. “And I have an idea I want to run by you.”

“Oh yeah, what’s that?” Tim responded, and I could sense immediately his sensitivity to interlopers.

“The thing is, you’re right, Tim,” I said. “Most Appropriations staffers are appointed by Jamie and beholden to him, but a few years ago a rule was pushed through allowing each member of the Committee to appoint a staff member to do his work on Appropriations. They’re called associate staff; and while they’re paid by the Committee, they work for the members who appoint them, not Jamie.”

“I mention this because Jamie’s staff aren’t happy having people like me and the other associate staff around,” I continued. “I don’t blame them, but what we’ve found as associate staff is that we do better when we coordinate among ourselves. We can keep each other better informed about what’s going on in each of the subcommittees; and we can help each other out by supporting amendments that our individual bosses offer.”

“What’s your point, Jeff?” Tim asked.

“My point is I’m thinking your bosses should create a new AIDS Task Force in the House that would encourage other interested Members to get involved with the issue,” I said; “and as part of that there would be a staff working group, which the two of you should co-chair as the key staffers since you know the most about this.”

“The purpose of the Task Force would be to expose the Reagan administration’s indifference to AIDS; to help get the latest information about the disease out to the media and the public; and to press for needed funding to address the problem. And, most important of all, to do all of that in a more adversarial way than your Subcommittees can.”

“Look, all of us know you have to keep your Republican members on board to get anything done. But a Task Force of like-minded members could be much more aggressive. It could also be the vehicle to get other associate staff on Appropriations and their bosses involved.”

“Interesting idea,” Tim said, looking over at Susan.

“In addition to associate staff, I know quite a few other House staffers who are interested in this issue and want to help; some of them are gay,” I added, deciding to be upfront about that. “What do you think?”

“Like Tim said, that’s actually a good idea,” Susan replied. “We’ve been thinking about creating that kind of task force, but it’s like everything else in life. There are only so many hours in the day and we’re pretty focused on the work of our respective Subcommittees. Maybe you and your boss should take that on, Jeff.”

I sensed immediately Susan was testing me; offering me a bigger role to see whether I would jump at the opportunity. Recognizing I was new to the battle, I realized I needed to show the proper deference to those who had already been laboring hard.

“Um, well, I’m pretty certain both of us would be willing to spend a lot of time helping out,” I replied, cautiously. “I know I’d be willing to talk to different staffers to encourage them to participate and to get their bosses involved; and I think my boss would do the same with his colleagues.”

“But I don’t think that kind of task force would have much credibility unless your bosses co-chaired it and you guys co-chaired the staff working group. You’re the experts on this. It should be one of those deals where the rest of us get our marching orders from you and try to carry the message back to our Members.”

“That probably makes sense,” Tim said, smiling for the first time. “I’d be willing to talk to Henry to see what he thinks of the idea. How about you, Susan?”

“Yeah, I’ll talk to Ted and have him talk to Henry in the next couple of days. If they agree, they can talk to Congressman Bresnahan about doing some of the leg work to get such a Task Force up and running.”

“Great,” I said.

And that’s pretty much how it played out. Tim and Susan talked to their bosses, who talked to my boss in turn. We ended up drafting the letter for Wellman and Wilson inviting members to participate in a new AIDS Task Force.

Wellman and Wilson were gracious enough to ask my boss to sign the letter as well. To lend a bipartisan air to the thing, my boss also found a liberal Republican on the Appropriations Committee who was willing to sign on to the effort.

I was listed as the staff contact people should get in touch with if interested in joining. I was happy to take on that role although I realized it would mean longer hours for me. I was also surprised at just how positive the response to that initial mailing was.

As I later discovered, some members of Congress were starting to hear from their constituents about AIDS and wanted to be seen as doing something to address the issue. Joining a Task Force was something concrete they could point to.

In addition, a lot of gay staffers and associate staff members on Appropriations knew me and were quick to persuade their bosses to sign on as well.

Within a month we held our first staff working group meeting, which Susan and Tim co-chaired. It was devoted mainly to bringing the rest of us up to date on the state of play regarding AIDS.

At my suggestion, Susan and Tim recommended creating three task force subcommittees: one devoted to coming up with ideas for media outreach and public education; one tasked with getting more Members involved via one minute speeches and extension of remarks on the House floor; and a third focused on funding issues.

That’s the one Susan and Tim asked me to chair. It wasn’t enough by any means, but it was a start.

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