A 50th Reunion Memoir

Jack Anderson, 1972 Aegis
Jack Anderson, 1972 Aegis

DGALA member Jack Anderson ’72 recently reached out to us as follows: “Within the last two years, and in preparation for our upcoming 50th reunion, some of my classmates have solicited essays outlining experiences from our years at Dartmouth, in 1968-1972. I had mixed emotions about writing one because my experiences as a closeted gay guy were not anywhere near the positive recollections of the general population of our class. But I also had a story to tell, so I sat down to write. The result was the attached essay, which I submitted …

“The response was very positive. One of the guys editing the stories said, “This story has to be told.” So it was published in the fall 2020 edition of our class newsletter. That publication elicited many more positive responses. One classmate contacted me because his son is gay and he wanted to know how I had adjusted in the big picture. When I told him that now I wouldn’t have it any other way, he thanked me for helping him to dispel the myth that gay men are necessarily unhappy. Another contacted me to apologize to me on behalf of all the gay guys he had bullied in the past. He published his apology in the newsletter as well. A high-level psychiatrist at the UCLA medical school also contacted me after someone had forwarded the article to her. She was a 1972-1973 exchange student in Mass. Hall, and she said that my recollections coincided thoroughly with hers.”

An excerpt from Jack’s memoir was published in the June 2022 “Green Light.” The full essay is below.

My Gay Odyssey

Ever since I was very young I knew that I was different, but I couldn’t figure out how or why. But my family sure figured it out early on. I was constantly shepherded into doing “masculine” things, so that I would “turn out right.” These went from third-grade boys’ gym classes at the Y, through Little League tryouts, and into playing the saxophone, instead of the flute or the violin, which “boys don’t play.” Etc., etc. The Little League tryouts were a complete disaster and I felt terrible shame, both from my own sense of failure and from overhearing things like “I was so embarrassed …” It never occurred to anybody that I was dragged to those tryouts without ever having been taught how to throw a ball beforehand. Not everybody is a natural athlete. I became seriously neurotic because I thought that, if I was so bad at the things that I was being pushed into doing, there had to be something g seriously wrong with me.

The word “homophobic” wasn’t invented yet in 1968-1969, but it is nevertheless spot-on for a description of that Dartmouth social milieu. No late-night dorm bull session was complete without faggot jokes and comments. There were a few guys on campus who had been assigned dubious nicknames like “Puff,” and were referred to as such by guys who had never met them, and never would. The late-night bull sessions generally included accusations of one of the dorm guys being seen with one of “them,” to uproarious guffaws. A couple of courageous guys who were out and roommates put an ad from a catering company on their dorm door, which said, “Have Your Next Affair with Us.” Their room was promptly trashed by drunken members of one of the animal houses.

Even academic department secretaries told homophobic jokes. Once, in my presence, when a secretary’s audience didn’t respond with great laughter (later, I figured out that one of the two professors in the room was gay), she apologized for not telling the joke well, and explained that it had been so cute when her friend had told it— and she repeated the punchline with a more pronounced lisp.

Needless to say this was not the healthiest environment for someone like me, an older adolescent and young gay man trying to come to grips with my sexuality. So I became asexual. I did go to mixers on road trips with everybody else, but I ended up making (at best) gal-pal buddies, some of whom would occasionally indulge me as dates for long weekends. I’m still good long-distance pals with one of them. Having such gal-pals had already been my default M. O. in high school. Long weekends at Dartmouth, though, were generally very difficult because of the pressure to have a hot date. I secretly hated Winter Carnival. I should have just ridden with the flow and made gobs of money subbing at inflated prices for guys with girlfriends and with Dartmouth Dining Association duty. But I was blindly driven to fit in, even though I never really could.

Part of my fitting-in effort was to join a house, so that I could “belong” somewhere. I overextended disastrously by rushing Bones Gate as my first choice, even making an ass of myself by going to second-night rush there after they hadn’t sent anybody to my room that afternoon. They dinged me big time, but I was not going to let that stop me. I can just imagine what was said when my picture came up on the big screen. Ultimately, I ended up at Tau Epsilon Phi/ Harold Parmington Foundation, which really was the better fit. Several house brothers have become lifelong friends.

Nevertheless, even there I was not insulated, but I won’t mention member names or incidents. During Senior year a loudmouth bully-type lived at the house; I don’t know how he got connected with us because he was not a member and yet lived there. I suspect that Student Services and the Ombudsman had something to do with it. He harassed me “relentlessly” (in the words of a house-brother who recently brought it up). He regularly called me “Baggott,” always in front of others, ostensibly after Shakespeare’s Bagot in Richard II, but clearly enunciated to mimic “faggot.” He never spoke to me one-on-one. He would publicly say things like, “You know what I like about you, Baggott? You’re fucked up and you don’t let it bother you.” Interestingly, nobody ever came to my defense, despite the fact that I was a full member and he was not. They either enjoyed the “joke,” or pretended not to hear. This guy was intimidating! It was easiest for me to go with the flow and feign amusement.

I’ve often wondered how that guy turned out and why he was so driven to harass me. Could it have been Freudian reaction projection? Someone told me recently that he was featured in a magazine because he now raises little foo-foo dogs.

I never verbalized my “fear” of being gay until I had a sudden, massive anxiety attack during the fall semester of my Junior Year, and ended up being interviewed jointly by a psychiatrist and a psychologist at Dick’s House. They steered me into group therapy, where I quickly discovered that my adjustment issues were mild compared to what some others were experiencing. Hence, I saw my first silver lining: I consciously decided to lose myself in study (and then in beer afterwards). I managed to get a 4.0 that term, which allowed me to take four courses for winter term.

I power-booked all winter and got a 4.0 again, with four courses. I had already been to Italy on foreign study during Spring term Sophomore year, and, as a Russian major, I was signed up to spend the next summer on the exchange program in the Soviet Union. All I had to do was to get through Junior year. I managed to get the gig as a Teaching Assistant [T.A.] for first-year Italian during the Spring, and Professor Rassias then called to ask me to serve as T.A. in Italian again in the Fall – but this time for the program in Florence, Italy. So I got to spend six more months in Europe (and away from Dartmouth). A pretty happy turn of events.

Jack (right) with partner Andy today
Jack (right) with partner Andy today

Although I did talk about being gay at Dick’s House and to one house brother, I didn’t come out until I got to Stanford for grad school. There I joined up with the fledgling Gay People’s Union. We petitioned the administration for a permanent space and were told that three members had to be interviewed publicly to show sufficient support to justify assigning us space. Two others had stepped forward and I was solicited to be the third. So I threw in my hat and took one for the cause: I came out on the front page of the Stanford Daily.

On the day the interview was published, I went to campus early in the morning almost paralyzed with anxiety because I had no idea what was going to happen to me. What then happened was the biggest shock: Nothing happened, until 4:00 in the afternoon. At that point I was walking to a 4:15 Humanities seminar when a fellow Humanities fellow, a French literature grad student, flew up to me on her bike, jumped off, gave me a big hug and a kiss, and said “Congratulations! That had to have taken a lot of courage!” I later asked another gal-pal (I still had them) whether she had heard any repercussions. She said that the only thing she heard that morning was from our department secretary, who was reading the Stanford Daily at her desk. The secretary looked up and asked, “Is this our Jack Anderson?” My gal-pal said, “Yes.” The secretary said, brightly, “Oh!” and then continued reading the paper.

My worst experience while at Stanford happened off-campus on a Saturday night. I had gone out to a gay bar, and, after I left, I was trailed by two California Highway Patrol [CHP] officers who pulled me over as soon as I got to a less populated area. They handcuffed me, threw me into the back seat of their patrol car, and one of them climbed into the back seat with me. The other drove us around for a long period of time while the one in back with me proceeded to abuse me verbally about being gay. His harangue got more and more sexual (later I realized that he knew more about male- to-male sex acts than I even did at the time).

Eventually we came to a deserted field, where at least eight other patrol cars had pulled up in a circle, with their flashers and headlights on and facing inward, and the officers all standing in a circle in front of their patrol cars. They pulled me out of the back seat, still handcuffed, and frog-marched me into the middle of the circle, and made me kneel down. At this point I realized that I was about to be gang raped. Whether this was consciously motivated or an automatic defense reaction, I’ll never know, but I immediately became hysterically emotional and kept that up until they realized that they weren’t going to get anywhere without being really brutal, which would have been hard to cover up. So they drove me in and I was booked for drunk driving. Admittedly, I may have deserved that part.

Some of my Gay People’s Union buddies got me out, and one said that he’d heard of this having happened to several other guys (who may have cooperated more than I did, thus encouraging repeat performances). This was reinforced several years later when a friend told me that his cousin, who had been a CHP officer out of that same station, used to brag about being involved in exactly the same activity. CHP Saturday Night Fever?

The next week after my experience, I called the fledgling American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] in Berkeley, told them the story, and asked for their help. They were sympathetic but explained that the law gave gay people no recourse; it would be my word against all those cops. They advised me to plead guilty and pay the fine, in exchange for probation. I borrowed the money and did so, of course reluctantly. I was initially very angry, but the experience radicalized me, and I became a lifelong gay activist who is now very proud of how far we have come. Another silver lining?

I can’t help but speculate what went through those CHP officers’ minds. If they could come off to physical stimulation from another man, shouldn’t that make them at least bisexual? Even if (or especially because) it was forced? And among each other? Or are they like the proverbial Marines, who aren’t gay if they don’t kiss? If nothing else, this experience has given me a free pass out of jury duty. The District Attorney asked a panel I was on for a criminal matter, “Has anybody ever had a negative experience with a peace officer?” I told the story aloud in the suddenly-silent courtroom (albeit in far less detail). I was his first peremptory challenge.

My family never fully came through. While at Stanford I got a letter from my oldest sister, thanking me for an LP I’d sent her, and saying that it was so good that we had remained close as adults. I had adored her since I was little. She was a fashion designer in New York and had numerous gay colleagues and friends. So I responded with a very positive letter, coming out to her and telling her how happy I was after I’d finally made that breakthrough. Several days later I got a thoroughly nasty response, by air mail and special delivery no less, berating me for “imposing my sexual problems onto her.” I re-read the letter to be certain that I understood it, ripped it up, threw it into the trash, and did not communicate with her for seven years. We were never close again.

My mother and other sister were supportive, but not my father. I wanted to lay it out on the table for him, but my mother asked me not to. He probably would have disowned me, with my mother suffering the brunt of the consequences. Out of respect for her, I kept up the charade of being a “confirmed bachelor,” and not dispelling his conviction that my partner was just a good buddy, until the day he died. We both missed out on having a relationship.

These experiences didn’t end after Stanford. I finally heard the word “homophobia” used constructively in the 1980’s, when I was in law school at USD, pursuing my career change. A national “Homophobia Awareness Day” had been declared, and the administration asked all the faculty to devote some of their class time to a discussion on homophobia. I had two classes that day. In one, Administrative Law, the professor was a visiting-faculty old codger who had been a high-level functionary in the Johnson administration. Although he had made his career under a champion of civil rights and was, in fact, a Jewish senior citizen who must have experienced the Holocaust at least second-hand, he wanted nothing to do with the discussion. He said that he couldn’t understand why he was being instructed to talk about something that meant “fear of man” and that he deemed “nonsense.”

In the other class, a Black student stood up and gave an impassioned speech about how the concept of homophobia was “ridiculous” because nobody could understand what it was like to live under discrimination if they weren’t Black. I guess it never occurred to him that some people are Black and gay. I didn’t take on either of them in class because I had already had a grueling day (this was night school) and I just didn’t need the hassle. But later I ran into the Black student and asked him whether he had ever had the problem of telling his parents that he is Black, and fear being disowned as a result. He looked at me as if I were green with red antennae, and he walked away.

In my first two law-firm jobs I was never really incorporated into the social network. I was not invited to either a New Year’s party or a weekend in Las Vegas that included the other associates and the secretaries in the office. I was not invited to the 25th anniversary party of a boss with whom I worked very closely, and another 40th birthday party, because relatives of each were coming from the Midwest who “couldn’t handle it.”

I thought I had finally made it when I landed a job in a mid-sized “boutique” firm that had a structured partnership-achievement program. Early on I was told by the managing partner, over his desk while I looked him in the eyes, that I was “guaranteed” to make partner if I met all the criteria. After I had worked very hard for many years and had met all the criteria, it was suddenly announced that the criteria had changed, with no plausible explanation given. They merely said that “the prior program was not equally fair to everyone.” What the Hell did that mean? Was it only a coincidence that I had brought my partner to the office Christmas party for the first time that year? I was sick and tired of listening to all the grandchildren and wedding stories, but being unable to talk about my own personal life and having to be evasive when people asked me probing personal questions. “Are you married? Why not?” You’d think that only elderly aunts of the time would ask those questions.

I’d worked hard to meet my objective, and then the goal posts were moved, and I cracked my head firmly against that hard glass ceiling. When I told this story to a woman acquaintance a few years later, she said, “Oh no; glass ceilings are only there to prevent women from meeting their potential.” Do I detect a theme here? I’ve known many racist, misogynist, and antisemitic gay people over the years. I guess it boils down to, “Don’t you dare be biased against my tribe.”

Yet the silver linings did keep coming around, largely because I had learned to look for them. I later had just survived a second corporate meltdown, still in that same law firm, and the remaining structure was very shaky. The only reason I survived was that I was servicing two of the most lucrative clients that the firm had, and they were mine. I had brought one with me and I had attracted the other. Then I started getting pressure from that same managing partner to share my good clients’ work with other associate attorneys in the firm. So I initiated evasive maneuvers and started planning my escape, in order to avoid being screwed out of earned bonuses (as had happened to a couple other attorneys who left). I waited until my annual bonuses were in my bank account and my benefits still due were confirmed in an accounting. Then I gave my notice, and my two good clients opted to follow me. They kept me and my new sole practice fully busy for the remainder of my career.

Jack points to his name on the Triangle House funder plaque
Jack points to his name on the Triangle House funder plaque

But back to Dartmouth: After graduation I left for my new life in California, never really looking back, and admittedly without any warm-and-fuzzies for Dartmouth. This was status-quo until our 40th reunion approached. I had not returned to campus, but I did finally join the Dartmouth LGBTQIA+ Alum Association [DGALA] and decided to go to our 40th reunion, since DGALA was having events. I had a blast. At the DGALA breakfast, I first learned about the establishment of Triangle House, and was immediately intrigued and excited. And then I got the more detailed fundraising letters. Because I was still working, I was able to pull together a sufficient donation to become a founding contributor. DGALA and Triangle House have brought me back to Dartmouth, and I am very proud to be on the plaque in the Triangle House living room. They have brought me some delayed warm-and- fuzzies for Dartmouth. Better late than never.

My Dartmouth house, TEP/HPF, folded pretty soon after we graduated. It is now a sorority. When we had a Classes of 1968-1972 house reunion at Homecoming in 2014, the women there graciously offered us a tour of the old house. I was quite pleased to see a rainbow flag hanging from the window of my Junior-Year room. How things change! The silver linings keep coming.

—Jack Anderson, ’72