And so, thanks to Lou, began my grand adventure into Life.  On a very tiny scale, I had become what we call now a rock star.  Total strangers greeted me on campus and in the streets.  Lou’s eclectic group of friends, still more  beautiful losers into whose welcoming embrace I fell as naturally as breathing, were attracted first to the singer and then, lo and behold, to me!  Several of them, both male and female, were making themselves clearly “available” to me.  Lou saw my lack of response to any of these overtures and gently asked me, in effect, what was up with this celibacy in an otherwise red-blooded 21-year-old.  She gave voice to my homo-emotional yearnings and made me acknowledge them, if only deeply, to myself.  At the same time, while I was emotionally tugged towards my own gender, for public consumption I seriously tried dating a few girls.  Those experiments ended quickly, as they should have, before too much emotional damage was done.  The girls were fun, but there was no romantic spark.  I saw I wanted intimacy, but not with them.  I had to admit to myself that what I needed was a boy.  Once I crossed that threshold, things happened fast.

Les was one of Lou’s friends.  Black Irish, pale white skin, black hair, heavy beard shadow, piercing blue eyes, stunning.  Nineteen-going-on-35.  He sat across from me at one of Lou’s sloe-gin parties, completely self-possessed, unselfconsciously staring at me.  It was clear he had designs.  I dropped all pretense and decided he’d be the one.  On some pretext we went to my old rooming house down the street–the landlady had let me keep the key to the room Dave Knowles and I had shared–and the deed was done.  That room finally served the purpose it could have but never did when Dave and I were in it.  I was “brought out.”  The lights came on in my life.  My long, self-imposed oppression vanished and I felt a ton lighter.  I joined the human race.  In the simple act of letting go, of submitting to who I was, I discovered indescribable joy.  I was 21, and it was a springtime as sweet as they come only in Kentucky.  Somewhere a national gay liberation movement was being born, but I was unware of anything on so grand a scale.  My own liberation was enough, and as far as I was concerned, I invented it.

My on-again, off-again relationship with music and entertaining began an “off” phase, and it set a pattern that has followed me through my life.   At times when I was alone, between relationships, I turned to music.  When I was with someone, music took a back seat.  It’s ironic, because in most cases it was the music and that entertainer persona that attracted people to me.   When they got me, though, usually they didn’t get much of the music.  In this particular case, simultaneously coming out and ending the Nexus gigs with Lou were a logical complement to each other.  Lou was determined to launch herself as a professional entertainer that summer of 1967, and begged me to quit school and go with her.  Newly ecstatic and smitten with life as I was, I still had enough sense to know that my student draft deferment was making all this joy possible, and that if I quit school, it wouldn’t be to sing in some lounge in Ohio, but to carry a gun in the rice paddies.  So after that short, glorious burst of music and local fame, Lou and I went our separate ways.  She got an agent and followed her star.  I wallowed in my newfound completeness and looked for a boyfriend.  (Les turned out to be merely the means to an end.  I was a but a notch on his already very marked belt, but at the same time he gave me the key to life.  Despite our short time together, he remains of paramount importance in my life’s pantheon.)

The best pickings were among my friends in the university music department, and it was there, at a party, that I found Rick, the boy who would be my first serious relationship.  We were good for each other in ways that inform our lives to this day–we are still good friends forty years later.  Among many other things, I had my first truly cross-cultural experiences with him and his family when I visited them in their home.  They lived  deep in a holler in the hills of Appalachia, in eastern Kentucky.  In religion they were holy rollers, and in life they were surrounded by both the glorious scenery and the grinding poverty which up to then I had seen only in black-and-white television documentaries.  Rick was a piano major and a public performer nearly from birth; he had first played in church and had spent his younger years traveling the Church of God circuit in a family gospel quartet.  His folks owned the grocery store in town, so they had some money.  Rick’s concert Steinway grand had a place of honor there in the house in those hills.  Among the myriad things Rick gave me, I have always seen a connection between the learning I did through him in eastern Kentucky and the same kind of learning I did in the Peace Corps.

Through all these changes, my intense correspondence with Jim Knowles continued.  At the time, he was still serving with the Peace Corps in Morocco.  At some point I screwed up the courage to tell him of the enormous adventure upon which I had embarked, and he was oddly non-committal about it.  Not judgmental in any way, to be sure, just “understanding.”  He made it clear that he’d already known a lot of gay people via his theater experience, and the fact that I was one of them would never threaten our friendship.  I was relieved, and the matter wasn’t revisited.  At least for a while.