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Marriage in “The Family”


Oscar Wilde did it. So did a few Austin Prime Timers. That is, they married a woman. While not as unbelievable as Ted Cruz becoming president, a gay man marrying a woman is still curious enough to warrant examination.

First, we must understand mid-20th century America, the social setting in which baby boomers came of age.

“We grew up in the ‘Dark Ages,'” said Jim Harp. “Males dated girls, got married and had kids. It was expected.”

“It [being gay] was just not accepted,” said Clarence Williams, who grew up a small town in central Pennsylvania where everybody knew everybody. “At least, not unless you lived in a big city like San Francisco or New York.”

“You could’ve gotten killed for being gay back in ’55,” said Tom Doyal. Ouch!

So what was a respectable-but-gay, young man to do? Conform. Do your best to blend in. “It was part of being a good little boy,” said Tom. “It was expected by grandma and society,” added Dallas Heenan.

A few gay men of this era saw marriage as part of a personal agenda. “I wanted to be a university professor and successful,” Dallas remembers. “Marriage was always on the horizon. I always had a girlfriend in school and college,”

Even more than that, the human heart and soul yearns to be part of something bigger. Not being alone is what Prime Timers is all about .

As Dallas put it, “I wanted a family.” Said Jim Harp, “Let me say that, from this long distance, I have no regrets about being married and having a wonderful son. I never doubted I wanted a family.” In a previous interview, Clarence said what he loves most is his boys, his family. Family is the opposite of having nobody.

So is it because these married men were gay that they divorced? Surprisingly, no. After all, no one knows how many married men out there are somewhat happily married; who married because it was expected, then stayed married for any of various reasons. Clarence never divorced; he joined Prime Timers when he was a widower and free to do so.

“My wife asked for the divorce and it was not because I was gay,” said Dallas. “We divorced because of lack of communication.”

“Believe it or not,” Jim Harp said, “my divorce wasn’t because I’m gay or bi or because I had gay experiences and liaisons off and on. It was because my wife and I were in business together, with each other 24 hours a day, that my marriage ended. The relationship got boring. We made lots of pacts to not talk about the business at home, but that never worked. Eventually, my wife asked for the separation.”

“About three months after the separation,” Jim said, “she called and intimated she wanted to get back together, but it was too late for me. That horse was out of the barn. I was enjoying myself way too much. This was 1975, for god’s sake!”

Without doubt, it is the gay man who has married who is the true romantic. “I would still be married if she was alive,” said Clarence, who was married for 34 years. Another Prime Timer widower, someone we all know and like who did not wish to be identified, described his wife proudly: “She was a saint!”

“I was married twice, for five years each time,” said Tom Doyal, who recently had Thanksgiving dinner with his first ex-wife’s family. “I got along with them and liked them. We are still friends,” he said.

When Oscar Wilde died, he left all he had to his estranged wife, Constance.

Article by Leo Guerrero

Originally published in the January 2015 Momentum

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