The Daily Agenda for Tuesday, November 1

Jim Burroway

November 1st, 2011

I have nothing for today. Maybe you know of something I should have known about. If you do and you’ve been holding out on me, please let us know in the comments.

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?

Ray Harwick

November 1st, 2011

Oh boy, do I have history for Nov. 1st. On that day in 1972 I was awake all night thinking about two things. First, I was scheduled to report to the Armed Forces Induction Station in Oklahoma City the next morning for my physical and then fly to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio for six weeks of basic training. I was scared. I was living with my Uncle Bill and earlier in the day he told me a story I had never heard. It was about my birth and how I wound up being in a charity hospital for the first 30 days of my life. He told me that my father never visited me a single time when I was in the hospital and that my mother got to do so only because he drove her to the hospital every day to see me. He didn’t tell me the whole story.

Learning the entire story took me another 19 years and by that time both of my parents and my uncle had died, I was out of the Air Force after 8 years of duty, had been partnered with the guy who would be my husband and I was profoundly deaf in both ears. The deafness turned out to be the part of the story my uncle didn’t tell me and my parents chose not to.

I was born without a sense of smell and before I got out of the Air Force my hearing was fading. My dad had infected my mom with syphilis while she was pregnant with me and that’s why I had the 30 day stint in the hospital at birth. When I was growing up my mom had always cautioned me not to allow a doctor to give me penicillin. She said I was allergic to it. I had no reason to be curious about it. I knew I had been in the hospital and my mother had always explained: “You had an infection.” Kids usually don’t want any more information than that, so I grew up not having a though in the world about it. But when my hearing took a dramatic turn in my adulthood, I had blood test that were positive for syphilis and was put in Saint Vincent’s hospital in down town Los Angeles for treatment. I told them I was allergic to penicillin but they treated me with it anyway; 21 million units a day for ten days. Before they started, they took a spinal fluid sample, which is the definitive test to confirm syphilis, then started treatment. As I lay in that hospital, the jury in the Rodney King case came to their famous conclusion that ignited the burning and looting of central Los Angeles and I watched a lot of it from the 9th floor balcony; standing there in my hospital robe and pajamas with a portable IV stand.

At the end of the treatment I got the spinal fluid test back. They were negative for syphilis. I didn’t have it. I just had antibodies to the disease that registered a false positive. I still do to this day.

My mom was right. I’m allergic to penicillin. The treatment they gave me at Saint Vincent’s destroyed what remained of my hearing. When I went into the hospital I could talk easily on an amplified phone, but after ten days I couldn’t hear anything.

What the hospital did I think of as the moment when I got curious about my birth circumstances. Their diagnosis was “congenital syphilis” and so in 1991 I started asking my relatives what they remembered about me when I was a child. It took me about 10 more years to get all the facts together and, I don’t know about everybody, but people who have been in the armed forces tend to remember the exact dates of their service because they are asked to supply those days frequently when they are serving.

So, I remember November 1st, 1972. It’s part of my own gay history. I was in the service when TSgt Leonard Matlovich was serving and I vividly recall what a horrible time it was to be gay and in the military when his story hit the cover of Time Magazine. I often think about how I felt so cowardly for not stepping forward and defending his position. I still feel a sense of shame about it; among other things.

Ben In Oakland

November 1st, 2011

Stehpen Crane, most likely gay, and author of a gay themed book called Flowers of Asphalt. Had he lived, he might have become the Great american Novelist.

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