Volume 76, Number 4 | June 14 - 20 2006

Gay Pride

A special Villager supplement

On being Captain Lou’s first real live gay person

By Kate Walter

Captain Lou picked me up at the Bay Head train station on a hot summer day.

I was the writer from Manhattan coming to the Jersey Shore to interview a forensic marine investigator. When we went to the Ocean Bay Diner for lunch, I was shocked by a surfer entering with a lit cigarette. We were not in the city anymore.

As we settled into a booth, I was already thinking of how I’d describe him — khaki pants, boat shoes, dark tan. I made small talk, trying to warm him up. We were doing the main interview later at Lou’s office. We were not in official tape recorder mode.

I’d just asked my subject if he was married and how long he’d lived at the shore. (He was 67, married 33 years, lived at the shore over 40 years.) I was getting background, not chatting, so I was startled when he asked me, “So Kate, are you married?”

Maybe Lou felt familiar because he went deep-sea fishing with my brother, John, who had turned me on to this guy. Or maybe Lou did not get that I was a journalist working over lunch. I told him I had never been married, thinking we were done with this question, but he persisted, “So you’ve never been married, Kate.”

“I’m gay,” I stated, annoyed at his repetition. “I have a partner.”

“You’re gay,” he said, surprised. “Well that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Why didn’t John tell me this about you? I’ve never met a gay person before.”

Could this be true? My subject was an intelligent man, a Democrat who ran for office in a Republican county, yet he’d never talked with an out gay or lesbian! And this was New Jersey, a progressive state. A recent poll indicated a majority in the state supported gay marriage.

“So you don’t like men,” he asserted, picking up his thick ham sandwich. 

“That’s not true. I have male friends,” I replied, knowing this was not what he meant. Now I was eating my cheese sandwich quickly. I wanted out of this smoky diner and hoped this discussion would end fast. I was not here to teach Queer Studies 101, but I didn’t want to be rude. I needed this guy to open up to me later about his specialized line of work. 

I was an out gay writer stuck on a weird work date with this guy for an afternoon. 

When the waitress put the check in front of Lou, he immediately picked it up. Still stunned, I let him get it, only adding to the role confusion.

We got into Lou’s S.U.V. and headed toward a marina. At a stop light in Point Pleasant, he turned to me and said, “I hope you don’t mind my asking, but do you use anything artificial when you have sex?”

I was shocked. No wonder he was good at investigating. But where was this guy coming from? Was he being perverted or just curious?

“No, but some people do,” I found myself saying. I couldn’t believe a character I was profiling for a regional magazine was asking if my partner and I used sex toys. By now I was thinking, why didn’t my darling brother clue me in more about his fishing buddy? This was our first meeting.

Just when I thought this interrogation couldn’t go any further, Lou said, really puzzled, “So then your relationship with your partner is like an older married couple who are close companions but don’t have sex anymore.”

“Huh? It’s not like that,” I said. “What are you talking about?”

“Well, do you..…climax?

“Yes,” I practically shouted.

“But how...”

“Lou, use your imagination. Your problem is you are applying the heterosexual model to a lesbian relationship. Now we’re off this subject”

“Fine, I appreciate your talking to me. I hope I didn’t make you uncomfortable.”

“No, it’s O.K.,” I lied. “And, by the way, I’m sure you’ve met some gays here at the Jersey Shore, you just didn’t realize it. Who do you think is behind the rebirth of Asbury Park? It’s gays and artists.”

“You’re right, everyone says the gays are bringing back Asbury.”

Thankfully, the boatyard came into sight and we got out. The rest of the afternoon, everything went smoothly. He gave me a great interview in his office and showed me the tools of his specialized trade. We finished the afternoon with a trip to another marina.

As the day wound down, Lou drove me to my mother’s house in nearby Ocean Beach where I was spending the weekend. I could not wait to get there. 

“I have one last question,” he said, as we turned the corner. I’d be home free in another minute. “Have you ever slept with a man?”

“Yes Lou, I had boyfriends, in high school and college and later.” Now I figured he is one of those men who think, If only she had the real thing, she’d be straight. So I let him mull over my answer.

As Lou dropped me off, he gave me a hug, like we were old friends. He seemed clueless that his questions were rude and that he had treated me like a circus freak. I thanked him for the interview, thinking he was bizarre, intrusive. After calming down, I saw him more as simply naive, a curious old salt who had never met a lesbian.

Lou’s probing went overboard, but he seized this opportunity to ask his lifelong burning questions. I was so taken off guard, I answered politely. But why was this man expecting a course in sex education from me? Plus, I was insulted he only seemed curious about one thing. Not, How long have you two been together? (since 1980) Or, How did you meet? (at the Gay Teachers Association). 

Although Lou’s hunger for information was single minded and insensitive,

 I tried to be a good gay ambassador. I’d like to think that these kinds of one-on-one encounters make people more aware. If nothing else, Lou will think twice before assuming everyone is straight. I wondered what he told his wife that night. 

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