When I first met her, she was attending a specialized school renowned throughout the fashion industry. When she later became my first wife, she was already a successful fashion designer, and one of the most stylish people that I had ever met. That was probably a big part of the attraction.
She did not have the raw, animal sexuality a young man dreams of. Instead she had a level of slick sophistication that was simply undeniable. As you might guess, she dressed impeccably. I never saw her not looking correct. Her sense of style and taste extended even to interior decorating… so our home became a showplace, even on our meager start-up salaries. In many respects I learned how to dance from her. Somehow she picked up the latest dances effortlessly. Back then, that made a difference in our circles.
She was also my direct link to the fashion industry.
We attended major fashion shows, private showings and parties that I’d only fantasized about. Living in and around the New York City area, never really meant that much until she took me by the hand, and introduced me to the gilded organs that made it unique. In so doing, I was introduced to both her industry and her friends.
You could not be homophobic… and be married to my wife.
To be clear, I was never introduced to the gay community. I was introduced to a truck-load of people who happened to be gay.
Upon meeting her friends at events throughout our marriage, they all loved Kay and in so doing I was approved by default. In such repetitive circumstances and in these circles, only a fool would respond badly to the way they welcomed me into their world with open arms. In fact, after a while I learned never to make assumptions and to wait until later to inquire about the people I’d met, because if I guessed (before spending any real time with them)… quite often I would be wrong.
My experience was that among real friends, people did not seek to hide their sexual orientation, they were simply accepted. I later came to understand that it was only difficult for me to recognize her gay and lesbian friends immediately at first... because of their respect for Kay’s straight husband. (That didn’t last long of course.) As soon as they saw that I accepted who they were, they were immediately comfortable with their natural and continual displays of affection with partners, friends, casual lovers, etc., and they really didn’t care what anyone else thought. They were, after all, among friends.
Frankly it was wonderful… and sometimes funny. One night , I had come to a party just off of Fifth Avenue to showcase the opening of an important new boutique. Kay was already there and was working the door with her friend and co-worker Joey. I’d met Joey numerous times before, and he was very comfortable with me. In fact, he was so comfortable with me that when he turned around and saw that it was me… he was happily surprised to see me.
So he threw his arms around me and kissed me full on the mouth.
At the time I remembered thinking that I have rarely been more proud of myself. I did not freeze for dramatic effect… I did not react as if he had done something horrible to me, and I did not worry about what others might be thinking. (Although I did see my beloved wife laughing into her hands out of the corner of my eye.) Actually, I did nothing... nothing more than laugh at the sheer joy of being among friends. Whew!!
After all, it wasn’t a love kiss involving open mouths and tongues and such… it was just his unthinking way of saying hello. We laughed about it later. (In later years, I would recognize the fact that it was somewhat foolish to feel so proud of simply not being an asshole. But I was young.)
So… it was with this kind of self-confidence and composure, that I accompanied my wife to a weekend on Fire Island.
I do not know if Fire Island has changed a great deal since then or not. Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s however, Fire Island was one of the acknowledged playgrounds of the gay communities. And if you had access to the rental properties and beaches… it was great fun. The beaches in particular were very much clothing optional, so it was not unusual to see men and women (quite proud of their beautiful bodies) on the beaches topless or bottomless. Likewise, in some of the more secluded areas, rumor had it that you could easily stumble across people making love right out in the open, although I never personally witnessed any such thing.
We were having a wonderful weekend to say the least, when we were spontaneously invited to come to the Ice Palace. The Ice Palace was a night club on Fire Island. I did not know that it was the night club… but we went anyway. I do not remember all of the details of the night, but I do recall an experience that I have never forgotten.
The Palace was packed. It featured a huge dance floor and this driving techno music. And from what I could see, maybe 95% of the dancers were men. Most of them were shirtless and sweating and just about everyone was dancing.
Now … I have moved through a crowded dance floor numerous times before in my life. It isn’t that difficult. Except that I never realized that moving through a crowd of dancers when the crowd is half men and half women … is a dramatically different thing than moving through a crowd of dancing men. There are no soft spots in the crowd. The crowd does not give easily to people seeking to work their way from one side of the room to the other. In fact… it didn’t give much at all. There was probably an unlawful amount of people to begin with so there wasn’t really anyplace for them to go.
And they were definitely caught up with the music. In spite of my comfort level with the individual choices of the new friends that I’d made… it was a very different thing to be packed in tightly among sweating, gyrating naked men. Several times I had completely lost sight of Kay and didn't know where she was.
Certain realities reasserted themselves. Sweat smells like sweat... even when surrounded by hundreds of different versions of it. And as it is drying on the skin, it feels cold and clammy. (I knew this of course.) But imagine pushing your way through a sea of cold, wet, sticky, funky party-goers. By the time I finally made it through, my clothes were soaked, I felt like I'd been beaten up, ... and Kay and I were laughing hysterically.
As it turned out, no one behaved inappropriately in any way and once again we ultimately had a wonderful time… the entire weekend. But it was the first time that it had occurred to me that I could not protect Kay if something had gone wrong this evening. The people at the club were almost all strangers and they had no interest in Kay.
I was actually realizing that she just might need to protect me.