Monday, June 20, 2011

Reggie's Three College 25th Reunions, Part II: Yale Class of 1979

In this post, the second in the series, I reflect on how much had changed in the thirty five years that separated my own Yale 25th reunion from my father's.

Yale Class of 1979 25th Reunion

Although FD's Yale classmates were almost entirely made up of WASPs, after WWII the face of Yale’s undergraduates started to change.  Slowly at first, and aided by the G.I. Bill, Yale’s student body began to become more diverse.  By the time I entered Yale in September 1975 it was a very different place from the university my father had enrolled in.  For one thing, Yale had gone co-ed in the fall of 1969 and by the time I matriculated 40% of my classmates were female.  In addition, a substantial percentage of my Yale class were people of differing ethnic and religious backgrounds from my WASP origins, and the majority of undergraduates there had attended public schools.

While being a legacy offspring and a prep school graduate was certainly not a liability to getting admitted to Yale when I applied, it was no longer the easy ticket for admission that it had been in my father's day.  In other words, Yale had become a meritocracy.  But Yale remained, and remains to this day, a very macho, competitive, and elite university.  Today, however, these defining characteristics of the university have nothing to do with the ethnicity or religion or gender of its students, unlike when my father went there when its doors were tightly closed to anyone who didn’t fit a very narrowly-defined vision of who should be admitted.  I loved my experience at Yale, and I look back on it fondly and with respect.  I feel fortunate to have been able to go there.

A view of the Yale campus, approximately 100 years later, ca. 1900

One of the things that has changed since I was an undergraduate at Yale is that the stigma of being gay in this country has largely dissipated in the intervening years, at least among sophisticated, educated people, and had long since become a non-issue among my classmates by the time of my 25th reunion, held in June 2004.

A 1907 postcard of Handsome Dan, the Yale mascot

But when I was an undergraduate at Yale in the second half of the 1970s, being gay was still stigmatized to a degree that would be unfathomable today, at least here in America.  Even though Yale had become known by then as politically liberal (a reputation that enraged many of its conservative alumni), it was not yet acceptable to be gay in the social and athletic circles I ran in at Yale, and many of us callow youths there so inclined weren't brave enough to publicly admit our true orientation as undergraduates.  Sure, there were a couple of out militant lesbians and extremist gays on campus, but they were marginalized exceptions, and were most definitely not found among the campus leaders whose ranks I aspired to join one day, and eventually did.

A Yale banner from the 1910s
Image courtesy of the Antique Athlete

While I (discretely) came out to a few of my closest friends during my senior year at Yale, it was not until half a decade or more after graduating from Yale that I finally fully accepted myself as a gay man, and closed the door—once and for all—on thinking that a life with and marriage to a woman was a possibility, however remote, for me.
Woolsey Hall, a fine Beaux-Arts pile of limestone
where all major convocations and concerts are held

It was not until my 20th reunion at Yale that I brought one of my partners with me back to New Haven, when I brought Boy Fenwick, my partner in life (and more recently my legally recognized spouse, at least in Massachusetts where we got married two years ago) with me.  While some of my classmates were slightly taken aback when I first introduced Boy to them at my 20th reunion, they rallied immediately.  And when he joined me at my 25th reunion, no one batted an eye.  I had a marvelous time at my Yale 25th, and having Boy there with me by my side was an important part of what made the experience memorable for me.

Berzelius, one of the eight
secret societies at Yale

Needless to say, that would not have been the case for any of my father’s classmates who would have had the audacity to do such a thing at their 25th reunion in 1969, where they would likely have been met with disapproving astonishment at such an introduction, and where the offending classmate and his partner would have been ostracized, if not asked to leave immediately.

Bull dog!  Bull dog!  Bow, wow, wow!  Eli Yale!

I'm glad that I graduated from Yale at such a time that I was not subjected to this type of treatment at my 25th reunion.

Sadly, this boat house had long since been abandoned
by the time I rowed at Yale

I'm also glad that I came of age in America when it had become possible in the world I come from to publicly admit to being gay without the fear of complete and utter ostracism.  I am not sure that I would have been able to admit to myself that I was gay if I had been in the class of 1944 at Yale, considering the way of the world back then.  Given who I am and the background I come from, I believe I would have done the expected thing then and gotten married to a nice girl from a similar background and had a family, as many gay men of that generation did.  But I would have always known, at least subconsciously, that I had chosen to do something that did not come naturally to me.  I also believe that it wouldn't have been fair to the woman I married, because I would not have been able to truly love her with the passion such a union deserves.  Fortunately, through advances since then I did not feel compelled to pursue that path—unlike I am sure a number of my father's Yale classmates . . .

To the tables down at Mory's,
To the place where Louis dwells,
To the dear old Temple bar we know so well,
Sing the Whiffenpoofs assembled,
With their glasses raised on high . . .

I must admit, though, being gay hasn't exactly always been a cake walk for me, and it certainly isn't something that I would have chosen had I been given a choice in the matter.  But I wasn't, and so I have made the best of it as far as I have been able to.  

With a clear conscience.

Next: Reggie attends Boy's Vassar Class of 1985 25th Reunion

All Yale postcards from Reggie's personal collection


  1. Reggie,
    I applaud your candor on this subject and all. I am so glad you and Boy were able to enjoy your 25th a committed couple!

  2. I am so glad that "no one batted an eye" at your 25th.

    My mother said the only part of my sister being gay that made her sad was that people would hate her daughter for no good reason.

  3. Dearest one,

    Some of the nicest people I know are gay and in a same sex couple relationship. I would not change them for the world. As a matter of fact, I would marry either partner in a minute!

    I have observed gay couples in relationships both in real life and through blogging and I don't know of a heterosexual couple that has the quality of life that all of you have. So you made the RIGHT choice, albeit the TOUGH choice and believe me, you are the better for it.

  4. This is so well stated. "I must admit, though, being gay hasn't exactly always been a cake walk for me, and it certainly isn't something that I would have chosen had I been given a choice in the matter. But I wasn't, and so I have made the best of it as far as I have been able to. With a clear conscience." I think this is how so many if not most of us would put it, good for you R. Power to the people!!

  5. You wonderful darling creature. What a pleasure and an honor it was to be at your wedding to Boy two years ago.


  6. Beautiful. Thank you.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Hello Reggie:
    We have been most interested to read of your account of the reunion at Yale and of the social changes which have occurred over the past 25 years.

    It is also interesting to note how the climate with a regard to gay people and their relationships has altered so significantly in recent years. This, in our opinion, is long overdue. We have many gay friends both in the UK and in Hungary but sadly, even today, being gay in Hungary, as in many countries of the former Eastern Bloc, remains fraught with all kinds of problems.

  9. I disagree with Paul Gervais de Bédée that you made a "well-stated" expression when you wrote "... it certainly isn't something that I would have chosen had I been given a choice in the matter."

    It just strikes me as odd that someone would say something like that. If someone has sincerely accepted their sexuality, then the idea of choosing another shouldn't ever enter the picture.

    I could understand if what you really mean is that you wouldn't have chosen the struggle and hardship that comes with growing up/living as a gay man, but to say that you would have chosen to not be gay is strange. You're basicaly saying that you would have chosen to conform and be part of the majority and I don't understand why. To avoid harassment? So you could absorp into WASP society easier? But then you wouldn't be Reggie Darling. You would be someone else entirely - and it is that implication to the statement that sounds so strange to me, especially because there is nothing wrong with being gay, so why would you want to change? Why would you want to be someone else?

  10. Reggie, I hope before the week is out your marriage to Boy will have legal recognition in NY as well as Massachusetts. DocP

  11. This was such an interesting essay. I am the mother of a Yale daughter and I certainly lived through her experience as Yale did not yet have women when I went to college in the midwest. I had two wonderful gay friends in the late 1960's and they lived in fear of losing their jobs. One of the fathers was so cruel he banned my friend from the family home. My friend would have to sneak over to visit his mother when his father was at work. Curious about the boathouse postcard and when it was in existence? Apparently, there is a new one just this year?

  12. INCREDIBLE post !

    Have a super week.

  13. Self-correction of: "I have not suffered the broad-based shame and isolation of being a social outcast as you have, Reggie."

    Rewrite: "I have not suffered the kind of shame and isolation forced on you by others who PERCEIVED you to be a social outcast."

    The rest of my regurtitation was a tad too melodramatic, if you'll pardon me for putting it back into the repression bottle!

    It saddens me that men and women have to endure suffering a hurtful, mean, angry, arrogant, cruel and oftentimes dangerous marginalization by those who simply feel entitled to do so. I pass a new Anglican church on my way here and there most every day, I look at it, I read about its growing congregation, this is what the Episcopal church has come to, a split dividing pro gays from anti gays along the line of Biblical interpretation. How did "God is Love" get so complicated that a group of so-called Christians feels entitled to institutionalize Hate?

  14. A&A: Thank you.

    Patsy: Thanks. Would that all parents of gay children were so understanding as your mother. Fortunately, more and more are.

    Lindaraxa: Thank you, m'dear, that means a lot to me.

    Pau; G de B: Thank you, fellow traveler. Power to the people, indeed.

    Francesca: Thank you—just as we were honored by your lovely presence at it, and your continuing dear friendship since then.

  15. Anon 11:11: Thank you for your comment. When I wrote that I would not choose to be gay, if given the choice, it was not because I believe being gay is wrong, which I don't. It is because the world in which we live does not, in many cases, support even basic human rights for gay people, much less want to have anything to do with them. Who would choose to live a life, any kind of life, that would subject one to being reviled in so many corners, if one had the choice? As I wrote, I have made the best of it because that was my only choice, at least the only choice I had available to me that allowed me to live my life with a clear conscience.

    DocP: Thank you, I share your hope.

  16. Anon 7:02: Thank you for your comment and perspective. Your friends' experience is, unfortunately, not exceptional. The boathouse that I showed in the post was abandoned by Yale in, I believe, the 1950s, as it sat on the New Haven Harbor where it became unusable due to traffic in the harbor. It was replaced by a nasty cinder block "temporary" one in Derby, Connecticut that was only replaced several years ago by a much larger, beautiful modernist boathouse, the cost of which was largely underwritten by a college classmate of mine's family.

    HARRYGOAZ: Thank you, and the same to you!

    Flo: Thank you for your perceptive, heartfelt, and dear comment. You are a treasure. As a lifelong Episcopalian, it is indeed upsetting to me to witness the schism that has erupted in my church over this issue. Fortunately my own congregation is welcoming to all who seek shelter within its walls, which--I believe--is a fundamental tenant of the Christian Church, at least how I was taught to understand it.

  17. I love my brother as he is, and have no wish that he were different in any way - well, maybe a littler thinner.


  18. I just ripped this quotation from the woman of a certain age blog:

    "It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into," Jonathan Swift.

  19. Craig, this is Lars. Nice Yale photos.


Please do comment! I welcome and encourage them, and enjoy the dialogue.

Related Posts with Thumbnails