WANTING TO BE WHO WE'RE NOT
 

Creative Nonfiction by Queer Writers
Edited by Jim Tushinski and Jim Van Buskirk
Now available from Harrington Park Press

 
 
 

CONNECTIONS (excerpt)

by Daniel M. Jaffe

     My obsession with Soviet Jews began while studying politics and Russian at Princeton University in the mid-1970s. These were my people, after all. Was it not my duty to understand and help them? Of course it was. But what I did not at first appreciate was the underlying fact that my admiration for these people, my envy of their insistence upon living as they chose, had as much to do with my suffering as a closeted gay man in a homophobic society as with their sufferings as Jews in an anti-Semitic one.
     For me, a teenager from the suburbs entering college in 1974, homosexuality seemed an aberration. I'd heard nothing about the Stonewall riots of 1969 and other growing efforts by gay activists to assert our rights and our humanity, but I'd sure heard about electric shock treatments and lobotomies designed to "cure" us. No amount of prayer helped reduce the frequency or intensity of my teenage fantasies about every single man I met-spotted-conjured in my imagination; still, I clung fervently to the notion that—as a good Jewish boy—I would outgrow the unfortunate Freudian developmental phase in which I was temporarily stuck. In the meantime, why not do something constructive, concentrate on my studies and earn grades sufficient for admission to law school? Right? Of course right!


     I studied hard. During the fall of freshman year, on the Friday evening before my first Russian language mid-term exam, my three roommates were hovering around our three-room suite—music, conversations, telephone calls. It was impossible to study there, so I searched for a quiet place on campus, starting with Firestone Library. I hunted all six floors, but every single carrel and chair were occupied with other pre-mid-term crammers. This was late October in New Jersey—too cold to sit outside. Yet I had to study. But where?
     I was not yet familiar enough with the campus to know of other, smaller libraries, and I didn't realize that many classroom buildings remained unlocked in the evenings. But I did think of Princeton's tiny train station, the Dinky Station as it was known, a stop on a spur line taking passengers to the main Amtrak route between Philadelphia and New York. When not wanting to compete with my three roommates for our one telephone—cell phones did not yet exist—I had occasionally used the public telephone at the Dinky Station, a short amble from our dormitory. So, from Firestone Library I set off across campus, shoving out of my head the vague rumor I had heard—I can't for the life of me recall where—that, after dark, the Dinky Station turned into a trysting place for men.
     I was going there to study, for no other reason.