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



by Jeff Mann

     The Old White, they used to call it, when Robert E. Lee and other Southern aristocrats, fleeing the Tidewater summer heat, used to visit the mountain resort. Torn down in 1922, rebuilt in the late Twenties, it is now called the Greenbrier, still a luxurious resort for those who can afford it. For most of my life, I have wanted to spend the night there, but considering the cost of the rooms—two hundred and twenty eight dollars per night is the cheapest rate I can find on their Web page—I doubt that I will ever fulfill that particular dream.
     Those mountains once were Virginia; since 1863, they have been part of West Virginia. In particular, Greenbrier County, which is just east of Summers, the county where I spent my adolescence. I remember the first time I entered the Greenbrier, when I was a shapeless preteen visiting relatives there. My mother's sister, Aunt Jane, had married well, a Chrysler executive whose company treated him to occasional visits to the resort. I walked into the lobby, admired its high ceilings, its expensive furniture and wallpaper, its air of gentility, and proclaimed, "Ah, the elegance I was born for!"
     At that point in my life, I had yet to realize that I was gay, but on some level I certainly knew I was different. During my first ten years, in my mother's hometown of Covington, Virginia, my peculiarities were not all that remarkable. I played with the other neighborhood children, attended grade schools, tinkered with my rock collection and my chemistry set, watched Batman, and passionately collected comic books. My only salient oddity was an interest in the occult.

The Greenbrier Hotel

     After age ten, however, when my family moved from Covington into the mountains of West Virginia, my father's original stomping grounds, and, after a few years, when I entered junior high in Hinton, it became clear to everyone that I did not fit in. Along with the continuing enthusiasm for witchcraft and magic, which horrified the local devout Christians, I was not interested in sports, I was not interested in band (which all the popular kids joined), and I was a straight-A student in a region only beginning to value education. This led to a bit of name-calling: the word "queer" was lobbed at me well before my sex drive began to take shape and long before I realized that the admiration I felt for some boys and many men was sexual.