The UW-Madison is traditionally strong in the sport of rowing. In part, the strength derives literally from our strapping farmboys, huge guys with upright, healthy bodies. My own interest in the sport had less than you might think to do with prurient interest in the athletes, though I certainly found many of them attractive.
It was mainly the aesthetics of the boats, moving through the water with elegance, smoothness, speed, power, and wonderfully synchronized rhythmic motion.
In the late 60s and early 70s I was an avid photographer. Crew practices were traditionally very early, before the wind would have a chance to ruffle the surface of Lake Mendota. So one spring sunrise found me standing on top of the boathouse, trying to catch the graceful lines of the shells as crews brought them out right beneath me to the pier and lowered them from overhead, turning them over and setting them gently on the water. It is a lovely thing to see from that angle.
The coach was Norm Sonju, one of the sport's legendary trainers of young rowers. He had a huge, booming bass voice. He looked up and saw me there, snapping away. "Hey kid," he roared (I was 34, but never mind), "wanna go for a boat ride?" Did I ever! So I spent the next several hours, and many more on other days, riding in the coaching launch and taking color and black and white photographs of the fine sport of rowing, and, it must be admitted, of the fine young men who do it (women's rowing had not yet become a collegiate sport).
Some of the pictures were good, and I put some up in the boathouse. People really liked them and wanted copies for themselves, which I was glad to provide for the cost of materials.
Thus it came to pass that I was a sort of unofficial photographer and mascot to the crew team. I started to travel to regattas with the team, and of course we were all billeted together in motels, took our meals together (you would not believe how much those guys eat!), and so forth. In this way I eventually made some real friends among members of the crews, and that's the background of this story.
Guy Iverson was a very big fellow. He was 6'7" tall, had an arm spread of well over seven feet, and thighs the diameter of my waist. He was one of the strongest varsity oarsmen in his senior year.
We got along extremely well as friends. Though I had been living for eight years with a lover, whom Guy knew well, the subject of my domestic arrangements did not arise until one very illuminating day as the three of us were wolfing down pizza for lunch.
I don't recall exactly how the conversation started, but the significant part was his saying to me: "I've known from the very first. It certainly doesn't get in the way of liking you and Ron, nor of our being friends. But I have to say that I've felt bad all this time because I didn't think you liked me enough to trust me with knowing about this part of your life." I was thunderstruck. I wouldn't have hurt his feelings for the world, for we greatly liked and respected each other.
It had simply never occurred to me that my remaining in the closet to him would have that result. At the bottom line, I realized it was a kind of selfishness on my part, thinking more of possible negative effects (that in itself was telling) on our friendship and on me, than of possible positive effects on the friendship or of bad feelings it might generate for him. It worked out fine, of course, but it was also a vivid lesson to me.
Homophobia in the society, internalized in ourselves as fear of rejection, perhaps, can generate real barriers in our interpersonal relationships. People who care for us deserve to know who and what we are, if we're to have fully open and honest relationships with them. This applies equally to straight friends and to LGB ones.
Sure, it can and does happen that a particular friendship will founder because the person really can't handle it, but even then I think we're better off not hiding this about ourselves, because the main damage to us comes from the fantasy of the potential rejection. This is a very corrosive thing for the spirit, for it rests on the paradigm of predicting undesirable outcomes without reference to verifiable facts.