Thursday, October 31, 2013

Queue the Village People, please

I see by the news that one of the odder blast-from-the-past cases up in my old stomping grounds, North Iowa, concluded yesterday with sentencing of the last defendant charged more than a year ago with indecent exposure after having been observed by staff while engaged in consensual sex --- not all three at the same time --- in the Mason City Family YMCA sauna. It's tempting to say, "only in Iowa," but I wonder.

This was the sort of case guaranteed to be of considerable interest in a small town like Mason City --- the men were of modest prominence, all married with families and rather long in the tooth --- the youngest, 57; the oldest, 69. 

Obviously all three were old enough to know better when selecting a venue was involved, but it seems raging hormones are not limited to the younger set. And you've also got to wonder a little if the case would have been handled quite the way it was if heterosexuals had been caught shagging in the sauna.

Two of the three had received deferred judgments and fines earlier; the third, a suspended sentence and probation Wednesday. All will end up on the sex offender registry for 10 years.

So it's not something to be made light of --- marriages, businesses, social relationships and all sorts of other stuff no doubt have been affected. Plus, it must have been downright embarrassing. 

But the best comment I found after one of the news stories --- many of them snarky --- was kind of funny: "Who knew The Village People had retired and moved to Mason City?"

Maybe you've got to be a product of the mid-20th century to remember The Village People, a disco group formed during the late 1970s. "Y.M.C.A.," their biggest hit, was a sendup on that venerable institution's reputation as a cruising venue for gay men in an era when "gay" was synonymous with scandalous.

You have to remember, too, that many "Ys" built during the 1950s and later contained residential rooms designed to be both clean and inexpensive, a destination for young men arriving in a city to find work, and that their facilities generally were open only to males. 

Times and circumstances have changed, but the implication of the comment was that those North Iowa guys hadn't gotten that message even though the Mason City Y is shiny and new, does not offer lodging, and has "family" on its nameplate.


Anyhow, the whole thing reminded me of an article I wrote several years ago for the North Iowa newspaper I then worked for, telling a little bit of my story. It was widely perceived at the time as a "coming out" piece, although it wasn't --- that had been a gradual process extending over many years. It just seemed like a useful time to write it, keyed to a popular film of the day, since times were a changing.

But apparently no one had ever done anything quite like this before in that area, so I had my 30 seconds of celebrity (or notoriety) and received quite a number of comments, anonymous letters, etc. A few were nasty, but most weren't.

Among them were perhaps half a dozen from anonymous men who told me their stories --- very difficult to read. For the most part, the authors were men who had built complicated lives based upon lies, that they were straight when in fact they weren't. None knew how to get themselves out of the corners they'd backed themselves into.


Times have continued to change and none of this really is necessary now. It's possible to live honestly even in places like Mason City --- and Chariton --- although it can be a challenge sometimes.

But I'm afraid there still are quite a few closet cases out there in Iowa and elsewhere, many of them of my generation. 

You've got to wish them the best and hope it all will work out --- and also to advise younger folks to not even think about starting down that path. Also, if and when hormones do kick in, for heaven's sake get a room.

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