June 25th, 2009 | by Allison Ferre News | Posted In: CLEAN UP

Stonewall Anniversary: One Gay Couple Remembers What It Was Like 40 Years Ago

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Eric Marcoux and Eugene Woodworth just celebrated their 56th anniversary as a couple.

When they met in Chicago in 1953 when Marcoux was 23 and Woodworth was 25, they always answered “Yes” when people asked them if they were brothers. Now in 2009 when people ask, Marcoux says,”No, but thank you for asking, because I am able to tell you that I love this man.”



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This Sunday, June 28, is the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York- a day often cited as a turning point in the gay rights movement. Marcoux, now 79 and retired, took time to talk to WW to share the evolution of his partnership and his frame of mind against the changing social context of the past half-decade. Here's what he had to say:

Stonewall was an interesting event for Marcoux, because while he and Woodworth were living in Portland and heard about the riots that lasted three hours after New York police raided a gay bar, Marcoux says they didn't realize its impact then.

“We went through Stonewall without realizing we were going through it,” Marcoux says. “We were just trying to build our life together. We had our heads in the sand.”

Up until the 1970s, Marcoux says their mentality as a couple was, “Leave us alone, don't hurt us ... It never occurred to us to think in terms of social justice.”

He still remembers his surprise at the beginning of the 1970s when men began dancing together at bars or touching each other in public in a friendly way. It was around this time that Marcoux says he and Woodworth corrected people when they asked if the two men were brothers.

“Just the other day we were at our regular coffee spot and I realized I needed half and half, I asked Eugene, “Sweetheart, can you grab me the half and half. Thanks hun,” Marcoux recalls. “Nobody bats an eye when I say that out loud now. But just a while back I would have edited out ‘sweetheart' and ‘hun.' I feel safe now saying that. It's a sense of belonging.”

As a kid growing up in Detroit, Marcoux says he always knew he was gay, he just didn't have a word for it. Marcoux spent ages 14 through 23 in the Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky. He says when he was 23, and on a study trip to Chicago, a man he remembers as about 28 years old, “cruised” him.

“It was my first sexual experience with a man, and after three days when I got out of bed and stepped back into Catholic guilt, I told the abbot. He told me not to come back. I met Eugene three months later,” Marcoux says.

In 1973, when the couple still both identified with the Catholic Church, they had their “rogue Franciscan friar” friend perform a wedding ceremony in front of 150 guests. It was at this time that Marcoux said he started to think about “marriage.”

On their 40th anniversary, long after they became Tibetan Buddhists, they had another ceremony.

“We were married as Catholic and as I said then, ‘We ain't been Catholic for a long time,'” Marcoux says. “The paradoxical thing is that Eugene and I have never been married in the secular sense, but we have had two religious ceremonies.”

Marcoux says he didn't used to be concerned with the word “marriage.” While sitting on a panel at Portland State someone asked him about gay marriage and his response was that it was just a word, “why not pick a different one?” But, the more he thought about it, the more he thought about the potency of the word.

“Marriage is an archetypal word," he says. "It speaks right to the heart of people and says something about our place in society, it incorporates us into family. There is emotional context.”

The couple has since become invested in the fight for marriage equality in Oregon. He supposes most members of the gay community just want to engage in ordinary life, to not be differentiated in an “us” vs. “them” fashion. If Marcoux had one piece of advice to pass on to younger gays, it would be to know more about their history.

“It helps one step out of the egotistical, narcissistic fascination. When I was younger, I thought I was the one one on the planet like me, it was alienating. I was delighted when I read that Michelangelo was probably gay,” Marcoux says. “I would let them know, ‘Honey, you ain't alone.”

And as for Stonewall, Marcoux says he's seen a lot of positive change in the 40 years. There's still more that needs doing when it comes to gay marriage in Oregon, he says, but he does attribute a recent gain to an unlikely source — former President George W. Bush.

“[Bush] took same-sex marriage and put the word on the lips of millions. It's one of those great mysterious gifts. He normalized the word,” Marcoux says. “It's like the history of the word ‘fuck.' When I was growing up, it was the red-hot pepper in the soup. Now, it's just boring.”
 
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