This past Thursday marked my 20th "Rebirthday". I'm 20 years old this week. This month Trekkers also observe the 20th "Rebirthday" of Star Trek. As I think of it, October 1987 was a pretty eventful month all around.
As the calendar rolled to the tenth month of 1987, I thought the most momentous things to happen during that month were the debut of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the wedding of Christopher B., my best friend from art school. I'd been looking forward to both, though Trek TNG had, I think, been in the works for a bit longer. I had been reading up on the revival of Star Trek with the greatest interest, having been a Trekker since the original series was on--the first time. Frankly, the new Trek became my favorite show the moment it was announced, before a word of script had been written or a frame of film shot. I mean, of all the no-brainers in TV history, this show was a guaranteed, automatic slam-dunk. It was destined for greatness the minute the deal had been struck with Paramount. This was going to be the show that creator Gene Roddenberry--one of my personal heroes--wanted to do in the first place. It was going to have the kind of production budget Star Trek needed and deserved. It was going to have the kind of stories Gene wanted, written the way Gene wanted them written. This was because it was going to be done off-network in first-run syndication. No network was going to get its hands on this show and meddle with it the way NBC had meddled with and abused the first Star Trek. Gene's vision would rule absolutely; it was in his contract, and there is at least one story of him waving his contract at would-be meddlers from Paramount's executive suites and ordering them out of his office. This was going to be glorious. It couldn't be anything else. I seized on every word I could find out about it in the science-fiction magazines and learned as much as I could about it prior to the debut date in the first week of October.
Thus, when that night of nights arrived and I drew the curtains and turned out the lights and banished the rest of the world from my awareness for the two hours beginning at 8:00 Eastern, I was ready. I already knew who my favorite character was going to be. Starlog magazine had reported on the character who was going to be both the successor and the antithesis of Mr. Spock. His name was Data. He was an android who wanted to be human. Where Spock repressed and shunned all emotions, Data possessed none, but wanted them. As the Enterprise's mostly human crew journeyed to the stars, Data was on what he hoped would be a journey to humanity. Yep, Data would be the character to watch. I loved him before I ever saw him.
There was one thing I learned in advance that took me completely by surprise when I first discovered it. Entertainment Tonight had been running a periodic report on the production of the Trek TNG pilot. As the debut approached, I tuned in to one of their reports, this one from the set during the actual shooting of the first episode. And I saw something on the sleek bridge of the new 24th Century, Galaxy Class Enterprise that I couldn't believe. There, on the bridge of the Enterprise, was a Klingon in a Starfleet uniform! A KLINGON, if you please, serving as a member of the crew! I nearly fell off my bed. I hadn't been so shocked since the day I went channel-surfing past an episode of Soul Train and found white kids dancing on it! Somehow I had missed the memo about the Klingon Empire becoming an ally of the Federation between Kirk's time and this series, and I just wasn't prepared for the sight of Worf. Had I thought about it (as I did later), I would have remembered this was the very thing that Ayelborne of Organia had predicted to Kirk in the very first Klingon story, "Errand of Mercy": "It is true that in the future you and the Klingons will become fast friends. You will work together."
Anyway, on that night of October 2, 1987, I dismissed the rest of the world and paid the first of seven years of weekly visits to Gene Roddenberry's 24th Century. (Actually a total of 21 years if you also count the seven seasons apiece of Deep Space Nine and Voyager; the three shows overlapped each other.) And I loved it! I loved the new Galaxy Class Enterprise, a ship that lived up to its description in Starlog as a vessel built as much for human comfort as for power and speed. It was a much bigger, more elegantly and ergonomically designed craft than Kirk's ship had been. Its sweeping, curving lines were, I later learned, an expression of what Gene called "technology unchained," a melding of form and function that celebrated both. I loved the story, in which an all-powerful creature called Q accused mankind of unregenerate savagery and posed the Enterprise crew a fateful challenge to solve the mystery of Farpoint Station on threat of humanity being confined to its home Solar System forever. I was mostly fascinated with the cast, and I had to smile at LeVar Burton as Geordi LaForge. Had anyone told me when I watched Roots as a high-school kid that young Kunta Kinte would one day be the helmsman (later the engineer) of an all-new Enterprise, I would never have believed it.
The one character I couldn't make heads or tails of at first was the Captain himself, Jean Luc Picard. A French Captain, played by a balding British actor? A Star Trek Captain who was clearly more of a pure explorer and a philosopher/diplomat than his swashbuckling predecessor? He was just so...not Kirk. It was several weeks into the series before I grew to appreciate, like, and even prefer Jean Luc. I remember the episode exactly; it was another Q story, "Hide and Q". There were two scenes that did it. In one, Q had put Tasha Yar in a state of penalty for not playing along with his latest game; if any of the other members of the Away Team committed another infraction, they would be put in penalty and a distraught Tasha would be reduced to nothingness. In a moment I'll never forget, as an embarrassed Tasha is trying to compose herself, Picard tells her that there is now a standing order on the Bridge: "When one is in the Penalty Box, tears are permitted." Tasha laughs through tears and tells him, "If you weren't the Captain...," demonstrating both a surrogate-daughter feeling and an unstated attraction for him. And in a confrontation with Q when the superbeing is once again denouncing humanity, Picard passionately defends us by using the "What a piece of work is [a] man" speech from Hamlet--with conviction instead of irony. Before this episode was over, I was thinking, Okay, now I get this guy. Yes, this is my Captain. You go, Jean Luc! I was eventually to learn the reason for the difference between Kirk and Picard. While Gene had based Kirk on Captain Horatio Hornblower from the seafaring novels of C.S. Forester (a character played on TV by Ioan Gruffudd, Mr. Fantastic of The Fantastic Four), his inspiration for Picard was the real-life Captain Jacques Cousteau. Picard reflected Gene's thinking at a later time in his life, when Gene himself had become more introspective and philosophical, and concerned with the quality of life. The progression in Trek's Captains showed a progression in Trek's creator.
(By the way, if you have about $500 to spare, you can now get all seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation in one package. Paramount, always with an eye to the money to be made from its biggest franchise, has released a set of the whole series as a commemorative for the 20th Anniversary. Thoughtful, aren't they?)
Star Trek was reborn and I was elated. Little did I suspect what the rest of October 1987 held in store for me. In fact, no one including me saw what was coming later that same night.
In the early morning hours of October 3, I heard strange snapping and cracking and popping sounds outside my window. And it wasn't Rice Krispies! As it was a Saturday morning and I love sleeping late on weekends, I ignored them, figuring it was just a storm knocking down some tree limbs. But it wasn't just any storm. A freak, early October snowstorm had hit Albany overnight, and the still leaf-bearing trees had been unable to cope with the weight of the snow. Huge limbs and branches came down all up and down my street and all over the Albany/Schenectady/Troy area. It was surreal, almost like something out of a movie. And...it knocked out both the electrical power and the Cable TV. Back in those days I had one of those TVs that required you to fine-tune all of your channels manually if you didn't have Cable, and I hadn't the patience for it. So when the electricity came back I was reduced to watching videos until the Cable was restored. Consequently, I ended up watching the Next Generation pilot, "Encounter at Farpoint," again and again and again... I don't know how many times I watched it, but I'm sure it's the Next Gen episode I've seen the most because of that damn storm! Fortunately my service was restored in time for the second episode, so I could tape it in absentia while I was in Rhode Island and Massachusetts for Christopher's wedding--and a truly life-changing weekend.
Life, like a story, has a way of foreshadowing things that are going to happen. After Christopher and Wendy departed for their honeymoon, I stayed over in Lexington, Mass., with Christopher's parents and younger brother. The following day, Sunday, I wanted to spend on Harvard Square before hopping the old Greyhound back to Albany. Christopher's Mom, Pat, suggested that while I was on the Square I might want to catch a certain movie that had just opened: Maurice, the adapation of the E.M. Forster novel about a privileged young gentleman in 19th Century England and his experience of coming out of the closet in a time and society even less accepting than our own. I made a note of it, but didn't end up seeing Maurice. However, it was during that afternoon on Harvard Square that something very ironic happened. I don't want to go into all the details because this is the World Wide Web where all the world can read it. It's not a scandalous, salacious, or raunchy story by any means; it's just a little too much information even for a Blog. What I'll tell you is simply that an internal confrontation took place that afternoon, a critical dialogue that finally disclosed a piece of information that for many years I did not want to know. There is a certain corner in Cambridge, Mass., where there really ought to be a plaque that reads, "On this site, the closet door of J.A. Fludd was suddenly and permanently blown off its hinges." Really, it ought to be on the official tour of Boston. It should be a landmark. But anyway, because of the internal confrontation that took place on that spot, I returned to Albany a different person than I had left two days earlier. And directly I got home I ordered myself a book on AIDS awareness.
That was October 11, 1987. The following year, that same date was declared National Coming Out Day. I couldn't have picked a better time to blow the closet door off. This is especially true in light of another thing that happened in popular culture that same month: Playgirl magazine brought back the full-frontal nudes. For about a year, some chilling effect in the culture perhaps precipitated by the AIDS epidemic had changed PG's editorial policy, and its subjects were no longer photographed showing their, ahem, full inventory. In October 1987 they reversed themselves and put the "full" back in the Full Monty. The first new Centerfold to be fully unveiled was a gentleman named Rod Jackson. A few years later, Rod uncloseted himself and married fitness model and bodybuilding champion Bob Paris, and the two of them became the toast of gay America as a proudly out--and incredibly gorgeous--married couple. It wasn't to last; I think the pressure of being the poster hunks for gay marriage got the better of them. They eventually split. But for a while, they were everyone's heroes. And Rod was undraped in Playgirl during my fateful month.
During my first month out of the closet, I was faced with beginning the task of re-learning the entire context of my life. I don't expect heterosexuals to appreciate this, but when you're newly out, one of the things you do is review and reevaluate everything that went on while you were in, and see all the places where you arguably went wrong. This would be particularly relevant in light of the fact that there was another wedding to deal with that month. One of my high-school classmates, whom I'll call Helmut, was marrying his six-years-older sweetheart, whom I'll call Eleanor. Now, if the truth be told, I always liked Helmut. Interestingly enough, he was a Harvard man. While he had only dabbled in science fiction and comics, I always considered him mentally above average. And I liked Eleanor. They had fallen in love very quickly and I thought they were a good match. I was pleased for them. But as their wedding date approached--would you believe they were having a costume wedding at Halloween!--I found myself not looking forward to it as I had with Christopher and Wendy. This was because of what happens to you when you're newly out of the closet, which I noted above--and because Helmut's two best friends, with whom I also went to high school, were going to be there. This pair I will call Kurt and Sven.
You see, one of the mistakes I had made during my closet years was that I had held onto inappropriate "friendships" with a couple of people who were not my peers, who did not think, feel, understand, value, or appreciate anything like the things that I did, who were the best I could do at the time simply because we were all part of the upper tier of the student body. And one of the places where we differed is that...well, I don't want to say they did some drugs, but they were pretty much "on" everything but the Orient Express. It wasn't just the two of them, but they were the two that I (wrongly and erroneously) considered closest to me. They thought the only thing wrong with drugs was their illegality. I really should have cut my ties with them at a certain high school graduation party where Sven made a stoned spectacle of himself. And I really should have washed my hands of them at a certain New Year's Eve party at Helmut's house when I found Kurt and Sven, among others, in the basement finding out if things really do go better with coke. But it is one of my failings, I suppose, that I don't like to let go ot things. I continued associating with Kurt and Sven until I came out, and then I just couldn't. I'm really editing this story severely because, again, there are things I don't want to put on the Web. But Kurt and Sven were not my peers, they did some things that made me feel deeply unloved, and to this day I feel as though every minute I ever spent with them was a lie. Even now, I have exactly the amount of positive regard for both of them that common human decency requires, and not a particle more. (As a postscript to this story, however, Sven would eventually be the first person from that part of my life to whom I disclosed my true identity, and I did that to shut him up about my supposed attraction to women. But I'll entertain you with that tale another time.)
Anyway, as the date of Helmut's wedding approached, there was going to be a bachelor party. (The very thought of heterosexual male bachelor parties makes me want to punch someone's lights out, but this too is a story for another time.) Helmut was having his at the vacation house of another classmate of ours, whom I'll call Martin, on the Great Sacandaga Lake. Yet another classmate, whom I'll call Logan, was arranging it. One fine evening I got a call from Logan inviting me to this party, which was going to be a weekend overnight. My blood ran cold at the prospect of it, because I knew Kurt and Sven would surely be coming. Right, Logan, I thought. I'm really going to spend the better part of a weekend out in the sticks with a lot of straight guys while they suck up every illicit chemical known to man. You bet, I'm on board for that, pal... I don't remember how I begged off of this, but somehow I found an excuse. That left me to find a way to get out of Helmut's wedding without telling him the real story. Gosh, Helmut, you know I'd love nothing better than to be there when you marry Eleanor, but if I have to be in a church with Kurt and Sven I don't know what ungodly thing I'll say or do to them... At the very least, I knew, I'd spend much of the time burning holes in them with my eyes. As fate would have it, it was Star Trek that came to my rescue.
There was going to be a Star Trek Convention in downtown Albany on the very day of Helmut's wedding--and one of its Guests of Honor was going to be Nichelle Nichols, a.k.a. Lieutenant Uhura herself. Gay as I am, I was and still am chastely in love with Nichelle Nichols. (This is not uncommon; we have non-sexual crushes on women all the time. Don't even get me started about my infatuations with Diahann Carroll, Vanessa Williams, Halle Berry, Jane Seymour, and Mary Tyler Moore.) So, Nichelle was going to be right smack in downtown Albany that very day? That was one ticket to a convention and one ticket out of a wedding, as far as I was concerned. I returned Helmut's wedding invitation with a very sweet, sincere note saying, among other things, that I would have put off my own wedding for a chance to see Nichelle Nichols in person. However, I did go to the little party that Helmut and Eleanor had at their apartment beforehand--I think I even put up with Sven and refrained from ripping out his beard and making him eat it--and at some point during the evening I took Helmut aside and told him I was happy for him and that I had always liked him, and gave him a hug. I thought then, as now, that Helmut is a decent sort. (By the way, he and Eleanor are still together and terribly happy. I think they have three kids.)
Nichelle was wonderful. She's a very elegant, glamourous lady in person, as you'd expect a woman who sings jazz in nightclubs would be. She told enlightening stories about how she imagined Uhura looked up to Spock as a role model, and how she managed to keep the soft ballads in her nightclub act. The management of a particular nightclub wanted her to cut the ballads, which were her favorite numbers, because no one ordered drinks during them. Nichelle suggested that the club make an announcment that no drinks would be served during that part of the evening, and see what happened. Well, what happened was that patrons stocked up on drinks to get them through the ballads, Nichelle got the keep doing her favorite songs, and the club made out like a bandit. You see, sometimes art and commerce can both win.
It was also at that Star Trek Con that I passed a table where someone had put a stack of flyers that caught my eye. The flyers said in big letters, "Out of the Closet and Into the Universe". They were promoting an organization called The Gaylactic Network that had started a new branch in Albany. The Gaylactic Network was a group of...gay and lesbian science fiction fans? I'd never heard of such a thing. I mean, I was a gay science fiction fan, a fact that I had assimilated and processed only weeks earlier. But I had no idea we were actually organized! There was an actual group of such people who had meetings and everything? I was intrigued. Still not sure of myself in my newly-out status, I made sure no one saw me as I grabbed one of those flyers and folded it up to stick in my pocket. Did I actually have the nerve to approach these so-called Capital District Gaylaxians? Was I actually going to consider becoming one?
The answer was yes...but not right then. It would be a couple of months later, just before Christmas, before I tentatively entered the company of these Gaylaxians for the first time and found out just what kind of people organize themselves around gayness and science fiction. This, too, is a story I'm going to save, perhaps for this Christmas. But to cut to the end, we're not a part of The Gaylactic Network any more; we're an independent organization called The Alternate Universe (see my Links). My association with them, both as a Gaylaxian and otherwise, has been a part of my out life from practically the beginning. And I consider it one of the smartest things I've ever done.
A lot can happen in a month. In thirty days--heck, in a fraction of that--you can become a different person. October 1987 was one of the most important months of my life. And I've never once been sorry for the change. There's a better life by far to be lived out of the closet than in. I'm glad that in the last two decades so many people have realized that. To paraphrase the closing of Star Trek: The Motion Picture: "The Gay Adventure is Just Beginning".