I grew up in a place where most people were born locally, and went to college in a place where most people were from California, but San Francisco, especially the gay community, was filled with people from elsewhere. It was obvious they had different cultural assumptions. I visited my college friend Felix Vega in Philadelphia several times while I lived in San Francisco, which further demonstrated how different people are, and in an act of youthful naivete, I moved to Philadelphia in the spring of 1985 to see what it was like.
I was able to live with Felix and his partner for a few months, get introduced to some of his friends, and generally get my feet on the ground before he moved back to California with his new veterinary degree. I thought I would live there a couple of years and then move back to San Francisco. (A side note: from Felix’s apartment, we were able to step out and see smoke rising from the burning houses in West Philadelphia after the mayor and police chief tossed a bomb into the MOVE house, killing lots of people and burning lots of other homes in the process. Welcome to Philadelphia!)
The major themes of my life in Philadelphia were relationships and Quakerism. I’ll give Quakerism its own section.
Sometime in the first six months or so in Philadelphia, I met Joseph Smith, and we decided to move in together. I had not been very happy in Philadelphia, but this decision was something that kept me there. Telling my mother I was going to stay in Philadelphia because I was moving in with Joseph led her to tell my father I’m gay. He didn’t speak to me for a year, until he had almost died in an accident with a large piece of farm equipment. But I’ll just bracket that and move on. Joseph and I didn’t live together all that long.
I lived for seven years with Paul Jensen in several apartments and houses in Philadelphia and one in Ardmore. From the vantage of sharing a kitchen with a Yankee, I discovered that my family’s (which is to say, my mother’s) culinary tradition is Southern. I was fully included in Paul’s extended family. He and I went (with his cousin John) for Thanksgiving at his Uncle Kenny’s house in South Dakota (where his cousin Karen, when we asked if we could have a green salad at dinner, said “sure, we can make it green if you want”), and I returned there with Paul’s family for Kenny’s funeral.
My family met Paul when I took him to a Sutton family reunion. There were only three people in attendance named Sutton, and only two of us had been named Sutton at birth, so I was pretty sure I wasn’t ruining anyone’s party by bringing Paul, but it didn’t happen without discussion. The next year, with my partner a real person in their minds instead of an imaginary scary person, my parents came to visit us in Philadelphia.
The final major relationship in Philadelphia was with Abe Cooperman, whose family also warmly welcomed me. Abe and I broke up about a year before I moved to Boston.
The Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament came through Philadelphia in 1986, and I had a chance encounter with Barbara Hirshkowitz, who had moved to Philadelphia to join New Society Publishers. Building upon our acquaintance from Davis, we began to bond as California “expatriates” but soon moved on to become close friends, film buddies, and co-readers. With Paul and our friend Greg Funk, we started a reading group that continues to this day without any of the four of us. In 2000 I raised over $1,000 for the Free Library of Philadelphia by going on vacation. (You can follow the links up above under “reading” if you want to know more.) Barbara hired me as a freelance developmental editor to work on a couple of books for New Society, which was my start in editing.
Two-stepping, rather than folk dancing, was the centerpiece of my social life in Philadelphia. It’s how I met most of my friends, and it was a regular part of every week. Philadelphia is where I added knitting to my crafting repertoire, having gotten tired of crochet and wanting to be able to knit sweaters.
- Annie Lennox, Horse Flies, (Indigo Girls? 10,000 Maniacs?)
- k.d. lang and the reclines
- Nancy Griffith
- Lyle Lovett
- Preservation Hall Jazz Band