Interviewed at a bar and grill in rural Western Massachusetts on September 19, 2013. “Frances” requested that we use a pseudonym and not include photos of her in order to maintain privacy. Her flannel, walker and grin were stunning.
I’m Frances, and I’m 78, and I live in [Western] Massachusetts. And um, I read your…what you want to call this? A blog? Or what? Ok. I have a few suggestions. Yeah, ok, number one, I was born this way and I’ve lived this way all my life, and uh pretty successfully I think, so anyway, without too much trouble. And um, when there was any kind of trouble, I kind of ignored it, and it went away. I realize that doesn’t always happen. But, uh, you know, the trouble would be from rednecks and just plain envious persons, because of what I was doing, and so forth. And then, I have, during my working career, I lost two jobs because of being gay. I prefer gay to queer, and that was the number one thing I was gonna tell you, suggest, don’t, you know…that word goes against me, you know, really hard, because probably because of my age, and I grew up and that was a horrible dirty word. And, I don’t know if, um, I prefer gay, but I think maybe that, in most places, that just covers the male part of this whole mess. But, anyway, around here everybody, you know is gay, instead of, very rarely now, in my day they used queer a lot but now they don’t, you rarely hear it. Unless they say it behind my back, which I don’t care. And there’s a thing there too, you have to become a little bit hardened, and you have to decide I’m gonna live a certain way, but you have to live this way decently, you can’t live it like a flaming nut.
Another thing I was going to suggest, do not, no matter where you go, even to your home town, do not go in there and say, “Here I am I’m gay, line up to kiss my behind,” do not do that, because that’ll kill you right away. And you don’t need to do that. Just live, be the person you are, and everybody will either accept you or not accept you, and the ones that don’t will just go away. That’s my experience, and that’s mostly the way it has happened.
I grew up in Russell which is like four miles down the road. I was born April 6, 1935 in Cold Brook, New Hampshire, but raised in Russell. I gave my mother a lot of trouble too. You know the birthing and labor pains and all of that, she told me I was terrible. My father was French Canadian, he came from Norton Vermont, part, uh, Abenaki Indian. And uh, he educated himself, on the farm, he was a master electrician, and he did it all by study, home study. He had his license and had good jobs all his life. And um, my mother was a hometown girl from Russell, a homemaker. Although in her later years she did go to work because she was bored. You know, when the nest became empty she needed something to do, so she went to work. And uh, I went to local school. I graduated from Saint Mary’s of Westfield. We had to go to Westfield. And uh, I was in a convent for 7 years. It was a teaching order.
And um, I left because of two reasons. I’m not a teacher, and they couldn’t find anything else for me to do because, my marks in school were you know good, and they sent me, my whole class to college, and they wanted us to teach. That’s what they needed at the time was teachers. And I coulda been anything else, I wanted to be anything else, but a teacher. So, teaching just drove me crazy. And then, being gay…was like a kid in a candy store! And I, fell in love of course, but with a nun that was bad, and caused myself a lot of problems, and I decided that that was not the place to be, so I left. And they told me I’d grow out of it, cause I imagine there were a lot of other folks that had the same problem, but I thought I was the only one and I should get the heck out, and I did, and I’m not sorry. It was a good experience, it was a great experience to be there, but it um, it was just for a time, and uh, for me to get the experience. I was 17 when I went in, so, if I had stayed out and worked a couple of years, maybe I would have had my head on straight, but anyway, I didn’t, I went right in. I thought, you know, I already knew I was gay but I didn’t even imagine that there was a possibility of anybody living that way. I thought there was no possible way, so I decided, yeah go in the convent, so I’d not be bad. I was worse in there. [Were there other people?] …yeah, yeah. Course, it’s probably not good of me to publicize that fact.
[When did you first know you were gay?] I was three years old, starting then I remember this older girl, she must have been 12 or something, but I just thought she was so gorgeous, I just followed her everywhere. She got sick of me following after her. And uh, I got over that broken heart and went on to others! But I never had a close, a real close encounter, until uh, after I was in the convent, so. Although we did get kinda friendly in there, with the person I was crazy about, but, that’s not very nice for me to talk about.
[Did you come out to your family when you were young?] No! No, no, no! You didn’t talk about it! And you hoped it would go away, because all your friends would uh, you know, nobody else was in that town that I knew of, my age, then. And it was a terrible thing of course, and there were jokes, and you didn’t want to uh let anybody know. I think my mother knew. But, uh, she didn’t ask me, she asked me after I came out of the convent. By that time I was 24, I stayed in 7 years. And uh, I told her yes, and it was mainly because of, I had met some people, I wasn’t working for anybody, so I figured, well, that’s it, just forget it. And all the sudden here was a whole bunch! Through my brother in law, who is uh kind of a redneck in a way, but anyway through him I met these other people who were. He didn’t realize. I think he does now, but we’ve never talked about it. My sister, I have one sister, and one brother. And my sister and I have never talked about it, but I know she knows. I mean how could she not? But anyway, my mother asked me not to talk to her about it, so I didn’t. You know, but my mother, and my father had passed away by this time. So I didn’t have to, you know, uh…I don’t know how he would a taken that. But my mother said, she didn’t understand it, but since it was me she would accept it. So, I thought that was hopeful anyway.
[If you didn’t want anyone to know, how did you find other gay people? Were there bars? Did you see them around?] It was just, it just happened that they were around, and um, just happened to meet through family connections. And then, then I found out there were bars. And, but the other thing is that, you know, at the bars of course you could, you know, dance and enjoy and all that kind of stuff. But there was also the breakup factor there, everybody was after somebody else and they didn’t care who it was. It’s just that they um, relationships didn’t last very long if you were a regular go-er. Cause there’s always somebody else. If you had a roving eye, well too bad.
[What’s the hardest thing about being gay in a rural area?] The thing is, everybody will know immediately if there’s two people, same sex, living together. They just, they figure it out, and what you have to do is prove yourself, that you’re a decent human being. And uh, otherwise, you know, they, sometimes you get uh, picked on as you know, probably, I don’t know, maybe they don’t. Yeah, you get picked on if you’re too flagrant. You can’t be flagrant, you’ve gotta be discreet, but not back down either. Cause they don’t, you know, they respect you more, to stand up, you don’t have to publicize, you just live. You’ll find that there’ll be a lot of males who will be very curious, and some will be attracted. And there are healthy males, and they, most of them don’t understand it. But you would be a conquest…you see? But uh, I have a lot of, I have had a lot of male friends in my life, and uh, males were never a thing in my life, I did have some good friends, and in high school I did date. Um, but uh, I suppose I was lucky because the men that I have had as friends were good guys, good healthy men. And uh, they never uh insulted me in any way. A couple of them, tried to put the make on me of course, and on my partner too, but um, you know, it was no big deal, just said no and that was it, and then we went on as we were before. You know, I was lucky I guess.
[How long have you been with your partner?] 35 years. Yeah. Can be done. But you have to be compatible, interested in the same things, and um…respect each other, and not be too possessive. I am a possessive person, but not too possessive. I have a, or I did have a horse farm, and a riding stable. I rented out horses, and uh, I had a partner, another partner at the time. And we broke up, and then I was by myself. I had some good friends that were helping me out, and uh, through those, the other friends, she happened to be in the same crowd that we all hung around with because of where we worked at the time. And uh, she just, you know, I needed help and she was willing to help, and so it started out as you know, help, and she needed a home. It was kind of convenience, you know, but it worked. It was one of those convenience things that worked. It was never mad…well the first five years was mad passion, but after that it cooled off, and she says now we’re just two old people living together. That’s it! What more do you want?
We ended up taking in horses that nobody wanted, you know, the kids out grew them, or decided they didn’t feel like doing the work, they didn’t want to feed em, they didn’t want to clean up after them, parents didn’t know what to do with them, so we took in, over the years probably about 10. And then I had some anyway left over from the stable. And um, so we just kept em until they passed away. We had a couple that were 30 and 32 years old, before they started to get sick, you know, and break down. But that was, that was one of the things, we had something in common through all those years, there was a lot of hardwork, but, it was work that we both enjoyed doing. Lot of people, of course… not everybody can have an in, you know, and in common work. Some, one part, one person might do one kinda thing, another person do entirely different. But you can still work together as long as you have other things in common. Got to be something. And then too, you’ve gotta be a person who is content. You can’t have the moon. Oh,[I rode horses]all my life actually. I never owned any, until I was 34, when I started that business up. But before that I was riding other people’s horses.
At one point, years ago, someone I had a relationship with, was a city person, but I didn’t, no way I could live in a city. I don’t mind, you know, going there and staying for a weekend or something, but uh, to live in the city, no, I’m a wild…a wild person!
[This is a] small New England town, um, very rural, there’s no industry here, but there are businesses, and uh, it’s rural, it’s quiet. It was a farming community, but now there are only 2 or 3 farms left, so it’s now a bedroom community, for Springfield and Northampton, places like that. I think the biggest issue is the school, we have a regional school and the budget is horrendous, and having no industry, very rural, like businesses and stuff is…taxes just keep going up and up and up and it makes it very hard. But other than that, I would say it’s a very accepting, you know community. Cause we get, you know, new people moving in, all the time. There’s no big deal, everybody gets, you know accepted into the community. Especially if you wanna, you know, get involved in doing things.
They’ve accepted me cause they had to. I came here, I bought a house, I stayed. You know. And I worked, I worked in a shop, at Westfield digital equipment corporation. And I worked with men, and they accepted me, they taught me. It’s your attitude too, you gotta be careful of your attitude. You can’t make anybody you know, like I said, I’m gay kiss my buns, you know there’s no way you can do that. But if you’re just, uh, if you’re just the person you are, and you work hard, and you know people can respect you for what you do, than they will. No matter what. Yep, that’s the way I’ve found. This is a pretty good town. I taught junior high English here, and as I told you before I’m not a teacher, and I almost went nuts with junior high kids, oh my good lord! And I always had to work to keep the farm going, it didn’t make any money, you know. I was unwilling to get rid of all the animals, so I worked, I worked and worked.
[When do you feel the most proud to be gay?]…I never thought of that…I, you know, I suppose, because uh, I’ve been accepted as I am. Oh another thing too, I belong to the Norwich Hill Church, First Congregational United Church of Christ. And the United Church of Christ is one of the, it’s an organization all over the country, of churches that joined together. And uh, they accept gays, you know, any sexual orientation, as they put it. And in that church up there, I participate. I’m a liturgist, that means you read the gospel, and lead some of the prayers and stuff, and I belong to a couple committees. You know, they really, ha, they respect me, in fact uh, they like it when I liturgist, cause I always tell a joke or two, you know and, kinda breaks it up, so. But they treat me, as, you know, I won’t say high ranking, but a solid member of the church up there. And they ask me to do things, and join in things, and I’m invited to anything and everything, so, I feel that’s pretty good. And maybe that’s, doing that, is being proud of being gay, but I never really thought about it.
I like this area, and I grew up here, and I like outdoors stuff. When I was a kid I was always fishing, when I got old enough, you know, to hunt my father bought me a gun, and I, you know, I did hunting, I didn’t kill very much but I was out there. And um, then horseback riding, you’re out, you know trails through the woods and everything, you’re always outside. You work outside most of the time when you farm. And I used to like to hike and all that good stuff. So this is the, you know, perfect area for me.
Well, now at, ha ha, 78…when I’m sitting in my back yard, watching the grass grow and listening to the birds. Ha Ha! That’s it. The house I’m in right now, and the barn, you know 35 years ago that we have. I had to move from the original one that we had, cause of financial problems, and I downsized. And I’ve been where I am now 35 years and you know, you know it’s getting old and rickety, like me the whole mess. Um, that’s where I’m happiest, sitting in my own backyard. Of course now, it takes a long time to get to this point. Oh I like the ocean too. I like the ocean.
Yeah, I did want to have kids, at one time, I wanted to have 6 boys. But I outgrew that. I raised one. I raised my cousin, um, she was, uh, abandoned by her parents so to speak, and the state was gonna take her if somebody in the family didn’t, so I said I will, and uh I had good connections at the time, and there was no problem at the time about whether I was capable or not. Um, so she was 7 years old when she came to live with me, and she was 18 when she got married. And now she, she calls me mother, even though I’m her cousin, but I’m the only mother she ever knew. And she has two kids that call me Grandma Frances. They’re both grown up and married now. And one great grandchild. My daughter lives in Vermont, but the two kids live, one in Agawam and one in Chicopee.
Oh and I’m an artist. So that has taken up a lot of my time. I do landscapes mostly, oil paint. Yeah I wanted to, when I was young, I wanted to be an artist, that was it, just paint away in some garret somewhere. But, I was always in a situation, which I got myself into, where I had to support myself. And you’ve heard about starving artists? They do! And I would have. So, I always had to work and you know it got relegated to a, you know, not a, well kind of a hobby. But I would call myself semi professional because I’ve sold a lot. And uh, not as many as I used to have, but around here too, you can never get, even though I’ve sold them, you know, it’s not for a lot of money. I think the most I’ve made on any one was 300 bucks. It is pretty good for around here, cause people around here need to feed their kids and not buy paintings.
I mostly, was mostly self taught. But I studied, I had a lot of opportunity to study in libraries, and, you know, there’s museums around here and stuff. And then, I’m a great book buyer, I love books, and I love to keep em, and I love the ones that, you know, tell you how to do stuff, so that’s what I mostly did. But I did have a mentor, who has passed away since, and he had been a teacher, professor in SC, at a university, and knew what he was talking about. And he took me under his wing, when I belonged to the uh, artists guild around here and one point, and uh, he would advise me. Like I’d bring my work to him, and at the time I was doing a couple a week cause I was on disability, and I’d bring a couple to him to critique, and he would tell me, now if this were mine I would do this and such, but he’d never tell me, oh you gotta change this, gotta change that, he would just suggest. And his suggestions, most of the time I took, and they always worked out good. But he would tell me, yes, this is great, tell me what’s good about it and all this kind of stuff, or he tell me that if this were mine I would change that, or something else, or this color, or…So, I, I learned a lot from him that way. So, I have that to play with too see, while I’m sitting in my back yard.
[Did you know of anyone who was gay who lived here before you when you were a kid?] No. Nope. And even to this day, I know there are a lot of gay people in these hills but I don’t know who they are, because, unless you’re out and active and into everything, and going from, you know organization, with organizations from one town to the next, you never meet em. So, I don’t know. I know there were two men, and both have passed away, they were openly, and the town accepted them…they didn’t want to, but they did. The guys got involved and they did nice things in the town and were respectful, respectable, and then uh, recently there’s been another couple, but one, they broke up and one moved away and one’s still here. But other than that, I know there are, but I don’t know who they are. And I haven’t investigated, because, um, like I say, sitting in my backyard is the main thing I do, when I’m not working. If they come into the journal, then I can spot em, let me tell you, but if they don’t, I don’t know!
[Who were your heroes growing up?] umm…Barbara…she was a movie star, she was um, she had that, that, I wanna say Streisand, but it wasn’t Streisand…Stanwyck! When I was about 14 on a Sunday morning my father was reading the newspaper, and he used to start with all of it and then he would throw out the sections when he was done, they’d land on the floor, and we’d all scramble for what we wanted. And I read, they had a section where they interviewed movie stars. And while I was not interested in movie stars, I happened to read this one, Barbara Stanwyck. And people were giving her a hard time at that point, cause she was gay, and um, she said, I am who I am and whoever doesn’t like it can go to hell. And I liked that, and I said Boy! And I’ve never forgotten that. And that’s more or less the way it is, but I don’t tell em that, I just let em find out for themselves if they don’t like it. I’m not too confrontational, we’ll put it that way. I let people do their thing. Live and let live is my favorite. And I’ve gotten uh, you know, I’ve succeeded quite well, using that attitude. And people are mostly very good to me, very kind. And you know we have a couple who are…but most of em, you know, like us, and would help us out at any time. But, uh, and we would help them too.
The worst were, um, one job, um, my immediate boss, I was training to be an executive secretary and he was my immediate. And he uh, uh wanted to, you know, put the make on me. He tried all the tiem, he was married, had to kids, and I was trying to treat him like it was a joke and you know ignore it, but he kept on coming, and eventually I just told him the reason I wasn’t interested in him, and he uh, he went, that was in the morning on a Monday morning, and by noontime I was fired, cause he went directly to the next higher supervisor, and they were afraid, they were afraid I was gonna…vamp all the women in there! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. See this is it, you gotta watch out for that! But other than that. There was another time, I, I think that’s what it was, but I’m not positive. I think that was it, but I didn’t [fight it] wasn’t worth it. I’m not militant, and I’m not an activist either, so, but uh, I can’t change either, so. They have to put up with me, or go away!
I think the hardest thing is, uh, you know gay marriage. Again, I think that they shouldn’t push it. I think you can’t push that either, and the more you push it the more people are gonna get their backs up. And the reason why is more or less the health care and inheritance stuff. And the thing is, I think, I know in Massachusetts you can get around that. And I’ve gotten around that, a will, just make a will, and if you own property, you own it jointly, you know, with the person’s name on it, you and whoever else, with the words jointly and severely with the right of survivorship, and that’s it! That’s all you have to do, it’s very simple. You don’t have to do marches and get spat on, and, you know, wave flags and all that. But then if you want, well if you want a ceremony you can have one yourself! You don’t need the, don’t really need the ministers and priests and all of that, don’t even need witnesses, you can do it yourself if you really want to, that’s the way it boils down to. Of course the laws would prefer a paper. I think that’s the biggest issue right now. And I think in some places people are gonna go along with you, you know, over in Northampton, they go along with you over there, and but other places, they just won’t ever, and uh, once you stir up hard feelings, it’s hard to get rid of it, and hard to live it down. That’s, in some places, that’s the problem, but, I’m surprised it’s gone as far as it has. In my day!
[What would you want to tell other rural LGBTQ people?] First thing, you’ve got to make it work between you, and then you’ve gotta decide where you’re gonna live…and work. You gotta work so the community will respect you, and if you can get the respect of the community, you’re all set! You can stay there as long as you want. That’s all it takes, but you can’t flaunt, do not flaunt, that’s the worst thing you can do, cause that gets everybody, even those that aren’t rednecks…it upsets everybody. So, and in a lot of places they would do stuff to get rid of you, you know, they probably wouldn’t do bodily harm, but they would wreck your belongings and stuff, and get you fired. But even, you know, even at your job, if you just don’t expect everybody to hand you stuff because of it…cause it’s not a disability, ha ha ha ha! Boy, they don’t know that, but it’s not. If you just live like…for you it’s normal anyway, live like you’re normal, cause you are for you. You know, even though they might not think it, but you are, that’s the only way you can live, unless you’re just playing games. There’s a lot of people that just think oh god that sounds good, and they play at it, and that causes a lot of problems, the ones that are playing games.
I was a little bit, um… nervous, yeah, about this all week long, and then I thought, oh I’ll just do it! Yeah, when you write your book, send me a copy!
Categories: country queers