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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Bill Hull, June 21, 2001. Interview K-0844. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Southern society's view of homosexuality in the 1950s and 1960s

According to Hull, only closeted homosexuals were accepted in 1950s and 1960s southern society. Because Hull and his older brother openly identified as gay men, Hull's mother encouraged his younger brother to hide his sexuality. Once gay men publicly showed their relationship, they were often met with violence. Hull questions the sexual limitations southern society placed on his parents.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Bill Hull, June 21, 2001. Interview K-0844. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

CHRIS MCGINNIS:
So when did you three brothers start talking to each other in recognition that you were gay. At one point, somebody had live in boyfriend, if I remember correctly after your mother's death.
BILL HULL:
Right, I knew my brother Tommy, who was the oldest one, was gay. Well, we all knew. My brother Sam was, he was baby in the family, and he knew that he had these two queer brothers I guess. He had a lot of pressure on him from family, Alma, that raised us, as not necessarily being the right thing to do. So, he was very closeted in some regards. I think—my brothers—it was after my mother's death that we were finally able to sit down as a family of three gay brothers and really deal with it. It took Sam's coming out for him to realized that we weren't little monsters or abnormalities. It was hard to deal with. He was the youngest and he was the most sheltered and he was the one that had to look to all of the older siblings and see where they were going, or at least be shown where they are not going the straight and the narrow, but it would work out. He sort of faulted, I guess—maybe morally is the word.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
He mentioned that he felt some pressure in that a member of the family, an aunt or someone approached him and said that first of all, she didn't want him living in the house with, you know, his brother and his live in lover, and so he was in denial and he said for about twenty-four hours.
BILL HULL:
Right, until my brother's live in lover brought him out. [Laughter] He sat him down and said, "Listen, this is what is going on."
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
He said something to the effect of, "Well, yeah, you can go back into the closet, but you can't go to the bars." And he said, "That quickly changed his mind." [Laughter]
BILL HULL:
Okay, I had never heard that part.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
So, did you ever discuss out with Alma, your—
BILL HULL:
That was never discussed. Even my mother knew that we were all gay.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
It just wasn't spoken about.
BILL HULL:
But she would have just have killed us if we had to confront it. As I said, I had my first boyfriend when I was fourteen years old and he was twenty-seven. I spent a lot of time with him. His mother was not very mentally stable and one weekend, when I was staying with Ronnie, and my mother loved him dearly, but it was just sort of an unspoken thing.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Right.
BILL HULL:
As long as it was not slapped in her face.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Everybody was happy and nobody was getting hurt.
BILL HULL:
Everybody was happy and this woman came up to the house and threw a brick through the window and called my mother and told her that her son was queer and that he was sleeping with her little baby boy and blah blah blah blah blah. Yes, in the middle of the night. Maybe midnight on a Saturday night. My mother called and said for me and Ronnie to come home, for me to bring Ronnie with him, she wanted to talk with us.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Oh my.
BILL HULL:
We went to her and at that time of the night she was in bed reading with her glasses on and she called us up and she said that we needed to talk about something and I thought, "Oh shit, here it comes." Because I was not ready to come out, to me it was a quiet, nice wonderful secret.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Right.
BILL HULL:
I was very special; it was like being a fairy like Tinkerbell.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Right.
BILL HULL:
It was not some social thing that I had to deal with. Her approach to this whole situation was that this woman had called and she couldn't believe that a mother would be so horrible to do what she did and to try to hurt her child and in turn hurt hers. That she could not live with that meanness that this woman had provoked and the agony that she was trying to bring on both of the families and that she suggested that our friendship be a little more discreet and that is all that she ever said about that.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
How incredibly spectacular.
BILL HULL:
It was wonderful. But if I had said, "Mother, I am gay." She would have said, "Well, I can't live with you." It was her culture.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Right.
BILL HULL:
That is just the way that it was in the 60s or then late 50s.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Well, she handled it very well.
BILL HULL:
She handled it remarkedly well, and I didn't know how beautiful it was until I walked out and almost passed out in the front yard, because I thought that, "Here I am going to go and try to explain what being queer is or whatever."
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Isn't that interesting, because so many people who came out in the 80s, of course you have the issue of AIDS then, but the stigmatization was great, but people were forced to say, or demanded that their parents talked about it. I think that my parents were still of that kind of generation, even though they were much younger, they still just didn't want to talk about it, but they felt culturally pressed to discuss it and hash it out.
BILL HULL:
Right
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Very interesting. That is a gigantic thing, very big of your mother.
BILL HULL:
I know! I know! She always said, "If I ever found out that my children were queer, I would kill them."
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Well, that was a little lie.
BILL HULL:
Let's face it, I wouldn't say that my mother is masculine, but she was not an effeminate little demure person. My father was a florist. He knew some of the nelliest, swishiest people in the whole world.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
That is what is particularly interesting—
BILL HULL:
I always thought, "My god, they are repressed in their own way," but in the 30s what do you do?
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Right.
BILL HULL:
They had found each other, they had loved each other, and all of that, but I have always wondered if they were a little bit more insightful because there was something in them—because our being gay was genetic. It was in our genes.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Do you think that they could have been—do you think that they had tendencies themselves?
BILL HULL:
Yes, I have always thought that, I don't think that they ever, ever approached it, but my mother had some of the butchest friends that I have ever known, motorcycle shop owners.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
They were women?
BILL HULL:
Women! Short cropped hair, never wore a skirt, never wore a dress. My father knew some of sissiest, nelliest men in the whole world. But I never think that they thought of it other than being, accommodating to people that were a little bit different, or maybe being drawn to them but not in a sexual sort of sense, it was just not allowed then.