Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Cecil W. Wooten, July 16, 2001. Interview K-0849. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Limited participation in gay community in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Wooten explains that it was during his years in graduate school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that he was first exposed to an openly gay community. Nevertheless, Wooten argues that his participation in that community was somewhat limited. Ultimately, Wooten felt at that time that he must either choose a career in academe or a life that allowed full participation in the gay community. Wooten also briefly describes some of the outlets available to gay students and faculty, such as gay bars or T-rooms on campus.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Cecil W. Wooten, July 16, 2001. Interview K-0849. 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 do you first remember interacting with a person who was openly gay, or people knew was gay, in town or where ever. It might have been after Kinston.
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
Oh, yeah, it was, I think that it was when I was in graduate school.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Really? So, not in France or anything?
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
No, not at all, I think that it was when I was a first year graduate student. I had a colleague who was from New York who was openly gay. In fact, we would go to the gay bar in Chapel Hillߞ
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Was this the Tempo Room or Pegasus?
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
It was Pegasus. He was interesting to me, becauseߞand actually interacting with him had an important effect on me. He felt that he had to choose between being a classics professor and being gay. He felt that they were mutually exclusive. This was in 1967.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
This was in Chapel Hill.
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
Yes, in Chapel Hill. He felt that he could not be an academic and be openly gay. So, he went through this big conflict over which was more important to him, and he finally dropped out of graduate school and went to New York and worked as a bank teller, because he decided that him being gay was more important than being a classicist. I realized thatߞit seemed to me that the conflict that the was feeling was legitimate, and I really wanted to be a classics professor, so consequently, what I did, was that I didn't really ever talk about being gay. It became irrelevant and I devoted all of my time to studying, and I realized though in Chapel Hill, and I think it was the first time that there was a kind of gay community. I mean, for example Murphy, where my office was, was the big T-room on campus
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Exactly. When I finally found out about that, I went down there and the urinals are still down there are the walls
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
Yeah, yeah, exactly, I know.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
They are probably going to be the last vestiges, which will be ripped apart by the grant, or the gigantic referendum that was passed.
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
ߞAnd it was a conflict for me, because particularly on the weekendsߞ
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
You couldn't even go to the bathroom.
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
I know, it was funny, when we were first in graduate school, the chairman of the department warned us not to go to the bathroom downstairs. [Laughter] I remember, there was this funny feeling of being very excited that this was available, but also being very frightened that if I engaged in that, then my professional career might well be ruined. It'sߞ
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
So, what did it look like down there, I am sure that you must haveߞ
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
Well, it just looked like a normal bathroom.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
There weren't any glory holes.
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
Oh, yeah there were glory holes
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Were there glory holes, or were there peep holes?
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
There were peepholes. I must say, that I never went down there that much, because I realized that there was this huge temptation and I didn't want to.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Well, I guess that another department would have been one thing.
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
Yeah, and I just didn't want to yield to it. Because, I did feel that I had a choice between being gay and being a professional classicist, and I wanted to be a professional classicist, and had been since I had been in the second grade.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Were there any professors around that were gay, or that people knew that were gay?
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
The only one that I knew of was this man Jacque Aurdre, who was the chairman of the French Department. I wasn't sure about that, it was just rumored that he was gay. He was very professional, he never had sex with students, he was not openly gay on campus, but it was generally known that he lived with another man and he was very sporty. He had a mustang convertible and very elegant. He was French, and I had a class with him. He was a nice man, but I was not friends with him. He did not make any attempt to be a friend of mine, because he basically did not associate or interact with students for reasons that I can understand. So, when I was in graduate school, I think that was the first time that I became aware of the gay community. But, I did not have any part of it, because Iߞ
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
But, you did mention that you had gone to Pegasus some.
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
I did go to Pegasus a couple of times with this friend of mine.
CHRIS MCGINNIS:
Who could not decide, but finally decided toߞ
CECIL W. WOOTEN:
Again, it was very exciting, but scary, because I saw then that there was this world that was very tempting, but I saw that as an alternative to a professional career.