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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with William E. White Jr., October 29, 2000. Interview R-0147. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Wrestling with gay identity

White dated girls in high school to conceal his sexual identity, he recalls. While his foster brother, who was openly gay, managed to navigate his high school experience without violence, White was not comfortable trying to do the same. At the time of this interview, White is much more confident with his sexuality, although he finds himself controlling his behavior to mask it at times.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with William E. White Jr., October 29, 2000. Interview R-0147. 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

ASHLEY CROWE:
What about the city's relationship to the gay community, have you seen that change?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Here or Atlanta.
ASHLEY CROWE:
Both.
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Atlanta was actually pretty good. In 1970 they had, oh god, gay bars and drag queens, everybody seemed the think, "oh fine." It took a long time to get that way in Durham. Although I was impressed that for a while we had the only gay bar in the Triangle. So I think Durham came about - developed better relations first then Chapel Hill, then Raleigh. But as you know we still have a long way to go here.
ASHLEY CROWE:
And how was it back before you moved to Atlanta, like when you were in high school, and?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Oh god, you didn't dare let anyone suspect you were gay, at least I didn't. There was a kid - my foster brother graduated a year behind me because he failed a grade and he became fast friends with a kid, something Murray, oh god. Oh this kid was flamboyantly gay. In fact, we had a day where students could dress anyway they wanted to - Ricky Murray - Ricky came to school, god, in these screaming red hot pants with suspenders, this white billowy almost a blouse versus a shirt, and I don't remember what he had on his feet. Have you ever seen a show called Are you Being Served?
ASHLEY CROWE:
Yes.
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
He walked down the hall just like Mr. Humphries would. I was like, "No god, I don't know these people." He was teased alot, I don't think there was ever any physical violence but there were certainly threats of it. And Ricky had the attitude I always wished I had which was "Mphttt. So what." Ricky could survive; I could not have dealt with that. So I just kept to myself, so quiet I even dated, had steadies, so no one would know. So it was tough, very tough. Ahhh, don't want to go there.
ASHLEY CROWE:
And now?
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
Oh its worlds better. Now I still have problems. I probably have the most amazing internalized homophobia you've seen in years. When I was talking with Thomas Sherratt who was the therapist who did me the most good. I was pissing and moaning that if I did something then people would know I was gay. And Thomas said the meanest, nicest thing anyone has ever said to me, he said "Bill, if I was driving on the street and saw you walking on the sidewalk, I wouldn't even slow down to wonder if you were gay." And I stopped and I looked at him and said, "Evil queen." And that kind of just, everything released. It was like "okay this is who I am, this is the way I walk, this is the way I move, this is how I like to dress. So it'll have to be." Mind you I'm not using any of the four-letter words I'm thinking. And from there in its been a lot easier. [pause] Now if I get in a room full of football jocks, I'm gonna butch it up a little bit. Or to the best of my ability. Just because of the old signal will kick in that "you're going to get hurt if you're not careful." I'll be very careful. My foster brother. Aye. He doesn't care. Anytime, anywhere, he doesn't care. In fact - [END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A] [TAPE 1, SIDE B] [START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
WILLIAM E. WHITE, JR.:
My foster brother would kill me - fortunately no on is going to hear this. Randy has these huge brass balls, I'm sure. 'Cause he'll say any thing to any body. And what he was turning red and getting so furious about, there was an obvious football player and his little girlfriend a little farther on down, and the girlfriend must have been staring. We had to walk past that table to get out of the restaurant. I said, "Randy, don't you dare embarrass me." He was just as cool and normal, walked right by. Got right beside the table, plopped his elbows down, got right in the girl's face, and said, "What's wrong girl, never seen a live one before?" I thought, "Oh shit, we're both gonna die." And instantly the boyfriend just literally fell out of the pew laughing, at his girlfriend not at us. And Randy just walked on, and I thought, [hangs mouth agape] [Laughter] I'd like to be able to do things like that. I have visions of having my throat cut; Randy goes, "They wouldn't dare." Okay, sorry about that, I just had to include that one little story.