Guest Blog from Dwight Okita

Guest Blogger Dwight Okita shares his experiences of the 70’s Chicago gay scene.

Image of gay 1970's from Getty Images

“I remember the Seventies as a time when encounter groups were becoming big. The human potential movement. It was also a time when the women’s movement and the gay movement were flourishing.

I remember one day as a young fellow with an active curiosity, I went looking for the gay community. I had graduated high school and was thinking about college. Someone told me the center of Chicago’s gay community was at Clark and Diversey. So I went to that busy intersection. I saw panhandlers. I saw shoppers with baby strollers. I saw lots of cars, buses, and taxis. I stood there for a long time at that intersection — but I didn’t see anything that looked like a gay community. I didn’t see two men holding hands. Or two women kissing each other hello. Someone must’ve been pulling my leg. Perhaps there was no gay community after all.

Then someone said, “If you want to meet the gay community, come to the Cruising the Nile party at the Aragon Ballroom. You’ll meet 5,000 gay folks in one fell swoop.” And I did. Cruising the Nile was an Egyptian-themed extravaganza (I later learned that gay people love theme parties). There were live chickens in cages, straw spread out over the floor to look like an Egyptian marketplace. A slave auction was in progress (very intriguing!) and, what else, a kissing booth. Non-stop disco dancing spilled out from the upper balconies.

And a cute man named Victor asked me to dance with him. He was a gymnastics instructor teaching young Olympic hopefuls. Victor wound up coming back to my hotel. “It’s not a nice hotel. I saw a cockroach last night,” I said apologetically.

“I’m not coming to see your hotel room,” he said with a sweet and naughty smile. So that’s my quintessential Seventies story and I’m sticking to it. If it didn’t happen in the Seventies, it should have.”

Dwight Okita , poet, novelist, shortlisted for The Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award


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