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  • Karl Thunemann

A Foretaste of Impermanence and Sorrow

In the summer of my 12th year, I experienced a foreshadowing of adult life and an oh-so-faint foretelling of loss. It all began with my introduction to summer Bible camp at the Methodist campground near Santa Cruz.

That summer a new world opened for me: In my week at the Methodist camp I discovered the idea of being good. I imagined I had fallen in love with a little redheaded girl from Napa. Even more important, my camp counselor gave me a new vision of manhood. How can I catalogue the various qualities that made him a paragon? He was six or seven years older than I, which made him seem as if he had come from another planet. He was handsome, kind, and full of good humor. He had a girlfriend, who came to visit one evening—well, I think she did, but I may have just conjured that up. His name was Hubert, and we all called him Hub. He would squire us about in his beat-up old Chevy. It had an electrical fault that caused its horn to sound unpredictably. This made hanging out with Hub that much more an adventure. He was a preacher’s kid, and an exemplar in every way.

At constant odds with my father, I needed a positive male role model. I needed a man to look up to, as I had a handful of grievances against my father. Hub was my man. I dared to hope that as I grew up I would be able to manifest even a few of his stellar qualities.

When the camp concluded, I stopped thinking about Hub, and focused more on my relationship with my redheaded friend. I wrote her letters, and she answered a few. I borrowed a California state map from my parents and traced all the likely routes from my parents’ house to Napa. When I was 16—admittedly, that seemed far off—I would be able to buy a car and properly pursue my romance. I projected a long life with this girlfriend: Even at 12, I was already the marrying kind. But our correspondence dwindled, and by October it had become a dim memory.

And Hub? We did not live in the same circle. Presumably, he went on to college. I still recalled how he embodied good. Would he follow in his father’s footsteps? It was just a passing thought. And then, when I was 17 or 18, I heard shocking news: Hub had committed suicide, an act that was linked in some non-specified way to his homosexuality. Later I would ask my brother-in-law—himself a preacher’s kid—if the report I had heard was true. Yes, he said. But he did not provide details, and I did not know how to ask.

I have scarcely thought of Hub for decades. He died in the early Sixties. But current events have brought the prejudice and cruelty of those times to mind. Throughout the country, “conservative” politicians are vilifying transgender people in a fashion quite reminiscent of earlier times, so full of fear and hatred of homosexuals. Legislatures are scrambling to pass legislation that would hallow discrimination. There would be no medical assistance for those who considered themselves transgender—no accommodation of any kind, not even in restrooms or athletics.

This brings my recollections of Hub back to life. Had he been able to survive his tribulations, which could, of course, have included the scourge of AIDS, he could be in his mid-80s now. I picture him and his husband giving interviews concerning their struggles—to win the right even to live, let alone to be free of discrimination and hate crimes. Perhaps they would have fought to be fully accepted by their church—or changed churches to gain that right. And I wonder, where is it written that we have to go through this again and again?

I am not of a mind to delve more deeply into Hub’s demise. Some entity deep inside stirs up scurrilous suggestions, that perhaps his suicide was linked to accusations. But I dismiss these thoughts. I prefer to remember Hub as he appeared in that long-ago summer. He deserved—as do we all—to seek happiness and acceptance through being himself—or themselves, as we might say today. Today’s transgender deserve as much.

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