Four on the deck

“Four on the deck?” the host asks.
“Um, well, we’d rather sit inside, actually.”
“Four on the deck?” he asks again, pointedly.
“No, it’s raining and cold. And we can see lots of empty tables inside.”

We were hungry, and hung over. We were also cold and wet and exhausted. And now insecure, offended and confused. What just happened? We hung our heads and dutifully followed him outside to the lone, sad table the deck. At least it was partly under an awning. The rest of the tables had chairs flipped upside down on top of them; the deck was clearly not open. As we walked through the restaurant to our outcast table, all eyes were on us. It felt like a movie scene, where the music and talking stopped as a spotlight appeared above us.

This treatment came at the end of a short camping trip, and apparently our reputation had preceded us. The four of us had piled in Julie’s Buick Special, loaded with the essentials – an absorbent army tent, and several coolers of beer. Judging by our hairstyles, Deano had been dating Dominic (a stylist) for some time. 80’s spiral perms and processed orange highlights were replaced with slick, bold cuts and shocking color choices. We thought we were so cool.

By all accounts, we were the worst campers. We were loud, obnoxious, and intoxicated. We spent the day at the beach drinking beer and frolicking in the water. Deano was mooning us via hand stands in the water. We found some floating logs and took turns trying to sit or stand on them, to various degrees of failure. I had a moment of clarity at one point late in the day when I realized we were not the only four on the beach. It was packed with people, many of them children. When did that happen? We were in our own world, and while it was a blast for us, I’m sure the rest of the campers viewed it differently.

Back at our campsite we needed a few items. Mainly ice for the beer. Maybe a hunk of bread to soak up some alcohol. So the boys went into town. They were gone longer than we expected and had a strange look when they returned.

“What happened? Where is the ice?”
“We don’t want to talk about it.”

To this day, I am sure I don’t have the full story. They went to a local bar, made best friends with the owner and a few patrons, but then something went wrong. It had something to do with them being gay, but that is all I know.

We woke up to pouring rain and in a puddle of water in the absorbent tent and decided to head home early, stopping for breakfast on the way.

Four on the deck?

It’s easy to say this was discrimination against gays, but we have to also accept the fact that gay or straight, we were inconsiderate assholes. It could also be the case that the host at the restaurant had no idea of our previous antics and was discriminating solely based on appearance and odor.

Over the years, we have used the expression “four on the deck” countless times to describe any situation in which we feel outcast, isolated or discriminated against. Or we are seated at a bad table at a restaurant. It has become a joke, but on that day it felt real.

I grew up in a mid-sized city in central Minnesota. Of our high school graduating class of over 300, not one was “out.” I met Deano at college in the same city; we lived on the same floor of a co-ed dorm. He had a girlfriend. He and I hit it off immediately. He didn’t come out to me until years later, after he had moved to Minneapolis. We went out for drinks at Liquor Lyles. Located in Uptown, Minneapolis, Liquor Lyles had red vinyl booths, a scary back room that we called “The Accused” room (after the Jodie Foster movie) and served fried chicken, pickled herring, and a big block of government cheese for happy hour. The perfect place for such an announcement.

We all suspected he was gay at this point, but he hadn’t come out to any of us. That night he didn’t tell me until we were walking home from the bar and I pushed him into it. Later, he told me how nervous he was about it. I couldn’t understand why he didn’t trust me enough with that information and I was hurt by his lack of faith in me. But he was thinking about the city he had to leave to be himself; the city where I grew up and was still going to college. From his perspective and experience, that conversation may have ended our friendship. I say to anyone – please give the people in your life a chance to know you. The real you. You might lose some, but not the right ones. Deano and I have been friends for 28 years.

Back at school, I wrote about sodomy laws for my senior thesis (like you do.) Specifically I wrote about repealing Minnesota’s sodomy law. I majored in criminal justice and in one of my criminal law classes I read a case where a gay couple in Georgia were convicted of violating Georgia’s sodomy law (they were consenting adults, in their own home) which carried a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. (Bowers v. Hardwick, 1986.) The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, who voted 5-4 in favor of Georgia’s sodomy law. One Justice noted the length of the sentence could be considered a violation of the 8th Amendment (against cruel and unusual punishment), but still voted with the majority opinion. I was outraged. This would be my first foray into this amendment; later I became an advocate against the death penalty, which I believe also violates this amendment.

Since I hate public speaking of any kind, I was terrified on the day I had to defend my thesis. But because I was passionate about the topic, had done meticulous research on both sides of the issue, and knew I was right; the fear quickly turned to defense. I was all – bring it on! There are so many misconceptions about sodomy, and an overwhelming consensus that no one wants to even say the word. It’s like George Carlin talking about head cheese (“I can’t even look at the sign!”) If you ever want to make someone uncomfortable in any situation; I recommend using “sodomy” in a sentence. Any sentence.

Sodomy is anal or oral sex between consenting adults (same or opposite sex.) Period. If it’s not consenting, that is a violation of a different law. If it’s in public, that is a violation of a different law (why do some people think gay people only have sex in public?) The laws against sodomy have rarely been enforced against heterosexual couples. In the Bowers case the court ruled that the right to privacy specifically did not extend to consensual homosexual sex. The case was a major blow to the gay rights movement, and not in the good, sodomy way.

Fast forward almost three decades and there’s a completely opposite four on the deck situation. My husband and I are in Hawaii with his daughter and her fiancĂ©e (a woman.) This time the deck is THE place to be. It has a killer view of the ocean and it’s warm, inviting and serene. Times have changed, certainly – gay marriage is legal in many states, younger kids feel safer coming out, many public advocates are out and proud, and there are no longer any state laws against sodomy – but discrimination is still alive and well.

View from the deck. Four on the deck?

View from the deck. Four on the deck?

While I’m happy and proud of the progress so far, I look forward to the day when the universal meaning of “four on the deck” is “you are welcomed and accepted here.” Everyone.