Jim Justen grew up gay in Kenosha, Wisconsin during the 1950ís, a time when homosexuality was considered a criminal offense that was thought to sap the moral fiber of both the individual and the nation. Gays were subjected to the same hysteria and persecution engendered by anti-communism, and pressured to conform to mainstream cultural and gender norms. During high school, Justen hid his sexuality but ran with a rough gay crowd in his hometown of Kenosha, Wisconsin. He dealt with potential problems by learning the basics of boxing and ju jitsu and developing a tough street-fighting reputation. When he finally told his parents that he was gay at the age of 19, Justen was lucky enough to find his family accepting and supportive.Listen to Audio:
JUSTEN: I knew that I was gay, had been closeted of course in high school, but there was a small minority of gay people around us in school, and we knew who was and who wasn’t. And a few tricks that we were going to bed with occasionally and that was about it in high school. In fact I had my first lover in high school. I ran with a pretty rough bunch of people, regrettably. My ex-lover used to fight golden gloves and I got my butt kicked at one time, and made up my mind I was going to learn to fight. And I spent a year learning how to fight. He taught me how to fight and defend myself. And if a problem developed it was going to be solved real fast. We just stood up for our own self and that was it. I guess we made up for the fact that we were gay by being strong enough to handle any situation that would come up.
I notified my mother and father somewhere around the time I was nineteen years old or so that I was gay. I told my mother first and she accepted it although she would rather see grandchildren on my side. My father’s only attitude when I told him was, "you are the way you are and you better do one thing — accept yourself for what you are and don’t try to change or you will be a screwed up person. He did know some gay women that he worked [with], some lesbians on the railroad, he was close to and friends to. My father was a very bright shrewd person he was my best friend as well as my father.
Source: Interviewed by Miriam Frank 6/28/96
Courtesy of Miriam Frank