My mother had dropped me off at the Piney Woods Cinema while she went shopping with a friend. It was a Saturday afternoon and the new movie Barbarella had just come to town. Sitting in the front row of the theater with my half-eaten bag of popcorn, I became a man.
The 1968 sci-fi spoof played for only half a day in my hometown - and I was one of the few locals who got a glimpse of Fonda flesh because when the manager discovered that nipples were being shown in Technicolor on his theater screen he hurriedly pulled the film and substituted an old John Wayne movie that was kept on hand, apparently for just such emergencies.
The revealing moment occurs 4:05 minutes into this opening sequence:
MANY YEARS LATER when I came out of the closet to my family, Wanda suddenly recalled that incident, and she asked me if I thought the experience might have been responsible for my same-sex orientation. Of course she phrased it differently...
"Son, did Jane Fonda turn you into a homosexual?"
"Are you serious?"
"I wouldn't put it past her. She protested the Vietnam War. She married a Frenchman."
"She's practically a communist herself. And that movie... Oh Lord, that movie!"
"Did you ever see it?"
"I don't watch pornography."
"It was hardly that."
"You may not remember this but I called that theater manager and gave him a piece of my mind."
"One you could spare, I hope."
"The manager said he'd been getting phone calls all day long. Betty Lou Harper told me. She heard about it from her nephews, Tim and Bob Jr. They were there that day. Did you see them?"
"It's been more than ten years!"
"Mrs. Peavy from the church almost had to be sedated."
"Was she in the audience too?"
"No, but she has a good imagination. There was a huge scandal around here. The whole town was up in arms. We started calling the movie Boobs-erella. Reverend Wyatt even made a special trip to the theater."
"Did he want a private screening?"
"Don't be rude. Reverend Wyatt sat that manager down and told him this wasn't Dallas and he couldn't get away with showing filth like that in our town. He warned him if it ever happened again he'd bring the church out with picket signs."
"Some things never change." (continued, after the jump...)
"So I'm wondering if you being exposed to Jane Fonda's breasts at such an impressionable age might have turned you into a homosexual. I personally can't imagine being forced to sit through that indecency."
"Nobody forced me to sit through anything. And if memory serves, you're the one who took me to the theater and dropped me off."
"Don't blame this on me. I was going to Woolworths to try on brassieres. No little boy wants to sit around while his mother tries on brassieres - though I guess looking back, you might have enjoyed it."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence."
"I just don't understand it. I never saw any signs that you might be homosexual. You never wanted to wear my jewelry. You never played dress-up with my clothes."
"Your taste in clothes was horrid. Besides, I never had gender issues. That's a different thing entirely."
"Don't confuse me with all this stuff about 'issues.' I've got a few issues myself."
"Quite a few, I'd say."
"So did you start having feminine feelings after you saw Miss Fonda's titties?"
"I never had feminine feelings. You're making me crazy."
(I do apologize - but this was the level of our conversation in those days.)
"Max, please don't make me come right out and say it."
"Did you start having attractions for boys after sitting through that movie?"
"Mom, you're not being logical. If anything, my exposure to Miss Fonda's... titties, would have pushed me toward heterosexuality, if I were inclined that way."
"I'm thinking maybe the shock of it caused some cerebral damage."
"Cerebral damage. Good grief. Have you been watching Marcus Welby reruns?"
"I don't know what more I could have done. You played sports. You went fishing with your dad. This is going to kill him, by the way. You haven't said anything yet, have you?"
"I thought I'd wait and see how you handled the news."
"Well don't expect your father to be as enlightened as I am."
"Maybe I'll hold off for awhile, then."
"And what about those girls you dated in high school? All for show, I suppose."
"This is a small town. I did what I had to do to fit in."
"And you're absolutely certain that Jane Fonda had nothing to do with this?"
"As certain as I am that twenty years from now you'll be embarrassed we ever had this conversation."
"I promise you I won't be."
It was a promise she kept. Last spring Wanda drove to the coast and stayed with Art and me for a few days, and one evening after dinner we were all sitting in the living room, watching TV. My mom had taken control of the remote and was channel surfing to see if anything caught her eye. She finally settled on the movie Old Gringo. At one point during the film Wanda gestured at the screen and said to my partner, "You see that, Art? If it wasn't for Jane Fonda, you would never have met my son."