40 Years Ago, Here's How Writer Edmund White Described Gay Life in Portland

An excerpt from States of Desire: Travels in Gay America, originally published in 1980.

By Edmund White May 22, 2018 Published in the June 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

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Edmund White

Once there were two brothers. The older was dark, overweight, a bit slovenly, his nails ragged and his shoes scuffed. The younger was blond, slim, immaculate....

... Because of the extraordinary looks nature had conferred on him, the blond was taken up by a dashing crowd, but this very popularity made him somewhat uneasy. He kept paying visits to his dark brother who, because he was less sought after, remained more natural, more spontaneous....

In this parable the dark brother is Portland and the fair is Seattle....

When I arrived in Portland I phoned a young gay timber baron, whom I did not know but whose number had been given to me. “Come at once,” he said. “You can stay here as long as you like. This is wonderful.”

My taxi carried me over the Willamette River and past the Union Depot, a low rambling building ... the sort of station the Lionel Company might have designed long, long ago for rich children. Through dull city streets, clean if characterless, we went, and then we climbed up steep hills where the trees were so thick and tall they closed out the evening sky.... At any moment I expected Dick and Jane to race by with Spot, as Father stepped out of his Hudson, a smile on his young face and the evening paper under his arm.

Portland is a quiet city of mild winters and cool summers, of overcast skies and sudden showers—perfect weather for growing roses (they bloom even at Christmas) and ideal for bringing rosiness to the cheeks of long-stemmed American Beauty boys—those six-foot-two men with glass-blue eyes that the rest of the world dreams about, their golden hair so radiant it much have been intended to compensate the gloomy Northwest for its lack of sunshine.

From the University of Wisconsin Press’s 2014 edition, used by permission of the author

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