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- October 11, 1976
- Vol. 6
- No. 15
Tom Waddell & Charles Deaton: 'We Have the Same Problems as Any Other Couple'
That may be so, but Dr. Thomas Waddell, 38, for years seemed to have little trouble living out a conventional male role. He placed sixth in the decathlon at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. He is a world-recognized public health consultant for the conglomerate Whittaker Corp. He was also engaged to two different women.
The same could be said of the man Waddell joined in precisely that sort of "alternative model" for younger homosexuals. His spouse, Charles Deaton, 50, an ex-CIA operative in Europe, is one of San Francisco's most successful landscape architects. And, like Waddell, he was once heterosexual (or bisexual). Deaton was married but his wife and child died together in an automobile accident in 1957.
"I'm interested in presenting a new image," continues Waddell, whose emergence from the closet approaches a crusade. "There are lots of gays who have stable relationships and simply do not go through the great traumas, the anonymous promiscuity, the one-night stands you always hear about." Indeed, far from the Heartbreak Bathhouse caricature that the movie The Ritz perpetuates, declares Waddell, homosexuals "can live the same kind of life their parents lived." In the case of Waddell and Deaton, their own relationship (the first 12 months, anyway) appears to be surviving more serenely than their folks'. Both came from broken homes.
"People like to be around a happy couple," says Tom, "and I would say we are a very honest, very happy couple." Are the people around them mostly gays? Not at all, he says. "How dull that would be!" They met last year at an art gallery opening. Charles hoped Tom was homosexual, "because I was attracted to him." A month later Tom phoned for a date, and after that they "courted in a very old-fashioned way." With one exception: They dropped acid on Charles' theory that "if we could weather that together, we could handle any problems a normal couple has. Then," laughs Tom, "we finally decided to get together in a classic moment—isn't that always the way?—over a home-cooked dinner."
They are married—with all the traditional commitments, in their own eyes—but without the imprimatur of any church or state. That does not bother them. Neither is religious, and only in a few cases, in Colorado, have homosexual couples obtained marriage licenses. It does rankle them that they are thus precluded from the tax advantages of wedlock, and they plan to fight such legal discrimination against gays. Their formal arrangements include Tom's naming Charles in his will, a joint savings account and joint ownership of their home, a handsome reclaimed German-American meeting hall.
The warm glow of Gemütlichkeit pervades the Waddell-Deaton household. Deaton works in an office on a balcony overlooking the living room. Across the balcony, beyond a patch of indoor trees and shrubs, is Tom's desk. Between the work spaces is a cluster of comfortable sofas, where the two spend their at-ease time, often with Charles' dog, Mutti, snoozing to one side. Their other two animals, white cats named Dome and Spike, purr sleepily in separate straw baskets in the kitchen.
"In a gay marriage we don't have to be locked into roles," says Tom, and the division of household chores is no hassle. "There is a lot of misunderstanding among gays that their role is predominantly female," seconds Charles. "Civilized men and women are a balance between both—only a monster is totally male or female." "Charles does most of the cooking," advises Tom. "You do spaghetti very well," interjects Charles, "and the vacuuming, which I consider a waste of time." On weekends the couple invites a mixed group of 100 or 200 friends for entertainment on the living room stage left over from the home's first incarnation. Charles reads his own poetry and says, "We take turns introducing the talent."
From his early memories of growing up in Paterson, N.J., Tom's main interests were books, gymnastics and dance until he realized "that the dance was identified with being a sissy." So he devoted himself to athletics, attending Massachusetts' Springfield College—"the best physical education school in the country." He finally graduated in 1965 from the New Jersey College of Medicine. During an Army tour he refused assignment to Vietnam and worked in the antiwar movement off-duty hours. The brass gladly shunted him off to the Army track team in 1968. Despite the fact that he trained only three months (Bruce Jenner spent four years) and took time off to write press releases for black power advocates on the team, Waddell nearly won a medal for the U.S.
By then Waddell had had "a couple of passive homosexual encounters with a lot of guilt." And those two engagements. "I know a lot of gays who marry anyway," he says, "but I don't hold them in high regard. Unless it is discussed beforehand, it is a nasty thing to do." It was only about five years ago that he became fully reconciled to his own homosexuality. "I believed that I wasn't sick, that my feelings were quite normal if not accepted by most of society. I decided that was their hang-up and not mine."
Deaton's script is similar. Son of a "ne'er-do-well" Texan and raised by his divorced mother in California, Deaton was an early bookworm who took up boxing. World War II service as a bombardier was followed by a straight playboy college career from Hawaii to the University of Maryland. Intent on writing, he headed for Europe, where he joined the CIA instead, turning agents' dispatches into intelligible prose. He describes it as a comic opera Cold War, two years on the Continent on an agency fellowship. "Anytime we didn't know something we'd say, 'Let's call the Russians. They'll know.' It was a gorgeous time."
In the '50s Charles settled into a New York public relations job and marriage (though he had already had a few homosexual experiences). After the tragic death of his family he "went into stripped gear for almost a year," moved to San Francisco, abruptly quit PR and took up landscape architecture. "I also began reconsidering everything including my sexuality. I came to it late enough in life that I didn't suffer all that guilt." But for a while Charles would not discuss his marriage—not even with Tom. "He marked that and probed but I avoided," says Charles. "Finally, but gently, he hit the nerve one night at a restaurant and I started sobbing. I couldn't stop. One reason I had refused to talk was that too many gays hold up the heterosexual part of their nature as the admirable part."
Not unlike other newlyweds, Tom and Charles envision a dream house—theirs on a waterfront property Waddell owns on San Francisco Bay—and ultimate retirement. Tom is "settling down already," he says, resigning the part of his corporate job which required continual world travel so that he could have more time at home with Charles. "In about five years, when we've solidified our future, we want to sail around the world," says Tom. "We'll be absolutely alone in the middle of the ocean," laughs Charles. "And I'll be seasick in the galley." Of course, to adapt the metaphor, if he couldn't stand the heat he wouldn't be in the galley. "We've both understood how hard it would be as well as how much fun," says Charles. "A continuing balancing act—that is what all serious relationships are."
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