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90-Year-Old Tennessee Man Reflects On Long Struggle With Sexuality

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It was a powerful story of a long journey toward coming out and finding peace with one’s sexuality – a tale told by 90-year-old farmer Hector Black.

In 2000, Black made headlines and gave numerous radio interviews when his adopted daughter Patricia was brutally raped and murdered when their home was invaded. He forgave the killer Ivan Simpson and even called on the judge not to give Simpson a death sentence.

In his recent radio tell-all, however, Black told listeners of his own story of redemption: how he came out as a gay man 20 years ago at age 70, after decades of being a husband and father as well as attempting to “cure” himself.

'No Word For It'

“No, no word for it at all. I had nothing. I had no idea what it was. All I knew was that I was attracted to men,” Black recounted in an interview, saying that the terms “gay” or “homosexual” was never mentioned during his days of youth.

He first realized his true sexuality in the 1940s at Harvard, where he studied social anthropology and had his first sexual encounter. Fate brought him to military service during World War II, where he quit and went to a commune in Paraguay, which had zero tolerance for homosexuals.

Like gay men in the mid-1900s, Black underwent treatment. “[Y]ou take estrogen. And so I took that until I started growing breasts. And then, of course, they said OK. So I quit, and then I seemed to be OK,” he said, adding he then moved back to the U.S.

That was when Black – who now lives in rural Tennessee maintaining a plant nursery – met his wife, Susie Maendel.

Black came out to his wife in the 1960s, when he wanted to partake in the civil rights movement. He and his family moved to Atlanta as the only white family in an all-black community. “I knew what it was like to be a despised minority,” he recalled.

Wracked with guilt about the temptations and “leading a double life,” Black moved up to Tennessee from Atlanta without realizing that he was stepping into a hidden gay commune.

Out Of The Closet At 70

Even the company of people from that community did not make him fully come out. So what made Black finally nudge himself out of the closet at the ripe age of 70?

It was his daughter, who also led a double life. Black’s daughter came out first to her parents.

“And I just said this is it - that I can't - how can I love her and hate myself for what I am?” he said.

After almost 40 years of being married, Black offered a divorce to his wife, who in turn refused and stayed by his side. Susie died in the previous summer.

Did Black have any regrets about the life he chose to lead and coming out only at 70?

“I really am grateful that my heart has been broken a good many times because it does help me to love,” he answered, where Black sat down and played the piano – in the presence of a dozen friends and relatives in the valley community he has built – shortly after the interview.

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