On the Chartreuse Couch: Bill Goodman

View of Reality from a Chartreuse Couch. Photo by Ansen Seale

Gene: Bill, thank you for joining me on our lovely gay-friendly Chartreuse Couch. There are several topics that I want to inquire about. Mainly your specialty, estate-planning, wills and marriage. Where do we start with this? It is all quite complicated.

Bill: Well, same-sex marriage is certainly the hottest topic. Who knew it would all move along so fast? For years I’ve given talks about LGBT estate-planning, and have always said that “Gay Marriage is OK, but what we really need is Gay Divorce.” What I mean is that we don’t have an effective legal structure for ending our relationships. Straight spouses have the benefit of laws and courts to help them sort out the division of property, custody of children, and so forth. Very often same-sex couples buy a house together or have joint accounts and investments. When they break up, there are no rules for splitting the assets if they can’t otherwise agree. This is even more important now that so many of us are raising kids. Interestingly, one of the cases making its way up through the Texas courts involves a gay couple who were married in another state, but who live here and want a Texas divorce. It’s been denied. Ironic that the State says it won’t let them get married, but it won’t let its courts grant them a divorce, either. You’d think they’d be happy to drive them apart.

Gene: Yes, two guys married in Massachusetts. There is a lesbian couple who married in Massachusetts who live in Texas now. They want a divorce. They moved to Texas and decided they hate each other. One lives in Austin and the other lives here in San Antonio. Why they would move to Texas … There is a child, too.

Bill: It’s just the backside of the same coin. In reality, the institution of marriage isn’t about love and devotion. It’s a money thing, inheritance, taxes, deductions, accumulation of wealth. Divorce laws are there to protect that wealth. They don’t want us to enjoy those benefits, coming or going.

Gene: Well maybe Texas’s role is to be the gay divorce state. When all the other states have accepted gay marriage, Texas can be the quickie divorce state like Nevada was the quickie divorce state for all those years. There is money to be made in divorces, too.

Bill: That reminds me of a racy joke. The question was, “What’s a quickie?” The answer was, “Five dollars, same as downtown.”

Gene: Yeah, well, we don’t tell racy jokes on the couch. This is a family sofa. So, which state do you think will be last on marriage?

Bill: I think the last few stragglers will all be brought down together, kicking and screaming, by SCOTUS in one fell swoop.

Gene: Well, which state? We’re placing bets here. And what is SCOTUS?

Bill: Supreme Court of the United States. Sounds kinda like scrotum to me.

Gene: You do know where “testimony” comes from? That is the way men in old testament times would swear an oath. They would hold their testicles and swear to the truth or whatever required an oath. You know they would not have sworn on the Bible. You learn something every day here on the Chartreuse. But estate planning is not a new issue, and for all of us single spinsters who need advice about that, what’s some quickie advice?

Bill: Everyone should have a will, medical directives and a financial power of attorney. Members of our community should also designate guardians to handle their affairs during incapacity, and appoint agents to handle their funeral arrangements, otherwise their next of kin will control those matters. For many folks, that’s OK, but sometimes you wouldn’t want your  natural family taking charge.

Gene: You have a personal experience with this. You were in a longtime relationship with Bob Biasiolli who died from a heart attack while standing in line at the bank. Tell us about Bob. How did you meet?

Bill: We met briefly at a dinner party–the old-fashioned way, in person, before we had access to the internet–in September 1980. Then we didn’t see each other again until the following January. We had each announced, separately, to different friends at different parties on New Year’s Day, that we were fed up with the dating game and would never find anyone and might as well give up. January 2 fell on a Sunday that year, and we both ended up at Snuffy’s, that popular kicker bar on San Pedro. We saw each other from “across the crowded room,” and had an instant connection. We weren’t apart from each other for more than a total of 10 days or so over the next 25 years. As they say, “Give up, and it will happen.”

Gene: Interesting. Well, then, on another topic, how do you think we have changed over the years–you, Texas, the nation? It is good to hear other perspectives on the gay civil-rights movement.

Bill: I was in New Orleans recently for the annual Southern Decadence celebration over Labor Day weekend. I was surprised that most of the guys who showed up were my age or older, and many of them were big leather bears–a subspecialty that has not gone mainstream, as far as I can tell. There didn’t seem to be many younger kids around. Maybe they were at other circuit parties in Austin or Pensacola, or maybe they don’t feel the need to congregate in specialty groups at big gay events. Perhaps the internet and online dating keeps them isolated and inside, out of the bars and off the streets. Or maybe it’s just so normal you can hook up at H-E-B nowadays.

Gene: Well, you have served on committees and discussion groups over the years.

Bill: For a couple of years I served on a local panel that offered half-day diversity training to graduating cadets at the SA Police Academy. Most of them were in their early 20s. We talked about prejudice, hate crimes, transgender issues, relationships, domestic violence, religious concerns. We did role-plays about how to address persons during a traffic stop who are presenting as a different gender than appears on their driver’s license or ID. At the end of each session, we heard comments like: “Why do we need this? These issues are no-brainers. My brother is gay. My next-door neighbors are lesbians. We know all this stuff.” It was gratifying to hear this, but we had to impress on the kids that the career officers they may be riding with might not have the same attitudes and openness, and that we hoped they would help bring enlightenment to their elders.

Gene: Yes, well, I wonder about all this, too, as do many here in San Antonio, and what to do about it if we are victimized by a policeman or the police department.

I was just watching a travel film about Amsterdam and it showed the very large art monument to the gay movement titled “Homomonument.” It is three very large, pink granite triangles in a large triangle. One had a poem, one was steps up from the water, and the third was a platform. Do you think San Antonio will ever have an art monument that addresses the GayBLT population?

Bill: Being the military city we are, with so many gay veterans choosing to retire here, we might be able to have one for gay vets. Nancy Russell is working on one for D.C., I think.

Gene: Well, guess what? I have Nancy on the line and she has a question. Hello, Nancy. Thanks for calling.

Nancy: Hi, Gene and Bill. Nice to talk with you.

Gene: Hi, Nancy, and I will want to interview you next, but right now I want to hear your question for Bill.

Nancy:  So, I want to go back and ask you more about the Supreme Court, and what’s going on with the Fifth Circuit on the marriage issue and what we can expect in the next few months.

Bill:  It’s amazing, really. The Supremes recently denied the appeals of several more states that were trying to uphold their marriage bans. But they still haven’t issued a nationwide ruling. Interestingly, some advocates say that it might actually help move things along if the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans upholds the Texas ban. That would create a “conflict” among the Circuits that would force the issue up to the Supreme Court level. And some conservatives are reportedly hoping this whole thing can be over and done with by next year, so they don’t have to deal with it during the 2016 elections.

Gene:  Thank you, Nancy, for the question. Isn’t she just a sweetie pie? On a different topic: Where is your favorite place to eat?

Bill: The breakfast table in my den.

Gene: Hahahahahah!! I love it. That’s so antisocial. I thought for sure you had a restaurant in mind.

Bill: I am rather partial to Feast, my cousin Andrew’s place in Southtown. I think he’s done a terrific job with it, and not just because he’s my cousin.

Gene: Well, that’s great! Because that is where you are going to take me to eat. I feel sure. Let me know when.

Bill: That would be my pleasure for inviting me to your Chartreuse Couch. This really is comfortable.

Gene: Well, moving right along. What is going on in the world that gets your attention?

Bill: Ebola. It’s really scary. AIDS all over again.

Gene: Yes, My thoughts, too. This is the end of kissing, I feel sure. Well, have you ever seen a UFO?

Bill: No, but I once hooked up with an alien in Roswell.

Gene: OH, DEAR! Do we want to hear about this? she asked with great concern.

Bill: Here’s a picture.

Attorney Bill Goodman in Roswell, NM.

Attorney Bill Goodman in Roswell, NM.

Gene: Cute. Just my type. Matches the sofa. You can introduce us at Feast. Well, when things get this boring I call Elaine Wolff and ask her if she has a question for my guest. One ringy dingy… Hello, Elaine. Hi, things are getting kinda weird here on the sofa with Bill. I thought you might help out with a question.

Elaine: Nice of you to think of me. OK, here’s a question for Bill inspired by a pessimist–or maybe just realist–friend: What does gay culture lose as it’s accepted, and even embraced, by the mainstream?

Bill: I don’t watch television, so I’m not up to date on Modern Family or other current media where it’s OK to be gay, no big whoop anymore. It’s been said that being gay was a character-builder, because we had to pass, we became more skilled at handling people, handling our own

emotions, and withstanding all the slings and arrows. This supposedly made us more creative, more caring, better nurses and hairdressers, so the theory went. Has this energy lessened as we become more normalized and accepted? I think there’s still a place for the spinster aunt and

bachelor uncle in the family–freed of child-raising responsibility and able to dote on the nieces and nephews. Has this role diminished as some of us are becoming parents ourselves? We were different, and that played a part in making the world go round. If we’re the same as everyone

else, what do we add?

Gene: We add color. Elaine? What do you think the GayBLT community adds? This is your big idea to start Out In SA.

Elaine:  I think outsider status often produces hard-earned wit and substantive criticism–which society sorely needs–and maybe a lot of that is lost when a previously ostracized group gains mainstream acceptance. Sadly, there are still plenty of candidates for that job, however.

I wish Out In SA had been my idea, but that credit goes to Michael Wagner at Euclid Media.

Gene: Thanks for that, Elaine. I feel better already. So, Bill, what can we expect now? The chess board has changed.

Bill: As for activism, it will be interesting to see where things go from here, now that the marriage push is almost over the hump. I imagine the next focus will be workplace protection. The Hobby Lobby decision a few months ago was scary for its recognition of religious exemptions in the employment arena. Obviously, we’re not there yet on every front.

Gene: Ok, it’s your turn. I always let my guest ask the last question.

Bill: If your green car could marry, what or whom would it marry, and what child or children would they produce?

Gene: Are you kidding? My 1976 Volkswagen Rabbit, of which you speak, and which everyone knows and loves, would marry a stretch limousine. No children. No prenups. A three-car garage in a state that allowed car marriages. And you for the lawyer. And pets allowed on the sofa.

Photo by Jim Keller

Photo by Jim Keller

Gene Elder is the leading “Clip and File Queen” for the HAPPY Foundation, San Antonio’s  GayBLT history archives. It is housed in the Bonham Exchange Building. [email protected]

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