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- Posted by Jessica Robertson
At what age did you begin questioning your sexuality?
As far as an attraction to the same sex, I can remember that as early as six.
Do you remember the object of your affection?
It was this big, tall guy, probably in his forties. Not really a good-looking guy -- not traditionally speaking. He was just always around -- he was the mail carrier -- and always talked to my dad. Even at six, I realized that there's something going on. I looked at him and I felt a little bit embarrassed. It was something I couldn't really talk about, something that made me feel a little bit uncomfortable.
At what age did you begin to understand these feelings?
Probably either by the time I was 13 or 14. That was a very tough time. I come from kind of a blue-collar background. That's really what I'm like, doing my concrete work. A lot of the things I like to do I don't think are traditionally gay things. We went from living in a really nice neighborhood in Chattanooga, across the street from the mayor, to moving down to this trailer on the same road. My dad was saying that we were supposed to get our asses down there and start building a nursery. And in the late '70s and in a rural area, it's just one big old monster truck after the other. Realizing that at the same time, being in that type of environment ... it's all about context. I was always feeling like I desperately had to hide [my sexuality]. That was very tough.
When did you come out to your family?
When I went to college, there was someone that I was involved with and I took him home to my mom one night. I just told her that we were involved like that -- that Chip and I, we're more than friends. And she was like, "Oh." She got really quiet. The whole Southern way of things ... she just didn't talk about it. By the time I was 21, I had a disastrous relationship with this jerk. It ended very badly. I went home to tell Mom and Dad all about it, and my dad was the same way. All of it is so strange because they had to have known. You pick up on that you just don't talk about. It was there, but you just didn't talk about it.
Did you then choose to surround yourself with other gay people, just for some common understanding? Or hide the fact from your social circle?
I've always felt I've been able to be open with my friends as much as I want to be. I have some friends that are gay but not an overwhelming number. I have friendships with people whom I have something in common. That's how I choose the people that I'm around. If I go to gay bars -- which there's a couple I go to -- I'm a happy hour person. I like to get up at six in the morning. I was around and dabbled in that gay disco scene in the '80s, being out and staying up 'til 2 o'clock in the morning. If you're doing this, you end up hanging around those people that hang around at that time of night, and some are terrible. But only some my friends happen to be gay, and a lot of them aren't. And there's some people that I just ... nothing about my personal life. There's not anything to talk about. We talk about music. We talk about house remodeling.
Where did music enter the picture for you?
I sang in church choirs when I was a kid. But I had thought about it quite a bit and decided I was an atheist. I didn't believe in God. My dad didn't go [to church]. [My parents] had a big argument and decided, "Well, if you don't want to go, we don't have to go."
When I was in college -- this was probably about four years before the Judybats got signed -- in the '80s. I met [guitarist] Ed Winters through some friends. Ed's straight. He was playing folk stuff. I was like, "That's kind of neat" and I got an electric guitar. It just became more and more a way of expressing myself. But, once again, I didn't feel comfortable at the time with the fact that I'm gay coming out in my music. I almost reacted against that because I didn't want any kind of labels. So I played non gender-specific songs. And over the years, I understood that there was something I was squelching. I guess the timing was just right for me to stop doing that, recently.
What made you decide to be more open in your lyrics? On the solo album you're writing now, you sing about men specifically.
I've always banged around on the guitar, but I don't know why -- I was scared to try to write my own songs. I bought several big bottles of white wine, I got this little beat up green chair and I was like, "I'm gonna sit here every night for one hour and play the guitar for two weeks solid." And it was about night number four that I realized that I know every f---ing chord progression ever played in the history of guitar. I didn't even know that!
I started playing a melody and made a decision that I'm gonna write whatever I want to. I can do whatever I want to do. And then I sat there and wrote a song about having an affair with a married man on a Sunday afternoon in summer. It's strange that it took all these years for me deciding to write my own songs. And suddenly I start writing about absolutely what I want to write about.
Were you open about your sexuality during your time in the Judybats?
Even during the Judybats, that did not come up. Ed always knew that I was gay. It just wasn't really talked about. I didn't talk about it. I can remember a specific night, and we were playing at CBGB. The head of Sire Records and VP came and they had three or four 21-year-old muscular, blonde men hanging out with them. You have to buy the drinks -- you know what I'm talking about. The whole larger city gay scene is not really anything I'm curious about or have experienced much of. They were gonna go out to a club and hang out, and they wanted me to come with them. I didn't want to. Maybe I'm a little bit of a prude. But after this, if I'm a little bit of a prude, I think I have the right to be. I know about playing the game in the music business and they know that I'm gay, which has never come up. I know that they're gay, even though it's never been discussed. I was like, "No, I have to get back to the hotel room." And I got into this huge argument after they left with our drummer, like it was part of my job -- like I was supposed to go hang out with them. I was like, "No, I did not want to hang out with them and I'm not going to do that. If you want to go hang out with them, you can."
I just try and follow my instincts. Maybe I was supposed to have hung around with all the gay people that worked at Warner Bros. and came out and said that I was gay, and talked about all that. But a lot of those people didn't really seem like my kind of people. I just didn't feel comfortable with it.
Did you ever date women?
I did -- some in college. I had a girl that was so crazy about me. We used to roll around. I was so sexually attracted to her. I took her shirt off, I unbuttoned the top of her jeans and that was as far as we could go. But we ended up breaking up over that because she was telling me she wanted to remain a virgin, in a Christian sense. We got into a discussion one day -- you know, "I really care about you and I want to have sex with you. I don't understand where you're coming from 'cause I'm not a Christian like that. You cannot come into my dorm room if we can't go any further, because I don't understand at all what you're talking about."
It's so awful. What is ironic is that one year passed and I saw her at a bar. She had stopped straightening her hair. She had black hair, blue eyes, real soft skin. She was wearing this thin, kind of see through white dress. And she turned around and saw me, and wanted us to hook up. She told me what had happened to her in that year. She had started dating a guy named Jeff. She showed me a picture, and it was beyond ... my brother and I don't even look this much alike as he [and I] do. And she had had a sexual relationship with him. And what she said, it just stopped me cold. She said she had broken up with him because he was going to be a park ranger, and he, quote, "could not afford to keep her in the type of lifestyle" she saw for herself in the future. I thought, "If she's that shallow..."
Is your family OK with you bringing your partners home?
If I had to, now, yeah. I know that would be hard. My brother's a military guy. He and I really don't talk about all this kind of stuff that much. But I know now that it's something he would just completely accept if I was seeing somebody and brought them around. Again, it would just not be a topic of discussion.
Given the recent events in California, do you think marriage is something you would ever consider?
I like to spend a large amount of time alone. I'm a little bit of a solitary guy. I could be here all day, if I'm doing a house project, by myself and not talk to anybody, and just be as content as can be. I've had relationships, but I tend to work a little bit better living alone. But if someone should come along that I thought I wanted to spend the time with for several years, I'd definitely feel like I should be able to get married to them. And it'd be recognized by the state, absolutely.
When you wake up today, given all that you've been through, and now your recent revelation to be open and honest about your life in your work, how do you feel in your own skin?
I feel very comfortable. I really have for several years. Usually bars that I go to are considered straight bars. Most everybody in there knows that I'm gay. I go in my cut-off t-shirt and ball cap, and I go in there and have a couple of beers. Some of the people I know enough to say hello to, and some of them I don't. I go anywhere I want to as I am. I feel very comfortable in my skin, and I think I always will.