March 1976—The year was 1975 and I was 23 at the time, living in D.C. I was working in the U.S. Treasury Department for a Republican administration and hiding my attraction to men from others, as well as from myself.
When Dave Kopay became the first former NFL football player to come out publicly in November of that year, it shook my world. I wrote him a letter and he responded by inviting me out for a drink, letting me know you could be gay and still manage to live a happy life. It was something not widely believed by most people at that time.
At his prompting, I began going out to gay clubs, though I was insecure and uptight when I got inside them. Finally, on March 6, 1976, I got drunk enough at the Pier Nine disco that I didn’t pull away when Willie Wilson, a blond Viking “Tom of Finland” lookalike, said hello to me as we passed each other on the dance floor.
That simple act led to us having an affair that shattered my world and let me know for the first time what it was like to be infatuated with someone who felt the same way I did. It served as my entrée to gay life.
During our brief time together, I took a Super 8 “selfie” movie clip of us in the narrow mirror on my bedroom door. Years later, I cut out a single tiny frame and had it blown up at a photo lab. This pic is the result. I hope readers will bear with the poor quality of the image. It was unavoidable. It shows Willie, holding me in his arms between kisses. I’d like to be back in that moment, if I could, when everything seemed possible.—Mike Balaban