Ooops! I’m pregnant!

It’s amazing how easy it is to forget basic biology when you’re 20 and drunk

1980: Mullets were in, John Lennon was alive, I was out of the closet, Reagan had just been elected, and I’d vowed to stay wasted until he was gone. In my attempt to fulfill that vow, I got trashed with my friend Ryan and forgot both that he was a boy and that having sex with boys can cause pregnancy. So much for the advantages of a college education. Of course, Ryan was so drunk that he didn’t notice I wasn’t a boy.

Three weeks later, we had the “I’m late” conversation.

Ryan looked at his watch and said: “No, you’re not. The show doesn’t start until 10.” Once he got it, he was shocked into silence. Finally, he stuttered, “B-b-but we’re gay!” As if that were a contraceptive.

I was scared out of my mind, mostly about the prospect of telling my girlfriend. “Ooops!” wasn’t going to work.

Ryan was the most supportive man who ever wore makeup. He told me I could stay with him if my girlfriend threw me out. He’d stick with me, he said, whatever I decided.

We drove past the Planned Parenthood clinic a number of times just to scope it out, and somehow always ended up at the bar instead. Back then, Planned Parenthood clinics were pretty quiet and nondescript, like most doctor’s offices and clinics. These days, that clinic in Des Moines has got the same battle lines drawn that you’ll see at any clinic that performs abortions.

Like most screwed-up 20-year-olds, I put off the decision. On the one hand, I was in no position to have a baby: unemployed, living with a volatile girlfriend, on the edge of flunking out of college. Even giving it up for adoption would have been a problem—what if the product of two flaming queers ended up being raised without access to disco and glitter by ultra-religious homophobes? That’s no small thing.

And, then as now, I recognized the cells that were growing in me as potentially human. If all went well, it would become a baby.

The one thing I didn’t think of was the health of that embryo. Both Ryan and I were party animals; that’s why we were friends. Fetal alcohol syndrome wasn’t on the radar yet, but given the times and my mental and emotional state, the affects of booze on the fetus was the least of the things I was worried about.

As so often happens, refusing to make a decision was a decision. In my case, the pregnancy ended in an emergency trip to Broadlawns, the public hospital. I miscarried at eight weeks. My girlfriend ended up paying the emergency-room charges before she told me to hit the road. I didn’t have to make the decision to get an abortion—but that didn’t mean I was any less desperate and hurt.

I don’t think many sensible people would disagree when I say that what happened was a good outcome. I didn’t clean up my act and my life until 1986—I didn’t quite stay trashed all the way through the Reagan administration, but I tried. Ryan graduated, moved to San Francisco and came home to Iowa to die of AIDS in 1989.

And if there had been protesters in front of that Planned Parenthood—people like, say, Wynette Sills (see “Preg knot”)—I can guarantee that Ryan and I would have flounced right in the doors. We weren’t the sort to let anyone tell us what we should and shouldn’t do.

So much for “ooops.” And for the kind of choices screwed-up young people make, then grow past— if they’re lucky.