Out:  A Courageous Woman's Journey

Chapter Three 

The next day I asked the dorm mother if I could change rooms and be Karen’s roommate.  “No,” she replied.  “That space is too small for two people."

“We don’t mind,” I assured her.  “We really would like to be together.”

“Is there a problem with the girl you’re now with?” she asked.

“Not at all. She’s very nice, and we get along just fine.  It’s just that Karen and I are good friends and enjoy being together. We really do want to room together.”

The dorm mother then turned to Karen.  “Is this something you want? Do you agree with this request?”

“Yes. I’d really like for Lou Anne to be with me.”  “Well, the accommodation is too small for two, but if you want, I’ll assign both of you to it.”

We were elated. Karen and I spent some of our happiest times in that tiny dorm room, which we kept the rest of our sophomore year and all of our junior year. 


I continued to date boys on a regular basis, and during my junior year I dated a senior named Eric McGill, whose father was a Baptist preacher in West Texas. Eric had little money. He struggled to make ends meet and worked in one of the dining halls in order to pay his bills. He could afford to attend Baylor only because of the allowance available to P.K.s (preachers’ kids). Consequently, when Eric and I dated, we always just walked around campus, had a Coke, and attended a free campus event or, occasionally, a movie.  We seldom ate out.

One evening as we were strolling across campus, he said, “You’re one of the few girls I’ve ever dated who doesn’t expect me to spend a lot of money on a date. You and I have fun just doing simple things, and you don’t realize how much I appreciate it.”

“Spending a lot of money on me isn’t necessary, Eric. I enjoy going out with you.” And I did—up to a point. When I sensed a fellow was falling for me and wanted to hold and kiss me or, even worse, marry me, I was ready to turn him loose and look for someone else to date. But until Eric made the comment about inexpensive dating, I’d never thought about it, one way or the other. What we did together wasn’t that important.

One evening we double-dated with his roommate, Jeff Tatum, and then Jeff asked me out. I accepted, and we dated a few times. Then Eric called. “Lou Anne, I like you a lot, and I’d like to continue dating you, but if you prefer going with Jeff, I understand and will step aside.”

I hadn’t thought about Eric in a serious way, but he’d obviously thought seriously about me. It was probably good that he was willing to back off and allow me to date Jeff. “Thanks, Eric,” I said. “I do like you, but I need to think about this. You really are a great guy.”

He said again that he wouldn’t stand in Jeff’s way and wished me the best. I appreciated his attitude, and Jeff and I ended up dating rather exclusively. But Eric remained in the picture as the three of us worked together to help establish a little Baptist church just outside Waco. I played the piano when no one else was available, and Jeff and Eric took turns preaching and leading the singing. We met in a family’s small three-bedroom home. Bedrooms became Sunday- school classrooms, and the den and kitchen area was the sanctuary.

One of the tragedies of being gay and having to keep it a secret is hurting others. Jeff fell deeply in love with me, and I liked him a lot. But I couldn’t fall in love with him, much less spend my life with him. I was in love with Karen.

Jeff asked me to marry him, and this wasn’t the only proposal I turned down—certainly not the only heart I broke. How much better if I could have been open about my sexual orientation. 

While I was dating Jeff, Karen had become interested in a senior in her psychology class, Russell Hampton. I became accustomed to hearing, “I’m heading to the library to study. Russell may be there. Don’t wait up for me.”

Returning from the library, she was either down, because Russell hadn’t shown up, or elated because he had. Occasionally, she’d be in the clouds because he’d asked her to the student union to have a Coke. 

I wasn’t jealous of Russell. After all, I dated boys and had dated them all the time Karen and I were together. But Karen had never dated. She saw herself as overweight and therefore undesirable. The truth was, she had no experience being with boys and no self- confidence along that line. Her mother had convinced her that no boy would pay any attention to her until she lost some weight. The more critical her mother became, the more Karen ate. The two of them battled constantly when they were together. 

Karen’s skin was unblemished, her makeup flawless, and her hair carefully coiffed. A large-boned blonde of German descent, she probably weighed 135 to 140 pounds. I really didn’t know, and I didn’t care. I just knew that I loved her and yearned for her to feel good about herself. 

Although I felt no jealousy toward Russell, I began to dislike him because he never asked Karen out on a date. He would hint to her after their psychology class that he might study in the library that evening and maybe they could study together. That’s all it took for her to spend the evening sitting there, hoping he’d show. And sometimes he would come, though sometimes he wouldn’t. Helplessly, I watched her infatuation with him begin to control her emotions. The more he took over her thoughts, the less she wanted to be with me. She finally informed me, “I’m in love with Russell. Your relationship with me must end. I don’t want us touching each other any more. I realize this won’t be easy for you, especially with us rooming together, but it’s time. I don’t want us to even hold hands any more.” 

I was devastated. She was my very life, and she was rejecting me. Just a year before, I’d been willing to halt our relationship, but she’d convinced me not to. Now the shoe was on the other foot, and I couldn’t handle it. I was so accustomed to cuddling with her at night, to sleeping next to her in that single bunk bed, that I couldn’t go to sleep by myself. I thought constantly about her, about being with her, touching her, sleeping with her. When we turned out the lights each night, I’d 
 be in the bottom bunk, she just above me in the top one. I wanted so much to hold her, yet after she told me not to touch her again, I didn’t. I never forced any attention on her, but not because I didn’t want to. I loved her terribly, completely, and was miserable. 

This was the first time someone had totally rejected me. One night, beside myself, I begged, and Karen ignored me. I told her I was going to kill myself, but she didn’t take me seriously, so I headed for the bathroom and found her bottle of sleeping pills. I emptied the bottle and swallowed all thirteen pills. “That’s not going to kill you,” she said. “Those pills aren’t strong enough.” 

She was right. With a lot of effort on her part, I awakened the next morning. “Wake up,” she kept saying as she shook me. “You have to get up. You have a date to the football game, and you need to get up and dress.” 

I felt absolutely awful, like I was in a stupor. I could hardly hold my head up, but it never occurred to me to cancel my date. I dressed, but not with any wisdom as I wore a sweater when the weather turned out to be warm. My date brought me a corsage, and I had great difficulty pinning it to my sweater. The heavy corsage drooped down from my loosely knit teal-blue sweater. It didn’t look right, but I couldn’t very well change clothes with my date standing there ready to go. 

The game was a blur. I had a terrible time just staying awake. I was miserable. Ill. Hot. Uncomfortable. I recall nothing of the game, even less of my date. He never asked me out again. 

While Karen wanted nothing to do with me, I quietly cried myself to sleep most nights—those nights I was able to get to sleep. I couldn’t sleep alone but finally devised a plan that provided me a few hours’ sleep. After we turned out the lights, I waited until Karen was asleep, then quietly crawled up into her bunk and curled up at the foot of her bed. Just barely touching one of her feet, I was able to sleep. I awakened before she did in the mornings and returned to my bed without her knowing I’d slept with her. At least I assumed she never knew. 

Our little dorm room was probably ten by ten. Besides the bunk beds, it held only a chest of drawers and a small desk and chair. We had our own tiny bath, which was much better than having a larger one shared by up to six girls. 

We’d spent many happy hours in that little room, but now, as we shared this cramped space in the first semester of our junior year, we avoided touching each other. We both felt the strain. My love for Karen continued. I hated Russell. If he’d shown a normal interest in her, I probably wouldn’t have disliked him. More than anything, I wanted her to be happy. We were convinced we would find happiness in marriage and family, so I wanted her to find someone good and loving to marry. But Russell never asked her out on a date, never took her out to eat, to a movie, or to any campus gathering. In no way did he show her off as someone special to him. He just furtively met her at the library and occasionally bought her a Coke. I knew this wasn’t a normal courtship, but Karen didn’t. She was smitten. 

​I couldn’t tell her Russell wasn’t treating her right. I realized what he was doing to her and hated him for leading her on. The little bit of attention Russell gave her was enough to cause her to fall in love.  He was her first beau. Occasionally I’d try to warn her about him, but I couldn’t do so very often or she’d think I was just being a sore loser.  I stayed very concerned.