The Turkey Men
Directed by David Allen Vargo
Set in 2016, the ghosts of two ex Civil War soldiers, Alex (the Yank) and Web (the Confederate), are still inhabiting their old, dilapidated farm house on their abandoned turkey farm in Central Ohio. These men have lived through much of gay history and have had wonderful adventures and a great romance. Their quasi-existence is interrupted by the sudden arrival of a man and woman dragging into their home a sixteen year old lesbian, entrusted to their care by her parents with the hope that they can “pray away the gay” and turn her into a 'happy heterosexual'. Should Alex and Web get involved even if it means their permanent disappearance after over 150 years? Of course the answer is yes. Based on true events and real people, The Turkey Men, is filled with humor, romance, and pathos.
In May of 2011, the playwright, law professor Douglas Whaley, read an article in a Metro column of the Columbus Dispatch written by John Switzer. The story contained therein provided the inspiration for a play subsequently written by Professor Whaley called "THE TURKEY MEN." The article by Mr. Switzer is reprinted below in its entirety.
Professor Whaley immediately sent an email to Mr. Switzer.
I have long enjoyed your splendid columns.
Today's column about the Confederate prisoner and his guard who became lifelong friends and lived together—the "turkey men"—struck a chord with me. You say they "somehow became fast friends," and I may have an explanation for that. I'm an aging gay activist here in Columbus, now retired, and it struck me that there's a good chance these men fell in love and became partners. Is there any hint of that? Were either married? Gay couples know how to hide and have done so for centuries.
My best to you,
Mr. Switzer never replied. It's likely it hadn't occurred to him that the "turkey men" could have been lifelong gay partners, but Professor Whaley feels that's a more probable explanation. Looking at their story from where we are now in the timeline of history with all the revelatory knowledge at our disposal, considered as an obvious romance it's even a more compelling story than two heterosexual bachelors who just happened to live together for over 50 years, died within a year of each other and are buried side by side, separated from the rest of the graves in their own isolated spot - sans any evidence of wives. Outlying graves of this kind have, in the past especially, typically been given to members of society deemed 'unacceptable.'
Chick and Brill’s story stayed with the professor, and he began musing how things would have been for them if in fact their pairing was a romance lasting 54 years, long enough to have had a Golden Anniversary in a time when gay romances in theory didn’t exist at all. It occurred to him that in a fictional version of their lives he could change their names and do what he wanted with their basic story as a premise. Instead of creating another novel, he decided it was time to write a play with them as the central conceit. But what kind of a plot? And how could he weave it into a story honoring the historical aspect while at the same time making it pertinent to current affairs?
The professor set the play in 2016 and makes the two ex-soldiers, now called Alexander Small (the Union soldier) and Webster Carter (the Confederate soldier) two nearly discarnate ghosts still inhabiting their old home on the abandoned Mount Sterling turkey farm, and now worried that if they materialize at all, as they used to do, they’ll vanish forever. But these men have lived through over 150 years of history, experienced first-hand the long history of gay rights and how society changed and grew in its understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ persons. They have had wonderful adventures and a great romance. Their quasi-existence is interrupted by the sudden arrival of three people: a man and a woman dragging in a sixteen year old lesbian, entrusted to their care by her Evangelical parents with the hope that they can “pray-the-gay-away” and turn the girl into a happy heterosexual. Should Alex and Web get involved even if it means their permanent disappearance after over 150 years? Of course the answer is yes, and how they make themselves known to the girl and what they do to rescue her drives the plot.
A word about conversion therapy
Conversion Therapy is the pseudoscientific practice of trying to change an individual's sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual using psychological or spiritual interventions. There is virtually no reliable evidence that sexual orientation can be changed and medical bodies warn that conversion therapy practices are ineffective and potentially harmful. Advocates and proponents have only been able to provide anecdotal reports of people who claim some degree of success in becoming heterosexual. Medical, scientific, and government organizations in the United States and United Kingdom have expressed concern over conversion therapy and consider it potentially harmful. Various legal jurisdictions in Asia, Europe, Oceania, and the Americas have passed laws against conversion therapy.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) opposes psychiatric treatment "based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that a patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation" and describes attempts to change sexual orientation by practitioners as unethical. It also states that debates over the integration of gay and lesbian people have obscured science "by calling into question the motives and even the character of individuals on both sides of the issue" and that the advancement of conversion therapy may cause social harm by disseminating unscientific views about sexual orientation. United States Surgeon General David Satcher in 2001 issued a report stating that “there is no valid scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.”
The highest-profile advocates of conversion therapy today tend to be fundamentalist Christian groups and other organizations which use a religious justification for the therapy rather than speaking of homosexuality as "a disease". The main organization advocating secular forms of conversion therapy is the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which often partners with religious groups.
Techniques used in conversion therapy prior to 1981 in the United States and Western Europe included ice-pick lobotomies; chemical castration with hormonal treatment; aversive treatments, such as "the application of electric shock to the hands and/or genitals"; "nausea-inducing drugs ... administered simultaneously with the presentation of homoerotic stimuli"; and masturbatory reconditioning. More recent clinical techniques used in the United States have been limited to counseling, visualization, social skills training, psychoanalytic therapy, and spiritual interventions such as "prayer and group support and pressure," though there are some reports of aversive treatments through unlicensed practice as late as the 1990s.
Some sources describe ex-gay ministries as a form of conversion therapy, while others state that ex-gay organizations and conversion therapy are distinct methods of attempting to convert gay people to heterosexuality. Ex-gay ministries have also been called transformational ministries. Some state that they do not conduct clinical treatment of any kind. Exodus International once believed reparative therapy could be a beneficial tool. The umbrella organization in the United States ceased activities in June 2013, and the three-member board issued a statement which repudiated its aims and apologized for the harm their pursuit has caused to LGBT people. The ministries that had been members formed a new organization Restored Hope Network and continue to operate as before with a renewed emphasis on spiritual conversion and therapy.
LINKS of interest
Professor of Law Emeritus, Douglas Whaley, has taught Contracts, Consumer Law, Commercial Paper, Sales, Secured Transactions, and Debtor-Creditor Law at the Moritz School of Law since joining the faculty of The Ohio State University in 1976.
Prior to his teaching career at Ohio State he practiced law in Chicago with Chapman and Cutler and taught at Indiana University Law School in Indianapolis. Professor Whaley has won nine awards from three universities for outstanding teaching, including an Ohio State University Distinguished Teaching Award in 1978.
He is the author of seven casebooks (Contracts, Sales, Commercial Paper, Consumer Law, Debtor-Creditor Law, Secured Transactions, and Commercial Law) and a book on warranties.
In addition, Professor Whaley takes great pride in his former activities and affiliation with Stonewall Columbus, a local gay rights organization he helped found in 1981 which has grown by leaps and bounds and today boasts the largest LGBTQ Pride Parade in the Midwest.
Professor Whaley studied at the University of Maryland where he graduated in 1965 with a Bachelor's Degree in English and the University of Texas where he graduated with honors in 1968 with a J.D. in Law.
A teacher, playwright, actor, director, novelist, and author, Douglas Whaley makes his home in Dublin, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus, with his husband and three cats.
The World Premiere of THE TURKEY MEN by Douglas Whaley
was presented and produced by
Central Ohio's LGBTQ+ Award-Winning, Professional Theatre Company
as the final offering of its 2019 Season
in Columbus, Ohio
Columbus Performing Arts Center
549 Franklin Avenue
October 16 – 26, 2019
Mark Phillips Schwamberger, Executive Artistic Director