Jim Neal is a 65 year old gay man born and raised in Galesburg, Illinois. Following his parents’ divorce at age 7, he moved with his mother and brother into their grandmother’s home. Neal discusses how, throughout his childhood, he witnessed predatory men in positions of power abusing boys; this served to inform his early perception of homosexuality. Those experiences also presented an internal struggle for Jim Neal between his own identity as a gay man and his perception of adult gay men. As a child, he found support in his family and closest community for his non-traditional gender interests (including playing with Barbies and painting his bedroom pink). In high school, he dated girls while simultaneously having gay experiences with his out-gay-friends.
In 1981, Neal moved to Portland Maine to attend the Portland School of Art and came out as gay. He worked in the restaurant industry and later at the Portland Museum of Art. Jim Neal began a long-term relationship with Roger Mayo; eventually the two men moved in together in the Parkside neighborhood. As the AIDS crisis unfolded, Neal became involved in various fundraising efforts (including donating pieces of his art).
In 1990, Neal and Mayo opened a card and gift shop, “Drop Me a Line,” with merchandise tailored to the queer community. As one of Portland’s first explicitly queer-owned and operated businesses, Drop Me a Line became a central meeting place for community and engagement. Jim Neal talks about the kinds of merchandise the store carried, the communities it served, the events they hosted over the years, and the eventual closure of Drop Me a Line in 2006.
AIDS Epidemic, Art, Closeted, Coming Out, Drop Me a Line, Family Structure, Gay, Gay Activism, Gay Community, Gay History, Galesburg Illinois, HIV/AIDS, Internalized Homophobia, Knox College, Loss and Grief, Love and Relationships, Maine Lesbian Gay Political Alliance, LGBTQ, Parkside Portland Maine, Portland Museum of Art, Portland School of Art, Queer, Roger Mayo, Sexual Abuse
History of Gender | Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies | Oral History | Women's Studies
Chapkis, Wendy, "Neal, James" (2023). Querying the Past: LGBTQ Maine Oral History Project Collection. 100.
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