Karl Rove’s gay, pierced father

A Little Bit of History
August 16, 2007
By Yard[D]og

It’s funny how people come into your lives. If you live long enough and pay attention to the world around you, you might realize the truth in that old saying that each of us only six degrees from one another. Those connections for most of us are like the haze on a mirror after a shower; but wipe the surface with a clean cloth and you will see everything around you or maybe even the glue that holds it together.

Louie was the first gay man to introduce me to piercing. After a career as a geologist for Getty Oil, he had retired in Palm Springs and owned an up-scale house off Farrell Street, at the end of Santa Ynez Way. His home was chock full with mementos, pictures of his kids, grandkids, art he had gathered on his travels; a library full of books, all kinds of videos, a fantastic classical CD collection — it was a place I felt at home. A mutual friend had said, “I think you’ll like Louie.”

His compact back yard had the obligatory Palm Springs turquoise colored pool, water-tolerant plants and a mass of pebbles around fruit trees that served as a feeding area for birds. Louie was an amateur birder and each day he would throw out seed for the various kinds of finch that lived in the tall, tightly cropped oleander bushes that surrounded his yard.

Besides being a home for birds, the oleander also provided a nice bit of privacy. And it was by the pool in the shade of the patio, on the floor in the library, driving off to Sunday brunch or on his bed that I heard the tales of his passions, saw the pictures of people in it, and got a glimpse of a man whose life intrigued me.

All of this is not to say I viewed him a perfect man; he drank and smoked too much, was temperamental and never watched his diet. He held a grudge beyond reason and could be insulting … we lost touch because of his drinking. Personally, I just did not know what to do with people who drink too much. But for some time I just enjoyed my Palm Springs weeks, lazy days by the pool, laugher and story telling.

And then during one Sunday brunch, with the boys at Cedar Creek on Palm Canyon Drive, his best friend Joe Koons turned to me and sort of whispered, “You do know who his son is don’t you?” “No!?” “He’s the chief of staff for the Governor of Texas.” Looking back I realize there was something more in that whisper, but at the time it passed by me.

I didn’t know his son — all I knew about his family was what Louie recounted to me as I looked at their pictures in the living room. Other than that I was mostly bothered by their visits to Palm Springs or his to Santa Fe, since that meant the house was closed for other over-night friends. And as to his former wife, Louie told me he had come out and so they divorced. But when I saw his family photographs I just saw the usual groupings of people and smiling-faced portraitures.

As a way to introduce me to piercing, he showed me a collection of the “world’s first body piercing magazine” — PFIQ (Piercing Fans International Quarterly). Those early magazines depicted a world many thought of “only as a handful of widely dispersed and closeted hardcore fetishists.” I was fascinated.

And pictured in that magazine was Louie … well, not Louie’s face but it was definitely Louie’s piercings [Editor’s note: in fact, Louie was one of their best known cover models!]. Louie had more genital piercings — all gold — than God … and there they were, all pictured in that magazine. Pictures I took of those piercings are posted somewhere here on BME. I remember thinking, “I should share these with BME; it’s good place to store copies of them in case something happens to the originals.”

Louie loved his piercings, they made him smile. People who are pierced will understand.

So there on the floor in his library, amid teaching videos on piercings and piles of PFIQ’s, I listened to one man’s account of his travels through the Los Angeles piercing community in the 70’s and 80’s — the “piercing parties” with folks getting pierced on coffee tables in private homes, nurses that helped, and a guy named Jim. I knew about Jim. I had both my nipples pierced at The Gauntlet.

Louie also knew about play piercing; I wanted to learn and so he taught me. And so between splashing in the pool, brunches, visiting his volunteer list of AIDS patients, eating at all numbers of restaurants, visiting friends who lived around the area, birding at the Salton Sea and eating TV dinners, we explored needles and the effect they have on you.

During the day I was told the names of piercings … I hated the words but I wanted to know about each kind. To this day I’ve never gotten a dydoe because Louie told me it was a hard heal. I never copied Louie’s piercings but I never got them out of my mind. Some years after I last saw him, I found another friend, a professional piercer name Sque3z who took me on another journey recounted here on BME. Louie would be proud.

Louie and I exchanged gifts over the years. He really liked those stainless ball weights and I like gold jewelry … so I have a 14 karat gold cock ring that once belonged to Louie, and he had a bunch of ball weights that belonged to me.

So who cares about one man’s journey into piercing? For me it is not about a gossipy story, though some people will take it that way. It is not about telling secrets or things left best unsaid; it is about a little piece of history. Perhaps in telling this story someone else will be able to tell a better one another day.

The “Jim” in this story is the Jim Ward who started the piercing industry. Louie is Louis Claude Rove whose adopted son’s first name is Karl. Louie died quietly in Palm Springs as his very secular, not-believing son ran President Bush’s campaign for President of the United States that energized the Christian evangelical base around the wedge issue of gay marriage…

As I watched the news this week, I saw a Karl Rove standing beside the President, his voice crocking, talking about his love for Bush and his country but over that “noise,” I heard the memory of Joe Koons whispering in my ear.

“You do know who his son is?”

     … Oh My God!

And now I wondered if that son ever cried for the man who raised him and watched him grow up? I’d be curious as to how Karl Rove would ever explain his pierced, gay father? He never told the people in Louis’ phone book that he had died, nor invited them to a service if there was one. No one even knows where he is buried.

As for me? Well, I am the proud owner of Karl Rove’s father’s pure, solid gold cock ring! I’ve put it away with a few memories and pictures of his father. And in my garden grows a nasty, prickly little cactus from Louie’s backyard … alive and well.

     – Yard[D]og

P.S. I tried to put a bit of this in the Wikipedia site. It was immediately deleted. What can I say?