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Reijers World: Long Live the KLM

by Reijer Breed in Columns & Opinions , 01 december 2014

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

In 1971, there was no internet, there were no cell phone numbers and no caller ID. I was 21 years old. Contact ads for gays were only in sex magazines and in “Vrij Nederland.” In “Binky” I read: “2 friends, 38 and 31 years old (both employed in aviation) seek regular contact with a passive guy up to 25 years of age for anal sex. Letters preferably with a photograph under number 7-26-77.”

I reread this ad over and over again, and after a week I wrote a letter including my phone number. Again a week later, someone called. “Hi there. This is Frank. My friend Pim and I have read your letter. It’s a shame you didn’t include a photo, but we would like to meet you some time. We fly for KLM and will only be home next Friday. Do you have time to come by? We live in the Schiphol Hotel when we are in The Netherlands.” With a trembling voice I said yes. “Funny first name you have. Reijer...” Frank said in a deep voice. “Yes indeed,” I said, “I was named after my grandfather.”

That following week went slow, every night I thought of Frank and his friend. It all seemed so exciting. But finally Friday night arrived. I took the train to Amsterdam, and at Central Station I took the tram to the Schiphol Hotel. My heart was pounding. I had to report at the reception. A man inquired for me and said: “Yes, of course! It’s fine. Take the elevator to the third floor.” There, Frank was already waiting for me. A handsome, somewhat dark man. “You don’t have to be nervous,” he said. It made us laugh. He took me into a hallway, and opened the door to their room. I entered a huge space and met Pim.

Pim had blond hair and a moustache. Pim said: “Frank is a pilot with KLM and I’m a purser. We try to be on the same flight whenever possible. And what do you do?” “I work at a news agency on Nieuwezijds,” I replied. Frank opened a bottle of wine. Their hotel room was big, with a large lounge area and a huge bed. “Well?” Frank asked. “We like you. Why don’t you spend the night?” “I will have to call my parents to tell them I’ll be out. But please be quiet when I call them,” I said. After another bottle of wine, Pim put on a record and we all danced to it. Dancing to the song “Than you can tell me goodbye” by Bettye Swann, both men kissed me on my mouth, cheeks and neck.

Kiss me each morning / For a million years / Hold me each feeling / By your side / Tell me you love me / For a million years / a million years / Baby don’t work out / And if it don't work out / Than you can tell me goodbye

It was a wonderful and exciting night. I had the time of my life, and we met again several times.

A year later, I was in the Jamaica Bar in Reguliersdwarsstraat. I got to talk to two handsome guys, Jan-Willem and Robert. “We are stewards at KLM, but don’t talk too much to Jan-Willem. He is terribly in love with a guy from Rio de Janeiro. And he arranged to fly to Rio again next week to spend five days with him,” Robert said. Jan-Willem gave Robert a poke. “O, you’re just jealous. Finally it’s my turn. And Reijer, would you like to see a picture of Miquel?” Robert asked. He showed me a picture of a very handsome guy with beautiful dark curly hair. “He’s a hunk,” I said. “Isn’t he? And he’s sweet!” “OK,” Robert said, “that’s enough. And he’s great in the sack.” We had to laugh seeing Jan-Willem’s expression. “I’m going home in a bit. Miquel will be home in an hour, and we’ll talk on the telephone.” That evening I went home with Robert.

In October 2012, I watched in admiration the VARA documentary by Hetty Nietsch, “Fleeing was no longer possible.” From the press release: “It is exactly thirty years ago AIDS came to The Netherlands. What happened to the stewards, pursers and ground staff of KLM at the time of the outbreak of AIDS? Former KLM employees and survivors show how the disease struck and what the consequences were.” Gay men wanted to visit the famous gay destinations, such as San Francisco, New York, Sydney and South America. They would party and have many adventures in bars and saunas. KLM refused to cooperate with this documentary. In the staff magazine “Wolkenridder” the KLM did write: “It is an evocative film that falsely suggests that aircrew brought AIDS to The Netherlands and that KLM employees in particular spread the virus. KLM dissociates itself explicitly from this false image.” KLM also reported in the magazine that it did cooperate with the film. A reaction of Hetty Nietsch: “I was not even allowed to come to their headquarters.”

In the documentary, former senior purser Dennis van Puimbrouck says: “It was as if KLM thought gay employees were convenient. They thought they were a fun group of people, hospitable, and often ready to make long trips because they had no families.” Another colleague says: “If you had cancer, you were to be pitied. If you had AIDS, you were a pervert.” Hetty Nietsch: “We could trace thirty people who worked at KLM and died because of AIDS. But we suspect that there are at least fifty.” I was so angry that I sent a letter to KLM. I suggested, among other things, that it might be an idea to create a memorial at Schiphol where the KLM could commemorate its gay staff that died of AIDS. I sent a copy of that letter to the VARA, which responded very kindly. I never heard anything from KLM.

Shortly after each other, Frank and Pim died in 1985. Jan-Willem had to leave his sick friend Miquel from Rio for insurance reasons. Both died in 1986. I will just listen to Bettye Swann’s “Than you can tell me goodbye” again, being an AIDS widower myself.



In the New Issue of Gay News, 322, June 2018

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