Guess Who’s Coming Out at Dinner?
His life reads like a celebrity tell-all, complete with all the drama and humor one might accumulate over five decades in entertainment. “I was a kid model at four years old,” says Robert “Sandy Beach” Hitchen. A native of Atlantic City, the towhead cut his teeth doing catalogs and conventions for a line of kids clothing based on the Bat Masterson TV show. A serious case of acne sidelined his teenage dreams until he was tapped for a dance party show broadcast from Steel Pier. “There were these teenage girls throwing themselves at me,” he says. “One girl overdosed on aspirin because I wouldn’t go out with her.”
Then came a very influential summer at Bucks County Playhouse, where he got his first real kiss—from a man. “We were at the cast house for a party,” remembers Hitchen, when an older actor treated him to an “acting” lesson. “The next thing I knew he threw his lips on me,” he says. “A few seconds later, I kissed him back. And then I kissed him for a long time.”
By the time Hitchen returned to high school he was dating girls again, but after graduating he and his sister became regulars on A.C.’s gay scene. Straight sis even encouraged him to come out to the family.
“It was Thanksgiving,” he says. “We were having drinks at dinner.” His sister—a few glasses into the meal—began to insist that he just tell them. “We started arguing,” he says. “And the whole table is focused on me and my sister having this ridiculous fight.”
As his father was carving the turkey, Hitchen took a swig of Scotch and blurted out, “OK, I’m gay. Are you satisfied?” Dad responded, “Jesus Christ, can’t we have one dinner that one of you kids doesn’t spoil?”
Grandmother, meanwhile, lubricated by gin martinis, added, “I’m gay, too.” “My gay uncle left the table to go into the other room and laughed out loud,” Hitchen says. “My mother’s jaw was on the table, and my younger brother and sister had no idea what was going on.”
Shortly after the revelation, Hitchen moved to Chicago to take acting lessons, immersing himself in theater. “The next thing you know I’m working at gay bars and end up being the male lead in a drag show,” he says. “My parents finally met the love of my life before they passed away.”
Today, Hitchen—now a seasoned performer and bartender at the Venture Inn who will be playing Edna Turnblad in Hairspray in Ocean City this September—admits that coming of age in A.C. made him who he is today. “It was the place to be,” he says. “When you are around so many gay people you realize that it’s all right. There’s that cushion of having friends who are the same as you.”
The coming out story appears in the summer issue of G Philly magazine. Pick up a copy at your favorite LGBT-friendly destination in the region or subscribe for free online.