THE DAY MARVIN'S LETTER ARRIVED. saying, among other things, that he was out of the closet, the papers were full of stories about gays. There was the tragic fire at the gay movie theater and there was a story about a gay synagogue in New York. Marvin's letter had not yet arrived, but the story about the synagogue had and I showed it to a friend and we made some cracks, me maybe more than him. I've been talking that way ever since I came out of the closet.

I should explain. I am not a homosexual. But I wrote a column a while back saying that I was sick and tired of dealing with the issue, that intellectually I felt one way about homosexuality - a sexual laissez faire is what I favor -- but emotionally I felt quite differently. I simply don't like what homosexuals do and I don't think it's all just a matter of sexual preference. It's something more than that - just don't ask me what.

So there it was and, after saying that it was easier to deal with the issue. No intellectual subtleties for me, thank you, and once again I listened to the jokes and the epithets and the words like "queer" and I make no attempt to correct, to unbraid, to say that there is nothing queer about homosexuality. It felt good, really, and it was lot easier, really, than having to figure out what's right and what's wrong and what's sick and what's healthy and what's not. Go with your emotions, said I, and many agreed.

Anyway, on this morning there was news in the paper of the fire and all over the office people were talking about what you do in case like this - what you do about identifying people who are caught by fire in a gay movie house. It's a problem, no doubt about it, because you can bet that some of the victims are secretly gay and because some of them have families and because some of them are not gay at all but merely curious.

Once you take all that into consideration you have to conclude that the men involved also thought about these things. It's basic, after all a variation of what your mother used to tell you about why you had to wear clean underwear even though no one could see it: What if you had an accident and went to the hospital?

So they thought of it and they were in the theater anyway and I suspect that some of them must have been uneasy about what they were doing - I mean the ones who were secretly gay and afraid of being discovered. They must have feared in the back of their minds tht something like this could happen, that there could be a fire, for instance, or maybe just that they would come out of the cave-like darkness of the place and maybe squint at the sun and bump into their boss on the sidewalk. They must have thought about that and gone anyway, meaning that once again we are talking about a pretty strong pull something that does not parse into neat reasons.

I was thinking of these things and then the letter came from Marvin. He lives in Provincetown, Mass., where he runs a guest house. He was once a journalist, a good one, and we worked together for nine or 10 months. We got to know each other well, but he never told me he was gay and I never suspected and I did not learn, really, until somedtime after he had quit journalism and the word drifted back.That sort of word always drifts back.

In his letter. Marvin told what it was like to be a secret homosexual - to pretend to date and to be interested in women, to talk the marriage game like everyone els and laugh at what he later called "fag jokes," maybe even volunteering a few yourself. He wrote about the shrink he saw once a week, looking, he wrote, for "the magic cure," which might have been nothing more than coming to terms with who you are. He has done that now and now, he says, he is at peace.

All this was nice - good material for a column, actually and in the end I called Marvin and asked him if I could use the letter and he said sure. But the part of the leter that really got to me is the part whose he referred to the gay movement as "the last civil rights struggle" and he said something about columnists like me. He said that the only time we write about gay rights is when some fanatic like Anita Bryant comes charging forth, doing, she assures us. God's work. Touch.

"I know of course, that the black struggle, the fight for women's rights are far from complete, but the homosexual fight is in it's infancy (I'd say about where the blacks were after the Civil War) and it depresses the hell out of me to think that it probably will be 100 years, at the present pace of progress, before gay men and women will be able to enjoy the rights guaranteed under the Constitution," he wrote. "It's not for me that I'm depressed (actualluy, Tom and I have a pretty good life), nor for the closeted homosexuals who are living incredibly tormented lives - it s the stark realization that the citizens of this county have no hesitation in denying basic human rights to probably about 20 million of their own. And that's what it's all about. Dick, human rights, not gay rights."

Well, that stopped me and it wasn't only because Marvin is someone I know and someone I like and therefore someone I can identify with. There was something else and it had to do with his reference to a "civil rights struggle." It made me think of the earlier ones, the one, say, involving blacks, and how people then cited the Bible and their emotions to justify segregation. They felt strongly about these matters and when you disposed of all the intellectual arguments, whan you beat them back in logic and in law, they told you simply how they felt as if their emotions could outweigh the law or some concept of justice. That's what stopped me - the realization that Marvin was right and that there was a new struggle and that, if that is the case. I was one of those guys saying something like "You might be right, but I know how I fee." I didn't like that at all.

Some feelings are better off in the closet.