Oh boy! Oh joy! I'm gay
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From kidhood through mid-teenage years I was oblivious to sex. Reading that the average teenage boy thought about sex every seven minutes startled me. I wasn't thinking about sex that often. If others did it was only more proof that they were dolts.
The Four F’s
From my first day in Shuman Junior High School I remember Smoky. He shared the “Four F’s” with me: Find ‘em, Feel ‘em, Fuck ‘em, Forget ‘em. Sounded nasty. Was I freakish little prude? Possibly not. I’m not sure how much I understood, it’d be awhile before I found out what feeling a girl up meant. An earthy fellow like Smoky evoked the misanthropy that over the next few years would shape my response to almost everyone.
But possibly I was a prude. Abed one night, age nine or ten, I heard my Daddy ask my Momma: “Gwen, give me a little pussy.” By then I’d probably learned the word from Victor and seen scrawls on the side of an old building buried in the marsh that grew at the side of Savannah Gardens. Maybe with hypnotherapy I could find what I knew about the mechanics of giving pussy. Even if I did know what went where, sex wasn’t anything I understood. Daddy’s request revolted me. Maybe I had some implicit sense of what he wanted to do. And some fuzzy feelings about maternal purity. I think I was too ignorant to be anti-sex. Synchronously with misanthropy hatred of my father was growing: it would frame my personality and sexuality.
On the surface, my main interests were the physics and mathematics that made up most of my book reading before I discovered philosophy and literature) and the comic books that had been an addiction and passion since I’d learned to read). Instead of dating, marrying, copulating, my awareness of other people was dominated by my hatred of school, my father and mankind at large (and an interlude dispensing with Christianity).
When canonical culture came within my ken, Keats became my favorite poet. The luxuriousness of sentiment and sensuality may have intoxicated me as much as the richness of his verse. Damask cheeks, ripening breasts, beauty without mercy. (Woefully trite response, eh?) During the thankfully brief time I wrote poems (the word poetry would be shameless) they were full of romantic longing and despair. I'm sure many of you bear comparable guilt.
The sound of one hand . . .
Equally unsurprisingly there were beautifully surfaced boys and girls that I desperately desired. Every night (and all day long in the summer), my penis in hand, I hymned them. Liturgy complete I fell asleep, read about Superman, ate hotdogs.
OK, maybe I wasn't consciously thinking about sex. But parts of my brain were reacting to the hormonal tides. Sexual feelings didn't give me any plans or goals.
Perpetual nerdom avoided?
At all. Sure sounds unhealthy, doesn't it? Maybe it was a blessing. Adolescent sexual anguish is something I know only from books (Robert Crumb has devoted too many pages to his). If I'd decided I was gay I'd have told people. My daddy would've found out and he'd have taken my home life to an even lower ring of Hell. He might've institutionalized me to be 'cured.' (Aside from the homophobia typical for a man of his age and class, the fate of his brother would've added terror at my fate to disgust with my perversion.)
Frustrated young lust seems to often presage defeated lives. Easily I can imagine myself having gone that route. Fat and monstrously misanthropic I wouldn't have been an attractive partner for bed or otherwise for anyone; at least if I'd continued to think myself heterosexual. A retroactive fear that comes partly from the perpetually nullified straight men I've seen. They must exist but I've never known their gay counterparts. (The characteristics of their state my leave them mostly invisible. Only a few hustlers know them as gay men.)
Had I ever heard of same-sex attraction? Did homosexual or gay mean anything to me? Or queer, homo or fag, which I'd heard, shouted at school? I dunno. I'd probably heard sermons about Sodom and Gomorrah. Doubt the pastor would've been explicit, the mere mention of faggotry being deadly. Young men had entered my nightly objectifying. Oh, what a retard. Sure, I can simply note my young self's naiveté, accept that for my safety it was politic but mostly I'm annoyed and find him wanting.
Not many years later this would’ve been impossible. TV discovered sex. Visiting my parents only a couple of years after I’d left home I was surprised to see prostitutes appear in TV shows. I remember hearing about TV movie that treated homosexuality sympathetically. The Gay Liberation Movement gained minimal visibility. I’d seen the Rock Hudson and Doris Day sex comedies without ever understanding the innuendoes. Ten years later the hints were less carefully cloaked.
With wild surmise
One day I was hanging out with a close friend. When his housemate came home, one of the two best friends I've ever had, someone I'd known since I was ten, the two of them kissed. This was how they'd decided to come out to me. Friendship is celebrated in myriad clichés, by chance this had given me a sanity saving boon.
I thought about it for a couple of days. Then came the unexpected insight. I said to myself: "What do you know, you're gay." With mysterious fortune I'd grown up without racism, sexism (aside from a romantic idealization of the feminine, habit of opening doors for women was quickly unlearnt) or - most happily of all - homophobia. There was no guilt. Actually I was tickled. If anything being outside the norm was cause for an extra hooray: proof of another way that I was unlike the majority of mankind (a faulty craving, but conventional enough in youth).
A Pretty Boy is Like a Melody
Discovering that I was gay has remained one of the most joyous moments of my life. My hope is that many gay men can feel that way now. Fortuity had given me the impregnable alienated vanity and the discovery when it could be both felt and lived. Some of my luck surely I owe to the impetuous drag queens of Stonewall. I wouldn’t have heard of them. I owe them a debt and homage: sluts, drunks, whatever they were the gay men and women who pelted the police helped usher in better days for men like me.
Fat, fat like a water rat
There were hitches. I was fat. Dieting quickly fixed that. (Lean meat, starchless vegetables - based on something I remembered about fat metabolization in a biology textbook, Dr. Atkins hadn't launched any of his silly revolutions back then. And John and I walked miles every day so we could play mind games on the citizens of Savannah.)
Being gay in Savannah in 1972 wasn't satisfactory. I met a few gay people and didn't like any of them. Was attracted to only one (a nelly guy named Charlie) and he had a lover. There were plenty of nice looking guys but I had no gaydar. Nor a knack for mingling (something that changed when I moved to Atlanta). The gay men I met in Savannah were to precious, pissy, and pretentious.
Of straight men and bacon
Frank, a Puerto Rican junkie learning that I was gay shook his penis at me in invitation. Not how I wanted to lose my virginity. (He was an amiable but scummy sort, at least if you weren't his wife. He beat her when she didn't steal enough money from work to pay for his fix. They stayed with some folks I knew. After he and his wife left the people wondered what the awful smell was. Turned out Mr. & Mrs. Frank had left their babies' shit-laden diapers hidden in the couch. Frank liked fat women: "Its like fucking bacon, man!")
Get out of town by sundown
So I left home and went to the Big City. The nearest one, Atlanta.
The adolescence I'd missed at the normal age was compressed into a couple of years. The world was crammed with skinny beautiful boys. Thankfully plenty of guys that I thought good-looking returned the compliment. There were a couple of misfires. I tip my hat to my young self that this didn't destroy my confidence. Several years of agreeable hedonism followed. My visits to bars were few. I never went home with anybody from one. Nice looking guys were to be met on the street and there were friends of friends.
I had a crush on the first guy I slept with. The foolish passion of virgins was familiar and he handled me kindly. (David was a sweet nelly fellah and remained my friend for many years.) Another guy I fell for too quickly. It ended easily and equally quickly. And there was the guy who was "mad, bad and dangerous to know." Mostly I slept with guys only once rarely more than thrice. Foolish wishes had calmed and I stopped worrying about having the "mad pash." Moving to San Francisco I did date (the only guy I did date instead of just meet and fuck) a frighteningly beautiful young man but. Several happy weeks but we drifted apart, amiably though. Neither of us ever said “love.”
Good clean fun in the period between Stonewall and AIDS.
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