Stubborn and Alone

~Or~

The First Person You Have to Come Out to is Yourself

 

The following is a work of autobiography, not of fiction, and all similarities to persons living or dead are 100% intentional and accurate to the best of my memory and ability. I didn't even change any names. However, I have been rather vague as far as locations are concerned, and you won't find a last name for anyone. If you think you recognize yourself, please contact me – we should probably talk. samallan at hushmail dot com

 

It's also not really a `story', though, other than being my own story – it's a collection of events and thoughts that maybe explain who I am now, and how I ended up being that person. I wrote it for myself, for my own reasons, and I'm not sure what other people may get out of reading it. Perhaps you'll see something that makes you feel `I'm not the only one!', or `Glad my story isn't as bad'. Or perhaps you'll think `And he thinks he had problems?!' or `You know, if he'd just got off his butt he could have changed things'. Either way, the following is how my life's played out so far – similar to everyone else's in some ways, different in others.

 

Warning: If you live in an area that considered Lawrence Welk to be a hedonistic libertine, you probably shouldn't read this. It does involve the concept of boys being attracted to other boys, along with a bit of nudity, but for reasons that will become clear later, won't be very pornographic. No trees or endangered animals were harmed in the writing of this memoir, although a number of electrons have been inconvenienced.

 

I wrote this as a stream-of-consciousness sort of thing, and depending on how the memories flowed, I sometimes inserted new sections after the initial writing. Entries in italics will be current-day thoughts or comments. I'm 43 as I write this (summer 2013), so some of the events I relate are decades in the past. I'll write them down as correctly as I remember them, but I'll make no guarantees as to complete accuracy, especially dates and ages.

 

All copyrights and other rights are reserved by the author, and this work may not be published or displayed, in whole or in part, without explicit prior authorization.

 

**********************

 

*** 8th Grade

 

"You're a sexual! A sexual!"

 

We're sitting in rows of metal folding chairs in the junior high school gym, choir rehearsal for some school event. I don't recall what set off the white-haired boy in front of me, causing him to twist in his seat and call me names. Tim was obviously leaving the `homo-` off the word `sexual', but his meaning was clear enough. I was different. Didn't much matter in what way.

 

I don't recall much else about that episode, other than just sitting there staring back at him while he ranted. Oddly, I don't even recall any other kids around us, or their reactions, although nobody came leaping to my defense.

 

***11?

 

Peter, one of the neighborhood boys a few years older than me is mowing our next door neighbor's lawn. I stand there watching him work for a while, vaguely aware that it's not the yard-mowing that I find fascinating, but the fact that he's doing it with his shirt off. At one point, he has to stop the garden tractor, climb off it and reach underneath to clear the blades. His red Bermuda shorts stretching tight to his butt and the long lat muscles in his back are nearly as interesting as his chest and stomach had been moments before.

 

*** Childhood

 

I grew up in a housing development a couple miles west of town. Our house was maybe the eighth or ninth one built there, and the county highway to town wasn't paved until a couple years after we moved there. I was in high school before Mom would allow me to ride my bike into town, so my choice of friends was limited to the few other kids in the neighborhood. Although the neighborhood grew steadily, the available selection wasn't very large in the early days. A tendency towards introversion was reinforced by a lack of other boys with compatible personalities, and I rarely had more than one good friend at a time.

 

 

*** 8?

 

Mom would bake and decorate cakes as a way to earn extra money, cakes for weddings, birthdays, first communions, anniversaries – any occasion. My sister and I learned early on that late May and early June were good times to stay out of Mom's way, as she worked through three solid weeks of graduation cakes, and moved on to the June wedding cake rush. On the plus side, there were cake shavings to be eaten when she'd take a thin slice off the top of a cake to level it, and there was always extra frosting around. Two graham crackers with a thick smear of frosting between them was a favorite dessert or snack.

 

I was already feeling somewhat of an outsider at school. I wasn't getting bullied in the traditional sense, my lunch money was safe enough and nobody was inflicting physical pain on me, but I knew I wasn't fitting in, and I was starting to become a target. I got worried enough about it that I got back up after going to bed one night, and went upstairs to where Mom was in the kitchen, working on a cake. Maybe she could help, or at least make me feel better.

 

"Mom, I'm getting picked on at school" or some variation was my opening line.

 

Intent on her work, she replied "It's past your bedtime."

 

"But I feel like a punching bag!"

 

"Go back to bed!"

 

To this day, I find it hard to take the stand that I'm important, and that my feelings matter.

 

*** 11?

 

Everyone knows about the Boy Scouts of America, one of the corresponding groups for girls was Campfire Girls, an organization that my Mom and her sisters had been active in as girls, and now my sister was in a troop run in part by Mom. Once a month or so, the house would be overrun with a dozen young girls wearing Bluebird uniforms doing crafts and going to the bathroom in pairs.

 

One of the girls had a younger brother, a year or two younger than I was. He'd sometimes accompany her to the meetings (I guess there was a mutual baby-sitting sort of arrangement between the troop mothers). I have a memory of him standing in the front yard in tight jeans and a white button-down shirt, open a bit at the top, the wind blowing his blonde hair around, and I was thinking that he looked pretty good like that.

 

Remember that I was growing up in the 70's – although the Stonewall riots had already taken place, and gay men were starting to be able to live openly on the coasts, I was in the Midwest, and in that time and place, homosexuality just didn't exist, to the extent that nobody would have questioned the (assumed) fact that Liberace was straight. It certainly wasn't an option for a growing boy, although calling someone a `fag' or `homo' was nearly always a first choice for insulting another kid. There were no positive role models in my town or on TV, there were no `out' kids in my schools, and I never met anyone who would admit to being gay until I hit college.

 

*** 4

 

My first girlfriend, Angie, was quite a bit younger than me – Ύ my age. We'd grown up together, living in houses that sat side by side, playing in the yard together. The adults all thought it was cute that we'd kiss goodbye at the door when one of us had to go home for the day, or declare that we were boyfriend and girlfriend, and would be married some day. Then again, most adults would chuckle, since at the time, I was four, and she was three.

 

About the time I turned five, her parents sold that house, and moved across town. We'd still see each other at times, but we weren't daily playmates anymore. It was my first heartbreak.

 

*** 16

 

Church attendance was mandatory, by parental decree, and so I was active in Sunday schools, choirs, and youth groups through college. Perhaps the highlight of my high school era church career was being chosen to attend a Youth Triennium, an every-three-years summer event that gathered young people from across the country and around the world for a week-long session of fellowship, learning, and spiritual exploration (and a bit of partying). I came back from it on something of a high, which lasted until the moment I was describing the feeling to the associate pastor – he referred to it as a `mountaintop experience', and by naming it, ended it.

 

Buzzkills aside, one image from that week stayed with me for a long, long time. One evening, the entertainment was watching the movie "Places in the Heart", starring Sally Fields as a widow trying to hold her family and their farm together during the Depression. In one scene, a storm rolls in, and Sally's character is trying to close up the barn as the rain began to blow, plastering her thin cotton dress to her body. The image of a mother protecting her family coupled with the not-so-subtle eroticism of the wet dress left me with a fixation on short brunettes as a desirable body type. The Cindy Crawford `nice can!' Pepsi commercials came out not long after.

 

*

 

I also recall a moment in the dorm showers, seeing another delegate trying to dry himself with just his hands, as he'd forgotten his towel. Tall, thin but muscular, and darkly tanned, swiftly and firmly running his hands over his skin to squeegee the water off his bare torso and legs... Brunettes didn't have to be short to attract my notice.

 

*

 

Another Triennium memory is from the picnic we had before the conference, a get-to-know-each-other affair for the delegates from all the towns in the area. We had it at a city park pavilion, and after drinking pop for a while, I had to make to trip to the bathroom. A middle-aged guy wearing brown coveralls was standing around outside the latrine, and he followed me in. As I undid my pants to pee, he undid his fly as well, but instead of taking a leak, he just pulled out his dick, and started slowly rubbing it back and forth, and he asked my name and tried to make small talk. I finished as quick as I could, and got out of there. Halfway up the hill, I looked back, and he was again standing around outside the door, like he was waiting for the next boy who needed the bathroom. I probably should have raised a fuss, but nothing had actually happened, and there weren't any witnesses anyhow.

 

He'd looked a little familiar, some time later I finally connected his appearance to a student teacher who'd taught part of my English class the previous year, but I wasn't ever certain of that.

 

*** 19

 

"You are, you just don't know it yet."

 

I stared at Dann, and asked him what he meant.

 

"You're gay, you just don't know it yet."

 

I was in my second year of college, and we were standing in the yard of the house in town that I was living in that year. Dann was a couple years ahead of me in school, and one of the out gays in the theater department. He'd once told that his score to date was seven girls, and sixty-five guys, although he said about 2/3 of the guys he'd only done because he was drunk at the time. I just kept staring at him, not sure what to make of his accusation, not sure what to say in my own defense, or if I had a defense. He finally relented.

 

"Relax, I say that to everyone."

 

I recently read Andrew Tobias's book "The Best Little Boy in the World", and although I didn't try to camouflage myself as elaborately as he did, I was probably farther into the closet than he was (I certainly stayed there longer). Questions and comments such as Dann's were always the worst possible booby trap – Admit it? Deny it? Admit it by denying too hard? I'd usually just stare until the question went away, and hope that the staring itself wasn't considered an admission.

 

*** 14/15

 

The church had a rustic camp in a nearby small town, and I attended some summer sessions, as well as some youth group retreats and other events over the years. Some of the more fun memories involve crossing the swinging bridge over the creek, exploring the caves in the limestone gorge, and doing things like climbing the cliffs with some of the other boys for the express purpose of having a group pee into space off the top. Never got to see much of the other boys' equipment, but the freedom and daring of being even minimally exposed in daylight was a rush, as was the momentary good feeling of being included in what `normal' boys did.

 

A nighttime game of strip poker was a less successful inclusion – I ended up losing first. We were playing from inside our sleeping bags, though, and at first people doubted me when I tossed my underwear out the end... I was laying on my stomach, and reached behind me to flip back the top of the bag, and everyone groaned when they saw my bare butt in the dim light of the cabin. Apparently I'd broken some sort of code about not actually getting naked during strip poker. Who knew?

 

A bit of a double standard was in place though, I think. Not sure if it was the same trip or not, but I recall seeing Phil's butt in daylight, as he changed into his swim suit. It looked cute to me.

 

*** 4?

 

I was sitting on the front step of the house just enjoying the summer day when Kevin, an older boy from the top of the hill stopped by to chat. I don't recall much of the conversation, but I do recall him asking about the size of my dick. I answered something along the lines of comparing it to my finger, and I think he asked if I had any hair yet (at age four?!) I don't think he tried to get me to open my pants or anything, but I was never very comfortable around him after that (not that we were close before then). Part of that was he just had an off-putting personality, part was that his dad was a sergeant on the police force and we were never sure what he'd think he'd be able to do because of that.

 

I've tried to remember more about this, thinking that perhaps he'd abused me in some way, but no dice. Try as I might, I can't remember anything more than one instance of an inappropriate line of questions. He wasn't more than ten years older than me, although that's ages older in kid terms.

 

*** 14

 

One day at the church camp, we were splashing around in the pool, and I was looking at Mark, and feeling more than a little jealous. He was tanned, thin, and getting some muscle development and definition started. Although I wasn't fat, I wasn't particularly thin, didn't have defined muscles, and as a redhead, was incapable of getting much of a tan. His more desirable body and his greater ease in being friendly with boys and girls alike were both gifts I wished that I had, that I could be a golden boy too.

 

Little did I know that day that he'd soon be stricken with leukemia, and a year later, he'd have lost his hair to chemotherapy, his body would be bloated from the effects of diabetes brought on by chemo as well, and that he'd be unable to swim, due to a tube permanently inserted into his aorta and taped to his chest, to allow daily injections without destroying his vein walls. Golden boys don't always get to stay that way. He did survive, thankfully.

 

*** 18

 

I stayed the first year of college in the dorms, on a floor with 50 or 60 other guys. The rooms were fairly Spartan, little more than a single bedroom with two bunks, a double desk, and a dual closet/drawer unit. Bathrooms were down the hall, featuring a set of four stalls, three urinals, and a four-head gang shower. My schedule as a theater student was a bit different from most of the students on the floor, so I rarely had to share the shower with the jocks and business majors.

 

As a theater student, I was aware that some of the other boys on the floor were, in fact, gay (the running joke among the theater students was that we should include `sexual orientation' along with the name/hometown/major recitals during the introductory sessions at the start of each school year). I hadn't known any out gays until arriving at the college, and didn't feel comfortable being naked in front of another boy known to be (possibly) interested in me in `that way'. I dreaded the thought of another guy checking me out, yet knew that creating a scene in the shower wouldn't be considered appropriate either.

 

The day finally came when I was already in the shower when Perry, one of the out gays, came in to take his. The shower was a corral with one entry and no dividers, so there was no place to hide. I compromised by turning so that only my backside was ever facing Perry, blocking my genitals from his direct view, and finishing as quickly as I could.

 

A few weeks later, I noticed that Toby was doing the same thing to me - nonchalantly, but carefully, keeping his backside towards me.

 

*** 8-15

 

Every summer, we'd spend two weeks at a lakeside resort in Minnesota as a family vacation, both my family and an aunt and uncle's family. The word `resort' these days might be a bit misleading, if you think it to mean some sort of country club experience. The resort we went to was a working-class sort of place, more of a motel along the water than anything. The cabins were small two-bedroom buildings, some of which dated back to the 50's, and most were located at the bottom of the hill next to the lake and private beach. We'd swim, water ski, fish, and eat the days away. We went to the same resort every year, and got to know the various owners as they came and went.

 

One set of owners had a boy my age that I became good friends with for a few years, starting from maybe age 8. Tom and I would be inseparable for my two week stay, hanging out in his bedroom in the lodge, building a raft from scrap lumber (never finished), riding the paddleboat into town for ice cream, tormenting my sister or his with a dead turtle we had found – the usual boy stuff.

 

Tom's parents divorced, and the first summer afterwards, perhaps inspired by some of his dad's `gentlemen's' magazines (which we spent a few afternoons perusing) Tom became something of a nudist. He'd take his clothes off at the drop of a hat, and usually try to talk me into shedding mine as well. The first time he stripped was quite unexpected – we'd climbed into the front seat of his dad's car (a VW Rabbit that ran on diesel), and he started pulling his clothes off. Even more shocking was what he did next... he pulled a box of matches out of the glove compartment, lit one, blew it out, and instantly touched it to the underside of his dick.

 

"What did you do that for?"

 

"Just to see how it felt." The next day, he showed me the scab where the match had touched him.

 

*

 

Tom wasn't afraid at all of getting caught naked, he'd strip nearly anywhere. He'd built a treehouse of sorts in the woods just off the old access road, not much more than a platform with a low wall around it, but better than nothing as hideouts go. We were sitting up there one afternoon, me in my t-shirt and swimsuit, him in his birthday suit with his clothes piled on the treehouse floor. Some of the other kids in the resort walked by along the road, and we talked for a few minutes. They never realized that Tom was pantsless as well as shirtless. I was a bit scared of what might happen if they had realized it, but Tom seemed to enjoy the deception and risk.

 

*

 

Atop the hill were two cabins that rarely were rented out, since they were both among the oldest and least modern cabins, and because they were so far from the beach below the hill. Tom knew that they weren't locked, and they became a private spot for some more adventurous nudity. He kept trying to draw me into bets that were to be settled by running a couple laps inside the porch completely naked, or running around the entire cabin wearing nothing but a strip of toilet paper. I wasn't brave enough to do either of those, but I did become more willing to strip inside the cabin. Most boys would probably have played some form of `Doctor', but not us – we played `Kidnapper and Victim'. The kidnappers job was to tie up and strip (or strip and tie up... order wasn't important) the victim, and then subject them to `torture'. The tying up part was accomplished with some short pieces of clothesline loosely tied around the victim's wrist s and ankles (it doesn't take much to restrain someone who isn't actually trying to escape), and the torture was the sorts of things two twelve-year-olds might dream up by themselves. I recall wooden clothespins being used, and one of my more creative ones involved two small blocks of wood that I held to either side of Tom's stiff dick, and pressing them together, slowly sliding it off the end until they slipped off and came together with a clap, right at the end of his dick. He liked that one.

 

And that's about as far as things went. We were at that age of being old enough to know that being naked together was fun, that getting caught together would be bad, but not yet at the age of knowing why our dicks got stiff, or what could be done with them. I know that I hadn't discovered masturbation yet, and if Tom had, he surely would have mentioned it. I think his was the first erect dick I ever saw, and I'm certain it was the first I was ever allowed to handle. He was definitely the first to see and handle mine.

 

*

 

After that year, Tom lived with his mom, and our time together was a lot more limited, more structured, and less private, so we never resumed the games or the shared nudity. I did have him over to the resort at one point, and we were walking by the cabin that we'd played kidnapper and victim in a few years earlier, but when I alluded to it, he just sort of grunted, and didn't show any inclination to go inside, or even acknowledge the memory. By the time we hit our late teens, his dad had sold the resort, his mom had remarried and moved, and we'd lost track of each other. I often wonder how different my life might have been if we'd grown up in the same town, instead of only seeing each other two weeks a year.

 

For those of you reading this hoping for porn, the above section was the racy bit.

 

*** 43

 

A few years back, I picked up a copy of Judith Levine's "Harmful to Minors", a book-length meta-study of child and teen sexuality and education. Her main point is that children are taught very little useful information about sex as something safe and pleasurable, with classes instead focusing on the negatives. A further point made is that children are harmed more by adult reactions to sexual behavior than by the behavior itself. Age-appropriate experimenting and questions are better treated as normal, than as reasons to push the panic button. The kids grow up healthier and more responsible for knowing that what they're doing is, in fact, `normal', or at least common, instead of thinking themselves immoral freaks.

 

In a similar book, `The New Gay Teenager', Ritch Savin-Williams takes a close look at how the profiles of the different orientation groups were originally constructed. Many of the early 1970's studies into homosexuality, both teen and adult, were based on groups that self-identified as out gays, mostly meaning either bathhouse frequenters or crisis shelter residents. Not surprisingly, these studies found gay populations to be comprised almost exclusively of promiscuous, drug using runaways, so that became the `truth' of being gay in those decades. Twenty years would pass before mainstream researchers would think to ask `normal' kids if they'd ever had same-sex relationships of either a passing nature, or of some duration of time (Kinsey had been asking yes/no questions back in the 40's and 50's, but nobody was paying attention to gay teens back then, they were more concerned with either the fact that he was asking at all, or that he was finally telling the truth about anything related to sex).

 

The upshot is that when I was growing up, gays had just emerged from the period in which clubs were being raided by cops, into a period when dignified college professors were diligently proving that gays were all street-scum. The AIDS epidemic, oddly enough, is part of what started to change that – as the entertainment industry started to compile lists of members who had died of the disease (still striking mostly homosexuals at the time), people started to realize how many otherwise normal-seeming people were in fact gay or lesbian. Of course, we now had to think about a major killer disease stalking anyone who dared to act on their homosexual desires, yet another reason to try and keep one's mind focused on girls.

 

Levine also covers a number of other scares and myths, such as the Satanist daycares of the 1980's and the failure of abstinence education. The closest thing to her clear-sightedness I've read since is Lenore Skenazy's "Free Range Children" columns and blog. Skenazy first came to fame for letting her then-10 year old son ride the New York City subways by himself, carelessly flaunting the 1-in-ten-bazillion chance (or near-certainty on the part of other columnists and bloggers) that he'd instantly be brutally axe-murdered (he's still alive today, of course).

 

*** 4

 

We'd watch the Sonny and Cher TV show every week. I was captivated by Chastity Bono, and at the end of the show, would kneel by the screen and kiss her goodnight. She later grew up to be transgendered, and ultimately became Chaz Bono. My brain still locks up when I try to reconcile my childhood memories with his appearance today.

 

*** 7

 

About the time I was five, I became aware that another boy my age lived up the street, four or five houses away. Despite the vast distance that had to be traveled, Davy and I were able to journey back and forth to play at each other's house, and became best friends. He had long, shaggy blonde hair that was curled in clumps – not an afro, or dreadlocks, but more like the boy in the Blue Lagoon movie. Thin as a rail, I remember looking at his shoulder blades once and thinking that they looked like the ramps our Evel Knievel motorcycle toys used.

 

We did all sorts of things together, either playing with toys, singing and dancing the Hokey Pokey at birthday parties with other neighborhood kids, racing Hot Wheels cars down the staircase, riding bikes... you name it. Our moms went ballistic one day – we'd decided to build a fortress in Davy's back yard, using dirt as our construction material. One of us had had the bright idea of using the garden hose to blast away the dirt in what was to be the moat, and we were both covered in mud by the time Davy's mom spotted us. We survived our mothers' wrath and the following bath, but just barely.

 

Unfortunately, Davy's dad's job was transferred to Florida when we were about to enter second grade. All of his family's things were packed into a big green and yellow Mayflower moving van, and I rarely got to see him after that. It would be a few years before I found another good friend in the neighborhood, and to this day I can't see the Mayflower logo without being reminded of him.

 

***

 

I grew up not exactly poor, but not very rich, either. About the time I was five, Dad quit his job as an executive in order to start his own business, a construction company that specialized in dirt work. Things went well through the 1970's, but the recession that hit in 1980 dropped the bottom out of the housing market, and five or six years later, the equipment was sold off. Around 1981 or so, Mom had gone to work as a secretary, and eventually became a purchasing manager. Her salary and what Dad could earn doing consulting work kept things together, but money was always tight. At one point, they figured out that we qualified for some government food assistance, and started picking up blocks of American cheese every few weeks at a county office. The stuff was tough and not very tasty, but a slice of cheese between two slices of bread formed the main course of my bag lunches at school for several years. When the place my Mom worked at started allowing employees to take product home, we had boxes of granola bars by the dozen. I'd take ten or so a day to school, sell most of them for a nickel each, and eat the rest. I could just about break even on the cost of my carton of milk most days.

 

*** 14/23

 

Just a quick memory of sitting in homeroom before classes during my ninth grade year. Scott showed up for school wearing bib overalls and a white t-shirt with short-short sleeves. His pit hair is just visible as he moves his arms, brown as the mop on his head. The overalls accentuated his trim torso when we got up to leave for first period. As I often did regarding other boys, I thought he looked good like that, but took the thought no further.

 

*

 

Years later, I'd end up with Scott as a student in a class I was teaching as a grad student, he'd taken some years off of college to wander a bit. At some point, he was assigned to work a show, and backstage I caught a quick glimpse of his chest as he changed into a black t-shirt before the performance. He still looked good, and I wished I'd gotten a longer and better lit look.

 

*** 8

 

My main friend through elementary school was Leland. We were perhaps the two smartest boys in our grade, having both been advanced to Second Grade level reading while still in kindergarten. We got on well together, although he was better liked by the other kids than I was. We did Cub Scouts and some other activities together, and when our parents allowed, would take turns having sleepovers at each other's house. When we were young, we'd both use the toilet before bed at the same time, chasing each other's stream of pee around the bowl and giggling like mad (this being before the movie `Ghostbusters' came out, no `crossing the streams' jokes were made). The only real drawback was he lived in town, and I was out in the country, and so we were dependent on our parents for transportation in order to see each other outside of school. Summers were long and lonely without him.

 

Leland's dad was Chinese, and his mom was Filipino, so both he and his sister had black hair, brown eyes, and golden skin. The one time I deeply offended him was in third grade, when I referenced his `permanent tan' – he took it as a racial slur, whereas I was only being jealous of his skin (I'm a sun-burning-only redhead, remember). I fifth grade I was invited along on one of their family trips to Chicago, taking in various museums and fun parks. We ended up in Chinatown one night for supper, and I remember feeling somewhat out of place as the only Caucasian visible for blocks. His mom was short, pleasant, and soft-spoken, and I remember always thinking that she looked prettier than my own mom. And thus the groundwork for my future attraction to short brunettes was laid.

 

* 13

 

Along about junior high school, Leland decided he no longer wanted me around, feeling the normal pressures of the age group to conform and be thought cool. I certainly wasn't anywheres close to cool at that age, so I wasn't entirely surprised when he pulled away. However, that didn't lessen the sting I felt in my heart when I was thwacked in the back of the head in the halls one day, and when I turned, the only person walking away who would have been close enough to do it was Leland.

 

* 17

 

We did end up in a backpacking class together, years later, in high school. We were civil to each other, but the old closeness was long gone. During the big hike at the end of the term, it started to rain hard one evening. Leland decided to try using the rain as a shower, and jumped out of his tent in his boxers with a shampoo bottle. Soaping up went pretty well, but it wasn't really raining hard enough for the rinsing to succeed. I still remember him trying to get enough water cupped into his hands to complete the job. I might have spent more time watching him bathe, but the dim light wasn't very revealing, and the rain was blowing into my own tent.

 

*** 12

 

Swimming in the lake on vacation, out by the raft, I noticed that Jay now had a swirl of dark hair growing under his arms. "Cool!" I thought. "He's fourteen, I'm twelve, in two years I'll have pit hair too!"

 

I was rather ignorant about genetics at that time (Jay's dad was much more of a furball than mine), not to mention the differences between brunettes and redheads. Puberty didn't hit me as fast or as hard as it had Jay, and even as an adult I don't have the pit hair he did as a youngster.

 

*** 13

 

When I was in 8th grade, I started working backstage on various school shows. I enjoyed the creative aspects of set building and painting, and lighting and electrical wiring was a new area to explore, although once I started building big things, I started neglecting the HO railroad setup in my bedroom.

 

After a few shows, I noticed that I always seemed to be attracted to the girl playing the lead in whatever show we were doing at the time, perhaps simply because she was featured. They usually had a boyfriend at the time, so I never acted on the attractions, but I did notice the pattern. Much later I also realized that I was almost deliberately selecting girls who weren't available, saving me the trouble of actually asking one of them out, instead simply `waiting for them to break up with their boyfriend' first, rather than be the asshole who split up an existing couple. I thought that to be quite noble of myself, although it also meant, in part, that I went clear through high school without a girlfriend, or even going on a date.

 

I'd take that policy to an extreme my senior year of high school, and first year of college. I was quite smitten by one of the girls who'd joined the stage crew, Staci (most of us boys were attracted to her), but she was dating one friend the first year, and another friend the second year. I got one or two dates in over the years, but wasn't ever really able to get any traction in between her other steadies. Meanwhile, holding out on the hope of going home to find her available, I didn't pursue any girls at college during my first couple years there, setting myself into the pattern of not being available to any who might have been interested in me.

 

*** 16

 

"So, what's the strangest place you've ever had sex?"

 

"The roof of a garage... I had shingle burns on my shoulders for a week. You?"

 

"You know those benches in the back of conversion vans, the ones around the table? Inside one of those."

 

We're on a bus, headed to or from some big yearly choir trip. I can overhear a couple other students in my class talking in the seat behind me. My mind has just boggled.

 

*** 12

 

Somewhere along the way in about 7th grade, I was rummaging around my parents' bedroom closet one day (can't remember if I was looking for something specific, or just being a curious child), and found a shoebox on the shelf in Dad's closet. Inside was a collection of pornographic paperback novels, and a couple of skin magazines, and I immediately forgot about whatever I'd been looking for.

 

I was already well into the hormonal changes of puberty at that point, although I might not have been fully aware of the fact. Some months earlier I'd been horrified to wake to find that I'd apparently wet the bed like a little child, although strangely the wetness was only on the insides of my pajama bottoms. I dutifully reported the fact to Mom, who sleepily just told me to dry myself and change shorts – I'm not sure if she was awake enough to figure out that I'd had a wet dream or not, if so she didn't enlighten me. I didn't figure it out myself until much later, when I started having daytime erections and learned of the concept of masturbation. At first, I'd rub myself until some fluid appeared, and thought that that was all there was to it, that the fluid itself was semen, and that I'd completed the act. Then one day, for some reason, I just kept stroking after the first fluid appeared, and...!!!!!! After that, I had the hang of it, and Kleenex consumption in our house picked up speed considerably. I always made it a point to throw away the Kleenex in the laundry room wastebasket, somehow thinking that the smell wouldn't be noticed in there, or that I'd have some sort of deniability if asked about them, since they weren't in my own wastebasket. I know now that that was probably unlikely, but it was the logic I was following then.

 

Anyhow, by the time I found the box of books, I was ready to make use of them. I still recall (and have) the first one I read, a literary effort entitled `Bed Hopping Honey', featuring a cast of high school kids making their rounds of each others' beds. I was already home alone for the day, so I lost no time in reading it cover to cover, rereading the best parts. I'd eventually make my way through the entire box, and when I noticed that sometimes titles would disappear and be replaced by new ones, I daringly stole a couple of my favorites.

 

One would think that Dad would have noticed that his previously full book was now missing a book or two, but nothing was ever said. The existence of the books became something of an open secret in the house – aside from Dad perhaps noticing titles missing, Mom once mentioned the `dirty books' I had hidden in the bathroom cabinet, and I once spotted Dad's copy of "High Voltage Vixen" laying on Mom's side of the headboard in their bedroom. After Mom's comment, I moved my stash from the bathroom to a safer spot, above one of the ceiling tiles in my bedroom. I don't know if my sister was ever aware of them, she seemed surprised to find Dad's current stash when we were cleaning out the house after our parent's deaths.

 

There was also a Hustler magazine in the box, I remember a photo spread with the theme of a 1920's gangster celebrating a successful bank robbery with a couple of his girls. I remember wanting to see more of the guy's body – most of the shots were arranged to hide his genitals, and feature the girls'.

 

Looking back, I still wonder that nothing was ever said. I don't know if my parents were trying in their own way to be open minded, or if they were so wrapped up in their 50's morality that they couldn't accuse me of stealing porn without admitting that they were guilty of bringing it into the house to begin with. Sex wasn't much talked about when I was growing up, and other than some hugs and kisses, Mom and Dad weren't very demonstrative of their love for each other. Other than what I learned in the sex ed portions of science and health classes at school, and one very uncomfortable breakfast when Mom decided to give me the `birds and bees' talk (mostly rehashing what I already knew from school), the entire subject was avoided until I was in my late teens.

 

*** 4

 

Angie, the girl next door, and I are out in the backyard, playing under the deck behind the house. I'd seen other boys pee outdoors, and feeling the need, unzipped my shorts and wet down one of the posts of the deck. I asked Angie if she wanted to do the same, but she declined (I didn't know at the time that girls aren't equipped for peeing while standing). Just then, my Mom saw us through the downstairs bedroom window, and throwing it open, started hollering at me to pull my pants up and get inside. The general gist of what followed, of course, was that dropping my pants in front of girls was a bad, bad thing, and I should never ever do it again.

 

*** 8

 

My sister was more than a bit of a tomboy, she never concentrated on girly things, preferring horses and sports. She tried teaching me to catch and throw baseballs a few times, but she'd throw so hard that I'd get hit more often than I caught it, so most of what I learned was to be afraid of the ball. This would eventually be part of my problem fitting in with other boys, since I avoided sports like the plague. I wouldn't know the rules, follow the pro teams, or be able to do much more than scrape by with passing grades in the gym class. Sure enough, I'd be one of the last kids picked for teams, and would always be stationed in right field.

 

In junior high, I finally was large enough that if I was to take the catcher's spot, they'd let me have it. Having a pitcher actively trying to hit my glove helped my catching, and I'd be continuously engaged enough to stay awake. I still didn't know the rules well enough to deal with unordinary situations, though. I remember being at-bat in some full-count situation where I was apparently supposed to have run automatically, but didn't, and when Tariq and some of the other real ballplayers started towards me yelling about it, all I could think to do was shield myself with the bat.

 

*** Most of my childhood

 

It didn't look like much, just a leftover piece of trim board from when the house was built. A couple inches wide, about a foot long, maybe 3/8" thick.

 

My sister and I knew it as `The Stick'.

 

Mom kept it on top of the refrigerator, and when we'd misbehaved sufficient to merit a spanking, she'd go get the The Stick, and use it as a paddle. The width of it created loud pops with each stinging blow, yet spread the impact to reduce actual injuries or bruising. Eventually, asking if we wanted her to `go and get The Stick' became enough for it to become a shorthand threat, similar to `do you need a reason to stand for a few days?' I think one of us tried hiding it once, a tactic that didn't end well. Mom either simply moved on to another implement of destruction, or went bare-handed, I don't remember which. At least one extended session ended with her apologizing for hitting so hard, and rubbing some sort of lotion on my reddened butt, but most spankings were followed directly by banishments to my room.

 

I know I'm focusing mostly on negatives with my parents, but truth be told, there weren't a lot of really warm moments. By the time I left high school, I mostly thought of my parents as people I lived with, not family. I do recognize that they were doing their best, Dad in particular, and that it was perhaps an improvement on their parents, but sometimes one's best isn't really good enough. Mom's folks were rather strict and formal, so she never really learned to relax and be warm. Dad's parents were both angry alcoholics – he once commented that the only person he knew who could put away a bottle faster than his dad was his mom.

 

Dad and his brother both got pounded by their parents on a regular basis as kids, and he was somewhat prone to throwing tools in the shop when repairs went badly, but I only remember one or two times he took a swing or kick at me. Then again, one of those was for once again turning down the volume on his police scanner radio while he dozed off and the rest of us tried to watch TV.

 

*** College

 

College was a revelation to me – not just the learning environment as I honed my craft, but the vast variety of lifestyles I encountered. In high school, I'd always been a good kid, getting decent grades, staying busy with after school groups, not partying, etc. The most trouble I got into was a single speeding ticket, and that was due more to a sticky throttle than actual intent to speed (although Dad still wasn't believing my story ten years later). The kids I ran around with were similarly good kids, if they were doing anything sexual on their dates, they weren't talking about it.

 

College, however, was the opposite. Not so much in terms of my new friends bragging about their bedroom adventures, but in simply being open about sex, and everything to do with it. I'd been there less than a week, and during one lunch I got to listen to a couple of theater girls (later identified as lesbians) discuss among themselves how you had to wear panties with new dark blue jeans, because otherwise, the blue dye would rub off on your crotch (That was one of the cleaner mealtime conversations I would be part of over the next four years).

 

The alternate lifestyles weren't limited to the students, either. The Technical Director, Gary, was living with the Lighting Designer, Randy (their house was just across from the church I'd attend), and the department chair and his wife had something of an open marriage. She once told a story about arriving home to find her husband in bed with another man – her response was to take off her clothes and join them. The students saw no reason to hide their relationships with each other, and being a theater department, many didn't bother to limit their selection to one gender, or to hide their orientation for very long (although it did take one boy a few years to move from insisting `I'm not that way!' to performing his drag act at the year-end banquet). At one point, the unofficial count reflected that at least 30% of the department was gay or bi.

 

Since the college was fairly small (with an unusually large theater department), and in a small Midwestern town, you'd think that there'd be trouble. There were a few comments and jokes, but little violence, and most of the jokes from the jocks ended rather abruptly after the baseball team's star pitcher came out.

 

And yet, with all this around me, I never really dated in college. I was still too focused on classwork or productions to concentrate on building friendships. I didn't drink back then, which was a barrier between me and most of the others – there was more than one person who'd avoid me for a few days after a house party, for fear of what I'd remember that they didn't – but I was tolerant of others' drinking. Or pot smoking, for that matter – at the parties, there'd always be a side room or attic with a circle of kids passing a bowl around. I just wasn't able to reach out emotionally to anyone else, and rarely would anyone reach out to me.

 

The Costume Designer used to say I was `Iowa Stubborn' (after the song in "The Music Man"), and predict that I was so rigid that someday I'd fall over and shatter (she came close to right). I think I was just so locked down that nothing could get in or out. My rep did have some advantages – when an actress complained about a loose petticoat during a rehearsal, I simply dived under her dress with a mouthful of safety pins and cinched her waistband up. After I re-emerged, she made a comment about not letting just anyone do that. She knew I was down there for business only, and wouldn't take advantage.

 

*** 13

 

In one of James Herriot's "All Creatures Great and Small" books, he mentions how glad he is that he married and had kids relatively early in life, so that he could enjoy his kids and grandkids while he still had some youth and energy.

 

I thought to myself that that was a good idea, and that I'd plan to do the same with my life.

 

*** 11

 

My sister or I took turns reciting a prayer each night before supper. I went through a several month long period of not being able to do so without bursting into tears halfway through, and running to my room to sob uncontrollably for 20 minutes. My parents couldn't figure it out then, and I still haven't figured out why I was affected like that. It should have been easy enough to rattle off the same prayer we'd used for years, but I just couldn't get through it.

 

I hadn't thought of that in years, before working on writing this.

 

*** 18

 

My first college roommate was Rick, a business major. We didn't even know who we'd be rooming with until move-in day, since the room assignments had gotten scrambled at the last minute due to drop-outs. He was shortish, thin but with a bit of muscle, and completely straight – more than one late-night conversation included his telling about some girl he'd been in bed with, and what they'd done (didn't stop me from developing a bit of a crush on him, but even as roommates, I don't think I ever got to see him completely naked, much less fool around with him). He'd been a borderline hoodlum in high school, but was trying to get back on a more socially acceptable path, but wasn't above smoking pot, drinking, or joining in on pranks. I remember waking up one night to see him standing on the desk by our bunk beds, can of hair spray in one hand, lighter in the other. He and the guys next door had taken the covers off an electrical box through the adjoining wall, and were having a flame-thrower war back and forth between the rooms. He liked to fall asleep with Pink Floyd: The Wall left playing softly on repeat on the cd player, my introduction to the album and group.

 

He moved out part way through the year, not because of me, but because he was tired of dorm food and of the football players repeatedly pulling the fire alarms each Friday and Saturday night. He moved into a trailer with a few other students, and I started paying him visits there, not wanting to let go of what friendship we'd managed to start. I also got to know his roommates, Rob, Jerry, and Walrus the cat. Another boy was there a lot (I think a friend of Rob's), and I remember wanting to know him a bit better, he seemed attractive and personable. I recall him once talking about sharing clothes with his roommate, they were both all the same sizes. Whatever he wore looked good to me.

 

*** 24

 

"I can see you going back to school, getting your education degree, and teaching tech theater at the high school level, on a coaching certificate."

 

I stopped eating and stared at Dad, unbelieving of what he'd just said. A number of responses flowed through my head. The one I wanted to use was `Say it... I'm no good, and will never amount to anything.' But I refrained. Even though Dad had as much as said that I'd need to go back to school and earn a second degree to be able to pursue my first choice career as a hobby, I knew that the `You're no good, and will never amount to anything' line would be potent beyond belief against Dad, since that's what his father had repeatedly said to him.

 

I don't recall how the dinnertime conversation ended, but I didn't create a scene. I didn't accept as many supper invitations after that, though.

 

*** 23

 

Fresh out of grad school, and working my first full-time job, I didn't have enough vacation time to go along on the full two-week annual vacation. Instead, I only went to Minnesota for one week, and then returned home. During the second week, I went out to my parents' house to mow the lawn for them, or at least that was my announced purpose. In reality, I wanted an excuse to use their VCR, not having one of my own. I'd rented a copy of "The Blue Lagoon", and wanted to watch it in privacy. About that time, I was realizing that I liked the movie not because of Brooke Shields's performance, but because of Chris Atkins's, particularly the amount of muscle and skin he showed off during most of his scenes. Neither of them could be said to have delivered a great performance (no power on Earth can save a weak script, but you can at least try), but the nudity was perhaps the most provocative thing I'd seen to date.

 

I now live on the same property, and I still often think of Chris Atkins while mowing certain parts of the yard, it's kind of Pavlovian now.

 

*** 8-12

 

Along or about 3rd or 4th grade, I started hanging out with Jamie, a kid from the far end of the neighborhood who was a year younger than me. He had two younger brothers, Brad and Robbie, and his father was one of the top neurosurgeons in town. They lived in the housing development next to mine, one populated more by doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs than the working class families that occupied my part of the neighborhood. The houses were larger, the lots bigger, and more things like satellite dishes and tennis courts occupied the yards. However, I did learn that the residents were people not unlike my own family and closer neighbors, mostly from knocking on doors to sell various fundraising items for the highs school groups I was in (I was probably inside over 80% of the houses at least once in the entire neighborhood at one time or another, due to sales or visiting other kids).

 

Anyhow, Jamie was my best friend for much of my later elementary school years. We'd ride our bikes all over the neighborhood and into the local woods, where we'd build tree forts and BMX ramps, and take turns tormenting his brothers. His parents subscribed to Playboy magazine (for the articles, I'm sure), and occasionally we'd sneak a copy up to Jamie's room and the four of us would inspect the centerfold.

 

Eventually, I noticed that although Jamie or Leland were my first choices when I'd be allowed to have a friend sleepover, when it was Jamie's turn, he'd have recently had Brian or someone else over, and wasn't allowed to have me over so soon after. I eventually realized that although he was my best friend, I wasn't his...

 

Everything comes around in circles, though... When I was in ninth grade, and already well established in the Jr. High school theater, Jamie's brother Brad got involved as a seventh grader, and we ended up spending some time together doing shows (come to think of it, that year also included Matt, the younger brother of Patty, one of the girls in my class that I'd had a mild crush on the year before, when she'd had a leading role. Matt, Brad, and I even ended up doing a scene together in one show). It was easier working with someone who I'd known before.

 

*** 20's

 

Once I was back to living in a largish city, I had access to adult shops, and my porn collection started to grow a bit. I was not only buying paperback books with gay themes, I even bought some gay magazines as well, if they included a photo shoot of a model I found attractive. I also started buying, and sometimes subscribing to, a magazine called `XY', that focused on gay teens. This publication was either a bit ahead of its time, or was a ground breaking effort, or perhaps both. It ultimately had trouble attracting and retaining advertisers (it wasn't far from porn in a lot of its content), and publication became intermittent and finally ceased, but while it lasted, it opened my mind to a number of possibilities and concerns, and was my first exploration into the real world of gay life.

 

I'd known a lot of gays in college, but had never really talked to anyone about the mechanics of it all. I do recall one conversation with Dann (he of the `you are...' comment) about if homosexual virgins existed (seems a silly question now, but back then, gayness was still thought to be a preference or choice), with him pointing out that someone who `had the feeling' but hadn't yet acted on same-sex feelings could be thought a gay virgin, even if they'd already tried opposite-sex relationships (I think that might also be the same conversation during which he complimented my legs).

 

I'd keep reading, and reading, and reading on the subject, both porn stories and scientific articles. Eventually I would end up a regular in an internet chat that catered to gay teens, giving all sorts of feel-good advice, yet never quite being able to take that advice myself.

 

*** 42

 

A cable TV show a few years back called `The United States of Tara' was centered on a woman who suffered from Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder), and her family. Her son, Marshall, played by Keir Gilchrist, is gay, and interest in his storyline led me to buy the DVDs.

 

Early in the second season, Marshall has a scene with a classmate (improbably named Lionel Trayne!) who is gay, but is much more flamboyant and in-your-face than Marshall. Moosh finally snaps, and says something to the effect of "You ruin it for everyone else, you know that? You make being gay something that nobody else would ever want to be!"

 

This was something of an epiphany for me, it crystallized into words something that I'd been feeling and worrying about for decades. Part of my denying to everyone, myself included, that I could possibly be gay, was the fact that the stereotypical swish is usually the only gay character you see. Being gay, therefore, obviously means that you have to start lisping, flopping your limp wrists, getting pierced, wearing neck scarves, and dancing on Gay Pride parade floats either naked or wearing a leather vest and a pair of short-shorts with the back pockets cut completely out.

 

Why is that? Why can't I be gay and still be the me I've always been? What's wrong with being gay while wearing off-the-shelf jeans and t-shirts, restoring old tractors, and working on construction sites? If you show me a picture of college kids on the beach for spring break, and I look at the shirtless guys more than the bikini-clad girls, how does that change my truck's gas mileage? Or my mortgage interest rate? Or how often I have to mow the grass? I cheered when J. K. Rowling outed Dumbledore – finally, a positive role model character about whom `being gay' was not only NOT the most important feature for their character, but was in fact SO unimportant as to not be mentioned at all! Granted, Rowling could as easily be accused of keeping Dumbledore closeted, but if that was her intent, she wouldn't have announced it at all (I recall her mentioning it at the time of the revelation that she truly didn't consider it important enough to the story to mention in the books, and would have mentioned it earlier if she'd known the response would be so positive).

 

I look forward to the day when Hollywood can finally write a male character into a movie, give him a husband or boyfriend, and NOT turn him into a walking sermon or example. Just a normal guy, who happens to date or live with another equally normal guy. Maybe that'll be the next wave of liberation, homosexual men who aren't `gay'. I wonder how many more will be willing to come out when there isn't a stereotype to be compared to or a pigeonhole to be forced into?

*** 13

 

We're in the front yard, doing some sort of digging in the ditch as a yardwork repair. It being a hot summer day, I decided to take my shirt off after dumping the wheelbarrow behind the garage, before going back for the next load. Dad looked up, and snickered out loud, and made some cracks about `look who's macho now' and how hard I must be working, driving the wheelbarrow and all, to need to cool off like that.

 

I put the shirt back on next trip.

 

Body image is a problem for me, like it is for many people. Although I know I'm not exactly ugly or morbidly obese, I've never felt particularly athletic or attractive, and I've never been much of a bodybuilder. Although I was comfortable being shirtless in swimming pool settings as a child, I usually wouldn't go shirtless elsewhere, and as I grew older I was more and more reluctant to put myself on display even around water. Sometimes I'd hide behind concerns about sunburning, but the real reason has always been self image.

 

It didn't help getting laughed at by my own father.

 

*** 15

 

Talking late into the night with one of the museum's adult volunteers, Curtis, he revealed to Matt and me that at age 45, Curtis was still a virgin. Later in life I'd learn that he was most likely a victim of social phobia, a farm kid who never learned to become close to anyone who wasn't family. He spent most of his time working, still living on the farm with his parents, and talking loudly and randomly with anyone he met, but rarely making any close friends, let alone girlfriends (or boyfriends). I decided that I didn't want to live like that, growing old and alone.

 

Yeah, that turned out according to plan. At least I've got a year or two left before I hit 45.

 

*** 20

 

I laid in bed, trying to decide if I had recovered enough to get up. It had been a day or two since I'd eaten much, I had been too sick with the flu to get up and go to the cafeteria for food. We'd just gotten a show open at the college theater, and nobody had expected me to be at work in the costume shop for a few days, since everyone always took a couple days off to catch up on schoolwork. Absences from class usually went unremarked as well, especially during opening weeks of shows. It occurred to me that since I didn't have a roommate, I could have actually died without anyone figuring out in time that I was missing or ill.

 

I asked John, my best friend in college, about it after I recovered. He said that since I was usually following my own schedule, that if I wasn't around, he figured it was because I busy doing something important, and that I'd show up again when I was done, and that the other kids in our little group assumed the same. That was a weird mix to think about – on one hand, it's perfect freedom to follow one's own course, on the other hand, nobody worried enough about me to check on me, or knew me well enough to know what I was or wasn't doing.

 

This was about the time I realized that pretty much anytime I did fun things with friends, I had to be the one to call them to start it. That probably wouldn't have been a problem if I was a naturally more assertive person, but given my other self esteem sorts of issues, I soon came to the conclusion that if others weren't calling me to invite me to do things, that must mean that they don't enjoy my company enough to seek it out. That made it even harder to invite myself along on outings and to gatherings, whether or not it was true.

 

I still live alone, and I still sometimes wonder how many days would go by before I was found, should I happen to die suddenly one night.

 

*** 12-14

 

In Junior High school, I'd always go straight from class to class, or directly from class to locker to class. I'd see other kids chatting at their lockers, or gathering in the lounge during the five-minute passing periods, but it never occurred to me to do anything but to get to my next class as quickly as possible. Not that I felt I had anyone to chat with anyhow.

 

A co-worker sometimes claims that I'm an Asperger's syndrome sufferer, and things like the above could suggest that. However, although I fit some of the criteria, I don't fit others, so if I'm on the autistic spectrum, I'm at the very bottom level. More likely, I'm just weird and aloof, or a social-phobic, or a lone-wolf personality. Can't I just blame it all on being a red-headed Leo?

 

*** 20

 

I met John early in my third year of college. He had just arrived as a freshmen in the theater department, and we somehow started talking during the first Crew House party of the year. We were in the kitchen, trying to get a little bit away from the loud music in the living room, and just started chatting. The conversation lasted all evening, and all the way home on the mile walk back to campus. We quickly became friends, and I found myself opening up to John in a way that was unusual for me. Instead of telling a story about something that happened once upon a time to `a friend', I'd tell the story and use the person's actual name. It seemed important that I give him enough information to learn about my life. In return, he'd tell me about Davin, his best friend back home, Elva, the girl he'd left behind, his siblings, and other people from his life. Conversations ranged all over, from local affairs in the theater department, to methods of astronavigation utilizing spectral analysis of stars (college age sci-fi fans, what do you expect?), to questions like `do nudist camps have sex-segregated bathrooms?' or `if the moon really was made of green cheese, what flavor would it be?'

 

*

 

Christina arrived the same year, and she, John, and I became close friends. When she arrived, she was still officially dating her boyfriend back home, but the relationship soon collapsed as long-distance teen romances often do. By then, John and I had both taken a deeper interest in her. Watching TV together soon meant all three of us laying in a heap on the couch or dorm bunk together, without much regard for whose hand was resting on whose thigh. Going swimming together during the pool's open swim periods on the weekends would end up as three bodies floating together quietly. It all kind of culminated in one afternoon's session that found the three of us in my bedroom. We were fully dressed, but something was said about seeing if a girl could be made to orgasm without actually touching her genitals or breasts. John and I were slowly running our hands over Christina's torso. I think I was doing it more than John, I kind of remember him watching me and Christina, grinning encouragement at us. I was breaking the rules a bit with some quick dips down into the waist of her jeans, but lacked the courage to push the envelope any farther. Eventually, suppertime came, and we had to break it off to go eat. I still wonder what might have happened that afternoon. Would I have lost my virginity? Would John have lost his? Would we have both lost it to the same girl on the same day?

 

I think that's about as far as I've ever gotten with a girl... Nah, I know it is.

 

*

 

The other kids of course noticed our closeness (Christina taking turns sitting on John's lap or mine in the cafeteria probably had a lot to do with that), and the rumor mill being what it was, soon assumed that we were in a mιnage-a-trois relationship. I remember telling John that, and seeing his head jerk back as his eyes glazed over into a double-take look.

 

"Like we're taking turns with her?" he asked.

 

"Mix and match, I think. Including you and me by ourselves" I answered.

 

After a moment, he said "I don't think I've ever been the subject of a rumor like that before."

 

*

 

Coming home from a party, John, Christina, and I ended up wandering through a nearby golf course. Laying on a green staring up at the stars somehow led to a wrestling match in one of the sand traps – I've always wondered what sort of interesting marks we left for someone to find in the morning, since we didn't rake it smooth when we left.

 

After wrestling a bit, we lay there panting, catching our breath, John's body under mine. I leaned in and gave the side of his neck a kiss. He didn't react past giving a little bit of a smile. I didn't press any farther.

 

*

 

After a few months of this, I came to the conclusion that John was more interested in Christina than I was, and I started stepping back a bit. He was a bit head over heels at the thought of being her boyfriend, but eventually I had to ask if they'd actually said the words `boyfriend and girlfriend' to each other (they hadn't). I warned him not to think of them as an official couple until they'd said the words. Apparently my instincts were dead on for once, as a few months later Christina started sleeping with Troy. John never knew what hit him. I still don't know how things got derailed.

 

*

 

The only time John and I shared a bed was my senior year, after the year-end department banquet. There were five of us sharing a hotel room to split the cost, John and I on one bed, two more guys on the other, and Salem on the floor.

 

After the lights went out, I started giving John a gentle backrub. "That... feels... gooooood..." he groaned. I could hear the other boys stiffen in shock as they imagined what we might be doing together in the bed. Giggling, I stopped rubbing John, turned over, and went to sleep.

 

*** Junior High

 

By 7th grade, I'd differed from my classmates enough that I was definitely entering the nerd/geek zone (`geek' in the late 70's/early 80's hadn't yet acquired the techno-savvy connotation it would gain a decade or two later, it was still just a lighter version of nerd). Like any other kid perceived as different or weak, I was targeted by bullies of various levels. Fortunately, none or it was very rough treatment, I didn't get beat up or swirlied and my lunch money was safe, but I seemed each year to have at least one kid in nearly every class who would make it plain that the world would be a better place without me on it. In 7th grade it was Scott, in 9th it was Brian, in 8th Bob kept shoulder-punching me after math... the faces varied, but the idea was the same. This was partly due to the school's methods of assigning classes, a number of students on similar tracks would be given nearly all the same selections, and with alphabetical seating, we'd even end up sitting by each other class after class (I think Rhonda, in the 7th' grade, was the record for me – six out of seven classes that semester, all seated at the same table, or in adjacent desks).

 

Some of it was brought on by being weird and anti-social and dressing out of fashion (including major sins such as buttoning the top button on shirts), some was from not being good at boy things like sports and girl-chasing, and some was from just being smaller than some of the other kids (not that I was small in general, I was pretty medium sized). I'm not sure how many might have been picking up on orientation differences. I do recall reading at the time something about how boys usually carried things with arms down, like a caveman with a spear, and girls would carry things cradled to their chests, like a cavewoman carrying a baby. I got self-conscious after that – I realized I usually carried my books cradled.

 

At any rate, I had to deal with light punches, shin kicks, at least one kid trying to change a test answer so I'd get a lower score (kids marking other kid's quizzes), and so on. Head thwacks too – Teddy tried that so often in choir I got my compass out my notebook, and after a thwack, spun around with it held point-first to where his hand would have been a split-second earlier.

 

I eventually noticed that one friend of mine, who was on the large side, never seemed to get picked on, and decided it was because of his size. I started consciously eating a bit more because of it, hoping to bulk up. It didn't seem to work out that way, though. At least I didn't get fat from it, although I lost what little start I'd had at six-pack abs.

 

*** 35

 

"Hey, you should go to the bar with me sometime after work"

 

"Which bar?"

 

"Club [Name of the most well-known gay bar in town]"

 

"I haven't been inside of that building since it was a McDonalds."

 

"Yep, McFaggots, that's the one"

 

"I wouldn't know anyone but you there, and I don't much like drinking beer."

 

"Come often enough and you'll get to know people, and you don't have to drink"

 

"I really don't think I'm part of their target clientele."

 

Mike didn't seem to be getting the message that I wasn't interested, let alone out. I was shaking in my boots that someone would be overhearing the exchange. He was the roommate of a co-worker, and I was quickly realizing why he and Brian were now on their second or third shared house together.

 

I later cornered Brian to tell him to get Mike to lay off of me, that I wasn't interested in barhopping with him. Brian had a frightened look in his eyes as we talked, because he wasn't out yet, or at least he hadn't been till Mike spilled the beans.

 

*** 17

 

Going to the same place year after year for vacation, we got to know the other regulars in camp fairly well, and many of them became like extended family members. However, as kids grew up and went to college, the parents would often find it less imperative to maintain the vacation traditions, and people we know would stop coming to the resort, or would shift to different weeks, and new friends would arrive.

 

Julie and Jim were of the newer set, a brother and sister from my state. Julie was perhaps a year older than me, Jim a year or two younger. Julie was a blond Amazon, a sturdy farm lass easily capable of taking care of herself. Jim was a bit short and pudgy, but not fat. Jim wasn't the fastest jet on the runway, I remember once watching him up at the game room in the Lodge, working a puzzle – he'd take each piece, and one by one, turn it all four ways to try and fit it into the corner he was working on, paying no attention to the color pattern on the piece compared to the picture on the box. I later took the same puzzle (granted, only 100 pieces or so), turned them all face down, cardboard up, and completed it in a much faster time.

 

Julie in years past had made it subtly, but surely, known that she had a bit of a crush on me. There'd be weeks when Jim was the boy in camp closest to my age, and Julie would usually be with us as we whiled the days away. We'd spent quite a bit of time together, often just in swim suits, and a few lake dunkings and wrestling matches had ended with fingers being placed where they were not strictly supposed to be. I was still in my noble phase, however, and didn't want to start a summer romance that was doomed to end after only two weeks, and had been resisting noticing her interest. However, as the vacation of my senior year in high school neared, I thought to myself that she'd be a low-risk person to experiment with, and if she seemed still willing, I'd proposition her and perhaps lose my virginity.

 

Of course, that's the year she showed up with a boyfriend in tow.

 

Not wanting to fight Mel for Julie, or even just sneak around with Julie on the side, I instead spent the week as usual, hanging mostly with Jim. I do recall something about watching TV, and a Thighmaster commercial came on just as Julie, Mel, and her parents returned from shopping somewhere. Jim and I could barely drag our eyes from the Spandex-clad blond bimbo demonstrating the Thighmaster long enough to greet them. Jim's interest was a normal young teen boy's interest, mine was more me convincing myself that I should be interested.

 

In a way, I think I was relieved that I didn't have to spend the week wooing and bedding Julie.

 

*** 21

 

I sat at the cafeteria, trying to breathe. As my ribs expanded and contracted, air was going in and out of my lungs, but it didn't feel like the oxygen was transferring to my blood. My brain clicked through different scenarios, trying to figure out why this was happening – I hadn't been running or riding my bike up the long hill, I wasn't sick that I knew of, no major news had been broken to me - I was.. just... not... breathing right.

 

A visit to a doctor wasn't much more enlightening. After checking my pulse, listening to my breathing through a frozen stethoscope, and asking some questions about `recreational' drug use, he simply said I had some variation of whatever flu bug was going around, gave me a vitamin shot, told me to get some rest and to drink plenty of fluids, and sent me on my way. After a long semester of working double shifts in the theater, as well as a full load of classes, in his opinion I was just exhausted enough to be vulnerable to the year's germs.

 

Years later, I realized that my inability to breathe that day had nothing to do with the flu, or even having been working too hard (at least, not directly). It was a medium level panic attack, the stress of my workload and lack of sleep for a number of months had finally brought my body to the point of rebellion.

 

When I hit a point in my life that caused even more dramatic attacks and symptoms, I'd finally recognize this event for what it was.

 

*** 14-18

 

Gym showers.

 

Are there any two words, put together, that could possibly strike more fear into a potentially gay boy's heart?

 

I grew up swimming competitively, at the local YMCA, following in the footsteps of my sister, some cousins, my father, and a smattering of other relatives. I realized during early junior high school that I wasn't feeling competitive enough to stay with it, but I did swim long enough to develop an automatic response to water – namely, as soon as water hits my balls, my dick goes soft. Even as a seven year old, I had realized that throwing a rod in the shower was a bad thing, and I had unconsciously trained my body to go soft at the touch of water. Getting from dry air to the water was the danger zone.

 

In junior high, Dana was the only kid I ever saw using the showers. I wasn't in any of the sports, and showering after gym class was completely optional, and most kids didn't bother. His black bush stood out almost as big around as his thin frame as he dried himself in the locker room. My other main Dana memory is of him and Mike taking each other on during a PE class on wrestling, one of the more gymnastic pairings as they flipped, flopped, and bounced each other about the mat. I'd known Mike since first grade, and he'd grown into a stout muscular type – Dana's flexibility and willingness to throw himself into a match being his best defense against his close friend. Most matches in that class were rather perfunctory, but knowing each other, Dana vs. Mike was more of a grudge match, and they were trying hard.

 

Mike died young, in his mid-20's. I don't remember the cause, just the sadness I felt when I saw his name in the obituary column.

 

In high school, as a freshmen, one of the seniors who was changing in the locker room the same period as I reminded me somehow of one of the characters in a porn novel I'd stolen from Dad. His muscles, the hair on his chest and belly, and the size and shape of his dick would be superimposed on my re-readings of the book for many years. Other boys, closer to my age, included Paul, who wasn't the least bit shy about showering and walking naked back to his locker (or, perhaps, was projecting false bravado), Lowell, who had abs to die for that I only saw a few times, and Chris, who I have a memory of nonchalantly toweling off stark naked in the drying room, while talking about football to the coach running the towel room. Somehow, I remember both their eyelines being directed `above the belt', neither the teacher acknowledging the student's nudity, nor the student acknowledging the teacher's state of being fully dressed. I remember not being able to process or believe that either was that oblivious. I suppose, that if both were perfectly straight, both would be uninterested in what was being displayed, but the lens of gayness draws attention to the flesh being flaunted.

 

I survived three years of PE classes without major incident, God knows how. Fear can do wonders to keep a dick soft, and if you work the scheduling system right, you can sometimes get gym classes when it doesn't matter if you shower, such as last period, or sometimes you can get by without showering, such as taking non-sweat classes like archery. I tended to take swimming courses. They would lend themselves more towards showering after class and required underwear removal while changing, but I'd already be wet, and my Pavlovian response to water would prevent problems... although Clint would often make jokes, even to the female swim coach, that he'd rather be at home playing with himself. He was attractive in an odd sort of way (he was a little bit chubby), but not so much that I'd ever have acted on it, even though he lived in my neighborhood (It might have been his openness regarding masturbation, but I never pursued it far enough to figure it out).

 

Somewhat harder (so to speak) to bear was the swimming class I had that my sister was also in... while she was hot for Greg, a classmate my age. Truth be told, I was not entirely immune to his presence either... Tall, muscular, dark curly hair, pleasant personality... Seeing any negatives yet? He worked the counter at a video store my family sometimes rented from, and looked damned good in a swimsuit. I recall one visit to the video store where he was leaning on the counter, and his sweater was moving and gaping open just enough at the arm and neck holes to strongly suggest he didn't have a t-shirt on under it, which I found intriguing. Thankfully, Greg and my sister never became an item, and somewhat less thankfully, neither did Greg and me.

 

The showers, all of them, were the gang type, an open tiled room with spray heads on the walls, and nowhere to hide or even to keep a dry towel close by. I hear that today's schools are being built with individual stalls, but that wasn't the case in the 70's and 80's.

 

*** 7

 

From my youngest childhood, church was a weekly occurrence, just as certain as the sun rising in the East. One Sunday, a local teenager came to sing solo at our church. His father was a minister in our denomination, and with the boy having shown an interest in singing professionally, his Dad was making a practice of setting him up with solos at all the local congregations.

 

The service was like any other until he stood up to sing. Then, the lyrics struck me to the bone, even at the tender age of seven.

 

`You've got to walk that lonesome valley,

You've got to walk it by yourself,

Nobody else can walk it for you,

You've got to walk it by yourself'

 

I was mesmerized.

 

This one song was, and would be, my life.

 

Some years later, I got into the Kingston Trio's music, and their "Reverend Mr. Black" song referenced this seminal moment in my childhood.

 

But, at the time, all I knew was that I shouldn't expect any help as I walked through my own lonesome valleys.

 

Heavy stuff for a seven-year-old.

 

Much, much later, I figured out who the soloist must have been – he eventually found some success on Broadway, including singing the lead in a beloved musical. Year later, I did lights and sound for a concert he did in his home town. I didn't bother asking him if he remembered singing that song at that church, I couldn't think of a way to tell him the effect it had had on my depression without making him feel bad.

 

Did the song merely speak to my isolation? Or did the song cause my isolation? I think the world will go around the Sun many more times before that question is answered.

 

*** 14

 

The tradition in our schools was for all the ninth-graders to take a weekend trip into Chicago for a round of museum visiting, shopping, and general big-city experiencing. At the mall, I found a music store, and picked up the first album I'd ever bought with my own money, Barbra Streisand's "Memories". I knew most of the songs listed from hearing them on the radio station my parents listened to. The long-held high notes in "Enough is Enough" still send shivers up my spine.

 

For those of you who might read some meaning into this choice, the first cassette tape I'd buy would be a John Denver album. Then again, my ipod today has over 90 Broadway musical cast albums and movie musical soundtracks. In part, that's an occupational hazard of working in theater, but mostly I blame my sister. When we were young, we'd spend part of every weekend baking cookies for the week's lunch desserts, and she'd discovered Dad's old stash of 1950's musical record albums. So there we'd be, mixing up chocolate chip cookies to the tunes of West Side Story, Sound of Music, Lil' Abner, Mary Poppins, South Pacific, and many more.

 

Years later I'd see an editorial cartoon about the military's `Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy in which a recruiter asked an applicant "So... how do you feel about show tunes?"

 

Four of us would share a hotel room, two to a bed. Jon and I shared one bed politely enough, the other two boys divided theirs – one got the mattress, the other got the sheets and the floor. The worst part of the evening was when the Social Studies teacher arrived to do bed check – we'd been watching `Risky Business' on the hotel's cable TV, and he knocked just as Tom Cruise and Rebecca DeMornay were starting their sex scene in the first half. At least I was able to remember enough of it later, after the others had fallen asleep, to jack off in the bathroom.

 

I also recall a middle aged black woman inviting me and Aaron to a party at the Marriot... "They'll let you in, even though I know you're both under age..."

 

*** 23

 

I wanted to just stop, turn to her, and call a time out, and ask her directly, without games, what was going on.

 

Chantel was an undergrad student at the university where I was working on an MFA theater degree, and we'd talked quite a bit between classes and rehearsals. She'd made a big point of inviting me barhopping the previous spring on her birthday, but when I arrived at the first place, she'd introduced me a guy she referred to as her boyfriend, and the first time he wandered off, she'd whispered that everyone was expecting him to give her a promise or engagement ring soon, but she `knew different'. I'd shown up that night hoping that perhaps she was interested in me, but this boyfriend business kind of took the wind out of my sails. I spent the night with my arm around her waist, but mostly just to hold her up so she could keep drinking, and eventually one of her girl friends and I loaded Chantel into my truck to drive her home (In the back, of course, so she could puke if needed, without making a mess of the truck cab). I kind of avoided her a bit after that night, back in `noble' mode, not wanting to interfere with an existing couple, or so I told myself.

 

Now, she'd done it again. Classes were light that week for some reason, holidays, mid-terms, finals... I don't remember why. Chantel and I were talking again some in the hallways, and she'd invited me over to her apartment not far from the theater building to spend an hour or so of break we both had. Once we were there, she started talking about the guy she was living with. My brain didn't process the possibility that they were roommates of convenience; I instantly assumed that they were a couple. I made it through the visit without seeming too uncomfortable, but I was stewing inside.

 

Walking back to the theater building, it was on my mind to ask her to talk a bit about why I kept getting mixed signals from her, but I didn't. Not sure why, other than perhaps not wanting to be rejected completely, or not wanting to possibly wreck what friendship we did have. I think it was probably the first one – I was suspecting that I was the only one interested in going further with the relationship, and the pessimist in me was certain that, like everyone else on the planet, she wouldn't be interested in me.

 

She is one of the girls I do wish I'd tried harder with. Chantel was a short brunette with an outgoing personality, and was intelligent, willing to work, and was able to hold her own when conversations took a turn towards the gutter for humor. But, in the end, the crossed, mixed, and missed signals doomed our chances.

 

*** 9-13

 

I tried Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts for a while, but fit in less and less as the years went along. Part of it was the fact that I considered the BSA to be a camping club, but the adults kept pestering me to earn more and more awards and merit badges. Some of the memories are fun, I recall a Cub Scout den meeting that involved throwing water balloons for some reason, and John, one of the other scouts, having to stand near whatever they were hitting. He took his shirt off so it didn't get wet, and I remember thinking that he looked pretty good without it, he was kind of tall and muscular for his age. Other memories aren't so good, like the time I came back from a camping trip hike to discover that one of the other scouts had eaten my lunch, or when Ύ of the boys wanted to go Boundary Waters canoeing, but the troop leader wanted his son to get to go to Philmont, so the troop went to Philmont. I withdrew not long after that.

 

*** 20's

 

Once I was in grad school, and living in a larger town, I had access to adult book shops, and my porn novel collection started to slowly grow. I eventually noticed a pattern, that I was buying mostly gay stories, especially ones featuring high school couples. I think not having lost my virginity had a lot to do with that at the time – straight porn tended to be written from the female's point of view, gay (obviously) from a male's. The gay high school stories tended to offer a two-for-one sort of deal on loss-of-virginity stories, and those were the ones I was most interested in living vicariously through.

 

*** 14

 

Mom required my sister and I to take some sort of music throughout school. She chose band and became a percussionist, I didn't care for any particular instrument and stuck with choir. As an offshoot of that, I somehow got involved in my junior high's swing choir.

 

Most of the dances were just formation numbers, but the teachers did throw one couples dance number into the program, and asked the group to choose up partners. I was shocked when Anji immediately darted across the classroom and grabbed me, telling me she wanted me to be her partner. Part of the shock value was that I knew she was going steady with Jay, a big blond football player twice my size, so in addition to worrying about doing something wrong that might offend Anji, I had to also worry about getting pounded by Jay if he thought I'd gone too far somehow.

 

So there I was, trying to concentrate enough to learn the dance steps, holding a cute girl in my arms who'd chosen me as a partner, the specter of vast physical pain being inflicted by a large jealous boyfriend, 14 year old hormones boiling, yet knowing that the dance was likely all we'd ever do together, plus my life-long inhibitions about touching other people... The teacher kept having to yell at all the boys to hold the girls tighter and closer, so it wasn't just me who was uncomfortable that day – I think most of us must have had the deer-in-headlights look on our face.

 

We eventually relaxed into the dance as we learned and rehearsed it, and Jay proved to not be a problem. He never said anything to me about dancing with his girl – in fact, I don't remember him saying much of anything to me, period. I'm still not sure why Anji was so insistent about choosing me for the number, she never really talked to me outside of rehearsals, and once the year was over, I don't think we talked again.

 

The possibility that Anji had chosen me because I wouldn't be seen as a threat by Jay occurred to me years later. I don't recall if Anji had been in the group the previous year and knew it was a close couples dance, or if she was winging it when she grabbed me.

 

Even more years later, Dad mentioned knowing Anji's mom, learning that Anji was still single, and suggesting we get together somehow. Never happened... she didn't call me, and I didn't call her.

 

*** 29

 

When I became the secretary of my union local, I also became its Delegate to Convention, and I found myself flying for the first time in my life, headed to Toronto for the International Convention. Although I was apprehensive at first, the trip went well overall, aside from some minor miscalculations like trying to find a pizza place in the city's Chinatown section.

 

One night, some of the other delegates and I went out barhopping, and we ended up at the Zanzibar Club, a well known strip joint. Canadian laws being different than US laws, the dancers are allowed to get completely nude. I wasn't very comfortable there, I don't care for bars in general due to the noise and not being a beer drinker. Strip clubs present their own problems aside from orientation, because as a theater professional I start trying to analyze the lighting, costumes, and choreography, instead of just smiling at the tits bouncing in front of me.

 

A couple of the other guys in the group mentioned wanting to go somewhere else, and I took that as an opportunity to escape. A hooker just outside asked us if we needed an escort for the evening, I was tempted to shut her down by making a joke about myself and one of the other guys already being `together'. We ended up at another bar a few blocks away suggested by Terry that he knew about from a travel guide he had with him It turned out to be a gay bar.

 

Not just a gay bar, but a leatherboy sort of place. TVs placed around the room were showing porn vids of guys in leather vests and police hats getting blowjobs, and one patron was leading his date around by a piece of rope tied around the guy's chest. Surprisingly, this small town kid didn't bolt for the door, but stayed and listened as the other delegates talked, only now they were being a bit more open about being gay in the male-dominated technical theater world.

 

*** 10

 

One of the counselors at summer camp was a high school wrestler, and for some reason, perhaps as rudimentary air conditioning, had cut the armpits out of all his shirts and sweaters. Every time his arms moved, his pit hair would bush out the holes, looking much like the white-boy afro on his head. Picture Juan Epstein from `Welcome Back, Kotter', and you'll get the basic image (1970's TV show). With his stocky frame, flaunted pit hair, and frequent five-o-clock shadow, he was one of the most masculine kids I'd met to date, although being at least a half-dozen years older than me, I considered him a full adult.

 

It might have been that same year I attended my first dance, a school mixer-type event the camp put on one night. Some of the counselors were tasked with getting the wallflowers out onto the floor, and I was duly grabbed and paired up with a girl with long brown hair. `Dancing' at that point was little more than lift one foot, bob to that side, lift the other foot, bob to the other side. I have no recollection of the music, other than given the late 70's era, it was likely to have been disco. I remember being astounded that I was actually dancing with a girl.

 

*** Grade School

 

There's a bunch of weird little bits of memories about my elementary school years. It always seemed like the other kids were perhaps a little more aware of each other and of sex than I was.

 

One memory is sitting in lunch as a first or second grader, and having a 5th or 6th grade boy and girl tell me that they'd had sex together. I don't know if they were telling the truth, or if they were just seeing if I'd believe them.

 

Another is sitting in first grade, and seeing Alicia across the room catch my eye, and then seeing her pull the side of her tank top back enough to show me her nipple, and smiling at me. She'd later turn into the biggest bully among the girls, and I heard rumors years later that her father had been sexually abusing her, and may have already started when we were in first grade together.

 

By fifth grade, Mark and a few of his friends spent most of their recess time chasing a group of girls around, with the announced intention of goosing them, poking a finger into their backsides. Mark mostly targeted Renee, I don't know if the goosing ever led to anything further.

 

I was sitting in a doorway niche one noon recess, reading a book, when two girls popped around the corner, saw me there, and immediately backtracked. One was carrying a camera already out of its case, and the other had her hands on the neck of her halter top. I've wondered ever since if they had intended to take a quick topless photo.

 

Reading is what I was usually doing, if I had any sort of chance. I didn't expect the other kids to include me in their games, and they usually didn't. I was the standard last-one-chosen when splitting up for teams in gym. There'd be one or two friends that I'd hang out with at recess and free time in class, but I kept mostly to myself.

 

*** 43

 

There's definitely some patterns showing up here – The big one is that I tend to believe, and have always believed, that I am not interesting to other people, especially in a romantic sense. It's rare for others to seek me out for social reasons, and I can probably count on one hand, with fingers (plural) left over, the number of girls (or boys) who have asked me out. In turn, viewing myself as undesirable makes it hard for me to ask others out, I feel like I'm imposing on them.

 

Another big pattern has been an apparent interest in girls, with a concurrent noticing of boys. I think a lot of this is just societal expectations, in the 70's and 80's it just wasn't an option to be anything other than heterosexual. Being a boy, I was supposed to be chasing girls, so I felt I had to keep evaluating each girl I met to see if she would be someone I might be comfortable with as a couple. However, for the most part, this prevented me from being just friends with girls, unless for some reason I could feel like a particular girl wasn't even an option for dating. Focusing on unavailable girls was something of a defense mechanism - I could pretend to be straight and in lust, without the danger of having to actually follow through.

 

I recently read about an experiment done on some early grade school kids, to see how deep social programming can run. They'd been given a big glass of water to drink, and then sat at a desk with a candy bar in front of them. They were told they could have the candy bar, but only after they'd wet their pants. Some kids were perfectly willing to wet themselves once they were told it was ok to do so, others couldn't let themselves go no matter how many assurances they were given, and were crying in physical pain before the testers relented and let them leave for the restroom. Pretending even to oneself that they're heterosexual can be even stronger conditioning, and although it's embarrassing to be seen with wet pants, that can at least be lived down and forgotten. Come out or be found out once, and you're marked for life as being anything from `different' to `damned to hell'. I probably would have sat there until my bladder burst, before wetting myself.

 

Being `just friends' with anyone has always been a problem for me. My childhood friends, Davy, Leland, and Jamie, were all out of my life by the time I hit middle school, and could have really used someone to talk to. I didn't really connect with anyone until I met John in college, and that only lasted two years before we went our separate ways. Sure, I had friends, classmates, lunchmates, etc., but they were all surface level people. We'd talk about games and classes and trade dirty jokes, but not really share feelings. Even Karl, who I've known since preschool, has never really gotten past the surface level.

 

*

 

I've recently been reading a book called `Oddly Normal', about one family's experience with having a gay son. Unlike most such stories, the parents realized their son's orientation long before the boy did, and decided to be supportive. However, they were a little ahead of society on the subject, and so not everything went as well as could be hoped. In the process, they did a lot of researching, and came across a number of ideas that soon would become mainstream thoughts.

 

Perhaps the most important thought I found in the book is the concept of `minority stress,' essentially that simply being different from your surrounding population is a stressful situation. The levels of stress can vary – being left-handed usually isn't a big problem until you need to use scissors or to sit down to dinner with enough room for your eating elbow, whereas race and orientation can lead to fatal attacks. However, while a child of a different race can talk to parents and other children and adults that share their race about how to deal with bigots, a child with a different orientation isn't always able to see other peoples' orientation, and may continue to believe themselves alone, deepening the stress.

 

Growing up, I had a number of low-level minority stresses to work through – redheaded, wore glasses, was smarter than most other kids, lived outside of town in the country, preferred reading to sports, few friends – the little things that kids hold against each other. Throughout my childhood, I was already primed to be wary of adding yet another reason to make myself a target, and to have a ready list of why others wouldn't want to be around me. By the time I realized that I didn't quite care for girls the way the other boys did, and what my thinking certain boys `looked good' might mean, I already knew that I couldn't add one more strike against me, especially one as big as being gay. So, I locked down all my feelings and didn't let on to anyone, including myself.

 

At the time, it made sense to me to avoid bullying and beatings, and not attempting to date either sex kept my heart safe from being broken, but as a result, I've been alone for a long, long time. An old saying claims that it's better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all; I can't speak for the `loving and losing' side, but the `never loving at all' side isn't much fun.

 

I'm kind of jealous of kids these days. It's so much more common and accepted to be out at a young age (granted, things aren't good or easy everywhere) than it was when I was young, plus the Internet can be a godsend for helping ease the loneliness and isolation.

 

*

 

So, how does one go through life without dating girls, yet, when asked, claiming to be straight? There's plenty of excuses that can be made – my favorites were `I have a crush on X, but she's already dating Y', `I haven't met the right one yet', `I've been busy at work', `I'm in between right now', `The ones I'm interested in aren't interested in me' – all seem perfectly valid, and if you say them sincerely enough, you can believe them yourself. It's helped that I don't seem to have as strong a sex drive as many people do - somewhere along the line, my `Lust' setting never got turned up very high. Then again, maybe that was a hindrance – if I'd been hornier, maybe I'd have come out sooner.

 

*

 

I seem to send out mixed signals to other people. Some people pick me up on their gaydar, but for the most part I don't present as gay. Most people assume I'm just straight and single, with the usual amount of sexual experience. A coworker started making some jokes one day when the movie '40 year old Virgin' came out - I didn't take offense because I was only 39 at the time.

 

*** Middle school

 

My sister is two years older than me, so she naturally started dating before I would have. When she first started bringing boys home for dinner, Dad would go into entertainer mode, doing things like making strange jokes, or flashing a smile that would reveal the back of a peach slice where his teeth should be. If he would later pass my sister's room, and see them necking, he'd return to the TV room crowing about `catching them in a clinch', or refer to them as `frustrating their hormones'. A not-so-subconscious thought that ran through my head was that I didn't think I'd ever want to bring a date home to have Dad act so embarrassingly, or to talk about me like that.

 

I think most kids are embarrassed by their parents to some degree, very few had `cool' parents, and they were envied by all.

 

*** 14

 

All the girls on the school bus gave out a squeal, and pressed their faces to the glass on the right side of the bus. Nick, one of the more muscular farm kids my age, has whipped off his shirt as he walks up his driveway, tan shoulders in the sun. My eyes are on him too, though I don't squeal.

 

*** 23

 

I'm lying in my bed, pretending I'm asleep. I can just barely hear the soft crush of the carpet as my roommate slowly approaches my bed. The footstep stop, and I can hear his breathing deepen as I start to feel pressure on my dick as he puts his hand on the bedclothes over it and presses in. I pivot my hips away, and ask "What do you think you're doing?"

 

"I thought you were asleep."

 

"That doesn't answer my question."

 

For my second year of grad school, I'd moved back out of Mom and Dad's house and into an apartment near the school. Camille had known that Alton was looking for a roommate at the same time I was, and had put us together. She neglected to mention that she knew him because he'd been dating one of her male roommates, and Alton didn't mention it either - in fact when we first met, he was dating a girl.

 

Being bi, he soon developed a crush on me, but rather than say anything, he was doing the `worship from afar' thing... and, apparently, sneaking into my bedroom at night to feel me up.

 

I don't remember all the details of the conversation that followed – I do remember turning the bedside light on for a moment, but the light was too bright for our dark-adjusted eyes, but it was on long enough for me to see that he was naked. I wasn't interested in him the way he was interested in me, and he agreed to not enter my room again. However, that didn't stop him from making repeated trips up and down the hall, naked, after I'd gone to bed on nights we were both home. Those didn't bother me much, since once my glasses were off I couldn't see much detail, especially on a black body walking through a shadowed hall. The thrill was all his.

 

Some months later, he made a comment about being just as glad I hadn't accepted his advances, something to the effect about he was enjoying keeping the fantasy going.

 

I didn't raise a fuss or turn him in or anything, but I did make my plans to move out as soon as I could after that. Sexual advances aside, living with him had been fairly pleasant, we didn't get on each other's nerves like some roommates do, although with me being a grad student in theater, I wasn't home enough for us to clash. It was interesting watching some of his habits, he made a point of watching every TV show that featured black people – I hadn't known there were so many on the air before meeting him.

 

Later, I would sometimes wonder if I shouldn't have had sex with him. It would be years before another boy showed that sort of interest in me. I will confess that when I turned on the light that night, it was for the purpose of seeing his dick.

 

*** 29

 

1998 was the year the wheels came off... A young friend of mine, Aaron, got his first real girlfriend, Sarah, who soon started claiming that she was being raped by her stepfather. I got involved on the emotional support end, the things I was hearing and thinking about triggered all sorts of reactions in me (no abuse, just lots of loneliness), and I ended up in therapy and on meds. It was a wild ride, emotionally. After a few months, we convinced her to talk to the state social workers, and she was extracted from the house, but she then recanted her entire story, leaving those of us who had been trying to help her feeling used. Adding to the mess was the fact that Aaron had gotten Sarah pregnant shortly before they broke up. The topper might be that his mom, Mary, wasn't happy in her marriage, and dropped more than one hint in my direction. I didn't encourage her at all – if I wasn't willing to break up `steady' couples in high school, I certainly wasn't going to get involved with a woman who was married with children. Besides, she was just enough older than me that I would have thought of her more as a mother than a wife.

 

During it all, me being me, I did some research on various topics connected to the situation, everything from PTSD for rape victims, teen father statistics, child abuse and recovery, depression... all sorts of things.

 

One of the things I discovered was that babies who are not wanted by their mothers at birth have a significantly higher incidence of depression as teenagers, including the ones whose mothers decide during their first year that they liked having the child after all. I read that, and instantly thought about my own parents and childhood. We had moved into the house I grew up in the day after my first birthday, after Dad and an uncle did most of the work themselves to build it. That would mean that Mom and Dad would have been preoccupied with house construction for most of my first year, and it seems to me they might have paid less attention to me due to the house than they might have otherwise. Being ignored for that reason might have had the same effect as the unwanted babies being ignored by their parents, teaching me at a very young age that I wasn't as important to other people as other things were. One of my counselors, Pam, said as much one session, that if babies aren't treated like they're important, they have a hard time learning self esteem later on in life.

 

I was a bit of a challenge for Pam, I think. After seeing her for five or six months, she made a comment to the effect that I was finally back up to the point she had thought I was at when I first met her. I'd taken some additional blows in that time, the worst being the day I was told my contract would not be renewed at work (translation: I was being fired), followed up with Aaron telling me that same night that he didn't want to listen to my problems anymore (we'd been talking a lot throughout the abuse case, and I'd been sharing more and more of my problems with him, plus acting more and more like a parent. He'd finally reached the point of needing more space). That's when I learned that all those `Footsteps in the Sand' posters are true, it certainly wasn't me doing the walking that night. My shotgun stayed leaning in its corner of my bedroom, but mostly just because I was so far down I didn't have the energy to go for it. It was a rough night all around – I think that it was later the same night or the next that Aaron found out Sarah was pregnant, so he and Mary had their own things to worry about for a while. All I knew was that I didn't hear from either of them during my lowest period, reinforcing the sense of abandonment.

 

The therapy and the meds I soon started eventually got me back to a functional state, and made some things clear to me about my life and how I view it. However, she seemed reluctant to consider sexual orientation as a possible cause of any of my problems, even though one session I mentioned sometimes feeling a sexual attraction to Aaron. I didn't mention it again, and neither did Pam. I still wonder if she was waiting for me to bring it up again, or if she didn't see the question as being relevant, and I wonder if the therapy would given better results if the question had been addressed. As it was, I was diagnosed with non-specific depression, possible social phobia (common among farm kids), and a variety of self-esteem issues. I got to the point of being able to fake my way through life for a while longer, and the sessions and meds ended. However, I was more convinced than ever that I wouldn't be truly happy until I found someone who wanted to be around me enough to seek me out, instead of me always having to make the first move.

 

*

 

Since I mentioned above a possible sexual attraction to a boy half my age, I may as well talk about that, before any conclusions are leapt to. The shortest version is that the sorts of boys I enjoyed looking at as a teen, still look good to me now... and that's about the extent of it. If you think of a middle aged straight man enjoying looking at high school cheerleader girls, then this would be the gay equivalent. Boys 12 to 18, especially the 14-16 range, will catch my eye before any other group will. I'm just looking though – I don't expect to ever have sex with a youngster, and certainly wouldn't try to rape anyone, regardless of age. Besides, I'm attracted to faces and full bodies, not genitals. To me, shirtless is as good as pantsless, and a lot more legal.

 

Aaron, however, was different. We'd spent a lot of time together over the previous four or five years, after he started volunteering at a museum I was also involved with. Mentoring him there led to me taking him to other events, and hours of talking as friends. He'd sometimes stay at my house overnight, depending on the travel required. It gave me some tempting opportunities.

 

Aaron was about 12 or 13 at the time, and was in the shower off the master bedroom. It occurred to me that if I stuck my head in the door, I'd be able to see him naked. I was halfway between the bedroom door and the bathroom entrance when I stopped and realized that his friendship meant more to me than any momentary thrill I might get from looking. I also realized that whatever urges I might be feeling, I was their master, they were not mine. Ever since, I haven't been afraid of becoming a child molester, since I now know those feelings aren't ever going to be able to make me take something that hasn't been freely offered.

 

A few years later, I made the worst mistake of my life. I told Aaron about it.

 

We were in the middle of the Sarah mess, and I'd shared pretty much every other secret I had with him. I felt closer to him at that time than I'd ever felt to anyone, and thought that since it had involved him (even unknowingly), that to complete the disclosure, trust, whatever, I needed to tell him this as well, that I'd once come close to peeping on him in the shower.

 

He took it well enough at the time, but eventually it weirded him out a bit, and he told his mom, and another person or two. Ever since then, I've always worried that the story will surface again, not knowing who knows, or how much they know, or how it was phrased when they heard it. To me, the story is that I was tempted, but turned away, never to be tempted again. To others, though, the story might just stop at `he was ready to do it', and they'll think I would be willing to do it again.

 

If this all isn't strange enough yet, a bit later I also told Mary that I'd been feeling an attraction to her son, and had come close to acting on it. Not the average conversation one has with a young friend's parent... She told me that Aaron had already told her the story. I don't recall her reaction in detail, but she didn't seem very upset, perhaps because she'd already had some time to think about it, and because I was being honest with her. Strangely enough, some fifteen years later, Mary and I are still good friends.

 

The ultimate result of the episode, however, besides the fear of the story being spread around, is that when I tried to trust someone with my darkest secret, they broke that trust. It's easy enough to say that, falling under the heading of potential sexual harassment or abuse, that he shouldn't have been expected to keep this particular secret, but, for me, the point of the story was that I hadn't succumbed to temptation – if I had never mentioned it, he'd have never known. That's colored our friendship ever since, knowing that I'll always think of him as a betrayer of trust. It makes me more hesitant to trust others, too.

 

Another result is that I fear that if I publically come out, my being admittedly gay will give additional reason for the shower-peeping story to be spread as proof that I'm really a predator at heart. I can already hear the jackboots kicking in my front door...

 

*** 36

 

Actually, there was one other young boy I had more than a passing fancy for. A friend's grandson that I'd spent time with off and on since he was three, Zack shared an interest in the same hobbies that had drawn Aaron and I together. By the time he was twelve, he was traveling with me to events much as Aaron had done, and his quick wit and energy were very entertaining. Having learned my lessons well, though, I never threw any hints his way, although he gave me pause one night. I was staying at his grandfather's house, and for some reason a twelve-year-old Zack was asked to show me the way to the same bedroom I usually stayed in. Once there, he asked which side of the bed was mine. I looked at him for a moment, trying to decide if he was offering to sleep with me, before answering that since I usually slept alone, both sides were mine.

 

If we'd still been visiting each other when he hit 16, I don't know what might have happened. As it turned out, though, when he was 14, his biological father showed up again, and won a custody hearing, and moved Zack away from all contact with his former life for several years. He moved back to his mom's town a few years ago, but hasn't taken time to visit me since. I'm not sure if he's even visited his grandfather yet.

 

And yet another person who I enjoyed spending time with no longer seems interested in being around me.

 

*** 30

 

After I'd been in therapy for a while, my sister was in town to visit, probably for something to do with the lawsuit we filed after our parent's deaths. I took the opportunity one night to fill her in on my battles with depression. One reaction was that it wasn't just me that hadn't felt truly at home growing up – she'd filled the void by adopting a neighbor lady as a surrogate grandmother. When I outlined depression, anxiety, and social phobia as reasons for not dating, her comment was that she'd always thought it was because I was gay, and didn't want to tell her.

 

I just stared at her for a moment, and went on with our talk. At least I now know that she's not likely to freak if or when I ever come out to her.

 

I'm not sure how my parents would have taken the news. They'd fallen away from churchgoing the last few years (mostly due to internal politics of congregations), and when I'd mentioned different college friends as being gay, they had just taken a moment of silence, before continuing talking. I can't help but suspect, though, that they wouldn't have been entirely happy to hear any such announcement. Thanks to a highway accident, I won't ever have to confront them, but I won't ever get resolution, either.

 

*** Final

 

So, where am I now? I'm looking back across these stories, and seeing the progression of my life. I've gone from acting and believing that I had to be straight, just because everyone else was straight, to hiding behind various excuses to not date anyone at all, to realizing that I am what I've told lots of other people it's okay to be (Well, mostly realizing... even as I write this, part of me is saying "Don't write that! You're *not* sure yet!").

 

In some ways, I'm just as glad to have been alone throughout the process. Unlike some, I haven't left behind a trail of broken marriages, trashed relationships, or confused kids. Then again, I don't have much experience with relationships at all, and may well be dooming any future ones from lack of practice. Plus the whole `it sucks to be alone' thing.

 

The big hurdle right now is applying the advice I've given others to myself. It's one thing to read or talk about a newspaper article mentioning the latest bit of research suggesting that `gays' are born that way, and have no choice in who they're attracted to. It's another to say that `I' was born that way. The general vs. the specific.

 

Part of it is I'm stubborn. I've spent a good 30 years trying to convince myself and everyone around me that I'm straight . That's a lot of arguing to abandon, not to mention the potential `I told you so' responses I'll likely hear from some, and the crow eating I'll then have to do. So far, I've stuck with it because I keep telling myself, that until I get an actual boyfriend, I'm still not officially gay. Not much of an argument, but it's all I've got at this point (It's kind of a Schroedinger's cat thing... I'm not really gay OR straight until I fuck someone...).

 

I'm also not very interested in getting lumped together with stereotypical gays. I don't cross dress, I don't dye my hair, my wrists are not limp, clothes are bought for function, not fashion, and I definitely do not lisp. Where is my positive role model at?

 

Another aspect of my stubbornness is that I persist in believing in my own lack of self-worth. Whatever the causes, I'm convinced that I'm not worth other people's time. Until someone runs across the room, leaps into my arms, and says `take me, I'm yours', and stays, I'll keep thinking that. Right now, everyone seems to be in the realm of `oh, we should do something, sometime' and never calling to set it up. Prophecy fulfilled. At times I think of myself as some sort of psychological vampire – I have to be invited, to be able to cross the threshold into someone else's life.

 

I worry a lot about being hurt. Thinking of all my childhood friends who disappeared for one reason or another, I'm worried that letting anyone in, without their truly wanting to be there, will just mean that they'll leave again soon. If I don't let anyone in, they can't leave and hurt me. But if I don't let them in, they won't let me in, and around and around we go.

 

It's been a long, long road. Only a couple months ago, I'd think of ending my loneliness by finding `someone', a gender-neutral dodging of the question, even inside my own head. I finally was able to say to myself recently that I need to find `a boyfriend'. It's both a huge step, and a small one. Where will it lead?

 

*** PS

 

I wrote the above six months ago, and left it to mellow for a bit. I've now gone back over it a few times to edit and add things, but I think it's now as complete as it will ever be. Some of you may notice that I don't talk about anything recent, or anyone currently close to me, but only about past friends and events. That was intentional, I feel a bit superstitious about talking about anything I hope might still happen, and I wouldn't want to talk about anyone else currently in my life without their permission. Perhaps more recent times will someday form a second chapter of this story... I myself am still hoping for a happy ending.

 

One of the things this project has done for me is to help me make sense of my life. It's kind of like working a jigsaw puzzle without the benefit of a picture on the box top. If there's a lot of blue and green pieces, and some that look like water, you can be reasonably sure that it's a landscape, but until you figure out if the brownish grey pieces are trees or rocks, you don't know if it's a mountain lake or a seashore. Sorting through my memories has helped me see a number of patterns, and how deeply they're woven into my life.

 

One result is that I'm coming to be more and more at peace and confident of my homosexuality, although I'm still having trouble saying it, even to myself. I did manage to come out to my sister recently, the first real-world person to know (several online friends have known/suspected for years). Somehow, telling another person makes it more real. Thankfully, she was fine with it.

 

I recently stumbled across Vivienne Cass's Identity Model for coming out as a gay person. Six stages are involved, 1) feeling different, 2) realizing attraction, 3) coming out to self, 4) coming out to select people, 5) coming out to general public, 6) at peace with orientation (all steps horribly paraphrased). I'm still wavering between steps 3 and 4, but making forward progress, I think. Other models exist, but seeing a reference to this one helped me feel reinforced in my conclusions.

 

Another recent occurrence is that I might finally see a path to contain my depression at its source. While reading some romantic/erotic story recently, I was thinking about how nice it would be to be able to lay my hand on a lover's body at any time, and not have to worry about them flinching away, and something inside me stood off to one side, and commented that how I'd worded that might be important. I mentally looked at the thought, and saw a vast cauldron of sorrow I hadn't known was there. I looked around it a bit to try and figure out where it came from, but all I got was `young' and `close' (file cabinet theory of memory... most memories let me know why I remember them, and from where and when). This memory was from so far back, that I apparently was only thinking in concepts, not language, as best as I could tell, although it has since occurred to me that it could be that it's a combination of many small memories, not a single traumatic event. Regardless, I now can see my enemy. It's almost like a fantasy novel, if I smash this giant crystal, the evil wizard's power will be broken... Except I don't yet know how, or who I might need help from to accomplish it.

 

Finding that well of depression led to another realization, that much of my reluctance to admit my feelings to myself may have stemmed from a desire for acceptance by my parents and others. Since I was already feeling rejected and unworthy, I was avoiding allowing myself to provide yet another reason to be rejected. Growing up in the 70's, with no positive role models, or acknowledgment that gay people really existed, let alone could be considered normal, it's little wonder that I didn't want to add yet another strike against myself.

 

Oddly enough, it's been online pornography that has helped me more than anything. Male/Male romantic and erotic fiction showing healthy relationships between decidedly normal-acting characters has had a much more profound effect on me than any self-help affirmation I could have taped to my bathroom mirror, as have amateur webcam videos of real-life boyfriends doing all the things the stories mention. All these boys and men, doing what I grew up thinking almost nobody did... Wow.

 

Time to end this little scribbling project... passing 22,700 words, making it qualify as a mid-length novella per the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America – quite a feat for a first timer! It would be nice to end on a strong image, like the `evil crystal' a few paragraphs up, but I don't have any rousing conclusions left in me. Maybe my next project will have better structure.

 

***

 

Comments and constructive criticisms can be sent to samallan at hushmail dot com. Flames and quotes from Leviticus can be sent to any other email address, perhaps someone there will be interested in reading them.

 

Thanks to Dave Lee for editing and encouragement. Look him up on the Author's List.

 

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