Friday, February 4, 2011

Sex. It's Important. First Part

When you are part of a minority within a majority culture,  your difference is highlighted in your awareness and becomes an important part of your personal narrative.  Just as color is a salient characteristic for visible minorities and religion for religious minorities,  so sex is for sexual minorities.

I want to thank the Boy Scouts of America for introducing me to gay sex.  When I was at scout camp at the age of twelve or thirteen I was lucky enough to be in a tent with four boys one of whom was sexually precocious and had a great imagination.  He introduced after taps sex games to our tent.  We all eagerly joined in and that provided my initiation into masturbation.  I wasn't sure what was going to happen,  at first I was afraid I was going to pee, but I kept at it and was pleased with the results,  even though it was evident this was my first time at self-abuse.  In the fifties you had the advantage of not being suspected of being gay unless you were quite swish.  That was a sad reality for those who were seen as stereotypically "faggy" (many of whom weren't even gay), but was a good cover for boys who wanted to play with boys. And many boys did.  Perhaps the BSA's prohibition on gay scouts will provide a similar cover.  If you're a scout, then you must not be gay, so sex with another scout won't make you queer.

After camp my attention turned to Johnny, the boy next door.  He was a year younger than I and was a friend whom I found attractive, but had previously no idea how that might be expressed.  Now I had several ideas.  He was on the short side, with black hair and dark complexion, into body building.  I was blond,  tall,  slim with a body that showed regular exercise.  We both had crew cuts.  Our usual summer outfit was jeans with a tee shirt for me and no shirt for Johnny.  In the fifties rebel style we both bought our jeans tight to begin with, then took a long, hot shower in while wearing them in order to shrink them to the body. I had an awkward moment when my sister once looked out the window at Johnny as he was washing his family's car wearing only rolled up cutoffs and remarked to me that he had a really nice body.  I struggled to find the right, blasé tone of agreement that would give no hint of enthusiasm.   Johnny wasn't the first boy I'd found attractive.  When I was seven or eight there was Dick (don't laugh),  the older brother of my sister's best friend.  I still have a luminous image of him at the beach when he was my camp counsellor and  remember his last name decades later.  Before that there were only the usual "doctor" games with the girl across the street, which were fun, but didn't hold a candle to what I felt about Dick.

In elementary school my closest friend was Larry.  I enjoyed his sense of imaginative play, familiarity with pop culture and courage.  I knew Larry was different and so did most other people.  He was very faggy.  I like that term and apologize if anyone is offended by it.  He stood out at school and was a target of frequent bullying, as he still, unfortunately, would probably be today.  For some gays and lesbians their experience is that of a visible minority, while most of us manage to pass in an anonymous,  public context unless we make a point of letting it be known.   He was my best friend and I was his only friend.  I don't think any sexual currents passed between us, but some faggy ones certainly did.  We sang duets of pop songs together on stage during the weekly, school talent show using crib sheets that were popular at the time.  At some point my mother suggested I was spending too much time with Larry.  The school principal and psychologist, Dr. McCaully,  had called and warned her that my association with Larry, especially those talent show performances, might negatively effect my relationships with other students.  I risked becoming an object of bullying myself.   Dr. McCaully hadn't endeared herself in the eyes of my parents since she'd already predicted with great prescience that they'd be lucky if I ever graduated from high school given my limited intellectual abilities.  Nevertheless,  while my parents never forbade me to continue hanging out with Larry and said nothing negative about him,  they must have subtly discouraged our friendship.  The duets ended and the contacts diminished.  Larry's mother called mine concerned that our friendship was being seen in a negative light and wanting her to support its continuation.  That didn't happen, probably out of a desire to protect me.  I  have no memories of having been bullied for being gay as a child or adolescent.  I must have been just butch enough to pass, which I think was easier in the fifties.  Had there been the same awareness that kids have today of things gay I doubt if I would have.

Back to Johnny.  He had never masturbated, but was an eager and talented student of the newly learned skill I had picked up at summer camp.  A skill that impressed him even more than the fact that I had been inducted into the prestigious Order of the Eagle.  For the next five years we became regular, at times daily,  partners in sexual exploration.  We settled into mutual masturbation that often had a clearly kinky edge to it.  Johnny saw himself firmly as being sexually interested in girls and once in a while he would pull back from our play with concerns that what we were doing might be homosexual and sinful.  It never took much encouragement to overcome his hesitations.  Enlisting the aid of my father's pornography that I had discovered in a cabinet in his workshop always did the trick in providing the incentive and cover to get comfortably back into sex together.   We were fortunate in that both of our mothers worked,  so finding a place to play was usually not an issue.  It was not for nothing that housewives were discouraged from working.  At times when neither of our homes were available and the adolescent need was pressing,  we would go to a relatively wild area of a local park.  Once we were approached by a man who had caught us in the act and asked to participate.  While I rejected the offer and scooted off on my bike,  Johnny had wanted to stay.  I was surprised by that.

The last time i saw Johnny was when he looked me up while visiting Montreal with his wife.  She was a Navajo and they were living near her family in Gallup,  New Mexico.  It felt strange sitting in the living room,  making small talk,  my kids running around and the two of us with our wives.  Naturally, it wasn't possible to talk about the fact that we had been sexual partners for most of our teenage years.  Even were it possible I don't know if either of us would, at that point in our lives, have chosen to do so.  Probably we were both relieved that despite our relationship as teenagers we turned out to be "normal".

Chet,  the precocious tent mate from boy scout camp,  became a less regular sexual partner.  If Johnny and I adopted a boy next door look,  very appropriate,  since we were the boy next door,  Chet preferred the James Dean look.  He was constantly combing back his long, dirty blond hair into a DA.  I think he was somewhat more savvy than Johnny and threatened by the realization that my interest in him went beyond the usual boys turning to each other "cause there are no girls around."   I  convinced my parents to take him with us on summer vacation.  While our heterosexual peers made out under the boardwalk, we sought out relatively dry spots in the marshes, bathed in mosquito repellant and, like Moses, hidden in the bull rushes.  In the evening we would do the boardwalk with Chet heavily cruising the chicks, partly, I think to cancel out any suspicions about his sexuality based on what we had done together that afternoon.

My closest friend was John.  I never had a sexual relationship with him because I wasn't attracted to him, but the two of us were open with each other about our interest in other boys.  We had a collection of physique mags with names like Tomorrows Man and Adonis, which we would buy at the town cigar and magazine store.  The smell of cigars is the biggest link in my memory with the fear and excitement I felt going into that store, the only one in our small,  suburban town,  to make a purchase. The clerk would look at me with disgust when he came upon the muscle mag I concealed from other customers between Boy's Life and Popular Mechanic, but he never refused the illegal sale.  Interesting that I chose to endure that look rather than take the risk of getting caught stealing.

John,  on the other hand, did get caught.  Not stealing, but probably worse, by his father finding his stash of muscle mags.  I was rightly suspected of being involved in his perversity, he was forbidden to ever see me again and packed off to Bordentown Military Academy.  His father died of a sudden heart attack a few weeks later.  I was mortified that his parents would tell my parents what they had discovered,  Most likely they did, but nothing was ever said to me.  John and I did manage some surreptitious meetings when he was in town.  Military school did wonders for him in terms of his attractiveness quotient.  In his uniform and with his new muscles I found him quite sexy, but the trauma surrounding his being discovered led to neither of us wanting to even make an allusion to the desires we had previously shared. John later married and became a university professor, just as I did.

I would be surprised if my parents didn't realize what was happening between me and my friends.  In some ways they had surprisingly open views about sexuality.  They were influenced by the beat movement to a certain extent and rented our third floor apartment to a family with a definite bohemian bent.  They were both artists before the war.  I remember the husband, a serviceman stationed in the city,  playing the clarinet as he came through the house to put out the trash and the evening he fired shoots out the window of their apartment to celebrate the end of the war.  They didn't wear clothes when they were at home in their apartment or bother to dress when my father would go upstairs to make repairs.  My parents  themselves were very casual about nudity and felt that privacy around bodily functions was to be discouraged.  As a teenager with the usual prudery of an adolescent I was embarrassed that the bathroom door was never closed and anyone could come in to do whatever even if it was already occupied;  however, when I requested a lock on my bedroom door, no matter how much it went against their own values, they only mildly objected.

My parents may have also been influenced by some of the more progressive ideas about sexuality that were beginning to become current during the fifties.  The Kinsey Report on Male Sexuality had come out when I was eight and by the time I was a teenager remained very controversial,  especially in its findings that roughly fifty-percent of the men surveyed reported having had sexual fantasies and attractions towards another man and roughly a third reported having had a sexual relationship with another male to the point of orgasm at some point in there lives.  I'm sure my mother,  having been active in parents committees in Philadelphia at the time, was familiar with discussions regarding the report.  I was well aware of its contents regarding homosexuality even as a teenager.  I had been a volunteer at the community library,  until I resigned after being told one boiling,  scantily clad,  summer day,  to leave and come back dressed more appropriately for a library.  I went home,  put on my best summer duds, went back to the library and quit.  Shows you how insufferable I could be.  When not stamping or stocking books,  I was always pulling them off the shelves and looking in the index under "homosexuality".   What I learned was that although most people writing in the field of mental health thought homosexuality was a sickness and morally wrong,  several of the more recent writers claimed that homosexual activity amongst adolescent boys was a normal stage of development and most would progress into a healthy heterosexuality.   The contention that homosexuality represented a normal stage of sexual development became a core belief within the narrative I was constructing of my life.  A consequence of that belief was that I must pass out of my adolescent,  homosexual stage if I wanted to continue on the path toward being a normal, healthy adult.  Accordingly,  I decided to put all homosexual activity behind me when I went away to college.   After leaving home,  just before I turned eighteen,  I didn't have any further gay sexual experiences until I was thirty-one years old,  married and with children.

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