Thursday, February 17, 2011

Sex. More of None.

At college there was only one person, I believe his name was Steven, who lived in my dormitory,  and whom everyone identified as being gay, though, as far as I know, he was too withdrawn to either confirm or deny it.  I never heard direct, homophobic remarks made about him and don't believe he was bullied.  He was more shunned and spoken of with a  tone of derision.  As he was the room mate for at least two years of Dave, a fraternity bother and college track star, I was from time to time in their room.  I remember almost nothing about the gay guy except that he was faun-like, nice, very quiet.  I felt nervous around him, as I imagine most other students did, though he must have somehow managed dorm life, including things like communal showers.  I have no ideal what became of him and I'd like to know more about how he survived. When our dormitory closed for the summer, I bunked with Dave at the fraternity house and have a very sharp memory of lying in the bottom bed one evening while he was on the top. There were a few other fraternity brothers in the room and one asked Dave how he could share his dorm room with a queer.  He replied without any hesitation that his room mate gave very good head, was available whenever he was horny and it sure beat masturbating.  I was amazed at how matter of fact and casual he was with that response and the way in which everyone present seemed to accept it as perfectly understandable. Yeah, what's not to like about that?

Learning that Dave, who was hot in both the literal and figurative senses of the term and was sleeping naked on that humid Virginia summer night in the bunk just a few feet above me, was regularly engaging in oral sex with his room mate, if only in a passive role, provoked the first real breakthrough of homoerotic fantasy into my well-defended imagination; a fantasy that went beyond what that I would have found acceptable to myself. My thoughts weren't ones of simply acknowledging I was attracted to him, which would have been permitted, but of imagining acting on that attraction.  A similar seepage occurred later in my second year of college when I met Scott and and Johnny, but, before I describe that breach in my defenses, some background.

My gradual disaffiliation from fraternity life which was progressing during that year coincided with an increasing acceptance by and identification with what constituted the brainy clique at William and Mary.   My talents were recognized by three or four, male, single professors who took certain students under their wings.  Looking back on their solicitude for my academic life, I imagine intelligence wasn't the only talent that attracted their interest, however at the time that didn't even occur to me. Such a probability doesn't detract in the least from the debt of gratitude I owe to them.  Coming from a small, suburban town, having done well, but not spectacularly, in high school and evincing much in the way of naivet√©, they took me on as their very own Elisa Doolittle.  One, a professor of classics from the University of Chicago, was the most involved in my tutoring.  He gave me a list of books, which he felt every educated person should have read, and discussed them with me one by one after I had read them.  This he did totally on his own time, usually as he drove me around to places of interest in the countryside.  He liked to drive and I liked to be driven.  It never occurred to me that there was any erotic component in our relationship.

There were several other professors in the group, one a professor of english literature and the another of German.  Every Friday they would host a wine and cheese party for the students they had selected as proteges, which consisted of five or six men and one, very ballsy, woman.  We would drink lots of wine, have spirited discussions, including trashing professors none of us liked, then would go out to dinner. I was very privileged to be part of that group and its influence turned my life in an entirely new direction.  They were all members of the scholarly society, Phi Beta Kappa,  and were and influential in having me inducted in my senior year.  It was considered a special honor at William and Mary because ours was the alpha chapter founded by early supporters of the American Revolution.   Although I had chosen William and Mary as a good place to study law, I became a student of philosophy instead and by the end of my junior year was interested in a career in academia.

Those same professors were advisors for the college academic journal and in my second year I submitted a paper, "Nietzsche and the Nazi Stigma", for publication.  The article was a description of the process by which Nietzsche's sister, a Nazi sympathizer, put together the Will to Power from fragments of Nietzshe's work and published the book under his name. She, then, promoted the book to the Nazi's, who adopted it as their philosophy, even though Nietzsche in his own published works was extremely critical of anti-Semites. This led to meeting Scott and Johnny. Scott was the student editor of the journal and Johnny was his room mate. I had to meet with Scott to prepare the paper for publication. Scott and Johnny had styles I had never before encountered. Both were from New York City and had come to William and Mary for its well-known theatre arts programme.  Scott was tall with greased, jet black hair.  He wore thick, leather wrist bands and a heavy, studded, leather belt with tight, black jeans. Johnny was tall as well, was prone to paisley shirts and wore his curly, blond hair long.  Considering they were graduating in 1960, their styles might seem to have been way ahead of the times, but I imagine referenced particular gay subcultures in New York. Scott's style, for example, was very Marlon Brando from On the Water Front.  For a kid from suburban Philadelphia their look was both striking and alluring. They were seniors and I was only a sophomore, just emerging from fraternity culture, so there was a great gulf between us.

I was thoroughly intimidated by them. At the same time I felt a strong sexual tension in their presence.  Scott and I met in their bedroom and Johnny was always present. We sat on his bed while going over my essay and I had difficulty pulling back from focusing on their twin beds and imagining them sleeping side by side.  Well, not really sleeping. There's little doubt in my mind that had they not been graduating  in a few months and had I had the opportunity to become more comfortable with them, to explore their identities and relaionship, the sexual self I had developed would have been seriously threatened. One of the core supports of that identity, that a gay, adult life-style was unimaginable for me, would have risked being undermined. The two of them represented, I believe, my first possible roll models of young, adult gay men, perhaps even a couple.  I felt a strong attraction, tinged with fear, to their appearances, their styles of dress, their intelligence and their strong sense of confidence in who they were. Scott went on to Hollywood and I recognized him as a supporting actor, usually a villain, in several major films.  Toward the end of his acting career he had built himself into a very muscular hulk. Johnny went on to Broadway and joined the cast of the interminably running Fantastics. Coupled with Dave's revelation of sexual activity with his room mate, becoming acquainted with Scott and Johnny provided the only significant challenges to the sexual narrative of my self that I would experience for many years. However, they were not powerful enough to change it.  The opportunities they could have presented remained unstoried and, hence, remained in the background. They were like sparks that caught my attention, then receded into some dark space in my mind where they had no impact on how I had come to see my self.

There were other, less sparkling, opportunities for forming a different self perception which continued to present themselves.  One of my closest friends, Stuart, who was a year older than I, turned out to be gay.  In fact, he later opened and operated with his partner of that time Richmond's first, large gay bar. He was a classicist and later a professor of Greek and Latin, but he wasn't part of the Friday evenings wine and cheese group. Stuart was a very talented classical singer, performed in a quartet that sang madrigals, and introduced me to opera and other cultural expressions to which I previously had no exposure. Our own sexualities were never mentioned between us. even when he took me to see a Liberace performance and afterwards spoke about homosexuality and how other people responded to it.  I know now that he was introducing me into a world of gay culture which characterized an important part of gay society of the fifties. What he brought to me became a significant source of pleasure throughout the rest of my life.

One night after he had graduated Stuart came to visit me in my small, basement apartment on Chandler's Court. If that name sounds familiar to you, it may be because it's often mentioned in Christopher Bram's novel, Exiles in America, which is set in Williamsburg. After an evening of dinner and drinking much wine, Stuart walked over to me, curled up at my feet and said he loved me.  While I am not sure how I reacted, I believe the closest description would be not at all. I remember thinking, "this isn't happening." It seems incredible to me that I could just have ignored his profession of love, which was no doubt very hurtful to him, though by the next morning he was colluding with me in acting as if nothing had happened. After I left Virginia we remained friends at a distance for a number of years and I visited him in the seventies with my lover and two children, but that moment between us was never mentioned.

The same summer of my junior year I shared a room with a former fraternity brother with whom I used to double date.  I'm still in touch with Peter today and we've compared our recollections of that time together. You will have probably guessed that he emerged to be gay as well.  Peter was someone to whom I would have admitted to myself I was attracted, while I hadn't been to Stuart.  I don't know how I would have responded if Peter had come out to me, but I never picked up on any sexual vibes coming from him, nor did he feel any interest emanating from me. Peter tells me he had devised a different narrative for not passing from desire to action: that of unrequited love.  He would acknowledge to himself strong attractions to unavailable, reputedly heterosexual, men and imagine having sex with them in vivid detail, whereas I didn't allow my imagination to go that far. His particular narrative may have been harder to break than mine, because it's more readily adaptable to a gay life style through the pursuit of a gay, unavailable man, continuing to protect from actually living a gay relationship.  Peter will emerge again in my life and blog, as he played an important role in my coming out.

I said earlier that one of the first things I had done in my first year of college was to get a girl friend.  Jane was the little sister of my big brother's fiancee in our sister sorority and they introduced us.  How convenient was that?  The fact that I was sometimes attracted to girls was, you'll perhaps remember, a core element in how I viewed my sexual self. We dated for four years, met each others families, but never made explicit plans for life together after college.  Unlike the woman I later married, I wouldn't say I loved Jane, but I was attracted to her. What attracts me to women is mostly an emotional complicity, centered in her face and her way of being. I like strong women and have enjoyed making out and heavy petting with those to whom I've been attracted.  I do not, however, feel much of a sexual attraction for a woman's body, not enough to want to consummate a sexual relationship. Realizing the absence of strong desire, there was almost always the realistic fear of performance.

Some bisexual men at my place on the Kinsey Scale deal with that lack of desire by imagining they're having sex with a man when they're having sex with a woman. I never did that. Firstly, because I didn't permit myself to imagine having sex with a man; secondly, it would have felt somehow dishonest to me; thirdly, it probably wouldn't have worked because I'd be so conscious of what I was attempting. I have been told by some women to whom I was close, who've had experience with more heterosexually inclined men, that my hesitancy was quite evident. It must have been given that I would even share a hotel room with a woman and still contrive not to have sex with her. Being drunk was always a good excuse. Women would sometimes ascribe my reticence to moral or religious principles, which I assure you it wasn't.  I had defined myself into a very confined space within which it wasn't permitted to so much as fantasize, let alone masturbate, thinking about another man, while not really desiring sex with a woman.  I had defined myself into celibacy. At just the right time I discovered within the Church a life style through which to live that celibacy.

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