08 January 2007

Doin' Time In Gay Man's Hell (Part One)

LUKE 12: 2, 3
(Jesus Christ said) Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.

I've long known that this Scripture pertained directly to the LGBT experience. It speaks to the folly of trying to live in the closet. What I didn't understand until now is that it pertained specifically to me. It's time for me to admit that I've been living in the closet, too!

A few months back, I posted an essay here titled "When Liberation Wasn't Liberating." In it, I criticized the rampant drug abuse and unbridled sexuality Gay men indulged in during the 1970s, and lamented the fact that it was a contributing factor to the AIDS epidemic. I also left the impression that my own behavior had been beyond reproach in those years.

That was misleading, to say the least! I never used illegal drugs, but some of my sex habits could've gotten me in major trouble. If anybody called me a hypocrite right now, I'd have no choice but to plead "no contest"! I need to repent of my previous holier-than-thou attitude, and I've decided to do it publicly. I'm going to share some unsavory information from my past with you.

The sex practices I engaged in a quarter century ago are something I'm deeply ashamed of. To date, I've only ever told one other person about them. That's about to change! Although these revelations will be embarrassing to me, I believe they'll make a positive difference in the lives of younger Gay men; hopefully, my confession will alert them to a pitfall they'll subsequently be smart enough to avoid. This disclosure will also teach me a lesson in humility, and that's a very important quality for a Christian to have!

So if you've ever been tempted to think of Stuffed Animal as some kind of role model, get ready to revise your opinion! I'm as imperfect as the Bible bigots I regularly excoriate on this blog. Step inside my closet door, and look down at the floor: Those oblong things you see are the feet of clay I've kept hidden in there!

When I left home to attend Boston University, I had secret ambitions my parents never dreamed of. I was so eager to have sex with another man for the first time, it was ridiculous! I figured the easiest way to lose my virginity was to go to a Gay bar, so that's what I did. There were several near the campus, and on any given weekend during my freshman year, you'd find me haunting one of them.

However, contrary to what I'd been led to believe, most Gay bars weren't, and still aren't, the pick-up parlors they're made out to be. They're mainly meeting places for friends. I didn't see too many guys cruising each other. Mostly, I saw guys dancing (if it was a dance club), playing pool, catching up on the latest gossip, knocking back beers and/or trying to look fashionable in their leather jackets and freshly-ripped Calvin Klein jeans.

The Gay bars I frequented tended to have mirrored dance floors, and believe me, those stories about narcissistic Disco dancers were true! That dreamboat in the corner was hardly going to notice me when it was all he could do to stop gazing at his own reflection! Needless to say, I didn't find a steady boyfriend going to Gay bars. I didn't find any kind of boyfriend. While I was in college, I think I met a grand total of three sex partners at bars. None of the them lasted much past a couple of nights. I didn't exactly have a knack for choosing compatible lovers!

So I lost my virginity soon enough, but I was still unfulfilled. I wanted love, not just a series of one-night stands. However, I clearly wasn't going to find it on the club circuit! Frustrated, I turned to a student advisor I'd met during orientation week who'd confided his sexual orientation to me. "Dr. Livingston" (not his real name) was very much in the closet, but he knew all about the Gay community in Boston. I figured he could direct me to better places for meeting men. He had some directions for me, all right, but they weren't the kind I expected to hear.

"If it's lovin' you're looking for," he drawled as we sat drinking hot tea in his office, "you can get all you want if you go to this park that's not far from here. Wait until around eight or nine o'clock in the evening. Once it gets dark, there are men everywhere!" I won't pretend that the doctor didn't tell me what to expect; he was very frank. He said some of the men I'd meet might want to take me home with them, but most would prefer to have sex with me right there in the park!

His words shocked me, but they somehow weren't shocking enough to dissuade me from going on that dubious nighttime excursion. Why did I do it? My parents had raised me to know right from wrong, and copulating in public was unquestionably wrong. True, I was only eighteen, and I was obsessed with learning how to navigate the world of same-gender dating, but was that a legitimate excuse? No. Neither was the fact that I was desperate to find a steady boyfriend.

My raging hormones and my naïve Barbara Cartland romance fantasies had compromised my better judgment, but even that didn't explain my willingness to violate indecency laws. I didn't have to go traipsing off to that damn park! I shouldn't have gone. But I did go. I went over and over again.

I don't remember the name of the park anymore. I only remember that it was located near Landsdowne Street, and that it wasn't very big. There were clumps of bushes and trees and overgrown expanses of grass broken up by dirt clearings. In the daytime, people would walk their dogs, and children would occasionally play there. Flooded with sunlight and filled with the animated sounds of birds and squirrels, it was a very innocuous-looking park. Oh, but how its character changed once darkness had fallen!

The bushes came to ominous life with shadowy figures that darted and crept. Now and again, you'd catch the whites of eyes peering at you from behind tree trunks. An insistent rustling noise came from within the grassy expanses. The sound of zippers and belt buckles being furtively undone was everywhere, along with snatches of whispered conversation, sharp intakes of breath and, occasionally, muffled cries of pain.

Venturing into this bizarre moonlight world, I was naturally filled with fear and apprehension. It seemed like a Gay Man's Hell! What was going to happen to me? What kind of men would I meet? And why should I have to meet them under such unusual circumstances?

These are questions millions of young Gay men must have asked themselves over many, many years. The answers have everything to do with heterosexual supremacy and religious bigotry! Since Biblical times, societies have punished people who engage in homosexual relations. At best, Lesbians and Gay men could expect to be ostracized from society. At worst, they could be jailed and/or executed under draconian moral codes! Church leaders denounced them as sex perverts, abominations of nature, degenerates, child predators and worse. It's no exaggeration to say they were portrayed as the spawn of Satan.

This horrendous and persistent persecution drove same-gender love underground. Gay people constructed elaborate heterosexual façades to hide behind. Out of necessity, they began to live double lives. They began meeting in secret places in order to fulfill their sexual needs. There was no falling in love, just quick sex. When you feared arrest at any moment, sex was pretty much all you had time for! It was a survival mentality.

Eventually, some heterosexual folk became aware that this twilight world existed. A lot of them were unscrupulous, and cases of blackmail proliferated. Faced with exposure, many homosexual men and women committed suicide. Many others resigned themselves to living bitter lives in prison or self-imposed exile from family and friends.

There was no such thing as courtship rituals, singles bars or dating services for Gay people. In the decades preceding the modern Gay Rights movement, homosexual identity was synonymous with clandestine behavior, backstreet relationships, obsessive discretion, and above all, a profound sense of shame. People who feel ashamed tend to act it out; hence, the self-destructive complusion to sneak into darkened city parks and perform hurried sex acts with strangers. That compulsion persists even in today's less repressive circumstances. You can still venture into certain wooded areas at night and find men copulating in the bushes like wild animals. All kinds of men, from every walk of life! The only thing they have in common is an intense desire for intimate contact with another male body.

Clubs and bars that cater to a Gay clientele can be unofficially segregated by age, ethnicity, body type and/or class distinctions. Believe me, no such segregation existed in that Boston park! I encountered old and young men. I saw Black, White and Hispanic men. I saw Ivy League men, middle class men, and homeless men. I saw men who were fat, slender, and every body type inbetween. We were all equal there. We were all hiding. We were all desperate. We were all acting out our shame at being Gay.

In this unlikely setting, I was constantly trying to create an illusion of romance with the men I coupled with. I would try to hold hands with them, embrace them, caress them, kiss them, tell them they were handsome. I was always rebuffed. Always!

Typical of these aborted love scenes was the reaction I got one night from a very attractive man in his late twenties or early thirties. He was probably Italian-American or Jewish; he looked so much like the Rock star Bruce Springsteen (who I didn't know anything about until much later), I couldn't resist kissing him. Big mistake! He recoiled so violently, I thought he was having a seizure. "No kissing," he hissed. After another few minutes, my clumsy attempts at lovemaking had unnerved him completely, and he drifted away into the bushes.

Only later did I understand what he was trying to tell me. He was sending me a cultural message, one that I'd certainly heard before but had never paid attention to: Intimacy wasn't something to be shared between two men. A man could only be intimate with a woman. Acts of tenderness (if you were at all capable of performing them) were reserved for women; that's what society dictated.

How dare I act as if we were making love? We weren't making love. We were just "relieving" each other. What we were doing was akin to using the bathroom. It was a shameful, nasty and unpleasant task to be completed as hastily as possible; why else would we be doing it under cover of darkness and foliage?

Homosexual desire wasn't beautiful. It wasn't romantic. It was a necessary nuisance, like needing to urinate or defecate. Therefore, we were supposed to gratify ourselves physically, and then discard one another like squares of soiled toilet tissue. I tried to internalize that attitude, but (thankfully) I just couldn't!

"Doin' Time In Gay Man's Hell" concludes with Part Two.