Racine, Summer 1965
Heterosexuals are allowed to just "be," their glancing at girls or boys presumed instinctive, universal, unquestionable, as inevitable as sunrise, unworthy of comment but worthy of constant praise. But gay people are constantly asked for a history, or an etiology, for how they Figured It Out, for When They Knew.
Maybe when I was 4 years old, and fumed with righteous indignation when Dad accused me of "liking" the hostess of The Land of Ziggy Zaggy.
Maybe when I was 3 years old, and sneaked out into the living room long past my bedtime to see two men hugging on tv .
Or when my parents gave me a Little Golden Book with a picture of a muscular, loincloth-clad Tarzan on the cover. Probably by age 2.
Or maybe when I met the Bodybuilder on the Beach.
We moved to Racine, Wisconsin just before kindergarten, and stayed through second grade (1965-68). Our house was only a block from Lake Michigan, so we went to the beach almost every day.
The Event happened before my sister was born, so probably in the summer of 1965, when I was four years old. I was playing with a toy dump truck while my father swam and my mother sunbathed. Suddenly a bodybuilder walked past our blanket (I didn't know that word yet, so I called him a Muscle Man).
He stood head and shoulders above any of the other beachgoers. He was as tall and tanned as Hercules, with broad shoulders, a thick, hairy chest, and xylophone-hard abs.
Overcome with joy, I rushed up to him. "Can I touch you, Mister?" I asked, not at all shy.
Grinning, the Muscle Man stopped and flexed. I patted his marble-hard stomach and hairy chest, but I couldn't reach his arms, so he got on his knees. His bicep was enormous, so big that I couldn't cup it in two hands. It was the most amazing thing I had ever felt.
Mom was standing beside me. "Yes, isn't he big and strong?" she said. "I bet all the girls like him."
Girls? But...I was a boy, and I liked him.
"When you grow up, you'll have big muscles like that, and all the girls will like you, too!"
Girls? But...I wanted boys to like me.
She thanked the Muscle Man for putting up with me, and he continued on his way down the beach. He hadn't said a word.
The Event taught me two things:
1. Men were incredible.
2. I wasn't supposed to think so.
I never saw the Muscle Man again.
Nearly 50 years have passed, but not much has changed. Men are still incredible, and I still hear, every day, that I'm not supposed to think so.