One doesn't discuss such things among conservative fundamentalists, and God forbid you ask! But by checking carefully for hints and signals, or by catching them "in the act," I have determined that among my 8 pairs of uncles and aunts and 18 cousins, one is gay, and another straight but "open to suggestions."
And I've been watching my nieces and nephews throughout their lives, looking for signs of gayness.
But Josh took me by surprise.
Rock Island, December 2000
Yuri and I flew out to Rock Island to spend a week with my brother Ken. On Christmas Eve we would all drive out to my parents' house in Indiana, and stay there until January 3rd.
Ken lived in a huge, rambling house downtown Rock Island, really two houses crammed together, with two living rooms, two kitchens, four bathrooms, and eight bedrooms. Which he needed: he had seven kids, ranging in age from 18 to 2, plus a seemingly endless array of dogs, cats, parakeets, and hamsters.
And since neither of us was dating anyone special at the time, there really wasn't much to talk about.
At bedtime, we got a small bedroom in an isolated corridor on the second floor, with two twin beds. Of course, we only used one of them.
At 6:00 am on the morning of our third day in Rock Island, I was awakened by an elated voice. "Aha, I knew you were gay!"
I opened my eyes. It was Ken's son Joel, age 14!
"Don't you knock before coming in someone's room?"
"It's my house -- I can go where I want." He grinned. "Don't worry, I won't tell my Dad."
"Why do you care if we are gay?" Yuri asked.
"I don't -- not much, anyway. I mean, it's pretty weird, but as long as I don't have to watch, it's ok." He sat on the foot of the bed. "Did you bring any porn?"
"No! And anyway, it would be gay porn, right?"
Wait -- he wasn't letting us get dressed, and he wanted to see gay porn?
I'd been keeping close tabs on Ken's kids, looking for evidence of gayness, but I hadn't figured on Joel. He was always talking to girls on the telephone, and rushing off to dates with girls. Or was that a screen?
"Joel," I said, "Are you gay?"
"Me? No way!" he exclaimed, offended. "I like girls!" He paused. "So...have you had gay sex?"
"Yes, sure, why?" Yuri asked.
"Well, see..." He paused again. "My friend Max..he's not gay, either. But we were wondering what it's like. Could you...you know, let us watch?"
I thought for a moment. "Tell you what -- meet us for lunch today, and we'll show you how gay guys lose their virginity."
While Joel happily ran off to tell his friend about their upcoming orgy, Yuri punched me on the arm. "Ti choknutiy! You are crazy! We can't do sex with kids!"
"Don't worry, we won't. I said how gay guys lose their virginity. Remember what I told you about that?"
He grinned. "You are a genius!"
That afternoon we met for lunch at Mulkey's, up the street from Augustana College. Max was a cute football jock, wide-eyed at meeting two gay guys, one of them from Russia! We talked about growing up in a world where same-sex desire was never mentioned, where "what girl do you like" was a constant mantra. We told our coming out stories.
Max was more interested in gay culture. "So you were both dating Jaan?" he asked. "Didn't it make you jealous?"
"Not really. Straight guys want exclusive relationships, because they want to make sure that if the woman gets pregnant, the baby is theirs. But gay guys don't have that concern."
But Joel was anxious to get started. "When will we get to see you...you know, do it?
Reddening with embarrassment, Max listed the same steps that I heard as a kid, from #1 (Kissing) to #6 (Putting your penis into her).
"Do you know why Step #6 is last for straight guys?"
They shook their heads.
"Because the girl might get pregnant, so she has to be very careful, and reserve it for only very special relationships. But gay guys don't get pregnant, so they don't care."
"It's not special at all," Yuri added. "We don't even say that it is sex. It's playing around."
"Then what is special?" Joel asked, perplexed.
"This is Step #6 for us." I looked around to see if anyone was nearby, then drew Yuri into my arms and kissed him.
It took a few moments to disentangle myself and face them again. They were both staring.
"Kissing?" Max asked.
"Right. That's how gay guys lose their virginity. It's the most intimate thing you can do. Everything else is just foreplay."
"Not like this. Try it and see."
Joel and Max faced each other, leaned in -- and started to giggle. They leaned in again -- and Josh pushed Max away. Max kissed him on the cheek.
"I guess you're not ready for the advanced step yet," Yuri said. "Give it time."
We never talked about "gay sex" again, though sometimes when I visited at Christmastime, Joel would ask, with a knowing grin, "Are you...kissing anyone special?"
Joel is 28 years old now, a punk rocker with several ex-girlfriends and an eight-year old son. I'm not sure if he's bisexual, straight "but open to suggestions," or just plain straight, but I found Max among his Facebook friends. Max is gay.
See also: Is My Nephew Gay?