Saturday, February 21, 2015

What Gay Means

See The Fairy at the Courthouse."

Dating my Boyfriend's Girlfriend

Rock Island, Fall 1976

In the fall of 1976, shortly after Todd and I spent the night together at music camp, I tried to win him by dating his girlfriend, Faith.

She was establishing her autonomy joining every club she could find that Todd didn’t belong to -- Writers’, Swedish, Circle K, Archery, Golf – and in October she got around to the fundamentalist Christian club, Campus Life. I didn't have my driver's license yet, so I asked her for a ride home, thinking vaguely that she might be meeting Todd, and ask me to tag along.

On the first Monday night, we chatted for a few minutes as she dropped me off.

On the second Monday night, we parked for a long time, while she complained about Todd.  Seven years of engagement, and he treated her like a buddy! No parking on the levee to watch the Mississippi flow past! No “getting some” on her doorstep!

“You kiss!” I exclaimed. “I’ve seen you kiss, in the cafeteria.”

“That’s only for show, so Todd can brag to all his friends,” Faith said, witch eyes flashing. “When we’re alone, he’s a drip, all cold and stiff like a dead fish.”

“Maybe he’s waiting for your wedding night?"
"He doesn't even like to hold hands!  Even his sister says he’s a Swish!”

I winced at the forbidden word. “You’re from East Moline! Why would a Swish want to marry you? They can’t stand being around women.”

“For a screen. They marry women so no one gets wise.” She paused. “Maybe I should just dump Todd.”

I was starting to get nervous.  Girls usually dumped their boyfriends only when they found someone they liked better, and that would be. . .me!   I quickly said goodnight and left.

But then I thought, this might be useful.  If I dated Faith -- briefly -- Todd would be jealous, and fall into my arms.

Ok, I was fifteen years old, and not thinking clearly.

On the third Monday, we sat in the darkened car for almost an hour, talking about Faith’s frustration,  Todd’s lack of interest in her, or apparently in any girl, on and on, with no jokes, no wit, nothing to relieve the boredom. Finally I leaned forward, pushed briefly against her cold, hard lips and then jumped from the car and crushed across the dead leaves to my door.

On Tuesday I expected Faith to make a "just friends" speech, but she chatted as if nothing had happened.  So I asked her to a concert on Saturday.  She agreed.

My parents spent the rest of the week variously jumping for joy and weeping that I was "growing up."  My friends congratulated me as if I had won a major competition.  No one cared that she was Todd's girlfriend -- it was expected, even obligatory, to wrest the Girl of Your Dreams from the place-holder she was dating.

But the date never happened.  On Thursday night she called. "I didn't plan on it, but I can't go to the concert.  I met a guy, and. . .I didn't plan on it. . .but I Fell in Love With Him."

“Huh?” I said, as articulately as possible, given the situation. This was an unexpected development, and quite unwelcome. For one thing,  I was looking forward to the concert.

“I met the One! Isn’t it wonderful?”
“Um. . .when did all this happen?”
“Yesterday.” It seems that on Wednesday evening, Faith went a Photography Club Halloween party, where she danced with, drank blood punch with, kissed, and Fell in Love with a jock named Kent. I knew him from my athletic trainer job: tall and firm-muscled, with a pleasantly open face. . .and the biggest penis I had ever seen.  We had to order a special extra-extra large cup for him.

Faith apologized for not calling to break the date last night, but after Falling in Love she had to call to dump Todd, and he cried so hard that she felt guilty and needed comforting in Kent’s muscular arms. (Right, comforting! I thought savagely.) Then  – two or three hours later -- it was too late to call.

One more thing: could you surrender the tickets, for use with her True Love?

I couldn’t think of a response sufficiently acidic, so I yelled “Waste your time doing some-thing else!” and slammed down the telephone. I stayed home moping on Saturday night, staring at my unused tickets, feeling jealous and outraged and sad.

Why was I so miserable?  I didn't really want to date Faith.  But now we wouldn't be talking about Todd every Monday night, so in a weird way he was no longer part of my life.

See also: My First Sexual Experience

Friday, February 20, 2015

Grandma Finds Me a Boyfriend

Marion, Indiana, July 1975

My childhood church got its start in the camp meeting revivals of the late 19th century, and they still held Camp Meetings every summer: hundreds of people from all over the district sleeping in bunks in drafty cabins and listening to screaming fire-and-brimstone sermons in open-air tabernacles.  There were also prayer meetings and Bible studies and potluck dinners -- but no games or sports or nature hikes.  They went to "get on fire for God," not to have fun.

Or rather, the praying, reading the Bible, and getting screamed at was the fun.  Preachers said that this was what our eternity in heaven would be like.


My parents never went to Camp Meeting, preferring to spend their summer vacation on an actual vacation, but my Grandma Davis went every year, and during the summer of 1975, just after ninth grade at Washington Junior High, she insisted on bringing me along.

An open-air tabernacle
I protested heartily -- I was full of conflicting emotions after my breakup with Dan and the incident at my last wrestling match, and the last thing I wanted to do was to hang out with old people for three days. But the adults all insisted: "You'll hear some good old-time preaching, and get some fresh air!  It will be good for you!"

We didn't even go to the camp meeting in Manville, where I would know some people -- it was the Indiana camp meeting in Marion, a suburb of Indianapolis.

And much worse than I expected.  Hardly any kids my age around, nothing to do except get screamed at, and an endless procession of  oldsters saying "Last time I saw you, you were a tiny baby!"  and "Aren't you a big boy!  I'll bet you're twelve years old already!"

I was fourteen.

On the second day, Grandma Davis appeared at the lunch potluck with a cute blond boy in tow. "This is Sister Malcolm's grandson Scott," she said.  "He's in ninth grade, just like you."

"Hi," I said politely.  We shook hands.

"Do you want to go around with him?"

Scott grinned at me.

Suddenly thinking of the possibilities, I grinned back.

Scott and I  "went around" that day and most of the next, sneaking out to have Tom Sawyer adventures while the adults were all praying and moaning and getting screamed at. We explored the woods around the camp, and found two Indian arrow heads.

I taught Scott how to pee into the wind, like my Uncle Paul taught me.

I nearly convinced him to go skinny-dipping in a little stream near the camp, but at the last moment he insisted on keeping his underwear on.

We got to sleep together "under the stars."  It wasn't like my night with Todd the next summer, but it was intimate enough.

Was Grandma Davis deliberately trying to provide a replacement for Dan?  I doubt it -- she talked about my future wife and kids even more often than my parents did.  But she did advise me to "find a nice Christian boy" last year, so she knew that I liked hanging out with guys.

After she died, I found evidence that she had encountered gay people before, during the 1920s.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Childhood Crush #18: The Estonian Wrestling Brothers

There are only about 25,000 people of Estonian ancestry in the United States, as opposed to 1.2 million of Swedish ancestry.  But when I was growing up in Rock Island, Estonia appeared in my life nearly as often as Sweden, giving me an early impression that it was a "good place," where same-sex desire was open and free.

1. In 4th grade at Denkmann Elementary School, Bill's parents took us to a performance by the Estonian National Ballet at Augustana College. I don't remember the piece (this is from Modigliani, the Cursed Artist in the 2012-13 season).

2. Our 4th grade teacher considered Estonia part of Scandinavia for some reason, and told us Estonian folktales and the story of Kalevipoeg.

3. At a garage sale in 5th or 6th grade, I bought a book written in Finnish. I couldn't read it, of course -- the lady at sale told me that the title meant Come to Estonia-- but there were some nice pictures of Estonian houses, monuments, and the naked statue of Kalevipoeg by Kristjan Raud, plus some shirtless Estonian men (not this photo).

4. In 9th grade at Washington Junior High, I was playing the violin and coveting the position of first chair, when one day in the spring, a slim, sandy-haired 7th grader named George (top photo, left) appeared out of nowhere and easily won the audition.

A few weeks later, I entered a chess tournament, and George was my first opponent.  A 7th grader -- an easy win! I thought.  Nope, he trounced me in five moves!

It was annoying to be beaten in everything, but George was cute, and my boyfriend Dan was becoming more and more distant, so I thought of making "the switch."  I told George that I was on the wrestling team, and offered to show him some moves.  "I'll show you Estonian wrestling!" he offered.

It turned out to be Graeco-Roman wrestling.  He pinned me easily.  

George's parents were refugees from Communist Estonia.  His father worked in the factory, but he had been an athlete of some sort back home.  There was a picture of him and his muscular, shirtless teammates on the mantle (not this one).

George had a older brother, a 11th grader named Kristjan, who was just as accomplished.  One day all three of us practiced Estonian wrestling in their basement rec room.

We never became close friends, but I still have warm memories of two muscular bodies pressed against me.

(Photo from Alo Paistik, an Estonian artist living in Paris, whose Applied Art for a Gay Club is on display at gay clubs around Europe.)

5. At Augustana College, the professor who taught my first-year music theory class was Estonian (no doubt he was the one who arranged to have the Estonian National Ballet visit a few years before).  He gave me a B- on my paper on Peer Gynt.  He wore jeans to class -- a remarkable feat of daring for a professor in the 1970s, and one which offered proof of why Kristjan Raud always depicted his models nude.

Finding a Way to Fondle Phil

What I Thought Phil Looked Like
Rock Island, November 1974

When I was a kid, most church services ended with an altar call, an invitation to come down to the front of the sanctuary, kneel at the long, low wooden rail, and ask God to forgive your sins (we called it becoming a Christian or getting saved, because you were "saved" from an eternity in hell).

It wasn't easy -- you had to work, sobbing and begging and moaning, for at least ten minutes, sometimes more.  And afterwards, the most trivial of sins -- an angry word, a lustful thought, a glance at the Sunday newspaper -- would negate your salvation, so you'd have to start all over again.

So it was not unusual to go down several times a year, and some especially sensitive types went down at almost every service.

Usually adults -- teens had regular invitations to "bow your head right here and ask God to forgive you" in Sunday School (just before the morning service) and NYPS (just before the evening), so we were usually saved by the time the altar call came around.

But in ninth grade, the first year that I was officially a teenager, I discovered a benefit to going down to the altar (other than the not going to hell thing).

Praying Through to Victory was such hard work that you needed someone by your side, hugging you, holding you, entreating God on your behalf.  Whenever you went to the altar, therefore, Christians (always of the same sex) rushed down to help.  Two, three, or even more, depending on your popularity. 

Phil and Friend
They pressed against you, hugging and holding, arms around waists and shoulders, and when you successfully Prayed Through, you became a single mass, bear-hugging and back-slapping and pressing together.  During those moments, I felt a lifetime's worth of hard muscle, and sometimes even private parts pressed surreptitiously against me.

Going down to the altar let me get hugged, held, and caressed by the preacher, the preacher's kid, Brother Dino who I saw naked at summer camp, and lots of other cute boys and men.

And the next service, if I was still saved, I had carte blanche to go down and touch, hold, hug, and fondle any guy I liked.

But never the guy I wanted most: Phil, a 12th grader, president of the NYPS (Nazarene Young People's Society) and Captain of the Jump Quiz Team, tall and broad-shouldered, probably barrel-chested, with a impressive hardness beneath his Sunday suit.

He was not only hunky, he was the coolest guy I had ever met: he and his parents lived in an apartment (how cool was that?), he worked at Country Style and could get us free milkshakes; he had actually read The Hobbit instead of dismissing it as Satanic; and he wasn't afraid to make friends with Catholics -- "if you don't talk to them, how will you ever win them for Christ?"

During every altar call, I eyed Phil hungrily, praying for him to go down.  And when I went down myself, part of my prayer was for "Phil to be here."  But it never happened.

Most likely Phil never went down himself because he had achieved entire sanctification, where you are literally unable to commit sins.  But even the sanctified could go down to help others pray through!  His reluctance was infuriating!

If I was ever going to, I mean hug...Phil, I would have to use strategy.

1. Girls

One day I approached Phil during Afterglow, the teen party after the Sunday evening service. "I'm troubled about something, and I want to ask for God's guidance.  Could you help me?"

"Is it about girls?"

"Um..sure, I guess."

He motioned for me to kneel against his couch, and he knelt beside me -- not touching!  After about five minutes of listening to him implore God to keep me safe from temptation, I had enough and got up.

Country Style in Moline, Illinois
2. An Emotional Song

Nazarenes considered it inappropriate for men to touch each other, except while Praying Through to Victory or during especially emotional songs. So one night during NYPS, we were sitting in a circle on folding chairs to "rap."  I positioned myself next to Phil and suggested singing "They'll Know We Are Christians," the most emotional song in the hymnal.

At the line "We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand," I took his hand.  He looked at me oddly, but didn't resist, and everyone else took his lead and held hands with their neighbor.

Afterwards I reached over to hug him, but he quickly disentangled himself, sprang to the center of the circle.  "Ok, who has a testimony?" he exclaimed, his cheeks somewhat ruddy with embarrassment.

3. Heresy

Theoretically the sanctified were incapable of committing sins, but in fact they often backslid, and had to start the whole process over again. I didn't want Phil to commit an actual sin and risk hellfire, but maybe something a bit questionable, something that would make him wonder if he had backslid and rush down to the altar to check.

How about doubting the Word of God?   The church taught that the Bible was literally dictated by God, historically accurate, without error.  It wasn't a sin to believe otherwise, but it was suspect.

David and part of Goliath
One Sunday evening during NYPS, I said "David killed Goliath with his slingshot.  That's an incontrovertable fact, right?"  David was one of my favorite beefcake stars of the Bible.

"Of course," Phil said.  "It's the Word of God."

"But 2 Samuel 2:19 says that Goliath was killed by Elhanan.  How can you be killed by two people at once?"

He looked up the passage.  " Bible says the brother of Goliath."

"Oh, you're using the King James version.  It's a mistranslation.  The New International Version..."

"There's no such thing as a mistranslation," Phil said firmly.  God guides the hands of the translators..."

"Then how can it say 'brother' in one version and not in another."

"It must be a mistranslation."  The other teens twittered. He started to redden. "Don't be so nitpicky.  Just believe that the Bible is the Word of God, so there can't be any contradictions.  Period."

"Then Elphanan killed both Goliath and his brother, and then Goliath came back from the dead so David could kill him? Yeah, that makes perfect sense!"

"Dammit, Boomer, show some respect for  God's Word!"

The room got very quiet.  Phil paled as he realized that he had just lost his salvation.

I was choked with remorse.  I wanted Phil to experience doubt, not the far more serious sins of Anger and Swearing!

That night we both went down to the altar.  But at least I got my, I mean hug.

See also: Cousin Phil's Boyfriend

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Secret Message of "Brian Gives Free LBJs"

Rock Island, July 1981

After reading my post on  "The Secret Message" you probably thought that the graffiti "Brian gives free LBJs" referred to some sort of sexual act.  But the real meaning was something much more profound.

I found out in the spring of 1981, my junior year at Augustana.  A student who was from Chicago, like Brian, said that in his grade school, the older boys would force or bribe the younger boys to run errands and do chores for them,  like the "fags" of British boarding school (possibly the origin of the derogatory term for gay men).

 It was called "doing a LBJ" or "giving a LBJ," after President Lyndon Baines Johnson (he didn't know why).

That summer, the famous summer of 1981, I looked up Brian, an undergraduate drama major at Carthage College.  We had a pizza at Happy Joe's, and then parked on the levee and watched the cars glistening by on the Centennial Bridge.  I talked about the day we  found Brian scrubbing at the graffiti on the wall of Washington Junior High, and how I had just discovered that a LBJ meant a chore.

"But I don't understand why a Mean Boy would write 'Brian gives free LBJs.'  What's so bad about doing free chores?"

Brian hesitated for only a moment.  "They weren't bad.  The big boys were cute, and sometimes they would let me hang out with them.  Sometimes we would hug.  I liked the way a big guy's arms felt around me. . .I wanted that. . ."

My face reddened as I realized that he was revealing something very personal.   "Um...did you ever find out who wrote it?"

"You know what? I’ve never told anybody this before, but it was me. I wrote it.”

His face was turned away, toward the  rushing river. “Why would you write 'Brian gives free lbjs’ about yourself?”

“I don’t know. I was a mixed up kid, I guess. That’s why I was trying to erase it."

“Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“Tell you what?”

“That you’re gay."

Brian stared at me for a moment, small and fragile, alone. Then he was angry. “I am not!” he exclaimed.  “Maybe I was a confused kid, but no way am I gay!”

"Ok, ok, whatever," I said.  "But do you still like it when big guys hug you?"

I didn't wait for him to answer.

Brian and I dated a few times during the very busy summer of 1981, but that night was more about friendship, and recognition, and belonging.

Sausage Sighting #3: Brother Dino in the Boys' Shower Room

In the summer of 1974, just after eighth grade at Washington Junior High, I went to Manville, our summer camp on the prairie, and got engaged to a girl named Sarah, because she said God gave her a Vision of My Future.  But I had a mercenary aim -- Nazarene missionaries had to be married, so only by marrying  Sarah could I escape to Saudi Arabia with my boyfriend Dan.

We were engaged for exactly three days, from Tuesday to Friday.  Then God gave me a Vision of my own.

On Friday afternoon Sarah and I walked into the woods where boys and girls went to kiss, and stumbled across a counselor necking with his girlfriend (I don't remember his name, but he looked sort of like this guy).

Suppressing giggles, we hid behind bushes and watched as he pushed his hand under her shirt and felt her boobs, what Marty called "stealing third base"on this very spot two years ago.

 It occurred to me that every Nazarene preacher, every missionary, every minister of music had pushed his hand under the shirt of his girlfriend or wife and felt her boobs.    And had sex with her.  It was a job requirement.

Sooner or later, Sarah would expect me to do that.

But it wasn't going to happen. Watching the counselor fondling his girlfriend's boobs, I knew that intimate acts with a girl were out of the question, period.

But if I didn't get married and have sex with girls, I couldn't become a missionary.  Then  how could Dan and I escape to Saudi Arabia?

I left Sarah at her afternoon crafts class and walked down the mosquito-infested pathway toward the boys' cabins.  "God, give me a Vision," I prayed.  "Tell me your Will for my life."

I stopped at the low cream-colored building called the Boys' Bath House.  It was deserted -- most boys used the bathroom in the cafeteria, or went in the woods, and only showered when forced to.  It was disgusting, stinking of urine and bleach, and there were spider webs in the toilet stalls.

But today I heard the shower running, and felt its hot, moist steam on my face.  Who would be showering in the middle of the afternoon?  I walked over and peeked beyond the yellow stone wall.

It was Brother Dino, my counselor (and back home, my Sunday School teacher).  Standing under the stream, briskly soaping his firm, hairy chest.  Rivulets of water ran over his muscular belly and down into his patch of dark pubic hair and onto his enormous penis.  I could definitely imagine stealing third base and hitting home runs with him!

Before Brother Dino could turn around and see me, I ducked behind the stone wall, did my business at a urinal, and rushed back to my cabin.

That was the vision!  I thought excitedly.  God has shown me His Will -- He wants me to be with a man!

See also: Brother Dino's Stripper Sons; Cruising Religious Boys; The Preacher Pops a Boner

Summer 1974: Engaged at Summer Camp

Manville, Illinois, Summer 1974

I have a confession to make: during the summer after 8th grade at Washington Junior High, shortly after my boyfriend Dan and I decided to run away to Saudi Arabia together, I got engaged.  To a girl.

Manville, our Nazarene summer camp on the prairie, had church services every morning and evening, with altar calls, sports, and jump quiz practice in between.  In Tuesday morning's chapel, I happened to sit next to a short, rather husky girl who bore an extraordinary resemblance to Jimmy on H.R. Pufnstuf: rounded features, red lips, houlder-length black hair. During the altar call, she glanced over at my Bible and saw Psalm 2:8 marked with the initials S.A.: “Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.”

“Who’s S.A.?” she whispered.

“Saudi Arabia,” I said.  I was framing our escape as a missionary endeavor. “God’s Will is for me to become a missionary to the Bedouins of the Empty Quarter."

“No, I don’t think so. God didn’t say anything about Arabia. He said you should go to West Germany."  Her voice was calm, matter of fact, as if she had said “No, the test is on Chapter Three, not Chapter Two.”

Germany was a bona fide Nazarene mission field, all Lutheran or Catholic.  Still, I was astonished.  “When did God tell you that?” I asked.

“In the service last night.  I at you, and God gave me a vision of you preaching in a big stadium in Munich.  You were leading an altar call, and hundreds of people were Praying Through."  She began to sing "Just as I Am," our altar call hymn, in German. “Oh, Gottes Lamm, Ich komme. . . .Ich komme.”

All Nazarene kids knew that God had a specific Will for us, usually a career for the boys and a marital partner for the girls.  He might reveal it through "a small still voice," or through "opening a door," or, most dramatically, through a Vision of Our Future.

"Why would God give you a vision of my future?"

“It was for both of us," she said.  "I was playing the organ, so obviously His Will is for you to become a missionary in Germany, and me to be your wife."

“No, I already heard His Will," I protested.  "It's to go to Saudi Arabia with my friend Dan.  Definitely with Dan."

"He told me Germany.  And who knows, this Dan guy might be there too, with his wife."

"That's crazy!  We're not going to have wives!  We're going to be missionaries together, like Paul and Barnabas."

The altar call was over, so I walked out with the others into the heat of mid July. The girl -- her name was Sarah -- followed me toward my Bible study class.

"You can't be a missionary without a wife!" she said.  "You have to go to the field as a team, like Adam and Eve."

I laughed.  "You're crazy!"

 But I found my cabin counselor, Brother Dino, who was my Sunday school teacher back home (the one whose sons became male strippers later).  He went to the office and dug up a list of requirements for the Nazarene ministry.  You had to be male, at least 21 years old, saved and sanctified, never divorced, never a Roman Catholic -- and married!

So, in order to escape to a "good place" with Dan, I would need a wife!  God said so!  Later I met Sarah in the snack bar and gave her my grim consent to our future wedding.

Manville Camp, with the woods on the right
We were engaged for part of Tuesday and all day Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  We ate our meals together in the camp canteen, sat together in chapel and the evening service, and even walked through the woods behind the tabernacle where boys and girls went to kiss -- though we never kissed.  Sarah hated "that mushy stuff" as much as I did.

I enjoyed being engaged -- being seen with a girl got me endless triumphant shoulder-pats, thumbs up, cries of "Awright!," and approving grins.  It meant absolute, unwaivering acceptance, none of that awkward confusion or the deliberate refusal to see that happened when I was with a boy.  Not bad!

We were engaged for exactly three days.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Two Boys Kissing at Longview Park Pool

Rock Island, July 1973

I don't remember much of what happened on that day in the summer of 1973, about a month before we visited my Kentucky kinfolk and I met the Teenage Indian God.

 I don't know why practically everybody I knew was at the Longview Park pool:

Peter, the only Asian boy in school, who would participate in the streaking adventure next year.
My best friend Bill.
Dan, the boy I met in the girls' locker room, who had dirty blond hair and a gay-coded lilt to his voice (thought I didn't know what gay meant yet)
My brother and his best friend.

It was one of those bitingly hot, oppressive days that you sometime get in the Midwest, where the heat literally sizzles in the air and you can't walk more than a few steps without getting soaked. The pool was crowded with glistening bodies, mostly high schoolers, breathtakingly beautiful although dangerous – a bounce in the step or a lilt in the voice might draw their wrath, and result in a shove at a girl or a forced swimsuit removal.  I was standing with Dan at the four foot mark, where the bottom slid abruptly into the deep end, relishing the feeling of endless space. But when I bobbed under the water for a moment, Dan was gone!

Anxiously I scanned the surface of the pool for boys with dirty-blond hair.

The pool had been noisy, with screams and laughter and fifty gossiping or bragging voices, but now it was so quiet that I could hear David Cassidy singing “I Think I Love You” from far away, maybe from a transistor radio over by the bath house, or farther afield, from someone’s picnic on the grass that sloped down the Bluffs. But the song hadn’t played regularly on the radio for years! I had a strange feeling of being unstuck in time, as if I had tripped accidentally into the past like Barnabas Collins on Dark Shadows.

I pulled myself out of the pool. The damp concrete was hot beneath my bare feet, the air thick and heavy, smelling of chlorine and suntan oil and Raid, the spray used to keep bugs off. I walked around the shallow end, past the baby pool, and then along the western perimeter, where a chain link fence looked down the Bluffs. Then I saw a churning in the deep end, like a cauldron boiling.

Some Mean Boys were trying to drown Dan!

Why wasn’t the lifeguard intervening? Or any of the adults?  Why were they all pretending not to notice?
I dove into the hot, frothing water to rescue him myself.

I don't know if the rest was a dream or not: I saw Dan's torso, his shoulders, his tousled dirty-blond hair -- he was kissing Bill!  Their arms and legs were intertwined, their bodies were pressing rhythmically together, and they were kissing!

Writhing with jealousy, I tried to pull them apart. Dan pushed me away with his hand. I head a sickening thud.

The next thing I remember is lying on the concrete at poolside, a hard-muscled guy, sopping wet, kneeling over me, holding my eye open.  He had blood on his hands.  I found out later that he was a medical student who had fished me out of the water and performed first aid.

An emergency room visit and five stitches later, I was back home in bed, eating ice cream.

They told me that I tried diving off the edge of the pool and doing a somersault, but I miscalculated and hit the side.

That makes more sense than what I remember, unconscious fears and anxieties bubbling to the surface when I didn't even know the word "gay" yet.

Afterwards I rarely went into a swimming pool again, and I always jumped in feet first -- no diving. And Bill and I grew even more distant.  The last time I visited his house was for a Halloween party in 10th grade, and I spent most of the evening talking to his big brother Mike, who used to call me "Bud" and drive us places.

My Kentucky Kinfolk

Eastern Kentucky, Summer 1973

My mother was born in the hills of eastern Kentucky, and moved to Indiana as a child.  She always felt like an exile; the hills were her true home.  So she was a big fan of all things Southern, from hayseed comedies to Glen Campbell

We drove down in a camper in the summer of 1973, about a month after I saw two boys kissing at Longview Park Pool, to visit her older brothers, uncles and aunts, and sundry kinfolk left behind in the hills.

My Uncle El lived in a cabin like that in the Beverly Hillbillies, with electricity from a generator outside, and tv, but no running water.  There was an outhouse back by the chicken coop.

There was no town, just a feed store a mile away, where you could get ice cream and candy, if you didn't mind eating it beside giant bags of fertilizer.

No books of any sort.  Not even comic books.  I saw a Bible in a great-aunt's house.

No teen idols -- even the teenagers listened only to Country-Western music.

They only got one tv station, from West Virginia, with The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family on Friday nights, but otherwise nothing good on.

But:  Uncle El and his wife had something around 12 kids, with three teenage sons and some toddlers still at home. My cousins (El, Graydon, and Dayton, who I met for the first time at Uncle Paul's wedding) had tight, muscular chests and thick biceps, and wore only overalls or cut-off jeans.

At night, since water had to be trotted up from a pump outside, we had to bathe together.  And we slept three to a bed, wearing only underwear, pressed together in the night.

They had two friends, Robbie and Sam -- I never knew if they were brothers, cousins, or lovers -- who drove us in a rickety red pick-up truck up the mountain to a stream where we all went swimming.  Nude.

Not one of them ever mentioned a girl, or asked me about what girl I liked.

One night they drove us into Salyersville, about 10 miles away, for a drive in movie: Cahill, U.S. Marshall, starring John Wayne as a sheriff whose two sons escape from prison and rob a bank. Later the Duke and Danny (Gary Grimes) try to return the money.  They were father and son, but the erotic tension between them was palpable, especially on a hot night in the hills, sitting in the back of a pickup truck with a group of tanned, shirtless musclemen.

I know now that Eastern Kentucky is one of the least gay-friendly regions in the U.S.

But in 1973, I wanted to stay forever.

Instead, we spent a week at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

See also: The Shy Boy at the Bathhouse; and My Grandpa Howard's Gay Connection

Monday, February 16, 2015

Slow Dancing with Boys at Washington Junior High

Rock Island, September 1972

When I was in 6th and 7th grades, I was told incessantly about my upcoming "discovery of girls."  No matter that I thought "girls are yucky!" now.  One day soon, very soon, I would awaken changed, my body and my mind aching to kiss, hold, hug, and have sex with girls.

My parents, my teachers, Brother Reno, Grandma Davis, my cousin Joe -- they all insisted that it would happen, it was a fact of life, universal human experience, as inevitable as sunrise. As the days and months of 6th and 7th grade passed, they became more insistent, constantly interrogating me: "Do you like girls yet?  What about now?  Now?  Now?"

Meanwhile, the school kept trying to jump-start my "discovery."

One Friday afternoon shortly the beginning of 7th grade at Washington Junior High, we were all herded into a gymnasium decorated with red and gold streamers, the boys and girls on separate sides. A table on the north side had rows of paper cups full of beet-red punch and piles of sugar cookies that looked like they had been sitting around since Christmas.

“What’s going on?” I asked my friends (my boyfriend Bill wasn't there; he had football practice). They didn’t know, so I approached a hulking Ninth Grader.

"It’s the canteen,” he grunted.  "It's to teach all you Spazzes how to dance with girls."
"I'm not dancing with any girls!"

He laughed, a short derisive laugh.  “That’s what you think, Gomer! Nobody gets out of here alive unless you ask a little cutie pie if you can drag her, and she says ‘Oh, yes, please do!’”  The last came in a squealing falsetto.

"My church doesn't allow dancing.  It's a sin in the eyes of God.  I can get an excuse from the Preacher."

Soon a teacher walked onto the stage and announced that it was “time to dance.” He put a single on the record player: "Song Sung Blue," by Neil Diamond.  A few boys crossed the wilderness of tan, gleaming boards and dragged girls onto the dance floor. Others followed, until eventually most Ninth Graders and quite a few younger boys made the trek.

My friends and I stood our ground.  No one tried to force us, though once a teacher clomped over and announced with a grin that we couldn't hold out forever – in a matter of days or weeks, or months at the most, our ache of desire would overpower our shyness, and we would cross the wilderness of tan, gleaming boards, and approach the Girl of our Dreams, and become men.

That's never going to happen!  I thought savagely.

I noticed a few boys, maybe a dozen, on the east side of the gym, mixed in with the girls, chatting casually.

“Why don’t they have to drag girls?” I wondered aloud. “Are they already men?”

“Man, you got fruit-loops for brains?” my Ninth Grade informant exclaimed. “They’re the exact diametric opposite of men. They’re Fairies!”

“Like. . .um. . .in Mother Goose?” I asked, perplexed.

“Naw, Gomer...remember Acting like a Girl, the stuff that got Mean Boys on your case in diaper school?  Fairies are like that, but tons worse – they pretend they really are girls! So they hang out with girls instead of hugging and kissing them!  But they can't hold out forever!  Watch this!"

He suddenly vaulted across the gym to the girls' side, grabbed a seventh-grade Fairy, and dragged him out onto the dance floor.  They slow danced until two teachers rushed in and pulled them apart.  Everyone laughed.

"He was too obvious," I thought, not realizing that he intended to humiliate the younger boy.  "I can hide it, I bet."

I scanned the girls' side of the room.  I saw Dan, who would become my second boyfriend, but for some reason I decided on a cute dark-haired 7th grader named Brett, who was engrossed in a conversation with a girl.  I tromped over and asked "Wanna dance?" with a friendly, non-threatening smile.

Brett stepped aside, thinking I meant his friend.


He stared, his eyes wide with suspicion.

"Not a slow dance, a regular modern dance," I explained, "Where you don't touch each other."


"It's crowded...who will know?"

He looked to his friend for advice.  "Oh, go on," she said, pushing him toward me.

I took Brett's hand -- warm, damp with embarrassment -- and led him onto the dance floor.  We danced to "Knock Three Times" and "I Feel the Earth Move," careful to always have a girl nearby and constantly move across the dance floor to avoid discovery.

It worked wonderfully!  I was dancing, laughing and joyous, with a boy.

I kept it up for several weeks, dancing with Brett or other from the girls' side of the gym.

Then, like Icarus, I flew too close to the sun.  One afternoon Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" came on, a slow dance. Most of the kids on the dance floor fled to their respective sides of the gym.

Brett looked at me quizzically.  "It's ok," I said.  We began to dance, slowly, not touching, but close, gazing into each other's eyes.  I wanted to hold him in my arms, I wanted to kiss him.  So I reached out and took both of his hands.

Then someone grabbed me and jerked me roughly backwards.  It was a teacher.  "Picking on a kid, just because he's smaller than you!" he snarled.  "A week's detention!  Brett, you can go home."

After that, I got an excuse from my Preacher to sit out the canteens.

Brett and I stayed friends, but we never danced again.

See also: Why Corpses are Called Stiffs

Summer 1972: Marty Goes Past First Base

Manville, Summer 1972

In the summer after sixth grade, shortly after I was disappointed over the lack of muscles at Little Bit O'Heaven, I spent a week at Manville Nazarene Camp (ironic name unintended) as a "grown up."

Kids who had just finished 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades went to separate boys' and girls' camps, but then you went to co-ed junior high camps (6th-8th grade) and high school camps (9th-11th grade).

Boys and girls were camping together for the first time, and the staff was determined to make us know it .

Last year our counselors were the Sanderson Brothers, but this year it was a ministerial student named Brother Dexter: tall, wide-eyed, and thickly-built,  and obsessed with pushing boys and girls together. When I sat anywhere in the vicinity of a girl, he grinned and punched my shoulder in congratulations. But once when I sat next to a cute boy,  he said “Cheer up! You’ll find someone!”, as if being with a boy was exactly the same as being alone.

During the daily boys-only "rap sessions," Brother Dexter sat on a chair backward and made painful attempts to use "with-it" slang as he advised us on our upcoming rush of hetero-horniness: only date Christian girls, don't go to dances or movies, don't ready dirty magazines like Playboyand no matter how you are tempted, keep yourself "pure."  "Don't go past First Base until your wedding night!"

First Base?  What was he talking about?

That night after altar call, when the kids were waiting in line at the snack bar or taking walks in the darkness, I asked a boy named Marty, a tall, skinny 9th grader with strawlike hair and a pie-pan face.  He wasn't cute, but he was three years older than me and knew everything.

Marty took me into the woods behind the tabernacle, where boys sometimes gathered to sneak cigarettes and kiss girls, and explained that sex came in stages, like running bases in baseball.

“Ok, so stealing first base is hugging, and scoring first base is kissing her on the mouth.  That's as far as Johnny Nazarenes ever go.  So stealing second base is necking."

“Biting the girl on the neck, like a vampire?” I interrupted, remembering Greg’s mouth on my neck.  I could still feel the pinpricks of his fangs. Had Greg stolen second base?

Chuckling at my ignorance, Marty put his hand on my shoulder and squeezed hard. And left his hand there! “No, Gomer, it means kissing and hugging at the same time. Ok, so scoring second base is petting over. Do you know what that is?”

Manville Camp. Tabernacle on far left
He hadn't moved his hand!  I felt flushed with excitement. Maybe he wanted to score bases with me!  Not like Bill, who moved away every time I tried to kiss him.

"Sure," I said.  "I pet dogs and cats all the time.”

“No, petting over means feeling the girl's chest over her bra.”

"Oh, like this, you mean."  I reached out and lightly ran my open palm over his shirt.  Suddenly the night seemed very hot.

 "Um...yeah, that's right.  So stealing third is petting under. You feel under her bra.”

"Like this?"  I unbuttoned three buttons of his shirt and slid my hand inside.  His chest wasn't hard steel, but it was warm and solid. I wanted his arms around me.

Marty moaned.  His eyes half closed, he reached out and ran his hand over my chest.  He pushed my hand against his pants.   Did he have a baseball bat down there?  

 "So. . .um. . scoring third is where she touches you down there. . .below the belt, but with your pants on.  And stealing home, when your pants come off."

 "Can a boy steal home?"  I asked.

", if you're keeping yourself pure until your wedding night, guys are ok."

Now it was time for the kiss!  I leaned up so our faces were close together, expecting him to draw me close, but instead he tried to push me down to my knees.

I resisted.  This was no time to be praying!

He released me.  We stood facing each other awkwardly in the dark.

What had just happened?  Did I do something wrong?  Of course -- I skipped some bases.  It was hugging, kissing, necking, petting, touching!  I reached out and tried to start over with a hug, but Marty pushed me away.

"Kay, so, we better get back to our cabins.  See ya.” He turned and practically bolted away, leaving me blinking in surprise.

Forty years later, I'm still not sure what I expected to happen that night.  Or what Marty expected to happen.  But I suspect that he wanted me on my knees for something other than prayer.

See also: I Learn About Oral Sex.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bill and I Rebel Against "Discovering Girls"

Rock Island, July 1971

When I was a kid in the 1960s, my favorite comics were the Harveys (CasperRichie Rich), followed by Gold Key jungle heroes (Tarzan, Korak, Brothers of the Spear), and then Archie, and maybe some Marvel and DC if I could get them.  Disney's Donald Duck was not as low on the list as Bugs Bunny, but it was down near the bottom.
The problem was that Donald led a double life.  I liked the stories where he was an adventurer, brave, resourceful and intelligent, setting out with his rich Uncle Scrooge to explore lost Atlantis, the Yucatan, Tibet, Antarctica, or the Seven Cities of Cibola, in plotlines as macho as Treasure Island, as passionate as Time Tunnel.  It was a man-only world, with no damsels in distress to be rescued and no girls waiting back home at the story’s end.

In fact, no one expressed any heterosexual interest at all, though the nephews sometimes swooned over male crooners and teen idols.  (During the 1990s, Don Rosa retconned the characters to give Uncle Scrooge a long-ago romance with dance-hall girl Glittering Goldie).

But in other stories, Donald transmutated like a zombie into a single father living in the town of Duckburg, where he was saddled with a series of dismal jobs: janitor, gas station attendant, door-to-door salesman, delivery boy. And  he had a girlfriend, Daisy Duck, who was constantly natting her disapproval of  every single one of his interests, hobbies, goals, and dreams (precisely like Poil's disapproval of Spooky's passion for scaring).

The two could not be more different. Donald exuded toughness and aggression, Daisy was dainty to the point of idiocy. Donald bellowed at baseball games, Daisy drank tea at the Tuesday Afternoon Ladies’ League. Donald puttered around in junkyards, Daisy puttered about in her petunia bed.

It was disgusting! Donald had not only abandoned his life of swashbuckling adventure, he could not even enjoy the simple pleasures of boxing matches and working on cars. Instead, he sat bored on a frilly white chair at the Bon Ton, while Daisy tried on hats. Why would he do it? If they shared no common interests whatsoever, why would he even want to hang out with her?

In "The Double Date," Daisy and Donald go on a double date with Clara Cluck and Rockhead Rooster.  Donald and Rockhead exhibit an instant, eye-bulging attraction to each other, and become so engrossed in discussions of cars and sports that they ignore the girls.  They even dance together at a party.  Daisy and Clara agree that "They shouldn't see each other again."

One rainy afternoon in the summer of 1971, when we were sitting on the floor in Bill's family room, reading comic books, I brought up my concerns.  "I don't get it.  Donald Duck has a lot more fun on his adventures with Uncle Scrooge, and he doesn't anything that Daisy likes.  Why does he hang out with her?  What's the big deal?”

Bill's older brother Mike happened to be passing through on his way out, wearing a raincoat and tossing his keychain in the air. He pulled the comic from my hands and leafed through it, murmuring “Hmm…very eenterest-ing,” like the Nazi spy on Laugh-In. Then he returned it with a grin. “Een mine professional opinion, Uncle Scrooge ees a boy, und Daisy Duck ees a girl.”

“So what?” I asked.

Mike in college
Mike  laughed, and reached down to tousle my hair. “So what!” he exclaimed in his normal voice. “Just wait ‘til you discover girls. Then you won’t ask ‘so what’? You’ll say ‘gimme her number!’”  And he was gone. I heard him repeat “so what!”, chortling to himself, as he clomped through the kitchen and out the back door.

Suddenly chilled, I scooted over to sit next to Bill, our backs against the couch.  He smiled, and we sat together, quietly.

Abandon the Seven Cities of Cibola to drink tea from fragile cups and discuss poetry! The idea was absurd!

See also: Heterosexualizing my Childhood Hero

Spring 1970 Captain Ernie's Cartoon Showboat

Back before Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel, Netflix, and DVDs, you got your dose of kids' tv in two places:

1. On a sugar-rush five hours of cartoons every Saturday morning.

2. Weekdays after school, on local kids' tv shows hosted by an army of clowns, hobos, cowboys, and pirates.

The Quad Cities was on the Mississippi River, so we had Captain Ernie's Cartoon Showboat.

The tall, commanding Captain Ernie (Ernie Mims) stood on the deck of the Dixie Belle, to announce Bugs Bunny and Hanna Barbara cartoons and Three Stooges shorts.  Then he opened his "Treasure Chest" and passed out prizes to the kids in the studio audience.

When I was in fourth grade, my boyfriend Bill and I were in the audience.  I got a plastic "pirate cape," and he got a cardboard sword.

The cartoons and prizes weren't the only attraction: Captain Ernie was cute, with squarish hands, a hairy chest, and a pleasant suggestion of muscle.

Sometimes he performed skits with his "First Mate," Sidney.

I didn't know what a "first mate" was, but it was obvious that Captain Ernie and Sidney lived together on the Dixie Belle, and neither had girlfriends or wives.  Obviously a gay couple!

I found out that they weren't really a couple in fourth grade: one of the kids in my class at Denkmann was Captain Ernie's nephew.  Turns out Ernie Mims had a wife and kids after all, and Sidney was just an intern, a student at the Palmer College of Chiropractic, up the street from WOC TV.

Still, many of the iconic moments of my childhood took place in front of Cartoon Showboat, or with Captain Ernie: a local celebrity, he appeared at the Celtic Festival, the Bix Beiderbecke Jazz Festival, the Pow Wow, the annual Christmas parade, and various ribbon-cuttings and supermarket openings.

During the 1970s, our first PBS station brought the competition of the kinder, gentler Mr. Roger's Neighborhood and frenetic but non-violent Sesame Street, and in 1974 Cartoon Showboat was cancelled.  By that time, I was in junior high, too old to watch.

Ernie Mims went on to become the weatherman.

The last time I saw him was in the spring of 1979, during my freshman year of college  I was working at the Carousel Snack Bar when Captain Ernie -- not in character -- came up and ordered an ice cream cone.

As I passed it to him, our hands touched.

I wanted to say "Thanks for a great childhood," but I played it cool.


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