Saturday, March 14, 2015

Wing Man to a Muscle God

In the summer of 1998, just after I returned from visiting Jaan in Estonia (and cruising the Swedish bodybuilder in Tallinn), it was time to travel to Montreal, to the annual conference of the International Sociological Society, where I read a paper on queer theory (and investigated the mystery of Formosan men's endowment).

But I also had plenty of time for sightseeing: the Basilique Notre-Dame, the Musee des Beaux-Arts, the Centre d'histoire de Montréal.

And the Gay Village, an amazingly vibrant neighborhood cluttered with gay bars, restaurants, shops, and saunas.

At the Oasis, a gay sauna on the rue Ste. Catherine, I hung around the spa (a pool-sized hot tub) and started a conversation with an older guy named James, probably in his mid-60s, a member of the English-speaking minority of Montreal.  He didn't learn Québécois French until high school, and he still couldn't parse a sentence in Parisian French.

What was the difference?

Tu as...vouz avons
C'est de valeur...quel domage 
Chatons la pomme...nous flirtons

We were so busy discussing languages that I forgot gay sauna etiquette: casual conversations must be restricted to a few sentences, or the other guy will think you are interested.  And James was definitely cruising me!

He reminded me of John Fiedler, who starred in The Bob Newhart Show in the 1970s: short enough, but rather too old for me, and lacking the other characteristics that I find attractive: he was pale-skinned, scrawny, and unimpressive beneath the belt (James, not John Fiedler).,

But, I figured, we were having a nice conversation, so why not? So when James put his hand on my knee and asked "Do you want to come to our room?" I consented.

Wait...our room?

"Do you mind if my friend joins us?"

Two pale-skinned, scrawny, under-endowed 60-year olds?  But I was in this far...  "No, I don't mind at all.  The more, the merrier."

He turned and addressed someone on the other side of the spa.  "J'ai trouvé un garz!  Eu, Jérôme!" I found a guy!  Hey, Jerome!

Wait -- there weren't any pale-skinned, scrawny 60 year olds around...

But there was a massively-built bodybuilder.  In his 30s,  dark-skinned, rock-hard chest and abs, massive biceps, and more than adequate beneath the belt (see top photo).

He had been giving everyone in the sauna attitude -- including us. But now he raised up on one arm and grinned and said, "Ok, passons-nous à la cabine,"  Let's go to our room.

I was stunned.

When two friends cruised together, the most attractive always acted as the bait, piquing the target's interest so much that he was willing to accept the less attractive one as part of the bargain.

Why did James and Jérôme reverse the pattern?  Surely Jérôme could get any guy he wanted.

It would have been gauche to inquire, so I didn't, but later I surmised: because there was such a blatant difference in attractiveness, some targets in the past had agreed to Jérôme but fled upon seeing James.

The strategy of using James as the bait resulted in fewer hurt feelings.

They both turned out to be nice guys.  Later they took me on a tour of the Gay Village, where we had dinner at Cafe Saigon and finished up the evening watching the show at Le Stud.

Summer 1998: The Estonian Mountain Climber Makes His Choice

At my birthday party in 1997, my friend Yuri, the Russian meteorology major who claimed to be heterosexual, introduced me to Jaan, the Estonian mountain climber.  Jaan didn't even know what gay people were until he found out the hard way during our "date" on November 29nd.

 He learned fast.

Two weeks later, on December 13th, I took Yuri to a Christmas party, and gave him the choice of dancing with me or sharing my bed later.

He chose my bed.

Then it was Christmas break, and we scattered, me to Rock Island, Yuri to visit friends in Montreal, and Jaan to a skiing vacation in Vermont.

When I returned, Yuri was out. And interested in Jaan.

 I couldn't figure out why; they were nothing alike.

Jaan was quiet, shy, conservative, and monogamous: he wanted romance, "one special guy."

Yuri was loud, flamboyant, liberal, and not monogamous; he wanted to do everything and everyone. He went through my copy of The Joy of Gay Sex and circled fifty acts that he wanted to try.

It must have been their shared heritage: Estonia was part of the Soviet Union until 1991, and Jaan spoke fluent Russian.

But most likely it was Jaan's obvious gifts beneath the belt; Yuri liked them big, the bigger the better (in 1999 he would drag me to the Basque country of Spain in search of the World's Biggest Penis).

So we spent the spring 1998 semester competing over Jaan.  Every week we orchestrated bigger and better dates.  If I took Jaan to the Mr. New York Leather contest at the Manhattan Eagle, Yuri would come up with a weekend at Fire Island.  If Yuri invited Jaan to a campus production of Angels in America, the next weekend I would score tickets to Chicago on Broadway.

Dinner at The Curry Club?  Dinner at Mirabelle.
A free concert in Central Park?  The New York Philharmonic.
Hiking on Shelter Island?  Rock climbing in the Adirondacks

In New York's gay culture of the 1990s, there was no such thing as having multiple boyfriends.  You dated one guy at a time. Yet Jaan kept accepting dates with both of us.

It was excruciating.  Something had to give.

Then Jaan announced that he was flying back to Estonia for a visit.

Yuri and I braced ourselves; whoever he invited to go with him was obviously the One.

He invited us both.

"Great!" I said.  "I'd love to meet your family.  But could we spend a few days in Helsinki first?  I've been dying to see Finland ever since I was a little kid."

"Great!" Yuri said.  "I'd love to meet your family. But could we spend a few days in St. Petersburg first? I'm homesick for my friends at the university."

We waited anxiously for his answer; whoever he agreed to a side trip with was obviously the One.

He agreed to both.

We flew out of New York, changed planes in London, and arrived in Helsinki about 4:00 pm on June 14th, 1998.  After dinner and a brief city tour, we checked into our hotel.  Our room had a double bed and a single rollaway.

Yuri and I looked at each other with surprise and elation. Whoever Jaan invited to share his bed was obviously the One.  

We stalled while Jaan undressed to his underwear.  Then, without a word, he climbed into the rollaway and fell asleep.

We kept the same bedroom arrangements for three days of sightseeing in Helsinki.  In St. Petersburg, we all shared the same double bed, with Jaan in the middle (yes, things happened).  Then we took the two-hour train trip to Johvi, Estonia, a small town near the Baltic Sea known chiefly for St. Michael's Church and an annual Ballet Festival (which we missed.)

We were met at the train station by a middle-aged man and woman and a tall black-haired muscle god.  After hugging them effusively, Jaan introduced us in Estonian.

"Minu sober Boomer, minu sober Yuri."

Then he switched to Russian.  "Moya mat, Katria; Moy otets, Peeter.  Moy druzhok, Arvi.

They hugged us so effusively that he forgot to translate into English.  Then they bundled us off to a loud, raucous lunch at a little cafe on the second floor of the Concert Hall. They chattered mostly in Estonian, with occasional phrases translated into Russian or English for our benefit.

I'd been learning Russian with Yuri all year, so I knew mat, "mother" and otets, "father."  But what was druzhok?  When I had a moment alone, I checked my Russian dictionary.

Good friend, bosom buddy, boyfriend!

Jaan had made his choice.

See also: The First Time Yuri and I Shared.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Warren Tells Me about Swishes

Rock Island, September 1975

When I first arrived at Rocky High for 10th grade, I was impressed.  It rose like a fantasy-world castle on the western summit of the Hill, just north of the statue of Chief Black Hawk.  There were lots of interesting classes like Quad Cities History, Arthurian Legends, Archaeology, and Latin.  And there were hundreds of cute boys!  I watched shirtless guys perform in South Pacific from the orchestra pit; I measured Rocks (athletes) for uniforms as an athletic trainer; I had lunch with the King of Sweden.

But soon I realized that Rocky High was not a castle but a fortress, a bulwark against an unnamed evil.

One night in September, Darry made use of his new learner’s permit to drive us to Happy Joe’s, the pizza place that only high schoolers went to. After we found a booth and sat down, we saw Warren Hodge (not his real name), the cute blackhaired cellist who was in charge of our lunchtime crowd, sitting at a small table with his Just Friend Colleen.   The guy second from the right looks like him.

He was gesturing angrily, so I left Darry looking at a menu and went over to see what he wanted.

“Are you from East Moline, Spazz?” he yelled, standing to make himself heard over the noise.
“What’s bugging you?” I asked.
“What’s bugging me is two guys  -- neither of them Rocks -- in Happy Joe’s – alone -- at night!”
“Boomer doesn’t know any better,” Colleen said, mollifying. She reached out a chubby hand to touch Warren’s arm. “It’s not his fault.”
“Ok, so now he knows better! Get out now, and don’t let me catch you doing it again!”
“What’s not my fault?” I asked, still not comprehending.
“Look -- if you and your buddy-buddy are so strung out for pizza, invite someone else – a Rock -- a girl -- your Mommy if you have to. But never just two guys. What will people think, if we see you in a booth at Happy Joe’s, at 8:00 pm, with a guy?”

“Why would they care? And what’s so jazzed about 8:00 pm? Would 7:30 be ok?”

Overcome by my stupidity, Warren sat down again. He dropped his head into his hands and moaned  “Why do we let tenth-grade Spazzes into our Crowd?”

Colleen touched my wrist. “It’s an important rule. Haven’t you heard it yet?”
“I’ve only heard rules about dating girls.”
“Well, there are rules about boys, too!"
Fascinated, I said “Lay it on me, Mr. Wizard. What do I need to know to date boys?”
“Don’t get smart!”

Colleen turned to me. “Ok, so never go out at night with just another guy. Invite a Rock or a girl, or go in a group. On account of if it’s just the two guys, and neither are Rocks, people might think you’re. . .you know.” She displayed a wrist hanging loosely from her hand.

“I know what?
“Pardon my French,” Warren said, “But people will think you’re a Swish, ok?”
I had never heard the term "Swish" before -- people usually just said "That Way." Warren and Colleen had to explain it to me.

Every boy occasionally slipped up and acted like a girl,  and the Fairies of junior high pretended to be girls, getting good grades or disliking sports -- to the consternation of junior high bullies like Dick Sunstrom -- but Swishes (called Fags on TV) weren't pretending.  They actually were girls, or rather a bizarre hybrid, physiologically male but far more feminine than any real girl.  They reeked of perfume and face powder, and wore low-cut evening gowns with strands of pearls, and carried handbags, and called you "Thweetie" in a baby-doll lisp.

No one ever suggested that Swishes might desire sex, with mortal men or with each other. A year later, when I heard the term "gay" for the first time, I didn't immediately make the connection.

How could boys and men, drawn to the masculine, revolted by the feminine, ever become Swishes?  You could turn by choice, a suicidal rejection of the masculine, but most commonly you turned by force.  Swishes took perverse delight in creating more of their kind, so they lurked in bars, in alleys, in deserted hallways, waiting, ready to pounce.  All it took was a touch of a limp, many-ringed hand on your shoulder or a few lisping words whispered in the ear like an incantation.

How could you distinguish a Swish from a mortal?  They could hide their most blatantly feminine traits, but it was impossible to hide:
1. Their violent aversion to women (they wouldn't even be in the same room with a woman, if they could help it)
2. Their intense hatred of Rocks, especially the most muscular (they wouldn't even pass the locker room, if they could help it).

So naturally I demonstrated that I wasn't a Swish by sitting with girls at the lunch table, and by going out to dinners and movies every weekend with the most muscular jocks I could find.

See also: High School Hint 2: My Job in the Locker Room.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

My Date with the Estonian Mountain Climber

Long Island, September 1997

I was very busy in the fall of 1997, my first semester on Long Island.  I was taking  three graduate seminars in sociology; teaching an adjunct class at Hofstra University, 2 hours away by train; going into Manhattan every weekend; and being swarmed by undergrads.

Every twink, Cute Young Thing, and newly-out prettyboy on Long Island wanted my phone number, including Yuri, the Russian "teenager", and Jaan the Estonian mountain climber.

Jaan was a graduate student in physics who Yuri brought as a "date" to my 37th birthday party in November 1997: tall and blond, two turn-offs, but very, very muscular, with intense black eyes, and very persistent -- he kept following me around the room, staring shyly.

I hadn'd met anyone from Estonia, the Baltic country with the language similar to Finnish, since 9th grade, when George and Kristjan taught me Graeco-Roman wrestling. Jaan didn't speak English very well, but I managed to get him to tell me about growing up in Johvi, near Narva, on the Russian border (only two hours from St. Petersburg by car), mountain climbing in Scotland, and especially his best friend Arvi.

Eventually I disentangled myself and found Yuri.  "Do you mind if I ask Jaan for a date?"

He frowned.  "You mean, a boyfriend?  No, why do I care?  I don't like guys."  He wouldn't admit to being gay until the Christmas party next month.

"Ok, thanks.  Oh -- by the way, he is gay, right?"

"You know, I didn't ask, but maybe he is.  Here in America, you are always careful.  Anybody might be gay."  He leaned in close.  "If you date him, tell me how big he is, ok?"

"Sure, no problem."

So I made a date to take Jaan to see Brad Pitt in Seven Years in Tibet, followed by dinner at the Curry Club, a very nice Indian restaurant in East Setauket.

I talked about how cute Brad Pitt is; how I always thought of Tibet as a "good place" where same-sex desire was open and free; and about Lee back in West Hollywood.

Jaan agreed that Brad Pitt was very handsome, and talked about how he and his best friend always wanted to go to Tibet to climb Mount Everest.  Our legs brushed together. Then he stared intently into my eyes and said "Do you want to come back to my room?"

Score!  New York was much more conservative than West Hollywood.  Inviting someone home on the first date was practically unheard-of!

Turns out that Jaan lived in a graduate student apartment, and shared his bedroom with a guy named Erik, who was watching tv out in the living room.

After the introductions, I put my arm around Jaan's waist, and led him into the bedroom.  Jaan got me a soda out of the mini-fridge and invited me to sit down on the bed.

At that moment Erik came tromping in. "Sorry, I need this book," he explained.

We sat on the bed side by side.  I took a few sips of my soda to be polite, then put it aside and leaned over to kiss Jann.  Then Erik came tromping in again.  "Sorry, I need a pen."

"He's trying to get a glimpse of us making out!" I exclaimed.  "Can you tell him we'd like some privacy?"

"He has as much right to be here as I do."

I shrugged.  Ok, if Jaan didn't mind, then I didn't either. Maybe Erik was gay and wanted to join in, as was the custom in West Hollywood.

I reached over, put my arm around Jaan, drew him close, and kissed him on the mouth.

Or tried to.  Before I got there, he leapt to his feet and ran to the other side of the room.  His face was ashen-pale.  "Mida sa teed?" he exclaimed "Mida sa teed?" (What are you doing? in Estonian.)

"Um...I to kiss you," I said, shocked.

He stared.  "Why?"

"Are you nervous because of your roommate?  Because we can go to my apartment -- I have my own place, where we can be alone."

He stared.

"Um..because, you know, it's the end of our date.  You invited me to your room. That means you want to..."

He stared.

"Maybe I'd better be going."

The next day Yuri called.  "Hey, you really freaked out Jaan.  He doesn't know you are gay, and then suddenly you try to have sex with him!

"He didn't know?" I repeated, rather angry.  "How could he not know? It was a date, we talked about ex-boyfriends, and then he invited me back to his room.  That's a major tease!"

"Estonia is...what do you say...old fashioned."

"But... All during the date, talking about my boyfriends? Same-sex desire being open and free?  How could he be so oblivious?"

 "He didn't even know that there were gays until last night.  I had to explain it to him."  He paused.  "So anyway, he wants to know if you will date him again next Friday."

The Gay Russian Teenager Comes Out

Long Island, December 1997

In West Hollywood in the 1990s, we practiced a strict age segregation: dance clubs when you were a Cute Young Thing, then leather bars when you started greying, balding, or getting a belly.

If you had muscles, you could go anywhere you wanted, but you were expected to date guys within about a five year age range.  Much older or younger, and the tongues would wag.

In the fall of 1997, after trying several careers, I started a new graduate program on Long Island.  I was 36 years old, pushing 37, so I figured I would be dating guys in their 30s, maybe early 40s.

Instead, I was swarmed by Twinks, Cute Young Things, even teenagers.

On the first day of classes, I was walking toward the Social Science Building, when a slim, feminine guy who looked about 16 came rushing up.  "Vi iz Ruski?" he asked excitedly.


"Futbolku s Ruskoi Reki !" he said, pointing at my chest.  "Your football shirt -- it says 'Russia River.'"

Oh, right.  I forgot that I was wearing a t-shirt from the Russian River.  "It's a gay, a town where gays go."

He frowned.  "Ok, but what does gays mean?"

How long had he lived in New York?  " who like men...for dates and falling in love."

"Oh,"  He grinned broadly.

Yuri turned out to be 23, a little older than I thought, but still much too young for me, a grad student from Russia, studying meteorology.  A pretty, feminine face with soft features, but nicely muscled -- from the day we met, he dragged me to the gym every afternoon to work out for two hours.

Remembering my brief obsession with Russia in college, I considered changing my age rule.  But was he gay?

He claimed to be heterosexual: "Some day I will get married and have a lot of kids."  But he had never met anyone gay before, and he wanted to know everything about it.

Everything.  Names, dates, sizes, positions.  Especially cock sizes.

"Tell me about Raul.  How big is he?  What does he do in bed?"

"When you were in West Hollywood, did you have sex with Tom Cruise?  How big is he?"

"Ok, what about Lane?  How big is he?  Do you have pictures with his clothes off?"

Most heterosexuals don't ask a lot of questions about sizes.  But I still wasn't sure.

In October, I invited Yuri to a Halloween party, and chased him around with a giant foam dildo.  He didn't mind a little surreptitious fondling in the back seat of the car on the way home, but when Josh, who was giving us a ride, asked "Do you want to be dropped off at your dorm or Boomer's place?" he said "Dorm!"

In December, I invited Yuri to a Christmas party.  Tickets cost $15, with a catered dinner and dancing. But he refused to dance with me!  Instead, he approached a girl and asked her to dance.

When he got back to our table, I told him, mostly in jest, "I paid for your ticket, so you owe me.  Either get up on that dance floor with me now, or get into my bed later."

He chose my bed.

See also: Yuri's First Boyfriend.

Outed in the Locker Room of a Jewish High School

San Francisco, Spring 1997

One day when I was living in San Francisco, Kevin the Vampire showed me the want ad section of the San Francisco Chronicle with a job circled: a man to teach English and Spanish at a Jewish high school.

"The perfect job for you!" he exclaimed.  "You could forget about this back-to-grad-school nonsense and stay in San Francisco,"

"Sounds interesting," I said noncommittally. Teaching high school?  

"And it's only a few blocks south of my apartment.  Very convenient, once you move in!"

"But I don't have teacher certification."

"That's not necessary for teaching at private schools in California."

"And I'm not Jewish."

"So you pretend.  You've been to synagogues.  You can read Hebrew.  It won't be difficult."

I looked at the ad.  "Why do they want men only?"

"Because it's a boy's school, and in Orthodox Judaism, women can't teach men. It's above their station."

"Wait -- they would never hire anyone gay -- Orthodox means homophobic.  They think we have no morals or self-control, so we'll be trying to seduce all the students."

Kevin rolled his eyes.  "My dear naive Boomer, haven't you figured it out yet?  All breeders are homophobic!  They want us dead, every one of them!  That's why we must pretend to be straight, every time we set foot outside the Castro!  Or is it just shyness that keeps us from holding hands as we walk down Geary Street?"

"You're right, of course. You always have to be careful in public."

"Not careful -- a whole new person.  Someone who gazes longingly at women and has never heard the word 'gay.'  We must always wear the mask.  This job will only make it more obvious."

So I tweaked my resume: my semester in Turkey became a semester in Tel Aviv, my volunteering with youth at the gay church became at a straight synagogue, and my reason for abandoning my Ph.D. changed from they were homophobic to they were antisemitic.

Sure enough, a few days later, the principal called me in for an interview.  He was Dr. Meyer, a grinning, rotund fellow, balding, with a close-cropped white beard.

He asked the usual questions about my education and experience, and then what it was like growing up "different" in western Illinois.  He meant "Jewish," of course, but my experiences with "what girl do you like?" heterosexism transferred easily into "what church do you go to?"

He asked why I moved to California.  I changed it's a gay haven to it's got the largest Jewish population outside of Israel.

He asked about my wife.  I changed Lee to Leanne, and gave us two kids, Isaac and Miriam.

"Your students will all be seniors," Dr. Meyer said, "18 years old, legal adults, but afraid to move out into the world.  Your job will be to encourage them to seek out new experiences, meet new people."

I wanted to ask "Like gay people?"  But I didn't.

For my sample teaching, I led a class of seniors in a discussion of The Great Gatsby, carefully omitting any reference to gay subtexts.

Then came the campus tour.  A library crowded with studious high school boys poring over the Talmud.  A gym class full of muscular 18-year old jocks playing basketball, divided into shirts and skins.

This might not be a bad place to work after all.

As Dr. Meyer escorted me through the locker room, I was ambushed!

Eight or nine high school musclemen in towels and jockstraps.  A flurry of hand-shaking and shoulder-patting, and every one of them, in turn, grabbed and squeezed my bicep.

"Are you going to be our new teacher?"
"I need lots of help with AP English!"
"Will you be available for after-school tutoring?"
"How would you feel about starting a Spanish club?"
"No, we need him to be faculty adviser for the paper!"

Finally Dr. Meyer pushed through them, snarled "Don't pester the candidate," and led me away.

"Well, that was fun!" I exclaimed, glowing with exhilaration.  "Are they always so,,,um, physical?"

"Touching the tefilim of a teacher is a mitzvah.  Of course, you weren't wearing any, so they had to improvise." (Tefilim: prayer boxes attached to the arm and head).

Why was he staring at me so oddly?

"They seemed to like me," I said, feebly.

", I think we have everything we need.  We'll be calling the successful candidate before Shabbos."

He didn't call.

I think the ambush was a test, to weed out the gay candidates. Straight guys were supposed to find contact with other men repugnant, so they shrank back in disgust from the shoulder-patting and bicep-squeezing.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Leatherman Who Never Left South of Market

South of Market, November 1995

South of Market was a San Francisco neighborhood of warehouses, factories, car repair places, tattoo parlors, dive bars, drug deals, graffiti, and general decay.

And Mickey, a tall, buffed leatherman in his 30s, with a scruffy beard, nipple rings, and a tattoo of Hot Stuff the Little Devil.

He was at every Bear Party, standing in a dark corner in chaps and a leather vest, never socializing, never approaching anyone.

He was at every beer bust at the Eagle, standing in a dark corner in chaps and a leather jacket, never socializing, never approaching anyone.

He was at every underwear party at the Lone Star, standing in a corner in leather underwear, never socializing, never approaching anyone.

Most guys who took the initiative and approached him got Attitude.  The few who met his standards got an exchange of names and an invitation to the nearest dark space.  Nothing more. He never went home with anyone.  He apparently had no friends.

I was intrigued,  What caused a man to become isolated even from his own people?  But when I tried involving Mickey in a conversation, all I got was an invitation to the nearest dark space.

Then one Tuesday morning I was walking down 9th to my part time job at an architectural firm, and I saw Mickey walking down Folsom, looking out of place in his chaps and leather vest in the midst of a business day.

"Hey, Mickey!" I called.  He turned and looked at me, confused, threatened.

"Boomer.  From the Bear Party and the Eagle, remember?"

"Sure. are you?"

"Fine, thanks.  I'm on my way to work. I'm an administrative assistant at McCracken. You?"

"Um, well...."  He looked around, as if searching for the nearest dark space to invite me to.  Didn't he ever have conversations about anything else?

"Are you on your way to work, too?"  I suggested.  "Nice job that lets you work with your shirt off!"

"It's a leather shop. Looking hot is good for business."

My information about Mickey had doubled!  Now was my chance!  "So...are you free for lunch?  There's a nice Chinese restaurant down on Bryant.  You might have to put on a t-shirt...."

He peered toward the south.  "I never go past Harrison.  Too homophobic. Sixth, Twelfth, Harrison, Market, that's my turf."

"Really?"  I was shocked. He had named a constrained world of about ten blocks!  Ok, it had the Eagle, the Lone Star, the Bear Party, and some gyms, tattoo parlors, and bike shops, but no banks, bookstores, hardware stores, parks, or movie theaters.  And... "You're missing the Castro! Gay heaven!"

"I'm not missing it much!"  Mickey grinned.  This was the first time I ever saw him express any emotion.

"Ok, how about if I come to you?  I'll pick up some Chinese food and drop by your shop."

"Is it a gay Chinese restaurant?" he asked pointedly. "I don't eat straight food."

Straight food?

Over gay kung pao chicken and gay pork dumplings, Mickey told me a bit more about his life:
1. He grew up in Missouri, and had a degree in visual arts from Washington University in St. Louis.
2. He was working as a graphic artist in St. Louis, but he was accidentally outed and fired.
3. He was the favorite uncle to his brothers' and sister's kids, but when he was outed, they cut off all contact.
4. While leaving Clementine's in St. Louis, he was jumped and beat up by a band of homophobes, and taken to the hospital.  His brothers and sister didn't visit.
5. He had lived in San Francisco for about five years.  But he never visited the Castro.  He'd have to go through a homophobic neighborhood to get there.

Gradually I began to understand.  Some horrifying experiences with homophobia -- much worse than my own -- drove Mickey to bulwark himself in muscle and leather, entomb himself South of Market, and refuse human contact except when necessary for work or erotic release.

But gay neighborhoods were not about erotic release -- they were always about finding friends, family, a place where you belong.

And I knew exactly how to get Mickey there!

"The Metropolitan Community Church has an outreach program for gay youth," I said.  "Many of them are having a terrible time at home, with parents who are homophobic and treat them like dirt."

"That's awful!" Mickey exclaimed.

"One of the things we do is give them a place to hang out after school.  But right now it's unstructured, just some snacks and videos in the fellowship hall.  I think they need some structured activities, like sports, or maybe an art class."

He knew where I was going.  "No way -- I'm no teacher!"

"You don't have to know how to teach.  You have to know how to mentor.  You can be a favorite uncle again."

"But I'm an atheist!"

"The MCC doesn't discriminate."

"The MCC -- that's in the Castro, isn't it?"

"Yes, you'd have to go to the Castro. And you'd have to switch to a t-shirt and jeans."

It took a bit more persuading over several days of gay Chinese food, but a few weeks later Mickey and I were in the pastor's office, discussing his art background.  And a few weeks after that, Mickey started his after-school art classes for LGBT youth.

The transformation was amazing.  Soon Mickey was talking to people at the Lone Star and the Eagle.  He was volunteering to work on the Mr. San Francisco Leather competition.  And he invited one of the guys he met at the Bear Party to dinner -- at a gay restaurant, of course.

See also: The Slave Boy of Castro Street; The Leather Bear Shares his New Boyfriend.

The Nanny and the Naked Man

San Francisco, May 1996

After I left my doctoral program at USC in 1989 (due to doctoral committees insisting that "you can't say gay"), I bounced around West Hollywood for a few years, trying out new careers: minister, human resources assistant, juvenile probation officer.  Nothing seemed right.  In 1995, Lane and I moved to San Francisco, where I took some courses at San Francisco City college, and tried even more careers.  I published a book, about 30 articles, and a dozen or so short stories, but the royalties weren't enough to pay my half the rent (at least I could impress people by saying "I'm a writer.").

My 36th birthday was coming up.  What did I want to do for the rest of my life?

The answer came from, of all places, The Nanny.  

One of the most popular of sitcoms about servants who revitalize a dying family (others include Nanny and the Professor, Charles in Charge, Who's the Boss, and Mr. Belvedere), The Nanny (1993-1999) starred  Fran Drescher as Fran Fine, a working-class Jewish girl from Flushing, Queens, Long Island.  Visiting Manhattan to sell makeup door-to-door, Fran accidentally encounters the depressed, morbid, dreary family of Broadway producer Maxwell Sheffield, injects them with joie de vivre, and lands a job as the Nanny (eventually, of course, The Wife).

There wasn't a lot of gay content.  For a Broadway producer, Maxwell doesn't encounter any gay performers.  Fran has a gay hairdresser; David L. Lander plays a gay Squiggy; Maxwell dates a woman who turns out to be gay.  The butler Niles was fey, persnickety, gay-vague, but he turned out to be straight, and eventually married Maxwell's business partner C.C. Babcock.

Nor was there a lot of beefcake.  Maxwell (Charles Shaughnessy, top photo) was handsome, and eventually Brighton (Benjamin Salisbury, left) developed a degree of teen-idol cuteness for the younger gay kids.

Nevertheless it was a Castro Street must-see due to the never-ending parade of famous guest stars, the snappy banter, and gay symbolism of an underdog taking charge and "moving on up."

Fran Drescher is a strong gay ally, besties with her gay ex-husband Marc Jacobson.  She turned the experience of living with him into a sitcom, Happily Divorced (2011-).  To promote the series, she held a contest called "Love is Love Gay Marriage Contest," and, using her ministerial certificate from the Universal Life Church, performed the weddings of the winning couples.

And the naked man on the horse: on May 6, 1996, Brighton gets a French tutor, and, bucking tradition, instead of a hot girl, it's a hot guy, Philippe (Paolo Seganti, left, in a photo from an Italian magazine).

It was a silly episode, mostly about people confusing "Je t'adore" and "Shut the door."  But it started a train of reasoning:

Of all the things I had done, interviewing bodybuilders, counseling juvenile delinquents, researching housing trends, writing job ads, what I liked the most was standing in front of a classroom.  Teaching.  The main job of college professors.

When the episode ended, I called Lane in Los Angeles and said "I think I want to go back to school, and try for a Ph.D. again.

He said: "You're crazy."

"I know."

San Francisco Is Still Gay Heaven

San Francisco, September 1995

For gay people in the 1990s, West Hollywood was a sacred site, a safe haven free from the heterosexism and homophobia of the straight world. Everyone visited at least once; almost everyone moved there (like my ex-boyfriend Fred); or tried to (like Oscar, the former lover of Ronald Reagan,).

But if West Hollywood was a Gay Mecca, San Francisco was Gay Heaven, a mythical, perfect place, beyond the reach of all but the very blessed or the very lucky.

In the fall of 1995, we managed it. For a little while.

First we tried the Castro, the heart of the heart of Gay Heaven, but it was impossible -- even the tiniest, most horrible apartment had dozens of people scrambling to fill out applications.

Other gay neighborhoods, South of Market and the Mission, were likewise impossible.  Eventually we found an apartment in "The Avenues," about 3 miles west of Castro Street.

There were lots of things wrong with San Francisco:

1. It was very expensive, and there were no jobs.

2. It was very cold and damp, with a wet wind whipping through you all the time.  And those quaint Victorians?  Drafty, freezing, cramped. Constant sinus congestion, frequent colds.

3. The Muni stopped running at 7 pm, so at night you had to drive everywhere.

4.  When we drove anywhere, we had to spend 45 minutes looking for a parking space, and invariably we ended up parking a mile from our destination,  in a scary neighborhood.

5. We felt guilty going anywhere, due to the dozens of panhandles holding out their cups and chanting "Any change?  Any change?"  If we gave in and deposited change, we were marked as "easy," and aggressive panhandlers would follow us around, demanding money.

6. Crime was everywhere.  People were robbed regularly. Our car would be broken into regularly, even if nothing was visible.  The trunk would be jimmied open to see if anything was inside.

7. There were lots of heterosexual tourists who thought of gay people as an attraction, and kept gawking and taking photographs.

8. And lots of homophobes.  Teens would drive in from the suburbs every weekend and yell anti-gay slurs and threats from their cars.

We couldn't stay there forever.  It never felt like home.  But in spite of the problems, San Francisco was still Gay Heaven.

Not because of the milling crowds of Christopher Street West, or the beefcake-nudity exposition of Dore Alley, or the GLBT Historical Society on Mission Street.

Because of the little things.

A matinee at the Castro Theater.
Browsing in All American Boy on a Saturday afternoon.
The Sunday beer bust at the Eagle.
A quick burger at Orphan Andy's
Climbing up from the Castro Street Muni Station early in the morning, and walking through the bright, cold new day.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Stranded on the Island of Dogs

London, June 1993

Sorry if you love London, or call it home.  I'm not a big fan, in spite of the architectural marvels and the 15 Public Penises.  I always get lost; I'm cold, confused, cranky.  And the food's not great.

June 1993: My partner Lee was a delegate to the World Congress of GLBT Jews, to be held in London!  He invited me along as his guest.

This isn't him.  I have lots of pictures, but I'm too lazy to scan them.  But he was a husky, hairy bear with nice arms, like this guy.

I had been to Colombia, Japan, Australia, Turkey, and India, and he had been to Israel and Bermuda, but for some reason neither of us had ever been to Britain before, except to the airport.  So we planned lots of sightseeing: The Tower of London, the Sherlock Holmes Museum, Stonehenge, The Rude Man of Cerne Abbas, Canterbury Cathedral.  Not to mention the Gay Village of Soho.

If you were planning a World Congress with delegates from all over the world, most of whom have never been to Britain before, wouldn't you pick a hotel that was centrally located?

Nope: The Royal Britannia Hotel was on the Isle of Dogs, an industrial sleugh on the East End of London, surrounded by the Thames on three sides.  No Metro.  You could catch a bus into town -- about 6 miles to the Tower of London -- but it stopped at different places, depending on the whim of the driver, anywhere between six and twelve blocks from the hotel.

And it stopped running at 6:00 pm, and it didn't run on Sunday.

So I spent all day Thursday and Friday chasing after a bus and getting lost trying to find my way back.

As a guest, I was not allowed to go to any of the meetings, or any of the dinners, so I was stuck at the hotel's restaurant.

On Thursday night, there was an evening boat tour of the Thames, with box dinner provided.  Except for guests.  I stole one to avoid starving to death.

Saturday was the Sabbath, so not much going on. Lee and I went sightseeing, got lost on the way back, and had dinner at the hotel.  The Conference hosted a dance that evening (the Sabbath is over at sundown), but as a guest, I wasn't allowed to attend.  I spent the night watching television.

On Sunday we walked into town, but by the time we got there, we were too tired for sightseeing.  We returned to discover that the hotel restaurant was closed on Sunday.  And there's no pizza delivery to the Isle of Dogs.  And, of course, guests were not allowed to attend the Conference dinner.

I would have starved to death again, but someone with a car drove into town and brought me (and the other guests) some fish and chips.

Is this any way to run a gay Jewish conference?

On Monday the conference was over, thank God, so Lee and I spent a few days in Oxford, Stonehenge, Cerne Abbas, Bath, Canterbury, and York.

I've been to Britain two or three more times since 1993.  I never liked it, especially London.  Give me Paris, or Amsterdam.  Or Osaka.  Or Irkutsk.

My Careers as an Actor, Comedian, Architect, Minister, Tour Guide.....

In December 1991, I returned to West Hollywood after my semester in Nashville completely discouraged.  I had spent 2 years at Indiana U., 3 years at USC, and a half a year at Vanderbilt, and what did I have to show for it?  A M.A., a lot of useless knowledge, a mountain of debt, and no job prospects.  What else could I do besides become a college professor?

I took the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory.  I read What Color is Your Parachute?  And I tried:

1. Spring 1992: Actor.  I got good reviews in my college plays, and I had some connections in the industry, like Richard Dreyfuss.  How hard could it be to get a job in a sitcom?  So I signed up for an acting workshop.  My first improv scene was: "Boomer, you're returning from a long trip. Your wife meets you at the door, and you hug and kiss."  I ran.

2. Spring 1992: Stand-up Comedian.  I was good at telling jokes, so I signed up for a class with Judy Carter, who wrote the Comedy Bible.  She said: "Your shtick should be about your relationships.  Boomer, are you married?"  I shook my head.  "Divorced?  Widowed? Separated?  Living with a girl?  Going steady?"  Finally I told her "Gay," and she yelled: No!  You can't be a gay comedian!"  I ran.

3. Summer 1992: Translator.  I bought some dictionaries, worked on some sample documents, and contacted a lot of translation agencies. I expected to get assignments translating Rimbaud, Verlaine, Thomas Mann, and Garcia Lorca into English.  Turns out, surprisingly, the greatest writers in world literature were already translated.

4. Fall 1992: Juvenile Probation Officer.  All I had to do was meet with the delinquents once a week to make sure they were going to school, getting vocational training, keeping away from drugs, and so on, and teach an occasional class in "life skills."  Great, except I had to be in the closet all the time.  If the boss suspected that I was gay, I would be fired instantly: "We can't have a homo working around kids!"

I endured the homophobic comments from the kids, police officers, case workers, and everyone else for about nine months.

5. Summer 1993: Writer. I tried to write a fantasy novel, but I had a problem with the plots.  If you're not walking across the continent to vanquish the Dark Lord by throwing something into something, what else is there?

 So I wrote a Gay Guide to Religion, scientifically ranking every Christian denomination in the U.S. by its level of homophobia.  My agent hated it: it's a slap in the face of all the conservative Christians!  

6. Summer 1993: Architect.  Why not?  I loved old buildings.  It would require going back to school again, but it wasn't hard getting a job as an Architectural Assistant at Gruen Associates, the guys who invented shopping malls. Meanwhile I signed up for some architecture classes at UCLA.  Who knew that they would go bankrupt and lay me off after a year?

7. Summer 1994: Tour Guide.  Why not?  I went to Europe every year anyway, and I spoke five languages.  I decided to specialize in taking gay tourists on tours of Scandinavia, Estonia, and Russia.

Ok, I had never been to those places (I would a few years later), and I didn't speak any of the languages,  but I figured it was a good niche.  Turns out I was wrong. 10 ads in gay magazines, no customers.

8. Fall 1994: Employment Counselor. Most resume services charged $5, but I figured I could charge people $200 each to give them a job test, write their resume and cover letters, and give them interview tips. Surprisingly, this plan didn't work.

9. Fall 1994: Minister.  Back in junior high, I thought that God had called me to become a missionary.  Maybe He wanted me to become a minister!  I called the Metropolitan Community Church, and signed up as a student clergy.  It wasn't as glamorous as I expected: they put me in charge of the church hotline, which unfortunately got a lot of questions that weren't related to religion: Where's the best cruising area in town?  If I say I'm gay, how much money will you give me?  How big is your..."  

10. Spring 1995: Computer Technician.  I figured I could pay my way through seminary by becoming an IT professional.  I had to take apart a computer and stare at the innards.  Enough said.

Seeking a change of venue, we moved to San Francisco in 1995.

11. Fall 1995: Chemist.  Maybe I should become a professor, but not in the humanities.  Maybe the sciences were the place to be.  So I signed up for three introductory science classes at San Francisco City College.  I failed calculus and physics, and only passed chemistry by studying six hours a day.

12. Spring 1996: Veterinary Assistant.  It didn't require as rigorous a scientific background, there was a veterinary hospital just two blocks away, and I love animals.  But not necessarily injured, limping, whining animals in pain.  Maybe I should go back to the humanities.

Then one day I was walking across the campus at Berkeley, and I glanced into a classroom and saw the name "John Locke" written on the blackboard.  I took it as a sign: go back to graduate school, get your Ph.D., become a college professor.  But not in the physical sciences or the humanities.  Go into the social sciences.

In the fall of 1997, I enrolled in a fourth graduate program, in sociology at Setauket  University.  This time I graduated.

The Worst Date in West Hollywood History

West Hollywood, March 1992

I have always been attracted to guys who are shorter, the shorter the better.  And muscular.  So in the spring of 1992, when I got the number of the muscular, 4'0" Ryan at the Faultline, it was a major triumph!

Ryan was 26 years old, new in town, and newly out -- he had never been on a gay date before.  So I went a little overboard and arranged the most spectacular date in West Hollywood history.

1. Brunch at Geoffrey's in Malibu, where my celebrity boyfriend took me on our first date.
2. Down to the Del Rey Yacht Club, to go sailing with my celebrity friend Edson Stroll.
3. Meet Raul for the tea dance at Mickey's in West Hollywood
4. Dinner at the French Quarter
5. Meet Lee for an outdoor jazz concert at the L.A. County Museum of Art
6. Back home for physical activity (Lee and I had an agreement: we could "date" other guys, but all physical activity had to occur at home, with the other partner present)

Things started going wrong from the beginning:

1. It is raining, so brunch at Geoffrey's is cold and uncomfortable.

2. It is still raining, so instead of sailing, we go to Fisherman's Village in Marina Del Rey, a tacky tourist trap.  Where I trip over something -- I don't know what -- and twist my ankle, making walking difficult.

"Maybe a nice safe movie instead of the tea dance?"  I suggest.

"No, I need to be around other gay guys!"  Ryan insists.  "You can sit down, no problem."

3. Off to Mickey's.  It's nearly empty, due to the rain.  Ryan has 3 beers.  He weighs 100 pounds, so he's buzzed.  He starts making the rounds of the dance floor, cruising every Cute Young Thing in sight, while Raul keeps me company at a little table.  I fume with jealousy.

4. The French Quarter is packed.  There's a 45 minute wait for a table.  I suggest we go somewhere else, but Ryan insists "No, this is Gay Central!  I need to be here!"

He then insists that we have champagne.  I don't drink, so one glass is enough to get me buzzed.

The concert is cancelled due to the rain.  I try to contact Lee to make alternative plans.  No answer (this was before cell phones).

"Let's go to the Toy Tiger instead," Ryan suggests. "Lee will catch up to us eventually."

5.  It's a piano bar in Silverlake where they sing show tunes and torch songs.  I hate show tunes and torch songs, but Ryan loves them.  He sings along to "The Man I Love," "You Can't Get a Man with a Gun," "Strangers in the Dark."

He's 26 years old.  Where did he learn all of these old chestnuts?

He has a Mai Tai, whatever that is.  His voice get slurry.

I try Lee again.  No answer.

 After two hours of show tunes and torch songs, I drag Ryan out onto the street.  We can't find the car.  Has it been stolen?  Has it been towed?  It's too much trouble to deal with tonight.  I call a friend to pick us up.

6.  We finally get back to the house.  I'm exhausted, in pain, worried about my car, in no mood for physical activity, and besides, we have to wait for Lee.

But Ryan starts kissing and undressing me.  Maybe something will go right on this date!  We go into the bedroom

Where I promptly fall asleep.

It's official: the Worst Date in West Hollywood History!

By the way, Lee had been waiting for us at the Faultline, my car had been towed, and I didn't see Ryan again

See also: Cruising the Gay Dwarf.


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