Friday, May 22, 2015

Finding Larry's Fetish

Nashville, November 1991

I spent the fall of 1991 in Nashville, studying Biblical Hebrew at Vanderbilt Divinity School and dating country-western stars.

I also met Larry, one of the "lost souls" that I'm always drawn to.

He was 35 years old, with dark hair, a respectable physique (he worked out every day) -- and not bad beneath the belt.

But he grew up in a Bible-belt fundamentalist church -- nearly as bad as the Nazarenes -- and didn't come out until two years ago.  During that time, he had five dates.  And never a second date.

He had so many personal quirks that he turned everyone off.

His life was regimented to the point of obsession.  He got up at the same time every morning, went to bed at the same time every evening, and had the same breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day.

He worked at the IRS Office on Broadway in Nashville, the most  sinister, soulless building you can imagine.

His only off-work passion was opera.  He bought all of the operas on cd that he could find, and had season tickets to both the Nashville and Memphis Operas.  Once a year he drove all the way to Santa Fe, New Mexico, for their opera festival (which he considered the best in the world).

With all of the expenditures on opera, Larry had little money for anything else.  He never went to a movie, or out to dinner.

His living room was completely bare except for one reclining chair,  a stereo, and a bookcase containing 130,000 opera cds.

If all that wasn't enough to scare guys off, Larry had many more quirks:

1. He did not own a television.
2. He changed his sheets and towels every day.
3. No food or beverages could be consumed in his apartment, except while sitting at the kitchen table.
4. He frequently said "yum" while eating.
5. He kept an exact count of every penny he spent in a little notebook.
6. He showered, and insisted that his partner shower, both before and after sexual intimacy.

No wonder he had only been on five dates.

"You have to get out into the gay community," I told him.  "Find guys who share your interests."

"I hate gay guys!" he exclaimed.  "All they're into is sex and dancing."

"That's just the party crowd.  There are plenty of other gay activities."

So I took him on a grand tour of Nashville's Gay Scene.

1. The Metropolitan Community Church
"Reminds me too much of my childhood church!"

2. Black and White Men Together
"What will I do if I'm into a white guy?"

3. A gay cowboy bar
"Ugh!  Country-Western music!"

4. Nashville AIDS Network
"Too depressing!"

5. The Imperial Court
"I'm not into drag queens!"

6.  A gay soccer team
"I hate sports!"

8. Gay nudists
"I'm too shy!"

9.-15. Politics? Gay Pride Planning Committee?  Gay fathers?  Gardening? Chubby chasers?  Board games?  Motorcycle club?

16. Um...S&M?

"I'm not into pain!  Well...maybe we could try it."

So we tried various configurations.  Top, bottom, ropes, chains, clamps clothes pins, gags, blindfolds, vibrators, whipping, flogging, spanking....

"Could we do this with opera in the background?"

It makes sense: his life was all about control, so his fetish was about giving up control.

Larry soon found his way into the gay leather world.  In 1993 he was a participant in the International Mr. Leather competition.   1994 he became one of the founders of the Tennessee Leather Tribe.

It's all about finding your niche. Or in Larry's case, your fetish.

See also: Finding Larry's New Fetish

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Getting Naked with the Church Treasurer

Rock Island, December 1993

When I was a kid, the adults all told me that I would grow up, go to work in the factory, then "find a nice girl" and get married.  Abandoning boyhood "pals" for a heterosexual destiny was a fact of life, as inevitable as the sunrise.  I kept looking for someone -- anyone -- who managed to escape, and spent their life with a same-sex partner, or failing that, alone.

But it was fruitless.  Occasionally I thought I found someone, but no:

The "old lady schoolteachers" down the street?  Widows living together to save on rent.
My judo instructor -- married to a woman.
My 6th grade science teacher?  Had a girlfriend, and hoped to marry soon.

I never even noticed Brother Byron (not his real name or photo).  He was my Uncle Paul's age, about 12 years older than me, tall and thin, with a sandy hair, a long solemn face, and glasses that gave him a somewhat sinister look.  One imagined that he had lots of secrets at home.

He was a member of the Carlson Clan, three brothers who ran the church, along with their wives and in-laws.  They sat in the best pews, served on all the boards and committees, sang every solo, and could make or break preachers at will.

I didn't see Brother Byron much: he didn't teach Sunday school or lead a youth group.  As church treasurer, he sometimes lectured us in a slow, precise tone on the importance of tithing: 10% of your allowance into the offering plate, and another 10% in your Alabaster Box.

 And he was head usher, so I remember him running around during services, finding hymnals, collecting offerings, rarely sitting still to listen to a sermon.

I assumed that he was married, like the other Carlsons, like everyone else in church.  His wife must be off somewhere preparing for choir practice or Missionary Society.

I dropped out of the Nazarene church during college, and then I moved to West Hollywood, and forgot about Brother Byron.  But at Christmastime in 1993, I was back in Rock Island, and for some reason I was glancing through the church directory, and there was Brother Byron, a single Mr. amid the endless Mr. and Mrs. listings.  He lived alone!

"Is Brother Byron widowed?"  I asked my mother.

"No, no...he never married."

Never married?  I wondered: was he gay?  And how could I find out?

"Do you give him anything for Christmas? A card, or a fruitcake, or something?"

"Well, we didn't until just recently," Mom said.  "But since your father started working as an usher, Brother Byron is like his boss, so every year I bake him some cookies."

"Um...this year could I deliver them?"

She didn't know what I was planning.

It was a warm winter, and Brother Byron's house was only about 2 miles away, so I put on a sweatshirt and sweatpants and jogged over.  A very nice neighborhood, near the John Deere Mansion.  Nazarenes were usually working class or poor, but he was obviously quite well off.

He answered the door in a t-shirt and shorts, a mop in his hand -- he had been cleaning.  First gay test: neat and tidy. The shorts displayed an impressive bulge, and without his glasses, he looked rather handsome.

"Hi, remember me?  Boomer, from church -- Frank Davis' son."

He stared suspiciously.  "Um...yes, of course.  How are you?  Living in California, I hear."

"Yep.  Summer time, 365 days a year!  My Mom sent you some Christmas cookies."  I passed the bag over.  Our hands touched briefly.

"Tell your mother Thank you."

He was about to slam the door!  " was a nice day, so I jogged over, and now I'm about to die of thirst.  Could I trouble you for a glass of water?"

Staring doubtfully, Brother Byron held the door open.

I made a fuss over his living room full of Shaker furniture, quilted rugs, and photographs of dour Carlson ancestors. Second gay test: good taste in home decor!

 He led me into the kitchen and poured my glass of water from the sink.  I reached out for the glass -- and "clumsily" spilled it all over my sweatshirt.

"God...bless it!" I exclaimed.  "Look at this -- I'm soaked!  can't go out in the cold this way!"

"No big deal.  I'll pop it in the drier for 20 minutes, and it will be good as new."

"Well -- if it's no trouble."  I ripped off my sweatshirt, flexing as much as possible.  His eyes widened.

Third gay test: gets turned on by muscles. 

Definitely gay!  But did he know it?

He disappeared into the laundry room.  When he returned, I said "Well, we've got 20 minutes to kill.  Maybe I could see more of your house?  I love the Shaker decor."

"You know about Shaker furniture?  I'm impressed."  He smiled for the first time.  "Ok, the grand tour will start with the parlor..."

"Apr├Ęs vous, monsieur."  I took his arm and squeezed his bicep.

He immediately swung around.  "What are you..."

Uh-oh, I blew it!  I thought.  Now the whole church will hear that Frank Davis's son goes around trying to pick up Carlsons!  

But instead of yelling, he lay his flat palm against my chest.

He was gay, and knew it.

But how did he stand the Nazarene church?

Right after high school, you were placed in the College and Career Sunday school class, where you stayed until you got married.  If you never married, you stayed there, year after year, listening to the same lessons on "starting out in life" over and over again.

And the sermons!  Preachers often screamed about how God put us on this "terrible old world" for two reasons only: to win souls, and to marry and produce children.  If you weren't married, you needed to stop shirking your duty and obey the Will of God!  Who could stand listening to that three times a week?

Turns out that the church treasurer was excused from Sunday school class to do financial things, and the head usher had to rush around during the services instead of listening to the sermon.  Very clever!

But why did Brother Byron stay in a church that hated him?

His reply was simple: "They don't hate me.  They hate who they think I am."

As far as I know, he's still in the church.

The Ghost of the Davenport House

Rock Island, July 1977

11th grade was so crowded with new friends and boyfriends - - the preacher's son who liked nude horseplay, the rabbi's son who didn't know he was gay, the boy I slept with at music camp, plus others I haven't posted on -- that you may think I dropped Darry, my best friend in junior high.

But he was there every day, by my side through all of the events at Rocky High, steadfast in his loyalty and affection. He accepted my interest in boys without question, though he often tried to push me toward girls as well.

One night in the summer of 1977, shortly after I returned from Switzerland, Darry took me to a stand-up comedy show at Augustana College.  Afterwards we drove onto Arsenal Island, to the Davenport House, where Colonel Davenport, the first European settler in the Quad Cities, was murdered on July 4, 1845.

"What are we doing here?" I asked. "The Davenport House is closed at night."
“I work here, remember?” Darry said. He had a part-time job as a docent.

It was a two-story clapboard facing north to-ward the dark-flowing Mississippi, with green-shuttered windows and chimneys on each end. From the front porch I could see the lights of downtown Davenport, with the Centennial Bridge spanning the river.

When we climbed onto the porch, Darry pulled out a flashlight.
“I’ve been here before,” I protested. “Lots of times."
“Have you ever seen the room where Colonel Davenport died?”
“No – that’s always closed to the public.”
“Closed to the public, maybe. Not to us.”

Darry led me through the parlor, now a museum, past the gift shop and the dining room to the kitchen, which had mostly modern furnishing, including a new refrigerator and stove. An old servants’ stairway led up to the second floor, to a narrow hallway.  The banister staircase on the other end led down to the parlor.

Darry  pointed his flashlight beam down the hall. “They found him in his wife’s sitting room, there by the banister, and carried him to his bedroom, here, where he died.” He opened the door on the east end. It was sparsely furnished, with an old four-poster bed, a wash basin with an old-fashioned pitcher, a dresser, and two round red-upholstered chairs. One window looked north, onto the dark yard with the Mississippi beyond, 

Darry walked over to the dresser, creaked open a bottom drawer, and retrieved a pile of magazines. He climbed onto the bed -- not the one Col. Davenport died on, I hoped -- and sat propped up against the pillows. I climbed up next to him. The bedspread smelled of must and lavender room deodorizer. He began leafing through one of the magazines  –Playboy, I realized, shocked.
“Hey, that’s porn!”

“On the contrary, it’s the noble quest after the Eternal Feminine,” Darry said. “But I can’t keep them at home. Mom and Dad go through everything.”

He held open a page featuring a naked girl, smiling open-mouthed, with shiny hair and pale pendulous breasts. It was disgusting. But Darry obviously found it stunning, so wonderful that he sequestered them at the Davenport House and risked being fired just for the joy of gazing at a few centerfolds once in a while.

I had a place at home where I invited boys to have sex...and watch.  Was this Darry's place?

“I don’t like pictures of naked ladies,” I said softly. “Could we go home now?”

“There’s nobody here but us, so you can stop the Herr Holy-Pants attitude. Tell me you don't like this one!" Darry held up the issue. A girl who looked something like Gloria, the daughter on All in the Family, holding a telephone between her breasts.

“It’s gross!” I jumped off the bed, felt my way for the door, and pulled it open. The hallway was completely dark, except for thin pale lines of door frames bathed in moonlight. I wanted to run away, but if I left Darry, how could I get home again? The island would be nearly deserted at night.

Maybe if I tried, if I looked very closely, I would see what Darry saw. Maybe I would know what the fuss was all about. Maybe I would finally bow to the tripods.

Darry slid off the bed and walked toward me.  "If you don't like blondes.." he began.  Then he trailed off.

The door at the end of the hall, by the banister staircase, was invisible except for a thin line of pale light. But the line was getting bigger. The door was slowly swinging open!

Later I could recall the inside of the wife’s sitting room: a small table with a lace tablecloth and a tea service, a low bookcase, two overstuffed chairs from the Victorian era, a window framed with lace curtains. But at that moment I saw only a shadow at the half-opened door: the outline of a man! No facial features or clothing, just a head and torso, and an arm  propped lazily against the lintel, as if someone was investigating the noise.

We clattered down the servants’ stairway, through the kitchen door, and into Darry’s car. We zoomed down Rodman Boulevard, slowing only when we reached the Government Bridge.  

The ghost – if it was a ghost -- was too thin to be Colonel Davenport. Maybe it was one of the murderers, returning to check on his handiwork. Or Colonel Davenport’s son,  George L’Oste. Or a draft creaking the door open. Or a prank.

Darry swore that he wasn’t playing a prank. In fact, he was too scared to go back to the Davenport House.  The next day he called to quit his job.

I've always wondered why the ghost appeared at the exact moment Darry started looking at Playboys.  Maybe it was a gay ghost who resented the intrusion of heterosexism.

See also: The Naked Ghost of Hylton Castle.; Boys with Baseball Bats in my Attic Sanctuary

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Straight Guys Never Figure It Out

Wilton Manors, October 2003

When I was living in Florida, newcomers from the small towns (or big cities) of the vast homophobic Straight World often went crazy with joy: "You can be open here!  You can be free!"  They found a job in a gay venue, read only gay books, went only to gay movies, and never ventured beyond the magic square bounded by Oakland Park Blvd., Powerline Road, NW 13th Street, and the Atlantic Ocean.

"Oh, you live on NW 12th Street?  Isn't that a little...iffy?"

Most residents of Wilton Manors weren't quite so insular.  But all of our friends were gay.  So were our neighbors.  And, as far as we know, so was the guy on the next treadmill at Barney's Gym, the guy sorting coupons in the check out line at the Publix Supermarket, and the woman browsing among the humorous cards at To the Moon.  We avoided heterosexuals as much as possible.  They were the enemy, screaming "God hates you!" from behind security fences at Gay Pride, or asking simpering, insulting questions, like "What do they think causes it now?"

So my house mates were surprised, and not entirely sympathetic when I befriended a heterosexual.

In the fall of 2003, when I was working at Florida Atlantic University, I saw Josh (not his real name) in the locker room of the campus gym, stripping out of a plaid shirt, suspenders, and a ridiculous red bowtie. I concluded that he was heterosexual almost immediately, through the gleaming, new-looking ring on his finger and his casual references to his wife. Surely Josh concluded that I was gay almost immediately, from my answer to the question " What are you working on now?” (media images of gay teenagers), or from the shelves of gay books, rainbow flag mouse pad, and gay pride poster in my office.

But no, when an attractive girl passed, Josh nudged me so I could look.  "I only look at guys," I said.

That didn't do it.

"He will never figure it out," my housemate Yuri told me.  "Stupid straight guys can never see anything but straights."

"Anyway, why would you want to tell a breeder?" my other housemate, Barney, said with an accusatory glare, as if I was planning some act of treason.  "When he finds out, he'll start screaming that you're trying to molest him."

"He's not a friend, really.  He just comes to my office to chat.  Besides, it's a challenge.  Somehow or other I'm going to get him to figure it out!"

"Impossible!"  Barney exclaimed.  "But why don't we make it interesting?  I'll bet you $20 that you can't get him to figure it out during the next week.  You can say anything you want except 'I'm gay.'"

"I want in on this thing too," Yuri said.  "But you can't cruise him.  Or talk about your old boyfriends."

I spent the next week dropping all of the hints I could think of.

"I can't get married in this state.  It's illegal."
"Oh...still married to the wife back home, huh?"
No, you nitwit, gay people can't get married!

"I can't donate blood.  It's illegal."
"I hear you.  Get a venereal disease just once, it haunts you for the rest of your life."
No, you idiot, gay men can't donate blood!

"My childhood church was totally homophobic.  It blamed gays for everything from child molestation to 9/11."
"That's ridiculous!  Gays are just people, like you and me."
Are you in on the bet?  Did my housemates pay you to pretend ignorance?

Finally in desperation I invited Josh over for dinner with Barney and Yuri.

"Oh, a guys' night!  Leave the girlfriends at home!  Sounds great!"

During dinner, I brought up Wilton Manors' reputation as a gay mecca.
"Yeah, gentrifying neighborhoods often have gay guys fixing things up."

Barney's job managing a gym with a mostly gay clientele.
"It's great that you're so secure in your masculinity that you aren't worried about them seeing you naked in the locker room."

Yuri's quest for the World's Biggest Penis in the Basque country of Spain four years ago.
"Wow, are they really that big?  They must really impress the ladies!"

My housemates grinned at me.

After dinner I invited Josh to select a movie to watch from our collection of 200-odd DVDS. Other than a few classics, they all had gay characters, gay subtexts, or covers displaying muscular guys with their shirts off. Without a word or even an odd look, he selected Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, which has none.

Josh sat on the couch, directly behind a coffee table containing a pile of gay magazines. On top was an issue of The Advocate, selected deliberately because the word “Gay” was written on the cover three times, along with photos of the gay icons Harvey Milk and Chad Allen. Surely that would be enough.

It wasn't.

After the movie, we were channel surfing, when an attractive man appeared on the screen. “Wait – go back,” I exclaimed. “That guy was totally hot!”

"What for?"  Josh asked.  "It was a guy."

Finally in desperation, I pulled out my wallet, handed $20 bills to Yuri and Barney, and said, in a loud, clear voice, "I am gay."

"Yeah, right.  Don't be funny."  He turned to Yuri.  "Does Boomer always joke around like this?"

"Yes, all the time," he said, barely restraining his laughter.  "Except when he wants to impress a girl."

I hit him on the head with a pillow.

When they finally assured Josh that I wasn't joking, he was shocked.  "I had no idea.  You hide it so well!"

Hide it?

Then: "I think it's great that you guys are so secure in your masculinity that you don't mind having a gay roommate."

Monday, May 18, 2015

My Kentucky Kinfolk Grow Up

Maysville, Kentucky, January 2004

My mother's family moved to Indiana when she was seven years old.  She was born in Magoffin County, Kentucky, in the Appalachians, where the Hatfields and McCoys feuded, where ultra-fundamentalist churches handle snakes, where everyone goes barefoot and listens to Country-Western music and rides around in red pickup trucks.


My Uncle El was old enough to stay behind, working on the farm, then for the gas company, marrying, and having a huge number of children -- 12 in all.  Three were my age or a little older, El, Graydon, and Dayton.

We met in Indiana, at my Uncle Paul's wedding, where we saw the Naked Man in the Peat Bog.

 During the summer after 7th grade, my parents and I drove down to visit.  I liked hanging out with them so much that for years I thought of Kentucky as a "good place," where same-sex desire was open and free.

I didn't see them again.  When I was a kid, we always went to Indiana to visit our other relatives instead, and when I was living in West Hollywood and New York, I flew back to Illinois twice a year to see my parents and brother and sister. There was no time for Kentucky.  And the years passed and passed and passed.

I got my Ph.D.  I moved to Florida.  I hadn't seen them for 30 years.

At Christmastime in 2004, I was back in Rock Island for the holidays, when the phone rang.  My Uncle El had died on January 1st, his birthday. Did I want to drive down for the funeral?

I had only met him twice, but I wanted to go.  I wanted to see Kentucky again.

Uncle El had 12 children, 31 grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren, plus brothers and sisters, cousins and second-cousins, and third cousins, and some friends who weren't even relatives, all filling up the Maysville Baptist Church, the Howard Family Cemetery, and then the white frame house on a mountaintop that I remembered from 30 years before (except now it had running water, an indoor bathroom, internet access, and cable tv).

Was Kentucky still a "good place"?  Not hardly.

It was heterosexuality as far as the eye could see.  There were Howards, Shepherds, Praters, Gearhearts, and Handshoes, all reuniting over casseroles and pies and cakes, all introducing boyfriends and girlfriends and husbands and wives and kids,

Graydon, now 43, was working for the power company in Michigan.  Dayton, 45, and El, 47, ran an auto repair place in Mayville, Kentucky.  They were all married with children, and some grandchildren.

My parents cautioned me to not "talk about guys"  (their code for "gay topics"), lest the Bible Baptists lynch me, so when I was asked "Where's your wife?" and "Did you leave your wife back in Florida?", I replied with a vague "Oh, I'm not married."

When I was asked "How old are your kids?", I replied with a vague "Oh, I don't have any kids."

When men gave me an inclusive nudge and exclaimed "You know how women are!" or "You know how wives are!", I responded with a noncommittal shrug.

Was there even a glimmer of gay potential in this paeon to heterosexual marriage and reproduction?

Maybe a glimmer.

1. Cousin Graydon and his wife were big fans of Will and Grace.  "That Jack always cracks me up!"

2. I told Cousin El about Angels in America,  the HBO miniseries about gay people that aired a couple of weeks ago, and he smiled politely.

3. Cousin Dayton introduced me to his 15-year old son,  Joel, "a real lady's man!"

"Dad, that's lame!" Joel protested.

"But it's true!  He's always hanging around with girls.  He even joined the drama club at school, just so he'd have his pick of the girls."

"Dad!  I joined drama club because I want to be an actor!"

Wants to be an actor?  Always hanging around with girls?  

"I lived in West Hollywood for 13 years," I said.  "I know quite a bit about the movie business. When I get home, I'll send you some of my old books."

"That'd be cool," Joel said noncommittally, anxious to be rid of the oldsters.

When I got back to Florida, I sent Joel a box of books: a history of Hollywood,  my old textbook from acting class, some Shakespeare and Ibsen, and "accidentally," Geography Club by Brent Hartlinger, about a teen who starts an undercover gay club at his high school.

He sent me a nice card, thanking me, but not mentioning Geography Club.

Some glimmers of gay potential.


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