Friday, April 26, 2019

My Dayton Friend with Benefits

Dayton, February 2006

In the fall of 2005, I moved to Fairborn, Ohio, a suburb of Dayton, to take a job at the University of Dayton.  After 20 years in gay neighborhoods, it was a shock.  Dayton had only a tiny gay presence: a bar, two welcoming churches, a gift shop with gay-themed cards, and two organizations, one with the oddly closeted name “Friends of the Italian Opera” (“we do not go to the opera or discuss the opera”).

There was a gay neighborhood in Columbus, about an hour away by car.  But I could spend only about 10 hours per week in a gay neighborhood. 95% of my life took place in the Straight World, where everyone and everything was heterosexist.  Most people were completely unable to understand that gay people exist:

Grocery Store Clerk: "Here's your Super-Valu Discount Card.  Do you need another one for your wife?"
Me: "I'm gay, so I don't have a wife.  Can I get one for my partner?"
Clerk: "Anybody in your household.  Just tell her to sign it on the bottom."

Sexual Harassment Trainer: "Sometimes students of the opposite sex will approach you for dates, but you should refuse."
Me: "Could I date a student of the same sex if he was not taking any of my classes?"
Trainer: "No.  She might enroll in your classes in the future."

Me: "Could you have my car finished by 5:00?"
Auto Mechanic: "Hot date, huh?  Is she cute?"
Me: "As a matter of fact, he is quite attractive."
Auto Mechanic: "Yeah, I'll bet she's cute."

And my classes!

My apartment in Fairborn
Mostly to soldiers from the nearby air force base.

Classrooms full of muscular soldiers may be visually appealing, especially while it's still warm enough for chest-hugging t-shirts, but the opinions they expressed were uniformly 1950s conservative: “homosexuals” are very sick, too sick to enlist in the military, most likely conspiring with the pedophiles and terrorists to take away our freedom.

I burrowed into the womb of my apartment.  I didn't go into Columbus.  I didn't go to gay venues in Dayton.  I taught my classes and went to the gym.  On weekends I ordered Chinese food, watched Seinfeld, and hung out in internet chatrooms.

My only social life came from Chuck, a "friend with benefits": one of those guys who visit you for awhile and then leave, with only minimal contact information and no personal biographies.

Chuck was in his early 30s,  very muscular, with short brown hair and a round, appealing face.  He visited every couple of weeks -- I would call him, or he would call me.

It wasn't much of a social life.  We never left the apartment.  We didn't talk much.  Chuck never volunteered information, and he responded to questions with a noncommital grunt.  After six months of regular visits, all I knew about him was that he coached a Little League Baseball Team, he liked folk dancing and Seinfeld, he hated Chinese food, and he visited his mother on Christmas Day.  And he was "straight."

One Thursday morning in the spring of 2006, I went to the gym as usual and tried to run on the treadmill, but for some reason it was too difficult.  I walked about a mile, then went to my office to wait for my 11:00  class.

Soon I started feeling light headed.  Ok, I was getting sick.  I would go home right after Juvenile Delinquency.

At about 10:00 am, I realized that I would never make it to class.  In fact, I would never be able to drive home.  I stumbled down to the department office and told the secretary, "I'm not feeling well.  Can you find someone to give me a ride home?"  While she was on the phone, I collapsed.

At the emergency room, the doctor told me that I was severely dehydrated from the flu, I should stay in bed a few days, and could I get my girlfriend to come pick me up?
"You mean my boyfriend?"
"When can she pick you up?"
"Well, actually, I don't have a boyfriend."
"A friend or relative, then?  Somebody has to pick you up. You can't drive yourself."

I checked my cell phone.  Friends and relatives from California, New York, Florida, Indiana, Illinois, plus Austria, Belgium, England, France, and Estonia.  They wouldn't do much good.

I couldn't admit to the doctor that I had lived in Dayton for almost a year, and hadn't made any friends.

My only Dayton number was for Chuck.  But he wasn't actually a friend....

Well, any port in a storm. I called and said "I'm in emergency room.  Severe dehydration -- it's not contagious. I just have to stay off my feet for a few days, and I can't drive.  Can you come over and pick me up?"

"Why me?" he asked, understandably.

"Um..all of my other friends are at work, and I don't have their work numbers."

"Um...I guess, ok.  Sure."

It took him over an hour to show up.  "Sorry, I made a couple of stops first.  Got you some get-well presents."  He handed me a bouquet of flowers and the Seinfeld Season One DVD set.

We drove back to my apartment, and Chuck helped me inside -- I was still shaky -- and into my bathrobe.  By this time, it was 3:00 pm, and I hadn't had any lunch.  "Could you get me some soup?" I asked.

"Soup?  I think we can do better than that!"  He went on a grocery run, and returned to make gumbo, garlic bread, a salad, and bread pudding.  We ate on tv trays and watched my Seinfeld dvd, and then Everybody Hates Chris and My Name is Earl.  

"Well, thanks for staying with me," I said, "But I'm really tired.  I want to go to bed."

"Ok, no problem.  Let's go."  He helped me into the bedroom, pulled down the covers, and started unbuttoning his shirt.

"Oh...sorry, but I'm not really in the mood to do anything tonight."

"Not a problem.  Tonight you're a patient, and it's my job to deliver TLC.  We can just cuddle."

So he held me in his arms all night.

In the morning I felt well enough to walk around by myself, and Chuck went to work.  He returned in the evening to make cheese burritos and a taco salad, with flan, and we watched a DVD of Murder on the Orient Express.  

As we were preparing for another night of cuddling, he said, "When you're feeling better, maybe you would like to go to a ball game.  I have season tickets to the Columbus Clippers."

"You a date?"

"Sure, why not?"

"Well, for the last six months, you haven't wanted to do anything know."

"Yeah, know, my whole life has been devoted to my family.  My parents, my sister and her kids.  I thought gay guys were only about sex.  Until you called from the emergency room."

"You didn't know that gay guys got sick?"

"If you asked me, intellectually, I would have said, 'sure, gay guys must get sick sometime.'  They must watch tv, and eat dinner, and go to ball games.  But I never realized..."

"That gay people exist outside of bedrooms?"

"Right!  Exactly!" He clapped me on the back.  "I bet they even go on dates!" 


  1. I grew up in Dayton, Huber Heights, actually. I came out as gay in 1968 at the start of my Freshman year not out of bravery but rather to let other boys know I was available. Boy did it ever work! I also had to fight a lot, teaching some bullies the shame of having to tell their parents that a faggot done kicked their asses. You are spot on about the attitude of people in Southwest Central Ohio toward homosexuality.

    I have written a novel - a police procedural - set in the Dayton area. The victim of a murder is a closeted man who has been carrying on an affair with a 16 year old former employee. This kid is caught smoking pot with a 14 year old, and they are both trying to seduce one another but neither one knows it until they are interrogated. There are scenes set in the Stage Door bar as the Huber detectives visit undercover to find out about the victim's habits. When the main character, Det. Sgt. J.P. Waterman hears one of his detectives make a remark about "queer cops"; Waterman is outraged and tells him about his gay partner in Washington D.C. who took a shotgun blast meant for Waterman and died.

    I don't wanna use your blog to advertise my stuff, but I'd appreciate a review from a guy who knows about Dayton's attitude. The novel is set in the summer of 1995, about 13 years before your exposure to Dayton's attitude. It's available on Kindle for a measly $2.99. The title is "The Peterson Investigation". Please read it and share your thoughts.

  2. I don't actually have Amazon Kindle. Is there a print version?

  3. Going from "giant Tava murals" to "small town" is always a shock. Oddly enough, despite all the Lenny Bruce plagiarism in stand-up comedy today (he invented "mayonnaise jokes", in contrast to thousand island dressing), giant Tava murals always felt somehow whiter to me.



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