Thursday, December 17, 2020

August 1984: An Ole Miss Undergrad Named Elmer

Oxford, Mississippi, Summer 1984

I've just finished my M.A. degree, and I'm on my way south to Hell-fer-Sartain, Texas, a far northern suburb of Houston, where I will be teaching English.  I stop for the night in Oxford, Mississippi, the home of Ole Miss.

I tour the university and the William Faulkner house, get take-out fried chicken from Lenora's Family Restaurant, and check in to my hotel to settle down for an evening of Family Ties, Cheers, and Night Court.

I'm not planning to go out.  I have to take occupancy of my new apartment by 5:00 pm tomorrow, or I'll be stuck in hotels all weekend.  That means getting up at 5:00 am.

Besides, I'm in Mississippi, the heart of the heart of the most horrifyingly homophobic state in a horrifyingly homophobic country.  Where is there to go?

My Gayellow Pages listed only 1 bar in the whole state, in Jackson.

And I definitely am not going to go to a straight bar!

Still, I'm restless.  I have to go somewhere.

In the gathering darkness, I leave my hotel, walk down Lamar Boulevard, past Lenora's again, around the courthouse.  The same coffee houses and pizza places you would find in college towns anywhere,  Down University Boulevard, toward the campus.  

Elegant but rundown Victorian houses, gas stations, clothing boutiques, a lot of churches, a Christian Science Reading Room.

I see a cute guy heading in my direction, coming from the campus -- about my age, light brown hair, clean-shaven, slim, smooth chest.  His shirt is tucked into the right pocket of his jeans.  He gives me a long cruisy stare and turns south, onto 11th Street.  Curious, I follow.

He turns right onto Lincoln Avenue, a residential street that dead-ends at a traffic barrier.  He walks around -- there's a dirt path into the woods.

I follow him into the dark woods lit only by twilight and an occasional street light glimpsed far away -- and cigarettes.  The woods are populated!

Rugged Ole Miss Rebel football players, well-kept businessmen-types, bears, blue collars, rednecks who drove a dozen miles to stand in seclusion in the warm, humid night. Lots of muscles. 

The smell of beer and cigarettes and sweat.

This must be an outdoor cruising area, like the one Viju took me to in India earlier this summer.

The guy I followed in stands with his back to a tree and drops his pants.  Average beneath-the-belt-gifts, but already standing at attention, pale in the moonlight.  I kneel on the damp earth and go down on him.  

It takes him a long time, but he finishes with a barely suppressed moan.  Then he pulls me to my feet and zips up.  I try to kiss him, but he moves his head away  

"My name is Boomer," I say.

He looks startled, but says "Howdy, Boomer.  I'm Elmer."  He extends his hand.  It seems odd to be shaking hands with someone after we've been intimate.  Sex first, introductions later.  "Thanks, that was awesome."

He vanishes into the darkness.

A few guys have gathered to watch our performance.  I go down on a slim, blond guy in his 20s, with a Bratwurst+.  Then another Bratwurst is pushed into my face, and I try to go down on them both at once.

I can't see who it belongs to.

Sex first, introductions later.  If at all. 

One finishes and walks away; the other pushes my head off and walks away..

I wander through the woods. 

Someone is trying to go down on a middle-aged guy with a hairy chest, a little belly, and a gigantic Kovbasa, a  foot-long baseball bat  It's too big, so mostly he is using his hand.  I stand beside them, and he goes down on me as well.

I try to kiss the middle-aged guy, but he pushes my head down to his chest instead. I kiss and lick his nipples.

After a few moments, he leaves, and the guy on his knees goes down on me alone.

I don't finish; it's hard to concentrate in the semi-darkness, with the bugs and the heat and the sweat.  Besides, I don't know anything about the guy I'm having sex with.  At least in the bathhouse in Chicago last year, you could see their faces and physiques.

Some guys have gathered around to watch.

Finally I pull him to his feet, so at least I can see his face.  It's Elmer!

"Oh, hi, Boomer, I didn't know that was you."  

"You can't get rid of me that easy," I joke.  I try to kiss him, but he pulls his head away.

"You got a room?"

"Yeah, I'm at the Graduate, up on Lamar."

"Let's go there, ok?  The mosquitoes are getting pretty intense out here."

On the way out of the woods, he stops to go down on a tall, muscular redhead with a military crew cut.

Then we go back to Lamar Boulevard.  Elmer stops at a small grocery store to buy a toothbrush.  

"Do you know any of these guys?" I ask.  "Like, last name basis?"

"I know some of the faces of the regulars, but we don't talk much. We're mostly just there for the sex.  I think you're the only guy who ever told me his name."

It sounds horribly depressing, something out of a Truman Capote novel.  At least Rock Island has some gay bars.  "Is that all there is for gay guys to do, here in Oxford?  Have quickies in the woods, with mosquitoes and muddy knees?"

Elmer slaps me on the back.  "You gotta be kidding me, boy!  Them woods are just for sex.  I got a lot of gay friends in town.  I got two boyfriends.  We go to movies, to football games, out to eat, that kind of thing.  There's a professor that throws real fancy parties once a month  30 gay guys, with dancing and hors d'oeuvres."

"But it's like...Mississippi!  Are you out to people and everything?"

"No, coming out is a Yankee custom.  We keep a low profile down here, no camping it up and calling each other 'Mary,' and if somebody asks, you just say you haven't met the right girl yet."

When we get back to my hotel room, Elmer goes immediately into the bathroom.  I hear the sound of tooth brushing and gargling.  He returns: "Ok, you go brush your teeth, too.  And use mouthwash."

I comply.  When I come out, he is lying naked on the bed.  "Now I'll kiss you."

Sex first, intimacy later. Last names, not at all.

See also: Cruising Rednecks in Oxford, Mississippi


  1. Yeah, I think camp (I mean for being gay, not trans.) is specifically a bicoastal custom. Maybe not so closeted, but still...

    Craig Womack described the woods (and segregation among gay men in the South) in his book. It is, like all gay literature at the time, a tragedy, though not as depressing because it straddles two eras of the protagonist's family history. (Though that just created posthumous characters.)



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