Interviewer: So, tell me your story.
Steve: I was born in Roswell, New Mexico, one cold Saturday morning in December 1963. I lived in Roswell and Clovis, spent my teens and twenties in Duncan, OK <involuntary shudder>, and then lived in Dallas, TX; Pleasant Hill, CA; Highlands Ranch, CO; San Francisco, CA; Ann Arbor, MI; Brentwood, CA; and Nashville, TN. I was blessed with decades with the love of my life. I was a mensware salesman, a reporter and PR director, a run-of-the-mill temp, an internal communications manager, a substitute teacher, an author, a regular elementary teacher, a jack of all trades, a master of none. Then I died.
What’s to know?
Int: It sounds like an entry in one of those old city telephone guides, you know, the ones like “City of Roswell, NM, 1966: 1616 W. Juniper 88201. Pollock, Marion E., service station mgr.; Janis W, bus driver, custodian; children Kathy, 10, Vicky, 8, Steven, 3. 505-623-1354.
Int: There’s always more to the biographical entry. Even as biography, it’s rather skimpy.
S: Fine. How’s this: My mother went into labor at 2 a.m. on a Satuday morning, Dec. 14, 1963. Everything was closed on a cold winter night. They hustled my sisters over to my near-by aunt’s house, then headed for the hospital, Eastern New Mexico Medical Center, where a future actress who would be named Demi Moore had just been born the month before.
They didn’t really want the Catholic Poor Clare Nuns at St. Mary’s on the south edge of town to deliver a bouncing baby white Protestant boy and have him lie in a nursery sprinkled with Papist holy water surrounded by what my grandparents always called, “Mescans”—a deliberate slur, both literal and figurative, an all around great word for them and their purpose. Catholics were Mescans, Mescans were Catholics. If you went to St. Peter and Paul’s, you were Mescan. You went to the First Church of the Nazarene, you were good Christian white people destined to conquer heaven and have its fruits and riches yours forever and ever amen. The attitude when they moved from Oklahoma where negroes were to be found to New Mexico where there were few and far between negroes, but Mexicans abounded simply shifted their racism from black to brown. “We can’t say ‘nigger’ no more? Fine, we don’t need ‘nigger’ around here anyway, they ain’t that much of them here. But we got lots of Mescans. Wetbacks. Illegals. Mescans steal. Mescans lie. Mescans are pestilential. Somebody gets shot in Roswell, a Mescan done it. We keep loaded pistols under our pillows in case a wetback comes bustin’ through the front door. Thank god for Jesus and the NRA and Sig Sauer 9mms!”
[Can you see a theme, perhaps a thread, that will run through some of my family encounters? Let’s clear this up first. I quote racists. I don’t share their views. Even if they are among the people who created my existence. It doesn’t fly with me. Never has. How my grandparents and parents approached issues of race and sexuality will pop up here unexpectedly like this throughout.]
So about my debut. 2 a.m. I’m screaming (stupid idiot that I was) that it was time to get the hell out of this vag and never, ever, never acquaint myself with one in a personal way ever again. Dad fumbles for some matches. Probably ice on the road, he’s driving with a finger while trying to light his 900th Lucky Strike of the day. He doesn’t have any matches left. She sighs and orders him to turn around and go to the house and get some. Nothing open at 2 a.m. in Roswell, NM, USA, during the deep dark nights of December 1963. So he turns around, grabs some matches, starts the drive back to the hospital.
ENMMC is up in the swankier northern end of town. The fashionable side, not like the ugly, poor Catholic side with all the Mescans. ENMMC is located on West Country Club Road, just off North Main Street. I was BORN on Country Club, motherfuckers and don’t forget it.
So, let’s see … 2 a.m. labor, time of arrival, 06:12 a.m.
Basically the story is that thanks to America’s tobacco companies, their addictive drugs within deadly products, two things were fated for me: One, to almost have been born in the back of the family 1958 Rambler station wagon. Two, to make sure that Dad dies of COPD and heart failure, his body destroyed just as he crosses the 80-year mark.
So, see what I mean? Boring. As. Fucking. Hell.
I: Let us and our readers be the judge of that.
S: Great. Editors and the “people” … fine, I’m sure everything will be just peachy. Go on?
I: For now, if you’re not too tired.
S: Fine. There were years of attending exhausting get-togethers at the Roswell First Church of the Nazarene, W. Eighth Street. I can still taste the sloppy joes from the kitchen in the “family center” (gym). Mom was invited to a service there in 1952 by one of the extended family cousins. She prayed the prayer and joined. And believed, at least, that is until about 1976, when her everlasting war with her oldest daughter shifted into high and serious and everlasting gear.
We moved to the ancestral home of Duncan, OK, in 1974. After a couple of years, the oldest sister rebelled against the “not-with-it-ness” of the Church of the Nazarene. There also weren’t enough husbands on the hoof at the small church in Duncan we attended. She and the more malleable middle sister decamped for the holy rollers. Mom muttered something about slowly changing herself, and promptly dragged me off to the a place that called itself “Gospel Beams” church. A perfectly cromulent word, but in that context … odd and weird. It wasn’t “First Church of the Whatever,” or “Fir Street Baptist,” it was …. Gospel. Frickin’. Beams.
I suffered so many indignities there. For starters, I didn’t buy the bullshit. Here was my 12-year-old self’s perspective: On one Sunday, I’m going to Oak Avenue Church of the Nazarene, the exact church my dad’s grandmother and her twin sister had propped up for decades, and in which my parents had been married. Wherein there was a disapproving Chuch Lady, predating Dana Carvey’s performance on Saturday Night Live by years, named Mary Mahan (isn’t that a perfect name for smarmy self-righteous Sunday School teachers who conduct warfare on teenage girls who have the temerity to wear not just pants, but horrors! Blue. Jeans. when they are to be seen in the public square. The Church Lady had, of course, her Church Man complement but who wasn’t her husband, the preacher. Charles Stroud meant well, I’m sure, but he agreed with Church Lady and was just as conservative and NOT WITH IT to my sisters, one of whom at that point was about to be a senior in high school, and the other was out of school and doing nursing and office work. And this in 1975-76, a supposedly freer and happier time.
Come one Sunday morning Oldest Sister sits in parking lot of Hypocritical, Self-Righteous and Husband-Material-poor Church, where had sat our ancesters in the pews, still sprinkled with the rice from our parents wedding. They talk it over. Sister 1 says she just can’t bring herself to go in that place ever again. (She didn’t … it burned down in 2009, surely a sign of the removal of God’s blessing if there ever was one.) Sister 2 agrees, but she has other more nefarious plans afoot. They pull out of the parking lot and head to the east side of town, the locale, ‘mongst the poor Rednecks living near the original Chisholm Trail, of Gospel. Frickin’ Beams. They’ll get married there. Husbands on the hoof are far, far more plentiful.
Meanwhile back at the Church of the Nazarene, we get a spiffy little sermon. Follow me here. This is quite crucial to my future. The sermon runs like this: “Speaking in tongues is evidence of demonic possession!!!” <Amens, claps, whistles, “Kill the Devil!” Great-grandma shouts from the grave>.
Fast forward a week later. Mother’s heart has been burdened (poor Mother) with the information given her by the Holy Spirit, who at certain propitious moments in my life has acted more like Mercury, the winged god of speed and messenger boys everywhere, than a sober, deliberative, slow-moving force. So this time, the message is, “Oldest Daughter shouldn’t be defying your religious authority woman! Do something!”
Mother does. She immediately yanks me out of the Church of the Nazarene, where, remember, I’ve just been told on the authority of the church into which I was born and raised and had memorized the 1960 Church Manual so I could know how to perform weddings and funerals because … get this … I thought I would become a Church of the Nazarene preacher, [HA!] and had informed Mother of this when I was about 11.
Given a choice about which church to attend would have been lovely. Alas, it was not to be. I was the young, stupid child who couldn’t possibly be trusted to know what was good for him. So, after one hour of being exposed to “Gospel Beams”’ … shall we say, bizarreness and cultish overtones … I’m confident I would have scurried back underneath the skirts of the mother church (of the Nazarene), even if those skirts did belong to a pants-hating biddy who had a hand in every Oak Avenue C of the N pie.
But I wasn’t given a choice. Remember the previous sermon, supposedly delivered by a stern god to church leaders possessed of “utter sanctification” and who are therefore qualified to speak on subjects most weighty: “Speaking in tongues is evidence of demonic possession!”
I was 11. Puberty was dawning. Teenage outrage, hatred of hypocrisy, self-righteousness, inflated sense of injustice, and general all-around questioning and boundary-pushing are imminent.
The next Sunday, we don’t hightail it over to the other side of town with the sanctified who hate devilish tongue-speaking. Instead, we head straight for “Gospel Beams.” “We’re going here from now on,” says Mummie Dearest.
What happened? Well, last week the church of my birth told me speaking in tongues is evidence of demonic possession. This week at “Gospel Beams”? FRICKIN’ HOLY MARY MOTHER OF GOD JESUS MARY AND JOSEPH POPE PAUL VI AND ALL THE SAINTS AND DEAR GOD WHY ARE THESE WOMEN DRESSED IN EXPENSIVE ULTRASUEDE DRESSES RUNNING UP AND DOWN THE AISLES SCREAMING THEIR FOOL HEADS OFF???!!!!!
Then: The kicker. If I am to understand through the gibberish, the complete lack of any catechism, any order of service, regular communion or a multitude of things, there is one clear message: If you do NOT speak in tongues, God is withholding His greatest blessing from you and therefore there was something wrong with you if you didn’t immediately babble in “the presence of the Lord.”
In other words, NOT speaking in tongues was evidence of God withholding his favorite gift from you and therefore you opening yourself up to … you guessed it, demonic possession.
It was perfect. This nonsense lasted for next six (!) years until I got a car and a paper route with lots of Sunday morning deliveries to make, and therefore could make my mumbled excuses of “having to work on Sunday mornings” and thus avoid “Gospel Beams” like the plague.
Admittedly, this was convenient. How many times can you watch emotionally and physically repressed women have the greatest outbursts and then run up and down the aisles screaming, with tragic stains of tears spotting their impeccably tailored UltraSuede outfits?
It was the only time in their lives where they could say anything in their gobbledy language and get away with it. They could have been calling their husbands “black holes of emotional needs with cocks the size of pencil erasers”; they could have been yelling about how the very church around them was suffocating all of us, burying us in a cloying smell of death and fear and weird ritual “call and response” exercises, all done up in a format that claimed that the Holy Spirit was in charge of the church bulletin’s list of the order of the service; He and He alone decided which songs to sing, which verses to recite, whether to let the congregation leave before 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon because the pot roast would burn or whether to just meld it with the 6 p.m. service, which had it’s own weird rituals.
Namely: In that evening Sunday service, one went into the church at 6 p.m., sang some choruses the music for which hadn’t been written down; instead, the music dwelled in the brain of the church organist and music director. This system relied on obscure verses to provide lyrics to songs. If you were a newcomer, well, tough shit. You should just KNOW the tune to Psalm 63:3-4: “Thy lovingkindness is better than life. Thy lovingkindness is better than life. Thus will I bless thee, while I live; I will lift up my hands unto they name.”
The choruses, and many other things, will come upon you stealthily. Some day, you’ll stand and belt out, “They lovingkindness is better than life.” with the best of them. And you won’t have to look up the text to Psalm 63:3-4 in the King James.
After the choruses were sung from memory, there would be the show stopper. It was time for the crowd to “testify.” They would get up (as the Spirit moved them to jump) and they would testify: “I thought about that lady in the cubicle next to mine at Halliburton and how she wore that black dress to work on Tuesday and I also thought of about 18 different things I would do to her if I weren’t shackled to the ol’ ball-and-chain and if the sexy lady didn’t think I was a toad with three heads. But the Lord spoke to me and said, “Hey dumbass! You’re married under solemn holy vows and cannot think with your cock anymore, so put it away!” and He saved me right then and there from committing the grave sin of dissing my wife who hasn’t put out since 1957!” And so on.
But “Testify Time” often came with a built-in hazard that almost every Sunday hoisted the Beams of the Gospel by its own petard. The idea was that anyone could speak as the Spirit moved them. But the fatal flaw was that “Testify Time” could be easily hijacked by someone claiming to be moved. And the beauty of that was that no one else could stop him ’cause then they’d be speaking against the mysterious ways and movings of the Lord!
This always led to a brilliant, albeit stultifying, interlude every Sunday night. And some Sunday mornings. See, this dude named Joe Who-Wanted-Desperately-to-be-a-Preacher would get up and start to speak spontaneously and randomly and boringly about … God alone can remember what. Joe Who-Wanted-Desperately-to-be-a-Preacher tried all the words and phrases and everything, but … dear lord, he just wasn’t good. He did NOT have the showmanship, the theatricality, the ability to get Ultra Suede-ed women screaming in tongues, of the father-son team that pastored that church.
So Joe Who-Wanted-Desperately-to-be-a-Preacher always brought the place to a standstill. People would get bored. Some would drift away thinking, “I gotta get up at 6 a.m. to go to work, I can’t sit here all night! Don’t judge me!” The organist would sigh and eventually close her hymn book and leave the stage. I would engage in an hour-long seesaw between fighting off sleep and wondering if I did those goddamn Algebra problems in my homework. The relatives would later tut-tut and cluck-cluck about Joe Who-Wanted-Desperately-to-be-a-Preacher and his Showstopping Show. And I would always wonder, “What are you bitching for? He’s perfect for that place and it’s crazy rituals! They’re both bizarre, rambling, byzantine, stultifying, yawn-inducing, and completely ridiculous!” And I would always keep those opinions to myself.
Invariably, by 7:30 or so, even Mom would give up and give the signal and THANK YOU JESUS we could leave. The evening was over, I was a little over an hour from bedtime with school the next day during half the year, and only a little light left out during the rest of the year, so the evening was always ruined completely. Until I was 16, got some wheels and started working a little, and therefore had built in excuses, Sunday nights were the most miserable time of my entire existence. Thank god for K-Mart; when I started working there at 17, I had to often work Sunday afternoons from 12-6. Church started at 6, leaving me to drive myself straight home. Oh, the glorious freedom!!! Money, wheels and a Get-Out-of-Church-Free card!!!
Rapture. [Get it? Rapture? See what I did there?]
S: Fun religion-related fact: Sister #2’s extensive geneology research uncovered the origins of the Pollock clan in Scotland at the House of Pollok near Glasgow. In the house is a lovely, very faggy portrait of the Duke of Buckingham, in the full froppery of the age. The story is that King James was a complete fag: a fanny pounder, an ass bandit, an artist, funny, confirmed bachelor who managed to fuck enough to produce some offspring … in otherwords, a light-in-the-loafers Mary, Friend of Dorothy, honest-to-god poofter Mariçon fanny bandit bugger poofter pansy fruitcake Uranian Nancy Boy who is also a pillow biter and shirt lifter, Molly/Maryann, cocksucking, ass fucking, limp-wristed Son or Daughter of Bilitis, who just happened to be the King (and queen) of England when the most famous post-Reformation English translation of the Bible was put together … and then dedicated to … His Pansyness.
I can even remember the start of the dedication to the King James Version of the Bible. It is a translation which inexplicably remains sacred and inviolate to millions of Americans who believe that all other translations are the Devil’s Work—especially that 1960s New International Version, which was authored, obviously, by Satan in a futile attempt to tempt you away from the KJV, the One True Bible. Never mind that the KJV is the one translation commissioned by the biggest fruit and nut to hold the British Throne since King Edward II, a poofter whose poof hole was made poofier with red hot pokers and thus he expired. That is, the biggest fruit and nut until at least, oh, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Boris Johnson. Yes, I’m well aware they are prime ministers. It’s just that the British throne is no longer occupied by monarchs. The actual Queen (and whatever king succeeds her) has no power and prefers to remain well above sordid political affrays. At the moment, in fact, she is having nothing at all to do with the nasty, muddly mess of Brexit, and wishes to keep herself and the Royal Corgis (who possess more brains than all the prime ministers of the last 75 years put together) clean and well above the fray of sordid power wielding.
Fair warning: There will now be an incredibly long, massive digression. Feel free to skip ahead over the following King James Bible bit. I always did growing up; you should have the same privilege.
I said I clearly remember the KJV dedicatory. If you’ve never had the privilege of growing up in a true, Bible (KJV)-believing household, here’s your chance to get a feel for what it’s like.
The dedicatory is the way the holy priests of the church decided to flatter their fluttery sovereign: They gave him his new Bible and wrote him the most fawning letter in recorded history. This flattery of the fluttery King James is peerless. It took them longer to think of this short paragraph than it did to translate the whole book. And if you’ve ever read the book of Numbers, you KNOW how long it must have taken.
This introductory bit of the monks were so far up His Nibs ass that they could see out his nose. It is officially known as “The Epistle Dedicatory.” It was included in almost every KJV Bible until the latter part of the Twentieth Century.
An aside: Of COURSE!!!!! the Dedicatory was eliminated out of Satanic, Popish ignorance and dishonesty and thus “distorts the intent of the preparers … hides the flavor and meaning of the time in which it was prepared, and presumes that we know better than the preparers. It also changes history by withholding vital historical information,” says the New Albany-Louisville Bible Students Ecclesia. Which appears, interestingly enough, to be an … organization, shall we say … dedicated to pure things such as Gay King James’ Very Own Bible.
The comment quoted above is followed by a longish screed against erasing history and goes on rather tiringly about the scourge of political correctness (quelle horreur!). They end their rant with “We are not critical [underlined not critical] of Catholics! We are critical of Catholic doctrine. The distinction is ENORMOUS!”
Insert “blacks” and “black culture” for Catholics and what do you have? “We are not critical of Black people! We are critical of Black culture. The distinction is ENORMOUS!” “I don’t have anything against blacks, but I just hate Rap, welfare and breeding like bunnies!”
And you can play this white, cis, heteronormative, privileged, etc., game with any group from history: “We are not critical of Jews! We are critical of Jewish culture. The distinction is ENORMOUS!” “We are not critical of Gays! We are critical of Gay culture. The distinction is ENORMOUS!” “We are not critical of Mescans! We are critical of Mescan culture. The distinction is ENORMOUS!”
<AHEM> Sorry for the digression from the digression. Back to the main digression:
“The Epistle Dedicatory’ [Gird your loins, girls, it’s gonna be a long read. My pithy, snarky, sarcastic comments attempting to spice up this lickspittle fawning are in brackets.]
“TO THE MOST HIGH AND MIGHTY PRINCE [Get HER!], JAMES, by the Grace of God [and Elizabeth’s shriveled up ovaries], KING OF GREAT BRITAIN [until the Twenty-teens Brexit fiasco], FRANCE [“I fart in your general direction”], AND IRELAND [As if! He wishes!], DEFENDER OF THE FAITH, etc. [Yadda yadda yabba doo] The Translators of the Bible [groveling in the mud] wish Grace [Definition: “Unmerited divine assistance …” “unmerited” certainly fits the description], Mercy [“compassion or forbearance.” Question: Was a man who could have someone beheaded at a gesture capable of being particularly compassionate?], and Peace [oh good lord, the man waged wars right and left and north and west] through JESUS CHRIST [whoa, all caps, don’t shout, my dear monks] our Lord [finally, the end of the sentence].
“(1) Great and manifold were the blessings [We kicked in the teeth of the Welsh and a chicken showed up in our pot, miraculously!], most dread Sovereign [the man called his male lover his “wife” and indulged in very quite un-Dread-Sovereign-like activities], which Almighty God, the Father of all mercies, [who could mercifully strike us down and end this nasty, brutish and short existence—now THAT would be true mercy!] bestowed upon us the people of England, when first he sent Your Majesty’s Royal Person to rule and reign over us [Sorry, that was due to the Scots … and to Henry VII the usurper of Bosworth, and to Elizabeth I’s shriveled up womb, and to other strange oddities of history, but whatevs, good monks].
For whereas it was the expectation of many [oh, the foolish Many with their expectations!], who wished not well unto our Sion [“He’s a faggy Scot! Of course we don’t wish him well!” said the Many], that upon the settling of that bright Occidental Star, Queen Elizabeth of most happy memory [she of the most happy, arsenic-laced, white-ass makup], some thick and palpable clouds of darkness would so have overshadowed this Land [you mean Boris Johnson was floatin’ around the Strand back then too?!], that men should have been in doubt which way they were to walk [to the altar? to the nearest other man? what to do?!]; and it should hardly be known, who was to direct the unsettled State [wherein there had just been Much Slaughter: Catholic by Protestant, Cavalier by Roundhead, sluts by wrothful fathers, and WITCHES by everyone]; the appearance of Your Majesty, as of the Sun in his strength, instantly dispelled those supposed and surmised mists, and gave unto all that were well affected exceeding cause of comfort [“NOW is the Winter of Our Discontent made Glorious Summer by this Son of York!
And all the clouds that low’r’d upon our house,
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Now are our brows bound with victorious wreaths;
Our bruised arms hung up for monuments;
Our stern alarums changed to merry meetings,
Our dreadful marches to delightful measures.
Grim-visaged war hath smooth’d his wrinkled front;
And now, instead of mounting barded steeds,
To fright the souls of fearful adversaries,
He capers nimbly in a lady’s chamber,
To the lascivious pleasing of a lute.”
C’mon, boys, you totally stole all this from frickin’ Shakespeare!]; especially when we beheld the Government established in Your Highness [No Papists or Demoncrats in Your Ministries, no sirree odds bodkins!], and Your hopeful Seed, [Well, now about that seed … something quite wild shall happen with that unhappy seed, but we won’t tell these monks; let ’em be surprised] by an undoubted Title, and this also accompanied with peace and tranquility at home and abroad. [“Undoubted Title” traced all the way back to Edward the Black Prince, we swear! Also, yay, peace and tranquility at home and abroad! Now let’s go burn witches and slay some Spaniards! Also the Dutch! Kill the Dutch!]
“(2) But among all our joys, there was no one that more filled our hearts, than the blessed continuance of the preaching of God’s sacred Word among us; which is that inestimable treasure, which excelleth all the riches of the earth; [Quick, can you esteemed bros name the 33rd chapter of the Book Ezekiel, verses 15-20? No? Anyone?] because the fruit [heh—they said, “Fruit” when writing about James the Light Loafered!] thereof extendeth itself, not only to the time spent in this transitory world, but directeth and disposeth men unto that eternal happiness which is above in heaven. [Nothing but misery here on earth is possible; you must die in agony and obedience to an perhaps invisible spaghetti monster in order to have mansions and True Happiness(tm) in the next world, which we totally swear exists and where there shall be no Papist witches of any kind. Also, no gophers. We hate gophers ]
“(3) Then not to suffer this to fall to the ground, but rather to take it up, and to continue it in that state, wherein the famous Predecessor of Your Highness [The Virgin Ice Queen Elizabeth I, if you’re keeping score] did leave it: nay, to go forward with the confidence and resolution of a Man [And oh, what a Man Jamesy was!] in maintaining the truth of Christ, and propagating it far and near, [and boy do we know how proper non-Papist Christians can propagate themselves far and near] is that which hath so bound and firmly knit the hearts of all Your Majesty’s loyal [Loyal? Ding-dong! It’s Guy Fawkes at the door and he wishes a word with you!] and religious people unto You, that Your very name is precious among them [as it still is among King-James-Version-of-the-Bible-ONLY folks in His Majesty’s former colonies]: their eye doth behold You with comfort, and they bless You in their hearts, as that sanctified Person who, under God, is the immediate Author of their true happiness [He spread his gay-ity far and near and made EVERYone happy!].
And this their contentment doth not diminish or decay, but every day increaseth and taketh strength, when they observe, that the zeal of Your Majesty toward the house of God doth not slack or go backward, but is more and more kindled [okay, now this is all sounding just plain naughty-naughty, you cloistered bro-bros!], manifesting itself abroad in the farthest parts of Christendom, by writing in defence of the Truth, (which hath given such a blow unto that man of sin, as will not be healed,) [James is writing Truth-defending tracts! Take that, Satan!] and every day at home, by religious and learned discourse, by frequenting the house of God, by hearing the Word preached, by cherishing the Teachers thereof, by caring for the Church, as a most tender and loving nursing Father [that loving Father who goes to church every time the doors are open when he’d rather be back at the castle playing ring-around-the-bedstead with his wife, the Duke of Bedford, and who pays for those church doors out of his dwindling purse, (God smack Elizabeth in her pancake-madeup face for spending all that money on ships) and who suffers through many sermons about the perils of the bare female ankle <yawn> and the heartbreaking, sinful evil of teaching peasants to read].
“(4) There are infinite [seems a bit hyperbolic] arguments of this right Christian and religious affection in Your Majesty; but none is more forcible to declare it to others than the vehement and perpetuated desire of accomplishing and publishing of this work, which now with all humility we present unto Your Majesty. [We worked DAMN hard to do this for your Royal Gayness, so you DAMN well better appreciate it … er, if it please Your Grace!] For when Your Highness had once out of deep judgment apprehended how convenient it was, that out of the Original Sacred Tongues, together with comparing of the labours, both in our own, and other foreign Languages, of many worthy men who went before us, there should be one more exact Translation of the holy Scriptures into the English Tongue; [Good, plain, white, Anglo-Saxon English, as it should be, not in those dirty Jew, brown-skinned Aramaic and oily Greek languages, no sir!] Your Majesty did never desist to urge and to excite those to whom it was commended, that the work might be hastened, [“So, Abbot, can you have your bros draw like, 100, capital letters a day so we can get this done in my lifetime, huh? 100 a day, don’t leave out the naughty bits in Song of Solomon and chop-chop, there’s a good lad, or We’ll chop-chop your head!”] and that the business might be expedited in so decent a manner, as a matter of such importance might justly require. [Tote that barge! Life that bale! Or get Thine scribbling ass in jail!]
“(5) And, now at last, by the mercy of God, and the continuance of our labours, [but mostly our labours, ’cause we didn’t see no finger of God coming out of the clouds above Canterbury inking no thee’s, thine’s, thy’s and begat’s … oh, dear God, all the begats that we had to write!] it being brought unto such a conclusion, as that we have great hopes that the Church of England shall reap good fruit thereby [good fruit coming from a book dedicated to a good fruit! These just write themselves]; we hold it our duty to offer it to Your Majesty, not only as to our King and Sovereign, but as to the principal Mover and Author of the work [thanks for all the lashings and breads-and-waterings!]: humbly craving of Your most Sacred Majesty, that since things of this quality have ever been subject to the censures of ill meaning and discontented persons [unless you send us some troops to protect us after this, these ignorant Papist hayseeds around here are gonna try to burn us at the stake], it may receive approbation and patronage from so learned and judicious a Prince as Your Highness is [again, we’ll need some troops and firefighters, which you just have to send because this was all your idea and now the Papists are all pissed at us], whose allowance and acceptance of our labours shall more honour and encourage us, than all the calumniations and hard interpretations of other men shall dismay us. [The same calumnarious men, in fact, who are going to cut off your son’s head so cleanly in 1648.] So that if, on the one side, we shall be traduced by Popish Persons [Catholics! Shudder! The horror! Also, don’t you just LOVE them actually writing “Popish Persons” unironically and all that?] at home or abroad, who therefore will malign us, because we are poor instruments to make God’s holy Truth to be yet more and more known unto the people, whom they desire still to keep in ignorance and darkness [Popish plots to keep the masses ignorant! They’re different than our plots to keep the masses ignorant because the Pope is the Beast (see Revelation, re: the Beast) and only we are true Christians!]; or if, on the other side, we shall be maligned by self-conceited Brethren, who run their own ways, and give liking unto noting, but what is framed by themselves, and hammered on their anvil [Oh, that conceited bishop over there in Lincoln or somewhere, we know his kind! He thinks he knows everything, the mary!]; we may rest secure supported within by the truth and innocency of a good conscience, having walked the ways of simplicity and integrity, as before the Lord [the Bishop of Lincoln wears pink bloomers under his red stole and reeks of Chanel No. 5! We only wear hair shirts and the manly, simple scents of our own unwashed bodies!]; and sustained without by the powerful protection of Your Majesty’s grace and favour [Again we ask: Having made us do this book thing, which took like 20 million man-hours and enough ink to stain the North Sea purple for centuries, you WILL protect us from egotistical bishops and Popist Poopheads, won’t you? Please?], which will ever give countenance to honest and Christian endeavours against bitter censures and uncharitable imputations [and burnings at the stake for buggery and witchery and encouraging the plebes to learn to read].
“(6) The Lord of heaven and earth bless Your Majesty with many and happy days [21,466 days, to be exact, if you’re curious], that, as his heavenly hand hath enriched Your Highness with many singular and extraordinary graces [yeah, his “graces” included dressing in silk frocks and playing “hide the tarse in the furse”], so You may be the wonder of the world in this latter age for happiness and true felicity, to the honour of that great God, and the good of his Church, through Jesus Christ our Lord and only Saviour.” [Dear great God, his church, Jesus, Mary, Joseph and all the prophets and saints, you monkly bros were long winded! It was like that long-winded inauguration address by William Henry Harrison, who ranted on for two hours in a cold rain and caught his death of pneumonia or typhus or both and died after 31 cough-filled days as President. Dedication?! It takes dedication to even read one convoluted phrase! Ahem. Amen!]
—Epistol Dedicatory, King James Version, Holy Bible, 1611
That’s some fawning, long-ass shit, huh? Geezus H. Bro monk noses were so far up His Nibs’ ass, he looked around and said, “Is that you, Buckingham?” But yes, I just adore the fact that all this time the fundies have insisted on the King James version being the One, Only and True Bible, they’ve been worshipping with something created for a big, ol’, fuh-laming faggot. Delicious irony does indeed exist in the world.
I: That was quite a digression. Long-winded much? Um. Sorry. Any chance we might get back on track? Say, perhaps, to the 1960s when you were but a wee lad in Roswell?
S: Sure. Why not. In fact, let’s go back farther and note some genealogy, shall we? Welllll, speaking of dead relatives, I recently found out a juicy little tidbit that scrambled my bacon. It’s not a DNA test that revealed I was … somebody else’s child or something … but. I got an email from familysearch.org. You know them, that’s the exhaustive genealogy repository presided over by the Mormons so they can posthumously baptize you and all your forebears and Anne Frank and Popes John Paul I and II as Totally We Swear Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Now, I normally ignore them but looked at this e-mail because they had a bunch of marriage records of the line of me great-grandparents. One was for James Holmes, who my sister has documented as being part of our family, and who was married to … Sarah Sally Donelson. Oh lordy. Yup, as in her daddy was John Donelson, as in Donelson, TN, as in the co-founder of Nashville, as in the owner of the Clover Bottom Plantation and its buncha slaves and as in the dude who was also that asshole Andrew Jackson’s father-in-law and was undoubtedly an asshole himself with the whole killing Injuns and buying and selling shackled negroes. Yep, that guy. Me great-whatever-grandpappy. Sigh. It’s like a stab in my liberal, bleedin’ heart.
I: And they undoubtedly had many descendants, so I would anticipate the guilt is spread around quite a bit. So how do you figure in the mass of all those descendants?
S: You WOULD ask. So here’s the lineage: John Donelson, who founded Fort Nashborough with James Robertson, now known as Nashville, married Rachel Stockley.
John and Rachel had two kids: John Patrick and Rachel, Jr.. Rachel Jr. married Andrew Jackson. John Patrick married Mary Purnell and John Patrick and Mary had Sarah Sally Donelson. So my great-great-great-great-great grandmother was Andrew Jackson’s niece. And now I want my piece of the action from Donelson’s Clover Bottom mansion being hired out for all those expensive weddings, and from the city of Nashville. Given how many other relations there are, my share should be at least $1.98.
To continue: Sarah Sally Donelson married William Holmes, birthed James Holmes (who had, and I am totally not making this up, a brother named Welcome. Welcome Holmes! Isn’t that a gas?! You just can’t write gags that good!). James-the-brother-of-Welcome-Holmes married Mary Denton. They had a daughter named Sarah Holmes. Nothing jokey and hilarious for their kid, just “Sarah” period.
Then Sarah Holmes married John Yates and they had a daughter named Malvina Yates and Malvina married a dude named Joseph Starr. Joseph and Malvina had twin daughters named Mittie and Minnie Starr (not much imagination for a great-niece of Welcome Holmes). Mittie and Minnie were my relatives who built and propped up the Oak Avenue Church of the Nazarene aforementioned. Minnie then married Lee Robert Teague.
Minnie and Lee then had a daughter named Lorene Teague, who married Curtis Pollock, who had a son named Marion, who married Janis, who had, on that cold December night that was outlined in such detail at the beginning of this narrative, me, myself, I … moi.
Like I said, where’s my share of the revenue and land value of Clover Bottom? Since my house is on what was originally the land stolen from the Injuns to create Clover Bottom, my mortgage should be wiped out at least, and $1.98 ain’t gonna cover it. We queens gotta look out for our interests, you know?
I: Lord. <sigh> Let’s back up. Way back up. You skipped from barely escaping being born in a car to being yanked between fundamentalist churches when you were 12 to lengthy digressions on King James, Bibles, foppery, popery, and genealogy. Wasn’t there anything that happened in between, say, your birth and the whole church thing?
S: You mean all the screaming and crying? The Battle Royale that was the parentals’ attempts to get me to go to Kindergarten? The abject terror of everything from fireworks and sirens to teachers and heights, elevators and roller coasters? The seduction of my best friend from across the street when we were five years old, and I would get him to raise his shirt so we could hug barechested for as long as I could get him to do it, and how sometimes I bullied him into doing it and that one time, sheltered at the side of the garage surrounded by the back yard fence, I got him to raise his shirt and laid on top of him barechested and it was the most sublime feeling I ever had, one that I’ve tried to replicate my entire life? You mean all that stuff?
I: Well, er, uh, well, yes, that “stuff” would be good to hear about, yes.
S: Okay, you asked for it. So, the first time I went to the movies in my entire life, my sisters took me to a horrific horror film at the Plains Theater on Main Street in Roswell, New Mexico. Unfortunately, the Plains is no more; the building is infested with the world’s tackiest displays of silliness and its marquee now touts it as the “UFO Alien Research Center and Museum” and the pics I’ve seen of it are incredibly horrible. The place where such sublime cinema as American in Paris and Beach Blanket Bingo and Bonzo Goes to College now defines tacky. Look up the definition of “so tacky it doesn’t even qualify for camp,” and you’ll find pictures of this UFO Alien tourist trap.
Anyway, before all that, sometime in early 1968, when I would have been a little over four years old, my sisters took me to see this unspeakable horror film, which had been released on 8-February that year. It was just awful, terrifyingly scary, and horribly and tackily done to boot.
It was entitled, Blackbeard’s Ghost and it was made by the <shudder> Walt Disney Company and starred Dean Jones (ohdeargodthehorror) and three actors who I would later actually appreciate greatly: Suzanne Pleshette, Elsa Lanchester and Peter Ustinov (the poor, poor things, having to prostitute themselves to the Walt Disney Corporation in 1968! See what I mean about all the horror?)
I: Pardon the interruption, but Blackbeard’s Ghost isn’t usually thought of, if it is thought of at all, as a “horror flick,” nor is Disney typically a purveyor of terror.
S: A lot you know! Speak for yourself! Disney is perhaps the quintessential shit show/horror show exemplifying Corporate Fascism of all time. And its products are indeed horrific, whether that Frozen abomination of last year or that whole Davy Crockett mass insanity of the 1950s.
Where was I before your naive interruption? Oh yes. I was four. And scared of everything. So I basically cried all the way through the movie. See, in the movie, Blackbeard (Ustinov) was a ghost. He had died and been condemned to haunt a … restaurant or hotel or something or other to atone for his great sin of Piracy on the High Seas. Dean and Suzanne had to help him out to not be a ghost anymore.
There’s this scene where Blackbeard gets on a policeman’s motorcycle and drives it and it looks like no one was driving it because he’s an invisible ghost (and there was NO explanation about how a pirate from the 1600s could possibly know how to drive a police motorcycle which is no lead-pipe cinch, boy. And that pirate also somehow knew how to turn on the motorcycle’s screaming SIREN (!!!!!) which terrified the bloody hell out of me whenever I heard them in real life.
Well, I screamed louder than the movie siren and cried so much that the poor oldest sibling of mine had to remove me to the lobby. I may have calmed down and gone back in for a bit, but I know she was steaming that she was missing her movie while her bratty brother (she still refers to me as a spoiled brat, as recently as 2016, when I was 52 years old; she seems to be sort of stuck on that idea) had to be mollified in the lobby to keep the other patrons from shoving a stopper in my gob.
Now, to be fair to myself, I actually wasn’t being bratty. It really was terrifying. Loud noises and auditoriums with their huge, high ceilings and vertiginous balconies, as well as stadiums, always freaked me the hell out. So not only was there a scary ghost, a wailing siren, the Disney company, Dean Jones’ acting and some angry, shushing patrons, but there was that vast space of the Plains Theater and it’s steep balcony reserved for kissers, smokers and negroes. It was not an Amusing Experience, that I can tell you.
I: It doesn’t sound like it. While movie reminiscing is interesting, I’m more interested in the seduction, as you put it, of your friend from across the street.
S: Well, there’s some more stuff before that. Don’t you want to know my earliest memories?
I: Um, yes, actually. Let’s get some order in this thing. Start with what you remember after your almost-born-in-the-car-because-of-nonexistent-matches-for-cigarettes-tobacco-companies-should-rot-in-hell birth.
S: Sure. I remember the very warm and fuzzy memory of waking up in the late evening, when it was dark outside, and I was in my crib under my blankie, and there was a table lamp on, but the rest of the room was dark, and the parents and siblings were watching TV in the living room, and I felt all warm and snuggly and sleepy and happy. Then I went to sleep.
More? Well, we have the hospital visits. So many hospital visits. Hospitals terrified me too, especially ambulances, getting sick in ambulances and emergency rooms. I have been in them so frequently in my adulthood, however, that they hold no further terror. Except now during the global pandemic. Jesus, we’re all going to die.
But wen I was two, I had to have my tonsils out. And Dr. Richardson yanked ’em at the place where I was born, Eastern New Mexico Medical Center. It was actually a cool place to visit. It smelled pretty good and unusal and antiseptic, and it had two stories. One of probably only two escalators in the whole town of Roswell. It had an elevator, but that was scary and I avoided it.
The hospital had these colored lines embedded in the floor and you just followed the colored line that took you where you needed to go. If you needed to go to the ER, you followed the red line and it took you right there. Patient rooms? Follow the green line. Blue was for maternity. And so on. I’ve always loved rainbow colors and that floor was so cool.
Visiting someone, you would follow the green line, which led you right to the escalators. You rode upstairs and there were three wards (I think), but children under 14 or so were not allowed inside them unless they were a patient.
Now, my Uncle Leon had a lung disease which developed after he got polio when he wsa a kid. He was hospitalized numerous times until he died in August of 1967, when I was three-and-a-half. We would go up to the Medical Center to visit him, and I always stayed in the upstairs lobby with the sisters (who couldn’t go in the ward either) or Dad or whoever, listening to the constant shooooshing of the escalators and the occasional ringing of a chime, praying to god that no ambulances would come.
I loved that escalator. I still remember the fun of riding it. Why was I not scared of it like I was everything else? I haven’t the foggiest.
But the elevator? Hoo boy, that was an evil monster. This one time, we went to visit someone; maybe Leon, maybe not. Oh, the horror! The descending side of the escalator was out of business! You could only go up. It was evening, so they weren’t even working on it. It was blocked off so you couldn’t even use it like a stairway to get back down!
Once we got upstairs, there was a problem then. The stairs were a bit too much for my little legs, but I was a bit too big for Dad to carry me, and besides they were way at the end of the hall. So when the visit was over, we had to get back down somehow and that somehow was the elevator monster, which was also right by the escalator and front lobby, while those damn stairs were further away.
Oh the terror.
Dad had to pick me up and hold me and I cried. We got in and the doors closed and whoosh! My stomach fell out and we plunged that entire whole one story! 12 whole feet!! It took forever and five minutes! Then the doors opened and we stepped out into the lobby. I stared through my tears vengefully at the broken downalator side of the escalator. I seem to remember vowing that if we ever came back to that hospital I was NOT going upstairs unless the downalator was working. It never betrayed me again, fortunately.
But what I was tellin’ was that sometime around this period, probably 1966, I needed my tonsils out. I remember being put in a room which had a crib with tall side bars and rails around it so I couldn’t jump or fall out. I was roughly two or two-and-a-half.
I have three memories connected with this. First, a group of nurses, perhaps some in a nursing class, gathered around my crib, smiling and talking and cooing to me. All in white with white caps. Freaked me out. Although I was cute, ’tis true, so they had a reason to gather round and smile and talk to me. But they were women barking up the wrong tree, boy, and I had no use for them.
Then I remember lying in the crib in the night. The room was dark, but the door was open and so light from the hall came in. There was a “10, 2, and 4” Dr. Pepper clock with a blue neon border on the wall opposite the hospital room. “10, 2, and 4” referred to the old Dr. Pepper slogan that urged people to take a break every day at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. to drink a Dr. Pepper. That Dr. Pepper shit would help wreck my health after decades of drinking it, so I guess that memory is rather prophetic.
Then I remember the start of the surgery. I was in the OR and there were people with white hats and gloves and masks and Dr. Richardson was coming towards me with an instrument. Then they must have hit me with anaesthetic. I don’t remember anything else, fortunately. How they kept me from screaming and crying in terror during all that, I don’t know. I suspect they drugged my little ass up. In 1966 with an Air Force base down the street, they could probably get all the trippy drug shit they could load up on, so who knows what they used.
And the final memory was going home from the hospital. For some reason, they parked the 1959 Rambler station wagon at the curb, instead of up in the driveway. Maybe there was another car there. It was very cold and I think it may have been snowing, or had just snowed. I was taken out of the car and covered in a blanket and then carried inside.
Those are the earliest memories I can summon. Happy now?
I: I’m happy if that takes us up to when you were five.
S: Almost. First there’s the memory from when Leon died in 1967. I remember our aunt Joyce taking me and my cousin Jeff, who is just three months younger than me, by the hand and leading us up to Leon’s casket in the funeral home. We were both dressed in suits and ties. In what I now think is pretty weird, but whatever, Joyce lifted me up to see Leon lying there, saying something about how he looks like he’s just asleep, but he’s gone, and having me reach out and touch his cold, dead cheek. I am not making this shit up. And she didn’t seem to be crying or upset. Trying, I guess, to reassure us and not scare us, especially me, the scaredy cat. I don’t think Jeff was ever scared of anything in his life. But that’s another story. I don’t remember anyone being in the room but us and the body, so it was probably before the funeral or something.
Cousin Jeff has a memory of the exact same thing except it’s he and I sitting during the funeral. He also remembers Joyce holding us by the hand. Where our parents where, we have no idea. I have no memory of the funeral, but a little of the grave side moments.
So I guess you can say I first touched a dead man when I was three-and-a-half.
I: Did that not scar you for life?
S: Weirdly enough, no. I didn’t scream or cry or try to run away. In fact, I was a little fascinated that he could be alive and in the hospital and then be lying there in his good suit with a cold cheek and be just gone. That was a mind-blowing concept. I didn’t question it, but I thought it was weird. Perhaps it was a very smart thing that Joyce did; I’ve had no problem the rest of my life with dead people, just with the fact that every living thing dies, and I have no desire to stop living.
I: Okay, well, let’s move on from dead bodies, shall we? Now, not to get too nosy and drool over the juicy bit that might be coming, tell me more about the “boy next door” or across the street, as the case may be. What was the barechested hugging thing when you were five all about?
S: Oh, lord. Okay, we agreed I’d lay everything out there to the bright light of openness and transparency and truth. Fine. Here it is. And I stress, there’s nothing “sexual” about this. It’s about two curious five year olds exploring the sensations of the body and what can make you feel good. We were BOTH five and peepees were not involved. In fact, I personally didn’t know what sex was until I was 14. So I don’t want any of the outrage brigade reporting this to the cops as a child porn fantasy. It is most definitely NOT that! It’s something kids have done and do and will do naturally for centuries. But anyway, here goes.
His name was … and I am not making this up … Fayette. Yes, he was a blond-haired, blue-eyed cute boy whose mother named him Fayette. No amount of Googling has turned him up. Either he died years ago or, more likely, changed his name to something less likely to get him beaten up. I mean, he couldn’t even shorten it to Fay, could he? He’d still have to fend off hordes of toxic masculinity. Maybe he called himself George. Or Rock. Whatever he did, I hope he survived his name.
This woman would often, like mothers of the era would do, go out on their porch and yell for him as loud as she could all over the neighborhood: “FAYYYYYYY-EEEETTTTTTTTEEEE!!!” Over and over until he answered her. At this time, before schooling began, he didn’t seem to be bothered by his name, just that it was time to go inside.
I could write reams about the free range kids that we were in the era, even at five. We could cross the street to each others’ houses, which were within about four houses apart, so it was a smallish range we were free to roam in, but it included our back yards and riding our bikes three blocks away to first grade.
I don’t know how or why it started. But I did sorta fancy Fayette. He was my type. Blond/blue/hairy chested/over 40 still IS my type. We even looked a bit alike. I certainly liked him more than the girl down the street who I think wanted to be my girlfriend except we had arguments and I once yanked the bow out of the sash around her dress because we were mad at each other. There’s another (and gory) story about her parents for when we’re done with this one. It involves my greatest childhood phobias, blood, stitches, and emergency rooms.
Now that I have had lots of experience teaching kindergarten, I have realized that five year olds love to hug. They’ll hug anything. Teachers, visitors, stuffed animals, the roof support pole in the classroom, the trees on the playground. And they will especially hug each other. The boys don’t hug the girls (that could be a problem), but they do hug other boys. These are happy, innocent, good-feeling clinches. Our rules these days are “don’t touch anyone else,” so we often have to be stern and pry them apart and say “don’t do that!” but we can’t explain why in any detail. Not just me, but most kindergarten teachers, really don’t want to talk about danger and touching and sex and good hugs and bad hugs and why they’re bad. Let the first grade teachers do it. I tend to look a little the other way. If one boy looks uncomfortable I immediately put a stop to it. But otherwise, I don’t break it up with a pole or an angry comment (some teachers do the angry face thing), but I do put a stop to it. I just don’t go into anything with them.
My point in mentioning it is that we were, it looks like, normal five year old boys who liked to hug each other. The same thing happened in kindergarten and sort of first grade, but after that, you stop hugging other guys or it becomes problematic at best and provokes ass kicking at worst. So you grow out of natural expression and into closeted repression, all well before you turn 10. I did … to a point.
Anyway, I don’t remember how it started, we just liked hugging each other. But I liked it better than he did and I wanted to do it for a loooonnnnngggg time. And at some point, I discovered that it felt even better if our skin was touching without those pesky shirts to get in the way. So for awhile, our play time became a bit of a negotiation with me trying to persuade him to raise our shirts and hug, for at least a little while. I think I became a bit of a bully about it; I remember we had a fight because he wanted to stop and I didn’t one day. And I don’t think I ever asked him to again. I sensed that I was right up against an unspoken and not understood line. Being a kid that was afraid to get in trouble (even though I hadn’t really ever been trouble and the consequences had never been more than my mother’s quick swat on my butt), so I just stopped trying to get poor Fayette to give me some of that sweet, sweet hugging.
Sorry, Fayette, if you run across this. Sorry if I was a bully about this and sorry if we fought. It was my fault. But I was five and clueless. And you were adorable. But still so very, very sorry. I hope you’ve had a wonderful life.
Really, sincerely, I hope he has. I used to hope he turned out gay like me and that he had actually enjoyed our hugging and that he has had a great life and is married to a great guy who gets millions of hugs from Fayette.
But at the time, roughly 1968, the best feeling I had ever had was discovering the thrill of pressing my bare chest against another boy’s bare chest. No kissing or anything else occurred. We just hugged. And for me, that great feeling was in the chest and in my heart. Not … down lower. I was five, c’mon. It’s not a dirty story. In fact, it’s a sweet story, of how kids, in spite of how it may freak out us adults, will explore and discover and do what comes natural.
To me, as a gay boy, hugging another boy was perfectly natural. It always has been, it always will be. I always felt instinctively somehow that people would disapprove and say I was naughty. And I also felt instinctively that I knew what I wanted and I was going to have it and all those disapproving people could just go suck eggs and pound sand. Even at the height of the worst spiritual and sexual repression that Oklahoma and its churches could dole out, my inner belief has always been the same: There’s nothing wrong with me. I’ve known who I am and what I wanted since I was at least five. And everyone else who is not onboard with that can go over Niagra Falls without a barrel.
I have another clear early memory, somewhat related. My mother was shopping in Gibson’s, an early version of Wal-Mart that was in towns like Roswell and Duncan and places in between. Gibson’s always smelled of fresh popped popcorn; all the dime stores did. I can smell it even now. I was in the seat of the shopping cart and we were moving along. Suddenly, I saw this other boy in the seat of his mother’s shopping cart going the opposite way. Our eyes locked and we just stared at each other. We didn’t make faces or holler at each other or turn to mothers for reassurance. We stared during those few minutes that we were stopped across from each other.
He had dark black hair. We must have been three or something. Same age. I have no idea what was going on in his head, but in mine, I thought he was gorgeous. And then our mothers continued shopping. We watched each other until we were out of sight.
I wanted to hug him too. If you want to know when a gay guy knows he’s gay, well, there you go. For me, three to five years old. But what is gay? At first, at that age, it’s just attraction. Fascination you can’t figure out. Knowing you can’t hug the girls in your class, but you sure can hug the boys and it’s seen as boys being boys, and that’s what you want anyway. Being gay is your heart beating faster at random moments like seeing a cute boy your age in a store. And that happens whenever we’re six or 56.
This is all separate and apart from the sex in being gay. The attraction is there. And once the realization that the attraction is not acceptable to the people around you, well, after the attraction comes the closet.
And after the closet comes the sex part of being gay. At first, you’re closeted just because you like other boys and you know by first or second grade that that is just not going to fly if you want to avoid a wide variety of severe consequences. So you’re in the closet about your attraction. Then, at a certain age, you’re told what sex is. And the closet door gets more tightly closed.
For me, I found out, sort of, what sex was in three ways: From a novel in the library, from a clinical article in our Encylopedia Americanas, and in the form of the question, “Is there anything you want to know? If so, ask me or your dad. Oh, and homosexuality is a grave sin that God will punish you for with everlasting burning. Let us know if you need anything!” from my mother. (Dad believed the home front was women’s responsibility, especially educating us about religion and sex. And she was, to her credit, committed to education and having us be educated and informed. After all, she scrimped and saved to get those 1962 Encyclopedia Americanas in the first place.)
Here’s how I learned what (straight) sex was at age 14, after gathering some hints from things whispered in junior high.
- I heard that “intercourse” was sex, probably at junior high. I went home and looked it up. It referred to the word “coitus.” So I looked that one up. And wham bam, thank you ma’am, there it all was. With drawings of male (flaccid) and female reproductive systems. With full descriptions of foreplay and how the penis becomes erect. And how it is inserted. And how there is sexual activity, the man, er, what was the word they used? Moved his penis in and out of the woman’s vagina. Yeah, that was roughly it. And then he had an orgasm and ejaculated sperm into the vagina. And then the sperm swam into the uterus, found an egg, penetrated it and voila! the beginnings of a zygote/fetus/child. Such a warm and interesting way to describe it all. And to this gay boy, let me tell you. The whole male reproductive diagrams were fascinating, as were the whole getting an erection and ejaculating thing. But what about us gay boys? The female diagrams, which didn’t really give you a clue about how a woman actually looked in her nether regions, still repulsed me even without a beaver shot, as male friends would later so charmingly put it. I didn’t care about beavers or pussies or vulvas or why such bizarre names were applied to them. My mother and my sisters had those. Fine for them and any man who wanted that. But I sure as hell didn’t. It was the penis I was interested in. And HUGGING.
- Around this time (1977ish), I discovered a seemingly innocuous fictional book in our public library about a tornado hitting a small town in Ohio. It was Twister by Jack Bickham (if you want to look it up), based on the super outbreak of 1974 that levelled, among other cities, Xenia, OH. The plot: Two of the main characters, man and woman, are having an affair. As the storm gathers, they’re somewhere having sex. And Bickham gives it the full, dirty description that our Encyclopedia Americanas lacked. A paraphrase from what I remember: “Reaching down, she grasped his engorged penis. Just before she tucked him inside her, she felt a tiny qualm … ‘Oh, Jack, you’re so big! You fill me UP!” And so on. I had to go look up what engorged meant. But it was the first connection, however badly written, between the clinical encyclopedia entry and reality. So this is sex. Well, count me out. I’m getting a thrill from sleeping naked and getting a hard on, but I’m not using it THAT way, that’s for damn sure! So, still in the closet, some clarification occurred for me, but the closet was now useful to both hide me from the scrutiny of others and to protect me from the horrors of heterosexuality. It was both comfort and prison.
- The third way was the aforementioned question from my mother. It was not informational, except for the part that slammed my closet door closed and nailed the son of a bitch shut for the next 16 years. This was merely confirmation of what I had sensed since I was five.
- And finally, how did I find out what gay sex was? Wellllllll, here’s where things get sticky (both complicated and sticky like as in sex sticky). Putting it simply, I was groomed and then sexually abused by a male relative. For what I figured out, the abuse was off and on for 12 years. The grooming began when I was 14 and he married into the family, and finally ended when I was 27 and figured out a simple way to stop it that was so simple that I hadn’t grasped it before. I simply removed access to myself. I just made sure we were never alone together ever again. It worked. He moved on to other targets. Including his own daughter’s boyfriend. But that’s a story for much later in our tale.
- Although I was rather experienced in everything but anal sex by the time I was in college, a wonderful book called The New Joy of Gay Sex was mighty helpful. When I would go to the local mall for lunch between morning and evening classes, I invariably stopped in Waldenbooks and usually bought something, but much of the time I just browsed. I discovered their “Marriage and Sexuality” section fairly quickly. And lo and behold! There on a shelf, often in different spots on different shelves when I would visit, was a copy of The New Joy of Gay Sex. Hallelujah!! The only problem: I couldn’t buy it. That would involve checking out up front where another human would discover I was a fag. Plus it was on the expensive side. And for a commuting college student still living at home, where would I stash it? Probably in the car, but that carried risk. The best plan? Do what all the other fags were doing. Wait until there was no other people around, grab it off the shelf, move over to the History section, maybe even put it between the pages of a bigger book, and take in the glorious images that made your heart beat in your ears and your pulse race, because these pictures were showing you what you had been wanting since you were five. Hell, they were even showing you what you were missing by having your only sexual contact be the abusive stuff you were getting from the in-law. The drawings were great. I learned it could be loving and open and free and exciting and painful and there were things called condoms and sounding rods and how you could clean out your ass and use it to fuck, and nipple clamps and golden showers and daddies and proper fellatio and good, explosive cum blasts and hand jobs and cruising and tea rooms and having sex with black men and Prince Alberts and piercing and tattoos and drag queens and tops and bottoms and the role of the prostate in a bottom’s amazingly good, explosive orgasm and AIDS/HIV and protection and love and kissing and … and … and … It was a magical book. Our Harry Potter. The story is the same: Harry is “different” and living with uptight, intolerant, straight people (muggles) in a closet below some stairs. And then the day comes when an owl arrives and Harry discovers others like himself. In fact, a whole entire world for him and his kind. You can interpret that many ways. But for us queers, it was immediately recognizable. The New Joy of Gay Sex in the Waldenbooks was our Harry Potter. It was the invitation delivered by the owl for us to come and ride the express train to Hogwarts/Gayville and never look back, to be free of Muggles/Breeders forever. I looked for it and caged long reads of it as much as possible, until finally, my erection would get obvious and I would have to hide behind the magazines I was buying (usually GQ or something else with shirtless men in it) and then also hide it behind the front counter until they gave me the bag back and I could use that bag to hide my hard cock that was already dripping pre-cum through the top of my jeans and threatening to poke his insistent head through the top of my belt. I would walk immediately to the car, find a place in a parking lot where the pants could come down, find the most appealing shirtless pic I could find in GQ and then take care of business. It was a glorious time, being 18-22 years old. Glorious.
So, that pretty much covers the sex education of this particular average American boy of the 1970s/80s. We’ll be revisiting all this later. But there’s so much more childhood to cover first! Apologies for being a bit out of order.
I: <Whew> Wow, that’s … interesting. You had quite a time in that closet!
S: Yes. Don’t we all?
I: Well. <ahem> Let me adjust my hot collar and get back on track. Kindergarten is where I believe we are.
S: Ah. That. Kindergarten. What a … fucked up, memorable year.
[This is nonfiction work in progress. Come back soon for more.]