Friday, December 18, 2009

Being 15 makes you stupid

My best friend in Junior High was May. We originally became friends because she and my friend Curt were dating and she wanted advice about their relationship. Long after they fizzled as a couple, May and I spent HOURS every day talking on the phone. She liked to talk and I liked to listen. As seventh grade turned into eighth, ninth and then tenth, one of the things we sometimes did at school was to pass notes. This was something she always initiated and I would reply. Mostly I was not into note writing but there was one time when I took the initiative.

Early in the school year of tenth grade, I had my first major boy crush. Looking back, it was really stupid. I didn't even know the guy. I had never spoken to him. I had never had him in a class. He wasn't friends with any of my friends. I didn't even know anyone who knew him well.

What attracted me to Shawn was that he was very good looking. That, and if I could have been someone else, I wanted to be him. I imagined him to be a great guy and within a month's time I was very infatuated. I also imagined that he could be gay because I had not seen him with a girl even though he was extremely good looking.

As the time worn on and no girlfriend appeared, I became increasingly anxious. I decided that I either needed to forget about him or do something that might further my chances with him. Ultimately I decided to write him an anonymous note.

I don't remember exactly what I said in the note but I do know that it was not overtly sexual. Mostly I wrote about "wanting to be close friends." Whatever I said doesn't really matter because the whole idea was stupid. I did not put my name in the note but I did give a description of myself.

I wrote the note one night in late October and devised a simple plan to deliver it. After school when the hallways were empty I would slyly slip the note into his locker. This way it would be delivered directly to him and no one would see me.

I was nervous throughout the next day but when it was time to quickly fish the note out of my pocket and put it into his locker my hands were really shaking. Even getting the note into the locker was an unexpected struggle. It was folded and I really had to cram it into the locker vent to get it in.

Relieved when my mission was successfully accomplished I put my shaking hands into my pocket and started to walk away. But what piece of paper was folded in my pocket? Dreading the possibility, I quickly unfolded the paper I had just found. Oh my god! I put the WRONG note into the locker! Stunned, annoyed and somewhat panicked I paused for a fraction of a second and then spontaneously decided to cram the correct note into Shawn's locker.

Less than a minute later I was inspecting Shawn's locker to see if there was any way I could retrieve either of the notes. I could not.

The first note I had stuffed was a reply to a note May had written me. Thankfully this note did not have either of our names on it but it did have the names of a few of our friends. I carefully thought through the contents of the two notes. Was it possible that Shawn would know it was me who wrote to him? Yes, I decided it was possible. By putting the information in the two notes together he could guess that it was me. But, he would not know for sure.

The next day nothing happened. Nor the next. Nor the one after that. Whatever instruction I left for Shawn to reply to me was not followed. I took this as a sign that I had no hope of any kind of an intimate friendship with hot, sweet Shawn. I was disappointed but the perceived rejection did reduce the intensity of my crush.

On the way to third period on Halloween Day, I finally received a reply from Shawn's note. My friend Daryl and I were stopping at our lockers for the first time that day. As we approached, I could see that something was written in large capital letters across my locker. In stunned horror I realized that the word was "FAG". I could feel the hate all the better because the word was written in bright red blood.

My life changed in that moment.

Writing that note to Shawn was my first tentative step out of the closet. The mistake with the wrong note put me out there far more than I intended. And, if I could have taken either note back at the time I would have. I was not ready to be out to any one unless I knew they liked me. I was also unprepared for the brutal slap of "FAG" when it came. Because so many days had passed, my guard was down. And the way the word was written made it stick like a knife in my soul. Large block letters. Blood.

Seeing that word on my locker pushed me deeper into the closet. It also made me feel utterly isolated, hated and entirely separated from every one else on the planet. I took the slur very personally and it hit me hard.

Daryl was completely unfazed. He laughed and that was all the thought he ever put into it.

I had one other response from Shawn's letter and it may have brought pain or joy but I will never know. A week or two after Halloween, a guy called me and asked "did you write a note to Shawn Morris?" Although he sounded nervous, the way he said "Shawn Morris" made it clear that he had read the note. That was how I addressed it. Forced to make another instant decision, I debated for about 8 milliseconds whether the caller was a friend or foe. Although my gut told me 'friend' I could not take the chance so I replied, "Uh. No." He said "OK" and then hung up.

Nothing further came of Shawn's note. And quite thankfully, Shawn and I never crossed paths in high school---although I did have one conversation with him 6 months after I graduated. It was December and I had just come home from college so I decided to visit some high school friends and teachers. My primary hang-out after school was the student activities office so that was one of my stops. Holy shit but if it wasn't Shawn Morris sitting like a king in the center of the room, holding court with several of my friends. The guy had never once set foot in the room during my time there. I said hello to my friends but, as he and I had never spoken before, I didn't address him. Then, quite to my surprise, he took control of the conversation and asked me a series of questions about life in college. What's it like? Are there parties all the time? Etc, etc. It was an unbelieveable challenge to answer his questions while looking him the eye and not appear to be in a compete panic. By the fourth question I was certain his quiz was entirely intended to torture me. But then he stopped, apparently satisfied with my answers. I talked a short while longer with my friends, said goodbye and saw the stud Shawn Morris for the very last time.

As painful as the conversation with Shawn was, it made me feel better about what I had done. Either he never realized that I was the guy who crushed on him two years prior, or, he didn't believe it was me, or, he didn't care. In fact, I wondered in the days following our chat if he had deliberately engaged me in the conversation because he wanted to show that he didn't hate my guts. But I truly never figured out what to make of it. It was all just so...normal...

Years later I realize that the profound horror of being publicly outed, and all the deep pain that I suffered as a result, was entirely self-inflicted. Instead of internalizing the hatred I saw from FAG written in blood I could have chosen to laugh, as Daryl did, and moved on. As I write about this I now wonder for the first time if my life would have been different if I had gotten a different response from the note. Suppose that no one vandalized my locker, but instead another scared, gay 15 year old decided to call me and ask if I had written Shawn Morris a note. Maybe I would have said yes and that scared boy and I would have developed a life-long bond of mutual support. Maybe the very first reaction you get when you come out is the most important and, positive or negative, it sets you on path many years into the future. Who knows? The one thing I do know is that the Shawn-Morris-note-fiasco marked the beginning of the the darkest time in my life.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sex vs. Intimacy

Have you ever heard of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator? It's a personality classification test that, in its simplest form, identifies 16 different personality types. Based on answers to questions you get classified as (I)ntroverted or (E)xtroverted, (S)ensing or I(N)tuitive, (T)hinking or (F)eeling, (J)udging or (P)erceiving. The results of the test put you into a 4-letter category like INTJ or ENFP. The test is interesting but too simple. The reality is that all those measures have a scale to them. Very few people are extremely extroverted but many people are more extroverted than introverted. A better way to think of these measures is more Kinsey-like. That is, as a line from 1 to 6. A one would be extremely introverted and a six would be extremely extroverted. Graph a lot of people on one scale and you end up with a bell-curve with most of the people toward the middle.

I have devised my own type indicator to help describe the variation in gay male sexuality. One aspect is the purely sexual. At one end are the men who like other men only for sex. At the other end are men who like other men for reasons that have nothing to do with with sex. Maybe I'll call this the Sexual-Platonic scale. Another measure is the degree of emotional intimacy a man wants to have with another man. At one end the man wants to be so close that he feels "as one" with another man and at the other end are men who view men as they would any object. My third measure needs a little work I think. Basically it's a measure of giving and taking. I'd like to think of better descriptors because "give" or "submit" and "take" or "dominate" are too sexual and that's only part of the measure. What I mean is, when a man is intimate or sexual with another man he generally either wants to "take" an appealing aspect of the other man into himself, or, he wants to "dominate" another man. At it's heart I think this measure tries to capture the masculinity factor and whether you want to absorb more of it from another man or impose it on others. I guess for now I'll use those names: "absorb" and "impose."

What kind of man do you get when you put the extremes together? One type would be a man interested only in sex, who sees other men as objects and who desires to impose his masculinity on others. Another type would be a man who likes men only platonically, who desires a deep intimacy with men so that they can absorb their maleness. That sounds like a needy straight man, doesn't it? I think there are guys out there like that, guys who are only able to bond emotionally with other guys yet who would vehemently argue that they are straight. Sexually they are, but emotionally they are more "gay" than lots of gay men. Another kind of atypical man is the straight man who only finds big dicks a turn-on. It's like a foot fetish or something but it's all about the penis in a completely objectified way. Some would call them gay because of their penis fascination but I actually would see someone like that as straight. What being "gay" is most about, I think, is the emotional connection and not so much the physical. But there's a lot of ambiguity out there and that can be profoundly confusing.

My point of all this is that I think many men can have a sexual interest in other men, but that's mostly what it is. Some of these men are gay and bed-hop and some are straight and look for hook-ups. I'm not that kind of guy and I never have been. On my own scale of sexual interest in men I'm about a 2. But I crave intimacy so on that scale I'm a 6. For "absorb" vs. "impose" I'm probably a 2, being toward the absorb. If I put this all together than what I most desire is an emotionally intimate relationship with a guy that is looking for the same emotional tie, and less for sex. When we are together I would most like to become him in body and mind; I would like to merge myself into him.

My interest in sex with men has varied significantly over time. But my desire to feel emotionally complete by being "with" a man has been far more consistent. At 15 that is exactly what I wanted. But how I went about pursuing it was pretty stupid...

Monday, December 14, 2009

Self-abuse can be healthy

In many of the more liberal parts of the US it is not now fashionable to hate yourself for being gay. For those of you who have never hated yourself for being gay, you will have to trust me when I say that it was the perfectly normal behavior for a twelve year old boy in 1979.

By the age of twelve I had honed my self-loathing skills through years of previous practise that had nothing to do with sex. From an early age through six grade I was an emotional kid. I don't know why, but I do know that I sometimes had problems controlling myself. I think I let frustration build-up and then I'd let it all out in an unexpected, inappropriate way. By ten, I realized that I needed to change. On my own and without prompting from anyone, I wrote myself a contract of ten "Articles of Improvement." These were things I was determined to change about myself. By the end of sixth grade I mostly happy with my progress.

The idea that I could change myself and my behavior is important because for nearly a year, from mid-seventh grade through mid-eighth grade, I was determined not to be gay. What I didn't like about being gay was the idea of being different. I had already been different through much of elementary school but I was doing really well in Junior High. I had no desire to lose my recently earned social acceptance. Besides, it was Junior High. NO ONE wants to be different.

In the course of that year, I battled my thoughts about boys and girls. I even had a legitimate crush on a girl and had another girl as my girlfriend. Generally I tried to emphasize the "girls-are-hot" thoughts and suppress the "that-guy-is-so-cute" thoughts.

There wasn't a specific incident that prompted it, but all of my self-inflicted pressuring eventually brought me to the edge of an emotional collapse. I didn't realize it, but I had been building toward a catharsis. The catharsis came when, after several especially brutal days, I could berate myself to tears in seconds if I was alone with my thoughts. When I finally reached the point of pure emotional exhaustion, I cried hard one last time and then decided that I'd had enough. There was no point in making myself miserable about something I obviously could not change. Drying my face with my sleeve and looking into my own eyes in my bedroom mirror, I said aloud, "I accept myself as gay." I paused for a minute, and just looked at myself. Then I smiled reassuringly and said "You are gay."

Accepting myself brought instant peace. My anger and frustration were gone. The self-pity was mostly over. And best of all, from that day I have never again wanted to be someone that I knew I was not.

Soon after accepting myself I panicked a little. Now what???? What do I do? Do I tell anyone? If so, how and when? The question of what to do next was a real puzzle. Then, just as I'd found instanteous peace by accepting myself, I easily prolonged that peace by deciding that there was no rush to tell anyone. It was my secret as long as I wanted to keep it that way.

The peace was long, but hardly ever-lasting. Two years later, in tenth grade, I found out just how lonely it is to have a secret and to not be able to tell anyone.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Dream of a Twelve Year Old

Starting seventh grade meant that I was starting at a new school, a Junior High school. Sixth grade was still elementary school which meant that we did PE as a class and the most strenuous activity we ever engaged in was dodge ball.

Junior High school PE was very different. First, the teacher was as stereotypical as he could be--- ex-military, with the obligatory whistle always around his neck; loud, demanding and impatient. Second, physical education class was now serious business. Dodge ball, kick ball and Capture the Flag were all gone and replaced with 45 minute runs, wrestling, weight lifting, basketball and field events like shot put. The other big difference in Junior High was that we were required to change for PE. In a locker room. With a long row of open showers that ran the length of the large locker room.

You might think that the locker room and showers started my blood flowing in a not-so-appropriate-in-junior-high-school-way. But you'd be wrong. Not once in either seventh or eighth grade did I ever see anyone naked in the shower, much less naked in the locker room. Everyone was so self-conscious that on the rare occasion that a shower was used, the guy would inevitably rinse whatever was dirty while standing in his underwear. When I started seventh grade I was no different than anyone else. I didn't worry about seeing other boys undressed, I worried about them seeing me.

By early February I had grown comfortable with the transition to Junior High school. At first I was nervous about having so many different teachers, having to use a locker, not having a recess, etc, etc. All the typical worries every other kid had. And then I woke early one morning from a dream that prompted an entirely new worry...

The dream began in the locker room, during the first five minutes of PE class when we had to change into our uniforms. In the middle of everyone changing, Coach blew his whistle to get our attention. He then told us to march out of the locker room toward the play fields. Without pause or question, we obeyed, even though we were still in our underwear. What was odd was that the huge metal equipment locker which was normally some distance away from the locker room exit was now directly in front of us. It's wide-open mouth silently beckoned us. As seem to be expected, we marched into the equipment locker. I was at the front of the line with one boy on either side of me. As I entered the locker it became longer, narrower and very dark. When I came to the end, I turned back toward the entrance. Just as I turned to look, I saw the heavy metal doors of the locker closing, thereby locking us in. I don't remember any sounds but the creak of the doors closing and then the slam as they shut out all light. Now imprisoned, I was not afraid. Instead I felt suddenly alive as I savored the feel of naked boy arms, legs and chests, a little sweaty, being pressed into me and moving slowly across my bare, slick skin.

I awoke with a start. Barely awake, I replayed the dream in my head. As I savored the sensual pleasure in the dream I realized for the very first time that having bare-skinned boys press their dewy bodies into me in the dark was very erotic. Then, as the hazy giddiness lifted, my skin went cold with fear.

Does this mean I'm gay?

And so the self-loathing began.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Sexual Awakening

Who would guess that a paper route could be erotic?

Get your mind out of the gutter! This is reality, not some porn flick; I was not lured into anyone's home and seduced at 11 years of age. What happened was a little more conventional than that. But just as spontaneous.

I was up early(ish), as usual, and had nearly completed delivering my load of 75 rolls of the Saturday edition of the San Francisco Chronicle. It was about 8:30am and still quiet on the streets of my lower-middle class East Bay neighborhood. As I casually pedaled my bike toward home, my last delivery now completed, the front pouch of my too-large carrier's bag sagged low in front of me, heavy with three leftover newspapers. Soon, the rhythmic *thwap* of the carrier bag bouncing against my crotch and the pressure of the bicycle seat under my ass caught my attention. My young penis's attention actually. This was certainly not the first erection I'd ever had but it proved to be one of the most memorable. Unlike the ones I'd had before, this erection would not subside. After pedaling further I finally had to stop. I surreptitiously slid my hand behind the carrier bag and pressed the heel of my palm hard against my jean-clad penis. Then I slowly moved my palm down, pressing hard. O. Wow.

Feeling confined on the bike, I stepped off of it and looked around to see if anyone might be watching me. While looking around I realized that there was a tall, hard surface slightly ahead and to the left of me. Without further thought I approached the object of my sudden desire, a smallish, ugly tree, and pressed the length of my body against it. Then I quickly thrust with the full force of my very erect penis against the tree. Once. Twice. Three times. Fighting the strong desire to continue thrusting, I stopped. What if someone sees me?

I really should not be seen humping a tree on a Saturday morning.

Well, never, really. Some could say that this incident marks the beginnings of deviant sexuality. In particular, arborsexuality. But it didn't. In fact, those three thrusts comprise the totality of all my amorous encounters with any kind of tree. The truth of the matter is that I only desired the tree because it was there. I swear that I have not humped any trees since that morning.

I remounted my bike, rode home, went immediately to my bedroom, pulled my pants down, put my naked penis between the cool sheets of my bed and my pillow case, and humped for less than a minute before The Event That Changed Everything occured.

I was not completely naive. I knew about sex and semen and how babies are made and all that, but I did not know about orgasms. It turns out that, like a multitude of other organisms on our planet, I really like them. Within a few weeks the underside of my pillowcase was thoroughly encrusted with the remains of many residues which proved how much I liked orgasms.

Sex with my pillow was thoroughly satisfying in and of itself. When I humped I didn't think about anything besides how good it felt. But that changed after a dream I had many months later, in seventh grade.