It was only after I began to experience the diverse, intellectually lush jungle of my small liberal arts college that I realized that I had spent my prior 18 years in a sagatious wasteland.
In college I discovered what it's like to be surrounded by modest yet fantastically talented people who bubble with a vibrant passion for everything they do and learn. Every single day was an adventure, a shared journey of self-discovery and empowerment.
As life-changing as college was for me, I spent relatively little time focused on sex. I was very much in the mainstream in that regard. You would think with a very liberal atmosphere and no religious affiliation we'd be humping like bunnies. And some did. But mostly we felt like a family. Desiring your brother or sister just didn't seem right. Random hook-ups did happen and there were always some attached-at-the-hip twosomes, but mostly we hung out and did crazy things in groups. Mostly...
By the end of high school I felt ready to reinvent myself. Attending college far from home was an easy way to make it happen. It wasn't a radical makeover, but I shortened my name to the more relaxed "Cam" instead of the formal "Cameron." The name change was intended to reflect my new casual, out-going and self-confident personality. For a minute or two I even considered the possibility of being open about my sexuality, but the truth was I didn't feel ready. How could I take the plunge of going some place where I knew no one and then immediately ostracize myself by being out? It was too risky and not a priority.
It wasn't until the second week of college that I was aware of anyone else who was gay. A tall, heavily pimpled and generally unattractive boy was one of two people staffing the "LGBT Alliance" table at the start of the year Clubs and Activities Fair. His partner at the table was a short, stocky, mustached girl who was even more unattractive than the boy. During the hour or so I was at the fair I watched the table to see if anyone remotely appealing approached. If one did, I thought I *might* consider joining. Independently, I saw two different women sign up. Both looked as if they would fit in nicely. One had long, ratty hair and was dressed in army fatigues and a tie-dye t-shirt. The other was an average looking red head who could pass as normal if someone would just explain to her that most people do not wear entirely different shoes on each foot.
Unable to see myself as part of the Social Outcast Alliance, the decision to stay in the closet was a no-brainer.
September, October and November flew by and in no time Winter Break arrived. During the break I saw Brian for the last time and learned about his sexcapades. With our bond broken, I felt free to be more aggressive about finding a boyfriend when I returned to school in January.
My method for finding a man? Advertise on bathroom walls.
This tactic did not work.
Instead of seductive replies by potential partners I was answered with silly retorts or well-intentioned but unhelpful advice. Within a few weeks I realized that I needed a new strategy. The best I could think of was to leave notes in several of the best gay books in the library.
I must say that the selection of hot, gay books at the public library back home was much better. Most of the college's books were scientific studies of some sort, which don't make for good porn. Jacking off to a regression analsyis of various neuropsychological experiments is not my idea of a good time.
There were a few decent books, only one of which I remember now, The Best Little Boy in the World. The book was originally published in 1973 under the nom de plume John Reid. At the time The New York Times Book Review said it was "uniquely frank ... a splendid book." It was republished in 1998, this time with the real author Andrew Tobias pictured on the front cover. Some people don't like the book because Tobias comes off as arrogant and shallow but I have to say, for an 18 year old in 1985, it was a damn good read. I should read it again to see if I still feel the same way.
About two weeks after I left my personal ad in the books, I received a reply. Success at last!
My potential boyfriend set a time and date for us to meet in the library, "in front of our favorite bookshelf." Libraries are great places to meet. With stacks of books and cubicles in which you can pretend to study, there are a million ways to watch a certain location without looking like you're watching. It would be just my luck that my suitor would be the unattractive LGBT boy. There was no way that I was going to identify myself unless the guy was appealing.
When the day and time arrived, I nervously waited in a distant cubicle with good visibilty of our meeting spot. A number of sexy possibilities passed through the stack but no one hesitated or stopped until a tall, thin bespeckled guy walked directly to the correct stack, folded his arms, and stared intently at the books on the shelf. The boy wasn't much of a boy, but neither was he a man. An almost man, I guess. His hair was wavy and mousy brown. His face was pale and long. His most noticeable features were his eyes, which were covered by huge circular glasses. He looked like an owl.
But he wasn't completely unattractive. Armed with my new self-confidence (not really) I nervously made my way to where my date was waiting. When he noticed me approaching, he betrayed his own nervousness by looking around quickly for anyone who might be watching. I could only make eye-contact for a few seconds as I quietly asked, "Were you, um, supposed to meet someone here?"
Again he looked quickly around us, then said, "Let's go for a walk."
As we left the library, I learned that my date's name was Doug and he was a senior. I was afraid to be seen with him and I think he was just as afraid to be seen with me because within seconds of leaving the library he said, "We should find a place to talk....I have a single in a quiet building just off campus. Do you want to go there?"
I said "OK" mostly because I wanted to be out of sight of anyone I might know, as quickly as possible.
Once in his room, we shared some basic information about ourselves. I learned that Doug had created his own major, Costume Design, and that he was from Illinois.
Even as we talked more openly, however, my anxiety about meeting Doug did not fade. I didn't feel drawn to him and our conversation was stilted and awkward. Doug did not appear to be much more at ease than I was. I felt so uncomfortable that the thing I remember best about our meeting was when Doug offered me home-made cookies. As I took one and ate it all I could think was: What if it is laced with drugs or something?
After yet another awkward silence, Doug bluntly asked if I wanted a blow job.
Who can ever say no to that?
Doug's technical ability to give a good blow job was solid. Brian wasn't nearly as skilled but my lust for him more than made up for his sloppiness. Doug wasn't so fortunate.
After I came all I wanted to do was leave. Doug seemed to be a nice enough guy but I did not want to be with him. He asked me if I would reciprocate and I said I was sorry, I couldn't, I had to go.
The campus is small so it is surprising that I only saw Doug once more before he graduated. He was riding alone in the back seat of a buick convertible. In the front seat were two friends, I guess, but I didn't know them. All I saw was Doug's face, covered with a wide grin, that immediately faded when he saw me. We just looked at each other as the car drove past.
Seeing Doug again made me feel awkward and bad about ditching him but I didn't care enough to do anything about it. Instead, I realized that our encounter was an important lesson: if you are closeted on a small campus and you fool around, you had better be prepared for a lot of future awkward moments.
About two weeks after my encounter with Doug I decided to run for the student senate. There were eight slots and 16 candidates for an at-large election. By "at large" I mean that freshmen competed equally against sophomores and juniors. I mounted a somewhat innovative campaign and ended up receiving the 4th most votes and was the only freshman to win. Thereafter, student politics and other extra-curricular activities became the focus of my college career.
Increasingly pleased with my public persona and the awesome friends I was making, the possibility of coming out became less appealing than ever. So, as sex-filled as many guys' days are in college, Doug was the only guy I ever messed around with during my entire time on campus.
What is ironic is that I have since learned there were many attractive gay men all around me, including my best friend, my worst enemy, a roommate, a floormate and nearly a dozen others. Not one of those guys came out publicly while in college, though many of them came to know each other through, of all places, the school's GLBT Alliance.
One other thing I learned a few years after I graduated: Doug died at the age of 31. I assume it was from AIDS, but I don't know for certain.
Doug, I'm sorry for being such an ass.