Thursday, April 17, 2014

Hooking Up and Getting Off: 1982-2012

How Times have Changed....


I became aware of my orientation way after Uranians, Mattachinites, and Stonewall, but way before Gay Rodeos got proudly sponsored by Jim Beam and Smith & Wesson.  

I was 14 at the time.  Carter was president.  People crowded around TV sets at Montgomery Wards, hypnotized by two vertical slashes and a dot which bounced back and forth between them; they called it "Pong."  In the meantime I secreted Playgirl centerfolds up my pant leg one aisle over.  Yes, I was ready to become what--back then--they pejoratively called a "cocksucker." Today I'm more likely to be politely referred-to as a "shaft-specialist."  I don't know if I prefer the latter. 

Although the floodgates of tolerance and political correctness are generally wide-open today, being a reviled deviant seemed ironically simpler (and more naughty) back in the day.  In college I joined a secret gay club to meet guys: we voted to call it the G-C, standing for "gay club."  Just two letters, can you believe it??  It was one of the last times the hyphenated name of a collegiate gay association could still fit on a single 8 1/2 x 11 page and be uttered in full--without taking supplementary gasps of breath.  

Yes, gone forever is the romantic import and intrigue associated with being called a "Urainian" or "Cocksucker," or even "Gay." 

I want to feel dirty again; I want to keep it real.... 




Years ago I placed my first M4M ad in the local Indie rag.  It's where all the "clean," "bi-curious,"  "first-timer's" hung out....  Back then you had to place your ad by calling-in and talking to one of the newspaper's 'Personals' reps.  A bored woman would answer and ask a list of questions: "Preference?" "uh...men for men?"  "Ad title?" "uh..."Marine parking only?" It was so embarrassing.   The ad came out a week(!) later and I waited for my message box to fill up. 

Zane left a message in my personals box. He invited me over.  In the meantime I thought I'd better buy a... you-know-what-plug.  I could barely walk, let alone stand up straight wearing the plug.  Man, the pain!  But no pain, no Zane, or so I thought.

He lived by himself 40 miles out into the boonies.  When I arrived at Zane's ranch, sweating and feverish with pain, I quickly excused myself to the bathroom to pretty-up.  Between the butt plug, searing heat and rough country terrain, I was looking like Barbara Stanwyck on a really bad day. 

One would think that after enduring six hours of Medieval pain and stretching, my "mangina" would have managed to stay open long enough to have had some fun with Zane, but no such luck: upon pulling the plug, my rear door immediately shut again as if it were the 2-ton floodgate in Das Boot when their U-boat got hit.  In the end, the whole ordeal turned out to be a nightmare that was as frustrating as it was devoid of action.

Today everybody uses Craigslist, with the ability to post an ad and arrange a meeting in seconds.  I love lurking in Casual Encounters, where multitudes of gay guys offer their "superior" oral services to straight men.  It's interesting to watch the straight newbies become more cynically-precise from their first post to last:  "Straight guy looking for head." "Straight guy looking for head from woman." "Straight guy looking for head from woman with a vagina." "Straight guy looking for head from woman BORN with a vagina." "No, I don't need money." "No, I'm not sending anyone my tennis shoes in a ziploc bag."  

And your GPS-enhanced smartphone is the most expedient way to get laid yet: Little beeping dots on a computer screen represent all the horny young gays around you within a two mile radius. I tried it but at my age I felt  like an Air Traffic Controller watching planes get hastily re-directed to other airports after a Terrorist threat.  

Back in my day Chatroulette was an 8-story dorm complex. 64 open windows.... "Nexting" meant they turned-off their light, projectile vomited or closed the blinds.  I know: "voyeurism"... how perverted.  But don't forget the safe-sex guides in the mid-80's, complete with tips on hugging, dry-humping, massage, and driving past each other on opposite sides of the highway with the windows closed. 

I witnessed the birth of slick, stylish big-budget gay porn, but I find it such a tedium!  I can barely stay focused through the obligatory National Anthem, images of American flags rippling in the wind, James Earl Jones reciting the First Amendment, then the unfailingly-arousing "Know your STD quiz". A typical movie opens with two 30-ish West Hollywood bottoms wearing nylon shorts and sideways baseball caps, not one naturally-occurring body hair left standing...trying to play basketball.  "Loser blows winner."  Yeah right: talk about a simultaneous concussion as both drop to their knees!  



To celebrate my 50th birthday, a friend took me to Black's Beach in San Diego.  I assure you, you have never climbed down a more dangerous trail to get to the bottom.  It's like Yosemite Falls meets drunk Frat boys dangerous.  I stepped out of the car in my sun-hat, iced tea in one hand, my Pond's beauty products in the other.  I momentarily froze:  he had to drag me away from all the surfers bouncing out of their wetsuits with nothing more than a facecloth covering their privates. We get to the edge of the cliff and look down to the beach:  "Where's the damn trail?" I asked. 

"What do you mean where's the trail, it's right there." My friend points to these little rocks jutting out the side of the cliff.  That's the trail down?  With all the gay dollars floating around, no one could install an elevator?  I peered over the edge:  I couldn't tell for certain, but skeletons may have littered the base of the trail, tattered red speedos still covering their pelvic regions.  I can't do this....  

But then, WOOHOO!  Surfers bounded past us and leapt over the side, deftly jumping from one rock to the next all the way to the bottom.  

So I carefully lowered myself, my searching feet blindly finding one rock, then another, then another.  I felt like Shelley Winters in the Poseidon Adventure.  Inch by inch we advanced.  I lost my iced tea and beauty products early-on: I kept losing my balance and slapping my hands against sharp rocks to break my fall, rocks stained red and presumably bloodied by people who had just finished participating in anonymous sex marathons in the bushes below.  Refusing to touch anything further, I eventually slipped and lost contact with the side of the cliff altogether.  As I sailed through the air, terra firma and the skeletons of the athletically-challenged rushed towards me.  Then...blackness. 

I awoke to Bears splashing cold Long Island Iced Teas in my face.  Is this Heaven? A lot of concerned bearded men in sandals.  They said I landed on soft sand but rapped my head pretty hard on a Chiuaua skull.   "Dorotea" was stamped into my cheek, from its collar. 

I sat up: once my vision cleared it was Bears as far as the eyes could see!  Tents, Canopies, huge BBQ's, portable wet bars, ice chests;  a Drag queen in an apron dubbed me "Dorothy" as she handed me a hot dog.  I knew, at that moment, that my years of wandering had come to an end, and I didn't even need GPS....



The Prodigal Son had come home.








Dedicated to Larry Kramer

© John Daniel, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given John Daniel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Friday, December 6, 2013

How a Pushy Drag Queen and a Fearsome Leather Daddy Saved my Life


 






Back in the early '80's, I visited my first gay bar.  A gargantuan drag queen named Tammy "Whynot" was the only person audacious enough to talk to me, not that I deserved the attention.  I thought I was God's gift: I didn't move or smile, and I was loath to make eye contact with anyone.  

So along comes Tammy: she stops, turns, pins me against the wall and says, "Honey, a smile is a frown upside..." and before I could get away, she'd inserted two fingers into my mouth and had forced my lips into a smile!  I couldn't believe she did that!  I could taste the Ms Breck residue --from under her fingernails-- for days.  As I stood there in shock, she waved her friend over, locally-known as Miss Demeanor, and I spent the rest of the evening reluctantly sharing drinks with the two drag queens.  I was a broken man. 

How I'd wished I could've pressed the "Delete" button!   How I'd wished I could have left the chat room and found a better one, but those luxuries were decades away.

Slowly but surely, Tammy became my gay mom.  She'd prepare some wonderful dinners, but I wasn't allowed to dig in unless I could recite a bit of poetry from memory.  Every week I'd regale her with my latest tales of conquest and heartbreak and every week she'd counter with a line from a poem, aptly chosen to accentuate my conquests or--more typically--to heal my broken heart.   

I remember her favorite line of all time: "Es tan corto el amor, y es tan largo el olvido."   I can't believe I still remember that line--in Spanish no less--but I do: "Love is so short, and forgetting so long."  Tammy had given me my first taste of Pablo Neruda.  He seemed like a pretty cool guy and all, but I wasn't really into poetry.  To me, a poem was nothing more than a bunch of humiliated words decked-out in wigs and Taffeta.

One night Tammy announced that she had found the perfect man for me: a gentlemen by the name of "Daddy Eagle."  She went so far as to set me up on a blind date.    

Daddy Eagle was so not my type: he was balding and older, and his physique was absurdly over-developed.  After a night out on the town--bouncing around in his army surplus Jeep--he drove us back to his house and led me inside.  (I did what I was told.)  It wasn't long before the man's shirt came off.  Coarse, black hair carpeted both his chest and back. 

Oh, how I'd wanted to hit the "Delete" button....  

"Ride of the Valkyries" was playing on his stereo in the background, though I didn't know the music's actual title at the time.  "Who wrote this?" I asked, (in a desperate attempt to cool him down a bit.)   "Well, Richard Wagner of course," he replied incredulously.  "Surely you remember the 'Kill the Wabbit' Cartoon?"

In the end, he put his shirt back on and we spent the rest of the evening listening to Wagner: fierce women on winged horses seemed to hover in the air above us; I liked the music, but the singing was making me feel a bit uncomfortable, though I didn't know why.  Daddy Eagle explained to me that the head Valkyrie--Brunhilde--had decided to play by her own rules and as a tragic consequence, she was put to sleep for a long, long time. 

Indeed, Tammy Whynot and Daddy Eagle sleep now as well: they succumbed to the HIV virus years ago. 

I miss my unlikely friends and I owe them both so much: they helped liberate the poignant, often sobering truths, 
long-imprisoned between the vapid lines of my cocky, seemingly invincible younger self.  

Looking back, I'm so glad I didn't have a Delete button.



© John Daniel, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given John Daniel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

My First HIV Test





November, 1985 

I couldn't stand it anymore.

Alone in my dorm room, I uncrumpled the flyer, carefully ironing-out the wrinkles with the edges of my hands until all the information was once again legible:

HIV Testing, County Health Clinic 11400 Canal Street, 2nd Floor.  

As I searched for my car keys, the page began to curl back up, but I didn't care.  I didn't want to stop for even a moment, in case I curled up as well.

I grabbed a city map and drove downtown in search of Canal Street.

The County Health Department was situated in the dreariest part of the city.  They always are.  The clinic was a grimy, Soviet-era inspired box of a building, with no pleasing aesthetics, and no mood-enhancing paint hues to lift the spirit. 

Would I run into someone I knew? What would I tell them? Was I writing a research paper? Maybe picking someone up?  Forgive my concern, but it was long before the era of gargantuan, rainbow-colored mobile testing units, replete with modern amenities such as massage tables, complimentary Starbuck's coffee, and roving Mariachi Bands.

As I approached the main entrance of the clinic, my temples began to pound.  Then I couldn't get the automated glass doors to open.  I stepped all over the place trying to activate the motion sensors. 

From a distance I must have looked like a crazy person, trying in vain to step around his reflection in the glass.  I let out a sarcastic laugh when I realized how often I'd done that dance with myself at home recently, while agonizing over the decision whether or not to get tested.

When the doors finally parted, I entered the clinic and took a seat in the waiting room.  After four years of obsession and worry, I felt as though I was finally taking control.

One of my favorite songs was playing over the radio. I actually owned the record, but after my roommate had gotten drunk one night and scratched the vinyl, I'd banished it from my collection. As much as I tried, I couldn't enjoy the music anymore:  the predictable, yet paradoxically jarring pops had become too distracting.

As I sat there, I watched as a little boy carefully formed letters with a tiny pencil: it was sharpened all the way down to the metallic eraser band.  He'd chewed the metallic band flat--presumably to squeeze out the last remaining bits of rubbery magic;  but at this point there wasn't any eraser left at all.  Yet he continued to write. 

I grabbed a magazine, but only to skim through the ads.  I didn't dare get caught up in a long article.  Had I lost myself in a good story--for even a few minutes--my temporarily cleansed psyche could never have withstood the next ultra-pure, high-potency dose of anxiety coming around the bend.  No; I tossed the magazine back on the table: I had to keep my tolerance levels up; I had to make sure nothing came between me and my next fix of HIV paranoia.

Finally, a nurse called my name, or more accurately, my number. She walked me to an examination area and I sat down on the edge of a cold steel gurney.  

"So...why do you want an HIV test?" the nurse asked. 

"Well, I'm... I'm gay, and...." 

It was the first time I had ever told anyone that I was gay.  I savored the irony as best I could:  I'd always imagined coming out to a loved one while sitting on a park bench somewhere, overlooking the ocean, but here I was coming out--for the first time--to a stranger;  amidst bandages, rubbing alcohol, syringes, and pictures of smokers' lungs and brains on drugs.

I really don't remember exactly what I said next. Something about a mutual j/o session five years earlier...something about how my partner had cleaned up but then playfully tossed the moist towel at me....  I explained how the towel had hit me in the face...how it had brushed against my eyes and lips...I knew there were open fissures...I knew that I was infected.   

I broke down and wept; I couldn't put two words together.

The poor nurse--who didn't know me from Adam--immediately pulled my trembling body against hers, and with the calmest of hands, she laid my head against her warm, consoling breast.   My tears fell and disappeared into the darkness of her uniform, but I didn't care.  I had waved the primeval white flag; I'd come home to the arms of a woman for one last time. 

But we needed to get back to the business at hand; there were people awaiting their turn outside. I extended my arm and the nurse took my blood.  After a few moments, she withdrew the needle and placed my bar-coded specimen in a pass-through cabinet on the wall. It was over; I was done.  

On my way out, the nurse had given me so many free condoms that I could have likely resurfaced the Goodyear blimp. She'd also given me a pamphlet which explained how the HIV virus worked, based upon the four years of data available at the time.  I devoured it whole.  I felt like a frightened little kid who finally got to visit the backstage of a theater; I finally got to see the smoke machines, the flash guns, the trap doors, the invisible wires.... 

It was all so liberating, but a bit of a let-down as well: while I knew that I'd never again allow myself to be gripped with such fear and trepidation, I also knew that I'd never love or lust with the same reckless abandon.  The gods had fallen along with the monsters that day.
Back at the dorm room, I longed to hear my favorite song again, so I decided it was high time to rescue my poor exiled Lp from the closet.  After navigating it the past dirty laundry, my 21st birthday beer bong, and a bunch of old high school Track medals I'd never bothered to display, I placed the record on the turntable and carefully lowered the arm.   

Day One of the rest of my life had finally begun.  

Monday, October 21, 2013

My Hot, Straight, Fundamentalist Christian Roommate from Moldova


I remember the day we met.

"Vy you not say hi?" the young Russian muscle-god asked, as he tossed drywall into a trash bin. "My name is Vassily, I am from Moldova".

"Pleased to meet you," I replied, as my eyes furtively traced the outlines of his hammer and sickle. "My name is John, I'm...I'm from Bendova...."

His friendliness had obviously caught me off guard. Sacramento's Immigrant Russian community is extremely close-knit, private and wary of outsiders. Roughly a third are devout Christian Fundamentalists. The community was proud to have helped put Prop 8 over the top in California; even 100 year-old Babushkas--on the edge of Death--could be seen wheeling themselves into the voting booth to cast their cosmically-important vote against the legalization of Same-sex Marriage. Needless to say, Sacramento's Russian and Gay communities have often clashed, sometimes violently.

Vassily was living in a gutted Condo adjacent to mine. He was doing a restoration job to make a few bucks. He had no refrigerator, no Internet access, no nothing. No one in the Russian Community would take him in. Before long he was hanging out at my place, skyping with his family and friends for hours on end. I couldn't get rid of him.

I knew he'd pop the question sooner or later: "John, I vant to leeeve with you, but vere you Woooman; vere you keeeds?"

Oh man. I felt bad for him, but at 50, did I really want to deal with a roommate? Did I really want to explain why I didn't have a Woooman?

The situation brought to mind a gay Daddy I once knew. He used to tell me horror stories about all the strays he'd taken in over the years; the Caleb's, Jacob's, Malachi's and Jaden's who promised that they just needed a month or so to get back on their feet, and--swear to God-- "they weren't doin' Crack no more." Predictably, every relationship had ended in disaster, with too many broken promises, and way too many vindictively broken dishes.

But Vassily was different. He was sober, college educated and employable. In the end, he turned out to be an excellent roommate, though I'd always get a little annoyed when he'd lock the bathroom door five different ways, even to simply blow his nose. 


Whenever I needed a little space, Vassily would often dine out at the home of a Russian Christian family he knew: he could speak in his native tongue and he loved the good old-fashioned Russian cooking; but on one particular evening, Vassily had returned earlier than usual.  He'd seemed very distraught and troubled.  I asked him what was wrong.

"My friends tell me that you are a Sodomite."  he replied, coldly.

Apparently, his uptight dinner hosts had figured out that I was gay; but when Vassily had offered to grab his personal belongings and sleep at their house that very night, there was suddenly much choking on Borscht around the table: "We have no room," the father had said, while brusquely escorting him to the door. 

Poor Vassily.  He'd received his first lesson in Christian hypocrisy.  I sat him down and we took a moment to look at some of the many different Biblical descriptions of a "Sodomite":

Eze 16:49, 50 One who doesn't help the Poor and Needy.
Isaiah 1:9-23 One who mistreats the Poor.
Lamentation 4:3-6 One who fails to care for the Young.
Amos 4:1-11 One who mistreats the Needy.
Matthew 11:16-24 One who is inhospitable.
Mark 6:10-11 Warnings to those who are inhospitable.
Luke 17:26-29 Still more warnings to those who are inhospitable....

I turned to my young, poor, needy Christian Russian roommate and said, "Vassily, you leeeve with me; you leeeve with me for as long as you want."


Dedicated to Vladimir Putin  : )


Monday, June 3, 2013

Never Mind the Frogs, Where did All the Glory Holes Go?


Before the Internet and Grindr came along, people in the 20th Century had to (Gasp!) cruise restrooms.

By my teens, I was keen enough to sense when and where such activity was taking place, and there was quite a party atmosphere in a rest stop that my family and I used to frequent on the way to Grandma's house, back in the late '70's. 

But between Dad honking the car horn and feigning departure without me if I didn't hurry up; and my younger brother knocking on my stall door and asking me what in the world was taking so long, I really didn't have a chance to hook up with anyone.
When I got old enough to travel back to the rest stop alone, it was too late: the recently-created Glory Hole Suppression Task Force and Contingency Team had gotten there first....   

I wept for the mountain of decrepit, old wooden stalls--admittedly more "hole" than wood at this point--unceremoniously piled in a junk bin out in the parking lot. A hastily-assembled bouquet of discarded latex gloves and face masks graced its summit.  I wanted to step closer and read all the graffiti--years of precious history was about to go up in smoke--but the bio-hazard sign gave me the heebie-geebies.  As I made my way into the renovated restroom, imposing new steel walls greeted me at every turn.  The improved lighting was oppressively bright and unflattering: I might as well have just stepped into a hospital's examination room.  

But wait! What's this? 

While reaching for some toilet paper to dab my tears, I noticed a tiny, vacated screw hole in one of the stalls.  Could I make it into a glory hole?  Could I get the party going again?  I inserted a screwdriver shaft into the small opening and yanked it back and forth with all my weight. (My old metal shop teacher wept from Heaven: had I learned nothing?)  With a loud, startling "POP" the screwdriver broke and the shaft went clanking across the tile floor, echoing loudly throughout the restroom.  

At the time, there were three or four other people standing at the urinals.  As I sat in paralyzed silence--waiting for their pee-streams to resume--a faint written message, scratched into the wall caught my eye: "Glory hole action, food court restroom, Valley Mall."

OMG.  Would a hot college athlete be sitting in a stall there, looking for some fun? I had to drive the 70 miles and find out. I hastily combed and re-feathered my luxurious brown hair, gave it a maintenance dollop of Ms Breck and tore-off down the highway towards the mall. 


I passed dozens of hot guys as I made my way to the food court restroom.  I assumed that they were all waiting for just the right moment to ditch their girlfriends and steal-off to the men's room to unleash some steam.  I plopped-down on a vacant toilet with tremulous anticipation.  The heroin-like feelings of euphoria astonished me.  I contemplated the god who would soon arrive.




The restroom door opened. I heard shuffling and a man sat down next to me.  His velcro-flapped tennis shoes, varicose-veined calves and wrinkled, cadaverous "come hither" finger didn't bode well; the scene was suddenly veering off-script! (I felt like Harry Connick Jr in Copycat when Sigourney Weaver kicked-off her shoe.)  All the planning, all the driving, all the anticipation...where the hell was my Athlete??  Surely the man would be a gentlemen and yield his stall?  After all, I had just driven 70 miles....  

Our standoff lasted for at least two hours. 

At one point, I thought my arch-nemesis was leaving.  He stood up, but only to fish a pen out of his pocket.  He scratched "GO AWAY" on a piece of toilet paper and thrust it through the hole.  

Undaunted, I pulled out my Sony Walkman and positioned the headphones over my ears with a theatrical sigh.  I wasn't going anywhere.  

He in turn pulled out his Rubic's cube and began to test each and every one of its 43,252,003,274,489,856,000 possible combinations.  I had never felt such burning indignation. 

Needless to say, it wasn't long before a security guard stepped into the restroom and knocked on our stall doors, sarcastically enquiring if we were OK.   My entire brain immediately shut down, except for the Medulla; that primeval little reptilian bulge at the top of my spinal cord.  It flashed one simple message, over and over again: "...must exit now, must exit now...."  

I quietly washed my hands and walked--as steadily as I could--past the guard, and out the door.  I can't recall if my arch-nemesis ever came out.  I didn't want to be like him, in the grips of an obsession: too numb to assess the situation at hand; too numb to fear the consequences of being caught. 

I found a pay-phone down the street and made an anonymous call to the local Chamber of Commerce. Speaking into a coffee cup to disguise my voice, I asked for the location of the nearest gay bar. They laughed at me and hung up.  

As I walked back to my car, I could see the Glory Hole Suppression Task Force and Contingency Team tearing through the mall parking lot. 





Dedicated to Edmund White


© John Daniel, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given John Daniel with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Lunch with my Mother in the Old Folks' Home








My mother broke the awkward silence.


"Is your brother still outside, having a smoke?"

"Yes, Mom.  Why?"

"Because I want to ask you a personal question, and I hope you don't mind."

"Sure, why would I mind?" I replied.  I'd just hoped that no one else in the cafeteria would care.

My mother leaned forward and put her hand on mine. "Are you gay?"

"Mom, we dealt with this 20 years ago!" I reflexively looked over my shoulder, just in case anyone around us might have overheard. "You were OK with it, don't you remember?"

She pushed her tray aside and patted the crumbs off her chest as if she were freshening up an old pillow.

"Well, I just wanted you to know, I'm your mother and you're my son and I'll love you 'till the day I'm gone, but please--let's not tell your father.  I just want to enjoy a quiet meal for once, without a lot of yelling and gnashing of teeth around the dinner table."

My father had passed away years earlier.


"Don't worry, Mom," I reassured her, "I won't, but why don't you tell me a few good stories about Dad, instead?"

While my mother reminisced about my father, a dormant, vaguely unsettling memory of my own slowly re-awakened and rudely elbowed its way to the forefront of my mind.


"Faggot!" the old man hissed. "You look like a faggot!"

Back when I was a teenager in the late '70's, my father had dragged me out of bed one morning so that I could help him with the yard work. I'd reported for duty freshly showered and shaved, and my hair perfectly parted down the middle and feathered.  I was sporting a salmon-colored velour shirt, skin-tight Britannia Jeans and simply stunning virgin white Converse high-tops.  

"Take off that crap and get into some work clothes!" my father exclaimed as he waved me away in mock disgust. "Good God!"

"John?" My mother hadn't realized I was daydreaming.


"I'm so sorry," I replied.  I felt like the most insensitive person on the planet.

"Anyway," my mother cleared her throat. "I want to ask you a personal question and I hope you don't mind."

She clutched my hand again: "Are you gay?"

"Um...Mom, really?" I pulled away, as if her senility was contagious. "You just asked me that five minutes ago, don't you remember?"

"Oh, I did?" she replied with heartbreaking apathy, "Well, I just wanted you to know that I'm your mother and you're my son and I'll love you 'till the day I'm gone.  But please--let's not tell your brother.  I just want to enjoy a quiet meal for once, without a lot of yelling and gnashing of teeth around the dinner table."

My brother Ray had known that I was gay since he was 7.  His neighborhood friends had told him so while they were playing a game of wiffle ball down the street.

Like any typical 14 year old, I was in the middle of my "mad scientist" phase and I'd camp out in my bedroom experimenting for days on end.  I had received a Radio Shack do-it-yourself Crystal Radio kit for Christmas and after weeks of trial and error, I'd just gotten it to work--the radio had actually begun to emit static from its little speaker!  I grasped the dial. I couldn't wait to connect with the outside world.

As I searched for a station, Ray burst through the front door in tears. 

"What the hell is wrong?" the old man asked.  My brother heaved and stuttered: "Philip and Brian s-s-said John's a f-f-fag."

Panic-stricken, I quietly closed my bedroom door, and pressed my ear up against it.


"Oh, Ray!"  my mother consoled him, "They're lying. John's not like that. He's a good boy, a decent boy. Why would they say something so horrible? So untrue?"

Anonymous footsteps approached my bedroom door, paused for a moment--but then gingerly retreated.  In the end, nothing ever came of the incident, though I was met with a cold silence for the rest of the afternoon.

"John?" my mother fidgeted with her pill box. "I want to ask you a personal question but I need you to look me directly in the eye and tell me the God's honest truth: are you gay?"


"Oh my god, Mom, again??  You can't be serious!" I was exasperated at this point.

"Well, I just want you to know that I'm your mother and...."


"Yeah, I get it, I'm gay but you love me anyway."


A nearby custodial care worker shot me a dirty look, but the young woman was quick to follow up with a warm, knowing smile.


"Mom, I'm sorry," I whispered, "it's just that all the group hugs lately have been making me feel a little bit uncomfortable."


Before I could go on,  Ray approached the table, but he didn't sit down. His work break was coming to an end and he signaled that it was time to go.


We hugged and kissed Mom goodbye and made our way out to the parking lot.  Off-white Magnolia petals from an overhanging tree blanketed the car.


As I drove my brother back to work, I turned the windshield wipers on to clear away the last of the spent blossoms.


"Talk to me, Ray,"  I implored.  "It's too quiet in here."


"Hey, um...thanks for goin' it alone in there with Mom. Sometimes I can't handle...."


"Oh man, don't worry about it.  I told her you needed a cigarette."


"Thanks." he replied, shaking his head. "I love you, man, I really do."


"I love you too Ray," I sighed, "I love you too."













Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Safe Sex Campaigns in the '80's: The Decade Masturbation Burst Out the Closet Before I Did.


My family often vacationed in San Francisco, and in '87 it finally happened: we found ourselves in the middle of the Castro District, sitting at a long, red light. At 23, I hadn't yet visited this most famous of all gay ghettos, but I certainly recognized where we were. I wasn't out to my family at the time and I pondered the delicacy of the situation at hand: Being so close to the mother ship, would I begin to inexplicably levitate? (I put on my seatbelt.) Would this be the moment that my parents finally put two and two together? I was hardly ready to come out to them that day, stuck in the middle of the Castro with my younger brother sitting next to me passionately sucking on a popsicle. 

In any case, my mother was busy admiring all the beautiful drag queens on parade and their fashionable ensembles.  My father admired the large, gleaming pyramids of empty beer bottles everywhere, and the happy go lucky demeanors of the men and women surrounding them.  I privately wondered if anyone would recognize me and wave. I donned my sunglasses and slid down into the seat.   My ancient, slow-burning paranoia gladly merged with the brazen conflagration surrounding us.


A young man in a skeleton mask approached our car. Visions of Nazi Germany suddenly flashed before my eyes:  At any moment he'd pull out a police whistle and start screaming, "Homosexuell!" "Homosexuell!!" ...then angry crowds would rush towards us, pry-open the doors and tattoo a pink triangle on my forehead before dragging me away.  But no, the man belonged to a group called ACT-UP, and he was simply giving out condoms and scented lube samples as part of their Safe Sex campaign.  My mother graciously lowered her window and obliged, though while choosing a scented lube, she couldn't decide between Lavender or Fresh-baked Sugar Cookie.  This was all too much  for my father, who impatiently revved the engine a few times in a "thank you, buh-bye" gesture.  Eventually the light turned green and we were off.  



As we made our way up the street, my  brother broke the silence:  "Our teacher gave us condoms, but he told us it's safest just to masturb-"  "SHUSH!"  My father abruptly cut him off, shaking his head in disbelief.  I, too, was a little shocked by my brother's forthrightness, but he was part of the New Era: an era in which speaking up saved lives and "silence," (as the saying used to go), equalled death.  I myself had grown up in the 70's, when nobody really talked about intimate issues, and said "silence" invariably equalled a stiff drink!  I wasn't used to being enlightened about lubricants, masturbation and condom-use by people on the streets armed with bullhorns, in front of my parents, before I'd even come out of the Closet.  


Man, had the times changed....


Back when I was a teen, the only lube one could get hold of was Vaseline; there was nothing premium, scented or hypoallergenic available.   Masturbation used to be something no one dared talk about, unless it was around the dinner table, and then only in enigmatic terms.  My Mother usually initiated the conversation:  "John, you're leaving a lot of Vaseline all over the tub...." "...and otha things...." my father would chime in, in his Arnold Schwarzhenegger voice.  "What other things??" My younger brother would ask.  My poor mother.  Her Vaseline--that dusty jar in the closet--must have lasted 20 years before I got hold of it: aqua blue, hand-blown glass, probably valuable on Ebay.  Suddenly she's buying a jar a month.  What must she have thought?  


You young people laugh; you've got hip Moms. They've read books.  Masturbation is natural; it's safe and fun!  But back when I was a teen, such "stimulation" was a crime and my trail of evidence didn't just end in the bathroom: police tape was wrapped around my bedroom as well.  My detective mother--always gathering evidence, but never making an arrest--liked to put purple sheets on my bed.  Before mothers had access to over-the-counter Luminol, purple sheets did the job. 



I recall a particularly disastrous "romantic evening for One."  I was channel surfing on my little Black and White bedroom TV when I stumbled-across College wrestling.  Back then, wrestling was the closest thing we had to hot, male-on-male action, and for me, their singlets never failed to inspire a doublet.  After carefully moving my purple sheets out of harm's way, I settled-in and got down to business. 


But wait: Did I hear footsteps? Is my door knob turning? Why am I lying here naked, watching wrestling on TV??


Two quick raps of knuckle and the door cracked open. My father's head came into peripheral view. To hell with laundry-fresh! I grabbed my purple sheet and yanked it back over my nakedness as quickly as I could, but alas, with too much force.  I overshot my body, and even the bed.  It was like witnessing the catastrophic fail of a plump drag queen's fabulous but overly-taxed spandex ensemble: we watched in collective, slow-motion horror as the liberated sheet took wing before settling into the far corner of my room, out of reach.  My father said nothing and closed the door, and it wasn't long before I heard liquor bottles rattling in the cabinet down the hall.... 



I had never heard of a sex toy.  It would be a decade at least, before they found a respectable home in the Self Pleasure or Die sections of widely-disseminated safe sex guides.  Indeed, before devices like Fleshlights could be shipped to the door with a click of a mouse, one had to use whatever was available around the house: vacuum hoses, hollowed-out banana peels, Kenwood speaker bass ports....  


Being a nascent Romantic, I lit candles and attempted to deflower my bed.  I cut a hole in the top of my mattress, then doused a sponge in lotion and tucked it inside the opening, but did my makeshift mangina work?  Unfortunately no.  My flat, gargantuan mattress hardly afforded the leverage necessary to properly execute a horizontal mambo.  In the end, I was reduced to vigorously bouncing myself up and down on the bed, rigid and spread-eagle like a blow up doll possessed; my feathered, overly hair-sprayed '70's hair flopped forward and back like wings with each blissful impact. 

For the first couple of seconds the feeling was exquisite but after a few more violent plunges into the rough sponge I felt as though my nether regions had burst into flames. The sudden pain and sensitivity was shocking.  I don't think a facial expression has changed so quickly--from bliss to acid-bath contortions--since that Nazi looked into the Arc of the Covenant after Harrison Ford told him not to.  I had a rash that lasted for weeks.  Vowing to never so much as look in the direction of a sponge again,  I flipped the mattress over to hide the hole, eventually forgetting about it altogether, and that was that...or so I'd thought.
  

A few years after my family's fateful trip to San Francisco, my makeshift mangina made one last appearance, while my Father was helping me move.  It was the first time he'd ever seen the infamous hole up close: unbeknownst to me, it was banging him in the face as we wrestled the mattress up a flight of stairs.  We flopped the bedding down on the floor and there it was, staring up at us.  OMG, how could I have so quickly forgotten my torrid, reckless night with the Sealy Posturepedic? 

I remember preparing for awkward silence but perhaps this time, things would be different.  It was a new era, even for him.  He had read books.  Masturbation is natural; it's safe and fun.  As we stood there in the unfurnished room, at opposite ends of my wounded mattress, I figured that he was recounting all the helpful chapters he had read, desperately trying to figure out which topic best gave him the wisdom to gracefully handle this particularly delicate situation. What disarming statement would he come up with to diffuse the moment? 

As he began to speak, I shook my head and sighed: "Yes Dad, there's a six-pack in the Fridge."  

Dedicated to Randy Shilts 1951-1994

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