Every person that I knew in the gay world, arrived at the point of “coming-out” with a story. Not just any story, but a personal tale of tragedy, heartache, loneliness, inner-struggle and eventual self-affirmation. A few, became rather adept at retelling them: remembering almost everything about a schoolyard bully; of the emotions felt when, after everybody else is picked, and you are suddenly the last person standing in front of your classmates and no one wants you on their team; or the way your dad hollered at you because you were thoughtlessly dancing about and, in his words, acting like a fairy. More often than not, these narratives circled about the father: who was either missing, detached, overly judgmental, violent, or abusive. Concurrently, there was also an unusually close relationship with the mother; especially those, whose mothers often came to San Francisco for a visit, never accompanied by their fathers, often suspiciously spoke glowingly of their dads while giving little to no details. At the time, I didn’t think much of it – for I had a good number of my own memories from the past. Some of mine were similar to those of my friends, some were not, but we all shared a common determination to forge ahead and overcome those early difficulties by living by our own rules; by taking control of our own destines. Only, we didn’t realize that this false sense of empowerment would be forever stripped away by despair, disease, and death.
When I was a little boy – I didn’t want to be gay. Gay was that strange alter-ego of Jack Tripper on “Three’s Company;” it was the overly-feminine cousin in the movie “Zorro – The Gay Blade,” and it was what the other boys called me when I endlessly dropped the ball during P.E. classes. I didn’t want to be that. But, out of my control – when I was too innocent to know any better: an older girl took advantage of me. Right away, I became fearful, but I also became fascinated. Probably within the same year, at around age 8, I was exposed to pornography. Those static women in the magazines were objects of desire, and avoidance. Just looking at them made me excited, but something inside me didn’t like that feeling. Then, an already circumspect and shy boy became even more reclusive. I could remember going almost through a whole day at school without saying a word; I had a few friends, but over and over again believed that I was merely tolerated by a similar group of either overweight or hyper-active misfits. When I was separated from them, vulnerable and alone, I occasionally heard the word fag shouted my way.
For the most part, girls scared me, but when I grew into my teens I sometimes felt more comfortable around them than I did around other boys. This was because between my first frightening sexual experience and puberty, I started growing increasingly uncertain of women: the lifeless models in Playboy were rather otherworldly in their beauty, but also distant and iconic – almost reaching god-like proportions, they were somehow superior beings; the feminine in warm flesh and bone was terrifying: like pornographic images come to life – they were controlling and I felt as if I would collapse into femininity – that I would become devoured by it. On the other hand, boys offered something. First of all, they were not women: they seemed more familiar and less threatening. But, they also became strange and somehow apart from myself and from my perception of who I was. For, they were masculine, and that was something I admired and needed. I wanted to be like them, but didn’t know how. Along the way, things got confused, and, I thought, manhood was something they could give me; later, I believed that that could only happen through gay sex.
Over the years, I have come to believe that homosexuality occurs in boys because there is a fear of men and an adulation of them: symbolized by the desire to be loved by the absent or rejecting father; but, it is also very much about a fear of women. Back to those stories from gay men: one friend, who died of a drug overdose, told me, a few years before his death, that his father had repeatedly molested him when he was a child – he said his mother often sat by completely oblivious and spent much of the day praying; another, a guy who was always battling his weight, talked about a smothering mother who overfed him as if he were the full grown husband that dumped her and her kids; and, a gay rebel punker, who got thrown out of the house the day he came home with a mohawk and a nose ring, but, only after years of being disparagingly compared to his collegically athletic macho brother; this last friend would eventually die of AIDS. Because of our equally difficult backgrounds, each of us arrived at a point of gay self-acceptance with different and also strikingly similar experiences of male rejection and the inevitable longing for masculine affection; all our fathers failed to varying degrees, but out mothers either stood by motionless and watched or they over-protected us, and, as a result, made us into perpetual boys or fearful of an assumed female hegemony. So, as a group, we were so caught up in our attraction to the same sex, in an attempt to secure our own masculinity, that we could not give it. I found this even when I got older and became more aggressive and dominant with my male partners; by putting on a hyper-masculine persona, I was prized by other males, but by sexually overpowering them I was merely trying to prove my own twisted sense of missing manhood.
Gay men, with our masculinity never entirely realized, we instinctively huddle together into packs: either submitting to those we perceive as exhibiting more manly qualities or by raising the stakes and forcefully trying to prove our superiority by taking other men. In this endless cycle of always reaching out for manhood, then, just missing it, there is no room for the feminine; in general, gay men relate best with the female when she is partially masculinized in the form of drag queens or through the worship of aggressive and highly determined women, especially easily caricatured entertainers – from Joan Crawford to Beyonce. In this vain, gay men often foster unusually close relationships with women, many times their female relatives, while remaining rather aloof from males in the family. At a recent Folsom Street Fair, I met a young man, wearing only a jock-strap, who was attending for the first time – strangely accompanied by his mother and sister. Yet, this is not unusual as women with gay male relatives or friends often treat them, not as men, but as a new girlfriend. Conversely, gay men find this incredibly comfortable, as I did when as a teen and I often hung around girls, because these women became non-threatening like female impersonators; in high school, although I hadn’t wholly accepted it, all my female friends thought I was gay. Then, the gayness of the male turns into a shield from the feminine; because, gay men fear women: for the reason that heterosexual men are able to give their masculinity to the women and vice-versa; yet, gay men know they have no masculinity to offer; for, the quest for maleness is always a work in progress; it’s the Holy Grail that is never fully attained; and, therefore – never given. In the end, all gay men can do – is hold tight to their stories: it’s all they have; and, its what unavoidably defines them. As a result, gay men can’t move outside of themselves; they can’t go beyond their own sex as everything is always pointed inwards – trying to sooth the hidden wounded child.