Once I looked into the hole of hell. It was opened wide as if by a massive speculum. And what I saw inside was beautiful. Then, only for a mere second, I could see everything. It was like the unexpected and intermittently flashing face of the demonic spirit in the movie version of “The Exorcist.” I was shocked out of a decade-long nightmare I had grown comfortable. In that moment, I saw the filth; the ugliness of my surroundings; the putrid condition of my own body. I panicked. I quickly turned to protect my eyes from what I just witnessed. And, in that instance, I moved towards God.
This unconscious revulsion, even in the midst of my own corruption, was a childlike response to pain and horror. From evil, I was aimlessly running away towards anything which stood against it. And, that was Christ.
But how did I ever creep closer to the unbearable stench of damnation – eventually deep inhaling its sulfur fumes as if they were the breath of roses?
As a child, I was lonely. I was odd and secretive. I was shy and unsure of myself. Other boys instinctively sensed this and most rejected me. I was pushed and shoved and endlessly mocked. I recoiled inward. My only reprieve from the incessant disgrace of reality was the sweet acceptance found in fantasy. At first, they were daydreams centered around those TV superheroes that I adored: Steve Austin in the Six Million Dollar Man, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and even Sonny Crockett on Miami Vice. They were my masculine ideal: men of fearless action and certainty, but also unafraid at times to be caring and sensitive. I longed to be with them; but in my prepubescent mind, these thoughts never veered into the sexual. In bed, I contentedly fell asleep thinking about them; it made me feel safe. Perhaps, I wanted a man to notice me; or I simply wanted a friend.
Later, when these images of the perfect male seemed to crystallize into gay porn, my obsessions were justified. For in pornography, the promise of eventually coming in contact with that which I only previously conceived in my imagination became a possibility. This realization grew ever more apparent in the flourishing disco culture of the time that was heavily dominated by the gay male. Almost incessantly, pop-culture celebrated the seemingly unlimited happiness of these incredibly handsome men who lived in the strobing glow of the dance floor. As a kid, I eagerly saved some money and bought my first pricey double album: A Night at Studio 54; which included the song YMCA.
Today, I know it sounds rather hopelessly pathetic and absurd, but as a semi-naive 18 year-old boy walking into San Francisco, I honestly thought I was one of the lost boys described in the Village People lyrics – that I was going to somehow instantly find camaraderie in a public shower. Yet, this mythical sort of self-realization through male-bonding proved ever-elusive and instantly transitory, but I received just enough consolation and pleasure to keep me further interested. Like gay porn, which I had given up on in frustration, for awhile there was always the possibility of discovering what had been unseen. Furthermore, I couldn’t give-up on something that I hinged my identity on. Because the pain and torture of the past only made sense through its possible renewal in “coming-out” and finding endless love with another man. So I never left. The same tragic melodrama played out in numerous fanatical cults, including Jonestown, were the abused and malnourished followers chose death over the uncertainty of escape. During the height of the AIDS crisis, I became semi-catatonic as once near angelic hard bronzed bodies were lowed blotched and shriveled into the cold dirt. I was frozen in place. But as a depressing day turned into night, immediately following the funeral of another friend, there was a new hope as I headed to the Castro Street nightclubs where a constant thumping percussion of Technotronic slightly muted the weeping heard earlier in the day.
At the beginning, the distraction of the lights, the music, and the humid atmosphere of muscles sweating out gallons of testosterone was enough to send me into a state of inescapable bliss – it was as if the collective desperation of us all to be ushered into masculinity created an environment in which we became men through a process of shared osmosis. However, once we became separated from that support system we rapidly deflated and old doubts were reasserted. The sudden return of childhood anxiety necessitated a deepening exploration of the opportunities available to me as a “gay” man. As a result, I moved ever closer to a sort of holy of holies where the suspected essence of manliness resided.
Before, I had heard from my more adventurous friends that quick and easy no-first-name-sex could be had in the backrooms and lavatories at the bars and nightclubs. But I always resisted that almost clinical solution to the appeasement of desire. For awhile, I was satisfied with the occasional accidental brush of a hairy arm against my back as I danced shirtless in the crowded darkness. At that moment, I could almost feel a man pull me tightly to his chest, but then I had to shut my eyes and shake my head because I was being cradled like a baby. The music around me morphed into a lullaby sung by a near baritone. And then I felt as if had been dropped to the floor and left to scream. I wanted someone to hold me. As a result of that all-consuming ambition, to merely be around men was no longer enough. With no forethought or preplanned intention, one night I just walked home with someone. I remember there was still an early-spring shiver of a lingering winter in the air, but his hand was warm, and his apartment was warm – and that was enough for me.
In the Castro, there was no dating, because we all met each other while semi-aroused. Especially for the young and ceaselessly eager, the accepted venues for casual drinks or hooking-up always featured large television screens that endlessly looped “gay” porn. Ominously hovering overhead, and securely bolted to the walls, these windows into our brains flashed what was the expected endpoint of each penetrating stare across the room. Words became an unnecessary formality.
For awhile, I tried to meet someone. We would have sex, then make an effort to find something in common, besides or relative likes and dislikes in terms of sexual positioning. But things were never quite right, or when we had sex a second or third time the initial rush from the curiosity of encountering a new partner, a different body, or a strange circumstance was completely gone. After a surprisingly short period of time, in an attempt to recapture that lost excitement, we ventured out into the unchartered territory of communal public sex. In the beginning, we stuck together, but then suddenly lost each other when one of us got pulled into a corner or swallowed up by the gyrating near naked throngs. But, even this eventually grew tiresome and I decided to go out on my own. Because I always felt as if this were a solitary quest that I had to make by myself; that somewhere there existed the focal point which would make everything complete; a dark and secluded place, meant for me alone, that only I could approach.
Over the next few years, I went back and forth between the refuge gained from coupling-up to the unmatchable thrill found only in the hunt and the capture. The only problem, once captured and released, there was nothing else left; or you had to start all over again. However, when I was young, the single factor which determined my endurance or longevity was mental stamina. Now, the body I had abused was beginning to fail. The relentless compulsive concern for rectal cleanliness caused a serious imbalance in my system: I was tormented with painful yeast infections, cracked and blistering fissures, and an inability to maintain a tight seal. Unfortunately, it was the mutual burden of many. Years before, I quietly snickered at guys in the local gym who had to wear diapers while heavily working out as the stress from lifting weights caused them to sometimes spontaneously evacuate. Now, I couldn’t laugh at myself. Yet, I moved on and inched ever closer to what I thought would finally put an end to all of this restlessness.
Every man who is addicted to porn, or continually falls into the trap of promiscuity, unconsciously knows that what he is doing is pointless. But it becomes a cycle necessitating an unremitting need for stimulation and release. Women have no such overriding compulsion. Consequently, the historical prevalence for female prostitutes servicing men and the near absence of males hired by women. Men, once the adrenalin subsides, drop into the depths of their personal anguish, and they want to zip-up and run. When everything goes limp, the hurt which draws us towards the diversions of hardcore sex become painfully all too apparent. In “gay” men, this side effect is most severe because of the long hidden memories of abuse that we have spent a lifetime trying to hide or undo. As result, one of the most persistently successful forms of “gay” pornography remains the older experienced man with the younger immature twink scenario. In my late-teens, many men wanted me to called them “daddy.” In a sick way, at least for me, it was temporarily cathartic. But it all came back to haunt me, because we were play-acting. Nothing was real.
The supposed harmony between same-sex couples is also an illusion. Because no amount of social-engineering nor the right to legally marry will ever make the anus more accommodating to the penis; the lining of the rectum is still onion-skin thick. This was an inescapable certainty, and when I had to refrain, usually after a dire prompting from my proctologist, there was something lacking in having my face buried in someone’s crotch. The intimacy I always longed for vanished as I knelt before a barren altar. Towards the near finish of my quest – the feeling of security I had spent years searching for became nonexistent as I was reduced to copulating through a makeshift hole in a lavatory stall partition. This was it.
The wildly provocative “gay” advocate and writer Dan Savage once grossly remarked that: “I’m always telling people who say two men can’t make a baby, anything is possible for God. I’m going to keep inseminating my husband and keep my fingers crossed.” He was trying to be funny and outrageous, yet he failed at both. However, he did inadvertently divulge something crucial within the “gay” psyche as well as the massive failure which lies at the heart of homosexuality: that there is always something missing; something incomplete; something that is denied. I first witnessed this phenomenon among a very small subsect of men who genuinely, or as a matter of fantasy, sought out HIV-positive partners to infect them with the virus. This was their subliminal way to generate something of permanence from a sex partner that literally came and went. On a much wider scale, towards the end of the 1990s, I saw this again in the almost total abandonment of the safe-sex practices that had been religiously promulgated during the previous decade. It appears that “gay” men were wholly unsatisfied with the presence of even a high-tech razor thin barrier and longed for the supposed consummation only achieved by sharing bodily fluids.* Yet, this projection always misses the target and an emptiness pervades.
It was into that void which I stood and stared. Out of fear, I made one step away from the gapping chasm. Having nowhere else to go, I headed back towards home.
Yet, strangely enough, sometimes I would walk back to that same place. It’s like an empty well with a mirage at the bottom. I kept going hoping to find drink. I became a sailor, adrift on the sea, driven mad by thirst and guzzling down the plentiful salt water. Then, for a few seconds, I could see beauty again and I reached out to take a hold of it. After my fingers passed through the hallucination, it disintegrated. I feel like a fool.
Occasionally I can hear the nonstop beat emanating from the Castro Street clubs. And, all these years later, reenacting the reflex motion of Lot’s wife, I turn around. All I can see is the destroyed city of Sodom. It lies in ruins – and those I loved are dead. The fantasy, the illusion, the lie that drew us all there is finally bared and naked. I don’t fear that place any longer, and I am no longer horrified. But I grieve for the needlessly lost. Now I walk away not in terror, but under my own free will. The God who Saved me is once again waiting. And He embraces me. It’s real. And I love Him.
*“When compared to MSM 50 years or older, significantly higher rates of unprotected anal intercourse, bacterial STI and stimulant substance use were reported among young MSM…”
“HIV Infection Rates and Risk Behavior among Young Men undergoing community-based Testing in San Diego”
Martin Hoenigl, et al.
Sci Rep. 2016
Joseph, Every one of your blogs has blessed me so and ministered to me so very much. I have been in the valley of indecision about becoming Catholic. I was raised in the whole Protostant culture that has demonized all things Catholic. So many Catholic writings have helped me as well as any visit I have had with priestly clergy. I feel mainline Protostant churches are missing so much, missing so many spiritual richness and tools that ate healing to the soul. Oh I don’t know what to do. There is such fear and confusion about this!! Is this normal coming from such a strong Protostant background as mine? I feel there is deeper understanding of the human condition and soul within Catholicism. The tools of the Mass and confession, etc. Can I really trust this path like you have. Is God drawing me to this and I’m just fighting it? Am I right in saying the Protostant churches just are missing so much.. that’s how it feels to me. It’s like they are stuck in the spiritual elementary of things. I need the same tools that have helped you! I’m just so torn about this.
God Bless You!
Yes, I would say that the Protestant churches are lacking. The Sacraments of the Catholic church CHANGE YOU, give you graces that you cannot find elsewhere. It is the original church. You are welcome here.
So incredibly powerful, Joseph, Thank you for all of your very important life and soul-saving work. God is at work in you! We need you. The Catholic community especially for the sake of all others. Oorah!
The truth, always the truth. Thank you. You are a gifted writer. Your ministry keeps to the truth. God bless you!
Our Catholic Church is the truth, and we will always come back to the truth.
YES, YOU ARE A BLESSING.YOU SHOULD MAKE THIS YOUR CALLING IN THE CHURCH TO MINSTER TO OTHERS ,SET THEM ON A PATH THAT IS RIGHT AND HOLY,AMEN