Above: Edvard Munch, “Melancholy” (1892.)
As a child, I think I was a bit of a dreamer. My father and mother worked to exhaustion, trying to give their children a better life. And my siblings, all older, always seemed to be preoccupied with their own daily lives. I played alone a lot, endlessly drew pictures, and created little forested shrines and miniature gardens in our backyard. At school, I was always unsure. I was probably overly sensitive. An off-handed rude remark from another snotty kid often left me bewildered and endlessly pondering what I did to deserve such an unkind gesture. I tended not to strike-back but walked away feeling beaten and bloodied. This made me all the more reserved. My parents were often dumbstruck when my teachers told them what a quiet child I was. At home, where I let my guard down, I released all of that pent-up enthusiasm by endlessly chattering and dancing about the house. Outside, I was skeptical of myself. I never quite knew how to act. Was I being a wimp?
In the 1970’s, the pop-culture characters gave off mixed signals. At the time, the gay world tried to go macho with the likes of The Village People, Tom of Finland, and gritty hardcore porn. But at the same time, there was also Jack Tripper’s emasculated alter-ego in Three’s Company, Sylvester, and Soap. I owned an album by The Village People, and in my juvenile mind thought of them as epitomizing manliness. The only problem, I didn’t fit into any of their preselected stereotypical images. I could not comprehend what it was to be a man. It became all about the alpha-male and platitudes. I thought, “Where do I belong? If anywhere?” To make things more difficult for myself, at school, I often stuck out from the other boys as I was unusually thin and lithesome, often subject to making fluttering hand or arm movements. It was all subconscious. One boy called me “Zorro: The Gay Blade.” I had seen the movie and knew that the actor’s twin brother was the effeminate and sissified comic-relief to the more masculine hero. In a very knee-jerk and defensive reaction, I knew I did not want to be that guy. He was the one they laughed at and made fun of in the film. As for being gay, I had no idea what that meant in terms of sexuality.
Unlike a lot of the guys I knew, I didn’t always believe that I had been born gay. My first sexual desires were towards females. After a childhood filled with alienation from men, bulling at school, and heavy doses of pornography, only then, did my eyes start to stray towards the men in the hardcore magazines. In Penthouse, the males were usually out-of-focus and standing somewhere in the background. The fleshier Hustler focused on the act rather than on the woman. Here, I got my first exposure to full frontal pornographic male nudity. I didn’t know why, but I was attracted. From the majority of the gay men that I became friends with, I learned that they were first drawn to other men because the male embodied something that they lacked; even though they were anatomically male as well. They never crossed the threshold from boy to man. They looked outside of themselves and not to their own experiences. Most were oftentimes attracted to the opposite. This is also a quintessential mark of the gay sexual lifestyle, to pigeonhole everyone into as few a number of groups as possible. Physically large and masculine men are almost always regarded as dominate, aggressive, and father-like figures while men who are smaller with effeminate characteristics are considered subordinate and submissive. Age is also often a factor here, with the masculine characteristics more often than not tagged onto older gay men. This attitude can prove very claustrophobic. One either has to go with where the gay masses place you or, you have to remold yourself into another image. Far from finding who I was in the gay community, I only became more confused.
My entire teen years were spent in the 1980s. Looking back, from my point-of-view, it was a very conformative era. You had to have the right animal logo on your Polo shirt, a certain brand of designer jeans, and pants had to be cuffed at the ankle in the proper fashion. At first, I relentlessly pushed to fit in. Most of my efforts came to nothing. Interestingly, in some segments, there was a revulsion against the extreme machismo that so symbolized the disco generation’s idea of what a virile man looked like, and the ugly vulgarism of the hard rockers, but instead, embraced a gender-neutral style that materialized most effectively in the New Wave and Romantic Movements of the early-80s. My favorite musical groups of the time were the beautiful men imported from England; epitomized by the dreamily self-contained narcissism of The Pet Shop Boys. Even the object of my early fantasies, Don Johnson, wore pastel pinks and blues, shaved his body hair, and lived in an apartment that appeared to be decorated by one of Joan Crawford’s gay followers. But was the man I desired, the one I wanted to be? The answer was, no. As a reaction to the teasing and finger pointing, I hated all things that implied a limp-wristed, flower-arranging, lisping form of homosexuality. I constantly focused on my manner and tone of speech, how I moved, and the size and proportion of my body. It was a sort-of self-strangulation. I always felt on-stage and confined.
After escaping the horrible forced captivity of high school, I sought to be among other outsiders. I went to the Castro, looking for companionship, for friends. In my late teens, the reality of sex with other men unrelentingly frightened me. This was partly due to still living under the red stained sickle of AIDS. It was the end of the 80s and many guys still bore the ravages of the disease: sunken cheeks and bulging eyes, bruised and discolored skin, and hacking coughs. You felt a false, but comforting, sense of safety as you could immediately tell who the sick ones were. The older men on-the-make always tried to push you into doing something risky. Some of the guys your own age were often as scared as yourself. Everybody had a mammoth supply of condoms in their homes. I normally carried some with me, even if my plans were initially innocent. In my heart, I invariably hoped to make a connection with someone; not just a hook-up. For as the years went by, I knew that I could find sex anywhere at any time. This free access to everyone’s bedroom only made me progressively bitter and hateful. I wanted love, but it endlessly remained elusive. And it is love that every homosexual longs for. In that way, we are just like our heterosexual counterparts. Only in the gay world, the possibility for true lasting love is an impossibility.
When I ventured into the gay environs of San Francisco, I was young and dumb. I thought that gay men were just like everyone else, except instead of a man and a woman, there was a man and another man. Simple. What I found was not the case. Since I was involved in both gay and straight relationships, I am drawing on my own personal experiences. For example, in Nature, the Lord created the complementary genders of male and female. This fact came roaring into my brain during an overnight trip with a group of occultists, Wiccans, and witches that I infrequently met with. At the time, I went with my girlfriend, who was far from demure. One day, the two of us snuck away for a hike in the mountains, directly behind the area where we had just set up our tents. In one especially beautiful spot, I suggested that we have sex right there. I was taken-aback when she immediately balked at the suggestion. She made a lot of excuses, such as, “What if someone sees us?” Since I was previously accustomed to the no-holes-barred gay community, where I once copulated in a crowded bar, in an alley way, and inside a busy public restroom, the deserted wilderness seemed positively harmless. But what I did not understand, at the time, is that women have a greatly different mindset, especially towards sexual relations, than men. Women temper the imprudence and lustful bravado of the male. In the gay world, this feminine sensibility is completely absent. That is why I once said to a friend, soon after landing in the City, while observing the endless carousing, even into the early morning hours, “Sex is 24/7 here…isn’t it?”
In recent decades, the heterosexual world has become just as pugnacious as the gay one, with one-night-stands, live-in lovers, rampant STDs, and abortions. But, the coupling of male and female will always hold the hope of ultimate renewal. The two divergent entities can become one with each other and the Creator. From that place of love, new life has the chance to burst forth onto the Earth. The gay man unknowingly seeks out to artificially recreate this harmony in their own lives. We see this in the political sphere with the recent push for gay marriage and adoptions. Throughout the 90s, I saw this tragic desire for fulfillment reflected in gay sexual behavior. As I stated previously, in the early part of the decade, most gay men, at least outwardly, conformed to the rules of safe-sex. Everyone that I knew found it unsatisfying. Because gay men only have the sexual act, when there is an artificial barrier between you and your lover, what little connection that can be achieved is wiped away. As the millennium approached, I noticed a gradual shift in my own sex life among my close circle of friends, in gay porn, and in the homosexual community at large. The preoccupation with HIV and AIDS, and the ensuing cult of condoms, noticeably lost an incredible amount of momentum. I increasingly saw men who precipitously sought out bareback sex, i.e., sexual intercourse without the use of prophylactics. At the time, the topic would casually enter some of my conversations. Everyone pretty much agreed that we were all getting frustrated with the restrictions inherent when having sex with a rubber. Some believed, and I was one of them, with all the advances in treating AIDS, and the fact that people with the disease were now living longer and unencumbered lives, many guys didn’t care if during a night of heavy-duty sex, they happened to become HIV positive. In retrospect, I think we were all wrong.
Although I earnestly tried, I never found the love I needed. The wounds from my childhood remained opened and unhealed. All the years of failure turned them into abscesses that were slowly devouring my body. I thought that by bonding in the most intimate way possible with other men, I could finally fill the empty space. There would be nothing between me and my goal. What happened was the complete opposite. It turned out to be just another sexual experience in a long line of depraved deeds. The boundless Universe the devil promised was gone. Later on, it was as if there was a huge stellar black-hole in the center of my chest, sucking everything into oblivion. The more I pushed and pulled, in an effort to escape its gravitational power, the tighter the grip it had on me. I was completely immobilized. I stood like a wax-figure, as my own sordid history streamed in front of me. My entire adult life had been consumed with an endless search for someone or something which could erase the pain of the past and secure a happy and loving future. No one here has that much power. I had to go back to that hurt little boy, who wanted to be liked.
This is not an easy, simple, or clean process. Rotting stitches have to be cut out and the infected flesh must be cleansed. You have to bare your deepest thoughts to Our Lord. When our relationship with Jesus strengthens and becomes more intimate, He also takes on a less indefinable character. He becomes real. This also complicates matters as God is no longer some bodiless entity hovering somehow in space. Like the nude Adam and Eve, after they tasted the forbidden fruit, I became embarrassed in front of Him. I could not reveal what I wanted: I wanted His love. After years of trying to gain the ultimate in male sexual sanctity, it became difficult to return to the masculine love of Jesus, for many, including myself, often forget that The Son came to the Earth in the image of The Father. Could I expose my naked, corrupt, and wounded self to the Lord, and ask Him to love me? To rejoin with Jesus also meant reconnecting with my lost and injured male identity. In a sense, I never became a man, I was still a child. I had been hurt. When I was made fun of, when I was lonely, when I hid in the closet looking at pornographic magazines, I was being slashed and cut into pieces. I was frightened and I didn’t know what to do. As a child, I instinctively recoiled and pulled away. This left me shivering and guarded. I became so tightly bound that the result was isolation from the world in order to heal and protect myself from any further harm. I became stunted. I was entombed within the living crypt of porn. When I did jump head-first into the gay lifestyle, I innocently thought that the male-only culture of the Castro would initiate me into masculinity. What it did was shock me into a limping sort of exuberant fragmentation. Outwardly, I was initially horrified by the flagrantly unemotional and demented nature of gay sexuality, it was as if every pornographic fantasy and nightmare came to life, but I slowly began to love the physical freedoms, the companionship, and the acceptance. But I did not feel like a whole man. Every day in the gay life was a struggle. I was still shattered. Therefore, I put on a face of contentment, when, in reality, I was suffering.
At first, I thought there must be something wrong with me. I was no longer the skinny little twerp. I grew taller, worked-out, and shaved my head. I went from prancing around timidly in a pink Izod shirt and baby-blue Sperry Top-Siders to stomping through doors in dirty black leather boots. I dominated men, and, occasionally, worshiped at the altar of supreme-masculinity, offering my body to another male, praying that he would pass his manly essence over to me. It never worked. Inside, I was still that little boy. I hated him. And in many ways, I wanted him dead. But while in the process of destroying that crippled child, I was also killing myself. The healing process had to begin with him. But when was that chunk of flesh ripped from my body? What was I missing? It all started when I opened my first porn magazine. At that moment, I lost sight of Jesus Christ. As a child, my relationship with Him was immature and completely one-sided. I only prayed to Jesus when I needed something, but I still thought that He somehow cared for me. When I was seduced by porn, my joy came solely from the world of fantasy. It was all I needed to reach an angelic peace. When I was lonely, I looked at porn; when I was sad, I looked at porn; when I was frustrated, I looked at porn. It even became a reward. If I was feeling especially proud of myself, I sometimes celebrated with a porn-binge. When I grew-up, and moved beyond pornography, sex replaced the books and videos. The constant switching of partners, venues, and the intensity at which I pursued the next big catch, only further subdivided my fragile identity. The little boy got pushed aside and thrown into an ever-growing crowd that included the demanding sadist, the groveling slave, and the suicidal hustler. He never grew up.
I had to go back. I pushed through the false idols of lust and hate that I had created and went straight to the little boy whimpering in the corner. He was me. I took his hand and led him to the house of the Holy Family. For this is where I recommend all men, gay or straight, go to when they are seeking a refuge form the inner battle of lust. But this is not a path to be followed by all. To the fallen woman, I suggest fleeing straight to the feet of the Savior; following the same road traveled by the harlot St. Mary Magdalene. As for the lesbian, the waiting arms of Our Blessed Lady will comfort the broken-hearted with the soothing Grace of maternal love. But back in the little house of Nazareth, men will find the perfect models of masculinity and femininity: Joseph and Mary. At their humble home, a man can finally grow-up healthy and safe right next to the boy Jesus, loved by, and subject to, the two most perfect of human beings ever created by Our Lord. The Virgin Mother will soften our hearts and mend our wounds. From Joseph, we will receive the gift of masculine compassion and confidence, reshaping us into a complete man fit to love and serve God in security and Faith.