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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Straight Answers


These days I so admire gay boys in high school. No, no, no, not like that. It seems that many high schools now have gay/straight alliance clubs that provide safe places for people with gay issues to come together. People with gay siblings as well as gay kids themselves have been helped by these groups, and they have made great strides in making high schools safer places for gays to dwell and learn.

Additionally, there are gay youth support groups all around the country. It is well recognized that a great percentage of teen suicides are performed by lonely gay kids who tend to think they are the only ones who have realized that they are of that persuasion. Having places for at-risk kids can be enormously beneficial. I wish groups like that had been around for me when I was an adolescent.

The internet has revolutionized everything, and it has become a clearinghouse of national and international agencies devoted to the subject of homosexuality. The hate sites are just as abundant, but at least now you can get accurate information on the subject in the privacy of your own home and don’t have to run around the public library wearing dark glasses and a trench coat while perusing the H drawer of the card catalog.

When I was a teenager we had one source for all our gay information. It was the shocking, ground-breaking, runaway bestseller called Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask. Published in 1969 in hardback, it instantly became the nation’s number one source book on human sexuality. Later when it came out in paperback and I was 14, the book was available everywhere for horny little teenagers who were in search of information about “doing it,” since parents were seldom forthcoming with that information. Most moms and dads of that era were as close-mouthed about sex as their Victorian ancestors. My grandmother used to safety pin my uncle’s pajama sleeves on top of the covers so he wouldn’t be tempted to touch himself. That is the oppressive world I came from.

So in order to become one of the clued-in, I decided to purchase my copy at the Seven-Eleven two blocks from my home. It did not turn out to be a stress-free purchase. I knew the book was there with the magazines in the front of the store. I had known for a long time. It had taken weeks to muster the nerve to attempt the transaction. I wanted to buy it from a male clerk, a young one. I stalked the store to figure out his work schedule. That day, sweating and with a throbbing heart, I entered the store. Just to appear more grown up, I looked through the grown-up magazines that were on display: Newsweek and Time. As soon as there was no one else in the convenience store, I grabbed the book and took it over to the clerk., He picked up the book and turned it over to find the price to enter into the monstrous machine that went ka-chunka instead of beep. After he punched in the dollar key, he looked at me, then looked back at the book, then looked at me again. He leaned his elbows on the counter and started fanning through the book while puffing on a Kool cigarette butt, which he no doubt considered to be a free benefit for 7-11 clerks.

“I don’t think I should sell you this book,” he said.

“Why not?” I asked the clerk, a stereotypical 19-year-old high school dropout with, I imagined, a medical draft deferment.

“Because it’s an adult book,” he said.

“But it’s not with the magazines behind the counter,” I shot back. The ones he played pocket pool with back in the refrigerated section. You just knew he did.

He took the last puff of the Kool, flicked it on the floor and stepped on it. Grocery store floors were giant ashtrays back then. “Well, okay,” he conceded, “but if your mama comes in here, I’m gonna tell her it weren’t me that sold it to you.” Hmm, maybe he had a grammatical draft deferment instead, come to think of it.

He pecked in the additional 95 cents into the cash register, and I gave him the exact, tax-included change, which I had pre-calculated and put in my pocket before I’d left home. Grabbing the book, I ran out of the store, my ears burning with embarrassment. “Hey,” he called, “don’t you want a bag?”

By junior high school, I already knew there was something not right with me in the boy/girl arena. Some of my friends were already holding hands with girls and kissing them at parties. I had already attended several street corner Playboy magazine viewings where my friends drooled over airbrushed centerfolds of young, tan women. While they focused mainly on the airbrushed areas, I was paying attention to the white lipstick which I hoped would be merely a passing fad and not something that would become a staple in the fashion industry. It made those girls look cold. Perhaps that explained their erect nipples. My friends’ arousal was more akin to the way I had behaved a decade before. My father had taken me fishing off Ballast Point pier, and there was one shirtless, well-built, 20-something-year-old hoodlum who was showing off for his friends by diving off, then swimming under the pier and climbing back up, displaying soaking wet, skin tight Levi’s blue jeans. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him as the water dripped down his tan, smooth, muscular chest and he lit up a Marlboro, inhaled deeply and horseplayed with his friends. This is what I recall whenever I’m asked by people, “How old were you when you first knew you were gay?” I didn’t know I was gay, because I didn’t even know about sex. Four is simply my age of recognition that the fascination lay more with males than females.

So I brought home my copy of Everything and read it when my mother wasn’t around. I kept it in a locked trunk under my bed which later in life would be the container for After Dark magazines stolen from the library and my diaries, including 1974, which detailed my first sexual experience with a man, whose existence I referred to using only his initials, and never any gender-revealing pronouns.

At that age I was aware that my relationships with the fairer sex would never go beyond anything more than friendship. I wasn’t ready to admit to being gay. Maybe you could say I was vagnostic. I would only admit to being gay later on, at twenty, and then only because it was necessary to explain my departure from home to live with a man 18 years my senior. My cousin, who worked as a trainer for Planned Parenthood in New York, corresponded frequently with me and earned my trust. She was my Adolescent Whisperer, my personal support group that got me through a trying adolescence. She had explained to me when I brought up the hand-holding and party kissing issue that romantic attraction came at different times for adolescents, so I was willing to wait until that most annoying part of my life was over and I could figure out what to do.

Meanwhile, just in case I was a homosexual, I figured I should read the book by the nation’s then-leading, undisputed authority on sex, Doctor David Reuben. It was in an entertaining, titillating, easy to read book written in simple question-and-answer format. And we relied on his information as being the undisputed truth, because he was a doctor of medicine. The cover clearly read: “By David Reuben, M.D.” It covered everything from abortion to prostitution to venereal diseases to homosexuality. It was shocking because it used words that most of us had never heard. I knew that a boy in my PE class, Andy Reeves, had read the book, because he once told a kid on the other team to “eat a dildo.” No one knew what a dildo was until they had read that book.

I held off reading the homosexual chapter until the end, mainly because I was afraid of what I’d find out. Meanwhile I learned all about masturbation and syphilis and gonorrhea and erections. It was in seventh grade when I learned that erections could be manually induced and were not just morning surprises. After reading those chapters, I had my first romance with my hand that ended with an ejaculation. I was ecstatic. It made me feel like a man to know that I was capable of such a feat. I could reproduce! It was my sexual bar mitzvah, without the gifts and great food, unfortunately. After that, I went about being a man on a daily basis!

I had become so diligent with it that in three days I discovered what must have been a bruise. At the time, however, I was positive that I had come down with syphilis. I had an odd looking discoloration at the Point Of Contact. There was no question in the book that asked, “Can masturbation by virgins cause syphilis?” I thought this was a serious oversight, but in retrospect, I understand the book’s title was not Every Stupid Thing You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask. Many sleepless nights occurred after discovering that purple spot. This is what lack of information in the hands of the uninformed can do to you. It’s how wars get started.

For days I left my penis alone, and the “chancre” disappeared, just as the book said it would. Hopefully by the time my syphilis got to the next stage I would be an adult and would no longer be seeing a pediatrician. If only I’d taken a Polaroid of the discoloration. I could have sent it to Dr. Reuben for a proper diagnosis. Dr. Reuben knew everything. We knew this because we saw him on The Tonight Show many times.

So with my assumed syphilis in remission and my erections temporarily reduced to the garden variety, morning wake-up kind, I ventured into the world of facts about homosexuality. I took a breath and opened the book to the earmarked at Chapter 8, Male Homosexuality.

Dr. David Reuben, the 70’s version of Dr. Ruth, but taller and more manly, painted a rather seedy portrait of homosexuality. He gave an example of how homosexuals meet. At that time they met by slinking into the bathroom of a bowling alley and sitting down in a stall. And there they’d wait for another homosexual to come in and sit down in the adjacent stall. One would play footsie with his stall neighbor and then take it away. If the other guy saw it and was a homosexual, he would show his loafer to his neighbor. From then notes were passed. The next thing you knew, they would both be in one stall, getting the deed done.

Isn’t that dangerous? Asked the next logical question in the book.

Homosexuals thrive on danger, the good doctor said. That is the one quote from the book I remember from 1969. It terrified me.

“We do?” I’m sure I said out loud, changing it quickly to “They do?” For one thing, I wasn’t ready to admit anything. I figured that I was neither homo nor hetero. I was a virgin. And until the day came that the pendulum swung one way or the other, no one could call me faggot and be correct. Secondly, if I thrived on danger, why was I too scared to ride the kiddy roller coaster at Lowry Park?

After I read everything there was to know about homosexuality, I breathed a heavy sigh of relief because I knew that I was not a homosexual. I didn’t thrive on danger. I ran away from any conflict that might result in my injury. And I would NEVER go looking for sex in a bowling alley bathroom. Why, the prep work alone was insane. I would have to buy loafers and always arrive with a notepad and a pen. What if I rode my bike all the way to a bowling alley in a not-so-nice neighborhood and forgot my pen? Would I have the nerve to borrow one from the shoe-renting clerk? What would people say if they saw me going into the bathroom wearing loafers and carrying a Bic ballpoint? I would never in a million years have sex with someone I met under those conditions. I could give that guy my syphilis! When I went to a bowling alley I went there to knock down pins, by God, like any other red blooded American heterosexual, possibly homosexual male. And from that point on, no matter how many games I bowled, or how bad I had to pee, I never went into the bowling alley bathroom. All thanks to Dr. Reuben.

Just recently I decided to re-read that book just to recall what kind of information was being handed out at that time. The only parts of it I remembered was the thriving on danger and bowling alley parts. I wanted to review what I had forgotten. The popularity of this book should never be underrated. It was truly a revolutionary book that influenced how America felt about everything sexual. It was a runaway #1 bestseller in over fifty countries and was read by over 100 million people. Until this book came out, people were not talking about sex. This book brought sex out of the bowling alley bathroom and into the limelight of the living room, and there are still people who view this book as the encyclopedia of human sexuality. To rekindle what I remembered, I bought the book for a penny at, where it is fortunately out of print but still receiving 5-star reviews from readers. I thought it would make for an amusing read. Boy, was I wrong. It is the most inflammatory, inaccurate, downright hostile portrayal of homosexuality I have ever read. It is worse than any Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda I’ve seen. It uses words like fairy, fag, and faggot. It told America that we frequently got inanimate objects like shot glasses and flashlights lost in our rectums and had to have them surgically removed. It made the world think that we all wanted to be women, and that we shelled out fortunes on designer women’s couture to wear in public. It confused us with transgendered persons who went to Europe t0 receive “mutilating” castrations and artificial vaginas and to have silicone foam pumped into our chests. It made people think that we were only interested in quick bathroom blowjobs and that we were incapable of long-term relationships. Even more bizarre, it informed the public that we had our own language and were food obsessed due to the fact that we pounded cucumbers into our rectums and fornicated with ripe melons. What’s more offensive, an updated, 30-year anniversary issue was published in 1999 with no apologies by the author and with nothing more than updated, biased, judgmental homophobia. He has toned down the hatred, but left in the part about us frequently having to have whiskey glasses and flashlights removed from our rectums.

I would hope that kids in high school today have better information about sex than I did. Hopefully they can navigate to the truth on the Internet better than I did with Dr. Reuben. Thanks to that book and its reputable author-slash-doctor, I learned how to masturbate, and I learned in a few days from Dr. Reuben what had taken 14 years to discover: I was a man. I was a heterosexual. And I had syphilis. I knew everything, all right. But most of it was wrong.

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