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In looking back, I am kind of awed by how much I could lie to myself. In psychology, there is a disease called Folie a Deux. This means literally “madness shared by two.” Sometimes I feel like I was living a Folie a Deux within my self. Yes, I could go out and buy a gay porn magazine and still think I was straight. I could go out and rent a gay video (we didn’t have DVD’s then) and still convince myself that I was not gay, just curious about what gay porn was like. I could even convince myself that calling gay related 900 numbers was just “research.” That these things became masturbation fodder didn’t even enter into the picture; I was straight so all this gay related sexual activity didn’t make me gay.
Then, of course, there are a young (hiding) gay child/teen’s best friends: the International Male catalogue, GQ, and the underwear section of any ad or catalogue. Under the guise of looking for clothes, I would scour the ads and catalogues for any possible visible penis line or bulge.
Of course there were movies on TV like For Ladies Only where we get to see Gregory Harrison strip; Star Trek with the tight jumpsuits; and American Gigolo (Thank God for HBO!). Actually, Showtime and HBO became a great source to see a penis. There weren’t many of them to be found on movies at that time, but there were a few.
Another source of “penis peeks” was the drive-in. We had a double theater in the town that I grew up in when I was a kid. It usually seemed to happen (by design?) that a not so soft-core movie would show on one of the screens while a more mainstream show would be on the other screen. So, of course, my brother and I would tell my mom that we were seeing the mainstream movie but go to the not so soft-core movie. Often these movies would be badly dubbed Italian moves with much female nudity. What would frustrate me was that the men might get naked, but they would either be: just a shot from the back, there would be a strategically placed towel or blanket, or there would be this annoying black box that would suddenly show up over the guy’s crotch. This would be frustrating, but often enough to make it worth the risk, sometimes there would be a movie that didn’t have the censoring. These were the jackpot of movies! I could pretend that I was watching the women in the movie while getting my fill of the men. I would just have to be careful of any visible evidence that I was enjoying the view. But thankfully, it was dark and my brother was also involved in watching the movie.
As I made my way through high school, the VHS became more and more prevalent. And with the advent of the VHS came the porn movie on tape. My brother would often housesit and I would go with him. Then we would sit there, in the house, drink beers, and watch porn. Of course, I was trying to will myself to be aroused by the naked women I saw on the movie, but it was the men that attracted me. I tried to convince myself that it wasn’t the penis that was of interest to me but the naked woman sucking on the penis. It was the penis going in and out of the vagina, not just the penis. I kept trying to convince myself that it really, truly, was the women that I was finding attractive. But when a scene with just a woman masturbating or a scene where two women were having sex together would come on screen, I would become, well, “less interested.”
It was these fleeting (and not so fleeting) glimpses of penises and the lies I would tell myself that would keep me going through high school, college, and my early work life. But then there was something that was to change my whole world; it was the Internet.
With the Internet, I didn’t need to go out to a newsstand or to a video store. I could just click on a site and all the pornography would come to me. I didn’t have to deal with people’s questioning looks as they rung up my purchase or that extra little huff of breath as they handed me the videotape. I didn’t have to be afraid someone would see me renting a movie or buying a magazine. With the Internet, I could just find the sites I wanted and watch to my hearts content. And if I decided to do a little “research” on how gay porn differed from straight porn, no one would be the wiser.
Some may ask how a clergy person can speak about viewing pornography. I guess I really can’t answer that question. I do know that for the gay child, there is not a whole lot of information or role models out there.
I looked in the book Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex that my mother strategically left in the bottom drawer of her dresser. (I don’t know if she thought we wouldn’t find it or if she put it there so we would find it.) But this didn’t help me except to make me think that men who like men were effeminate and in danger of being killed when they would bring home dates. Television only had Jody from Soap but he really wasn’t too good of a role model. There was Paul Lynde but I didn’t know then that he was gay. (And I guess there are some who would still claim he was straight.) So really the only way I had to get any knowledge about what it meant to be gay were from my gay friends (of whom I really didn’t want to ask too much for fear of being detected) and what porn I could find on the internet.
I don’t know if I would have had the “normal” adolescent experiences if I would not have relied so much on porn. For this gay adolescent, there wasn’t the necking in the back seat of dad’s car. There was not the “feeling up” and being “felt up.” None of these usual experiences that children go through to help them understand what adult sexual relationships were like. There was no guy to allow me to feel him through his pants. There was no guy to neck with in the back seat. And even if there was, I would probably have been in so much denial as to not avail myself of the opportunities. So, in some ways, porn was what helped to form my self-image as a gay man.
If that statement makes you uncomfortable, then we need to look at how we treat our children and what message we are giving to them. Are we giving our children the impression that they were mistakes from birth? The message that I got was that I was not as good as anyone else because of my deep, dark secret. We present all kinds of role models (both positive and negative) of what it means to be heterosexual. We see straight couples walking in the park holding hands. We see straight couples kissing in public. We see a man give his girlfriend or wife a backrub as they rest at the mall. But for the gay children, none of this is seen. There are no gay couples walking hand-in-hand in the park. There are no gay couples cuddling on a cool evening at the football game. So gay children only see what CNN decides is newsworthy (which is generally the most extreme people at the Pride parades) or what can be found in pornography.
Speaking of Pride parades, I would have to attribute television coverage of these events with some of my reticence to come out of the closet. I didn’t want do be one of these people. I also did not want people to think I was one of these people. I didn’t want to call other guys, “Girl” or refer to other guys as “she” or “her.” Part of the image that I got of gays from society in general was that they all gays had to be drag queens and “over the top” kind of people.
DISCLAIMER: To the drag queens, more effeminate, and over the top people out there. I am totally for diversity. I am not saying that you cannot be who you are. I am just saying that that type of persona was not for me and the thought that I would have to change scared me.
But without any appropriate role models, all I had in my experience was the porno people who were having sex in the woods and in the bathrooms and the more flamboyant folks. I did not have any examples of doctors, schoolteachers, neighbors, etc who were gay. As such, my understanding of what it meant to be a gay person was quite limited.
So, yes, as painful as it may be to say, pornography helped me to know what it meant to be a gay person. And with the easy access to porn on the internet, I am sure it will continue to be a tool in many gay children’s lives until we can provide real-life role models.
Yet, with looking at gay porn on the Internet and masturbating to gay porn, I still tried to trick myself into believing that I was actually straight. My favorite excuse is that gay pornography excites me, but I wouldn’t want to have sex with a man. The convoluted thought processes that one goes through to keep a secret from oneself.
After I finished grad school, I went off to the work world. It was also during this time that I met a lesbian couple. This couple had been together for many years and had bought a house together. Wow! My first real role model of a stable homosexual couple. I was invited to their house and saw that they were not some strange exotic animals practicing strange rituals when the curtains were closed. They were just people. They were just two women who happened to love each other.
Yes, I did say that I had gay friends in college, and yes, some of them were older. (read “not in college.”) But these friends were not in committed relationships. There still seemed to be an air of “being alone in a crowd” about them. I really didn’t want to spend my life alone just having casual hook-ups. I really wanted the American dream. If I couldn’t have it by being straight, I didn’t want to be all alone and also be a social outcast. So if I was going to be alone, I would rather suppress my homosexual feeling and at least be a part of society.
So, I finally got to see a homosexual relationship that worked. I saw that this pair had friends, had family, had lives that were just “normal.” This was very enlightening to me. I saw that there were people around who knew they were lesbians and didn’t care. There were STRAIGHT people who knew they were lesbians and didn’t care.
Having them as role models was a great gift to me. During this time, I was actually able to admit to one of the ladies that I thought I might be bisexual. I finally was able to admit to someone that I was attracted to men and I that I enjoyed looking at men. Of course I emphasized that I thought I was more straight than gay, but the gay part was there. And you know, after making that admission, the world didn’t come to an end and my friend didn't laugh or reject me. She just accepted me as I was. And that felt good.
The saga continues.