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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Two People I Thought I Loved

It may be difficult to explain to many people today that being gay in the mid 1960s often resulted in a series of surprising discoveries about oneself. Today, perhaps, with all the public discourse, the many movies about gay life, and even a kind of glamorization of gay living, young people are more perceptive about who they really are. In 1966, however, as a freshman in college, I could not truly identify what was missing in my sexual life—except sex. I was a good boy, and attributed my lack of sexual interest in and sexual arousal for the opposite sex to my good intentions.

I began college early, eager to leave my family behind, attending the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the summer session, when I enrolled in a freshman English course. The teacher was a stern and elderly woman, a bit gruff. She began the semester by reporting that in all her years of teaching—which my classmates and I might have suspected consisted of several decades—she had awarded her students only two grades of A. “B’s are excellent, C’s are what most of you might expect,” she proclaimed.

It may have been that that announcement was her way of inspiring slackers, for, although my educational efforts had thus far primarily resulted in B’s, I was determined to be an exception to her perverse rule.

In that same classroom sat a young woman, Nancy (whose last name, amazingly, I no longer recall). She was not exactly beautiful, but had long and angular features, with a slightly crooked smile that made her face lovely in a plain way that might remind one of Meryl Streep in her earliest film, The Deer Hunter, or of her appearance as the Polish holocaust survivor in Sophie’s Choice. Like many citizens of Milwaukee, Nancy was of German ancestry.

No sooner had she introduced herself to me than we began studying together, then dating. Soon I visited her home, run by her clearly overpowering mother and grandmother, whom Nancy, it was apparent, was desperate to escape. Always polite and solicitous, however, I got on splendidly with these ogres. They loved me perhaps more than their grandchild and daughter.

Quickly I found myself in intensely passionate kissing sessions to which this young girl attached severe restrictions. I could touch her breast under her blouse and even occasionally explore the sanctum inside her bra, but I was not permitted to grasp her crotch—although she was not restrained, evidently, from touching my slightly flaccid cock. I did not comprehend that these rules were possibly meant to be broken, that a “real” heterosexual male might one day impatiently cross over the line, in essence raping the reluctant virgin she advertised herself to be. I was a miserably good boy: when a woman said “no,” I thought she meant it!

I presumed that I was in love. Weren’t my behavior patterns, after all, what heterosexual love was about? Before long, she met my parents, who were delighted in my choice—delighted, I might imagine, of my having even made a choice. Nancy and I never had sex, but even more importantly, we seldom talked. I’d been swept up into something that secretly horrified me, and made me suspect that I was living a lie.

On several occasions she would pull away from me, protesting that she wasn’t worthy of my love. “Worthy?” I queried, “what does that mean? I’m the one… Well,” I admitted, “you don’t really know me very well!” At those times she seemed as innocent as I.

The end came, strangely enough, on an outing with my pleased parents. Plans of marriage were clearly in the air—although we’d never discussed the issue between us. We stopped by a furniture store where my mother and Nancy were suddenly, I discovered, hatching plans of how our living room would look. I was appalled—not as much by the subject matter as by their choices of kitsch, mass-produced couches, side-tables, lamps, and reclining chairs.

“I would never allow anything like that in my house,” I asserted, somewhat in shock.
“Your house?” shouted the normally sweet-tempered Nancy. “Your house?”
“Doug,” my mother interjected, “these things are a woman’s choice.”
The semester was coming to a close, and despite our English teacher’s warning, I received an A. All good boys do fine.

A few days later, I was invited by someone to a poetry reading in a local bar. The Beats were still all the rage, and I can imagine, in retrospect, that it was a dreadful event. I recall someone reading a poem about his tie, a tie which pointed, so he declared, “to you know where!”

Across the room I spied one of the most beautiful males I’d ever seen—outside of my high school heartthrob, Doug Reed [see My Year 2005]. His name was Brian O— (how easily I recall his last name). Brian and I met, and he suggested I visit him for dinner at his house. I stayed the night, him upon the bed, me upon a palette on the floor next to it. I was desperate to jump into bed with him, and even imagined that he whispered something to that effect.

“What? Did you say something?” I pleaded.

“You heard me.”

But I was uncertain whether I really had heard what I knew he’d spoken. Good boys do not rape other boys either—unless they’re invited to. And Brian, I later perceived, was a passive bisexual.

Nothing happened again. He did, however, radically change my life. Brian announced that he was transferring to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and suggested that I should visit him there in the campus YMCA.

I must have been striken with love, for I decided to take him up on the offer, clearly hoping that this time something might happen between us. If only, like Nancy, he had embraced me—even once—I knew I would spring to life!

Inaction repeated itself. But I loved the sprawling Madison campus nestled against a lake. Despite the fact that I had now met some upper classmen, and had even been asked by poet Bruce Renner to take over the editorship of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee creative writing magazine, I decided to transfer.

In Madison, after ROTC provided me with the transcendent vision that I was an atheist, socialist, gay man [see My Year 2005], I invited Brian into my bed in my little room across from the football stadium and, in the middle of night, jacked him off. It couldn’t really be called sex, but it was a start!

As for Nancy, I later heard that she got married soon after I left Milwaukee to a worker from a local packing plant. Obviously he had known what to do—and wanted to.

New York, May 3, 2002

1 comment:

Gilad said...

Hi Douglas!

Beautiful story! Reminds me of this book:

It's been seven or eight years since I took your class at Otis. I'm still a graduate student, working on my Ph.D. in English at the University of North Dakota.

I really liked Paul's Days Shadows Pass, by the way. I bought a few copies for my friends and family...

Next on my list: Hope. I remember when Dennis was working on it. I'm looking forward to reading it -- but only after I'm done with my comprehensive exams...

See you,