In some ways, I suppose I had been rather old school. I chose to strategically carry on my affairs with men in another city. Businessmen in a different decade opted for this route. This was for two reasons. The first was a concession to my homophobic family. I didn't want them finding any evidence in whatever form it took. The second was because of the unique character of the queer community in the place where I grew up. One learned very soon that its numbers were very small and its inclination was often to gossip. Not wishing to constantly cross paths with former lovers, nor intending to be talked about in this way, if I could help it, I took my anonymity to a larger city some distance away.
Occasionally I’d hook up with someone new, as often by word of mouth as by computer, but I mainly saw the same few men over and over again. They knew that a relationship with me was simply out of the question. It was a topic not to be raised under any circumstances, because it caused me as much frustration as it did them. But this doesn’t mean I didn’t leave my mark behind in the city where I grew up. Sex for sex’s sake was rarely an issue for anyone at any time or any place, but sometimes it didn't stop there. I do know of at least three men who fell in love with me. I was never able to return their affections and to this day I still feel guilty that I could not.
One of them attended the same high school that I did. We were both Freshman. He was heavily religious and closeted at the time; though when I learned years later that was gay, I can’t say I was especially surprised. I was less heavily religious, but just as closeted. Since then, I’ve wondered if perhaps he saw something in me that I did not. My mother surely saw something in him that I did not, and made a bizarre euphemistic reference to his personality and style of dress. What she meant, of course, is that she was fairly certain that he was gay and she didn’t want me hanging around him. She was a firm believer in contagious gay syndrome, or perhaps thought that I might be somehow infected by an unsavory aspect of his personality. He wasn’t exactly my type and wouldn’t be now, but I wish I’d have been able to express this to him the proper way, rather than leaving things unresolved.
The next was much older than me. I’ve had many lovers and partners who are several years older than me. We met in church, of all places, and struck up a friendship. He holds the distinction of being the only man who I have ever completely trusted. As is typical for me, the age difference didn’t really faze me, but it did always bother him. He had an on-again, off-again partner with whom he was frequently exasperated but yet unwilling to completely cut off ties. The partner was exceptionally emotionally needy, which is what caused these frequent periods of separation, during which time we would be together. He was particularly sensitive to my own issues, which were more numerous then. And, to be sure, he had his own demons, but tried to keep them to himself. And once again, I simply could not return the same level of affection and adoration granted to me. I suspect he still has these feelings, based on the occasional e-mails I still receive.
The third occurred at the very end of high school, my senior year. I showcased my new guitar skills and vocal confidence at the behest of a math teacher. The teacher had heard me play and requested I perform for the class. Surprisingly, I did a very good job and won the respect and also the flirtations of several of my classmates. This must have been when I first grabbed his attention. But as with the first man I've noted, he was not out yet, nor was I. I saw him years later. He was part of a spoken word performance attached to Pride. He walked up to me like a lover scorned. Oh, I bet you don’t even know who I am. Trust me, I did. On the spur of the moment, I decided to read two recent poems I’d written, which played well with the crowd. They played so well that I unintentionally upstaged the scheduled performer, which would be him. Angry and frustrated, he left the stage without so much as a parting word to me. I have not seen him since, and that was nearly a decade ago.
I’ve never written before about these sorts of things on any public forum. The queer part of me was something I kept quite deliberately hidden because I wanted it to be a secret and also because I was barely able to emotionally process my experiences. Even now, I think of those days with equal parts pain and fondness. I had much to learn about a world unto itself, one that even now is just beginning to open up to outsiders, but still retains its own slightly paranoid ways. No one ever asked me why I felt a need to be discreet and few asked for my telephone number afterwards. But I feel like if there’s going to be greater understanding, it might as well begin with me. There’s a lot more to LGBT identity than Pride parade, marriage rights, and stereotype. I feel that if we truly seek understanding, it will arrive in the form of our stories. So here's a few of mine.