Mostly true, but names changed.
I tried my hand at dating men for the first time when I was 19. I was a live wire in those days, exploring a part of myself I knew I had to conceal from many. My friends, with the exception of two or three, were accepting of my sexual orientation. Every rejection hurt, even though they were small in number. One particularly close friend had been raised by homophobic parents and he quickly sought separation from me once I confessed my bisexuality to him.
The Neil Young album Harvest contains a song called “A Man Needs a Maid.” When I presented the plastic case to her, his mother looked at the song title on the cassette wrongly, interpreting it to mean “A Man Needs a Man.” This was not acceptable to her by the way she phrased her response, though she quickly corrected herself when she recognized she was mistaken. That was how I knew what I was up against on that issue. My friend did whatever his parents told him to, no cautious rebel the way that I was. This is why he rejected me, though he has since thought better of his banishment. I hold a lasting grudge and have ignored his request to renew our friendship, though I wonder if I should let bygones be bygones.
Back then, I was in the middle of my own personal, highly motivated crusade towards greater self-awareness. It was a fight I went into alone. The process would have proceeded much better if I’d had other queer friends to use as ballast, but that would have taken me out of my comfort zone. They would have reminded me of a part of myself I found compelling and enticing, but also frightening.
At first, I admit I had nothing resembling courage around men. Once, while out at the club, a lesbian friend tried to hook me up with a shirtless boy fresh from the dance floor, dripping with sweat. She’d arranged an impromptu lap dance. As it began, I sat there, immobile, too aroused to move, too scared to act. He gave me a stiff little hug after a few minutes and resumed his place on the dance floor.
When I did finally enter the dating scene, my choice was far different from anyone who spent nights gyrating underneath blaring music, flashing lights, and a disco ball. For starters, my first choice was twice my age. Generational differences, I have found, are vastly different among queer men. The AIDS epidemic consigned many of that era to the caretaker role, whether they wanted to or not. His first long-time partner following college sadly contracted the disease. Tom instantly became a nurse and served unselfishly.
It was fortunate that Tom hadn’t taken put himself in a position to contract the disease. His timidity paid off, at least in this situation. The effort, complete with night sweats and frequent visits to the hospital, took five years from start to finish. In the meanwhile, he’d become another martyr among martyrs. Tom had even gone without sex, quite willingly, for years on end. I could never consent or agree to that, but then again, I was much younger and had very different tastes. Everyone my age was after the same goal, even if the rules and the vernacular were slightly different from surrounding to surrounding.
Shortly after his partner died, Tom began a relationship with James. James worked at the local health food store as a clerk. I could never understand the appeal. James was whiny, demanding, and acted about sixteen, even though he was well into his thirties. Knowing Tom the way I do, I could only surmise that his dysfunctional childhood had been a factor in his choice of partners.
He’d grown up an army brat, constantly on the move, hesitant to put down roots. His mother was an alcoholic and his father was distant, neither affectionate, nor particularly easy to please. Even then, I conceded that there was a lot of emotional need present, a need he had not received from his upbringing. Tom needed to be needed, but he went about it in an unhealthy way.
For me, Tom was safe. I’d started with heterosexual relationships a few years prior, but swiftly decided to see what the opposite side of the fence was like. He was gentle and kind, but a little too nice for his own good. I had to browbeat him to get him to take me to bed, a process which took months. I’d began my courting of him auspiciously, making an impromptu trip to his house under the guise of watching a movie, but I ended up giving him fellatio by the night’s conclusion. It was my first time ever and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.
He made sure that such excursions would never happen again, but he did not put an end to our relationship. I teased him shamefully and he loved the attention, but he would never commit to the kind of robust sexual relationship I’d always wanted. His fantasies were full of carnal experiences involving me that he would tell me during long walks. They never progressed beyond talking. After several months of this treatment, I knew to expect nothing aside from the occasional.
He would sometimes assent to one or two dalliances, in spite of his severe reservations. He knew James was a drain upon his energy and his sanity, but he would never leave him. That was more his frustration than mine. I’m not sure if I wanted Tom all to myself, since I was by then actively cruising the gay scene and being reasonably successful with it. I'd learned quite a bit in a short period of time.
Tom was a person I could return to periodically and knew I would never be judged for anything I said or for my behavior. He continues to reach out to me, but I have conspicuously placed less of an emotional priority upon him in the same way he has with me. I called him my boyfriend because we told each other every last, intimate detail. Though I find it difficult to feel true love for men in any context, I came the closest with him.
We both opened up to each other completely as lovers do. He fell head over heels in love with me, and I always felt bad that I couldn’t reciprocate those feelings. Nowadays, Tom calls me his friend, never his lover. He still lives in the world of unconsummated fantasy. Even when I threw myself at him, more than once, he was too scared to do what I was asking of him. Now he feels too old to be anyone's object of desire.
Tom was a sweet guy, but a man without much of a backbone. I fantasized myself from time to time about a surefire scheme to force him to make love to me, but did not put the plan in action. I had too much respect for him and wasn't sure it would work, in any case. My peccadilloes involved a take charge sort of man who wouldn’t need to be asked twice to perform. This was too much to ask of him. He was much too passive and hesitant, but I do retain a fondness for him, even if my affection can be distant.