National Commentary

Nick Benton’s Gay Science No. 38: As Any Good Gay Boy Would Do

A conversation I overheard on a train from New York last week involved a very fat fundamentalist minister in shorts, and a middle aged man trying to keep up a meaningless, “manly” conversation with him. When the man debarked, he introduced his effeminate son who’d been sitting behind him having a lively, high-pitched laughter-filled conversation with a female passenger.

The facial expression of the minister suddenly conveyed contempt, mostly, I’d say, for the man for failing as a parent to have “beaten the gay” out of his son. That fat, judgmental minister evoked an archetypical image of angry haters who’ve made life miserable for gay people from time immemorial, myself included. Such are the real bullies that young gay people suffer.

They drive fearful parents to desperate measures to de-gay their sons and daughters, with disastrous results. Gay youth suffer doubly when “cures” don’t take, blamed for not trying hard enough. Love gets dashed by fear and anger, with scars that last lifetimes.

Too often, youth do the suppressing on themselves, seeking acceptance and losing touch with their gay sensibilities until much later in life, if ever.

It is vital, when lacking, for gay people to get in touch with the gayness of their earliest years, to see those special gifts and sensibilities that are so often evident long before any explicitly erotic aspects come into play.

There are those who just can’t help but shut the bedroom door and play music to get their dance on. There are those who prefer the accoutrements of the gender opposite their own. There are those overloaded with empathy and compassion, who always do things for others.

I preferred the company of the females among the adults and their friends in my family and I bled, emotionally, for my mother and the cruel, arbitrary conditions she endured at the hands of my father.

My innate skill was as a writer, but not in an introverted mode. Instead, I produced a newspaper, my first at age seven, which reported on news of the family and neighborhood. I went door-to-door in our little California seaside town of 300 to peddle it for a nickel.

My purpose, I realized much later, was to work in legion with my mother to bring harmony to our home. (It was when I started my own newspaper, the Falls Church News-Press, 40 years later, that I this motivation dawned on me, and this has animated my efforts with my paper since).

Yes, I loved being alone with my music in my bedroom! My favorite music was, one could say, unbeknownst to me, that of my first gay romance. It was with the music of the gay composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Little did I know he was gay, of course, but I was all over his frilly and rich sounds and themes, and I stood in front of a mirror not dancing in the usual sense, but in the lavish manner of an orchestra conductor. I’d get goose bumps doing the “1812 Overture” or, my favorite, the final movement of his Fifth Symphony.

As a boy, I was known as kind and generous, and I became the best friend of a lonely Jewish boy whose mother survived the Holocaust.
As a teen, I lived in the same time period and much like the gay character in Tobias Wolff’s autobiographical “This Boy’s Life,” the one who, in the film version, steals a kiss from the Leonardo DiCaprio character on the piano bench. I had no similar outwardly gay mannerisms, but eschewed crowds in favor of intense one-on-one friendships, and my first was with a straight lad, who I helped a lot.
High school and college days were tortuous, filled with shyness, self-loathing, acne and fear of disclosure. My newspaper talent was my only consolation. I went out for sports and struggled to date girls.

Meanwhile, I lived in the same time period, again, as the high schoolers in Peter Weir’s brilliant film, “Dead Poet’s Society,” set in the late 1950s. The film chronicled a precursor to the youth ferment of the 1960s, and that mood was in the air.

The only time I shared a homoerotic physical moment in all those years came when three of us, ferried by our high school English teacher, rode back from an event in Los Angeles. A girl was in the front passenger seat. A boy was with me in the back. I was very attracted to the boy, but would never act. Dozing off, I suddenly felt something. I turned to see the boy staring at me, with his warm, moist hand on my upper leg.

A first, unforgettable erotic touch! But I pulled away, moaning inside even as I instantly imagined dreaded consequences of reciprocity.
I couldn’t break this suffocation until after college, when I did what any good gay boy would do: I enrolled in a theological seminary to find a vocation of bringing love and happiness for all.

To be continued.