Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Come Back to the Five and Dime

When one moves across a nation, you realize many things about your packing strategies. I thought that I had minimized the amount of crap that I took with me. As I heaved and lugged it all up tight and winding stairs, though, I realized that I still own too much stuff. My eyes drift again to the boxes and boxes of books that currently surround me.

In other ways, though, you also find out about things accidentally left behind. Unlike a cross-town trip, there is no going back for that one last forgotten item. Fortunately for me, an unopened bag of cat food and a cookie sheet are the only things that I have found missing so far. Then again, it’s early in the unpacking phase.

I did find, however, my photo of James Dean for the fridge door. GayProf-devotees might recall seeing it in my self-absorbed photo-centric post from the sub-let apartment in Texas. “Why, GayProf” I imagine you asking, “Do you always put a picture of James Dean of your refrigerator door? Also, how did you get to be the most desirable man on the blogosphere?” Oooh – Both of those are tough, but fair, questions. Let’s just tackle the first one today.

Though partially motivated by Dean’s queer-icon status and good looks, this does not fully answer the inquiry. To get the full answer, we must go wandering through the seasons of my youth.

Queer folk often get asked, “When did you first become aware of your queer desires?” These questions always struck me as impossible to pin-point. Anybody who has a definite answer, I think, has just sub-consciously or consciously chosen a moment in their autobiography to make sense of their identity. Straight people, on the other hand, never feel as inclined to name a precise moment when they realize that they had a sexuality.

All the same, there have been some key moments on GayProf’s road of life. For me, as a young queer lad, I knew that I had a deep desire to see men without their clothes. Doing anything sexual beyond looking, though, was literally outside of my imagination (And I really mean literally, not (as Earl Cootie points out) the way most Americans use the term (when they actually mean figuratively).

Even post-puberty, when I knew that my body was charged and ready to go, it did not occur to me that men could actually have sex with each other. Consider me a sheltered Catholic boy, but I really didn’t have the mechanics down in my head.

Of course, I knew that a group of people existed who fell under the category “gay men.” Television and films provided that information, but I never quite clicked about actual sexual acts (mostly because televison and films left out that little tidbit as well).

As an awkward teenager, I began to notice that I kept falling in love with other young (and sometimes not-so-young) men. You might consider it medieval, but a romantic lives in a portion of my otherwise cold, dark, truncated heart.

Still, it took some time to untangle those adolescent emotions. Rather than saying that I loved/lusted after these other young men, I convinced my self that only a deep, deep, deep, deep desire for friendship motivated those feelings (I debated about using the word “urges,” but that struck me as baroque).

My senior year of high school proved the battleground for personal awareness. In that year, I became best friends with a fellow male student. I fell in love, head-over-heels, in the way that only a teenager can in our society. Every waking moment and most sleeping moments focused on him. We saw each other at every free instance in school; talked for hours on the phone after school; and spent the weekends together.

By the time I graduated, I finally admitted to myself that my vision of our association went beyond simple friendship. In my awkward, inexperienced way, I communicated my desire for my little friend and what he meant to me at the end of the summer. Like an ABC-After-School special, he reacted in shock, then histrionics, and then horror. He finally fled the scene. Unlike an ABC-After-School special, he never returned to share the important life-lesson that we both learned. Indeed, I never heard from him again (Given the extreme commonness of both his first and last name in Latino circles, he is impossible to Google).

So, I started college feeling entirely rejected (Yes, rejection plays an important, though negative, part in my sense of self. It’s a topic for therapy – whenever I find a new Boston-therapist. I do, however, have a great story about another teenage crush that reentered my life recently. That, though, is another blog-entry entirely).

In that first year of university, I knew and owned my queer desires, but my first stab at the whole “gay” thing didn’t really leave me feeling grand. Remember, too, that I always start at a place of extreme gravitas. So just imagine my thought patterns at that moment.

As fate would have it, though, during that freshman year, a young woman in one of my classes invited me to a party. Yeah, I know, a party? Freshman year? How unusual. Though trite, it’s my story and I can tell it however I want to tell it.

Anyway, two gay men happened to be hosting this particular party. I did not enter the party house feeling any particular kinship to these yet-unknown gay men. Indeed, it just seemed like another drunken night gathering in Albuquerque’s student ghetto.

I briefly met the hosts. Both were nice, young, and attractive. Overall, though, I didn’t think much about them. Then, as I searched for a beer in their kitchen, I saw a casual image of James Dean hanging on the refegerator door.

At that moment, I can’t really explain why, but I suddenly felt a whole-hell-of-a-lot better about all my queerness. Some of it derived from the unashamed way that the picture signified the hosts’ own appreciation for Dean’s masculine beauty. Another part came from a sudden sense of linked history. Here, a man dead for some forty years (at that point), continued as the subject of the queer gaze. Many, many, many of us queer men had looked upon Dean with the same sense of sexualized appreciation. It inexplicably eased my loneliness.

I never became friends with those gay hosts. I couldn’t even tell you their names. Had I known that I would point to that moment as critical, I probably would have jotted down their digits.

Still, their unthinking moment of pasting an image with a magnet resulted in a host of good feelings for me. Since that point, I have usually had a picture of James Dean on my refrigerator wherever I have lived.

As I slapped ol’ James Dean onto my new fridge (pictured above), I thought again of that party fifteen years ago. Looking at the image will always remind me of the interconnections between all of us who fall into the queer realm.


Margaret said...

What a fantastic post. I loved it. I have nothing more to say.

Artistic Soul said...

Excellent - I love the way you talk through queer desire in youth. I remember my own walk similarly...though the magnet on my fridge is a pulp cover that says "I prefer girls." lol.

Kalv1n said...

This was really sweet. Apparently you've done what you need to in order to be cured of homosexuality (become really good friends with a guy and come out to him) according to reparative therapists. I completely understand about the leaving things behind. I hope it's not the picture that's lost, but maybe the one you have isn't of particular sentimental significance. And I don't think I ever want to live on a top floor again.

tornwordo said...

Five stars gay prof. Bravo. Wonderful wonderful post. (I know I'm gushing, but you love it)

I never thought about that before - the fact that straight people are never pressed to choose a moment that they knew they were straight. So true!

Margaret said...

BTW, you've probably seen this, but I use this as a teaching tool in my gender studies classes. I give it to my students without any introduction. It generates some wonderful discussions.


Mark said...

In addition to the Dean pic on the frig, a book of poems by W.H. Auden on the coffee table, and a portrait of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, because of course they were great old gals, but also because that led the discussion easily to pot brownies.

Anonymous said...

Is it significant that the pic is not one of his "bad boy" poses but of him looking like a well-read college student?

Dorian said...

In college, people figured out that I was gay when they noticed that I had James Dean pictures up in my room.

brett said...

great post.

i, much like yourself, can't pinpoint an exact moment, but can recall times when my identity felt tangible and real and okay and wonderful.

on a sidenote, do you find it bizarre that we've never met, and yet you were a central character in a dream i had recently?

GayProf said...

Kalvin: Yeah, top floor, not so much fun in terms of moving in and out. Plus, I have already fallen down the stairs once (No, it was not when I had been drinking).

Atari: Actually, the image of Dean changes from time to time. I have never, though, been able to find the exact image that was on the fridge all those years ago. It was one where Dean was drinking coffee and laughing. Anybody know of it?

Brett: do you find it bizarre that we've never met, and yet you were a central character in a dream i had recently?

You ask that like dreaming about me is not a constant part of everybody's life.

Kyle said...

Nice post.... My JW and I have a James Dean on our fridge too!

The Surly Mermaid said...

the notion that queer folk must pinpoint an exact moment where their sexuality was realized, is already labeling the sexuality "deviant". i resent this. i appreciated your discussion of our community's interconnectedness/shared history. great post. rip jimmy d.

Anonymous said...

I love your writing style and read often but often shake my head that we still find where someone prefers to stick it or lick it "interesting". Meaning, I empathize with how it must feel to be a someone with a proclivity that people either secretly fantasize about or are repelled by (I, on the other hand, just like your writing style and usually skip over the gay musings). Must be why we're fascinated by celebrities - many dream of being one but no one has the courage to become one. I look forward to the day when you don't have to carry the flag and you can be loved for your writing, not for your courage in being gay.

GayProf said...

Anon: Thanks for your comment and the nice things that you said about my writing style. I didn’t intend this post to be about “courage.” Rather, I wrote about a moment when I plugged into a particular (though socially constructed) sense of identity.

Being attracted to men, you are right, is neither good nor bad. How one engages with that attraction, though, suggests something about the person. It has informed a great deal of my life and, therefore, informs my what I write.

Moreover, given the amount of therapy that hetero folk go through based on their own sexual desires, I would say that our current society still “disciplines and punishes” all forms of sexuality. So, we could stand to think about how we come to understand our preferences.

Though we might wish it were not so, one’s role in our society depends a great deal on our sexual desires. Until some unforseen revolution occurs, expect a great deal of queer content at the Center of Gravitas.

Elizabeth McClung said...

Thanks Gay Prof, I really like coming out stories (it's like popcorn, I can't stop at just one), and yours is wonderfully articulated. Though I kinda wish your high school experience actually did have a happy ending.

Like you, I had some crushes but never actually "named" myself until late on - which to todays youth seems inexplicable. "What, you weren't out and proud at 14?" - since lesbians don't get mentioned in the bible, they don't get a lot talk in a cult religious school. (gays do..but under a different name starting with S)

Would this have been the first time you actually thought of yourself as "gay" or did that identity come later?

Frank said...

Wow, my "moment" was just when I had my first orgasm looking at the cartoon bodybuilders on a new pair of silk boxers! Can't really do much with that story as far as moving, beautiful blog posts go! *hehehe*

Anonymous said...

I will continue to read, GayProf, but I suppose I've evolved beyond giving a hoot about someone's sexual preference and, slowly, it will become the same for many. 30 years from now I hope whispering "He's GAY!" will be viewed as obnoxious and intensely personal. For now, you're right, one’s role in our society depends a great deal on our sexual desires and makes for much discussion among heteros. In fact, just the other day someone said, "Bill Clinton is gay!" WHO CARES!!!! Anyway, no need to respond. I understand what you're saying - being gay is a strong part of your identity.

Anonymous said...

I equally appreciate your writing and gayness.

Maybe the gay stuff started out as something courageous, but I don't believe that after being so out there it is still a matter of courage, but a matter of simply being who one is.

Heterosexual people restate their sexuality all the time. We gay people were denied our sexuality while growing up, and often even into adulthood. So to many, or probably most of us, restating our being gay becomes an important part of life.

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness, I have a school crush story with a similar ending. I have to disagree with anonymous who proposes that GayProf is a (insert glowing adjective here) man who quite separate from that just happens to be attracted to men. For me at least, I was growing flowers in my own garden by the age of four, figure skating and producing architectural drawings in pen and ink long before puberty, long before I had any concept of sex or orientation. I was drawn to these things, sought out these things on my own, while my brothers played with toy trucks and beat each other to a pulp. If this sounds stereotypical, so be it, I was expressing who I am. I was already gay as a mere tot, even if I didn’t know it yet. Even if I never had fallen in love, never actually "knew" another man, I’d still be gay. And even if I live to be one hundred years old and have no sex drive left at all, I’ll still be gay. For me being a gay man encompasses much more than the gender of attraction. (Or else on that Kinsey scale I’m the first one on the end!)

Lorraine said...

This probably sounds silly to use this word but that was very sweet. (shhhh)

Anonymous said...

All I'm saying is that discussing one's or anyone's sexual preferences will hopefully some day be as culturally unacceptable / PRIVATE as talking about how one might not smell fresh down there. There are MANY more interesting things to discuss about a person or oneself than one's sexual preference. I could be a man, woman, gay, straight, or bi. My sexual preference or gender just shouldn't matter. Anyway, I do adore the prof's writing. kisses all

Michael said...

GayProf, a wonderful post. It certainly caused me to wax nostalgic and it's always nice to hear another's coming out/of age story.

I agree with you that there is no "one moment" - although I did not come out to myself until I was 29 (when I named and claimed my sexual identity), I can look back throughout most of my life and realize crushes I had on other boys my age, identify certain fantasies as decidedly homoerotic, although such an idea was, as you say, literally beyond my imagination.

I had a crush on my best friend in high school. We spent a lot of time together and had many, deep insightful discussions long into the night. I never realized at the time that what I saw as a friendship that was more like being brothers was actually a deep, deep crush. Alas, my friend and I had a falling out in college, not about my feelings for him, but over another matter that in quite obvious fashion was motivated by my deep feelings for him that I could not even articulate to myself at the time.

On another note, anon, I understand the generally benevolent note you are making, but to me my sexual orientation is akin to my race and gender, something that we as a society talk openly and freely (well, you know what I mean) about. My SO is not to be equated to some bodily function that is distasteful to discuss. (I realize you do not intend to imply that, but that is the implication at least to me.) My SO is about who I love, not my coital preference. Let me suggest a slightly different take for you: let it be that SO doesn't need to be discussed because society allows me to make it perfectly obvious without anybody giving it a passing thought that it's my husband's picture on my desk rather than my wife. Straight people discuss their SO all the time and don't consider it private or inappropriate for public consumption -- and I'm not talking about regaling co-workers with ribald tales of sexual escapades --I'm talking about mentioning their wife, girlfriend, huband, boyfriend, fiancee, without a moment's thought or hestiation.

Da Nator said...

Wonderfully written, sweet post, GP. You know, I used to have James Dean photos up on my walls when I was a kid, and people probably thought it was because I had a crush on him. It was only later that I fully understood that I wanted to be like him.

(Although what semi-artistic teenager hasn't gone through a JD phase. So pretty, he was...)

Same thing as with John Taylor of Duran Duran, only that's more embarassing, natch. I ended up dating a number of boys who looked like New Romantic band members. In retrospect, I figure they were probably just as gay and confused as I was lesbian and confused.