I can remember around the age of 4 or 5 looking at a book titled “Where Do Babies Come From?” My mother, a former elementary school teacher, believed in complete honesty about the human body and reproduction, and the book was meant to help me understand the answer to the question posed in the title. What she hadn’t counted on was that I was much less fascinated by the reproductive process, let alone the illustrations of female anatomy, as I was with the illustrations of the male anatomy. There were two illustrations in particular, an adolescent male and an adult male, naked I should add, that were so stunning to me that I can actually remember staring at the illustrations late one evening when I should have been fast asleep. I flipped back to the illustrations of the women in the book for comparison, but my heart didn’t race; no spark existed when considering women. After closing the book that evening to wonder about the human body, I re-opened it to the page featuring the adult male and slid the open book under my pillow. Why would I do that? In retrospect perhaps this was a way to influence my dreams that night, “Oh man in the moon, come to South Florida and visit me…and be naked.”
A few years later around age 7 or 8, I had been invited to a pool party to celebrate a classmate’s birthday. Though I had arrived at the party in a bathing suit, I was expected to change into dry clothes once the swimming portion of the party had ended. I was alone in a room with another boy who struck up a conversation with me while changing. At one point he found it amusing to shake his penis around as if he was doing the cha-cha. I was in compete shock. “How is he so comfortable doing this?” I wondered. On one hand, I understood that, in the words of my mother, “the human body is nothing to be ashamed about…we’re all the same,” and yet on the other hand there seemed to be something both forbidden yet completely natural about my reactions to seeing this naked boy. I decided that I couldn’t be naked in front of him, no way was I showing off the goods. I was afraid, embarrassed, and couldn’t stop staring. I was the proverbial deer in the headlights who wore a soggy bathing suit under too-tight khaki shorts for the remainder of the party rather than take off my pants in front of the cha-cha dancer.
I should add that my childhood was anything but standard. A child model from the ages of 5-10, I had been exposed to some rather interesting characters, mostly photographers who forgot to put away the Playboys when the younger models visited the studio. Likewise, I had accompanied my mother to a number of hair salons (I was an only child, in many ways my mother’s shadow) where both Playboys and Playgirls sat scattered amongst Good Housekeeping and Sesame Street coloring books. The point is that naked bodies were often on display around me and I opted for the Playgirls rather than the Playboys…or Sesame Street. Yes, even as a young child, I knew that I was innately drawn to the male body. As this is neither a dissertation exploring the roots of human sexual behavior nor an examination of human psychosexual development, let’s leave it at this – for me, who I have desired physically has never been a conscious choice.
Around the age of 12 it was quite clear to my peers that there was something different about me. Though I could hang with the guys, I preferred to hang with the girls. Though I had male friends, I grew increasingly nervous around them because I quickly realized that some of them were pretty damn hot! It was around this time that I became aware of my sexual desires, not yet pairing such desire with any kind of label. I had resisted this, despite years of taunting and teasing by peers. Apparently they all knew I was a “fag,” so why didn’t I? I think it was likely because “fag” was said with such disdain and scorn. I wanted to avoid the ire, but not necessarily the accuracy of the derision. How could I be “gay” if “gay” was something so horrible that it turned otherwise charming children into bullies? So I avoided any admission of difference until around the age of 15 when I finally decided that I had to tell someone about my “secret feelings” (as I had termed them, explored and deconstructed in my handwritten, cloth-bound journals of the time).
The year was 1989 and the United States was still reeling from the AIDS crisis. For me, “gay” also equaled AIDS. Gay equaled pain and death. Gay equaled, once again, scorn, so much so that some people felt that AIDS was a plague sent by God to kill off the homosexuals. There was no way in Hell that I was gonna be gay. Forget about it. And yet, I still wanted the man in the moon to come to South Florida…naked.
A good friend at the time had let me in on a little secret – she told me that her father, Allen, was now a woman, Ellen. She explained the entire situation with such a matter-of-fact-ness that I figured I could tell her about my desire for men and she likely wouldn’t flip out. When I told her, she smiled and asked if I had a boyfriend. Wow – no scorn? No disapproval? Amazing. But not quite out of the woods yet. “So are you gay?” she asked?
“I think I’m bi,” I explained.
“Have you ever been with a guy?”
“No, not really.”
“So how do you know, then?”
After a long pause, I concluded, “I just do,” and that seemed to settle it. I was now officially “bi” because I told my friend that I was. I then told another close friend, this time expecting approval, and that’s exactly what I got. People approved of me being “bi.” I liked this – I had never been made fun of on a playground or in a school parking lot for being “bi.” So, bi stuck for a few years…until college.
I went to school in a small yet liberal Blue Ridge mountain town where my family had kept a summer home. For every stereotypical “bible-thumper” there were also Jews, New Yorkers, and lesbians. I quickly found a girlfriend, and soon after that, I performed oral sex on a man for the first time. This was interesting to me: I could have a girlfriend whom I was sexually active with, yet I was also sexually active with men. I guess I was bi. Or was I?
During my sophomore year of college, I had decided that the time was right to try having a boyfriend. And I did. And it was great. And then it ended. And then I had another girlfriend. Males I had befriended in my freshman year now came to me asking what was up. “How are you fucking both guys and girls?” they asked. “Ever both at the same time?” they wondered. “We thought you were a fag,” they explained. It was as if I had some secret to share, and a couple of guys didn’t want to just talk about it, they wanted in on some of the action. So what the Hell did that mean? Were they fags? Were they bi? I was growing thoroughly confused. At the time I had it all worked out in my mind: Some people are straight, some people are gay, and some people are bi. Some people are nothing at all and some people are born with the other gender’s equipment. Damn you, genetics. I can recall more than a few conversations, spanning early morning hours that would have been better spent studying or sleeping, where human sexuality became the primary topic of interest.
In 1994, when I was 20, I moved to England, met a boy, fell in love, got drunk at a party at his house, kissed his female best friend, and then got dumped the next morning because I was “unpredictable and didn’t know what I wanted.” What did I want? The answer seemed clear to me when I was 5, 7, and 12, and less clear as I got older. Did I really have to make a decision? Couldn’t I just be with whoever I was attracted to at the time? “Bisexuality is just a rest stop on the highway to gayhood,” explained a friend. Really? So what of my earlier conviction that some people could actually claim bisexuality as an orientation?
Then I met a man who would change the way I though about sexuality. He was an older man, a professor and a researcher of great fame. His name was Alfred and I found him fascinating. Unfortunately, he had died in 1956 and we never got a chance to meet, but his scale, the Kinsey Scale, illustrated that people could perform a range of sexual behaviors and as such, people needn’t necessarily be classified as either/or.
These days I just tell people, if the need arises, that I am gay. It is true that I feel my sexuality has polarized somewhat, perhaps because of my natural emotional or physiological inclination to develop as such, or perhaps in response to my belief that I had to choose an orientation and stick with it and old habits die hard. When I do use the word “gay”, I often feel that this isn’t quite right. But as I learn more about the academic reclamation of the word queer and what queer can connote, I feel that it might be more appropriate, though certainly more confusing for my audience. I choose to develop emotional and sexual relationships with men, deep friendships with women, and more than a few times in my adult life have found myself kissing women and wondering about more. I understand that I do indeed have choices, but they are not related to who or what I desire inasmuch as they are about how I reveal or perform my desires.
 For clarification, Playboy is an American magazine that features naked female models while Playgirl features naked male models.