Thursday, July 27, 2017

'Exiled by my own homophobia'

"I'd still never talked to an openly gay person about what it all meant beyond sex. I still thought of "them" as a dispersed race of exiles, all as scared of their shadows as I was. None of them ever connecting up except for a glancing encounter, hardly worth the attendant guilt or the endless troughs of nothing in between. I couldn't even conceptualize queers being friends, because queer only meant impossible sex. It would be another year before I went alone to an afternoon screening of Boys in the Band—one of six people in the theater, the others as furtive as I— before I had my first sight of homosexuals together. Which sent me reeling out in despair, frightened of all that bitter wit and self-flagellation. Today I understand that it told a savage truth about survival, but for me at twenty-two it confirmed my outsider status more corrosively than all the edicts of all the churches. Exiled by my own homophobia, I prefered a life of isolation to being one of "them."
But I also knew, instinctively, that I couldn't change. Unschooled in psychology — stubbornly bearing my pain without illumination because to speak it would have been so much worse — I didn't know any of the theories. Thus in my own crippled way I had no choice but to keep on looking in the wrong places for the thing I'd never even seen: two men in love and laughing. For that was the image in my head, though I'd never read it in any book or seen it in any movie. I'd fashioned it out of bits of dreams and the hurt that went with pining after straight men. Everything told me it couldn't exist, especially the media code of invisibility, where queers were spoken of only in the context of molesting Boy Scouts. Yet the vision of the laughing men dogged me and wouldn't be shaken, more insistent with every lonely month, every encounter that didn't quite happen. The searching became as compulsive as any insatiable need, till I sometimes thought I'd lost my mind — but I also think it kept me alive.
One day at sunset, I was walking on the fetid shore below the cottage, skipping stones. December, I guess, since there was an old couple stringing lights on their front porch facing the Sound. I looked up to see a man in a parka walking his dog in my direction. And as he came abreast of me, he cruised me the sort of naked look, two parts dare to one part irony, that heretofore had forced my own eyes to the ground. But I gave him as good as he'd given, or thought I did, and looked away only to make sure no one was watching. Just the old folks doddering with the lights. When I looked back, the guy was half-running away, dragged by his panting retriever up the shingle to his car.
I was too shy to call out standing frozen in my fireman's boots, thumbs hooked in my belt, trying to affect a swagger that would bring him back. As he bundled the dog in the car, he turned and gave me a smiling nod, then slung himself in and took off. By which time I'd dropped my cool and was running, stumbling up to the road and waving at his disappearing taillights, shouting "Wait!" But he was gone, the seniors on the porch staring at me, appalled by such a ruckus.
I came back every day at the same time for I don't know how long. Weeks anyway, till the January blast was so cold off the water, I had to huddle behind a rock. He never returned, and I'm not sure I could've said even then what he looked like. All that mattered was his carnal stare and my readiness to pick up on it. My useless waiting in the freezing cold will stand in nicely for a hundred other blind alleys I spent those next years lurking in. I frankly haven't the stomach to recall the rest; they're all the same anyway. Waiting numbly for a train in a place where there are no tracks.
Then back to that icehouse of a cabin, to heat up a tin for dinner. After which I'd deal out my cache of dirty pictures on the bedspread and give it a wank. Those washed-out shots of barely naked men, never in pairs and their dicks never hard, were state-of-the-art for New Haven. Acquired with what an agony of stammering shame from a rat-turd news and candy store out Whalley Avenue, whose Zorba-the-geek proprietor relished every second of my discomfort. I'd grab up Time and Newsweek, then ask him casually, oh-by-the-way: "Could I see what you've got behind the counter?" And he'd reach down and bring up the stack of manporn, such as it was, nudes without sex. I'd quick-flip through the pile, terrified someone from Yale would walk in. Never buying more than one stroke mag at a time so I wouldn't look too hungry."
- Paul Monette, Becoming a Man, Half a Life Story, HJB, 1992

Paul Monette grew up all-American, Catholic, overachieving . . . and closeted. As a child of the 1950s, a time when a kid suspected of being a “homo” would routinely be beaten up, Monette kept his secret throughout his adolescence. He wrestled with his sexuality for the first thirty years of his life, priding himself on his ability to “pass” for straight. The book is the story of his journey to adulthood and to self-acceptance with grace and honesty. This intimate portrait of a young man’s struggle with his own desires is witty, humorous, and deeply felt.

1 comment: