In these potentially darker days ahead … let’s have some fun, okay? It’s time to dance.
It’s very Summer of 1979 for me when I hear this album, but I’ll try to convey it in a way that I don’t think you’ve ever experienced before. And I’ll tell you why Madleen Kane’s album of that year meant so much to me.
Madleen Kane wasn’t the best singer in the world. She was no Streisand, that’s for sure. But then again, who is? Olivia Newton-John was making waves vocally, too. Madleen was a super-model who turned to music and found a niche for herself in the heady last days of the Disco era.
I’ve always been one of those queer boys who has been immersed in music from an early age. Any kind of music, really. My mother made sure of that. I heard it all. Classical (especially Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Liszt, Chopin, Schubert), Country (Freddy Fender, Loretta Lynn, John Denver, and Lynn Anderson), but mostly I was immersed in Broadway, Disco and R&B. I found a particular fondness for ANY music that told stories. Concept albums of the 70s and early 80s were king with me. Disco albums, oddly enough, had them in droves. In my world they took me places that my young queer boy heart needed to go.
During summer vacations, where the morning heat was already a blistering 89 degrees at six AM, I’d make my way from the coolness of my full sized water bed (yeah, you read that one right) to the music room to sing and dance for hours … often eight or nine of them STRAIGHT. Non-stop. I didn’t go outside to play with other kids — what the fuck did they have to contribute to my world? I’d go into our sauna of a music room, close the swinging door dad had up as measly protection from my disco onslaught, and slap on the headphones from early morning. Within an hour I was up on my feet, playing the music out of the speakers (a little softly at first – until the 9 o’clock hour hit, then all bets were off) and started dancing up a storm.
And it was all imaginary – in that near stifling music room of my parent’s house – sealed off from the rest of the world that didn’t understand how to connect with a gay boy.
When I discovered Madleen Kane’s classic Cheri I was beyond elated. It played on the only disco radio station we had in San Diego – K105 FM.
That album was a gayboy’s dream. The first song on the track was Forbidden Love. I knew what she was singing about. The collection of songs on the first side of the album are all tied to one another. They are of longing for that love that you can’t have. This album played through the headphones and speakers so many times that year (and for many years to come) that I know every subtle nuance in the orchestrations. And the arrangements mattered. The strings, horns and were beyond the trash you found on AM radio of the day. Kane’s words were a bold expression of how love should triumph over all. The gentle piano chords during Cheri coming out of the first musical break after the chorus had special choreography all on their own. That subtle chord progression explained the risk queers had in seeking love. I had it all planned out.
Hey, I was fourteen. As a lonely gayboy I needed this shit in the worst way. All of my straight friends were pairing up, I had no one. I had me my disco queens and those women put those words before me. I dreamt of Dancing Kings and wanted to make out with sexy young Princes. These women sang about things that I dare not even say to myself. Forbidden Love became my anthem. It’s the song I carry with me to this day.
My fifteenth birthday was right around the corner. Along with another candle on my cake and my voice finally cracking, I descended along into the last sweltering days of my summer vacation of 1979 and my freshman year of high school. Dark days of HIV/AIDS were ahead for me a few years down the road. But in that moment, I didn’t know. I just wanted to escape, dance and proclaim to a world of my own making how much these words of forbidden love and secret love affairs meant. Everything to me at that point in my life was secretive.
With John Rechy and Gordon Merrick – along with Andrew Holleran, Paul Monette, Armistead Maupin, Larry Kramer and the others in my back pack – all wrapped up in book covers made out of paper bags so no one knew what I was reading, I escaped into stories of men who fell in love with other men – the way I wanted to. Their words, paired with these ladies, collectively, they gave me permission to express myself. These weren’t just some random words or notes on a page, some song that a singer sang – they were my heart, sweat and blood I felt coming back to me, pouring out of each and every track or page in a book. These ladies voices of love, seared into my mind and heart and married up with the salacious and soul searching words of men, authors, I admired that filled my teen years. Together they formed the man I was going to become. They never knew it. That wasn’t the point, really. It’s what I needed. It’s what mattered.
From that earliest time when I begged my grandmother to buy me my very first record – a 45rpm of Diana Ross’ Do You Know Where You’re Going To? (a rather prophetic choice, no?) I knew that music would be a heavy influence in my life. It would connect an often disconnected world for me. In them I could escape into what I couldn’t find for myself in the world I saw around me.
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I was too young to get into the clubs in San Diego. Those days were still about four years off for me – underage queer clubs were just starting to pop up.
For the time being, I was just starting to get my groove on. Fashion was starting to become important. How I expressed myself really became important – even when I got slapped down for it (disco wear didn’t go down well in my high school – let’s just leave it at that).
But for now, here are a few of the ladies who gave me that sense of expression, they allowed me to soar, encouraged me to revel in who I was becoming. Never to fear who I was, nor to be ashamed of it. It wasn’t always so easy. Many a night I’d spend listening and dancing to them over and over again, if anything to bolster me up to face another hellish day of high school. By the time I was eighteen I’d had a few summer jobs and my music library had already expanded to well over 300 albums, 12″ disco singles and remixes. It was the beginnings of my DJ days that would dominate my life through the 1980s. So here they are – with the undeniable Queen of them all at the top (samples with BUY LINKS in artist name):
Until next time …
– SA C
So, a little Grandma time.
Since the earliest time I can remember, my grandmother was an integral part of my upbringing. Her influence colors what I do to this day some fifty years later. Growing up half-Latino, I was immersed in the culture from my first breath. For Latinos, or as I like to identify now – given my queer life – Latinx, family is everything. So much so, that your decisions in life are sometimes guided by (and even hampered by) what the family will think. Doesn’t mean you don’t buck the system, you just have to be a bit more clever about doing it.
As I said a few posts ago, my mother and father both worked day jobs. So from a very early age my maternal grandmother (and my mother’s sister, mi tia) held enormous influence over my younger years. That’s not to say it wasn’t filled with love and laughter – for there was plenty of that. Being the first grandchild, I was practically inundated with gifts, love and pride. Just the fact I was healthy and breathing seemed to be the only requirement for me to retain that lofty family status. The favorite. Only because I had the luck of the draw to be the first.
My brother (and sister, to a degree) both felt the weight of my being the favorite. I acknowledge that now, but at the time I did everything I could to deny it – even when I knew it to be true.
We had some very quirky things that were customary in our family. Traits that I don’t think many other families had. For instance, it was absolute sacrilege in my family that if Spanish Rice graced the dinner table, there was a complete order to how it was served, if you bucked the system there were repercussions. This came home to roost when my tia invited her then boyfriend, who sadly became her fiancé later – for the man was a compete idiot – and her boyfriend reached over to serve himself a helping of the rice from somewhere in the middle of the dish and the entire family froze on the spot. Conversations ceased, and all eyes moved to my grandmother, who as the grand matriarch of the family, we all gauged how she – and by extension, we – should react. She held up a hand and calmly said, “It’s alright. He doesn’t know.” Why that sticks with me to this day and why I still follow how to serve Spanish Rice in my own home is rather bizarre. But I still do it, confident that if I don’t she’d come from the spirit world and give me a whack across my hands.
It seems like a simple thing. You have a dish to serve at dinner, why not just scoop some up onto your plate, right? Turns out, not so much.
But nothing with our family was quite that simple. Many things were like that.
I’ll give you another: there was a room in my grandmother’s house that had ornate furniture – completely covered in plastic – which was so prevalent at that time, but here’s the thing: we weren’t allowed to go into that room whenever we were at her house. It struck me as rather odd because it was like having a fully decorated room in the house but couldn’t ever enjoy it. And it’s not like we were rich or something. In fact, having a “museum” like room only pointed out the fact that we were rather poor. The lesson to be learned here? Have something nice? You lock it away and don’t let anyone come near it. The only time we ever used the room was during Christmas. In those early childhood years we alternated between everyone coming over to my parents house and going to my grandparents house. It was a very special treat to go there and to sit in the forbidden room.
I never understood that forbidden room as a child until many years later when traveling down the road my grandmother used to take we kids down from my parent’s home in Spring Valley, to her house closer to downtown San Diego. I was on that road with my mother many years later who told me a story about a house very near to a busy traffic corner where we had stopped, waiting for our signal to continue. Oddly enough, we’d been discussing that museum room in her parent’s house the day before where I expressed my confusion over its existence.
“Did you ever wonder why your grandmother had that room in perfect condition? And why you kids were never allowed to go into it?”
Of course I jumped at the chance to hear why that room existed. It was a huge mystery in my childhood.
“Well, sure.” I added, hoping that I’d get some really deep, dark family secret. Ya know, like a body was buried underneath. Something really fucking scary to explain the step one toe in that room and you’ll pull back a stump feeling about it.
“It goes back to a girl that your grandmother went to school with. Her family had money. Your grandmother’s didn’t. But they put on airs that they did. Anyway, your grandma was very envious of this girl. From what I know, the girl didn’t rub your grandmother’s face in it. But because they had it, and it showed in the way they lived, your grandmother coveted that sort of lifestyle and expression of money. Not having it was hard on your grandma.”
I turned to look over my shoulder at the house half a block back from the corner we were sitting at waiting for the light to change. “So, what’s that house have to do with it?”
“That’s where the girl grew up and got married and ended up living. Your grandmother was very jealous of her.”
“Why? It’s not like they were best friends or anything.”
“Because your grandmother had always been like that – obsessed with money and power. It’s why that room is the way it is. If she couldn’t have an entire house like that she would have a room that would say how she wanted others to think of her.”
While I finally had an answer, It made me even more confused on what to do with that information. You have to understand that this revelation from my mother was years after my grandmother’s death. So it wasn’t like I could go ask her for her side of the story. Though, thinking on it now, I am not too sure she would’ve admitted it to me. Yet, I had more than enough examples where I’d experienced my grandmother’s obsession with exerting power and influence – she did it to my grandfather all of his life. She was a very formidable woman. A woman who loved the crap out of me, but also could be equally vicious if she was ever crossed. I was smart enough not to do that so for the most part that pointed barb of hers never was pointed my direction. But I’d seen her do it to others.
From her I learned perception is everything, even above family. Yet, from my mother I learned that you can never control perceptions from others – “…at best, all you can do is mitigate it. You can never control what they think of you.”
Got it – perceptions can be mitigated, but never controlled. A very valuable life lesson.
It’s why I am obsessed with writing about perceptions. They color everything you do, whether you want to acknowledge their presence or not. They are your guiding force. Growing up in a family obsessed with perceptions went a long way to forming the man I’ve become. Comng from the lower end of the middle class, perceptions ruled my entire world. It was also one of the reasons why my mother didn’t want Spanish spoken in the house. She didn’t want her children to deal with having an accent. It was her way of mitigating those very perceptions that could hold us back. So English was the dominant language. So much so, we practically became Anglophiles in the process.
But it wasn’t all about control, power and perceptions. There was a whole lot of love, laughter and amazing food along the way.
From my grandmother I learned my love of Mexican food and cooking. Family recipes and the love she poured into them now flavor what I make for my own family. From her I learned that you didn’t need precious measuring spoons or cups. “God gave you everything you need right here,” she’d tell me holding a cupped hand out in my direction. The message was clear: I’d learn to measure as she had, learning what a tablespoon, teaspoon and such looked like in my own hand. It was a long process, but one that I embraced because I wanted it to taste as good as hers did.
At least I didn’t have to learn how to roll the perfect tortilla in three rolls of the pin. My mother learned how to do it that way from her grandmother. If she failed to roll that perfect tortilla by the third roll, she got a rather hard whack on her hand for her “lack of effort” in getting it done. So I counted my blessings that no whacking of the hands happened with my learning how to cook. Refried beans from scratch? Yeah, I did that. Fideo, lord almighty, her fideo was legendary, with my mother’s coming a close second. but I learned that too. Chili Reinos, Spanish Rice, Albondigas, Pozole, Menudo, all of it. From her, more than anyone, my latinx heritage was secured. The latin women of my family ensured my love of my culture. The food, family life, ritual and traditions of our race. Viva la raza and all of that. I have to admit, I didn’t always feel it. Probably the queer kid in me taking root. And it’s a tricky thing for me to embrace wholly even now. I still struggle with it. Mostly because there is still so much of my heritage that stands against who I am. It’s a tough road to walk.
Yet, the food. The food is what brings me back. Every time I have Albondigas, I don’t just think of family, I feel them course through me, their memories and love flavoring the soup with each successive spoonful.
Being the first grandchild, I got to enjoy things my brother and sister didn’t. I get that. I feel a tad guilty for it, but it wasn’t anything I did other than being born first. So one such guilty pleasure was something rather silly but meant the world to a three year old boy: I had a specially crafted seat in my grandparents 1962 Cadillac.
Okay, it wasn’t a special seat made just for me. It was actually a double-wide arm rest but my little butt fit onto it and could nestle myself in the indent where the armrest could be stowed when not in use. So I sort of made it my own seat. Now, this was years before the whole click it or ticket sort of thing. We lived on the edge. Kids riding carefree in the back of pickup trucks with no seat belts, nothing to keep their butts on the bed of the truck. Hell, there were times my brother, sister and I would stand up in the back of my dad’s old Ford pickup, gripping the wrought iron frame he had in the back helping us stay in the damned truck.
My brother and sister probably resented the fact that I was the favorite. No, thinking on it now, there is no probably about it. They definitely did. My grandmother made no bones about it. She came from an era where that happened and no one questioned it. My parents, on the other hand, weren’t so accepting of that sort of tradition. As much as my grandmother was obsessed with perceptions about the family, my father was equally obsessed with each of his children being treated fairly. It had become so lopsided that my parents had a rather large fight with my grandparents that they had to treat the three of their children equally or they wouldn’t see any of us at all.
My mother said that it broke my grandmother’s heart to be given that ultimatum, but it was necessary so that my brother and sister wouldn’t grow up to hate me. I got that and was thankful for my parents having the courage and foresight to nip that one in the bud. The thing is, I don’t know that they were all that successful in detecting when she did favor me. Because I can recall many times she did long after being given that edict from my parents. All it did was serve to drive it underground. She was just more clever on how she gave me a bit more than my brother or sister. On some level I knew it still went on. But I was a kid. You bet your ass I took whatever extra came my way. I’m not proud of that now, it’s just how it played out.
But anyway, back to my custom built seat. The Caddy was a huge influence on me. Later on I’d realize that it, too, was an expression of my grandmother wanting to appear rich when we were anything but. But at the time I didn’t know any of that. All I knew was, as a young boy, I had a small throne for the little prince to ride around in. From that I got that a little favoritism went a long way to building confidence. In those early years i felt like I could do anything. I had a confidence that when my grandmother told me I was special and I could do anything, I felt like I really could.
That didn’t last all the way through my childhood. But in those early years, it mattered. And that wasn’t because they stopped believing in me as I grew older. It was just that, as my queer self started to blossom, I realized just how removed I was from all of them. That’s where the self-doubt and hiding from them all began.
Yet, those few years in that Caddy, that specially designed seat my grandmother had made just for me, meant the world. I still can’t see one of those bullet shaped taillights on that car and not feel a bit whimsical for my youth. I’d probably trade a year off my life to be a young boy in that “special seat” one more time.
This last part doesn’t have to do with my grandmother so much as it does the influence she had on our lives.
I’m talking about the years I don’t remember quite as well that haunt my thoughts to this day. These are the earliest years of my life that I’d like to watch like a fly on the wall. Years when I was told that everything that had to do with me as a young boy were celebrated to the nth degree. In the Latin culture, boys are celebrated at birth, girls are lamented. This is because, for my people, boys rule and our lives are generally lived unfettered by “you can’t or you shouldn’t” – where that’s all the girls hear. For girls born into Latin families, their lives are seen as hard and unforgiving. To a great degree, though our family did its level best to keep things as an even playing field. my sister did deal with harsher realities than me. It’s one of the reasons to this day that I admire her so. In that adversity both within the culture and within the family, she found a way to prosper. I am sure she had to work nearly twice as hard as I did. I was there for her in every way I could think of, but I also know how much easier I had it by being born male. I am all too aware of the male privilege that I enjoy. Times are changing, but it didn’t escape my sight that my sister had a much harder time of it. But like those strong women of my Latinx family, my sister gave me probably the greatest gift of all – to never give up despite what life throws at you. Her perseverance in life feeds my own.
Love ya, sis. I think even Grandma would be proud of how we turned out.
Until next time …
There’s been much talk as of late in the blogosphere with queers commenting on when they realized “they knew” … when their bright shiny unicorn buried deep inside of them decided to make itself known.
The funny thing is I think I knew from a very early age. My parents had a lot to deal with when I came along. I was their first, and I was as precocious as all fuck, too. I was speaking full sentences by the age of two. Language came easily to me. By the time I was in the third grade I was testing out with a college level vocabulary.
I mean, how many kids did you know that used facetious in a sentence … (CORRECTLY) while on the playground?! My inner unicorn was LOUD n’ PROUD before there was such a thing. Okay, maybe Stonewall had happened by then. But in my little backwater east county suburb of a conservative Navy town like San Diego, there were no two ways about it – I was odd.
BIG ol’ rainbow shooting out my ass Unicorn odd.
Mom said my dad always knew about me – even before I was born. Now, mind you, this was before they used the term gay, so this had to be a fairly odd conversation to have between my uber Catholic mother and my reservation born n’ bred father. But somehow they got through it.
So I have often pondered, when the subject came up, just when I knew I was that way.
While I don’t think I thought of boys sexually from the time I was six or seven, I knew that boys held a certain fascination for me. I didn’t want to run around and rough house play like they did. No, I wanted to let them do that and then come back to the play house the girls were using so I could make them dinner and stuff. I like taking care of guys – always have. But not mother them … it wasn’t like that. At least not the way I saw it.
So while I can certainly point to moments in my young queer boy life that said I was solidly in the boy-of-the-month card carrying fan club, it didn’t take on any sexual context until puberty hit. Until then it was just very strong feelings I had for the boys around me. Girls were someone you could talk to and connect emotionally about stuff. That was about the extent of my need or use for them. Nice to chat with, laugh with, watch boys with, but beyond that they got a big ol’ shrug out of me. And let’s be honest, they were the competition as far as I was concerned.
But boy howdy did I gush about some of the boys in my school. Vincent, Gregory, Bobby (yes, that Bobby who I grew up with and I’ve written about here on the Quill before), Bob (another Robert in my life – there were many of them – it was a popular name, I guess). There were so many of them over the years. Neil … Jesus, on the fucking mountain … Neil! Junior high crush of the fucking year! And the dude was packing – jussayin. You bet your ass I looked. Okay, I’ll put that memory away for now. It’s probably better for this post that I do.
So yeah, I can definitely say that I knew I was different from other boys (who were interested in girls) from a very early age.
I can recall that as a five year old my gayness factor skyrocketed (even if I didn’t really have a word for it) when I saw Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl. I don’t know why the first line she uttered began to define my fey ways, but it did. Barbra became a goddess to me – even back then. Hell, she still is now. Even as cliche as that sounds.
So when did the sexuality of it all come about? When did I realize that what I wanted from boys could be more than gushy feelings? When did I realize that what I felt was … gay?
That’s simple. I know exactly when it happened.
At around 5:30pm on the Merv Griffin Show and the guest? Donna Summer.
The song? Love to Love You, Baby
It was 1976 and I was twelve. But for a gayboy like me to hear a song that unabashedly sexual in nature sorta reset my queer clock. For some reason the moans Donna poured into that song flipped that switch in me and I knew what those sounds she was making were about. I wouldn’t experience them for myself for another four years but – from her lips to my ears – I got it.
Thus began my love for dance music, Donna Summer (I was an epically huge fan – even met her on a couple of occasions) and my burgeoning gayness.
Side note: yeah, I remember the backlash against her when she supposedly said about gays and the bible. We all make mistakes and the truth of it is I saw for myself that she wasn’t that way. She spent enormous amounts of time speaking with gay men who still loved her but were dealing with HIV/AIDS and it was quite obvious that they were dealing with it. Donna only showed incredible compassion and love for a fan who it meant a great deal that they got to speak with her. So to the gays who kicked her unnecessarily during those dark days, I saw differently for myself. End of story.
I was often asked by straight guys (including my own father) I knew who were aware of my gay ways, why did I have such a fascination for women vocalists and dance (disco, soul, R&B, etc) music when most of them were listening to male rock singers?
Well the dance music thing was fairly simple – being a QoC (Queer of Color) – my Latino blood pretty much dictated that dancing was in the cards for me. I probably came out of my mother’s womb dancing. Soul, R&B, disco, you name it … they were always a part of the musical tapestry in our home. Everyone in my family knew how to dance. I just did it with greater style – or so I was often told.
But the women singer thing … that’s a bit harder for me to nail. I suppose because I never really gave it any thought. I guess it was because they often sang about the men in their lives and those songs spoke to me. When France Joli (a lovely Canadian singer who I discovered that was around my age and had a career at the age of 15 just blew my socks off – God, how I love her) sang “Come To Me” I was right there with her. So much so, that when I wrote my first novel I made damned sure my main character Elliot Donahey heard her song when the love of his life, Marco Sforza, seduces him (in Angels of Mercy – Volume One: Elliot).
These women sang about things that had started to make themselves known to a young gayboy like me. How my feelings for men – often unrequited – only served to make me yearn for them even more.
By the time I was twelve I already had a very large vinyl collection of disco, soul and R&B singers. And yeah, 98% of them were women. Sex sold, and as a hormonally flushed teenage boy, I was an avid buyer. These women gave me my young gayboy voice in those early formative years.
Don’t even bring up the duet between Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer in the Spring of 1979 … I lost my shit over that song for weeks. So much so that by the fourth or fifth week of my playing No More Tears (Enough is Enough) my mother pretty much said the same thing – “Enough already … play something else!” (The link below is a VERY RARE capture of the actual recording session where you can hear all of the harmonies between all of the singers – sans the music – truly an interesting version to listen to).
So, instead of playing something else, as she suggested, I just put the headphones on and danced my ever-loving gayboy ass off.
Yet there was one album that defined how I saw romance as a gayboy. Again, it was Donna Summer who gave it to me: her seminal album, Once Upon A Time …
This concept album (which were all the rage in the late seventies and early eighties) is still on my absolute must haves. It had everything and said everything to me. I know that album backwards and forwards and every little nuance buried in between.
This album is everything to me. It was written by Donna Summer and her production team as a theater piece. There were talks along the way in her career of bringing it to the stage as a play. It would definitely work. While there are definitely dance numbers in this work, the scope of the songs is very broad. Some of the most interesting ballads I’ve ever heard exist on this album. For a young 13 year old this album wasn’t an easy sell for my parents. It was a double-length LP to begin with – which meant that it was EXPENSIVE. Nearly $20. In the late 1970s that was truly asking quite a lot. I had to bust my ass with chores around the house to scrounge up the cash. Lucky for me my birthday came along half way to my goal so I put it out there to anyone in my family who listened (and you can bet your ass I made DAMNED sure they heard me) that all I wanted was THAT ALBUM.
My parents came through for me. I got the album and disappeared from family life for the better part of that summer listening to it. We had a music room in our house and I’d go in there from the time I got up each morning and I’d dance, sing and strut my shit to this album as if I were on Broadway. Eating didn’t even enter my thoughts when I had that album on. I’d start in the morning and by the time I was ready for a breather it was dinner time. My mom always said that room would be steaming up like a sauna.
“Open some damned windows …”
I visualized the whole damned thing. I even invented a story I could weave to tie the songs together. No other album ignited my imagination (back then, or since) than that album. The music slightly dated in that late 1970s way (it was released in 1977) but I think they still hold up today. I hope that Donna’s daughter, Mimi, can realize this collection of songs on the stage at some point.
What I didn’t realize until now (as I write this post), is that this album also sparked my interest in storytelling. My interest in crafting a story around this concept album started it all. That is truly astounding that I didn’t put it together until now, nearly forty years later!
So maybe this whole gay thing was just my way to find my voice. My big gay unicorn voice. And somehow these bold women helped me sort that out when I was just so confused on why I felt what I was feeling. Boys rocked my world. They also were my worst nightmares. Music, escaping into that land of dance and song, is what kept me going. It’s where I licked wounds. It’s where I dreamt of boys to come, imagined love, lamented breakups that hadn’t happened yet but I knew would be coming my way. It’s where I crushed hard, where I sang and danced my ever loving ass off. So yeah, Love to Love You, Baby is where it began for me. That’s when my fascination with boys became real. It’s when it all started to make sense. And that feeling is what kept me dancing.
Even now, I catch myself dancing to a tune from that era … and that little gayboy me still is in there wiggling away – still hopeful, still wanting to find his way in Boytown, USA. Last Dance hasn’t been called. I still got plenty moves in me yet. Dance on, lil gay unicorn, dance on.
Age: 8 years old
Place: Spring Valley, CA (Suburb of San Diego)
This one took a bit of time to gestate. Yeah, writing these is the closest I’ll come to giving birth. Now, I know my dad always said that that distinction was solely for the passing of kidney stones (and yes, I’ve had one and I’ll have to agree with him on it), but in my case – cranking these bad boys out is just as gut wrenching because they’re my memories, my life experiences I am allowing to bubble up and show up here on the VQR blog.
So, why do them? That’s the obvious question, right? So obvi – as the kids say these days. Jesus, as a sidebar conversation, can I tell you I am always in a constant state of grousing that I get to refer to people younger than me as “kids” and it actually means something? I just fucking hate that. I have such a great appreciation for my elders (who are still kicking it around) now that I am at that age they were when I was younger. They were right: it looks totally different from this side of that youth obsessed, ageist fence.
To answer that question, before I get rolling on the topic at hand, I am doing it because I don’t feel queer people document their lives as much as we should. It’s sort of a catch 22 with me: in that, I come from an early enough era where I am highly suspicious about what our governments are doing with all of this information that is constantly pouring from the masses. We’re being cataloged, categorized and reduced to algorithms that work to predict our next move. So, given that, why contribute? Because our voice is an important one. Each of our journeys is what’s missing from the greater discussion. As queer people we’ve become inured to the heteronormative message out there as if our own voice has less credence and doesn’t belong in the mainstream context. That’s why I am doing this.
Adding one more queer man’s voice to the mix, preserving another queer history, even if it is only my own.
This one took a bit because it deals with three areas of my life that have always been a bit of a quandary to me, mostly because they center around my intimate relationships with other boys. Some were good, others, yeah, not so much. But the one common thread – they were all definitively male.
Yeah why not go with the worst part, right? Like ripping off of a bandage, just do it first and do it fast and the worst will be over.
Here’s the dealio: every queer kid who didn’t have the luxury of passing as anything but queer has their battle stories, how the other boys made their lives hell. Yeah I have mine, too.
The first real “incident” (as it was come to be called by the staff at La Presa Elementary) was between me and an asswipe of a guy named Eddie. He was Latino, like me (remember, Collins is a nom de plume), something that should’ve made me a part of the tribe, right? Only in this case, being singled out as a sissy, a faggot, or queer, my being Latino like him only served to make it worse.
Latino men are consumed with that whole macho masculine mystique. Yeah, I am here to bear witness that ninety-nine percent of that is utter bullshit. For the most part it is all put-on airs and doing what’s expected of them by those pushy Latina women who do their level best to make sure their men act like some fucked-up myopic view of what a man is. Believe me, women should be the LAST fucking word on that. Look to your own, ladies. That whole “I need me a real man” is so fucked from the moment that fecal-laced thought ever forms in your fucking heads.
Yeah, I went there.
I do blame Latin women for it, HOOK, LINE and FUCKING SINKER. Ninety-nine point 999 percent of male-induced homophobia can be drawn right back to that whole concept of “what makes up a man.“ Yet, that’s never been the case for women. You got tits? Ya got a vagina – bang! You’re a woman. I’ll not devolve into the fucked up male connotations of what makes a perfect woman because I am not using that POV to apply it to men. Body modifications, imagery aside, we’re just talking what makes the grade of being Man or Woman enough. Women get an automatic pass. Got the anatomy (trans ladies aside for the sake of this point, if tangentially relevant)? Then you’re in, you’re a part of the club. Got a cock and balls, is nowhere NEAR good enough to label you as a man. We have qualifiers for what makes up a “real man” and that shit is what builds bullies. That shit is what makes queer boys like me fret for our very lives.
[stepping down from my soap box]
So, La Presa Elementary and Eddie.
He was not the first to bully me at school, but he was the most significant. He was the first to move beyond the name calling. He was the first to physically threaten me and he did it while other kids were around. Publicly.
I was in the third grade. He was in sixth. Hardly a match to begin with, wouldn’t you say? But that’s the way of bullies. They only target those that are a sure win. They’re bullies, not brave. Let’s not confuse the two. There is no courage on breaking the weaker among your own. That’s nothing but cowardice, plain and simple.
Only, knowing that, even at that age, and being the precocious child I was, I did have that partially sussed out, on some level. I knew he was afraid of who I was. He didn’t like me, yet he didn’t even know me. He only knew what other kids had said about me. I was in third grade for fuck sake. Why else would a sixth grader bother?
Looking back on it now, I can sort of see that maybe he was afraid he was more like me than he wanted to admit. We’ll never know.
Wanna know why?
Here’s how it went down:
I remember that it was a fairly good day for me. Music time was right around the corner for me (remember Mrs. Sowers and my Julie Andrews ways in third grade?). So the day was looking up for me. I had my favorite lunch – cheese sandwich on Roman Meal bread. So life was good. I wanted to think it was just going to be a peachy school day.
Then Eddie changed all of that.
The lunch recess bell rang. We all had to make our way to our respective class lines to march – well, walk back (it wasn’t a military school) to our classes. Only I got waylaid by Eddie. He came up from out of nowhere. A bunch of kids were walking alongside me and I remember running my fingers along the chain link fence, humming a song that had been trapped in my head for a good part of that month. I had just begun to notice popular music that was on the radio. And that only created a new form of musical torture – musical ear worms, songs that you just couldn’t give up humming no matter how hard you tried. I remember being so caught up in humming that song, taking my sweet time to fall into line for Mrs. Sowers class, that just as I was about to get to my class line, a rough hand reached out, gripped my shoulder and pushed me very hard into the fence.
My whole world stopped …
This was the first time anything violent had happened to me. I was stunned. The funny thing was, kids saw it, but didn’t stop him from doing it, they didn’t say a thing about it.
In their defense, Eddie was a big guy for a sixth grader. From what I’d heard, he was actually held back twice because he just wasn’t smart enough to move on. I don’t know if that was true, and as I said earlier, it wouldn’t matter much in the long run.
To give you an idea of what I was up against, he was a few inches shy of five and half feet tall. Big for an elementary kid. He had a frog-like face, oblong from side to side – wide, and emphasized by the coke-bottle-bottom horn-rimmed glasses he wore that made his eyes look like they were about to pop out of his eye sockets at any moment. He was a husky boy. You know the type – fat-ish but no one had the balls to say that to his face so everyone said husky – the code word for fat on the playground. He had curly longish greasy black hair. When you added a bad case of acne, and his breath stunk like death warmed over, it only completed the monster image I had of him at that moment.
I remember every detail about his face and breath because it was now inches from my own.
“I don’t like you.” He breathed heavily into my face.
“Why? I don’t even know you.”
“‘Cause you’re a queer kid. All the guys say you’re queer. I don’t like queers. I smear queers.”
I don’t know why I remember those words as clearly as I do. Or why his greasy hair, bulging eyes and fetid breath still are as clear to me all these years later but I guess it’s because it was the first time I was truly scared.
But something in me changed. I don’t know where it came from. I’ve always had a smart mouth – it’s both my curse and my joy. I’ve used it to great success and to my utter demise at times. I know it now for what it is. I do my best to curb it when I can feel it won’t do me any good.
Only this time? Yeah, I didn’t know when to keep my trap shut.
“What’re you gonna do? Hit me?”
He smiled. He had teeth that were so yellow that I just knew I wasn’t going to come out of this alive. You’d think that’d be enough to keep my trap shut. It wasn’t.
“I’m gonna mess you up good.”
And I don’t know where the next thing that fell out of my mouth came from, but I went there.
“If you hit me, you’ll be sorry. ‘Cause I curse you. Something really bad is gonna happen to you.” What that was, I had no idea. It just fell out of my mouth.
That stopped him for like a second, then he laughed his ass off, exposing those yellow stinky teeth. I remember seeing his fist pull back and I knew in the next second I was gonna feel a whole lot of pain.
“Eddie! What do you think you’re doing?” Mr, Tibbets called out to him. I was never more thankful for that growly-assed teacher to be near me as I was then. Brown growly bear suit or not, he was a godsend.
“I think you need to get into our line, Eddie, and we’re gonna have a little talk with the Principal after school.”
See, my little curse was already working.
Only I didn’t think it would go beyond that. But it did …
A week later he was hit by a car crossing that same damned boulevard where all the accidents happened. He didn’t die, but he was paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of his life. He never did come back to our school.
Word spread from the kids who witnessed it. I remember all the kids giving me a wide-birth when word finally got around to what happened to him. I knew I didn’t do anything other than let my mouth get the better of me. In a way, it was a very lonely time on the playground. No one wanted to be near me. I was the kid who gave curses. I didn’t mind, really. Being left alone was safer. I began to just use my imagination and invent things and people I could feel safe around. I’d walk the large perimeter of the recess grounds – which were quite large. I’d sing songs to myself. I would stop and watch other kids play. I wanted to be a part of it. But it was safer for me if I didn’t.
So I didn’t.
Empty victory, really. But I learned a valuable lesson. Two, actually, when I thought on it:
Recesses and playtime were never the same after that. I was always looking over my shoulder, always an ear to the ground. Danger could come from anywhere.
Words. It was when I learned he power of words.
Words were only the warning flag. Being called a sissy, a queer or a faggot was only the beginning of where it could go. Boys could do real harm to me. Boys I liked could be part of that. That’s an awful lot to swallow for a third grader. My parents reared my brother, sister and me knowing that life was often unfair and something could happen to them at any time. We needed to be prepared for that. I memorized our phone number from an early age (kindergarten, in fact) just so I would always have a number to call when something went wrong. Grandma would be there during the day to take care of things if something happened.
But with all that preparation, I don’t think they ever thought that something could happen to me. Maybe they did. They often thought of a great many things before I did. But it was the first time I realized that something could happen to me and I could be hurt. Badly.
My world changed that day. Eddie got his. I hated thinking that, but some small part of me was glad that he wasn’t going to be in a position to do anything to me in the future.
I was a big fan of Bewitched. I practiced twitching my nose and practiced my spell-casting as an extra means of protection. It never worked, obviously. But it gave me something to take my mind off of being so alone. My brother and sister were at the same school but being in first and kindergarten they were relegated to the smaller kids’ part of the playground. So it was just me, to myself.
I learned later on that Eddie didn’t have a great home life. He was picked on by his family at home. That’s another indicator of bullying – they’re usually bullied somewhere else and its a learned reaction.
So I forgive you and your fear of me, Eddie, wherever you are. In a very odd way, you gave me the lens that I needed to see how to watch out for myself. So in that way, I thank you.
I got by, made the transition to fourth grade before that homophobic monster would rear its head again. But I’ll leave that for another telling.
Until next time …
Years: 1972, 78, 81, 82 and 84.
Ages: 8, 13, 17, 18, 20.
Place: San Diego, CA USA
I’m gay. I’ve never made bones about it. I remember being fascinated by boys from a very early age. Didn’t know what that meant back then, but yeah, big queer boy me. Boys like Vincent, Gregory, Raymond, Neil (sweet holy Jesus, NEIL – I crushed HARD on that boy) as well as others in my class and at school.
After my year of kindergarten at Highlands, I was able to be relocated from the first grade on at La Presa Elementary which was directly across Jamacha Boulevard from our house (Jamacha, if you’ll recall from my previous posts, is the main four lane thoroughfare that ran perpendicular to our street – the one where people drove 50 mph down that street and kids would still dash across it to short-cut not having to walk an extra couple of blocks further to an actual traffic signal cross-walk). Youth being eight bags of stupid and all.
Anyway, my life at La Presa was a mixed bag. For the most part, I loved going there. The teachers I had were all amazing in their own way – even Mr. Tibbitts in my sixth grade year who had his growly bear (read: brown) suit that when he wore it we were on notice not to fuck with him that day ’cause he was in a baaaaaaaad mood. But yeah, for the most part my years at that school were fairly golden.
I had friends. Well, kids I got along with. I wouldn’t say we were “friends” in the strictest sense. More like agreeable playmates. Because even then I was singled out as being different. I was not only bright and delighted in making my thoughts known (even back then I didn’t hide my opinions) and loved to demonstrate my mental prowess with the teachers and class, but I was always, always, always trying to be nice to everyone. It wasn’t easy. Somehow I broke a rule for boys that I never knew existed. I dunno, maybe I missed a boyhood meeting and that memo never made it to my house with a great big ol’ “where the fuck were you? we had some serious shit to discuss …” attached to it?
Anyway, my über smartypants ways didn’t win me any big awards with the guys at my school. I was an insufferable know-it-all, I suppose. But I think most gayboys are. It’s our defense mechanism that is trying desperately to kick in and somehow send a big ol’ signal that you better not fuck with us. When all it does is say please, fuck with us. [You can insert your eye roll here – ’cause it’s what I’m doing.]
I was also artistic in every sense of the word. I knew every song from all the classic Broadway musicals – like The Sound of Music (I was a snob about it, too – only the Julie Andrews version. Mary Martin’s singing drove me up the fucking wall – even at six or seven). I just couldn’t handle Ms. Martin’s constant sliding into every damned note she sang. It wasn’t a style, it was a sloppy way of singing, is what it was.
But I knew how to sing them all (King and I, Carousel, Flower Drum Song, and My Fair Lady, you name it – I had them ALL memorized).
I got to demonstrate this early on in life when in the third grade, Mrs. Sowers, who I thought was a dead ringer for Barbra Streisand (and she could play the piano REALLY well – an added bonus for a burgeoning gayboy like me!), would have music time and I sang my ever-loving-heart out. I knew passages to songs that no kid in their right mind would ever know. Sore thumb doesn’t begin to describe it. I was a boy soprano of the highest order. Right up there in that vocal register that Julie loved to sing. Lord, it’s a good thing I hadn’t heard Queen of the Night by Mozart at that stage or I’d’ve driven my family bonkers. I could easily assail into that whistle register that some boy sopranos had in spades. I was right there with them. And I sure as hell knew how to use it.
Anyway, Mrs. Sowers loved that I was a precocious little singer and didn’t mind in the least to lead the class on Do-Re-Mi and even sang the introduction that Julie sings before the part everyone else knows so well …
Yeah, the kids hated my ass whenever we got to that song. Me? I loved it. I got to be Julie for fuck sake! I had SUCH a boy crush for Christopher Plummer as the Captain. Still do. I watch that movie for him, don’tcha know. The songs are the icing on the cake (and yeah, even to this day I can’t watch the damned movie without singing along). But when the Captain is on the tube, yowsah – I am on full-on crush mode.
Damn, he is a fuck stud of a man. Beautiful doesn’t begin to describe him.
See what I mean?
Anyway, the overriding point I am trying to make here was that my queerness was set from a very early part of my young gayboy life. I didn’t run from it. I embraced it – once I knew what “it” was.
So where do the girls come into this? And how did they cloud the issue? First off, let me clarify something here that I think is very noteworthy: sexuality is a very sticky wicket (yeah, I went there with the double entendre), in that even when you know who and what you are, there are always exceptions. Recently both Ricky Martin and Jussie Smollett, both self identifying gay men, said that they were definitively gay but wouldn’t rule out a relationship (sexual or otherwise) with a woman. That’s were the queer factor kicks in for we gayboys. Now, admittedly, not every gay boy feels this way.
I’ve had small conversations and FB exchanges with an established gay porn star (and prolific business man), Antonio BIaggi (if you don’t know who he is I recommend you look him up – ’cause uh, yeah, yowsah doesn’t begin to cover him). I’ve followed him on Facebook and follow his twitter and blogs. He’s not only a prolific gay porn star, but he’s a great human being and a champion of animal rights. But even he, a self-identifying gay man in a sex oriented business (he recently branched out into fashion), recently posted he went to a straight strip club and found one of the girls there hotter than shit and he said he’d entertain “doing her.” So see? Not so cut and dry.
The point I am trying to make is that even when you self-identify as something, the lines are often blurred on where gay ends and something else begins. Not for every queer boy, but yeah, it happens. And that’s where I was – er, uh, am. It still is.
That was me in my early queer kid years. Girls, especially tomboy girls, confused the hell out of me. I had two such friends/playmates I’d hang around with at recess: Norma and Silvia. Both were definitely girls in that they didn’t have short hair cuts (they both had long hair – Norma’s was dishwater blond and Silvia’s was a very curly dark brown). They were nice to me and we got along. Oddly enough, they both came from a very strict household and generally wasn’t allowed to see or go over to other school friends houses once school was over. That didn’t mean I didn’t break that rule with them at their parent’s house, we just had to be clever about it – doing so before they came home from work.
Norma wasn’t overly pretty – in fact you might say she was rather non-descript. She had straight eyebrows (literally, they had NO arch to them at all), they were slightly bushy (this was before Brooke Shields made it a thing with Blue Lagoon), and she wore clothes that had been in fashion at least a few years before. Never anything current. I remember when she first came to our school in the third grade she wore a simple dress that definitely had a thrift store look about it that was a drab brown with four pockets on it – each pocket had a word embroidered on it – Handy, Candy, Daddy, Mommy. The kids teased her mercilessly by singing a made up song – “Handy Candy Daddy, Handy Candy Mommy” – I am sure she hated it. She never wore the damned thing again after that day.
Anyway, Norma (and Silvia) were sort of havens of safety for me. I could hang out with them at school and eventually I would go over to their houses and, by the sixth and seventh grades, I’d go there and just do stuff.
But here’s where the other part eked its way into my queer world. Both girls kind of got me excited. And by excited I meant in that way that young boys get excited about being alone around girls. I admit it. I wanted to fuck them both. I’d seen Playboy by this time, I wasn’t so off the fucking mark I didn’t know what went where and why. But here’s the deal that took me a while to sort it: looking back I can see that they both were very boyish in their body types. Neither girl were buxom in the remotest sense. They had very boyish looking bodies. Norma was the friskiest of the two – Silvia was far more prudish as she was a Latina from a very strict Catholic family. I was raised Catholic, too, so I got that. Silvia also had four older brothers that I did NOT want to tangle with. So I kept things cool there. Didn’t mean I didn’t want it, though.
But Norma, yeah, for some odd reason she turned my crank. I’d heard from other guys that she was already having sex. She was thirteen at this point. Her father was a piece of work and her mother was a vicious bitch so I can see where that aggression to do something was probably eating away at her to stick it to her parents. Sex, I guess, was a good way to go. We messed around a bit. She seemed to like me – god only knows why, it was pretty clear I wasn’t into girls in that way. Every kid who knew me sort of knew it. Yet, there I was, with a girl, and we were – close.
To be honest, I don’t think it meant anything to her. Not really. She was already frisky with boys at that point. I think I was just another boy for her to flip the bird to her parents (she got pregnant fairly early in life, too). But she wasn’t the only one.
I even had a girlfriend in high school for about a week (okay, it was a bit longer, but, my point being: it was brief). She was a lovely Italian girl whose entire multi-generational family lived within a one mile radius of her house. Talk about intense. The first time I went to her house they were all there. Yeah, no pressure. Thank God my parents brought me up with some solid good manners. I liked Carolina. I truly did. I just didn’t know how to tell her that my head and heart wasn’t into her sort of plumbing. It was a very awkward time for me. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. We went to a school dance together – Sadie Hawkins. The pictures are somewhere at my parent’s house and she gifted me with a silver bracelet that was engraved. Jesus, no pressure there, either.
My sister had a friend in high school (this was in my senior year and my sister was a freshman) whose name was Stacy. Stacy was hot for me – again, why, I have no idea – because at this point I was definitely GAY with big bright letters and flashing light bulbs and feathers and sequins. Hell, at that point I was going out to under-aged queer clubs.
She fascinated me. I couldn’t sort it. Why me? I was obviously gay. Now, mind you, this was at the height of the eighties New Romance movement. I was already gender bending it with guyliner and makeup. Boy George, Peter Burns and Adam Ant were my fashion gods. Maybe that was it. She was into my shit because I was already out and proud and had makeup to prove it. Nothing came of it. But it did garner my attention.
So fast-forward it a bit and there was a girl at the nightclub I went to – Studio 9 – that was a definite gay club. Boys would show up there clutching their girlfriends hands so tightly while the rest of us gayboys were placing bets how many days of coming to the club that he’d ditch the bitch and be sucking face with some other boy. It happened – A LOT …
Well, Rebecca was into me in a big way. I liked her. She was extremely pretty and very fun to be around. She’d often snake up to me, we’d dance off and on. She was close. She was cock blocking me with other boys, that’s for sure. I don’t know how or why but one night we decided to go driving around for a bit of a break. I think it was to get some booze because she had a fake ID. She was 20 and I was 18. She had dark blue-black hair that was cut in that Vidal Sassoon cut that was all the rage for girls in that era. She was glam, had a strong fashion sense, and was very forward with her sexuality. Somehow I found that alluring. Anyway, she suggested that we go get something for the gang to drink and I said I’d go with her. In truth, she wanted to have sex. We ended up in the queer section of Balboa Park in downtown San Diego (an area that was a long one-way loop that the fags and dykes called “the fruit loop”). It was a big cruising spot for gay men (and dykes hung out there, too, during the day) to hook up and have sex either in the bushes or in the lone bathroom at the far end of the loop.
Somehow we managed to drive there and park. We made out. She was very aggressive. It sort of turned me on. I don’t know if it was because we were in the gay part of the park and there I was making out with a girl or not, but we never did the actual deed. A lot of heavy petting and foreplay (rubbing through clothes and such) and yeah the windows got steamier than fuck. But no real shit happened. It wasn’t like I didn’t want it. I was bone hard through it all and she was definitely into my junk.
I can’t deny it, she turned my crank. But it didn’t happen. I think I broke it off. She giggled, we kissed some more and then went and got the booze and hooked up with our friends to party the night away in the parking lot behind the nightclub. She stuck by me most of the night. Then she never went back again. I never saw her. I knew she was close to turning 21 so maybe she just gave up the underage thing and moved on. I don’t know. I never told anyone about it. I never have even mentioned it in passing to either of my long term partners (my boyfriend of 10 years or my current husband of 20). This is the first time I’ve put it out there in the universe. But yeah, girls do sometimes eke into a gayboy’s life and muck things up.
The odd thing about it all? Back when I was sixteen and I read the Peter and Charlie series by Gordon Merrick, he introduced a woman into Peter and Charlie’s romance and made it a threesome (there was even a child in the mix later on in the series and both queer men had fucked her that night (Charlie’s perverted idea and he made his boyfriend Peter do it so they wouldn’t know whose kid it really was (the story was set in the early part of the 1900’s when it was not possible to test for paternity)). Anyway, I remember becoming so incensed when Charlie did that to Peter – forced him to have sex with her (he got Peter all hot and bothered and then had him fuck her to climax) that I kept inwardly screaming NO, NO, NO! I hated that she was involved in their lives. I was distraught because it was telling me that via Charlie’s POV that they could ONLY be a happy queer couple if they did the straight thing between Charlie and this woman he’d brought into their lives. To this day I can’t even write or say her name because those emotions were so strong back then that I still get pent up about it.
Funny thing, that, right? I mean, given everything else I’ve put down here.
Yet I find it a bit odd that sex is one thing for me, love is another. You can have both at the same time and it’s fucking fan-tab-u-lous, but I can definitely separate the two (something I’ll address in another post later on in this series). Sex and love are exchangeable and transferable in my world. I don’t require both to get it on. I have it within me to fuck someone or someones (which has happened on multiple occasions – again, for another posting) and not have it mean anything other than the pure hedonistic pleasure of it all.
Anyway, each time I was with a girl after I read that in the Charlie and Peter series – some part of me would think of that woman in those stories fucking up their perfect gay romance that I would put the skids on whatever girl had crossed paths with me. Odd how literature can affect you like that, isn’t it? Books have always done that for me. While I love film (and television), books still rule my world. I’ve always been a lover of words. They were my first boyfriend, really. As a pre-teen, there were moments where sex was definitely eking its way into my world.
Sex and sexuality isn’t so cut and dry. I don’t self-identify as bi or pan. Not that I have anything wrong with those identifications. I just know the only person I could love has to be a man. It’s just deeply entrenched in who I am. But, like Ricky, Jussie and Antonio, I know that there are exceptions to those rules where sex is involved. I rail at the whole “gay for you” trope (even if I have my own story about that – which I’ll detail in another post). But I’ve come close to the opposite, too. There were girls in my past that I could say, with a slight nod to it being fleeting and probably wouldn’t stick in the long run – that I could “go straight for you.”
I watch porn. I watch it regularly. I get off on it. I make no bones about that, either. No shame in it from my perspective. I interact with porn stars from time to time as well. It’s a part of my queer life (hell, it’s no surprise when I say men in general are drawn to porn – I think we’re wired to be very visually stimulated). Testosterone is a very potent thing. I even watch and get off on straight and bisexual porn and have found it very stimulating. Trans porn, too – though that’s a bit harder to find. I am not so rigid where sex is concerned. But love? Now that’s another matter altogether.
But I’ll save that for another time.