Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Light Up This Guy Like a Flame

Recently we watched the original, 1980 “Fame” movie about a performing arts high school in New York which was remarkable because there was only one gay kid in the entire collection of dance, theater and music students.

Montgomery MacNeil’s homosexuality is not just presented as an anomaly; he reveals it as his response to the theater class assignment, “tell us your most painful moment”. Montgomery explains to his classmates that his therapist told him the condition is “probably a life choice”. Monty morosely relates that he is “getting a lot of help” and he is amused by the irony of being “gay” when it dooms him to a life of never being happy. His parents were divorced and he tells about going someplace with his mother, where it was “like we were lovers.” What!? The creepy factor totally obscures the outdated implication that not having a male role model may have led him to his “life choice”.

This was the attitude about homosexuality 30 years ago; imagine what the attitudes were a decade earlier – when I was in junior high school.

When I was 13, we had a sex education assembly at school. Dr. Agee talked about many things including that then taboo subject. We were all giggling, when suddenly she said something that hit home. And this is the only thing I remember her saying that day: “it is unclear how homosexuals get that way, but one theory is that boys who grow up in female dominated households become gay”.

My parents were divorced and I lived with my mother and older sister. Sitting through the rest of that lecture in a cold sweat, I realized that female domination was like a poison, slowly turning me gay. Back in the 60’s, we didn’t have any gay, prime-time role models like Elton John or Rosie O’Donnell or even movie characters like Montgomery MacNeil. All we had was Liberace - and they didn’t acknowledge his sexuality. I would ask my mom, “Why does that man dress all sparkly and talk funny like that?” She wouldn’t answer me, she’d just switch the channel to Gomer Pyle USMC, and say, "There, watch that Jim Nabors fella. He’s a Marine."
(Surprise, surprise, surprise, when it turned out Jimbo was gay.)

So my family situation was making me gay and I didn’t know exactly when it would happen. It could happen slowly, or the swish might be flipped overnight.
The fact that the girls in school, sporting their new, perky breasts in soft, fuzzy sweaters caused me to have an erection did not entirely reassure me. I was 13 years old – the mechanism was still getting calibrated - a bowl of oatmeal could give me an erection. I needed a way to know for sure what I was.

So, what I did, I kept a stack of Playboy magazines under my bed and I would periodically test myself to see if I could still have a “complete” experience with the centerfold. There were frequent pop quizzes. One day I did 12 separate tests – January through December – all home runs -- but as I started through the batting order a second time, my fears were confirmed. No reaction. I tried holding the magazine in the other hand. Nothing

The next day I pulled out the magazines to say goodbye and, I don’t want to go into detail, but clearly I was hetero again. Apparently it switches back and forth. That’s what that one guy told me in college.

Nevertheless, the rest of my life, despite my lack of attraction to men and despite my positive experiences with women (including marrying one and fathering another) I still have lingering doubts and I look for signs.

The things that worry me are:
I don’t fix my own car or even change own oil
I don't read in the bathroom and I often pee sitting down.
My life is still dominated by women.
I still REALLY like oatmeal – I don’t know what that means.

The main thing that proves that I’m a heterosexual man is that I have retained the skills I developed with those Playboys: my hands are strong and I can work a remote -105 cable channels in a 5 minute commercial break and back to the show I’m watching, without missing a second, baby.

The shows I watch now have more openly gay characters than those we saw in the 60s or even the 80s. I haven't seen the new "Fame" movie; I hope it has a more enlightened portrayal of gay people. In the United States today, a lesbian can grow up to be the daughter of a (former) Vice President. However she can't marry her mate. Maine just became the 31st state to officially reject same-sex marriage.

Baby hold me tight
Cause you can make it right
You can shoot me straight to the top
Give me love and take all I've got to give

I feel it coming together
Let us give marriage a try

1 comment:

Frank Lee MeiDere said...

As someone who also came from a female-dominated household, and who shares many of the traits you describe, I also wondered a couple of times about when I'd turn gay. Hell, I even loved musicals and knew all the words to every song in Oklahoma, West Side Story, and The Wizard of Oz. Oddly enough, however, it never really bothered me much. My total lack of interest in those of my own gender pretty much nailed it for me.

Not to say I didn't spend time practicing, just to make sure.

Excellent post.