Male Sexual Fluidity: A Memoir

 By Don Bellew

In a recent e-mail to a new friend, I was running on about my theory that ALL men are sexually flexible if only they allow it to happen. That’s a favorite subject of mine, yeah.

While I was writing an old conversation came back to me, a salient story. I didn’t try and add it to the letter because I knew I had to sit and think about it, recall all the details, the nuances of the telling.  

Now, since thinking about it, I want to write it down. Names changed, of course … to protect the not-so-innocent:

Doug was a school mate. I knew him but he was not a friend. He was on the far edge of the social order. Chubby, round face, too ready to please, god-awful polite.  He wasn’t a kid we joked about, he was not that interesting. He was just a filler, a walk on role in the play we “high school stars” acted out.  He was a nice guy. But nobody cared. 

I knew him also as a member of my church. Methodist. He sang in the choir. His mother played the organ. He looked like his mother. I can’t remember his father, I doubt anybody did. Doug was something of a mamma’s boy, yes.  All the old ladies liked him, certainly. He was polite, neatly dressed, obedient, I’m sure. Not that I can recall specific instances to illustrate any of that, it was just my general foggy notion of who he was.

Years later, Doug graduated from seminary and ended up back in our neighborhood as minister of a small local church.  When I ran into him, I was not surprised. It seemed a natural evolution to his character. 

What did surprise me was his wife. Damn! She was about ten points higher on the “hot” scale than poor Doug.  A sultry looking brunette with a lush body.  Didn’t take ten minutes to grasp that she was fully dedicated to life as a preacher’s wife. All the packaging was toned down, brown stuff, plain stuff, but didn’t hide the WOW of her.

Still, she looked at Doug with worshipful glances that killed me with envy and a great deal of wonder.  How in hell could a guy like him get a woman like that? You know? It’s always a big zinger. 

Doug’s social skills had developed amazingly, too. He was confident, gently friendly without being subservient. He was also witty and pleasant. He seemed happy to run into me and chat, even though I’d never given him a moment of notice that I could remember.

I was just as friendly, and fucking curious about this metamorphic change. He even looked better. Not handsome, no, but peasant enough. It was his poise, I thought. His confidence. It gave him an aura, a nice vibe. 

Even though he was back near our old neighborhood, he had not met many old friends. He was interested in hearing some “catch-up” stuff about mutual acquaintances. So he asked me to lunch to following day. Surprising myself, I agreed.

We didn’t talk gossip. We talked religion, philosophy, history, doctrine and law … we talked and talked and talked.  Lunch lasted two hours in a crowded restaurant and I had to leave a ten dollar tip for the glaring waitress, relieved my guilt for holding up her table.  

Doug and I began to meet for lunch about once a week, sometimes did a phone call in between to pass on local tips and town news. He was a pretty great friend.  I found him intelligent, thoughtful, concerned … all those rare treats we hope for in a new friend.

But it weighed on my mind that he was a Methodist minister frequently seen about with a “known homosexual”.  Now, since I’d researched the idea of becoming a Methodist minister myself (at fifteen), I knew that homosexual activity was a powerful no-no for church officials.  I had to wonder if, in spite of his good intellect, Doug was overlooking my sexual leaning and reputation.  It could not be doing him any good, as a new boy, at the church divisional headquarters.  

After some hesitation, I broached the subject to him, directly. We were in his car, driving down the freeway to try a new barbeque place. “Hey, doesn’t it ever worry you … you know? About hanging out with a gay man?” 

“Huh?” He glanced over, back to the road. He was confused. 

“Somebody could make gossip out of it, you know? Word gets back to the Bishop? It’s not a good politic, man.” I said.

“What gay man?” He grinned, waited for the joke. 

“Uh, me, Doug.” I sighed. Okay, he was not as bright as I thought.

“Oh. Are you gay? I didn’t know.”  He shrugged. He also didn’t seem to care. 

“Doug!” I was irritated. “You met Alvin, the guy I live with, remember?”

“The truck driver guy? Oh. I though he just stayed with you when he was in town. I didn’t realize ….”  He glanced over, appraising me. “You got to be kidding me, right? I’d never have put you two together, man!”  

“Not the point. I’m asking if it’s gonna hurt you, professionally, to be seen with me?”

“What? No way, man.” Then he chuckled. “Well, if we were seen coming out of the Notell Motel at 2AM … that might hurt me.” He gave me a funny look. “You know what’s weird? That first day we met?  Kelly asked me if you’re gay and I said no. I mean, I’ve heard rumors before, but I don’t think so … and she just gave me that Hmmm, like women do, you know?” He laughed. 

“So she picked it up in ten minutes and you’ve known me for years and still didn’t know?” I couldn’t believe the depth of naivety that required.

“Well, I never knew you very good, did I?  But even these last few weeks, I thought I knew you, Donnie … still, I didn’t know, nope.” He was watching for the turn off, changing lanes. I sat quietly. Okay, he’s still not the brightest bulb on the string. 

After he got off the freeway and started down the ramp he told me, “But, I never catch that stuff. I just don’t think about it. Kelly had to tell me that “Odd Couple” guy, not Jack Klugman, the other one … she told me he was gay and everybody knew it. Well, I didn’t know it!” He laughed. “I could probably watch the show a hundred times and it just wouldn’t occur to me to wonder about it. It’s kind of meaningless, isn’t it?  I mean, unless you’re going to marry somebody, it’s meaningless.” He grinned at his joke.  “Then I kept wondering if anybody told Jack Klugman, see?”

When he glanced over to check my reaction I just shook my head, no smile. “You can’t be that dense, man!” 

“Well.” He sobered up his face. “I really am, Don. But, no, hanging out with you will do me no harm. Thanks for being concerned,  I mean that. Gay or not, I get a lot out of hanging with you, see?  You make me think, make me think logically, I guess. I can’t just spout off an idea to you ’cause I know you’ll ask why … you challenge me to stay grounded, not let belief stifle my brain. Listen, two of my sermons this month have been about stuff we talked about. You have an odd way of tying things together, like history and art and religion … you sort of step back, look at the world from a higher viewpoint, I donno… I donno what it is, but it helps clear my head, I know that! You make me realize I let four years of applied philosophy go right over my head. I wish I could go back, now, and talk to some of those professors … I just slept thru it, man.”

“No… no, you didn’t. You picked up more than most college grads. Thing is, you just haven’t put it all together, yet. You have the knowledge in little boxes, not all working in one big construction.” I said. 

“You make me feel like you’re about twenty years older than me instead of three. I donno if I’ll ever put it all together like you.”  He pulled into the parking lot, stopped and cut the engine.

“I lived faster, Doug. That’s all.”  He put his finger on it, I thought. In my time, I’d had to wrestle a lot more moral issues than he would face in a lifetime. I had to back off the world, look at it from a distance … up close, it kicked my butt. 

“You gonna live fast and die young?” He laughed, got out of the car. 

“Too late to leave a good looking corpse, huh?” As I got out.

Doug turned, snapped his fingers and pointed at me over the car. “That’s it! Yeah… Live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse …What was that book?  Knock On Any Door!” 

“I can’t believe you read that, man!” I laughed, “It’s a classic gay novel.”

“We had to read it for a sociology class”… he shook his head. “But it wasn’t gay, it was about this juvenile delinquent …” 

“Yeah, a street hustler, a punk.” I grinned.

“Was he?” Doug mentally scratched his head. “It didn’t say that… did it?” 

“Didn’t have to say it, man. The book describes the boy’s life in terms of nineteen fifty’s censorious language. Back then, a book couldn’t just say it out loud … book stores wouldn’t have it on the shelf! But the boy took up with the older man, remember? The writer? He moves into the guy’s apartment and the guy buys him clothes and shoes? Didn’t you wonder why?” I laughed.

“I just thought the man was doing a good deed, helping out the poor kid … I told you, I just don’t think about stuff like that. It’s not real to me … not part of the world I see.” 

I just stared at him. I really had to believe what he said. He convinced me, some people just don’t acknowledge homosexuality as a natural component of life. Weird.

“You look shocked.” He grinned. “I tried to tell you I was dumb.” 

I just shook my head and let it go. No use trying to explain how alien the idea was to me. I had a problem believing in breeder love. Sometimes I thought everybody was gay and they mostly just pretended to be straight. It was time for a genuine gut lesson about natural projection, huh?  We all tended to think other people were just “like us”, only that wasn’t true, was it?

Conversation lagged through lunch. We ate, talked chit-chat. Nothing serious. All the time I was trying to get a handle on just how “straight” the world probably was, in spite of my narrow and prejudiced view of it. It was depressing. 

On the drive back home, Doug went back to the subject that was haunting me. “Did I disappoint you? When you told me you were gay, was I suppose to get all dramatic or what?”

“Huh? No. Not at all. That’s not it … what’s bothering me is that you and probably lots of other straight men don’t ever give it a thought. You guys don’t even acknowledge that the impulse exists, do you?” 

“Mmmm, just speaking for myself, okay? I don’t know about all those other guys you talking about … but it’s real, yeah. I know that much. I’ve felt turned on by another man, sure. I guess it’s just that I automatically resist the impulse and control it. You don’t, huh?”

“Now you’re talking theoretically, right?” I studied his expression. He looked amused. 

“Nope. Talking real life. I trust you to not go around repeating this, right?” He glanced over, his grin intact.

“Now you’re gonna try and tell me you have covert homosexual fantasies?” I shook my head, sputtered with the absolute absurdity of the moment. 

“Not fantasies … I don’t remember any, anyway … but one time, see, I went by a friend’s house to pick him up and he was just out of the shower and all he was wearing was this filmy pair of nylon bikinis … red, as I recall.” He grinned, again, tossing it my way. “And the thought really crossed my mind that he was willing to allow me inside his normal intimacy barrier and no doubt we could compare equipment and touch each other and probably get off together, see? It was real enough to me. I definitely got an erection, no lie. But the thing is, I cringed at the thought. Something inside me was shocked and appalled that I was affected and aroused. I thought of it as a learning experience, you know? He went back to the bathroom to get dressed and I sat in the living room and waited. I had plenty of time to think about what I felt and how I reacted. It was more interesting then scary. I wasn’t too scared, anyway.  I just thought, Oh, so this is what that feels like, huh? I didn’t have any problem dealing with it or nothing … As a human, I fully expect to have sinful thoughts and keep on trucking, see? My life is set up to know there are things I’ll do and things I wont do. The idle thoughts never matter, it’s what I do about them that matters. ” He looked over at me. “Now, what the heck are YOU grinning at?”

“You, man. You just shook the foundations of my universe and then you made it all better again. Thanks.” I continued to smile. “You reaffirmed my belief that the human animal is bisexual and only morality and social training constrains men from expressing that wider sensuous enjoyment.”

“That’s not what I said!” He protested.

We laughed, both of us. He knew, in fact, that he had said that. Therein was the perfect line of demarcation between us. He chose to let his life be controlled and limited by rules and social constraints. He, with all his confidence and his serenely empowered position was not the kind of man I could ever be. I wanted to know and experience the animal man, the free spirit. There was the great divide, not straight vs. non-straight, but the ruled vs. the unruly. I chuckled. He asked why. I couldn’t tell him.

[See also, from the same issue Male Sexuality Fluidity, thoughts, by Adam Phillips — Ed]

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