Doin' Time in Gay Man's Hell
By: Don Charles
LUKE 12: 2, 3 (Jesus Christ said) Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops.
I've long known that this scripture pertained directly to the LGBT experience. It speaks to the folly of trying to live in the closet. What I didn't understand until now is that it pertained specifically to me. It's time for me to admit that I've been living in the closet, too. A few years ago, I wrote an essay here titled "When Liberation Wasn't Liberating." In it, I criticized the rampant drug abuse and unbridled sexuality Gay men indulged in during the 1970s, and lamented the fact that it was a contributing factor to the AIDS epidemic. I also left the impression that my own behavior had been beyond reproach in those years.
That was misleading, to say the least. I never used illegal drugs, but some of my sex habits could've gotten me in major trouble. If anybody called me a hypocrite right now, I'd have no choice but to plead "no contest." I need to repent of my previous holier-than-thou attitude, and I've decided to do it publicly. I'm going to share some unsavory information from my past with you.
The sex practices I engaged in a quarter century ago are something I'm deeply ashamed of. To date, I've only ever told one other person about them. That's about to change. Although these revelations will be embarrassing to me, I believe they'll make a positive difference in the lives of younger Gay men; hopefully, my confession will alert them to a pitfall they'll subsequently be smart enough to avoid. This disclosure will also teach me a lesson in humility, and that's a very important quality for a Christian to have.
So if you've ever been tempted to think of Don Charles Hampton as some kind of role model, get ready to revise your opinion! I'm as imperfect as the Bible bigots I regularly excoriate. Step inside my closet door, and look down! Those oblong things you see are the feet of clay I've kept hidden in there.
When I left home to attend Boston University, I had secret ambitions my parents never dreamed of! I was so eager to have sex with another man for the first time, it was ridiculous. I figured the easiest way to lose my virginity was to go to a Gay bar, so that's what I did. There were several near campus, and on any given weekend during my freshman year, you'd find me at one of them.
However, contrary to what I'd been led to believe, most Gay bars weren't, and still aren't, the pick-up parlors they're made out to be. They're mainly meeting places for friends. You really don't see too many guys cruising each other. Mostly, you see guys dancing(if it's a dance club), playing pool, catching up on the latest gossip, knocking back beers and/or trying to look fashionable in their leather jackets and freshly-ripped Calvin Klein jeans.
The Gay bars I frequented tended to have mirrored dance floors, and believe me, those stories about narcissistic Disco dancers were true! That dreamboat in the corner was hardly going to notice me when it was all he could do to stop gazing at his own reflection! I didn't lose my virginity as a result of going to Gay bars. While I was in college, I think I met a grand total of three sex partners at them. Neither of the three lasted much past a couple of nights. I didn't exactly have a knack for choosing compatible lovers.
Soon, I wanted a boyfriend, not just a series of one-night stands. However, I clearly wasn't going to find one on the club circuit. Frustrated, I turned to a student advisor I'd met during orientation week who had confided his sexual orientation to me. "Dr. Livingston" (not his real name) was very much in the closet, but he knew all about the Gay community in Boston. I figured he could direct me to better places for meeting men. He had some directions for me, all right, but they weren't the kind I expected to hear.
"If it's sex you're looking for," he drawled as we sat drinking tea in his office, "you can get all you want if you go to this park that's not far from here. Wait until around eight or nine o'clock in the evening. Once it gets dark, there are men everywhere!" I won't pretend that the doctor didn't tell me what to expect; he was very frank. He said some of the men I'd meet might want to take me home with them, but most would prefer to have sex with me right there in the park!
His words shocked me, of course, but they weren't shocking enough to dissuade me from going on that dubious nighttime excursion. Why did I do it? My parents had raised me to know right from wrong, and copulating in public was unquestionably wrong. True, I was only eighteen, and I was obsessed with learning how to navigate the world of same-gender dating, but was that a legitimate excuse? No. Neither was the fact that I was desperate to find a steady boyfriend.
My raging hormones and my naïve Barbara Cartland romance fantasies had compromised my better judgment, but even that didn't explain my willingness to violate indecency laws. I didn't have to go traipsing off to that damn park. I shouldn't have gone. But I did go. I went over and over again.
I don't remember the name of the park anymore. I only remember that it was located near Landsdowne Street, and that it wasn't very big. There were clumps of bushes and trees and overgrown expanses of grass broken up by dirt clearings. In the daytime, people would walk their dogs, and children would occasionally play there. Flooded with sunlight and filled with the animated sounds of birds and squirrels, it was a very innocuous-looking park. Oh, but how its character changed once darkness had fallen!
The bushes came to ominous life with shadowy figures that darted and crept. Now and again, you'd catch the whites of eyes peering at you from behind tree trunks. An insistent rustling noise came from within the grassy expanses. The sound of zippers and belt buckles being furtively undone was everywhere, along with snatches of whispered conversation, sharp intakes of breath and, occasionally, muffled cries of pain.
Venturing into this bizarre moonlight world, I was naturally filled with fear and apprehension. It seemed like a Gay Man's Hell. What was going to happen to me? What kind of men would I meet? And why should I have to meet them under such unusual circumstances?
These are questions millions of young Gay men must have asked themselves over many, many years. The answers have everything to do with heterosexual supremacy and religious bigotry. Since Biblical times, societies have punished people who engage in homosexual relations. At best, Lesbians and Gay men could expect to be ostracized from society. At worst, they could be jailed and/or executed under draconian moral codes. Church leaders denounced them as sex perverts, abominations of nature, degenerates, child predators and worse. It's no exaggeration to say they were portrayed as the spawn of Satan.
This horrendous and persistent persecution drove same-gender love underground. Gay people constructed elaborate heterosexual façades to hide behind. Out of necessity, they began to live double lives. They began meeting in secret places in order to fulfill their sexual needs. There was no falling in love, just quick sex. When you feared arrest at any moment, sex was pretty much all you had time for! It was a survival mentality.
Eventually, some heterosexual folk became aware that this twilight world existed. A lot of them were unscrupulous, and cases of blackmail proliferated. Faced with exposure, many homosexual men and women committed suicide. Many others resigned themselves to living bitter lives in prison or self-imposed exile from family and friends.
There was no such thing as courtship rituals, singles bars or dating services for Gay people. In the decades preceding the modern Gay Rights movement, homosexual identity was synonymous with clandestine behavior, backstreet relationships, obsessive discretion, and above all, a profound sense of shame. People who feel ashamed tend to act it out; hence, the self-destructive complusion to sneak into darkened city parks and perform hurried sex acts with strangers. That compulsion persists even in today's less repressive circumstances. You can still venture into certain wooded areas at night and find men copulating in the bushes like wild animals. All kinds of men, from every walk of life. The only thing they have in common is an intense desire for intimate contact with another male body.
Clubs and bars that cater to a Gay clientele are often segregated by age, ethnicity, body type and/or class distinctions. Believe me, no such segregation existed in that Boston park. I encountered old and young men. I saw Black, White and Hispanic men. I saw Ivy League men, middle class men, and homeless men. I saw men who were fat, slender, and every body type inbetween. We were all equal there. We were all hiding. We were all desperate. We were all acting out our shame at being Gay.
In this unlikely setting, I was constantly trying to create an illusion of romance with the men I coupled with. I would try to hold hands with them, embrace them, caress them, kiss them, tell them they were handsome. I was always rebuffed. Always.
Typical of these aborted love scenes was the reaction I got one night from a very attractive man in his late twenties or early thirties. He was probably Italian-American or Jewish; he looked so much like the recently deceased actor Sal Mineo, I couldn't resist kissing him. Big mistake! He recoiled so violently, I thought he was having a seizure. "No kissing," he hissed. After another few minutes, my clumsy attempts at lovemaking had unnerved him completely, and he drifted away into the bushes.
Only later did I understand what he was trying to tell me. He was sending me a cultural message, one that I'd certainly heard before but had never paid attention to: Intimacy wasn't something to be shared between two men. A man could only be intimate with a woman. Acts of tenderness(if you were at all capable of performing them) were reserved for women; that's what society dictated.
How dare I act as if we were making love! We weren't making love. We were just "relieving" each other. What we were doing was akin to using the bathroom. It was a shameful, nasty and unpleasant task to be completed as hastily as possible; why else would we be doing it under cover of darkness and foliage?
Homosexual desire wasn't beautiful. It wasn't romantic. It was a necessary nuisance, like needing to urinate or defecate. Therefore, we were supposed to gratify ourselves physically, and then discard one another like squares of soiled toilet tissue. I tried to internalize that attitude, but (thankfully) I just couldn't.
I patronized that park for several months, usually right after a fruitless night of cruising at a Gay bar. I didn't go every night; nobody did. Sometimes the weather was bad. Even when it wasn't, the thought of encountering strangers in the dark was always enough to give you pause.
It was frightening! What if you should run into a rapist, or a mugger, or a murderer? If you were victimized, who would come to your aid in a setting like that? I'm pretty sure nobody would have lifted a finger to help.
There were other dangers to consider as well. Uniformed policemen would sometimes appear on the scene, shining powerful flashlights into the foliage. If they caught unfortunate pairs of paramours in the act, the offenders would be hauled off to jail and subjected to public exposure. This was a most fearsome prospect if you happened to be married! During more than one moonlight rendezvous, I spied wedding rings on the fingers of my sex partners.
Also, Gay-bashing teenagers would occasionally invade the park. Some of the men I trysted with warned me about these boys. In nervous whispers, they told me how several Gay men had been beaten up leaving the area, while others had been subjected to vicious dog attacks. One evening, I actually saw two young men stalking through the brush with a snarling bulldog on a leash. They were joking loudly about how the park was a good place to shop for "queer dog food." I think it may have been a pit bull terrier they had with them. I didn't know anything about pit bulls back then, but I was still terrified; I ran like the Devil all the way back to my student apartment.
Make no mistake about it, men who are hooked on outdoor sexual encounters take a tremendous risk. They always have to be on the lookout for police cruisers and gangs of homophobic thugs; if they aren't, their stolen moments of passion can cost them dearly.
I was hooked. I hated what I was doing, but I did it anyway. "Dr. Livingston" told me that this was the best way to meet Gay men, and I believed it. Despite the horror of intimacy I regularly encountered in my sex partners, I hung on to the hope that one night I'd meet a man who'd become my lover; then, finally, there'd be no need to return to the park. I thought I'd actually met that man once; he was a lower-level administrator at Boston University. We slept together a few times in my student apartment when my roommate was away, but that's as far as it went.
A proud West Indian with conservative views, he made it clear to me that "shacking up with another man" was not in his future. In accordance with his strict cultural values, he planned to marry a woman and father children with her. He absurdly thought of homosexual desire as something he could turn on and off at will. He said he only wanted men for an erotic diversion; the idea of falling in love with one was quite beyond his comprehension. So much for the idea of him becoming my lover; we might as well have stayed in the park! Trysting at my apartment became too risky, and he never took me to his own home, so our affair ended up being very brief. To my great dismay, I soon found myself back in the great outdoors.
How long would I have gone on risking my life in those woods? How long before I contracted AIDS or some other awful disease? How long would it have been before I was arrested, or robbed, or killed? I give thanks to God, because He saw fit to save me from my own lack of good judgment. He did it in a relatively gentle way, too, although I certainly didn't think so at the time.
On that last night in Gay Man's Hell, I initiated a nightmarish sexual encounter. I'll save you the lurid details, but I will tell you this much: It was dangerous. It was humiliating. It was unsanitary. It was nothing less than revolting, but somehow, I couldn't stop myself! It's like I was an airplane set on automatic pilot. I had become so morally debased that I didn't care anymore.
At the last possible minute, I suddenly came to my senses; I leapt to my feet and bolted from the park in tears. Never before or since have I ever felt so disgusted with myself. When I got back to my apartment, I tried to cleanse away the evidence of my shameful act with disinfectant and hot water, but I still felt dirty. It took several weeks for the feeling to subside.
Long before then, I promised the Lord that I would never return to that park. I told Him if the only way to find love was to continue putting myself in such appalling situations, I would rather be celibate for the rest of my life. I meant it, too!
I won't lie to you and say I never again found myself seeking sexual gratification in dangerous places; I've slipped up a few times. I still struggle with self-destructive impulses, just like many other Gay men do. For the most part, though, I've honored my promise to God. I've respected the unique sexuality He gave me, even though it has meant enduring long periods of celibacy. It's still not easy to meet men, especially since I've sworn off going to bars, and whatever charms I may possess have diminished considerably now that I've grown older and (much) heavier.
I still haven't found the kind of committed relationship I want. I may never find it. Yet I know from experience that the ends can never justify the means; if I disgrace myself in the process of acquiring what I want, won't the object of my desire also be disgraced?
I won't allow Satan to control me again. Now that I've reclaimed my Christian faith, I can never let myself revert into the wanton creature I became in that park, no matter how hard frustration pushes me in that direction. In the seventh chapter of Matthew, the Messiah left us these instructions:
MATTHEW 7: 13, 14 Enter through the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it . . . the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Historically, the easy road has been anything but easy for Gay men to travel. Denying our true identities as the world demanded we do led many of us to take hellish detours. We found ourselves searching for the truth in public restrooms, truck stops, bathhouses, dirty bookstores and darkened woods. Of course, you can't find the truth in Gay Man's Hell. All you find there is degradation and death. Some of us realized that before it was too late, and lived to tell tales like mine. Some of us didn't, and perished.
Thirty years ago, there was nothing like the affirmation of LGBT identity that we see today. Society taught us that our love was illegitimate and perverse, and like impressionable children, we accepted that teaching. The Stonewall rebellion notwithstanding, we had very little self-esteem. Closeted or not, we were willing to perpetuate a clandestine culture born of oppression and shame. We even deceived ourselves into thinking it represented a kind of sexual freedom.
Some of us still think it's fun to court danger. There are Gay men who stubbornly refuse to let go of this notion that having sex means slinking around in the dark like a criminal. If you're a hedonist, maybe it makes sense to think that way. However, you can't call yourself a Christian and indulge in that kind of behavior! The Christ told His disciples as much in no uncertain terms.
MATTHEW 5: 14-16 You are the light of the world . . . no one, after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in Heaven.
LGBT people carry the light of Jesus Christ within their souls. We possess Fullness, the androgynous power that Adam had before his female essence was removed to create Eve. Gnostic scripture teaches that this power so threatened the forces of evil, they imprisoned Adam in the Earthly realm. Then they wrested it away from him. Yet, the Lord gives us this very same power as a birthright.
It's so much more than sexual orientation! It's perception. It's creativity. It's spirituality. It's a miraculous gift that connects us to Heaven and symbolizes God's Covenant with mankind(is it a coincidence that the rainbow is both our official insignia and the scriptural sign of the Covenant? I don't think so). Regardless of how fiercely bigots try to impose shame on us and force us under the bushel basket, we must never go there! We must endeavor to live our lives openly, as the Savior commanded.
We must free ourselves of shame and the desire to do shameful things. The term "Gay Pride" has a spiritual as well as a sexual meaning, and the sooner we realize it, the better. Once we've fully accepted the truth of who we are, the compulsion to act out feelings of low self-esteem will disappear. Then we can put the shame where it belongs: On Satan and those poor, deluded souls he compels to curse what the Lord in His wisdom has created.
MARK 12: 10, 11 (Jesus Christ said) Have you not read this scripture: "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This was the Lord's doing, and it is amazing in our eyes?"
Don Charles maintains the blog Christ, The Gay Martyr, where this piece first appeared.
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