Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Memoirs of a Gay Leather Elder 06: Discovering the Secret Elders

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The page listing all of the articles in this series can be found here

Learning To Bond With Men

I was a severely confused young homosexual male in my earliest years. There was a lot of mystery for me when it came to interrelating with other males.  I didn't have close, relaxed male friendships until the 7th grade, when I finally stopped being beaten by my father.  My mother FINALLY started believing my sisters when they complained about my father having sex with them, and divorced him when I was thirteen.

At that time, as a result of my no longer being a child, he was doing his best to drive me out of the family, as he had done to my three older brothers at ages eleven, fourteen and fifteen.  As a direct result of my liberation from my dad's torment, I was the first male in my generation who graduated high school.

My father had no interest in knowing me.  To my brothers (8, 10 and 12 years older than me), I was a rug-rat, and not worth bothering about.  After I came out as gay, they chose to never be my brothers again, even to this day, four decades later.  Both of my grandfathers had died, long before I showed up.  Any other male relatives lived on the other side of the USA.

I craved male company.  Yes, I wanted sex, but I craved interpersonal connections more.  Sex was an easy, easy way to gather males closer to me.  However, unending sex in a late-1970's "party-party!" context was like eating Styrofoam… Filling, but not nourishing.  I sensed that many of the men around me had fallen into a mindset where sex itself was an itch that could never be properly scratched.

Social Entrée Into The Older Generations

When I met David Dollahite, he seemed like a dream of maturity and wisdom.  He was 42, and I was 21.  I was a Top, and he was a bottom.  It's just math:  21 goes into 42, more times than 42 goes into 21!

I intentionally took my thick eyeglasses off for some of these photos.
My vision at the time was 20/1200.  
My reading distance was at the end of my nose.

Better still, David introduced me to a vast, gay-male underworld where thousands of homosexual males found me to be sexually attractive.  These older males wanted to be close to me, and were just plain nice to me. The trajectory of my life changed immensely… from dark depths, to a constant high of pleasure, with emotional and intellectual growth as a big bonus.

As much as I idolized David, I soon found out that he had emotional wounds that were driving him deeper into an early grave.  He had grown up in Texas, joined the Air Force and became a pilot.  He had gotten married and had a son.  Then, David's wife caught him having sex with a man.  During the divorce trial, his wife had taken everything, and the judge legally constrained David from ever seeing his son again.  For life. That was 1970's Texas-style justice.

So, David was spiraling downward in his grief, and I didn't know it for a while.  He was good at playing "The Good Time That Was Had By All."  I do know that I brought vast pleasure to his life with my endlessly-positive viewpoint and youthful wonder. He saw everything through my young and idealistic eyes, until the drugs and AIDS took him down permanently.

Still, I owe that man several lifetimes of gratitude. As a result of his outgoing ways, doors opened up to me that were invisible to everyone that I had known before.

For the first time in my life, I was on the inside.

I Meet The Secret Elders, And It Doesn't Start Well

A VERY unfortunate truism is that it is too easy for gay men to be shallow, judging others solely by their looks.  I have fought against this for decades as a community leader.  However, as a callow young man in the 1970's, I was trying to fit in.  I had plenty of shallow, "A-List" buddies who were scornful of anyone who wasn't as sexy as we were.

Old people were "Trolls," and not worthy of consideration. Maybe next lifetime, buddy.

Look at all of these canyon slopes, providing
perfect climate and drainage for growing 
macadamia nuts and avocados.

So, I wasn't well-prepared when David brought me to a pool party, way up in San Diego's North County, where Old Highway 395 and Highway 15 came together. We arrived at a ranch house in a grove of hundreds and hundreds of avocado and macadamia trees.

First, we met the obese Labrador Retrievers.  They were covered in rolls of fat, and had the glossiest fur that I had ever seen. When an avocado dropped from a tree, and was covered by leaves, the immigrant workers may not have found it, but the dogs always did.  Yum!

These baby avocados will be ready in November

We were greeted by our hosts Clark and Joseph, who had been together 53 years.  This meant that they had met in 1924 (!!!)  They were out of shape, bent over, had age spots and smelled funny.  They didn't make much of a positive impression.  I was looking for the hot guys in bikini shorts at a pool party, not these old farts.

As time went by, more and more elderly couples arrived… about forty couples in all. Other than David, I was the youngest guy there by forty years, and I was not liking how this was progressing.  Everybody wanted to chat me up, and appeared to expect hugs from me.  This was creeping me out.  I was ready to leave.

Then, everybody stripped down naked and jumped into the pool.  I was the only one wearing shorts, and I was moving away from those ugly old men who wanted to get too close to my personal boundaries.

Finally, I was cornered at one end of the pool, and a couple of guys tried to get my shorts off.  I jumped out of the pool, ran inside the guest house and locked myself inside the bathroom.  I was furious.

After a short time, Clark tapped on the door and asked if he could come in.  He could tell that I was upset, and wanted to help.  So, I let him in, and I explained how I was feeling as we sat side by side on the wide edge of the bathtub.

After I was done, he kindly and patiently explained what was actually going on, and I listened with growing shame.  I was embarrassed for my terrible manners.  He told me that none of these men were trying to force sex upon me.  Instead, they could all tell that I was disconnected with everybody else for some unknown reason.  They were trying to jolly me up, and make me feel welcome as one of them.

I left the bathroom, apologized to everyone, stripped down, and jumped back into the pool.  Over the next year or so, David and I would attend these pool parties during the warm months.  Each party was held at a different ranch, owned by couples who had been together a minimum of 39 years (together since 1938), 42 years (1935), 48 years (1929), all of the way up to Clark and Joseph's 53 years.  Clark was the glue that bound everybody together, and the parties stopped when he died.

Up to this point, I had never known that gay-male relationships could last more than a couple of years.  These men were utterly invisible to the gay community, and the larger world, for very good reasons:

Homosexual Dachau

Take a minute to read this article.  Here is an excerpt of David Mixner's words:
At Atascadero State Hospital, doctors (I use that term loosely) were permitted under an obscure California law to commit those who practiced sodomy into the hospital. Once admitted, normal men and women were rendered mentally disabled through the torture of castration, lobotomies, forced chemical treatments and experimental treatments. The horrors experienced by hundreds are almost too hard to comprehend in America.

The Concentration Camps

In 2016, my husband and I took the Grand Tour of Europe to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.  When we arrived in Germany, our tour group visited the Dachau camp in Germany.  I was an abrasive, angry man that day, and I didn't want to be, but I had a towering rage.

There were sculptures in several places, showing colored triangles to represent the many types of people who had been tormented and killed in death camps. The only color missing, anywhere?  Pink.  There were no sculptures that included the pink triangles of the homosexuals, who were among the lowest of the low.  Sure, our gay predecessors were mentioned in small signs now, but only as footnotes, alongside Gypsies and the mentally weak.

When our wonderful, sweet guide wound up the tour with some words about Liberation Day for the death camps, I very passionately corrected her: the only people who did NOT enjoy "Liberation" were the homosexuals.  They went directly from death camps and concentration camps, into prison.

She had no idea, and thanked me for the information.  She promised to do more research for her fellow docents.  I asked her why there were no pink triangles in the sculptures.  She empathetically told me that they had been sculpted in 1963, when nobody was an advocate for homosexuals.

Life Is So Much Better Now

As a result of my passionate advocacy, the rest of the heterosexual couples in our tour group grew much, much closer to us. They wanted to be our loving allies.  If we wanted to walk the streets in foreign countries holding hands, they would all do so as well, in a protective circle around us. Nobody asked them to... They just wanted to show us loving, unconditional support.

This attitude did NOT exist for my new elder friends, for their entire lives. They never had a single taste of it.  They never experienced a thousandth of the acceptance and celebration that we now enjoy. After being together for decades, they STILL kept separate bedrooms for when relatives came to visit the "roommates."  Nobody was fooled, but it was a terrible topic that could never be discussed.

They were wary, after a lifetime of fear.  They could have been fired at any time, thrown into prison, beaten and/or killed.  They had few allies.  They were suffering from PTSD, after a long lifetime of unending stress.

Our Legal Marriage

On June 23, 2018, my husband Dennis and I will be celebrating our tenth legal marriage anniversary.  A month and a half later, we will be celebrating the 27th anniversary of our first wedding, long before it was legal, or trendy.  That story can be found here.

The left ring was worn by Dennis' uncle, 
stationed in Iran ("Persia") during WW2).
The ruby-and-gold ring on the right belonged to his great-uncle.

When same-sex marriage finally became the law of the land in California, we wore special rings.  Dennis had an uncle and a great-uncle who had never dated women, and never got married.  They had to live with their parents, and died alone.  In those days they were referred to as "Confirmed Bachelors."

Dennis owned rings that had belonged to both of those men, and we had them re-sized to fit our fingers.  We wanted to honor them, and to carry them in our hearts as we celebrated joys that had been denied to them.  We didn't want to forget them.  They are our family history.

Seeking out and honoring the graves of our gay ancestors 

Blanket Parties

Those much-older brothers in the 1970's listened to my boastful, youthful bragging about how I had made it through the last 2-1/2 years of my Navy enlistment as an openly-gay man, and they were appalled and terrified for me.  One retired Navy Commander in the group told me about "Blanket Parties" from the 1950's and 60's:

If some sailor was suspected of being queer, he was not going to be allowed to live.  In the middle of the night, out in the middle of the ocean, the homo was woken by having his blanket wrapped tightly wrapped around him by many rough hands. He couldn't defend himself as he was dragged down the corridor.

He would be beaten, kicked and cursed, and then thrown over the side of the ship, to drown all alone, hundreds of miles away from land.  The relatives were told "He was lost at sea," and nothing was ever done about it.  This happened to many, many gay men in the dark years before we started liberating ourselves in the late 1960's and onward.

One of the other elders had been discovered to be homosexual in the military, and was going to be discharged at the age of thirty, but a gay psychiatrist filled out papers to have him classified as "mentally damaged" and got him an early retirement at FULL pay, for the rest of his life.

That same man told me that he had been in the Army during World War 2. He had a roommate who used to go out to the area near the gay bars.  He liked to assault gay men and take their money.  Then, one night, the roommate came home early, bloodied and bruised.  Missing a few teeth, too.  When asked what had happened, the roommate said "The last thing that I remember, was hearing 'The only thing that I like better than sucking cock, is beating up straight boys!'"

Wisdom Personified

I strongly believe that I interviewed every one of these elderly, long-term gay couples during the time that I knew them.  I wanted every bit of long-term relationship advice that they could spare, including:
  • Never go to bed angry.
  • Be kind and generous - No sniping at each other.
  • Every relationship is different.  Make agreements that work for the two of YOU.
  • Men are going to fuck around.  If it happens, make new agreements and just keep going.  
  • In fact, make him tell you every filthy detail, so that you can both get horny and fuck each other!
I give the eagerly-shared wisdom of these men credit for the last 28 years of ecstatic bliss in my life with my dear husband Dennis.  In Part Five of this series, I talk about how I was friends with Drew Mattison and David McWhirter. When the two men were researching long-term male couples for their book called The Male Couple: How Relationships Develop, I believe that they used these "elders in the avocado groves" as valuable research subjects.

The more that I knew about these sweet old men, I realized how wonderful they were.  They were my "Loving Uncles" - they fussed over me, and loved me unconditionally. They taught me coping-mechanisms, success techniques, and life wisdom.  Their well-earned fears colored their advice, but they meant to help me to succeed, in what had been an unbearably hostile world for all of their lives.

I would give anything to go back to those days, and record every word of their stories.

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