Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Brotherhood

I wanted him to hold me more than I wanted him to want me. But then I wanted him not so much to desire me, but be concerned about me, be interested in me, and then, maybe finally, find me desirable.

by Charles Stephens for LifeLube

[He is an Atlanta-based gay men’s health advocate and writer. Read more of his posts here.]

When I was younger, and more open, and more hopeful, I figured it would all be like a big fraternity, the gay thing. I imagined there would be an intimacy, a tenderness with other men. Bonding. A kind of fraternal love, not so much romantic love, those desires would come later. I thought everything would be intense. Moving. There would be vulnerability I thought, and secrets shared, and pains revealed, and crying, and holding each other, and loving each other so much, not necessarily even romantically or sexually, but loving each other so much that it hurt. And I’ve experienced some of those things, in pieces, not nearly as frequently as I hoped, but at times. As time has gone on, and experiences have been collected and suffered through and celebrated, I’ve found myself less deliberate about creating the kinds of relationships I initially desired.

Masculinity then, in my mind, was something we could have relief from, in being gay. There would be spaces to tend to each other and that we would all co-exist in an expanded and perfected notion of manhood.  I have not experienced this much, probably because I stopped looking. Not because I gave up, but because I forget how much I wanted it.

When I was 15 or 16, in those years, in Atlanta, I was always searching, for someone for something, to guide me. I still seek guidance even as I fight it. Being gay, back then, was still an experience. Everything was new. Everything was exciting, and kind of scary, but exciting nonetheless. But you did it anyway. Despite the fear you did it. There had been no pains yet, and no rejections, and feelings of inadequacy, and thus I could move without pause or hesitation.

There is a courage one can still have even in innocence, a fearlessness, that we read later as ignorance or stupidity, we remember ourselves as reckless. However, I don’t know if I have ever been again as courageous as I was at that age. Wiser yes. Courageous, I’m not so sure. And I often look back at that time, even now, especially now, excavating my memory not just for lessons to remember, but the courage to continue.

On one of these adventures, an experience I could never have now, time has shattered my innocence in a way, I came across an older man at the local public library. There were older men, of course there were older men. That was what working-class 16ish year old black gay boys did then. And I was neither coerced nor forced nor taken advantage of. And they weren’t predators, not all of them.

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He was not particularly beautiful, but then I was not interested in beauty, he was older and mysterious, and intrigued me, and that was enough. Still is... in a way. And I started to cruise him. In many ways the men I pursued then, still haunt me today.  Perhaps my attraction to older men then was less because I was seeking my father and more because I was rejecting him.

He responded back. Glances and then the focused contact, our eyes locked and I surrendered to his lead. We went outside and talked more intimately. He wore casual clothes. Jeans, maybe a collared shirt. His face was brown and smooth. He wore a cap. It seemed like all black gay men wore the same GAP cap then. I looked down at his crotch, by that time I picked up the nonverbal cues, the things you did to signal interest. The typical homosexual mating rituals.

He smiled, only a gay man knows how to communicate multiple meanings in flashing a smile, and was flattered, and asked me how old I was. I probably told him 17, which was still young, and not of age, but to me felt like less of a barrier than 15. Little did I know that those men probably saw less of a difference between 15 and 17, and once they decided to have sex, that was the end of it. 

He was amused by my desire of him, and entertained my flirtation with his own. “You’re cute,” he told me, I smiled and waited. Waited for whatever.We talked more.  A tone slightly above a whisper, the content of our conversation betrayed by our body language. As our conversation progressed, and we got to that point where next steps are decided, arrangements made, numbers exchanged or cars entered, he finally told me that I shouldn’t be cruising. I remained silent as he went on. “You can do better than this.” In his words, it wasn’t about him thinking I shouldn’t cruise, I was and still am too hardheaded for that, but his concern. A sentiment that was new and novel to me then, the concern of an older man in a non-platonic context.

His tone was gentle even if his words were firm. And I wasn’t use to someone having ideas about how I should express myself sexually. “I could take you home, and have sex with you. I would love to do that. You are beautiful. But, you should be with guys your own age.”I was disappointed and yet mesmerized. It hadn’t occurred to me then that there were other guys my age that were gay. Not in Atlanta. Not then. Guys that I could have access to.

This is what I remember of that moment:  I wanted him to hold me more than I wanted him to want me. But then I wanted him not so much to desire me, but be concerned about me, be interested in me, and then, maybe finally, find me desirable. In that moment of awkward silence, the passing of a difficult conversation like a storm, we sat in each other’s presence, still and silent. There was not a language in that moment that we could access to communicate physically what was between us.

Lacking the words or the feelings we finally went our separate ways, with sincere and ambivalent goodbyes. There remained an impression that lingered even after we had gone. And though I see my public sex experiences as more of a kind of rite of passage than some naughty thing I was doing, something to be too good or too bad for,  his words did encourage me to seek and explore and broaden the gay communities I navigated. An amazing gift.  And yet a mission that I’ve fallen short on, as time has gone on.

It did not occur to me then, that the very masculinity I was looking to retreat from or reform would be desired and eroticized so pervasively in the communities I was a part of.  Communities that I remained in more out of complacency than anything else. Though I was seeking a way to be a man, or at least male, and love other men, sexually and platonically, and heal from those wounds inflicted on me by heterosexist masculinity, those spaces have been few and far between for me, conducive to my healing. I now wonder if you can heal in a place where others share your pain.

I know now that after having done just about everything one can fathom sexually, and then some, I find myself thinking more about how I want to express physical affection and intimacy with other men.  I don’t see non-sexual intimacy as being a substitute for sex, nor do I think it’s inherently more valuable, but I do think it’s another form, another manifestation, another language to express tenderness, care, love, and one that I’ve explored the least.

Managing, expressing, exploring sexual tension, sexual feelings can be an opportunity to practice trust and be creative. I’ve fallen short in this area, managing sexual tension by either choosing to have sex or not.  It did not occur, and I still have trouble with this, that there other ways of expressing sexual feelings that don’t necessarily involve the act of sex per se.  But then it’s easier for me to ask for a blowjob, than to be held.

And as gay men we are creative. We have an amazing imagination for how we imagine and channel our desires. From gay marriage to piss play, we have been very effective at imagining different ways we can organize our bodies, desires, and relationships.

Perhaps the next step, is to go even further, in imaging the possibilities of our relationships. To color within the lines. What would it look like for example, if there were as many “cuddle parties,” as sex parties?  I think they are both valuable, in different ways, and they should both exist, or even co-exist. Or maybe one can have a fuck buddy and a “make-out buddy,” where all you do is make out, or cuddle.

As gay men come out, and we are learning about ourselves, sometimes the different options available to us, aren’t so clear.  Could you imagine a space, where there was a room for men to just hold each other, and another room with a sling? I also want to point out that groups like the Radical Faeries, ADODI, and Gay Spirit Visions, who have been amazingly visionary in helping us to rethink and reframe pleasure, desire, male/male social and sexual relationships, and intimacy. I think there is much we can learn from them.

There is much room to envision and imagine the possibilities of gay male relationships and communities, and gay men’s health is an excellent starting point.


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