When I was first beginning to explore the gay world of the late 1970’s the possibility of having a loving, intimate relationship with a man did not appear, to me, to be possible.
The 1970’s world of discos and baths did not tell a story of loving, committed, stable gay lives. Nor did the culture, press or politics of the 1970’s or 1980’s imply that two men could deeply love each other in a long term and committed way. Gay life at the time was highly sexual and often outrageous.
In my early college years I went to Studio 54 a few times with my close friend Ron Moffatt. I also went a few times to the gay discos that were at the base of Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. They were hot, sweaty, seething pits of disco music and sexual energy. I loved these experiences. They represented the wild and pulsating gay culture of the day. But there was nothing about this scene that said love or relationship
Ron and I made a few trips to the Pines and Cherry Grove on Fire Island. I have vivid memories of dancing with him at the Ice Palace in Cherry Grove. The Ice Palace in the late 1970’s was a small disco with tightly packed, half naked men, sweating and pulsating to disco music, after a long day at the beach. It was a sexually charged scene, and I remember the sexual buzz it brought me. I loved it. I remember dancing with Ron to the Village People’s YMCA and Donna Summer’s MacArthur Park, both of which were still new and fresh at the time
|The Ice Palace Disco, Cherry Grove, early 1980s|
I have memories of Ron on the beach at Fire Island. Ron quickly stripped off his bathing suit to sun bath nude, as did many other men. I was too uncomfortable, at the time, to remove my bathing suit, even with Ron’s urgings and teasing. Ron was my gay tour guide. He showed me parts of the gay scene in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s that I was just becoming aware of. I was 20 years old when I first met Ron in 1977 and apprenticed for him in his design studio for a year and a half. Ron was at least ten years older than me. I was probably 21 or 22 when we first went out to Fire Island and to Studio 54.
Even though I had gay friends in college, I was not out. At the time I wanted desperately to be straight, and had been in therapy to ‘change from homosexuality’ since I was 16 years old. While there were some very hot men in my college classes, I was not close to any of them. One man, who was in most my classes, as we shared the same major, looked like the cowboy in group, Village People. He had a thick dark mustache and hairy chest that poked out of his shirt tight flannel shirt. He wore tight blue jeans and black S&M boots to complete the picture. He was so hot and I had all sorts of sexual fantasies about him for four years, but we rarely spoke. He was so sure of himself and sexy and I felt out of his league. I was deeply conflicted about my sexuality and in hiding.
I was not sexually active at the time with men in any regular way. I had a growing collection of gay porn in my apartment which I masturbated to, but I avoided any sexual involvement with the men I knew. During my college years I would let the sexual pressure build up in me. When I could no longer contain my drive for sex with a man I would head off to the gay baths in New York City, just over the bridge from my apartment in Brooklyn.
My first experience with the baths was at an older seeder bathhouse, which I remember being located First Avenue near 2nd street. Later I would go to the new St. Marks bathhouse on East 8th Street. The bath scene both excited me and frightened me. I would be a tangled mess by the time I arrived at the baths: nervous; driven; excited; fighting with myself for going to the baths; and afraid. Once I paid the entrance fee and got my towel, I often ran to the bathroom to move my bowels, which seemed to explode from my nervous energy. I would wander the baths like a tourist, staying clear of the naked men in the small cubicles. I liked meeting men in the steam room or sauna, and found the scene there quite sexy and hot. Once I had an orgasm, I would feel the sexual pressure lift, and I would head back to Brooklyn to my closeted life until the next time I felt driven to go to the baths.
The gay cultural images at time in mainstream America were few. There was the sad and tortured movie, The Boys in the Band, which presented a prissy, back biting view of the gay world. I had read the chapter on Homosexuality in the book, Everything You Wanted To Know About Sex, but Were Afraid To Ask, by David Reuben, at 14 years of age, and it painted a miserable, sad, tortured and sick view of gay life, which at the time influenced me greatly.
Ron, when first I got to know him, was in the process of breaking up with his boyfriend who had introduced us. Ron and his partner fought like something out of The Boys in the Band, with nasty prissy sharp tongued barbs. Their fighting only reinforced my feeling, at the time, that a loving intimate relationship between two men was not possible.
The men I knew, like Ron, all went out regularly for anonymous sex. Ron lived on West 71st, a half a block from Broadway on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. There was a gay back room bar, at the time, north of him on Broadway. I remember Ron saying to me many times with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes, “I just went out for a little nookie.” It was the constant stream of random, anonymous sex, that a few short years later killed Ron from AIDS
All of this takes me to the present day. The Marriage Equality movement, with the focus group tested message, Love is Love, is powerful. Young gay men just coming out today are entering a world where love, intimacy, and commitment are vividly made real between two men. Besides all the legal rights Marriage Equality offers for LGBT, it gives us a chance to see our relationships in the same light as straight relationship. We are no longer condemned, as Dr. David Reuben wrote in the 1970’s, (and I read at 14 years of age), to a life of meeting men behind park bushes or highway rest stops. Our love has gained full legal equality, and I think that equality will have a beautifully powerful effect on the coming generations of gay men as they grow up.
I have written before of my involvement with a peer-support group for gay and bisexual men who have been married or involved with women. So many of the men I know enter the gay world for the first time in their 50’s and 60’s and begin their gay adolescence. They go frequently on Grindr and Scruff and attempt to make up for all the gay sex they missed out on. They date on Match or OkCupid, often with the goal of sex or a friends with benefits relationship. They crumble when a date goes bad and swear off the dating process. A few men I know have fallen head over heels for a guy they met early in the coming out process. They go from meeting a man to 100 MPH relationship in a matter of days and are ‘heartbroken’ and ‘devastated’ when the relationship inevitably falls apart within a matter of days or weeks.
It is not a question today if two men can have the same long term loving relationship that straight couples enjoy. It is now a question of when and finding the right person. In my experience, the same rules of relationships apply for both gay and straight couples. Developing a relationship with a man follows the same step by step process of developing a straight relationship.
Relationships are built slowly. Getting to know someone happens over time. Intimacy grows with another person over weeks and months of getting to know them. Finding out if you are compatible with other person only happens by spending time with them and by doing things together both intimately and in the world. Do you like the way he talks about other people? Can you imagine talking to him every day and feeling that his life, his questions, his daily challenges all meet you in some deeper way. Do you like the way he talks about money, family and work? Are you compatible sexually? These are all attributes of what it takes to develop a relationship. I do not think you can skip these steps in any meaningful way and still arrive at a deep and loving relationship.
At one point in the breakdown of my marriage to a woman, as I talked to my wife about my desire to come out, she angrily turned at me. “Is this about you having sex with men? You are in your mid 50s! Grow up!” In that instant I was clear. While sex with men was definitely part of what I wanted, I also wanted to find love and intimacy with another man. My coming out was about my being true to who I was as a gay man and finding an honest, intimate, satisfying relationship with another out and proud man.
When I began to come out a few years back and moved out of my marriage into my own apartment, I was clear in my mind that I was not looking for a lot of random, anonymous sex. I wanted to build community and I wanted to find a man to love and be loved. I setup my Match and later OkCupid profiles. I went on lots of coffee, lunch and dinner dates. I found a few men that I liked and had two ‘friends with benefits’ relationships. But for a long time I did not meet anyone I felt I could be more serious with. There was some random sex, but it was limited. I did not find it pleasurable to have sex with someone I did not know and really like or care about in some deeper way. But I kept at it, enjoying the journey with a sense of adventure and pleasure.
This leads me to the man I am in a relationship with today. We were introduced through a friend one evening at a men’s Meetup monthly dinner about a year and a half ago. We sat in the back of the restaurant at a table of four talking and eating. I thought he was sexy, cute and probably way too young for me. I was surprised to learn later that he was in his early 50’s and not his early 40’s as I had assumed. While we occasionally saw each other at different events in the months that followed, nothing happened between us for a long time. Almost a year after meeting him, we were both invited to a party at the home of the friend that had introduced us months earlier. At the party my interest in him was reawakened. I invited him a few weeks later to a holiday party at my house. Soon after that he invited me to a New Years Eve party at his house. We went on our first date in early January of this year.
From early on I found we had this lovely connection. We were both bright, educated men, interested in the world around us. Neither of us had that tired, “I’ve seen it all” attitude found in so many older gay men. We weren’t bitter and we were not prissy and biting. I marveled that this man had arrived at his 50’s without the bitterness and negativity I found in so many older gay men.
It is now July and we have been in a growing relationship since December. We have this lovely intimacy and feeling for each other that continues to grow. We have said, “I love you”, a few times but have been careful and sparing in our use of the word ‘love’. I find him incredibly sexy and I know he finds me sexy too. Yesterday he called me, Hunkeypoo. It is this wonderful made up phrase that implies that he thinks I’m sexy at the same time feels an intimacy and a deep closeness with me. I love the word, Hunkeypoo.
For the first time in my adult life the possibility of having a deep, intimate, loving, honest relationship with another man seemed real. As I moved out of my marriage and began a fast track, “my biological clock in ticking” journey. Love, intimacy and relationship was always my destination. I had a clear vision of where I wanted to go. I also knew I needed to enjoy the ride, and not just focus on destination.
The last twenty five and a half months out of my marriage have been a wonderful, joyful journey for me. I have loved every minute of it. Even bad dates and boring men were a wonderful part of the experience. I learned from each step what I liked and what I wanted. I also built a tremendous community of friends in the process.
The wonderful relationship with the man I have been seeing since December is just the latest step on that journey. I do not know where we are going and try not to project out our future too much. I just want to enjoy the ride with him. I love each moment of intimacy, both the full physical sexual relationship we have and the more tender and quiet moments. Sitting watching a movie with my hand gently resting on his leg or a quiet dinner at one of our homes has been lovely and full of pleasure. At the end of a long work day, I love embracing him tightly when we meet and feeling all the tensions and stresses of the day melt away. Our conversations are interesting and lively, and we seem to be able to talk about everything, our interests, events in the world, and very personal and intimate topics. It is all a delightful, fantastic experience.
The world has changed fantastically since the 1970’s and the possibility now of having a loving, intimate relationship with a man is very real for me. I wish that I had been born later and was coming out today, but we all have to live the lives we are given. I am loving the life I now have the chance to live and the journey that I am on.