The Sex I Could Have Had

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Oh, the sex I could have had. I came of age in the wild and hedonistic period of gay culture, the 1970s, where disco music ruled. While I was not very active in gay culture, I would occasionally foray out. I remember one night in college, dancing shirtless at a bar at the foot of Christopher Street and the West Side Highway, packed with hot, sweaty men. It was an incredible intoxicating experience. But that night was more of an exception. Most of my life, at this time, was generally more contained and controlled.

When I was a teenager, there was a silence about homosexuality in the culture and the media of that era. There were very few books that dealt with the topic of homosexuality and none that I could find in my local library. The little bits of information I could find about what it meant to be gay pointed to a psychological problem curable through therapy. Find the right therapist young man and you will be cured!

In 1973, when I was sixteen, I began a therapy based on the work of Wilhelm Reich called Orgonomy, with a promise from the therapist that I could, with hard work, change from homosexuality. Over the next twelve years with two different Reichean therapists I soldiered on waiting for my change to come. It never did. I then ‘studied’ a philosophy for a few years, (which I realized years later was a cult), that also promised I could change from homosexuality through the study of their philosophy. For a period of time after I left the philosophy, I thought I had ‘mostly’ changed, but eventually realized that I had not.

For many years my life was a strange back and forth between wanting and waiting to be straight and forays out into the gay world. I had a few friends who were gay. I went to the Pines and Cherry Grove on Fire Island a few times with my friend Ron and remember dancing with him at the Ice Palace at sunset. It was also Ron that took me dancing twice at Studio 54. Occasionally, I would go to one of the gay discos in Manhattan with my other friends. But for the most part, outside these occasional forays, I lived a life outside the gay mainstream.

While my first year of college included a number of sexual partners and a short-lived boyfriend, I changed colleges in my second year and lived a much quieter life. For the next few years, I would have infrequent sexual encounters with men.

A constant through my college and graduate school years were the baths, which I would visit every month or so. In college, there was the Club Baths located at 24 First Avenue in the East Village part of New York City. I remember it as an older, run-down place. Later there was the brand new St. Marks bath, which I preferred. My visits to the baths were infrequent and usually occurred when I felt ready to explode with pent up sexual desire that masturbation could no longer satisfy. This cycle continued until the early 1980s when I heard from my therapist about a new virulent sexually transmitted disease affecting gay men, which I later learned was AIDS. I was frightened by this unknown disease and stopped going to the baths.

When I look back at these years from high school through graduate school I am saddened by how much I was a victim of the times. While I was having sex with men in this period, it was sporadic and after my first year of college, mostly anonymous, and always accompanied by shame and self-disgust. 

Since I saw myself, at the time, as on a path to be straight, I preferred anonymous sex so that I did not have to be involved with anyone more intimately. I missed out on having a deeper, intimate relationship with a man at that time. Being in the closet did not go along with meeting someone for anything beyond anonymous sex.

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