It is hard to know where to begin when writing a personal history. Do I start as a small child already feeling different than my peers, or do I begin later when I first began to understand my attraction to men? Let me tell this story through a series of vignettes over time.
Thanksgiving 1963. I am seven years old. The men and older male cousins all stand around the TV in my uncle’s den, watching football on the big RCA color TV. They cheer and curse. They yell at the officials in angry tones. The intensity of their anger and passion scares me. I retreated to my cousin’s playroom off the kitchen. Usually, my grandmother and aunt come in and talk to me, but the men and other boys never do. During these family gatherings, I feet out of place in the testosterone-fueled male world of sports. More than that, I began to think that something is wrong with me.
I am fourteen years old. I sneak a copy of Screw Magazine into my bedroom that I purchased in Center City Philadelphia at a newsstand. As I look at the pictures, I begin to realize that it is the men I am looking at and not the women. I masturbate for the first time to images of men.
I am sixteen and struggling with my attraction to men. After a short period of liking the fact that I found men attractive, I begin to learn how the world sees homosexuality, and it is not good. I begin to see my future life, as painted in the wretched book, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex: But Were Afraid to Ask by David R. Reuben MD. That awful book colored my life for years to come. I did not want the depraved, tortured life that Reuben described so vividly. I begin to look for ways to change.
I discovered Orgonony, a therapy developed by Wilhelm Reich when I was sixteen. The Reichian therapist I saw told me that yes, through Orgonomy, I could change from homosexuality, which they considered a treatable illness. “The homosexual is afraid of heterosexuality, and it is a primary task of therapy to enable the patient to face this fear,” said an Orgonomy journal article from the period. I began having Reichian Therapy sessions. A few years later, when I went to college, I continued with a different Reichian Therapist. This went on for twelve years. As you might have guessed, I did not change from homosexuality.
It is the fall of 1976, and I am a freshman in college. I began to explore my attraction to men, even while I see a Reichian therapist weekly to change. I had a series of male partners that first semester of college leading to my first boyfriend. There is so much I could write about this boyfriend, but suffice it to say, he turned out to be a mentally ill fraud who lied to my friends and me. I was angry and devastated when the relationship ended. I changed colleges after that and began to go back in the closet.
At my second college in New York City, I led a more solitary life. I had a handful of friends, but I was not out. I kept my sexual orientation hidden. But as sexual pressure built up to the point of boiling over, I would seek release at the baths in New York City. Throughout my college years, every few months, I would head off to the baths. This continued until my therapist told me about a new disease that was affecting gay men. After that, I never went to the baths again. AIDS had me dig deeper into the closet as the fear of getting the disease drove me to continue to look for ways to change from homosexuality.
It was 1983, and I was in my second year of graduate school. I learned through the David Suskind show about a group in New York City that purported to help men change from homosexuality. The group taught their philosophy through classes, lectures, and individual sessions. They believed that through the study of their philosophy, men could change from homosexuality. In my last semester of graduate school, I began to study this philosophy remotely. Upon graduation, I moved to NYC to continue my study, living with three other men who were also studying to change. I was involved with this group for three and a half years before I finally left, unchanged. In the end, I came to believe this group was a cult. I will leave the group unnamed in this essay because this cult never shrugs off criticism.
To be continued in Part II