For All the Boys I Loved Before

by Walt Dudley

Where did they all go? What did I ever do to make them go away—not just go away but never call, never write. My sister says it's simple: I'm an arrogant, self-centered philanderer. Maybe she was being redundant. You know sisters. But then I began to wonder: Could she be on to something?

As I recall, it seems I had more than my share, although there weren't as many as some people think. In fact, according to my detailed mental inventory, there were only a couple dozen men since 1974. OK, twenty-one, to be precise. But out of that number, only four or five were men I invested in emotionally. It all started innocently enough, if your religious point of view allows for innocence in that sort of thing.

Danny was my first, the leader of the gospel rock band I played in during the early '70s. Daniel was an ordained-in-high-school, divorced Southern Baptist, a bushy-haired brunette who flashed the kind of smile that you could read as either shy or a sinister smirk. In other words, Danny was the stereotypical Southern gospel singer, desperate for respect and attention. I was twenty-one and had just figured out that sex with men was right up there with singing as one of the things I wanted most.

The singing I could label. There we were, after all, rock ministers of the gospel, feverishly trying to drag the world's young people kicking and screaming into the kingdom of God, the Jerry Falwell/Billy Graham modus operandi. But my feelings. My feelings I had no word for.

On tour in Europe, our group found itself billeted in a humble farmhouse in eastern Holland. Danny and I were alone that night. We held one another. The holding led to fondling. I discovered what wonderful feelings four hands and two companionable weenies could produce. I also discovered that Danny did not like to kiss. Danny and I kept our intimacies covert, a secret from the other boys in the band, a secret from the public. It felt like I was keeping a secret from God.

I might not have been confiding in God, but the Almighty sure had a surprise in store for me. It was during the tour that certain mysterious symptoms began to harass me. The tingling feelings and weakness in my legs were mysterious to even the doctors I saw. And that was a little secret I couldn't hide from God, Grandma, or the band.

But the band played on, and at the end of the tour Danny took me aside and told me that he was concerned about my homosexuality. My homosexuality. A few days later, with zero input from me, the rest of the band voted Danny out. Of course, that left me with no one to weeny with. Had the other boys known about our secret, undoubtedly we both would have been voted out. I remained without a weeny partner for the remainder of my three-year music-making tenure

Danny is working out of Nashville now, still a gospel singer. He's on his second or third wife, with a total of six kids. He also sells antiques on Ebay, which is how I found him. He doesn't answer my emails. I could always track down one of his concerts, sit in the back row waving a hanky, and call out, "Yoohoo! Remember me?" Maybe he's afraid that's what I will do. Maybe that's why I haven't heard from him. Oh, I am so tempted.

Peter and I went to college together in Seattle. This was way before the gospel rock band. I was too naive to understand that Peter was after me. He was roughly my size. In truth, he was exactly my size—height, waist, shoe and, as I eventually discovered, another features as well. Peter also sported an expertly manicured beard, of which I was envious. He was in musical theater; I was in the campus All-Star singing group. I assumed he wanted to be friends. Big men on campus always hang together, correct?

Then, lo and behold, immediately after leaving the rock group at last, who should I run into back in Seattle but Peter. I'd just spent three-and-a-half years on stage, building an ego and religiously avoiding any personal entanglements. So, we talked, worshiped nightly at the discos, we talked, learned all sorts of new ways of making love, we talked—we even talked about performing together. Little did I know that Peter hoped for a serious relationship. He was there when I got the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. We continued to worship nightly at the discos, but I guess we never talked enough about the right things. Then he walked.

Peter lives in Los Angeles now. He's one of the best, if not the premier studio and performance instrumentalist on his particular musical gadget. His concert schedules and CDs are cited all over the Internet. Alas, he too has not returned my emails. Would that we could talk once again.

Then there was the young man who bore an uncanny resemblance to the young Carlos Santana. His name was Chip. Chip and I met one day in a restaurant. We immediately fell in lust. Once again there was the Christian connection. He was a member of this or that Pentecostal church; to keep the family peace, I was attending my own family's church, the local fundamentalist asylum. Chip was a radio announcer and an award-winning commercial artist. I was unemployed, careerless and desperately in need of direction. So, there we were, Chip and Walt; one of us was Pentecostal and simply looking to get his rocks off, while the other was seriously questioning his spiritual beliefs and falling in love.

Chip seemed steady at first, but in fact he harbored some intensely self-destructive impulses, impulses that led to alcoholism and gambling. His Pentecostal church elders, maybe sensing another problem, pushed him into marrying, absolutely knowing that marriage would cure whatever was ailing him. His marital farce lasted all of two months. Eventually, someone got the message from above that Chip was gay.

Chip was uncomfortable whenever I told him that I loved him, but over the years we stayed in touch. Then one day he showed up in a hot Chrysler LaBaron, "hot" as in owned by the bank, no longer by Chip. After a night of quiet angst, no lovemaking, a little crying, a little talking, Chip agreed to take the car back. After that, we had a few heartfelt talks long-distance, until one night I had a spastic attack mid-conversation. My unruly legs yanking me to the floor, I grasped the phone, trying to act normal. Chip had always known about my MS, but had never witnessed it. There on the phone he got an earful, and most likely an imagination's eyeful. I haven't heard from him since.

Jon hired me to be his assistant in public relations for a prosperous religious college near Seattle. It wasn't until I discovered he was paying me an unusually high wage and playing pocket pool every time he entered my office that I realized it was more than my PR and graphic-arts talents that got me the job. I introduced Jon to Scotch-on-the-rocks and oil massage. Jon introduced me to double Scotch-on-the-rocks, and incredibly sensual oil massage.

Within the first month, we were playing hooky from work regularly. One afternoon, Jon rolled over during his back rub and revealed the largest erection I had ever seen. Thus began a five-year off-and-on romance, sometimes tempestuous, always surreptitious. Jon's wife and three kids wouldn't have understood; nor would his college overlords, we told ourselves. Jon told me he loved me so often that I began not to believe him. Maybe my reaction grew out of guilt. The tough truth was that, as much as I liked Jon, I didn't really share his deeper feelings.

One undeniable plus was his genuine concern for my health and a genuine, albeit limited, understanding of my disease. When my MS took me to Honolulu and eventually to North Dakota, were my family had settled, Jon faithfully stayed in touch. He even stopped by once or twice while driving through. Then, early one morning, I was awakened by a phone call from Jon's wife, asking, "Were you having sex with my husband?"

What is the appropriate reply from a man being questioned about sleeping with a nice lady's husband? "Well, uh, actually yes, but it was . . . um . . . primarily masturbatory," I offered lamely, quickly adding,"I really think you need to talk to Jon." She hung up. I wanted to die an early death.

With divorce in the works, all communications from Jon ceased. I was left with the knowledge that here was a man who had cared about me, but the realization that I had never honestly and truly loved him. Jon was a workaholic and something of a control freak. He lived at ninety-miles-an-hour. Sometimes he truly frightened me.

There were men I enjoyed physically, but never connected with spiritually, or maybe even mentally, to be honest. Harry, for instance. Harry was the booking agent with the same outfit that Danny and I had been working for. A blond Texan Adonis, he was a fun roll-in-the-hay, to be sure. But hell, Harry had his pick of any young person in that "Christian" music company—any flavor, any gender, any religion. I rationalized that our relationship was not merely recreational, it was good business. After all, good rapport with your agent is mandatory, right?

Harry was representative of most of my intimate encounters. They were recreational—not callous or irresponsible recreation, but conscientious playtime. As I grow older, encounters like those have became less and less frequent. In my '40s—OK, late forties—I find myself pondering the essence of "relationship," the need for it, the likelihood of a relationship I can classify as deep, instead of recreational. Something that might last.

The fact of my disease lays heavy on my soul, and the fact that I have sprouted wheels. Sometimes, when I lie awake nights, I ponder those twenty-odd men. Should I regret those encounters or should I rejoice in them? I would like to feel mature enough—I'll soon be 50, after all—to know that dwelling on the past is futile, a waste of time. But I admit I'm stuck somewhere between regretting and rejoicing.

I also think my sister has always been jealous.


© 2001Walt Dudley

WALT DUDLEY wrote "Homo on the Range" for the January BENT.
You'll find his book, “WE’re THE PEOPLE, Too: Tales from America’s Largest Minority” in bookstores or online at ChampionPress.com, Amazon.com, and Barnesandnoble.com.


BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/September 2001