DID THEY GO?
For All the Boys I Loved Before
Where did they all go?
What did I ever do to make them go awaynot 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
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
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 sizeheight, 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 talkedwe
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
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
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
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 companyany 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 recreationalnot
callous or irresponsible recreation, but conscientious playtime.
As I grow older, encounters like those have became less and less
frequent. In my '40sOK, late fortiesI 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 enoughI'll soon be 50, after allto
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
"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