Sex Education Part 3: the Law of Chastity

Light.jpg

When I turned 12, I was set to receive the Aaronic Priesthood, the lesser authority given to worthy young men to perform ordinances in God’s name. 12-year olds with the Priesthood were given small responsibilities, like passing the sacrament during the main congregational meeting, a group of young men standing at attention as they passed trays of bread and water down the rows. At 12, young men moved from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts, and they left Primary at church, the organization for children, and instead became Deacons. It was a powerful rite of passage.

We left Missouri when I was 11, when my parents finally split up. The divorce would take a few years. I had no idea how wounded mom was at the time. The older kids who were still at home stayed behind to finish high school with my Dad, and the youngest three went with my mom. She went back to work as a teacher. We lived with my grandparents for a few weeks, then rented a home and enrolled in school. I was in fifth grade, and I made friends quickly.

I was a very innocent and naïve 11, despite my upbringing. I enjoyed playing Nintendo, reading books, writing stories, and drawing. I played with kids much younger than me and organized them in neighborhood games. I couldn’t ride bike yet, or sink a basketball into a hoop, or throw or catch a ball, all bizarre tests of masculinity. And I was teased occasionally by other kids for being a ‘fag’, ‘sissy’, or ‘fairy’, all of which sucked. I desperately wanted to fit in, to be just a standard member of the student body, a part of the kids who happily co-existed. Somehow, whether because I was Mormon, or gay, or feminine, I was on the bottom of the pecking order, and I knew that as early as third grade.

In fourth grade, when I was 10, kids started talking about sex more. There were veiled references. “How far have you gone?” “How many people have you done it with?” “Are you still a virgin?” Every boy knew just to brag and boast when truthfully no one really knew what they were talking about. Strangely, I don’t think I remembered the abuse I suffered as a young child during this time. I didn’t know how to process it. I was just caught up in adolescence, in moving to a new state, and in the tragedies happening in my family.

And so, before I turned 12, in preparation for the Priesthood, I was called in by our new bishop. We’d known him a few months, but he was really a stranger to our family. He was a pleasant retired man, a grandfather in his seventies, with thinning white hair. We started the meeting with a prayer and then he asked me the standard questions. Do I pay my tithing, do I obey my mother and father, do I believe in the Mormon Church as the one true church, do I have a testimony of the Savior. And then…

“Chad, do you obey the Law of Chastity?”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“That is when a man and woman are sexually involved only with the person they are married to.”

“Um, I guess so.”

“Do you avoid pornography?”

“What’s that?”

“Images or videos of a sexual nature.”

“Yes, I avoid that. I’ve never even seen any.”

“And do you masturbate?”

“What’s that?”

And so he told me what it was. “Masturbation is when a man plays with and strokes his penis because he thinks it feels good. But it is against the commandments of God.”

“No, I’ve never done that.”

I passed the worthiness interview. And the next Sunday, I got the Priesthood.

Reflecting back on this interview as an adult, I see an innocent kid who had already been sexually exploited, who was then sent into a room with an unfamiliar man. Behind closed doors, this man asked questions about sex, pornography, and masturbation, and he used descriptive terms to teach me what they were. While I believe this man had good intentions, the very idea of this enforcement, of strangers questioning children, of perceived virtue being the sounding board for worthiness, these messages taught me all about sex. And these were things I should be learning from parents or teachers, not a stranger.

But I remembered his words. And I was curious. Within a few weeks, I tried out masturbation. It felt great to play with my penis. Like really, really great. It got hard and had so many nerve endings. I found myself closing the door to my room and playing with it. I’d even do my chores and reward myself with time to play with my penis later. (Processing as an adult, I realize that I was reenacting my abuse: masturbation as a reward for chores. But I didn’t know this then). I wasn’t thinking about sex or sexual intercourse or sexual partners, I just liked touching myself. I found myself doing it at the dinner table, in the shower, in the bathroom, when I thought no one could see. I knew it was wrong, knew it was forbidden, but it felt so good!

And then one day, early in the morning, I was playing with myself in my bed, and it felt more intense than usual, and I went faster, and then… I ejaculated for the first time. It scared me! What was that! Oh my god, what was that! It went everywhere and was sticky and messy and I felt like something was wrong with me. The pleasure passed quickly and I panicked, remembering how the bishop had said this was wrong. And so I cleaned up and then dropped to my knees, immediately begging God for forgiveness.

And that day began a cycle that would stick with me for the next 20 years. I would stave off masturbation, for days, weeks, sometimes even months at a time, and then I would give in. And after I gave in, I would feel ashamed and beg for forgiveness. Sometimes I got nauseous. Sometimes I got really nauseous. Sometimes even the idea of sexual pleasure would make me nauseous. And the older I got and the more intense the sexual feelings got, the worse the nausea got.

But for now, I was chaste. And I knew masturbation represented sin. But I wondered why, if God didn’t want me to do that, then why did he make it feel so damn good? Why was it a constant temptation? I guess so that I could show God that I was dedicated to him. That was my job, to keep that relationship strong, to be a good Priesthood holder, to be worthy.

And then puberty started, and the hormones hit, and the struggle intensified.

Advertisements

Sex Education Part 2: And None Will Molest Them…

I loved the hymns. I loved all of the rituals of Mormonism, in fact. Prayers before bed, church every Sunday, fasting and tithing. But the hymns, sitting in the chapel and singing with the Saints on Sundays, they made my heart soar. My family was very musical, all of us, and we would sing loudly in the congregation, harmonizing and singing in all four parts. I loved watching the conductor at the front of the chapel. I loved the piano refrains. I loved tracing the black notes in the hymnals with my eyes.
Now let us rejoice in the day of salvation.
No longer as strangers on earth need we roam.
Good tidings are sounding to us and each nation,
And shortly the hour of redemption will come,
When all that was promised the Saints will be given,
And none will molest them from morn until ev’n,
And earth will appear as the Garden of Eden,
And Jesus will say to all Israel, “Come home.”
I knew very early on of my divine purpose. I was a child of God, with a divine destiny in store. Where much was given, much was required. Because I knew of my godly heritage, I was expected to be obedient and follow all of the rules because I loved God and he loved me. Everything happened for a reason. God saw and heard everything and there was nothing he didn’t know. And if anything bad happened, it was because God had something to teach his children. It all made sense. Perfect sense.
There were a lot of women in my home, and I was often hungry for male attention. I had five sisters and my mom was responsible for most of the parenting. Dad was gone a lot, and always quiet and sad when he was home. That left my brother, Kenny. He was 8 years older, and a bully, constantly teasing me and my little sister, Sheri. We shared a bedroom, and he made it widely known that I was not the kind of brother he wanted around. I was too much of a sissy and I liked girly things.
So far as I can put it all together, I was 5 when the abuse started, and I think I was around 8 when it ended. My memories of this time remain fractured. As with all survivors of trauma, my memories are sharp and clear on certain things, and completely blank on others. I write this at the age of 40, and it still brings back dark shameful painful yucky feelings to consider what happened. My family also remains extremely uncomfortable with me talking about it. So I won’t be overly specific, I’ll simply talk about the experience itself.
Kenny, who was in some ways a child himself (though the older he got, the harder it is to use the excuse, and, again, I was only 5), he used the typical tactics of all abusers. There was grooming. He made the abuse feel like a reward for good behavior and deeds. If I helped with his chores, we could go up to our room and spend quality time together. I was warned not to tell anyone. I was given instructions while at school to think up new games we could play together. At times, when I tried to initiate encounters between us, he would shove me aside and embarrass me if he wasn’t in the mood. It was sometimes frequent, sometimes infrequent, and I kept it silent for a very very long time.
As I look back, I think that I thought of it almost like a game. As I process memories not related to the abuse, they are otherwise very normal. Family dinners, spelling bees, swimming lessons, Christmas mornings. My brain hones in on very specific instances and the things that happened, and then there are big gaps. There may have been weeks or months when the abuse didn’t happen at all, and there were times when it was frequent. I don’t know exactly how it started, and I don’t know exactly how it stopped.
I do now that by the time I was baptized at the age of 8, I knew far too much about the male body and how it worked. I still had a lot of innocence, but I knew about masturbation, and intercourse, and orgasm. I knew about sexual shame and secret keeping. And so, that day when my dad dipped me beneath the water and declared I was without sin, that day when I was wearing white, I didn’t realize how deep the darkness within me was. I had no idea how far the roots of pain and confusion had spread.
First there was the awareness that I was different, something I ultimately learned to mean I was gay. And then there was the abuse. And those two things in conjunction with the messages I received about God and divine destiny created deep wells of confusion within me. I developed an understanding that I was designed wrong, that there was something inherently flawed within me. And that deep pain, it was with me during all of those normal moments of childhood. Through the chores, the stories I wrote in notebooks, the playing with friends at recess. It was there on summer vacations, and in Cub Scout activities. It was there when I made friends with boys and girls, when my oldest siblings moved out of the house, and when one of our dogs was hit by a car.
I learned to put on a happy face. It was genuine. I was a happy kid. I was kind and compassionate, I cared about others, I loved learning about animals. All those parts of me were real. But they also became the parts that I learned to show the world while I kept the rest secret. It’s what was expected. It’s what Kenny taught me to do, but I’d learned to hide my differences even before that.
Years later, as an adult, I would look back at these early photos of me, and see an innocent kid. I was the perfect target. I was eager to please, accommodating, happy, easy to manipulate. I kept confidences. I was hungry for attention. And I was in a busy household where it was hard to notice if one kid was going through hard times, especially if he was quiet about it. And above all else, he had easy access to me. I was right there, one bed away, right behind closed doors.
I turned 8, and Kenny turned 16. He started drinking more, and he got a job, and he cycled through girlfriends. And I had no idea how unhappy mom and dad were, they were good at keeping their own secrets. But by the time I was 11, they would split up and we would move across the country, away from Kenny and dad and my childhood home.
And then adolescence began. And suddenly being different from everyone wasn’t okay anymore. I would only become more aware of it with every passing day.
Jesus

Sex Ed Part 1:Happily Ever Afters

Chad and Betsy, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g

first comes loves, then comes marriage, then comes Betsy pushing a baby carriage!

When I was a young kid, I didn’t know anything about sex, but I learned pretty quickly that the world revolved around it.

I was born a boy in 1978. I had a penis between my legs, and the doctors wrapped me in blue. My parents had one older boy at home and four girls. Having a penis meant a blue blanket. It meant trucks and tools and balls. My parents held their little boy and they looked forward to a future in Mormonism for me, one where I would follow all of the rules and rites of passage. It was a long path of success and worthiness for boys in my religion.

I was only a few weeks old when my father held me in his arms and, surrounded by other male Priesthood holders at church, he gave me a name and a blessing. I was named Chad Deloy. I was blessed that I would be a worthy and believing Mormon all of my life. I was told I would get the Priesthood one day, that I would be an obedient son of God, that I would go on a mission and eventually marry in the temple. I was told that I would serve in the church my entire life. And if I did that, followed all the rules, then I’d get to have a worthy wife sealed to me, and we would have children, and after I died, I had the potential to be a god myself. All that because I was born with a penis. The women in my family must have looked on, remembering their own promised blessings, to be wives and mothers, attached forever to their husbands.

Like anyone else, I can’t remember much about those first few years. I know Mom doted on me a lot. The older kids had so much chaos going on, but I was the baby. I was chubby and snuggly, and Mom wrote music as she rocked me back and forth. It was the early 1980s, which meant watching Disney movies on VHS tapes, and getting up early on Saturday mornings to watch cartoons. It meant storybooks from the library. And I learned very early on that men were the warriors, women were the princesses, and every story seemed to end with marriage and love. Men and women made husbands and wives and then they had kids, this was the format for everything.

And at church, the stories from the scriptures were the same. It was all about love and virtue, obedience and worthiness. But the rules were clear long before I understood them. Save yourself for marriage. Sex only between a man and a woman, and only when married. Worthiness was related to virtue. Don’t lust, no heavy-petting, no pornography, no masturbation, no homosexuality. Man and wife, then children. And whatever sex was fit into all of that.

As early as three and four, I can remember comments about all of these things. “He’s such a handsome young man, he’ll make a woman very happy one day.” Talk on the playground turned to discussion about who you had crushes on, and who was going steady or “going out” with who, and who had boyfriends or girlfriends. Every adventure was a mimic of what media we were consuming. Men fought the villains and girls were to be saved.

I was five when I started realizing I was different from other kids. The other boys were into sports and competitive play. They were aggressive, they teased, they played rough. I was more into story-telling, nurturing, art, reading, and I preferred playing with the girls at recess. And when the boys talked about crushes on girls, I found myself with crushes on the boys. But I knew even then that talking about it would mean getting teased. I remember pretending to have crushes on a girl in my class named Betsy, a red-head with freckles. My brother told me I had to kiss a girl in order to be a ‘real man’, so I pretended like I had kissed Betsy, and he’d punched me on the arm to congratulate me. All of that was there as early as kindergarten. The subtle messages were hitting from every front, from the media, from church, from culture. It was simple. Boys and girls, sex and marriage and family. It was all around me, constantly.

But I didn’t see much of it at home. My oldest siblings dated, had boyfriends. My mom and dad were married, and that meant they were together forever, for all of life and into eternity, as the Mormons taught it. But I could tell early on that they didn’t seem happy. Dad cried a lot and laid on the floor all the time. He also lost his temper a lot. And Mom was so focused on the kids, on being busy, cooking meals and cleaning house, spending special time with all of us. My little sister was born in 1982, and she had another baby to focus on, making seven of us in total. Mom and dad didn’t touch much. The family was busy, school and church, homework and chores. It was a chaotic and busy life. It was just the way of things.

Marriage and then “Happily Ever After.” And I realized early on that we were the Happily Ever After. All those Disney stories ended with that. “And they lived happily ever after.” This was that. Dad went on his mission, he and mom got married in the temple, and then they built a family. This was it. This was what happened to Snow White and Cinderella and all the others: they got married and had families and then went forward with all of that. So I didn’t know what sex was, but the world revolved around it. And this, well, this was it.

And right around that time, my brother started touching me behind closed doors. And over the next few years, I developed a very different understanding.

HEA

So Carefully Contained

Lately, I feel fingers scratching at the edges of reality. 

It’s like those moments when you first wake, 

when you slowly come aware, 

when you remember you have a body and a bed in the darkness

when everything downloads itself back into your brain

and then you pick up where you left off. 

There is more to all of this

(there has to be)

meaning behind the madness

not God but… something. Something out there that I can make sense of. 

 

I created these walls around me. I painted them brightly. They protect me. 

When I grew weary of boundaries, of need, of being hurt by others, 

I changed myself. I made it so that I would reduce hurt, 

so I could expect more from myself and less from others

I set my own terms and began dreaming bigger and achieving more. 

And here I am, in the dwelling I desired

Full, ripe, plentiful, rich

So carefully contained in this space

the one I created

and wondering what else is out there to be discovered. 

I love it here, but I’m outgrowing it, I can feel it. 

The old itch is returning, the one that tells me I need to change. 

I need. To change. I need. More. I need. (What is it I need?)

Desire, lust, forgiveness, sanctification, release, horizons, animal passion, to be seen, to be heard, to feel loved, to forgive, to change the world.

I need. 

 

Lately, I feel fingers scratching at the edges of my reality. 

They mean something. Some success, some discovery, something

Right around the corner. 

And it’s going to require me spilling over the edges of this container I’ve built and embracing.

Embracing. Risking. Trying. 

It’s right there. 

(I need.)

 

 

Milk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heaven or Hell?

“Dad, how come you don’t believe in God now?”

I sat at the stoplight, looking up at a Christian billboard, one of those aggressive ones that shows up all over Utah lately. “Will you be in Heaven, or in Hell?” it asked, with dramatic images on each side. There was a phone number, and a scripture that I would never look up.

Screen Shot 2019-04-05 at 9.41.14 PM

I cocked my head, looking back at A, my precocious 7-year old. He was bouncing his new plastic red-eyed tree frog around in the back seat, idly playing. Although he’d been the one to ask the question, he was barely paying attention now. His older brother, J, now 10 years old, was looking out the window.

“Why do you ask?” I said as the light turned green.

“Well, you’re an atheist now, right? But why?”

I looked at him in the rearview mirror. “Well, I’m happy to answer, but I’m just wondering why you want to know that right now?”

A shrugged, looking at the frog in its red eyes. “I was just wondering, I guess.”

I considered for a moment. My kids had been asking me hard questions for years, and I had learned years before that the direct approach was generally the best one.

“Well, buddy, we can have more serious talks about this when you get older. But I just want you to know that I love you whether you believe in god or not, it just so happens that don’t believe in one anymore.”

I saw J turn his head, more intent in the conversation now. “We know, Dad. You love us no matter what.”

I smiled softly. I loved that he could say that with confidence. Just a few nights before, we had been watching an episode of Queer Eye on Netflix together, and a young woman had talked about getting disowned by her family when she came out as gay. J had snuggled tightly into me and said, “You would never kick me out for anything like that. You and Mom both love me.” I adored that assurance he had in that.

I pulled up to another red light. “Okay, so I was Mormon for a long time, you know that. When I was Mormon, I believed in God and I said lots of prayers and everything. But lots of people told me that I was bad for being gay. Some even told me that God could make me straight if I was a really good boy. And I was a really good boy, but God never made me straight. So when I stopped being Mormon, I stopped believing in God.”

I worried even that much was too much information, but they both seemed to understand. “Okay, cool,” said A.

J looked back out the window. “I haven’t decided if I believe in God or not. But maybe I’ll decide when I’m a grown-up.”

I grinned widely. “That sounds perfect.”

And soon we were home, and we played with toys together, then I made dinner while they watched a cartoon. As I grilled the eggs and stirred up the protein pancakes, I contemplated how far removed I am from my former lifetime. I used to be so caught up in the Mormonism of it all, both before and after I left the religion. Now I barely noticed an impact in my life at all, in any capacity.

In November, 2015, the Mormon Church implemented a policy that said that gay people who married a same-sex partner were considered apostate. Then it went on to say that the children of gay people couldn’t be blessed or baptized until they were adults, and only after disavowing their parents. Back then, those three and a half years ago, I had had such a profound anger response to this news. How dare they! How dare they use their influence to shame and label. How dare they use that dirty word, apostate. How dare they make it about children.

Well, this week, they changed their minds. Apparently God decided that it was mean to do this. Now gay people aren’t apostates, they are only sinners. And their kids don’t have to be kicked out any more. A step in the right direction, perhaps. The news came without apology, without acknowledgement for the extreme damage done in the lives of so many three years ago.

But the new news didn’t hit me at all. I barely reacted. When my friends posted notes on social media, heartfelt paragraphs about their coming out journeys, about their struggle to belong to a religion that didn’t want them, about their deep and abiding pain with it all, I just casually observed. I grimaced, I shrugged, I barely noticed the bad taste in my mouth. Look at this as evidence for god. Why would I possibly believe in god when he was always presented to me this way.

After dinner, and pajamas, and a dance party, and brushing teeth, I tucked my kids into their beds. I gave them both huge hugs and told them how much I loved them. I gave them both sincere eye contact. “You’re important to me,” I told them both. And they went to sleep, knowing they are loved.

An hour later, I went to bed myself, and I contemplated god for a minute. I thought of the rituals I had growing up. The shameful prayers on my knees, the waking every morning and reading chapters of scripture, the three hours of church every Sunday morning, the 2 years I spent as a missionary, the ten per cent of my income that I paid to the church for the first 32 years of my life, the pictures of Jesus and prophets and temples that lined the wall of my home growing up. I remembered how ‘all in’ I was, and how hard it was to leave it all.

And then I assessed my simple and beautiful life now. Happy kids, a job that makes a difference, and a man that I love who shares my bed. And if God looked down at all of this and saw me as a sinner, as an abomination, as an apostate, well, I want no part of that god.

I thought back to the billboard. Heaven or Hell? I’ll take whichever this one is, the one without god and Mormons and self-hatred. This one suits me just fine.

The Garden of Good and Evil: a night out in Savannah

I couldn’t sleep. My thoughts were still racing back on everything that had happened at the club. I hadn’t lost my temper like that in so long. If I really thought about it (and it took some thinking), I had maybe gotten that angry four or maybe six times in my entire life.

Mike, my boyfriend, lay down facing me. He was sleepy, but worried about me. “You okay?”

I sighed, deep. “My head is just all over the place. My thoughts spinning. I’m still so damn mad, but I feel guilty for getting that mad, even though anger was a perfectly justified response in this situation.”

“Yeah, you didn’t do anything wrong, but your anger certainly caught me off-guard.” Mike hates anger. When we had left the club, I could see how shaken he was.

We were in Savannah, Georgia. I was shocked at how beautiful the city was. Parks every few blocks, perfect blue skies, trendy food establishments, cute shops, everyone friendly. We’d spent the day exploring and had both commented on how pretty it was, muttering how we could live in a city like this if we wanted.

It was a Thursday, and we had ventured over to the local gay club to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race, one of our favorite shows. We loved watching it in a bar with a crowd of people who cheered and jeered as the show broadcast. We shared a drink and laughed and were having a pleasant evening. The bartender, an adorable transgender woman with a smoky laugh and terrible jokes (“You better stop undressing me with your eyes! I see you there!” she’d said, playfully) told us that after the show, there was a local drag show, and the club would get much busier. And despite it being a week night, staying up late on vacation was perfectly acceptable, so we’d decided to stay.

And the club certainly did get busier. Several dozen people came in to watch some of the local drag queens perform, and then amateur queens were competing in a talent competition. They sang and danced, then the more experienced queens gave them advice. There was applause and alcohol, and I was having a blast people-watching. And then a sexy college-aged guy stood directly in front of Mike and I.

He definitely drew our attention. Very tight shorts and a form-fitting shirt. Incredible body. He was likely a wrestler, maybe a lacrosse player. He could easily pose on magazine covers wearing most anything and look amazing. Full lips, thick hair, big brown eyes. He was both adorable and sexy. And he clearly noticed us.

The college guy kept turning, making eye contact, trying to get our attention. He “accidentally” pressed up against us both a few times. He must have known we were a couple, as we were standing close together. He turned and placed a hand on my chest suggestively, playfully, then turned and did the same to Mike. A few more brushes up against us and I finally patted his arm.

“Hey! You can say hello if you want. I’m Chad, this is Mike.”

He answered, loudly, and was clearly drunk. “My name is Chad and Mike, too!” He gave a long exaggerated laugh, then invited us to guess his name. This went on for a while. While the show was going on, we made several attempts at conversation, but he just kept laughing and being sarcastic, so I gave up trying. That’s when he turned and grabbed me right on the crotch, squeezing his hand. “I’m Dawson!” he finally yelled.

I winced at his grab. I had given zero indication that I was seeking that type of contact from him. We were in a crowded bar on a week night, and I was there with my boyfriend. I cocked my head sideways and pulled back, indicating that I wasn’t interested. Dawson just laughed loudly and turned around. I assumed he had gotten the hint, but just seconds later, I saw him backing into us, pressing our bodies against the bar as he stood there. His back and ass and legs right against us, his hands starting to wander again. This time I pushed him gently forward, creating space between us. I still didn’t say anything, but I was clearly not participating with his gropes, and he was not getting the hint.

I pictured this same scenario happening in a regular bar on a weeknight. A girl out with friends, says hi to a cute guy who is drunk, and seconds later he squeezes her boob, her pushing away from him and him grabbing back. I winced at this scenario, here or there. Gross.

I focused back on the performer, several rows ahead of us, but Dawson turned his head over his shoulder, making eye contact, and shook his body a bit. I looked down and realized he had pulled his pants down in the back. He wasn’t wearing underwear. He was literally showing us both his ass. His naked ass. He had bared his ass. In a crowded bar. I closed my eyes, beginning to get angry. This kid wasn’t getting the hint.

When I opened my eyes, Dawson had his pants back up, but he was reaching over and trying to slide his hand down the front of Mike’s pants. Mike grabbed his hand and pulled it away. And he finally verbalized how we were both feeling. “No.” It was a simple, soft command, conveying disinterest and anger.

Not getting the hint again, Dawson then turned and tried to slide his hand down my pants. I gripped his hand and pulled it away. “Dude. No!”

And instead of walking away, Dawson tried one more time. He turned toward us and then tried sliding both of his hands down both of our pants.

And that did it. I was done.

I grabbed both of his hands and spoke very loudly and very firmly while looking him right in the eyes. Several people around us heard the interchange over the sound of the drag queens singing.

“Get a hint! We said no! If you try to grab me or my boyfriend again, I’ll punch you in your fucking face, got it? We have given you NO indication of interest, and you just keep going! You bared your ass in public, man! NO! You do NOT have our consent, especially not here in a crowd of people! And if you are grabbing people in a bar without consent, that’s fucking assault, you got it? Now are you gonna back off, or do I need to say more? Back the fuck off!”

Dawson, still clearly drunk, widened his eyes in surprise, pulled his hands away, and quickly exited the area. My heart was pounding in my chest. Mike was shaken. Barely speaking, we got our jackets and quietly left the bar to walk the mile back to our Airbnb.

Now, laying in bed, I looked into Mike’s eyes. “Do those tactics work for that kid? Was he just drunk? Is this a regular pattern for him? What was he hoping would happen? Fuck, men are the worst. Guys doing this to women in bars, guys doing this to other guys in bars. Whether he was drunk or not, he’s still responsible for his actions. Like I wish I hadn’t threatened to punch him (like I could do that even if I tried). I wish I’d just given a very firm no. But I feel like I was pretty damn patient. Maybe he took our silence as acceptance? Whatever happened to ‘hey, handsome, I think you’re cute’? When did that turn into grabbing someone’s privates and baring your ass? What is happening? Shit like this makes me not want to go out anymore.”

I was rambling, I realized. I sighed, deeply. It felt good to get some of my thoughts out in the open. Mike listened, calm and consistent as he always is.

“Maybe it’s something to do with growing up gay,” he said. “Maybe this is just how guys learn to get attention. Maybe he was taught along the way somewhere that this is what is expected of him.”

I considered that for a moment. “Or maybe he’s just an asshole who can’t take a hint. The chest touching, that was charming in a way, strangely. The grabbing of my dick? Not at all. But once he started trying to put his hand down our pants, even after getting a no, that’s just plain assault, no matter what his history is.”

I took time to consider gay culture as I know it. Men are constantly meeting men online, on apps, where they send photos of their genitals before they do of their faces. They ask what a person’s preferred sexual position is before they ask their name. They want to know how big the other guy’s dick is or how fit he is before they determine if he is worth knowing as a person. Is that what people have learned to expect from each other? Are we making histories of being closeted and feeling traumatized, are we hiding from loneliness and a desire for connection, for something more? Is this what it is all building to, all the effort to come out and build a hopeful future? Or was this just some kid in a bar who couldn’t take a hint?

We talked a bit about growing up gay, about gay culture, about anger. We talked about people we knew back in Salt Lake City who might have really enjoyed Dawson’s aggressive attentions. And then we talked about guys we knew who were like Dawson, drunk and aggressively flirting in bars on a Thursday night. Ugh. I felt too old for this shit. I missed my kids, suddenly, my routines.

That night, I wrestled a bit with my own doubts. I hate losing my temper like that. I didn’t do anything wrong, and I still felt shitty. What did I learn from all of this, what did this tell me about myself, my world, my culture. Suddenly, I remembered the mural outside of the gay club, along the brick wall. A memorial to Lady Chablis, a transgender drag performer who graced the stages of Savannah for something like 40 years, brought to world fame for her appearance in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. An icon. She’d only died in 2016, just three years before. How many men sat to watch her perform in that very club, searching for themselves, for belonging, through all of those years. After Stonewall, through the AIDS Crisis, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and Matthew Shephard, and the years of reparative therapy, and the passage of gay marriage. All of those men, for all of those years, fumbling to belong, struggling to find their place.

And suddenly I found compassion for Dawson. And that made me angry all over again.

Chablis