Rick Shory

Offering a little something you might not otherwise have

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Coming Out Year, Part 2: Romance.

Years before I knew them, Deva and Carpenter had had a photography business named “Wholeness Photography”.  Over time, this had evolved into simply “Wholeness”.  The name had stuck and spread to become more inclusive.  It included their adopted kids.  It included their space, whether stable such as a house, or mobile such as their bus.  It included various friends, participants, counselees, and hangers-on.  I’m sure, in the eyes of anyone involved, I was considered part of Wholeness in the early 1980s.  I may still be.

There was a small woman who was part of Wholeness about the time I was.  She had taken the name “River”, though her real name was Carla.  She had a birth defect.  Her arms were short, and ended in small, delicate, incomplete hands.  She did not have the use of her thumbs, so in effect no opposable thumbs, but handled things between her fingers.

After awhile, I did not notice this much any more.  She and I became friends and confidants.  Around Wholeness, there were always so many coincidences.  River had heard my name in a dream, before we ever met, as someone significant coming into her life.  Also, she and I had the same birthday.

So, it was our birthday.  River and I were talking, in the warm summer night, on one of the gravel paths between the buildings at the church camp where we were for the Quaker youth conference.

Long after that, River confided in me that that night, she was hoping what was going on between us would lead to sex.  Well, it led to sex all right, but not with her.  She said, pretty soon she could tell I had eyes for somebody else.

A dark shape approached in the parking lot.  He and I got into a little red pickup truck and started talking.  I knew I wanted him, but I was so inexperienced I had only the vaguest conception of what you do with another man.  Still, I was going to have me some fun.

I admit it was me that initiated intimacy.  He was holding back.  But after the events of the day, Deva almost dying, all I could think was life’s too short not to get on with it.

It was pretty crowded in the truck cab, two big guys in that little space.  He was doing something nice to me as I lay on my back.  I had my knees scrunched up because the seat was too short for me to stretch out.  The inside of the windshield had long since steamed over.  I relaxed, and relaxed.  And then there was a loud BEEP. My spreading knee had pressed on the steering wheel, blasting the car horn.

He froze. He was nervous, that someone might come and find us here. I was having none of that.  I seduced for all I was worth.  I had only heard of one sex thing guys did with each other: Suck dick. So I went down on him.  I was probably not very good at it, but I was enthusiastic and committed!

It took a really long time.  I had my arm under him, pressed down by his heavy weight.  When we were finally finished, my arm was quite asleep.  It had been constricted so long the numbness took a long time to go away.  I didn’t mind.  It was like a trophy.  I was glowing in glory over what I had done.

In fact, it took two or three days for the function of my forearm to completely come back.  Somehow, I was not alarmed.  I knew the nerves would heal.  Meanwhile, some subtle muscles that worked my hands were paralyzed.  I realized I had exactly the same hand function as River!

I am trying not to guess too much what was going on for Adrian.  It would be easy to construct all sorts of speculation, based on what I know of the gay world now, after all these decades.  But I am trying to capture what it was like for me then, when it was all so fresh and new, bumbling and innocent, confusing and painful.

I will allow myself a bit of mild speculation, though.  Adrian was very reticent to let the conference to know what was going on between him and me.  I think maybe it was because a significant thread of what he covered in his workshops was about the ongoing relationship he had with his partner James back in Boston.  It would look kind of bad if here he were hooking up with somebody else.

I was oblivious to all that.  I knew all these people here.  I had lived like brothers and sisters with a good number of them, on peace walks, and the peace bike ride.  I had no secrets from them.  Whatever this was happening with Adrian (I had no name for it yet) they would accept it.

Well, Adrian convinced me to publicly cool it all the next day.  But he agreed to have me come spend the night with him in his tent.  It was great!  He showed me some things to do, and I was a willing student.  Then we dozed off to sleep.

I woke in the night, and my world was shattered.  A few hours earlier, I had made love to a luscious hunk of man.  Now, beside me was only a repulsively snoring hill of flesh looming in the moonlight.  I thought, what have I got myself into?  What have I done?

With the morning, my glow returned.  That day, the conference was winding down.  Adrian was going into Portland for a few days, staying at his brother’s house, before returning to Boston.  There was no way he and I were going to part company.  I went with him.

Riding into the city, I looked across at him, studying is beautiful face.  I just looked and looked.  Occasionally, when he could spare attention from the road, he glanced back and smiled.

In between when he had to shift the clutch, he kept his hand cupped on the inside of my thigh.  I was later to learn this was a sweet, friendly thing gay men did with each other while driving.  Not overtly sexual.  The hand was not in the crotch, except maybe intermittently, playfully.  Instead, his hand was a little back of my knee, on the furry, meaty part of the muscle.  Just the right degree of warm and manly intimacy.

There followed a chain of romantic memories.

Strains of organ music, as someone played unseen in Reed Chapel.  We peered in the open door.  We walked inside.  We stood there, dappled in the rainbow light through the stained glass windows, holding hands.  The music swelled and washed around us.

Us on a lawn somewhere.  Him riding me on his shoulders for awhile.  Then, turnabout, I rode him on my shoulders.

As it got towards evening, Adrian offered to take me out to dinner.  “Do you know any gay restaurants?” he asked.

I thought hard, dredging through my memory.  “There’s one I’ve heard of I think is gay,” I answered.

“What’s it called?”

“Hamburger Mary’s,” I replied.

“Oh, with a name like that,” he chuckled, “It’s got to be.”

“A name like what?”  I was completely innocent.

“You know.”

I didn’t know.

“‘Mary’!”  Then he remembered I had zero experience with any of this.  He explained, kind of didactically, “It’s what gay men call each other when they’re being campy.”

I digested the “Mary” news, and filed it away.  Then I ventured on.  “What about ‘hamburger’?!?” I asked wide-eyed. I was sure this part was going to be far more juicy.

“Oh, you know…  Food…?”

That night, on the mattress at his brother’s house, Adrian showed me how to fuck him.  He just called it “fucking”.  I was used to the qualifier “butt fucking”; but I was beginning to put it together that, between men, that was, of course, the available orifice, so there was no need to specify.  It was kind of a political thing too.  Claiming fucking as just as much a gay thing, just as much a normal thing, as for anybody else.

He had a little flip-top squeeze bottle of mineral oil for lube.  He said that’s what his doctor recommended.  That was the opinion at the time, before our current understanding of safe sex.  We did not use a condom.

Here I go again guessing at Adrian’s mental flow.  The year 1983 was still at the budding beginning of the concept of AIDS.  He figured I was not a risk to him, since I’d never done anything with anybody.  He figured he was not a risk to me, as he was the receiving partner.  I’m glad he was even that conscientious.  I was in such a state, in that first rush of lusts, that I would have done anything sexual with him at the least suggestion.

Next day, we drove up to Mount Hood.  On the way, we stopped to buy gas.  He paid with a credit card.  Somehow, that tiny detail, the credit card, did something profound to me.

I guess, up till then, the gay men I had known, the artist and the dancers and the theater directors, had seemed so otherworldly.  I could not have ever imagined such taut, ethereal entities doing anything so mundane as to pull out the plastic.

Maybe another way to say it is, credit cards are so normal.  They are part of what normal people do.  Wouldn’t there be some kind of background check before you got one?  If your profile didn’t come up normal enough, well no card for you!  And surely no gay man could ever be credit-card normal.

The fact that Adrian passed for that normal put a major crack in my stereotypical image of gay.

There followed another chain of extremely romantic memories:  The alpine meadows below the towering glacier-clad peak.  The green heather, hung with its tiny pink bell-like flowers.  Flip-flopping in sandals over the patchy snowfields, which straddled the short trail we took to explore.  A giant cracked-open boulder, so huge we followed the fissures in like paths into a labyrinth.  And there, in that secret magical place, gazed into each other’s eyes, and touched.

Back in Portland, I had arranged to spend the night at Anne and Petro’s house.  The Wholeness folks were coming by the next day to pick me up, on their way back to California.

Adrian dropped me off.  We exchanged long, lingering looks.  Then he started the engine.  The red pickup, actually borrowed from his brother, receded down the street, turned the corner, and then he was gone.

I was literally vibrating.  I was like a bell that never knew it could ring, until, by what had come to me in the last few days, I had been lifted and struck.

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Coming Out Year, Part 1: Birthday.

I guess I’ll start with the beginning.  It was 1983.  I had been living with some friends in northern California, near the coast in Humboldt County, in the redwoods near Arcata.  They were Carpenter (him) and Deva (her).  I had met them on a peace walk two years before.

In the intervening year, I had biked cross country on a peace bike ride, west to east.  They had come cross country, east to west, in their big converted school bus, with their three adopted mixed-racial kids, ages about 3 to 6.  They had found a situation caretaking nine acres of steep hillside.  They had built an enclosed platform on the side of the bus, mostly plastic sheeting over studs.  In that mild coastal climate, that was enough of a house.  Mostly, it just needed to keep off the torrential rain.

Deva and Carpenter had invited me to come there after finishing my bike ride, so there I was.  Just living day to day, waiting for the next leading of what I should do in my life.

Deva and Carpenter live by faith.  They had followed their divine leadings in adopting their kids.  Deva has a genetic blood disease called “porphyria”, which, among many other issues, meant they could not have biological children of their own.  Deva and Carpenter were counselors, and amazing at it.  Their kids had all been severely abused before adoption.  The agencies had generally given them up as hopeless.  But, under the gentle healing shelter of their new parents, these children were blossoming.

Part of the healing was total honesty, and no secrets.  Their little girl had been sexually abused before the age of 6.  I learned a lot more about this kind of thing from living with them, but one of the major ways sexual abuse warps a kid is the secrecy of it.  The adult cajoles, threatens, makes deals.  “Mustn’t tell…  Never tell…  Or you’ll be in trouble…” and so on.  The child knows that what has happened is something powerful, but has no way to come to grips with it, understand it, integrate it.

Not too different from growing up gay, in some respects.

I got used to kids talking about the most intimate, brutal details, and adults answering them with complete candor.  In that atmosphere of total openness, I guess some things were starting to shake loose in me, long before I was consciously aware.  The idea you could talk about anything.

I had been there since the first of March.  I had come by bike, through weeks of West Coast February rain.  The sun shone on my arrival, but just for those few hours.  A week or so later, there came another clear day.  I took advantage of it to put together a platform out of old pallets and scrap lumber, so the ceaselessly trickling surface flow of rain water could pass underneath.  There I set up my dome tent, in a circle of redwoods.

I helped with construction, and building things.  I played with the kids.  In April and May, as the weather warmed and the rain slackened, I made terraced gardens on the steep hillsides.  I seldom wore clothes.  And so, I put together a life.

People sometimes get into didactic discussions about whether psychic stuff is real.  I saw enough things during that time, I no longer question it.  The incidents were always about healing, and connection, or simply mysterious.  One example:

Deva’s form of porphyria, “Acute Intermittent Porphyria” (AIP) caused her to have “attacks”.  Unexpectedly, she would scarcely be able to breathe.  She would be flat on her back in bed, barely conscious.  We would all come around, sit with her, hold her hands.  Carpenter would “give her air”, a sort of rescue breathing.

The standard medical etiology of AIP is that the patient takes weeks or months to recover from an attack, and each has a 40% mortality rate.  That is, the person has a 40% probability of dying at each attack.  But Deva had been though many, many of them.  Somehow, she could pull out, and be back on her feet, in a matter of hours.  She put it into words as “getting the chemistry balanced again”.  To me, it was obviously a form of psychic healing.  Still, her attacks were a serious thing.

One afternoon, while we were all supporting her through one of these episodes, she asked, with her eyes closed, “Who’s here?  Who’s here?”  We all looked around and answered in the vein of we’re all here, we’re here for you.  But in a few minutes a friend from Arcata, Alicia, came walking down the drive from the parking area.

It was just a little too much to be a coincidence.  It was just a little too much to assume Deva had somehow heard the car drive up, when none of the rest of us had.  Deva could not have subconsciously remembered an appointment; there was no phone for Alicia to call ahead.  More like, Deva had simply felt the presence of another aura arriving.  She was not in any position to fake it.

This and dozens of other little incidents convinced me psychic stuff is real.  Of course, there is a tremendous amount of psychic fakery and hype.  But people who are really psychic, it’s kind of like being gay.  They’ve got this weird thing going on. They didn’t ask for it, and they know it sets them apart from other people. There’s not a lot of help available for learning what to do with it.  Real psychics don’t tend to go talking about it a lot, except in situations where they feel safe with you.

July came and we loaded up and headed to eastern Washington for a wedding.  It was out in the meadows in the hills, the tall grass blowing.  All through that trip, I remember my feeling was of being billowed by the wind, some excitement growing in me.

Me and the kids had taken to doing balancing things, physical tricks.  There is a picture of me, where we stopped somewhere along the highways.  You know how kids like being held, piggyback, shoulder rides.  They like to be up.  There I am, strong and balanced, standing with one kid sitting on each of my palms, atop my upraised arms.

Next, we went to a Quaker youth conference, out in the country east of Portland.  I had been part of this youth group for some years.  In fact, connections from it had led to the peace bike ride.

It was a whirl of excitement, seeing old friends.  Deva and Carpenter were slated to teach workshops, and were much loved.  Also, a man named Adrian.  He had come there all the way from Boston, and his workshop theme was “spirituality and sexuality”.  He was openly gay.

I had known a scattering of gay men is college, but they all seemed swishy, neurotic, and fey.  In general, I did not have a very favorable impression of what gay was.  It was certainly not anything I identified with.

The conference started up.  Deva and Carpenter were much admired.  They spoke with such clarity, openness, and love.  When time came for their workshop sessions, the whole conference would show up.  I mean, the entire attendance.  First, all the people other than the leaders of concurrent sessions.  Then, after a few minutes when it was obvious they were in empty rooms, the session leaders would come there too.

A conference may be only a handful of days, but in the richness of connection it seems much longer.  In memory, it feels like this all developed over a very long time, becoming ever more complicated and internecine.

Something was going on between me and Adrian.  He was different from any other gay man I had ever known, or known of.  First of all, he was large and strong. He had a big full bushy red beard.

Here’s just one example of our interactions:

There is a game called “wink”.  All the players, but one, pair up and sit in two concentric circles.  The odd player, the winker, sits in the center.  The pairs sit facing the winker, one in front and one behind.  When the winker winks at the pair, the member in front jumps up and tries to tag the winker.  The member behind cannot touch the one in front until that moment, but then must try in whatever way to prevent the partner from reaching the winker.  The winker may wink at many pairs in turn.  It becomes a grand melee.  Finally, when someone tags the winker, that player becomes the winker for the next round.  All the other players go back to the circle, and swap positions, front vs. behind.

Adrian and I were partnered, round after round.  We were evenly matched.  I, at 27 and about 160 pounds, had wiry strength.  He, at 29, and over 200 pounds, had weighty strength.  We laughed and sweated, and got grass stains and mud stains, and a great deal of masculine physical contact.

Finally the game was over.  Neither of us had ever tagged the winker.  We were sweaty and dirty and breathing hard.  “Come on,” I said, and ran down to the creek.  He followed.  There under the trees was a rock-lined pool, the swimming hole.  I stripped off my clothes and jumped in.  He wouldn’t.

And so we danced around each other, through the time of the conference.  We were never quite on the same wavelength.  But, like in the game of wink, we certainly could not break free of each other.

Time went on.  It felt like many days, but it could not have been.

Quaker youth conferences have facility for participants to delve into deep issues, speak from the heart, and open themselves to profound change.  I was taking my turn in such a session, trying to talk about what was going on with me.  I was not making much headway.  I could not articulate anything but generalities, and shake my head a lot with downcast eyes.

Then, someone came to the door.  He said, “Deva’s having an attack.  She’s calling for you.”  I rushed from the room and to Deva’s bedside.

The messenger at the door had been Adrian.

This episode of Deva’s malady pulled the whole conference together.  It seemed like we all were there by her side, though how we could have fit in one room is a mystery.  There I was, invited, pulled to the epicenter.

A statistical 40% mortality rate.  But somehow, as usual, Deva pulled through.  I don’t know how long it was, maybe some hours, but finally she was resting easy.

I went outside.  A strong shower of Oregon summer rain had passed.  The dark clouds were receding over the foothills of the Cascades.  The lowering sun shone bright.  I had such energy in me.  I started to run, to sprint.  It was effortless, like falling, except falling horizontally.  My bare feet spun, splashing in the puddles among the coarse grass as I sped along.  Finally, I coasted and stopped at the edge of the forest, far on the other side of the playfields.

Somehow the whole thing, our dear beloved Deva having a brush with death, the squall, the sun, put it all in perspective.  I could not quite find the words, but it was something like:  Life’s too short not to get on with it.

The day happened to be my 28th birthday.  In astrology, they call that “Saturn return”, when Saturn is back in the same place as it was when you were born.  It’s a time of reaping what you have been sowing, dealing with what you have not been dealing with, all your life so far.

That night I got Adrian in the cab of his little red pickup truck, and had sex with him.

Deva never again had another AIP attack.

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About my coming out year.

Obviously, this and the following were not posted in the early 80s. I have back-dated them into a rough chronology to fit blog style. I actually set them down in 2009.

In that year, I got to know a man who, in his 60s, was finally dealing with his attractions to other men. He had lived a whole long life, been married, raised two daughters, been on the school board, and all the other things of small town life.

We met because he was driving down from his valley in the northern Rockies to a reunion in the state of Colorado, where I lived then. He got in touch regarding common interests in botany. Only when he got here did it come out, so to speak, about his gay thing.

He was a dear man, and we had lots to talk about. I convinced him to go with me to a gay pool party in Denver. It was a very mundane occasion, but he was in absolute overwhelmed shock. He had never been around any other men who are attracted to men, let along dozens of them naked.

In the few days we spent together, I began to return in memory to when this kind of thing had all been new and crazy in my own life. Whenever I would relate something about how it had been for me, he hung on every word. It meant so much to him just to have someone to talk to, a reality check.

He headed home, but we kept in touch by email. He kept reminding me that he was eager to hear anything I might have to say about when I had been first coming out. So I started writing. I had no idea I had eighteen chapters worth.

It was an odd sensation to revisit my coming out year. I had been 28, and since then almost as many years had passed. In each piece, I would follow a thread of memory set in that place and time, but it would often twine off into the broader perspectives of the intervening years.

In these postings, I have changed everybody’s name except my own. Simple respect for privacy.

I am certainly not proud of everything I did back then. However, I have tried to tell it all as truthfully as possible. There are always new men coming out. If you are one of them, and something I say here resonates with you, maybe it’ll help you feel a little less crazy.