In the dark February night, I walked up the drive to Bobby Covelo’s farm. I had never been there before. I knocked on the door. When someone answered, I asked, “Is this where people are gathering, before Brietenbush tomorrow?” I was warmly invited in.
There were lots of guys inside. It was similar to the comfortable hippie communal scenes I was used to, so I was relaxed and easy. There were some differences though. Most of the men were dressed pretty much normal. But one guy was wearing this gauzy, flouncy thing, lipstick and mascara, and a big ribbon in his hair. It was a look I wasn’t used to, with a moustache and beard.
We all hung out, saying where we were from and telling our stories. It got late, and we were bedding down to sleep. I was still up, hanging out with this little guy named Aquila. It was warm and dark.
What happened was like automatic, instinctual. As he and I talked, somehow our fingers brushed. Then our hands were clasping, like magnets pulling together. Our hands slid further, up on each other’s arms. Those arms were masculine, hairy, muscular and firm. Wonderful. It seemed the most natural thing in the world.
Then our arms were around each other. There was more and more skin contact, body heat. I don’t recall clothing coming off, but it must have. The next thing I knew, I was fucking him. As I slipped inside him, a blossoming, swelling warmth filled me, carrying me into a haze of pleasure.
I’ll come back to what happened the rest of the weekend, but for now, fast forward. The following week, after I got back to Forest Glade, I remembered this interlude. I had not talked to Aquila the whole rest of the gathering.
This was very disturbing to me. It was as if part of myself had gone out and entered him. Not just physically, but some of my vital energy, who I was, had mixed with him. Now, I didn’t know where it was. I didn’t know where he was, who he was, how he was doing.
That was the closest to anonymous sex I ever had. It was a lesson to me, that anonymous sex was not something I was OK about doing.
My pattern quickly emerged. Even if my sexual connection with another man ends up being just one time, even if it doesn’t work very well, or lead to anything. Even if we lose track of each other later, or have a falling out, still I need to know him.
I need to know enough about him to be able to go find him again, get in touch if I need to. (This has come in handy a couple of times for issues of crab lice, who gave ’em and who got ’em, but that’s another story.) I need a sense of a man before I can have sex with him. I need to know how he’s doing, what he’s like.
This missing piece with Aquila rankled me. Finally, several years later I ran into him again at gay pride in Seattle. We talked and caught up. I met his partner. I saw that he was doing OK. Then, it was all right. The circle was closed, and the loose ends tied up.
Back to the night in Bobby Covelo’s farmhouse. And the next morning. I got a ride north with a man named Gary, in his little pickup truck. Gary was a slight, very shy man. He was bald on top, with a full dark-auburn beard and warm brown eyes. As he drove, he held his right hand cupped inside my thigh, as Adrian had months before. It was real friendly-like.
We talked about all sorts of things. At one point I explained, “I’m still not sure I’m gay.”
“Neither am I,” he replied, “I just use the word to meet men.” No irony or wit, just a simple, practical rule of thumb.
Brietenbush Hot Springs is a wonderful place. There are various larger buildings, but most of the accommodations consist of tiny cabins, maybe about 100 of them. They are arranged like toy cottages on imaginary streets through the woods.
It was winter in the Cascades. Brietenbush is up in the mountains, and there were feet of snow on the ground. But there was such an abundance of geothermal energy available, free from the springs, that all the cabins were kept toasty warm. The heat delivery pipes fed big funky old-fashioned metal radiators. They gurgled comfortably in the cozy quiet.
Most of the cabin floor space was taken up by a big double bed. As soon as Gary and I got behind closed doors together, he suggested we try it out. “Take a nap” was his shy euphemism. I found Gary was all covered with wonderful swirls of hair. He had a delicious, rich, spicy scent.
I ended up going to the midwinter Brietenbush gathering several more times over future years. There were times I never had sex with anybody the whole long weekend — but not that first year!
The standard greeting was a hug and a kiss full on the lips. I learned how easy it can be with men. For example, I’d see a guy I liked the looks of. I’d sit next to him at lunch. We would talk and get to know each other. Where you from? What do you do?
By the end of the meal, if we liked what we found out, one or the other would say something like, “How’d you like to come to my cabin?” Pretty soon we would be naked under the sheets, face to face. Mental note, if I ever organize one of these: Do not include in the menu onion soup.
And so I passed the time. Maybe I even spent the night somewhere else. When I finally met up with Gary again in “our” cabin, I was surprised he had been crying. He had a bottle of whiskey or something he’d been nipping at, too. It was because I had been off with other guys.
I had had no idea. It was one of the first of many, many lessons for me in how we gay guys don’t always treat each other so well. Often, we’re rough on each other without meaning to be, without even realizing it.
I guess Gary and I had patched it up, or I had made it up to him in bed, by the end of the gathering because he was my ride home. His eyes were shining with happiness as he dropped me off. He lived only 70 miles away. By gay rural Oregon standards, that was close.
He came up to visit me a couple of weeks later. We walked in the woods around Forest Glade. He worked for Bureau of Land Management, BLM. We hiked along an old logging road, perched high on one of the steep slopes around our little valley.
He noticed a certain dirt slump, and remarked that it was “an acceptable slide”. It only took up a certain proportion of the “road prism”, the space bounded by the roadbed, the cut bank, and the imaginary line of the original slope above. This was from his BLM work.
Gary told me an anecdote. He had gone to a doctor because he’d had blood in his cum. The doctor told Gary he should quit shoving billiard balls up his butt. This was Gary’s terse, leaping style of relating things; short on elaboration, only touching the high points. I guess it was in the vein of explaining why he did not like to be out, to let people know he was gay. They reacted badly, and jumped to weird conclusions.
Gary said how, in the agency, it always seemed like raises and promotions came along about the same time a man got married, or his wife had a new baby. This did not mean a whole lot to me at the time, since I was not working a regular job, or for that matter at all. Later, I put it together what he meant. Since neither marriage nor kids were in the picture for him, his career was kind of poking along. And, he thought this was not fair.
I guess it soaked in because, in my professional life, I have quietly taken the attitude that I deserved just as much compensation as anyone else. I think simply holding that expectation has helped me get it.
As spring came on, I took a little bike trip down to visit Gary. Along the back roads around Medford, I was surprised there were so many pear orchards, and how warm it was so early in the year. I started to get it, that the Medford valley was like a little island off the end of California’s central valley, but similar in climate. As if the main valley had continued on north, just a little higher and cooler.
Gary owned a small, tidy house. Beside the bed he had a Weeping Fig, that houseplant that grows as a miniature tree with glossy, hanging leaves. Gary had it potted at an angle, so the branches spread out, suspended over the head of the bed. When you lay there looking up, it was reminiscent of being under an indoor forest canopy. Very romantic.
In a Victorian novel, say Jack London, the plot follows a man and a woman. They are shipwrecked, swept across the ocean, build a cabin together on a lonely island, repair a derelict ship, and finally escape from their fastness — all without ever having sex. In modern times, if the action follows two gay guys, it goes without saying that they are having lots of sex. That’s what men do.
The standard heterosexual thing is that the man always wants it, and the woman is holding out. Ok, so you put two men together. They both always want it, and nobody is holding out. Don’t be surprised what happens.
Sex was in the background all the time, as if in the air. I can not remember much of the details. One thing. One morning when I was keeping Gary busy when he needed to get up, he joked that if they were filming a porn video about what we were doing, it would be titled “Late for Work”.
One dark night, Gary came by Forest Glade when everybody else was gone. It was very unusual for the Big House to be empty. It was normally such a zoo. Gary had brought another man, Dan, who he wanted me to meet.
Dan was a big, handsome, full-bearded bear of a man, but he was so nervous. He did not want to do anything intimate in the Big House, in case somebody came home. He didn’t even want to be seen.
I took them up to my little dugout cabin in the hillside, lit the kerosene lamps, and we got naked. Pretty soon, it was obvious Gary intended we were supposed to “do” Dan, like service him sexually. I gave it a try, but I couldn’t get into it. All I could manage was massaging his back. I just didn’t know enough about him. I wanted to talk. The scene fell apart, and they left.
The next time Gary and I met, he was kind of mad at me. He told me Dan was the heir to a big family logging company. Gary, for obvious reasons, did not tell me which logging company.
Gary explained, in not so many words, that there was no possible way Dan could be out. He was married and had kids. He was under a lot of stress, both from running the company, and hiding his desires for men. He’d come for relief, and instead I was prying into his personal life. Gary was shy and quiet, not good with words, or confronting things; but he got out the phrase that I was “too demanding”.
This went against the grain of everything I was about. My ideals were: Have no secrets. Gay pride. Come out. Delve intimately into people. Deal with issues directly. Talk about feelings.
Gary and I had a falling out over this, but he was right. I wanted too much from men. Ironically, since he was satisfied to ask nothing of men, he always had plenty of them.
In a turnabout irony, Gary was the first man of my acquaintance to die of AIDS. It was only a year or so later. I was back up in Washington State by then, so Gary and I had not been in communication. But still it came as a surprise. It seemed so sudden.
Someone around Seattle told me the story. Gary had gotten sick very fast. He had only treated himself with over-the-counter remedies like Sudafed. He had not sought medical help until it was too late.
I could see it. Shy, not wanting any more accusations like the billiard ball, Gary would have gone right down.
The man telling me the story went on. Gary had liked bearded men. At the funeral, the whole back of the church was filled with bearded men.
I am not proud of the fact that Gary and I had had a tiff, and thus I did not know anything about him being sick till it was all over. But that’s the way it worked out. The same thing has happened two or three other times. Some tension has sprung up between me and another gay man I was friends with.
If we were to jostle together in a social situation, we’d probably look in each other’s eyes, and smile, and remember how nice we liked each other, and forget all about any trouble between us. But rural gay men are a scattered community. It’s not likely we would meet like that, at random. Instead we’d have had to put some effort into it. As we were a bit standoffish, we wouldn’t. And the next things I’d know, the guy would be dead of AIDS.
I’m not proud of it; but, one way or another, this has insulated me from the deep horror, the full brunt of AIDS. For me, AIDS has mostly happened off-stage.
The other thing is, I have been just plain lucky. It wasn’t till about five years later that I finally got it through my head that I had to be committed to safe sex every single time. Before that, I did some very careless things, including with men who later died of AIDS, and not all that long after.
I would never have unsafe sex now. Not for love, or sexual fun, or old times sake. I’ve seen enough of AIDS, and nothing could make it worth it.