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May 22nd, 2010

Secrets of the Masturbatory Male

May is National Masturbation MonthHurry, folks! Only a few days left to celebrate! ” and I’ll admit to feeling smug, because I have more experience with masturbatory gay men than anyone else I know.

Telerotic4During my years in Los Angeles in the 1980′s, I owned (and oh yes, operated) Telerotic, a gay men’s “phone fantasy” company. As a struggling young actor I had begun this odd vocation by working for an outfit as one of their “fantasy callers,” and as it turns out, I had a way with words. Within a year I struck out on my own.

My job was to sound credible (in roles ranging from cocky Venice Beach bodybuilder to friendly firefighter to surfer dude), manipulate the customer toward the prime objective within the typical call duration of thirteen minutes, and convince him that our connection was mutually mind-blowing to ensure he would call again.

And they did. Over the years I spoke to thousands, maybe tens of thousands of men, some of whom requested me faithfully every week, uttering secrets they had never spoken aloud before. It was amazing insight into the realm of fantasy, loneliness and desire. It was a social anthropologist’s dream.

Telerotic2They were usually men trapped in a life without physical connection. Some were married, true, but most of them lived in small towns and were helpless to locate male companionship. Their desires weren’t so bizarre that they were forced to resort to phone sex to speak of them. Their requests were simple and almost touchingly mundane. Stroke me there. Let me tell you what I think about. Take care of me.

My interest in them was a lifeline to many of my regular customers. They would reveal loves lost or found, the pain of isolation and their dreams of having a home with the right man someday. Occasionally their patronage would end after news of a potential boyfriend, or resume when it didn’t work out. Sometimes our calls ran long, as I gently led a faceless, suffering voice away from his grief and embarrassed tears.

Truly revealing myself, however, was an occupational hazard I didn’t risk. I was as callous as I was ambitious, and their intimacies meant little more than new material to plumb for future calls. No way would I compromise my fantasy stud persona to admit I was actually a skinny redhead trying to make a buck in Hollywood.

Telerotic3When AIDS headlines increased, so did business. And at last, something jolted me from my shallow priorities.

Maybe I’d had enough of continuing the charade, of being taken into their confidence and giving them bullshit in return, of representing a bogus sexual ideal for the sake of my continued prosperity, of being an incredibly convincing lie. Maybe I could no longer reconcile the dream world my phone calls inhabited with the encroaching nightmare real life was becoming.

Maybe it was the customer who, in the midst of our graphic phone sex call, helpfully offered to get a condom from the drawer so I could put it on. AIDS had permeated this man’s psyche so completely it had pierced his very fantasies. His presence of mind to protect himself ” and by extension me, the phone whore on the other end of the line ” was a gesture too filled with grace to comprehend. It stopped me in my tracks and broke my cynical heart.

Telerotic1It wasn’t long before I sold the company and ended my stint as a sexual entrepreneur. For a while I entertained friends with the sexy secrets and lessons learned from the disembodied voices of strangers ” perhaps as I have implied I would do here ” but that exercise no longer holds my interest. Call me reformed, but it feels like betrayal.

Today what I remember most is listening to the sound of profound longing, of men chasing a glancing, counterfeit intimacy because it was all life would afford them, and hearing their desire for something familiar and their doubts about finding it. I’m ashamed of my calculated exploitation of their hearts’ desire, sexual and otherwise.

And I am haunted, deeply and forever, by the sound of trust in their voices.

————————————-
This period of my life is covered in more detail in my book, A Place Like This.

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4 Responses to “Secrets of the Masturbatory Male”

  1. Robert Meek Says:

    May 23rd, 2010 at 4:52 am

    I want to say that you should not be ashamed, Mark, and in essence, that is true. These men, like me at one point in my life (I was once a customer of such a service), knew they were buying a fantasy. I can only surmise that they were so revealing about their lives to a total stranger because not only did they have a need to share, but that “total stranger” (IE., you) was non-threatening to them, by virtue of your anonymity.

    So, yes, don’t be ashamed. On the other hand, being ashamed, to a degree, is good. It shows you have true compassion and integrity. Character. Things all too rare in people these days. My reason for hedging on this is a tad more complex.

    Having never performed such a job, I can only relate it to the “next best thing” of reality in my life: once upon a time being a “prayer warrior counselor” at Jim Bakker’s PTL Club on their phone lines.

    Yes, I am ashamed, even to this day, slightly over 3 decades later. Why am I ashamed? Because of this – my reputation is far from stellar, but it is mine, only mine; mine to trash, if I so choose to do; entirely my problem, my issue.

    I have done and said much, in my life, but I am okay with that – I know that I am no longer that person. But what I did via PTL Club was not just me. It was other people. Desperate people, given a hope and dogma that was selfish, self-centered, and totally not true; not for them, but for PTL Club, Jim Bakker, and his greed.

    Mind you, I am not talking about God, nor the Bible. I am fully aware those can and do have places in the lives of many LGBTQ people. I am talking about PTL Club dogma, which I shan’t waste time and energy on, here. Yet I fear one of the greatest needs we have is to genuinely forgive ourselves, so we can move on to a greater Peace in our Spirituality, a more Tranquil Calm as we connect better with everything that is part of all, part of God. We have to let go of our past, forgive ourselves.

    So we must strive for that, and to walk away from our shame.

  2. Number Nine Says:

    May 23rd, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    I’m a new PSO (though long time Sex worker) and i would urge you to not own that shame. What i have discovered is that being a phone operator is much more about building relationships then i ever thought and more i think then most people think. Sure you’re there to get people off but you get to know them in the process. I recognize peoples voices when they call, what their slant is and i actually connect in a way. I think that’s why I’m popular and I’m just starting out. probably why you were too.

    so theres no shame in that… however if you bilk old ladies out of their life savings for some hypocritical televangelist .. then umm for shame ;)
    NN

  3. The Subversive Librarian Says:

    May 24th, 2010 at 9:57 am

    “Bullshit” is in the eye of the beholder. Your job was to deliver the goods in a professional manner. That’s what you did. You gave your clients what they wanted and needed, and you did it with compassion and grace, even then. I know cuz I’ve read the book. But to the extent that you were an asshole, that’s not who you are today. That’s the critical fact here.

    Speaking for myself, hanging on to shame is a dangerous form of self-sabotage that I can ill afford these days. I don’t recommend it.

  4. StevenIga Says:

    May 25th, 2010 at 10:11 am

    Great piece, Mark! You offer an interesting insight into a defining era of gay culture. You’ve certainly lived an interesting life!

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