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April 12th, 2011

Trying to put away childish, damaging things.

When I became a man, I put away childish things.
— 1 Corinthians 13:11

We’re on a dirt road in the cotton fields, sitting in the back of his Plymouth. It had been my idea to stop and look at the sky, and it doesn’t come off like a sneaky move now, because the moon is full and bright and gorgeous. I’ve been playing along but I wish he would make his move. This is the part that’s always kind of boring. He’s nice, though, and good looking, maybe around 35.

cotton roadIt’s a balmy Louisiana night in 1975. And I’m fourteen years old.

Everything goes as planned, and he gets me home on time so no one suspects. But he was a lot more nervous about it than I was.

And that was the routine during my teenage years. I had given up trying to mess around with other boys because it took forever to talk them into anything and I didn’t want them to freak out about it. So, I got involved in community theater productions during the summer, playing bit parts or working the spotlight, just to be in the company of gay men. Then it was just a matter of getting some time alone with them.

My strategy for getting laid worked with some regularity, and it never occurred to me there might be something inappropriate or perverse or even criminal about it. Ah, but that’s the catch. It never occurred to me.

People tell me the criminal ramifications most certainly occurred to them. They say I was molested or abused, and that it was the very definition of the word “statutory.” They say I was dealing with adults who had the capacity to know better. And, most bruising to my ego, they tell me that my seductive charms were irrelevant, and that perhaps it was they who were manipulating me.

Now, at fifty years old, I wonder if my teenage memories are trustworthy, and if it mapped an adulthood in ways I’ve failed to acknowledge. Before I became a man, before the failed relationships and the HIV and the drug addiction, there was an adolescent traveling side roads with strangers and taking dangerous walks in public parks. And it is that boy, not the legion of adult accessories, who fascinates and saddens me.

Was my fate sealed in the cotton fields of Louisiana?

The men I coaxed to those dusty roads aren’t villainous to me, and I still can’t allow them to be left dangling in guilt and shame. I won’t reduce them to simple pathology.

I met Jim in August, right before my freshman year in high school. The summer musical was “1776” and I was a stagehand. It was practically an all male cast. It was a busy summer.

After a matinee performance one afternoon, I asked Jim for a ride to a pool party someone was throwing for the cast. Once inside his car I told him I forgot my bathing suit and could we stop at his place so I could borrow one? What followed was a pitiful half naked fashion show in his bedroom, and a brief, furtive encounter between us.

Afterwards, I happily got back in the car but Jim wasn’t talking much. He got real quiet as soon as we were done.

He had driven a few blocks when Jim let out a kind of cough, like he was trying to stifle something and it burst out anyway. I looked over and his whole face was wet.

“What’s wrong?” I asked. I had seen men in rather personal situations, but I had never seen one cry.

He pulled the car over and turned it off. Everything suddenly felt quiet and important.

“What is it?” I asked in a careful voice. “Am I in trouble?”

windshieldHe was searching the car console for something and found a packet of Kleenex. He held it in his lap and started to speak while he opened it.

“I’m twice your age, Mark,” he said into his lap. His eyes were little cups of water, spilling. He turned to me. “You’re fifteen years old. I’m twice your age.”

His mathematics meant nothing to me. He looked like he was trying to read my mind. It made me uncomfortable. I didn’t know what he wanted. I sat there and said nothing.

He turned away and gulped back more tears. And then he asked the most mysterious question of all.

“Don’t you… just want to be fifteen, Mark?”

I had no idea what the man was talking about. I sat staring at him with my mouth open. I was completely stumped. Seconds went by and the car was silent.

My confusion seemed to disappoint him, because he shook his head slowly and looked back out the window. He was still very upset.

He wasn’t simply crying, they tell me now. They insist he was deflecting his own criminal guilt by blaming me for not acting my age. They tell me that he was the one who must have trapped me and I don’t even know it.

Either way, I think Jim got more than he bargained for. I think he was a little frightened by the manipulative and unemotional fifteen year old sitting in his car that afternoon. And I think it saddened him because he cared about me.

And sure, I felt trapped all right. I remember feeling trapped in his car, where things were not going as planned, because after ten minutes we’re still parked on the side of the road and Jim won’t stop crying. I am staring at my shoelaces because I can’t imagine a grown guy would want anyone to see him like this. He must be so embarrassed. And I wish he would start the car, because the party is going on and there’s probably lots of people having fun around the pool and I really want to be there.

I finally look over at him and he’s blowing his nose. Maybe that means we’ll get moving again, I’m thinking. Jim doesn’t say anything else but he does finally turn the ignition and the car rumbles to a start.

I’m so relieved. I really want to see what’s happening at the party.

——————————————————————-
The sounds you hear are the clicks of people unsubscribing to this blog. I know this is a difficult piece (my own partner advised me not to post it), but since I’ve written about so many challenging aspects of my life — HIV, drug addiction, sexuality — I felt compelled to share this. I’m still unable to judge my own actions or those of others with much clarity. If you are are trying to overcome childhood abuse, please consider contacting the Adult Survivors of Child Abuse (ASCA). — Mark

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21 Responses to “Trying to put away childish, damaging things.”

  1. Sean Strub Says:

    April 12th, 2011 at 9:06 am

    Mark, this is a beautiful and honest piece that speaks directly to the very complicated and often dangerous dynamics of teen sexuality, consent and desire, intergenerational relationships and age of consent statutes. Thank you for the courage to speak honestly about your experiences and recollections.

  2. Roy Says:

    April 12th, 2011 at 9:09 am

    Thank you Mark, for sharing yet another uncomfortable, but necessary, aspect of life. I can only speak from my own experience, but as I was reading, I was 16 again on that back-country Florida road.
    Thank you

  3. Bill K. Says:

    April 12th, 2011 at 9:10 am

    First off, I doubt people are unsubscribing to your blog because you shared your experience as a teen. I am guessing that if anything, you’ll increase your readership by continuing to offer heartfelt, real pieces about important life and recovery issues.

    Second, and most importantly: thank you, Mark. As someone with somewhat similar memories, it is very helpful to read this and see this reflection of myself in someone else, especially someone as wonderful as you! I am not alone, and neither are you. Sadly, there are legions of us with similar experiences. I, too, as an adult, have had to figure out if “they” are right to say that those older men knew better and were predators. And what was my place in these experiences that I sought, even if what I thought I was seeking and what I got were so different emotionally?

    I think in the end i need to remember that I was doing the best I could at the time, to get what I felt I needed. Whether those men were doing the best they could is really up to them to figure out.

    Wonderful piece, my friend.

  4. Steven Says:

    April 12th, 2011 at 9:26 am

    Mark, how ironic this takes place in Louisiana; that’s where I was born and raised around the same time, in North Louisiana. I went through similar experiences like that and wondered my part in all of it. And the place I am today. A very good story, we’re not the only ones this happened to.
    My teenage years were spent in Shreveport, Louisiana! — Mark

  5. matt paris Says:

    April 12th, 2011 at 9:36 am

    What’s the problem? Why should you even consider not publishing it? If you do you are only buying into the propaganda that has closeted the truth of your feelings then, and no doubt of many underage boys today.

  6. Gus Cairns Says:

    April 12th, 2011 at 9:46 am

    Well written, and beautifully balanced. I was pursuing men in park bathrooms on my bicycle round the London suburbs… As far as I remember I started about 14 too.
    Should your conquests have resisted? Probably, as should mine, because looking back I don’t think my early sexual experience did me much good and even at the time I knew it was second-best to a romance with another boy, which was what I really longed for.
    It also set in motion a preference for distanced, addictive, safely anonymous sex which it took me decades to unlearn, at the cost of at least one relationship (oh and which is probably why I have HIV).

    At the time I thought I was just horny though, and seducing adult men made me feel attractive, instead of unpopular, geeky and fat, which I felt most of the time. I wouldn’t have resisted me when I was 30 but now I would, because I’d know I wasn’t what the kid really wanted.
    G

  7. Mark Corcoran Says:

    April 12th, 2011 at 10:01 am

    Your piece brought back such vivid memories. Thank you so much for sharing it. I’ve often felt I owed amends to the “older men” of my adolescence. I’ve felt for years that I victimized them with my selfish and childish seductions.

  8. Janice urbsaitis Says:

    April 12th, 2011 at 10:06 am

    Dear Mark,
    You have given many straight people insight into the isolation a gay teenager experiences. Never be afraid to be honest. So many people hide behind fear. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  9. Marc-André LeBlanc Says:

    April 12th, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Great story, Mark. As usual. I certainly don’t feel victimized from my experiences. I actually feel grateful that there were older men willing to have sex with me. There were no boys my age readily available so far as I could see. I grew up in a smallish town and didn’t encounter anyone my age who was out until I was 20. Most of the guys I played with in washrooms or change rooms were older married men. Closeted like me and the other boys my age. An unsafe social environment for gays and same-sex spaces brought us together. That and horniness.

    Sure, I’d have loved to have other buddies who were gay. Sure, I’d have loved to play with guys my age beyond the typical little sessions during sleepovers. Sure, there was potential for abuse and manipulation. I’m sure it happens. But I’ve honestly never felt like that was the case for me. Maybe I’m just lucky. But it sounds like I’m not the only one.

    Love, love, love your blog. Keep it coming!

  10. Joey Says:

    April 12th, 2011 at 11:43 am

    I had a similar experience as a sixteen year old. I don’t really believe that it harmed me in any way to discover that gay adult men were easier to work with than guys my own age who were often too troubled to relax and just have a good time. And, I completely relate to how these adult men were nervous all the while knowing how dangerous it was to play with me. Years later, a therapist once told me that I might be jaded. I think that he might be right. But, I do not believe that these men were taking advantage of me or that I was taking advantage of them. We were simply sharing sex which is so much more wholesome that “having sex” with a spouse/lover/partner, in my opinion. In 1970, gay men were rather scared of their own shadow (for good reasons). They were not allowed to simply live their lives openly and honestly. Things haven’t changed that much today, but with a different social arrangement. I continue to treasure the memories of sharing sex with adult men during my teenage years in Elgin, Illinois (1970 – 1972). I am in my late fifites today and work out my life in Chicago, Illinois. Thanks guys, wherever you are.

  11. Charlie Dale Says:

    April 12th, 2011 at 7:26 pm

    Mark:

    A wonderfully written piece about your real life experience and, like you, I had my very first sexual relationship at 16 with a man twice my age that lasted till I was not quite 21. Yes he became my lover, and yes some would look it as statutory rape but what people do not understand is I asked him to have sex with me, I asked him to become my lover and I then took care of him as he lay dying of AIDS in October 1988 and scattered his ashes as he requested. One of the greatest loves of my life all this time later.

    What I find interesting is I have always been attracted to older men, not always twice my age especially now as I approach 45 but it is the maturity that attracts me. It also in my opinion makes for a better “Sexual” lover as they know the “Tricks” of the trade as they say.

    Those teenage years once I fully knew who I was and what I needed are some of my happiest memories and I am grateful to you for writing about. Thank you.

  12. Sam Says:

    April 12th, 2011 at 9:18 pm

    Well, Mark, I too appreciate your honesty. This was a difficult piece for me to read because I was sexually abused for 11 years of my life. The abuse only ended when the older brother married and moved away from home. I was at this time barely 13 or 14, so this means the abuse began when I was a toddler. In fact, I do not recall the beginning of the abuse. I know you are not talking about sex with children, but sex with teenage boys. Still, I have to comment because I feel it is very important for the mental well being of all of us to be clear about what is and is not proper and healthy. It is not healthy for us to judge teenagers too harshly for the sexual explorations they engage in. In fact, it would be hypocritical for most of us to do so. So be kind to yourself and see the younger you as a beautiful, horny boy who was trying to discover himself and have some fun. Certainly you are being very kind to those adult men you had sex with. Such kindess is remarkable. Too often people place all the blame on others. So this is the part of your piece I deeply admire.
    When I look at young men and teenage boys I don’t often find myself attracted to them except in a aesthetic way. What I always feel is protective of them. They are at an important crossroad in their life. It is important for them not to become addicted to sex or attention (a problem I have had which I am slowly letting go of while simultaneously not judging myself for it). I think what that man may have been feeling as he cried was not so much guilt but confusion and a sense of loss, etc.
    Each of us has a subject difficult to discuss. I can discuss the childhood sexual abuse because of the years of facing it and getting therapy. I still have a very difficult time discussing being HIV positive. I am slowly trying to remove this fear. Being afraid sometimes to talk about AIDS makes me all the more respectful of those who can. And I am respectful of you for talking about teenage sex with adult men. It happens all the time. Reading your comments on this blog reminded me of that.
    I don’t want to be the negative one, but I must conclude my comment by saying that many teenage boys who get involved with sex with adults do not have happy early life experiences. They are taken advantage of and tossed away like garbage. I have seen this happen many times. Anyway, it is good that you shared your experience because a dialouge must begin about how gays should deal with the issue. Because, let’s face it, an 18 year old can still be deeply hurt. And in many ways is still a child. He should be protected and loved and shown a good example. Then the sexual relationship can be beautiful because it is long standing and supportive. But it is not beautiful when it is simply physical and leads to abandoment and years of bitterness about love.
    We may be willing to talk about everything under the sun, but us gays too often avoid talking about this issue. It should be discussed. So thank you. Very much.

  13. Sean McShee Says:

    April 12th, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    Mark, as usual great story, well written a few comments.

    As long as we use the term “child” to refer to sixteen year olds, six year olds and six month olds, we will get nowhere in this conversation. Parents of fifteen year old girls have never had any trouble imagining a sixteen year old straight boy on the prowl for sex.

    My own experiences involved memory blurs related to benzos (11-14) and alcohol (solitary drinking from 14-18). I was much more interested in drugs than sex until my late 20s.

    Sexual “addiction”. I’ve also been diagnosed with an Avoidant Attachment style, meaning I run screaming from anyone threatening me with a relationship. This style predates the drugs and the alcohol, but may have fueled it. Somewhere around 10-20% of the population has an Avoidant Attachment style (Note – this is my shame issue). Relationships do not work for everyone. They don’t work for me and for many other gay men. We all know people who never seem to be in a relationship. This is a normal human variation not a pathology. This variation, however, does intersect with many of the dark aspect of gay life (porn, sex work, anonymous sex, and a different set of risks for HIV infection [more partners]). Unfortunately, with the political agenda pushing only for assimilationist goals like gay marriage, it becomes very hard to talk about this issue. Certainly a person can be compulsive about sex, like can be compulsive about hand washing, lock checking, or any other activity, but we need to separate this compulsion from not being into relationships.

  14. david patient Says:

    April 12th, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    An amazing story Mark that spoke to me about my youth growing up in apartheid south Africa back in the late 60’s/early 70’s. So much of what you shared I could relate to and I have often defended the older men I slept with as I cannot see them as sexual predators; they were my mentors and they helped me became the man I am today, and for that I will always be grateful …it was these older men who taught me about compassion, community and caring for my fellow man and the sex was such a small part of our total experience. Thank you.

  15. Flo Goodman Says:

    April 13th, 2011 at 1:37 am

    “We have been condescendingly characterized as immature children who haven’t grown up and need to get with the times, put our pricks back in our pants, and apply our energies to the real challenges facing our communities, like gays in the military or gay marriage,” he stated. “Yet we believe that even a cursory look at the histories of our movement will show that sexual liberation has been inextricably bound together with gay liberation……….” Eric Rofes

    From your straight female friend who knew Eric back ‘when he wasn’t gay’, ahem, and thus had different experiences; yet had an intellect and heart that intuitively understood it all, kudos for an honest, powerful and necessary piece.
    I’m sure Eric would be proud for shining light on dark corners of gay mens’ sexual behaviors.

    Actually, human sexual behaviors. Though your experiences are unique in many important ways, they intersect with universal themes of sexual desire in others. Not everyone is the Brady Bunch. As a post-pubescent female, I shunned the ‘age-appropriate beach parties’ and ‘going steady’ (while realizing going steady was infinitely more fraught with difficulty for gay teens – if not impossible at the time) and my behavior mirrored yours in predating older men and having very mixed feelings.

    Judging oneself is easier than judging others for an ethical, sensitive person who is also intelligent enough to be able to keep 2 or more antithetical viewpoints in their head at the same time.
    But we need to stop judging (or leave it to a higher power for those of you who are believers) and start embracing our shared humanity.

  16. rod Says:

    April 13th, 2011 at 7:13 am

    hey my friend. thanks for letting me see a little more deeply into your mind. naturally, i have some experienes with being sexually active with adults during my teen years, also being a willing participant and sometimes a perpetrator. i never felt like a victim because i had taken the lead. but what i now understand is that prior to those incidents, i had a tryst with someone who didn’t have healthy boundaries and it in turn perpetuated a loss of innocence and the use of sex in search of personal fulfillment. not saying this is true in your case, but i know this is how i view my teen sexuality. on the one hand, very actively hot- on the other- a quiet and determined desperation.

  17. Rev. Steve Says:

    April 13th, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    Another great story from a talented writer. Teenagers are all walking hormones who rarely think about consequences. It comes with the territory.

    Back then you didn’t have the life experience to understand that the man in the car may have felt that he had somehow robbed you of something. Maybe your innocence or some other part of you childhood. Or maybe he thought that you only valued yourself as a sex object.

    I started out pretty young too. It became very easy to believe that the men I was with only valued me in a sexual way. It became how I saw myself. Rejection at a night club could be earth shattering.

    How lucky we all are to have survived adolescence.

  18. Gerry M Says:

    April 13th, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    Thank you Mark for this thoughtful piece.
    My two gay teachers from the performing arts high school I attended commented to me years later that when I walked into the school, they knew I was just “trouble.” LOL
    And I was. There were a number of us “boys” thrown together in dressing rooms and productions on stage. But like our Elizabeth Taylor I always went for men who were around 40.
    Like some of the previous comments I had amazing relationships with these men who are now older than my own retired father. They were mentors and showed me you could be successful men, relatively happy, even if they were still somewhat in the closet, given the times we had all grown up in. This was 1980.
    It was a different time. By the time I was 18 and legal I knew a network of gay men in my hometown of Louisville. As an underage drinker, I could drink most of them under the table. After getting sober years later I reflected upon my time with these men and realized that they really did care that I got an education and start my career as a performer. I am still friends with one of them today. The rest have passed away. I do not regret the sexual experiences of my youth but like one of your readers I realize what a predator I really was. And I looked older than I was. I didn’t really become sexually active until I was about 16. There were mixed messages from that time that affected me and the relationships that I have attempted to have in my life today. As I am fast approaching 50, I think about that early sexual awakening and how it molded my ideas of relationships with other men. American society still continues to give me mixed messages about acceptance. Ultimately I have to accept myself and embrace that kid who use to cruise around looking for someone to connect with. Thanks again Mark.
    Gerry M in LA

  19. Darby Alexander Says:

    April 15th, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    LOLz Mark. An excellent piece. I am disappointed that your partner discouraged you from posting it!! Who really wanted to be fifteen at fifteen, or for that matter with other fifteen year olds?! I still have absolutely no interest in fifteen year olds, although I have to agree that this is likely when my predatory behaviors toward (other) men began. It never occured to me to wonder if it was right or wrong or may or may not have been damaging to anyone else. It certainly did not seem to be damaging to me. Then again my unwillingness to form anything resembling a lasting relationship beyond the initial limerance may be more telling than my ideas of “self-discovery.”

  20. Mario Says:

    April 15th, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    Mark, thank you for gently opening this dialogue about our teen sexuality. I too share a similar experience of my early teen years, albeit over the pond and across the ocean! In retrospect I can’t help wonder how my own sexual identity and my attitude towards my own sexuality would have evolved if my community would have allowed me to have an age-appropriate boyfriend even during my pre-teen years when I “LIKED” a schoolmate! By the time I got to college I was already an “experienced” man. Don’t get me wrong, I’d do it all over again in a heart-beat, but can’t help wonder about a different world surrounding me as a young gay boy/man aware of his likes and dislikes, regardless raging hormones! Thanks again for leading the way to greater introspection of self and community.

  21. Robert Says:

    April 15th, 2011 at 10:52 pm

    Dearest Mark,
    As teens, I remember a late night after a play rehearsal with you on a country road (literally, exactly like your posted photo!) and I was scared to death. And I remember you being so self-assured, as always, although a few years younger. A skinny, long-legged, red-haired kid. Didn’t know (or remember) that you and Jim had a brief encounter, as well. In my case, I was not the agressor, nor did he cry. But I don’t have any issue with him or the encounter. I was so curious about it all. You bring up an interesting issue–young boys who want to have sex with older guys. Back “in the day,” this was not such an issue, as today. I’ve known young gay boys who have preyed upon older men and use them for all they’re worth. I know under-aged sex is never justified, but there will always be those manipulative boyz who beg for it and always some adult men stupid enough to be used, while, I guess, abusing.

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