My parents were both the babies of their families. My father, born in 1917, the younger of two siblings, raised on a farm then in a factory worker household. My mother, born in 1924, the youngest girl and second-to-last of six kids in an Irish Catholic family.
My father was quiet, stoic, and had only a few friends who could read the line between his frank honesty and his mood. He grew up a momma’s boy, overfed and babied by his mother and whose learning disabilities were years from becoming diagnosable. He loved cars and fashion, and there are many photos of him, dressed in hats, ties, and jackets, standing proudly next to his auto of the moment. He once told me the story of getting his first car, in 1934, how he begged his dad to borrow the money and pouted about not getting it so badly, that my grandfather showed up at a dance where my dad was, surprising him with the keys. He was taught to get any job that paid well and had medical coverage, and married his first real love, Verna, in 1944. After they married, Verna got pregnant, and informed my father that she did not want children, and I’m not sure how that conversation hadn’t happened, but my father was devastated. Verna went “out of town” to get an abortion. He divorced her, but to agree to the divorce, and to save her reputation, she demanded that she divorce him, on grounds of infidelity, and stipulated that he could never marry again during her lifetime. A judge actually signed it, and so my father, mourning the loss of his first child, was instead assigned a parole officer to keep a check on his “behavior.” During this time, he met my mother at a dance, fell in love, and started dating her.
My mother was upbeat, funny and most everyone loved her. As a child, she lived in a multi-story house that also included her aunts and extended Irish family. The women, including her mother, were strict and tough, and she told stories of how she was not allowed to whistle (‘Little girls do not whistle”) or to wear anything but dresses. She was daddy’s girl and little sister to three older brothers, who sheltered her as she grew into a beautiful teenager. My grandfather was hard working and smart, and managed a furniture store and invested in stock, allowing them to move to a nicer part of town. She was a cheerleader and dated the hot high school quarterback. She also dated a guy she didn’t like, and instead of breaking up with him, wore a perfume he was allergic to, driving him away. She would go with her girlfriends to Atlantic City in the summer and to church on Sundays. She graduated in 1942 and got her first job working as an office assistant, then hygienist, for a dentist in Binghamton. In 1949, the end of the era of big band music, she heard about an “older guy” who was known to be the best dancer in town, my father. One night, at a Tommy Dorsey dance, she met, then danced with him. A year later, the day after a judge ripped up the ridiculous divorce demands of Verna, she married my father at a small church wedding at a Presbyterian Church.
After dating and marrying my father, a non-Catholic divorcé, my mother’s family briefly disowned her. They newlyweds moved into a small apartment built onto the home of my father’s mother, and my mother became part of my father’s meat and potatoes, build it yourself family, a stark difference to her educated, entrepreneurial, West Point cadet graduating, chillier family. Looking back at their photos, you can see what brought them together. Picnics in the country and drives with the top down. Ice fishing and boating. They were the first couple in the Binghamton area to learn how to water ski, and often taught it to others in the Finger Lakes region. Hunting and hiking. My dad often said how they would take a two hour drive somewhere to get ice cream, just to be out together in the car. They were in the local boat club and rented a cottage each summer in the 1000 Islands. When you look at their photos you can see they were a couple, a team, and that they were having a great time.
One summer night, when I was 19, I was playing Uno with my mother at our kitchen table, in the same house they bought in 1955, a year after my brother was born. I think it’s the first time I said “shit” in front of her, and for some reason, the first time we ever had a truly adult conversation. I have no idea why, but my mother suddenly felt comfortable revealing truths she had kept from me my entire life. This is when I found out my father had been divorced, and what had happened. She also told me she wasn’t, and never had been, attracted to my father, and that the reason she married him was because she thought “he would make a good husband and father.” That’s also when she told me the son of our next door neighbor was a convicted sex offender, who had been caught molesting “two little boys on his street,” and was sentenced to “church counseling.” With a wife and family of his own, he also was secretly having sex with men and contracted AIDS and died. I didn’t ask my mother who the little boys on the street were - if it was our street - or his street later in his life - but she told the entire story looking down at her UNO hand, and never once into my eyes. We stopped playing and I went to bed but couldn’t sleep.
At first, I thought of my parents and what she had told me. I had seen them lose the light of their relationship as I grew up, born late and unexpectedly for them, my mother at 40, my father at 47. I saw them slow down and separate, and without the shared adventures they once had, didn’t seem too happy together for most of my life. They stopped the boating and car trips when I was born. My mother put an above ground pool in the backyard and declared their adventures over. My father withdrew, as that was a big part of his spirit to live when he wasn’t at a job he hated. They went through the motions, but we were a family of four individuals, without much to do or say together, and without much interest in creating that dynamic. My brother and I were, in a sense, two only children, born 10 years apart and not close. I also began to see a grey area in my parent’s union, knowing she was beautiful and much desired at 25, yet choosing to marry a divorced man she wasn’t attracted to and that would cause her to potentially lose her own family. It was such a conservative time, and she came from a closed-mouth family who didn’t allow anything unpleasant to be spoken of, which means dealt with. Maybe my mother was sexually free in a time when that made you damaged goods, or maybe my father was a rebound from some trauma another man put her through. The positive of that? They had years of fun together and I can see the energy they created being part of a friendship circle of adventurous people. The bad part? They brought with them, and gave to us, the training that the truth is not only not necessary, but it’s better if you just ignore it and make up something nicer. The general vibe of my upbringing was that if you didn’t do much out of your routine, you wouldn’t get hurt, or have to deal with any conflict. So we didn’t learn how to argue, to handle or resolve conflict, or to collaborate very well. I think as the babies of each of their families, they were so sheltered that they had a hard time facing anything unpleasant, and grew up in a time of innocence and little information, where if you just stood for God and Country, and worked really hard for a company that would have you, that was enough. They were children of the Great Depression, and allowed that humble sense of gratitude for getting an orange in your stocking for Christmas, to form their goals to just exist, and not much more. I’m not sure why, each coming from big or close families, they didn’t try harder to make us one. My mother played with us and was always busy, but never would allow anything unpleasant to be spoken, and if it was, would clutch her chest like you were killing her. My father read the paper and mostly ignored us, definitely not interested in being a dad. My brother moved out when I was 10.
The sleepless nights continued. What she told me about the neighbor made my anxiety go through the roof. I had always known something had happened to me. I had dreams that merged with memories and I had not been able to separate them. When she dropped the story of the neighbor during a card game, was she hinting? Or just gossiping? Why would she tell me otherwise? If she had known all along, why couldn’t she see the changes that happened in young me and why didn’t she help me? Or is this a puzzle piece to allow me to, by myself, begin to deal with my sexualization at 5 years old, the confusing and scary behavior that caused me to feel and know things I would never have known otherwise. Around 6 years old, I began to have trouble sleeping, with such anxiety I would cry into my NFL AM radio pillow, just so I could hear voices talking and not feel alone. When I was 8, I was tying myself to the seats of my father’s boat, dry docked in our driveway. When I was 9, I was stripping and pulling my zipper down to records when my friends were over. When I was 10, I was masturbating with objects from my father’s dresser. Once puberty hit, I felt even more lost and confused, and now with my body catching up to my very confused sense of sex, I gained 160 pounds, probably just to cover me, to avoid being a target again, and to comfort my pain. My family did nothing. My mother continued to feed me, my father disowned me and my brother distanced himself. Later, in my 20’s, I had six hours of surgery to remove five buckets of skin left hanging on me after I took the weight off. There is, and always will be, a 32-inch scar around my body. You would think it reminds me of being overweight. It does not. It reminds me that I was abused, and this is the outer, in addition to the inner, scar I carry.
Over the next few weeks I had nightmares, would run to my room to cry, and couldn’t make plans except for school. I had, for years, known that the father of the man who my mom spoke of, had a swing hanging in his basement, and I could see him standing in front of it with his cock out, playing with it. I would sit down on the swing as he stood just in front of me, and he would put it in my mouth. I can still smell him. He was a very angry man who kept to himself and whose naive, plump wife spoke in a child-like voice and called him “Daddy.” He had three kids, and likely molested the youngest, who didn’t or couldn’t deal with it and so repeated it, and eventually died from living one lie after the other. It’s hard to believe now, but the neighbors knew about the basement where we were allowed to ride bikes and “play.” Other than his own son, hopefully I was the only kid picked out as a target. It makes sense. I was a sweet kid with a big spirit who trusted people. Jackpot.
I’ve had two lives. The one where I had great jobs, went to amazing places, met and worked with inspiring people, and accomplished more than anyone expected from where I came from. And then there’s the other one. The one where my idea of sex and abuse and love became a tangled box of Christmas lights, where I roamed alleyways and dark park trails, giving away my body to any man attracted enough to me. Where I trusted someone who then gave me HIV, where I made bad relationship decisions and brought my damage into those partnerships. The world of dark corners, chemical escape and fetish. I’ve met so many like me, a dangerous camaraderie of damaged souls, and I’ve seen the places it can take you.
For the last couple of years, I have opened myself to the actual pain of all of this. I have come to see my late parents as people, and have accepted that I am now my own parent, like it or not. It’s empowering, and it sucks. I have realized that, at 57, there is more to unlearn than to learn. The rate of suicide is highest in molested men in their 50’s, and I understand why. At this point, you are smart and confident enough to wake to the things you’ve avoided, and even make some sense of them. You also are experienced enough to look back and see so much of what you lost, didn’t participate in, or suffered because, once molested, you carry the toxicity like a virus. The loss. It’s overwhelming, and in you forever. You cannot get rid of it, you can only try to manage it.
Being raised by, then experiencing, the deep damage of secrecy, the only medication that treats what I’ve experienced is seeking, telling and sometimes demanding the truth. It’s a big reason I had to quit the corporate world, and why my circle of friends has shrunk. The only people I relate to now are the ones who’ve been through some shit. We get each other, and don’t need many words to communicate.
The other thing I decided to do was chronicle my years of “the other me,” the stories of secret sexual adventures I’ve had since that night at 19, over a game of Uno, when the concept of truth was born in me.
I channeled my anxiety and this new, confusing information, into sex with men. For years, my sexual drive, the long complicated process of coming out, my body issues and low self-esteem, my fight to discover my own masculinity and my endless struggle to understand men, created some very thrilling, scary, exciting and even funny experiences. Looking back over the last 40 years, and with so much more clarity and acceptance of myself than I’ve ever had, I can see my journey now from a higher place. I can see the damaged boy, the horny kid, the adventurous Scorpio, and - what I am now most grateful for - the drive to experience as much as I could, even as a secret. That drive is still a mystery to me. Is it driven by anger because someone hurt me so badly? Was it put there by parents who didn’t help me in crisis so I learned to help myself? Is it my gay soul demanding the drama of adventures?
Having this double life cost me friendships and everyday experiences most people have. To feed both lives took all the energy I had. I got so good at it, I made it look easy, but it was not. Until I became older it felt like addiction, dark and secret. Now I see it as the inability to forgive myself for reacting to abuse and to accept some of the effects it had on me as part of who I am. There are memories and experiences that are a result of what happened to me that are some of the most thrilling moments of my life. There’s a point where your damage turns into your experiences, and then, later, where your experiences become your life story. And then, suddenly, the truth is the truth, and it becomes yours. And once it’s yours, you own it. You’ve taken the power back.
I thought of our current world, filled with deception and lies. Words have lost their meaning. Leaders have lost their influence. Media is privately owned and corrupt. People are scared and angry. Our political system has been bought and sold. The truth seems like the only power we have left. Last September I took a chance and began to tell my stories as autobiographical adventures, in the form of audio erotica. Pushing “Publish” on the first story took all the guts I had. Within a week there were a thousand downloads. Within three months there were 20,000. Ten months later there are 175,000 downloads, and my stories have been heard in 155 countries, 80% of the world. I get messages daily thanking me for telling my truth, for speaking truths that are edgier than then norm, for transcribing gay sexual experience and other eras of our history. Some listeners like the sexiness, some like the writing, some like the references, and some just find my voice comforting. When I got the first note about my voice, I cried. I thought about 5 year old me, terrified and confused about what was being done to me, clutching my NFL pillow, listening to far away voices so I could fall asleep. I thought about the men in my family, telling me I was weak, feminine, or powerless. I thought about 19 year old me, losing my virginity face down on a men’s room floor. I thought about 27 year old me, coming out of surgery sewn together like a rag doll. I thought of how a guy I trusted had known he was positive the entire year we had sex, and how betrayed I felt when the first man who professed his undying love left me so easily to do whatever he wanted. I thought of the years of guilt or judgment I placed on anything I did, and how I was taught to want so little for myself and to apologize for anything I had, or was.
I can now, with some personal success and evidence, speak for the power of the truth. I took a chance and my stories turned into a global connection of digital intimacy I could never have imagined. It’s an honor to stand for something in the gay community, and I’m grateful for my small part. It wouldn’t have worked if it weren’t the truth, the raw personal truth. And I wouldn’t have arrived at this place without the people who hurt me, loved me, inspired me, or failed me.
My plan for the future: Tell the truth, and let go.