When the Cinematheque guys realized I was in their midst (if you can be in the “midst” of someone’s blog without ever meeting them physically because you are thousands of miles away -- I just had posting privileges) they were astounded. “Why aren’t you scared of us?” they demanded.
The first gay men I met (and knew were gay) were fellow students at Northwestern University in 1957. They were handsome, intelligent, generous, protective -- altogether admirable -- and we’ve stayed friends ever since. Some have married, some to men and some to women and some have children. They’ve had major success in their lives. I had no reason to become homophobic. I also had a female roommate who was “ac/dc” as we said in those days and her female lover sometimes stayed over, which outraged all authority figures once they realized but didn’t bother me any. I didn’t want to have sex with either one of them, nor any authority figures either. Nor did they with me.
I share a similarity with the Cinematheque boys in that when I handed over my virginity (which is the way I thought of it, since it was a deliberate act rather than being “lost”), I was 26 years younger than my male lover. (I was also over 21.) But I was different in that we continued on through a ten-year relationship that even included four years of marriage. Of course, there were financial advantages and it was always me who accommodated him. There was never force. In the end, not only do I have no regrets, but also I feel it was the making of me. Still, some people were shocked or contemptuous. Are now. Less so since he became locally famous.
Most people would deplore a world where boys are abandoned in great enough numbers that they have to steal, hustle, and otherwise compromise themselves in order to survive. Around here people occasionally express the belief that a fourteen-year-old is “old enough to look out for himself,” though forty-year-olds can’t find jobs. But who can work with boys without being accused of the great American sin of pedophilia? The nation loves little children, sentimentalizes and indulges them to the point of ruining their character, but -- seriously-- who can work with sexualized boys without being suspected of indecent relationship? Certainly not priests. Not teachers. My gay friends, when I asked them about man/boy relationships, firmly closed the door. None of them is interested in boys and none is willing to be accused of that interest. I have the advantage of being a tubby old woman whom no one suspects of having any interest in sex at all. That’s not quite true, but I’ve never been interested in boys in that way even when I was their age.
There are Unitarian ministers who have died of AIDS, Unitarian ministers who are “out,” Unitarian ministers who have same sex partners. I am accustomed to such phenomena. There are Unitarian ministers who are members of Lambda but I think NONE who are members of Nambla. (There are Unitarian parishoners who will join anything and do.)
A distinguished professor reflecting on the issue points out that man/boy relationships have occurred all through history in many societies, but that in each society the circumstances, expectations, and arrangements have been entirely different. What happened in the Greek world, what happened in King Arthur’s Court, what happened in New Guinea or on the Great Plains of America, was specific to that society and not relevant to ours. What has made our version of man/boy relationships so demonic is our whole understanding of sex and the way it is locked into economics.
To us, though we say sex is mutual and equal, the truth is that to us sex is a transaction between one powerful “top” and one less powerful “bottom.” After all these years of activism, it’s STILL what we think male/female relations are about. On that pattern, weak people are seen as sexual objects because they are seen as vulnerable, victims. Being able to penetrate them means power, prestige, success. Even if you have to pay. And in our society we have deeply confused sex with violence, so that the ultimate act of penetration is murder. But we don’t talk about it. We deny it. Until it shows up in the newspaper as sensational serial killings of young boys or low-class women.
Boys whose poverty or trauma expose them to this soon learn that the only escape is to be as powerful as they can be. Their other choice is to die. They fight authority, refuse boundaries, maybe form gangs. Who can work with these boys? It has to be someone even more powerful than them, but not in a violent way that invites confrontation, and not in an insincere or unfocused way. And someone who understands AIDS, since that’s the street disease of our era, requiring a treatment-intensive regime that will not cure but will maintain. AIDS is as likely to kill young street people as tuberculosis was in the 19th century, and in fact, a person with AIDS is exceptionally vulnerable to TB.
Here’s the Cinematheque answer. The focus: art. The leader: a “leather lit” writer with San Francisco street creds. The place: anywhere but the USA. The strategy: keep moving, keep busy. More recently: transparency through blogging. If all else fails, go fishing.
Why should I be afraid of Cinematheque if I’m not afraid of gays, not afraid of catching AIDS from people on a different continent, and retired so that I don’t need to be afraid of losing my job? Some people sincerely think that the guys will get on a plane and come to Montana in order to somehow chain me up and whip me. Isn’t that what S/M gays do? This is so deeply embedded that they don’t question whether it’s common sense. After all, they saw it on “Prime Suspect,” didn’t they?
But there IS a danger, a seduction. It is hubris on my part to think because I read and contribute to a blog about a double-dozen boys at risk I know anything special or have any special virtue or even that I’m helping them. I can easily be hooked by neediness and tragic stories, as easily as by appealing looks and clever achievements. I do NOT have power, nor am I a victim. My job is to understand and maybe doing that will change the world a little bit.