How did it get to be September already? It seems just yesterday that it was snowing and twenty-below-zero. Now August is spent and gone and we’re running pell-mell into autumn. Soon the leaves will be changing color and falling off trees, and we’ll be digging our way out of snowdrifts and cursing the fact that Minnesotans forget how to park in the winter.
Incidentally, I learned the word “pell-mell” around age seven or eight from the Hardy Boys book The House on the Cliff: “The other boys followed, running pell-mell through the hallway and clattering down the stairway” (p. 15). These were some of my favorite books growing up, and they opened a door in my mind to literature and to writing.
One of the things that most sticks in my mind about those books was the fact that the boys seemed to always be getting naked—or at least mostly naked:
- “Tony began to peel off his clothes.” (p. 91, House on the Cliff)
- “Frank and Joe took off their slacks, T shirts, sweaters, and sneakers.” (p. 97, House on the Cliff)
- “Let’s take off our socks, shirts, belts, and sweaters.” (p. , The Clue of the Screeching Owl)
- “He stripped down to his shorts and Joe did the same.” (p. 161, Secret of the Caves)
Of course, there’s no reason to think that any of this was meant to be homoerotic. These books were first written in the 1920s. It was a different time. If anything, it’s a sad commentary on our own age that we now interpret instances of male intimacy as indicative of homosexuality. Boys and men used to get naked all the time, and enjoy being naked together, without it being erotic, or analyzed and pathologized. To be sure, there were certainly gay men forced to find each other in dark, secret places to avoid detection and punishment. We see some of this in books like E. M. Forster’s Maurice, Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar, and Christopher Isherwood’s I Am a Camera, which provided the basis for the musical Cabaret.
To my young homosexual mind, however, these instances in the Hardy Boys books were teeming with sexual tension, and they provided me with the material for my earliest fantasies of male-on-male intimacy. In fact, one of the first times I can remember being sexually aroused was in chapter five of The Secret of the Caves:
Too exhausted to undress, Frank did the same. The boys slept soundly for several hours.
Frank awakened first and thought he was having a nightmare. A pillow was pressed hard over his face and a powerful hand pinned his shoulder to the mattress.
Trying to cry out, Frank kicked wildly and flung the intruder away from the bed. Someone hit the opposite wall with a thud and crashed to the floor. The noise aroused Joe who sprang up, wild-eyed, and looked around the room. [p. 39]
No worries, it’s just their friend, Biff Hooper (described as “tall and lanky,” blonde, and an “amateur boxer”), playfully holding Frank down on the bed as a joke. I didn’t yet have the emotional vocabulary for why this scene excited me so much, or why it looped on virtual continuous playback in my mind. I would later discover firsthand the palpable thrill of male sexual play and wrestling, and the masculine roughness and uninhibitedness that was already such a turnon to me when I first read the above passage.
Almost all of the boys in these books are athletically inclined. Both Frank and Joe play football and baseball (Frank is a pitcher—heh), but Joe is the smarter of the two, playing with transistor radios or tinkering with motorbikes, so I always had more of a crush on Joe. It’s funny now to think that my parents were unwittingly aiding my development as a young gay man by giving me these books to read. I’m not even ashamed to admit that, as a teenager, some of the focus of my *aheh* “alone time” was Joe Hardy. At least, the Joe Hardy of my imagination.
Autumn is a time of transition and reflection. The leaves change color as the youth and vigor of spring and summer fade and shift with the tilt of the Earth away from the sun. Farmers bring in crops sowed in early spring and tended to all through the summer.
I too have been doing reaping of my own, thinking about my growing up years as a closeted teenager and trying to make sense of the time lost, both as a Christian and as a gay man. As my circle of gay friends increases, I’m coming more into contact with couples who met in their early twenties and have been together for years, their relationships deepening and becoming more knowing and intimate. They’re buying houses, adopting children, going on trips, and in general making lives together.
Many of my friends met each other around the same time that I was graduating college and just beginning to come to terms with the fact that I would never be a heterosexual man as my family and friends assumed that I was.
These relationships aren’t perfect by any means, but with every day that passes I’m reminded of the fact that I’m not getting any younger and that time is slipping by. Like the leaves, my own hair has started to change color. I’ve recently started noticing grey hair at my temples.
I don’t want to waste any more of the years that are left to me. I spent too many years trying to be someone else, and am finally getting to know who I really am. Life is short enough as it is, and I would rather spend my life getting to know a beautiful and fascinating man, and investing time and love in each other.