In order to support some upcoming discussion about “gay rights” (so to speak) in the Trump area on my recent News Commentary blog, I need to become candid about some of “what made my head tick” when I was growing up, through high school, the William and Mary expulsion, and particularly my 1962 stay at N.I.H. , where I felt very much like “The Manchurian Candidate”.
I’ve described fully my having “fallen behind” other boys during elementary school, and perhaps only beginning to start catching up as an older teen in senior high school. I described in my last post my entry into music and piano, as if something downloaded from another consciousness. (In any universe, on any planet, the mathematical relations in music would be the same.) It seem that my disinclination for more “manly” things may have been a waiting game strategy (a kind of “hedgehog”, by analogy to chess opening theory) to make more room for music and creative expression. My resistance to playing contact football seems, in retrospect, a wise choice out of narrow self-interest – avoid brain injury and concussion. It turned out I was medically right on many of my snarky comments about diet and “fats”. My father would complain that “I read” something rather than believe what people in authority told me, and history would prove me right. Were I only Milo and an editor on Brietbart!
I have to trace what made me tick, indeed. By about third grade or so, I had become vaguely aware that society expected men to protect women and children, in total and not just in individual circumstances. It seemed that women were more “valued” and men were fungible, at least until they were established as husbands and fathers. This would all comport with what George Gilder wrote in his books like “Sexual Suicide” (1973) and “Men and Marriage” (1986). This is following a period were, one by one, my parents defuse the old ruses about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Stork (the last was the most difficult). By age 8 or so I must have understood that I had come from my mother very physically (and while I’m at it, I can remember a very early session about learning to feed myself, about when I was turning 3, one of my earliest conscious memories). Still, I didn’t know all the missing pieces: that pregnancy can be very trying for women, and needs to be supported by husbands (future dads) and society as a whole. Yet, I might have suspected it. My mother had a hysterectomy when I was 9, I think. I also recall, when I was 9, my parents talked about adopted a younger sister for me, but then the talk about it stopped. I would be practically, as well as biologically, an only child; the future lineage of my parents’ 1940 marriage (when my father was already 37) was in my hands. I had not been conceived until my father was 39, and, in the fall of 1942, I was, according to my NIH records, a “planned” child.
I also slowly became aware that physical modesty was viewed as more socially significant for women than for men. Breasts were a big deal, and two-piece bathing suits showed too much. Maybe by age 12 or so, I could understand that one reason for “public decency” is that adults need to save “revealing” for the bedroom, so that marriage will be fulfilling, and remain so for decades (and produce “enough” babies). We know that’s even more critical today in Muslim cultures, where the use of coverings and loose clothing (and burqa) is a way of preserving future male interest in their wives.
I recall, when entering seventh grade, being apprehensive about the loss of modesty in PE locker rooms. But it was about that time, age 11 or 12 (particularly the summer before junior high school) when I began to pay more attention to “men”. I noticed that often men seemed to have more body hair than women. This effect was particularly noticeable in a racially segregated society, because that observation is much more true of Caucasians than of any other races. I recall my father making comments that supported such a notion. One time when Aldo Ray (“The Naked and the Dead”, 1958, which I need to see for its political message) appeared on television (BW in those days), my father said, “Look how hairy he is.” Other times, he would remark about some fat men, “pot belly, no ambition”. I got the idea that men’s bods do matter. But nobody was supposed to talk about it. Mother would remain mum about his gratuitous observations.
Then, during those summers in Kipton, Ohio, I had a playmate companion, an aunt’s foster child on the farm, who was a big fan of the Cleveland Indians in their heyday (with the “Big 4” pitching rotation) and Mother (while Dad was away on sales trips) would take us kids to plenty of day baseball games in Cleveland in “The Mistake by the Lake” (old Municipal Stadium, with its wire outfield fence). I remember ace lefthander Herb Score’s injury from a batted ball, underscoring that sports involves physical risk. We built cardboard stadiums, and a real stadium of sorts, with an outfield fence, on a plot on the Ohio farm. But this other kid, David, also (at about age 13 or so) would make remarks about other men’s appearances, including mine.
So through my early teen years, I had this curiosity about male body parts, normally just out of sight, by clothing conventions, including wearing neckties for business (and the fanatic dress codes of IBM and EDS, requiring long socks and garters). There was a reason for office dress codes in the day (“The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit”, classic film): to keep attention away from men’s appearance, which was necessarily kept fungible for dangerous occupations and sometimes for war (World War II had been won only a decade before) and onto females. It seemed that in those days, women “needed” husbands and did not feel oppressed by lower pay or the expectations of stay-at-home. As a boy, this didn’t make complete sense – and, just as I predicted by the time I went to college – attitudes changed radically in succeeding decades. I was beginning to get the idea that active marital male sexuality (with penetration and procreation) was to become connected to having a dependent wife (and later children) and the necessary division of labor in era with less labor-saving technology.
Men could shave their beards, and that didn’t matter, because almost everyone did. Men might or might not be circumcised, and that didn’t matter, because “you” would never ‘get to see” anyway in a “decent” society. (Well, just maybe the locker room or barracks). Nevertheless, during my teen years a cultivated a fantasy about what the more public parts would look like if “revealed”. In fact, “reveal” could become a party game. “Texture” mattered. Over the years, I noticed a differential progression in the appearance of young men as they matured. Some were “fat” and I simply ignored them. Body hair would appear first on the legs, then sometimes conspicuously arms and later chest, or sometimes not. This seemed like a secondary sexual characteristic marker that was allowed to remain just barely out o sight, so women (and men) could make something of it if they wanted to. At the same time, given male fungibility, it was reassuring to me to notice that some men had some attributes or properties that women didn’t have (or at least as much), and men had something to be ranked by.
One mid August evening in 1961 (maybe three weeks before leaving for William and Mary), I was at a particular friend’s house. Six months older than me, I had “looked up” to him (“upward affiliation”). He had conspicuously hairy limbs. I barely had my driver’s license and he drove me around. (I actually did do most of the driving with my parents down to WM – I remember US 60 all too well.) I suddenly noticed that I had an involuntary erection around him. I don’t remember whether he noticed. He was straight. I suppose that if he had been gay and responded, my life could have had an “alternative universe” course. But that experience was watershed. I would hold back on this for weeks in the subsequent therapy at NIH.
Later, I would find that the possibility of “desecration” could induce excitement, There is a scene in the 1970 film “The Andromeda Strain” (as in the book by Michael Crichton) where a research subject, before being allowed into a virtual Fort Detrick in the desert, goes through a photoflash chamber to removed (maybe permanently) all his body hair before a required “body analysis”. I don’t recall any such subsequent scene right now in all of cinema, and it was omitted from the cable remake a few uears ago. I was aroused instantly by that.
I mention the “Tribunals” on p. 29 of the DADT-1 book (iUniverse 2000 version). Cycling and swimming were generally not as popular as individual sports in 1961 as they are now, and drag was viewed as the world of the “effeminate”. Tattoos and other body art were not as popular or even acceptable then (in “upper classes” at least). So it was viewed somewhat as a desecration for a man to allow any of his body to be shaved except his beard – all pretty irrational but set up by custom. Sometimes, particularly in the 70s and 80s, printed gay porn would make something of this. So a college hazing session premised on leg-shaving could make some sense (as I go into a little detail in the book, and will re-iterate in my screenplay). During later debates on DADT, it came out (pun) that stuff like this would happen in the Navy, especially when ships crossed the Equator. (I covered some of this train of thought in Section 7 of Chapter 2 of the DADT-III book, the section being called “An Alien’s View of Anthropology”).
Indeed, I worried that something would “happen” to my best friend “M” when he went away to VPI, with all the freshman hazing. But it didn’t. I saw him, with some suspense, in December 1961, after my disgraceful return home, after his first quarter at VPI ended for Christmas.
But all of this belies a more disturbing attitude of mine, somewhat apparent perhaps in William and Mary dorm life, but particularly at NIH. I do recall that one of the straight boys who taunted me in the dorm a month before the expulsion was himself very fat, and very determined to prove he could have a girl anyway, and I could make him feel bad about himself as unsuitable. Later, at NIH, as I had noted here Jan. 14, 104 and in the books, many of the people on the unit, especially the women, were not very intact. Two or three of the men were more attractive and stable, and I befriended them. But others, who didn’t “measure up” in society’s standings which had become my own (ironically), I made a point of showing animosity toward, even “hatred”. One of these men was a “stereotyped queer”, to borrow from the derogatory language of the past, as I somehow thought of myself as better than that. (One of the female patients was transgender and wanted to be a man, but the world simply had no way to process this in 1962.) I would set up situations to make the “weak” self-destruct, as in the way I handled a rogue unit ping pong tournament, where I played “keep the ball on the table” and let others lose control over missed slams.
I migrated out of this, to have a couple more partially reciprocated “crushes” on straight friends who would marry and retreat (from me, at least) into their own worlds of family transformation, as if crossing some sort of psychological Schwarzchild radius. In the 60s and 70s there was truism, that when men get married, they gain weight, get bellies, go downhill, and become less physically “masculine”. That’s far from always true, although the Family Research Council wanted to make a lot of the idea that many married men show testosterone loss when nurturing their own kids. But in time, many men do lose their physical mojo, get fat, or go bald in the legs as well as on the pate. I would wonder, as a teen, how could their wives still want them, when there were “better men” around to peek at? Again, I was fantasizing in a problematic area, seeing people as less than fully human when they became too fallible, as if I really would have relished the values of ancient Sparta.
So, I wonder, why do authoritarian politicians rise and sometimes make real threats to the lives of individual people who are somehow now “in”? (It remains to be seen how dangerous Donald Trump really is, but many observers warn that authoritarians tend to not be kidding when they make quasi-personal threats at those whom they perceive as enemies.) I can look at my own attitude toward others, reflecting onto them the animus that had been directed at me, as if I could somehow be better than them, in my own visible space. A lot of people, when troubled by provocations of others, will “retaliate” and “fight with their fingernails” this way; but when it becomes socially acceptable to do so, society as a whole becomes more vulnerable to demagogues and authoritarians, as most people are not prepared to process so much being hurled at them.
In the early part of my “therapy” (before NIH), my father once said that the first psychiatrist had said, “You don’t see people as people.” Ironically, as I wrote this today, the following essay, “What makes a person a person?” appeared on FEE, by philosophy professor Erica Stonestreet, from the College of St. Benedict (I think in Minnesota).
I’ll close this long recitation recalling a couple other quirks. In the Army, when you wore khakis. You weren’t supposed to have an undershirt, as that was “unmilitary”. Think about it. Then, in early 1998, after I had fallen and sustained an acetabular hip fracture and had to prepared for surgery, the nurse came by to do the electrocardiogram and warned she could have shave some if she couldn’t get a reading. Then, as I recovered, I had a wrist IV for a few days, and a nurse came in and said (as an “iv-critic”), let’s save some hair on your arm” as she adjusted it. In a hospital, you forget your quirks and get used to anything.
(Posted Wednesday, December 28, 2016 at 3:30 PM EST)