I turned 50 this year, officially becoming a homosexual of a "certain age." Or an "uncertain age."
I became aware of my orientation way after Uranians, Mattachinites, and Stonewall, but way before gay rodeos were proudly sponsored by Jim Beam and Smith & Wesson. It was way before Anal Sex for Dummies books got displayed in plain view at Walmart, and way before a military base parking lot became the most romantic and popular place to propose to a gay lover.
I was 12 at the time. Carter was president. Shirtless Iranian terrorists screamed at me on the nightly news. People crowded around TV sets at Montgomery Ward, hypnotized by two vertical slashes and a dot which bounced back and forth between them; they called it "Pong." In the meantime I secreted Playgirl centerfolds up my pantleg one aisle over. Yes, I was ready to become what — back then — they pejoratively called a "cocksucker." Today I'm more likely to be politely referred to as a "shaft specialist." I don't know if I prefer the latter.
Although the floodgates of tolerance and political correctness are generally wide open today, being a reviled deviant seemed ironically simpler (and more naughty) back in the day. In college I joined a secret gay club. We voted to call it the G-C, standing for "gay club." Just two letters, can you believe it? It was one of the last times the hyphenated name of a collegiate gay association could still fit on a single 8 1/2" by 11" sheet of paper and be uttered in full, without taking supplementary gasps of breath.
Yes, gone forever is the romantic import and intrigue associated with being called a "Uranian" or "cocksucker," or even "gay."
I want to feel dirty again. I want to keep it real.
Years ago I placed my first M4M ad in the local indie rag. It's where all the "clean," "bi-curious," "first-timers" hung out. Back then you had to place your ad by calling in and talking to one of the newspaper's personals reps. A bored woman would answer and ask a list of questions: "Preference?" "Uh ... men for men?" "Ad title?" "Uh ... marine parking only?" It was so embarrassing. The ad came out a week later and I waited for my message box to fill up.
Zane left a message in my personals box. He invited me over. In the meantime I thought I'd better buy a ... you-know-what plug. I could barely walk, let alone stand up straight, wearing the plug. Man, the pain! But, no pain, no Zane, or so I thought.
He lived by himself 40 miles out into the boonies. When I arrived at Zane's ranch, sweating and feverish with pain, I quickly excused myself to the bathroom to pretty myself up. Between the butt plug, searing heat, and rough country terrain, I was looking like Barbara Stanwyck on a really bad day. The whole ordeal was a nightmare that was as painful as it was devoid of action.
Today everybody uses the likes of Craigslist, with the ability to post an ad and arrange a meeting in seconds. I love lurking in "Casual Encounters." Six straight guys looking for head from a woman and 200 gay guys instantaneously responding to each. I love watching the straight newbies become more cynically precise from first post to last: "Straight guy looking for head." "Straight guy looking for head from woman." "Straight guy looking for head from woman with a vagina." "Straight guy looking for head from woman BORN with a vagina." "No, I don't need money." "No, I'm not sending anyone my tennis shoes in a Ziploc bag."
And your GPS-enhanced smartphone is the most expedient way to get laid yet: Little beeping dots on a computer screen represent all the horny young gays around you within a two-mile radius. I tried it, but I felt like an air traffic controller watching planes get hastily redirected to other airports after a terrorist threat.
Back in my day Chatroulette was an eight-story dorm complex and 64 open windows. "Nexting" meant they turned off their light, vomited, or closed the blinds. I know — "voyeurism." How perverted. But don't forget the safe-sex guides in the mid '80s, complete with tips on hugging, dry-humping, massage, and driving past each other on opposite sides of the highway with the windows closed.
I witnessed the birth of slick, stylish big-budget gay porn, but I found it so tedious. I could barely stay focused through the obligatory national anthem, images of American flags rippling in the wind, James Earl Jones reciting the First Amendment, then the unfailingly arousing Know Your STD quiz. A typical movie opened with two 30-ish West Hollywood bottoms wearing nylon shorts and sideways baseball caps, not one naturally occuring body hair left standing ... trying to play basketball. "Loser blows winner."
Witnessing what I must have looked like playing basketball in seventh grade is decidedly not my idea of a good time. But I am trying to broaden my comfort zone these days.
To celebrate my 50th birthday, my friend took me to Black's Beach in San Diego. I assure you, you have never climbed down a more dangerous trail. It's like Yosemite-Falls-meets-drunk-frat-boys dangerous. I stepped out of the car in my sun hat, iced tea in one hand, my Pond's beauty products in the other. I momentarily froze: He had to drag me away from all the surfers bouncing out of their wetsuits with nothing more than a facecloth covering their privates. We get to the edge of the cliff and look down to the beach. "Where's the damn trail?" I asked.
"What do you mean where's the trail? It's right there." My friend points to these little rocks jutting out the side of the cliff. "That's the trail down?" With all the gay dollars floating around, no one could install an elevator? I peered over the edge. It was difficult to tell for certain, but skeletons may have littered the base of the trail, tattered red Speedos still covering their pelvic regions. I can't do this ...
But then, woo-hoo! Surfers bounded past us and leapt over the side, deftly jumping from one rock to the next all the way to the bottom.
So I carefully lowered myself, my searching feet blindly finding one rock, then another, then another. I felt like Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure. Inch by inch we advanced. I lost my iced tea and beauty products early on: I kept losing my balance and slapping my hands against sharp rocks to break my fall, rocks presumably bloodied by people who had miraculously reached the bushes below for anonymous sex marathons. Refusing to touch anything, I eventually slipped and lost contact with the side of the cliff altogether. Terra firma and the skeletons of the athletically challenged rushed toward me. Wagner's Liebestod emanated from someone's boombox in the distance. Then ... blackness.
I awoke to bears splashing cold Long Island Iced Teas in my face. Is this heaven? A lot of concerned bearded men and sandals. They said I landed on soft sand but rapped my head pretty hard on a Chihuahua skull.
I sat up: Once my vision cleared it was bears as far as the eyes could see! Tents, canopies, huge BBQ's, portable wet bars, ice chests; a drag queen in an apron dubbed me "Dorothy" as she handed me a hot dog. I knew, at that moment, my years of wandering had come to an end. I didn't need GPS or Craigslist or even Chatroulette. The prodigal son had come home.
JOHN DANIEL lives in Sacramento. He is neither a writer nor a comedian, just a witness to the stunning, often bewildering changes toward homosexuality the last 30 years.