Monday, December 20, 2010

Falling For a "Straight" Boy -- by Gary Cottle

I met him when I was nineteen. We were students at WVU back then, and our work-study assignment brought us together. As part of our financial aid package, we were both given a job at the dean of students’ office in Elizabeth More Hall--which we called E. Moore. Our duties included answering the telephone, making appointments, making photo copies, etc. We were generally not very busy. Most of the time we stood behind the main desk and chatted. We were there if a student had a question about the university or if the dean or one of the assistant deans needed us to do something. For two semesters in a row, he and I were together for two or three hours a day, four and five days a week. That’s not a long period of time, but those nine months loom large in my memory. I can close my eyes and in less than ten seconds I can bridge a gap of twenty-five years. My recollections of David are always within reach. No matter how much time passes, I can quickly imagine him as he was all those years ago. It is as if I saw him yesterday.

I can’t say exactly when I knew I was in love with him. Maybe I fell for him the moment I laid eyes on him. I know that I was drawn to him from the start. He was a few years older than I was, a senior. (And at this late date, my ego will allow me to admit that he was a bit more mature.) He was a little taller than me, but not really tall. He was fit and well toned, but he wasn’t overbuilt. In fact, he was slightly skinny, but that may have been because he was sick with hepatitis the year before. His hair was dirty blond, and his eyes were brown. But the most important thing about him was that he was kind to me. One could even say sweet. He paid careful attention to what I had to say and often complimented me on my observations and wit. He laughed at my jokes. I wasn’t used to getting much attention from boys, especially boys I liked. Many boys from high school had been openly hostile, so I was usually nervous and withdrawn around boys. But David broke through my shyness and encouraged me to open up. I’m sure that by the end of September I was in love. He was my hero, and in a way, I’m still in love with David.

He was very serious about his politics. And his politics was informed by a deep interest in justice and fairness. David believed very strongly in equality. Ronald Reagan had just started his second term, and David couldn’t stand him. He bucked the fashionable conservatism of the decade. He scoffed at conspicuous consumption and status symbols. He proudly stated that he admired Jimmy Carter, and he embraced the 60’s counter culture. David was a liberal.

My politics were still pretty much unformed. I guess you could say that I naturally leaned to the left, but I hadn’t really figured out politics. Being a gay boy from a fundamentalist West Virginia family, I was used to oppression. I had learned how to survive by slipping by unnoticed, and I really couldn’t imagine changing the world. It didn’t cross my mind that I might help things change. But David helped me see things differently. He put the fire in my belly, and before Reagan left office, I filed by the White House in a candlelight march to commemorate those who had died of AIDS and to draw attention to the fact that our government had treated them like outcasts because they were gay and contracted a deadly sexually transmitted virus. David’s example encouraged me to add my voice to the debate.

David also had a playful side. He loved to switch out letters in certain words so that they would sound absurd. He had a whole vocabulary all his own, and it didn’t take me long to pick up his personal language. To this day when I say the word pizza, somewhere in the back of my mind I think ’za. When he didn’t know someone’s last name, he would assign them one that sounded ridiculous--Brian became Brian Terwilligerrock. He was big on pulling faces, too. His favorite was his baby face. He would adopt a remarkably naïve expression. Then he would tilt his head slightly to the right and place the tip of his crooked right index finger into the side of his mouth. I had the warm fuzzies every time he did that. I adored him like a puppy when he gave me his baby face.

I always felt protected when I was with him because he looked after me. When we were crossing the street together, he would hold out his arm in front of my chest to prevent me from stumbling out into traffic. I was a bit of a scatter brain, and when I was with him, my attention was on him and not anything as trivial as traffic. He often helped me open soda cans because I had trouble getting my finger under the tab. David had no problem touching me. Whenever he would step behind me, he would place his hands on my back to let me know he was there. And he wasn’t adverse to us being in close proximity. We would often stand shoulder to shoulder behind the main desk at E. Moore. And when we went to see a movie, he would sit in the seat directly beside mine, even if we had the row to ourselves.

One time when we were alone together in his dingy basement apartment, he said he wanted to show me some photographs. So he got out a photo album and sat beside me on the sofa so close that our knees, thighs, hips, shoulders and elbows touched. I don’t remember the photos very well because he was practically in my lap. I wanted more than anything to kiss him. Oh, God, how I wanted to kiss him, and hug him, and do all kinds of things with him. But I just didn’t have the courage to make my move.

Several times that year, David suggested schemes that would allow us to be together forever. For instance, he once suggested that we could join the faculty at the same high school. I could teach English and he could be the wrestling coach. (David had been on his high school wrestling team, and he had a giant poster of himself in his singlet over his bed…but I digress.) These seemed like romantic overtures to me. At the time, it felt like he was saying he was in love with me and that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. Down in my bones, I can’t help but feel he was trying to say that. But it just wasn’t direct enough for me. Most of the young men I knew were extremely homophobic, and although David never gave me reason to believe that he would react negatively if I told him I was gay, at that point, I just wasn’t used to coming out to people unless I knew they were gay or supportive of gays.

Coming out twenty-five years ago was still a scary thing, especially for this teenage West Virginia boy. I wanted more than anything for David to be my boyfriend. I dreamed of us living together and sharing a life together. I dreamed of us holding hands and kissing. I dreamed of going down on my knees in front of him, and lying back on his bed and allowing him to get on top of me. I wanted David. I wanted him more than I’ve wanted anything in my whole life. But his friendship was the best thing that had ever happened to me up until then, and I was afraid that if I told him I loved him I would lose his friendship. Looking back on it, I don’t think I was being fair to him. I was judging him based on the homophobic reactions I had gotten from other boys. That was wrong of me.

David started dating a girl after Christmas. That broke my heart, and it pretty much dashed any hope I in finding my will to make any kind of overture. He got married to that girl after they graduated, and they had three sons. His first born is probably old enough to be in college by now. After that year, we saw each other a few more times, and we talked on the phone and exchanged letters now and then, but eventually he faded from my life. I have been in contact with him once in the last fifteen years. Last I heard, he’s doing well and he’s still with his wife.

I often think of what my life would have been like if we had become lovers and partners. Even though he got married to a girl, I’m not convinced that he was 100% straight. I don’t mean to suggest that he’s a closeted gay man. I suspect he does love his wife. But sexuality is often not an either/or proposition, and I was picking up a lot of romantic vibes from him back when we were together. I’m aware that maybe I was just projecting, but the regret of not knowing for sure burns me up. I feel like I missed my chance. If I had it to do over again, I would roll the dice and tell him that I love him.

I have felt those pangs of love for several guys in the years since, but my feelings for them never progressed further than a crush. That may very well be my fault because I was not assertive with those other guys anymore so than I was with David. I never allowed anything serious to develop. It was as if once I lost David, I was too afraid of getting hurt again in a similar way. David’s absence still hurts me. He left a void that no one has been able to fill. And yet I am eternally grateful that we had that brief period of time together when we were young. Rick and Ilsa had Paris. David and I had E. Moore. The relationship was chaste, but I loved and I felt loved, at least for a few months.

E. Moore, WVU's Downtown Campus, Morgantown, WV

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Exodus Pajama Party

by Thad Thayer

I know it may be hard for some to believe, but once upon a time, I actually considered joining the ranks of Exodus, that self-described “interdenominational Christian organization promoting the message of freedom from homosexuality through Jesus Christ.” I don’t want to suggest that I was heavily involved in this organization because I wasn’t. Basically it was a brief encounter. You may even say I had a one-night stand with Exodus. They caught me at a low point, and for a half minute or so, I thought Exodus might offer some hope. This all happened about twenty years ago when I was attending the University of Texas at Austin.

I knew I was gay in high school, but I kept it to myself. Being a small town boy from east Texas, I just couldn’t imagine telling anyone. But my confidence grew during the fall semester of my freshman year in college. I met some gay guys, joined the gay student organization, and I started dating. I thought of myself as liberated, and I decided that I was going to come out to my parents when I went home for Christmas break. Of course my resolve faltered a bit when I arrived back in my hometown. I no longer felt so liberated once I was away from Austin and in my family’s home in Bellville. My parents are conservative Christians, so I was afraid of how they would react. The days seemed to go by in slow motion, and I was in agony. I wanted to tell them, and I knew I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t come out with it before I returned to school…but I just couldn’t find the right moment. Finally, I blurted it out on the very last day of my vacation.

To say my parents were stunned is an understatement. Dad even wanted to call our minister over so that he could talk to me, and pray for me, and I think exorcise the “gay demons” right out of me. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting--and in hindsight, I think they probably took it about as well as they could have at that point--but at the time, I was devastated. I couldn’t wait to return to school the next day, and I did not go back home until summer.

During the spring semester, I really relied on my newfound friends. I partied with them. I hung out with them. Studied with them. Did a lot of political stuff with them. You name it, I was with them. My gay friends became my family that semester. And a young man named John, a fellow student, started to become more and more important to me. We had dated a few times before Christmas, but that spring we fell in love. By May we were talking about cities we might like to move to after graduation. Our number one choice was NYC. We were going to find an apartment with a rooftop garden somewhere near Washington Square. We were going to furnish the place with ultra cool retro furniture from secondhand shops. And we were going to have a dog, a big dog, a big yellow dog, and walk him in the park a lot. Like most young guys, we knew how to dream.

I loathed saying goodbye to John after finals, but he was heading back to Augusta, Georgia. It was important for him to go home because he wanted to come out to his parents, and then after they got used to the idea that their baby boy was gay, he wanted to tell them about me. How could I object? And in any event, I needed to go home to Bellville and patch things up with my own parents.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about what happened that summer. Truth is, the string of disastrous events could fill a book. Maybe one day I’ll write about that summer, but for now, it’s too painful, too awful to relive. Besides, I want to get to the Exodus incident. So let’s just say my parents still hadn’t come to terms with me being gay. Tensions between us were high, and I was elated when the summer was over and it was time for me to get back to Austin, back to John and my other supportive gay friends.

However, much to my chagrin, my sophomore year didn’t start out on a high note. I discovered that many of my friends hadn’t returned to Austin. They had dropped out or transferred to other schools. And there was something up with John. At first I assumed things had not gone well with his parents. When I asked about his summer, he would only give me curt replies. I gave him his space thinking that eventually he would come clean, and he did. Within several days, John informed me that he had fallen in love with someone else back in Augusta. Of course I was destroyed by the news, but what made matters worse was the fact that John didn’t tell me about this other guy until we had slept together three times. I couldn’t believe he would do that. I focused on how he waited until after we had made love several time before confessing. I kept thinking about him knowing he was about to leave me for someone else as we engaged in intimate acts. I felt doubly betrayed. A part of me wanted to look up this new boyfriend and rat him out, but I have never been a vengeful person. When John told me that the guy he fell for was his best friend from high school, I knew that there wasn’t any hope. How could I compete with that? So I cut my loses with John. I left his place after our breakup, and I haven’t said a word to him since.

For several weeks, I was in a state of deep depression. Somehow I managed to go to class and keep up with my school work, but I spent most of my time vegetating in my tiny and extremely hot garret apartment. Somewhere in my secret heart, I wanted to go home. I wanted to be with my family. I wanted to go back to our church and have everyone welcome me the way they used to. I longed for the security of being a kid again. And I wanted to hear the joy in my mom’s voice again when I called home. I wanted to see it in her face again the next time I visited Bellville. And I wanted my father to hug me. He had never been all that generous with his affection, and I had long since resigned myself to that, but after what John did to me, I needed my dad to hug me.

One morning late in September, I had some trouble buttoning my pants, so I got on the scales. When I saw that I had gained ten pounds, I knew I had to do something. I couldn’t hide out in my apartment forever and order in pizza hoping Dominos would send over the boy of my dreams. That’s when the bright idea came to me. I decided to call someone I had met the year before, a graduate student who had shook things up for the university’s gay community. As an undergrad, he had been very political, very pro-gay, so it came as quite a shock when he announced that he was “leaving the homosexual lifestyle.” Rumors began to circulate as to what could have happened to Jason. Some claimed that his father was dying of cancer and he had asked Jason to “come back to Christ”--which in fundamentalist terms meant giving up the gay thing, as if it’s a bad habit like smoking. I didn’t know if the stories were true, and when I picked up the phone, I wasn’t thinking about why Jason had gone to Exodus. I just wanted to consider it for myself. It didn’t really seem like a great idea. I guess I was lonely, and I wanted to take everything back and start again. Jason seemed very pleased to hear from me, and he invited me to lunch the next day.

Jason was about twenty-three back then, and he was tall and gangly. I recognized him immediately when I arrived at Sampson’s Subs, a popular student hangout right off campus. When Jason saw me, a beatific smile spread across his face. I wanted to leave the moment I saw it, but I toughed it out. We ordered, found a table and shared a meal together. There was some small talk at first, but we quickly got to the point. I told him about what had happened with John, and I confessed that my parents were on the verge of disowning me. Jason gave me the full treatment. There is an attitude, a posture that many fundamentalists adopt when they think they’re ministering to someone, and Jason wore it like a cheap suit. He grinned a lot and talked about how Jesus would take care of my problems…if only I accepted him in my heart. Jason assured me that I could successfully leave the “gay lifestyle,” and he said that Exodus could help. Suddenly I had cold feet. I was no longer sure I wanted anything to do with Exodus. But Jason told me about a meeting to be held that weekend. I panicked and thought of the only excuse I could think of to get out of attending; I said I wasn’t prepared to pay for something I wasn’t sure I believed in. Jason told me not to worry about it. The overnight seminar was to be informal, and no monetary contributions were expected.

I got the sense that this “seminar” was so off the radar, it wasn’t really Exodus approved, but I just didn’t have the will to resist, so I agreed to go. Jason wrote down the address on a paper napkin and handed it to me. I took it, and that Friday evening I went to that address and found myself waiting for Jason outside the home of someone by the name of Todd Dowling who was supposedly a counselor for Exodus. Todd’s place was an ordinary suburban ranch house outside of Austin. For some reason I had envisioned an isolated, dark, gloomy Gothic mansion behind a wrought-iron fence. I was both relieved and somewhat disappointed to discover Todd’s Exodus lair for wayward gay boys was just a boring house in a nondescript neighborhood.

When Jason pulled up behind me, I killed the engine of my car, got my knapsack which contained my toiletries and a fresh pair of Skivvies, and I got out. While Jason and I walked toward the front door, I asked why we had to spend the night. Jason explained that it was Todd’s idea. He said Todd liked to think outside the box, try new things, and it was his belief that a lot of gay guys missed out on some of the male bonding rituals when they were in high school because they felt estranged from “normal” guys, and Todd thought it was therapeutic to experience some of those rituals later in life. According to Jason, our evening at Todd’s house was supposed to be like an all male sleepover party.

“All male? I thought you said Todd was married.”

“He is, but his wife is out of town. She’s a counselor in the program, too, and she has a meeting in Dallas.”

After we knocked, the door popped open almost immediately, and we were ushered into the foyer by two men in their early 30’s. Both wore white Oxford cloth shirts and chinos. The more muscular, more classically handsome man introduced himself as Todd Dowling. He quickly apologized for his wife Belinda not being there to greet us. He claimed his wife was the perfect hostess, and then he introduced me to the man with him as his partner and old friend, Blinky. I assumed this was a nickname. They both very cordially and solemnly shook my hand and told me how pleased they were that I had agreed to come. They both told me I had made the right decision. Both of them set off my gaydar.

When we entered the living room, I saw two men stretched out in the floor. These were young men, and I got the impression that they were even younger than I was at the time. One was positively diminutive.

Todd said to them, “Come on over here, guys, and introduce yourselves. You already know Jason of course. This is Thad. He’s new.”

When the smaller one jumped to his feet and mockingly said, “Ah, fresh meat,” I noticed Todd gave him a stern look, which the little guy, who couldn’t have been more than 5’4”, ignored. He actually curtsied in a way that was both flirty and contemptuous. “I’m Kelly. And my last name isn’t Green, so don’t call me that.” This kid wasn’t just gay, he was a princess, and I wanted to say something sarcastic, but I elected not to.

“That is not the way a man introduces himself, Kelly,” Todd said.

Kelly rolled his eyes, laid back down in the floor on his stomach, kicked his bare feet into the air and started waving them about.

It seemed as though Todd was about to say something else to Kelly, but the other boy stepped up, offered me his hand to shake, which I did, and said, “I’m Marcus.”

We all chitchatted for a little bit, and then Todd suggested we form a circle and pray. I don’t remember exactly how the prayers went, but they were basically the same kind of evangelical Christian prayers I had heard all my life. The only difference was there were several pleas to help us overcome our “inappropriate desires” and to give us strength to resist the “homosexual lifestyle.” Oh, and Todd threw in how our same-sex attraction was “our cross to bear” but that we were prepared to continue with the struggle and remain true to the “Word.” The last part confused me because Todd seemed to be saying that we would have to continue living with our attraction to men, and I had thought Exodus was offering a “cure.” But I couldn’t really process everything because throughout the prayers, Kelly kept saying, “Praise Jesus!” I was pretty sure he wasn’t being entirely sincere, and I came very close to giggling a couple of times. (You have to remember that I was only nineteen, and I still had a teenager’s rebellious streak. Todd was fairly heavy in the way he presented himself as the authority figure, and I kind of wanted to join Kelly and make fun of him, too.)

After the prayers, Todd took a seat in an overstuffed armchair, and Blinky pulled a Windsor chair over and sat beside him, while Jason, Marcus, Kelly and I sat Indian style on the floor in front of them. I guess since I was new to the group, the conversation quickly turned to me. I told them about how I realized I liked boys when I was thirteen and how I kept this fact to myself until the previous year. I told them about meeting gay friends, becoming more involved with the gay community, and coming out to my parents. I told them how things between us hadn’t been the same since. I told them about how several of my closest friends didn’t return after summer break. And I then told them about John. I got weepy when I confessed how violated I felt after he told me he had met someone else after we had had sex. The tears embarrassed me, but I couldn’t help it.  In any event, they all seemed genuinely supportive and understanding, even Kelly who said, “He’s a dick. You’re better off without him.”

“That’s right,” Todd said. “You are better off without John. You are better off without having any man as your romantic or sexual partner. As you know, that kind of relationship is wrong.” It was obvious that Todd was winding up for his sales pitch. He went on to tell me that John and I had given into temptation when we became boyfriends and how the relationship was doomed from the start because of it. He also stated that even though I felt rejected by my mom and dad, they were only looking out for my best interests by refusing to accept my “homosexual lifestyle.”

“You have good Christian parents, Thad, and they’re thinking about your soul. They want to be with you in Heaven.”

I wanted to object to this. I wanted to tell Todd that I thought that my parents were probably more stunned than anything else since they had been talking about me getting married and producing grandchildren for them ever since I was in diapers. And I also wanted to tell Todd how one of those awful episodes that took place in the summer, one of those events that I’m not prepared to get into even now, demonstrated all too well that they were ashamed of me. They were afraid of what people in Bellville would think of them if they found out I was gay. I wanted to make all of this clear, but I held my tongue…until Todd went after my friends. He claimed that they were all heavily involved in the “homosexual lifestyle,” and because of this, they were not loyal friends.

“Gays always abandon you eventually.”

“Oh, come on,” I said. “They didn’t abandon me. Don’t make it out to be so dramatic. They just didn’t come back to Austin this semester.”

Todd held up his hand and said in a self-satisfied voice, “I’m not going to argue with you, Thad. You’re young, and it’s good that you didn’t get too far into the lifestyle before coming to your senses. But if you had been in it longer, you would know that being gay is like being an alcoholic or a drug addict. The drug, in this case homsexual sex, becomes more important to you than the people in your life. You put the sex first. Gay friendships may seem healthy and fulfilling, just like normal friendships, but sooner or later, you find out the people you thought were friends just want to sleep with you, or sleep with one of your other friends. And they’ll quickly drop you if they lose interest or find someone else that turns them on more. As for gay boyfriends… That’s an oxymoron. Gay men don’t love each other. They just want to have sex with each other. They may fool themselves into believing they can have a relationship, but it won’t work. They use each other sexually while pretending to play house, and then one or both get bored and start looking for sex with other men. If you and John had stayed together, you would have both started cheating, or worse. You could have started sharing other guys, and with that comes the drugs and the booze…in some cases, prostitution and pornography. Your God fearing parents are disappointed in you, Thad. Imagine if you continued on this path and they found out next year or the year after that their son had given himself over completely to the powers of darkness and become a drunken man whore. Just think of the pain you would cause them. It’s one thing when a girl does it, but for a boy child to grow up and become that…”

I was quite offended by all of this, and I was about to object to the idea I was a “man whore” or that I was about to become a “man whore,” but then Todd took another tack. In a softer, more conciliatory tone, he told me that he and Blinky had gone through it, and he asked Blinky to tell his story.

“Todd rescued me from the lifestyle about five years ago,” Blinky began. He went on to say that he had dropped out of college and eventually ended up working at a gay strip club in Huston. “I was good at stripping, and I took pride in being good at it. I made a lot in tips, but I was drinking too much and doing drugs, so the money was disappearing as soon as I made it. I got behind in my rent, and out of desperation, I let a couple of the regulars at the club have sex with me in exchange for cash. Afterwards I was disgusted with myself, and I was sure God would punish me by giving me HIV. I was thinking about killing myself, but instead I called Todd. I begged him to help me. Todd had joined Exodus a few years before, and by then, he had gotten married and become a counselor. He told me I could come live with him and Belinda if I agreed to give up the lifestyle.”

Todd interjected, “It was the least I could do. I felt responsible for what happened to Blinky. Before we even knew about Exodus, we had struggled with our same sex-attractions while in college, but I succumbed first. I started having sex with every guy I could get in my bed, and I turned to drugs, too. It went on for two years, but then one day when I went down to the free clinic to get treated for my latest STD, a devoted street preacher filled with the Holy Spirit told me about Exodus. I got in touch with them and left the lifestyle a few weeks later. Blinky was right there through it all. We were supposed to be strong for one another, but I just couldn’t make it without the aid of Exodus. My descent into hell, and my delivery, was confusing for Blinky, so he dropped out.”

“You two were boyfriends?” I asked.

Blinky turned away when I said this, and Todd looked at me as if I was being impertinent. “No, Thad. We were not boyfriends. I will grant you that we were special friends, very special. We came from conservative families, and we knew they wouldn’t understand our attraction to men, so we made a pact to support each other. If you’re familiar with the structure of AA, then you’ll know what I mean when I say we relied on each other the same way an alcoholic relies on his sponsor. I think our arrangement would have been enough for Blinky if I had managed to stay strong for him.”

I was not yet an official journalist back then, but I already had the instincts to ask questions and try to flesh out the bigger picture, and after making a few inquirers, I learned that Todd and Blinky had grown up together, discovered they were gay together, went to school together, were roommates, and that Blinky didn’t drop out until after Todd joined Exodus and decided it was wrong for him to live alone with a man “suffering” from same-sex attraction. I also discovered that Blinky was still living with Todd and Belinda. He wasn’t married, and he had never had a girlfriend.

When all of this came to light, Blinky became defensive. “I’m not ready for girls yet, Thad. I’ve not progressed that far.”

“But you’re a counselor, and you’ve been in this for five years,” I pointed out.

“It’s more of a struggle for me than…”

Todd cut Blinky off and said, “We don’t measure success in terms of our ability to marry or date girls, Thad. All we ask is that you fight the temptation. Ask God to help you put homosexual thoughts out of your mind. Don’t pleasure yourself while thinking of men, and by all means, don’t have sex with men. The underlying tendency to be attracted to men is not the issue. Just so long as you don’t give into wild sexual thoughts or have sex with men, you will be right with God. Blinky has been very successful in controlling himself with the help of God. And you, Thad, will be able to do it once you’ve had the training.  Once you put men and the lifestyle out of your mind, your natural attraction to women will come to the surface."

By then I was completely sure that I would never officially join Exodus, but my curiosity was piqued. I would have liked to have asked more questions, but it was at this point that Kelly demanded some attention. I guess the poor dear was growing board listening to Todd, Blinky and me prattle on. He said, “Can we talk about my stuff now?” And then he went on to claim that his algebra teacher, Mr. Alfonso, was leering at him in class earlier in the day and that he was sure the man wanted to have sex with him. Marcus seemed to find the story incredulous. The two were about to get into an argument when someone rang the doorbell.

Todd said, “That’s our pizzas. Boys, would you mind going to get it? The money is on the table by the door.”

Marcus and Kelly were on their feet in seconds and they ran out to the foyer. When they were gone, I looked to Todd and asked, “How old are those two?”

Blinky, still sounding defensive, said, “They’re both over 18, Thad.”

Todd said in a very calm and measured tone, “That’s right. They’re both over 18. But you’ll have to forgive them if they seem a tad immature. They’re both still in high school, still living at home. And if you’re at all concerned, you can rest assured that their parents know where they are. Their parents approve of our program. Kelly is the son of a Baptist minister, and Marcus and his family are among his flock.”

Todd called out to the boys in the hall, telling them to put the pizzas in the kitchen. He then looked at me and said, “I hope pizza is okay. If my wife Belinda was here, she would have made us all a wonderful dinner.”

“Pizza is fine,” I said. It was too embarrassing for me to admit that I had been gorging myself on the stuff all month and that I was now sick to death of it.

When Kelly and Marcus came bounding back into the living room, Todd stood and said he had a surprise for us. He retrieved a couple of shopping bags from the corner of the room, reached in and started passing out matching red and white striped pajama outfits. As he did this, he said he thought the pajamas would help us relax and that the reason he got us all the same kind was because he wanted us to feel like a team. When he handed one of the packages to me, I took it and stared at it for the longest time. I was dumbfounded. I didn’t know what to say or do. Matching pajamas?

When I saw that Blinky was starting to disrobe, I said, “Do you want us to change in the living room? Can’t we have some privacy?”

“You can change in the bathroom if you insist,” Todd said, “but men change in front of one another all the time. You need to start doing things men do, Thad. You’re not a woman.”

Before I could respond, Kelly said, “Couldn’t you get nicer ones? We’ll look like prisoners wearing these.”

Todd sighed in exasperation and said, “Kelly, I’m sorry that you don’t approve of my selection, but please be mindful that I paid for these out of my own pocket. The Pajama Party Program is a test model that I’m developing. It’s not part of the official Exodus recovery methodology yet.”

Kelly rolled his eyes and began to undress. I followed suit, although reluctantly. I tried very hard not to look at anyone, but when Kelly pulled his jeans off, I couldn’t help but notice that his underpants were yellow and they looked suspiciously like girl’s panties. Kelly made a show of adjusting them. He even pulled out the waistband and let it snap back into place. Then he cast his gaze directly at me. I had been caught, and he smiled just to make sure I knew I had been caught. The only thing left for me to do was to hurriedly pull on the stripped pajamas and pray no group photos would be taken. I must admit that once we were all outfitted in our new loungewear, we could have been mistaken for members of a chain gang, a very fey chain gang.

Todd then ushered us all into Blinky’s room. He claimed that the bedroom would lend a more authentic sleepover atmosphere, and perhaps he was right. If I didn’t know better, I would have guessed Blinky’s bedroom belonged to a child. He had a twin sized bed, a matching dresser and a desk with a hutch. There was also a number of movie posters on the wall: Top Gun, Lost Boys, Born on the Forth of July, and A Few Good Men. Monopoly, the board game, was neatly laid out in the floor, and we gathered in a circle and played as Todd served us pizza, pretzels, popcorn and bottles of Coke festooned with aqua blue twisty straws. He also passed out paper napkins with pictures of little cowboys on them.

For a while, I almost forgot that I was in the home of an Exodus counselor. I only took a few bites of the pizza, but the Coke settled my stomach, and I enjoyed playing Monopoly--something I hadn’t done in years. But then Kelly got going about Mr. Alfonzo again, causing everyone to groan, and Jason took it upon himself to reach over and smack the kid on the behind.

“Why did you do that?” Kelly asked as he quickly got up into a sitting position. “Why are you putting your hands on my ass?”

“Take it easy, buddy,” Jason said. He was clearly taken aback. “It was a friendly gesture.”

Marcus said, “Don’t get so excited, Kell.”

This only angered the little one more. He said, “You don’t believe me when I tell you men make moves on me. Nobody does. But I’m not stupid, and I don‘t lie.” Kelly then got up and ran from the room. Just as he was leaving, he stated, “No one shows me any respect.”

Marcus quickly followed him, leaving me in Blinky’s room with Todd, Blinky and Jason. Both Todd and Blinky were looking at Jason rather intently.

After a minute, Todd said, “You know if you want to be a counselor, you have to avoid any impropriety.”

“I didn’t mean anything by it,” Jason snapped. “The kid was being annoying, and I gave him a friendly smack to let him know he was getting on everyone’s nerves. Men do that sort of thing.”

Blinky said, “That’s true, but Kelly hasn’t been out of the lifestyle for very long. He still assumes that when a man touches him on his buttocks that it’s sexual, just like a woman would assume that.”

All three of them seemed to realize at once that I was in the room and overhearing their conversation. They all looked at me, and finally Todd suggested that I go check to see if the boys were okay. I was glad to get out of there.

The first place I looked for Marcus and Kelly was the bathroom. Since Kelly had been on the verge of breaking down, I thought he may have ducked in there for privacy. But the bathroom was empty. So I headed on out to the living room, but it, too, was empty. The boys weren’t in the kitchen either, so I stood there for a minute trying to think of where they might have gone. That’s when I heard something in the garage. So I opened the door by the refrigerator that led to the garage and made a startling discovery . Kelly was leaning against a ladder with his pajama bottoms and yellow panties in a puddle at his feet, and Marcus was down on his knees in front of him.

I covered my eyes and turned to walk out. “Sorry, guys. I had no idea…”

Kelly immediately covered up, and both he and Marcus came after me when I turned back into the kitchen.

Kelly grabbed my arm and said, “You can’t tell them, Thad. I know you don’t believe in this bullshit, so please don’t tell them.”

“I won’t. I won’t.” I reassured him. “It’s none of my business.”

Marcus said, “If our parents find out we’re not really seriously into this thing, I’ll be sent off to military school and Kelly will be sent to a Christian run psychiatric hospital. Who knows what they‘d do to him there. Probably zap his dick or something. …and they‘ll never let us see one another again. Joining Exodus was the only way we could stay together.”

I found the resolve to look them both in the eye in turn and I assured them, “I’m not going to tell on you.” Even though I probably shouldn’t have, I asked, “How long have you two been lovers?”

“Two years,” Kelly said.

“He likes for me to blow him when he’s upset,” Marcus added.

I held up my hand. “You don’t have to go into all the details. What you guys do is between the two of you. …I’m going to go back to the others. You two need to get yourselves together and follow in a few minutes. I’ll think of something to say.”

Soon thereafter it was time for bed. Since we were supposed to be reenacting a schoolboy sleepover, I thought we would all bed down in sleeping bags in Blinky’s floor. But it seems Todd felt it would be better to depart from tradition at this point. He wanted us to pair off and retire to separate bedrooms. Blinky and Marcus were to sleep together in Blinky’s twin bed, and Jason and Kelly were to use the spare bedroom. (Todd referred to the spare room as the “future nursery” because “Belinda and [he] were planning on having a baby soon.”) I was to go with Todd to the master bedroom. Lucky me.

“I know this may seem a bit unconventional, but we need to learn to be with men without it turning into a sexual thing. Normal men have been sharing beds for centuries, so I believe that this is good training. If we can master our urges while sleeping in the same bed with a man, then we can go out into the world knowing we have the resolve to stay true to the Word.”

With a feeling of impending doom, I followed Todd down the hall to the room he presumably shared with his wife Belinda. He shut the door behind us and began to remove his stripped pajama top.

“You sleep naked?” I was on the verge of panic.

“I’m going to sleep shirtless, Thad, and I was hoping you would, too.”

I felt confused and bewildered to be in this man’s bedroom, this older man who was supposed to teach me how to not be gay anymore. How could he expect me to take off my shirt and get in bed with him?

“But I…”

Todd, whose chest was now bare, came over to me, put his hands on my shoulders, and in a hushed tone said, “It’s okay, Thad. Affection isn’t a sin. Physical intimacy short of sex isn’t a sin. And I believe that boys who suffer from same-sex attraction are starved for affection from men, specifically their fathers. When men see their son’s start to go in the wrong direction, they instinctively pull away. They withhold their love, and they give clues that inwardly they have rejected their effeminate sons. Without meaning to, they actually push their sons in the wrong direction. A boy like you needs a man to touch you, a good man, a strong man, a man who is right with God.”

I know that I should have gotten the hell out of there. It was stupid of me to have fallen for such nonsense. But I was lonely and depressed. John had left me. My closest friends were no longer around. And my parents were acting like they had a murderer for a son. It was midnight, too, and I was tired. So with Todd standing there close to me, I silently began to undo the buttons on my pajama top. Todd actually helped me. Then we got into bed, and Todd spooned me from behind. I tensed up a little when he took hold of me. But he told me that what we were doing wasn’t wrong and that I could trust him. He said he wasn’t trying to have sex with me. He said he just wanted to show me some decent, wholesome, manly affection. He said he wanted to help make up for all the rejection that I had suffered since I was a small boy. I have to admit that it felt good being in Todd’s muscular arms. Despite my best instincts, I soon relaxed, and it wasn’t long before I fell asleep.

I may have passed the whole night in Todd’s arms had it not been for his erection. At about two in the morning, I began to stir. I shifted around a little, and when I moved, Todd moaned. That brought me to full consciousness, and when I became aware that his hardon was pressing into the small of my back, my eyes popped open. I silently evaluated the situation and came to the conclusion that Todd was truly asleep and didn’t realize that he was sexually excited. However, there was no denying that he was in fact excited. He was even leaking. I thought about getting up, but I didn’t want to wake Todd. It would have been too embarrassing. I thought about trying to extract myself from his arms in a slow and stealthy way, but his grip was firm. Eventually I decided to ride it out. I thought that surely his engorged penis would deflate after a few minutes. So I laid there…waiting. But his erection didn’t subside. To add insult to injury, he started moving his hips slightly. Todd Dowling, the Exodus counselor, the supposedly recovered homosexual, the supposedly reformed man whore who had allegedly left the “lifestyle” was holding onto me, a teenage boy at the time, and humping me. It was quiet and gentle humping, but it was humping nonetheless.

I decided that I had to get up no matter how embarrassing it would be to wake Todd, but just as I was about to throw back the covers, I heard noises out in the hall. They quickly became so loud that I was distracted from Todd’s subconscious molestation. There was stomping in the hall, followed by someone banging on one of the bedroom doors.

Then I heard Kelly say in an angry tone, “Let’s get the hell out of her, Marcus. This bastard tried to put his hands down my pants.”

“I did no such thing,” Jason screamed. “If you accuse me of that again, I swear I’ll beat the shit out of you.”

After more knocking, Kelly said, “You hear that? He’s threatening me now.”

I heard a loud thud at this point, and Jason shouted, “Fuck!” I assume he punched the wall in frustration.

Blinky’s door opened, and I could sense that the hall was now full of people. The hush of the night had been completely broken. I could hear them all arguing about what had taken place. Then I heard Blinky suggest that they switch off -- Kelly could sleep with him, and Marcus could sleep with Jason.

With a palpable amount of jealousy, Kelly said, “If you go into that room with that horny fuck, I’ll never talk to you again.”

“Jesus, calm down, Kelly. I’m not going to sleep with Jason.”

Suddenly Todd sprang out of bed. It was obvious that he was still half asleep, but somehow he managed to get to the door and open it without killing himself. The light from the hall flooded the room and temporarily blinded me, but as my eyes adjusted, I noticed that Todd was standing in the doorframe with his wet, cum stained pajama bottoms tenting out absurdly.

“What’s going on?” Todd demanded.

“We’re getting out of here,” Kelly said.

“Hold on. Can’t we talk about this?”

“There’s nothing to talk about. You’re zombie wanted to stick his little zombie dink into me when he got me alone. They’re all alike when they think nobody is looking. But I’m not going to put up with it.” Kelly then stormed off.

“I need some money, Todd,” Marcus said.

“Damn, now you’re going to try to blackmail me?” Todd said.

“I’m not trying to do anything to you. It’s the middle of the night, and I can’t take Kelly home now. His father would want to know what happened, and I can’t take him to my house either. The money is for a motel room. I can get Kelly calmed down and we can go home in the morning when we‘re expected. I’m sure you’d rather we keep quiet about this.”

Todd came back into the bedroom, quickly grabbed a few bills from the dresser and returned to the hall. When he handed over the cash to Marcus, he said, “At least promise me that you won’t have sex with Kelly tonight. I couldn’t live with myself if I knew I abetted a sinful encounter between two high school boys.”

Marcus took the cash, sighed and said, “Go to hell, Todd.” He then left without another word.

With Marcus out of the way, Todd turned his focus on Jason. He demanded to know what happened. And then he started telling Jason about how he had to control his urges if he wanted to become a counselor, or if he ever hoped to be ready for marriage.

“And you know they tell us we’re more likely to prey on younger men and boys. We have to be especially vigilant when were around men that aren’t fully mature. The Devil may tempt us to take advantage of that.”

Todd’s lecture enraged Jason. He said, “I did not try to fuck that kid. I can’t stand that little queen. She’s about as sexually appealing to me as a three-legged angus heifer. And you know as well as I that she thinks every man on the planet wants in her panties.”

Todd, whose pajama bottoms were still tenting, said, “You know that it’s not right to use inappropriate pronouns, Jay. Kelly is a man, so stop referring to him as ‘she.’”

This elicited a sigh and an eye roll from Jason.

“Did you hold him in the way that I instructed? You know that a boy like that is starved for manly affection.”

Jason’s voice went up several octaves. “Me hold Kelly? Are you crazy? I hate that bitch, Todd. And you know that she’s ready to cry ‘rape’ if you so much as look at her sideways. I rolled over in my sleep, and my hand accidentally brushed up against her highness.” With that said, Jason claimed he was “out of here.” Then he headed for the front door.

I had remained motionless in the bed hoping to stay out of the mess, but the light had illuminated me, and Blinky saw me. He also noticed Todd’s erection, and all while Jason and Todd were arguing, Blinky kept looking over at me in Todd’s bed and then down at Todd’s tented pajama bottoms. When I saw that tears were welling up in his eyes, I pulled my pillow over my face. I felt so guilty. And why shouldn’t I? I had been sleeping with Blinky’s man. I kind of got suckered into it, and even Blinky played along, but when I saw the pain in Blinky’s face, I knew he would never forgive me.

“What’s wrong with you?” Todd asked.

“Nothing,” exclaimed Blinky in a shaky voice.

When that short exchange was over, Todd came back into the room. When I heard the door shut, I felt it was safe to remove the pillow. I then sat up.

“Is Blinky okay?” I asked.

“Blinky? Sure. I guess the drama upset him.”

I shook my head in wonderment. “You don’t have any idea, do you?”

“What are you talking about?”

I hesitated. I thought about spelling it all out for him, but I wasn’t up to it. Instead I got right to the most pressing issue at hand. “I’m not going to spend another minute in this bed with you.” I then got to my feet.

“Thad,” Jason said pleadingly, “you don’t have to worry. That thing with Jason and Kelly was just a misunderstanding, I’m sure. You’re safe. I swear I will not violate your manhood.”

I sighed heavily and said, “It’s not my manhood that concerns me, Todd. This simply isn’t right. I hardly know you, so I shouldn’t be in bed with you. And this”--I waved my hand over the bed--“was hardly innocent.” I then removed my pajama bottoms and ostentatiously mopped up my wet back. When I was satisfied that I was dry, I threw the pajama bottoms on the bed. “You can have those back,” I said as I turned to face Todd head on. I spread out my arms and added, “Have a good look, Mr. Dowling, since cheap thrills are the only fun you allow in this house.”

Todd, sounding defeated, said, “So you’re leaving, too.”

“I would like to, but it’s late, I’m tired, and it’s probably not safe for me to drive. If it’s okay with you, I’d like to spend the rest of the night on your sofa out in the living room.”

Todd turned away from me and said, “Whatever, Thad. I’m done trying to save gay boys from themselves tonight. I just don’t have the strength for it right now.” When I got to the door, he added, “Oh, my wife Belinda keeps an extra pillow and blanket in the chest under the window.”

I woke up early--probably before 6:00AM--and I considered leaving right away, but I thought that since Todd and Blinky were still in bed, I could take a quick shower. When I came out of the bathroom, Todd’s bedroom door popped open right at that moment and Blinky came out wearing nothing but tighty whities. He glared daggers at me as I hurried past.

I went out to the kitchen and made a pot of coffee, but before I completed this task, Todd came into the room…in his pajamas of course. This was a significant disappointment because I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to interact with him again. However, I should add that by then I had Todd figured out, more or less, so he didn’t anger me and I didn’t feel threatened by him or his Exodus bullshit. I was merely disgusted and disappointed in him as a human being. To me, he was pathetic.

Before he had a chance to say anything, I stated, “Yes, Todd, I know that if your wife was here, she would make us all blueberry pancakes and café au lait, but I guess we men will just have to rough it without her.”

He elected to ignore my little dig. Instead he looked down at his bare feet for a minute as if to collect his thoughts. Finally he turned his gaze toward me and spoke. “Blinky told me that you saw him coming out of my room.”

“It’s none of my business, Todd.”

“Perhaps, but in any event, I wanted you to know that I was a gentleman. Blinky has had a hard time leaving his homosexual identity behind him, and, like boys such as yourself, he needs the affection of a strong man. We sometimes sleep in the same bed when Belinda isn’t here, but I don’t sleep with Blinky. I wouldn’t defile his God given manhood in that way.”

That was the last straw. “You know what, Todd? I would respect you more if you did fuck Blinky. I think it’s cruel the way you’ve kept that poor guy dangling since before the two of you had any hair on your balls. You’ve turned him into your pet. If you had an ounce of humanity, you’d see that you’re sucking the life out of Blinky.”

Todd stood tall as if to show he could take my criticism, and he said, “You can think what ever you want of me, Thad. And maybe I do deserve your judgment. I’ve never claimed to be a perfect man, but I am a man, a full man, and you’re still young. So please take the advice of an older, wiser man and join Exodus. You’ll be miserable if you stay in the lifestyle, and you’re risking the wrath of God.”

“I may be young, Todd, but I’ve been around enough to know you’re full of shit. Gay men can be happy. I’ve seen it. Gay men do love. I’ve seen it. Gay men aren’t, as a general rule, ‘man whores.’ We are not what you make us out to be.”

“Think of your parents, Thad. They don’t want a gay son. You know that.”

“I’ll admit that it scares me to death to think they may never accept me, but I’m not going to pretend I’m something I’m not just to win a kind of love from them that isn’t real. They’re my parents, Todd. They’re supposed to love me no matter what. If they can’t do that, then that’s just something I’ll have to live with. But I’m not ready to give up on them. I think they will come around eventually.”

I grabbed my knapsack and headed toward the door, but before I left, I had a few more things I needed to get off my chest. “I can’t stop you from doing what you do, Todd. And I can’t stop desperate men from coming to you. But I want you to know I think you’re hurting them with all this bullshit. You can pretend to be in this to save souls, but you and I know the truth, Todd. You’re in this in order to keep up appearances. You’re in this for you. …by the way, I think it’s going to be a long time before my back feels clean again.”

As luck would have it, a woman--a rather big, bulky woman who looked like she may have played football in her youth--was walking toward the house when I came out. She seemed shocked by my presence, and she rather rudely asked who I was. “Nobody,” I said, “but I want to complement you on how well you matched your sheets with the wallpaper in your bedroom.”

Mr. Thayer’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent Boy Box Rebellion stock holders, management or staff. And Mr. Thayer’s statements of fact have not been independently verified.