“Life’s not worth a damn till you can shout out – I am what I am!”
Gloria Gaynor – I am What I Am
There is nothing worse than being 9 years-old, knowing that you are different to all the other boys around you, and not knowing how or why, or even having a word to describe it.
My father had a word for it…poofter, though I could never quite work out who or what these poofter people were…perhaps from a country I hadn’t heard of…maybe! I have a word for my father too…cunt! It came into my vocabulary shortly after that age.
Now let me see…what qualities singled me out as “different”; playing with the girls, for starters. And unlike the boys, they accepted me into their girls club with no recrimination or name-calling. I was an excellent skip-roper, and picked up the intricacies of French skipping ( done with elastic) very quickly. It could have been my playing with dolls, which my mother actually bought for me, secretly of course! Or my penchant for hiding away in quiet corners and reading books, or my total dislike of sports, my keen eye for fashionable ladies wear, or my artistic streak…even my over-active imagination all kept me apart. At the beach I was attracted to guys in Speedo swimwear…and I tore adverts for men’s underwear or photos of lifesavers or any other scantily dressed males out of magazines and newspapers. I imagined a bulge on the lycra-clad comic strips heroes of The Phantom, Superman, and Batman and Robin.
I also had my first orgasm at 9…and that was something I wasn’t prepared for. I also started growing pubic hair, which I used to pull out as I was embarrassed by its growth. My parents weren’t great with the birds and the bees stuff! Nothing like a Christian sex pamphlet discreetly left by the bedside to educate you in the dynamics of sex. No wonder I was confused!
So I guess I just tucked it all away. In my teen years I hung out with a large group of people, so I came into contact with other gay guys, and as with many other things in my life, I accepted them on face value. However, they were nearly all in the display areas of big department stores, and were very effete…something I couldn’t relate to, as I am not that way, so I guess it sort of added to the confusion I was already going through. If gay=effete…then I mustn’t be gay. It seemed logical at the time. So I went through the 70s dating girls, though never making sexual advances to them. It wasn’t even something I considered doing. The girls, in turn, loved going out with me because they felt safe, and knew I wouldn’t go in for the quick grope…and I often helped them buy their clothes. Jo was a girl I used to date who was kind of my “beard” (a term used to describe girls who used to act as girlfriends to stop family from asking difficult questions). She was quite a beautiful girl and I think my old man thought she was a potential marriage for me. She did try to seduce me one night, but when I fought off her advances, things must have clicked with her.
The next thing I know, she’s taken me out to Oxford Street in Darlinghurst, pointing out all the gay venues to me and taking me to a gay coffee lounge called “Nana’s” in Bourke St where I was introduced to the owner – Nana – and his partner Cupcake. Just after this I started renting with friends in Granville. It was around this time that I started buying bits and pieces of gay porn, and buying “Campaign” newspaper. One old gay guy I worked with knew I was gay, and he evidently wasn’t the only one. My flatmates took me to a party at the home of two gay guys they knew, John & Ray. They had me sussed out in the blink of an eye, but I ignored their advances and continued to deny it. My flatmates found out by mistake when I went to Campbelltown to nurse my step-brothers (he also later turned out to be gay) wife who had had a stroke. I asked them to bring out some clothes for me, and they unearthed my stash of gay porn mags, and actually kept hush about it until after I came out. In the interim, I had sex with one girl…just to make sure. After having to fantasize about a man to come to orgasm with her, I think the dye was pretty well set….but I still didn’t come out.
However, circumstances were about to present me with the window of opportunityI needed, and the wherewithal to come crashing out of my closet!
In late 1978 my father died. I am not going to go into details over life with my father, but suffice it to say it was tense. I cried a few crocodile tears, clicked my heels and rejoiced. In the latter half of 1980, the retail company I worked for – Pellegrini & Co Pty Ltd – asked me if I would be interested in going to Melbourne and troubleshooting two stores they had down there. I jumped at the chance. So I flew to Melbourne, set up house in Cumming St, West Brunswick, and set in motion the cogs that would change my life.
Now, this was no easy matter. The two stores – one in the Myer Centre and one in Hardware Street were in a mess, and by the time Christmas 1980 rolled around, I had not even started having any social life, let alone coming out and banging my way through Melbourne! That was to come! After spending that Christmas and Boxing Day on my own with a bottle of whisky, I decided I heeded to do something about it! But what? I went through the classifieds and social group listings in the gay press, mentally started ticking or crossing them out, then going through a process of elimination, according to where I thought I might or might not fit in. One group seemed to stand out – Acceptance Gay Catholics. I knew not only all the ins and outs of the Catholic Church…but I managed businesses for a Catholic retailer. Seemed like a match made in heaven, so to speak! So I made a phone call, found out whose home the next First Friday Mass was held at, and the next First Friday found me heading out to suburbia to Max’s house for my first gay outing. I told no one I was not yet out, and not being from Melbourne they wouldn’t know if I was or not. Right up to the day I left Melbourne no one I knew was any the wiser. So the guys all started piling in…and not exactly a pack of spunks, though a couple of lookers amongst them. Turns out the Servite Fathers conducted the masses for them. Not being under the jurisdiction of the local bishop, they were free to do what they liked.
After the mass there was a meal, then we hit Melbourne for a night out. My first gay club…The University Club in Swanston St. It was gay there every Friday night. Started dancing with the guys from the group, and decided to play it safe by dancing with, then going home with, one of the older, plainer guys. At the grand age of 25 I was about to have my first gay sexual experience. It wasn’t the bells, whistles and fireworks I was expecting!
Frank, naturally thrilled to bits to have a quite handsome bit of fluff come on to him (actually he made the first move – on the dancefloor! I wasn’t experienced enough to know that if you weren’t really interested, you said a polite no thanks and moved onto the next). I didn’t want to seem rude, so said yes when he invited me home, despite fancying a couple of the younger guys more. A steep learning curve here! So, Frank had a car and offered me a night at his place. I can’t remember where he lived now, but it was quite a drive out of the Melbourne CBD. No sooner was I in the car than he had my cock out, and out it remained all the way to his place, despite several near misses. I often wonder what other drivers thought as Frank’s head disappeared from sight at every red light! Once we got indoors, I decided the ball was in his court and I would leave it up to him to drive proceedings. He assumed I was a young slut and would know how all the mechanisms of gay sex unfolded. Frank was also a bit old and stale, and not the most sexually adventurous person to go home with. From my perspective, I wouldn’t even be leaving the starters blocks with this one. Not an auspicious beginning to my gay sex life, having held myself back for so long. The next morning,it was breakfast, then finding out that I would be getting myself back into the city…on a train. Well, fuck you too, Frank!
I started attending not just the First Friday Masses, but Sunday Evening masses as well, held in the Catholic Church in North Fitzroy, and any of the other Acceptance social occasions that cropped up on the calendar. Thankfully, Frank attended pretty well none of these with any regularity, so it was quite a long time before I ran into him again. In the interim, I found out from Fred – we’ll get to Fred shortly – that he and the other young guys at the University Club that night were quite surprised to see me go home with him. Learn to say no is the first rule of survival on the gay scene!. So over the next few months I met the other members of Acceptance through the masses, or parties in their homes, along with a few local eateries, The Laird Hotel In Collingwood, Smarties Nightclub in North Melbourne, and Pokies, a Sunday night drag venue in St Kilda. My evil plan was working…I was starting to lead a gay life!
In the meantime, I wanted the world to know I was gay. I wrote to my ex-Granville flatmates and ‘fessed up, only to find out that they had known since the night they packed my luggage for Campbelltown. They had met my mother, who I had only just been reunited with prior to coming to Melbourne. On a visit to see her, they notified me by mail, they had accidentally outed me, thinking that I had notified her at the same time as them! They also informed me that she already suspected that I was gay, though she never brought the subject up with me. Years later, back in Sydney, I made no effort to hide my sexuality from her, though on a mother/son lunch in the city one day, she informed me that she blamed herself for it. It became a moot point between us, and she has never really reconciled herself to it. Tough shit! I wasn’t taking a step back for anyone!
After my rather unsettling encounter with Frank, where nothing more exciting than some oral happened, things went from bad to worse. I fell in love with Fred, who edited the Acceptance newsletter, and did a gossip column under the pseudonym of Jodi A Frean. Fred and I had a difficult sex life for the 6 months we were together, and being the innocent I was, I never picked up on the signals about his sexuality. Firstly, he was into light S&M, secondly…he was a beat quean! He, Danny (who was the second man to fuck me, and went to it like a rabbit on heat) and Jim (who gave me a handjob in the shower, after a swim, at a beach house we went to for an overnight stay) were the only three Acceptance members I got off with. Another, Tony, who I should have been more attuned to, as he was more my type, had a crush on me, which I suspected, but unfortunately never followed up on.. At a Mass at my flat in West Brunswich, a very handsome man – Barry – caught my eye. He stayed after everyone else left. We chatted, drank some more wine, and ended up in the bedroom, where he had the great distinction of being the first man to fuck me. I took to it like a duck to water, and never looked back!
So, that was the start of my sex life. The next thing to do was to expand my horizons. A lot of thought went into it…I wasn’t a risk-taker so the beats held no appeal, no did the shadowy world of the sauna. I had been – unnecessarily – steeling and prodding myself to go to a nightclub in St Kilda called “Mandate”. It was to be another life-changing experience! I was terrified when I ventured there for the first time. It was unlike any nightclub I had been to before in that it didn’t have an entry where you just walked in. The door was closed, so I went and stood on the oppisite side of the street to see what was going on. It didn’t take long for it to dawn on me that, after watching several patrons arrive, that one knocked to gain entry. So, over I go, knock on the door to find that a tiny window in the door opened, and I was being scrutinised by a drag queen. In my clone gear I obviously passed muster, as the door opened, I paid my entry, and up the stairs I went NOTE: it was a good deal later that I found out that there were also under-stairs activities…though not my scene.
Here, I entered a world of men, and music that set my heart blazing. There was a bar area to the left of the stairs, to the right was a communal area with a barred cruising area surrounding it, and to the rear was a copper dance floor that was to be oretty well my sole occupation over many, nany visits there. I loved Mandate. I loved its masculinity, its testosterone-charged atmosphere, the pure maleness of it. If I had to imagine Nirvana in these early coming out days, Mandate was it and in the not too-distant future, the Midnight Shift in Sydney when I returned to my roots). I did my first pick-ups there, had my first public blow-job on the edge of the dance floor, met some wonderful men including a man called Brian Pryke who I had the most esoteric sexual experience with (and communicated with for a while after returning to Sin City), and some of my worst sexual experiences including a Dutch pilot who had the most disgusting dose of smegma I have ever encountered, and left me with the gift of anal warts. We live and learn. At Mandate I was introduced to Lime, Phyllis Nelson, Carol Jiani, 202 Machine, Shirley Lites, Tantra, KC and the Sunshine Band, Patrick Cowley, Sylvester, Divine, Paul Parker, Seventh Avenue, Peter Griffin, Hall & Oates, and many other artists who started my ongoing love for dance music. The wonderful nights I had in Mandate will live in my memory forever.
I continued my work and socialising with Acceptance (including some cross-denominational “spiritual shenanjgans” with a member of Angays (the Anglican version of Acceptance) until I returned to Sydney. They gave me a wonderful set of friends that kept me ocvupied constantly, and a rather frantic social life. I think what perhaps what disturbed me the most about being an out gay man in a Catholic social group was the “subtle” stigmatisation that we just seemed to accept. Though the Servite Fathers who did our home masses were unequivocal in their support for the gay community, the particularly internalised discrimination and alienation within the Catholic church itself, seemed to be tolerated more so than finding ways to support us. And while talking of the Servite Fathers, I must relate a home mass story here. First Friday Masses were shared amongst the various homes of Acceotance members. When ai volunteered my flat in West Brunswick for one, I found I faced a dilemma. Confessions before mass were usually held in a private room, and the only one in my flat was the bedroom. The entire back of my bedroom door was covered in pictures of men in various poses and states of undress. In my wisdom, I decided that this was not an appropriate thing to have on display in a room where gay men were confessing their sins. Rather than remove all the pictures, I decided to tape a large sheet of brown paper over them. Evidently during one of the confessions, the tape gave way causing the paper to fall to the floor. Evidently there was a brief pause in the confession as the priest eyed off the door full of naked males, then continued on as if nothing had happened. The exposition was the cause of much hilarity for the rest of the night, with the priest commenting on my good taste in art as he departed.
The only other churches that catered to us were St Francis in Lonsdale St, and Holy Trinity Church in North Fitzroy. And even then we could only attend masses at certain times on Sundays. It felt very alienating, and was one of the reasons for me joining the Gay Rights Lobby when ai returned to Sydney. For me personally, well….I was an Athiest disguised as a Catholic to secure myself a social life, though going through the actions of geing a Catholic, and arguing stronly against the banality of much of Catholic belief and doctrine at every opportunity caused me no qualms. Only once was I dressed down regarding my staunchly held opinions, and I was stronly supported by the group I was with, as they did not believe in blind faith. There is hope yet in the world.
It was at an Acceptance barbecue that I was to meet Glenn W, who was visiting Melbourne, and lived in Waverton in Sydney. It was a period where the Pellegrini head office in Sydney were quietly hassling for my return. Glenn quite swept me off my feet, and after several months of correspondence and with a position as assistant to the General Manager offered to me back in Sydney I rather foolishly decided to return.
So ended my wonderful, unforgettable life in Melbourne. Plans were afoot for a massed goodbye for me at Tullamarine, but to avoud what would have been a very tearful occasion, I quietly flew out the night before. Glenn W turned out to be a psychopath..but that is a Sydney story!