Mention just about anything, give me 90 seconds, and I’m apt to have been reminded of something of which I’m deeply ashamed. Such was the case when I wrote here a few days ago about manliness.
I was acculturated in all the usual ways as a kid. I might have been rotten at knots and a non-Boy Scout, deeply disinclined to debate the respective merits of Ford and Chevy automobile engines, but I was no less invested for all that in the toxic notions of “queers” being the most disgusting persons on earth, and women needing to be shown who was boss.
This latter horrid belief reared its ugly head the night First Major Girlfriend and I began our relationship. She’d been staying in my flat on the third floor of a haunted house in the shadow of the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood while I was in New York on business. I was so smitten with her that I'd hardly been able to think of anything else in New York, but didn’t dare dream she might correspondingly admire the cut of my own jib. As I said in the song, I pictured her with a rich marquis, or a Ph.D., or maybe George Hamilton, someone rich and dashing and pretty, with blindingly white teeth. When we got home from the airport, though, I somehow summoned the gall to ask her not just to drop me off, but to stay, and was flabbergasted when she acceded. But then I led her into the bedroom, and I was the Tom Jones who’d deflowered Ms. Cassandra Peterson, then an unknown Las Vegas hoofer (with an f, not a k!), not yet the camp icon here depicted, with such ferocity that she needed stitches.
Little wonder that FMG was pretty iffy about sex with me for the rest of the 40 months we were as one. That I’ve since had lovers who avidly prefer it rough makes me feel no better at all about having been a macho asshole that first time with one who wanted it very gentle.
I was a product of my culture then, conflating roughness with manliness. I have tried with all my might not to remain one, but I don’t flatter myself to imagine I’ll ever get all the toxicity out of my system.
The house, near where Selma Avenue curves around into Sunset Blvd. at its western end, really did seem haunted, by the way, or at least was as haunted-seeming as any domicile I’d ever want to inhabit. One night I awoke — awoke as in no longer dreaming — with someone's hand indisputably on my face. I was alone in the flat. I learned later that the daughter of the house's original owner had hanged herself out my front window. It was the sort of thing landlords forgot to mention when showing prospective tenants around.
New York on business. Sometimes in those days I felt like a real boy. But back to our regular programming. I figured out that sexism is appalling with the help of the feminist movement, and that racism is appalling with the help of the civil rights movement, and that homophobia is appalling with the help of gay friends. I often wonder if, without them, I'd have retained the male-chauvinistic xenophobe I was raised to be, or if I'd figured any of it out on my own had I not gone on to have black co-workers and gay friends. I don't flatter myself to imagine I would have.