When I arrived in Vancouver in 1967, I was a green and squeamish 23-year-old deserter from the US in love with his right hand.
My fantasies took me all the way but I had been abstinent in the army and my sexual experiences as a teen had been neither penetrative nor gratifying, but a letdown. I could not leave the past behind fast enough. What was wrong with me? Was it laziness?
Until then, the young men in the glossies had sufficed to get me off. My first real men, as I recall, were a good-looking bunch and they treated me gently. With further practice, however, I soon realized that I abhorred the down and dirty; I could not bear to stick my nose into a stranger’s hairy crack nor did I care for the taste and smell of rimming. However, video porn was still a long way off and if real men did not make the grade one just had to make do without it. This predisposition to masturbation dominated and conflicted with my coming out and with finding a partner and settling down.
Assuming that the solitary life was selfish, narcissistic, and unnatural, I would not let myself go through it alone. However, no gay relationship could endure without a dose of healthy narcissism as well as an energetic sexual component, so how was I to overcome these deficiencies in my make-up?
Over the next five decades, I continued to discover things about myself that I could never have dreamt up, things that would make me cringe if I had never learned to forgive my faults.
I met my first lover in the summer of ’68. I knew nothing about him except that he was a close friend of my straight roommates and a professional teacher. He became a mentor, patient and generous in my bed. Our sexual encounters were warm and gratifying but, at my request, they stopped at digital penetration.
Our attachment was not as deep as I had hoped it would be but Dan did teach me about gay sex. I do not recall our doing anything together except share my bed and smoke pot. When he went back to the Kootenays, my summer love ended with heartache. I followed him there three weeks later to reignite the spark, only to find that he was bisexual and I had been nothing but a fling. Disillusionment has a clarifying effect and I vowed never to give my heart away so eagerly again.
That fall, I took a room in a Comox Street rooming house and began to prowl. After living in the city for almost a year, this was my first glimpse of the Gay Mecca, the West End. Here I came out with drum-roll finality.
I still wanted a lover and commitment but I now had to admit I was a neophyte in the gay world, and a partnered relationship was not waiting around the corner. Not yet aware that my heart was avoidant and that I had an insurmountable fear of commitment, I went on searching.
Promiscuous sex went against my grain so I left the labyrinth of dark cubicles at the Richard Street Service Club — where anonymous sex was de rigueur and everyone got his fill — to my friends who loved it there. Instead, I took a chance on what I thought was the only other game going, the club scene.
First, I went looking at Champagne Charlie’s, a basement gathering-place below Chez Victor on Davie Street, where they catered to queens, dykes, boy-chasers, dealers, and rounder riffraff. It was an epiphany to find so many types of freaks gathered in one small space for what turned out to be a hilarious DeeDee Ambrose floorshow.
On that visit, I learned that all gay clubs were “private” bottle clubs, a long-standing institution in BC allowed by our quaint and quirky liquor laws. The convenience of checking your own booze at the bar made going out affordable.
Hippies stayed away from Charlie’s because it was too swishy and stuck in the disco groove. I had entered my hippie period and identified with them. At Charlie’s we may all have been outsiders but that alone does not bring people together. There, I felt like a misfit among misfits and I was not the only one.
Charlie’s did not attract the type of outsider I wanted to meet. Timid and afraid of rejection, I made no friends there and never scored. Something was missing. Where were all the gay hippies?
I found them, as well as all the other more conventional queer types, at Faces, a busy late-night spot on the street level of the old Orillia at Robson and Seymour. This anomalous building with its deep and broad gingerbread verandas seemed to be lifted out of the New Orleans French Quarter, spirited thousands of miles to Vancouver, and plunked down at that corner.
At Faces, the patrons were the show. There I formed deep and lasting friendships and scored for the first time. For the next two years, I went every night and turned into a lunatic on a treadmill searching for his illusions. This is not to imply that it wasn’t a ball — Faces was wild fun, the party never stopped.
Too many empty nights had to pass before I could admit that I was not a party type after all, a persona my inexperience had palmed off on me. However, I do not regret those years for what is ordained is not a waste of time.
My desire to be part of the “outsider community,” an oxymoron that nonetheless thrived in clubs, led me to try some of the very things that later robbed me of my ill-starred friends. They fell to such pedestrian fates as poverty, addiction, liver and kidney diseases, lung cancer, prostate cancer, AIDS, and Hep C. Fate spared others at random and they may feel, as I do, that life after friends is leftover life, the punishment of a hunger we can never satisfy.
I forgot the faces of the men I picked up at Faces before I forgot their names. The same goes for all the mostly boring and conventional things we did in bed. However, the close friendships I made there out of common interests lasted.
Time tarnishes what was once enthralling — the birthday parties, the nightlife, and the urge to gather spontaneously. This process is slow but we have to go through it or we would never realize that we are not one person but a multitude.
Today I live alone and sober. Masturbating is no longer so easy but I am still an asexual right-hander and finally content with my own company. Now I need solitude and silence. My dependable, cunning and practical hand taught me why love and partnership eluded me: they were not right for me in the first place. You go through a lot of shit to find your personal truth but it’s worth it.