I had sex with man as a teenager for the first time when I was 14. I was alone in a familiar library while my father worked and as I browsed an older man noticed me and began following me. I became aware of him but assumed I was safe in a public place and I simply was not prepared for when he approached me and grabbed my crotch. My reaction, as I remember, was somewhere between utter shock and dizzying fear as I imagined I would get in trouble if I made noise or pulled away. I remember believing as an adult he had authority over me even though I had no understanding of what he was doing. He engaged in sexual activity as I stood frozen, confused and afraid of anyone walking by and then left shortly after.
I remember waiting for my dad to take me home in a daze, convinced he must have known and preparing for punishment. But he didn’t know and I simply rationalized it and moved on. But it also made me curious about why a man would do that to me and what it meant that I enjoyed the experience. I went back to the library again a few weeks later and this time I encountered what I thought was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. I hadn’t quite grasped the idea of what being gay was, but I instantly responded to him. He was probably in his early 20’s. What I remember is after some eye contact, darting back and forth between the stacks and obvious awkward staring at books I had no intention of reading he approached me directly and kissed me. His kiss was passionate and I felt a sense of being overwhelmed that I did not know was possible. He guided me through various sexual activities and I remember how absolutely enthralled I was at the time with his every touch and look. I fell absolutely in love.
That night on my way home I was dreamy. I had found my soulmate and I was ready to be in a real relationship. I still didn’t consider myself gay, but reasoned love didn’t lie. I utterly obsessed over him every waking moment for weeks and I begged my dad to take me back to the library nearly every night. What I did not expect was the world of gay anonymous sex I would soon be encountering. I had originally met him in the bathroom and so I naturally returned to the bathroom, picked a urinal and waited. Every time the door opened I eagerly looked hoping it was him. What I also did not realize is that my completely unusual body language and behavior set off a signal to men who came there for sex that I was interested.
I found that once a man touched me and began guiding me I felt helpless, even if I didn’t want to do anything with him. There were times I felt disgusted and yet I never backed away or said no. The occasions when I enjoyed myself I imagined I had made a friend who cared about me because why else would a man kiss me, touch me in such a way and be so intimate with me? For weeks I continued this remarkably dangerous journey with my parents often a floor or two above me never knowing and I felt so grown up and attractive. Everyone told me how beautiful I was, how sexy and how perfect. I thought this is what being an adult was like.
But the magical thinking never lasted beyond the boundaries of that particular place and time and I would find myself lying in bed with thoughts racing of what it meant for me to have had so many sexual partners in secret. I went to school and felt out-of-place among my peers who, if they were having sex were engaging with each other and usually within some form of a relationship. I couldn’t talk to anyone and often the anxiety, fear and paranoia reached such a high pitch in my mind I could not focus at all. Yet the compulsion to continue exploring, searching and hoping that one of these men would actually love me back kept me returning to that basement bathroom.
The compulsion never left me and throughout my teen years I engaged in astonishingly reckless behavior in my attempts to both satisfy my sexual urges and my deep desire for love and acceptance from a man. As the internet evolved, so did my sexual experience and I went so far as to meet men I only chatted with for a few moments online with absolutely nothing to go on but their brief self-description and instructions to wait in a nearby parking lot for their car, make and model, to arrive. At 15 I was standing outside, alone, in empty parking lots at 1AM waiting for complete strangers to pick me up for sex in their cars.
Throughout my isolation from my family became profound as I developed an awareness of how destructive the behavior truly was. Why didn’t my father ever know? I would even leave my computer up with the open messages in secret hope he would discover it and intervene. But he never quite caught on. I experienced even more profound depression and anxiety as I merely attended school but could not feel connected to any of my classmates. Even before I officially came out I would often gaze across the room at these young relatively innocent lives worried about homework, sports and excitedly hoping their parents would be gone for just long enough to make out with their boyfriend or girlfriend and I felt completely alone. I had had dozens of sexual partners by the time I was 16.
I remember believing myself odd and damaged when I left high school and began making friends with other gay guys my own age and I was shocked to discover nearly all of them had experienced the same thing. Accidentally discovered ‘cruising’ spots, online chatrooms and other methods of accessing sex with older men were common. The TV show Queer as Folk, the American version, discussed this experience in great detail even portraying groups of young teenage boys as prostitutes. Another show, The United States of Tara had a storyline in which the gay teenage son of the main character was introduced to a cruising spot at a local park by an openly gay student his own age. They were 15 I believe. In one episode the young man, usually sarcastic and witty, becomes vulnerable for a moment describing an idealized fantasy with a random strange man in which he kisses his eyelids in a show of affection.
As much as the LGBT world seems to ignore this reality, it seems fairly universal and unfortunately not time-bound to a period when young gay men had fewer options. There is an uncomfortable truth here that I never had sex with anyone my own age as a teenager. Every single man was an adult who recognized my youth and chose to engage in sex anyway. As a 34 year old man today I cannot conceive of doing this with a teenager. I genuinely struggle to understand how it was possible at all.
Our culture is obsessed with youth, this is true and the ‘barely legal’ standard of pornographic excitement is not exclusive to gay men by any means. But in many ways we are different. Men who are attracted to teenage girls are far less likely to have the opportunity or willingness to act on their interests. But gay men seem to hold a generational view that sex with teenagers is a rite of passage and a necessity as teenage gays have no other option to explore who they are. As a culture we seem unwilling to consider that what we experienced ourselves as teenagers should not be the acceptable norm.
There are real consequences we can measure, although statistics on adult-teen relationships are not readily available we can look at violence and HIV statistics to interpret the impact. According to the CDC upwards of 32% of gay and lesbian youth have been forced to have sex against their will. While it is certainly possible to be assaulted by a peer, it is far more likely a teenager is forced to have sex from an adult. The CDC also states that of the HIV cases found in males 13-24, 80% were gay or bisexual. The number extends outward beyond the age of 18, but it must be considered that boys age 13 to 17 are also included and it stands to reason they are unlikely to be infected by another boy their own age.
I often find gay men romanticizing their early sexual experiences and idealizing the men who introduced them to the world of gay sex. Our erotica, sexual fetishism, pornography and sexual roles tend to mimic adult-teen relationships. Often our very concept of the type of man we search for is built on these early experiences. It is easy when so many hold the same experience to believe it is normal. But I believe it is absolutely critical the LGBT world take a serious look at this issue and take action to stop it. This is an issue of gay men abusing young men seeking a great many things in an extremely vulnerable state. These adult men are not guiding, helping, freeing or allowing these teen boys to explore who they are. They are abusing them.
We underestimate the emotional and psychological stress and anxiety adult actions cause in immature minds and we cannot rely on our own recollection as proof of its relative harm. The LGBT media, leaders and all organizations must take a stand against adult-teen relationships and firmly stand on the side of protecting young gay people as a part of their overall concept of outreach. In the end we are the only ones who can stop this generational pattern of abuse and I think it is our priority to do so.