1974—“I’m like you,” the hand-printed and hand-delivered note said. “My name is Jimmy. I live on this street. I am 12. Will you meet me behind my house tonight at 5?” In the small mailing envelope, there was a picture of Hercules, cut from a book. When I was Jimmy’s age, I’d wait until no one was around, and then pull out the “H” volume of the World Book Encyclopedia, and stare at the picture of Hercules.
As much as I wanted to be for him an adult gay male friend, to assure him that “It gets better,” I couldn’t go meet Jimmy behind his house at 5. I was at that moment the best-known gay man in Michigan. I had my weekly column dropped by the Catholic diocesan newspaper, (and weeks later was fired), and I was on a hunger strike. It was 1974, and I had a lot of eyes watching me. If Jimmy’s mother or neighbor saw me with him, I would lose what credibility I had. The immediate assumption would have been that I had a sexual interest in Jimmy.
It has long been a conundrum for gay male youth, and the gay men who want to mentor them. There is always the suspicion of sexual abuse, so adult gay men have pulled back for fear of arrest, and gay youth have been left to fend for themselves. A lot has changed since 1974 when Jimmy walked to my apartment door and left his note in my mailbox. Brave gay male dads, Big Brothers, Boy Scout Leaders, coaches, and youth workers have put faces on the issue to alleviate fears, but, still, the threat of accusation is still there.
From 1974 to the popularization of e-mails, I received hundreds of written requests for help. I always wrote back, but I was very careful of how I worded my responses to young adults because there was the possibility of my letter being found under the young man’s mattress, or, that the letter was actually written by a Right-Wing or government group hoping to trap me and tarnish my reputation.
Twelve-year-old boys are still finding erotic comfort in the form and myth of Hercules. And adult gay men, despite the advances, have to be careful of how they mentor, and who knows about it. When I was Jimmy’s age, I would have nervously waited outside, hoping the gay man in the newspapers would come talk to me. I feel very sad that I couldn’t have been there in person for him.
Editor’s Note: The idea of assisting young people in figuring out their sense of “who they are” has always been suspect, whenever adult males were involved. While there were clearly instances where that cynicism was justified, this wholesale attitude has prevented legitimate counsel from being given to younger men clearly in need of it by well-intentioned adult men. For an exaggerated look at the historical hysteria whipped up about the risk of adolescents being preyed upon by adult male “predators”, take a look at how “ho-mo-sexuals” were thought of in the 1950s. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqIIeGmhL2Q