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Fetishizing the Belongings of an Unrequited Crush

Harry, summer camp counselor, in 1968

BAMMER47: Have you ever had a crush on a guy you couldn’t reveal, so you fetishized a belonging of his as a way of feeling closer to him?

When I was growing up, in the 50s through 70s, you had to hide the fact that you were gay, if you were even aware of it yourself. Because the concept of gayness wasn’t widely understood, most of us on our way to discovering we were gay simply knew we had crushes on other guys and understood we couldn’t divulge them to anyone.

My crush, Paul Coughlin, before a basketball game in 1969

When I was a junior counselor at a suburban day camp for young kids the summer after 10th grade, I was strongly attracted to Harry (pic #1), the senior counselor I assisted. Our interaction only lasted weeks, so my crush on him came and went fairly quickly.

Then, as a junior and senior in high school, I became smitten with Paul Coughlin, a star athlete on our basketball and baseball teams. We knew each other but I wasn’t part of his crowd and had no way of hanging out with him regularly. Who knows what role my crush on Paul played in my decision to volunteer as manager (assistant to the coach, scorekeeper during games, etc.) of the varsity basketball team, but it allowed me to spend a lot of time near Paul, even if the role was somewhat subordinate (I was an athlete, myself, on the football and track teams.).

I was infatuated with Paul and frustrated that there was no way to get close to him, much less express this attraction. One day after practice, while in the locker room for a job-related reason, I snuck into his locker, pulled out his recently-used jockstrap, and buried my face in it.

Paul Coughlin driving for a layup in 1969

Have you ever been driven to do something similar? Please share any similar experiences: they may embarrass us now, but they’re an understandable outgrowth of human longing for others.

I’ve shared Paul’s full real name (but not Harry’s) for a reason: Paul quickly gained weight after graduation and, at our 10th high school reunion, didn’t closely resemble the handsome man I‘d once idolized. He later tragically passed away (from a heart attack?) a decade or so ago, leaving behind a wife and kids.

Paul with his prom date, Regina, in 1969


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