Fifty years ago this week the Stonewall Riots took place. I do not recall hearing about these events at the time, as my mind was occupied with another rowdy group of men. It was mid-June, and I was on my way to the Boy Scout Jamboree in Farragut, Idaho, in a busload of teenage boys and young men. Our troop was made up of guys from across Butte County, none of whom I knew.
I was almost thirteen and just going through puberty. It was my first trip without my family—four weeks alone with these guys. I was thin and feeling awkward, with barely a hair sprouting anywhere other than on my head. I tried hard to hide the things I was feeling. Listening to the strains of “California Dreaming” and “The Sound of Silence,” we barreled along the highway, heading up along the central valley of Northern California across Oregon and Washington, into British Columbia, then east, and finally back down into northern Idaho for the big event.
John was perhaps the oldest of our troop, about twenty years old. His voice was deep, hair thick and mousey in color, with bangs over a square face. He wasn’t handsome, but he was all man. He made my heart pound.
Then there was Larry, not much younger, with a broad beautiful face, an Irish complexion, dark hair and a five o’clock shadow that started to appear by noon. He was a clown, always telling randy stories about having sex with his girlfriend, then interjecting jokes, like how funny it would be to fart in the middle of sex. His younger brother, Ron, was equally handsome with the same broad handsome face, but with straw-blond hair and always-wet candy-apple red lips. Where Larry was bold and rough, Ron was more refined and Adonis-like. They both made my heart pound, too.
Then there was Ric Ellison, who I sat next to as often as I could on the long bus ride north. He was about sixteen years old, with sun-bleached auburn hair in an awkward self-cut bob, and a tan beach-boy face and body that reminded me of Sandy from the TV show Flipper. I loved just to listen to him talk. He spoke so assuredly about his future. He also talked about his girlfriend, how he wanted to marry her someday, and about becoming a farmer. Suddenly, I wanted to be a farmer too, or at least a farm hand. He, also, made my heart pound.
As my body convulsed through puberty that summer, I tried hard not to reveal my many crushes, pretending I wasn’t too interested in what anyone said or did. I tried to play it cool while hanging on every word my crushes had to say. I was acutely aware of each of them, observing them clandestinely, as they talked, gestured, ate, slept, showered, and dressed in their bland olive uniforms. Their muscled hairy forearms, well-formed chests, and perky butts stirring something in me I knew I wasn’t supposed to be feeling. I have no fond memories of that summer, only memories of how I felt—the longing for the forbidden—to touch those boys, and to have them touch me. That was all.
When we arrived at the Jamboree, it was a hectic mess. I hated the crowds, the non-stop events, and competitions. I missed the more intimate confines of the bus. On the evenings at the Jamboree, my only respite was to escape up onto the hillside overlooking our encampment of a thousand tents, stare up at the moon, squint, and imagine the impossible—the moon landing that very week; of me, transforming into a man; and most of all, what it might feel like to be held by another man.