By conservative estimates, there are currently enough wrongfully convicted people in prison in the United States to fill a football stadium.
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One July afternoon when I was fifteen I went for a walk with Vadonna, the girl who lived next door, and her younger brothers and sisters; we were all going to go skinnydipping in a creek on a nearby farm. When we got to the creek everyone was afraid to get naked, except Vadonna. She stripped and waded into the water while the others laughed and shouted and pointed at her from the bank. Vadonna’s little brother Mayo threw a dirt clod at her, said he was going to tell their Mama. As we were going back across the field Vadonna and I fell behind the others, and then we lay down to hide in the tall broomsedge. The sky was a deep rich blue, the color of stained glass, and the sun rode high in the swollen clouds like a big gold pocketwatch. Vadonna’s eyes glowed like a hunting cat’s in that brilliant light, and her mouth was red as a berry. We undressed each other, began kissing, fumbling. My heart was beating so fast I thought I was going to die. “You can come,” she said, against my mouth. I climbed on top of her, sucking in my breath, the end of my penis becoming as naked and delicate as a daisy, and then catching fire in the fierce warmth of her flesh. We made love, for the first time, the pungent scent of our bodies’ juices mingling with the spicy earth smell and the sunlight falling on us like so much golden rain.
Chapel Hill, N.C.
I clearly remember my first sexual experience, although I don’t know how old I was. I woke up from a dream and the room was filled with sunlight. As I was aware of the intensity of the light and the deepness of the sky and afternoon beyond the windows, I was also aware of a presence down between my legs; a thing I felt familiar with, yet somehow foreign to: my cock standing up because of the dream, maybe (whatever it was about), or just for its own sake. A wave of wild wanting swept through me and I did not have enough Christianity pumped into me yet to fight it. The object of my desire was neither man, girl, woman, or beast. In fact, there was no object desired. All I needed was right there for that brief moment of freedom. I had myself.
Thinking about it I don’t know that I should differentiate between that experience and the rest that followed. It seems to me they are all one. The self-centered desire just finds objects now to attach to.
We were 15 and 17. Had been going together for exactly eight months and three weeks. This made it all legit in my mind — but I didn’t need much convincing. I was the curious type, determined to try everything that wasn’t clearly life-threatening at least once.
We were ignorant virgins. Making out in the school auditorium after lunch and in my parents’ living room late at night didn’t exactly prepare us for this venture. And no one we knew could help us out. We didn’t even know which gender was typically “on top” and argued a lot about it. (I would’ve interpreted “missionary position” to mean a stand on an issue). But we saw ourselves as reasonably intelligent and certainly determined, and if it’s natural for the animals, why not for us?
For three weeks straight, both nights of the weekend we struggled and tossed around, cramped under the steering wheel of his Impala, windows steamy. No luck. What is it some song says, “We just couldn’t make it fit”? Literally.
I was getting desperate. Having shared my secret resolve with my two best friends, I had to make good. We girls were fiercely competitive . . . would do things like hound our boyfriends into parking next to each other at the drive-in so we could hop into each other’s cars when they went for popcorn, egg each other on and boast about our exploits. So my reputation was on the line.
By the fourth week, we figured out the car wasn’t getting it, i.e. we weren’t getting it in the car. What next? The problem was a simple one — just to find somewhere with room to move. And the weather gave us the break we needed. It was spring, so we sneaked some blankets out of the house and started early that Friday night. Rode out of town toward the river and were just circling one of our regular haunts when it started to rain. Another wasted evening! But then he jabbed me in the arm, excited, and pointed to a nearly finished new house set back from the road.
Lights out, tires crunched slowly over metal and wood debris, shivers of excitement (the scary type) running down my spine. He turned off the motor and we ran through the rain, blankets over us, hopped up onto the door jamb and inside. The house smelled damp and clean, like new wood. We plopped the blankets down, stripped to underwear and got under the top one. It was the first time I had lain fully outstretched with him, touching lengths, and I remember feeling deliciously “skinful” and cozy. But when we finally got around to the main event, managing to get it right only through sheer willpower and physical force (on both sides) I felt, I guess, a typical reaction . . . “what now?” The excitement of the unknown and four weeks of anticipation was gone and I was left wondering why I had bothered, what was so great about it anyway? Actually, I can’t really remember now what it felt like. Maybe, like the re-telling, it was all in the build-up. Or something like pain which you blank out later. Or maybe it’s just that only the trappings were significant then, so those are what I remember now. Like later in my room at home, enjoying the smug feeling of having a secret, of being “changed”. Like the kick I got when I told my two friends, a much more romantic version, of course. Certainly, the whole thing of sex bypassed me completely. In spite of all my efforts I was still a child. Not nearly ready. In fact, it was years before I was.
There was a curious twist, though, to my first sexual experience. Two years later, Dad was “in the market” for a house, having tired of renting and ready to settle. Before dinner one evening he took us to look at a new one bordering the golf course near the river. I wouldn’t have recognized it had I not known exactly where it stood. It was the same house! A week later he bought it and we moved in. Talk about your sins coming home to roost!
I am three, or thereabouts. We live in Charlotte, N.C. in a house with a yard that slopes sharply down to a busy street. From inside the tent we’re playing in, we can hear a train rumbling down the nearby tracks. (There are a couple of children with me whose faces and forms are indistinct to me now, but I know there were two of them.)
We are deeply, childishly intent on showing off our bodies to one another. Gently we poke at the mysterious crevices above pulled down shorts and giggle as we take turns examining the comical limpness of a small penis. At that moment, what we are absorbed in is FUN. I am surprised and proud of the specialness of my own body, of its apparent ability to interest, even intrigue someone else into wanting to touch it. I think my friends feel that way too. We are all laughing.
Under cover of the tent, in this moment of special, private sharing, we are all close; we like each other very much. So intent are we on the fun that when the tent flap is jerked suddenly open, revealing a mother’s angry face, we freeze — caught in the act. My friends, one by one, are pulled roughly out by their elbows. The little boy tries with one hand to get his shorts up around his waist again. Their mother’s voice is harsh: “That is UGLY,” she yells at them. “Bad. You don’t do that nasty thing with anyone, ever again.” There are dull, thudding sounds and then I hear my friends cry.
I am suddenly desperate and know in my child’s heart that I face the same thing, having been an accomplice in this strange, fun act. I fix my clothes hastily and leave the tent in time to see my mother striding across the yard toward me, her face set in an angry, bewildered stare that I can see vividly to this day. She grabs my hand angrily and pulls me home beside her, not caring if my small feet don’t touch the ground, trying to match her stride.
There must have occurred one of her frigid silent treatments after the initial scolding. She pointedly kept me away from those “bad children” for a long time after that, as if their malignant influence had driven me to pull down my underpants.
I don’t recall her ever trying to explain directly to me about sex or my body. That wasn’t her style; it never has been. But then, she didn’t have to say anything. It was obvious from the way she and the other mother reacted that we had done something that was disgustingly wrong. But what was most damning to me was that I had enjoyed it. That confused me more than anything. Even in my childish egocentricity I had a well-enough developed conscience to know right from wrong. This one just didn’t fit.
Now when I stop to consider my sexuality, I end up wondering what it was my mother feared so. Was she attempting to curb a tendency in me that she felt would lead to promiscuity (and embarrassment to her)? Or even worse, did she fear my flagrant enjoyment of the taboo would lead to an unhappy state of motherhood at an early age as had befallen her? I don’t know. Sex is still one of those subjects we tiptoe around when we’re together.
I look at my own little daughter and promise myself not to traumatize her first infantile sexual encounters with other kids, to keep it in perspective. Then I think of her having sexual intercourse at, say 13 or 14, and it scares the hell out of me. I don’t know why. I just don’t want her to get hurt, I guess. But I don’t want to spoil the enjoyment of sex for her either.
I don’t know how bewildering the sexual aspect of life would be to me had it not been so terribly jerked out of focus on that long-ago afternoon. I guess I must try to stay open and deal with the experiences of my own daughter as they arise.
David was a drifter. I met him when I was 17, and he was 23. I was finishing up high school while he was paying his rent by baking bread at a bakery.
I had heard David preferred virgins. This was slightly disconcerting. When I spent evenings with him I was never sure that he just wanted to be with me. Perhaps he had heard I’d be a qualifying candidate for what he might have in mind. But I was not proud that it had taken 17 years before I even got in the same sleeping bag with a man. I wondered how many more evenings and langorous Sunday afternoons it would take before we would finally do it. I’m sure David wondered, too.
David slept in a sleeping bag indoors, partly because he couldn’t afford a bed, partly because he was too cheap to buy a piece of foam rubber which would work just as well as a mattress, and partly because he wanted some reminder around his apartment that he was still a world traveller. A well-soiled sleeping bag which looks like it has been in use since one was a Boy Scout does not do much for one’s appetite. David didn’t even change pillowcases very often. Where were those fresh and vivid sheets I had seen in Seventeen magazine, the Sears Roebuck Catalog, and the like?
I could have fallen in love with David if he had allowed a little more room for aesthetics in his life, and if he had stopped saying, “I’m really looking for a wife”.
How could I think about getting married before I had even been to college? How could he say he was looking for a wife while proclaiming he was such a world traveller? Did he want a wife to accompany him to Canada, Mexico, Europe, Russia, and Australia? I couldn’t begin to visualize what I’d be doing with him in those places.
We separated without much talk; without a fallout; his proposed trip was enough of an excuse for both of us to drift apart. The times we had sex were pretty unmemorable; we didn’t care that much about each other, and I felt anxious while doing it with him. David finally did leave the United States; he found an old seaman who agreed to let him board his steamer to England. I found out about this story through friends. David didn’t send me a postcard from New York, nor even a goodbye before he left down here.
And yet I received postcards from him in England, France, and Norway. I felt sorry for him in a way. Was he looking for a wife in Europe? Was he freezing? What was he looking for in me by sending only postcards? No letters, no return address.
We caught up over a year later, in the January of my sophomore year in college. David looked wonderful still having sun-kissed curls in wintertime. I wanted to go up, give him a good squeeze, and hook my fingers in the belt loops of his white jeans. They looked clean, so he must have broken down and bought a new pair. We sat in the game room on campus, with the clang of pinball machines, the click of pool balls, and all the people’s voices threatening to drown out our conversation.
It’s too bad that game room was the last place we saw each other. David disapproved of my living on campus, and yet expected I would be just thrilled to have him up to my dorm room. I said it had been too long since I had seen him, and wasn’t ready to sleep with him again. If he wanted to keep in touch, why didn’t he bother to sleep with me before he left for New York, and send me letters while he was up there? David got angry and called me arrogant; I laughed and considered this a compliment coming from him.
Chapel Hill, N.C.
How does a queer know he’s a queer? If he’s made a career of lying to himself, it is a very slow process indeed. He can fall in love, fall out of love. He chases women; if he’s not too attractive he gets rejected and discouraged. He lies. Even after his first experience with another guy, he lies to protect an ego trained to reject desire. He lies as he is taught to lie about everything that would make him imperfect. Perversion? Let’s not talk about it.
I was 17, a junior in high school, when Mike Weiss first moved to Ashland. He was tall, quiet and in my English class. He was also very intelligent; I don’t think he made a B or less in his life. All those afternoon periods spent watching him sitting over there by the blackboard — I fell. What next? Ask him to the prom? Even if he were female and I were straight, I would probably be rejected. So I was limited to lame attempts at conversation after band practice. Winter passes, into spring. Nights walking by Mike’s house, casually of course. Sometimes I would see him and he would speak. It was the springtime of many passions, many adventures. I knew nothing of drugs, nothing of alcohol, but had begun to shoplift at a local Kroger’s. My loot was mostly candy bars, paperback books (I soon branched out to drugstores) and chocolate chips, which are fairly easy, being on the back shelf, and delicious. Well, the inevitable happened; I got caught. I was scared shitless and begged the man at Kroger’s not to call my parents. I cried so much he said he wouldn’t call them if I got a haircut. I’m sure my parents wondered why I was so anxious to get a haircut. I lied to them. I kept things from them, I think, mainly because I didn’t want to tarnish their image of me. Punishment was one thing but the disappointment would last forever after the anger, which I also feared, was gone. So the criminal adventure was ended; there has been no sequel.
Next week I discovered my name next to Mike’s on the roommate list for the upcoming band trip to Lexington. Sheer luck, I would never have had the nerve to ask him to room with me. Comes the time, I’m in the Ramada Inn bed, half-asleep. Mike comes in with some people, they’re all drunk and laughing. Mike collapses in the bed with me; the others leave. My hands that night seemed to have minds of their own. I leave out many details, but let me say there was no part of his body I did not explore. Exploration — it was an adventure, you see. Mike did not appear to awaken and in the morning mentioned strange dreams. Nothing else occurred between Mike and me and it was years before I could accept my sexuality. I still have not told my parents and cannot understand people who have. Mike just recently graduated from medical school. He’s in Arizona, I think. I walk or drive by his house now and remember the thousand forbidden smells and feelings of that night. I do not mourn my innocence.
I have heard through the years that many people’s first sexual experience occurred with wild abandon during or after a party, or in a drunken stupor in a car after the prom. My initiation to the world of consumate sexual activity happened after much careful planning. It was ten years ago, and yet, like all rites of passage, it is imprinted on my mind with vivid detail.
Weeks before the planned weekend, we decided I should start taking the pill. I took myself to a gynecologist, nervously tolerated the physical examination and dutifully listened to his paternalistic advice about morality and God. If I could find him today, I’d strangle him. Feeling guilty, I paid my $5.00 and crept out of his office like a thief.
Having choked down a month’s worth of pills, I hopped in Bill’s Buick and we cruised up to Montreal. The entire way I kept trying to re-enact scenes from movies that were my prescription for romantic behavior. I was jittery, he was ecstatic. We held hands, and I looked out the window thinking: does this mean I’ll have to marry him?
Bill was in control; the weekend was his to plan. He took me to a crummy hotel. The owner led us to a crummy room, me slinking down the hall behind Bill trying both to hide my left hand and to look married. At the door of the room, the owner handed Bill our key. We knew that he knew, and he knew that we knew.
Making love was on the agenda but apparently dinner came first. Bill took me to a diner as crummy as our hotel. I had no appetite (the jitters transformed into full blown nausea). He ate veal parmigiana.
After dinner we wandered slowly back. I remember the walk — how confused I felt, although then I thought it was just anxiety. I was trying desperately to talk myself into being in love with this man because I was about to have sex with him.
The crummy hotel had a crummy bed and one blanket, and it was August. I had anticipated this night for so long it was as if I stood next to the bed, an impartial observer. So I watched, and he did, and I bled and was glad for it — tangible evidence that we had in fact made love.
My first sexual experience with a human being, that is to say, a human being in the flesh as opposed to a human being on the page, was an exciting thing at the time. But over the years, I have realized that this sort of thing dribbles out at a predictable rate for everybody; this matter of secretions and whatnot is, in fact, not all that big a deal.
We watched McCabe die in the snow as Mrs. Miller opiated herself into oblivion. We went back to the girl’s house; I ate two pounds of rare steak and some crinkled onion rings. We got into bed; she was shy. I told her about a crab apple tree but this lyrical gambit didn’t seem to be working. I told her about a kindergarten experience involving Day-Glow paints and the yelps of aboriginals. We hugged like conjugating bacteria and mated while strains of Strindberg danced in my head. The ejaculation was premature.
In the middle of the night, somebody banged on the door in the manner of highway casualty witnesses in need of the telephone. We ignored it. The affair festered like a terribly ill child; it did not last the winter.
I still dream about the girl every once in a while, those onerous wish-fulfillment dreams that make you feel heavenly — like the manna sprouting nipple of the patron goddess of sex starlets has plugged its nubile tenderness into my mouth for an eternity of feeding. But then, invariably, I wake up alone, still plagued with the human partialness, in a day where this is the only sin. Such a way of greeting the day, and please forgive the vulgarity, makes me wants to vomit.
Since then, I have learned that sexual pleasure ultimately resides only within the brain of the sexually pleased individual. I can’t wait until Radio Shack comes out with a home kit for neural self-stimulation at a price affordable to all. Then the ancillary rubbish can be dispensed with. Transistor companies will split their stocks and issue whopping dividends. The world will certainly be a better place when the young can speak of their first sexual experience not in terms of glistening orifices plugged, but the voltage and amps associated with their deflowering.
Boynton Beach, Florida
When I was eleven I began to want something very bad. Something from men. I didn’t know what.
Before I wanted men, I wanted women. Flesh was feminine, hopefully abundant. One night I dreamt I stood naked in a spotlight and when I looked down at my body, surprise! Instead of the “split snake” (Mama’s nickname for my skinny physique) I saw full rose-tipped breasts. A curve of belly and of hip.
By age eleven I wanted that kind of body so men would want me. Guilt consumed me then because I thought no one shared my curious hunger. Soon, though, I found relief in a common momentum at school. Recess became a series of new sports; all of the kids inexplicably understood the rules. We chased and kissed (or kicked). We passed notes (the use of symbolism, “Hen” and “Rooster”). We examined a long thin balloon that an older boy brought to the playground; it had something to do with male Sex. The boys clutched at our sock-filled bras. And other games. New math — a girl’s popularity was greater than, less than, or equal to her physical development.
This new life teemed with mystery and a knowledge of “something beyond myself” never found in chilly wood pews. God was untouchable; the demon-fever burned in almost all the kids. Grownups didn’t catch it, except a few in books and on TV, not in my community, not that I saw. Young people in love were often infected by a lesser strain of it. Priests and nuns escaped it, were above it, in germ-free solitude. Some nights it worried me to sickness, yearning for this Sex thing, yet I knew no antidote.
My most intimate sexual experiences at that time were with my cousin Lorna in the summers. She was a year younger, but she lived in the city, I in the country, and she was bigger than I. Together we discovered true lust. I invented our games; I embellished them; she brought the dramas to life with her ample pink flesh.
Always before, summers when we were younger, I had been jealous of Lorna. My parents, her mother (her father was dead), and our unmarried aunt and uncle doted on her. She was plump and pretty. More, she spurned their attentions. At bedtime, as I went eagerly from one passive cheek to the next, they called to her, “Lorna, a kiss goodnight? Won’t she come and say goodnight?”
“Isn’t she a character!”
“Off to her room without a word.” (My room!)
“She’s always been like that.”
“Sweet, sad child.” (Read “fatherless.”)
They pursued her less, though, after she grew her early, monumental breasts. I thought only I had noticed until one day I heard Mama tell my father to stop swinging Lorna by her feet, her blouse shrouding her flaming face. “She’s getting too big for that,” my mother uttered meaningfully. I ran outside to the pumphouse. Lorna followed me.
Poor Lorna. For once I pitied her. Perhaps her oversized bosom would sag the way our grandmother’s had. Yes, better to be slim like a boy. Better yet to be a boy.
She was afraid to come into the pumphouse. The damp earth, cold aroma of metal, the bugs. Too often I had teased her about reptiles. A city girl, Lorna thought snakes the ultimate evil. So she squatted in the dwarf-door opening, sunlight on her reddish curls, quarters of blush on each pale cheek.
“It’s alright,” I said, meaning the bugs.
“No,” she said bitterly. I knew she didn’t mean the bugs, they didn’t deserve such vehemence. “It’s horrible. I hate them.”
“No . . . you know.”
“Well, yes. But I wouldn’t mind having a bit more up here myself,” pointing to my t-shirt.
She sucked her lip. I chewed my thumbnail. She said, “I would give them to you if I could.”
“But why? The boys . . . they like them.”
“No, movie stars and models are skinny, like you.”
That was kind. I felt I had possibilities. Our opposite ambitions merged into common cause. I told her about Randy from school. She told me about John. Or Buster. Or Raymond. Years later now, those summers melt into a hot listing of simple American boys’ names, and a few women teachers, several girls. And cutting hair, sneaking liquor, dancing mad in skimpy clothes before the mirror in my room or hers. Make-up, curling, touching, and the more erotic scenes practiced through our paper dolls. We didn’t know what Sex was physically about, though we tried to find out. We read. Sneak reading: Lolita, Candide, the stolen copy of Peyton Place. Valley of the Dolls. Art, literature or sensational trash, it didn’t matter. It was those few vital pages we sought. A continuing series, re-runs when our supply slackened.
Most distinct are our idol memories: Sean Connery, George and Paul from the Beatles. I developed an early paternal passion for Chet Huntley; later it was David Brinkley who slipped into my bed at night. The summer of “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.,” Lorna and I were relieved to find that she was in love with David, I with Robert. When we went to my room to change to swimsuits the first day of her visit, we whispered our desires for those two men, and fell quickly into a daytrip: our spies were returning from a dangerous trip, months in the Arctic chasing Russians, and we prepared to greet them. Hair up, straps down, my shame that Lorna could hold up the top half of a two-piece while I still wore the requisite tanksuit (for a “split snake”).
“A striptease,” I suggested. “You first.”
Suddenly stubborn, she said, “No. You always say that, and then you don’t do it.”
“This time I promise.”
I sat on the hard twin bed and watched her emerge from the closet, twirling a see-through summer pink scarf. The radio sang, “Well here she comes now, singing Mony, Mony . . .” Lorna glimmered sultry, practice glances through half-closed eyes, and turning, shook her bottom until full buttocks shimmied. I devoured the sight; my own flesh couldn’t be gathered into an adequate pinch in Rome, much less quiver off the motion of my frame.
Radio: “Well, don’t stop now, yeah come on Mony, come on Mony . . . Yeah, yeah, yeah — Sock it to me! You make me feel (Mony, Mony) so (Mony, Mony) good (Mony, Mony) yeah (Mony, Mony) so fine now . . .” Lorna fell, supine, so fine, beside me on the bed, and I grabbed her curls, smoothed them from the glistening full moon of her face. “Oh, my darlink,” I crooned. “You are sooo beautiful.”
“Now you,” she said.
What to do? Like the man on TV said, if a woman doesn’t have beauty, she better have personality. If she has neither, she better have money. “Money, money.” No art, then sensationalism. Lorna made a knocking noise on the bed, and I flounced from the closet, sheathed in the skin-gripping tanksuit, flinging the Palm Tree (a hairdo: hair gathered on top in a rubber band, falling wildly from that tight center, thick and frizzy) down my back and into my eyes and mouth. I lowered the clinging nylon off my chest, slid it down bony hips and quick-stepped out, barefoot on the sandy floor. I whirled to disguise my boyish straightness, undulating to exaggeration. “A snake dance,” I hissed, writhing onto the bed with her. The door opened.
My aunt. “You two ready for the beach?”
I dropped on my belly between the beds. “I can’t find my sandals.”
“Well, hurry up.”
Exposed. Debauched. Lorna held me, stroked me. We cried. We laughed. If only we could tell her, aunt or mother, God or student counselor. But we were bad girls, might as well go all the way.
That night we pulled the twin beds together and covered ourselves completely with the starched sheets. The radio crackled rock and roll, the fan buzzed loud enough to conceal our moans, we thought. We hurried past scene, setting, characters and details to our adventure. David and Robert had kidnapped us and taken us to their yacht. Tonight they would force us; we had no choice. All we could do was plead with them, faintly, not to “do with us as you will.” But they tied us, gagged us. We squirmed against each other, our newly shaven limbs (not just legs and armpits, but the whole arm — we got carried away) bristling with nervous chills, scraping the sheets.
Then they descended upon us, the weight of their hard bodies, but again, the frustrating unknown! What did Lorna imagine to make her groan ecstatically, pressed hot against me? For me there was only Robert’s brutal kisses, his hands stroking and pinching me; finally he began to tickle me. I begged him to stop, but he tingled, thrilled, brushed, patted and petted on, beyond madness, overboard into the caressing waters, tickled to depths.
Afterwards, we pretended to smoke, side by side in bed.
“There must be more to it.”
“I don’t think so,” she said.
Got a copy of your Issue 49 having in it “First Sexual Experiences.” Let me say America has gone plumb nuts on sex, even making it a parlor sport. The Pope who said “Sex was not for pleasure” echoed nature in which sex is only used for survival of the species — never for pleasure — without being prurient about it.
Nobody has said it better than Reinhold Niebuhr: “A sophisticated effort to destroy modesty and shame by the simple device of making the function of sex more public is bound to aggravate rather than alleviate the difficulties of man’s sex life. . . . Man, having lost the true center of his life in God, falls into sensuality; and sex is the most obvious occasion for the expression of sensuality and the most vivid expression of it.”
And because of man’s undue self-love and pride, he puts the mark of SIN upon his sexual indulgence and it is ironical and pathetic that modern knowledge can’t see or is too myopic to see this factor of SIN.