Mark S. King

Putting Away Childish, Damaging Things

Filed By Mark S. King | April 13, 2011 7:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: My Fabulous Disease

Sex with an underage person is a serious offense. This story does not seek to endorse or excuse such activity. For help, please contact the Adult Survivors of Child Abuse.

We're on a dirt road in the cotton fields, looking out the back window of his Plymouth. The moon is full and bright and gorgeous. I've been playing along but I wish he would make his move. This is the part that's always kind of boring. He's nice, though, and good looking, maybe around 35.

Thumbnail image for cotton road.jpgIt's a balmy Louisiana night in 1975. And I'm 14-years-old.

Everything goes as planned, and he gets me home on time so no one suspects. But he was a lot more nervous about it than I was.

And that was the routine during my teenage years. I had given up trying to mess around with other boys because it took forever to talk them into anything and I didn't want them to freak out. So I got involved in community theater productions during the summer, playing bit parts or working the spotlight, just to be in the company of gay men. Then it was just a matter of getting some time alone with them.

My strategy for getting laid worked with some regularity, and it never occurred to me there might be something inappropriate or perverse or even criminal about it. Ah, but that's the catch. It never occurred to me.

People tell me the criminal ramifications most certainly occurred to them. They say I was molested or abused, and that it was the very definition of the word statutory. They say I was dealing with adults who had the capacity to know better. And, most bruising to my ego, they tell me that my seductive charms were irrelevant, and that perhaps it was they who were manipulating me.

Now, at 50-years-old, I wonder if my teenage memories are trustworthy, and if it mapped an adulthood in ways I've failed to acknowledge. Before I became a man, before the failed relationships and the HIV and the drug addiction, there was an adolescent traveling side roads with strangers and taking dangerous walks in public parks. And it is that boy, not the legion of adult accessories, who fascinates and saddens me.

Was my fate sealed in the cotton fields of Louisiana?

The men I coaxed to those dusty roads aren't villainous to me, and I still can't allow them to be left dangling in guilt and shame. I won't reduce them to simple pathology.

I met Jim in August, right before my freshman year in high school. The summer musical was 1776 and I was a stagehand. It was practically an all-male cast. It was a busy summer.

After a matinee performance one afternoon, I asked Jim for a ride to a pool party someone was throwing for the cast. Once inside his car I told him I forgot my bathing suit and could we stop at his place so I could borrow one? What followed was a pitiful half-naked fashion show in his bedroom, and a brief, furtive encounter between us.

Afterward, I happily got back in the car but Jim wasn't talking much. He got real quiet as soon as we were done.

He had driven a few blocks when Jim let out a kind of cough, like he was trying to stifle something and it burst out anyway. I looked over and his whole face was wet.

"What's wrong?" I asked. I had seen men in rather personal situations, but I had never seen one cry.

He pulled the car over and turned it off. Everything suddenly felt quiet and important.

"What is it?" I asked in a careful voice. "Am I in trouble?"

He was searching the car console for something and found a packet of Kleenex. He held it in his lap and started to speak while he opened it.

"I'm twice your age, Mark," he said into his lap. His eyes were little cups of water, spilling. He turned to me. "You're 15-years-old. I'm twice your age."

His mathematics meant nothing to me. He looked like he was trying to read my mind. It made me uncomfortable. I didn't know what he wanted. I sat there and said nothing.

He turned away and gulped back more tears. And then he asked the most mysterious question of all.

"Don't you... just want to be 15, Mark?"

I had no idea what the man was talking about. I sat staring at him with my mouth open. I was completely stumped. Seconds went by and the car was silent.

My confusion seemed to disappoint him, because he shook his head slowly and looked back out the window. He was still very upset.

He wasn't simply crying, they tell me now. They insist he was deflecting his own criminal guilt by blaming me for not acting my age. They tell me that he was the one who must have trapped me and I don't even know it.

Either way, I think Jim got more than he bargained for. I think he was a little frightened by the manipulative and unemotional 15-year-old sitting in his car that afternoon. And I think it saddened him because he cared about me.

And sure, I felt trapped all right. I remember feeling trapped in his car, where things were not going as planned, because after ten minutes we're still parked on the side of the road and Jim won't stop crying. I am staring at my shoelaces because I can't imagine a grown guy would want anyone to see him like this. He must be so embarrassed. And I wish he would start the car, because the party is going on and there's probably lots of people having fun around the pool and I really want to be there.

I finally look over at him and he's blowing his nose. Maybe that means we'll get moving again, I'm thinking. Jim doesn't say anything else but he does finally turn the ignition and the car rumbles to a start.

I'm so relieved. I really want to see what's happening at the party.

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Okay, so truth will out, I guess. Like you, I had an early fling with a guy considerably older than me. Actually I had several between the ages of 14 and 16, but the guy I remember best was 32 at the time. He was very sweet. I seduced him, and no one will ever convince me that he was somehow more responsible for what we did than I was merely because he was older. I needed him at the time because there was just no way for me to be gay at that moment in my life: if anyone at school had found out, my life would probably have been over. I knew that, and he knew that...and my parents knew that. They knew him, and they knew that we were involved. Years later, the guy told me that my father had told him to be careful with me. And he was, careful and gentle, and very kind. I loved him then, as now, and I feel no shame or guilt about what we enjoyed.

You don't magically become an adult at 18, and while I'll mouth the same platitudes about sex with underage people as you, because I know that it presents a huge opportunity for abuse, it's not all abusive.

I had a friend who was very forceful in getting one-night stands. If he couldn’t talk them into going home with him, he would take them to his car at the dark end of the bar parking lot. After watching how fast and how forcefully he worked I asked him why he developed this technique. He explained that he knew he liked boys when he was 12 or 13 but they took forever to groom so he went after adult men. Although these adult men were afraid of contact with him he could force them into quickies. This was long before it became politically incorrect and highly profiled.
I was only approached once in that way and I was so scared that I could not have performed anyway so that worked well.

I agree with Intern Jake, that was a really well-told tale. And it's not often we read a story told from that perspective with such matter-of-factness either. Very refreshing and - insert required cultural caveats - definitely hot.

I'm wondering, though, was there something in particular that prompted you to tell that story just now? Did you hear something recently about that man? Has he died? Did you run into him again? I'm always interested to hear what prompts writers to tell a particular story at a particular time.

Oh, and can you serialize this? You know, a different older man each week? It'll fit right in. This site is kinda porn-y anyway.

Thanks again.

Ethan Alister | April 14, 2011 8:20 AM

Thank you for having the courage to share with us. I often find that people who WERE definitely abused, harmed, and taken advantage of in their younger years tend to shout down everyone else. As if their experience is the only valid one. The only possible one.

The only reason for those "magic numbers" is that we have no other way - no other kind of test - to determine mental maturity. Some of us don't take 18 years to be ready for sexual contact. Some of us take longer. I was 21 when I had my first. No one calls me a deviant for that. Unless you count mutual masturbation with a friend when I was 8. People DO call me a deviant for that.

I have met many 50 year old and 60+ children. My mom was one of them. There is prudish, and there is sheltered, and then there is just plain failure to engage with real life. Unfortunately, our culture has no real, mandatory training to prepare us for adulthood and, as such, many of us fail to grasp it. Many continue to get taken advantage of for the entirety of their lives. Is it any better or worse because they have passed the magic number and "should know better?" I maintain that harming another person is always something nasty to do, regardless of age.

But then, I'm young. What do I know?

Thanks, MOC. But I think you're finding the piece a little steamier than I intended. ;]

Only as I neared 50 (and got clean and sober) did I regularly attach important feelings to sex. Until then I concentrated on looking for something "hot" (and looking good doing it).

And that made me remember the scene in the car, with Jim so upset and me not having the slightest idea why. I thought sex was a game and nothing more. And for the most part, I kept right on feeling that way for years to come.

And that's what I wanted to write about.

Do you think that those experiences led to the addiction problems and other bad decision making?

I think I was pre-wired for risk taking, somehow. I don't believe that having sex with adult men, in and of itself, led me to drug abuse or otherwise traumatized me. But the way in which I approached it, and the disregard for my safety (not mention my cavalier approach to sex in general) are qualities that dovetailed very nicely with my later drug abuse.

Attributing real meaning and emotion to sex has been a lifelong process for me, and I do not believe I am alone in that process among gay men. Do I hear an amen?

In New Hampshire girls can marry as young as 13. There are lots of cultures that start teens on sex younger than in the US. It's not wired in us to suddenly have a sex drive after completing 18 trips around the sun.

Instead, since we see sex as inherently exploitative (and why shouldn't we when that's how it's usually portrayed in the media), with men "getting pussy," women being told not to withhold sex because they're the only force stopping men from being sinful, lots of people believing that sex is only about their pleasure, etc., people assume that the only thing keeping someone from being exploited is their age or experience. Having a partner who cares is seen as such a remote possibility that it's best not to even consider.

I've had sex that felt like I was being exploited as an adult. Being older isn't a guarantee. What would change things around is if we started seeing sex as a cooperative, community-building activity instead of something inherently destructive. But that won't happen any time soon.

I grew up in a small town, and had a rather sheltered life. Even after admitting to myself (around 17) that I was gay, I really had no idea to meet other people with the same interests. I have often wished an older man had "seduced" me, and I assure you, if I'd had a clue who might be interested, and how to make an overture to them back then, I certainly would have.

As a heterosexual female teenager in the 1970's, I was very promiscuous with a number of older men. My favorite was a 28-year-old guy when I was fifteen. He lived out of town and when he came into town on business, we had a blast. I remember having to lie to my parents about who he was, how old he was, and what we were doing. I believe its only molestation if it's against the will of the younger person (within limits, of course - no eight year old needs to know how to give a blow job). I have nothing but good memories of my teenage sexual romps with older guys.