My Letter Goes Out
It took a long time for me to warm up in the spring of 1990. We'd had a
colder than normal winter for this southern part of New Mexico. There
snow off and on through the end of March. My aunt's cactus garden froze
And I had spent a miserable winter in my one-room cabin. It had no
and, although it had electricity, the only heater I had was an ancient
heat-resistor unit with two coils—and one of them was burned out. I was
working on my second novel that winter and sat many nights with the
heater between my feet, under the computer desk, where about all it
accomplished was to keep my toes from breaking off with the cold.
Then, just as the weather was warming up and I was able to get into my
garden to turn the soil, I took a job for the month of April to drive
an old man to St. Louis, Missouri. I did it mainly for the experience
of seeing a state I'd never been to, but I also needed the three
hundred dollars it would bring. The problem was that the trip to St.
Louis moved me back into winter. The old man and I left temperatures in
the low eighties in Deming and, by the time we arrived in St. Louis, we
were back into the low forties and rainy weather. So, even when we
returned to Deming, I still carried physical memories of the cold in my
That spring, I was also suffering from another kind of cold. Like the
unusually cold winter that year, I had been trying to get over the
demise of a fourteen-year relationship. I was cold from the inside out.
My soul was cold. I could feel it inside, still curled up in the fetal
position it had been in for over three
years. My heart had shrunken to a hard knot in my chest, no longer able
pump warm blood to my extremities. It resented beating and keeping me
But I was determined to warm up, to come to life.
So as I turned the soil in my garden in those waning days of April
1990, I marveled at the warmth of the desert sun on my shoulders; I
would often stop shoveling just to smile up at the crystal-clear sky
and sigh. "Come on,"
I urged myself. "Quit wallowing in self-pity and get on with your life.
will get better."
As I worked outdoors, feeling my body growing stronger, able to chunk
up twenty pounds of soil at a time and turn it with ease, I did begin
to warm up—but slowly and deliberately—my heart and soul resisting. I
think of that year as a turning point in my life, one in which I came
out of a long winter of the soul and sought to bring to reality some of
the fantasies I had kept in the back of my mind.
One of those fantasies was borne in St. Louis. It began at a little
bookstore called Our World Too on Vandeventer Avenue with my
rediscovery of a magazine for rural gay men called RFD. If ever there
was a magazine perfectly targeted for a gay man like me, it was RFD. I
enjoyed the articles about the country lifestyles gay men were
establishing for themselves. There were cute little articles about
gardening from a screaming queen's perspective, articles about raising
goats, and many articles on country retreats. I especially enjoyed
those articles about Faerie Gatherings and the photographs of the nude
men that were included. I took a couple of copies back to Deming with
me. I had read them thoroughly at night in the motel rooms I shared
with the old man as we made our way back home. Then, once I was home,
after a day of working in the garden, I lay on my waterbed with its
heat turned up to "slow roast" and read them again, fantasizing about
finding a lover with the help of RFD. Before that trip, I never would
have tried anything like it, nor even thought to try it. But I
discovered there were many men who read RFD with interests similar to
mine, who were also looking for a rural kind of life, far from the
madness and sex-hunt of the cities. Rather than small, hard to
interpret ads, like those found in The Village Voice and the back of
every gay rag, RFD allowed its readers to write "Contact Letters."
There was something appealing about many of those letters —something
that made even my shriveled heart beat faster, that finally began to
warm the blood
in my chest. Most of the men sounded earnest in their search for lovers
pals. I thought the letters must have been similar to the mail-order
bride letters of the previous century, although a lot less genteel, I'm
sure. It was necessary for most of the men to describe their "type" and
to tell about their physical appearance and HIV status. I paid
attention to the ones who wanted to live in the country.
Living in the country was a new desire of mine after my "divorce." I
had lived in Deming, by then, for over two years. I was not willing to
give up the serenity that country living offered. That was quite a
transition from my youth, when all I could think about was getting a
white-collar job in some
city or another, hoping to carry a briefcase and live in a high rise. I
explain the shift in my thinking. But when I moved back to Deming to
care of my parents, I felt immensely better than I did holed up in my
in Dallas or San Antonio, Texas or Washington DC—places I had lived for
As I worked in the garden, I was mentally composing my own letter,
which I would mail out in a few days and which would appear in the Fall
Of course, I could have tried to find a lover in the usual way gay men
have open to them, which is hanging out in bars or living in gay
ghettos of some urban area. But, as I said, I just didn't want to live
in a city any more, so the contact letter was an option. In my
circumstances, it beat driving a hundred miles to El Paso, Texas to
hang out in such gay bars as the Old Plantation or the San Antonio
Mining Company. The likelihood was slim of meeting
a man there. I had tried that for three months in 1987, when I was
living in El Paso. I discovered that, at thirty eight, I was usually
oldest man there. Besides, in my state of mourning for my ex-lover, the
scene was too intense, too rushed, where the most likely thing to
was a sexual encounter and empty promises on both sides to meet again.
Now, at forty-one, I felt I was ready for another lover—not just a
string of sex partners. I wanted something more substantial than mere
sexual fulfillment, and I was concerned about having multiple sexual
partners, anyway, because of the AIDS plague. For me, the AIDS decade
had brought the sex-hunt lifestyle to a screeching halt. This time, I
had a clear image of what kind of man I
was looking for and what his attitudes would be about being gay. I
wasn't going to subject myself to the same kind of relationship I'd had
with my ex-lover;
he was, ultimately, ashamed of being gay and had never treated our long
as legitimate. I had also decided my next relationship would be
nothing. I was at least strong enough, by then, to be determined that
my next lover cheated on me even once, I would kill it dead, right
and never look back.
So, at the end of April, after writing several drafts of a letter, in
which I tried to outline what wanted, I submitted this letter:
Although I wasn't completely pleased with it, I
mailed it off to RFD.
As usual, when I dropped the letter into the mail box across the
highway from my parents' place, I thought of it like the effect that
casting a stone into a still pond has on the water. The ripples that
emanate from that single stone
form a ring of waves, then another, and another, moving outward, until
reach something that is affected and causes ripples to come back. I
know what kind of effect my letter would have, and I would have to wait
months to find out, since the magazine was only published quarterly,
I felt I was finally taking a step that would change things in my life.
I'm wounded. I spent fourteen years with a man who constantly said, "I
love you and never want to lose you." But he didn't mean it—after
fourteen years. I wish it hadn't taken him so long to decide. Four
years ago, he came home drunk one night and confessed to being a closet
I'm now staring 42 years in the face.
to start over. I've left the city, got out from behind a desk and got
a shovel raising a garden. I've trimmed down to 145 pounds, which puts
on the thin side for my 5'11" height. Raising a garden, carpentry work,
and sweating out the poisons of fourteen years has put me in better
shape than when I was in the Air Force. I've published a novel and am
a second one, yet I'm still haunted by that long relationship.
I need a mate, a relationship where both of us is monogamous, where we
have eyes only for each other. I need to learn to trust again. It will
be hard. But I'm romantic enough to hope it's possible. I pray that one
of you is a farmer or rancher, or just loves the simplicity of the
country, and that
you want someone easy on the eyes, not devastatingly beautiful. For me,
beauty is essential. Sex is important, but it won't form the basis of
relationship. Holding hands, kissing, sleeping side-by-side, looking in
same direction toward the future, working on our home together, having
friends, sharing holidays and our respect is more important than the
Of course, I love all positions in gay sex, experimenting with it, but
in the absence of love or respect.
I want a man who is quietly masculine—hairy or hairless doesn't
matter—but I prefer seeing my lover's face rather than a beard. I
believe the man I
settle down with should also be ecologically conscious, proud to be
knowing who he is. I think I would get along best with someone between
30's and early 40's. Kindness and sensitivity are my only real desires
the man I fall in love with. If you're out there, please write.
While I waited, living on my parents' property in my one-room cabin, I
worked in the yard every day, swearing I would harden my body into some
kind of shape
someone around my age would find attractive. At least I wouldn't be
of my physical appearance—or I would be as unafraid as a middle-aged
can be about starting life over. I even hoped there was someone "out
who was likewise searching for me.
I distinctly recall when I received the first letter in response to the
one I had submitted. The garden I had raised that year was looking
over, after a summer of unusual rains. In the southwestern part of New
Mexico, we rarely get over ten inches of rain a year. But that summer,
it seemed every
time a cloud passed overhead it dropped its load in the vicinity of my
That summer, I harvested around three dozen ripe tomatoes a day. My
mother had canned well over two-hundred quarts of beans, tomatoes, and
corn—anything she could get into a jar—and still I brought in the
vegetables in buckets and paper sacks. One day she asked, rather
helplessly, "Can't you just stop picking them?"
I could, I told her, but then they'd just rot on the vine.
That continued all summer, but even though I had laughed at the pickle
I'd gotten myself into by planting so much, and the rain exploding the
production, I was sad one day to go out to the garden and see the last
of the tomatoes, small green things that probably wouldn't make it to
maturity. So I was feeling let down after the productive summer, when I
went to the mail box across the
And there was the first letter.
It was from a guy down in San Antonio, Texas, where I had been in the
Air Force and met my lover and had lived for three years . Because of
the lousy way our relationship had gone in its infancy in San Antonio,
I had no desire to move there, which is precisely what this man wanted
me to do.
He also said he would furnish me a photograph and details of himself,
if I responded. Which I did. What I got in return was a photograph of a
his seventies! Although I had considered trying to meet men a little
than I was, I hadn't considered meeting men as old as my father. I did
want to string him along, so I wrote back a heartfelt thank you, and
[I must interject, here, I won't reveal the names of the men who wrote
to me or the real states where they live. Nor do I feel comfortable
from their letters, so everything is paraphrased. But I would like to
the contents of some of the letters because, unlike the suspiciously
bar talk, I feel the letters reveal quite a bit about gay men across
United States —what many of them are like, who choose not to live in
ghettos in large cities, who do not haunt the bars, or join gay support
The next letter I received was from an honest-to-goodness farmer in
Your letter in RFD #63 caught my attention. The 80s dumped on you, but
I'm sure you must believe the end of one thing is always the beginning
of something else. In a way, I'm in a similar position, six years down
the road, but needing change in my life, and needing someone to change
I am a farmer and do environmental/social justice work as a recreation
volunteer. I really need someone to farm with me, so I'm looking for an
employee for starters, who, as I said, will work with me. This is the
medium in which our
relationship must begin.
Arkansas, where I live, is just about all married folks and roaming
divorced. My social life is with these folks, and it is fine. It's just
not intimate in any way. I have no sexual relations with anyone. I had
one sexual night in 1989—none so far this year. I don't mind that, just
letting you know, sex
is not the basis of my life, either. My main man, a truly gentle-man,
very married, which is probably a good thing...
Although I wrote a nice response, I felt I could not, in all good
conscience, pursue the mail-order bride business with this man, because
I felt that he was already in love with his "main man" who was already
married. I would likely
fail to hold a candle to him.
However, I was glad of the contact. The thing that appealed to me about
this man's letter was that I got a slice of life from a state where I'd
never been. It was interesting, not only from the personal information
he revealed about himself (and the fact that he was already in love
with a married man), but also he included information about his farm,
which had been in his family for over a hundred years. No doubt he was
a hard worker and dedicated to his
But he was not merely a farmer. In the rest of the letter, he told of
attending graduate school in business, working in Saudi Arabia, being a
Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines, and working in the mental
health and retardation field. I was pleased with his depth and variety
I don't remember the time frame, or the numbers of letters I received
from each of the respondents, before we mutually quit writing, but the
letters continued to come in. This next one was from a man in Nevada
I, too, am searching for a mate. But that is not why I am writing. I am
drawn, a great deal, by your pain and by the fact that you left the
and live more-or-less a rural life. And you hike. Good.
I have lived on these 40 desert acres
for the past
twenty-one years and find it hard to imagine living in a city. I am an
environmentalist. For ethical reasons, and to continue to lessen my
impact on this planet, I
have elected to live as a vegetarian. Did that about six years ago.
Because most folks really have no idea what that means, let me say I
eat no animal flesh (fish, fowl, red meat or whatever), no eggs, and no
foods with animal by-products in them. Because this is a life value for
me, I would not feel inclined to take up a permanent relationship with
I exchanged several letters with this man, even though from the outset,
I knew we were not destined to be more than friends. I was comfortable
with that and not in the least disappointed. I felt he, too, added
depth to my perceptions of what gay men are like.
Perhaps part of my own internalized homophobia was that, as a gay man,
I had wrestled from an early age with my masculinity. (Wouldn't some
pre-seventies psychotherapist have rubbed his/her hands together at how
well I fit the psychiatric
stereotype?) Yet, here was a gay man who led white-water rafting trips
wild western rivers. In one of his subsequent letters, he invited me to
along. I never did because I couldn't afford it. But I was glad he
such trips, sometimes fraught with danger, for gay and heterosexual
As their leader, they looked to him, his strength and what would be
I think, as his masculinity.
Part of what made receiving letters from strangers interesting (in
response to my letter in RFD) was to see that my hurt and pain were not
unique, and that other gay men had a whole host of hurts and pains. Yet
we reached out, across the miles, to touch each other's lives in ways
that transcended the chance encounters in a gay bar.
This next letter came from a man in the northeastern United States. His
lack of self-assurance and a lousy self-concept spoke directly to my
It squirmed uneasily, and I told it, "See there? His heart is still
beating. He's still trying to live and find love. So don't be so damned
I'm sure by the time you finish reading this letter, you'll scratch
your head and have a hard time deciding whether or not you want to
respond. Nothing I could say could even begin to explain how I feel and
the hurt I've experienced with the ending of my relationship. I can't
express myself nearly as well as you have done.
My body is 45 years old, so that puts me a little over the age you
would prefer, but I'm sure if you decided to correspond with me for
awhile you would
find my many other qualities more than outweigh the years. I need a
also. However, I thought I was the only monogamous gay male in the
world. If you feel that's also important to you, I'm probably your only
chance for happiness.
I've been dating for a couple of months, but the guys just don't
understand what deep consuming love is all about. Sharing and caring
are not what they have on their minds. When they touch your hand, or
kiss you, it's because they think that's the way to get their sexual
needs fulfilled. I realize that
touching and kissing are terrific and most often lead to the ultimate,
what about a quick touch of the hand just because, or a deep kiss just
even a glance that tells your special someone he really is.
Well, I really hope you won't toss my letter away without really giving
me some thought. People that have the emotions you and I seem to
are hard to come by.
Please take the time
and the chance.
Write me if I
haven't scared you off...
This man's letter made me sad. I wrote back to him and responded to the
things he said. He later sent another letter, this time with a
of himself sealed within another envelope asking me not to look at his
until I had read his letter. I don't remember who stopped writing
I think he did, because after awhile, he'd scared himself with his own
self-image and was afraid to keep up the correspondence. I don't
remember the details of his or my letters back and forth, but I will
always remember the hopeless tone of his letters and I cringe, because
that was precisely the tone I felt I'd set in my letter to RFD. Without
realizing it, I had written a letter as full of self-doubt as this
man's. Only by seeing his did I see my own. I will always be grateful
to him for revealing the self-doubt within me.
In total contrast to this last letter, within the same week, I received
this one from a fifty-seven year old man from the west coast.
Right at the beginning, before you get too involved in any
misconceptions or head trips, I want to tell you that I am 57 and very
happy about it. I should also say that I don't look it, act it, or feel
it. Well, I don't.
I am sorry about your relationship. I just went through a fifteen-year
one with someone who didn't bother to say "I love you" very much and
was really involved with his fantasies and the bottle. I am afraid I am
the one who ended
it. And it still hurts, but it is what has to be.
I am looking for a 'good and loving relationship.' That could be
anything from a pen-pal to a close friend to a lover. I don't know and
I am not going to start out by deciding how something should end that
has not even started yet. As for the rest of it...
I could tell by the man's rapid-fire sentence structure and no-nonsense
style that I was in contact with a man who knew himself. His letter was
mirror for me to see myself by. I was uncomfortable with the person I
in myself. Yet I was fascinated by him.
As for the rest of his letter, he revealed yet another person who had
lived a full life, so different from the homogeneous stereotypes people
associate with gay men. He ran a mail-order book store (on non-gay
subjects), then went
into publishing reprints from another century. He was also into
spirituality, and personal growth. In addition, he had farmed on a
scale, done the "back-to-the-land bit," as he put it, and felt he had
live close to the water. He had done enough serious work in a local
support group to be concerned about his own status, was negative, and
to stay that way.
We corresponded briefly, then exchanged cards a couple of Christmases.
I am sure his life has gone well and interestingly.
The last letter I want to mention from this collection came from
another man on the west coast. As with others, he had also come out of
a long-term relationship and had also ended it. He put it very
poignantly, so I hope my
paraphrase does it justice:
I mourn the loss of the person I loved.
But he can
only help himself.
I was not as forgiving in getting over the man I had loved, but his
words struck a nerve in me and, like other letters before it, made me
think about my own attitudes. Then he wanted to know a curious thing,
which made me realize my views about monogamy (which I'd mentioned in
my letter to RFD) somehow confounded him. He wanted to know what I
meant by monogamy, then went on to
I think that word has the most elastic
any word, except for love.
I am aware that my desire for a monogamous relationship was for a time
in the gay world not very politically correct—and maybe still isn't,
since my desire could be construed as wanting to parrot a heterosexual
marriage. During the wide-open seventies, for example, as a group, I
think we gay men felt liberated—and it translated into unabashed sexual
freedom. I know my ex-lover felt the call of the wild, so to speak, and
in our first ten years estimated, rather proudly, that he had had sex
with hundreds of men. By that time in our relationship, I had given up
hoping he would give up that part of his life and want to settle down.
By then, I had invested a lot of emotion and energy into maintaining
our relationship solely for the longevity of it.
I am glad he ended it and put me out of a misery I did not even know I
was in, until I began examining my feelings after our breakup. At
times, I thought I was coping with the promiscuity that prevailed in
our fourteen-year relationship. But at others, I was hurt and angry
about it. In the last four years of our relationship, out of a sense of
revenge (probably) and from a need to keep from drowning in jealousy, I
also became promiscuous. But when it was all over, when the smoke had
cleared and I saw what our relationship had become, I decided I had to
be involved with just one man and for my own happiness, it had to be
I don't think we stopped writing because of our discussion of what
monogamy means, but I was, ultimately, afraid of becoming involved with
someone who wanted clarification of that issue. However, I think this
man would have been,
like the others, a good man to know.
The letters in response to mine in RFD continued longer than I
anticipated. Even when I had begun to see the unrealistic notion of
long-distance "dating," I received letters I felt I had to respond to,
to let the men know I was still
"out there." I also began to fantasize about getting some of them
together, like the two letters I am about to present. These were both
from men quite a bit younger than I felt I could settle down with; yet
they seemed well suited
to each other.
Bob: I am relatively inexperienced at
particularly with men, as I've only really come out (to myself) in the
last one and a half
Donald: I'm looking for a guy to settle down with. I never had a
relationship with a man—and I could, would like to experience such an
Bob: I basically live summers in a rented house North of Santa Fe. I
stay winters in Tucson with friends. I go back and forth, sometimes. I
have an adventurous side that likes to travel and meet people.
Donald: I used to live in New Mexico, now in West Virginia. I will be
leaving here in June to work in Iowa. I intend to sell my place in West
Virginia, because I am unable to meet any guys—plus it is isolated.
As I said in my letter for RFD, I wanted to meet men closer to my age.
I wanted to settle down with someone. These two men were too young, too
new to being gay, and were a lot more suited to each other based on how
often they seemed to move around. At least the experience of
corresponding with so many men from so many places that late summer,
fall, and into the next winter had brought me further out of my own
feeling of isolation and hopelessness. In fact, by the end of this
love-lorn, letters exchange, I felt quite warmed from the inside out.
Letters from Prisoners
I think, during that period when I was receiving letters from men from
all over the United States—both in response to my letter in RFD and in
response to my novel, Common Sons, that had been published in 1989—my
parents were becoming curious about what was going on with me. I had
not told them I was exchanging letters with men, based on a letter I
had submitted to the magazine. When I was unavailable to get the mail,
and my mother or father did, they would give me my mail with comments
like, "Who's 'so and so'?" Or "You got a letter from Arizona. Is it
someone who read your book?"
My general answer was that it probably was a fan and, if so, I'd read
it to them when we sat down to lunch. Sometimes, I'd flash a ten-dollar
check and say it was someone who wanted to buy a copy of my novel to
send to a friend.
But if it was a mail-order bride letter, I'd go into the living room
a cup of coffee and settle back for a quick read through, then I'd join
I wasn't ashamed of this form of searching for a lover. They'd both
known and loved my former mate. But I didn't want them to feel uneasy
at the unconventional method I'd chosen in my search.
So it was with some surprise and anxiety, when I also received a
half-dozen letters from prisoners throughout the United States. I
realized I'd made a
grave mistake by submitting my letter to RFD using my parents' rural
route mailing address—rather than having it coded by the magazine.
Those letters came with tell-tale addresses on the envelope. Example:
DOC. # 123456 Location 5-XX D/S
Indiana Dept of Corrections
PO Box XX/ Pendleton IN
Such envelopes as these were an embarrassment. My parents may or may
not have registered the curious nature of the return addresses; but in
case they had, when they handed me one of them, I tried to act
dumbfounded, without letting them see my anxiety.
The letters themselves were usually innocuous; and I felt empathy for
the young men who wrote. Such as this one:
I sincerely hope that upon receiving my
will be found in the very best of health and spirits. I can really
you are feeling, especially after giving as much of your life to one
then being shocked by the reality of your love.
But my friend, it could have been worse. Life is full of pain and
anguish. I have recently been convicted for crimes I am still
attempting to prove I
am innocent of. I am serving a sentence of 230 years. I can only hope
will not discourage you from allowing us to build a friendship through
For I believe you could use a friend, just as much as myself. For both
us has suffered a tremendous loss...
I do not have time for psychological games that always cause pain and
destruction. I am sure you agree. I am also gay, although being gay in
prison is a lot different. People have the tendency to harass and
Ron, I have no family, and a very few friends! I am emotional which
tends to cause disruptions in my friendships. I want a friendship built
on mutual trust, honesty, and sincerity. I would like you to know that
I would never ask you to participate in any activities that could
damage your integrity or good standing in your community. I don't
believe in victimizing other people,
but neither do I want to be victimized!
I would like to add that just because a man is incarcerated, doesn't
mean he is a bad person. Some of us actually are innocent.
I did write a response to this letter, asking the young man the
circumstances of the crime he had been accused of, to explain what was
so terrible about the alleged crimes that he would have been sentenced
to 230 years. I felt empathy for him and, regardless of whether or not
he was gay, I would not have wanted to be in his shoes. But I imagined
murder and mayhem about the crime—something so heinous as to deserve
such a lengthy punishment.
Further, an issue or two of RFD dealt with outreach programs to gay
prisoners as well as scams that had been run from the prisons on
unsuspecting gay men who had become involved with prisoners, who had
been taken on emotional and financially ruinous rides. Of the latter, I
was not afraid since I was living on thin air and the good graces of my
parents. But I did not want to become emotionally attached to someone I
would likely never see.
This prisoner wrote just one more letter explaining, in somewhat muddy
detail, the circumstances surrounding the crimes. Oddly, they did not
mention murder (which was about the only kind of crime I could imagine
that would justify the punishment) just a series of breakings and
enterings in which expensive items were stolen and fenced.
With so much time on his hands, I wondered in my subsequent letter to
him, why didn't he get involved in college courses, and take up some
kind of interests that would absorb him. I tried to be understanding,
while in the back of my
mind, I wondered just how innocent he was. He stopped writing abruptly.
Another letter from a prisoner revealed a young man, only twenty four,
who was serving seven years for stealing money from a house and writing
bad checks. He writes:
I thought I was a know-it-all, but as
you can see, I
know nothing. It's a bummer that it took something like this to really
get a grip on life.
I have been reading your ad over and over, and you have touched me
deeply. I'm sorry your past relationship went down hill, but you must
move on. The beginning of a new relationship would be good for your
mind and soul. Don't give up cause if you want someone strong enough,
it will jump right at you in time. Ya best not trust anyone when they
want to jump right into a relationship. Guess I really shouldn't say
that, cause I believe in love at first sight.
I haven't had a relationship in five years, and no sex at all. So if
you think you're having bad luck, look at myself. I don't talk to many
people in here. People in here play too many games with others'
feelings. To me that's
just not right at all. I do a lot of cell time, and read, read, read.
I don't drink or do any drugs at all. I don't like being high unless
it's on life itself. Sure, I tried it when I was younger, but just
didn't want anything for a high. I have never put a needle in my arm
for a high. I have only had one relationship. The guy turned into a
real ass hole, and he started beating on me and I just couldn't take it
any more and left him. That is why
I broke into that house, was because he was taking real good care of
and when I left him, I had no money and no place to go.
You are the first person I have ever tried to contact in the free world
in five years. I just cut the free world from my mind. I really had a
of problems when I first got locked up. I have to say that I think I am
great looking guy. I'm always having people wanting to get involved
me here, but in this place most people think that just because I'm gay
should go to bed with them. I've been told by many that I'm the best
guy in here, but I really think it's just games to get their way with
and I'm not falling for it.
I could imagine this young man, sitting on his bed in his cell, late at
night or after chow, putting pen to paper in his slanted writing,
the three pages he wrote. I could imagine his face, or the way he
but it was all fantasy. As I usually did with the other letters I
from the prisoners, I asked him to give me details of the circumstances
his incarceration. Maybe I was perceived as being too interested in
details and those that would tell me a little bit about their prison
This particular prisoner made me anxious, because in a subsequent
letter, he said he was getting out on parole, soon, and would I mind if
he came to Deming to visit me when he got out because he had nowhere
else to go.
I have to confess that such a letter made me nervous as hell. One of
the tragedies that befell my ex-lover was that his father and
stepmother were brutally murdered by an ex-convict only five years
before we broke up. It was months before he stopped crying about the
incident, and years before he
quit observing the anniversary of his father's murder. The
the murders was a scenario right out of a movie. My ex-lover's
had become involved with the ex-con, and when she tried to break up
him, and when my ex-lover's father tried to intervene, the man broke
their house when the family was at church, and when they came home, he
hiding in a closet. When they got ready for bed, he came out of the
and killed them both with a shotgun, point blank, then made the
the bodies down the stairs and leave them in the living room. After
the ex-con kidnapped the children.
It didn't matter to me that the young man who wrote to me professed to
being gay. It didn't matter to me that he seemed sincere, or that he
wrote so eloquently about learning from his mistakes, and that his
first and only gay relationship had been with a man twice his age who
beat him up. When he wrote and asked if he could come visit when he got
out of prison, I couldn't face the prospect. So I told him in my last
letter to him that I was moving—soon.
Not only was I nervous for myself, but I did not want to bring into my
parents' lives any potential problems, because of my misjudgment in not
having RFD code my address. I vowed that, from then on, I would try to
discourage any other prisoners who wrote to me.
The next letter came from a young man, about thirty-two years old. Like
most of the other prisoners I heard from, he also maintained his
Again, this one was going to be getting out of prison, soon. Also, like
others, he wrote eloquently about himself and what he was looking for
a mate. He referred to me as an older gentleman and said he preferred
older than he was. He said he hoped I would reconsider my age
because he felt he was mature for his age.
Like the others, he opened his letter by referring to mine and offering
sympathy and advice about getting over my hurt. By this time, in my
of letters, I was getting over my hurt. I was also feeling guilty that
had sparked the interest of prisoners—all of whom I could imagine as
in much more miserable circumstances than I had ever been in, or that I
hopefully never find myself in. The closest analogy I had to compare to
life was probably basic training in the Air Force, where we were
about from dawn until we fell into bed exhausted from a day of physical
training and psychological discipline from our torturers.
About being gay in prison, this young man wrote:
Out of all the known gays and queens in
here, I get
the most respect for I stand up for myself and do my own time, meaning,
I don't mess around sexually and treat everybody fairly. If someone
feels they have to lie, I don't need them, and if a person doesn't like
the truth, they don't need me. I'm not scarred up or tattooed. I'm one
of the lucky few to have never been raped, cut or stabbed. I can deal
with people pretty good and I
don't put myself in the position to have that occur, but it
unfortunately occurs here regularly and I hate it. I bet it's nice
living out somewhere away from everybody.
Again, I could only imagine the kind of life this and other young men
were leading in prison. As with the others, I wrote the last letter,
then didn't hear from him again. It was just as well, since my fear was
stronger than my sympathy.
Another prisoner wrote to me from the same prison system that one of
the other guys had written to me from, and I wondered if they might
know each other. But I didn't want to ask, because I felt it would have
been betraying the trust they had put in me by writing. This last
prisoner, however, just did not get the thrust of my letter in RFD. I
include his letter to illustrate that I did not necessarily hear from
sincere, learning-from-their-mistakes kinds of guys. He wrote in a
large printed script that was easy to read.
I am all the way gay. I have been
undercover since my
incarceration. I have not been sexually involved with a man since 1986.
I am 36, look much younger, with a slim, muscular build, no facial or
body hair, dark hair, green
eyes, well endowed ten-inches, circumcised. If and when you respond to
letter, I will send you pictures, answer any questions you may have,
tell you everything about myself.
So I did. I did not feel this man was being sincere, but I tried to
respond in a way that would let him know, once more, what I was looking
for. I think I wrote a lot of garbage about not caring about really
"rad" music or boom boxes, or cars and flashy clothing. I reiterated
what I'd said in my RFD letter,
but he was not to be dissuaded.
In his next letter, he wrote:
Thank you for your long and very
I truly wish we were together right now and you were sucking on my long
dick!! It has been so long, I am craving a warm body. You just don't
how badly! I will keep in touch and someday I will come and visit you.
I have my own cell, I love to masturbate, I masturbate sometimes three
or four times a day. I put baby oil on my dick and just stroke it long
and slow with both hands.
He then mercifully got off that subject for an additional two pages of
his large-printed writing, to tell me he was innocent of the charges
but that a key witness had perjured himself and that, after several
trials, he was finally convicted.
He closed with this:
Well, Ron, I'm tired, but I want to get
out, so I'm gonna close for now. Take care of yourself and I will
include you in
my next fantasy when I jack off!!
When I got this letter, I tried a more direct approach and asked him to
give me the details of his conviction, to describe what it was like in
prison, etc. And I made a point to try to cool his penis talk.
I understand your feelings and you being
about meeting someone who has been incarcerated. But for one, I am
innocent of this
robbery charge I am in prison for. The Supreme Court of "—" will be
my case soon. My lover's admirer wanted me out of the way, so he
a story and I was convicted.
You said you weren't sure what you could do with all this dick?! I can
assure you, Ron, you would enjoy every inch of it and I would make you
feel real good. I also love to be fucked and suck on my lover. I talk
like this because I am very horny!! I have been undercover. I haven't
had a sexual encounter in almost five years.
When you write back, would you tell me what you expect from your lover
in and out of bed and also more about yourself. Ok?
We have a little more than two months before I get out. If we feel we
may be compatible and would like to meet, would you be interested in me
coming out there to live and work? This is really what I am searching
for. A place to relocate to, friend, lover, and companion. If you are
not interested in working towards that please let me know and I'll
understand and I then won't waste anymore of your time or mine.
Although I did tell him I wasn't interested, I felt guilty. At times, I
believed that any one of the prisoners to whom I was writing would
try to pull a scam, the nature of which I could not imagine. But at
times, I believed all of them were sincere, lonely, and had looked to
for some meaningful contact with "the free world," as that young
had put it. But I was relieved when the letters finally stopped.
The Curious Case of the Widower
Except for a period of madness in my adult life in 1970 (when I tried
to become heterosexual and married a female), I have been openly gay
and proud of it for at least twenty-six years. As with other bleak
periods in my life, I was able to come out of that heterosexual
marriage with some valuable lessons learned, determined not to repeat
the mistakes that had led me into such an
abyss. I learned I was homosexual (like it or not) and that, no matter
much about the gay world I might dislike, there were also good things
being gay that were superior to being heterosexual. Most important, I
as African Americans had to learn, that I had to turn those words of
and subservience—queer, fag—into power words for myself and I had to
the stereotypes about my people and to use them positively.
My perspective is of one who, for awhile, capitulated to social
pressure to be what was expected of me as a "man." In a way, by having
fathered a child
during my heterosexual marriage, I disproved one of the
men are incapable of having sex with women. I also discovered I could
heterosexual sex, although it was a little less erotic than sex with a
My penis did not object to penetrating a woman; to him, it was just
warm, wet place, where he could move rhythmically for awhile, then
I learned, however, that even during those heterosexual acts there was
something missing, physically and emotionally. I was constantly aware
those weren't male lips I was kissing, weren't male shoulders I was
and that the tits I was suckling were too soft, too smooth, and too
but more importantly, it felt "funny" for my penis to be the only one
These physical activities with a woman were not enough to turn me into
a heterosexual. There was something important my head and my heart were
trying to tell me. "You've made a big mistake, son, if you think this
heterosexual behavior defines you." Likewise, what many people in our
society mistakenly assume defines us as "gay" does not. It is not
homosexual behavior, per se, that makes a person a homosexual.
Otherwise, it might be true that only two or three percent of the
population is "gay" as a recent survey purports to be the case. But
what the survey failed to account for are people like me, and all the
other men and women who, for whatever reasons, have for a time
capitulated their homosexuality in favor of acceptance by their
families, churches, and friends. The statistics also fail to take into
account the huge
numbers of us who eventually (or very quickly) return to the gay world
we realize that our being homosexual is not a choice. Having made that
discovery, I returned to the gay world, to my people, with a conviction
I would never again capitulate to pressure, subtle or forceful, to
my gay being.
Although I had what turned out to be a bad relationship with another
man for the better part of two decades, following my marriage to a
female, I never
gave up the feeling that it was up to me to make a good life for myself
others as a proud gay person. For this reason, I have always mourned
gay people I encounter are struggling with the same demons I did. They
be looking for forgiveness from the heterosexual God of the patriarchal
or Jewish religions. They might be struggling for outward acceptance
their families and co-workers, by remaining in the closet and dating
as a "cover." Or like my first gay lover, they might only be able to
sex in the dark with the bed covers pulled over them to hide the fact
there are two entwined male bodies copulating and sweaty beneath them.
they might consider their homosexual sex something to be done only with
without commitment, while their wives are at home watching the clock or
sleeping with the milk man.
After my failed heterosexual marriage, I was determined I would be
liberated from all my demons of self-abnegation, all those cloying,
subconscious feelings that I was somehow unworthy of happiness, or that
the love I felt was inferior to, or less real than, heterosexual love.
After my long gay relationship had
come to an end and I was beginning to discover that my partner had been
these same demons, I was determined that the next gay man I tried to
a relationship with would be well on the way to self-liberation,
or I would not pursue him.
It is with anger, on the other hand, that I have observed heterosexual
people toying with gay sexuality for their own purposes. We all know,
for example, that heterosexual prisoners prey on other men for sexual
release or, perhaps more appropriately, for exercising their power over
them. We also know, if we listen to our lesbian sisters, that many
heterosexual women occasionally play around with homosexuality,
too—either for sexual thrills or, like their male counterparts, for
some sort of power trip they derive from seducing other
women. In either case, these heterosexuals will not be committed
partners with members of the same sex. If gay people are duped into
believing they can be, or if they can only be attracted to straight
people, hoping to thereby legitimize their own worthiness, they will
get hurt. In a tidy world, where gay people are attracted to other gay
people, and heterosexuals have to make do with their kind, people would
not get hurt as often as they do. But it's not a tidy world, and I fear
that many gay people have fallen hard, and will continue to fall for
these faux-gays and to be used by them.
Take the curious case of the widower from the deep south who responded
to my letter in RFD. I must attempt to expose him as a type—a
heterosexual who parades as a gay man to satisfy some inner need to
engage in something forbidden or illicit—or, for reasons I cannot
fathom. It angers me that this man thought that since I was gay, I
would be willing to "do him" in some sense and that I had no moral
perspective of my own from which to be insulted at the idea that he
would want me for his purposes while totally disregarding mine.
I will not quote a single word from any of the three letters he wrote
to me. But in this series of essays about the letters I exchanged with
gay men from the hinterlands of America, it seems appropriate to
include his case.
His first letter was sane enough, so I wrote a response telling him I
would be interested in corresponding more with him. In that letter,
he'd told me his wife of umpteen years had died and he'd read my letter
in RFD. Although he was almost twice my age at the time I received his
letter and I didn't intend to pursue him as a mate, I was willing to
write to him believing he was a gay man who had lost the struggle for
self-acceptance, or had subjugated his own needs out of a laudable
commitment to his marriage partner. He was, after all, old enough to
have lived in a period when it was unthinkable for him not to marry,
have children, and to live as a heterosexual. I think I expressed my
sympathy that his wife had died and said how it must feel strange after
all those years to realize he was gay, and I understood, and wasn't it
wonderful he was at least able to finally express himself.
His second letter should have given me a clue that he wasn't as tightly
wrapped as he should have been. How can I express the impression his
(and a seven-page, single-spaced narrative) had on me? The letter,
was friendly, yet cautious, giving a short account of his present
circumstances, being widowed, having a nice house he would like to
share with some young man, like myself. The seven-page attachment was a
listing of a few guidelines that he should like to have observed in the
event we did get together.
So, turning from the letter, to the whatchamacallit, I began to see
into this man's mind. The vision was a little disturbing at first; then
progressively I became angry and finally tossed it aside, in a fit of
laughter and rage.
First, I was to realize that he was to be buried next to his wife in
the cemetery, since he'd spent so many rewarding years with her. That
was certainly understandable. One must put one's priorities where one's
life's emphases have been placed, maybe; or in death, one must maintain
certain appearances, so that natural family will not be too unduly
distressed, for example, that granddad loved grandma and that there was
no end-of-life craziness to detract from that lifetime certainty.
Second, I was to realize he had made his money and I was to make my own
way and to not expect to share, after his death, in something I had not
helped him to build up. At this point, I was certain I would not be
flying south to become a mate of this grandfatherly person, anyway, so
this requirement seemed reasonable, also.
Third, I was to read the rest of this thing, sign and date it, and
return it to him.
I flipped through the rest of the pages. Was it a prenuptial agreement?
It was stamped CONFIDENTIAL in several places in red stamp-pad ink. It
was typed on some ancient machine whose ribbon was almost gone, in some
elite font that made its mere density all the more intimidating—or
would have been, had it not made me laugh nervously.
I wasn't surprised when the guy told me he had worked for the federal
government his entire life. Its afterburn on his mind was readily
apparent in the document I now held. I continued reading...
Fourth, we would wear rubber clothing in the confines of his home.
At that point, I wasn't sure if I should be my usual dutiful self and
respond at all to this guy. In the next few pages, there were whereases
and wherefores, and the whole thing was organized like a government
document, with numbered paragraphs and sub-numbered, to the fifth head,
full of governmentese and, ultimately, evidence of his insanity.
Granddad had obviously worked on the document for hours and hours.
Sitting in my one-room cabin, surrounded by my very ordinary things,
and boxes and shelves crammed with my belongings from a lifetime of
accumulation, I could only imagine what his office looked like, crammed
with twice as much lifetime as mine; but with that curious
government-minded bent he had, I could
only guess how it must look. And, did he work in his rubber clothing
he pecked away at the typewriter?
I wrestled with the idea of writing back, to let myself off the hook,
and to not arouse his ire. Obviously I wasn't going to sign the thing
that glared at me from beside my computer keyboard, stamped in red ink.
In the end, I punted, taking the friendly, indirect route to tell him
he had missed the point. Had he missed the idea that I was interested
in living in the country? What was it, exactly, that made him think I
was a candidate for his particular tastes? I told him I'd never even
seen, much less worn, rubber clothing and that I much preferred wearing
nothing at all in the privacy of my home. I averred that I might be
interested in a trip out his way for a visit, if he wanted to pursue a
friendship, but I wasn't interested in committing
myself, either to a relationship with him, or to signing the document.
would keep it for awhile, if that would be all right, and study it.
That this man did not get the point of my RFD letter was quite obvious,
since he ignored almost everything I'd said in it about living in the
country, about wanting someone within an eon of my own age. Further, in
his third letter,
he chose to respond with anger at my dismissal of his offer to do as he
Maybe by that time, in his search for a young gay male to mistreat and
rule (probably as he had ruled his wife), he had become frustrated. And
many of those documents had he produced, how many other mail-order
letters had he responded to from RFD?
That I had wasted my niceness on this man angered me more than his
third letter. It came just a few days after I'd mailed out my letter in
response to his rules and regulations. Its tone was like the
whatchamacallit, full of governmentese, little of the former human
still evident, businesslike and
impersonal, dictatorial, where all pretense at geniality had been
dropped. I had irked the old man with my (polite) refusal to sign the
prenuptial agreement, had insulted him by saying I did not want to live
in his big southern city and could not consider giving up the freedom I
found in the country. But I
pissed him off when I discussed the rubber clothing, wondering if it
to deny that much skin surface a chance to breathe, explaining that was
I preferred nudity. In response to that he said (paraphrasing), "I hold
interest whatsoever in ANY form of Nudism and would insist that any
of mine not be involved either."
So it was finished, this bizarre exchange of letters with the widower.
Perhaps I've devoted too much energy to tell about him. But I want to
reiterate my point about faux-gays and heterosexuals who like to use
gay people for their own needs—especially that they assume gay people
have no moral convictions and are, therefore, logical candidates for
the sexual perversity they want to engage in.
I am reminded of the slave-owners in the Ante-bellum South. They had an
entire race of people at their disposal for three-hundred years. In the
earliest period of American history, there were well documented debates
as to whether this servant race was even human. Slave owners bought and
sold them like cattle
and deliberately separated mothers from their children to squelch any
loyalties to family. It was a crime, punishable by death, for a Negro
learn to read and write. At the same time, slave owners were fond of
that Negroes didn't have the intellectual capacity to learn such
Lords of the plantations used the females of the subservient race as
sexual playthings, yet felt no remorse at having impregnated them,
no obligation of fatherhood for their offspring.
Negro women bore children in the cotton fields, passed the newborns off
to someone else and continued to work. The Negro men were whipped,
castrated, and hung at will by the slave owners. And when an American
president finally declared the basic freedom of the slaves, the South
rose up to defend its way of life.
Yet it took another hundred years for Negroes to become "Black" and
then to proudly declare that "Black is beautiful" and to stop trying to
emulate the Caucasian race. But once black pride was a common thing,
once Black people took back their history and gave themselves African
names, and began to act like the strong, proud race they were in
Africa, they were able to kill off the tendency within themselves to
This truncated and slanted history lesson serves to make my point. In
the latter part of the nineteenth century and in all of the twentieth
century, gay people have been the 'race' that has been trod on at the
whim of the master
'race.' We have been victims of psychiatry and the medical community
more continuously kept chained in self-hatred by the Judeo-Christian
We have asked for psychiatric healing, and as a result have been
to castration, aversion therapy, electro-shock treatment, and even had
needles stuck through our eyes and into our brains, undergoing
lobotomies, in the hopes of being cured. We have subjected ourselves to
religious programs that promise miracles, with the end result of only
making us more self-hating. We celebrate Stonewall every year; our
numbers swell to bursting in our marches on Washington to draw
attention to the AIDS plague and to our stand on lifting the ban on
gays in the military. Yet, in our private lives, many of us still yet
are not really, absolutely, and forever liberated. We still yet have to
revolt, to stand up to the dominant powers in this country, to the
government in Washington, the Pentagon, the so-called Christian right,
and even to individual heterosexuals who prowl the gay streets in
search of game. We have yet to stand up to the men like the widower,
who wanted me to be his plaything, to
wear the clothing he dictated and to dictate that I wear clothing. We
yet have to take umbrage at the daily insults heaped on us, from the
people we are afraid to come out to like our fellow workers, our
childhood friends, our casual acquaintances, our employers, and even
our families. We
still whisper among ourselves that "gay is good," yet we don't dare say
too loudly for fear THEY may hear us.
From the letters, I learned that while urban gays may be involved in a
universe of liberation, a large number of gay people out there in rural
America must take extraordinary measures in their search for the simple
warmth and companionship of another human being. Yet these gay men are
resilient, if not liberated. They have set priorities in one way, by
insisting that they live in the country or in the small towns of their
birth or of their own choosing. For that time in Deming, when I was
licking my wounds, I was actually becoming stronger. The letters
helped. I will always be glad there is a publication like RFD, which
has continued to put out its magazine targeted to people in the middle
of nowhere and that, by their policy of printing full-length letters,
make it possible for gay men to meet with a little more depth and
discussion than the distilled ads in the back of the other gay
It was refreshing to have exchanged letters with so many gay men, who
live in the small towns of America and in the country; to know we
cannot be stereotyped into creatures of the night, who look only for
anonymous sex in the bars, baths, and bushes of the urban landscape. It
was refreshing to feel anger at the old man who thought I could be
brow-beaten into submitting to his particular
brand of sexuality following the death of his wife.
It was instructive to have received letters from prisoners, who gave me
a peek into the prisons of America. I was tormented that I had to turn
down the invitations of these gay men because of my instilled fears
about prisoners in general. And while I was sorry that gay people are
among the prisoners (whether they deserved incarceration or not), I was
glad to know that some of them were trying to find love and affection
inside those concrete hells, even if it was through contact with what
one of them called "the free world." I wish that ordinary people of
heterosexual orientation were sophisticated enough to know what gay
people have always known; that it is mean spirited heterosexual men in
search of power who rape other men when they don't have their females
to copulate with.
I didn't meet a lover through the exchange of these letters. Perhaps I
was too cautious. Maybe I passed up a chance to meet exactly the kind
of man I
said I was looking for, because I was too enveloped in a cocoon of
self-pity. But the experience I had in exchanging what turned out to be
several dozen letters with a couple-dozen gay men, from little burgs
all over the country, was partly responsible for the healing I went
through during that time in Deming, when I was trying to get over my
long-term relationship with a man who, for a time, had tried to go
I last heard from him in December of 1991. After a five-year search,
and countless female contacts later, he'd finally come to a place in
his life, where he could accept his homosexuality, too, as being an
integral part of his makeup. I felt it was ironic for him to have had
to destroy our long relationship
to find this out. But finally, now, after so many years, I am able to
him. He was as much a victim of self-hatred and doubt as I was.
now, he will be willing to put everything he has into his next gay
and will, as I tried to do, treat it as legitimate and worthy of a
of trying to make the best of it.
By mid-year of 1991, I began to feel warm. Of course the weather was
warm. I ran around in cutoffs and T-shirts. My legs were deeply tanned
by then, as were my shoulders and back and arms and face. That was
evidence of the sun I learned to worship and expose myself to. But I
was finally warm from the inside. My heart was strong, alive again. My
soul sang, now, celebrating my newfound youth and strength. During my
stay in Deming, I had built a back porch onto my parents' mobile home
out of wood I had salvaged from a house my father and I tore down in
Deming. I built a greenhouse onto my cabin. I
re-roofed an old lady's house in Deming all by myself. I operated
various kinds of heavy machinery for one of my nephews in his
landscaping business. I dug ditches for an elderly uncle.
I gained strength from all the other physical activities I had done,
too, like hiking into the mountains around Deming, herding goats in
northern New Mexico, and working everyday in my garden on the north
side of my parents' house. But more important, I gained inner strength,
realized my whole life was ahead of me. That made me feel warm, so very
warm and full of hope.