i got my drivers license when i was 16 and one of my favorite places to go was a bookstore that i liked that was in a shopping plaza in the next town over from us. by this point in my life, i had realized i was gay and that i liked guys, but i was having trouble imagining myself as a gay man. my biggest hangup then was that i had seen a little bit of gay porn and i didn’t find the guys attractive at all – they were blonde, lean, and hairless, which didn’t appeal to me at the time, but because that’s all i saw in magazines and movies, i thought that was what gay guys looked like.
anyway one day i was at the bookstore browsing through the magazine racks and my eyes kept darting to the top racks where the “adult“ magazines were. this wasn’t my first place sneaking glances at those shelves – i wanted so badly to buy some gay porn magazines, but was worried that the person at the register might know that i was not 18 and wouldn’t sell them to me and i would be embarrassed.
on this particular day, i stumbled across a copy of advocate classifieds that was next to the advocate in the “regular“ section of the magazine rack – these are magazines that anyone could buy and they theoretically were not adult content but somehow advocate classifieds had managed to sneak into the regular section despite the fact that it contained naked men, and i was thrilled!
it occurs to me as an adult that the person at the register probably didn’t notice or care, but i thought i was safe buying this copy of the magazine because it had been in the regular section, after all, and i couldn’t be guilty of anything if i had just bought it off the regular rack and it happened to contain naked man. (as a side note, can you see how easily guilt and shame figured into my understanding of my sexuality from a young age? worth a bigger conversation, but also worth nothing that this experience isn’t unique to me)
when i got home, i went up to my bedroom and close the door and started leafing page by page through the magazine. at the bookstore, i had only opened it to one or two pages and as soon as i saw dick, i closed the magazine, made the logical leaps over my shame outlined above, and bought it. now that i was home with nobody around, i could take my time to see what was on each page, and reveling in the fact there wasn’t a dick pic or two but there were full on photo spreads of multiple models.
the models in the magazine were just like i described above – twinkish and smooth and not at all what i was attracted to – but the excitement of having gay porn that i actually went out and bought was enough to keep me very excited.
then at some point in the middle of the magazine, i turned the page and came across a model named cliff parker. cliff had dark brown hair and dark features, a lean and built body but he had chest hair and arm hair and leg hair and suddenly I realized the gay guys could have body hair, could have dark hair, and could actually be attractive to me. it was a like a revelation – i hadn’t consciously realized what my hangup was until i saw something different. i knew that it was ok that i had dark hair and chest hair, and that i wasn’t going to have to bleach or shave anything to fit in.
it’s not lost on me now that as an adult, hairy chests and beards are fashionable, and now i can’t help but wonder about the smooth little blond boy who is just exploring his sexuality and wondering if anybody out there looks like him. i learned that day that i could do this, that i could grow up being gay, that I could be a successful gay adult because i got confirmation that somebody else like me was out there. that’s why i am such an advocate for people sharing themselves so openly – when you share who you are, there’s somebody out there who benefits from that, who gaines permission to be themselves, and while we can’t direct where our energy goes, permission to be yourself and have it be ok is a great thing to be sending out there.