by Conor Friedersdorf
One day, I got email from a coworker I didn't know who had read my posts to the company "social issues" bulletin board about being gay and Christian. He said that he had been raised a conservative Evangelical, was in the process of coming out, and was trying to figure out how to reconcile his faith and his sexuality.
I asked him out to lunch and we talked, and he accompanied me to my church that Sunday. He had to fly back to Texas right after the service (he worked in the Dallas field office, and had only been at the home office for a visit). We started exchanging email, Long email messages. And then talking on the phone. Every night.
* * *
My first kiss happened at midnight on New Year's Eve in 2001. I was seventeen and shy. My boyfriend was a guy with a sports car who bought me a gold necklace and told me he loved me two weeks into our relationship. I liked him because he was a boy and he was interested, and I kissed him because I'd never kissed anybody and I thought it was probably time I did.
Over the next four years I grew increasingly frightened of him. When I tried to break it off, he'd get angry and tell me I couldn't. He hated that I was going to university and warned me I'd never make anything of myself. He flew into rages when I told him about a good grade or a project I'd enjoyed. Sex was painful and terrifying. I closed myself off from family and friends, ashamed that I'd let myself get so stuck.
One night when I was twenty and in my second year of university, we went for a drive. He talked about the apartment we'd get as soon as I graduated and I realized, suddenly, that one day I might run out of chances to leave him. We broke up over the phone the next day. Despite a nine o'clock exam the next morning, my roommate sat up with me late into the night. I don't remember ever crying so hard.
I had nightmares about him for two years, but I went on to study Shakespeare in grad school, to live on my own in Toronto, to other kisses. Now I start law school in September. He'd have been livid.
I think about him now whenever I worry about my future. Ten years ago I could never have imagined my life being what it is today, but I got here because I was strong enough to start making choices for myself. I'm proud of that.
* * *
It was about 1982 and was 14 years old, attending a music camp at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At that point I had no experience at all. Back home in my rural Wisconsin middle school I was considered pretty weird and a "brain" (at age 15 I would cut off all my fluffy Farrah Fawcett hair, start building a Cyndi Lauper-type wardrobe and become a punk rocker as well as a "radical feminist"). Music camp was a place where I could embrace my brains as well as spend lots of time with people who didn't
think I was weird.
I met the guy, whose name I no longer remember - Dave? - in my Basic Keyboard class. He was a couple of years older and played drums in one of the rock bands that always formed during camp. (They played a
cover of Sweet Home Alabama at the camp talent show. Not punk rock, but still a good song, and it certainly got me interested in boys with drums and guitars.) On July 4 I met him at the campus Memorial Union terrace right on Lake Mendota to watch the fireworks. The place was packed with people -- you could hardly walk. Somehow, though, after the first kiss we started making out and ended up rolling around on the ground for what seemed like hours. I don't remember the moment of the first kiss at all, but I do remember how blown away I felt at how unbelievably fabulous making out was. I'm sure we didn't go very far -- he might have put his hand up my shirt or something but that was probably it. We were right out in public after all.
But I do remember what I was wearing (a green and red striped polo shirt! eeugh) and how fluffy my hair was. And boy, do I remember going back to my dorm afterwards, so totally high on the utterly new
and totally overwhelming avalanche all those brain chemicals associated with having crushes and being turned on, that I was in an altered state, unable to do anything but babble incoherently to my
dormmates (some of whom had seen me rolling around on the ground with this guy), who just laughed at how completely goofy and delirious and happy I'd become.
Naturally, alas, "Dave" never spoke to me again after that, so my euphoria was almost immediately followed by having my heart crushed. On the other hand, every time I hear Lynyrd Skynyrd on the radio I
remember him and how euphoric I was at how fantastic this new activity felt. Since then I've had my share of miserable kisses and other things, but I have also had quite a good time with a number of sweet,
sexy, brainy, funny men (I am now in my 40s). I may be a feminist, but I am definitely not a man-hater...
* * *
As a socially awkward, painfully closeted (to myself, as much as anyone else) yet marginally musically gifted high school senior, I wound up being cast as the Prince in my high school’s production of Cinderella, opposite a girl with whom I had a lovely friendship. I didn’t know it at the time, but her friendship has turned out to be the loveliest and most enduring of my entire life. But my first lip contact of any kind came in a rehearsal for the musical, with the physics teacher/musical director looking on amusedly from ten paces. My dear friend has told me that I didn’t do too badly, but she has always been the generous type.
My second first kiss came the following year at college. I was still painfully closeted, but I found myself the object of a senior girl’s affection. After a few weeks of her swanning around me, and me impersonating a deer in headlights, she caught me behind my first year residence hall and planted one on me. It was horrible; all I remember is feeling like I was attempting to kiss a goldfish, and knowing that I had to extract myself from the situation as graciously as possible. Technique was sorely lacking on both sides.
Finally, in the fall of my senior year of college a cute guy walked up, jimmied the lock on my painful closet door, and gave me the first kiss that fired on all cylinders. Oddly, even though I was so new to the party that I hadn’t even removed my coat, I knew that I was using him. Sure, he was in the right place at the right time, but I somehow had enough perspective to know that I was in no way prepared for a relationship; it would be several more years before I caught up to all the folks who had lapped me back in middle and high school. Still, it was a good kiss, and I wish him well, wherever he is.
I think it’s obvious that my favorite of the three is the absolute first passionless, but very symbolic in the context of that lifelong friendship.
* * *
I think I was 16 when I first kissed a girl, that was after spending some years when the hormones were high kissing the corner of a wall to get the angle right. There was a girl at school that I was infatuated with and one day I just walked over there and knocked. She was home, her father was home, it was late morning. He went somewhere, it was just the two of us. We sat at the kitchen table and had a fun conversation for a couple of hours and then it was time to leave. We embraced and then all of a sudden our lips were locked. It was a deep, long, and seemingly endless French kiss. We broke the clinch and she said something about dates, but I couldn't keep that agenda, no car, no money. We had no classes together and I had no privacy to call. At any rate, nothing ever came of it.
As you may recall, kissing someone new causes a massive chemical high. I went home and listened to the "play of the waves" in Debussy's _La Mer_. That's the feeling, right there. Making out with someone new is the greatest of highs, in my book. Even more pleasurable than sex, if that makes any sense.
* * *
It was a dull job, made bearable by an unlimited supply of cream soda in the office fridge and occasional perusing of the finished reports on the superiority of Hubba-Bubba to Bubblicous bubble gum and they like (they did a lot of consumer focus groups). I was an oversexed budding gay boy with an eye for older men. But no experience, yet.
I started in September and had met most of the staff by Thanksgiving. One Vice President was on a long sabbatical but his return was worth the wait. He was thirty-seven, short but trim, with a powerful runner's physique, a chiseled face, strawberry blond hair and beard and piercing green eyes (or were they hazel?). My lust must have been palpable because his initial handshake lingered. He was brilliant, a PhD with a slight southern drawl, affable and cultured. Loved the opera, loved the outdoors. And apparently he liked me.
We danced around each other until Christmas week. At the small office holiday party he surprised me with an invite to his townhouse. His garage needed some straightening up. Would I help him out the Saturday after Christmas?
I never saw the garage. We never made it past his living room with its '70s shag carpet and orange velvet sectional. A little awkward small talk, him expressing admiration for my Timex watch, his strong fingers running up my arm over my flannel shirt, and then a kiss. My first kiss from a man. My first kiss, period. It was delicious. Like eating ice-cream on a hot summer day. Just delicious, that feeling of being possessed, conquered, desired He'd eaten a breath mint before hand, so his mouth tasted sweet, slightly sticky, but masculine underneath.There was a driving power in his kiss. Everything I thought kissing a man would be about.
It was the spring of my 7th grade year (1984) and Doug was beautiful. He had been my boyfriend since the second week of school at Joseph George Middle School in San Jose, California. We spent every lunch period together and met at each other's locker whenever we had the chance. When we were not at school we spent endless hours talking on the phone. I loved the feel of the spiral cord wrapped around my finger as we talked about our friends or our hopes and dreams.
A couple of older kids, 8th graders, decided that Doug and I had been together long enough that it was time for a kiss. During lunch we were led to this small wall that was called the backstop. It was in between the school buildings and the track and it was a great place to hide from teachers or lunch staff.
So there Doug and I stood. Convinced we were madly in love and that we were destined for one another. I started to close my eyes and wait for what I thought was going to be my first kiss. Just as he approached with eyes closed I opened my eyes and found that Doug (who had never kissed before either) was moving his tongue side to side rapidly. It caught me off guard and I laughed. out loud. The look of horror that washed over his face is one that I have never forgotten. I did not intend to be cruel but I was un-mistakenly cruel. I did not have my first kiss with Doug.
I had it shortly after that, with a mean boy, during a relationship that lasted a week. Doug and I got back together for the remainder of that year and during the summer we moved. We did not kiss but I have regretted that laugh for my entire life thus far.
We arranged to spend a weekend in San Antonio, where my brother and his wife were working. He stopped by my brother's house on Friday night, and I made some excuse to take him into the bedroom and kissed him for the first time. It was far from my first kiss, but it was the first time he had ever kissed a man. He was rigid with tension and it was awkward, but the kisses when we got to the hotel were much, much better.
We've been together seventeen and a half years.