"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, November 6, 2023

Brokeback Hill - Rob Rafter's Easy Climb To Sexual Diversity

Rob Rafter grew up in a mill town in central Connecticut, a brickyard of tool-and-dye fitters, ball bearings, and tools.  His father was tough, first on the line, last to shower and pack up, beer and pretzels at Mike's, brats and cabbage with his wife.  

Rob's mother worked the night shift at the factory, so he saw little of his parents except on Sundays.  They sat in the same pew at St. Aloysius The Martyr, third from the altar, seats reserved thanks to their generous yearly and weekly gifts, ate roast chicken, carrots, and apple pie for Sunday dinner, and played football until it got dark. 

Nothing special, but others had it worse.  Like Joe Monte whose mother relieved the grocer and the egg man; or Lucy James, ignored by her parents, who subsisted on Maypo and corn meal until she was thirteen.  

New Brighton was a Thornton Wilder town - normal on the outside, existentially frail on the inside, but as determined and upbeat as any American city.  Which is why some, like Rob, bucked the tide, came out as his own man, and used the towns penitential sameness as a launch pad.  His trajectory would be high and far because he had a solid, although plain, beginning.

He knew he was different in middle school when he couldn't keep his eyes off Nancy Booth, irresistible in her sleeveless blouses, early-budding breasts and a natural allure.  He wanted to be Ray Cummings, blonde, blue-eyed wonder boy who could have a thousand Nancy Booths in the blink of an eye; but he also wanted to be Nancy and in so doing create a happy three-in-one - the god, the sex princess, and the altar boy.  

There was nothing new in such fantasies.  Shakespeare wrote about this very thing in Sonnet 20

    A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted

Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;

A woman’s gentle heart, but not acquainted

With shifting change as is false women’s fashion;

An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,

Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;

A man in hue, all hues in his controlling,

Which steals men’s eyes and women’s souls amazeth.

And for a woman wert thou first created,

Till nature as she wrought thee fell a-doting,

And by addition me of thee defeated

By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.

      But since she pricked thee out for women's pleasure,   

      Mine be thy love and thy love’s use their treasure.


The heralded gender spectrum suddenly made sense, and he had found his place on it. But had he? He only wanted to be Ray Cummings, not be in love with him.  He wanted to be Nancy Booth’s lover not be her.  

Of course he could not have articulated such sophisticated sexuality at age fourteen, but he was ahead of the sexual learning curve and far ahead of his classmates who could not hold one challenging thought in their heads let alone three.

None of this was troubling, as it was to many of his cohorts who took gender fluidity to heart.  There was no way that he was going to transform into anything but the boy he was born as, made to track and hunt women, and imitate the best and the brightest men around him, not the freaks.

Bruce Lenox, for example, who wore dresses and patent leather pumps, but who always looked like a janitor groping for purchase on a dumpster.  Bruce had not one ounce of feminine grace, not one scintilla of balletic charm, not an iota of sweetness and light. He had scanned the sexual smorgasbord and picked the wrong fish.

He should have transitioned more progressively, from simple, unattractive and unpromising guy to gay guy to swishy, confident queen, to woman; but he was stubborn, and when he saw former boys running girls’ track and sitting on girls’ johns, he put on his pinafore, pumps, and ribbons and came out, soon to be laughed out of washroom and ball field, sheepishly returning to zero. 

To want and be wanted was Rob's fantasy to pursue and be pursued, to be frilly and girly-girl, to be macho frat boy and peeping Tom looking at it all through the slats in the bathhouse wall; but alas, a leopard can't change his spots.

 ‘Bless me Father, for I have sinned’, recited Rob in the confessional where he had gone one Saturday afternoon in a moment of doubt; but when it came to confessing his sins, he found none.  Buggery, and hot, wet sex were two sides to the same coin without matter or significance. Someone who had never experienced either – like the rancid, old Father McGreevy across the confessional screen – could not possibly pass judgment; or worse, intercede with Jesus Christ for forgiveness.

 ‘Sorry, Father’, Rob said, parted the curtain, and walked away.  

 Only as a young adult did he realize what this bi-cameral sexual arrangement really meant – he understood women now better than he ever did; and seduction became an easy elision. Empathizing with women was an unexpected and quite fortuitous insight. Now he could see beneath their tears, insecurities, and fantasies, plumb their depths, and come up a winner.

He became Ray Cummings and had a hundred Nancy Booths, desired and desirous as he had always wished, freed from sexual doubt by the gender spectrum.  How such a contrivance, engineered folly, pure scam could have made it to the mainstream, he had no idea; but everyone needs a dose of luck and happenstance once in awhile, as silly and inconsequential as that might actually be.

 Rob Rafter was a happy, satisfied young man. 

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