Trigger warning: This post is about sexual abuse. Very mild sexual abuse, of a young man, me, so, honestly, who cares, but it’s my story and I’m telling it because it pertains to some stuff happening in SF now (and for the last forty years.)
Set the wayback machine to the mid-eighties. I’m twenty one or twenty two, in art-school, and I’m emerging from what we used to call a nervous breakdown. A combination of over the counter and recreational drugs and a poorly managed class work load knocks me out for a few months, and then, a few years, after that.
During this time, after high-school, in those first terrifying years of quasi adulthood, a friend of ours, a movie-star handsome young man named Gabriel, falls in with a wealthy philanthropist who lives in a mansion on the outskirts of town; the mansion has a name.
Let’s call it Ravencrest.
Gabriel was an enigma; he crashed our suburban high-school the way you might crash a wedding party. Our school was top notch, attended by the suburban refugee sons and daughters of my decaying city’s professional class; the inner-city school dictated for Gabriel by his actual zip code was not good.
So he snuck into ours; I don’t know how, but he did. He lived near the elementary school my family had fled from when I was in forth grade.
There were stories about Gabriel; that he had a business card—a joke business card?—that identified himself as a male prostitute. He was absurdly handsome, witty, urbane, and likable.
And now, he’d been adopted by an eccentric millionaire, a man who owned a newspaper and had professionally played the concert piano.
As I struggled with myself, who I was, what I would be, unsure of my art, of myself as an artist, I was invited, as were all of Gabriel’s friends, to hang out in the mansion.
To spend the night there, too.
Rumors of sexual contact swirled around the man and his relationships with young men, but nobody was on record as having made any criminal accusations, and he assured us that his many enemies had started these rumors to bring him down. They had accused him of being a vampire, because he suffered from Cutaneous porphyrias and couldn’t tolerate sunlight, for example, and indeed outdoors he always wore huge black wraparound sunglasses.
He was celibate, he said.
One evening as he was saying good night to us he gave me an unwanted sort of longish kiss on the lips and looked me in the eye. He saw, I think, astonishment. He smiled. I guess my reaction wasn’t as bad it might have been. I think he filed me as a ‘maybe.’
He’d told me I was a genius; that I would be a great artist, but of course, most people didn’t understand that, the way he did, and I would have be careful, about who I listened to about my creative future.
Shortly thereafter it came out, one of the boys visiting, while going to the bathroom, saw one of the young men (legal age) creeping into the great man’s bedroom late at night.
He heard sex noises. The cat was out of the bag.
My people stopped visiting Ravencrest. Gabriel escaped into the Marines, and then, escaped from the marines, and then, vanished from all our lives. Time marched on.
Looking back at the photos of us all back then, it strikes me, how handsome we were. How attractive. I’m a repelling wreck now, but back then? I had something, some odd rare burning quality that I can see, was, oh, there’s no way to say it that doesn’t sound vain, but hot. I was sort of hot.
I may or may not have been any kind of artist. The millionaire, in any case, would have been very happy to sleep with me. He was grooming us. Flattering us. Pushing us. Seeing how far he could go. How we would react. Looking for someone who would trade, sex for approval. Sex for a chance at the big time.
I know. Barely any abuse at all. Yet, as the ambivalence of the world to my vast talents struck home in the years to come… yeah. It hurt.
So I get, in my small way, what it is like, to feel that sadness, when you find out that someone you thought was a supporter was just trying to get you into bed. I imagine this happening to me over and over and over again…
And I get how furious people get, at the men who do this. Even when this is all that they do.
On the face of it, not much happened that you could talk about in a court of law. An icky hug and kiss. Some compliments that turned out to be bullshit. In the world we live in, the opportunities for me to experience this abuse proved few and far between. I can only imagine the horror, of this happening again and again. But twenty five years later, the memory is still vivid, disturbing, and embarrassing.
At age 53, bald and heavy, I am now immune from such things ever happening to me again. A small thing to be thankful for. When someone likes my work I know what it is they like. My work.
So I ask all those who hold power over others in creative pursuits—do not try to trade your compliments and support for love or sex or even mild feigned romantic interest. You know it’s wrong.
Don’t do it. If you do, and people compare notes, you’re gonna be completely fucked. And not in the way you were hoping.
And you’ll deserve it.
That is all.