August 1972 — I chose this photo for a reason. It was taken one month after, at 20 years of age, I’d had my first sexual experience with another man (In it, in August 1972, I’m dangling my legs in a pool in Panama City, Florida.).
I’d been living with a family in Besançon, France, while studying French for the summer, and I ended up in Paris on my final weekend before flying back to the US. I somehow wandered into a “dirty book shop” just off the Champs-Élysées in the middle of the day. I hadn’t yet admitted to myself that I was gay; yet, I was drawn, like a moth to a flame, to the gay book section.
While furtively scanning the offerings, I was approached from behind by a male store employee who whispered in my ear, in French, “There are films downstairs.” Not really understanding what he’d meant, I nonetheless wandered downstairs to a carpeted hallway with four or five stations for viewing porn flicks.
While I tried to figure out how things worked, the Frenchman appeared and dropped coins in the slot, so I could watch the porn for free. As I put my eyes to the viewfinder, I was shocked to feel him unbuttoning my denim jeans and moving to fellate me.
A cavalcade of emotions ran through me. But, I didn’t stop that fellow; I experienced my first orgasm with another human being that day; and I rushed out of the shop afterwards and collapsed onto the nearest municipal bench, where I felt a wave of nausea and guilt… so much so that I went to a travel agency and moved up my return flight to NYC to the next day.
This last week, in discussions with several acquaintances, I heard similar stories of tortured initial same-sex encounters from at least four or five of them, which led me to reflect on that phenomena. It’s clear that, having been raised by our families, churches, and schools to disapprove strongly of homosexual conduct, we learn to hate our own impulses and to feel guilty when we first give in to them. And, it can take years of hard work to overcome our own internalized homophobia.—Mike Balaban