BY AARON STELLA Welcome back happy campers to another edition of my so-called ‘you-wouldn’t-believe-it-if-I-told-you’ life story. Last time around, I mentioned that I was developing a relationship with a family with ulterior motives unbeknownst to me. I also mentioned that they would eventually become my family. Things get kind of wild from here on out folks, so hold on to your hats! The year is 2001. I’m a sophomore at the Catholic high school in Cullman, AL, practically friendless, and in thrall to a feeling of powerlessness among my peers and family members. Giovanni, the German exchange student that had been living with my family, and with whom I had become fast friends, went back home. To make things worse, rumors of my sexual deviance had begun to spread among the Catholic families in the area, which pretty much posited me as an ‘undesirable.’
So to combat the ostracism, I doubled down on my various clandestine activities: gay chat rooms, midnight phone trysts, and pornography became the order of my nocturnal diversions. In GAYDAR’s last edition, I mentioned the befriending of one named Andrew and his ostensibly well-intentioned family. Aside from satisfying my raging teenage libido, I took a lot of joy in my visits to see Andrew and his family. In my eyes they seemed healthy, loving, orderly, and respectful of each other. Sure, they were a bit eccentric—but so is everybody, right? Frankly, I was so jazzed by being welcomed that I didn’t really pay any mind to their quirks. Anything seemed normal compared to my family.
At the end of my sophomore year, my mom approached me with a starling proposition: that she thought it best that I move out of the house. Now, being all of 16, practically 17, gay, anti-establishment, and horny as hell, I was beset by a blizzard of emotions in response to this request. On the one hand, I had felt so estranged from my family for so long that doing completely without them wouldn’t be much different from the usual. On the other hand, hearing your mother say that she was basically throwing you out was crushing. Now, it wasn’t as if I’d be left out in the cold. My mother knew that, judging from the liking Andrew’s family’s had taken to me, it wouldn’t be much to ask them to take me in. And so, she did. Andrew’s family happily accepted. And thus concluded my residency with my blood family.
Life with Andrew’s family was a dream come true. For the first time in my life, I had a family who listened to me and took my thoughts and opinions into consideration. We did everything together; talked together, joked together; and when the occasion called, sorrowed together. Andrew’s father was the first person I ever really consciously respected in my life, not to mention my first real father figure. Out of everything, I was totally convinced that Andrew’s family loved me unconditionally — and I don’t have to expound on what that does for somebody’s self-esteem. However, I received a few unexpected perks, so to speak, from the love that took me by complete surprise. I’d only recently grown out of bedwetting: it’d been about a year or so since I had an accident. But all throughout my childhood and most of my adolescence, I would soil my bed sheets nightly. Obviously, this made sleepovers very awkward. And on top of that, I often went without an allowance since my parents argued that they had to use it to cover the extra water bill accumulated from washing my sheets everyday. Yeah, because, you know, daddy’s gross income, which was $200,000+, definitely couldn’t afford a bigger water bill. I think they did this to punish me for what they perceived to be feigned incontinence.
But I digress. Outside of waking up in damp sheets every night, I experienced chronic bouts of hotness in my ears and other extremities, particularly on the palms of my hands and soles of my feet. My hands and feet I could handle, but the hotness in my ears drove me crazy, which eventually got me into the habit of strapping blue ice packs (you know, the kind you used to put in your lunch box) to my ears. Lastly, ever since I was five, I was on a cocktail of anti-depressants and ADD medications, which wreaked havoc on my appetite and pretty much turned me into a zombie. Well, after about two months of living with Andrew’s family, my bedwetting began to subside along with my hot flashes (hehe), and I was able to completely wean myself off my medication. Very, very interesting.
A quick note: it wasn’t until recently that my mother divulged her true feelings about why she felt it was best for me to move out. For one, she saw that I wasn’t happy, and that dad was, in so many words, abusing me. So, at that time, the best answer to her was to separate us, and since she couldn’t very well kick the bread winner out, she was left with no choice but to remove me from the premises. Now that I have some distance from time, I understand her dilemma, but I’d be lying if I said I was without reservations. I may have mentioned this before, but I was the scapegoat in the family. I had my faults — absolutely — but for the most part, the I was blamed for more than I should have been held accountable for. But fate has an interesting way of working things out (and sometimes, exacting justice) as you shall soon see. After four very happy months of living with Andrew’s family, I received a letter from my mother explaining that she had delivered divorce papers to my father. “Well, well, well,” I thought, “What a coincidence. Ha! Now that the family scapegoat is gone, my father has no one to hide behind.”
Needless to say, I was somewhat elated and empowered with the feeling that justice had been serve and that all ill perceptions of my character had been eradicated. In my excitement, I divulged the particulars of my family’s dysfunction to Andrew’s family — in great detail. Ah, I was so young and foolish. Now I see it as clear as day, the way Andrew’s family’s eyes lit up as I expounded on my years of anguish and estrangement. I failed to take note of the almost kneejerk response they gave me, as they increased their efforts to goad my anger. As time went on, Andrew’s family brought up my family more and more for the very reason of exacerbating my already festering fury. It wasn’t too long before they started to suggest that I had been a victim of abuse, such that I could seek legal action against my family if I so wanted. I did feel abused at that point in my life…and for the first time in my life, I was convinced people cared about me, for real. Once Andrew’s family noticed that I was buying into their game, they began to actively encourage me to take action so that they could gain legal custody of me. And thus began the long walk down one of the darkest halls of my life…
EDITOR’S NOTE: Interested newcomers to the ongoing saga of Aaron’s outrageous autobiography can read the whole thing beginning to end after the jump.
My Life in the Thrill Kill Cult
BY AARON STELLA This week, Imma gonna tell ya a little somethin’ about me, a.k.a I’m going to start prattling on like a drunk blonde at a frat party, with a whole bunch of “No one understands me!” and “Oh my God, I love this song!” OK, not really, but what I’m about to tell you about my life usually redirects whatever the present conversation is to a relentless onslaught of who, what, where, when, why, and “what the fuck?” If you missed last week’s edition, check it out and get yourself up to speed. Alright, let’s get this show on the road.
I was born August 5th in 1985 in Augusta, GA. I’m the oldest of three. My father is from Chicago, was raised Catholic, ended up in Georgia during his stay at the medical college of Oxford-Emery. My Mother is from the Bronx, was raised Jewish. After her father died, she lived a very “shower with a friend” existence until Jesus revealed himself to her while she was studying art in Italy. She worked at the Savannah River plant in Georgia; later some friends of hers introduced her to my father.
The cult calls itself the Alleluia Community. There are thousands of these Post-Vatican II Neo-Evangelist cults scattered throughout the states disguised as innocent suburbanite communes, where plastic smiles hide the sorrows: theocracies such as these are magnets for the codependent, the socially outcast, and the zealous biblethumper , or as I like to call them, “Taliban Christians.” Usually, the more sensationalized breeds hog most of the attention (people just eat up stories about moonlight orgies a thousand polygamists strong and fruit punch suicides), however, the Alleluia community is relatively tame in comparison.
Still, it was hardly the real world. It is a closed society. Only community members could attend community meetings, and only kids of community members could attend the community school. Those looking to join took the pledge of loyalty at an induction GCG –community meetings, basically–where they were bestowed cult garments to symbolize membership. The women were given white veils, and the men, cream-colored tallits– a shawl traditionally worn by Jewish men at prayer. Children of community members could join when they were four. It was customary for the the youngsters to say something or do a song and dance at their induction GCC. I recited a fire and brimstone chapter from the bible, which was a real crowd pleaser, and made my father beam with pride.
How did my family wind up joining a cult, you ask? Well, my mom joined first because she wanted to live a more Christian life and felt she need to surround herself by other Christians. But my father (ugh), he was befriended by one of the church Elders — basically the founders elected themselves Church Elders For Life and oversaw all aspects of the cult. Everyone paid a tithe–about 10 percent of your income–to help fund community programs and upkeep the school and retreat households and other things. They must have licked their chops when they heard that my dad was an obscenely over-paid ER physician. A little cajoling was all it took, and a feigned interest in my father’s incessant pontifications on religion — one of his favorite past-times. My father’s the kind of Christian who extols God for his wrath rather than his mercy, and he found like-minded company in the ranks of the community. Long story short, he joined, married my mom, had us kids, blah blah blah we lived in a cult. Until one day my mom noticed something fishy. You know that tithe everyone has to pay? The money was supposed to be for community collective funds, to improve the school, fund programs, and all that? My mom didn’t realize it until one day when she was walking past anelder’s house. He was out in his front lawn, watering his plants. At that moment, she wondered to herself how he managed to pay his water bill without working. My mom became a stay-at-home mom when she had us kids, so she knew who was around during the work day and who wasn’t. Well, this guy was never away, nor was his wife or 13-something kids, some of them, far past due to the workforce. Well, she put two and two together and it became apparent where the tithe dough was really going: landing right into the the elders bank account. Just your typical cash scam folks. Of course, none of her friends believed her.
And then there was the sex thing. Between October 3rd to the 8th, the parents would go away on retreats. In their absence, the teenagers were left in charge to take care of the younger kids, which at the time included me and my sisters. The funny thing is is that after a while the parents started taking the whole family on these retreats. Hmm , I wonder why? Let’s see: what happens when you leave, say, a little over a 300 raging hormonal teenagers who’ve been told to “sit still or else god will smite you” their whole lives? They smoke, fuck, drink, fuck some more, and in a matter of hours, transform quietol ‘ Faith Village—the neighborhood in which most the members lived—into iniquitous Sodom and Gomorrah. During this time, I survived on burnt banana pancakes and fought for possession of my Nintendo Entertainment System. Jerome, who took care of and my sister (a.k.a the burnt banana pancake extraordinaire), used let all the kids who bullied me at school into our house to play with my things. Not to mention, people having sex all over the place, all over our house, which was the biggest house in the community. So much shit happened. I remember waking up one day finding two complete strangers pulling each other’s hair and licking each other’s faces. Obviously, my protests went unhonored; most of those days, I stayed outside, wandering to parts of the village I wasn’t allowed to go, and into the forests surrounding. Faith Village used to be a pecan orchard. Later, the land was tilled and low-income suburban housing spurng up, but not in blocks, in circles , with the house situated along the perimeter. And in the center, no fences were erected, just wide open communal space open to anyone who wised to graze, or, when the parents are gone, island-hop for booze and drugs. They traveled in groups–rogue bands of adolescents gallivanting through Christendom guided by the wind of their whimsy. At night, the only light one could find other than from the houses was from cigarettes, joints, and the distant sounds of squelching noises.
Oh yeah, I still don’t really know what all went on at those parent retreats; however, I do know that the elders taught our parents the “holier than thou” way to have sex (something tells me God probably frowns on double-sided dildos and cock-rings). On a final note (cause I could on forever), something I learned about organized religion and cult life while in the mix was of the terrifying power humans have to say “no: to ignore blatantly obvious realities; to reject facts of science; to assume a pejorative, natural hierarchy among humankind; to oppress out of fear rather than accept with love; to blame rather than admit error. (Oh god, now I sound like one of the elders. I’m still trying to work this shit out of my system. Ex-cult members who befriended my family after we left the cult told us that of the amount of years one spends in the cult equals the time it takes one to fully recover from all the bullshit. I’ll leave it at that, for now)
My Life After Christ
BY AARON STELLA Ladies and gentlemen and fellow gay Americans: welcome to an all-new Gaydar! This week, we chronicle the slings and arrows of my family’s post-cult life and my first bold steps in discovering my sexual niche (all the juicy details included, not for the faint of
heart gay). OK, here goes: In the December of my 12th year on this earth, my family and I left The Community, aka The Cult. It had become undeniable to us that we were being exploited, and despite my parents’ desperate desire for a wholesome Christian life, they couldn’t ignore the rampant corruption and shameless profiteering. My last day in the cult school was the day before Christmas break. After my teacher announced that I would no longer be part of the class and that my family was leaving the cult, my fellow 5th graders gathered around me and laid their hands on my head as the teacher led the class in prayer. “God, protect Aaron wherever he may go, and may he live his life in the knowledge of your presence, your love and mighty power—Amen.”
And then the shunning began. The elders had done a bang-up job of convincing everyone what it meant when somebody left the happy flock: You’re a sinner and have written yourself a one-way ticket to hell, and the godly should cut off any and all interaction with you. Thank God my mom had retained friendships outside of the cult. Mind you, that didn’t help to alleviate some of the serious emotional withdrawal we went through as a family who had lived and invested many, many years of our life into friendships that we would never recover. But we shrugged it off — whatever. We wanted out.
Our house, which cost us $300,000-plus to build, sold for a meager $175,000. The palatial nature of our far-from-humble abode was a by-product of my father’s insufferable grandiosity. We had built a veritable mansion, thanks to my dad’s doctor’s income, while everyone else settled for weathered brick one-story dwellings a quarter the size and a less than a quarter the cost of our place. And therefore, a quarter of the value. So when it came time to sell, not only did the presence of the cult minimize our base of potential buyers, the type of house we had built frankly didn’t belong in that neighborhood. So we got the shit end of the stick. Whatever, we were glad to finally be gone. The big, wide world was waiting.
In the cult, we referred to the secular America outside our gates as “vacation world.” Now we were going to begin our lives anew in that “vacation world.” My parents rarely revealed their true feelings to me about anything, and to this day, I still don’t know how they really felt about pioneering into the world in spite of the reasons they’d given. We moved into a stucco-sided hacienda with a terracotta roof in the historical district of Augusta, Georgia, called Summerville. Instead of easing our way into the reality of “vacation world” via the public school system, we did home-schooling. My parents did not trust public schools — the education offered and the company we kids would keep were all viewed with deep suspicion. The upside was that being at home all day provided me plenty of time to learn to jack off. My self-taught typing lessons provided prodigious opportunities to surf the web for gay porn, especially after my folks had gone to bed — or so I thought. I remember one time my mother caught me late at night with my cock in hand. She gasped, putting her hands over her mouth and lowering her head as she walked out of the room. She didn’t see what was on the screen; she fled before she could noticed anything, giving me time to walk silently back to my bedroom and avoid further shame. (Thanks, Mom!) The next day, when she asked me what I was looking at, I told her it was “naked women.”
As for my father, well, his story requires a whole separate GAYDAR, but for now understand that his spectacularly poor judgment and dubious decision-making skills were the root cause of so much of the madness my family endured. For example, when a hellacious storm came by one night and literally tore the terracotta roof off our hacienda, what did we do? Did we go live with friends or family or rent a modest house until we got back on our feet? No, we took out another exorbitant home loan and purchased a $500,000 house with 25-ft ceilings, Roman-styled pillars, and bathrooms that could rivals baths of Nish. My father thought any investment was a wise investment if it enabled him to flaunt his wealth, and so our house was shamelessly luxurious with expensive furniture and extravagantly priced knickknacks and just all types of shit we didn’t need. He never could resist a good sales pitch, and as long as he was buying, why not buy two, or twenty, or 2,200. Little did I know how much money was being wasted. I’ll speak about the debt my family fell into later.
At this point in time, I had been accepted into Davidson Fine Arts School in Augusta. There, I not only had an excuse to prance around in tight black pants (I loaded up my course schedule with tap and jazz classes), but I was able to pursue the objective of my deepest, most hidden desires. My eyes had begun to wander across the melon asses and protruding crotches of men in around my 7th and 8th grade years. Although I can’t completely recall how a certain promiscuous habit got started, I remember vividly cutting my lunch periods short on a daily basis so I could go blow two of my friends from school in the bathroom. Curiously, none of us thought of ourselves as gay. I didn’t even really know that there was a whole culture out there of men like me. I just did what felt good.
One day after school, I followed this boy into the bathroom. I wasn’t really his friend, but I made it clear I had a fond interest in him. He was nervous, understandably. He unzipped his fly and let his cock fall out of his jeans, standing dead still as he pretended to pee in the urinal. I pulled up to the urinal next to him and brandished my cock as well. A moment later, after both of us realized that we had reckoned with what we were about to do, the boy grabbed me by the small of my back, and in a single swift movement, stuck his tongue down my throat. In a fervor of sensual release, our hands feverishly searched each others’ bodies as our pelvises ground together, our cocks baton-ing one another as our kiss brought our tongues to indiscriminately explore each others’ mouths. It couldn’t had been more than a minute when I heard him let out a muffled groan. He pulled away from me, staring at my shirt, and I, at his limp cock. My shirt was spattered with a sizable load in his cum. Before I could say anything, he quickly moved for the sink. As he washed his hands, making sure not to make eye contact, he said, “I’m never doing that again!” and he dashed out of the bathroom.
In that instant, my raw lust was immediately replaced by a profound sense of shame and fear of discovery. What had I done? What if somebody came in and saw me standing there with another boy’s semen on my shirt? As I anxiously scrubbed my shirt in the sink, I began to whimper softly. I thought someone would walk in and I would be caught and that would be it. Mercifully, no one did. I got away with it! So like all adolescents, when given an inch, I took a mile. Throughout my final years in Georgia, I spent most of my time coaxing my friends into compromising sexual acts above and beyond just young boys exploring themselves. I mean, everyone goes through that stage where you’re just plain horny, and these kids were no different. Some were more timid than others; one boy, however, I remember I jerked off in my room as a consequence of not completing a dare. When he left my house that day, carrying his shoes, one of which one concealed some cum-soak underpants, he said to me, “I need to go home and pray.” In time, pretty much the entire pubescent boy population of our neighborhood fell prey to the Stella’s incubus offspring.
Tune in next week when my family high-tails it to the hillbilly-infested hills of Alabama to wait out apocalypse circa Y2K. Until next time…
Dear Dad, I’m Gay, Love, Your Son.
BY AARON STELLA We’re back, folks, with another fabulous edition of GAYDAR! OK, I realized last week that we need to have a little “come to Jesus meeting” about my father, as so much of what happened with my family stemmed directly from the decisions he made. But keep something in mind as you read: I know little about my father’s interior life. I could never trust the man, both in what he told me of himself and about the world, so my assertions about him here are, by definition, pure speculation. But at the same time, I have learned much from sorting out the qualities I share with my father, and our differences; and through that process, I’ve come to know both of us a little better. In any event, let’s get to it, shall we?
My father is what I like to call a “Rolls Royce Catholic.” You know the type: likes to test drive fancy cars; proudly defends the infallibility of the Pope; believes the Church should incite another crusade; detests Vatican II and all that peace, love, and modern-world ecumenical bullshit. Being that he’s a powerful orator and a brilliant rhetorician, as well as having an encyclopedic knowledge of the catechism, he would jump at the opportunity to demonstrate his religious erudition with impromptu sermons whenever our family would entertain company. And he would regale people with stories of his beloved children, how our vast intelligence and academic aptitude is all thanks to his genes. Still, he could be very charming when he wanted to and people warmed to him.
My father was both driven and destroyed by a compulsion to create ornate worlds for himself that are completely devoid of reality. He relied on the patience and forgiveness of his family, as well as the kindness of strangers and the naivete of youth, to sustain these illusions; and made excuses when they fell apart. Curiously, he had no friends his own age; most of them were in their late teens and early 20’s (more on that later). Despite all his bluster, he feared the company of men his own age because he was afraid they would see through his bullshit. Even his own children posed a threat, especially me. I was insufferably inquisitive throughout my childhood and adolescence, particularly about religion. The weekly sojourn to celebrate Mass seemed to me a waste of time, and served no purpose but to exacerbate the already burgeoning imperiousness of the faithful, where instead they could be providing for the less fortunate; acting in the will of Christ. This of course, among many other inquisitions, my father took as a slight, and it angered him — and sometimes triggered histrionic displays, with him imploring the mercy of the Lord to deliver me from the fires of hell, and me rolling my eyes. This is why I could never have a heart-to-heart with him: it was either his way or the highway.
My father met my mother at a dinner party thrown by mutual friends. They started talking and my mom was quickly smitten by his charm and empathy. They wound up dating for six years, and then one breezy, moonlit evening on the glistening shores of Myrtle Beach, my father proposed and my mother readily accepted. A week later, they went to a Christian convention in Atlanta. After the first day of the convention had concluded, my father went out to get some fresh air, leaving my mom behind in the hotel room. He headed straight to a nearby park, where he met a man, and they had sex. My father confessed this transgression to my mother the next day and then and there she broke the engagement — and it would stay broken, she said, until he received psychiatric therapy.
They continued to see each other despite what had happened, and a year later, my father proposed again, claiming that he had gone to therapy as requested and no longer desired the company of men. In truth, he never went. This would not be the first time he deceived her. Years later, when my mother asked my father to see a psychiatrist because we were having family problems, he would arrived home from his appointment announcing that the psychiatrist told him that he was justified with the way he was acting in the family. In disbelief, my mother would eventually call up the psychiatrist to corroborate my father’s story and find out that very little my father had told him about his family life matched our reality.
Nevertheless, when my father proposed, my mother accepted, being the trusting woman that she is.
It was a fairytale wedding. My mother looked stunning, as did my father. My mother remembers that when it came time for them to kiss, my father swept her towards him in a single dramatic movement, creating quite a spectacle. She now looks back on that moment as something that didn’t symbolize their love but my father’s love of showmanship. My mother became a stay-at-home mom. My father worked as a physician in the ER. He made plenty of dough to support us, take us on lavish vacations three or four times a year, buy each of us a horde of gifts at our birthdays and on Christmases and eat out pretty much wherever we wanted, when we wanted. He did always provide for us, I’ll give him that much. I was never in want of anything — anything, that is, except the love of a father.
That midnight tryst he had with the man in Atlanta, Ga. was probably not the first and certainly not the last. As I said before, my father never had any friends his own age. Instead, he befriended the youth of the neighborhood — clean-limbed, athletic, bounding young men. I remember walking home from a friend’s house one night when we still lived in The Cult, only to find my father sitting atop a wooden picnic table surrounded by an audience of boys. He was recounting experiences from his work in the ER while interweaving teachings of Catholic doctrine. Starry-eyed, they listened intently. I also remember when he would have the older boys over for wine and revelry. He loosened up at those times, when he had his arm slung around the shoulders of another man. He became more human, if that makes any sense. And then there’s me: all of a sudden, I’m his pride and joy, and the testament to his virility and superior genes. On my fourth birthday, the only present I received was the first of many piano lessons. So on these festive evenings, I was tasked with entertaining the crowd with minuets and ballads, bulking my father’s boundless narcissism, as he boasted about how much I resemble him.
Then there were the father-son outings. Whenever we went camping, my father would sleep with his “special friend” in one tent, and I would sleep in another. I remember this one skiing trip, when my father took about eight or nine sinewy young men and me with him from The Cult up to a remote spot in the mountains of West Virginia (everything was paid for out of his pocket, of course). At one point along the trip, we parked at a mall so the boys could play in the arcades. I waited in the car. After a while, a few of them stepped out from the arcade, which was positioned in the front of the mall. They approached the car, opened the side door, then grabbed me by the shoulders and pinned me on my back. As I lay there immobilized, pleading them to stop, one of them began licking my face while the others snickered behind.
The first thing my father and the boys did when we got to the cabin was move out the furniture from the large living room on the first floor and replace them with mattresses from the bedrooms, so to make one giant mattress covering the floor. Then they stripped down to their underwear and started wrestling with each other in duos. All the while, I stood by and watched as their bodies became sweaty as they grunted from the exhilarating sport. I didn’t really think anything of the handsome sexpots writhing beneath one another and being tossed about in the their tussles. It was what it was. And that’s all there was to it.
Is That All There is to an Apocalypse
BY AARON STELLA Well, here we are again with another exciting edition of GAYDAR! This week, we’re traveling back in time to turn-of-the-century Alabama, the land of pork rinds, pickled pigs feet, deep-fried snickers and Creationism. Know that it wasn’t the simple fare or the relaxed colloquialisms, or even the Biblical science, that drew my family to the middle of nowhere. We were pilgrims, in the loosest sense of the word, in that we desired a new start, and a place where we could worship freely with fellow Catholics—oh yeah, and we were on the run from the impending doom of then-imminent Y2K. It’s hard to remember now, especially post 9/11, but there was a time when nobody was quite sure just what would happen to the global computer grid when the counter flipped over to 2000. Many Evangelicals saw it as a sign that The Rapture was soon upon us.
Have you ever watched EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network)? It’s the Catholic channel, basically, starring a relatively famous nun by the name of Mother Angelica. Perhaps you’ve heard of her. In any event, right before Y2K rolled around, Angelica had just put the finishing touches on her 15th century-style Franciscan monastery in Hanceville, Alabama, a sparsely populated hamlet of chicken farmers. The Monastery was fantastical spectacle, outfitted with a huge piazza, rose marble floors in a chapel with everything gilded—oh yeah, and a gift shop that looked like a miniature castle, with turrets and flags and all that theme-park rubbish. Setting aside for the moment the fact that Franciscans all take vows of poverty, on the grand continuum of the Catholic Church’s history of costly financial misadventures, this was but a modest blip: 10 million dollars, conservatively. This is where we would weather the coming of the New Millenium, come Hell or highwater.
My father’s roommate from Oxford-Emery went on to become an ordained priest and the headmaster of a Catholic prep school in Cullman, Alabama, which closely neighbors Hanceville. Cullman county is in the Guinness World Book of records for two counts: for being the largest chicken-farming county, and for having the most churches on a single block than any other in the world. From time to time, my father would visit his ol’ college buddy to catch up. During one such visit, my father’s buddy drove him out to observe the progress of Angelica’s Monastery; and it just so happened that my father’s buddy knew of a family who were building houses on the outskirts of the soon-to-be-completed monastery to accommodate the influx of settlers sure to be attracted by the presence of Angelica’s Monastery. The thought of owning property that bordered so holy a place was too tempting for my father to resist.
Before the decision to move was final, my father took the family on vacation to Alabama in hopes of wowing us into agreement that moving would benefit both our social and spiritual lives: our property would border sacred ground, and reverent Catholics would comprise our network of friends. The house itself was modest, both in size and appearance, which was strange considering my father’s appetite for extravagance. On the other hand, the house was equipped with some lovely amenities, all of a bucolic nature, of course: a well-water pump exposed above ground, a spacious front and backyard, a trail leading into a dense forest, and, of course, a charming veranda that overlooked verdant pastures of grazing cows. As for the family that we bought the house from, their collective personality mirrored the house’s: the women were demure and soft-spoken, and were clothed in long dresses, hiding their iniquitous ankles. The men, too, were reserved and stoic. Don’t get me wrong: they were some of the nicest people I’ve ever met—but think about how many times you’ve said that about somebody. Were they really the nicest people ever? Maybe. At the time, I hadn’t yet picked up on the duality of the South: People are both sweet as pie and fiercely judgmental. I mention this, because later, after I would come out, these same people would shun me.
Nonetheless, once my father found work in one of the local hospitals, and I got accepted in the Alabama School of Fine Arts, there was no turning back.We began our rigorous preparations for the terrible dawn of Y2K. My father charged my mother with the task of acquiring a long list of supplies: Candy, dried milk, 50 pound-bags of Morton’s salt, 47 bottles of pickled relish, and many other bulk items that constituted our end-of-the-world diet; we purchased huge quantities of liquor with which my father said he could use to concoct tinctures and potions to cure various mild illnesses in case modern medicine becomes scarce; 10,000 plus dollars worth in solid gold, unmarked coins secretly stowed in tube stocks would be used for bartering; and a generator would be used to power the entire house, if necessary, for up to 500 hours.
We weren’t alone in these End Time preparations. One guy who lived on the outskirts of the neighborhood dug out the side of a hill and parked a white school bus packed from top to bottom with every kind of provision you would need for the end of the world. Likewise, many of the residences in the area had storm shelters that had been transformed into makeshift dwellings, furnished to the nines.
On New Year’s Eve 2000, my family attended midnight Mass at Mother Angelica’s Shrine. All of the small town’s Christian elite were present, looking severe and austere, their faces a mask of dread and anxiety. The pervasive fear of Y2K had taken its toll. In any event, my father, now a somewhat respected figure of the elect, stood with his hands folded, muttering prayers along with the celebrant priest. He didn’t even look concerned. We had prepared; everything was going to be fine. In actuality, I was a little excited for the Y2K wasteland to manifest—but then I looked at my watch. It read 12:05 a.m. I must have lost track of time. Nothing happened. What?!? Absolutely nothing happened: no power outages, no social unrest, no calamities haling from stormy skies, no Muslim invasion. I tugged at my father’s sleeve to get his attention; and when I had it, I threw up my hands to express my confusion and building exasperation. And you know what?—all that bastard did was shrug his shoulders. That is how the world ends, folks: not with a bang nor a whimper, but a shrug of your old man’s shoulders.
How I Became the Alabama Slammer
BY AARON STELLA Welcome back ya’ll to another bold and beautiful edition GAYDAR! OK, down to business. Last time I told you how my family settled into our Alabama homestead. Now, I was never one for the bucolic pleasantries of rural living. Luckily, I would reside in Birmingham at the Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA, which suspiciously sounds like “ass fuck” — appropriately so, as you shall soon see).
As I mentioned in the last edition, I had been accepted into ASFA. I applied as a vocalist and a pianist, but because I lack adequate sight-reading skills, they accepted me for voice. Later I discovered that there was only one other male voice student—so it could have been the fact that I had a pair that gave me the edge–but no matter. By the way, Birmingham is about a 45-minute drive from my family’s house in Hanceville. ASFA offered lodging in their dormitories as an alternative for students who had long commutes. Who would have ever guessed that what occurred there would dramatically change the course of my life.
Every homosexual has their apprehensive and sometimes traumatic coming out period. For me, it was closer to the former. I was just happy to put a name to my thorough sexual indifference for the female sex. Well, you know, I remember Frenching a couple of girls in middle school, but that was only when I was dared. You could say I technically had a girlfriend at one point. Her name was Seora (see-or-ra). We coupled on a completely verbal agreement, and obviously nothing ever came of it. Just for the record, I’ve only gotten as far as kissing a woman. I’ve had chances to do more but it just never struck my interests. And while this all this might seem redundant, you should know that plenty of now full-fledged homosexuals dabbled in all the unique pleasures a woman has to offer and it just was never my cup of tea thank you very much. Just thought I should touch on that.
In any event, before I get into the dirty details about my proverbial coming out party, let me tell ya’ll a little bit about ASFA. From what I can remember, the student population was around 300-400, each allocated to a department, be it music, theater, visual arts, creative writing or math and science, depending on their forte. Intermixed in the student’s standard class schedule were classes specific to their forte. The school, during my time there at least, was ranked 10th best in the nation on account of the student body’s superior SAT scores, despite Alabama’s education system being ranked 49th in the nation. Mississippi’s is 50th. By the way, there’s a saying in Alabama: “Thank God for Mississippi!”
OK, now for the scandal and chaos. As I said, I took residence in the dorms, which were on the third floor of the main school building. Boys had one dorm, and girls had another, both of which were separated by a pair of locked doors. Anyone caught on the premises of the dorm opposite to their gender would face punishment by the Dorm Directors.
Towards the end of my first semester, I started having nightmares. I would dream that I was bound to a wooden table with cast iron chains. Two dark figures loomed over me, tightening and loosening another iron chain between their hands, creating an ominous chink to a morbid rhythm. Obviously, it is almost impossible to pin down what exactly occurs in the course of a dream, being that the is the nature of a dream. But the nightmare’s kept coming back, and their relentless repetition soon forced me to seek counsel, bringing me to confide in one of the resident assistants in the dorms.
Emerging alongside these nightmares was my sexual curiosity, which was goaded all the more by the abundance of homosexual men (boys, whatever) populating the dorms. I had been spending a great deal of my free time with two openly gay boys in the dorms. In our conversations, I learned of the world above the Mason Dixon and across the pond; and of course, about the community of homosexuals that was gaining more and more recognition as time went on. And so be it, my great epiphany happened late at night: after many hours of gabbing, these two boys began feeling me up—somewhat innocently, at first. Then once their hands wandered beneath the southern border, I spoke aloud with great resolve, “You know what ? I think I might be gay.” At that, they smiled at each other. I Immediately set a course for the practice rooms (tiny rooms with pianos in them) where one guy who I had my eye on for quite some time was practicing Chopin concertos. I barged into the room unannounced, and without warning, clasped my hands to his face and laid one right on him. He struggled a bit to break away at first, but eventually he succumbed. And that was my first gay experience that I recognized as gay–and it felt so right. So being that this epiphany and the nightmares were both unexpected phenomena, I confided both with the same resident assistant. What I didn’t count on is that he would snitch to the Dorm Directors, or that they would hold no concern for my nightly torments, but rather for what they perceived to be a unbridled, licentious romp–as if I was nocturnally prowling the dorm halls–sodomizing everything with a pulse.
Needless to say I was expelled from the dorms. The resident director along with the quisling resident assistant called me out of class one day to deliver the news. I was mortified. I wept profusely–more than I ever had in my life– being that I was not able to comprehend what exactly I had done wrong. They told me that it didn’t matter that I was gay, but that they couldn’t have sex going on in the dorms. In my sobbing, I bordered on reviling the resident assistant, in whom I had placed my trust; and lamenting, I let flew a vengeful valediction, “You betrayed me, you bastard! How could you, you fucking piece of shit!” I was a mess. Once my sobbing subsided, the Dorm Director told me that my parents had been phoned and that my mother was currently in the process of cleaning out my dorm room. So I went to see her. I entered the dorm room–and there she was. Before I could say anything, she walked up to me and gave me a big hug and told me that she loved me and that everything was going to be fine. During the car ride home, my father interrogated me. At one point, he asked me, with that patronizing tenor of his, “Well, you don’t think you’re homosexual, do you?” And to that I said, “Uh, yeah, I think I do.” Which didn’t go over well.
The school settled on allowing me to attend so long that I never went into the dorms again and that I left school promptly when classes had concluded. So I started commuting with the husband of a friend of my mom’s who worked in Birmingham. Slowly but surely, I got more and more comfortable in my skin. I learned more about homosexuality and the gay movement from fellow gays at ASFA. At night, I would get on the Internet and go into gay chat rooms (so original, right?) and would purchase gay literature. I remember I once called someone out here in PA—I think it was Altoona. Regardless, since my family showed no interest in discussing the matter—my father, being the bigoted, closet case that he was and still is, and my mother, locked under his despotic yoke—I began to explore, however clandestinely, the world of same-sex attraction.
My Own Private 9/11
BY AARON STELLA GAYDAR EDITOR Today we set the Wayback Machine to September 11th, 2001, which will forever live in infamy as the day I was expelled from the Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA). Freshman year at ASFA, I boarded in the high school dormitories, until the dorm directors permanently banned me for illicit acts of sodomy. By the time my sophomore year rolled around, I had accepted the mantle of ‘delinquent in the making.’ And so, one afternoon, September 10th, 2001 to be exact, I snuck back into the dorm to have one last romp in the sack with the flavor of the month (ya’ll know how it is). The next day, the principal took me out of class personally and brought me into his office. Apparently, my clandestine rendezvous had been found out by one of the new resident assistants who saw me sneaking in. Blast! Hence, my insolence was grounds enough for my immediate expulsion.
Sitting with my mom at Cracker Barrel afterwards for an increasingly all too common ritual: the post-bust lunch of shame. I felt strangely resolute about the actions that led to my expulsion. Proud, almost. Mom was exasperated, but she refrained from scolding me. She did, however, make it plain and clear that I would attend the catholic high school in Cullman–and that was that. My mom loves me, what can I say? Of course she remarked she didn’t know what she was going to do with me. Hell, I didn’t know what I was going to do with me. I used to be such a goodie-two shoes. Now I’m Sir Sodomite the Insatiable. All of a sudden, mom’s cell phone rings. It’s Dad. He tells her that two planes have hit the World Trade Center towers and that Muslims are attacking the country and that the world’s ending that she has to go buy all the toilet paper, eggs and milks from the grocery store that she can buy. He hangs up abruptly.
In all honesty, since my parents sheltered us kids so thoroughly from the goings on of the world, I couldn’t comprehend the gravity of the situation; that the security of the country had been compromised, and that one of the symbols of America’s economic superiority has been leveled in a matter of minutes. By time mom and I had returned home, Giovanni, the German exchange student that was living with my family at the time, had called his parents. They had already purchased a ticket to come home; but he put their worries at ease: he assured them that Cullman, Alabama, wasn’t next on the terrorist’s “to-bomb” list. He had only been in the US for about two weeks, so he was having quite the experience as you can imagine. My father’s apocalyptic spidey -sense, on the other hand, was going absolutely haywire. Sure, Y2K was a letdown—but 9/11 was incontrovertible evidence that the end of the world was near. He starts parading around the house making all sorts of outlandish predictions about what lies ahead in the world’s fate. By this time, my family had learned to ignore my father’s prophecies of ill-portent. Whenever daddy dearest got excited, we knew to listen and feign appropriate reactions to his insane pronouncements and then promptly forget he ever said them. Sad to say, we also ignored what were clear warning signals that my father needed professional help. So that was my 9/11.
But getting back to Giovanni: He was about a year older than I, and quite the dish. We bonded relatively fast upon his arrival. Still, Giovanni was almost too perfect: he was handsome, intelligent, charming, a total babe magnet (not that I cared, but he got attention for it), and practitioner of lofty pursuits that gained him respect among the faculty and his other superiors. But what tormented me most was the way my father compared me unfavorably to Giovanni. I already knew I was a disappointment to him. And it wasn’t like comparing me to other boys was a new habit for him. He did that through most of my childhood. He would say things like, “Aaron, why can’t you be more like Nick?” a teenager eight years my senior. And now it was ‘why can’t you be more like Giovanni?’ As a young boy, these unfavorable comparisons were merely hurtful, but as an adolescent struggling with identity and self-esteem issues, it was positively devastating. I felt worthless, like a failed science project or an obsolete model they no longer bothered to make spare parts for.
He always spent more time with his “boys” than he did with me anyway. But you know, he’s getting what he deserves: he’s now a miserable old man witnessing the fantasyland he’s lived in for so long being systematically dismantled by pure unadulterated karma. He does the best that he can to sustain it: he continues to spend obscene amounts of money (courtesy of private disability and your tax dollars) on fancy cars and fine Italian leather furniture and statues of the saints and angels and all sorts of other frivolities, trying to keep reality at bay. But reality slouches towards him; and it will eventually devour him.
As I mentioned previously, Cullman, Alabama was settled by Germans. Every year, the community theater would put on a play retelling the history of Cullman. Giovanni, my sisters and I auditioned for this play and got parts; however, since I sported a giant afro at the time (looking unmistakably Jewish) I very well couldn’t play any major parts—so I was given the part as the narrator (meh ). Over the course of the rehearsals, Giovanni and I befriended one of the cast members. Andrew was his name: he was the son of the family with whom I would eventually come to live. By time Giovanni left back home for Germany, I was going over to Andrew’s house almost every day, growing closer and closer with him and his family. Aside from his sisters, a friend of Andrew’s lived there with them. It’s not that his friend didn’t have a family, he just didn’t get along with his father. It never bothered me that Andrew’s family was so willing to open up their home to others. They all seemed to exude a natural sense for hospitality. Little did I know that the family whom I thought to be my saviors would turn out to be child abductors. Oh how little I knew. Until next time…