A writer recollects.
Photograph via Flickr by Michele Molinari
My mother stands ironing in the kitchen. There is barely room to squeeze between the kitchen counter and her bottom. I am about twelve; she is five foot two. It would be unnatural to turn to face the cupboards as I slip past. I am wearing loose-fitting pants. She is in a skirt. As I brushed quickly by she bends to iron and presses her bottom against me. My penis swells with joy. I will remember this for many years to come, in unexpected situations, soothing, erotic, violent, or clumsy.
It also reminded me of an earlier time, in third grade, when Tawny Collie—that was really her name—the sexiest girl at Elbow Elementary bent over to pick up a red rubber ball during recess and a couple of my friends pushed me onto her behind and she turned around and said, “Clancy, that’s not nice!” I protested, and my friends laughed. In first grade Tawny had had a crush on me and had invited me over to her house at lunch for fish sticks, which I couldn’t eat. But by third grade I was well established as one of the unpopular kids, and flying below everyone’s sexual radar. Still, or for that reason, Tawny should have known better.
The first time I successfully masturbated I was eleven and my older brother and his girlfriend were watching Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask).
Last night our little brother, as my stepsister Teryn told the story the following morning, had come downstairs while the rest of us were out and Teryn was alone watching television in the family room and asked her to “pull on my thing.” The thing was on full display, Teryn claims, out of the pajamas. “It was hard and he was rubbing it.” The little brother was age nine or ten. It is widely known or at least agreed in my family that Teryn is a liar and will lie in particular about this little brother, because she was the baby until we arrived, and then he became the baby, and my mother has never liked Teryn, and often accused her of sexual deviance and promiscuity from a surprisingly young age. So there’s no guessing whether or not the story Teryn tells me is true, though later in life my mother will similarly tell me that she saw the same little brother (now age sixteen) out mowing the lawn with his shirt off in the low, modest Calgary summer sun and pronounced fiery claw marks down his back. Why my mother told me this story also remains mysterious to me, though she once told me that “he got the looks, he could have been a model,” and another time she told me how much he resembled my father, who had no appeal for my mother other than as a sex object. He was a terrible husband, my dad. But the old man had gigantic sexual charisma. I’d seen him, in years past and in many different cities, pick up waitresses right there in the restaurant, before we’d even paid the check.
The first time I successfully masturbated I was eleven and my older brother and his girlfriend were watching Woody Allen’s Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask). The process was slow and often seemed hopeless: I think it took an hour or more. I could still hear the movie in the background. I imagined my penis as a straw and a girl from school sucking on the straw. When I orgasmed it was qualitatively different than any orgasm I have had since. They say that, the first time you smoke heroin, it is called “riding the dragon,” and after that you are always only approximating that birth into a new world of pleasure and disappointment.
You can French kiss yourself. Take your tongue, fold it back upon itself, and now roll the tip of your tongue back and forth across the middle of the muscle. I learned this after French kissing Denise at the seventh grade dance. We had those at Rideau Junior High: every five or six dances the teachers would play a slow song, turn the lights down low, and we would have a kiss dance, during which, with luck, you would French kiss the entire time. I passed Denise’s house wearing my canvas bag of rolled and rubber-banded Calgary Heralds and tossed one on her porch, while French kissing myself. It is mildly titillating, but seems filthier, somehow, than masturbation.
In graduate school I decided to become gay. Many of my heroes were gay: I had thought Franz Kafka was gay, for example, though it turns out he probably was not.
Age five and I am inspecting statues of nudes in a large museum book my parents keep in my stepfather’s study. The book is fascinating and I take it back to my bedroom and climb on the top bunk—my bunk—to look at the pictures more closely. The fact that the most interesting statues—the ones with breasts—have no penises puzzles me. In the bathroom I stand naked on the toilet so that I can see myself in the mirror and tuck my penis and balls between my legs and press my legs tightly together to achieve the desired effect. Ah yes, that must be what is happening in those pictures, I conclude. Then my mother enters the bathroom—there are two doors into it, one from the hallway and the other from my parent’s bedroom, and I’ve forgotten to lock their door—and begins to shriek. “Never do that again! That’s very bad!” Etc. To be fair to my mother, she has always been hysterical and repressed on the subject of sex (I don’t particularly like the topic either), and my father claimed that this was a main cause of their divorce. It’s true that she avoided physical contact with us for years. She had been abused as a child, though I don’t know in what fashion. On her wedding night there were some problems in bed with my father, and he left their hotel room, returned a few hours later, and threw a pair of woman’s panties at her.
After my mother married my stepfather there are some sexual experiences between age five and age fifteen that I do not recall well and may be inventing that took place between myself and one or more of my angry older stepbrothers behind the furnace in our basement. I was terrified of that small black hot space.
In graduate school I decided to become gay. Many of my heroes were gay: I had thought Franz Kafka was gay, for example, though it turns out he probably was not; Kierkegaard might have been gay; it is possible that Friedrich Nietzsche’s first sexual experience was with a man, a kind of wandering prophet, a forester who walked with a stick and professed to be a wise man, and preyed on school boys; Oscar Wilde was gay; Marcel Proust was gay (I’m told that stuff about the rats and the hookers is invented); Jean Genet was gay; Burroughs was gay (William—Augusten is too, but, capable writer though he is, he’s not a hero of mine, and anyway hadn’t made the scene yet when I was in graduate school, or who knows, perhaps he might have been, I was in the hero-forming business in those days); was Levinas gay?; Plato was gay. My best friend at the time, Robert Ramirez, was gay, and wanted me to be gay too. (Now he is dead.) We danced at a gay bar and while I was dancing with a girlfriend of his, a hanger-on, he came to us on the dance floor under the many-colored lights, the celestial immodesty and grandeur of the sweaty, loud gay bar, and the three of us danced with the girl in the middle, and Robert and I kissed. Nothing. All my modest attempts were useless. Later that night the girl and I had sex—she was a virgin—and Robert’s feelings were hurt that we didn’t ask him to join us. First he passed out and then he stormed out. I never spoke with the girl again. I abandoned the idea of being gay. William Butler Yeats was not gay.
SD and I were in the basement in her bedroom. She was encouraging me to rub my erect penis on the crotch of her black panty hose. She was a natural redhead. When she took off her clothes her slightly fat body shone with the strength of a flashbulb in my eyes. She rolled on her belly, moaned, and lifted her ass in the air. “In my ass,” she said. I had anal sex before I ever had vaginal sex: that was how I lost my virginity, that winter afternoon in SD’s ass.
Clancy Martin’s writing has appeared in Harper’s, NOON, McSweeney’s, The London Review of Books, the New York Times, and other places. Author of the novel How to Sell (FSG), he teaches philosophy at the University of Missouri in Kansas City.