'He Has Told Me Awful Things'


By Charles Rowan Beye

Recalling the day my world came apart.

Charles Rowan Beye’s wedding photos, with his two wives and husband.

“What is your problem?” he began quietly and soberly. I began to snivel, and, through my coughs, stammering, and sniffs, managed to mention as abstractly as possible my sexual interests.

“But, I mean, what is it exactly that you do with these boys?”

“What is it that you are doing, Charlie?” he said again when I could not speak, and I heard an empathetic tone in his voice.

“Fooling around,” I mumbled in reply.

“Fooling around? How?”

“With the other boys,” I whispered.

“How? What do you do?”

“Just fooling around.”

“Yes, but what exactly? You take hold of them?”

“Yes,” was all I could muster.

“Take hold of the penis?”


“Put it in your mouth?”

And so it went, detail by detail. Slowly he drew from me explicit detailed statements about the sexual acts. The transformation in my feelings was swift. Whereas before I had been trapped, cornered, cowering before the onslaught of my mother and Father Putnam telling me that what I did was evil, suddenly I was the author of my acts as I spoke them. They were mine, and nobody could take them away from me, alter them, give them another meaning. The sentiment may not have lasted long, but its immediate liberating effect stayed with me for a long time, really forever.

There was silence when I finished my rather slim litany of the sexual behavior and positions I had so far managed. Dr. Miller puffed on his pipe, another maddening similarity to my late father.

“The problem is...” he said at last, taking the pipe from his mouth and looking me directly in the eyes, “the problem is that you need to be more discreet. You know, you are a little too emphatic, too obvious. Keep a lower profile; that’s what I would recommend. People tend to talk, you know.”

Benediction. We said little more; I departed and walked slowly home. My chest, which had felt in the last 24 hours as though it had been shut, turned in, hardened almost to the point of denying my breathing, suddenly opened. I was too exhausted to be happy, too apprehensive of Mother. But Dr. Miller had called me whole, had called me sane, had called me normal. It was not the substance, but the style. “Need to be more discreet.” The words stayed with me like the kindly squeeze of a hand on the shoulder.

The gay community has its stories of the ugly sessions between hapless youth and ponderous shrink as the latter tries to wrench the psyche of the former around to some kind of “normal” behavior. I was so very, very lucky. In those three days, I had confirmation of some basic truths: first, that I could never count on my mother’s emotional support; second, that I knew in my heart and soul that if there is a god, he, she, or it would want me to be as I was; and, third, that an adult, a doctor charged with healing the sick in spirit and soul, a man whom fate had made resemble my father, had let me know that there was nothing wrong with anything I had been doing.

Another profound change in the emotional landscape was that I was no longer dishonest. Perhaps my mother would never bring up my sexual orientation again, but she would know what it meant for me to stand next to a good-looking male, what it might mean to see me coming out of my bedroom in the company of one, or going off to the movies; most of all she would not be urging pretty young girls on me as date material. What I learned years later was that she sometimes talked to my older siblings about my gayness, that she confided in her favorite sister-in-law, who also had a gay son, that she discussed me with the psychiatrist more than once, but she never said another word to me. Paradoxically, a profound truth underlaid our dishonest relationship, however much unspoken. Once in the more enlightened 1970s I had a young boyfriend who, shortly after we began our relationship, announced that he intended to tell his parents that he was gay. The old fogy in me counseled caution and silence, whereupon he said, and I shall never forget: “I don’t want either of them to die without knowing me as I truly am.”

And I think of all the men and women who have lived their lives entirely as a lie with the people meant to be most profoundly intimate with them. Nothing could be sadder. I have friends who cry at the mention of their dead parents and don’t know why, but I am sure that they ache over the basic lie of their relationship. I was also lucky that I never had to experience the long, drawn-out trauma of resistance to and then surrender to the process of “coming out.” Whether they liked it or not, everyone in my hometown had to recognize me as a “queer,” “cocksucker,” “homosexual,” “different,” whatever.

My Husband and My Wives (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) comes out October 2.

Tags: Art & Books