Dr. Frank Spinelli, a licensed and certified internist who sits on the board of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis Center, is successful, charming, and married to Chad Schroer. But he’s long carried the scars of childhood sexual abuse, a horror that eventually brought him to seek justice and a delayed sense of self-appreciation.
Years after Frank’s old Scoutmaster, William Fox, won national fame for having saved the life of a teenage boy, Frank learned of that incident and realized that this was the same man who’d continually molested him back when no child can “be prepared” for that kind of nightmare. It’s all detailed in his new book, Pee-Shy: A Memoir, which Frank and I just had a startling discussion about.
Musto: Let’s start from the beginning, Frank. You grew up in a traditional Italian-American family in Staten Island in the 1970s.
Frank Spinelli: Very Italian. Sunday dinners every week. The traditional Martin Scorsese family. Everybody on the block went to the same school and knew each other.
And at 11, you were signed up for the Boy Scouts.
When I was growing up, my parents realized boys had to be a certain way, and I probably started to exhibit certain characteristics that were not boyish, that were unnatural. Looking back, I would say I was a sissy. So they tried to correct that by pushing me through basketball and baseball. I failed miserably doing that. I played with two girls, and once my mother caught me playing with a Barbie doll I’d stolen from their garbage pail. My mother said, “That’s it. It’s either military or Boy Scouts.” To a little kid, it’s scary. I didn’t want to go to the Boy Scouts because it seemed very militaristic. And then I meet this guy [William Fox] who was a cop and very commanding—a big, burly guy always in his uniform, whether police or Scoutmaster. Uniforms were his thing. He was very intimidating. He scared the hell out of me. For the next two years, he molested me.
This being your awful introduction to sex was obviously extremely complicated.
It was, because what makes child molesting so insidious is it creates this desire in the child to want to please the molester. When you’re a child, you’re curious. And here’s this guy talking to me about sex and he used the words “boy bonding” a lot. During the trial, that phrase came up again. And when I spoke to the original boy he saved, he said he wasn‘t “molested,” but he did participate in mutual masturbation, which Bill called “boy bonding.”
Were you aware at the time that he was molesting other boys as well?
No. I thought I was the only one in the world. It felt so isolating. I felt I was in this world with Bill. There were two versions of me—the Frank that was this nice little Italian boy who went to Catholic school and did what his parents wanted him to do and there was this other boy who had this relationship with this man that was sexual. That started to create this real chasm between the two people, and I think I split off from myself. A lot of children experience that double or secret life. A lot of gay men can relate to that because of that duality. For many gay men, they’re almost ripe for the picking by child molesters because they’re curious by nature as children, so child molesters prey upon them even more. You’re a little boy and you don’t identify with your dad, who loves women. Here’s some guy who says, “I know everything. I’ll tell you what to do,” and you follow that lead. The point of molesting children is the molester gets into the child’s head—they take you on errands, they take you for ice cream. There are the rewards, the promises—“We’re gonna go away for the weekend”—all these privileges to look forward to in return for sex.
When did you come forward about what you were going through?
I told my parents in 1980. My mother then went to the assistant Scoutmaster, who convinced her not to press charges, and Bill stepped down. Looking back, I think my mother was afraid to go to the police because Bill was a cop. After Bill went away, I blamed myself. I reverted to the dark years—my blue/black hair, listening to Siouxsie and the Banshees. I didn’t go to school and became reckless. When Bill stepped down, I blamed myself for everything. It creates that desire in the child to think that it’s their fault. I hit rock bottom in my twenties. I didn’t want to become another drugged out college dropout. I started saving money. I went to therapy, went to school, and became a doctor.
When did you realize that Fox had been branded a hero in the press for something he’d done later?
While I was on a book tour in 2008 [for The Advocate Guide To Gay Men’s Health and Wellness], I caught up with old friends who sparked memories of Bill. So I googled him and discovered that two years after I told my parents, he’d talked a suicidal boy off a ledge and adopted him. He wrote a gloating book about it, [The Cop and the Kid]. In it, he said, “I was destined for greatness. I always had a higher purpose.” He wanted to be a priest at one point.
When I discovered that book, I was able to track Bill down. I called him, and he didn’t remember anything, of course, because a child molester is like an alcoholic. They don’t remember every child they molested, just like an alcoholic doesn’t remember every cocktail they ever had. I was just another martini. He told me he had adopted 15 boys over 30 years, and he had three with him at the time. That’s when I knew I had to do something right then. I called the police and worked with wiretap conversations with them. But the boys he was adopting were mentally challenged, so they didn’t have a voice. If you were a lawyer, you could tear them apart. But the three that did testify were the reasons he ultimately went to jail. He died two years after going to jail. They said it was natural causes.
Well, a child molester is considered the lowest of the low in jail.
And a police officer child molester!
You alluded to how the residual feelings from all this impacted your adult life. Tell me more about that.
I lived for a long time hating my family, and I isolated myself. And I was gay, so I was even more isolated, and I did the whole party scene for years. If it wasn’t for therapy, I wouldn’t be here. I always say a lesbian saved my life. Her main message was that I had to learn to forgive myself, that I did nothing wrong. Once I did that, I was able to have a relationship with my family and a husband. I think this book is really about a family and how you overcome the issues.
Was Bill gay or does that not apply?
That does not even apply. He’s a sociopath. He’s a child molester. The brutality was that he picked a child as his favorite and that person got to ride in the front of the car, and he knew that the hierarchy would pit the boys against each other, so the other boys would start to bully that boy. During the trial, it became clear that it was the same at home. If you were a good boy, you slept upstairs. If you were not a good boy, you slept in the basement.
Isn’t it ironic that the Scouts remain so weirdly homophobic in certain ways, when situations like this have nothing to do with gayness?
It’s really ironic. I don’t know why it’s so hard for them to understand that men who molest boys are not homosexual, they’re child molesters. They don’t have the capacity for mature adult relationships. It’s ridiculous to say that if we allow homosexuals into the Boy Scouts, they’re going to molest children. No, child molesters molest children.
Thanks for speaking up, Frank.
>>>MORE: HBO's Looking & Beautiful: The Carole King Musical
Frankie J. Alvarez in a scene from Episode 1 of 'Looking'
PECS AND THE CITY
On a way lighter note, a show about grown up, consensual activities: Looking premieres on HBO this Sunday, January 19, and gums will surely flap over it all season. It’s the gay Sex and the City, but this time, the city is San Francisco and the gays make the SATC ladies look positively celibate by comparison.
Whether looking for love or for some quick rabbity action—or both—these guys simply adore their sex-making, and the result takes us galaxies from the old days, when I used to complain about how TV and movies always portrayed gays as snappy and sexless. The Looking queens are queer as fuck!
At a December gathering of gay NYC power brokers, where they screened the first two episodes, it was a riot to hear the crowd cheer Jonathan Groff’s character googling “uncut Latin,” scream with delight over two other guys’ Olympic-caliber simultaneous orgasm, and applaud when yet another character snarled at a dickhead: “Once a meth head motherfucker, always a meth head motherfucker.”
If this sounds like gay nirvana to you, then cease Looking. You’ve found your men.
Jessie Mueller in 'Beautiful' | Photo by Joan Marcus
A NATURAL WOMAN
Heterosexuals have their own romantic problems in Broadway’s Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, the latest show to string old pop hits into a TV-movie-ish backstory of a music icon’s life (a la Jersey Boys, Baby It’s You!, and Motown: The Musical). King and her then-husband, Gerry Goffin, wrote some of the 1960s’ sweetest, most pungent hits, like “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” and “Up on the Roof.” They’re entertainingly done in the show by a glittery parade of icon impersonators, in between scenes involving King’s ups and downs, contrasted with those of another songwriting couple, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. The problem is that King often gets lost in her own story. The character sometimes fades like a backup singer at the end of an old 45, and in this version, she’s basically nice, decent, won’t play strip poker, and has a gift. When Goffin turns out to be a liar, cheater, and hypochondriac, things get a little more dramatic, though King survives and triumphs all over again, still a really nice lady. Fortunately, the cast is very good, with Broadway favorite Jessie Mueller as the queenly King. When it comes to quality work on the musical stage, “you’ve got a friend” in Jessie. She gives this slickly appealing but slight exercise some heft. Still, after seeing the show, I thought, "That was nice. But I'd love to meet Carole King and find out what she's like!"
Also set in the sexually percolating 1960s, Dawn is a haunting short film directed by Rose McGowan (Charmed), who was once engaged to Marilyn Manson but has a dark, fertile mind all her own. The flick—which is playing at Sundance—goes to dangerous places, and along the way it resurrects intriguing references to old-time actors like Rock Hudson and Tab Hunter. (The yearning title character reads a real interview in which Hunter said, “I like girls to ask questions, but not too many questions.”) After a screening last week, McGowan was Skyped in to tell us, “How sad for her and the girls of the period to put those posters on the wall and say, ‘This is my idol.’ Not that there’s anything wrong with idolizing a gay man, but they were false ideas of masculinity because they had to be.”
Message of this column? God, the past was icky sometimes. Now eat the fish, bitches!