“What Was It Like? Stories by LGBTQ Elders” is a new program by I’m From Driftwood, in partnership with Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, and SAGE, the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBTQ older adults. Learn more about the program here.
David R. Matteson’s 6 Video Stories and transcripts can be seen below.
1950: “That Was The First Time I’d Had Sex With Another Guy.”
When I was 12, which would have been about 1950, I made my trip to my grandparents’ farm. Each of my brothers and sisters had a chance – a period of a week or two or sometimes even three – on the farm.
One summer, they asked me when I was about 12, if I wanted to come during deer hunting season because they knew one of the hunters that stayed in this – their home had become a tourist home – one of the hunters had a son about my age named Carl. So I would look forward to meeting Carl.
We slept out on a sun porch and two cots that – and that was far away from the bedrooms, where Grandpa and Grandma and Aunt Lu slept.
Carl was a very handsome, young guy and more traditionally masculine than I. And we were sleeping right next to each other and we were listening to country music. He loved West Virginia music. And I reached over and started petting him and fondling his genitals. I tried to put his hand on my genitals and he refused, but he let me continue to masturbate him. That was the first time I’d had sex with another guy. I’m not conscious of having been dreaming or thinking about wanting it until then.
My grandparents and especially Grandma and Aunt Lu always went to the tent revivals that were held in Cowanesque Valley every summer. An evangelist named DJ Daniels would give these fire and brimstone sermons.
And after the sermon, he said, “Now, every head bowed, every eye closed, have you done anything this week that you feel guilty or sorry for?” And so on. “If so, gently raise your hand.” And I raised my hand.
And the next morning when I got up for breakfast, which Grandma was cooking on the wood stove in the kitchen. And no one else was up yet. And she looked to me and she said, “I noticed you raised your hand last night.”
And I said, “Grandma, you were supposed to have your eyes closed!” And I refused to answer any more questions. I must’ve felt guilt or I wouldn’t raise my hand. And I was raised by parents – we went to church every week. A Protestant church and so on. But the guilt wasn’t very deep.
It was the first time that I had sex with another guy, even though it wasn’t very mutual. And it was in the context of a friendship that continued for a number of summers, though it never was sexual again.
1960’s: Man Has Sex Dream About His Male Psychiatrist And Then Tells Him About It.
My PhD program at Boston University was in a mixture of psychology and pastoral counseling. They had a program that involved two departments – the academic psych department and the pastoral counseling service that was on the same campus.
I was accepted into a special program. Each year, I think it was eight guys – there were only guys in the program – were chosen, who were considered the eight most likely to be really good professional therapists. And we were invited to a more intensive program, where we had much closer supervision. But we also were encouraged – it wasn’t exactly required but we were encouraged – to get into therapy ourselves. They accepted the Freud idea that you shouldn’t be doing therapy without having been analyzed yourself.
So I was seeing a psychiatrist about once a week. One morning I woke up and realized I had had a dream about the psychiatrist and it was a sexual dream. And my wife and I had been married for five years, at least, by then and we always talked about our dreams. She’s a psychiatric nurse, so we were both in fields where dreams were seen as important. And I told her I had a weird dream last night. Dreamed that I had sex with my psychiatrist.
She laughed and said, “Well, you definitely should talk about it with him. It’s probably a transference dream and you should share it with him.” So later that day, I’m sitting in the waiting room and kind of dreading this session because it’s gonna be awkward to talk to him about dreaming that I had sex with him. But another client had gone in and then soon I was called – when that session was over, I was called in to see him.
I talked about some totally unrelated issue that was a genuine issue that was bothering me. I don’t remember what it was. I talked at that first because I wasn’t ready to go into this.
And then eventually I said, “I need to tell you a dream I had last night. And I – in the dream, I’m in bed with you. And then I realize that we’re gonna have sex together and it’s very exciting to me.” And while I’m saying this, he’s moving his chair back just a little bit. But each time I say something more, he moves further back. I start thinking, this guy isn’t ready for this! He’s got more problem with it than I do. So I just didn’t push it, but it struck me funny. He certainly didn’t share his own feelings about it but it was very obvious that he wasn’t comfortable.
Part of my decision to continue to see him was a recognition that he’d – at that time, very few psychiatrists or psychologists or helping professions knew anything academic about homosexuality, and he wouldn’t have had any training on how to deal with this kind of issue. So in that respect, beside the fact that he was a helpful clinician, I felt sort of okay about it. I didn’t think he was terrible, but I sure wasn’t going to bring up this issue.
And it wasn’t till later that I recognize that this was a really important part of me that I needed to address and accept. Also, because I was in a training program, I had read the – I had looked at the statistical manual and the DSM – at that time DSM 3 – the Diagnostic and Statistical manual – and at that time homosexuality was considered a psychological illness, so he was in keeping with the time. When I later had experiences and it became clear I was bisexual, I look back at that experience and felt that was validation that I – that it’d been there all along.
1973: Man’s First Visit To Gay Bar Results In Life-Changing Experience.
In 1973, I was – I had finished about five years of teaching at a small liberal arts college in southern Ohio. Marietta College. And I’d been granted a sabbatical and my wife and I made plans to go live for a year in Denmark. Mainly because I’d been doing a lot of research on gender roles and Denmark was a wonderful place to experience where gender role change had occurred much more – much further along than in US.
And I regularly went to conferences, weekend conferences that were training experiential stuff on Gestalt therapy, held at Cleveland Gestalt Institute which is considered one of the two best Gestalt institutes at the time.
The first night, first evening, there were no evening events at the conference, I decided I wanted to go to a gay bar. We were living in a community that was pretty conservative and there weren’t any gay bars anywhere near.
When I got to the gay bar and sat down at the bar, a man about my age sat down beside me on my left and he immediately spoke to me with a deep German accent. It turned out he was from Vienna.
After we had talked awhile about Europe and Vienna and Denmark, he said, “I want to tell you what would be happening if we were back in Vienna. There would be a candlestick in front of each of our spaces at the bar. As I got to know you and felt attracted to you, I would reach over and light the candle in front of you. And that’s a symbol meaning I want to go to bed with you. And if you were to decide you didn’t want that, you would simply reach over and snuff out the candle.”
So then he went ahead and pretended to light the candle and I looked at him and I said, “I’m not snuffing it out!” And we went to bed. I went to his home. We had some wine or something and went to bed and had, which for me, was very exciting sex.
My wife and I never hide what’s important to us and I needed to tell Sandy, so before I went back to the conference, I got on my phone and called her and said, “I need to tell you something that happened last night,” and I told her the whole story. And she began sobbing on the phone.
And I said to her, “Why are you crying?”
And she said, “It’s just hard to hear this when you’re far away. I wish you had waited and told me when your were physically at home.”
So when I got home, part of what happened was that – because we were planning this trip to Denmark, Sandy said, “Here where we’re living, I have lots of close friends, other nurses that I can talk with, and so on. But once we get to Denmark, you’re gonna have a teaching job but – and you’ll get to know people, but I am going to be pretty much on my own. I can’t count on having emotional support. So I want you to make a promise that while we’re in Denmark, you will not have sex with any men.”
And of course I was a little disappointed, but I promise that and kept it. And it was an incredibly wonderful year for both us and our children. Our kids were three when we got there.
Sandy knew that I would be exploring the gay world but then I wouldn’t be having sex. By then, we were good at making contracts with each other and understanding what things meant to the other person emotionally. While I’m visiting the gay scene in Copenhagen, I’m meeting gay man and of course fantasizing, well, I’ll be meeting gay men when I’m back in the U.S. We were going back to the same area, so I knew I’d be going to Cleveland again and getting to know the scene there.
The other aspect is that Sandy knew me well enough by then that she would never have said you can’t explore. That’d be like saying I can’t be me. So she – I knew that she would gradually accept that I was going to explore this.
Coming Out As Bisexual In The 1970’s.
In the mid seventies, I took a faculty friend with me to a trip to Gestalt Institute in Cleveland. On the way back, I realized how much I was enjoying the friendship with him. I knew he was straight and it wasn’t a sexualized thing.
And so we’re about halfway back from Cleveland to Marietta out in the countryside and we notice a hillside that’s filled with wildflowers and we both get out. We’re picking some wildflowers and then tired – I guess we didn’t get enough sleep during the conference. And we lay down on the banks and the sun is shining on us. I was feeling so good and so whole and I could tell that Art was as all. And so that’s when I decided to share with him that I’m realizing I’m bisexual. He responded, accepting this. I knew he would.
Eventually, I decided to apply for a job that I’d once been offered in Chicago-area. And it turned out there was an opening and so we ended up leaving Marietta, Ohio and moving to University Park in Illinois. A couple of years after we moved to Chicago-area, my father died. I felt urgency to begin telling my family.
I had told all my siblings and I wanted to tell mom. I can still picture it. We were in her kitchen. She was still living in the house I grew up in in this little mining town. And she started to cry.
And I said, “Why are you crying?”
And she said, “Because I love sandy. And I don’t want to lose my daughter-in-law.” And I thought that was beautiful and I assured her that I wasn’t gonna leave Sandy and that Sandy and I had dealt with it enough years that I was pretty sure Sandy wasn’t going to leave me.
Once I was out to all the family, we also had made the move to Chicago. I knew that it was a – first of all, I was closer to gay life, and but secondly, that the campus I was on was a much more liberal one than the one in Ohio. The head of my department, I talked to first and he said that he had no problem at all with it, and I was quite sure that would be the case, but he didn’t think I should be public on the campus because there were two administrators that he mistrusted on this issue. So I held off till I had tenure and I got early tenure because I had already been tenured at Marietta College. But once I got tenure, then I decided to come out and I became an advocate on campus and I helped with students form an LBGT club and was their adviser for a couple of years.
So to me it’s just the network of support you need if you’re doing anything that isn’t already acceptable. I’ve always consciously made sure I have support groups around me – they may not be a group that meets regularly – but a group of people around me who are, who accept me and give me the freedom to be as different as I want to be.
Bisexual Husband And His Wife Renegotiate Relationship.
When my wife and I were married, I assumed I was heterosexual. And it wasn’t till many years later that I realized I was bisexual. But both of us are in fields where communication is important and we’ve always been honest on anything that might affect the other person.
We gradually knew that a traditional marriage wasn’t right for us. We knew how to negotiate things and we spent at least a couple years working through to find agreements that were right for both of us. So we had not just worked through the terms that would allow my bisexuality to exist actively in the context of our marriage, but we needed to work through specific agreements on this and when we finally had done that, then we decided that we were – that we actually wanted to celebrate it and have a ceremony.
So before we went through with the marriage ceremony, Sandy decided she needed some time to be away from me to sense for herself whether it was right for her and whether she could do it.
A man who would become a friend of each of us – it wasn’t just, it wasn’t a couple friend, it was a man who was living alone now. We both trusted Bill, and Sandy decided she would like to move into Bill’s home for a while. A matter of a couple weeks, a month, she didn’t know yet. She stayed there for – I can’t remember – two, three weeks at least. She was working a job as well, but to figure out where she was for sure.
And then one day, she called me and she said, “I want to come home and see you. Shall I bring my suitcase?”
And I said, “What do you mean?”
And she said, “Do you want me to stay?”
And I said, “I sure do!” So she came home with a suitcase and we knew that this was a marriage we could live with.
We both love symbols and rings and ceremonies, but we also have to go through this process of being sure we’ve heard the other cognitively and emotionally and get it into words both ways and then get it into practical “What does this actually mean in day-to-day life?” And so all that work we had done before we actually have the second ceremony.
So we had two ministers conduct this wedding ceremony in our home. We invited mostly other couples who already knew about our marriage and were very, very supportive, and had this beautiful ceremony in our home, at that time was in the woods.
Whether you’re gay or bisexual are lesbian or straight, to survive in a culture that’s dominated by words and things, you need to really put energy into the relationship itself, the communication.
Part of our process is that we are forced to put into words where we are, and that we listen deeply enough so we hear both the feelings and the meanings of the other person. If you can’t put it into words or somehow communicate it to each other, then you don’t really know where you are.
Bisexual Man Reflects On His Open Marriage, Wife, And Long-Term Relationship With A Man.
Sandy and I had been married since 1962. I had worked out a bisexual agreement when I realized quite a ways into the marriage that I was bisexual, and we had lived within that agreement for years. So when I was 50 years of age and 1988, a friend from my seminary days came back into my life. Michael was both an archaeologist and an Old Testament professor in a seminary. But he and I had been seminary students together. He was asked to come back to Chicago to work with a museum that had artifacts that had never been explained. So he was going to spend a whole year working for that museum here in Chicago.
After he was here a week or so and had gotten settled and had an apartment, we set a date to go – it happen to be an autumn day – to go walking in a beautiful park together. We hadn’t seen each other in years and we just connected. So that turned out to be the beginning of a series of sexual experiences.
By the time that year was over, we were very, very close. Now I continued to have outside relationships with other gay or bisexual men, and he continued to have some with other mostly gay men. We also set aside time to be together every year and he loved going to Niagara-On-The-Lake where there is a Shaw festival. So that became an annual ritual where we go together there.
Eventually, in Sandy and my story, Sandy requested that I only have gay sex with Michael. It felt to me like I think that’s certainly the most important gay experience I have, even if it only happens a couple times a year that we’re together, that can be okay because it’s the most meaningful and deep one. So I made a new agreement with Sandy that I would not have sex with any man except Michael.
So I’ve been reconnected with Michael for 30 years, but in the last 10 or so have been only sex – Michael’s been the only man I’ve been sexually involved with. I feel very okay with that that. It works for him and it helps Sandy to feel safer. She knows he’s absolutely trustworthy, that he would not do anything to jeopardize our health or anything to hurt our marriage. Sandy and I both love travel. But every little while, I wanna go someplace and Sandy isn’t interested in that place at all and I’ll go with Michael. So our relationship has been – a lot of it has been around traveling together in countries like Japan that Sandy had no interest in.
You have to be who you really are. If you’re trying to pretend to be someone other than who you are, then it’s not going to be an intimate relationship. If you’re in a gay bar and you are afraid you won’t get picked up unless you pretend to be gay, that can work for a certain level, but eventually you’ve got to tell the person you’re with that you’re bi in order for you to be there. Everything less than that is superficial love.