A Life Once Led

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Justin Campbell's permanent reflection of wise words from his late mother

Justin Campbell’s permanent reflection of wise words from his late mother

By Vanity Delbridge

Nativity; coming into oneself as you grow. But what happens when finding oneself means attraction toward persons of the same sex? Going against what society deems as “acceptable?” Answer: A living hell for many nestled in a shadow of lies.

For Justin Campbell, 23, Kearny, it all began at the age of seventeen: “I really became comfortable with the fact I did in fact like men.” Leading a double life and being intimate with other men who were also living the life, he was still in denial when it came to his sexual preference. “I was still dating women and my voice was very different around my friends.” Now comfortable with the way his voice sounds, it is not the two octaves deeper he had projected in the past to conceal an inner truth: there was much more beneath the surface but he was determined to not let anyone find out.

Leading a homosexual lifestyle is something that has been around long before most people imagine. Consider the Greeks: infamous for their sex parties, or orgies. But there are usually other factors that play a role in shaping one’s life choices. For some, it may have been the lack of, or no male figure growing up, therefore leading to the desire to be wanted by another man.

With no knowledge of the gay community or how to meet these men, Campbell sought it elsewhere: “I was ready to hire an escort and went on sites.” Growing up in a religious household, sex was never discussed but it was his family who would out him: “They were a little nosy and found love letters I wrote to this guy I was messing with.”

For him this was a bitter sweet blessing: it would be the demise of his double life and quite possibly other calamities like suicide or depression. “I realized then it was too much work to keep up with.” “If it didn’t happen then: a) I would’ve never come out within myself, and b) Things would’ve started to get blurred, the two lives would’ve started to get blurred.”

Some might say one’s sexual tendency is linked to our very being: Nature vs. Nurture, or a complexity of the two. “Nine times out of 10, the men that we’re talking about are gonna align themselves as straight on a piece of paper no matter what they’re doing.” With social, cultural, and religious pressures, “Webster’s doesn’t have words for how strong they are on a person.”

Leading a double life is popular with novels and Hollywood hits as it pulls the audience in while adding to the excitement and mystery behind the fictionalized character(s). But seemingly ordinary people convey typical behavior, incorporating similar traits of this fictional secret agent or undercover spy into one’s own lifestyle. For many, living in two worlds or the host of lies, risks, and shame turns into a secret behavior unlike their everyday existence.

According to the American Psychological Association, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors; though much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences. There is also the stigmatism received on the basis of race with blacks receiving much of the clout: “If you’re black you automatically have HIV,” said Cecil Wilder.

A 28 year old West New York resident, he feels labels are put on one to determine the interaction between parties with whites receiving better treatment despite their preference: “You can decorate very well and you ‘might’ know Oprah; and if you’re an Asian gay man, you’re feminine and ‘might’ like to do drag.” “If you’re Latin you fall somewhere between black or white depending on the color of your skin.”

Campbell’s first sexual encounter with another male was at 18: “That penis went inside me and I thought I saw stars; it hurt like nobody’s business.” Using nothing but saliva to easily insert the genitalia, the two engaged in unprotected sex. Having no knowledge of barriers for the pain he would endure (enemas, lubrication) he adds, “I wasn’t prepared for anal sex physically.”

The encounter didn’t change much in the context of having his first sex act with a man, for he felt shamed afterward. The male counterpart who was twice his senior would be the only one to leave sexually satisfied having ejaculated. “It didn’t turn out exactly how I wanted it; like, ‘oh my god, it was such a liberating feeling, I finally know I like guys.’ I never got that.”

He went about thinking everyone knew what he had done and would view him differently. Two years later he would come across the profile of the man who took his virginity on a different site (Adam for Adam). Though the man had no knowledge of ever being intimately involved with him he was not coy about having sex yet again: “Oh wow, I really don’t remember but it’ll be cool to fuck again.”

With sex sites and phone based apps, remaining discreet is simple and affords the opportunity to hook up. Blank profiles are synonymous with down low men as it can be disguised or changed. Often time the profile(s) depicts a headless torso of a man with beautiful, statuesque Adonis-like bodies. Some go to the extent of editing tattoos. Grindr, bendr, 3ndr (threesomes), and also popular among discreet men is jack’d. Adam for Adam is still highly popularized or the golden standard for this community of men as well as Craigslist. There is even gay for pay where “straight” identifying males offer monetary services in exchange for sexual acts from other men.

Sidebar: Confidentiality in a Society Scrutinized

“I remember having my first really depressing moment when I thought about a guy in a sexual way.” The catalyst for this, he says, stemmed from the relationship he had with his mother: “She had told me that she knew I was a ‘faggot’ because I was her son.”

Suffering from alcohol and drug addiction, she had the tendency to say things out of the norm but Campbell knew there was always some element of truth to it: “When she said that, it kind of cut me by the waist-side deep.” Soon after he would recall the initial thoughts he had of men becoming physically ill, nauseous, and unable to rid his mind of it. “I thought it was wrong, even shameful to think that; and oh my god when is the thought gonna just go away.”

The vast majority of the men who were also leading double lives, and whom he engaged in sexual relationships with were married men; followed by men with girlfriends or other domestic partnership with a woman; and those pitted against cultural barriers. These were men of Southeast Asian and Middle-eastern descent: “Middle-eastern men in my opinion are notorious for being closeted.”

A reoccurring pattern with the men was anxiety: “They would ask me three times in a row, ‘you’re not gonna call me right just texting;’ or ‘if I don’t answer don’t keep texting;’ and then there were those who preferred to have things completely at their discretion; ‘Don’t call me or text me at all, I’ll reach out to you.’

Asking whether or not the other party was masculine or feminine accounted for something in their mind. “A lot of them would ask because it made them feel ‘less’ gay.” For those who seek the female aspect of it when being intimate puts them on the receiving end of the physical act. These men are classified as bottoms as they receive or take the penis rather than penetrate the other person involved, the tops.

Having been on the receiving end (receptive bottom) many times, “I realized I was really enduring a lot of sexual experiences physically; receptive, anal sex is not the most comfortable thing in the world.” The primary reason to bear the brunt continuing to endure the pain: “It was very validating to know someone wanted me physically because it was the one thing I didn’t have to pay for that someone genuinely liked.” For him, all dormant thoughts and desires of men were coming to fruition.

Community Solutions Program Advisor and therapist, Nilda Rodriguez, ran a federally sponsored grant targeting the homeless population (male, female) within Jersey City and the Hudson County borough. A drop-in center, it provided case management, substance abuse, transportation, laundry, and breakfast and lunch services. The cliental served did not constitute as living a double life though in reality were. “It was never verbally acknowledged,” said Rodriguez.

Sidebar: Project Live Out Loud, A Safe Haven

Many, due to the lack of resources or situations that presented them-selves were not against engaging in sexual relations with other men; it was strictly a business venture and an opportunity to make a living. “The person paying is a [homosexual] but because he’s older and can’t get him-self back into the groove of things, they became enablers.” “They would allow these young men, not bi-sexual by all means described, the act itself, yes.”

Most gay men identify with having known their attraction to the same sex partner early on, from birth while others like to debate that stance. “It’s not born.” “It is either a factor in their upbringing; an act that was done upon them (rape, molestation) by someone within their scope,” adds Rodriguez. As one matures, so too does the identity. At times it may leave a gray area bringing one to question who they really are, stemming from a particular lifestyle or behavior. “The pain might be so intense that the brain might have just shut it down.” “With some treatment, a good therapist of course, good support; perhaps they’ll be able to touch upon that.” The denial and attachment to the identity isn’t the smoothest thing to come back from: “They’re gonna have to let all those guards down, accept the reality to then build themselves up; and that is hard, without the issues.”

Justin’s relationship with his father is one that has gotten better with time but still not the greatest. “I’m very angry with my father, it’s hard for me to admit that but I am very angry with him; and there are things that I won’t ever forgive him for.” The discovery of a love letter led to an unsettling conversation between the two as his father continued to process the fact his son was gay. “When did you know,” asked his father and to set his soul at ease: “Dad when I was little I wanted to be a girl.”

At times he wondered if in fact something had occurred in his earlier years; some traumatic event that he was just too young to recall or simply blocked out. “There were letters that I found after my mother passed that alluded to something happened to me when I was young.”