Two black men kissing is how it started. To this day, I’ll never know from where that fantasy came. But it was a thought that consumed my every waking hour as a boy of fourteen years old.
Even during sleep, the image of two black men kissing haunted my dreams. It was typically me and a much older lad, and all I could do to escape his grip was to wake up panting, breathing heavy, and covered in my own juices. At school, I was a real lady’s man, always chasing the girls. But in my everyday life at home, I was dreaming of men kissing men. What was wrong with me?
At first, I thought it was a sign that I was missing my father. I’d been torn from dad at ten years old. Dragged back to England from Jamaica, kicking and screaming on a plane to a new life among cold, snow-white people. Surely, this was a sign that I was missing the old man. But over time, the dreams became more and more erotic. Soon I was wearing out my bedsheets and experiencing visions that left me in no doubt that I was having carnal thoughts of a non-fatherly kind.
“I don’t know what you do in your bed every night to wear out the middle of your sheets in record time,” my mother scolded. She might have sent me for a lobotomy if she only knew the many thoughts of men kissing men running around in my mind. So, I learnt to perfect a new technique instead. A football sock as a willy-warmer shoved down the crack between my bed and the wall worked just as well as a masturbation method but left no telltale signs.
Still, it was the same thoughts of two black men kissing that drove me to order Giovanni’s Room from our local Forest Hill Library. I had read a mention of the book in the “News of the World” my mother had delivered every Sunday, religiously. It was 1979, and the Jeremy Thorpe and Norman Scott trial was the talk of Britain. According to newspaper reports, one of the two men had gifted the other a salacious novel about homosexuality. Being as inquisitive as I was then, in my teens, my curiosity was piqued.
Thorpe, a British MP and married father of one was on trial for attempted murder. He had taken great lengths to hide his numerous affairs with men for fear they would reck his political career, the papers said. These snippets of information gave me all the impetus I needed to sneak off to our local library to seek out his reading material of choice. I hadn’t the foggiest idea why I thought I might find evidence of two black men kissing in a book delighted over by a suspected white killer, but it was the only lead I had to go on.
“Two Black men kissing fantasies haunted my dreams…”
Imagine my surprise when the book finally came, and I flicked to its back cover to find a picture of a black man. The blurb said his name was James Baldwin, and he was the author of this Giovanni’s Room. Good, God! He must be a homosexual, too, I said in my head. A ‘queer black man’, although he didn’t look to me like someone, I might want to kiss. Still, I tucked his book into my school bag and rushed home to my bedroom as if smuggling contraband.
For three long nights, my mother couldn’t believe that I had gone to bed so early. She figured I must have been sick, despite the light being on in my room into the early morning hours. Little did she know that I was devouring my very first tale of homosexual love, and very depressing it was, too, or so it seemed to me aged sixteen.
There were no signs of two black men kissing anywhere. The novel might have been written by a white author for all the feeling of home and familiarity I found in it. There was no sense of James Baldwin’s African American heritage whatsoever. Still, the foreword said he had written other books, so I might as well go seek them out at my local library, too.
It was 1980 finally, and I was leaving school for the world of work. A job for a bank in the City of London would be my manna from heaven. A real opportunity to escape the limitations of my local surroundings to venture out into a world of greater possibilities. One by one, I had devoured all of Jimmy’s Blues by then. Baldwin’s latest tour de force, published just last August, had instantly become a classic to me for its depiction of two black men kissing at the heart of a fictional world full of love. Just Above My Head gave me Arthur and Crunch and my hottest fantasies realised, in print, at the very least.
After that first year in the nine-to-five rat race, I had got a little drunk at the office Christmas party. In our department of some 100 bankers, the only other black guy whispered that he knew where there was another party going. Did I want to come? It would be on our way home, he coaxed, since he lived in New Cross and I was only up the road in Forest Hill. There’d be no work tomorrow, he continued, so what the hell—you only live once. So, I followed his lead. He was a grown twenty-six-year-old man who could hold his liquor, and I was still only seventeen.
I don’t remember at what point a steady glance among guests revealed a room full of mostly men, but it must have been an hour or more after our arrival. Perched on a settee in a corner, watching the comings and goings of folks I didn’t know, questions began to float through my intoxicated mind. I remember asking my colleague where the toilet was, and he said, I’ll take you there. I’ve always had a habit of leaving the bathroom door open when I go for a pee. My mother and sister would often chastise me at home for inflicting upon their ears the sound of me urinating through an open door.
I was taking a drunken, well-deserved leak when a hand caressed my neck from behind and interrupted my flow. As I turned in surprise, the man from work kissed me. I did not resist. I kissed him back. Craning my neck to get my tongue down his throat, we were two black men kissing for a breathlessly long time. Finally, he bolted the door behind us, and we locked lips some more. My fantasy made flesh, finally. Suddenly, people were banging on the door. Other partygoers, desperate to relieve themselves, were insisting on entering the bathroom.
I pulled myself together and exited the bathroom first, walking sheepishly past a lineup of waiting bodied, head down. Somewhere in the apartment, a DJ played sweet lovers rock reggae, and the lights were dimmed blue.
As my eyes adjusted to the sudden darkness, all I could see around me were multiple examples of men kissing men. The bastard from work had dragged me, young, drunk and innocent, to my first gay house party ever. Under the glow of a street light later, while we were making out in the back of his car, he revealed how he knew when I first walked into the office that I was a friend of Dorothy. Dorothy who? I asked him. He only smiled, then kissed me harder as he pushed deep inside me.
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