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By William Autrey
William Autrey is an 80-year-old gay man, military veteran, astrologer, and life-long resident of Boulder, Colorado. Pressured by the social and sexual mores of the mid- to late-20th century, Bill married three times before returning to and accepting the realization he initially had at age 17 -- that he was sexually attracted to men.

s an 80-year-old man who has been marred three times (yet sexually attracted to men all my life), I feel I have had the good fortune to have loved both men and women during my (as yet unconcluded) lifetime.  I do not feel "transgender” per se, but as if two different people cohabitate in one body, reacting differently in different situa­­tions.  Neither do I feel "transsexual", just blessed with the ability to explore the richness of an unencumbered sexual life well into my later years.

While I am attracted to both masculine women and feminine men, I find that I am stimulated by the male body differently than that of the female body.  After a lifetime of attempting to fit in – by trying to reject and stifle my unique sexual passions -- I’ve concluded that I inhabit an area where the dichotomous poles of male and female sexual experience overlap – a zone of sexual desire “somewhere in-between”.

If you were to meet me you might notice that my appearance and voice is neither male nor female, but rather a curious mixture of both.  I do not feel that I strongly belong to either group, making it hard to fit within the social priorities that our society insists upon.  To be certain, I was born with male genitalia, but higher up in the abdominal area than other typically "masculine" men.  I have more breast tissue than most men, with nipples so sensitive that they have become the key to my sexual arousal and response at this later stage in life (in the absence of an erection, stimulating my nipples can often produce  multiple, long-lasting orgasms).  I have noticed that some men have no sensitivity in their breasts, while many others have only limited sensitivity.  And if pornographic portrayals are to be believed, men with sensitive nipples appear to dominate gay pornography.

The embarrassment of having a smaller than average sized penis located higher in my body than what was considered normal was difficult to deal with as a teenager, but as time went on, it did not seem to be a hindrance to having sex with men or women.  And while my sexual experiences with women were often less than outstanding, my sexual experiences with men didn’t seem to suffer from lack of size.  Perhaps it is a cliché, but a romantic feeling of love for my partner definitely has to be present in order for me to respond sexually with men or women, otherwise it is difficult for me to become aroused.  Masturbation would often provide the only satisfactory sexual experience for me and considerable manipulation of my nipples while massaging the head of my penis would be necessary for full release.  For me, this results in strong, lengthy multiple orgasms -- just as I might experience if I were a woman massaging her clitoris.  When my sexual partner stimulates my breasts, I don’t have trouble at all in responding sexually with either sex. 

I’ve often wondered whether these elements common to both sexes -- nipples and genitalia -- are the “missing link” for those of us “in-between”.  After all, isn’t it only a specific mix of various hormones found in both males and females that makes a child distinctly male or distinctly female?  Not every baby will have the necessary mix; variations are bound to occur in a percentage of all newborns.  Those of us who believe we were born with a balance of male and female hormones can only be glad that our “abnormality” allows us to relate to being both male and female and follow our sexual bliss with whatever sex that might be.

In the gay community, I have observed a wide range of men whose appearance and mannerisms are very feminine, very masculine, or somewhere “in-between”.  My observations of human sexual behavior tell me that there is no such creature as someone who is “totally male” or “totally female,” regardless of body structure and our attempts to separate everyone into those two extreme categories.  I often wonder whether this purely intellectual, dichotomous categorization of the sexes is an attempt to buttress the current social/religious value placed on procreation – and to ostracizing people like myself who are genetically in-between male and female.

Physical gender often fools us into believing that it is the only criteria for deciding how we live our lives.  Many children are born without identifiable genitalia and their true gender identity only erupts at puberty, when their emotions collide with their physical development.  The all too familiar (and all too painful) social anxieties of junior high causes many young people to hide their true feelings and true sexual orientation, creating a phobia of anything "not normal".  The trauma that many differently gendered young people endure greatly affects how young people develop their personality and sexual identity, threatening their safety and sanity at the same time. 

As a bisexual man born in the early 20th century, I grew up in a society that pressured me to choose a heterosexual lifestyle and conform in order to survive and succeed within its norms.  The social changes of the past 60 years has lead to a better acceptance of those of us who are "queer" but is just beginning to acknowledge and accommodate those of us with both male and female inner selves.  Society is slowly warming to the idea that people ought to be free to follow their sexual orientation and desires without choosing a gender role or lifestyle based on the approval from others. 

Growing up in the 1930s in a small rural town was not the best situation for exploring unconventional sexual identities.  During my teenage years, I did not feel comfortable to  freely explore my sexuality with either men or women.  By the time I was 25, I dove headfirst into a marriage that I was not prepared for in order to put an end to my gender anxieties.  So began a life of denial... (continue reading)

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Juan said:

I think this is such a wonderful essay! Unlike any I have read before and unbelievably close to my own thoughts and experiences as a queer man. I use the term "queer" because after years of struggling with my gender identity, I came to the realization that I did not fit into the social binary for sexual orientation (homosexual/heterosexual), any more than I fit into the binary for gender (masculine/feminine).

Gender, throughout my life, has always been a fluctuating form of expression. I cannot say with certainty that at any given moment of my life I was neither entirely masculine, nor entirely feminine. In fact, I do not believe it is possible for such a standard to be achieved -it is rather ridiculous to consider ANY extreme as a natural component of reality. Thus, while I always felt comfortable "being a man", my expression of such a biological categorization included anything from playing with buoyant torpedos in the pool to sitting at the shore of the ocean, with my feet touching the water, writing emotive poetry.

I think that this masculine to feminine flux is an essential part of the human experience, and no matter how much we may try to force ourselves to abide by binary laws, it will always play a role in who we are and how we evolve.

Sexual orientation is no different. Throughout my adolescence, dealing with the fact that I was not automatically stimulated by any member of the opposite sex, led me to believe I must be a homosexual. Yet, upon meeting the woman who has now been my girlfriend for 3 and a half years, I was able to discover a new form of connection with women based entirely on love, which allowed me to liberate my dormant sexual desires toward them.

This did not, however, mean that I was attracted to men any less. In fact, I came to realize that my sexual arousals by men were as common as those I observed in my male peers upon encountering an attractive woman walking down the street. Thus, my sexual evolution has been a process of coming to terms with my unique sexual affinity with my girlfriend, as well as controlling the impulse-driven lust I experienced around men.

William is right in that I have been very fortunate, and I honor the millions of individuals in the generations before me that had to struggle perilously against homophobic oppressions in order to assure me the liberties that I have now.

Posted at: May 20, 2008 10:15 PM

Amanda said:

Why is William defined as gay in his introduction, even though he specifically refers to himself as bisexual in his essay?

Posted at: July 9, 2008 10:56 AM

Trevor Hoppe said:

In response to Amanda's comment, the introduction was provided by William. And so that was what was printed.

Posted at: July 14, 2008 12:58 PM

ricki said:

I loved it. However I am to bitter growing up watching people hate me because I have always been openly gay. I lived through the aids 80s and watch so many of my friends die.The young you mentioned celebrating there sexuality do not care or ackowledge what we suffered so they can be them.Yes I guess it makes me bitter.So stop and ask a twenty year old twink about the suffering of the generation that gave them there freedom.

Posted at: January 28, 2010 10:27 PM

zan said:

I LOVE this... and @Amanda, I wouldn't say that the author is BISEXUAL at all, merely genderqueer, as bisexuality denotes on sexuality/gender who likes two different genders (usually biomale and biofemale). I can relate to being nonbinary completely. Born into a female body, and probably have a high concentration of testosterone in my system, although never officially found out whether it is the case or not, as it doesn't really matter to me whether I do or not, as it would never make a difference in who I am or where I identify myself. I have been with many people along my sexual journey in this lifetime. Biomale, biofemal, straight,gay, female to male transgender, transgender identified, etc... I do not see myself as male or female. I am both or none. I don't identify gender rolls as a specific gender, and I don't use labels anymore to describe who I am... I am Zan. I am Zan-sexual. I like what Zan likes. I am neither male nor female. I am Zan. I enjoyed reading this posting very much. Thank you for writing it!

Posted at: October 20, 2011 9:03 PM