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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.

I hid my true feelings and desire for people of the same sex my entire life, unable to let what was inside me merge with my daily life.  Being the son of a domineering mother, I tended to choose strong willed, domineering wives.  In such a household the gender roles were often reversed and I ended up taking care of the domestic duties while trying to fulfill my socially imposed role of father and household provider.  I managed to perform sexually and produce two beautiful daughters, yet I remained sexually confused and desiring of sexual contact with men.  I loved my wives and, being a devoted father and loving spouse, I didn’t act on my same-sex desires with others, yet I indulged my same-sex fantasies while masturbating, prompting plenty of self-imposed guilt.

In my fantasies the men I desired to be with embodied the most masculine traits possible.  Secretly, I was hoping that somehow, perhaps by “fantasy osmosis”, I could satisfy both my masculine and feminine needs.  I yearned to abandon my “male” role and embrace that of the female, being enveloped by that which I felt I was not.

Based on my life experiences with all kinds of people, I’ve found that, although some people are truly exclusively heterosexual or homosexual, a great majority feel some level of attraction and desire to both sexes.  The men of my era – the “grey flannel suit generation” – were expected to be manly men and take care of their wives and children. The hidden lives of several of my male friends came to light only after I reached retirement age.  A close childhood friend (whose wedding I attended during the 50s) recently contacted me after his wife died to tell me that he and his boyfriend were moving to Key West!  If I had known that he was gay, I probably would have taken him up on his offer to go hunting all those years ago. I wistfully think of all those extended trips he took with other “buddies” of his.  I suspect that the Brokeback Mountain story is not unique:  In the woods no one will be wiser as to how physically intimate two men might be. 

I have spent most of my 80 years trying to understand why I was born into the body I was and why I feel the way I do toward both men and women.  It wasn’t until recently that I discovered that I was not "abnormal", but part of the entirety of the human condition.  Just as there is great variation in the human form, there is variety in human sexual desires.  Once society acknowledges these sexual variations, people with complimentary sexual desires, gay or straight, will be free to openly build their lives together and satisfy their sexual nature..  And once society is open and honest about sexuality, the surprises and disastrous repercussions of mispairings and marriages based on misunderstandings, sexual denial, and outright deceit will begin to fade. 

My life’s path has been determined by what I had to do in order to survive until I was old and secure enough to ignore what society wanted.  In my dotage, I am celebrating my true inner self and feel really and truly free for the first time in all these years. 

The title of this anthology, “BEYOND MASCULINITY,” implies that perhaps the feminine in all of us can be developed and celebrated, if that is our inclination. 

We’re all "queer," really.  Very few people measure up to the idealized roles that our culture dictates for our bodies.  Suppressing that part of us that society has, in the past, rejected may not be the norm in succeeding generations.  Many more young people are entering puberty ready to express their true sexuality with emotional openness and honesty.  Depending on the social, parental, and peer reactions they encounter (as well as pressure to conform), they will either proceed into adulthood with sexual maturity or may become maladjusted based on the sexual experiences and fantasies of their youth. A yearning to return to that earlier time of exploration and sexual freedom can often be inappropriately acted out later in life.  Society has a role to play in seeing that everyone expresses his or her sexuality, whatever it might be, in a healthy, honest, and emotionally open way.

My story is not unique.  In all cultures there are men and women who live with a blend of masculine and feminine striving to exist beyond the traditional masculine / feminine dichotomy of society.  Most people want to create something of permanence and value in their lives.  Yet not everyone needs to produce children to achieve that.  Those who don't are free to channel their creative energies into other areas that may contribute to and improve society.  Love has no gender preference.  From what I observe about the younger generation, they are embracing the freedom of a "bisexual" identity with androgynous looks, gender neutral activities, and couplings based not on social/genetic “survival” but on attraction alone.  I hope that future generations will be able to explore and express their sexuality freely and not carry fear, shame, denial, and frustrated desires into their adult years. 

We are all products of our times and, at least during my lifetime, the times have changed dramatically.  I discovered my true nature far too late in life to openly be who I was meant to be and create the life I truly desired.  Watching the youth of today openly discuss their sexuality and express their inner desires at an age when it really matters (adolescence) gives an old man hope that the next generation will push society “beyond masculinity” into a new era of sexual acceptance and emotional openness.  A new era is coming; if only I could be here to see it.


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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