By Michael G. Cornelius
This is only an excerpt…
I discovered both the existence and the possibilities of my sexuality in two rather unusual places.
The first was on the school bus, coming back from a seventh-grade field trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Peter Gladstone was making fun of “fags.” When it became apparent that I didn’t know what a “fag” was, Peter, after making fun of me for my lack of carnal knowledge, explained that a fag was “a homo, you know, a guy who dicks around with other guys.” The small town junior-senior high school locker room that the seventh-graders shared with a group of playful, unafraid-to-be-seen naked older boys had convinced me I was, indeed, attracted to men, their forms and physiques, their playful randiness, their after-gym class smells, and the dark thatches of hair that covered places I’d secretly coveted for some time. But it wasn’t until Peter Gladstone’s use of the word “fag” and his explanation of what a “homo” was that I had a name for myself.
Unfortunately, Peter’s description of homosexuals left me with the distinct — and correct — impression that the small-minded, bigoted culture of my rural upbringing would prove less than supportive of my sexuality. So I kept it hidden, burying myself in books and writing, in school work and activities, in summer jobs and the restless ennui that all small-town Gay boys know and suffer from. Still, I thought that hiding my sexuality—not acknowledging it, and certainly never acting on it — was the only way I’d survive. Indeed, even when I went to college, though I secretly longed for the autonomy and anonymity of a large university setting, my fear of the freedom I’d find at such a place — and the burden to reveal my sexuality under such independence — proved too much. I chose a small Catholic college, one with no Gay and Lesbian student organization or, indeed, Gay and Lesbian presence at all, a place seemingly just as small, just as small minded, as my hometown was. This place, I figured, would be as complicit in hiding my secret as my hometown was, ensuring my family, my friends, and myself would never, ever know.
And yet, as I soon discovered, even in the most cloistered of climes, my sexuality — and that of others — will out. And my deliverance came at the hands of the most unlikely of liberators, a Gay man who had been dead nearly seven hundred years, a man maligned by history but who shone through to me as a lighthouse of hope and promise amidst the growing despair of my perpetual loneliness and self-imposed exile.
I first learned the story of Edward II in my Introduction to European History course. Professor Devereux, a small, wiry man with very large glasses, was an instructor with a penchant for the grislier details of history, and he often interrupted class lessons to regale his students with dark historical tales. During a brief discussion on the growth of baronial and parliamentary power in medieval England, Professor Devereux, his eyes wide with zealous anticipation, his hand making that excited back-and-forth wave that signaled a good, bloody yarn, settled back against a desk and spun us the tale of the murder of Edward II, an English monarch whom I had never heard of in my previous eighteen years.
Poor Edward. Confined to the dank interiors of Berkeley Castle, his minions and his favorites all executed before him, he had little to do after his deposition but wait for his death at the hands of Isabella, his queen: her lover, Roger Mortimer; and their co-conspirators. Finally, death came, and, as Professor Devereux intoned while he rubbed his hands together, it came brutally, at the end of a red-hot fire poker shoved — and at this part, Professor Devereux leaned in closely, almost conspiratorially, and as we all waited with bated breath, hanging on his every syllable, he finally told us — shoved up his “you know where.”
Dr. Devereux was a man who understood his audience. When I timidly raised my hand to ask him why they had pierced him “you know where,” his only response was to smile at me and say, “Well, Michael, that’s something you’ll have to look up yourself, if you want to know badly enough.” And with that, we returned to the class lecture, as if nothing important had just happened.
Little did I understand, however, how important that anecdote would become to me, not only as a Gay man, but as a future scholar of medieval literature as well. Filled with curiosity, I assaulted the library the next morning and discovered the full life history of Edward II. What I found was hardly encouraging. Recorded by most historians as a dismal failure of a king, responsible for significant geographic losses to the Scots, the subject of not one but two baronial rebellions, Edward II was a man history retrospectively deemed unfit to rule England.
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