My Life as a Gay Man: My Florida Faggotization, Part I
It was 2002. Finding international travel more exhausting than fun, particularly after 9/11, I had been snowbirding down in Fort Lauderdale since the mid 90’s, and even bought a one bedroom condo in the up and coming gay ghetto Wilton Manors for all of twenty thousand dollars. Maybe it was because I felt comfortable there, a gay man who had seen his fiftieth birthday come and go but who still had his shit together.
The baton had passed from gay mecca Key West years ago when, so the urban legend goes, the cruise ships coming in asked the town fathers to defag the place. Hell, as early as 1992, the first time I visited Key West, I was the token fag in a guesthouse that back in the New York City gay rags had sold itself as a homo haven; instead, the place was populated by str8 couples, American and European. I had to sneak out at night in eighty degree weather with my no-shirt leather harness outfit hidden under a heavy plaid button down shirt. Today, the gay guesthouses have been segregated to Fleming Street, the handful of bars to Bourbon and Duval, like the Polish Jews were crowded into the Warsaw ghetto during World War II.
About that same time, the early-mid ‘90’s, South Beach was getting super-hot as enterprising and moneyed gay men saved the art deco hotels from destruction, but by the early 2000’s South Beach, like San Francisco, had gone mainstream. Rents spiked, and there was some gay bashing that was kept hush-hush even in the gay media.
Enter Fort Lauderdale, a sleepy little town that always had a gay scene, and suddenly was discovered by East Coast and Snow Belt boys as the place to party – and live – a town that welcomed older gay men, not ostracize them as South Beach with its pretty toy boys had done. I still believe the crazy real estate bubble in South Florida of the early-mid 2000’s was the result of gay men – those still working as well as those retiring – who all suddenly wanted their own piece of paradise.
I fortunately, bought my house, a three bed, two bath on a canal with screened-in pool, before the bubble, almost on a whim, during a snowbird vacation in 2001, knowing in back of my mind that my days in cold NYC were numbered. I had survived the merger of my St. Vincent’s on Staten Island with the motherhouse, St. Vincent’s, Manhattan, but my new boss, a woman who knew one tenth what I knew about health care marketing, and held the job I should have gotten, was continually picking my brain – and gradually divesting my job of responsibilities. It was only a matter of time when I would be discarded like a used handiwipe. After 30 years at the same shop, I wanted to go out my way, and decided to take a teaching job down in Ft Lauderdale as the one man English Department for a small private Jewish boy’s high school. Yes, a goy teaching nice Jewish boys.
Now George, almost ten years my senior, had already planned to retire about the same time but was pissed I had bought a house in paradise – on my dime not his – without his pontifical blessing. The game plan was he’d be down in the winter, and I’d come go up in the summer to our PA home where he’d live, leaving us some “quality time” in between on our own. But he always felt I had forced the sale of the Staten Island home, as if he hadn’t reaped a hundred thousand dollar profit like me. But no way, George or no George, was I going to freeze my cute, furry butt back East when I no longer made my money there and owned a home in the warmest place in the continental U.S. in the winter. There, when Big Daddy wasn’t looking over my shoulder, I could lead the life of an unbridled sex pig.
My move was not without its wrinkles. The boys’ school job, while well- paying with benefits, was almost as stressful as working back in the hospital at one third the salary. The school was run by a very strict Jewish sect, and the boys, quiet and respectful with the rabbis, were anything but with us lay teachers. After a year, I left and luckily transitioned over to college work. The eye candy alone of the handsome young nineteen year old jocks in my classes was worth the cut in pay. I managed.
By then the Florida faggotization of this New York gay man was also in high gear. While I had worked out in my basement each morning before going to work on Staten Island, my routine barely kept pace with the jelly donuts at the office coffee machine, and when you’re working stress-filled 60 hour work weeks in PR, who has time for the gym. Now, however, with my workload drastically reduced and the biggest decision of my day was whether to hit Sebastian Beach, Lauderdale’s gay sandbox, or the local very gay gym first, Main Street Gym became my second home. Like my very str8 Florida neighbor, a former Midwestern, once quipped to me, “Down here, my basic wardrobe’s my bikini.” And when you’re gay, scoring was all about looking hot.
But even hitting those machines of self-torture faithfully three or four times a week, in between using my new Bowflex at home wasn’t enough, and I started getting frustrated busting my hump while watching some built-like-a-brick shithouse guy, often a poz boy who you knew was juicing so he didn’t look like Auschwitz, sit down on the same machine, lower the weight to half what you just pressed, do twenty wimpy reps and move on, muscles bulging like some gay God.
Yea, I thought of taking steroids myself, which either one of the personal trainers at the gym or my new body builder/financial planner could sell me, but I just couldn’t stomach sticking a needle in my butt every day. So, after skipping those ads in the weekly bar rags for rejuvenation centers (not legal in most places except for the Wild Wild East known as South Florida), I decided to give them a second look. It sounded like testosterone, Mr. T, was the fountain of youth that would max my results in the gym and give me the lean mean look I coveted. Among other benefits. My financial guy confirmed that most guys’ T levels drop after 30, obviously a major problem in America, eclipsed only by the federal deficit; thus the need to find it elsewhere. So I figured it was time to trot my ass up to the northern fringes of Palm Beach County to see what all the voodoo was about.
Part II, Wednesday.