Why Oh Why Do I Love Jim Paris?
What do you call nostalgia for a past you never actually experienced?
Take, for instance, my interest in Bob Mizer's Athletic Model Guild*, which, a full eight years before I was born, launched its mail-order business selling photographs and 8mm motion pictures of practically naked young men posing and wrestling. Its incarnation as a beefcake magazine, Physique Pictorial, started publication in 1951, two years before I was born, and stopped just a few years before I hit age 40.
In its heyday, the period that actually interests me, I was too young to be a subscriber, but something about the images Mizer captured back then seems familiar to me.
The quality of the photography and models varies, but even the middling efforts resonate with me. These young men are the spitting images of the GIs I idolized, observed longingly at the Enlisted Mens Club's swimming pool, and desperately wanted to join in the boxy, drab-gray buildings where they bunked, the "barracks," a word still erotically charged for me. This would be when I was a boy of four to fifteen, living on various Air Force bases in the States and abroad, just before and during the era of James Bond, the Supremes, paint-by-number kits, beach party movies, and slot cars.
Cherub-faced Jim Paris, in these pictures, elicits a weird sense of the time warp in me. As a man now of 57, I look longingly at his teen body in photographs that are fifty years old. Is it still pederasty when the pais is a decade older than the erastes? What's more, looking at these pictures I am no longer the middle-aged community-college teacher I appear to be, but the nine year old with a Brownie camera, too shy to dare aim it at some Brylcreemed stud in plaid swim shirts snapping his towel at his buddy's ass. (Too bad ... I could have built a career out of those snapshots today ... there has to be a market somewhere for naive erotica created by a child.)
I tell people I don't know whether I was born gay. The word "homosexual" meant nothing to me until I was a teenager, and then I was told that a homo is a man who wants to wear women's clothing and marry another man. For years later I assured myself that I couldn't be a pervert since neither of those things appealed to me. There were lots of things I wanted to do with the chiseled muscle that sometimes surrounded me as a child, but marrying it never came to mind, much less putting on a dress and heels and flouncing around it.
What did I want to do with it? At age eleven? Touch it. Be held in it. Feel its power. Walk beside it. Cuddle with it. Roughhouse with it.
Then a preacher's son told me everything I would know for years about oral and anal sex--and the mere thought of it filled me with fascinated disgust. This was then further assurance that I was not gay--at a point in my life when I wanted to strip down to jockstraps and rassle my buddies, every night, all of them budding athletes, of course--me, the unofficial cheerleader and, um, giver of back massages.
I may have been about thirty when I "came out of the closet," but something I couldn't express was already going on in my head (and cock) decades earlier. As a kid, an only child in a very religious family constantly on the move, rootless, I lived in my head a lot. My parents were stand-offish sorts, a bit crazy, I suppose--I have friends I've known for less than ten years that I've already exchanged more words with than I did with either of my parents ... ever. I used to walk with a jump in my step, humming to myself, and once, I must have been thirteen at the time, my grandmother saw me and said, in a deadpan aside, "That boy ain't right." She knew. Maybe she knew.
Pictures like these were banned by the US Post Office till the 1970s--and not just because they were considered "pornographic"; just as bad, they were considered "communist-influenced." Today they look so innocent--to me, anyway--as charmingly pre-erotic and idealized as a sixteenth-century pastoral poem. Jim Paris later went on to become a photographer of beefcake models too and achieved a good deal of success at a time when (briefly, fleetingly) the bug up America's collective ass faded away; it came back--that bug--with a real stinger in its tail--during the Reagan years.
These pictures remind me of childhood, not my real childhood, but rather a dream of childhood I carry with me still, I guess.
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