View looking north from South Congress (c. 1908). Austin, Travis County, Texas, United States
. Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.
From Gay and Gray: The Older Homosexual Man, Second Edition by Raymond M. Berger (New York; Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2011). First edition published in 1982 by University of Illinois Press.
When I was young, being homosexual didn’t seem like much of a problem. This was true even though I was born shortly after the turn of the century in a small Texas city. I was always a big boy for my age, so I guess I got a lot of experience early on. My first sexual experience was with a cousin. I was about six, and he was just a couple of years older. He taught me how to masturbate.
When I grew up we lived next door to my grandparents’ house. One summer after I had just turned eight, all four of my male cousins were staying at my grandparents’ house. I remember that grandma had a cow—that was back in the days when you could have a cow, living as we did on the edge of town. We had these big feed sacks for the cow which we used to build tents under the huge oak trees out in the side yard. My cousins and I would sleep out there at night and all five of us practiced sodomy. Grandma would have had a fit if she had known. After those little summer vacation things I always seemed to find some little friend my own age who would fool around. I never thought about it—it just happened.
I really didn’t think of these things as homosexual. It seems a lot of kids go through that. To me, my first real homosexual experience happened when I was thirteen. In fact, I still remember it was on a lovely June night, on my thirteenth birthday. My mother and stepfather had gone to Oklahoma to my uncle’s funeral. I took my meals at my grandparents’ house but was at home nights.
Now on this particular night I was sitting out on the wall in front of the house, watching the world go by. This nice-looking fellow—about twenty years old—came by and started talking. I don’t know whose idea it was, but we went in the house and put on some records. We were listening to dance music, and since I was studying dancing at the time I sort of put on a little show for him—doing this step, then that. The next thing I knew we were up in the bedroom with no clothes on and he was doing me. He’s the one who brought me out.
When did I first realize I was attracted to other boys? Well, I guess that came very early. In fact, I can’t remember a time when I was no attracted to my own sex. Even though I dated girls, like everyone else did, I was very naive where girls were concerned.
Now there were a couple of times when I got tangled up with girls and had to go to bed with them, but both times I was so drunk it was almost a farse.
Somehow I got to meet other kids, and later men, who were also homosexual. It wasn’t a deliberate sort of thing. I would meet them through other people–like that first guy who brought me out. Through him I met another kid my own age. You get into a little circle of people and the circle gradually grows. I don’t remember ever discussing it with anybody. I’d meet people and make love.
Messenger Boy, Waco, Texas
(September 1913). Photograph by Lewis W. Hine. Stephen R. Currier Memorial Fund, Museum of Modern Art, New York.