I was more safe with the gay men in the theatre.

DISCLAIMER: I know that all Boy Scout troop leaders are not child molesters, nor are all Catholic priests or football coaches. My purpose here is NOT to cast aspersions on football, Scouting, or Catholicism. I just find it terrible and ironic, as well as terribly ironic, that boys and young men were preyed upon in settings where one would assume a child would be the most safe.

I was never a Boy Scout or a Catholic and my only involvement with organized football was when Coach Dishner persuaded me to be the manager of our 8th grade team way back when.

In light of the recent garbage involving the cover up of the actions of predatory pedophiles coming to the surface regarding the Boy Scouts, a huge national football program, and the Catholic Church, I had an interesting thought: As a boy of 16, 17, and 18 I was safer hanging around the homosexuals in the theatre than I MIGHT (NOTE: the word "might") have been had I been in the Boy Scouts, playing football or attending a Catholic Church.

Back in the summer of 1975, when I was 16-17, a friend of my parents pulled some strings and got me in to the Hope College Summer Repertory Theatre as an apprentice. At the time the Apprentice program was limited to something like 20 high school kids from around the state and I was fortunate to be one of those allowed in. We lived in and around the college campus and were involved in all kinds of capacities in the working of the theatre for the summer season. We ironed fabric in the costume shop, hung lights, painted sets, sold tickets, and basically did what ever the people in charge told us to do. We were the unpaid grunts! In return for our labors, we were involved in professional theatre. Some of us were fortunate enough to land some stage time - I was in the chorus of "Oklahoma" after my "talent" was discovered by Mary - the lady who ran the costume shop. I also had a bit part in Moliere's "The Miser" and had some speaking/singing roles in a kids theatre production. I also ended up running the light board for "St Joan" after I proved myself during the first couple shows. (It was relatively simple cue wise - mostly full set lights and solo spots on Joan.)

After that experience, I went on to volunteer as a techie for Circle in The Park and the Civic Theatre and for a couple shows put on by Spectrum Theatre (as I think it was called) in Grand Rapids. The Civic was blessed was antique technology in the lighting department - I can remember one lighting cue that had me running faders with both hands and one of my feet (some of the dimmers controls were on the floor for just that purpose)!

As you can imagine, during the 2-3 years in and around the theatre, I encountered a lot of gay or bi-sexual men. At Hope I can clearly remember three adult men and a couple of the other apprentices who were openly gay - I shared a room with one of the gay apprentices for a while. Apprentices had an acting class we attended a couple of times a week and it was taught by a gay man. If I had any free week-ends, I would hitch a ride home to get some good food and do laundry. On one occasion I was picked up by the gay couple that were choreographing all of the shows.

In all those years in all kinds of situations that brought me in contact with gay men, there was not one instance during which I felt threatened sexually in even a remote way. Not one. If you know anything about the theatre - even volunteer community type theatre - then you know there is plenty of hanky panky of all kinds going on. (Almost as much exists as in hospitals, but that is a subject for another day.) There is a fair amount of partying that goes on in every sense of the word, there are lots of late nights and other situations that would lend themselves to people hitting on each other sexually. It happens all the time. But never once did a gay man even say anything to me that might have put me on alert.

So, in my experience anyway - I was safer among the homosexuals in the theatre than I would have been in some other places.

The ultimate irony in my history is that the ONLY time I ever felt threatened sexually by an older male happened when I was in the 4th or 5th grade. I lived with my single mom and she signed me up in the Big Brother program. My Big Brother was a real man's man - he had been a big athlete in his high school (he had just recently graduated and was in college). He had a really cool hot rod that he would take me places in. But he had a habit of "wrestling" with me - and you must know that I was a small kid in elementary school, my growth spurt to 6'3" didn't happen until 9th grade - he was over the six foot mark and a well muscled football and basketball player. He would "pin" me face down and stay on top of me. He never groped me or took either of our clothes off, but it was weird. I was NOT sexually aware of ANYTHING at the time, but I knew something was not right and I would get pissed at him. He laughed it off and made fun of me. It culminated one time when I got so mad at him after he wrestled me to the ground in the house, that I ran into the front yard and threw a rock at him through the window of our house.

When my mom returned, he was gone and I explained why I threw a rock through the glass at him. As you can imagine my mom got pretty upset. I don't know exactly what steps she took, but I do know that from that point on he was no longer my Big Brother.

Like so many things in modern life, or life in any time period - the obvious answer is not always obvious. At first glance, just about anyone with a young son would feel more safe with him attending a church function or being a member of the Scouts or a football team - especially when compared with the thought of exposing the same boy/young man to an environment like the theatre in which there are many openly gay men. Maybe the answer lies in the words "openly gay". Gay men have always found a home in the arts - for many (most?) of them, there is simply no reason to closet their sexuality. This is in sharp contrast to the Catholic Church, Scouting or football. Maybe the repression and shame is what causes and/or attracts pedophiles. Something to think about.
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