Sex & Greece
I was 14 years old when I went to Europe for three weeks during the summer after my 7th grade. When I received the letter from People to People, an organization built by Dwight D. Eisenhower, I felt it almost necessary to hide it from my parents. It stated that a teacher had nominated me, which, really, was not a surprise. Honestly, I had always had a better relationship with my elementary school teachers than I had with the vast majority of my peers. They all just seemed so…stupid. Ultimately, I got up the guts to show the letter to my mother. She told me, “You’re going. This is a once in a lifetime experience. It will change your life.”
It will change my life. Scary words for a young boy who had no idea who he was or what he wanted from life. I told my mother, “I don’t want to change.” Nonetheless, we signed up and I began going to group meetings with students from various schools and various backgrounds. They all scared me. I felt we had nothing in common. All I thought was that I’d go to Europe and I’d do my own thing and these people should just leave me alone as I do so.
On the plane ride to our first destination, France, I read an article in New York about a feud between Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer. Then I read an article in Vanity Fair about Madonna. I didn’t fit in. I didn’t know who these kids on this flight were. All I knew was I wanted to go back home.
France turned to Italy and my peers all turned on me. Soon enough, I was being called “Queer Kid” behind my back and to my face. At that point, the sexual harassment wasn’t so unfamiliar to me, but the bluntness of it, the unapologetic nature of it really took its toll. Eventually, I had had enough and, one night, after some jock came into my room and started grinding up against my bed, I broke down into tears and stormed into my counselor’s hotel room. I sat down and cried and told him that everyone on the trip was calling me names and doing indecent things when I was around. I told him that I had been trying to ignore it, but I couldn’t anymore.
I had a long meeting with the other two counselors on the trip. One of them asked me, “Are you acting gay? Is that why maybe they’re calling you that?”
I said, “I’m just being myself.”
A group meeting with the whole of the students took place the next morning. The counselors stood up and said, “It’s been brought to our attention that some harassment is going on. We are student ambassadors. Do you know what that means? It is our job to represent America here and, so it seems, you all are doing a pretty poor job of that. It needs to stop. We need to get along and accept differences.”
After this, I received a host of written and spoken apologies. For me, it didn’t really mean much, except that maybe I could go on and try to enjoy the remainder of my time in Europe. I wasn’t really optimistic, but changes did come. I began to allow myself to communicate with some of the other students who had been calling me names. I developed a few friendships that I valued, but they were not far-reaching. I felt better, but I also felt that Greece only sounded like a drag.
We took a ferry from Italy to Greece. It was 12-hour trip. I drank Red Bull after Red Bull and puked because of sea-sickness once. The boat ride was romantic in its own little way, I suppose. The warm air combined really beautifully with the crashing of waves that I could see so well at the tip of the front of the boat. I thought about Jack and Rose real quick and then I stared. I was the only person that could be there for myself through and through in this life; that I had come to know.
Once off the ferry, we were taken to various tourist attractions. We went to the Acropolis. We saw Mount Vesuvius and the town that it had buried. We went to the spot where the first Olympics took place. The tour guide told us that the first Olympics were done in the nude. I thought, “What if a javelin was thrown incorrectly and hit you in the balls? Wouldn’t that hurt?”
Stupid, childlike logic, probably.
The one thing that truly perplexed about Greece was the blatant sexuality of the area. Of course, I was aware of the fact that many of the ancient Greeks practiced homosexual sex acts, but I was not aware of how much that little fact had influenced the entire area. Sex. It was all about sex.
One day, we took a trip to the local market. By myself, I walked slowly down the aisles of the various thrift shops and markets. I examined the various handcrafted objects. I spotted urns and pottery painted very explicitly with different sex acts—homosexual and heterosexual. I stopped at a pot that was painted with a woman being penetrated by the biggest penis I have ever seen. I felt bad for the woman, but I continued on. I continued on to one stand that only sold wooden carvings of penises. I wondered to myself who would by such a thing. Was this the Greek equivalent of a dildo? I thought, ow. As a 14 year old, still closeted gay boy, this all was quite jarring. And the heat of the region only helped to enhance the heat that I felt when I looked at this different sexual portrayals. Sex. It was all about sex.
One of our final days in Greece, we went to a local beach. We boarded a bus and I, as usual, made it my main objective to sit next to one of the counselors during the bus ride. I liked my counselors. I liked talking to them about movies that I knew none of my peers had seen. I liked talking about literature. I felt that they were on my level, whereas most of the other students on the trip were on the level of trying to get laid for the first time. So, after having a long discussion with one of the female counselors about Fargo and American Beauty, the bus finally dropped us off. We all exited in a single file line and stepped onto the black concrete. It was so hot, that I could feel the heat of the blacktop coming through my thong sandals. I looked out at the sand and the people playing on. Most of the women did what the men did—they didn’t wear tops. Lots of boobs. Lots and lots of boobs.
And I felt nothing.
As we walked toward the beach, I scanned the ground in front of me. Condoms. Ew, I thought. So many condoms, just basking in the overwhelming Grecian heat. I knew those sperms had to be sitting in there, frying like eggs.
Once we stepped on the sand, one of the counselors stopped us to give some sort of speech about curfew or whatever. I just kept walking. I wanted so desperately to put my toes into the Jacuzzi-like water. I scanned the sand as I walked along. More and more condoms. I smiled to myself, not knowing when I might one day have to use one of my own, when I’d lose my virginity just like so many of these Grecians so clearly had.
I walked. I walked to the part of the beach where the sand became wet and the waves crashed into my sandaled feet. I looked back at the group of students. I thought to myself, “Assholes.” I walked further and didn’t even think to take my white t-shirt off. I just needed to get the hell away. I dove in head first and scanned the bottom of the ocean floor. I spotted chunks of broken pieces of kitchen countertop. I returned to the surface and knew that I’d be gathering as much of this kitchen countertop as possible. I thought it was just beautiful. I thought maybe I could make a mosaic of it for my mother when I got home. I dove in once more and grabbed three pieces that were nothing alike in cool. At the surface I scanned them and I smiled, because this was my life and this was me and that was all that fucking mattered.