"He still sat on top of me and burned his smooth knees into my biceps, he still force-fed his penis into my willing mouth, my hands still roamed over his hairless body ..."
But talking about sexual conquests -- which he writes about lustily in both memoirs and novels -- is another story. The chubby 70-year-old White -- one of America's best-known gay authors -- dressed in a blue suit with scruffy brown shoes and turquoise socks, explained that he's "much franker in my writing than I am in life," to a packed audience in the Helzberg Auditorium at the Central Library on Monday night. The lecture was part of the Library's Writers at Work series organized by novelist Whitney Terrell and co-sponsored by Chris Davis and the English Department of UMKC.
Although White's first novel, Forgetting Elena, was a less-than-modest success, he found his first great fame as the co-author of The Joy of Gay Sex in 1977. Sex continues to sell for White: The prolific author published City Boy last year, which "weaves erotic encounters and long-ago literati into a vast tapestry of Manhattan memories."
White blushed slightly when a member of the audience -- me, actually -- reminded him that he wasn't all that kind to Kansas City gays back in 1980 when his book States of Desire: Travels in Gay America was published.
"I wish you hadn't brought that up," he chuckled.
Kansas City is described, in States of Desire as a place "where the self-oppression of 1950s gay life still reigns supreme." White confessed, somewhat sheepishly, that he really hadn't gotten a chance to know that many gays in Kansas City for his research: "I only received a $10,000 advance for that book and I had to fly to all these different cities, usually just for the weekend."
White's research method? He would stroll into a city's most popular gay bar and get picked up. "I was more ... presentable then," he said, laughing along with the audience.
White's self-deprecating humor charmed the audience, a mix of heterosexual and gay readers. Describing how he more or less ambled into the infamous Stonewall Riots on June 27, 1969, he talked about walking past the bar, watching patrons being loaded into paddy wagons and police barricading themselves inside waiting for the next paddy wagon to arrive when an angry group began attacking the officers and using a parking meter to smash out a window.
"I was such a middle-class wimp," White said. "I was telling people to calm down, but then I got caught up in it too. It was so exciting to rebel. ... Stonewall was the moment that gays stopped thinking of themselves as sick and started seeing themselves as a true minority."