Today I'm haunted by the story of Michael Shackleford. He's a nice kid just shy of 18, lives with his moms in Oklahoma, and enjoys most of the usual heartland-states things like his pickup truck (with menacing flames on it), country music, NASCAR, and Jesus. Very heartlandish, he doesn't drink or use tobacco. He also is very fond of Cher, oddly enough. And oh yes, by the way, he's gay.

This is a big deal in Oklahoma. A VERY big deal.

His mother is horrified that she can't find a therapist to treat his obvious mental defect, and has resorted instead to a series of quacks (who have told him that he will never have a loving, caring relationship with a man, as opposed to the hearts-and-flowers of his favorite country songs) and evangelists ( who say he's going to Hell) to cure his disease. He's been hounded out of high school for looking at another student in gym, and townspeople will rush their male toddlers away from him, for fear of well, God knows what. All he wants, he says, is to come home to someone he loves at the end of the day (he's virgin, he says, and would remain celibate if it would help matters) and to live on his farm without any trouble.

Being Teleny, I feel somewhat responsible for doing something.

Time was, when I was his age, somewhere in the late and palmy Seventies, I would have sent him a CARE package of a few Lou Reed albums, a John Rechy novel, a tube of K-Y jelly, a bottle of Captain Rush, a map with directions to Christopher and Gay (by way of New Orleans) and told him to get a clue.

Ah, those were different times. Nowadays, I'm not so sure.

He doesn't want to leave Oklahoma. He just wants a life partner, not a lifestyle -- even twigging him to female impersonators seems like corrupting him. He could live out a wonderfully long and happy life without knowing the handkerchief code, glory hole etiquette, queer theory, or exactly what is meant by "fisting". (Though I would give him warnings on how to spot rough trade -- there are mean mofos out there.) He's really afraid that the evangelists are right -- perhaps a book on gay spirituality? I'd give him a gay health manual and a pack of condoms pronto, just in case he discovers that he doesn't want to be celibate. And my good wishes. He needs them.