My Kupp Runneth Over

I’ve been asked the question 657½ times in my life. A precise number. I know, but I kept count. “Did you ever have a crush on a teacher growing up?” the plethora of inquiring minds wondered, wandering into TMI territory.

To begin with, 123 people with whom I attended school have asked as have 288 other gay men who hoped to validate their young boy attractions to a male teacher. There were the 246 times other teachers asked in conversations exploring the complicated student-teacher dynamic. And there was the half when a telephone survey-taker asked, but I hung up before the question was completed. I will not be interrupted while watching The Bachelorette!

The simple answer to the question is no. I never had a crush on a teacher. But I did have one on a teaching intern. It was the seventh or eighth grade. We were lined up in our gym clothes at the beginning of P.E. Attendance was about to begin. An unfamiliar man was standing with Coach Lang, our teacher, facing us. And, oh, was that young man handsome.

“We have a student-teacher from the University of Washington School of Education with us for the rest of the semester,” the teacher announced. “This is Mr. Kupp.”

A collective gasp echoed through the cavernous gym, reflecting the boys’ recognition of him. I, too, gasped. But my reaction was internal, stifling my puzzling attraction.

Jake Kupp had been one of the stars of the UW football team and a two-time Rose Bowl player. And UW football was followed by nearly everyone in early 1960s Seattle, even me, who didn’t understand why some linemen were considered offensive. Was it their smell, their language? But I did understand that I did not find Mr. Kupp offensive. He was cute.

I don’t recall ever interacting with Mr. Kupp. I don’t remember peeking at him with confused lust after that introduction, although I probably did. Obsessively. But then, after several weeks, he was gone.

Kupp went on to play in the National Football League. So did his son, Craig. And today, his grandson Cooper Kupp plays for the Los Angeles Rams. Every time the third-generation Kupp makes a reception, and a play-by-play announcer calls out his name, I am reminded of that day when I first saw his grandfather.

There were other male athletes and entertainers of that era that teased my confused sexual awakening. I thought teen idol Ricky Nelson was very cute. There was Tommy Sands. I found Father Knows Best‘s Billy Gray to be strikingly handsome for a young teenager. There even was an original Mouseketeer I found very attractive, Lonnie Burr.

And there was green-eyed Fabian, not to be confused with Fabio, the long-haired romance novel cover-boy who came along 30 years later. I was initially attracted by Fabian’s face, but it wasn’t until the teenager was interviewed on Ed Murrow’s Person to Person that I saw beyond his exterior. Fabian began the interview by announcing he was exhausted, having just returned from a lengthy tour. As a result, the tired teen seemed to me to be more vulnerable, genuine, and human than he had in any previous TV appearance or Tiger Beat photo-spread. In my mind, I became Fabian’s care-giver and wanted to scream at Murrow, “This interview is over. Fabian needs to go to bed.” Fabian’s welfare became more important than my curiosity and I learned that night that lust and caring for someone could be combined. That interview helped me understand myself better and irrevocably changed my life.

But there was one young man before Fabian and the others, from the mid-1950s, that drew my attention. I’ve saved him for last because, now, sixty-plus years later, he is doing it again.

I have discovered several cable networks re-airing classic sitcoms. Among them is Antenna; it airs The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. Although dated in its depiction of woman, marriages, and male-female relationships, I love that show as much now as I did as a child. I still am amused by the convoluted storylines and fascinated by Gracie’s brilliant comedic timing.

Several seasons into the show’s run, George and Gracie’s adopted son Ronnie was added to the cast as their womanizing, charming, college-age stud of a son. And the show became appealing in an entirely unexpected way. I became mesmerized by Ronnie. As young as I was, I was attracted to his smile, physique, and, yes, his ass.

As I stare at those black-and-white images, a marker of sorts in the chronicle of my life, I recall how many attractive men, beyond those initial childhood fantasies, I have known in my real life. So many were beautiful men, both externally and internally, and were fascinating, admirable and inspiring people. And so many are gone, taken prematurely by AIDS or now by the normal life-cycle. Most were part of my social life, primarily in the 1970s and ’80s.  Others were from gyms to which I belonged. Some just meandered in through jobs, neighborhoods, and countless other connections.

As a result, whether I am watching young Ronnie Burns from decades ago or reminiscing about a teaching intern, I know how fortunate I’ve been to have known all these men and had them as part of my journey. And I realize my Kupp runneth over.

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