Enchanted Forest

A man takes us behind the tropical bushes into the land of gay cruising, where two worlds coexist without ever touching.

By Reed Hearne

Published March 11, 1998 10:58AM (EST)

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my? How 'bout muscle-daddies, fats and fems,
not shy? This is Maui, where hidden worlds lie just beneath every glossy
travel poster. Destination to sardine-packed 747s, Bruce and Demi, Dustin
and Denzel and home to a growing sovereignty movement that allies itself
with the PLO and believes the U.S. government is responsible for genocide
of the Hawaiian race and culture.

Another secret land lurks here too -- although the directions to it are
remarkably similar everywhere in the world. Follow the path to the end of
the beach, park, promenade, pier, mall, tracks, tunnel. Cross, climb, duck under, hop over, go around or through the boulders, trees, wall, hedges, dunes or caves. You've left behind the gated resorts, tour buses, families, children, world. Coast on your instincts, scope out the action.

Certain tourist-trampled places have become world-renowned in gay circles.
Such a spot on Maui is next door to Little Beach, one of the few places in
the islands where "aloha spirit" wins over an archly conservative moral
mind-set (forget about all that gay marriage folderol) to allow nude sun
bathing. The "enchanted forest," a dense thicket of Kiawe trees wrapped
around the leeward side of Puu Olai, an ancient volcanic cinder cone, is an
endless maze of footpaths through waste-high grasses, the quintessential,
sylvan playground for queers.

If you're gay and don't get it, you probably can't be taught. One theory is that
the degree to which you need directions is proportional to the absence of
knowing what to do when you get there. Straight men learn early to hide
their primordial lust behind "lines" and strategies acceptable to women.
Gay men don't have to. Whether they're highly selective, sport major attitude or discriminate according to rarefied fetishes, they always know
at the most basic level how the other guy's clock is wound. The word,
recently sanctified by Webster's, is gaydar: a powerful symbiosis etched
into our collectively horny unconscious.

Gay Arcadian sex coexists with small towns and big cities alike. The
furtive realms originally (and still in much of the homophobic world)
filled a bursting need for queers to connect, where, other than public
bathrooms, no buildings stood to shelter their meetings. Now men choose
them over safe and acceptable bars or clubs in cities as liberal as San
Francisco or West Hollywood. There is something undeniably primal about a
pastoral hunt.

Where do these hunts take place? In the park, no more than 50 yards from
the front door of Danielle Steele's stately Pacific Heights mansion. In the
hedges near the Louvre. On the beach under the Golden Gate Bridge in
the afternoon. At the end of New York's notorious piers. By the trees
below the Hollywood sign. At these and hundreds of other sites, men "play"
in proximity to what would be a very disapproving rest of the world.
Fortunately, they rely on an instinctive understanding: If others are not
looking for it, it can happen right under their noses and they won't see it
or feel threatened.

When I romped as a visitor on Maui, I too partook of the forest's delights.
Adventure runs reckless through veins on vacation. Gay men from far corners
let fly their inhibitions, as mandatory in some quarters as snorkeling or
bodysurfing in crystal blue waters, whale watching or making the waterfall-riven
drive to Hana. Deep in mesquite thickets, "snorkeling," "bodysurfing" and
"whale watching" take on entirely new dimensions. But when I moved here, I told myself that as a new
resident, eager to shed the haole (outsider) stigma, my former gay
abandon would have to cease. Surely small-island locals must exercise more
discretion than tourists who will never see their fellow bushwhackers again.

Then, as always, it begins with a beachside seduction. Loitering eye contact over the top of designer shades. Nonchalant poses and gestures six towels away that just happen to flatter his best features. He gets up and
walks to the edge of the green maze. A fatal glance over the shoulder
before he saunters in seals it. The little head has assumed control.

Time to take a walk and see what's up. There are feral tomcats stalking
prey and spiders the size of nickels waiting patiently in webs spun across
the trails. What harm can there be in observing nature? Many of the players
in this ritual are amazingly self-deluded. They pretend to sight sea
mammals on the open sea vistas while slyly monitoring for errant hillside
"whales" that brazenly dare to cruise too close.

One such man who tracked my heels through a considerable labyrinth of lava
and thorns (planted by missionaries to keep natives from going barefoot)
stutteringly told me he was writing poetry when I asked him what he was
doing. I felt bad but I knew it would cut him loose.

The whole gig is unspoken rules and silent conventions. Conversation is for
getting to know people, finding a boyfriend, relationships. Out in the
bushes it's Cowboys and Indians, Hide and Go Seek, Hunters and Gatherers.
It's pure animal brain, adolescent, boy's play, recreational, safe sex
(unless you're crazy).

There is no gay single's scene on Maui so most gay visitors arrive with a
boyfriend or lover. Some pretend to hide their "adventures" from their
partners. The accepted convention is to leave hubby on the beach while
"taking a walk." Everyone knows the score, but they choose not to discuss
it, at least in detail. It's silly because the alliance of the forest
exists on a different plane.

Then again, feigned shame and naughtiness supply the erotic charge.

Naturally, I had no intention of doing anything (yeah right), then suddenly
(after an hour of stalking) the incredible guy from the beach appeared
behind a tree. The coded combination of looks and gestures is unmistakable
and certain. His eyes say he sees himself with your eyes, knows exactly
how you deify his floppy lock of hair (he flips it), his powerful haunches
(he flexes), square jaw (he smiles). He shows you with his hands where your
hands could be and what they could be doing. You respond in kind, the
parts entwine, distinctions blur or, depending on your bent, become
hyper-magnified. What's left are the things you can do for each other that
can't be done alone. When it all flows, it's a slow and delicious dance
into a zone of intimacy that is powerful exactly because it is strictly
physical. He is, after all, a complete stranger.

It wasn't until I was walking back to the beach, thinking so much more clearly
(funny how that works), that I realized I had seen him before. I scanned
mental files of all the new people I had met, in local shops, through
friends of friends. What if he was a resident? What if I saw him again in a
social setting?

Two days later I walked into a job interview and there he was on the other
side of a desk. He stood (how different he looked in clothes), shook my
hand and gave me the same look I had seen behind the tree. I know that in that
brief flash of recognition we both saw the same mental picture of each
other with our mouths full. He smiled with the tiniest little smirk
attached that managed to bullhorn volumes. It said, "Relax! We've already
met in a parallel universe with its own measures of status (read: physical
virtues), reality and rules very different from this one. Our secret
society isn't compelled to reconcile incompatible worlds, the way others
too often try with tragic results."

He was professional, charming, still attractive even. We flirted in a
frivolous way through the interview, never acknowledging what we both
remembered all too vividly. Surprisingly, I was no more nervous than I
would have been at any job interview. The dreaded moment had arrived and I
lived through it effortlessly. I discovered erotic shame is a powerful
aphrodisiac, a low common denominator among foragers of enchanted forests.

In the light of polite society, when civilization or conversation
intervenes, the animal level of male bonding evaporates, taking shame along
with it as surely as a dream upon waking. He was a nice guy, no one I
would ever pursue in a relationship, but then that would be cheating on my
lover, something I don't do. Worlds that can't occupy the same space are
guaranteed never to compete or collide. I can hear a women say she's heard
this old rationalization since the beginning of time. Male couples get
balled up when they forget that one of them isn't that woman. Oh, by the
way, I didn't get the job. I like to think neither of us wanted to sully a
pristine memory by getting to know each other.

Reed Hearne

Reed Hearne is writer living in San Francisco. His short stories have appeared in The South Carolina Review, Blue Moon Review, The Alsop Review and Web del Sol.

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