An Inappropriate Life

Memoir by Stan Gotlieb

Sex and Anarchy

All communes, to borrow from “Animal Farm”, are different, but some are more different than others. CRO was a lot more different. To start out with, there were hardly any rules, and no supreme leader. Some folks were deferred to because they were smarter, or because they had some specialized knowledge, but not because they were the keepers of some “one true path”. The general consensus was that anyone had the power to say yes, but anyone who said “no” was a fascist asshole, and not to be listened to. Truly anarchic, in a way that most communes only pretended to be, CRO was a sort of psychological boot camp. Only the strong survived.

All shades of personal relationships were represented at CRO, from dedicated celibacy to something approaching compulsive sexuality; from strict monogamy to a ménage a trois. The rule was, “whatever turns you on, and no coercion”. When we bought the new farm, one of the new houses was dubbed “the big house”, and contained large communal bedrooms. The other was named “Bloomington”, a reference to a suburb of Minneapolis believed to be very conventional, and the monogamous couples eventually took it over, led by Michael, who was insanely jealous. There were doors on all the bedrooms, and some could be locked.

In the largest of the upstairs bedrooms in the big house, where Ellen and I slept, there were as many as 15 teenagers and adults bedding down together – the teens in their own corner. Although generally “coupled up”, the adults in this room tended to be more sexually eclectic. Sometimes, things got downright weird…

R, a widower from “back East”, moved to CRO with his 12-year-old daughter, G. He had been a lover of Mary's, and she had convinced him that G would be better off at CRO, with children her own age to relate to, and lots of adult attention to make up for what she had until recently gotten from her late mother. Altho R was the only single father in the place, he was certainly not the only single parent. As most of our hippy contemporaries discovered, extended families give parents a break from their kids, and the kids a broader vision of what adults are like.

A guy named Bill came to live with us about a year later. He just wandered in one day, and nobody knew him. Although he seemed a little uptight, and gave off violent vibes, he behaved himself, contributed to the work load, and generally acquitted himself in a reasonable manner. He didn't seem to be much interested in sex, but nobody thought that was any stranger than being obsessed with it, as some of us were.

A few months after Bill had arrived, he came into the parlor in the big house, and asked those of us present to help him with a little problem. He had, he confessed, come to CRO after a long stretch in prison for aggravated assault. When he got out, he found himself exclusively attracted to underage virginal girls, and, scared that he might act on his impulses, he had sought an atmosphere where the constant presence of other adults would act as a brake, and help him avoid another long prison stay. However, something had come up: one of the older teenagers, already sexually active and therefore not very attractive to Bill, had told him that G. wanted him to take her virginity. What should he do?

When all the babble settled down, a couple of the older women said they would talk to G, and get back to him. When they came back to report, this is what they told us: G., now 14, had noticed that Bill, while always correct in his behavior toward her, found her attractive. While a genius, she was not physically precocious for her age, and found it quite flattering, although she had no interest in Bill beyond a one night stand. Her real target was her dad, for whom she had the most awful letch, but who was absolutely terrified of her advances. She hoped that sleeping with Bill would accomplish several things: losing her virginity, which she saw only as a hindrance to getting on with her life; learning some things about how to be a sexual woman; and removing some of her Dad's inhibitions, as she would now be a woman and not just a little girl.

The debate raged for days. We were forced to examine all sorts of sexual proscriptions, prescriptions, taboos and fantasies. We never were able to reach a consensus on the matter. Meanwhile, Bill and G, correctly perceiving that doing so was unlikely to get them in too much trouble in a group that was so divided, went ahead and did the deed, after a “coming of age” ceremony performed by the older teenage girls, most of whom thought the whole idea was just as cute as could be.

True to her word, G never approached Bill for sex again, nor did he ask. Instead, he began to hit on the adult women, most of whom rejected him because they didn't find him attractive, and some of whom did have sex with him now and then. Sex with G seemed to have freed him of some kind of hangup. Years later, J told me that during a pillow-talk session she had with him at CRO, he said he had been a virgin when he went into prison, barely 18 years old. A case of arrested growth, he had never had a chance to satisfy his teenage fantasies.

A few weeks later, G and her father left CRO to move into Eugene, and I lost track of them. Whatever did or did not happen between them after they left, I have heard that after high school, she went East to college, became a prominent surgeon, married well, and has children of her own. Bill drifted away after a while, and was never heard from again.

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