I caught up with Richard Crowe to reflect on the years he spent at an English boarding school and how that’s shaped his sexuality today.
You were boarding at an all-boys school?
Yes, I attended from the age of 9–18. The school was split into two — Prep School, age 9–12, and Main School, age 13–18 — both sharing the same campus.
In my day, there were about 370 boys. A House system was in place in both schools, and you stayed in the same house throughout your school career.
Lessons and games were organised in year groups. Dormitories and changing facilities were organised in-house — dormitories by age, with a prefect in each dorm to ‘keep order.’ But changing facilities were communal, so a ten-year-old could and would find themselves naked next to an 18-year-old, for example.
At that age, did you have an awareness that you were gay?
That’s a really difficult question to answer. Boys were mucking about with each other everywhere. Not full sex, not fucking, but mutual masturbation and oral. For me this started in Prep, aged 11. It happened a lot, out of the public view — toilet cubicles, empty classrooms, the old fives courts, and other well known ‘rendezvous points.’
Everyone knew it was happening, but nobody owned up to it or thought it was gay. I remember the captain of the under-16 rugby team loved having his balls squeezed, hard as you could — harder, harder — through his trousers. But if you suggested he was queer he’d beat you up.
To be singled out as ‘a queer’ in this frenziedly homosexual yet homophobic society was the ultimate degradation. You immediately became the lowest of the low, a position from which there was no redemption until you left school. That’s exactly what happened to me in my first year of Main School, aged 13.
In some ways I feel that I didn’t decide that I was gay, my peers decided it for me.
What were some of your earliest sexual experiences at school?
I remember playing a game in a classroom at break-time with two friends. I would ‘go to sleep’ and they would have to try to fish my cock out of my pants and fly without me ‘waking up.’ After we’d played this two or three times, I realised I didn’t have to wake up but could stay asleep as long as I wanted while they played with my cock and balls. This was the first time I ejaculated, a rather thick and creamy substance leaking from my penis all over their hands. We were a bit confused, we were only 12, and they didn’t have pubic hair yet, which is why they did the fishing and I got fished.
This stuff was all very common. ‘Grab Balls’ was a game that was played in various states of undress in the changing rooms. Each player, and there could be many and of mixed ages, held one hand over their balls leaving the other, like a crab’s pincer, free to try to shift another boy’s defences away and grab and squeeze his balls. Some defended their genitals to the nth degree, others were a push-over and would moan and groan and roll their eyes as their gonads were well and truly pummelled.
Was everyone aware of what was going on?
Encounters were frequent, everyone knew about them, but few people acknowledged or talked about it. The exception being two boys in my year — one of whom wanked the other one, openly, throughout every physics lesson. The particular arrangement of benches and stools making it impossible for the master, naive and short-sighted, to see what was going on, but lending us boys a clear view.
Were the sexual encounters just between boys of the same age, or was there also interaction between older and younger students?
While ‘fagging’ — junior boys acting as servants for senior boys — had been abolished for quite some time, there was an understanding that if a senior boy took a fancy to a pretty lad, the junior boy should do his duty.
Most relationships between older and younger boys were vaguely exploitative. For example, in choir practice, I always sat next to an older boy who had befriended me — I was 13, he was 15. He started talking about oral sex one day and asked me if I’d been sucked off yet. When I said I hadn’t, he offered to do it if I reciprocated.
After practice we went to the gym and locked ourselves in a toilet cubicle. He didn’t suck me for very long before he stood up and pulled out an enormous cock that sprouted from a thick bush of hair like an obscene branch. According to him, I sucked ‘like a natural,’ though all I remember were the tears in my eyes and the pain in my throat for days afterwards. He also insisted I swallowed his load — there’s a first time for everything — which I did and was promptly sick.
Were the teachers aware of the sexual encounters between the students?
There was absolutely no discussion of any of this on a formal level, master to boys. No mention of anything like masturbation or homosexual sex or other alternatives in biology. My sex education consisted of a drawing of a rabbit on a black board, and a hugely embarrassed master — a bachelor — excusing himself and running from the classroom pursued by our giggles.
Once we were interrupted by a master when we were playing our ‘fishing game’ in a classroom. I stood up, I presumed just in time, turned my back and did up my trousers. The master — one of the good guys — asked me why I’d turned my back on him when he entered. I didn’t have an answer and he had no more questions. I suspect he knew exactly what was going on.
There were, of course, stories at the time of masters touching up boys. I suspect my house master tried to have a go at me when I called on him in his rooms — as instructed — to find him fresh from the shower, dripping wet, and barely covered by a towel. In retrospect, having learned more since from old boys, I think there was much more that went on than we ever knew about, and at least three predatory paedophiles on the staff.
How do you think those sexual experiences at school have shaped your sexuality today?
In my first year in Main School, aged 13, a prefect and known bully — I’ll call him Walker — took a shine to me. I was a pretty, a blue-eyed blond. One day, I was summoned to Walker’s study. I ran, because it sounded serious and I didn’t want to get in trouble. I knocked on his study door, entered when told to, and found four boys there on chairs, in a row, facing me. Apart from Walker, in the centre, there was another prefect beside him and, on the ends of the row, Ogden, one of my peers — an ugly boy who I disliked — and a boy from the Prep School, no more than ten, who I later discovered was Walker’s brother.
Walker told me to strip. It was unusual, out of context, but I was used to being naked in front of other boys, so, fearing the consequences should I disobey, I stripped. I was then told to stand directly in front of the younger boy and wank off.
I did it. I was in tears at the end of it. The audience laughed a lot and I felt humiliated. I have to be honest, however, and say that, despite this, a part of me — a large part I now know — enjoyed it.
I discovered that day that I liked being seen naked and aroused. I liked being watched masturbating. I liked being naked while others were clothed, it made me feel vulnerable, exposed, and excited. I enjoyed being humiliated in front of a younger boy and an ugly boy. I was aware that I was the good looking one in the room. I also knew I had a bigger cock than most my age, was quite well developed in the hair department, and could shoot my spunk a long way. All of which I enjoyed showing off.
A lot of contradictory emotions for a 13-year-old to fathom — hence the tears and the exhaustion at the end.
This event was probably the most significant of my life. In part because of Walker’s calculated choice of ‘audience’ members that day. Ogden’s presence ensured that my whole cohort knew what I had done, and the presence of his younger brother ensured that I would be known as a queer throughout my whole school career. Clever that.
It’s taken years to unpick this stuff, and come to terms with my sexuality as an exhibitionist and submissive , but I’m getting there.
Richard Crowe (image supplied)