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article 248bis - Imprisoned For Love: A Young Gay Man Pays For His Ignorance

by Gert Hekma in History & Politics , 15 december 2011

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

John Welbergen was born in 1934 in Leiden and spent his childhood in Den Helder. His father was a marine and left in 1938 for the Dutch Indies, where he died in a prison camp during the war. Father and son hardly knew each other. John grew up with his mother and after the war with a stepfather. In 1955 John got in trouble with the police because of article 248bis of the Criminal Code. He told Gert Hekma his story.

I’ve always found it curious I was more into my boyfriends than my girlfriends. I took dancing lessons and it was expected that you took one of the girls home and tried to kiss her. My friends told me that I should try to fondle them too. Often I met up with one of my friends afterwards and we’d have sex together. Just a bit of wanking off, no sucking or kissing.

I was seventeen or eighteen at the time. When I was nineteen I had to go in military service. Right before that I wondered why I was so different from my friends, I had never heard of homosexuality. There were two men in Den Helder who dressed ostentatiously and wore suede shoes, which was a giveaway for either an artist or a porter. One of them was Dorus Pieters, the son of a herring retailer and the other was the greengrocer Jan Koning.

My mother and especially my second father always said: as long as you don’t turn out like Dorus Pieters. But what did that mean? His style of dress was flashy, but he was a nice man.

I decided to go to the doctor and told him that I like my boyfriends better than my girlfriends. He said that it wasn’t a problem at all and that something could be done about that. He sent me to a psychiatrist.

John Welbergen (left) and Willem Kok, a.k.a. the erotic artist Dorus, with a prostitute on Amsterdam’s Zeedijk in 1958

This doctor Verhoeven was a very strange man with a bow tie; he didn’t shake my hand, just held his in front of him so you could hold on to it for a few seconds. He asked me what was wrong and I told him that I always took showers with the other guys after soccer practice and that we fondled each other, and that I didn’t have any inclination to do that with girls. After the dance lesson I took them home and we were supposed to kiss, but I didn’t want to. Well, he said he could do something about that; he was going to give me medication and I was to go and try to find myself a girlfriend.

I took the tablets this man gave me and noticed that my early morning erections disappeared. I lost interest in masturbation and when I showered with another boy after basketball nothing happened down there whatsoever. That was the moment I thought, to hell with this and washed the tablets down the toilet. If I was going to be different there was no other option than to accept it.

‘All these guys had testosterone coming out of their ears’

It was my own initiative to go to the doctor. My mother always suspected I was gay but never said anything. My second father often said, “you look like a girl,” because I was always fretting over my looks. I had a “chicken’s butt,” which was the fashion at the time [a little tuft of hair in the neck], a greaser and I dressed pied de poule [checked] jacket, red shirt, a yellow tie and bright yellow socks. I stood out like a sore thumb in Den Helder, just like the son of the herring seller, but they let me be.

Faggots supposedly don’t play soccer but when I was twelve, thirteen all my friends played soccer. So if I wanted to belong I had to play soccer, or hockey, but that was not really my milieu. Besides, I was rather good at soccer, played in the team of North Holland. When you’re good, you have a little extra credit. I also did drama in school so people accepted a little odd behavior. I tried hard to find a girlfriend and met a really nice girl, Rietje.

Drawing by Dorus (Willem Kok) on the back cover of a 1965 issue of the Amsterdam based magazine ‘Euromale,’ 1965

In hindsight I realize she was a bit boyish, she practiced Judo. When we romped around she always won. We even had sex once. It was exciting but it didn’t satisfy me. Then, when I was nineteen, twenty, I was saved by the military service. I wanted to join the army and hoped to get out of Den Helder, but no, I was enlisted in the navy. This was the start of a golden time. All these boys had testosterone coming out of their ears and many wanted to shower with me or go to the park. Every once in a while you had guard duty and was supposed to keep an eye on things in the dormitory. Whenever I saw blankets move I went straight for the action. I had a great time. There were thirty guys in my squadron, with three or four of them I had sex regularly.

I was put on a minesweeper and on that boat I met Kees van Ginneken, a boy from Brabant. I fell in love immediately and we had an affair. I have no idea whether he was gay, but he was clearly crazy about me. We regularly had sex for half a year. Because I lived in Den Helder I could go home after work, he often came with me and spent the night in our home.

When I finished military service we continued seeing each other (he was in the military professionally). With carnival he went to Breda, he was from that region, and when he came back he said all of a sudden: “You have to pay me because I got a girl pregnant.” I’ve always thought that was so strange. I asked him how he could know that already, but he claimed it had happened a while ago. If I didn’t pay him he threatened to go to the cops. I didn’t believe he would do that, but he did. I worked at the Warf and made 16.90 guilders per week. I couldn’t afford an abortion, it was something like 500 or 600 guilders.

I think we had discussed it sometimes, that what we did was illegal, that we shouldn’t tell people about it. I knew it, but never thought I was in danger. I really thought this boy loved me and never believed he was going to report me. He called a couple of times to demand money and finally he called the police. Just before he dobbed me in, I had the chance to go to New Guinea to work on an electricity plant. Finally a way out of Den Helder. I had already gotten some money to prepare for the big trip. But it all fell through because of that asshole. I’ve never seen him again.

‘Touched his member with my mouth, things like that’

I worked at the Warf as an electrician and was lying somewhere in the hull of a ship putting wires together when a police officer came up to me and said: “John, can you come with me, we have to talk.” I had to come to the police station and one of the officers said: “We have a charge here by Kees van Ginneken that you’ve done this and that with him.” I can’t remember the precise words they used, indecent acts, touched his member with my mouth, something like that. I said: “That’s right.” I was so naive.

Later, my lawyer said, he knew me, his son was in my soccer team, “why didn’t you say the guy was talking bullshit.” “But it happened,” I said. “Jesus,” he said, “but it’s your word against his!” But I had confessed and was taken into custody straight away. First a few days at the police station and afterwards in Alkmaar. Three months, before I went to court I was in prison for three months already.

And then the thing dragged on for another three. I was baffled by what the public prosecutor had to say about me. With fire in his eyes he claimed I was the most vulgar dirty bastard. The things I’d done to that boy, I had abused him and ruined his life. Kees wasn’t even there.

My lawyer thought it was preposterous because of the age difference. When it started he had been eighteen and I was twenty, at the time of the court case I was twenty-one and he was nineteen. My lawyer went for acquittal because these boys loved each other, it all happened in mutual consent, there had never been any abuse. I was sentenced to a year in prison, seven of which on probation. I was transferred to Utrecht and later to Scheveningen for the remaining time.

Protest against article 248bis in The Hague in January 1969, the text reads ‘Don’t let’s call each other Faggot, 248bis must disappear’

‘Busted a second time!’

Afterwards I returned to Den Helder and that was disastrous: I had a reputation, all my friends avoided me. I could return to my job, though. I moved to Alkmaar so that I could join another soccer team. Fortunately the sports club was considerate enough not to share such sensitive information with my new club. I lived in Alkmaar for eight months. Just before I moved there I met a boy, Simon; I was crazy about him and he was crazy about me. What we did together was never harmful to him or against what he wanted. I treated him to a nice weekend in Amsterdam.

We went to Kees Manders in Saint Germain des Prés at Rembrandtplein. He thought it was fabulous. I had booked a hotel room on Warmoesstraat. After the show we went for a drink and after that we went to our room and enjoyed each other’s company. In the middle of the night there was someone knocking at the door. I went to see who it was and there were two men with hats on and in rain coats. They asked me if I was Mr. Welbergen and whether I was with Simon Kraak. Well, there was no denying because our mess was all over the floor. In these days the police regularly checked the guest books in hotels and if they saw two men’s names with one nineteen years old and the other older...

I remember very clearly the moment these officers entered our hotel room. First I shivered with cold and then I started sweating; I wet my pants in a panic, it was so horrible to have two officials in the room with our cum rag right there on the floor. They escorted us to the Warmoesstraat police station and threw us in a cell.

Simon was released the next day but not me. Simon was nineteen. A little obnoxious, but also stupid of me. Busted a second time! After a few days at the station they transferred me to the detention center at the Amstelveenseweg and held me in custody for three months again.

Eventually I was sentenced to serve the time they’d given me on probation the first time, and fortunately didn’t pile on a longer period. In court I was berated again as a total pervert but they didn’t send me to another psychiatrist. I didn’t get to see one doctor that time. The pre-research was conducted by the magistrate and he turned out to be a famous amateur organ player, Romke de Waard. That man was so nice and I’m sensitive to that. I would’ve told him anything, everything, why would I lie?

I went to trade school for two years only. After that I knotted things out for myself. What did I know about the world? I had never heard of homosexuality. I didn’t realize I was so different from the others, I really thought it was normal. The preliminary research focused on the singular charge, the one incident. They didn’t ask me about other things but they did want to know whether I had had these impulses before. I simply told them I was more interested in boys than I was in girls.

‘It wasn’t very nice in jail’

I was transferred from the Amstelveenseweg to Scheveningen. Once or twice a day we could walk around an enclosed courtyard in a little group. The color of one’s card was an indication of why you were in prison: fraud of burglary or whatever. Salmon was the color for sex crime. So my fellow inmates assumed I had raped little girls or boys and therefore isolated me. Then, a big guy approached me, told me to hold on to his arm. It turned out to be “Haagse Puk” (Puk from The Hague), a pimp. He asked me, “What did you do? You probably stole a chicken.” I told him I hadn’t and he said: “Stick with me for two rounds and they won’t bother you anymore.”

Indeed, I never had any trouble afterwards. The signal was that if a guy like that offered you his friendship you were OK. I was there for a while, so I had to work, which was good because it was nice to get out of your cell.
Our cells were only three by four meters, with a chemical container with a curtain around it for a toilet, an iron bed with a thin mattress and a table and chair, that was it. It was horrible so it was good to get out and work.

Manufacture wooden pegs and such. I was put to work setting letters for books, and forms for the ministry. I was there with the “good little gentleman,” an attorney who’d swindled a bank out of five or six million guilders. A nice man, very social. There was also a boy who’d murdered his aunt for twenty-five guilders, he was also very nice, very sweet actually.

I had a counselor, Van Bohemen of the Humanist Union, a very nice man who recommended good books to me. He never even asked me why I was doing time. It wasn’t very nice in jail, but I didn’t mind it too much. It changes your perspective on the world, on people; I started to read and it turned out positively, it was a real lesson.

‘He always tried to get into the shower with me’

I was transported through half the country as an inmate. I spent time in Vught, Utrecht, Scheveningen, Alkmaar, Amsterdam. They didn’t handcuff me but put a stick in your pants so you couldn’t run. I thought it was all so humiliating and offensive. These punishments have changed me for life. Whenever the police came to my workplace later, it would make me very nervous. I never told other gays about my time in prison, I pushed it from my mind. My mother wanted me back home, but my sister didn’t want to have anything to do with me anymore.

The people in Den Helder avoided and ignored me. If other men were interested in me I didn’t dare to even look at them. I rejected anyone who showed any interest. When I was in Alkmaar I played soccer and there was a very beautiful eighteen-year old boy as a goal keeper. He followed me around like a little puppy. Was crazy for me, wanted to shower with me. I barely dared to look at him, I was so scared, skittish.

He clearly showed interest. One day we went to the Bergen beach to talk and play soccer. I asked him where he lived and he said, “in Schutterswei, yeah, my dad is warden at the prison.” I had the shock of my life. I’ve never had sex with him.

There was another boy at the soccer club, he was very beautiful as well. He always tried to get into the shower with me, while sporting an erection, but I said no, no, no. I did it with Simon though. I spent a year in prison for love. Was considered a dirty bastard for love, it’s hard to imagine.



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