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.
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How to explore your fetish fantasy
I caught up with Will Kane from calendar-boys to talk about the art of fetish photography.
When did you discover and start exploring your passion for photography?
From as far back as I can remember, I was always into photography. I remember going on school trips at primary school and always making sure I had a camera with me. Back in the 80s, I was always very clear about what I wanted to shoot and who’d be in the shoot - making the tall kids stand at the back, and getting lots of heckling and shouts of ‘hurry up’ - but I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and this was back in the day where you had to leave your film with the chemist and wait a week to get them back to see if you had decapitated anyone.
I think I probably got a new camera every year for Christmas. My first camera had the 110 film, then I remember getting the disc camera which was super slim and deemed revolutionary at the time, then I went through a stage of disposable cameras because they were cheap and I’d then get them printed on CDs so I could edit and save them.
About 10 years ago, a colleague at work inspired me to a Canon camera. It’s so fancy - it has so many features that I don’t even need or use, but it allows me to capture the images I need before I manipulate them into the finished product.
What drew you to specialise in fantasy fetish-wear photo-shoots?
Who doesn’t love a man in uniform! I love a fancy dress party, either throwing them or attending them, but either way I take my costume very seriously. As a result, I’ve ended up with about 10 cool uniforms that I acquired from eBay, Amazon, and various specialist online stores. People always commented on how authentic the outfits were at these various parties, and obviously people always seemed to want a pic standing next to me in whatever outfit I was in.
I began to think I could combine these two things - my passion for photography and my love of sourcing authentic genuine costumers. I thought that there must be guys like me - normal build, shy-ish, non-scene, that most likely don’t fit the stereotype of what a fetish-wear guy looks like. I’m not a baldy, bearded, buff bear, but every time I wore the CHiPs outfit from the 70s TV show, I felt incredibly powerful, sexy, and horny.
I’m also a member of fetish app Recon, and I get lots of messages from guys who look at me in some of my pics and are very surprised that someone like me would be into leather and uniforms. My response is always the same - do not judge a book by its cover.
What sort of guys are you interested in commissioning you to take photos of them in fetish-wear?
All sorts - I shoot anyone and everyone! When I see pics of guys in fetish-wear they usually fit the stereotype of being buff, bald, bearded bears. It led me to think - What about us less built guys? What about us shy guys? Also, fetish-wear can be expensive, so I thought that if someone has seen some leather porn and thinks - ’I’d love to get some chaps but wonder if they’d suit me’ - this way they can come to my studio and have some cool and hot new pics, and also see how’d they look in leather. A new pair of chaps cost upwards of £200, but my shoots cost a fraction of that.
Shy guys and curious guys are made especially welcome, as I understand their nervousness about appearing in gear. When I first bought chaps and a waistcoat and put it on for the first time, I felt incredibly powerful and horny and sexy but also was aware that to some potentially ‘hardcore’ leathermen I probably looked ridiculous. I’m part of a group called Leathermen South, which is based in Brighton. They’re always encouraging me to don my leathers and attend one of their meets, but it’s only me holding me back. It’s a confidence thing.
I’m also happy to shoot anyone who is already into fetish-wear. Maybe they have lots of leather and trackies, but want to try on some police uniforms - I have six to choose from. Or, maybe guys want some new pics for various social media or hook up apps, or it could be a gift to a partner, or if you’re having a party and fancy some pics for a super cool invite. I’ve had guys who want to surprise their boyfriend for a calendar for their office so they can gaze at them adoringly 365 days a year.
I’m happy to shoot duos - a couple of mates together, or perhaps a couple. I’m also happy to shoot them in some amorous positions, but I need to make clear that I’m not a pornographer. I have had lots of interest from guys who want to get into porn - I’ve been able to give them some great shots to send off to porn producers and studios. My studio is very welcoming and very private, and has a well-stocked fridge to ease any nerves.
When I’m scouting for models, sometimes I get guys who have no clue that they have this amazing look and are pleasantly surprised at the end results. I had this one guy who was short and stocky and super sexy. He had a silver crop, so I suggested that he’d look amazing as a skinhead. He’d never thought of that look, but when he donned the gear he looked like a different person and developed this hard-man persona while in gear. The outfits themselves have powerful qualities.
What sort of gear do you have available?
I have over 70 costumes and outfits and props and scenarios to choose from. Within that 70, there are also variations, so even one particular genre can maybe take a good hour to shoot with all the various gear and props I have.
This is something that I discuss with the client before the shoot, to make sure that I have everything in their size and also to make sure they’re all washed and ready to wear. I have the usual stereotypical items that us gay guys seem to like - leather, sports gear, suits, and many, many uniforms.
My collection took quite a while to accumulate, as I was getting suggestions from friends and online fetish forums. Previous models I’ve had have really surprised me in what they’ve found sexy. A few models said that they really liked the paramedic uniform. I’ve had so many requests for lingerie. I also have some superhero costumes.
Is the photoshoot itself a sexual thing?
It is indeed! Guys can’t help being aroused, so thankfully my studio is very private and not overlooked, so guys can disrobe and parade around naked as much as they like. For those shy guys, I have slippers and dressing gowns for guys to wear between takes and costume changes. My studio also gets quite hot under the studio lights, and I have a TV there with various DVDs if guys need some visual stimulation for ‘adult’ pics.
There are times when I’ve had to leave my studio when I’ve gotten aroused - I’ve had to go away and ‘adjust’ myself, as it’s not very professional and I’d prefer guys to look into my lens not my bulge. I have had guys message me and ask if I’ll be naked for the shoot, or if I’ll also be dressed up in fetish-wear. The answer is no - I’m too busy assembling their outfits and props for their shoot.
Because we’re much more open these days, we’re able to discuss our porn-watching habits more openly and so a lot of guys want to emulate their favourite porno genres - army, builder, boxer, convict, cop, cowboy, doctor, firefighter. The fact that my studio is private and warm also makes guys feel more comfortable disrobing in front of strangers, but also some guys are just exhibitionists. I have a huge full-length mirror, so guys can constantly check themselves out when in gear. I shoot everything against a white backdrop - I then Photoshop the background to match the outfit.
My job is to make everyone feel super-confident and make them look as amazing as I can so that they’re not disappointed with the end result pics.
If I was a bit fetish curious, how would I go about organising a photo-shoot to start to explore that side of my sexuality?
Guys get in touch through my website. That way they’ve mostly already looked at all the different outfits that I have to choose from. I given them a call, and we discuss the outfits that have caught their eye. I ask about what outfits they find sexy on others, what porn they watch - lots of different questions to get a picture of what’s going to work best for them. Then, we book the shoot in and we start to bring those fantasies to life.
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