The other night, my E.S. and I had dinner with N. and A., a lesbian couple who are friends of mine. E.S., who is a medical student, and N., who is not but who is interested in medicine, got into an involved conversation about medical school. They talked about E.S.'s current rotation, which is at a substance abuse treatment center, and the kind of work he wants to do once he's a full-fledged psychiatrist. He's not so interested in sit-on-my-couch-and-tell-me-about-your-mother psychiatry; instead, he wants to work in hospitals, helping people who are really, really crazy. That is, until he reaches his eventual goal (after a stint in Doctors Without Borders), which is to run a gay community health center.
I sat there and thought, I spend all my time with theater people, who are the most self-involved people on the face of the earth. And here you are, making a life out of helping others.
I felt so damn proud of him I could hardly stand it.
Of course, going through your old books is nothing compared to going through boxes of old letters from and to your father and your dead mother and realizing that your mother's side of the family, from which you've unofficially but firmly cut yourself off because you thought it was made up of bigoted raving lunatics, is in fact made up of bigoted raving lunatics, but that they're bigoted raving lunatics who are nonetheless eloquently and acutely aware of how painful the human condition is. Who write about kids in military school and say:
"E. & Y. and the others have gone--one by one--but they have gone--to their ships or training schools or home on leave--but gone. You can't imagine how sad and perilously young they look in their shiny uniforms . . . the very rending quality of their separation. . . ."
This from a man who subscribes to Southern Partisan, a magazine that believes the Civil WarWar Between the States War of Northern Aggression is still going on.
I may have to deal with a lot of crazy people in Manhattan, but at least they all fit in the boxes I put them in.
I'm home in South Carolina for the first time in almost three years. I've been here for five hours now and I'm about to lose my mind.
The house I grew up in has been renovated almost beyond recognition. My father's computer is so slow as to be carbon-datable. I have been forced to play checkers with the child my father and his wife seem to have placed under their protection. It's all so hideous it makes me want to die.
The one saving grace is that I've spent much of the day looking through my old books. Because of a story that's not relevant to this post (but that I promise I'll tell at some point), my father has a moral obligation never to throw away any of my books. And so I'm running across forgotten bits of my history at every turn.
I found the first gay book I ever acquired, a slim volume called I'm Looking for Mr. Right but I'll Settle for Mr. Right Away, by one Gregory Flood. I bought this book at a new age bookstore in Los Angeles when I was fifteen or sixteen, during the same trip on which I narrowly escaped doing all sorts of things in the bathroom of the local mall with a man who seemed at the time to be centuries older than I. Acne-ridden and wearing a fuchsia T-shirt, I was standing in B. Dalton when I heard somebody whisper at me to lift up my shirt. I looked over and saw the ancient man from whom the whisper had emanated; heart pounding with excitement or terror--who can tell which?--I did as he'd asked, but then had the presence of mind to flee when he suggested that we continue our interaction behind the Chick-Fil-A. I spent the rest of the day in a state of relief that I hadn't done anything with him and despair that I wouldn't ever do anything with anybody.
I found John Grishamn's The Pelican Brief in French, which I bought at a train station in Paris so I'd have something to read on the trip to Madrid, where I was going to visit a lamentably heterosexual friend who lived there with his parents and sister, whom he hated. It was the first time in a decade I'd been to a foreign country where I didn't speak the language; I quickly picked up enough Spanish to ask for directions to places like the Royal Palace, but not enough to understand the answers I got. As a result I ended up hopelessly lost in the streets of Madrid until I managed to find my way back to my friend's house. Upon my return to Paris, where my family was staying for a month, I went out to dinner with my father and he asked me how I'd feel if he got married to the woman he was dating. Even I, dissembler that I am, couldn't cover my dismay completely, but it seems to have made no difference--as was only appropriate, since it was his proposal and not mine.
I found a diary I kept for exactly a week, starting the day after I came out. It begins with these sentences: "So. It's true. I'm gay." I haven't been able to bring myself to read any further, for fear that remembering the naivete (forgive the lack of accents--I don't know how to make them on my father's Cretaceous computer) and confusion and terror I felt then will somehow destroy the illusion I've managed to create--and sometimes even to believe--that I'm more in control of my life now than I was then.
More than anything else, reading my autobiography as reflected in these books makes me wish I could travel back in time and whisper in the ear of my adolescent self, "It'll all turn out okay. Really, it will. I promise."
Or is it that I wish my future self could travel back in time and whisper those words in the ear of my present self?
It'll all turn out okay. Really, it will. I promise.
In general, I alternate between periods of joy because I'm sure I want to be with E.S. and anxiety because I'm plagued with doubt and uncertainty. I know that the doubt and uncertainty are symptoms of the poison our culture has fed us for a hundred years about how true love means that birds sing in your ear 24 hours a day and that you are constantly so giddy that you're at risk of taking flight. I know this. And yet the detox is just as difficult as detox always is.
Regular doses of Jane Austen are helping a great deal. She was right about everything else; it's becoming clear to me that she was right about relationships too. They're not about Willoughby's charming good looks or Wickham's easy manner (or Hugh Grant's endearing stutter or Gwyneth Paltrow's breasts). They have to be built on sterner stuff. Like admiration. And respect. Which seem, over time, to be turning into something else.
A friend of mine said yesterday, "You need to stop thinking." Of course, if I did that, then all my earthly problems would be solved, as well as a great number of my spiritual problems.
I'm trying to accept that doubt and uncertainty are really just a part of life.
The fact that every relationship I've ever had in which birds sang in my ear 24 hours a day ended in disaster helps.
A post in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Some years ago, I had the fortune to attend the final dress rehearsal of a musical that was about to open on Broadway. The show dealt in part with issues of race in the south, and was very bad. In one lyric, there was a line very close to something from Dr. King's famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
This will be relevant, I promise.
A few days later, I was in the audience for a discussion with the writers and director of the show. During the question-and-answer period, somebody brought up the above-mentioned lyric and asked, "Was that a purposeful reference to Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech?"
One of the writers of the show, who was no more than five years older than I, explained that the line had actually come from research they'd done on the real-life events that were the basis for the plot. "Maybe Martin was looking at the same material we were," he said.
In that moment I understood everything about why the show was as bad as it was.
It's true that the custom in theatrical circles is to call people by their first names. But this particular writer couldn't have been more than five when King was assassinated.
My parents were shot at, went to jail, and had their dog poisoned, all because they worked with this man.
This year I was unable to come up with a good New Year's resolution in time. Theoretically I made some pitiful claim that I would keep better track of my finances, but that attempt has already fallen by the wayside, as would be evidenced by even a cursory examination of my bank account if I were brave enough to make one, and, besides, it seems underwhelming as a guiding principle for the year.
However, yesterday, in a flash of inspiration, I finally came up with a decent resolution, and since the lunar new year (used in both the Chinese and the Jewish calendars) isn't until Thursday, I figure I can start then.
In college, I lived in the dorm widely known to be the place where all the pretentious artsy clove-cigarette-smoking fags lived. We enjoyed this reputation and did our best to live up to it. Other dorms had Italian Tables and German Tables at mealtimes for those who wanted to practice speaking those languages; we had, in addition, a wildly popular French Accent Table. One year the theme for our winter formal was the Masque of the Red Death; the next year it was the Seven Deadly Sins. That sort of thing.
The year before I got there, the dorm T-shirts said "[Name of dorm]: We're all gay and we're coming to get you." I live to this day with the regret of having been fool enough not to do everything within my power to obtain one of these.
But my junior year, I attended the dorm committee meeting at which they were going to decide what to put on the new T-shirts. A front runner quickly emerged: "[Name of dorm]: You are who you pretend to be." Someone suggested that it would really be much snobbier (and therefore better) if the shirts said "We are who we pretend to be."
I sat listening for a while and then offered what seemed to me to be the obvious choice: "[Name of dorm]: We are who you pretend to be."
This was greeted with great acclaim and accepted unanimously. Then whoever took the order to the T-shirt place told them to italicize "are" and "pretend" and ruined the whole damn thing.
I still have the shirt, but I can never wear it without a certain bittersweet awareness of the absolute impossibility of perfection.
After last year's conspiracy scandal, I know better than to get my hopes up, but if you like my blog, go and nominate me for a Bloggie before the nominations close at 10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Monday.
I was chatting last night with this man, and we were discussing the apparently universal childhood sandbox game.
In case it's less universal than I think it is, I'll explain that the game goes something like this: one kid comes up to another and says, "I won the sandbox." Kid #2, treating the verb in that sentence as its homonym from the world of cardinal numbers, says "I two the sandbox." Kid #1 says "I three the sandbox." This continues until Kid #2 is forced to say "I eight the sandbox," and Kid #1 and all the spectators laugh hysterically at Kid #2 for being stupid enough to have eaten a sandbox.
As I approach senescence (my 31st birthday is in less than a week), the question sticks in my mind: why did we stand for this?
Why, when some little prepubescent putz came up to us and said that he'd won the sandbox, did we miserably play along, knowing from the beginning that we would be, in short order, an object of mockery and derision for everybody in the playground? Why didn't we just tell him to fuck off?
I'm beginning to think that being a grown-up means understanding that "Because you have to" isn't sufficient justification for doing anything.
The summer after my freshman year of college, I sent my high school a check. But it was a donation with strings. Along with the check, I sent a note that said, "Please use the enclosed check to buy the following books for the school library," and listed several books I wished had been so readily available to me during my coming out; the only one I remember specifically was Brian McNaught's On Being Gay, which was extraordinarily helpful to me at the age of fifteen or sixteen or whenever I read it, but there were three or four others as well.
Full of sanctimony and self-righteousness, I thought, "Well, that'll show them. They can't very well refuse the check, so they'll have to buy the books." Visions of destroying the homophobic prejudices running through every current of my high school danced in my head; I would be the savior of the new gay generation, and they would all thank me for it, except of course that they wouldn't know who the books had come from, just that they were in the library, which made the whole thing even better, the gift being slightly higher up on Maimonides' Ladder of Charity, so they'd just thank the universe, and me as a part of it, and I would be glad to know that I'd helped.
Which is exactly the way it would have happened if the check hadn't bounced.
On New Year's Eve, after seeing Big Fish, E.S. and I went to dinner at Ollie's, a Chinese restaurant that, though it offers mediocre food and bad ambience, had the virtue of being across the street from the movie theater on a cold night. On my right and E.S.'s left sat an enthusiastic heterosexual couple in town from Westchester to ring in the New Year. On my left and E.S.'s right sat an old heterosexual couple. (I am almost as bad at guessing people's ages as I am at answering the Sports and Leisure questions in Trivial Pursuit, but I'd say they were probably in their late 60s or early to mid-70s.)
In any case, E.S. and I tried to make appropriately romantic conversation, but we were defeated first by the utter lack of ambience and then by the increasingly fascinating conversation of the old couple on my left and his right. He was saying things like, "But don't you want somebody to come home to?" and she was saying things like, "I had that for forty years, I don't need it anymore." Then they went on to Viagra.
Then it hit us: they were on their first date.
They were on their first date and they had met online.
Yesterday, I went to Philadelphia for the evening to see a show playing there. This was noteworthy not only because I got to see two friends I hadn't seen in a while (one who lives there and one who turned out to be the musical director of the show) but also because it was the first time I'd ever taken the Chinatown bus, a service that will get you from one major city's Chinatown to another's for a very low fee.
The trip down was uneventful.
The trip back up involved multiple movie screens on the bus, all showing Executive Decision, a movie starring both Kurt Russell and Steven Seagal. Furthermore, though my instinct for self-preservation impelled me to sleep through the movie, I was prevented from doing so by the three fags who screamed the whole time (at the screen, at each other, at people on the other ends of cell phones). Understand that this left Philadelphia's Chinatown at 11:00 p.m. and got into New York's Chinatown after 1:00 a.m.
Time was I would have been able to take this in stride.
But I turn 31 in just over a week, and I'm looking forward to taking my place in society as a crotchety and cantankerous old man.
This is, unexpectedly, my second post today, though it won't seem like it, as I began drafting today's first post yesterday and then accidentally published it today before I'd finished writing it--but the idiosyncracies of Blogger mean that, though it wasn't published until late this morning, it's dated yesterday afternoon. I considered removing it, finishing it, and reposting it complete and whole, but its very unfinishedness is representative of the amount of mental clarity I seem to be able to summon about the issues I was discussing, so I figured, what the hell.
The punchline to the unfinished story is that the anaerobic physicist was the first guest we met after we put our coats away. The meeting of these two people so unnerved me that I could barely remember my own name, which explains why, with no warning, I introduced E.S. as my boyfriend.
So now the cat's out of the bag, and there's no going back.
Yesterday, E.S. and I went to a New Year's Day party at this man's apartment. The food was delicious, as I expected it would be, given that the host is a professional chef.
What I didn't expect was the presence among the guests of the anaerobic physicist.
(Those of you who don't recognize the moniker might want to go here, here, and here to get caught up.)
It wasn't so much that I still carry a torch for him. Don't get me wrong--he's as hot as it's humanly possible to be, and he is, after all, both an aerobics instructor and a Ph.D. in physics--but it's clear that E.S. is a much better partner for me.
I'm not sure, in fact, why I am so filled with stress and anguish when running into entities in the blogosphere in E.S.'s presence. It could be, as I suggested in this post, that I fear confronting my own past bad behavior. It could be the layers upon layers of hidden things--things I'd hidden from E.S. that are hidden no more, things I'm hiding from people who don't know about the blog but are nonetheless stories in it, things I'm hiding from myself. Or it could be that, in a way, I feel the very existence of this blog is an insult to E.S.--an entire story I was telling about him (among other people) without his knowledge, and that I'm continuing to tell.
On the other hand, as my friend H. pointed out at dinner last night, without the blog we wouldn't be back together again.
When I was six, I picketed my house, hoping to be allowed to eat breakfast before getting dressed rather than after.
I marched back and forth in front of our front door, carrying a sign that said "BREKFAST FIRST DRESSED LATER."
My parents, being civil rights workers, didn't cross picket lines, and that was the only way into or out of our house,
so they were trapped there until they acceded to my demand.