I don't remember Arthur Russell. In fact, I'd never heard of Arthur Russell until a week ago, one of my sons gave me a CD of his small folk pop tunes, his friend is writing about Russell, and it was all news to me. I looked him up, started reading about him, a wide ranging musician, friends with Allen Ginsberg, alternative musical compositions, cello, pop tunes, David Byrne, a victim of AIDS at age 41.
You see, I may have been dancing on a few lit floors, colored lights, but where I was dancing the audience wasn't shouting back Yes! to the Loose Joints when they sang "Is It All Over My Face?," they weren't dancing to that song, it wasn't on any radio station I listened to. I thought I'd heard disco music, but I'd never heard a cello in a disco song, I don't think I'd heard trombones, either, and I know I hadn't heard the double entendre of is it all over my face. "Is it all over my face,"
You caught me love dancing,
Is it all over my face,
I'm in love dancin'.........
Is it all over my face, the fact that I'm loving this dancing, that's what the words meant, but is it all over my face, a crowd of men dancing, gay men, 1980, before the fall, is it all over my face, that audience knew the second meaning and as they danced they shouted back, Yes!
I'm not sure I listened very closely to the lyrics of those disco songs I knew back then, but I'm doubting I ever heard the implicit darkness that I hear now in Russell's 1978 underground hit, "Kiss Me Again," long, repetitive, but minimal in a very advanced sort of way. The vocalist, a woman, sings the lines, but there's a detachment, given what she is singing, "the wind blows,"
the clouds wave, am I a woman or a slave?
Oooh baby, is this the woman I want to be?
Kiss me again, kiss me again, kiss me again........
There's a subversiveness to this disco music, this is not John Travolta, the straight man at the center, leading, strutting, no, this music is off, it's anticipating things that are coming, it's queer. So queer, the producers of "Is It All Over My Face," when they discovered what Russell had given them, quickly remixed it, removing the male vocals and replacing them with a female, so that we have the Male Version, original, a little harder to find, and the Female Version, less rough around the edges, more widely heard. And now, with time, with the years having past, this music is all about places that don't exist any longer, the Garage and the Loft, a world that is gone, a sexually liberated world, men in New York asserting themselves, taking hold of their sexuality, but just before things change, they don't know what's coming, they are dancing all night, is it all over my face they are singing, I'm in love dancin..................
A new and gay minister, at his first meeting with parish council, was delighted to meet me, how good to know, he later told me, how good he thought, there's at least one other gay man here. A woman, partnered with another woman, recounts her first introduction to me, years ago, at a party, I liked the gay guy, she told her partner later that night, he was funny. He's married, she informed her.
Oh, I always knew that, says the wife of a cousin. A longtime friend, we were work colleagues as well as family friends, I always thought that, she tells me. A friend from graduate school, we are seated at a table in a small, hip restaurant, I am spilling the beans, and he tells me, my wife and I, when we got the invitation to your wedding, so many years ago, we opened it, looked at each other and said, well, I hope he knows what he is doing.
It's odd, really, odd how everyone knows what you don't know. Or aren't sure about. Or haven't settled with. Because of course they didn't really know. They only thought they knew. They could have been wrong and only thought they knew better. But now, now you are telling them they were right.
Harvey Milk saw it as political action. Our duty, really, our political duty to cause change. "You must come out, " he challenged us,
Come out... to your parents... I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives... come out to your friends... if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors... to your fellow workers... to the people who work where you eat and shop... come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters...
Well, he may have been right, and perhaps it sways votes. But I know I never saw it that way, not then, and maybe not now. I may have been telling them, I may have been coming out, I may have been telling them what some of them already thought they knew, but it was mine to tell. Or not to tell. And just as I wanted the right to tell them when and if I chose, I also wanted the right to know whether it was true or not.
They were sure. They knew. But they didn't really know. They only thought they knew.
I know the darkest nights of the year mean the light is about to begin growing again, it means the days will soon begin to get longer, I know that. I like the light, it cheers us up, it keeps us going. I know all of that, but I also know, on Christmas Eve, this darkest of the nights, I know that I need the dark.
Because it's only really in the dark, the deepest of the dark, that I can talk at all to God.
I'm sort of a skeptic and there's a lot I don't believe, and I don't care for people making up rules and telling me they are God's rules, and it seems a little crazy to me to say that one group of people were given all the truth about God and the rest of us weren't, but in the dark, well, in the deepest dark, that's when I'm able, if I'm able at all, to talk with God. The dark that erases time, removes location. The dark that could be now or later, the dark that could be here or there. It's in that dark, and especially that dark in the darkest time of the year, and maybe most of all, in the darkness at the end of Christmas Eve, that I can not only talk to God, but imagine God, imagine God without what I've been told about God, just God in the dark.
It's in that sort of dark that I come to God not as a father, not as a middle aged American, not as an architect, not as a runner. I come to God not as a liberal, not as a writer, not as a brother. I come to God not as a gay man. I don't really come to God at all in the deepest dark, I'm just there, just here, just sitting there in the dark.
Merry Christmas, all of you. Be well.
And I'm glad that we are past the boy from Texas. That needed to happen. But change, real change, well, I know and you know that really hasn't come. And I'm feeling more cynical about politics than at any time in my life.
I don't really like cynicism, I don't really approve of it, it's wasted emotion, it doesn't push on and make things happen, it gives in. But I'm feeling cynical, it's been creeping in, its like a low level virus, like regret, like vengefulness, the feelings that don't really do much for us, but there it is.
The fierce advocate for LGBT issues does nothing about gay soldiers, does nothing about the defense of marriage act, urges activists to pull out of Maine where they are fighting for marriage equality and give him a hand with a billionaire Democratic governor in New Jersey who has lost his own constituency. I mean, we knew he didn't support gay marriage, but didn't we think he really did, he just wasn't telling? And the leader who says our economic health is linked to reform of the health care industry gives away the store, leaves us with a bill the insurance companies love, and requires everyone to give in to those insurance companies or else pay a fine to the government. I mean, didn't he keep telling Hillary he couldn't support a mandate on people too poor to pay?
And the man who receives a Nobel Peace Prize too early, he isn't humble as one might have expected, he doesn't say, wait, this is wonderful but please, give me time to achieve what I want to achieve, no, he goes to Stockholm, this man of peace, he accepts this prize he knows comes too soon and his address, one half of it, is devoted to war. A justification of war, a man recieves a Nobel Peace Prize and defends his war.
To be really honest with you, I don't know where to turn at this point. That's where this feeling of cynicism is arising from, this sense that we did what we could and here we are. Stalemated. No place to turn. Who should I vote for next time? Who should I make phone calls for next time? Who should I send my money to next time?
I used to live in Holland. In Holland, in my days, you could tell something about the person sitting next to you on the tram by the paper he held in his hands. There was a newspaper for everyone and you could choose your public identity by your selection of a newspaper. You could the same thing with your political party. There was something for everyone. It didn't mean you got what you want, not at all. But it meant you had somewhere to turn.
I don't like thinking this way, I don't like it at all, I prefer the cheering and the honking horns and the feeling that change was on its' way. Cynics told me he wasn't going to change anything, he just wanted power, he wasn't even a progressive. But I was cheering nevertheless. And now I'm not so sure. Not so sure at all.
I was maybe twelve, maybe thirteen, who knows now, and sometimes my mother would take me into Boston and show me the different neighborhoods. I loved Beacon Hill, that was my favorite, with the rows of townhouses, the gas lamps, the brick sidewalks, wreathes at Christmas. Up the narrow streets, small gardens, turn the corner and a glimpse of the Common.
“This is where I want to live when I grow up,” I would tell her.
She liked that, she liked that I enjoyed these city places, she liked that I wanted to know these things she knew, swallowed them up really, took them in. “This is where the Brahmins live,” she explained to me, Beacon Hill is where the old Yankees live, like her, except with a lot more money. Massachusetts Republicans. Moderate Republicans. Like her.
One day she told me she wanted to show me another neighborhood, nearby, but on the flat, no hill. “It’s a little secret,” she told me, tucked away, only people that know the city know about it. It’s just like Beacon Hill, she said, same houses, only without the hill and not so expensive.
She was right. It was also beautiful, gas lamps, brick sidewalks. The houses must have been built at the same time. But it was hidden, only a few streets, you might stumble upon it, but you could drive right by on the big roads and not know it was there.
“This is the place for you,” my mother told me, “Bay Village. Just like Beacon Hill but not so expensive. A secret little neighborhood.”
My mother was a Bostonian. She knew all the neighborhoods, she knew the windiest corner, and she most certainly knew, though she didn’t tell me, her thirteen year old son, that Bay Village was more than a little neighborhood tucked away and out of sight. That it had a history in this city, that it was an open secret. A secret history that anyone who knew the city well at a certain time would have known but perhaps not told you about. And that someone today might have no idea about.
Because, you see, as I learned many years later, Bay Village was, for many decades, the neighborhood with the bars that had no sign at the door. Secret places, or perhaps open secrets. Places you slipped in through the front door and headed toward the back, perhaps that is how it worked, I’ve no idea, quietly slip in through the front door and find your way to the basement, or the back room.
Where the queers gathered.
I mean, everyone knew this, and sometimes the places got raided, there was a certain kind of decorum being maintained, an open secret that needed to remain secret in some way. Bay Village, I suppose it suited the need perfectly, it was charming but tucked away, someone had to steer you there, let you in on the secret.
You can still find it today, it’s all still there, charming as ever. You might say it’s gentrified, it’s certainly well kept, but there is still a trace of the illicit in the air, this corner might be a place for streetwalkers, if there are any any longer, you will still find Jacques, a tired club with drag queens. And you will still find gay boys walking into their well kept homes, but no one would call it the gay neighborhood. Not anymore.
But my mother knew the city very well. She was born and raised there. She knew all the secret little neighborhoods. Bay Village, she told me one day, letting me in on a little secret perhaps, one day when I was twelve or maybe thirteen, that’s the neighborhood for you, she said.
Perhaps you know, because you read an earlier post under a different name, a post that isn't posted any longer, that I have a history of not only stopping writing, but of destroying my writing. As a child, burning it in a barrel. As an adult, throwing it all out with the trash. Secretly. As if any of the writing held secrets that no one should know, or would be shocked by. Or damaged by. When, in fact, none of that was the case, and yet there it is, that I destroyed it.
And still, here I am, at it again. Writing, this time without cover of pseudonym, and not without some trepidation. A writer who stops writing, repeatedly, a writer who destroys his own writing, repeatedly, well, who can trust such a fellow not to do it again. Not to stop halfway and disappear on you.
But there must be something in this act of writing, this act of writing with the expectation of someone reading, there must be something in it that keeps bringing me back. And perhaps it really does have something to do with secrets and that even if there are no shocking events being revealed, nevertheless, if the writing is worth much at all, if it's worth anything, something is in fact revealed.
So you are reading a writer who posts things and sometimes takes them down for a little while, gets brave again and posts them another time. A writer who is enjoying the freedom of writing anything that comes his way, openly, without hindrance of hiding, but who is not quite used to this freedom. And this sort of revelation. Not a writer a reader can fully trust, or depend upon. But a writer who loves to write and wants to be read. Without further destruction.
But I never called it queer. I mean, queer, that was a word carefully imprinted on me. My mother told me when I was quite young that I was not to use that word. She hinted that it was derogatory, and that of course only fed my interest in the word. Queer, over time I began to gather, didn't just mean odd, it meant homosexual. And, then, over the years, it began to mean more. Not just homosexual, but something broader, not derogatory, but defiant. An alternative way of looking at things, crossing gender lines perhaps, challenging the way things are. I was reading, reading always and began to be aware of the concept of queer spaces, places where gay people could gather, pieces of the public domain that queer people had claimed. A close friend of mine told me one day, I'm not gay, I think of myself as queer.
And, then, not so long ago, I came upon a reference to something Herbert Muschamp, onetime architecture critic for The New York Times, had written about 2 Columbus Circle, he'd written it back when a few brave souls were trying to save this much maligned building, grant it Landmark status and keep it from being mangled in a proposed renovation. Those few brave souls, they lost, the building was renovated, but Muschamp wrote a kind of elegy for it. He called it a queer building and he thought a building that queer really ought to be saved, even if it wasn't great architecture.
Because it was queer, and because it was a kind of physical manifestation of the growth of queer culture in New York during the fifties and sixties. And because he loved the building. He saw in its brazen historicism and its interiors done up like a nightclub, its galleries full of sighing Pre-Raphaelites, a tangible expression of the challenge queer represented. "Aubrey Beardsley engravings," he wrote,
"Victorian bric-a-brac, Art Nouveau and Art Deco ornaments, Fortuny fabrics, faded Hollywood
stars: these artifacts were signs in a code, adopted before openness about homosexuality
was possible. The love that dared not speak its name had learned to scream through
I don't like tacky objects. I abhor clutter of any kind and I would be very happy in a monk's cell. Truth be told, I've been happy in a monk's cell, though I was never a monk. I like sleek Italian furniture and I would live in a sleek apartment with glass walls if I had enough money. I love abstract painting. But I know what Muschamp means. Those abstract expressionists were a macho bunch, weren't they, they drank excessively and they womanized. And Lever House and the Seagram building, they were cool and elegant, no doubt, but they were also embodiments of the corporate culture, they were male and they were straight and they were all about power.
And I guess, if there is an opposite to those Mad Men, well, 2 Columbus Circle might serve reasonably well as an example. Sort of the queen of Columbus Circle, a mundane tower done up in Venetian drag. Queer, I suppose you might say. Not only an affront, but a proud one.
Of course, I shouldn't speak of the building in the present tense. It's gone, only it's frame survives. And these days, what with the hate crimes in the newspaper, and the good people of Maine not behaving so well, and now the American Christians assisting the Ugandans, things aren't looking so great for the home team. So, tacky though she may have been, I find I'm missing the old queen. Just a little.
You see, it was World Aids day recently, and on that day I didn't just think about the aids epidemic and people in Africa. You see, I am of a certain age. And so I started thinking about the young men, boys they were really, just graduating with me back then, and heading for the big city. It was different back then, and it was a small college, and the gay boys didn't really come out there, they waited, they waited until they were in the big city. And then they came out. But they didn't just come out, you see, they came out and they walked right into it. Completely unaware. It was the late seventies and the early eighties and they moved to New York and they moved to San Francisco and they came out and they walked right into the unknown disease.
But I didn't.
Because I didn't come out. Oh, I moved to the big city, but I didn't come out, and that's another one of those long stories, but the point is, the point is right now that I didn't come out and I didn't walk right into it. And that fact, that little story of my life, that I was there but I wasn't involved, that is one of the strangest things of my life. That I didn't come out, and I didn't walk right into it.
Now, I know a lot of gay men my age, and they came out, and they walked right into it, and they didn't get sick. And I am enormously grateful that I have them with me today. But I remember the ones that aren't still with me, some of them I remember as lost friends, but more I remember as colleagues in a community I had not yet reached. And my feelings, my thoughts, my emotions, about being there, but not being there, are very confused.
I'm troubled by that incident at my alma mater but I'm heartened by the open dialogue and the thoughtful discussion. They will figure their way through this one. It won't keep me up at night. No, if anything keeps me up at night, it will be the thought of those young men, boys they were really, just graduating back then with me, and heading for the big city.
It was early in the scandal, the revelations were just appearing in the Boston Globe, and I remember that morning very well. Priests had been raping children, there had been settlements, hush money you could call it, numbers of priests, and the silence was being broken. The first names were appearing on the front page of the newspaper, a list, as I recall, and there he was. Father Barrett. I remembered him, I was a kid then, I was about ten or eleven when he came to our church.
How could I not remember him. He was the cool priest. Young. I think he may have started the folk masses, you know, with guitars. I can't be sure. I'm sure he set up the youth basketball team. Two of those settlements I was reading about in the paper, two of them, they involved Father Barrett, with boys from my church, something about a cottage in Maine.
I've been thinking about Father Barrett a bit these days. I mean, it's not as if I knew him well, I'm not sure he even knew who I was, certainly nothing ever happened with me, it was all news to me that morning with the paper. But I've been thinking about Father Barrett a little these days because I've received an invitation, an invitation from the Pope. He wants me back again.
You see, I'm not a Catholic anymore. There's a long story there, too long to tell right now, but I've had a meandering journey out of the Catholic church, I tried being an atheist for a few years, though I was more of an agnostic, and I did my thing with the Unitarians for a very long time, but it never quite felt religious to me, and I ended up home with the Episcopalians. You know, the Anglicans, Church of England. I mean, I found myself with the Episcopalians really because I encountered some Anglican monks and that was really it for me. Lots of incense, no pope, and a hard headed, progressive view of God in our lives.
But there's some trouble in the Anglican church these days, there's this bishop up in New Hampshire who has a male partner and he isn't shy about it, and lots of Episcopalians are upset about this, first they allowed women to become priests and now they've got gay bishops, and all hell has broken loose. But the Pope, the Pope sees some advantage to this, a way to heal an historical schism.
He's inviting me back. He's inviting all of us back. He's inviting the Episcopalians to become Roman Catholics again.
Well, he doesn't really want all of us. He doesn't want those of us who support the gay bishop. And I don't suppose he wants my monks. One of my monks, he's also the bishop here where I live, one of these monks just decided that Episcopal priests where I live can perform same sex marriages. That's not the kind of Episcopalian the Pope is after, I suppose. And I guess, to be honest, the Pope doesn't really want me.
It's odd, when I think about it, because I'd been thinking for some time that the opposite should be taking place, that Catholics who were unhappy with their church and not sure where they belonged really ought to take a long look at the Episcopal church, a place they might find familiar in the right ways. Maybe that's what we need now, a big exchange, organized at the highest levels, the Catholics take all the Episcopalians who don't want those fags becoming bishops and the Episcopalians taking all those Catholics who've had it with the hypocrisy and the lies.
I didn't know Father Barrett was having some problems until I read about him that day, some years ago now, in the newspaper. It wasn't because of his troubles that I drifted away from the Catholic church. But it didn't make me feel any better about the place. You may not know this if your parents didn't take you to a Catholic church when you were young, but its not easy to get it out of your system. They've had two thousand years at figuring out how to get deep inside you. But the story of Father Barrett and the other priests confirmed for me that I was never going back.
Father Barrett was not convicted of a crime, there were only those settlements. He ended up in a mental hospital and died in 2008. I don't know his story and I don't suppose I ever will. I was only a boy, I barely knew him. And for that, I suppose I should be thankful.
I love open houses.
Scanning the web pages for an apartment my boyfriend can afford in a neighborhood he likes is pleasure for me. Especially these days, with the added excitement of price reductions. Look how long that thing has been on the market, I will say to him, they need another price reduction. So when I saw a place in Chelsea he could swing, I was more excited than the circumstances really deserved. And so off we went, over to that hip neighborhood, now with a park and a bicycle path rather than piers and illicit sex, Chelsea, the neighborhood that was gay way back when I lived in New York, the neighborhood that's still gay, sort of.
The building wasn't bad. Not bad at all really, even had a doorman. We took the elevator, clean, reasonable, upstairs to the unit with the open house. We walked in, the only ones there, looked around. Wow, I thought, this place is pretty nice. Renovated, good windows, great sun. Hard to believe, I said to my boyfriend, I guess the market has really changed and you could afford a place now in Chelsea.
We spoke with the realtor. He was breezy, as the realtors always are, great place he said. Yeah, we said, asking a few questions. We investigated all the closets, the bathroom, looked in the kitchen cabinets. Its a great deal, he said. Yeah, we answered. There's one thing I need to tell you, he added as we waited, yes, just one thing. The building is on a land lease and will be torn down in thirty years. We paused. "So," asked my boyfriend, a little puzzled I suppose, "so how much will you get for the place then?"
"Nothing," he said. "It won't be worth anything."
I remember Chelsea in the old days. That was about thirty years ago. It was mostly Hispanic, bodegas on the corners, and gay. That's how I remember it. But not gay like it is today. I mean, today there are gay bars and a couple of sex shops, and there are definitely gay boys on the street, but its no longer gay as in, well, like where the gays live. You can't really say that about anyplace anymore. I remember that the West Village, Christopher Street, Sheridan Square, moving slowly on up into Chelsea, I mean these were where the gays lived. I don't imagine many young gay men rent apartments in Chelsea any longer after moving to New York, not at three thousand or so a month. You find them in Williamsburg and you might find them in Astoria and any other of a number of neighborhoods, but I don't suppose there's any place you'd say, that's where the gays live. Its all changed, its opened up, the old gay places have gotten expensive and maybe no one feels like they need to be all jammed in together.
But I don't know. Walking around Chelsea, walking around the South End in Boston, even walking around the Castro in San Francisco, its not quite the same. Something's been lost. And I missed it. But that was thirty years ago, that's a long time, things change.
And in another thirty years things will be different again. I mean, the building you live in may be torn down. Of course, if its that building in Chelsea with the nice apartment at the reasonable price, it won't be worth anything when it is torn down. Nothing. Its an odd concept, an odd wrinkle of some kind in this market economy of ours. The clock is ticking on that place, better get it now while you still can.
So writes a blogger from Bushwick, introducing us to the story of Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado and his brutal murder in Puerto Rico last week. Its an odd thing to write, I mean, you might imagine another blogger out there writing that he honestly feels that he has reported on far too many politicians who want to become celebrities, or too many socialites who want to become real housewives. I mean, you might imagine that. But, here I am, late at night, reading, reading , reading and trying to absorb that the boy from Bushwick is realizing that, there he is, there in Bushwick, reporting on far too many hate crimes in recent weeks.
And my heart is broken.
Reading, reading, I read Towleroad, really who doesn't, and sometimes I am struck by the mix of news and music reviews and political shenanigans and the male models and there among it all, almost every day, is the photo of a man attacked on the upper east side of New York, and he's one of several, and then there is the lesbian attacked in her car in California, the day before, the bar raided in Fort Worth, or is it the bar in Atlanta. I read these things, sandwiched in among the other items of our daily lives. Sometimes I read them in the morning, but sometimes I read them late at night. I read them but I don't let them go in too deep. Mostly I don't let them go in too deep.
Because if I do I might start thinking about Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado and what happened that night and what he was thinking about as it was happening and what kind of a man,a police official, really believes that someone with that lifestyle ought to know the risk he is taking. Someone who is nineteen. That the nineteen year old boy in Puerto Rico really should have known.
Late at night you can't always keep it from going in a little deep. You can't help noticing that they've been reporting far too many hate crimes in recent weeks. And I am honestly feeling how much hate there is in this world sometimes. And how hard it can be to comprehend.
I was about thirteen. Everyone knows this story, it barely needs retelling, I know that, but its hard to forget. I was standing among a group of three boys, we were down to three, the other ten or so were standing opposite us, looking at us. I'd been in this situation before, I'd been down to three, three left in choosing the teams in gym class. I don't even know what we were choosing teams for, might have been basketball, I think we were inside, but all I remember is we were down to three and then Rick, the captain of one of the groups standing opposite us, he said, "Paul."
That was it. He said my name and my ordeal was ended. Rick, he was my best friend, we spent a lot of time together, so he chose me. He didn't let me be the last. But it's funny you see, because he didn't pick me first. He let me stand there for awhile, he let us get down to three. I guess he wanted to make sure he had a winning team first, then he saved me. I was glad the ordeal was over, at least mostly over because we still had to play the game, I was glad it was over, but still I'd been standing there when we were down to three and I couldn't have been sure, couldn't have been sure at all, that I wouldn't be the last.
And what's funny about that now, what's really peculiar about that, is that now, in middle age, I run marathons. I run twenty six miles and I don't really run slowly. I mean, I'm not winning in my age group or anything, but I'm running pretty fast. I'm a marathoner. That counts as an athlete, doesn't it?
I don't have any sense of myself as an athlete. I was one of the last kids to be chosen in gym class. I might have been the last if I hadn't had certain social skills that allowed me to be friends with the smart jocks. I had no sense of my physical self, little sense of what my body could do. I was skinny, I wasn't an athlete and I never even thought about running marathons.
Running was a part of my mid life crisis, it preceded my coming out, maybe it assisted it, I can't be sure. Running gave me a sense of my physical self. A growing sense of my physical self as a gay man, as a gay middle aged man, a man coming out. All around me I've met these gay men, these men in their forties, in their fifties, these gay men even in their sixties, and they have fit bodies, trim, muscular. They go to the gym. They run. They take care of themselves. They want to be attractive to each other.
I'm going to the gym a lot myself these days. I'm building my body. I plan on running my fourth marathon next year and I intend to get very strong before I undertake again the punishing marathon training. I never thought I could do any of these things when I was young, I wasn't an athlete, it would have been ridiculous to think about, I was one of the last to be chosen.
Rick wasn't much of a best friend, I know that now. He dumped me a year or so later because he said his buddies on the baseball team were more fun than I was. I wasn't an athlete. Or at least I thought I wasn't.
"Do I know what the HRC is?" he responded, "that's like asking a Catholic if he knows what the Vatican is.........."
I thought I got his point at the time, and off I went to that HRC dinner. It was a pretty damn good event, one thousand men in tuxedoes. That night led to other gatherings, a cocktail party in a hotel, a lovely affair in a downtown law firm. And then, one night, drinks on a balcony, a tower really, overlooking all of Provincetown. You could see the center of town, you could see the harbor, you could even make out Herring Cove Beach. Someone asked the president of the HRC, a smart man, a local boy done good, someone asked him a question.
"Why does the HRC support people like Senator D'Amato?"
That struck me as odd. I didn't know anything about the matter at the time, didn't know about D'Amato's outspoken support for gay rights legislation, only knew he was anti-choice and sat solidly on the right side of the aisle. "Our friends," said the HRC president to us, the summer sky behind him, "our friends need to know that we are there for them when it counts. No matter what." Made sense to me. That's how it works down in Washington.
It sort of made sense to me. At least, for a little while it did. I went to a few more cocktail parties, the talk was about marriage, all about marriage, and raising money, and making sure our friends were taken care of. I met a lot of smart and sincere people. It was comfortable at those gatherings, I was with my kind, well sort of I was, I mean they were gay and they were professional. And for a little while it all made sense to me.
But I remembered what my friend had told me. About being a Catholic and the Vatican and all. And I was raised Catholic and he knew that. And I have a few problems with the Vatican. I mean, when I considered myself a Catholic, those men in the Vatican purported to speak for me, but I grew to understand that they weren't really speaking for me, and what they were doing didn't make any sense to me.
And then I began to meet other gay men. Men who didn't go to HRC gatherings. Some of whom didn't give a damn about marriage. And my boyfriend gave me The Trouble with Normal to read. And then a little John Rechy, The Sexual Outlaw. And little by little I became less and less sure about what being gay meant, and how I fit in to it all, and who I wanted representing me.
In October of this year, there was a march on Washington. Barney Frank wasn't too happy about it. I don't think the HRC was, either. I read the announcement they put out just before the march, I guess they didn't tell people not to show up, but you might agree with me that their support was tepid.
I guess its not how its done down in Washington. At least, that's not how its done if you have power and access. Not how we protect our friends.
But I'm figuring it out that Human Rights aren't limited to getting gay people to a justice of the peace. Its taking me a while, but I'm figuring it out that my own conception of Human Rights probably means Senator D'Amato deserved to be knocked off. That HRC, its not the Vatican, that's for damn sure, but maybe it is time to come down from that tower in Provincetown. Maybe what's really happening is down there in the street, where things get a little messy, down among the drag queens and the kids. I'm not sure. I mean, I really like one thousand men in tuxedoes. I always will. But I'm beginning to wonder.
If you'd asked me, I would've guessed he was in his late twenties, 27, I would have said, or 26. I would've told you he was lively and full of spirit and had a little edge to him. And he really knew how to cut hair. I would've told you he had a big career ahead of him.
I was calling to make an appointment, I needed a haircut, it was the middle of the day and I was busy. I checked my email as I waited for the receptionist to answer, "I need a hair cut," I said, "I need Dan to cut my hair."
I waited. "Something's happened," I heard, it was the whispered voice of the receptionist, her voice cracked, "Dan's been murderered."
We searched the newspaper for days. There was a notice the first day, an announcement on the radio, and then nothing. I got what little news I could get from Dan's colleagues at the shop, but the details were sketchy. A night out in a restaurant he hung out at across the street from the salon. Last call at a gay bar down the street and then a hookup with a man in another part of the city.
I grew frantic with the lack of news. I contacted a well known columnist for the largest paper in town, what's happening, why is this being ignored, where are the articles. Could the death of a young gay man, a night out with a hookup, is that just a footnote, is that not worth the media's attention, not worth the efforts of the police. The columnist did a little digging for me, got back to me, its not being ignored, its just difficult, there's no smoking gun here, its not clear what's taken place. Its muddy, we can't say what happened.
We wondered about a gay killer, cruising the bars, we wondered about a hookup gone terribly wrong, we wondered whether anyone cared.
Dan was only twenty. That really surprised me. But it explained a lot. It explained to me the relationship we had constructed, the young man cutting the older man's hair, his stories of partying with friends, one love here and another one gone, and it explained to me the way I felt listening to Dan, listening to him and offering a little advice. He told me about breaking up with a guy, whoa, Dan, I said, maybe there's another way to do it next time, and he told me about his new apartment in a neighborhood I wasn't comfortable with. I ride my bike back, he told me, I'm okay because I'm on my bike.
Dan was only twenty. I would've said he was 25, maybe, but he was really the age of one of my sons. A kid. And I worried a little about him. And I liked him a lot. And I always did what he told me to do with my hair.
"My haircutter was murdered," I told people. Yeah, Dan, that guy. It was a strange thing to say. And I'm reading the accounts of the investigation, so many months later, and I'm waiting for the trial, and I'm thinking about his family and his friends at the salon. I had no idea he was only twenty.
It was the time in the service when everyone shakes hands, offers peace, I like that part, I get to say hello to the monks, the ones I know best I give a warm hug, a little break in the service, everyone smiles and loosens up a little.
I turned to the man standing next to me. I'd figured out it was his first time there by the way he stumbled a little through the liturgy. I offered him my hand and he gave me a polite handshake.
I turned to the row behind. There was a slender young man standing there, I'd never seen him before either. He was sitting among the monks. I reached out a hand to him.
He didn't take it.
He didn't take it, he looked at me for a brief moment and then placed his hands together, as if he were about to say namaste, which we don't say at the monastery. At least we don't say it when we are supposed to shake hands. I looked quickly around me and noticed everyone was placing their hands together.
Now there had been a little sign about not dipping bread into wine or some such thing in the narthex, but really, who dips their bread into the wine at the monastery? And it's true I hadn't appeared at Sunday services for a few weeks, but obviously there had been an announcement made that I'd never heard about. No more handshakes. And who knows what else.
He didn't take my hand, but for me it was if he had slapped me in the face. I spent the remainder of the service raging inside. He'd seemed like an innocent enough fellow, he was sitting among the monks, in fact it turned out he was going to be staying with them in the monastery for a year, but he didn't take my hand and I was angry. More angry than makes any sense.
Until I started to think about it. Shaking hands has been so socialized into me, so thoroughly inculcated in me, that I knew viscerally that I had been insulted. I'd been taught the rules, and you only reject a handshake as the most extreme social gesture. Athletes are forced to shake hands after grueling competition. The candidates shake hands after their ugly debates. And if the leader of the Israelis shakes the hand of the leader of the Palestinians, it is very big news indeed.
It got me thinking. Shaking hands is touching and touching is a sensitive issue in our world. Gay men touch each other. I've found that out. They touch each other more than straight men do, and I don't mean in the bedroom, but in a restaurant, on the street, even in church. They give each other hugs. And kisses on the cheek. They will sometimes touch another man's elbow to indicate they know what you are talking about. And I've grown to appreciate that kind of touching. There's liberation in it. And I'm appreciating liberation these days.
Now I realize the monastery means well and I know that slender young man meant well. I understand and appreciate the public heath concerns they are attempting to address. But it's kind of peculiar: people are shaking my hand at work and they are shaking my hand in restaurants, so why aren't they shaking my hand at church?
He didn't take my hand, but I'm getting over it. I had to. But when the gay men stop giving me kisses on the cheek, then I am really going to start worrying.
It was a dark street, the street was rather empty, it was a dark neighborhood, a neighborhood that once had been a rough neighborhood, but I knew where I was, I couldn't get lost in this place. I knew which direction we were heading, I had a little bit of street smarts. We were on a dark street but we had come from somewhere very, very bright and we were on the way to the hotel. I was telling a story, I think it had something to do with the changes in this neighborhood, I was going on a little, telling my boyfriend about how this neighborhood had changed.
I heard those guys behind me but I didn't see them, there is no reason to turn your head to see everyone walking around, we were not in that kind of a place, but I heard those guys and I heard one of them telling another some sort of story and I heard how he used the word faggots in that story he was telling. I kept on telling my story, there was no need to pay attention to what everyone else on the street was talking about. I kept on telling my story but I began to sense that my boyfriend wasn't listening to my story any longer, and then he said, those guys, those guys behind us, they called us faggots.
It seemed preposterous to me, really, it was a dark street and we were just walking down the street, we weren't doing anything, we weren't holding hands, it was sort of preposterous, but then I heard him use that word again in the story he was telling his friends, faggots, and I felt my boyfriend tensing, walking faster, now my story was finished, there was no one to pay attention, finally I turned, turned my head to look behind me, but there was no one there.
We kept walking, we weren't talking very much, and little by little the street began to brighten, more people appeared on the sidewalk, men, there were men on the sidewalks, men with good haircuts, men who looked at us, we had walked down the same street, we hadn't taken any turns, but now the street was brighter and the men were very attractive and they were looking at us. Faggots, really, faggots all over the place, an easy place to walk, I'd say, but my boyfriend wasn't really any less tense. We were among faggots again, among our own kind, and it all seemed kind of preposterous to me but my boyfriend, he wasn't really any less tense.
I don't know about such things. When someone says faggot on the street I hear it but I don't for a second think they are talking about me. And yet there it was, the evidence was kind of clear, and over the next days I thought about this incident on the street, this incident which had so angered and upset my boyfriend, this incident which had very nearly passed me by. I just don't know about such things.
So far as I know no one has called me a faggot since I was about thirteen. They called me faggot then, and I didn't like it. I wasn't altogether sure what they meant when they called me faggot, but I knew it was a word to run far away from. And I spent several decades running from it. Not crossing my legs in a certain manner. Not ordering a cocktail, only a glass of scotch or red wine. Not getting my hair cut too short. Or wearing my shirt too tight.
My boyfriend, this incredible man, this handsome, sexy incredible man, he's always been a faggot. He knows a lot about such things. He knows so many things about so much that I don't know about and he's been very patient watching me learn my way. And he's been called a faggot in the street before and he's had worse happen to him and when he hears a guy in the street behind him talking about faggots when he's walking with his boyfriend he doesn't figure its someone else who is being discussed. And he walks faster. And he gets very angry.
I'm white and I'm educated and I have a professional career and I have children you would admire and I have a little money in my pocket and when people say things behind me that aren't very nice I don't suppose they are talking about me. I'm not thirteen anymore. I keep walking and I keep telling my story and if you tell me they are talking about me I may not believe you right away.
But, there I was, walking on that dark street with my incredible sexy boyfriend, not holding hands, and I have a good haircut, its cut short, and I wear my shirts slim fit the way I like them, and those guys were calling us faggots. I know they were. And I'm starting to learn about such things.