Monthly Archives: January 2004
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.
Well, at long last I am back in the bosom of the Big Apple, drained but alive.
And, viewed in a purely practical sense, my trip home was a complete success, as I accomplished both of the objectives I had in returning.
The first was to get my dad off my back about coming home for a visit.
The second was to take possession of this casserole dish,
which was a wedding present to my parents from Alice Walker. It was languishing in a forgotten cabinet in a corner somewhere.
I have it now, and it will languish no more.
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 War War 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.
So does the fact that the sex is fantastic.
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.
And they called him Dr. King.
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.
The resolution is:
I just got back from seeing Monster, a movie about serial killer Aileen Wuornos, executed in Florida in 2002 after twelve years on death row.
It was a deeply moving and extraordinary movie. It was also so depressing I want to kill myself.
If I post tomorrow, you’ll know I’m still alive.