Okay, I quit.
An inexplicable way to begin an inaugural column, I realize. But there it stands. Never a fan of literary existentialism, however, I feel compelled to elaborate. What is it that I am quitting, and why so soon? Allow me, dear reader, to explain.
First, a brief introduction. My name is Myke David Weiskopf; I live in the Back Bay area of Boston, MA, and study Literature at Boston University, where I am a junior. I am a songwriter/musician by profession, performing regularly around area clubs under the moniker Science Park.
I've been Living Gay now for almost exactly a year. Already, I can hear the shouts of protest: the homosexual always lives Gay, you cry; that the gay is defined by his/her life, not the other way around. But my context is specific and cultural. This is my Gay: the weekends in that queer mecca of the Eastern seaboard, Provincetown; the countless evenings spent watching and being watched in the numbing throb of the Boston nightclub scene; the forging of bonds and the poisoning of romances. Although I came out at 15, and (through the faulty memory of my mother) repeated the act at 19, it was not until the latter that I really kick-started myself into a full-blown life, filled with richness and detail and depth, in contrast to the flat monotony of a half-wasted Illinois youth. It was not my "second life;" it was my real one.
To a writer, everybody has a story, and every life is of interest. Even the dullest of lives have inspired works of great plangency, whose implications resonate beyond their superficial shortcomings. (Look to "The Grapes Of Wrath" or "The Stranger" for offhand examples.) I am not here to create some Milestone of the Gay Psyche, however. I am merely here to tweak, to modify, to poke and prod at experience, to get underneath what it is that makes this Gay Life -- both my life and my place in the spectrum of lives -- so singular. Or, conversely, so common.
But it is time to withdraw indefinitely, perhaps only momentarily, from the more public aspects of this life. It is time to make some use of the experience I've stumbled blindly through. On this first anniversary of my life in Gay, I would like to begin to make sense of it all, in a public way. My hope is that there is some echo of my experience in your own lives; at the very least, that you might find some thread to extract for yourselves. Does it make sense to begin this work just as I purposefully remove myself from the very font of my inspiration? I think so; one can never "time out" from life, but contextualization is essential. Anniversaries are handy that way: one can burrow into the future, acknowledging and respecting the past but not necessarily reflecting on it, or one can give history its due and take stock.
What can you expect from this column? Well, what can one expect from life? I don't lay claim to the referential depth or literary mastery of my forebears. At times, I'm little more than a stylist. The transition from "experience" or "idea" to "sharp, insightful statement" is a process akin to pulling teeth for me. If I feel another author has approached a topic in a more thoughtful, well-researched, or substantial manner than I have, then I have no qualms with pointing the reader towards that piece instead. That said, I will attempt to keep the focus of this column away from the "stock" issues. My coming-out story was not particularly dramatic or unusual; my notions on the meaning of "gay pride" are probably not singular. I have no brilliant solutions for homophobia. Sometimes I just read XY for the pictures. My opinion is no more valuable than anyone else's. And, naturally, my life and opinions can be rife with contradictions. In the (translated) words of Montaigne, "If my mind could gain a firm footing, I would not make essays, I would make decisions."
And so I stand, writing essays about decisions made, and at least temporarily in lieu of actually making them. For now, I am an exile from Clubland; I leave behind the sea of personal drama and regret that the club world always manages to bring back. And who really knows, anyway? A month is a long time between missives. Maybe I'll be back with a vengeance in the same old dank, musty haunts that provided the strobing soundtrack for my initiation into Gay by the time we next meet. That aside, there are stories to tell, reactions to process, judgements to reconsider, lessons to be extracted, and ultimately, a Gay Life to examine.
Shall we begin?
[FADE UP. The lights silhouette a hunched figure sitting on the edge of an unkempt bed, half-dressed and holding a cordless phone.]
"Hi, it's me."
"Oh, hi. What's up?"
"You're coming to the club tonight, right?"
"Why, what's the matter?"
"I took a little nap earlier, now I'm feeling kinda..."
"So now you're sick too?"
"Yep," I lie.
"HA! It has to go around!"
"Thanks for your sympathy."
"ER is on. Bye."
Another Thursday night in the City of Spite. I wrestle myself out of the amorphous mound of awaiting laundry that passes for my bed and set the phone down on the bookshelf. 10:00 PM. I find myself growing restless, but not wanting to set foot in the Thursday-night hotspot that I frequented in my clubbing days. I look over at the computer, lying dormant since my willful exile from IRC-land, now modem-less and serving primarily as a handy adjunct shelf when I'm too lazy to put things in their proper place. It is the one night of the year when they don't have the central heat in the building set to "Inferno," and I'm freezing. I shut the windows on my tiptoes and jump up, grabbing furtively at the elusive shades. (Windows in basement apartments were not designed for short-ish people.)
Returning from my usual boredom-alleviating run to the convenience store, mandatory ginger ale and Boston Phoenix in tow, I settle down to my favorite Thursday-night activity, browsing the gay personals ads. Most of the men's ads read something like this:
"STERN BUT CARING DADDY, 40'S, 6'1", 200LBS, BLOND/BLUE, SEEKS SLIM, BOYISH SON, EARLY 20'S WHO LIKES TO PLEASE." It seems like gay men lose points for originality every week. Whatever happened to that flair we're supposedly loaded with? (I never thought I'd be disappointed when stereotypes were avoided.) Another is headlined "LET'S PLAY IN THE LEAVES!", and that's as good as they get.
I've also noticed that the sheer volume of personals has decreased significantly over the past few weeks. Have all the Boston queens suddenly found love in this autumnal icebox of a city? Maybe they're all out packing the house tonight, making the scene, taking comfort in the spectacle and the dish and the noise, just one more episode in the game of See-And-Be-Seen. Doubtless, many of them can (and do) conduct their lives in this manner, night after night, without stability or remorse. Some of us find the memory of misguided impulses a bit harder to get off of our hands than the newsprint from these ads, though. If you could play this fast-paced club life at half speed, it would be nothing more than the grating rush of white noise. Buried in that din is a story...
[CROSSFADE to a mostly empty nightclub, garishly decorated in vintage '70s couches, burnt-sienna wallpaper, and an aquamarine illuminated bar, at which small clusters of patrons chat idly. A muscled drag queen in a beehive wig is spinning lounge-exotica, gangsta rap, and Billie Holiday. All at once. A lone youth, dressed entirely in black, sits slumped on a couch, surveying the dismal scene. His hands are in his pockets; he glances furtively about. A thin, short, sandy-haired boy, dressed in white, sits down next to him.]
"Kinda dead in here tonight, isn't it?" The boy looks over. He is bright-eyed and moderately queeny.
"Oh, I don't know, it's... Well, I just got here."
Some stories have the most mundane beginnings imaginable. In some ways, these are the best stories, because they are the ones to which most of us can relate. Unless you happen to be Evel Knievel or Quentin Crisp, chances are your life isn't made up of explosive, dramatic scenes that usually only occur in comic books. (A case could be made to disprove Mr. Crisp's existence in the rational world, but that is for another time, perhaps.) It came to pass that this tale, so innocently forged, began to look less and less like the life that I was accustomed to living. But what kind of storyteller would I be if I didn't take a few less-traveled roads now and then?
Conversation flowed, as it often does, or as it rarely does. I spoke, if not eloquently, then at least with my characteristic combination of awkwardness and verbosity. (Some people, this boy included, find it appealing. I find it annoying. Try pulling this one off while auditioning for the Gay/Lesbian Speakers' Bureau.) It was the first time that I had ever gotten up the gall to initiate conversation with a complete stranger in a nightclub. However, since he was the only thing in sight that looked a day under 35, I figured we had a fairly good chance of hitting it off. It all went rather swimmingly, in fact, until he said:
"Why don't we go back to my place and keep talking?" The first thought through my head was "This is no longer about talking." My rather innocent objective-- making a new acquaintance, perhaps getting a phone number-- was suddenly obliterated by three angry, raging, 100-foot-tall letters. And they were loaded.
My only response was, "This place reminds me of Twin Peaks. I keep expecting to see a dancing midget. Let's go for a walk." And we walked. Nay, we strolled. Past Boston's notorious public-sex zone, the Fens. Past the leather bar, where biker daddies panted lasciviously in our general direction. But not, I must confess, past my apartment, where we spent the next two hours listening to John Coltrane, discussing Montaigne and Machiavelli and Cervantes, he sprawled comfortably across my bed, I seated well across the room in my straight-back wooden chair, looking very tense indeed. I sat with my arms behind my head, trying to look comfortable. He made some remark about my muscles. I crossed my arms self-consciously across my chest and trembled imperceptibly. I paused as the announcer introduced the John Coltrane Quartet, and glanced at the clock. 3 AM.
"Well, gee, you know, I'm pretty tired... Gotta get up at 7, and all..." I said, jumping out of my chair and walking towards the door.
He sat up. "I suppose I should go, then," he sighed, "...unless you want me to stay..."
He looked up at me with big, puppy-like hazel eyes. I felt my legs give way ever so slightly.
I was being seduced. Somewhere, I heard "Mrs. Robinson" playing backwards. I stared back at him for a few moments, then went off to the bathroom. Damn it all, I thought.
"It's up to you," I said, and closed the door.
As far as mornings-after go, this one was actually pretty painless. Granted, I had no basis for comparison, but from the sundry stories I've heard on the subject, I was let off fairly easily for my crime of conscience. I came out of the shower to find a number scrawled on a notepad and a clumsy, half-awake, hurried rendition of the words "I'LL CALL!"
"We'll see about that one," I thought, and tossed the previous night's smoke-filled clothes into the hamper. My mind was blank; I thought only fleetingly about random subjects: my surprising vigor in the wake of a relatively sleepless night; the Renaissance Literature class that I was preparing for; breakfast. It wasn't until a few weeks later that I really considered the question that was lingering in my mind.
I've spent an awful lot of time mocking and debasing the ritual of hooking, on the grounds that it is emotionally reprehensible, that it indicates an inability to deal with other human beings on any but the most superficial of levels, and such. But I climbed out of bed that morning not feeling guilty, or scarred, or monstrous, or sleazy, or soulless. If anything, I felt considerably less wound-up than usual. The morning air was fresh and vibrant, rather than cold and stinging. My posture was comfortable, rather than my usual pole-up-arse, stiff-backed duckwalk. The point of this story is not to encourage skeptics and naysayers to instantly jump into bed with the nearest cute thing with a clever line and a flawless pick-up technique. I've been in plenty of other experiences where the imminent threat of casual sex with an unfamiliar person has sent me into convulsions of nausea and self-loathing. I have dashed suddenly out of the apartments of dates, running in near-terror from the threat of physical intimacy. I have had close, meaningful relationships for months on end in which we slept, curled into each other, with every single item of clothing intact, for the entirety of the relationship. In short, my bodily neurosis reached a fever-pitch... but suddenly, without explanation, it was gone.
I had never taken anyone home before that night, and I have not been out to a club since. I will not divulge all of my reasons in this single column -- why spoil the series? -- but I think part of me finally realized that, as with Astrophil in Sir Philip Sidney's great sonnet sequence, the continued suppression of an urge will only make things worse, and worse, and worse. I allowed myself that single digression, and -- in all honesty -- it was wonderful. What I fear is that tiny impulse, germinated deep in my psyche, that has wanted to repeat the act on numerous occasions, luring me closer to the very behavior that I detest.
Do we hate certain qualities precisely because we recognize them in ourselves? Is prejudice partially a matter of denial? And if it is, what does that say about, for instance, the virulent homophobia that shelters a very curious element of my father's personality? But that is another tale, dear reader, for a future time.
"Hi, it's me."
"Oh, hi. Make it to your class OK? You disappeared while I was in the shower..."
"I was kinda late, but so what. Anyway, listen, would you like to do coffee sometime?"
"Sure, why not..."