Thursday, March 05, 2009


So here's the thing. We are going to visit some very old friends of mine and their extended family after our much abbreviated trip to Vacationland this year; a little sun, a little beach action, some more peanuts and soft drinks on another plane, and then I get to introduce the Goat to people who have known me well for well over thirty years.

So far, so good.

I'm out to them. Coming out to them was actually pretty painless--there are some thin skins around The Gay Thing and divorce in general among their siblings, but it was generally pretty painless, considering how long everyone had known me and Isis; they really watched our kids--and us--grow up. One of their daughters spent a year with us when she couldn't quite hack the Great Plains or the fossils she considered her parents to be. In case anyone is wondering, the fact that the Goat is willing to cut short his stay in paradise to plow back into winter on my behalf earns him all sorts of brownie points. As though he needed any.

Still looks good.

Here's the sticking point: we are actually arriving back in winter a couple of days before we're due at my friends' place, so that the Goat can visit some of his old urban haunts, and introduce me to some of the sites of his gayer days. At first, I was just going to pass over our preemptive arrival, and then I remembered both my Boy Scout oath and my inability to hold my tongue about anything for long, and decided it was best to admit that we were coming in early to hang out in the gay section of the local Big City before heading out to the actual plains.

Now, my friends are as old as I am, and they are not stupid, so they have a pretty good idea of what goes on in the lavender end of town, if not in our particular portion of it--it's probably one of the few remaining places between the coasts where the internet has not put nightlife out of business. They probably know as much as I do. Which, my friends keep telling me, is not much--I wasn't playing this side of the street in the wild and crazy years, though I certainly knew what I was avoiding, and where, and how.

What is weird, though only to be expected, on some level, is that I am glad to be there with the Goat and revel in what's left of his old Gay Life (both there and out on the coast) and am at the same time more or less in synch with my friends about what went on in the "good old days."

Yes, I know, I am once again projecting my fears and foibles onto others, and getting into a snarl over what I think they may think. What else is new? But I am also recognizing my own feelings and the cleft stick they put me in.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear (as though I had ever been able to do that): in all my homophobia, internalized and blatantly external, I am not sitting in judgment on anybody; my life brings me to one set of feelings, even now, and other people with other experiences have a completely different point of view. That's life. And I am certainly not about to start judging the Goat.

Where would that leave me?

I did what I did, and he did what he did, and there are things to be said for and against both of them; we meet in the middle. Our lives are built on what is, and it's only possible on the other side of what was. But I did have a moment of doubt when I told my friends. So many people don't want to have to think about what we do--even our friends!--and they really don't want to think about what the two of us seem to be proclaiming by announcing our local address for the days before we head out to their place. It's a little like leaving your porn out for the guests, which in my case would be extremely unwise. Yes, Tom of Finland makes me light up like a Christmas tree, but I am only too aware of its curious assumptions, and how it looks from an outsider's point of view... I tried to maintain one for long enough.

As Michael Alvear wrote in many years ago:
Tom's characters are handsome and sexy but they're also grotesque and outlandish. He combines hyperrealism with garish flights of fancy, making his men ruggedly handsome but radically out of proportion. The Ford Taurus should have headlights as big as their nipples. And the National League should have bats the size of Tom of Finland penises. Every hit would be a home run.

The older Tom got, the more exaggerated his bodies became, to the point that author Philip Core once called Tom's work "macho camp." There's only a consonant separating leather from feather, and in many ways Tom's work blurred the distinction. He turned masculinity into burlesque and in some ways burdened gay men the way fashion burdens straight women -- by idealizing a body physically impossible to attain: massive chests, tiny waists and perfect hair...

"But is it art?" Tom himself didn't seem to believe it was. "Yes, I consider my work pornography," he once said. "My motive is lower than art. If I don't have an erection when I'm doing a drawing, I know it's no good."

...David Hockney, Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol were admirers of Tom's work. Not bad for a pornographer. None are having an exhibit at the Whitney, an auction at Christie's and a home in the permanent collections of four museums. While art historians debate whether Tom's fuck machines constitute art, the market seems to be making up its own mind. Everyone can see that the bubble-bottomed macho boys of Company Dick are hung. But now they're hung in museums.

But getting back to the subject at hand: I can't really say I think that everything the Goat did was a good thing, even though I know that if I had given myself my head (as the saying goes) I would probably have done the same. I don't think everything I did was great, either, and he certainly doesn't--so there are some things we can agree on. Our differences in point of view root in the complete difference of even our most similar experiences: five years and twenty-five years of marriage are two different things, no matter how you slice it. And, as the Goat has sagely observed, if I hadn't pulled up stakes and headed for the other side of the street when I did, anyone who enjoyed it as much as I do would probably be dead by now. And then, he asks, where would we be? Let's not think about that too closely.

I eventually made my peace with Isis' ex-boyfriends' presence in our lives, but only after a certain amount of hemming and hawing, and not with particularly good grace. If I had had any idea how many more ex-boyfriends I would have to take onboard as a result of getting together with the Goat, I would have been more welcoming to the two or three guys who were willy-nilly part of my family for twenty-five years. It all goes to show you that you do eventually pay for your shortcomings. Even dogma recognizes karma...

I am never going to be completely comfortable with much of mainstream Gay Life the way the Goat is, no matter how many times we go around the block together. Too much of it involves assumptions that I refused years ago, and certainly can't make now, given what I decided then, and how different my life has been as a result. Too much of my life has been about something else... It doesn't even matter much of what I left behind then is precisely what I'm up to now. My choices formed my life; my life formed me. I'm different; I'll probably always be different. Not better, just different. As I have often said, I don't fit in anywhere anymore.

And frankly, I have enough to do just coming to terms with who the Goat and I are together, without worrying about everyone else, and what they make of it, or of me. In our proudest moments, we all compromise our ideals; why should we give a hoot about other people's?

So I will remain the "good little boy," a mama's boy, or, what it really boils down to, my mother's daughter and my grandmother's grand- daughter--no matter what I may choose to do now. The power of such women puts City Hall to shame. You can rebel and set out to do the opposite of what you were told [who doesn't, at some point?] but you are just evading what you eventually have to face: your parents made you who you are, and you're pretty much stuck with it. Not that I'm complaining; I think I turned out pretty well, in the scheme of things; I'm grateful for most of what I am. I adored my grandparents. I love my mother, but of course she drives me crazy in a way nobody else can. And I can't fight back: she is so clearly the source of so much of what I do and say without thinking that taking her to task is a lot like taking an ax to my own arm.

Lots of things look different now that I am older; I can see how my grandfather missed the easy access to the company of men that his working days had offered him, and how he shrank when returned to my grandmother's realm--he was never entirely free to be himself. My mother and father eventually found themselves with a similar, if not identical, set of habits. No one set out to do anyone else wrong; the battle of the sexes is called that for a reason...

So many people, including the Goat at times, go on the assumption that any gay or bi guy who decides not to live a gay life is in the closet. Well, no--unless the Bard meant that all the world's a closet. Hey, Virginia, sometimes it is a choice. God knows I was out and about before--if I was in a closet, it was a freestanding one, smack dab in the middle of our house, and made of glass: my parents knew I was gay, and those of my siblings who didn't were either blind or not looking very closely. It must be said that it was mostly attitude and desire; I was not a wild child, just a weird one. What so many people seem to forget is that "man proposes, and God disposes." There is no planning falling in love; it just happens. In my own case, falling in love has been all tangled up in sex, which I suspect is true for most of us, but then, I've done it only twice, so what do I know?

It used to be assumed that anyone not visibly heterosexual, ie, not visibly getting laid, was queer. Flannery O'Connor found it rather annoying. So did I, but then, in my case, there is more than a grain of truth to it, as even I have to admit, in retrospect. How I hate it when "they" are right. Puts my nose right out of joint. Even Freud is right some of the time.

Oh, well. We take it a day at a time, if only because that's the way it comes.

Have you seen this? Box Turtle Bulletin offers a look at "the heterosexual agenda," and the dangers it poses for our children...

Hang in there, guys.

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