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queer  musings:   the  art  of  zestful   border   crossing     by   Robert  Crenshaw     Nord  Award  Project   2010-­‐2011    

Acknowledgements       I  would  like  to  thank  the  Office  of  the  Dean  of  Students  and  the  Nord  Award   Selection  Committee  for  commissioning  and  supporting  the  development  of  this  project.   Now  on  to  the  gushy  stuff:  heaps  of  love  and  gratitude  I  shower  on  my  Mother,  Father  (who   is  dearly  missed),  Sisters,  Professor  Scott  Elliott,  The  Philadelphia  Center,  my  many   reviewers  (Shannon,  Adam,  Jesus,  Terence,  Natasha,  Fiona,  Nathan,  and  Charlotte)  and  the   many  good  friends  and  muses  I’ve  encountered  along  the  way.          

 

Puritan Boundaries

 

Pilgrims>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>6 Entry—>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>7 Butterfly Keeping>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>11 Zesty Coronas Pilgrims[II]>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>14
L.B. was here (and I’m incredibly sorry)>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>15  

  You  Gotta  Be  Kidding  Me!>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>19     The  Ball>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>30     Queer  Affirmations.     C  l  o  s  e  t  clean  o  u  t  >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>33     Breaking  the  Silence-­‐-­‐Gender  Slighted  Sons  Speak  Out>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>36     Elegy for the Fallen Patriarch>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>44        

 

  ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ.  Thas  the  alphabet.  Twenty-­‐six  letters  in  all.  Them   letters  make  up  words.  Them  words  everything.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      -­‐  Sapphire,  Push     A  powerful  way  we  connect  with  a  diverse  world  is  by  listening  to  the  different  stories  we   are  told.  These  stories  are  a  way  of  knowing.  Therefore,  they  contain  both  power  and  the   art  of  possibility.  We  need  more  stories.                                                                                                                              -­‐  bell  hooks,  Teaching  Critical  Thinking:  Practical  Wisdom

 

                                                                                                             bou   n|Puritan|d aries

 

Pilgrims Gleaned from a chilled and disembodied wind: Many spent and dashing souls (secretly) consider love’s (humble) pilgrimage— “fodder of the heart,” they titter— arresting, b r o k e n , and chic— because We— followers of stately, dreamlike script— were (never) taught (why) (or even how) To look (closer).

   

 

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Entry— August 12, 2008 (Updated—08/13) I called myself a whore today. i find special days are rare around these parts, here in this sink hole Kansas City. you know those days where you discover just who you are--limits, inhibitions, the confines of cruel conscience--while haphazardly discovering just how to mess everything up--yup, those special days. so when those days happen upon life’s polychromatic and zesty doorstep, its best to just pay attention and open the revolving door. today was such a day, even though it lived like any other: roused to a foggy, dream-fled haze; swallowed breakfast; faced customers; reheated lunch; faced work; denied boredom; left work; pedaled toward dinner: the usual gottakeep-going routine. even returning to the house didn’t help the humdrum mediocrity of this not so special day. living with my mother, in a too small, antiquated house, tends to be a spectacular drag--not a Rupaul-by-thepower-of-Mack-cosmetics-you’re-amazing drag, but a Titanic drag: buoyant hubris, iceberg, Leo Di, and all that makes the weeping of souls entertaining. The things we don’t feel. the special, not so special portion of this finger-tappin’ day started with an itch: a hair follicle in distress, a thigh pimple’s taunt. my finger gnawed at that pin prick, turning the surrounding speckled, boxer-pale flesh a rosy lustful red. maybe it was that splotchy red, or my fleshy finger finding a purpose in my lower-half that got me athinking. yup, thanks to that passionate prodding, i got to thinking about certain things--certain desires, certain affairs of the intimate kind; i got to thinking about satisfaction. you know where i’m going with this. you’ve heard this all before; it sounds like the same story: boy logs on; boy searches…; boy sends invitation; boy confirms the date; boy anticipates meaty prayer session--this affair may start the same, but i assure you, it ends differently. or maybe it doesn’t. Not a sound, not a creak, not a whisper. i got to think it through. fact is, we can regret and hate ourselves and be pissed ‘til the end of time, but it won’t change anything. fact is, i’m a man with needs and wants, which, well, we both know i can’t control sometimes, even when i should. sometimes the wrong parts lead the way. cell phone bright, light the way to salvation tonight. i need to think it through… hm. question: does having “a good time” with fresh off the .com penis make one a whore? answer: if you ask most anyone, having “fun” with a man you’ve only just met on the steps and in the shadows of an apartment building, may very well scream “whore,” but what do i know? I don’t even know if he liked it. I don’t even know his name. i’d ask friends. i have friends, of course; they’re the standard open types, straight and arrow like…but they probably wouldn’t understand; their fingers interlock and flaunt so freely in the open air, oh glory…for the loved and glorious. Free. i know this five letter word isn’t easy to bestow; it’s comedic--yes, but Whoredom ((n) the state of whoring) is a weighty fate. one buried under condom wrappers and nameless, half-limp contacts. Ooo the weight frequently leaves me them breathless; pancaked, i remember that the road to Whoredom is purportedly paved with daddy and mommy issues, dark bathrooms, and parking garages--none of which i have or have frequented. —I lost it in a well-lit bathroom, to a boy who playfully flashed me his wing-wang and brown-cakes in elementary school. It happened between passing periods, in front of urinals, in the boys bathroom, in 7th grade. The exhilaration of first contact, the novelty of someone else’s penis, the white of porcelain urinals--the taboo-was something i’d never forget and that would never be repeated. On that day, when my piety was lost, a part of me left, as light as helium, it drifted away. —We had just crossed the US-Canada border, my soon-to-be boyfriend and me. We lied to the border patrol: we were schoolmates, with little respect for national boundaries, we told them. The truth of all-night 7  

conversations, pet names, webcam sessions, and tonight’s first meeting would’ve been of little use. A novel affair, soon-to-be consummated in a country virgin to me, between two homo-novices. I courted him for a total of four hours, before I gave my mouth to him. My hormones told him I cared. A heart’s desire orchestrated commitment that night, an eager serenade. —His name was Chaaz and the two a’s made him special. We met when MySpace was all the rage. He sent a note like all the others, though his question was quite different. I’m curious about Seattle, he said, tell me about the gay scene. I told him. He listened--for once, his intelligence was incisive and always made me think twice; his zest was fiery and made my stomach hurt from laughter; his laugh endearing and caused me to gush on more than one occasion. He flew to Seattle for Valentine’s Day to show me he cared. We left from the airport via bus, to return to my furniture-less apartment, to inevitably sleep on a too small air mattress for two burly men. We dated for a week before he returned to life in Dallas, TX. He enjoyed every minute. I wanted to explore my options. We didn’t become official; he called us Lovers because of the Distance I feared—we were lovers, free to frolic and be gay. It was my frolicking that did me in. Chaaz Chaaz didn’t move to Seattle and things were never the same between us. Years later, he would propose marriage—A one week love affair swaying down the Commitment aisle. I accepted. We fought. We divorced. Now, Facebook ties us, two black holes afraid to get too close. The mass of our hearts playing tug-tug for all eternity. ... lewd comments, revealing photos, and midday rendezvous were the scripted games the lonely learned to play online. to some queer folk, these were strategies for acceptance and love—those praised winners were often the freakiest of the batch, the alphas in the bedroom. But maybe that’s stupid: the thought--Mr. Right can be wrangled in with just a few pecked keystrokes. From peckers to anal probing, they examine my body and disregard my soul, my heart? They never abduct it. with every casual audition, i choked back disappointment and defeat. I called myself a whore today. because my innocence ran away but the parts kept coming. Around and around and around I go — dizzy with a faux lover’s curse teetering so easily. I might just s l i p
y. a w a

... the anxiety is palpable--i taste it in my throat, thick and sour; it dances behind my shifting sight, prowling for phallic clues. the sweat scours my skin. it responds, starts to prickle; this nervousness—the drip from pits and brows, bitter excitement—never leaves; it’s there—conspicuous and unabashed, always before. i arrive at what i gather is a pretty typical night scene for city apartment complexes: penetrating blackness sated by beacons of lamplight fixed to apartment building entrances--and lively, with groupings of folk kicking back and soaking up the steely darkness. as the cool breeze slips through my cracked driver’s side window, i watch the outside world investigate the strange car with the curious driver--a casual attempt to gauge my car and my search for knowledge as friendly nuisance or possible threat. as i creep along, forming circles in connected parking lots, 8  

snatches of his body surface; salvaged pieces form a picture that’s not quite right, no matter the glue or arrangement; the lines are blurry, and his face—awfully fuzzy. this in-between period is the worst part of it all. i rush with questions, none that can be helped: am i being stood up? is this the right place? could this be the one? eventually, i see a lingering man; his hand presses something to his ear, a cell phone? simple clothing, not much color, he piqued my interest--camouflage? call it familiarity, attraction, or a half-assed state of invisibility, ha, like a name would matter. he moves to a glass door held slightly ajar, left open, presumably, for free goings and comings. he gestures subtly in my direction; his head quick, flicking in the moonlight, tempting me to follow. i assume this must be the guy, even while he floats away; he leaves no mark, not on his grassy carpets, not on his cracked veins of stone. i follow this disembodied trail into an anonymous building. he disappears, like a frightened apparition. this welcoming strip of hallway appears to go on forever, feeding any number of corridors. i twist and turn my way through the halls with hospital tan walls and rustic blue carpet. i resign myself to instinct and am thrust into a room filled with a feverish and unsettled darkness: feverish, i hear and piece together, from tumbling, bumping dryers put to task spewing the scents and heat of renewal; unsettled...well, i saw the darkness eat the light, slowly but surely, hungry and heavy. i see a shapeless figure standing, outlined in the black and covered in the diminishing light of a cell phone. my nostrils fill with the scents of old plaster and moist wood, their fumes skewering the smells of wafting Downy and Tide—or was it new plaster? was this a place of rebirth or decay? wooden frames, designed to support walls - walls that once stood, or walls that will? is this the place? it’s so open its so broken i don’t know. i’m already here. he doesn’t say a word i greet him and ask if he has lube he responds that’s All You. oh yes. how could i forget? i suppose all anyone needs is what you have to offer big man the most important part. our affair begins. we continue our unspoken silence. he seems tense. i am taken taken back through the hospital tan walls and the rustic carpet blue back through the darkened parking lot and the scrutiny of my peers back to that house that house i call home, my mind takes me. i don’t quite know what to do. he continues to say nothing, as do i, and in very little time—he’s done. he says nothing i say nothing we say nothing he deflates he makes himself presentable he leaves I’m left empty pants at my ankles twisted like a malformed pretzel--alone. i make myself presentable, call myself a whore, and walk back to my car. he’s long gone, now. it’s probably for the best. … Liar. lies. this heartless man i knew very well. he reminded me, this heedless horseman, of the beating torsos and Trojans i knew but could never piece together. in the end, he would be the best of my others, best at that moment when bodies shook with sweat intermingling, and hearts crumpled like scrap paper. he was what they aspired to be. i get it. there was a trend, i realize. all that i saw in my whoredom belonged to me: every climactic scowl, every guttural groan, every averted eye, every parking garage, every semi-lit bathroom, every living room couch, every bed with no frame, every 20yr old brwn/brwn 220lbs 6’ 1" VGL bi 8.5" cut looking for fun, can travel, lets do this ASAP. i got it i was a queen deposed: lovers lied; my hopes plateaued; love, in its invasive probing, was shit. for who could ever learn to love a beast, as tales are old as time and i can tell— we’re not happy. i knew happy people once: movements, unhindered and powerful, smiles, dazzling and bright, laughter, harmonious and playful. happiness seemed contagious. i studied it; rehearsed it, even. even if i could never catch it, no matter the effort, the lines, or lighting—my smile never felt so sterling; my movements never felt so free. Yet, strangely, i could taste tart protein 9  

rich happiness--roll it around my slick velvet tongue their savory nuggets of potency overpowering strange— the flavor texture—massaging and manipulating every morsel, until it was time to swallow and digest. i suspected this brand of Happiness would not be free. i could never keep it down, this Happiness; my stomach, usually cast-iron, was no match; the bile was always stronger. vomit, chunks of Gay.com ads and spittle from my many gay how-to’s, purged a blinding mosaic in my driver’s seat; in that silently black, half-gestated room; and on this splotchy, wrinkled page. . .forgive me, father, for i have sinned. its been years since my last confession; but how to? murky memory ate the light, deliverance hung scantily clad, a heathen flood overtook me, sweeping me to fabled frontiers sigh clamoring through to find. . .a little help? oh! how i waded toward salvation; it wanted me, see, stringing me, teasing me, with sumptuously warm giddy smiling royal charming lovely loving hope. the brilliance of its shimmer and the soothing wave of its open arms sustained me. the absolution of its grace, even the mere sight of it, gave me something strangely hopeful--a flutter in my belly, a stumble in my practiced verse. but these milky fragments wouldn’t let me go. they refused to wash away. stained. my mulatto skin slurred pink, pastel, magenta, and blue. st. peter, i realized, would never let me in. St. Peter St. Peter I beg of thee set me free these acts spring from my Heart bless me tell me how am I to Be my halo is bent yes and wings slightly clipped see these flaws make me Human dont punish me. peter refuses to listen. abandoned. again. ________ Maybe I’m overreacting. Yes, yes... I think I am. I got what I wanted--we all did. Yeah. . . filling flesh. ha! Or, perhaps, another rehearsal completed. Yeah. . .my people are known for their theatrics? My people, those branded queens, are known for their theatrics. *applause* ha! Theatrics. Kills us every time, especially when the part doesn’t fit, and those gilded stages won’t give! HAHA! So much for your teary monologue, you’ve let us down—again. This time I thought would be different: we might embrace the fight. I’m blowing this out of proportion. See, I have a little secret; one you’ll never know. I’ll let you in on a little secret: Sometimes we masquerade, bamboozle, or even deploy agile deceptions to keep us. Sometimes we will never embrace the truth because it may open wounds we fear will never heal; undam bloody rivers that will never cease their flow; cause salty tears to wilt the pages of our reputable memoirs. You know where I’m going with this...You’ve heard it all before: On to the next one. :( On to the next one. It’ll be even better.

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Butterfly Keeping i had a troupe of trusty butterflies, once upon a merry time. high fantastical hosts—as reputations require—with tails tapping forelegs beating dazzling feats for all to see. priceless tokens set to celebrate metamorphosis and beauty never ending never leaving. they--just babies, mind you--with their rotund jade bodies throbbing, did many zany things: they spun about revolution then shed brittle skins; battedandflapped abouttheirspaciouscages, in a scene friends dubbed “the scatter.” i examined them (prodding their secrets, gently) with proboscis flailing, antennae in frenzy, and compound eyes twitching softly, sometimes; they didn’t seem to care. they no longer scurried from my metal tweezers. a now idle (but still brilliant) bunch—once fluttering rainbows of chic chalk in cruel windows--transplanting me, on occasion, back to biology when classmates studied beauty’s habitat-the leaf the bloom the cage-that sugary sweet nectar—your favorite treat, remember?--what bottle is that again? shucks. no beating butterfly no one 11  

in sight to pin for answers. i had a troupe. a troupe to call my own. troupes come and go. flutter and flap. lie frozen in time. I knew my troupe’s routine and they knew me, too. they’re resting now. i had a trusty troupe. they tapped, thudding morse code bright--they’ll never leave. Perhaps you will come and see?

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Z

 

E S T Y

coronas  

 

Pilgrims [II] “love is a battlefield”

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                                                                                                                                   ^  ^    

L.B. was here (and I’m incredibly sorry)

A weak, wobbly and wrinkled man sits alone in one of the many booths nestled in the Hickory Stump diner, a place prided as one of Georgia’s finest down-home eateries. He brushes bouncy and brilliant black braids from his sunken, ashen face as he orders coffee (because wine never did the trick) and insists on only one packet of aspartame sweetener—because he doesn’t like to indulge. He comes to this cozy diner, plopping down at a different table each time, to reflect on the many lives he’s led and influenced. He started out in the apple distribution business for the exclusive Garden, Inc.—oh my, ages ago. After that, he moved into quality control—for an influential higher-up—testing Job’s security; but most recently, he’s taken on the difficult title of collector. Precious things are his specialty, interest, and currency, with a particular kick for the thing that makes people—lowly creatures, really—worth something, hopeful, unique, cherished.

He’s waiting for something, or perhaps, someone—a light bulb, lightning, orders from on high, relief aid, perhaps? He’s waiting. As he waits, he scratches familiar aches from his overly broad back, stopping briefly to massage the feathery tendril of his spine. One could see it, his waiting, if folks cared to see such things. He guzzles his coffee and chomps his last finger of toast. And starts to claw at the table with a surprising ferocity from such a frail and labored frame. The Hickory Stump patrons, those good, God fearing folk, hear the scratching of his arthritic talons, but he’s an old man, and that’s what old men do—odd things. They try to think nothing of it.

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In this old man’s eyes, while he burrows his guilty plea, blazes a once prideful legacy—the fall of civilizations, the pleasure of temptation, and the impetus for war, destruction, oh and sin—all flash in irises beaming.

Does he hope to put the fire out? Does he pray this blinding light shine no more?

Patrons and pedestrians passing by his shiny window pity the man. He’s radiant, still. Bright and shining, bearing fortune’s fate. All of that gone to waste, the gathering flocks think, I would’ve loved to have seen him when he was younger; he surely had things together then, by God!

They don’t know. Do they wish to know? Pity. They can’t see what’s at stake.

This old man, with countless stories to tell, concludes “not yet, I suppose—maybe next time, next booth, next offering.” He always strains getting up from those alltoo-familiar booths turned a chorus for his redemption; his sweet etched notes planted throughout. He has to get back to work. Rules, you know. Half-smiling, and with exaggerated pep, this once wobbly and wrinkled old man exits the Hickory Stump diner, looking for a soul to steal.

He leaves a tattered slip of paper with every visit, for those with faith to help and rid the world of its pain.

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We all deserve a second chance, right?
  Many have read this man’s sparkling slips; they always take it well—hoots of cheeky laughter interspersed with scrapes read aloud. The others, well, certain bosses won’t allow certain employees to touch such things. They see all they need to. However, for those with warm flesh and passing curiosity (or an iota of care), I divine that he makes quite the case.

He never wanted to be the Morning Star, nor did he covet “Arch”-anything. Oh! And the fair beauty, the hymns, the dawning glory? He didn’t desire it. Didn’t need it. Why does no one get it? He’s too light sensitive and over-worked to be the dark, brooding snake always blamed for making human lives miserable. He’s suffered enough over this grace business, falling and such, when he slipped for goodness sake! The angel who reported it--now this is where it gets dicey—was smart with envy. “I was set up,” he really ripped into the page. That seraph (a mandatory name back then) got it all wrong, but this besmirched fellow (definitely besmirched) is determined to set the exegesis straight; his salvation assured.

“Right in this diner,” he scribbled, “deliverance starts here.” “Ascension,” he burrowed the deepest, scooping triangles of paper with fervent strokes. He proclaimed that there would be no deal, or contract, or manipulation needed to guarantee his return. He even apologized to Eve and Adam; he said, “I was

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confused—an apple a day, right?” A striking moment (the curious generally chuckled at this point). He needed out because he has feelings (he’s been without grace for far too long, it seems). Then he apologized, said he’s sorry for the war, the famine, the despair, the murder, the “anything and everything one might blame on the likes of me.” The paper seemed to wilt at this point (readers pointed out the genesis of creeping furrows and the sudden appearance of singed dots on the page); he says times were hard. He was left with little love and grace; his pride got the best of him, see? “What did you expect?”

He loves you now. He learned finally, through the ages, in the darkness he grew tired of bearing. Lucifer was his name once, the most beautiful light bearer. If you care, it can be again. (He’ll leave you alone for good, too; things will be so peachy keen.) He doesn’t need your soul, no no, something more important, something offered in gospel—a few scribbles, a brief chant, something light that floats to assist on high. We all deserve a second chance, oh lambs—little more than he.

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You Gotta Be Kidding Me   The Realization, Afternoon Lately, I, Rufus P. Jones (and likely the flyest twenty-two year old, Las Vegas native you will probably ever meet) have been beaten by some seriously awful feelings—sharp, lingering pangs right in my tailored chest—telling me, I fear, with wholehearted urgency, that it’s time to settle down. I’ve been seeing couples, happy couples, and thinking: why isn’t that me? I’m clearly the better choice--a perfect ten. I’m groomed, pruned, and fond of afternoons. Yet I’m alone. So alone. For a statuesque and desirable person (like myself) finding a suitable and worthy suitor shouldn’t be this difficult. But it is. Oh, how it is. Maybe people just think I’m a superficial and shallow person. “I’m not,” I tell them, and then promptly say, “Don’t judge me.” Unlike some, I have high standards. My mother taught me that. See, she had these sayings—little parcels of knowledge wisely wrapped with a posh and pampered pink bow. (My favorite ornament, it just screams fierce doesn’t it?) Two of her favorites were, “Even though you’re a boy, Rufus, always look your best and don’t take shit from anyone—unless they‘re husband material!“ and “Make that money, don’t let it make you, Rufus, and don’t let it interfere with you and your man!” Yes, my mother, she had a great deal of wisdom, which she aptly delivered at high, piercing volume. Mother took these penetrating and ever-faithful philosophies to heart. Truths she held to be selfevident, that “all people could be hot.” It was easy for her to believe that. She personified beauty, embodied it in ways America’s Next Top Model only imagines. She wore cherry-glossed stiletto pumps while plunging toilets. She applied coats of make-up as she bickered with my many fathers.

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  As I giggled and grew those years ago, Mom’s fabulous frame and fiery personality drew love to our family’s constellation--her celestial body so full of life, mine just beginning; these satellites--my daddies (the name she preferred I call them)--one-by-one would orbit her, elliptical, lurking in the vast cosmos of our tiny space, too many to count--each proudly surveying her, gauging her capacity for life, considering the lives she was to have, and flaring to eclipse the life she once considered her brightest star. Mom captivated men, and these men enjoyed her lovely cuffs. She told me how she loved it, and how they loved her. “Mm, nothing like a big, strong strappin’ man to hoist you out of your trouble,” she told me once. I was five. Even though I never spent much time with her men, my fathers--I was “too young for grown-up affairs”--I heard the stories of her loves through the wall of my small bedroom. It was the sound of water--the swish, splash and sauciness of it. It made such a racket, that water. It kept me awake at first, but Mother enjoyed her nightly baths, so I grew accustomed to its sputter and spunk. Yet, even at that time of cluelessness, I suspected those baths ran to cleanse the cries from the television shows she and her play-husbands loved and watched so much. (I never quite understood her obsession with crying, or why a TV network—that wasn’t VH1—would devote entire blocks to endless blubbering). Mother would, with an exacting combination of hot and cold--squeak-squawk-squeak, left, squeak-squawk-squeak, right, whoosh!--try to silence the screams and thuds that, without fail, followed their favorite action movies--the flicks they enjoyed together; her gasps and his anger, when these re-enactments ended, slipped past our tub’s drain and weaved through the pillow I used, with little success, to shield my young and carefree ignorance. The fabric, I understood, was too loose and the feathers too carefree to ebb

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  such a heart-pounding performance. Mother was a budding actress, after all, and must’ve missed some lines. Mom, in her sound wisdom and care, allowed me to understand that love must keep a certain look and sound. I understood that her tempered water and purifying bath ran because of her love for me and because she knew, quite obviously, that her naive and inevitably fierce child needed his sleep and shouldn’t worry (worries = wrinkles). She didn’t want to disturb or inhibit me. I wanted to be just like her, with her grace, style, and smoker’s cough. I still love my mother—please, don’t be misled. But, but relationships change, things happen, and we just have to act, sometimes, be flexible. You know, like movie extras! Hehehe. Yes, I miss her.

Sleep, Night Apparently, I weep as I slumber. So loudly, in fact, that the wails shake the walls of my tidy bedroom. In this nocturnal cocoon, where my subconscious reigns and sensibilities lie suspended, I, your devout love warrior, awaken to a dream under siege, from a force I can hear but cannot locate in the anonymity of sleep. While it talks, I remember:

…A recurring memory, or better a nightmare, torments this thrashing spirit, a manicured man with hypnotic golden hue. So golden, they say, that to gaze upon him is to know that sunsets are merely ‘cute’ and Michelangelo’s David leaves a fair amount desired. No matter, through his beauty, he yearns and sobs.

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  But enough of my weaving, shall we dip briefly into the past? Shall we discover what plagues this creature, so fair and blue? So be it.

He and his mother sit at a petite kitchen table designed for three, but fitting for two. The table holds the cutlery for a proper dinner party: napkins, pearl encrusted china, a timer, a makeup bag, a Glamour magazine, and a recipe book entitled The Modern Woman. The kitchen walls are brown, the trimming is tan, and the curtains are lime-green. Outside this house housing two, is a day bright and gay with springtime on the cusp of fruition. His mother sits satisfied and irresistible while he wallows in a recently-developed penchant for the morose, for the third week in a row. He’s eighteen, with his embers just beginning to smolder—the boys just can’t help catching a whiff. He mirrors Spring, on the cusp. Of what? He isn’t sure. His mother thumbs through The Modern Woman, hunting for a meal to ensure ’til death do us part. As she thumbs, she hums a sweet little ditty he has come to recognize as a trumpet of sorts, tasked with announcing her nightly horsemen. Argh! My life is shit and Mom doesn’t even realize it. She stays wrapped in the arms of these imposters, sweet talkers—all they do is demand everything and provide nothing. He sighs as he watches his mother quickly flip the high-gloss pages. Mom just wants to be happy. It’s not her fault she’s beautiful, is it? Must she be punished for what can’t be helped? He watches these tasks, this life, and those books swallow her, leaving only slippery puddles of his mother behind. As time passes, and the outside light begins to dim, her sweet melodic hum becomes an unbridled roar, and the petite recipe book with the practical and well-manicured cover transforms into a tome with wilted, tear damp pages. But what is enough for her? The desires of those men

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  never changed even as their faces did, and mother’s long awaited “lifeline“ never appeared— the man who would make us a family. This sad truth I could never dwell on for too long. I tried, however. I would step into the shoes, and the plaid and corduroy horrors her men, my supposed fathers, would bring and eventually leave in my closet, hoping that they would fit, desiring the four-sizes-too-big would go unnoticed. The strength to display dissipated so quickly; I couldn’t show mother I was enough. With her tome and her roar in tow, she leaves their kitchen to prepare the golden locks her men love so much. If I had, I wouldn’t have to deal with the bland Rashads, too spicy Michaels, and cold Lawrences; things could be just right. These thoughts cause his wrinkleless brow to furrow, his puffy cheeks to quake, and thin-lined mouth to grimace. His effort—to contain this dangerous flood from his mother as she crimps her hair and hums her roar and searches for the perfect elixir to make him stay—seems fruitless. Mother’s erosion, the constant chipping of her beautiful façade, sentenced her to a life full of lack. But there was little I could do, since she had the power. She had her way of fixing things. Mother would remake herself accordingly, every night, losing her sunny warmth with every coat. He rises from her kitchen table and begins to pace, slowly at first, but as the thoughts begin to form, his stride quickens. He glances at the curtains, walls, tiny table, timer, silverware, Glamour, napkins--all pieces of his mother, all remnants of her misguided and captivating spirit. His pace is nearly at a run in their small, muted kitchen. His thoughts propel him out of the kitchen where he has sat for far too long and towards his mother’s bathroom, where she stands in front of the mirror with rollers in her platinum wig, a cigarette at her lips, and copying furiously from her guiding tome. She pauses and greets her reflection, he observes, seemingly reassuring her it will all be okay. Her head of extending curls drops, once again. At first, she appears consumed by her preparations, not

23  

  noticing his presence or labored breath in the doorway. He begins to turn away, but stops as his mother suddenly looks up. Her mirrored self begins to smile. It is a smile that could only exist in dreams for its brilliance and majesty would overwhelm any pupil, though it seems as real as all other things in his mother‘s house. His elation only lasts a fraction of a second for he soon realizes that his mother’s captivating smile may not be for him after all. His mother’s date suddenly appears behind him in the mirror, reflecting his dismay, and her approval. “Oh honey, you know you shouldn’t see me like this! Go make yourself useful, I’ll be out in a few,” she says through that immaculate smile. Her date leaves to raid the refrigerator; he stays in the doorway; she resumes her campaign. He would run to his room, floundering about, and he would begin to pack his life away, snatching only his finest. As he rips through drawers and closets for the only items he can dependably know and love, stuffing them into his small duffle, he cries quietly. Through his streaming tears, he now understands the dangers of purifying water that, perhaps, the wrong things can wash away. Leaving his mother’s house, he decides, in the quietest mindvoice he can muster, to start anew—to use his gifts to fashion a life not like his mother’s.

Pre-Date Pep Talk, Afternoon I’m back at it again. Tonight is the night, yessiree—my last blind date. And if this guy doesn’t work out, I will resign myself to a life of department store shopping and chastity. Unfortunately, I’ve had the pleasure of discovering first-hand that the guys in Vegas are all incredibly disappointing, almost all of them, actually. They lack a certain…pizzazz. Hm, how should I put this? That glimmer in a man’s eye that tells you they know the quickest way to your heart: gyms, and the physiques that go with them. You know, the men who keep my favorite sixpack in stock: A.B.S ™. Heck. Even a man who can appreciate the finer things in life: Lifetime,

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  Style TV, and Book TV. Don’t get me wrong, these are only--eh--small requirements, nothing that I need to even, uh, really NOTICE a guy. Of course, I don’t care about bulging biceps or taut, rippling midsections, no, not at all… okay, okay, maybe a little. Thankfully, I hear the guy I’m meeting tonight is all of this and more! The friend who set this up says we’re practically made for each other. “You share so many interests,” he revealed, “like voyeurism at the gym, The National Enquirer, and Anderson Cooper” (I’d love to go 360° with him.) I’m sure he’d be a wonderful tour guide). Wee! I’m so excited. So excited, in fact, I’m breaking out my finest accents to seal the deal tonight; I’ll put those remnants to good use. Ha! One thing I will say about my former beaus is that they always knew how to make me look good. Oh, I just feel so good about tonight!

The Dinner Date, Evening Just call it. Call it now, please. Time of Death: 9:05 p.m. I find myself sitting beside a gurgling lobster tank, at a table lit for romance and draped with offwhite cloth, forcing a coy and interested smile. I nod my impeccably proportioned head, and my date continues to drone on. About what, I’m not quite sure. I seem to only catch snippets—bursts of white noise. It goes a little something like this: “Oh, I‘m an entomological spiritualist. I believe the dung beetle is the Jesus of the bug world...I love Manga...Cauliflower is my favorite vegetable...Are you going to eat that?...I get the strangest urge to massage feet at the most inconvenient times...I would like to see your feet one day...I only have two restraining orders against me, but they’re in the same state; you should only worry if they’re in different states because that’s when you know you have a problem...I’m still wondering: are you going to eat

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  that?...Your eyes remind me of the Moons of Saturn, it’s a bar...Weird Al Yankovic is my American Idol...I have a shrine in my living room - it’s to aid Paula Abdul and Whitney Houston in their recovery,” and I have yet to utter a word. Imagine: listening, inwardly sobbing, and dying just a tad. Have you ever imagined being lost in a desert? No? Ok. Well, let’s make this interesting. Go with me on this. You are lost in the Nevada desert. No water, no food, and the last scoop of beans you thoroughly enjoyed last night are giving you the worst kind of trouble. Oh, but there’s more—a scorpion’s pincer is clamped on your most attractive toe and the vultures just refuse to leave you alone. Yes, are you there yet? If not, you might need to take a left - no, no, your other left. Right. Welcome to my date. Glad you could join me. It might seem like I made this bed and so I should lie in it. It was a blind date after all, and we all know friends are the worst matchmakers. Yet, those of little faith, I was in fact prepared! You see, I had an emergency call set up just in case the date went south—or burrows, actually— “I’m really into Greek mythology...I think I would be Pan. I used to play the recorder in high school...I really like your cologne *slow rhythmic breathing*...I have a twin brother, he works with snails for a living. They truly are fascinating creat--[sorry, I checked out]--For a while, I considered a career as a mortician, did you know they have excellent benefits? And I wouldn’t have to worry about “retirement.” Get it? Retirement! *guffaw*...” It’s been thirty minutes and his tongue, teeth, and lips still operate in concert, with no end in sight. I will admit, many of my dates lack substance or even personality (the snake guy and the astronaut to name a few), but I didn’t expect a helping of Costco sized substance and personality tonight. So I think for a moment, maybe I just haven’t tried hard enough to communicate? I have

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  an interesting life, too, you know? So I say, “Oh, that’s really interesting, you like to travel, eh? I enjoy traveling very—“He responds, even before I finish, “Is that so? I’m the Treasurer of my Church’s travel club! We’re heading to Niagara Falls in a few months…” Really? I gave it a shot. Where was I? Oh! Yes, so, the emergency call was setup. We had agreed on the time (20 minutes in), the story (my friend would relay the message that I have Publishers Clearing House at my front door. Not only is it plausible, but it’s also a completely legitimate reason to leave quickly with few to no pleasantries required.) As I said, everything was set with one exception, something I didn’t quite foresee. I forgot my phone at home! Goodness, I need to get out of this. He is a looker, I will say that much. His eyes are brown vats of caramel goodness, his hair shines with a dewy sheen, and his ensemble shows a sharp eye, BUT sadly, he bores the life out of me, and well, he doesn’t chew properly, either. He leaves nothing to the imagination. I suppose I could ask if he has ever read Reader’s Digest, oh wait, he won’t let me talk. Then it hits me. As this gorgeous man talks, I understand our unfortunate connection. Through our sameness we are bound; we are the perfect couple, in fact, as perfect as two vanilla mannequins can be. Oh my, I can’t take his captivating cologne, the unprovoked caresses of my hand, or his half-dimensional conversation any longer. I interject, “I need to use the bathroom. Excuse me!” and I bolt from my seat. Standing, while being reminded of my precariously close position to the lobster tank, I realize something—My life, my young life, sputtering in running water. Dragging myself toward the bathroom, I pass the table of a liver-spotted, blonde-maned mass of creased flesh, with grace and curls so familiar, and an enticing scent that seems to leap from her. She sits alone and waiting. I stand frozen, watching this woman tap her boldly red press-on nails, probably smiling

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  as she nods and waits. A life of waiting and hard work is the message in her wrinkles and on the untouched plate hidden by sanitizing napkins. Seeing this made-up woman, who at one time must’ve been some rare and beautiful creature, reminds me of my mother, and the things she used to say. See, mom always told me to keep my eye on the prize. ““Easy love doesn’t last, baby. We have to work hard on that road for it to last,” was one of her most cherished mantras; one she often plied when I was a simple tot spinning in our tiny space. I never knew what she meant back then, when it was mostly the two of us, and we warmed each other like gracious suns. She worked hard searching. Searching for something that felt right. Right for the life she hoped we could live, a life that included father and husband and made a happy family. But her mantra never came true, even though she toted it on her face, with her pliable strands, and in the denial we both shared. Through it all, her trials for love would blow-up in her face, maybe it was because of the road she thought best to travel for all those years, or possibly, it was her attempts to fabricate the love she thought we needed. Her judgments, I realized, were much like my own. I’ve become so skilled at drowning the pain with fine attire and mindless dates, I’ve barely noticed it. I backtrack my steps and turn to face this aged beauty, taking the empty seat across from her. She continues to peck the table, staring at its intricate mesh cover, head slouched, in seeming pleasure and contentment. She smiles as I suspected, an impeccable smile, a familiar smile. This woman—with overly platinum strands drooping across her slender, hunched shoulders; cheeks wrapped in balloons of evenly stroked rouge buckling beneath a now cold flame; eyes, now dull and slow moving, that once held a celestial body burning bright with passion, eyes strong enough to gaze at the brightest of stars—is my mother. I couldn’t believe my eyes, or the chances. Mother and son, after four long years, sit here for futures of worth, waiting in vain, together. Mother had done her best, but to no avail it

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  seemed. I see my mother as I wished to never see her, and as I now see myself—caught. Mother and son caught, stringing ourselves along, and I am determined to cut us loose. I stand quickly from my mother’s table, return to my own, and declare with the upmost tact and sensitivity, “I’m sorry. I have to go. I wish you and your Manga, Foot Fetish, Broccoli love, and Paula Abdul/Whitney Houston shrine the best.” He stares, stunned. I sigh and tell him, “Ah, silence is golden--don’t forget it!” I smile and return to my mother’s table. I tap the now frail shoulder of my former biggest fan, and call the name of the woman I had called so often when I was sleepy and young. Mother jerked, looked up. Her eyes still dim, with spots of milky cloud forming over weary irises. I smiled weakly, remembering when I left her just four years ago because I didn’t know how to make her see. She gazed at me, searching for something in my face. Before she could finish her search, I stopped her, with words I hoped appropriate, “Momma, let’s go home.” She nodded, and I smiled. Mother lifted slowly, but with purpose, strength. Her strength had not left, and that was a good thing. We walked out of that restaurant, slow in our gait, but fast in our heart’s putter. This felt right, both of us swaying beneath the stars. This felt just right.

     

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  The  Ball             To  the  Legendary  Children  and  the   Upcoming  Legends     To have lived Fiercely, in the 80’s, inside that big, mealy Apple: You— model sharp, Legendary and street-wise— fold and cut like most dreams do. You vogue— swat and spiral across the stage— the ravenous world away. Devouring— dynasties do eat—the not so fair, the not so good-natured. O. Throw that blotting shade, girl! Serves them right! Small fame— still fame— Look! Nimble wonder— flames ablaze. You, waxed-skin and hungry thin, become so Real parading on that floor—strutting your ivy degree; the one you toiled over because white, cut strips of construction paper were all you could hustle. Oy vey. And that whip-long strand of pearls you wore last Ball? Those pretty oblong things strung around, all rich and swirly: the crisp paint flecks off, and the spheres wrinkle then wilt. You toss those dry, utilitarian raisins, so we eat your desire up. Off-white, manicured, and crooked teeth gnashing, hungry, praising you because we’re a hardened crowd, living in a hard world. You must be doing something right. You there, now in line, treading Naval prowess, Muttering the words a colorful colored life taught us, “You can’t stomp out my licking flames, not on this stage. Watch me pass: Become the impossible.” We watch, with eyes razor keen. Some slender fingers spiral, snapping; Other tinged palms clap with zeal; slow raptures rumble off our shine-slicked stage; Sir! you feel Whole for a few hands, ticking.

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We know. We know. You feel as if you could swirl and present and love and live and bebebebebebe for eternity, in this game of Grandeur. We don’t mean to rain on your pride parade, nor snap you back in place. We know—you’ve done well for your House, Family, and Home but fantasy’s time is money, and well, we’re all going through, you know--you know? There are other categories of unattainable realness, other dreams, other pleas to be seen and heard. We’re the fairest here, on this glossy stage, in this mealy Apple. Welcome--to the BALL! We’ll see you again next week.

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F A

E QU

F

MA R T I I

ER

O N

S.

 

  c l o s e t clean out Tip toe in to closets to play our game of hide and seek We hide from those who seek from black-and-blue dangers, those cutting labels deep. we trot carefully, afraid to wake the others; we whisper-speak to preserve our sooty homes. Whosesecret'ssafe? they’ll see, wooden sarcophagi hiss, mothball cherubs stare. I disrobereveal for shushed loves and five o' clock shadows; the folks outside would never understand, the bristles on chinny chins rubbing prickly tickly--”eww,” hateful echoes snuggled down sleeping in a secret. small speakers in stiff asylums play the W e a

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  t h e r Girls and Cher-Chained notes hang barely audible, floating past our drums, hum along because we wanna feel good, shhh... so only we hear. Bumping brown boxes spill into recycled air songs for the lonely and songs of foggy courtship. Air. Crack the door--only a sliver--too much breeze too much freedom isn't good for our patched-up souls. Feel darkness ventilate: let it slip through our rickety c r a c k s clo sets and war drobes make us gluttons for free air. Gorge little ones, in you go. Remember: bathed in a pinesap history, you'll baptize clean, purged of secrets: love fairy love trans love gay love bi love queer love questions love queens love kings love intersex love but where for art thou, hetero? You can’t hide out in the open, love. It simply doesn’t do; we, in these secret-tight tombs, are not

34  

  alone, so don’t believe the ruse. Come out little, come out old come out breezy, come out bold, come out, come out, wherever you are. Our cloaks! secret service scarabs Wait, click, knock to pick our pyres clean; to rid us as we waste away. Termites infest our closet tombs; myopic workers grubbing, whittle-chew, delighting in once-sacred parts—his pantyhose here, a few dolls there—preserving a Home’s blissful slumber. Our Fearful Game! Our Shameful Closets! We pay to play, relinquishing pats and pecks, grins and ‘I Love You’s.” Asylum sought in a maddening house. But imagine: Our dusky, sooty secrets— the secrets we secretly share--finally brought to light. Tip toe out of clos ets to play a game of chide and seek “Ah!”

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BREAKING THE SILENCE— GENDER  SLIGHTED  SONS  SPEAK  OUT  
Dearest Heterosexual Black Fathers, May I tell you a story? I realize you have families to support and order to maintain, but I promise you, it will only take a few. It is likely a story you have always wanted to tell, but your fathers--our de facto role models--never wished to listen and never offered the space or sensitivity to entertain such nonsense. However, you will listen, as you bore our first shriek, as you yearned for our first “dada.” You will listen. You shall listen to our funny story and you will finally understand. It's a story, as you may recall, of flowing garments and cutting glances, cast by you and formed by your inability to fathom the possibilities of our humanity. Our story is a bizarre and perverse game of gender tango. You, MEN, are to lead, mothers follow, sons and penises watch, take notes. Your tests we could never pin down. So, there was no hope in cheating. They’d pop up silently, like a thief in the night, only to disappear within a sheath of brown languid lids, your brown heavy lids. I suppose I should have kept my curiosity at bay and focused on studying, father. Forgive me, daddy, it won’t happen again. But it did. Over and over again, I stumbled over our script. Dicked automatons. That’s what you’ve made us. We need not investigate, for the proof is in the pudding--again, forgive me, that was never right--it’s in-between our legs, wedged tightly between our sisters and our ability to forge relationships of openness and love, between father and son. With every infraction, I felt you revoke a little bit of your respect. Your care. We, boys, we high-pitched and awkward boys, with our frail ruggedness and smoldering ways--need your love, too. This story will remind you of the pain you felt as a child, when love refused to paint your door with Sailor Moons and easy bake ovens. This story will make you understand the pain you inflict on your own children. This story is ours--yours and mine. Do you care to listen?

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  With Love and Understanding, The Gender Slighted Sons  
What Did I Know?

When  I  was  small  and  spritely,  I  was  the  boy  who  didn't  know  what  being  a  boy  meant.  I   must’ve  misplaced  my  pre-­‐K  gender  guidebook,  missed  pee-­‐wee  football  practice,  or   skipped  that  special  day  of  elementary  school.  You  know  that  day  when  teachers  were   supposed  to  pull  us  to  the  side  and  tell  us  what  that  thing  between  our  legs  was  used  for-­‐-­‐ courting  women  or  keeping  score.  Regardless  of  the  reason,  I  missed  it.  The  knowledge  of   authentic  boyhood  escaped  me.  Yet  luckily,  this  fault  only  caught  me  when  my  boy-­‐ness  ran   amuck.  See,  the  parts  of  men  and  women  in  this  world,  I  still  considered  brand-­‐new,   vacuum-­‐sealed  and  far  too  delicate  to  handle.  At  that  age  of  freshness,  the  birds  still  flew  up   high  and  the  bees  came  striped  in  black  and  yellow,  cheerful  and  making  honey.  Who  knew   otherwise?  Suffice  it  to  say,  I  was  a  child,  and  being  an  ever-­‐present,  voyeuristic  vessel  of   culture  and  place,  i.e.  being  a  child,  I  was  expected  to  watch  and  learn  and  never  to  ask   questions;  yes,  that's  right:  this is the way things are;  this is how they've always been.     But...   I  liked  questions  and  I  asked  a  lot  of  them—we  all  did,  which  of  course  caused   problems,  but  you  learned  the  error  of  questions  years  ago,  didn’t  you?  It  was  easier  to  be   complacent.  It  was  so  much  simpler  just  to  go  with  the  flow.  You  were  tired  from  the  jobs   and  the  bickering  that  seemed  to  follow  you,  true,  but  you  were  still  the  strongest  and   wisest,  a  man  after  all,  the  only  one  who  could  be  questioned.  I  was  a  man  in  training  and   needed  my  practice.  So,  to  sort  things  out,  I  took  inventory  of  what  I  knew:     1) Boys  are  rough  and  rugged.  We  tumble  and  play  in  the  dirt;  girls  are  soft  and  pretty.     2) Boys  are  aggressive  and  will  never  cry;  girls  are  sensitive  and  cry  if  their  Barbies   are  stolen.     3) Boys  consider  the  big  picture,  while  girls  are  preoccupied  with  insignificant  details   like  being  loved  and  nurtured.         What  I  knew  didn’t  add  up.  What  I  saw  and  heard  as  truth  on  the  black  burning   asphalt  of  neighborhood  playgrounds  and  in  the  barbershops  of  my  youth,  I  couldn’t  allow  

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  to  be  true.  These  bits  of  knowledge  forbade  me  what  I  felt  I  needed  the  most:  to  feel  your   love  fully  and  simply.  I  wanted  to  be  pretty,  with  or  without  teary  streaks,  and  I  couldn’t   help  but  be  preoccupied  with  “insignificant  details.”  These  longings,  heavy  and  awkward,   pressed  me  to  shed  anxious  tears;  tears  that  sometimes  fell  loudly,  but  often  streamed  and   clung  in  quiet  whimpers.  I  sniffled  when  I  didn't  feel  these  things  in  the  arms,  glances,  and   words  of  my  loved  ones,  my  family,  and  you,  pop.   Then  again,  maybe,  just  maybe,  I  cried  and  wanted  too  much.  I  had  a  sensitive  soul,   after  all.  I  was  too  much  like  the  girls  I  knew  nothing  (and  everything)  about,  and  not   enough  like  the  boys  I  knew  everything  (and  nothing)  about.  But,  of  course,  our  fathers   knew  all  of  this.     We  boys  felt  the  need  to  cry,  too.  A  shaft  of  flesh,  XY,  and  bone  structure  can't  dictate   how  we’re  supposed  to  feel.  It  didn’t  seem  right.  Ah,  but  I  was  a  little  kid,  what  did  I  know?                                                                 there are rules, try not to break them.           Well, not quite… Upskirt Saturday  mornings  were  the  best  for  me,  the  youngest  and  only  boy  child.  It  began   years  ago,  after  three  trimesters  of  my  mother's  hard  labor  and  swollen  feet,  when  mommy,   daddy,  and  Dr.  saw  my  tiny  tower  of  power  as  I  exited  my  mother's  womb.  Once  knighted   to  the  world,  this  trinity  knew  they  had  hit  the  jackpot-­‐-­‐this  new  addition  was  already  a   special,  commanding,  and  privileged  child.  Consensus  established,  the  doctor  made  it   official  (Sex:M; 'It's a boy'),  but  doc’s  proclamation  wouldn’t  hold  for  long.  To  the  dismay  of   some,  it  would  take  only  a  few  years  before  this  declaration  of  privileged  man-­‐hood  ran   into  a  little  trouble…   So,  Saturday  mornings  were  wonderful.  I  had  them  all  to  myself.  Well,  my  family  was   still  there:  mother,  father,  and  sisters,  too,  all  leisurely  and  left  to  their  own  devices.  On   these  mornings,  I  had  few  to  no  homework  or  school  concerns,  and  so  I  was  able  to  relax  all   day.  On  one  such  Saturday  morning,  I  remember  wearing  the  most  comfortable  pajamas.   Dressy  pajamas  that  were  plaid—reds,  blacks,  and  greens  held  hands  to  form  an  aesthetic   of  homey-­‐ness—and  loose.  Breezy,  I  recall,  blowing  with  the  bursts  from  cracked  windows                                                                                  The  End  

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  to  hug  my  scrawny  body,  billowing.  In  the  end,  it  was  a  men’s  nightgown  (not  to  be   confused  with  the  standard  nightgown,  made  only  for  women)  bought  for  me,  by  my   mother,  because  she  knew  I  liked  to  lounge;  like  any  budding  man-­‐child,  dad  and  mom   assumed  I  was  preparing  for  those  football  games,  the  Frito  Lay  bean  dip,  and  the  comfort   of  lawn  chairs,  many.    After  soaking  up  my  masculine  ambience  for  a  bit,  I  had  the  sudden  desire  to  forego   the  standard  Saturday  morning  cartoons  and  watch  a  movie  on  VHS—Fievel  Goes  West:  An   American  Tale.  It  was  one  of  my  favorite  movies—one  chock  full  of  youthful  dreaming,   adventure,  and  a  film  that  did  well  to  represent  my  life  and  aspirations  as  a  child  in  a   working  class  family.     One  scene  in  particular  was  my  favorite.  It  featured  Tanya,  the  older  sister  of  Fievel,   performing  a  song  called  “The  Girl  You  Left  Behind,”  in  cabaret  style,  with  Tanya  wearing  a   dress  in  frilled  bloom.  Tanya  dreamt  of  stardom  and  glamour  on  stage.    In  the  end,  Tanya,   with  her  budding  zest  and  poofy  dress,  would  receive  my  interest  and  adoration.  Causing  a   most  peculiar  thing  to  happen—I  would  admire  Tanya,  almost  exclusively,  and  not  Fievel,   the  incumbent  in  this  gendered  election.  She  thrived  in  the  limelight,  something  I  had  come   to  enjoy  immensely—my  blossoming  fantabulous-­‐ness.  Oh,  and  Papa,  Tanya  was  the  best   kind  of  fabulous.  She  was  a  dreamer,  with  spunk  and  talent,  awaiting  her  time  to  shine.   Tanya  stirred  within  me  a  beautiful  tempest,  a  storm  I  sailed  through  often,  hoping  its  gales   of  transgression  would  erode  the  mortar  you,  father,  so  aptly  used  to  silence  me.     Now  Fievel,  I  remember  I  didn’t  like  his  fondness  for  fighting-­‐-­‐it  just  rubbed  me  the   wrong  way.  Yet,  we  could  not  deny  our  connection—in  fact,  we  were  tightly  bound   brothers,  though,  we  had  never  met.  We  were  the  same,  you  know,  boys.  Even  though  we   were  identical,  Fievel  and  me,  we  understood  our  difference,  in  our  stride,  in  our  dreams.   Though  we  were  identical,  Daddy  and  me,  I  understood  and  felt  a  vastness  in  our   difference,  in  my  love  of  reading  and  in  your  efforts  to  read;  in  my  desire  to  play  and  in   your  apprehension  to  do  so.  You,  fathers,  feel  it  too. I put the relation in relationship.         *Enter* A little colored boy in drag watches his idol, a mouse, on t.v. with the volume turned up as she begins to sing of the girls society has left behind.    

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    The  song  began,  and  so  I  began  to  hum;  and  then  my  foot  began  to  tap;  and  then  my  fingers   came  alive,  and  as  the  song  progressed  I  found  heaven.     …     At  the  end  of  the  song,  I  was  invigorated.  Energy  coursed  through  idle  tips  and  toes.   I  wanted  to  dance,  sing,  and  to  perform  just  as  Tanya  did.  So  I  did  just  that.  I  posed  to  my   family  the  quandary  of  “The  Girl  You  Left  Behind.”  As  I  ran  through  the  house  singing  at  the   top  of  my  lungs,  searching  for  the  girls  you  fathers  left  behind,  my  momentum  grew.  The   torrent  of  my  query  and  need  to  perform—to  become  Tanya—overpowered  me,   crystallizing  into  a  climax  fitting  Tanya’s  glinting  stardom.  I  proceeded  to  lift  my  gown,  in   true  cabaret  style,  revealing  knobby  knees  and  a  tighty-­‐whitey  corral  and  broadcasting  the   source  of  my  privileged  flesh  so  openly.  I  revealed  all,  those  many  years  ago—all  in  front  of   my  father.  The  look  on  his  face-­‐-­‐the  piercing  focus  of  his  eyes,  the  furrow  of  his  brow,  the   slight  downturn  of  his  lips,  the  clenching  of  his  bristled  salt-­‐and-­‐pepper  jaw.  A  flash  of  fear   and  disapproval  smeared  upon  his  face,  causing  my  present  ascent  to  Tanya’s  greatness  to   reverse  mid-­‐lift  to  become,  instead,  a  free-­‐fall  into  overwhelming  shame.     I  knew  what  I  had  done.  Father  knew  what  I  had  done.  You  all  know  what  I’d  done.   Daddy  knew  that  I  was  playing  in  dangerous  territory,  territory  that  he  ‘knew’  wouldn’t  be   good  for  me  or  who  I  needed  to  be  in  this  world.  Father  told  me  to  stop,  and  that  I  shouldn’t  
do  that.  In  my  young  mind,  I  understood  what  he  meant.  The  men  on  television,  in  

barbershops  and  those  uncles  and  cousins  drawn  to  me  by  blood,  didn’t  prance  and  twirl   with  draping  cloth  a  rolling  shimmy.  Why  should  I?  Though  the  “why”    of  his  reaction  was   not  shared  or  confirmed,  I  understood  this  to  be  the  training  I  had  longed  for  as  a  child.  The   training  sessions  my  mother  provided  my  sisters  in  barricaded  bathrooms  and  hushed   voices—but  never  to  me.     My  father’s  first  lesson  would  be  in  pretend.  Thus,  I  held  these  desires  and   admiration  of  flamboyant  zest  in  silence.  After  your  gracious  intervention,  father,  it  would   be  Fievel  who  would  become  my  role  model  publicly.  All  of  his  heroism  and  brashness   would  become  my  own.  Were you satisfied, Daddy? Did I make a dream come true? My  desire  

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  to  be  Tanya  would  be  swept  away,  behind  the  shifting  pleats  of  a  gendered  gown  I  could   almost  call  my  own;  a  gown  I  had  been  required  to  wear  but  never  embrace.       Daddy Dearest My  father  was  a  shrewd  man.  He  took  his  role  as  provider  very  seriously.  It  was  his   duty,  as  explained  by  his  father,  I’m  sure,  that  he,  the  man  of  the  house,  ensure  the   longevity  of  our  family  name.  Through  his  labor  and  many  hours,  from  sterile  hospital  to   bubbling  fryer,  he  was  the  best  man  he  could  be.  However,  as  a  child,  daddy  would  not  be   the  best  nurturer  for  me.  He  lacked  warmth.  He  lacked  a  loving  aura,  something  my  mother   and  teachers  had-­‐-­‐no  matter  how  bad  the  day,  or  how  harsh  the  teasing,  comfort  came  so   easily  to  those  women.  I  never  quite  understood  this  absence  of  comfort  from  my  father.   The “why” of his manhood perplexed me. Why couldn’t you be more like them?    In  church,  father  was  a  reverend—revered  for  his  biblical  insight  and  powerful   oration.  At  home,  he  sat  at  the  head  of  the  table;  he  prayed  over  the  food;  he  cut  the  turkey   my  mother  prepared  during  the  holidays.  Our  father  was  the  head  of  the  family,  as  the  TV   dads  were;  as  the  fathers  of  the  “good  black  families”  were  on  our  block;  and  as  the  “good   book”  so  demanded.  We  also  learned,  courtesy  of  your  weekly  teachings,  that  money  and   God  could  make  a  family.  Every  Wednesday,  you  would  pray  and  ask  for  blessings  for  us,   your  children,  silently  gathered  around,  heads  bowed.  Unified,  a  family  to  be  redeemed—a   family  to  honor,  to  glorify,  and  to  obey  God’s  power  and  grace.  You  told  us,  as  one  of  God’s   chosen,  our  place:  mother,  daughters,  and  son,  too.  We  learned,  between  the  verses,  that   money  and  God  were  on  his  side  because  of  the  penis  he  wielded  so  freely.     But...   I  talked  to  my  mother.  She  listened.  Most  women  in  my  life  listened:  my  mother   asked  about  school;  my  oldest  sister  asked  to  meet  with  me  weekly  to  “see  how  I’m  doing,”   while  most  of  the  men  in  my  life  adhered  to  a  more  reactive  policy.  “It  only  became  a   problem,  when  it  was  a  problem.”  A  beloved  problem.       It  was  an  overcast  day  in  Kansas  City.  I  was  seven  at  the  time,  and  as  on  many   occasions  in  my  prime,  I  sat  in  front  of  the  television,  while  my  sisters  cleaned  and   41  

  organized  the  home  my  mother  was  often  too  tired  to  clean  herself.  My  sisters  would  look   at  me  with  a  special  kind  of  contempt-­‐-­‐behind  their  irises  were  pockets  of  resentment  and   desire  tempered  pink.  I  tried  to  avoid  their  looks,  pretend  I  didn’t  see;  still,  I  understood  the   unfairness  of  my  complicity  and  leisure.  I  felt  it.  It  was  something  I  couldn’t  pin-­‐point-­‐-­‐not   on  a  map  and  not  on  a  street,  but  somewhere,  I  suspect,  near  the  dish  scour  and  detergent.     It  was  the  oddest  thing.  I,  the  youngest  and  only  boy,  could  read  or  even  watch  TV,   while  my  sisters  washed  the  dishes  or  cut  the  grass.    My  curiosity  soon  got  the  best  of  me.  I,   with  pint-­‐sized  synapses  firing,  began  to  wonder.  Was  it  because  they  were  older?  The   difference  in  age  was  substantial,  5  and  6  years  to  be  exact.  Was  it  because  they  were  more   skilled  at  scraping  the  plates  or  sweeping  the  floors?  Or  was  it  because  my  sisters  were  to   become  like  my  mother,  the  dutiful  housekeepers,  while  I  was  fated  to  fill  my  father’s  stony,   family-­‐laden  shoes?  The  choices  bewildered  my  young  mind.  The  answers  were  dubious,  of   course,  because  you,  fathers,  play  your  blissful  and  self-­‐serving  ignorance  all  too  well.     Suffice  it  to  say,  the  separation  of  roles  among  my  siblings  troubled  me.  Not  to   mention  my  interest  in  trying  new  things  at  that  age,  so  I  got  it  in  my  head  that  I  wanted  to   wash  dishes.  I  could  reach  the  sink.  I  enjoyed  playing  with  water  in  the  tub  (and  the  kitchen   sink  was  essentially  a  smaller  tub  with  suds  i.e.  a  more  fun  bath  with  dishes).  I  understood   the  process  of  taking  the  rag,  soaking  it  with  water,  and  rubbing  the  plate/cup/bowl   vigorously  with  the  soaked  and  sudsy  rag.  What  could  go  wrong?  I  approached  my  father  as   he  watched  TV  in  my  parents’  room.  I  entered  the  room,  as  I’d  done  many  times  before,  and   my  father  greeted  me  with  an  expectant  look.  “Can  I  wash  the  dishes?  I  want  to  learn.  I   think  I  know  how.”  What  followed  this  random  question  from  his  only  boy  child  was  a  not-­‐ so-­‐simple  moment  of  silence-­‐-­‐a  quick  vacancy  in  sound,  mind,  and  spirit  sweeping  through   my  parents’  lived-­‐in,  poly-­‐toned  brown  room.  My  lit  face,  once  glowing  with  possibility  and   the  hope  of  new  experience,  quickly  extinguished  as  I  gazed  into  my  father,  observing  our   patriarch’s  face.  To  say  he  did  not  look  pleased  would  be  an  understatement.  His  face  was  a   mixture  of  “taken  aback”  and  uncertainty.  I’d  seen  this  look  before.  Father  reserved  this   look  for  the  most  ridiculous  of  things—for  some  mess-­‐up  we  kids  perpetrated,  or  upon   observing  some  other  mess  he’d  undoubtedly  have  to  clean  up.  His  response,  though  his   face  would  belie  his  answer,  was  a  hesitant  “ok.”  I  took  his  rocky  consent  as  gospel,  and  I   asked  no  further  questions.     42  

  I  had  finally  learned  not  to.     With  the  opening  of  my  eyes  and  mouth  to  this  strange  world  of  genital  and  duty   separation,  my  mind,  mouth,  movements,  even  my  very  thoughts  tore  me  down  the  middle.   From  the  privilege  I  felt  as  a  budding  man,  to  the  restrictions  imposed  on  me  by  my  manly   counterparts,  I  wasn’t  sure  what  to  do—except  look  for  a  clearer  understanding  of  “why?”   I  wondered  why  my  father  would  hesitate,  and  I  was  curious  why  his  face  appeared   so  troubled.  He  was  no  stranger  to  the  kitchen,  cooking  dinner  and  monitoring  the  chores.   My  sisters  were  no  strangers,  either,  tidying  up  and  helping  with  meals.  Nor  was  my   mother  a  stranger,  cleaning,  cooking,  and  monitoring  as  well.  So  why,  why,  why  dearest   father,  must  I  be  a  stranger  to  such  a  busy  and  important  place?  These  questions  did  not   keep  me  from  washing,  however,  and  the  excitement  I  experienced  those  first  few  times  of   dishwashing  made  it  worth  it,  even  though  now,  I  can’t  stand  the  task.  But,  I  suppose,  my   father’s  fear  resided  in  that  bubbly  rainbow  tinged  dishwater.  It  had  a  knack  for  softening   hands;  though  mine  were  already  supple,  the  taint  of  Palmolive  would  forever  infuse  my   pores  with  tropical  blossoms  and  lavender  dreams.       So,  Heterosexual  Black  Fathers,  we  have  work  to  do.  It’s  taken  many  years  for  your   gender  slighted  sons  to  absolve  their  anger  and  shame.  You  knew  life  would  be  hard  for  us;  I   know  that  now.  You  hoped  to  catch  the  weakness  in  your  black  sons  early  because  the  world   was  not  a  place  for  a  weakness  so  dark.  You  were  doing  what  you  thought  was  right,  to   protect  us  and  guide  us  in  a  world  not  kind  to  our  bodies  and  minds.  You  provided  what  you   thought  would  make  us  into  the  best  MEN  we  could  be.  It  is  sad  to  think  you  honored  a  faulty   view  of  the  strength  you  knew  we  needed.  Now,  all  we  wish  from  you,  our  daddies,  is  the   understanding  that  we  can  have  a  choice  in  this  world-­‐-­‐choice  for  all  of  us.  Though  we  could   berate  and  demean  and  lash  out  at  you  for  helping  our  lives  stay  absent  of  gender  freedom   and  possibility,  we  realize—it’s  not  entirely  your  fault.  We  have  been  duped  and  we  continue   to  dupe  each  other.  This  is  your  call  to  power  and  testimony,  Fathers.  We,  like  you,  want  to  be   heard  and  need  to  be  loved.  However,  it’s  also  important  to  realize  that  we  are  not  the  only   benefactors  to  such  freedom—our  partners  and  sisters  deserve  a  choice,  too.     Fathers,  in  your  stories,  within  the  spaces—the  “um’s”,  the  “eh’s,”  the  awkward   chuckles,  the  embarrassed  grins-­‐-­‐hides  the  truth  of  your  experiences  as  gender  slighted  sons.  I   43  

  never  knew  your  story,  daddy.  I  heard  bits  and  pieces  second  hand,  and  just  once,  from  your   chapped,  tired,  and  hurt  mouth,  right  before  you  were  carried  Home.  You  were  my  first  role   model,  papa,  even  though  I  never  felt  comfortable  modeling  your  role.  It  pains  me  to  think   that  I  will  never  hear  your  story  in  its  entirety,  as  you’ve  left  this  world  to  join  the  celestial   ranks  of  other  Heterosexual  Black  Fathers.  But  to  those  fathers  who  are  still  with  us,  I  urge   you  to  hear  our  plea.  Even  if  your  drums  only  catch  a  mumble—it’s  a  start.  Embrace  your  sons   and  let  their  light  shine,  let  your  collective  warmth  coalesce,  and  let  your  love  be  made  true.       The  alternative  could  be  costly.           Elegy for the Fallen Patriarch You left me, Father, and we didn’t say goodbye. We loved in silence, didn’t we? Because 2,000 miles is a long journey for love, especially with no telephone lines, postal carriers, or family messengers summoned to pass that threewordtorch. You left me, Pop, in silence. Our dear silence echoes Responding to the thump of life-giving beats. Cold. Metal. Breathe. Slowly. The doctor called it a heart murmur, but I told her my heart is a little shy And not to worry: I get it from My father. You left me, Papa, to gaze at a face—a mask now, a shimmery shade of autumn brown reflecting phosphorescent, a halo—at peace with—with— fallen angel lips. I found a box of deathly stillness, a remedy for grim sweet nothings, 44  

  at your make-up Goodbye; Yet, I heard those nothings still—still— between syncopated gasps and our Trembling hands even long After. I mourned you, the weight of our love. Did You know? Did it flit through our mumbling code? I carved an epitaph from the heart, extra fine--just for you: A patriarch has fallen. A court in mourning, Mourns the end of a legacy, Mourns the end of his reign, Mourns the end of knowing our place: His children, jesters and loyal subjects His wife, adviser impaired by feminine weakness (‘cause the Bible told him so). We reminisce gayly with sobs and wails, pomp and circumstance. He ruled in sickness and in health. Now the throne lays vacant, awaiting its rightful successor. You left me, Daddy, and Daddy, I left you, too. On Porches past, doors bolted; At the end of conversations, too brief and few, You were left. In a swirl of years, bitter and potent, We left, together, apart. At the end. In the end. Too Long and cold, too much sin swimming in loving blood. I mourn still; through faint echoes and fine epitaphs, Can’t you hear my heart murmur? Listen closer. Past the silence and the sin. Can’t you hear it murmur?

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  Goodbye, Patriarch, Goodbye

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Afterword  

  In  its  inception,  Queer  Musings;  The  Art  of  Zestful  Border  Crossing  was  a  project  guided  by   the  question,  “I  wonder  what  would  happen  if…?”,  a  question  I  often  ask  myself  when  I   “play”  with  the  boundaries  of  the  various  identities  and  groups  I’ve  come  to  claim  as  a  part   of  who  I  am.  Boundary  crossing  is  disorienting—whether  these  are  state  boundaries,   national  boundaries,  or  the  boundaries  of  the  body,  mind,  and  spirit.  In  crossing  these   boundaries,  you  may  give  up  some  sense  of  confidence  and  security,  yes,  but  I  think  you   gain  something  even  more  powerful  in  its  place—perspective.  Perspective  provides   potentially  new  experiences  and  exposure  to  different  ideas  of  living  and,  hopefully,   enjoying  life,  but  more  often  than  not,  you’ll  find  that  the  perspective  offered  demonstrates   that  we  really  aren’t  so  different  after  all.  It’s  the  boundaries  we  “conveniently”  erect  and   lean  against  that  augment  and  perpetuate  the  alienation  and  division  between  people.  I   think  this  perspective  is  vitally  important.  Because  of  this,  QM  was  born  from  the  essence  of   play  and  curiosity.  And  because  of  this,  QM  is  an  experiment  in  perspective,  from  how  we   see  ourselves,  our  deities,  and  those  considered  others.       QM  also  serves  as  a  meditation  on  love  and  social  justice.  QM  explores  many  of  love’s   incarnations:  a  love  of  nature,  familiar  love,  agape  love,  communal  love,  romantic  love,  and   self-­‐love.  Love  is  the  key  to  border  crossing,  which  is  the  key  to  social  justice;  it  grounds  us,   gives  us  a  sense  of  home,  of  comfort,  of  belonging,  of  worth.  Love  is  also  zestful,  spirited,   inspiring,  and  honest,  which  may  explain  why  many  of  the  pieces  here  are  honest  and   personal.  QM  explores  how  we  enact  and  view  love  and  thus  how  we  view  and  act  with   each  other.  In  this  sense,  love  becomes  sometimes  tragic,  sometimes  bittersweet,  and  other   times—crazy  fun  and  outlandish,  but  that’s  how  life  (and  love)  is  for  all  of  us,  I  think.  Now,   the  question  becomes  whether  we  choose  to  recognize  that  capacity  to  love  and  be  loved  in   others  and  in  ourselves.    This  recognition  and  empathy  is  the  essence  of  border  crossing,   the  essence  of  social  justice.