Friday, November 17, 2017

Queer Utopias, Continued: Topsy Turvy, Chapter Two

As promised in last week's post, Chapter Two (of eight) of a story from a world I dream of, believe in, and want...

You don’t need the verbatim transcript of the next rambling hour and a half. I’m not sure why it surprised me that a new hire in clinical psychology would turn out to be a good listener in the sack. I can only chalk it up to the intense lust between us that the channel opened up so fast into something still so raw--despite the years I’ve spent dealing with what my cousin Joe did when I was fourteen. Denial never entered into it. I’ve never suffered misplaced guilt that as I walked into his room he grabbed me from behind, yanked down my pants, and used his varsity-football-weight to pin me in place, barely spitting on himself before he shoved into me. He added more injury to it by muttering over and over as he ploughed in that it was time for me to learn about this and I’d thank him afterwards. Happily, “afterwards” at least came soon–it was over in about three minutes.

After all these years, I remain glad to say that a week later the motherfucker reported for duty and within five months was one of the last American G.I.s to get blown up in Viet Nam. The hardest part of getting the news was seeing Grandpa collapse in grief when all I felt was relief. I wouldn’t go to the funeral with the rest of the family, refused to sign the card my parents sent to my uncle and aunt. Though I know in a different world he might have found another way of dealing with his own desires, and some of what happened should be laid at the doorstep of the narrow, homophobic script we both grew up trapped in. Maybe someday I’ll be able to forgive him. Not yet.

After that, it took me till I was twenty to touch another boy without a tide of panic swelling over me. I lost nearly three years of ungathered rosebuds, in the heady days of the mid-70’s on a liberal campus, when even a lot of the straight guys in the dorm were happy enough to experiment, all of us cocooned far away from what would soon become the urban epicenters of the AIDS crisis. Finally, one spring night after too much cheap wine and three shared joints, it sank in I could pick and choose how I played, and nobody had to go near anybody’s butt. My friend and I were so stoned we couldn’t get past each other’s ears for the first hour. Our dicks were continents it took the rest of the night to explore. When we were sober enough to shoot, about the time a rooster started crowing on the farm over the fence from the library, the mess on the sheets was just the start of it: late the next morning I was still sponging dried splotches off the covers of books on my desk. And I was hooked, it still seems for life, on the pleasures of cock on cock, chest against chest, and the beauty of cum glistening on a man’s skin in the afterglow.

As time went on, it got harder to find men whose idea of hot sex matched mine. By the turn of the ‘80’s, as hippies morphed into clones, so many gay men settled into strict roles that Vanilla nearly disappeared amidst the vogue for Rocky Road and Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl. I branched out. With due diligence, I learned to suck very good cock–as I’ve been told often enough I believe it. But I lost count of the times when a finger going for my backside, or else an invitation into someone else’s, would grind things to a halt. Okay, I thought, so I’m a niche market like everybody else, and went out to buy white hankies for my back pocket that hardly captured my full range in the sack, but at least gave potential partners some idea of what I had in mind, and didn’t. Over twenty years later, here I was again in a place too small for men to self-select into subgroups (as they had in Southern California during the years I taught there), connecting with my dream man five days after I’d driven into town, only to find that Daddy was a bottom with a very hungry hole.

But into the bargain, funny, articulate, emotionally smarter than anybody I’d ever met, most definitely including myself. It was Jim who saved that first night, coaxing my erection back as we sat curled into each other at the end of a long, awkward conversation that stayed honest, if often painfully so, only because he kept prompting me. Jacking both of us off in his broad, slightly calloused hand. Calling me later in the day, making dinner plans for Friday after we’d survived our first week of term. The sex stayed good all that winter because we took so much pleasure in each other’s company, and it seemed worth using a little ingenuity to find common erotic ground. Both of us felt the drive to sustain things: this was no longer a dress rehearsal. The gig was certainly his last job before retirement, and, if you took the longer view, possibly mine too. Come spring, a shared love of gardening sparked our lust for the rambling, down-at-heel Victorian for sale two blocks off campus. At the housewarming, we joked that we’d married each other for custody of the daylilies.

But soon enough came the point when no amount of good will and mutual respect could bury what neither of us had succeeded in rationalizing away. Jim needed to growl provocations at a partner who’d respond by fucking him hard and rough and long. It burgeoned out of a wild core as key to who he is as everything I love about him, the tiger burning bright in his forest, mysteriously illuminating everything around it. We ignored it for months, to the peril of everything we were building. Meanwhile, I could hide in the shadow of that need, my own resentments smouldering like a coal fire from depths I’d never admitted even to myself. By late the next winter, a chasm had opened between our pleasure in each other’s company and the wellsprings of our erotic lives. Only sheer will to bridge it allowed us some intermittent sexual connection.

Valentine’s Day, he came home with a dozen sunburst roses, a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape, and his scary stroke of genius. “What I know is, my life’s richer for you in it. I can’t imagine the alternative. I think you want me around as much as I want you,” he said as he poured the second glass. “Here’s the best I can think of.”

When he’d finished his modest proposal, there seemed to be no reason to wait for Saturday. After dessert, we set out for the bar, figured out how to go our separate ways but still check in with each other. The hard part was conveying our availability when half the men we ran into knew we were an item, clarifying without awkwardness that we were indeed taken but could be had on friendly loan. I found myself chatted up by a sweet, humpy little blond senior who’d mooned over me all through a class in the fall, obviously more riveted by the hang of my trousers than my explanation of the impact of Foucault on the study of Elizabethan literature. When our thighs had settled up comfortably against each other long enough to establish that neither of us was moving on any time soon, I excused myself for a trip to the john.

Crunching across a floor still sticky with beer from a dropped bottle, I peered into the next room till my eyes adjusted and found Jim talking with two guys in bikers’ caps. One of them had a hand cupped over the firm curve of Jim’s ass while he took a swill from his beer. The chain from the guy’s belt loop to the oversized wallet in the left rear pocket of his black jeans could have held a hungry Rotweiler back from a bowl of raw hamburger. His close-cropped ginger hair disappeared into the upturned collar of his leather jacket. Jim beckoned me over with a cock of his head when I hung back. He put an arm over Ass-Grabber’s shoulder before introducing us.

I told him about my own run of good luck. “His final grade is in, and I’m going for it.”

Hesitation in both our faces and a deep breath before he answered, “See you by noon. Play safe.”

“Like I’m the one who’s gonna need to remember that,” I smirked, then bent in for a whisper. “Actually, I’ve met the guy before. His name’s Kurt. He does makeup for the theater department. Really butch makeup. Have fun.”

When Jim clamped his open mouth over mine, our thespian colleague responded by hooking his thumb deeper into the waistband of Jim’s frayed Levi’s.

“Don’t wear him out,” I told my trick-in-law as I took my leave and returned to mentor golden-haired Alcibiades.

Rehearsing the night’s adventures the next day was even more fun than Jim and I had hoped, a confirmation that what we shared was big enough to embrace the rush of freedom we’d allowed each other. I wanted to know what Jim had felt getting well and truly drilled for the first time in over a year and a half; was glad to hear how his trick had pried his straightened legs apart by the ankles to get better purchase as he slammed himself home; about how the arc of Jim’s load had overshot his upended torso onto the pillow behind his head. He wanted the description of my blond lad’s tan lines, still perfect, below the thickly muscled ridges of his hips, from three weeks on the Gulf Coast at Christmas; how after I’d kneaded our cocks together for half an hour he pleaded with me to let him get off.

The talk landed us back in the sack together, drifting off in each other’s soon-sticky embrace till we woke in panic at the end of the afternoon, each of us barely washing up and kicking into fresh trousers in time for dinner with friends.
 
Our hot first experience at turning each other loose continued to sustain over time our conviction we’d found the right groove, even when one of us, or both, sometimes drew a blank at the bar. Or when, as often as not, the fantasy of somebody new turned out to be more satisfying than the reality. I didn’t have to play Greek-shepherds-by-the-brook every week with a new twenty-something; he didn’t have to get reamed out within an inch of his life every seven days. Sometimes it was enough knowing we could if we wanted to, and the opportunity presented itself. However the night played out, the next day’s reunion in our own bed felt like homecoming.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Queer Utopias

I’m very grateful indeed that the world I live in is vastly more accepting of sexual diversity than I dreamt possible when I was struggling to come out forty (good God, yes, forty) years ago--i n the midst of Anita Bryant’s saccharine crusade and the rise of the Moral Majority, in a time raw with the memory of Harvey Milk’s assassination. But I’m still not satisfied. I still dream about other ways we could be in the world. About other worlds we could live in. At key moments, writing erotic fiction about those dreamscapes has helped me go on wanting and believing in a world where queer men are fully at home.

Several utopian novellas have come out of those daydreams. Below you’ll find the opening of one of them. I’ll post a chapter a week of this story until it’s complete, interspersed with other posts.
Topsy Turvy celebrates three queer men who risk inventing new forms of loving connection. It’s also about intergenerational love (relax, everyone’s over 18), about the potential of our sexuality to blast through psychic roadlocks, and about the sexiness of differently abled bodies.
I know that in creating a differently abled central character, Paul, I run the risk of objectifying someone with an embodied experience  very different from mine. I’ll say three things about that. First,  there’s some of me (or wishful thinging about myself) in Paul's character, given my non-standard, degenerative spine and the (so far) mild disability consequent on it--not that most people immediately notice the limitations on what I can do, at least for now. Second, I narrate the story in the voice of another character who feels full respect and growing awareness, as Paul educates him about what he can and can’t do, about help he needs and help he doesn’t. Finally, I’ll gratefully receive feedback and correction about this aspect of the story I’ve spun.
I hope you enjoy.

Topsy Turvy: A Utopian Erotic Fantasy

1
The music is insipid and too loud and the lighting stinks, but Underdog is the best bar in town for our Saturday night tandem cruise–the sort of place you find only in a Midwestern college town, with enough gay guys around to create critical mass, but not enough to split apart into erotic niche markets. Corn-fed blond farmboys who desperately want to get their legs in the air, but you’ll never read the signals if you aren’t a corn-fed blond farmboy yourself; willowy, epicene aspirants to the remake of Brideshead Revisited (one kid, I swear to God, came in every weekend last fall wearing tweed and schlepping a teddy bear); daddies like my Jim; a gaggle of drag queens who regularly arrive en masse as the cast of the opera the music school is currently performing; aging preppies like me; and several extremely hot trans men, one of whom, with quite possibly the most perfectly defined chest in town, and almost certainly the hairiest, is chair of the economics department. It’s a scene that could go horribly awry with rampant bitchiness: everybody knows everybody, at least by face. But somehow, it all holds together with good humor and good will, and the gossip remains if not minimal, then at least mostly benevolent and playful.
It took Jim and me a lot of time and some very rocky steering to work out the arrangement that had brought us here together every weekend and reunited us at home by Sunday noon to compare notes, usually to end up back in the sack together for another hour, getting each other off on common ground while swapping stories of scenes we couldn’t imagine sharing.
Nearly three years ago in 1997, at the September reception for new faculty, we zeroed in on each other across a room awash in academic small talk. Within fifteen minutes we’d sequestered ourselves in the corner. So much for networking with the other new hires. Jim’s thick white hair, his close-cropped beard, his ice-blue eyes, the heft of his shoulders under his shirt, all drew me to him. His tanned, thickly muscled forearms reminded me of my grandfather’s as I sat as a little kid on the arm of his chair, watching him blow smoke rings while the Cincinnati Reds ran the bases on TV.
Before I’d screwed up the nerve to ask him back to my place, he asked me back to his. We tried to be discrete about it, but the matching bulges in my freshly pressed chinos and his faded jeans must have given us away to anyone who glanced our way below waist level.
We’d barely closed his door before we started clawing off each other’s shirts. Ten minutes of necking finally landed us in his bedroom. Racing to kick off our pants, we backed far enough away from each other for me to get a look at the full length of him naked except for his boxers, and my jaw dropped. He could have been my grandfather’s twin, transported forward in time, from his neck to his waist. The same sexy, sinewed forearms that had me riveted back on campus; the same firm curve of long-toned and well-preserved muscle sloping forward from his collarbones, the same broad, taut plane down his stomach to his crotch, the sixty-something softening of his flanks.
Not for want of trying when I was six or seven, I never got much of a look at Grandpa completely naked. So I had free rein to imagine that I was staring at his cock now. Jim’s shaft pointed toward his navel, practically flat against his belly through the fly of his shorts, his circumcision scar deep brown against the ivory skin above and below it. I wanted to trace it with the tip of my tongue. Showing off, he pulled his nuts through the opening to let them hang like two ripe plums in their tightening drawstring bag. They fit perfectly into the palm of my hand, my thumb extended up along one side of his pole and gently brushing toward his frenulum. He groaned and cradled the back of my neck, gathering my face into the tiny, tight point of his nipple, then pulling me down with him as he sank onto the bed.
Clutching the width of my briefs from waistband to leghole in his fist, he hauled them down to the middle of my thighs, flipped me over onto my back, and pushed into my chest with the flat of his other hand, straddling my hips. The head of my cock poked underneath his nuts, stuck in a fold of skin on the backside of his scrotum.  His balls rose and fell as I thrust up and down under him. I reached forward to twiddle the head of his cock. After a couple minutes, spitting into my palm, I pulled myself out from underneath and laid our two shafts parallel in my grip while I went on bucking my hips. Our sacs collided on each forward thrust.  When Jim grabbed my dick and shoved it back under his balls, I felt a momentary surge of unspoken irritation but pushed past the annoyance, as I angled further down between his legs, my cockhead grazing his perineum. An almost burning intensity triggered my flow of precum.
He still held my chest down under the weight of his upper body behind the flat of his right hand. The hint of coercion in it started to stir up some very old anxieties. He shifted, lying down on top of me so that we pressed together groin to shoulders. We were drenched in sweat by now, sliding over each other in the saltiness of it. The pressure of his chest slamming into mine and the heave of our bellies against each other distracted me from being still pronged under his balls, the top of my glans still rubbing his cock root.  He rotated his feet to clamp them around my calves, wrapped both arms tightly around my shoulders, and rolled to flip us over again.
I’m on top of the hottest man within fifty miles, I thought, and I know exactly what I want to do with him. Reaching between us to dislodge my dick again, I spread my legs wide enough to catch his shaft in the furrow between my scrotum and thigh. The feel of my whole midsection undulating against him took me to a place where I can hang at the edge of orgasm almost indefinitely. The radiating energy turned my whole torso into one vast erogenous zone.
As if reading my mind, he reached for a bottle of lube from the drawer of the night table, drizzled it over me, slid his hand to my root and up again. Fuck, you’re perfect, I thought--if I was capable of thinking anything by then. Fixated, relentless, I started to settle back into my rhythm against his abs, when he reached down to run his lube-slicked fingers into the crack of his ass, then hiked his legs up, preparing to sling them over my shoulders. I hadn’t noticed the condom he’d taken from the drawer along with the lube. Now he handed it to me.
Shit, I thought.
“Put it on. I want you to slam the living hell out of me,” he said, closer to a command than a plea.
“I can’t,” I finally spat out.
“I bet you can.” He broke into a grin. “And I promise you can do anything else you want with me afterwards.”
“No. I mean, I really can’t.”
We looked at one another for what seemed like forever, watching the fantasy melt away in each other’s eyes. He lowered his legs, sighed, and laid his cheek on the bulging biceps of his crooked arm.
“You were really into what we were doing,” he said. “I guess I broke the mood.”
“If I could, I’d do it,” I said, starting to go soft as I sat astride him. For all my frustration, I meant it. Our eyes met again. I looked down at his chest–at my grandfather’s chest–and then felt sheer rage with myself for bursting into tears.
“Sshh,” he murmured, half sitting up to put a hand on my shoulder.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

What is Sacred Intimacy?

While facilitating a small private retreat this last weekend, I offered participants the option of individual Sacred Intimacy sessions during the unstructured periods that punctuated the schedule. It was a rare experience of using the term to a group without immediately needing  to explain myself.

In some circles I move in, the term “Sacred Intimacy” has currency.  If you’re reading this, you may have heard it at least in passing. But even most gbq men don’t have a clear idea idea what it means. Declaring a calling as Sacred Intimate involves giving an endless series of elevator speeches and hoping your explanation doesn’t sound like a transmission from Mars.
So here goes. Just what is “Sacred Intimacy” anyway? For me, it’s a heart-centered connection that uses the erotic energy between a practitioner and his visitor for the good of the latter.
You’re likely to get a slightly different answer from every Sacred Intimate you ask. There’s no standard training that we all go through--and certainly no regulated standard that we conform to. So if you’re drawn to the possibility of working with an S.I., it’s a really good idea for you to have a clear sense of what you want and need from the interaction, so you have a clear idea going forward whether the two of you are in synch.
Below, I unpack what I view as essential to Sacred Intimacy as I practice it with men who come to me. You may agree or disagree.  I hope that sharing my understanding of what my visitor and I are doing together may help you clarify for yourself what you hope to receive when you begin working with an S.I.
1. “Sacred”
What passes between me and my visitor is holy.
I would call it the presence of God. You as visitor may not. But what I count on you sharing with me is an awareness of a living and enlivening energy, bigger than us and enfolding us. I do what I can to encourage you to pay attention to this sacred dimension of what passes between us. Whatever unfolds in the session, the presence of this transpersonal love makes our connection possible and worthwhile. It’s not for me to influence how you understand this energy or the language you’d use to describe it.
Staying grounded in this energy enables me to open my heart to you and to desire your healing, integration, and growth.  My ability to function as an S.I. depends on the integrity of my own spiritual practice. Meditation, prayer, and study are the foundation stones for this work. 

2. “Intimacy”
Our heart-to -heart connection, in service to you as visitor, forms the essential core of the session. You’ve come to me willing to spend an irreplaceable hour of your life with me, and for that time, being with you for an irreplaceable hour of mine should be the only thing in the world that matters to me. Whatever else happens, that’s the most important gift I can offer.
Above all, I strive to listen with my heart, and to trust my intuition of how to help you clarify your intention for the session and move forward. I encourage you to drop down into the deep wisdom already present within you. Words are important, but they can quickly become a distraction from what we can best access in the relatively brief time we have together. So we move as soon as we can into a more embodied interaction. This might be simple, gentle touch, or quiet,  full-bodied holding.
More erotically engaged touch is always possible, and there’s good reason to move in that direction if it feels right to both of us. The poet and queer utopian visionary James Broughton said, “the penis is the exposed tip of the heart, the wand of the soul.” There are few means more powerful than erotic play to help you drop swiftly down into the fullness of who you are, providing our hearts are open .  You may well arrive with a focus to the session that already explicitly involves your erotic life.
The intimacy of the session is precious, and protected by the boundaries around it. Sometimes the urge is strong to want the intensity and openness between us to continue beyond the end of the session, but it’s essential to stay mindful that as visitor you need  to carry away within yourself whatever has happened.  As S.I., I need to be released from the energy of the session in order to move on with my own life--as well as in order to be as fully available as I can be to other men who come to me. The session is over when it’s over, and what’s happened in the session stays in the session, for the good of us both.
This is no way compromises the reality of what you’ve experienced, of what I feel for you, or of the connection we’ve shared. Instead, it assures that you take it away with you, instead of believing that you’ve lost it and need somehow to get it back after our session ends.
I started by observing that if you talk to several Sacred Intimates about what they do, you’ll probably get several significantly different answers. You’ll decide for yourself who feels like the best fit with your own intentions and needs. When you find a good fit, I wish you wholeness, growth, adventure, surprise, expansion, and deep joy.
 
 

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Queer Creed

Here is Rev. Brenda Bos's queer rewriting of the Christian Apostles' Creed. She is pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in San Clemente, California and a member of Proclaim, an organization for out LBTQ+ clergy and other church professionals in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Proclaim is a community within the queer-inclusive Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries. It's reposted here from interMISSION, ELM's weekly e-newsletter.

I believe in God the Creator,
who designed all good things,
including people of all gender expressions and sexual orientations.
 
I believe in Jesus Christ,
God's perfect Child,
who came to earth to live among us.
Jesus was born into a non-conventional family who adored Him even when they did not understand Him.
He confounded authorities and comforted the oppressed.
Because He represented the marginalized, He was crucified, His body mocked by others, died and was buried.
He knew personal Hell.
On the third day God celebrated the wonder of the human body and raised Jesus from the dead.
Jesus ascended into the realm of beauty, continually moving among us, blessing and sustaining us.
 
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
all music, wonder and strength.
I am a member of the Body of Christ.
I cherish the communion of the saints,
live because of the forgiveness of sin,
emulate the resurrection of the Body
and already experience life everlasting. Amen

Monday, September 25, 2017

Hanlan's Point, Sunday Afternoon

The wrack left by the flood,
and the far end of the beach gone,
no telling just where our towels lay
in other seasons. Now only
a few wading out
past the fallen trunks, then back again
into shore, and the shallow nooks
screened by half-submerged branches or open
to the lapping water’s gaze--
explorers beyond crowds glad
for another gifted day’s extension
of summer’s lease; seekers approaching
land’s end and wider freedom
in hope of something closer
to astonishment.
Which manifests
as a man standing chest-deep in ecstasy
and cradling the face
of the comerado who kneels
before him in the sand, enfleshment
of abandoned devotion.
Sheltered,
the two of them, by sunlight
and open water, by witness
of silent passersby,
their holiness balanced precariously
on this spit of land.

Friday, September 22, 2017

On the Anniversary of Creation

From Maya Angelou, “On the Pulse of Morning”

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.

Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

"On Rosh Hashanah...

"... we are called to judge ourselves with love; to love ourselves, and also to face the truth about our shortcomings and grave misdeeds. In our self-scrutiny we strive to emulate the true positive essence within ourselves. In our truth we cannot be fooled by evasions, or excuses. Tradition bids us to approach this day with both solemnity and joy, knowing that we will contemplate matters of life and death; and tradition reminds us, as well, that we celebrate the world's creation and our own moral rebirth."

--adapted from the Mishkan Hanefesh

Saturday, September 9, 2017

"The separate self..."

"... doesn't have a point of view. It is a point of view."
 
--Rupert Spira


(With thanks to Andrew.)

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Not So Complicated

Yesterday I was cranky, even by my base-line standard--which, I hate to admit, I usually reserve for those closest to me.

The night before last, the neighbours’ dude-bro guests woke me at 4:30 a.m. with a loud, drunken outdoor conversation and refused to quiet down when asked. A week sharing our small house with our own three guests had left me feeling cramped and unheard by my partner over a petty domestic disagreement. When we finally had the place to ourselves last night, we bickered over how to make the potato salad (for fuck’s sake), then over what to watch on TV later in the evening.

I woke up late this morning to make up for the dude-bros, dozed some more, finally rolled out of bed, and went to the front door to let the cat in from her morning excursion. Jonathan sat just inside at the dinner table, absorbed in e-mail.
“It’s a gorgeous morning,” I said as I walked out onto the front stoop. “And here’s a gorgeous man sitting at the table. Wearing gorgeous glasses. And a gorgeous matching blue sweatshirt.”
I’d thrown the words off lightly, playfully, without any especially deep feeling. Not expecting them necessarily to land.

But they did. Jonathan's face lit up, as it hadn't in days, with the pleasure of being seen and appreciated. That's all it took. Seeing him being seen, I felt seen in return. Yesterday's strains dropped away, and there we were in the moment, together, living on this earth.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Homage in High Summer

It began its life as a tree rooted in our Mother the earth. It has passed through fire. It's rooted in the earth once again. It rises into air. It's washed by the rains. By a thousand daily transformations, it gradually passes back into the earth once more. A sign of life's longing for itself; a reminder of our mortality.

 
 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Waiting on the Perseids



This last Saturday night, I was standing next to a bonfire with a band of brothers at StoneSong Retreat Centre in western Maryland, on the final evening of four sweet days of intentional community. My heart was full. The hearts of many of us were overflowing. After a spectacular afternoon thunderstorm that left most of us happily drenched, the sky had cleared, the stars were out. Our time around the fire was punctuated with one or another of us calling out, “There’s one!”
It was one of the peak nights of the Perseid meteor shower. The best viewing would have been just before dawn Saturday, but even if any of us had gotten up that early, there’d been cloud cover all through Friday night and most of the day leading up to the rain.
But you don’t get to order shooting stars on demand. You can’t control the conditions under which you wait for them. You can make yourself available. And that’s about it. Even when the conditions are right, you just have to let go and accept that wherever you focus your attention, you're probably watching the wrong bit of sky. You’re most likely to glimpse the streak of light only out of the corner of your eye. You may have companions to bear witness that they’ve seen it, too. Or you may have to trust, after that brief flash, that it really was there, if only for you.
What you can do is decide that the shooting star is worth waiting for, being idle for. You learn to separate hope and faith from expectation. The more often you’ve seen one, the stronger your inclination becomes to wait patiently for the next.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Once More, Into the Breach


Many of us who haven't bailed out of Christianity altogether are way beyond agonizing over the "clobber passages"--the six Biblical references to homosexuality that the religious right continues using to justify its hatred and discrimination. Still, it's gratifying to hear yet another  voice that refutes the fundamentalists on their own terms.
 
It's begging for disappointment to hope that yet another cogent argument can overcome bigotry, any more than it was dispelled  decades ago by John Boswell or John McNeill. But a British evangelical theologian, the Rev. Canon Steve Chalke, has this to say about misreadings of Paul on the subject of male sexuality in the Roman Empire:
 
 “Our poor understanding of the New Testament has brought misery, persecution, oppression and rejection to countless hundreds of thousands and millions of LGBT people. It’s time to apologize for the mistakes we’ve made and move on.”

You can watch his eloquent and energetic talk via Huffington Post.  

Thursday, July 6, 2017

108 Breaths in the Morning


 
 
Black, yellow, white and red stones for the four directions of the earth.
 
The Shiva Lingam for the holiness of our erotic energy.
 
The Cross for the radical solidarity of the Divine with our flesh.
 
A tiny Buddha for the joyful impermanence of all that arises.
 

 


Monday, June 26, 2017

Conrad Alexandrowicz: The Wines of Tuscany

Two decades after the “cocktail” transformed HIV-AIDS into a manageable long-term condition--for those who respond to the drugs, and who can afford and have access to treatment--AIDS memoir has slipped from the central place it held in gay literature during the ‘80’s and ‘90’s. Many of those works--in turns searing, elegiac, angry, urgent, tender--were the crucibles in which a generation of queer men refined the hard-won truths of their spiritual lives.

Among the most moving works for theatre that came out of the crisis was Victoria-based playwright Conrad Alexandrowicz’s The Wines of Tuscany (1996).  

For me, the opening monologue, in which Ben narrates his unashamedly sexualized recurring dream of Christ’s Passion, is a courageous assertion of the non-dualtiy of flesh and spirit. In this, it stands beside the homoerotic devotional imagery of the photographs of John Dugdale and of Oscar Wolfman, beside Keith Haring’s AIDS altarpiece at the Episcopal cathedrals of New York and San Francisco, beside Terrence McNally’s reimagining of the life of a queer white-trash Texan Christ in his play Corpus Christi. 

By happy circumstance, I had a chance to unleash my inner groupie in admiration for his work when I found myself introduced to Alexandowicz in a Toronto museum last month. He kindly agreed to share here some words of introduction to the play, along with Ben’s opening and closing speeches.

 

THE WINES OF TUSCANY

This play is a one-act physical-theatre duet for male performers about memory, pleasure, and loss. It is also about wine, food, architecture, sex and opera. The play is set to a score composed of original material as well as excerpts from operas by Verdi and Mozart, and uses dialogue, movement and song to convey its narrative. 

The piece is essentially a man's reminiscence of the last trip to Italy taken by himself and his lover, who has since died of AIDS. Long-time opera- and wine-lovers, the two make one more tour through Tuscany in search of the ultimate red wine experience. As his lover's illnesses worsen, the search becomes more desperate, and wine comes to represent a magical substance that can provide an aesthetic experience so powerful that it is an elixir of life. The journey is therefore about the quest to prove that beauty, like love, is stronger than death. 

The Wines of Tuscany originated at Vancouver's New Play Festival and was subsequently produced twice more in that city. It then toured to Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria and Toronto, where it ran for six weeks at the Tarragon Theatre. It has won numerous awards.


THE WINES OF TUSCANY
A one-act dance-theatre duet for male performers

[Setting: A large painted backdrop portrays a composite of typical elements of Italian high Renaissance architecture. . . . There is a living room setting downstage right, a couch and carved chest with a wine bottle and glass. . . . The lights come up on the last crashing measures of La Traviata: Violetta dies of consumption as Alfredo, his father, the doctor and the maid all howl in anguish. The chords fade away as Ben is discovered on the couch down right. He sits up, pours a taste of Il Grigio da San Felice, Riserva 1990, sniffs the bouquet, tastes it, and then begins to address the audience]

SCENE 1

BEN: I had the dream again. [Music: the Preludio from La Traviata]  Under a black sky, stinking of sulphur, promising the rains of doom, I see the crucified Christ twisting like an animal impaled alive on a spit. He's been stripped of the usual ragged loincloth; he has a huge, raging erection. [Edward stands and begins to move]   He's pumping the air with his pelvis. Suddenly he's coming... wildly, magnificently, endlessly. This shower of cum is bestowed over the assembled multitudes below, who receive it into their hands like fallen gold, ecstatically; a magic transforming fluid that has the power to heal and restore. I understand that this Christ was sent from the hand of God the Father to heal the world, and he's been punished for it. And God's in his heaven, weeping as gods sometimes do when they can do nothing to help. So his son does the only thing left in his power: he performs this magnificent last miracle, this stupendous, epic orgasm, generated from the superhuman pain of his all-too-human tormented body. From his seed will grow clear sight, calm thinking, the benefit of the doubt. The hand extended to the one who calls out, palm open, no questions asked.
 
The dream changes, exactly the same way, every time. He appears. [Ben crosses to Edward. They variously dance, slide, roll and run together throughout the rest of the speech]  His eyes like chocolate truffles, his shiny, springy hair; his shapely hands. It's him alright, it's actually him! I gasp, with amazement, with horror even. Then I begin to weep. And then I get hard, just like always: I'd only to look at him and I'd get hard. I'd think of him on the bus or subway, and get a lump in my jeans. Very embarrassing before getting off: the old ladies sitting with their shopping, their eyes at crotch level.
 
In this dream we're on a train travelling north to Siena. The idea is to get away from Rome as soon as possible. I love the sprawling mess of this city; these many cities from different ages piled together, but he finds it oppressive, and appalling, especially the traffic, which seems to be lethal to everything that walks the earth. You think they're actually trying to run you over, but when you wade out into the river of FIATS in front of the Victor Emmanuel monument, they all slow down just enough so you can cross; they part like the Red Sea did for Moses and the children of Israel. It's a miracle: what better place to experience a miracle than the Eternal City? He always said they only avoid killing pedestrians because of the inconvenience and expense of lawsuits. [Edward brings the chairs to centre stage. Train scene] 

We're on this train, going to Chianti, for the wines of course, and I'm gazing out of the window at the parade of hill towns passing by, rosy stone in the morning sun, each with its immaculate bell-tower gravely lifting its head toward the heaven of Giotto and Palestrina. He always let me have the window seat. I turn to my right, and there he is. I turn to my right, and there he is. I turn to my right... [Edward falls in slow motion to the floor]  Ah, tu fosti il primo oggetto che sinor fedel amai, e tu l'ultimo sarai ch'abbia nido in questo cor.

*****
SCENE 18 [Ben moves to the side of the couch]
BEN: He fell. The stairs of the pensione. All the way down. And sustained multiple fractures in his left leg because his bones were so weak. We made it to Rome, but they wouldn't let us on the plane. By then he had pneumonia again. If you're that sick they won't let you. It's a long flight, the liability and all that. So, he's still there. Where he always wanted to be. He'll never leave now. It was worth it: he was lucky enough to find out.

I want to be saved. I go to bed at night repeating those words to myself like an old Italiana telling her rosary. “Somebody save me, somebody take me home.” But nothing can save us, certainly no Chianti Classico, or Vino nobile or Brunello. And no one is coming to take us home. This is it: we've arrived. There's only one other place to go. You pay the boatman a small fee, because there's no end to tipping, no matter what, and if you're lucky, he'll get you there quickly. Plague has come before. It comes again. And the water of life can do nothing in the face of it.

In my dream the crucified Christ comes down from the cross. The look in his eyes is infinitely sad. He shuffles towards me with his hands extended in front of him. The wounds are still bleeding, but, there's music coming from them. You take another sip of the best stuff you've brought back from your trip, and listen. It's the most beautiful sound you've ever heard! 

[Music: The sublime trio “Soave sia il vento” from Mozart’s Così fan Tutte. Ben simply sits and listens to the music, then pours another glass of wine, stands, toasts and drinks, all in slow motion. He sits down, then lies along the couch, one arm framing his head, as the lighting produces a complex sunset effect timed to the music. Long fade to black]  


THE END
 
 
(Cast photo from the Tarragon Theatre production of 1997)
 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

"Any god who is mine  but not yours, any god concerned with me but not with you, is an idol."
--Abraham Heschel

Monday, June 19, 2017

"The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me."
--Meister Eckhart