Thursday, December 14, 2017

Five and a Half Objects

The Sacred isn’t just something we discover out there, or within. It’s also something we invent with our bodies. And something that invents us.

That’s my summary, in twenty-four words, of Brent Plate’s A History of Religion in 5 1/2 Objects (Boston: Beacon Press, 2014). It’s that rarest of all phenomena, a book by an academic who can write clearly and accessibly for an intelligent non-specialist, without sacrificing subtlety or suggestiveness. It’s the kind of book that will unsettle anyone who thinks his own spiritual path offers an exclusive or unique access to the Divine. And it’s an antidote to what I’m going to offend some people by calling mystified shamanic woo-woo.
Plate starts by making in his own words a fundamental point about our experience in human bodies--we’re not complete. We feel partial, because we are partial. We’re not each a whole, but a half. We long for completion, and we try to find it by a whole slew of means: drugs, companionship, sex, the perfect relationship, our i-Phone, the touch of a dog.
We also look for it by reaching out further, when these stopgap measures fail to satisfy, toward the Mystery. We create religion. But we get sidetracked into believing that religion is about disembodied teaching, or that the spirit is separate from our flesh, even antithetical to our flesh. Religion, Plate insists, is about tying body together with the longings we experience for relation to what is beyond us. And we do that through the means of the senses.
Plate’s five objects are stones, incense, drums, crosses, and bread. In each case, it’s the physical practice of what we do with these objects that comes first, not an abstract understanding of the meaning of our action. We act, then we think about the meaning of our action. First comes practice, then comes belief. We set stones on top of one another to mark a place out as noteworthy, or even sacred. Later, we create an explanation for what made us do it.
We make a memorial quilt panel for someone we’ve loved. Only later do  we experience what our grief might mean in the larger world, when we see our handiwork incorporated into a display that honors hundreds or thousands of those lost to HIV-AIDS. We lay a bouquet of flowers in a public space to honor someone who’s died. But the meaning of what we’ve done depends on the offerings that others have already made there, and on the offerings that will follow. We witness our love for someone by buying a cheap lock and shackling it to the grate on the Pont des Arts in Paris. All this is not only about discovering or expressing what’s within us. It’s just as much about inventing it, making it real through the senses and through the body.
This turns our understanding of the relationship between ritual and the soul inside out. We want the rituals we participate in to be immediately and easily meaningful. Many of us want their purpose and significance spelled out for us ahead of time, and we’re uncomfortable with doing something before we understand why we’re doing it.
It’s not a bad idea to resist this impulse for clarity. “Listen to your art,” says Marina Abramovic. “It knows more than you do.” The same can be said, sometimes, of ritual. Long ago, Pascal said, “Kneel down, move your lips, and you will believe.” Walk into the river and submerge yourself. Afterwards, you may understand that you longed to be cleansed. Ring a bell at the door of a temple, and afterwards you may get it that you needed to announce your entrance into the Presence of what’s honored there. Bow to someone who smudges you with sage, and later you may understand that the smoke has prepared you to take what happens afterwards more seriously. Hold your wrist out and let someone tie a red thread around it, and days later it may go on bearing witness that the ritual it was part of is still working its way through your consciousness. Your urge to sit quietly at the back of a church with your eyes closed for five minutes every afternoon doesn’t require your belief in a creed.
First we do. Then we understand.
But the reverse of this trust in the integrity of the ritual before you completely understand it is also true. Plate’s approach also invites us to build ritual from the roots of our experience up, when we need to, instead of waiting helplessly for some expert to hand it down to us ready-made. Your favorite park bench may work better for you than the back pew of a cathedral. A ritual doesn’t depend for its authenticity on an esoteric meaning fully possessed only by some master of the tradition. Being recited in a language no one in the room knows except for the officiant doesn’t make a chant more effective. Exotic materials aren’t necessarily preferable to what’s around us from day to day. Something as ordinary as water or wine or bread or a candle becomes extraordinary because of how it’s used, and the care with which it’s treated, and because of how its use encourages us to sink further down into its deep multiple meanings for our life.
“ point of a history of religion is that all these sacred rituals were, over time and space, made up. All traditions adapt and change, fitting new environments,” as Plate puts it (p. 133). If someone tells you that a ritual is legitimate because it was transmitted by astral projection from a palaeolithic holy man, run, don't walk, in the opposite direction.
We build a spiritual practice for ourselves out of the materials that are on hand. There’s nothing to wait for, no expertise you need that you don’t already have, no clear understanding that has to come first. Pick up the tools. They’ll teach you what you need to know.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

A Queer Utopia, Continued: Topsy Turvy, Chapter Five which our heroes conclude their first evening together.

His rhythm solidified. As he stroked himself, his dick was about a foot away from my face. I took in the undulation of his abs at close range, then the skinniness of his thighs offsetting the heft of his pole.

His rhythm slowed, and he came up off of me. “Freaks you out a little, doesn’t it?” he asked.

“No,” I said. “Actually, it’s really hot.”

“Trust me, it’s not,” he said. “It’s just the way it is. Some guys just don’t call me back, or else they think it’s exotic.”

“Can’t it just be different and sexy without being exotic?”

“You tell me.”

“Yeah, it’s sexy without being exotic,” I said.

“Good answer,” he grinned, pinching my cheek, then settling the palm of his hand onto my belly. “So why’s a hot man’s lover out prowling the snowbound streets when he could be home with you?”

“Special needs,” I said and then immediately winced. “Sorry.”

“No offense taken. I gather that doesn’t mean he’s tooling around in his own wheelchair.”

“Hardly. More like he’s been tied up a lot tighter than you’ve roped me, with something about the size of that club of yours up his rear door.”

“Ooo. Not something you’ll do for him?”

“No way. My sex life stops just south of my nuts.”

“You don’t know what you’re missing.”

“Yeah, I do,” I fired back, tensing up. He immediately got it.


I just shrugged. Then my own curiosity kicked in. “I guess you’re something of a top on that score too,” I said tentatively.

“Top maybe isn’t quite the way to put it. There’s only so much you can do with no thighs to match your stomach muscles. But it’s fun when somebody’s willing to sit down on me and do most of the work. As they say, I’m versatile. Which is the butch cliché for I love getting plugged, too. Like I said before, when I’m horny for too long, I get really inventive. I’ll pretty much put it anywhere it fits. This one, for instance,” he went on, turning the palm of his hand over to cradle my cock, his fingers forking to either side of my ballsac, then drooling onto the underside and laying his other hand palm down in a long, slow stroke, “fits just fine right here.”

I’d never felt a touch quite like his. Jim knows my trigger points almost perfectly, but I’m always aware he’s focusing on them because he knows it’s the right thing for me. This was different, driven by the abandoned gratification the contact obviously brought him as much as by a desire to please me. As I began writhing with the pleasure of it, a rope went taught to remind me I was half tied up.

He shifted to sit up, a wicked crook to the corner of his mouth, and his eyes lit up with god knows what as he withdrew his hands to stroke himself. “Don’t get your hopes up too high just yet,” he said. “We’ve got miles to go before we sleep.”

“And you’re the one hung like a little horse, you queer.” I parried.

“Thanks for inviting me to stop by your snow on a woody evening,” he quipped. “So shake my harness bells, already.”

We went on like that for several hours, exchanges of hot touch almost up to the point of no return alternating with goofy banter.

Around three in the morning, I lay pinned beneath his weight as he straddled my stomach, his hard-on waving again in my face. He gently laid his hand over my hand, removing it from his shaft as I tried to pump him. “Let me do that,” he rasped. “I pretty much have to be in the driver’s seat for this.” He took me by both wrists, laying my palms down on the tops of his thighs. “Hang onto me here,” he said, “and dig your thumbs in hard right under my nuts.”

He got lost in it. Looking up into his face, I watched his arousal mount into disbelieving, almost alarmed amazement. His balls swung past my fingers with the force of his rhythm. He’d all but forgotten me, except for the pressure as I dug into his pelvic floor with all the strength I had. I didn’t want anything from him but his pleasure. Watching him, all I could think of was what a fucking miracle it is that we get to do this, that we get to see each other do this, get to deliver one another’s bodies into such joy. All that mattered to him at that moment was that he was going to cum; and all I wanted was to cheer him on, as blinded to everything else as he was.

As his last jets trailed into the hair on my chest, he collapsed forward onto me, nuzzling his forehead into the nape of my neck, his hand still clenched around his softening shaft, still kneading it intermittently against my belly. I reached up to run the fingers of one hand through the hair that rioted over his forehead.

We basked in his afterglow for a while, and in the deep, sufficient contentment I’d felt as I watched over his climax and cradled him through the aftershocks.

I must have dozed off till his voice woke me, and the brush of his lips against my ear as he spoke. “What do you want now?”

I wanted my own release, but couldn’t bear the thought of breaking the perfect tranquility in which we floated.

“I want to just lie here while you kiss me on the lips and stroke me over the edge,” I said.

Sliding down to press his torso along the length of my right flank, he laid his left forearm over my belly and chest, his elbow pressing into my nipple as his fingertips began feathering my cockhead. His big hand gently turned my face towards him, and our mouths opened for each other, our tongues firm and sure in their dance. I was so focused on the pleasure of his lips gliding unpredictably over mine that I felt the warmth of my semen gushing onto my belly before I fully registered the orgasm, now pulsing through my loins, that somehow had begun in my mouth.

It took all the focus I had left to ride the wave of it all the way in. I was fast asleep before I could reach for the T-shirt thrown next to the bed to wipe up some of the flood I’d stored up through three hours of unrelenting play.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Not So Nasty, and Not So Brutish

On November 26, Stephen Marche published an op-ed piece, “The Unexamined Brutality of the Male Libido,”  in the Sunday Review section of the New York Times.  The column was as ham-fisted as its title. Marche springboarded from the currently omnipresent issue of sexual harrassment  into the main body of his argument with the declaration, “Almost all are uninterested or unwilling to grapple with the problem at the heart of all this: the often ugly and dangerous nature of the male libido.

Marche presumably should know better than to crank out this kind of hackneyed reductionism. He’s a regular columnist for Esquire and a prolific author with four novels and two non-fiction titles to his credit. One of those books is an essay on relations between men and women, written in collaboration with his wife, Sarah Fulford. But in this screed, he trots out Victorian platitudes of unbridled, destructive male lust, and, by implication, the civilizing effects of womanhood. It’s as though thirty years of gender studies hadn’t happened--as though activists and historians of sexuality hadn’t spent decades pointing out how we’re shaped by the cultures we live in, and by the specifics of our personal histories, arguably far more pervasively than we are by biological hard-wiring. What the column gives no space to consider is that when men behave callously or brutally, as they do so often, we need an explanation more fine-grained than a retreat into the stereotype that that’s just how men are.
While I was still stewing in my reaction to Marche’s column, I found what seemed a near-perfect rebuttal in the best gay film I’ve watched in five years, Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country. To be flippant just for a moment, imagine Brokeback Mountain meets All Creatures Great and Small. John (played by Josh O’Connor), the son of a Yorkshire farmer disabled by a stroke, struggles to keep the family cattle farm together. But his out-of-control drinking results in one fuckup after another, each of which leads to a dressing down from his father, enraged by his own impotence even more than by John’s behavior.

(I’ll warn you now that if you read on, you’re going to hear a lot about the plot.)

Into the mix of frustrated entrapment, class resentment, and emotional malnourishment in which John is mired, add his homophobic self-hatred, which expresses itself most vividly, during the opening minutes of the film, in a washroom tryst with another young man at a cattle auction. Seen from the outside, it looks to border on rape--though the emotional brutality is consummated in John’s stone-cold rejection of the other lad’s surprising desire for some further contact, as they leave the loo and John gets into his truck.
At  this point, you don’t see how that much can change for John. It’s challenging to feel much empathy for someone so lost in self-pity and heartlessness toward others, for the first third of the film. By that time, a temporary farmhand has arrived, a Romanian named Gheorghe (played by Alec Secareanu), whom John verbally abuses as roundly as he does everyone else who gets in his way, at least until they find themselves at the other end of the farm for a stay of several cold nights with the sheep in a ruined stone barn. There, the sexual tension between them turns abuptly from physical hostility into passionate rutting, and from there into the first signs of John’s capacity for tenderness, which have space to emerge only because Gheorghe pushes back against John’s impulse for another fast, rough fuck.

The bond between them grows stronger and softer when Gheorghe succeeds in saving a runt by tricking a ewe whose own lamb is stillborn into nursing the orphan. You can see the two men unfolding into their desire to nurture and be nurtured, mediated as it is for the moment through the sight of the rescued lamb. Their sidelong smiles at one another, as they watch foster-mother and nursling, token what’s beginning to flow between them.
John’s a damaged enough soul that I spent the next half hour of the film bracing for the moment he’d revert to type. But things in the end turn out with a utopian sweetness that for all its romanticism, rings true about a broad truth of male sexuality, at least as I’ve experienced my own and as I’ve witnessed that of others. Men aren’t by nature sexually indifferent or brutal. We become callous and brutal when we’ve been brutalized. And the effects of shame, constriction, and ridicule can be reversed. We’re capable of forgiveness, and capable of redemption. My experience of male sexuality in environments of open, loving acceptance--in safe, sacred erotic space--is that we become increasingly playful, loving, open to experimentation, flexible, tender, considerate. 
My response to Stephen Marche is that if he hasn’t experienced that for himself, I’m sorry for him. My modest proposal is that maybe he needs a stint on the Yorkshire moors--or at least needs to watch the movie.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Topsy Turvy, Chapter Four

The next installment, number four of eight: dream it, believe it, want it.

I watched his car fishtail behind mine as we negotiated the hill that led back up to the house from downtown. The ten-minute drive took twenty, and we both ended up stuck in the driveway halfway from the street to the porte-cochere Jim had lovingly stripped and repainted as the campy Belle Epoque extravagance it was. The crappy driving hadn’t dampened my lust. My erection tented the pleat in my trousers as I climbed out of the driver’s seat.

Behind me his car door swung open, and he just sat there staring at the drift we’d plowed into. I plodded towards him and ended with my boots between his feet, the crotch of my jeans thrust into his face. “Looks like I’m one immobilized fag,” he said grinning. “Option One: you unzip and I blow you right here. Option Two: we see just how adept I am at pole vaulting through a snow drift with the braces. Option Three: you tell me if it’s an option.”

“I’m all ears,” I said.

He stared at the front of my chinos. “Not from what I can see. Option Three,” he repeated, reached out, took my hand, and sucked my index finger into his mouth. “You carry me in.”

I wanted to do it. Wanted to do it for tenderness’ sake, but wanted to possess him, too. But had no idea if I could even lift him, let alone manage his weight and still plod through the wet snow. Then he reached up to put his arms around my neck, and I bent down, hauled him to his feet, shifted his weight, and without thinking twice about it had one arm slung beneath his knees and supported his shoulders with the other as I paced carefully to the side door. He hung on to my neck while I fished out my keys. “You’ll need to go back for the braces,” he said, “unless you want to haul me around inside the house too.”

Retrieving them, I plodded back to where he was waiting to be let in. He leaned with one hand against the doorframe. With the other he cupped the swell at the front of his jeans. Inside, I was all over him as soon as I’d shut the door again. I had the advantage: I could undress him with both hands, while he steadied himself. He watched impassively, arms rigid in the braces, as I unzipped his jacket, unbuttoned his shirt, opened his fly, pulled out his thick cock, then chucked his pants down entirely over his shoes, so he stood naked from his shirt tail to his socks. His thighs were slight, and the heft of his sausage was all the more dramatic for the thinness of his legs. It flopped half-erect over my cheek as I knelt down and licked at the pendulous curve of his scrotum. “Go ahead and taste it,” he rasped.

I sucked him greedily into my mouth. His cock swelled a little but kept the same rubbery pliancy it had when I’d first pulled it from the fly of his boxers. After a few minutes, he said, “Let’s find someplace with more horizontal options. This isn’t the most romantic bit in the evening, but if you give me a beer, I can take you through the logistics you need to know,” he said. His wistfulness took me by surprise.

Settled still bareassed onto the couch with a bottle, his free hand inside my shirt, he took a long slug. “The deal is, I took a fall out of a tree when I was twelve, right onto my tailbone. I’ve got really bad stenosis of nerves coming off my lower spine. I can’t keep my balance or stand for any length of time, and it affects the sensitivity in my cock, too. It feels great having you touch me, but to get off I more or less have to do it myself. You OK with that?”

I just kind of stammered, trying to think of the right thing to say, and he went on. “The upside is, I can go for hours. After a few hours without cumming, I get a little crazy and really inventive.” His hand slid over the curve of my pec. Finding my nipple, he dug his middle finger into it, inverting it into the surrounding muscle as he talked. The buzz of it shot straight from my chest to the root of my dick. The blur across my eyes must have registered; he leered and pushed harder with the flat of his palm. “A dick’s a whole continent that needs exploring. Slowly. Twenty minutes licking this part, for instance,” he went on, setting his beer down and brushing his thumb over the ridge around his cockhead, which still lay flopped onto his thigh “and you probably still wouldn’t squirt. But you’d probably feel heat rushing through you like we’d cranked up a sauna. Most guys I’ve tried it on can only cope with the intensity of it by screaming.” His voice thickened. “Some guys start leaking like crazy. I love the taste when they do.”

“I don’t believe a word of it,” I said, setting my own bottle down on the floor and undoing my belt buckle, “unless you prove it.”

“Not so fast,” he smirked. “We’ll only do that if you’re a very good boy. First you help me up the stairs. Then we find something to tie you up with.”

My lust fought it out with panic as his words sank in. He leaned forward, slid his hand from my chest to the back of my neck, and pulled my ear to his mouth. “Don’t freak, just your ankles, to the bedlegs,” he whispered. “I like a level playing field. I’m gonna want your hands free. You’re just not walking off without my permission till I’m done with you, is all.”

Something inside me gave way. I found myself down the basement stairs looking for a leftover length of last summer’s new clothesline before the wave of mistrust overtook me. Somehow, my hands still rooted through the box where I knew it was buried, while from the neck up I scrabbled through the five least awkward ways to tell him this wasn’t going to work out, and I’d be glad to see him home safely through the weather. By the time I pulled the thin cotton rope out from under the spare extension cords, I’d pretty much settled on how to call it off.

Funny, then, that as I sprinted up the steps again, I was still gripping the rope.

He was nowhere in sight as I came back into the living room. Then I heard the scrape of his braces and the creak of the loose board two thirds of the way up the stairs. As I stood on the landing, he looked back down at me, grinning, and said, “I figured I could use the head start.” He caught sight of the cord clutched in my hand. “And look what you found.”

I looked down at it myself. A rope in somebody else’s hand on the end of my arm. All I felt was confusion. And the raging pressure of my hard dick straining against my underwear.

His grin turned soft. “It’s not what you expected, right?”

“I guess not.”

“OK Here’s what we’re gonna do. You cooperate with me tying you up. Then we pitch my braces out of reach across the room. That help?”

That was the moment I started to fall in love with him.

At the top of the stairs I pointed him towards the bedroom, wanting to lead him to it by the hand and nonplussed that I couldn’t while he was balancing himself on the supports. At the door, the sight of the bed brought me up short. I’d jacked off my preppy admirer that first night on the couch in his apartment; I’d made out with a guy in the living room; with another on the floor of the kitchen; soaped the belly and cock of a willowy boy in the bath as he sat on the edge of the tub. Suddenly, I realized I hadn’t asked any of these men into the bed Jim and I shared. It wasn’t against any rule we’d agreed on. It just felt weird.

By then, Paul was sitting on the edge of the bed, shucking his jeans down once again and skinning the shirt up over his head.

His meat sloped out from between his skinny legs. Startlingly, above his wasted thighs, a lean, ripped six-pack rolled from the hair that dusted up from his crotch toward his navel. Broad, sculpted pecs flared out from his solar plexus, their flatness accentuated by the soft fleshiness of brownish-pink nipples that blossomed from their surface. His upper arms were as thick as his thighs.

He looked at me looking at him. “Strip,” he said. “I don’t put on one-way shows.”

When I put the rope in his hands and started undoing the buttons of my shirt, he added, “Just pull it over your head.. I want you naked now.” As my arms stretched up, he reached out to undo my belt and more pulled the fly of my trousers apart than unzipping it. Gently palming my rod through the fabric of my briefs, he reached his other arm around my waist and drew me into a clench. “Oh, yes,” he sighed, pressing his cheek into my belly just above the waistband. “This is what I want, right in here.”

The loops went around my ankles practically before I realized he’d formed them. I’d helped him wrap the rope around the feet the bed, the mechanics of surrender themselves bringing me close to the edge. He went down on me for a few seconds after every turn of the cord. Encouragement and reward and gesture of thanks all at once, it made the easy pressure of the rope itself wildly erotic.  He measured the slack with a practiced eye, leaving me enough to thrash around the mattress but not enough to stand. When he’d finished, he lay back on his elbows at my side, his triceps flexing into massive knots, then leaned forward to trace the shell of my ear with the tip of his tongue. “I told you what I’d do if you were a good boy,” he said. “Trust me now?”

“Fuck, yeah,” I muttered, ever articulate.

“Fair’s fair, and I’m keeping my part of the bargain too.” His braces leaned against the mattress on the side of the bed nearest him. Picking them up, he tossed them onto the braided rug in front of the dresser on the opposite wall. “Welcome to the world of differently abled cocksuckers.” Sitting up, leaning forward, and grabbing his own cock with one hand, he deep-throated my hard-on to the root.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Topsy Turvy, Chapter Three

As promised, the next installment of a world I want to believe in...

By the end of March, our new arrangement had started to take on the coziness of established routine. A freak late snowstorm the second week of April nearly kept us home that Saturday, but after dithering for half an hour over dessert, we changed into our preferred cruising outfits–Jim’s torn jeans and leather vest, my sweater over a button-down shirt–and headed off.

Surviving a Midwestern winter, only to think you’ve seen the end of it, and then to find it’s returned for one last, frigid, gusting fling–it’s enough to keep even horny men at home with lube and a towel. The bar was emptier than it’d been in bleak mid-winter. We split up inside to cruise on own for a quarter of an hour, then found ourselves side by side, the separation apparently pointless amidst the dearth of likely hookups.

Around the peripheries of the bar, over a soundtrack blaring at a level even more stupidly pumped up than usual, men were trying to talk to each other in twos and threes. Across the room, Kurt leered at us from over a beer bottle upended into his face. His other hand was cupped over the mound of his jeans where his leather chaps exposed the denim of his crotch. Lowering the bottle from his lips, he wiped his mouth with the back of the hand that held it, set it down, and strode over to us.

He smiled and nodded at me, then turned to Jim with a gruff, “Hey there.”

“Hey there, yourself,” Jim growled back.

I couldn’t explain the surge of animosity and resentment that washed over me. Jim’s story of the night Kurt had fucked him hadn’t just gotten me hard the first time I’d heard it the next morning. We’d rehearsed it to each other more than once in subsequent weeks, Jim getting off on the raunchy retelling, and me getting off on watching Jim’s erection swell up over his thigh as he repeated the details of what had happened that night. But this was a new twist: a man back for more, a trick who on the second fuck might become a buddy. But more to the point, who simply presumed it was OK to saunter over and lay his claim when the two of us stood together.

Or maybe I was just jealous. Kurt’s buzzed red hair stood out again the pallor of his freckled white neck; his limpid brown eyes danced above a tightly clipped beard of copper with a first dusting of forty-something snow around his chin. His chest swelled in the black T-shirt under his leather vest. Jim melted into the crook of his arm as soon as Kurt raised it to clinch Jim’s shoulder. I couldn’t top Jim myself. But could I be Kurt’s boy right beside Jim, the one he turned his mitigated attentions to when he’d already pounded my lover into a happy pulp? Could I coax the two of them along, grabbing Kurt’s balls from behind while he plowed into the man I loved? Could I brace Jim’s chest against my arms while Kurt rammed him toward bliss?

There wasn't time to sustain such fantasies for long. Kurt was in no mood to beat around the bush. As he pulled Jim into a rough kiss, the muscles in his neck told me his tongue was well on its way to my boyfriend’s tonsils. Neither one of them showed much sign that my presence was cramping their style. Across the room where Kurt had stood before he made his move, the two friends he’d been with smirked at the three of us.

Kurt and Jim unclinched long enough for Kurt to turn and face me. “Looks like I’m gonna take your boyfriend here home to fuck,” he winked. “He’s pretty hot for it, and I gather it’s OK by you if I borrow his hole.”

I wanted to throw my drink in his face, but I stood stupidly, watching Kurt pull Jim away by the finger he’d hooked into his front pocket, the heel of his hand flattened across the fly of Jim’s worn jeans, his thumb pressed possessively into the denim. Beyond the doorway of the next room, Kurt turned around, pulled Jim’s head roughly forward into another long, greedy kiss, the hand he’d used to haul him by the belt-loop now reaching inside his shirt to knead the loose meat of his chest. Jim melted into him again, his face slumping into Kurt’s neck, his arms clinging around Kurt’s shoulders. Kurt looked up, and our eyes locked. He read my resentment, hesitated, and then his eyes hardened.

Prick, I said to myself, turning on my heel and heading for the door.

The cold air cleared my head a little. The mostly deserted street seemed as good a place as any to shake off the rage that had boiled over at the sight of Jim necking like a teenager. The snow had stopped, and the moon had risen in a sky now full of scudding clouds. Up the block, I could hear the crunch of boots as the two guys who’d left the bar just before me trudged through a drift across the sidewalk. One of them I’d almost connected with myself. Stopping by a grey Honda, he fumbled with his car keys. From down the block in the other direction came a peculiar, soft whine, the spin of wheels without the sound of a gunning motor to accompany it.

At the end of the block, an electric wheelchair rolled halfway up the raked curb at the corner, pushing forward a foot, then sliding back. As it careened forward again, it listed to the left, and two arm braces that had been hooked over the backrest dropped off into the snow. A guy in black jeans, a green hooded sweatshirt, and a leather jacket leaned from the seat, made a swipe at the closer brace, and fell out of the chair into the snow. “Shit,” I heard him mutter softly, but with a clarity that fresh snow on a cold night somehow brings even to faint sounds at a distance.

He didn’t seem hurt, but I sprinted down the block. By the time I’d reached him, he’d already pulled himself up to retrieve the braces.

“I thought you could use a hand, but it looks like you’ve got things under control,” I said as he hooked them over the backrest again and lowered himself into the seat.

“I could still use a push, thanks. This thing’s made for Florida, not the Midwest,” he said. “I saw you coming out of Underdog. Place is busy?”

“Not on a night like this.  Anyway, I’ve had enough for one night.” I boosted him over the curb onto the level pavement and walked along as the chair whirred up the block, skidding a little on a couple of patches of drift that pedestrians hadn’t tamped down. “How far have you come in that thing on a night like this?” I asked.

“I live three blocks over,” he said. “Stupid night to try this. Cabin fever and horniness trumped good sense.” His sidelong grin was a little sheepish. It was a smile you couldn’t help but smile back at.

“I’ll wish you better adventure than I had tonight,” I smirked back. “I’ve never seen you here before,” I added.

“Just moved,” he said as we rolled up to the door. “My first time here. I gather it’s the only game in town.” He looked around. “And ain’t no ramp in sight. You?”

“Here the last year and a half.” I looked at the braces. “Can you make it in with those?”

“No problem. As long as I can find a place to sit.” He reached around for the braces, fitted them over his arms, then pushed himself up to a standing position with an obvious reserve of strength in his upper arms. The heft of his shoulders filled out his jacket. “I’m Paul. Can I buy you a nightcap to thank you for being a good scout?” He had tousled black hair, olive skin and a thick five-o’clock shadow across his jaw.

“Um, it’s complicated,” I said. “I really don’t need to go back in there tonight.”

“I’d just ask you to walk me home and I could offer you a beer there,” he grinned again, “but I’m staying with my sister, and she’s not keen on unannounced gentleman callers late into the night.” This time the grin had a little less sheep and a little more wolf to it. I noticed that inside the jacket, the sweatshirt seemed to be stretched across a chest massive enough to go with the shoulders. “Maybe some other time.” He paused. “Too bad I can’t ask you back,” he added. “I really do give the best blow job most guys I’ve slept with say they’ve ever had.”

I laughed, more than a little jealous of his chutzpah. He laughed too and looked like laughing came easily to him. He nodded to the stairs at the door. “If you could just spot me up those, it’d be a big help.”

What the hell, I thought. “Maybe I could spot you up the stairs to my house instead,” I suggested.

“Well, wonders never cease. A boy who knows good head on wheels when he sees it.” He started to hook the braces over the chair again, then instead held them out to me. “Tricking with me involves chores,” he said.

“I don’t think we can get the chair into my car,” I hesitated.

“It’s OK. I can drive over myself. If you can see me through the snowdrifts back to my place and then pick up your car, I’ll follow you home.” He laid the flat of his hand on my flank, just above my hip, his thumb digging into the hollow of my thigh. “Like a dog in heat.”

From Octavio Paz, "Piedra de Sol" (1957)

all is transformed, all is sacred,
every room is the center of the world,
it's still the first night, and the first day,
the world is born when two people kiss,
a drop of light from transparent juices,
the room cracks half-open like a fruit
or explodes in silence like a star...


when I am another, my acts
are more mine when they are the acts
of others, in order to be I must be another,
leave myself, search for myself
in the others, the others that don't exist
if I don't exist, the others that give me
total existence, I am not,
there is no I, we are always us,
life is other, always there,
further off, beyond you and
beyond me, always on the horizon...

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.