Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Thinning Veil Between Worlds

I've had the oddest sense lately, making love to my partner, of the two of us being in a roomful of men.

When I say odd, I mean it's not exactly the fantasy of sharing him with a group, and sharing a group with him, that's coming forward for me. Nothing odd about that: let's be clear right at the start, the prospect turns my crank, and if it suited him as well--which it doesn't--we'd explore it.

Partly, it's the enduring presence of his former partner in his life, and by extension in mine. Bob died a little over ten years ago. His books line the shelves that cover whole walls of the house where we live summers, many of them inscribed to him by their authors, some of them annotated in his hand. His photographs hang throughout the house. A few summers back, we finally poured Bob's ashes into the bay, floating in a kayak together with Bob's first high school lover and lifelong friend, reading Whitman to each other in a light drizzle and watching a white heron flying low over the water toward an island at the mouth of the creek. I've come to say, only half jokingly, that I'm in a threeway relationship: sometimes one of us being dead makes it less challenging; sometimes more so.

Partly it's the long, slow repair of my friendship with my own former partner, now coupled up again himself, and the approaching prospect early next year of finally leaving the house I bought with him fifteen years ago, and the garden we created together before we separated. No question, I'm still in love with him too. It took me six years to admit that to myself.

Partly, it's the wider awareness of all the other men I've let into my heart, and into my pants, over the years--some of whom I dated; some who became soulmates on the short, intense coller-coaster rides of workshops; some whose names I only learned while we were having sex, or never learned at all, and never saw again. Thery're very much present in the room. Objects that represent them sit on my altar in the corner: the icon G. gave me on my fiftieth birthday; the crystal pendant cross S. brought me on a visit eight years ago; the natural phallus of stone, ground smooth by the tide, that A. found walking on the beach and saved for me; W.'s tuning fork.

Partly, it's the awareness that my partner's erotic history has been even richer and more varied than my own--and that now and then my nose is pressed to the glass with envy about that.

And in the shadow of all these, it's something else, something more. It's the sense that when we're making love, though we're two isolated individuals, we're also part of something larger, something more general. Something that embraces the other men who dwell within us: those who've slipped away, carried elsewhere on the diverging currents of our lives; even those who've passed beyond the veil of death--the"waves of dying friends" that the late poet Michael Lynch so movingly commemorated in the early years of the AIDS crisis.

I can't describe more precisely what I'm sensing so strongly of late within/behind/ beneath/beyond the experience of being with this particular man I love deeply, with whom I most intimately share my life. But whatever it is, it flies in the face of the romantic cult of the couple as a self-sufficient unit. It's radically opposed to the notion that we find one person who somehow completes us, so that anything else becomes an admission of emotional failure and defeat. I can't help but feel that our current obsession with marriage rights (as necessary politically as that may be) threatens to flatten and suppress the richness of this broader web of emotional, erotic, and spiritual connection.

Strangely, I'm reminded of what Plato said about (gay) love in the Symposium: that we start by loving an individual, progress by loving many individuals, and end (ideally) by loving what we find embodied in them all. That's one of the few things I can take away from Plato at this point in my life without vehement disagreement.

And perhaps even more strangely--weirdly, in fact--I connect what I'm feeling to this moment in the year--Hallowe'en, All Souls, the Day of the Dead, Samhain--when the curtain between what's present and what's vanished from our daylight lives is pulled aside, and we're in communion with the dead--and by extension, with the otherwise departed, and with the alternative worlds of our unrealized longings. If Bob's ever in bed with us, surely it's now. I'm glad for the thought he's there. Along with all those others, alive and dead, across town or across the continent, at the far-flung corners of my life and my beloved's, the men of our queer tribe, who nestle and nuzzle around us.

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