Monday, October 14, 2013

Cities of Refuge

Sometimes, the idea that there's a place of safety, of full acceptance, of life lived freely and without constraint, is even more important than actually getting there.

That was something of the meaning of San Francisco in the lives of so many queer people in the 1970s and well beyond--even through, and in part even because of, the full horrors of the health crisis. You didn't even have to get to San Francisco. You just had to know it was there. Or if you did go, for a few days or weeks or months, it was the memory of men hand in hand on the street, of a dyke couple picnicing in Golden Gate Park with their kids, of a leather queen in harness and floral hat vamping bare-assed down Folsom, of a young man moving slowly and patiently beside the walker of a sick friend, steadying the IV pole, that sustained you when you were back in San Diego, or Tulsa, or Grand Rapids, or Greensboro. And when things went very badly there, as when Harvey Milk was shot, when the death toll from the AIDS epidemic began to rise exponentially, you knew that in some real sense it was your life on the line as well, a thousand miles away.
If you think we're beyond the point where we need cities of refuge, consider that Scott Jones was viciously attacked in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia this Saturday morning, left paralyzed from the waist down in critical condition, in what looks like a homophobic hate crime.
We can't all crowd into them. But life is tolerable because our hearts are turned toward them. Paradoxically, our longing for them is in fact probably better than the reality.  Jerusalem has functioned as such a place in the Jewish imagination for over 2500 years. Conditions on the ground are always more complicated. San Francisco is obscenely stratified by race and class; Jerusalem is riddled with the bigoted insanities of right-wing Orthodoxy and paranoid suppression of the city's multi-cultural heritage.
Easton Mountain north of Albany NY has come to figure as a city of refuge toward which my heart is turned. I spend only a week or two a year there, on average. But I know it's there. I know that it's land on which a community of queer men, and all those whom they welcome there, can breathe the air of real freedom to be and to become more fully themselves. I know that out beyond that small piece of land nestled in the upper Hudson Valley, networks of men have formed, committed to a more soulful living out of who they really are, committed to finding community together, committed to being, in some small way, the change in the world that they want to see.

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