Closets (My Queer Manhood)1 Comment
At the beginning of this year, my 20th, just before I arrived at Yale, I came out as bisexual; had my first sexual relationship with a man, in which I felt profoundly feminine; began this voluptuous ceremony; affirmed beauty; affirmed the affirmation; and returned to innocence, to whimsy. I wanted to be young; femininity was, to me, essentially youthful; beauty was youthful; was feminine; I wrote about flowers, butterflies, perfumes, jewels; purchased a kimono; asked my mother for her mother’s old beaver-fur jacket, and her silk robe, and her golden bracelet; began to wear a ring; to go out to parties with groups of straight girls, and to grind with them at those parties; to drink beforehand, ecstatically, ritualistically; and drinking and dancing were intimately connected, they were part of my ceremony. When I went out, I became the butterfly I wanted to be; exquisite, darling; fluttering about. I wanted to create an exquisite self: one that could laugh, and call things darling, and adore things, and think them splendid; I wanted to invent a truth and inhabit it; and I still believe it is a truth, but I do not deny that I created it: I am coded by straight girls as gay (I have, after all, largely rejected my bisexuality; and might even be gay, for all I know; the matter is delightfully undecided, just as the matter of daisies is undecided; of why daisies exist; and I do not know, but I kiss them anyway), so I cuddle with straight girls in my bed, so I, as I said, grind with them; and I do not desire them, and they do not desire me. But why do they not desire me? Because I learned to be gay.
And learning to be gay is a dangerous thing. I have learned to be gay; and girls have come to see me as a child; a little boy, to be hugged and kissed. You will, no doubt, find this familiar. You have likely seen a feminine gay man, and thought him childish; like a little boy as he flutters about. At least, I did for a long time. We see something childish, in fact, in any gay man; he is not a true man; he has not grown up; cannot; and cannot really have sex, either, left as he is with the anus; and, therefore, is an eternal virgin who, in the eyes of straight men and women, is essentially a eunuch; a castrated boy; because his sexual experience is ignored by their discourse; banished from it; it makes straight men and women uncomfortable to think of men having sex with each other; they would rather pretend it doesn’t happen; imagine away the penises of gay men; and return them to childhood, to the eternal childhood of the eunuch. Or they parody it; delegitimize it; use it as an insult (cocksucker, etc.); and in that way erase it, take from it its seriousness; remove from it the quality in it of the sacred; which is essential, for me, to the sexual act, and its intimacy. Or they (in my experience only straight women) sensationalize it; exoticize it; like they would a circus act; and I act, because I have learned to act; I perform, as I am told elephants were taught to perform, and monkeys; and midgets and bearded women; so that when they ask questions of me, with what is, in retrospect, a kind of grotesque fascination (“What is it like, to, you know, taste another man’s, you know?”), I take delight in it, I am glad for the attention, because I have finally been given the opportunity to speak about what for seven years I have endured in terrified silence, because I do not consider how I am caged; that I have left one cage (that of silence and shame) only to enter another (that of the spectacle); and they gawk; and they laugh; and, suddenly, I have become something quite different from a friend; I am a pet; I do tricks; I have walked into a far more insidious cage, because of its subtlety. (To learn to be gay is, in one sense, to learn to be a spectacle. In the sense, that is, of the “gay best friend.”)
In this way all gay men are infantilized, parodied, sensationalized. But feminine gay men especially are so. We are seen, paradoxically, as bossy; weak; mawkish; prissy; and therefore not worth listening to; better to ignore; to imitate; the feminine gay man being, of course, the most imitated, the most mocked, of gay men, because we are the most exotic, the most unmistakable, the least able to “pass” as straight; because we are free with our gender expression. Minorities, after all, are understood by normative discourses only in their difference, so the feminine gay man is the model against which all gay men are held; and so, too, when I came out, it was this identity I held close. I remember saying to a close friend of mine on the phone, “I’m becoming gayer every day.” But it was this identity I had always wanted, secretly; this identity against which I had fought for so many years; and, in this way, the self I am creating is a truth.
Furthermore, my cage protects me. By acting the “gay best friend,” by parodying, and exoticizing myself, I make my sexual practices unthreatening; present them as not serious, as, perhaps, frivolous: so I can introduce them into the heteronormative discourse without challenging that discourse; because to present them as serious, as sacred, would be to equate homosexual and heterosexual intimacy; and that, in the eyes of the discourse, is a cardinal error; and laughable. So I hide in plain sight, and in this way, I do not make myself vulnerable to mockery; and therefore protect myself from shame; but am able to vocalize my experience, to put my desire into language. This is unsettling; this new closet; how do I find my way out? Should I?
But my assumption of this identity has also brought me into intimate contact with myself; with my own beauty. It felt natural; it still does. Now I can say: I have a voluptuous soul. In this sense, learning to be gay was about learning to let myself be gay; to let myself love men; with my heart; and with my whole body. It was about learning to let myself be as feminine as I am; to write about flowers; to perfume myself. It was about learning to let myself pick shirts from the women’s section if I liked them; to wear eyeliner if I wanted; about seeing the feminine in my body in the midst of a sexual act. It was about celebrating, because of this love, my youthfulness; about loving, at last, what I am now.
And my desire for innocence? It is simply because my body feels newly born; and I myself do as well. The sexual act between two men is often a site of intense creativity; being, as there are, no unchanging sexual roles; no oppressive power relations. It is a vast sexual space. A space returned to innocence. Free of the historical weights of virginity; of pregnancy; of marriage. There is a freshness to the gay sexual act, and to the feminized male body; but the innocence of these forms is not the innocence of children; it is the innocence of the unexplored; the uncodified; of what is untouched by language. To infantilize me is to not understand me, to fear me. Because I am more than a man; I have outgrown the concept; and there is not a word for me anymore: I exist beyond language.
At least, the language of our mainline cultural discourse. There is, after all, a lively queer discourse. So I should say: I exist beyond your language. But you are welcome to learn mine; my queer discourse is not painful, it does not bruise; it welcomes: To all, it welcomes, like an endless caress.