Imagine this. You’re sitting in the middle an an auditorium, an amphitheater, felted seat cushions pressing into your bottom and back. Before you, enshrined in a single spot light amid a sea of delicate shadows, the MC takes a bow as he finishes his opening remarks and then takes his place at the podium downstage left.
He brings his lips close to the microphone; he smiles. Video cameras catch the contours of his face, his perfectly coiffed hair, and project his visage onto giant screens.
“Are you ready to meet the contestants?”
The crowd replies with cheering and clapping, at the edge of every seat in anticipation.
One by one the contestants come forth. A few from the US–New Jersey, Philadelphia, three different cities in California–and from Europe in Italy and France, Sweden and the Netherlands; two hail from Latin America, introduced in the MC’s flawless Spanish and Portuguese. One contestant has even come from as far as Israel.
Except instead of women, the contestants are men. And instead of dresses and swimsuits, they’re wearing jock straps and leather harnesses. This isn’t the Miss Universe Pageant. This is the 40th annual International Mr. Leather Competition.
This past Wednesday, things between my fiance and me ended. Part of me had expected it, and to be brutally honest, it wasn’t the first time this year when I had thought our relationship would end, but it still pierced my heart when it finally did.
I moved quickly from injury to recovery, having already prepared a path in my mind for where I would go next, what I would begin to do as a truly single man. One friend called me to ask how I was doing, and he told me I had already grieved the loss of our engagement, that the end of our relationship was not the start of my grief, but its conclusion. And in many, many ways, he was right.
This post has been in progress for more than two weeks. The title and idea came about even further back than that. It’s hard to trace the timeline of something ethereal: does it come into existence when the audience sees it, or when the idea is conceived?
Trifling nonsense aside, this has been a trying semester–for a myriad of reasons, perhaps my hardest yet–and words have at last come to challenge me. They stick to my tongue like tar and won’t say what I mean to say–or I don’t want to say what I really mean.
It’s like Alice all over again, but then, wasn’t that what I wanted to be? The mathematician-turned-writer-does-both like Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll himself? A moot point. A tangent. A space without definition, to be called “obvious” and “left for the reader to prove.”
What I mean to say is I’m exhausted. Mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted. I need recovery. This is perhaps the closest I’ll get.
To the person who stole my wallet yesterday while on the subway in Mexico City with my fiance, I’m sorry. I don’t know why you felt the need to reach into my pocket as the crowd shoved its way into the train car and take what was not yours, but I pray there was a good reason–perhaps your kids are starving and you can’t find a job, perhaps a loved one is sick, perhaps you never learned the difference between right and wrong.
For each of these things, you cannot be blamed, and I am sorry.
I was walking across campus–I leave for Alaska in 36 hours, and with advising, doctor’s appointments, and laundry to do, I know precisely where all my time must go–when I was approached by a woman handing out flyers for an event tonight.
“Have you heard about the Sexperiment?” she asked.
Last night a speaker came to campus to talk about bullying. She said a few words–I probably could’ve counted how many–and then she started asking questions. And when we didn’t willingly answer, she stood in silence waiting. And if we still didn’t answer (this only happened once), she walked up to someone and asked him directly.
This wasn’t a typical lecture. It went both ways.
And that got me thinking: bullying goes both ways, too.
One year ago I packed my bags and left. I met two friends by the library and we began our drive to the North Carolina LGBTQI Leadership Retreat. We listened to the Pitch Perfect soundtrack as we drove in to Efland. I don’t remember what we spoke about, but I know I didn’t mention anything that had happened the last week.
I wanted to enjoy this weekend. For one moment I wanted to set aside all the anger and fear and self-loathing and just have a good time. On Monday the healthy relationships group would begin. Maybe a week or two later I’d have my first individual session. I’d already deleted my apps. I wanted to take a break from it all. To just forget for a moment.
But who was I kidding? That wasn’t going to happen.
This is your jurisdiction. In California, we cannot marry. In Florida, we cannot adopt. Maybe in DC we could marry, and in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Iowa. In Iran it’s a crime. In America it’s frowned upon. This is your jurisdiction. We are not always welcome here.
In the classroom, we must be academics. At work we must be bees following the queen’s dance. In student government, we must be responsible role models, and at home we must be daughters and sons, mothers and fathers. This is their jurisdiction. It is not always our own.
I must confess. I’m not entirely honest. I don’t deceive, not intentionally at least, but I usually know a thing or two more than I let on. It helps me hold onto something, a sliver of control, a ground wire to make sure I don’t shock myself by coming to a dead end. If I don’t have the whole picture, I hide the pieces I have in pursuit of those I need to hold. When it’s all put together, and I meet someone, I don’t enlighten them. They need to come to it on their own, I might say, or it’s better to wait–maybe what I think is whole isn’t whole yet.
It’s not exactly deception. It’s not exactly honesty either.
As many of you may know, there’s been a couple people on campus that have made this semester hell. I mentioned their backstabbing in “Awfully Whetted Strife” where I discussed how my very sense of trust has been injured. In a few words I expressed my rising indignation over the one of them in “The Man Who Lied to My Face.” You don’t need to read those, not unless you want to, but it’s worth knowing how long this has been going on.
There’s a popular joke that asks, Why do fast days go so slowly? The answer’s perhaps too simple, so everyone just laughs, no matter how many times they’ve heard it. Telling it has become as customary as the fast itself.
Tonight began Tisha B’av, the Ninth of Av. It’s a somber holiday, more an observance than a holiday really, for it commemorates disasters, not miracles. The return of the spies that condemned an entire generation to the desert till death. The destruction of the Temples in 586 B.C.E. and 70 C.E. The fall of Betar, the last stronghold of the Bar Kochba rebellion. The day when Jerusalem was plowed over and made uninhabitable.
Common catastrophes? Not quite. These disasters were crippling to the Jewish people, breakers-of-faith and sickening events even two thousand years later. We mourn. We member. We mustn’t forget.