pet shop boys
i was working at medusa’s in chicago and my life was moving quickly. there was a sense of awe and inspiration permeating the after hours scene and the troubadours i spent my time with pulsed my chakras in technicolor and jettisoned me to a higher plane.
one day in october, i was in an aerobics class just as i did many other days just like this one. the standout on this day we me fainting. i completely blacked out and found myself on my backside at the studio feeling as if the wind had just left the building. it spooked me. and i decided to go to the doctor for the 1st time in years.
i went to see dr. bernie blough and i remember him taking blood and cataloging my visit in some sort of secret sanskrit without actually documenting my visit. this was specifically in fear of reprisal towards the infected. so he made a little red plus sign next to my name after the results came back. i had tested positive for the virus that causes aids. i was going to die.
i think i was frozen for a full month before there some sort of thaw. i had been through completely overwhelming year watching my best friend waste away into nothing while i snorted and slurped as much as i could to keep any mental images in blur.
the next month was a trap door which when opened dropped me into a part of my life from which i never expected to return. i wrote about that month after diagnosis at my first blog here.
i had been running since i was 16, but october 1985 sent me into a sprint. i never thought i was a distance runner at all. i never thought many nice thoughts about myself at all. until i got into recovery that is. that part of my life has opened up a brand new world to me. my challenges, my shortcomings, my failure (of which there have always been overstock) became gifts and insights that i could share.
i went to see david bowie perform in “the elephant man” in chicago in the late 70’s. i remember relating to the john merrick character early after my diagnosis. i felt like a separate being among my tribe. and after losing so many so quickly i became less and less willing to get close to anybody because it usually led to pain and loss.
the category of “long-term survivor” never crossed my mind. and although the nomenclature does connect with my path, i continue to question my authenticity. i wasn’t angry in the streets in the late 80’s chicago. i couldn’t pull it together to take care of myself by facing my fears. i bawled up. i hid. i drunk-dialed resentment and stayed on the line way too long.
Despite a living in constant physical and emotional pain, The Elephant Man possessed an indomitable spirit. He quickly became the subject of much public sympathy and something of a celebrity in Victorian high society. Alexandra, then Princess of Wales and later Queen Consort, demonstrated a kindly interest in Merrick, leading other members of the upper class to embrace him. He eventually became a favourite of Queen Victoria. However, Treves later commented that Merrick always wanted, even after living at the hospital, to go to a hospital for the blind where he might find a woman who would not be repelled by his appearance and love him. In his later years, he found some solace in writing, composing remarkable heartfelt prose and poetry.
here i am waltzing through another october. i have certainly shaken free from the bonds of shame. but trauma comes and goes like a blue moon might, raising its profile in the sky now and then to remind me that i really don’t know much of anything, but leaving me certain that i am fortunate to still be here. and not in a million little pieces either.
there has been much deserved press for a speech by irish drag persona panti bliss. i must say i have listened to it about 10 times or so and i find it to be plugged into the very soul of the conversation about lgbt rights in the 2nd decade of the 21st century of our human culture.
there is very little blame or projection about the responsibility of the oppression still felt among a good portion of our community. for me it really touches upon some basic construct of the modern gay male psyche at least those over 40. it seems a cycle we grow up feeling shame about who we are or how we are we are, then we are grown and we often go crazy and taunt each other and watch each other trying to shake that very shame. and that feels oppressive.
i have blogged often about shame and shame-based trauma. this is the cornerstone of many men’s foundation. as is lovingly laid out in alan downs’ short book “the velvet rage”. the ongoing process of being different, loved ones realizing we are different and slightly turning away we, in turn, feeling that turning away and internalizing it, knowing that our loved ones are treating us differently, which causes some of us to feel unlove-able which we also turn inwards to hide, and then spend a good deal of the rest of our lives playing out in a myriad of phases and dramas trying to erase that unlove-able, working through the anger of distancing, and coming to terms with being different and letting go of feeling unlove-able.
the advent of gay marriage is perhaps the next biggest gain for the lgbtq community. no we shouldn’t create an ideal to model heterosexual relationships and that is not the only aspect of marriage equality. what matters is that we are love-able, and that the world at large accepts and insists that we are love-able even if we are different. and then perhaps this ongoing dance of being different and slightly being rejected by our family and friends can come to an end. we can be accepted as we are and fight different internal battles just like our non-gay contemporaries.
i absolutely love the chutzpah that panti lassoes in her talk in the theater. i have gratitude and respect for a truth coming so quietly and so candidly.
here is panti bliss’ speech that has been set to a rhythm track a la the pet shop boys. i adore this just as much.