The mingling of two souls in transformation, encoded in this chain Through all transfiguration, every sense must remain All is changelessly in change Come out, the winter's over, come out into the day Come out, the winter's over, no season ever stays All is changelessly in change
If the truth is an open mind, love is an open heart Love cannot be unkind, love is blind The mind is a deathcamp apart, from the love of an open heart Love in its own time, love is divine, love has its own designs Love is changelessly in change Love is change — Copyright Mr. Gordo and I celebrated our fifth anniversary a week and a half ago, just not in person. We are both working a World Bank 5-year austerity plan right about now, so between money and the complete lack of time on my end, I spent our anniversary vaguely frozen out here and Mr. Gordo went to the country to work on a film at the haimische rural home of Las Reinas, two New York-based artists we are intimate with. While vaguely depressing, we soldiered on. What choice did we have?
The perhaps apocryphal story of our meeting, regaled by yours truly most recently at The Beautiful Lisa’s Sapphic Christmas Eve party, managed to glaze the eyes of even the hardiest romantic Amazon, so I won’t bore you here with the details. Suffice it to say that finally ending up in a relationship after spending my twenties pining for one, to no avail, has been a revelation, a shock, a life change that is both momentous and remarkably subtle, like shifting one’s gaze from near to far, relatively automatic, but from the micro to the macro. And the metaphor of vision, the ocular, is relevant here, for being in a relationship changes one’s vision, one’s perception, as well as the perception of others.
My mother was a bit of a sexual libertine, the seventies and all, what have you, who managed to skip from man to man missing the literal and figurative ring each time. In retrospect, I’m sure having a brat didn’t help the mission very much, but I imbibed a cautionary tale of sexual adventurism from her experience, and entered college pretty much a good Latina: sexually cautious, inexperienced, desirous of the proverbial Knight in Shining Armour. Another way to put it is via the famous Mexican dicho that describes the perfect husband as feo, formal, and fuerte (used to great, if a somewhat closeted, effect in Rodriguez's Hunger of Memory, although the dicho is part of Mexican/Chicano popular culture). A literal translation would be ugly, serious, and strong, but each quality has a deeper nuance. A better understanding of this saying would be feo: rugged and masculine (i.e. not pretty); formal: sober and not given to emotional outburst; and fuerte: stalwart, a rock to depend upon. In other words, the perfect man is the complete refutation of the (stereotypically) feminine. Since I was raised exclusively in a pride of fierce man-eating Lionesses, my identification as I emerged into full-blown puberty was feminine, an equivocation between myself and the women who deeply believed in feo, fuerte, y formal.
Nature or nurture, it’s still Mom’s fault, but in this case it was a number of factors, including Mom, natürlich, that made me the sexually conservative young undergrad at Prestigious Eastern U. Granted, not many people, at that time at least, were having sex of any kind, hetero or homo or whatever. But confronted with a poor self-image and the intense body culture of the gay community, at least the community I knew, I retreated into romantic fantasy and miserable crushes on straight men. After all, weren’t straight men the very embodiment of the triad of feo, fuerte, and formal? I kept my counsel, imagining exactly what is lost to me now, but managed to crawl through my late teens and early twenties a living oxymoron: a celibate faggot. As time went on, I began to panic a bit over my extended virginity. But in truth, I found the pervasive and overwhelming sexual culture of the gay ghetto suffocating in its extremity, and would often bemoan the body fascism and shallowness of it. I wanted a relationship, I would declare, while stamping my foot as much out of anger at being rejected at the gate of the body ghetto as for any sexual frustration. I mean, what did I even know from sex? The irony of all this is that my first sexual experience was with a woman (gasp!), a mini-sexual adventure with an undergrad from Wellesley fueled by Tequila and real attraction when I was a junior. That was an incomplete pass really, a fumble covered in hickies, from whence I retreated back into my cave. A nice memory, but I was really gay. What is remarkable about the incident is the visceralia of it, the shocking fact that sex actually involved another strange body not my own. I think it was a bit too intimate for my good girl image of sex as the clean, sterile powder puff of romance.
Shortly before my 26th birthday, sick to death of being a virgin, I responded to a print personal ad in the San Francisco Bay Guardian and arranged a sex date with what could be delicately described as a troll: an kindly older man (as in, 60s) with a particular sex scene he was interested in. We exchanged phone calls (this was, ahem, way before the Internet), arranged a meeting, and one night I took BART to 12th Street-Oakland City Centre station, where he picked me up in his LTD sedan, took me back to his exquisitely decorated Victorian house on Alameda island filled with Erté and brocade, and sequestered us in his attic, his “playspace.” I rode the subway back no longer a virgin, but cannot remember a noticeable change in perception, no greater knowledge gained. The whole moment had the quality of a testicular examination: rote, mechanical, necessary. In point of fact, for several years I remained somewhat repulsed by sex, searching for the three Fs as I cycled from man to man, using personals and yentas and blind dates and pennies thrown in wells and gay men’s groups to find, in short, notmuch. But I gained a certain amount of knowledge, some experience, but no doubt remained a terrible lay. Even I know this, now.
Part of what was happening here was a misapprehension of the relationship, a confusion of the romantic, an unyielding belief in the perfection of the perfect man, someplace out there, as rare as a unicorn. As well, I spent my twenties as a Young Foggie, a variant not seen often in North America, but quite present in England. My sartorial presentation was middle-class suburban lady, late 40s, in creams and ivories. I was fat, I had henna-coloured long hair, I was femme, and a prude to boot. Not cute. I’m not sure when exactly my Ivory period ended, but one day I woke up, cut off all my hair with clippers, started wearing boy’s clothes (jeans, hoodies, t-shirts, sneakers), discovered the Bear scene, and became the Whore of Babylon. It literally seemed that overnight I went from the Virgin of Guadalupe to Malinche in one fell swoop, and moreover, I liked it. I was ready for my sexual education, and for as many losers as I cycled through in my twenties, I made up for them in my early thirties. Imagine the surprise when one day I looked in the mirror and realised I had become that what I had once feared and loathed: the sexually accomplished gay man. There is a certain teleological imperative at work here, but humour me. In fact, it was at the exact moment when I became the gay version of the Happy Hooker (free, slutty, disposable), perfectly content with endless and aimless tricks, casual sex, 3-month STD check-ups at Planned Parenthood, and perfecting my varied techniques, that I met Mr. Gordo, and we had our lesbian marriage (U-Haul, second date, et al). Life works that way sometimes, or, in the words of Alanis Morissette, “Ironic.”
Needless to say, the relationship so long desired is quite different in reality than in fantasy. For one, relationships are real work, not some predigested television fantasy of perfect dinner parties and minty morning breath. Anything involving another person would, on the face of it, present negotiations, difficulties, hard patches, as well as joy, but our popular culture seduces us with the belief that relationships are easy, natural, organic, and spontaneous. To this I must say no. Relationships are many things, but organic and spontaneous would not be the first words that come to mind. We become involved with others for many different reasons, but for contemporary Gay men, the paradigm of the relationship cum marriage is a powerful one. It relieves us, to a certain extent, from the slutty disease-ridden Typhoid Mary image we had/have both pre- and post-HIV. This image flows from heteronormativity as well as the effects of heteronormative ideology on the self-conception of gay men (“We are sluts, we are worthless, we are perverts”). This is one reason why the couple is so seductive for LGBT folks: it legitimises us within our own minds as well as within heteronormative society. This is not its only function, obviously, but one of the more secretly seductive.
My particular approach to LGBT experience in the classroom has been to talk about the divide in lesbian and gay cultures between normality and outlaw sexuality, a binary that typifies contemporary LGBT history and debate. So the above observation regarding the fear and loathing of LGBT sexuality is not to circumscribe the development of LGBT sexual subcultures within pathology. In fact, lesbians and gay men are the avatars of particular sexual practices that firstly challenge and rearrange our understandings of human sexuality and desire, as well as flow into heterosexuality in profound (and sometimes queer) ways. From Pornography to Oral Sex to Internet sex cultures, lesbians and gay men pushing the envelope, exploring the boundaries, and committing sin and receiving pleasure in a Puritan society, have pioneered the ribald territory of contemporary sexuality. This is one reason as to why the continuing debates in LGBT communities over things like marriage and child rearing are reflective of the cyclical debate between normalcy and outlaw status. The wheel seems to be turning towards the former, although the latter is always just below the surface, hidden but extremely powerful.
And then again, sometimes these paradigms don’t work across cultural and experiential and national boundaries. Mr. Gordo has an extremely normative view of his sexuality, one aided by his family’s interestingly banal take on it (and the presence of other lesbian and gay siblings): “You’re gay? Please pass the platanos.” Mr. Gordo does not share the formative experience of the Queen and the Dyke that have made me and my lesbian and gay friends in North America who we are. In other words, he is gay in a different way, which has meant that the joys and conundrums of our relationship have been cultural as well as individual, experiential as well as idiosyncratic. As I have said before, nothing will make a US Latino feel the first part of that descriptive so strongly as actually being with a Latin American. Mr. Gordo, while not fegallah in the same way I am, does share some stripes of a gay sensibility. In short, he is quite the Drama Queen! In any relationship between two men (or alternatively, two women), one is always measuring and figuring the distance and proximity of the dominant paradigm (heteronormativity) against one’s self, and in the process you can actually see the effects of gender thinking on one’s development in ways remarkably different from sexuality. For example, Mr. Gordo and I are both distinctly socialised as men. For all my breeding in the Lionesses’ Den, I somehow, remarkably, escaped as a man, which means I am not terribly good at expressing my true emotions, I am stubborn, independent, silent, sullen, and incoherent in the ways men can be when dealing with their emotional states, however stereotypical that may be.
Facing myself in the mirror of Mr. Gordo has taught me a lot about my own limitations, as well as about the possibilities of such a meeting. Like any relationship, the emotional and corporeal intimacy of the joining is similar to the shock of my first sexual experience: it is visceral, raw, disturbing. But it also, in the best possible sense, forces us to rise above our needs, to be thoughtful and mindful of another’s needs and desires. The tension for lesbians and gay men, felt even more strongly than in heteronormative society, is the Maginot Line between “just folks” ideology (normalcy) and the Sexual Outlaw. Another way to imagine this panoply of choices is in a colloquial description of the differences between these visions: We shop at SuperTarget too, we live boring conventional lives, and we are lonely and happy and banal in the same ways heterosexuals are. After all, for the most part we are products of heterosexuality. At the same time, there does seem something deeply and profoundly different about us, both in our sexual, cultural, and social experiences (something notoriously difficult to communicate) as well as in our constant vulnerability in heteronormative violence. I have lived a life from one end of this spectrum to the other, suffering whiplash and cognitive dissonance along the way, and now just want to be left alone by heteronormative society, not quite the outlaw but also not reaching the ideal of the Happy Homemaker. I don't live within the gay ghetto, but with a handful of remarkable exceptions my most profound personal relationships are with other lesbian, gay, or trans people. Rather, perhaps I should say that my profound personal relationships have been with remarkable people, who have all shared, for the most part, a queer (as in strange) sensibility, which in most cases has also informed a queer (as in non-heteronormative) sexuality.
We don’t live within paradigms as neatly and nicely as ideology would have it, of course. The freedom for all of us to love who we want, in the way we want. This was the message of the Lesbian and Gay Liberation Movement, that naively thought, like old school Marxism, that sexual liberation would cause the strictures of heteronormativity and gender coercion to fall away, like the State. Ah, the warm blanket of utopia! As things like LGBT marriage cause a veritable heterosexual panic and a rabid avoidance of self-reflection and facing some uncomfortable facts, what’s old is new again. For instance, the real threat to marriage comes from within, from heterosexuals, who like a Fifth Column have single-handedly destroyed the “institution,” hardly something poor little lesbians and gay men could do pathetically knocking on the door, demanding to be let into the house of citizenship and equal civil rights.
The freedom to love who we want, in the way we want, in bell bottoms and flip flops, silk and lace and leather, jeans or slacks, pumps or sneakers, harness or tuxedo or the wash-and-wear white wedding dress, for five minutes (sometimes less) or a lifetime, the casual glance, the secret encounter, the revelation and excitement of connection, the roller coaster of emotion: all love, the human capacity for connection. All I know this Valentine’s Day is that I love Mr. Gordo, and he loves me. And in the end, isn’t that what it’s all about?