Humans love to classify things. We love order amongst the chaos. It’s just how we’re wired to short cut how we see the world. It gives us order and cohesion that is comforting to us. It makes the world easier to navigate.
But I write this as a queer writer. It’s a word that used to be hurled at us to open new wounds, add salt to old, and denegrate us to the point of tears or real physical gut-wrenching pain. As a matter of history, we, as a community, have used that classification to identify who we are and establish our voices in the mainstream political spectrum as we vied for a place at the table to establish and hold onto our rights. In that particular venue we needed to define ourselves so people not of the community could see us collectively as well as individually as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, etc. In the beginning Gays and Lesbians led the way, albeit with differing agendas. Men established their separatism by holding it close to the bone sexually. Whereas the Lesbian movement was more about poltical rights, personal well-being and emotional quality of life. They both realized in the early days of the movement saw that they needed to present themselves as the next door neighbor. Someone the mainstream knew.
It was important to our early movement to make us seem like any other neighbor. We were human after all. We ate, made a home for ourselves, paid bills, worked, sought personal relationships just like any other human being on the planet. The Mattachine Society and the Daughters of Bilitius did their level best to put us in that light early on. It started the national conversation on the right foot. Our best foot. That’s not to say that there weren’t detractors from within both those groups. As we’ve seen in We Rise, the mini-series that covered those early days produced by out academy award winner screenwriter, Lance Black, there was a healthy amount of discention from within those movements. Queerdom already had a propensity to refuse to be classified so rigidly. For many within who went along, it was a personal compromise they thought was worth it to gain some value and respect in the greater mainstream.
So why the historical recap? Because, as of late, I’ve seen quite a few of my queer brothers (I use queer purposefully – acknowledging that many of my generation have a visceral reaction to that term) across the spectrum as identifying as anything other than “strictly heterosexual,” commenting on works that don’t fit into the gay rigid classification. Where gay men are meant to be “just one way” with each other – much like how the CIS HET world tended to hold against us (why aren’t you dating a woman like everyone else?!). I think while we’ve asserted ourselves in the mainstream conversation we’ve lost sight that it was queerdom we were embracing. The specifics of where we fall within that rainbow laden spectrum is quite literally irrelevant. We just all can agree we’re queer – derisive commentary from close minded heterosexuals be damned. It’s what we are. Outside the perceived norm, which we ALL know doesn’t exist.
I watched as my gay identifying brothers derided Andre Aicerman’s Call Me By Your Name option into a cinema work as “not gay.” I withheld my own commentary on it until I both read and watched the adaptation. It is decidedly not “gay” by rigid classification for those that need it. I know. I used to count myself amongst them. It’s one of the reasons I hold a great ire for MM Romance which is certainly NOT gay, either. It’s gay in name only but is predominantly written for straight women by straight women who are more in love with men in general and choose a male/male pairing so they can have more of that man-pie they crave. It has nothing to do with queer men. I know some gay men who enjoy it. That’s their call. I personally don’t agree with it. I like stories closer to the bone of who we are. Not that they can’t have the romantic trope of a HEA (happily ever after) or HFN (happy for now) endings. Our stories can certainly ascribe to those hopeful ideals. But I like it going into our stories when I don’t know how it will all end. I love that churn I feel, that gut wrenching “no, no, nonononononono,” that happens when things go unexpectedly sour. Why? Because that’s how it happens. The best of circumstances, the best relationships, all hit snags. What I am after is what happens next. What do each of these characters, already maligned in life because of who they are or how they represent themselves rise to the occasion? Do they implode? Do they rise above it (much harder to do in this world – but boy howdy, it’s a great thing to see when they do!)?
At the same time I read K.M. Soehnlein’s The World of Normal Boys. Two works that couldn’t be more different in approach but both explore the exact same turf: “Normal Boys” who defy classification. Boys who find themselves in homoerotic relationships that push against what they expect out of life – the script we, as men, are given to us by society. The one gay boys say, “fuck it, that ain’t me …”
The World of Normal Boys has the main character, Robin MacKenzie, discovering why he’s different from other boys. It’s not because of the exposure to the museums and culture his mother brings to him in New York, though it is certainly part of it. Instead, Robin discovers his sexuality because he begins to crave the touch of those “normal boys” in the form of two non-conforming boys – outlaws – in his high school world. Todd Spicer is a stoner boy, born into a rich aspiring family, but bucking it all and playing a bad boy. Eventually, Todd and Robin find themselves in a sexual situation that Todd easily explains away as his being a free spirit, brought about by an inspirational film he saw about a guy doing whatever the hell he wanted to in life. There were no limits to life that way. His messing around with Robin sexually held no more meaning than smoking the cigarette they shared after their tryst. The other “normal boy” in Robin’s life is Scott Shatz. Scott is a lone wolf (Scott’s own label for himself – isn’t that how we all see ourselves in our teens?). But Scott soon befriends Robin and their relationship evolves to Scott and Robin messing around sexually as well. Scott keeps telling Robin “not to make a big deal about it” when Robin soon susses out that it IS a big deal but Scott and Todd don’t want it to be. What I find so interesting in this work is this is how it works for gay boys. We seek the comfort of other boys who are often not like us, but when pulled away from society expectations other things take flight in the dark, drifting through clouds of marijuana like dark birds who want something secretive that says they are their own man. Only to have the harsh light of day come piercing through their dark dreams and bring them all crashing to the ground of reality. So many gay boys have this story. I count myself amongst them. It was how my early gayboy days revealed themselves to me.
Conversely, though not all that different, Call Me By Your Name, explores the same territory. Men who discover something so revelatory and life shattering that they become swept up by it but find, at the end of the day (or summer in this case), must return to the world better and healthier for their experiences, but no less resigned to life in the rigid normalcy of a heterosexual life. Elio and Oliver meet over a summer of 1983 when Oliver, an American, is hired by Elio’s father (an archeologist) to catalog their findings from recent digs in Italy. At first the story moves about with both men, Elio’s late teen crush on a girl, and Oliver’s supposed romantic summer fling in the arms of another woman. Yet, Elio and Oliver soon start to spiral around one another. An epic dance of two men discovering each other in ways they don’t expect. Mainstream rules say they must reject those feelings at first. It’s part of that script should they have to run to the “troubleshooting” section of that heterosexual manual they all carry. But that troubleshooting doesn’t offer much in the way of hope as Elio keeps longing for Oliver’s attention. When the subject finally rears its head it’s outed under the guise of Elio wanting to discover what Oliver knows about being a man and navigating the halls of love. Hero worship. Oliver, for reasons not provided fully in the work, knows it is something more. He gently lets Elio pull close but eventually pushes him back with a clear, “we need not speak of it.” Saying that with the clear implication that they certainly won’t act on it. Only, they do. And thensome. Peaches, anyone?
Once they come together they are fairly inseparable. Elio’s parents, both educated – delightfully displayed not only in the father’s line of work but also of the intimate moments the three of them share when their mother translates a german work into english as her husband and Elio listen louging next to her. Indeed, the film does this to brilliant effect by having French, Italian and English rotate – often within the same speech as the story moves along. These are not, say, the close minded parents of a similar film that takes place at the same time, Edge of Seventeen, where the parents are working class. Elio’s parents clearly detect that Elio and Oliver are involved in some way. It is the final sequence after Oliver’s eventual departure at the end of Summer that his father has a heart to heart talk that clearly separates European fathers from their American counterparts. While I recognize that not all American parents were close minded (mine weren’t, for example) and all Europeans are open minded, I would think that it is one place where Europeans are ahead of us and have been for quite some time.
What I love most about these works is that they informed me in writing my own. In Angels of Mercy, I quite literally fought against the twin brothers of my series as being rigidly gay. I should’ve known better. Hanging around my queer granddaughter and her queer friends, I know that the spectrum is vast and varied. Yet, I pushed back. I tried to force my boys to be gay and gay only to the point where it was literally strangling the story. I had to step back and have that same heart to heart Elio had with his father – which literally smacked me in the head when I saw it before my eyes. It is better to have the courage to explore love for love’s sake – whatever form that takes. Eventually I was able to let my previously defined gayboys as pansexuals – still part of the queer spectrum, just not wholly of the gay classification. Marco and Pietro discover that they fall in love with who the person is, not what junk they have trapped in their pants.
After all, isn’t that what we’re truly after? #LoveIsLove has greater implications. For me, I’ve learned not to be so craving for a “gay” story – whatever that is. I’d rather it be queer and let me discover it along with the character. It is their journey that brought me to them in the first place, not mine. I want to know what they feel and aspire to, not what I would do.
I’ve come to realize that all my works may focus on first person narrative, but they are essentially ensemble pieces. It takes a village and all that rot.
I am a queer author, writing queer works, and finding myself wholly embracing the term and seek the works of others who want to tell stories that explore that in all its infinite varieties.
Until next time,
– SA C
“So, let me get this straight, pardon the pun, but you went to second period Drama and the hottie twins were there. You said they watched you in class and after the pop quiz, you submitted yours and read their quiz for like a couple of minutes and then suddenly it was lunch?” Don asked Elliot as they all assembled at the top of the multi-tiered garden in the middle of the large quad that separated the various campus buildings.
Mercy High had once been a Catholic school, but two years ago the church deconsecrated the grounds and the facility converted to a secular high school serving Mercy and the surrounding unincorporated towns and villages along the Big Sur coastline. While parochial attendance had trended down over the years, the secular incarnation now held over seven hundred students.
Elliot took a bite of his egg-salad sandwich as he contemplated the best way to answer Don’s question. Don Garcia was his crew’s resident smart guy and avid surfer. There wasn’t much Don didn’t know or could gain a handle on. And the guy was quick – quicksilver, sort of quick – but in that Zen surfer boy way. He often presented the answers when the group needed them most, but with all the grace of a wise sage. With his shoulder length black hair, beguiling Latino looks, he wasn’t hard on the eyes or the spirit – he was always good for hang out with for a bit of a laugh, too. Elliot knew if there was anyone who might sort out what happened to him, it was Don.
“Well, see, that’s the thing,” Elliot began, realizing as he looked around that the entire crew appeared riveted to his reply. Some even stopped chewing their lunches altogether. “It all seemed to go like a few minutes at most. So how could two whole periods pass me by?”
“And why didn’t we see you when we left?” Terri added while deciding against finishing the cafeteria Spaghetti Surprise lunch he’d mistakenly purchased.
“Yeah, girl. We saw you get up and put your quiz in the tray and then left out the door before the bell even rang,” Randy added.
“Wait. What?” Elliot nearly choked on his bit of sandwich. “Okay,” he cleared his throat, “that never happened.”
“Girl, we saw you leave. We … as in Terri and me. Four pairs of eyes, unless you count Terri’s contacts then maybe it’s six.”
“Bitch! You said you wouldn’t spill my tea …” Terri gasped and slapped Randy’s arm for good measure.
“Ladies! We’re so beyond Terri’s less than stellar vision right now,” Elliot burst out. He wanted to know what Don was thinking and not this trip down Spilling Tea Road.
“So let me see if I have all of this right,” Don began as he wiped the last of his banana cream pie from his lips. “You two saw him clearly place his quiz in Mr. Ray’s inbox and leave the room but Elliot maintains he not only put his quiz in the box, he picked up the twin’s responses, read them without leaving the room, then heard the twins’ voices in his ear and when he reacted to them two hours had passed?”
“Yup, pretty much,” Els replied as he slipped the last of his sandwich into his mouth.
“Time and Spatial displacement. Wow … I’d read something about it in one of my science mags, but it was all theoretical. I mean, some of it has panned out from recent theory but like, whoa, that’s some serious shit.”
“Mmm-kay, before you go all science nerd on us and start techno-babbling shit we don’t have any way of understanding, are you saying that both can be true?” Elliot leaned in.
“It is possible; again, theoretically speaking. Perceptions are a tricky thing.”
“But that would imply that someone or something was the puppet master here, right?” Elliot pressed further.
“Okay, is it me? Or did we just enter Twilight Zone, now? What are you two going on about?” Cindy asked as she joined them from her trip to the cafeteria. She eyed Elliot and Don as she sipped from her Coke.
“Girl, you had to be there. Miss Thang thinks she stayed in the classroom reading quizzes when we clearly saw her leave,” Terri offered.
Elliot ignored Terri’s commentary because he could see Don was already onto something.
“What are you thinking?” he goaded Don a bit more.
“Well, the one odd thing throughout this whole scenario has been the twins. Anything else you can come up about them?”
“Wow, way to put the new guys into hot water,” Danny added.
“Well, think about it. Elliot told us that they kept staring at him. You two caught them doing it, right?” Don continued.
Randy and Terri both nodded but didn’t add anything further. The serious looks on everyone’s faces said that they’d definitely crossed over into the land of maybes. This was Don’s playground. He loved the possibilities in life and what’s more there was no one who could run down the number of possibilities as fast as he could.
“Okay, then we add to the fact that Elliot noticed how fast they finished the quiz and the sheer volume of what they wrote …”
“And how they wrote it … it was like Declaration of Independence quality script. Ya know, how people who wrote with feathers wrote.”
“Right. Okay. And where were they when you went down to spy on their quizzes?”
“They were busy chatting up Mr. Ray in his office,” Elliot replied.
“So, they hadn’t left yet.”
“No. And I was clear to watch that they didn’t see me reading their replies. They were definitely preoccupied with Mr. Ray. But it was their voices that sort of brought me out of reading those quizzes and when the lunch bell rang I realized I’d missed two whole periods. I mean, Mr. Ray had another drama class in period three. Then none for the fourth – it’s a free period for him. So when I snapped out of it I found myself all alone in the room. Why didn’t anyone see me standing there during the third period?”
“And the twins were nowhere to be found, right?”
“So, they could’ve pulled it off somehow. Hypnosis, maybe?” Don frowned at that simplistic, if slightly unusual idea.
“Okay, say they used hypnosis or something like it, but how?” Danny asked.
Don gripped some grass and tossed the blades into the bushes. Frustration was never a good thing for him.
“That’s the part we don’t have an answer for. And even the things that could be, are simply not plausible.”
“So, we keep an eye on them?” Elliot asked.
“We keep an eye on them,” Don nodded.
A shadow fell across the group.
“So, we heard this where all the cool kids hang out for lunch,” Pietro stated, making everyone jump.
“Mind if we join you?” Marco asked.
To say that lunch from that point out was a bit on the awkward side would’ve been the understatement of the century, at least, to Elliot’s way of thinking.
Everyone seemed welcoming of the twins. Most looked intrigued to have the boys so close to them for the first time. They just felt a bit odd with what they’d been discussing prior to the twins’ arrival. Elliot, however, became slightly tickled eyeing the grit to Danny’s jaw as he watched the brothers observe every move or sound Elliot made – almost as if they couldn’t get enough of whatever Elliot did. If anything, the brothers’ arrival was the perfect solution that just might get Danny to come to a decision if they were together or not.
Chalk one up for the twins, Elliot thought.
“So how are you liking your first day?” Don asked the brothers as he stretched back onto his bent elbows, his gaze intent on their answer. For all his amassed intelligence for a guy so young, Don’s questions were never as topical as they sounded. Don’s ability to suss out a person’s character from brief interactions was nearly legendary with Elliot’s gang. If you wanted a read on someone, you had them talk to Don for a few minutes.
“It’s interesting … for a small town like Mercy there are a lot of students here,” Marco commented, glancing around the quad at the number of students who called it their favorite lunch spot – choosing to sit out in the sunshine rather than the confines of the cafeteria.
“Mercy gets students from the surrounding areas – unincorporated towns and small villages and the random ranch or house along the coastline, which is sort of funny considering that it was once a parochial school but they couldn’t keep the attendance high enough to warrant this large a school.”
“You mean this was consecrated ground?” Pietro inquired, sipping from a thermos, tingeing his lips a darkened red color.
“What are you drinking?” Terri asked. “It’s making your lips go all red like. Almost matches my lipstick.”
“Borscht. We have a particular fondness for it from our time spent in Hungary. It’s a bit odd, an acquired taste, but I really like it.”
Elliot didn’t think that Borscht would be that particular red color but what did he know really about it?
The rest of the lunch period passed with pleasant, if a bit guarded, idle conversation. Elliot became quite surprised that in this setting the brothers seemed more inclined to share their personal stories about where they’ve lived and more importantly – at least as far as the crew was concerned – how rich they really were.
“We come from an ancient Italian family. We’ll just say that Pietro and I can pretty much acquire whatever we want, when we want, and not bat an eye doing it,” Marco offered, his eye moving to each of Elliot’s gathering to see how that little bit of information either intrigued or disgusted each of his friends.
Thankfully, nearly all, with the exception of upwardly mobile Cindy, took what Marco told them without so much as a single flinch. That made him proud of his gang. Rich kids or not, they had to score with his crew on their own merits. Cindy’s eyes just sparkled with the endless possibilities the brothers represented. The fact that there were two only seemed to double her chances on scoring.
Elliot didn’t know how he felt about that.
“Well, that certainly has to be a comfortable place to be. I bet coupons don’t mean a thing to your lot,” Elliot commented as the bell rang signaling lunch was over and fifth period was right around the corner.
“You might think that, but Pietro got the ‘Vette during one of those year-end sales. Made a hell of a deal to get it, too,” Marco added.
“We like a good bargain just like anyone,” Pietro added.
Everyone started to get up and gather themselves together to move off to their respective classes. Cindy gave a quick kiss to Elliot’s cheek, with an eye to the brothers, and then scurried off to her gym class. Don and the two queens paused for a moment before Elliot nudged his chin up to signal he’d catch up with them later before they reluctantly moved on without him. Only Danny seemed to linger – occupying himself with something in his backpack to eat up the time. This pleased Elliot to no end that Danny didn’t want to leave him alone with the hypnotically handsome brothers.
“What do you have next?” Pietro asked Elliot as Danny picked up his backpack and skateboard, trying his damnedest not to look like he was paying attention when he totally was.
A devilish smile snaked across Elliot’s lips as he replied, his gaze moving from a disgruntled Danny to Pietro, “Civics. You?”
“Psychology. Or what this school passes off as Intro to Psych,” he replied mirroring Elliot’s smile. He seemed aware of Danny’s little jealous ploy, too. Elliot thought maybe they weren’t so good at hiding their affection for one another like he thought.
“Marco’s got Spanish,” Pietro added.
Elliot had to admit that the Sforza brothers were wickedly sexy no matter what expression they chose to share with others. Marco stood slightly behind his brother and pretended to look around the quad as people moved off to class. There wasn’t much time left.
Danny snorted and began to move off without saying anything further.
“Meet up after school like usual?” Elliot called out to him.
Danny paused and glanced at both brothers before nodding and moving on without saying a word. Nothing could please Elliot more than the brothers’ finding a way to do something others could not – leave firecracker Danny speechless.
Now, that is some kinda power, indeed, Elliot thought.
The brothers turned to watch Danny leave, though what they thought about that little exchange between him and Elliot they didn’t say.
“Well, thanks for letting us join your little crew for lunch. Being new here makes it a bit difficult to find our own group of friends at school. So, um, thanks.” Marco said as he turned to move off to his Spanish class.
“Sure thing …” Elliot called out to them as Pietro followed Marco off the plateau. “Anytime …”
They paused for a moment and both nodded before moving off, leaving Elliot to realize he had less than a minute to make it to class.
“So you seem pretty enamored with the newbie guys,” Danny muttered as he slowly rode the skateboard next to Elliot who had to make his way home on foot. They were taking their usual route from the school down a few blocks to Main Street. This way they could make their usual pitstop at the local Dairy Queen his grandfather ran and get a free sundae or something.
There was unease in the way Danny talked to him now. Elliot had to admit that there was a part of him that liked that the brothers’ presence was enough to rattle Danny’s perceived place in Elliot’s world.
Silly boy, no one can ever replace you with me, he thought to himself.
“I wouldn’t say enamored was the right word,” Elliot commented as he plucked a leaf from a tree that lined this part of the sidewalk as they turned onto Telegraph Road and the strip mall where the Q awaited them.
“Oh, no? What word would you use, then?”
“I don’t know. Intriguing, unusual, hypnotic.”
“Ah-ha! Hypnotic … you are smitten with them!”
“Not likely. Jesus, I have a word for you though …”
“Do tell, Donahey. I’d just love to hear this.”
“Oh, how about jealous.”
“Fuck you, Donahey.”
“And there we have it, folks. Supremely confident Daniel Lynn Jericho totally in freak out mode by a couple of rich dudes that don’t mean dick to me.”
Danny suddenly stopped with the back of his hand to Elliot’s stomach.
“Seriously. C’mon D-man. It’s always been you. You know that.”
Danny looked away. This is when Danny usually retreated. Anytime Elliot made their relationship more real Danny took to the hills. Elliot nudged Danny’s shoulder with his to hopefully lighten the mood a bit.
“I know what you want, Els.” He turned from looking down the road to have his eyes meet Elliot’s.
Make or break time …
“And on some level, I want that, too. It’s just …”
“I’m not the one, am I? No matter how much we dance around it, no matter how much I want it, it’s just not meant to be, is it?”
“It’s not that.”
“Then what is it?”
Danny shrugged. “I wish I knew. God, Els, I really don’t know why I am so afraid of an us. Maybe because if something messes up then I’ll stand a real chance of losing what we have already. I … just can’t chance that.”
“So, what? You’d rather see me with someone else because you’re afraid we wouldn’t work out and I’d cut you out of my life forever? That’s a pretty shitty thing to throw on someone. And a pretty pathetic excuse for why we can’t be.”
“Nah, forget it. I got the message. I’ll see ya around.”
Elliot moved off, leaving Danny, and a piece of his heart behind him.
Two hours and two hot fudge sundaes later he made his way from the Q down the road that led to his house. Dusk had fully started to cloak the evening in darkened hues and magical light. It was Elliot’s favorite time of the day and yet, never had his heart been so heavy or so troubled.
He shuffled his feet as he turned onto Oak Ridge Way. His house was the last on this cul-de-sac. A few houses lined his side of the road; the other side was a bramble of blackberry canes and various bushes and trees that lined the sloping ridge his street straddled along the hillside in this part of Mercy. A slightly cool breeze billowed across his body, bringing goose flesh to the surface of his skin. Elliot couldn’t tell if the goose bumps were from the breeze or from something else.
For the past block or so Elliot couldn’t help but feel that he wasn’t alone. A few times he glanced around but the street was eerily empty except for him. Not even a passing car moved along the road with him. Maybe it was just his rambling thoughts over Danny’s commitment issues might be making him feel a bit on the anxious side of life. Maybe that’s what it was.
He glanced back to the corner and then across the street to the blackberry canes.
He started to walk toward his house again when some movement in the canes caught his attention. It could be anything. Deer often wandered the hillside in these parts, even coyotes and bobcats on occasion. Elliot was used to those things. But this, this felt different.
Like someone was there.
The light was almost gone now. Only a single porch light a few houses down glimmered in the distance, but otherwise there wasn’t much in the way of adequate illumination that he could count on to reveal what that sudden shift in the bushes could be.
Elliot took a few steps off the curb onto the street, his eyes squinting the tiniest bit, trying to sort out what was there. Another step brought him closer to what was on the other side of the canes. He could almost make out the shape. Whatever it was, it was big.
Bright headlights caught him standing in the middle of the street. The rumble from his father’s Ford pickup throbbed behind those brilliant beams. His dad leaned out the window.
“You wanna tell your old man what you’re doing in the middle of the road or is this some sort of school project?”
“Jesus, Dad! You fucking scared the crap outta me!”
“Uh huh. Get in, Son, before you turn into someone else’s road kill.”
Elliot spared a quick look at the bushes along the hillside before joining his father in the truck. Whatever it was no longer lingered there. No doubt startled by the massive pickup and the bright lights. He slumped into the seat next to his father as he closed the door not caring where his backpack ended up on the floor of the vehicle.
“Bad first day?”
“Jury’s still out. It was … shall we just say it was, odd?”
“Oh, yeah? How so?” He put the truck into gear and started to move the couple hundred feet to the end of the street and their house.
“Oh, nothing. Just new guys on campus.”
“They didn’t try to mess with you, did they? That’s the whole reason why I taught you how to …”
“What? No. It’s nothing like that. Just … I dunno. It’s all mixed up. Then, there’s Danny. He certainly didn’t help matters much.”
Elliot’s father, Nick, smirked the tiniest bit. He’d been watching his son and his would-be boyfriend go back and forth on making anything permanent in their relationship. He was slightly conflicted about Elliot’s woes with Danny. On one hand, he got why Danny kept doing the guy thing and being non-committal while on the other, he totally wanted to wring Danny’s neck for causing his son so much grief. But, on the whole, he knew it was best for them to sort it out. He accepted that Danny as one of the good guys. He didn’t think Danny would intentionally hurt Elliot, but being a good father, he was always keeping an ear to the ground whenever Elliot grumbled about their on-and-off status. So far it seemed just more of the same. Nothing too much to worry about.
“You two have a spat?” he asked as he turned the truck into their driveway and up to the large two car garage that doubled as Nick’s workshop.
“Nah, not really.”
“Okay.” Nick knew to wait it out; eventually his son would cough up the goods.
“It’s just …”
And here it comes …
He turned off the truck, carefully placing a hand on his son’s arm to stall him from climbing out of the truck.
“Well,” he sighed, then in his usual slurry of verbal diarrhea it all came out, “there’s these new guys, right? Totally hot new guys and yeah, I get it that you don’t get that, but you gotta trust me on this. They’re the shit. And they’re nice, too. I met them. Well, we have Drama second period together. Oh and they’re twins, identical, too. Two hottie boys, total foxes and they keep looking my way. Why? I have no fucking idea. But they watch me … in a weird but slightly sexy way that’s completely unnerving but totally hot all the same time. So, of course Danny got all what the fuck about it and yeah, we sorta had a tiff about it and I ended up eating two hot fudge sundaes and now I think I’m gonna be sick and that’s why the jury’s still out on my epic first day of school.”
Nick ran a hand down his face, mostly to hide the small smile that threatened to consume his face over his son’s teen angsty hormonal boy troubles. Not that he was making light of them, but more of how much adjusting he had to do whenever he had these one-on-one father-son talks. He knew when Elliot was born that he was going to be gay. It just came to him in a dream while his wife was pregnant. But it never prepared him for the “boy trouble” talks. They still sort of amused him a bit.
“Okay, so no dinner for you, tonight? You know your mom’s gonna be a little cranky about that, spoiling your dinner and all.”
“So not the point of our conversation here.”
“No, I get that. So who are these boys?”
“Marco and Pietro Sforza.”
“Oh, those guys.”
“You know them?”
“Contract work. I did some modifications to their bedrooms and a few other rooms in that old abandoned mansion they purchased on the other side of town.”
“So you’ve met them?”
“No. I worked with I guess what could amount to their butler or house manager or hell, I dunno. Anyway, his name is Angus. Nice enough guy, easy to work with. So, I did the work and was out before the brothers took possession of the house. Never saw ’em.”
“Well, that’s probably a good thing. They’re way … well, just way.”
“Well, that’s evocative.”
Elliot smirked. It was so like his dad to pull out his literary genius with just the right word to catch his attention. He loved his dad and the fact that Elliot’s gayness didn’t seem to bother him at all even if he could sense his dad having to constantly play the translation card from girl troubles to the boy flavored variety.
He had to give it to his dad on how hard he tried to be there for him as he navigated this thing called teen life. It couldn’t be easy. Maybe he needed to cut his dad some slack.
“Look, I appreciate your taking the time to listen to my first school day woes, and boy troubles, which can’t be an easy thing for you. But I seriously need to just chill and take some Pepto-Bismol or something to settle my stomach and get some homework done sometime before sunrise.”
Nick pulled his son to him for a hug, mussing his hair the tiniest bit as he did.
“Love ya, Son. And don’t you worry about the whole boy trouble thing. Yeah, it’s different from what I thought we’d talk about when you were growing up, but I’ve settled that score inside a long time ago. We’re good. Okay?”
“Dad, the hair … really?” He smiled softly as he tried not to barf all over his dad. He really needed to get inside and do something about his stomach. He popped open the door to the truck and started to climb out. His father came around the other side of the vehicle and hugged his son.
“Alright, alright. Time out on the boy probs. Get inside and see to your stomach and homework. I’ll do my best to pacify your mom about you spoiling your dinner.” He moved off to the house while Elliot re-inserted a few things that slipped out of his backpack. After he closed the door his stomach gurgled.
Just as he reached for the back door to the kitchen he shivered from head to toe and he heard it. A soft rustle of leaves along the hillside caught his attention.
“C-a-s-s-i-e-l …“ a male voice he couldn’t quite place lingered on the air.
That shiver moved through him again as a small gust of air moved across the backyard, caressing his skin, a small trace of lavender scenting the breeze.
He looked from one side of the hill lining the backyard to the other. He couldn’t sort out where the voice or that scent came from. But something was there, something that had an interest in him.
Before he could become bait for something he wasn’t ready for he quickly opened the door and slipped inside. It didn’t stop him from looking out the back door window.
Not a damned thing.
Meanwhile, some 5,416 miles away …
London fog moved over Tower Bridge. At this early morning hour, very few cars moved along this part of the road. A formidable looking man in a dark suit with a dark overcoat stood along the east side of the bridge, his gaze focused on St. Katherine’s Dockyard in the distance.
He lit a cigarette, the soft blueish glow from his electric lighter as he lit the cigarette briefly colored his face in a cool light. He inhaled deeply, enjoying the taste of the tobacco as it snaked its way into him. A stiff breeze coming off the Thames blew his overcoat open. He relished the cold. He found it refreshing from the arid nights of Spain just twenty-four hours ago.
Two men, of similar dark suits and overcoats approached the man enjoying his early morning smoke. The sun still hadn’t threatened to rise just yet. He had about an hour or so if his calculations were correct. Plenty of time.
The men reached him as he took his third drag.
“Were you successful?” he asked his new companions.
“We were,” one of the two men replied.
The man turned to face them, a stream of smoke trailing into the men’s faces. They paid it no mind.
“They’ve relocated to a small Northern California town just north of Big Sur. A town called Mercy.”
He nodded, saying nothing further. He turned to face the docks again.
“So, the Sforza boys thought they could hide from me.”
“Shall we make the necessary arrangements?”
He nodded, taking another drag from the cigarette as the two men moved off.
If you like these characters in this web series you might want to check out the original Angels of Mercy series that has the same cast of characters but in a completely different setting and time.
How that simple phrase molded my young queer life back in the 1980s when we were quite literally fighting for our lives. The thing is, when I think upon it now, the phrase has lost none of its meaning. It is still relevant today as it was back then. Maybe even more so since the community has achieved so much from the time those signs first hit the pavement lo those forty years ago.
Recently, Levi Strauss introduced a line of clothing that carries that phrase and queer folks everywhere started doing the bash syndrome (something that really started to gain momentum when Roland Emmerich tried to create a movie about Stonewall). The same can be said for how we bashed the production of Looking on HBO. It’s far easier to bash what we fear is coming our way before we’ve even seen it or experienced it for ourselves.
So when Levi Strauss did the sneak peek reveal, peeps started chiming in and calling them out on the carpet for marketing a phrase that carries a ton of weight with the community. Yet not everyone back then agreed with Act Up! who created the campaign to have our voices heard when no one wanted to talk about the “gay cancer” scare going on.
Silence = Death.
But then I saw what Levi Strauss was doing. My queer granddaughter doesn’t have the context for what that phrase meant to the community. She’s grown up in a world where queerdom has its place in the mainstream conversation now. Sure, as her gay grandfather, I spend a great deal of time educating her on our past. We watch countless documentaries about what our community has gone through. At fourteen, she’s becoming quite the activist. I couldn’t be prouder of her if I tried. I sit in awe of how powerful a woman she’s becoming. My only fear with that? She’s extremely empathetic. She feels what others go through strongly. I know that under the wrong circumstances it can be used against her. So I educate her in how to detect that and how to channel that sort of negativity into something greater that accomplishes her goals. But there are times when things bother her and she’s been tight lipped about it.
Silence = Death.
I can’t have that. Not with her. And not with myself either. You see, recently I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Being over 50 I am one of the “lucky” ones in that most men who get it are between 18 and 35. Only 2% of the male population can get it at my age. Gee, thanks for that. Couldn’t I have been the 2% of the population that wins the lottery instead? No, my win had to come in the form of a cancer that within three weeks knocked me on my ass so hard that even after surgery I am still feeling its effects.
The thing is, I think I knew something was up but didn’t say anything to my husband.
Silence = Death.
At first it started out innocently enough. I went to the ER because I’ve had bouts with kidney stones and my lower right back was aching something fierce and I thought a stone was on the move. I didn’t want to miss work so I went to the ER with the thought that I’d get some pain meds to get me through the night so I could sleep and still get to work the next day. Well, I had the great fortune that I got the Asian equivalent of NPH’s Dougie Howser – the guy was YOUNG … like teenager looking young. But he was aggressive in that he wanted a CT scan to see if a stone was truly on the move. It was then that they discovered my lymph nodes in that area were inflamed – one so large that it was quite alarming. That was my first clue something bad was on the horizon. The cat was out of the bag, but for some stupid reason I didn’t give it a ton of thought about it. So shit is inflamed. What of it?
Silence = Death.
Yeah, that coulda been me. If it weren’t for my husband noticing that something was off in a moment of intimacy and (being the retired physician he is) made me book an appointment with my urologist to get that looked at. Unfortunately, I didn’t say the right thing when booking the appointment – ya know, the magic phrase that I guess I missed the memo on that all the other guys got – so my appointment was three weeks away from when I called. They must’ve thought it was routine or something. Well, in those three weeks I lost 45 lbs, my balance was way off – there’s video somewhere of me walking down a long hall at work where I was literally leaning against the wall for support but was so out of it that I didn’t realize I was doing it at all. Say nothing of the countless times during those three weeks where I’d get up to go to my car to buy something for lunch and nearly fainting in the parking lot (it was a far more regular occurrence than I want to admit even now).
So the appointment finally arrived. I was weak. I was a bone by comparison to how overweight I was before. Everything started to hurt. My blood tests were way off. My body was shutting down. I know that now. But then the operation came and removed the cancer – which appears from the pathology report was completely contained. So that’s a relief.
But now comes the part every cancer patient dreads … the chemo.
And here’s where it gets weird. They do these blood tests for cancer markers within the blood makeup. All of my numbers are within normal ranges, except for one. And it is slightly above the line in the sand they have for whether you can do outpatient chemo or you have to stay in the hospital on a drip for five days and then recuperate at home for 3 1/2 weeks. Guess which side of that little line I am on. Yeah – in-patient care. Needless to say I am fucking freaking out. My husband has been nothing but supportive as have the few friends and author pals I’ve told. For that I am extremely grateful.
But there are things in my life that I do to help others within the queer arts community. Chief amongst them is the Wrote Podcast. Y’all have no idea just how much time and effort it takes to put a podcast together and to keep it going. And it’s not like we’re getting paid for it. This is out of our love to promote others who write, sing, act, perform, sculpt, paint, etc about our queer lives. We want to champion them. But with my current state, I am having to pull back, leaving my co-host and co-producer Vance Bastian (who I can not ever come up with the words to describe what his involvement – both with the podcast and in my life – has meant to me. He is truly our superhero, our godsend and such a brilliant and caring man with a golden voice that could melt just about anything) to handle the podcast on his own. I’ll try to stay connected, but I’ve been told that energy will be a thing with me over the next four months while I go through the chemo.
Good news (if you can call anything remotely related to cancer – good) is that the success rate for my cancer is 97%. I’m clinging to that. That’s my light at the end of a very long and arduous tunnel I am facing now.
Silence = Death.
So while not totally the dramatic cause of the AIDS scare back in the 80s, I do see how that phrase means so much more to our community. It’s a bell-weather, a marker, a flare in the sky to remind us that we must be forever vigilant in keeping our voices out there. So while I step back, while I regroup and try to get better and hammer cancer back to the 9th level of hell where it came from, I call upon all of the authors, singers, queer content creators to step up and keep things rolling for Vance and Jayne while I find my way back to you all. Sign up for eps, encourage your author pals to do the same. Or if you know of singers, musicians, poets (GODS above, I would love to have a show on queer poetry), screenplay and playwrights – please get them to sign up for an episode.
With the current administration, we are at the precipice of our voices being silenced once more. And we can’t have that. We must not remain silent and think things will maintain the status quo. Because as I’ve learned from personal experience, you can’t remain silent. That silence might just very well spell death.
Until next time (and there WILL be one) …
That Oppressive Script … How Angels of Mercy Changed My Queer Boy Perspective on Sports
(Reprint from Rainbow Gold Reads Review)
Jocks have it hard.
They’ve got a lot to live up to as they pursue their passion in their chosen sport. This isn’t an easy thing to acknowledge on my part. I was one of those artistic queer kids that jocks loved to bag on. So why the change up in opinion?
Simple: I wrote Angels of Mercy.
When Angels presented itself (fully formed to the bitter end, mind you), I thought “Eh, I’ll bang this one out in a month.” I had the ending in my head already. I just had to write to that ending, right? Yeah, not so much it seems.
Here’s what I learned: you see, my main protagonist, Marco Sforza, is built upon my husband’s experiences playing football both at the high school level at Massillon, Ohio (the heart of high school American Football as we know it) and for Clemson U back in the day (admittedly a very different era than Marco’s present day story). So given the disparity in my husband’s and Marco’s timelines, I had to make some adjustments between my husband’s experiences and those that I was building for Marco. But what amazed me is that, at its core, very little has changed with regards to the institutionalization of homophobia within American football – be it, high school, college or pro.
We like to think “It gets better …” but in reality, has it? There are emerging stories about players in high school and college football that have appeared in OutSports where the players have come out to their teammates. In the cases that have been reported the response has been rather positive. Yet, we only have to bring up what happened to Michael Sam to understand that very little has changed with regard to players who hope to play openly and valued for their sportsmanship and not for who they love.
Angels taught me a lot. Not just about my characters and their road to happiness, but also because as I explored Marco’s having to follow that “jock script” all boys are indoctrinated to follow (bag the girl and draw some blood out on the field) Marco goes through some fairly difficult moments in his teenage life. In his desire to play ball and be one of the guys, he’s opened himself up to a major downfall that he can’t see coming – mostly because of the pressure to perform both on and off the field. That pressure is enormous. Yet, there’s a boy that has captured Marco’s attention in a way that no one, boy or girl, ever has. He finds himself on an emotional pendulum – swinging wildly from the life everyone else thinks he should have (girlfriends or friends with bennies, followed by marriage and rugrats), and the life he wants for himself wrapped up in a boy who requires darkness and shadows to survive another hellish day of high school.
It’s a ride my own husband had to play.
Simply put, hiding hurts everyone involved. No one ultimately benefits from that arrangement, despite how much comfort it may bring teammates in thinking that everything is cool, the dude is solid, a man’s man. Marco’s journey changed long held positions and baggage I carried from jocks that tormented me in my own past. I began to understand the pressures boys like Marco – who hide from themselves just to play the game they love to play – are under. But I didn’t want that discussion in my works to be so one-sided.
My granddaughter is queer and I spend a great deal of time with her and her friends. Queerdom is a very different monster with her crew. Just the fact that they embrace the word “queer” has changed my perspective on a word that used to torment me. So I realized that while things may not have totally changed, I also remembered the stories posted in OutSports of players who have experienced support from within their team. So while there is a clique within the team from Mercy High in my stories, I also balanced it with boys who really wouldn’t care if Marco was with a boy. I needed to show that line that things are changing. Maybe not at lightening speeds, but change is coming.
I am not kidding myself in thinking it will change in college or pro-ball in the next five, ten or fifteen years. That may be a long time in coming, but come it will.
With the release of Angels of Mercy – Diary of a Quarterback Part I: King of Imperfections and Angels of Mercy – Diary of a Quarterback Part II: Prince of Mistakes, I wanted to explore Marco’s journey. To be honest, while I started the main Angels of Mercy series from Marco’s boyfriend Elliot’s point of view, the story was really Marco’s to tell. He gets the lion’s share of the series (three books out of the six total).
I am thankful that Marco exists. He’s made me understand my husband’s past so much more. And I am far more sympathetic to athletes who take that courageous step to emerge and live a life out and proud. Their stories will always hold my interest.
I often wonder what I would say to my younger tortured teenboy self that would give my younger self context to understand what those boys go through. Don’t know if it would’ve made a difference or not, but I am glad I’ve grown enough as a writer and a queer man to give them a bit more of a pass and a modicum of understanding that many of them may not feel free enough to live openly and use oppression to express their frustration.
That’s what Angels ultimately explores. Here’s hoping that the trend toward acceptance keeps moving in a positive direction. I look forward to the day when it simply won’t matter.
Until next time …
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