Love In The Time Of Pulse

I’ve been on a writing freeze. I don’t know how to write about the Pulse massacre. To date, it is the bloodiest anti-LGBTQ hate crime in American history, even though various news outlets, Republican lawmakers, and conservative pundits have claimed that it was not a hate crime at all.

I was staying at a remote gay campground with a group of friends in Tennessee when it happened. We didn’t have any cell service or internet connection, so no one knew about it until we were driving back. The calls flooded my phone. My family hadn’t been able to reach me for two days and feared the worst.

I could have driven to Orlando. It’s not far. I could have been there.

In the aftermath, writing anything seemed pointless. People in Florida were giving blood donations and volunteering. Maybe, I thought, I should go too. I have un-giveable blood, but I have two hands, two feet. I could do something.

This was the first great tragedy of my life, I suppose. It’s the sort of thing that queer people of past generations experienced during the darkest days of our oppression. It wasn’t on par with AIDS, I didn’t lose everyone I loved, but thinking about 49 people gunned down in a place I’d likely visit — a gay dance club, the kind of place I can be found most weekends — reminded me how delicate my social bubble is. Anyone can come in one of the bars in Atlanta and spray bullets. There are people out there who want us dead.

I started this post many times before deleting. What can I say? This whole blog, with its antagonistic tone, hardly seems like the place to mourn.

A month ago, I was at the bathhouse. There’s a leather sling in a dark corner, and there I was, blindfolded and getting fucked by strangers, when I started thinking about my friend Brent. (I got his permission to use his name and details before publishing.)

For the first time in eight months, I wanted to be somewhere else — in my bedroom, cuddled next to him. After my last breakup, I thought I would never have a crush again. I had hooked up so much, had too many wild nights. Promiscuity, I believed, had barred me from conventional feelings of jealousy and romance, things that were reserved for those who didn’t live this way.

I had chosen a savage life, one of slings and substances and passing connections. It’s easier not to get hurt when you don’t know anyone’s name.

Still, I was feeling romantic. What a strange thing to feel in such a place. Brent moved to New York not long ago and everyone in Atlanta seems to miss him. Everywhere I go, his name appears in conversation.

“You should have met Brent, this guy who used to live here.”

I want to tell them that I lived with him for a little bit, before he left. I want to lay some claim to the story of him, to say that I knew him first, even though I did not. He grew up in Atlanta. This is his hometown. I am a newcomer, someone they do not know and do not need to know.

I have a crush. It’s one of those moony affections you get for men in the afterglow of sex, the kind that makes you wonder, “Could I? Could we?”

Am I capable of love? Most people would say that everyone is, even monsters and psychopaths, but I’m not sure about me. Maybe I was different. I have a bad spirit, an urge that takes me out on weekends, an impulse to push boundaries and test dangerous things.

We aren’t bad people. We just come from a bad place.

I can’t remember who told me that, but maybe it was told to me at one of the many sobriety meetings I’ve been to. I don’t like sobriety and don’t buy into its various dogmas, but sometimes I wonder if the sober life, like the conventional world of marriage and kids, must at some point be assumed, like exile, in order to survive in the world. Maybe those like me, the ones locked out of love and romance, must at some point assume with diligence the charade of convention — or be lost.

I showered and left the bathhouse. I had a crush on Brent, and that was something I needed to tell him. I don’t believe a true crush is possessive. I don’t want Brent to be mine. People don’t belong to people, and I, more than anyone, belong to no one.

Still, I wanted him to know that I’m thinking about him in New York and I’m hoping he’s having the same effect on people there that he has had on me.

Brent is a light. He’s funny. He likes to dance and be ridiculous and never hold anything back, and I wish I was like that. I want others to see that spark and participate in it. I want others to fall in love with him as I have. Someone like him should never be restricted to one person. People like us were meant to be shared.

People like us.

I think the most interesting queer people burn out quickly. Lingering in the world demands restraint. If Brent and I share anything, it’s this thing, this bad spirit — the hunger for reckless pleasure in the midst of so much violence, this desire to fuck violently in a violent world.

When you’re gay, your lovers and friends and playmates blur together. They become this fluid, lifelong dance. Boyfriends become exes who become fuck buddies. Friends become lovers. Lovers become friends.

I first met Brent in a gay bar — the same gay bar that my last boyfriend, Jose, used to dance in. Every Saturday, I was at the bar, watching him, watching people stuff dollars in his underwear. On slow nights, Jose would step off the box and dance with me. We’d get drunk. He and I were together in our little city, five hours from Orlando. We survived until we broke up. Would Brent and I survive? Would another gunman in New York choose the bar he’s being ridiculous in? Is there any point in fearing that?

I first saw Brent on the dance floor. We talked, danced, and stumbled back to my place and had really amazing sex. He managed to fist me (I was so drunk that I don’t remember it) and then he told me to fuck him.

I got behind him, spat on my dick and pushed it in. His hole was dirty, but he wanted me to keep going. He said he didn’t care — he didn’t mind shit.

I have spent my life terrified of my body. This debilitating fear comes from my father. When I came out, he told me, “It’s poop. That’s all gay sex is. Poop. You’ll live in an apartment that smells like poop, and you won’t even notice it, because you’ll live in it.” Those words have haunted me ever since.

I had never been with someone who simply didn’t care about poop. This was new. How remarkable, I think, now, to have a new experience — how life-affirming.

He made me feel free, and I fucked him. And it was nothing like the horrible picture my dad told me. It was beautiful.

When I think of all the men I’ve hooked up with, I wonder how many of them are dead now. Most of them were quick and anonymous. If I could pull them back to me, each of them, I would tell them that it has been an honor to share this world with them. We are offered so little safety in it, so little promise of security. You must take the love where you can find it, the romance where you feel it, and seize joy when it comes. You never know when it will be your last.

To those who call for our extinction, I want to leave you with the image of me and Brent. I want you to smell our sex and hear my shaking bed and listen to the animal roar coming out of his mouth. 

You will run out of bullets and your churches will crumble and burn and there will still be guys like us in some dark corner fucking like dogs. You will never kill us. You will never taste what we have tasted and do what we can do, and I pity you. You will never know what this feels like.

I love my dirty boy.


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