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 U.S. history, even though various news outlets, Republican lawmakers, and conservative pundits have claimed it was not a hate crime at all. What staggering cruelty it must take to erase us from our own suffering.

I was staying at a remote all-male 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. When I finally got a signal, calls flooded my phone. My family hadn’t been able to reach me for two days and feared the worst.

Their fears were not unfounded. I could have driven to Orlando. It’s not very far. I could have been there.

In the days and weeks after, writing felt 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 realized. Must every generation of queer have some devastating loss? Are they markers by which one’s generation is defined? Pulse looks grimly like the sort of thing that those past generations might have experienced during the darkest days of our oppression. Thinking about 49 people gunned down in a place I’d likely visit — a gay dance club, the sort of place I can be found most weekends — reminds me how delicate my social bubble is. Anyone can come to one of the bars in Atlanta and spray bullets.

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 a bathhouse. There’s a leather sling in a 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 several 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 committed to a new life. I have so much dizzying, anonymous sex. Promiscuity is my religion. I feel barred from conventional romance, stuff that’s reserved for those who don’t live this way.

These are the features of my new life, slings and substances and passing connections. No one gets hurt when you don’t know anyone’s name.

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

“Did you ever know Brent? He used to live here.”

I want to tell them that I lived with Brent for a little bit before he left. I want to lay some claim to the story of him, to say I knew him first, but I didn’t. He grew up in Atlanta. This is his town. 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 everyone is, even monsters and psychopaths, but I’m not sure about me. Maybe I am different. I have a bad spirit in me. It takes me out on weekends, makes me push boundaries and test dangerous things.

You’re thinking too hard. Stop trying to analyze it. Just trust it. 

Someone told me that at one of the many sobriety meetings I’ve been to. I don’t like sobriety and don’t buy 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, to survive in the world. Maybe those like me, the ones locked out of love, 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 crushes are possessive. I don’t want Brent to be mine. People don’t belong to people, and I, more than anyone, belong to no one.

I just wanted him to know that I’m thinking about him in New York and hope 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 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 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 pleasure in a world of violence, this desire to never be chained down, to suck the most out of life.

When you’re gay, your lovers and friends and playmates all blur together. They become this fluid, blue, lifelong dance. Boyfriends become exes who become friends. Friends become lovers. Lovers become partners. You never know until time has passed who was what — lover, friend, partner. Everyone you meet holds a little mystery, a glimmer of possibility. This man fucking me on the dance floor. Will this be the last time I see him? Or will we be somewhere in two years, in an apartment, madly in love? Anything is possible with us.

I first met Brent in a gay bar — the same gay bar where my last boyfriend, Jose, used to dance on a box. Every Saturday, I was at the bar, watching him, watching people stuff dollars in his underwear. On slow nights, he’d step off the box and dance with me on the floor. 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 dancing 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 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 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 stool, and you won’t even notice it, because you’ll live in it.” Those words have haunted me ever since. Every time I can’t get fully clean before sex, I think about what he said: “It’s poop.” Every time, I feel ashamed.

I have never been with someone who simply doesn’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, so I fucked him. And it was nothing like the horrible picture my father told me. It was beautiful. It was just us, just our bodies as they were. When did this become not enough?

When I think of all the men I’ve slept 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 one, I would say it’s been an honor to share this world and this culture with them. We are offered so little safety in it. We are all but promised to suffer. You must take the love where you can find it because it is these fleeting romances, the little sparks, that constitute a life.

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 holy buildings will crumble and burn and there will still be guys like us in dark corners 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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