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    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

    My name is James Black. I'm on Facebook and Twitter. Friend and/or follow me if you like.

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Losing That ‘Phobic Edge

This evening as I unlocked my car outside the Y, a car zoomed through the parking lot in my direction. It was dusk, but the remaining sunlight and increasing fluorescents revealed there were three or four people in what appeared to be a souped-up Neon, similar to one of the cartoonish Hot Wheels cars I had as a kid and hoped to drive someday.

The passenger-side window was down, which seemed odd since it was a little cold out, and one of the passengers’ heads was leaning out. My brain and body went into anticipating-gay-bashing mode: I re-unlocked the door, reached for the handle, tried to calculate through felt sense whether I would be able to get into my car before the three or four assailants could leap out of their losermobile, meanwhile scanning the area for possible escape routes. To say avoiding danger is second nature to me is an understatement.

As I swung my driver’s side door open, a teenage boy pushed himself out of the window of the losermobile and shouted, “Yo, I’m GAY!”

I didn’t really process what he said until I was safe inside with the door locked and the losermobile had vacated the premises. Yes, there was an anti-gay insult; being gay was, according to the young man’s tone, laughable. But rather than throwing the insult at someone (me), he threw it back on himself. His technique was reflexive and somehow self-deprecating. Having experienced a fair (actually unfair) number of “faggots” and “homos” hurled my way over the years, I was surprised by this development.

At the risk of overanalyzing (you know I’m going to risk it): Maybe he’s depended on “That’s gay” as a guaranteed laugh-getter, but it doesn’t get the approval it once did. Perhaps he’s been a hobbyist homophobe but he’s losing his edge. So instead of hurling a “gay” pie at someone else, he turned it on himself. The payoff didn’t seem worth it to me, but to be fair, I’m not his target audience.

I found the whole scene (which took only a few seconds, actually) so befuddling, I haven’t even been able to think of clever comebacks that would have slain him with wit if I’d been able to think of them. He just seemed like a pathetic little fuckwad. Being able to see him that way is a vast improvement for me. Situations like this usually trick my mind into believing I’m a vulnerable adolescent. In a dark parking lot, that way of thinking is probably still the best strategy.

It’s All About Survival

As a teenager, I thought about what it would feel like to slice through a vein or artery or both. I didn’t know the most effective technique, and I didn’t particularly want to die. I just wanted a break from the indignities of being whatever I was. Most everything anyone said to me felt dismissive. It’s hard to know if my perceptions were anything close to reality.

The biggest assholes of them got it right: I *was* a faggot. I *did* have school pretty easy given my IQ was around 140. At the time, those were things to hide because they made me different. So I hid them.

In bio class when we were supposed to be dissecting some poor, dead, wan frog that seemed at the time to have a better situation than my own, I pressed the corner of the blade into my wrist just to get a tiny fraction of an idea how it would feel. It stung, and I could do the math to figure out the pain caused by shoving the blade deeper. It’s nothing I wanted. It wasn’t the way to peace.

The sad thing is I don’t know what I can tell my younger self about things getting better. They have, yet they haven’t. I suppose the responsible thing to do would be to lie and say life becomes wonderful. Ideally, I would have a dry-erase board behind me and draw a squeaky ascending line to show how much more sunshine comes out of my ass with every passing year. Fuck that.

Sorry to bring the real, but this is my life. I don’t struggle every day with horrible thoughts like I did as a teenager, so in that sense, yeah, it gets a fuckload better. But that makes it worse when when the thoughts come back, because I’m out of practice at pushing them away. (The Summer of Death screws with my head, although sometimes it’s not about that at all.) It’s worth the effort, although I’m tired and can’t honestly tell my younger self and zir modern counterparts that life doesn’t suck a lot of the time. It does. That’s simply true. As a friend told me a long time ago when I was having yet another depressive episode, life is a lot of work, day after day. I knew it already, but hearing him say it made the weight so much more bearable. His words come to me when I need them.

I may not have done much, but I’ve survived, and really: that’s fucking huge. I’ve survived depression and anxiety and OCD to have bad days instead of no days–and more and more good days. I’m just having a bad night. I’m blogging my way through it. Soon I’ll be reading your beads and cajoling you in my loving/snarky way. Unless you’ve read this, you’ll probably remain oblivious to my struggles. Hey, whatever.

You’ve got to reach out. It’s a big world. Someone somewhere is paying attention and is glad you’re surviving, too.

My Wedding Vows

Yesterday, I married my partner of almost 17 years, Doug Powers, in a brief, wonderful ceremony at the Hillcrest Manor in Corning, New York. I have plenty to say about the experience, of course, but for now, I just want to share the vows I made to Doug with all of our friends and family who wanted to be there. We are now the Powers-Black family.

As you know, Doug, I kind of resent this whole exercise of seeking societal approval of our relationship. For nearly seventeen years, we’ve persevered with no government support and little support from civilization’s other structures.

I didn’t need society’s permission to fall in love with you within seconds of meeting you, nor did I need society’s permission to tell you how I felt only two weeks later. When you warned me not to make you choose between your love of theatre and your love of me, I got a life and worked hard to become less smothering. By being with you, I have discovered a more independent and fulfilled version of myself.

So I’m tempted to vow that I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing. Society may assume I’ve spent all this time as your very long-term fiancee, just waiting to get started, but you and I know better. However, experience as your husband-all-but-in-name tells me it’s not that easy. We must constantly work at this thing called Us. And, knocking the chip off my shoulder, how can I not acknowledge the support we have received from family and friends? This moment provides us with an opportunity to go public even more than we have, to brag about what we have together, and to risk making our mistakes with others watching.

Despite all we’ve done to push past obstacles, we’ve obeyed societal expectation to avoid “flaunting” our love. As closeted gay kids, we learned to be careful when others were watching. We’ve carried that caution through our first relationships and into the home we’ve made together. Too often, we stop short of saying we love each other or even asking about each other’s day. Although we’ve assumed we can take each other for granted, there’s a gap between us that, however slight it may be, has been an insurmountable emptiness. I promise to dive in and pull you into the emptiness, too, so we come to see it for what it is: openness whose possibilities we determine for ourselves.

I can’t imagine what it would be like not to adore you. I still thrill at the sight of you when I run into you at work, and I’m so relieved when you come home at the end of the day. I’m strong and could make it on my own, but the point of this commitment is that I choose to be with you.

Reading my vows to Doug.

No, I didn't memorize them.

Let’s Enchant This Garden

Once upon a time, I was a mouse. More specifically, I was in sixth grade performing a role in a play. My partner, a close friend, and I recently watched my performance on the surprisingly-not-so-grainy VHS tape my mother has saved since 1981. I, as mouse, discovered some of the world’s wonders as I ventured out for the first time on my own. My large, round pink ears flopped when I hit my spot and exclaimed in my pre-pubescent voice: “An enchanted garden! How lovely!”

The role couldn’t have fit anyone better than it fit me. I wasn’t acting so much as letting others in on my act. I remember loving the warm rush of excitement of being on stage with everyone focused on me. I stood in the spotlight and practiced pretty flawless comic timing. I was just being myself, nelly as the day is long, and for once, and for a very brief time, I wasn’t stopping myself.

From 30 years away, I’m amazed that none of my classmates at that time made fun of me for acting flamboyantly and obliviously gay. Maybe my openness won them over–the “what” of my identity didn’t matter because the “how” was so damn fabulous?

Perhaps. But the what was and is incredibly important to me (though I won’t deny how fabulous I am at it). Which is why I’m surprised to find some of my fellow queers avoiding specifics in their self-declarations. They’re coming out as themselves, but no aspect of their identities is more important than any other.

Hmmm.

The point of Coming Out Day is to do it your own way, so I shouldn’t judge. But…even more important than how one comes out is the what one comes out as. Regardless of the terminology, today is a day to celebrate being queer. If you have no other day when you don’t have to hide or blend in, this is the day to step out and say what makes you you in terms of sexuality and/or gender. This is not a day for veiled language. This is not a day for celebrating metrosexuals.

The world is our garden, too. Take root, queers and allies. Bring on the enchantment, openly and vigorously. How fucking lovely!

Happy 3rd Anniversary to Me

When i started Quota, i intended to write regularly to fill a daily or weekly quota of words. I was going to share the product of my process without getting too hung up on quality or quantity.

As it turns out, I haven’t approached the blog that way at all. It’s turned into a place where I post essay-like pieces motivated by anger and other similarly warm emotions. I don’t post without cooling down and revising. The blogosphere is packed to bursting with garbage that could use revision, reconsideration, and other “re-” words; I don’t need to add to that.

Whether or not my reflective approach has produced high-quality reading, it has certainly resulted in a lower-quantity catalog of material than I originally intended. I don’t regret taking the time I need, but I wish I could crank a little faster. Although I don’t have something to say every day, I could offer something at least once a week. Pushing myself would be good for me, as I think I tend to dwell a bit too much on anything and everything i write at this point. At the rate I’m going, by the time I finish my latest grocery list, the yogurt I intend to buy may well expire. (That’s a joke, but I’m not going to run it by a test audience. Impressed? I’m taking risks, and not just with my writing! Expired yogurt can really fuck you up.)

A feature I’d like to bring back is including samples of what I’m currently writing besides the blog. I’m writing a novel, which is probably why my process has slowed so much. In the early days of Quota, i shared some excerpts without much or any context. But that’s part of the fun.

Here’s today’s:

They’d had some of the hottest, angriest sex of either of their lives in the past four years while at their most dysfunctional, not a word spoken, not a bit of cuddling. With their arms and legs tangled together, Henry would feel his love for Penn emerge, as if it dripped with his sweat or were forced by grunts from deep within his lungs.

We Are a Proud People

As Pride month goes out like a fabulous lion belting out a high note, I want to say a few words to you homos who believe the “T” part of the movement is bringing down the “LGB” part, that “they” don’t belong, blah, blah, blah:

You’re wrong.

For one thing, trans people helped start this fucking movement and have always been part of it. If you doubt me, read about our history. Trans folks, like the rest of us queers, are quite deserving of equality and capable of organizing protests, carrying signs, throwing a punch–whatever needs to be done. Duh.

And are you unaware of the tendency most people have to conflate gender and sexuality? (This gets a little complicated, so follow along and reread if you need to.) It’s not just about one’s own sexuality and gender identity and how s/he expresses them. Someone who identifies, for example, as a gay man, by desiring sex with other men, is all-too-commonly viewed as less of a man (than what, no one is quite sure). Let’s not pretend it’s just bigoted straight people who do this. Queer people use gendered commentary as reward and punishment, too. Sometimes we celebrate transgression; other times we use it to justify disapproval according to some fucked-up binary set of genders. (I know you do it, mary, so don’t EVEN…)

On a good day, we could argue there’s something playful about this kind of teasing, that it suggests we’re acknowledging a fluidity of gender specifically and personal identity more broadly. It’s fun to slough off the gender straitjacket. We should all do it more often. Always, even. But someone like you can’t allow the fun to last. When I, a queer/gay guy, tell you I don’t completely identify as male, nevertheless masculine, you’re, like, “What the fuck do you mean? You think you’re a woman?” And I’m, like, “Not exactly, but definitely not completely a guy.” I offer the term “genderqueer” and you make an icky face. You want things simple (they’re not) and give in to whoever you think has power (they have it over you mainly because you grant it) or to your middle-class values (which are shit). You grasp for privilege while shaking off any of us you think might be holding you down.

We’re all guests in our ancestors’ movement. You should respect what they sacrificed. To be clear, they did it for their own well-being–nothing wrong with that–but we’re a lot better off than if they hadn’t fought for progress. We have a responsibility to make things a better, and exclusion is not the way to make progress.There’s no question in my mind that “T” is an integral part of our alphabet soup. You, however, we can probably do without.

Threats, Contamination, Hallelujah

As a young queer, I read Dale Peck’s novel Martin and John. John escapes abuse, meets Martin, and suffers the loss of the person and love he’s found. The only detail that stays in my memory is blood in a yellow vinyl chair, “like the red speck in a spoiled egg yolk.” The threat of contamination runs throughout the novel: that the past will contaminate the present, that men infected with HIV will die before they’ve fully lived.

That’s an oversimplification of what the novel is “about,” nevertheless what it achieves, but the threat was certainly on my mind when I read it in the mid-90s. I was in my early 20s, newly out, and afraid of losing the freedom and happiness I’d gained by escaping the closet. Someone might beat me up outside a bar. A virus might kill me. Avoiding these threats–keeping them away from my life and body–was up to me. If I failed, I was to blame.

The stakes were much higher than in my own life, which was a relief, but the novel spoke to my experience metaphorically and thematically. The details didn’t matter because it a work of art I could find myself in. Reading Martin and John was the first time I got to experience that. The feeling remains with me almost two decades later.

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