I performed this piece as part of my Shanty Tramp set on Jan 26, 2020. I placed it in the middle of the set along with another of the Terra Cotta poems. All of them deal with the serial killer of gay men here in Toronto in 2017/18. Like some of pieces it deals more with the media coverage as the cases unfolded. It also echoes the naming of names that I have heard/read in relation to the massacre of trans people. This list isn’t as long. It also echoes the use of names & ages in the news. Ages are used when they aren’t relevant to the report – ‘an age gender died in a fire.’
Here I separated the ages from the names of the known victims. I have not memorized or perfected their pronunciation for performance – I never want them to come easily off my tongue the way they did with news announcers. I don’t even connect the names with the statistics around race etc. I don’t venture a statistic about their sexuality.
The commentator quotes are real. I found myself watching some of the coverage, even things on 2020 & ‘news’ shows of that ilk. I also read something into the subtext of remarks made by various talking heads – essentially these men got what they deserved for being gay – the same logic behind spousal abuse – if she had been more compliant etc. The shifting of guilt from the perpetrator to the victim.
Some of the subtext was that these weren’t good queers like the ones who got legally married & adopted children in heteronormative acceptability. The shaming of sexuality – no, it is broader than that – the shaming of enjoying a variety of sex partners (regardless of genders) played a bit part in the media coverage. Only married homos or celebrate homos are good – the rest get what they deserve & this serial killer gave them justification for this lesson.
My lesson: media will use any excuse to be condescending & self-righteous.
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True story – Several years ago I started to see a guy & there was good chemistry between us. When he found out I had never been to therapy it ended because he couldn’t relate to someone who had never been to therapy. I thought – such is life. He made me think of people who say ‘I don’t trust someone who won’t drink (alcohol) with me.’
A recent Gayish podcast (119) was about the role of therapy in lgbtq+ lives. One of the hosts conclusions was that everyone needs therapy – by which they mean one-on-one work with a therapist. I have never engaged in one-on-one work with a therapist. (Please don’t revoke my gay card 🙂 ) The closest I’ve come to therapy, I guess, is decades of 12 Step meetings – group therapy of sorts – in fact the that modem of group self-help is the model for group therapy. But 12 Step doesn’t involve professionals to facilitate such groups. https://gayishpodcast.podbean.com
I’ve written extensively about growing up gay which has worked out much of the ptsd I experienced as a child & teen – the ptsd I’ve experienced from the gay ‘community’ is another story 🙂 What is worse – being bullied & belittled by the straight community for being queer or being bullied & belittled by the gay community for not being handsome, young, hung or buff enough to be acceptable?
The Gayish episode is an excellent guide to types of therapy based on the hosts personal experience. The statistics on mental health & addiction issues in the lgbtq+ community are dismaying but not surprising. As we see greater visibility for queers in our culture I hope many of the emotional, mental issues that come from isolation, fear, internalized homophobia, will lessen. Gayish is one of the ways in which such changes continue.
I find music in unexpected places. A few years ago I watched the excellent Spanish movie Cría Cuervos (Ana Torrent and Geraldine Chaplin). In it Chaplin is a pianist & she plays an etude over and over. The credits listed Frederico Mompou as the composer. I did a search & easily found the etude in a collection of his complete piano works, played by the composer himself. I also found the pop song by Jeanette that is featured in the film.
Mompou’s piano music is charming, playful, at times a little sentimental. Some reminds me of Gershwin’s etudes, a touch of Satie. There is, as one would expect, a distinct Spanish flavour to much of it with pieces that are variations on folksongs, dances, Chopin. I was happy to discover classical world music.
To this mp3 collection I added some work by Mexican modern composer Silvestre Revueltas – Music de Feria: a set of his string quartets & Troka: various orchestra compositions. I came across ‘Feria’ as 2nd hand cd at a store that was once around the corner from me on the Danforth. I enjoy string quartets & this intrigued me. Troka is a download when I wanted more of his work.
Both collections reflect rather than replicate his Mexican heritage. Energetic in some pieces, mellow in others. Clearly modern but not atonal. Rich harmonies, sweet melodies, & appealing. It is refreshing to find, in both cases, Latino composers who aren’t mariachi homages. There is an amazing range of excellent classical music outside of standard repertoire – these are two great composers to widen your horizons.
When I was turning twenty-three life was a lost treasure that I no map for, futility seemed a nice, kind way of looking at it – why bother – but I was driven at the same time to bother. A Doors song was my theme ‘music is your only friend’ and I believed that – I was a little town queer who felt isolated and threatened.
Lucky I wrote a lot – driven to expresses something. Though I never knew exactly what is was I wanted to say – I kept trying to say it. I had some booze buddies, musicians and poets. Smoked a few joints with them and hung out in my family’s basement. I had a room there decorated with Beatles posters, my paintings – art getting the inner out some how.
Drunken, near blackout fits of sex. Oops, what did we do last night, sort of stuff. Seeking and not connecting with anything other than the shame of being what I was with no one to share that with.
I became more eccentric as years went on but the patterns were really set then. The things that I held closest to me: music, books, paintings all around me. My writing and some friends who were more extensions of my fears & wants than companions.
Got a job at Famous Players thanks to the mother of my best friend Howard. Flo was box-office there & that was to be my position, it quickly became assistant manager & candy boy. Made lots of pop corn.
Gave me a steady income and some sense of being functional. Added at the same time to my sense of not fitting in. I think that was a big thing for me then, wanting to be like the others yet not wanting to be like the others. Wanting acceptance without wanting to conform to some pattern.
The year before I got the job hadn’t been that bad or good, aimless and pretending I was looking for some job to steady my Dad’s need to see me working and out of the house.
The folks were never that approving of my writing or painting – like many, they figured that stuff was only good if it made one lots and lots of money. Sex wasn’t discussed at all and I didn’t know how to go about telling them I was queer. It wasn’t till I was ready to leave the Cape many years later that I told them. Not that it was such a shock mind you.
Looking back I really didn’t know how to establish myself as a man, as an adult. Booze was one of those adult things but I felt I had to hide how much I drank & how often. Sad, but true. All those secret nooks and crannies.
Most of which had no real outlet then and there. Little was I to know what the journey of my future was to hold. But I survived wanting to wake up dead, wanting to end the confusion and pain and made it past 23 and even past 24 and finally here I am.
The past week has been both productive and at the the same time – plodding. I’ve been feeling a little sad, or is it depressed, & was not sure why. The weather is a factor – as much as I like layering I’m officially over it. The time it takes to get ready to go any where makes wanting to go any where a matter perseverance rather than of pleasure.
I’m tired of negotiating slippery, unshovelled, stretches of icy sidewalks – of spending energy trying not to fall as opposed to on what to take pictures of. Freezing my hands to use my camera had no appeal. The best part of my walks has been sending cell pics to some of the guys I see – it’s almost like having them on the walk with me.
Another thing that is lowering my spirits is my decision not to go to Capturing Fire this year. This is mainly financial as I need new glasses, plus I’ve already booked my visit to Cape Breton. When I booked the Cape Breton I thought it would be easy to skip Fire but it isn’t. Though, if 649 or Lotto Max pay off soon enough I’ll go.
I’m into the last section of Coal Dusters (only another 50,000 words to go) & I’ve been enjoying revisiting & reinvesting in these characters, I don’t really want to say goodbye to them. Though getting on to Picture Perfect will be great fun. I don’t mind feeling a little low though – it’s like the the ache of the earth as frost leaves.
I wrote this piece after seeing the excellent biography ‘I Am Bruce Lee.’ It featured clips from his movies, clips him being interviewed (he proved to be shy but very articulate) & an array of talking heads reflecting on his fight technique, his films, & they mystery surrounding his sudden death. None of them commented on his stature as an Asian actor, & there was no mention of him as being fucking gorgeous 🙂
I was working for Famous Players in Sydney when Enter The Dragon was released. It was a huge hit. I saw parts of it repeatedly. He was magnetic even with the crappy dubbing & the idiotic sound fx. I kept a couple of stills of him from Enter – shirtless in with black pants. Sweaty, ripped and hands raised ready to fight. I loved those pictures as I could look a his body as long as I wanted to. On film he was too fast, the camera never had a change to ‘ogle’ his body.
The biography brought back a wave of nostalgia for me. At this time I was already a Mishima fan – too bad Lee never got to make the Mishima film – he would have been an excellent choice – but he was never considered an actor of emotional depth. The interviews in the documentary make it very clear he was more than a fighting machine. But like many performers Hollywood Taiwan wouldn’t allow him opportunities thatdidn’t include his fists.
I have tried to watch his films & they come across as cheesy & oddly sexless. Crappy lighting & bad camera work doesn’t help. Fast-forward certainly helps zip through the minimal plot & character development to the good bits 🙂 I was grieved by the end of the biography for the waste of his life. It was the same grief I felt when he died & for some of the same reasons – opportunity lost.
Entitlement manifests in many ways: if you are wealthy enough rules of politeness do not apply to you; if you are white & cute enough to can get away with murder (literally). I read of one politician who refused to pay for food at a restaurant because his reputation was so great people would flock to that place eat because he had eaten there – now that’s entitlement in action.
This piece is about that power dynamic in dating/sexual interaction. Often I engage with men who feel that their cock size, or their sexual technique, permits them to be the centre of of my attention – yet if I objectify them as ‘big dick’ they feel used, they are a person after all. When I suggest I too have attention wants they are ‘you are too needy.’ Pointing out the paradox isn’t helpful.
I told one man that I wanted more than ‘a good fuck’ to keep me interested. His reply was that he understood, that we could become friends, with benefits (for him.) He didn’t ask – what more can I do to be more sexually engaging – he figured his dick was enough to satisfy all my sexual needs. I said, ‘you could suck my dick’ – he looked at me as if I was a fool to think he’d ever suck a dick.
I stopped responding to his messages. I’m not designed to be a sex educator, to be someone who teaches better communication skills to horned up men. One guy I did block opened a new profile with a new name and started messaging me again about how much his misses etc. New name but the same approach doesn’t equal entitlement. No.
My sense of masculinity growing up was never up to the rough-and-tumble masculinity that was expected of me. I never lived up to those unquestioned imperatives. Some of this was because we moved east from Manitoba for a couple years making it difficult for me to establish ‘buddy’ friendships with other boys. When we did settle in Sydney, Cape Breton we changed neighbour hoods at least two times before settling in a third.
I did many ‘boy’ things mind you – rode my bicycle everywhere, played backyard baseball with a bunch of kids near by. But was never a fighter. I got into a couple of fistfights but it was easier to avoid them. So I never establish a position of respect amongst boys (or as I felt, with my father.)
Because I was never a fighter I was called ‘yellow,’ ‘coward’ long before I was called ‘gearbox,’ ‘queer.’ Being queer was to be less than a man, to be feminine – a girly-boy who would never be considered masculine & thus to be derided, ridiculed etc. There was no support system for ‘otherness’ other than becoming a butch fisted boxer to eat the shit out them – which wasn’t going to happen. I’m glad that I didn’t get the help that I needed then because sexually confused teens were given chemical castration, lobotomies to make them non-threats the fabric of wholesomeness.
That feeling of being a coward has never fully left me but I’ve just finished reading Mad Blood Stirring: The Inner Lives of Violent Men by Daemon Fairless. The book addresses the nature of violence as a means of defining masculinity. A definition that is culturally approved. The drag queen that beats the crap out of homophobes is respected, the one that minces away to avoid conformation is not respected.
Mad Blood Stirring is an excellent book, part case study, part interviews with ‘violent’ men, part the author’s own journey to discover the roots of his own violent nature. He recreates incidents of violent confrontations so vividly that I could feel the emotional rush that pushed him over the edge. As I said this is an excellent book well worth reading even if one isn’t a man or violent.
That fact that I didn’t take the bait of confrontation wasn’t because I was a coward but because I was already stepping out the cultural imperative that manhood is only in the fist. Or maybe I had a testosterone imbalance 🙂
(one again WP does weird things to lines breaks)
The Killer In The Morning
with a harsh shout
the killer awoke from a dream someone smothering him a pillow over his face
when heʼd killed
he never used a pillow or anything that hid the face
the best part of the kill was in the eyes that I canʼt believe you are doing this
combined with the actual pain as his hands crushed
the wind pipe squeezing hollow bones in his strong hands
he could crush an apple the hardest granny smith heʼd hold it up so juice
splashed his face
like a warm summer shower
cleaned and ready
the killer sat at his kitchen table
looked out at the sunny day at people on their way to death
death at his hands
maybe not right now
but soon sooner than they expect at least one of them would die today
he knew that the knowledge armed him gave him power gave him a reason to live to be there amongst them each of them ripe for his desires
the headlines no longer cowed them
they had little fear a killing a day the papers screamed
who will be next
the tv clatter box went on and on
flashed from his latest victim
to breakfast cereals that would help you lose weight
ha he laughed to himself I have a program thatʼll give you a permanent weight loss
donʼt bother calling Iʼll find you today it is a good day to die
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Scott was bigger than me so I wasn’t sure if I had much that might fit him. My one piece long-johns would do the trick for now. I had pyjamas for myself. I pulled on bottoms too as I usual slept with just the top.
Donnie came up, bumping along the sides of the stairwell as he tried to warm himself by roughly rubbing a towel on his head.
“Stand still. You can’t dry your feet while you’re walking, you know.” I said to keep him from falling back down the stairs.
“I know. Jus’ fix us a good drink, m’son, and we’ll be fine.”
He slumped into the living room and sat heavily in an arm chair.
Scott came up. He had taken a bit more time getting dried off and was pushing a comb through his matted hair. My long-johns weren’t as long or baggy on him as they were on me.
“I feel a little strangulated in these.” He adjusted his balls.
He sat in the other armchair and dropped the towel on his lap.
I brought out a bottle of whisky with three glasses. “Have a quick one.”
“Don’t mind if I do.”
Scott twisted the top off and drank a huge gulp from the bottle. He shuddered a little as it went down. “That’s almost worth getting here. Takes the chill off.”
Donnie did the same before he handed the bottle back to me. He slumped back in his chair, took a few ragged breaths and passed out.
“Some guys can’t take the snow,” Scott laughed.
We sat in silence for a few minutes, Donnie’s snores the only sound in the room. The warmth of the house made me feel sleepy too. After the cold, the longing for sleep was hard to resist.
“So what’s your secret?” Scott threw his damp towel at me.
“Secret? What d’you mean?” There was only one secret and I had made damn sure no one suspected.
“You never seem to get caught up like I do with some bitch.”
“ ’Cause I don’t think of ’em as bitches.”
“Don’t hand me that.”
“You have better luck than I do.”
“Luck! When Suze and I broke up, I wanted to kill myself. Fuck, we’d been together for two years. I even bought the rings. And how long has it been? Three years, now? And I’m still not over her. You know? Yet when you and Cindy broke up after four, it was if she was never there. Know what I mean? She really dug you. Still does.”
I shook my head to clear it. Scott was talking and I drifted out of consciousness.
“Sorry, I must have dropped off a bit there.”
How long had I been out? The room was dim. Scott was talking, but I couldn’t make out what he said. I focused on him in hopes that would keep the room from spinning. His head and face were sort of twisting too.
“What were we talking about?’ I asked.
“Why you and Cindy split.”
“Oh, she wanted kids. I told you guys all this before anyway, didn’t I? I’m not ready to settle down. You . . . ” I reached for my drink. The coffee table was suddenly closer than I expected. The drink darted away from my hand.
“You sure that was why?”
“You mean that other guy? Of course that too.”
“Or was this is what you really wanted?”
He had something in his lap. At first I thought it was his drink. He stood up. Through the haze I realized it was his cock. The foreskin was so tight, the head of it seemed to be bursting through and being choked at the same time.
I fell back into my chair. It was what I wanted, but not from him. I didn’t know what to say. The truth was as always out of the question.
“Fuck no!” I pushed myself up, shoved him away and went to the bathroom. I had to hold myself up along the walls to keep from falling.
I recalled a guy, Greg, at university, and how I had to be this drunk before letting him know I was interested. I knew it was safe because Greg made the first move. We were both pissed but after that first drunken fumble, we were able to meet sober as well. But we had to be careful. Rumour had it that known homos could be denied their teaching license.
Greg was safe because I knew once I left there I probably wouldn’t have to see him again. He was going to teach in Africa or was it China. It was easier to be honest with someone under those circumstances. But that was nearly three years ago and I hadn’t had a man since then. I’d even started seeing Cindy that last year to convince myself that I really wasn’t that way after all. She was the cure for what was just a phase. Only it wasn’t a phase and I was merely pickled not cured.
“You’re pickled not cured.” I sang as I pissed. “Pickled not cured.”
I flushed the toilet and went to my room. The house felt empty as I sat on the edge of my bed. Empty again. What was so right once now seemed miles away and so wrong. To let people know I was queer would change everything. This comfortable life would cease to exist. It wouldn’t matter if I was pickled or cured. I never did hear from Greg after he went to China.
I felt a draft. The guys would be cold in the living room. Even with the heat turned up, that wind always found some way into the house. I got a couple of spare blankets and went back to the living room. Scott was gone. Donnie was still slumped in the armchair.
“Scott?” I looked in the bathroom. “Scott? You dumb fuck you passed out somewhere?”
When I got to the kitchen, the back door was open. I pushed it shut agains the wind.
“You down here?” I went into the basement and his clothes where gone. He had left.
I tossed a blanket over Donnie. Back in my bed I finished off the whiskey. I knew exactly where to put the bottle in the dark so I wouldn’t knock it over in the night.
I woke around eleven the next morning to the smell of bacon frying. My head throbbing, I made my way to the kitchen.
“Have a seat, m’son, and dig in.” Donnie put a plate of bacon and eggs on the kitchen table. “Where’s Scott?”
“Not sure. He was . . . uh . . . here when I went to bed to pass out.” I didn’t know what to tell Donnie. I pick dup a piece of the bacon with my fingers and tried to eat it. “Maybe he went to pull your car out.”
“Fuck. I forgot all about that! I should be there helping them. My coat in the basement?”
“He’d’ve called if he needed your help.” I chewed another piece of the bacon and swallowed it. “Perfect for a hangover.”
It was the end of February and I hadn’t heard from Donnie about a good drink for a couple of months. That wasn’t unusual for us, but I had that thirst myself. I missed the guys but wasn’t sure why.
I saw in the paper that Scott’s band, Pals Of Mine, was at Stoners that night for the pub’s Survived Valentine Blast. Rather than call Donnie, I decided to drop down to surprise them and see how things were.
There were bristle board hearts on the outside windows. They were drooping and the red was dripping thanks to the melting snow. Over the door was a sign that said “Lover’s Leap.” Someone had written ‘on each other’ under it.
The place was full when I arrived. I was sorry I hadn’t taken a few more belts before I left home. That always made me feel more relaxed when I went anywhere. The tinsel tree was still in the corner only now it had hearts dangling from the branches.Donnie and Trish were at a table near the front with another pretty girl. I walked over.
“How’s it going?” I asked.
“Good, Dave. How’s by you?” Trish turned and smiled at me. “We haven’t heard much of you of late.” She nodded to the empty spot at the table. “I was asking Donnie if you’d show up to join us for a good drink. You can make up for the ones I can’t have.” She patted her stomach. “Any day now.”
“Work, you know.”
“Yeah, right.” Donnie scowled at me and glanced up at Scott on stage. Scott scowled back.
“Let’s go over to the bar. I’ll buy you a double.” Donnie got up from the table. “Excuse us, ladies.”
Donnie walked me past the bar to the front door and stopped there.
“Look, Dave, why don’t you do yourself a favour just fuck right off. I know what you tried with Scott. Fuck only knows what you did to me in my sleep. We don’t want no fairies hanging ’round with us. You get that?” He poked me in the chest with a finger. “That kind of shit makes me sick.”
My face burned. I didn’t know what to say or how to say it. “What the fuck are you going on about?”
“Something happened between you and Scott. That much he’s sure of.”
“I don’t know what he thinks happened. Fuck, I don’t think there was anything.”
I didn’t know how to make my story convincing. Scott’s cock had become the tip of an iceberg, the iceberg being all the things in my life that I was trying to avoid and hoped would disappear somehow or stay beneath the surface forever. I didn’t know which way to turn without sinking myself.
“Maybe I should talk to him.” I glanced to the table at Scott’s back. He had his arm around the other girl and was nuzzling her neck.
“He’ll kill you. It took me all I could do to keep him from torching your place. Just get the fuck out of here and this’ll go no further. Got it?”
There was enough truth to what he said that I didn’t know how to let him know what wasn’t true. And now I wasn’t sure myself. Maybe something more had happened with Scott. I could remember his hand on his cock and him asking me if that’s what I wanted. I was sure I didn’t do anything.
But maybe I had.
What were my choices? To brave it out? My thirst had left me. There weren’t enough drinks in the bar. There was nothing to tell Donnie that would fix anything. Cindy was right. Who needed those assholes? If that’s what he wanted to believe, then he could go right ahead and believe it.
“I thought we were friends.” I said as he walked away.
I stood in Stoners doorway. It wasn’t as if this was the only place in town where I could have a good drink. I could feel the cool night air behind me, as I watched Jen bring a tray of draft over to their table. Scott’s laugh echoed over the din of the bar.
I glanced at the other tables. Similar groups of couples or solitary guys sat. Arms pulled hordes of glistening glasses towards them, doses of fortifying alcohol that would allow them to float from one moment to the next. That’s what I had been doing, wasn’t it? An iceberg floating from one moment to the next, hoping the surface would remain calm enough for easy drifting.
I walked over to the bar. Hec brought me a double without being asked. Donnie and Scott glared over at me but didn’t move.