Fear Walks In

Fear Walks In

some people

bring fear into a room

ideologies that I am expected

to accomodate

without knowing

<>

they prejudge me

for prejudging them

merely because of who I am

of who I appear to be to them

<>

I am an enemy on first sight

without having to say a word

or take any action

other than being there

of being unlike them

they feel unsafe

because I am not invisible

and it is my fault

<>

all my fault

for not understanding

what they haven’t told me

At a recovery meeting, when we could meet face to face, after a step had been read aloud – going from person to person around the room – a member shared on their difficulty with the hetero male normative language. When they read their section they de-gendered the language & as did some of the others who read. They implied that those of us who did not, lacked sensitivity to important gender issues. 

I gave an inner shrug – I’ve been around recovery rooms long enough that I am not unsympathetic to this but at the same time I’m in recovery to recover not to deal with linguistics or how to do the gender appropriate reading aloud of the literature. 

Referring to God as a him is off putting to some people, referring God at all is off putting to some people – if I don’t take pains to make the proper substitutions I make them feel unsafe. What can one do. Stop reading aloud? Ask for a show of hands, before reading starts, of people who feel unsafe because there are cismales in the room who don’t mind being called he? Online some people are including their pronouns as part of their names. (By the way my pronouns are it or that.)

After reading at an lgbtqia open stage an audience member spoke to me about enjoying my pieces but wondered if such sexually explicit material was appropriate because many in the community were triggered by such material. I had introduced one of pieces as being explicit but I guess I hadn’t allowed people enough time to leave the room. I’ve spent enough energy in saying my ‘partner’ & avoiding gender specific pronouns so as not to offended delicate hetero sensibilities that I’m not going spare lgbtqia by suppressing myself. I’d rather not perform than get trapped by self-censorship.

The fact is I’m not all that sensitive.

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Genius

Genius 

if you won’t trust

someone who won’t drink

with you

then you’ll never trust me

<>

if all your close friends

smoke up with you

we’ll never be close friends

<>

if you only respect 

someone who’ll do a line with you

shoot up with you

share a bowl with you

then I have no role in your life 

we’ll never bond

over self-destruction

<>

if only self-destructive writers

are real writers

then I’ll always be a fake

a wanna be

who really doesn’t warrant

your attention

<>

I’m just one of those shallow dilettantes

a hanger-on

without the guts

the stamina

the creative genius

to deal with life through

a haze of booze 

drugs

<>

you are clearly better off with me

I’ve heard variations of this more than once: ‘I’ll never trust someone who won’t drink’ or sometimes to the effect ‘someone who won’t take a drink with me.’ You can replace ‘drink’ with ‘toke’ ‘line’ or any other substance. There are men & women who will only party-and-play – if there’s no drug involved they aren’t interested.

The history of destructive addiction & creativity is deep. Considering Dostoyevsky’s alcoholism, gambling habits & writing by hand I’m amazed he got so much written 🙂 For many writer’s i.e Hemingway, Dylan Thomas their drinking is seen as an unfortunate flaw that somehow enhances their reputation. They didn’t have rehabs in those days.

I’ve been involved with workshops, readings etc where there has been a very clear division that occurs when I decline a drink of excellent triple malt scotch. It seems I say ‘no thanks’ without sufficient apology. Ditto for declining to slip out for a toke or do a line. 

Then again that division may come from the fact that I’m not super-social in most situations to being with – by super-social I mean I don’t share stories about my medical condition, children, recent escapades – I’m just there to write, maybe read on the one mike. Nothing to prove, nothing to lose. This piece is more an observation than a complaint though. I am more amused by this equating of a drink with trust. Though I’d rather be judged by my work than the quality of the scotch I decline. 

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Amends

An acquaintance in recovery, someone whom at one time I guided through step work & some life decisions, called me recently. I haven’t heard from them in three or four years. They called to make an amend for their overly intellectual stance on sexual issues.

I wasn’t sure what to say. At the time I knew them, I never felt one way or the other about their stances on anything. I certainly was never offended or hurt by anything they said. An amend is to address damage done, offences given. When we went our separate ways it was with no rancour on my part. 

Part of the process of recovery is to grow & change & to move on when one feels it is time to do so. I didn’t see any need then, or now, for them to apologize for moving on with their growth. I listened while they went though their amend & didn’t feel the need to ask for any more information than they gave me. I said I accepted the amend. We joked a little about covid & keeping safe & that was that.

It did remind of the last time a member made an amend to me earlier in my recovery & I accepted it. A month later he accused me of not even being able to accept an amend – apparently I was supposed to say how much I appreciated their humility & how hard it must have been for them to make the amend to begin with. But much like this most recent amend I had felt nothing much about the incident he was being humble about.

I also kept that to myself – why diminish what was important to them by saying it was nothing to me. I did look back on our interaction -nothing that transpired stood out for me. I listened, they talked, I made supportive comments & when directly asked gave opinions. Life goes on. There’s no need to make amends for that.

Honesty

look I’m going to honest here

I like people to think

I’m one of those guys 

drawn to the inner light of a person

someone who has that unique gift 

to sense the tender spiritual values

the hesitant sweet flicker 

of the ethereal in a soul

and once I have that flicker

my heart is the candle lit by your flame

I fall in righteous burning love

<>

but let me tell you 

that is not the case here

I dig that way you look in those jeans

the hug of denim on your calves

that brush of hairy wrist

when your each across the table

is what gets me burning

I don’t give a fig for spiritual values

for all I care you could be 

a callow insufferable arrogant prick

really

I just want to get naked with you

I want to run my tongue over you

feel you do the same to me

<>

take you 

without the weight of personality 

don’t tell me your political views

your favorite sport team is irrelevant

the last book you read 

screw that

forget all pretences 

of being intellectual thinking creatures

and be the animals 

we are ashamed to be

<>

I don’t even have to see you again

I won’t give you a phone number

don’t want yours

I just want you

head to toe

mouth to mouth 

<>

wipe that shocked look 

off your face

it only comes from 

all those years of inculcation 

that to act like barn yard animals

is somehow less that honourable

that to give in even once

to the rutting gut busting urge

is demeaning  isn’t right

who wants to be right

when it feel so right

<>

come on

I’m ready to drop my pretences

as fast as you can drop your pants

look I’m being honest with you

I know how rare that may be

when we have to commodify desire

to mask lust as art or apologize for it 

but I’m not into apologies

unless its to say I’ll be sorry

if we let this chance go by

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The Furnace of Art

I’m going through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way again – this is definitely the 2nd time with someone else. First was, alone, was way back in the mid 90’s, then a few years later with a friend in recovery. I’m going through it again with the same friend. I may have done some of the exercises that first time because I starting doing morning pages in the mid-90’s as I result of that first reading.

The next time we worked through everything. Now some 20 years later it’s time for this version of me to give it another go. I found it productive then & hope to again. In recovery meeting soften go through the same text, a step at a time, endlessly because repetition is the mother of learning. No one is too well to get better 😉

I still have my paperback of the book but opted to download a Kindle copy for reading in transit. I’ll went to Indigo & bought the workbook – that’s right I went into a book store ! & bought a book ! I did check a couple small indie stores first but they didn’t have the workbook. I discovered that there is now a ‘Creativity’ section full of books to free the mind – a step up from New Age, I suppose.

So far I’ve read through the introductions. Cameron makes no secret of her recovery & the role that it played in her ability to explore creativity. I remember when I got sober I was afraid that without booze to fuel the furnace of art that I’d never play the piano again 🙂 I thought I wrote better after a few drinks – I still have some of notebooks & can read my handwriting for the most part. I was certainly in touch with melodrama & self-pity after a few doubles.

Evanescent Extra

it didn’t last long

the look

beguiling inviting

for a brief moment

passing him on a subway platform

me getting on 

him getting off

eyes catch

not long enough to snag

our heads turn 

but the doors close

am whisked away

 

the moment memory 

has a hold of me

a face that needed a shave

sloppy quick half smile

eyes I think I remember 

moment too short to get color

dark hair dark eye browns

skin coffee 

or was that just subway lighting

or memory dimming already

 

I carried that glance 

as long as I could

I didn’t check my phone 

didn’t look for other faces

savoured that intimation

or am I reading

something into those eye

maybe he was glad

I was the only body 

between him and getting off

a half smile of thanks 

to the transit gods

that allowed for his easy exit

but no 

he did turn a bit towards me

as the doors closed 

he did follow me 

as I was ripped out of his arms

did he have arms

 I’m pretty sure he did 

but all I have is that face 

the unshaved line of his jaw

half a smile

short hair

yes I think he had short hair

or was he wearing a tight toque

 

funny how a glance

can take in so much and so little

would I recognize him 

will it be one of those faces

one can’t quite place

like extras in movies

in a subway scene

just out of view

out of focus

filling in a background

so my life 

doesn’t feel so empty 

https://wp.me/P1RtxU-2f6

March

March 5 – Hot Damn! It’s Queer Slam – Buddies and Bad Times Theatre

April
April 3 – Hot Damn! It’s Queer Slam – Season 6 finales Buddies and Bad Times Theatre

May

Richard III – Stratford Festival

June

June 25-26-27 – Capturing Fire 2020 – Wooly Mammoth Theatre -Washington D.C.
 capfireslam.org 

July

All’s Well That Ends Well – Stratford Festival

Hey! You can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee

at Ted’s Bulletin in Washington DC

at 2020’s capfireslam.org – sweet, eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

Risk Management

For me there is little danger in walking down the street, in going to a coffee shop, in going to bar other than drunken drivers. It has been decades since I was verbally harassed for being a ‘fucking faggot.’ For some friends of mine there is always danger in walking down the street – many I know feel unsafe doing such simple tasks, in particular trans men & women. Marginalized in various ways.

I know many trans people who have come into recovery, some have stayed & others have found the gendered language of recovery texts too difficult to deal with & chose to continue using. Another area of safety for me – I can read such literature & not feel the need to constantly re-contextualize the language.

These thoughts come about as the result of a transwoman I knew in the recovery rooms being murdered just before Christmas. I didn’t know her well, but her violent death resonated with me (& more with others who knew her better). When using one’s ability to judge risk factors is impaired – that was true for me at one point before I came into recovery. I was doing things not because I really wanted to but because I was drunk enough not to care what I was doing. With recovery I started to care more about myself, stopped taking risks to be ‘liked’, stopped needing to reaffirm my sexuality to myself.

I can’t speak to the murdered woman’s level of risk or why she was taking them – I do know how easy it is to get caught in those cycles even with some recovery. I doubt if I would be alive today if I had continued as I was – sometimes what kills isn’t the substance but what it allows us to do or what we allow to happen to us.

 

I am deeply sadden by the cultural context that makes walking to the store dangerous for some. I play an active role in recovery to help reduce risk factors but there are limits. Also I have resisted mentioning the victim’s name – those who know know. I’m not one to coat tail just to get hits here. Maybe in a year I’ll add the name. Until then this is a woman who will be missed, even by someone who hardly knew her.

 


Law Breaker

when was the first time I broke the law

was it when I shoplifted

drank underage

had a few tokes

dropped pants with another man

did I bring something across the border

without declaring it

did I ever fudge my income tax 

to claw back another lousy 50 bucks

have I ever wanted to push someone 

in front of an on coming train

thought crimes

 

I’m not a good criminal 

petty at best through

that petty crime mindset

is eroding the very structure of our society

each small look away 

leads to people disappearing

without being noticed

dots of faces not joined

till they lead to a pig farm

or terra cotta flower pots

why bother even then

they were junkies users trans

not good god fearing coffee drinkers

 

when was the first time I broke a heart

well never 

as far as  know

I’m too petty in love for that to happen

my wounds never bleed enough

to attract healers

those people addicted 

to the hurt in others

my hurts are too minor

scrapes more than scars

 

if I were a better criminal 

perhaps I could attract

a more substantial class of healer

but I’m not into self-harm

or petty law breaking either

shop lifting – why bother

it isn’t worth the hassle

who give a shit about someone toking up

now it’s all medical marijuana

I don’t make enough money 

to worry about fudging my taxes

have to inflate not deflate

just to be credible

self-destruct mode turned off years ago

that save-me-please energy has been banked

 

I’d rather be as petty as I am

a minor offence

not a major attraction

the delightful surprise 

under a taupe surface

a surface very few penetrate

most slide along in favour

of the more clearly wounded

and I suppose 

there’s no law against that

https://wp.me/P1RtxU-2f6

January
Thursday January 23 – Hot Damn! It’s Queer Slam – Buddies and Bad Times Theatre – featuring ‘Yes The Poet’ https://www.facebook.com/events/577900226377507/ 

Sunday –  January 26 – 1:30 – feature: The Secret Handshake Gallery, 170A Baldwin (Kensington Market) – 1:30https://www.facebook.com/events/498405247456842/

March
March 5 – Hot Damn! It’s Queer Slam – Buddies and Bad Times Theatre

April
April 3 – Hot Damn! It’s Queer Slam – Season 6 finales Buddies and Bad Times Theatre

May

Richard III – Stratford Festival

June  – Capturing Fire 2020 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

July

All’s Well That Ends Well – Stratford Festival

Hey! Or you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2020’s capfireslam.org – sweet, eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

Cape Breton Day 8

After all the walking (nearly 10k) I did Thursday I opted not to hike about as much today & took advantage of my sister’s offer for lift up to St. Theresa’s in the morning for the recovery meeting there. Seeing familiar faces after a few meetings now. One is a man who was part of the neighbourhood gang that used to bully me. 

After the meeting he took a few private moments to make an amend. I remembering the bullying I don’t remember the bullies. He told that one of things, for him, was that he was jealous of the family I had. I replied, to the affect, that it was too bad we grew up in a culture where proving our manhood was done with violence to others but we both survived. 

In the afternoon my sister, my niece & I took in the Charlotte Street Fair. Charlotte was the shopping mecca of the region at one time, now it is empty shops & tourist trinket traps. Merchants with booths, some restaurants, a row of food trucks, some entertainment. My niece told me that nearly all the merchants were flea marker regulars, not Charlotte St retailers. I’m not interested in Keltic brass crosses, rings, pendants etc handmade in who know where. It was, to be kind, underwhelming.

 

We did have a decent lunch at Luoanne’s Cafe. Decent coffee & okay menu. We did one last tour of the street. Next stop, after dropping the niece off, was the Mayflower Mall which has a great store ‘Island Fashions’ in the midst of Foot Lockers, Pendingtons, David’s Teas & other standard mall chains. This is where I spend the most at once & got a great sweat suit, a zipped hoodie & a subtle (for me) tee-shirt.

 

 

Back to the hotel to really relax, shower off my clown-white sunscreen, get my blog work done and get to bed by 10 pm for a change. Tomorrow adventures in North Sydney 🙂

Sober Sex 2

An experience that shows up frequently in recovery circles – gay or straight, male or female – is being trapped in a using relationship – using because one’s partner uses & expects them to do the same – fear of losing that ‘lover’ keeps them using out of what is essentially, to me, people pleasing. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a relationship – even casual hook ups can have the same ‘people pleasing’ context.

Saying no to booze or drugs offered by a possible hook up often means that door closes. Booze & drugs lower some inhibitions which supposedly leads to wilder & better sex. But Shakespeare says something to the effect – it enflames the desire but cools the ability. Often booze or drugs become the focus of, not the lubricant for, fun. I’ve had men decline play with me because I didn’t have poppers.

When I first got sober declining social offers of a drink, or a toke, wasn’t easy – I wanted to fit in, to be accepted – saying ‘no’ might hurt someone’s feelings – looking back, my sense of self-acceptance was based on conforming. The example of guys in recovery helped me get over some of that & over time it was easier.

The first few times I had sex sober were interesting. I was also coming out & being held by another man was nearly a spiritual experience. (It still is). Being held by another man who can’t wait to get his next drink, toke, line isn’t all that satisfying. I wanted sex partners not drinking partners. When the guy on Disability After Dark said he’d never had sex sober I totally identified with him. Substances can lower our inhibitions but also impair the ability to give consent & also kicks the shit out of the immune system.

Today I lead an active sex life. Sober. Dick is my drug of choice.

heart of hearing

one from the hard

my hard was in my throat

the hard of darkness

a hard attack

I left my hard in San Francisco

hard of the dark continent

open hard surgery

I hard NY

talking hard to hard

places in the hard

don’t keep breaking my hard

hard harded hanna

the hard of the hard of the country

hard healthy

change of hard

hards of fire

open your hard

wearing my hard on my sleeve

deep in my hard

the hard foundation

I gave you my hard

when hards collide

my secret hard

the hard of the matter

like a stake through the hard

a little piece of my hard

tore the hard right of his chest

gotta hide my hard away

take it to hard

the bleeding hard

my hard skipped a beat

queen of hards was baking some tarts

hard on a platter

you gotta have hard

falling hard first in love

cross my hard

hard in my hand

the hard is a lonely hunter

https://wp.me/P1RtxU-2f6

every Tuesday 2019

July

Stratford Festival – Nathan The Wise

August 2-13: getting back to my roots in Cape Breton
Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee on my trip to Cape Breton – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet 

September

Shaw Festival – Sex (Mae West)

Stratford Festival – Little Shop Of Horrors

June  – Capturing Fire 2020 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

Hey! Or you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2020’s capfireslam.org – sweet, eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

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Sober Sex 1

 

On a recent Disability After Dark one of the men Andrew interviews admits that he has never had sex sober. That was the story of my sex life until I got into recovery. I needed more than a few drinks in me to engage in sex with men (or, in one case a woman). The guys I drank with in Cape Breton were ‘straight’ & after drinks, many drinks things could happen. Booze was ‘excuse juice.’

 

 

I can’t speak to their story but I know for me the fear of being out was enough to keep me in – trapped in crushing crushes on some of the guys I drank with, most of whom had girlfriends, wives. None of them talked about being bi or gay. But I wasn’t so deep in my closet that they didn’t know of my interest.

Those opportunities were rare. I knew things were going to happen when one of them would show up with a case of beer or bottle of scotch. There was no real affection involved beyond ‘that feels great.’ I figured that was what sex was supposed to be. Get drunk and mess around.

Being a drunk was part of the downward spiral of being queer, a compulsive, liar, thief, depressed, misunderstood etc. At the time I’d read a psychology book that outlined various mental issues – homosexuality was then classified as a psychosis, a disease. It also talked about alcohol as a depressive drug – I knew the book was wrong on both counts as booze was the only thing that made me happy – yet I was suicidal by the time I left Cape Breton.

When I arrived in Toronto in the late 70’s getting sober was not part of the plan, but it was one of things that happened. Here I was a sober kid in the boozy candy shop of gay discos. Sex without booze was a terrifying concept. How would I build up the nerve to even approach someone? 

Luckily for me there was a solid gay/lesbian presence in recovery so I had examples of that possibility but even they complained of how hard it was to find a good man. I saw the connection between my depression & alcohol. A connection that wasn’t made in the Disability After Dark conversation. 

Andrew, if you read this, think about doing an episode dealing with addictions & disability.

Male – White – 27

Charge – Public Urination

our plan was to have a last draft

but when one of my buds made a joke

about the country-western song just ending

I started to cover my laugh 

with the hand

that was bringing the glass 

to my eager lips

the jerking 

jolt flung the sweet amber suds

into a perfect arc over my shoulder

the sweat slippery glass darted

from my loose grip

 

Oh for a photo of that glorious 

go-for-the-gold momentum

beer escaping with glass chasing after it

me turning in my seat

eyes agog   mouth agape 

stunned amazement 

at 

the 

slow 

motion 

ballet

I didn’t realized how much energy 

I had in my arm 

to lift with such ballistic force 

that the joke was so freaking funny

to give an extra dash of dynamic energy

 

the beer flew    spread    lost perfection 

splattered wetly on the table behind us 

splashed on food    faces

there was a dismayed shriek

anger   fucking assholes

the glass came tumbling after

hitting someone on the shoulder

bouncing  smashing on the table 

 

I was no longer laughing

no one was laughing

 

my chair tipped as I stood

it fell in the path of 

the bearded biker guy whose girlfriend

got the beer wave in her food

his furious fists punched empty air 

as he stumbled over the chair

 

next thing I knew 

my buds and I were outside

in a bitter ten-below-zero wind

I was pissing a steaming amber arc

on a car door handle

while one of my buds was up chucking

a police cruiser pulled over

I turned to get out of the way

slipped in vomit

spun in an imperfect circle 

tumbled ass-over-tea-kettle

landed on my back

in a snow bank under a street lamp

fly down   limp dick chillin’

boys in blue hauled me to my feet

 

and that’s one of the many many reasons 

I now chose not to drink

https://wp.me/P1RtxU-2f6

every Tuesday 2019

July

Stratford Festival – Nathan The Wise

August 2-13: getting back to my roots in Cape Breton
Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee on my trip to Cape Breton – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet 

September

Shaw Festival – Sex (Mae West)

Stratford Festival – Little Shop Of Horrors

June  – Capturing Fire 2020 – Washington D.C.  capfireslam.org 

Hey! Or you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2020’s capfireslam.org – sweet, eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

Like my pictures? I post lots on Tumblr

https://www.tumblr.com/blog/topoet

 

Memory Squeeze

Memory Squeeze

a light sting

skin broken

some blood

a minor hurt

it will heal fast

a couple of showers

there’ll be no sign

no scab

not even a scar

 

a minor memory

that conjures a bigger memory

of the years

years ago

in another century

another country

where I was a cutter

 

a time when I made myself bleed

more than this

there was no need to squeeze

the blood flowed easily

I’m over that now

or so I thought 

buried the memory

deep enough 

yet when I pop a pimple

it comes back

 

then I had a fearful despair 

of needing the proof of being ordinary

I no longer feel that need

but

when I squeeze

I’m forcing that memory out again

into my day today

 

I stop 

wash my hands

wondering 

why am I plucking 

at that thread again

Part of my self-abuse history involves being a cutter – that is someone who deliberately cuts themselves in one way or the other. Burners are people who, you guessed it, deliberately burn themselves – sometimes with cigarettes. I didn’t recognize or label my behaviour as such at the time, so I didn’t seek any sort of help for it either. Good things I didn’t, as I’ve said before, if I got the help need then the help available would have killed me.

LGBTQ teens at that time could be legally institutionalized by their parents – once there they were chemically castrated or given shock-treatment  or lobotomized. Sometimes I forget what I survived without really knowing the danger I was in – danger I only found out when I was well out of that danger. There wasn’t even conversion ‘therapy’ unless one counts the constant fear of been beaten up for smiling at the wrong time as conversion therapy.

The cutting started before I became a drunk and continued for awhile when I sobered up. It wasn’t a regular thing but it was often enough to be considered a thing.

 

I sometimes share about it in recovery but rarely talk about it otherwise. I’ve written another piece about it long ago. The memory of that behaviour can resurface now if I find myself worrying the occasional pimple on my arm or if I scratch an itch too much. As the poems ends I check my action to make sure its just an itch & not some stress I’m acting out on. Usually it’s a thoughtless nervous action that alerts me to the fact that I am nervous. 


Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee on my trip to Cape Breton – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet 

Like my pictures? I post lots on Tumblr

https://www.tumblr.com/blog/topoet

Hair

Hair

she was a stranger

who felt no compunction 

in reaching out to touch my hair

I must have been in my mid-twenties

at the time

my hair was freshly washed

shoulder length

‘it’s like baby hair,’ she said

I was a natural blond

even blonder 

after a month of summer sun

‘I would kill to have like yours’

she smiled 

‘thanks’ I replied

not adding

that I hate my hair

I hate it being so smooth

hate being asked

are you a boy or are you girl

being called fruit

by guys because of my hair

not that I was mr masculine

to begin with

 

shortly after that

I dyed my hair for the first time

I wanted a change

I bought a home kit

to make it permanent jet black

the look was striking

my mother said

‘what were you thinking’

I went to work

raised a few eye brows 

but no comments

the black faded after the first wash

so much for permanent

in a week it was ash

in three weeks

back to baby fine blond

 

my hair

was like my sexuality

something I couldn’t disguise

no matter what women

I flirted with

what I tried to call it

what I drank to blot it out

it would always be

I had to live with the envy

some felt about that hair

about something I was powerless over

something I hadn’t constructed

something I learned to live with

 

I remember my first perm

a head of tight blond curls

they bounced in the light

it was my face

but a different me

the stylist conferred with a colourist

both agreed

that my hair was too fine 

to hold colour for long

that it would be a shame

to tamper with it anyway

 

the permanent curls

would flatten within a week

I wasn’t willing 

to go to bed with hairpins in

to look like my mother

so I’d get that perm 

every month or so

I loved my hair for the first week

then a week of doing what I could

to keep the curl in

it was too much work

too much time checking in mirrors

 

I had a friend who was

what he referred to as 

a hair burner

he touched my freshly washed

uncurled hair one day

‘you have baby hair.

I have clients

who would kill to have hair like that.’

I said

‘I hate my hair.

it’s too much work.’

he said

‘do you trust me?’

 

I let him do what he wanted

it took a couple of hours

that first time

to cut it short short short

then incise it with electric razor

patterns into the hair

sometimes a maze

other times circle or triangles 

always different 

 

then he died

murdered by HIV meds

 

I shaved my head for his funeral

no one would ever touch my hair

again

This piece was directly inspired by reading posts, tweets, cultural analysis of race & hair. Black women, in particular, frequently have co-workers, friends of friends & complete strangers of all races, walk up to them to touch their hair, often without asking. It is seen as a lack of boundary respect.

This is something that happened to me more than once. Perhaps as a man it hasn’t had the same response from me. There is a cultural difference between a woman touching a strange man casually – than a man touching a woman’s hair casually. A woman’s touch isn’t threatening whereas a man’s is. Recently someone, without asking, stroked my fresh shaven head and said ‘smooth.’

Anyway this piece isn’t about sexual or racial politics but about my hair. This hair touching did happen often when I was a child, less often as a teen but until I actually started shaving my head it continued. The dialogue is actual, the hating of my hair is an exaggeration. I loved the colour but hated that it was baby fine. It was shiny but shapeless. I was hounded in high school by teachers to get my hair cut when it was getting to length I liked. Brian Jones-ish. 

I did dye my hair jet black & as the piece says, it washed out within a week, I never tried to dye it again. There was no altering it just ways of cutting it. As a big I usually had a brush cut, hight school was mod mop top; I never went for scraggly hippie long though. I was grappling with my sexuality & what masculinity meant. Though caring at all about my hair was then seen as being a more feminine attribute.

 

When I moved to Toronto one of the first things I started was getting my hair permed. I might photos of that somewhere. I would go to House of Lords to get that done. It was there the colourist said my hair would never hold colour. It would also not hold curls, unless I did extra work myself. 

The hair burner was a friend in recovery. Ed – he was also from my hometown, Sydney, Cape Breton; though we never knew each other when we were living there. I often wondered what might have happened had we met way back when. As the piece says he cut my hair super short then ‘etched’ patterns into it with an electric razor. I loved it. Our haircutting sessions were slow, mediative talks for many years, in which we became spiritually connected.

He was an early HIV diagnosis & thus one of the guinea pigs as science figured out dosages. The meds killed him, not HIV. ‘So sorry.’ Before he passed I did try another hair-burner friend in recovery but he didn’t have the patience for the cut that Ed gave me. For Ed’s funeral I shaved my head for the first time. I knew that in some religions mourners would wail, tear their clothes, even scar themselves in a display of grief. This was/is my display.

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