Paul Monette mentions several times throughout the winding coming-out narrative of Becoming a Man how he has to work hard not to let the current Paul, the one writing the story get too disgusted at the closeted Paul he used to be. This removes some of my readerly and gay sensibility of wanting to yell, 'what the hell, dude. It doesn't have to be this hard.' That said, it is hard. It was hard for me in the nineties, it was sure to have been even harder in the seventies. I guess I give it today's worldview (mine) and it all seems ridiculous to be so bent on staying sexless. In the context of 1972, just slightly post Stonewall (and though he was living 70 miles from the city, it seems to have been little more than a blip on his radar of self-hatred), even his therapist seems confused that his goal is to be straight. And he tries!
This book was written in 1992, just a few years before Monette died at age 49 or 50, young. Written as a startled response to the warm, fuzzy response his book Borrowed Time received. Borrowed Time was a portrait of his relationship with Roger Horwitz and Roger's death from AIDS. It was loving, accessible story of two men in love that made the loving look easy. Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story was Monette's angry response that, sorry, no. Gay love is not that easy.
It's hard not to see myself in all coming out stories, as I'm sure many gays do. My story ran parallel to his in many ways. But where he kept celibate and then dated women to try to cure himself, mine was all for show. In the coming-out formulary, his self-hatred equals my self-preservation. He truly wanted to change; I simply didn't want to die. This has mostly to do with the time. Though my coming out pre-dated contemporary gays in the spotlight (except maybe for Elton John and a few other elders, and the bi-wonder of my idol David Bowie), I knew it wasn't something wrong with me. I just figured there was no one around like me (except the queer black kid, the double excuse for punching bag in our white, straight suburban dream), that I'd meet them in another life, find my own "city of orgies, walks and joys" like my kind had been doing for ages (or since the advent of capitalism, thank you John D'Emilio). At some point my attraction to women just evolved into a quiet acceptance of, 'oh, this is something I'll worry about once I leave this small town.' (Though I did eventually end up getting lucky in high school.) I dated boys and enjoyed it, even though my heart was never in it; I never once thought it might go somewhere.
I wonder what the equivalent is now.
While I can't really cozy up to the fact that he didn't get laid regularly until he was approaching thirty, I can understand the trend of running from people he actually liked. "I told myself to go with it, not to be afraid. I was beginning to worry that I didn't know how to have sex with someone I liked" (271). My history is littered with girls I liked and ran from. The longest relationships were always with the safe ones, the ones where I knew where I stood emotionally and so had nothing to lose. The ones I actually loved, well, I never let those relationships go anywhere. But this has more to do with being stupid than gay.
At least I got that figured out soon enough to do the right thing by C, who is definitely not safe, and whom I be a wreck by if I ever lost.
Anyway, I'm starting to use this space as more of a reading diary than anything, which I suppose is okay. An homage to lines I love. If you know me, you know that I may interrupt your speaking to let you know that what you just said would make a good line, that you should probably write it down. Unless, of course, you aren't a writer. Then I'll steal your shit, rest assured.
And I think of my father when I read this, he who would love his sexless daughter:
The project of our enemies is to keep us from falling in love. It has always been thus, the history writ by straight boys who render us invisible, as if we were never there. Left and right, fascists and communists, they loathe us in equal measure. Then the Holy Fathers of every religion, their sick equation of pleasure and sin. If you isolate us long enough and keep us ignorant of each other, the solitary confinement will extinguish any hope we have of finding our other half. (25)
I can't believe it myself, how fresh the wounds of the deep past sting, how sharp the dry-eyed tears are even at this distance. The very act of remembering begins to resemble a phobic state--feeding on every missed chance, stuck forever in the place without doors. What's crazy about it is, I forget that I ever got out. For an hour or a day the pain wins. It throws a veil of amnesia over my real life... My white-knuckled grip on happiness, hoarded against the gloating of my enemies, against the genocide by indifference that has buried alive a generation of my brothers. (172)
Throughout, Paul Monette's language is beautiful. This is the first I've read of him, and won't be the last. It seems everywhere I've gone with this book in the past few days someone has stopped me to say, I loved that book.
If we learned to drive as badly as we learn to make love, the roads would be nothing but wrecks. (175)
...I had no choice but to keep on looking in the wrong places for the thing I'd never even seen: two men in love and laughing. For that was the image in my head, though I'd never read it in any book or seen it in any movie. I'd fashioned it out of bits of dreams and the hurt that went with pining after straight men. Everything told me it couldn't exist, especially the media code of invisibility, where queers were spoken of only in the context of molesting Boy Scouts. (178)
No longer invisible, we still have a long way to go. Even Weeds, a show I love, likes to kill their queers. (We're currently watching Season 5.)
Waiting numbly for a train in a place where there are no tracks. (179)
And just getting into bed with somebody wasn't the magic solution, because people could hide their terrors in pure technique--depersonalizing so completely the body embraced so they felt nothing at all. (253)
From his journals in 1972 when he was sleeping with men and women, still figuring out the sway of his orientation:
I feel fairly calm and together until I have to explain myself at all to anyone... Sex is more regular with Ellen. That is, I'm not afraid I can't do it anymore, but I can't stand the intimacy of it, can't face being the man in the situation. And yet I think of Bruce on Saturday [a trick] and get pissed thinking how irrelevant I was/am in the passive role. I want to be the man who has me. (264)