“People whom fate and their sin-mistakes have placed in a certain position, however false that position may be, form a view of life in general which makes their position seem good and admissible. . . . This surprises us when the persons concerned are thieves bragging about their dexterity, prostitutes vaunting their depravity, or murders boasting of their cruelty. But it surprises us only because the circle, the atmosphere, in which these people live, is limited, and chiefly because we are outside it. Can we not observe the same phenomenon when the rich boast of their wealth-robbery, when commanders of armies pride themselves on their victories-murder, and when those in high places vaunt their power-violence? That we do not see the perversion in the views of life held by these people, is only because the circle formed by them is larger and we ourselves belong to it.” (Resurrection, Leo Tolstoy, trans. Louise Maude)

New Readers:

Please start reading with my first post "A Cup of Coffee". Originally posted on March 19, the archival date changed when I made corrections on May 13, which is the date under which you can find it now.

I'll learn to manage this all more smoothly someday, but at present I have at most only an hour online each day (that thanks to the San Francisco Public Library system, without which I would be lost).

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Women

When I left the hotel this morning, I was chuckling to myself over the exchange I had heard through my window about half an hour before. A man had been bellowing (definitely bellowing -- not hollering or yelling but bellowing) about something the exact nature of which I could not make out. The voice of the woman who responded to him was, however, clear and concise: “Shut the fuck up!” she called out.

The bellower (the bellows?) responded in a much subdued rumble, his words still indistinguishable.

“Just stop smoking crack and get a job!” the woman commanded at the top of her voice.

Mine was not the only laughter that bounced around the air well onto which my window opens.

And tonight, shortly after I got home, an hour or so ago, she repeated her advice: “Just shut the fuck up! Stop smoking crack, and get a job!”

This time she was addressing herself to another woman, one who had been braying with a kind of shouted whine, complaining to (and no doubt about) a man.

I could not make out the whiner’s answer, but the woman answered her with real anger this time: “Then tonight I’m gonna have to come after you myself, and I will mess up your face.”


My friend MP, whose poetry I have mentioned before, sent me an email the other day in which he quoted John Panzer, who serves on Berkeley's Homeless Commission, as a formerly homeless recovering addict, living with HIV, and who remarked that “Homelessness is brutal on woman, it makes homelessness for men, look like a life of Donald Trump.

I have been struck repeatedly during my sojourn here in the TL by the characters of the women I see (and hear) on the street. Admittedly my contact with them has consisted of no more than listening attentively and looking closely and purposefully at them in quick glances, so as not to look so long that an opening for conversation is realized. I notice too how the other men look at them, and especially how they look after them, turning around so as to be able to watch the fluid motion of their bodies moving on down the block. The power of women is rarely displayed so clearly as it is on these streets, and I’d wager that the degree of power some these women command is itself rare in most of the rest of our world.


Early one afternoon, shortly after I first arrived in the TL, I was walking up Leavenworth toward my hotel. Two young black women were approaching me. I could not make out what they were saying, but they were saying it with an exaggerated haughtiness, pretending to speak only to each other but doing so loudly so that the people they were passing could hear them. Behind them, a big, powerful looking black man hurried. As he caught up to them, I heard him say, “Don’t you ever disrespect her that way.” The young women were stopped dead in their tracks by the strength and authority of his voice.

“She’s Tata Nay-Nay, and she’s been out here longer than anybody. She’s been here seventeen years.”

Chastened, the young women continued on quickly and quietly, turning the corner onto Turk and disappearing swiftly.

As I passed the man, he was walking slowly at the side of a diminutive woman, speaking to her softly and solicitously.

I wanted to know who she was, what place she had in the society of these streets, and what she did to earn and keep that place.


Weeks later, I was walking in the other direction, down Leavenworth, on my way to the MUNI station.

The block between Turk and Golden Gate is often clotted with people milling around outside the corner store that sells crack pipes. You have to weave your way through them slowly. There are always two or three who, with backs to you, step across your path, apparently looking for or calling to someone on the other side of the street half a block away. I say “apparently” because I have always sensed that their purpose is to keep me from moving quickly toward whoever is ahead of me, giving those people time to complete or to cut short whatever deal they are doing, or at least time to check me out. The fact that this cutting-off of my progress happens less frequently now that I am a familiar face on these streets is evidence, I believe, that I am right about what they are doing.

On that day, I saw a black woman, probably in her late thirties, who was surrounded by a half-dozen black men. I heard her giving instructions to one of them to go to a certain place and to say such and such to a certain person. Another scurried beside her and offered in a pleading tone to do something for her, but him she reprimanded. I stopped for the traffic light at the corner, and she walked up to me, asking my name. I told her, and she began telling me that I looked good and asking vague questions. Her manner and her comments were flirtatious. I knew that she was simply checking me out, ascertaining whether I was undercover, perhaps. Yet despite knowing what she was really up to, I felt the power of her flirtation and found myself briefly fantasizing about having sex with her. Immediately I also felt the presence of those half-dozen men, who were now circling both her and me. I sensed that they were watching to see that I did not respond to her temptations and at the same time admiring the way in which she was working me for the information she wanted.


And then there was the day I stepped out of the front gate of my hotel and overheard one big black woman saying to another, “All my husband ever want to do is stick that big black dick of his in my tight little asshole.”

It was very clear that she was having none of it, and that he had no say in the matter.


These are some of the types of powerful women I have seen, but there is another type I see just as frequently, if not more so. These I think of as the lost girls.

It is hard to determine their age, for I suspect that their weathered skin, bad teeth, unkempt hair, and emaciated figures make them seem years older than they probably are. They are most often dressed in clothes that are girlish, small, and in disarray. They are often walking hurriedly alongside a man, seemingly struggling to keep up, and talking rapidly. Sometimes the man is silent, as if their chatter meant no more to him than the chirping of birds in the trees along the way. Sometimes the man will explode, yelling at the woman as she scurries along behind him apologizing and trying to explain herself.

When they are alone, they more often stumble and sway down the sidewalk, talking aimlessly to the air, or to whatever dreams or demons surround them. There is always something childlike in their manner, helplessness being their survival strategy. They want to make a man feel that he is much stronger than they and that they need his support and protection. It is clear that any man who takes them under his wing will get whatever he might want from them.


When I lived in one of the rooms at the front of the hotel for a couple of months last winter, I would hear voices from the street below all through the night. I was seldom able to see the speakers or to make out their words, but I heard their tone. I heard whores calling out to passersby or, later, telling their pimps what they had done and how much they got. In the small hours of the morning they might ask him to let them rest or even call it a night.

I remember in particular that a couple nights a week would see a very large black man standing in the shadow of a doorway all night. His van was parked close to where he stood, and I was eventually able to piece together the fact that he drove in from Antioch with a couple of women in his van and stood there while they worked the street. I wondered whether they did their tricks in the van or whether it was reserved as a place for them to rest and clean up between tricks. Sometimes I would hear the unmistakable noises of people having sex, which must have come from parking lots or alleys nearby. And from time to time I would hear a woman screaming or crying or yelling for someone, and I wondered what kinds of violence were taking place in the blocks around me, under cover of darkness, uninterrupted.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Talkin' 'Bout My (Gay) Generation, Part 2

My parents knew what a man was and what a woman was, but we no longer know.

We hailed “The Sexual Revolution” as our liberation from Puritanism and Victorianism. We thought that our lives and our identities were opening up, becoming free, as we expressed our sexual desires. That much may have been true, but we have also ended up with a sadly minimal vision of manhood, a cartoon: Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Markey Mark in his briefs over Times Square. It seems that the only thing we are sure of about men is that a man is muscular and has a penis.

Gay men have taken this new definition of manhood to an extreme. Look at any gathering of gay men, and you will see that a large percentage have bodies that are almost identical: large pectorals, large lats, and large upper arms, narrow waists, big glutes, thighs, and calves. They to show the world that they are men not by demonstrating their manliness in their behavior (what would that be?) but by exaggerating their physical shape.

They also provide living proof of one of Oscar Wilde’s witticisms: “Life imitates Art.” In the 1950s and 1960s, Tom of Finland made drawings of men with exaggerated musculature and huge penises, inspired, he said, by the German troops who had occupied his country during World War Two. Now hundreds of thousands of living men have exercised for hundreds of hours and injected steroids and human growth hormone, playing havoc with their nervous, skeletal, and muscular systems, to look just Tom of Finland’s drawings.

Women, I think, are far ahead of men in developing a new definition of themselves, because of the Feminist Movement. Women organized themselves and talked, both in consciousness-raising groups and informally, about what a woman could and should be able to do. Men have not done this work. Perhaps because the old order enthroned men in the seat of all power, men have had trouble bringing themselves to admit that it is as dead as any other ancien regime. The new definition of manhood will necessarily be one in which men have less power than they once did.

The family has also ceased to conform to the old definitions. The very existence of political organizations attempting to “defend” the family means that it no longer exists in the form they champion. In my neighborhood, I hear a whole new language dealing with the most basic elements that make up a family. Instead of hearing “husband” or “wife,” or even “girl/boyfriend”, “spouse”, or “partner”, I hear “BabyMama” and “BabyDaddy.”

I am reminded of a Sociological study of a west African tribe which I read in college. The language spoken by that tribe had different words for the brother of one’s father and the brother of one’s mother and different words for the sister of each parent as well. The point was that the siblings of each parent had different responsibilities in the care and upbringing of the child. Thus “my MotherBrother” played a different role in the speakers life than that of “my FatherBrother.” The roles of “BabyDaddy” and “BabyMama” will help form the new order.

In recent years I have noticed something else going on in language among people of all strata of society: people are giving their children names that they have made up. When I was young, some children were named after particular relatives or had “family names” but even the others had names that were traditional and more or less familiar. (In my day I was surrounded by Bobs, Toms, and Davids, to name a few.) The common names gradually became more exotic (Sebastian and Alexandra) but were not wholly unfamiliar. There seemed to be a period of revival for old-fashioned names such as Henry, Max, and Gus. Yet now I have heard of a “Shaden”, a name his father is proud to have made up, and have met a “Unique”. What strikes me in the invention of these new names is the deliberate rejection of the past, as if the children being born now should be free of any history, the inheritors of nothing, without ancestors.

Do these new names prefigure a coming world so different from ours that nothing from the past will be useful any more? How high must the oceans rise? How deep must the coming Ice Age be?


We believed in another liberation at the time of “The Sexual Revolution.” We believed that we should not stick “labels” on one another and resented being “labeled” in various ways. Of course all we could end up doing was to reject the label we had been given and replace it with a new one. “Negro“ became “colored” became “black” became “African-American” became “nigger.” We didn’t like “queer” or “homosexual”, so we called ourselves “gay.”

My personal aversion to the latter term means, of course, nothing. I do not get to make up my own word for who I am. None of us does. We do not control our language: it controls us. We live in our language. We are born into it. When you were a kid, you and a friend might have made up a secret language, but it was not really a language. It was at best a secret code, but it was not a language.

So I have no choice but to call myself “gay”. To do otherwise would either mislead my interlocutor or leave her wondering what point I was making by adopting some unusual term. If I call myself “queer”, I make a radical political statement. If I call myself “homosexual,” people might think me sarcastic, ironic, self-loathing, or painfully arch.

I live now among a population of men who call themselves and are, without a doubt, “straight”. But in as much as they have also been incarcerated, they are not unfamiliar with, nor entirely averse to, having sex with other men. I find myself comfortable among them.

I remember MRM once saying that he thought of himself “as a straight guy who likes to suck dick”, and while I would not go so far myself, I am sympathetic with his meaning.

My ambivalence about “the gay community” goes back almost to the day I came out. I have always felt that the political organizations and the other gay institutions existed mainly to pay the salaries of their Executive Directors and staff. The only political goal that made any sense to me was the abolition of anti-sodomy laws. If we could not be convicted of a felony for the way we led our lives, then we could not be denied any of the rights of other citizens. In this country, second-class citizenship can be assigned only to felons. My opinion has not changed. No less an authority than Antonin Scalia whined in his dissenting opinion in the case Lawrence v. Texas that the decriminalization of homosexual behavior means that gay marriage must be allowed.

But gay community politicos do not seem to have noticed that their goals have been met. One must then wonder whether there is some other agenda operating. From what I read and hear and see, I believe there is. The true, underlying goal of The Gays seems to be an adolescent one: they just want everyone to like them. When they complain about hate and homophobia, they sound like whining school-children. Tell me, are you any more dead if your murderer shouted “fag” as she killed you? And campaigns against bullying? You want to stop children from being cruel to one another? Mean and cruel and selfish by nature is what children always have been and always will be.

Furthermore, the dual goals of ‘Gays in the Military” and ‘Gay Marriage” are alien to me. When I went to Berkeley, we protested vigorously against the military. We burned draft cards, marched, and shut down the university to keep ourselves out of the military. And not even my straight friends want to participate in a patriarchal institution based on the exploitation of women, i.e. get married.

The gay community, or the gay movement, has become hopelessly bourgeois. Getting major brands to run ads targeting gay consumers counts to them as progress. Some organizations, for example the Human Rights Campaign, have consciously focused on becoming a brand, their equal-sign logo available on all kinds of merchandise. And thus a movement has itself become a label.


Talk about not fitting in. While walking home a few minutes ago, I crossed the U.N. Plaza and as I passed behind the splashing fountain found my conscious mind once again completely occupied in a search for words to describe the thick, sweet, repellant odor of human excrement. I struggle to find the words every time I walk into that wall of odor just behind the fountain. I come up with countless stabs in the general direction, but like the three adjectives above, none of them alone or in combination comes close to a description that is accurate and capable of conveying both the sensory effect that the odor has in one’s nose, mouth, and gut or the moral and emotional effect it has, with its burden of shame and hopelessness and loss.

I passed through the odor and, continuing on my way up Leavenworth Street, I became aware that I was humming the notes of a familiar tune. As I became conscious of this on-going activity, I began to pronounce the words that went with the notes. Finally, I heard the words that I was singing and shook my head and laughed. I was walking through the Tenderloin singing Rodgers and Hammerstein. Not just any Rodgers and Hammerstein (some of which is serious enough to fit the world through which I walked) mind you: I was singing a song from “The Sound of Music”. Which one? “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” for Christ’s sake! How white -- how gay -- can one guy be?

Walking through the city’s rougher streets, I am always aware that the people I pass, the dealers, the whores, the junkies, and the johns, observe me closely. Some greet me with firm and direct voices, asking various versions of “How do you do?” or offering a comment along the lines of “Nice evening, isn’t it?” More often than not, they end with “Sir.”

These, I can tell, have concluded that I am a cop. My favorite such incident occurred one night last year, as I walked along Mission Street from 17th Street to 16th Street some time between 4:00 and 4:30 AM. I saw two scantily clad young women approach and noticed that they were looking me over. As they passed, one of them said, “Good Morning, Officer.” I smiled back and said, “Good morning.“ I could hear them giggling as their voices faded behind me.

I am white. My body and my clothes are clean. I am clean shaven, my hair cropped short. My clothes are those of the middle and upper-middle class. (Levi’s or chinos, shirt with button down collar, an undershirt, and a belt.) I am clearly not a college kid looking for drugs to fuel a gaudy revel, nor a suburban commuter getting his weekend supply of escape from the doldrums of lawns dividing single-family houses and winding streets and parking lots, big parking lots, around every public accommodation, whether church or shopping center or school or theater. I am old enough to have been defeated by life, to have slipped slowly into the gutters along which the forgotten men and women wash down to this neighborhood, but I have clear eyes, clear skin, a well-muscled physique, and walk with a sure step. I have clean finger nails.

The only other people who look like me around here are either undercover cops or social workers, and most of the latter wear lanyards with their photo I.D.s in little squares of clear plastic bouncing against their chests as they walk.


I mentioned in one of my early postings that Saturn is retrograde. Today my ruler, Neptune, also began retracing his steps in the heavens. The two are a complementary pair: Saturn, the power that comes from boundaries and limitation, and Neptune, the power that comes from unification with the universal.

Pisceans don’t recognize boundaries and separation. We understand them intellectually. We understand them in terms of etiquette. We are sensitive to what is proper or improper behavior. But we do not have any sensation of being separate from others. It is as if instead of having empathy, we were empathy. Remember Bill Clinton saying “I feel your pain?” It would never occur to us to think of the pain as being yours as opposed to mine.. For us the pain is as palpable as it is for you.

Yet thanks to an entire industry of self-help, spawned by 12-Step programs and the Dale Carnegies and Wayne Dyers of the world, I know the importance of “personal boundaries”. What that phrase means, I believe, is that we should eschew attempts to control other individuals and insist that others not attempt to control us. I find this to be common sense. For one thing, trying to control another person, whether by bullying or by subtle manipulation, is rude: it shows a lack of respect for the other person. And for another thing, because she or he usually feels the attempt at control as insulting, the controlling behavior is self-defeating. Insults rarely inspire cooperation or compliance. The talk about boundaries that is prevalent nowadays concerns this kind of practical analysis of and normative prescription for social behavior.

However the idea that some kind of existential separations between people hold us apart from one another is far from the reality I perceive through my senses or feel emotionally in my heart. “Personal boundaries” are conventional and conceptual divisions, not part of the real world in which I live -- and that‘s real as in real estate. Looking down from an airplane at the northern tier of the United States, I do not see lines of various colors -- some solid, some dotted, some bold, some thin) separating Wisconsin from Michigan or Montana from Idaho -- or any of them from Canada. The ground does not stop and then begin again at each border.

Nor does anything stop at the ends of my fingertips and give way to something else. I am not separate from anything in the universe. Not only is this the way I actually sense the world, the way I feel my being in it, but it also seems undeniably obvious. If I were separate from the rest of the material world, how could the matter that makes up the plants and animals I eat keep me alive and become my flesh? If I were separate from you, how could the touch of your hand leave me crying?


This blindness to boundaries, as metaphysically valid as it may be, has also shaped much of my life in ways not always for the best. In me identification with others has repeatedly extended to a failure to identify myself at all. I have been through six -- here we go with the inaccuracy of words in our current social milieu -- “marriages”. They were “marriages” in quotation marks because marriage was not a legal option. But they were understood by all involved, and by friends and family, to be equivalent to other marriages. In every case, within a few months of getting involved with someone, I found myself living his life.

Each of these men had a strong and interesting character, a sharp intellect, an appreciation of beauty and purpose in art and nature, and a well developed spiritual understanding. I never set out to find a partner or to get married, but I enjoyed being with each of them so much that I was soon spending all my time with them. (As a child and as a teen-ager I similarly always had one very close male friend -- my best friend -- who was virtually the only person I would play with.) I was fascinated and moved by seeing how these men lived and by hearing their thoughts. I felt deeply honored to be included by each of them in what amounted to an intimate conversation, a conversation encompassing the totality of his and my daily experiences, ideas, and emotions.

I thought that I knew how to do the relationship thing right. Other gay guys were always sad or angry or hurt because they couldn’t find their one true love. Their relationships seldom endured for a year, let alone three or four. My first lasted seven years, the second ten, the third four, the fourth one, the fifth nine, and the sixth two.

But in each case, long before the marriage ended, I knew that it had died. I would eventually find myself feeling trapped in this other another man’s life. I heard none of my favorite songs, only his (or his operas, symphonies, concerti, etc.). Our friends were generally people who had been his friends or people we had met together. Only one ever attended church with me, and that was not for long. And as for the one who did himself attend church regularly, I never went with him. I spent my life tagging along with other men who were leading their own lives regardless of me. They had every right to do so and to expect me to be leading my own life too, but that is what I failed to do.

I am now sixty and for the first time since I “came out”, I have lived for more than a year as a single man. It has taken me this long to begin making decisions for myself alone.

Is it any wonder that I feel as though I am living my life backwards?


I have said that in the midst of a social upheaval such as the one we are living through, it is impossible to know what new order is being born. We must ask with Yeats

I am no prophet, but I have caught sight of some shadows, some outlines, of a couple of things that I think might be part of the Brave New World. These are not so much hints at the new order as they are indications that certain things we take for granted might not survive much longer.

I think that the time is coming when people will no longer be gay or straight. I have noticed over the past few years that some of the young adults I have met are not segregated the way that my generation has been. I do not mean that I and my gay friends have had no straight friends, but I think that we have not had the same intimacy (or not had it as easily) with our straight friends as with our gay friends. I know that I cannot imagine talking to straight friends about many of my experiences. I keep some fairly large areas of my life behind walls through which I let only other gay men pass. The way I experience this alienation from my straight friends is that I cannot imagine sharing certain things without going through some lengthy and difficult explanation or set of explanations about the norms and mores of the gay demi-monde. I feel as though I would have to explain that we have certain customs that might seem outrageous to you. I feel as though it would be hard to disclose these things without risking judgment -- that is, rejection.

But I have talked to people in their twenties who share all such facts about themselves with their friends regardless of their “sexual orientation”. And what is more, it seems that they are all not only able to understand and accept each other across these (for me) boundaries, but even to move back and forth across the boundaries themselves. In other words, I have met young gay men who had primary relationships with women before beginning their current relationship with a man and who might easily be involved with another woman after their current relationship ends. The sexes seem to be at ease dating members of their own or of the opposite sex without feeling that one or the other reflects their “true” nature.

My former partner W.S. used to talk about writing a story concerning a gay man who decided to marry a woman and live a straight life. He said that he thought that such a man would suffer bitterly at the hands of his gay “friends.” Gay men like to think that if a straight guy has sex with another man, he is discovering or revealing the truth about himself, but if he then continues to live as a straight man, he is a “closet case” or a victim of internalized homophobia. Gays seem to want to be defined rigorously by sexual behavior and to admit of no fluidity there, but I do not think that people will feel that way about themselves in the future.

[It has always seemed odd to me to begin a sentence with “I am” and end it with a term descriptive of what I do with what I have between my legs. No one did so prior to the late nineteenth century, and I feel certain that by the end of the twenty-first century no one will do so either.]

The other feeling I have about the shape of things to come is that even if it is as strict as the Victorianism that followed the freedom of the 18th-century, it will not be any of the forms of Fundamentalism now ravaging the planet. I say so because I believe that Fundamentalism, whether Christian, Islamic, of Jewish, is appealing only in times of turmoil such as ours.

Almost everything in our society is in flux. Nothing -- not a man, a woman, or a family, let alone right and wrong -- is clearly defined any more. The old definitions have broken down, for good reasons, but the new ones have not yet coalesced. I believe that when people have to live with such deep and radical uncertainty as this, they are drawn to Fundamentalism. They need a set of standards, a set of rules, that is solid, clear, and time-honored. Hence the most ancient ideas and values in their cultural tradition seem best. “This which has not changed in thousands of years,” they say to themselves, “this which uncounted generations have held to be true, this is the surest and safest ideology to live by.”

The irony is that in taking hold of the oldest ideas of their culture, Fundamentalists are relegating themselves to the most primitive ways of thinking and of living. They jettison all the centuries during which trial and error and learning from experience have refined, strengthened, and made more practicable and more humane those primitive ideas and traditions.

And so as the new order emerges, I believe the appeal of Fundamentalism will again wane. Today Fundamentalists are fighting a rear-guard action. They have nothing to do with the troops who are establishing the next front.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Talklin' 'Bout My (G-G-Gay) G-G-Generation

I seem to have lived my life backwards. Not like Max Tivoli, whose Confessions are such a delight. No, I mean that it is as if upon entering adulthood, the scenes of my life were being acted in reverse order.

At 17 I stood on the balcony of a beautifully appointed hotel room which I had all to myself, having climbed the steep and narrow staircase of the tower which held this single room atop the rest of the palace. On that balcony I watched the full moon rise, vast and laden to the Pimsoll line, above the rooftops of Venice. Nearby, church bells rang out the opening phrase of a hymn. They were answered by the bells of another church, farther off and to the left, picking up the melody. Then from far in the gold distance came the third phrase from yet another carillon, which was followed by the closing phrase from a fourth church, much closer and to my right.

As the first church again took its turn continuing the hymn, the moon floated slowly higher, shrinking and blanching to that purest, shining white with which she dazzles overhead. I stood in that moment knowing that the fullness of life itself was washing over me and through me. I held the moment as it held me. I knew that it would never end.

And it hasn’t

Soon I heard my mother’s voice. She and my father were slowly making their way up to my aerie, and I excitedly told them about the shifting serenade that I had just heard. And in the more than forty years since, I have told the story of that moonrise whenever I attempted to describe the wonder of that ancient town.
In my twenties and thirties I wore ties and suits and carried a briefcase to the rooms where I taught 18th-century British literature or, later, to the rooms where I would advise both hard-working and luxuriously idle Manhattanites to invest in this or that security. Through the ear-biting cold of winter mornings, the damp heat of summer morning, and the blustery mornings of spring and fall, I traversed the southwest corner of Central Park, walking from my condominium near Lincoln Center to my office on 57th Street at Fifth Avenue. And on every weekend I possibly could, from earliest spring through the fall, I took my morning coffee in hand and walked the 100 yards from my beach house over the last dune to the glittering sea, where I would sit naked, sipping my coffee, watching the eternal morning rise over the water.
And, being gay, in my early adulthood I buried all my friends.
Now, at sixty, I struggle along, an artist who if not starving is nevertheless often hungry, in a bare room in an SRO Hotel. My single window opens on the precise, 19th-century brickwork of an airshaft that is full of dirt and pigeons and rats. The floor of my room is scuffed linoleum that is probably the same age as I. The follies and foibles of youth -- tempestuous romance, addictions, brushes with the law, economic instability, a life with only the barest of foundations -- these have been reserved for my old age.
Lest you think that I mean only that the circumstances of my life have dwindled and that the inner I in fact grows richer and wiser in a corresponding and compensatory way, I instead find myself unsure of my self, wondering what happened to my life, wondering who I am or might have been, and wondering where it all is leading.
I cannot say much about my adolescence, that turbid medium through which I try to peer back to my childhood, for when I try to search those times, my mind’s eye meets little more than shadows. I do know that I felt perpetually unhappy and out of place. I was lost, without map or guidebook that could show me how to tread the path ahead.
Then, when I was 22, everything changed. Or rather I changed. The scales fell from my eyes. My bewilderment and fear vanished. The path ahead revealed itself, bathed in sunlight. I “came out.”
In a moment, all the despicable things about myself which I had hidden in shame and which I had hated in myself, immediately made sense and no longer troubled me. All the broken pieces of my life fell easily and comfortably into place. I knew who I was. I found my social, political, sexual, and moral identity all at once. No longer troubled and self-loathing, I blossomed with confidence, good humor, and even serenity. Like Minerva, I emerged full-grown, not from the forehead of Zeus, but from the forehead of my new understanding.

Let me here introduce the first of Dasman’s Laws of Human Being:  Everyone Always Knows Exactly What Is Going On.
We may deceive ourselves or allow ourselves to be deceived, but the resultant “ignorance” is never fully convincing, and it is always temporary.
As an example, let me take the case in hand: I say that I became aware that I was gay, but in fact I knew it all along. I had been terrified of it, ashamed of it, disgusted by it and therefore by myself, but I cannot honestly say that I had no idea that I was gay. Lately, I have begun to think that this self-awareness might have been with me since my earliest consciousness of anything. One of my earliest memories is of a dream that I must have had at age four, if not earlier. I dreamed that in our entry hall, a group of witches, male and female, were gathered, performing their rites around an open fire. They saw me, and then I was in their midst, trembling with fear of painful death. “I want to join you,” I said, desperate to survive. “Make me one of you.” This is the only dream that I have ever had twice.
Throughout my childhood, I was fascinated by monsters. I subscribed to “Famous Monsters of Filmland” magazine. Other boys built model cars, planes, and ships. I bought and assembled plastic models of Frankenstein (sic), Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy, et al. I painted them with painstaking care and displayed them in a diorama on the shelf that ran beneath my double windows. I had little plastic bats hanging from threads above them, gravestones and blasted trees, bits of gore here and there. I had a working model of the guillotine, with a hapless aristocrat tied to the table whose head came off when I let the blade fall.
And when I watched the movie on TV, and precociously read the novel at age nine, I identified with Frankenstein’s monster, who had not asked to be as he was created, and my heart went out to him. I shed tears when the monster found his sanctuary, his proper home, with the blind man. There he could find true happiness and acceptance because his host, thinking the inarticulate monster to be an ordinary deaf-mute, showed him all the kindness due to any defective child of God, such as he was himself. The monster never meant to harm anyone, and it was the prejudice, ignorance, and intolerance of the vicious townspeople that ultimately killed him in that burning mill.
Did I know, before I had any knowledge of sex, that I was a monster, something out of the natural order, who would be hunted down by the townspeople if they ever saw my deformity? Long before I had even a curiosity about the difference between boys and girls, before I could have had a thought that was touched by the original sin, my heart knew that I did not belong, and it was this bleak landscape inhabited by horrors that comprised my Eden.
Even as I write these words, I am excited about what I am saying. In particular, I am excited because I am approaching a paradox, and whenever I find myself in the presence of a paradox, I know that I am close, very close, to truth. So here it is: the confidence, good humor, and serenity I mentioned above, the relief of simply shedding all that shame and anguish like an old skin, came in the moment that I realized that I am a monster.
Once I knew that I was indeed the thing that I had so deeply feared I might be, the monster ceased to be monstrous. The Beast was revealed to have been a Prince all along.
It happened when I was listening to Linda Ronstadt sing “Heat Wave".  In an instant, and then more and more with the unfolding of each word and each note, I understood that the song described the way I felt every day when I went to the gym and saw W.D., a young man whom I had first seen a number of weeks before and whom I had subsequently done everything I could to see and to talk to or to stand beside or to walk home with. Linda Ronstadt was singing to me about her experience of love, and I heard her telling me that I was in love too.
The great majority of you will be puzzled just now because I seem to be placing extraordinary weight on an emotional insight that you know to be quite mundane. But that is because the great majority of you have lived in a world where love has been real all your life. [Please note that I am using the word “love” to refer specifically to romantic love.]
Yours is not the world in which I grew up, however. In my world, social interactions with the opposite sex were unbearably awkward and trailed behind them the stabbing pains of shame and regret that lingered for months and years. Being both a smarty-pants and a contrarian, I had long said and had come to believe that “Romantic Love” was nothing more than a literary convention in which people believed for the same reason that they believe in any of the other opiates that Scripture, History, Science or Literature might foist on them.
You can probably remember moments in which you suddenly realized that you had a crush on someone. Those moments may even seem comical, showing a good-natured silliness in you. Those moments did not shatter the foundations of your understanding of yourself and at the same time sweep you into a new and bright and clean selfhood that, like a Palladian edifice as big as the world itself, gave order and meaning to everything. For you, realizing that you are in love is exciting and silly. For me, it was the salvation of my soul.
In those days I believed in God and believed that God was Love. The discovery that I was capable of loving meant that I did have a place in the Family of Man. I began to cry at movies and plays and good literature, all of which I had intellectually admired all my life but which I had never felt. I cried, and I loved that I did cry. Far from feeling any pseudo-masculine shame at crying, I felt stronger and more manly, indeed virtuous, when I cried. I became tender and sentimental, and for the first time in my life my melancholic humor gave way to joy, to what is called “the joy of being alive.”
For the first time in my life, I also knew that I was a man, as much a man and as true a man as any since Adam.
And like Adam, I was discovering the primordial magic, the power of names. Adam’s job in Paradise is to name the creatures great and small, flora and fauna, for the dominion that god has given him over them is one and the same thing as being given the power of naming. Jacob wrestles with the angel demanding that the angel tell him its name because knowing its name would give Jacob power over the angel. You raise demons by repeating their names, and the name of God is unutterable for that exact reason: to speak the name of God would be to assert power over Him.
If you consider yourself to realistic, too scientific, and too practical to believe seriously in magic, and especially in the magic of incantations and spells and the like, then consider what I have said. The world in which I live, as well as my self-understanding, my identity, and my soul, changed utterly once I spoke of myself using the word “gay.” Is not “magic” the most accurate term to describe my experience? I dare you to find another word that describes the scope of the change I experienced and expresses the depth of my emotional transformation as well. And do not think that the word is a metaphor or a sign or symbol for something other than itself : The Word is The Power; “The Word was with God, and The Word was God.”
Now I arrive at another paradox, one that I admit is comparatively trivial but which is nevertheless illuminating: I hate the word “gay.” I squirm when I hear it. I do everything to avoid it, and when I cannot, I pronounce it with an arch, stressed tone, the aural equivalent of “inverted commas.” The word sounds stupid, and I find it insulting.
To be “gay” means to be whimsical, giddy, and even silly. The phrase “gay man” means a man who is not serious, as one might assume a man without the responsibilities of wife and children to be. Like “queen,” a term for a prostitute, it is demeaning. Like “faggot”, which refers to a burning stick, or “punk,” which refers to a stick that has been lit and then blown out, so that a glowing tip is left with which to fire a fuse, the term describes a man as less than a man, as merely a penis. Similarly, we say that someone is “a dick” to mean that while he is anatomically male, he is not a man.
We know, or at least our language knows, that being a man is much more than having a penis. Consider the German “mensch”. The term is not just a descriptive; it is also an honorific. A man of integrity, a righteous man, a man who does what is right, not just what is natural or what is understandable, but what is right, is a mensch.
I have begun to see this meaning emerging again in a new usage over the past five or six years: I hear people say “man up”, by which they mean “do the right thing.” In particular I remember hearing a judge in Family court say in case after case that came before him that morning, to men who had failed to pay child support or had hit their wives or girl-friends or had tried to run them over with a car, “Man up.” Accept responsibility. Forget what you want or think you deserve and provide what another needs. Nurture and support, out of the strength of your own being give to the needs of another. Be a man.
Dasman’s Dictionary gives the following quote from Berthold Brecht as an example of the use of “man” in a sentence: “Why be a man when you can be a success?”
It is clear to me that now, as we begin the twenty-first century after the birth of Our Lord, that no one knows what a man is any more -- no, nor a woman either.
I am a student of the eighteenth century and know it to have been a period of social upheaval similar to our own. Economic and social conditions of life were changing so rapidly that no one could keep up. It was clear that the old feudal order no longer obtained, but no one knew what the new order would be.
Consider their experience of the break-down of the family as the basic unit of social order. For centuries, in fact for as far back as anyone could think, a family had been a multi-generational group of perhaps thirty people living together in an agricultural enterprise. That order disappeared as the enclosure of the commons drove people off the land and into the cities, making the industrial revolution possible.
[Note: it is labor not capital that makes economic progress possible. Labor creates capital. It is not capital that makes the productive use of labor possible. We will talk more about Henry George later.]
What followed the anxious, turbulent, revolutionary eighteenth century, the new order that emerged, was one of the strictest, most repressive, most unforgiving orders yet: it was Victorianism. The Victorians knew what a family was: a family was a man and a woman and their offspring living together under one roof and without any other mating pairs of adults under that same roof.
A woman knew who she was: she was in charge of the house, economically and artistically, and she had the responsibility for the moral and spiritual life of the family and the education of the children. A man was in charge of providing the material means of support for the family, and he went out into the world to procure the money necessary to support them all. At home, in the woman’s world, the morality was Christian; at work, in the man’s world, the morality was Darwinian.
This social order lasted through my parents’ generation. My father, born in 1911, left our house in Walnut Creek every weekday in the pre-dawn darkness to travel to San Francisco, where he worked in the same brokerage house from the time he was a student at U.C. Berkeley until his retirement. My mother, born in 1913, used the money he earned to feed and clothe us all, to keep up the house and garden, and to look after our educational and spiritual upbringing. When my mother expressed her desire to return to teaching, the job she had held before marriage, my father refused to allow it. “No wife of mine will ever work,” he said. End of discussion. And my mother allowed him the power to refuse her desire.
Today the herd would condemn my father, but I know that if his wife had worked, he would have been emasculated in the eyes of his peers, male and female. “That poor woman,” they would have said, “he obviously can’t make enough to support the family and she has to go back to work.”
So too, the herd today would say that my mother should have been stronger, more independent, and not have let my father keep her from doing what she wanted to do. The herd today would point to the tension that underlay their relationship, the repressed anger and resentment, the acting out, and say that they were wrong to do what they did.
But my mother and my father had something that the herd today cannot understand: their troth. They had vowed to endure life together and to support one another through anything -- anything -- that the years might bring. As for me, I can think of no higher standard for which to make my sacrifice, and I mourn for this world of self-realizing, self-actualizing Oprah an Phil dominated individuals who are following their passions, following their hearts, refusing to compromise themselves, and thus blindly wandering each of them alone into the dark forests where the hungry beasts await. One of the most beautiful sentences in English,two lines that encapsulate the truth, the troth, the paradox, of human being, words that make we weep, are the final words of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, describing Adam and Eve as they walk away from the Garden:
"They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.”