Open your heart

Dave X Robb undressing, Salt Point THIS WEEK MARKS THE END of my Writing from the Chakras class, and I’m going to miss it. I’ll especially miss the community of talented and giving fellow writers who have shared so generously the gifts of their own writing and the insightful feedback and encouragement they’ve given to me. And, tough as it’s been at times, both in terms of the time crunch of deadlines and the emotions stirred up by going deep, I will miss the structure that has held me these last 8 weeks.

I’ve not been able to keep up with posting on here weekly during the class, but I’ll still write a post sharing some of what I learned in each week. Today’s is about the Heart Chakra. If you know me at all, you can guess this was a big one.

One of my favorite parts of this class has been the meditations that go along with each chakra, where we are guided through visualizations and encouraged to reach deep within—in this case, to the heart—and then immediately after to freewrite, putting to the page whatever comes up, no stopping to think, to edit, to censor, to fix; just writing freely. It’s like writing in a trance.

As with the poetry I was writing a couple months back, I don’t know quite how these read to anyone who hasn’t gone through the same process with me; but I do know this kind of writing feels very freeing and will inform my writing in all its forms. Here you go, friends:

Madonna: Open Your HeartA Heart Chakra messy post-meditation freewrite

I feel such calm and knowing, here in this pure land of green and water. I love that I have come here alone, walked slowly on my own toward this destination of complete, blissful, tranquil abiding. I needed no map, no guide, simply trusting the echoes of my lifetime of accumulated wisdom and guidance.

I have journeyed in the bright white, warm sun, the sky and sea to my left both the same shade of bright blue, the faintest of breeze, not a soul in sight. I shed my burdens, my physical burdens, my cell phone, my wallet, my watch, my money, my keys, my belt, my shoelaces, my hat, my sunglasses, my shirt, my shoes and socks, my jeans, my briefs, my sunscreen, my moisturizer, my deodorant, my toothbrush, my dental floss, my soap and shampoo, my body scrub, my pumice stone, my nail clippers, my razor, my hair, my beard, my skin; I shed it all, leaving behind me a trail of my self.

And I have never felt so free.

Where am I going? Why? Am I escaping something, a leaving-behind; or is this a going-to, an arrival?

It is an arrival. Arrivals on the lower level, bypassing the baggage claim, I walk from the smoky, hazy, air-polluted interior through the automatic doors to the outdoors and find myself suddenly in a green forest, naked, then on a wide-open expanse of clifftop, the ocean over there, the waves crashing far below; I can barely hear them over the sound of my heart. The path takes me down gradually to sea level, to a sandy spot on the shore, and I collapse onto my knees, my hands and knees, lowering my face, then my whole body, to the warm sand. I fall asleep, the sun on my back equally warm, maybe a little warmer. It feels so nice.

I lie still and feel my heart pumping, the silverware-falling-from-the-sky-far-far-away sound in my ears—I’ve been told that’s the sound of the blood pulsing through—I sleep and I dream of this place, the same place, my dream of the dream of the land I come to inhabit when my mind takes a break from tormenting me and my heart opens up to the hope and the joy of the knowing I am safe and alone. I am happy. I have no fear, no ties, no possessions, no worries, only this joy and freedom and a heart bursting with love, so full it hurts me sometimes. It craves an outlet.

Salt PointI turn over, the sand stuck to me, the sunlight shining bright orange through my eyelids, burning, killing me softly, and I smile at the thought of you, my love, the blood still pumping, gathering and regrouping without my knowledge, without my having to do anything, without using hands, my cock stirring and growing, grains of sand falling off, whole cities, whole worlds erected in a grain of sand, I stretch and twist my body, I arch my back, I dig in my heels, molding a shape in the earth opposite that of my body, a container custom-made, a mold I fit in, I need nothing more than this, ever. I will never eat again. I will breathe, I will sweat, I might laugh or cry if I feel like it, and my heart will keep beating. I will bake tan, I will sleep, I will wake. I will shiver when night falls, wishing for a cover, a blanket or a warm body, your warm body beside me.

I turn back onto my stomach, I grind a new shape, I shiver, still alone, I awake in my bed not knowing the time or day or where the fuck I am, the memory fading as I piece things together, but still not knowing if I am alive or dead or sleeping.

Chakra sonnet

All of us still mere children and dumb
No way to release any of that pent-up spunk and energy
All at once joined perfectly and exploding with bright light and tears
I stay awake, big spoon, caretaker, watching your ribcage rise and fall
I knew, when I quieted enough to listen, really listen, to what my body whispered
Hold me steady, keeping me from falling or freezing or from punching someone in the face
The silverware-falling-from-the-sky-far-far-away sound in my ears
I get so tired of all the honesty

Addicted to affirmation, to performance, to love and good-looking boyfriends
I looked out the window, but there was nothing but black
Warmth enveloped me, holding my body like a lover, like a mother, like a child
Cradling each other’s vulnerable hearts, a lifetime’s worth of serenity in a single moment
Rebirth, the gift of another breath, another chance, a shot at starting over
I see and I understand because I have been there, too

Dave X Robb and Mona

No Secrets

Carly Simon: No Secrets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I get so tired of all the honesty.
Shut up, will you? Kiss me.
Wouldn’t a fight feel good right now?

I’m always hurting someone. I’m always sorry.
Pet your cat. Eat your breakfast cereal. Sail through life.
I feel the loss before I’m even out the door.
I drop my key through the mail slot.
The words I wish I could take back, the intentional hurt, the beating, the slap in the face, the punch in the gut, the gunshot through the heart.
I miss you.

One more, sure. One more drink. One more make-out session. One more condom wrapper torn open with your teeth. Fuck it.
No umbrella, no raincoat, no car, no cab fare home.
I’ll wear the same clothes to work tomorrow. No one will notice.
I’ll sleep under my desk. I’ll shower at the gym. I’ll get breakfast at Starbucks.
Beer breath, saliva thick, sucking my dick, sweating, humid, sticky, summer, mosquitoes in the room, blood stain on the sheet where you smacked one dead, the buzz of a neon sign, the tick of a loud clock, unfamiliar sounds.

When you close your eyes, I get to stare.
You open your eyes, you catch me staring.
You smile.

Fire escape

Ohio Players: FireI’VE PUT OFF POSTING about the Jewel Chakra, that fiery source of power at the gut, I realize. I could chalk it up to being busy and not having the time, but I think it’s also true that I don’t feel so secure in this place, the power center, and I feel similarly insecure in my writing about it. Power can be a scary thing. I feel like I have power, but that I don’t trust myself to exercise it—something to work on.  

Here’s what I think: If I were totally free, I would be so powerful and unafraid, there is no telling what I might do. I feel the strong, solid center, guarded deep in my gut, seemingly fresh and new since it has so rarely been used, a precious jewel, old and unpolished from having observed for so long, sidelined soaking in knowledge and experience all these years, a decades-long gestation, and just now beginning to emerge, late, better late than never.

I see an advantage to having waited this long, my wisdom ripened, ready to eat, juicy and sweet, dripping, running through my fingers, over my hands, down my arms as I offer up this fruit, wanting to share it before it spoils, overripe. I am eager but without panic. Now is the time to let this power shine. Now I have the tools to wield it skillfully, to control my anger and judgment, my jealousy and pride, my impatience, my irritation. Now I find power in pure love and patience, compassion, kindness, calm, and appropriate gravity.

My thoughts and impulses take shape in there, fetus-like, growing, developing into a coherent being, capable of breath and life on its own once it pushes its way out into the world. I tread carefully, still, but my preparation bestows the confidence to lie exposed and vulnerable, knowing I am in good hands, the hands of a midwife, incongruously my own hands holding me steady, nurturing, keeping me from falling or freezing or from punching someone in the face.

The Boxer: Simpn & GarfunkelI have never been a violent type, never a fistfight in my life. The closest I ever came was childhood fights with my tough-nut sister, a year younger than me, pulling hair, biting arms, crying a lot. I learned the mechanics of it as an adult in boxing class at the Y, skills I had never known, was never taught, skills still never used in real life, but nice to have under my belt for the confidence they give should it come to that, bashing back, the powerful snap of a hard punch.

A friend talked about the sex she had the other night and how she couldn’t get into acting out the hardcore discipline, slapping the other girl hard across the face—she could do it, she said, but it didn’t feel right. And I said I couldn’t do it. I have tried. I can’t smack someone, playing, not hard enough for it to seem real, so not in the way they want—not like I mean it, because I don’t. Rape fantasies, extreme power plays, pain, humiliation, whips and slaves, dogs and horses and pigs, cops and robbers, a gun to the head, a sharp knife edge, a boot to the neck, none of it holds appeal. Life is hard enough without that shit.

All these fantasies, ways to escape from reality! Give me mindful presence. Give me eyes open and paying attention. Give me reality. (This is why I don’t drink, in case anyone was wondering.)

But here’s a power I can get behind: the power to ask for what I want, to tell him what I want to do, to free myself to express what I keep locked down, to say “I love you” in the throes of it all and not care what happens next.

Meditating on the Jewel Chakra Jewel: Pieces of You

I feel warmth swirling through my body, enveloping me like a blanket, a hug, a furnace. I feel some melting happening, drops sizzling on the hot stones, and am surprised to know I am still frozen in places I would have guessed had long ago thawed. I catch a glimpse of the power I harbor and know if I were totally free and in my power, I would be happier, free from fear, fear of the fire that warms me but that also threatens to burn.

I fear the hot energy of anger, of the fight, preferring the coolness and calm of the lake deep in my lower body, the even-numbered chakras comfortable resting places, landings on the Kundalini stairway; the odd ones seeming, well, odd, unfamiliar, intimidating, uncomfortable. The peacemaker in me doubts the fire, not to be played with; the controller in me wants to keep it contained, clear-cutting a break, locating the nearest exit in the event of emergency, the fire escape.

What might I unleash if I give in to it? I go there in my mind sometimes, to a place where I assert my wants, my needs, without second-guessing. I imagine myself acting without fear, and I see the fruits of my freedom. I jump off the cliff and know my wings will open to catch me, the parachute unfurling as I glide free and safe and exhilarated.

I go a step further and actually do it once in a great while, boldly asking for what I want, approaching the stranger, speaking my mind. It always works out. I always feel better afterward, so why don’t I do it all the time? What holds me back? I know enough at this point to be able to trust that I won’t do something stupid.

Led Zeppelin: PresenceMistakes are one thing; the disasters I imagine, the irreversible, irreparable harm I must unconsciously imagine (otherwise why hold back?)—these are fantasies, mind-creations never to see the light of day. Action is karma; it ripens upon me no matter what. I might as well have some agency around it all, might as well take part in this life, take the wheel and guide it, with or without the map, getting lost, hell, flipping and rolling the vehicle. This is life.

Sexploration

Do You Want to Sleep with Dave X Robb?I’VE BEEN ENJOYING my Writing from the Chakras course, which is now half over. As last year, I wanted to post something every week; also as last year, I have not kept up. But I will still post something from every week, every chakra. So, here is a belated sexploration from week 2 (and a link to last year’s), the Sexy Chakra.

In thinking about how I wanted to spend my time that week, I felt a bit overwhelmed, the good ideas spilling out of me, swirling in my head way faster than I could get them down on the page. It’s where my and my fictional characters’ deepest problems, worries, and longings reside. It is a place of celebration and joy, too, and I wanted to express that, to not get hung up on the negative side.

Both sides were important to me since I could see how both were embodied in the single idea of feeling so deeply in touch with my innate sexuality—the joy that it brings, groundedness in true connection, wild intimacy, and knowing another on a deep (maybe the deepest possible) level; and, at the same time, the immense sadness of having lost something so long ago, the sorrow of a long journey back to innocent loving, giving, pleasurable touch and understanding (and how that loss is echoed in the AIDS epidemic, no small thing). The incredible wastefulness of it all, the time lost, and the mental anguish endured still boggle me.

I have spent a lifetime trying to get back to that feeling where sex is all good, where there is no shame, no hiding, no deception, no trickery involved in pretending or fooling the other person into falling into what you both wanted from the start. Yet, even with all the thought (and writing) I had invested in this, the years of experimenting and experiencing, living and giving in the most loving, open, vulnerable, exposed way I knew how, I struggled still.

I am still working my way back to a time when there was no shame, no hurt, no judgment, no loneliness, no danger, no loss. I still look for that feeling—I’ve had glimpses of it—of completeness, of contentment and satisfaction in knowing that I am loved, I am seen, really seen, and that everything is all right.

Dave X Robb pretending to be deadDanger: Sex unsafe

Sex has always held an element of danger for me, whether it is the imagined danger of transgressing or getting caught or going to hell, or just of going somewhere I’ve never been before, a not knowing—there is some excitement in that kind of danger.

There is emotional danger, the risk of rejection and disappointment, of not getting that phone call back after what you thought was pretty good sex and a nice connection. The suffering of trying to repeat a happiness, combined with the suffering of trying to find it in the first place, can be enough to make even the strongest among us doubt the wisdom of trying at all. A lot of people give up.

Even during the happy time, it can be hard to banish completely worry over whether the happiness can be sustained. Like the erection I’m afraid of losing before the condom is out of the package and unrolled, these things can easily become self-fulfilling sadnesses.

And what if it does work out and I get a relationship going? Do I take the risk of talking about difficult things or do I instead avoid rocking the boat of my good fortune, thereby all but ensuring the relationship’s demise? Is there anything more demoralizing than a breakup?

Then there are, of course, physical dangers. It occurred to me some decades into my sexual life that I almost always choose partners with bodies smaller than mine. How’s that for a control issue? I chalk it up to not ever wanting to be in a situation I can’t get out of (and no handcuffs or ropes either, thanks, unless I know and trust you). Similarly, I seem to always be aware of the location of the nearest exit in a relationship.

Dave X Robb's first California IDThere is the physical danger of AIDS. Having come to the party a little late, my sexual awakening coincided perfectly with the national shutting down of sex. It felt like one of those big, heavy metal doors being rolled down over the front of a shop, and I’m left there standing on the sidewalk with my coupons.

I shouldn’t complain really. I’m alive today because of it. It’s not so hard to adapt to safe sex when you’ve not yet had the experience of full-on gay sex without the barriers. That and seeing people dropping dead all around me made it reasonably easy to adopt safe sex.

I understood the logic of the ubiquitous prevention messages and knew I could, through sheer force of stubborn will, adhere to them like a straight-A student; yet I always felt uncomfortable with the admonition to use a condom every single time, to always assume your partner could be positive. Yes, it was practical, sound advice from a public health perspective at a time when literally half of all gay men in the city were HIV-positive. It was a simple, easy-to-understand guideline that made rational sense.

Dave X Robb fictionBut it doesn’t take a big stretch of the imagination to see how this might all come across as unappealing, albeit necessary, advice to a young gay man just coming to terms with and learning to celebrate his fierce gay pride. To see my lovers as potentially deadly, as ticking time bombs just waiting for a moment of weakness in my safe-sex resolve to explode in my ass, constituted a turn-off to say the least.

It was not so much that I wanted to have sex without condoms, those literal barriers between us, though I didn’t like them and I could imagine I might be missing out on something pretty fabulous, having heard as much from those who had experienced such a thing. I was not even particularly afraid of the virus, by which I mean I trusted condoms to do their job and trusted myself to use them properly and consistently, good student that I was.

It was this: I didn’t like assuming my partners were lying.

That was the part I could never get used to. I didn’t like being told to treat every partner as someone who could be, through malevolence or selfishness or just plain ignorance, putting my life at risk. I didn’t like always coming from a place of distrust and fear. I thought, We are better than that.

xoWe are in a different time now, and a lot of people seem to be having a hard time wrapping their heads around it. In an era where condoms aren’t the only safe sex choice, where you are safer fucking an HIV-positive man on treatment and undetectable than practically anyone else, where preventative treatment has been shown to work, and where—let’s just be honest and say it—HIV is nowhere near as scary as it once was, it might be time to consider what safety means and to reevaluate our risk tolerance and our approach to safe sex, each of us in our own way.

Nobody is saying to throw safety out the window, though you would never know it from reading the claims of screeching op-eds to the contrary. But the game has undeniably changed, hard as it may be to take that in (understandably—we’ve been living with the same safe-sex messages for 30 years, after all). That said, it has always been the case that you don’t need protection if you’re having sex with someone you know to be of the same status, positive or negative, as yourself. If you trust that person and are sure of your own status, then you have a choice.

Where You From You Sexy ThingIn my book, trust is necessary to intimacy, and intimacy is necessary to good sex (and good sex is just, well, if not necessary, at least important). Sometimes I choose to trust. I’m not stupid about it. With guys I know and love and trust, though, I have chosen to lay down my fear. That doesn’t guarantee that I will never contract HIV by mistake, but the odds are on my side; and in a world full of uncertainty—where HIV matters, but so do other things—it is a minuscule risk I find worth taking.

And yes, sure, sex without condoms feels better—my older gay brothers were not lying—but more than that, it feels way better mentally. It’s what I was missing.

My Writing Process

Dave X Robb in the kitchenHELLO THERE. THIS POST is part of a blog tour called My Writing Process. It’s kind of like a chain letter for bloggers, but without the annoyance of having to send something in the mail in the hope of receiving back 1,000 of the same kind of thing, which of course never seemed to work as planned anyway, but it never mattered because you didn’t want all those recipes or pot holders or post cards or whatever it was in the first place.

This is about sharing information about the writing process in a personal way, and I recommend you do it too if you have a blog or even if you don’t. It’s a good exercise to do just to learn more about yourself as a writer. The sharing makes it even nicer. Here are the official My Writing Process Blog Tour instructions:

Step 1: Acknowledge the person (and site) who involved you in the blog tour.

Step 2: Answer these 4 questions about your writing process.

Step 3: Tag another writer or 2 to answer the questions the week after you. Give a one-sentence bio of each, and link to their websites.

WHO TAGGED ME? I was tagged by writing coach, blogger, grammarian, writer, lunch-companion-cheerleader and friend Kristy Lin Billuni, aka the Sexy Grammarian. Sex and grammar–what a great combination! Her answers to the questions can be found here. Kristy was tagged by incomparable, inspirational writer-teacher-friend Minal Hajratwala, whose answers are here.

I’M TAGGING: Next week (or so), you’ll be able to read #MyWritingProcess posts from Chauna Craig, a wonderful writer-educator-imagineer (to borrow from her website; the “wonderful” is mine, though) and inspiring, supportive long-distance friend with whom I’ve had the pleasure of taking a couple of online writing courses; and Katayoon Zandvakili, an absolutely amazing poet, memoirist, blogger, and painter I also met in an online class, but have since met in real life…and she’s just wonderful!

I’ve asked a couple of other terrific bloggers I’d love to introduce you to and will add them to the list when I hear back from them, if they’re willing. If you’re a blogger or writer and want to post your own answers, please do! Just follow the instructions above, use the #MyWritingProcess Twitter tag or link to your blog post from your Facebook page or do both. Also ping me on Twitter, Facebook, or in a comment below so I can help you spread the joy.

Here are the questions and my answers:

1) WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON?

I’ve been blogging for a little over three years now, try to write a daily 1000 words or so on whatever is on my mind, and am getting my feet wet in the poetry pool. The blog started as musings on the intersection of 1970s music, grammar, and my love life; it has since evolved into something a bit more introspective, with a decidedly Buddhist tilt, but it’s still fun (for me, anyhow) and still ties in with pop music much of the time.

The project I am most excited about at the moment is weaving a collection of short fiction pieces into a novel about love and sex and heartbreak and healing that is hopefully going to be a lot more interesting than I’ve just made it sound. It’s sexy and sad and hopeful.

2) HOW DOES YOUR WORK DIFFER FROM OTHERS’ WORK IN THE SAME GENRE?

Well, by saying “genre,” there’s already an implication that my work fits in with other work out there, and I would say that’s true. I think the difference is in how I present it personally, which is of course something we can all say. So, I don’t worry about being different because I automatically will be. If you take my genre to be “gay fiction,” or maybe “gay erotic fiction,” you could say that the stuff I’m writing is not just for gay men, but could appeal to anyone who has been through the kind of emotional stuff I’m writing about. The feedback I’ve gotten so far seems to confirm that. And, I know I’m not the only one doing it, but I do think it’s less common to find people writing about sex—maybe especially gay sex, because of the trauma we’ve all been through—in a way that isn’t just about the physicality of it. Mind you, I don’t shy away from that stuff; in fact, I like hardcore sex description a lot, but it’s not enough. It’s hard to get turned on by descriptions of sex without there also being some strong element of emotion, some connection to the characters and what they are feeling, in both their bodies and their minds. I think that’s why the vast majority of gay porn and erotica (and sex apps, for that matter) leaves me cold. And I have a feeling other people feel the same way. They’re looking for something more human, for feeling and connection, in real life and in what they’re reading.

3) WHY DO YOU WRITE WHAT YOU DO?

I like this question. I do it both for myself and for others. My initial motivation for writing was not so very profound; it was just something I thought I’d like to get good at because I loved reading so much and admired how writers could work their magic. I’ve always loved language and grammar, and I was already an editor, so it wasn’t a great leap. I thought writing was something I’d be good at because people liked the way I told stories and encouraged me, and so I started the blog.

The more I wrote, the more I saw a real value in it for myself. It became my way of working things out. I guess that was the case even before I published anything online. I’ve written journals for 30 years, off and on, so I already knew writing could help me. I’d never thought of it as potentially helping other people until I started posting things.

I especially like writing the gay love stories. Because the stories are so close to me and my lived experience, I feel like I can write them with some kind of authority; I’ve lived them, and so I know what I’m talking about. It’s easy for me to understand my characters’ motivations and reactions when I can connect them to real people, myself or others, and real things that have happened. The writing also forces me to see things from others’ points of view, which is immensely valuable and sometimes tough work psychologically. So, that is an added benefit for me.

The more honest I can be emotionally, the more real the stories feel, the easier it will be for readers to connect and see themselves in what I write. One of my motivations is to try and heal the trauma that so many gay men have lived through, both in the struggles of coming out and facing hatred and abuse, physical and psychological, self-hate in many cases; and in having come through the AIDS war, the loss of so many lives, so much potential, friends and lovers gone, having to change our way of loving each other, survival guilt and burnout, issues of trust and intimacy getting overrun by the necessities of safety and survival, all of that.

Gay men are so amazing for the strength we’ve had to develop, but many of us are also deeply wounded by what we’ve been through. I want to begin to point the way toward uncovering and healing some of that and showing how to love. I’m such a big love-pusher. If I had a mission statement, that would be in it.

4) HOW DOES YOUR WRITING PROCESS WORK?

I’m pretty messy about it. I don’t know that I even have anything you could call a process, so my answer here won’t be very helpful. You just have to write. I find that my best writing comes out of freewriting, keeping the pen going and not stopping, just getting a whole lot on the page. A lot of times, my journal writing will uncover ideas that I then decide to turn into poems or scenes or blog posts, or sometimes a short piece will inspire a longer piece. Eventually, I accumulate enough bits of things that kind of go together, and I start looking for ways to connect them into something bigger, building that way. That’s the plan, anyhow. We’ll see if it works.

But I don’t have a lot of good advice. Just keep writing. Write a lot. I find that I have to write a lot to get a little that I like. And you have to live, and pay attention to what you’re living so you’ll have things to write about. Keep a notebook handy at all times.

For me, writing is a discipline. I don’t naturally make it a priority. I need projects and deadlines—most of the time fake, self-imposed deadlines—for me to get anything done. That’s why I love taking online writing classes with Minal and meeting with my writing group once a month–those things keep me writing and make me accountable to others. I can’t do it myself. Individualism is such a horrible thing. I know that goes against the writer stereotype.

I also struggle with how to know when something’s done. One of my vices is perfectionism. I worry over things too much. I sand off the rough edges and polish so much sometimes that I like the end product a lot less than what I started out with. So, part of my process is noticing when I’m dallying rather than sending something out into the world where it belongs.

No words for my love

Aerosmith: Walk this wayI’M LATE AGAIN, I know it. Internet was down at the abode for the whole first part of the month, but it’s back now, not that it makes such a good excuse. I’ve also been busily doing my homework for the Writing from the Chakras class I’m taking for the second time. You may recall I took the class last year at this time. I got so much out of it, I decided to take it again.

Not entirely sure how to do it, but not wanting to disappoint myself by having less dramatic breakthroughs this time around, I have resolved to go deep. Week #1 was about the Root Chakra, and I used the occasion to explore the origin of my fears. In particular, I wanted to know better what drives my lifelong search for love and sex and deep, intimate connection, and more than that, my search for peace of mind and contentment around it all.

This took me on an inward journey back through time to try and uncover those early memories of trying to feel loved and happy, traveling back through a parade of relationships including my “trying-to-be-normal-and-accepted” girlfriend excursions, which I took quite seriously at the time.

I didn’t stop there. I kept rewinding, deeper, reeling in the years to a time before sex and dating and junior prom, to a time of pure innocence, a time when I felt no shame and no compulsion to be anyone other than my true self because I knew no better.

My roots have soaked up and hold the memories I have long forgotten, body memories and feelings I cannot explain but feel strongly still. I had no words for what I felt, my attraction as natural as the weather, love and desire without even knowing it. What did I know?

Somerset Middle SchoolAnd I was able to pinpoint the moment when that changed, when all of a sudden I got the message that something was wrong, I was wrong. I got the words that day in the 6th-grade locker room for something I had no idea was a problem, had no idea was anything at all. My natural way of being stopped that day in the fall of 1970.

It took an action, a bringing together of witnesses, a sharing of these sensations with other fellow beings, classmates naked in a school gym locker room, all of us still mere children and dumb, but I somehow dumber, sheltered maybe from knowing what most boys my age already knew; or maybe it was just that they were different from me, strengthened by their being united in feeling what I didn’t, or in not feeling what I did.

And this is when my root was severed, cut from all nourishment, feelings left to wither and die, a sprout buried under heaps of too much pungent, dark, rich soil. Dirt. Dirty, yes, dirty and shameful. Soiled. I hadn’t a clue, really, until that point. I hadn’t a word for it, hadn’t even thought of needing a word for this completely natural sensation of excitement, attraction, and lust. It seems strange to speak of an 11-year-old’s lust, but that’s what it was.

Suddenly I had a whole new vocabulary of epithets to describe myself—faggot, fairy, homo, queer. I wanted to die. Welcome to middle school, where our cohort of innocents split into tribes, warring factions, splinterings. Middle school, all new, with its budding adolescent bodies, mouths, and minds, nakedness in the group showers, jockstraps and gym uniforms, cliques and dances and fumbling dates, night moves and cigarettes, and, hovering above it all, popular music, all these ways to judge and rank and pressure, to cast out the weak ones, evolution theory in action.

Hormones raging and no way to release any of that pent-up spunk and energy, no outlet and no privacy and no one to talk to about all this, much less kiss or touch or take a stab at sex with, at least I had a good record collection.