The following text was included alongside a collection of stories in Out Proud - Stories of Pride, Courage, and Social Justice (2014), a Canadian anthology edited by Dr. Douglas Gosse and distributed through Breakwater Books. Out Proud, was launched in parallel to WorldPride Festival (2014) in Toronto, Canada.
For a copy of the complete anthology, please click on the link below:
Tuesday, January 16, 2013 - 11pm, Calgary
The train ride to the studio feels long. Last night I met a man that offered me meth. He lives in that brick apartment building in Bridgeland, that looks like a Frank Lloyd Wright knock-off. His condo fees must be expensive. He was handsome. I wanted to forget my arrest, meth made sense. What saved me, is the Greek-Orthodox church next to his building. It reminded me of the church I snuck into as a boy in Bucharest. He wanted to have sex because his lover left him. His apartment was furnished with pieces inherited from his parents. He refinished them with a cappuccino stain. And I thought it was interesting - for someone to preserve his youth through these objects that used to live with his parents. I wonder why people hold on to the past. He proceeded to initiate me to meth or Tina, as he called it. I couldn’t think of an argument to leave. I sat down on the couch with him. Numb to reality. Even with porn playing in the background, I kept staring at the Greek church that I could still see outside the window. After two hours of smoking, I told him I had to leave and that I wasn’t interested in sex. So I left. I went outside, and sat down beside the church, to talk to myself. It felt like I was in the company of a friend - which represented an alternative. Then I went back to the studio.
Night - Work
As any handbook of psychology or self-help book will attest, often the only way to achieve the central object of one’s desire requires deviation or working around it. Like a naive ikebana arrangement, the mythology of desire wants to naturally arrange itself, and to be by itself - without markers borrowed from reliable patterns of performance. Growing up, I practiced some weird rituals, though they were not without meaning. If I left the house and went on different roads, I would always retrace my steps coming back home; I did this so as not to describe a circle with my path in which houses and trees would remain enclosed. In this regard my walk resembled a thread and if, once unwound, it had not been rewound along the same road - the objects collected in the knots of the walk
would have forever remained irremediably and profoundly bound to me. On these walks, I also had a box of matches in my pocket. Whenever I was very sad I would light a match and pass my hand through the flame, first one, then the other.
In Bucharest, I grew up in a house that was next to an old cemetery. Since we didn’t have a backyard, the cemetery became my playground. There, among many other activities, I attended an exhumation and a reinhumation of a corpse (a regular event in eastern-orthodox cemeteries). The deceased was a boy who had been buried in an oversized suit. Years later, like the echo of a strong cologne lingering in the air long after it's been absorbed by a man's skin, the memory of this boy still haunts me: I continue to encounter the elegance of his dead body in the shadows cast by the men I follow, and meet with, in the night. His suit had a gold lamé thread embroidered through it, and once in contact with light, these metallic lamé dots gleamed like far-away stars, while the suit’s blackness gave a background to this temporary constellation, which continues to implode and to spread itself inside the foreverness of his coffin and in my mind. At the time of our encounter, his face appeared intact, however, and almost all of the features had been preserved. The livid colour of the face made the head appear to have been modelled from pasteboard soaked in water.
When the coffin was taken out and opened, someone passed his hand over the face of the dead boy. It was then that all of us who were watching received a terrible shock: what we had believed was a well-preserved face was only a thick layer of mold, about two fingers deep. The mold had completely replaced the face of flesh, down to the bone, preserving its form. There was only a bare skeleton underneath.
That is how I see my head, today, if I stare long enough in the mirror - a skull, temporarily occupied by something that parallels my present. Then, there is the air - the air from the inside of our heads, whose stillness we all share in a Venn diagram kind of way. This head-air is different than the air around us, in that it gently witnesses the proximity of our thoughts. When the mold was brushed off, and out of some unexplained reflex, I leaned over the coffin and began inhaling the air released from the inside his head - the same way that strangers exchange breaths as they walk through the street, likely unaware of the intensity of their shared queer intimacy. His air entered my stomach. Years later, and through this early encounter, I can imagine the identity of the penetrated male body to resemble a performative situation. In my writing, for example, this performative situation becomes the documentation of encounters with characters that through unforeseen circumstances are confronted, at one point or another, with the possibility of inhabiting an architecture meant to lubricate the exchange of air between thoughts - much like the way that some urban post-industrial sites, through their relative openness for being repurposed by/for emerging needs and desires, negotiate and re-negotiate their complicity to the fleeting sexual encounters that develop the concept of the behind as site of both fascination and fear (1).
the address book
Remember those times when you were young, and you snuck out of your parent’s house to go to the movies and see, you thought at the time, the most amazing films, mostly because these movies represented a secret opportunity to stare at beautiful men from somewhere in the dark? Like a scientist, you could ignore the big screen, and instead, consume a slow and calculated study of the men around you, and their bodies. You could spend hours just to stare at the shape of their eyes - or at the way their lips moved in the dark, as they quietly, and also in secret, kissed their girlfriends or boyfriends.
Written sometime in the 1980’s, The Address Book, chronicles Sophie Calle’s gradual, but distant immersion in the life of a filmmaker, who’s address book she accidentally finds abandoned on a street in Paris. I find the gestures that Calle invents as she insinuates inside this man’s life, to translate the way I imagine homosexuality: as a chance to relate to someone who’s body is like yours. For Calle, this filmmaker’s mind becomes like a body, that, to her surprise, resembled her own. Perhaps Calle and her filmmaker shared the same head - the way that I shared my head with the boy that is buried in an oversized suit in Bucharest.
While in her 20‘s, and after years of drifting through Europe, and working as a stripper, Calle once said that she had to follow strangers because she was lost. I also follow men - because I am lost. When I am really lost, I turn to Calle’s books, which have become maps that find my way out of the wilderness. Guiding my way out of the night, I’ve come to understand Calle’s encounters with people she hasn’t met as an imaginary lighthouse, beaming its jolts of light into the night as it directs us - walkers that continue to seek opportunities for getting lost - perhaps in the same way that my grandmother secretly keeps bottles of oil from Jerusalem in her purse, when walking in Bucharest during the night. Calle’s object of protection is the stranger. Her books are either pink or red - pocket sized.
As site for double events, the most meaningful encounters with queer sociability find me when I trace, or re-trace, the architecture built from how people in my life - like my grandmother or my father for example, arrange their relationships with the geography of their adult lives. While always doubtful of the ways that mainstream queer literature regulates it’s distrust of heterosexual norms, I choose to look at the way that my father loves my mother for example - as an alternative that I can trace in my relationships with other men. Doubt is important in a young men’s life. As is allowing strangers to choose the course of his future desires. In his memoir Salvation Army, Abdellah Taïa suggests that trusting strangers is a queer gesture in the same way that trusting our father’s advice is radical. And as Sophie Calle dissolves herself in strangers only to reinvent herself, I propose a kind of universal queerness where we, as strangers, momentarily find each other in the middle of a simple, and unsophisticated exchange of air: mine for yours, and yours for mine.
The following recollection documents a personal encounter. Structurally, the narrative presents the encounter as site for a double event - that could be read like a marker which guides the reader through a personal space - but, when observed in parallel, through a performative reading, this encounter also positions the penetrated male body and it’s performative potential in relation to an architectural complicity. As you proceed reading, imagine that you are a hiker that must interpret painted markers on trees, to find your way out of the wilderness. Like in an exchange, I am offering my encounter as your marker.
Sunday, September 22nd, 2013 - 11pm, Calgary
somewhere on a bike path
This is a safe space in Calgary, where I can follow men whom I don’t know - by walking behind them, step for step, until they return to their houses where I usually stand in front of closed doors - sometimes devastated, but mostly desperate.
This evening, (after the usual targeted 10:30pm police raid, where men that find themselves walking without a visible purpose in the dark, are sanctioned with $300 tickets) I accompanied a man up to his doorstep. I made sure that I camouflaged myself enough to disappear in the background.
With a sudden urge, unsuspected in me, I opened the gate and followed the man stealthily into the yard. Meanwhile he entered the house without observing me and I remained alone in the middle of the path leading up to the house. A strange idea passed through my head.
There was a flowerbed in the middle of the garden. In an instant I was in the centre of it, and kneeling with my hand to my heart, head uncovered, I assumed a position of prayer. Here’s what I wanted: to remain standing like this for as long as possible, immobile, petrified in the middle of the flowerbed. For a long time I had been tormented by this longing to commit an absurd act in a completely foreign place, and now it had come to me spontaneously, without effort, almost like a joy. The warm evening hummed around me, and in the first moment I felt an enormous gratitude to myself for the courage of having made this decision.
I told myself to remain completely motionless even if no one chased me away and I had to stay like that until the next morning. Gradually my legs and hands stiffened and my position acquired an interior shell of infinite calm and immobility.
How long did I stay like that? All of a sudden I heard vociferations inside the house and the outdoor light went off.
In the dark I was better able to feel the night breeze and the isolation in which I found myself, in the garden of a stranger’s home.
A few minutes later the light came back on and then went off again. Someone in the house was turning the light on and off to see what effect this would have on me.
I continued to remain motionless, resolved to face more serious trials than the game with the lights. I kept my hand over my heart and my knee planted in the ground.
The door opened and someone came out into the little garden while a deep voice shouted from the house: “Leave him alone, let him be, he’ll go away by himself.” The man that I followed earlier, in the dark came over to me. He was wearing an old Disney shirt, and his briefs. He looked into my eyes and didn’t say anything for a few seconds. We both remained silent. Finally, he put his hand on my shoulder and said gently “Come... it’s over now,” as if he wanted me to understand that he had understood my gesture and had remained silent for some time in order to allow it to play itself out in its own way.
This spontaneous understanding disarmed me. I got up and wiped the dirt from my pants. “Your legs aren’t hurting you?” he asked... “I wouldn’t have been able to stay motionless for so long...” I wanted to say something but couldn’t manage anything other than to murmur “Good evening” and left hurriedly. BC
1. Michael de Certeau arranges thoughts architecturally in the Practice of Everyday Life by translating the act and space of walking into a performative methodology which I recognize in the way that some gay men encounter the geography of urban post-industrial spaces.