Seeing God in his face

Today is Monday, September 18, 2017.

Nicholas and I met during my freshman year at Baldwin Wallace University in Ohio. We were in the same Intro to Theater class and were playing an icebreaker game for the first session. There was a blue ball that was passed around, and whoever had it introduced themselves and then passed it on to another person in the circle. It was Nick’s turn with the ball. He said his name, as was required, and then immediately locked eyes with me. Soon the ball was in my hands.

We started dating on Tuesday, September 18, 2012.

One of the first things we had in common was music. I thought I was the only person in the universe who knew an Imogen Heap song besides “Hide and Seek,” but was (happily) proven wrong. Marina and the Diamonds was another shared love, as was No Doubt. I remember sitting in my dorm room and swapping artists we liked, only to discover the other person loved them too. It was a simple thing, but it got the butterflies going.

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The two of us getting ready for one of our best friend’s wedding.

We spent a lot of time alone, “studying.” Nick and I both enjoyed our solitude, and we could be quite reserved socially. I know I’ve said before that I was a precocious child, but I mellowed out once I got to college. I tended to spend time with people individually, as opposed to groups. Since Nick was similar, it only made it easier for us to be together. I remember our early days being filled with talking and more talking–about everything.

Nick likes to talk. A lot.

Don’t get me wrong, I talk, too–but Nick talks. Sometimes, when he’s on a roll, I’ll just slowly tiptoe out of the room and hope he doesn’t notice (he’s going to roll his eyes when he reads that).

Because of all the talking (wink), I quickly noticed we had some differences in how we spoke. While I was raised in Northeast Ohio, Nick grew up around Dayton–basically two separate worlds. The Northeast, home to Akron and Cleveland, is more hilly terrain and was once known as having “no accent” or a “General American” accent. Southern Ohio, however, veers more towards farmland, and definitely has aspects of Southern or Hoosier accent. I was raised with this “generalized” accent, and so was Nick–mostly. There are key words that he would pronounce different than me, and I always went out of my way to smugly point them out (since, you know, my accent is correct).

For example, “cement.” I put the emphasis on the second syllable, i.e. ce-ment, and pronounce the initial “e” like the “i” sound in “it.” This is the only pronunciation I’ve ever heard, but Nicholas pronounces it “see“-ment, and puts the emphasis on the first syllable. He didn’t even notice the difference until I said something!

However, that pales in comparison to the chasm that exists between us on the word “ornery.” I (again, the obvious correct one) pronounce it “or-nuh-ree” with a long “o” sound, which is how Merriam-Webster pronounces it. Nick, on the other hand, pronounces it “ahn-ree” with a long “a” sound as in “ah.” It’s weird, and does not make any sense. Ah!

That’s when I felt this nudge–an unexplainable small feeling. It told me, in whatever strange cosmic gut-way, that this is right.

I apologize, I digress.

All that being said, we have more in common than we are different.

In particular, we share a similar background of a family focused on faith, who attend church, and who identify themselves as Christians. Nick, who had barely even come out as gay when we first met, adamantly believed that his sexuality doesn’t interfere with his faith–that he could be both gay and Christian. What a concept to me at the time! The strength of his conviction struck me.

That’s when I felt this nudge–an unexplainable small feeling. It told me, in whatever strange cosmic gut-way, that this is right on multiple levels: 1) that Nick is somebody I didn’t want to lose, 2) that God was there, with me, in that moment, and 3) that God was not judging me, but nudging me this way, to this man in particular.

We’ve been long-distance on and off since that first September Tuesday–I studied abroad for a semester, he moved to New York a year before me–and we’ve remained strong. Sure, we have had our ups and downs. But each time a barrier seemed to get in the way, and we thought about calling it quits, the fear that we were leaving something worth more than petty disagreements persisted. We couldn’t escape that we were in something that was meaningful and true.

Living together in New York has been an adventure all of its own. Nick and I have been faced with the arduous task of finding space for all of our stuff in one less-than-ideally-sized bedroom (under-the-bed storage saves lives). And we’ve also quickly learned that patience is key to dealing with each other’s needs and quirks (Him: leaving his underwear on the floor, Me: being anally-retentive about closet space). But I wouldn’t change it for the world. We’ve claimed a little nook of the city and named it as our own.

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Credit: Grace McC Photography

I continually feel that we’re being nudged closer and closer together each day. Maybe this can work? Maybe this is what God wants for me? What does it all mean?

Well, I’m still figuring that out.

But for now, I sense that it means that I have spent the last five years of my life in a relationship with a wonderful human, and that I have many more to look forward to.

Happy anniversary, babe.

What accounts for the existence of gay people? (Part Two)

“I belong to a culture that includes Proust, Henry James, Tchaikovsky, Cole Porter, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Alexander the Great, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Christopher Marlowe, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Tennessee Williams, Byron, E.M. Forster, Lorca, Auden, Francis Bacon, James Baldwin, Harry Stack Sullivan, John Maynard Keynes, Dag Hammarskjöld… Did you know that it was an openly gay Englishman who was as responsible as any man for winning the Second World War? His name was Alan Turing and he cracked the German’s Enigma code so the Allies knew in advance what the Nazis were going to do—and when the war was over he committed suicide he was so hounded for being gay… The only way we’ll have real pride is when we demand recognition of a culture that isn’t just sexual. It’s all there—all through history we’ve been there; but we have to claim it, and identify who was in it, and articulate what’s in our minds and hearts and all our creative contributions to this earth. And until we do that, and until we organize ourselves block by neighborhood by city by state into a united visible community that fights back, we’re doomed. That’s how I want to be defined: as one of the men who fought the war. Being defined by our cocks is literally killing us. Must we all be reduced to becoming our own murderers?”

– Larry Kramer, The Normal Heart

Sometimes I feel like I’m doing things all wrong. I’m 22 and I just moved to New York City; such a “hipster and artsy” move to make, no? I’m young, shouldn’t I make the most of it and “enjoy” it? I suppose this translates to: being generally noncommittal job-wise, trying crazy things, and dating/sleeping around. I mean, I’m down for the first two, but the third? This is where it breaks down, since I’ve been dating the same person for four years and moved in with him upon moving to the city. We have an IKEA bed together. There’s no turning back after that, right?

This anxiety is made worse because the gay community is especially noted for its promiscuity and noncommittal attitudes. I think, generally, we’re in a time where people, both gay and straight, are looking to settle down later in life and the general advice is to “go crazy” in your twenties. But the pressure definitely seems to be a bit harsher in a community that literally made open sexuality a political platform in the ’70s and ’80s.

If you asked a non-LGBT person what they thought were some of the dominant traits of gay people (and gay men, in particular), I’m sure promiscuity/unconventional sexual habits would come into play in the conversation at some point. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with that trait, but what else do they mention? Do they mention empathy? Do they mention strength? Do they mention creativity?

By which one of those traits would you rather be defined?

For me, it comes down to focus. What do I want to focus on as my main “thing”? How do I want others to see me, or remember me? The “sex” in sexuality is definitely important (don’t I know it), but should it define us exclusively? Isn’t sexuality more than just “sex”?

That’s a lot of questions, I apologize, but I think they are questions worth raising. They are questions Larry Kramer has raised his whole life, especially in his play The Normal Heart, set amidst the hysteria and confusion of the onset of the AIDS crisis. Sex was the political imperative among the gay movement at the time (and it’s not a far reach for today’s, either), which became an issue for some as the reality of AIDS began to settle in, along with the realization that it was probably being transmitted sexually. The very act the gay movement aligned with its liberation and revolution, became the means by which its members were killed off in droves.

Nicholas Benton has a lot to say on this topic, and this is where he becomes particularly controversial in the dynamics of gay politics. He published one hundred columns under the title “Nick Benton’s Gay Science” as a reference to the 1882 book by Friedrich Nietzsche simply titled “The Gay Science.” Nietzsche’s title refers to the “science” of writing poetry (a common phrase at the time), while Benton’s covers topics of gay identity and history, repudiating the 1960’s “hedonistic” counterculture that influenced the burgeoning gay rights movement. Benton draws a clear line in the sand between his gay science and Nietzsche’s, contending that the philosopher’s anti-socialist, pro-individualist, “will to power” thought and policy first played a role in European fascism, and then gave way to modernism and post-modernism currents, mixing with the works of Ayn Rand, the Structuralists, and others to create anarchism and nihilism, which merged with libertarianism and radical hedonism to bring us the emerging 1960s counter-culture (confused yet?).

I’m not claiming to be a pro on the history of philosophy in the twentieth century; it’s very interesting to me and I want to learn more, but the nugget I wanted to grab from all this was Benton’s belief that these philosophical currents negatively influenced the young gay rights movement in the 1960s, leading to the influence of the Beats and French philosopher Michel Foucault (of whom he is not a fan). He believes these forces “hijacked and almost killed the LGBT movement in the earliest days of the post-Stonewall era… Tirelessly expounding a relentless demand for excess, for pushing beyond the limit against social convention, its proponents drove sex from romance to mechanical excess in the major urban centers, converting a happy, burgeoning LGBT community into a string of financially-lucrative businesses catering to what Foucault… and his kind pushed as the revolutionary nature of unbridled sexual excess” (Benton 44).

Okay WOAH that’s a lot. But, essentially, he sees the “sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll” movement of the ’60s, along with the politicized sexual excess called for by the likes of Allen Ginsberg and Foucault, as forces that enabled urban centers to become hotbeds for exotic infectious diseases. Anybody who fought against the excess were “angrily decried as reactionary and homophobic by leaders of gay organizations who were often owners or friends of owners of these sex-related businesses” (44). Kramer’s works can attest to this, as well (The Normal Heart and his novel Faggots, too). These queer influencers put sex at the forefront of the movement, and while they certainly cannot be the sole blame of the AIDS epidemic, it’s hard to argue that they did not contribute to an unsafe environment through which such a horrible disease could spread with ease. And kill tens upon thousands of young, beautiful souls.

Which brings me back to Benton’s core gay identifiers, and the underlying belief in the ability and preciousness of gay souls. His three suggested aspects to help define gay identity are by no means an imposition, but rather, an attempt to “raise questions and propose hypotheses out of which a more universal sense of gay identity may emerge, if not immediately, perhaps over decades or longer” (Benton 133). We are unique, but not superior; we are different than straight people in our “non-dominant social-sexual position” that I mentioned in the previous post. Benton asks (as do I), “What is at the core of that? If it can be found, wouldn’t that help to define a positive identity for gay people, generally?”

A positive, purposeful, substantive identity for LGBT people—is it possible, or no? Must it forever be linked to mindless, mechanical sexual excess? Or are Benton’s ideas of gay identity—notions of sensibility, alternative perspective, and constructive non-conformity—a fuller lens through which to view ourselves? Our forefathers are the likes of Tennessee Williams and Aristotle; I wonder what they would think?

[Benton, Nicholas F. Extraordinary Hearts: Reclaiming Gay Sensibility’s Central Role in the Progress of Civilization. Maple Shade, NJ: Lethe, 2013. Print.]