I was at a nude gay campground in Tennessee when Pulse happened. There was no cell service so nobody knew about it. Driving back the next day, the text messages starting coming in. “Alex did you go to Orlando?” read a text from my sister followed by “Please answer me!” We turned on the radio and were brought into a new world. At first, they said 30 people were dead. Over the next 24 hours, that number rose to 50, then settled on 49.
We arrived in Atlanta at dusk. I was with my friend Josh and his pack of men. Josh was also my occasional lover, and when I looked at his face, stunned and beautiful, eyes down, I knew it was somehow the end of our sexual relationship, and it was. I can’t say that our silent breakup was a result of the tragedy but I link them together in my mind.
I could have driven to Orlando. It’s not very far.
In the following weeks, writing seemed pointless. People in Florida were giving blood donations and volunteering. Maybe I should go, I thought. I have un-giveable blood, but I have two hands, two feet. I could do something.
49 people were murdered in a place I’d visit — a gay dance club. Nearly every weekend, I visit an Atlanta gay bar. Anyone can walk into any of them on a Saturday night and spray bullets.
A month ago, I was at the local bathhouse. There’s a leather sling in a dark corner and I was there, blindfolded and getting fucked by strangers, when I started thinking about my friend Brent. For the first time in eight months, I wanted to be somewhere else — in my bedroom, sleeping next to him. After my last breakup, I thought I would never have a crush again. I had hooked up too much, had too many wild nights. Promiscuity, I thought, had barred me from conventional feelings of jealousy and romance, things that were reserved for those who didn’t live this way.
I had chosen a savage life, one of slings and drugs and passing connections. No one gets hurt when you don’t know anyone’s name. Still, I was feeling a little romantic. What a strange thing to feel in such a place. Brent moved to New York not long ago and everyone in Atlanta seems to miss him. Everywhere I go, his name appears in conversation.
“You should have met his guy who used to live here. Brent.”
I want to tell them that I lived with him for a little bit before he left. I want to lay some claim over him and say I knew him first, even though I did not. He grew up in Atlanta, this was his hometown. I am a newcomer, someone they do not know and do not need to know.
I have a crush. It’s one of those moony affections you get for men in the afterglow of sex, the kind of feeling that makes you wonder, “Could I? Could we?”
Am I capable of love? Most people would say everyone is capable of love, but I’m not sure about me. Maybe I am different. I have a bad spirit, an urge that takes me out on weekends. I know many people with the same spirit. I see them at sobriety meetings. I don’t like sobriety and don’t buy into its various dogmas, but sometimes I wonder if the sober life, like the conventional world of marriage and children, must at some point be assumed, like exile, in order to survive. Maybe those like me, those locked out of love, must assume with diligence the charade of convention or be lost.
I showered and left the bathhouse. I had a crush on Brent and I needed to tell him. A crush is not possessive, and Brent must never be mine. People don’t belong to people, and I, more than anyone, belong to no one. I simply wanted him to know I was thinking about him in New York and hoping he was having the same effect on people there that he had on me.
Brent is a light. He loves to dance. I want others to experience him and fall in love with him. People like us are meant to be shared.
The most interesting queer people burn out quickly. Lingering in the world demands restraint. If Brent and I share anything, it’s this thing, this spirit — the hunger for pleasure in the midst of unspeakable violence.
When you’re gay, your lovers and friends all blur together. They become this fluid, lifelong dance. Boyfriends become exes who become fuck buddies. Friends become lovers and lovers become friends. I first met Brent at a gay bar, the same one where my last boyfriend, Jose, go-go danced on Saturdays. Every Saturday, I was at the bar, watching him, watching people put dollars in his underwear. On slow nights, he would step off the box and dance with me. We’d get drunk. He and I were together in our little city, five hours from Orlando. We survived until we broke up. Would Brent and I survive? Would another gunman in New York choose the bar where he’s dancing? Is there any point in fearing that?
I first saw Brent on the dance floor. The greatest connections of my life will begin this way, in dance palaces and seedy dives and warehouses filled with lights and music. We talked, danced, flirted, and stumbled back to my place and had raw, beautiful sex. He fisted me (I was so drunk that I don’t remember it) then told me to fuck him.
I remember getting behind him, spitting on my dick, and pushing it in. His hole was dirty, but he wanted me to keep going. He said he didn’t care about shit — on the contrary, he really liked it.
I have spent my life terrified of shit, and I believe this fear comes from a painful interaction with my father when I was in high school. When I came out, he said something terrible — I’ll grow up to live in an apartment that smells like shit — and I have never been able to let it go. It filled me with so much shame. Brent was the first person I bedded who simply didn’t care about shit, who eroticized it and made it welcome on my sheets. In an instant, the last thing I feared about the body was rendered moot. There was nothing ugly about us.
I fucked him and it was nothing like the picture my dad made me believe so many years ago. When I think of all the men I’ve slept with, I wonder how many of them are dead. Most were quick trysts in the dark, faceless and anonymous. Many of them have been forgotten. If I could pull them back to me now, each one, I would tell them it’s been a privilege to share this world with them. We are given so little safety in it, so little security, but I can think of no culture I’d rather defend, no populace I’d be more willing to die for, than these men, these beautiful creatures.
To those who call for our extinction, I’ll leave you with the image of me and Brent. See him and his slick, strong back, bent over in the dark, the pale light coming in through the open window. I wish you could smell our sex and hear my shaking bed and listen to the roar coming from his mouth. You will run out of bullets and your churches will crumble and burn and there will still be men like us fucking like dogs. You will never know what this feels like.
I love my dirty boy.
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