I could never give words to the tragedy this week, to the pain, I could never do justice to the gaping wound this has left in the many mourning overlapping communities…
I keep returning to Alan Ginsberg’s “America.”
“America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing”
I remember going out to a gay club for the first time when I was 18. Limelight. “Alright, but take your friend with you”—my friend who was taller than me, stronger than me, was black—”Be careful. Call me to let me know you’re okay. Stay safe.”—Stay safe, stay safe, stay safe…
… Police were stationed outside. No lights, no words. Leaning against the hoods of their cars as sparkling drag queens chain smoked by the door. On another night there would be protesters, they would hold their signs, they would spit. The cop would stay in his car, staring down the street, thinking about his wife and child that he wished he could be with instead of watching us. But he was there to keep us safe, we were told.
An old run down club in the back of an old run down Harley shop on Dickinson Avenue.
My friends and I danced, cheered, leaned against the rails of the balcony screaming at the top of our lungs as a drag queen twirled, spun, and jumped into a death drop. For the first time, a guy bought me a drink and we danced. For the first time, I didn’t worry about what those around me thought. For the first time, I didn’t have to ask if I was acting too gay, too visible, too in someone else’s face to not piss off anyone in rural, eastern North Carolina. I didn’t have to insist that my existence as a gay man be recognized, I didn’t have to insist that my experience mattered. There was no safer space… for a night…
The Paddock became the first gay clubs in the region in 1973—
We are moving… This space is ours, shifting, moving…
—The Paddock closed in 2003
We reach, we build… We inhabit, we desire…
The Great American Mining Company took it’s place—
Our spaces…. our identities… have histories….
—closed in 2011
Trace them… see us reaching… growing… moving….
Limelight opened in 2011—
Trace them along our bodies… touch and feel them… feel the desire in our groping,
feel the shapes our bodies make as we move and shift… as we dance…
along the fleshy contours that bound our spaces…
along the scars left by unspoken violences
scars from the wounds left in our moving, shifting…
… call them by your names.
Call them ours.
—and closed in 2015
The city took it from us for wider roads… for rezoning… to “clean up” Uptown…
Stay safe, stay safe, stay safe…
“I’m addressing you”
Hey there old friend,
I know it’s been a while. But I needed to write you.
2010. I was 17.
I know it’s been six years. Part of me wonders if you even remember me.
I was recovering still from my first suicide attempt. It was the year that kid on the baseball team pushed me against the locker and punched me so hard he knocked the air out of me.
It was the year I helped organize my school’s Tolerance Week. It was the year I started volunteering with the NC Democratic Party. It was the year I wrote this poem.
It was the year that nine teenagers committed suicide in one month because they were bullied for being gay.
September. Do you know their names? Did you see the headlines with their faces?
Cody J. Barker, 17; Asher Brown, 13; Harrison Chase Brown, 15; Raymond Chase, 19; Tyler Clementi, 18; Billy Lucas, 15; Caleb Nolt, 14; Felix Sacco, 17; Seth Walsh, 13.
All the tears I shed over each of these men. I was so close to being one of them. Each name and face tore new wounds I still don’t know how to explain. It was one of the hardest months of my life.
October. Many of us living with open wounds needed to mourn, to grieve these lives lost. One day. We posted that we would wear purple for one day to commemorate their loss.
Do you remember what you said? It was just a Facebook status. “If they want to wear purple, let’s wear yellow to show we don’t support them.” Before I came out, you were my best friend. You were not the only friend that I lost.
Would you still do that today? I don’t know. I don’t want to know. But I need you to know that you were not innocent, that you were heard and seen and felt. You were not in Orlando, but you and every homophobe and complacent person like you had your hands on his shoulder, and I need you to know that you were heard and seen and felt.
I wonder if you’ll learn the growing list of names killed by your hatred.
Your Old Friend
“It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.”
“America stop pushing I know what I’m doing.”
“Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb”
“America this is quite serious.”
I remember my first Pride.
It was another September. Duke University. The Raleigh Gay Men’s Chorus sang, Marilyn Monroe on stilts walked around, towering among the vendors, on the grassy hill the GSA of the NC School of the Arts sits and plays a series of games, the streets are lined in flags of pride. Covered in glitter and beads, we look back at the protesters, their signs, their slogans and we are the sissies, the queers they are talking about and we smile. We swish our hips and we march.
But over the skies are dark and it rains. We talk about Amendment One. We’re scared. There is already a law in NC banning gay marriage. We make plans to advocate, but as much as there is celebration, there is tension. LGB youth are twice as likely to attempt suicide; 50% of transgender youth report suicidal thoughts.
I was so driven then. I believed in hope more than anything else. Now, I find myself most days staring at the screen, crying, and asking over and over into the empty air of an empty apartment, “What can I do?”
Writing seems like such a small thing to do. I wrote on Tumblr that the reason I write now is that “I need queer voices, now more than ever.” and I need to queer the voices now, more than ever.
ARTICLE XIV, Section 6, 2012:
Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this State. This section does not prohibit a private party from entering into contracts with another private party; nor does this section prohibit courts from adjudicating the rights of private parties pursuant to such contracts.
Opinion of the Supreme Court, overturning Amendment One:
“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right“
NC HB2, 2016:
“11 (b) Single-Sex Multiple Occupancy Bathroom and Changing Facilities. – Local boards of 12 education shall require every multiple occupancy bathroom or changing facility that is designated 13 for student use to be designated for and used only by students based on their biological sex.“
What hit the floor to vote the day after Orlando:
I can never give words to the pain, I could never do justice to this tragedy. I could never name the pain this has left in the communities who now mourn.
But don’t you dare tell the queer community what their deaths were “really about.”
Do not silence their voices, do not silence their queerness.
Your homophobia has already killed them.
When you distance the hatred that motivated this attack and the identities of those we lost, you perpetrate a second violence, you continue to erase and silence those who were not only systemically oppressed but who were murdered for existing.
I am white, I am gay, I am a man, I am queer, I am American, I am a rape survivor, I grieve, I mourn, I hurt, I ache…
“I heard what happened.”
“I’m so sorry. I love you.”
“Stay safe out there, k?”
Where? Where is safe? Selves, spaces, lives, safety…
I’m tired… I cannot mediate your emotions.
All I can do is write to sort through my own wounds, to show the movement of my own experiences, to respond to the repeating stay safe, to make visible fragments of memories.
I will insist on justice. I will insist in remembering. I will insist on honoring.
And I will grieve and I will say their names.
America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.
America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956.
I can’t stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?
Go fuck yourself with your atom bomb
I don’t feel good don’t bother me.
I won’t write my poem till I’m in my right mind.
America when will you be angelic?
When will you take off your clothes?
When will you look at yourself through the grave?
When will you be worthy of your million Trotskyites?
America why are your libraries full of tears?
America when will you send your eggs to India?
I’m sick of your insane demands.
When can I go into the supermarket and buy what I need with my good looks?
America after all it is you and I who are perfect not the next world.
Your machinery is too much for me.
You made me want to be a saint.
There must be some other way to settle this argument.
Burroughs is in Tangiers I don’t think he’ll come back it’s sinister.
Are you being sinister or is this some form of practical joke?
I’m trying to come to the point.
I refuse to give up my obsession.
America stop pushing I know what I’m doing.
America the plum blossoms are falling.
I haven’t read the newspapers for months, everyday somebody goes on trial for
America I feel sentimental about the Wobblies.
America I used to be a communist when I was a kid and I’m not sorry.
I smoke marijuana every chance I get.
I sit in my house for days on end and stare at the roses in the closet.
When I go to Chinatown I get drunk and never get laid.
My mind is made up there’s going to be trouble.
You should have seen me reading Marx.
My psychoanalyst thinks I’m perfectly right.
I won’t say the Lord’s Prayer.
I have mystical visions and cosmic vibrations.
America I still haven’t told you what you did to Uncle Max after he came over
I’m addressing you.
Are you going to let our emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I’m obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It’s always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious. Movie
producers are serious. Everybody’s serious but me.
It occurs to me that I am America.
I am talking to myself again.
Asia is rising against me.
I haven’t got a chinaman’s chance.
I’d better consider my national resources.
My national resources consist of two joints of marijuana millions of genitals
an unpublishable private literature that goes 1400 miles and hour and
twentyfivethousand mental institutions.
I say nothing about my prisons nor the millions of underpriviliged who live in
my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns.
I have abolished the whorehouses of France, Tangiers is the next to go.
My ambition is to be President despite the fact that I’m a Catholic.
America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?
I will continue like Henry Ford my strophes are as individual as his
automobiles more so they’re all different sexes
America I will sell you strophes $2500 apiece $500 down on your old strophe
America free Tom Mooney
America save the Spanish Loyalists
America Sacco & Vanzetti must not die
America I am the Scottsboro boys.
America when I was seven momma took me to Communist Cell meetings they
sold us garbanzos a handful per ticket a ticket costs a nickel and the
speeches were free everybody was angelic and sentimental about the
workers it was all so sincere you have no idea what a good thing the party
was in 1835 Scott Nearing was a grand old man a real mensch Mother
Bloor made me cry I once saw Israel Amter plain. Everybody must have
been a spy.
America you don’re really want to go to war.
America it’s them bad Russians.
Them Russians them Russians and them Chinamen. And them Russians.
The Russia wants to eat us alive. The Russia’s power mad. She wants to take
our cars from out our garages.
Her wants to grab Chicago. Her needs a Red Reader’s Digest. her wants our
auto plants in Siberia. Him big bureaucracy running our fillingstations.
That no good. Ugh. Him makes Indians learn read. Him need big black niggers.
Hah. Her make us all work sixteen hours a day. Help.
America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
I’d better get right down to the job.
It’s true I don’t want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts
factories, I’m nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.
America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.