1. It starts somewhere in childhood because of the first moment I pick up a sparkler. Against the muggy night on my grandparent’s front lawn, a lighter flick ignites the end into white-hot sparks. As I wonder just how close my hand can get to the fire, a melody plays out:
America, America, God shed his grace on thee…
2. In high school, the question of representation emerges. I’m sitting in my English class, reading some School Board approved novel. It’s the summer after I’ve come out as a gay, and sitting in this plastic chair now feels cheap. I’ve don’t know where, exactly, it’s come from, but I suddenly see the world differently.
2a. Nowhere in these pages I flip through (or any other I’ve read) is the experience with my body. Does anyone else in this class know what it means to come out as gay?
2b. Later, maybe I’m in science class, learning about animal behavior, I wonder why we’re not learning more about human experience. Over the past three months, my own struggle to reveal this interior desire. The worry that everyone would turn their backs on me because of my sexuality.
3. The first decision to abandon home, out of a basic hunger to discover the truths about my body. In that space between hunger and discovery, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, I was made again.
3a. To be made again, as an act, is to recognize every vision you’ve had before is a total lie.
3b. Once you move beyond the total lie, you spend the rest of your life uncovering a string of half-truths.
4. The race time I really understood race as a component of citizenship. Gloria Anzaldua. Borderlands/La Frontera. Of what it means to live in the borderland, of that space between identities.
4a. From here I begin writing, as Jose Munoz describes, a text “which scrambles and reconstructs the encoded message of a cultural text in a fashion that both exposes the encoded message’s universalizing and exclusionary machinations and recircuits its working to account for, include, and empower minority identities and identifications.”
4b. Another way of putting it: from her words, I finally write from tendon & ligament. Every sentence is a contraction of flesh, a movement forward in purposing my identity.
5. I come into the global world here, removed from it oddly enough. 45 minutes to the train station, and another two and a half hours to get down to New York, the desire for citizenship starts being framed as the need for connection.
5a. For bare flesh, yes. Cock in hand. A flurry of kisses. The edges of fingers running down my abdomen. To generate ecstasy with heat.
5b. To live in a city. Maybe for the constant hum, construction workers hammering away, yellow taxis speeding by on a conveyor belt of traffic, stoppages of my own movement against the red ‘don’t walk’ signs.
5c. But more for the intertwined bodies. The Dominican retail worker meets a hedge fund assistant from Milwaukee at the bodega, who waits in line to get 13 dollar pack of American Spirits.
6. From 2008, roots are pulled out of the ground. My two year scholarship expires & I end up in New Orleans with the naïve idea by attending Tulane I can somehow ‘make a difference’ post-Katrina.
6a. The role of citizen as activist begins to clarify here, even as the failures of activism reveal themselves all too painfully. 3 years after Katrina, I walk in neighborhood of waist high grasses. Half the houses are graffiti-ed husks, the spray markings indicating bodies, dead or alive. But families still live here & will never live. Many have known no other home and/or have no means to leave.
6b. My sheepish white body knocking delicately on the doors. A face or half a body peers out from inside what I recognize as not-my-world. I ask them, “Are you voting for Barack Obama in the primary?”
6c. I guess I still believe in American Dream here. (Though the notion of elected officials representing me will all but evaporate soon after.)
7. I leave Louisiana once I realize I see myself stagnant. Against the flat ground and stagnant air, there’s an endless cycling back of broken apart promises. Now at Goddard College, I make the decision in April 2010 to move to the city of myth, to the city where I think I can become a full citizen—New York.
8. When I first get there I have maybe 600 dollars, a single suitcase, and the chorus from “New York, New York.” Does what happens here get me any closer to defining what it means to be a citizen? Maybe, if to live as a citizen is to inhabit a violent and contradictory world.
8a. If you move to New York with 600 dollars, except to eat a lot of dollar slices of pizza or live at the mercy of friends. I did both, moving from place to place every couple weeks. Sitting on a new subway line every move, I wondered what people must think of me or where I was going.
8b. If you move to New York and you’re a man who likes to fuck other men, you’ll probably not use a condom at least once. This practice, for me, was at odds with the White Columns exhibit on ACT UP I’d seen. Ghostly bodies everywhere as I meet a French guy from Grindr at the Hell’s Kitchen Starbucks.
8.1b. I don’t ask him if we should use a condom back at his hotel room. We just slip inside of each other, as if we’re each other’s shirt. But the next morning, as I walk a few blocks to my assistant job in the downpour, there’s so much guilt for the ghosts from those exhibits.
8c. If you move to New York, the promise of proximity may turn out to be something different than you expected. More people than anywhere else pass ideas between each other. But racial segregation and self-segregation along other lines is all too evident.
9. I just had gotten fired from my job unexpectedly in early March 2011. (Increasingly I get heated about the lack of job security, these days. About how, with a single proclamation, most of my livelihood is lost & I am alone.
But a departure from that situation manages to occur. My friend is in town and the first break of winter at least perpetuates some myth of rebirth. We grab coffee and walk west down 13th, as any two faggots might do on a similar warm morning.
9a. I’ve told this story too many times, so I will not repeat in excruciating detail. I will only say on 13th past 7th Ave, a young stranger came up from behind me. Three hard punches to the face & I stare up—looking at, but also somehow tasting, wrought iron.
9b. In this aftermath, this is the second closest thing that happens that makes me assume I’d be living a lie.
9.1b. Except now, unlike 2006 in Great Barrington, I’ve already seen the things that will happen next. Just not so completely in my body, not so much as how a single act of violence eviscerates the myth of the body as citizen.