From what I am told, I map the geography of his upper body. A faint trail leads southward from the oasis of navel. Northward, the ridgeline runs through a ripple of abs to where well-defined pecs rise up, capped by salmon-brown peaks of aureole and nipple.
Strong neck, square jaw, stubbled chin. Lips full in the flower of youth. Dusting of moustache, unapologetic nose, blue blue eyes. Windblown bangs drift across his forehead. What in his upbringing could prepare him to fathom his own beauty?
He recently came out to himself after growing up in a conservative, homophobic religious tradition. His rugged good looks and generous endowment garner attention, praise, devotion. Heady stuff, I imagine, for one who spent years denigrating himself and his “sinful” desires.
He has thrown himself into the gay sexual scene with abandon. He supplements his sensual exploration with heavy drug use. He regularly engages in barebacking and other unsafe sexual practices.
“I suppose I should get tested.” he says and laughs. His voice tone says he has no such intention. His behavior says he wants it all, wants it now, wants it with no holds barred. No time to think, no time to consider. Take, taste, feel, feel, feel.
In his poem Syringe, Jim Wise describes
The stunning blond god,
His muscles straining against
The taut flesh of a body he
Was just learning to enjoy.
The godlike youth in the poem employs sex as a means of getting heroin into his system. He strips sex of its potential for celebration, emotional connection, a sense of being present to another human being. People make such choices. So do gods. I feel sad when I tot up the costs.
What the gay youth, so recently out, seeks in his headlong rush, I don’t know. To heighten sensation? Numb the pain of losses incurred in coming out? Blot out the confusion of so many new choices? I doubt that he knows himself.
I do not condone his choices, yet I recognize the wild eruption of feeling, the recklessness, the sense that the shackles have been thrown off and anything goes. I felt a similar rush in my coming out journey.
Yet behavior has consequences, understood or not. And desire exerts a powerful pull. The gay poet Cavafy observes (in this translation from the Greek)
He swears every now and then to begin a better life,
But when night comes with its own counsel,
Its own compromises and prospects—
When night comes with its own power
Of a body that needs and demands,
He goes back, lost, to the same fatal pleasure.
In coming out I encountered men who shepherded me, acted as mentors, offered sage advice, modeled appropriate behaviors. I also found men who stood ready to take advantage of my naivete. While I learned something from both sets of men, I have maintained friendships with only one group.
We do others a favor, and bless ourselves and our entire community when we treat others with respect and genuine regard. We can celebrate the body electric—the body erotic, the body taut with pleasure and discovery of its own sexiness—in a way that honors the sacredness of all life, affirms the expression of our sexual selves, and builds community at the same time.
This article appeared in the September issue of The Letter.