THE SEA OF POSSIBILITIES
As John strode through the high school corridor, head up to find air in the closeness, Patti Smith chanted in his headphones that there was a rhythm generating down the hallway.
There was one, pounded out in textbooks, showers and boy/girl sexuality, with variations tattooed in response, but he ignored it – it did not suit his style of dancing. Unfortunately, the affair did not take to wallflowers.
Horst, Will and Craig were lounging by their lockers, abstractly beautiful bodies, concretely ugly minds. As John passed, and winter light hit his multi-coloured hair, a plan was formulated between the lads.
Collectivity was needed, as they lacked the imagination and will to act alone. Herd mentality protected groups and justified common goals, no matter where it was found.
John had nearly reached the school’s front entrance when they struck.
It was like ballet. The tape player, ripped from John’s grasp, went into a corner of the foyer, playing tinnily.
With precision, Will held John’s arms, exposing the heart to choreographed blows from Horst.
Craig called out steps and provided encouragement and direction.
John was stage and audience.
Patti was asking the listener whether s/he liked it like that.
The offenders did. John held a different, unsolicited opinion.
Finally, the performance was over, and the players left the stage, talking and patting each other on the back. Having shown they were men, affection was sanctioned and sanctified.
Time passed at a variable rate. As it was four o’clock, and the school was deserted, no-one came to his aid. His diminishing resources were marshaled to pull himself up.
Once on his feet, he staggered to the washroom to tidy up and survey damage. Enraptured as he had been by the experience, he had not noticed individual elements – careless, but understandable.
The mirror was warped and stained, but served. There were marks on his neck where Horst’s fingers had found purchase – or perhaps it had been Will’s – they could not keep their hands off him. Given other circumstances, that might have been flattering.
While his chest was tender, nothing appeared broken to sight or touch. They had not targeted his eyes, except for a few scrapes – kind, since old bruises had not yet faded.
Bashers often targeted eyes, he had learned somewhere. They could not stand another man’s look, and had to avert gays/gaze permanently.
In the back of his mind, John almost wished he HAD been blinded by them. However, that was a short-lived, dark fantasy, as it was important to look at such people defiantly until they cringed away in shame/fear/desire – polite engagement was for the polished, among victims and perpetrators – and as there was beauty to see in the world.
But now was no time for philosophy. He had to return ‘home’, because it was his night to prepare dinner, and the others who lived there (not his family – he had none since the death of his mother and the departure of his sister – his father and brother were mere ties in poisoned blood) would be upset if he failed to fulfill his designated duties.
He looked out the door, scanning for the trinity. Not seeing them, he went to his locker, put on his leather jacket (stopping to ensure Patti’s voice rang true – it did), combed his thatch again and left, Patti moaning in his ears about how her friends were not here today.
He had to walk slower than usual, so his father’s car was already home when he arrived there.
Furthermore, his older brother’s bicycle was sprawled across the sidewalk again, for which, although it was not John’s bike, he would somehow be blamed, because all fault accrued to him with interest, or disinterest – he should have been home earlier to put away the bicycle his brother had failed to (it was vital to give a semblance of order to chaos that was ‘order’) – which meant he too had returned from school earlier than usual (Ed attended a school across town, to avoid being seen around John). They both would be hungry, or expecting to be fed, whether they actually had any desire for supper or not – it was routine, and ritual existed outside need or justification…
John paused, took a deep breath and stepped through the doorway, abandoning hope as he did. Certain things were left behind upon entering prison – overt emotion was one.
Ed was the first vision to appear. “Got beat up, huh, freak?” he jeered, mouth full of something undefined.
Ed was not a freak. He looked like what he thought everyone else did, and monitored his actions and words accordingly.
He was, in short, normally abnormal. This phenomenon was well-known to John, but invisible to many others.
Normally, John would have let that slide. Today, however…
“How do you know?” John muttered. “How do you hear these things?”
“When don’t ya, freak!” Ed replied with what he doubtless thought good humour. “’Sides, Will phoned me!”
Until now, John was not aware Ed knew anyone from John’s school. Of course, it should have been no surprise. Evil is a party animal.
Ed was expecting a response – John could tell – as he was standing there, poised and quivering like a regulation mouse-trap. As John did not want what cheese could be gained by risking the device, he shrugged and walked towards his room.
Ed grabbed John’s shoulder. John realized that sore spot had been missed in his self-examination. No matter – he did not give Ed a clear reaction.
“Leave ‘em alone! Quit looking at ‘em and they’ll stop hitting you.” Ed probably meant this as kind.
There was no way not to look at Horst, Will and Craig, however, because they were everywhere and wanted to be regarded. On their terms. Fear.
“When you gonna act normal?” Ed called out after his as John shut his door.
“When normal acts like me,” John muttered as he gingerly removed his jacket and shirt. A poster of Darby Crash looked down upon him with confusion, anger and some form of desire. The parallel to his feelings from a closet-case suicide was cold comfort.
He sat on the bed’s edge and took deep gulps of air, but he was no more able to catch his breath here than anywhere.
John got up and went into the kitchen, contemplating the sustenance he would have to take.
And there was the father, hunched over the brown beer bottle altar.
“About time,” the old man slurred. “You hanging out with your faggy friends again?”
“I don’t have ‘faggy friends’,” John muttered foolishly. Then he froze, near the refrigerator, and the shadow fell across him.
John’s head bounced against the freezer compartment and he slid down the spotless white appliance, hands dragging magnets in the shape of fruit and chocolate boxes and idyllic homes down with him.
“Don’t you sass me, boy!” the father roared.
For the second time that afternoon, John staggered up on his feet.
It was darkly amusing to John that no-one but bashers and his male jailers/fellow inmates ‘read’ him as gay.
It was probably true, in the latter case, that they had some insight into him, though, like all character analyses, ideological glaucoma clouded the vision.
As to bashers, a number of theories had been presented.
There was the idea that bashers were themselves gay, an argument which had never held weight for him, if only because anyone that concerned with conformity, who was a non-conformist only in the sexual sense, should have bought the problematic pacifist mentality plaguing the gay scene and never laid a finger on another human being, even in self-defense.
Internalized homophobia also struck him as a dubious concept. Patterned as it was on assumed commonalities, shared goals, beliefs and cultural images, it was used to attack gay rebels as much as straight bigots. John was aware that he would be accused of it, were he to run across the wrong people.
John favoured the divide and rule theory – that bashers and some gays targeted those viewed and constructed as weak.
It was grimly true that few bashers were as single-issue as the identity politicians who claimed to combat them.
Such thoughts occurred to John as he stirred soup and rubbed his pained head.
Naturally, no-one credited him with ideas. He was, after all, only seventeen, and thus not as wise as those subsumed in either queer or straight culture. Furthermore, his outsider status made him unworthy to comment, just as no-one in North America had any right to speak about Hong Kong and no single person had the right to speak about the abusive nature of a married relationship.
John was not entirely ungrateful about living in Toronto, however.
The city was, after all, the gay Mecca/Shangri-la/Brigadoon – thus holy, idyllic and prone to not appearing to the unclean or those not in the right place at the right time.
He had extensive access to gay materials, books, magazines and groups. He had even read a few, and had one or two hidden away in obscure locations.
There is nothing more alienating than knowing one is gay and being told by the holy texts of one’s alleged (queer) culture that one is not – not to mention by the prophets of one’s tribe.
With the possible exception of Who’s Emma, the anarchist bookstore/record store, there was no queer space John felt comfortable in, and neither was any queer space comfortable with him.
‘Divide and rule’ cut far too many ways, a deadly razor.
Punks were a threat to gays, he had been told more times than he cared to think about.
Of course, gays were also a threat to (queer) punks (and were also bashers and accomplices to self-murder, were the implications carried to the fullest extent) if that attitude went unchallenged – and for the most part, it did.
And naturally, punks were also a threat to (queer) punks in many cases. This also went largely unquestioned.
‘Queer community’ as a monolith was a farce and, most disgusting of all, was often known to be one by participants, who still felt as though it were out of their control – which it could never be.
Freedom to dance to disco music. Freedom to wear a suit – to marry and replicate the circumstances that led to his mother’s suicide and his sister’s fleeing the soul-destroying environment of ownership disguised as love, before she did the same – to fight for welfare reforms that would mean death for many people with AIDS (bad queers?) – to have pride parades acknowledged by the enemy (police, government and big business) – in fact, to have the enemy set up camp in the midst of these commercial ventures – this ‘community’, John could live without.
“Quit thinking and get over here!” John’s father suddenly bellowed from the dining room table.
John sighed very quietly and lifted the soup from the stove, pouring it into shallow bowls set out nearby.
But at last the evening was over. The father had fallen asleep into a drunken stupor over the kitchen table. Ed was holed up in his room with the latest victim of love, who had come after supper.
John sat for a moment or two in the darkness of the “TV lounge”, staring at his reflection in the silenced, dark television, then rose and slipped into his bedroom.
The magazine had a high gloss to it, although it was words on paper and captured images, like any ‘zine. John lay on his bed and flipped through it absently.
He was told these men were beautiful. So were Horst, Will and Craig, however – all muscular with well-combed hair and big, vacant smiles. It was surface – the surface of an alien world that might contain wonders, but also menace.
Normalcy and respectability were the keywords. To be like Conrad Black – successful, well-attired, generally arrogant and self-absorbed – was the goal to shoot for. One had to show seriousness by taking part in what John viewed as a sick joke.
Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, Jayne Mansfield – why did a sub-group claiming interest in the masculine cling to long-dead (physically and/or artistically) female icons? (He was not necessarily disapproving of this phenomenon – just wondering – and questions did seem welcome in this area.)
Why these ones? Had culture ceased to develop around 1969, when those ‘unacceptable, stereotypical, sexist’ (that label should burn in the mouths of the hypocrites who spoke it!) drag queens had rioted and allowed ahistorical jerks years later to deride them in their publication?
What of Patti Smith? What of Poly Styrene? If anything, the alleged interest the queer community had in breaking down stereotypes, which, unfortunately, tended to mean marginalizing non-conformists with greater efficiency than the straight world practiced, should have driven them to these women. Their entire body of work fought for the importance of self and finding one’s place within oneself as well as without.
In any war between the two, ‘within’ had to win, but it was not always possible to survive that battle.
John went over to the record player he had inherited from his sister and put his battered copy of Horses on – to “Land”.
Patti chanted about the hallway, the boy, the angel and the fight/fucking as John lay there in the dark and held his arms around himself tightly – protection, a pinning in.
The needle leapt across the record and stabbed down hard. John, briefly entranced by the chanting and the throbbing music, returned to full consciousness.
“Up there, there is a sea – a sea of possibilities…”, Patti chanted, as various other tracks of her voice intoned words John had never heard clearly.
Tonight, though he still did not hear the actual sub-texts, he began to think it may have been contradictions and doubts and influences that colour even the most assured work of art/life.
It is necessary to listen to these voices, for they might be your own reflected back at you through the headphones as you make the record you will leave behind.
It is not essential to do what they say, but to ignore them is to miss fragments of wisdom, or those who are speaking your language.
Frantic now, Patti was screaming about the sea of possibilities.
John squeezed his eyes tight, both to hide the tears (he had been well-trained) and to see the inside – for eyes open wide may miss the internal vista for the ugliness and beauty that lie without.
He started to quietly whisper, “There is a sea – a sea of possibilities…there is no land but the land.”
“Ah, pretty boy – can’t you show me nothing but surrender?”