Robb’s Last Tape (Take Six)

IMG_5927

I trust you’re wondering by now what happened to the guy I slept with, that only guy I ever slept with, the one I mentioned in passing at the beginning of this story, and the one I even told my English high school teacher about. Of course I did not mention the sex part to her – it would have been awfully and dreadfully rude of me – about how painful it was, how discomforting, how debasing, how fantastic. Telling her about the taxi driver who also happened to be the member of some city council in Florence, and who also happened to have parents who owned a gorgeous house by the sea, was my way of coming out to her (I used the same kind of technique on a couple of occasions). I’ll keep some of the details about this particular guy to myself because I wouldn’t want people to recognize him. Let him have his privacy, his career might suffer. And besides, let’s keep the aura of romanticism I’m trying to draw around his pretty little face vivid and kicking.

In fact, when I told my English teacher about him, implying that I was gay, her reaction was, in a way, one you’d expect. You know, she said, this whole thing might be just a phase. Have you actually tried going out with girls? If you haven’t, maybe you should, you know, see what game the other team is playing. That sort of thing. I was okay with it, of course, and told her that I had tried playing for the other team and things just didn’t work out. The moment I said it, we were in a restaurant and I was having a salad and a lemonade and she was having pasta, I was actually thinking of the fact that I couldn’t get hard in the vicinity of boobs and batting eyelashes, and that was the main point. I got the same kind of reaction from a good friend from college and he had used the same words, more or less, obliquely implying that I was missing out on an experience that would have definitely shaped who I turned out to be. He then told me that he was totally okay with it not out of a personal belief but mainly because on his frequent travels to the United Kingdom he had seen stuff. It was all good as long as I kept certain things to myself. I made a joke about wearing gloves around him and he told me I was being dramatic. I have not heard from him since. (Remember when I told you that you have to be straight first in order to be gay?)

Then, while I was having my salad, something really weird happened, something that I have been unable to decipher to this present day, and I’m asking everybody about it, especially those people who find themselves in a relationship. My English teacher asked me what was so special about this guy, since I had called him boyfriend in our conversation, and my answer contained humungous amounts of shit, the kind you find in fairytales and cheesy movies. Oh, you know, he was smart, and kind, and good-looking, and made me feel protected. I believe I even gestured with my hands to show how safe I felt around him, a kind of self hug. The kind of answers we give to questions like those are pretty much on the same line of reasoning, namely based on things we had previously heard from others, when in fact we do not experience them at all (maybe I wanted to feel protected), and they have zero emotional impact on the person listening. I tried asking this question in other conversations with both straight and gay people. What do you see, or rather, what do you feel when you look at the person you are in a relationship with? What made you fall in love with that particular person and not somebody else?

The answers that I’ve been served have always been so inconclusive that I can’t even remember them right now. I couldn’t even tell you what they were, they were that lame. But they were something like this: oh, I like the way she smiles, it makes me feel warm on the inside; I like the way he looks, and when we are on an escalator he would always stand on the upper step and kiss me on the top of my head; I feel comfortable in his presence, and he does all these little things for me. I always nodded and said I see thoughtfully when in fact I didn’t see anything except the things that were happening at the time around me, such as the fact that a dog was taking a dump on the street and the owner was getting ready to clean up the mess, a green plastic bag in his hand. Love is so much more beautiful when you don’t have it, a wise man would have said. But I am no wise man.

Anyways, back to the taxi driver. I had met him on a gay dating site, the one destined for bears, and muscle bears, and otters, and daddies, and admirers and chasers etc. Now this guy, he was an admirer, and he was tall and thin and had long hair and when he smiled he resembled a mouse, and he was studying design. He also liked drinking milk and eating chocolate chip cookies after a workout (he was a big fan of calcetto, soccer but with fewer players). And I was the lucky guy he chose out of the hundreds of chubby guys on that dating site. We chatted for a long while, for more than a year, before we met in person, and we had never exchanged dick pics, not even one, though we did occasionally mention dicks in casual conversation. He was almost unreal. There he was, I thought at the time, my knight in shining armor, complete with job and personal car, who didn’t ask for dick pics and was not horny all the time. We exchanged phone numbers, we added each other on Facebook, he told me about his sister who was a fashion designer or something like that (he was still in the closet with his family, as was I), I saw pictures of him at a wedding, and I cringed every time I saw a chubby guy around him in one of those pictures. He complimented my handwriting and even suggested he might create a font that would mime it (but that was too complicated).

One night I woke up sweating and screaming from a terrible nightmare in which my grandmother was telling me and my brother that the next day we were going to be buried alive, and I was thinking of ways to poison ourselves so as not to go through the terrible ordeal of suffocation. I did not wake my parents, I did not switch on the light, I just stood there in my bed trying to convince myself that there were no monsters in my room, and that darkness had only been rendered terrifying by the nightmare. It was still my old room, which was actually a kitchen because my brother and his fiancée were still living with us and I was no longer able to use the second bedroom. But my grandmother’s voice kept returning and so I decided to text him and tell him about the dream. It was three in the morning so I didn’t think he would reply, but then he did, and he tried comforting me by telling me to imagine that he was there next to me, and that there was nothing to be afraid of, and strangely enough I fell back asleep. The next day there was a rigidity in my head that could only have been an effect of the dream. Deep down I feared my grandmother and felt guilty about my sexual preferences. Sigmund Freud, analyze this.

I really wanted to meet this guy and thought of all kinds of ways of doing it until we both decided that it was high time we spent some time together. I lied to my parents telling them that I was going to spend a couple of days with some university friends at the seaside, and with my scholarship money I bought a train ticket to Florence. The guy did not live in Florence but in a small city close by, so I had to take another local train in order to reach my destination. When I got to the small paesino the scenery was eerily dramatic, the kind you’d see in movies taking place in Italy. It was incredibly hot, it was hilly, Italian style, and the train station was high up on a sort of concrete bridge. I got down to the street level and found myself alone on the platform, no sign of other human beings on at least a mile radius (it was also lunchtime, and in Italy streets are pretty deserted at that time of the day). A few minutes later I got a text from him informing me that he was coming, he just had to leave his dog at his grandmother’s house. He even has a dog, I thought, that’s just perfect, and I imagined us later on staying in bed with the dog, or having sex while the dog was watching us.

And then he came and we awkwardly shook hands and kissed on the cheek the way Italian guys usually do (even without being gay). In the car we listened to music and he held his hand on my knee while driving and for a long moment I thought that I had finally achieved the kind of happiness everyone coveted. I had finally found a guy I liked, and he liked me back, a guy that did not have weird fetishes, he was no enema lover, no feet licker (except maybe for the fact that he liked chubby guys). The drive to the seaside was about an hour long and he kept his hand on my knee even when the other drivers around us seemed to be looking at us. I know I was a little paranoid about the other drivers, but in those moments I felt like vanishing because I was ashamed. I wanted to push his hand away, or somehow signal to him that I was uncomfortable because of the other drivers in traffic. He did not get the signal, and he took his hand off my knee only when he needed to change gears.

The moment we got into the house, which was a beautiful summer house hidden from the street by bushy trees with leaves that seemed oily in the scorching sun, he started kissing me. We sat at the kitchen table and in between kisses I was trying to tell him that I wasn’t that good at kissing, and that he was the second guy I had kissed in my entire life, and that I might disappoint him from that point of view. He kindly dismissed my remarks telling me that I should stop worrying about it. I felt ashamed and awkward, not knowing where to put my hands, and what to do with my body. His tongue felt so foreign and out of place in my mouth, his saliva salty. After showing me the house, which wasn’t that big as it seemed when I had a first glimpse of it, he told me that I can unpack my things. He stretched on the bed and watched me unpack, indicating where I should put my things. Just leave it there or, you can put that in the bathroom. There was a boyish ease in his manner, in the way he wiggled his toes on the bed, the way he threw his duffle bag on the floor by the dresser the moment he got into the room like a teenage boy returning from football practice.

Come here, he finally said when my things were in place mixed with his, and I stretched next to him, freaking out on the inside. His body had a bony hardness when I put my head on his chest, and he kept pulling my face up to kiss me. But then it wasn’t about me anymore, it was all about him. Now take off your shirt. Now take off your pants. Now get rid of that underwear as well. Silently, I obeyed him, and one by one he mirrored all of my movements. I’ll probably never know what he felt in those moments, we never talked about it, and the last time I talked to him was a few months ago while I was still in New York City and he told me to stay there and never come back. But I believe there was a time during the first encounter when it wasn’t about either of us. I felt disembodied to say the least, as if there was something else inside me that moved and told me what to do. Now go down on him, feel him, do what he says. And in a way I felt like I needed that abandon because in that abandon I felt as if I did not hate myself anymore, for an instant I felt like everything was going to be okay, for a moment it felt like I could finally find myself on the other side of okay. And I’ll keep some of the details to myself. I’ll leave you with this mental image though: after he came he fell asleep and snored, cum pooling in his bellybutton.

The abandon continued for the next days. He slept in late, I woke up early to write about the experience but couldn’t put it into words. My guts squirmed and I couldn’t keep my feet steady. Some might say that I was somehow happy, but I didn’t think of happiness at that point, this was real, much more than the very abstract notion of happiness. We went to the beach and I watched him swim. That boyish manner returned when he jumped into the water careful not to splash it over the other swimmers. He fished a sea urchin out of the water and showed it to me. We stood on the docks in the sun with our feet in the water and when nobody was looking he put his foot under mine and tapped lightly against it. Back at the house we watched Eddie Izzard and random episodes from Game of Thrones, especially those where Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) was on. He sighed at the sight of him and purred like a cat, a deep sexy grunt boiling into his chest. He played games on his iPhone and told me he was irreparably busy. I made a video of him which I still have, even to this day. That digital memory of him has somehow managed to survive the irrational wrath I felt when I knew it was all over. Then we had sex again, Eddie Izzard still talking in the background, and I might have laughed at some of his jokes while I was on my knees doing things to him. We might have been watching episodes of Little Britain while doing it. There’s-a-limit-to-my-honesty is the best policy.

On our last day together we stained the sheets and had to wash them, dry them in the sun. I felt so ashamed of it because he had told me the previous day that his sister was going to use the house later on in the afternoon, and I was afraid she was going to notice it. I never knew whether she did or not. I felt ashamed because I knew it was my fault. I had been sloppy. I should have suggested we put a towel underneath us. We rushed to the train station. I almost missed my train. When I finally got back home that night I did not miss him, at all, even though at the train station he hugged me and I felt his voice trembling in his chest. I felt anger mostly, and fear, I felt as if he had stolen something away from me because I knew that I was never going to see him again. I tried crying but couldn’t no matter how hard I tried. I feared STDs, I feared that he had done something to me behind my back. The next months were excruciatingly painful, the months in which I was trying to convince myself I had to do an HIV test. I desperately looked for symptoms, read articles on the internet and fell deep into my well of despair every time I felt that I had in fact experienced some of the symptoms I read about in those articles. Then I took the test, along with a couple of other tests, and they all came out negative. The envelope I was given with my results in it was white and felt like a closure. Before opening it I thought that whatever was inside it would constitute the expression of whatever we shared in those moments at the seaside. And I came clean out of it, as if it had never happened. Only after this final confirmation we could both carry on with our lives. The words on that slip of paper were our way of saying goodbye.

Slowly he vanished the way colors fade when exposed to direct sunlight. It took longer for him to reply to my texts, he never called, I never called, and in that silence there was a unspoken finality, akin to a prolonged breathing out. It was only later on, much later on, that he told me he had in fact fallen in love with somebody else. He did not say I should stop contacting him, nothing of the sort, but our conversation fell into long silences, and I let it drop. It was time to let go. There is no proper way to let go, one merely lets go, and that’s it.

Years later, when I first read Andrew Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance, I felt like John Schaeffer about the whole affair. Like Schaeffer, I thought of writing love letters to my Malone, but my Malone was exactly like that fictional Malone from the novel. “‘Forget the sheer style, and beauty,’ resumed Malone, ‘in this room. It’s all we’ll ever see of the Beatific Vision!'” The room Malone is referring to here was full of gorgeous men, and he was talking to a younger Schaeffer, who was up and ready to forget about the Beatific Vision and be Malone’s only lover. Enjoy it while you can. I know he’d reject me now because I’m no longer chubby and I’m no longer able to accommodate his fetish for baby fat, but at times longing washes over me. I don’t miss him, don’t get me wrong, I miss the way I felt about him, the abandon, the way we played house like children on a boring summer afternoon.

Robb’s Last Tape (Take Five)

IMG_5907

It’s always hard to believe that the happiness you see in others is not yours, can never be yours. In fact, we are so convinced of the fact that everybody deserves to be happy that at times we end up believing that the happiness displayed by others is really ours, that it has been stolen from us, as if happiness is fossil fuel, limited, non-renewable, and accessible only to those who own a certain quantity of capital. Once it’s used, it’s gone. What do they have that I don’t? The kind of emotional jealousy implicit in this way of thinking is a dangerous downward slope, and downward slopes are always dangerous, unless you are a kid, because in the adult world time is always running out. At least, that’s what it feels like when you are nearing the age of thirty, when everything in your life will acquire a sense of urgency and an edge of despair. You’ll think of other people, famous writers who wrote their best by the age of twenty-three, that friend who seems so accomplished, who is earning more money than you, to the point where everything that you have ever done feels insignificant, inconclusive like the papers of the average students in your class. But the most painful aspect on your long list of failures is your inability to find your significant other. And the social pressure behind it is almost suffocating. For instance, every time I go back to my home country the first thing that older people, such as my grandparents and my primary school teacher, ask me is whether I have taken any steps towards building a family. Have you got a girlfriend? No matter what answers I give (marriage is a trap, I don’t need a ring around my finger to make me feel complete, marriage has become an option etc.) they are never satisfactory to them. And I see it in the way they curb their mouths downwards, in the way they try to convince me that there comes a time in life when you can only find personal satisfaction in having a family, in working for the sake of your kids.

That’s the thing, I want to tell them, I know of the fact that my mother abandoned her studies to get married at a very early age (she was barely eighteen when she got married), and I know that she had to burn her dreams, whatever they were, on the pyre of family values. I’m well aware that she hates her current job, and that she employs an inhuman amount of self-control in order to continue doing her job. I’m also well aware of the fact that my father did not have any dreams of that sort because he’s in the habit shitting on every job he’s offered. He got fired from his first job (a crime scene investigator and a policeman), and he got fired from his second job (an agent of the internal revenue service) because of his gambling addiction. My father’s only dream from that point of view was to get his hands on easy money by winning the lottery and by embezzling other people’s money. After running away from the country, my mother following him immediately after, people kept coming to our door to ask for the money that he had allegedly “borrowed” from them. I’m well aware of the fact that my brother and I won’t inherit anything, no properties, no money, and most likely no self-esteem. All of us live on a month to month basis, struggling daily to have less month at the end of our money. All of us dread the months in which we have to pay our car insurance, and we prepare for it psychologically six months ahead.

My father’s pathological gambling has even led to suicide threats on a couple of occasions, to late night visits to the nearest police station, to repeated calls that ended with the voice of the answering machine, and to obscure texts informing us that he was leaving not knowing where, and that we should forget about him and get on with our lives. During the first year I came to Italy to live with my parents and continue my studies I witnessed what I believe to be one of the worst episodes in that tragic saga. My father had been out of work for a while and the money was always low, and we struggled to pay the rent. Before going to Italy my grandparents had given me half of my university tuition so as to help me and my parents. In fact my grandparents were the only ones who helped me most throughout college because my parents were absent both physically and financially. At the time, my mother cleaned the houses of rich people for a living, and my father was in and out of work until he was arrested and imprisoned for embezzling large sums of money (the reason why he left the country in the first place). I distinctly remember the moment he was summoned by the local police department where he was told that he was under arrest and that he was being extradited to be put on trial back home. Somehow, the past has the talent of coming back at you. The tuition money given by my grandparents soon ran out, my father reassuring me every time he asked for money that the full sum and more would be returned. When the time came to actually pay the tuition my mother made a bank loan in her name and paid for it for the next four years. My father made all of us promise that we won’t mention it to my grandparents because bank loans were the one thing they dreaded most, right there next to the end of the world.

Then, a man, whom we knew to be the owner of a nearby bar, kept coming to our house and asking to speak to my father. And my father kept dismissing it saying that the man was in fact willing to give him a job. We believed him, we’ve always believed everything he said. One day, the day after my brother got his monthly stipend, my father went out to buy cigarettes, a chore that on that day took an awful lot of time. In my innocence I imagined he met people on the way and stopped to have a chat. A couple of hours later he came back and told me that he had in fact met some people and had a drink with them. Then he went into my brother’s room somehow without me noticing and told me he was going out again and that he’ll be right back. Hours passed and he did not come back. I knew where my brother kept his money and instantly realized that a large sum of it was missing. At the moment, I dismissed the thought presuming that my brother had taken it with him to work. I kept going out the balcony looking for him, thinking that maybe he was still talking to those people he was in the habit of meeting so often. Later on, my mother called to tell me that my father was not answering his phone after he had sent a text informing her that he left and that he was going to commit suicide because he had taken money from my brother to pay for a debt he was in with the owner of that nearby bar, and that he cannot live with that thought any longer. My mother kept calling him until not even the answering machine cared to answer anymore signaling that he had probably taken the sim card out of his phone.

After more hours passed with no response the three of us decided to go to the police station and file a missing person report. With my mother crying, resembling the bereft madonna from Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, we took the elevator down. And there, in the main hall of the building a boy and a girl, both teenagers, were sitting on the steps giggling and holding hands and kissing. I’ll never know what my brother or my mother were experiencing at the time because I’ve never asked them about it (that’s one episode I believe all of us want to forget), but all I felt was immense jealousy and an irrational rage. There they were, enjoying the happiness that had been taken from me on that day. I’m well aware now, as I probably were when it happened, that it was mere coincidence, but I just couldn’t help thinking that those two teenagers had stolen something from me, and I hated them for, I so fucking hated them. I wanted them out of my sight, I wanted them dead, I wanted to punch them, throw bricks at them.

We got to the police department and an officer let us in. The moment she got into the room my mother started crying and telling the officer (luckily the officer was also female) in between breathtaking sobs about my father’s absence and the ominous text (which was in Romanian, so we had to translate it). The officer reassured my mother and told her to calm down and try calling my father just one last time, right there on the spot. My mother complied and dialed the number and, after a few rings, my father replied. My mother’s crying intensified and the next moment she was screaming on the phone and the officer simply watched the scene with the coolness a police officer has to maintain at all times. She couldn’t understand what my mother was saying because at such moments of high emotional intensity she always regressed to that maternal language. And in the end she managed to convince my father to come back. And he did come back that night, after we had gone to sleep. I heard the main door opening and closing.

Similar scenarios occurred over the years, and maybe there had been times when I was so sick and tired of it that I wanted to tell my father go ahead, go and leave us alone. I don’t think I suffered much because of those episodes. I’ve always retreated in my emotional void deep inside me when the emotional load on the outside was too much to bear. But I just couldn’t stand to see my mother suffering because of it. Because, you see, even though it was my father who committed those mistakes in the end it was always my mother who went on her knees to him and beg him to come back. It was as if he was threatening us with suicide so that at the end he would still be the victim. It was as if he was doing it so that we would say don’t do it, we forgive you, just don’t do it. And he was forgiven, every time. Whenever he was in debt because of his gambling addiction he would pull the suicide card, perform the stunt full circle, then wait to be cajoled back with the promise of forgiveness. Once, when my mother accused him of having spent money on gambling, he simply told her so what with the carelessness of a teenager who’s got nothing to lose.

Nowadays, whenever my father doesn’t answer his phone, or whenever he is late from work for more than an hour, all of us look at each other and in each other’s eyes we see the memory of those past moments, their shadows long and oddly-shaped. Every time it happens I immediately log into my parents’ bank account to see whether the money is still there, because I know that even the smallest misappropriation of of family funds can have disastrous effects. We never saved money except when the money was too low to be saved any longer. There are no trust funds, no savings in exotic bank accounts, no properties to be inherited, we don’t even own a house. We are still paying for a car that after three years of use is already showing signs of fatigue and we need to keep investing large sums of money into it to keep using it. There are no monthly payments to my brother’s freshly forged household just for the sake of helping and I know my brother resents it. I can see it in his face and in his occasional nods when we complain about money. And his wife’s parents are of no help either.

My father is also partially handicapped. He has lost his left foot from the knee down after a medical procedure backfired. Attempts to bring the medic to trial for misdiagnosis and malpractice have failed repeatedly. Lawyers have come to the conclusion that his case is not clear and they won’t take on cases that don’t promise large sums of money. My father’s employer was put on trial after he had fired him on the grounds of his disability. The court ruled in my father’s favor but the Italian legal system seems to be taken out of Kafka’s novels. In a country that is not ours we didn’t have the knowledge and the skills to do more about it. A large sum of money was at stake but the employer had transferred all of his belongings in his wife’s name and he is “officially” bankrupt. Since then my father suffered a series of heart strokes and he wears a stent. He cannot exercise because of his prosthetic leg and he is a smoker.

Now, going back to my initial point, besides the emotional support, what else does a man offer his woman? What satisfaction is to be drawn out of a family life so coveted and socially encouraged? Some of you will tell me something along the lines that otherwise I wouldn’t have been born, I wouldn’t be here now writing this, as if my own contribution to this world is so important that it cannot be replicated or equaled in any way. None of us are that valuable. The world won’t end if I stop existing, just as me not having children will not stop the proliferation and well-being of our species. At best, my life can be seen as a series of failed attempts, and don’t you dare give me that shit about the importance of failed attempts, and the fact that the destination is not important. In this context my homosexuality seems like a natural reaction, my movements calcified, my partner, if I’ll ever have one, won’t be able to bear children unless by some sort of medical stunt. I won’t be able to bear children. And I don’t think I want to because what have I got to offer my kid? Emotional hunger? False hopes? What is there worth preserving? I trust it’s high time we stopped perceiving the rapists and the murderers and the child molesters, those who participate in genocide, those who embezzle unfathomable sums of money, our capitalist system, as exceptional occurrences. They are one of us.

I want to tell my primary school teacher that it’s okay to want to be alone nowadays because disaster is just around the corner and that I do not wish anyone to suffer because of me or in my company. And I don’t think this is sad or tragic, it only feels so because for so long we’ve been living on this pile of shit. On the contrary, I believe this is very courageous. But my primary school teacher won’t understand that, she is adamant in her beliefs. These are mere thoughts, right? Happening in the mind, they can be persuaded into transformation. She will think I’m mad if I tell her that, just like Tony Kushner’s Harper Amaty Pitt from Angels in America, I have seen the “souls of the dead, of people who had perished, from famine, from war, from the plague” rising into the atmosphere to form “a web, a great net of souls, and the souls were three-atom oxygen molecules, of the stuff of ozone, and the outer rim absorbed them, and was repaired.” She will blame the book. Because look at all those generations behind us, look how happy they were. It’s so easy. It’s so easy to say you don’t need food immediately after a good meal. It’s so easy, if only I could find myself a wife.

Robb’s Last Tape (Take Four)

333791_1920218846950_5529204_o

Striking a pose

The bitter truth is always sex-related. Every confession has to be about sex, about desiring another person’s body, one that is in most cases forbidden to us, unaccessible. The ego finds its purest expression in the ultimate orgasm, one reached in the right circumstances, at the right time, and with the right person. Reaching orgasm with the right person is akin to winning, it’s the gold medal, the long-awaited promotion, and the fatherly pat on the back coming from a superior. Nothing grooms the ego the way an orgasm does. And nothing destroys the ego the way watching other people reach that orgasm does. It’s demeaning, and it’s socially frowned upon. People often mock the porn movie industry for its poor acting as if they watch porn for the acting. And what acting is there except for those initial scenes in which the pizza delivery guy knocks at a door only to be greeted by a damsel in distress? Or those scenes in which the good-looking twink sprains his ankle while descending an uneventful hill in order to be rescued by an equally good-looking daddy who also happens to be a doctor? Now, I really doubt it that porn actors, producers, directors, aim for an Oscar. And I really really doubt it that people watch porn in order to provide other porn connoisseurs with valuable criticism, and the general public with trustworthy ratings. That is probably why it so happens that when porn emerges as a topic during educated group discussions almost everyone deflects to talking about the quality of the acting. It’s as if there’s a switch in their mind that goes on when porn is mentioned. No, I go there for the acting, I couldn’t possibly go there for the sex and the orgasm, I’m a film critic, just like everybody else in this group, right? Such pathos in the performance, such exquisite makeup, and the lighting was just incredible.

And if everything is to happen for a reason in life then there must have been a good reason behind my brother’s discovery of my uncle’s porn stash (it wasn’t that well hidden after all, and my brother, three years older than me, has always had the talent of bringing dark secrets to the light of day). We would hide to have a look at all those pictures every once in a while marveling at the anatomy of such human endeavors. About nine years younger than my mother, my uncle must have been at that time in his early twenties and in his sexual prime. We knew about his girlfriends and then we knew of his dark secret. Other dark secrets emerged later on but I was too young to unravel them and understand their full significance.

You see, I used to play alone a lot, mostly because I could not keep up with the other kids of my age. I was chubby, nearing the dreadful childhood obesity, and people made fun of me. In order to avoid that I spent most of my time reading and dressing up. Yes, I guess you could say I was an early drag queen. I used to put on my mother’s dresses and high heeled shoes, and I would even sometimes put on makeup to make the dressing up complete. I would then watch myself in the mirror, sing, and pretend I was performing a musical in front of an imaginary audience (made of adults, of course, who marveled at such precocious talent). I learned songs by heart by listening to them obsessively. And so every once in a while, while rummaging through my mother’s dresses, it happened that I came upon unused towels (put there for safekeeping and intended for future use). Some of them were clean, and some of them were sticky in the middle as if they stained with a liquid that had dried in the meantime. When I confronted my mother about the sticky situation she dismissed it by saying that my uncle blew his nose in those towels. He just was too lazy to reach for a napkin or handkerchief. In my naïveté, I believed her. Years later, while thinking about my uncle’s hidden porn stash and the mysterious towels, I realized that my uncle did not, in fact, blow his nose in those towels. He did something completely different, still involving bodily fluids nonetheless. I trust you got the idea by now.

When my uncle moved away my grandfather hid the secret stash in one of his lockers, wrapped them in an old newspaper and placed them behind mounds of carpentry tools. But even these methods were of no match to my brother’s inquisitive mind. And so we resumed our contemplation of the wonders of the human anatomy. The most precious item of my uncle’s stash was a deck of playing cards on which men and women were represented fornicating in different positions. In my sick little mind I even went to the extent of actually imagining men smoking cigars and playing Texas hold ’em using those cards late into the night. I even remember imagining this happening at the house of a priest from a neighboring village who always made kinky jokes even when children were around.

I come from a very religious background. Born and raised in an orthodox family I knew very well what sin was. It was dancing and listening to music before Easter, Christmas, and after the death of a close family member. Touching yourself in certain areas of your body was a sin. Not going to church on a Sunday was considered a sin. Not saying your prayers before going to bed was a sin. Sitting down in church was a sin, even though your feet were killing you. Also, keep in mind that mine was a family in which we had to use two distinct towels to dry ourselves after a bath: one for the hair and the upper part of your body down to your bellybutton, and one for the rest. Using one to dry your entire body was a blasphemy. My earliest memory of religion, besides the religion classes that were taught by the village priest, is me refusing to go for the Easter confession. We had to go to church very early in the morning and I wanted five more minutes and my mother just didn’t want to hear about it. I had to go to confession, because who knows what sins I kept to myself. I distinctly remember the scene: my father brutally holding me in his arms and washing my face against my will, me pushing with my feet against the bathroom sink. I can distinctly recall the face I saw in the mirror that morning. It was red with anger and covered in mucus. But I had to go to church, there was no way around it.

When I say confession don’t think of those scenes from the movies, it was nothing like that. There was no booth in which you entered and spoke to the priest through a little window. Our priest sat on a chair at the back of the church (where the women were supposed to stay during service) with his back against the gruesome images of hell painted on the wall. Next to him there was always a small round table on which people would put money (yes, you had to give money to the priest every time you confessed your sins because in that way your sins were forgiven). You would then kneel at the priest’s feet, he would cover your head with his saintly garment, and then it was confession time. Have you been a good boy? Of course, father. Did you quarrel with your friends or family? No father, of course not. And that was about it. No sensible questions were asked, and the drill continued well into my teens and early adulthood. Once, while I was in college, I had confessed to my priest that I had been unsettled after taking a course in demonology at the university. His reply was that literature in general is preparing us for the return of Satan. I stopped going to confession afterwards. The priest had a bad breath anyway.

Yet, if my confessions were uneventful, my brother’s were definitely not. Apparently, once the priest had asked him whether he had engaged in premarital sex, and my brother, due to an excess of piety, had replied affirmatively. He did not get the wine and the bread after the confession. He had officially been declared impure by the church. The gesture infuriated me at the time though my brother couldn’t care less. But I also felt jealous in a way, because the priest had never asked me that. I had had no sexual adventures at that time but still, why wasn’t I being asked the uncomfortable question? Was there something in my manner that betrayed a lack of sexual drive? Nowadays, I often wonder what would my priest’s reaction be should he find out about my latest adventures in bed. Would I be banished from the church as well? Would I be shown again the images of hell and fire painted on the walls at the back of the church?

My brother held nothing back when it came to talking about his sex experience. I knew he cheated on his supposed girlfriends, the way I knew that my father cheated on my mother. I knew my father had been kicked out from the police force on an alleged accusation of rape, one that was later settled financially. And I knew my uncle had cheated on his wife on a couple of occasions with other women. Just like my brother, my uncle held nothing back. He used to watch porn on my computer and I knew about that not because he never deleted the browser’s history, but because I was there while he was watching it, guarding the door and letting him know when my grandmother was approaching. I was perfectly aware that my only male cousin cheated on his supposed girlfriends. Both my brother and my cousin have had exceptional ways of dating girls. And there I was, trapped in the very heart of the beehive.

Porn watching sessions occurred at my house because my brother was the only one in his group of friends who held a perfectly functional VCR and was the proud owner of a collection of porn videocassettes. They would come in groups to watch them while my grandparents were away sweating in the fields picking potatoes. They did not masturbate, they just made jokes about their “hammers” (i.e. boners). Yet, what struck me most about those videos was not the act itself but rather the rapidity with which the actors went from being pizza delivery guys to full-fledged casanovas complete with abs and erect penises. At the end of these sessions my brother’s friends would ask me to play some cartoons so as to quell the passion in their pants. And on went Disney’s Aladdin. Princess Jasmine was not their kind of woman I suppose, and Aladdin was my kind of man.

Occasionally, some of them would stay behind and talk about girls, and the way you distinguished them according to their pubic hair and other such features. They would even ask me about the girls in my class and I would simply tell them I couldn’t make any difference between them. They stared at me in disbelief and to fill the awkward silence that followed I would invent distinctions of my own. In the end they would let go of it conjuring the old excuse: I was just too shy to talk about the girls I liked or disliked. Your time will come, they would tell me, just wait and see.

I did wait, for a very long time, and saw a completely different picture.

Undoubtedly, watching porn can constitute a didactic experience, and it must have been like that for my uncle, my brother and his friends. Porn movies can incite a sort of preparedness into the body, they can help muffle that fear of the unexpected, of the unknown. But they must have also defined the roles that the men watching them were supposed to fill, well beyond their fantasies. They were expected to be ready, to jump swiftly from the role of the pizza delivery guy to the one of dominating men and, by extension, from the roles of husbands and boyfriends to the ones of adventurous men ready to free themselves of the constraints of marriage and relationships.

Gay men, on the other hand, have always felt free of the constraints of marriage and relationships. Developments in this field, such as the recognition of civil unions in certain parts of the world, are quite recent in our history. Our preferences have been for a very long time part and parcel of a criminal mindset. Think of prisoners in all-male prisons for instance. We’ve been placed in the category of evolutionary deviations, our search for sexual satisfaction the outcome of a systemic suffocation, a last resort when other means of obtaining it were forbidden to us. And because we have not had a system of social pressure in place with regards to marriage and relationships has certainly helped in turning us into exploitative sex machines. The only thing that seemed to stall our drive was disease. And part of our drive was and still is made of blind anger, the kind that leads one to despair and ultimately to self-loathing and self-destructiveness. The latter is always dynamic. To produce destruction an explosive device must undo itself, must refute the consolation that comes after victory is declared and peace is organized. To obtain social and political recognition a group must manifest itself, make itself seen, and we chose to make ourselves seen by transgressing at times at the price of our own destruction. What did Alexander Portnoy, the protagonist of Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, do to finally let go of his inhibitions and fears (besides masturbating excessively)? “I am marked like a road map”, Portnoy confesses, “from head to toe with my repressions. You can travel the length and breadth of my body over superhighways of shame and inhibition and fear.”

When something is forbidden the mere fact of obtaining it becomes a pleasure in itself. And even only knowing that obtaining it constitutes the breaking of a certain rule makes that object even more desirable. There’s an almost irrational stubbornness when it comes to the things that the body needs and desires, and that stubbornness sometimes turns into anger and then into violence. People who give up smoking will sometimes dream of smoking. Those who are on a diet will dream of worry-free eating. Knowing that porn is socially frowned upon makes it even more desirable. And that’s the thing, conceptually the direct consumer cannot be blamed because the consumer cannot undo the fact that porn exists in the first place, just as somebody who despises Lady Gaga’s music cannot undo the fact that Lady Gaga’s music already exists. It’s out there, people do it, we know they do it because we do it as well. “I, for one,” says the protagonist of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer, “am a person who believes that the world would be a better place if the word ‘murder’ made us mumble as much as the word ‘masturbation’.” And I think I agree with him.

Robb’s Last Tape (Take Three)

338571_1920218166933_5945990_o

Even then I was fabulous

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, shall we? Because maybe that pesky little prince was right to a certain extent. What is essential is invisible to the eye, literally. Your lungs are essential to the functioning of your body and yet you can’t see them when you look at somebody (it would be weird to see them, especially on a first date). The heart as well. The same goes for a computer’s processor. All of these elements are essential, and yet they are invisible to the (naked) eye. And for a moment let’s assume that the little one was right, certain things can only be seen with the heart. I could work with that. All those heterosexual bedtime stories and all those Hollywood movies have taught me how to work with that. The frog might be a prince, and a femme fatale can be a witch, an angel can be a devil and so on and so forth. All good. But I dare you to notice something about this whole setup. We only want it applied to us, and we are unwilling to offer the others the benefit of the doubt. Have you ever looked at a person whom you physically disliked (most likely on the spot) and thought ‘I don’t think he looks that bad on the inside’? Have you ever thought ‘ok, now I’m going to spend all this precious time trying to find out whether this guy is good-looking on the inside, because the essential is invisible to the eye’? Not while on a gay dating site, trust me.

Some will do that, of course, while waiting patiently for a desire that will never come. Others will find names for it, come up with quirky terms. They will try to envision the brain as a sexual organ, will call themselves sapiosexual, and with every passing day they’ll find themselves in the company of growing despair. For a very long time I have considered myself to be sapiosexual, and hoped other sapiosexuals would notice me. Don’t get me wrong, a great mind can be appealing, it can turn you on, you may look at somebody talking intelligently and think ‘I wanna have sex with that guy’, but nanoseconds before actually perceiving that intelligence you have already unconsciously made a decision based on the physical appearance of that person. In this whole equation of attraction intelligence comes as an add-on, as an afterthought. I do not have scientific references for this, I cannot send you back to the literature, I can only trust that you have experienced this as well, that you have been aware of it at least at one point in your life. Proof of this is the fact that you’re not thinking about your partner’s intelligence when engaging in casual sex. You’ll think about the skin on their necks and on their bellies, you’ll think about their hands, you’ll think about their lips, you’ll think about what comes next. Your own body will vibrate in the vicinity of that other body. You’ll get an erection because of that body, not because that other person knows Einstein’s theory of relativity, or was able to make a complete and brilliant argument in a debate.

I know this because while I was overweight I’ve been repeatedly told by guys on dating sites that I was ugly and repulsive. Some said so directly, by using these exact same words. Some did not say it, but chose to ignore me by not replying to my messages or simply blocking me. You’re not my type, came the swift reply. Even more painful was the absence of an answer, as if I didn’t even deserve an explanation, somehow confirming that deep unconscious belief that the person was really out of my league and that only my stubbornness was to blame. It was a nod in the void of rejection. And when you feel like you’ve overreached and been brought forcefully back to earth once, and then again, and then again, you don’t feel like overreaching any longer because you already know the outcome. And that’s the thing, you know perfectly well when somebody is out of your league, but those American films, and those romantic love stories have taught you that the good guy always gets the girl, the hero of the story never gets killed, no matter how out of his league the girl might be. And while you’re inside your mind you can only perceive yourself as the good guy, and why can’t that guy see that, why won’t he reply?

And while we’re on the topic of romantic films, I just have to admit they are so well made, so smooth, structured to make you believe even in the most ludicrous of unlikelihoods and make you stare in disbelief at the sight of betrayal when betrayal is so natural, so statistically possible. A failure to believe in the love put on display in those movies, both on the part of the protagonist and on that of the viewer, feels itself like a betrayal of our pursuit of happiness. Failure to believe in that love is just bad karma.

Once, during class, I was contacted by a guy who was in a relationship but told me was interested in me anyway. His profile picture was something as uneventful as a table’s edge with a glass of wine on it. Mine was equally misleading. Yet he told me that it wasn’t my picture that made him tap on my profile; it was my description and the way I told, in a couple of words, my own story. He then asked me for a face pic and an awkward silence followed immediately after I sent him one. You’re kind of ugly, he told me, but let’s have a coffee anyway, after class. I thanked him, of course, because a hierarchy had been set with those very words, and I was obviously in the lower ranks, and was supposed to be thankful for whatever was thrown at me. We were in different classes, and he was studying another thing altogether. When the class ended and I got out I asked him where exactly the main hall was. He did not reply. About twenty minutes later he simply informed me that he had gone home. No further explanations were extended.

Surely it can’t be that bad. That guy was simply a jerk. You’ll find someone else, someone who deserves you, someone who recognizes your true value. I have been fed with these words by most of my friends, gay and straight. You’re not ugly, you just didn’t find the right guy. But that’s the thing, there’s nothing outlandish about using the word “ugly”, even when it is used to refer to people. Other people do it all the time even when they don’t say it out loud. And if they are not saying it they are thinking it. Even when they use other words to reject somebody (such as “you’re not my type”) they are still thinking “ugly”. Stupid, verbose, effeminate, these are all just versions of ugliness.

The fat ugly guy in the lower ranks of the hierarchy is supposed to swallow the cum, he is supposed to swallow his dignity along with it, he’s supposed to take it all in, get down on his knees. He is supposed to ignore basic safe sex regulations such as the use of a condom, he is supposed to be a cum dump not only because he occupies the bottom bunk but also because he is fat. This sort of punishment is not to be taken negatively but as a form of pity, because the fat guy is pitied for his lack of control, for his inability to act when the power to change his appearance is right there, in the shape of an act of personal volition. Let him be, he can’t do better. The hunter is skilled in setting his traps, and once you fall into that trap, once you acknowledge your position you are willing to do anything just to stay inside that relationship, however transitory it may turn out to be.

I know I did it, and will most likely continue to do it. I know I’ve taken nude pictures of myself because I was asked to do it by men whose interest I wished to kindle and maintain. I know I’ve taken pictures of myself sticking my tongue out because I was asked to do it. I know I’ve sent dick picks because I was asked to do it by men I knew perfectly well were never going to be interested in me in any other way. I know I’ve done things I had never fathomed myself doing before. I’ve been into Skype calls with men who kept asking me to lower my webcam while they themselves did so. I’ve seen them cum live though maybe hundreds of miles away. Once, I was asked by a guy whom I had met online to write a series of stories about dads having affairs with their own sons. Luckily, our little online adventure ended soon enough that I didn’t have to write those stories after all. I translated Youtube videos for him from English into Italian. I listened to him on the phone for more than an hour complaining about a brown spot that had appeared on one of his teeth, reassuring him that it wasn’t an emergency. He kept repeating the same thing over and over again. I spoke very little, grunting every once in a while to let him know that I was still there. You’re a true friend, he would say, we’re the perfect match. And all I said was okay, okay, okay, just shut the hell up. Suffice it to say that our relationship ended because once I refused to translate yet another Youtube video for him.

Once, I’ve been on the phone with a guy I could not hear because of the many trains transiting in the background. He confessed to me he went to the train station to talk to guys he’d meet online because there nobody could hear him talk and as such come to the conclusion that he was gay. I couldn’t hear him either, our conversation punctuated by departure and arrival announcements and the deafening hum of passing trains. That didn’t last long. I still imagine him today going to his train station to talk to and meet other men.

I had come to embody the perfect fetish, submissive, accommodating, always affirmative in my response. I admitted to being a metaphorical pig in bed because I was led to believe that I was one. What choice do you have when you’re in bed or in the car with the guy you like and he’s putting those very words into your mouth with his tongue? I’ve texted long descriptions of what I would do to them (sexually, that is) and feigned text orgasms at odd hours and in inappropriate venues. Stop being so shy, Robb, what’s wrong with you, stop being so rigid, let the man touch you. Pretend your head is floating away while your body is left behind to flap its arms like a dying chicken.

I chose to deny a guy’s lack of intelligence and conversational skills because he was good-looking and because he had shown interest in me. What choice did I have when I was perfectly aware of the fact it will be a very long until I stumbled into a guy like that? And it was clear from the very beginning that his intelligence quotient was a high as the security doors he had to test every day as part of his job. Three days had passed and all we talked about was dicks and cum, and ways of having sex. His replies were short and dismissive whenever we talked about something else other than the size of his dick. Would you suck it? He had asked me that after having sent what was probably the tenth picture featuring his fearful instrument. And I kept on talking because finally I had been given the chance to enter the world of normal boys, where ugly men sought good-looking women. And whatever you do, don’t even think of mentioning the word “relationship” to him because you just can’t. It will throw a dark dark shadow over the conversation splitting it in two. You can’t possibly be looking for a relationship on a gay dating site. And even if you do just don’t say it. First you’ll have to get used to the guy’s dick, contemplate it form every possible angle, and under different lights, have sex with him, lots of it, as much as you can, because even though it doesn’t work out in the end everybody’s happy, right?

The straight world breeds terrible gay monsters.

And that’s the thing, there’s a fierceness when we pursue that standard set by the kingdom of the straights, the kingdom that had conquered our world well before I was born, and well before many of those who have already died were born. Those men came to us with their gods and told us their god didn’t approve of us. When that god had lost its grip those men sharpened their swords with family values, statistics, and laws made of words. They came into our bedrooms at night, on our screens and showed us what happiness is supposed to look like. You’re happy, you’re happy, until somebody else comes and tells you that you’re happy in the wrong way.

I chose to ignore the fact that a guy had come to our date in flip-flops because once again I had been offered a visitor’s pass to the world of normal boys. Here was love wearing flip-flops, here was love under a different shape. These moments are so rare. We went to the mall and had coffee and lunch and made out in one of the bathrooms of the supermarket where we could hear other men pissing and farting. During lunch we had chosen to sit in the farthest corner of the restaurant hoping we could somehow maintain the slightest physical contact. We could not because high school kids were all around us, laughing and talking. And then we were shown what happiness is supposed to look like: boys and girls kissing, and hugging, and holding hands. Compared to that display of forces our attempt at physical contact withered and died. I know we could have done otherwise, I know we could have defied them and done whatever we wanted, the world had changed so much in the meantime, but you have taught us how to put those instincts to sleep. You’ve shown us the pillow, sold it to us. When we were little you told us that we can be whatever we wanted and gave us good examples of what we could be, teacher, astronaut, president, but you’ve never meant ‘whatever’ to refer to sexual orientation.

And now you come to tell me that what is essential is invisible to the eye?

Your fucking guts, little prince, I hate your fucking guts.

Robb’s Last Tape (Take Two)

 

341447_1920219126957_6296069_o

Observe my sense of style even under the duress of totalitarian regimes

I feel like I should have started this whole big endeavor of speaking freely about myself and my experience with a sort of disclaimer, or an author’s note or something, to warn readers against the corrupt and corrupting nature of these pages. Here are a couple of things you should keep in mind. This was supposed to be a very sad thing, I mean, this was the premise of this whole writing process. But now, as I’m revising these pages it feels as if I’m telling you about the big joke life has played on me. It feels as if at the end of every sentence I’m about to burst into laughter, or rather that you’re about to burst into laughter and think I’m just a wanker. Laughter can be a good thing after all, it’s the expression of an emotion. It can also be the kind of nervous laughter high school kids burst into when the school priest tells them masturbation is sinful. In the end, not all memoirs are supposed to be tragic and full of loneliness and sadness. And maybe on a grander scale I might be perceiving my life as tragic and sad when in reality it is not.

Then there’s the sensitive issue of the intimate aspects of my life, such as jerking off and fantasizing about bulging pectorals and biceps, the latter by now leitmotifs of my narrative. My grandmother, whom you can see in the picture above, would nod disapprovingly and think of me as a failure, a herald of the end of times, should she read these pages (she doesn’t know a word in English). To those who cringed at reading about this stuff, well, I can only apologize and point out to them that I am no saint, even though when I was little I did perceive myself as a sort of new messiah (I had been a devout Christian for a very long time, and imagined the end of the world coming soon). I am made of flesh, and flesh is fleshy and desires flesh and, in my case, bulging pecs and visible abs. And if by this time, after these couple pages, I seem shallow to you, well, please reconsider your attitude, because I have also read The Little Prince and realized that in the gay community people who strongly believe that what is essential is invisible to the eye, be it naked or covered, have no sex, at all.

And I might have overused that phrase from The Little Prince in my dating profile’s description, thinking that it would attract like-minded people. The truth is, it did attract like-minded people, except that the majority of them were well over my age range and resembled the beer-drinking rednecks from American movies (the ones who walked around with chainsaws and other gardening instruments). There were the exceptions, of course, but even in the case of the exceptions I noticed a pattern. They were as lonely and as desperate as me, and after exchanging a couple of messages they burst into arduous and passionate declarations of love, up to the point where you were included into a haunting “us”, just for the sake of feeling included. Believe me, thank whatever gods are out there that those guys were often hundreds of miles away.

Such was the case of a guy who had contacted me by saying that my profile was really interesting and as a consequence expressed his interest in knowing me better. At that moment I thought, finally, somebody who understands me, who seems to be in a similar position, and who is willing to push aside all of my insecurities so as to build something durable. In my imagination the whole thing was like a bomb exploding repeatedly: we’re going to get married (symbolically), be happy, have kids, and be romantic at the same time. I imagined trips to Spain and exotic places, and coming home to steaming pasta and candle-lit dinners with tall wine glasses. I wasn’t necessarily attracted to him physically (no bulging pectorals there, forget about the biceps), he was no Adonis for sure, but, like him, I was ready to ignore that because here was somebody who believed in what that pesky little prince said.

Then out of the blue he started telling me about his mental illness, and the fact that in reality he needed somebody to take care of him, and I kept saying okay, it was all okay. I even imagined myself taking care of him because who knows what kind of essentials were hidden behind all that baby fat. I needed time to process that information and so I told him that I was going to log off and go for a walk around the neighborhood. I switched off my computer and went out, forgetting that I was still logged in on my phone.

The messages started to land in my inbox a couple of minutes later and they were satiated with the furry of a jealous husband. Why was I still logged on? Who was I talking to behind his back? I was obviously cheating on him, and he had placed such confidence in me, he had believed in “us”. I explained why I was still logged on, and his initial fury seemed to subside. However, my explanation was not an attempt to mend the wrong I had unconsciously and unwillingly done, it was rather an attempt to point out the fault I had found in him at that point so as to make it easier to get rid of him. My gay instincts started to kick in. And so I told him things were not going to work out between the two of us. The reply came swiftly. I was shallow just like everybody else on that dating site. My rejection was the last straw for him and as such he was never going to put himself out there like he did for me. Obviously, I had failed to notice that. Before I could reply back a service notification informed me that I was no longer able to interact with that person because the user had blocked me. To have the last word, I blocked him back.

Now, I may have acted like a jerk, because here was this guy who suffered from some sort of mental illness, who was sincere, and I just dismissed the complexity of his life with a simple text. Maybe I should have been more sympathetic with the guy. But then again we were on a dating site, and we hadn’t even gone out, we had never touched, I didn’t even know the sound of his voice. I wasn’t the kind of jerk who never calls back after what feels like a special night, I just couldn’t be. How was I supposed to act? Take all of that responsibility upon me because we both liked The Little Prince? Well, at least we didn’t exchange pics that could be later used for blackmailing and other forms of shaming, at least he didn’t send me a picture of his dick, like most users did, as if I was supposed to understand, at a glance, the finality and importance of such a statement.

On a side note, I have often wondered what these people are thinking when they’re sending you pictures of their dicks. On a couple of occasions I thought that maybe I was supposed to ignore the rest because dicks can solve emotional problems. But do these people presume that the person at the other end would want them even more after seeing their dicks? And then, what do you do with a dick pick? Where’s the statement in that? Here’s a picture of my erect penis, deal with it, own it, you can’t use it against me because there’s no face in it, so it can be anyone’s penis. I should make a collage of all of those dick pics and think of it as a work of art, hundreds of statements making one big statement, whatever that is.

A couple of days after the unfortunate incident with the passionate Romeo, and after being so forcefully banished from that paradisiac “us”, I was contacted by an older guy on the same dating site. Now, it’s worth noting that at the beginnings of my gay life I had developed a deep aversion towards older guys. That was before reading Nabokov’s Lolita. I changed my mind afterwards. At that time older guys gave me a sense of sick perversion, thinking of them as these sexually repressed individuals who lurked in the shadows and looked for younger men to feel young once again. In parallel, I had also inherited and used extensively a phrase that circulated (still in use) on gay dating sites and was meant to embarrass older men: I already have a father (or grandfather, depending on the user’s preference), it said, and so I kept saying it practically to all men that were over forty. It was only when a sixty year-old guy told me that the phrase hurt him that I started to think twice before using it again. I did not use it against this particular guy, whose name I cannot recall right now, mostly because he couldn’t have been my father (he was not that old), and also because he did not give me the sense of a pervert, despite the fact that he did not have a head in his profile pics. He had only shared pictures of his underwear. In his case, I was prepared once again to take it all in (you dirty little mind) and accept whatever came. When you look the way I did back then, so foreign and weird, chubby and sad, there was not much to choose from.

We chatted for a long while, for what seems now like an eternity on gay dating sites, and to this day I have not seen his face. The reason behind this lack of face, he explained, was that the guy lived in a small Italian paesino with his mother, the kind of small village where everybody knew everybody else, and older generations of Italians still cringe at the idea of homosexuality. Fair enough, I thought at that point, the guy had good motives, I wasn’t going to question his relationship with his mother. Italian men love and hate their mothers in a way that could only be defined as Italian. I did ask for extra pictures and the only thing I got in return was the same underwear picture but with a boner hidden inside, which was supposed to give me an idea of the instruments this man carried around with him. Mother must have been so proud.

A little bit of context here, since I don’t expect all of my readers to be familiar with how gay dating sites work. Headless and faceless photos are quite common on gay dating sites, for different reasons, depending on the user and the background he’s coming from. Some, like my man here, do it for social and political reasons, and some do it to acquire higher visibility on the gay market. The bottom line is that the former don’t want their parents, relatives, colleagues, to find out about their sexual preferences. Which also means that those very parents, relatives, and colleagues had to actually have a profile on that particular website in order to recognize them and act surprised. Dating sites usually don’t publicize information about their users outside their own user circle. The latter, who most likely don’t care about who sees their profile, wave their pectorals and crotch in profile pics because they know that that’s where the eyes of other gay men will linger longer. I guess experience teaches us that. And a lot of them don’t even include face pics in their profiles; they do it only by request, especially when that request comes from a guy they are interested in. If the face they’re getting does not meet their expectations a moment of awkward silence will follow. Educated individuals will simply say thank you and add a smiley face. In translation, they would go to bed with the torso and the crotch, but not with the face.

To verify this preference for the torso and crotch a simple head count would suffice. Put those parts of the body on full display in your profile pic and the number of visits will increase exponentially. Hide your face altogether and you are bound to maybe even getting a message (asking for face pics, of course, but it’s still something, still better than nothing). Show your face and the number of views decreases notably, unless you have an exceptionally gorgeous face. You’ll also notice that there’s a difference in the kind of people that actually click on your profile, depending of what part of the body you put on display. Those who are looking for a quickie will more likely come to you if they see your torso and crotch area. Those who have more time on their hands will more likely look for a face.

At first I took this to be simply a symptom of the shallowness of gay men, the kind you’d see in gay movies, the kind that Larry Kramer did his finger-pointing at. Couldn’t they see how sex-driven it all was? I blamed it on the kind of atmosphere that was created on gay dating sites. And after spending a couple of years looking at probably thousands of profiles, chatting with all kinds of individuals, I felt I was becoming shallow as well, and I hated myself for it. Implicitly, I was asking the others to accept me the way I was, I felt that it was my own right, yet, on the other hand, I resisted accepting the others for who they were. It all felt like a painful paradox. I was incredulous, and I experienced the same kind of incredulity when I started reading, for instance, Alan Hollinghurst’s novel The Swimming Pool Library, and, later on Gore Vidal’s The City and the Pillar. And I believe I came to terms with it when I read Patricia Nell Warren’s The Front Runner. I can’t recall the exact phrase, but I remember explicitly that Harlan Brown, the protagonist of Warren’s novel, felt an excruciating attraction for one of his runners first and foremost because he was physically fit.

Letter to an absent friend (Wednesday, May 4, 2016)

couples-kissing-hugging-public-spaces-black-white-photography-mikael-theimer-2

Dear friend,

Before I say anything else, allow me to thank you for your last letter, the one that never got to me, unfortunately, due to the hectic nature of our planet’s temperamental atmosphere. Black holes must have opened in the very fabric of the night sky while you were writing it. Don’t get me wrong, the letter did get to me, yet it was impossible for me to read it. The pages were all wet, the writing illegible, so much so that when I finally managed to open the envelope, fretfully, the breath running out of me and hiding in the corners of my room, I thought you had sent me an ink blot test to figure out my personality traits. So I immediately sat at my desk accordingly and started to write a response letter about the figures that seemed so obvious on the humid pages. And while I was doing it I was thinking, again, as I did on many occasions during our affair, of writing the letter in such a way so as to show you how good I was for you, how lucky you were to have discovered me on that dating site. I wanted to show you that I had changed, that I did it all for you, and that I still lived in that bedroom-world I had imagined for the both of us. In that bedroom-world we were still together, and I was still the man you wanted me to be, protective, jaw clenched, omniscient in the way American men living in the suburbs with their wives were supposed to be.

What you are reading now is not that response letter, of course, I burned it long after I had realized your own letter was, in fact, not an ink blot personality test. In the fury that followed that realization, by mistake I burned your letter as well, and so I no longer remember the details, as I no longer hear the voice that was so carefully embedded in your handwriting. I now find myself in a state of despair because I feel as if, once again, as I did on many occasions, I lost you once more because of my innate stupidity when it comes to matters such as these. And so, I had to go back to our bedroom-world to find you again and to be able to write this letter.

Our bedroom-world is in a rather shabby state, I’m afraid, mostly because of my carelessness. I’ve been trying to stay away from it for as long as I could, returning only at night when I find it difficult to fall asleep. Because of the brevity of these moments I never have the time to think too much about the context. I never think about the lighting in the room, or the furniture for that matter. The sheets and the pillows are the only elements I manage to think about extensively nowadays. The tapestry has faded, the windows have disappeared, the rest of the furniture is but a presence, akin to the one inspired by invisible gods. There, we are in a constant state of darkened mood, made so by our need to fall asleep in each other’s arms. The greatest detail, however, and the highest imaginative effort are bestowed on that final embrace before sleep comes, on the way I try to control my breathing so as not to disturb you, on the way our embrace turns to heat as if we are about to cross the wide expanses of a polar night. That night never comes, of course, and every morning I find myself alone, not in our bedroom-world, but in actual physical pain.

On a merrier note, rumor has it that you finally graduated from law school. I might have seen some of the pictures from your graduation ceremony, but then again I have seen so many such ceremonies in my life that I can’t remember whether I have actually seen yours. I might have seen you wearing that green laurel wreath that is customary in Italy with graduation parties. I might have seen your friends congratulating you, your mother and father proud by your side. I might have seen you smiling for the camera, and I might have imagined us together in our bedroom-world on the night of your graduation. I could have been in on one of those pictures, not knowing how to stand or where to put my hands. I couldn’t touch you the way I would have liked to because I was afraid some of the people around us might frown and smile awkwardly, the way people whose heads have been detached from their bodies smile before realizing it. I might have flown in from London on that very morning, and I would have acted the way a stranger would, always on the fringes of the conversation, always the one taking the picture without being in it.

I might have listened to all of the congratulatory notes coming from all those people around you, only to prepare my very own special congratulatory note. I might have chanted dottore, dottore… along with the others. I could have gotten you a graduation gift, something fancy and expensive because in our bedroom-world money has never been a problem. I could have arranged your tie and spoken to you softly while doing it. I would have reassured you that everything was going to be fine, and that your thesis defense was flawless. I would have made small talk with your father who would stare down at me from the skies of his own failures, knowing somehow that the question regarding my intentions with you would never come. I would have talked about the weather with your mother, and finally, when she wouldn’t be listening, I would have told her that you are the most handsome law school graduate.

But I wasn’t there, so isn’t this letter some sort of apology for that?

I assure you it is not. You wouldn’t have wanted me there. I would have ruined everything for you. Most likely this letter is just one of those congratulatory notes, written and read at a time when all congratulatory notes have been written and read, and consumed, and returned to their rightful places. The only thing I can wish you now, irrespective of your future academic plans, is for you to find somebody who would look at you adoringly, awe-struck. Somebody who in those moments would think of you as his and consider himself to be the luckiest man on earth.

Yours truly,

Rob.

Dear Author

Dear AuthorYou live a sort of life, or this thing you call life. Others expect you to call it life. I believe that is why we have a word for it. Words become words out of necessity. The necessity of a human being. A writer’s necessity. You live a life in which you are never quite sure if you are going up or down until the very last moment, until your very last breath is spent on recovering all those moments from the past you call memories. While you do that you realize that every recovered memory is inherently an apology first to yourself, then to all those who have touched you, and then, finally, to all those who have seen you at one point. Yes, even to those. Until you become yourself a walking apology. Have you ever thought of how an apology looks like? Behold the very flesh and bones of a walking apology. The books that you write are themselves apologies. You apologize and ask for forgiveness to your characters, for giving birth to them and then leaving them to linger in a sort of fictitious limbo until you sort your things out. Problems with your girlfriend or boyfriend, your computer has a nervous breakdown, your neighbor’s kid will not shut up. All of these happen while your characters are waiting there, anxious for something to happen, anything. They are just characters, you think at one point, masks; they are supposed to do that. Yet, what if they are not supposed to do that after all? What if we are characters ourselves waiting for our author to figure things out? Then you apologize to yourself and to your own past. We all know that in books the past comes out distorted, changed, and broken. One memory comes out eyeless, faceless, earless, and with all limbs broken. Apologize to that, your sincerity shall be appreciated if you will ever be forgiven, that is. Then you apologize to everybody else because their story too came out in your book, in between the lines. Keep in mind though that you will never be forgiven. That character, still waiting in that airport for the love of his life, will never forgive you. Could you not give him what he wants? Just a few words, a few sentences and he would live happily ever after. Yet your stubbornness and the fact that you yourself lived a life tell you that this is how the story goes, and that his happiness needs to be sacrificed. How could he forgive you for that? For denying him that ending. Ultimately, it is just a matter of words is it not? How could you sacrifice that happiness for the sake of the story? Your duty ends there, you think, at the end of the story. You are the almighty author after all. Somehow, you know that asking for forgiveness is futile, but you do it anyway thinking, hoping that at least one third of the guilt will vanish, just like that, with those two words that you write at the end. You refer to it sometimes as signing a contract by which the internal mechanism of the book is set into motion. What you do not realize is that those two words are like a death sentence to your characters, their sorrows relived with every reader. How could you, dear author, ask for happiness yourself? When your own happiness will be, at one point, sacrificed for the sake of the story?

About writing

Most of the times it’s like making a deal with the devil. Or, maybe even worse, becoming a devil yourself, miming the act of creation which has already been done majestically by more brighter gods. And your work is never good, your inner editor keeps saying that. It’s like the words you use are never there, never at the center of the problem. Never the body itself, but an outline of the body, never life itself but the margins of that life. That’s where you need a deal with the devil, to help you cope with that, to help you cope with the inherent imperfection which occurs every time you give life to something through the medium of language. It’s like a devil’s doll made out of mud, it will work only for a few hours then fall back into the silence of lifeless bodies. And then there’s the urge to cut everything, to delete the life that has commenced with the first word you’ve written down. And then there’s the fight between you and the world that – once switched on – will claim it’s rightful place into existence. But the truth is, it’s not so much about using the right words, but rather about using all the wrong words, the more marginal vocabulary, the vilest and most obscure emotions, things which would make others throw up and, most importantly, think, see things, smell things, and face that life which so many things try to suppress it, eat it, digest it, making it more beautiful for the sake of the children. A man might deal more successfully with erectile dysfunctions in fiction than in reality. And it’s not about growing disgustingly long beards, and writing in the middle of the night when your neighbors are having the time of their lives while the children are sleeping, or masturbating, or throwing up while writing just because masturbating and throwing up might just add a pinch of surrealism to your writing, and, I think, it’s not about having sexual intercourse with as many ladies of the night as you can, as often as you can. Because, in writing, the effort is only yours, and everything else is just a procrastination of an ailment which sleeps undisturbed into your flesh. Writing is the indirect expression of that ailment, just like a pile of unwashed dishes is the indirect expression of a condition, namely that of (1) having to clean after doing something which is physically pleasurable, and (2) having to think about the benefits of an automatic dish washer, or of finding a partner that might just wash the dishes unconditionally. Writing is never pure body. Writing is always synthetic body and synthetic smell. That which you need in order to know that what you are is not just inert matter, but matter capable of creating desire and suffering when that desire is not satisfied.

Something about happiness

This morning I woke up thinking that, in fact, there is no truth in the already well-known idea that every human being is beautiful in its own way. The truth is, I think, that every human being is beautiful in all the possible ways because each of them bears the potentiality of doing something beautiful (let’s face it, we are capable of great things when we’re passionate about something, Lincoln for instance). Anyways, some of us sing (badly, while under the shower), some of us paint, some of us write, and some of us are just beautiful. We manifest beauty. And well, here’s to beauty…and happiness.

P.S. I wrote this while in Reggio Emilia. If you were there, this is about you (yes, you).

The beast in the tall grass

Born in that summer morning, we both stood outside in the tall grass without the fear of snakes. And the apples grew yellow and red, and the sky was of a constant blue, cloudless. I could see the sweat running down your forehead and I wanted to wipe it off, but the world wouldn’t let me do it. At night, I would cry because I knew that later on, even yawning will have a dark significance. The body will grow big, and the mind will have to develop techniques to understand it. I wish I could say I love you. Because I do. But this word, love, comes from a place of confusion. And if I tell the truth that truth will consume me, and it will take you away from me. And I don’t want that. Let us remain and forget about the inevitable storm. Let us touch, but only in our minds, let us make love without the truth being present. You’ll lie down, and I’ll be right beside you and the sky will have a whole new meaning. Smile. The sun is just right. What shall we do, you ask, when grandfather or even father, shall find us sleeping in the tall grass, attached to each other in the fury of the evening? We’ll hear only the sound of the steps cutting through the yellowish grass and the sun and the sky. We’ll do nothing, I say. We’ll wait in silence, so as to hear the wrath of those steps as they walk away, shoes filled with knowledge. We’ll have, by then, nothing else but our love and our bodies attached to each other. By the time the steps have vanished our gods would have disappeared too. Father, how could it be? How come from a body like yours a beast like me could have risen? How could that architecture go wrong? By means of a thought? As I go home, taking after father’s steps I watch you sleeping covered in light. I know at home I’ll find this silence multiplied by ten and sprinkled with anger. Why did you keep this away from us? I was afraid, father, I’m afraid of what might come, of what will come. I’m afraid it’s nothing, and how could you live on nothing, how could you? Of all the people in this world, how could you, father?