When my life as a high school teacher unravels around me, my cure to a broken heart is to go away for a year in my shitty Oldsmobile to 12 “gay meccas” in the US. I have no gay youth. Now, as a graduating college man, I have nothing but time to figure out what to do with a now-useless degree in secondary education. I get as far as planning the 12 cities and the roads I would need to travel to get from one to the next. My year-long exploration into Gay Land is arrested by a free ride to graduate school.
Some offers you do not turn down.
I’m a doctoral candidate writing from Philadelphia, PA during an academic conference that I love and look forward two each time it happens. I am lucky enough to be able to present my ideas at this conference each time around. The conference begins tomorrow and I present the work I am doing on the cultural logics of homosexuality as it relates to our ability to listen across differences. For most of my time here, I am be in a room listening to brilliant people talk about brilliant things. Sharing laughs with friends I’ve not seen in years and becoming a better academic for the experience. But today, I walk.
I walk into Philadelphia’s gayborhood. The street signs have diagonal rainbow markers on them. Right there, for all to see are these municipally sanctioned markers of gay space. They are not boundaries to avoid. Gays and straights and queers enter and leave freely. I see these markers as a part of belonging, integrated into the city while maintaining the difference. There are no fences. There are no changes in the quality of the buildings from those adjacent to the gayborhood. It is a pocket of LGBTAQQ… life. I feel at ease and I feel welcome as I strolled along with my handsome straight buddy. Two guys—one gay, one not—walking through a gay space. My looking turns to the looking gay men use in the clubs. The scan. The lingering glance on parts most attractive. The release from the possibility that the looking warrants a beating.
In the gayborhood, I am marked as alive and existent. In the gayborhood, my people have a history. Near the historical odes to Ben Franklin and other—always less when compared to Ben—famous Philadelphians is the queer bookstore, the gay gym, the gay-owned and affirming what-have-yous. I stroll around until I have to pee. Then I hoof it back to my hotel room to work on my presentation for tomorrow knowing full well that the gayborhood is safe and will be there tomorrow when I return.
I return to the gayborhood a couple of days later. Walking in the heat. Moving from gay nook to gay crany. The queer bookstore—Giovanni’s Room—is closed. Memorial Day. As I walk, I feel connected to the city, but apart from it. This is not my home space. It is my gay space. The difference is important. And the bodies I move around are not my friends; they are real breathing bodies with guts and hearts and sexual organs. It is not my place to befriend; it is my place to treat these bodies with love and joy. Delight in not knowing. Delight in the mystery and erotics of the strange. Maintain the strange and allow my body to be strange for others.
How do you love the strange body?
You walk near it and allow it to exist. You interact with it and honor its beautiful shapes. You linger on its curves and cloths and hip movements and take joy in the experience of seeing. You touch, perhaps. You taste, perhaps. Or walk through the space of bodies lightly. Full of light. Lightness. Float. Expand into air to be breathed in by bodies occupying space. Breathe in scents from bodies gay and straight in the gayborhood. Breathe in those bodies as you pass. Take them into you and be taken in.
Timothy is a teacher of writing He is an occasional Twitter user and obsessive FaceBook checker. When he grows up he wants to be Barney Frank during the 1980s or Rachel Maddow at any point in her life.