"Butt-Piracy", "Elder Gay", A House Divided, A Modest Proposal, Anthony Bourdain, Calypso, Chester Benington, David Sedaris, Deadlands, Elder, Essay, Essay Collection, Get your credit score and work on gathering reliable assets, Happiness, Homosexuality, Humor, Joshua Jammer Smith, Kate Spade, Literature, Longview Pride 2018, Masculinity Studies, Philosophy, Pride, Satire, Self-Effacement, Sexual identity, Sexual Rhetoric, Sexuality, suicide, Surviving, The Myth of Sisyphus, The One(s) Who Got Away, Writing
I mean the dude was just killing it. He didn’t have spectacular abs, I thank whatever fortune I possess in this life for that, but his body was clearly one that he worked on. He had short blond hair and a great ass and he just twerked it wearing by now just a pair of khaki shorts, knee high socks and some kind of sport-tennis shoes. I was wearing my Mad Hatter socks, my fingerless lace gloves, glitter nail polish, my little red “pimp-hat,”and of course my ultikilt. Some artist came on, someone who’s five years younger than me probably could have identified, and I watched this young guy twerk and just kill it on the dance floor while the rest of the young people around him cheered him on. I was sitting with some friends on the edge of the venue just watching him wondering if I had any real desire for him, or if I was just impressed by his dance moves. He was just so free and gay in the ways that I wasn’t and I realized, at that moment, that I was something the kids are referring to as an “elder-gay.”
An “elder gay” as far as I can tell, is a someone from previous generations who identifies as some variety of Queer. The way my friend Alia uses the term one would suspect that an Elder Gay is something out of Dungeons and Dragons, some mystical being who possess knowledge of the organisms and energies that exist in the spaces between dimensions. Likewise the sage would almost certainly possess the knowledge of what is the best way to score a bank loan for that B&B you’re dreaming of starting up in Dallas.
An “Elder Gay” is someone who has survived and managed to stay “cute” and queer and not let the straight superstructure complex of heterosexuality break you down and force you back into the closet. The term implies a level of strength, wisdom, and integrity and so I’m a little fretful to use that term on myself because, looking at the path my sexuality has taken, I’m not really sure I can use that term for myself.
Then again I looked up the word “Elder” on Urban Dictionary and aside from the smutty implications it has for Mormons there was a definition that read: “Gay men who prefere[sic] to take cock from behind.” This definition was followed by the various refining elements that read: #fudge packer, #rump roaster, #fag, #gay, #butt pirate. I’ve never honestly considered “butt piracy” because I’ve no idea whether that job comes with any sort of real benefits, and at this stage of my life and career working without health insurance just isn’t an option. I do like the idea of taking cock from behind though so perhaps I will allow myself the title of “Elder Gay.” It sounds like something I could put on my resume.
Watching that kid dance, and sitting next to my friend Alia Q and her boyfriend however, I felt a wonderful sense of place. Even if I didn’t want to dance, and I found myself fine and dandy just sitting on the bench blowing bubbles and watching the younger queerkids have fun, the moment had a real sense of purpose and joy. It was my first official Pride Event. There had been one or two such events in my hometown of Tyler, but they were small affairs that didn’t have the same level of teeth to them. Attending this event, even if it was during the last two hours of the official day, was a chance to be out, to really be out, and be happy. And if nothing else, realize that I really was an “elder gay.”
Suicide has been haunting me more and more lately. Not that I’m seriously considering taking my own life, I’ve promised three of my friends that I wouldn’t, and while I know that sounds like a soft promise these three women are the sort of people who would hold a severe grudge against me and I’m almost positive all of them would immediately consult necromancy just to bring me back and kick my ass. Though I’m sure in fact my punishment would be something far more benign like being forced to watch insurance seminar power-point presentations and therefore all the more cruel.
But as my regular reader might remember, just a few months ago I lost my friend Savannah Blair to suicide. Not long before this Chester Bennington had decided to take his own life by hanging himself. Having recently begun reading all of William Shakespeare’s plays I began a book entitled The Medical Mind of Shakespeare and discovered there was an entire chapter dedicated to Suicide. And just in the last week of writing this essay Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade have both killed themselves. This series of losses all seemed to be one long endless reminder of the disease of depression, and so on the morning before the actual Longview Pride festival I decided to sit down and finish reading David Sedaris’s latest book Calypso. Sedaris is one of my favorite authors and is consistently funny and so I thought it might be a great way to have a laugh and prepare myself for the days festivities. I opened the book, started reading, and discovered several passages of the book dealt with the recent suicide of his sister Tiffany.
I heaved a heavy sigh, muttered the sentiment “fucking really?” and read the book in one long burst. I can’t say that by the end I’d come to a better place, but I had become sadder because I realized that I would probably never have the gumption to feed one of my eventual tumors to a snapping turtle.
Calypso is a book that, like the rest of Sedaris’s oeuvre, is about observing the absurdity of everyday existence, while also managing to find some human statement in our faults. Sedaris doesn’t just acknowledge that he has selfish or cruel thoughts about other people, he simply writes them down turning them into the narrative of everyday life. And this honesty over time just becomes part of the sarcasm, satire, and the general method. His prose is always self-effacing while also managing to be self-promoting, and by the end of just one of his essays the reader has almost always come to some kind of conclusion that Sedaris is doing his best to stay one step ahead of the joke he’s turning himself into.
But Calypso felt different from his other books because it possessed a sharper bite that I suspect comes with growing older, and also perhaps from losing a sibling to suicide.
In one of the essays, A House Divided, Sedaris describes walking down a beach near a house his family was renting out, and talking about their sister when others sister Lisa mentions the mode of death. She’s interrupted briefly by a woman walking a dog and then casually mention that Tiffany took her own life with a plastic bag. Asphixiation is supposed to be one of the miserable ways to go, I know this because my wife tells me things like that all the time. She reads essays and Reddit posts by doctors and scientists and supposedly strangling is unbearably painful. Sedaris doesn’t mention this but he notes something about the tool used to take hissister’s life:
It’s hard to find a bag without writing on it—the name of a store, most often. Lowe’s it might read. SAFEWAY. TRUE VALUE. Does a person go through a number of them before making a selection, or, as I suspect, will any bag do, regardless of the Ironic statement it might make? This is what was going through my mind when Lisa stopped walking and turned to me asking, “Will you do me a favor?”
“Anything,” I said, so grateful to have her alive and beside me.
She held out her foot, “Will you tie my shoe?”
“Well…sure,” I said, “But can you tell me why?”
She sighed, “My pants are tight and I don’t feel like bending over.” (62-3).
This gave me something to think about because my pants are often tight at work and I own almost no laceless shoes, yet I always stoop down to tie them if they become unlaced. This terrifies me as there is a set of stairs at the library that I’m sure is going to kill me. But after this I think about what kind of plastic bag I would use if I decided to asphyxiate myself and this becomes a problem. Almost all of the plastic bags in my possession are ones my wife has brought home after one of her endless shopping trips and these tend to usually be from Hobby Lobby. Its may sound vain on my part but there would be nothing so gosche as to kill myself and then be found with a Hobby Lobby bag wrapped around my head. The people who find me may suspect I support the corporation’s philosophy of denying birth control coverage in employee health insurance, or else that my sex-life was so awful and/or nonexistent that I had to take up a hobby to fill the time. I think if I had to use any sort of bag I would want it to be from someplace like Half Price Books or Barnes & Noble, that way the medical examiner would think I was cultured, or at least a reader, or at least someone who spent their time around books which is something I suspect at least most people would like to appear to be.
I know it’s morbid, but suicide is still to me one last means of controlling my fate in this universe. Since I have no use for religion, and because my wife refuses to take up ballroom dancing with me, the only real means I have of staving off the inevitable realization that my life has no meaning is to dwell on death, and this in part tends to push me to thoughts, or considerations of suicide. Before Louis C.K. was rightfully skewered by the #MeToo movement I did watch him pretty regularly and he had a sentiment that was best expressed, “You don’t have to do anything, because you can always kill yourself.” This sentiment was one that made me laugh, but I realized that it was one that had alsoappeared before in Albert Camus’s book The Myth of Sisyphus.
He begins his book by noting:
There is but one truly philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest—whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories—comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer. And if it is true, as Nietzsche claims, that the philosopher, to deserve our respect, must preach by example, you can appreciate the importance of that reply, for it will precede the definitive act. These are facts thee heart can feel; yet they call for careful study before they become clear to the intellect. (3).
Suicide is, ultimately, about survival. The people that one sees moving about, shopping for groceries, urinating on public busses, picking their nose when they think no one is looking, and giving their boyfriends hand jobs in the far back corners of a public library, are ultimately people who survived past the impulse to kill themselves. It’s absurd, and ridiculous, but each person has found some conclusion that amounted to, “No, I need to keep living today.”
My reason tends to be coffee, books, movies, Deadlands, and orgasms. Each of these brings me a tremendous amount of pleasure, and if I’m being honest I’d like to have more experiences with them before I finally shuffle off this mortal coil.
Calypso is a book that, while reading it, I kept thinking about because, ultimately, it seems to be defined by a recurring theme of being a survivor. Sedaris writes about the frailties of his body, the problematic dynamic he has with his father, suffering a gastro-intestinal virus during a book tour, having a tumor removed, losing his sister to suicide, and finally just surviving to the age he has lived to.
Looking at a later passage in The One(s) Who Got Away Sedaris asks his partner Hugh how many men he slept with before they settled down together. As Hugh counts men up well past the number fifty Sedaris observes his jealousy, the difference in their physical attractiveness, but then also the fact that both of them are still there. He writes,
By what miracle had neither of us attracted AIDS? How had we gotten away? I don’t just mean later, when people knew to be safe, but back in the days when it didn’t have a name and no one understood how it spread. One of the men Hugh had lived with—a professor he had his first year of college—had died of it in the late eighties, and surely there were others, on both my side and his. Yet for some reason we’d escaped, had prospered, even. Now here we were, the shadows lengthened, our spaghetti growing old, as he hit the half-hundred mark, then blithely sailed beyond it.
It is nothing compared to living with a man for several decades and scoring up an impressively sluttish roster of former lovers, but as I sat at the Pride Event next to my friend Q who was clapping and regularly saying, “Yes queers you DO IT!” I was struck by the fact that we were both survivors, Q more so than I. She had been far closer to Savannah that I was. I couldn’t tell you her favorite film while she was alive, nor her favorite book, nor could I even tell you her fucking birthday, and yet over the last few months I’ve had the audacity to label her as a friend. What I suppose connected us wasour mutual associations and our working together, and I suppose Gay Movie Night. But what I find, what I return to over and over again is that both Sav and I were, until her end, mutually suicidal. The only difference is Sav stopped finding a reason to go on, whereas Q and I had.
Reading this short passage again I realized David Sedaris very much qualifies for my previous definition of “Elder Gay,” because along with the previous work another of his essays in Calypso titled A Modest Proposal he tackles the development of Gay Marriage in the United States. Sedaris is honest about the fact that he’d never considered marriage. He writes:
The Supreme Court ruling tells every gay fifteen-year-old living out in the middle of nowhere that he or she is as good as any other dope who wants to get married. To me it was a slightly mixed-message, like saying we’re all equally entitled to wear Dockers to the Olive Garden. Then I spoke to my accountant, who’s as straight asthey come, and he couldn’t have been more excited. “Fox tax purposes, you and Hugh really need to act on this,” he told me.
“But I don’t want to,” I said. “I don’t believe in marriage.”
He launched into a little speech, and here’s the thing about about legally defined couples: they save boatloads of money, especially when it comes to inherited property. My accountant told me how much we had to gain, and I was like, “Is there a waiting period? What documents do I need?” (125).
Words like equity, inheritance, benefits, insurance, and escrow are words that are steadily becoming more and more relevant to my day to day existence. They suggest, I suppose, a worldliness or at least that you have a head on your shoulders and that you know where you’re “going” in life. I need to know that I’m going to have at least few bucks in my bank account before I can apply for a loan, I need to have a credit score, and I need to have something for collateral. These realizations are not epiphanies, they’re just day to day realities that come with surviving.
Watching that young man while I adjusted my silk gloves and straightening the hem of my kilt, I saw someone who wasn’t wondering about whether or not his dad “accepted” his lifestyle, I didn’t see a young man who was wondering how he was going to “survive” a miserable biological assault on the homosexual community, and I didn’t see a young man struggling to make sense about whether his gender identity and sexuality meant there was something morally wrong with his very existence. I just saw a young man possessed by music and having a fucking blast. And while I blew my bubbles and watched his butt wiggle about I was happy for him. I wanted him to be happy, happy in the ways I hadn’t been but wanted to be when I was younger. Happy in the ways I wish my friend Sav could have been during her life. His body and mind hadn’t yet been afflicted with the realities of things like the development of tumors, low bank funds, or the suicide of a friend.
And so maybe as I think about it, perhaps I need to adjust the working definition of what an “elder gay” actually is. Getting older, surviving to become older, is in someways a mix of resentment and fondness for youth. It’s the desire for the ones that come after you to have fun without fear of personal or societal retribution, while at the same time hating them for having so much liberty. Being a queer man who stayed in the closet until he was 26 I envy this next generation of young queer people who hopefully, if I make my life something that matters, won’t be afraid to come out and live their sexuality as they so chose. I envy that their survival won’t be as afflicted with the struggle to justify or explain their desire to a warring camp of people who would rather they just didn’t exist in the first place. I hope for a generation of young queer people who treat marriage the same way straight people do, just something you do when you stop dancing at parties and instead sit off to the sides blowing bubbles wondering if you’re supposed to go to work on Monday and whether or not you should have really spent $50 on rainbow buttons and flags instead of a savings bond.
Surviving can be a drag, but at least there’s the chance to have a few more orgasms, and maybe feed one of your tumors to a snapping turtle.
All quotes cited from Calypso were taken from the First Edition Hardback edition published by Little, Brown & Company. All quotes cited from The Myth of Sisyphus were provided care of the paperback Vintage International edition.
I’ve provided a link to the definition of “Elder” provided to me care of Urban Dictionary. I had no idea that Mormons were such a kind bunch, I guess you learn something new everyday. Yet another reason to prolong my life if only to understand further the intricacies of mormon sexuality. Anyway, enjoy:
I really wanted to start this essay out with the following statement: “I attended my first “real” Pride Parade with a Llama, a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass in my backpack, and wearing a kilt.” It was a lovely sentence that was completely true, but technically, like I said before, I had been to an actual parade in my home town already. Still, I at least got some great photographs.