Today is a very special anniversary for me. It was 13 years ago today that my life was turned upside down by what, in effect, became an unintentional date. That evening permanently reshaped my life, my perspective on the world, and my understanding of my sexuality. I crossed a threshold into a world of academic conversation, queer cultural history, and adult romance.

To sum up, I had agreed to house-sit for someone for the month of June, and he invited me over for dinner that night to look around his house, receive instructions, and see if I had any questions.

While he made dinner — Cornish game hens for the main course — we chatted and listened to some of cds. He introduced me to Michael Callen and the Flirtations, a campy gay a cappella group. Their music wasn’t great, but it meant so much to me to hear this sort of campy, queer fun. Here’s a Youtube clip of Michael Callen, who died of AIDS in 1993, singing “Where the Boys Are” (it’s not a great clip — the image and the audio are out of sync — but I think it gives a taste of what he and the Flirts were like):

My introduction to this queer fun was therefore “always already” affected by the AIDS crisis. Now I’m struck by how much we’ve lost because of AIDS. How much talent, music, and plain ol’ queer fun we’ve lost. So many men who loved and were loved. So many men that those of us who came after will never know (of course we’ll never know them — that sounds so stupid — but I hope you get what I mean).

Near the end of Larry Kramer’s Faggots, the protagonist, Fred Lemish, is walking on the beach looking at the other gay men assembled there. He thinks:

The beach is filled with all my friends. All dressed in white. A huge white billowing tent awaits us. Someone is giving a Dawn Party. A Welcome the New Day Party. Strawberries and white wine and chocolate-chip cookies. All my friends. All sitting on the sand. Arms around each other. Touching. Holding. … Sharing this moment. No one speaking.

Yes, all my friends are here. … All this beauty. Such narcotic beauty. (361).

Whenever I teach this passage, I’m reminded of the end of Longtime Companion when Campbell Scott and some of the other characters are walking on the beach and see a parade of men who have died as a result of the AIDS virus. Maybe because I don’t personally know anyone who’s HIV+ or who’s died of AIDS that I have this particular response. But in remembering my first introduction to Callen and the Flirtations I’m struck by how much beauty has been lost. Such narcotic beauty.

One of the songs that the Flirtations sang on one of the cds that I heard that night was a cover of Fred Small’s “Everything Possible.” As they begin the song, Callen briefly talks about how much he wishes someone has sang these words to him when he was a child (since Youtube doesn’t have a clip of the Flirts, I’ll just post the lyrics):

We have cleared off the table, the leftovers saved,
Washed the dishes and put them away
I have told you a story and tucked you in tight
At the end of your knockabout day
As the moon sets its sails to carry you to sleep
Over the midnight sea
I will sing you a song no one sang to me
May it keep you good company.

CHORUS:
You can be anybody you want to be,
You can love whomever you will
You can travel any country where your heart leads
And know I will love you still
You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around,
You can choose one special one
And the only measure of your words and your deeds
Will be the love you leave behind when you’re done.

There are girls who grow up strong and bold
There are boys quiet and kind
Some race on ahead, some follow behind
Some go in their own way and time
Some women love women, some men love men
Some raise children, some never do
You can dream all the day never reaching the end
Of everything possible for you.

Don’t be rattled by names, by taunts, by games
But seek out spirits true
If you give your friends the best part of yourself
They will give the same back to you.

CHORUS

This song is really cheesy, I’ll admit, but it also encapsulates a hope and optimism that I found so touching that night. It is a song that I wish my parents had been able to sing to me as a child — I wish they had shared its message. Perhaps that night meant so much to me because, for the first time, someone did express those sentiments to me. I saw for the first time that I could be a gay academic with a life, a love, and a career. That I could dream all the day never reading the end of everything possible for me.

That night was a little bit like the last scene of Before Sunset, in the sense of being a conversation about music and history while also being very romantic.

I woke up the next day singing my favorite Judy Garland song (yes, scoff if you will, but I did have a favorite Judy Garland song). Here’s one last Youtube clip, the song set to scenes from Bad Girls — it’s the only one I could find of it.

Although the relationship that developed from that April 15 didn’t remain romantic, it has been one of the most important relationships in my life. I didn’t find my life partner that night, but I did find a treasured soul mate who will, I hope, always be one of my most cherished friends.  Cheers to 13 years of queer brotherhood!

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