I can’t tell you when I first began lusting after boys, but I do know that my parents converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints when I was four. I’m not saying the two things are related, just that they happened concurrently. I don’t recall liking, in any but the big brotherly way, the two 19-year-old missionaries who knocked on the suburban door of my childhood home and promised salvation. My parents reacted to them far more strongly than I: within weeks, we were Mormon.
During the following years, we absorbed “gospel principles” and dedicated increasing allotments of time to church activities. When I was seven years old, my family got “sealed together for all time and eternity” in a Mormon temple. The stewards dressed us head-to-toe in white—even our belts and shoes—and they all smiled. We walked down a corridor filled with painted clouds and knelt in a ceremony room I can scarcely remember but for gilded accents and an altar of some type in the center. Afterwards, in the cafeteria, my family ate saucer-sized cookies. When I asked my mother if this was what Heaven was like, she said, It’s got to be pretty close, huh? and I nodded.
Back on earth, by age thirteen, I started to grow underarm hair. My seventh grade friends and I tried to adjust to undressing together in the school locker room, casting furtive glances at each other’s bodies and talking in incredulous voices about how big Nate Shellinski’s cock was. My hand brushed it once when, during the unit on wrestling, I scooped between his legs to toss him on his back. When we grappled again, I felt tingly as he scissored his legs around my torso.
The same year I wrestled with Nate, the bishop asked me to speak during a Sacrament Meeting, the main Sunday gathering for Mormons. I stayed up all Saturday night getting my words together, then walked up to the pulpit on wobbly legs and spoke about faith, the necessity for belief in things not yet seen. I said that we could all access God just like my band teacher told me everyone could make music, but, if we’re musicians, then Prophet Kimball, the leader of the Church, is like a composer with perfect pitch. I told the congregation how glad I was for his guidance and that, even though my grandparents were no longer in this world, I had faith they were watching from above and coming closer to God.
With armpit hair came libido, and in bed, day or night, I couldn’t keep my hands off my cock, even if I still wasn’t sure what to make of the corresponding fantasies involving wrestling and athletic clothing and sinewy chests. During a dodgeball game one gym class, I went to get a drink of water from the fountain. I walked by the open locker of the school’s star soccer player and, after looking both ways, swiped his Umbros. I hoped my grandparents weren’t watching me then, or worse, when I got home that night.
Judgment Day terrified me as much as Nate Shellinski captivated me. Whether I read it in Prophet Kimball’s book, heard him say it during a closed-caption television broadcast from Utah or got it second-hand, during a priesthood lesson, I was very aware of Prophet Kimball’s council on “perversion:” masturbation could lead to homosexuality, and homosexuality was a “crime against nature,” a “deep, dark sin” that could even cause sinners to seek “satisfactions with animals.” I was sure he was right. My bizarre longings were my own fault, brought on by an utter lack of discipline. No matter how many pledges I’d made to God, I couldn’t stop my salacious routines, not for more than a few guilt-ridden days at a time.
Soon after the Umbros Incident, my priesthood teacher shared an anecdote, passed down from Mormon pioneers, which seemed to illustrate my predicament. He said that if you try to cook a frog by putting him in a boiling pot of water, he’d jump out. But if you put the frog in warm water that you slowly turn to a boil, he won’t jump until it’s too late. “And that,” he said, “is how it is with you and sin.”
Most days, I prayed to God at least once. I prayed to get through school speeches I hadn’t prepared for and gym classes, which, despite the boys, I hated. Occasionally, my prayers were more heartfelt—I expressed gratitude for my family and asked God to heal a girl at church who suffered from a brain tumor. During the rise of primetime movies about nuclear war, I begged God to guide us towards global peace.
In fact, my prayers covered just about everything except the boys in gym class. The one time I explicitly mentioned boys in prayer, I wasn’t speaking to God—He’d only get in the way. And so instead, at approximately fourteen years old, I turned to the only one who I thought might help. “Satan,” I said, “if you could make it so I can get with one boy, just one boy. I know it’s what you want, too.”
With that deep, dark prayer, I finally acknowledged, even spurred on, the split between body and soul, between sweaty teen-aged locker rooms and transcendence. While I had faith in the unseen, the Holy Ghost just didn’t shout Here like Nate Shellinski did when the gym teacher called out his name at the beginning of the period. So I waited on the Devil, entranced by the thrill and terror and awe that must’ve also overpowered my parents as they anticipated the Lord’s return.
In 1992, I went to college in a northwestern Pennsylvania town two hours away from my parents’ home. During freshman year, when I discovered the good-time qualities and numbing potential of alcohol, I stopped going to church, impersonated a frat boy and got a girlfriend. Always drunk, I never had to do too much with her sexually—except some late-night groping and early-morning apologizing. During the time we went out, I watched my roommate John transform from a tormented closet-case—whose journal entries I read in secret—to a flaming artist who openly dated a composer and painted canvases of pop art bunnies and pastel-hued cartoon divas. Finally, in the first semester of sophomore year, I broke up with my girlfriend and told John I was queer. A month later, I also told my girlfriend; by then, she’d already fucked twelve guys.
I painted my finger nails black and finished growing my hair past my shoulders. I wrote “Recovering Christian” on the dormitory door in drippy, red paint to emulate the lamb’s blood of the Passover, spattered on front doors to protect first-born sons from destroying angels.
I confessed to John that I’d read his journal entries. He laughed.
“I’m sorry darling,” he said. “If I’d known there was an audience, I wouldn’t have made them so maudlin.” Then he asked me if I’d met Trey yet. “He’s a film major. Smart. A bit nutty. You two would get on smashingly.”
John and I went to a party filled with the kind of misfit students that populate small college towns: renegade geeks, poets with drums in tow, budding radicals snickering about the Man, hippies dressed in hand-stitched clothes. From the center of the packed room, I heard a voice that sounded like it belonged to a gameshow host. John parted the people and dragged me in after him, closer to that voice so obviously used to entertaining crowds. The boy who was speaking had a head full of Greco-Roman curls, colored a Grover-from-Sesame-Street blue. He was cute in a slightly cherubic way, as if he’d been unaccustomed to work. He finished an anecdote about failed sex by saying the only thing coming was the morning papers. Everyone laughed. Then he blew a stream of smoke from his clove cigarette and I inhaled the sweet, foreign scent. John nodded to him and then gestured his thumb in my direction. The boy with the blue hair grinned and said, “I’m Trey. And you must be Tim.”
Trey and I went back to my dorm room sans John. We crouched into positions that Trey had clearly been in before and connected our bodies in ways I’d never even seen, all on the lower bed of the dormitory bunk. In the morning my cheeks were raw from whisker burns.
Several months and many licentious episodes later, we sat in his bedroom, on either side of an end table covered with burnt candles, their waxy stalactites stretching for the floor. Trey looked directly at me.
“I love you,” he said, and I knew it wasn’t true. He didn’t know my favorite food or even my middle name.
“What do you…like about me?” I asked.
“How you see the world. Your legs in those corduroys. The way you jump into fire. Which is why—I’m dropping school and moving to Pittsburgh. To make films. Will you come with?”
I leaned over the table and stuck my tongue down his throat.
On our first night in Pittsburgh, Trey sucked me off on the rooftop of his favorite club while the tenants in an adjacent building yelled faggots and we laughed. That summer, we danced dervishes to New Wave tunes and stared into the flickering screen above the mostly empty seats at an art-house cinema. We perched in diner booths for incessant conversations as the sun set and then ducked into red-bulbed back rooms with designer kids on designer drugs.
Through it all, Trey displayed that incessant gameshow host ebullience: the bawdy quip, the knowing smirk, each moment calibrated for maximum mirth, his and yours. If his routine seemed a little forced, I didn’t notice, at least not at first. Now it’s easy for me to backtrack, to see all those moments when Trey acted as if he was struggling to connect the pieces of two entirely different jigsaw puzzles, their rounded tabs bent to accommodate impossible fits, their images fractured.
Shortly after we’d moved in together, we went to his childhood home in the middle of a weekday. His mother returned home from work early, so I had to hide under the bed because she’d already discovered enough clues to suggest that I was more than Trey’s college buddy. Out of sight, I heard her fume about End Times and an insurrectionary Christian nation. Trey disarmed her with a quip, even made her laugh, if only for a moment, before the ranting resumed and I escaped out the first-story window.
I waited tables. Trey worked with a temp agency. After a few office gigs, he was assigned to a university bookstore. The third day on the job, he came home with $400 in stolen cash, which we promptly spent on eight new CDs and dinner in an upscale restaurant.
Trey pocketed more and more money from the university job—the scam involved pretending to ring up students who paid for their textbooks with cash. His thieving was a habit, he confessed, that predated the temp agency. Several weeks after our initial shopping spree, Trey suggested that we should use some of the money to go to Graceland the next day, no later than the one after that, why wait? So I called in sick to work, and we popped ephedrine and drove over the mountains of West Virginia, talking a thousand miles an hour. We stayed in a hotel with a guitar-shaped swimming pool, wandered Beale Street, Elvis shades perched on our faces, and sucked down a bucket-sized bourbon and ginger that cost eighteen dollars. The wear and tear of that trip ripped a hole in the floorboard of Trey’s car, near the gas pedal, and eroded the brakes. Back in hilly Pittsburgh, the only way to slow down was to pull the emergency brake. Trey still drove but kept it very local.
My relationship with my parents had degenerated to a bi-weekly phone call, usually with my mother. In our conversations, she typically talked about everything but what she once called my “lifestyle change,” which was fast-becoming the defining element of my twenty-one year-old existence.
Trey organized the sixth house party of the summer. Over a hundred people arrived and it wasn’t even eleven yet. A DJ began to spin trance records in our living room, and when the LSD hit, I swayed back and forth like a snake. The whole house shook. Knife-blade-thin boys and girls in baggy pants danced with robotic gestures while their eyes rolled back in their heads. A drag queen named Fifi re-applied her makeup in the kitchen. A mutual friend writhed on the floor and shrieked about the bugs crawling out of both her head and the nearby answering machine.
The refrain of an old Sunday school song started to play in my head like a skipping record: “The Iron Rod is the word of God.” In Mormon scripture, the Iron Rod is a railing the righteous must cling to as they traverse a narrow pathway over the Devil’s traps and into the gates of paradise. During each repetition of the lyric, one of the Devil’s traps flashed before me: a house of carnal delights, illustrated in a children’s version of the Book of Mormon with fiery colors, with people clutching each other and carousing, almost spilling from the windows; they wore wicked grins that wouldn’t, couldn’t last.
Later, Trey and I fucked in the bathroom and, on our way out, heard something in the shower. We pulled the curtain back and saw a naked man staring at the tiles. He didn’t even flinch. In the living room, puddles of people writhed in the corners and the beats from the turntables pounded like a gavel.
“I’ve got to get out of here,” I said to Trey.
On many nights in Pittsburgh, I walked the streets for hours at a time, past sidewalk drug dealers and souped-up Cadillacs and winos hunched in doorframes. I walked to release my jangled nerves and ease my stomach, which frequently got nauseous for three to four to more hours when night came on. The only way I could begin to calm down—and it often took most the night, despite my best efforts—was to try to think of nothing, nothing at all. Just breathe and walk.
While I paced the streets under the haze of a July smog one night, the moon appeared to be blood red, which is supposed to be a sign, a precursor to the Second Coming. My stomach twisted tighter than ever before and that was when I knew I needed help. The next day, after a phone call, my mother came in from the suburbs to drive me to the doctor. The doctor told me that extreme anxiety caused the lower muscles of my stomach to clench and block food from passing through. He gave me mild tranquilizers.
“Homosexuality is a sin,” my mother said as she drove me back to my house. “It leads to great unhappiness.” She used to look like Cher in the seventies, but after joining the church she wore chaste dresses with floral patterns and wide belts and got plump. “You know I love you. I’m just worried about your eternal life.”
“Okay Mom,” I said. “Thanks for sharing.”
We passed through the Fort Pitt Tunnel and emerged in the white of day, high up on a bridge, above the buildings of Pittsburgh.
“I’ve gotten some books about your condition,” my mother said.
“Oh good. You’ve been studying.”
“Do you know the vagina has three linings and the anal canal only has one? It’s not as protected against disease.”
“I want you to know, you can change,” she said. “The books will tell you how. They’re in the trunk.” She glanced over at me, and I saw tears rolling out of her big, chocolate eyes. “Please take them.”
“Okay, okay,” I said.
In front of my place, she handed me the books: Desires in Conflict, Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic, an entire stack of books dedicated to what their authors’ referred to as “reparative therapy.” My mother and I kissed good-bye, and when I went upstairs I stuffed the books in the back of my closet.
Over the next few weeks, Trey and I ran in the same circles to the same clubs and coffee shops and parties. We were like Trey’s car post-Graceland: there was no safe way for us to slow down. Staggered sleep, missed job shifts, drugs, film projects discussed extensively but never written, the ebbing and flowing of people who I’d dig or hate or feel intimidated by but who, ultimately, I’d never see again.
“I need a break,” I finally said to Trey. A year after he first said he’d loved me, we split up. We spent an awkward couple of months in the same house, and then I moved out. I didn’t see Trey for another month, not until a friend called and told me to watch a news broadcast on the television. Yellow tape and flashing police lights filled the screen. Then Trey, his hair now a closely-buzzed platinum, walked towards the camera with hands cuffed behind his back and cops all around him like he was a famous star and they his entourage.
“The 23-year-old approached a toll booth window, aimed his rifle at a clerk and demanded money,” the anchorman said. “Lucky for the turnpike worker, a state police cruiser happened to be in the vicinity. The suspect tried to flee into the nearby woods. Dozens of officers responded, and the suspect’s weapon discharged during the chase.”
It seemed as if Trey had decided that, instead of talking through another mad-capped scene from his film script, he’d perform it. Was it because of drugs? A genetic time bomb? Or had he finally realized that all those scattered puzzle pieces would never form a whole?
I later learned that Trey had cut eyeholes into a pair of paisley boxer shorts to create a mask and had stolen a rifle from a mutual friend of ours, an NRA-supporting, drug-dealing writer. As the police chased him, he accidentally pulled the trigger of the rifle. Then he tripped on a branch and fell, which like everything else about Trey had a certain luck to it, as a state trooper had his back in the scope of a rifle and was poised to fire.
The guy who whisked me away after Trey and I broke up, I’ll call him Boyfriend Number Two. I met him on a dance floor, where we moved closer together until his long blonde hair got caught in my stubble. When I left the house I was sharing with Trey, it was Boyfriend Number Two who drove me away, my possessions, including the books my mother gave me, crammed throughout his car. We left the city, bound for a western Pennsylvania town where billboards implored you to accept your Personal Savior with open hands and an open heart.
I lived hours away from friends and family. Just me and Number Two and the money from his parents. I had no job, and neither did he. We did have lots of sex. His lanky limbs and mine, on the bed, off it, we spanked and cursed and fucked.
After the flood that summer, during which parts of town sat under a dozen feet of water for days, Number Two began to change. At midnight, he’d speak to the ghost of his dead grandmother, begging her not to hurt him, not to say she hates him. He screwed in a blue light bulb for these chats.
My stomach started to churn again. One night, while Number Two was crying and pleading with his grandmother, I dug through the closet, deep into a bag I’d never fully unpacked and pulled out a book titled You Don’t Have to Be Gay. Jeff Konrad, the pseudonymed author, said that he wasn’t writing for guys who enjoyed their “lifestyle choice.” The book was intended for those who were experiencing difficulties and would like to change. That sounded like me.
Konrad said that men have a legitimate need for intimacy with other men, but in cases like mine, this desire for camaraderie gets warped into sexual cravings. It’s envy, he said. You really want to possess the character traits and body parts of the guy who arouses you. He is the person you wish you could be.
I devoured the rest of the books and their promise of a more peaceful future, one that might finally merge my spiritual and carnal thirsts. I didn’t tell Number Two what I was reading, and he didn’t ask. But you should have seen us a few weeks later, when his grandmother performed nightly visits and my re-emerging religion kicked in: him all wailing, “No Grandma, please don’t say that,” and me holding the Book of Mormon in front of him, saying, “Put your hands on this and pray, God can help you.”
A ring of men in beige and pinstriped suits stood in a tight circle around me. The bishop, who often wore a Santa Clause grin and had the belly to match, sprinkled sacred ointment onto my hair. My neck gave slightly under the weight of seven pairs of hands lain on my head. I closed my eyes, smelled soap, aftershave.
“Heavenly Father,” the bishop said. “If it be Thy will, help Brother Timothy Patrick Doody to overcome his developmental struggles. Help him to walk righteously and find joy in his life.” He spoke about how youth was often a time of great trial and error, and said I had many talents to offer. He cautioned that the way forward would likely be exceedingly difficult, and wanted me to remember that the Lord only burdens you with that which you can carry. When the prayer ended, everyone said Amen.
About a month after my attempted exorcism of Number Two, I’d returned to college and the Mormon Church. I knew my ex-boyfriends were crazy and wasn’t too sure about myself. Still, Konrad offered me hope when he wrote in his book that he no longer liked to stick it in other guys at truck stops and had begun to perceive girls as the more attractive sex. I tried to follow his instructions: pray, learn to enjoy sports, don’t masturbate. He said it was just a matter of time and faith, and even if I didn’t feel one hundred percent straight for a while, the act of trying will begin to make up the difference. Eventually.
Back at my parents’ house, after a big pasta dinner one Sunday evening, I sat in the family room with my father. He said that John the Baptist, who was one of Jesus’ closest followers, had been longhaired and wild just like me. He talked about his own past—the alcoholism, the whorehouses in Vietnam, the directionlessness. “You can’t know what religion’s really for,” he said, “until you live without it.”
That spring, church members spoke of the latest Mormon phenomenon from Utah—singles wards, or churches dedicated to worship services for eighteen to thirty year-olds, as well as to activities and socials designed to turn singles into doubles. Our leaders had just given the okay for a singles ward to be built in Pittsburgh. This caused me no small amount of anxiety, as a singles ward would be the fastest track to marriage and children, neither of which I felt quite ready for.
As the buzz heightened, the bishop asked me to speak during a Sacrament Meeting. Just like the other times I’d spoken in church, I lost another Saturday night to procrastination and preparation. The next morning, from up high on the pulpit, I looked down at the familiar, carpet-padded pews packed with people, some of whom I’d known for more than a decade and a half.
“Forgiveness is part of God’s great plan,” I said, “which is a good thing, especially for prodigal sons like me.” The congregation laughed.
Then I talked about William Blake and his “Songs of Innocence and Experience,” explaining that the poet begins this sequence of verse by portraying a world of wholesomeness. After reading some passages depicting cotton-ball clouds, pastures and grazing sheep, I said that Blake then transports us into cities where poverty and vice and cruelty expose innocent people to the machinations of sin.
“But because Blake ends the series by again describing the cotton-ball clouds,” I said, “he symbolically returns us to the same sky where we began.” I said he was showing us that we don’t just move from wholesomeness to sin but that it’s possible for us to cycle back to that initial state of innocence. I was stealing an interpretation from a freshman lit class, yet many church members leaned forward in their pews, interested.
Then I described how “my friend Trey” robbed the turnpike. Legs re-crossed and brows furrowed. My voice trembled. I said that even though he had to serve a two-year prison term, he could still repent and return to the path of righteousness. “It may be difficult,” I said, “but everyone can change. Prophet Kimball told us, ‘How can you say the door cannot be opened until your knuckles are bloody, till your head is bruised, till your muscles are sore?’” I didn’t mention that when Prophet Kimball wrote these words, he’d been issuing his “revelation” that homosexuals can be cured. Tears dripped down my cheeks as I spoke, dripped for bloody knuckles and Trey’s heartbreak, for a future I didn’t want to know and a past that seemed so difficult to escape.
I looked down at a couple in the front row. Gesturing in my direction, the man whispered something in the ear of his bride-to-be. Her mouth dropped.
Six months after the bishop blessed me, I sat down on a toilet, pants around my ankles. I’d just finished a semi-successful semester back in college and was visiting my family for a few weeks during Christmas break. As I sat there, I read a few paragraphs of an article titled “Same-Gender Attraction” in the Ensign, a Mormon monthly. The church leader who wrote it said that we won’t be “subject to eternal consequences” for our “tendencies,” unless we “exercise our free agency to do or think the things forbidden by the commandments of God.”
Several paragraphs later, something just beneath the magazine caught my eye: a scab, slightly smaller than a caper, near where my upper left thigh met my torso. Odd place for a scab, I thought. I discarded the magazine and then scratched off the scab. As I lifted it for inspection, six little legs extended out like six live wires. My scab started to walk. I jerked back, an inflated balloon caught inside my chest.
When I looked more carefully at and around my groin, I saw dozens more “scabs.” I jumped off the toilet and took one of my parents’ cars to the emergency room. After a two-hour wait and a brief, embarrassing exam, the doctor told me I had pubic lice. He prescribed Nix lotion and instructed me to wash all my clothes and sheets in hot water. Worse, he suggested that I should report the news to my parents because I might have infected them or my three younger siblings.
Driving home, I reconstructed what had happened. I’d still been reading my reparative therapy books at college and contemplating their words daily. But one night at the end of the semester, with nothing to do in that small, beat town, I’d violated the Mormon prohibition on alcohol and gotten pretty tipsy playing a drinking game called Asshole. I was losing. And this scruffy frat boy had put his hand on my thigh and said, “Too bad, baby,” and just the way he’d said baby, I knew. When he grinned, I exercised my “free agency” and asked him back to my apartment for more drinks.
That fucker. I drove back from the doctor’s office in a state of panic. I was convinced I’d infected my entire family. Your twelve year-old sister with crabs? Diseased faggot, that’s what you are.
After my mother came home from work that evening, I approached her—without getting too close.
“I slipped,” I said.
For a moment, her eyes filled with tears, but she encouraged me to try again and said she still loved me. Then she collected the sheets and blankets while I got my duffel bag of clothes. We met in the basement and began stuffing the machine.
Even though my family remained louse-free, my face burned red around them for the rest of Christmas vacation. There I was, a decade after the onset of puberty, completing a distorted version of Blake’s cycle: instead of returning to innocence, I was re-experiencing all the awkwardness, embarrassment and self-loathing that I’d felt during middle school gym classes—and all because I couldn’t fathom a life unsanctioned by Mormon leaders. The crabs offered the kind of accident I needed, not because they scared me enough to escape the pot of boiling water that my priesthood teacher had warned me about, but because they made me give up trying.
It took me two more years to graduate from college; during a semester abroad in London, I walked into my first gay ghetto. When I returned to the States, I packed a rucksack and hopped a Greyhound bus to New York City and came out to my parents a second time. They’d suspected as much, but I wanted to make it official.
As for my relationship with the Divine: during the spring of 2001, shortly after turning twenty-seven years old, I traveled to Tennessee again, this time along back roads and byways, until I reached a wooded, remote holler whose residents claimed they dwelled and played “under the buckle of the Bible Belt.”
It was under this buckle that a rangy guy, the traveling kind, painted mud on my back with his fingertips. I remember tingling as he traced interlocking swirls and dots, Dreamtime designs, a mandala that remained on my goosebumpy skin as hundreds of gay or gender-variant men, along with dozens of dykes, transgendered folks and straight people, joined hands around a May Pole. In that moment when our hands connected, or seconds afterward, the sky clapped thunder, a kettledrum so loud, so close that everyone jumped and some squealed and others joked and didn’t joke about magic and the magnetism of bodies.
“Merry meet,” said a barrel-chested Walt Whitman wearing a habit, black eye shadow and pancaked foundation. “Merry part. Merry meet again. Mary Tyler Moore.”
He looked into many of the faces on the knoll and then threw his head back to laugh long and hard. He welcomed us to the Beltane ritual and encouraged everyone to take hold of the motley ribbons that dangled from the top of the fifty-foot May Pole.
We pulled them out from the center as far as they would go, until we formed what looked like the skeleton of a carnival tent. Then some participants began to orbit the May Pole to the left or the right while others zigzagged or simply pirouetted in place. Whatever our respective directions, the ribbons we held inevitably began to cross, to weave a web high above our heads.
Every aerial intersection of fabric drew us closer together, and this increasing proximity triggered the eternal awkwardness in me, made me avert my eyes even though I desperately wanted to experience everyone. But the ribbons stirred us around this cauldron on a knoll and bound us even tighter, until I had no choice but to interact, to look directly at ecstatic faces coated in glitter, at kohl-lined eyes wilder than a wolf’s, at dreadlocked punks and gender-bent gentle men wearing Lakota beads and flowers in their hair. I stared at a platform-healed queen and a slender boy wearing only a Bedazzled skirt. I stared at a muscular blue acolyte of Shiva and an elderly man whose hands perpetually shook while his smile spoke of second chances. All around me, a tribe who’d clearly grown accustomed to dwelling on the margins, to going beyond, to re-inventing and re-interpreting. It became impossible not to first receive and then give kisses on cheeks and lips and shoulders. Impossible, as our ribbons tangled and we followed suit, not to touch and embrace.
The May Pole, a tree trunk we’d stripped of branches and shoved into a hole in the ground that morning—it was a fairly straightforward and ancient ode to fertility, to birth and re-birth. But then what of queers? How did we fit in to the ritual, let alone the universe? “Don’t you see, my pretty,” the bearded nun had said to me earlier. “We’re the ribbons.”
Maybe it was the psychedelics coursing through me or the heartbeat of dozens of hand drums, but I couldn’t just walk around the May Pole. I crouched to touch Earth and sprung up and spun. I whooped. When the skies began to pour, when my ribbon snapped into the air and the web above contracted and lowered, strands of fabric began to gently ensnare me, and I palmed the May Pole and gazed up this umbilical cord to the cosmos. Then there he was beside me, now in my arms: another longhaired guy—so many John the Baptists here, so many unruly worshipfuls. We rolled together on the soggy ground while all around us, rivulets of rain and glitter, mud and sweat and costumes-come-undone dripped down the knoll.
The Beltane ritual spurred on my evolving identity, but it wasn’t the only encouragement I received. From well-thumbed books and campfire conversations, I’d learn that, in countless cultures on six continents for over ten thousand years, the spiritual and the queer have been as intertwined as a double helix. Before the burning stake, before the stomp of empire, long before Joseph Smith started his religion, queers—the third and fourth sexes, the two-spirits, the izangoma and the qedeshim—nurtured and mediated and guarded and visioned and walked between worlds. While I still occasionally think of Prophet Kimball and the religion I’ve left behind, more often I find myself thinking of Trey, the boy who saved his life by falling down.
Tim Doody’s prose has appeared in Brevity, the Rambler Magazine, the Brooklyn Rail, Topic Magazine, the Indypendent and various anthologies, including That’s Revolting (Soft Skull), Best Gay Erotica 2006 (Cleis) and the forthcoming Radical Faerie Reader (White Crane). ABC-TV’s Nightline included Doody in a national list of “particularly troublesome, even dangerous, anarchists,” and Rush Limbaugh made fun of him and his last name on the air. http://timdoody.me