I’ve been pretty quiet this October, obviously. Just this morning, I gave the second of two lectures on homosexuality and Catholicism at my parish, as part of our adult formation series, and composing those has taken up a lot of my energy and time. (Both talks, and the following Q&A sessions, were recorded; I’m hoping to post them here on the blog, if the files aren’t too ‘heavy’ to do so—they’ve been rather uncoöperative in e-mail, though I have found workarounds for that.) I’ve also been trying (and failing, but trying) to complete the last touches on my upcoming volume of poetry, Wells of Night. I had been hoping to finish and have it published before Halloween, but I think we may have to settle for before Christmas. Anyhow, if you’d like to pray for me, that’d be splendid.
A close friend of mine (whom I refer to as Ceolfrith here on the blog) suggested to me recently that I adopt a technique he learned in his ongoing recovery from sexual addiction. You keep a pen or a marker with you—which, for me, means I mostly use the technique when I’m at work—and whenever you give in to a lustful impulse, you make a mark on your left arm, while conversely, when you notice such an impulse but turn to God in prayer instead, you make a mark on your right. At first I was reluctant to try the technique, because I thought it’d just leave my arms completely covered in ink (and not in a cool tattoo way). But I decided to give it a try anyway.
At the end of the first day, I’d made more than a dozen marks on my right arm and zero on my left. The mere concrete act of making the marks helped me turn to God consistently, and, what I’d expected even less, joyfully. Sometimes surprises are very nice!
I’m a fan of the Pre-Raphaëlite poets and painters: Edward Burne-Jones, Christina Rossetti, Algernon Charles Swinburne, John Everett Millais, William Morris. They’ve been an influence on my own work, both fictional and poetic. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the father of the movement, never had a particularly strong hold on me—I find his verse sort of wandering—but there’s a set of lines in his poem Jenny, written about a prostitute whose services he purchased, that have been recurring to my imagination powerfully of late:
Of the same lump (as it is said)
For honor and dishonor made,
Two sister vessels. Here is one.
It makes a goblin of the sun.
It captures an experience we sometimes have, rare but arresting: an abrupt vision of majesty in something that normally seems petty or commonplace or even unattractive. And then, without warning, it becomes (perhaps only for a moment) a vehicle of the whole brilliance of creation; every beauty and meaning seems to be wrapped up in it.
It happened to me once when my family were moving away from Fort Meade. It was a clear evening, and I happened to glance out of the sliding glass door in the rear of the house, which faced west, and noticed Jupiter. Suddenly I was overcome with longing, with Joy as C. S. Lewis described it, exultant and heartbreaking with loveliness. If I’d had wings, I would have flown straight toward the planet, as fast as I could. I’m not sure why this sort of thing happens, but it’s astonishing to feel.
Research for my second lecture on homosexuality took me through a lot of documentation of homophobic violence over the last fifty years. I hadn’t realized it was so grim. I had thought the Pulse massacre this summer stood out a lot more than it did. I knew trans bashing, specifically, was still huge and awful, but I hadn’t realized that queer bashing in general was still so common. I suppose in that way I fell for the myth of Progress.
But the cases, in horror and in sheer number, staggered me. We’re not making this shit up, and we’re not just being paranoid. A selection: in 1993, Brandon Teena was raped and murdered when two acquaintances found out he was transgender.1 In 1996, Jamie Nabozny was awarded $900,000 in damages in a suit against his high school, which had done nothing to discipline bullies who had verbally and physically attacked him for being gay, including staging a mock rape. In Hawaii in 1997, Stephen Bright beat Kenneth Brewer to death for making sexual advances on him after the two met at a gay bar; he received one year in prison for assault. In 1998, the notorious robbery, torture, and murder of Matthew Shepard took place in Laramie, Wyoming: he was left tied to a fence, in a coma, and died less than a week later. In 1999, a gay bar in London was bombed, leaving three people dead and seventy injured. In 2000, Christine Chappel, a twenty-eight year old trans woman, was murdered by her brother-in-law. Later the same year, Damilola Taylor, a recent immigrant to London from Nigeria, was stabbed in the thigh with a broken bottle after weeks of homophobic bullying; he bled to death. Aaron Webster was beaten to death by a group of men with baseball bats in 2001. In 2002, Gwen Araujo, a trans teenager from California, was strangled and beaten with a shovel after being inspected at a party by two men she had been intimate with. Two men stabbed Ryan Keith Skipper twenty times and slit his throat in Florida in 2007, later bragging that they killed him ‘because he was a faggot’; his body was dumped two miles from his home. In 2008, Allen Andrade beat Angie Zapata to death with a fire extinguisher after discovering that she was trans, referring to her as it in his arrest affidavit and telling his girlfriend in a taped phone call that ‘gay things need to die.’ In Massachusetts in 2009, an eleven-year-old boy hanged himself with an electrical cord after persistent anti-gay harassment from classmates. Fifteen trans women of color were murdered in 2012 alone. In 2015, Brian Golic (who identified as androgynous and pansexual) was stabbed to death in his home by his father. And this year, Omar Mateen shot one hundred and two people at Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, including himself; he and forty-nine others died.
Want me to stop? Yeah. So do I.
It’s curious how hard it can be to go to bed. Even when you’re tired. And not just hard to pry yourself up out of the comfy chair you’re in, but hard to stop doing things so as to go to bed and sleep. Rest, of all things, shouldn’t be difficult; and yet it is. At least, it is for me—it’s probably a question of personality. The brain’s tick-tick-tick works differently in each of us, I expect: incessant for some, controllable for others (and for a few, hardly startable). But there’s a sort of false aura of romance to insomnia, so I’ve got that going for me.
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1Throughout my blog, I use the gendered pronouns preferred by trans people. Theologically, I don’t know what to think about transgender issues; however, I think it a matter of courtesy to respect others’ wishes, especially in such a personal matter as forms of address and I don’t like to violate courtesy without a compelling reason to do so—and I don’t consider my uncertainty a compelling reason to do anything.