19 February 2009

From Drizzle to Wind: Out of the Closet

Last night's drizzle turned to rain, and back to drizzle again. This morning, the weather was mild: more like what one might expect a month from now. That relative warmth lasted as long as the drizzle: as soon as the drizzle ended and the sky cleared, the wind swept through the streets of my neighborhood. And, it seemed, the season changed back to winter.

I find myself thinking, again, about Wallace Stevens' "sort of man who prefers a drizzle in Venice to a hard rain in Hartford." Or, perhaps, a fog in Boston to the doors of New York.

The fog, and especially a drizzle, are always better than a hard rain, or the cold. And the wind. Now there is only wind, and cold.

I'm recalling a photography class I took as an undergraduate. Back then, digital photography didn't exist, so we had to learn darkroom techniques. It was interesting to see how a photo could be "made" rather than simply "taken."

Well, I did something wrong when developing a roll of film. I don't remember exactly what I did, but it resulted in all of my photos on that roll of film looked as if they'd been shot in a drizzle, when in fact they were taken under clear skies or in a well-lit room.

Among those photos were portraits I made of Sharon and Alex, two of my friends in those days. That gray drizzle diffused the bright light and sharper lines that I expected to turn their faces into striking images. Instead, I ended up with photos that, because they were in black-and-white, looked like someone's feeble attempt to recreate the dreamy, but not dream-like, light one sees in cameos that are as precious and treacly as the sounds tinkling from a music box one keeps only because it belonged to someone--a grandmother or aunt, most likely--long gone.

I wonder whether I still have those photos someplace. On those occasions--rare, I admit--when I think of either Sharon or Alex, those photos are what my mind sees first.

The wind is blowing harder now. The drizzle has definitely ended, for a long while, I believe. The sky has cleared but there is no moonlight to illuminate it. There is only the wind, gusting through splintered shingles and flaking bricks in the industrial area of Long Island City that borders, on three sides, my neighborhood. The fourth side is the East River.

Tonight I spent some time with Dominick. I first met him about four years ago, but I kept him at a distance until a year or so ago. A while back, he had asked me to move into his house; I feel more and more ready to do such a thing. It occured to me, as I was talking to him, that it might be nice to begin my post-op life there, living with him.

Although we wouldn't be sharing the same room--at least not at first--the thought of moving in with him scared me--until now. Tonight I finally realized the reason why. "I was in the closet as I was lying next to Tammy, next to Eva, next to everyone," I explained. "Can you imagine what it's like to be in the closet when you're in bed with the person you're sleeping with every night?"

He couldn't, and thankfully for him, he doesn't have to. On the other hand, in all of my domestic relationships--including those with my family--I was in the closet. It's the only way I've ever known how to live with someone.

For that matter, my entire life until five years ago was lived "in the closet." Even when I was in one of Allen Ginsberg's workshops, I felt as if I were presenting a persona I invented. I think Allen knew that: He said that my writing wouldn't really develop until I dealt with my sexuality and ideas about gender.

But even in his class, I remained in the closet. It was all I knew how to do; furthermore, the rest of that class consisted of straight males and one straight female. I never spoke frankly with them about anything, not even poetry--theirs, mine or the ones in the canon. Mine were shrouded in fog and drizzle that faded into a linen haze.

So now I'm taking a class called Literature, Gender and Sexuality taught by a wonderful lesbian professor who has as much belief in my abilities as any instructor I've ever had. Yet, until this week, I was ready to drop it. I'd fallen behind on my reading because I was resisting it. Yes, some of the essays assume knowledge I don't have, and others are written in dense, abstract language that contain scarcely a metaphor, let alone a simile or a vibrant image. But that language is not the reason I wasn't keeping up.

Before I began to read the material for the class, I had to overcome my resistance to the ideas I've always had about gender studies and academic research--particularly in fields like mine--generally. Back in the day, I'd read some really trite stuff in what was then called women's studies and gay studies. Trite, and expressed in utter monstrosities of prose. I know I wasn't the only person turned off. But when I fought registering for the course, then reading the material, I was reacting only to the unpleasantness of my memories of the subject, even though I can't recall the specifics of what I read back in the day.

In other words, I have nothing but the fog that shrouded my memory of early gender and gay studies. And, of course, the shadow of who I was when I sneered at what I was only making gestures of reading. What else could I do? There isn't much light to read by when you're in the closet.

Staying in the closet so I could avoid the wind and cold didn't work for me, and won't now. All I can do is find the warmest coat that fits me best, and go out into the wind.