Tuesday, March 01, 2011
NAKED YOUNG MEN
If you came in hopes of porn, you’re dashed. if you came in hopes of photos of handsome naked young men in the physical sense, I’m sure you’ll be able to find them somewhere. What I’m after is the minds and souls of young men, far more naked than their bodies. After all, I’ve been talking to young men who sold their bodies -- at least parts -- so that kind of nakedness means about as much to them as it does to a Playboy bunny.
I mean self-revealing intimacy sort of nakedness. My specialty in romantic encounters has been old men of achievement and competence. esp. the difficult ones. Now that I’m old, I turn to young men but not romantically, nor as brothers, nor as sons, but as inhabitants of a foreign country that exists on some metaphysical plane that is occasionally accessible from mine, terrifying and rewarding as foreign countries always are. Now I am interested in old men as a way “in,” asking them about when they were young men in quite different times.
There are two ways to look at old age in women. One is that they’ve spent themselves in service to others or devotion to something and now they’re entitled to protection, sheltering, and help in shoveling out their driveway on days that the temp only rises to zero. (Today.) The other is that an old woman is free. She’s no longer accountable. Her thoughts don’t matter, she’s expendable, and she might be a witch anyway. She carries all the sins and shortcomings of a generation that sees old people in general as either an encumbrance or a nuisance -- always wailing and complaining -- but she’s seen a lot and can say what she thinks about it.
So I’m taking this second option. I can be as daring as I want to, risk my very existence as much as I care to, say what I think is true. At seventy I’m really a little young for this, but I want to be able to write with my wits about me. I don’t care whether it gets published or not. The crucial tipping point is NOT publishing. (This IS publication. "Publishing" is about making money.)
The conventional understanding, which is still alive out here in rural America, is that men are obligated to take care of women. Once I headed from Portland up to Tacoma to preach and got caught in a huge ice storm that put me into the ditch twice. Finally the road closed. I holed up in a motel and watched Westerns for a day -- then two days. It was a cheap motel. It was lucky I don’t drink.
I called my mother to let her know where I was. You’re always supposed to let people know where you are. I had done this once many years earlier in even more dire circumstances and her reaction was, “What do you expect ME to do about it?” We had a blowup about this -- years later, because sometimes things go unresolved a long time -- and both learned from it. I had expected emotional support -- you know, sympathy and recognition that I really was in danger, that those might be my last words to anyone, someone to listen with understanding. This was news to her.
So this time -- though her natural mode was to abandon me until it was over -- she did her best to provide emotional support. But she offered the services of my brother, who had a four-wheel-drive and loved to rescue people. I snapped, “There’s nothing he could do that I can’t do for myself.” On the other line he heaved a big sigh of relief. When I got off the phone, I went out and dug through the debris in the back of the pickup until I found the “traction devices,” put them on the pickiup, and drove home. The roads were open by then. It’s the sort of conveniently ambiguous ordeal that makes a good short story decades later.
What I’m learning now is about men much younger, far more naked. far more vulnerable. There aren’t many around here. (The young men around here mostly don’t reveal themselves without drinking and I avoid those places.) These “eBoys” read what I write and take it in ways I never could have imagined. They “write” with their bodies -- not whoring anymore but dancing and climbing and running and doing backflips. I “read” them in videos.
Christian Bale just won an Oscar for being a fighter hooked on drugs. Hard to get more trendy male than that. But I hadn’t really connected him with the boy in “Empire of the Sun” which is one of my key “texts.” An educated boy is thrown into the chaos of war, so young he doesn’t distinguish between proper/improper, friend/enemy, legal/illegal. He’s doing what I call “zero-based morality,” meaning that he has to develop everything from scratch, look at everything raw. Not that the character is alone. Part of the problem is learning from or resisting the people around him. But he’s a “boy” in the sense that boys have always been people who did scutwork: hall boy, stable boy, paper boy, copy boy, errand boy. “Boy! Boy! Where are you, boy?” They are the Jack Russell terriers of the population.
The main characteristic is energy. What hurts boys is what takes their energy, either because they are so angry that they explode in every direction, uselessly; or because they are caught in a trap of self-correction or fear or unrealistic expectations or . . . who knows? If they knew, they’d do something about it. How do we offer emotional support when they are facing situations that are life-threatening?
One might think it’s a matter of telling them something, but Tim shows me that the real need is for listening: careful attention. They’ll hide, they’ll be shocking, they’ll lie, they’ll attack. But you just have to wait until they trust enough to quietly tell the truth. That is so powerful that they -- this is serious now -- are capable of bringing down the Pope. Not that priests sodomizing boys (or impregnating women) is anything new. What is new is that the modern priests were carrying HIV, that the Pope forbade condoms, and that the boys therefore received death sentences in the confessional. Where’s the screenplay? Would Christian Bale, “Dark Knight,” take it on?
We live in times that are hollow. I have nothing to say yet. I’m watching. I’m listening. I’m learning how to look at naked young men and see them as they really are.