Wednesday, January 17, 2018

YOU'RE ONTO ME -- THIS IS A BIOGRAPHY


America is now a country where the President mocks the differently abled and few can tolerate the differently cultured.  The fears of some are fed by knowledge that various categories of people are being gathered into camps and then deported, or simply left there, like leper colonies.  This is no way to handle a pandemic and I don’t know that any other countries are doing it except in the “hell holes” created by war.

Some who are alert and have been following this blog lately have realized that I’m posting in bits a rough draft of the biography of Tim Barrus.  I don’t know where he is or whether he’s safe or even alive.  I haven’t heard from him for over a year.  The boys in his care are scattered to safe houses, if there is such a thing now.  They are doing workshops about survival for homeless youngsters, including those who resort to sexwork so need info about prevention and monitoring of HIV.  They still manage to post.  They still have their cameras.

I’m getting close to eighty.  If I don’t get this written now, it won’t ever happen.  Publishing?  I have no idea.  There are many forms.  But I joined this effort about 2006 and was co-writing blog entries for years.  T’s way was to choose a theme, name it evocatively, and then make entries that alternated with mine.  Sometimes he used a pseudonym and sometimes he did not.  At first I only used my own first name, Mary, which confused things because it’s an appellation used by gays, something like “Nancy.”  But I’m not gay.  T. called me "the writer Mary Scriver."

Since the boys were sexworkers — as T. had been which was one reason they trusted him — I had to do a lot of catching up by reading out here on the Montana prairie where no one gets AIDS and all athletes are above average.  Thank goodness for the used book market:  Abebooks, Alibris, Powells, and so on.  Gay culture is complex, international, and highly political.  T. suggested what to read and a surprising amount of it was online. 

Reservations (I do not mean Native Americans but rather tribal areas) are full of stories and at first that’s what I wrote, as well as stories from my five years in Portland, Oregon, as the first female animal control officer, and more from my ten years as a Unitarian Universalist minister.  Neither tribal people on reservations nor in urban re-locations were writing as much as the international gay community, but the two affinity groups had overlap and links, partly through the Internet. Gays read a lot and tend to be able to afford books and magazines.  Gay “Indians” tended to be bookworms.

When I started, I was already writing stories for ropeandwire.com but sometimes I could use “boy stories” like T’s template in both locations.  Then I wrote a short story about a mail order wife who could barely tolerate her homesteader husband’s advances until there was a terrible blizzard while he was gone.  Aware that he might not come back at all and was certainly unlikely to return until the storm was over, she dragged the tin tub in front of the fire and bathed with the last sliver of real soap she had.  But the husband, concerned about leaving his new wife alone, had struggled home at the cost of killing his horse, and staggered in the door with his saddle on his shoulders.  “That was the night they started their family.”  

The story was rejected by "Rope and Wire" for being too sexy for a “family-oriented” website.  I don’t know where they got their information about how families begin.  I was now writing for my own blog “prairiemary.blogspot.com" and for whatever blog T. had going.  This latter pushed me to be far more daring, with no limits on human behavior, though I was hopeless when it came to drugs.  There is an intriguing phenomenon that I hope to investigate some day:  lesbian authors who write compellingly about gay boys.  I’m thinking of Mary Renault (“The Persian Boy”) and Patricia Nell Warren (“The Fancy Dancer” which includes a Native American).  These books are cherished by young gays.

As time went on, I began to slip into the role I had played for my sculptor husband and at animal control:  researcher.  By 2010 HIV-AIDS knowledge was quickly accumulating and the meds were so improved that a person could be protected to the point of no longer being contagious.  T., whose father had once been offered a chance to become a medical doctor, kept up with the new information.  He had always maintained connections to Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders.  The virus was no longer an automatic death threat, but maintaining the expensive pill regime that included frequent blood tests and strict dedication to a daily schedule was not easy.  Even I, with my diabetes rigamarole, get defiant and fatalistic.

Awareness at urban medical centers is one thing.  When boys became ill in places where there were few admitted HIV cases, T. often had to monitor meds and coach treatment.  He sat with the boy through the times of crisis, sending out a barrage of information and questions through handheld devices.  When the illness resolved, sometimes with death, he was often exhausted himself but instead of going to a medical facility, he chose a good hotel with room service and went invisible for a few days.

About this time the instrumentation for three scientific fields, neurology esp. in the brain; cosmology and quantum physics; and cell-level biology including DNA in fossil remains, exploded into realms of knowledge so vast that they exceeded our vocabularies and academic disciplines. 

In fact, deep time and unlimited space are such powerful ideas that they begin to be religious.  Now my U of C Div School methods were helpful.  This level of "Mandarin" seminary is not Bible study.  I am not technically Christian, though I was raised Presbyterian, but had a grounding in how spiritual concepts emerge in response to life, an “anthropological and phenomenological” approach that is an umbrella for all culture-based institutions.  While some were worrying about the Death of God, the concept of what a human being "is" has been completely transformed.

Whatever gods there might be must have been amused by our conversations, because T. -- raised Methodist -- has been a ferocious accuser of an all-powerful god who allows such a unseeing, uncaring, suffering world where the innocent are torn apart and the wicked feast on raw hearts.  I’d been a liberal, but more and more disgusted as a merit-based society in which academic terms failed to address Evil, even that created by human greed.  Still, I kept trying to find optimism.

T., on the other hand, became nearly Zen: walking the dogs, doing the laundry, cooking one big meal for the boys every day.  Until a punishing new political tide made that impossible.  There are many stories left to tell, American tales about surviving forest fires, camping out in the snow, making long cross-country drives to deliver supplies.  Surviving the wrecking balls by sticking together.

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