At 2AM I wake up and realize that Thimble, the gray kitten who has breathing probs, is tight against my hip under the covers. I fish him out and he is limp but settles on my shoulder. I’m not sure he’s breathing since there’s no rasping. Half an hour later, I’m still listening and wondering if he’s dying or dead. Finally I get up and go to the computer to reframe my mind.
There is a film. http://projects.sfchronicle.com/2016/living-with-aids/documentary/ in 1981 the first modern American death was recorded due to the subtle and evidently ancient primate retrovirus before it wiped out one of the most grandiose, defiant social movements of our times. This film is about 8 men, one black and one indigenous, who did not die. Somehow they scraped along — sometimes up and sometimes down in the way that old age will give you vigor and optimism one day and dulled despair another. Archive vid shows flamboyance in parades on a theatrical scale. There is no sickness and death footage in this reflection.
When the techie industry invaded SF, these men suffered the death of displacement to unknown places and broken friendship links. Now reaching their Seventies, ordinary causes of death reach them. By now they have learned to open up to each other and let love come again.
The grappling of little claws on my leg and up comes Thimble, not dead after all. He settles on my arm, sometimes watching the film and sometimes dozing, rasping again. This set of kittens neither meows nor purrs except when nursing, but he makes “soft eyes” at me and his breath is dependable. The feral cats in this town are visited often by death: feline viruses, misadventure, inbreeding, and human poisons meant to kill them. To be alive is to be stalked by death.
Maybe it’s patronizing or bent in some way to watch flamboyant high-passion men in terms of trivial creature deaths, most of whom go unnamed and unremarked, but they are what I know. In undergrad years I traveled with a courtly and intelligent set of theatre actors and directors who were happy/gay before there was a movement. “Gay” still meant an emotion, but there was a connection to the rebellious theatre figures — Antonin Artaud, Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire, and Edgar Allan Poe. None of my friends went into the surreal, hallucinatory world but they could see it from where they were. This shadow strand persists in Goth parties and horror movies. After all, Artaud’s “Theatre of Cruelty” was nothing compared to the constant reality of stigma and looming death.
“Trial and Retribution:” Year 4, Part 1 and 2” which I watched last night, includes a remarkable scene of James Wilby, playing a gay man accused of murdering his partner, in which he sings in drag (blonde wig and glittering black sequin dress) a torch song meant to explain the relationship with his partner. As an actor, Wilby is a family man with four children, part of the remarkable BBC repertory company. I have no idea about his state of desire, but as a expression of love, his club performance is stellar. The population of English-speaking people at some level has become accepting of unconventional relationships. To get the same level of frisson on the screen, one must add violence and grisly gore.
But at the less sophisticated regions of the country the reaction to difference is always rejection if not punishment. It is a signalled vulnerability as well as stigma, justifying ugly behavior, especially to the young. To watch this episode of a Lynda LaPlante series and then, only hours later, to watch the documentary of “Living with AIDS” is to stand in two entirely different worlds that never see each other. LaPlante is consciously addressing the small-minded, racially obsessed cops embodied by David Hayman in most of the parts in which he is cast. He’s a gnarled little Mick who breaks the filters off his cigarettes while continuing to buy filtered brands. He wants to fit with the enticing female liberals but is inescapably from the bottom of society. The only reason he is kept on is that he does dirty work for the corrupt bureaucrats who fear their own nature.
You see how I dodge away from the real subject, which is caring about handsome SF gay survivors. An impulse to understand and protect is far beyond the level of feeding kittens. At present I don’t know any men of this kind in my town, nor do I know of any with culturally recognized intellectual achievements. The closest “U of Chicago” person is in Conrad and is not gay.
On the rez there are — or were — educated men with a gay bent — or at least an inclusive attitude — who secretly died of AIDS. No one is supposed to know, but sometimes an indiscreet cousin will admit that the “wasting disease” was not really cancer. Natural forces plus educated learned behaviors killed them. Drugs, too. Getting pulled into networks that dislocated them from home. Whites who assume Gay is a sign of degeneracy and that most tribal people are degenerate will believe that any tribal men not macho are infected. Then they sling an arm over the shoulder of a handsome young man with copper skin.
To be gay is not to be female. Never heard of Leathermen, eh? Not up to date on sexual desires of many sorts or even embodied sexes on a continuum from Hercules to Wallis Simpson and beyond? Unaware that nowadays people shift from one gender to the other? Finding it impossible to separate sexual identity from social gender roles?
Now I’m wondering whether I ought to put this post on my second blog: prairiemarytoday.blogspot.com where I put a warning about adult content on the opening page. I won’t this time. But I’m suspecting that even if we manage to uproot the American oligarchs of our corrupt government, the reaction will be a severe Puritan attitude towards anything that seems dangerous. Something like the crippling throwback ideas of the far right wing. They seem impervious to compassion as well as common sense.
Anyway, later in the morning, Thimble the kitten is out in the sunshine with her brother, Thread, whose crusty eyes were healed by mail order antibiotics, and for now they seem alive.