The two women therapists were standing at the rail of the ferry cross the Sound. It was a gray day and there was a bit of rain, but they had dressed warmly and it was almost pleasant to have the cobwebs blown away, to be away from the others who crowded the coffee bar inside. There had been a lot to think about in the news and in their separate practises so they appreciated the support of each other. They tried to convert their justified anxiety by sorting and evaluating. After all, that's what they had been trained to do.
"It seems to me," said the first, "That what we're dealing with is so human that it's eternal, really impossible to address, only barely possible to survive."
"Secrecy, lying, transgression -- yeah, I think that's fair." They leaned their forearms on the rail, their brimmed hats pulled down over their foreheads to deflect rain rather than light.
"I have a client, a favorite, who is an example."
"What? A favorite?? A handsome man, I suppose?"
"I admit it. I'm a sucker for the Irish poet types, the rugged face, the nearly bald head, the broad shoulders . . . the romantically troubled. Not someone who cracks up over relationships, but a person opposed to society, standing alone, insightful to the point of seeming dangerous to others."
"This guy has nothing to do with sex?"
"Less than is thought by the people who write crime novels. He's just narcissistic and in our culture that's irresistible enabler-bait."
"At least it sells poetry and even picks up some bills. Provides a bed for the night."
"But how does a professional therapist who knows enough to maintain objectivity ever figure out how to get through to such a person?"
"Yet he comes to you for some kind of help or advice. What does he want?"
For a little while they stood quietly, staring out over the water at the dark forests of temperate near-jungle, so far away that the pulsing of the ferry's engines didn't really seem to be moving them along. A few persistent gulls swooped past, doubling and redoubling, screaming.
"The next complication is that he's a sexworker."
"I guess you can handle that."
"He's male who provides his skills to other males."
"Oh." More silence. "Is there any literature?"
"The problem is that admitting that this situation exists at all has been intensely secret because of criminalization worries."
"Surely we're more open about it now."
"The lingering ideas of the 20th and even 19th centuries are creating forces that make extortion and blackmail possible even now, and the particular demographic that is most affected is the high-level leadership of government and corporations who have enormous impact if they can be forced to do something sensitive. It's just because they got where they are because they are old, which they call seniority, and wealthy, which they attribute to hard work and deserved. Their ego is bound with their finances."
"Is your client old?"
"No, no. He's sort of middle-aged, but he's the provider and he doesn't need Viagra or whatever to do what he does. He doesn't work with lust, but with the need for reassurance and relief."
"Seems like that's what we do ourselves."
"His skills are as major as mine. He doesn't seem to be asking me for advice about what to do."
"Then . . .??"
"I think he's just lonesome."
"But he can't really trust me. He keeps secrets and sometimes that information would change my whole understanding of what he's living through. I know very little about sex work and even less about intimate relationships in that context."
"It's only recently that I've realized how complex the gay world is and what intense political issues have swept through them. There's always the great sorrow from losing people to AIDS and the raging fury at a government that escapes from responsibility by citing evil. But then the unresolvable problem of man versus boys, when there is so much variation in both age groups in terms of the cultural background they occupy."
"That adds to the problem of working out a relationship between individual and society, which is not quite so cutting as the relationship of person versus family."
"And the reorganization of the planet so that social groups are often via internet through diaspora rather than one boundaried place. Maybe identified bars and theatres or events, but those are public."
The wind had changed direction or maybe the ferry's route had shifted direction slightly. To protect their faces the women turned their backs to the rail and the view. Now they were looking the big windows into the lounge of the boat. Some people were in groups, talking among themselves. A man had a guitar and though they couldn't hear him, it seemed that others around him were singing. Several women sat alone with books but it wasn't possible to see what the books were. Could they all be reading the same best-seller? Were they sexy books?
"If there's anything more magnetic than a client who is lonesome, it's hard to say what it is. It tempts me to become far more personally disclosive, more conventionally intimate, than is wise or helpful. When I slip into that, this client of mine becomes very angry and reminds me that I'm billing him!"
Both women laughed. Then the second woman, who was doing most of the listening, suggested, "Might a group be helpful? One that includes some older gay men or even young professional gay men?"
"I think it runs into the secrecy problem. This is a demographic that thrives on gossip and is often so tightly knit that they need very little information to figure out who is involved or when something happened. One of my advantages as a tolerant but basically ignorant female therapist is that I'm likely not able to do that."
They sighed. So many limitations to what can know or even suspect when working with human beings. They looked down into the roiling water that parted to make way for them but closed behind them.
"Do you think there's time for us to go get coffee before we dock? We could finish them in the car. I'm just slightly chilled."