Thursday, December 25, 2014

God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen

"Gentlemen and Birds" by Patric Bates
Who are these merry gentlemen?

In the poem “Lone Gentlemen” (or “Gentlemen Alone” depending on the translation), Pablo Neruda writes of the “gay young men” who, like everyone else it seems, spend the night like “raucous cats that cruise my garden in the shadows,/ like a necklace of pulsating oysters of sex/ surround my lonely residence,/ like enemies lined up against my soul,/ like conspirators in bedroom clothes/who exchange long deep kisses to order.”  By the light of the moon there is “an endless movement of trousers” and in the movie theaters “the heroes are studs or princes mad with passion.”

Are these the gentlemen?  These gay young men?

Under the flashing colored lights pulsating with the rhythm coursing through our bodies from the baseline in our foot soles to the vibrating fingers to the buzzing of our teeth, we dance.  Brian and I.  Two gay men in the middle of a straight night club in downtown Provo.  We laugh, we sweat, we live.  Tired, I lean against the stage and Brian, tired too, rests his head on my shoulder.  The blue and green lights move about the dance floor in the shapes of stars—restless constellations refusing to be charted.  A pair of boots, jeans, a belt buckle and finally a scruffy-faced man in a cowboy hat has fully approached us through the stars.  Brian removes his head from my shoulder.  I tense as I’m suddenly face-to-face with this stranger.  His hand moves forward; I flinch.  “Keep being true to you,” he mumbles quietly.  I shake his hand.  He tips his hat.  And just like that he’s disappeared in the shadows of the endless movement of the night.

Surely this man was a gentleman.  So are my male friends who tell me the strange symbol on my dashboard means my tire pressure is low and then offer to fill them up for me.  Gentlemen like my friend Austin who tries so hard to schedule double dates with me and Brian and he and his wife.  Or Dink who helps me with difficult watch repairs, even though he works at the jewelry store across the hall.  Or guys like Jordan who go out of their way to tell me that I'm a good writer, even though I don't know him that well.  Gentlemen like my father who ministers to the poor and the needy, telling them that God loves them no matter what... even if they are gay.

In the Patric Bates print “Gentlemen and Birds” which hangs on my wall at home—the one I bought from the artist himself at the Provo Farmers Market this summer—the central figure is dressed in a top hat and scarves that wrap around his neck and shoulders and arms like a straightjacket.  Others in the crowd face him.  They seem to suffocate him with their stares and their bird beaks and their hands like claws.  The man’s eyes are full of sorrow.  The sorrow of the world, it seems. 

God rest ye, merry gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember Christ, our Savior,
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy,
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.

Two nights before Christmas, Rusty and Maxwell, two gay men in Salt Lake City, experience a similar night of dancing under the pulsating neon lights of the club.  Only this club is a gay club—Club Jam.  Tired and sweaty, they leave the club, like raucous cats, and cruise the streets in the shadows.  “Hey, faggots!” they hear.  They continue to walk home, which is just across the street, ignoring the childlike taunts of their tormentors—the jabs of the beaks.  They arrive at their own driveway.  “Get out of here, faggots,” one pursuer shouts.  “We live here,” they say, voices trembling cold under the stars.  A punch to the head and Rusty falls to the ground.   Another man jumps on Maxwell, hitting him repeatedly with his fists—a steady baseline to the furious rhythm of his hate.  Only sadness in the eyes of the gay young gentlemen now.  Their arms are strapped down, not by scarves but by other hands—hands like claws—hands of their enemies mad with passion.

O tidings of comfort and joy. 

When can we ever find rest?  Or merriment?  We were promised it long ago.  Must we forever be gentlemen alone?

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