People would ask me how it was possible to write a novel where two of the main characters were gay and they were in love with each other. I got the emotions just right, I was told. I responded that I didn’t think that the emotions were different just because you switched from a straight couple to a gay one. “Human emotions are the same throughout,” I would say, trying to sound piqued by the very question in an attempt to shame them. How could you not know that the emotions are the same? Not too long ago it was thought that blacks did not feel emotions the same as whites, that since they were inferior creatures their emotions had to be just as primitive. Then, as if to leave the field with victory on my crown I would fling out, “The soul has no sex,” in a tone of voice that sounded as if I had also added, “You should know that by now.”
I do believe that the soul has no sex. People who are convinced that they’ve lived before in other lives in previous times say that they’ve sometimes been men, and sometimes women, in those prior avatars. When we fall in love we have a tendency to say “I love you with all of my heart,” although Spanish speakers also say “I love you with all of my soul.” Heart, soul, they beat for thee, my love, they live for thee, they die without thee, thou who art of a differet sex than mine, or perhaps of the same sex; but the mechanism of love—heart and soul—those remain without sex. Sex only comes about when the anatomy turns inwards or outwards, and appendages grow and organs mature, and not everybody is clearly of one or the other sex. A person who is a woman outwardly and who likes girls may not be a lesbian, because in her mind she is a guy. Physical sexual characteristics are not enough to denote the sex of the individual; the mind plays a part in it as well.
Truth is—but this I never told the people who praised my novel and commended me for having gotten the gay emotions right—truth is, that I was once in love with a young man. There, I’ve said it, but before you start imagining all sorts of things and judgmentally placing a label marked “queer” on my head, I must insist on telling you all of the details: my love remained unrequited, the young man spurned me, and all of these violent emotions of passion and jealousy and intense curiosity and dismaying lust gushing out of my heart and soul and directed in his general vicinity, like vectors in a force flowchart, remained unconsummated, only spiritual and never physical. Platonic, we say, because Plato spoke of intimacy in love but no carnality, for that becomes a barrier, a complication, because love of our friends is but a step on the way up to love of the divinity. Well, Plato, I have news for you: I loved this young man as if he were a divinity! I worshiped him, for he was everything I ever wanted. I wanted his heart and soul, of course, but his body was there first, and even though he was skinny and sinewy I wanted his body, too. When he smiled, at others, never at me, his cheeks would buckle into multiple concentric arcs since there was not much flesh there. When he would look up, and he was always looking up, one could see tendons and veins and a prominent Adam’s apple that would bob up and down. Only once did I see him without a shirt, on the beach right after he had come in from the water. His chest was somewhat concave, as if his sternum were giving up the fight of holding his ribs up. He had long, hairy arms and legs, and many times, when he was walking away from me, and he was always walking away from me, I would glance at his buttocks and they didn’t exactly form a bubble-but.
So, why, Plato, why, why, why? Why did I love him so much? Was it his hair, which was kind of stringy but which he wore long, down his back, of a rich, dark brown that would blow in the breeze and produce an effect around his head rather like a halo? Was it his eyes, of a cerulean blue that made your heart ache for no reason, as if you were about to die of the acute beauty that bore down into your very soul? Was it his voice, rich, resonant, manly, that would boom over the conversations of everybody else, and that would communicate instantaneously that those conversations were insipid and puerile? Maybe it was his hands, for they made expressive gestures as he spoke, caressing the air with grace and punctuating the meaning of his words with virility and authority, because he always spoke well, even though sometimes it was a lot.
I loved that man even before I knew that he had gone to bed with another man. Of course, after that, I ran after him even more. But he would always hold me at arm’s length, saying that whatever I had to tell him could be done so at such a distance. To me, the distance was insurmountable, because some of the things I wanted to tell him would have to take the shape of whispers tremulously breathed into his ear, or directly into his mouth. I wanted to kiss him desperately, to assuage an unknown fever under the gaze of his cold, cold eyes. I wanted to hug him to me, to tell him that I wanted to take care of him, but I never got the chance, for he always acted as if he wanted to take care of everybody else. “Forget everybody else!” is what I wanted to tell him. “Just look at me, for a minute,” is what I told him. And he did, for a minute. That is when he explained to me that he had lain with the other kid because the other kid was dying of AIDS. He had spent the night with him, holding him tight, helping him to—
I was in a rage. I was jealous of the kid dying of AIDS. This kid had spent a whole night with the one I wanted. My heart was tortured. Who else spends the night with someone who is dying? This young man worried about all of humanity save for me. Yet, I didn’t have to say anything. I had interrupted him, but all I could do was splutter and weep and sigh and sob, yawps of despair sounding foreign about my ears as if I weren’t the one emitting them. He knew what I was about.
“Roy,” he said, “you don’t need me.”
“That’s not true,” I started to say, but one hand held up sideways shut me up.
“You don’t need me,” he repeated, but changed his intonation to accentuate the word ‘need.’ “You may think you want me, but I’m not here to be given to any one person. I am here to be given to all. If you want to help me, go spend the night with the young man who is dying of AIDS, or spend the day, or part of the day. He’s the one who needs you. You will see that all of this that you feel filling up your heart and soul is not of any consequence. It is but a loose accumulation of emotional chaos, pent-up passions and desires that you’ve had since you were a little boy. They somehow targeted me because you were attracted to my independent and aloof way of being. But I do love you, just as I love all others. You must help me, you must reach those others that need you, because you are strong, you are dynamic, and you have much love to give.”
‘Tis true, I smiled inwardly, I’ve always fallen for standoffish girls, the vain ones who act unapproachable, especially if they add an air of mystery to their comportment or even melancholy. I think it was the part about the chase that I liked, the hunt, the excitement to go after them and, piecemeal, wear down the bravura and conceit that they spun around themselves like a chrysalis. Once they loved me back, and the mystery started to wane, I would go on to the next stuck-up girl. I was convinced that I was doing them a favor, getting them off their high horse, or rather, bringing them down from their ethereal heights to have them play with the rest of us sentient beings.
But now, this stuck-up guy had, what?—thrown me for a loop? As I looked at him with mouth agape, with nothing to say, I realized that he could be right. He looked so somber, so fragile standing in front of me, and he held my eyes with a gaze of sympathy so wondrous to behold, and yet his smile was beatific, as if he knew that everything was going to be okay. We couldn’t stay like that forever. Still, the thought that I was supposed to walk away now and put a bushel over my love for him was too much to bear. Most emotions may come over a person quickly, but they take their sweet time to dissipate. Without knowing why I asked it, I asked my love, my life, “Give me a hug?”
He held his arms out and embraced me as I crashed into him, laughing as we almost lost our balance together. His laughter was music to my ears, and I could feel the sobs returning to my chest, and as they did so I felt that that was why his sternum was hollowed out: it was the better to absorb the gasps of some forlorn fool whose world was collapsing around him.
The world did not collapse, however. I went to see the kid with AIDS, a nice guy who lived out in the boonies on a farm. I did not spend the night with him, but I did spend some afternoons helping to unearth carrots for him, since he was too weak to do so. He said the carrots helped him feel better, and he would make carrot milkshakes for the two of us. A few times we went out to see a movie, science fiction is what he liked best. He died four months after I met him, but before his farm was sold I went out and recuperated all the carrots still growing there. There were a lot, and I still have lots of them in my freezer. I take them out and make carrot milkshakes, and think of the friend that I wouldn’t have had had it not been for the kid I was in love with.
The young man I was in love with is no longer here. He said he had to leave because other people needed him elsewhere. I did get to say goodbye to him, and I thanked him for having prompted me to be less self-absorbed and selfish. “Self-absorbed and selfish?” he repeated. “You’re one of the most loving and generous people I’ve met!” he said with such conviction that I believed him. I got to hug him one more time, before he left. It was a Platonic embrace of friendship, calm and tender, that left me feeling as if I had gotten closer to God.