Less Than Butterflies, No. 11
Most of my bad decisions start the same way … most.
“I have goodies,” Hope told Derek and me as she handed us a bag of mushrooms at the bar one evening. I immediately popped one in my mouth.
“Thank God,” I said as I chewed. “I really need to be high.”
“Ezra stuff?” Hope asked as she poured me a drink.
“The least of it all, yes. Work stuff, household stuff, I-haven’t-had-sex-in-over-a-week stuff.” I put another into my mouth. “Nothing new.”
“How did your grand gesture go?” she inquired.
“First of all, it was not a grand gesture. Secondly, it’s fine. I mean … I haven’t cried yet, so that’s good.”
Derek, as well, pushed a mushroom stem between his lips. “You’re self-medicating.”
“Only because my primary care physician got busted by the DEA.” I looked around the bar. Soon, the year-round decorative Christmas lights would dance like pixies and the music would take a visual manifestation right before me. The problem was that it wasn’t happening quickly enough.
“So, I take it that means you won’t be planning a honeymoon anytime soon,” Hope said.
“Or ever,” I shrugged.
The clocked ticked for an hour, and in that time I’d managed to indulge in half the bag of mushrooms, as compared to Derek’s three or four. As the effects began to strike him, I grew increasingly jealous that I was still feeling absolutely nothing. In spite of the fact that I often participated in taking recreational drugs, I wasn’t willing to confess to myself that my tolerance might just be building up. It’s not like hallucinogens were favorites of mine. Stimulants were more my speed (no pun intended).
But as the hours went on, the mushrooms began to work their way into me. Looking down at my hands a few times, I swore I could see them growing right in front of me. As the bar partook in karaoke, I began to witness colors coming from the speakers, a different hue for a different pitch. The giggling was the next giveaway. I giggled at any and everything from the controversial drunk girl at the bar who sang “Before He Cheats” in the key of stop singing to Derek fooling with some sort of magnetic, top toy that spun around and around on rails, which I proved incapable of operating.
Soon enough, I realized I needed to go home before the mushrooms hit any harder. Derek pressed the bag into my hand and asked me to take the rest of them and sent me on my way.
Ubering home, I dozed off quietly in the backseat as the driver hummed along to Tejano music and asked questions I ineffectively answered through sleepy lips.
EXT. DENVER, CO – DOG PARK – AFTERNOON – 2020
It was chilly outside, as the weather usually goes in Colorado. What would probably be an 89° April day in Houston turned out to be a harsh 65° afternoon in Denver. Dorito clung to my side after using the restroom and I clicked away at the keys on my laptop. I was trying to meet a book deadline that was only a month away, but my progress had been … minimal, to say the very least.
Chapter One: read the top of the page. Sitting there as housewives jogged with their pups and canines sniffed one another for safety, ideas were fleeting.
Moving to Denver had been a demonstrative effort on my part to show Ezra just how much I cared about him. It wasn’t necessarily futile, as you had to have established expectations in order to fail. And if I’d learned anything since being with Ezra, it was that expectations were wastrel. Not in a practical sense, of course. There were sweet little things he did that often elated the heart or at least proved that those giddy feelings I’d first felt for him three years prior were still alive and well. He might stop on his way home from teaching and pick out peanut butter cookies from a local bakery or order tickets to a traveling musical that was coming through the city.
But, as we’d established oh-so long ago, our relationship would always lack that which other couples did not. There wasn’t any sex, nor was there much cuddling or hand-holding. For all intents and purposes, we may as well have been roommates that shared a bed and, now, a dog.
But I’d known since the first time we’d hung out that this was his plan. Ezra wanted to leave Houston behind—a city for which he’d never developed a great affinity—and move to Denver to teach math. It was ironic, in some sense, considering how much he despised children and that any time I even so much as brought up the subject of them, he all but shut down and receded into some internal well he’d dug for himself.
Or maybe I’d dug it for him. With my pushiness and my willingness to follow him wherever he went so that he wouldn’t ever suffer the loneliness I’d faced in the past. But even in doing so, I knew it would have been no bother to him. Ezra enjoyed the solitude. Welcomed it, even. He was a creature of habit and one that required time to himself—something I took no issue with giving him. Still, I wondered back them if he’d adjust well to being in Denver alone the way he’d come to and existed in Houston for so very long.
We’d been there for six months, and not much was happening for me. Not even a year before, I’d been running a popular magazine in my city and releasing my sixth book into the world. My agent had pestered me for months to write another; and despite the lies I fed her from across the country, no lightning bolts of inspiration had struck. They say that lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, but the truth of the matter was that, in Houston, it had struck me at least those six times.
Why hadn’t lightning struck Denver?
Chapter One: … I’m Out of Fucking Ideas.
INT. EZRA & ANTHONY’S APARTMENT – LATER
“Hey, babe,” I called as I knocked the door open with my foot—groceries piled into one arm and Dorito’s leash bound to the other.
“Hey,” he replied with a smile from the couch where he played some video game about which I knew nothing. That was sort of the routine, then. I spent the mornings cleaning the house and tending to the laundry while Ezra went to teaching high school mathematics. In the afternoons, I went out with the dog to either a coffee shop or the dog park or to run errands while I made efforts to spur out some kind of idea for the next great American novel. Meanwhile, this gave Ezra a few hours of alone time to decompress after spending his day combating the heathens he preached equations and arithmetic to all day long. “Write anything today?”
“Absolutely not,” I replied, stepping into the kitchen as I put away vegetables and bottled water. “It’s like my brain threw the kind of fit a petulant child throws when it finds out it has to move and decided to give me the silent treatment.”
“When’s the deadline?” he asked, getting up and taking a seat on a barstool at the island.
“A month from today,” I sighed, grabbing a bottle of Ozarka and popping off the lid. “Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m a pretty good writer … but I’m not that good.”
“What happens if you don’t meet it?”
“Eh,” I told him, gulping down some water. “I can always ask for a slight extension, if I can actually come up with an idea and prove that I’m nearly done. But the advance from the publisher paid for this apartment, and if I don’t come up with something, we’re going to have to sell it to pay it back.”
“I doubt it will come to that,” he said reassuringly. “You’re pretty good at what you do.”
“I like to think so,” I told him as a flutter took place inside my abdomen.
There they were: the butterflies that kept me here. Kept me by his side. It was true that I now tended to follow in stride behind him, that he took the front seat while I sat in the shadowy back seat waiting for my turn to drive again (a poor analogy considering that Ezra hates driving). It was nice, the relief of the pressure; don’t get me wrong. Still, it was an adjustment. It was nothing like what I’d built myself up to over my near decade of adulthood.
“Maybe you just need to get out of the house for a bit,” he suggested, reaching for a bag of chips on the counter and opening it.
“I’ve been out of the house every day since we got here. I could probably map out all the Starbuckses and dog parks in Denver.”
He laughed, then crunched on, “I mean like … go out. You haven’t been to a single bar since we got here. Which, to be honest, troubles me considering how much you like to drink.”
“I do love drinking,” I replied. “It’s my third favorite thing to do after eating and being mad at people for attention.”
“So, go make some friends,” he told me.
I nodded and sipped my water some more. Maybe he was right. Maybe if I got out and saw … well … people, it may actually inspire me to write about them. A theatre teacher I had in high school gave us an assignment once that required the class to separately go out in public and listen casually in on conversations happening around us. The objective was to take one line or exchange and build a scene and characters around it.
Maybe that would pull me out of Comarado.
“Maybe I will …” I muttered, biting a lip and staring past him out the window. You could see the downtown skyline from our living room window. The adjacent side of the house faced rows of mountains, but the city had always been so much more inspiring to me than anything in nature.
“Well, I have something for you that might make you feel better,” he told me as he stood up and walked over to his briefcase that sat on the coffee table. He popped it open and reached inside for a plain, white envelope before handing it across the island to me.
I stared at it for a moment with a familiar queerness in my eyes. I ripped open the side with little care, then hit the open end against the granite countertop until two tickets fell out before me. I flipped them over so that they were right-side-up and pushed my glasses up on my nose to read them.
Wicked: A New Musical, they read across the top. Almost twenty years on Broadway later, Wicked was anything but new. The date was several months away and the seats were in the front mezzanine, but what took me was that they weren’t for a national tour. They were, in fact, printed from the Gershwin Theater in New York City.
“Omigod!” I shouted. “Seriously?”
It was April the 22nd, and it was, in fact, my birthday.
I’d nearly forgotten.
I ran around the counter and embraced Ezra. “Thank you so much! I’m so excited.” I told him. I pulled away, arms still draped over his shoulders and around his neck. It was instinctive to want to kiss him, but as my forehead pressed against his and I could feel his breath slithering past me, I stopped myself and stared into his eyes for a moment.
Ezra was an asexual and aromantic person. This was the person I’d signed up to spend the rest of my life with. This was the life I had chosen and that he hadn’t asked me to choose. So, instead, I pecked him on the cheek, hoping to alleviate some of the pressure, then slid the tickets back into their envelope.
“I love you,” I told him.
“I love you, too.”
“So, do you want to go out with me?” I asked, as I began walking toward the bedroom.
“I think I’ll hang here with Dorito. Go make friends for your birthday,” he told me as I traced into the closet to find an outfit to wear. Fifteen minutes later, my hair was done, my makeup was on, and I was wearing clothes I hadn’t touched since buying them when we first arrived. An outfit of all black accented with a Versace scarf weaving through my hair.
“Okay, well I’m going to that bar Pride & Swagger. I hear it’s pretty lowkey.” I picked up my wallet off the bar and slid it in my back pocket. “Text me if you change your mind.”
I knew he wouldn’t.
INT. PRIDE & SWAGGER – LATER
The bar was quiet, but it was still early. I’d had a few drinks and sat with my laptop perched atop the bar probably looking like an idiot. The bartender, Charlie, checked on me every few minutes and chatted with me about my move from Houston. He’d even bought me a birthday shot when he checked my ID.
“I just met another guy from Houston last night. He said he’d be stopping back in after some conference he’s in town for,” Charlie went on as I stared down at that empty Word document on my laptop screen.
“Maybe I know him,” I teased.
The door behind me chimed, and Charlie simply said, “Speak of the devil,” as he checked the time on his iPhone 34. Those things seemed to be regenerating faster than ever in 2020. I didn’t bother to turn to see the mysterious man from Houston, but focused on the details of the bar around me. Hopefully, if I could paint the picture, I could write the scene.
“Welcome back,” Charlie said with a smile as the barstool next to mine pulled out.
“Good to be back,” the replying voice cooed, sending chills down my spine.
It couldn’t be …
I looked up to my left and found that it actually was. Not yet seated in the stool next to me stood Dylan—the most attractive man I’d ever had sex with in my entire life.
The first man I ever told my rape story to.
“Oh, my big, fat, Jewish God,” I mumbled as my mouth gaped stupidly at him.
“I thought that was you,” he told me with a smile. He looked good—better, if that was possible. His beard was more neatly trimmed and his clothes clung to each cut of his Adonis-like figure.
“What are you doing here?” I asked him, standing up to hug him.
“So, it looks like you two do know each other,” Charlie laughed as he reached for my glass to refill it.
Dylan regaled me with the story of how he’d gotten to Denver. An attempt at making it big in Nashville had started off full of hope and spry, but had ultimately become too much. Bills had mounted, food was more and more scarce, and his tricky habit for alcohol had all but bankrupted him. So, he’d moved to Colorado Springs to be with family while he got back on his feet, and eventually ended up here were the dispensaries weren’t so far apart.
“What brought you here?” he asked.
“Oh, my boyfriend,” I told him with a roll of my eyes. “He always wanted to move here. Finally did. I followed.” I shrugged. I felt safer mentioning Ezra to him. It established boundaries, I thought. True, Ezra had been clear with me long ago that he was not opposed to being in an open relationship since his sexual prowess was virtually nonexistent, it still felt like something we needed to discuss before I pursued it. Still, as the night went on-and-on, the drinks seemed stronger-and-stronger. And as the lights went down in the bar, they all seemed to land on Dylan as he lamented tales of Nashville and failed relationships and sex and travels.
My phone vibrated a few times, but I was either too intoxicated in the conversation to look at it or I was getting a little too drunk to care.
“You look amazing,” Dylan told me. His head leaned against the palm of his hand, which had the connecting elbow placed on the bar. “You look younger, somehow.”
“I stopped snorting coke,” I told him. It may have seemed like a joke, but it wasn’t entirely false. Then his hand ran across my thigh, and his emerald eyes stared into mine with piercing intensity. “I wonder a lot why we stopped hooking up,” he laughed.
“I fell in love with someone else …” I told him.
“Do you still love him?” he asked, leaning in just a bit, his other hand trailing up my side with his fingertips toward the back of my neck.
“Of course I do,” I confessed. And I did. Nothing could change that.
“Answer me after this,” he whispered as he pulled gently on the back of my neck into a kiss.
It was weird.
You know, after not having sex in … Jesus I don’t even remember how long it had been at that point. Regardless, I expected something like fireworks or sparks or … butterflies.
But none. None at all.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” a voice came from behind.
I pulled away from Dylan and whipped around on my barstool. Standing there, expressionless and pale as copy paper, was Ezra.
“Ezra … wait …”
But he was gone. Just that quick, he had whipped out the door.
“Don’t worry about h—” Dylan tugged at my wrist.
“I have to go …”
“Your tab is still open,” Charlie said. “Your credit card is here.”
“Just run it. I’ll come back for it.”
I dashed out the door and onto the sidewalk, looking left and then right for Ezra. From afar, I caught a glimpse of him hailing a cab at the street corner.
“Ezra!” I yelled, running toward him. He looked up and then opened the cab door. “Ezra, don’t leave!” I approached just in time to slam the door shut. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know he was going to do that. I didn’t even know he’d be here. He just … he just showed up there. One minute the bartender was telling me another guy from Houston had been there, and the next he was there again.”
“Oh, right. You had no idea that he’d be there tonight.”
“You’re the one who told me to go out tonight! I didn’t plan this!”
“When I said go out and have a drink, I meant vodka or wine, not ejaculate or spit.”
“I did not sleep with him, Ezra. That’s not fair.”
“You don’t sleep with me, either. That doesn’t mean it’s not cheating.”
I slapped my palm against my forehead. “You’re asexual, Ezra. You told me years ago that you’d be okay with an open relationship.”
“We were drunk. I didn’t even remember saying that until you wrote about it in your slut column.”
I took a step back. My mouth fell open and my arms dropped to my side. He’d never spoken to me like that. In fact, he’d never actually said a mean word to me in the years we’d known one another.
“Slut?” I huffed out. “Isn’t that what you think I am? A slut? Because if I remember correctly, I gave up sex to be with you and then to come to this godforsaken city with you where I have no friends, an unfinished book, a dog who only likes me when the takeout is delivered, and a boyfriend who thinks I’m a slut.”
“I DIDN’T ASK YOU TO MOVE HERE WITH ME.”
And there it was—the well I’d dug not just for him, but for me, as well. The one I’d pushed him down into, then jumped behind him in because I didn’t want to be without him. And now? It was all being thrown in my face. All being spit back at me. And why? What had I done wrong before this one thing? Loved him? Cared for him? Since we’d been together, he’d at least been eating real meals and not combination Pizza Rolls and frozen fish sticks. At least the house stayed tidy and the dog didn’t have to spend the day in a kennel. At least someone had wanted to be there to cheer him on when he gave up his amazing job in accounting to teach math to some prepubescent brats. Wasn’t it ironic that the person who once told me I experienced feelings with an intensity he may never feel was now shouting at me out of hurt in the middle of the street?
I felt like a fool.
And as he opened the cab door and jumped inside, my knees wobbled, and then they gave. I fell to the concrete crying. Wailing. Drunk and wailing in the middle of downtown because I fucked up the best thing in my life.
And then it began to rain.
“Hey, buddy,” the Uber driver’s voice called. My eyes opened in quick, irritable flutters. I looked around the back seat and realized we were parked outside my house.
“Shit,” I muttered. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep,” I muttered somewhere between apologetically and groggily.
The Uber driver only shrugged and said, “Better in my car on the way home from the bar than in yours.”
He had a point there.
I walked into the house, the mushrooms still very much alive inside of me. I was suddenly famished, but the light inside the refrigerator was too distracting for me to find anything to eat. Instead, I laid down on the couch, visions of Ezra screaming at me swimming around in my head. I wondered briefly if it were possible to go back to that dream if I closed my eyes. Just to find resolve to the story. Just to see how it ended.
INT. DOWNTOWN HOUSTON LIBRARY – 2021
The Julia Ideson building was absolutely, breathtakingly gorgeous. Standing inside of it, with its marble columns and its perfectly polished wooden floors and its arched windows, it finally dawned on me for the very first time:
In less than twenty-four hours … I would be getting married here.
And this man, this beautiful, beautiful man was standing on his feet before all our family and friends inside this gorgeous building toasting my family, my friends, and me. And in less than twenty-four hours, in this historic homage to Houston’s very first head librarian, Julia Bedford Ideson, I would marry this man.
He stood there, so brave, and tall, and sure, and sweet, holding up his champagne flute and smiled from his mother to mine and then back to me.
And I’d never been happier.
“And to my fiance’s friends,” he said with certainty typically reserved for lying politicians and Amazon customer representatives, “Thank you for making this man the man that he is today. Thank you for letting him crack all the jokes he’s cracked about you, and for letting him cry all the tears he’s cried over men like me. Thank you for never turning him away. Thank you for being here and handing him off to me. Without you, he would not be the person I fell in love with.”
With that, my wonderful would-be groom took his seat next to me, leaned in, and kissed me in front of everyone as the crowd clapped and cheered. Then, when the kiss was over, he leaned in, ever-smiling, and whispered into my ear, “What the actual fuck is he doing here?” before cutting his eyes away from me and looking directly at Ezra, who sat on the opposite side of the room.
“Can we not do this now?” I asked as I continued smiling and turned back to the face the others who sat at the spread of tables before us.
“You told me you weren’t inviting him,” Matt Kersey said through gritted teeth.
“No, you told me not to invite him, and I invited him anyway, because he’s my friend,” I responded in similar fashion. “Jesus, Matthew. It’s not like I made him my best man.”
“And who the hell shows up without a date to a wedding rehearsal dinner?”
“Someone who doesn’t date because he’s asexual,” I replied.
“Or someone who has feelings for you and knows you’ve been in love with him for years,” he snipped.
“I promise you, that has never been an issue. He has never had feelings for me, and I have never been in love with him,” I reassured him as I downed my entire glass of champagne. “Can we please talk about this when we get home?” I asked.
“No, actually, we can’t,” he informed me as he sipped his own champagne.
“And why not?”
Just then, a pair of hands grabbed me by either shoulder and yanked me back in my seat. As I tossed my head up to see who was there, I found myself looking directly into Stephen’s eyes. He smiled down—drunkenly, mind you—at me with all his teeth exposed and the faint scent of vodka dripping into my nose.
“No. NO! Not tonight. I have to get married tomorrow,” I told him as I did my best to pull from his clutches.
“That’s too bad,” he said with a roll of his eyes as he squatted down behind me and placed his head on my shoulder. “Matt already said we could have you for the night,” he went on. “Besides, isn’t it bad luck for the groom to see the other groom before the wedding?”
“I’m not sure that’s how that particular superstition goes—”
“Let’s go,” he told me as he pulled me up under the shoulder. I reached for Matt’s champagne flute and drank what was left inside of it. “We’re having a girls’ night.”
“Okay, okay,” I told him as I found my footing and pulled out of his clasp. “Let me tell my fiancé goodbye, first, please,” I all but implored.
With that, I reached for Matt’s hand and pulled him up, as well, pulling him in close to me. Chest-to-chest. Pelvis-to-pelvis. Nose-to-nose.
“You don’t need to worry about Ezra,” I mumbled. “I love you. This is it. This is how our fairy tale ends. Me and you. That’s it.”
Matt smiled and leaned in to kiss me, but I pulled back. For a moment, in typical Anthony fashion, I nearly lost my balance and fell to the floor. But Matt Kersey being Matt Kersey, his arms weaved around my waist and kept me from toppling over into what—with my bad luck—would have probably resulted in a major concussion.
“Tell me you believe me,” I ordered.
“I do believe you,” he agreed, smiling and kissing me in a long, swoon-worthy embrace. “And I love you, too,” he told me.
I pulled my phone out of my pocket.
“Perfect. Now stop looking at me,” I told him as I pressed my hand in his face and pushed him away. “It’s midnight. I don’t want to jinx anything.”
INT. THE ROOM BAR – LATER
They were all there. Every single one of the people who had made the last few years so memorable, so wonderful, were all there with me celebrating my engagement. Stephen, Lauren, Courtney, Hope, Alice, Derek, Jeremy, and … yes … Ezra.
‘”It’s weird. Right?” Stephen asked as he ordered us shots from Hope at the bar.
“Which part?” I asked with a laugh.
“This is what you’ve wanted as long as I’ve known you.”
“Which part?” I reiterated with a laugh.
“All of it. The books, the job, the fame, the man. And now you’re getting married. Shit, you’re getting married before me and Leo, and we’ve been saying that we’re going to for years.”
“You’re next,” I told him as Hope handed us our shots.
“For the soon-to-be-groom and his best man,” she said with a wink. “On me.”
“You’re so sweet,” I told her as I smiled and blew her a kiss. “You’re the best.”
“Actually,” Stephen said as he raised his glass. “I’m the best … best man.” I raised my glass up and clinked his.
“Don’t make me regret that decision,” I told him with a wink and a smile.
We took our shots and smiled at one another. There was that earnest, honest look in Stephen’s eyes I’d only seen one other time before. It was years ago, the night he’d been heartbroken at Rich’s when I’d rushed home from Galveston to console him.
“Let’s do it,” he said with his toothy smile, shaking his head once from one side to the next. “For old time’s sake,” he went on.
“Stephen, no,” I said with a laugh.
“C’mon,” he said. “You aren’t married, yet.” And without missing another beat, without waiting for another moment to conjure itself and beget stagnation, Stephen wrapped his arms around my waist, pulled me in close, and kissed me for the second time in our long friendship.
It was a nice kiss. And while the similarity was present in its sweetness, that’s where it ended. Because without him even knowing it, Stephen had reminded me that this would be my very last kiss as an unmarried person to a man I was uninvolved with. It was warm and soft and exciting. There was magic there. And a part of me wondered, as our lips stayed locked together, and our breaths kick-boxed in the narrow space between our noses, if I wasn’t a little sad that Stephen and I had never tried a relationship. After all, he was kind, and hyper-intelligent, and funny to a fault. In every zodiac and tarot spread and prophecy, we were 100% compatible. Again … to a fault. But the stars had missed their alignment by just a fragment of an inch, and that destiny had never quite come to fruition.
“Am I interrupting something?” a voice echoed behind us.
Without pulling apart at first, our eyes opened and our lips stayed pressed together while we smiled and enjoyed a lasting look at each other one last time.
“Not at all,” I said as I turned, blushing, to face Ezra.
“I um … I was about to head out, so I wanted to tell you goodbye,” he said with a smile.
“I’ll walk you to your car,” I offered, stepping toward him. I turned back to Stephen, “I’ll catch you in a minute.”
“Call me Amelia Earhart, because I feel like I am about to get lost in a triangle!” he cackled at his own joke. I waved him off and led Ezra outside by the hand.
It took only seconds to traverse to his car, and there was silence for a long moment as I smiled at him and he looked around the sky curiously.
“Say something,” I finally told him as I let out a small laugh and lightly kicked him in his shin.
“There’s nothing to say,” he chuckled. “Well, I mean, except for congratulations and that I’m happy for you, and that I love you.”
I smiled and opened my arms to him.
“I love you, too,” I told him as I wrapped him in a hug that lasted probably a moment longer than he was comfortable with. But being the friend that he was, he didn’t pull away until I’d drained him of every last drop of affection he had inside him.
He stepped into his car, and I leaned against that of some stranger. He waved as he ducked inside, and I blew him a kiss. He put the car in reverse, and I never let my eyes leave him.
That was the man I had developed the most beautiful friendship with years after telling him I might love him. That was the man who had confessed how he’d loved me, too, but that his own body had failed him when it came to romance and sex—that those sorts of emotions didn’t exist within him and that he couldn’t reciprocate those feelings. That was the man I was convinced, for a short while, that I might spend the rest of my life with.
And he was driving away, now. And I was happy to have him as my friend. And I watched him as he took off down FM 2920. And I shed a single tear knowing that he’d made me a better person, prepared me for the big love I was soon to stumble upon.
INT. DOWNTOWN HOUSTON LIBRARY – WEDDING DAY
Stephen, Alice, Derek, and Lauren all look down the aisle before me. They were linked arm-in-arm by Matthew’s own party of groomsman and women. And when the wedding march began to play, and the large, double doors opened before me, I do believe that I stopped breathing.
I was about to give my entire life away to a man—a man I could see like an ant upon the ground on the other end of the library. And he loved me, and I him. And someday we would raise children together, and maybe move into some inner-loop suburb on some fancy side of Houston. But today, we would stand before those we loved more than anyone else in the world, and we would profess our love, and then we would go home to our tiny apartment, and pack our bags, and fly out to New York City the very next day where we’d spend time seeing musicals and drinking with locals and shopping in barrios. We’d do our best not to seem too touristy, but the glee and love would be evidence enough.
So, in my custom-made wedding attire—inspired by Hindu wedding garbs with a touch of couture and a Dolce & Gabbana scarf holding my hair back—I marched down the aisle all dressed in white—ironic, considering my sexcapades—and forced myself not to look at anyone I passed along the way.
Then, when I made it to the very front of the room, I stood across from him, a minister going through the motions and us reciting our vows. And when asked if he took me to be his lawfully wedded husband, Matt, crying, said, “I do.”
And when the minister asked the very same of me … I froze.
My force to not look around at everyone evaded me, and I looked around the room to see who all sat before me with smiles and teary eyes. My mouth fell open, and I suddenly needed a drink. And my eyes, they bounced from Hope, to Derek, to my mother. And they landed once on Stephen, and I was reminded of that 11th-hour kiss. Then they washed over man after man I’d fallen for or fallen into bed with. And when they hit Ezra, who looked impatient and was also somehow crying joyfully, I turned back to Matt.
His eyes widened. His hands clenched around mine. The room was silent.
“I … I …”
One last look. One last look at all of them.
“I have to pee.”
What would certainly end up being a urinary tract infection woke me from my slumber. I sat straight up and ran to the restroom, where I sat and peed for nearly five minutes. But at that point, I realized my high was gone, and I knew if I didn’t get it back, neither of my stories would get their happy ending.
So, without washing my hands, I dashed back into the kitchen, grabbed the remaining mushrooms in the bag, and shoved them in my mouth before running up to my bedroom and getting back into bed.
The thoughts, however, the questions that accompanied my ridiculously realistic dreams, kept me up for another hour. Before I could fall back asleep, the sun had begun to rise.
But the moment that I did, I was nearly certain that what I’d been looking for was coming.
INT. BABA YEGA – BRUNCH – 2023
I began each morning by telling myself that being single at 29 was perfectly normal and that being alone was more a state of mind than a level of existence.
I was full of shit.
Now home from his honeymoon and resettled back into his life, Stephen droned on and on about the beauty of Spain and all the Spanish gay orgies he and Leo had been to while in Madrid. I guessed every couple should be left to begin their own traditions. Leo and Stephen’s idea of a honeymoon, as if it could get no gayer after factoring in the orgies, was a two-week-long trip across most of Western Europe, in which they visited every city known for its fashion imaginable. From Paris to Milan to Madrid and, of course, Amsterdam (because in 2023, leather was fashionable again), the couple celebrated their open-relationship-turned-open-marriage, Donald Trump no longer being the president, and the child they’d soon be adopting from China now that their lives were more intact and they’d moved out of their shitty, one-bedroom, Avondale apartment.
“So, what have you been up to? What’s new with you?” Stephen asked as we rounded into our third carafe. Being drunk now, I wasn’t even sure why I’d bother to tell him, as I knew he’d spend most of the time formulating something else to say and inevitably interrupting me mid-sentence one hundred times.
“Nothing really,” I confessed as I popped a grape into my mouth.
“What? We haven’t seen each other since my wedding and that was almost a month ago.” Stephen guzzled mimosa. “You have to have had something new happen. A new book? A new boy?”
“My life does entail more than books and boys, you know,” I sighed, a bit annoyed. I shook it off. “No, nothing really. Everything is just as it was when you left.”
“What about the guy you brought to the wedding? What was his name? Jake?”
“Jake is nothing more than my ex that I sometimes have sex with and take to events because we’re both single.”
“Then why not try getting back together with him?”
I laughed. Stephen had been around throughout the entire Jake situation. He knew that there was really no going back there. Often, I wondered if he asked such questions because the older that we got, the less we had to talk about. Our similarities never changed, but priorities often did.
“Nah,” I went on. “It’s not worth going through all that shit again. He’s very spiteful when he shoulders bad feelings for someone. Any little fight we had always turned into histrionics the likes of which I can’t even verbalize.”
Stephen looked across the table at me as he forked waffle into his mouth. He gave that seductive little smile of his. “Sounds perfect for you.”
I laughed, though it was forced. “Oh, fuck off.” I pushed my plate away, full somehow from just the small portion of fruit I’d eaten. “So, are we still on for Legally Blonde on Friday?”
Stephen looked up from his plate. “Is that this Friday?” he asked, scrolling through the calendar on his phone. “Shit. I totally forgot and that’s the day we’re supposed to leave to pick up the baby.”
“Seriously, Stephen? You’re blowing me off for your dumb baby? You never even wanted kids!”
“First of all, my kid is Asian, so I doubt she’ll be dumb. Secondly, things change. Now, I want kids. Is that so bad?”
“Yes, actually, it is. It especially is when it interferes with my plans to see Legally Blonde: The Musical.”
“Take Courtney! She’s been to musicals with you before,” he optioned.
“Only because Ezra and I were going and she wanted a lowkey first date with Jennifer.” I picked up the carafe to refill my champagne flute.
“Well, then take Ezra!”
The carafe fell out of my hand and hit the ground with a clatter. Had I not just emptied it into my glass, I might be more upset. “Ezra has not spoken to me in five years.” My voice was squeezing between my gritted teeth.
“No, you have not spoken to Ezra in five years,” Stephen went on as he scarfed down bacon. He’d gained a little weight over the last few years, but he carried it well. Long gone were the days of the lanky Stephen I’d first met at Pride Houston in 2016. 35-year-old Stephen actually looked better than ever. He was one of those people who only got better-looking as they aged. I despised that about him. Still, he was my best friend through-and-through. Certainly we fought like all other friends, sometimes not speaking for months when that happened. But somehow, some way, through all our own hubris and stubbornness, Stephen and I always went back to being friends. There weren’t a lot of others to be had, it seemed. “And you only haven’t spoken to him because you don’t handle rejection well.”
“I handle rejection the best way I know how. And that’s not why I stopped speaking to him. I’m no child,” I pressed. “It was never the fact that he rejected me. It was the fact that he rejected me and chalked it up to his asexuality, then months later went out and met some Asian Jew and didn’t have time for his friends anymore. And what’s so special about an Asian Jew anyway? I’m Jewish, too. A Mexican Jew, which is far more interesting if you ask me.”
“Have the Asians done something specific to you that’s made you so bitter toward them?”
“It’s not all Asians. Just the ones who are taking all my people away from me.”
It was a cutting remark, certainly, regardless of the intent of it being a joke. In truth, it had nothing to do with Asians, but rather was due to a supreme feeling of once again never being good enough for anyone to consider dating seriously.
With Jake, our entire relationship had been real, even if it had initiated as a means of me helping him complete his dissertation. But the ultimate and final battle had been the same as so many before it: he couldn’t see spending the rest of his life with me. Adam, a man I’d dated for only a few short weeks, and I had broken up in similar fashion. True, our relationship had only happened because I was thick and Adam fetishized that. Still, when he and I broke up, it all came down to the future he had pictured and how I didn’t fit into it. Dylan was another problem, but the same in theme and tone: he didn’t want to settle down. He wanted to hook up without strings attached, which I was able to at some point stray away from. Matt Kersey may have been the sweetest prospect, but he and I never dated. Jeremy and I probably could have been something–his mother and Hope had both certainly hoped so. But Jeremy’s feelings for me only surfaced when he was shitty drunk, which to me felt like a bit of a deal breaker. And every man before or after or in between had been nothing but a meaningless sex partner with whom there had been no spark.
And of all the men in Houston–and a handful abroad–I’d met few whom ever brought me that warm feeling for which I so desperately yearned. And the older I got, as I began to flirt with thirty and as the fleeting moments of joy and euphoria brought on by cocaine and mushrooms and drunken karaoke nights at bars became fewer and further between, I couldn’t help but wonder if it really was me. Maybe there was something about me that just repelled men away … that made them think I wasn’t good enough. In the last five years, I’d become more successful, sure. My face reflected my age more, of course. My body had changed and then hadn’t. But other than those few things, little was different about me. I was still loud, still crass, still intimidating, still funny, still hard-working, still kind. And the still to steal them all was still the same, as well:
“I’ll go alone,” I told Stephen as the waiter came by to present our checks. I pulled a credit card from my wallet as Stephen reached for his own. “I’ve got it,” I told him, curling one side of my mouth up to resemble something adjacent of a smile. “Happy baby week.”
We were gone moments later. And as much as hated to admit it to myself, as much as I tried to wish away the feeling, I knew that would be the last time Stephen and I spent time together uninterrupted by shrill, baby cries or PTA meetings or book tours or a traverse outside the loop where he and Leo would eventually settle down in a suburb and raise their new child and the two more they’d have in the three years to follow.
We weren’t different. In fact, we were still very much the same. The only difference was that Stephen had gotten his happily ever after. Mine, however, was somewhere far from sight.
EXT. THE MILLER OUTDOOR THEATRE – THAT FRIDAY
I’d seen the same production of Legally Blonde on that same stage seven or so years ago. The cast was comprised of amateurs, though none that were out of their league in terms of talent. Only this time, instead of being joined by Alice and Max, I found myself sitting on the hill alone, humming the tunes along as the company belted out one after the next.
I’d arrived early enough to pick out the perfect spot at the foot of the hill, dead center. I’d learned after years and years that planning was important when attending a performance, as the crowds came in droves and never left any good seating even half an hour before curtain.
I’d brought a box of cabernet, but that was gone by intermission. I tossed the box into the recycling bin and made my way down to the concession stands, picking up the blanket I’d brought to sit upon as the grass was damp from the previous day’s shower. I ordered two glasses of white zinfandel—the only wine left behind the counter, to my own disgust—from the concession stand, feeling it necessary to lie to the clerk and say one was for my friend back on the hill. The blanket over my shoulder should have been giveaway enough that I was making things up, but she neither questioned me nor seemed to care.
I went back to the hill to take my spot back. Only, when I arrived at the foot of the hill, a young woman and her suitor were laying their blanket down and taking their seats in my spot. The moment the blanket hit the grass, a chirpy little dog ran atop it and plopped down in front of a bag of popcorn.
“What the fuck?” I shouted–and I mean shouted.
The man turned around. “Excuse me?”
“I said ‘what the fuck’ … as in, ‘What the fuck are you doing in my spot?’” Clearly their response required that I reiterate the point.
“You moved. We thought you’d left,” the woman told me without making an effort to get up and move back to her original place.
“I went to get wine, you classless cunt.”
“Wow,” her boyfriend uttered. “I don’t know what’s sadder about you: the fact that you’re about to double-fist wine, because we all know you’ve been here alone this whole time, or that your alcoholism and loneliness have made you so bitter that you’re harassing strangers in a park.”
For the first time in my entire life, I was without a quick-witted remark to fire back at them.
I mean … they weren’t wrong. I was behaving like a crazy person. Sure, I was drunk, but I’d never been belligerent in my entire life until that very moment. And I was bitter … in more than one sense of the word. Bitter that Stephen blew me off to go adopt a baby. Bitter that I didn’t have a boyfriend to enjoy doing things with me and that all my other friends were either married or so infatuated with their lovers that they hadn’t the time to spend with their friends. Bitter that I’d forgone love and a relationship for my career and that all the men I’d ever loved or at the very least trusted found me unlovable.
Jesus fucking Christ … who had I become?
“There’s room over here,” a familiar voice called to me from a few feet away. Turning my head, I spotted Ezra sitting alone on his own blanket with his own dog curled up nervously in his lap. He nodded down toward the empty space on the blanket.
“Ha!” I said up to the sky. “You have a really fucked up sense of humor. You know that?”
“Who are you talking to?” the woman asked.
“God, dumbass,” I told her as I downed one of the plastic cups of wine before chunking it at her. “I hope your dog dies.”
I moseyed over toward Ezra, left without any options. I took a seat down without looking at him, though I could somehow see in my mind, nonetheless. He looked relatively the same. His features were a bit more defined, as happens in the early thirties. He still smelled like that Rue 21 cologne he’d worn when I knew him. And he still didn’t have that much to say unless prompted.
“Still classy, I see,” he muttered, which—whether from drunkenness or actual humor—made me laugh loudly.
“Well, you know me.” A moment of silence passed. “You look good.”
“You’ve not even looked at me,” he pointed out. “But thank you, anyway. You do, as well,” he said. “You actually look younger somehow.”
“Yeah, well I had to stop smoking cigarettes and snorting coke,” I confessed. That being said, there was nothing about this awkward encounter that didn’t make me want to do a bump and smoke a cigarette. “How’s the depression?” I asked him.
“Managed,” he replied. “And your bipolar disorder?”
“I think that my little sketch comedy down there is sufficient enough an answer to that.”
Finally, I did turn and look at him. And he did look good. “I figured you would have moved away by now,” I admitted.
“I thought about it,” he said. “I still think about it. I just haven’t.”
“Staying behind for a boy?” I asked, partly to poke fun and partly because I was nosy.
“Oh, please. I haven’t dated anybody in years.”
As everyone took their seats down in the pavilion, the crowd on the hill got quiet and the lights went down. Moments later, the curtain rose and the cast of jump-roping actors and actresses began singing the act two opener.
“This is a really good production for what it is,” Ezra said.
“It really is. I saw it here years ago, and I was impressed then, too.”
“Shhh!” the woman from my original seat hissed.
I turned to look at her. “I will literally kill your boyfriend in front of you, and then make you watch as your dog eats his carcass.”
She fell silent.
“Some things really never do change,” Ezra mumbled, taking the cup of white zin out of my hand and taking a swig before handing it back to me.
The days that followed those mushroom dreams were … confusing, to say the least. Discerning reality from them was difficult, but proved to be manageable. Each ending fit the course life could have taken, but each was tragic in their own right. I feared them … really feared them. Pushing too hard, loving being loved more than loving the person who loved me, and being alone. After all, as someone told me lately, I experience emotions intensely … maybe in a way most other people don’t. But another sex writer, I believe her name was Carrie Bradshaw, once said, “Some people are settling down. Some people are settling. And some people refuse to settle for anything less than butterflies.”
I fell into the latter category.
A year to the day has passed since I sat down and wrote the first story in this series of tales about my sex life and my “love” life. In that year, I have been peed on, I have been objectified for my size, I have survived an orgy, and I have had my heart ripped out, and stepped on, and broken. But also in that time, I have danced with my friends, and had some amazing sex, and—as I once put it—fucked a frog or two, even when none of them turned out to be the prince I was hoping they’d be.
Still, through all the drugs and alcohol and parties and bad dates and not-dates, I did find the thing that I sought out to find in the first place:
But what I’ve learned about butterflies is that they’re just like anything else that lives—like all organic matter. They are born, and they transform, and they live. And, ultimately, they die. But soon, if we’re lucky, someone comes along that impregnates you with them again. Even when they start off as caterpillars and slowly transfigure themselves into that feeling that makes you want to burst from the inside out. Sometimes they have to be caterpillars and cocoons, because they can never become butterflies without going through those phases. And that’s what life is all about: …phases. The relationships, the good times, the bad, the drama, the joy … none of it is constant.
And, if we’re still lucky, we get to go through some phases—like the butterfly phase—much longer than we have to wait for the chrysalis to crack.
However, therein lies the true beauty, at least I think:
Nothing lives without nurture, and if someone you love nurtures those feelings, nurtures those butterflies properly, they can live a very, very long time.
I’m lucky enough to say that I have someone who nurtures that feeling without even knowing it. Lots of people, actually. My Stephens, my Alices, my Laurens, my Courtneys, my Hopes, my Dereks, and even my Ezras. Without me, true, their worlds would go on turning. Still, each of them has had such a pivotal part in making me who I am, today, that I’m not so sure mine would without each of them.
They are true love, because there is no friendship if there is no love.
As for Ezra … well, nothing new is happening there. Nor with any man, for that matter. But he has taught me something quite unique about love from nearly the beginning of these stories; and that’s that love is just that … unique.
I’ll stand beside him and up for him and with him as long as he needs, and I will be his friend as long as we are both able—which hopefully will be a very long time. But I’ll never forget how he was the first man in a very long time to remind me what the butterflies felt like. And that’s the best gift anyone could have ever given me. And, as I said before, if the worst thing that happens is that he continues giving me those and I get to keep feeling them as his friend, that’s not such a bad place to be with someone.
I may not have ridden off into the sunset on the back of his noble steed, nor did we skip through fields of poppies into the sun. But the friendship I get to have with him since those letters is so much more fulfilling. It exists without illusion, without grandeur. And that’s something that I’ve needed more than anything for a very long time—long before these stories: something real. Anything real.
I don’t know what stories I’ll tell next, nor do I know which men will inspire them. I don’t know how soon they’ll come or what I’ll feel when I write them. But one thing is for certain:
I still have so much love to give.
Dile a Trump, ‘Gracias’
Nunca Pueden Quitar Esto, No. 1
What more could possibly be said of the now-infamous 45th President of the United States? What could we possibly have from him to be thankful for? When I think about the current state of the nation, I remember the feeling we all had right after the results of the election were announced. I remember wandering the city searching for an answer or reassurance that all this was happening for a reason. Then, as time passed, I and numerous others witnessed the nation’s slow relapse into bigotry and paranoia; and we began to ponder, ¿Qué está pasando aquí?
Leading up to the election, we fought hard — I fought hard — to not only influence others, but to educate them on the values of each candidate and the importance of voting. In one corner: a sure winner, a dedicated, passionate, and inspirational woman, who had been painted by the opposition as a ‘criminal’, as a ‘cheater’, and a ‘murderer’. It appeared to some that she was doomed from the beginning — presumably ‘tainted’ by more than a decade of public spotlight. But to us, she was cooperation; she was opportunity; and she understood. We eventually all sat and watched as she admitted defeat and gave her final concessions, We watched again as her voice shook the air and ricocheted angrily towards that glass ceiling — como pegandole a una piñata con un palo débil. And as much as we all wanted progress, she did not break that glass; that piñata still hangs from a rope tied to the roof. And that piñata is still manipulated by the hands of un Tio Sam. But now we see its cracks; we see that it is slashed to pieces; and we can see the candy spewing from its crevices. That piñata will eventually succumb to the crowd — a crowd con bolsas listas — ready to reach and grab from the air, or to pick modestly from the ground, but always to pass and to share amongst each other the dulces that we were promised when our family came to this land.
“When our family came to this land …” — those words never really sat comfortably with me. In fact I often catch myself wincing at phrases such as, “When they came over the border …” or, “When they came here …” The reason behind my reactions lies in the emotional response felt behind each of those words and the implications of them. These phrases imply that the speaker and the subject had existed in two locations, but also reek of isolationism. Words like “us” and “them” also create this familiar sentiment of non-connection. How can we allow for people to continue to alienate us on our own land? Culturally, Latinos rarely owned land; but as the New and Old World met, our hardships helped grow strong opposition to the state-owned agricultural system employed by the Spanish. Many Mexican revolutionary figures fought and died in insurgencies against issues such as these; and it saddens me that, still to this day, many indigenous people are still exploited, still displaced, and, most horribly, turned away.
Emiliano Zapata is one such leader. Zapata was a revolutionary leader who rose from an agrarian background in Northern Mexico and inspired the indigenous campesinos of Morelos to fight along the Northern border. Zapata experienced first hand the sting of inequity and exploitation. This eventually led to his fight against the agricultural system known as haciendas. In the New World, the Spanish crown first granted haciendas to the Spanish. Paving the way for the exploitation of thousands of indigenous people into forced labor and out of the possibility of any land ownership. His fight eventually led to Article 27 of the Mexican Constitution, which states that all land, water, and mineral rights in Mexico at first belong to the Nation, and are therefore transferable to private citizens of Mexico. This, in turn, establishes private property as a means of keeping Mexican property in the hands of Mexico’s people so that it is subject to public interest. If Zapata spoke any truth by saying, “La tierra es para quien la trabaja,” then it should be known that it was our ancestors who worked the seasonality and bounty of the Americas.
Yet, here we stand in complete awe as tables turn and focus shifts to us. Now we are the accused — the “rapists”, the “criminals”, and the “terrorists”. They ignore our people’s plight, our hard work, our potential, and our dedication to nature and family. They turn their backs, deny entry, and create complications for residency within imaginary lines; and they do so in contempt of scientific knowledge gained through the study of ideal genetics and immunology: the more a population is isolated, the more vulnerable it is to new threats — the more susceptible it is to disease. This plays out no differently in humans.
Yet, it was our parents and grandparents that moved our families from farm to farm — and with children working alongside — earning just a fraction of minimum wage so that they may afford our people’s frutos year-long.
Yet, it was our ancestors who eventually harvested corn and beans from the grasses, bore cocoa and coffee from small beans, and sustained hardship with potatoes and cassava roots pulled from the earth. It was our minds and our perseverance that unlocked tomatoes, chiles, peppers, squash, legumes, and quinoa to feed our children.
Yet, it was we who came here with knowledge of our land but still learned “their” land, it was we who learned “their” language and kept ours in the hopes of preserving our people’s story; and it was we who learned “their” history and culture — all while maintaining our own customs and beliefs.
Unsurprisingly, this issue is further complicated for those who identify as queer Latinx struggling to fit the mold of an Anglo, heteronormative society. Of what do they have to be so afraid? Who truly is at the disadvantage: us or them? Don’t they know that Cesar Chavez said, “La preservación de la propia cultura no requiere desprecio o falta de respeto hacia otras culturas,” or, “The preservation of one’s own culture does not require hate or disrespect for the other culture.” Our queer culture recognizes the perspectives of not just one people — neither just one sexuality nor gender — but all people. How do you teach both heteronormative Anglo and Latino societies that there is importance in variability and diversity?
Growing up queer — growing up queer in a foreign place — we adapt by learning the behaviors and languages unique to each place. In doing so, we not only lose ourselves, but we also evolve to become entirely new beings. Because we are both Latinx and Americans. We are both Spanish- and English-speaking. We navigate and blend within the Queer and the “normative”. We know the codes for understanding the cis and trans world. We may know how to order Starbucks pero nosotros tambien sabemos cómo hacer un Nescafé. We become both, but still, we are also neither.
This sentiment is best described in Gabriel Ojeda-Sague’s “Jazzercise is a Language”, when he describes the pervasive biracial sentiment felt by not only queer communities, but also by first and second generation Latin Americans:
“[…] the pivot of an argument: I am much less latino when I am with latinos and I am much less white when I am with white people: I am much less a man when I am around men and I am much less a woman when I am around women […]”
This sentiment is a contradictory dichotomy of both isolation and belonging within our home society, as well as that of another. Whether it be a separate country, gender, or sexuality, feelings of isolation are often magnified by a painful realization that we’ve ended up here yet again: being not only both, but also neither.
At first, our stark differences from society seem debilitating, especially when immersed in monocultured environments. History has shown us countless times before that survival is often granted by accepting and following diversity; and though demonizing and ostracizing can appear to hinder us temporarily, it will make us stronger in the long run. To live through hardship is to conquer it. We may be diverted from our full-potential for a period of time, like storm clouds diffuse and hide our gaze of the moon. Yet we always recover and with us: a beautiful sunrise breaking through clouds with unmeasurable beauty and differentiation. We too benefit from every hardship endured and nosotros siempre emergemos mas marviosos y fuertes. A newly hatched butterfly, una mariposa maravillosa, must nonetheless struggle with its prison, its cocoon, and practice to gain the strength by using the prison as a tool and assuring flexibility and circulation in its wings.
This is what I see, what the “woke” see, what I hope we all see: that beneath your feet … the ground is moving … it’s shaking — calling you to rise, calling us all to create and to inspire. A Chinese-American feminist, Grace Lee Boggs, once stated, “A revolution that is based on the people exercising their creativity in the midst of devastation is one of the great historical contributions of humankind.” Like Lee Boggs’ time, Queer Latinx people facing adversity from the Trump Regime are living amidst devastation; yet here we boldly resist and create beauty and art that sometimes only we understand. We, as Queer Latinx-Americans, have our own codes, culture, and customs, and so I offer this column to illuminate our beauty, our art, our voices and our fight for equality, representation and, above all else, our dignity.
Por que le corres cobarde trayendo tan buen punal.
My people, my sisters,
mi gente, mi raza —
we are not cowards.
We emulate both beauty and art.
This column is for us and it is for all to see.
Thank U, Next
Less Than Butterflies, No. 28
“So are you gonna write about me?” Ricky asked as he pulled the sheet off of me just a little bit more and ran his toes up my calf beneath it.
Sheepishly I turned my face toward the window and pulled the bedsheet back a bit. “What do you mean?”
Ricky laughed — loudly, incriminatingly — as if he were in on some secret I wasn’t. Only … I was. “In your column,” he went on. “Don’t think I didn’t do my homework before bringing you home.” He slid himself upright and reached over me for a bottle of wine on the floor next to me before taking a sip and handing it to me. “I know who you are.”
Holy. Fucking. Shit.
“What’s it called again?” he asked. “Butterflies?”
“Less Than Butterflies,” I corrected him.
To my knowledge, I’d never slept with a man who’d read Less Than Butterflies before that night. Or, at the very least, I’d never slept with one who’d read it and had the nerve to bring it up. I tried to wash the terror from my face and distract him with a laugh; only he wouldn’t take his eyes off of me until I answered. So I reached into the pocket of my jeans on the hardwood floor beside me and grabbed a pack of Marlboros and a lighter, placing one between my lips and rolling my eyes.
I pulled the sheet back toward me to cover my mid-section, embarrassed about how I could have lost so much weight and still have felt fat. “I don’t know if the sex was that good.”
I blew a puff of smoke in his face and laughed.
🦋 A Week Before 🦋
I sat in the Starbucks at Montrose and Hawthorne filling out paperwork and editing articles while also making eyes with a 30-something-year-old man sitting at a table adjacent to me that kept looking up from his pretentious copy of the New York Times so that his jawline could poke out over the scarf he unnecessarily wore inside — Lemme see that neck, daddy. I’d heard him order a tea at the counter while I sipped a peppermint mocha and I swear to Satan he would have been less conspicuous if he’d just cut two eye holes in the goddamn paper. After suggestively nodding my head toward the bathroom when our eyes met and watching him dash off that way, I packed my personal effects into my messenger bag and swiftly exited the building without any intention of meeting him in the restroom. I’d find myself down the street at the Half-Price Books where I’d avert my gaze from the collected works of Jane Austen — have you ever read Jane Austen, guys? Where men were at least kind of chivalrous even when they were breaking hearts — and a cute young man squatted down on the ground looking at a book at the bottom of the same shelf. Feigning clumsiness, I let the book slip out of my hands and down beside him, then dropped to the ground at his eye level to pick it up. He turned and caught my eye as I slid the book back into my hands and smiled at him. “Hi,” I muttered, to which he smiled back and introduced himself to me.
That’s right, y’all. 2019 had officially begun, Peter was a distant memory of my past and I was officially back on my bullshit. I wasn’t making resolutions, I wasn’t trying to lose more weight, I wasn’t promising to go back to the gym, I wasn’t even going to work hard at giving up bad habits like smoking or falling in love. 2019 brought with it only one new rule, which was more a rule for the men in my life than it was for me:
Don’t fuck with me.
“I’m moving on from sadness and being in love so that I can go back to my old ways,” I told Jackie on speaker phone later that night as I struggled to try and sync my work email to my iPhone.
“Exactly,” I went on. “I do not need a man to — damn it!” The email server, once again, failed to connect to my phone. “I don’t need a man in my life to be successful or to get anything done.” I tried syncing it once more. “I am completely independ— motherfucker!” Yet again, it failed to connect.
“What are you swearing at?” Jackie asked.
“I’m trying to get my phone to sync to my work email, but I can’t figure this shit out. Peter was supposed to do it for me the last 80 times I saw him, and then we both kept forgetting, and then he treated me like shit, and then he left me at a bar, and then he left at a club, and then we fought, and then I never heard from him again because he disappeared from my life without ever taking the fucking time to set my email up on my phone.” I sighed. “Fucking bastard.”
Jackie hesitated. “What was that you were just saying about not needing a man to help you do anything?”
I dropped my phone on the counter. “Fuck off, Jackie.”
It was the best of times … it was the worst of times. I was pleasantly surprised with just how well I’d been dealing with the loss of what was probably one of the greatest loves and romances of my life; but a constant disappointment in men will help one cope with these things quicker as time goes by. After all, it started off at a young age when my father left me alone with drug-addicted mother to develop some deep-seated daddy issues, and it landed here with me falling in love with and having my heart broken by a man I called ‘daddy’.
Jesus I am one fucked up individual.
Nevertheless, she persisted; and she was me, in this particular instance.
Of all the resolutions I wasn’t making in 2019, I had compiled a list of rules I was laying down like infants for a nap that would from this point on be applicable to all the men I dated in the future:
I am the Whore thy Gay, which have graced thee with my presence, and who will hopefully get thee to participate in bondage.
- Thou shalt have no other guys before me.
- Thou shalt not make any graven image (i.e. making less money than me or being in the closet)
- Thou shalt not have better looks, talents, or wisdom than the Whore thy Gay who is vain.
- Remember my birthday and keep it holy.
- Dishonor my father and mother.
- Thou shalt not kill my roll when I do Molly.
- Thou shalt not commit adultery or even suggest the idea of an open relationship, because if thou wishes to date more than one person, I’ll go off my meds and you’ll get to meet all sorts of new people.
- Thou shalt not get mad when I steal thy credit card.
- Thou shalt not bear adult ADD.
- Thou shalt do cocaine, but not to the point of addiction.
I mean it — I’d given up on men. And why shouldn’t I have? If this stupid column indicates any sort of track record, signs would point to it being time for me to stop trying. I mean between Parker who could commit and Dylan who voted for Trump and Ezra the asexual and Peter who was just an all-around raging douchebag from his own circle of hell, it seemed as though the Universe of the Fates or the Gods or the Dark Lord Satan was telling me to give the fuck up. And did it even really matter anymore? At this point it was fuck off or get fucked over, and most encounters seemed to end in the former, at least in my experience thus far.
But then I met Ricky. And from the time I’d dropped that book in front of him at Half Price Books to the first time we’d hung out one-on-one — as per the usual — all that internal training on how I should be interacting with men in the new year seemed as impossible to reach as a baseball thrown over the neighbor’s fence.
I walked into his Montrose-adjacent apartment expecting what I usually did with my one-time hook-ups: traipsing dog hair, a lack of furniture, and not a book in sight. But what I found was quite the converse — it was like an island oasis in a sea of gay sharks who couldn’t get their shit together. It was like walking into a den of spirituality, a Mecca of literature, and a congress of apropos, grown-upisms.
“So how was the date with Ricky?” Gwen asked the next afternoon in the hammock chairs on her porch.
“It wasn’t a date,” I told her with a roll of my eyes. I grabbed the Bic sitting on the table between us and lit the cigarette between my lips.
“Hoookay,” she replied as she rolled her own eyes and chuckled a bit to herself.
“The not-date was lovely. We hung out, drank a little vodka, smoked a little weed,” I laughed and took a hit off the joint she’d rolled. “And then he played a song on his guitar he’d been writing and my heart melted a little and that was enough to make my pants dematerialize altogether,” I confessed. “God, the sex was good.”
Gwen could have exploded with all the laughter she’d been holding in, weed smoke spewing everywhere. “Praise Satan!” she exclaimed.
“Praise Satan, indeed,” I agreed as I took another hit. “He did ask me something that made me a little uncomfortable, though,” I told her.
“I’ve told you that you’ve just got to learn to be more forthcoming about you STDs.”
“I don’t have any STDs! Shut up!” I shook my head. “No, he asked me whether or not I was going to write about him in my column. Apparently he did his homework.”
“And he still invited you over?”
“So this wasn’t a date. Huh?”
I grinned a little. “Fuck off, Gwen.”
“Play another,” I requested as I laid against the hardwood and sipped the Pinot Grigio from my stemless glass. His apartment looked like the type of place I wouldn’t mind spending the rest of my life, which is a largely important factor for me when vetting potential suitors. Solid wood floors, bookshelves lining every wall, artwork hung that seemed to be glaring at me as I passed. “I’m high. I could do this all day.” Ricky was strumming his guitar — in the nude, nonetheless — and I was lying on the ground in a sheet like Carrie Bradshaw between her Mr. Big punctuations.
It was a weird thing — fucking on someone’s hardwood, living room floor and sipping iced vodkas from stemless wine glasses while he played me music on his guitar. It was the kind of not-date I’d never had with a man … and I’d had a lot. Something that started as a casual book drop — okaaayyy; not so casual considering I’d basically just created my own meet-cute —had turned into hours of fucking against the cold, January floors and me not accidentally shouting out Peter’s name. But more than that, it was nice to be around someone and not have to give a shit about whether or not we were on a date. It was a breath of fresh air to not have to fish for topics to discuss with a man; it was a relief to not feel self-conscious as a man stripped me of my clothing; and then to just be done — and to not feel the obligation to stay or leave — as the smell of candles wafted in and out of my nose and fingers traced the small of my back between songs … it was nice.
“So are you gonna write about me?”
And after the what do you mean? and the I know who you ares and the poking fun at him, telling him the sex wasn’t good enough, and the tugging of the sheet back to cover my midsection, I finally giggled out, “Yeah … I’m gonna write about this.”
As I sat at the bar later with Hope and some friends I didn’t get to see often enough, I thought of Ricky and the fun I’d had with him. I thought of his question and his music and I thought about whether or not it would turn out to be anything. Even if it didn’t, the reprieve and reminder that I was a desirable human being had been nice. I wasn’t feeling as if I should push my luck, because I kind of just wanted to see where things went. But a moment later, all of that was interrupted, when a push notification came to my phone and I found myself staring at a Facebook comment in which Peter had tagged me. It was a joke, an olive branch extended after weeks and weeks of not speaking to one another and after an uncertain lack of closure. And it made me mad — the whole thing made me mad. The fact that he had the nerve to think that I’d just be so willing to jump back to the way things were — snide comments and funny banter — after what he’d done, after he’d neglected to apologize because he didn’t see anything wrong with the way he’d behaved — it was fucking insulting.
So as I debated on whether or not to even dignify his comment with a response, I was at that very moment greeted by first an email from my now-synced work account and a text message from Ricky.
And I smiled, double-tapping the home button on my iPhone to close my Facebook app, and whispered to myself, “Thank you.” I opened Ricky’s text message. “Next.”
Giving a ‘Heartbeat’ to Lesbians
Queer Guy in the Public Eye, No. 3
One of the most bizarre things to me is the way that straight men fetishize lesbians. Maybe not necessarily ‘lesbians’, but most definitely girl-on-girl action. Website Pornhub released the most searched terms on their site organized by state in January of 2018, and “lesbian” was the most searched term in all but eight states in the United States. As much as lesbians are fetishized or interesting on a sexual level, we rarely get to see them do the things that we all do – interact on a platonic level, go grocery shopping with their partner, fight over what to watch on television, etc. Even as we move further-and-further into seeing queer people in the spotlight and more queer characters in film and television, there seem to be a disproportionate amount of gay men as compared to lesbian characters. If you’ve been following this column, you’ll remember that All in the Family brought us our first gay character in 1971 and The Jeffersons had the first transgender character in 1977. There were a few lesbian moments on television in the 70’s and 80’s, but the biggest break came with the short-lived television series Heartbeat, which ran for two seasons from 1988 to 1989 and was the first television series to feature a leading lesbian character.
Heartbeat was a medical drama that centered around a medical center, Women’s Medical Arts, which was founded by three women who weren’t pleased with how women’s health concerns were treated in a field that was dominated by men. It was featured on ABC for only 18 episodes; but even with a limited run on television, it received a great deal of attention for the inclusion of a lesbian couple, Nurse Practitioner Marilyn McGrath and her partner, Patty. The sexuality of Marilyn and Patty was revealed in the fifth episode of the show, when Marilyn’s daughter informed her that Patty would not be invited to her wedding. It was the first time that a primetime television show featured a lesbian character.
People ran an article prior to the debut of the show titled “Is Prime Time Ready for Its First Lesbian? Gail Strickland Hopes So – And She’s About to Find Out” in which they interviewed the show’s creator, Sara Davidson and Gail Strickland, the actress who played Marilyn McGrath. In the interview, Davidson explains her decision to wait until the fifth episode to disclose Marilyn’s sexuality, saying “We wanted people to see her as a terrific person first […] then find out she has a private life that at its core is no different from anyone else’s.” The general public was so afraid of gay women that the creator of the show felt like she had to spend four episodes painting a picture of how good of a person the character was before she could reveal her sexuality.
As far as Gail Strickland’s decision to take the role, shock value wasn’t one of the deciding factors in her decision. “It’s not often actors get to play parts that might make a difference,” she told People, “the fact that somewhere, somehow, someone’s perspective might be softened is important to me.” She went on to say that Marilyn was a loving mother who had been in a solid relationship for four years and that is the kind of character she wanted to play, regardless of their sexuality. Strickland’s only fear was that the network would pull back when they started to see retaliation from viewers. This was, after all, not a singular episode of a television show like I’ve written about before, but instead an entire series in which we would see a lesbian on screen week-after-week. Her reservations proved to be legitimate, as the network did scale back the lesbian moments slowly as the series went on with her partner, Gina, only appearing on screen in five total episodes of the series.
While overall the series was important in showing lesbians in a positive light and helped to change attitudes toward lesbians, there were a couple of major downfalls that ultimately hurt the impact of the series. The biggest downfall was that other than eye contact and an occasional hug, there was no contact between the two characters. I’m not arguing that a full-on sexual encounter should have been broadcast on primetime television, but even the small interactions that couples have – hand holding, cuddling on the couch while watching TV, crying in the arms of your partner when you’re going through a particularly hard time – are all absent from any scene in the series. The two characters live together and talk about being lesbians, but it all but stops there. It would have been unsurprising if the series had featured the women sleeping in parallel twin beds, a la Lucy and Ricky in I Love Lucy. Ultimately, I think that this hurt the attempt to “normalize” lesbians. The other characters in the show have intimate moments with their partners, but the lesbians just look at each other and hug sometimes which ended up leaving more questions than answers.
The wardrobe was also a poor choice for the lesbian characters. While the characters dressed feminine and didn’t dress like along the lines of the stereotypical, lumberjack lesbian, they were never dressed in anything sexy. Obviously there was a huge part of the show that was filmed with the characters in scrubs and lab coats, which aren’t particularly “sexy” pieces of clothing, but all of the clothes that the characters wore while being shown outside of work were very conservative. This isn’t my way of saying that women have to wear clothing that accentuates their sex appeal. But if the straight characters in the show were allowed to dress themselves up a bit, why weren’t the lesbians? Showing the lesbian characters as nearly asexual while the straight characters were allowed to be sexual on screen created a weird image of lesbians..
The personalities of the two lesbian characters were also a little troubling. They were both stereotypes of what gender binary, females – super emotional, always troubled by something, never assertive, and almost always submissive. It’s troubling for any female character to be portrayed this way, but especially when showing a lesbian couple. There were no dynamics to the relationship because they were both based on the same stereotype of what a woman should be rather than exploring the idea that any two women could possibly have different personalities. I imagine if there were to be a scene written where they were deciding what to have for dinner we would just watch 45 minutes of each of them saying “I don’t know, you decide!” to the other. It would have been nice to see a little more depth to the characters here.
Ultimately, poor viewership caused ABC to pull the plug on Heartbeat in the middle of the second season of the series even after a nomination in 1989 for the People’s Choice Award for Favorite New TV Drama and a tie with L.A. Law (which coincidentally would go on to also feature a lesbian character) for the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Drama. Though it had it’s faults, Heartbeat was definitely a turning point in normalizing lesbians and bringing their stories to the homes of millions of Americans. It was certainly a risk for the creator Sara Davidson to include a lesbian in a storyline that wouldn’t have been affected much if she’d written the character Marilyn as a straight woman and Heartbeat really set television up to continue to feature prominent queer storylines in the 90s.
Trump Admin Fights Against HIV Research
Politics Is Personal, No. 2
The Trump Administration has ordered the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to thwart progress on HIV-related experiments due to the use of human tissue. This move is an affront both to modern medicine and to the millions of people who have suffered from HIV and AIDs at the hands of Republican administrations.
Scientists at the Gladstone Center for HIV Cure Research in San Francisco have been working on lessening HIV’s ability to stay in reservoirs of the body. If their research were to continue, society could eventually see a drug that would make PrEP — the current treatment of prevention for people at risk of contracting HIV — a short-term drug instead of a lifelong medication. This sort of change would be a massive step forward in both the convenience and cost of HIV treatment, bringing us one step closer to a true cure for the disease. In their experimentation, the scientists have been combining the genes of lab mice with human fetal tissue to have a more accurate representation of the human immune system.
Now, in a sweeping move affecting medical research across the country, Trump’s administration has banned NIH facilities from obtaining any more fetal tissue for their experimentation. The move was led not by medical researchers but by anti-abortion activists who claim that the use of consensually-given aborted human fetal tissue is immoral. This news comes only a few years after the uproar over a heavily edited video claiming that Planned Parenthood illegally sold aborted fetal tissue parts. Although this new “pro-life” regulation does nothing to limit abortions themselves, it does prohibit life-saving medical research from advancing the cure for HIV. It could be seen as ironic if it weren’t so terrifyingly cruel to those suffering from the disease.
Although the NIH was ordered to cease the acquisition of tissue in September of 2018, the news about the HIV experimentation is just now reaching national headlines. It’s the latest in a long string of similar actions by the current White House. While the President will often tweet long streams-of-consciousness about the Mueller investigation, many policies are changing in a quiet and sinister way. Other recent examples include the resumption of family separation at the border, loosening of radiation regulations, and the removal of LGBT+ people from the U.S. census. LGBT+ people in particular stand to lose decades of progress if research on HIV/AIDS treatment continues to wither.
The Trump Administration is not the first US Presidency that has halted progress on a cure for AIDS. Most notably, Ronald Reagan and the recently-deceased George H. W. Bush both stalled progress on AIDS research at the height of the AIDS crisis in the late twentieth century. At the time, the disease was highly stigmatized and viewed as a condition that only affected gay men, often called the “gay plague”, while HIV/AIDS itself was for years referred to in the medical field as GRID, or Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. Homophobic policies and ignorance stunted research on the disease for decades, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths in the United States alone. The LGBT+ community lost nearly an entire generation of gay activists, leaders, performers, and family members. Only now are activists such as Javier Muñoz of Hamilton beginning to undo the harmful prejudices against people with HIV/AIDS.
History seems doomed to repeat itself if work on the cure for HIV doesn’t resume soon. A postdoctoral student involved in the Gladstone center research, Thomas Packed called the cessation “a travesty for the outlook for HIV research… Blocking this significantly hurts our chances of finding an HIV cure.”
There is no word yet on how or when work on the cure for HIV will be able to resume.
Politics Is Personal is a weekly column written by staff writer Rachel Abbott. New entries appear Monday nights at 7.
Everyone I’ve Ever Voted for Has Lost
Politics Is Personal, No. 1
Politics Is Personal is a new column by Rachel Abbott, covering local and national news as it affects LGBTQ+ people. This column abides by one principle: that politics is never just a difference of opinion but a system of moral beliefs that influence our lives, liberties, and pursuits of happiness. Marginalized populations are particularly endangered when politics go awry.
I was driving home from my mom’s neighborhood in Spring, Texas the night that I heard Beto O’Rourke lost the race for US Senate against Ted Cruz. We had been out celebrating my birthday, and I vowed not to check my phone all evening as the results began to roll in. I’m both a person who loves politics as well as a person with an anxiety disorder; and the two go together like ammonia and bleach. I wanted to stay away from both the politics and the anxiety so that I could enjoy my birthday celebration with my mom. Therefore, I’d put my phone on silent and shoved it into the bottom of my bag. All night while we were out shopping and getting sushi at a local dive, I had felt the weight of my phone pulling my phone nearer to the ground like bricks in the proverbial sack. . The vibration of every single notification threatened to pull me out of the moment I was fighting my own anxiety to enjoy.
I had avoided my phone for about five hours in an effort to be present and practice some birthday mindfulness. But when our night out came to a close and I needed to drive back downtown, I was forced to pull out my phone to put on some music and to get directions. Even as I tried to avoid the news updates, my eyes canned the headline at the top of the screen — “Beto Concedes Race to Ted Cruz”. That was that. As disappointed as I was, I mostly felt exhausted. Beto was the latest in a long string of candidates that I supported and rooted for only to watch be defeated.
I remembered the first time I felt that sense of loss and frustration. I had been just a few days too young to vote for Barack Obama’s re-election, but I registered as quickly as I could. Soon I voted for Wendy Davis in the primary elections. Then I voted for her again in the gubernatorial election of 2014. At the time, there was no doubt in my mind that Wendy Davis would win. She had filibustered magnificently — hell, she’d filibustered at all. She ran on a platform all about empowering bold, Texan women. She was young, she was charming, and she cared about education and minority populations. Yet she lost to Greg Abbott.
Then there was Bernie Sanders, whom I’d voted for in the primary elections in the 2016 presidential race. He ran on a platform of promoting economic equality, of affordable college tuition and free healthcare. His tax plan read as European and elegant, and he had decades of experience. He had marched with Martin Luther Fucking King Jr., for chrissakes. These bricks that build the Great Wall of Bernie all sound amazing, I thought. And Hillary already lost a primary once before. Surely Bernie is our candidate. Yet he lost to Hillary Clinton.
So I brushed off the dust, and I threw my support in for Hillary. Was she perfect? No. But God she was so much better than the alternative that it seemed laughable. Even when I wasn’t on fire for her policies, it was easy for me to support her. She was professional. She was poised. She had years of political experience and the education to match it. I was ready for the first female United States president. Beyond that, I felt like she had the bare minimum of human decency. She neither made fun of disabled reporters, nor boasted about sexually assaulting people. She didn’t call immigrants rapists and criminals. The bar set by her opponent seemed impossibly low. The bar was literally buried five feet under ground; you would have to dig your own grave to miss that bar.
Well, we all know how that turned out.
All of this is to say: I am used to my candidates losing, but I’m still sick of it. In a country where we tout a representative democracy, I have yet to vote and see my views represented. It feels, on a fundamental level, unfair. And it sounds whiny when I say it like that, but it doesn’t make it any less true. If the point of an elected official is to represent the views of their governed body, and your views are eked out year-after-year … what’s left to do?
It would definitely be easier for me to sit with the disappointment if this were a matter of mere opinions. For instance, if the greatest thing at stake in any election were how much tax funding went to road repair versus the city bus system, I probably would not care all that much about the results. However, that’s not how our elections work. One representative supports my right to marry my partner; one thinks our union should be illegal. One representative will allow transgender people to receive the healthcare and support they need; one wants to define them out of existence. One representative would end border camps for children; one supports the destruction of families. When the stakes are this high, everyone should care. Everyone should care about these policies on a visceral, emotional level.
The baffling truth is that many people don’t feel that way. I’ve tried to figure out what’s going on in the minds of my close relatives and family friends who vote red time-and-again. Their beliefs are now reflected in our governor, both of our senators, our president, and the majority of the Supreme Court. But what, exactly, are those beliefs that they hold so dear? These are the same people who will assure me that they love me, love my partner, can’t wait for our wedding. Then, in the same day, they’ll post on Facebook that they’re voting for Ted Cruz or that they’re trying to “Make America Great Again”. It gives me emotional whiplash. And for what? What belief is it that my own family could hold more dear that my right, as their sister or niece or cousin, to feel happy and safe? I want to shake them — physically shake them — and ask, Why don’t I matter enough to you?
Beto O’Rourke lost by just a little over 2% of the vote. That means that nearly half of all Texans support liberal policies, yet both of our senators are conservative. I believe — and hope — that Beto will run for another political office one day, maybe not the presidency yet but something. His campaign invigorated the Texas Democrats in a way that I’d never seen before. I would be really proud to be represented by a candidate like Beto O’Rouke. But it’s too soon for me to think about all that — too soon to excite myself again.
Wendy Davis. Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton. Lupe Valdez. Beto O’Rourke. My political mind holds something of a memorial to these people who ran on good, decent platforms but lost. There will be more candidates. I have no doubt in my mind that in a few months we’ll begin to ready our battle paint for yet another round of primaries and yet another round of general elections. There will be shiny and wonderful new democratic candidates who will reignite the spark of hope that us voters in the South carry in our hearts. After all, Senator Cornyn’s seat will be up for reelection soon, and then there’s that thing about the President. I hope these new candidates will win. I really, really need one of these new candidate to win. For the first time, I need someone that I voted for to win.
In the words of Wendy Davis: “I fucking hate to lose.”
Sexual Harassment Has No Place in My Career
About Feminism, No. 3
It has become evident to me that the world I’m entering is not the one I expected it to be. Or maybe it’s just that one asshole has ruined everything and now I’m entering the entertainment industry with a hand over my eyes, expecting the worst.
From a young age, I have wanted to be a writer. A novelist, a comic book writer, and now a television writer. I have bounced around between the ideas of them all, just trying to find a place where I settle perfectly. And recently, I have found that place. Or, at least, the place where my talents, skills, and self fit best right now. The trouble is that in that place I wish most to be and am working my ass off to get to, there are a few scumbags. Before even truly entering the world of entertainment writing, while still acquiring new knowledge and preparing to escape into that world, there has been one particular scumbag that has tainted this new adventure for me. He has started my path out on something bitter and terrible rather than what it should be: new, hopeful, and exciting.
It is because of this one person that I have been doubting myself. I have been told things like, “Oh, that’s just the entertainment industry,” and “If you want to go into television, you have to thicken your skin.” And to the people saying these things I would just like to say that all of that is complete and utter bullshit.
Sure, the entertainment industry has been known for its terrible past— one that has historically reduced women, queer people, and people of color to nothing more than stereotypes, extras, and people to take advantage of sexually. More so now than ever before in the past, we’re seeing the entertainment industry begin to do at least something about this issue. But it isn’t just applicable to the entertainment industry, nor should this issue be treated as though that’s all it’s applicable to, because there are bad people everywhere. There is sexual harassment in every field, in every state, in every nation all across the entire world; and for someone to sit down and tell me that just because I want to go into this particular field that I want to work in to create entertaining content for the masses and to discuss issues that often get swept under the rug, I have to what? Get used to it? I have to smile and nod when a man suggests inappropriate things?
I would also like to say that I am not someone that can be easily silenced. I will not go into this industry with a small voice that could easily be shut down by the people above me, nor will I acquiesce to the perversions of men who refuse to control themselves around women. I will not be stepped on or closed off by anyone because I make the choice to say ‘no’ to something that has nothing to do with my career and that makes me feel unsafe. And maybe I’m just saying this because I need to hear it be said. I need to hear myself think of myself as someone who is strong, if that makes any sense. Because, when you go through something like this, all the people around you, all the people who care about you, they all come in and tell you that you’re amazing. They tell you that you’re strong. They tell you that everything you’re doing is great and wonderful. And I appreciate that. I really do. But it’s time that I have to learn for myself.
In fact, it’s time that we all, as a society, learn that for ourselves. We need to start thinking of ourselves as tough, as women who won’t take any shit, as human beings who deserve to be treated like human beings and not sex objects. Because, honestly, I’m sick of it. I’m sick of letting men in powerful positions walk all over me. And while this has been the worst instance of a situation like this, it hasn’t been the first. And while it’s awful to say, I’m sure it won’t be the last. Because, friends, this is the universe we live in; and, I say that as a fact, but I do not say that as an excuse. Just because this world is terrible and corrupt and full of deplorable men who abuse their power does not mean that it’s okay.
To brief you just a bit on the situation, I was offered an opportunity. A good one. A really, really fucking good one. It was offered to me by someone who is well-known in the entertainment industry, someone who has clout and connections; and it was an opportunity that realistically could have done a great deal for me as a television writer. But here’s where the problems began: this man hadn’t ever read my writing. He didn’t know if I was even good at writing, or if I was just another kid with a pipe dream I wasn’t working toward. But you know what he did think? He thought I was hot — and he told me that part, that he was attracted to me — so why not give me a chance?
I’ve had teachers tell me, “Use what you’ve got to your advantage”; but that was more specifically devoted toward filling a diversity quota. Production companies, especially writers rooms, are looking for diverse people. At a 2016 talk-back and book signing at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, The Mindy Project creator and star (as well as former The Office producer), Mindy Kaling, offered advice to a young woman who asked what she could do to break into television writing, and Kaling told her just that. She let her know very clearly that writers rooms were looking for young people who were different — especially women, as statistically writers rooms have a large gap in the margin of male-to-female writers. But, with that being said, I will not sacrifice any part of myself, nor should you sacrifice any part of yourself just to fit into a box previously checked by someone else.
We are stronger than this. We know better than this. And if we keep sitting down, if we keep crying behind closed doors and letting things happen, then we are never going to make any progress in this industry. Because sure, the entertainment industry — while slowly but surely making small improvements — sucks. It’s all about power. The power our superiors hold over us, the power that we want to have, the power to make decisions to bring content that will exist forever thanks to the Internet and that will live in the hearts of millions for years to come. Look at the television shows that aired years — some decades ago that are still in syndication: Friends, Cheers, Bewitched. Look at the ones that aired all that time ago that are being remade or rebooted: Charmed, Will & Grace, and even the Roseanne reboot-turned-spin-off The Conners. And this world is on the cusp of major change, but the change we want to see in ourselves is reflected our own actions. We can’t move forward as a society if we’re not personally making our own changes in ourselves
This has been something that has been going on for a long time, and that will likely continue for a long time, as well, while Hollywood slowly weeds out and turns away the bad people. The entertainment industry has always been a problem since even the time that it began. In the recent years — months even — people have been standing up and saying what has happened to them, which has inspired others to do the same which is exactly why men like Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein and Jeremy Piven are beginning to be held accountable. People who have been abused have stood up, spoken their truth, and paved the way for those ahead of them to not have to suffer the same trials and tribulations, even if that isn’t quite the case just yet.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is this: don’t let people walk all over you. Be the strong human being you’re capable of being; and when shit gets hard, don’t let people tell you to remain calm. Get angry. Speak up. Don’t accept this as normal, no matter how many people tell you it is.
Putting the ‘Family’ in ‘All in the Family’
Queer Guy in the Public Eye, No. 1
In queer culture, there’s a lot of fun and often campy terminology that gets thrown around, even if many of us don’t know where it comes from. Today, it’s not as shocking to hear a gay person use the word ‘queer’ or ‘homo’ amongst one another, but these weren’t always terms of endearment — and often they still are not when coming from people who are not LGBTQ+. One term many of us are familiar with is ‘family’. You know … like when you and your friends see that attractive person sitting across the straight bar you’re visiting and you try to assess whether or not that person is “family”, meaning whether or not they, too, are LGBTQ+. Because that word carries so much meaning within the community, I thought looking at another family to begin a conversation about how queer people have been presented in the media — for better or for worse — might be a good place to start by looking back at an episode of CBS’s 1970’s sitcom, All in the Family.
Some might find it to be an interesting choice to begin chronicling queer presence in pop culture with a show that was – at least through the lens of where we are societally in 2018 – extremely problematic. However, for the sake of at least beginning this journey throughout our pop culture history, as well as in an attempt to assess the amount of progress – or lack thereof – that has been made, I believe that the perfect place to dive into an introspective account of how queer people were viewed in and represented by the media is with the 1970’s sitcom, All in the Family.
All in the Family premiered on January 12, 1971 and ran over the course of eight seasons until April 8, 1979. In true 1970’s television fashion, it spawned five spin-offs, including, but not limited to, Maude, The Jeffersons, and Archie Bunker’s Place. The show broke a number of records and was one of the first shows to blend the sitcom format with topical issues, many of which had never been discussed on television. In a time of “fireplace television” — when families had one television set in the house and only three channels to choose from — All in the Family was consistently one of television’s most watched shows.
The show centered around a bigot longing for the “good old days” names Archie Bunker, his airhead wife, Edith, and Gloria and Michael Stivic, the Bunker’s more progressive daughter and son-in-law. The fifth episode of the first season – entitled “Judging Books by Covers” — tackled an issue that wasn’t present on American television at the time: homosexuality.
Now, just because the show addressed homosexuality does not mean that they celebrated it. In the episode, a friend of the Stivic’s – Roger – comes to visit them at the home that the Stivic’s share with the Bunker’s. Archie is immediately upset by the news that Roger will come to visit them and Michael gets into an argument with Archie which ends with the following exchange:
“Just because a guy is sensitive, and he’s an intellectual, and he wears glasses, you make him out [to be] a queer.”
“I never said a guy who wears glasses is a queer. A guy who wears glasses is a four-eyes. A guy who’s a fag is a queer.”
Throughout the entire episode, the word ‘fag’ is used three times along with other slurs, including ‘pansy’, ‘fairy’, and “queer as a four dollar bill.” Interestingly, the words ‘gay’ and “homosexual” are completely omitted from the episode. In a time when “family-friendly” television was at the forefront, it’s interesting that ‘fag’ could be included into a script multiple times but that the writers wouldn’t dare include the word ‘gay.’ The punchline to every joke that Archie made throughout the episode was about how feminine Roger was and the studio audience couldn’t get enough. Initially, it seemed like the writers of the show broke down a barrier and introduced homosexuality simply to use queer people as a punchline or to make them out to be a joke.
Frustrated with Roger’s presence, Archie goes to the local bar to meet up with “the guys” and have a beer. One of Archie’s friends is Steve, a former professional football player and a “real man”, according to Archie. Michael and Roger come into the bar where the bartender pulls Michael aside and asks whether Roger is “you know”, which in the language of 1971 television translates to ‘gay’. Michael replies that as far as he knows Roger is straight, and the bartender tells him that he’s fine with Steve because he doesn’t come by very often, doesn’t invite his “friends” with him, and doesn’t “camp it up” with his sexuality. It takes a second for Michael to realize that the bartender is telling him that Steve is an out and proud homosexual.
When they get back to the house, another argument ensues between Michael and Archie and Michael ultimately tells Archie what he’s learned about Steve. Archie doesn’t believe Michael, because Steve is the textbook definition of what a “man” is to Archie – tall, muscular, and athletic. Eventually Archie confronts Steve; and after the dialogue skates in circles around the question of “are you gay?”, Steve reveals that, in fact, he is. Of course, Archie is dumbfounded as he heads home. The episode ends at the house with Gloria and Michael accompanied by a friend who isn’t facing the camera, but is masculine-presenting from the back. Archie walks in and addresses the third person, who Gloria introduces as Gerry, who turns around and is actually a female with a short haircut, which prompts an eye roll from Archie as the episode ends.
Let me give you a bit of a retrospective so that we can make more sense of what the landscape of America looked like for LGBTQ people in 1971: In preparation to write their book “The Nixon Tapes”, Douglas Brinkley and Luke A Nichter re-visited and created transcripts of all 3,700 hours of tapes recorded in the Oval Office during Richard Nixon’s presidency. In the tapes — many of which weren’t decipherable until modern technology helped clean them up — Richard Nixon bashes All in the Family in a conversation with his chief domestic aide, John Ehrlichman. In the conversation with Ehrlichman, Nixon says:
“The point I make is that, goddamn it, I do not think you glorify, on public television, homosexuality! You don’t glorify it, John, anymore than you glorify … uh … whores. I don’t want to see this country go that way. You know what happened to the Greeks. Homosexuality destroyed them. Sure, Aristotle was a homo, we all know that. So was Socrates.”
Richard Nixon believed that an episode of a television show that consisted of using homophobic slurs rather than simply the words ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ even once was a show glorifying being gay. Interestingly enough, in a separate conversation recorded a few months after the episode aired, Nixon in heard saying that he is the “[…] most tolerant person […]” and that gay people are “[…] born that way […]” but that he doesn’t think that they should be allowed to be “[…] Boy Scout leaders, YMCA leaders [… or] teachers.” Despite all of this, he still wouldn’t “[…] shake hands with anybody from San Francisco.”
1971 — the year this episode first aired on television across millions of American homes — was just two years after the historic Stonewall Riots. States were just beginning to decriminalize homosexual activity between two consenting adults and perceived sexual orientation was still a valid reason for discrimination across the country, regardless of whether or not someone was truly gay or not. In a nutshell: 1971 was far from a gay-friendly time. The slurs and jokes that appeared in this episode wouldn’t make it past the FCC and onto broadcast television today (although cable and streaming networks wouldn’t bat an eye); but the writers of the show did something that was unprecedented 47 years ago. No, they weren’t “glorifying” homosexuality; but for the first time on extremely popular and well-watched (as well as well-received) TV show on a major broadcast network, a character came out as gay. And that wasn’t all; in fact, the flamboyant, feminine character was straight, while the masculine, ex-football player was the character who turned out to be gay. The show didn’t stop at just introducing a homosexual character, they also began to break down the stereotypes of what gay looked like. At a time when All in the Family was the highest-ranking television show in the United States, this was a huge first step in the fight to show the world that not only do gay people exist, but that our stories deserve to be told. Sure, no one in the Bunker-Stivic clan may have been a part of our family; but certainly there’s something to be said about what the household of All in the Family did for the future of our queer family in such a seemingly small, while actually quite bold, way.
Welcome to Dumb Bitchery, Pt. II
Less Than Butterflies, No. 26
Though the evening — at least for Bertha and me — only lasted a few hours, the three of us became quick friends and managed to cover an array of topics that would have given the women of The View a run for their shitty, daytime television money. As if we were college (dropout) roommates catching up after having settled down with Plain Janes and having three kids we couldn’t afford a good Christmas for due to our drinking problems, we covered every topic imaginable. We discussed important topics like the issues of the infighting that plagued our community, and even more important topics like the comfortability of a beard when having your ass eaten. In this beautiful reprieve from my own previously-unquelled anxieties (which were some kind of cocktail made up of not being loved by the man I loved and missing my best friend and whether or not I’d ever get caught up on all the work I was so frighteningly behind on), I was for the first time in weeks able to just … exhale.
With Matt eventually switching to water and Bertha claiming time-after-time that she was on her last drink, we schlepped our way from the Eagle back to JR’s where the flighty, overly-Adderall-ed, sort-of-still-new-to-town bartender bought our first round of drinks. Between the three of us, we each ran into a handful of people we knew — some in common, others not — and still managed to find something to discuss at every turn. More than once the topic of Peter was brought up; although I quickly changed the subject each time. I wasn’t going to bog my newfound friends down with my drunken emotions, nor was I going to divulge a personal situation that was still fresh. And for the time being, the only persons it involved were Peter and I and that’s how it needed to remain. I’d even begun purposely neglecting to share details about our bad and good times with Gwen simply because — in a rather rare moment of maturity on my part — I’d come to realize that putting any of our close friends in the middle of our chaotic friendship hiccup wasn’t fair. If I needed to bitch about something Peter had said or done, what good would it have done me to tell the people we were both close to? They’d been his friends first. And, sure, I had the luxury of spending more time with them than he; but it would be childish to try to momentarily encourage anyone to my side of an argument when we were both in the wrong on nearly each and every account — both too stubborn and emotional to acquiesce to the other’s needs, no matter how similar they may have been.
As it got closer to nine o’clock (mind you, I’d only started drinking just after six), I had already had upwards of half a dozen vodka cranberries, two Fireball concoction shots at the Eagle, and a Rumplemintz shot that some man who was “courting” — and I do use that word in a sense just as loose as the hungry butthole seeking penetration — had bought rounds of for us. Bertha had Ubered herself home because, as she put it, “Talk to me once you’re over thirty-years-old”; and I was well on my way to needing some cocaine to be able to drive later that night. The stranger who had bought the shots of Rumple asked me questions a bit aggressively about the magazine, my column, and my relationship to Matthew. I wasn’t sure whether or not he was under the impression that I was trying to sleep with the pocket gay — which, to be clear, I was not. However, I took note of the change in the intonation of his voice once I’d made that clear, after which he immediately began to share with me some oddities I wasn’t completely clear as to why he felt he needed to share with a complete stranger.
“You know,” he said as we stood next to the bar while Matt was in the restroom for what began to feel like an eternity the longer this man spoke to me. “I kind of have a love-hate relationship with Matt,” he explained.
“Uh-huh?” I said with a cluck of my tongue.
“Like … it’s weird. I love him to death … but I also really want to hate-fuck him.”
If the blowback of my head wasn’t enough to give me whiplash, the speed at which I craned down to the bar to slurp up the rest of my drink might have.
“Well …” I muttered when I came back up for air. “That is … that is an interesting little fact to share with a complete and total stranger.” The man then laughed, proceeded to apologize and explain that he was drunk, and then gave me an all-too-comfortable hug for someone I’d just met.
Soon enough, my recently-lovelorn friend Chance texted me to let me know he’d be hosting a show at another bar that night with our other BFF and drag queen royal, Ava. Drunk and not quite ready to go home yet, I coerced my last-standing companion and his new boy-toy to Lyft to the other bar with me for a bit. They insisted on driving — likely so one could blow the other in the car before arriving — but I opted to make the best of all the free Lyft rides I’d been collecting for no apparent reason. I wasn’t really in a place in my life where I was ready to mark off the DWI box on my Gay Bingo card; plus the time to the next bar, the time spent there, and the time Lyfting back would hopefully prove long enough to sober myself so that I could drive home later.
I did not sober, in fact.
Who could’ve predicted that?
At the next bar I drank three cosmos and someone bought me a shot of tequila after I gave him a cigarette on the patio and let him put his hand down the back of my pants for what I’m sure could have only been research. Or … I don’t know … reach-around-search. [shrugging emoji]. I’d lost Matt somewhere along the way, although he finally found me (likely by standing on someone else’s shoulders) and alerted me to the fact that he and the JR’s stranger we’re going home to fuck. I applauded this as I drank more and finally found Chance and Ava in the DJ booth. I chatted drunkenly with Ava for a moment, but soon I couldn’t contain my sentiment anymore.
Between Gwen, Peter, Ava, Chance, and myself, we had over the last year become our very own version of the Plastics from Mean Girls. Each of us was — to varying degrees, and myself being the least of which — relatively known in our community and had jobs that weren’t the type just anyone has, as we all worked in some sort of intersection of media and entertainment. We had affectionately dubbed ourselves The Tap-Taps, an inside, Molly joke that sort of just stuck when we’d changed our group chat name to it in our iMessage thread. Rarely were all five of us ever in the same room — and luckily so, as I’ve heard that to be the Seventh Seal of the Apocalypse. Still, this Fucked-Up Fab Five was sort of the perfect bunch. Chance and Peter had been inseparable friends for years only to be torn apart over a boy, and finally to come back together; Chance and Ava worked together several times a week; Ava and Peter had known each other for a while, but had really only gotten close after hosting a show together a little over a year ago; Ava and Gwen had been good pals for years that also worked together semi-regularly; and Gwen and Peter had run in the same circles for years, but were only just now approaching the one year anniversary of their first real hang-out.
I’d admired Gwen from afar for a while, only for her to sort of demand we become best friends; Gwen introduced me to Peter one night while he was fucked up at Guava, where we began to establish a professional relationship that later turned into friendship; I’d gotten to know Ava through mutual encounters with her alongside both Peter and Gwen, truly only hanging out for the first time the night that I’d met Chance, the same night I’d learned of his then-defunct friendship with Peter. I was the baby of the family — and I mean that near literally. All of these people were upwards of 28; I, however, rung in at a mere 24. They had histories with one another, no matter how sparse or convoluted, that I probably would never have with them. Yet, for the first time in my life, I felt as though I’d found my people. I loved them. Regardless of the task, in that year they’d all proven to be the people who showed up and showed out and helped to make dreams come true, which is the very thing I wanted to do for them, too. And by my third cosmo, I was missing Peter, again. But I was also missing Gwen — who I knew I’d see the next morning. And even with them standing right there, I missed Ava and Chance, too.
It was such a strange feeling. The idea that my friendship with Peter was only being held together by a thread that could at any moment be pulled away frightened me, because it might have meant that I would lose the rest of my family, too.
But with that fear, with that potential for a heartbreak even greater than the sort a man could ever do to me, I was also elated. I mean, for fuck’s sake … how lucky of a fag was I? Not only did I belong to a grown-up clique of cool kids, but on the very night when I stood upon a precipice that could catapult me into losing these deep, magical, meaningful friendships, two people who were nearly strangers to me had been kind and thoughtful enough to sweep down from the sky, scoop me up, and give me the one thing I’d been needing most — and not just since Peter and I had taken a break. It had been the thing I needed since the moment I realized I was in love with him months ago:
A reminder that no matter what happened, there were always going to be people in my life that cared about me.
I kissed Ava on the cheek and hugged Chance goodbye, Lyfting to a Starbucks near the car where I could sit and sober for a while as I flipped through my mental Rolodex of alcohol-induced sentimentalities. Even in my own anxiety-fueled paranoia, I was grateful for Bertha and Matt for being so kind to someone they’d only really just met. And that gratitude served as a reminder that, yeah, sure, things may not have been great for Peter and I right at that moment … but that this too would come to pass. I may not ever fully get over the feelings I was having for him, but I knew — as history showed me with Ezra, and Parker, and every other man before them — that I’d learn to live with it. Was the situation with Peter different? Yeah. Vastly so. But the bottom line was that we were two friends who cared enough about each other and about ourselves to take a breather.
I knew after that moment at the bar — and after seeing that he’d peeped at my Snapchat and realizing he was sending messages in our Tap-Taps group thread — that we would eventually be okay; and my fear that I’d lose my other friends over this, too, finally began to subside. It would take time before we could ever be the people we were to one another, and likely it would never be quite the same. But that’s the great thing about having friends who are just as queer as you are:
They’re all we have.
And no matter how many there might be — a Bertha, an Ava, a Gwen, a Chance, a Matthew, a Peter, and all the others — each relationship is individualistic and unique. Each is — like all other things in life — energized and alive, capable of being damaged when its dropped, but mendable with the proper care. And if it had been anyone else — Parker, Ezra, Taylor, Adam, [insert every other ex or love interest here] — I probably would have something to fear. But the core of my relationship with Peter — as well as with the other three — is the kind of love that only comes from two friends who truly want to be in one another’s lives because of how good the friendship is.
These friends of mine, new and old, they’ve made me who I am today, even in such a short amount of time. They truly are all I have, because I wouldn’t be me if not for the handprints they’ve left on my heart.
🦋 🦋 🦋
Having made it home and in bed before midnight, I woke from a peaceful dream at five AM. It was a dream that had been recurring since September, and maybe one day I’ll share it, too. As of late, however, I’d not had it in several weeks; and I welcomed it back with a smile on my face as I woke.
That smile faded, however, the moment I realized it was still dark outside.
I reached for my phone and found a few messages from Bertha and Matt in a group chat. As it happened, everyone was craving Chicken Minis from Chick-Fil-Hate, Bertha wanted her hungry butthole hate-fucked like Matt, and Matt had been sourly disappointed with the stranger from JR’s, leaving him to go back out and then to the home of another man … and then another. (more…)
Welcome to Dumb Bitchery, Pt. I
Less Than Butterflies, No. 26
Gay men understand what’s important: clothes, compliments, and cocks.”
— Samantha Jones
🦋 🦋 🦋
Ladies and … gaydies …?
I know I make a lot of statements in this column, many of which you may agree with, many of which you may not. My turn-ons are not necessarily the same as or even similar to your own, my bad sex experiences might be so humiliating that you could never imagine sharing them with someone else if they’d happened to you, and maybe you actually know one of my exes personally and think he’s a good guy. You’re … you know … wrong. But … whatever. It’s fine. Anyway! It’s fine to have differing opinions; it’s what makes the world colorful and beautiful and interesting. But I do think that if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s this:
Men. Are fucking. Insane.
But there is some respite from the eternal woes of men — do they love you? Do they not? Are they going to text you? Should you text them? Will they compliment the outfit you spent hours picking out just because you knew you’d be seeing them later? Why didn’t he invite you out with him and his other friends? What does their last text mean? Is he just your friend? Or did that one night you almost slept together and all that other sexual awkwardness mean something else is going on?
Don’t fucking look at me like that.
The fact remains that men are insane and unpredictable and sometimes a little selfish and act without thinking about how their actions are going to affect other people. I should know, and not just because I’ve slept with most of the world’s population of men, but because I too — even if debatably so, at times — am one. And as much as I like to point it out in others, there is not a doubt in my mind that I am just as bad as (if not worse than) all the others.
Surprisingly enough — as it would seem that the majority of my friends that get mentioned in these stories are women — many of my friends are this way, too, as they as well are men. Mind you, 98% of them, like me, are flaming homosexuals. If you lined 9 of us during the winter, one could easily confuse us for a menorah lit for the last night of Hanukkah. But it’s that brazen disregard for what is culturally seen as what it means to be male — from the flapping of fans to the beat of some trashy, pop remix on the dance floor right on down to the ass-eating — that makes gay men special. Now, don’t take that to be a gloss over everyone else in our community; it’s not. People on every end of the LGBTQIA spectrum are just as special. It is our perceived aberrance — our sparkle that stands out to straight, cis-gender people that they’re too irritatingly blinded by to see its beauty — that attracts us all to one another.
Because — at least, in a sense — we’re all that we have. That’s not to say that our straight and cis allies aren’t good to us, that they aren’t advocating for us. But no matter how hard a person advocates for the rights of people who have been culturally and socially stigmatized all throughout history in a way they have not — that is to say, if they don’t share that history or if they haven’t suffered their own plight — being an ally is only nominal. This is not me detracting from the importance of our allies. We’d be nowhere as queer people if there hadn’t been straight and cis people listening to what we need, then going to battle for those things, swords wielded and shields tossed into our arms to protect ourselves. Still, the celebration and commiseration that can only be shared by people who have been through it as well can only be found in our community.
And that, friends, is why there isn’t anything more exciting — at least, not in my opinion — than the ardor that comes from befriending people like you.
🦋 🦋 🦋
Peter and I were on a break from our ever-complicating friendship because, as I mentioned before, men are insane. And as a surprise plot twist I may regret ever admitting, I must confess that the insanity I’m speaking of here is my own.
Yeah. I’m fucking crazy. If you’ve been reading along this far into the series, you’ve probably picked up on that by now. I can’t pin this one on the dude, but more on that another day.
Peter, for those of you who have been following along, was up until this point referred to as Pistachio at my friend Gwen’s insistence. I could only take myself seriously for so long by naming a man after a nut — although, as aforementioned, men are fucking nuts. So now, nineteen columns into this season of Less Than Butterflies, I’ve elected to change his name for the second time. And for those of you who have not been following along, Peter makes a great segue from my former point about friendships into the story to come. He was someone I’d grown incredibly close to over the course of only a short year, but someone whom I’d fallen in love with by accident after a series of intimacies and resultant misfortunes (not to mention tantrums on my part). Our friendship had been struggling in the small span of time since, and eventually I will get around to telling our full story from beginning to end. But not today; not while I’m still trying to understand it completely myself coupled with trying to not be a lunatic.
That said, as our once-wonderful (albeit delightfully hateful) friendship had hit a rocky road — feelings tight, tensions high — we’d found ourselves in a place where we were taking a bit of break from one another. It sucked, considering the holidays were quickly approaching and many of the plans we’d made not only with one another, but with all our other friends, were intersectional. But even just a few days apart had already done us some good. Or, maybe I should say that it had done me some good. I can’t speak for him, but I can only assume it had also served him some much-needed space to clear his head and to get a little freedom from my affections and psychotic reactions he’d never signed up for. But as much good as it was doing me, even just a few days in … I really missed my best friend.
When I felt that melancholy at first — maybe it came when I found a meme I’d wanted to share with him or when I saw his texts in our group chat that involved many of our closest friends — I noticed that the root of missing him didn’t stem from the romantic feelings that I had. Sure, those were still there; but what I was feeling was a seemingly-perennial void that came from not having my friend to annoy and talk to about stupid shit all throughout the day. I tried everything to shake it off. Over the course of three short days, I’d made myself zero in on my work — not a difficult thing to do when that’s all I ever do anyway — begin meditating first thing in the morning and before I went to bed, brushed-up on my long-since-used Italian, and even get back into the habit of exercising every day (kill me; JK — the exercise is going to do that for you). Still, as much as I was happy with the these little additions to my daily schedule, a chunk of the day didn’t pass that I had to remind myself as I was picking up my phone to text him a joke that we were on a break from one another.
So, in an effort to fill some of that empty space, I had resolved to embark upon the only proven method of treatment that had ever worked for me in these situations in the past:
I was going to spend time with some of my other friends. Even better, I was going to have a girls’ night with all of my queer friends that weekend before he and I would check in the following Monday to see where we were at and at which time I would likely apologize for being a psychopath in the hopes that we could at least cordially spend the holidays together with all our friends.
Immediately I put out the call for anyone who wanted to partake in a girls’ night with me, accompanied by my ever-handy “Find Our Sisters” American Horror Story GIF. It was going to be a day for any and everyone who equally needed a day of doing anything we could to relax, enjoy ourselves, and (most importantly) talk about anything that we wanted to so long as the conversation did not revolve around our most recent love interests — good or bad. I had no clear idea of what this would look like, mind you. Maybe we’d start with brunch at Baba Yega, move on to mani-pedis, spend a few hours in the living room of someone’s shitty, Montrose-adjacent apartment watching some mildly-misogynistic romantic comedy, go out drinking as the bars and clubs began to populate, flirt with people we truly had no interest in, and then round it all off by dancing at Rich’s. Or, conversely, maybe the plan would flop and we’d all just end up crying and eating our feelings. I hoped the latter wouldn’t present itself as the more likely option, but knew that after a few glasses of Cabernet on the back patio of Barnaby’s, I’d end up crying and rushing to the bathroom to fix my face before dodging questions about what was wrong with me and smiling stupidly to placate my worried, drunken friends.
Immediately after sending out an open invitation on Facebook, requests to partake came flooding in. The excitement of making this come to life was thrilling me. I wasn’t the only sad, heartbroken queer in Houston; though one could argue that I was the most pathetic of the bunch. Why shouldn’t I stand myself at the helm of a fun, senseless day that could end up making us all feel fantastic or at least alleviate our woes for a few hours? And what more effective method was there? Historically, each and every time I’d had my heart broken, this was the only method that worked.
When I’d made a conscious decision to put a little space between Ezra and I after he’d broken my heart (albeit unintentionally), the only thing that ever made me feel better was the kinship I shared with my friends like Gwen and Chance and, yes, even Peter! Maybe even especially Peter. Definitely so especially Gwen. I’d have died without her by my side those hard months. When I’d cut myself out of the canvas of the world after being raped, I was only resurrected from my internal purgatory because I had those same people surrounding me. When my ex-boyfriend, Parker, and I had broken up — and even when I recently found out he’d just wed only a year after telling me he wasn’t the marrying type — my friends were the only thing that carried me through the shitstorm that ensued within my mind.
So, why shouldn’t I call on the #girlsquad to come and distract me for a while? And why shouldn’t I be there to do the same for them if they were struggling, too? Before I’d even finished rationalizing the logic to myself, friends from grade school expressed their interest in such an event; closer friends like Gwen and Alice came ushering in to show their support; members of my clique from high school popped up offering to bring edible treats — likely cooked in marijuana butter; even a few folks I hardly knew at all began springing up and wishing to join in on the festivities. It appeared as though the weekend was going to prove to be successful for my little heartbroken and/or supportive coven. Only, when I woke on Wednesday from a short nap after staying up all night working, it appeared that #girlsquad time would be happening sooner than I’d expected.
In Houston’s LGBTQIA community, everyone who is someone — and really, even those who aren’t — seems to sort of know everyone after a while. There’s the indoctrination phase, which usually happens after befriending one social gay and being invited into one friend circle before being dragged by the hand into another, creating some big, gay Venn Diagram. Then come the seemingly-vapid rites of passage, like staying up until the sun wakes doing cocaine at some after-party in Midtown or Eado, or shoving ones down a stripper’s jockstrap at Tony’s Corner Pocket, or maybe even witnessing your first patio blowjob at Ripcord. Finally comes the ‘I-met-one-person-at-an-event-and-now-have-a-hundred-friend-requests’ phase. Maybe you’ve just befriended a drag queen with a great deal of clout like the reigning Miss Gay Texas America, Regina Blake-DuBois, after watching her lip sync a number from Wicked at her show, The Broad’s Way. Maybe you bumped rompers with one of the Pride Houston chairpeople while sipping Bellini pitchers at Rosemont. Maybe you’ve attended your first Pride Portraits photoshoot or Montrose Center fundraiser. Or maybe you’ve just spent three-and-a-half minutes arguing with Brenda Rich as to why you had to pay the seven dollar cover at front counter of Rich’s [insert obligatory: “That’ll be seven dollars” here].
The point is that everyone seems to know everyone else. And if one person overhears a rumor about another person that they don’t know, the chances are that they’re separated from one another by only a few degrees; and the person on the receiving end of the rumor will go out of their way to get to know that person. After all … the gays are a nosy people.
So when I awoke from my nap to find a work-related text message from a relatively new acquaintance whom we’ll call Matthew inviting me to meet up with him at JR’s, I jumped on the opportunity. Because, as he put it, “Bertha and I are gonna be on our dumb bitch behavior today if you’re not busy and want to be mildly entertained/driven to drink.”
Naturally, I replied, “Yesgodwhen.”
By the time I’d had time to shower, find an outfit, and fight inner-loop traffic, an hour had passed and the dynamic duo had moved on from JR’s to the Eagle, where I stood on the patio finishing a Marlboro before joining them inside. Before I’d even had time to extinguish the cigarette, a voice from behind me chirped, “Oh, heeeey.” I turned to see Matt poking his head out the old French doors and waving before weaving back inside. When I joined them, Matt and Bertha sat perched at the bar discussing how, just the night before, Matt had been traipsing around the bar flashing a photo of his penis to all the patrons around last call. Bertha — or Bertha Bored — was Matt’s drag queen best friend who was notorious amongst the gays for being one of the most outrageous caricatures I’m sure most any person would ever encounter in their lives. Today, she was out of drag and hanging out as one of the gay boys. Although, in spite of her cis-ness, Bertha still answered to Bertha full-time and seemed to take no issue with feminine pronouns.
Truth be told, I barely knew either of these people. What I did know of them was based solely upon what I’d heard from other people — truly all good things — and the interactions I’d seen them partake in on social media. Patrick was a local bartender and pocket gay that, in spite of his butch presentation, epitomized a few too many gay stereotypes. Bertha, on the other hand, was equally outrageous, although far less so in more quaint settings than she portrayed herself to be while working or on Facebook. That last part, as it happened, seemed to be something we all had in common. While not a single one of us now sipping from tall bar glasses could get away with saying that we weren’t boisterous or over-the-top, it could be easily read from spending time with the three of us that we weren’t actually as slutty or as drunk or as loud as we led other people to believe.
Don’t get me wrong, the three of us were all of those things; but the public personification was far more exasperating than the gay men behind the curtains.
“So what’ve y’all been up to?” I asked as I sipped from a vodka cranberry that Matt had taken the liberty of putting on his tab.
“Well,” Matt began, “I texted this one earlier …” he motioned toward Bertha, “… and told her that I was bored and wanted to do something. But I told her I really didn’t want to be a dumb bitch today, but that it’s really the only thing I’m good at.”
“Right, right,” I agreed with a single nod.
“And then when I was messaging you, I sort of was like, ‘You know, Anthony said that he was wanting to do a girls’ night thing. Why don’t we invite him to hang with us?’.”
“And here we are,” I added.
“Being dumb bitches,” Bertha concluded as we all raised our glasses in cheers to Dumb Bitchery, new and old.