Saturday, July 9, 2011

Thoughts on Loneliness and AIDS: "The onliest person in the world."

The title of this piece comes from the theatrical masterpiece by the great American author/playwright, Carson McCullers, "The Member of the Wedding", and is spoken by 12-year-old Frankie, an adolescent tomboy who is terribly jealous of her brother's wedding. In the horrible loneliness in which Frankie lives her awkward life she declares that she is "the onliest person in the world." (Frankie was played by Julie Harris, the extraordinary American actor) Can anyone be lonelier than that? Can anyone feel so alone as that? Being "the onliest person in the world" is the worst sort of loneliness, a loneliness I feel tonight and have felt in years past..

Indeed, that kind of darkness and despair of thick, viscous loneliness is not so difficult to get to. and in fact, growing old with AIDS is one of the very loneliest lives one can live, and I, like Frankie, feel like "the onliest person in the world" tonight. (McCullers, "The Member of the Wedding," Houghton, Miflin, 1950) Frankie has no friends, but desperately wants to be part of something larger than her small self. She wants desperately to be part of the group of girls who have passed puberty and have their own clubhouse and who will not allow Frankie to join, because Frankie is such an awkward tomboy and she belongs to the wrong class of people. Frankie is poor, unlike the middle-class girls of the clubhouse. . She has no friends except her housekeeper, an African American woman named Berenice (played by the incomparable Ethel Waters) and her younger cousin John Henry (played by Brandon DeWilde). The film, of course, is in black and white. Color would have removed the poverty, the desolation, the loneliness, the jealousy, and Frankie's out-of-control imagination regarding the wedding, going all the way to the point of thinking she is going on the honeymoon with her brother and his new wife. At the end of the play, they leave for the honeymoon and Frankie, completely devastated, cannot go with them. She is thoroughly confused by this turn of events because it goes against her very lively imagination. It is one of the most heart-rending pieces of American theater in the history of American theater. The drama is high, indeed.

Tonight, I feel like I cannot get any lonelier and the drama is also very high and cannot get any higher. Having HIV since the late 1970's and diagnosed with AIDS in 1995 has created tremendous drama in my life, The worst thing about having AIDS for such a long period of time is that the body ages quickly, far beyond its chronological years. I am 65 on the outside, but internally, my body is that of an 80-year-old. My arthritis in my knees is terribly advanced, my peripheral neuropathy is about as bad as it can possibly get, fracturing all the bones in my left foot because all the nerves in my bones have died along with all the nerves in both my feet. When the nerves in the bones die, the bones become very soft and fracture easily. All the bones in my left foot have fractured and I have to wear a CROW Walker on my left foot and left lower leg for the rest of my life. It is a huge, 7-lb, rigid, black plastic, knee length boot that is in two pieces and is held together with velcro. It is ugly as hell, but I have been wearing it now everyday for nearly 2 years, and it feels just like a part of my body now. The only time I am aware of it is when I want to have sex, and then I am aware of my entire AIDS body. Having COPD now with it's chronic bronchitis and penumonia, kidney disease, constant eye infections. severe general body aches and pains which are different each day so they cannot be anticipated nor prepared for, the headaches, the lack of libido (that's one of the worst parts of this disease), and the generally grotesque being I have become with my 30-lb. weight gain from medication, the depressions and manias controlled with bi-polar medications, the anxiety controlled with Lorazapam and Buspar, the general depression controlled by Abilify and Lexapro, my high cholesterol controlled by Lipitor, all the heavy duty narcotics for pain management (225 mcg. of Fentanyl changed every 72 hours plus hydrocodone for the break-through pain), gives me terrible constipation and bowel impaction which can only be alleviated by fist fucking myself and taking the impacted stool out of my ass with own my hand, and as my body was not made for that particular sex game as a bottom, this process is very painful. I am an extraordinary fisting top and am sought after as a teacher for both tops and bottoms , and one of my biggest dreams sexually is to get fisted, but my body has two bones that block easy access to the colon. I feel grotesque, ugly, thoroughly unattractive, and terriblhy, terribly old and invisible in the Queermale community.

Talking about this with my friends is an impossibility. None of them want to hear about it, because I frighten them. They are all HIV+ with no opportunistic infections yet and, because of the medications which purport to control the disease, they believe they will never get sick (utter delusion, that). I get sick on the average of every other month with one kind of infection or another somewhere in my body and I require hospitalizations every two months, sometimes for 3 weeks at a time. So, I get no support from my friends because I represent their own possibility to them and that terrifies them. They look at me and the CDC statistic of 18,000 Gaymale deaths from AIDS each year rears it's very real and very ugly head, and I am the symbol of that death knell. I make them face their own mortality, and the truth that the anti-retrovirals don't really stop the progress of the disease. They slow it down, but they don't stop it.

I am also afraid of growing old alone and getting sick alone with no one to take care of me, and I will not go into a state nursing care facility. No nursing homes for me. Fortunately, my homemaker Sully, who is a wonderful woman and who helps me three days a week, said she would take care of me and would never allow me to go into a nursing home, even if that means working for no remuneration. I must take comfort in that. State nursing homes are notoriously dangerous for elderly Gaymen, with rapes by orderlies being quite rampant, not to mention the physical abuse that is done very carefully so that no bruises show. This is not some morbid imagination of mine. The statistics are clear regarding nursing home abuse of elderly Gaymen. We are much hated and are at the mercy of the homophobic abuse by the orderlies.

I just want a person with whom to spend the rest of my life. Now that I know how to be in a healthy relationship, I am a pariah, a leper, damaged and used goods. I would like to find a man my own age. I am tired of youngfags who have the whole world in front of them and only want to be assimilated into the larger majority of boring straight people, who want to look just like everybody else so that straight people are not intimidated by us. I say, let them be intimidated. Let them be afraid; let them be very afraid. I am not like them, and I don't want to be like them. I have special gifts that come directly out of my Queerness, and I treasure those gifts. I don't want them shoved into the consumerist, materialistic, 6-figure salaries, condos on the Lake, the best gyms, only the best designer men's wear, summer houses in Michigan after living in their suburban homes with white picket fences and 4 bedrooms with lots of property for a back yard, two SUV's in the driveway, and 2.5 adopted Chinese baby girls. So, the question of the week is: Who is Queer and who is non-Queer? I certainly can't tell anymore, and that makes me feel even more lonely, more aching for community, which is what much of this book is about.

When one has AIDS, one might as well be living like an anchorite just like The Desert Fathers and Mothers in the 11th century outside Alexandria in Egypt. They went off to live by themselves because they were searching for God, and they knew they were not going to find a peaceful, serene, loving God in the midst of that consumerist, materialistic, and hedonistic society of Alexandria. So, they went out into the Desert to live as a community of anchorites and anchoresses. Dame Julian of Norwich was a 14th-century Anchoreess, mystic, who lived by her wits and the goodness and generosity of the village near which she had her Hermit's Hut. It is Julian's mantra that keeps me sane most of the time: In her writings (Showings: "All will be well, and all will be well, and every manner of thing will be well." In other words, no matter how much bad happens to a person, no matter how dark life becomes, in the end, "all will be well, and all will be well, and every manner of thing will be well." Dame Julian had a powerful faith in an all-knowling, unconditionally loving God. She, along with George Herbert, Hildegaard of Bingen, Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, Aelred of Rivaulx, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory Palamas, and Thérèse of Lisieux are some of my favorite mystics, and when I get terribly lonely in my walk with AIDS, I read their work and feel a connection to an ancient spiritual community of mystics, a connection to an ancient tradition of which I am a part. I remember when I told my Spiritual Director (with whom I worked monthly for 23 years) that I lived such a lonely life and that I had visions and was prone to revelation, rather than mocking me or making light of it, he took it very seriously and he said to me, "You were born in the wrong century, Roger. You should have been born in the 11th to 14th centuries, People would not have found you strange or off-putting. You are a classic mystic, and mystics lead very lonely lives, because you, like them, are the larger majority of people on this Earth. You must get used to it, because it will be with you for the rest of your life. For you, the only thing that is real is Spirit." So, I have my choice, very few friends, but lots of visions and revelation ("more will be revealed", The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous"), or lots and lots of friends but no visions, no revelation. Having AIDS doesn't help the situation at all. I am alone most of the time, and I am usually very open to my visions, but when I feel a real lack of community, my visions disappear. When the Fathers and Mothers went out into the Desert to live alone, they were not completely alone because they knew that another hermit was somewhere quite near. These people were the first Spiritual Directors. Lay and religious both would go out into the Desert looking for an anchorite or an anchoress in order to have a conversation around things spiritual, and discuss their own spiritual journeys. Much like what I do with my own clients, and because I see people so infrequently I feel like an anchorite and an ancient Spiritual Director whose community is spread far and wide, and there are not very many of us in that community, because this is not The Time Of The Mystic. Having AIDS has only sharpened my ability to receive visions and revelation. I guess when I have to rely on the only real thing their is, which is Spirit, my vocation (filmmaker, writer, author, Spiritual Director, musician, friend) can only become more pronounced. Only the spiritual is real. The material, consumerist world is not real!! This truth has really been brought home to me since I was diagnosed with my opportunistic infections. Living with KS (Kaposi's Sarcoms) for 2 years, HSV Encephalitis, which put me into a 10-day coma and in which I died but came back because I had work to do in the world, many varieties of Pneumonia and chronic Bronchitisl, eye infections, sore throats, fevers of unknown origin, night sweats, general aches and pains all help to increase my mystical experiences. ''

12-Step Spirituality, when approached with a fully open heart, indeed brings about visions and revelations. It is not a euphamism when the Big Book says, "more will be revealed". Igt is saying that we will receive revelation the closer and closer we get to God, because God speaks to us through revelation and visions. The trick is, though, that we need to know that there is no boundary between us and God. If there is some kind of boundary between us and God, then we are having an "object relationship" with God because we are always seeking to get closer and closer to the object, but as in all object relationships, the more we try to get closer, the farther away the object moves. The only way to have more revealed is to realize that there is no boundary, hence, we are the embodiment of God on Earth and often our revelations come through other people who are also the embodiment of God, and who also have no boundary between themselves and God. The less the boundary, the more the revelation and the more the visions because we are open to them. God is no longer some big, unknowable object in the sky, but an energy, a force of which we are very capable of tapping in.

I have to say that as I have been writing this piece, I have lost much of my loneliness. To write of community is as good as being in that community, as good as being present to that community, and thereby present to vision and revelation. Entering recovery from substance abuse piques our mystical selves and, indeed, "more will be revealed", but not in our time, not in Chronos (calendar time, clock time), but, rather, in Kairos (God's time, proper time). When God is ready to self-reveal, God will do just that, and not a minute before. And, the only way God can self-reveal to us is if we are completely open to possibility, completely open to what can be in God's good time. Therefore, being open to possibility means being open to the possibility that I represent, that is, one's mortality. If, in fact, there is no boundary between us and God, then we need not fear Death at all. Without any boundary, we go, upon the death of this unreal thing called the body, back to the source. We go home, because there is no boundary to try to stop us.. We cross the space that is no space, and become who we really are. We become God!!!

Writing this book has been a deep mystical experience for me. I have had revelation after revelation, epiphany after epiphany, and vision after vision. I would stay up until 4:00 AM writing in the soft quiet in the beauty of the night when there was no traffic noise and the city was asleep. Unlike New York City, which never goes to sleep, Chicago shuts down by 2:00 AM, especially further south from where I live in Rogers Park. Rogers Park late at night is like a sleepy little town. Writing this book has not only been a mystical experience for me, it has also been a prophetic experience for me. The life of the prophet is even lonelier that the life of the mystic. The mystic is not in contention with anybody. S/he lives out her/his solitary life as an anchorite or anchoress, or a nun or a monk, but there is no tension with the people. In fact, the mystics chose the solitary life for themselves. The prophets of the Hebrew Scripture, on the other hand, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Micah, were always in contention with the people and so lead solitary lives not by their own choosing but by the circumstances in which they found themselves. The prophets always told the truth, trying to be "mouthpieces" for God, letting the people know what was displeasing to God and how they needed to change their ways. This put them in tension with the people. Because of that tension the prophets' lives were solitary and built on “argument”. The mystics led a much quieter life, a much more peaceful life, whereas the prophets lived with noisy, confrontational lives as they tried to show the people the error of their ways. My Spiritual Director of 23 years, of whom I spoke earlier, told me that not only was I a classic mystic, but that I was also a prophet, because prophets see the trajectory of history, past present and future, all at once and acting as “mouthpieces” for God they were always at odds with the people. This gave them a very solitary, very lonely life.

It seems that after the Stonewall Rebellion, when we achieved our political, spiritual, and sexual liberation, we all lived isolated and lonely lives. We spoke of our community, but the community was formed through drugs, sex, and disco dancing, and Donna Summer was the queen of that world. There was no real conversation or connected interaction between us. We simply danced together, took drugs together, and had disconnected and alienated sex together. Sometimes the sex lasted 2 to 3 hours and sometimes the sex lasted for 10 min., but we never knew the name of the person we were having sex with because we really didn't want to know their name. All we wanted were their bodies and the less we knew about the personal lives of our sex partners the better. Life was extremely lonely during the 1970s and early 1980s. It's out it only seemed like there was a community after the Stonewall Rebellion, but in fact we all live lives of quiet desperation searching for our next lover, or our next fuck buddy. I have a particular recollection of a sexual encounter I had had an annual “ Black Party” at the Fillmore East. Everyone dressed in black, mostly black leather, but also black underwear, black T-shirts, black jockstraps, black sneakers, etc. Pornography and the 1970s had real man in it, men with facial hair and hair on their chests especially hair on their asses. They were utterly beautiful men, not like this shaved, hairless, chiseled, blonde, children that are touted as porn stars today. My pornography hero in the 1970s was a beautiful man named Richard Locke. I was very beautiful back then having a gym routine of five days a week four hours a day until my body was ripped and rockhard and my face shone with an unearthly light coming out of my eyes and I could have any man I wanted whenever I wanted him. I had such high self-esteem that I walked up to Richard who was at the black party and sitting by himself in the bleachers resting from dancing. I sat down next to Richard and told him who I thought he was in my eyes and how much I loved watching him fuck on screen. He took the compliment very well and was most humble. I then asked if he would like to get high on cocaine back at my apartment, to which he said an absolute yes. We walked back to my apartment which was only four blocks from the Fillmore, did the cocaine (a lot of it), took off our clothes and had sex all night long until the sun rose in the morning. This was some of the best sex of my life because Richard understood Tantric Sex, as do I. We took ourselves into states of spiritual ecstasy and other bliss, connecting with each other on a different plane altogether, moving our brain waves into this Theta mode, the mode of deep trance and meditation that allows for sex to go on for hours. I felt like he and I were one body/spirit, one entity, and in that mystical space of ecstatic sex we felt the presence of God as we created Him to be in the room with us and bless our lovemaking. Richard just love my body, my mind, and my spirit, as I love those things in him and we connected on the deepest levels. That was a sexual encounter I will never forget because I wasn't lonely in the sex act, whereas throughout the 1970s most of my sex was incredibly lonely with little to no connection between myself and my sex partner. I remember crying with incredible joy as Richard and I made love and after hours of “edging” (bringing oneself to the brink of orgasm and stopping it over and over and over again until finally when we have the orgasm hits like great fireworks going off in the body mind and spirit simultaneously and we move onto another plane of existence. This is Tantric Sex, sex that is connected and never lonely, sex that opens each of the men up to the spiritual realm and to the possibility of ecstatic response to the sex act. The sex with Richard was extraordinary and I will never forget it for as long as I live. Richard Locke is dead now along with most of the other porn stars in the 1970s. They died slow horrible deaths that AIDS complications produce Period the sex with Richard was one of the few times in my life in New York City when I did not feel lonely or cut off from my community. Indeed, the community was built on superficiality, but I was able to cut through that and make some extraordinary connections during my time in New York City in the early 1980s.

Oddly enough, even with all the death around us, the 80s was not a time of loneliness but, rather, a time of intense, loving, compassionate, and empathic community. I discussed this earlier in the book and there is no need to rehash it here. I will close by just saying that my life has been one of terrible loneliness for 65 years, especially in the 12 1/2 year relationship I had with a former partner in which I was lonelier than I've ever been in my life. It was my diagnosis of HIV and then my 1995 diagnosis of AIDS that began the destruction of the relationship. From those times of diagnosis the relationship deteriorated more and more until it became impossible to live with. Now, even in the intense loneliness I feel tonight, I can honestly say that I am happier and more content with my life than I have ever been before. I am doing exactly what I want to be doing which is writing a book and making a film. Music is out of my life now, except as something to listen to with great joy and great passion. My primary passions, however, are my book and my film and I am thoroughly content.

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