Mailing List

Comprehensive (a few years ago) in island hopping, I toured on the rippling surface above, they say, “folding and faulting geography,” across a coastal divide. It was a tour to arrive at the shore of each of California’s Channel Islands. Or all of the accessible ones. San Nicolas and San Clemente Islands mark an opposition, as active sites of the Navy’s Weapon’s Training, to the rest: Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, Anacapa, and Catalina Islands. The former two military islands raise difficulties of access (at least if you’re not in the Navy). And, finally, Santa Barbara Island is often closed for an 11-month-long Brown Pelican breeding season, and for those who rely on the Park Service Ferry, inaccessible. A storm nine years ago bashed its dock beyond repair, so that, during that one month of the year when Pelicans aren’t fucking and raising their children, you can sail your own boat and swim your way to its shores. And, that Navy-claimed San Clemente Island sometimes hosts fishing trips and, as long as the military is not actively shooting at you, allows you to step on shore. So, speaking of inaccessibility, only San Nicolas Island, with no National Park Service Ferry, nor public access, remains out of reach. 

The photographer Trevor Paglen agrees with this assessment. He’s a photographer who shoots telescopically, concerned with space out of reach. An astrophotography telescope, to image and explore distant regions of space, attaches to his camera. If he zoomed far enough he might hit the limit of our vision. How far can you see before objects begin to blur and break down? He agrees with this assessment when he zooms in at dusk to a brown-orange horizon blocked by a small dark mound. Three images, ambiguously out of focus, render a murky San Nicolas Island, like large accidental exposure. Its form is barely distinguished from the black ocean beneath its shores. The images are difficult to read, so Paglen comes in, at the end of his book, saying that he’s “interested in the limits of the visible world,” and relationships like imaging and knowing. Through his book depicting (or not) places we cannot get to, Palgen pokes at fuzziness and murky boundaries, using words like “epistemological,” “empiricism and imagination” to try to help us imagine our knowledge and unknowledge, and what we can and cannot know. Which is a lot for a photo to bear. 

Paglen’s series of images become abstractions, pointing, through their concrete names, to real-life-places as stand-ins for the unknown, and for what we might never know. (Would it be a surprise if I told you Paglen earned a degree Religious Studies?) At least, “unknowing” might be how it seems to our coastline perception. A blurry photo becomes (paired with Paglen’s ponderings!) an approximation of a world just out of reach from where we stand on the sands of our mainland beaches. We could stand here mystified. 

And, inland, to the sands with no beaches, near the Mojave Desert’s Kelso Dunes, Andrew and I worked to take pictures and videos of volunteers. Neon vests dotted the shrubby landscape as members of the Wilderness Volunteers pulled up invasive mustard plants hiding in the wrong desert. I wandered around until one woman, bending down to tear up a bundle of the bad plant, paused, exclaiming a desire to swap her hat for one stitched with WV. She took it off, looked at it, and showed it to me. “Another great volunteer organization,” she said. The hat said “Channel Islands Restoration.” She took a look at my hat as I took her photo. “Oh! The Channel Islands! Have you gone recently?” I told her that I had gone to all the islands you could get to with the National Park Service Ferry a few years ago. She said she had worked with the Restoration and had gone to one of the islands. “Oh, Santa Cruz Island? I know they’re doing restoration work there.” No, she said. San Nicolas Island. Invited through a mailing list. “The Navy flew us out!” 

Where a thinker like Paglen images a limit, a woman in the desert proclaims a different testimony. While Paglen’s images mystify what they claim not to capture, this woman proclaims no mystery: only a reference to a mailing list. A mailing list! Someone tell Trevor! And one day, unlike Trevor, I might actually do something about this silly little unknowing and fly, with people who pull up weeds for fun, to the island. Paglen might be good at aestheticizing mystery to the point of belief, but, this woman, unlike Paglen, needs no mystery. She has a hat to prove it. 

Easter 2024

            I do not want to think about Easter. I’m tired, drinking chamomile tea in a Turkish coffee shop. A woman with two grand-daughters walks through the door, festively. She dragged her teal-Easter-dressed and cat-eared grand-daughters through the coffee shop, each with a fuzzy Easter basket, proclaiming “Happy Easter!” to the people working on their laptops. One of the girls offered me a chocolate. I took it. “Thank you!”
              Today, at the church I work at, the sermon drew attention to the truncated ending of the Gospel of Mark (considered by scholars to be the earliest written gospel), where the witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection made no proclamation. They stood silently in fear, refusing to tell anyone. No proclamation according to Mark (who, by assigning proclamation of Jesus’ status as the Son of Man or Messiah to demons and Pilate, while Jesus constantly hushes his disciples about that title, seems to be averse to that identity for Jesus...). So I imagine how paradoxical it is that the event of Jesus’ resurrection transformed from a silent refusal into a proclaiming text. And then, I imagine (hypothetically, imperfect) Christianity, like Judaism, as a faith with no evangelism. No chocolates from no children.

Holy Saturday 2024

Darkness ended yesterday’s Good Friday service. The so-called “Christ Candle” extinguished for a moment, then relit, while projected screens (like subtitles to a liturgy) projected the word “remember.” Re-member, as Mark Doty points out, is a re-bodying. A day of the body, again. So, naturally, I went to Beyoncé night at the local gay club, to celebrate this inaugurated day of the body (initiated by the end of a body: in the church, a form of its absence). I invited a boy (Jonny) that I knew, in the spirit of Beyoncé’s new country album, had cowboy clothes. My straight friend showed up with his girlfriend in a gay club filled with boy-girl cowboy couples. And Richard, whom I describe as “closet energy” because of his evangelical megachurch attendance (but is maybe just “chaotic energy”), showed up in all black and no yeehaw garb. “First time here?” he asked, while I recalled going to his birthday party here last year. “No,” I said, “but I normally go to the Long Beach bars.” “They’re weird,” he said, ”I went once.” “They’re much more relaxed,” I said, “I like them. They’re chill.” And I walked away to watch screaming women take selfies with drag queens.
            Jonny showed up. He mostly speaks Spanish, and I speak a small amount of it, so we talked slowly, on the patio underneath an umbrella, in phrases and single words and micro-charades thrown back and forth. Has it been a couple months since I’ve seen him? No, he said, six months. Time passes quickly, I told him. 
            It began to rain, and my car, which is like a jeep, sat topless in the parking lot. We went into the club to warm up, and Jonny sat down with his redbull (he no longer drinks, nor smokes, so he took an edible before coming).  He noted that the music (Beyoncè) was not good club music (nor, according to anyone I asked, very good at all), so we retreated to a black booth in the dark part of the room, reminding me of the still-life backdrop that Mark Doty describes. Jonny sank into the booth, and then into his body, and then leaned into mine, and we lingered together while the night passed. More Spanish, testing out hypothetical imperfect tenses; more English trying to test out the complexities of alternate languages we could both barely articulate. So I poked his face, watching him relax and rest his eyes; I poked his mustache suggestively (one perennial thought: many men, including the gay men I talk to, have never had a mutually-mustached kiss! No sharing-of-caterpillars!). We grabbed hands and I pulled him close. He said, in Spanish, now he understands cats and dogs, especially when you poke their whiskers. And more, how they react when you pet them, how they relax completely into their bodies, giving up their little animal wills to their senses. He joked that he was like a cat, sarcastically, like an animal. I told him, sarcastically (but seriously), that we’re all animals anyway. Animals and bodies, as we spent the night figuring our desires through gaps in language, in the dark little booth.     
               Until the lights came on at 1:30 in the morning. The host announced closing time. We walked outside in the rain. We looked at my car, soaked with drizzled rain, laughing nervously in a silly panic. I sat on the wet driver’s seat, while he said “Oh my God,” standing next to the passenger seat with the door open. I pulled his arm in, and he sat all wet. We were freezing. “You’ll remember this night,” I said, as we drove through the rain, and he, laughing, recorded a little video of us for his friend, while we made our way through the empty, dark, and glistening streets, shivering. I drove towards his apartment from a vague memory six months ago. Then home, texting him goodnight until 3AM, which meant Holy Saturday (the daylight part of it) was a day of waking up too early. 
            Holy Satur-day-of-bailing-water-out-of-my-car-and-drying-off-the-seats. Grogginess hovered throughout the day, and I finished Doty’s still life book again. My mind slowed, tracing my body (the day that seems so human, so of-the-body through an image of its absence). Back to animal bodies, desiring together.

Good Friday 2024

            At the end of yesterday’s Maundy Thursday service, I watched each person, one by one, under the bright cool lights hanging from the high ceilings, silently follow the pastor to exit the church. Up front, on the stage of the church, Kameron and another woman took the red and white cloths off of the table-altar. They replaced it with black fabric, like an empty still life. And it felt, with the entire church illuminated, like an announcement that the show was over. No more illusion, no more mystery of faith, no more narrative played out in life. The church, in spite of the stained glass windows, became an office-like building for everyday events. In preparation for Good Friday, belief failed (in dramatic terms), and the hope or risk of faith played out poorly. (Whenever a pastor says this, it never breaches the boundaries or discourse of that faith, but only finds a way to legitimate it). As a day on the Holy Calendar, Good Friday becomes a day for contingency--that this faith might not be.
            For many, the narrative or ritual (rite, following Talal Asad, as a text, or sort-of action for interpretation) of a belief system becomes challenged (in a constructive way) when it’s faced with the possibility of failure. That it’s better to mythologize, trading world below for world above, finding new theologies or rationalities, than to admit that the prophetic failed, or to abandon the faith. 
            I think Good Friday, if it’s good for anything, is for imagining a Christianity snuffed from the beginning. It’s for trying to take a walk outside of its discourse. It’s for imagining that the Roman government’s crucifixion of a popular leader was an everday, mundane event (as it was for so many others), normalized and unworthy of a text. And so, historically, the world turned differently. In the present, it’s for imagining what would happen if I grew up in a non-Christian home, with no pressure of sin nor guilt nor holiness nor speaking in tongues, nor a mom & her prayer group announcing my call to singleness, nor that I was better off alone. No arrogance masked by spirituality, no degradation of embodiment, no blindness to the world for the sake of the intangible. I’m reading the past from the present--how could I know how it would be? or that another religious movement might not engulf the history of our society? It’s easy to get caught up in the hypothetical. If Good Friday is good for anything, it is that this man’s death (which puts to death all of our hopes and faith and beliefs about what is and what should be) might, hopefully, be final. No more fanaticism, no more passion, no more possession, no more transcendence, no reconstruction of a belief system. Only the silent testimony of absence, of peace culled by violence. Only the vacant church’s house lights shining down on an empty table with black tablecloth.
            A blackness, or a “warm neutrality” in Mark Doty’s terms concerning still lives, that brings the foreground “to startling life.” For Christianity loses its subject to this neutrality. Again, for Doty, there is “no subject to locate meaning,” nor transcendence, nor a poetry of relation, nor any value by singularity or uniqueness; nothing to make of an event. No anxiety around the aporetic. Only a reduction, a gesture, to offer us...what? If the church transformed to the secular, if this religious show were over, it is only that we might leave the church’s doors, finally, to that which foregrounds this empty building and empty faith: “more world,” says Doty. More life.

Beach with Snooze

The other day (the day before my window got smashed and my laptop stolen at a funeral I was working!) I walked on the beach with Snooze. We walked on the rocks. I gave him my camera. He gave it back.

And while Snooze performed his water ritual (enacted on each visit to any body of water), I looked around. I have thousands of photographs of this beach. So I looked to the ground and saw a piece of a lobster shell among the plastic bottles and assorted garbage marking the high-tide line. The lobster shell caught the golden light. And I did not take a picture, because it looked like trash. So I walked toward the water, where Snooze performed his ritual, and thought of the scene that I’d photographed thousands of times. The ocean scene was photogenic, and I referenced a Caspar David Friedrich scene to compare it to. Yet, the shell held its own sense of displacement, its own sort-of place and uniqueness on the beach, but, as an object that does not look like a “scene,” or does not draw attention to itself against the scale of the ocean, it looks like trash (Mary Douglas: trash is “matter out of place”). So, like a mundane shred of ocean debris, its ordinariness is not really photogenic (without strange and kitschy techniques to make it into an icon, imaging it backlit with bokeh or those techniques that make anything pretty). An object not worth a photo. And I think, as I approach Snooze who is backdropped with an expansive horizon and warm light, that it is these everyday, barely-noticed things that are worth photographing the most. Those objects escaping image-based representation, not by their awe or their ineffability. Objects escaping representation by being so boring or familiar. Objects escaping attention, really. One of my professors talks about photography as a medium that makes the ordinary extraordinary, and I wonder what it means to keep the ordinary ordinary.

It is here that I think of one of my classmate’s photography projects of grafitti. He took nine images, all grafitti, seven railroad tracks, two gates, and positioned them so that Kathy, my classmate, said that it was stupid and bad. My professor said that if the project was about grafitti (because all the photos contained grafitti), that the shadows in the work “obliterated” the project as a whole. Kathy interrupted, saying that the shadows overshadow the work. And I thought of how literal it was that a project displaying grafitti was only about grafitti. It seemed to be a half-baked project, to me. 

This is the difficulty with the shell: that if I went back and took a picture of the shell, then it would be a photo about what it displays. It would be a boring photo about a commonplace shell; and any attempts, by using photography’s tricks of light and representation, to make the photo of a boring object less boring would speak to photography’s weird ability to transform an object, speaking to the ‘semantics’ of the medium rather than its ability, beyond its techniques, to create meaning. How, without a sort of contextualization that reduces the singularity of that shell, that risks raising it beyond the ordinary (already: my thinking transforms this object into something else), would you make an image of an anti-image, calling attention to the way a medium shapes our attention? I do not know, except by making one giant image of a shell (raising it again to this extraordinary status). I guess it’s a problem of our attention towards the “photogenic” that no photo itself can really address. 


Today, I see a hawk drag a dead pigeon across the ground. Ravens sit above, watching down. I think of my demon dreams fifteen days ago, waking up in darkness to the sound of static. And I think of the amount of ambulances I’ve seen, and police chases, almost every day this past month. My mind sank into a fog, and today, finally, some clarity.

            I laid in bed last night, relaxed. I laid in bed last night, thinking of expression. Expression as not some sort of calculated articulation, but an ambiguous gesture. This fuzzy word! I think in brushstrokes and streaks—expression an indifference, passionately, to its own intelligibility. Expression a faith in the strength of communication without refinement. 

            I woke up to stare at the clouds today. For the first time in a month, I saw the clouds as clouds. I could write about them, for the first time in a month, thinking their slow ease across the sky, and their inevitable dissolution. The light, playing across the sky, a blue-gray texture, molded. Brightness breaking through. 

            Today it is supposed to rain. On and off. I wanted to see how far I could drive, to sit and write in the rain, but instead, I stayed close to home, so I could reach out to the ones I know, and so I could go to the museum. I want to see things expressed.

            Yesterday, walking into Barnes and Noble to see if they had the book The Sluts, I passed by the stairs where, a few months ago, a woman collapsed. The movie theater workers propped her pale body up on the concrete wall, while ambulances came and roped off the area. Barnes and Noble had The Sluts, and I flipped through it, thinking of a goodreads review of Horse Crazy: “it is like every other gay or non-gay novel in which an older guy chases after the skirts of some pretty young thing who ends up being a femme or homme fatale, a moral black hole.” I put the book down and walked away. No more words, until today.

A/V Pastoral

I puddle-hunted yesterday, on my way to an empty church, to talk to the pastor about a gig operating the audio equipment. He wanted to know who I was, and I told him I’m a photographer, with four years of experience working audio at a church, who also got a degree in religious studies from Long Beach State. The pastor told me that the church was almost progressive, and that the church was part of the ELCA, which meant that they support the gays, although half the church left after the denomination had made that decision, while the rest remained silent. I thought of the Episcopal church, where we have gay priests, and there cannot be silence. “Silence is not the answer,” was a social-justice theology book my grandma gave me, before she passed, from the same church. “Your grandpa keeps his cards close to his chest,” said the pastor, wondering what my grandpa thought of gay people. I did not come out to the pastor.

He asked me what I was reading, and I said Giorgio Agamben (controversial) and some other post-structuralists, like Foucault and Derrida. He asked me how I was reading graduate level books—why the religious studies program at Long Beach would teach that—and I said I read them on my own; that a professor might recommend them. “You’re in the epistemological drain,” he said, and I shrugged—what does that even mean?—while he recommended comparative theology books.

“I read Georges Bataille,” I said, “which is kind-of an anti-theology. I’m not so sure about theology.”

“It will be a leap for sure,” he said, “and the theologians kind-of just ignored the epistemological problems that the post-structuralists raised, moving along.”

“Oh okay,” I said.

So he recommended some religious studies books, and one about secularism (I’m bored by secular/sacred dichotomies, because like, we make all that stuff up. In the words of Robert Pirsig, “The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower.” Would you call a motorcycle, or a computer, sacred? Who cares). He talked about his master’s in comparative religious dialogue.

“Speaking of religious dialogue,” I said, “I ended up spending a lot of time digging into queer-religious studies and queer theology.” He said that the Buddhists had a third gender person. I told him “I know,” and thought of the epistemological drain (this skepticism that we can really know very much, or that doubt our language and structures of thought correspond to an “objective” “reality,” which is not a denial of reality—just a skepticism). 

I think of how comparative religious dialogue means finding queerness across religions for the pastor (relying on the safety of religious categories), and how for me queer people sometimes find their own (non)religious structures (aka: what is religion?!). And I thought of how most queer theology I’ve read resides “inside” the “epistemological drain,” for, as some theorists say, even the category “queer,” and often LGBTQ people in general, and particularly within the church, are an “epistemological” threat to the church. And queer people have often had knowledge used against them, so are in a place to interrogate who knowledge is for, how knowledge is produced, and what knowledge does (Foucauldian!). 

For the pastor to just ignore the problems raised by the post-structuralists and leap to theology seems to be the symptom of silence; if the subjects of our conversation probed not whether it was safe to come out to a pastor, but how (with the strength of his knowledge) he would think about gay people, I can understand why, in my gut, not owing anyone anything, I did not come out to him. Maybe next time.

Pure Feeling

About nine years ago, I stood in a gravel parking lot at sunset. All alone. This was my sunset practice in a parking lot with three or four cars. A large mound of dirt piled up with a carved slope in the middle. A black speck roamed around the base of it. We made eye contact. He sat. A black dog nodded at me. The sun cast the dirt to a burnt gold. In front of me, muddy green fields unrolled behind a barbed-wire fence; behind me buildings walled up around the lot. My friends continued their daily lives inside of them, ready to go home. I do not know how the cars got here.

I climbed over the barbed wire, sinking my feet into the long green grass. All mud underneath. And I walked and walked and walked until the parking lot shrank out of view and became a staggered line of speckled dark on the horizon, where I came from. The dog did not follow. 

In front of me rolled green up and down, darkening beneath the glacial clouds above. They took on the sun. The sky burned. The fields continued left and right, widening forward, winding up the horizon until my sight vanished into the foothills. And above the foothills, clouds. Beneath the clouds, a jagged white smudge, distant, marked with the sky’s purple onto the blank snow. The clouds darkened, and the wind picked up. Water specks dotted hands and face, smoldering the sky’s flame. I looked back. This is rainy and cold. We can endure more than we think. The sun extinguished, finally, like the candles at the end of a liturgy (nature is no liturgy), and I turned back towards home. 

This feeling of the green fields beyond the barbs came to mind recently, and here it is written down. And I, like most days, sat writing this memory down at a coffee shop—one that was not especially good—with a book in front of me. It’s too mundane to bear, but I bear it. A table and book, inside of a neighborhood simulacrum of a German village, with no capital-N Nature nor any event in particular to bring me out of my own mind. No high ceilings to pull my perception away. Just a quiet patience pulling up memory. I exaggerate with metaphor (look above: “the sky burned”!?) in my memory. Make it big enough, beyond apprehension, but small enough to trust, and memory becomes long-form, a patience sunk deep enough to believe that a story—some collection of memories put into motion—will, hopefully, unfold over time. (That is the patience of the past; here we are in the present). The unfolding, time slowed but never stilled (patience of the present). What am I saying? It’s nice to feel small, clustered in the coffee shop walls, and see the world slip out of mind. 

How often desire folds into memory. Last year, during the summer, I drove out to the Sierras to help document a backpacking trip. It was a route I should have memorized, because, in that green-field time nine years ago, I drove this highway full of desire. Desire for friends and closet lovers, desire for connection and carelessness, abandoning the regularity of the rest of my life. Place holds my memory, welling it up, and, well, I missed those moments and desires and carefreeness. Some, probably waiting to die, say moments pass into oblivion. No! They make a home in my heart! This heart’s still beating.

Think of photography of the present, masked as memory. You can take a photo and infuse it with nostalgia, you know. Nostalgia like a strange fabrication, like a nod to an old self. Condense your experience and strip all the contingencies away (this religious gesture!), so that all that remains is this essence of yourself. The part of you that survives to this day, no longer attached to the wind or the skies-on-fire or the muddy grass, buried deep in your memory, resurfaces. The part of you that’s taken its time to unfold. Pure feeling.

2024 IN/OUT

IN: Poetry, thoughtfulness, nuanced and complex feelings

OUT: Chaos season, Georges Bataille-ish negativity (via negativa for post-structuralists), Mind-Body dichotomy, skepticism of language.


Sometime beginning in September, 2023, I stopped reading. I lost my journal too. I’d rather be inarticulate, I thought, living underneath language (that thing that conditions and limits). It’s like a language sacrificed, in Bataillain terms: broken down to an immediate and intimate life. It’s a gesture that gives up trying to articulate meanings (no thinky only feely). I began my movie binge instead. I wanted to be subjected to a stream of constantly changing images. Strobing undercurrents. No time to think. And in November, a fiery and short fling sparked, both of us testing and breaking boundaries and both of us thrown into ambiguity. It left me on the verge of a breakdown in Ikea. Left me standing, next to a woman taking pictures of the desk I leaned upon, with big and smudgy feelings, lost to myself. In December, I bought a new journal, immediately writing down a Jean-Luc Nancy quote, arguing against Bataille: “Existence, in its proper sence, is unsacrificable,” which means “rejoicing in a mediocre and limited life.” 

For Nancy, sacrifice, in spite of its claim towards meaningless or Nothingness, always orients itself to an Absolute Outside or an Other or a subject waiting to be restored. Sacrifice becomes (in spite of what Bataille seems to claim) a sort of renunciation, always appropriable beyond itself. If existence itself is unsacrificable, and also unappropriable beyond its own event, then sacrifice (if it opens up to appropriable meanings like, for example, intimacy) brings us no closer to true existence (authentic life?) than anything else. Which is all to say that this renunciation of language, this position of “no thoughts just vibes,” the ambiguity of a life inarticulate and hugely-felt, is blind to its own finitude and limitation. Ineffability, here, is no closer to the unconditioned life.

This is all a strange way to say that I guess I’m interested more in subtlety and articulation for 2024. That maintaining a literary filter for life, and finding ways to put language where language seems difficult, is no worse than that Bataillian gesture (to put it simply and almost inaccurately) to throw it all out for an ecstatic experience: both are conditioned and limited. It would be better, following Nancy, to rejoice in (and not sacrifice) that limited life.


Happy New Year. Here’s a piece from September:

​The light is what I remember. Crawling in through the windows on a warm summer day, a stream of light hit his eye, half hidden in a shadow. He pulled the pillow on top of it, turning slightly, squinting. The light radiated through the room, entering the rough slatted space between the blinds, smothering its bright texture on the white walls. The traffic outside, distant, seemed to pass in slow motion. Both of us, exhausted, just lay on his bed in silence, twisted together in a knuckled comfort, resigning to the late-afternoon warmth. 

​Thirty minutes passed frozen like this. And I start to think that afternoons like this never climax in pleasure, but in time stolen back from the world. An afternoon dissolved into rest, as if we fell outside of time.

​ We get up and he grabs the towels, while I walk to his kitchen for water. And I tell him that we should meet up again, maybe for drinks, maybe for Long Beach Pride, and he agrees, before walking me to my car. We don’t meet up for drinks, nor pride. Three months pass. It’s the beginning of fall.

​I walk into his apartment, lit up entirely in red (a reference to a darkroom joke I made), and we sit on his couch. It is a Sunday in September. We miss a kiss, laughing, before we move to his bed. We play safe.

​ I try to keep up with my queer history. Where we are now, who we are now, is an echo of where we came from, circumscribed by history that defines us. So, I read David Wojnarowicz, from the 1980s, who speaks of getting thrown in the back of a truck, his hair pulled and twisted, while he is stripped and fucked. His world is the road, unsettled, where he cruises truckstop bathrooms—a queer act in an Americana landscape. And, I read Georges Bataille, from 1957, quoted by Ricardo Peris (gay!) in 2019, who speaks of violence and intimacy, that sex is a divine escape from society. And Wojnarowicz speaks of the allure of a man who has escaped the confines of this “civilized society” (as if that were ever entirely possible). Sex, here, is an embodied transcendence, contingent on disruption, disfigured from everyday life. 

Contemporarily, Brontez Purnell, in 2021, fills a book full of monotonous fucking, like it is a never-ending queer chore. The same year, I see crowds of men with blank eyes fuck each other on the beach like robots. A year later, the Television series Heartstopper aired its first season, where holding hands (emphasized by cute motion graphics) becomes a consistent signifier of intimacy. Maybe sex is no longer potent. We are liberated from its violence. The discourse has shifted, losing its bite.

​If the assimilationist camp has won; if gay marriage and the “heteronormative” framework that institutes it has become the project of gay politics, then we have moved beyond the Wojnarowiczian world of cruising (and implicitly, beyond the threat of violence that structures queer identity) into the sappy utopian world of Heartstopper. If we have won our gay marriage rights, then gay oppression is just a history filling the memories of the old; gay protest is more a personality than real activism. And, if the assimilationist camp has won, then it seems to preach a puritanical libido—either obligatory sex, devoid of passion, or obligatory passion, devoid of sex.

​On Thursday, while I eat tacos, I get a text: “Hey, can I give you a quick call?” I sigh and eat my tacos. And I wait in the car for half an hour before he calls. He’s distressed and nervous.He says that his mouth is kind-of tingly. He asks me what my sexual history is. I told him that I do not really remember, so it must have been a while, or the sex was not memorable. He hooked up with a guy last week. He has not yet gotten tested. I tell him that he should get tested. It’s probably nothing. We were safe, I said, and I always play safe, so it’s not likely that we gave each other anything. Or, worst case scenario, it’s probably a cold sore. It’s a bit early to show symptoms. He says okay. He’s made an appointment with his doctor and will keep me updated. No update yet. My friends think he had spicy food. I think his blood sugar was low.

​I read Sarah Schulmann, who passes contempt on the softness or passivity of younger queers. Queerness, for her 1980s anti-sentimentality, includes straight people, as long as they’re experimental or tough, especially if they’re artists. Although Schulmann romanticizes a difficult past, she seems to integrate violence into a sort-of queer virtue: that queerness is so special because it knows how to put up with sickness, assault, death, and perpetual marginalization. So, for Schulmann, queerness transcends fear and violence. Queerness never assumes its own safety, and queerness is always a fight.

​If gay history creates our gay terms, then, at least according to Wojnarowicz and according to Peris’ implication of Bataille and according to Schulmann, oppression and violence directed against gays are both played out and transcended through sex. But if the terms have changed into Heartstopper utopias and Purnell’s bland carnival of sex, then the discourse—and gay definition—have shifted: the “transcendence” of sex no longer comes through violence. Instead, in this world of mitigated risk, it comes through a slow-motion waste of time.

​We lay in bed, with no image of disease or risk, that early summer afternoon, where time stopped. No schedule, no work, no errands. In the fall, his test came back negative. Just spicy food. The light streamed in on the wall’s paint: that thin layer preventing the salt-water air’s perpetual work towards dissolution.

​In 2021, my friend sent out a text to everyone who lived near me. One of his friends, visibly queer, had been hospitalized. He was beat up by a group of guys. It was a hate crime, apparently. “Be safe,” my friend told me. 

​In 2022, Ryan Pfluger published an interview with Leo and Jacob. Both feel like publicly holding hands puts them in real danger. But they push themselves to do it anyways. They, too, live near me.

​If the assimilationist project has won, it has only naturalized its own discourse. For there is no identity without history: Schulmann and Wojnarowicz do not vanish into thin air. We may lay for a moment, stealing time back from the world, if only, according to Wojnarowicz, “that we can still be capable of gestures of loving after lifetimes of all this.”