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.”