Saturday, November 14, 2009

So Sayeth the Diva ... So Sayeth the Flock; Get the Flock Outta Here ...

Admitting that I was in rehab is not hard to do; however, it lacks imagination. I received from that experience gifts, insights and growth the likes of which I had not previously known ... and, accordingly, I am apt to do it better justice than referring simply to being "in treatment." At this point, the phrase my best friend, Ellen, employs - "away in Europe ..." touches the very edge of the glamor and grace with which I endeavor to live my life.

So, know that when I speak of the old black man, or go into detail about being censured for the way I walk, or that if I had had sex with a peer it would have been punishable by 2 years in prison ... think not that I was confined to rehab, but that I was at a photo shoot ... with Lindsay Lohan.

While at the shoot, I was reminded of something two decades of reading Vogue emblazoned upon my character - drug addicts are hot ... and lighting can make or break anyone. Though the range of my peers spanned 50+ years - from the 17 year old who followed me around like a talkative puppy to the septuagenarian narcoleptic we thought of as 'the Godfather' - these men had about them each a presence that was determined, defiant, a bit angry and yet kind, gentle in its enforced pacificism and rough around the edges.

The men who spent time in prison posed the most interesting challenge; they were clearly bored with talking about their feelings, tired of being threatened into respecting each other, the guards, the rules ... so, to pass time, they made hypothetical drug deals, waxed poetic about their street cred, and - in the spirit of compassion and open-mindedness, occasionally offered to rape us.

By 'us' I mean the gays. There is an old line of thinking, based on some outdated study or census, that one in every ten men is gay (the 10% rule). Out of 100 men at the photo shoot, only 3 were openly gay. But oh, boy were we open.

My own flame burns bright, and I received a measure of crap as a result. So, I was told to dial it down a few notches with my walk ... and then told again. I was threatened with 'consequences' if I did not respond. I was made to walk before half the facility with my new toned down shuffle, and I was celebrated for getting off the runway. I was reminded by counselors, guards, and even the occasional admin. assistant that I must respect my peers - e.g. no peeking in the shower or random humping of my neighbors. I do not recall any similar admonitions being given to my peers, but perhaps along with hip-swaying comes sexual predation. Note: the 2 actual sexual predators at the shoot, did not sway their hips.

I digress; I received a measure of crap and my counselor - the old black man - labored under the misconception that my problems with drugs and alcohol stemmed from shame over being gay. This is also part of the problem posed by my 'intellectual denial' - of my ongoing choice to see myself as "apart from, rather a part of ..."

And yet, I was a part of ... I was one of three out and proud men, and while we did not shout from the rooftops "We're here, we're queer ... get used to it," neither did we shrink from being bold, fierce, and scandalous.

Beyonce - not her real name - is a tranny. Somewhere between doing it for fun, doing it for always ... and shakin' yo' shimmy on a street corner, the 6'5" drag queen prostitute was just this side of a diva, and - to hear her tell it - not a crack-head, but "crack-ish." From the day he arrived on the set, the scene changed. Beyonce was in the South Dorm, a place known for its rascals - many of them young, Heroin-addicted, and street wise. Rather than violent and reactive, these boys proved curious and easily amused. Some of Beyonce's stories tended toward the risque, but they had one thing in common - they all and in each glorified the diva.

Joan attempted glory. Or self-importance. At times, Joan reminded me of Joan Crawford - languishing and grand, funny and severe; at other times, he reminded me of Joan Collins - dramatic and playful, selfish but generous (so long as it served a not-so-hidden agenda). We bonded over mutual friends - from the bars and high school friends.

Joan was my jail-house ... erh, photo shoot ... frenemy, though not nearly so self-serving as the Frenemy tends to be. I recall seeing Joan right after I had a particularly moving group therapy session. I was still sniffling from the racking sobs I'd let out moments earlier, with my eyes red, swollen, my voice shaky. He saw the signs of my anguish and asked if I was okay, but right after I choked out an "I'm fine ...hard group," Joan continued on about the object of his affection.
"He didn't even look at me. I saw him talking to the other guy last night, and they were all flirty and cute, and he is not even going to talk to me. I am so over it. We're broken up ..." To which I replied, "I thought you were already broken up? When did you start speaking again?"
Joan came into the photo shoot with an agenda - stay busy, keep distracted, and get through the program without fuss, muss, or - most importantly - change. Despite being on a second, or was it third? DWI, Joan was neither open to change nor interested in what the program had to say about that. So, he did what several of us did - he acted as if, and in his down-time, he maintained a crush on one or two carefully selected pieces of eye candy. During treatment (i.e. working) hours, Joan took advantage of a tool that Joan Crawford, and many gay men I know, mastered - the ability to cry ... on-cue. What the old black man and the other dedicated counselors and support staff perceived as break-through (break-down) moments were - for me, Joan, and Beyonce the time to shine.

I do not mean to suggest that I do not still feel something when I talk about the worst, darkest moments of my life ... I feel anguish, sorrow, pathos, and the occasional tear rolls down my cheek; nonetheless, I will never let personal pain and sorrow stand in the way of good cocktail conversation. So, with heavy lids and moist eyes, I look out on those who are willing to listen ... and I sing out, Louise, for all to hear.


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