giovannisgroom2023-05-24 still processing, part 2: a tickling moment of feeling free
A second thing I will tell Pauli about is my immersion into the world of contact improv. I was only vaguely familiar with contact improv when I first met Pauli last summer. I had done it once before but in a one-on-one context (not in a group as is most typical). In my relationship with Firas, they introduced contact to me one night as a way for us to communicate with our bodies when we didn’t feel like we had the words to say what we needed to express (what happens when two Leos try dating). Them teaching me contact that night feels like a core memory — if our lives were actually that Pixar movie, Inside Out, the memory would look like a shiny sapphire orb, glowing in the back of my hippocampus, sitting alongside the orb, “baby’s first slow dance, 7th grade, bowl cut.” Firas had come to visit me in Brooklyn and rented an Airbnb a bit further east on Dean Street. I could walk but decided to roller blade, always feeling slightly more myself when being with them. They invited over a few of their other closest people in the city, and we had a decadently autumnal meal (I remember the way the maple glazed itself onto the acorn squash). After everyone had left, we finally had alone time together. It had been almost 18 months since we’d seen each other in person — both a cause of the pandemic and a break up that coincided with it. We sat down on the couch and were talking through what we wanted the week to look like and how it felt being back in the same space. We were both struggling to feel super comfortable being reacquainted with each other and our bodies (we were often cuddling if we were alone). I imagine Firas scanned the room: the Airbnb had a record player with a surround sound system, adjustable warm lighting, and a massive living room. They asked me if we could put on a record and jam (the verb for “doing contact improv;” relevant for later, “jam” is also the noun). As someone who is historically not comfortable in my body, I felt instantly anxious and asked them to explain what to do (one of my deepest surface-level fears is being a bad dancer, especially in a partner dance). They told me that contact is effectively a dance that is the exploration of one’s own body and the other bodies. Physical contact between bodies initiates the dance, and touch and weight-sharing serve as the cues to the improvised movements that come next. It can look as still as people standing shoulder to shoulder slowing rocking side to side and as dynamic as elaborate aerial sequences. There can be music in the from of a subtle, instrumental backdrop, or no music. The main music criteria is that it shouldn’t be central enough to determine the rhythm, how the people move —the music can set a general tone that can shift the pace of the movements, but generally it’s the bodies that determine how and where the dance goes. (I Googled “contact improvisation,” and the first video is a cringey TedTalk, sorry: https://youtu.be/TbjUPAaqkPQ) I elected myself to pick the record — if I was going to make a fool of myself I at least wanted to listen to something I liked. Sifting through the records, most of them seemed like the $1 give-aways you’d find at a garage sale. But then I saw it: a vinyl of the full length song Appalachia Spring by Aaron Copland. I imagine this means nothing to you, at least it didn’t to me until I took at college class (let’s say it was called Music, Materials, and Design), one of those classes that made the whole liberal arts thing feel worth it for a 10 week moment. Each class would start with the professor choosing a song for the class to listen to, the twenty of us gathered on the top floor of the 11-story Logan Arts Center building, views stretching beyond campus to Lake Michigan and even further to the downtown Chicago skyline. A very Bauhaus art vibe, the room was minimalist city, just a grand piano, the walls lined with floor-to-ceiling windows on all sides. For one of the classes, the opening song was Appalachia Spring. Usually the chosen song would last maybe three minutes, but our sneaky prof didn’t tell us that in its full length, Appalachia Spring would go on for nearly 26 minutes. We subsequently spent over half to class in the twists and turns of the orchestral string and horn masterpiece. I either cried then in class or listening to it on my way home (probably both), and surely if Spotify did its yearly Wrapped in 2017, that would have been my número uno. Something about it spoke to me, that moment in my 22-year-old life where the patience of a 26 minute song held me through the rushing impatience of having so many things around me come to an end: college, my first relationship, playing soccer, leaving the only place I ever really lived that wasn’t Alabama. In the Airbnb, I held the vinyl: what an occasion for this little gift to make a cameo again. The beautiful mysteries that felt so quotidian when me and Firas were together. Copland’s epic became my obvious choice of soundtrack, and as we danced, I forgot I wasn’t supposed to know what I was doing, which looking back, I guess is part of the point of contact — to find a flow where you don’t actually make conscious moves, where the bodies do what we often don’t allow them to do in our day to lives: let them listen and move accordingly. I loved it, but me and Firas broke up for good and it was the pandemic so I told myself I’d find contact again, my attempt at being as patient as Appalachia Spring. — — — — — Last summer I was sitting naked with Pauli at what we named Lake Xeon (long live SOPHIE) the next time I heard of contact. They were telling me their plans for Wednesday, which included going to a jam in Berlin. I loved the idea of finally doing contact with a group of people, but I had Wednesday plans to sit naked next to a different lake with Nathalie and then try to sneak into the Shygirl concert at Ber*hain. I told Pauli I would join them if I didn’t get into Shygirl, but spoiler, I got in. Pretty privilege, according to Claudia, and also a really sweet redhead bouncer who shared my big dreams. Even as magical as the concert was, it was sort of sweet to realize I felt the fomo of missing contact in Berlin (and contact with Pauli). So I listened to that, and when making a list of things I wanted to do when I returned to bk, contact made the top spot: - Going to contact jams - Sex work - Shucking oysters (???) - Fresh squeezed OJ - Posting on moodring — — — — Katie calls it queer hive mind when we (faggot people) all have the same thoughts. I’ll call this dance hive mind — me coming back from Berlin last summer and entering Dean house, Alli telling me she wants to try contact improv sometime soon. We both join the contact NYC WhatsApp chat and make a commitment to each other to make the Tuesday beginners class every week. So for the next six months quite consistently (albeit some travel and sickness), we make our way each week to the second floor of a SOHO loft, where a wood dance floor at a live-in artist studio becomes a third place for us. I don’t remember exactly what I expected to learn from contact (I think I just wanted to be a dancer!), but it became clear immediately that contact was going to touch parts of my life that other forms of movement — soccer, swimming, the occasion yoga — weren’t quite reaching. The format of the Tuesday beginners class more so less looks the same, even though each month the instructor rotates. The class starts with an opening ritual, the 20 or so dancers sitting or standing in a circle, usually some part of our bodies touching, linking us physically together. We share names, pronouns, sometimes fears for the upcoming class, sometimes the image of the last animal we interacted with. The ice breaker then evolves into an exercise both preparing the body for physical activity as well as for intimacy. A memorable exercise is walking around the room and asking people to share a dance, and the required script is to say “no,” to practice both receiving and giving rejection and to explore the feelings that then come up. “It’s important we practice not bringing our ego onto the dance floor,” one instructor tells us. I am confronted with the insecurities of why someone doesn’t want to dance with me and the projections of why I don’t want to dance with someone else (the former being helpful to explore through contact, the latter being helpful safety queues but also containing potential limits due to judgement). In moving through these exercises, I realize I have never been in a group setting — let alone a somatic space — that asks its participants to make space for these feelings, to not judge them, and to move through them together in dance. (It made me wonder what soccer would feel like if as we warmed up for a practice, we talked about how the competition triggers anything in us, how to be queer / femme in such a masculine-demanding setting, how to tell someone else any of this. I loved how playing so much queer soccer in NYC challenged me to ask myself these questions privately, but collectively, that space was infrequent at best. Maybe that’s why I left it for dance.) This realization about the collective effervescence of contact comes with both a rush of fear and excitement, reminding me of a Melissa Febos’ essay on attending a cuddle party in Manhattan (recommended by Ash — thank you, my sister). The cuddle party’s goal is to bring people together to access physical touch without the dynamics of power, privilege, race, gender, etc. that are typically inherent (and often end up being barriers) to exploring physical touch. But when Melissa went for her first time, she found it challenging to access the proposed goal: “I feared myself, mistrusted my ability to say no. That was why I had come back.” For me, part of why fearing contact was so easy at first was because I have had such little experience with intentional and reciprocal physical touch in my life so far. The list is short: - Soccer (which has mostly been suppressed homoeroticism and touched initiated by brute impact of force) - Sex (🥴) - Platonic cuddling with the rare friend - The occasional long hug - Being with pets? On October 4th, when Alli and I went to our first contact class, I wrote in my journal: “I feel like I spend so much time / mental energy with my own body that I can’t even focus on listening to someone else’s, which feels so relevant to sex. There’s something also happening with thinking I’m going to hurt someone else with my body? This space is what me and Alli have been looking for. We will be back.” Because touch has been so foreign to me, it started to make sense that in situations where I do have intentional, reciprocal physical touch (especially when it’s prolonged), my attention is overworked, overstimulated. The ego is on blast, and my body can’t either ease into it or listen appropriately to any other bodies. That feels like the origin of the self-consciousness I felt from the first class. The same feelings that have often come up in sex. I thought about all of this, journaled about this, talked about it (mostly with Alli and Ash) with such epiphany. Like the thing that would finally bring me closer to my body and then subsequently the bodies of others would be contact improv (instead of continued efforts at causal sex, trying to cuddle more with friends, sex therapy). So when I picked up Melissa’s book of essays, Girlhood, a few months after starting these classes and read about her experience at the cuddle party, I felt in such accordance with her. At the end of the essay, she brings the reader to her finale: “What is the effect of ignoring your body’s wishes for decades? I suppose that is the premise of this essay, the answer to the question that drove me to write it. Why did I have such a challenging experience at the cuddle party? Because I had so long ignored my body’s wishes that they had become illegible to me.” — — — But I guess I don’t want my own essay to stop there. At our Udon noodle dinner reunion, Pauli shows me a list of jams happening in Berlin this week. Later that night on the toilet, I look into the list. Pauli warned me that there aren’t that many jams that are queer centric. I have never felt that the SOHO classes were ever that straight or even cis, but I keep that in mind as I read the descriptions. I do however come across a class at a studio called The Village that advertises itself as promoting “queer masculinities,” which feels coded for “cis bodied gay men only,” even though the website is waving the trans flag wherever it can. Seeing this, I think again of Melissa Febos. I think of how she felt so magnetized to the cuddle party as a direct result of feeling so repelled by it. How knowing what her body feared was a window into what her body needed to overcome. And when she did go back to the cuddle party a second time, she found such sanctuary when eventually cuddling with a woman named Brenda: “The capaciousness of my interaction with Brenda told me that she recognized the metaphysical boundary between us. She did not rate her own agency over mine, nor was she interested in manipulating or directing me. Brenda was interested in a mutually consensual interaction. My exchange with her clarified how those men had wanted to reach into my space and prob me toward what they wanted, how they valued my interest less than the touch they sought. Misogyny filters so granularly into action … they simply valued their needs over mine.” The obvious synthesis of this quote with wondering whether I should dance with the “queer masculinities” is that I shouldn’t. Why should I trust that a space made by men for men would respect my metaphysical boundary in any way? There’s more to this story, though. It is the next evening, and I’m at a Georgian feast of a dinner with Liam. Liam preps me for a full weekend of partying — the 2CB, the best spots, the tricks to get into Berghain, the dumpling place that’s open all night. I tell Liam I just want a safe and queer dance floor. “No queer masculinities,” I say. Liam tells me about a recurring nightmare he’s been having. He is in Berghain, and when the smoke on the dance floor clears between songs, he realizes it’s just masc, shirtless men around him. He tries to leave, but all the doors that should be exits lead to bathrooms that are mazes. He’s trapped. Not only physically but in the dungeon of the desire that he also has for these men. The femme failure of desiring queer masculinities. I think about how my friend Xacia told me that when she transitioned, she lost her sexual desire for cis men. I poke my fork into the vegetable Khinkali, watching the juices leak out onto the white ceramic plate, the Khinkali changing shape as it drains. I wonder, if poked at, desire is that easy to mold, too. Although Liam’s nightmare is his, not mine, it feels like it’s been my reality, too. How the whole weekend of partying I ended up having, I felt the unkinky bondage to the desire for the shirtless men that were in fact inside Berghain and how unsolvable of a contradiction it is for me: how can I both want a dance floor free of shirtless men but then hope to bent over in the bathroom with a jock-strapped daddy by the end of the night? To want to be free* for me can mean both to be running away from and decisively entangled with men. It is our unfortunate labor, Melissa writes, to have to “uninstall so many of the mechanisms of the patriarchy.” So maybe it’s true that if I want to uninstall the power men have over me, I should poke a bit more and go to the source of it all with the training I’ve been building (a few months of beginners contact classes). — — Monday comes, and I bike over to The Village’s dance studio. I walk in right on time and see eleven cis presenting men mostly in their 50s sitting on couches, chatting in athleisure. I pretend to not feel their eyes on me as we warm up and think it’s odd I actually don’t feel that uncomfortable. But then I think maybe it’s not odd at all. I have practiced saying “no” on a contact dance floor week after week, and then, thanks to my sugar daddy, practiced boundaries specifically with older men. Part of why I am here is because I really am ready for this. The opening ritual is thankfully recited in both German and English. The instructor speaks from what I’ve come to learn is a pretty standard contact script: stay safe, listen to your body and others’, take breaks, leave whenever. But when consent comes up, the script shifts. It went something like this: “We take both pride and pleasure in queering contact improv. Queer men have been told to ignore pleasure for so long. We refuse to do that here. So if pleasure comes up for you, if you feel attracted to your partner, honor that. Communicate that. Don’t be afraid of that. But also, pleasure goes both ways. Your partner must reciprocate that desire for the dance to then become sexual.” On our post class A train rides back to Dean house, Alli and I often discussed the sexual element of contact, especially since we had a shared mutual crush for our first instructor. “What if I get turned on dancing with Chris,” I wondered. Would that fracture some sort of contact code? Would I be excommunicated from the world of dance? Surely not. But after several months of classes, we never had a collective class discussion on how to approach sex in contact. I mostly appreciated that absence. I wondered if we introduced the elephant into the room, would it be impossible to then contain it? Would the marginalized people suffer more and the mechanisms of the patriarchy spoil such a lovely space we’ve created? But in the same part of my brain that tries to center liberation or whatever, I sometimes wanted someone to say exactly what I was hearing at The Village: that our bodies are sexual and it’s maybe confusing and it’s maybe scary and all of that can be okay here. If we are going to do a dance where we ask ourselves to be honest and open with our bodies, isn’t that part of the work we should be doing? Listening to this man preface the class with a sexual disclaimer, I felt both of these perspectives at once: excitement sex wasn’t being ignored and distrust that now sexual advances would be tolerated, and me and the asian femme in the class would be trapped in dynamics we shouldn’t have to face while doing contact. As the introduction ended and the music initiated the start of the jam, I reminded myself of a journal entry I wrote after a contact class in January: “Giving someone access to my body doesn’t mean I have to give them access to sex with my body.” The playlist, a mix of melancholic and dramatic instrumental sounds, moved us towards each other. Like with Firas and many magical moments in SOHO, my body flowed from partner to partner, so connected to feeling and so removed from time. At one point I separated from the dancing and observed the room. There were two men no longer in movement, just cuddling on the floor. I wondered if this is what Melissa felt with Brenda, a collapse of the metaphysical boundaries that allowed these two men to meet in such a peaceful moment. Towards the end of the jam, I shared a very slow dance with a man wearing a shirt with a clichéd English mantra: “Remember that where you are is different than where you are are going.” One time when I was spiraling about not wanting to desire cis men, Rae asked me why I feel like it feels like a problem to me to have that desire. I guess the problem I keep returning to is something that Ash said after reading Girlhood, which is that desiring cis men can so often be wrapped up in the patriarchal expectation to please men, to satisfy them. Not to pursue desire for my own end, but because that’s what is demanded of me for them. I think about this in the context of The Village jam, of wanting to choose to move slowly in contact dance with a cis man because it’s my choice, not because not choosing it leads to an absence of pleasure for him. And how ultimately, this is what it ended up feeling like for me. There was an absence of any sexual intimacy but a real presence of mutually consensual interactions and of physical, artistic intimacy with cis men for probably the first time in my life. I have felt so far from accessing this experience with cis men (especially strangers) that I hadn't really even wished it. I still feel that queer masculinities as a mantra is not for me, not where I will be going. But I do want to experience intimacy and safety and rest in the arms of cis men more in my life. I want to know that I can, a shift from feeling like I should. I can trust my ability to say no, and to go back. The jam ends, and I lace up my shiny white new Sketchers and say “danke schön,” pronouncing it flawlessly. Google Maps says my bike home will be 26 minutes, so I queue Appalachian Spring and bike along the Spree, which would surely be renaturalized soon. — I have spent a lot of time thinking that if I could go back, I would have tried harder, at a younger age, to become a dancer. Invest less in soccer, go to the high school dance team tryouts, move to the music when my body begged for it. What if when I leave Berlin I realize so much of the trip has been exploring dance, a world that was foreign to me a year ago. Will anyone believe me? Will I remember it as that? Maybe what I’m learning looks more like a question: what if I could go forward and become a dancer? And maybe it’s not a question at all but a statement: what if I already have. ~~~ *On the last night of this trip, I bike to Tempelhofer to watch the sunset and pull out the long-awaited zine Meli and Kiek began writing last summer in Berlin and sent to me upon completion. It’s a series exploring bodily and temporary moments of autonomy. In it, they define free(dom) as: “Freedom as in this temporary, tickling moment of feeling free. Not freedom as a point of arrival, not of departure; not a neoliberal, capitalist joke. Rather a feeling, a social material necessity, a longing for autonomy and being; that what has fueled movements of resistance. The word freedom to describe a way of moving and out of being of embracing precise opacity of ephemeral feelings, a fluidity of selves and others, and so supposed contradictions. Freedom, then, as something always relational, embodied, ambiguous, little snippets — light, whole, shattered — of a moment, an opposite temporality.”
2023-05-17 Ode to Nuuly
You set your price Then asked for more So I danced for a daddy And still ended up poor With no clothes of my own I go back into the closet that beacons Never again looking like gay disco ball throw up Will Claudia continue? I do not know What will the nyt write about Without pasta farfalle I will miss the little lunch box suitcase that I carried around I was the best marketing campaign You could have ever found No really! I got Katie a month of your box For her 27th birthday Kentucky had never seen such high fashion That she brought to her elementary school each day With fewer “I love your x” Is my pronoun still they? But leo szn is coming Of course I’ll find my slay I tnx u for the mmrs, nuuly Don’t worry darlin, I’ll be okay For fucks sake It’s New York City baby!
2023-05-06 still processing, part 1: my hour glass figure
When I land in Berlin on Friday (yesterday), I am going to head straight to see Pauli. We’ve been calling that day ours, since they leave on Saturday (today) for Portugal and won’t get back until I’ve already left Berlin. We will spend the whole day together, not a single plan, the way our relationship has been so far. The one thing I do know is that they will ask me some version of “so what’s been going on for you?” When Pauli and I last saw each other, at the cafe outside Kornerpark in Neukölln, we decided we would be okay with not being people who talked much over the phone. Since then, we talked on my birthday and then briefly in March when I first introduced the idea that I would return to Berlin to see them before starting grad school. Our WhatsApp text thread has been mainly logistics, few updates, some photos of lake water and bleached hair. “So what’s been going on?” I’ve been asking myself for a few days now. This (hopeful) series of posts includes a few things that have come to mind. —— —— —— Table of contents: 1. Crabs, late August until November 2. Chlamydia, late August, gone 10 days later 3. COVID, December 4. Self-diagnosed and induced, an abnormally depressive come down from MDMA, February 5. Strep, March 6. The drag queens and IBS, indefinitely (ah!) It feels important to talk about my health. I would start by telling the story of how I was standing at the wrong boat. The couple messaging me on Grindr used some annoyingly nautical language (what is a stern?) to describe where their boat was docked. I had been in Saugatuck, Michigan for five days with Talia, Sally, and Alex. People told us Saugatuck was “the Provincetown of the Midwest,” a Michigan gay meca. We had our lesbian reunion, watching But I’m a Cheerleader on loop and topping our daily home-cooked meals with herbs from the cottage garden (cottage core, my friends on the internet tell me). Before I finished my road trip from New York to Chicago, I wanted to play Eucher with two Midwestern daddies tickling me, asking me to stay one more night. I was still in the afterglow of Berlin, feeling sexually liberated but watching the hour glass drop a piece of sand into the bucket of my dwindling libido. I had been anticipating my return to the states to be coupled with a return to self-celibacy. How do people fuck living in NYC? How do they look out at the smog-tainted sky and want to be filled with the fluids of a city rat who probably didn’t stop working to eat lunch today? Once one of the married men rescued me from their neighbor’s dock, I followed him onto his dock (typing this on my phone and it keeps autocorrecting dock to dick) and then into the boat’s living room (is this the stern?), his husband sitting on the couch, the awkwardness recognizable by his aversion to eye contact and shifting positions. I performed big slay energy. “Omg Saugatuck, the Provincetown of the Midwest! It’s so cute here. I’ve had ice cream everyday.” Responding very little, they made me feel boring. So I stopped trying, and with what I imagine was an eye roll and hopefully some detectable sarcasm, I asked, “So where’s your bedroom?” The boat was small (you know what they say about small boats), so the full-sized bed just down three small steps tucked into a room I couldn’t even stand up in wasn’t as cool as I thought when I was up late last night chatting with most likely the gym rat looking one. Each step I took towards the bed felt like releasing one more grain of sand through the mouth of the hour glass, more quickly now, in real time, losing the libido, fighting the mental urge to plan a trip back to Berlin, as if that would refill the hour glass. The sex had rules. They couldn’t kiss me, they wouldn’t kiss each other, they had to keep their shirts on, they couldn’t bottom, they could only top if I was riding one of them, at a time, they could cum inside me (um what? how did that make it through the Puritan code of conduct?). At first, it felt kind of hot. The rules felt spicy, kind of subversive to the Good Lord or someone like that. Then, as they were taking turns fucking me, I got sad. They weren’t talking to each other, not even looking at each other! It was as if one of them felt pleasure, they would subdue it, the most present yet unspoken rule of it all. In succession, they both came inside of me. I put on my clothes, left the small boat, and drove to a nearby sandwich shop they recommended. The shop had run out of the chicken sandwich I wanted, so I ordered one of the pre-made hummus sandwiches and sat outside to eat it. I had a three hour drive to get to Chicago where I would sleep in Grace’s unfurnished apartment until she back from Kansas a few days later. When I got there later that night, I shat (shatted?) out their cum and felt a relief that my libido was almost unrecognizable. —— —— Over the next 6 months, I would go on to see more doctors than minutes I spent on that boat. Apparently pubic lice (crabs) is uncommon and providers don’t know how to effectively treat it. Planned parenthood—the provider who was the first to give me the right cream, the right comb, the right do’s/don’ts—told me that in their 10 ten years of crisis STI work in the city, I was their first crabs case. (Chlamydia, in comparison, was a breeze. Some meds and abstinence were prescribed for that.) For me, there is nothing more libido shattering than having little bugs live rent free in and around my butt hole, months going by like a bed bug raid in a Mac-owned Hyde Park apartment. A close second though was finding out months later that I also picked up parasites undetectable to STI testing but shows up in a stool sample test. I had gone to see a Gastro for the first time in my life because for months I had been needing to “go number 2” five times a day, and George diagnosed me with IBS. My hot Gastro who I crushed on from the start told me that Endomilax Nana and Blastocystic Hominis were living in my body for months, eating away at my stomach and causing the diarrhea and weight loss that I kept contributing to other things like eating too much Mekelburg’s or not sleeping enough. Like the affinity I developed towards the crabs at the end of their three month sublet on my body (they are actually kinda cute and really good listeners), I considered the parasites to be drag queens (look at those names, huge slay) and would be sad when the 10 day antibiotic treatment would kill them off for good, the last of my Midwest adventure expelled from my body. A few weeks after the treatment for Strep and when Endomilax Nana and Blastocystic Hominis finally sashayed away, I went on a walk with Amy and told her some of this. I had to pause mid-story thought to rush to the bathroom. My butt doctor said I would know if I have IBS by getting through this parasite treatment and seeing if things still didn’t improve. It could just be me, even without the drama queens. Maybe I am the drama. —— Not even a year later. I’m back in Berlin. I get off the plane, rent a bike from the same place I did before, and ride up to meet Pauli at the Humanity in Action office. At dinner, we barely talk about my health (so much to discuss!). I get the Ginger Limeade because my butt doctor said ginger helps regulate IBS symptoms. On my bike back to the barn Airbnb that is a room in library filled with Susan Sontag and Kant, I partially shit my pants (maybe it would have been fully if not for the ginger?). The options for the night are to go to Berghain or the sex bathhouse around the corner. I download Grindr, and realize I haven’t been on the app since the night I met George. I start to miss him intensely but fall asleep before I can edit my profile: Single, he/they/IBS, looking for Tums, allergic to 🦀
2023-04-03 response to ‘squaring up’
(I wrote this on November 22, lost the thread, but found it again yesterday. With some updated notes, here it is, egg, xx) ~ I often think about the very Proustian closing line from egg’s “squaring up” post: “I’ve been thinking about that night at Market Hotel where we could see the J and M trains running on the subway track through the windows right behind the performers, and how it felt like we had been picked up and placed into someone else’s vision of life in NYC, Mark likened it to Guitar Hero while I thought of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and it felt surreal to be in that room, having such an awesome time and knowing that in some objective sense this was very, very special.” I read that line with some familiarity of it. Probably because Torrey Peters says something similar about Reese, the protagonist, in Detransition, Baby: “New Yorkers were only unique in one regard: their audacity to recognize their own provincialism, yet still persist in foisting it upon the rest of the nature. She had been intimate with New York and gotten over New York long before she arrived there.” The two quotes maybe aren’t actually that related, but to me they both tell a story of how New York was a place I lived before I ever moved here. — — — — — I first lived in the vaguely (and retrospectively way too bougie) loft with Rachel Berry, when she left the glee club and moved to NYC to fulfill her Broadway dream (relatable). I didn’t even have to come out as queer; it was understood the moment I waved a flick of the limp wrist on stage at my matinee showings of Funny Girl. I experienced love and heartbreak and sex, all of which were really auxiliary to the friendships that made living in the city bearable. I then moved a Williamsburg apartment with my sister gossip squirrel Little J Humphrey (similarly confusing in it’s elegance), commuting to St. Jude’s on the Upper East side, spotted daily for my chic, drama-rich social life. Bartenders at sceny Michelin Star restaurants knew my name and the birthday on my fake ID even better. Taxi cabs hailed me. I was young and dumb and looking for more, even if I didn’t know it then. And most recently, I lived in the Bronx, apartment 306 in the House of Evangelista. I lived my full truth, weekly winner of the face category, building family out of take out Chinese containers that stacked up next to the kitchen sink. I knew what it was like to be thrown out of a home and find refugee in a new one, both within the walls of an apartment but also within the bridges that make an island feel like a sprawling home, buildings lit like candles, water glistening brighter than the pollution veiled stars above. Pose, more than any other media depiction of the city, gave NYC a promise I held onto: there, everything is possible—the dreams, the fears, the desire. The promise is that it will all find me once I arrive, even if I don’t ask for it. — — — — I return to a daydream or memory — tbd which it is. I’m at a bar, with a man I don’t know well, and we are talking over drinks and a meal. I don’t love him, but I love the moment because of that. It’s as if I feel freer to maybe love him (and make love to him) because it’s not love. Above the bar, I see a clock back-lit by a warm yellow light. I try to tell its time, but after a few glances, I realize the time isn’t changing. It’s a prop. But maybe it is telling me something. Like telling me that time is absent from this space. That I shouldn’t be looking up at it hoping to know when I am. It wants me to be unstuck in space, in a moment removed from time. So maybe it’s not a moment at all. It’s a noun that doesn’t exist, an existence not measured by time. Measured, if measured at all, by presence. In the daydream/memory, I stop checking the clock and settle into the bar stool, looking at him, for what feels like a lifetime. — — — In 2020, before I knew I was moving to NYC, I watched this reality show called Dating Around with my mom when back in my childhood basement in Alabama. Every episode featured a new person who would go on five dates, which the audience would watch play by play, to then attempt at guessing which one of the five people the protagonist would ask back out on a second date. The first season uses NYC (mostly Brooklyn) as it’s backdrop. I was obsessed — not actually with the outcome of the dates, but with how the camera showed two people talking in NYC’s private bars and restaurants. Because of the high quality production value, incredible editing, or attention to the curated mise en scène detail that can only come from a TV set or a Brooklyn bar, the show captured this purgatorial world in between fiction and documentary, a way that feels so accurate to how I have come to think about NYC. It’s both real and removed from reality, and I couldn’t possibly have craved moving there any sooner. I look over at my mom, who is fast asleep. — — Back to this boy and the bar with the clock. It’s Sisters, and I haven’t yet tried and failed to work there. His name is Josh. He’s Turkish and British and has a boyfriend who is asexual. So basically I’m begging to get on my knees whenever I can get us to go home (then eventually get him to set me up with his boyfriend). As we sip our $16 cocktails that I’ll later teach people how to make at a cocktail party, I tell him why I moved to NYC (it’s a rough summary of what I’ve already been writing about here). I talk about Glee, Gilmore Girls, and then, of course, Pose. He laughs, and tells me he was the creative producer for Pose. I don’t know what to say next. Thankfully he does, and asks me what my favorite scene of the series was. I say when Angel and Evan Peters are sitting at the diner, and Evan Peters tells Angel that he envies her because her life is real, that trans women embody freedom in a way he will never feel and can only try to experience through proximity. Realness. That’s why I loved the scene. (scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DX6BJwtl4LI&ab_channel=SelfDribblingBasketball) Josh tells me that the cars in the back of the scene got him in a lot of trouble. He forgot to get cars from the 80s to drive by, since that’s when the show was set. He said it tarnished the monologue of realness. Still in disbelief, I don’t tell him I didn’t even notice there were cars going by any of the 30 times I’ve watched that scene. I never question whether he’s lying to me, but I do question whether I’m actually on this date, the frozen golden clock feeling more dream-like and suspicious the way its glowing face peers down at us. Looking up at the clock and pretending it’s telling me anything informative, I say, “it’s getting late. Want to head back to my place?” Later in the night, as I laid on my back letting his body move over mine, I doubted myself again, unsure whether this was happening or invented. It was surreal to be in the room, as I was also having such an awesome time and knew in some objective sense this was very, very special. But I didn’t feel like I was the main character living it, rather I was one of the Pose characters etched on the outside of the lit candle on the floating shelf above my bed, watching this perfect moment flicker closer to an archived daydream than to memory. After we came, he left, and when I never see him again, it actually makes sense because I’m not sure it even happened. — I sum up why I often feel dissociated living in NYC with this quote from Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow: “As they approached the factory, the air increasingly smelled of sugar, and the scent made Sadie nostalgic for a candy she had never even tasted.” In German, fernweh is the word for a feeling of nostalgia for a place you’ve never been, an experience you’ve never had. I sometimes wonder if I lived in NYC too long, too passionately before I ever moved here. When I feel the exact feeling, meet the exact people, have the exact night I moved here to find, I won’t actually fully feel the specialness of it. It’ll feel like it’s somewhere in between fiction and documentary, and the cars driving by my bedroom window as I peer out on Nostrand Avenue may as well be from the 80s as from today.
2022-11-05 square ball
I read the first few lines of a MTA subway poem framed on the inside of the 1 train that’s taking me north: “Every leaf that falls never stops falling. I once thought that leaves were leaves. Now I think they are feeling, in search of a place—someone’s hair, a park bench, a finger . . . ” The poem resonates. It’s a fall Friday, early afternoon, and I’m going to the Bronx to watch a college soccer game. The NYT headline calls the game: “A ‘Landmark’ as Women Will Coach Against Each Other in Men’s Soccer.” UChicago is playing NYU in men’s soccer, making it the first time two women are going head to head in a men’s collegiate sports game. I read the headline feeling equal parts proud UChicago is my alma matter, equal parts trapped in a nightmare where only now have two women had access to spaces that believe men should be the only leaders. I think about how my college teammates responded to the news that Sitch, the current head coach for UChicago, got the job. How they said they wouldn’t have joined the team if she—a queer woman—was the coach then. How I sat there, remembering the moment when I heard the news. I called Kelsey to ask if Sitch was hiring an assistant, if Sitch would hire me. I called Grace to see if she wanted to be roommates if I moved to Chicago for the hypothetical assistance coaching gig. I told my Brooklyn roommates I may not resign the lease because of said hypo gig. I thought about how I would have come out with more ease if Sitch was the coach, maybe even acknowledged I wasn’t cis and challenged the binary of college sports with a coach that would affirm me and my queer agenda. A door opened to an Everything Everywhere All at Once sort of multiverse where college soccer is a beacon for queer people socialized as men to come together and build the bonds of community that have been so easily accessible to the misogynists sitting in front of me. I see it, and I want to stay there. I want to think that’s where we are going. I don’t say any of this, though. I tell the guys that I would have been glad they wouldn’t have been my teammates, laughing after as if to make them think I was kidding. They laugh, too. I can’t see how much this hurts me. — — — — — The last time I was in the world of men’s college soccer was around this time last year. It was early December, and UChicago had qualified for the national championship in Greensboro, North Carolina. They would play on the same field with the same stakes of a national championship where I lost my last college soccer game and where I flew back from Galicia in 2018 to cheer the team on as they qualified again the following year. We lost in 2017, and then again in 2018; so the team returning in 2021 to try for the third time felt worthy of my final participation in this culture I had grown so far away from. Especially since joining the Ramblers queer soccer league in the city, I’ve embraced the clarity that the environment of college soccer was not only a space that didn’t often nourish me but one that reinforced the harm that comes with having a queer body in a space that demands masculinity, discipline, rigidity from the body. In the Ramblers, as Kelsey noted when she visited our weekly practice, everything is “sexy.” Sexy shots, sexy tackles, sexy square balls (a soccer term for passes that don’t go forward nor backward, but sideways across the field). “The Ramblers is healing my past . . . ” I jotted into my Notes app on a high sunset stroll this summer. Playing soccer with queer people allows me to make space for the dripping presence of sex in soccer. The sexiness of my body, of the bodies of my teammates and opponents. It’s like finally naming the elephant in the room—this homoerotic thing we are out here doing is hot! And by naming that hotness, my body can move through time with a natural cadence, rather than like a leaf in search of a place. So when I return to Greensboro in December of 2021, I am not asking this world to nourish me. I am not asking it to see me how I am seen in the queer spaces I now inhabit. I return as a visitor to a performance I am no longer cast a role in. I write in my journal on this day: “It’s humbling how much self-love is thriving here for me—maybe because seeing how much my old teammates love me as I am is giving me more permission to love myself.” Rather than mourning my role in this world, I am celebrating a new one as a guest to it. A celebration I hope I will bring with me into the future, a future where this is my past. I lace up my soccer cleats to play pickup with the other alumni. Every step I take, the studs dig into the ground, rooting me, flattening the earth—the sensation of falling put to rest. — — — — Today, the 1 train is taking me to Gaelic (pronounced gay-lick) Park. Like Greensboro, I’ve been here twice before, as a sophomore and a senior, both times to play NYU. The experiences were charged visits, my body remembers as I arrive, feeling as if the train hurdles me into the depths of a stored memory. Reese, the protagonist in "Detransition, Baby," says that she “read that of our senses, only taste and smell pass directly to the hippocampus, where memory gets stored. Sights, sounds, and touches get converted into thoughts and symbols before they continue on to the memory in the hippocampus. But smell connects directly to memory.” I think about how my hippocampus stores my memory of physical places, places like Gaelic Park. How when I return to somewhere that holds a charge, I return to a museum of memory, curated to be digested as quickly as a sense’s journey straight to the hippocampus. The nomenclature of Gaelic fits this particular exhibition quite well. My body remembers I was called a faggot here. In preparing to ask my supervisor at the straight bar I’m working at if I can leave work to go to the ‘landmark’ game, I try to articulate to myself why I am wanting to go to the game. My body knows, but does my brain? Option 1: "My friend is the coach. I told her I’d came to watch and do not want to break that commitment." This is partially true. Sitch is (loosely) my friend, but I did not tell her I would be there. I am bad at lying. I scrap this one. Option 2: "The soccer team I played for made it into the NYT for being feminist as fuck. If you don’t let me go, doesn’t that make you a bad feminist? Even worse, do you hate the NYT?" My supervisor at the straight bar is a straight man who doesn’t even pretend to be a feminist. Wrong audience. Option 3: "I am exhausted. I walk around this world like Flat Stanley, a girlboy flattened by the people who have put them in a tiny space and told to “hold still, this is what it feels like to be you.” I am a leaf that never stops falling, in search of a place. And in that search, returns to the places that flattened them, returns to say, “look at me, I’m not flat anymore, and whatever you do, you can’t flatten me anymore. I am not a leaf, I am a tree.” I want to return to Gaelic Park and feel grounded in this place. If I can do that here, like I did in Greensboro, I can do that everywhere else I go. So much has also changed. There are two women calling the shots. People like me must be safe now. Even the harassed ghost of myself here can feel safe. I want a flattened faggot soccer player to look up into the stands and see a faggot who gets it, cheering them on." When I ask my supervisor if I can leave at 3pm and promise to be back by 7pm, he says sure. He doesn’t even ask where I’m going. — — — In 2017, I am the captain of the team my senior season, and to my knowledge, the only out queer ‘men’s’ soccer captain in the country. I guess no ‘landmark’ NYT headline when you’re the only one. We arrive to NYC on a Saturday after being in Boston Thursday and Friday to play Brandeis College. I talk to my coach about how this two-game weekend trip to play Brandeis and NYU is a revenge tour. Two years earlier on the same trip, we lost to both teams on their fields. Now two years later, our team has a chance to beat them both and win our “conference,” qualifying us for the NCAA national tournament. I don’t tell my coach part of the revenge tour for me is that when I was a sophomore, I was called a faggot by fans on both of these fields. As a sophomore, I was closeted. Before I was comfortable calling myself a faggot, being called a faggot by someone else felt like someone tightening the bolt to the door keeping my sexuality boarded up. It would push back my ability to come out by weeks, maybe even months, every time someone threw the slur my way. Two years later, though, I wanted to go back to these fields and show them I’d fetched the bolt cutters like Fiona Apple and busted my faggot ass out. We win the Friday game at Brandeis, a game ending with my coach of four years telling me he’d never seen me play better. “Whatever you did to prepare for this, do that again on Sunday for NYU.” What I did to prepare? I gained 15 pounds since being called a faggot here. I was the captain and yelled in a deep voice. I was the most manly version of my queer self, gripped by a masculinity I wore on my sleeve in the shape of a captain’s band. I hadn’t become comfortable with being a faggot. I had just become less of a faggot. That Saturday we travel south to NYC via coach bus, and I’m listening to my Spotify playlist, “Something Like This Can Happen.” Flume’s “Tiny Cities” song comes on: “can I / should I / find my way home?” I have been imagining I’ll move to NYC after this season, after graduating. My boyfriend, Marco, lives there. Queerness lives there. There’s a queer soccer league with hundreds of members. So when we have are told we have Saturday free to explore, I meet up with my Marco in Central Park. We kiss in public, on a park bench. Leaves fall around us, and the feeling is a park bench. At the field the next day, the coach bus pulls underneath an above-ground subway track and parks outside the field. Unlike my first time here, I am noticing all the details, something I think I do because I am now “moving here,” finding my way home to this city. The details I hold onto are how beautifully fall it is in NYC, and that the stadium is playing “Empire State of Mind” as we walk in. And when I enter the stadium, I remember that the last stop on the subway track is directly above the far side of field. From the stands, the crowd can see the scoreboard and behind it, train cars come and go every five minutes. NYU is coached by the same woman who will be coaching them when Sitch is hired. Their team is not very competitive, something my teammates attribute to their coach being a woman. We win 3-0, and qualify for the NCAA tournament. I again, play noticeably well. I go to shake the head coach’s hand. I am in the minority of players who do, as I see teammates go directly to their bags instead, something that has never happened when the opposing teams’ coaches are men. I want to tell her that even though I’m going to go on to play in the tournament and her team isn’t, I want her as my coach. I want to weigh fifteen pounds less, to run around in a purple jersey with her on my side. Our hands touch and I say, “good game,” in a voice that sounds so deep it can’t be mine. — — As I’m commuting to the game from Brooklyn where I’ve been living for two years, I can’t decide if this is a reverse pilgrimage—leaving the city to come back to this field, or if this is the pilgrimage. The sun is setting on the museum that is Gaelic Park. I am greeted by the UChicago women’s head coach who has a gay son and has always liked me. I talk to her assistant coach, who is an alumni of the women’s team. She graduated in 2021 and tells me about what I missed in the few seasons after I graduated in 2018. She says she feels sad about the culture of the men’s team. How they don’t even stay to support the women’s games, yet they are pretty obsessively trying to sleep with the women, even though most of them are lesbos. While listening to her, I also overhear a conversation between a group of women soccer alumni that I vaguely recognize but do not end up talking to. “Remember how our team safety word was ‘Square Ball,’ what we would say when boys were bad to us at parties, and we needed someone to help?” The group of women laugh, in a way that sounds more nostalgic than horrified. I sit there in a puddle of something that feels like disillusionment. If during my time at UChicago, the women needed a safe word to protect themselves from the men, and that pursuit has only gotten more predatory, why is the word ‘landmark’ even being thrown around now? Faggots, are you even out there? I want to yell “faggot” at the top of my lungs, hoping some girlboy with fifteen too many pounds hears me. And then what? I think about how I recently quit the Ramblers competitive queer soccer team largely because it felt like a near enemy to the safe space I was looking for. When it recreated the same flattening masculinity of straight soccer, it held not only the pain of that experience but then also the pain of betrayal, the pain of calling out “square ball” and no one responding. It does not take long to realize my body is tense. There is so much yelling coming from the field. Men are playing against men in a way that feels both confusingly foreign and deeply familiar. I think about a passage from "Nevada," a marvel of recent trans fiction by Imogen Binnie. How the trans femme narrator gets annoyed with her trans masc coworker for embracing masculinity so effortlessly, while her two-hour morning make-up routine drips down her sharp cheek bones from the smokey haze of a NYC summer subway ride. I think of how queer the UChicago women’s team has gotten and how an increased closeness to masculinity actually makes their athleticism celebrated. I feel like I can hear, faggot, reverberate through the fall winds like a schizophrenic echo of the penis game, moving from memory to the present: faggot faggoT faggOT fagGOT faGGOT fAGGOT FAGGOT I think about how grounding Greensboro felt and how triggering this has become. Is the difference all about hope? I came today hoping two women coaching soccer would mean that femininity has it’s place in the world of soccer, and then by some sort of transitive property, that I have a place in the world of soccer again, too. Maybe I never wanted to leave this world but actually felt forced out, and the promise of Sitch felt like an invitation back. I wonder why I want to see something that isn’t for my people be accessible to us. I wonder why I do this with so many things. I want to stop trying to reclaim what isn’t supposed to be for me. I want to be like smell, connecting directly to memory, rather than getting lost in the detour of thought. I see the two women coaches, each respectively next to their teams on the opposite side of the field under the scoreboard, under the 1 train coming and going. It is halftime. As I walk to the bathroom, I think my memory is playing tricks on me. Empire State of Mind blasts through the stadium speakers: “These streets will make you feel brand new / these lights will inspire you.” I remember this time at Gaelic Park, I am not visiting NYC. I live here now, in the kind of queer life I imagined for myself. Like Alicia Keys promises, I feel brand new, yet I’m looking at a scene so familiar I start to feel flattened again, as if my nail polish chips off with every train that pulls out towards to the city, leaving me behind to fall into the shadows of the setting sun. In soccer, a square ball, tactically, is largely avoided. It’s a pass that leaves the team vulnerable. In the act of protecting ourselves from what we know is out there, we still open ourselves up to vulnerability. Should we know better? “Square ball,” I hear yelled as I leave the field. — On the trip back to Brooklyn, I calculate how much I lost in tips at the bar since I left my shift to come to to the game. At least two months of Nuuly rentals. I snuggle into my seat, listening to Tiny Cities. “Can I / should I / find my way home?” I look over at the MTA poem staring back at me. I finish reading where I left off: “… Isn’t that like us, going from place to place, looking to be alive?”
When love is gone, where does it go? Does is go to the cobble-lit park on 8th Ave and Horario St, where, as we kissed, your hand moved from my stomach to my chest so slowly it felt like you had passed right through me? Would it sit on the bench in the park until we came back? Does it go to the Mahjong night I’m heading to, reincarnated into the body of another beautiful boy who will tell me I’m everything he would want if he wanted something right now? Does it go to some place in the future where I can wait for you there? Or, does it go exactly where you’re hoping? Nowhere. When you text me after I give you my number, you are silly and say it is Latrice from Craigslist’s, asking if I am still looking for a subletter. I can see that I already love you then, when I save your contact as Latrice. When you text me saying it’s over, I say, “Hey Latrice, are you sure? I can lower the rent to $1200.” If there’s an Afterlife for love, it looks like this. Like a hurried moodring post on my way to a moment that will eventually be lost in long list of moments I’ll never share with you. For my whole life, I’ll live in that Afterlife, wishing you were there, too. When love is gone, where do you go? Exactly where you want to be. And maybe, a few days from now, I’ll be happy about that for you.
2022-10-10 sunday scaries
I give myself an hour and fifteen minutes to get from Crown Heights to the Upper East Side, even though it really should only take forty-five. It’s Sunday, and I’ve decided to try going to church again. I’ve been audiobooking Alexander Chee’s memoir, “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel.” I want to write creatively more. I need to write my Smith application essays. Chee writes about things like how traumatized memoir writers often write about the present in the past tense and the past in the present tense, and how in his twenties he became somewhat by accident the director of the hospitality committee at the All Souls Unitarian church on the Upper East Side. I’m in my twenties and open to accidents, so I decide to go the All Souls Sunday service. Alex and Eliana are coming, too. And Eliana’s sister Vic, who is now also her 11-year-old roommate. Eliana texts saying she put on her most conservative dress, and I send back a selfie of me waiting for the A train. The Nostrand platform sign is painted in bold black letters on the white tiled wall behind me. “NO RAN” it reads behind me, my head blocking the ‘st’, the angle of my bent arm cropping out the ‘d.’ I am wearing a corduroy + denim outfit that makes me look both like a Brooklyn lesbian and a Montana lesbian, Talia later tells me. “Church girls acting loose,” I sing out to Beyoncé. The C train acts like it’s stuck in Sunday church traffic, stopping between every station. I am sitting, nestled in between bodies on a packed long bench. In my ears, Chee is talking about being sexual assaulted as a kid in his youth choir. “I was not strong,” he said. “Or if I was, it was the adrenaline of the wounded. I was really only broken, moving through the landscape as if I were not, and taking all my pride in believing I was passing as whole.” I think about whether I appear whole to strangers on the subway, or with the pixeled brevity of a seated silhouette seen through the window of a slow passing C train. I think about why I’ll write this is the present tense. A man crosses my line of vision, changing to a seat further down the subway car. I can’t hear anything because of Chee and my effective noise-cancelling AirPods, but I notice a black woman standing in front of the man’s abandoned seat. The woman looks alarmed and appears to be yelling, so I pause the audiobook. She says through tears that she can’t believe we are all ignoring her and how impossible it feels to ask for money or support if she can’t even get someone to acknowledge that she’s screaming in the subway car. She screams so viscerally, which I hear this time. At the next stop, she gets out. At the stop after that, I do, too. It’s somehow been over an hour and fifteen minutes. — — — The Upper East Side is peaceful today. Talia will later call it a dystopia, how the neighborhood can act so pristine and removed from the heartbeat of the city. The sun feels like it’s closer to the concrete here than in Brooklyn, and the people are walking slow. The church is a block from the subway stop, and as I approach, I feel it is shocking in its opulence and terrifying in its silence. It does feel like an accident that I arrived here. Robert, according to his name tag, is the usher, a queer presenting probably mid-thirty-year-old man in a cream-colored sweater I wish I owned. He gives me the bulletin and compliments my lesbian look. I say the same about his sweater. I take a seat, Eliana comes in shortly after, then Alex and Vic. We are four of the thirty people in a building that could hold 500. Our pew is empty, but we nestle together the four of us. The continued silence makes us squeeze even closer together. I think about how the subway car fit more 30 people and the echoes of a scream. The choir’s opening hymn reverberates through the empty space between the bodies the stained glass windows, and the high pointed ceiling fixtures. The choir sounds professionally trained, and I realize I don’t even know the language. I used to go to the All Souls Unitarian church in DC. Claudia and I lived a few blocks away, and if we both woke up in our beds on a Sunday morning, we’d walk the few blocks to hear a PhD student give a sermon on the liberation of black women resting or the meditation of baking bread not for profit but for yourself. It felt so relatable and comfortable I even brought a date with me to a service once. I hoped NYC would have a similar congregation. Wasn’t everything a little better in NYC, anyway? Unitarian service isn’t supposed to feel decisively Christian. It isn’t a missionary religion, and there is no deity. Missionary religion to me feels so contradictory to honest spirituality, which is why I give Unitarian services a chance. During the first hymn, we are asked to repeat the collective phrase, “may we carry forward the intention of our covenant, the audacity of our covenant, the promise of our covenant.” For the sermon, a white woman tells us about how a black woman told her one day that she would believe in faith if the white woman became her preacher; and how the white woman took the hands of the black woman and promised her she would study and work as hard as she could to become a preacher; and how the white woman is standing here today telling us how that black woman changed her life. The white woman is screaming into the microphone, and it seems like everyone but us is acknowledging her every word. A donation basket is passed around. $20 bills fall in like feathers. On our way out, I hear Robert ask Eliana how she liked it, and she says it had her “thinking some things.” He laughs, and says he is glad she came and tried it. Later, sitting in the park, Eliana says we should have asked Robert to come with us. If us eating bagels in Central Park is a religion, I would be okay with us being missionaries to Robert. He could be the director of the hospitality committee. — — I have some alone time in the park before meeting up with Talia and Alex for dinner. I sit on a sun-lit park bench next to a beautiful pond that’s probably famous and I should know the name of. My favorite season is fall and leaves are criss-crossing through the fractals of light making the blue sky glisten, but I can’t shake that I feel gutturally unsettled. I try to figure out if it’s because of last night’s Negronis, or reading about Chee’s sexual trauma and remembering my own, or the Sunday scaries even though I don’t even work tomorrow. I remind myself it is usually a path to nowhere trying to figure out what makes the anxious pit in my stomach swell like the everything bagel I just ate. I can feel the pit today quite clearly, though. It feels like $20 bills celebrating a white woman taking the hands of a black woman and feeling whole, while a black woman thirty feet below moves slowly through the NYC landscape, disappearing with every stop. “The audacity of the covenant,” I repeat out loud. Maybe the Sunday scaries have more to do with a spiritual existentialism that is heightened on the Christian Sabbath. A reminder of how off the promise of religion has been in my life, in the lives of others. I get a call from Talia, who is my weekend Dom, a friendship kink we are practicing. She tells me where to meet her and at what time. I say “thank you, Dom Daddy,” and hang up, walking west to leave the park. I put Chee back in my ears: “What is the point even of writing, if this can happen?” — If I could ask Alexander Chee a question, I would want to know if he sang in the All Soul’s choir as an adult, after what he experienced in his youth choir. I would want to know if we can turn our screams into music.