Derek is an actor, in Maine for summer stock in the summer of 1984, when a young gay man named Bernie Mallett was murdered by three homophobic teenagers. Bernie’s murder changes the lives of LGBTQ people in Maine—the town is called Cardiff—and makes just about everybody consider who they are and what their experience has been as gay people, and what they are to do now. Derek is one of the principal characters in the novel, Ceremonies, which I wrote in the years 1986-1990, after I moved to Boston. In these pages, drawn from the middle of the novel, Derek is considering his relationship to the city on Gay Pride.
When I lived in Boston three years ago, my apartment had two rooms and a kitchen, was all white, a bay window in the living room, four floors up. My coffee table had stacks of newspapers: Bay Windows, happy, vapid, local, and Gay Community News, Boston’s leftist weekly journal with its diatribes and visionary analyses. I subscribed to The Advocate—Life with personals—and two from New York: The New York Native, erratic, volatile, and Christopher Street. My apartment was just off Westland, and I was in walking distance to the symphony and the Handel and Haydn Society and near the Green Line to the opera. The Museum of Fine Arts was around the corner. I went to see Sargent’s picture of Thomas McKeller and Le Debardeur by Meunier. I stopped and admired the serene handsome sons of Erin in the O’Reilly monument at Boylston and The Fenway. Where I lived, I was halfway between the Metropolitan Gym and the South End Gym, and I could go to Symphony Hall to hear the Christmas concert by the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus. I was equidistant from Northeastern University and Boston University and in the middle of Berklee School of Music and the New England Conservatory, with their young men with soft eyes and curls down to their shoulders, earrings, and guitars or violins in battered black cases.
At the end of June, we all walk in the Gay Pride Parade, celebrating the night when the transvestites fought back against the New York police raid on the Stonewall Inn. All of us come above ground on that day, fifteen, twenty thousand wearing pink triangles—a reminder of the concentration camps—marching from Copley Square up Boylston, down Charles, up Cambridge past City Hall, then up Tremont to Park and past the golden-domed State House, where the gay rights bill is introduced every year. At the end, finally, there is an enormous rally on Boston Common where patriots are buried.
While it is possible to join the movement in Boston, it’s not necessary. The borders of our community are so distant from individual life that the struggle seems very far away. I was doing something for gay rights by living a life which was unassertively but uncompromisingly gay, at a great, even infinite, distance from family and what used to be called home—by carrying a balloon down Beacon on Gay Pride. There are times, in Boston, when I find myself thinking the struggle for freedom has already been won.
In the tens of thousands of us who have moved to Boston from Maine and Vermont and New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut, and from all the other states of the United States, in the huge numbers of us, in the interstices between the organizations and the foundations, between the boutiques and the bookshops and behind the darkened windows of the bars and clubs and baths, we have found our privacy and our freedom. Cities have always promised freedom from the conventions of provincial, parochial society. The intimacy of small towns has been like the public stocks on the Common in Salem, where we were trapped and everything about us was exposed to ridicule and punishment. In small towns everyone knows your name. Is there anyone in Cardiff who doesn’t know my name now? Is there anyone here who doesn’t know I’m gay and that I knew Bernie and that I have been co-moderator of the coalition for the last two weeks? Everyone knows I am queer. I remember what I sought when I first left home and moved to a city: oblivion. Cities are a kind of Illyria on whose shores we wash up. They promise forgetfulness of the past and its losses. They promise the boutiques and the bars and the baths. They protect you, and then they teach you how to be gay. They promise love, and lost ones, and reconciliation, and the end of all sorrows.
Dwight Cathcart. Ceremonies. Boston: Adriana Books, 2003. Excerpt from Part 2, “Derek”