Fair Shaw and his partner Chris and their friend David, and a younger man, Julio, had been at the Tea Dance at the Boatslip late in the last day of Race Point Light. Then, instead of going to a restaurant, the four of them decide to get food at the grocery store and go out to Race Point beach and watch the sun go down. At the beach, David and Chris are in the surf, playing, and Fair and Julio sit on the sand, watching them and talking. Julio has never talked, seriously, to a man as old as Fair (Fair is 65), and it’s been decades since Fair has known anyone very well who is as young as Julio, who is 24. What is his life like? Julio has just asked why Fair came to Boston twenty years before. Fair answers:
“I wanted to be absolutely free. Do you know what that means?”
“I’m not sure. I thought I was free.”
“I don’t know. You may be. But sometimes it takes a long time to discover whether you are free. And what makes you free.”
“How will I discover it?”
“I don’t know. I think men gradually discover that they are confined, or gradually discover what confines them.” (Dwight Cathcart. Race Point Light. Boston: Adriana Books, 2010. An excerpt from Part 6.)
Much of Race Point Light—and Ceremonies and Adam in the Morning—has been built on the search for the meaning of freedom. What confines me right now? Over and over, Fair comes on someone who must find his or her freedom. Their language inhibits them—they’ve got only two options to choose between, gay and straight—and they are imprisoned by hundreds of other things—their clothes, their names, their gender, their sex, their pasts, their desires. Fair Shaw was imprisoned by his marriage and by the aspirations of his middle-class family. The reality, beyond all theory, is that concepts like gay and straight “are only two of the concepts—along with Kinsey’s continuum—floating around in our culture, knocking into things and hurting people, and when people need some word like gay, they reach up and grab it and apply it. People helplessly follow their drives wherever they lead, and they make up theory, both gay and straight, to impose order on this chaos.” That is, they make choices and impose order on the chaos around them. If the confusion didn’t cause me such pain, it would make me laugh. The confusion—this chaos—is freedom. Mardi Gras, in Rechy’s book, is “the crowd’s day of complete freedom, if anarchy is complete freedom.” It is cultural anarchy, and it is the only truth. “‘Man, you gotta admire those dam queens like Darlin Dolly an them….They sure have got guts. They live the way they gotta live.’” Order is a lie.
It is the search for freedom that matters, the realization that it is ideas or concepts or laws or clothes or class or buildings or communities or nations or theory that confine me, and I must struggle against them. Other ideas will become confining, in their way, and must be struggled against in their time. It is a never-ending struggle.
David Bowie died on Sunday, and this morning I read that he was not gay. Other writers said he was not straight, either. Slate has six or seven articles today on Bowie and on his continuous refusal to give in to rules. The day after Barack Obama first came onto the national stage—Grant Park, the night he was elected President—I went into a men’s clothing store (I was going to a wedding in the South) and I said, “I want to look like Barack Obama.” But a beautiful man like him, in a beautiful suit, is not free. He’s wearing the uniform of the male sex. I spent years wearing that uniform, and then I discovered black leather and steel. We won’t have achieved freedom in this country until the President comes before Congress, as Obama will do tonight, and delivers his State of the Union Address looking not like President Obama in his beautiful suit—or like Hillary Clinton in her pants—but like Ziggy Stardust in his glitter.
John Rechy, City of Night. New York: Grove Press, 1963.