Friday, June 25, 2010

Brief Poetry News

I've been submitting like crazy to magazines, but the summer is often a down time for publications and responses can take awhile. I do, however, have some brief updates on places you will be able to see my work in the near future.

I wrote a poem for Bryan Borland's "Fag Hag" contest a few months back, and he has complied the poems into a chapbook entitled Fag Hag – A Scandalous Chapbook of Fabulously-Codependent Poetry. It isn't out yet, but will be in a few weeks or days. It will include my poem entitled "Bryan Makes Me Write a Poem About a Term I Don't Like."

Two of my poems will also appear in a tribute issue of Ganymede. As I wrote earlier on this blog, John Stahle, the editor of the gay men's journal Ganymede, died in April. A few people have compiled some pages he had completed for the next issue and then put out a call for submissions from people who had appear in the journal before. I was included in issue six last January, so I submitted some poems. It's going to be called Ganymede Unfinished and it will include my poems "Disappointed and Horny After Watching Troy" and "My Sister Calls to Say She Wants to Find a Man with Morals." It should be out later this summer.

Hopefully, I will have some other good poetry news to report soon.

-Stephen (Fag Poet)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Being Persistent: Thoughts on Being Raised in the Time of AIDS

I was born in November of 1982, and just a few months before, on July 27th, the word AIDS was used for the very first time. In just a handful of years it would become a wide spread crisis. As a gay man, I have an interesting and complicated relationship with AIDS. Because it hit the gay community so hard in the 80s and early 90s, it is still very much associated with homosexuality. Obviously, being gay has nothing to do with getting AIDS, but that doesn't take away the impact it has left on the community and on gay men living today.

I am a firm believer that the gay rights movement would be miles ahead of where it is today had the AIDS crisis not happened. Suddenly, equal rights got put on the back burner and simply surviving became the main goal. Some of the greatest activists lost their fight with AIDS and left behind a generation marked by misunderstanding and heartache. Gay people may have been some of the first to have AIDS (or at least the first widely reported), but they were also some of the first people to react to it and to demand treatment and help. If it wasn't for the gay community and their devotion to the cause, research and treatment for AIDS may not be where it is today. In many ways, the gay rights movement lost stream in an effort to save lives and educate others (gay and straight).

My point is that I've been raised in a world with AIDS. From the time that it mattered, I knew AIDS existed and what it was. I will never know what it was like to be a gay man in the 60s or 70s, because I don't know what it's like to not have the fear in the back of my head that I could get it. I'm a smart guy. I know how you get it. I know that it has nothing to do with being gay. I know that I am no more at risk than other sexually active people, yet I can't shake the imagine of gay men dying of AIDS. Inside my head there is a fear that somehow this will be my fate. I use protection. I try not to make stupid mistakes, but it sits there in my head no matter what I do or say. Many gay men, young or old, have this same fear in them. It is part of the impact of the initial crisis.

As a writer, I am fascinated by this topic and my own fear. Many poets and fiction writers who are gay and just a little older than me have devoted so much of their work to writing the stories of HIV+ men. My question has always been, how do I approach the subject? I am an HIV- man who was only four years old in 1986 when the AIDS crisis rocked the gay community. I can't imagine suddenly waking up and realizing half of my friends are dead or dying, yet I feel compelled to write on the topic and to continue to explore what it has done to the gay community, movement, and psyche. I am filled with questions. Does it have to be part of my history and my experience? Do I have an obligation to write about it? Why do I feel so pulled by the topic? Does my interest help push the stereotype?

This brings me to a wonderful book I read a few weeks ago that helped me reexamine my own thoughts about AIDS. It is a new anthology entitled Persistent Voices: Poetry by Writers Lost to AIDS edited by Philip Clark and David Groff. As I said before, I've read plenty of poems about AIDS, but this anthology was different. For starters, a good portion of the poets included are not well known and many got very little published while they were alive. Some, in fact, had no books published at all and still do not. This collection feels more honest and in the moment than most things I've read on the topic.

The poems range in tone, subject, and form. These aren't just AIDS poems (whatever that means). Many don't mention AIDS at all, yet there is something fleeting in almost all of them. A fear of life slipping through your fingers. A call to make the most of it. Carpe Diem. These poems handle a range of emotions and experiences, but feel interconnected in powerful ways.

As I read these poems, I couldn't help but think of myself. I am 27 years old, which is close to the same age that some of these poets lost their lives. What would I have left behind? What would I have said in my final poems? I felt like I was exploring a graveyard and finding amazing treasures just below the surface of the dirt. Yes, some of these poems had never seen the light of day. These truly were writers lost. They were a generation of bright, young people taken by AIDS when they still had so much to offer the world.

I rarely read anthologies cover to cover and in order, but this one I did. After each poet's work, I flipped to the back and read their bios. I wanted to know each of them. Their bios contained other books I'd love to get my hands on, but they also contained the sadness of unfulfilled dreams and desires. If nothing else, this anthology encourages me to write and write and write, because you never know how long you have.

I was moved by so many of these poems. Some leapt off the page, some I immediately read again, and others left me in awe. These poems record vital moments in the gay experience: the prospective of new love or lust, the fear of the unknown, or the loss of a lover or a friend. These poems became a part of me and made me see that my experiences are connected to a greater story. That story has its ups and its downs. AIDS is part of that story, but so is joy, happiness, love, sex, dancing, pride parades, and even fear.

I'm thankful to have this book, and I'm sure it will be one that I'll revisit often. Reading these "persistent voices" made me respect and cherish those that have come before me and those that will come after me. As gay people, we must seek out our own history. We may not be connected through our blood, but we are connected to each other through a shared experience and through the written word.

The AIDS crisis changed the gay community forever and gay literature forever. I am part of the generation raised during AIDS, and I'm interested to continue to watch how my generation of writers approaches the subject. Will our voices be persistent? Will they be lost? Only time will tell.

-Stephen (Waiting)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Bears, Bears, Bears: My Weekend at Sawmill

As a writer who loves to write about "taboo" subjects, I am always looking for new experiences and topics to explore. If you have read much of this blog, you will know I am not shy about most things, and I am a pretty open-minded person (especially sexually). Being gay has helped that along, but so has my curiosity for material. At my core I am a poet and everything I see and experience is there for the taking.

When it comes to the gay community, I feel pretty well versed. For only being out of the closet for the last seven years, I have experienced a lot and not much surprises me anymore. But this past weekend I had a very new and different experience that did surprise and intrigue me. It also made me realize things about myself and who I have become in the last seven years.

I spent the last three days at Sawmill Campgrounds in Dade City, Florida. This is a gay campground (yes, gay camping). Every weekend they have a different theme. This weekend was "All Things Bear." Not the animal, but large, hairy gay men. Yes, I went for bear weekend. I am proclaiming it proudly. We went with two friends (another couple) who are also not bears. The grounds are located in the woods in the middle of nowhere. In fact, the whole drive from Orlando to Sawmill reminded me of Indiana. It was a landscape I don't see very often living in Central Florida. There were small towns, signs about Jesus, trailers, and folks selling produce along the roadside. It was country, but in the middle of that country was Sawmill, which had a very down home (or homo) feel to it.

We rented a cabin and it was pretty much what I expected. I tried to keep my expectations low for the amenities, and I wasn't disappointed. It was basic, but really everything you needed. There was also a clothing optional heated swimming pool, a dance club/bingo hall, a general store, a sex store, a pool bar and restaurant, and lots of wooded areas for dark deeds (or you could just do them right out in the open, but we'll get to that in a minute).

"All Things Bear" was not a joke. The place was full of bears. I've seen and interacted with plenty, but I've never been immersed into bear culture. They are typically just a fraction of the crowd, not the majority. My friends and another non-bear couple that they knew affectionately referred to the pool as "bear soup" and it was. Lots of hair, lots of stomach, and lots of nudity. I really enjoy being naked, so the nudity was no issue for me, and in fact I was thrilled to have the chance to be so open and free in broad daylight. I didn't feel self-conscious as I walked amongst the various men (some well into their 70s with asses to prove it). Instead, I saw a display of acceptance for me and for everyone else.

I write a lot of about the positives of the gay community, because so few people discuss or acknowledge them. Gays are stereotyped as bitchy and judgmental. But I've had countless moments, like this past weekend, where I see nothing but acceptance and openness. Yes, I saw things I would not do myself, but I'm happy to know there's a place that people can go and let it all hang out (yes, all of it). I saw men that probably have very boring everyday jobs or men who most people would never assume were gay, and they were there enjoying themselves. They were there getting away from the world that isn't always so friendly to gay people or to overweight people. I'm clearly not overweight and will probably never be mistaken for a bear, yet these bears accepted me and accepted that I was in their soup and having a good time.

At the pool naked with a drink in my hand, I liked the life of a bear, but then night fell and the bear world exploded (figuratively and literally). The "dance club" was empty (bears don't dance), country music was rocking the courtyard, and pretty much everyone was in the bear den or sex dungeon. On bear weekends, for an extra fee, you can enter into the bear den. Your ten dollar fee gets you all you can drink beer and pretty much all the sex you want to have. Here is where the surprises came. I have seen a lot and I've participated in plenty (just ask Dustin), and I am far from any definition of a prude, but seeing old men fuck in a sling with people gathered around was a little bit (dare I say it?) shocking. It's hard to shock me and maybe shock isn't even the right word, but this was very much on a different level from my other gay experiences.

The dungeon (I feel den sounds too polite) was like a maze of sex with slings, glory holes, mattresses, condoms, and lube. It was dark. The men ranged in age and hairiness. It was a display of pure pleasure and man on man sex. It was eye-opening and something I'm happy to have seen, but may not choose to see again (at least in this context). Bears are nice people and are fun in the daylight of a pool, but are not my preference sexually. I wasn't repulsed, but for as much sex and penis as I saw, I was not that aroused by it, and I did not participate in the dungeon/den (well, voyeurism is participation or as I like to call it research). I did let people touch me, but I had sex in the privacy of my cabin.

Since leaving Sawmill this morning, I've been trying to figure out my reaction to it. Was it just that the men weren't my type? Do I have a type? Before going, I thought of myself as pretty open and willing. I'm a very sexual person, but the full-on freedom and sex romp that Sawmill was, made me see that I might like there to be a little mystery. When you show up to a party wearing only a jockstrap (which I did) and people are having sex within minutes of entering, there is no need to flirt or play the game I typically play in a dance club fully clothed. I realized I like that game. It turns me on and gets me going. Yes, if the guys at Sawmill had been more attractive to me, I might have been more willing, but I also think I simply prefer grinding against someone on a dance floor and imagining their body than just seeing it all out on display from the get go. Yes, I often see their bodies later, but it's different than just getting in a sling and going at it. It's like speed fucking. I like to take the long way around (like an hour or two), which probably still makes me a whore by most people's definition. But in the bear den I was not a whore, and it was a strange feeling.

This post is hard for me to write, because I don't want it to come off in the wrong way. I'm, honestly, not judging what I saw, but I'm happily saying bears in slings are not for me. I'm also admitting that as free as I am, maybe a little piece of me still wants a touch of charm and class. I'm not asking for tuxedos and gloved fingers, but I like a guy to have to reach down my pants to know I'm wearing a jockstrap (things I never thought I'd write).

Sawmill may not be my scene. I prefer my dance clubs and my gay cruises, but it was an experience like no other and I'm happy to have had it. I might try out another themed weekend, maybe a non-bear one, but who knows. I also left with a newfound respect for my bear brothers. They are who they are and they are fabulous and some wild motherfuckers.

-Stephen (bare)

Monday, June 7, 2010

A Gay Days Recap

This year marked the 20th anniversary of Gay Days and my fifth year attending. This was a different year for me because, sadly, Dustin got very sick and wasn't able to participate fully, but we made the best of it. Dustin managed to attend the daytime activities, but wasn't feeling up to going out on Friday night and Saturday night, so I went alone. Well, as alone as you ever are in a gay club.

As the events came to a close, I realized that this Gay Days reminded me of my old self. Anyone who has been in a couple for very long can relate to this. Dustin and I have been together for 6 and a half years. We do almost everything together. We like many of the same things and never tire of spending time with each other, but couples get into patterns very easily. Dustin takes care of me when we go out. He always drives. He typically goes to the bar and gets me drinks. He saves me, on occasion, from getting into bar fights with straights girls. He lets men flirt with me, dance with me, make out with me, but makes sure I don't get into trouble. I know without a doubt he will make sure I am okay and that I make it home safe. This is a nice pattern, but one I've come to rely on.

This past weekend I didn't have that, and, in some ways, it was a nice reminder that I can take care of myself, and that once upon a time I was a very independent person. I'm not saying I am co-dependent now, but I do specific things for Dustin and he does specific things for me and we both get comfortable with that. Sometimes it is nice to know that you can survive, if you had to, on your own.

I met Dustin when I was 20 going on 21. I had never been to a gay club and nor had he (remember we are from Indiana). My first gay club experience was with Dustin. We went to Connections in Louisville, Kentucky. We were nervous and excited. It was Halloween and we were wearing ridiculous things we had bought from the little kids section of Wal-Mart. I'm sure we looked like fools, but we were young, in love, and didn't care. Since moving to Florida five years ago, I've spent a lot of time in gay clubs, so it's funny to think that this past weekend was my first time ever going without Dustin.

I survived both nights (with a little help from my friends). I bought my own drinks. Made my own decisions about what I wanted to do. I hung out with great people (thanks to Mark, Josh, Gail, Josh, and Christian), and danced with strangers (one very cute boy on Friday night who only looked under 21 but wasn't, I checked his wristband). I missed Dustin, but I also reveled in the independence (you guys can all argue if this makes me a bad boyfriend or not).

All in all, I had a good Gay Days. The Magic Kingdom day was fun as always. This year I brought two of my friends from work. They both enjoyed it, and it was nice to share that experience with both of them. At Parliament House I got my picture with a very hot porn star and purchased some 3-D porn (yes, you read that correctly). It was everything Gay Days should be, and it reminded me how lucky I am to be a part of the gay community (especially here in Orlando). If it wasn't for all the great people and gay places in this city, I would probably not still be here.

Gay Days 2010 might be over, but in my apartment everyday is a gay day.

-Stephen (Gay)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Need for Gay Pride

June is one of my favorite months of the year. It is the beginning of summer. It is the month that Dustin was born. And it is gay pride month. I'll be the first to say I love gay pride, but not everyone does (and I don't mean the right wingers, but other gays). I don't currently have any subscriptions to gay magazines, but I'm sure, if I did, at least one of them would have an article about gay pride being harmful to the movement or unnecessary. I've read one of these articles almost every year since I came out. Why do some gay people like to hate on pride? I don't know for sure, but I have my ideas.

As with any minority group that is still fighting for equal rights, there are disagreements about how to proceed. Gay pride is often seen by the straight community as being confirmation of their greatest fears. Streets across America are filled with boys in short-shorts and drag queens on floats in bright sunlight. Local TV stations like to run clips of dykes on bikes and big leather daddies swinging whips and pretend this is the entirety of the gay community. I can see how some might see this as harmful to the image of the gay rights movement.

But gay pride is not actually about anyone else. It is about the gay community, and that community is diverse and fascinating, which is why I love it. For me, June is a month where I can stop defending myself and my rights and can celebrate who I am, my community, and my history. It is a time of the year where the other parts of life don't matter. I can immerse myself in gay events and have fun. This doesn't mean the fight for equality ends or is forgotten, but June is a breather. Let the local TV stations say what they want. People who will classify gay people in those terms will do so with or without footage of gay pride parades or events.

Pride is about having a good time. It is about parties, drag queens, porn stars, rainbow flags, but it is also about embracing your heritage and the people around you (literally and figuratively). I'm a huge believer in knowing your own history, and I encourage gay people to find that history and read about it. It hurts me greatly when people don't know the stories of the men and women who have come before us or don't know how important gay men and women have been to this country. We have contributed and continue to contribute to a society that attempts to push us away, hide us in a closet, and strip us of our rights.

June is a month to recharge. To stand in a mass of gay people and to feel connected. Some gay people are afraid to do this. They have convinced themselves they aren't really part of the gay community or that they want to live a "normal" life. I'm not saying you need to drink, have random sex, or dress in drag (though all of those things can be quite fun), but you do need to take a moment and acknowledge what it means to be gay.

Do we need pride? Yes, we do. Everyday I am reminded by something that I am not free in this country and that I am considered some abomination or that I'm something to fear. I don't think most straight people understand how much hatred a gay person hears on a daily basis (intended or not). And I think most gay people don't know either, because we've learned to deal. Our skin has grown thick, but the hate is still there. I drive to work each day listening to NPR and leaders of our country saying we can't just let gay men and women serve openly. That suddenly ending DADT would be a social experiment. Or I walk out of the mall and a kid calls me a fag. Or I go to work and everyone talks about getting married, something I do not have the right to do. There are reminders everywhere.

Pride serves as a different kind of reminder. A reminder that I am a human being, and that I deserve respect, love, and equal rights. I am going to spend this June being as gay as possible. I am beginning my month with Gay Days (one of the biggest gay events in the country that happens right here in Orlando). I will also be venturing to Sawmill for a weekend away with Dustin and friends. Sawmill is a gay campground. I will also be celebrating Dustin's birthday and then maybe catching gay pride in St. Pete at the end of the month. As I do all of these events, I will be thinking how lucky I am to be out and proud and how I wouldn't change a thing about who I am.

-Stephen (Proud)