From A Special Illumination, Authority, Inspiration, and Heresy in Gay Spirituality,
--by Rollan McCleary, 2004, Equinox Publishing, www.equinoxpub.com
Excerpt from the Introduction chapter, section on "Gay Spirituality and God." --page 14
The most illuminating comments on this theoretically central but surprisingly ignored aspect of (male) GS [Gay Spirituality] arguably derive from poet and novelist, Perry Brass, in the unlikely setting of a gay self-help book [footnote: How to Survive Your Own Gay Life: Belhue Press, 1999]. According to Brass, a crucial aspect of the gay 'work' (a species of gay individuation process considered presently) is to discover "the Male Companion." This figure, a function of relation, personifies 'the work' and its possibility of incarnation. He/It is a transcendent principle and mental guardian (archetype?) which living persons may embody in the form of a lover since the Companion dwells in a sphere which unites sexual and spiritual. Whether or not the lover brings him near, the Companion exists permanently as a potentially nourishing 'male' force beneath the level of gay existence often 'drugged' by chemicals, violence, religion, etc., and avoiding the neediness which only the God/Companion can satisfy.
(For more information on A Special Illumination, go to Rollan McCleary's website.)
Identity Envy. Do you have it?
From Identity Envy, Wanting to Be Who We're Not, Creative Nonfiction by Queer Writers,
--edited by Jim Tuschinski and Jim Van Buskirk, 2007, Harrington Park Press, A Division of Haworth.
Collectible copies available on Amazon.
Excerpt from "A Serene Invisibility, Turning Myself into a Christian Girl" --page 127
From the time I was about seven to the time I was eleven, I had two secret wishes that were very much based on the facts of my growing up Jewish in the Deep South in the 1950's. Being a child who was fairly sissified and from a working-class family left me without any handle I could find to hold a place for myself in the world. My only space then was an inner one of longings and fantasies, and the splendor of whatever I could create to try to make some kind of place for myself. I needed to invent this place, and even re-invent myself to be in it. Like a lot of other queer boys, I was dreamy and withdrawn. And I had these two adults around me called parents, who themselves not being a complete part of the Southern landscape around them, could be alternately understanding or violently disapproving.
First, it would be good to give you some kind of background: at the time that I was growing up, Southern Jews still lived in fairly closed communities that seemed like ghettos within a white, basically Anglo-Saxon, culture. The ghettos were based on generations of real anti-Semitism and genuine fears of it, mutual feelings of distrust between Jews and the Christian world, and also a need to preserve the community, even though as “Southerners,” most Jews frowned on “flaunting” their Jewishness. It was considered a private, personal thing that for the most part you did in your own home and with your family, friends, or “tribe."
. . . My father lived in a dream world himself, in a rugged pulp magazine 1950's man’s world, filled with war stories and that kind of buddyhood that came out of the war. Out in the country, away from a Jewish community, he could engage in his own unapproved passion for guns and hunting, highly unusual among Jewish men who were usually tied to wives and work. He immediately set aside part of a large dark storeroom in the back of the business, next to fifty-pound bags of chicken feed and sacks of flour, for his rifles, shotguns, pistols, and reloading equipment. When he was not out front cutting meat or even pumping gas, he would be in the back while my mother had to watch what was going on out front.
This rural male pursuit of guns and killing animals terrified me; I became nauseated around it. My father would spend hours with his country friends talking, smoking Camels, drinking black coffee, and talking about hunting. They’d go into the backroom while he refilled empty ammunition shells with gunpowder, topping them with bullets he’d cast himself from lead. Some of his friends had boys close to my age who went out already with their fathers into the woods. They could not believe that I didn’t like to kill songbirds with BB guns, or shoot rabbits and squirrels with a kid-sized shotgun. Away from their fathers, they’d ask, “Ain’t you a boy? Come on, show us. We don’t believe you’re a real boy!”
I was petrified. Suppose what I had under my clothes did not prove that I was a real boy, because nothing about me seemed to be what real boys actually were? Boys never cried. They liked to kill things. They avoided anything that was pretty, out of the ordinary for boys, and to me exciting. They liked the scary dark, a time to play tricks; and nature was only something to be destroyed, not wondered at.
If boys were like that, girls on the other hand seemed to be totally self-contained. They had a serenity, a secret security boys could not touch. They did not need the approval of other boys, the way boys did. Girls were born girls, but boys had to prove themselves to be boys. The greatest proof was that you were unafraid of death in the form of dead animals in the woods, or war, like the Big War my father had so proudly fought in.
Being a girl would be wonderful, a sanctuary from all my fears, I decided in my most secret heart. I’d seen enough television and movies to know that girls could cry and even fall into an attention-getting faint if things called for it. They could wear glamorous clothes and wonderful makeup. Who could forget Ann Miller in billboard-sized Cinemascope in Kiss Me Kate, with her banner of purple eye shadow and glossy red lipstick streaming across the big screen? Or all those English beauties in Forever Amber in acres of seventeenth-century silk dresses, wigs, and jewelry, while the men wore mostly drab black and handsome Cornel Wilde got wounded in a duel? I didn’t want to be wounded in a duel; I’d rather hold Cornel Wilde in my arms, wearing one of those great dresses.
It would be better, I decided impulsively, to be a girl and a Christian one at that. Christians could have things that Jews couldn’t: wonderful Christmas gifts and decorations; brightly colored Easter clothes and Easter baskets, which I wanted desperately to decorate. The thought of fantastic baskets holding crinkly plastic grass, colored eggs, and little bunnies that were not bloodied and killed, but were adorable and acrylic, made me cry inside with longing. Being a Jew was so difficult; it felt like the negation of any brightness. I felt like a spy taking envious notes in a Christian world. The only thing worse, more alien and distrusted, would be to be a Communist, whatever that meant, because I’d heard my parents talk a lot about Communists then.
For more information on this key-hole into how many lgbt writers feel about themselves, please visit www.identityenvy.com.
A recent Identity Envy review by gay editor Jerry Rosco appeared in the September 2007 issue of that venerable queer literary magazine Torso, which goes on the stands in late June, 2007.
Identity Envy: Wanting to Be Who We’re Not
One of the pleasures of the endless output of G&L anthologies is the chance to read so many writers
side-by-side, not just young newcomers with older veterans, but also those from all walks of life.
Edited by Jim Tushinski and Jim Van Buskirk, Identity Envy: Wanting to Be Who We’re Not brings
together 28 essays by writers who remember, or admit, wanting to be somebody else. John Gilgun,
who wrote so well about coming out in a working class Irish and Italian American neighborhood in the
novel Music I Never Dream Of, returns to that material in “Italian American Boys.” Growing up, he
found the worst of homophobia among his Irish-American peers. He wanted to be one of the Italian
Americans who were not angels but were much more comfortable in their sexuality, and with
everything from cooking and singing to touching. Cheryl Schoonmaker has all kinds of comic
misadventures in her real life while imaging herself as all kinds of super-hero identities in her secret
life. Poet/novelist Perry Brass remembers growing up sensitive, queer and Jewish in the deep South
when his fantasy of escape was wanting to be a Christian girl. Andrew Rammer, although a
functioning gay man, writes convincingly of being a male lesbian in personality. Robert Boulanger
who was actually a child television star in Canada wanted nothing more than to join the U.S. Army—
and managed to do it at age 18. In all, 28 stories and writers just as interesting make Identity Envy a
very entertaining experience.
(Harrington Park Press, paperback, 267 pages, www.HaworthPress.com, $19.95.)
Return to the Caffe Cino, A Collection of Plays and Memoirs,
--edited by Steve Susoyev and George Birimisa, 2007, Moving Finger Press, www.movingfingerpress.com
Excerpt from "A Kid at the Cino, A Distant, Distinct Memory, page 65
[My note: this is an amazing book for theatre lovers, gay history buffs, and pop culture fanatics. The Cino was the birthing grounds for writers and actors like Sam Shepard ("True West"), William M. Hoffman ("As Is"), Tom Eyen ("Dream Girls"), and Lanford Wilson ("The Fifth of July," "Talley's Follies"). It also brought out unique American productions of plays by Noel Coward, Anton Chekhov, and Samuel Beckett. Years before Stonewall, Joe Cino and his group of merry men and women were doing openly gay plays that celebrated our existence.]
Going into the Caffé Cino was like entering an Aladdin’s cave of treasures. The walls glittered with selected ephemera, effeminata (images gilding the glamour of starlets, fabled celluloid queens and gods, including vintage Photoplay spreads of marabou mules, Grable gams, torpedo cleavage, assorted eyeball candy and anatomical bulges; the whole voluptuous schmere of American pop culture before it became marketed all the way down to worthlessness: this was a genuine altar of worship), and an effusion of low-lit NewYorkiana.
New York; the sixties. Where all was possible.
I was barely nineteen; it was 1966, and I remember virtually every remarkable moment of it, as you will from that nascent epoch of your life. The sounds when you entered: anything that struck Joe Cino’s fancy, from opera to Elvis. Joe himself, dark, handsome, behind the espresso machine, making coffee, dishing out cannolis; and the plays. Vividly I remember them; strikingly, like nothing else: this rumbling detonation of talent. Lanford Wilson’s The Madness of Lady Bright, I saw it twice with Neil Flanagan as the Lady; Robert Heide’s Moon, with that tense, bewitching silence of gay becoming in it; Wilson’s genius in The Rimer’s of Eldrich; Tom Eyen’s Sarah B. Divine; and numerous gay plays by a young, shy Robert Patrick, a grinning hunky Doric Wilson, and a young playwright from New Orleans named Charles Kerbs who became my friend. But most wonderfully, breathtakingly, I recall Jeff Weiss’s extended solo aria The Short Way Home, which I saw two or three times, absorbing his performance as if he were doing it only for me, because it was all about being a young gay man; small-town adolescence; his coming fully, rebelliously, into himself.
It was my story. I knew it. Flagrant, honest, spitting in lots of faces. I loved it because it talked loudly about being attracted to men, when most people could barely whisper about it. But it could be more than whispered about at Cino: it could celebrated. It was part of the bigger life of New York, this life with its youthful, undeniable glamour, from the walk-ups of the Lower East Side to the penthouses of the Upper; I was starting to figure some of that out, with boyfriends in both places. But you could have both easily then, if you were part of the wondrous country of New York art. If you were openly curious: and the Cino with its wise, unflinching eyes, welcoming, smiling, was a center of that country.
Serendipity, The Gay Times Book of New Stories,
--edited by Peter Burton, 2004
Excerpt from the short story "A Small Triumph," page 62.
[My note: "A Small Triumph" was a long short story that no one wanted to touch, because it was about a gay relationship between a beautiful 19-year-old boy with Down's syndrome and a 38-year-old writer in New York. It is very much also a story about New York in the 1980s, when the takes-no-prisoners money culture of yuppyism was moving into the city, and the country.]
The boy, still facing away from Peter, approached a shower and began to turn it on. Peter instantly recognized the broad back. He could not keep his eyes off the lovely round forms of the boy’s ass and his muscular legs. He was having problems again, this time with the shower knobs, which were often stuck or reversed so that a hissing stream of hot water jumped out of the cold knob. Peter approached him. “Can I help?”
“Thank you,” the same light voice from upstairs replied. He turned around and Peter saw that the boy was not blind, but had Down’s Syndrome.
He smiled at Peter with a face that was small, unguarded, and serene. Peter tried to look back at him in a similar way, without staring but with the same kind of open expression. This was difficult because he wanted to take in all of the boy, to drink him in deeply: the face, the almondesque eyes, the small, high ears; the childlike “archaic smile” Peter remembered from illustrations of early Greece or faces carved on ancient Cambodian friezes. It was a face from Peter’s earliest childhood, a time without self-consciousnss. Guilt. Doubts.
“You were upstairs?” the boy asked.
“Yes, I was,” Peter said formally. He tried with some effort to keep the same smile the boy did; he wanted to be as open and guileless as the boy. It was impossible. It was easier to talk: “I’m sorry I didn’t help you with the machines. They sometimes confuse me and I’ve been coming here for years.”
He managed to adjust the shower to a soothing warmth, and the boy who barely came up to Peter’s shoulders, got under it. Peter got back and watched the water drift down the kid’s naked body. It was beautiful and well-defined, with an almost perfect chest, marked by small dark nipples. Peter thought he was more developed than his age, then wondered what his age might be. Seventeen? Eighteen? Less? It was impossible to say. His chest had an early dusting of hair and his stomach was as neat and inviting as a loaf of warm bread. His pubic hair was black, curly, and wonderfully shiny. Peter looked at the boy’s sex organ, which appeared like the thick bulb of a small flower peering out of a wet marsh. He tried to read it for any clue of the boy’s age, religion (he was circumcised), or thoughts. Then Peter realized he was staring; he shook his head slightly.
Assaracus, A Journal of Gay Poetry, Issue 5,
[My note: This issue features my work, along with eleven other gay poets, including Jeff Mann, Jory Mickelson, and Michael Hathaway (whose pungent, wonderful work was a real revelation to me!). Assaracus is published by Sibling Rivalry Press in Little Rock, Arkansas. If you never thought Little Rock would become a center of gay publishing, then check it out. ]
All speckled with light
and jelly and silvered flecks of salt,
all twisting and gliding
and catching drools
of amber before they fall
into grist along the sand: it shoots a spew of water and wriggles forward,
menacing, floating close. Who says
beauty is simple? Complicate me,
detain me. Make me afraid; I will gasp
to catch my breath, then bloat
with air to come up, to become one
with your layer beneath the waves,where sunlight is refracted
in my observant pulse, where any dream
is lethal until the night
sucks the tide through its course.
Dec. 14, 2003
Cnidarian (C is silent) pertaining to the invertibrate phylum Cnidaria: jellyfish, hydras, sea anemones, and corals.
My writing has appeared in two excellent upcoming anthologies that I'm very proud of. One is from City Lights Press,
the original publisher of Allan Ginsberg, and it is about my experiences in the Gay Liberation Front at the beginning of the
explosive first year of the modern gay movement, from 1969 to 1971. This was Ground Zero of everything that we now
experience and know as the modern Gay Rights movement.
The anthology is called Smash the Church, Smash the State! The Early Years of Gay Liberation.
It was edited by my old friend Tommi Avicolli Mecca. Smash the Church, Smash the State came out in June of 2009
to coincide with the 40th Anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising.
Buy it here.
The second anthology is from Soft Skull Press.
Hos, Hookers, Call-Girls, and Rent Boys, Prostitutes Writing on Life, Love, Work, Sex, and Money,
edited by David Henry Sterry and R.J. Martin, Jr. Modern sex workers share their lives and experiences in this candid, moving compilation. In this book, I write about my first year away from home, Savannah, GA, when I hitchhiked from Savannah to San Francisco and ended up living in Downtown LA, and, at the age of 17, learned how to make the old Greek maxim, "a 17-year-old boy is a gift from the gods" pay off. But not very well. I ended up in jail, and heart-broken, after losing that first great love that can only happen to you when you're seventeen. Hos, Hookers, Call-Girls, and Rent Boys came out in July 2009.
I've been included in 25 anthologies, and mentioned in many books. Here are a few that I like very much.
[perrybrass.com](c)2017 Perry Brass/Belhue Press
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