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Q***R CULTURE

a POEM by
FLORENCE OULDS

***

last year—
this time last year—

i was
writing an essay on
The Well of Loneliness
and was being supervised by
a woman—
an older lesbian—
who knew about such things.

the essay was about
the problems of the naïve and
desperate language
of the book,
and so,
to figure out what that meant
we talked about a lot of things,
talking in that way it is to talk like
two people monologuing at each other,
but two people who meet over something—

arms poised over a table,
working separately
to solve the same
jig-saw.

in this talking
we talked about community—
it’s a little sad,
i think i said,
not being raised by
those before us,
trying to plan out our
lives with no model for how,
taking hard trying to think what
survival is.

i said
‘in the community…’

she said
‘in your community—
how many older gay people
do you know?’

None.

i felt like i was being
shamed but maybe
we both knew
what had done it.

***
a few months later
i made a new friend
(and quickly
my wife
(U-haul’d))
who said
said woman
was a terf

i said
‘well—
she put up with me’

Jen Richards,
writer actress activist,
said
she doesn’t really like to tar everyone
with the same
‘terf
brush’
because often
terfs are just people
who want to protect women
and when you brand
someone a terf
you’re also
trying
to protect women,

i guess just a different kind.

i think to some degree
she’s right—
not everyone so much can be
branded
‘Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist’
because maybe they’re not that coherent,

maybe they’re just scared.
Jen Richards
also said
that the reason we don’t have these
elders
in the trans community
is because
‘back then’
the choice you had

(to call it
a choice—as Janet Mock says
the one choice you have
about being trans
is transitioning)

was to transition, pass,
and go

‘stealth’

slinking into
society,
being a good husband
a good wife,
nothing between,
telling nobody
save your
wife or
husband

and so

we do exist,
older, aging,
waiting for retirement,
teasing out years,

loving
but we had to be hidden
and i suspect
that safety
is not something anyone
would want to burst out of—

we can blame
‘society’
for the reasons
cis people
bash
trans people,
straight people
bash
gay people,
but we have to remember
bashed or un-bashed,
bashed or not-yet-bashed,
this society is in our heads too—

only so much
‘new start’
comes with a
‘new name’

(if you take one.)

***

the hidden thing
you saw at the start
but that i don’t know
how to start talking about

happens when i go onto
amazon.com
and type in

‘aids’
Sort by |Relevance \/|

here is the first result:

AIDS: Don’t Die of Prejudice 10 Jun 2014
by Norman Fowler

here is the second result:

And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic 3 Nov 2011
by Randy Shilts

here is the third result:

Best Seller
Rayovac Hearing Aid Batteries Size 312 – 10 Packs of 6 Cells
by Rayovac

it’s almost funny
isn’t it?

and absence
of things
to talk about
the absence
it made
in our culture,
our history,
our community.

because of this
we have to raise ourselves
without parents
and there is no one
to warn us
when we learn
about they knife they took
to us

or didn’t—
let the thing rot
let the bodies
on the streets
on steps of the F.D.A.
in private rooms
away from the rest of the world
the TV on i am taking
my clothes off when i hear
your breathing stop and i know
the landlord knows but i know
they would never let
me see you in the hospital
or kiss your corpse
on the cheek.

***

A-I-D-S
H-I-V

MY BODY IS WRONG
AND I AM CONSTANTLY
UNCOMFORTABLE
AND MISUNDERSTOOD

CAN I NOT SAY MY NAME
RIGHT
OR DO PEOPLE JUST
NOT EXPECT IT TO COME OUT OF
MY MOUTH

I CANNOT
WAIT TO DIE
CAN YOU TELL
CAN YOU TELL
CAN YOU TELL

***

talking in the pub the other day with friends
i said

‘i never heard anyone call
David Bowie
a “queer icon”
until he was dead’

my friend replied
that he was to them,
was to lots of people,
was transgressive and new

this is another problem i suppose—
putting aside the very possible
problem of Bowie—
the unity of experience,
how far does it go?

i am worried
when a person is cast as an
‘LGBT character’
there is some fundamental misunderstanding
going on;

the joke is
‘what, all at once?’
but the truth is
maybe they think just the one
is enough,
just a white one,
just a story,
just this once,
just on the sideline,
just how they’ve always been done,
just how we love to kill them,
just how we love the profitable drama of struggle,

but then it’s like:
yes i want to be there too,
yes i want someone like my siblings to be there too,
but we bandy ourselves around
these four letters
(and their alterations)
so much
precisely because just the one
is not enough

***

i wrote a poem
after the Orlando massacre
that is
four pages
of nothing
and then the phrase
‘there
are
not
words’
spread out
over another four
and honestly
i don’t think i could say anything more about it

***

michelle shampton
(@michelle_sham)
tweeted

As a Republican in college, I am genuinely afraid to speak about my
conservative views in fear of being stereotyped or labelled negatively

Anthony Oliveira
(@meakoopa)
quoted the tweet and replied

I haven’t been able to go to a gay bar in 8 months without wondering whether
I’m about to be part of a massacre.
***

paintings
(erotics, nudes,
small things owned by
Elton John)

poems
(Frank O’Hara
invites you out to lunch)

hair cuts
(my barber once said
people often have very different ideas
about want an
‘uncercut’
is)

***

‘AIDS has severed the link between these twin concepts’

Daniel Goldstein’s
‘Icarian’ series

the sweat stained seats,
leather loved on workout machines,
bodies striving to be other bodies
either
look, i can keep on weight
or
look, im not losing it
you won’t lose me
i won’t die
on you

but who is holy
who is sanctified
who is pure
who is remembered
‘metal staples and stigmata-like holes that allude to the passions of martyrs and
saints’

No romance no sexiness
But a star-filled night

Cremate me after you cum on my lips
Honey boy place my ashes in a vase
Beneath your workout bench

No romance no sexiness
But a star-filled night

‘a signifier of normality in the face of a frighteningly abnormal condition’

***

‘Gay-related immune deficiency (GRID) was the name first proposed in 1982 to
describe an "unexpected cluster of cases" of what is now known as AIDS, after
public health scientists noticed clusters of Kaposi's sarcoma and pneumocystis
pneumonia among gay males in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City.

During this time, the phrases "gay cancer" and "gay plague" were also used.’

i argued once
with an ex
that
‘queer’
was not more
correct
to use
than
‘gay’

she said
‘queer’
to her
was holdable,
but
‘gay’
was what they called
her in school

‘and besides,
that was the last generation
who got called that
it’s silly for us
to pretend those are our problems’

was it the last generation
who died
to not be around
to complain about


q
***
r

or was it the one before
or was it the one before
or was it the one before
or was it the one before
or the one before?

i suppose
we were both wrong & right
because any language associated with us
becomes toxic, infected,
inflated,
a
hatred.

this is the paradox:
we’ve always been around,
but we have no history.

***
Chechnya,
God,
Chechnya.

***
THE BODY RAGES
AGAINST THE THING
HOLDING THE BODY;

the body makes
the anti-
body

and scientists hate it
when we take their words
for art

but poets know
someone must always
be singing.

***

when Moonlight
came out
there were a few inflammatory articles
accusing it of
‘gay washing’

‘gay washing’

can you fucking believe it-
‘gay washing’?

frankly,
i’m too annoyed about it still
to look up the articles to write about them

and sure, maybe
there is desire too
for a desexualised
film,
maybe we shouldn’t
be laughing at the desire
for a lack of desire,

but still, but still,
that’s just fucking awful
and ignorant
and angry-making;

there is this fallacy
that now gay men
have ‘rights’
they’re just like anyone else,
like now you can be on a poster
that sits outside a bank
or carry their pride banner for them,
we can pretend
that your body still wasn’t only just recently
made un-illegal
on the streets you march,
or the house
you stay at home in
with your husband.

i read recently
someone saying
a black gay man
is more likely to
be assaulted in the street
than a white trans woman

and so maybe there must always
be contrasts
for things to be understood
by some
focused solely on themselves
but still it is hard
to any longer endorse
groups where people

get actually angry at progress.

i understand
that we must stay vigilant,
but, God,

at least now

let them live
and love
and fuck.

***

i’ve seen paris is burning twice
and i still have mixed feelings about drag.

a baby in pink
is the core of a world
where not half of everyone wears pink,

but maybe they do.

***

here is a small space
for myself
that i wrote as an ending
a while ago:

you broke up with me nearly a year ago
but i haven’t stopped collecting these things for you
because with you
for the first time
i didn't feel just in waiting,
but queer,
a verb.