I hadn't even been aware of this exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, "Hide/Seek," until the news yesterday that the museum decided to cave in to the demands of conservative Christians and the blowhard politicians who argued their cause on Fox News and pulled a David Wojnarowicz video piece from the show. It has been a while since I followed what was happening in DC museums, has been since I lived in its suburbs, but this news really struck me hard, outraged me. One, it was outrageous that you had Christians calling art by gay people "hate speech." Um, excuse me? These idiots have been bellicose since gays dared to come out of the closet, but to dare to adopt this language meant to empower a certain group and to use it to disempower them is so totally ballsy outrageous that it makes my head spin in its illogic and that they somehow get away with it. "Hate speech?' Fuck you, I'll show you hate speech! You have Michelle Bachmann and John Boehner adding fuel to the fire because nothing stirs up your base like a good culture war mixed in with anti-intellectualism. Throw in a dash of fear of the perceived elitist nature of art and let it rise. So all these things are upsetting and dispiriting, but even more so is that the National Portrait Gallery abdicated its curatorial responsibilities and heeded the warnings and threats of these ascendant House Republicans who threatened to look into the museum's financing. They gave in, did not stand their ground, and we are going to be in for some tough fights in the next few years. Its director, Martin Sullivan, though trying to balance the exhibition with his running of a large museum and trying to ensure its longtime financial survival, totally capitulated to stupidity and should not be allowed to serve in any institutional arts capacity ever again.
That the piece is about the impact of AIDS and that its removal coincided with AIDS Day make it even more enraging. David Wojnarowicz! This man means so much to me. I encountered him seven or so years ago when I was working at the Strand and when my life was some magical time of talking about writers and ideas all day long with customers and my fellow employees. I think it was Joe S. that told me about him and suggested I read Close to the Knives. It was one of the best recommendations I have ever received and now if I were to list my top 5 books, that title would definitely be among them. It's such an amazing work that inspired me so much, showed me a way of living, of loving, of interacting with the world, and of writing. He writes from a place of fury, pissed at all the US (in its cultural and governmental forms) was doing to kill off his friends and himself. It is written from anger, but there is still quite a bit of love and faith in the thing. It's a bright, burning flame that wows me every time I read anything from it.
What is happening is that there are people in this country of ours who are determined to silence us, to diminish us, to cloak certain realities that they don't want to acknowledge. And we are letting this occur. This is a national museum, our national museum just as bunch as that of loud Christian zealots, and the Catholic League and some conservative politicians have intimidated this institution from its mission, neutered it. And here following is the video that certain people don't want to be heard or seen. There are implications here for the democratizing aspects of new media, that this video piece can so easily be seen now by so many, despite a museum pulling it from a show.
Wojnarowicz's writings also have shaped and encouraged this diary project. Reading In the Shadow of the American Dream really showed me that one could be honest, that one could write about being a hooker, about dirty sex, about whatever the fuck you wanted, that this was your reality and its documentation was just as noble an endeavor the documenting of any other person's reality, just as necessary. And so:
After I got off work today, I walked uptown, clutching my umbrella against the crazed wind, and made my way to the gym. I worked out, lifted weights, used the elliptical machine for a bit and had dreams of a bigger, more defined body that I hoped to realize through my physical movement in that space. Afterwards, I showered and then plopped myself down in the steamroom. I ended up sitting next to the guy that works there in the locker room and who I always see, who I am convinced is sometimes making sexy eyes at me. I was kind of bummed to be sitting next to him because I was feeling horny and had been hoping to jerk off in the steamroom with someone. There was no way that was going to be able to happen now, plopped down next to one of the gym employees, there signs up outside the steam room reminding the sex-crazed gays to behave appropriately, whatever that means exactly.
I sat and breathed in and out, letting the hot steam overwhelm me, cleanse me, tire me out. Steamrooms, particularly ones in mostly gay gyms, are kind of weird with elaborate protocols regarding behavior and cruising that everyone for the most part observes somehow, though where this was taught and how we all know it I don't really understand. Mating habits of birds on a National Geographic special. Sitting a certain distance apart, scooting closer, looking for a change either way in your body language, a hand lingering at the crotch, a head turned away, a sigh. A very intricate dance where you look for certain signals, certain body movement. And there was some of that going on. I could observe out of the corner of my eyes that he was glancing at me out of the corner of his. I didn't think this was possible, couldn't believe it, that someone that worked there was being so naughty, so risky at their place of work. This, of course, turned me on, the added thrills and perceived risks. I wiped my forehead on my towel and caught him glancing at my dick when my towel was raised a bit.
At this point, I could tell that this guy was down. I started to jerk off a bit, hidden for the most part by the steam, him the only person near me, someone on the other side of him. He scooted closer to me and put his flip flop over one of the floor lights between us. I kept stroking my dick as he scooted slowly closer, enjoying his eyes on me, wondering what was going to happen. He reached out for my dick and took control of jerking me off. He looked around nervously to make sure no one was able to see him, or at least that certain people weren't able to, and then he went down on me. The specifics of this situation, his employment there, had me insanely turned on. Someone came in, someone left, we paused, a new situation that we had to reconnoiter. Mapping out troop movements, determining enemy positions. Jerking off in the steamroom is usually an interrupted, drawn out affair, with lots of pauses as people come and go and you all try to figure out where the allegiances lie, if that man is there to jerk off too, if he is actually in there to steam, or if he doesn't care one way or the other. It was really hot and I had already been there too long for this teased out affair, had already succeeded in whatever vain goal it was I had, seeing if I could make this certain thing happen, if they would.
I left the steamroom, showered, went to a wine store and to Trader Joe's, bought a bunch of groceries and then headed home, listening to the new Girls album on the subway as I ate a Cliff bar.