#19: Sex and the sub­lime

GA Voice - - Art -

Robert and Lee set­tled into their chairs at Gio’s Chicken Amal­fi­tano, a re­mark­able new restau­rant serv­ing huge bowls of Ital­ian-style roasted chicken. The two men had seen one an­other just three days ear­lier at the Food Porn Sup­per Club. Lee had brought along com­pan­ions in what he called the House of Gay Hu­man Oddities.

“So,” Robert said be­fore the water ar­rived at the ta­ble, “that was quite a talk you gave at the sup­per club. It keeps go­ing through my mind.”

“Any feed­back from the other din­ers?” Lee asked. “Neg­a­tive? Pos­i­tive? Con­fused? Re­pulsed?”

“All of the above,” Robert said, as he fished a copy of the talk out of his pocket. Lee had emailed it to him the day be­fore. “I have some ques­tions, if you don’t mind.”

“Go right ahead,” Lee said. Just then, the restau­rant’s com­pli­men­tary salad ar­rived, crisp green with big slices of shaved parme­san and a sim­ple vinai­grette.

“Would you read it?” Robert asked, tak­ing a breath and look­ing around. The restau­rant’s seat­ing is all “com­mu­nity ta­bles” but no­body else had taken seats nearby.

“Oh, with no prob­lem,” Lee said, star­tling Robert by stand­ing up to re­cite the talk. “Just stop me, when you want to com­ment.”

“Good evening, my name is Lee Mari­posa, and I op­er­ate the House of Gay Hu­man Oddities. Seated with me are sev­eral such men and women with phys­i­cal anom­alies who are also gay.

“Once upon a time, shows like mine, though not ex­plic­itly gay, criss­crossed Amer­ica with car­ni­vals. Usu­ally called ‘freak shows,’ th­ese ex­hi­bi­tions pro­duced gasps as so-called nor­mal Amer­i­cans be­held the some­times cru­elty of God and na­ture.

“But some­thing was gained in the ex­hi­bi­tions. The av­er­age per­son saw him­self in the freak. We all have bod­ies and we all have eyes. When our gaze meets some­thing that ar­rests our at­ten­tion com­pletely, we are be­ing con­fronted by the beau­ti­ful. We gasp. We breathe it in. The Greeks de­scribed this well. Beauty is not pret­ti­ness.”

The server, ap­proach­ing cau­tiously, brought two bowls to the ta­ble. Each was filled with roasted chicken cooked in a dif­fer­ent Ital­ian way. The aroma of the glossy chicken and its col­or­ful condi­ments drifted around the bowl, so that when Robert closed his eyes, he felt his senses grow keen. Open­ing them, he caught sight of some­thing dark streak­ing by. But he turned his at­ten­tion back to Lee.

“So,” Robert said, “you’re talk­ing about some­thing like ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ The to­tally ar­rest­ing fills us with awe and, strangely — to me any­way — ac­tual de­sire. The sub­lime.”

“Yes,” said Lee. “And so it has al­ways been with gay peo­ple. For cen­turies, many gay men and women locked them­selves in the closet, be­liev­ing they were not seen as dif­fer­ent. Some, specif­i­cally, those who also ex­hib­ited traits of the other sex, were noted as dif­fer­ent but gifted. They were of­ten revered.

“Ma­gi­cians and spir­i­tual peo­ple, like the berdache and even cross-dress­ing Catholic priests, are ex­am­ples. They sub­li­mated their love in other forms, although it fre­quently sprang into view like a pe­nis pop­ping out of their pants.”

Robert stopped him. “So, give an ex­am­ple of where this kind of thing still op­er­ates. That’s your point, right?”

Lee sat down. “Okay, I’ll leave the script. Your city’s de­bate about Cheshire Bridge brings all this to­gether. Your gay city coun­cil-

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