#19: Sex and the sublime
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-