Hello Mr. Magazine - - CONTENTS - Luke Ho­gan

I hate the pic­ture of us in Rome. The one we took that day at the Colos­seum. It’s shame­ful be­cause of the way we’re stand­ing: stilted, with space be­tween our bod­ies, and an almost broth­erly af­fec­tion that says noth­ing of our ten, happy years to­gether. You know the one, we’re posed side-by-side, flat to the cam­era, you with one arm across my rigid shoul­ders. Some­how the tableau reads more fra­ter­nal than car­nal. And that’s up­set­ting.

The sight of that pic­ture re­calls the af­ter­noon it was taken. A hot, late-sum­mer day, where the sun splashed white gold all over ev­ery­thing. We were in Rome! Not bad for two boys who grew up va­ca­tion­ing in the Ozarks. We stood on the slop­ing tiers of the Colos­seum, look­ing down at the arena where glad­i­a­tors fought naked, and Chris­tians died singing. We jock­eyed for van­tage points against sight­seers from ev­ery na­tion. Here, in this city where tourism was in­vented, we played our parts well. And then you made your re­quest. “Let’s get somebody to take our pic­ture.”

I felt stricken. A chem­i­cal re­ac­tion, left over from 7th grade, fired inside my brain once more: the in­nate panic of the ex­posed fag. But that’s silly, right? We had noth­ing to hide, noth­ing to ex­pose. Still, you ask for a sim­ple pic­ture and I strug­gle over an equa­tion where the sides refuse to bal­ance and equal­ity feels im­pos­si­ble.

Most places we go, peo­ple won’t fuck with us for sim­ply “be­ing gay to­gether” (read: ex­ist­ing) on the street. But ask­ing a stranger to take our pic­ture makes them com­plicit in our gay­ness. It as­sumes that they are cool with us. It in­vites them to share in a tiny mo­ment of our re­la­tion­ship. It asks them to par­tic­i­pate, and scru­ti­nize. That per­son will act as Art Di­rec­tor, and have lines. “Stand a lit­tle closer to­gether.” “Smile.” “That looks good.” Not ev­ery­one thinks that me stand­ing close to you looks good. Not ev­ery­one likes the way we smile for each other. It breaks my heart, but it’s true. Ev­ery good thing in my life is some­one else’s evil.

When you asked for the pic­ture, I tried not to fall out of the mo­ment, but scan­ning the crowd killed my buzz. Hunt­ing for any­one who seemed pro­gres­sive, I re­duced my fel­low trav­el­ers to stereo­types. Look for somebody young/ed­u­cated/ stylish, I thought. Or, bet­ter yet, look for somebody gay. Where are a cou­ple of cam­era-tot­ing les­bians when you need them?

What does it feel like to not have this fear? To be a boy and a girl in love, on a Ro­man Hol­i­day, know­ing that any­one you ask to take your pic­ture will share in your bliss and wish you well. What does that feel like? I want to hand my iPhone to a stranger and cozy up to you, ea­ger to ex­ude wist­ful puppy love in front of a back­drop fit for

eter­nity. The se­cu­rity, the en­ti­tle­ment–I yearn for it. It’s cer­tainly a rea­son we live in New York City, a place where we’re never the only gay cou­ple in the restau­rant. Safety in num­bers, my dear­heart.

Even here it isn’t per­fect. When we went walk­ing through the park in Queens last week­end, and wit­nessed mul­ti­ple wed­ding par­ties tak­ing pic­tures, were you pay­ing close at­ten­tion? A bride and groom posed for the cam­era with two dozen of their match­ing best friends sur­round­ing them, goad­ing them into kisses. Far across the cob­ble­stones, another pho­tog­ra­pher fussed over two hand­some young men in suits. They stood shoul­der-to-shoul­der in a fa­mil­iar, stunned pos­ture. I watched their pub­lic self-con­scious­ness from afar and hoped that they would see us and take heart. I found my­self whis­per­ing to them, “Love each other.” Fi­nally, one slipped his fin­gers into the hand of the other, and my throat tight­ened around a lump. There are neigh­bor­hoods even in this city, and min­utes even in this era, that re­quire our love to be coura­geous.

I be­rate my­self for my cow­ardice as I mar­vel at the it-gets-bet­ter gen­er­a­tion and try to iden­tify the line inside each of us that sep­a­rates shame from pride. My proud­est ac­com­plish­ment is be­com­ing a man on my own terms. I’ve writ­ten my own rule­book, given it my best shot, and I defy any Mon­day morn­ing quar­ter­back who thinks they can do bet­ter. But ask­ing a stranger to take my pic­ture–golly that’s tough. I sound like all the things I have no pa­tience for: a whiner, a weak­ling, a child. But the feel­ing is at gut level, it hides in the deep­est fight-or-flight part of me. And you know how I love to run. At the gym, I al­ways choose the tread­mill over the punch­ing bag.

If you feel this anx­i­ety too, you’re bet­ter at con­ceal­ing it. You’ve re­proached me in the past for look­ing “too bro-ey” in pic­tures. You said that I need to re­lax. You’re right. I couldn’t re­lax all those years ago in front of The Magic King­dom. Re­mem­ber that? A friend was even tak­ing the pic­ture, but we were sur­rounded by dads and moms, and we were in Florida, and it was 2004, and I chick­ened out. There we were, in front of a fairy­tale cas­tle, two guys on va­ca­tion to­gether and in love, and I couldn’t bring my­self to throw my arms around you. You, who I adore above all oth­ers. You, who bring me daily Heaven. I de­nied you be­cause the eyes of fools were upon us. In try­ing to please the peo­ple who show lit­tle re­spect for us, I lost all re­spect for my­self.

Even though life ap­pears to march for­ward in a straight line, it ac­tu­ally re­volves in swirling cir­cles. This whirlpool stirs up our ex­pe­ri­ences, and cy­cles them back to us re­ar­ranged as sec­ond chances.

We leave Rome by ship. Gay ship. A free trip af­forded to us in ex­change for act­ing as hosts, and en­cour­ag­ing ca­ma­raderie amongst the pas­sen­gers. You chris­ten us “Cruise Geishas,” and the ship is our closed so­ci­ety of ho­mo­sex­u­als. Ev­ery new face at the din­ner ta­ble, or on the ad­ja­cent bar stool, be­comes an easy friend. The only pub­lic af­fec­tion we see for days is the kind that is in­born in us. My eyes are tricked into be­liev­ing that we are the nor­mal majority. The se­cu­rity, the en­ti­tle­ment! I revel in it.

After see­ing the pyra­mids and the Her­mitage (only a scant hand­ful of years ago when men of our stripe had far less to fear in Egypt and Rus­sia) we end our trav­els where they be­gan, in Rome.

On the last night, our hoard of new com­pa­tri­ots storms the city, an army of men to be reck­oned with, who share a fab­u­lous lin­eage with so many artists, philoso­phers, and em­per­ors who ruled the world be­fore them. Our ex­quis­ite bat­tal­ion de­scends upon a gay bar across a cob­ble­stone square from the Colos­seum. We crowd in un­til we spill onto the street and merge with the out­side world. And with the courage of our co­horts at our backs, we kiss in the open air. Long and deep, eyes closed, heads tilted, you pressed to me, ex­actly where you be­long. The Colos­seum tow­ers be­hind us, each arch­way aglow in the night, splash­ing white gold all over us. Somebody takes our pic­ture. It is an hon­est thing of beauty.

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