Posted by: Harold Knight | 10/30/2012

“Invading the dreams of others who search in you not what there really is. . .”

Portrait of the novelist as a young man.

Portrait of the novelist as a young man.

(Some may see this as a self-pity jag. Some may see it as the disillusionment of a bitter old queen, to quote Eric Jones, whom I once thought to be my friend. Some may see it – I don’t have any idea how anyone will see this, but this is what it is. It is a tiny glimpse into the thoughts of an aging gay man who understands that his life has never been quite what he meant or wanted it to be. An aging gay man who has never been important or rich or famous. An aging gay man who views the possibilities of the next ten years with some apprehension. But mostly an aging gay man who tries to look reality—not culture, not art, not sex, not possessions, not ideas, but something like reality—straight in the face and not flinch. That’s a damned tall order. This is not, I am afraid, that unflinching look.)

John Rechy’s novel City of Night was published in 1963, the year I graduated from high school.

During the four years following I took several literature courses in college. In 1967 I became a married gay man and lived so for seven years (she knew I was gay when we married). Then I was partnered with first a New England organ builder, second a Massachusetts college English professor, and then a technical editor with a Masters degree in American literature, his thesis a study of form in the American novel. Since 1975 I have lived as an openly gay man (I came out in 1965—before Stonewall, before it was fashionable), partnered except for 1987-92 when I left my partner because my sobriety depended on it, and since 2003 when my partner died. I am now in a relationship with a man I love but with whom our relationship has not yet progressed to calling ourselves “partners.” In other words, for the past forty-seven years I have lived openly as a gay man. I have spent my life constantly in the company of gay men, mostly musicians and academics in both music and in literature. I participated in the gay life in the bars in Boston’s “combat zone” in the 1980s. I have been constantly a member of gay twelve-step groups since 1986. I did not know City of Night existed until 1995 and did not read it until 1998. It is possible for a person to be oblivious to the world around him even while he participates fully in it. “I had a sudden feeling of having been dreaming for very long. Rather, of having been in someone else’s dream. And how many other dreams? How many of all the people I had known had ever begun to know me? Had even wanted to? . . . Invading the dreams of others who search in you not what there really is but what they want to find. . .” (1) And so here was this seminal groundbreaking image-shattering novel of gay life reaching number one on the New York Times Bestseller list while I was a gay boy in college wishing there were other gay boys who were as “out” as I was and searching for a way to live that would allow me contentment and love and would not necessitate being a drunk which I was by the time I graduated from college. My life was always somehow a search for contentment and love, and I never discovered how the gay boys of whatever age were living. While I was researching 19th-century parlor music and temperance songs in the historical library of Essex County, Massachusetts, the gay boys I wanted to be like to be friends with were dancing in gay bars and wearing dresses and joining the gay rodeo and going off on all-gay cruises to the Caribbean. It’s not clear to me exactly what I’ve done with my life where the time went and how I got here, sitting alone and naked in an apartment that the pretty and successful and disposable-income gays would find unacceptable and

Not this gay boy's house

Not this gay boy’s house

frumpy and old but which satisfies my need for shelter and a hook to hang my hat and chair to read a book and desk to put my computer to try to write. The first time I read City of Night was the summer of 1998 when I was preparing for my comprehensive exams for my second PhD which was to happen at the University of Texas at Dallas. One member of my committee was gay (two members were, one out, the other not ), and he asked me for a list of the gay fiction I had read, and from that he extrapolated a list of 60 novels for me to read over the summer in advance of the exam he would give me, and City of Night was one of them. He was as surprised I’d never read it as I was to discover its existence (and I passed the exams but did not finish the doctorate—who needs two?). I know many of my gay boy friends (that’s “gay boy” friends, not gay “boy friends”)have not read it, but they have probably at least seen all of the Marilyn Monroe and Joan Crawford movies and know the lyrics to all of the songs from Mame and Funny Girl and Tommy and Hello Dolly. It’s simply a mystery to me that I have lived in this community this world this minority culture for 47 years and know so little about it. That’s OK except when I want to be part of it, to really be one of the gay boys. And then I realize what’s important to me, and that’s a matter of life and death, and I think most people understand that “what’s happ’nin” is not really what is happening anywhere and that the end results of being part of the “in” crowd in any crowd is exactly the same as not being part of the “in” crowd and that is that we all die. And the one thing I really want before I die is to look into the eyes of one other person (I know who I want it to be) and know that person has looked me in the eye and that we have “Invad[ed] the dreams of [each other and] search[ed] in [each other]what there really is” and that is what [we truly] want to find. I really want to find “what there really is” and not what I want to find and at the same time to have him find in me “what there really is” and not what he wants to find. And I don’t think—shall I be as obvious and trite as I can possibly be?—that has anything to do with gay boy culture or non gay boy culture or going to the Black Tie Dinner this weekend or staying home and playing Bach on the organ. It just doesn’t have anything to do with any of that stuff.

Funny, but not the way we were

Funny, but not the way we were

______
(1) Rechy, John. City of Night. New York: Grove Press, 1963 (390).

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  1. […] who died when I was in college. It may seem that I’m reverting to my college days (see my post of October 30), but these coincidences and connections are simply what happens, I tell my students, when one […]

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