queer desire

2015 has been such a transformative year for me sexually, in ways that I hadn’t expected. There was a lot of rush earlier in the year to make Our Viral Lives into something bigger than it could yet become. In taking a step back, I think I found something far more powerful in the project: to bring pleasure, desire and creation to the forefront of a project on HIV/AIDS. This letter responds to that.

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Dear Ghost,

I write this letter to you, at this moment in time, to let you know I’ve left you for good. I write this letter to you, now, because I’m done letting you do what you want to my body. I’ve started this thing where I claim ownership over my desire, and it’s so much better than worrying about always disappearing into your image.

I understand why you’re here. I’m grateful and humbled by your presence. You commemorate millions of dead from AIDS, and millions more who have HIV living under terrible stigma. But you also always embody the worst kind of fear. A fear so consuming and debilitating that I could never get close to anyone without worrying I would become you.

However, I am not you. 2015 marks a year of possibility, however finite and measured that possibility might be. For myself, I’ve had to confront some uncomfortable truths recently. I just realized this year was the first I had sex with an openly poz guy. Now I’ve had sex with three different poz guys on multiple occasions. Why hadn’t I had sex with them before?

I wasn’t avoiding them consciously but I think it was buried in my thought process that I would turn into Uncle Jimmy. That I would, somehow, end up a half-machine in a hospital bed, gasping for life, ready to turn into you, the statistic, you the slut, you who brought your death upon yourself. But all of this now seems so absurd. It seems so wrong. I betrayed your memory. I betrayed my body. I was living a life of betrayal.

It’s not easy to let go of any of this. It’s not easy to recognize the potential power my body has, but it’s happening. I fuck more freely. I fuck to connect, not to escape. I fuck because it helps me find a purpose I never knew I could experience. You always wanted to make this experience about remembering. I choose now to make this experience about the future.

I understand consent in a way I hadn’t before. Consent is mutual. Consent is an act of shared recognition of our power. And you were denying me the opportunity to recognize that. When I fuck and have conservations with other men about fucking and our bodies turn into blunt objects, ready to tear apart shame and stigma, I’m so present. It’s hard to always be in this state, to be present, but it’s imperative if we ever hope to change anything.

It’s not that I don’t see you or recognize your presence anymore. It’s that you’re not my bedfellow any longer. You’re there in this archive. You get close to me sometimes, but your touch is lightning fast now. You will back away because you’re afraid of me now. You should be afraid of us, this moment undressed, this growing movement, possibility that hasn’t existed in a long time.

All I wonder, as I write this to you, as I think about my own failures in the past to recognize the powers and potential of pleasure, is how others can find that like I have found? How can I get others, beyond the men I fuck, to join with me? There’s no easy answer, but that’s part of the excitement of it, of creating this embodied archive. With each cumshot and moan and orgasm, it becomes a richer tapestry of desire.

I’m also starting to realize it doesn’t know where it ends because there isn’t any end. My tote bag says, “Let’s hold each other until it’s all over.” But it’ll never be over, not in the conventional sense that HIV will be gone out of every fold of our body. And that’s OK because under my terms these future embraces nourish and sustain, unlike what you were ever able to provide to me.

-Kyle

kyle_bella_recliningbefore he clicks the shutter on the camera all of the muscles in my face relax, even though my body is contorted (this shot took what seemed like 20 minutes to compose), & i let myself go because i wanted to be captured in a state of abandon, like i was free for a moment at least, free from what though or who, i can’t quite tell, but i wanted to be looking at him, not the camera lens, i wanted to welcome him closer to this version of me.

in retrospect: who is this person i’m looking at? am i a 70s pinup figure? if so, in 10 years time would i be dead with aids? is it morbid to always think of aids? i can’t help it, though, when the image that is created screams QUEER PHOTOGRAPHY 1970-1985, & doubly so when that curvature of my ass welcomes somebody’s cock. come inside of me right now i seem to suggest & for the first time in my life i don’t feel guilty.

it’s odd not feeling guilty. my whole life i’ve felt guilty about sex, my body a wasteland, space when i could be fucked into oblivion, because I bore, invisibly, the scars of queer erasure & death & aids, always there, aids that jumped from the art books i read, the plays i watched, the men i met, but still hush hush, our culture one stern daddy telling us not to talk about those things, the very things that were killing all of us, whether physically or psychologically.

but then the camera shutter i anticipated clicked — “keep your eyes open,” he said just before this moment — & i was no longer erased.

every muscle loosened up, collapsing into the oblivion of my own making, 70s pinup, a sex symbol not giving a single fuck about aids for a second, undressing the object of my desire with soft cerulean eyes: would he put his tongue in my ass? would we make each other moan? would we? what can we do now? what will we do? done?

i wish everyone could feel this kind of rapture in their body. but it’s 2015, so i know how difficult it is. i wish we could all just get rid of fear, false ideologies & mythologies of aids. i wish we could lust & love each other better, not shame those on the front lines of this epidemic doing what they can to minimize risk. i wish we could all feel comfortable connecting with poz artists, lovers & culture makers who are giving us insights into leading sex positive, stigma-free lives.

when i look at this photograph again & feel every muscle loosen up in my body, i think about what i’ve only begun doing to be a better sexual being, to be better to myself because i’m confronting & transcending death through my presence. i probably would have died have been alive in the 70s. but i wasn’t alive then. i was born into a time and moment when i have a capacity to confront the real problem in society: the figures telling queer men to hush hush & worry about “deception” from those people living with hiv.

part of my manifesto (if you can call living a manifesto): i will continue to bare it all for the photographic lens, for the photographer himself, for him, whoever he is, because my body is, ultimately, the most powerful force on the frontlines of this epidemic. i will let you turn your eyes toward me if you’re willing to let your guard down, at first, & maybe eventually let it go.

as a logical progression: undress me. let me undress you. come closer. come…

This essay was originally finished in December 2013 for MFA in Creative Writing program at Goddard College. I’ve returned to a year later because I think the questions explored: those of haunting and the desire to connect to the past of HIV/AIDS while trying to move forward resonate today. It is a long read, and uses some conventional academic language and citation, but it’s also unique in its creative and liberatory impulse throughout. Enjoy.

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“Sometimes people try to destroy you, precisely because they recognize your power — not because they don’t see it, but because they see it and they don’t want it to exist.” – bell hooks

I have been told many times, even if indirectly, that I do not deserve to exist. The exploration begins here because, in the question of my presence, I recognize my own words as simultaneously representing today’s grief and the future of my body, as words, to survive in a haunting against these attempts to destroy me. As I look at Kristin Prevallet’s I, Afterlife and Hervé Guibert’s Ghost Image, I do not intend to show that these works necessarily detail grief and haunting in the same way I see my own experiences. However, what I will show is that through narratives of grief, their bodies (or those of others) loom over me, as the reader. Through literature, particularly that which fuses together various forms, the traces of these narratives become embedded in my own. To this extent, in Prevallet and Guibert’s works I can use the ways they bring ghosts back to life to better understand the ghosts that haunt me personally, working beyond grief and anger to find pleasure in this reanimation. At the same time, I will ask exactly what can be reclaimed, and what it means to structure my own narrative writing with an understanding of incompleteness.

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