Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Liberace and the Scent of God

Liberace: Allen Warren
Seeing the perverse is central to understanding people, if only as a corrective: ordinarily we start off with "this is how people ought to be, what ought to motivate them, what ought to satisfy them... things that don't quite fit this model, we'll ignore when possible and vilify when not." Starting with the perverse is starting with what's real: what are people really, what actually motivates them, what actually satisfies them?" We're all too apt to keep passing on stories about how we all ought to be, ritually reinforcing each other -- even as our strategies for motivating and satisfying ourselves fail and fail and fail.

I have always identified as queer, from the moment I saw Liberace's TV show long ago in the 1960's: the gorgeous sequins and extravagance, the lispy limp-wristed flamboyance. I loved it before I understood it as a sexual category. I loved it, even though none of those things are part of my own character; even though I am "heterosexual to a fault," as one of my friends remarked of me, and my tastes tend to be mainstream, boring, vanilla. But I understood, viscerally, what Liberace was doing: he was pushing the boundaries, he was saying "find room or make room, because I am exactly what I am. Remake your categories: don't try to remake me."

The Buddhist in me says: we are unhappy because we are on the wheel: because wanting by design cannot be more than temporarily satisfied: and the science guy says the same. We are not happy because we are not designed to be happy. We are designed for our happiness to melt away as soon as it draws near: desire is the mechanism that keeps us perpetually striving and edging out the evolutionary competition. But the pervert in me is not so sure. He says: "maybe we are unhappy because what we are taught to pursue is not what we really want to catch?" 

The questions may have nothing to do with each other, but they are twined, in my mind. The Buddhist answer is orderly, scientific, obvious, right. But I have always been prone to this swerve into revelatory ecstasy: what if it's God who is right, what if happiness is possible, what if there is some way that our secret desires do in fact map to the contours of the universe? What then? And it always resonates, there are always others who lift their snouts when that ephemeral scent is on the wind, and we exchange quick, puzzled looks.

5 comments:

rbarenblat said...

christopher said...

I am like this too... Hetero to a fault but in favor of the hope.

Years ago I had to stand up for a gay man who received a raw deal. The law is written a certain way and is ironclad. This man fell into a crack that everyone agrees exists but cannot fix in the political climate. As a consequence he is serving 18 years no one in the know wants him to serve. There is nothing to be done. The letter of the law is what it is even though obviously wrong in this case.

He is halfway done. What karma is this? He is Buddhist to some extent as am I. All his friends, the ones he still has after nine years in prison wonder. What karma is this?

Here is one truth to the gay lifestyle. It can be risky and unbelievably harsh.

Zhoen said...

If I meet whomever designed me, they're gettin' a punch in the nose.

I spin around, happy to unhappy, resting and struggling, appreciating or learning.

Kristen Burkholder said...


Excellent post, Dale, I should read more of you and less Al-Anon books, which end up making me navel gaze and grouse. You make me lift my snout and sniff.

Peter said...

I love this post and especially its title. I just read a book on gender identity, which has convinced me that most of what passes for normal is a social construct. To be able to celebrate, for the first time, a young boy's delight in wearing dresses . . .

Kristen's comment made me consider Mole as Al-Anon . . . what if posts like these from Mole were collected in what some call a daybook? The object might not be recovery, or at least not in a narrow sense. Or maybe the goal would be connect with a particular writer every day for a year -- a seemingly modest goal, but a challenging and worthy one, I think, in the end . . .