I posted this photo on my Contact page yesterday. I used the photographic print in the lower-right corner as a visual reference when I was writing “His Lordship Used to Model, But He Was Young and Needed the Money.”
I had a little mini-epiphany about the image as I was driving to work. I thought, It’s true that I haven’t yet nailed the “London rent boy” look. But, you know, I look more like a London rent boy than roughly 90% of the population. So that’s something.
Some people might say it’s a silly and indefensible thing to want. Certainly I’ve made a lifelong practice of succeeding at stupid shit for all the wrong reasons. But you know what? It gives me joy and it’s not hurting anyone. To quote the great visual reference himself, “Fuck [rival punk bands]. They envy me because they can’t play guitar and they dress like grocers. They can suck my dick.” My passions may be silly and indefensible, but not even my worst enemy could say I’m ill-dressed.
I resolved on the spot to translate “Succeeding at Stupid Shit for All the Wrong Reasons” into Latin and smuggle it into a future chapter as a Shelawn family motto. Valentine and Marcus would cringe, but Agamemnon, Tereus, Inglorion and Aramil would outvote them.
I felt ground down and sad all weekend, so that flicker of self-acceptance helped.
I left the lab for lunch and checked headlines on my phone. I saw that the Supreme Court ruled today in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
It’s so weird. I can’t really grasp it. My mind has been circling around this new fact all day. John G. Roberts, Neil Gorsuch and four liberal justices recognized that I have a legal right to employment.
I’ll be damned.
I might as well just come out tomorrow.
The world of closets and handkerchief codes and teasing queer semiotics will be washed away by a deluge that none of us can imagine. It’s awe-inspiring and exhilarating and disorienting.
San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk wrote in his political will:
If [an assassin’s] bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.
It’s taken much of my lifetime — from November 27, 1978, when he and Mayor George Moscone were shot, until June 15, 2020. And of course the work’s not done, any more than segregation ended with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
As you no doubt recall, Milk’s assassin, Dan White, was a fellow member of the Board of Supervisors, an ex-cop and family man. He was convicted on two charges of manslaughter, and served less than five years for shooting Milk and Moscone in cold blood. Part of his defense included the plea that he’d eaten too many Twinkies on the day of the crime.
In The Mayor of Castro Street, Randy Shilts writes that a reporter called Milk’s lover, activist Cleve Jones, and asked what the verdict meant.
Jones said, “This means that in America it’s all right to kill faggots.”
Gay activists rioted after the verdict, chanting, “Avenge Harvey Milk, Kill Dan White.” They smashed the windows on City Hall, burned out police cars, and faced off against SFPD officers in riot gear.
Bad cop, No Donut, indeed.
And, yeah, the riots caused consternation and hand-wringing and finger-pointing. Some local gay businesses were torched, including the Elephant Walk Bar. (Don’t worry. It was rebuilt by the time I moved to the Castro in 1991.)
I don’t pretend to know how history moves. I’m writing Duke of the Underdark partly to think that through, to depict those cross-currents of hope, rage and grief.
I’m happy today because the Supreme Court recognized my right to employment. New York has passed meaningful police reform. Confederate flags and monuments are finally coming down, as if a long, cruel occupation is ending.
You’re dear to me, Reader, whether you’re a cop, a queer, a family man, a rioter, or a business owner. Or all of the above.