As a gay man trudging into the 21st century, on the verge of turning 70 years old, I look around and attempt to prioritize my causes. When I was in my 40s, someone said of my many-pronged weapon of mass activism, “He’s a walking telethon.”
In preparation for our QueerWise theatrical troupe’s Gay Pride show, The Woman In Me, our largest and most diverse group—seven lesbians, five gay men, one sexually fluid woman, one transman, one transwoman, two of whom are new Black female members and two Caucasian women under 30-years old)—has chosen to explore one of the hottest button issues facing queers today: abortion.
We couldn’t have chosen a more sprawling subject than “women” which encompasses, perhaps at the top of the list, the tangled issue that is consuming American politics: “abortion.” That’s because—even if you were a member of the same party, the same religion, the same gender, the same book club, and the same bowling league—somewhere in the discussion of abortion, you’ll disagree.
That’s called nuance.
To see women possibly stripped of the right to control their bodies is the most pressing human rights concern that I must immediately confront. As fairly intelligent beings with concern for a future beyond our own existence, it is incumbent upon us to look at everything we’re told through the prism of a funhouse mirror: Nothing is as it appears to be.
Sure, we can travel from state to state (including, I’m embarrassed to say, Missouri, the one I was born in) and parse the number of trimesters and some of the contingencies dictated by religiosity that justify toying with a woman’s right to choose, but look at the Bigger Picture and what emerges is as horrifying as anything I can conceive.
It becomes impossible not to link two momentous events of the 20th century: Stonewall, celebrating its 50th year anniversary this year, and Roe v. Wade, the 1973 clear-sighted ruling of the Supreme Court that protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose whether or not to have an abortion.
Now some forces are attempting to rob America of its gorgeous colors, its landscapes peopled with variegated flesh tones that comprise a map of what’s human here, stomping out its flourishes and flares of sensuality; wiping out a culture of ballet schools in mini-malls and LGBTQ choruses in almost every state in the union. Butch it up, they say, put America back in the saddle again, where brutality triumphs over sensuality and the NRA is the Forever Prom King.
If you tease out their twisted reasons to end a woman’s right to choose, you cannot help but also see the not-so-subtle foreshadowing of exercising power over the bodies of queer people, not only gay men, who are often rightly or wrongly labeled as sexually promiscuous, immoral, stains on society.
These laws of morality ignited Stonewall and the women’s movement, and, fueled by the skewed engine of religiosity not legality, have been flouted from the pulpits of multiple denominations, forever uniting women and queers in their pursuits of happiness.
Not so fast, my darlings. Oh, no. Because while we were shaking our booties to Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” on dance floors from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine and our sistahs were cheering the impassioned articulations of Gloria Steinem at rallies, parades, and demonstrations across this country, the indestructible thread of misogyny that exists in men did not exclude gay men. We often forget, as a very smart therapist once said to me, “Gay men are men.”
And that maleness carries so much toxicity, lingering in the body, even when the brain knows it is crippling the soul. In similar ways that so many young girls were taught to fear, or even hate their bodies, so were we. If they were impregnated, there was no way to abort so their lives were essentially branded “over.” If a gay man’s body was engaged in sex for any reason other than procreation, he literally or figuratively was headed for the hoosegow.
And while the AIDS crisis may have subdued the sexual revolution, many gay men, to the absolute horror (not to mention severe judgment) of their brethren, took certain matters involving their own bodies into their own hands. They refused to take AZT, refused to wear condoms, refused anti-retrovirals altogether, did not believe in Louise Hay or Marianne Williamson and continued to used recreational drugs. Their bodies, not yours. Were there whispers of government intervention? You bet your ass there were.
I distinctly remember a day in October of 1992 when a nurse came to deliver the morphine drip for my lover, Philip, like a neon sign that death was inching closer. To emphasize that point, she showed me how to “speed up” the drip if I thought it “was necessary at any time.” We looked into each other’s eyes and beyond, sharing some dark moment that was as beautiful as it was bitter. She was a lesbian with a spirit of generosity I learned from and hold close to this day.
Being part of QueerWise has pushed my spiritual boundaries, forcing me to discover more of myself with a greater degree of certainty and freedom. So has my 24-year old daughter Katherine, one of the most enlightened and spiritual beings I have ever met. And I have several women friends and colleagues (including the women of QueerWise and the “women in the men” of QueerWise) who guide me in these areas that go oh so deep and connect in ways that are—well, yes—divine. And today, approaching 70, I am grateful for such wisdom and choice.