Earl Jackson, Jr.
The first summer we were together, one evening we were
out having a beer and the subject turned to birthdays. I winced, because
I always avoid telling people when my birthday is. This time it was particularly
uncomfortable for me, because that day happned to be my birthday. When
he asked me when mine was, I named a date at random. „November 1,“ I lied.
He jumped – „That’s amazing – mine’s October 31! We can celebrate ours
together.“ I kicked myself under the table, but decided not to tell him
the truth until it was too long after my actual birthday to celebrate it.
Instead of slipping into my habituated depression over my own birthday,
I focused on Gilberto’s. I promised him that on his birthday we would be
in Mexico, the first time for both of us. I wanted to share his first experience
of Mexico with him, and wanted it to be a birthday gift from me.
The trip proved a unique convergence of several miracles.
I initially conceived of it as a celebration of Gilberto’s birthday (his
„identity“), as well as a celebration of his Mexican heritage and his mother’s
language. We undid the damage of his teacher’s ignorant pronouncement,
reminiscent of my sister’s reckless declaration of my unworthiness to have
a birthday. Gilberto’s initial amazement at how well he could function
in Spanish there soon filled out into a new sense of confidence and a confirmation
of all aspects of himself. I was so proud of him. I could no longer ignore
the fact that I had fallen in love with him, too. In other words,
I had to admit to myself he was in love with me, and it wasn’t necesssarily
a mistake or a neurosis.
We rented a car and explored the Yucatan. I got very good
at map reading and „investigating.“ Off the beaten track of a beautiful
tiny beach town called Akumal, I discovered a tucked away grotto called
Yalku, famous for its nesting parrot fish. We drove to Akumal, and followed
my map into the bushes until we reached this beautiful secluded lagoon,
technicolor with all sorts of marine life. We also were enchanted with
Akumal. We promised each other to stay in Akumal for his birthday the following
year, which we did.
At the beginning of our stay in Akumal, Gilberto took
a snorkeling lesson and then taught me. We snorkeled all over our beach
and then borrowed rickety two-speed bicycles from our hotel and rode eight
miles through the jungle on horrendously rocky dirt paths to Yalku. Snorkeling
there was like entering the kaleidoscope, but this time the world was both
fantastic and real, in all the colors that my father would never see, including
the color of the lover who had taught me how to breathe in this world.
We saw barracudas basking underneath us, constellations of triggerfish,
damsels, and blennies. I got nipped by a moray eel, in front of whose cave
I had been dangling my leg. Mexico was a miracle.
Both trips to Mexico were rare breaks in my all-consuming
fervor for work. Writing the book took twelve to sixteen hours a day. Once
I had moved to San Francisco, it frequently happened that Gilberto drove
up on Friday, only to spend the weekend on the living room couch reading,
while I continued to type on the computer, occasionally pleading „just
one more hour.“ The first deadline arrived and I sent the draft manuscript
and outline to the press. Now all I had to do was wait, and while waiting,
do the rewriting, the polishing, and draft the projected chapters. Therefore,
I was just as busy and obsessed after the project’s first goal had been
met as before. Now the chapters took even longer, I frequently stayed up
all night writing, or got up at three or four AM to begin, leaving Gilberto
to sleep alone. In January I received the contract, which increased my
intensity of work because this meant that the book would actually be published.
This also meant I wrote during every waking moment and all weekend every
weekend, because I was now back at teaching. Gilberto was still understanding,
and, although disappointed, he forebore.
Because I had realized early on that my parents had never
loved me, I faced adult emotional life with a contradictory sense of despair
and entitlement. Since the only people who could arguably be considered
under obligation to love me had not, I had no basis for expecting anyone
else to love me. On the other hand, precisely because my parents had
not loved me, I was also susceptible to an unconscious belief in a
sympathetic magic, thinking life owed me someone to love me, to restore
the balance of justice my parents had thrown out of whack. My response
to Gilberto was often structured around these two effects of my emotional
deprivation. I at times simultaneously, at other times alternatively, refused
to accept his love, and yet took it for granted as my due. While the origins
of these attitudes are understandable, neither of them contributed to responsive
capacity conducive to a mutually fufilling relationship. Both left Gilberto
out in the cold. The refusal to accept his love was far more common. My
taking his love for granted, while initially the rarer of the two responses,
however, was actually the one that Gilberto cultivated, eliciting it through
both positive and negative reinforcement.
Gilberto loved acting as the caregiver, the one lavishing
attention on the other, but hated it when the attention was returned, or
if he were made the focus of special attention. One of the first times
I tried this was a disaster. I took him out to a new, fancy restaurant
that had just opened, and laid it on thick that I was doing this „for him.“
It was the first time he was aggressively unappreciative, petty, surly,
and in general unkind and abusive. When I finally protested, „Gilberto,
you have never treated me like this before,“ he seemed to realize what
he was doing and snap out of it. After apologizing he reminded me of the
many times he had told me that he could not tolerate such attention.
If, coming home after a meeting or a late class, I became
overly expressive about my happiness in finding him there, or told him
how much his support and love meant to me, he pushed me away, dismissing
what I said in a goodnatured rebuff that also carried a peculiarly ominous
tone of conviction in his voice, calling me drunk or saying that he wasn’t
going to listen to sweet talk from a bottle. Although I had told him stories
of my heavy drinking days in years past, he had never seen me in such a
condition and in fact he knew that my obsession with the book made me abhor
the idea of being mentally impaired, however pleasant, and that I limited
myself to one or two beers a week, if that. Therefore I took this to be
another message that such direct expressions were intolerable and would
not be acknowledged as valid. This conscious interpretation was supported
by my own aversion to being blamed for something I did not do. Now what
I did not do is to tell him I loved him. I also hate rejection, especially
rejection of a feeling I find difficult to offer in the first place.
I should have pushed him to examine the motivations behind
his rigid altruism and to consider the effects on the relationship if such
attentions were to be exclusively unidirectional. Instead I let the vehemence
of his response reinforce my tendency to withdraw; I assumed my covert
expressions of love and appreciation were understood and found satisfactory.
I retreated into my work for several reasons now: as a defense against
his love; as a protective response against the rejection I felt from his
refusal to accept from me the attentions he gave me; and as a way to demonstrate
the love he would not let me utter directly. This was going to be the greatest,
most stunning book ever written in gay studies, so that it would honor
the dedication to Gilberto that I kept rewriting on a secret file when
he slept or when he was not home. I was like a ten-year old riding my bike
past my „sweetheart’s“ house, calling out „Look, no hands!“ My self-imposed
Sisyphean labor and Gilberto’s indulgence of it were highly overdetermined
for each of us. We formed a feedback loop around my writing that also circumscribed
the hide-and-seek which kept us engaged in our love and our need.
Gilberto loved my „academic self“ and my writing, and I loved his love
of them. In devoting myself to my work I addressed that love while hiding
from his love of me. While at first his positive responses to this movement
in our dance seemed to reflect his investment in my acknowledgment of his
love, I gradually realized it also was a sign of his investment in my hiding
from his love for me and my hiding, or encoding, my love for him.
|Oxydol Poisoning ~ Earl Jackson, Jr.|
The Responsibility to Difference
Theorizing Race and Ethnicity
in Lesbian and Gay Studies
|Desire at Cross[Cultural] Purposes:
Hiroshima, Mon Amour and
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence