Oxydol Poisoning Part 14

Oxydol Poisoning Part 14

 Earl Jackson, Jr.

Gilberto started complaining in our second year. He had decided to give up on the relationship while I was away for a week as a visiting scholar for the Center for Japan Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. I could tell something was up when I called him. He was very cold and unresponsive. He was even worse when he picked me up at the airport. I talked him into trying again, and promised to try myself. I still wanted more than ever to take two weeks off for Mexico instead of one, even if I had to lend him most of his fare. I also promised to find a therapist for my workaholism beginning in January when the insurance cycle would permit it. In the meantime, Gilberto decided to see a therapist in Santa Cruz shortly before we left for Mexico, to clarify some of his ambivalence toward his family and to come to terms with his childhood. This astonished me, because he had always said he did not believe in them. He had two sessions with the therapist before his work schedule, our vacation, and then preparations for his move to San Francisco in December made it impossible for him to continue with her.

When Gilberto confronted me on my return from Ann Arbor with his unhappiness great enough to make him willing to leave me, I was I able to look more closely at a fear that was at the heart of my pain and confusion at the restaurant when Gilberto had responded so negatively to my expression of affection. At the point I knew I had to acquiesce to his refusal to accept such expressions, I began to worry about the relations between Gilberto’s one-sided giving and the fate of his other relationships. I feared that some of the exploitation and neglect Gilberto suffered at the hands of his ex-boyfriends (which is what made them „white“ in his narratives) was to some extent, if not elicited, certainly supported by his insistence on their participation in his altruism. Such unbridled giving eventually spoils the recipient; it may have even conditioned shifts in Gilberto’s boyfriends‘ deportment to levels of selfishness that Gilberto deplored in his father’s and brother’s behavior. I wondered when my capitulation to this rule would exceed his level of tolerance, rendering me the kind of bastard my predecssors had eventually proven to be? At what point would my compliance guarantee Gilberto’s dissatisfaction? And how could this relationship, however „individual“ and idiosyncratic, remain isolated from the racial makeup of its agents, and how could Gilberto be expected not to feel his personal anger confluent with a social and cultural anger at the history of Anglo exploitation of Mexicans and Mexican Americans, even if the disequilibrium in our relationship was initially of Gilberto’s express construction? We had reached that point. I am not suggesting that I had been trapped, nor do I attribute the cul-de-sac at which we arrived to a no-win situation of meeting a demand and accepting the anger that meeting such a demand incites. This is not a neurotic conundrum, but a sociopolitical contradiction, not merely a personal victimization from a repetition compulsion, but a particular, local instance of the incessant yet metamorphic tragedy of institutionalized racism as a fundamental cultural horizon. Retrospectively mapping the ways the „personal“ and the „political“ intermeshed in my years with Gilberto leads me to conclude that one of the reasons race is such a profound dynamic in interracial relationships, is, paradoxically, because of a kind of default social epistemology that facilitates the reconstruction of any interpersonal situation in terms of racial politics, even if race was not a principle element in the minds, motivations, and actions of the parties involved.

Even when the intrapsychic and/or interpersonal dynamics have no discernible (or merely tangential) relation to issues of race, these moments, and the subjective and intersubjective complexes constituting them, can be retroactively resignified (or reinterpreted) in terms of racial politics. Neither our individual social histories regarding race nor the histories and contemporary situations of the larger social order (and of the embedded, subordinated, and contestatory subcultures therein) will allow any moment of our relationship to remain insulated from racial meaning. When people who knew Gilberto see me with one of the white men I have dated since our break-up, they often comment, „Oh, I thought you liked Latinos.“ But when people who had not known Gilberto see me, they do not say, „Oh, so you like white men.“ The discrepancy of inference is another example of the epistemology of white hegemony that renders „white“ an essence without particulars, and white men beings without characteristics. (I assure you that the white men I date have plenty of characteristics far more compelling than the incapacity of their skin to retain pigment.) When I had first met Gilberto, he had only dated or had been in relationships with other white men. Mexican, Chicano and Latino gay men in the area who had seen Gilberto with his partners at the gay bar in earlier years assumed that he was „white identified“ and repressing his identification with his ethnic heritage. Given that Gilberto was only twenty-eight at the time I met him, and that he had been in a series of monogamous relationships lasting from several months to several years, and considering the paucity of eligible gay men in Santa Cruz and the far smaller number of „out“ gay men of color, the racial make-up of Gilberto’s partners cannot be immediately ascribed to an exclusive preference for white men or an internalized racism. Furthermore, even if he had made a conscious decision not to date Chicano/Latino men, this choice may have been based not on racial identity but on gender politics, since Gilberto associated Chicano male styles of self-presentation with the oppressive and homophobic behavior of his father and brothers.

On the other hand, even if there is no discernible racial determination in Gilberto’s object choices – even if we could prove their shared whiteness coincidental – it is impossible to foreclose racial politics from these relationships and Gilberto’s erotic life. Why? Because the tension between the „fact“ of his partners‘ race, and the signifying excess of „race“ that can never be reduced to a „fact,“ structures a contradictory and heterogeneous discursive field in and through which these relationships develop and articulate their multidimensional particularities.

I learned this lesson viscerally through the certain loss of Gilberto and from facing the enormity of his hurt and anger then and thereafter, beginning that Sunday in December when it turned out that one of the other agendas in Gilberto’s therapeutic sessions had been to clarify his resolve to leave me. He needed more out of life than our relationship promised and he could no longer wait for me to find time to live. In insufficiently exorcising the most abject self-identifications any dominant ideology would impose on its lower-class subjects, I acted in ways that made me a „white male“ in Gilberto’s lexicon. The longterm effects of my „oxydol poisoning“ obscured from my critical awareness the peculiarity of my obsessive ambition and its monstrous costs; the longterm exhaustion and rage from struggling against an oxydol-whitened world left Gilberto little option but to leave. In a ghastly irony, my neurotic fear and shame-based behavior drove Gilberto to the very act my insecurities had coincidentally predicted at the beginning of the relationship: he found a therapist to cure him of me. Realizing now that his love was not a symptom, I know too late Gilberto’s giving up on me was not a „recovery,“ but a loss for us both. It is not a loss that a critical insight can ameliorate, nor a political conviction vindicate. But it is nevertheless crucial to develop a new analytic understanding and articulate a politics through my reflections on this loss, if I am to resist this class subjectivation and disengage from this mode of my racial identity.

Oxydol Poisoning ~ Earl Jackson, Jr.















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