It started with a short message and ended up with a whole bunch of choices I never expected.
Not in my wildest dreams.
I’ve read what you had to say. Now it’s my turn.
Stepping away from the mess. It’s not so messy. It seems like it was planned.
This pantomime. Look at the cast of unusual, freakish characters. Look at them.
Boys and men, trans and women.
Young girls. Yes. They are here too.
So you wrote me a poem. No title… of course.
We were connected .
When it expires we are expired.
The order? It was a good idea. It was a great way to formalize the end of our association. I can only imagine that you feel much the same way I do.
I wish we had never met.
Don’t you shudder whenever you think about it?
I understand why you needed to rewrite the narrative.
I took advantage of you?
You had far more to lose by telling the truth.
When assigning blame, I take full responsibility. I should have walked away.
Everyone I trusted advised me to do so. Everyone I trusted.
Instead, I pinned my hopes on you. I found your interest in me all at once baffling and inspiring.
A romantic relationship was impossible.
Because I am a broken, sick man. Incapable of intimacy.
You sold me:
A big fat lie.
Yet, we never talked about my lies. Yes, I lied to you about almost everything.
Lies I had held onto for a very long time.
This man is a liar. Just like me. Did you ever think that?
The last time I checked, and that was some time ago, you seemed very happy wearing your new clothes, your relationship, your job and your family.
I am delighted. You will make a much better job of being a gay than I ever could.
Your ability to form and maintain relationships will mean that you’ll have everything you always wanted. Everything you ever dreamed.
The questions I wanted to ask… I have no reason to ask.
The truth set you free and I am very proud of you… even though I have no desire to set eyes upon you ever again.
May 6th 2013
When did you have time to write that? Was it really meant for me?
Did you wonder if I should reply? Did you think I could?
There are no words left.
The storm rattles the house, thunders down the drain pipes. Torrents of rain over the mountain. Hammering down onto the wide, new leaves.
Make some toast and lime marmalade. Boil some eggs. Stand naked in the warm rain.
Last Monday I qualified at an AA meeting in the East Village. A twenty-minute qualification.
I skipped the drugs and drinking part of the story and talked exclusively about how I got sober and how I stay sober.
Since returning to NYC I had thrown myself back into AA. 90 meetings in 90 days. A new sponsor and a new sponsee. I quickly realized that there was no place for me in the gay meetings and opted for the straight/mixed meetings in far-flung places.
I could blast gay AA if I could be bothered… but I can’t. Needless to say, it’s just not for me.
Monday morning, during the qualification, I nearly burst into tears. In fact, I nearly burst into tears three times.
Once describing seeing the word God in the written steps of Alcoholics Anonymous at my first meeting, the second when describing how humbling it was spending time with the tranny hookers I met in jail and thirdly when I remembered the final moments of my using.
I have never ever cried when qualifying. I knew by the end of my share that something was seriously wrong with me.
I had a fun weekend with a young Texan. We visited the New Museum, had various lunches and dinners with friends but all the while I felt listless, irritable, prone to bad temper.
We had HIV tests, we explored Williamsburg. We looked at art, we bought action figures.
Tyler left on Sunday.
Within hours of his leaving my pee had turned a dark umber.
I felt the return of the pain in my chest that I often commented, when ever I had it, on Facebook.
I told them:
Is this flu or depression or anxiety or kidney failure? Guess what folks… the terrible chest and back cramps have returned with a fever…
The terrible chest and stomach pains that I learned to dread, that had plagued me for the past two years were getting progressively worse.
Now, added to everything else… the pale brown pee. I knew things were… serious. But I remained optimistic that by the morning the pee would return to normal.
On Tuesday morning, despite my optimism, my pee had turned the colour of coca cola.
I called a doctor friend at Cornell who made an appointment to see me immediately.
In huge pain I made my way to his office on the upper east side.
He prodded and poked then had me take a sonogram which revealed the cause of the problem: gall stones… lots of them.
One of them, he suggested, may have lodged in the bile duct and the bile was now backing up into my blood.
By Tuesday afternoon my eyes were bright yellow.
I told my doctor friend that my mother had her gallbladder removed and my father had died of pancreatic cancer. He baulked. He couldn’t be sure that this wasn’t cancer until they had probed a little more.
He took blood and sent me home, making an appointment to see his urologist friend this week.
When I got home I went directly to bed. The pain worsened. I was in difficulty. I called my doctor. He told me to go to the ER.
The doctor called ahead so I was quickly admitted and given a massive dose of morphine.
In a painful daze, during the next day, I had the blockage removed.
The young gay man who removed the stone was incredibly chipper, explained what he was going to do and soon I was asleep.
They shoved something down my throat and into my tummy. They cut into the bile duct and removed the obstruction. They checked my pancreas.
It was ironic: the gall bladder and the pancreas irritating each other. My mother and father at war in my tummy.
I woke up.
Thank GOD it wasn’t cancer. It was a gall stone. But my pancreas was angry. The doctors urged me to have the gallbladder removed.
The following day I was wheeled into surgery and had my Laparoscopic Gallbladder Removal.
I woke up with a dull thud in my belly and four small incisions.
The surgeon described my gallbladder as ‘severely traumatized’.
The bladder had been suffering for many, many years and within hours of surgery I knew that I was waking up without just the physical bladder but without a huge emotional burden.
I felt free. I feel free.
A day longer in the hospital recuperating and they sent me home.
Dear Cristina sent a car to fetch me and Stephen and Roy filled the fridge with wonderful things to eat.
My time in the hospital was made so much better by everyone who works there.
The doctors, surgeons, specialists, nurses and orderlies.
Every one of them treated me with respect, kindness and the level of care I received was without comparison.
Each doctor looked me in the eye, introduced themselves and shook my hand. They described in detail what was going on and gave me options.
The surgeon bantered and made one feel at ease.
The nurses said goodbye to each patient when they left their shift.
Every person I met wished me a speedy recovery and good luck.
Even though the hospital remains over crowded (since hurricane Sandy) and we were housed in former waiting areas and reopened buildings the staff were sublimely professional.
The other patients, however, were terrible. They complained about everything. The staff remained, in the face of this rank ingratitude, resilient.
I saw drug addicts in the ER demand morphine. I heard men rudely tell nurses that they ‘didn’t do’ wards. I heard cantankerous men demand their diapers changed. The nurses were treated like care slaves. Like servants.
The lack of any kind of humility from most patients was stunning.
I apologized whenever I could for the behavior of my fellow patients.
I’m sure that fear and pain determine the behaviors of most people in hospital.
I’m sure that the entitled rich expect so much more because of the high insurance premiums they pay and the poor… well, they never get to treat anybody as they are treated.
Still, it’s no excuse. Bad manners prevail.
It was another peculiarly American experience, one I will never forget.
The dogs were happy to see me but I was less happy to see them. I couldn’t deal with how much attention they demanded.
I lay in my bed watching the Oscars. A long way away from that terrible, cruel world.
The definite seasons on the east coast. The passing days, changing. Slowly.
Each day has a brand new identity. New light. Color.
The bland, endless Los Angeles summer has finally come to an end. After 8 long years. I am heading home.
I pull on my knee-length, woolen socks and my heavy boots.
I am going to therapy… daily. I am finally addressing the issues I have been ignoring this past year. You know, those pesky medical issues.
Strangely, without warning… even though we share the same streets. I never see him. Nor do I wish to conjure him, manifest him, make him appear… I had lunch with one of his co-workers the other day, a youngster (we met at an AA meeting) who wanted his job.
It was funny being at the same table as someone who works in close proximity to him. Their opinion.
They knew the story. An urban myth that they delighted in fact checking.
Of course there’s loads going on (Film/House/Social) but somehow I don’t have the energy to write it.
I take pictures and let that suffice.
I found a picture of Joe. He’s obsessively going to the gym. A man mountain. In his late 60’s now.
I scarcely ever think about him. Isn’t that odd? To have no thoughts about someone who was once the center of your world.
With a last moment, radical change of plan the boy and I found ourselves in Woodstock, two hours north of NYC.
An effortless drive with Amelia and Stephanie.
He had arrived from Toronto the night before… looking even more beautiful than I remembered him. His flashing green eyes, his perfect pale skin.
The house is cozy and beautifully decorated. The land around it manicured.
The kitchen well designed for making huge dinners for many people.
We drove into the quaint town of Woodstock for Santa’s arrival. We arrived too late.
There are very many, odd-looking people in Woodstock. This seems to be the place where hippies come to die. During their twilight years communing with the ghosts of Jerry Garcia and Janice Jopling.
We gawped in awe at the Hippy Alternative Santa with his bearded female companion.
We wandered the tiny shops that sell scented candles and argyle mittens.
In one of the curious hippy shops an old man wearing a black robe… playing a long flute asked Stephanie riddles. She looked askance. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She said.
It was a bit too Lord of the Rings for me.
A few too many gardenias painted on the clap board.
Christmas Eve we ate gigot, a traditional French Christmas eve treat. We sang Christmas tunes in the kitchen as Mary (our hostess) cooked.
A late night. The boy curled around me. The dogs at my feet. The night before Christmas.
We woke on Christmas morning to a light dusting of snow. Thrilling!
We ate toasted panatone and coffee for breakfast.
The boy and Stephanie made cookies… they tasted divine.
After Christmas dinner we checked our tarot cards by a roaring fire. It caused Stephanie a certain amount of comfort and tears.
Amelia suggested that we celebrate the solstice with pagan rituals. We burned the past in the fire and toasted our good fortune.
Late last night we watched The Impossible which made us all sob.
Occasionally we (he and I) would sneak away from the party and… well you know the rest.
Here you go:
There is a week of mayhem to report. A week of extraordinary conduct. A week of moving back east.
I can’t show you his face.
Only in NYC.
Then, I meet a woman who KNOWS all about my film. I mean, she knows the story like an urban myth. But it’s not a myth. It’s the sad truth.
“Oh, I know this story,” she said. Her eyes sparkling with anticipation. “I think he’s my friend on Facebook. Yes, look…” she pulls out her smart phone and there he is. I push the phone away. I shouldn’t be looking at that.
“What was he thinking?” she roars with laughter.
Women love my film. It confirms everything they think they know about men. The injustice of men.
Dead five-year olds. 20 of them.
The children are shot dead by a crazed, entitled white boy. The little bodies buried this week. Lined up against the wall and executed. You know they didn’t have a clue. You know they did as they were told.
I thought about the little dog facing the lethal injection.
A horrific pendant: ten Afghan children are splattered into the mud by a drone.
Somehow their little brown faces are missing from the media. Somehow the little white children in Connecticut are worth more.
We asked you to vote for him, now he’s letting us down all over again. Surprise, fucking surprise.
I saw a man being mugged on the 5 train. Into Manhattan, a stealthy, tall, nimble black man rips an iPhone 4s out of an asian man’s hands leaving him with his ear phones on his head. The rest of us sat amazed.
The white people urged him to call the police but he said, “I’m already late for work.”
I’m buying a parker. It’s lined with blood-red shearling. Like the monkey they found in Ikea.
Dinner in the neighborhood, dinner at the Mercer Kitchen with Courtney, dinner at the Standard Grill with Brock.
Dinner with Cristina who I have not seen for 30 years on the floor of her palatial Upper East Side home. It was as if all those 30 years just melted away. That we were friends again from last week. Funny, compelling, brilliant, beautiful Cristina.
Dinner with new gay AA friends in cheap diners.
Dinner at Mary’s Fish Camp with Benoit. We stop at Boxers (gay bar) on the way home. There’s nothing for us. Benoit peels off leaving me on the street and as I wait for the green light a handsome green eyed man says hello.
At first I wonder why. Why is this stunningly handsome 27-year-old man saying hello to me.
Then we’re in Barracuda kissing each other.
I’m wearing that huge fur hat.
I can’t kiss him any more. I can’t suck any more spit out of his mouth. I can’t look into his green eyes.
I am so overwhelmed by him I walk through the rain until I am soaked to the skin. Wondering how it happens? Wondering how it ends up like this?
All the way home I’m humming Nature Boy to myself.
In the morning my room smells of damp fur.
On October 1st I will be 16 years sober.
That means that I have not had a drink or a drug for 16 years.
I got sober and I didn’t relapse.
Gay men find it impossible to stay sober. They relapse again and again. The reason is clear: sex. Sexual addiction. I am not suggesting that all gay men who claim that they are alcoholic are in fact sex addicts but most gay men who can’t stay sober cite sex as the primary reason for relapse.
The simple fact of the matter is that most of the time, readily available anonymous hook ups quickly take the place of alcohol and drugs. When a sober man walks into the apartment of a super hot man doing crystal meth, sobriety is quickly flushed down the toilet along with HIV status.
I hear the story over and over again. Yet, as a community, we think we can get away with this risky behavior. It is an arrogant vanity.
Gay AA is a sad affair. I go periodically—mostly when I flee the super charged straight stag meetings because I find the straight, young newcomers too triggering.
While many straight sober people create a new life with AA that involves abandoning bars and other locations that might lead to relapse, gay sober men often want a sober version of the life they had before, complete with dance parties, bars and gogo boys. Any reason to have a party will do—including the absurd “three-month anniversary.” Or, as one galling invitation I received said, “Help Joe S. celebrate his one-month anniversary.”
Forgive me if I’m wrong but anniversaries are a yearly celebration.
Many of these sober parties are indistinguishable from their non sober equivalent: scantily clad men line up for espresso machines manned by disco short-wearing super hot straight guys more used to shaking cocktails than dispensing coffee to gay guys jacked up on caffeine. Unable to attend drug-crazed gay circuit parties, many gay sober men in LA flock to the sober circuit parties, such as Hot ‘n Dry, which is held annually in Palm Springs. These events are more likely to take someone out than any other reason I’ve ever heard in gay AA. Yearly, after this event, bedraggled gay men turn up at meetings, their eyes blazing from excessive drug use, taking newcomer chips. Should I be surprised? After all, the Hot n’ Dry ticket salesman had assured me that it would be “a sex fest from the moment you arrive at the Ace Hotel.”
The absurd idea that we can behave like we have always behaved as long as we have a deluded and lackluster understanding of the 12 steps just doesn’t work. Two years ago, after I appeared on Sex Rehab With Dr. Drew, I suggested that within the gay community, we might have a sexual unmanageability problem and was flooded with vitriol. But that’s not going to stop me from sharing what I believe to be serious issues.
The other serious issue within gay AA, in my opinion, is the resistance to God or a Higher Power. Most of my gay sponsees are understandably wary of God. The Christian God—the religious God—hasn’t made them feel very welcome in the past and has actually steeped them in shame and misery. To find that at the heart of AA is a God—even if it’s one of their own understanding—is anathema to most gay men. From what I can determine, most gay men just ignore the God part of the 12 steps—a relevant fact when the God part, in my estimation, accounts for roughly 90% of recovery. Working through the God options with gay men can be excruciating. Why bother looking for spiritual validation when they can get immediate validation on Grindr?
I used to love AA in LA; my love for it was actually the reason I first moved to LA. Now I hate it. It’s like a cult—sober grandees ruling over desperate men, the film industry providing the sickest of backdrops: men flaying themselves before agents and film executives in the hope of catching crumbs from the sober table I see this everywhere from the straight stag meetings, where misogyny and homophobia are expressed freely, to the sickest meetings of all: Gay AA in LA.
For all of these reasons and more, last November, after nearly 16 years, I stopped going to AA meetings. I was exhausted, disillusioned and utterly miserable. My last meeting in LA, at the iconic Log Cabin on Robertson in West Hollywood, was a gay meeting attended by 300 gay men.
I couldn’t walk away fast enough.
And yet yesterday, after a nine-month hiatus, I walked into a co-ed meeting in Park Slope, Brooklyn. I was an hour early. I helped set out the chairs in ten neat rows and then I made the coffee. During the meeting, I shared my resentments and my fears and afterwards, a tiny woman called Dianne came up to me and let me have two full barrels of her tough love wisdom.
“It’s time for you to get fucking humble,” she said. “Come back and do fucking 90 in 90 like a newcomer.”
She was right. After months away from AA, I felt spiritually bankrupt. I stopped fighting and did what we are all meant to in the rooms of AA: I gave in.
Later that evening, the young man I helped set up the meeting took me for dinner. We talked recovery. This morning, we had sex. There I was, doing the walk of shame, doubled down. I had once again fucked a newcomer, counting days. It’s my story in AA. The younger men find my honesty irresistible and I can’t say no.
When I first got sober in London, the only gay men I met in AA were old queens at the Eton Square meeting. I met a couple of gay men in NA but within the deluded gay community, at that time, there was a mantra I heard over and over that “quitting was for losers.” Several years later, after celebrities like Boy George got sober, the rooms of AA and NA filled quickly with what we now recognize as gay recovery.
Back then I was accused, by my drinking friends, of being a contrarian—of rocking the boat and spoiling it for the others. As it happened, I was in the vanguard. I remember being hounded by drunken gay men who were outraged that I might, just by being sober, challenge their powerlessness and un-manageability. Of course those very same men now thank me for introducing them to the 12 steps.
After a few months away from AA, I am ready to start again but, as Dianne said, I’ve got to get humble, forget all those years of sobriety and do 90 meetings in 90 days. For the first time in a long time, I value my life. I should have left LA years ago but I’m a tenacious old queen; I didn’t want to let go. Just one more meeting might fix me. Just more line, one more Vodka Tonic and the crazy opera playing in my head might stop.
Walking back into AA in New York was a relief, a joy—just like it used to be. I want to be sober. The only problem getting in the way of that is me. But I know that if I’m going to be able to do it, I’ll have to learn how to say no to sex. As a single gay man, the consequences are dire if I don’t.