Friday, October 31, 2014

Glitter Bomb

The Pride Parade started off with a bang. Billy, a still-fit 33-year old journalist was throwing glitter bombs—small firework devices that erupted into harmless glittery explosions—from a float in the parade. And even though it sounds a little bit silly, glitter bomb thrower was actually a highly coveted position. Attendees loved them and would often refer to them as “explosively fabulous.” As sort of an inside joke, a small minority called them “fabulously explosive.” And if we’re going to be completely honest, the bombs really were beautiful. It wasn’t just a gay thing. When Billy wanted to get the crowd going, he would throw multiple bombs at once, a loud pop followed by a sparkling shower of glitter falling from above. It was light and free, the whole thing. Oh, the joy that follows freedom. Billy was a minor celebrity in town and had found some success reporting on gay issues for the city’s newspaper. He was known nationally for his interviews, which were crude but often surprisingly poignant. His focus was the gay rights movement, but he also spent a great deal of time interviewing pornographers and other gay icons. It was this minor fame that landed him the glitter bomb thrower gig.

Billy was a parade veteran, having attended his first at the age of 19 and only missing a handful since. He had not always been so secure with his sexuality, though, and things like pride parades would have once made him feel uncomfortable and out of place. Like many young men, he was raised in a Christian home, something that he, quite often, referred to as “repressive”—a term he found to be exceedingly insightful. He was at a coffee shop with friends the first time he referred to his upbringing this way. His friends almost universally praised his ability and willingness to criticize his parents and their religion. Though one of his friends thought the term was “more than a little cliché.” During his second parade, Billy found the courage to receive oral sex from a leather-clad man with some sort of chain around his neck. Billy didn’t enjoy the experience so much as he felt it was an important rite of passage. He thought that if he were able to express his sexuality so openly and so casually, he really could say that he was a person who was secure with it.

He officially came out to his parents in his junior year of college during Christmas break. His parents, though kind and well-meaning people, did not understand. Billy expected a loud display. An argument at least. But there was nothing of the sort. His father encouraged him to date more women, while his mother remained silent. It was awkward and uncomfortable, and the relationship never recovered. Even through his father’s unexpected illness and death, Billy never confided in them. After his father’s death, his mother tried to reconcile, writing him a letter once assuring him that she “accepted his lifestyle choice.” Billy told his friends of this breakthrough, again at a coffee shop, even going so far as showing them the letter. His friends were thrilled. A triumph. He never responded to the letter.

The parade was especially crowded this year, due in no small part to the state’s recent legislation legalizing gay marriage. It was a celebration for everyone, and it seemed as if the whole town had shown up. They even had to hire extra police to cover the event. For fun, some of the police decided to wear short shorts in a show of their support. This sometimes proved problematic, as a number of attendees mistakenly assumed that the short-shorted police officers were simply in costume. As the parade turned the corner, Billy noticed his long-term boyfriend, Tom, in the crowd. He and Tom had a very complex and difficult relationship, and despite the physical chemistry between the two, they often fought. In fact, Tom had no plans to even attend the parade this year, as the two had an argument before Billy left for the parade. Billy was angry that Tom thought that his being a part of the parade was silly and “something twenty year olds did.”

The parade was of course not what was bothering either of them. In reality, Billy and Tom had grown apart. Mostly because Tom had lost quite a lot of his good looks in his early 30’s. Billy often tried to convince himself that he wasn’t quite so superficial, that there really were legitimate problems in the relationship, but in his more honest moments, he knew that it really was because Tom’s hair was thinning and his stomach growing. This was often the case in Billy’s life. He was not a shallow person, but as it is with most people, he tended to be deeper with people whom he found attractive. He of course never admitted this, as no one does, and he would be the first to criticize a person who were cruel or dismissive of an unattractive person, but he had very few unattractive friends, and the ones he was friends with, the relationship was not particularly meaningful. Billy had technically cheated on Tom a handful of times. Never emotionally. But certainly physically. Billy secretly thought that the idea of monogamy was outdated and silly, especially among homosexuals. “The whole thing was meant to keep people together when they had children; I really don’t understand why it matters,” he’d think to himself. But he never said it. He didn’t want to undermine the movement, which was built on love. But he didn’t love Tom. At least not then.

Tom was one of those gay icons that Billy was known for interviewing. A little older than Billy, they had actually met during an interview, and after consummating the relationship the night of the interview, began seeing each other more or less exclusively. Their first real date was at a political dinner, and Billy, attractive as he was, loved the attention he received being Tom’s boyfriend. Tom was a writer-turned-politician who had played no small part in helping to popularize gay rights in a number of states. He was a genuine man, proud of his work, who had very little time for things like gay pride parades. Though, if you ever spoke with him or saw him on the news, he would be sure to let you know how much he supported such demonstrations. “We rose up through these parades. Society called us scum” he would say, “and we adopted that title, transformed it, and became great.” He was very inspirational. There were always rumors of his being “the first gay president” after he spoke to large audiences. The media loved this particular rumor, and pundits on news shows would often say things like, “Well, isn’t it about time?” whenever the issue would come up. Tom would normally laugh off the rumors. He of course wanted it to happen, though, and had hired a number of groups, secretly, to research such a possibility.

When Billy saw Tom standing there waiting for the float, Billy began to feel a little bit guilty. Not just because Tom had decided to come despite not wanting to, but because at that moment he really knew that he didn’t much care for this person. A lot of the charm had worn off, and despite being part of what the news referred to as a “gay power couple,” Billy knew it was phony. Billy had a great deal of difficulty knowing what he was supposed to want as a gay man. All around him there was a social push to legitimize his relationship, but in reality, he didn’t really care. He didn’t want a husband. He didn’t really even want a long-term boyfriend. All he wanted to do was have sex with young, attractive men. Men with good abs. Men with blonde hair. This always made him feel guilty and frustrated, disconnected not only from other gay men but from people in general. He secretly thought that everyone was like him but was just faking it. Sort of like how he was. After all, he’d made a career out of the gay movement. And his now-fat boyfriend who was standing there before him on that crowded street was one of the most important members of that movement. But he didn't really care. And it’s not that he just didn’t care about Tom specifically. He really didn’t care in general. He didn’t dream of finding that perfect lover, the person who would complete him. He didn’t even dream about being surprised by love. He knew he was supposed to. He just didn’t. A defect in himself, he would sometimes think. 

Billy resolved to break up with him. After the parade. And hopefully after they had sex that night. Or maybe before. He wasn’t sure which was more appropriate. But he was sure that the relationship just wasn’t going to work out. It would be better for both of them. And if he got a little bit of media attention, so be it. It couldn’t hurt. Tom did look pretty good there, though, standing on the corner. He had a great smile. Real masculine. That’s what Billy first noticed about him. A strong jaw. Even when you get fat, you can still have a great jaw. As the float approached Tom, Billy hesitated, forgetting his glitter bomb duties for a moment, thinking about the way Tom used to look. Maybe he could encourage him to lose some weight, he thought. Maybe it could work out somehow. The crowd started to boo, and Billy quickly snapped out of it. He had a job to do, and the crowd wanted their glitter bombs. As Billy pulled closer to Tom, Billy blew him a big kiss. Like in the movies. Tom smiled and gestured for the bombs; he wanted some thrown his way. Tom knew how to get in the moment when he felt like it. It was something Billy liked about him. Despite the serious attitude, he knew how to let go when the time was right. And the time was right. So Billy picked up four of five bombs and decided to throw them all at once. He’d never thrown four or five before, but he wanted to really cover Tom with as much glitter as he could. He thought it’d be funny. The bombs felt a little heavier than they should have, but Billy didn’t think anything of it. He really liked the song being played, a beautiful shirtless man was dancing next to him, and he was free. Free to have a good time. In public. This is what people should have, he thought. To stop worrying about themselves and to just enjoy life.

The moment the glitter bombs left his hand, he knew something was wrong. But it was too late. As the bombs crossed over Tom’s head, they detonated. But not harmlessly this time. A loud explosion. Glitter covered the sky as people started to scream and scatter, their panic drowned out by the thumping bass of Billy’s favorite song. Not much of Tom remained when the smoke cleared. The people who were standing near Tom were strewn about, either dead or unconscious, some missing limbs. And Billy, though thrown from his feet, remained conscious. The blast, while violent, seemed to be mostly centralized around Tom. Billy didn’t know what to do. He’d always wondered what people did in these sorts of situations. So he hid in the float, covered in glitter and the blood of his lover. He kept hoping that Tom didn’t see his face when the explosions went off. It was a selfless thought. The idea of Tom seeing the man he loved in terror before he was killed was just too much for Billy. Billy remained hidden in the float until the police found him, nearly an hour later. He was petrified, crying. Oh, the horror that follows freedom. After he saw what remained of Tom along the sidewalk, he left as soon as the police would let him. He needed to shower. So he did. But no matter how hard he tried, Billy could not manage to get all the glitter out of his hair. You know how that is.

———————

            In total, three people were killed, including Tom, and fourteen more were injured. A man named John Dane Cleburne took credit for the attack. He spent no time hiding or running from authorities. In fact, an hour after the attack, John contacted the media to explain his role in the attacks. The police and the media arrived at his home, a ranch-style three bedroom in a middle class suburb, just minutes after his call. John was 42, lived alone, was never married, and never even dated. He had no living relatives, and he mostly kept to himself, working at a used book store. He had inherited the home from his parents, who died many years ago. When the police arrived, John showed them to the garage, where the bomb-making materials were still strewn about. When they handcuffed him, one of the policemen spit in his face. John tried to hold back a smile. A genuine one. As he was led out of the garage toward a police car, the media swarmed him. “Why did you do it!” they yelled and pushed, almost in unison. “How do you feel about killing a child?” one woman asked. A young girl apparently was one of the three killed in the explosion. Not too young to be at a pride parade though.

John smiled and paused. The police let him answer the question. Paraphrasing the Epistle of James, he said, slowly, “Every man is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. When lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived. Every good thing and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of Lights.” The media erupted, asking him to explain what he meant. “Is that from the Bible! Are you a Christian?!” one reporter yelled from the middle of crowd. The police took him away before John was able to respond. The media spent countless months covering the incident. For nearly six weeks after the killings, every news station discussed John’s use of the biblical quote. An unending string of pundits weighed in on the use and meaning of the quote. 

            Media coverage lasted through the trial. John refused to plead guilty and chose to represent himself. It was not much of a trial; John instead used the courtroom as a way to get his message out. Speaking much more clearly this time, he said, after questions began by the prosecution, “These people prance around and destroy this once shining bastion of Christian purity, and you expect me not to kill them?” He could barely stop his voice from shaking. “And that one, the one I got, thought he was going to be president. Doesn’t look like that is going to happen, now does it?!” The courtroom erupted. “What gives you the right!” a parent of one of the victims yelled from the courtroom gallery. “Right?” John asked. “Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:9-10. They give me the right. God gives me the right. Without God, there are no rights.” The courtroom broke into a frenzy, and the judge was forced to clear the gallery.   

            John Dane Cleburne was found guilty of first degree murder and was sentenced to death by lethal injection. A number of strong opponents of the death penalty changed their minds in light of the ruling. Media coverage continued for months. The killing and trial were discussed as watershed events in American history. Many pundits referred to the killings as the moment the country as a whole began to take gay rights seriously. Rumors began to circulate that Billy was going to interview John while he waited on death row. The rumor was actually initially untrue, and Billy had no plans of interviewing him, but as is the case with many rumors, once the idea gets into the public’s mind, it simply has to come to pass. At first, Billy was resistant. But only because he thought it would be inappropriate. In reality, he loved the idea. He thought, secretly, telling no one, that it was sort of poetic. Billy eventually accepted the offer. As did John. The interview was to take place on the year anniversary of the killings.

          John was kept separate from the other inmates. Considering the infamy of the crime, authorities feared for John’s life. The interview itself took place in a white-walled room. The interview was to take place one on one with a single unmanned camera. A guard was to remain right outside of the interview room, and John was to remain handcuffed. Billy’s interviewing talent consisted of getting the interviewee to feel comfortable and open up. He had never had much luck getting people to open up when people crowded the person being interviewed or when there were too many cameras around. As Billy walked into the interview room, he saw John in person for the first time. Billy was surprisingly more emotional than he thought he would be. This always seemed to be the case in Billy’s life. John was also more attractive than Billy anticipated. This bothered Billy a little bit.

            “My name is William.”

            “I know who you are; it’s nice to meet you,” John said.

Billy did not know if he should return the niceties. 

“This is very hard for me. I—”

            “Is it?” John asked.

            “You murdered my boyfriend.”

            “Yes.”

            Billy was thrown off by how calm John was. He had anticipated the man at the trial. He tried to react to the change. After the usual introductory questions, Billy got straight into the interview.

“Do you feel bad about the attack?” Billy asked.

            “That is a difficult question.”

            “Why is that a difficult question? How do you feel?”

            “Good and bad aren’t that easy,” John said, scratching his face.

“Well, that may be, but as I said, this is incredibly difficult for me. I…in fact, this may have been a mistake.”

            “It wasn’t.”

            “What do you mean?”

            “It’s poetic,” John said, smiling.

            Billy paused. “You seem different than you were in the courtroom.”

            “Yes, that makes sense.”

            “Why does that make sense?”

“We’ll get to that in a little while; you should ask what everyone 
wants to know.”

Billy paused again. He wasn’t sure if he was losing control of the interview. “I don’t know what everyone wants to know, but what I want to know is why you—why you think you had the right to kill the man I loved.”

            “There it is.”

            “Excuse me?”

            “I killed that man to ensure the death of this world.”

            “What does that mean?”

Pausing to collect his thoughts, then continuing, “I used to have hope in this world. I used to lament its death. I used to look around and see fat, single moms and, well, gay pride parades and say, “Look at this mess; we have to fix this mess.” It was a silly thing to think, I get that now. But it’s what I used to think.”

            “And now?”

            “I still lament it. I meant that it was a silly thing to think to try to fix it.”

            “You don’t want to fix it?”

“No, I do; I just don’t think, or I’ve learned from this world, that trying to fix it is not how to fix it.”

            “I don’t understand.”

            “This world. It showed me the beauty of wickedness. It—”

            “So you admit it was wicked, to kill To—the love of my life.”

“Of course,” waiving his hand. “But that’s not the point. It showed me how goodness is birthed from wickedness.”

This upset Billy. He wasn’t sure why. “I believe in this world,” he said. “This world believes in love. I believe in love. What do you believe in?”

John smiled. “Alright. I will show you your world. I will show you your love.”

Billy flinched, thinking this was a threat. And it was in a way. But not like that.

“I want to tell you a couple stories,” John continued.

“Stories?”

“Yes, I think they will better explain what I mean.”

Pausing, “This doesn’t seem relevant to—”

“It’s relevant. Have a little faith, Billy.”

“My name is William.”

“The first story goes like this. There was once a couple. A very successful couple. A beloved couple. By friends and family. Melissa was the youngest person to be named editor at a very prestigious publication. Joe was a successful attorney. They had started dating while he was in law school. And they really liked one another. They had a lot of sex and generally got along. Sometimes they would go out and then have sex at home. And sometimes they would make fancy dinners at home and then have sex. They loved to have sex. They once had a pregnancy scare, but it turned out to be nothing. Such a relief.

They married when he was thirty and she was twenty-eight. It was a beautiful wedding. On a beach. Her uncle was a priest and insisted it take place in a church, but she thought church weddings were “too stuffy.” So they were married at sunset. With no shoes on. They never considered having children, and during the courtship, they both made it clear to one another that children were not part of the plan. They had a “10 year plan.” She would become editor in chief and he would become partner. And they did. In 9 years. A triumph. But after they succeeded in their plan, they didn’t have another plan. Always a problem.

Melissa wanted a baby. In her younger days, she was like many women, disgusted by the idea of spawning something. “And in this world!” she would say behind her pregnant friends’ backs. She was a bit old now, as a lot of women are, but she decided that she wanted one after seeing her assistant’s new baby. She was adorable. Rosy cheeks, blonde hair. Just lovely. Melissa wanted the same thing. Something that she could hold and love.

John did not want a child. “What kind of man wants a child!” he’d say to himself. He argued with her daily about it, and he was more than a little bit annoyed that she had suddenly changed her mind about the whole thing. Finally, in an effort to save the relationship, he gave in. They initially tried the old-fashioned way. But it didn’t go so well. She was too old. So they explored other methods. And alas, Melissa was pregnant. With twins. And she was happy with her success. She thought the whole thing was gross, but she was happy anyway. And twins. She could dress them up in the same outfits, do their hair the same way, the whole thing. She would love her babies. The whole idea got her so excited. Even the matching cribs that she showed off to her friends made her so happy. Until that one fateful day.”

“I don’t know why you feel it necessary to tell me this story,” Billy said, interrupting.

“So, it turned out that one of the fetuses was sick. Very sick. Well, disabled. Down syndrome, you understand. This was terrible news to Melissa and Joe. They wanted healthy twins. Their plans, all their plans, were ruined. Spoiled. But there was hope. There was two of them. So they were lucky. They decided that they would abort the one with down syndrome and deliver the healthy one. And love and cherish that one until it couldn’t take it anymore.

More bad news followed though. Melissa went into the doctor’s office to get the abortion. And she got an abortion. But not the right abortion. The doctor accidentally aborted the wrong fetus. Or the right fetus. That is, the healthy baby was killed instead. Or aborted. You understand. The couple was devastated. Melissa was beside herself. She didn’t know what to do. But there was a silver lining. She hadn’t given birth yet. So she was able to go in and get the right baby aborted. Or the wrong baby. You understand. What a relief.

Still, Melissa was angry. Angry at what the doctor had taken away from her. Angry that he had killed her child. So she sued him. On the stand, she testified that he had “stolen love from her.” She won. Millions and millions and millions of dollars. And she was revered by women around the world for this. That doctor was a monster. And Melissa became a hero, standing up for her rights. Her body.

Honestly, Joe was a little relieved about the whole thing. Happy even. He never really wanted kids anyway. And he was rich now. But Melissa, poor Melissa, lost her love. They never tried to have more children. You know how that goes. You’re older, you don’t really want children.”

“Is this part of your crusade as well? Is abortion a very important issue to you?” Billy asked.

“That story wasn’t about abortion. That was a love story.”

“Do you think that messages like this are good for Christians?”

Laughing, “I hope not.”
            
           “What do you mean? Is religion not very important to you?”
           
            “Very important. What could be more important?”

            “So this was motivated by Christianity?”

            “Sure.”

            “Would you consider this Christian terrorism?”

            “No,” John said, bluntly.

            “What would you call it?”

“The Christians, the Catholics especially, have this idea. They call it grace. It’s actually pretty fascinating. It’s sort of like that in a way. But different. Let me explain. The basic idea is this. That everything we have wrong with us, all the bad, all the parts about our souls or our wills that are broken can be fixed. And as a result of this fix, we can gain eternal life. It’s about transformation. From the bad to good. I’m not so interested in the eternal life part, though it’s surely interesting. I’m more interested in this idea of transformation. It, I think, lies at the core of all Christianity, and the main differences between a lot of the denominations seem to revolve around how this grace stuff works, even if they don’t realize it. What they all agree on, though, I think, is that God has at least something to do with it. That the grace comes from God or Christ or whatever. That God can change us or at least help change us, transform us and so elevate us from something we weren’t before into something we could never be without him.”

“What’s your point?”

“What’s interesting is that, despite the general decline of Christianity in the Western world, this idea still lingers around.”

“Well, everyone likes the story where someone gets better.”

“No, but that’s my point. It’s not around in the same form. We don’t have divine grace anymore. That idea, I think, is silly to us. Of course, we do have the idea that we can get better, transform our lives into something positive when they were once negative. But that’s not what’s interesting. And that’s not really what Christians are getting at when they talk about grace either. The virtue that follows our transformation is often incidental to the transformation itself. What’s interesting is what I call secular grace.”

Billy squinted.

John continued, “As I said, the general idea behind grace is that it can transform us from bad to good. But what’s taken for granted, of course, is what bad and good are. And therein lies the problem. Sometimes people just aren’t transformed, and they simply can’t live up to goodness. You, for example. You’ve tried, and you can’t transform your will. You’re stuck. God’s not bestowing any graces upon you, is he? So how can you be good? Well, here is where secular grace is so handy. Secular grace simply transforms the bad itself, and we bestow it upon ourselves. As a result, you become good since the bad, of which you are so proficient, has become good. As such, you overflow with goodness. You overflow with goodness as you sodomize some guy. It’s brilliant. The effect is the same with both sorts of grace—we are left with good people—but the method is obviously very different. This is really sort of a fascinating thing, as it’s had such incredible success in the world.”

“That’s what you’re saying happened in your story?”

“I’m not like either group, I don’t think. Like you, I don’t believe in the idea. We don’t change. We don’t get better. You were destined to be you. You can’t not. But unlike you and your world, I don’t think bad can change either. It’s a terrible thing to be me.”

“The way you talk about this. You talk as if you are not a Christian. I assumed—”

“Ha, no, I am not a Christian. Christians aren’t supposed to kill children.”

“Then why that all the Bible stuff? Why make people think that?”

“Because it’s in the way. It has to fall. It’s the only thing keeping this dump operating. It’s the only thing standing in the way of salvation.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“You’re a smart kid, Billy; figure it out.”

“Don’t call me—”

“What do you think is going to happen after they put me to death? You can already see what’s happening. Your side is winning. Your boyfriend is already a martyr.”

“That’s because he was a great ma—”

“The only way for goodness to rise is for evil to succeed. As I said before, I used to get upset at the world. I used to get so angry seeing depravity everywhere. I used to say to myself that it could be better, that women didn’t have to be whores, that men were greater than their pathetic desires. The virtues, I thought, could save us. It was such a childish thing to think. That’s not how virtue works. Virtue is born from struggle. Evil ultimately orients us toward goodness.”

“I really don’t—”

“I learned that I had to use this secular grace stuff. That was the only way I could accomplish what I wanted to accomplish. If people can believe in this idea…not just believe in it, but revere it and call it progress…that bad can be transformed, then I could use this and ensure that the whole world becomes bad. Because that’s the key, Billy. It’s still bad. You think it isn’t, and that’s nice, but it’s still bad. So when the whole world is bad enough, it will rot from the inside. And from that rot, goodness, true goodness, can finally rise up. Because, really, that’s what has always gotten in the way of true goodness: shadows of goodness, pieces of goodness, imperfect goodness. This is what Christianity is. It keeps people at bay, allows them to limp along. But we must leap, Billy.”

“And why the gay movement?”

“Because it was an easy target. I could easily make a martyr out of your boyfriend. And while I don’t think it will destroy the religion completely, once you have the major denominations pressured into accepting it, it’s certain to fall apart. At least to some degree anyway. Once the religious becomes indistinguishable from the secular, it ceases to exist. You can see this already. I just pushed it along.”

“This is absurd.”

Laughing, “And what’s really funny is that you idiots think you’re winning. And in a way, you are, but only temporarily. Your success is ultimately my success. And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it. This is your movement. This is your perverted world. I changed nothing. This world was already rotting; I just wanted to make sure there wasn’t any hope. Things like hope, the great theologians knew, keep societies around. I want nothing of the sort. It’s a categorical error that people make in thinking that to ensure goodness they must eradicate evil. It is a mistake this culture has been making since the death of Christ. Goodness is more elusive than this.”

“Our movement would have won without you. To sit there and act like you had anything to do with—”

“Oh, I agree! It couldn’t be that I am the cause of it. It has to already exist. Love, marriage, all that stuff had to already be broken for this whole thing to work. That feeling you have, Billy. That feeling that it’s all falling apart. You’re right, Billy. It is. But that’s not the point. I just wanted to ensure that Christianity couldn’t evolve along with the death. I needed to bring it to the forefront. And now it is.”

“…But our movement is good. We don’t just think it’s good. That’s why you’re wrong. We’re winning because we’re right because love is right, and people can see that.”

Smiling, “Okay, Billy. I have another story.”

“I don’t see how—”

“You’ll like this one more, I think.”

“Just…”

“There was once a boy. You would have liked him. He was very handsome. And he grew up in a beautiful suburb. He used to ride his bicycle all around the neighborhood. And it was lovely. There was no crime, and his parents always let him stay out with friends. He used to run through the woods with his friends. Sometimes he would even go pick berries. This was back before all the neighborhoods were surrounded by strip centers. His mother was a gracious woman. Very patient, and she loved the boy very much. He was her only child because, after his child birth, she had a number of complications that made her barren. She struggled with this a great deal. She wanted many children, But because of who she was, her love for her only child, her beautiful boy, multiplied. To infinity. Once, someone asked her if she did resent the child for causing her barrenness. She was indescribably offended.

They were a Christian family. For as long as any family record could show, they had been Christian. Catholic actually. They even had old documents dating back hundreds of years, noting the churches that their ancestors attended in Europe. But, for whatever reason, the family had lost a lot of their faith. The mother tried to ensure that the family remained Christian, but she had trouble motivating her husband and her son who had grown more distant every year. The son had become increasingly reclusive in his teenage years, often staying in his room for hours. This hurt the mother a great deal. He was her light, and without him, there was only darkness.

The son’s change was a direct result of his undisclosed homosexuality. It took him many years to accept that he was in fact gay. He used to, while masturbating in the shower, force himself to think of women immediately prior to climax out of a hope that it would somehow fix him. It didn’t.”

“Wait, you—”

“The mother and son once had an argument. About coming home late or something silly. He said to her, out of anger, that if she loved him, he would love her, as this is the nature of love. One compels the other. So since he did not love her, that must mean that she did not truly love him. Despite the silliness of the argument, it affected her a great deal. She never recovered from it. The boy came out to his parents during Christmas break. In his junior year of college. The mother did not know how to take this news. She struggled to understand. But she did not argue with him. She knew how mean he could be when they argued, and she couldn’t lose him.

The boy’s father was diagnosed with cancer after he finished college. The son only came for the funeral. Unbeknownst to the son, the mother spent years coming to grips with the son’s revelation about his sexuality. She often visited websites trying to understand it. She even joined a Christian support group. They assured her that he would one day return if she continued to pray for him, but that she couldn’t abandon the truth concerning his immoral decisions. But he wasn’t returning. Any time she would try to talk to him, he would mock her about her religion. In college, he decided that he could not be part of a religion founded on the hate of what he was.”

“That’s not—”

“The mother eventually began attending gay pride parades. Alone. Her son never knew this. But she had no choice. If the highest good a mother can attain is love for her children, she had to accept him and everything he was. “To try to separate the two,” she read online once, “was to disrespect him.” She had to change. Her beliefs, her intuitions, they all stood in the way of love. One day she decided to write him a letter. In the letter, she denounced her religion and pledged allegiance to his cause. She told him that she accepted not only his lifestyle but him in his entirety. She spent days perfecting that letter.”

“How do you know this? What is this?” clearly upset.

“I know lots of things.”

But how do you know this. Did you talk to her?”

“The mother died some years ago. The boy in some ways appreciated the letter. But not really. Not necessarily because he was an ungrateful sort of person, but because it seemed just so obvious to him. She wasn’t really giving him anything. Clearly what he was doing was right. He didn’t really need her help. That didn’t stop her from trying to help though. She donated every month to groups intending to extend rights to homosexual persons, and she marched in rallies regularly.

The boy grew in stature and fame during this time, taking full advantage of his charm and good looks. And men loved him. And he loved men. So many men. Tall men. Short men. Hairy men. Blonde men. Young men. Old men. But he did not feel guilty about any of this. Because he was justified. The repression of the past justified his life. And of course, why should he have to justify his life? To will is good, after all. And oh how he willed.

And what notoriety he had. Part of the movement. The movement of love and equality. He often had conversations with the best of them in the movement. Of course, he didn’t believe in any of it. Not really. He just saw it as a means to an end. But it justified his life. And the world, with its many graces, sanctified it. He was more than good now. His sex life was not only acceptable. It was good.

Sometimes the mother’s old church friends would call her, concerned for her. They would ask her if she was worried about the fate of her soul. She said that she was, but told them that it didn’t matter and that she would be willing to follow her son to the gates of hell. “Love,” she would say, “is more important than everything.” “Right, wrong, good, bad; they are all irrelevant in the face of love,” she often repeated.

Even before she died, she felt a closeness to her son, despite the fact that she hadn’t seen him in many years. She felt this way, she knew, because she loved him so. She maintained, even until her death, the standard he had set up for her. That physics of love: when someone loves another, that another exerts a love equal in magnitude back to that someone. If she truly loved him, then he would love her back. And because she definitely loved him, that little phony who just wanted to be able to get his dick sucked without any guilt, there was no doubt that he loved her back. How could he not?

He attended her funeral with his then-boyfriend. A fat little fellow named Tom.”

“I don’t know what this is, or what you’re trying to accomplish here, but whatever it is, it’s—”

“So, there’s just one question. Did the mother actually love her son in my story?”

“What?”

“It’s a simple question. Believing that her son was doing something wrong, was destining himself for hell, did she love him in supporting him?”

“That’s a stupid question; there’s no such thing as hell.”

“That’s not important, Billy. That’s not the question. The question was if she loved him.”

“That’s not how it happened. It’s a lot more complex than that. She would talk to me like I was some sort of horrible person.”

“Answer the question, Billy.”

“And that’s what you don’t get. It—” stopping suddenly.

Waiting for Billy and continuing after some time, “When you publish the article about this story, write it however you want, but make sure to compare your boyfriend to Martin Luther King Jr. and me to Hitler. If you want to win awards, you have to do this. People eat that stuff up. And don’t worry, I’m going to be put to death. I’m going to get what I deserve. And your movement will sweep the nation. You’re going to win, Billy.”

Billy didn’t say anything.

Pausing and continuing again, looking up at the ceiling, “And you know…those bombs, the glitter bombs. They really were quite beautiful. They sort of don’t get enough credit. This whole idea. I left the glitter in the bombs, you know. It wasn’t necessary to leave it in them. They would have killed him either way. This whole thing, though, light shining down from above, falling down. It’s beautiful. The Father of Lights, goodness raining down from above and all that, right?” Standing up to call the guard to leave, “Anyway, enjoy your Sodom, Billy. You’ve earned it.”

“I—” Billy started. He paused for a long period of time. Finally, a change came over him. Something indescribable. Something he didn’t understand. “I’m…sorry,” he said.

“What?” looking back to Billy.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean… I’m so sorry; please, I beg of you, forgive me,” beginning to weep.

“What do you—what do—” Terror washed over John’s face, his eyes growing bigger, “Oh God…”



13 comments:

  1. Did you write this? That was brilliant. I was engrossed from beginning to end.

    Well, whether it was you or somebody else, to whoever wrote this - Well done.

    “What do you—what do—” Terror washed over John’s face, his eyes growing bigger, “Oh God…”

    What's happening here? Is John feeling guilty? Has he realized repentance is possible, and this has soured his entire idea?

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    1. I did write it. Thank you. I've been working on it for a little while, and I finally got it to somewhere alright. It has some problems, but there it is. As to your question, I wrote this somewhere else:

      The story is about grace. John can't conceive of its actually existing and so feels intense terror realizing its reality in the world. If grace exists, he is wrong. About everything. I wanted to write a story from the position of someone who witnesses grace firsthand but is on the other side of it. The wrong side of it. It would be like seeing the face of God. And what's more is that he actually had a hand in that grace. I think grace is ultimately always this way.

      If you know A Good Man is Hard to Find, I'm sort of fascinated with The Misfit's response at the end of that story. I'm fascinated with that idea of witnessing true grace. And I wanted to make grace seem like a bomb. A glitter bomb. An explosion, terrifying, unexpected, but ultimately beautiful.

      Billy's guilt, and I'm not sure if this is clear, is the direct result of his recognizing that he has sent his mother to hell. And what's beautiful about that, I think, is that his mother actually does ultimately save his soul. I tried to make it clear that Billy really was not someone who could ever apologize until he was graced. John knew this. John was right. I wanted that to be clear. But only if he didn't include grace in his brilliant and accurate analysis of life and Billy, his little project.

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  2. Wow, you certainly resent gay people who dare to have intimate relationships, eh? To someone who is well-acquainted with several committed gay and lesbian couples in his circle of friends and family, your cartoonishly-stereotyped portrayal of Billy as a vain, selfish, and self-deceiving narcissist, along with your positing the goal of the gay rights movement as the freedom to screw on the White House lawn, is so grotesquely contemptuous that it really just smacks of sour grapes. If your choice of celibacy has bred this much bitterness, spite, and lack of charity for others in you, that really doesn't speak well of it to anyone. Natural law arguments against homosexuality are one thing, but this piece was aggressively prurient and kind of gross, and that makes me think that repressing your sexuality for so long has been profoundly unhealthy for you. Seriously, I hope you see a licensed psychologist; even if you remain committed to celibacy, there has to be a better way of dealing with your sexuality than one that leads you to this much resentment.

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    1. I'm sorry that's what you got out of it. Although, I will readily admit that one intention of the story was to rustle (ruffle?) feathers as a sort of sleight of hand. The purpose of the story was not to show gay people in a particularly negative light. I wasn't making the argument that gay people are vain, selfish, and self-deceiving narcissists. I was making the argument that Billy was. In fact, one of my points was that Billy wasn't living up to what he knew he should be as a gay man. It's a story about Billy and grace, not a story about gay people as such or about how they're immoral or anything else. (Although, I will say that the story is intending to condemn any person who uses his sexuality, whatever it is, to alter the just morals of his parents, but that's a side point.)

      It's ultimately a very positive story, I think, though I can see how it could be read as very negative. It's important to see that John is wrong in the end. He's on the wrong side of grace, and that's what he realizes in the end. Billy, despite all of his problems, is ultimately sanctified. I wanted to play a lot with these ideas of unexpected opposites, surprising graces. A bomb being beautiful. Wickedness breeding salvation. Etc. Etc. Whatever voice you see coming through in the narrator as mocking homosexuals is trying to pull the reader toward John, who seems brilliant and in control (and who is ultimately undermined), or to condemn phoniness (especially as concerns concepts like love) in particular. It's not supposed to necessarily represent my view of homosexuals.

      I am well aware of the fact that plenty of gay people in relationships are generally pretty virtuous (or at least as virtuous as anyone else) outside of what I consider to be gravely immoral sexual behavior. You act as if I've never known a gay person or haven't spent a great deal of time reading or viewing other gay art (I just watched a quite good short film last night actually). But this story is about Billy. And if you want to know the whole truth, much, if not all, of the Billy character is based on the worst parts of me, not of average gay folks. I was drawing from my own desires and dislikes. If I were in a gay relationship, I'd absolutely dump my fat boyfriend and want to go have sex with as many young, hot men as I could. I'd roll my eyes at marriage, gay or straight. In no way do I think this representative of all gay people (although, clearly some). And in no way is this story supposed to be a "SEE THIS IS WHAT ALL GAY PEOPLE ARE REALLY LIKE. AREN'T THEY SO AWFUL?!" sort of thing.

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  3. Natural law arguments against homosexuality are one thing, but this piece was aggressively prurient and kind of gross

    I thought it was an interesting and entertaining piece. Really, don't you think LGBT activists are the last people who should be psychoanalyzing anyone on the basis of what they find entertaining, especially when it's a mere story?

    Nice to see you posting again, Joe.

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  4. Wow, you certainly resent gay people who dare to have intimate relationships, eh?

    As Crude has pointed out before, there is a remarkable disparity in framing the issue that always comes into these debates. No, the issue is not and never has been "intimate relationships." If I go to the Bible or Catechism, for example, I am not going to see condemnations of relationships with intimacy. The problems we have here are at least twofold:
    1. Sex between those of the same gender
    2. The LGBT culture and how it has hijacked the public's attention and the institution of marriage

    To someone who is well-acquainted with several committed gay and lesbian couples in his circle of friends and family, your cartoonishly-stereotyped portrayal of Billy as a vain, selfish, and self-deceiving narcissist, along with your positing the goal of the gay rights movement as the freedom to screw on the White House lawn, is so grotesquely contemptuous that it really just smacks of sour grapes.

    Do you actually think that Billy was meant by Joe to represent the population with same-sex attractions at large (or at least, the ones that aren't celibate)? It seems to me that Billy served two functions here. First of all, he existed to acknowledge that people like Billy really do exist, despite media and pop-culture impressions to the contrary. Second, it provided a context for personal redemption - or at least remorse - like we saw at the end of the story. And of course, Joe wasn't saying that the goal of the LGBT movement is to literally be fornicating on the White House lawn. Rather, it is getting the culture and American politics to actively endorse their lifestyle.

    If your choice of celibacy has bred this much bitterness, spite, and lack of charity for others in you, that really doesn't speak well of it to anyone.

    Sure. Fortunately, the antecedent of the conditional you presented is false (yes, I know denying the antecedent is fallacious, but it seems that to deny it in this context really does negate the consequent), so we needn't worry.

    Natural law arguments against homosexuality are one thing, but this piece was aggressively prurient and kind of gross, and that makes me think that repressing your sexuality for so long has been profoundly unhealthy for you. Seriously, I hope you see a licensed psychologist; even if you remain committed to celibacy, there has to be a better way of dealing with your sexuality than one that leads you to this much resentment.

    Don't you think it is a bit problematic that you simultaneously condemn Joe for doing some layman's social and psychological analysis when you are doing precisely the same thing here?

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    1. If all he were doing were engaging in some layman's psychological analysis of an individual, that would be fine. What he is doing instead is making a loathsome, superficial straw-man version of people who support gay rights that he can use to condemn not only them, but all sexually-active gay people as loveless, shallow, selfish, and deluded pawns of Satan, and that's pretty damn hostile, in my opinion. For my part, I didn't say that all people who hold to a "traditional" sexual ethic (including those that the culture at large would describe as gay) suffer from some sort of psychological imbalance, or are acting out of active hatred for gay people everywhere. But the fact that that Joe's hostility towards sexually-active gay people and those who support their rights is so aggressively sexualized, to the point of hate-fantasizing about public acts of sodomy, does suggest that his repressed sexuality is finding some pretty unhealthy ways to express itself to me. I base that observation on specific things that Joe has written and said as an individual; equating that sort of reasoned judgment with Joe's blanket assumption that no gay people anywhere are serious about committing to each other, and are all just kidding themselves about having feelings for their partners that go deeper than lust is a little bit disingenuous. Why shouldn't your objection be turned around? If Joe doesn't want people psychoanalyzing him, then he shouldn't be speaking for the subjective thoughts, feelings, and experiences of people in a kind of relationship he has never allowed himself to have. It's not like he was making an imperfect attempt to understand a specific person, Billy is nothing more than a one-dimensional caricature of a gay rights activist that has never existed outside the fevered imaginations of paranoid Christians with a persecution complex; a convenient foil for the (supposedly) manifestly deeper and more vigorous moral vision of the author. Joe can't imagine a rigorous ethical framework built on anything outside of his abstract notions of teleological ends, so he assumes his opponents do not have one. If he spent more time actually getting to know gay people who have made peace with their faith and expressing their sexuality (I'm not saying he has to agree with them, just make some effort to understand them as more than abstractions) I think he would be able to not only write a more credible and compelling gay character, but also to live his choice of celibacy with less resentment for others, and to be a better ambassador for the non-affirming sexual ethic of the Catholic church. But since I disagree with the "traditional" ethic, I really don't mind if Joe tunes me out in favour of people like you who praise him for telling them what they already think about sexually-active gay people. Echo chambers tend to shrink pretty quickly.

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    2. Thank you, ccmnxc, I think this is exactly right.

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    3. Quixote, you put it very well. The piece is shocking in its ignorance and venom. Compounded by the author's wretched command of English. But the hostility of it, the aggressive prurience, is shocking. Clearly the author has never witnessed a Pride March. I wonder if he's ever met another human being.

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  5. equating that sort of reasoned judgment with Joe's blanket assumption that no gay people anywhere are serious about committing to each other, and are all just kidding themselves about having feelings for their partners that go deeper than lust is a little bit disingenuous

    Okay, I'll cede the point that there isn't a snug analogy between psychoanalyzing one individual and doing the same for the LGBT movement writ large. Ultimately, though, it doesn't really matter. It would be disingenuous if Joe was actually doing what you accuse him of, but as I explained above, there are perfectly reasonable reasons for thinking Billy was made the way he was that don't make Joe look like a guy who is unable to properly use nuance when he writes.

    So let me put it this way. If Joe is guilty of doing what you accuse him of, I am basically in agreement with you that the entire story was a complete caricature. I just see no reason to think that your accusations hold any water. I think my interpretation is both more charitable and also makes more sense.

    I really don't mind if Joe tunes me out in favour of people like you who praise him for telling them what they already think about sexually-active gay people.

    Okay, now I am going to call you a hypocrite. You spend your post lecturing us about getting to know gay people, not setting up caricatures of them, and not have a persecution complex only whip around and fall right into the trap you warned us about. As you seem to see it, Joe is telling us that sexually-active gay people are essentially like Billy (this has been your contention for the past two posts anyways), and apparently, since I already agree with him on this, I am all to happy to laud him for reaffirming my biases. This is consistent with what you were saying earlier, how, exactly? The only way I can see an attempt at salvaging this is by saying you weren't referring to what Joe was saying in this post, but what he writes in general. Fine, but then you simply push the problem back, portraying me as someone who praises others simply for agreeing with me. And we are back again to the shallow caricatures you warned us oh so strongly about. Oops.

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    1. How dare you portray all gay people everywhere as emotionally fragile people forever subject to persecution complexes!

      "I didn't. I wrote a story about a single character, and..."

      No, you didn't! Your character was meant to represent all gay people everywhere! How dare you psychoanalyze people you don't know! You're obviously full of hate and insecurity and...

      Really, Quixote's unintentional self-parody is obvious, and sad, and there's little more to say about it.

      ...

      Back to the story itself. I think the one thing really well done here is the fact that it's a story with a moral, but it manages to be subtle in execution. Not about the moral itself, but in the whole presentation of itself as a story with a moral - usually those things get a little too preachy, too on the nose. This one feels different. It probably helps that there's not an obvious wise, knowing person there, telling the whole and complete truth about the moral. It's heavily implied.

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    2. Thank you, Crude! Those are very kind words. That's exactly what I was attempting here. I'm glad it came through in whatever way it did.

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  6. He was not a shallow person, but as it is with most people, he tended to be deeper with people whom he found attractive.


    This is my favourite line. It deserves to become one of those quotations that shows up all over the place!

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