Reader Meet Author: Personal Advice from Poet R. Erica Doyle
Author: William Johnson
June 22, 2014
Do you have problems with your love life? Hate your job? Your social life lacking that certain zing? All questions can be answered through literature—or maybe at least by the people who create it. With that in mind, we here at The Lambda Literary Review have started our very own advice column called “Reader Meet Author.” Think of the column as sort of a “Dear Abby” for the LGBTQ literary set. You can send “Reader Meet Author” questions for publication to ReaderMeetAuthor@lambdaliterary.org.
Every month readers can submit questions to a chosen LGBTQ author about love, work, and life, and the author will answer them to the best of their ability.
This month’s column is handled by poet R. Erica Doyle.
Her first collection of poetry, proxy (2013), was nominated for a 2014 Lambda Literary Award and selected by poet Maggie Nelson for a Norma Farber First Book Award. Doyle’s work has been featured in the anthologies Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles (2008), Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade (2006), Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam (2001), and Best American Poetry (2001). Her honors include fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, Cave Canem, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown and an Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice Lesbian Writers Fund Award in Poetry.
After a dry spell, my good friend started dating someone with whom he connects. He’d been really lonely for a long time and found it hard to meet an emotional and intellectual compatible companion. He is a hopeless romantic who has been looking for a boyfriend for a while now, so I was happy for him when I heard he met someone with whom he clicked.
So about two months ago, my friend told me that he and the guy were officially in a committed relationship and that this guy was “the one!” At a party recently, I met his boyfriend and it turns out that not only had my friend’s boyfriend and I fucked two weeks before (we met on Manhunt), but I have also seen my friend’s boyfriend cruising for trade every time I log on to the sex site. When we were introduced, the boyfriend and I acted like we did not know each other and kept it moving. Should I tell my friend about my recent tryst with his partner? I usually stay out of other people’s relationship dramas, but he is a good friend, and I fear that if he does find out about his partner from someone else, it could all blow up in my face (“You slept with my boyfriend, and you didn’t tell me?!”) Should I spill the beans?
To Tell the Truth
Your dilemma puts me in mind of the Baker in Lewis Carroll’s “The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in 8 Fits,” a little ditty published in 1876 that, according to Carroll scholars, might convey existential angst, an allegory for tuberculosis or a parody of a 19th century “Six Degrees of Separation” case.
[The Baker] would answer to ‘Hi!’ or to any loud cry,
Such as ‘Fry me!’ or ‘Fritter my wig!’
To ‘What-you-call-um!’ or ‘What-was-his-name!’
But especially ‘Thing-um-a-jig!’
While, for those who preferred a more forcible word,
He had different names from these:
His intimate friends called him ‘Candle-ends,’
And his enemies ‘Toasted-cheese.’
Much like our dear Baker morphing his identity according to whoever calls to him, cruising online allows one to assume identities different from those that we ordinarily occupy. Much like the “Proteus Effect” experienced by online gamers who adopt the qualities of their avatars, people cruising online for sex become something other than what they are in real life. In other words, what happens on Manhunt stays on Manhunt. Sometimes you’re ‘Candle-ends,’ and sometimes you’re “Toasted Cheese.”
This, some researchers believe, may be why, as reported in the “Zero Feet Away Study,” almost half of men who have sex with men through sex app meet-ups report engaging in high-risk sex behaviors. Because I care about you, Truth, I hope that when you are Manhunting, you are taking care of yourself like the other 53.6% of men who do.
Let’s take it one step further, and look at a Canadian study that suggests that we need to go back to the community model of taking responsibility for talking to each other about safer sex practices and making them socially acceptable. We seem to have moved from the early community practices that married hot sex with safer sex practices and back to the individualistic model of every man for himself, as it were.
Now, what if, empowered with this knowledge, you had a conversation with your best friend, or group of friends, that mentioned some of these facts from the studies I’ve mentioned above? What if you tried to take care of your friends by talking about how you could take care of yourselves and each other? Checking in on safety on the regular—that’s love.
Now, for the “cuckolding” issue you raise: perhaps you haven’t heard of this, but “cuckolding” is the new S&M, according to one article, written by “PhD’s,” no less. Men acting out a fantasy of their significant other getting it on with somebody hotter behind their backs is nothing new, a fact to which many bawdy English ballads attest. Your friend may be a hopeless romantic, but perhaps he’s also hopelessly kinky. How do you know he doesn’t already know about his boyfriend’s sexual practices and maybe even likes them? How do you know that he doesn’t already know about you? You don’t.
I say all this to address the slightly ashamed tone in your last paragraph, to say that perhaps this non-monogamous, cruising situation may actually be all right with your friend, in that you don’t know the exact terms of their commitment. That being said, if you truly are good friends, he knows about your Manhunting, and you can tell him, in an “Oops” sort of way, that you hooked up with his guy once before you knew he was his guy, and you just want him to know. Then, you can have a conversation about it. Hopefully, his dude has been a responsible, adult, ethical slut and has also told him about his own Manhunting, and even about you—and if he hasn’t, well, maybe your conversation will help them have their own. If they are truly emotionally compatible, they’ll work it out.
I leave you with this final Snark quote, about friends:
And when quarrels arose — as one frequently finds
Quarrels will, spite of every endeavor—
The song of the Jubjub recurred to their minds,
And cemented their friendship for ever!
I am a black woman who only dates other black women. A white friend asked me why I never date anyone one outside my race. I told her simply that it was because there is a comforting commonality in dating someone with a shared culture. She was offended by my answer and said that if as a white person she only dated white woman, she would be called a racist. Am I off-base here? I really feel there is a difference between being a racist and dating someone on the merits of a shared experience.
Black is Beautiful
I’m black and beautiful, too. And you know what one of the great things about being black is NEVER HAVING TO EXPLAIN OURSELVES–OR BLACK QUEER LOVE–TO WHITE PEOPLE.
Or, as Angie Jordan says to Liz Lemon, Are you trying to control me with your white hand? (Yes, I know Sherri Shepherd has homophobia problems, but it’s my favorite line. I’m praying for her.)
Methinks your little friend there has not examined her little white privilege knapsack! Oops! There’s still time for her to Google “antiracism,” and heck, while she’s at it, “S’mores,” because, well, who couldn’t use a little sugar rush after all that unpacking?
There is also still time for you get another, more politically correct white friend (highly recommended). It’s possible that this one got in a huff because she wants the panties for herself. Psych! Next!
As for myself, I’ve dated mostly black women, and, in the interest of full disclosure, my current girlfriend is white. But guess what? I DON’T HAVE TO EXPLAIN THAT TO WHITE PEOPLE, EITHER.
At this moment, I would like to invoke the trailblazing black lesbian writer Ann Allen Shockley, the librarian, novelist and journalist who broke out into the lesbian pulp scene in the ‘70s with Loving Her, the high-octane drama tale of an interracial relationship between two women. Shockley’s collection of short stories, The Black and White of It, has one of my favorite short stories of all time, “A Meeting of the Sapphic Daughters,” in which Patrice and Lettie, a black lesbian couple who don’t know any other black lesbians (something I never understood), crash a lame-ass “Sapphic” dance with horrible music where the other patrons’ frosty receptions of them remind Patrice of “rednecked hill crackers in Alabama”: “White racists and black militants don’t mix, and white lesbians and black lesbians are white and black people first, instilled with personal backgrounds of distrust and hostilities.”
Shockley also wrote another fun favorite, Say Jesus and Come to Me, about evangelist Myrtle Black, “as regal and proud as an African queen” who “holds powerful sway over her following–a following which does not suspect she is a lesbian.” (Uh-oh!) Myrtle eventually falls for booze-swilling singer Travis and much drama ensues:
At the silence falling like a curtain between them, Travis drew away.
“Don’t–” Myrtle said, bringing her back, pelting kisses over her face like dew-glossed rose petals.
“Feel.” Travis guided her hand below where dampness was beginning.
In this curly brush of forest, Myrtle made a love song of her own. To it, Travis’ heart beat in tune as she coiled like a snake around Myrtle.
“I like it better each time,” she said, breathe warm against Myrtle’s mouth.
“Close your eyes, darling,” Myrtle whispered, “and let me enter the pearly gates.”
Black is beautiful, baby! Here’s to curly brushes and pearly gates!
I meet a guy on grindr about two years ago. Both our profiles stated that we were looking for just “no strings attached” sex, and that is exactly what we have been having: lots and lots of NSA sex. But between the bouts of us hooking up together, in those moments before and after the sex, we have actually gotten to know each other. I have discovered a wonderfully funny and gentle man. We have actually become friends and shared stories and events about our lives; we have really gotten to know each other. It is like we have been dating, but only in the bedroom. I think—okay, I know—that I am falling in love with him. How the hell do I tell him this without freaking him out. I know he likes me, hence we are still having sex. But what is a good, subtle way to gauge his interest in taking our arrangement out of the NSA category and possibly into the realm of the out-of-the-bedroom relationship?
Wanting to take the NS out of NSA
I know! We can’t all be like David Sedaris and meet our boyfriend-for-life borrowing a ladder! Sometimes we have to screw their brains out first and figure out the rest later. Sometimes, when we have sex, we, in the words of a Jamaican grandma, “catch feelings.” Sometimes, in that little bubble created between sex and waking, we see something else beneath the surface. Carl Phillips says it best:
At last, he’s asleep.
I can look at him the way I’m meant to.
His body moves like any ocean. The ocean moves like any field
back home: submission, submission’s shadow, wind, submission.
Sometimes, what lies beneath the surface is not a beautiful Carl Phillips poem, but the oxytocin and vasopressin released during orgasm that give us feelings of attachment and bonding. (Men get a dose of prolactin, which makes them sleepy, too.) When we’re having sex, our conscious brain activity decreases, and our limbic system is turned way up, activating the most primitive part of our brain.
Basically, Wanting, the only way to get your relationship out of the bedroom is to get it out of the bedroom, and two years is a long, long time to be in the bedroom. What is this, Sleeping Beauty?! Après sex, suggest doing something somewhere out in the world to see if you two have magic outside of your little bubble. Get to know each other at the movies, at the Botanical Gardens, at a dance, at a cooking class, or at a rally. Give yourselves some time to breathe. It might be scary, but hopefully, you and that gentle, funny man can develop an attachment with your clothes on.
And if not, you’ll know that you were open to it, which is half the battle. When you are open, your life will make space for the “Silverchest”:
Unafraid is what we were, I think, and then afraid,
though it mostly seemed otherwise. I opened my eyes,
I saw, I closed, I shut them.
The usual morning glories
twist up through the banks of gone-wild-by-now holly;
crickets for song, amorphous for their glamour, which
is quiet — blue, and quiet…
You: the dark that nothing, not even the light, displaces,
You, who have been the single leaf that
won’t stop tossing.
among the others.