World Shut Your Mouth

The first of two stylists arrived in the morning. His name was Bernard and he was a tall, willowy black man with close-cropped bleached hair, which was a striking contrast to his brown skin. I gathered from the banter going on between him and Ziggy that he was a drag queen who wasn’t in his drag yet, but he would be getting into it soon enough, after he was done with us.

Every queer in New York would be getting into their drag or finery or marching boots or whatever that day. It was the day of the Pride parade.

This is the problem with mostly seeing the city from behind tinted limo windows: you don’t see the huge banners proclaiming the dance and rally even though they’re only a matter of several blocks away from where you’re living. Not that tinted windows were the only reason for my obliviousness, of course.

Blame my focus on the work if you have to blame it on anything.

I looked into the mirror while Bernard ran his fingers through my hair, fluffing it and examining it. “It’s in fairly good shape. Split ends here and there but I can trim those well enough. The real question is what do you want to do with it.”

I caught Ziggy’s eye in his reflection. “Won’t the Aesthetician be upset if we do something she didn’t approve?”

“My idea is something temporary or reversible. Bern, I think he needs some color.”

“Well, the ultimate in reversible is let’s do it with extensions.” He lifted a chunk of my hair up. “What do you think? I can put a bunch of them in along here. Rainbow? Or just fire engine red? Or electric blue?” He let my hair drop and dug in a bag.

“Red or blue would be fine with me,” I said. “Red is more my color.”

“Is it?” He had every color of the rainbow of fake hair in plastic bags, including Day-Glo green, screaming pink, and hunter orange. “The blue might just disappear completely in your dark tresses, my dear. Red it is, then. Zig, who’d you say is coming to do makeup?”

“Leo. He did the stardust makeup for the photo shoot I told you about and I want him to do that again.”

“Mm-hm. That gives me an idea.” He went into the kitchen to use the phone.

The process that followed included me washing my hair (I needed a shower anyway) and getting trimmed while sitting on a stool in the kitchen area (the bathroom wasn’t the best spot for this, apparently) and then a sort of painstaking process of attaching the extensions to my own hair at various points that were determined either scientifically or artistically–I’m not sure. And blow dry and spritzing with more of that stuff that made my hair specially glossy.

“These’ll last for four to six months for the average person,” Bernard told me while the blow-drying was going on. “Try to keep out of chlorine pools or hot tubs, and don’t yank on them too hard. Brush from the bottom up when dry, comb with a wide-tooth comb when wet. Try not to get it all into a matted sweaty tangled mess.”

“That might be difficult,” I said. “You know what I do for a living?”

“What, are you a rentboy or something?” he quipped.

I blushed as red as the extensions. “No. I’m–”

“I know who you are, sweet pea. If you’re going to do a lot of head-banging, my advice is try not to pass out with your head in a pool of cum, vomit, or vodka afterward.”

That made Ziggy snicker.

“I’ll try,” I said.

By then the makeup artist had arrived and had worked on Ziggy, but I hadn’t seen the results. They’d been in the bathroom while I’d been in the kitchen.

Bernard let me off the stool and I turned around. The sight of Ziggy took my breath away. They’d created a lot of what I had imagined in that dream, where it was like a galaxy of glittering stars crossed his eyes. His face looked airbrushed, making it longer and more angular than it actually was, his skin as white as paper and a rosy hollow under each cheekbone, and bold blue eyeliner. Blue. I had never thought of that. I didn’t even know you could do that. With blue lipstick.

Honestly it was hard to recognize him except for the fact that I knew it was him.

The makeup artist exchanged cheek kisses with Bernard, then stood next to me, his arms crossed. “What do you think? Does it work?”

“It works,” I croaked. I cleared my throat. “Definitely.”

“I’m Leo.”

“Daron.” We shook hands and he tugged me toward the bathroom.

Ziggy came with us. “The big question is how recognizable or unrecognizable you want to be.”

“I–” I stopped short, catching sight of myself in the mirror. I ran my fingers through my hair. The red flashed as I did. I tossed it. Neat.

“You like it?”

“I do.” It wasn’t a drastic change, but it was sort of like when I’d first gotten the tattoo: it was just enough of a change that every time I caught sight of it, it was like I had to reformulate what I looked like in my mind. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it was right aroun when I got that first tat that I finally settled on liking how I looked. I think it accelerated the process.

Maybe that was why Ziggy changed his hair color and look so often? Was it because every time he did, he got to…well…fall in love with himself all over again?

Leo did my makeup smoky and dark, concentrating on my eyes.

A kind of motif had emerged by the time Courtney arrived: Ziggy was an angel. I was a devil. Bernard had called someone else to bring over something: small white feathery wings for Ziggy’s back and small black leathery ones for me. I wore black jeans and boots, Ziggy wore white Spandex and white boots, and neither of us wore shirts. I would’ve been skeptical about this except for the typically hot and muggy weather.

I confess I was slightly skeptical about the whole thing, but it was obvious to me that for everyone else this was standard operating procedure so it was probably best just to roll with it instead of being a moron about it. When in Rome, right?

Court was in a purple T-shirt with the words Bisexual Pride in white letters across the chest. She snapped photos of us in the kitchen with her camera before we went out.

“So who are we marching with?” she asked while we were walking.

“I think it might be a bit much to actually march,” Ziggy said, sounding much more calm and reasonable than I was expecting, almost like he was doing an impression of Barrett or someone. “It might be a bit more prudent to spectate this time around.”

“But you guys look so cute.”

“And if we watch the parade there will merely be hundreds of photos of us taken my bystanders instead of thousands and thousands,” he pointed out. “I feel strongly that Daron would probably prefer we not take that risk.”

He was holding my hand. I felt pretty completely disconnected from reality already at that point. “Uh, yeah,” I said.

“Besides, I promised Barrett we wouldn’t make a scene,” Ziggy said. “I promised we’d keep a low-ish profile.”

“Good luck with that. You’re the cutest couple on the island of Manhattan right now,” Courtney said.

The word couple echoed through my head, bouncing all around inside my chest and making me feel funny, like I’d taken a hit of nitrous or something.

I kept getting glimpses of us in storefront windows as we walked, in the subway doors as we got into a car about half-packed with other people obviously going to the same place we were. I didn’t let go of Ziggy’s hand except when I had to.

And the one time someone gave us a dirty look, a middle-aged guy on the platform, I remembered clobbering the guy in the men’s room during the riot at the Paradise. I felt I had a choice in that moment. I could confront the guy and prepare to attack, or I could ignore him. I felt…a weird sort of pity for the guy. It was strange, like the world had turned inside out, and I realized the only choice that made sense was to ignore him because he was just a sad little human who would never know the grandeur or richness or beauty of the experience I had lived.

It was almost like I was tripping, except there were no drugs involved. And like tripping, I lost track of where we were and what direction we were going. Fortunately Court and Zig had some destination worked out. We ended up on the curb on one of the avenues (it had to be Fifth Avenue, right? I don’t even know…) watching group after group go by.

I had what is probably a cliched thought, i.e. how did I not know this happened every year? This parade had been going on for over twenty years already at that point.

Court had picked up some kind of guide from someone along the way. She kept up a running commentary, telling me stuff like how many hundreds of groups were in the parade. I admit my mind boggled at stuff like a group of gay police officers–a LARGE group, mind you–marching down the street. “That was real, right? Not some kind of ironic Village People reference?”

“They’re real,” Court assured me.

“Have you been to one of these before? One of these parades?” I thought to ask at one point.

“Yeah, last year. In Boston. They’ve been having them up there since before I was born, too.”

In Boston.

And there was music. There were floats with loud disco and house pumping from the speakers and there were convertibles with drag queens waving while movie themes played and there were odd ragtag marching bands of various kinds including one that was all kazoos as well as a group of Brazilians who made a segment of the parade into a mini-Carnival with a small but intense percussion section, and there were groups holding hands singing protest songs or chanting protest chants like “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.”

We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.

Thousands and thousands and thousands of people marched past us. I don’t know how many. More than lived in the entire town where we grew up. More than could fit in the largest venue we ever played. More than bought the 1989 album on cassette or vinyl and possibly more than bought it on CD.

The point isn’t what the number was. The point was it felt to me like it was impossible that so many thousands of people right there were gay, but since they obviously were, my entire concept of what was possible and what was impossible had to change.

Suddenly everything was possible. Suddenly my rage, which I normally kept buried so deep I didn’t even acknowledge it was there, didn’t feel like a lump of poison anymore, it felt like… the bedrock of justice.

And then the most extraordinary thing happened, made all the more extraordinary because I had no idea that it was coming. Have you every heard cheering start far away and then had it sweep through a crowd like wildfire until you were caught up in the roar?

This was the opposite. This was a wave of cold silence that emanated from wherever the parade was headed and moved backward, and I could hear it coming, like a bubble of a freeze ray from a UFO expanding outward and turning everyone to stone. The constant background noise of the music and chanting and cheering and clapping falling away to dead silence until the only thing that could be heard was the sound of a lone car honking from several blocks away. In the middle of the noisiest city in America, in the midst of ten thousand people within earshot, no one made a sound. The wind didn’t even blow, as if everyone were holding their breath.

Silence. People around us had held up their hands, holding ribbons with the names of the dead written on them, and I understood it suddenly as a moment of silence for our dead. I held my breath trying not to cry, my eyes burning, my lungs burning.

I had a flashback to the moment of silence for John Lennon, after he was shot, when a huge memorial was held in Central Park. I wasn’t there. I’d watched it on TV. The “moment” of silence was actually something like ten minutes long. All the radio stations went silent, too. I sat there crosslegged in front of our living room TV, my mouth clamped shut and my face as stoic as I could make it. I think it was Digger who made the snarky comment, but maybe it was one of my older sisters, “That’s it? That’s all they’re going to do?” Utterly missing the point of the whole thing.

How could you miss the immense power in silence? In the collective will of hundreds of thousands of people doing something together? On television it had felt like my soul was being yanked hard.

Here on the street in the middle of the stillness I think my soul left my body entirely. I could hold in the tears but every part of me was cracked and seeping. I’m just a shell for the idea of who I am, you know? Just a shell.

And then the cheering reached us, not somber at all, an energetic roar of outrage and ecstasy all mixed together. Time moved forward again. The parade moved forward again. And I felt alive in a way I’d only ever felt alive on a stage before, only this time it was because I was one of the mass of people cheering. I threw back my head and screamed to proclaim to the universe: I am alive.

I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it.

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Comments 11

  1. Stacey wrote:

    Oh wow. Wow.

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    I guess you liked it. :-)

    [Reply]

    Stacey Reply:

    I liked it so much that I’m still trying to formulate a coherent reaction – even after rereading it three times :)

    Good work, ctan!!

    [Reply]

    Posted 05 May 2016 at 9:48 am
  2. s wrote:

    Wow. This chapter is as powerful as Matthew’s art display. I have no words other than to say I’m extremely impressed and (oddly) proud of you, Daron.

    Someone artistic really needs to draw this image of Daron and Ziggy, devil and angel holding hands. What a beautiful mental image, but I want to see it!

    [Reply]

    G Reply:

    It would be awesome to see a picture like that! The image in my head is amazing!

    [Reply]

    s Reply:

    Honestly, I wonder what it would cost to commission someone to draw it. Oh, hell, I’m going to end up with a DGC shrine next to my Harry Potter one…

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    I’ve been meaning to post some images that would give you guys an idea of what Daron’s image of Ziggy on the album cover looked like, and there’s nothing exactly like it, but some things to give you the idea.

    This from the ThomasBeauty.co blog http://thomasbeauty.co/blog/makeup-look-unending-sorrow
    Thomas Beauty dot Co

    This randomly from Pinterest:
    glitter eye makeup

    Haven’t found anything that quite looks like what I picture for Daron as a devil this day either, but something in this vein:
    demon eye makeup

    And by tiny wings I mean like this size or slightly smaller:

    [Reply]

    s Reply:

    Now I REALLY want someone to draw it! These are awesome.

    [Reply]

    Amy Reply:

    I can’t tell if this is hinting or not… ¬,¬

    Daron, this is so wonderful! It’s so good to see you coming so far, and also dressed up like the sexy devil you are. Make that angel fall… ;)

    [Reply]

    s Reply:

    *whistles innocently* :)

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    I think it was kind of role reversal but since I’m the one who likes the color red I didn’t object. But maybe there’s something to it… *ponders*

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    Is it odd to be proud of me…?

    [Reply]

    G Reply:

    Nope, it’s awesome. And about time!

    [Reply]

    s Reply:

    Naw, man, that’s not how I meant it. I just mean it’s odd for me to feel proud over something I didn’t influence. You know?

    YOU should feel all kinds of proud of yourself. Your closing line was essentially what you said to the whole damn world, especially if a reporter recognizes you. You’ve come so far. You are awesome. So yeah, you should be proud of the person you’ve become. Ziggy should be proud for the huge role he’s played getting you there. Courtney. Jordan. Jonathan. Etc. Me? I didn’t do anything, but I’m still proud of you.

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    Ah I get it.

    [Reply]

    Posted 05 May 2016 at 9:50 am
  3. D. wrote:

    Oh, Daron. Now I’m all teared up from the imagery and for you feeling all alive and settled into yourself.

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    I’m not going to get all, like, militant about it, but yeah it was a powerful moment for my queerness.

    [Reply]

    Posted 05 May 2016 at 10:15 am
  4. Jude wrote:

    That was a gorgeous piece of writing, C.

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    Thanks. :-)

    [Reply]

    Posted 05 May 2016 at 12:32 pm
  5. G wrote:

    First of all, I called it! I had dreams Tuesday and Wednesday about how it would be today. My thoughts pale in comparison. This was absolutely beautiful and wonderful and inspiring and just freakin’ awesome!

    Daron, something has shifted. Something big and wonderful. You have found new beauty. You and Ziggy…oh God. I am more in love at this moment than I have ever been!

    I can’t wait to see how this transforms everything else in your life. God. Just, damn.

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    Yeah, it’s like there’s everything before this moment, and everything after. And it wasn’t even a “thought” or a “realization” so much as a feeling. I’ll never see myself or the world the same way again.

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    (And yes, you called it!)

    [Reply]

    Posted 05 May 2016 at 1:35 pm
  6. Joann Warner wrote:

    How stunning….beautiful to read!

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    Glad you liked it. :-)

    [Reply]

    Posted 05 May 2016 at 3:32 pm
  7. sanders wrote:

    I know I’ll get excoriated for saying this, but if there weren’t so many loose threads on the music side, this would have been a perfect ending point for Daron’s story. So much of the journey has been about him coming to terms with himself and his sexuality, and this would be a beautiful place for that arc to close.

    HOWEVER. We need more. We will always need more, and I personally want to see how this resolve manifests beyond the parade.

    Cecilia, how’s your summer schedule shaping up? Should we talk about filling in some fanworks? I have a small backlog of things that have been sent in and need posting, but we could put those on a rotation and solicit more if you’ll need days off. Otherwise, I’m going to get back to trying to issue a monthly challenge.

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    After June 1st I’ll know what the writing schedule for the rest of the year looks like, but it is looking like July and August are probably going to turn into massive crunch time again… especially since I’m on the road almost all of July. (Eek.) Also I’m going to Japan in September (Sept 18 through Oct 3).

    And yeah, I am always wondering when I get to big emotional climaxes at the end of books, what happened then? Did it stick? How did the change affect the rest of their lives? Etc. I always feel like romances should be halfway finished at that point so we get to see the couple in action. Part of the fun of DGC is that each time Daron reaches one of those big character epiphanies, you get to see it in action later. :-)

    [Reply]

    G Reply:

    I agree with you, sanders. Daron holding Ziggy’s hand, screaming out his acknowledgement of himself and his place in a larger community and the universe, feeling free…

    [Reply]

    Bill Heath Reply:

    sanders, you nailed it. My first thought on finishing the post was “tray tables in an upright and locked position.” This arc is coming in for a landing.

    ctan, one of the best descriptions of a non-drug high I’ve ever read. Kudos.

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    Thank you, Bill! :-)

    [Reply]

    Posted 05 May 2016 at 3:49 pm
  8. Alan Katz wrote:

    Maybe the most beautiful chapter in the entire saga, and that is really saying something. It brought me to tears.

    And this: “Suddenly everything was possible. Suddenly my rage, which I normally kept buried so deep I didn’t even acknowledge it was there, didn’t feel like a lump of poison anymore, it felt like… the bedrock of justice. “, in my view, may be the best single sentence in gay literature. It sums up the anger, the power and the love unleashed by my own generation, pretty much perfectly.

    Thank you, Cecilia. Thank you so much.

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    You’re welcome, Alan. That is some high praise right there.

    [Reply]

    Bill Heath Reply:

    How I wish I belonged to your generation, Alan. Growing up in the fifties and sixties I knew there was something “abnormal” about myself. I was in my fifties before I came out to myself as a Kinsey Scale One (Bisexual-Lite), and out to my wife, who compared me to a child molester.

    I was in my sixties when I came out to my adult daughters, both around 40. To them it was no big deal. To your generation, it would be inconsequential.

    I should have come out to myself when I was in lust with a good friend in college in 1969. I was afraid of my feelings, knowing they were “abnormal,” suppressed them, and never did anything about them. In the last few years I reconnected with my friend, also in his sixties. He told me that, had I made a move, he would have responded favorably. Today we’re both married for forty years with children.

    How different my life would have been. Not better – I wouldn’t give up my daughters for anything – and not worse, just different. That’s if I were a member of your generation, born when you were. Born when I was, it would have been immeasurably worse. Queers were physically attacked, shunned, and unable to get employment almost fifty years ago. Especially in Appalachia, where I lived at the time.

    The experience did prompt a book series, “Finding,” set in 2015 New Orleans. It’s a bromance trilogy about a straight man and a gay man who fall in love. I plan to publish all three volumes simultaneously later this year. And, I’ve learned from ctan. The first book, “Finding Friendship,” will be perma-free.

    [Reply]

    Alan Katz Reply:

    Bill, that’s a lovely post, but also heartbreaking because it took you so long to live your authentic life. Typical of the terrible waste that occurs as as a result of bigotry and fear.

    But please let me correct just one misapprehension. I am the same generation as you, I suspect. I was born in 1947. I lived through Stonewall, the beginning of gay literature, the pain of the closet, a number of gay-bashings and various stages of coming out. One day, not yet 21, I was visiting France, lying in a bed in an ancient inn on the side of Mont St. Michel, trying to decide what to do with my life – go to Vietnam (I’d gotten my notice) or tell the truth, that I was gay. Terrible choice, as I wanted to be a civil rights attorney, and if I were openly gay, I could not be a licensed attorney in most states. In fact, I would be a felon.

    But I did find friends and lovers in University (class of 1969). Fortunately, it was “Summer of Love” and lots of grass, acid, free love and orgies, so I was not as oppressed as I might have been – at least among my immediate peers and friends. But then again, at Universities in the ’60s, life was fairly insular and people (including me) were demonstrating against the War, not against the lack of LGBT civil rights. But that came soon after Stonewall with NGLTF, GLF, Pride, etc. I am proud to have lived this struggle, grown with it, contributed the little I could. It was the drumbeat of my life right up to 2015 and Obergefell – and it is still not over.

    I am also blessed to have had an extremely liberal mother who didn’t believe that one should be humiliated to be who you are – that one should be proud, confident and unapologetic. And to some degree or another, I was, throughout my life.

    I’m glad you cherish your daughters so much. I only wish you might have been able to cherish yourself equally. I must admit, I have always loved being gay, but then “different” is something I always respected, celebrated and loved.

    I can’t wait to read your book(s).

    [Reply]

    Bill Heath Reply:

    Alan, thank you for the response. We are the same age. I went to university in Appalachia, where I was routinely beaten in civil rights marches and sit-ins, pro-integration demonstrations, etc. I appeared (and appear) 100% white, although I discovered in my 40s I am a quarter black. Demonstrators for gay rights were zero. Anyone suspected of being gay was beaten, shunned, arrested on spurious charges, and few survived without serious and often lifelong injuries.

    I won the draft lottery. With a B.A. in Spanish and Music, I was qualified to teach, or to beg on the streets of El Paso. I entered the military, married my college sweetheart, we had two kids. I wound up in the intelligence field, where even a hint of being queer (if you’re not 100% straight you’re 100% gay) got jail time and a bad conduct discharge. That certainly helped me suppress my issue.

    With experience in the race side of civil rights, I used contacts cultivated in the military over 20 years to raise with a number of Generals and Admirals a constitutional question: Homosexual activity isn’t the only thing criminalized, so is homosexuality itself. That criminalizes thought with no requirement for any action. I put together a legal and business case for not criminalizing thought; it became the framework for Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell. Today DADT is dismissed and excoriated; at the time it introduced all the change the military and society at large could digest.

    I don’t regret my life, and my sexuality is only a part of me. It does not define me. Never having acted on my bisexuality, I’m not sure what I’ve missed.

    Click on my underlined name and you’ll find my pen name’s website. Pick out whatever you’d like to read and I’ll send you the pdfs. Just need your e-mail address.

    [Reply]

    Posted 06 May 2016 at 12:25 am
  9. Janie Friedman wrote:

    What they said.

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    :-)

    [Reply]

    Posted 07 May 2016 at 1:31 am
  10. Amber wrote:

    I’m so proud of you, Daron. And you may have been able to keep your tears in but I didn’t.

    Amazing piece of writing, ctan.
    So is this the end of book 9 now?

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    Awh. I hope they were happy tears.

    [Reply]

    Amber Reply:

    Mixed. Happy because I’m so proud of how far you’ve come and sad for all the people who didn’t get to live to see where we are now in 2016 and frustrated for all the struggles we still have to face.

    [Reply]

    daron Reply:

    Yeah. I hear you.

    [Reply]

    ctan Reply:

    Thank you. :-)

    Book 9 actually ended on the chapter Dogs of Lust, so we’re already about a quarter of the way into Book 10 here.

    [Reply]

    Amber Reply:

    OK. I couldn’t remember if we were into book 10 yet or not.

    [Reply]

    Posted 07 May 2016 at 6:29 am
  11. Sommy wrote:

    Wow! That’s just beautiful😭😭

    [Reply]

    Posted 19 May 2016 at 3:14 pm

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