Nonfiction by James Allen Hall

My First Time

            The boy wasn’t painfully ugly.  Sure, he had the normal teenage pockets of acne, but they didn’t usurp his heart-shaped face.  Rather, they flushed along his cheeks and hid near his earlobes, little angry villages that were unable to mount an insurrection.  And though a greasy, short-cropped cluster of hair resisted whatever combing he gave it, it wasn’t totally without manners.  His blue t-shirt was frayed on the right sleeve.  I think he had blue eyes. 

            He must have seen the letters I toiled over during World History with Mr. Eddins, a name I associate not with a face but with the worn-away crotch of his jeans.  I remember the letter written when Jeremy Fradin, the class clown, fell asleep.  His snore alerted everyone and when Mr. Eddins slapped his desk to wake him, drool splashed up. When Lisa Barber refused to pledge allegiance and Mr. Eddins erupted and told her that she would damn well show America some respect because those crazy kamikaze Japs killed my best friends, I wrote the obvious jokes about the redirection of old Mr. Eddins’ blood flow instead of mulling over the atrocities of epithets and wars.  I cared less about condemning the letter’s subject than I did about amusing the letters’ recipient, Jaime, into falling wildly in love with me. 

            After all, Jaime was dangerous:  two weeks into our friendship, he carved into his arm the name of a girl who wouldn’t talk to him.  “Kim” blazed on his arm, angry and pleading, for three weeks.  I may have fallen in love with him then.  He was awkward genius.  I was gossip-storehouse.  Due to my dual roles as yearbook staff member and confidante to the senior cheerleaders, I knew that Brian was two-timing Angela a week before Angela flung his books out a school bus window, that Nicole was pregnant and by whom, that Jane, whose mother taught in Modern Languages, got high every fourth period in her mother's car in the faculty parking lot.  I knew, and I never said anything. 

            Everyone knew Jaime.  He was definitely going to be the valedictorian, he was definitely going to Harvard, and he was definitely going to lord his Nobel Prize over the rest of us at reunions.  It wasn’t just the students who knew this; teachers also seemed dumbstruck by Jaime’s intelligence.  So, he didn’t get in trouble when he pissed on a desk in Miss Kushner’s (empty) class, nor did he even get a slap on the wrist when he heaved a desk down a hallway.  And, when he wrote for Mrs. Fritz’s Honors English class an essay about the joys of punching German women who stifle his creativity, he was suspended for only three days because Mrs. Fritz insisted she needed the time to still her nerves.

            I called the first time to find out what he had really written in that essay for English class; he told me instead about the time in fourth grade when he laid his dick on the projection machine “just to see what it would look like, enlarged.”  I was sixteen, overweight, miserably, effeminately gay:  I tried to forget I had a penis every second of the day.  So, when, by the end of the year, Mr. Eddins was mixing up our names, I was blissful.  I practiced combining my first name with his last name on notebook paper.  I encoded symbols of my affection on modern day papyrus while we studied ancient Egypt, I imagined him in togas during the Hellenistic period, and during the Inquisition I admitted to no one that I was in love with the resident genius freak of Western High. 

            I slipped notes into his hand as we passed—him going from English to History, me the other way around.  I didn’t miss a day.

            And neither must’ve the greasy-haired boy.  Every day he monitored the traffic of a love note between two guys.  I had never noticed him before, but backgrounds and foregrounds blurred around Jaime, slowed to the speed of sunsets.  As he took the note, Jaime's hand held mine briefly. 

            Unwittingly I had told my name to the boy dozens of times, each time louder, until my name thundered in him.  And one day, I turned from Jaime’s back to find him in front of me.  He wasn’t ugly; he was smiling, he was smaller than me by about four inches, he was so close he was going to kiss me.  But then his hands shot to my shoulders, his lips opened, and he shoved “Faggot” onto me.  Spittle served as a glue to make the name stick. 

            I felt the cuts all over my body where the word made invisible grooves, where the label was already being sutured to my skin.  He had friends behind him; behind me was an air-space made emptier by silent onlookers.  Jaime was already in class, raising his brilliant hand to answer Mr. Eddins’s questions.  My hands were raising too; I shoved the boy as he walked away, smiling at his friends.  I screamed after him, “Who’s the faggot now?”  But I had let too much time elapse.  The name absorbed me. 

            I had called myself that name for as many days as I had known Jaime.  I had waited until my own house was empty and stood in front of my mother's mirror and had said the words, "You are a faggot," and I had watched myself say it, falling to the cold tile of the bathroom floor, hugging my knees to my chest, waiting for something to happen.  So, when it came swirling down upon me, it felt as if the name assaulted my hair, my chest, my legs from the outside, until it could find some vulnerable part of me, some place where the acidic spittle could melt through to the wellspring of “faggot” inside me.  Then the dam broke and I was saturated with the name. 

 

 

The Ends of Terror

1.  Surrender

            We've been refused at the doors of Southern Nights, the Blue Cactus, and a handful of other bars.  But at the Parliament House, no one asks for ID.  I'm nineteen, but look younger, thanks to a ball cap and baby-face.  There's no line to get in; the Parliament House has neither a bouncer nor an age restriction but it does provide free lubricant and condoms in large, strategically placed baskets.  Everywhere I look, men in various stages of undress throng the outside hallways of the club, a Motel 8 in its former life.  There are two floors to the U-shaped building, perhaps two hundred rooms total.  In its other incarnation, it catered to the Disney weekend tourist crowd.  Now, guys who look even younger than me are chatting with bare-chested silver foxes.  People above us are leaning over the railings, scoping the horde below.  Men swarm the stairs.  I can't move at all without feeling the friction of someone else's torso or back.  I'm polite through the crowd, saying, "Excuse me" or "Sorry, man," to men who look annoyed at any hint of etiquette.  The Parliament House is the closest thing to the French Quarter that I've ever seen.  There's no music; the din of conversation manages to both cover and amplify the sexual tension.  Johnny says, lighting a cigarette, "This is the real Magic Kingdom, kid."

            And I do feel like a kid, naively overdressed in jeans and a t-shirt, not to mention the unsexy and wholly inaccessible briefs I have on underneath.  It's a Saturday night in January, but winter means almost nothing in Florida.  People blur by in hardly any clothing at all, or else they lie inside the rooms, naked on top of floral bedspreads, the door slung open, privacy gone nostalgic.  In the outdoor halls of this hotel-cum-nightclub on Orange Blossom Trail, in the thundering heart of Orlando's red-light district, men touch without fear. 

            My friends prod me forward along the corridor.  Steve and Johnny are both 26 and confident beyond their years.  They've brought me to my first gay club, a fact they'd kept repeating in the car as they grinned at each other, as if they were about to hand over a decoder ring and my first copy of The Gay Agenda.  Johnny and Steve scout from room to room.  When their bodies jostle another man's, they just smile and jut their chins forward and say, "What's up?"  Johnny's favorite pickup line is, "Hey," and he says it every time he makes eye contact.  He draws out the vowel, shading the word seductive.

            But we are silent as church folk when we join the men watching outside uncurtained windows. The spectacle I find there shocks me: men having sex, making live scenes of the videos I keep at the bottom of a footlocker in my college dorm room.  Men roll onto their stomachs, turning their faces toward the audience.  We watch men tied to bedposts, their mouths agog, wincing from the stroke of the whip.  Men on all fours, heads bowed.  Hairy men shaved down, the body corrected.  Blonde men and brown-haired men, bald men, men of every ethnicity.  Kneeling down, snaking their heads from all angles.  Men holding other men by the jaw, pinching the nose closed so the mouth will open.  Men lurching into other men, men receiving them.  This is power: each man giving in, burning off his shame as he surrendered to another man's fantasy.

            I nudge Steve and when he doesn't respond I swipe my elbow into his gut.  He responds by pinching my nipple really, really hard.  I look up to discover that Steve has sprouted a full beard, traded in his size-too-small jeans for leather chaps, and replaced the twinkle in his eye with a snarl.  The stranger winks at me.  I turn my head and lower my eyes.  I raise them.

*

            Later, I stand alone on the second level, facing away from the moans spilling out and down into the parking lot.  Every kind of car glitters under the same moonlight.  I am alone in an open-atrium whorehouse, overweight, out of place.  Steve and Johnny have transformed themselves from longing onlookers into devoured actors; I think I saw Johnny's jockstrap in some rippling line-up of torso before someone closed the blinds in 213. This is the gay Shangri-La I've been pining for?  The reality doesn't match the brochure. 

            A police officer strides from behind one of the building's brick wings.  His motorcycle helmet, a polished white dome, gleams.  The blue uniform stretches over a thick muscled body; his trousers are tucked neatly into leather boots.  He has on oversized, mirrored sunglasses and a thick handlebar mustache.  His badge will surely shine cleansing light into this sex-prison; he will establish order in the chaos of desire.

            The cop keeps walking, his hand raised to his chest, gripping a cord that streams backward over his left shoulder.  The cord occasionally goes slack before he tugs it taut again.  I watch his arm and chest flex and imagine someone's car stuck in the mud or a fallen tree blocking the only exit.  The cord is attached to an obstacle, but he's winning, he's moving forward.  And then what is attached at the end of the cord emerges. 

            It's a man.  Handcuffed.  Attached to a leash.  The leash hooks to a collar that extends into a leather hood covering the man's entire face.  He can't see, feel his way.  I don't even think he has shoes.  He's naked except for a leather thong and a silver chain that runs between his nipples.  Under the mask, forced night of no-stars, he could be terrified or turned-on, aghast and desperate for breath.  He has willingly given over control of his body to another, a demigod in fetish gear, so that he may be free.

*

            I don't remember leaving—or even much of what happened after I see the slave and his sergeant at different ends of the tether.  I remember feeling hopeful and terrified at the cop's presence, before I knew he was only doing a cameo in his discipline-drag.  I remember being seized by the thought, We're going to jail. 

            Part of me is still waiting for someone to place his hand squarely on my shoulder, tuck my head into a squad car, push me towards a badly made bed in some dimly lit cell, kicking my legs apart.  Then I'll ask his name, and in the shadows of what we're supposed to say, what we're supposed to do, he won't answer.  He'll slam shut the cell door and make love to me until dawn, until I'm gasping and made real again.

2.  Discipline and Punish

            My brother Dustin sits in his car, listening to some 80's retro station while he waits for the line of vehicles to move from the surface street onto the Florida Turnpike.  It's rush-hour traffic in Miami.  Cars are backed up three lights.  In the afternoon heat, Dustin sees a shirtless man jogging east, the smooth musculature of him glistening, backlit by the sunset. When the man is roughly parallel to Dustin's car, he stops to tie his shoe.  That's when Dustin asks him if he wants a blowjob. 

            The man snaps up, his spine registering shock.  His face contorts as he replays the question.  He drops his hand to his crotch, roughly grabs himself, and says, "How about I shove this up your ass instead?"  His penis is his weapon, alien to any economy of pleasure. 

            Dustin doesn't miss a beat when he says, "You have to buy me dinner first."

*

            The man my brother propositions calls him later on his cell phone.  His voice is a mixture of nervousness and business, a copper wire pulled tight in the attempt to say who's on top.  He asks for Dustin by name.  He says where they met.  He is matter-of-fact, a machine.  Then he identifies himself as an agent in the FBI's bioterrorism unit; he took down Dustin's license plate number, fed it into some computer and retrieved every phone number associated with the car.  This man, this agent of the government invested with the public trust, imbued with the power to protect his people, tells my brother that he and his FBI friends know where he lives.  And they are coming to kick his faggoty ass.  He hangs up on my brother's sputtering apology.

            Later that night he calls back.  He has spoken with his superiors.  The next day, at 1100 hours, Dustin will report to the Hialeah branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation where he will be read his rights, fingerprinted, and questioned.  Afterwards, he will be held until the FBI is satisfied that my brother is not at the heart of some gay-mafia plot to kill President Clinton and, perhaps, redecorate the White House in shades of mauve.  Dustin calls me with updates each time, until he finally arrives home.  He is almost shaking, telling me every detail as we sit on my bed.  I try to listen, but all I want is to erase this from happening.  I call the Miami office of the FBI, and the receptionist verifies that indeed the government employs Agent Protest-Too-Much.  When I hang up, Dustin knows the news isn't good. 

            "They're going to torture me."

            "They're not going to torture you, Dustin."

            "They're going to torture me." 

            My brother, the terrorist, has never been so sure of anything in the twenty-two years of his virginal life.

*

            Imagine you've propositioned someone.  Imagine they're attractive.  You're attractive.  Imagine you haven't done it in the nicest way possible: hey, would you like a blowjob?  Not, how about a date, hot stuff?  Not, you have the best abs in all of Hialeah.  You believe, after all, that men cut to the chase.  Honesty is rewarded.  But most of all, when you see a muscle-cub with front-spiked hair running alongside a busy street in short red shorts, you believe you're hitting on someone who'd be attracted to the likes of you.  You haven't, for all of your twenty-two years, discerned the difference between the hyper-masculine hetero army-type and the hyper-masculine gay gym-rat.  They are the same book you read the same way: with one hand.

            After the FBI scheduled the interrogation, after the agent described how he and his friends were going to beat him bloody, after he'd harassed my brother for hours, Dustin finally told our parents. 

            Imagine you've already told your parents that you, a man, desire men.  Imagine they didn't handle it well—your mother retreating so far into depression that she became a risk to your safety.  Imagine once she thought that shooting you would be mercy—that it would save you a death from AIDS.  You've gone through the years of therapy and emerged on the other side happy, a family who still lives together and operates a family business. 

            Imagine now that you must tell your mother that a few hours ago, you propositioned a stranger.  Imagine repeating the words, "Do you want a blowjob," to your father, the man who thought that your friends had brainwashed you gay.  Now tell your parents that you are a matter of national security. 

*

            When the agent called back to harass Dustin again, my father answered.  We listened on speakerphone in the next room, hitting the button that muted our line.

            Imagine you're a parent who loves his kid.  Imagine you have to talk someone out of terrorizing him, of beating him to a pulp.  How angry do you allow yourself to get?  How do you siphon off the unallowable-extra, how do you dam it up, keep from saying, "Leave my kid the fuck alone you son of a bitch"?

            The conversation was over quickly.  My father never lost his cool.  He allayed each of the agent's fears.  Straight guy to straight guy.  He painted a picture.

            Imagine you're with your buddies.  Yeah.  It's Friday, end of a long week, you want to blow off some steam.  With you so far.  Imagine some pretty girl in a short skirt walks by, you say something stupid.  Now you wouldn't normally say something like that, would you?  Um. Would you?  Sorry for taking up your time, Mr. Hall.  Consider the matter closed.

3.  Psychotic Gods

            "I want to shit on your chest," the man I'm having phone sex with says.

            His voice had grown coarser in the fifteen minutes we'd been talking.  When he asked me if I was into anything "freaky," I guess I probably should have said no.  But his voice, an equal blend of animal lust and stark precision, so deep and rumbling, persuaded me.  When he wanted to shave me, fine.  I fetched my electric razor and shaved down patches of my already smooth thigh.  When he wanted to spank me, I put the phone down on the bed so he could hear me hit my palm.  No way was I going to beat my ass red for some freak on the phone. 

            Now, however, he wants to use me as some combination of commode and serving platter.  He wants to do the grossest thing I've ever heard.

            When I was a kid, my parents kept a bookshelf stocked with inappropriate books.  Among the Steven King titles were books dealing with occult rituals and healing, a series of Harlequin Romances that I devoured by the age nine, and a biography on Hitler called The Psychotic God.  That title, gold-threaded on red binding, begged to be read.  I remember, really, only the very lurid details: Hitler had one testicle.  Hitler fancied himself an artist.  Hitler liked to defecate on Eva Braun. 

            I ask the man on the phone how many testicles he has.  His voice turns cobalt.  "Two," he says, sternly.  First the air, then the line that tethers us goes slack.

*

            That year I couldn't stand to have a man touch my body, to put his hand on my chest, to put two fingers down my waistband, to graze his lips on my neck—that year I had sex with men's voices.  Nights, I existed in a kind of virtual Parliament House, a phone "party line" where I could remake myself however I pleased. 

            I like to think I was a good sport—if I wasn't exactly into what got the other guy off, I'd try to carry it out as much as I possibly could without laughing.  Once, I was talking to this guy in Saudi Arabia.  We'd exchanged all the normal things: false names and stats, foreplay and body contact, oral sex and lots of kissing, which really amounted to a lot of slobbering of the mouth on the receiver.  That stuff always turned me off; it sounded like someone had put his mouth over your entire ear and was swabbing the deck inside.  But when he said he wanted to pour Coke on my ass and lick it off, I broke.  I laughed until the tears welled up.  I'd barely caught my breath before I realized he'd hung up.

            Mostly, I tried to respect them, even if I couldn't exactly imagine a life with these men and their fetishes, their bi-curiosities, their wives.  Even when they wanted pretty gross stuff—I tried to believe that what is found in language is found in nature.  Men who wanted every part of themselves worshipped.  Men who demanded I answer the phone, "I'm ready for you Sir," then proceeded to fantasize about my bound wrists, my blindfolded face.  And what I said back was “Please,” allowing the edge in my voice to sharpen.  I said it to understand my self-debasement, my loathing for what stared back at me in the morning's bathroom mirror.

            In their want was tactility, a love.  We were each inventing something on the other end.  Maybe they only wanted a voice to stave off the loneliness.  But me?  I wanted to be degraded.  In rebuilding myself from sexual devastation, I could pick from ruin the parts I wanted.  I could make myself whole again.

4.  The Pleasurable is Political

            She is smiling when she says, "Rape isn't about sex, it's about power.  That's why it's hot."  She takes out a cigarette from the pack beside her on the log.  One of the men produces a lighter, and her hand holds his firmly, a little too long, steadying the flame.  The woman—a writer who will, a year later, extol the virtues of anal sex while buying my friend and me drinks—is surrounded by her students, her voice both luscious and too loud among the bullfrogs' croaking.  The boys are laughing as she blows smoke rings.  Her mouth over-exaggerates.

            We are supposed to be inside the converted carriage barn, listening to a poet read his latest work about desire.  But the Vermont summer night is uncannily cool, and so we sit outside to be entertained by a woman whose lipstick matches her orange cotton blouse.  I am the only man not caught up in her raspy, cobra-laugh.  I am not like the other men, breathing in her heady perfume mixed with sweat, the day's fragrant wear on the body.  They look at each other conspiratorially.  I imagine each one's penis stiffening under blue denim, then their bodies in the lake behind us, pale shoulders rising up out of the water, the woman watching from her log.  My laugh joins the fray.

*

            "I try to avoid Fraternity Row," my friend Tracy says as we take a detour toward town on our way to campus.  We are seniors at Stetson University, both majoring in English.  Tracy is six-foot-four and weighs about four hundred pounds.  She's stuffed into her side of the beat-up truck.  Her arms are tattooed with daggered hearts and half-naked nymphs.  Tracy is the first lesbian I know who insists on being called a "bull dagger."  I like Tracy, even if she does sport the greasiest mullet I've ever seen.  I do not, however, like either of her two girlfriends, the "baby butches" whose names I can't ever get right.  Tracy is, she explains, "man enough for two women."

            I ask her why she avoids the tiny street flanked on either side by fraternity houses.  It would save fifteen minutes, and we're almost late to class.  She looks at me, reaches behind my seat, and brings out a sawed-off shotgun.  It is loaded, she says, and my question changes.  Her clear blue eyes are set in the back of her head, and she has sharp cheekbones that make her eyes seem far away, small.  When I ask her why she keeps a loaded gun in her car, her eyes narrow further.  Her knuckles whiten on the wheel.  "There's only so many times you can hear 'Let's rape a dyke!' before you start to carry insurance." 

*

            What if we all went traitor to penetrative sex?  Left that country for good.  Existed without visas in the land of No One Gets Fucked Tonight.  Your hand caressing my face, my hand on yours.  How would I recognize you?  How would you terrorize me then?

*

            A few months into our relationship, I let Brandon tie me up.  He binds my wrists with silk ties to his headboard.  "You're my prisoner," he growls playfully, rubbing two days worth of stubble over my chest.  Soon after he penetrates me, my wrists begin to throb.  I don't say anything.  I locate the dull pain, the pleasure of its throb.  Brandon is so clearly enjoying this play, I can't stop it.

            Sex hurts.  My stomach twists itself into knots with the quick jabs inside me, but I grit my teeth.  After a while, I discover a place inside of pain that feels almost-good, just when the momentum stills—he's not pushing forward or drawing out, there is no torque.  It's the place inside pain where the membrane is thinnest, where the searing quality threatens to hurt you, but then you feel it lessen, it releases its hold.  That's where people like me live during intercourse. 

            That night, after he unties me, kisses me, leaps up to shower, I roll over on the bed, rubbing my wrists back right.  Later, holding me against him in the bed, Brandon tells me that he loves me.  I pretend to be asleep.  I'd already promised myself that I wouldn't let him hear me crying in the dark. 

5.  Sex Trial: A Fantasy

            I want so much from violence: thesis and antithesis, to make the orgasm a reward for hard work, as if it proves I am a red-blooded American man, operating well inside the matrix of the Puritan Theory of pleasure.  I want testimony to the fact I've suffered—and in the face of it, survived.  I want a sweat-stained record admitted into evidence, exhibit Ménage à Trois. What's more pleasurable than denying that violence has any power to define who you are or the choices you make?

            I want pleasure to sweep into the courtroom wearing a black veil, Jackie Collins style.  A surprise last witness (allowed despite the slick defense attorney's objections), pleasure cannot be overruled.  At least, not in that cream-colored, plunging-necklined, shoulder-padded Chanel (with matching jacket).  I want sensual delight to swear it will tell the truth this time, ladies and gentleman.  I want desire to coo, "Hello, Lover," at my jailer and then undress, button after button nimbly undone, until all artifice is left in well-tailored pieces on the floor, until pleasure is naked, devastating, confessing to the murder of the husband—who had only, after all, been possessed of utter devotion. 

            Let the members of the jury be hung.  Let the judge dismiss all charges.

6.  The Wrong Man

            I am home from college for Winter Break, my second year of school.  I haven't told my parents I'm gay yet.  I am working up the courage.  I've been to the Parliament House twice now, though I've never done more than watch with silent judgment.  I have perfected the art of disdaining what I want.  I have come out to friends; I have been elected president of the queer student organization.  I have not kissed a man.  I am paralyzed by desire.  Soon, I'll find a number for "gay phone entertainment" in the back of my straight older brother's Rolling Stone magazine. 

            It's two in the morning, and I am wide awake, staring at my reflection in the bathroom mirror.  Earlier that day, I had slipped into my mother's bathroom to steal her rouge, her shimmering eyeshadow, a rainbow of lipsticks.  I had secreted away two sponges, lip liner, fake eyelashes, her nail polish.  I had planned to change my form.

            I work at first in the tiny amount of moonlight refracted and thrown helter-skelter by the frosted window.  There, in that confessional, I paint my face.  I dab the foundation into the palm of my hand.  I use a wedge-shaped sponge to dash it across my forehead, sweeping down my cheeks, across my jawline, down where the neck dovetails into collarbone.  I rub with two fingers so there'll be no lines, no witness to corroborate my falsehood.  I powder.  I brush my cheeks with rouge.  I affix the lashes.  I pad my eyelids with gold shimmer, massage traces of the eyeshadow into my cheeks.  I line my lips, making them fuller by drawing another mouth, a mute twin, a half-centimeter above.  I spread across my lips a blue-red veneer.  Lune Rousse, my mother's lipstick.  It's the name that drew me—it queens me otherworldly, Russian moonscape, luminous ruse, lunatic roused from slumber.    

            In the mirror, I am not beautiful. 

            Some other metallic face looks back at me, alien.  Then I'm wracked with nerves, a strange form of guilt.  What if my brother, or, worse—my mother—discovers flecks of makeup on the bathroom rug, on the counter?  What if my new face never washes off, what if I glitter forever? 

            I steel my gaze in the mirror.  I raise the camera I've brought with me.  I snap the picture.

*

            Once, coming home from a night out with Tracy and her friends Robin and Trish and Robyn (the self-termed "bull dyke quartet"), I notice some disturbance to my door.  I can see where something has trickled downwards, though the liquid has already dried.  Small traces of some white foam have hardened in tiny vertical rivulets.  When I get closer, I see a word spelled out on my door in what must have been shaving cream.  Someone has sprayed the letters "FAGG" on my grimy dorm room door.  But shaving cream is an unstable medium; it has emulsified and then evaporated.  The misspelled word is only visible because it cleaned the door, leaving a shine, readable because it erased the dirt.

            That night, I stay up until dawn, cutting up various newspapers I've grabbed on the way out of the clubs I frequent.  Women in tuxedos dipping each other in a ballroom.  Women kissing women in the Stock Exchange.  Drag queens in their splendor, surrounded by applauding crowds.  Images of RuPaul, of George Michael and Melissa Etheridge and Elton John and Shakespeare.  Selected quotes that trumpet the slogan, "Proud to Be Gay."  At six-thirty in the morning, I staple the collage to the corkboard outside my door.  I let "FAGG" blaze on.  I sleep so soundly.

            By evening, the corkboard has been ransacked, the drag queens shredded.  And on the cement-block wall someone has posted a sign comprised of two stick figures, one of whom bends at the waist as the other fucks him from behind.  The sign reads "A.I.D.E.S KILLS FAGGS DEAD."  I grab a pen from my satchel.  I correct the wrong words.


James Allen Hall is the author of a book of lyric personal essays, I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well, selected by Chris Kraus for the Essay Collection Award from the Cleveland State University Poetry Center.  His first book of poems, Now You're the Enemy, won awards from the Lambda Literary Foundation, the Texas Institute of Letters, and the Fellowship of Southern Writers.  He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation of the Arts, the University of Arizona Poetry Center, the Sewanee Writers' Conference, and the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.  He teaches creative writing and literature at Washington College, where he serves as an associate professor of English and directs the Rose O'Neill Literary House.