“Dost thou think
because thou art virtuous
there shall be no more cakes and
- (Sir Toby Belch)
Twelfth Night or 'What You Will'
COVID-19. Of course I don’t mean the disease — you have more than a 99% chance of surviving that, unless of course you are very old, or in some way otherwise infirm. We shall survive countless germs in our lives, that’s what our body is supposed to do, not something we should be afraid of. But there is the lockdown, there is the most depressing winter we’ve ever experienced in our lives — and we are about to experience it, apparently — so they say, and who are any of us to argue? So I am here to help you survive that. And don’t worry I’m not going to go on about my ‘covid-radical’ ideas. There are no ideas about COVID-19 that are confirmed. No, it’s called science — which is all about experimentation. After some well documented experiment and a peer reviewed article today's certainty could be tomorrow’s bad facts. Speaking of which we live in the era of alternative facts — but facts were always ‘alternative,’ because ever since Aristotle, reason has been in the eye of the beholder. That is, the rational man with all the answers is only the man who wins the argument. But I’m not going to go on about all that; no. I’m going to talk about your mental health. I’m going to try and stop you from committing suicide. Suicide has been happening a lot lately. More of my friends have died of suicide than from COVID-19. It’s partially because they are artists and ‘sensitive,' but let’s face it we’re all sensitive when push comes to shove. I know how to deal with this because I got through AIDS. And I know you think, oh, he’s gay, and he’s different — and that’s a different situation. Well if you think that just stop reading this now. Fear and disease are the same whether it’s the ‘gay plague’ or what Trump calls the ‘China plague’: it’s all about fear. And the first thing you have to do is rid yourself of that fear. It was all fine and good to be afraid when the lockdown first started in March, off we went scurrying to buy toilet paper, it would only be a few months, after all. And then came the worrying talk about the ‘new normal.’ Well now we are there. We know what the new normal is. So we can adjust to it. But before we can adjust we have to stop being afraid. How do you stop being afraid? Well you just stop. But one thing that helps, one thing I learned — yes during AIDS— is this: pick some best practice for yourself, and then follow it. If it means not kissing the kids, or not having sex with your husband, so be it. If it means kissing your kids constantly and then going out at night to pick up strange men on the corner -- and not using protection -- so be it. I mean it. I truly mean it. We don’t know anything, everything changes day to day, and as I say there are no facts anymore anyway, the best thing to do is decide on a plan of action and then follow it; no guilt, no fear, no second guessing. Of course you can always change your plan of action when you get a new set of ‘alternative facts.’ But you must, again, at that time — be comfortable and happy with your new set of rules. You can’t be worrying all the time. Let me tell you if we faggots worried every time some damn condom broke we’d all be dead from anxiety, never mind AIDS. So: fear gone. And your plan of action is ? — well whatever you decide. Whether or not to wear a mask is a decision based on scientific fact, which could change tomorrow, but there are laws that tell you that you have to wear it in -- let’s say -- the mall. So wear it in the goddamn mall, don’t be an idiot and get arrested. But please remember this. There is science, which is always changing. And there are alternative facts. But then there are out-and-out lies. Here are some of them:
‘Stand together by standing apart.'
‘A mask is love.’
‘We’re all in this together.’
The kind of people who say these things also tell you that even though the next six months are going to be hell, you can solve all that with a little yoga and a good book (oh and don’t forget that zoom chat!) ‘Stand together by standing apart’ is just Orwellian newspeak, it’s a blatant freakish, f-ing lie. By definition, if you are standing apart you are not together. You might say — but it’s a pleasant thought. Yeah a pleasant thought that might make you lose your mind. I’ll tell you what being together is — it’s hugging, kissing, screwing, putting your body parts in close proximity with another’s, dripping saliva all over each other, singing in someone’s face, dancing with someone, yelling at some one, performing for someone in the same room, holding hands, linking arms, rolling around in the grass, going to a party and passing a joint and having a group hug, a group grope, an orgy -- flirting, touching caressing and yes: penetrating. That’s what it means to be together. We have bodies and they are made to love and touch and yes f….k. If we don’t do that, we die. We are social animals -- unless we are sociopaths like Donald Trump. You may decide that you will never touch anyone again, but it will kill something inside of you — chances are — before COVID-19. What about "a mask is love? “ No, I’ll tell you, I’ve been in love, am in love now, I can’t describe it, but it’s the opposite of a mask; no, the mask is down; after all, he knows everything I do, pretty well, and I do everything, pretty much for him. I do things I never imagined for him, quite regularly, I think about him dying, and then think about me dying and think it would be better if I died first, but then that would not be fair to him -- and it goes on and on. That’s love. It’s not a mask. It’s not a frigging mask. As for “we’re all in this together,” well, we’re not. I hate to be the first one to tell you this but we live alone and we die alone, and thus, ergo, it stands to reason or unreason: we need each other. We need each other like hell because we are so alone in this life — at the beginning and end — that we need at least to have those few moments in the middle when we touch. Yes, it’s all about touch. If you don’t touch each other you die. So. That’s my COVID-19 advice. I’m sure it will get me in trouble but frankly I’d rather be touching somebody than anything else, and if you told yourself the truth (and that is the only truth, what you tell yourself, not what you tell other people) it’s everything you want, too.
was private and sex was public. What does it mean for sex to be public? It means that it is not only polite to talk about sex -- it becomes obligatory dinner conversation. At certain festive gatherings it is suddenly de rigeur to speak of the sex you had last night — not only identifying the partner and perhaps the positions utilised — but also the device (dildo, tit clamps etc.). When we began doing this back in the 70s it was bragging — because we had never talked so brazenly before. And it was for gay men asserting what had been forbidden. Eventually it became a fine art, that is sexual discourse — because after all, sex is interesting. Like human beings, sex comes in infinite variety; one person’s feast is another’s famine. Ken McDougall used to go on about a man who licked him from head to toe — he moaned: ’It was heaven!’ But for me it would have been a certain kind of hell. Ken and I had a friend, a musician (he shall remain nameless) who was very beautiful, but for him sex was apparently a mystical experience. This again seemed to me a nightmare; to turn something which has as its primary value its very materiality into a prayer. Not that sex isn’t a kind of prayer; it certainly is, but it is a prayer for philistines who have only accidentally — and precipitously — fallen to their knees. But to say sex was public does not mean only that we talked about it openly, it actually happened in public, with people watching, either by accident or design. Group gropes were once commonplace -- and an integral part of theatrical presentations -- this was sexual liberation, it was believed we could discover not only other people’s bodies but their souls. I suppose it was a kind of religion because it replaced religion in the public square. But I still insist it was not mystical. God was not so much sensitive and all-knowing as extremely well hung. (The painting of Jesus that hung over my bed was very sexy — many of us had sexy pictures of a very white Jesus back in those days — and if he was not the actual subject of our first masturbation he might crop up, now and then, in our 'minds-eye'). The result of all this? AIDS? Not necessarily. AIDS is not the consequence of group gropes, but of a specific sexual act — the insertion of an orgasmic penis into a bleeding orifice. The raison d’être of a group gropes was not penetrating as many people as possible -- although that did sometimes happen of course -- but a plethora of human contact. Human contact is what it’s all about; what everyone requires, what keeps us healthy and alive. Today sex is no longer public, it has become quite unmentionable. Trans folk announce shockingly that their queerness has nothing to do with sex; young people are no longer proud sluts they are ‘gender non-binaries.’ Religion has taken over the public square. Religions are vast bureaucracies of varying degrees of corruptness (see: The Roman Catholic Church). They must necessarily recruit and lie -- the way any capitalist organization does. All this has nothing to do with the human spirit. What happens between oneself and one’s spirit — or the spirit of another, or the many spirits in the air — is a truly private matter; no one should talk about it or spread it around as they might COVID-19. Religion means simply a commonly held belief; or one should say a belief which is not actually believed, and certainly not practiced, but merely confessed to publicly, often displayed, often boasted of, and thus competitively asserted. The new religion is altruism; everyone talks about it, no one practices it. For instance; there is a quick solution to COVID-19. The people who die (except for those with mysterious unacknowledged co-morbidities which make up a very small portion of deaths) are the abject -- those who are not privileged, those people we do not in fact care about. People died in nursing homes and meat packing plants because they lived in appalling conditions unfit for humans. They were dying before COVID-19, but we refuse to admit it, for that would reveal our culpability. The majority of the COVID dead are also non-white. If we were to give these people access to health care and and basic human rights they would not die from COVID-19. We don’t want do that, but we insist that we do, fiercely displaying our public religion— i.e. altruism — but the fact is we will never fundamentally change the social system because we don’t actually care about other people. Caring for others is difficult and time consuming. We would rather jaw endlessly about our evil neighbour who forgot to put on his mask. Last night I walked past a gay bar on Church street that was packed — as packed any bar can be these days. It’s called The Well, and it opened briefly and proudly for one night only before lockdown; The Well is now closed for a month. It’s what we all need. A place — like all gay bars — that offers the possibility of making sex public again — and making religion private. For some things just must not be spoken of; it is not sexual acts which are obscene but our hypocritical altruistic lies; they are the furtive greasy glue that holds society together. We want nothing less than to be thought perfectly good, and in our own minds we are. Don’t ask if anyone remembers the Holocaust; we are living in it. Last night a man told me about his father. His father will soon be dying of cancer because his father will not get proper medical care, because of precautions taken due to COVID-19. Make no mistake. This Holocaust will be duly noted by future generations; and Hitler too — please don’t forget — often spoke of a uniquely German concern -- putting the common good above the individual good, performing his persuasive altruism. I know it’s not pleasant to think about it, but that’s the problem really. We wish for our imaginations to entertain and reassure us. Alas they will wither from this misuse and abuse; our minds-eye is the most valuable gift God gave us; it was meant to rock he world, not rock us to complacent sleep.
We’ve all heard of the ‘butterfly effect’ and we’ve all known intuitively that it was true. Things have effects, that can’t be denied — but unknown ones, unimagined ones, effects beyond our imagination and our control. In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is defined as “the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state." In other words, if a butterfly flaps its wings in Arizona; a tornado occurs in Oklahoma. The wing flapping does not necessarily cause the tornado, but it has effects. The idea that these seemingly innocent butterfly wings have catastrophic results is irresistible; it flies in the face of hedonism and thoughtlessness; it is a stern rebuke to all who imagine that there are no consequences. There is something uniquely human about hoping beyond hope that our actions do not take place in a vacuum, that this is not an irrational world. Take death, for instance. Again, there simply must be a reason. We have long known that grandmothers die, alone sometimes, in nursing homes, perhaps abused, certainly neglected, unwanted, in inconceivable agony often precipitated by their undeserved abandonment. We do not want to think about them; but nevertheless we do. It also occurs to us that some grandmother, somewhere - if not our own — may just happen to die when we are feeling -- shall we say -- particularly carefree and uninhibited? When we are at a party perhaps? Peeling off our shirts? Lowering our panties? Proudly displaying that tramp stamp or sexy thong? And is that not, somehow, wrong? Not the thong of course — everyone has the inalienable right to wear one — but the fact that we do so enjoy showing it off at a party, dipping a finger into our pants with a gentle tug at the strap — while at the same time some grandmother somewhere is most certainly dying? Is this not unjust? Is it not, in truth, selfish of us to enjoy ourselves excessively at the exactly moment that someone else is enduring inextinguishable suffering? Can nothing be done about this stupifying contradiction? The more one thinks about it the more one might be inclined to turn down the next party invitation. Or perhaps the old woman's suffering provides more of a reason to go —in order to block out such ugliness and our own guilt? For certainly we are in some way duplicitous? This brings us to COVID-19. Whatever else the disease is — and we might argue the night away about that (and why not? Is there really anything else to do?) — COVID-19 is certainly, if nothing else, poetic. No—more than that — it embodies — in the inevitable juxtaposition of its images, nothing less than the virtual essence of a poetic injustice so terrifying that it might just (some hope) facilitate an ethical sea-change, a moral tidal wave, and halt the endless appalling cycle of man’s inhumanity to man. For COVID-19 not only sets the image of a party against a grim death — one in which we are choking on our own sighs, coughing up blood, lungs welling with congested fluids and unrealised dreams — but, at last -- we understand! It is the urge to party itself that causes death — it is that wild desire to release, let it ‘all hang out,’ throw caution to the winds; this is the origin of all worldly pain and suffering! For with such urges comes a toxic, infectious, unexpurgated narcissism. Think of an orgasm; sublime pleasure is ineluctably connected to forgetting that anyone else dies. And COVID-19 announces, in no uncertain terms, that when we are at that strip club gazing at a plump white — or black, have it as you will — ass, we are killing someone. Today they closed strip bars in Toronto to save grandmothers from COVID-19. I see a young man’s back arched, the swell of his buttocks, his plying eyes yearning for —what is it? Perhaps the twenty dollars I will stuff into his shorts, but alas, the shorts are gone and ‘it’ bounces out and ‘it’ is pulsating growing. It wants me, or I prefer to think so, just as he does, and his mouth goes down to my nipple but still he manages to look me in the eye, and I am straining — not even so much with desire — as with the recognition that yes, I too have a body, even at 67 years, going on 68. But this momentary pleasure, this fleeting egoistical need (I imagine it is an need; in fact it is even less than a momentary impulse — it is a preference — as easily satisfied as it is forgotten) is the primal cause for the aching, trembling expiration of a 99 year old grandmother, wizened and frail, yet still clinging on to dear life, gasping through a respirator. And that grandmother’s life — though she is 99 years old — is that not worth something? Something more than my superficial joy, more than the wild look in that stripper’s eyes — which I imagine is pleasure, but is probably just greed? It is I who have killed this kind old woman (because surely she must have been kind, there is not much else for her to be, at 99 years old, abandoned by her family). No, she is kind, although somewhat of a curmudgeon — understandably so, at 99 years— but replete with a wealth of worldly wisdom, and ergo, she cannot help but be kind. And when her gentle eyes come to rest on anyone -- particularly the self-sacrificing nurse who is attempting so desperately to keep her alive; they speak — ‘Don’t I matter?’ 'Do old people not matter anymore?' 'Do I deserve to die, because Sky Gilbert must satisfy a neurotic penchant for some sad, vain, absurd sexual recognition in a gay strip club—fragrant with the aroma of man-sweat, cum and poppers?' Does this admirable old woman deserve to die quite literally at Sky Gilbert's own hand? I think not — says COVID-19. And we must listen. We must hear the poetry of COVID-19. There has never been a truth that was so beautiful, so painful, so very apt, so inevitable — one that frankly and simply makes such intuitive common sense that it erases all science. If we could eat it, we would. But instead, we just must understand: COVID is right, and I am wrong. And I am so terribly, terribly sorry.