Me: I am different. Thanks for coming hiking.
Him: What’s different about you?
Me: This is the first time you’ve ever seen me in the daytime.
Him: Hm… Yes. I guess that’s true.
(We start hiking. He takes his shirt off.)
Me: You look like a Greek statue. Prettiest boy in Culver City.
Him: You look good too. Did you move to this area?
Me: Yes. I’m now a proud resident of Privilege Mountain.
Him: Why is it called that?
Me: It’s not. I call it that. It’s just this area of Mulholland drive near Laurel Canyon. So much privilege in these hills.
Him: All the houses look like castles. What did you did you do all morning?
Me: I did some writing and then I crowed on Facebook and Twitter about Chechnya. What do you think about Chechnya?
Him: The country?
Him: It’s in Eastern Europe.
Me: Stop. You know. They’re rounding up gays and torturing-slash-killing them.
Him: I thought that was fake news.
Me: It was not. At no time was it fake. Though, to be fair, it was barely news. People were mad about United the week it broke and then I caterwauled about it online for ten days straight. Then, someone sent me a link on Twitter to a blurb about how Biden had gotten involved. “Happy now??” I think they said.
Him: Did that make you happy?
Me: That some stranger from the internet implied that I should sit down and stop crying?? Hardly! I mean, people are talking about it now… Why don’t you find this alarming?
Him: I’m from China. Every country handles its gay people differently.
Me: That’s a disgusting truth. Frequently dismissed, too.
Him: Do you have a dog? You should get a dog. Guys with scruff and dogs are the two best things in the world.
Me: I still can’t believe this doesn’t bother you.
Him: There are plenty of gay people in China, but it isn’t generally discussed one way or another. There isn’t persecution, but you wouldn’t say you’re gay out of respect for the older generation…
Me: But, you realize that there’s always an older generation, and if everyone follows that principle gay people will always, always be invisible..
Him: That statement sounds so dramatic to the Chinese point of view. I don’t think of gay people as a group anyway. They’re from everywhere. They’re not the same. They have no solidarity.
Me: And that doesn’t seem to bother you either…
Him: It’s better to be gay here than in China.
Me: It’s worse in Chechnya, or indeed – throughout most of the second and third world countries…
Him: Yeah, well… I’m here on Privilege Mountain, hiking with a scruffy guy.
Me: Right. I’m hiking with the prettiest boy in Culver City.
Him: So corny.
Me: Okay, I’ll get a dog.
Me: Fuck no! I’ll get a plant though. Are plants and scruff sexy?
Him: I’d better put my shirt on.
(He gestures to an approaching family.)
Him: I just want to be respectful. They have children.
Me: You’re a man, hiking, in the middle of the day. In California.
Him: On Privilege Mountain, no less. But a gay man with his shirt off sends a certain message to families. It’s better not to offend them.
Me: At the planetarium the other day I kissed a guy on the cheek and this woman freaked out about her kids having to see it. I told her to move along and stop trying to control other people or she’d see a lot more.
Him: Couldn’t you just wait? Be respectful?
Me: Respectful is how you frame it to process what’s really going on.
Him: Oh jeez – and what’s that?
Me: You’re capitulating to heteronormativity. You are literally covering. A straight man wouldn’t think to put his shirt on if he was hiking shirtless. A straight woman wouldn’t think to hector straight people for kissing on the cheek. Straight people practically make out in front of kids.
Him: Yes, but we’re gay. It’s different.
Me: How is it different?
Him: Because parents don’t want to have to explain that to children.
Me: But they’re fine with Disney explaining heterosexuality to children in the form of fairy tales.
Him: 95% of people are straight. They will always have the numbers.
Me: And we don’t have kids to pass our legacy of oppression down to.
Him: I don’t know what a legacy of oppression is.
Me: Are you KIDDING me? You’re from China. It really doesn’t bother you, being pressured to cover your gayness? Always being semi-invisible?
Him: It really doesn’t bother me.
Me: It bothers me.
Him: Yeah. I know. But hey – you get to live on Privilege Mountain.
Me: Yeah. “Privilege Mountain… It’s Better than Being Gay in China.”
Him: It is.
Me: I know. I know it is…
i take a tarnished, greasy butter knife
wrap it taught and coarse in
the cheapest paper towels they had
for purchase at the dollar store
i scrape the corners and nooks of this place
unearthing frights of schmutz and gunk
that i would otherwise leave unmolested
if you weren’t coming to visit
empty plastic pints, glass fifths, rotgut vodka
stuffed away into bloated oversized black
garbage bags, screeching a terrible clank,
an indictment, when i set them on the curb
the vacuum is not working well, so i shake
the rugs, i spray bleach on the mildew colony
in the shower, between tiles, sweep up the
hair on the floor where i trimmed my beard
i am ashamed
i am not ashamed of how i live, so what, a
sock in the corner, balled up and old q-tips
hanging out by the toilet and the dishes stacked
for days in the sink, egg flakes soaking in brine
i am not ashamed, but it would pain me for
you to see this, and it was you, after all, who
taught me that life is about smoothing out the
smudges on the mirror in case the neighbors see
on my knees scrubbing i think back to the lake
house warm childhood summer barbecues
fish frys, water skis, whiffle balls, comic books
the hypnotic sound of waves lapping the shore
back in those sepia good old days, days before
that short time when we were all together