Sweet Gregory: Part Three, The 59th Street Bridge – 2001

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Gregory is perplexed, and sort of chasing me up the hill. I’m not running, but it’s a steep climb and I’m race-walking. I don’t understand my powers yet -I can’t control them. In the years to come, I will learn that if emotionally triggered, or feeling slightly manic, raising my heart rate isn’t a good idea. Bad things happen when I do that.

Sweet Gregory is trailing behind me on the 59th Street Bridge. I am race-walking us to Queens. A mean plan has sprung up in my young mind.  I’m going to make him walk me all the way home, then tell him to get back on the subway. I’m not going to sleep with him tonight, or any other night. He’s changing, and I don’t recognize him at all any more.

Which is fine. I don’t recognize myself, either.

A racing heart sits inside an awful, jealous, mean, petty version of myself. The quickening pulse thrums out my eardrums. Mania starts to rise; I’m too young to realize its power. Too young to know that if I let the mania swell too fully inside me, I can unleash a terrible force, Like Father, when he built Asteroid M. But, my powers are yet undefined. It’s 2001, and I don’t even know much about myself. All I know is that I’m different than other folks, and that I have to hide it.

An arctic, icy blast lights up behind my eyes. I pick up the pace. Gregory complains.

Hey! Why are you walking so fast? It’s the middle of the night! What’s the rush?

I’m so busy these days Sweet Gregory! I have a rehearsal tomorrow and an audition!

You said you weren’t rehearsing until Friday?

It’s another project, duh! I said I was busy! Keep up!

I don’t want Sweet Gregory to keep up. I want him to lag behind me forever, but his voice has developed two decades in the last nine months. He’s coming into his full power, and I don’t even know what my power is yet! It isn’t fair. He’s a spoiled brat from a wealthy family. That’s not who the arts should be for! The arts are for real artists who had to struggle to get where they are, not for pampered babies whose families paid for their every whim.

(No, that’s not true, another voice in my head suggests. The arts are also a place the rich place their black sheep family members. Their broken. The sociopaths that don’t have a flair for business.)

I think of the improv classes I’m taking. How I had to scrape money together at the end of the month for rent, how I kept taking classes. I think of the regional and Off-Off-Broadway musicals, sometimes for little or no money at all, just to get a chance to get some free voice practice in. Ice crystals form behind my eyes. A bluish-white whisper floats from my mouth. Sweet Gregory is confused. He notices a change in me, but he can’t place it. He’s out of breath. We keep rushing. He stumbles, but I don’t pause to help him, I race out front.

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Come on! I have to get up early tomorrow, I say.

Gregory puffs and huffs behind me. Good luck with that golden voice, I think to myself. Maybe I’ll stick around and wear you out, Sweet, Sweet Gregory?  Maybe, I’ll just keep you tired your whole life, so you can’t sing…

I sense something preternatural near me. A flash in my mind – two unctuous, undulating eels, twisting in East River silt, rutting up tree roots, sliding past rusting cans.

My third eye pops open. I’m linked now, with the two gargantuan eels. This happens sometimes when my powers take over. They link to whatever animals nearby that can use their base instincts to fuel my agenda. Most of the time it’s just birds, but sometimes it’s uglier animals, depending on now insipid I feel inside when the mania triggers. The third eye swells. My skin is gooseflesh. I pause. Blue white light.

Lead him to the top of the bridge, the eels whisper, I am two places at once. I am standing on the Queensborough Bridge with Sweet Gregory, and I’m cold, submerged in the inky water of the East River, amongst flotsam and jetsam, amongst moss and fishes, and discarded needles, river rocks, and sharper stones.  Algae, particulate, brown earthy life, and two self-satisfied, overgrown, fear-driven eels.

Gregory catches up. Thank God you came to your senses!

I didn’t. And you thank God, Gregory! I don’t believe in your Catholic God who speaks an infallible voice through a man called the Pope. I don’t believe any of it!

It’s okay! It’s just religion! We don’t have to agree! Michael, what’s the matter with you tonight? You sang really well, back there! You’re funny! You know that funny people don’t have to learn to sing all that well? Think about all the character actors who make it on Broadway, just croaking out one song a night! It’s the dream job! Full salary for one fun song, and a few lines in the second act! Are you jealous?

Am I what???

Are you jealous of me?

Poison flows through my veins. Hatred pumped so quickly by my heart, fluttering and pounding away – endless pounding in my very soul – pounding deep into my core. Fuck you, Gregory – I’m not jealous. I feel sorry for you!

Michael…

I didn’t stop so you could catch up, Gregory. I stopped so you could have a fair start. We’re racing to the top of the bridge. I feel my tongue splitting in twain as I say this. My tongue silver, my words, quick.  I shift eye contact – right, left, right, left, right, left. Like a swinging pendulum on a grandfather clock. Eye to eye, I press into his mind, a bit, gently, I enter him. It’s easy. He doesn’t even know he has a third eye.

Race me up to the top!

Gregory looks uneasy, stunned, then his eyes glaze over, fuzzy, and he smirks.

Okay, he says, all Fairfield County, all bright and cheerful, but neutral underneath. It’s the tone of voice you might hear from someone who wants to talk about your problems endlessly, but offer no real solutions – it’s a classic politician’s voice – cheerful, smarmy. I’ve used my power to briefly create this moment, in order to make him chase me. It’s working. I feel in control again.

Okay? Ready, set, go!

He’s playing along now, and so am I. For a while I let us run neck and neck, but I’m a competitive swimmer, and I have been for more than a decade. Moreover, my mania will provide an adrenaline dump that usually lets me win a sprint. I’m fast. Gregory is taller than me but I pull away toward the top of the bridge. By the time I see his silhouette approaching, I’ve already climbed over the safety barrier. I’m perched at the apex of the bridge, with a slimy smile on my face. Two eels twisting inside my third eye. Two eels whisper to one another in the riverbed murk and muck, hundreds of feet below us.

Take it. Take him. We want a sacrifice. We need blood.

This takeover is unprecedented. I’ve approached animals before with my eye open, but I’ve never been hijacked like this. It terrifies me when my third eye opens on its own. I have to learn to control this. Go away! I’m shouting at the eels. Get out!

You asked us in! You can’t banish us until you grant a request. We require a sacrifice.

I don’t believe them. I think they’re lying. I clench my teeth; try to force my third eye closed. It moves a bit, then snaps back open. The eels giggle and hiss. Reflexively, I tighten my jaw again, and tear of a good sized chunk of my inner cheek.

We want blood… We need blood. We can’t get back on land unless you feed us. We’re trapped down here in the river.

Who are you?

We’re a little bit like you.

You are not like me.

No, not exactly. But we have powers like you. We could share.

I want you out.

We need blood, and we ain’t leaving.

Sweet Gregory approaches. He is red-faced and out of breath. Sweating through his Oxfords. He’s grinning.

Okay, okay, you win! Come down off there…

I’m not coming down, Sweet Gregory.

What? You’re nuts, come off it.

Come up here with me, Gregory.

Michael, I’m not coming up there. You could fall. If you fall you’ll die.

Gregory, life is about taking risks. That’s what I didn’t like about your song tonight. You sang it perfectly, but there wasn’t any risk in your voice. It sounded like you were doing something for the purpose of not being criticized, but it didn’t sound like you were pulling your own heart out. That song happens right before a character in the show leaves his home country to be with a foreign woman. You sang all the notes perfectly, but you didn’t tell the story.

Michael, I’m 22 years old. That role is written for a 40 year old man.

I want you to take a risk with me. Let’s jump into the river.

What?!?! No. Get down from there right now. This bridge is 350 feet tall, Michael. You’ll die if you jump.

I just read how someone jumped off last month and swam ashore.

Michael, did you also read that 70% of people who jump from this height, even into water, will die on impact? Because that’s an important part of the story, and I read the whole thing.

Make him join you, and push him in, the eels whisper to me, or, join him! We need blood to grow stronger – the more, the better. Both of you, strong bloods. Smells so good. Smells so powerful, crossing our river…

No.

Help us. We won’t let you die, if you deliver us Sweet Gregory’s head, like the head of John the Baptist. We can reward you! We can show you how to control your powers!

No.

You’re just like us, kiddo. Don’t you think we started off as people? Let us show you how to shape your own destiny. Let us unlock your power, and sip some for ourselves, to boot!

Brúttó. Þið tveir eruð ógeðslegir. Farðu úr huganum! Get out!

You’re the one who let us in. We require a blood sacrifice to leave. It’s simple. You can’t force us out until we get blood.

Gregory is nervous.  He can tell I’m considering jumping, now, in a real way. He can tell he has caught me on an evening where I’m so full of self-loathing, I feel like I have nothing left to lose. He can tell I’m dangerous, but he still loves me, a little, and he wants me to stop threatening to jump off the 59th Street Bridge.

Michael, please come down.

Gregory, why are you going into journalism?

Michael, I have to tell you – I’m up for a job as an editor.

You’re 22.

They really liked the articles I wrote for Show Music, and so it’s looking like I could be the editor of Next Magazine soon.

You’re an actor! You’re a great musical theater actor! That’s a local gay magazine that runs interviews with drag queens and has-been Broadway folks looking to rekindle something. Why would you leave the arts? Look – you can learn how to act better, but not everyone gets a voice like that, Gregory. Don’t waste it.

My father respects me now, Michael. It’s important to me. He doesn’t respect acting, as a career choice, but journalism! His son the editor? He respects it. What’s more, I can pay my rent doing it! I’m taking the job.

Bring him to us!

Gregory, come up here.

Yes!

No. I don’t want either of us to jump off a bridge tonight.

Just come up. I promise not to jump, or try to talk you into it. Just take the risk with me. Just hang off the side of the bridge! It’s fun.

Gregory comes up past the safety rail to sit with me on an iron girder.

Push him. Push him over, and we’ll show you how to REALLY use that third eye.

I push my tongue into the gash I bit into my cheek – a thick viscous iron taste. Blood. My third eye swells. Sing for me, I say. Sing another song for me, Sweet, Sweet Gregory. From Chess? The show you sang from at the cabaret bar?

Gregory clears his throat.

Now, sing, I say.

“What’s going on around me

Is barely making sense

I need some explanations fast

I see my present partner

In the imperfect tense”

Keep him singing!

“And I don’t see how we can last

I feel I need a change of cast

Maybe I’m on nobody’s side

And when he gives me reasons

To justify each move

They’re getting harder to believe

I know this can’t continue

I’ve still a lot to prove

There must be more I could achive

But I don’t have the nerve to leave

Everybody’s playing the game

But nobody’s rules are the same”

Push him over to us! You’ll be so powerful!

“Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Better learn to go it alone

Recognize you’re out on your own

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

The one I should not think of

Keeps rolling through my mind

And I don’t want to let that go

No lover’s ever faithful

No contract truly signed

There’s nothing certain left to know

And how the cracks begin to show”

Join us. We work for powerful gods. They will reward you for unlocking us from this watery prison.

“Never make a promise or plan

Take a little love when you can

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Never stay too long in your bed

Never lose your heart, use your head

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Never take a stranger’s advice

Never let a friend fool you twice

Nobody’s on nobody’s side”

I place my hand on Gregory’s back. I slide it down to the small of him.

I could push him. I could end both of us.

“Everybody’s playing the game

But nobody’s rules are the same

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Never leave a moment too soon

Never waste a hot afternoon

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Never stay a minute too long

Don’t forget the best will go wrong

Nobody’s on nobody’s side”

I bite open my cheek. The blood runs into my mouth. I grab Gregory’s thigh. I could easily throw us both into the river. It would be so simple.

“Never be the first to believe

Never be the last to deceive

Nobody’s on nobody’s side

Never make a promise or plan

Take a little love when you can

Nobody’s on nobody’s side”

I widen my third eye. I spit the blood down into the abyss. It falls 350 feet to the surface of the river.

NO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?? YOU FOOL!

Trance-like and slack bodied, I open a portal to Ragisland. I suck up the last notes of Gregory’s song into my Eye, immediately placing his voice inside a small, impish cherub statue a few miles south of my memory castle. I shoved the golden voice into the cracks in the little angel’s marble. The statue rests behind a waterfall, it makes a steady, constant sound vibration.

I’ve locked Gregory’s voice here, at the same moment as my blood sacrifice to those eels. Its mine now. I can always visit his voice. He won’t need it anymore, anyway.

I leave the waterfall, the statue, behind. In the cold spring, now, I thrust my fists into the water. I clench myself. My eyes turn opaque, translucent white icy blue. My jaw, slack, bluish white light from my mouth. The eels in my hands, squirming. I seize them. I’m ousting them from my memory castle. I take them to the portal, and fling them out of my mind, back into the East river to meet their oily bodies, rutting and churning up scrum.

The astral plane is closed, this portal sealed. The eels hiss and scream, and fight one another for the meager blood sacrifice I’ve offered. They wanted a five course meal, and I barely gave them a bite – but they got their blood.

This isn’t over, Michael Martin. We’re not going anywhere. We know who and what you are now. We have tasted you. We’ll never let this go.

Shut up, I hear myself say. You guys are real dicks. They slink off down the coast a bit

We climb down off the pylons. We’re back on the bridge. I tell Gregory to head back to Manhattan, but he insists on walking me to Queensborough Plaza to catch the 7 back to Manhattan. I feel affectionate toward Sweet Gregory again. I want to hold him and be naked with him again, but I can’t. Part of me doesn’t want to ruin the relationship I have right now (though it seems to be ruining itself). Part of me doesn’t want to corrupt him with my frantic, crazy, manic whatever-the-fuck is going on with me. My inner cheek is bleeding. I can’t control my third eye. I’m toxic right now. 

Gregory hugs me at the station before heading up the stairs.

I’m proud of you, I say, and I’m surprised that I mean it.

I’m more proud of you, Michael. I know you’ll eventually make a living doing theater, or at least being funny! You’re perfect for that. I just need to do this. I like the idea of making a living now, and having my Dad’s approval.

You’re a better person than I am, Sweet Gregory.

No, I’m not! I have flaws! You’re a great person!

No, I’m not, I say, and I kiss him on the cheek.

He hurries up the stairs, but then over his shoulder – Yes, Michael. You are a great person! You’re exceptional!

You are, I say! I’m not a great person! I’m barely even decent!

Gregory doesn’t hear me. He disappears into turnstiles, fluorescent lights, ancient carved up wooden benches. His silhouette is distinguishable, for a brief moment, behind the opaque, tagged-up, art-deco glass panel that NYC’s yesteryear forgot to update. Behind the glass, his shadow merges with a sea of others. I can no longer sense his strong blood.

I walk the short distance back to my place in Long Island City. I stop worrying about the eels. I grind my tongue into my cheek and taste the blood already coagulating, already knitting itself together, patching my wound. The mania subsides.

I spend the wee hours of the morning in Ragisland, admiring a statue behind a waterfall. I’m listening to the vibratory hum of Tiny Gregory the Cherub mix with the sound of water showering down all around me, creating a shimmering barrier to hide us. 

I’m practicing turning my skin to diamond.

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Your Oppression > Mine

 

 

 

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This guy is so fucking hot.

I think I’ve been flirting with him online for ten years. Not obsessively – just, once in a while, when he pops up in my area, or has new photos or something. Despite his perpetual angry-face-because-it’s-Grindr, he’s lovely. He also has a career as a stylist and as a porn actor.

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Recently, I ‘tapped’ him on Grindr. It’s a new thing you can do. Rather than say hello, you can just push the fire icon to tell someone you like their new photos, think they’re cute, like their profile text. I was seeing a foster client on the East Side and I hadn’t seen this guy on Grindr/Adam4Adam/DudesNude in a while.

 

 

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I’m glad he shared this on his social media, actually – though I’m positive he and his circle had a fun time deconstructing my privilege and explaining to one another why I’m an irrelevant fool. At least it’s provoking conversation. I am aware the joke is provocative and charged, and I make no apologies. A friend of mine did point out – I could just change ‘POC’ to ‘straight POC’ and avoid the confusion.

But, do I want to avoid the confusion?

 

 

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Here’s an interactive map of LGBT rights in America. You can see for yourself that, even in my liberal enclave of Los Angeles, I can legally be denied credit, car loans, house loans,  just for being gay – it’s perfectly legal! Tab around the map. The news isn’t good.

 

 

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I’m not saying the LGBT struggle is more important than the struggle of POC or women. I’m not saying I don’t benefit from all sorts of privilege. I live in the richest state in the richest country in North America. I am white. I am a man. I am able. I can run, and sing songs, and do comedy without fear.

However, there is no arguing which minority group comes in last place. Which group has to beg and cajole when it comes time to talk about basic human rights? I’m not sure why empirical fact stirs up so much anger. Maybe, because the world is so incredibly heteronormative, that even LGBT folks are taught to teach themselves that their struggle will be important and recognized later: once women’s issues aren’t under attack, once POC feel like some semblance of equality has been reached?

When does the LGBT community stop savaging one another, and start demanding equal rights under the federal law? When do we start reaching out to one another with love and support, instead of trying to vilify each other in the kangaroo court of InstaTwitBook Land? When do we start insisting on a place at the table in intersectional dialogues? Something that is more than a pat on the head, a tertiary mention, in service to a more popular, more attended to American dialogue which always focuses first and foremost on the original sin of slavery? In the narrative of our society racism is the biggest evil. Then sexism. Then poverty, then healthcare issues, then twenty other things. Then, homophobia.

That’s not good enough.

Large swaths of straight people polled about a year and a half ago think gay people have full legal equality. How about not even half? Look at the map.  Straight people routinely poll as thinking gay suicide is not a problem. In actual fact, gay people have four times the likelihood of dying by their own hand, and this information is doesn’t factor in closeted homosexuals. 25% of Transgender polled have reported attempted suicide. We underreport and under prosecute rape, murder, hate crimes against LGBT. It’s true the police don’t shoot us, but they also don’t go out of their way to protect us. The judiciary system doesn’t either.

Other gay people have attempted sexual assault on me at least three times. Twice by drugging me and once by out and out violence. This type of information is so common in an LGBT narrative that it’s usually met with exhausted shrugs. Sometimes people mutter something supportive, but it’s nearly always followed up with, at least you’re not transgender, at least you’re white, at least you’re a man. Are you kidding me?

When did this become a good enough argument to use on one another? Why can’t a gay person instead say, hey, I hear and see you – what you’re saying is painful and I’m glad you’re talking about it. Why can’t I say what is obvious to me – that gay issues take a back seat? Because I’m white, and white is reviled in the current racial dialogue?

Because I have a penis and it’s pink? That’s why you think I shouldn’t be allowed to say I’m a second class citizen?

That reasoning seems incredibly flimsy, simple minded, reductive. It caters to the uglier side of human nature. It’s not good enough for me, and it shouldn’t be good enough for you either.

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This person’s argument (he wouldn’t really communicate with me significantly) seems to be that I’m triggering people’s feelings about racial and gender oppression? But, why is he triggered? Because I’m white that magically erases decades of gay oppression? That’s how you want the narrative to go? What a generous outlook you have, radical liberal coward who will blast my photo on social media, but not engage with me in a dialogue.

Perhaps, it might be time to unpack some internalized homophobia and capitulation to hetero supremacy. Maybe then a fellow gay person mentioning his own oppression in a supposed gay safe space won’t be some huge controversial trigger we need soothed by our echo chamber. He’s certainly reaching for straws. The joke lived on Twitter, Facebook and Grindr for weeks without mention.

The implication that race issues or women’s issues deserve more sensitivity than LGBT issues creates a heirarchy in which, yet again, LGBT come last. How can someone pointing out something unassailably obvious provoke knee-jerk scorn and outrage? To say gay people are second class citizens isn’t even controversial. If anything, it’s just a boring fact.

At the very least, this much is true: we can all be more nuanced, more intelligent, and more kind with our dialogues. Caterwauling our outrage at one another does nothing to combat oppression. It’s the psychic equivalent of pissing in the wind.

You deserve better, stranger from the internet.

We all do.

 

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Darren Kinoshita – you look great in those underwear.

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“Anwar”: Subversive Art in a Brutal Culture

 

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“Anwar” is an artist living in Bangladesh. He contacted me after I wrote about Chechnya. Over the course of the last 10 days I’ve spoken to him quite a few times. He’s bright and kind and talented. “Anwar” worked as a designer for Roopbaan, Bangladesh’s first and only LGBT lifestyle magazine. Two prominent LGBT activists (the editors and publishers of Roopbaan) Xulhaz Mannan and Tonoy Mahbub, were hacked to death in their home by religious extremists. Bangladesh legally suppresses the rights of homosexuals, and turns a blind eye to anti-gay violence.

Here are excerpts from our conversations, juxtaposed with art he made last year which he can not exhibit in his home country:

Him: My name is “Anwar.” Please don’t mention my real name. I live in Bangladesh. I’m an artist. I love to do LGBT related artwork, but it’s impossible for me to show my work in public here.

Me: Tell me what it’s like to be gay in Bangladesh?

Him: On April 25 2016, two of my friends were killed for gay activism. I used to work with them. They were very vocal online and published a gay magazine. Extremists followed them to their house. Four men entered the house and killed them with machetes. One of them was the editor of the first LGBT magazine in Bangladesh. I was the designer of that magazine.

Me: What are the laws like in Bangladesh, for gay people?

Him: Act 377 still active here. It’s an old Colonial British Law which criminalizes any gay activity.

Me: Don’t worry, then. I won’t divulge your real name. But, maybe I could help tell part of your story? Also, I’d like to share some of the art you can’t exhibit.

Him: I would like that. I limited my lifestyle after that incident. Now, I hardly go out unless it’s important. I’m scared all the time, even in my home.

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Me: Why are you scared in your home? Do people know you’re gay?

Him: Not my family. My family is very religious. We all live together.  Two of my brothers, their wives, children, both my parents in one apartment.

Me: But you still felt afraid to leave the house?

Him: Yes… most of the time. Especially in the daylight hours. Most of my friends left the country. Very few stayed.

Me: Tell me about the magazine?

Him: It was a small community. People were already afraid to be in the community before the incident happened on 25th April 2016. We launched the Magazine ‘Roopbaan’ in 2014 It was a monthly magazine. There was extreme backlash over the first issue. The government threatened us to shut down. The Prime minister was outraged. One of our close friends works in the Prime ministers office. He saw her face when they submitted the magazine on her table. It was not popular, but it was the most talked about subject at that time.

Me: What kind of content did the magazine have?

Him: Community lifestyle.

Me: So, not pornography?

Him: Oh god no – we’d all be dead!

Me: They would kill you for publishing pornography.

Him: For gay porn you would certainly die. Pornography publication is also illegal, but there’s thousands of straight porn titles on the black market. Things got worse after gay marriage was allowed in the United States. The first two or three days was awesome, when it hit on Facebook. People changed their profile photos [to support LGBT equality.] Then one Bangladeshi atheist, who lives in Germany now, posted a photo of the Pride Flag covering the Kaba, Macca, (a holy place for Muslims) and people were outraged.  I knew then we were finished. All these decades of work, vanished within a second.

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Me: It sounds like you’re angry at him?

Him: I’m fucking outraged at that bastard .

Me: Are you an atheist?

Him: Not really, but I’m not too religious.

Me: So, on some level, you still believe in Islam?

Him: Yeah … at least I want to buried in the Islamic way. So, the second issue of the magazine – we almost couldn’t find a press that would print it, and when we did it had to be done with extreme secrecy. The extremists were angry. The government was angry. Nobody wanted to risk it. The second issue was only 500 copies.

Me: 500 copies? That was enough to raise the anger of the Prime Minister?

Him: It wasn’t the quantity of magazines. It was that we existed at all that made everyone angry.

Me: How did this come about?

Him: I met a man at an art gallery opening and we wondered about each other. The gay radar, as we say. Then he approached me on a local site everyone uses to meet up.

Me: So you met a community of gay activists through this site?

Him: Yeah, that’s right. Well, also the gay community here in Dhaka is very small. Maybe 500 people in total.

Me: So how did Roopbaan magazine evolve?

Him: Xulhaz, the man who would become the publisher of the magazine, would host parties or get together several times a year. Xulhaz was a very respected person in the community at large, too. He worked at the US embassy, so that always helps. He was a good person. He always made sure everyone was comfortable in his house. In our country, we do have class racism. People are always judged by their appearance. Xulhaz was totally free from that bullshit.  He talked with everyone in the community and hugged everyone with care. I miss that so much now.

Roopbaan’s editor asked me if I had time for the design work. At that time, I was working three jobs. People in the community sometimes laughed at me because I never hung out with anybody. They said I was married to my work. I gave up one of my three jobs, actually, to work on Roopbaan for free.

Me: Okay, so then what happened?

Him: Then, amid all the stress of these two controversial issues, I had a heart attack. I had been working insane hours. Three jobs.  I was planning to have a small office of my own. My bank account went totally nil after the heart attack. I was saving all for the future office. It’s hard, really hard to save money, because you can’t earn more here. The payment for work is really small. All those hours I worked, I hardly earn 700 to 800 US dollar a month. Which was actually twice of my older brother, who is a doctor and works in private hospital.

All of the members of the Roopbaan magazine family came to see me in my sisters house. I stayed in my sister’s house after the heart attack for a month.  They came separately, not all at once. Xulhaz was very careful about this. You know what happens when a bunch of gay guys meet! Chatting gets fabulously loud!

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Xulhaz… was very careful about the content. Not a single topic could clash with our religion. Xulhaz was an atheist but he never hated religious people. There are few people  in Roopbaan team who, when it was prayer time, they prayed in Xulhaz’s house. Xulhaz always kept a prayer rug in his room.

After the publication, people started talking more about the community. Facebook trolls, people mocking the magazine. Mocking the community. People in Bangladesh were disgusted by gay people. People wished death and torture upon us.

The day that attack happened, I was in my house doing some graphic work for some exhibition. Someone on Facebook told me about the slaughter of my two friends. Then within a few hours, the TV channels and online newspapers ran the story.

I tried to contact everyone I knew from the community; most of them deactivated their accounts. We scattered. The openly gay people left the country. I tried to get a Polish or German visa, even borrowed money to try so show I had assets but I couldn’t get an exit Visa. Welcome to the third world – you can’t even get a tourist visa without lots of money, or property. 

After the attack, most people I know from community deactivated their Facebook accounts. After 2 or 3 days, I did that too. That was the most stupid decision I ever made in my life.

I couldn’t reach anyone over phone. All phones were off.

After deactivated my account, a few people I used to know were curious about me. I had to decline when they tried to friend me. Worst part of my life.

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All of my family member knew I worked with Xulhaz. The next day, all the newspaper reports that the editor of the gay magazine was hacked to death. Everyone read it in the newspaper. My brothers and sister knew that I worked with them.

My older brother had to change the locks on our house. My siblings were afraid I would be targeted. I was scared, still am, to cry for my friends. After a week, my sister asked me why I worked with them. She strongly told me not to pay any respect to these types of people. And that it’s “OK TO BEHEAD THESE TYPES OF PEOPLE”

All of my body screamed inside! Couldn’t make a sound.

Me: I’m interested in how it makes you feel, to have part of yourself your family can never know about…

Him: Yeah … it’s hurts so bad. My community was the only place where I could breathe freely. Now it’s almost gone. Moving to another city won’t help, either. Dhaka is the only city I can work and be with my family. Also, I can’t afford the cost of living in another city without my family.

Me: What’s the political climate like there for homosexuals? Do you have any rights?

Him: There are no rights for LGBT people. Period.

Me: Do you have some sort of artist’s statement about your work?

Him: Sexual fantasy is a big part of my life.  Because of living in a very conservative family, sex was always forbidden before marriage. The gap of real life experience took over inside the fantasy. I was obsessed with erotic photos online. But, those photos to me are too exposed. I like to hide the color in my imagination. The shapes of those male figures, the moves make me excited to run through those lines. No matter how the line curves or breaks or stuck in a loop, I always find myself to follow the new lines and my imagination keeps moving.

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Me: So, your community has been decimated, and those who were wealthy enough have moved to Europe. Do you think you might be able to leave the country and seek political asylum?

Him: I’m sorry to say asylum isn’t an option for me. It’s not respected, and I couldn’t do that to my family.

Me: Surely there must be some sort of community there still? Are you completely cut off?

Him: I can’t show my work – that’s out of the question. I have at least 100 outwardly homophobic people in my social media network. Most people either don’t know, don’t care, or worse – support what is happening right now in Chechnya. That’s life here. You know, a man thinks you should die for who you are, and you have to smile and shake his hand like it’s nothing.

Me: Yes. It’s not as bad here but there are similar situations. You can legislate things like marriage equality, but you can not make people stop hating you.

Him: So for now, most everything is very much underground. That’s just how life is. It’s the reality of living as a gay man in Bangladesh. There is a memorial for the two community leaders who were brutally murdered. Obviously, the police did nothing besides file the necessary paperwork. But, maybe I’ll see some old friends at the service. That would be nice. This has set our community back 20 years at least… I originally designed the hand print logo with the whole rainbow flag, but I had to narrow it down to the blue and purple in order to display it. Even the rainbow is too dramatic to show in public. Unfortunately, that’s what we’re dealing with…

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