WOULDN'T SLEEP WITH ME
by Roman C. Justice
grew up with Helen Keller as a role model, whether I liked it or
not. My image of her was madonna-like, shining in saintly virtue,
heroic in overcoming all odds, perfect in all aspects. I was convinced
that she glowed like my aunt's bedside statue of the Virgin Mary.
Impure thoughts were foreign to Helenwho would teach her the
signs? To emulate, I made sure I smiled a lotand remained
I read a biography that depicted my Helen as more than a poster
child. Full of yearning, she was a woman driven by passion to experience
everything. I don't know if she died a virgin, but I do know that
she had a suitor. Her caretakers were no more ready for a sexual
Helen than was the world at large. Her would-be-lover wrote to her
about his "normal" life, with all its wonders. Helen wrote back,
"your letter has made me painfully aware of how vast the impenetrable
gulf is that exists between your world and mine." In the end, she
we are told, beauty may be synonymous with symmetry. It follows,
then, that asymmetry is . . . ugly. In the animal kingdom a "malformed"
newborn might be killed by its mother. Beneath our civilizing whitewash,
we humans are the product of millions of years of evolution. We
are programmed to seek mates with the "healthy" characteristics
that will insure the survival of the species. Unhealthy, anything
even perceived as unhealthy, is shit out of luck.
gay men, this evolutionary imperative translates into a passion
for overdeveloped musculature, symmetrical features, flawless skin,
and perfect teeth. "I can't help it. It's in the genes. It's what
makes my dick hard. But we can still be friends."
Germany systematically eliminated
disabled people. Euthanasia for our own good, for the good of
the state. If only I had been alive then I might have surrendered
to the doctors, to the healers prepared to starve me, treat me to
a lethal injection, gas me, or simply hang me if they ran out of
gas. I might have starred in one of their propaganda films extolling
the Aryan ideal and the need to eliminate pitiful creatures like
me, doomed to be a drain on the state.
am an ocean and a
generation removed from a nation that made "ugliness" and disability
crimes against the state. Yet here, today, Peter
Singer, star of Princeton University's Philosophy Department,
argues passionately for the elimination of disabled babies, while
arguing no less passionately for the rights of all lifeeven
insects. Many bright people agree that my life is of less value
than an insect's.
IS AN ART FORM
has inhabited my soul since I was six years old. It is a callingand
when you have a calling you must obey; anything else becomes a lie.
has my best interest at heart. The opera diva I sing for tells me
to give up. Opera, after all, demands "normal" bodies. Mom and dad,
out of love, are convinced I cannot make a living at music. "Become
a counselor for the disabled," they tell me. What I hear, instead,
is "Know your place." Still, I fight. No one hires me as a teacher.
Oddly, every position is filled the instant I show up for the interview.
My education professors tell me that I "need to be realistic." Everyone
is right. I am wrongand I am getting so tired of the fight.
the end though, I do become a musician, and a good one, but not
before alcohol dulls my senses, not before cocaine sends me into
a paralyzing ecstasy peopled with hustlers and dealers who know
I can't fight back. They, like their animal ancestors, swoop in
for the easy kill. I am held prisoner in my car for three days,
an overdose away from blessed oblivion. What's worse is that in
the middle of this nightmare I realize that I have become incapable
of feeling anythingno joy, no loveeverything is gray,
all emotion gone. I have become the walking dead.
that, in New Orleans' gay ghetto, alcohol transforms me into a sexual
barracuda searching to get laid; sex becomes a fulltime occupation,
leaving no time for anything else. I am like a vampire, afraid of
the dawn, sucking out the life of everyone around me. Sleep with
me, prove to me I am desirable, fill me up, make the emptiness go
away. I don't care how. I'm never above a mercy fuck. Are you curious?
matter what else I accomplish with my life, personally or professionally,
the burning question remains: how do I masturbate? Self-inflicted
sex is all I can expect, apparently.
is an art form in New Orleans, broken bottles a domestic accessory
to keep the vermin out. And I am vermin. George
Dureau wants to take my picture but I say No. I do not want
to be in a gallery of freaks. I do not realize I am there already.
"No's" precede a single "Yes." By then I'm too drunk to perform
. . . or care, and the next morning, homeless, all I can do is take,
take whatever you will givemoney, shelter, goodwill, pityI'll
take it all until you're sucked dry and still I need more. I take
because I am empty, with nothing to give, nowhere to go. Beauty
is everywhere, but all I see is gray endless concrete and all those
become what I detest. I am a failure in every aspect of my life
and God is nowhere to be found. But He is with me, and has been
all the time. I stop beating my head against a wall for a moment,
a moment of clarity like a nudge from God. I leave the gay ghetto.
I get sober. I become the musician I know I am meant to be. I gain
respect. Friends materialize, friends who love me because, for the
first time, I can return their love. Friends who assume that I know
what is in my own best interest. For the first time I have something
still stare, and when they do I feel the old rage, but only for
a moment, before it dissolves into heartburn. I hang with beautiful
straight men who accept me. Thank God for the swimming poolif
I can't touch I can at least look. Gay porn, my erotic salvation,
is a lot better these days (real men, hairy men, instead of those
haven't touched anyone in ten years. Prozac takes care of my libido
and I am content, sometimes even happy, but when I shut the door
to my apartment and find myself alone again, the empty place remains.
Life is wonderful in my little world. The newspaper says so: every
time I start a new job an article extolls my courage and fortitude,
but I always wonder: Do they like my music?
am, at any rate, an amazing sight, a digitally impaired organist,
an inspiration, someone for people to emulate, at least people like
me. For gay guys I'm too threatening (I can always tell if a guy
is gay; they're the ones that look away).
day it all explodes. I put in my fifty cents for a newspaper, open
the door, reach for the paper, but my short asymmetrical freak of
an ugly fuck-ass arm slips, and the door slams shut on my face and
I'm bleeding. In a blind rage I kick the machine, only it's not
a machine, its every bastard that ever stared, its every faggot
who wouldn't give me the time of day, its every employer whose eyes
glaze over when they see me. I kick again and again because I can't
hitmy flipper arms are too weakand I scream "fuck you"
at all those bastards that refuse to see me
and what I've achieved and what I'm about.
there's no relief, just rage and impotent tears that well up and
scald my face. I'm having a temper tantrum because I have no power.
I'm impotent, as always, but for once I just want to beat the crap
out of somebody.
hire an escort. He's not only handsome, but a nice guy. We kiss
and I feel a connection. I love this moment, emotions flood, and
I'm not in a hurry for him to take off his clothes. I feel his neck
and shoulders, warm and solid, the hair on his chest is just visible.
The moment is exquisite, like a jewel. I feel comfortable and desirable,
at peace, human.
hundred dollars later it was wonderful but not real. How does it
feel to have someone touch you because they want to touch you? In
my despair I realize I don't know. The door slams shut and I am
here I am: lots of questions, some insights, not many answers. My
journey continues whether I want it to or not. Self-pity (boring,
boring, boring) gains me nothing, so I smile and pretend that the
blankness where my soul should be is just another obstacle I can
overcome if I put my mind to it. I plow on, choosing at last to
try and build a bridge, a bridge over that impenetrable gulf.
see now, and way too clearly, that that bridge is my only hope.
I don't know for certain if I can build it, but it becomes increasingly,
disturbingly clear, that I cannot build it alone.
©2003 Roman C. Justice
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Roman C. Justice has thalidomide-like deformities resulting in malformed hands. He is an organist and choir director with degrees in music and choral conducting, and making music is his passion. Growing up as "the only one," his recent discovery of a cripgay community has been cathartic, an experience that will no doubt be a catalyst for growth. Although celibate for a while, he is open to new experiences and the possibility of life-affirming ways of seeing our God-given gift of sexuality.