Notes from a Fortress of Solitude

 

ONE

Since I started working last fall, I've spent far less time at home, and that's a good thing. Much as I value my apartment, it still feels depressing, depressed, frozen, as if one might find a huge and ancient wedding cake moldering in a corner of the living room.

Thankfully, one of my most assertive and creative friends has dragged me into this decade, forcing me to throw things out by the roomful, and spend time, energy, and money beautifying my surroundings. This stratagem has worked, at least partially. My place is now more comfortable, civilized, and relaxing, an abode I enjoy coming home to at the end of a long day. But part of the purpose of my "Straight Eye" makeover has gotten lost; central to the original rationale was a social calendar, with visitors, and events.

I have taken some tiny steps toward ending my hermitlike existence. I hosted a delicious book club dinner, and had a few individual folks over in the early euphoria of the transformation. But then my job hit me over the head with work and stress and anxiety. For the first time in years, I missed a column deadline I had planned to meet. I haven't had anyone over for dinner in weeks; I've been too tired. As a result, the miasma has returned, and brought isolation with it, isolation and silence.

I try to make noise, with the telephone, with iTunes, even with the chats on my iSight, but the silence is still enormous and lonely. While I no longer am as careless with my wheelchair as I used to be, I have still endured recent incidents of falling or being stuck. No one event ended up pushing me over the edge, but the aggregate weight of everything that's happened has made me realize: there's only so much longer I can, or would want to, live alone.

TWO

What are some of the paths leading us away from isolation and toward community? Relationships, certainly, and family, indisputably. How can I roll smoothly toward them?

I used to see myself eventually living with a partner in a house or apartment, cooped up as cozily as characters in a Gershwin ballad. Pessimism hasn't quite taken hold; I have not yet given up, nor do I assume such a fate is unattainable. But seventeen years (oy!) of being out and soaking up the world have shown me how hard it is for two people to reach the enviable plateau of a stable relationship. The work is difficult, and even after all this time I am not sure I possess either the right tools or enough experience to make the climb.

Some of my friends have stopped climbing, either striking camp where they are, or strapping on the parachutes they need to make a brave solo jump downward, toward unexplored territory. To hell with struggling to find the right person or waiting for the universe to summon forth such a creature: they have decided to choose their families and create their communities from among their friends. I suppose I could do this too, and in some ways, I already have.

But I can't feel right about the process, for the simple reason that its results are too pat and obvious for me. As much as I sometimes enjoy being the center of attention, grabbing the spotlight is no longer the reflex for me that it was when I was younger. It is far more comfortable and usual for me to be the enthusiast, the groupie, the cheerleader for the people and events that fill the lives of others. It is as if I have tried to make up for not Mattering to One Person by mattering to lots of people.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, if that's what I really want. And indeed, such interactions bring true rewards, benefits that are participatory for me and not merely vicarious. I love fussing over other people's babies and teasing people's partners and having deep talks late into the night, whether online or in actual real life. But is it enough? Do I really want to have a wall covered with photos of other people's weddings, children, and graduations? Could I content myself with being a favorite honorary uncle, beloved mentor, and crusty community character long into my twilight years? Yes, I think I could, and that's what scares me.

It's not that such an existence would be hollow or impoverishing. Indeed, it could be very rich and very tempting, but still somehow wrong for me. That kind of life, despite its joys, is nevertheless fundamentally compensatory, trying to make up for what's missing instead of creating something new and vibrant and challenging. It reminds me far too much of every seemingly celibate beloved gay or lesbian schoolteacher, every mystical saintly village cripple or holy fool.

It's the kind of life society lets you have when it can see no other role for you and when you can't even see another role for yourself. It's the queer closet, the crip closet, far better than invisibility, abuse or imprisonment but still its own special kind of valued confinement. You might function as a Symbol or a Role Model, maybe even as a Mascot, but not ever as a full human being.

THREE

Since this is the San Francisco Bay Area, I do have available options. There are intentional communities here worth exploring, ranging from co-housing to communes. I can't see myself being a part of something as conventional as a condo development or housing tract: right for that annoyingly cheerful gay couple in "American Beauty," perhaps, but not for me. Maybe what I need is some sort of cool big house with a bunch of people.

Housing groups like this are in various stages of development everywhere I look, but I see some major obstacles to participating. I couldn't live in some ramshackle San Francisco or Oakland Victorian pile, unless it had not only potential bedrooms on the ground floor but also an actual full bathroom down there as well. Appropriate access tends to be modern when it is ready-made, and expensive to graft onto an older building, even without something as opulent and drastic as a new elevator.

True access for me is more than architectural, though. I would want to be part of a living group in which the only mascots would be pets: no solitary queer among the straight folks or happy cripple among the homos for me. I'd need a much more mixed and liberated environment that was open to more possibilities, a place where no one would bat an eye at a trannyboy or a wheelchair, a monogamous relationship or a polyamorous rotation.

Usually at this point in my musings, reality hits. Like I have written before, I'm a bit spoiled. I need and like various creature comforts; privation for the sake of worldwide people's solidarity sounds great on paper, but I don't know how ideological I could be about my lifestyle. In some parts of Berkeley or SF, where people are expected to have Zapatista relics hanging from the ceiling or protest posters from every conceivable cause, I think I'd be considered unacceptably moderate. Maybe it's hypocritical of me; on one hand, I want a milieu radical enough to accept me for all of who I am, but not one that makes demands or has litmus tests for ideological purity or personal authenticity.

Another contradiction enters the picture here too. I sketched out my ideal living community for a very wise friend. "Hold on, Danny, you're confusing the kind of people you want to live with with the kind of people you want to date. I'm telling you from experience, that's a very bad idea!" In a way, she's right. I don't want to go into a housing situation with that kind of, ahem, naked agenda. Yet I can tell her from experience, if I don't make an issue of sex and dating, it tends to go away. It's not that I expect to live in a house bursting with possible partners, but if I don't surround myself with the kind of people I might date and who might want to date me, I'm far less likely to meet anyone.

I think I'd be a valuable part of any living group, a good parent or co-parent, even a pretty decent partner, despite my inexperience and the catalog of issues I lay out for the world online every other month. But how to move toward those goals still confuses me; I see the Who and When of them, but not the all-important Where or How. My fortress of solitude is now much more a home, much less a cave of isolation. Yet I don't see my future unfolding here, and certainly not alone.

Maybe about fifty friends and I should take over a brand-new accessible apartment complex somewhere. Unless that would be too much of a pathetic midlife attempt to recapture the golden days of undergraduate life. Hey, a dorm, that's a great idea! Anyone want to go back to college? No? Me either, though the idea is periodically tempting. Oh well, back to planning other escape routes.

©2004 Danny Kodmur

 

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Danny Kodmur lives, writes, and tries to figure his life out in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can reach him with questions, date requests, and housing suggestions at dkodmur@comcast.net. His work is featured in "Queer Crips: Disabled Gay Men and Their Stories" (Haworth Press), a 2004 Lambda Literary Award winner.

 

More by Danny Kodmur

A Soul Clothed in Shining Armor~5/00
How Much Does it Matter? Wrestling with the Metaphysics of Disability ~11/00
On Being (Un)Representative ~1/02
Testing My Faith in Romance ~3/02
No Need to Kick My Tires ~5/02
Balcony Scenes with a Twist ~7/02
Productive Confusion ~7/02
The Music and the Mirror ~9/02
The Music and the Mirror:II ~11/02
Life Under the Spotlight: Disability and Depression ~1/03
On Getting Stuck ~3/03
Of Cities and Closets ~5/03
So How Old Are You, Anyway? ~7/03
Socializing and Sobriety ~9/03
Walking in L.A. ~11/03
Wedding Bell Blues ~3/04

 

BENT: A Journal of CripGay Voices/July 2004