Essays & Stories

Essays

Granta, March 2009: “Portrait of My Father” 

"His drink was Crown Royal, his candy bar, a Baby Ruth, though he didn’t like chocolate much. He was good at poker, loved reading Tolstoy. His suits were bespoke.

In Korea, starting at the age of five, he ran barefoot in the snow when he was training for tae kwon do, so he was ready, during the Korean War, for when he and his oldest brother had to steal food from overturned army supply trucks, running the bags of rice home on their backs. After the war, he became the international tae kwon do champion in his age group at the age of eighteen, and captain of his college rugby team — the rice had helped two ways.

He left for the US while his father was away on business so he couldn’t stop him. His mother gave him a gold belt buckle to sell when he arrived, as she couldn’t give him money, and asked him, whatever he did, not to marry a blue-eyed, blonde-haired American girl." Read more here. 

The Morning News: “Annie Dillard and The Writing Life”

In 1989, this was the letter I sent with my application to Annie Dillard’s Literary Nonfiction class at Wesleyan University. I was a last-semester senior, an English major who had failed at being a studio art major and thus became an English major by default.

As I waited for what I was sure was going to be rejection, I went to the mall to shop for Christmas presents and walked through bookstores full of copies of the Annie Dillard boxed edition—Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, American Childhood, Holy The Firm—and the Best American Essays of 1988, edited, yes, by Annie Dillard. I walked around them as if they were her somehow and not her books, and left empty-handed.

I didn’t buy them because if she rejected me, they would be unbearable to own.

When I got into the class, in the first class meeting, she told us not to read her work while we were her students.

I’m going to have a big enough influence on you as it is, she said. You’re going to want to please me just for being your teacher. So I don’t want you trying to imitate me. I don’t want you to write like me. And she paused here. I want you to write like you. Read more here. 

The Morning News“The Books”

"Five years ago, I moved in with my partner Dustin, joining him in his Hell’s Kitchen apartment in New York City. He, like me, had lived alone with his things just as he wanted them for some time, and I knew I was, despite being a beloved, invited guest, something of a crisis also. Dustin had lived in his apartment for 20 years, and had a great love of chairs, for example. I had arrived with approximately 30 boxes of books after having lived in perhaps 20 apartments within the same period—the life of a visiting writer.

We each carefully slimmed down our things. He brought some of those chairs to the charity shop down the street, and I brought some of those books to Housing Works Bookstore. And, as a love gift to me, he built me bookshelves that run from my lucky crystal chandelier in the kitchen to his candle chandelier in the living room, through every room. The apartment, at 450 square feet, is now something like a very nice if eccentric used bookstore, dotted with our bed, desks, kitchen, and couch, and of course, many excellent chairs." Read more here.

The Morning News“The Querent”

"I was 13 at the time of the accident, 16 when my father died of complications related to his injuries. When I look back at why of all the forms of the occult I’d found the one that appealed to me most was fortunetelling, it seems to me the answer came from my father’s accident and death. I wanted to know how to tell the future. I wanted one of those mirrors, the ones positioned so you can see around a corner, but for my whole life. That’s what I believed the Tarot could be." Read more here.

The Morning News“Everything In This City Must”

"Change is a German preoccupation. Most don’t like to make it. I mean change in the most literal monetary sense, but of course it could be extrapolated outward." Read more here

Artists With Aids“After Peter”

n+1, Fall 2010 and Buzzfeed, February 2014: “My Parade”

"At the college my youthful self had left behind, I'd studied fiction writing and essay writing, and the three teachers I'd spoken to about my future offered strong opinions. Mary Robison warned of studying writing too much. "No one is doing anything like what you do," she said. "You don't want to mess that up by taking too many classes." Kit Reed was dismissive. "Don't waste your time. You just need to write, you don't need the program. There's nothing there you need. Just go write."

Only Annie Dillard made the case for an MFA. "You want to put off the real world as long as possible," she said. "You'll write and read and be around other serious young writers."

Two against one.

The real world I moved to was San Francisco during the AIDS crisis, which was well under way when I arrived. My time there felt more like a preview of the end of the world — especially after the earthquake that brought down part of the Bay Bridge. My activist friends from college were all moving to the Bay Area, getting apartments together, going to rallies, protests, marches, direct actions, street theater. I saw the AIDS activism and queer politics movement emerging as a response to the fight of my generation, and I joined with the seriousness of a soldier. My friends and I were people who knew AIDS could kill us all, and we were fighting against those who believed it would kill only gay people. To this day I can't tell you if we were trying to remind them of our humanity, or their own.

I would stay two years in San Francisco, then move to New York in the summer of 1991, for the love of a man who lived there." Read more here.

Apology, Winter 2014 and Longreads, June 2015: “Mr. & Mrs. B”

"How could you, my friends would ask, when I told them. How could you work for someone like him? Do you ever want to just pick up a knife and stab him in the neck? Poison his food?

You would be a hero, one friend said.

I did not want to stab him, and I did not want to poison him. From our first meeting, it was clear, he was in decline. And as for how could I, well, like many people, I needed the money.

And besides, he didn’t really matter. I loved her.

***

Before I worked as a waiter for William F. and Pat Buckley, I knew them the way most people did—from Page 6 of the New York Post and its editorial page; from Vogue, the New York Times, and the back pages of Interview. When I first moved to New York, in 1991, Pat Buckley was the preeminent socialite if you were looking in from the outside—and I was." Read more here.

Center for Fiction: “First Fiction”

"There is an exercise I have my students do, one I invented. Think of a story your family tells about you to any newcomer, usually from your early childhood. If you don’t have one, think of a story your best friend tells to any new friend you introduce to them. Write it down.

Think of the memory you have of it. Is that memory in the third person?

It always is.

This memory, I say to them, is not a memory. It’s a fiction you made, to have a relationship to something you don’t remember but that is supposedly you.

That’s your first fiction, I tell them. Everyone does it. I do this because sometimes my students have doubts about what it is we are doing there. What I try to explain is that we do what everyone does. We just take it a lot further, and we write it down." Read more here.

The New Republic, June 2015: “Future Queer”

"The day in 2011 that I went to the office of the city clerk in lower Manhattan with my partner Dustin to register for our domestic partnership was coincidentally also the first day same-sex partners were allowed to register for marriage in the state of New York. A reporter was on hand, hoping to get a quote. As a prompt, she told us that the state’s marital forms had not been updated: Any couple registering that day would be required to designate one person as the man, and the other, the woman. Did we have any reaction?

“We’re not here for that,” we said, smiling, as we passed her, and then we found we had to keep saying it at every point of the process, to all of the helpful clerks at each step who reminded us that we could register to marry instead. We thanked them and continued on to get our partnership. We had discussed marriage and decided it wasn’t for us, not yet, maybe not ever. A domestic partnership suited us. We joked a little afterward about which one of us would have been the man, which the woman, but without question, I had the uncanny sense of entering another world, one in which government officials recognized our relationship in a friendly, helpful way, even if we weren’t going to marry—and even if the forms weren’t quite ready for the many people like me about to get married. I remember thinking: This is the future." Read more here.

The New Republic, June 2015: “Future Queer: Epilogue”

"This was one of the weeks of my life where my work had helped me get through. That morning, just before our walk, I had filed an interview with Michelangelo Signorile about his new book, It’s Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality. Reading it had become a way of organizing my anxieties. This was a fifth book for Signorile, the journalist who invented outing as a political tactic, and it outlines a progressive intersectional approach to the political future of the LGBT community that begins with fighting what he calls victory blindness—the powerful illusion that the work you have been doing as an activist is almost done, blinding you to how much there is left to do. 

When we spoke, I had asked him if he had a prediction for that morning. “I see a narrow victory for marriage equality but the legal theory behind it is unlikely to be far-reaching for fuller LGBT rights,” he answered. “We'll be back at the court many times in the future.” It was the sober answer of an experienced advocate, and it stuck firmly in my mind as Libby and I packed and boarded the train to return to Berlin. I checked Twitter once we were seated and I saw the announcement. I knew at once that the decision had exceeded Signorile’s prediction.

Once again, we were in the future. And we are in danger of victory blindness." Read more here.

The Paris Review, December 2011: “Sex and Salter”

"When I try to write about sex, I think back to when I was just out of college and, handy with a makeup brush, took a job to make some extra money doing makeup on a gay-porn film set. On the second day, we filmed a three-way that took up most of the day. The actors struggled: one was hard, the others weren’t, then the others were and the first was not, and so on. After a few hours, the director sent us all out of the room and turned out the lights so the actors could work it out. This was before Viagra—you had to have an honest hard-on to shoot. We waited outside the dark room, the lights out, even the cameramen outside, waiting, until finally we heard the signal, and then the crew rushed back in to film. We turned on the lights.

The actors were made to pause, immediately. I had to touch them up.

They were panting, sweating like athletes. They’d rubbed off most of what I’d put on them. As they held their positions, I touched them up. I thought about how something had happened in the dark that we couldn’t see, an excitement that couldn’t be in the film. It was probably better than what we would film, more interesting.

It seems to me I am always in pursuit of that." Read more here.

Guernica, March 2015: “Girl”

"The year is 1990. The place is San Francisco, the Castro. It is Halloween night. I am in my friend John’s bathroom, alone in front of the mirror, wearing a black turtleneck and leggings. My face glows back at me from the light of twelve 100-watt bulbs.

In high school I learned to do makeup for theater. I did fake mustaches and eyelashes then, bruises, wounds, tattoos. I remember always being tempted then to do what I have just done now, and always stopping, always thinking I would do it later.

This is that day." Read more here.

The New York Times, October 2014: “Gender Genre”

"Earlier this year, the British writer and illustrator Joanna Walsh made bookmarks featuring 250 of her favorite women writers — from Angela Carter to Zadie Smith — and the Twitter hashtag #ReadWomen2014. She had been inspired by two male journalists who had decided to read more women this year to correct for their own biases. Walsh’s hashtag became a rallying cry for equal treatment for women writers, consistently published and reviewed less often in major publications, according to VIDA, a literary organization that tallies gender disparity in bylines.

The proposal to read only (or mostly) women for a year to even the playing field is a good one, I think. But when I did it many years ago, I undertook it as a cure." Read more here.


Short Fiction

The Good Men Project, January 2011: “My Next Move”

"He had pale blue eyes that glittered like tin foil in the dark and candles, and a smile like he was thinking something a little dirty. He wasn’t a particularly handsome man but behind the bar, he glowed with some new power. He was soon one of those bartenders who drank with his customers and sometimes went home with them, though not me. When I came in, Billy usually kept me company. I sat in front of the taps, and he would walk away to take care of the other customers, the few there were. He would always come back to where I sat and we’d talk for a good part of the night, or he would talk, at least.

I know it is usual for customers to confide in bartenders, but for me it has always been the other way—bartenders confess to me, and Billy did in particular." Read more here.

Time Out, October 2014: “Life Model”

"Really, he’d wanted a spaceship.
  
He still did. Or, if he was no longer going to be human, to just be one of those bodiless brains in an electrified glass bowl from those old cartoons. Electrodes running into a machine.

“Can I help you,” the attendant asked. She was a poised, beautiful young woman of some indeterminate ethnicity, almost blandly so, except for her phosphorescent eyes.
She smiled. “These are new mods,” she said, pointing to her irises. “You can get a simple DNA patch upgrade later if you don’t select them now.”

“Yes,” he said. This was only one thing people came here for, so he sat down in the chair. She walked by the screens, and the options flashed in the air behind her after she flicked her fingers.
  
His grandfather had a very early life model made of his grandmother, but this was later regarded as a mistake. Those were made to resemble the person, to go on living as an autonomous imitation of them. For those who believed they would miss someone after death too much to ever not see them again, these imitations of the lost one were no victory. Only a reminder death was, as yet, something that could not be conquered." Read more here.  

Lodestar Quarterly, Fall 2002: “13 Crimes Against Love, or, The Crow’s Confession”

"He had a name everyone had. He was my friend's boyfriend and in the dark on my bed as I held him he was like a poem about a beautiful naked boy in the dark. Very pale, easy to see. All the light in the room ran to be on him. There wasn't much, as it is very dark inside the crow's wing.

He'd needed a place to stay the night as he lived out of town, and I don't remember why he couldn't stay with my friend, but he couldn't. Something about roommates.

We shouldn't do this, he said, inside our kiss.

You're right, I said, against his mouth, and turned it into the kiss again. We went on with it. He was afraid and so was I, but somehow we felt it was brave to do something wrong. Outside, the screech of the night wind on the glass that I know now to be the Fates, yelling at all the work we were making for them. Asking us for a rest." Read more here.