Sunday, December 31, 2017

Forty-Five Minutes or Less

In forty-five minutes or less –
I must fashion this poem a dress –
(unless it won’t get off my lap
until I’ve be-jocked it with strap) –

there’s something, I’m sure, to be said
for musing for hours instead
of dropping, like change from a purse,
perambulatory light verse –

but frankly I don’t have the time
for any but this arrant rhyme –
must write something metered, or bust –
before I run out of the trust

I’ve put in my long enterprise
of rising before each sunrise
to say something, rapidly, which
provides a swift scratch for the itch

I wake with each day to find out
what fuels human motive and doubt –
particularly what might be
what’s currently speechless in me

that cannot susceptibly find
a rational cause in the mind –
but, alas, I must put off – and wait:
no epiphany now: I’ve a date –

and I’m late.


Saturday, December 30, 2017

Feather Bowl

I could spend the whole day plucking tiny quills
from my brown pillows: sensing sharp small needle
pricks to pull them out of the velour: pop! – a feather,
and another, and another, sometimes white, sometimes
a varied speckled tan and brown: one wonders at
the appellation “down” – they're flicking up and asking
for release, and I can think of no completer feast of touch
than to array my palms across this field of plush
in search of them: although they don't oblige, it seems
to me, if I have indicated an excessive greed: perhaps,
sometimes, I scare them with my need, my zeal – my
roving hands in search of something more to pick and peel
from an oblivion: why does it satisfy me so? I've always
liked stuffed things: like wonton, ravioli, or a petit four:
latent in a skin: the notion of within! – inside the hide
resides the jagged interest: complication, crunch, a twist –
resistance to the blandness of an unmarked cover:
fluff-and-dart of feather: complex denizens of art –
extracting them with an exacting patience: all implicitly
an act of homage to my father: oh, the bother he would
go to! – cleaning pipes with pipe cleaners: fluff-and-dart
of wire, briar, bits of cotton stuff. I've saved the feathers
I have stolen from my cushions and remanded them
to the ceramic bowl my father used to stash his ash
and smoking apparatus: puffy symbols in the hard-
baked clay: a stuffing and container which do justice
to the way my father sought his pleasures, and the way
I seek my own: forage for secrets, make them known.


(I wrote this over ten years ago. Found it again and it told me it wanted 
to say hi to the living human world once more. I am obliging it here.)


I Wish I Knew More

She wanted to prove
as a fact that she lacked
any knack whatsoever
for style or color or taste.
She concocted a garment
and hat that would
demonstrate that,
she was sure, post-haste.
I wish I knew more –
but all that I saw was
she marched out the door,
looking a little like Eva Gabor.
Later we heard that she made
the crowds roar, before
a Parisian spy swept her off
to work at La Maison Dior.


Thursday, December 28, 2017


One day she woke up, oddly comfortably,
in a state of being which precluded any spatial
reference to up or down, behind, ahead, around.
So boundless it felt glorious in a completely
unsurprising way. Seemed clear, if queer, to us
that this was how she planned to stay. But
on the subject of what seemed be her hapless
incapacity to feel or care about the pull of gravity,
or grasp the fundaments of left and right or east
and west, what does she say? When she attempts
(if she attempts) to stand at all, does she just teeter/
totter, sway and fall? She snidely answers that she
can’t recall. To comment on such tedious details!
She bewails mundanity: the insanity of its inanity.
Her eyes sail off directionless into her formless
cosmos. No one knows that she has mastered
almost all the arts and vagaries of locomotion utterly
unknown to planes and cars and boats. She floats.
If you float, you’re already where you’ll always be.
To which, while she’d affix the prefix “ho” to "hum,"
I would note grumblingly that it’s not rote to me.
I want the full regalia of the heart and soul and meat
and marginalia of the thing – bring me facts, the heat
and verse and chapter, speculations old and new
all through it so I can pursue it! That I can’t do it
gets my goat. Now football’s all she dotes on. (She
loves the Dawgs.) Her secret she won’t spill. Makes
me want to kill. Her supercilious gloat! I long to float.


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

When I Go Out and Then Come Back

When I go out 
and then come back
with my psyche’s sack
as packed with the city
as all of the rest of me,
I’m coming back to New York 
of course. Like the mane
is the horse, andouille 
would not be but for pork,
and I am made out of New York,
not just in it. I’m a pure-grained 
example of what New York
does to the unwary soul 
in that famed New York minute.
It swallows you whole.
Even my iPhone colludes
in the business of keeping me
conscious of this, block to block.
When without mercy I’m shunted
from corner to curb in Manhattan 
and seize up inside 
from the shock, my iPhone 
reliably counsels:
‘press home and unlock.’
Since I’m always and already
home, pressing home doesn’t 
ever require a key. I press home 
and unlock when I know there was 
never a lock to begin with -
just me and the city and me
in the city and me as the city



Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Those Spectral Chords

You think a god does everything?
Ha! It will never play and sing
the harmonies you’d like it to.
Those spectral chords are up to you.


Monday, December 25, 2017

And if the Body

And if the body 
were not the soul,
what's the soul?


Saturday, December 23, 2017

How I Guess I’d Put It

No dogma anymore – no fog pretending to be clarity. No disparity
pushed off, or parity embraced because it’s parity. No answers
either. On the whole, I take a breather every time I can.

I muddle through on several bases, all of them to do with pleasure,
dangerous and almost always with a man. Freud’s despotic
eros fighting with its weapons of catastrophe: the measure

of us below and above: aggression and love and finicky me!
Who would think that bumbling dyad up except for – nobody.
But if my mind remains as fully unknown and alive as I’m thankful

it seems to me today, not patently exile-able and throwable-away
as once I guess I thought it had to be, in sweaty throes of fighting
foes that perfectly excited and ignited me, enacting a defense

against a secretly erosive harsh belief in sin. A silly belief in sin.
(There may be sin, but it ain’t what I’m in.) I muddle through,
it’s true, when I do not subscribe to creeds: I’ve the chance

that way of finding all the best delicious secrets in my needs.
Then I become reliable, and viable – no longer as exile-able
as once I guess I must have thought I was. I can be Casey

at the bat who when he feels a cosmic buzz will always hit the ball
and always win the ball game: The Shames versus the Testicles.
Sins Against the Fuzz. I love that I’m inanity. Vanity? I call it sanity.


Christmas 1957

When I sat here, wary, upon Santa's knee,
as usual with most of what was asked of me,
I doubt I knew what we were there to do.

What was my role? To laugh or to boo-hoo?
But could it be that on that Santa's knee in 1957
was when I discovered I alone could leaven
awkwardness? - that I'd resources I could bring?
For instance, I could sit there and not do a thing.
Perhaps on every holiday I've gone through since -
with fireworks, dyed eggs, or pies called mince -
I've let myself experience, by slow degree,

that I can bear some subtleties of ambiguity.


Thursday, December 21, 2017

To You Who Died

The regal whorls and whirls I see in your fantasia,
the purple and the crimson of your courage and your
heart – mercifully your agony metabolized into aphasia
which, when I attempt to think of you inert, I strive
to say endowed you to a mystical degree with meaning –

weaving purpose into your insentience – pursuing
what will make me want to love and grieve, achieve:
most of which I find I neither rabidly desire to despise
nor to believe. Oh, Steve. (I’ll call you Steve.) I'm drawn
to grand denial and hyperbole no less than you or anyone

you met before you last saw me. But who are you, gone
with the dawn? What goes on? Nothing goes on. It’s not
that my capacity for the Selective View of what’s become
of you is any less unbounded. I’ve a taste for the fantastically
unfounded. But the paradox of being human must bear

two perplexities, not one: the reflex to dig down to dig up
everything and howl it out like wolves, and the breathless
urgencies that dog us, stun us into clinging to the lie.
The only reasonable admonition left amounts to this:
plan never to know anything. Expect to die.


Monday, December 18, 2017

But Who's Blue? (Finally Ready for the Big Time.)

I've been sternly told to get this little baby of mine out into the world - my book BUT WHO'S BLUE? which Rick Shupper kindly shepherded into colorful print for me back in 2014, but which I've kept in the wings since then for - well, whatever reasons one does that. But that's not nice of me. And I do like to be nice when I can.
I did the twenty drawings in this little book in 1998 for my father, who was fast fading into the final fog of Alzheimer's but who even at this late stage of that - he died in 2000 - still harbored his amazing talent for drawing and for singing. I scouted about for picture books I hoped would regale him (he'd long since stopped being able to read or, mostly, to speak, though he made lots of appealing noises and oh! that high baritone singing voice!) but they were all sort of cliché cute/stupid; none of them had anything like his imagination. So I set about doing these drawings, each of them a different color, each of them a creature who announced his or her color identity with a single line with a couple of rhymes. And they weren't just any old color or creature. Lucy was puce. Page was beige. Like lemon jello, Consuelo was yellow. Maisley was paisley and Lottie was dotty! (Linc was pink.) And so on.
Because I'd been told the one word for which there was no rhyme in the English language was "orange" I decided to climb the Mt Everest of Rhyme and find one - and what's more, put it on the cover and have it head off the book if I did. Florence came to my rescue!

The book is a funny little creature itself and it really wants to get into other people's hands. I've been holding it back for too long. Alas, because it's expensive to produce (all in color as it is) I have to charge rather a lot for both the larger and smaller versions of it, much more than I'd like. They come in two sizes - 8" x 6" and 6" x 4.5". The quality of color etc is really good: they're hardcover and with sort of thick board pages and I think they'll stand up to a lot of, oh, you know, dunking them in coffee and the like.
The 8"x6" runs for $45 and the 6"x4.5" for $40. This includes postage and handling and all that stuff - unless this goes overseas - for which, alas, I'll have to ask an extra $5. Best way to pay is through PayPal. You don't have to be a member of PayPal to carry out the transaction. Just send me your email address and I'll send that to PayPal and they'll send you simple instrux for paying me through them. Too late to get these out before Christmas (they get printed separately as ordered) but they may get you through a bleak January or February day, which is probably a better time to have Linc tell you he's pink than Christmas would be. (Linc's kinda hunky.)
So, the deed is done! Email me at if you want to partake of Who's Blue via PayPal. If you'd rather send me a check that's fine too, of course - just make it out to me and send it to:
Guy Kettelhack
65 east 2nd Street, apt 3
NYC NY 10003
If you're in New York, I'll hand-deliver it!
cheers, and thanks. From me and my dad.
Dad and Guy, Amityville Beach 1953

============ (here's the poem you can't read up in the quartet of pics because type is too small - it accompanies a portrait Rick Shupper did of me a few years ago. Rick is an amazing photographer, isn't he? I actually look okay in it.)
My mother crammed me with the legacy
of everything that brought me into being:
Kettelhack to honor father,
Blake, as her surname's namesake,
and Guy, to put the lie to any slight
suggestion that a name need ever have
a provenance that you can trace.
She could not tell me why
she'd named me Guy
But I
through its sly
taste of anonymity
now gladly tug along the brace of history
embodied in that Kettelhack and Blake.
I do it for her sake, my dad's and mine.
I like my name just fine.
Guy Blake Kettelhack

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Disney and My Father

Disney and my father may have had the right idea:
animate the Universe! This won't merely clarify what’s
going on – since you will be deciding who’s the villain,
who’s the clown and just how roly-poly or begowned
the mouse or wife or secretive transvestite ought to be –
you'll also have the inside track on how the thing
will probably end up, as long, that is, as you retain
your sweet good-natured sanity. Which Disney may
have done: I didn't know the man, I can't be sure.
It seems as if his singing playthings made a life of it,
and he did not abjure their happy endings: he befriended
his slick cute anthropomorphic animals and made
a lot of money, put a smiling spin on being funny: heck,
he wasn't Brecht, but one must give him credit, and his due.
Cinderella never had a prettier more shapely shoe.
As for my father – well, his drawings had their magic too:
but when I peer as deeply into them as I can do, I cannot
find their skeleton. I’m left with some strange gelatin:
a residue that may have stoked the Shmoo into the being
Al Capp had construed for it: my father’s palpable
and fleshy plops would seem to be the props for quite
another play than most of us would think of putting on:
as if the heart of his existence had occurred to him as
some soft-ticking bomb which had exploded by the dawn
of his – well, dissolution. Oh, he created creatures just
as full of juice – as interesting as Walt’s – but they all slowly
slid down through a series of quite gaping geologic
faults: splitting psychic mud and rock, from which, in
cartoon terms, you might see shy but shocked escaping
worms – eely squishes – deliquesce into innumerable
darks: not unlike the winking out of my dad's last synaptic
sparks. Here, in a largely green current of tree, is the final
drawing I saw him draw -- before his visions were sucked
back into Alzheimer's maw: his fizzing out, his empty
sea, his last thrown dart. Isn't Disney, but it might be art.


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Goddesses and Ghosts

Ghosts are fans of goddesses
and goddesses depend upon ghosts.
Gods don’t give a good goddamn
about the ectoplasmic clan:
what are they but the senseless
leavings of a mortal life – frailty’s
substanceless detritus? Without
the powers of divinity, at best they’re

ineffectual and all but undetectable –
clusters of faint zeros: silly nothings, 
clouds in the vicinity. But goddesses 
are cannier than gods in this as in 

most other matters. Ghosts know how
to navigate dimensions which permit
more shifty back’s and forth’s: mistily
persisting as all quantum quark

and lepton spatters can, knowing how
to slip through seams of cosmoses’
infinity without another form of being
ever seeing where they are or where
they’ve been. Goddesses have learned
from ghosts the trick of spinning quick 
new undermining schemes from this 
that keep the gods in line. Therefore
goddesses have come to seem 
insidiously more mysterious, aligned 
and fine. Gods somehow know
they’re being left behind.



Tuesday, December 12, 2017

What I Can’t Do

He’d come looking, he said, for a job.
With whom had he worked last? I asked.
“With the mob,” he replied. “But nobody died.”
What were they a mob of, I wanted to know.

“Commuters at Grand Central Station, of whom,
when they just had de-trained or were waiting to go,
I relieved of their wallets and purses and bags –
to leave with them naught but defenseless woe.”

He’d won me with “naught.” But what did he think
I would have for him here? “It appears from the gossip
that reaches my ear that you link word to picture,
depicting odd creatures, none odder than I – and than

whom, as you’ll surely agree, no one else you’ll have
met can display more inimitable ambiguity.” In truth,
he was much like the rest of the megalomaniac pie
which in slices construes me to bring them to view.

But I liked him, I said, and he now shares my bed,
and meticulously picks my pockets quite clean.
At moments I almost shout “get the hell out!”
But I can’t do that. That would be mean.


Monday, December 11, 2017

Pegasus and Icarus and Kettelhacks and Guy

Legacies: a laying on of hands, inherited commands? 
Frilly vestiges of folderol nobody understands?
Afflictions and predictions, providence and provenance, 
fallacies, facts. The takeaway from Icarus? Sun melts wax.

I pick a stick of licorice, sit back, relax and chew, attempt
to undertake adoption of the view that by default I am
the single living remnant of a legacy left in the vault, more
Pegasus than Icarus (I didn't melt, I flew): but final evidence

(no one was looking for) of Kettelhacks. And when all acts
of prophylaxis fail and I sail toward the periapsis of the planet,
and then beyond the orbit of that orb (speedily receding
backwards) on which nobody is left to pay my unpaid taxes, 

that will be a legacy as well – one (on ne sais jamais!)
that may prefigure hell, the barest thought of a propinquity
for which at which no Kettelhack but Guy will ever have
(by then) had so much as to blink an eye. Wave goodbye!


The Spiritual Fitness of the Double-Jointed Neck

They say the cutting edge in spiritual fitness now resides first
in the hiring of a Body Guru Guide, who through a new advance
in trance, a swoony meditation on the flesh that will, as if by
reflex, gain you access to your heretofore unknown capacity

to tease out and construe a fresh revamp of bodily materiality,
you’ll learn to lasso your intentions in the waking mind, applying
Body Guru arts you’ll master to induce inventive interventions –
conjuring, say, whimsical replacements of your too-familiar body

parts. Right now the style going viral is the double-jointed neck:
beckoned into being by intoxicating visions of the rarest sort,
seen to angular advantage on a naked body in a discothèque.
The fun it’s brought! Swallowing has now become a major sport.


Thursday, December 7, 2017

Sometimes the Evening Comes to You Like This

I don’t know who these women are
or why they’re in each other’s arms
or whom or what they’re sitting on,

or if the whole or half of it remotely charms,
but all of it and them came to me just now,
gradually, through this generous extended

evening, forming a melodious mélange,
patiently regarding me with clarity and pity:
as if I were a beggar on the sidewalk in the city,

and they had come to find me,
kindly bearing alms. The soundtrack
was the Second Symphony of Brahms.


Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Triumvirate’s Travails in Immortality

The immortal head named Ed, far left, said
“Let’s play tag again, and Nobody be It!”
“What would be the point?” replied the snide

middle riddle of a guy named Clyde, who tried
again to look away from their unending ride,
and the skulls of his bro’s in their dull Triumvirate.

Then Dwight, far right, like a frat boy in some
damned eternal Light, broke the dolor. “Color
fight! Come on – let’s all get dyed!” So they rigged

up an ungainly apparatus that would rain down
strains of a permanent stain they prayed (without
a hope) might permeate and dope and then

eradicate their brains, undone by the tedium,
yearning for non-being, desperate for a change.
Oh, if only they were dust! Eternity’s a bust.


Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Comment il passe son temps (How He Passes His Time)

Voici Franck Danican qui passe son temps partager son art avec n'importe qui: l'art du bonheur dans le coeur. . Chaque fois que je le vois, il apporte ses couleurs les plus rares: il les aime comme ses sœurs et ses frères. . traduction: . How He Passes His Time . Here is Franck Danican who passes his time sharing his art with anyone the art of happiness in the heart. . Every time I see him, he brings his rarest colors: he loves them like his sisters and his brothers. . . .

Friday, December 1, 2017

How the New York Times Hangs Pictures vs. What I Do

Thanks - yes,
I guess
this is a species of what I’ve done here,
although to see it parsed out in the New York Times is queer:
learning there are rulebooks for interior décor
about affixing tricks to flick one’s sight from ceiling to the floor.

It all was so organic when I took
my first electric look
at where I would be living –
irrepressible immediacy! – visions giving
me their sure decisions about where
to put the art upon the walls – yes, there –

and there above it and below:
making up an intimate tableau
as personal and quiet as my mother
was in conjuring that watercolor, and the other
watercolor hoping to abut the loopy disposition
next to it exalting the addition

of two yellow purple crimson creatures
underneath, both screwing up their features
at my mother’s careful bays above.
We all have our ways, my love,
that must attend and be attended to
begetting the excruciating crucially askew

so that my boop-a-doo productions
can harrumph at the serene seductions
of my mother’s seas and skies
as wide as all the eyes
of my menagerie, befuddled
in their frames, puddled

in their reservoirs of hues.
So goes the news
of how my mother’s pictures
blithely overcame their strictures
in the way of ushering the best of her and me
and my menagerie into our likely final destiny.

When I die, she will too, again.
Our pictures probably will tell us when.


Slavery, Sexual Coercion and Quentin Crisp at 90 - Views of the Heart of the Conundrum

The Conundrum

I have long believed, not least from my own experience, that the human capacity for denial knows no bounds. I’ve convinced myself of any number of egregious falsehoods - I still do - if they ‘support’ (or rationalize) a behavior or desire I don’t want to give up. What causes that desire and behavior to change, which they sometimes do, is mostly a mystery. Whatever intention they yield to is largely unconscious. It may be stage of life, it may be something genetically determined - a chromosomal marker that at age 70 some lessening in the amount and therefore efficacy of testosterone will drain me of my fetishistic lust for a particular body part or a diminution in my need for glucose will lessen my formerly irresistible desire for seedless red grapes. There may be effects imposed from the outside from which we learn - ‘experience’ that slowly erodes us by its continual demonstration that actions do have consequences and that we may through some species of cognitive behavioral therapy or twelve step principles of surrender or psychoanalytical exploration of hidden motives or adherence to a religious or spiritual discipline discover means of changing what we deem to be destructive behavior. But having immersed myself in many of these strategies, I’m not convinced that any of them can be relied upon to deliver what they promise.

At the age of 90, Quentin Crisp confessed, in his last book “The Last Word,” that he couldn’t see he had influenced the world nor had been influenced by it. The ‘nature’ with which he was born was in various ways - maybe in all ways that counted, i.e., that intractably defined him - immutable. This was the source of anguished bewilderment. In Quentin’s case it was that he believed himself to be a woman in a man’s body. There was nothing to be done about that - not if you were born in 1908 at a time when medical science had not advanced to the point where a sex change operation was thinkable - not to mention into a middle-class English family in the London suburb of Surrey where any notion of desiring to effect that morphological change would have been seen as the nth degree of pathological. But it also couldn’t be done, because Quentin hadn’t been born in a woman’s body. Change or disguise that as he might, he would have remained a lie. To his mind he did remain a lie. One that he couldn’t put to rights. It’s the stuff of Greek tragedy. Which is to say it’s full of rich meaning.

To me Quentin’s dilemma describes the uncrackable nut of the human condition - ours as well as his. You may not feel like a woman in a man’s body but I would bet on the certainty that should you want to look for it, or allow yourself to feel it, you would find the source of an existential anxiety whose unwelcome message is: you don’t belong. Even if you’re the happiest banana on the block – that is, have adjusted to the outer world with sufficient ease to experience it largely as embracing – there will come times when something stranger and inadmissible occurs to you about yourself. It may be catching yourself repeating something you don’t believe as if you believed it. Catching yourself in a lie does not always bring you to a truth. That is, you may know you haven’t reached a solution, but that doesn’t mean a solution will reveal itself. The thing is, there is no solution to life. All you can do is live it. That may seem self-evident and even ring with hope – and I would agree it does. The only hope we have is if we can accept that we will never know who or what we really are. The most fundamental truths about why we’re here or why we love or hate what we do or what it means to “live fully” will always be kept from us. There is no solution to life.


There was a time in the 18th century we call The Enlightenment when what transpired in the 17th century, built on roots of Renaissance thought which for the first time since the ancient Greeks put Man at the center of philosophy, led to a new “rationality:” for example, the formulation and general espousal of the Scientific Method, and a belief in rational (logical) human agency that could be applied to politics, economics, history and art. The onset of this Age of Reason in the seventeenth century soon expanded to include caring about the individual in new ways. “Human rights” became a theme and an issue and informed the founding of this country through the genius of such thinkers and writers as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. That Jefferson was this “enlightened man” did not, however, keep him from keeping slaves at a time when the debate about the morality of keeping slaves was in full swing. England eventually banned slavery in the early 19th century. Washington and Jefferson apparently decried the institution by vowing to free their slaves after Washington and Jefferson’s deaths, but to excuse to any degree the human atrocity of slavery at a moment when the philosophical argument against slavery was fully and well loaded (not least by Jefferson at least occasionally), not only generally but in their own lives, seems inexplicable. What permitted thinking men to regard the institution of slavery which many who owned slaves overtly decried and regarded as temporary to extend it? Economic reasons surely. The south’s wealth was based on their labor. But there’s still an X factor not explored or expressed – and maybe unexplorable and unexpressable. Robert E. Lee is another example of a Southerner who did not favor slavery on moral grounds and yet beat his own mercilessly when they misbehaved. There’s a disconnect here which I see as evidence of that uncrackable nut in human nature.

I’m hugely in favor of taking down the Confederate Flag: whatever interest lies in the complex history of the Confederacy, and indeed the merits of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee, and a mission which to Confederates was as much about states rights in general as it was about keeping slaves, the blunt message of a Confederate flag can’t not be taken as countenancing slavery. The Germans could be very reasonable about organizing an effective economic state. But it would require erasing Jews from the planet. The Nazi flag can’t not mean anti-Semitism in the same way the Confederate flag can’t not mean espousal of slavery. 

Sexual Oppression

Somewhat similarly, though it may seem an unlikely leap, I'm in favor of as big an uproar as there need be to redress the damnable imbalance revealed by the revelation that many well-known and 'powerful' men in the history of our species, but certainly piling up into our very moment, have sexually imposed themselves on other human beings without their consent.

One condition seems equally to apply to slavery and human sexual attack. The perpetrators of sexual attack, and the movers and shakers who have encouraged and instituted slavery seem historically to have been nearly all men. Not that women haven't been sexual predators or haven't been at or near the helm of insisting on slavery and wholly welcoming it. But they didn't themselves, anyway from evidence I've osmotically gleaned, round up the slaves-to-be, bodily force them from their homes, whip or otherwise physically harm them at whim, construct the legal apparatuses which would permit their owners to buy and sell and keep them and profit most by their labor. Men did that.

However, the great and because less seemingly less tractable more troubling difference between slavery and much of what occurs as sexual attack is that slavery is largely the product of social institutions, and sexual attack seems to have much less explicable, more atavistic roots, perhaps even at least obliquely accounting for why far too many social institutions like the Roman Catholic Church and the Armed Forces and the Entertainment Industry have collectively either looked the other way or covered up sexual abuse committed by their members. There is a deeply held if now rarely publicly admitted belief that much of it proceeds from ‘how men are.’ It’s true that slavery in the South drew much its rationale from the premise that black men and women were less than human; social Darwinism ignited that flame and provided a specious logic for making this claim ‘scientifically.’ However, slaves in ancient Rome weren’t regarded as constitutionally inferior: they were just the unfortunates who lost a war, and were thus made to work for the conquerors. But eventually they could become full Roman citizens. Inferiority on the basis of race as we have construed it doesn’t seem even to have been a thought.

However the urge to conquer and humiliate which is central to both slavery and sexual oppression brings the two messy realms into alignment again. A case probably can be persuasively made that a general bias in Nature for sexual aggression in the male has a biological or genetic determinant which therefore can be implicated in transmitting a received/inherited/biological strategy for male behavior in effecting propagation of the species. Testosterone is known to increase both aggressive and sexual instincts especially in men, since they have more of it than women. That the most aggressive male gets to impregnate the female seems to be a common natural law in most of the mammals from which we've evolved.

From this view, the Bills Clinton & Cosby & other men accused of aggressive sexual 'opportunism' have acted quite literally like animals. As have many of the most publicly esteemed of our past leaders: Jack Kennedy, the standard-bearer. In the past weeks a day hasn’t gone by when one or more of some of the best known and publicly admired male politicians, performers and other celebrities haven’t been accused of and immediately lost their jobs because they admitted to committing acts of sexual aggression. The cover has been ripped off what turns out to be a crime vastly more widespread than any but the perpetrators knew - if they even knew it. One of the most oppressive facts about this is suggested by the silence of so many of the women and men who have been attacked - again largely by men. Their jobs and status are on the line. The world would appear to be no less run by men than it ever was. The capacity to intimidate sexual victims into silence has continued - until now - virtually unabated at the highest levels of power in nearly every American industry and endeavor. 

But the “until now” has to be significant. The cascade not only of these accusations but the quick acquiescence to accepting the truth of them in what so far seems to be the majority of accused men may very likely mark a sea change in attitudes. Men are no less trying to save their hides but at least in many of these cases, such as Charlie Rose and Kevin Spacey and Matt Lauer, they’re no longer lying to do it - perhaps not least because of the credibility of the accusers and of the evidence against them, which they now believe can no longer be waved away as exaggeration or unwarranted nastiness, but also because the message that this is a crime is something that what is decent in them may actually understand and abhor.

The Ambiguity of “May”

The ambiguity of ‘may’ reminds me all of the points I struggle to make here are speculative. Who knows what anyone’s motives are or what he or she believes or is thinking. But the blunt fact that so many of these accused men readily agree they are guilty of a sexual crime which not long ago many if not most men boasted of as sexual conquest at least testifies to a major social change in expectation: powerful enough to alter behavior. Our culture’s sudden shift toward the general acceptance of gay marriage after an all but wholesale general rejection of it is another instance of this capacity for seemingly abrupt behavioral change. “Seemingly” because unacknowledged conditions conducive to that change had been working slowly to effect it. 

Because I have sex with males, the accused abuser of a 14 year old boy Kevin Spacey becomes my readiest focus. There are many unwritten or tacit ‘rules’ in sexual adventuring for the urban gay man. It is accepted, and even a part of what excites both partners in a prospective encounter, for there to be an imbalance of power. In 1973 when I was 22, newly graduated from Middlebury, and attempting to convince myself I wanted to be a violinist by attending the New England Conservatory in Boston, I frequented sexual hunting grounds in parks and, well, other less savory venues. That it ‘disturbed’ was a part of what made it exciting. I would say something ‘transgressive’ all but always ignites an orgasm in any of the many gay men I’ve known and had sex with, no matter what their background or current lives were like. I remember one time I went for lunch at a Zum-Zum in Cambridge (that long defunct franchised German sausage place), and was stared down by a well-built but clearly young teenager, probably about 14 or 15. He stared at me and then stared with theatrical intention at the men’s room. In fact I had to use the men’s room, and he all leapt in after me. I did not give in to the admittedly exciting invitation to have sex there and then, but I won’t say I didn’t want to. What I’m describing has happened in the lives of very nearly every gay man I know. For easily a third of them, they were the 14 year old. Not only were they not scarred by the experience, it became a sort of lodestone of what makes sex hot. This sort of tale is not one that Kevin Spacey will want to tell, even if it may have characterized some of what he experienced. But it’s a fact, people. And it changes things – which is to say, it expands our view of the effects of what a sexual encounter can be, and often are.

When encounters that are intended to be (or seem) unequal remain in the realm of ‘play’ (albeit serious and sometimes physically dangerous play), which is to say when each of the ‘top’ or ‘bottom’ roles are lavishly desired and inventively acted out, but not believed to be the entire human case or to invite unwanted attack, the sexual encounter is often held to be a success. That this is “consensual” is mostly a given, although because of its turn-on potential, being forced against one’s will is (again) often a central part of the fantasy. I recall when women’s sexual fantasies were being studied in the early 70s, probably by Kinsey or somebody, it was found that one of the most widespread was of being overpowered by a male. This is a euphemism for rape. But middle-class American women, albeit often in Regency bodice-rippers, nurtured the fantasy of a bodice being ripped. Which is an act of violence.

How does any of this factor into the whole business? To some degree – that is, legally to the degree that sex occurs when only one partner wants it and the other actively does not want it -- it is irrelevant. The perpetrator’s actions are actionable. But in our human miasma, this intentional imbalance of power in sex touches only one of the ambiguities and conundrums going on. We are always in a kind of mess in sex. Sex seems to require it.

Quentin Crisp at 90

Let us return to Quentin Crisp, feeling himself a woman saddled in a male body: the untenable ambivalence writ clear: having to face something true about himself that could physically, by definition of him having the ‘wrong’ body, not be expressed in life. Having therefore to live a lie. I can tell you from my delightful association with Mr. Crisp, that he in every way, with every breath I saw him take, turned his situation to advantage. He was what he was, and he turned to a kind of theater to express the untenability of what he was. To me he did not seem like a woman in a man’s body, but that too is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter what I think. But the purity of his vision was, I think, if anything intensified by his decision to make public what he regarded as his constitutional failure. “I am a professional failure,” he said. He also said “I am in the profession of Being.” We are all failures who are in the profession of being. We are all impossibilities who are nonetheless here. How funny this is! Indeed I would venture to say all of Quentin’s formidable wit proceeded from this insoluble dilemma of life. It’s hilarious in its anguish!

I don’t know what this means in terms of, or how it may affect, the way we think of the atrocities we visit upon each other – like enslavement or sexual attack. However, I would suggest that the closest to a “solution” we can reach must include a moment not just of humility but awe, as we face the forces with which each of us in ourselves must somehow make our peace. Quentin Crisp in his embrace of all this was a complete, if at the end of his life quiet, success. To know you’re a failure and to find it at once hilarious and horrible frees you to profess being. It’s not what they taught us in kindergarten.