9 min read

dark comforts

Leonid Meteor Storm, as seen over North America on the night of November 12-13, 1833, from E. Weiß's Bilderatlas der Sternenwelt (1888) — Source (via Public Domain Review)


I decide to go to the bathhouse. My brain is more than halfway into dreamland, weird and un-anchored and spiraling. I want to go somewhere that matches my insides. Back in Vegas, I could walk around the labyrinthine casinos, soak up the lights and the vice and all the strangers teetering around. Here, the only labyrinth I have access to is at Steamworks. Plus, there’s a hot tub there.  When I arrive, there’s a line to get in – a first for me. It’s Boyz Night, which means anyone under 24 gets in for free, which means everyone older than 50 is paying to get in and chow down on some fresh meat. My androgynous, matronly 27 year old body has to pay to get in and is decidedly unpopular tonight, but that’s fine, for once. I just want to get pummeled by the jets in the giant hot tub and be surrounded by glistening naked dudes having sex. I boil in the water for a while; watch a twink settle in with an old hunk. Twink cuddles in Old Hunk's lap and together they recreate the Pietà –only Jesus is making out with Mother Mary and Mother Mary is giving Jesus a sensual handjob. I wonder if they’ll run out of breath in the rising heat of the jacuzzi. Elsewhere, a nervous-looking, short, bone-thin twink with big glasses and a mustache and his boyfriend, a tall jock-ish boy whose body sloped beautifully from one muscle to the next, wade around looking for quiet cubbies to touch each other in. Later, I spy the couple emerging from the hot water walking quietly to the steam rooms, hand in hand, their bobbing erections leading the way. They look good together. I feel safe here, in the dark hot wet, and I think everyone else does, too.


Avery invites me to see Priscilla, a movie I don’t really have much interest in seeing, but I do have an interest in not spending my nights pulling my hair out, staring at the wall, and being overwhelmed with grief after 6 hours of trying to usher in an era of world peace through phone calls and faxes and instagram posts and talking to rabbis and witnessing some of the most horrendous violence this world has ever known. I figure, okay, it will probably take more than 24 hours to bring world peace and I need to do anything else right now, for just a little bit and if Priscilla is an excuse to hang out with a friend i love, i will watch Priscilla. So, i go. The tickets are only $11! Yay. Priscilla is what I expect it to be, a very pretty film with great lighting and costuming, because it’s Sofia Coppola, and a plot that doesn’t really do much to give Priscilla any life, because it's Sofia Coppola. It’s slow motion torture porn, like most Coppola Jr. flicks are. One thing I did get from Priscilla is that the spotlight seemed to be truly poisonous for Elvis and for the people in his life. Yeah, it paid for Graceland and lavish lifestyles, but it seemed to all be in exchange for with Elvis’s humanity. This never ending blinding light severed Elvis from himself, like he was trapped in cellulose, ensnared in the construction of his own larger-than-life persona, never able to grow, move beyond his vices and his creature comforts. I feel like this monumental image ensared Priscilla, too. This sculpture of light and sound compelled all of the adults in her life to go along with this plan to take this young woman and use her like a pet – a tool. It’s tragic, for everyone involved. Even I can feel empathy for a cheating, white culture vultures who groom teenage girls. Ever heard of a little thing called “love being praxis”? It's possible to wish for a better outcome for someone and still believe that he sucked pretty bad when he was live.

(Broey Deschanel has a great video essay about Priscilla and the female biopic, if you’re interested.)

Throughout the show, in this nigh empty theater, the man in the row behind Avery and me is moaning, shifting around. He was the last to come in, right as the movie started, bringing the total headcount in the auditorium from about 7 to about 8. I got the preternatural instinct that something is off with him, but ignored it — until, about halfway through the show, when the moaning and shifting is getting increasingly inappropriate. Avery and I exchange our fourth concerned look with each other, and I lean back in my chair. I see him masturbating. As someone who has recently spent some time openly masturbating in a steam room, I don’t feel like I have stable ground to judge from, but he’s obviously being a menace about his gooning session. He could have gotten away with quietly masturbating to the pedophile movie, but he wanted to make my friend and I uncomfortable, too, obviously. Avery goes to tell the usher, and they send a security guy to sit in his row and suffer through Priscilla with the rest of us. The quiet presence of an authority figure silences the masturbation, and Avery and I get free movie ticket vouchers for being sexually harassed.

The Nei Jing Tu (Chart of the Inner Landscape, a rubbing from the original stele (stone surface) engraved in 1886 at the behest of Liu Chengying (Source)


I’ve been thinking a lot about how fucked up the whole dark / light : evil / good dichotomy is. Isn’t that false narrative how we’ve gotten to build such a corrupt, messed up, violent world? Darkness, is all that is evil, and we must vanquish it with the goodness of light. In so many parts of the globe, in too many, anyone with with darker skin, with beautiful glistening melanin, is met with systemically more cruelty than those who are lighter. I don’t need to tell you that. You know. But it doesn’t stop us from continuing to conflate darkness evil. I've said it carelessly : that's dark when I mean that sucks.

Like, listen, I know that it was in the safety of the dark theater, that some jerk felt comfortable enough to loudly masturbate behind my friend and me. I know that when the sun sets at a devastatingly early 4pm in December, we all get weak and melancholic. I know that if you spend too many days sitting in your unlit bedroom with the curtains drawn, you’re gonna get profoundly depressed. In this time before winter solstice, when the nights are long, I frequently get lost walking home. My apartment looks like every other apartment and the details of the world are absent. I become untethered, like I'm walking through deep space. But that big deep void, isn’t that where we all come from and where we all go? Isn't that where we can become something new? After all, we're all formed in a cave of blood in fluid, in the wombs of our mothers — no light to disturb us. And when we need to dream, to discover what lurks in the recesses of our subconscious, we descend, to the underworld, to the world of slumber.

And hey, the light can kinda suck. Sit under some fluorescents for a while, staring at a screen of light and you’re going to get a piercing migraine. Drive home at golden hour and the sun is gonna shoot its prickly little beams directly in your eyes, washing the world from your vision, and threaten you with a car crash. It's easy to worship the light and all its positive thinking, it's intoxicating and placating, like sucking on saccharine. A spotlight, strategically pointed, prompts us to look, savvily moving our attention away from anything else. When we're standing under it, in a glittering dress and a microphone, it can make us feel awash with love and attention, like we're on top of the world. But too much of that light distracts, it hypnotizes. I watched that fucked up documentary, Love Has Won: The Cult of Mother God, recently and the light did the same thing to Amy Carlson and her followers as it did to Elvis. Fame and positive thinking poisoned her. It turned her into someone who could not see the truth. She turned away from her problems and chanted and drank and she ignored the truth of her situation. Amy and all her light, seemed to entrance others, too. So entranced, her cult devoted their lives to her. So devoted, that when she was emaciated and clearly dying, her liver failing and her blood poisoned with colloidal silver, when she asked meekly to go to the hospital – perhaps in the midst of a brief return to reality – her followers refused to take her in. Robin Williams wouldn’t want you to go to a 3D hospital. I think of her blue corpse, her eyes like glittering sapphire, her body mummified and wrapped in Christmas lights and I feel ill. Her obsession with chasing the light did so much damage to the people around her. Empire has weaponized light, too. Using the salvation of religion, the promise of freedom, and the glitter of gold as an excuse to go to war, to commit genocide, to aim their weapons at people and light the wick on their cannons. It's this false dichotomy at play again again. It's this false promise that we can make everything better without acknowledging trauma, pain, histories of violence. How can you heal when you don't even know what the damage is? This juicy promise, that we can just turn towards the light and ignore everything, it turns fellow humans into obstacles and viruses, people that we need to clear.

Last summer, I spent weeks researching conversion therapy for The Anti-Trans Hate Machine, and how people from all sects of Christianity condemn the "dark", demonic urges of queers, send them to conversion therapy camps, to private boarding schools, to worship the light and exorcise their beautiful vivid queerness. For 100 years, self-professed healers electrocuted, tortured, and fucking lobotomized anyone who they perceived to be gender deviant, homosexual, queer. Over and over and over again, people try to blast their lights at anything they don't understand. But a hot light burns, it fries. It kills. The darkness asks us to give in to confusion and mystery, it asks us to trust it and feel things out. I wonder what all those people could have had - both the deviants being lobotomized and the doctors holding the ice pick - if they lived in a world that asked them to ask questions, to touch and feel and love and hug - instead of thrash and burn and slice and kill. It's tragic that anyone believes that their calling in life is to hurt other people. And it's more than heart breaking - it rends me apart, flays me open from chest to groin, to think of all the people who had to suffer, who had to die because of that false calling. Harsh lighting makes monsters of us all.

But it is safe in the shadow. I feel like I've spent the last 15 years witnessing atrocities play out in the world, watching oil spills stain the ocean like inky blood, watching the west coast burn up in flames again and again and again, watching american police officers brutalize and kill people. I saw it on the internet, I saw it in real life. My dad didn't help, his anger always boiling over, his hand heavy, his voice like a jackhammer going off again and again and again against the foundations of our house. In all of that, I found comfort in the love and light of friendships, yes, but I also turned towards a lucid dreaming practice, towards sleep. I watched scientific animal necropsy videos on the internet ad nauseum. I read about people who died and came back to life, what they saw on the other side. I turned to anonymous sex and to cruising in bathhouses, in bathrooms, in abandoned malls, I had fun in the shadowy places no one looks. It was like a balm. If I spent all my time praying and manifesting and ignoring my dark feelings, it would have felt dissonant, like trying to put together the puzzle of my soul with all the wrong pieces. We fuck and love in the dark, in gentle candle light, under the cozy covers. At night is when the softcore porn plays on HBO. It's when you can gossip with your best friend and when you can send a request to God and feel like she is listening, its when you can run around the city and dance and drink and party. The dark comforts.

I love the dark, I love staring into the abyss, I love melanated skin and beautiful dark hair. I know you need to stand in absolute darkness to see the stars. And I’d also like to install a SAD lamp in my apartment soon, just to get a little more sunshine.