Monday, May 18, 2009

On Proposition 8 and Aaron Smith's Poem "Open Letter"

Although published before Proposition 8 passed, Aaron Smith's poem "Open Letter"(found in David Trinidad's issue of MiPOesias) can be read as a near-perfect encapsulation of the way in which some gay men felt after they were betrayed (once again) by the American people, their heterosexual counterparts through that law.

Here in its entirety is the poem "Open Letter":

You are a boring man. Your wife is boring. Your children are boring. Even your dog: boring. When you walk to the train and your socks fall down in your boots and you bend down to pull them up, that is boring. Your choice of socks is boring. (So is the way you walk!) You eat boring bagels with butter (not cream cheese) and your breath reeks with boring, boring coffee and morning-stink. Your coffee is black and boring and the hand that holds the cup is lonely and boring and lonely. Boring. You are too boring to hate and your family is too boring to die by disaster or murder.

Would anyone else other than a gay man be so obsessed with a "boring" marriage that he describes their morning ritual with such eerie acuity? No doubt this spectacle is "boring" but there's no way a gay man can turn away. It is an uninspired reminder of what he has been aggressively denied.

Smith's comic illustration of gay male stagnancy after yet another overt denial of their humanity addresses the more heartbreaking and debilitating consequences of Proposition 8. It's too easy ignore, as much as gay men have joined public demonstrations, the fatigue of fighting a county who does not have their best interest at heart.

This heartbreaking poem does something courageous. It discloses gay male exhaustion.

How long can we continue to be active when time and time again we're forced to view what we do not have, and perhaps may never will?

This understandable boredom with an endless struggle for equality is one of our best kept secrets. We, as gay men, feel the need to keep it undisclosed; how can we expect other to rally if we admitted our own fatigue? Smith exposes this fact in light of how some gay men may consider such an admission a defeat rather than a necessary catharsis.

The unimaginative, generic "open letter" obviously requires no elaboration. The "letter" needs no formal introduction, no explanation of its intent, no desire to make those sentences active, or be active in and of himself. The gay man is too unsurprised to frame the predictability of what's occurred. As described in the last two sentences, the gay man can't even summon the justified anger at the nuclear family's inability to break their boring routine and see his suffering.

So much gay male suffering has continued as a result of Proposition 8: the potential refusal to be at your partner's bedside if he's sick, the lack of financial protection etc etc. Having to enumerate those denials with robotic precision is undoubtedly boring. I, too, am bored with my need to make everything clear to those heterosexuals (and sometimes homosexuals) about why they need to help us with something they take for granted.

Undoubtedly, heterosexuals feel a similar ennui; they don't need to hear us whining. Our letters to them go completely unacknowledged; they have their morning routines with their spouse which is so taken for granted they can continue with aggressive, federally protected boredom.

(Sidenote: I had the honor seeing Smith read the poem, and he did so with flawless deadpan delivery.)


  1. It is always been puzzleing to me that with one hand people will hold up marriage as this divine intitution with rules written down by god himself the breaking of which would means societal chaos, and on the other hand treat their own marriages likr toilet paper by cheating, abusing, beating, seeking out sex with minor (dateline is scarey: the regular Joes that turn up...) deserting, not even trying. Why do they care to keep from someone else what they do not care for themselves?

  2. This is very good: "It discloses gay male exhaustion." There's something truly exhausting, and boring, in the poem. The drudgery of pointing out the blackness of the coffee, the details of the socks--god, sometimes poetry is a drag, showcasing its own exhaustion.

  3. This is my first time reading this poem. Thank you for sharing it!

  4. I'm SURE it's exhausting. From an outsider's pov it certainly is. But isn't there hope in the recent decisions in Iowa and Maine? I think the fight is mostly over. It's just a matter of time and I suspect, read, need to believe, that it will happen in our lifetime. The dinosaurs are dying off (thank GOD).

  5. SR,

    The fight is almost over??! Where do you get that from? Because two states say it's OK? If it was almost over, as you say, I don't think I would have created this blog. And it's not like marriage is our only obstacle. You may want to find a gay friend and let him educate you. I don't mean this in a snotty way. I'm just concerned about where you might be getting this info from.