I return to the city where a thousand years ago, a friend announced his new-found love for Asian men, bought a wok, and learned how to make crispy tofu. He also met a young man, who subsequently moved in with him; consulted an expensive immigration lawyer on the young man’s behalf; discovered the young man was cheating on him—and also didn’t really want to have sex with him.
I also return to the city that taught me about the racialization of desire, or what Dwight McBride terms the marketplace of desire. And it is this intersection of these two returns that drives this narration.
My friend had been disappointed in love and lust several times by other white men who did not deem him attractive enough, though many enjoyed his penis at 3 am, when no one else was watching, or late afternoons, when no one else had to know. His turn to Asian men seemed, at the time, to be a kind of reaction, a turn to somewhere where the laws of taboo and transgression, foreignness and assimilation, might give him an edge. I should mention he was particularly attracted to foreign-born, heavily-accented Asian men.
I could speculate further—mention my own tangled and deviant desires around accents and silence—but let me move on.
I have returned to the city where I first read Richard Bruce Nugent in the anthology Shade. I remember liking “Smoke, Lilies, and Jade” and then not liking it. Even now, two consecutive readings of the story rarely elicit the same pleasure, and, in fact, toggle between pleasure and un-pleasure.
In an interview, Nugent claims that he had tried to “howyoudoing” black men in DC and Harlem, and been rebuffed. He then turned his attention to Latin men who welcomed him.
What might it mean to “direct” interest? (I hesitate to use the term desire.)
To some extent, of course, I’m asking a rather silly question. Our “interest” is always being directed and shaped. We are constantly being told who and what deserves interest. I am always intrigued by the “newly gay” who, almost invariably, go through a phase of learning and practicing a vocabulary of “interest.” Many never move beyond this initial vocabulary. But then 60 year old heterosexual men are still chasing after 18 year old cheerleaders. Interest anchors.
Interest anchors and orients: this club, not that; this street, not that; this restaurant, not that; this hobby, this sport, this cologne, one can add.
In some sense, I merely repeat knowledge about how and where communities form, how and where they are cultivated, and by whom. To that, I want to unfix the category of home (with all its connotations) and think, not instead but besides it, about places of interest that anchor and orient, the not-homes and can’t-be-homes in which we, nonetheless, find ourselves living and moving and choosing.
Returns are about un-fixing, with each prior space becoming a potential site for return. Each not-home becoming familiar—the train station or airport that consoles.
I am fascinated by those with clearly defined spaces: home/not-home; play/not-play; work/not-work. Spaces without leaks or cracks or seepage.
I return to the city that forced language to bend, made me a soundscape tourist, a word contortionist, a bewildered navigator. Where anyone meant someone, and someone was elsewhere. Made my relationship to language belated, as I asked children the distinction between sun and son, run and ran, where sound became more important than context, and words dropped out of sentences. Hearing by phonics.
A directed hearing. An interested hearing. Where native-born girls could not understand my non-native English, heavily accented with Rex Harrison’s Audrey Hepburn, and I wanted to mutter “tuppence.”
This city that first taught me poetry in the elegant play between Verdana and Lucida. And the meaning of spaces. And the possible impossibility of naming “that” feeling. It is also that city that taught me, imperfectly, about interest.
Many years after I first leave, a chance encounter with a random stranger, once met, never experienced, and his confession of desire, were it not for “my roommate’s appetites.” I remember him vaguely, wonder how he remembers me—though not how he remembers the roommate’s appetites, and think about the interest that sent me elsewhere.
I leave tomorrow, return to another city whose residents cultivated my interest—Nugent, Essex, GDJ—a city dominated by their ambivalence then, one I imbibed and indulge, albeit with interest.