we all know that we don’t live forever and that we eventually die, but somehow we have this expectation that in death we will have something eternal, if only a plot of ground. the idea that our dead body is entitled to a spot forever and ever and ever seems weird to me – like, why the insistence on eternity, on forever, for our bodies? why in death are we suddenly supposed to have a piece of the earth all to ourselves forever? (and on a practical note, aren’t we going to run out of room?)
don’t get me wrong – i don’t think it’s respectful to disrupt a dead body, and even though i don’t connect with that sort of veneration, i respect people‘s grieving and I can understand how the idea of having a spot to call your own indefinitely can be appealing. it just seems like a lot of time and energy and money are spent on what happens to your body after you’re dead, and how sometimes people will ignore what’s good for them during life but obsess over what might be good for their body after they die.
anyway, in the episode of ask a mortician that i am embedding below, caitlin talks about oven crypts in new orleans and how the concept that your plot of land is yours forever – common in the western world – it’s just not something that happens everywhere, not even everywhere in the united states (where i live). as someone who is used to seeing sprawling lawns with headstones and people buried underground, and who has acknowledged the permanence of that particular spot for that resting body, it’s somewhat refreshing to know that not everybody in the world is so obsessed with the permanent resting spot for your body.
i got my drivers license when i was 16 and one of my favorite places to go was a bookstore that i liked that was in a shopping plaza in the next town over from us. by this point in my life, i had realized i was gay and that i liked guys, but i was having trouble imagining myself as a gay man. my biggest hangup then was that i had seen a little bit of gay porn and i didn’t find the guys attractive at all – they were blonde, lean, and hairless, which didn’t appeal to me at the time, but because that’s all i saw in magazines and movies, i thought that was what gay guys looked like.
anyway one day i was at the bookstore browsing through the magazine racks and my eyes kept darting to the top racks where the “adult“ magazines were. this wasn’t my first place sneaking glances at those shelves – i wanted so badly to buy some gay porn magazines, but was worried that the person at the register might know that i was not 18 and wouldn’t sell them to me and i would be embarrassed.
on this particular day, i stumbled across a copy of advocate classifieds that was next to the advocate in the “regular“ section of the magazine rack – these are magazines that anyone could buy and they theoretically were not adult content but somehow advocate classifieds had managed to sneak into the regular section despite the fact that it contained naked men, and i was thrilled!
it occurs to me as an adult that the person at the register probably didn’t notice or care, but i thought i was safe buying this copy of the magazine because it had been in the regular section, after all, and i couldn’t be guilty of anything if i had just bought it off the regular rack and it happened to contain naked man. (as a side note, can you see how easily guilt and shame figured into my understanding of my sexuality from a young age? worth a bigger conversation, but also worth nothing that this experience isn’t unique to me)
when i got home, i went up to my bedroom and close the door and started leafing page by page through the magazine. at the bookstore, i had only opened it to one or two pages and as soon as i saw dick, i closed the magazine, made the logical leaps over my shame outlined above, and bought it. now that i was home with nobody around, i could take my time to see what was on each page, and reveling in the fact there wasn’t a dick pic or two but there were full on photo spreads of multiple models.
the models in the magazine were just like i described above – twinkish and smooth and not at all what i was attracted to – but the excitement of having gay porn that i actually went out and bought was enough to keep me very excited.
then at some point in the middle of the magazine, i turned the page and came across a model named cliff parker. cliff had dark brown hair and dark features, a lean and built body but he had chest hair and arm hair and leg hair and suddenly I realized the gay guys could have body hair, could have dark hair, and could actually be attractive to me. it was a like a revelation – i hadn’t consciously realized what my hangup was until i saw something different. i knew that it was ok that i had dark hair and chest hair, and that i wasn’t going to have to bleach or shave anything to fit in.
it’s not lost on me now that as an adult, hairy chests and beards are fashionable, and now i can’t help but wonder about the smooth little blond boy who is just exploring his sexuality and wondering if anybody out there looks like him. i learned that day that i could do this, that i could grow up being gay, that I could be a successful gay adult because i got confirmation that somebody else like me was out there. that’s why i am such an advocate for people sharing themselves so openly – when you share who you are, there’s somebody out there who benefits from that, who gaines permission to be themselves, and while we can’t direct where our energy goes, permission to be yourself and have it be ok is a great thing to be sending out there.
soft white underbelly is a youtube video series that brings a human face and voice to folks on the margins of every day life: drug addicts, sex offenders, homeless people, folks who have lived in remote rural locations. each video is an interview with minimal questions and maximal time for the subject to share their stories and tell you about their life. there is no fancy studio set with expensive lighting – these are stark and plain, which allows the person and the life and the story to be the only thing for you to focus on.
to me, this is an amazing series that gives people a look into lives that are easy to ignore, and each interview helps you understand our lives and where we end up as a function of the choices that we make and the choices that are made for us. there’s some talk of regret, of things that might have gone differently if a different choice were made, but mostly these interviews are about how people find peace and meaning in their existences.
there’s also no judgment in these interviews. the person asking the questions simply asks and listens – maybe exclaims “wow” now and then, or prompts the speaker to talk about how a certain event felt – and clearly wants the story to be told and the person to be heard and respected as a human being. along the way, you get a glimpse into how the legal system functions, how money and privilege can change the outcome of a scenario, and how one little difference in somebody’s life can have an impact that lasts far beyond what anyone could have imagined
what I like about “mike” in particular is how forgiveness comes up, and how he struggles to distinguish between between who somebody is and something that they did, particularly when the something they did is out of character or especially hurtful. forgiveness is a really hard thing for people to understand, but i think when you start hearing peoples stories it becomes easier to understand how they could ask for forgiveness, and easier to offer it with a peaceful heart.