Perry Brass: The Manly Pursuit of Desire—Powerlessness in America

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<p>Shooting at Kings Plaza in Queens, NY. </p>

Shooting at Kings Plaza in Queens, NY.

Photo: NBC News

It seems to happen every week: some senseless killing takes place. Cops are killed waiting in their cars. A doctor is killed at a hospital by someone she doesn’t know. There is gunfire at shopping malls, schools, or post offices. On one hand it feels like the nation is on the brink of a breakdown, and on the other people are arming themselves to the teeth as the N.R.A. and its allies in Washington are preaching that the only solution to irrational violence is to put more firepower in the hands of more potentially irrational people.

People feel powerless. That is why a majority of people in the basically rural Electoral College, not the popular urban vote, elected Donald Trump president. Trump promised them power, that they “will not be forgotten.” And power to them meant keeping things as they were, in a haze of nostalgia that for the most part was as real as Trump’s promises.

People feel powerless because they have no more power over their paychecks—with unionism being gutted in the name of “right to work” and “workplace independence,” there is no recourse once your paycheck has been either jerked away or reduced to a form of welfare. Trump and his billionaire buddies have no interest in assuring a future to anyone, but this haze of nostalgia wrapped around a promise of regained power is extremely seductive. It is the “real pussy” that Trump’s followers are grabbing at with him. We are going back to an “All in the Family” view of life, when “girls were girls and men were men,” the Bible was everybody’s teacher even though nobody read it, and a man could still live steadily off his salary and even support a family with it.

He had this sense of his own power: he could complain the wrong people were taking over (they’ve been doing this since the French and Indian Wars), but on an economic, mental, and emotional level there was a place for him, and like it or not, he could sit nicely in it. Usually he could do this because it was defined by white maleness—people of any color except for the “Flesh” tone found in a box of Crayolas—need not apply.

There was something reassuring about all this that is never going to happen again. Most people, like 99% of the country, have no idea who their real boss is, who actually puts the dough for their paychecks in the bank, and even who on a moment’s notice will get rid of them when necessary. When things are good you don’t think about it, and when they are bad you can’t not think about it. It will drive you to want to kill people you don’t know—especially if those people are ciphers or mysteries to you and most people are, because part of powerlessness is that you can’t really reach out to anyone.

You’re stuck. And it’s very scary to be there, and people who might even be your allies only exist as strange websites whose real authors you’ll never get to meet.

We do not have Big Brother now, we have Big Money, and for most people it’s getting further and further away from them. In the old days you could hate the Rockefellers because at least you could see them. Now you can’t see Big Money at all: it hides perfectly behind rows of shell companies, faceless boards, the “teams” above your team and the puppeteers pulling the strings above them. You can hate the “lying” press because it doesn’t say what you want to hear, but the people pulling in the money above it—and the money keeps getting bigger and bigger, this vast bubble of money—you’ll never really see.

Award-winning writer and gender-rights pioneer, Perry Brass has published 19 books, including poetry, novels, short fiction, science fiction, and bestselling advice books (How to Survive Your Own Gay Life, The Manly Art of Seduction, The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love). A member of New York’s radical Gay Liberation Front, in 1972, with two friends, he co-founded the Gay Men’s Health Project Clinic, the first clinic specifically for gay men on the East Coast, still operating as the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center. His dystopian futurist novel Carnal Sacraments, very much about the facelessness of power, has recently been translated into Italian and Spanish.