Queer and Selfie Loathing in NYC
My generation has been force-fed the notion that to be loved, to be special, to be something or somebody, one has to be a star. And I bought into it with certainty. From the moment I understood my reflection was I and I he, a star was born.
Invisible cameras everywhere caught my movements, projecting them onto an unseen screen to the little people out there in the dark. When, left to my own devices, I practiced my Janet Jackson choreography, it was with the full understanding that I would one day perform these intricate moves, not in my living room, but on a real stage. My shower singing was studio quality, my acting deserving of an Oscar; fame was my destiny, and I simply had to fulfill it. From Star Search to American Idol, from reality TV to Twitter, fame is the real American dream and its chief export -- all the world's on stage.
Once upon a time, fame had meaning. You had to have talent, you had to have looks, you had to have a quality, in rare supply, that could entertain, inform or otherwise assuage the masses. Now, we're in the age of Vine stars, Twitterlebrities and Instagram sensations where everyone is a brand. If, as Gore Vidal once said, art is the enemy of democracy, fame has become its companion. Even politicians are groomed for sound bytes and viral moments, at the expense of their beliefs and our freedoms. The people have become easily entertained, and easily bored, so the fame market is over-saturated as emptiness fills the void. Star power is a dim glow of its former self, and the currency of notoriety is completely devaluated. Fame, then, means nothing.
This obsession with fame has also eroded our sense of privacy. That which is most sacred is broadcast to the world, so that there is no line between private and public. Facebook completely erased that line, which started disappearing when the first faces were projected onto screens 50 feet high, creating a new celebrity, one who belonged to the public. For a nickel or a dime, everyone from Augusta to Phoenix and everywhere in between could get lost in those larger-than-life faces and their larger-than-life lives, which became public fodder -- another product of a machine designed to entertain, inform or otherwise assuage the masses: Hollywood.
Yet from its earliest days, Hollywood was in love with New York -- an unrequited love, as New York never felt quite the same way. I've considered going out to L.A. The New Yorker in me always assumed I would hate it, and I was prepared to, until visiting it last year and being enchanted by that goddamn weather. There are no seasons, only palm trees. I could live there; it's a slower pace than New York, as nearly everywhere is, but I think I'm in the need of a quieter and simpler life.
I'm basically ready to retire. When I came to New York, I knew I would leave it eventually, to live a life of quiet simplicity where I'd write novels and maybe raise chickens somewhere far away from the subways and 24-hour bodegas. I just didn't think it would be now. I didn't think I'd want to leave now, with my whole life still very much in front of me. But I'm not the same person I was 11 years ago.
Then, 17-year-old me hit the streets of New York running, unprepared for anything, let alone stardom. But here felt like home. The enormity of it all. The city was as big as my imagination, as boundless as my ambition. There was energy, and there was life. This was the opposite of Poughkeepsie, where I had languished, only 90 miles away, on the vine for 13 years, waiting to be released unto the world. Once here, I didn't have much of a plan; I just wanted to do it all. Somehow, with no training, little discipline and an inflexible nerve, I was going to do it all.
Now, almost-29-year-old me can look back and say I've had a good run. I danced, I drank, I was fabulous. I walked these streets -- like a queen -- owning all that I surveyed but couldn't touch. No, some things remained out of reach: love, wealth, fame. Wealth and fame abound in New York, often at the expense of love. Wealth is relative, and fame irrelevant, so if I want love, what's keeping me here? If I no longer need to be the baddest bitch in the room, what's keeping me here? If I no longer need to hashtag and be tagged or checked in, what's keeping me here?
As a child, I was brutally shy. I avoided contact with people because I was afraid of them. People still terrify me. So why not move to a city of 8 million people? New York played to my disconnectedness with the world. There's nothing to fear because every man is an island unto himself. Here, it's OK to avoid looking people in the eye. Here, it's OK to push past someone without a word of apology. Here, it's OK to disappear into your own world and grow annoyed when someone intrudes upon it. Living in a dissociative city and communicating in dissociative terms -- tweets, selfies and status updates -- made me feel isolated and alone, here in this city of 8 million people. If I didn't have two roommates, I don't think I would say more than a handful of words in a single day. But I would use 140 characters.
Increasingly dissatisfied with New York and writing and my haphazard search for love, I decided to commit social media suicide. Last weekend, without warning, I was gone -- from Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, leaving only my website as a personal forum and professional resource. No longer wanting to be a brand, no longer wanting to share any and everything about myself, no longer wanting to filter my life for a small army of unseen followers, I disengaged from the social network.
New York is a harsh teacher, but I have learned what I want and don't want out of life -- a collection of qualities and characteristics I shall list here. I want to reclaim my humanity and my privacy. I want to write, not because I have to. I want my life to have meaning. I want to contribute a beauty that doesn't fade. I want to find a love that makes it possible to not only love the world but to once again hold it in wonder and not just contempt. And I want to leave New York. I can write from anywhere, or find a job that affords me the time to write not as a profession but a passion.
Also, I can be gay anywhere.
One of the reasons I came to New York was to be gay. To be openly, freely, flamboyantly, fabulously gay. That was in 2003, well into the fear-mongering homophobia of the Bush II administration. New York felt like one of the few places it was safe and OK to be gay. For decades gays like me had congregated there, seeking self, sex and success. But 2003 was also the same year the Supreme Court struck down all remaining American sodomy laws in Lawrence v. Texas and Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. Some 30 states later and counting, it's a different world in which we live. But as a wave of homophobia and transphobic crime around the city last summer showed, it's not really safe anywhere, anyway.
So what is keeping me here? I love this damn city, but I don't need it anymore to feel beautiful or the best or the baddest. All I need is myself. I am enough. Finally. I am enough. I'll be the baddest bitch present, no matter the room. Whether it's in Manhattan or St. Louis, where I'm currently considering moving. Maybe out there I could find love, or almost-love. Or maybe L.A, or Provincetown, or somewhere completely outside the U.S. The world is a huge place, far bigger than one city, New York, which I once thought was the world.
If you can make it here, the old saying goes, you can make it anywhere. Eleven years ago I came here and made something and somebody of myself that I can be proud of -- so I can go anywhere. But no matter what or where, I will always be a New Yorker. I earned that. I am a writer. I am a Scorpio. I am a New Yorker. And I'm crazy. Because to be any of those things, you've gotta be just a little crazy.