PART SEVEN OF
THE JOURNAL OF JAMES CURTIS
BY MICHAEL J. BAYLY
THE JOURNAL OF JAMES CURTIS
BY MICHAEL J. BAYLY
(To start at the beginning of this series, click here)
I had a dream last night – one I’ve had many times before. It starts off with me being in a familiar place – a building of some kind – when quite unexpectedly I discover a whole new room, usually a large communal space; a banquet hall full of people, energy and life; a place that’s obviously been long established and yet completely unknown to me.
The discovery of this new space is always a great surprise, and in each dream I find myself pondering: How could I have not known about this place?
Years ago I researched dreams and learned that the discovery of a new room, space, or vista is symbolic of the beginning of a new phase in one’s life, a phase characterized by new experiences and insights, by things opening up and revealing new pathways and possibilities. What I think is most interesting is how such experiences and opportunities often occur within our everyday, “ordinary” lives. There’s no trip abroad, no life-shattering change, simply the culmination of some inner process whereby a new awareness works its way into our consciousness – often through our dreams.
I’ve come to see such dreams as heralds; emissaries from some sacred realm calling me to examine my life, to wake up – quite literally – and discern the changes quietly taking place within me. These dreams urge me to face up to the experiences and questions that, if I’m honest, I realize I’ve been avoiding. I believe that doing all of these things attunes me to the presence and movement of the sacred in my life, especially in those experiences and events, those changes and insights, that I often find unsettling and challenging. Yet face them I must.
And I am facing new experiences and questions – many of them to do with how I understand myself as a gay man in the Catholic Church. I’ve met some amazing, inspiring people in the weeks since beginning this journal – and I’ve been challenged in how I view the church and my place in it. I’m on a journey – and it’s changing me. That’s both exciting and scary.
It’s also presented me with some strange and unusual challenges – one of which was in the form of a scribbled note on a torn piece of paper. It all began earlier tonight when I attended a Dignity liturgy. A male priest presided – a “longtime friend of Dignity,” Vince assured me. Afterward, a group of us went out for supper at a Mexican restaurant. It was the first time I’ve really socialized with the Dignity guys, all of whom are at least 20 years older than me. They have such stories to tell of Dignity’s “glory days” in the ’70s and ’80s – a time when the church seemed to be more tolerant of the reality of gay people, and when there was a real sense of hope that official teaching could actually be reformed by the church's openness to this reality.
“Aren’t you bitter?” I asked Vince, who’s fast becoming my favorite of the Dignity crowd.
“Oh, honey, I refuse to become a bitter old queen. Besides, we have enough of those already in the Vatican,” he said with a hearty chortle.
Tony, a guy in his late-fifties, sided up to me. I have the distinct feeling that he’s interested in me. He’s always trying to catch my eye and smiling at me in an almost aggressive kind of way. All of this was confirmed when we were leaving the Dignity mass earlier this evening. Tony insisted I go out the door first. He followed with his hand upon my shoulder. Next thing I knew, I felt his hand move slowly down the length of my back, lingering on my ass. Much to my chagrin, I felt a tinge of excitement, and when I got to my car I found I had to adjust myself as I sat behind the wheel.
I looked at Tony now in the dim light of the restaurant. He had the trim figure of someone who had clearly taken care of himself in terms of diet and regular exercise. Looks meant a lot to him, and with a certain degree of chagrin, I realized that in that we had something in common..Siding up to me in the noisy restaurant, he placed his hand on my thigh and leaned in toward me.
“We need to get you out more. I think you work too much.”
I smiled and thought to myself, How on earth would you know anything about my work habits? But, of course, Tony’s comment had nothing to do with the facts. He was simply letting me know that he wanted to see more of me.
Suddenly Vince returned with our drinks.
“O-oh, someone’s moving in on my boy! Back to your own seat, Tony. I saw him first,” Vince said merrily.
Tony rose from his place beside me.
“We’ll talk later,” he said with a wink before moving around to the other side of the large circular table.
“Thanks,” I said quietly to Vince.
“You’re welcome, hon,” Vince replied knowingly.
I sat back and let the others talk around me. I feigned interest – nodded, smiled. But my mind was elsewhere. And I shifted uncomfortably in my seat, wishing Tony’s touch hadn’t once again aroused me.
I looked across the table at him as he sat chatting with Jeff, another longtime Dignity member. It would be so easy to push back; to let Tony know that, yes, I’d be willing to get together with him. He advances clearly indicated that he wanted it, and the throbbing in my crotch let me know that I did too.
Yes, a part of you wants it, James, but a deeper part of you wants more. The words resounded from somewhere deep within. So much more. And again I saw Carlos’ sweet smile, and felt his warm and firm embrace – an embrace I thought I’d have in my life forever.
“I tell you we need to act on this.”
Jeff’s voice had an edge to it that jerked me back into the here and now.
The ten men around the table were embroiled in an intense conversation, one that I soon discerned centered on a ragged piece of note paper that Jeff clutched in his hand.
“James is a journalist,” Tony suddenly declared. “He’ll tell us what we should do.”
How come every thing he says sounds like an order? I thought.
“I’d be happy to share my thoughts on whatever it is that . . .”
“We need advise,” blurted Jeff impatiently. “Advise about what to do about this.”
He handed me the piece of paper upon which writing was scrawled.
“It was sent to the Dignity office anonymously,” said Vince. “Jeff thinks we should go public with it. What do you think, James?”
I squinted as I deciphered the near illegible handwriting. It read: “The bishop travels to Chicago. He frequents gay bars and the Man’s Country bathhouse. It’s time to act to shut him up.”
“Well, it’s certainly to the point,” I said.
“Yes, but is it of any use to us?” asked Jeff.
A man named Jake leaned forward. “We’ve heard that our good bishop is about to release a statement condemning same-sex marriage – same-sex civil marriage. He also plans on forming an alliance with other conservative religious leaders to try and pass some kind of ‘marriage amendment’ at the state level – effectively banning civil marriage rights for gays. Now, imagine if we could prove that he himself is gay! It would be the end of all of it. He’d be forced out – in disgrace.”
“And you think this . . . this tawdry piece of gossip . . . proves that he’s gay?” I asked.
Blank faces stared back at me.
“Look, guys, I’m as pissed off as the rest of you with the bishop’s crap. But . . . but this . . .”
I dropped the ragged piece of paper on the table.
“. . . this is not the way to go.”
“Why?” Jeff asked, anger and frustration in his voice.
“Because you have absolutely no proof . . . of anything!” I said. “And another thing, even if you did actually get some proof, a photo, say, of the bishop at a gay bar or bath house, all that would prove is that he’s gay. I could well see him and his minders admitting that, yes, the poor bishop struggles with ‘same-sex attractions,’ and that he’s only human and sometimes falls short - just like any one of us.”
Jeff looked perplexed.
“Don’t you see, they’d turn it right back on you, “ I said. “You’d be the ‘bad guys’ for taking advantage of the bishop’s ‘weakness,’ his ‘human failing,’ and going public with it. From my perspective, I don’t think it should be about outing him as gay, but as a hypocrite. And to do that you’d have to prove he’s in an actual relationship; that he’s not just succumbing to temptation every now and then, but that he has intentionally formed and is maintaining a sexual relationship with another man. That won’t be easy. I mean, it’s the type of thing you’d need a private detective for.”
Silence . . . broken finally by Jeff: “Shit!” he mumbled dejectedly as he scooped up the note and stuffed it into his shirt pocket. “I need another drink.”
See also the previous installments of The Journal of James Curtis:
• Part One: A “Bells and Smells” Kind of Guy
• Part Two: A Quiet Visit and an Exhausting Conversation
• Part Three: A Journey Begins
• Part Four: Carlos
• Part Five: My Lunch with a “Medicine Bearer”
• Part Six: Father Brandon