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When Pride Comes Before My Own Fall

Happy Pride. I’m proud that on the last Wednesday in May, I completed my 30 rounds of radiation therapy at Emory Winship Cancer Institute in Midtown. Usually, the clinic sends people off with a bell-ringing ceremony in which staff members serenade the patient. I deferred on the ritual, but I must say my experience at Emory Winship has made me seriously reconsider my reactively negative opinions about medical care. Every doctor, nurse, and staff member there has been an angel. It’s always the bureaucracy behind the medical care that is most vexing to the workers as well as patients.

Part of my rationale for avoiding the staff’s sweet serenade was knowing that my journey is not over. I won’t know for months if the radiation has helped obliterate PacMan, as I’ve nicknamed the smiling tumor with a gaping mouth behind my left eye, and I will likely have to proceed with more chemotherapy for months, even though my doctors tell me it will likely have no effect. Whatever the treatment I continue to get, it’s all palliative. Glioblastoma multiforme, my cancer, is inevitably fatal within a year or two.

This is the third column about my experience. When I reached two weeks of receiving radiation, the side effects hit me – fatigue so devastating that I totally forgot to write last month’s column. My mindset has remained in an almost dreamy state, alarmingly suffused in nostalgia for my youth, for thinkers and poets I’ve long admired. I go to the gym daily, and those 90 seconds between sets are filled with those questions about destiny and purpose that plague most of us in our youth but usually subside as we settle into the routines society – specifically capitalism – requires of us.

Weirdly, I’ve had a sudden onslaught of requests for initial consultations and several requests for media interviews. I thought at first this was provoked by my writing about impending death, but that’s not the case. Anyone whose work is helping others can tell you that your personal state of mind deeply affects the state of your practice. I listen to clients, most in their 20s, tell me their stories as my own story is coming to a close. Without exception, the first thing that I want to say is, “There’s nothing wrong with you. Stop pathologizing yourself.”

Yes, that’s maybe simplistic. We live in a society that requires an underclass to preserve capitalism. When I was a spooky teenager, I found a book by Eric Fromm on my mother’s shelves. She was a bibliophile, to say the least, but didn’t seem to think things through. Thus, she could be reading books by a psychoanalytical Marxist like Fromm and Jacqueline Susann’s “Valley of the Dolls” at the same time. I never got the full, traditional sex talk from either parent. On top of Ms. Susann’s softcore porn, I got a copy of “Catcher in the Rye” instead.  My parents, rabid Republicans, didn’t blink when they saw me reading “The Communist Manifesto,” but they were demonically homophobic and subscribed to that Freudian notion that it was appropriate to repress the id to preserve civilization. Indeed, even when I was in my 20s and married to a woman, my mother would show up at the office of my therapists, for whom I was paying, and sit in their waiting areas for hours until they’d talk to her. Why? Because she loved me, she said. I think it likely had much more to do with confronting psychiatry’s dictum that mothers are the cause of all misery.

This is Pride month. Many queer people like to think the days of overt oppression are over. Clearly, they are not. Let the Log Cabin Republicans fly their freak flags at half-mast but watch them step into line when it comes to the economics of oppression. This grants them a smidge of masc normality to beat their chests with their manicured hands. I know things are better for those who are open and know that the fundamental conflict remains the same: the right to love. So, yay, whatever! We can get married and the IRS knows that’s a good thing for the government (although any person who’s been married a minute knows that the $60K wedding was theater that will be eclipsed by erectile dysfunction during the honeymoon, to say nothing of the day your spouse comes home with a money-sucking infant they found at – I don’t know – maybe a humane society facility for lost babies).

The quest for a grant of normality from the dominant culture is what we all seek, even as our shamans – the drag queens and leather boys – shout that our bodies demand respect and celebration for their oddity, not their conformity. (That’s why so many A-list gays attempted to ban them from early Pride parades here.) Queer people know, even amid the strife, the value of imagination and creativity. We are heirs to god-given nonconformity and our every act of love, sacred or profane, is a blessing for the entire culture.

As I take the next steps toward my own death, I want to feel mindful of this legacy I’ve been granted. I want to feel the inherent love and beauty in every cell of our world and in every memory of so many loving friends who have died before me.

Cliff Bostock, PhD, is a former psychotherapist who now (still) practices more informal “life coaching” to help people who feel blocked in the creative pursuit of their dreams. Visit cliffbostock.com and contact him at cliffbostock@gmail.com. You can also interact with him and other readers at facebook.com/cliffbostock.