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Gemini Season, or My Fellow Evil Twins
My Fellow Shennyer:
Recently, I copied this sentence from Adam Gopnik out of a recent New Yorker: ‘We need not find cloaked and sinister reasons for our ancestors’ bad decisions, when ignorance and shortsightedness—the kind we, too, suffer from, invisible to us—will do just fine.’
I admired the move: criticize narrow thinking—Gopnik is writing about recent books lamenting U.S. historical car policies—by pointing to how more open-minded thinking can come as a result of a little more self-awareness. I like, when I’m led to feel superior, to also suddenly feel complicit.
Here’s something else that happened: my sister recently confessed that she read my diary once. This was when I was maybe 7 or 8 or 9, when I had a bunkbed she’d sometimes sleep in the bottom bunk of. I used to hide my diary there behind stuffed animals. ‘I don’t remember the specifics,’ she said, ‘but you wrote something about a boy in school you liked, who had a cute butt.’
I have to take her word for this, but I almost don’t believe her, because The Story I’ve been telling myself is that I never allowed myself to admit I was gay, and if I ever did it was only with shame and self-loathing. But for a time, before another time, I found a strength I wouldn’t find again for decades. Whose fault was that?
Superior, complicit. Victim, perpetrator. These days, I’m writing about the closet, a place I spent 26 years of my life and still don’t fully understand.
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Endorsements: Barware Edition
1. 375ml Bottles of Vermouth
My local paper tells me that vermouth and other aperitifs are either booming in sales or turning Americans off. Me, I use vermouth for cocktails: sweet for Manhattans, dry for martinis. While the smaller bottles are worse price-per-ml-wise, they have two enormous benefits. Benefit One: vermouth’s low ABV makes it go flat and rancidy over time; keeping a small one in the fridge helps ensure it’ll get drunk up before spoiling. Benefit Two: the small bottle is perfect for keeping a half-drunk bottle of wine fresh. Do you, like me, resist opening a full bottle of wine when you’re only going to drink 2 glasses, worrying how the rest of it will taste in a day or two? You can buy one of those air pump dealies, or the argon gas, or invest in the super expensive Coravin system. Or you can decant the remainder of the 750ml bottle into that 375ml vermouth bottle you saved and scrubbed, vastly reducing the amount of air the wine is exposed to, and thus keeping it tasty. Last week, I opened a 2014 cabernet franc, which was a little too flat and thuddy on the tongue at first. (The second glass was better.) I funneled the remainder into my 375ml vermouth bottle, which sat on the counter for 3 days, and when I poured a glass Wednesday night it was complex and sublime. Sure, no one likes a wine snob, which is why I’m endorsing this humble, cheap-ass solution. (Given to me by the great Steve Kemble at McKenzie-Mueller Winery in Napa.)
2. Vista Alegre Bicos Old-Fashioned Glasses
I turned 45 last week, and when I unwrapped the gift N got me, I found these glasses:
I said ‘Wow’ because they were visually interesting, what with all those little pyramid stud bumps, almost BDSMy. ‘Do you remember?’ N began, and right as I wrapped my hand around one I did: these were the glasses they served us water in at the place we had lunch our first day in Lisbon. I remember oohing and aahing over how they felt in my hand, and that feeling? It’s basically what I’m endorsing here. Imagine getting to lift the inside of a smashed geode, or maybe a hedgehog that looked into the face of Medusa. So many pressure points on the palm at once. Plus they’re sturdy, nearly indestructible even for this guy who breaks everything, and replacements are only $15. (Let this also be an endorsement for getting a partner who’s as good at giving gifts as N is. He’s as good as I am terrible at it.)
My Fellow Evil Twins
It wasn’t even a decade ago when I walked into my first meeting of Sex Addicts Anonymous, said the words every man in the room (we were only men, us addicts) said in turn: ‘Hi, I’m Dave and I’m a sex addict.’ Those words felt as true to me as they were incomprehensible. They brought up the question I was asking myself every day without any clear answer: How had I turned out like this?
Around that time, it became fashionable among the circles I ran in to embrace your Zodiac sign. And by ‘embrace’ I mean more swallow whole. People were paying for their charts to get drawn up, and dissertating not just on their sun sign, but their rising signs and moons. Online, people gave each other heads-ups about retrograde Mercury in language once reserved for heatwaves or active shooters.
‘...but then again, I am a Leo!’ got dropped at the ends of anecdotes like a punchline, always getting its laff. It wasn’t a joke, really, in that the speaker was, in birth, a Leo. And it wasn’t a joke about being into astrology (ha ha, can you imagine?) because the speaker was, by dint of knowing their Leo traits, Very Into Astrology. And owning up to that. Without shame? There seemed, in the expressions these speakers took on—the mock-grimace, the rolling eyes—a kind of apology for having to bring astrology up, again, but it was, in the parlance of that time, a Sorry-Not-Sorry apology.
This was a time when identity was becoming a kind of currency in the economy of ideas, when some identities had (at last) the power to speak on certain topics, or in certain venues, while others couldn’t afford to. I was, as a thinking person, on board with the near bankrupting of the while male identity the way I was on board with Occupy’s calls for breaking up the banks and forgiving citizens’ debts. I wanted one day to see some redistribution of power, instead of what I’d been watching all my life: its steady accumulation in the fewest hands imaginable. And in the rush of those years to gather up resources, set underrepresented identities up on the front lines, one’s zodiac sign became another arrow in the quiver, another way to know who you were and find solidarity with your people.
I didn’t escape this trap better than anyone else. When people asked me my sign, I’d go, ‘Gemini’ and raise two fingers of my right hand and twiddle them around each other. ‘Duplicitous,’ I’d say.
Once, a colleague laughed at this. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘two-sided.’
That’s what I said: duplicitous. They were the same to me. Then I looked up duplicity and saw ‘Deliberate deceptiveness in behavior or speech; double-dealing.’ Roget offered falseheartedness, deceit, and treachery before it gave up doubleness. Being a Gemini didn’t make me false, falsehearted, untrustworthy, but for much of my life I’d accepted that the date of my conception made me innately the sort of person who would lie to your face and betray you.
Like D. Trump, N. Gingrich, G.H.W. Bush, M. Pence, M. Rubio, M.T. Greene, K. West, S. King, B. Jindal, R. Giuliani, A. Shock, B. Johnson, J.M. Le Pen, V. Orbán, H. Kissinger. Like Jeffrey Dahmer. Like John Hinckley, Jr. Like Ted Kaczynski.
These are my people? When I stood at the end of SAA meetings and asked God to grant me the serenity to accept that what had brought me here was a lifetime of lying, cheating, and living in secret, they were indeed my people. My fellow evil twins. We were the public liars with a private face you’d never see.
If there was ever a time I wanted some outside framework to explain me to myself, it was while holding the ruins of my relationship in my hands, a sudden mystery bag of a person. I needed some quick aha’s and eureka’s. Aha, I’m a Sex Addict! Aha, I’m a Gemini!
Looking up at the stars spared me the pain of looking within, where if I did I might have found the four fluids of Hippocratic medicine (like astrology, another old Greek thing). These fluids—blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile—swelled and ebbed through the body, so says the theory, causing all forms of illness and, key term, distemperment. Blood corresponded to sanguine feelings, happy content feelings, all those pretty feelings, while black bile made a person melancholic. Choleric, for yellow bile, meant angry, and phlegmatic meant calm or apathetic. These relationships were reciprocal in/with the body: excess of feeling caused problems in the organs, and illness in the organs created disturbances in behavior.
The Greek word for these fluids, chymos, means juice or sap. Later, this term became humor, which is also about fluids and liquids (witness humid), and gives us an idea of how these forces operate within us. Here’s the NIH:
The influence of the humors changed with the seasons and times of day and with the human life span. Heat stimulated action, cold depressed it. The young warrior’s choler gave him courage but phlegm produced cowards. Youth was hot and moist, age cold and dry. Men as a sex were hotter and drier than women.
Nonsense? Yes. Useful? Absolutely. What I like about the humors is how they bring the mind and body together within the same self, and they paint a portrait of that self as stormy and mercurial. We all of us have our melancholic days or phlegmatic periods. As foolish as it might be, I like the idea of saying, ‘My yellow bile is acting up,’ over, ‘I’ve been such a Virgo this week!’
My sun/moon/rising is Gemini/Aquarius/Leo, for any IYKYK astrology types out there. What does this mean? Let me try this: when I took the Hogwarts Sorting Hat quiz online, I really wanted to be a Slytherin, all my students said I was a Ravenclaw, and I ended up being a boring-ass Gryffindor. Another unuseful system fixed and applied to you, top-down. According to my full chart, I’m never able to say ‘I’ve been such a Virgo this week,’ none of the stars or planets appearing in Virgo at the day and hour of my birth.
In my time in SAA, I didn’t know about moon and rising signs, and I knew even less about the humors, but I wish I’d had them explained to me. I needed a more flexible framework for self-understanding. Humors are in you and fluid; the framework says no one person is any one thing. Sure, it says every one person is four things, but at least we’re getting closer to the truth, which is that every self is a mess of contradiction and inconsistency, and that if we see every Gemini as having one side and then another side, maybe that says more about how poorly we really see each other.
Just ask Lauryn Hill, or Paul McCartney, or Colin Farrell, or Stevie Nicks, or John Cheever, or Morrissey, or Allen Ginsberg, or Bill Hader, or Bob Dylan, or Jamaica Kincaid, or Mike Myers, or Suze Orman, or Harvey Fierstein, or Sandra Bernhard, or Harvey Milk, or Bobcat Goldthwaite, or Siouxsie Sioux. Or the Marquis de Sade.
This week’s natatorium is the very trippy Piscine Aquazena in Paris. (But like, are those surveillance cameras?)