Walking Down 8th Avenue…

Walking Down 8th Avenue…
Matan Ar’ye Schwartz

8th Avenue is my favorite avenue in The City.

I usually start walking at around 42nd street. Eventually you pass Penn. Station and Madison Square Garden (on 34th) to your left and the New York City Post Office to your right since you’re heading downtown.

Here in the wintertime are young couples holding hands, men with their arms around the waists of their girlfriends as they walk by in their suits and their coats and their Burberry scarves…blissfully asleep.

Men who never have to worry about someone decrying that they’re flaunting it as they kiss their girlfriend in public. Men who don’t have to worry about being told to ‘tone it down’ if they hold hands with their wife and walk down the street. Men who will never hear that they’re asking for too much when they exert their human rights. Men who don’t have to worry about someone saying that they’re an abomination as they get on one knee and propose with a ring. Men and women who don’t have to prove their love is real, who have ‘real’ weddings that their family attends. Men and women who don’t have to be ‘tolerated’ at family events for who they love. Men and women who don’t have to hear other parents complain when they show up to an event because ‘how are we going to explain this to our children?’ – it’s always to ‘protect’ the children, isn’t it?

Men and women who don’t realize how easy they have it.

8th avenue is my favorite avenue in the city.

Starting towards 17th street you notice some wonderful things: around you are rainbow flags and in the restaurant windows are couples…older than the couples that are walking on the street (they’re getting an early dinner before bed), and what once was a scene of one man and one woman has somewhere along the line changed into two men and two women as I see a table with two husbands:two men:two lovers, sharing dinner with each other and in the next booth over is an older lesbian couple and my heart fills with joy and pain as I try and imagine their past and their reality which was no doubt so much harder than mine…as I mouth a ‘thank you’ that they’ll never hear that gets carried up to the heavens on the fog of the breathe that leaves my mouth…the winter air so cold now.

How did they make it through the Eighties with their spirits intact? Their friends – their family (perhaps the only family who they could call their own) wasting away to the winds. Did they come out? Or were they always the ‘uncle’s roommate’ at family gatherings, being asked to hide who and what they are by pretentious and hate-filled heterosexuals masquerading under the guise of being progressive…by ‘tolerating’ instead of accepting they always placed themselves above those that they looked down upon…those who were different than them…those who were okay so long as they could be paraded around like animals at a zoo and acceptable so long as they never broke out of the box that was prescribed for them…did their family mourn them and pretend that they were dead? Did they forget that they ever existed? How did they manage to make it in New York with rent that’s a couple of thousand a month? Did they ever have faith in God? If so, did they loose it? How many nights did they have to sleep on the street before they found a place with heat to lay down? How many tricks did they have to turn? How many days did they have to hold their breathe to wait and find out whether or not they had HIV?

And on the street are beautiful boys and beautiful men wearing tight jeans outlining their gorgeous packages and their shirts wrapping around strong biceps and hard six packs and I have a slight twinge of jealously because I want to look like that (and soon, oh so soon I will) and they’re heading out to clubs, just getting started on their night…and these stubbled Adonises just radiate beauty as their mouths collide with their boyfriends and I thank God that I have the family I have because when my younger brother asks if I have a boyfriend he does it in the same tone of voice and the same manner of voice that he uses when he asks my twin if he has a girlfriend. I thank God for the family I have because my younger brother doesn’t let his friends get away with making fun of Gay people (“…oh that’s soooo….straight…”) and when I get married no one would dare say that my brother’s wedding is ‘more real’ than mine ‘because…you know…like…he’s marrying a woman’ if not out of respect and acceptance of who and what I am than out of fear that the look I’d give them would kill them where they stood. I’m thankful I have a Rabbi that is ready and willing to marry me when I find the guy of my dreams and give me his blessing. And I’m thankful that I was outed at my high school because it gave me a skin that’s as tough as leather and I’m thankful that I’m living my life true to who I am instead of remaining in the safety of my closet that kept me alive but didn’t allow me to live.

8th avenue is my favorite avenue in the city.

And as the young couples are heading to the clubs that line the street I look into the window of one of the twenty four hour porn stores and there’s beautiful portraits of well muscled well hung men for sale in the window, some hugging, others kissing and…and…and who can deny that this is love? Who can see this as sin? Two humans holding each other…two humans making love…and I’m so glad for these stores because if it weren’t for porn I would have never known that others like me existed when I grew up on an Island whose main export is ignorance.

And these same people who claim to know God quote from my rendition of the book, my peoples’ telling of the story and they don’t even know how to read Hebrew and choose to ignore that eating lobster is an equal abomination to “lying with a man as one lies with a woman” but at least I have an out: I don’t lie with a man as I lie with a woman, I lie with a man as I lie with a man” – it’s about honesty…so to those at Red Lobster after their anti-gay demonstrations, what’s your excuse?

And it kills me because these people can’t be Christians. Jesus was so down and so chill and he got it in ways that most people still don’t. He hung out with hookers and thieves and the slags of society and he despised wealth and riches and he would be appalled to find that churches are covered in gold in areas of the world as the hungry die in the streets…he threw the sinners out of the Temple! He was a Tzaddik! He was righteous and sought Justice and what happened from the messenger to the message?

8th Avenue is my favorite avenue in the city.

And I look around me and a latino boy is up against a brick wall as he whispers in the ear of his lover who’s holding him there “Ay Papi…besemé…BESEMÉ!” his voice breathy, bated, and deep…and those who are in the closet want to walk by this scene and pretend that it’ll go away “just act ‘normal’ for once and maybe we’ll get our rights this year!” because what scares them most is to be out in the open and honest and the answer is very simple: well behaved people never make history and until we take an axe to every closet door the words of Percy Bysshe Shelley echo in my head “rise like lions after slumber in unvanquishable number, shake your chains to earth like dew which in sleep had fallen on you, ye are many they are few!…” and I shut my eyes and I try to see if I can feel the burning in my chest from the Summer of ’69 when Drag Queens took on the New York City police and won in what the victors call a Rebellion and the losers call a riot – with nothing more than righteous anger and high heeled shoes giving Traffic’s ‘low spark of high heeled boys’ a whole other unintended meaning.

And I can finally breathe because I don’t have to worry here about who I look at because they’re all looking back at me; and I hang around for a bit, not going into any club…not looking for anything in this country…and I’m lonely and I want to find someone to share my life with…and I know he’s out there, but he’s not on 8th Avenue and he doesn’t speak English or respond when I say “Ay Papi, yo quiero su cuerpo” because he speaks the language of my people and I’ve got another month until I can head home to Israel and until then I’ll just keep walking down 8th Avenue as I admire the bodies of these beautiful men who have the courage to be free, to be unapologetically masculine and gay and beautiful.

8th Avenue is my favorite avenue in the city.