Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Kafka Paper

Once in a while, usually when it's relevant, I like to tell the story about how I squeaked out of gym in college because I could elect to take a health credit instead, which is exactly what I did. This class, Psychology of Adjustment, was perfect for me. The teacher was an older hippie woman and we wrote a lot of papers. These papers had to be at least four pages, but we were encouraged to stop writing whenever we felt like we'd said everything we had to say. Incidentally, my papers generally ran into eight to ten pages each. This particular teacher absolutely loved me, and endlessly praised my writing, calling it both humorous and provocative-weather that is true or not, I'll let you decide. I think it's very indicative of who I was two years ago when I wrote it.

I still talk about one particular paper I wrote for this class, feeling it was among the strongest writing I'd ever done. In eight pages, I got to expound on nearly every subject that makes my inner geek happy-musical theater, literature, homosexuality, bisexuality, politics, and religion. I also painted the briefest, most accurate portrait of one of my dearest friends and got to make very light fun of a man I no longer speak to. The task was to tell our dear Dr. Jae who we thought we were, and what would happen if we woke up one morning completely changed into something different, ala Kafka's Metamorphosis. We had to talk about how our friends and family would react to our change, how we lived with it. For this particular paper, I conducted an experiment to see what that reaction would be like, on a much smaller scale.

I had been talking about this particular paper several times recently, and went on a quest through the bowels of my hard drive, with no luck. I thought it was lost forever. And then, after a moderate stroke of genius, I looked through the archives of the online journal I've kept since high school, and I Found It.

So, without further ramblings, I bring to you, "The Kafka Paper".


In Jerry Herman’s brilliantly funny musical La Cage aux Folles, the character Albin, tired of hiding who he is, sings the moving anthem, “I Am What I Am.” A verse of the poignant lyrics are as follows:

I don’t want praise, I don’t want pity

I bang my own drum
Some think its noise, I think its pretty
And so what if I love each sparkle and each bangle?
Why not try things from a different angle?
Your life is a sham till you can shout,

The song has since become something of a coming out anthem for homosexuals, bisexuals, and everyone in between, and was also on one of the season soundtracks for Showtime’s gay drama “Queer as Folk”. The reason I cite this particular song is because everyone does (or should) go through periods in their lives where they question who they are and what they believe in. I’ve gone through this soul searching process thrice in the last ten years, twice for religious reasons, once for questioning my sexuality.

In a much more recent musical, Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx’s Avenue Q, the cast sings a beautiful ensemble piece called “I Wish I Could Go Back to College”, in which the character Princeton, a young man fresh out of school and looking for his place in the world, sings the following line: “In college you know who you are.” In Princeton’s spirit, I am in college, and not only do I know who I am, I have a pretty good idea of what I want and need to do with my life. I know what I believe in, I know where my sexual attractions are, and unlike other times in my life, I’ve finally stopped running from the truth-I embrace and celebrate it. I am who I am, I love who I love, and though I recognize that I am ever evolving, and will until I die, this is where I stand at this particular moment in my life.

I’m a twenty-two year old Taurus, politically way left of Bill Clinton, liberal socialist, pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, anti-death penalty, anti-discrimination, anti-racism, and anti-Bush. Religiously, I am a cultural Catholic who attends an Episcopalian church two hours every year (in addition to the rare wedding or funeral) on December 24th, but for the rest of the year, I subscribe to my own brand of Agnosticism that says, “I don’t know if God exists and I really don’t care.” Sexually, I am emotionally and physically bisexual and spiritually homosexual (Try figuring that one out, and then explain it to me.). I don’t believe in violence, war, guns, pantyhose, scare tactics, rape, politics, censorship, shaving your legs for reasons other than aesthetics, or political correctness. I sound like a cat who missed the bus to Woodstock by a few generations, don’t I? But that’s who I am. Who I am is what I believe in, and in this world, you have to believe in something. I believe in the healing power of music, choice, sunrises, sunsets, sexual freedom between consenting adults, literature, truth, beauty, freedom, and above all else I believe in Love. I believe everyone, especially AIDS patients, should be as free to light up a joint as they are to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol, safely and responsibly. I strongly believe in the importance of education, and that every child who wants to go to college should be able to go. I read banned books, listen to uncensored music, and proudly quote Douglas Adams, Jon Stewart, and Allen Ginsberg’s poetry at great length. My great passion is music, my love is literature, and my intense fascination is social-history.

I was clearly born in the wrong era. Do 20-somethings nowadays really listen to National Public Radio, watch PBS, and care about the state of the union? Do they watch The History Channel with such religious zeal they’ve seen all those documentaries at least twice? Do they keep a visible list of the books they’ve read in the last year, and books they want to read? Do they get sick of the apathy in people our age when it comes to political issues that affect them? Do they find themselves having to seek out older folks who do care about those things, just to have someone to talk to? Do they really watch CNN and C-SPAN? I answer all those questions with a resounding YES. So maybe I’ll never win a popularity contest because I was too busy caring more about the election than Britney Spears, and I really am an incurable nerd. I will say, however, if I ever end up on Jeopardy, I have good odds at giving them all a run for their money. Ken Jennings, eat your heart out. Since I readily embrace my nerd status, I’ve often thought about what it would be like if, say, I were to wake up tomorrow as a flamboyantly gay Catholic male.
I wake alone. There are no girlfriends or boyfriends to speak of, but should I be spending the night at the apartment of the young man I’m sleeping with (who once told me he supports gay marriage as long as they’re both hot), I’m sure he’d be in for quite a shock. Long before he’s had his coffee, he’d be questioning how he felt about what he’d been doing the previous night with who he thought was a woman. I imagine myself looking down at that beautifully proportioned young man, and into the lovely brown eyes and at my newly acquired body parts that look an awful lot like his, and hear the following conversation in my head: “Sorry, Fletcher, I guess I’m a man”. “What happened to your vagina?” He’d ask, quickly pulling the covers over us, or jumping out of bed so quickly his poster of Miss November is almost compromised in the process. “I don’t know.” I shrug, and as I peer at Miss November, I realize that I am much less interested looking at her than I had been the previous night. Jennifer had enjoyed watching her as Fletcher was going about his business, but me? The newly transformed person inside this male body had no interest in her. I ponder this as I feel for my shorts and leave a very confused friend in a state of shock as I stumble into the bathroom and take a good look at myself in the mirror.

The change is astounding. The hair that has been long all my life is gone, replaced with a short cut that looks like it had been done only twenty minutes ago. The color is different as well, and has been replaced with Jennifer’s natural color-dark brown. The male body I see has been sculpted into one that is tall, lean, and flat. Oh my god, I’m one of those gay guys Jennifer used to go nuts about. I realize, as I flashed a smile and, borrowing some clothes from Jennifer’s very, very confused friend, find her car keys and jump into her purple Neon. I proceed to drive to Jennifer’s favorite coffee shop where I get bagels and coffee, drive to the beach, and contemplate what I am to do next.

I desperately try to remember those shows Jennifer had seen on TV about transsexuals and how one of the first steps they perform is to create a new identity. On the beach that morning, I christened myself Joshua and celebrated by going to the mall and finding something to wear until either I change back into a woman or I am able to go through Jennifer’s closet and find what still fits. I catch Joshua swishing his hips back and forth more than Jennifer ever did, and, knowing that its not entirely safe to do such things in Daytona, he carefully monitors his patterns of speech, gestures, and those hips.

When I’ve procured something wearable that will project my new image as metrosexual, rather than the fag-of-the-month, I pile into Jennifer’s car and drive home, wondering what has happened. Why, in all of God’s green earth, did He choose me to have this opportunity? He must have known Jennifer, though she’s not exactly the most religious woman on the planet, has been dying to know what it’s like to literally walk through life for a period of time in the shoes of a gay man. She must be ecstatic, of course, I can feel her screaming, “How lucky are you, Joshua, you get to sleep with all the gay boys I’ve ever liked!” but at the same time, I’m scared. Daytona isn’t exactly the safest place for me. But where can I go? New York, a city Rita Mae Brown once described as a city so full of queers that one more won’t rock the boat, is too far away. There is one place, I realize, much closer to home, where my newly acquired swish will be welcome with open arms. I hear myself calling Jennifer’s best friend Laura and inform her that I’ll be at her apartment before the end of the afternoon, and that everything will be explained as best I can.
After talking to Jennifer’s very confused friend, I find myself inexplicably driving into the church on the corner, where Jennifer is only seen on a rare occasion. Crossing myself, I quietly enter the dark wood doors and sinking into a pew, I inexplicably start to cry. I can hear Jennifer asking why we’re in a church, but I am crying so, I can barely understand her questions. I see the familiar face of the Father, an old friend of Jennifer’s, and cry harder. He places a hand on my shoulder and asks what was wrong, and I confessed to him that I was gay, and how on earth I was going to live my life as a devout Episcopalian and a homosexual. I hear Jennifer’s voice in my head, saying that God loves me just the way I am, but how would she know that? She doesn’t even believe in anything! Father Jeff turns to me and says that nothing is wrong with my thoughts or feelings towards men, that God does love me. Jeff and I pray together, which Jennifer is stunned to find was the first genuine prayer she’s said in years. I shake his hand in gratitude and piling into Jennifer’s purple Neon, begin the two hour drive to Gainesville, to see her best friend.

Laura takes a long look at me and asks me who I am and what happened. I explain the fantastic story-I had been sleeping over at Fletcher’s house (At which she shook her head and said, “Again?!”) and I woke up like this. She had more questions that I hadn’t even begun to ponder. How long will this last? Does this transformation mean that Jennifer is still bisexual, or something else? I told her that the transformation hadn’t been only physical. I explained to her about the church, and how I had broken down and cried. She expressed the same confusion that Jennifer had: “You don’t believe in anything!” I know, I tried to tell her, if anyone knows that it’s you. I explained, how, upon scrawling a note to Fletcher, I discovered I was now right handed. I also mentioned how I was pretty sure I was gay, a fact that was cemented when I realized I wasn’t slightly interested in her-something I knew Jennifer had been for the duration of their enduring friendship. Laura, bless her, took a long look at me and asked in a quiet voice I had never heard from her before, what I should be called. I asked her to call me Joshua, and she hugged me, declaring I could stay as long as I’d liked, and she could try to hook me up with a few of her gay friends. After living with Jennifer’s best friend (who quickly grew accustomed to living with another gay guy) for a while, I seemed content in never changing back, though I could tell that Jennifer wanted to come back. A week later, waking beside Laura after a night at her favorite gay bar, I found myself once again with parts that looked more like hers and less like those I had had the previous week.

The thing that most interested me about Kafka’s Metamorphosis (and there were many) was that Gregor never questioned why he was transformed into a hideous bug. He literally shrivels up and dies because he realizes his life is completely devoid of meaning. In my scenario, Joshua was still able to live a relatively normal existence, while still being with friends and participating in things that Jennifer once enjoyed. Joshua, unlike Gregor, had something to hold onto while he waited to see what happened next. Of course, the only way to know how someone will react to change is to experience change. In a seemingly unrelated event, I dyed my hair red last week. I had never done it before, and always wanted to do so. So, on Wednesday night after my Italian class, I went to have a few drinks at my favorite bar, talked to the bartender, and subjected myself to a baseball game on TV. I drove home thinking about change. More specifically, I thought about what you had said to the girl who could never imagine being gay-that maybe to explore that, she needed (but didn’t have to) write about it. I’d had this thing I was afraid of doing, and I found myself believing the only way to know how people (myself included) would react, was to just do it. The first question out of my mother’s mouth was “WHY?” I needed a change. I did it, and you know what? Every time I’ve passed a mirror in the last week, I can’t help but laugh-My hair is RED! And I absolutely love it. The consensus has been favorable, and unlike my imaginary penis, the reaction is genuine, and my hair is going to be this way for white a while, and I think even though I could definitely get used to the idea of being a redhead (just like I think I could get used to the idea of being a gay man), I’ll probably still laugh a bit whenever I look into the mirror.



I've changed very little since writing this paper. I'm 26 years old, and I no longer talk to Fletcher. Laura is still my best friend, and I have every confidence she would react exactly the same if such a thing were to actually happen.

No comments: