WARNING: Explicit Imagery and Colloquial Language
The Boys : Show Me Your Life
where are our... where are our outraged religious leaders and our esteemed colleagues, where are our mothers and fathers and uncles and aunts, where are our mentors and guides speaking out together as strangers, throughout the depth and breadth of our communities with a shared desire to dispel that most despicable of appellations “male-child sexual abuse and rape.”
Charles Baudelaire, Le Spleen de Paris, 1864
Looking from outside into an open window one never sees as much as when one looks through a closed window. There is nothing more profound, more mysterious, more pregnant, more insidious, more dazzling than a window lighted by a single candle. What one can see out in the sunlight is always less interesting than what goes on behind a windowpane. In that black or luminous square life lives, life dreams, life suffers.
Across the ocean of roofs I can see a middle-aged woman, her face already lined, who is forever bending over something and who never goes out. Out of her face, her dress, and her gestures, out of practically nothing at all, I have made up this woman’s story, or rather legend, and sometimes I tell it to myself and weep.
If it had been an old man I could have made up his just as well.
And I go to bed proud to have lived and to have suffered in someone besides myself.
Perhaps you will say “Are you sure that your story is the real one?” But what does it matter what reality is outside myself, so long as it has helped me to live, to feel that I am, and what I am?
I do not have sex with children. I am more the temple slave than priest.
That, and a few thousand orphans to read this poem.
Even children who have been or are currently — whoring. Sexwork is not simply establishing boundaries; it’s about building them from the ground up, and WITH the kids I work with. They have to own the boundary, too. They have to be in on the creation of the thing. Their investment in the boundaries has to be the emotional equivalent of mine. We have to meet as equals. I am here to tell you that it’s often the child who engages in seduction. Because they have to test it. They have to really know. Is he any different from the rest of them. Or is he all bullshit, and what he wants is sex just like all the other people who have exploited us, and let us down.
I will not have sex with you. I am not like the rest of them.
I do not believe in love.
Mary Scriver is thinking: he is mixing up sex with love.
But I’m not. It is far, far more complicated than that.
I do not believe in love. I do not believe in sex.
What does that mean.
It means. I do not believe that either one of these words we attach as symbols to describe human behavior are meaningful.
What I believe in is survival.
Sex has sustained the species.
Love is an illusion that has sustained the species.
We’re supposed to believe in love. There have been a few movies made that express this sentiment. We are supposed to want sex. There have been a few movies made that express this sentiment as well.
The first thing I ever published was in Drummer magazine, and it was called A Farewell to Love.
I was living in New York and teaching blind children.
I was part of this mass public education machine. A monster. We pushed children through the day. We put them through a generic blender; we chewed them up, and then we spit them out. You’re educated. Now, go fend for yourself. Public education is a meatgrinder.
I had a student I was trying to reach. Because I thought he was beautiful. He was beautiful. He was twelve and damaged almost beyond belief.
If anyone touched him — this included bumping shoulders with other kids in line in the hall, or the bus driver trying to fasten his seat belt on the little yellow bus, the aide who tried to dress him in the morning, the barber, anyone he physically bumped into on the street; ANYONE who touched him in anyway caused Sam to throw himself on the ground or the floor, put his legs ion the air, and start screaming louder than any child I have ever heard scream: Fuck me fuck me fuck me fuck me fuck me fuck me!
It was unnerving to say the very least.
That was the year I decided I would work with sexually abused children.
As a human being, it has drained me. It has just sucked the life from me. It is a bottomless PIT from which there is no coming back. It is now what I DO.
I would advise against emailing me and self-righteously advising me to stop doing it.
Just fuck me fuck me fuck me fuck me fuck me. I, myself, am impotent. There is no there there. No drive. No attraction. It is a dull emptiness.
There are gay writers who have made the following supposition: he must be having sex with boys since he works with them and we do not believe they exist but he’s having sex with them because if you read his writing, these are intense relationships.
These people do not know me and they do not know my work in inclusion in special education and they have bloody axes to grind. Grind away, bitch. No one cares.
They have one thing right. These are intense relationships.
I am going to start sueing people to make them prove their crap.
You want to fuck with me. Prove it. You fucking prove it in a court of law and if you think anonymity on Blogger is going to save you, think again. Google has been forced by the courts to start releasing names.
Some hater on Wikipedia made that claim. The writing business is the politics of personal destruction and the worship of celebrity. Period.
Publishing and publishers can be summed up in one word. It is not a word any writer dares to use because they will be thrown out of the clubhouse on their ear.
I threatened to sue Wikipedia, and I would have sued. But James Wales had the bullshit removed.
I am dying to sue Wikipedia. Get it right. Someone should hold their feet to the fire. I would pay to see that. The next time they don’t get it right, they’re going to be in court. PROVE your allegations.
But they can’t. Because it never happened.
My job is to protect. And beyond that to teach the frequently beaten up, deranged, self-hating, suicidal, and all too frequently HIV positive, addicted homeless runaway adolescent sexworker how to protect himself.
He doesn’t know himself.
All he knows is that bottom of the sexual pit.
Oh, Tim Barrus is sexnegative we don’t understand why poor us.
I hate sex. I hate love. Every book I have ever written is complete bullshit. I cling to survival. It is an unsteady raft in raging waves. Writing is nothing. It is an emptiness. I have my work. Work is everything. There is only work. The kids I work with are worth every ounce of energy it takes to barely know them much less breaking through. Breaking through to what. It’s not about breaking through. It’s about survival. It’s about not drowning in the sea of human shit you refer to as a culture.
I have started an art program called Show Me Your Life. We give kids at-risk video cameras so they can show us their lives. Often, what they are showing us is stuff you could never in a million years put on the Internet. A photograph of a terrorist with his brains blown out is nothing.
Picture this: The black limo pulls up to the apartment complex. I am wearing black leather. Everything is black. Everything has always been black. Everything still is black. I am colorblind. Black shimmers midnight mirage, entanglements and blindfolds, the prayer for Ajax was for light, the embalmed distribution of us lurid darklings darting in and out of cars and cabs; the drivers of the cabs always know when the fare is another whore. There are all manner of whores. Gender is irrelevant.
I would not say sex. I would not say the sex was irrelevant — it paid for my life where publishing would only leave me homeless — sex is not gender. Publishing is not a life. Fully fifty percent of the men who paid me to show up in the places where they lived either wanted to talk or they wanted me to tie them up and jerk them off. Most sexwork is dull and boring. The limo was sheer affectation. If he’s showing up in a limo he probably doesn’t have AIDS because only cheap, junkiewhores had AIDS. I did and I do know how these men thought. Think. Even today. The limo was easy. I just called them and they’d take me anywhere in San Francisco. But I had to fuck the owner of the service once a week. It was not a problem. I would not say the sex was irrelevant to survival. But I would say then and I would say now that the sex was anything but meaningful on any level other than the one any animal fucks and runs lives on. I was an animal of the night and knew it.
My friends were other junkies and whores. Often, they paid me to fuck them, too. By day, we were artists (and, god knows, photographers). By night, we were the glooming headlights on the streets of rolling fog. The limo drivers never had much to say to me. They were just doing their job, and I was doing mine. You punched in and you punched out. In scenes I did in my playroom, after an hour the radio would blip on. The worse the music, the better to end the scene. You paid me upfront before you removed your coat. I had a kid to support. I was a single parent. You try raising a kid in San Francisco on what you can make as a teacher. Whores make lots more than teachers. I would not call the motivation greed. I would call it the residue of endurance.
Outcalls were dangerous. I was raped in an apartment on the first floor of an apartment building on the corner of Carl and Stanyon across the street from the Carl Hotel. Google maps has a great picture of the blue and beige building. This is not an impoverished neighborhood. It costs a lot of money to live here. I fought my way out of that building and fled down the street half-naked.
Law enforcement just about anywhere laughs at the idea a whore can be raped. It is an irony to them. I am convinced that the rape was where I picked up HIV. There is a word, too, for HIV that no one ever uses. That word is diminished. When you first learn you have been infected, in that moment what you need is not emotional support, and it isn’t information. It’s money. HIV is going to cost you everything you make from this point forward. The drugs I am now taking cost ten thousand dollars a month and the price just keeps going up as do insurance rates. Without the Dronabinol I take, I do not think I could make it through the day. My bones break like twigs from avascular necrosis. I have had many of them replaced. The idea that the first thing you are going to need when you first hear the term — you have AIDS — is a warm fuzzy from your support group is laughable. You will need this kind of propping up. But what you are going to need here and now and for the rest of your life is a lot of money.
Perhaps your wanting to live through this nightmare is a form of greed. What I crave is time. It is more precious than money.
I met Cole at Mark I. Chester’s. 1229 Folsom. Next to Ironworks. Cole was sixteen. No one really wanted to know that. Like most of us, he was doing sexwork. “Do you get many kids,” he asked me.
“A few,” I said. “If I think they’re under eighteen, I leave, or I kick them out.”
“Sometimes they’re boys I know. They’re in high school. And I want to fuck them. I want to hurt them.”
Cole is dead. He never made it to seventeen. At the end, Cole was the one lost in a world of hurt.
He had a pimp. Jackson hung out strangely enough at a heroin bar on the corner of Haight and Fillmore. He sat at a table in the back with a sawed-off twelve gauge on his lap. Why Cole loved him was an enigma I could never figure out. Jackson loved the money Cole brought him. The illusion pimps sell is the illusion of protection. Cole was willing to pay for that illusion. For his part, Jackson would sell us drugs. Something had to soften the augment decay lent to the destiny surrounding the moratorium stolen from any given afternoon and imposed upon the nubile complicity of the neon darkness we lived in. Relationships in this world are diagonal obliquities. You did not have relationships. You lived in wombs and nests and you knew people who sometimes slept on your couch that you got high with.
Cole and I did not have sex. Sex was something we laughed a lot about. Love was the concavity that existed just beyond the exomorphic ligature any sphincter muscle could wrap itself around and was usually full of shit.
After Cole died, I received an unexpected call from a man who identified himself as Cole’s father. They had discovered my number in their dead son’s stuff. Would I consider coming over to talk with them. I do not know why I did this but I did. I kept thinking they were looking for some kind of explanation that might lead to closure. It was a stupid thing to think but there it was. They simply wanted to know why their son had become a prostitute and how was it they had lost hold of the thread that was his life. I did not know the answer to any of those questions. They lived on Jackson Street in Pacific Heights.
Their position was that Cole had everything.
Protection. Cole did not have protection. I do not know why he thought this. But he did.
Sex was just the cave the two of us had dug our way into. Age was irrelevant. Cole took about four or five showers a day. Just to get the smell off.
If I was going to have sex with kids, I would have done it then. But prostitution is a blind alley upon whose concrete streets the swelling for sanity sings fuck me fuck me fuck me fuck me and putting your legs into the air is entirely superfluous.
The boys I deal with want it to come and cum with guarantees. They want me to guarantee them that I can be there when they need me. Maybe I can. Maybe I cannot. Who does not want a guarantee. But it’s not real and no one can give them that. The only guarantee this life is going to give you is a close proximity to death. Cole turned tricks until he could not turn tricks anymore. The ride from Jackson Street on the 22 Fillmore down to Haight and heroin was only a few blocks away. Cole was a nomad whose age was as ancient as a prehistoric relic.
Do I regret whoring. Not really. It gave me insights I would not have acquired anywhere else. It’s writing I regret. It was a whoredom far more somnambulent in its blindness than prostitution. I do not build or sail the boat. I am just the water dog.
Giving them what they want usually involves some amount of fetch.
I left Cole’s parents’ house and walked sadly through Alta Plaza. Jack Fritscher wrote it best in his The Barber of 18th and Castro. It was anything but a world away.
“Deep inside Robert that thin tensile strand of generations snapped. In a moment of his own infinite sadness he realized that he too had lost the face of his father. In the stead of the man who pretended to sire him, and had really abused him, stood only shadow images and half-remembered sounds of the sweet times; the wet-lipped kiss from that unshaved face in the dark over his bed.”
During his stays with me, Cole was always crawling into my bed. You could pompously call it sex but you would be wrong. He always had a book he was currently reading.
“Do you know Saul Williams,” he asked me.
I did not. I am still a Neanderthal. An extinct member of the Homo genus known from Pleistocene specimens.
I held him in my arms.
Show me your life.
Saul Williams, “The Continent”
“Last night I laid within your continent
That, and a few thousand orphans to read this poem.”
THE INNOCENT BED by Tim Barrus and Mary Scriver (aka Prairie Mary), excerpt taken from their collaborative project Orpheus in the Catacombs; a remarkable contemporary story of adolescent boys with AIDS. http://orpheus-catacombs.tumblr.com
The symbols of sex in our media-driven culture are bed and bath. Both are sold as playgrounds of enormous luxury: downy duvets, unbleached Egyptian cotton sheets (satin is passé), brass bedsteads, gauzy drapes and rosy lamps. Huge pastel tubs with water-jets and ledges for candles and fragrances, stacks of carefully folded towels. Naked and nubile girls and boys in cumulus clouds of suds.
My female cousins and friends, all of us retirement age, read in bed every night. In the days I was a circuit-riding minister, I was always shocked to be put in a guest room with no reading light by the bed. But it was nice when the animals and children of the household cuddled down with me, sometimes arriving while I was sleeping so that I was surprised in the morning. There was a lot of innocence and trust in it.
I do not read in bed because now the end of my spine hurts when I sit on it that way. My “springs” are a slab of plywood and my “mattress” is a slab of foam. The room is cool and dark. It’s for sleeping. At my age that often means something like thinking, but that’s a different room so I get up.
In "Orpheus in the Catacombs” or the email from which it was drawn, there is a place where the boys remark on how starkly monastic Tim’s room is. Their own rooms are full of stuff and clothes and posters. In those days Tim was flying everywhere and came home so jet-lagged he slept for a long time. I recall a photo the boys took of him sleeping with his arm hanging over the edge of the bed. He said that the last thing he did when he “tucked in the boys” was to gently remove the iPods from their ears. That was the little kids. The oldest boys checked on him when THEY came in from their prowls and, like parents, removed his headphones. He had the idea he could learn French in his sleep — NOT.
Then there was the night that everyone started on Sustiva which causes wild terrifying dreams. Tim asked them to double up so they wouldn’t wake up suddenly alone, out of their minds. One smaller boy was left over, so Kilian and Eavan took him between them. Another night I remember vividly was when they had all just moved to Umbria, an old monastery, arriving ahead of furniture on the mule trail, so throwing out their sleeping bags on the floor in the same large room. While the boys slept, Tim was sitting in his bag, but leaning against the wall, writing on his laptop — what else. Nino woke. He was Italian and knew the territory but not the group. He came to Tim, slid into his bag to keep warm, and put his arm around Tim to comfort — not Nino — Tim. Sometimes a bed is a place of safety and sometimes not.
When the fear in the night is overwhelming, they came to Tim’s bed, not for sex anymore than the dog Navajo (already IN the bed) was there for sex. Like toddlers sleeping beside their parents’ beds, they rolled out their sleeping bags alongside on the floor. These were often kids who had been molested in their own beds before they came to this safe circle. (There’s a student vid of a bedroom door opening and a huge dark shape entering.) If a boy were sick, Tim loaned him the dog. When the dog was mortally ill, the boys and Tim slept beside her pop-up kennel on the bed.
The vocabulary of bed. In many cold countries, in many poor households, the whole family shares a bed, maybe one with hot air vented under it. To associate every bed with sex is a monomania. Some of us sleep alone. Some of us sleep innocently embracing.
The boy who I named Awee shared a bed with me in a bordello filled with Latino and African-American prostitutes.
The pay phone really was down the hall.
Not one hooker found our situation unusual.
Or at odds with anything.
They would take the night off from work (do you know men who would have, I don’t) to sit up with him while I went out there on these fill the prescription nightmare adventures. Drug store to drug store. The drugs were so exotic then that the prescriptions were often almost impossible to fill. The only way we could be anywhere near the hospital that could do the most good — not for long — and was surrounded by an upper-middle-class university town, was to live in one small room with the marginalized. Give me a hooker over a Sunday school teacher any day. I had to roar with laughter when Lady Gaga’s disciples turned out to be twelve latino guys in a Southern California motorcycle gang. She rode with Jesus. But she was in love with Judas.
That video spoke to me. We were down with the whores and fishes. We could not afford so much as Motel Six.
Frankly, we never thought about it.
Or that we were being immoral.
Cleaning up someone’s shit and then still loving them in the morning was a focus I was in AWE OF.
You, Joe Public, you didn’t do that. I did that. And I do not give a flying fuck what the Los Angeles Weekly or Gawker says or thinks. They were not there.
That I could DO THAT told me I could hang in there. That there were still things I could contribute.
There wasn’t a moment that I can think of that was about sex.
Sex is reciprocity.
Exactly, from what place is a child supposed to give his fifty percent. It’s NOT THERE. How CAN it be. He needs dances and lovers and trials and errors and a lifetime to figure it all out. He was a CHILD.
I can’t imagine making love to a marble statue or a blow up mannequin. Or a child.
That in the middle of this crisis, I could still GIVE, and with very little money; THAT WAS ME discovering me.
I already knew he was beautiful. They reach out and grab me by the throat. Not the balls.
But where do I fit into that. Grabbing. I do know the answer to that musical riddle. I am grabbing moments.
You have them when you have them.
Beds, bikes, beaches. He’s hanging on tight as he can. Bugs in your mouth.
Always headed out of Dodge.
tim barrus/ bodies on a bed
bodies on a bed/
i am always astonished at the chasm between what people see and what actually is/ it is a very large chasm/ i am betting people will see sex in this photo i have called bodies on a bed/
yes/ but they are burning up/
they are in the night sweat stage/ they will soak three sets of sheets tonight/ and both of them are impotent/ i wonder why it is people see sex when most of us are impotent/ your cock will not go hard/ forget about medication/ it will only be one more pill/ one more pill that doesn’t work (your cock will not go hard if you take it)/ i would call what goes on: holding one another/ i would not call it sex/ fucking someone in the ass who has chronic diarrhea is a trainwreck/ (for that matter)/ sucking someone’s cock who has chronic diarrhea is a trainwreck, too/ his cock will not go hard and neither will yours/ even if you could cum there is no cum to cum/ it’s a dry cum and about as exciting as your father’s cadillac/ not very/ but people want to see sex because they are blind to any brotherhood whatsoever/
i am the medical advocate for several boys and the last time we were at the clinic the doctor who was filling out forms asked: how did you get aids/ at which time one of the boys explodes with how the fuck should i know what kind of fuck question is that!/ the doctor is only the poor soul who has to fill out the forms/ he is now going to stick his finger up your shit hole because he is an idiot bend over/ sexually abused boys and fingers/ even those of doctors just filling out forms/
like hell they will/
their viral loads are still quite high (better than last time though)/ and he’s going to change their anti-retrovirals because the current ones may as well be chocolate-covered cherry candies/ the kind godiva sells for three hundred bucks a cherry/ and the form wants to know if they have night sweats/
(they are burning up)/ and what you see as sex i see as holding on to whoever will hold you/
and what you see is sex/ i bathe them in cool water with a washcloth on their bed/ if you see sex in any of this you need to get a life)/
tim barrus/ brainworms
(Cinemateque is a 24/7 safe house for sexually abused and battered boys with HIV/AIDS)
remi has always been the younger dancer among us/
here overlooking the runways of our lives/
some virus hangs between us like an icon/
and you wonder why i left/
remi came to me to apologize/
crawling into my bed/
everything is always remi's fault/
remi hates himself/
it was quite late/
i hate it when they do that/
stay out of my bed/
they never listen/
i'm sorry he said the brainworms are bad tonight/
what do you mean brainworms/
i mean these worms inside my head/
crawling around in my blood/
remi, there is no such thing as worms inside anyone's head that crawl around in blood/
by now i was pissed off/
and wide awake/
you guys never let me sleep/
and you wonder why i am tired/
but i can see them in my eyes remi said/
there are no brainworms in your eyes i told him/
but i am sorry the brainworms are killing me/
there are no brainworms in your head there is no such thing as a brainworm/
i see them he said/
maybe if you hug me they will go away the brainworms/
i doubted it/
but i hugged him anyway/
what did i have to lose but another night of sleep/
the next day i took him to the clinic he has dementia they said/
on the way home he said i am sorry i have brainworms it is all my fault/
remi, what can we do to make the brainworms go away please tell me we can dance he said when we dance they go away/
and so we danced the dances of dementia/
washing my body in the water of that war/
and you wonder why i fight for the kid's medications/ for a cure/