R.I.P. Pete Burns

The sudden death of singer and Dead or Alive front-man Pete Burns struck me hard when I first read about it this morning. Not only has his music brought great joy to my life, his brave defiance of gender norms was a crucial source of inspiration for me when I was a teenager.

tumblr_nh7u1qg9cx1rl00x0o1_500I first discovered Pete Burns and Dead or Alive in 2006, not long after I came out as a gay man and was beginning to struggle with my gender identity. I grew up in the 1990’s with few examples of queer people in the media. Gay men and women were only beginning to creep into our collective comfort zones but representation was still strictly limited. Consequently, gender variant people were practically non-existent in popular media of any kind. Unlike many of my peers, I saw no one like myself in the media, and felt acutely lost when I struggled to make sense of my gender. What I felt I was and wanted to be did not seem to exist outside of myself. Seeing Pete Burns’s androgynous appearance was like a light in the darkness. He set me on a path of self-discovery and, ultimately, self-acceptance.

Over the years I have gotten used to hearing Dead or Alive dismissed as a “one hit wonder” and Pete Burns’s personal appearance ridiculed but I am deeply grateful to see how many people fondly remember him and his music. His music will always have a special place in my heart, not only for the simple aesthetic joy it has brought me, but for the strength he gave me during a period of great personal change.

Things As They Are

There can be no doubt about the peculiar nature of my gender
and the appearance it affects;
the curiosity it inspires is something I have patiently endured
and accepted.
Most will merely stare, only to remove their gaze
as soon mine should cross with theirs,
and some will persist beyond a reasonable glance
with dumb obliviousness of their impropriety.
Some are vicious provocateurs
who intrude upon the serenity of their victim’s mind
with a cruel remark or a threat of violence.
Years of experience have accustomed me to their occurrence,
having the dual effect of habituating and sensitizing my mind
to their poisonous purpose,
but the compassionate and comprehending love,
which I have received
in such abundance from my family and friends,
protects and secures my character
from the compelling imposition of petty malevolence.

Despite the strength of my resolve and the low regard
in which I hold my tormentors,
my composure sometimes falters under the weight
of frequent ridicule from strangers
and the fear that someone will one day follow through
on their threat or even take my life.
Though renewing my resolve is easy enough,
I cannot deny the effect these occasions have upon my senses
and the prolonged, and often hidden, impact
they continue to have.

The integrity of my androgynous identity has frequently been
the subject of praise
but it has also been the reason for my rejection.
The very first man who returned my affections did not
seem to mind at first
but over time he admitted to my awareness his discomfort
and his desire for a more masculine boyfriend.

It would be the first of several such disappointments.
Many other men, being heterosexual, can never love me,
so long as I remain male,
yet I have found myself falling for them
despite how bitterly aware I am of their apparent indifference.
The few men who have had any interest in me
will only contact me in secret
and, though they confess to love my body,
their interest stops there;
after all, men such as they merely want a piece of “auxiliary ass,”
a substitute for the girlfriend who refuses to be sodomized.

Though it does not entirely ameliorate my pain,
I feel far more comfortable in the androgynous category
than in any other
and have determined to embrace it bravely.
Strangers call me she but my friends call me he;
I often find my self-perception shifting freely between the two
and take delight in the intricacy of their interplay—
free to feel whole … and wholly myself
without the traditional gender dichotomy.

Cause and Consequence

A relationship never ends on formal terms alone.

With false fortitude, I listened politely as he eagerly recited
the various praises and fine attributes of his new lover
and secretly felt an intense, sickening sensation,
in the pit of my stomach,
far worse than any other pain I incurred on his behalf.
For fear of exciting his resentment, I forbore all protestations
and suffered the final injury he would ever inflict upon me.

In a moment of jealous rage!,
I drove the knife as deeply as its short length could allow
and brought forth from the wound a steady stream of warmest blood.
Despite the horror of my actions, I felt neither pain nor distress,
and was gladdened to be sequestered within the sacred confines
of a psychiatric ward—
though it hardly felt like a home, the absence of my former lover
and his dominating presence brought great, unparalleled relief.

Old lovers simply do not make good friends.

Denied

It is strange how a single memory can disappear
from conscious awareness for years,
seemingly bearing no apparent sign that it was ever there.
Then, as if it had never been forgotten,
it returns with every detail and emotion intact.

So it was with some surprise that I suddenly remembered
the handsome Marine who once, and briefly, befriended me.
If it had not been for his effort, that first email he sent to me,
we never would have met;
we never would have known that we, so apparently different,
would have had something in common and something to share.
If it had only been up to me I would have sided with fear
and passed him by—bitterly assuring myself
that someone like him
would never want to know someone like me.

For weeks everything went well but then,
suddenly and without warning,
he ceased all communication with me
and set his profile to private,
forever cutting me out of his world.
If I had not feared confirming my suspicions,
I might have asked for an explanation,
but, as I have done with so many opportunities,
I sided with my fears and forgot about him.

Venus Envy

My right leg is covered with approximately thirty
1/4 inch holes,
supposedly made by burrowing insects;
when I apply pressure to the skin
a thick, dark red liquid oozes out from them.

* * *

As fever develops with annual germination,
and revives feelings I thought were well-contained,
nature once again proves that it has the upper hand,
and thus reminds me that this thing I hold in my hand
is more than just an elaborate urethra.
Short, handsome, and good with impressions …
he sedates my bitterness with a joke
and arouses a smile.
I delight in the stories he tells me about … his cock,
fully knowing that it, and he, are far beyond the reach
of my grotesque affections.

Sheltered within the pretense of a stoic ideal
and the bitter lessons of my failures,
I force the greatest indifference to the world and myself,
and make light of lust to hide its familiar face.
Inactivity alone makes me forget
how much I enjoy the warmth of another man’s flesh
and the relief his company promises to bring.

Now, hear me out:
To many my appearance seems a conspicuous contradiction,
of qualities and characteristics that do not mix,
yet I rarely perceive this supposed incongruity anymore.
In fact, such distinctions between the proper man
and proper woman
are now almost irrelevant to me
yet despite my usual comfort
and the cavalier indifference I effect,
a small but vexing desire manifests itself
from some old, unused unconscious waste.
Its demands can only be suppressed and denied,
not relieved but forgotten by distraction,
and inevitably returns in dream.

(Scene: His chamber, a large apartment bedroom
decorated with black, modern furnishings.)

Again … I saw him in a dream, this time embracing,
his body undressed and mine,
although it technically was and still is a secret to me.
My mind filled in the necessary details
and guided our actions with remarkable ease and skill,
fulfilling the longstanding desires I tried to forget.

On most occasions I manifest as female
to better fit his parts
but on some I become the crude invader of his needs.
He resists my hands, my humble offer of affection,
and cries out from the pain of penetration;
I panic, feel shame and guilt for the crime,
but at the height of the drama the characters vanish,
leaving only their wretched yearnings behind.

I’m told: “Breasts won’t grow quite as large
once the body reaches thirty years,”
yet I do not feel that this is who I am.
I am neither man nor woman,
and no manner of magic divining rod
will assuredly lead me to the well of vital necessity.
This is the same old moral I am forced to recall
after each and every painful cycle:
What some might believe to transcend all
does not, in fact, pervade all!

The path on which my course is seemingly set may not be
the only route open to me,
for I can never know what new and more promising avenues
I will find on my way
yet in spite of my periodic doubts I can reasonably assess
what direction is ultimately best for me
and the meaning of my destiny.

* * *

My right leg is covered with approximately thirty
1/4 inch holes,
supposedly made by burrowing insects;
when I apply pressure to the skin
a thick, dark red liquid oozes out from them.
I hear their threatening buzz but do not fret;
their instinctual task amuses me.

My Life So Far

When I think back upon my twenty-seven years of life two things come to mind.  Oh, dear god, I’m nearly thirty!  and the fact that I have been living openly as a gay and gender-fluid person for a full decade now.  The last ten years have not been easy but I count them among my happiest yet because I was able to live them as myself.

Les Fleur Du Mal (Music Review)

Cover artwork for the standard edition CD.

Cover artwork for the standard edition CD.

One of the few things that kept me going through the lonely years of my early twenties was the music of the German musician Anna-Varney Cantodea, best known as the sole participant in Sopor Aeternus & the Ensemble of Shadows. Her music appealed to me for several reasons. The music, image, and lyrical content all appealed to me in a manner I had not yet found in any other band or musician. Much of this appeal to attribute the content of her lyrics, which are not only quite imaginative and clever but always intensely emotional and sincere. It might all seem rather melodramatic to other but, as a passionate person myself, it complemented my own personality perfectly.

Although I can relate to many of the experiences and sentiments Varney expresses in her albums, Les Fleurs Du Mal struck a particularly intimate note. It tells a bittersweet story about a complicated love affair with a man who cannot accept Cantodea’s queer status. Despite all her efforts to comfort and love him, the album ends rather sadly, with Contodea renouncing sex and love in The Virgin Queen, but despite this and other undeniably sad elements in the album, the tone is not despairing. In fact, it’s frequently playful, humorously ironic, and confident.

“Hänsel, call your soldiers back, this witch sticks to her gingerbread.
Girlfriends, wives or fiancées will save your sacred straightness from disgrace.”

“Some men are like chocolate,
but most of them are like shit
and if you don’t have the experience
to spot that tiny difference
you’re likely to fall for all of it.”

“Quickly erasing your lust, all we inspire is disgust
But then, of course, you can never be sure
and that’s the face that’s frightening you!”

The music is rather difficult to describe, apart from it being a complex interplay of numerous instruments and sounds. Overall, it tends to be more upbeat and funky than most of her album tend to me. To make things even more unusual, Cantodea hired a boy’s and men’s choir to performed some of the vocals. Not all Sopor fans enjoy this element–a friend one mine even deemed it “too gay”–but in my estimation the choir vocals really compliment the sound and tone of the album.

The album was originally released in both a limited edition box-set and vinyl. In 2007, when they were first released, these were the only copies available commercially. I actually both the album after only hearing the song La Morte D’Arthur but, a risk I only take on bands I like a lot. I wasn’t disappointed. The artwork imitates an Avon cosmetics catalogue, advertising products promises to hide the signs of sexual attraction and mock romance. Fortunately, the album has also been released both digitally and on a standard edition CD.

Whether you enjoy goth music or not, Les Fleurs Du Mal deserves your attention. It tells a unique story, one we seldom see in music generally, and does so with such sincerity, imagination, and power.