In Defiance of Coda – Kyle Bella


[in defiance of coda]                                                                                   


first encounters: guide to getting lost

Cadences connect in dissolution of difference.

I meet him at a party one night, at a mutual friend’s house & the attraction is, for a change, equal. It’s something beyond the way he speaks: the tone of his voice, gentle and sweet, the way he challenges what I utter, something purer, something just beyond language, pre-cartographic.

I realize he has a boyfriend, immediately discounting his own understanding of flirtation. Why do I always find myself attracted to people who cannot reciprocate? What is it about attraction & desire that makes it subject to the unreasonable or irrational? How can I move forward with my desire?

We met again, twice, this time with the boyfriend and other guests for Shabbat dinner. Non-secular, but inflected with the ritual of Jewish culture, these dinners celebrate successfully ending a week, beginning by literally breaking bread.

This time I feel that same flirtation in the way my laughter connects to his jokes. Later over text message he replied, “Thanks for laughing at all my jokes.” From this statement, self-doubt regarding flirtation and intention once again reemerge. He’s not the kind of guy you’d meet while drunk in a bar, where expectation moves in tandem with a musical beat. I start to wonder: is the challenge of understanding expectation something I find hot?

Thankfully I don’t have to wait long. The next week we connect again during a private dinner at a Thai restaurant down the street from our places. He talks about opening his clinical psych practice and I interject with the ensuing controversy over a recent essay on barebacking. He has that humor and smile again, call it poise, as he prods about my other sexual experiences. I do not want to resist. I do not resist.

In the process, I find out he’s in an open relationship. We have an honest conversation about what he likes to do and the boundaries he puts in place. Judgment seems to disappear as desire magnifies itself. Now the challenge is less important than feeling we can simply enjoy the other person’s movements – the freedom to be that normally seems so illusory.

A walk in darkness together up the hill on Cortland. Arriving at his front door, sliding the key into the lock, heartbeat flurry. Over Aztec herbal tea, nerves calmed as hands clutch homemade pottery. “Kiss me,” he finally asks me. The acting of his desire makes me unafraid as I set down the cup. Our lips come together, the softness of his beard a welcome surprise, as I know not to mistrust my wants anymore.

Desire is followed by its expression, as an act. First the ritual shedding of protective layers, delicately removed one-by-one so as not to overwhelm the senses with a naked form. To tease, to prolong the act of objectification gone right. As every layer is removed, his hand caresses that newly exposed part. Sensations accumulate as I realize this is everything I could have imagined it to be (and maybe even more).

What do you want to do? he asks. I tell him what I want, but a voice inside of me thinks only, “Let’s get lost.” (The rest, that act, belongs only to us.)

After we’ve finished, we lie naked on his bed. His arm is wrapped around my neck, sitting on my chest, as I lean into his beard without insecurity. The after-sex banter is welcome, though one moment is particularly memorable. We somehow get to the discussion of film, in particular Weekend, where two British men meet one evening, forming a mutual though improbable relationship.

We rattle off Marxist and leftist politics over the film’s title, as the two men both work non-traditional weekend jobs. I explain how the film’s narrative structure retraces desire through the inclusion of a tape player meant to record unexpected sexual encounters in bars. Our attraction for a central character is shared. However, the real reason I recount this situation is because of what he says at the end, “Thank you for bringing up this film.”

It’s a simple sentence, disarmingly simple except for the fact that like the film, and the moments that got us naked on his bed, there are layers both spoken and unspoken. He gets those layers, like I thought he got them when our nakedness was a distant possibility. Our strongest embraces are acts of abandoning judgment whenever possible and trusting sparks that might run counter to expectation. These embraces are ways of getting lost in the mess of desire to untangle how we can better express it.

As I leave his apartment, a gentle kiss seals this realization.


a magnification, or living as countermelody

The sky suddenly opens up in San Francisco, at the edge where blue meets land, walking to dinner to meet him again. Cadences connect in dissolution of difference. The line from earlier flashes through my body, remembering naked flesh against soft, diffuse light from a single living room lamp.

In the open sky in San Francisco, I strut down Valencia St against the Western sky turning orange and red in a fiery sunset coupled with a double rainbow, like a chameleon emerging in a break of form. I tell him what I want, but a voice inside of me thinks only, “Let’s get lost.” (The rest, that act, belongs on to us.) Against a sky & city never seen before, I remember another unexpected act.

In the open sky in San Francisco, I recognize symmetry in this universe I thought never belonged to me. But it is suddenly here, everywhere around me, encompassing all edges, such that I cannot escape its presence. Fifteen minutes later: orange has turned to purple & at the eastern edge, black, as I finally meet him outside of the restaurant. Another line from our last encounter: The freedom to be that normally seems so illusory.

The restaurant we’ve arrived at has a 45-minute wait, so we head further north on Valencia as night all but slinks away. The earlier rain showers emerge again, though lighter this time, a gentle drizzle. (I call it ambiance for our quietly intense conversation.)

Dinner is Vietnamese, sipping young coconut juice through a straw as he goes for the ginger beer. Over lemongrass tofu, sharing our views on the proclamations (from Rebecca Solnit & others) that we’re living in the end of San Francisco.

But what does it really mean to live in the “end” of something? If we’re here, what is really ending? Or, if there is an end, what things are newly emergent?

Something about the city, we both recognize, is being lost. The city of freaks & outcasts & 1960s radicals is getting microchipped, Google & Apple installing innovation at the cost of the affordability. Everyday you hear a new story: a nudity ban, or LGBT seniors being forced out of rent-controlled apartments under the Ellis Act, or just how white the city is.

Yes, all of this is problematic, but is this history really being lost or forgotten? Is the end so easily an end or is it instead a narrative we want to tell ourselves to forget this history? (Writing this now, I decide to highlight this question because I think it’s one nobody seems to be asking.)

When I remember us sitting there, our relationship is unconventional. We’re two men who met at a friend’s party one evening, who came to dissolve apparent differences, fucking under the assumption of an open relationship.

We rail against capitalism and other systems we’re part of: that’s what is means to be queer today & feel displaced, how your body, part of larger systems, also operates with the premise that another world is imminent & possible, moving itself toward other objects, even as these forces – THE END – move against it.

Our dinner ends & walking back south along Valencia, the idea of the end seems removed. Another line from earlier flashes back into my mind:  A walk in darkness together up the hill on Cortland.

Maybe history, though not reaching an end in the city, has reached a coda, but beneath the melody is our countermelody – two bodies taking up the passage of time, history, and memory, & even if our sound presently is drowned out by a new crescendo, we’re still making sound. We never have been silent here (& never will be silent here), lest we abandon our bodies as queer, lest we forget what it has felt like to be displaced.

Later, naked in his bed, our bodies are pressed close together, relaxed after orgasm. We talk about film again. As Pedro Almodovar is our topic this time, we discuss how the subjects in his film, even well after the fact, express the memory of displacement from repression in Latin American and Spanish dictatorship in the 1970s. In salvaging violence, the traces of our pain always remain to haunt us.

Looking out the window, the low grey clouds have returned, illuminated against the fluorescent street lamps, but the memory of the sky opening up earlier lingers with me. I choose to hold on to pleasure in this moment.

The memory of how different this city has always been, and will continue to be, a place of opportunity for a different kind of desire, a queer desire. How, despite the claims to an end, this city, no matter where it ends up, is part of me, part of my vocabulary and syntax, forever burned into my retinas, the best possible ghost image.

While I don’t need him to tell or show me this, two bodies are stronger than just one. Two bodies, two male bodies at ease after the sky opening up, after that double rainbow, like a chameleon breaking form, resist erasure, resist coda because the body is sky, city & memory of outcasts who gave them this moment, who say: San Francisco will never be at an end.

Kyle Bella
currently resides in Brooklyn, New York, where he does freelance blogging on social inequalities for The Century Foundation, serves as Social Media Editor for Social Sonar, and is a Social Media Fellow at Alternet, an online news aggregator and community space for progressive and left wing political issues. He is concurrently enrolled at a low-residency MFA program through Goddard College, where he studied mixed genre writing that blends personal essay, poetry, and more critical writing.

Kyle also earned a Bachelor’s degree through Goddard College, studying English Literature and Queer Theory. He successfully completed an undergraduate thesis, Queerstory: Notes on an Architecture of Desire. This work used a series of interlinked essays centered around written and visual queer representations since the 1930s. The purpose of this work was to outline a form of embodied historiography he refers to as queerstory. Given his knowledge and interest in interrelated issues of race, gender identity, gender expression, sexuality, and class status, he has written for Colorlines Magazine, Truthout, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed LGBT, and Jacket 2. He has also given paper talks at American University and the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, and he organized a “Queer Shame” panel at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kelly Writer’s House.

His blog, called Queer Embraces, started after months of research in mid-2013 for his forthcoming creative manuscript of the same title. In the 3 countries and 10 cities he visited during this time, he became interested in what it means to be at home as a queer-identified person, and how our attachments to place—what he calls embraces—can serve as reclamations and liberating revisions of past traumas.