How marrying a woman made an honest gay man of me (draft), Part 5

6 Feb

Photo by Timothy Gonzalez for the Darbys

Note: This is the last of an occasional series of excerpts from a draft of an essay that I originally intended for the Houston Chronicle, my former employer. It turned out to be too long to fit anywhere in the print edition, but my editors were willing to consider posting it on, the Chronicle’s entertainment website, with changes I was unwilling to make. The fact that I was unwilling to make those changes, however, does not mean I don’t think the essay could use some improvement, so I welcome feedback from readers. References to dates such as “last week” or “Friday” will make more sense if you consider the draft was filed shortly before Thanksgiving and the wedding was held on Friday, Nov. 18. Part 1 is here; part 2 here; part 3 here; part 4 here. — Devon Britt-Darby

My escorting career was about as conventional as my married life. My best ad didn’t have a phone number or rates, but the URL to my website along with a photo and the message: “Who is Devon and why is everyone reading his diary?”

I loved being Devon. While I was Devon, my art improved and I developed a critical eye and voice, visiting the best exhibitions and perusing the collections of the best museums in the country.

My readers — some clients, some not — became my collector base. Buying my work made them feel closer to me. Rightly so.

It was while I was Devon that I first developed the discipline to write every day. I freely mingled art writing with escorting anecdotes that seemed more revealing than they were.

Many of my readers told me they liked the art posts best. To be sure, others told me the opposite, but now that I’m a “legitimate” art critic, ironically, my online readership is nowhere near what it was in the Devon days, when it overwhelmingly consisted of readers far outside the art world.

And I was part of a loose movement — though it’s an exaggeration to call it that –to develop standards in an outlaw profession. I reported my income and paid taxes on it, scrupulously practiced safe sex and treated client confidentiality as a fiduciary responsibility. I got just as irked with escorts who flouted their responsibilities as I do with museums that flout theirs. (My thinking about escorting in the Internet era was influenced by Aaron Lawrence’s now out-of-print The Male Escort’s Handbook: Your Guide to Getting Rich the Hard Way, though I certainly never got rich doing it. By the time I read it in 2001, Lawrence’s book was already an artifact of the headiest days of the dot-com era. — DB-D)

I’d have no business doing what I do now if I hadn’t done what I did then. And I’m tired of behaving as though I’m ashamed of something I’m not, although I’ve done thingsfor which I’ve had to apologize at some point during every job I’ve held, escorting included.

For instance, I dabbled in crystal meth at one point, then found it doesn’t stop with dabbling. Months later, in the throes of a manic rage, I wrote the one blog entry of which I’m truly ashamed, saying atrocious things I didn’t mean about two wonderful people, a writer and an artist who were never clients, but were very kind to me, only to be repaid with a delusional, defamatory rant. They know who they are, and if they ever see this, I repeat: I’m truly sorry, and I think of what I did to you everyday. (When submitting this draft to the Chronicle, I omitted the 2004 meth-fueled road trip that I’ve blogged about in entries such as this one — the essay was already too long for the paper — but it would figure more prominently in an expanded version.)

At least the adventure led to a staycation in a forensic psychiatric hospital, where my blog developed a cult following among employees of one state’s department of mental health.

They freaked when this freak somehow kept updating the blog despite the fact that I wasn’t supposed to have Internet access. But they had to admit it was kind of cool when my readers — Devonistas, I called them at the time — mailed in cartons of cigarettes, calling cards, books, snacks, and other contraband en masse for my fellow patients and me, in response to my online call for “a conspiracy of kindness.”

My favorite part of the revelatory exhibition The Fashion World of Jean Paul Gaultier: From the Sidewalk to the Catwalk — at the Dallas Museum of Art through Feb. 12 — was a room called “Punk Cancan.” It brought back memories of the time fashion mattered most to me: inside the loony bin. Using the sharpest dull tools available, I sliced and ripped up donated clothes to create fun fashions for the funny farm. Soon I was besieged with requests from the other patients — all straight guys. I’d like to think Gaultier would have found the effort fabulous, if not the workmanship. Even in that institutional setting, this punk couldcould.

Being Devon was art. About that much, I don’t have to ask.

Why come out about this now? Because getting married Friday and feeling all my worlds integrate has shifted something. There’s no turning back now.

I don’t want to be that guy who silently seethed when a Menil curator — before Kamps’ time — told me personal details about the dancer who shook his money maker in a group show that included Gonzalez-Torres’ 1991 installation Untitled (Go-Go Dancing Platform), then had the nerve to tell me not to interview him because the estate wouldn’t like it.

And I really don’t want to be the guy who got too busy to implement the workaround I came up with. In New Orleans to cover Prospect.1, the city’s first international contemporary art biennial, I interviewed the dancers at The Corner Pocket about what they thought of the Menil curator’s request, writing their answers on napkins.

We had a richer discussion of what Gonzalez-Torres’ work was about than I’d had with the curator, but I got bogged down in the usual crush of deadlines and let the opportunity pass, only to read, months later, a Los Angeles Times interview with a dancer who was performing the piece in a show at the Hammer Museum. Shame on the Menil, and double-shame on me.

Before the wedding, I planned to use Douglas Britt-Darby as my byline until the divorce was finalized, then revert back to Douglas Britt after the divorce. (It takes awhile. We’ll be married into the new year.)

Saturday, I realized attaching Reese’s last name to my own needed to be a permanent, legally binding gesture.

Sunday, I realized one more tweak to my name was needed.

I need to go through the process, which I realize is a hassle that carries its own risks, of changing my name to Devon Britt-Darby — a name that, like my wedding, brings my worlds together into something approaching wholeness. I need a constant reminder of what an integrated life feels like.

I told Reese. She responded with the same compassionshe’s shown during our engagement and marriage. She’s a keeper, which is why can’t keep her.

I know it’s hard to get used to name changes, so while I love the sound of Devon — it rhymes with heaven — I won’t stop answering to Douglas. But if you fail to attach my wife’s last name to my own, we’ll have problems.

As far as I’m concerned, if having been Devon suddenly invalidates my perspectives on art, then burn down the museums.

If strip joints can’t be temples of art, burn them down.

If I can’t write the truth while working at a newspaper, burn it down.

Just don’t forget to throw this faggot on the fire, head first, that my ashes may mingle freely with all of the above.

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