Of course, I live alone. It was not easy coming back to an empty apartment. I mean, I wasn’t totally on my own, not completely as an old maid; I was more like a widow. Malik was missing but remained a presence, a shadow figure, like a gangster boyfriend. Otherwise, what the hell was I doing? Nor did I always go out as myself, as Del, because I didn’t feel safe. In some places I was afraid, not because I wouldn’t pass as a woman but that I might. Women are much less safe than people would like to believe, and not because we are so alluring. It is because men hate us. Lots of men want to hurt women, and not only in America. It is worth considering that Jack the Ripper was a man and he liked to kill women. Not to say that fags have it easy, mind you; but fags, whatever else one might say, are men. A lot of gays work out and can take care of themselves. They could handle a bunch of punks, theoretically, but that is not my point. It is my contention that men go after the most vulnerable, so women remain a target. Ladies first.

The media is right to take up the cause of gay bashing and homophobia; it is a real thing, don’t get me wrong, but I can’t help noticing from a different angle that some men have it in for women and it is that this can encourage the hatred of gays. Men hate what’s feminine, male or female; I mean, there may be a link between misogyny and homophobia that is worth further study.

There is, after all, no greater insult for a man than being called a pussy. At least in America. Gay bashing, wife beating, and trans attacks share a psychic thread. What I discovered to be one of the greatest fears of trans men and women is the wrath of men who have been made to feel their own masculinity questioned, undermined, or threatened. The mere existence of another man who dares to reimagine his own sexuality could set them off. For some, there seems to exist an invisible tripwire between trans passing and trans disclosure which sets them off. The slightest disturbance can light the fuse. I have been with men, and I think most women have, too, whose psychic equilibrium is as delicate as a timebomb. As my mother used to say, you can step on their balls, but you’d better learn to tiptoe.

Be that as it may, I am determined to go out on the town, but not to spend the evening on my knees. There is a time and a place for that. No, I want to see Edward Albee’s new play, Three Tall Women, and Houston has a very good theatre. A famous theatre.

I bought a new frock for the occasion and am dressing up. My weight is down, so I am able to fit into the little number I found in River Oaks Mall. I still have some Saudi money. I wouldn’t dream of shopping there on my teacher’s salary. I barely make as much as the clerks at Neiman Marcus. If that was all I had, I’d have go to TJ Maxx and spent hours combing through the racks, or, just as likely, on the floor, looking for something on discount.

My first order of business is to get my ears pierced. I could leave with just a little thread to keep the holes open, but I plan to splurge. I’ll buy a pair of gold studs, very simple and, as the clerk insists, elegant. It is important for me not to appear too extravagant when I return to school, so I pick up a cheap set on sale at the Rack. One big difference I’ve experienced lately is that when I go back to the dressing area, nobody so much as blinks an eye. As a man, I used to be followed and watched by security.

The Alley Theatre is always full of women with money. Tons. Theatres in America have circular drives for the Cadillac set. I feel safe among the minks. Lots of widows, lots of blue hair. “The jungle is dark and full of diamonds.” The last time I attended the theatre was a while ago with our rowdy students. Never again. I’d rather take them on a tour of the sewers. I quite simply do not believe ghetto kids need Edward Albee. I don’t care what they say. It’s a noble thought but fallacious. Albee, whatever else one might say, is all about elitism. Rich snobs. Delicate, brittle humor. The unhappiness of the elect. Simon Gray. Harold Pinter, Fuck the masses.

That play. I agree with the New York critic who said it looked to be a dull evening well into the first act, just pretentious blather, until something finally happens, and the thing takes off.  Clearly, the high point is when the husband offers his wife a sapphire bracelet by draping it over his erect penis and approaches her dressing table. In this scene, she refers to it with a look of disgust as his “pee-pee.” He walks over to her and gives her a little poke in the shoulder. “Go ahead,” he says, “Take it.”  I could picture the whole thing. Fabulous.

“Oh, no, I can’t do that!”

She breaks down over this memory, cries. Hubby is long gone. So is his erection. She refuses to take it, the cock, not the bracelet, so he lets it drop, and the bracelet slides off into the oblivion of her naked lap. After this, it’s all downhill.

The play points its disapproving finger at the old lady. She is racist, an anti-Semite. She married for money. She is a grotesque materialist who loves horses, diamonds, private schools, and golf. The audience looks down its social warrior noses, but at the same time identifies with the old bitch. I certainly do. (You go, girl!) Albee has his finger on the pulse of the American theatre audience that collectively clucks its tongue while looking forward to talking about oppression over a $25 dessert at a five-star hotel.

It is not that I don’t disapprove of the old hag. I just don’t get why everyone has to feel so superior to her, including the playwright, who is said to have written the play with his own mother in mind. It makes me feel foolish. It makes me wonder if these people had been with Eisenhower as he entered Buchenwald back in 1946, that, instead of becoming sick to their stomachs as Patton did, they might have broken out in a little self-congratulatory jig.

This applies to everything. Moral superiority is killing us. This is why we are required to call the students little scholars without a trace of irony. It is frankly all too Bolshevik for me. Sanctimony sends people into a whirlwind of excitation. I just think at every turn American smugness is nauseating.

And then there is the field trip arranged by the Menil Foundation to its famous museum and its famous chapel which I’d recently been to on my own. We would be going on a pupil-free day, as part of our annual staff development day. Couldn’t have picked a nicer time. The Menil is mind-blowing and I am more than happy to return to the world-famous Rothko paintings hanging in the chapel built specially for them. Of course, the place will be empty, as always. The room is nothing, just bare concrete like underground parking. No postcards, no sliced brie or exotic beverages. It is all about the paintings. Most people hate them.

Our principal is on a campaign against stragglers, so we have been assigned partners, just like little kids. We would have to develop a lesson plan for our day back. I am partnered with a young math teacher from Chattanooga. I’d say she is a bright woman with a chip on her shoulder the size of a magnolia blossom. She talks non-stop, even to the docent, a little blue-haired lady who, admittedly, makes all sorts of absurd statements, but Keisha seems determined to keep up a verbal battle with anyone and everyone she meets. Except me. I seem to have won her over by agreeing with every word she utters.

“It’s all about the money, not the population.”

The docent said something about outreach. Oh, boy, there is no point in that. Black kids don’t need to see all this shit Keisha insists. I turn away to hide my smile.

“Let’s revert to the campfires. We’ll take up flints and arrows. We’ll make spears and pierce the heart of this so-called art. Smash it all; shred it; throw it into the sea.”

After a while, I start to hum along. The only time I say anything is to ask Keisha why it is that rich whites give their daughters names like Fanny. Her answer is priceless.

“Say what?”

I already have her eating out of my hand.

“No. My aunt…my mother’s sister: Aunt Puss. When we were kids…she was our beloved Aunt Pussy.”


This time she laughed.

“Speaking of campfires, I wonder if you caught the exhibition here last month of multi-cultural campfires from all over the world.”

“Just hush.”

We are getting along just fine. I am not a bit surprised. Southerners, blacks and whites, have a lot in common. We understand each other. It’s the Yankees who are so uncomfortable.

My new friend Keisha McCormick takes one look at Mark Rothko’s Void #3 and wants to vomit. She redoubles her gaze.

“I look at this painting but can’t find my people. I only see you. Where,” she demands, “are my African-American brothers and sisters?”

I hold my tongue, but before I do I point out that all the Abstract Expressionists were white. Jackson Pollack. Couldn’t be whiter.

“This is not part of my people,” she goes on. “We’re not at the center; we’re not even at the side. Why must I study this perversity?”

If she had spoken without humor, it would have been a grind, but to be fair, she said it while in stitches. She had me nearly doubled over. She just hated it.

“This is not Mississippi. The sexes may be mingling, but the races are splitting. In the future, Kanye West should be shown at the side of Mona Lisa.”

Here, here! I egg her on.

I am not sure my father would have agreed, but by habit, I keep most of my thoughts to myself. Not so Keisha. She had the most vibrant manner. Her cheeks shone. She had one of those eggplant complexions. Not black but purple. She was lovely, but she was over the top.

“If I can’t see my people, Del, I want my money back. You see what I’m saying? Get rid of it. Why should a museum be a sanctuary? It’s shit. Burn it, dump it. I don’t really care.”

“Uh-huh.” I started to sound like a black woman.

She, obviously, didn’t feel comfortable in a museum. In fact, Keisha, I couldn’t help observing, was not likely to have been a theatre-goer. Perhaps, like me, she preferred porn shops. Who knows?

What went through my mind was how incredible it is that the most influential ideas in art today are held by people who know nothing about it. Keisha has a first-grade education in the arts, if that, but it will be people like her who decide the fate of the arts. Mark my words.

What amazed me was how pleasantly she expressed the contempt she has for what I guess people still call the establishment, for want of a better term. But she graduated from Southern Methodist, that snooty college over in Dallas; she is the product of the very things she claims to despise. I mean, it has to be the most expensive college in Texas, even more than Rice; pure sorority, pure gentry, pure Southern belle. She’d never admit it, I know, but Keisha is just a snob. No less than Barbara Bush. Not a snob who treasures fine art, but a snob who values shit. She watches Grey’s Anatomy every night and cries as the doctors fuck in the operating room.

“We are radical practitioners of right thinking, determined to destroy Western civilization. We must step back to move forward: first go the arts and the decorations, then the courts, the laws and institutions.”

Her flippancy makes me think she’d been talking like this since her freshman year in high school. Does she mean it? As long as she gets to keep her Subaru sports wagon, I suspect so. She said she has her eye on a new Mercedes.

By the time she’s through, I begin to think, there’ll be nothing left but vaginal jelly and sawed-off shotguns.

I am aware she was trying to get a rise out of me, but I know not to say anything other than “right on.” I am no fool. I grew up with sulky tyrants. I didn’t believe in jeopardizing friendships over theoretical grandstanding. Politics in America consists so much of making pronouncements and doing absolutely nothing.

“Rah-rah rah, I care!”

She gives me a look. Purple skin and little red eyes. Who does she remind me of?

“We demand our 13 percent. That’s how many of us there are. Thirteen percent, or we’ll burn the art, set the museums to flame. We’re kind-hearted, loving and caring, all that, but you better give us the sculpture or we’ll cut your necks. Oprah goes right up on that Sistine Chapel with Brother Farrakhan and Michael Jackson. Fuck Picasso.”

I was making things up. She hadn’t said this, but I imagined she wanted to.

“Until that day, it’s nothing but another ugly ceiling. This country needs new art. How about renaming the Grand Tetons after Malcolm? Or Michelle and Barrack Obama, what about that? Both naked, in a golden chariot? They’d look so cool next to Lady Liberty. That’s what I’m saying. Where is the people’s eternal flame?”

I tried to think of a few weak statements. All I could think to say was what I did say.

I said I supported her right to request a refund.

“It’s all about the money, not the population.”

Thus spoke Keisha. Her generation positively seethes with anger, directed, misdirected, and undirected. She’ll say she couldn’t sleep as a child knowing there was injustice in South Africa, but I don’t believe her. Perhaps I live in my own cynical bubble. Of course, Keisha might say I had been born with a silver spoon in my mouth. If true, that spoon was full of Campbell’s soup, more than likely chicken noodle, my all-time favorite. Fuck Andy Warhol.

I nodded all day in agreement as she ranted, figuring we still have a year to work together, but I am not persuaded. What was her final pronouncement? That the end of art is peace? We have to get rid of art to make the suffering masses happy? Appease the mob. This strikes me as very American and very Southern. It also sounds to me like those fatheads in Nazi Germany burning books and paintings.

It reminds me of Dallas, among the whites. Now it is here in Houston, voiced by a woman of color. I recall as a boy having seen how they put boxer shorts on the Greek statues on display at the city museum, from a private collection on loan from a prominent family. Church leaders objected to the sight of foreign genitals in the shape of an uncircumcised penis. Just a few objected at the time, but that was enough for the city fathers. They didn’t want nudes on display in God-fearing Dallas. This is what you get in a bologna culture. Now they are talking like this at Dartmouth and Williams.

They figure gods and goddesses must be up to no good if that’s how they dress. The imagination runs quickly to debauchery. The city commissioner at that time recommended the Greek nudes be replaced by Native American artifacts found in Texas or Oklahoma, stuff left or stolen from Apache or Wichita plainsmen. “Find something the kids can enjoy” was the advice one frequently heard from arts bureaucrats and the church ladies.

Meanwhile. the statues on display would remain clothed in appropriate attire selected by the Arts Council, said the mayor. Those involved seemed to have embraced the Nazi fear of art. This time I was hearing ideas expressed not by Southern whites but by an African American woman. She seems to have adopted the aversion to self-expression found so often among Communists in capital cities like Bucharest or Havana. Although, to be fair to Keisha, I recall that her objection had not been that Rothko painted cocks, which he never did, but to the fact that, if he had, they would be white. I make a note to notify Keisha the next time the Menil schedules a Robert Mapplethorpe retrospective.