Coming out is a process as endless as its audiences, Francisco Aragón aptly quotes Kenji Yoshino in Glow of Our Sweat (Scapegoat Press), Aragón’s latest book, which is really two books in one. The first part is a collection of poems, but the key to truly appreciating these poems comes from reading the Part II: “Flyer, Closet, Poem,” a single prose piece, a journal in time through which Aragón fleshes out Kenjo Yoshimo words exploring this seemingly infinite process of coming out and its relationship to his—our—many audiences.
For Aragón, as for many of us, the first dreadful step is to come out to ourselves. We are our own first—and often toughest—audience. As he writes in Part II, “And in darker moments this thought: I’d rather be dead than have anyone, friend or stranger, learn my secret.” Not surprisingly, his sentiment is not unique; by this I mean to point out how unfortunate it is that so many gay men, including myself, have shared this thought before coming out to themselves. I’d rather be dead, is not hyperbole or exaggeration on Aragón’s part, but a poignant reality when considering the alarming statistics on LGBT youth suicide.
Luckily, “Even from deep within the closet, self-acceptance seems possible,” Aragón writes in Part II. Paraphrasing Yoshino and narrating his personal experiences, Aragón goes on to describe this next stage of hidden self-acceptance and trying to pass: “I keep my head buried in books, run laps around the track, mute certain feelings and thoughts…I often wondered if I could convert, be normal.” Later he adds, “…when we’re ready, if we’re ever ready, we open the door, letting in some light, and step out.” Here Aragón is waiting in the wings—like many of us have been or perhaps still are—waiting for his cue to walk out on stage and face his larger audience: family, friends, teachers, and peers.
Is he ready? Will there be applause or catcalls? The next stage is what Aragón discovered as covering, a behavior most of us can easily identify with. Covering is different than passing. Here, we’re standing on stage before our audience, but as characters, not our true selves, as Aragón confesses:
Not having the slightest intention of announcing to my fellow poets at UC Davis that I was taking part in a “pride” reading on campus was covering. Not reading aloud poems from section III of Puerta del Sol (Bilingual Press, 2005) at my Notre Dame book launch in the spring of 2005, among colleagues, was covering.
Finally the time comes when we have to/choose to drop the act—this is the heart and gold of Part II in Glow of Our Sweat. In an interesting comparison to his identity as a Latino writer, Aragón keenly explains: “being Latino or Latina—can be considered, in my view, a source of pride….the immutable trait—being gay—is not so much a source of pride as something one accepts, yet downplays, or deftly omits from most conversations. This has been the case with me.”
Aragón goes on to narrate how he comes to terms with his sexuality, his work, and his literal audience—his readers—as he writes in Part II: “Increasingly, certain topics and debates have spurred me to deeper reflection. If Barack Obama’s incipient presidency has done anything, it has encouraged me to take more seriously the question: What role, however modest, are you playing in any particularnational conversation?”
After referencing Lorca’s family heirs who for decades resisted officially publishing Sonetos del amor oscuro (Sonnets of Dark Love), an eleven-poem sequence addressed to the young man who was Lorca’s great love, Aragón asks himself: “Is it possible that in some of my poems I was also covering?” With this we come to understand the impetus behind the poems of Part I. It is as if Aragón wants no ambiguity about his sexuality in the literary record. Each poem is in some way a coming out poem to himself, his childhood, his friends, mentors, and literary forebears. We can sense the courage behind practically every word of these poems. In short, he comes out to—and in—his art, and stops covering, choosing to take his place at the table.
But is this the final act for Aragón? The last time he has to come out? The references to running that he weaves through Part II suggests the answer is no. Aragón was an avid runner; he explains that moments after finishing a race, his mind was already asking which race he would run next. The subtext here is subtle, but powerful: every time we come out we cross a figurative finishing line, knowing, however, there will be many other “races” to challenge us and test our endurance. Soon we will be back at the starting line and have to come out again. This is also reflected in the way Glow of Our Sweat is structured: after finishing the prose piece of Part II, you are compelled to go back to the poems in Part I and start reading through them again with new understanding. This echoes the idea that the process of coming out is endless, circular. There will always be new races to finish, new audiences we must face.
Glow of Our Sweat
By Francisco Aragón
Scapegoat Press Paperback, 9780979129131, 72pp. April 2010