Le Musée des Égouts

8 06 2010

I once ran into Loren Cameron in the Paris Sewers Museum. Underground, staring through a grate at my feet at actual, literal sewage, I picked a voice out of the crowd behind me, and I thought, That person sounds just like Loren Cameron. I turned around just in time to see him round the corner, just in time to recognize him.

Stricken, I took a step back. Resolved, I then took a step forward. Frightened, I glanced to see whether my two friends were still reading the plaque about Victor Hugo and the sewer system. Resolved anew, I set off at a jog, which felt particularly daring given the nearness of this raised walkway to rivers of Parisian sewage.

“Excuse me,” I sang timorously. I remembered to drop the sleeve of my sweatshirt, which I’d been clasping to my nose and mouth to filter out the smell of museum. He turned and raised his eyebrows expectantly. “Are you Loren Cameron?” I cringed at how starstruck it sounded. I think I met you a few weeks ago, I could have said. Cool shoes, I could have begun. What did you think of the Victor Hugo bit back there? A thousand better openers flashed through my mind. Boy howdy, smells like poo in here, doesn’t it?

He politely helped me out, affirming that he was in fact Loren Cameron. I explained, very quickly, that I’d met him at a talk in the States a few weeks ago, to which he responded with fitting surprise:  “Wow! And now we’re meeting in Paris. Standing in the sewer.”

I thanked him for his visit to my campus, my eyes as wide as they could go. I told him that his stories and photographs had been really Meaningful To Me. My eyebrows were trembling with the exertion of trying to communicate. I’m saving up to buy a suit, a real men’s suit, they were trying to say. My name’s Jamie, they yelled. This is the last summer I’m going to wear this push-up bra and this camisole.

My friends rounded the corner then. Introductions, an invitation to come see him speak in Paris the next day, and we were leaving, my flats unbearably slippery on the metal grating.

I have no idea whether he got it or not. I’m inclined to think not, since there’s only so much an eyebrow can communicate to a complete stranger. It doesn’t really matter. During those latter college years, I spent a lot of time with my eyes wide open, hoping for some sort of advice from people who seemed to know how to be out or queer better than I did.

The most liberating moment of identity-formation for me came a couple years later. I’m even still feeling the aftershocks, like from an orgasm that boomerangs back through you a few times before it’s done. I was queer the whole time I thought I still had to learn how to be queer. I was a gay man the whole time I spent watching that YouTube clip of John Barrowman yelling, “LET’S HAVE A GAY-OFF!” After which I spent an hour in my empty apartment alternately laughing riotously  and  then trying to lisp it the same way he did. If you had asked me then, well, first I would have been very embarrassed, but then I would’ve said I was an aspiring gay trans man. I suppose there are far worse things to do, now that I think about it, than to aspire to being yourself.