Author Archives: Joe

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces.


In my “Moment of Zen: My Type” last Saturday, I mentioned my first crush, and someone asked me to write about him. I had every intention of doing so in this post; however, after driving down to Connecticut on Monday and being in a workshop yesterday afternoon, I was exhausted. It also didn’t help that I’d eaten at a truly awful sushi restaurant for dinner. Anyway, the point is, I was just too tired to really write anything last night, and I didn’t have time this morning. I have to be at a day long workshop today, and without Isabella waking me up, I’m able to sleep a little extra. After getting ready and having breakfast, there just isn’t much time left before I have to leave. I will, however, get to the story of my first crush at some point, just be patient.

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By Aaron Smith

I can’t remember my dad calling me a sissy,
but he definitely told me not to be a sissy.
I secretly (or not so secretly) liked all the sissy
things. We had a hunting dog named Sissy.
Really: Sissy. My father nicknamed my sister: Sissy.
Still, he says, “How’s Sissy?” and calls her Sissy
when she goes home to visit him. Belinda (Sissy)
is one of the toughest people I know. My sissy
(sister) has kicked someone’s ass, which isn’t sissy-
ish, I guess, though I want to redefine sissy
into something fabulous, tough, tender, “sissy-
tough.” Drag queens are damn tough and sissies.
I’m pretty fucking tough and a big, big sissy,
too. And kind. Tough and kind and happy: a sissy.

About This Poem

Aaron Smith explains his poem: “As a queer person, I’ve had the word ‘sissy’ leveled against me as an insult. In this sonnet, I challenged myself to use the word ‘sissy’ as the ending word for each line in an attempt to reclaim the word, celebrate it, redefine it—as I say in the poem—as something ‘fabulous, tough, tender.’ I also wanted to celebrate drag queens. RuPaul [Andre Charles] is a national treasure.”

I came across this poem the other day, and it was one of those poems that really spoke to me. Like Smith, my dad never called me a sissy, but I heard more than once, “Don’t be a sissy.” I remember when I was in grammar school, all the boys played flag football at recess. I had no interest in playing football, so I spent recess with my friends, all the girls. My dad came to pick me up from school one day (recess was at the end of the day), and he noticed that I was not playing football with the rest of the boys. He told me that I had to play with the boys and “not be such a sissy.” So, from then on, when he would pick me up at school, I’d have to play flag football.

Years ago, I read a book, Mississippi Sissy. The book is a memoir by Kevin Sessums, a celebrity journalist who as the Amazon description says, “grew up scaring other children, hiding terrible secrets, pretending to be Arlene Frances and running wild in the South.” As he grew up in Forest, Mississippi, befriended by the family maid, Mattie May, he became a young man who turned the word “sissy” on its head, just as his mother taught him. In Jackson, he is befriended by Eudora Welty and journalist Frank Hains, but when Hains is brutally murdered in his antebellum mansion, Kevin’s long road north towards celebrity begins. In his memoir, Kevin Sessums brings to life the pungent American south of the 1960s and the world of the strange little boy who grew there.

There are words that haunt me because of the pain they caused me growing up: sissy, queer, faggot (fag), etc. I know many gay men use these as empowering words, such as Sessum and Smith do in their writing. Others celebrate their sexuality and gender non-conformity. As the poem says, “Drag queens are damn tough and sissies.” But it’s not just drag queens that are celebrating gender non-conformity. Many of us live our lives these days without the fear of being called a “sissy.” Though, there are still many like me who continue to care what others think. It’s difficult for us to break free from the traditional gender roles that were forced on us when we were young. Maybe more of us should realize that we are “pretty fucking tough and a big, big sissy, too. And kind. Tough and kind and happy: a sissy.”

About the Poet

Aaron Smith has an MFA in poetry from the University of Pittsburgh. 

Smith is the author of three books of poetry: Primer (University of Pittsburgh Press); Appetite (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012); and Blue on Blue Ground (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005), winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize. His other awards include fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts and Mass Cultural Council. 

Smith is an associate professor of creative writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

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“Room Service”

Traveling Monday

I have some work to do this morning and a few last-minute things to get done before I leave, but I’ll be heading down to Connecticut for work today. I am attending a workshop that’s part of a certification I have at work. I have to have a certain number of continuing education hours by the end of the year to renew my certification. So, I am off to Connecticut for a day and a half of workshops I am not particularly looking forward to attending. I’m also not looking forward to the over four-hour drive down there. I don’t mind driving, but when it’s over 2.5-3 hours, I’m not much of a fan. I can’t leave until noon because, per university policy, I have to rent a car to travel on museum business, and I can’t pick up the car until noon. While the drive is just over four hours, it will take longer since I cannot sit for four hours without getting up and walking around. I will make short stops about every hour or so. If I don’t, I’ll be too stiff to walk when I finally get there. I’ve been having some back pains, too, so it’s even more of an incentive to stop and move around along the way.

I’ll be glad when I am back home on Thursday. Isabella will be taken care of by a neighbor while I am gone. He will mostly just come down and check on her. He will feed her, but she’s so picky that she won’t eat her wet food unless it’s me feeding her as soon as I get up in the morning. I’m not sure why, but that’s the way she is. She’ll look at it and then walk away. She has her dry food, though, and plenty of water. If she wants to be finicky, then that’s on her. I try to make sure her routine isn’t interrupted too much. I wish I could just take her with me, but she makes a terrible traveling companion. The times I’ve had her in a car, she has meowed and cried the whole way. She’s not a loud cat most of the time but put her in a car, and you’d think I was murdering her.

I hope everyone has a good start to their week!

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“For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” 

“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

—Matthew 25:35-40

I saw the following story on Facebook, which probably means there is no truth to it, but it is a good story with a worthy message.

A pastor transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the church, where he was to be introduced as the head pastor that morning. He walked around his soon-to-be church for thirty minutes while it was filling with people for service. Only three people said hello to him; most looked the other way. He asked people for change to buy food because he was hungry. Not one person gave him anything. 

He went into the sanctuary to sit in the front of the church and was told by the ushers that he would need to get up and sit in the back of the church. He said hello to people as they walked in but was greeted with cold stares and dirty looks from people looking down on him and judging him. He sat in the back of the church and listened to the church announcements for the week. He listened as new visitors were welcomed into the church that morning, but no one acknowledged that he was new. He watched people around him continue to look his way with stares that said you are not welcome here. 

Then the church elders went to the podium to make the announcement. They said they were excited to introduce the church’s new pastor to the congregation. The congregation stood up and looked around, clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. That’s when all the clapping stopped, and the church was silent. With all eyes on him, he walked to the altar and reached for the microphone. He stood there momentarily and then recited these verses from the Bible so elegantly.

“For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” 

“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’”

After he recited this, he introduced himself as their new pastor and told the congregation what he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry and bow their heads in shame. “Today I see a gathering of people here but I do not see a church of Jesus. The world has enough people that look the other way. What the world needs is disciples of Jesus that can follow His teachings and live as He did.” He then dismissed service until the following Sunday as his sermon had been given.

While I doubt this happened, I can believe the parishioners would have been crying crocodile tears. Many modern-day Christians do one of two things when they are confronted with their hypocrisy. They either shed crocodile tears and act sorrowful for their shameful behavior while they would do the same thing the next day, or they double down on their hypocrisy and claim they are right and others are wrong.

Years ago, anthropologist Margaret Mead was asked by a student what she considered to be the first sign of civilization in a culture. The student expected Mead to talk about fishhooks or clay pots or grinding stones, but she said none of those things. Mead said that the first sign of civilization in an ancient culture was a femur (thigh bone) that had been broken and then healed. Mead explained that in the animal kingdom, you die if you break your leg. You cannot run from danger, get to the river for a drink or hunt for food. You are meat for prowling beasts. No animal survives a broken leg long enough for the bone to heal. Mead explained that a broken femur that has healed is evidence that someone has taken time to stay with the one who fell, bound up the wound, carried the person to safety, and tended to the person through recovery. Helping someone else through difficulty is where civilization starts.

 The moral of these two stories is simple: We are at our best when we serve others. Be civilized and help your fellow man whenever you can.

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Moment of Zen: My Type

My taste in men varies wildly, as you can tell by the pictures I post on this blog, but since I was 13 years old and first saw the guy that would be the center of my fantasies and dreams all through middle and high school, I have had one particular type of guy that makes me weak in the knees with lust. Hayden Lourd, the guy above, did a few videos for Cocky Boys and then seemed to disappear from the adult industry, as far as I can tell. Cocky Boys’ description of him says, “From the moment we met Hayden, he was cracking us up with his ‘live & let live’ attitude, raw masculinity, sexual energy. We were punch drunk. His sexy smile, at one moment innocent and playful, could just as easily tease and seduce before becoming an evil grin that could melt the pants off a lumberjack!” He sounds just like my type. He has the attitude and look that is my weakness. He is tall at 6’1”, just the right amount of muscles, fair hair and complexion, and crystal blue eyes. The hair and complexion always get me, especially when they are blond and have that pinkish complexion that so easily turns red for any number of emotions. In one video, his scene partner, Levi Carter, says Hayden is big in every way. I’ve seen all of him, and I’d have to agree. Plus, he has an ass to die for. I could watch this man all day. He epitomizes my type and reminds me very much of that guy who was my first crush.

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