Monday, May 22, 2017
"My Uncle's Queer": Joel's Transformation from Choir Boy to Punk Rocker
I am in grad school in New York, visiting Rock Island and Indianapolis for the holidays, staying with my brother Kenny in his rundown, rambling house downtown. The house is crowded with Kenny's children and stepchildren, plus a huge assortment of dogs, cats, hamsters, and parrots.
It's easy to miss Joel, Ken's youngest son, in the crowd: he's thirteen years old, short, slim, a quiet, polite Johnny Nazarene. But a talented singer: he's toured in Iowa, Minnesota, and Sweden with the Moline Boys' Choir. We go to their Christmas concert and hear his solo in "Come, O Come Emmanuel."
Yuri and I are visiting Rock Island for the holidays. My family practices a "don't ask, don't tell" policy, so they don't know if we're friends or boyfriends or lovers. Most of them probably don't even know that we are gay. But Joel figures it out. Although he claims to be straight, he asked us to teach him and his friend Max "how gay guys have sex."
Yuri and I teach him about gay kissing.
I've completed my Ph.D., and I'm visiting Rock Island for a few days just before moving to Florida. Joel is a cute 15 year old with short black hair, pale skin, and nicely rounded biceps. Nazarenes aren't allowed to listen to "the devil's music," basically anything with guitars, but he likes Weezer, Nickelback, and other groups that I never heard of, but sound loud.
Oddly, Ken doesn't forbid it. "It's his life," my brother says. "If he likes the devil's music, that's on him."
Joel asks why I didn't bring Yuri. "You guys are, like, hot together, aren't you?"
Ken glares at me, accusing me of outing myself to his son. "Boomer has a lot of friends, all kinds," he explains. "Black, white, Jewish, Muslim, gay, straight. He's so liberal, it hurts."
Joel is a surly 15-year old, dressed all in black, who protests the "capitalist spending frenzy" of Christmas. He spends most of his time in his room, listening to metal music. He emerges to eat a bowl of Lucky Charms instead of Christmas dinner, and to ask "So, Uncle Gizmo, are the beach boys hot down in Florida? I bet you get tons of action."
In front of the whole family, including relatives I wasn't out to!
"Um...well, I do ok," I stammer.
Later I ask Kenny if Joel is gay.
"Nope, nope, nope!" Kenny exclaims. "He's totally hot for girls. He's got a little gay friend, but that doesn't mean a thing."
Maybe Kenny is angry about my accidental outing, or maybe he's just busy, but he doesn't invite me to Christmas in Rock Island in 2002. I don't visit again until June 2003.
Joel has just turned 17. He has long green hair, earrings, and a pierced lip. He gives me a hug and calls me "Beach Boy,"
He just got back from Hardcore Fest, where he heard Walls Of Jericho, Suicide Note, Saved By Grace, As We Speak, Provoke, How It Ends, Devastator, Preacher Gone To Texas, Blood In Blood Out, Too Pure To Die, For Death or Glory, Wings Of Scarlet, Uphold, Begin Again, King of Clubz, Pound for Pound, Undo Tomorrow, Haunted Life and Butt Lynt.
"Sounds like a great lineup," I tell him.
And naturally he's the lead vocalist in his own punk band, The Dead Eunuchs.
Joel has a bright red mohawk, and his group, the Dead Eunuchs, has been performing all over the Quad Cities. Tonight they have a gig at the Rusty Nail in Davenport.
"You should come," Joel says. "We play a great set."
Well -- I'm not much for punk music in noisy heterosexual bars. "I don't think..."
"You'll like one of our songs. It's called 'My Uncle is Queer.'"
My face begins to burn. Is Joel outing me in front of roomsful of drunken heterosexual rednecks? "Queer? Sounds homophobic!" I exclaim.
"The Dead Eunuchs are opposed to racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, fascism, capitalism, brutality, and the police state," Joel recites. "It's right there on our MySpace page. Come Saturday night. You'll find out."
Their songs are the standard punk "life is meaningless" shtick, until they come to "My Uncle's Queer."
As far as I can tell from the screeching, the lyrics are:
My uncle's queer, you heard me right!
He won't tell Dad, he's scared to fight!
Break the system, break the wall,
Press your cock against my balls.
We're all dying from the fear
Inside out, everybody's queer!
Not very complementary, but at least it's inclusive.
Guitar riff, and then the second verse:
My sister kissed a dyke for [?],
My brother sucked a stud for Jesus
We all got cocks, we all got balls,
We all got faces pressed to the wall.
I am queer! You are queer!
Hear that preacher, the world is queer!
"Nice inclusive message," I tell Joel later as he sits, shirtless and sweat-soaked, at my booth eating a hamburger. "But not entirely accurate. I'm out to your Dad. He was the first one I told, back in 1978."
Joel grins. "The song isn't about you. It's about everybody who's afraid to be who they are."
I hesitate about asking if Joel is really "queer" or not -- it would be contrary to his message of solidarity.
And no, he never invites me to "press my cock against his balls." But I do get a sausage sighting.
See also: We teach my Nephew the Gay Facts of Life; Nephew Sausage Sighting #3: A Fondle and a Penis Sock