This post came out of a conversation with Ellis Martin. We were talking about queer deification, and how it was a way more satisfying idea to us than queer sainthood. A saint is a symbol, not a person; sainthood lends itself to sentimentalization, and is not to be borne. A god is much more human. Gods are messy, proud, and don’t always know what they want. I despise the sentimentalization of Lou Sullivan, but for some reason, after recasting him as a god, I had to write a whole fanfic about it. This story is not without sentiment, either. You may know that my day job involves managing Lou’s papers, but I have projected and made up the parts about his personality and beliefs.
Everything good about this premise was Ellis’ idea, from “hookups, of course” to the outfit.
One morning, when Lou Sullivan woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into the God of Hookups. It was all a great surprise. The child-Lou, who had once written that he hoped God would be good to the Beatles when they died, had never really left him; he had expected heaven, or something of that kind. Instead, he had become a god.
He couldn’t see himself in his bedroom mirror, but when he left his body and walked outside, he found that he could see himself in shop windows near cruising spots, and in the mirrors over bars. He looked fantastic in them. His body had unspun itself from the tight, emaciated bundle that he remembered, and now looked as it had at (in Lou’s judgement) the peak of his attractiveness, which had taken place on or near the date of August 14, 1985. For some reason, he wore a silk robe the color of flesh that’s just been cut into. It was nothing Lou would have worn of his own accord, but it was really flattering against his chest.
His first years as the God of Hookups were lonely ones. He couldn’t even write in his diary; he couldn’t communicate with people at all, except through hookups, and for a long time he struggled with the fact that — here he was again. On the outside, looking in, after just a few years of lust and life. And his powers were limited. He could plant a suggestion in someone’s brain to go to Sutter’s Mill or the Eagle or the Stud, and he could adjust the lighting to halo a particular young man, but he couldn’t make the two of them talk to each other. All too often they were too shy, or felt too sick, to do anything but sit and drink. He had better luck in the parks, whose soft, dappled light flattered everybody, and whose air of danger thrilled them. All you had to do to help cruisers hook up was grant them a fleeting glance in the right direction.
It got easier with time. Lou was a relentlessly positive thinker, no matter how many awful things happened to him, and he fell in love with being the God of Hookups as he had never been in love before. He loved helping beautiful men — and he came to realize that all of them were beautiful — to fuck in the face of death. He went to hospitals to organize furtive final handjobs from visiting ex-boyfriends. He stalked the hallways of the Ambassador Hotel, granting moments of tenderness between people too far gone to think of sex. As his understanding of his role grew, he came to recognize that lust and love exist on the same plane; you can have love without lust, but you can’t have lust without love.
He came to enjoy being a god, more than he ever would have enjoyed being a saint. After all, there was a paganism in being queer, regardless of your actual beliefs. What were the Greek gods like? Proud, self-possessed perverts who fucked each other and called each other family. In life, Lou had always been proud to be a pervert, and with time, he’d also become self-possessed — had learned to own himself and inhabit himself. A saint can only be an example, to inspire good behavior, maybe to intercede or such. A god is wild and rude. A god makes their own rules. A god answers to no one but themselves. And they can make humans similarly free.
In later years, Lou’s work ceased to be quite so much about death. He saw a new generation of queers, people who had grown up with the terror of AIDS but now felt a lessened fear, a slight ease in the heart. Then he saw a generation of queers who had grown up thinking about HIV as something controllable. He’d thought he would resent them, these ones who’d grown up without fear, but how could he? He’d grown up without fear too. Why would he want someone to be in pain? All he could ask of them was to know their history, and this they generally seemed to do.
Honestly, it was harder for him to see all the young trans men, and trans mascs, who now came to the Eagle or the Stud. (Mascs! He was learning new words all the time, and only wished he could have said them, or written them, even once.) He resented these people, sometimes painfully, for their freedom and their openness and the ease with which they could access hormones. He hated feeling this way — it was alien to his nature, and it should have been pure pleasure to see the community he had helped to build — but when you’ve spent your whole life throwing yourself against a closed door, and finally succeeded, then the ones who rush into the door seem to trample you, ignore you, leave you behind. Once again, he hovered above a world of pleasure, unable to land, trapped in his orbit by the forces of gravity and time.
It was difficult, and it stayed difficult. But he knew it came from love. The pain stemmed from seeing, after all this time, so many people filled with love. And Lou believed in love — whether it was the thing you felt for the man you kissed at Pride, or the thing you felt for someone who lived with you for fifty years. He believed in it more than he believed in saints or gods. The gods measure their love in envy, because they create the world they want to live in: in safety, in ignorance, and in joy.