I went to a terrific Billy Club gathering way way back over Memorial Day weekend, one of the best I’ve been to, and I have been sitting on a two-thirds written blog entry about it for months. I am a bad, bad blogger. About time to finish it up.
This gathering was more focused than most of the Billy Club gatherings are. Gatherings are often organized loosely around a theme, but usually the whole schedule is not tightly structured around it. This one, though, was on the general theme of being HIV positive or negative — both personally and in terms of the divide in the gay community. This is the second year we’ve had such a gathering, and we get some grant money from two rural counties to help pay the costs for HIV-positive men from those counties who attend, so since there’s financial support for it, it’s likely to be the usual theme of the Memorial Day gathering as long as they keep helping to pay for it.
Not too surprisingly, then, some of the workshops were a bit didactic. But surprisingly many were not, and in fact I think overall it may have been the least mind-oriented and most body-oriented gathering in a long while, with more workshops in physical movement and physical play and the like than I think I’ve ever seen at one gathering.
All in all, I had a great time and thought it was terrific. Not directly because of the theme — in the late 1980s I fell in love with a man who was already dying of AIDS, and we became very close. It was a very hard relationship to describe in a few words: We were too close to be Just Good Friends and yet not really lovers or partners — we called ourselves “brothers” sometimes. He ended up living with me for six months near the end of his life. The two years that I knew him changed me profoundly. So I’ve already done a lot of my thinking and growing about these issues long ago, and any workshop whose goal is to get me to overcome my fear and/or prejudice against HIV-positive men is about 20 years too late. Been there, stopped doing that.
But even so, I think the somewhat serious theme had the indirect effect of making it a better gathering, or at least more to my taste. And because this was an added gathering to our usual schedule, we couldn’t have it in our usual location, which was already booked for that weekend, and so we held it at a retreat center in Willits.
Inevitably, there were some complaints about the food not being as good as we usually get (which to be honest it wasn’t — one of our members, a professional chef and caterer, usually cooks for us, and he’s amazing, but for this gathering the retreat center’s own staff did the cooking), and there were complaints as well about the place being right off a moderately busy road — not very secluded at all. All true. And a lot of our regulars did not show up, perhaps turned off by the theme or by the location.
On the other hand, a lot of members who don’t often come to gatherings were there, especially many from Mendocino and Santa Cruz counties, many of whom were there with their fees subsidize by some of the county funding. And it seemed to me that the unfamiliar location and the fact that regular gathering-goers were in the minority were precisely the reasons for the sense of vitality and alertness I felt in the air, a sharpness and livelier that I don’t often feel at Billy Club gatherings, which usually have a lazier feel to them. Each of us was making it up as we went along, nobody was on autopilot doing the same thing they always do with the same people they always do it with in the same way they have been doing it for ten or fifteen years, and there was much less of a social divide between newer and older members than there usually is. Also, a much more diverse mix of ages and skin colors and I am guessing socioeconomic class than I generally see at gatherings. All good. Very good.
Sometimes I think I wish that we could serve really basic dull food at all the Billy Club gatherings for a year, and drain the swimming pool and hot tub for a year while we’re at it, just to alienate all those regulars who come primarily for the creature comforts. We’d be left with the people who really care about our community and about spiritual self-exploration and so on.
Yeah, like that would go over swimmingly. Oh well. I can daydream …
The workshops at Poz/Neg, as I said, were very physical. A morning workshop on “contemplative dance” started with a half hour of meditation, followed by a half hour of slow physical warmup and a half hour of free-style dancing. I was a little embarrassed at the idea going into it — I like dancing but I tend to go for the structured sort, ballroom and folk dancing and that kind of thing — and I was surprised at how easily I got into it, and how solidly centered and grounded I felt at the end.
I got in several heart-to-heart talks over the weekend with people I either had never met before or only met once before at last year’s Poz/Neg. I think I like the heart-to-heart talks best of anything at the gatherings. I even spent a couple of hours one evening having a wonderful talk while lying back with an arm around a hunky guy who turned out to be a sex worker by profession. Yow. Sometimes I just have to stop and be amazed at how far I’ve come from my Orange County upbringing.