I SAW in Louisiana a live-oak growing,
All alone stood it, and the moss hung down from the branches;
Without any companion it grew there, uttering joyous leaves of dark green,
And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself;
But I wonder’d how it could utter joyous leaves, standing alone there, without its friend, its lover near—for I knew I could not;
And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it, and twined around it a little moss,
And brought it away—and I have placed it in sight in my room;
It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear friends,
(For I believe lately I think of little else than of them;)
Yet it remains to me a curious token—it makes me think of manly love;
For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in Louisiana, solitary, in a wide flat space,
Uttering joyous leaves all its life, without a friend, a lover, near,
I know very well I could not.
Being the artistic type, I made my own Christmas cards for friends one year in high school. They were pretty great cards, actually. They were a watercolored painting with a calligraphied poem, both chosen because they reminded me of that person. I gave a painting of a tree with this Whitman poem to my best friend. I didn't mean anything gay by it. I just meant that I loved him. I think he took it just the right way (but now that I know Whitman was gay I sometimes wonder what his parents thought of it!).
I like this poem because, despite how Whitman may have intended it, it describes well the visceral yearning I have for a man's love. It's something reparative therapists describe just as gay advocates do. There's a need there for companionship and love irrespective of sexuality. But in my case (and some would argue every case), the need is a paradoxical need of sorts. Ideally, one's companion could be everything to that person, including sexually. But a man could never give me a family. And a woman could never fulfill me sexually. My yearnings for mutually exclusive ends need a little cognitive oversight.
Despite how hard it has been to give up on my desire for a fully deep and sexual relationship with a man, I took the step to build a relationship with someone who my feelings never told me was ideal. Because, despite that I loved to be around her, and she was my best friend, she was a woman. The decision took a long time coming. And the relationship building has a long way to go. But I'm delighted to find myself uttering joyous leaves of dark green. I love her more every day. And although I'm getting used to the nay-sayers, it's sometimes scary to think about the terrible possibilities for future failure.
Perhaps I'm less like an oak in Louisiana, and more like a juniper on the coast of California. For whatever reason, I find myself growing on a hard craggy slope, I'm windswept and bent, water is scarce. Anyone might have a hard time uttering joyous leaves under such circumstances, but my friend and lover brings me water, helps prune at times, and together the design we're pursuing is God's.
And for now, I grow.