Was Narcissus A Homo? On Obsession & Self-Negation In Queer Narratives
Was Narcissus a homo?
I’m asking because there’s a strain of narcissism that courses through queer narratives, like that scene in Circuit when a tweaked-up musclehead makes love to his own reflection in a full-length mirror, or when Alia Shawkat eats out Broad City’s Ilana Glazer and for a split second her face morphs into Ilana’s. Or, when Andre Aciman writes in Call Me By Your Name: “Is it your body that I want...or do I want to slip into it and own it as if it were my own?”
There’s historical precedent for this phenomenon, too, tracing its roots all the way back to Plato’s Symposium and spanning millennia to its contemporary iteration: the Boyfriend Twin Tumblr. I ask because I am a card-carrying homosexual with no interest in fucking someone who looks like me.
This does not make me a better person. To the contrary, I should probably see a therapist. Finding pleasure in our queer reflections contains the possibility of self-possession, like that scene in the broadway production of Fun Home when a young Alison Bechdel encounters a butch-y delivery driver with a ring of keys attached to her dungarees. Triumphant, she breaks out into song:
“Your swagger and your bearing
And the just right clothes you're wearing
Your short hair and your dungarees
And your lace up boots.”
My own “Ring of Keys” moment came at a college house party, but instead of breaking out into song, my stomach clenched. This could’ve been because the basement was smelly and the beer was Rolling Rock. Mostly it was because I had seen myself reflected in the snowfall of a central New York winter—metaphor, but also January in Syracuse is a fucking tundra—and I did not like what I saw. He had the same bone structure, the same jet black hair, and the same crush, as evidenced by the white hand slithering around the waist of his ripped Cheap Mondays.
I don’t remember if we talked that night, but I do remember talking about him the next day, when said crush messaged me on AIM. I asked him about the new boy. He mentioned that he was from Taipei, that he was cute, and that his English “isn’t the best.” I wish I could say I called him out—“How many languages do you speak, asshole?”—but instead I twisted the knife: “Yeah, he seems really Asian.”
In five swift words I had melted into the snow. There was an imaginary quota for gay Asian bodies and, as far as I was concerned, I had already filled it.
I know self-tokenizing, or harming people within your own marginalized community, isn’t reserved for gay men of color—in the ‘60s, before they were friends, Andy Warhol and David Hockney competed for kooky gay token in a straight male art world—or queerness in general, as exemplified by Lil’ Kim and Nicki Minaj, or the feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. We’re friends now, me and the boy who seems "really Asian," but for over a decade I’ve carried the shame of this experience as if it were singular, my own queer yellow burden.
Now, when I look into Narcissus’s pool, a sentimental version of me thinks about that quote from Marianne Williamson (minus the religious drivel): “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” I also think about how easy it is to sabotage our own colorful reflections against the backdrop of whiteness. Whiteness like a clear pool of water after the snow melts—and we all know what happened to Narcissus.—