Fire In My Belly

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For me, having been inculcated with pictures of a bloody, naked man nailed to a tree since I was five, any discussion of obscenity, homo-eroticism or sexual violence begins with Jesus, or at least the Jesus that hangs in churches, around necks and is furiously waved in the faces of “sodomites.”

This is purely an accident of upbringing: my first swellings of sexuality occurred under the watchful eye of the nun, herself watched by the grimacing face of the dying Christ, amidst a room of nervous, uncomfortably uniformed children who were wondering why their bodies wouldn’t behave. Desire always begins under duress, under some artificial judgment that strives to punish it.

(So then why did Jesus say: “He who is without sin cast the first stone?”)

Later I decided while still in Catholic School that the nuns and the priests had got it wrong: as the bible amply demonstrates, Jesus was a misfit, a friend of the diseased, the ostracized and the criminalized, an enemy of both Big Business and Big Government, and no friend of Caesar’s or the money-lender’s.  And because of that he had to die and become an image of obscene suffering.

They thought: you can’t start a church with a hooker-loving, riot-raising homeless street preacher so we’ll make him the noble martyr and the assassinated moralist instead. We’ll turn him into the hero of fear, instead of the saint of love.  And most importantly: enemies of the state can’t bring in the big money. He will be, posthumously, a Leader to be followed (like Stalin, like Mao.) He got naked and tortured so you don’t have to (now give us your money.)

But I think Dostoyevksy might have said it better in “The Grand Inquisitor” chapter in The Brothers Karamazov. (You might also read Slavoj Zizek and Bill McKibbon.)

So when people decide that certain art is “obscene” well, they’re forgetting that their own so-called values stem from an original act of obscenity, the foundational blasphemy that this whole Christian nation is founded on. They forget that it was by blaspheming against the Christlike message of love, charity, forgiveness and radical acceptance that this whole “Christian” Charade got going in the first place.

What they deemed obscene a few days ago, and on the eve of Worlds AIDS Day, is a miraculous piece of video art by David Wojnarowicz entitled “Fire In My Belly.”

Here is a short version of the piece that is still on Youtube. (NSFW and not for church either.)

A victim of the first wave of AIDS, David also wrote the glorious book, Close To The Knives: A Memoir Of Disintegration, a scathing testimony of every kind of suffering that this nation imposes on its marginalized citizens.  But what wins out, despite the blood and the neglect and the hatred, is David’s fierce, uncompromising compassion that can never be called obscene.


Michael Berger is a barely-published writer and book-seller living in San Francisco. He is one of the founding Corsairs of the Iron Garters Bike Club and is currently pursuing a degree in applied pataphysics. He sometimes eats oatmeal for dinner. More from this author →