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 [Two Hearts Desire cover]

Introduction: Double Visions

By Michael Lassell & Lawrence Schimel

For at least as long as recorded history -- both pagan and Judeo-Christian -- there have been same-sex couples. These partnerships have been called many things, from platonic friendships to sexual couplings, and yet the image of the gay man is of a solitary creature drifting through life without the anchor of family, often promiscuous, more frequently unhappy, only recently liberated in any sense of the word, but invariably outside.

Part of the reason has been the way we gay/homosexual/queer men have portrayed ourselves. Even when we write of love, it is from the viewpoint of the individual and "the other," mimicking that sense of exclusion we feel when first discovering our attractions to other men. This is the literary tradition by which homosexuality has passed through the millennia, yet despite fierce persecution, we gay men have left behind a hefty sheaf of poems, stories, personal testimonies that speak openly of our desire even when that witness could never be published.

What history has not left in any great measure are the shared recollections, confessions, letters of both men in these relationships. One obvious reason for this absence is that writers do not often live with other writers. But there are other reasons, too, which have to do with same-sex love as a taboo even more odious, apparently, to the mainstream than same-sex "promiscuity."

In 1997, we live in a time in which the gay community has been ravaged by a disease that was flagrantly ignored as long as it was seen as unique to gay men. That plague, it is said even inside the gay "community," has caused individuals to reassess the freewheeling sex of the '70s, in particular, and to come to consider the values of pairing. Meanwhile, politicians across America are falling all over their bilious rhetoric to amend the U.S. Constitution to preclude any members of the same sex from ever enjoying the rights and privileges -- the decency of public acknowledgment -- of marriage. These same politicians, civil and religious leaders, of course, are vehement in their condemnation of gay "promiscuity."

Heterosexual attitudes about gay interactions have been among the strongest defining forces affecting how gay men relate to each other. We rebel against a society that tells us our sexual feelings are bad or nonexistent with bold and loud declarations of our sexuality and identity -- such as the annual Gay Pride Parade and openly sexual modes of dress like leather or drag. We transgress against their limiting notions of monogamy and marriage by creating our own versions of coupling and congress. (Among cutting-edge queers, pairing exists in many forms. Or as a trendy witticism runs: "Two's company, three's a gay couple.")

But none of these reactions against heterosexual notions are as powerful as the desire two hearts can feel for one another. Throughout a cruel history, men -- and women, of course -- have been willing to die for that love, and we have.

Two Hearts Desire is our attempt to portray ourselves in the context of relationship. We call it a "double vision" approach, since each partner is writing about the other; the relationship itself becomes evident in how the two men see one another. The book is a totally unscientific, not-quite-random sample of gay "marriages."

For one of our couples, who are just starting out, the decision to appear in print was their way of publishing the banns: They are declaring their love in print in a way denied them legally. Another couple has recently broken up after many years, but they write here about their continuing bond. Devotion, courage, and dedication are perhaps most poignant for those whose partners have died or who are dying now, even while they are recording their love. While history has provided ample precedent for gay marriage, Two Hearts Desire is about the realities of love, of intense and passionate love, in an era of loss mitigated only by our people's determination to recover, rebuild, and survive.

As such, it is a monument -- albeit a monument in miniature -- to all those hearts who desire one another.

Copyright © 1997, Michael Lassell & Lawrence Schimel.

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