“Labyrinth” is Another Word for “Bathhouse”

Three recent novels explore the depths and mazes of queer desire

Photo by Tobias Rademacher on Unsplash

For much of my childhood, I had the same dream several times a week. It began with standing in front of a door in our dining room that in real life led outside but had long been painted shut. In the dream, though, it opened into a much grander house, a palace really, though also a maze, its rooms possessing no discernible order. It was long abandoned, everything dusted over from years of disuse, and though there were no people in the house, occasionally a kind of ghostly flicker, like a hologram, would stutter about for a few seconds in a way that was not so much frightening as uncanny.

The dream did not have much plot. Mostly I wandered, and though the layout varied night to night, the end point was always the same, a tall Vitruvian hall with a dais, on top of which was a wooden chair. Between me and the seat, however, were dozens of ghostly flickers and, unlike during the rest of the journey, here they clearly could see me—indeed, watched me intently. With trepidation, I would thread between them: it seemed a defining characteristic of the dream both that none ever moved toward me and that on any given night they were infinitely capable of doing so, with it being unclear what would happen if they did. Invariably, though, I would reach the other end of the room, mount the dais, and sit in the chair. Then I would wake up.

In some primitive way, the dream was preparing me for queerness—a life of navigating spaces that, while banal for most, are mazes for queer people, spaces where our desires are forever too grand and our fathers turn out, more often than not, to be minotaurs. But those dreams also instilled in me the quirk of feeling as though all stories of people lost in mazes are stories about me—and that, to some degree, the reverse is also true: that all people lost in labyrinths are queer.

But then COVID happened, and the world felt like a literal labyrinth: we all went into our houses and could not find the doors out again. I found myself drawn with new obsessiveness to literary depictions of queer mazes, and in particular to three novels released during the pandemic that are each set in and around labyrinths. In Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi, a man lives in a maze of galleries filled floor to towering ceiling with allegorical statues and tries to satisfy the only other person in the universe. In Aaron A. Reed’s Subcutanean, two college friends become lost in their basement of ordinary but discomfitingly endless rooms. And in Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea, the protagonist finds himself descending into an endless library, searching for his missing love.

With the exception of Reed’s novel, which was nominated for a 2021 Lambda Award in its strange-attractor genre category (science fiction, fantasy, and horror), none of these books has necessarily been talked about as a gay book. Morgenstern’s narrative is about two men Fate literally needs to fall in love with one another, but it was not marketed as a gay book and has not, so far as I can tell, been embraced as one either. And on its surface, Clarke’s novel is not gay at all. But when the three are read together, a new perspective snaps into place, in which each can be understood as a story in which a labyrinth serves as an extended metaphor for the perils of queer desire.

Queer is of course a messy, imperfect term, and I use it in both a capacious and a narrow sense: on the one hand, I am interested in how Clarke, Reed, and Morgenstern contest the tyranny of an erotics that is purely heterosexual and procreative. In their novels, the labyrinths generate erotic obsessions with objects, with architecture, with doppelgangers, with allegories and Platonic ideals—all of which is, broadly speaking, queer. In the more narrow sense of queer, these novels also all center the erotics of male homosexuality, in ways that speak—sometimes adoringly, sometimes skeptically—about the potential of love between men.

These stories are not conventionally queer, but then again, how else to talk about an erotics of desiring a book or a random point in space?

These novels are not without precedent. Indeed, there is a considerable shadow canon of queer-proximate literature about labyrinths, and all three novels owe rather obvious debt, in particular, to Jorge Luis Borges. And while Borges’s fiction is rarely read as queer, it should be. In Borges’s surreal landscapes, there is rarely more than a nascent sexuality, but the stories are full of what we might call desiring spaces. In “The Library of Babel” (of which Morgenstern’s novel could almost be called fanfic), people wander an infinite library in search of the book that will complete them. In “The Aleph,” one of the few Borges stories to even mention women, the true erotic fixation is a secret point in space. In the story, an acquaintance of the narrator finds, hidden in his otherwise unremarkable basement, a small mystical sphere of light through which it is possible to instantly view everything in the universe, jumbled up like “a splintered labyrinth.” These stories are not conventionally queer, but then again, how else to talk about an erotics of desiring a book or a random point in space?

Granted, I am also of a generation—the last, perhaps—in which gay literature was still spare enough that we were obliged to read queerness into whatever we could, the library its own maze of paths we would pursue as far as they would take us toward the center of our own experiences. In this essay, I continue to read in that defiantly queer way, jumbling literary criticism, memoir, and interior life—not only because I think we gain little by holding them apart, but also to advocate for the value of queer reading as a uniquely unruly, labyrinthine way of engaging with texts. If this way of reading now seems less like a necessary survival skill—we don’t have to imagine queer texts anymore because they’re relatively abundant—there’s still both value and pleasure to be derived from reading in a way that is freely associative, sly, and rangy. To understand queer labyrinths, I’m compelled to troll through my own maze of associations. 

In Clarke’s Piranesi, the entirety of the universe, so far as the titular character knows, is an unmappably vast series of ornate rooms. This building (if we can call it that) is divided into three floors: a middle realm where Piranesi mainly lives, an upper realm swathed in clouds, and a lower level that is flooded. Other than these elemental differences, the levels are all the same, an endless grid of linked rooms, every room barnacled with niches in which statuary is tucked.

Piranesi’s name for the universe is “the House,” and he’s not being arch; austere and incommodious as it may appear, Piranesi thinks it is the best of all imaginable homes. This is partly because he believes the House provides for him (with an abundance of fish, sea vegetables, and eggs). But the House’s provision is also aesthetic and spiritual: Piranesi finds its endless, and endlessly varied, statues both beautiful and edifying, since he is convinced that each possesses a unique allegorical or didactic meaning onto which he maps his inner life.

Because so much of the novel is about Piranesi desiring the approval of the only other person who exists, Piranesi dramatizes one of the quintessential queer experiences.

Besides a score of human skeletons that Piranesi reverently cares for, the only other person in the universe is the Other, a vain, manipulative, obviously malevolent man whom Piranesi nonetheless adores. Though an avid diarist, Piranesi has significant memory problems, and so the precise nature and origin of his friendship with the Other are impossible for him to recall. Piranesi is aware, though, that the Other is both a scientist and impeded in that endeavor by his fear of becoming lost in the maze. To collect data about its reaches—including a distant room he believes is key to unlocking “a Great and Secret Knowledge”—he depends upon Piranesi. The Other has quite evident hatred for the House; he is interested in it only because of what he hopes he might gain from it.

Like Borges’s stories, Piranesi contains little we might easily call sexuality. But because so much of the novel is about Piranesi desiring the approval of the only other person who exists, Piranesi dramatizes one of the quintessential queer experiences. If, like me, you grew up queer in a small town and became convinced you were in love with the only other queer person you knew, then you have likely known what it feels like to be Piranesi: that is, lost in a labyrinth in which the only other inhabitant does not love you back, or is unworthy of your love, or, as turns out to be the case for Piranesi, only wishes to further ensnare you in the labyrinth. Equally quintessential is the experience of finding, as Piranesi does, that leaving the labyrinth is a life-or-death choice in which one’s preferences barely figure.

In addition to being a book that speaks to the experience of queer dissatisfaction, Piranesi is also a book about queer aesthetics, specifically those of the domestic realm. In his 2015 essay “What Was Gay?”, J. Bryan Lowder quotes Edmund White’s States of Desires: Travels in Gay America (1980) on the subject of gay domestic spaces: “The apartment treated as a stage set—dramatically lit, designed to be taken in all at once and from the entrance—remains a gay apartment, whether the décor is . . . cluttered comfort or austere emptiness.” Lowder continues by citing Neil Bartlett’s paean to Oscar Wilde, Who Was That Man?: “Our rooms are not decorated to announce our occupation or our family status; they are not really ‘domestic’ interiors. They need reflect nothing but the tastes of their owner, the pleasure he takes in his life, his ability to choose and arrange his possessions.”

Piranesi can be read as a moral allegory about queer experience, which is of our aesthetics only being valued when they can be put to some profit.

Putting White and Bartlett’s insights together, gay domestic spaces are those that have forgotten that they are meant to be houses, inverted in such a way that the aesthetic veneer meant to make a house pleasing instead becomes the house’s raison d’être, it’s functionality as a house rendered secondary (if that). One can live in a gay house, but only in the way that forest animals will eventually move into an abandoned building: by making the best of it, and always aware it wasn’t made for you.

It is in this way that we can call Piranesi’s House a gay House: that it only barely contains the necessity to sustain his life is both beside the point and the point. Piranesi’s is an aestheticized House, one he interacts with principally as a memory palace, perceiving its statues as an externalization of his thoughts, feelings, and desires. So far as Piranesi is concerned, the principal function and pleasure of the House is thus as a mirror of his taste. The Other does not share a love of Piranesi’s House, and has only instrumental interests in it, believing it may contain some great power he can exploit. The novel can therefore be read as a moral allegory about queer experience, which is of our aesthetics only being valued when they can be put to some profit.

Reed’s Subcutanean is a garden of forking paths, in addition to being about one. Reed trained as a digital game designer, and his novel was conceived for print on demand, with each copy slightly different based on parameters set by an algorithm, though he made a major concession to the exigencies of bookselling by producing a static version for stores (permutation 36619). That version even contains instructions for how the reader can download their own unique version. For my part, I read Subcutanean version 01893, which was serialized on the online comics platform tapas.io while Reed was fundraising to self-publish the finished text.

In the novel, best friends Orion and Niko are students at an unnamed liberal arts college somewhere in small town U.S.A. They are living together—just as friends!—in the sort of decrepit housing that inevitably springs up around such universities because college students (read: their parents) will pay top dollar for anything north of a hovel. Though perhaps originally Victorian, the house has now been swaddled in generic 1970s décor—deep-pile beige wall-to-wall carpeting, “wood” paneling, fake-bronze sconces escaped from a Dark Shadows set.

Gay Ryan is in love with straight Niko in the way you only can be when you are queer, twenty, living in a shitty college town, and your straight friend is the first person you’ve ever found hot who has also been nice to you. That is: utterly without hope, and so marrow-deep that you will spend the rest of your days trying to catch that high.

And then a dark miracle: the pair discovers a secret of such bizarre magnitude that sharing it fuses their lives. Beneath Ryan’s bed is a hidden staircase, and at the bottom of it is a labyrinth of bland, functionless, abandoned halls and rooms that would be boring were they not also impossible, a non-Euclidian maze of staggering magnitude. The pair dubs this labyrinth the Downstairs.

Many of the rooms in the Downstairs resemble bedrooms: a closet, sometimes a bedframe, a bare light hanging from the ceiling. In this, the Downstairs evokes the gay bathhouse, with its obscured corridors emptying into uncountable identical rooms, differentiated only by the fractal desires they transiently house. Decimated by the AIDS epidemic (though many continue to cling on, especially outside the U.S.), their function as places to cruise for gay sex has mostly been transferred to apps such as Grindr, another garden of forking paths in which every hall opens into a gesturally furnished bedroom, often of disquieting strangeness. This connection between the Downstairs and cruising haunts is driven home by the fact that the labyrinth is accessed via stairs under Ryan’s bed, where it is stashed like pornography. And it is certainly not accident that the boys’ name for it is also a suitably puerile euphemism for genitals—as in, “What’s he got downstairs?”—which synchs with their telluric, coltish sexualities. Like the Downstairs, whatever is there is still emerging, uncomfortably so.

Gay domestic spaces are those that have forgotten that they are meant to be houses.

At first, exploring the Downstairs seems like a lark. Sure, its spaces don’t really make sense, and there’s no way it could really all fit under the house—but it also seems harmless. And for Ryan, at least, it also possesses something like the appeal of a cheesy horror movie for a night out, as an excuse (metaphorically speaking) to bury your face in your date’s shoulder: if exploring the Downstairs is something Niko wants them to do together, Ryan is certainly not going to say no. Soon enough, though, the Downstairs takes on a sinister cast, when it becomes clear that there are other people down there and those people look, well, exactly like Ryan and Niko.

Though this unwelcome discovery makes the Downstairs much more threatening, it doesn’t make it any less interesting, and Ryan at least becomes obsessed with trying to understand its nature. From a local historian, he eventually learns that the house was built over a mystical spring, the capping of which somehow commenced the labyrinth’s branching realities. When, toward the novel’s climax, it turns out that the Ryan and Niko doppelgangers thrown up by the labyrinth number not in the single digits, as the boys’ have previously supposed/hoped, but in the millions, the labyrinth’s spring begins to resemble a perverse Fountain of Youth—not one that offers the ability to grow wise inside an ageless body, but rather one that continuously dispenses the same twenty-something naifs, a fathomless horde perpetually incapable of reciprocating love.

This seems to offer a critique of gay life as a kind of island of misfit toys—stunted boys who never achieve manhood—and recalls that another word for labyrinth is dungeon, a term Reed surely had in mind as a game designer: in video games, a dungeon (specifically a “roguelike” dungeon) is a special kind of randomly-generated level that doesn’t advance the plot but allows players to level up by fighting enemies, and which usually resets after each play. If the Downstairs is a dungeon in this sense—a kind of plotless diversion for trigger-happy boys—it is also a dungeon in the way that the word is used in gay and BDSM culture to denote a sexual playground, a place designed for the exploration of forbidden desires. For if Niko and Ryan’s Downstairs is another case of a gay house that has forgotten how to be a house—that has lost its mind—it is also a desiring catacomb.

Ryan is a hesitant would-be student of such desires, taking a clearly erotic—if inchoate—interest in the Downstairs’ doppelgangers (including those of himself). Most especially he hopes that the labyrinth will eventually disgorge a Niko who reciprocates his desires, and while he seems earnest about his love for his particular Niko, there’s reason to suspect he is capable of some surprising flexibility in this. That the first doppelganger Niko to articulate a sexual interest in Ryan is also a psychopath who confesses the intent to murder him while they fuck encapsulates the novel’s tense perspective on queer desiring spaces—Grindr, cruising haunts—with which the Downstairs is in some senses homologous.

The labyrinth’s spring begins to resemble a perverse Fountain of Youth—one that continuously dispenses the same twenty-something naifs.

Any broad critique of queer life is tempered though by the fact that the Downstairs only ever produces doppelgangers of Niko and Ryan: whatever is happening is only happening to them, forever. This is reinforced by the fact that no other character in the novel is capable of sustaining an interest in the Downstairs, despite Niko and Ryan’s efforts to introduce them to it. Moreover, it turns out that the novel’s Niko and Ryan prime are in fact not from our universe at all: they have crashed into our world when they exited the labyrinth the wrong way, and clearly do not belong here.

These details, which place Niko and Ryan inside a bubble of reality, offer insight into how queer love between lonely young men is prone to take two forms, often sequentially: one in which their joyful merging is so complete that it becomes its own culture; and another in which their entropy fractures them into an infinity of pained variations. In the labyrinth, all things are possible, until nothing is possible.

In a novel I am writing but don’t know how to finish, two queer men are exploring a labyrinth together. Unlike in most queer labyrinths, these men are not lost: one of them—more than a person but not quite a god—can navigate it quite well, having been exploring it for the better part of half a million years, though its existence preceded him and he has no better than a guess as to its origin. It is also impossible to become truly lost in this particular labyrinth: all you have to do is fall asleep and you will wake up back where you started.

Everyone who enters the labyrinth sees it slightly differently—as a network of torchlit caves, as a hotel, as a U-store-it—but these differences are only cosmetic. Always it is a system of tunnels or halls, arranged identically for all, along which are openings that, when stepped through, transport the explorer to somewhere on Earth. Their arrangement bears no obvious logic: portals proximate to one another routinely go to opposite ends of the globe; some go to quite important places but many more lead to the absolute middle of nowhere. The labyrinth appears to be infinite.

In the labyrinth all things are possible, until nothing is possible.

In other words, like the majority of systems for organizing information, it makes absolutely no sense—or the original sense has been long forgotten, the system repurposed through too many iterations. But a skilled user may nonetheless do quite remarkable things with it.

The more-than-man’s partner is a human who is learning, as some small number of human’s can, how to access the labyrinth and travel via it. The labyrinth can only be entered one way, by pushing one’s arm into thin air and opening space like a tent flap. As with so many aspects of queer life, to be capable of doing this, you must first have been shown the way by someone else. The trick to it is mainly knowing it can be done in the first place, fused with a kind of bullish determination. Some people just have the knack, most don’t.

Also like queerness, to navigate the labyrinth requires a small blood rite. This is because you can mark your passage, leaving notations on the walls, but only one implement will do: the distal phalange—that is, the final, smallest bone—of a pinkie finger. This bone must be offered freely by the person who first brought the visitor to the labyrinth, and it must be given inside of the labyrinth by slicing or ripping the finger open and pulling it out. It is a bloody thing, even for a near god.

As is so often the case, by necessity this rite takes place too early in their relationship and threatens to upend everything. Even if you know intellectually that it will heal back, watching someone rip off the top of their finger—for the sole reason that they wish you to prosper—asks for a gamble of flesh in return, no matter how much the person says otherwise.

The more-than-man and his partner come into view now, heads inclining toward one another in hushed conference as they round a corner, scratching notes into the wall with a bone still so fresh it is pink. They are not lost in the labyrinth, but I am.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

In mythology, labyrinths often have a monster at their center, trapped there and trying to get out. In Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea, the monster has been exiled from the labyrinth and instead of brooding in its center now polices its perimeter, trying to keep everyone out. Although to call this antagonist a monster is too simplistic: she is, rather, someone willing to do terrible things to protect something she loves. That this something happens to be an infinite labyrinth of books representing all of human imagination—a suitably Borgesian objectum sexuality—fits with the general mood of Morgenstern’s story, in which all of the love interests are in some sense allegorical. The major driver of the plot is a vexed love affair between Time and Fate, a dilemma made only slightly less abstract for the fact that the novel literalizes these as people.

The same can be said for the love between the novel’s hero, Zachary, and his rakish beau, Dorian, a relationship which is rigged from the start. That election plays little role in Zachary and Dorian’s love is clear early in the novel: the novel’s commitment to predestination is signaled when Zachary finds a book in which his life story has already been written down. This uncanny discovery sends him on an adventure, so like the video games he loves, to understand the book’s origins, setting him in the path of Dorian, who has spent his adult life studying the library labyrinth and who has his own intense relationship with a particular book.

As the novel reaches its conclusion, Dorian and Zachary travel down and down into the dark of the labyrinth. The sequence demonstrates an astonishing narrative mastery of volumetrics: as the boys descend through ancient cities long crumbled to dust, further down into the titular sea and terrains more dream than fixed spaces, readers may find themselves internally disordered, in the best possible sense, by the vastness that Morgenstern conjures.

At the very bottom of the labyrinth, Dorian asks an innkeeper whether his wife is the Moon. The innkeeper is resolved: “The moon is a rock in the sky. . . . My wife is my wife.” But this isn’t right: as the reader knows, the innkeeper’s wife is in fact the Moon.

If we take the Moon to stand for a tidal kind of inevitability, being married to it is a dilemma Dorian and Zachary know too well. If their love for one another never seems adequately accounted for by the novel, it is perhaps because the characters’ affections are almost moot: theirs is, in the truest sense, an arranged marriage. If your relationship has been planned by Fate since the beginning of the world, for her own purposes—as Zachary and Dorian’s turns out to be—then your love was not of your own choosing.

Maybe it never is. Still, I think we can ask what Morgenstern accomplishes by constructing her novel around the choice, made by a mythological being, to instrumentalize queer longing in this cruel way, in which the madness and suffering of the lovers are necessitated by their ends, like a kind of hunger games.

Like queerness, to navigate the labyrinth requires a small blood rite.

I imagine Morgenstern’s answer to this question would be that she wanted to tell a story in which gay love triumphs over all, and by making that love fated, she meant to set homosexual desire on equal footing with heterosexual love—a kind of “Love Is Love” polemic. And it’s likely that Morgenstern had to fight for her gay characters: as a bestselling fantasy novelist, the marketing pressures on her must be tectonic, and one can well imagine that her press would have been well contented with another novel of heterosexual longing, like her wildly successful debut, The Night Circus (2011). In fact, Doubleday, which published The Starless Sea, more or less proceeded as though it weren’t a gay novel: nothing about the promotional copy makes it clear that the novel is principally about two men fated to love one another.

At the same time, by valorizing queer love as a fated love, the novel subtly aligns with the version of the gay rights movement that has given us Born This Way—that is, the idea that homosexuality must be accepted by society because it is innate, biological, and therefore homosexuals are blameless: they couldn’t be otherwise if they tried. That this ideology currently reigns supreme in queer politics is not to say that it is a perfect or even comfortable fit for many queers. Indeed, Born This Way has given rise to a responding queer skepticism, espoused by those who doubt that sexuality is predestined, and who, more to the point, remain unconvinced of the need to hitch desire to the North Star of biological determinism.

Focusing overmuch on this dilemma of fated queer love risks downplaying the novel’s radical queer potential, though. For if Zachary and Dorian are plotbound, their way of dealing with that constriction is ultimately to detonate the plot. After all, if you find yourself ensnared in a labyrinth, one solution is to destroy the labyrinth (curious that this seems to occur to so few!).

This anarchist approach to solving the labyrinth stages within the novel the tension between gay rights and gay liberation. As a movement, gay liberation emerged from the aftermath of the Stonewall Riots, and was predicated on the belief that a queer utopia would be one in which all oppressed people were free and equal. Intersectional even before the word existed, gay liberation sought, as Michael Bronski explains in Boston Review, to end white heteropatriarchal tyranny over sexual minorities, women, people of color, the poor, colonized peoples, and children, among others.

After all, if you find yourself ensnared in a labyrinth, one solution is to destroy the labyrinth (curious that this seems to occur to so few!).

Gay rights, on the other hand, aimed at gradual improvement, mainly for middle-class gays and lesbians, using a legalistic framework that sought discrete goals: an end to employment and housing discrimination, the eradication of laws against sodomy, and finally marriage equality. I say “finally” because for many gay rights advocates, most especially affluent white gay men, the success of the marriage equality movement marked the functional end of gay rights as a politics. Gay liberation had no such clear end point—there are always utopias within utopias—but obviously lost in the court of public opinion. That said, the boundary between the two movements was never rigid: as Martin Duberman points out in Has the Gay Movement Fail? (2018), many gay liberationists were willing to help with a gay rights approach, even if they continued to nurse more radical hopes.

If The Starless Sea starts out as a novel told in a gay rights mode, one in which gay love can be mainstream—as useful for the purposes of Fate as any other kind of love—its conclusion becomes a story of gay liberation when Zachary’s actions lead to the destruction of the library. Reluctantly, he embraces the need for a new world. And while Fate steers him toward this choice, its import exceeds her power to control: the new world that results is one even she cannot predict the nature of. In the novel’s concluding pages, the immortals wonder about the shape of the labyrinth that the couple have built in the ashes of the old one.

It isn’t a perfect solution. But if the only possible shape of the universe is a labyrinth, at least it can be one of your own queer design.

After my partner and I moved into an 1890 Queen Anne in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, I became obsessed with researching the house’s previous inhabitants. We knew that the prior owner, Terry, had been a gay man—in fact, the neighborhood had, since at least the 1980s, been something of a gayborhood, albeit coyly.

We soon learned from our neighbors, and then from online records searches, that Terry had bought the house in the late 1970s with his partner, Bill, a cast-off (or cast-out) scion of one of those ancient New England families whose names still index everything from streets to schools to theaters.

We were able to piece together a story: that Bill was a hospital nurse when the first wave of HIV hit Boston, and was among the few who didn’t balk at caring for AIDS patients. He did some of the earliest lobbying in the state for the rights of people with the virus, and began using their house—our house—to run a support group, and perhaps hospice, for HIV+ men. In 1993 he died from complications of AIDS, but not before becoming an uncloistered Anglican monk, filling the house with veritable clouds of church incense and religious apotropaia. After Bill’s death, Terry—an avid gardener and classical music nut (the house became a maze of vinyl record stacks)—lived alone here for another twenty years. The house came with a great deal of his furniture, and once in a while we find something that makes him feel profoundly present—for example, the table with a hidden drawer that held only his license, condoms, and a box cutter, a kind of plus ça change about how close pleasure and danger always are for queers.

I have no interest in leaving the labyrinth; I want to go further into it and become lost; I will probably die here.

Like many houses of sufficient age, ours contains a number of oblique features. These include a spring beneath a hatch in the basement that fills seasonally with sweet water, and a maze of defunct cast-iron pipes, running throughout the walls, meant to gather rain from the rooves and dump it directly into the stormwater system, and which sometimes still sighs like an entombed calliope. This is to say nothing of the crawlspace that loops the finished areas of the attic like a backstage and which has no discernable function beyond its subtraction from thereby rectangular rooms.

Knowing of the house’s many peculiar features did little to insulate me from the vertiginous sensation of learning that an unknown number of sick queers had sought, and apparently found, succor in our home. And that they were drawn there by the ministrations of a gay man named Bill, which is also my partner’s name. In the one photo I have found of him, this other Bill even looks passingly like my Bill—similar beard, nose, and kind set of the eyes. Maybe I only want to see it, but I can’t unsee it, this family resemblance.

In Lost in the Funhouse (1968), John Barth reflects on how many different versions of us there must be in the multiverse, how many ways we each could have been: “It’s as if they live in some room of our house that we can’t find the door to, though it’s so close we can hear echoes of their voices.” That is what this set of discoveries felt like, as though our house had yawned and suddenly had more rooms than before. In each was a Bill, either giving or taking refuge.

I have no interest in leaving the labyrinth; I want to go further into it and become lost; I will probably die here. I am trying to find each of the rooms into which my love’s multiplicities have gone. I may never find all of the doors, but I will keep searching the halls.

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