Tales from Institut für Sexualwissenschaft

Alex DiFrancesco

1. The Impersonator

When I walked into the police station, her face was red, fading into blotched purple in places. Her makeup was smeared and ruined by tears, spit, hands. She told me her name was Leonore. A chosen name always tells us more about someone than a given one. Leonore: foreign, other. The name she had given herself.

I wrapped my coat around her shoulders. The police looked away, angry, embarrassed, powerless, now, that a doctor and scholar stood before them and offered her kindness. Such is the way of petty cruelty: it always withers when it understands it is no longer the strongest thing.

Her red nails dug into the tweed coat, and her tears started anew. I sat with her, and, with the police watching, looking away, watching, I explained that I had come for her. I explained the experimental procedure. I explained that, with it, there would be no more charges of impersonation. She cried silently as I spoke.

A few days after the surgery, I wheeled her out of the institute myself, to the waiting car. Her face, puffy with anesthesia and the bodily trauma of medical intervention, reminded me of that night, of her tears. There was something underneath the swelling of her body, behind the odor of mending flesh, something bright that had not been there before. She waved as the car pulled away and — —


2. The Prayer of Mawu-Lisa

Dear gods, of which we are two, of which we are one, brother and sister creator, dear gods, dear god. The world created as we are created, disparate parts linked in benevolence, before Plato’s wandering halves, before the pale man’s fire and terror, before the world torn asunder the world brought together: the gentle moon and the bright sun’s light in tandem. Ah god, ah gods, the fire — —


3. The Treatment of Venereal Disease

The patient presented with late-stage syphilis. We have had a known cure for syphilis for years.

He had wandered, aware, through the early stages of sores, hair loss, rashes on his palms. He wept as he told me of clandestine encounters in bathhouses and motels, of how many men he assumed he had given it to: many. His wife, with whom he never had sex, had been spared, and for that he was grateful.

When the symptoms seemed to abate in later stages, as they do while moving inward, causing havoc with the organs, the beginning blindness he was now experiencing, the thick fog of confusion as the virus ate the brain, he at first assumed it was a cure from God from praying his sexual tendencies into submission. He wept through his dimming eyes.

There was nothing we could do, by this point. The disease had taken its course.

When he left the institute, with full knowledge he would soon die — —


4. The Flower Prince’s Benediction

After the dream flowers comes the trial; after the trial comes the light; after the light comes this, the benediction:

Head raised in ecstasy, the veil of the world torn asunder, a new vision — you, my broken flowers, of which I am the patron, you see this way alone.

While walking through trial and darkness, one must remember to bathe in oils, to put flowers in one’s hair, to eat though eating seems like an embracing of the endless chaos this vessel has brought you, to keep one’s body of water in water. One must care for the vessel through the trials.

My benediction, my gentle devotees: now that you have walked through the fire — —


5. The Flagger

I saw his red tie. He saw mine. The look in his eye, matched by my smile. And oh, how we burned that night, and the burning — —


6. The White Horse’s Lament

When your mother prayed for a boy and the gods gave her a girl, she wept and entered the deception of those who know only possibility. Her will became your reality. As you grew, your clothes stayed on, your naked body a mystery. And when she prayed again, she cited all the examples of her case in the pantheon, a lawyer of spirituality. You had no choice, your choices were made for you. But the gods took pity on your weeping mother and your growing body, adding, taking away, giving you your new surname, “to grow.” Little White Horse, did you have a choice, or did the gods choose for you? And, still, when the women lay at your altar before marriage, the flame in their eyes — —


7. The Broken

In the late ’90s and early 2000s, an instillation of The Institute’s remaining legacy wandered through North America. It made stops at universities, LGBTQ+ conferences, other institutions which may or may not still exist. Cardboard with pictures and the few, unburned files. It seemed a shy student’s history report, so small, so few panels, so little left.

Through the paltry alleys created by the little pieces of cardboard wandered the broken, the lost, those still trying to bring all that was burned back into the world. There were onlookers, too, those for whom the history was the draw, not the content.

But the broken, the breaking, those burned or burning, they are the ones whose eyes lay on their lost ancestors. They are the ones we follow through the tiny aisles through the paltry remains. They are the ones for whom these fragments exist, fragments they still attempt to weave into something, anything, whose shards shine in their palms, whose snapped cords they tie tightly.


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