The Face of Mourning

The week after Ayem Willing passed away, I headed down to FetFest on a day pass. Three days earlier I had been at the LeatherMan in NYC, and bought hankies, in one of his favorite colors of pink. He liked so many colors of pink.

We gathered around and wove the rope. Pink on pink, pink on pink, hand on hand, twist and turn. Holding space, remembering. Heavy hearts, friends remembering.

Lochai led the wake, which became partly memorial… tears, laughter, stories, sorrow, joy. Hearts heavy, hearts light, folks who never knew him with hearts enlightened.

Strips of paper wove in. Messages and memories, tales and stories, private moments of grief, private smiles.

Stories blur. His generosity. His smile. His ninja arrival skills.

Kiss me through the stories. Hold me. Let me hold you, fingers slipping by. Memories slipping by. Timelines slipping through. Because as time passes, I have come to realize how much he was never mine, and I was never his. And yet we were, and are, and thumbprints are left upon the clay of my heart.

I am wearing a shirt of his today, and laugh at it all.

The next day, sun beating down, I take the red rope that I bound him in the week before. Lines go over frames, sub beating down. Bound, flipped, hanging, I blindfold myself.

Breathe in the grass. Dig down deep. Tears that never were wash away into the dirt. Into the clay. Thumbprints remembered. Laughter and stories, sorrows and imperfection.

None of us are perfect. Lift us not up on pedestals.

Smiles was across my memory, as I try to get myself down. Knots lock. I remember ShibariCon, when the knots locked. His body, upside down, crucified by my hands. In red rope. I am in red rope. The sun beats down. My body heaves under the weight of it all.

A week later, The Crucible, DC. A second wake, a second memorial. I am in leathers. Beyond being a furry and rope slut, he was a leatherman. I remove my cover, carry in under one arm, in respect.

Hands shake hands turn hugs and memories. I hand over hankies to his brothers, his biological brothers who came out to the wake.

They had always known… he just was not out to them. Scared to be out to them. They knew, but gave him space.

Over the next two days we pour through memories. Stacks of blue jeans and toys never used. Boots and gifted blades. We hold them up and laugh. Or blink. We tell stories, share the secrets that only those who held him tight ever knew. We grumble and bitch and rant and laugh again. Uncover frustrations, delight in each others company, eat sushi, bear witness to the next generation. We try on sweaters, pack up bags, donate bags to charity.

This is the face of mourning.

Wearing his shirt. Ropes hanging. Jokes and silent truths. Laughter and tears that will not quite come. I hold him tight, and let him go. In all his beauty, in all his imperfection. I let him go, and hold him softly to my breast.



Lee Harrington

Lee Harrington is an internationally known sexuality, relationships, and personal authenticity educator. Having taught in all 50 states and in 6 countries, he brings a combination of playful engagement and thoughtful academic dialogue to a broad audience. An award-winning author and editor on gender, sexual, and sacred experience, his books include “Traversing Gender: Understanding Transgender Journeys,” and "Sacred Kink: The Eightfold Paths of BDSM and Beyond," among many other titles. He has been blogging online since 1998, and been teaching worldwide since 2001. Welcome to his world, and your chance to expand your mind and heart alike.


  1. Aw, Lee, you wrote a beautiful eulogy honoring not only Ayem, but yourself and your amazing friendship. While I didn’t have as close of a relationship as many others had with him, he certainly was one of those faces that would make mine light up when I’d see him at an event. Usually as a surprise, because that was never something coordinated. But wow, when I heard the news of his accident, my heart just broke knowing that in a sea of folks at any kink event to come, I’d never see that friendly face again or share the brief conversations we’d have in passing or as we bumped into each other as we headed to the same presentation at an event. Realizing what an impact that had on me three weeks ago, it has made me much more aware that I probably need to express more directly to others exactly how much I look forward to seeing them, even if only casual acquaintences. It’s nice to walk into a class space where you recognize somebody well enough to sit near them and take in that presentation together. And, my head is foggy, but it was either this past or the 2011 NELA FFF that I had a handful of fliers from, and your picture was on one of them in that pile. As I was arranging my piles of stuff that I’d gathered, we ran into each other. Seeing the flier, he uttered what I can’t remember the exact words were, but it was something of a happy sigh and a verbal affirmation of his affection for you. I say affection because it was more than just love or respect that came out in his words, tone of voice and body language. It was all of that and more, expressed in just just a few split seconds of time. I had also lost a bit of tread on my pink soled Hello Kitty Doc Martens. As I was picking at it and pulled it off while waiting near the boot blacks, he asked if he could have that piece. I laughed and handed it on over to him. It made sense not just because it was pink, but because he’d once given me a piece of black and white fuzz of Simon’s. <3. Thank you for sharing your healing thoughts as you journey thru your own feelings of grief. That's really the most amazing way to honor someone's spirit, and in turn honors your own and the spirit of others who were touched in any way by him. <3

  2. Love ur writing…<3

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