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Dr. Wu’s Secret

Dr. Wu’s struggles with his anger reflected a deeper disorientation in his mental makeup. He had always been conservative in his thinking—“Confucian,” in the Chinese sense of a deep and profound respect for authority and obedience to long-held traditions that had evolved over thousands of years—traditions, moreover, that worked, and ought not to be changed lightly. But in recent years, he had veered sharply towards the rightwing end of the political spectrum.

He realized he had to keep his newfound beliefs to himself in deep-blue Oakland. Most of his fellow physicians at Kaiser were liberals, to judge from their remarks. His neighbors, the storekeepers where he shopped, all seemed to be of liberal inclination. With them, Dr. Wu dared not to divulge some of his opinions, such as that the law was too soft on criminals, or that taxes were too high, or that gays were necessarily entitled to protection, or that homeless people were victims, not of an unjust social system or lopsided rents, but of their own laziness and self-destructive behavior. Many times each day, when conversations arose, he was forced to bite his tongue, hard. A Kaiser physician knew how to read the signs.

People assumed that Dr. Wu was more liberal than in fact he was. The contributions to the ACLU, which the Wu’s proudly boasted of, and the Obama-Biden sticker on his Volvo certainly suggested a leftward political bent. But the sticker hailed from 2008—years previously—and the ACLU donation was chiefly at Cindy’s urging. The election of Donald Trump as President both signified Dr. Wu’s formal self-identification with the right, and marked him as a certified outsider in Oakland and Bay Area politics. Dr. Wu rather admired Trump: his strength, his candor, his ability to put down his political enemies with smart one-liners, his law-and-order policies and even, to some extent, his anti-immigrant stance appealed increasingly to a Dr. Wu angry with the direction his city, State and country had taken.

Many of the patients he treated at Kaiser were homeless; Dr. Wu felt that he understood them fairly well. He was increasingly irritated at them for bringing onto themselves their armadas of ill health, both physical and emotional. Sometimes, when he stitched up a wound on a drunk or intubated someone found unconscious due to a likely drug overdose, he felt that these people would be better off dead, and society, too, would benefit if they were gone. He had worked hard to get where he was, and overcome innumerable obstacles; at any point he might have given up. But he was raised right by his parents, and when he surveyed the rampant ill effects that homeless people and drug addicts had inflicted on Oakland—a city he rather liked—he grew resentful.

This was Dr. Wu’s secret, even from his conservative wife; but it wasn’t his only one. His other concerned his sex life. The term “DL,” short for “down low,” applied perfectly to Edwin Wu. He was captivated by sexuality. As a physician, he was aware of the extensive literature concerning sexual addiction, but the way he thought about it, he wasn’t an “addict,” in the way that, say, a heroin user was, but merely a man who thoroughly enjoyed sexual activity, and saw no reason not to indulge in it as often as he could. Gladys, his wife—a rather frigid woman–had been his concession to the norms of conventionality, but even at his wedding, while he was taking the Christian vows of marriage, he was thinking of the woman he’d paid for sexual favors the night before, and whom he was looking forward to seeing again as soon as he possibly could.

The specific sexual practices he enjoyed were of the exotic variety. Dr. Wu enjoyed being dominated. In his public life, Edwin Wu clearly was used to being in a position of power and authority, issuing medical orders, running his family’s finances and making the major decisions. Privately, when in the company of the women he paid, it was quite the opposite. Humiliation and even pain were things he expected from these leather-clad mistresses, with their whips and cudgels. Being disgraced was deeply gratifying to Dr. Wu. But all this had to be done in the utmost secrecy; in fact, that was part of its allure: the risk, the shame, the fact that no one who knew the charming Dr. Wu would possibly suspect that he had a private life that was so opposite to the one he publicly displayed.

That this private life hovered on the perimeter of violence made it even more arousing. In that underground relationship between vassal and dominatrix, the possibility of something going wrong never could be discounted. Safe words went only so far; the “popper” or “cracker” that inflicted raw pain on, say, a rear end also could draw blood, and the hot wax dripped insolently on a nipple also could inflict severe damage to a cornea. A man in chains, his wrists and ankles bound by rope, had no hope of fending off such incidents.

And so Dr. Wu wended his merry and complicated way between these various stations of his life’s cross. And when he needed time alone—to think, to feel, to allow fate to tempt him even further—he always had the option of those midnight walks under the freeway underpasses, where the homeless people made their tents.

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