Sunday, August 17, 2014

News Flash: New Yorkers Are Rude.

Not that I haven’t been irritated often enough by men who sit like this on the train, but I hate how these complaints become gendered, as if men are the only rude people on the subway. New York is full of rude people, filthy with them. In spite of whatever so-called corrective you’ve heard to the so-called myth that New Yorkers are rude, New Yorkers are rude.

It's exhilarating when you first move here from the Midwest ("Yay! I don't have to give a shit about anybody else's needs!"), but I think eventually it's spiritually corrosive. I'm not the first to suggest that regularly feeling nothing more than annoyed at a young woman with a baby in her arms asking for money or an old man with no shoes or toes shuffling the length of the subway car begging for food can't be good for the soul. But that's another conversation.

I want to take apart this vitriol toward men who sit on the train with their legs spread, taking up 2, sometimes 3, seats.

1. A lot of it is expressed in a way meant to ridicule men’s bodies and question their masculinity: “Nobody’s balls are so big that they need to sit like that,” etc. (I’ve even said this kind of thing, so I’m addressing my criticism to me as much as anyone.) I don’t claim to know anything about the real estate requirements of women’s genitalia, but I do know that men’s are on the outside, and, no matter the ball-size, sometimes need a little room. Maybe not this much room.

2. Women are rude too. For every man with his legs spread, there’s a woman with a huge handbag poking into your ribs. (I definitely don’t want to create a boys v. girls who’s ruder contest. Again, rudeness is genderless.)

3. Though it has no gender, sometimes rudeness has to do with gender. These complaints usually come from women, and I can’t help but connect them to the strange brew of female entitlement that comes into play on the train more than any place I can think of. It’s that glare I get not infrequently from women who are obviously half my age but think I should stand and give them my seat. Because they’re female and I’m male. Not only am I a feminist, I am an old man, I’m tired, my feet hurt, and it’s a long ride home.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Husbands.

C and I flew down to North Carolina last Friday for his family reunion -- well, my family reunion but you know what I mean -- in a Hampton Inn by the Raleigh/Durham airport. It was the first trip we've taken in a long time when there hasn't been some thunderstorm or hurricane or whatever to deal with.

We came back Sunday but C went straight to the Pines for 4 days. He’ll be back tomorrow some time. While it's probably not bad for our marriage to have time away from each other from time to time, I miss him every minute when we’re apart. I really still do.

I’m watching a lot of “Chopped.” I could easily become addicted to “Chopped.” Every time they open a basket, it’s another story. And before you know it, another one has started and I want to know how it ends. Just one more. Just one more. Just one more.

The only channels I can watch when C is out of town are the Cooking Channel and the Food Channel. Like I literally don’t know how to make the TV do anything else. TVs got really complicated in the years when I wasn’t watching TV and I never got back up to speed. Their workings are opaque to me, the learning curve too steep.

Husbands are the best argument for gay marriage I can think of.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Please.

I’m finding all the outrage about the opening of a Starbucks in Williamsburg hilarious. Like a Starbucks will finally make Williamsburg no longer hip. Like Williamsburg has been anything approaching hip since like 1998. At this point, even Starbucks is hipper than Williamsburg. Williamsburg is the stinking corpse of the idea that there can ever be another hip neighborhood anywhere ever again.

I recently made myself a secret promise that I’d tone down the complaining about gentrification. I guess I just wasn’t ready. Sorry.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Truvada.

This article in New York Magazine is a fairly sane and comprehensive piece on the response of gay men and their various institutions to Truvada.

There are lots of reasons to be thrilled, to be afraid, to be for, to be against, but my hunch is that one powerful reason lurking behind the extremely negative reaction of some gay men to a drug that nearly prevents HIV infection is that it forces sex back into the public conversation about gay men after we’ve spent so much time and energy convincing the world that all we want to do is get married and have children. We’re just like you! Just don't tell anyone that we generally have a lot more sex than you.

Switching the conversation in the last ten or fifteen years from our right to have anal sex to our right to “marry the person we love” has been a boon to acceptance of homosexuality, obviously. “Straight allies” are constantly coming out of the woodwork. Our president loves us. Our lawyers are Republicans. We’ve come so far by talking about weddings, and children, and love, and families. Now you want us to talk about semen and rectums again? Whoa.

The fact that Larry "stop having sex!" Kramer is so vehemently against this drug is, well, a red flag.

It’s an incredibly complex issue, an almost incomprehensibly fraught moment for our community, and my theory is just a hunch, maybe not even a fair one, and I might change my mind. But I think the notion of injecting right now into the mainstream conversation the idea that gay men still want to have “consequence-free sex” makes lots of gay men -- who as a group have become more and more conservative in the wake of the plague years -- very apprehensive.

Monday, June 30, 2014

14 More Queer Books.

Last week I posted a list of 10 Queer Books, and that night my husband told me that my list was no less pretentious than the list I was criticizing. 1) I thought I was not so much criticizing the other list as just saying that it made me feel a little dumb because I'd read so few of them. And 2) ouch. But I guess what's the use of having a spouse who won't tell you when you're too big for your britches?

Anyway, despite the sweeping title, that list was meant only to be a list of those books that I used to own and love, books that affected me, changed me, changed the way I feel about being queer in the world, and not just how I feel but how I am and what I do. If I were to make a list of Essential Books for Young Homos, I would add a few.

Of course, this is totally subjective. Tastes vary. And there are tons of other books that could easily be included but aren't because I've forgotten about them or I never read them. And then there are lots of unexpectedly wonderful books that loom large in my queer reading life mostly because of how ordinary they are. Like the Dave Brandstetter detective novels by Joseph Hansen that I discovered and devoured in my late twenties. They're just a great series of pulp detective novels with a main character who happens to be gay. Nothing all that radical, but they were.

Anyway, here's my list. Add these to the previous and you have my queer canon. I reserve the right to add when I remember the ones I've surely forgotten. (For the record, I think #1 totally makes up for #13 in the pretentiousness calculus.)

1. Tales of the City (Armistead Maupin), and its many sequels, if you enjoy the first one. They depict a 70s San Francisco that is embedded in the DNA of gayness but doesn't exist any more. The stories began as a serialized newspaper column about a group of young people who live in an apartment building and become a sort of family to each other, sharing in the ups and downs of each other's lives. This is what older gay people mean when they talk about "acquired family" -- a notion that becomes less and less important as it becomes less and less common for queer people to be rejected by the families they grew up in and as we're increasingly allowed to model our own families on the straight status quo, marriage, children, ec..

These books are nearly scripture, but they're also just a great read.

2. States of Desire (Edmund White). Travelog/guidebook of Gay America just before AIDS changed it so radically. It's a snapshot of the liberation we were certain we were on the brink of. Or I should say it is a snapshot of that brink. It's the world I came out into, it hadn't been there long when I got to it, and it didn't last very long after, which is probably why I'm obsessed with it.

3. The Joy of Gay Sex (Charles Silverstein and Edmund White). Also, just pre-AIDS. Unabashed encyclopedia of the pleasure that men can find in each other's bodies. I'm sure it looks a little cheesy now to our oh-so-knowing eyes, but you have to consider just how radical it was to even say the word gay in most places in the world in 1977, let alone assert that butt-fucking was a good thing. The illustration of rimming has stuck with me for 35 years.

4. Faggots (Larry Kramer). Now that Kramer has been officially gay-sainted, you should know where he came from. It might be hard to imagine a time -- now that we've bought wholesale the conservative argument for the normalization of homosexuality promoted by Kramer and then later Andrew Sullivan, et al., a view that has led to such a huge leap in the acceptance of homosexuals in society -- a time when its proponents were vilified and ostracized. Faggots was banned in the only gay bookstore in New York, kind of a breathtaking fact, not least because it's hard to imagine the community now caring so much about a book.

Faggots -- which introduced Kramer to gay America -- is moralistic and obvious and in the end very affecting, like a lot of Kramer's work. The takeaway, I guess, is that Kramer came out strongly against sexual promiscuity, and lots of us thought that was the wrong attitude at a time when we felt that celebrating our sexuality in the face of oppression was not only spiritually and emotionally healing but also politically important. We saw Kramer as self-loathing and anti-pleasure. So, at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, when he started shouting at us (literally) to stop having sex, his message seemed not far removed from Jerry Falwell.

5. Dancer from the Dance (Andew Holleran). Sort of the other side of the Faggots coin. Same milieu, post-Stonewall sexual freedom. I'm not sure you could say that Holleran is less negative about the drinking, drugs, and promiscuity, but this book was not reviled like Faggots. Holleran seems to love his characters more than Kramer, and his book -- which sort of has the same message, that a life of compulsive pleasure-seeking can be soul-crushing and lonely and no substitute for love -- is sexier. Read them together, or back to back.

6. A Single Man (Isherwood). Gore Vidal called Isherwood "the best prose writer in English." I will not argue. This is such a beautiful, moving novel. It's really just perfect. And I think it's one of the first books with a gay protagonist that is not about being gay.

7. Myra Breckenridge (Gore Vidal). Speaking of Gore Vidal. I didn't read this book until a couple years ago. It's weird and very funny. I'm not a big fan of Gore Vidal, I think his books are kind of bloodless, but this one is fun. It's one of those iconic queer books that you come across references to, and it's nice to know what people are talking about.

8. The Celluloid Closet (Vito Russo). There are not superlatives invented to suit this book. Because homosexuality has lived hand in hand with shame and fear for so many centuries, it can be difficult to unearth and de-code it in history and culture. This book looks at the entire history of film and teases out the gay. It's incredibly entertaining, moving, and provocative. Your Netflix queue will double overnight.

9. She's Not There (Jennifer Finney Boylan). This is a book that might change forever how you think about transgender experience. It did me. The subject can be a political minefield, and Boylan makes you feel safe. She's funny and warm. It's like sitting down with a transgender friend (okay, a very smart and articulate and funny transgender friend) who is willing to say, "This is what it has been like for me and this is how I understand it."

11. The Persian Boy (Mary Renault). My father gave me this book when I was in my twenties. It's told from the perspective of Alexander the Great's eunuch lover in the 4th century Persian Empire. Renault's most famous books are historical novels set in ancient Greece, and she deals with the male homosexuality straightforwardly if sentimentally.

12. The Fire Next Time (James Baldwin). You should read everything Baldwin ever wrote, but start with this one. I was going to put Giovanni's Room on this list, because it's his "gay novel," and it's good, but the essays and memoir are where you really get the meat of Baldwin's insights.

13. Against Interpretation (Susan Sontag), especially the essay, "Notes on Camp." To be honest, I'm not sure how well this holds up, but it was very, very influential. She describes a gay aesthetic that maybe hadn't been regarded so seriously before, but the problem for me is she posits it as amoral, or she says that it rejects a moral view. I believe the opposite. The reason I love drag (the most obvious example of camp performance) is that it is deeply moral, grounded in love. Read it to disagree.

14. Virtually Normal (Andrew Sullivan). Like him or not, you can't understand the breathtaking progress of the LGBT rights movement in the last 20 years without understanding the conservative argument for gay marriage Sullivan made in this book. This is the foundational text of the modern movement. Justly reviled in the 90s and 2000s (not just for his reactionary views about queerness, but for his cheerleading for Bush's invasion of Iraq) Sullivan's ideas by this time have been swallowed whole. We are all gay conservatives now.

In spite of my strong negative feelings about his politics, I found sections of this book very touching. He writes honestly and tenderly about himself, about the experience of growing up a gay boy, about how it feels to be gay and male, and about the emotional stakes in the struggle for simple acceptance by our families and communities. I am drawn to Sullivan as strongly as I am repelled by him.

Friday, June 27, 2014

My 10 Queer Books Everyone Should Read.

A friend the other day posted this list on Facebook and it struck me as a little highbrow and obscure but maybe just because I was surprised by how few of them I had read and I like to think of myself as 1) more erudite than average, and 2) pretty well-versed in gay culture. I mean, really, Resident Alien instead of The Naked Civil Servant? That’s just silly.

As you’ve probably guessed, I have my own list.

In 2000, when Jay Byrd and I sold everything we owned, moved into a camper, and set out for a 2-year adventure in music, polyamory, heartbreak, and self-realization, we unloaded hundreds of books, sold them cheap in a big yard sale along with our furniture, clothes, dishes, everything, and took what didn't sell to Goodwill. I don’t miss many of them. But there are a couple dozen books -- my queer books -- that I miss terribly.

Some of them are out of print and irreplaceable. A few were possible to replace, and I have. But all of them were invaluable to me because they were either given to me or I bought them myself with the explicit intention of learning more about my people and myself and my place in history and culture. They were marked with my yearning. They were pieces of me, and I think about them very frequently.

1. Word Is Out

When I was a senior in high school -- in spite of my agonizing over how and when to come out -- apparently it was not news to my friends and family that I was homosexual. One of my closest friends, Laura Deer, gave me for my birthday a copy of Word is Out, the book based on the revolutionary documentary film. The film, which was re-released a couple years ago, never made it to Greencastle, Indiana, but I pored over that book, stared at the pictures till I felt like I was in them.

I was always a reader, and I worked in a library in high school, so by 17 I knew I wasn’t alone. Not alone, but also not happy. Word Is Out was the antidote to the Kinsey Report, the antidote to Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask). Word Is Out gave me my first inkling that possibly everything was going to be okay.

2. A Boy’s Own Story (Edmund White)

My first encounter -- the book came out in 1982 and I’m a little shocked that it was so late (I was 21) but I have to keep reminding myself how much times have changed in the last 30 years -- my first encounter with a gay character in literary fiction, and, at that, a story about a teenage boy’s sexual coming of age. All that pubescent desire (feelings that I recalled from my own puberty with deep shame) cast in beautiful lyrical prose. I read it several times. I learned what cornholing was.

3. Christopher and His Kind

My dear friend and roommate Joan’s best friend Matthew was an Isherwood fan. Matthew was an artist. He moved to Berlin in the early 80s. Joan followed him there. Matthew died of AIDS a few years later, but Joan stayed and made Berlin a second home for many years. Joan gave me a copy of Berlin Stories and soon I was obsessed, too. I love all his books, and I’ve begun replacing them on my shelves. But I only list this one because it is my favorite of his post-coming out books. Christopher and His Kind sets the record straight, adding back the homosexuality to his previous memoir-ish books in which he’d censored it. Knowing that there was a thriving community of deviants and outcasts long before Stonewall expanded the world for me. It was a model for the kind of community I wanted to be a part of.

4. City of Night (John Rechy)

The protagonist is a gay hustler with an insatiable need to be desired. Boy, could I relate. Parts of it, in fact much of it, out of context reads like porn. It’s not.

City of Night was my introduction to what I’ve posited before as a vast realm of male sexual compulsion that always exists everywhere just under the paper-thin surface of social control and pops out at the flimsiest suggestion of privacy. This is the realm -- bus stations, parks, alleys, beaches, anywhere that’s dark or shielded, abandoned or avoided by respectable traffic -- the realm that gay culture doomsayers predict will disappear once we’re all allowed to marry and bring up our brats in the suburbs. I say, relax. In a death match between horniness and respectability, my money is on the sex.

5. Our Lady of the Flowers (Genet)

Okay, now I’m in art school in New York, can you tell? Transgressive sex, ecstatic violence. No turning back now. The deepest, darkest, stuff in the pit of your soul can be beautiful, can be art.

6. Maurice (E.M. Forster)

But it’s not all about fetishizing our marginality, worshipping our deviance, there’s also love pure and true and innocent. The perfect book to bridge my love of everything queer with my love for big romantic novels. I read Maurice and Our Lady of the Flowers around the same time. We have never, ever been able to decide if we’re radical outsiders or just like you. I’m still keeping my options open.

7. Macho Sluts (Patrick Califia nee Pat Califia)

In which I learned that porn can change your mind and still get you off. Or I should say that it can change the way you think because it gets you off. Also, gender fluidity is incredibly hot. This book planted the seed of my hypothesis that gay issues are not only necessarily allied with trans issues but that “gay” is a trans identity.

8. Urban Aboriginals

Seminal book of essays on what we used to call leather culture. I was very drawn to this stuff for a while in my late 20s but eventually realized it was too much of a commitment, like having a really expensive, time-consuming hobby with lots of rules to memorize. The clubbiness of it was a turnoff. But, this is a fascinating and surprisingly moving book -- what stuck with me most is a lengthy, somewhat scientific explanation of why getting fisted feels so good. Useful information.

9. Modern Primitives (RE/search Publications)

Essays, interviews, photos, all about tattooing, piercing, scarification, corsetry, pain rituals, etc., grounding these practices in history and culture. It came out in 1989. I bought it at St. Mark’s Books when it used to actually be on St. Mark’s. I think the story is that there was a bit of buzz about body modification starting to gurgle up but this book kicked it into high gear. So you can thank this book for the fact that every other suburban college kid has a bad fake tribal tattoo.

I got my first tattoo in 1989 and I had 10 holes in my ears and one in my nipple. An Austin firefighter took out the nipple ring when I was unconscious on the pavement after plowing into an SUV on my bike 5 years ago, and I took out the earrings because they were always getting infected. But I still have the tattoos.

10. The Motion of Light in Water (Samuel R. Delany)

The great science fiction writer’s memoir of the early 60s in the East Village. If you don’t read any of the books on my list, read this one. It's incredibly candid, which is I think why it's such a page-turner and so moving, but it crackles with insight into sex and love, blackness and maleness, poverty, art-making, memory, writing, the passage of time. I’d put it on my top 5 list of books of any kind. There’s nothing like it.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Dreading 2016.

I can't help but wonder what's in Hillary Clinton's head as she ramps up her campaign against the backdrop of Iraq falling apart. It's no surprise, what's happening in Iraq right now, but I imagine Clinton hopes it would have waited till after 2016.

“Obviously, if we knew then what we know now, there wouldn't have been a vote. And I certainly wouldn't have voted that way."

Yeah? Sometimes I feel like everyone has forgotten that there were millions of people all over the world passionately against that invasion. We knew the WMD story was dubious and probably trumped up. We knew that an invasion would probably result in the death of thousands and political chaos. We knew. That's why were were marching and shouting in the streets.

And Hillary Clinton knew. When nearly every Democratic Senator supported Bush's war, it struck me as so craven, so cynical, so beyond the pale, that I vowed never again to vote for any of them. They had crossed a line. I'm not stupid, I know politicians have to make compromises, have to make unpleasant calculations in order to get anything done. But voting for a candidate who made a political calculation she knew would result in massive death and destruction and then lied about it repeatedly for years and continues to lie, just makes me a sucker.

I remember the protest march in New York. The crowd was huge. There was a feeling in the air of optimism, of power, of being heard. I marched with a group of friends I can only assume are not the same friends who are gushing now about Clinton's upcoming campaign.

As much as anyone, I'd love to see a woman as president. But not this one. She will say anything if it will make her come out looking like the good guy. There's no end to it. She'll tell you the Bible is her favorite book.

I guess every election comes down to finding some balance between, on one hand, making a choice between two evils, and, on the other hand, deciding which candidate might represent my values. And then making a calculation regarding whether voting my conscience (or not voting) will actually turn out to be a vote for the Republican. Even though the Democratic candidates in presidential elections seldom represent my values in any meaningful way, I usually end up voting for them because they might do less damage. This time I just can't.