The Good, the Bad ... and the Fabulous|
[Most Recent Entries]
Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in
|Sunday, June 3rd, 2007|
|Missing out on pride
That bane of college freshmen English majors, T.S. Eliot's epic poem "The Waste Land" begins with:
|April is the cruellest month, breeding|| |
|Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing|| |
|Memory and desire, stirring|| |
|Dull roots with spring rain.|
With apologies to Eliot and his lament for those lost years that followed the First World War and cast the 20th Century in a pall of pessimism, allow me to update Eliot.
| || |
|June is the gayest month, breeding|| |
|Rainbow flags out of the homophobic land ...|| |
Yes, that's right. It's June, the season for gay pride celebrations across the country. A time to celebrate how far we have come, express our hopes for how far we want to go, and, let's face it, just have an excuse to throw a party. At least marginally supposed to be a time to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City that marked the birth of the modern gay movement, pride celebrations have evolved into a street party that is part social, part political and part a chance for vendors to sell cheap jewelry emblazoned with rainbow colors and t-shirts that will find their ways into dresser drawers until they are eventually converted into dust rags.
This year's pride celebration was different. I didn't go. This has been the first time in more than a decade that I've missed the local pride celebration. It wasn't intentional. I just didn't realize it was this weekend until I saw a clip on the news last night about it.
My first response was to be angry that the organizers did such a shitty job advertising the pride festival. After all, when you restrict your advertising to the bar rags, the only kind of people your going to attract are the bar-flies. Then I remembered that I haven't been in any of the gay-owned businesses that carry the local gay publications for months.
I used to maintain a web site for a local LGBT political club until I stepped down from that position earlier this year. Part of the web site featured a calendar of events that kept me - and hopefully visitors to the site - up to date on community events. Without that touchstone I have been out of the loop with the gay community.
So this year the pride festival went on without me sitting there staffing a booth or wandering through the booths or signing petitions for the cause du jour.
And you know what? I didn't miss it.
Pride festivals used to be about community. Now it seems they are more concerned with commercialization and positioning the gay community as a unique marketing niche. I suppose that speaks to the community's success that we are considered a viable source of income for merchants; but in all the successes we have enjoyed here in Kansas City - the passage of an inclusive human rights ordinance, the approval of a domestic partner registry, and others - we are in danger of becoming complacent.
As long as we have our bars and softball leagues and gift shops and bowling teams and a few scattered scraps of rights, we feel like the battle has been won. Oh sure there are still bigots out there who would deny us rights, but there's a sense that we can rest on our laurels and enjoy the fruits of our victories.
Without clearly defined enemies, we become our own worst enemies. The LGBT community splinters into even smaller communities. Gay men and lesbians view each other with suspicion and neither is trusting of bisexuals nor transgenders. Organizations spend more time tearing down their rival organizations than uniting for common good.
I may sound like an old curmudgeon - probably because I am - but I miss the old pride festivals. Those were the days when oppression from many sides forged us into a community and we shared common goals. Now we are fragmented and refuse to sign on to anyone else's "cause" unless there's something in it for us.
And they call this "pride"?
|Monday, May 28th, 2007|
|The empty house syndrome
When kids graduate college or get married or move away to enter the workforce, there's a name for the sense of loss parents can feel. It's called "empty nest syndrome." Having raised their children from diapers through drivers licenses and beyond, parents are left to feel a sizeable portion of their lives have been closed off once the nestlings have stretched their wings and flown from the nest.
Most parents deal with the sense of loss through new hobbies and projects and long-delayed vacations and the gradual realization that they are entering a new phase of their lives.
Last week I learned that adult children have their own "syndrome" to work through and mark one of life's passages: the emply house syndrome.
Over the past winter both my parents died. Like a pair of swans that mate for life, they passed away within a month of each other - my step-mother just before Thanksgiving and my father just before Christmas. Their deaths were not unexpected. Both had been in declining health for a number of years, but I'm convinced they kept hanging on to life for the sake of each other. Finally, when my step-mother died my father simply resigned himself to his own fragile mortality.
Last weekend in the tiny town in rural Missouri where I grew up, my step-sister and I oversaw the auction of my folks' belonging and house. What belongings hadn't been claimed by family members were set out in the yard. The house was emptied of its contents down to the bare floors and walls and the auctioneer made his way up and down the rows of boxes and furniture and the accumulation of more than two decades together that my father and step-mother shared.
My parents hadn't lived in the house for more than a year. When it became painfully obvious that they could no longer take care of each other, my step-sister and I finally convinced them to move into her house. There, in rented hospital bed side by side in the living room so they wouldn't have to climbed the stairs in her split-level house, they passed the remaining year of their lives.
I hadn't been down there to their home since they had moved. Instead, I'd spend weekends going out to my step-sister's to sit with them so my step-sister could have a break. I'd bring movies - westerns for my dad, mysteries for my step-mom - to keep them entertained. I'd tell them stories of my job and funny things my dogs had done. I'd listen to my dad talk about his family, his hunting dog Sport and the old general store his parents operated when he was a child.
Between the empty nest and the empty house there's a gradual shift that takes place in the relationship between parents and their children. It starts when the children suddenly realize they have become the equals to the parents. Suddenly parents are asking the opinions of their children: "Should I get a new car or just fix up the old one?" "Do you think I should go with the vinyl siding?" Gradually the child becomes a surrogate parent, running parents to doctors' appointments not unlike how parents drove children to little league games and band practice. With each passing year, the child assumes more and more responsibility for the parents until, near the end, it's the children who are changing diapers on parents.
In many ways, it's life lived in reverse. The parents who changed our diapers and helped us to walk now require the same from us.
And it ends with an empty house that serves as a metaphor for what we feel.
Before the auction I walked through the empty house, its floors creaking and echoing. The echos carried the memories of so many conversations of things of consequence and of little importance around the kitchen table. My old room that looked out over the three apple trees in the back yard. Only one of those trees remain and it's in sad shape. The field stretching out behind the house where all of us kids in the neighborhood - and being Baby Boomers, there was a small army of us - built forts and played. Would the new owners appreciate that I spent a Mother's Day more than a decade ago building raised flower beds around the trees in the front yard for my step-mother's flowers? Would they care that snapdragons were her favorites? Would they have any inkling that anything I know about tools came from working with my father in his basement workroom?
The new owners will build their own memories. Mine will be only memories that float unattached to a place that is no longer a part of me.
Like so many gays and lesbians who grew up in small-town America, I couldn't wait to leave my hometown. That was more than 30 years ago. In all that time it still remains frozen in memory as a stifling little town where, if I was to accomplish anything with my life, I had to flee. The town grew, at least a little. It has its own Wal-Mart SuperCenter now and where once the town only had a Pizza Hut, new fast-food places now dot the highway. The downtown is still the same three blocks of Main Street - with the speed limit now lowered to 15 miles an hour so it takes more than 30 seconds to drive from one end to the other - but there are new stores that have replaced the ones I remember.
Despite my vow never to return there to live, there was always something comfortable about know that if my life fell apart, there was still a place I could go. Like the husband and wife in Robert Frost's "The Death of the Mired Man," who discuss the reappearance of a hired man, "Home is the place where, when you have to go there,/They have to take you in."
That's the real crux of the empty house syndrome. For the first time in your life you realize you are on your own and there is no place where, if you show up there, they have to take you in.
|Friday, May 18th, 2007|
|Warning: Posting a profile may be hazardous to your job
It is without a doubt that the Internet has brought the gay community closer together. It has been a boon to rural and small-town gays and lesbians who face isolation living far from urban areas with their plethora of bars, community centers and organizations that build an extended community.
But there's a dark side to the openness we share in the online communities we build. Take the case of Shawn Wooten from Henry County, Georgia, who lost his job as a school bus driver last spring because he is gay.
Wooten didn't lose his job for fondling students on the school bus. Neither did he lose his job for greeting the kids getting on his bus with, "Good morning, kids. Did you know I'm gay? Do you know what that means? It means I like to get naked and have sex with other guys."
So what did Shawn do that incurred the wrath of the Henry County School District? He did what tens of thousands of other gays and lesbians do. He posted a profile on a gay web site. Specifically, he posted an ad with his photo on the "bear" web site Bear411. (For the uninitiated, "bears" generally means gay men who are larger and hairier than the stereotypical thin and smooth-bodied gay man.)
It must have been some really sleazy ad with photos of Wooten posing naked in all sorts of sexual positions to get him fired, right? Well, no. Actually, all the photos in Wooten's profile showed him fully clothed. There was a photo in the ad that showed a close-up view of a penis ... but this was on a guestbook feature where members of the site can post comments on other members' profiles. When the guestbook comments are posted, they automatically include a thumbnail copy of the profile photo of the person who posted the comment. Apparently, the guy in question was exceptionally proud of his dick and used it as his profile photo.
Wooten's photos were all of the G-rated variety. That in itself is an oddity since a large percentage of profiles on Bear411 have at least an R-rated photo.
The photos weren't taken on school property. Neither was the ad posted using school computers. It was done in the privacy of Wooten's own home on his own computer.
That didn't stop some busybody from printing out a copy of Wooten's personal and sending it to Georgia School Superintendent Kathy Cox who then contacted the school district. The ad also found its way into the hands of parents in the school district. Last June Wooten received a letter from the local school superintendent telling him that the school board had acted on his recommendation and was terminating his employment. The termination letter did not list a cause of Wooten’s firing, but in a June 13 e-mail Parish wrote Wooten saying the action was taken “because of the belief that it is in the best interest of the school system.”
In Georgia - and large chucks of the U.S. where narrow-minded bigots hold power and still operate under the assumption that if you're gay you're going to molest their innocent sons and seduce them into that dreaded "homo-seck-shul lifestyle" - firing gays and lesbians is in the best interest of the school system.
After nearly a year, Wooten has gone public with his plight. His profile is still up on Bear411. (if you're interested, it can be viewed here
.) He's also still out of a job.
From an article on Wooten's firing from The Southern Voice
, an LGBT publication in Atlanta:The legal boundaries of online privacy remain murky, but with many states — including Georgia — lacking employment non-discrimination laws that include sexual orientation, there appears to be little to stop employers from using online gay content to dismiss a worker, said Greg Nevins, senior staff attorney for the Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund’s Atlanta office.
“It reinforces the importance of having employment protections so employers don’t engage in improper or discriminatory reasons for discharging people,” Nevins said. “A lot of it comes down to the question of would [employers] be doing the same thing, but for the sexual orientation of the person.” ...
A lot of recent attention has been paid to employers using websites like Myspace and Facebook to cull information on prospective employees, but not so much on niche dating sites like bear411.com where content can be more racy. Dating sites that require a membership tend to feel more private than sites that can be accessed by the general public.
But “that false sense of privacy can lead people to reveal more about themselves than they would normally,” said Jeffrey Prince, a professor at University of California-Berkeley who studies sexual orientation in the workplace.
“Increasingly these online profiles are becoming more popular, but often people are forgetting they’re not private — they’re quite public,” said Prince, who added that older web users “may not be as familiar with electronic sites and how information may be accessed and duplicated.”
Private sites also guarantee little anonymity in small towns where word travels fast, said Janis Ashkin, a career counselor in Atlanta.
“If you are in a small community, or even a not-so-small community, it is very possible to see people you know,” Ashkin said.
What happened to Wooten is deplorable, but not surprising in a rural area where homophobia runs rampant.
But one thing not mentioned in the news coverage is who found the ad. If Henry County, Georgia, is so concerned about rooting out homos in its midst, maybe they should be asking themselves who took the time to cruise personal ads on a gay web site - one for which you have to register, by the way.
Hmmmm ... methinks there's at least another homo in Henry County - one who definitely isn't as out as Shawn Wooten.
Call me cynical, but I've always been wary of those online match-making services that promise to match you up to just the right person to meet your every need and live with happily ever after. There always seemed something just a little ... well, desperate, about filling out forms and surveys, then feeding them in to a computer system to find a perfect match. But for those who want to believe love is just a mouse click away, I say "go for it." After all, my own attempts for finding compatible partners isn't exactly a success rate to brag about.
I've seen the late-night television ads for a service called eHarmony, but never knew until the other day that the service routinely rejected gays and lesbians. I didn't know that until I heard about a new service - Chemistry.com - that is going out of it's way to attract gays and lesbians ... and presumably other groups rejected by eHarmony.
Chemistry has launched an ad campaign geared toward the eHarmony rejectees. The ad specifically for gays opens with a young man flipping intently through the pages of a nudie magazine. After examining the pages and centerfold, he closes the magazine and announces, "Nope, still gay." Immediately a stamp reading "Rejected by eHarmony" is superimposed on the screen and a narrator intones: “Who knows why eHarmony has rejected over a million people looking for love? But at Chemistry.com, you can come as you are…” (to view the ad on YouTube, click here.)
Apparently eHarmony has built it's reputation on matching boys only with girls. That's not surprising considering the service's history. When the site was launched in 2000, the site's founder - Dr. Neil Clark Warren - used nationally recognized homophobe James Dobson's syndicated radio show to promote the site.
Warren, apart from being the site founder and developer of eHarmony's 436-question survey, is also the author of a number of those ubiquitous self-help books. Several of these books were published by Dobson's right-wing Focus on the Family organization.
So it's not surprising that eHarmony would restrict itself to the "right" kinds of people.
Though Warren has attempted to distance himself from Dobson over the past couple of years, eHarmony still carries the repulsive stench of Focus on the Family. Though Warren claimed in a 2005 USA Today interview that eHarmony tries to reach “people of all spiritual orientations, all political philosophies, all racial backgrounds,” those efforts at diversity still don't include gays and lesbians.
According to an article in The Washington Blade, an LGBT publication:
In 2003, Dr. Steve Clark, director of research and product development for eHarmony, told Southern Voice that including matchmaking for gay men and lesbians would alienate straight users.
“We are trying to be sensitive, but you get to the dilemma of trying to make everybody happy,” Carter said. “A lot of the core audience for the service are the Christian religious conservatives who would be turned off.”
Oh Lawdy! We can't have turned-off fundies, now can we?!?!?!
Despite the clever ad campaign, I still think online matching services are a pretty banal testing grounds for our rights. But I guess we should take progress wherever it happens.
|Wednesday, May 16th, 2007|
|Circle the wagons! Here come the Puritans!
Let me say right up front that I have seen pornography. I've seen close-ups of body parts inserted into other bodies parts in just about all the permutations I can imagine and some that I had never imagined.
My first exposure to porn came about as a high school freshman when I found a stash of porn magazines that someone had tossed out. The theme seemed to be inter-racial heterosexual couples posed in various stages of sex acts. While it was educational in a way, it just didn't hold the fascination for me that it did for my straight classmates. In fact, it was downright boring.
When I went to college, I discovered gay porn. I figured if anything would interest me, that would. But I was wrong. I found gay porn just as boring as straight porn.
Call me a purist, but I'd like a little plot with my porn ... maybe some motivation as to why the svelte young blond surfer boy with the six-pack abs and the bulging Speedos is so anxious to engage in all manner of sexual activities with the dark-hair muscleman who inexplicably turns up at the surfer's door wearing a leather harness that reminds me of a push-up bra for sagging pecs.
I'm no prude, but watching someone go at someone else's body parts on video doesn't do much for me. The only time I remember having a good time with porn was at a party where we played Porn Karoke. For the unintiated, that's when someone plays a porn tape without the sound while guests provide a wildly inappropriate sound track by taking the parts of different characters and coming up with their own dialogue. For example: "Oh yes! YES! I see now why you insist that Nietzche's concept of necessary violence is a direct result of the rise of 18th century Rationalism! Tell me more! MORE!!!"
As you can guess, I'm not a big consumer of porn-related items. But that doesn't mean that just because I don't feel the need to log onto a porn site, bring home the latest issue of one of those one-word named magazines or drop a token in a slot at the neighborhood adult bookstore, that all people should change their one-handed reading, viewing or web surfing habits.
When it comes to porn, I take a staunchly libertarian approach: Hey, it's not my thing, but if you wish to indulge, just don't leave me a mess to clean up.
Not everyone takes that same approach. Take the National Coalition for the Protection of Families and Children. This group, through its local office, has taken it upon itself to lobby for investigations into 32 area "pornography outlets." (Funny, but when I see that phrase I think of an outlet mall selling stacks of "gently used" stroke magazines and previously viewed videos at discount prices.)
You know, I could see myself being sympathetic to the Coalition's cause under the right circumstances. The makers - and viewers - of child porngraphy deserve severe punishment for the same reason child sexual abusers deserve punishment: youngsters forced to engage in sexual activities can be physically and psychologically traumatized by the experience. Likewise, violent porn deserves to be censored. And porn involving animals. Otherwise, what two consenting adults do in life or one film is no one's business.
But with a group like the NCPFC, who's to say where they will stop. It's the slippery slope conservatives like to decry when someone suggests civil partnerships should be granted for same-sex couples. You can bet you'll hear them argue "It's a slippery slope toward granting gay marriage and pretty soon we'll have to marry groups and people who want to marry their sheepdog!"
I've looked at the NCPFC's web site
and it's got some truly scary stuff. It starts on the home page with mission (or should that be "missionary") statement: "Moving the people of God to embrace, live out, preserve and advance the truth of biblical sexuality." Somehow I don't think they are referring to King Solomon's many wives and concubines. Neither are they referring to Jonathan's love for David "surpassing the love of women." Nor the various other forms of sexuality mentioned in the Bible. I think we're talking good ol' fashion man on top of woman in the accepted missionary position lasting no longer than three minutes with neither party making any sound that would indicate they are enjoying the experience.
The web site also features a link to learn more about the "For Men Only purity groups." Ummmm ... OK. I think I'll pass on that one. There are links to allow you to listen to pre-recorded sermons on line, a speakers bureau where you can request a speaker for topics such as "Raising Kids in a XX Culture," and, being a "Christian" group, it's no surprise that there is an on line store and a page where you can plunk down your hard-earned money to be sure that efforts continue to safeguard against anyone anywhere having fun at any time.
Most troubling of all is the group's page of links to what it calls "like-minded organizations." That's where the true colors of an organization shine through. As my mother always told me when she felt I was hanging around with the wrong sort of playmates, "You're judged by the company you keep." If that's the case, chalk up NCFPC as just another right-wing, fun-D'uh-Mental-ist hate group. There are links to Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council, Citizen for Community Values, and the American Family Association ... extremist right-wing organizations all.
Apparently NCPFC's agenda extend beyond porngraphy. There are links to five "homosexual recovery" web sites. For those who don't speak fundie-ese, these are those phoney "ex-gay" groups that sell the 21st century equivalent of snake oil to the gullible. And for "medical and scientific facts on homosexuality" you can click on a link to discredited psychologist Joseph Nicolosi's National Association for Research and Therapy for Homosexuality
. Facts and Nicolosi's "research" are seldom even ships that pass in the night. Yet right-wing and fundie groups keep trotting Nicolosi out to tell them gays and lesbians really choose to be that way and if you send them to one of those pray-away-the-gay camps they will emerge 100 percent heterosexual.
Sorry, you misguided fundies of NCPFC and similar groups, but there's a simpler solution for you: If you don't like homosexuals, don't cruise parks on your way home from work to get an anonymous blow job ... if you don't like abortion, don't get one ... if you don't like pornography, don't drive 100 miles out of your way to put on a hat and sunglasses so no one will recognize you when you stop in for the latest issue of Jugs!
or Throbbing Cocks
If you can't do at least that, then here's an even simpler solution: Stay the fuck out of everyone else's life.
|Tuesday, May 15th, 2007|
|Goodbye and good ridance
Jerry Falwell, TV evangelist, founder of the Moral Majority and fundamentalist demagogue died today at the age of 73. Let us take a moment and look back at some of the events in the life of this man.
Item: Falwell began as a segregationist preacher who opposed interracial marriage. As with his opposition to homosexuality, he used the Bible to justify his prejudice and discrimination. In 1958. Falwell gave a sermon on segregation. stating that. "The true Negro does not want integration...He realizes his potential is far better among his own race... It will destroy our race eventually... In one northern city. a pastor friend of mine tells me that a couple of opposite race live next door to his church as man and wife...It boils down to whether we are going to take God's Word as final."
Item: Falwell was plain enough about his views on civil rights for blacks; in 1964, he told a local paper that the Civil Rights Act had been misnamed: "It should be considered civil wrongs rather than civil rights." His "Old Time Gospel Hour" TV program hosted prominent segregationists like Govs. Lester Maddox of Georgia and George Wallace of Alabama.
Item: It's 1965. The civil rights movement is in full swing and Falwell is a young Southern Baptist minister who gives a sermons titled "Ministers and Marches." In it he takes to task certain ministers such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for mixing politics and preaching. Falwell reminds his flock of a Bible verse that fundamentalists often invoked as evidence that God did not want them to participate in politics: "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh" (II Corinthians 10:13).
Item: In 1979 Falwell co-founded the Moral Majority, the first national effort to stimulate fundamentalist political participation and elect candidates who would, in the words of co-founder Paul Weyrich, "Christianize America." (So much for walking in the flesh but not warring after it.)
Item: When the disease now known as AIDS first appeared in the early 1980s, Falwell was the first in a long line of right-wing "Christians" to claim HIV was God's punishment on homo-seck-shuls. (Apparently in Falwell's universe God has a special place for lesbians since they are among the groups with the lowest rates of AIDS/HIV.)
Item: In 1998 Falwell embraced the ex-gay ministries and touted a cure for homosexuals. He teamed up with Michael Johnston. an HIV+ ex-gay leader. In 2003. Johnston was treated in a sex addiction facility in Kentucky after he allegedly had unprotected sex with men he met online.
Item: In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, Falwell said on fellow homophobe Pat Robertson's 700 Club. "I really believe that the pagans. and the abortionists. and the feminists. and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle. the ACLU. People For the American Way. all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen."
And now he's dead.
My dear old grandmother insisted that one should only speak good of the dead; so in her memory I will limit my remarks on my feelings about Falwell's passing to this:
|Monday, May 14th, 2007|
|Profiles in timidity
I suppose I should be happy the House of Representatives recently passed a federal hate crimes bill that for the first time would include sexual orientation, transgender identity, gender and disability to the already existing categories of race, color, religion and national origin.
I suppose it's significant that for the first time the measure passed the House - with a 237-180 margin that was largely along party lines.
And I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that the asswipe in the White House has already threatened to veto the measure ... the third time since a judical coup placed him in office in 2000. In what was described as a carefully worded statement of administration policy the White House called the expansion of hate crimes protections at the federal level "unnecessary and constitutionally questionable" and said that if the bill made it to the president, "his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill."
Since it would require a two-thirds vote of 290 to override President Asswipe's veto, in all likelihood the measure is dead.
Oh sure, there's a similar measure the Senate plans to take action on somewhere down the line, but does anyone believe the results won't be exactly the same?
The federal hate crimes bill is exactly what both parties want.
For the Democrats, it gives them a chance to mend fences with the LGBT community after the party tossed gays under the wheels of the bus to appeal to "moderate voters" (otherwise known as folks whose bigotry is more subtle that the usual diatribes spouted by radical right-wingers). And don't forget how Democratic Party Chairman Howard "Foot-in-Mouth" Dean not only eliminated the party's LGBT outreach office, but went on Pat "I'd-Fuck-Little-Boys-If-My-Dick-Could-G
et-Hard" Robertson's TV show and badly misstated the party's position on gay marriage.
Yeah, I'd say the Democrats could use some gay good-will points. And passing a federal hate crimes bill earns them a few.
For the Repugnantcans, President Asswipe's veto of the hate crimes bill gives them the opportunity to go back to their constituents and say, "See? We told you we're on your side. We made dern sure tham homo-seck-shuls didn't get no special rights. In fact, it's still OK to go out an' beat the living shit outta 'em." The fundies will, I'm sure be pleased and once again hang President Asswipe's picture right next to the one of Jesus in the kick-ass Rambo mode.
Yep, that should make the right wing happy and give them something to focus on other than how badly President Asswipe and his cronies fucked up Iraq.
Politics is like that. Sometime nothing changes - the status quo continues - and both sides get to declare victory.
In politics, sometimes there are no losers.
|Sunday, May 13th, 2007|
|Loving the hell out of 'em
A few weeks ago I attended the memorial service for the mother of a former co-worker. It was one of those funerals that was a true celebration of a life lived well.
I had worked with this co-worker for 18 years - long enough that we had passed into that phase of being an extended family years ago. Through her I got to know her mom who was a neighborhood legend for her love of all stray animals who showed up at her doorstep and the many children in the neighborhood who knew that "Grandma Bert's" was the place to go for a cookie or candy or just to have somewhere to go. Besides taking in stray animals, Bert took in stray people as well ... as when she provided a home for a young gay man whose parents had kicked him out of the house. That's the kind of person Bert was. She wasn't about to turn anyone away. Neither did she have an unkind word for anyone, with the exception of an occasional jab at George Bush - and even then it was a fairly mild reference to him as "that old son of a bitch."
Jokingly, everyone in the small office I worked in referred to Bert as our "other mother" for she fussed over us just as if we were her own. Sometimes when her daughter was out of the office and the rest of use picked up a call from Bert, it was rare when she didn't refer to us as "sweetie" or "hon" or "dear" half a dozen times in the space of a 30-second phone conversation.
It was at Bert's memorial service that I remembered a conversation my mother had with a neighbor years ago when I was in college. The neighbor, a minister's wife who lived two doors down, was distraught that her middle son was involved in a scandal. Seems he had become involved with an older, married co-worker. When this co-worker's husband found out it led to a confrontation with his wife that ended with her shooting him in the leg. Fortunately for the minister's wife this happened in a town 70 miles away, but since I worked with her son and was privy to the details, the minister's wife chose to confide in my mother assuming she had heard the tale already.
I was in the other room watching TV while my mom listened to the minister's wife bemoan the scandal her son had brought upon the family and how it would reflect on her husband's church if it should become know in our small town of roughly 1,500 souls. She ended her tale of woe with an "I just don't know what I'm going to do!"
"Leona, you just have to love the hell out of 'em," was my mother's reply.
I think that must have been the wisest words my mother ever spoke. In just a few simple words she summed up the job of mothers - to love their children unconditionally.
Bert was a living, breathing example of loving the hell out of 'em.
For gays and lesbians who grew up strangers in our own heterosexual families, the idea of mothers who would love the hell out of 'em is a comforting one. Some mothers are like that. Others require time to come around and find a way to accept their youngsters who are on a different path than the one they envisioned for them. And unfortunately, some reject their own gay and lesbian children out of their own addiction to their toxic form of religion and morality.
Think of the daughter of former Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes who was tossed out of the house when she came out. Keyes, by the way, is the same wingnut who denounced Vice President Dick Cheney's lesbian daughter as a "selfish hedonist" during the 2004 Republican National Convention.
Or the son of anti-abortion radical Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, who disowned his adopted son when he came out.
It used to be that families that rejected gay and lesbian children might one day come around and reconcile their beliefs and their LGBT children. One of the most touching examples of this is in the book Prayers for Bobby: A Mother's Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Gay Son
by Leroy Aarons. In the book, the mother comes to realize that her fundamentalist religion drove a wedge between her gay son and the rest of the family. That wedge led to his suicide and, through it, she was able to see the spiritual abuse and tremendous wrong anti-gay religious teachings do to families with LGBT children.
Now, thanks to the pernicious influence of fundamentalism, families are more likely than ever to reject their gay offspring. It's become a badge of faith among the religious right to choose a few scattered Bible verses over love for their own children. Just as God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Issac, on Mount Moriah in Genesis 22, modern religious addicts sacrifice their own gay and lesbian children on the altar of public opinion. But in the modern version, there are no rams to be found in the nick of time to take the place of Issac.
That's why, on this Mother's Day, we should salute the mothers like Bert who live by the creed "Love the hell out of 'em."
Bless you, Bert, the "other mother" to so many of us "strays."
|Saturday, May 12th, 2007|
|Oh, the horror of it!
I have a theory about horror movies. More than any other type of film - indeed, even more than the kind of films that get trotted out for Academy Awards - horror movies are reflections of the current mood of the country.
The other night I finally watched the movie "Hostel." It's the perfect metaphor for post-9/11 America. For those who haven't seen it, the film follows a couple of American college boys on a trip across Europe where, in true "ugly American" fashion, they plan to bed as many local girls as possible.
Lured by stories and rumors, they set off to investigate an Eastern European city where the women are said to be both beautiful and willing. Oh, sure, they get laid ... but in the process they find themselves captured by a shadowy organization that allows even shadowier millionaires to purchase the right to torture and kill them. There's even a price list with Americans fetching top dollar. Much mayhem ensues featuring electric drills, pliers, knives, guns and various other WMDs (that's "weapons of mutilation and destruction.")
What better way feed into the paranoid xenophobia of early 21st century America than make a movie where those nasty foreighners really are out to get us. Given how the Bush Administration squandered the world's good will in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a movie like "Hostel" pretty much sums up the current American zeitgeist.
Monsters and horror movies have always been a way to tap into our collective unconscious and summon up a boogie man who is a thinly veiled substitute for what we really fear. In the real world we fear shadowy terrorists who hate Americans indiscriminately and act on those plans with bombs and planes flying into buildings. Once the lights go down in the theater, we can fear shadowy foreigners who hate Americans indiscriminately and act on those plans with electric drills, pliers and any other weapon they can improvise.
Horror films provide a pretty good snapshot at what we fear - and hate - at any given time ever since the first celluloid shadows moved across the screens.
Back in the 1930s when America was still smarting from its involvement with the First World War - a European war, as most Americans would call it - the monsters were all European and most of them had the titles of a decadent nobility such as Baron and Count.
Dracula was a Count. Viktor Frankenstein was a baron. Even the wolf man had a streak of European nobility. His father was a Welsh knight who lived in a castle. Not a single good ol' American monster to be found among them. The message was clear: Americans good ... Europeans, especially those currupt nobles, bad!
America didn't have much need for movie monsters in the '40s. We were too busy fighting the real ones. We called them Krauts and Japs. We didn't need horror movies to remind us that foreigners were bad.
After the war ended with mushroom clouds billowing over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a new kind of monster was born. Enter Godzilla and his buddies of monsters spawned by the fires of atomic radiation. Having let the nuclear genie out of the bottle, suddenly we were scared. The Japanese led the way in popularizing these mutant monsters, but America wasn't far behind. We had "Them," a movie about giant mutant ants at an atomic test site. We even had "The 50 Foot Woman" rampaging through the streets.
Co-existing on the nation's silver screens with the mutants were aliens. These invaders from other worlds were our stand-in for "those Godless Commies" the grandfathers of today's right-wingers screamed about. Ever notice how those alien invaders all looked and dressed just alike? That's no doubt a cautionary tale of what happens in the sort of classless society Karl Marx envisioned. Remember the pod people from "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"? What better way to illustrate the insidious horrors of creeping socialism. Or it could possibly be an indictment of American conformity in the button-down '50s. The film is purposely vague on the message it's trying to get across. That's probably so it didn't get denounced as anti-American propaganda.
About the only movie from the '50s that bucked the trend of finding horror among the aliens was "The Day the Earth Stood Still." Alien Michael Rennie is shot by the American military while delivering a message of peace. His robot Gort then kicks some serious ass before reviving Rennie for a last speech before boarding his flying saucer. He tells them Earth can either decide to abandon warfare and peacefully join other spacefaring nations – a peace enforced by the robot race to which Gort belongs – or be destroyed as a threat. The spaceship then dramatically takes off leaving the choice up to rulers of Earth. Like "Body Snatchers," "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is vague enough to be read as either a denunciation of the military/industrial complex or a warning about the dangers of Communism's "peaceful coexistence."
In the 1960s, as production code loosened up, there weren't a lot of new monsters. Instead, we got kinkier versions of old favorites with subtexts only hinted at in the originals in full view. Suddenly the implicit lesbianism in the brides of Dracula was made fully explicit. Also more explicit was the violence. Thanks to the downfall of the old production codes for movies and the rise of new special effects, we were treated to the sights of severed heads and spouting blood in all those old Hammer International films with their seemingly endless revisions of Dracula, Frankenstein and the other classic monsters.
When the '70s rolled around, many of the horror films became "message" movies, warning us of all sorts of dangers. Take "Prophecy," for instance, where mercury contamination by a logging company caused mutations among the forest animals. The film itself is pretty forgettable apart from the mutant bear who looks more like it suffers from a terrible case of acne. Even a film like "Alien," which ended the '70s, was basically a haunted-house-in-space movie where the monster wasn't really the acid-blooded alien, but the corporation wanting to bring the alien back to study it as a potential weapon.
Americans had something new to fear in the 1980s: AIDS. That fear is evident in horror movies from that time. As soon as it first opened, the Jeff Goldbloom remake of "The Fly" was cited as a movie with an AIDS subtext. Suddenly ordinary people were transformed by the bite of a vampire or werewolf, but by a virus present in the monsters' bites. Horror movies suddenly carried a message that sex can kill. Look at the "Nightmare on Elm Street," "Friday the 13th," "Halloween" slasher films and their sequels. If some young couple had sex, it was a harbinger of a grusome death scene. I have a theory that today's rabid fundies fighting against sex education in school grew up watching these movies and took the films' morality lessons to heart. If they can keep their kids from learning about sex, their little darlings will never meet a gory end after having premarital intercourse.
Monster movies are popular for a while, then fade away. Suddenly they get popular again when someone makes a movie that touches on the some new fear that we are reluctant to talk about, but crave to see acted out on the screen in a slightly disguised way. If the villagers can destroy Frankenstein's laboratory, then there's hope we can survive rubbing elbows with those decadent Europeans. If we can destroy those giant mutant ants, then there's hope we just might survive the atomic age. If that American kid escapes in "Hostel," then there's hope that we might just survive in a world that has turned very anti-American.
|Tuesday, May 8th, 2007|
|Holding out for savage grace
It's summer movie season and Hollywood has already trotted out Spider-Man 3 to break box office records. Still ahead are the third in the series of Pirates of the Caribbean (the only movie franchise I know of to be based on a theme park ride), the return to Bruce Willis' "Die Hard" series and other movies that end in numerals.
It's not that I dislike blockbuster movies, but sometimes I wish for something with less sizzle and more substance. Maybe a little more character development and less dependancy on explosions and car chases, if you please, Hollywood.
But just when Hollywood has me drowning in dreck, I find some flotsam to hold onto until the summer sequal season passes and I can look forward to seeing a film that doesn't scream "Hey! Look at me! I spent enough money to feed, clothe and house the poor for a month on this single special-effect shot!"
By chance I stumbled across a notice that a film titled "Savage Grace" will be opening in limited release in the U.S. in November. The film is directed by Tom Kalin who made 1992's "Swoon," an indie retelling of the thrill kill murder committed by Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold Jr., a pair of lovers who kidnapped and murdered a child in the early 1920s. As gay-themed films go, this is not exactly a sweetness and light sort of film. It's pretty dark stuff ... but if "Swoon" was dark, "Savage Grace" has the potential to be pitch black.
"Savage Grace" tells the story of the murder of socialite Barbara Daly Baekeland (played by one of my favorite acresses, Julianne Moore) by her son, Tony. ( Tony will be played by relative newcomer Eddie Redmayne.) I've always thought the story would make a powerful film and I hope Kalin's up to the challenge of telling the story.
The facts of the case are pretty straight forward. In November 1972, Tony stabbed his mother in the heart in a posh London apartment. He confessed, was convicted of manslaughter under Britain's diminished responsibility rule, and sent to a psychiatric hospital near London for several years until he was eventually released and came to America to stay with his grandmother in New York.
Tony's troubles didn't end there. Eight years after killing his mother, Tony attempted to stab his grandmother. It was noted that he'd locked himself in his room and had been heard reciting Bible verses and chanting for days before the attack. His grandmother survived. He later killed himself in New York's infamous Riker's Island prison.
This could be just another tale of rich folks gone bad. After all, the family was fabulously wealthy thanks to Tony's great-grandfather, Dr. Leon Hendrick Baekeland, a plastics manufacturer whose products were patented under the trade name of Bake-Lite. The family patriarch was heralded as the father of modern plastics. Dr. Baekeland's progeny were not shy about flashing their cash and jet-setting around the world. Surely Tony was just another spoiled rich kid who had all the advantages the rest of us working shlubs lack and resent the wealthy for.
But there's another element to the story. Tony was gay.
Tony's mom couldn't bring herself to accept the fact that her offspring preferred chugging weinies to chasing skirts. Back in the swining '60s and early '70s there were no "ex-gay" programs for Mama to send little Tony off to in order to set him on the heterosexual path. So she improvised.
Mama Baekeland turned pimp, hiring all sorts of willing (and no doubt social climbing) young ladies to seduce young Tony onto the path of good old-fashioned boy-girl sexuality.
Not only did it not work, but it created a rift between mother and son. Finally, during a vacation in Majorca, a couple of years before her death, Barbara decided that she'd had enough of the rank amatuers trying to cure Tony and took matters into her own hands. She attempted to seduce her son.
What had been a rift became a chasm. The relationship between mother and son, never very stable to begin with, became a powder keg waiting only for a match. The match was struck during one of their legendary screaming matches and Tony grabbed a butcher knife from the kitchen counter - a knife whose handle was made of the Bake-Lite plastic that gave the family its wealth, for a final ironic touch - and plunged it into his mother's chest.
Dark stuff, indeed.
And a far cry from superheroes, pirates and other denizens of the summer movie season on their way to a theater near you.
Personally, I can't wait.