Friday, September 30, 2005

Speaking with One Voice



Being one of the few out gay men in a small Texan community gives me the extra benefit of being asked to speak for all queer people everywhere. You might ask, how is that possible? Surely people in 2005 realize that the “gay community” is really an amorphous social construction that includes immeasurable geographic, economic, racial, political, and gender diversity. Nope – not in Texas. You talk to one queer, you talk to them all.

Yesterday a colleague of mine, who we will call Prof. JuniorTexan, stopped me in the hallway. He had been following the indictment of Tom DeLay (who, I hope, will soon be in jail). Stories about one of DeLay’s potential replacements, Richard Drier, piqued Prof. JuniorTexan’s interest. He asked, “What does the gay community think about this?”

It had been much too long since I plugged into the gay psychic radio that keeps all us queer folk united (aside: only true WW fans will fully understand this reference). Still, I didn’t want to disappoint Prof. JuniorTexan. He seemed earnest in his interest. I noted that Drier was as evil as DeLay and had long been an enemy of GLBT issues. “Nooo,” he stopped me, “What about the outing of him? Aren’t you all opposed to that?”

Why would “we” be opposed to pointing out Drier’s hypocrisy? “Isn’t it a private issue?” He offered, “Couldn’t it ruin his career?”

I know I live in Texas, which predisposes people to a certain amount of problems. I am not looking to pick on Prof. JuniorTexan, either. After all, in his own way, he considers himself quite liberal. I also have a suspicion that these types of conversations occur across this red nation of ours.

“Hey, only-out-gay-person-I-have-ever-met,” they all must surely start, “Tell me, what do all you Friends-of-Dorothy types think about the truth being told about someone’s sexuality?”

At first his question seemed na├»ve, but on further thinking, I realized that “outness” is still a far from settled topic. Sure, someone like Drier seems like an easy case. He is queer, but hates queer people. The best way to stop him is to show his monstrous betrayal of other queer folk.

Other folk, though, we still let off the hook. Our policy seems to be, if they aren’t actively hurting us, we should let them come out on their own time. This is a mistake, I think. If you are queer, and you have a public venue, I think you have a responsibility to be out. It can’t just be a policy for the right-wing nuts. The lefties also have to be out, as well.

So, I started to explain this to Prof. JuniorTexan. I mentioned the example of Anderson Cooper, not at all because I am obsessed with his dreamy blue eyes.

“Anderson Copper is gay?!” Prof. JuniorTexan exclaimed. “How is that possible?”

My point made itself, even if it was lost on JuniorTex.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Breeder Fever


Last week a Christian school expelled a student when administrators found out that her parents were two lesbians (I saw this story first on Shakespeare’s Sister). Obviously, I am outraged. Let’s bring doom onto the school, rise up for revolution, blah, blah, blah.

Still, I had two other initial responses to this story. One reaction involved my feelings about religion. The other, though, is tied to a secret of mine.

First, I simply don’t understand why queer folk would want to send their children to Christian schools. Since I was raised Catholic, I still call on the saints and Our Lady of Guadalupe when I am in trouble. Sometimes they listen. I, therefore, understand the desire to cling to religious faith.

Come on queers, though, let’s work it out. Organized religion is not our friend, particularly Christianity. It’s time to realize that the foundational texts that most Christians depend on are just not cool with who we are. Trying to integrate ourselves into these churches will only bring heartache. Put away the hymn book. It’s over.

We have other ways of creating meaning for our lives. Remind me to tell you about the Kenneth Cole boots that changed my life in a later entry.

Religion aside, the story touched a dark element in my character. You see, dear readers, I have been called a “baby hater.” What has generated this name calling? Though I can’t be certain, it might have something to do with the fact that I hate babies.

I seem to be one of the few gay men of my generation who considers the lack of children a super benefit of being gay. Some of the queer folk around here, however, are desperate for children. I am not saying queer folk (or straight folk) shouldn’t have children. I just don’t know why anyone wants to have children. It baffles me beyond words.

I have tried to imagine what could possibly prompt people to procreate. I can understand broken condoms or missed pills. But to actually plan to have a child? Why? There are so many other things to do with your time.

The best that I can imagine is a parallel to puppies and kittens. These fuzzy creatures elicit an automatic, emotional response from me. They are cute. They must be cuddled. I am guessing that other people must have a similar reaction when they see human worm larvae (?!).

My reaction to babies, unlike my response to puppies, is one of dread. “God, they aren’t going to ask me to hold that thing, are they?” I think, “I bet it is crapping right at this very moment. Better fake a cold to avoid having to touch it. Why do they always smell? Oh, right, the crap.”

In our baby-centered world, this makes me a monster. There is constant, unrelenting social pressure for people to have children. Even my mother sends me news-clippings of various other gay men who adopted children. I despair at the thought.

Shaun always grimaced when people asked if I want children. My response is perhaps too honest: I don’t have the time or interest to keep an external parasite alive. Harsh? Remember, Center of Gravitas.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think children should be sent to work in factories. I also support giving huge amounts of funding for public education (why should the little brats grow to be illiterate drags on humanity?). There just doesn’t seem to be a good reason to want a child of my own.

Some people believe that my response to children must be part of my quirky humor. They seem to think under my "gruffness" is a real desire for one of those mewing infants. I allow them to think this, otherwise they will consider me inhuman. Breeder fever, however, is something I will never understand.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Rita Who?


Newscasters predicted Rita would bring doom, doom, doom onto my local community. Though the hurricane unleashed some serious problems in Texas and Louisiana, it veered sharply away from us. Saturday brought only trace amounts of rain and some breezy conditions. Sunday, with the exception of the searing heat, would have been a fine day to play tennis. Lesson learned? Never trust the news again. My faith in humanity has been entirely shaken.

Of course, I am kidding. I never had faith in humanity.

I am grateful that we were not injured and I feel for those who suffered because of the storm.

My values became deeply twisted, though. I only wondered, “What am I going to write about in my blog if the storm doesn’t hit?”

Perhaps I am too obsessed with my blog persona. I have always had a bit of an addictive personality. Is it too much, for instance, that I now make my colleagues refer to me as “Princess Diana?” Will this affect my chances of tenure? Before you answer, keep in mind I always made them call me “princess.” I am just adding the “Diana” bit.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Rita, You Skank


Hurricane Rita is approaching our community. We are north enough that we don’t need to evacuate, but we will likely face a major storm.

I was born and raised in New Mexico. I didn’t live anywhere else until I went to graduate school in the Midwest (another area of the nation not known for its tropical storms). Being a desert-boy left me woefully unprepared for thinking about Rita. In New Mexico, if it rained for more than twenty minutes we declared it a monsoon.

Without any experience to draw upon, I have found myself floundering with how to conceptualize Rita. My concerns vacillate between the ultra-mundane (Gosh, I hope this doesn’t interfere with my gym schedule) and the ultra-hysterical (I am going to be crushed by a falling house like the Wicked Witch of the East).

Searching my brain for reference points is my first response. Let’s see: Wasn’t there an episode of Dallas involving a hurricane? Hmm, I only remember Miss Ellie offering-up Pam to the serial rapist who broke into Southfork. That is not helpful – yet.

Damn you, flimsy-pop-culture-reference! You have failed me! Come to think of it, how would a hurricane ever reach Dallas in the first place? Damn you, again!

Okay, never mind my childhood devotion to televison. Wait! I am a professional historian. Surely this gives me some type of life skills. After all, people in the past faced hurricanes. Well, there was that 1900 hurricane in Galveston. What did they do? Oh, right, they all got themselves wacked (Too dark a reference? Hey, the blog is called the Center of Gravitas, not the Center of Hopeful Joy).

The only information the scare-tactic news offers me is that I will likely die. Well, okay, I probably won’t die. Newscasters, though, seem a little disappointed to concede the point.

Without a suitable frame of reference, we went to the local food mart last night to buy our “emergency supplies.” I discovered that others clearly knew that you needed to do your panic-shopping much earlier.

As I traversed the picked-over aisles, I wondered, what does one buy to prepare for a storm?

I noticed my fellow shoppers had a serious demand for Pampers. Certainly I also needed to stock-up. “Slow down,” I thought, “Shaun and I don’t have an infant.” But then I wondered, “What if one of us becomes incontinent in the middle of the storm?” I decided we needed a package just in case.

Bottled water had long been sold out. Two six-packs of Tab and a couple bottles of wine are just as good, right?

What about food? The oven won’t work without electricity, so making a Bundt cake would be out. We decided on ice cream, M&Ms, and curry-in-a-can.

Actually, I really only needed the wine (a nice Rioja, FYI). Shaun insisted on solid foods.

So, I am sure we will all be fine. Tell Dorothy if her house falls on me, though, I am kicking her ass and her little dog, too.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Force Open Those Closet Doors


Now is the time for all queer folk to be out of the closet. Right-wing officials want desperately to end our civil rights. Democrats have become entirely useless. The only hope we have is to show that we are a force with numbers too big to ignore.

To that end, I have composed an “Out Wishlist.” Okay, so it is not the most original content for a blog. Still, it is a good distraction from the wicked storm that seems to be heading my way. It is an even better distraction from writing the paper I am presenting at next week’s academic conference.

Rumors circulate around these famous folk, but they have played coy. If they have queer tendencies, they need to be out about these things. If not, be frank with us. We can take it. Ambiguity, either way, only reenforces the status quo. Nobody shows their cleverness keeping their sexuality a mystery (queer or hetero) – you are just playing childish mind games.

I also don’t want whining about how hard it is or how it will ruin their careers if they do identify as queer. If seventeen-year-old students can find a way to be out at Mississippi High Schools, I think these cats can stand a little publicity.


Anderson Cooper


Cooper’s bedroom eyes have fascinated CNN’s viewers for the past couple of years. His popularity recently soared with his New Orleans reporting. Not only did he ask politicians some tough questions, he melted our hearts with candid moments of playing with stray dogs. Even I, dear readers, found myself daydreaming about him running his hand through his silvery strands.

Think of the good he could do if he revealed that his keen reporting skills derive, in part, from his queer identity. Think it hasn’t influenced him? In this nation, one’s sexual practices inform a tremendous amount about your identity. His decision to provide obfuscating answers about his desires only confirms that importance.

Like many semi-closeted celebrities, hints about Cooper’s sexuality occasionally emerge (this is hardly the first blog to make this suggestion). Stories of him partying with Scissor Sisters raised eyebrows. Reporters, likewise, have constantly inquired Cooper about his sexuality. I even met someone from CNN who intimated direct knowledge of Cooper’s man-loving ways.

Cooper’s response remains empty, though. He doesn’t want to talk about his private life; he wants to remain “objective,” blah, blah, blah. ¡Ya Basta!

Cute though you may be, Mr. Cooper, you have a responsibility to your sisters. The only person you help by obscuring your sexuality is you. If your career can withstand hosting The Mole, you will be golden out of the closet.

Jodie Foster



How much longer are we going to wait for an answer from Foster? We have sat around watching her raise two children by (literally) nameless fathers. There have been the stories of her constant female companion, Cydney Bernard, moving into her house. Foster, people suggest, has more than toys in her closet.

She is one of those insufferable celebrities who everybody supposedly knows is queer. Except we don’t know, because she never said it. As long as she is silent, right-wing folk give her the “benefit of the doubt,” leaving other queer folk out in the cold

What does she fear? Does she really think she will no longer be cast in roles as a single, white quasi-feminist?



Sean Hayes


If Hayes has queer tendencies, his closetedness makes him a major loser. He is pathetic to have his straight co-star become a better advocate for queer issues than he. Not to mention, he is making millions of dollars playing some of the worst gay stereotypes. The message here seems to be that gay men can be clowns for tv, but queer actors are best left unknown.

Hayes has claimed that identifying his sexuality would harm his ability to portray characters as an actor. So, he thinks the audience would find his gay version of Stepin Fetchit less believable if they knew he was actually queer? Or is he worried that gay people will find out that a non-queer person has been making fun of us all this time?

Take some lessons from Eric McCormick and grow a set, Sean.

Chris Evans


Okay, so there is zero evidence and absolutely no rumors that Chris Evans is a man-loving-man. I am not looking to start any rumors, either.

It sure would make my day, though, if he decided to come out. He is super-dreamy. I sat through Fantastic Four twice (which is saying something about my low, low standards) just to watch him.

What? Not every desire for outness has to be politically motivated or based in reality.




Ron Stoppable

Best friend to Disney’s Kim Possible, Ron’s sexual preference seems obvious to all of his friends. Sure, he claims to want to date women. Yet, those efforts always seem to fail mysteriously.

Ron is just a teenager, and a cartoon, so I am willing to hold him to a different sandard than Cooper or Foster.

Let’s face facts, though, Ron. Your best friend, Kim, loves you, but not in that way. On separate occasions, you expressed interest in becoming a cheerleader, became obsessed with your hair, and showed your propensity for culinary skills. One doesn’t have to be Freud to question your obsession with your “naked mole.”

Think of the good you would do for yourself, Ron, by coming out. Surely Kim would be supportive.


Jesus



Here is someone who spent a good amount of time splashing around the water with John the Baptist. He also tended to hang out on the fringe of society, not feeling comfortable with the mainstream scene. His instant wine trick made him a hit at parties. Not to mention Jesus clearly seemed to prefer the company of twelve men over women.

Still, despite his obvious desires, he remains moot about debates on sexuality. He even lets others put words into his mouth rather than defend queer people.

Jesus, it has been more than two thousand years. Come out of the closet already! I know you are worried about what your father will think because of his whole Leviticus thing. You are probably also worried that your Southern Baptist friends won’t talk to you any more if you come out. But really, Jesus, they aren’t your friends if they can’t accept you for who you are: a big, flaming gay man.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Wrangling Racist Stereotypes


Hispanic Heritage Month, in case you did not know, runs from now until October 15. Various activists first proposed these types of months to counterbalance dominate narratives about U.S. history (that always presumed whiteness). These activists hoped that each month would be an opportunity to educate the nation about the contributions and struggles of Latinos, African Americans, and Asians. So, what is my problem with these seemingly sentimental visions of racial diversity?

Empty rhetoric has replaced activists’ ambitions everywhere from universities to popular culture. Though these venues always claim to celebrate diversity, their practices fall short of the original goals. Taking a cue from Benetton’s United-Colors advertising campaign, each racial group is promised their month of “cultural celebration.” A tiny group offers displays and artifacts that supposedly represent the larger Latino groups. Often these images teeter dangerously close to being racist stereotypes as much as the image in the Wonder Woman comic to the right.

Popular culture currently churns out racial images as a new marketing strategy. It is the consumption of this difference, they promise, that will unite the nation. These images, however, never address the material conditions or complexity of actual people’s daily life.

People of color are supposed to be grateful for the opportunity to “showcase” their cultural difference. What is really gained here, though? Ultimately, these month-long celebrations do little in terms of ending institutional racism. A month of serving tacos and listening to Mariachi music, sorry to say, does not help most Latinos in the U.S.

Our university president marked the start of campus celebrations by describing his vision of Latinos. Though clearly he intended to be supportive, excerpts of his speech gave me the creeps and suggest the larger problems with these events across the nation.

Latinos, he argued, had a set of core values that included ambition, work ethic, determination, family and tradition. In a plea for campus diversity, he declared “We all share the same goals and dreams . . . They make us more alike than dissimilar.” He then invited students to learn about “this culture.” Below the coverage of his speech, the student newspaper included an article explaining Mariachi music and its importance to “Hispanic culture.”

The president’s remarks seem less than genuine when one considers his invitee for an upcoming “Distinguished Lecture.” This particular scholar, whose talk will happen to coincide with the end of Hispanic Heritage Month, has published essays denouncing Mexican immigration to the United States. Among other things, he has printed audacious claims that Mexican/Mexican Americans threaten U.S. national identity because they refuse to give up their cultural traditions. “Throughout our history [meaning white, US. History],” writes this scholar, “people who were not white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants have become Americans by adopting America's Anglo-Protestant culture and political values. This benefitted them, and it benefitted the country.”

Our nation seems to want it both ways. On the one hand, Latino culture is a fun, new commodity for whites – “What fiery music! What colorful costumes!” On the other hand, universities and popular culture flatten epistemological differences –“Gee, if we weren’t different, we would all be the same.”

Difference that can easily be named and consumed (music, food, clothing) becomes safe and the things that institutions “celebrate.” This rabid consumption obscures the lived experience of being seen as racially different from the white mainstream. It also freezes Latinos and other racial groups into a static, monolithic entity.

Certainly I have encountered these expectations when I have taught the senior-level history of Latinos in the U.S. For the most part, Latino students and sincerely interested Euro Americans fill these classes. A small percentage of Euro-American students, however, take this class seemingly expecting I will share my secret salsa recipes. They react hostilely upon discovering that the class focuses on Latinos’ strategies for dealing with historical injustices.

Addressing racism involves more than making Latinos and other people of color visible to Euro Americans for a month (if these months even do that). We have to acknowledge that ideologies about race, class, and gender still structure our relationships and ideas about power. These ideologies, more over, have profound effects on the living conditions of millions of Americans.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Burn, Baby, Burn


About this time of year, in this part of the country, we start to hear rumblings about the loss of Texas A&M’s annual bonfire. A&M's "Aggies" once burned a massive pile of wood to mark the start of football season. A few years ago, for those who don’t remember, a number of students died tragically as they built the annual bonfire. It made the font-page of the nation’s papers, resulting in a university-ban on further bonfires.

I have historical reasons why I think it is a bad idea for a group of mostly white Texans to gather in the middle of the night and burn something. On some evenings I fear that I will awake to find that students have built a cross-shaped “bonfire” in my front yard.

People in this area, however, won’t let the A&M bonfire go, even with evidence that this activity is hazardous to their existence. “Bonfire,” they shout, “was a tradition. You know, like hazing or keeping women out of the military.”

Their zeal makes me wonder what traditions would be worth my life (or at least the life of a close friend). Maybe I am devoid of this type of passion, but I just couldn’t think of anything.

There are people I would surely risk my life for: Shaun, my family, friends, Lynda Carter.

There are ideals I would like to think that I would risk my life for: social justice, freedom of speech, all-natural fibers.

But traditions? I am stumped.

Even though I disagree with it, I am in awe of the bonfire devotees’ commitment to their crusade. Don’t misunderstand me: their passion does not make Bonfire seem like a good idea to me. Still, they print t-shirts, hold rogue bonfires off-campus, and write dozens of letters to the local papers. If I devoted half this much effort to my publication record, I would have had tenure years ago. If the left put this much effort into anything, we would have had a national healthcare program under Harry Truman.

So my strategy is to try to create new A&M traditions to harness this energy. How hard could it be to convince 44,000 students that demonstrating for gay marriage has always been an Aggie custom?

Friday, September 16, 2005

Austin, You Bug Me


Before I start my diatribe (and such a diatribe I will give you), let me acknowledge some great things about the city of Austin. If music is your scene, Austin can’t be beat. The live venues create an atmosphere of creativity to be sure. Other good things? The man-made lake is really beautiful, even if it is environmentally dubious. Janis Joplin could really sing (though she did blatantly steal from African-American traditions). Willie Nelson’s chronic-smoking ways are endearing. What else? Shaun and I spent an enjoyable afternoon frolicking in the LBJ library. Speaking of libraries, the Latin American collection at the Benson is renowned worldwide. Plus, you can obtain a great cup of coffee in Austin. This alone makes the city uniquely redeemable in the state of Texas. Austin could be really great . . . if it weren’t for the people.

Growing up in New Mexico predisposed me to distrust all Texans. It is something that I am working through each day of my exile here. Austin, my dear, you are making that difficult with your insufferable smugness.

Austin, for those outside the state, claims to be the liberal center of Texas. My experience with Austin folk (Austinites?), however, has shown this to be an exaggeration.

Our university is centrally dislocated. If you spend three hours of the day in the car, you can commute between here and Austin (or here and Houston). Some people make this choice. I don’t fault anyone for wanting to live outside this small town (see my discussion on COID for reasons why).

What bothers me, though, is that those who commute to Austin ooze a sense of self-satisfaction. It is an ooze absent from Houston commuters. By relocating to Austin they have graduated to a higher life form. Their constitution has apparently become too delicate to withstand the harsh conservativeness of the local community. It might be okay for everyone else on the faculty, but they couldn’t possibly live here. It would betray their liberal ways. The implication being, of course, that those of us who do live here are betraying the liberal cause.

Yet, these same people glaze over when I discuss the importance of boycotting most California and Latin American wines. Thinking about pesticide poisoning and unfair labor practices crimps their good times in Austin. Being “left” isn’t about helping people! It is about having access to great music, partying all night, and getting a sweet haircut. Being left is about feeling good about yourself, not fighting social injustice.

Austinites, in this way, have turned me off of their city. They want to be known as “liberal” to make themselves feel special, but most don’t do any of the thinking or the work that claiming that identity requires. Rather, they believe that buying a $250,000 house in Austin demonstrates their commitment to “the people.” Hey, they live in Austin, what more can we ask?

Let us take the University of Texas, located in Austin, as an example. For decades, UT has claimed to be the “left alternative” for students in the state. This “lefty” university has a student body of 47,905, but an African-American enrollment of only 1,897 (barely making four percent of the total). In a state that is well over thirty percent Latino, UT managed to enroll only 6,080 of them (making Latinos less than 13 percent of the student body – (fact checkers, you can find these numbers here)). In comparison, conservative Texas A&M University has an enrollment of 44,435. Of these, about 2.5% (or 1,094 students) identify as African American. Another 9% (4,146) identify as Latino. Both universities’ numbers are atrocious and do not reflect the population of the state. If UT still claims a lefty ideological split from A&M, it is not reflected in the diversity of its students (you can find A&M’s numbers here).

UT saw fraternities throw parties in which members dressed in “Jim-Crow” costumes. They were either completely oblivious to their own racism or were openly celebrating it. Whatever the case, few in Austin objected.

Why, with all of these “lefty” people in Austin, isn’t there a massive mob demanding the university meet its social obligations? Perhaps it is their day to jet-sky on the lake...

One colleague, let’s call him Prof. Funkyglasses, came to us from UT. His arrival generated much anticipation amongst the left folk here. He was a “radical,” they claimed, who would really shake things up. “He,” they said definitively, “is from Austin!” It was as if the city’s physical space had imbued him with superhuman leftness. Our leftness would pale in comparison to the great Austinite.

To listen to them talk, I expected Prof. Funkyglasses would arrive with a case of jaunty berets strapped to the back of his motorcycle. He would distribute these berets, direct us in the singing of “We Shall Overcome,” and then lead us all to revolution.

In his time here, though, Prof. Funkyglasses has not been a steady member of any of the lefty organizations. Nor has he become a voice for institutional change. Don’t get me wrong, he has PLENTY of advice to dole out (and even more criticism) for the other lefty folk. When things need to be done, however, he is no where to be found. It turns out he spends more time in a local bar called “Revolution” than actually leading one.

Perhaps my dismay with Austin originates with having seen authentically liberal cities in the U.S. Urban centers like San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Chicago (most times), or Seattle have a dramatic left vibe. Those cities have astounding liberal powers. They can drag the rest of their states kicking and screaming into the blue column. Conversely, if you are in Austin, you are still in red, red Texas.

Maybe I am jealous of their good times. Being the Center of Gravitas makes it difficult to be happy go lucky. Or perhaps their hollow claims of leftness interfere with my own hollow claims of martyrdom.

Whatever the case, Austin, I can’t agree with your self-appointment as “liberal bastion” for Texas. Based on my experiences, I can only offer that you are “less conservative” than the rest of the state. In the immortal words of Shania, “That don’t impress me much.” Good coffee, though...

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Going So Soon?


What type of message does it send when the chief officer in charge of institutional diversity (let’s call him COID) leaves the university after less than two years? I am not saying that he hates this university, but he does not seem to be shedding many tears about finding a new job.

Why would he want to go? Maybe if I think about his short tenure here, something will come to me... Let’s see:

His first week on campus, students in the ultra-right wing Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) held an “affirmative action” bake sale. For those who don’t know, these silly things are supposed to show the alleged injustice that white men suffer under affirmative action policies. To make their point, they charge white men more for their stale baked goods than women or people of color. So, you see, COID should have felt immediately welcome.

Not long after that, students at our sister campus defaced a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. But, hey, this wasn't our university. Surely COID didn't take that as a reflection of the entire state. After all, our university doesn't even have a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Then there were the explicitly racist, quasi-threatening e-mails he received. Anonymous (read cowardly) people used the information superhighway to inform COID that diversity was not welcome at this university. Maybe COID did not realize that part of his employment involved enduring the unending hate of the local community. I am sure it was in his job description somewhere.

Perhaps the constant harassment of African American students by local businesses might be linked to his departure. I am not certain, but finding that African American students aren’t welcome in certain stores and bars might have been a turn-off for him.

Or maybe it was just events in the past week alone. Let’s see: the arrest of a transgendered individual for no reason; a letter in the student paper defending the “Minutemen” border vigilantes; the assault of an international graduate student and the assault of the family of an international graduate student. I can’t be sure, but maybe he thought these things suggested a hostile environment.

I know many people will give the usual speech about him "giving up the fight, blah, blah, blah." Let's face it, though, it is really like he is being let out of jail. We would all take the chance.

People of the left: SEND HELP! Our red state is only becoming more red.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Under Siege


Yesterday a parent filed a complaint with the dean’s office about my freshman U.S. history class. This irrate mother was shocked, SHOCKED!, that I assigned a history of gays and lesbians in World War II. She knows that I am pushing my radical, queer agenda on her innocent son. For this, she said, I should be fired. She stopped herself from asking for my immediate execution.

This morning I received a note under my office door from another student who wants to meet with me. She said that she is “concerned about the course content and direction.” I have a pretty good guess what she has in mind.

I don’t live in some never-never land. I know, for instance, that it is unlikely that Joss Whedon will ask my advice as he directs the Wonder Woman movie (but who will explain Reform Island to him?). It seems even less likely that he will ask me to star in it.

Given this healthy sense of reality, it does not surprise me that assigning gay and lesbian history causes hand-ringing among certain Texans. As I start each semester, I always try to prepare for some backlash against my classes.

What I find baffling about the first event, though, is the way parents perceive their role in universities. Federal Law prohibits universities from discussing a student’s academic performance with parents. Why? Because the law assumes that university students are adults. Yes, adults! Meaning that they are supposed to be able to make their own decisions about course work and studying.

Given the way many students behave, though, adulthood no longer seems to be the expectation. I am convinced that a few students still go home to breast feed, though I have no direct evidence.

I wish that I could claim an ingenious radical queer agenda. My goals for teaching history are modest: I want my students to be exposed to a wide variety of perspectives. Part of going to university, it seems to me, is learning about people and ideas that were omitted (or actively silenced) in their god-forsaken Texas high schools. On my syllabus, I spell out my expectations that we will read historians writing on Latino, African American, Asian, feminist, and queer issues. Naively, I expect that students will be excited to learn things about the past that they did not know. Every semester, however, I face complaints about all or part of these readings.

Fortunately, my department head and the administration supports my academic freedom and the books I assign (even if members of the department do not). For this I am grateful.

I know I could save myself this grief if I taught without assigning these things. I simply can’t teach “by request,” though. Ultimately, I have to do what I think is the most ethical.

Then again, maybe Mr. Whedon will offer me a career change. . .

Monday, September 12, 2005

Left verses Left



Storms are brewing amongst the lefty folk here. Although at the micro-level, these problems are the same things that keep the left from moving forward nationally.

In an event too complicated to explain now, the president of our faculty/staff GLBT organization responded to the harassment of a transsexual individual in the community. At the same time, unknown to the GLBT organization, the leader of a feminist advocacy group also responded to the same event. In my book, double the effort, double the results. Both ultimately wanted an end to the harassment and institutional change. Therefore, both should have been pleased that they were, unknowingly, working for the same goals.

They don’t see it that way. Now the left is squabbling about bizarre territorial notions.

From hearsay, it seems the feminist leader felt the GLBT organization arrived too late (we were not informed of these events until days later). Further, the feminist leader feels that the GLBT group made a mistake bringing in national organizations (the president of our local group has connections with the various GLBT legal defense groups). On the flip side, the leaders of the GLBT group feel that the feminist advocate had been ineffective. Moreover, some are now thinking that she withheld information from GLBT group, or at least made little effort to communicate. Both groups think the other acted unilaterally.

What does the left do when faced with such disagreements? We have formed a committee to think about these issues. Committees always produce results, right?

This is why the left keeps failing. We vacillate between indulging our own supreme egos and making sure everyone else’s feelings aren’t hurt. You can already feel people taking sides and feeling tense. To be frank, both the feminist advocate and the GLBT group made mistakes. This is not a radical realization. Neither side even thought about coordinating with the other. We should add that to our list of “experience learned” and move forward. In the past, the feminist advocate has been an outstanding friend to the GLBT folk. Likewise, the GLBT community has an obvious investment in ensuring the success of feminist groups on campus. Rather than acknowledge these things, the left is splitting along emoitional and personal lines. Our shared goals are going to be lost if we get bogged down in snipping at each other.

People on the right don’t have these problems. Regardless of internal squabbles, the right remains united in their hatred of us (feminists, queer folk, those who think).

But, apparently, the left needs a committee report to confirm that.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Working Out


My partner convinced me to get my sorry ass to the gym. Actually, a gym membership was one of his Christmas gifts to me. Sometimes subtlety eludes him.

It has, however, proved to be one of his most helpful gifts. Right now I am probably in the best shape of my life (not that it was a hard benchmark to overcome).

I have never, ever been someone who loves to work out. As I have made it part of my routine, though, I have realized something about myself. I am somebody who can really, really reinterpret his emotions. In other words, rather than recognizing that my body is in pain, I turn that feeling outward to my fellow gym goers. Basically, it emerges as supreme lust.

True, there are obvious gods who lurk around the equipment daily. These are men that any man-loving-man would notice.

Yet, the gym seems to spur interest in guys I would never notice outside of the testosterone drenched walls. There is TwinkGod; SaunaCrunchGuy (he does crunches in the sauna, don’t know why); WorksOnlyArmsGuy (not to mention WorksOnlyArmsGuy’sBrother!); and on and on.

Okay, so I don’t have the most original of nicknames for them. But who cares? They are all deities in my perspiration induced daze. . .

Friday, September 09, 2005

Irony


So, here is an irony in my life. It is a real irony, too; not one of those fake, Alanis Morissette ironies.

As my screechy posts might indicate, this university can frustrate me. The majority of that frustration comes from institutional racism, sexism, and homophobia.

At times, however, I have found the queer community to be dumbfounding as well. Examples? First, they don’t like being referred to as a “queer” community because they are clueless about queer theory. Second, as one of only two faculty who are out in the classroom, I have been criticized by other queer folk! Apparently it makes them feel bad and draws unnecessary attention (FYI: My partner is the other out faculty member). I can deal with this stuff, though. After all, if I want to teach wearing a Wonder Woman costume and waving a rainbow flag, it is none of their fricking business.

The official queer campus (sorry, the official GLBT) organizations, however, aggravated me the most. The lack of ambition among the queer folk here left me itchy. One organization is supposed to unite all the GLBT faculty and staff together. For me, this seemed the perfect tool for getting the administration to hear us. Yet, the organization has been totally focused on social events in past years. Their idea of advancing the status of queers on campus was holding a My-Little-Pony ice skating party.

“¡Ya Basta!” I said, “I need to stop whining and become part of this organization! It will never change unless new people become involved.” So, I along with a couple of friends, ran for the executive council (unopposed).

Now the organization is actually looking to do something! One of the officers has created a committee to lobby for sexual orientation to be a protected category at the university level. Another officer is organizing a teach-in. All of this is fantastic! What a change!

This is the part of the story, however, where I come off badly. Somehow, with others jumping on these committees, I have become the defacto social committee. Yes, I became an officer in this organization because I believed these social events wasted our resources. The very thing that frustrated me about this organization is now my responsibility. See? Ironic!

Not that I mind too much. I am thrilled that the group is off and running on real activities this year. But where am I going to find 150 My-Little-Pony invitations?

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Tenure Woes...


Currently the department is debating the procedures for reviewing junior faculty. This seems to be an annual event in the time I have been here. Senior professors gather and debate how best to predict our future. Most often, the results have been disillusioning.

My childhood imagination of work had some serious misconceptions. Growing up watching television, I envisioned that work involved drinking coffee and laughing with my coworkers over the day’s foibles. Realty has dashed those hopes. Of course, I also envisioned secretly changing into Wonder Woman and fighting crime on the side. Those hopes have been equally dashed – for now.

The academic world seemed to promise a path of intellectual rigor and growth. In my naivete, I thought that conducting research and encouraging students would ensure one’s success. As my partner is fond of pointing out, though, the academic community is not a meritocracy.

Instead, junior faculty face numerous snake pits as they try to please their colleagues, students, and administrators. At least weekly, one of my colleagues stops by to determine my “progress” toward tenure. Usually this is little more than an excuse to dismiss whatever research or publication I have in front of me as "too regional" (read "too ethnic").

This is not to say I hate my job. On the contrary, I can’t imagine anything I would rather do than research and teach. I am just saddened that many of the senior historians imagine themselves as gatekeepers. It also seems to be the least productive members of the senior faculty who are most interested in keeping junior people out. Perhaps they simply have the most time to come up with ways to harass us.

Gosh, though, I wish they would take up another hobby. Building ships in a bottle seems infinitely more relaxing than picking on your junior associate.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

We Have Failed Our Fellow Citizens

Like most people in the world, I have been saddened by the Louisiana tragedy. One has only to see the briefest of news coverage to sense the fear and desperation that grips New Orleans.

News commentators and politicians have been quick to shake their heads at the looting and violence. They call it the sudden collapse of civilization. I think, though, that the collapse of our civilization can be found far from the Gulf Coast.

We should not be shocked by the desperate acts of those who are hungry and exhausted. Rather, the apathy and callousness of their fellow citizens and leaders are more ominous harbingers of collapsing civilization.

I am not diminishing the heroic and astounding efforts of medical professionals and rescue workers who have given their all to New Orleans. Nor do I take lightly the monetary and material donations from across the nation.

Overall, however, it is undeniable that we have failed our fellow citizens in their moments of greatest need. “The test of our progress,” Franklin Roosevelt once advised the nation, “is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” Seventy years later, it seems we collectively decided that FDR was simply loony.

I know a small storm is brewing around Bush. Some are shocked that he delayed touring the gulf for so long. Others can’t believe how hollow his gestures of sympathy sound. To me, though, these things are not surprising. We saw this side of Bush on September 11. Am I the only person left who remembers that Bush did not show “real leadership” during that equally dark time? Rather, he ran away and hid in a bunker, thinking only of himself.

As tempting as it is to blame Bush and his crew for these problems, they only echo the nastiness of the larger nation. After all, Mr. Bush handily won reelection on a platform that promised more war, more hate, and more tax cuts. Most Americans, even if they didn’t agree with this vision of the United States, simply didn’t care enough to vote at all.

The United States failed those stranded in New Orleans long before now. The majority of those left in the city were poor before the hurricane hit. Most Americans really didn’t think about them until their desperation became a visual image to be consumed.

Many Americans face hunger daily. Yet, we no longer seem to feel that it is a national obligation to help our fellow citizens. Rather than working to ensure that we provide for those who have too little, we have cared only about our individual lives. It is that lack of citizenship that draws into question our civilization.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Why the Center of Gravitas?

I am a young faculty member at a Texas university. Indeed, I am one of the youngest in my college, if not the youngest. Yet, my colleagues imagine that I am years older than I am. Actually, they seem to imagine I am years older than the university itself. Okay, that might be an exaggeration.

Still, I don’t think I look particularly old. I am in good health and have only a few grey hairs. If I am not wearing my “teaching clothes,” I am often mistaken for an undergraduate.

Why, then, do my fellow academics think I am so much closer to death than they? Oddly, completely independent people have responded the same way: “Oh, I only thought that because of your gravitas .” Who other than academics would use such an arcane word to insult someone? I suppose it conveys what they wish they could say: “Gee, you really are that young? I wouldn’t have known because you seem to suck all the life out of a room when you enter.” They can be a sweet crew.

I resisted for a few years, but have decided to embrace the gravitas. After all, I have many reasons to be grave. As a gay man in the middle of Bush country, I have never slept very soundly.

We have a delightful governor. Even as I write this, he is traversing the state promoting a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. When pressed about the obvious problems this would cause for gays and lesbians, he gave a thoughtful response. “If there's a state that has more lenient views than Texas,” he generously offered, “then maybe that's a better place for them to live.” Who says compassionate conservatism is just a slogan?

Of course, state politics aren’t the only things that are prematurely aging me. Like any junior professor I am subject to the whims of senior colleagues. They hold my professional career in their hands through that whole tenure thing. It doesn’t help that some of my colleagues hate my academic field (Mexican American History). Probably I make this worse with my annoying habit of wanting the department/college/university/state/nation/world to pursue actions that lead to social justice. A few years ago, some of my senior colleagues proposed the elimination of the department’s equal protection clauses in our bylaws. No longer, they said, did we need to offer protections that would prevent women, people of color, people with disabilities, or GLBT folk from being harassed. All that legalese, it seems, was getting in their way of hiring only straight, white men.

Maybe gravitas is just another way to say I whine too much.... Either way, I have decided to embrace it. After all, if there is a center of gravitas, I am sure I am in close proximity.