Saturday, December 22, 2007

Nonsectarian, Nondenominational Holiday Greetings


After a grueling couple of days, I finally finished all of my grading for the semester. All educators seem to agree: Grading sucks.

Each prof I know has some peculiarities that really drive them up the wall when they read student papers. Certainly I have a couple. Normally, for instance, I am not a stickler about grammar. After a full semester of writing for my class, however, I am amazed that students haven’t figured out that they need to write using past tense for history. By "amazed," I really mean "beating my head against a cinder block wall until it is bloody." This is despite the fact that I have constantly written in the margins of all of their other papers. I mean, come on – History is the study of the past. Therefore, past tense should be intuitive, no? How hard can that be?

Yet, I still had papers that discussed Emiliano Zapata as an active and eternal agent. Sure, he might have died in 1919. According to some of my students, though, he continues to fight in the Mexican Revolution to this very day.

In the midst of all that grading, I also had to go and do some rapid shopping for my family. Normally I start shopping for the holidays months before the final day. This year, though, I didn’t even notice how quickly time was passing. There is nothing more disturbing than feeling the panic about trying to find something – anything – to give as a gift. In my case, I had zero (0) gifts for my family as of 5:00 pm on Thursday.

Now I am off to my place of birth for a very short holiday. While I am eager to spend time in New Mexico again, part of me would simply prefer to sleep for the next few days. I have so little energy, it might be nice just to hide out in quiet.

It's not that I am not eager to see my family. Still, I think we all agree that family time can be tricky. They know how to push your buttons. After all, they installed them. Plus, my sister has already informed me that she plans to try and fix me up with a friend of hers -- who is retired and over sixty.

While I don't want to be ageist (Hey, you never know where that potential love interest might appear!), I find it hard to imagine that we are really going to hit it off. I am just at the start of my career and half his age. It makes me wonder what she imagined that we had in common, Oh, right! We are both gay. Isn't that enough?

All I can say is that my parents better have plenty of tamales waiting for me when I arrive. In the meantime, I hope all of you have a great holiday!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Love is All Around

This past weekend marked two years since I moved out of the house that I co-owned with Liar Ex (Who Told Many Lies). It was the day that I stopped crying enough to pack a bag, tuck Cat under my arm, and get away from Liar Ex’s indifference. Of course, I didn’t know at the time that the collapsing real estate market coupled with my own poor housing choices would drag out everything by another year and a half until the house finally sold this past spring. It also left me financially bankrupt because I had to pay both rent and my part of the mortgage for that year and a half. I still haven’t recovered from that (What a nice memento of that hellish time).

There are many dates after this one (and many dates before) that could potentially be used to mark the final end of that atrocious eight-year relationship. To my mind, though, the day I checked-out of that house was the true end.

I don’t mention the day to recount (again) all of the bad things that went down at the end of that relationship. The short version will suffice: After eight years, I discovered that Liar Ex was, well, a cowardly, selfish, liar. He left no promise to me unbroken. For most of our last year together, he seemed to enjoy humiliating me and reminding me of just how inadequate he thought that I was. As I struggled to meet each new milestone he created that (he claimed) would make me worth while in his eyes, he was busy scouting out (what he imagined) to be better options. Liar Ex felt free to treat me as if I had the same emotional complexity of a paper doll.

He had many opportunities to be a stand-up guy when it came to ending the relationship. Each time, however, he was too cowardly, too selfish, or too lazy to bother. Even at the bitter end, his expectation was that I would cheerfully validate his decisions by becoming a happy “roomie.” Why wouldn’t I want a front-row seat to him building a new relationship with that homely loser that he trudged up? **Sigh** -- He didn't even have the decency to find somebody younger, better looking, or more interesting than me. Loser.

Okay, so maybe I do bring up the date to recount some of the bad things that went down. Hey, I never said that I don’t need lots of therapy. Go to somebody else’s blog for a psychologically well-adjusted account of their life.

To make up for it, I've included some of my favorite break-up songs throughout this post. These were great listening in those early months:



More importantly than recounting the bad end, I mention the two-year mark because I marvel at how much my life has changed in that time. Two years ago, it was not my decision for that relationship to end (which is why I was always so desperate to believe Liar Ex’s many lies). From his vantage point, it would have been just dandy if I treated the end of our eight year relationship (and his many lies) as if it was no big deal.

The problem being that the end of the relationship was a very big deal to me. For most of the first couple months after I moved out, it felt like my skin was on fire. Most of my nights were spent watching Wonder Woman DVD's, hiding in bed, and wondering how I would face another day. There were times when I had to abandon my shopping cart in the middle of a grocery store because I started crying. Let me tell you, it is remarkably painful when you find out that your love was worth nothing more than a passel of lies.



Other people bounce back from such things more easily, I am sure. For me, however, it was one of the worst experiences of my life. It took a certain amount of hard work and introspection to get through those first few months. Plus, I went through lots of therapy. Fortunately, I found an unconventional therapist who recommended sleeping around and drinking a lot. No kidding -- That was his advice. My favorite session ended with, "Are you sure you are drinking enough?" Hey -- Who was I to question doctor’s orders?

Aside from a therapist who promoted alcoholism as a therapeutic treatment, I was also lucky to have friends and family who really cared about me. Plus, there were some exceptional people who showed me a lot of kindness through this here blog.

Like the sacred gospel of Gloria Gaynor promises, I learned to get along and I grew strong. A straight-friend (Yes, I have them) who had gone through a similarly bad breakup gave a peculiar, though accurate, estimation of one of the few advantages of the situation. When faced with many layers of betrayal, your own love for that person dies almost completely. There is no wistful longing for futures that never came to pass or small glimmers of hope about reconciliation. Instead, you come to see the person’s actual character with a stranger’s eyes. Let me tell you, in the case of Liar Ex (Who Told Many Lies), that ain’t pretty.



Let’s be honest, darlings, Liar Ex wasn’t worth half of me. Even when I think about the type of people that Liar Ex (Who Told Many Lies) surrounded himself with at the end of the relationship (people who were shallow, exclusively white, and intellectually lazy), I realize how little he and I had in common. We were poorly matched by every measure. If anything, I wished that I had ended that relationship a thousand times earlier.

Two years out, I can say that I am much happier with my life than anytime in my eight-year relationship. Indeed, I wouldn’t trade my worst, most lonely day in the past two years for another eight years with Liar Ex (shudder).

The cosmos has been good to ol’ GayProf. I had a great year in Boston and started life over again in Midwestern Funky Town. My job is remarkably good within academic circles. These days, I am less likely to keep people in my life who are unwilling or unable to take my feelings into consideration.

Sure, there are things that still stress me out (never ending project of doom, foibles of dating, shoveling inches of snow simply so I can get out of my driveway). In many ways, I don’t know what my ultimate goals in life are (beyond finishing the never ending project of doom). Will I get tenure and stay in MFT? Will I seek out other vistas? Will I become headwriter of a gay soap opera? Who can say?

Right now, though, I like being an independent agent. My little cottage is warm and comfortable. Cat is sweet. I recently developed an appreciation for Bourbon, which means that I currently enjoy delicious Manhattan Cocktails. My health is fine. I have good friends who adore me.



It’s good that the anniversary of the breakup reminded me to take stock in all the really great things that surround me. All in all, I feel content and happy with my life at this moment.

Oh, and because I am certain that he is pathetic enough that he still reads this blog: Happy Anniversary, Shitdigit.

Monday, December 10, 2007

No Time

Time passes incredibly fast for me these days. I feel like it should be the start of November, not deep into December. All of my days are just a blur of teaching, the never ending project of doom, meetings, and pretending like I have a personal life. This has meant that my little bloggy has been neglected. Even my reading of other blogs has fallen on hard times. It’s not because I don’t love you.

Sadly, the coming month looks even busier with grading, the never ending project of doom (Did I mention it was never ending?), traveling for the holidays, and returning to teaching after an ungodly short winter break (Classes start here January 3 – That is so evil). Don’t give up on CoG. It will be updated, but maybe not at a rapid pace – or with much vigor – or in a form that will actually entertain anybody.

When thinking about how to explain that I didn’t even make my magic “9" entries for November, I wanted to come up with a more interesting excuse than I was “busy.” My absences should always be mysterious and glamorous, just like my real life. Here are some things that I have considered deploying as plausible explanations for my less active blog:


    My blog silence shows my political solidarity with the Hollywood Writers Strike.

    My blog silence is a political statement in opposition to the Hollywood Writers Strike.

    Mattel is currently developing a GayProf action figure (with Gravitas Grip!). Debate is raging about whether or not it will have removable clothes.

    I entered rehab.

    I refused to enter rehab.

    I am still busy interviewing celebrity guest-hosts to take over CoG while I am on vacation.

    CoG will soon become a musical on Broadway.

    I decided that being a porn star would be more interesting than writing a blog.

    When the blog is not updated it is a sign that I am currently deployed as a cosmic agent of karma who prompts individuals to reckon with all the deeds they have done in their life.

    I also won the Noble Peace Prize this year and am therefore still sitting through Al Gore’s speech at the ceremony.

    Since I have been part of the beta for hulu.com, I can’t stop watching old episodes of Lou Grant.

    Though I am not Jewish, I decided to honor Hanukkah by making delicious latkes.

    I can’t stop watching the smart M.I.A. video for “Jimmy.”



    I am sewing my own version of M.I.A.'s outfit in "Jimmy" to wear around the house.

    GayProf has been placed into dry dock so that skilled technicians can scrap off a serious barnacle problem.

    My time has been devoted to pitching CoG as a new talk show for the Logo network.

    Warner Brothers tapped me to write the new screenplay for the Wonder Woman film.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Psycho Killer Lesbians from Outer Space

I have made little secret that I throughly enjoy SciFi Channel’s reincarnation of Battlestar Galactica (BSG). To my mind, the writing on the show has provided the most savvy political and social critiques to appear in television science fiction in decades.

Well, okay, mostly I just watch for dreamy Jamie Bamber and Tahmoh Penikett to take their shirts off. The social and political critiques are just gravy.

Imagine my dismay over the very queer-unfriendly BSG miniseries Razor. Not only did Bamber stay fully clothed (Again, why do they think I am watching the show?), but the story fell into some of the most cliched stereotypes of lesbians known in pop culture. Even before I sat down to watch it, I knew things weren’t going to go quite right. AfterEllen revealed the lesbian sub-sub-plot the day before Razor aired. The AfterEllen folk, knowing that the producers probably didn't mean harm, tried to be generous with their reading of the show. Fortunately, my gravitas doesn't leave me with any similar inclination.

Without going into a lot of the details, the basic premise of BSG involves the almost total genocide of humanity by a group of robots (cylons). The cylons, for inexplicable reasons, appear both in a shiny metal form and in a covert-human-looking form. The covert human cylons spy on the actual humans, often with sexy results.



All that remains of actual humans are a scattering of civilian spaceships and a couple of military ships. For much of the show, though, the two military ships were unaware of the other’s existence. The titular Battlestar Galactica was commanded by Lee Adama (played by the scenery-chewing Edward James Olmos). Adama leads the battleship and a fleet of aging civilian ships (including the President’s ship) on a mission to find a peaceful future on earth.

The other military ship, the Pegasus, appeared unexpectedly in season two. As a narrative strategy, Pegasus served as the darker alternative to Galactica. Whereas Galactica focused on survival and preserving humanity, Pegasus waged a merciless campaign of guerrilla warfare.

The original story arc about the Pegasus revealed that the commander of the ship, Admiral Cain (played by the underrated Michelle Forbes), became cruel and blood thirsty. Unlike the sure and steady Adama, Cain’s command style made her as lovable as Captain Bligh. Before meeting up with Galactica, Cain shot her second-in-command for questioning her orders, forced civilians into military service aboard her ship, and threatened to kill the families of humans who resisted her orders. A cylon, whose torture Cain authorized, ultimately murdered the Admiral.


Fans apparently responded to the notion of an anti-Galactica and Cain’s character had some interest. As a result, SciFi and the BSG producers decided to film a miniseries that would tell Cain’s full story and fill in the exposition of her collapse into revenge. This is where things went kinda wrong.

One of the “surprise twists” of that miniseries was that Cain had a lesbian affair with the cylon spy on board her ship. Cain's decision to torture her (and seemingly her slip into nuttyville) resulted from the betrayal of this lesbian relationship. Yeah, we are back to old stereotypes about killer lesbians from outer space whose love affair leads them to kill, kill, KILL!

Battlestar producers (and ardent fans) have defended the decision to make Cain’s insanity at least partially related to this relationship is a claim that “sexuality doesn’t matter in the Battlestar universe -- Nobody thinks twice about being gay or straight.” They argue that Cain’s relationship to the cylon was the same as the heterosexual relationship between the male-character Baltar and a female cylon.

Those claims would be a lot more convincing if we had seen any other explicitly queer characters on Battlestar before Cain. Likewise, it is Baltar who rescues the tortured cylon from the deranged Cain. Seemingly the straight can have complicated responses to their betrayal. Lesbians just want blood.

It’s not that I need every queer character or relationship to be represented as perfect. One of the problems with claiming that “sexuality doesn’t matter,” though, is that it rarely means that queer characters get a fair shake. On the contrary, while Battlestar has been preoccupied with every possible variety of heterosexual relationship, queers have been totally absent. Making the sociopath Cain into the only explicitly human queer figure only plays into some pretty tired stereotypes.

Really, it has been a tough year for lesbians in science fiction. The British-import Torchwood also could not resist an episode about killer lesbians from outer space. In one episode, an evil alien seduces one of the main (and usually straight-identified) female characters. The lesbian alien then encourages her to betray her friends and possibly destroy the earth. Queer sexuality was imagined as both inhuman and dangerous.

To my mind, though, what distinguishes Battlestar and Torchwood’s killer-lesbians-from-outer space is that the latter has also had positive images of queer characters. Indeed, the central hero of the show considers himself “omnisexual” and frequently mentions relationships with both men and women. Meanwhile, Battlestar’s producers have only delivered empty promises of better (read “any”) representation for queers on their show.

Perhaps what also makes Battlestar’s claims that “sexuality doesn’t matter” suspect is that the miniseries itself named sexuality as the key difference between Cain and Adama. Why did Cain go wrong? The wise Adama authoritatively tells the audience that it was because she lacked the same [heterosexual] relationship that he had with the [heterosexual female] president and because she lacked children. He explained to his (all-too-shirt-wearing) son:

    Now, you don't have any children, so you might not understand this, but you see yourself reflected in their eyes. And there are some things that I've thought of doing, with this fleet, but I stopped myself because I knew that I'd have to face you the following day.


Apparently since Cain was a barren husk of a woman, she was more than willing to do cruel and unusual things that the good patriarch Adama wouldn’t possibly consider. Without the cure-all of biological offspring, the show tells us, Cain lost her humanity and turned into a bitter, bitter killing machine.



I am not impressed with the notion that sexuality is only irrelevant when discussing queer characters, but critically important to the formation of hetero characters’ motivations. Producers might claim that sexuality is no big deal in the BSG universe, but it still clearly matters here at home.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Dating

Dating is complicated. I don’t mean “complicated” in the same sense that figuring out how to keep a skyscraper from falling over is complicated. I mean "complicated" in a way that doesn’t involve long equations or the potential for mass carnage. It’s complicated in a way that’s confusing. Every single person I know seems like they are in a constant state of uncertainty.

In the gay world, there seems to be three dominant modes of “dating/hooking up.” The first are those who are in a search/quest/life-mission for a long term relationship (LTR). They look at every date/encounter as the potential start of a thirty-year partnership. As a subcategory, there are those who want that LTR to be entirely exclusive. They won’t shy away from bringing up the question of monogamy on the first date – sometimes before the soup even arrives at the table.

The next group are those who seek the entirely opposite. Only random encounters inform their desires. He might spend the evening at your place reenacting that special scene from his favorite Falcon video (the one that involves a serious investment in lube and (hopefully) yoga stretches before hand). Yet, he considers shaking hands the next morning “just too much pressure for a relationship.”

The last group is the ever-favorite fuck-buddy (FB) relationship. Who doesn’t like a friend who is willing to lend a helping hand? As a Boston friend of mine points out, the winters are mighty long in the north. The cold nights pass much more comfortable with a friend providing warmth.

Still, the FB doesn’t appear as easy to pull off (no pun intended) as it seems. It has generally turned out, in my limited experience, that somebody ultimately thought of the sex as more than just a way to pass the time despite their claims otherwise. It’s all fun and games until you discover your FB rummaging through your garbage in the middle of the night with a flashlight and an auger. I am sure that many, many other people master the FB relationship without such trauma. I am quite jealous of them.

This is not to say that I think any of these three (or more) models for dating is better than the others. I really think that people want different things from sex/love/ companionship. Some imagine that every stranger is a potential partner for a ready-made relationship . Others want to make out with strangers in a pool of Redi-Whip. It’s all about choices and knowing what you really want. Then you have to find the person(s) who share that same outlook and be honest with them.

My problem, though, is two-fold. First, I am not entirely certain what I want at this particular moment. This, by itself, should be an immediate red-flag to anybody who wants more than to be my FB. While I generally think I want another LTR at some point in my life, I have noticed that when a viable option for one appears (like recently), I retreat. Sure, there have been occasional exceptions – Usually those have involved remarkably poor decision making on my part. Overall, though, I have become down-right queasy when somebody I am seeing starts pushing for a LTR (and they often start pushing right away).

This brings me to the second problem, which is my concern for those who pursue a LTR without much introspection. I understand fully those who pursue the casual encounter. Indeed, some of my most enjoyable memories of a “romantic” bent over the past couple of years have been short-term. I also understand (at least in theory) those who want to be a FB. Those who push for a LTR, however, often make me leery. This is not because I think LTR’s are bad or doomed to failure per se (although. . .). I do think, however, that the desire for a LTR often appears as a default without much consideration about why the person is pursuing it.

In many ways, our society puts tremendous pressure on everybody to be in a LTR. To be sure, it’s even worse for heteros whose entire worth is currently linked to their LTR status and desire/ability to have children (but that is another entry entirely). Gays at least know that other options are out there beyond the LTR. Despite that knowledge, the overall pressure for a LTR often permeates everything. This results, I think, in many people seeking a LTR without really considering if a) that is actually the mode of relationship that works best for them or b) that a person who is willing to get naked with them is not really signaling that they are on the same-page romantically.

Many men that I encounter see the world only as a dichotomy. Like Heidi Klum, they say that you either "in [a relationship] or you are out." They want to instantly jump to “boyfriends” with the understanding that we would be working on becoming a “Mr. & Mr.” (Or, in my case, “Mr. and Dr.”, thank you very much)). Why, I wonder, can’t there just be simple dating? Sort of a grey area between the FB and the LTR?

For right now, I want a relationship that has affection, but is not crushingly serious. Something that involves plenty of naked time, but doesn’t require that we spend every waking moment together. I want to date without the topic of a LTR even being on the table. You know, something where we have fun together, but that doesn’t involve a lot of heavy questions about “the future.”

You know, nothing turns me off more than a guy who asks too many of those “relationship” questions. Things like, “Where is this heading?” Or, “What’s your name?”

Probably my personal hesitancy about a LTR involves both my past and future. In the first year after the end of my eight-year relationship, I really wasn’t into the notion of another LTR. Indeed, I think it would have been a remarkably dumb individual who would jump instantly into another LTR after all of that time with one person. Now that more time has passed (almost two years!), that seems less immediate. Still, I am quite leery about making the same mistakes (and concerned that I have already repeated them, though on a smaller scale, with some people).

More important than my past, however, is that I am not imagining any element of my future. Right now, I have only a single goal: to finish the never ending research project of doom. Will I still have this job? Will I move? Will I find true love? Will I die my hair? Will I buy milk tomorrow? None of these questions matter to me. All that concerns me is finishing that research project. What happens after that point, I can’t (and won’t) think about right now. Romantic relationships certainly involve too much effort of projecting myself into the future.

When I have explained this (as I have always been committed to honesty), it has often been received as a challenge to convince me of the need for a LTR. This, by the way, is always a bad strategy. Never presume to know better than the person you are dating, especially if that person is GayProf. When this occurs, I suddenly become the reincarnation of Greta Garbo and "want to be alone."

The other problem with those who push instantly for a LTR is that I most often think that we don't really know each other. There is a big danger that they learn just enough about me that they think I am great for them. While I generally agree that I am the cutest thing in shoe leather, I am concerned that they fill in all the gaps in their knowledge with what they want to be true. It's easier than the months of work to actually figure somebody out.

Of course, there are more than just these three crude outlines of what gay men are looking to find in “dating.” There are thousands and thousands of other ways that people organize their personal lives. These include, but are not limited to, triads, open LTR’s, serial monogamy, etc., etc. By far, though, the majority of single gay men out in the dating world probably identify their interests with one of those first three. Of those three, Midwestern Funky Town is dominated by those seeking a LTR (preferably with an individual who enjoys camping).

What does that mean for me? I am not sure. As I said, dating is complicated.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

No Thanks

Today, the U.S. celebrates “Thanksgiving Day.” Much about this holiday always left me feeling ambivalent, even as a child. On the one hand, I obviously loved the food. Who couldn’t like a holiday where gluttony is celebrated?

Moreover, Thanksgiving was one of two times per year that we got to see my mother’s family during my childhood. My extended family on my father’s side was a constant fixture in our lives since they also lived in New Mexico. The other side of the family, however, lived a thousand miles away and we usually only saw them on Thanksgiving and during the summer.

Still, I also remember being in grade school and not particularly feeling an attraction to the mythology that surrounded this holiday. It was always presented (ahistorically) as the first vignette in a teleological narrative than ended triumphantly with the foundation of the U.S. The national “we” presented in this narrative didn’t feel like it encompassed me at all. This is not to say, of course, that I had a precocious suspicion of the U.S. as a child. On the contrary, I adopted and accepted the propaganda about the U.S.’s uniqueness eagerly as a child. All the same, something about Thanksgiving Day never really sat well with me.

In retrospect, it’s easy to consider the reasons for my apprehension which I would not have been able to articulate at age nine. My father’s family was of Mexican descent, which meant that their stories were never reflected in any of the reading that we did for U.S. history – ever (despite the fact that my elementary school was named OƱate and we resided in, you know, New Mexico).

My mother’s side, which was Irish-American, received a bit more coverage in our Social Studies textbooks. Yet, their nineteenth-century arrival hardly seemed connected to an obscure (and not all that successful) colony two centuries earlier. Moreover, given that both sides of my family were deeply Catholic (and, in all truth, fairly suspicious of Protestants), the Pilgrims’ link to “religious freedom” seemed kinda dubious.

Despite the inclusive national language that surrounded the holiday, I always felt like that stories of happy white Pilgrims and generous (but nameless) Indians was not really about me. Looking back as an adult, I also had the shock of realization that I was always assigned the role of “Indian” in the ritual classroom reenactments of the event by my Euro-American teachers. Seemingly, they didn’t see me as part of the Pilgrim story either.

All of this makes me feel a bit contrarian about such a holiday (Not that I won’t use the opportunity to gorge myself). Because of my ambivalence, it seems only appropriate to make it into an anti-holiday. Here is a list of things for which I am not at all thankful:

    * U.S. Imperialism

    * The Ugg Boot craze

    * The dusting of snow that greeted me this morning when I woke up.

    * Scooping out Cat’s litter-box

    * Gas-guzzling SUV’s

    * Unquestioned patriotism

    * Men-Who-Lack-Balls (I am sure that Women-Who-Lack-Ovaries suck, too. They have just had a less immediate impact on my personal life).

    * My seeming attraction to Men-Who-Lack-Balls

    * The Catholic Church

    * Puritanism

    * The ways that a racial “Indian” identity obscured tribal affiliations and unique histories of diverse groups.

    * Black hats with buckles

    * The collapse of the U.S. dollar in the world market

    * The way that I almost always over think sex, regardless of locale.

    * The fact that I spent two full work days in the library reading nineteenth-century microfilm; spent thirty dollars on copies; and used another workday tabulating information from those copies. All of that work resulted in only two sentences of text and one footnote in the Never Ending Research Project of Doom

    * The total lack of quasi-passable Mexican food in Midwestern Funky Town

    * The way that Mexican food is denigrated as not “serious cuisine”

    * Sports of any type

    * Sexism

    * Homophobia

    * Transphobia

    * Racism

    * Simplistic Histories

    * Media coverage of Brittany Spears and/or any ancillary figure in her life

    * Poorly Mixed Cocktails and/or cheap liquor

    * The “Milkshake” Song

    * Blog Trolls

    * Not having a gas range

    * Holiday themed blog posts

Monday, November 19, 2007

Whatever

Let me emphasize again how disappointed I was in the recent ENDA debacle. Think I am beating a dead horse here? Oh, please. By the time I am finished, I will have made glue, strung a violin, and hung one of its shoes above my door.

Maybe my disappointment emerges because, despite my gravitas, I still cling to the hope that the oppressed across the nation will recognize that they share common goals in overturning retrograde social and political institutions. It turns out, the oppressed think "not so much."

The recent mess got me to thinking about other things that really irritate about the current political discourse in this nation. More than anything, the way that apathy has become a viable political stance is enough to make my blood boil almost as much as outright hatred.

The apathetic (and those who are intellectually lazy) constantly trash people who put forward critiques and suggestions from a leftist perspective. After all, it’s better for them to discredit/denounce/lynch those who are actually engaged and thinking than to have to take stock in their own life and political position. At times, they even derail us or leave us feeling uncertain.

Here are seven arguments that the left doesn’t need to bother with any longer:

1. Gottcha! Politics

Nobody likes to hear bad news. We really, really don’t like to hear that the our way of life is creating massive pollution and depleting the nation/continent/earth’s natural resources. Likewise, who wants to know that their favorite product (be it diamonds, chocolate, or wine) comes to us at the expense of real human suffering?

Therefore, it is not surprising that when people on the left put forward suggestions for change (more public transport, ending the production of luxury SUV’s, boycotting companies/products that result in inhumane working conditions, suggesting that diamonds are really just rocks, etc.), people immediately search for some sort of flaw in the messenger’s own relationship to the environment or means of production.

“Yeah,” they say, “I might drive a Cadillac Escalade that uses more fuel to go to the postoffice than the entire Mexican state of Sonora uses in a year, but I bet that you get plastic bags when at the supermarket! Gottcha! You’re as guilty as I am.”

Nobody is perfect when it comes to left issues like the environment or economic injustice. Goddess knows that I can be lazy about some things. I use my car way more than I should (though I also often use public transport to go to work as well). I try my best to be an informed consumer. I often think I am the last person in the nation who still honors the UFW boycotts. In the end, though, nobody can do everything right 100 percent of the time. I eat chocolate. Sometimes I buy the cheapest item on the shelf without thinking about the chemicals that were required in its production. There are days when I sing “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” (though I have no reason to buy them nor do I actually want any).



That doesn’t mean, however, that we therefore should stop trying for social, environmental, or economic justice. The Gottcha! People try to convince us that everybody is at fault, so nobody needs to take personal responsibility.

Taking a left position and putting forward the need for change means that we are (or should be) open to challenges about the way we (as individuals) live our lives and the choices we make (the personal is political). Are we going to make mistakes? Yep. Are we going to have to compromise sometimes? Yep. We should take criticism, however, as well as we dish it out.

Just because none of us on the left are perfect, however, doesn’t mean that what we are saying suddenly lacks merit.

2. “If the left isn’t united, then we will always lose.”

I admit in the aftermath of the 2000 election, I had some animosity towards the people who voted Green. When I really spent some time thinking about it, I realized my anger was misplaced. After all, Al Gore won the popular vote and he won the vote in Florida (the latter has been well-documented, but poorly publicized (what a surprise!)). Getting angry at the Greens was not the right response. Granted, I still don’t agree with the Green platform because it never addressed race (or racism) with any complexity, considered gays and lesbians an afterthought, and somehow imagined that the urban was not also part of the “environment.”



Turning anger towards others on the left, however, only misdirected attention away from the people who staged an actual coup. It also let the lazy, apathetic people who didn’t bother to vote off the hook entirely.

What the left should have done was committed to whatever was necessary to prevent Bush from ever setting foot in the White House. Bushie and crew subverted the will of the people and the Constitution of the U.S. That, however, is another issue entirely.

The left’s greatest asset is its commitment to maintaining diverse perspectives. Enforcing conformity won’t make us winners. It will make us Republicans.

3. “That’s just your opinion.”

Being on the left requires critical engagement and an openness to people with different perspectives. It does not mean, however, that everybody’s half-baked theory or “common-sense” approach is equally valuable. One of the most insidious things to transpire in this nation is the notion that one’s individual “gut” reaction to something must be equally valid to the individual who has extensively studied the issue(s).

If one sees a doctor and she diagnosis you with lung cancer, do you retort, “That’s just your opinion! My opinion is that the blotch on my x-ray shows that I am growing a fragrant field of lavender in my left lung.” I grant that you have right to that opinion. Don’t expect me to visit your grave, though, without muttering “dumbass.”

There are many instances when we need to be critical of “experts.” Sometimes, though, we need to also acknowledge that there are people who really do know more than us. In those instances, we need to be open to changing our own opinions.


4. “Well, you are clearly middle class.”

Often when somebody on the left makes an argument about poverty or economic injustice, their own class status is drawn into question. I have never really understood these types of accusations. So, are we all supposed to live with dirt floors until nobody has dirt floors? Fuck that shit.

Fighting for economic justice means that you believe that everybody should have access to the same (or better) standard of living that you enjoy. It does not mean that you need to “suffer with the people” in some misguided sense of solidarity.

5. “You’re a Stupid Poopie Head and I Hate You.”

The funny thing about political positions is that everybody is damn certain they are right. Some people deal very badly when faced with the realization that they are holding an untenable position or when the are asked to care about a group people radically different from themselves. Much like a five-year-old, they turn to name calling and being mean spirited. If they can make the person on the left feel like shit, they reason, they are really correct after all.

It’s a hard thing to get over being accosted by people who consider themselves “lefty,” but trash you as an individual. The thing to remember is that such attacks actually suggest that we really are correct in our assessment. It might be cliched, but I think it is true. If the name-callers are too intellectually lazy or simply unable to come up with a real reason why they hold their beliefs, then the left has probably touched a nerve.

6. “It’s hopeless – Utterly, utterly hopeless. So, why bother?”

This is another criticism of the left that I have never full understood. No victory for social justice has ever come about because of apathy. The U.S. has changed significantly over the past century in terms of perceptions about race, gender, and sexuality. While I would hardly argue that things are great now (racism, sexism, and homophobia are still major problems (don’t kid yourself)), we can agree that there have been some improvements thanks to those who kept up the dialog on all of these fronts.



While people on the left are often accused of being either “too angry” or “too naive,” I actually think the opposite is the case. Those people who opened themselves up to imagining a social revolution and really believed in the possibility of a profoundly better future brought about the changes that we all enjoy today. The political right, in contrast, thrives on a sense of pessimism and an expectation that social and political change is impossible.

7. “Wonder Woman Doesn’t Have All the Answers”

Slander! That is a dirty lie! You’re a stupid poopie head and I hate you.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Not Impressed

Sometimes imagining oneself on the political left can be a drag in this nation. When one looks around at (what remains) of the United States, it’s downright depressing. Six and half years of mismanagement, war, corruption, and greed has left the nation in economic ruin. The U.S. dollar is becoming as valuable as used toilet paper in Europe (and even Canada!). Most people in the U.S. seemingly feel no sense of responsibility for their fellow citizens (much less a commitment to global human rights). The earth is leaking ozone. News media channels won’t stop talking about Brittany Spears or the gay men who obsess about her. Taken collectively, all of that can drive GayProf a little nuts.

What can be even more grim to me is the way that the left eats its own in this nation. The mess around the recent passage of the Employment NonDiscrimination Act (ENDA) has left me remarkably depressed. If signed into law (which is unlikely), the meek measure would provide (very limited) protection of gay, lesbian and bisexual employees. To get it passed, however, required the intentional exclusion of the transgender community (or others who don’t conform to gender expectations (which, to my mind, is really the entire queer community (but that is another issue (I wonder if I use too many parenthetical asides)))).

While I disagree strongly with those gay men and lesbians who supported the revised ENDA that excluded transgender protections, I understand the reasoning that “some protected is better than none.” Two things about this debate, however, left a chill in my heart (as Annie Lennox might say).

The second most chilling thing to come out of the ENDA debacle was the number of prominent members of the (white) male gay elite who delivered a message that members of the left should just “shut up” about transgender rights. Instead, they argued, we should be grateful for this allegedly historic moment (which is arriving decades later than other nations and has been promised to be vetoed anyway). Fuck off. Measures like ENDA are about protecting our rights, not granting us rights. We needn’t grovel or idolize members of Congress for doing their job. I will also never celebrate a measure that protects my rights at the explicit cost of another’s rights.

By far, though, the most chilling element about the recent ENDA debacle was how quickly and easily so many members of the queer community dehumanized and denigrated transgendered individuals. One needs to only poke around the comment sections of various gay blogs (including this one) to discover unashamed declarations of hatred, stereotypes, and fear that gay men use to justify the exclusion of transgender people. At the heart of almost all of their arguments was a notion “they aren’t like me, so therefore they don’t deserve equal treatment (or, in many cases, to even be considered fully human)”. Shockingly, many of the accusations coming from gay men about the transgender community are almost identical to the argument that the right uses to justify denying gay men of their rights (an alleged propensity for drugs, “not normal,” menace to society, etc. etc.).

Twenty years ago, the African-American and openly gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin declared, “The barometer of where one is on human rights questions is no longer the black community, it's the gay community. Because it is the community which is most easily mistreated.” To be honest, I always felt like this quote from Rustin wrongly presumed the battle to end racism was over (which it still isn’t). If we use his logic, however, I think that we can now say that barometer is no longer the gay community, but is now one’s perception and commitment to the transgender community.

Let's not even talk about employment. Right now, the murder rate of the transgender community is 17 times higher than the national average. The rate of physical assualt on the transgender community is the highest of any minority group (either by race or sexuality). The rate of violence committed against transgendered people of color grew the fastest over the past few years. All transgendered individuals in the U.S. have a 1 in 10 chance of being murdered in their lifetime. In comparison, other citizens in the U.S. have a 1 in 18,000 chance of being murdered.

It’s easy for safely employed (white) gay men who have cushy jobs in political organizations or the queer media to tell the transgender community that they have to “wait” for their rights until the general society learns to tolerate them. That, however, is entirely unacceptable. The measure of our success is not how well we succeed in protecting the rights of people like ourselves. Instead, the measure of our commitment to real sexual liberation and social justice is how well we defend people who are the least like us. Forgive me if I don’t open a bottle of champagne.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Checking Out


I have momentarily returned from my absence. Rest assured that I have not reappeared with my right hand mysteriously shriveled and blackened.

In the midst of an unusually busy time for me, I noted to myself again that students are funny. I don’t mean “funny” in the sense that they show up to class in a Groucho Marx mustache and entertain me with jokes (Though I certainly wouldn't be opposed to that). I mean “funny” in the sense that they sometimes misconstrue our relationship as professor and student.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean students any disrespect. Lord knows that I had similar misunderstandings when I was an undergraduate. Indeed, I would not like to have the freshman/sophomore version of me as student (though I would be delighted to be my professor as a junior or senior (Mmmmm – Me)).

Students frequently overestimate our level of familiarity. Some students imagine that their profs are out to harass them and make their lives a living hell. Others imagine that we wait moonfully over their every word. Neither of these things are true.

I respect my students and want to provide them opportunities to build new skills. In particular, I have classes where students can experiment with thinking about race, gender, and sexuality in the past. To that end, I give them some readings and background information to enter into an informed conversation. I also provide them feedback on their writing to help them better communicate their own ideas about race, gender, and sexuality in the past. We aren't friends. We aren't adversaries. We are in a professional relationship.

If all of my students put the effort into the class and earn “A’s,” I think that is great. If, on the other hand, they all blow it off and earn only “F’s,” I think that is a darn shame. I don’t really lose sleep either way, though. My paycheck will be the same.

Because I tend to teach classes on the holy triad, I think that students sometimes imagine my knowledge of them is much greater because the subject matter seems much more personal. After all, we all have racial, gender, and sexual identities that we have struggled (and continue to struggle) to understand. Often times, my classes are the first time in their entire education where they get to learn about these things (This was more true in Texas, but still fairly true here). This, it seems to me, makes my classes feel more personal than (I'm guessing) Chem 203.

Whatever the case, a student's pursuit of an education is always more of a personal experience than educating them is. After all, when they are in class there is only one of me. From my perspective, though, there are hundreds of them.

This comes up because the past week was the last opportunity for students to drop classes (with their professor’s approval). Coincidentally, it was also the week that I returned many of their midterms. As you might imagine, several students have come to seek release upon realizing their score in the class. Several showed up and apologized profusely about dropping. It was a sweet sentiment which is why my next statement will sound harsh. I don’t really care.

That is not to say that I don’t care about them as individuals. Nor am I saying that I don’t care about their education or the classes I teach (which I care about a great deal, actually). Indeed, I actually really enjoy being around young people and talking with them about the past. I simply don’t care, though, if an individual student decides that my particular class doesn’t work for him or her. It will affect their lives much more than mine. Unless students have been rude or disruptive, they have no reason to apologize for leaving.

Beyond the apologetic students, a couple others showed up to my office clearly expecting a fight. I was baffled that they imagined that I would be so invested in their presence or absence from my class that I would challenge their departure. Did they think I would greet their request for a signature with pistols and a duel? Why the defensive edge? I also wondered why (or if) other professors really do deny students the option of dropping a class.

It could be a form of “tough love,” I suppose, to make a student get the “F” on his or her transcript. To my mind, though, I actually respect a student more who has the good sense to get out of a class that he or she is failing. It at least shows enough self-insight that they are in a bad spot and are looking to fix it. Besides, if they stayed enrolled in the class, it would just mean that I would have to read more poorly written papers by students who didn’t have time or interest. To be honest, I would rather focus my energy on the students who are able to commit to the work.

In the end, I think its an individual student’s education and it should be more important to them than it is to us. I am around to help them and offer my own insight. If some decide to leave at half-time, that’s cool.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Place Holder

I’ve been tied up with other things the past week or so. Let’s just say that GayProf is detained helping humanity or fighting crime or polishing his tiara or something equally mysterious.

In the meantime, here are two things that I can watch over and over:



Tuesday, October 30, 2007

An Untruth

One of my new Midwestern-Funky-Town friends and I met at the gym. The other day we were chatting and avoiding our working outs. The topic turned to nutrition and what we had for lunch that day. This resulted in an unusual behavior for GayProf. I lied.

I didn’t lie about the content of my meal (What would be the point?). Instead, I lied about my whereabouts for the day. When I mentioned that I had fixed an omelet for lunch that day, my friend inquired, “The university lets you go home for lunch?” I responded, “Uh, yeah,” rather than the truth, which was that I was actually already home because I don’t usually go to my office on non-teaching days (unless there is a meeting).

My lie emerged because I have been down this path previously with people who work in jobs other than academia. I lied because I didn’t want him to think that I was just some lazy slug who is paid (at tax payer’s expense) to leisurely cook brunch for himself while everybody else is out there being productive members of society.

There has been a tendency among my non-academic associates to presume that, if I am not at the office, I must not be working (My friend works in one of the local manufacturing plants and has sometimes teased me that my job is a not all that tough). This is often exacerbated when they discover that I “only” teach two classes per semester. Even my own parents sometimes chid me for having a remarkably cushy job. One extended family member once suggested that I should really consider getting a second job. After all, if I only teach two classes, I have all that extra time and could earn double the money!

I recognize that it is a cushy job, but not because I don’t put in forty-hours per week. Many weeks, I probably work more than forty hours (especially this semester).

It reminded me that most people have only a sketchy idea of what university professors actually do, even if they have been through college themselves. My sensitivity to accusations of “not really working” is shared by many academics, I think. It had even appeared at the institutional level. My former Texas university, for instance, used to advice faculty to “not mow their lawns at 2:00 pm on a Tuesday” for fear of antagonizing their non-academic neighbors (who were known to call and “report” professors who weren’t working (Texas is a lovely place, have I mentioned?)).

Growing up, I certainly had no concept of an academic career path. To my mind, a “good” job was one that involved office work, like being a secretary. As I have mentioned previously on this blog, my view from television was that work involved going to the office, drinking coffee, and laughing all day with your friends. I believed that was my future. Of course, I also believed that living as the only man allowed on Paradise Island was in my future as well.

Later on, I expected that (if I finished college) I would become a high-school teacher. It wasn’t until my sister started working on her Ph.D. that I even began to understand the world of academia (Yes, there is another).

If I am really honest, being an academic is not “hard-work.” I am not shoveling coal or making steel. Beyond the classroom, I am a free agent with my time. My particular position is really a luxury that our society can afford (for the time being) and I am damn lucky to have this job (especially my particular job). Don’t ever believe a professor who argues that their job is that type of hard work. They probably have never actually done any other job.

This is not to say, obviously, that I don’t work hard at my job. Being an academic is often extremely stressful, especially for the untenured. The Never-Ending- Research- Project-of- Doom, for instance, haunts my sleep. Actually conducting research is time consuming and difficult. Writing up your findings and getting it published sometimes seems impossible (though it isn’t). Universities are also remarkably hierarchical institutions (despite a self-created mythology that suggests otherwise). One’s value in a university is consistently under scrutiny by those who rank higher.

One of the huge up-sides of being an academic is that I have almost total control over when and where I work. The down-side, though, is that I always feel the pressure of work. I have often, for instance, had to decline invitations from my gym friend to do things on weekends or evenings because I was working.

I think it is that part that doesn’t quite register with those who aren’t professors. It seems obvious when we aren’t in our office or classroom. Therefore, people often assume we aren’t actually doing anything productive. The measure of work is about one’s location. Having worked full-time, or virtually full-time, during my undergraduate years, however, I know that those with 8-to-5 office jobs hardly spend every second of their day actually working. Sure, we were located within the office during the time “on-the-clock,” but we also joked around or wasted time.

Academics usually don’t have the same relationship with their office. In the humanities, moreover, our research and work is often done alone.

Academics, for their part, aren’t often helping the conversation about our own work. I frequently hear professors complain about how people just “don’t get” what we do for a living. If that is true, then I think that we are failing to explain why our work is important to them (and it is). Rather than envisioning that we are the suffering and misunderstood artists, we need to be candid about what the job involves (and we have to be honest about our remarkably privileged position in having that job).

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Tippi Hedren Has Nothing on GayProf

A few days ago, I came home from work late after having met a friend for dinner. While I should have been focusing my energy on the Never-Ending-Research- Project- of-Doom, I decided to zone out a bit on the couch. Every so often, a ruckus came from the chimney of my wood-burning stove. Cat had also suspiciously positioned himself directly in front of the window of the iron box. At first, I figured that the sound was soot being dislodged as the house settled. The past week has brought colder temperatures and I believed that it made sense the that metal would change shape a bit.

Then the sound became much louder. Given that it was much too early for Santa Claus to be appearing in my hearth, I decided more investigation was necessary. When I opened the top of the stove, I was a bit alarmed to see a pair of eyes staring back at me. Somehow a finch had flown down the chimney and into the stove through the open flue. Once inside, he had no idea how to return and only accomplished coating himself in a thick layer of soot as he banged against the metal walls.

It made me wonder, why is my little cottage so vulnerable to wildlife? First the bees, now the crazy-ass finches? See? I don't need to go camping. Nature comes to me. Now if only forest animals would help me dress in the morning like they always did in those Disney films. . .

Whatever the case, I consider myself a friend to the aves world. Getting the little guy safe and out of danger appeared as a noble cause. Thus, I tossed Cat into the basement (who was clearly imagining a Thanksgiving dinner with the finch as the guest of honor). Given that my back door is a straight line from the wood-burning stove, I imagined that the finch would easily fly out. With the door open, I unhinged the front of the stove, let the bird loose, and triumphantly hummed "Born Free."

It turns out that this was not the smartest finch in the flock. He immediately flew straight into the ceiling and then fell onto the floor a bit dazed. Above him, he had left behind a black-soot impression of his body. It’s kind of like the Shroud of Turin, only with a finch.

Then started the really annoying bits of the evening. Once the finch recovered, he flew everywhere in the house – into the kitchen sink, into the bedroom, into the office. Everywhere he went, he left behind a blaze of feathers and grime from the fireplace.

Finally, I managed to once again shoo him towards the open back door. He landed at the top, paused, and lowered his head to feel the blast of cold air from outdoors. He then promptly flew back into the living room. Maybe the bird wasn’t as dumb as I thought.

For about an hour, I contemplated numerous ways to trap the bird without actually harming him. My failed efforts involved a towel, a laundry hamper, and a shot of tequila (Okay, that last one really wasn’t about getting the bird out, but it sure was tasty).

Eventually, I opened almost all of the windows and both doors. As the temperature in my house plummeted, the bird finally decided that life might be better where he doesn’t ram himself into the ceiling.

Here are my basic thoughts after this encounter:

    * I wondered if I will soon die of bird flu that the finch brought into my house. This realization prompted a massive (though, I am sure, futile) cleansing campaign once the bird exited. It is the same level of sterilizing and bleach that I would use should Dick Cheney ever show up uninvited to my house.

    * I wondered if one bird managed to make it into the fireplace, does that mean it is going to be a regular occurrence? What will this mean when I actually light a fire?

    * I wondered if there was a way to tell my friends "a bird flew down my chimney last night" that didn't sound like a dirty metaphor for something else.

    * I wondered if I should have fitted him with a radio tag so that I could track him for later study.

    * I wondered if I should have initiated him as the first member of a new bird army that I could eventually use to rule the world.

    * I wondered if I would have been as humane/ calm if it had been a bat rather than a finch.

    * I wondered if the finch was really a genie in disguise and would soon return to grant me magic wishes in exchange for freeing him.

    * I wondered if making this event into a blog entry shows that I really need more interesting things to happen in my life.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What to Wear, What to Wear, Trois

Trees are converting their wardrobe to outfits of flashy reds of yellows before getting naked for the winter. This can only mean that Halloween is just around the corner.

I had debated about hosting a Halloween party, but I didn’t quite get my shit together. Besides, there are two parties that I think are extremely difficult to host: Halloween and New Year’s Eve. In both instances, the guests’ expectations are quite high. Who wants that pressure? Therefore, I tricked convinced a friend to host a party instead.

This leaves me with my annual dilemma of which costume to wear. As we know from the previous two years, my lofty ambitions in a costume often yield disappointing results. Here is another list of the costume that I want and the actual thing that comes about:

    What I Aim for: The New Doctor Who



      Let’s face it, the doctor has it all. He is stylish, quirky, handsome, and a whole lot of fun. Plus, he comes with a screwdriver that can do much more than tighten bolts (if you know what I mean).


    What I End Up As: That Annoying Doctor Who with the Scarf



      What was the deal with the scarf? If the doctor could regenerate his body, why wouldn’t he choose a more attractive one? Or at least one with better teeth?


    What I Aim for: Grace Kelly in Rear Window



      Before she became a princess or the theme for a pop song, she was the cool blonde who helped Jimmy Stewart solve a murder. Don’t be fooled, though, by her ability to break-and-enter other people’s apartments. Her first love was fashion, which she demonstrated through an amazing set of stunning outfits.


    What I End Up As: Barbara Bel Geddes in Vertigo


      Before she became the matriarch of a Texan oil family, she was the unnoticed blonde who helped Jimmy Stewart recover from his fear of heights. Alas, of all of Hitchcock's female characters, I am most like ol' Midge.


    ***

    What I Aim for: Billie Holiday



      I will probably die with her still as my favorite singer of all time. Nobody could sing about pain, misery, and the unhappiness of love like Billie Holiday. Mostly because she had a uniquely unhappy life. Yet, she exuded cool.


    What I End Up As: Diana Ross Pretending to be Billie Holiday



      In the cold light of dawn, it’s hard to believe that people in 1972 imagined that Diana Ross would be an equivalent of Billie Holiday. It's even harder to imagine that they nominated her for an Oscar for doing it. Thirty years later,she is just a Diva who coincidentally could sing.



    What I Aim For: Raw Sewage



      It could be the most imaginative idea for a costume ever. Plus, there would be a political message of, um, don't pollute or something.


    What I End Up As: Ann Coulter



      Actually, I am not sure there really is a difference between the two.


    ***

    What I Aim for: The Snake Who Tricked Eve in the Garden of Eden



      Frankly, I always felt like the snake got unfairly blamed. He just wanted to spread a little knowledge. Or maybe he was just tired of seeing Adam and Eve’s junk flopping around in his nice little forest. He probably thought to himself, “I should get them some clothes – and modesty – and maybe a period.” Whatever the case, you can’t deny that the snake had some charm.


    What I End Up As: Condoleezza Rice



      It's an easy mistake. Prove to me that she can’t unhinge her jaw at will.


    ***

    What I Aim For: E. T.



      For those of us of a certain age, Spielberg’s syrupy story of a lost alien shaped our imaginations. It also introduced Drew Barrymore (who would have a complicated life) to a nation that fell in love with her. An E. T. costume could have nostalgic appeal.


    What I End Up As: Nancy Reagan


      During the eighties, I was never convinced that Nancy was of this planet. Instead of just saying "no," maybe she should phone home. Whatever the case, who wants to look like that?


    ***

    What I Aim for: Glenda, the Good Witch of the North



      Why should the Wicked Witch of the West get all of the attention? I mean, she was wicked (Yes, I read the novel Wicked. I liked the premise more than the execution (which was not all that interesting). No, I have no plans to the see the musical). Besides, any opportunity that I have to say “Fuck You” to the politics of the South, I take it. The Good Witch of the North implies that in my mind.


    What I End Up As: That Annoying Doctor Who with the Scarf



      Aw, man – How did I end up with him again? Damn it. I am really bad at this costume stuff.


    ***

    What I aim For: Chrissie Hynde from the Pretenders



      From Ohio to the British Punk Scene, Chrissie Hynde did it all. For my adolescence, nobody had songs more apt for sitting in the bedroom crying over unrequited love. Who wouldn’t want to comb our bangs, put on some black mascara, and sharpen up the eyeliner pencil? I want brass in pocket.



    What I End Up As: Lindsey Lohan



      I don’t think that I could name a single song Lohan produced. Did she come up with a critique of Reagan America framed through her return to Ohio? I don’t think so. She was in the Herbie movie, though, right? Or did she just crash a VW into a tree while driving drunk?


    ***

    What I Aim for: Emiliano Zapata



      I generally oppose violence, but I have to admit there is something oddly calming about Zapata’s image all decked out in guns and bullets. It just makes me feel safer. Zapata will forever be remembered for battling social injustice under the banner ¡Tierra y Libertad! – Well, except in the U.S., where he is not really remembered at all.


    What I End Up As: Victoriano Huerta



      One of Zapata’s most notorious enemies, Huerta wanted to spread his brutal military dictatorship across Mexico. I know that my primary disappointment with this costume should be about Huerta’s cruelty and bloodlust. In reality, though, I just don’t want to be that toady ugly. Seriously – the man was a hobgoblin. Shouldn’t he have been tossing out riddles at some bridge rather than trying to control Mexico?


    ***

    What I Aim for: FDR



      Franklin Roosevelt provided calm to a nation weary with the Depression. Granted, he didn’t really solve the economic crisis. If I could, though, I would make my Halloween costume the kick-off for a presidential campaign for a new New Deal. Besides, he is the only man who could really pull off a cigarette holder. Well, except maybe the Penguin from Batman.


    What I End Up As: Charlie McCarthy



      This joke really only works for the octogenarians who read CoG. I am sure that they are a major part of my demographic, so I tossed them a bone.


    ***

    What I Aim For: Any Costume with Imagination


      Let’s face facts: The gays take this holiday damn seriously. The other night, a friend of mine mentioned that he didn’t believe that a costume that took less than four months of planning should even leave the door. What is a boy to do?


    What I End Up With: My Same Tired Sailor Costume that I have Worn for the Past Three Years


      It sure is a good thing that I keep moving around the nation. That way, my sailor costume will at least seem new to the people around me. Besides, I like my sailor outfit. After all, you have to dress like what you want to go home with.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Homo-Pocus

Given that the previous two entries exposed my indoorsy-geeky side, I thought that I would make it a hat-trick by showing my knowledge of the Harry Potter books. At the start of this past weekend, J. K. Rowling, author of the obscenely popular children’s stories, stunned an audience at Carnegie Hall with the revelation that she conceived of Albus Dumbledore as a gay man.

Since you know me well (I think that we are close like that), it will come as no surprise that I can’t help but think of the good and bad with this announcement. Well, okay, I mostly think of the bad. Hey, this is a blog entitled the Center of Gravitas. Go elsewhere for images of My Little Pony and recipes for gumdrop cookies.

On the good side, it’s great that such a well-loved childhood figure will now have a legend of gayness around him. Those “in the know” will inform new readers about the author’s statements about Dumbledore. It will surely go into the Potter lore.

In some ways, of course, I appreciate Rowling’s effort to gay-up Dumbledore. Aside from Harry himself, Dumbledore was probably the character that captured most people’s imaginations. His death in book six (Should I have mentioned there would be spoilers here?) left many faithful readers feeling like they had lost a close friend.

For those who don’t know the Potter story (My God, how have you managed that?), a young orphan boy is rescued from his abusive guardians with the discovery that he is eligible to attend a special school for wizards. Well, except that the school is only open nine months a year and the wizarding version of social services is apparently quite inadequate. So, Harry gets returned annually to face cigarette burns and beatings for the summers (when he can’t use his magic to defend himself).



On his way to the school, he hears the legend of Dumbledore. According to the necessary exposition his youthful informants, Dumbledore is considered one of the most powerful wizards in all of Britain (if not the world). Yet, he is also kindly and wise to the students attending his school. During most of the day, he seems to hum to himself as he sweeps around campus in long, flowing robes decorated with suns and moons. Whenever Harry is in danger, though, Dumbledore suddenly appears as powerful as Merlin. He can spin out ropes made of fire or summon a Phoenix with the flick of his little wand.

It comes as little surprise that many real-life queer adults (and probably queer kids) found the Harry Potter stories appealing. All tales of magic tap into some basic fantasies about control and power. The queer, though, are also often attracted to narratives involving the sudden revelation of hidden worlds or exposed secrets. Plus, it didn’t hurt that Harry literally lived in a closet up until the events of the first book.

I had therefore been annoyed that Rowling had failed to make any of her characters explicitly queer. This latest turn of events, sad to say, does not really help us.

Now I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but a gay Dumbledore is not much of an improvement on the same old queer images that we have seen elsewhere in the popular media. Rowling’s outing of Dumbledore hardly destroyed the closet around the fictional character. On the contrary, she only pointed out how tightly those closet doors were sealed.

If we are to now read Dumbledore’s experiences as those of a gay man, then the image he presents of our lives is an unhappy and empty one. Think I am being unfair? Let’s review the stereotypes that Rowling used to “hint” at Dumbledore’s true desires:

    * His childhood was marked by a violent/absentee father, an overbearing mother, and dysfunctional siblings (Did Rowling consult Freud for her views on homosexuality?).

    * His one and only love interest, Grindelwald, turned out to be a psychopathic killer.

    * His one and only love interest was unrequited.

    * The rest of his life is riddled with loneliness, despair, guilt, and regret.

    * His adult brother, Aberforth Dumbledore, is hinted to be into bestiality (on several occasions) with goats.

Despite his many magical powers, Dumbledore is not much of a queer hero. By the last book, he seems tangled in a web of pathology created by his unhappy homelife. His adult queer desires for Grindelwald are rejected and misplaced.

Indeed, the question at Carnegie Hall that prompted Rowling’s revelation asked if Dumbledore knew “true love” in his life. In response, the author stated, “Dumbledore is gay.” Are we to assume that being gay precludes the possibility of true love? Were Dumbledore’s queer desires not “true love,” but a twisted mistake? This seems more than confirmed when Rowling declared that Dumbledore's love was his "great tragedy." Boy, howdy, when has gay love not been perceived of as a tragedy in the hetero media? I'll just gesture in the general direction of Brokeback Mountain.




Obviously, I don’t imagine that Rowling conceives of herself as hostile or homophobic. She means well – I hope.

Still, Dumbledore fits a particular type of queer image that makes heterosexuals feel comfortable. He is helpful, attentive, a good listener, asexual, and a little sad. Dumbledore never once discusses his own sexuality or acts on it (given the tragic results that happened the one time that he did, who could blame him?). He certainly never burdens the heterosexuals around him by making them think about his sexuality, either. Instead, he does what all gay men should do: Devotes his life to helping good, heterosexual men and (sometimes) women achieve their goals. He is so devoted to helping the heterosexual hero in the books that he even returns from the grave to do so.

While Dumbledore is immensely powerful, he never uses that power to advance his own cause or to help his fellow queer wizards and witches. Heck, he can’t even be bothered to conjure up a disco ball and some mojitos for the local gay bar. Instead, he always marshals his magic to shore up the inherent strength of Harry the hetero. When he isn’t doing that, he also serves Harry some candy and shores up his ego. All the while, we are to believe, Dumbledore is secretly tormented because he will never find true love as (because he is?) a gay man.

Imagine Dumbledore as a magical mix between Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and the long-suffering Martha Dobie from The Children’s Hour. One can imagine Dumbledore vacillating between crying to Harry “I’m so guilty” and advising “You should always start applying wizarding cream from the back of your head.”

Moreover, by only revealing Dumbledore’s sexuality outside of the actual text, Rowling has kept up the notion that queer men and women are not appropriate content for children's literature, much less a reality of their world. Even Uncle Arthur was a more explicitly gay figure.

Dumbledore’s outing is therefore an unhappy compromise for queer visibility. Sure we get to claim his swirling robes as our own. We can even marvel at the firworks he creates that would make the Fourth of July on Boston Harbor seem like a sparkler in a wet saucer.

What we still don’t get, though, is an actual hero who reflects our realities. Queer youth, in particular, don’t get to see the real queer heroism of an individual fighting for the right to love and/or ball whomever he wants. We don’t see individuals making a space for themselves with almost no support from anywhere else in society as hostile attacks rain down on them.



Instead, we get Dumbledore, who simply gave up on his own queer life and rights. He might have been a great wizard, but he was a lousy gay man.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I Wonder If It Will Involve Life Day

George Lucas announced recently that he is designing a live-action television show based in the Star Wars universe. My first reaction was excitement. Then I remembered that the last 3.5 movies from the Star Wars universe have been dreadful. I mean, the first hour of Return of the Jedi was fine. Once the Ewoks appeared on the screen, though, it was all down hill. Nothing has gone right since. Don’t even get me started on 2005's Revenge of the Sith. That was so terrible that I can still taste the suck.

Alas, you know that I will at least tune into the first episode to see if maybe (against the odds) the Star Wars franchise can still capture my imagination as it did some twenty years ago. I had so many of the Star Wars toys, I think that I am personally responsible for a hole in the ozone the appeared above the Kenner toy factory.

Lucas, however, is being a bit cagey about the details of the show. He won’t discuss time period, plot, or characters.

Of course, this just begs speculation. I can only imagine that the new Star Wars television program will be based on one of the following options:

    * It will be a new show on the Food Network. Hosted by the Sarlacc, it will be entitled Thousand-Year Meals.

    * The show will start when R2-D2 and C-3P0 overthrow their cruel human masters in a bloody revolution. They then convert Darth Vader into a full droid to free him from his “human bondage.”

    * The show will start when R2-D2 and C-3P0 overthrow their cruel heterosexist masters in a queer revolution. They then convert Darth Vader into their love slave by showing him the pleasures of bondage.

    * Queen Amidala will host a new style program on Bravo, sponsored by Maybelline cosmetics. She will give fabulous hair and makeup tips entitled Easy, Breezy, Kabuki.



    * The show will take place about twenty years after the destruction of the second Death Star. Princess Leia and Han Solo will have two adult children: a son, who does not have the force, and a daughter, who does have the force. The twenty-something kids both move to Los Angeles to work in a television station. Hilarity ensues week after week when big brother tries to prevent sis from using her magical powers to woo her mortal boss into marriage.

    * Bea Arthur will play an intergalactic barmaid. The show might be in jeopardy, though, when Peggy Lee’s estate sues Arthur for stealing her shtick.



    * In Star Wars: Miami, General Veers and his elite group of troopers must conduct the Emperor’s bidding in the exotic Florida locale. It’s an unending battle against drugs, corruption, and sunshine for Veers and his team.

    * It’s a reality competition show where contestants must – Oh, I don’t know -- cook stuff – or maybe sew something. The winner gets $25,000 and an apprenticeship with Lucas Arts. The losers are choked to death by Darth Vader’s strange mental powers.

    * The show will follow the exploits of Luke Skywalker and his cousin, Bo, as they evade Stormtroopers and Boss Jabba in their 1969 Dodge Charger.

    * Lando Calrissian (played by Billie Dee Williams) and Bail Organa (played by Jimmy Smits) decide that they are tired of the Star Wars universe’s racist shit. Together, they unite all people of color into a radical revolution that makes the Rebel Alliance seem like a child's tea party.

    * If not the above, Jimmy Smits will find any excuse to appear as Bail Organa to rescue him from the dreadful television show Cain.

    * The show will follow Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker’s unhappy journey through many, many years of therapy to recover from their incestuous love affair.

    * The show will focus on the period immediately after Anakin Skywalker’s lifesaving transformation into Darth Vader. The Empire saved him by replacing his legs and arm with mechanical parts. They had the technology to rebuild him – Better. Stronger. Faster. To pay off the hefty price tag (some say upward of $6 million), Vader must solve crimes and report regularly to Commodore Oscar Goldman.

    * After the death of Anakin, Amidala decides to take her daughter and move in with her mother-in-law in San Francisco. Not accustomed to working, the spoiled Amidala finds it hard to fit-in at her first job as a photographer’s assistant.

    * The show will follow the untold life and loves of R5-D4.



    * The show will place Jawas into contemporary New York. Audiences will soon grow weary when they realize that it is just an extended advertisement for auto insurance.

    * Each week, Carrie Fisher will watch a different scene from the original three movies and discuss which drug(s) she was high on during its filming.



    * Each week, George Lucas will watch a different scene from the last three movies and discuss which drug(s) he was high on during its filming.

    * After the fall of the Empire, the show will follow a Star Destroyer (the Aldaraan Princess) that has been re-commissioned as a cruise ship. Each week, a collection of colorful guest stars will come aboard and find romance.

    * Lynda Carter will play a super-powered agent who fights on behalf of the Rebel Alliance. She will have a magic lasso that compels people to obey her and bracelets that deflect laser pulses. Hey, I can day-dream.

    * Audience members will be allowed to hunt Ewoks for sport. It will be the highest rated television show in history.

    * Princess Leia decides to finally leave Han Solo when he still won’t propose marriage after several years of dating. She moves to Minneapolis to start her life over and goes to work for a newsroom. She also befriends her kooky upstairs neighbor, a Twil’ek dancer named Oola. Princess Leia finds that she might just make it after all.

    * The show will be merely hours and hours of entitled fan boys complaining about how Lucas ruined Star Wars. It will be a hard-hitting look into some very lonely lives.

    * Leia and Han Solo decide to move into together. They only discover later that their landlord is really Leia’s father, Darth Vader. It's an awkward comedy where three's a crowd!

    * Undeterred by the public’s vocal and consistent hatred of the character, Lucas casts Jar-Jar Binks as the star of a new sitcom. With the dawn of the empire, Jar-Jar finds employment as a maid on Coruscant's Upper East Side. While he bakes pies and scrubs floors, Binks is also quick to give a spoonful of his homespun, though simple, wisdom to his white imperial overlords.

    * The show will unwisely resurrect the Mallatobuck, Attichitcuk, and Lumpawarrump, characters first introduced in the cringe-inducing 1978 Holiday Special. The tag-line for the show will be “Twice as furry, but with three times the love.” In reality, it will just involve an hour of quasi-human, quasi-ape men with too much makeup standing around grunting for an hour. Imagine it as another version of Fox News.



    * The Star Wars Variety Hour will feature a “two-in-one” premise. After the destruction of the second Death Star, the Emperor is given the chance to host a variety program for ABC television. The show will be one part "behind-the-scenes" and the other part "variety." The Emperor takes up residence on the beach, frequently performs in sketches on the show, and is always accompanied by the famed Royal Guard Dancers.

    * Much to the relief of the entire audience, Queen Amidala awakes to find Anakin Skywalker in the shower. It turns out that all three of the most recent movies were just a terrible, terrible dream.