Thursday, August 31, 2006

Work It Out

My search for a gym within reasonable distance of my abode has landed me with a trial membership at a fairly commercial organization. It’s not great. It’s not horrible. I am reserving judgement.

As mentioned previously, my goals for the gym are modest. Basically, I am just looking to avoid ballooning up to the size of a post-blueberry-pie Violet Beauregarde. Maybe I would get into better shape if it didn’t involve giving up liquor and M&M’s.

The other day in the locker room, two men debated the relative values and drawbacks of different brands of mass building powder. “Really?” I thought, “You would rather chug one of those nasty, chalky, milkshakes with medium chain triglycerides than, say, a well made vodka Gimlet? Both have the same calories, but my Gimlet helps me forget all about the gym.” As for protein, I always point out that the peanuts in the M&M Pounder bag has lots of it. Chocolate also contains important anti-oxidants. Shoot- M&Ms should make the list of SuperFoods. Combine those things with the chemicals in TaB and I should live forever – or be dead at age 41 – whatever.

I suffer at the gym so that I can eat and drink the things that I like. Suffering eating and drinking nasty concoctions so that I can go to the gym makes no sense to me.

So, clearly I don’t take gyms all that serious. Just staying marginally fuckable is my main goal.

Regardless, no matter the gym, I have noticed some minor, but annoying, things that seem universal. Being a helpful lad, I want to offer some suggestions to my fellow gym patrons. We all have to live together, so let’s aspire to make it pleasant, shall we?

    *** Take a shower before you arrive at the gym. Yes, I understand that two showers in one day can be a hassle. See, though, if odor emanates from you before you even break a sweat, just imagine what you are going to be like half-way through your workout. Don’t take a holiday from hygiene.

    *** Speaking of showering (which I just can’t encourage enough), if you lose a band-aide while in a gym shower-stall, please remove it upon exiting. I am not inclined to step into the shower room and see your nasty, germ-riddled, puss-soaked adhesive swimming around near the drain. That’s just nasty, people.

    *** While we are hanging in the locker room, nobody likes somebody riddled with paranoia. If you are keeping your towel around your waist while you put on your underwear, you just show both your homophobia and poor self-image. Junior High is over. Plus, you are making it really hard for me to ogle and/or silently judge you.

    *** Sometimes when lifting heavy weights, one has an involuntary grunt. I understand. That’s cool. If, however, you sound like you are recording the audio dub for the Falcon video Bootstrap, tone it down a bit. Nobody wants to hear that much noise from your mouth – unless you are willing to reenact scenes from that Falcon video. Then we can talk.

    *** Look around the gym a bit. What do you see? Signs above you that say “Don’t Use the Treadmills to Stretch.” What’s in front of you on the treadmill? Oh, look, it’s a smaller sign that says, “Don’t Use the Treadmills to Stretch.” Hmm – What could be the hidden message? Oh, right: If you are not actually using the treadmill, get the fuck off and let somebody else onto it. Those nifty stretching mats will, I promise, accomplish your goals (This was a much bigger issue in my former Texas gym, but still...)

    *** Are you currently bench-pressing 300 pounds? No? Then you don’t need to use chalk. It gets everywhere. Plus, nobody wants to see your sweaty little hand prints preserved all over the equipment. Keep the chalk where it belongs: classrooms and crime scenes. Or I guess that you could crush it up into milk and call it a Mass Builder Shake.

    *** I like meeting new people. Really – I do. Feel free to chat me up at the gym – Unless you want to offer me advice about my workout. If that’s all you want to talk about, just walk away.

    *** When it comes to cleaning, I can be a bit obsessive. Yet, even I don’t wipe down all the machines/benches every single time I use them. If, however, you get up and find that you left behind a greasy body-print, take the time to clean it up. We aren’t interested in you trying to create your own Shroud of Turin on the weight bench.

    *** If you weigh 250 pounds and struggle to walk two miles per hour on the treadmill, I applaud you for getting out and trying to change your life. That’s great! Keep on keeping on! Soon that weight will fall right off. If, however, you weigh 110 pounds and walk two miles per hour on the treadmill because you are chatting on your cell phone, get out of the gym. You could burn more energy just walking around the parking lot. In the gym, you are just in the way. Yes, access to treadmills is clearly a major issue with me

    *** If you are a young, muscular guy, why do you feel the need to wear a shirt in the gym? Take it off – Take it all off. Don’t be so confined. Loosen up a bit. Can I fix you a Gimlet?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The New Blaxploitation

One year ago today, the U.S. failed to protect its citizens from a massive hurricane. Throughout the gulf-coast states, particularly Louisiana, the poor battled for their lives as a corrupt and ineptly administered government proved too distracted to offer sufficient help.

Katrina became a symbolic moment for the United States. For some, it finally woke people up to the Bush administration’s callousness and incompetence. After spending most of the time during the disaster on vacation (where he always happens to be) or eating up bar-b-que with an equally corrupt press, Bushie tried to appease an angry nation by dipping Air Force One down to a lower cruising altitude so he could look out the window at the flooded New Orleans. Imagine that people said that he didn’t care!

We should not forget the suffering and death created both by the hurricane and the inability or unwillingness of government agencies to act. How the media directs us to remember the event, however, should garner our scrutiny.

Over the past couple of weeks, television has inundated me with advertisements for Katrina anniversary programing. Though I have not seen the actual documentaries or movie-of-the-week, the commercials alone have left me a bit, well, creeped out.

Discovery Channel, in particular, has been relentless in pushing their Surviving Katrina two-hour special. In addition to interviews with actual survivors, Discovery promised never-before-heard emergency phone calls and home video from the dark hours in the Superdome. They promise a story of hope and endurance.

All of it has left me with a bit of a sour taste. On one hand, I think recording and preserving the stories of Katrina survivors should be a priority. Local historians and archivists should be out and about collecting as many interviews as possible.

Perhaps I am just too cynical, but I disdain Discovery and other media outlets' decisions to reinvent the Katrina story as one about survival. Obviously I am not suggesting that those who survived aren’t heroic. Quite the contrary. I also am not looking at how any particular person tells his or her story about Katrina. Nor do I think that news media should focus on the macabre by showing tons of dead bodies (though I suspect they would really like to do so for the ratings).

Rather, I am disturbed by the repackaging of Katrina at the one-year mark. Current manifestations of the Katrina story depend on a time-worn tale of those “triumphing over adversity.” The basic message now seems to be, “Yeah, so the government grossly failed, but, look at the bright side! People lived through it and now it’s all okay. See? People don’t need government – We can handle any problem as individuals!”

One of the most glaring examples of this came in the form of an AP story released early this morning. The core of the article discussed a Harvard study on Katrina-survivors’ mental health. Rather than focusing on the study’s conclusion that Katrina survivors are twice as likely to suffer from mental illness than the same population prior to the storm, the AP writer called the report a “testament to the resilience of the human spirit.” Moreover, he claimed that, though severely traumatized, the survivors “had forged a surprisingly powerful inner strength that steeled them against suicidal despair.”

So our benchmark for success seems to be that the Katrina survivors aren’t offing themselves in drastic numbers. We, therefore, can totally feel okay about the depression, crises, panic, and other psychological maladies that resulted from the catastrophe. Not to be glib, but why not also celebrate the fact the dead don’t have any signs of mental illness whatsoever? Sure their lives will never be the same, but the dead sure don’t need any Xanax.

Of course, U.S. notions of race has been one of the most significant elements of the Katrina story. Indeed it’s the most talked about part of the story that’s not really talked about at all. Katrina uncloaked a nation, particularly a national media, ill-at-ease even broaching the idea that race might have been a factor in who survived and who did not.

In the aftermath of Katrina, few could (though some tried to) repugn realizations that racial and economic status remain intertwined in this nation. During the crisis weeks, however, most of the major news organizations refused to consider that African Americans suffered disproportionately from the storm because of institutional inequalities that had (have) yet to be resolved in the U.S. Kanye West’s direct allegations against George Bush, Jr. and the media left the news outlets aghast. Though they largely condemned and censored his remarks, they also showed that they had no idea how to even respond to him or conduct a discussion about race and economic class.

When it became apparent they simply could not ignore the issue any longer, most of the news outlets showed how ill prepared they are to really think about racial difference. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer probably won the golden-foot-in-mouth prize that month. “You simply get chills every time you see these poor individuals,” he told his audience, “so tragically, so many of these people, almost all of them that we see, are so poor and they are so black...” Yes, that’s a real quote for those who missed it the first time around.

Current media advertisements or news articles on Katrina focus on African Americans, particularly African American women. By focusing on their stories, the media wants us to gaze at the story, but also feel that we can simply close the book once we hear their tales. Katrina, under this thinking, had a clear beginning, middle, and end. We are told we can appreciate that the survivors had remarkable courage and, therefore, walk away from them after a momentary pause.

Stories of faith in god and self-sufficiency prove to be favorites. The right-wing Heritage Foundation could not write a better advertisement for their misguided notions of “self-help” and “self-reliance.”

Meanwhile, voices of anger that demand change get little, if any, attention. Barbara Major, a New Orleans activist, points out that Katrina only magnified already existing inequalities in the city. The urban U.S. has a long history of failing to provide for the working class, especially African Americans. “People were outraged that people were dying. People been dying," she told the AFP, "They should have been outraged that children didn't get a decent education. That there wasn't decent housing here (just) like in every other city in the United States."

We should not be afraid to challenge the media’s efforts to sentimentalize the bleaker elements of our recent past (including both 9/11 and Katrina). Instead of interrogating the basic failures and schisms in our society that resulted in unnecessary suffering, we are being handed commodified and bathetic inventions. Rather than exploring unresolved anger, the media implicitly claims that there are “healthier” ways of thinking about Katrina. African Americans can tell their story, but only if that story centers of self-sufficiency and ends in redemption. Those who point out racism or fail to show the appropriate lofty spirituality need not bother showing up to the television studio. Being angry, they say, just isn’t helpful at all.

Mainstream visions of Katrina’s anniversary amount to a major cop-out. Sure, the government could have done more, but look at how all these individuals survived all on their own anyway. It reminds me of people who, upon being challenged for doing atrociously selfish actions, pause long enough to say, “Oh, gee, maybe I could have handled that better.” Simply by stating that they could have done better essentially allows them off the hook from any responsibility. Hey, they expressed a momentary flash of understanding – What more do we want?

In the same way, Katrina’s anniversary coverage gives minor lip-service to the federal and local government’s mistakes, but then redirects attention to those good people who persevered. It continues to ignore the federal dismantling of state protections for the poor and the environment that has been almost ceaseless since Reagan/Bush-I. The federal government has consistently cut funds for cities. On top of that, white flight has reduced tax revenues in municipal areas. We are never asked to consider real social and governmental reform. Our nation could devote tremendous resources to developing urban and rural areas that lack necessary social services. Rather than just hearing the Katrina survivors' stories, we need to remember that much of their suffering could have been prevented in the first place.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Now and Then

Sometimes, on days like this, I ponder the choices that I made in my life. In particular, I question if being a historian really benefits, you know, society in any conceivable way. “Yes, GayProf,” I hear you saying, “You do serve society by giving meaning to our dull, grey lives. Let us give thanks to you. It is right to give praise and thanks.” That might be paraphrasing of your general thoughts, but I think basically accurate.

Academics, however, often appear a wee bit useless sometimes. Not that I am interested in pulling apart the academic world on a theoretical level. Oso Raro does a much better job at that than I ever could. Rather, sometimes I feel angsty about not contributing my fair share to society.

Don’t get me wrong. I has got no plans to suddenly change careers. This academic life is the only one that I know. It fits me pretty well. Having always been interested in the past, one can’t think of a better way for me to make a buck. If such a job didn’t exist, I would probably just do it as a hobby anyway. So, I am constantly surprised that I actually earn a living doing this stuff.

Never believe an academic who claims that they have it tough, particularly one who resides at a research-centered university. With only minimal requirements of our time for teaching and office hours, we are basically free to set up our own schedules. Though some elements of the job create stress, like the quest for tenure, it’s hardly like we are out there shoveling coal.

Beyond the occasional whiny student or cranky colleague, moreover, most of the people I deal with in my work are dead. The dead hardly ever complain to me. Plus, the job doesn’t require a lot of heavy lifting. All and all, nice work, if you can get it.

Historians also have the best anecdotes for cocktail parties. Well, when people actually invite us to cocktail parties.

On the other hand, historians don’t really provide many direct services to humanity. You can’t eat history. Thinking about the past doesn’t heal the sick or end crime. Yeah, yeah, there is the old expression, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” If really true, historians would rule the world, which we don’t – yet. When was the last time you sat in a crowd and heard somebody say, “If only we had a historian here”?

I always preferred, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but historians repeat each other.” With the exception of “popular” historians (who we all discredit anyway – I am looking at you Doris Kearns Goodwin), our research tends to circulate only amongst our selves. The general public has only the vaguest idea that we exist.

Even my own family has the sketchiest idea of what my job actually involves (beyond teaching). Some of my extended family once asked how many classes I taught each semester. When I answered “two,” they said, “Oh, well, since you don’t teach that often, you could get a second job and make twice the money!”

Sometimes I also wonder if all historians are really just frustrated novelists who lacked the imagination to come up with fictional characters and stories. As a result, we decided to borrow the life stories of other people.

All of this shows up in our actual economic value. Universities generally place historians at the second-to-the-bottom of their pay scales (sorry literature folks, you are even vastly behind us). Of course, universities pay all the humanities the least. Interestingly, economists, who straddle the fence between “humanities” and “business schools” are the highest paid in the humanities. They are, however, the least paid in business schools. Go figure.

Still, I do take solace that history holds an important place in modern cultural battles. Politicians and talking-heads always like to drag out a mythical past in flimsy attempts to justify their modern positions. Then the thinky crew of historians leap into action and slice their second-grade knowledge to pieces.

Historians also don’t usually harm people. Other jobs have more questionable ethics. Working to design AMC Hummers or sending out exploding Dell computers, for instance.

If historians like me totally disappeared then we would only be left with the drudgery of flag-waving-rah-rah visions of this nation’s past. I like the fact that we look backwards to find inspiration and perceptive from past generations of queers, Latinos, African Americans, and other groups that challenged the status quo.

All of this, I guess, is to say that I am happy with my career; however, I also feel the need to be productive in a different sort of way. In other words, this is a long way of saying that I need to find a place to start volunteering my time in the Greater Boston Area.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Maybe I Really Should Become a Buddhist

I have decided that spending some time reconsidering my meta assumptions about the universe would be well spent. No, this is not an invitation for creepy evangelical Christian fanatics to start stuffing my mailbox with informational literature.

Rather, I was really saddened by the death of Marc at Voyeur Nation. Many other bloggers knew him well. I, though, had not really encountered his blog until a few days ago. From what I saw of him, he sure seemed like a kind, funny, well-meaning guy. In his memory, he asked that readers make a donation to their local cancer society. His loss at such a young age strikes me as, well, unfair.

Here is the deal: even though every four-year-old learns that life isn’t fair, I still, deep in my subconscious, refuse to let go of the idea of cosmic fairness. This perhaps explains why I am so often disappointed.

Marc's death also made me think that my own minor troubles of trying to dump a house and getting over a liar ex (who told many lies) are both extremely common issues and also shamefully petty. Then I felt like a shit for making his death all about me.

Well, since I have started down the road of Drama-Queeness, I might as well complete the journey. We all seem to struggle with how to deal with the difficult things in our life. Sure, there are people who have trouble grappling with the happy things in their life as well, but usually that’s just because the rest of their life has sucked so bad that they aren’t used to good things.

I consider myself a quasi-spiritual person, but not particularly religious. Things and forces exist in the cosmos, it seems likely to me, that humans simply can’t comprehend. As a result, humans have come up with all sorts of different ideologies to organize and make sense of what surrounds them. Religion and science are just two different means of accomplishing that same goal. Neither has my absolute faith. I tend to be suspicious of anybody who thinks that they have all knowledge figured out (Christian, Jewish, atheist, or whatever). It also matters little to me what other people believe.

How we come to think about our position in the world strikes me as an intensely personal thing. As a result, I try to respect people and their belief systems and expect the same in return.

As we have discussed before, though, Christianity’s current manifestations, particularly in the United States, leaves me astounded. Time and again, I saw students at my Texas university praying for an “A” on an exam; or praying to do well at an athletic event; or praying to see that their closets miraculously organize themselves. The parting of the Red Sea would pale in comparision to waking up and finding their wardrobe sorted in R.O.Y.G.B.I.V. order. That level of hubris left my jaw swinging.

Under this theology, their god didn’t care about starvation, war, poverty, and death in the world. Rather, he filled his days by ensuring that they did well on their intro history exams. “Really?” I would think quietly to myself, “God takes such an interest in you that he micro-manages your life like that? Really? ‘Cause I just read your history exam and God doesn’t like you nearly as much as you think. Either that or Jesus needs to brush up a bit on FDR’s Court Packing Bill himself. Those answers he slipped you were totally whack.”

Maybe I just respond like that because of my own childhood indoctrination. The Catholic god of my youth promised to bring as much suffering (if not more) to your life as happiness. Catholic god always wanted to test you to the breaking point. He was a regular SAT quizmaster, that Catholic God. Complaining about it only meant that he would just bring even more unhappiness to your life. Like most patriarchs, Catholic god always seemed to respond to complaints by saying, "Stop crying or I will really give you something to cry about." Catholic god was a mean son-of-a-bitch. My extended family, in particular, had (has) a dour view of the day-to-day because of this belief system. They firmly believed that “work makes life sweet.”

Trying to figure out how to have perspective about our personal problems verses the pain felt by others seems like one of the main struggles that we all face. On one level, most people who live in the U.S. have a much greater standard of living than many, many, many people in other parts of the world. We can all agree, for instance, that losing an arm in a bloody civil war is worse and more painful than having your heartbroken in U.S. suburbia. Still, if we create that as a standard where we can only feel pain if we lost an arm, than I think we are also setting ourselves up for some serious problems.

Whether we believe that larger forces exist or not, part of our goal in life should be to learn and appreciate the greater varieties of pain that exist in the world. Learning to empathize with our individual biographies, it seems to me, would go a long way in improving how we relate to each other.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Which Hole?

During my time packing in Texas, I often turned to DVD entertainment. Having thought again of a favorite child-hood movie because of my photo-centric post (clearly the most influential post on this blog given how many times I have referenced it), I loaded The Black Hole into the ol’ movie-o-gram.

Today, I thought to myself, “What better blog entry than one focused on a film that only five other people in the whole nation have seen? Better make it an extra long entry, too!” Eh – Nobody reads blogs on the weekend anyway.

Let’s first say that Disney’s space-epic shows both its age and its creakiness. At age four, I loved it. To be fair to me and it, the film didn’t have a bad start. A small group of space explorers, about to end 18 months of failed exploration for intelligent life, happen upon a ghost ship. Long thought lost, they explore the U.S.S. Cygnus and find Dr. Hans Reinhardt, the only survivor of a crew of hundreds.

The film had some lofty ambitions. It tried to cross Dante’s Inferno with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Somewhere, quite early in production, the film producers envisioned a meditation on good, evil, death, and rebirth.

After the opening sequences, however, the movie’s timing goes to shit. Everybody involved, from director to actors, suddenly show themselves wanting the film to be over as soon as possible. The Black Hole had glimmers of some grand ideas, but poor execution, horrific writing, and mediocre acting left it flat.

If you have never seen this movie, in other words, you aren’t missing much. Only the truly nostalgic can bare it (kind of like tv’s Wonder Woman or Charlie’s Angels, but without the hair. Yvette Mimieux’s character, Kate McCray, had a disappointingly sensible seventies perm.).

Disney’s aesthetic and writing failures didn’t surprise me. What I did notice this time around, though, was just how queer this film seems as an adult. First, there are all the queer actors associated with it: Anthony Perkins, Roddy McDowall, and Joseph Bottoms. Okay, granted, I don’t have any real sense of Bottoms actual sexuality, but my third-grade sense of humor leads me to make presumptions based on his name. He also appeared to wear tons of eye-shadow for this movie. I am not sayin’, I am just sayin’.

This film’s dialogue also had more queer sexual innuendo than an original Little Mermaid poster. In particular, Anthony Perkins’ character, Alex Durant, falls head-over-heals for the slightly-murderous (though I always argued misunderstood) Dr. Hans Reinhardt. Take a look at some sample dialogue:

    Kate (Concerned and Confused): Alex, I am beginning to feel that you want to go with him.

    Alex (dreamy-eyed): On a glorious pilgrimage straight into what might be the mind of God? I do. I do.

Later in the film, the pick up with the conversation again:

    Kate (Still Concerned, Always Confused): Alex, I won’t have you throwing your life away for this.

    Alex (with a quasi erection): He can do it. I know he can.

    Kate (with horror!): Oh, God, Alex!

    Alex: There’s entirely different world beyond that black hole. A point where time and space as we know it no longer exists. We will be the first to see it, to explore it, to experience it.

    [Yeah, Alex, who hasn’t been promised that at some visit to a gay bar?]

    Harry: Damn it all, Dan. If we wait for Alex, it may be too late. Don’t you see? He’s hypnotized by that man!

Don’t fret, like 90 percent of queer driven characters in film, Alex came to an unhappy demise. Sliced up by Reinhardt’s robot guard, Maximilian, Alex and his queer inclinations go down in a fiery blaze.

Speaking of the robots, they make homo-lusting-Alex look like, well, a Disney character. I am not sure why seventies’ Sci-Fi dictated that robots needed fey tendencies, but they sure reigned supreme (I am looking at you, C-3PO). In the case of The Black Hole, real-life-queer-boy Roddy McDowall voiced the epicene robot V.I.N.Cent. Like any good queer, he seemed to only speak in well-crafted epigrams.

I do have some half-baked ideas about the love of these Sci-Fi fuss-bots. Perhaps my theories stretch things a bit. Still, given that popular culture presented queer folk as not quite human, it must have made sense at some unconscious level to use the same queer markers for characters that really weren’t human. Characters that allegedly don’t have a sexuality or are supposed to be “neutered” (like robots) end up being coded as queer. Not having a sexuality and having a desire for somebody of the same-sex often get conflated in our society.

In this film, Maximilian, a giant, red, longer than-he-is-wide, cyclops robot stands as the threat of queer sexuality. Reinhardt spends an unhealthy amount of time with his one-eyed monster, which he named Maximilian. The real first name of the actor who played Reinhardt, coincidentally, was also Maximilian. Dr. Reinhardt, heal thy self!

In the end sequence of the film, Maximilian and Reinhardt encounter each other in the middle of the black hole. For some reason, Reinhardt suddenly has long flowing hair that we had not seen entering the singularity. Robot and doctor embrace (no, I am not kidding), with Maximilian topping, and then merge together into a single individual. From that point on, they reign jointly over hell.

The film-makers imply that Reinhardt pays for his life-time of perverse desires (ambition, cheating death) with an eternity of perversion brought about by same-sex (though robotic) rape. The threat of same-sex sex symbolizes the most violent and horrific end.

Maximilian riding Reinhardt like a birthday-pony does not stand alone as the only same-sex rape reference in the film. In a pivotal scene, robot B.O.B., voiced by Slim Pickens, testifies about his abuse at the hands of Maximilian’s predecessor. “He had his revenge,” he shakily tells V.I.N.Cent., “He did things to me that I sure don’t like to think about.” We are only left guessing.

Phallic-domed Max gets around more, though. During the climatic battle, Maximilian locks V.I.N.Cent. into an embrace. During the scene, Max literally shakes with, um, delight? Ecstasy? Meanwhile, V.I.N.Cent.’s head goes from being entirely withdrawn, to out, to fully extended.

V.I.N.Cent.’s final escape involves his own phallic turnabout. He extends his long boring tool and drills away at Maximilian until the bigger robot submits. One doesn’t have to be Freud to see what’s going on there.

In the midst of all this cloaked sexual violence, B.O.B. and V.I.N.Cent. have a plutonic love affair. They talk openly of their admiration for each other and sense of partnership. In the classic tradition of on-screen buddy films, however, the love between B.O.B. and V.I.N.Cent. remains untainted by the vulgar suggestions of sex (contrasted with evil Maximilian). Like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the two male robots could show affection to each other as dueling partners. In the end, of course, one still has to die.


Such are the things that I contemplate on a Saturday morning. I will end, though, with a special thanks to V.U.B.O.Q. He thoughtfully sent me a Boston-welcome present of the nifty knitted cap (modeled below). Some universal concerns exist that GayProf won’t hack the chilly Boston winter. Rest assured, I am tough.

I appreciate that cap for the warmth and also because it will be perfect to toss up in the air a-la-Mary-Richards. Thanks again, VUBOQ!!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Even the Rosy Has Shades of Grey

Last night I had dinner and drinks with (a somewhat fatigued) Atari-Age. He has compared himself to an amnesia-prone squirrel. On this, I can not say. What I can testify to, though, is that he sure seems like a keen guy. Plus, he is easy on the eyes, as they say. I look forward to learning more about him.

One question that came up (and others have asked either directly or indirectly in e-mail) concerned just how opaque are my rose-colored glasses when I look at Boston? To answer, they are pretty darn rosy. Having left Texas behind for the year, I am more than excited to be in a city. I like having access to little things like, you know, public transportation. Eating food that does not originate at a chain restaurant ranks highly as well.

Rest assured, though, the old, cranky, grim GayProf lives. In particular, I know that Boston has a complicated history in terms of race. After all, it is the city where this happened:

Yes, that would be the infamous picture outside City Hall where white-youth Joseph Rakes stabbed African-American attorney Theodore Landsmark over the issue of busing in 1977. In other ways, the city has had less dramatic, but equally disturbing, signs of consistent racism. The Boston Red Sox, for instance, was the last major baseball team to integrate. Clearly the city has a grim past when it comes to racism, segregation, and patriotic emblems.

Given that part of my job involves me actively thinking about race’s meaning in the United States, I would like to believe that I am not so enamored with my new locale that I would ignore these types of issues. It would not speak very highly of my professional training.

Texas’ racism simply appears more obvious and dangerous, perhaps, than contemporary Massachusetts racism. Early in the Spring of this past year, two white teens dragged a Latino youth out of a party. Allegedly, the 16-year-old Latino had kissed a Euro-American girl at the party. In retaliation, the two white teens kicked the Latino teen in the head with steel-toe boots, burned him with cigarettes, and sodomized him with a pipe. Racial slurs and jeering accompanied the attack. The attack finished with the youth being doused in bleach. For over 12 hours, the Latino teen lay in the yard naked and near death.

Less-gruesome, but just as disturbing, stories about racism's persistence come out of Texas. Indeed, both the University of Texas and Texas A&M University (the state’s two major public institutions) have had to address predominantly white student groups that hosted “black-face” parties. At the University of Texas, students vandalized Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statute on his federal holiday. Texas A&M doesn't have a statue of any person of color to be vandalized.

All across Texas, one can see bumper-stickers with the Confederate Battle Flag and the slogan, “It’s Not Hate, It’s Heritage.” Of course, the stickers’ owners don’t wish to examine that their heritage had a great legacy of hate. This also, by the way, don’t seem to know or care that the Battle Flag was not the original Confederate national flag. Nor do the talk about the fact that nobody really used the Battle Flag until the 1960s. That, though, is another entry entirely.

Compared to that barrage of news, it’s tempting to think of the awfully-Democratic-blue Massachusetts as a utopia in comparison. This, I think, becomes one of the major problems in thinking about racism in the U.S. today. With the exception of the obviously horrific states like Texas, Mississippi, or Arkansas, most Americans are lulled into a sense of peace about the current status quo.

Yet, Boston’s notions of a “city of neighborhoods” can (and does) become easily translated into another means of segregation. Naming membership to a particular neighborhood can also mean excluding those “who don’t belong.” According to recent census data, Boston whites are likely to live in neighborhoods that are also 90% white.

Though politically at odds with each other, both Boston and Texas suggest the continuous and unresolved issues about race in the nation. As mentioned on this blog, a 2003 study conducted by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University concluded that the entire U.S. is actually becoming more segregated over the past decade. Indeed, many people are either unaware of these issues or seem to have just tossed up their hands with the resignation that racism will never be solved.

All of this is to say that I am still thinking about race (job or otherwise). Nowhere in the U.S. have the promises of social and economic equality been achieved, especially not Boston or Texas.

In the meantime, though, I still will enjoy being away from Texas. I just need to get the image below printed on a kite so I can run along the pier with it.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Queen for a Day

Boston strikes me as great so far. Despite all of my stress about the dreaded Texas house, whose non-sold status crushes the life out of me, I am delighted by my new surroundings.

Jason invited me out to dinner with his partner and some of his friends (more on this in a moment). They all were great! Needless to say, the evening suggested that life in Boston is light-years ahead of life in Texas. That’s not a statement of surprise. Rather, it is one of confirmation.

Primarily, of course, the Greater Boston Area has the advantage of not being Texas. Don’t underestimate this as a selling point. Trust me.

Moreover, people have been extremely friendly here. Yeah, I know, that doesn’t jive with the Boston reputation. Based on my short experience, however, I have found people (even total strangers) more than willing to help out a new person to the city.

Sure, they express an astounding gruffness in the first minute and half of conversation. Once you get beyond that time period, though, they become as sweet as possible. Well, except the T employees. They seem genuine in their unhelpfulness.

This stands in direct contrast to Texas. My experience there showed people to put on a fa├žade of friendliness in the first couple of minutes of conversation. Once you cut deep into the icing, though, you realized that nasty Texas cake had nothing but poison for anybody not white, straight, married, evangelical-Christian, with children.

Other differences exist as well. For the most part, people actually like living in Boston. Many eagerly tell me about their favorite elements of the city. They also want confirmation of their suspicions that Boston stands as the greatest city in the U.S. (and their particular neighborhood stands out even more).

When I first moved to Eastern Texas, in contrast, again and again I heard, “Well, the great thing about being an academic here is that you can leave during the summers and winter holiday.”

How unhealthy to live in place where you are constantly waiting for the instant that you can get away! This type of existence, it seems to me, just puts your life in a constant day-dreaming status and never lets you build anything real. Everything that surrounds you in the day-to-day becomes “never good enough.” Everything outside of Texas becomes a fantasy without any real substance or longevity.

All that aside, you came here for gravitas. So, I won’t bore you with my giddy honeymoon over my new locale. Instead, I will demonstrate that I can be just as judgmental of my Bostonian neighbors as my former Texan neighbors.

So, let’s go back to the night out. During the course of the evening, we stopped at a bar that showed signs of having just recently lost its cool edge. What markers gave away its lost cool status? None more than the clientele.

Before I start, let me qualify by saying that I hardly consider myself a hip cat. On the contrary, I am perpetually-out-of-the-loop. Had I been around during 54's heyday, I probably would have been oblivious to all the fuss.

I can, however, at least sense cool's presence or absence much like a Republican Senator knows porn when he sees it (over and over again). Consider it sort of like a residual spidey sense (Yes, I know making that reference lowers my own cool factor -- Eh).

Annnnyway, so this particular bar had the cool fixtures, the swift bartenders, and the astoundingly beautiful doorman. What it also had, though, was no less than three (3) parties for soon-to-be-married giggling women. All three had the lady-of-the hour wearing a rhinestone tiara.

Yes, we saw three separate, unrelated tiaras for three separate groups of women. One, by the way, also had a feather boa. These three groups whirled around each other, but never quite made eye-contact. That, after all, might spoil the alleged moment of uniqueness reserved for the bride(s).

As I watched yet another one of the party crew walk away shocked (SHOCKED!) that the bartender could not make them a Red Bull © and vodka, I couldn’t help but think some grim thoughts about these folk. It wasn’t just that I think tiaras should be reserved exclusively for women named Diana or Drag Queens (which I do). Rather, the brides' “pretty, pretty princess” mentality suggests a great many problems with our society’s vision of marriage.

Before we go down this road, I always like to give fair warning. My own dismal marriage might cloud my point of view. To be fair, though, I have always had a suspicion of marriage. Ironically (and it is technically ironic), I didn’t even want to get married to liar ex (who told many lies). He told me, though, of his unwavering certainty that I was “the one;” brushed aside my concerns; and handed me an ultimatum to marry or breakup. I relented. After that, he constantly (literaly almost daily (and I mean literally)) told me that I would never find anybody as good as him.

Now I realize that I could easily find another mediocre individual like liar ex (who told many lies). I would rather not, though. Guys like him are a dime-a-dozen. You can buy them anywhere.

He had such an inflated sense of himself. Of course, we all know that I was the most interesting thing about him.

Please take all that bitterness into account whenever GayProf starts a discussion about marriage. I am probably as optimistic about marriage as Al Gore is about the validity of the electoral college.

Still, in all the yackking about gay marriage, our society refuses to even consider the institution’s severe problems for hets (and now homos). Romantic promises of happily ever after obscure some pretty reasonable thinking. Instead, like the tiara women, we all fall at some point for the notion that marriage must be the logical next step in life’s progression. Many never think one moment beyond the actual wedding day.

Why should they? On that day, society promises, they get to reign supreme. With or without the tiaras, we are all bow down to the bride. Some folk spend Puerto Rico’s annual budget on that single day. Plus, the happy couple walks away with a king’s ransom in Calphalon cookware and Oster blenders.

The groom just happens to be a needed accessory to get the whole ball rolling. No wonder tiara-women all happened to be out with their giggling best woman pals. They probably like them better than their actual fiancees.

We treat the wedding day as if an end point. On numerous instances, I have heard friends (both hetero and homo, both men and women) declare that the “time had come” in their life to be married. It didn’t matter that they hadn’t had a LTR for years. Like a project, they went out and hunted up some person to drag down the aisle. They all found themselves married, or at least engaged, within a year. After all, they felt they "should" be married.

Then the story always turns the same. Suddenly, six months into the marriage, they think to themselves, “How the fuck did I end up with this person that I hardly know?” Their next thought usually becomes, “I wonder if we will have to return all that Calphalon if I call this thing quits.”

Friday, August 11, 2006

Coffee, Tea, or Blatant Imperialism?

Thanks to all of you who phoned or e-mailed a welcome to the Greater Boston Area! Not much new, however, for me to really report at the moment.

Unpacking and cleaning consumed most of the past few days. I also did “real work.” In the academic world, you see, spending the week lifting and hauling heavy boxes apparently falls under the category of “imaginary” work. Only real work, i.e. research, puts reduced-fat yogurt on my table (If I had my table back together -- Which I don't).

Going through all of these boxes made me conclude again that I brought too much crap. I don’t really own much, but what I do own takes up too much space for my studio apartment. Did I really expect that this would be the year when I re-read the Iliad or Dante's Inferno?

Why, moreover, did I bring so much kitchen stuff that I will not use? With the number of champagne glasses that got crated along, I could host a small Catholic wedding; a moderately sized Protestant wedding, or a giant Mormon wedding. On my budget, though, champagne will not likely figure into my diet at all.

All more proof that I might have an odd psychological tick where I buy kitchenware when I feel glum. It might also be a learned behavior passed on from my mother. Though odd, it’s not that interesting. Eh – Moving on...

Speaking of my budget, I heard from my Texas realtor today that she has essentially given up trying to sell the house that I own(ed) with liar ex (who told many lies). She passed the house onto a new realtor to list it. That did not make me happy.

Great Hera! The way that house hangs around my neck even the Ancient Mariner feels sorry for me (but I smell better than him). I have said it before, and I will say it again: Buying that house with liar ex (who told many lies)? Worst. Idea. Ever.

Well, now that I think about it, spending eight years married to liar ex (who told many lies) holds the top spot for worst decision in my entire life. Let me reconsider. Buying the house? Penultimate. Worst. Idea Ever.

Eh – Live and learn, I suppose. Hear that, Cosmos? I am learning. So – you know, we can move onto some new, happy lessons.

Aside from my personal annoyances, I also see a major rip appeared in global security. No, I am not referring to the death of Mike Douglas. Instead, my eyes turned to the plot to destroy airplanes midair.

As many have already noted, this might mean the end to carry-on baggage. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I enjoyed the convenience of my rollerbag (specifically designed to fit in the overhead bin). On the other hand, I did not enjoy watching my fellow passengers regress into little beastly things as they fought over precious bin space to fit their steamer trunks. Nor did I like seeing the flight attendants being forced to argue with folk about why they could not hold that three-foot chandelier in their lap for the trip (Yes, I really saw this once).

So, I can live with minimal carry-on baggage (none at all, even books, is just silly). After all, we all adjusted to taking our shoes off. Okay, that is a lie. I have not adjusted to taking my shoes off and don't feel more safe knowing we boarded barefoot.

None of this strikes me as really solving the actual problem. If an individual desires to do harm to U.S. and their allies’ airlines, they will succeed. Dumping out tons of suntan lotion and perfume might look good for the six o’clock news, but it does not address the root issues of why so much animosity exists towards this nation. Until the U.S. (and its allies) come to terms with our historic and modern imperialism, we will always be at risk.

Well, on that cheery note, I hope you all are having a good weekend. I am looking forward to potentially meeting Jason over at PIHP for drinks.

Next week, I take up the challenge of trying to figure out the gym situation. I can only milk the move as justification for not doing anything at all for a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Come Back to the Five and Dime

When one moves across a nation, you realize many things about your packing strategies. I thought that I had minimized the amount of crap that I took with me. As I heaved and lugged it all up tight and winding stairs, though, I realized that I still own too much stuff. My eyes drift again to the boxes and boxes of books that currently surround me.

In other ways, though, you also find out about things accidentally left behind. Unlike a cross-town trip, there is no going back for that one last forgotten item. Fortunately for me, an unopened bag of cat food and a cookie sheet are the only things that I have found missing so far. Then again, it’s early in the unpacking phase.

I did find, however, my photo of James Dean for the fridge door. GayProf-devotees might recall seeing it in my self-absorbed photo-centric post from the sub-let apartment in Texas. “Why, GayProf” I imagine you asking, “Do you always put a picture of James Dean of your refrigerator door? Also, how did you get to be the most desirable man on the blogosphere?” Oooh – Both of those are tough, but fair, questions. Let’s just tackle the first one today.

Though partially motivated by Dean’s queer-icon status and good looks, this does not fully answer the inquiry. To get the full answer, we must go wandering through the seasons of my youth.

Queer folk often get asked, “When did you first become aware of your queer desires?” These questions always struck me as impossible to pin-point. Anybody who has a definite answer, I think, has just sub-consciously or consciously chosen a moment in their autobiography to make sense of their identity. Straight people, on the other hand, never feel as inclined to name a precise moment when they realize that they had a sexuality.

All the same, there have been some key moments on GayProf’s road of life. For me, as a young queer lad, I knew that I had a deep desire to see men without their clothes. Doing anything sexual beyond looking, though, was literally outside of my imagination (And I really mean literally, not (as Earl Cootie points out) the way most Americans use the term (when they actually mean figuratively).

Even post-puberty, when I knew that my body was charged and ready to go, it did not occur to me that men could actually have sex with each other. Consider me a sheltered Catholic boy, but I really didn’t have the mechanics down in my head.

Of course, I knew that a group of people existed who fell under the category “gay men.” Television and films provided that information, but I never quite clicked about actual sexual acts (mostly because televison and films left out that little tidbit as well).

As an awkward teenager, I began to notice that I kept falling in love with other young (and sometimes not-so-young) men. You might consider it medieval, but a romantic lives in a portion of my otherwise cold, dark, truncated heart.

Still, it took some time to untangle those adolescent emotions. Rather than saying that I loved/lusted after these other young men, I convinced my self that only a deep, deep, deep, deep desire for friendship motivated those feelings (I debated about using the word “urges,” but that struck me as baroque).

My senior year of high school proved the battleground for personal awareness. In that year, I became best friends with a fellow male student. I fell in love, head-over-heels, in the way that only a teenager can in our society. Every waking moment and most sleeping moments focused on him. We saw each other at every free instance in school; talked for hours on the phone after school; and spent the weekends together.

By the time I graduated, I finally admitted to myself that my vision of our association went beyond simple friendship. In my awkward, inexperienced way, I communicated my desire for my little friend and what he meant to me at the end of the summer. Like an ABC-After-School special, he reacted in shock, then histrionics, and then horror. He finally fled the scene. Unlike an ABC-After-School special, he never returned to share the important life-lesson that we both learned. Indeed, I never heard from him again (Given the extreme commonness of both his first and last name in Latino circles, he is impossible to Google).

So, I started college feeling entirely rejected (Yes, rejection plays an important, though negative, part in my sense of self. It’s a topic for therapy – whenever I find a new Boston-therapist. I do, however, have a great story about another teenage crush that reentered my life recently. That, though, is another blog-entry entirely).

In that first year of university, I knew and owned my queer desires, but my first stab at the whole “gay” thing didn’t really leave me feeling grand. Remember, too, that I always start at a place of extreme gravitas. So just imagine my thought patterns at that moment.

As fate would have it, though, during that freshman year, a young woman in one of my classes invited me to a party. Yeah, I know, a party? Freshman year? How unusual. Though trite, it’s my story and I can tell it however I want to tell it.

Anyway, two gay men happened to be hosting this particular party. I did not enter the party house feeling any particular kinship to these yet-unknown gay men. Indeed, it just seemed like another drunken night gathering in Albuquerque’s student ghetto.

I briefly met the hosts. Both were nice, young, and attractive. Overall, though, I didn’t think much about them. Then, as I searched for a beer in their kitchen, I saw a casual image of James Dean hanging on the refegerator door.

At that moment, I can’t really explain why, but I suddenly felt a whole-hell-of-a-lot better about all my queerness. Some of it derived from the unashamed way that the picture signified the hosts’ own appreciation for Dean’s masculine beauty. Another part came from a sudden sense of linked history. Here, a man dead for some forty years (at that point), continued as the subject of the queer gaze. Many, many, many of us queer men had looked upon Dean with the same sense of sexualized appreciation. It inexplicably eased my loneliness.

I never became friends with those gay hosts. I couldn’t even tell you their names. Had I known that I would point to that moment as critical, I probably would have jotted down their digits.

Still, their unthinking moment of pasting an image with a magnet resulted in a host of good feelings for me. Since that point, I have usually had a picture of James Dean on my refrigerator wherever I have lived.

As I slapped ol’ James Dean onto my new fridge (pictured above), I thought again of that party fifteen years ago. Looking at the image will always remind me of the interconnections between all of us who fall into the queer realm.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

I Have Arrived

Greetings from the greater Boston area. Thanks for all the good wishes for the move! I sure do adore you blogger-folk and appreciate your kindness.

After a grueling day of loading the truck, four unpleasant days of driving the truck, and a downright painful day of unloading the truck, I can officially say that I am moved.

I did it all with my own two little stick-arms, too. No help packing, loading, driving, or unloading. This either makes me extremely independent or entirely stupid – or stupidly independent? Whatever the case, I am already thinking that I have got to come up with a better plan for next year’s move.

I can’t say that I am, you know, unpacked. Last night I bought a frozen entree only to realize that I had no idea about my silverware's location. As a result, I made a makeshift utensil out of a Dixie cup and some foil. MacGyver has nothing on GayProf.

What to say about the journey? Oh, how about it was hell? You see, I never really enjoyed long road trips. I enjoy traveling to a new place, but would rather get there as quickly as possible. The only benefit of doing a road trip, in my mind, would be to stop at all of those quirky out-of-the-way places that you would never make a special trip to see otherwise. For instance, the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Museum caught my eye.

Because of Cat, however, I could not really think of stopping. It struck me as unfair to risk roasting his little brain in a sizzling hot moving truck just to see how the museum handled Edith Wilson's shadow presidency.

With Cat in tow, what I saw of the many, many, many states (TX, LA, MS, AL, GA, TN, VA, MD, PA, NJ, CT, and MA) that I traversed only appeared in the windshield. I can say, though, that traveling across the many, many, many, many states reminded me of Texas’ lack of natural beauty. Seriously – Tennessee had brilliantly green forests. Virginia had blooming wild flowers (I grant that Texas also has wild flowers – for two days every Spring), Pennsylvania had rolling hills and cute farmhouses. Even Mississippi seemed nice (though I doubt I would want to live there).

Speaking of Cat, he did not enjoy the journey. This caused me a great deal of stress. I had some kitty-knock-out drugs, but I felt like drugging him against his will wasn’t really all that nice. Not that I am one of those people who anthropomorphizes his animals (which I don’t).

During the first day, Cat gave me quite a fright. He threw himself against his carrier cage. He painted as if in a sweltering desert (he had plenty of water available to him in his carrier, fyi). Then he started drooling. Feeling bad for the little guy, I let him out of his box once we got on the road. I learned afterward from Cooper (who is friends with a vet) that letting him out only increases Cat stress.

I would say Cat communicated his stress level to me. He crawled into my lap and promptly vomited all over me. Within the next ten minutes, he defecated on me as well. In terms of character building events, I would say traveling 70mph in a 10 foot rental-truck with a pile of cat shit cooling on your lap ranks highly. All of that occurred within the first hour of being on the road.

You know that people say, “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you mentally stronger.” If this was really true, after all that I have been through, shouldn’t I be able to levitate tables with my strange psychic powers at this point? I am just saying.

Needless to say, Cat got the drugs the next day and stayed his carrier. He slept peacefully.

Of course, tense moments occurred every morning. Trying to both get him to take the pill and get back in his box tested both of our wills. By the third day of driving, Cat and I both felt exhausted. He looked at me with those sweet green eyes and seemed to suggest a murder-suicide pact. Rather than leaving the motel to face another day on the road, I seriously considered his offer. In the end, however, I suspected that he would not have kept his side of the bargain after offing me.

Now that I am here, though, I can start to think about the best way to utilize this year both personally and professionally. If you are near liquor, raise your glass in honor of GayProf’s new start. If you are not near liquor, what the hell is wrong with you?