Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I Wonder

Over the weekend, I had a friend over who had not previously been to my apartment. Eying my few Wonder Woman figures, mugs, and books, he expressed some surprise. Clearly he has never known a true comic geek aficionado, who would consider my meager number of Wonder Woman items light-weight. Taking a closer look at Mego Wonder Woman’s fully-rooted eyelashes, my friend asked, “But why do you like Wonder Woman? What’s so special about her?”

At first the question took me totally by surprise. How could anybody, especially another gay man, not see Wonder Woman’s innate fabulousness? Doesn't Wonder Woman’s appeal simply resonate through her very visage?

After I ordered my ex-friend to leave my house, I began to think about his question. Part of my affection for Diana, of course, centers on some childhood memories (discussed a bit in this post). She is one of the few childhood pop-culture memories that hasn't yet been totally burned. George Lucas’s abominations, known as Episodes I-III, ruined the Star Wars mythology forever. Forever. The Black Hole, as we have discussed, is far too creaky to really obsess over as an adult. So, from those big three of my childhood, that leaves Wonder Woman. I have little doubt that Joss Whedon will soon trash that as well. Whedon's interviews have shown almost no understanding of the character. Instead, he wants to simply make a brunette Buffy. That, though, is another entry.

I am hardly alone in my love for the Amazon Princess. Gay men of a certain age often share the Lynda-Carter series as a fond childhood memory. Some take it to far greater extremes than even I. For instance, I only joke about sewing a Wonder Woman costume. This guy sewed his own costume, wore it, and won an award. That’s real devotion and I want to be his friend:

All of this makes me wonder, just why are gay men drawn to certain iconic women figures? Their names are easy to conjure and border on the gay stereotype: Cher, Bette Davis, Jacqueline Kennedy, Lucille Ball, Wonder Woman, and countless others. Anecdotal evidence suggests that queer interest in these women starts in our childhoods, long before most of us even have the language to express our queer sexual desires.

Not every gay boy, obviously, loves every gay icon. I, for instance, found neither Streisand nor Bette Middler all that interesting. Yet, even if we don’t personally share the love for particular figures, we can’t deny their durability within the community. Attend any large gathering of drag queens and you will find all the usual suspects.

Young gay boys don’t just randomly select any woman to idolize. Joan Crawford slinging a gun captures our imagination. Or, even better, Faye Dunawy playing Joan Crawford slinging a can of cleanser really gets our blood going. Few queer boys, though, remember or care about Veronica Lake or Gene Tierney. What makes us choose one figure over another probably has some of the same randomness as what makes the larger public suddenly make any individual a star.

Queer boys, though, focus on women characters that share some basic elements. From Cher to Wonder Woman, our women icons all blended and bended masculine and feminine gender expectations. The women who attract our attention generally fought for success in traditionally masculine roles. In films or in real life, queer-women-icons did everything from shrewdly running a business to making the axis powers fold. Because they succeeded in men’s realms, they often faced sexist criticism.

Yet, they also retained their sexual attractiveness throughout. They were not at all asexual. If anything, they appeared above the mundane middle-class concerns about sexuality.

During our youth, most of us couldn’t claim a desire for same-sex sex. During the seventies, finding a positive image of a gay man was as rare as a tank of gas. We therefore clung to anybody who rebelled against the gender status quo.

In our society, ideas about sexuality and gender intertwine. In the twentieth century, the most popular images of gay men and lesbians showed them as either androgynous or as clownish imitators of heterosexual men and women. Medical authorities even named homosexuals “the third sex” during the first half of the century. Real happiness, these experts told us, only came to men who behaved like Neanderthals and women who spent their days mindlessly baking cookies. Everybody who fell outside those roles were trapped in a gender purgatory.

Given these societal pressures to conform to gender roles and heterosexuality, it’s not hard to see why claiming a gay identity felt like a scary and alienating divorce from the rest of society. We simply didn’t see many happy alternatives for men-loving-men. Developing into an adult filled many of us with dread if it meant we had to conform to a heterosexual world. In reality, we also saw that marriage trapped many of the heterosexuals who surrounded us as well. We searched for any alternatives.

Seeing powerful women toss out the expectations for feminine gender roles and heterosexual marriage resonated with our desires to avoid the same traps. They also showed that having feminine traits was not the same as lacking power or agency. Every time Cher disparaged Sonny’s height or announced her dissatisfaction with married life, we saw alternatives, however small, to the vision of gender handed to us from every other angle. Even endlessly recycled images provided options, like Scarlett O’Hara. The Southern belle succeeded both in business and in getting all the men at Twelve Oaks (through she accomplished the first using slave labor and the latter through lies and manipulation – but that’s is another entry entirely). Despite doing decidedly masculine behaviors and bucking social conventions, Scarlett was never a bridesmaid. She somehow always ended up the bride.

These iconic women also often tapped into a familiar pattern of constantly inventing a public self. The masks, poses, and costumes donned by people like Cher and Madonna spoke to the performance and gender-drag that we all do. Taking it to extremes, these women showed the farce of gender.

In the case of the television version of Wonder Woman, we got some basic fantasies about super powers and magic. Others have also suggested that all comic heroes appeal to gay men because of the “secret identity” and “double-life” narratives.

Wonder Woman had other appeals for young queer boys as well. You didn’t need to be Freud to piece things together about her single-gendered homeland. Even the youngest child thought to ask, “If there were no men on Paradise Island, just how did they have babies?” The slightly more precocious kids cut to the chase, “What about sex? Did this mean that *gasp* they had sex with each other? Can two women have sex together? Does that mean two men can too? Is that a possibility?” Boy, howdy, is it!

The ABC and CBS versions of Wonder Woman downplayed the homoerotic elements of Diana’s Amazon sisters. Instead, Paradise Island appeared as a never-ending slumber party, complete with flouncy, shortie nighties that all the Amazons wore. Those must have been really convenient for all that building, hiking, and jumping they did. Apparently the Amazons spent their days alternating between Olympic competitions and tickle fights. The comic, especially the Marston-era comics, suggested a much more erotic island paradise.

In either version, though, Diana appears as both the greatest hero and the largest outcast on both the island and in “man’s world.” Contrary to attempts to name Wonder Woman a lesbian, it was actually her very heterosexual screaming-thigh-sweats for Steve Trevor that made her seem so queer to her Amazon sisters. They all liked being without men. That was normal. Diana seemed peculiar because of her desire for a man.

When Diana appeared in the United States, she found life confusing. Yet, her life also became a constant adventure. She never apologized for being herself. She didn’t get stuck always doing traditionally feminine tasks, like vapidly vacuuming, nor did she become a masculine dull jock thud. She had far more physical strength than all the men around her (what young queer boy didn’t want to be physically stronger than all the hetero boys surrounding him?), but she also had all the men’s attention. Even while stopping an airplane with her bare hands, she made sure her hair stayed in place.

Like many of us queer boys, Wonder Woman occupied a liminal space of gender and sexuality. She merged traditional masculine and feminine roles, packing them all in her nifty ol’-glory swimsuit.

Perhaps the more images we have of actual queer men, the less younger queer generations will canonize such female figures. For better or worse, the next generation of gay men came of age with shows like Will and Grace and Queer as Folk as common place. While very flawed, these types of shows gave them actual gay characters to look at. I, though, hope Wonder Woman always stays around the queer circles.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Look Out! He's Off His Meds!

I recently decided to phase off of the antidepressants pills that I had been taking. My decision revolved partly around a desire to see if my brain chemistry had gone to a state of self-regulation. The other part involved my pure laziness of not wanting to go through the hassle of finding a psychiatrist in Boston. Yes, I am really that lazy.

Don’t worry, though. I still have enough Xanax to immobilize a small rhinoceros or enough to make a large rhino feel pretty darn good about his life.

I have gone through different periods of needing the ol’ head meds. While in grad school, I found that I suddenly had some serious anxiety issues. “You, GayProf?” I hear, “No, you are so calm! Nothing suggests that you are predisposed to an anxiety disorder. You never worry about anything.” Shut up, sarcastic voices in my head.

By anxiety, I don’t mean, “Oh, gee, flying makes me feel little queasy.” Rather, I mean, “How many years in jail will I spend if I force this pilot turn around the plane so that I can get out of this flying tube of toothpaste?”

During that time, I found out that depression and anxiety involved the same chemical processes in the brain. This information made me both sad and worried.

Going through the stress of a divorce and a quasi-hostile work environment only brought these feelings back once again post-grad school. In both instances, meds proved critically important to keeping me functional. Well, they kept me as functional as I ever could be.

I bring this up because in my tours around the blogosphere I have found that there is still a major stigma associated with antidepressant medication. Other bloggers have discussed either their decision to go on or off meds. While well meaning, time-and-time again they get commentators who claim that they “should try to be stronger” or that “meds are just a crutch.”

This type of thinking leaves me cold and prevents people from obtaining some valuable treatments that can improve their life. Just a crutch? Um, don’t crutches help keep people mobile? Would you say that the guy with a broken leg is better off just laying on the floor? Better he be an immobile blob than use a crutch. Using a crutch, after all, is a sign of weakness.

In other circumstances, the same well-meaning people suggest that I and others should try “natural” solutions. Um, okay, that’s akin to the Vatican’s stance on the birth-control pill, which they see as "unnatural." Both the pill and antidepressants work with the body’s existing chemistry. Of course the “natural” rhythm method proposed by the Catholic Church has also earned the nickname “Vatican Roulette” due to its level of effectiveness. Such “natural” cures for medical depression have the same dubious results.

Look, I take pretty okay care of myself. I eat more than I should, really. As a result, I also spend a good amount of time at the gym. Most times fruits and vegetables make it in my diet somewhere. I also make sure that I am always in bed by ten. Of course, I don’t get home until one, but that’s another issue.

At this point, we should all know that serious depression and anxiety occur from physiological irregularities. My body simply breaks down from time to time in its ability to regulate the level of serotonin in my brain. If I can take a pill to make that work again, don’t sweat me, man.

As with all medication, I understand there are people who abuse antidepressants. There are also doctors who wrongly prescribe them. These, though, are the minority of cases.

Comprehensive studies on antidepressant use have not yet materialized. From the information available, though, use of antidepressants are on the rise in the United States. Most people, though, report initial hesitancy about starting such a drug, largely because of the social stigma or that it is a sign of “personal failure.” Yet, most people who start antidepressants also phase off of them within a couple of years. They usually report that the drugs helped return a sense of balance during the period of use.

Contrary to popular belief, the drugs do not end one’s emotional consciousness. Rather, they provide a space to both balance one’s internal chemistry and also come up with strategies for living.

Of course, the drug companies are not helping matters. In a quest to sell ever more of their product, they trivialize the seriousness of depression or anxiety. Instead, they imply that simply taking a pill will solve your greatest problems from shyness to bankruptcy. There are also legitimate concerns about giving children medication created and tested on adult physiologies.

Still, a myth continues to exist that if you need an antidepressant then you are slothful, lack self respect, and are probably self-indulgent. Over and over again, we are told that a “successful” human would simply walk off the pain and just get over it. Quite frankly, that’s not always possible.

That’s why I am not inclined to obscure my use of antidepressants. As I phase off them now, I know it is likely that I will need them again at different points in my life. Like an asthmatic sometimes needs an inhaler, antidepressants have kept me in the game. And I am not alone.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Give Praise and Thanks

I could continue this blog focusing on Texas’s problems indefinitely. November 22, for instance, marks the 43 anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s bloody death in Dallas, Texas. Now I am not saying that was the entire state of Texas’s fault. I just point out that New Mexico never had a president blown away on our grounds. Maybe a few governors here and there had to go, but never did New Mexico take out a commander in chief. I am just sayin'.

Still, I know even something that feels so right, like bashing Texas, can get old. Instead, I want to show my shared spirit with my fellow country men and women this week. No, I am not talking about participating in Friday’s skull-crushing violence to get one of those creepy animatronic Elmos. No, no. I am thinking about U.S. Thanksgiving on Thursday.

Even though I smugly like to think of me as being a bit different, there’s no escaping that I am a total American. Sometimes that makes me feel dirty and want to spend hours in the shower trying to wash the stink of imperialism off of my body. This week, though, it makes me want to pause and give thanks for the things that I appreciate in my life. Of course, being an American, I also know that no matter how good something is, I can always complain about it not being as good as possible. To really be an American, I would probably figure out a way to sue somebody as well.

Here are the things that make me thankful and my ideas about how each could be even better:

    What Makes Me Thankful: Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, will soon be the first woman Speaker of House.
    What Could Make Me More Thankful: Bush and Cheney suddenly resigning and disappearing from the public eye forever, thus making Pelosi the first woman U.S. President.

    What Makes Me Thankful: Living in the Greater Boston Area this year.
    What Could Make Me More Thankful: Not Returning to Texas in the Fall.

    What Makes Me Thankful: Vodka
    What Could Make Me More Thankful: More Vodka

    What Makes Me Thankful: Xanax
    What Could Make Me More Thankful: If Xanax came packaged with a vodka mini.

    What Makes Me Thankful: TaB
    What Could Make Me More Thankful: If TaB didn’t cause cancer – or hurt my kidneys when I drank it.

    What Makes Me Thankful: New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment, don’t you know?
    What Could Make Me More Thankful: If New Mexico opened its borders to unlimited migration from Mexico, but sealed itself from any additional incursions from Texas – Or Oklahoma – Or Colorado – Or Utah – Or Northern Arizona.

    What Makes Me Thankful: Meeting all sorts of great people through my little bloggy.
    What Could Make Me More Thankful: If all those great people would consistently refer to me as “The Most Desirable Man on the Blogosphere.” Or, in lieu of that, they could just send vodka.

    What Makes Me Thankful: Battlestar Galactica’s smart writing and storylines.
    What Could Make Me More Thankful: A new storyline that required all Galactica’s male crew members to do their jobs without shirts. Well, all male crew members except Edward James Olmos. Nobody wants to see that pocked-faced mess without a top.

    What Makes Me Thankful: Cat, my feline companion.
    What Could Make Me More Thankful: If Cat learned how to operate the vacuum or scrub the bathtub. He could really contribute more to the apartment’s daily operation.

    What Makes Me Thankful: A giant turkey dinner at the end of November.
    What Could Make Me More Thankful: Serving that dinner with a side of vodka.

    What Makes Me Thankful: Being gay. If I wasn’t gay, I wouldn’t be able to date men. That just seems sad to me.
    What Could Make Me More Thankful: Religious zealots receiving a divine revelation that queer people are neither better nor worse than everybody else. We just dress better than everybody else.

    What Makes Me Thankful: Dishwasher technology.
    What Could Make Me More Thankful: If, while scrubbing my plates, my dishwasher also distilled vodka.

    What Makes Me Thankful: Being free of Liar Ex (Who Told Many Lies) in my day-to-day life. I wouldn’t have predicted it a year ago when he cowardly and thoughtlessly tore my heart out, but my life has vastly improved without him around – Seriously. Who knew?
    What Could Make Me More Thankful: Finally getting rid of that God-forsaken Texas house that we still own jointly. Yes, God actually forsook it.

    What Makes Me Thankful: Living in a city with a mostly-functional public transportation system.
    What Could Make Me More Thankful: Living closer to a T station – or closer to a liquor store that sold a variety of vodka -- whichever. Why be greedy?

    What Makes Me Thankful: James Dean’s iconic status.
    What Could Make Me More Thankful: If Giant wasn’t so god-damn long.

    What Makes Me Thankful: Gay porn.
    What Could Make Me More Thankful: If the porn industry didn’t seem so exploitative and riddled with drug dependency -- uh, in the bad way.

    What Makes Me Thankful: Three years of Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman.
    What Could Make Me More Thankful: If the new Wonder Woman comic would finally dump the disastrous and horrific idea of making Donna Troy Wonder Woman. Yuck! Nobody likes Donna Troy. We only care about Diana, DC. Shouldn’t Donna be watching an orb of power or something on a remote planet where nobody ever goes?

    What Makes Me Thankful: All Natural Fibers
    What Could Make Me More Thankful: If I could afford a higher thread-count sheet set -- or sleep in some guy's bed who has a higher thread count.

    What Makes Me Thankful: Cranberries (the New England produce, not the Irish Band (although...))
    What Could Make Me More Thankful: Cranberry juice + vodka

    What Makes Me Thankful: Access to Harvard’s astounding Library
    What Could Make Me More Thankful: The absence of Harvard’s entitled students.

    What Makes Me Thankful: Lube
    What Could Make Me More Thankful: If mainstream television ads for lube stopped pretending that heteros are lube’s biggest consumers.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

What's the Matter with Texas -- Part Three

By now it should be clear that I have little desire to return to Texas. My experiences with that state suggest that hate, greed, and fear are cherished much more than a basic commitment to human or civil rights. Yet, I think more is at play than just my reluctance to move back to Texas. Well, okay, these posts are mostly about my reluctance to move back to Texas. I also see Texas, though, as making visible the problems faced by the entire U.S. Texas might appear extreme on the surface, but I am not convinced that it is really that anomalous. Rather than dismissing it as a backwater hickville, Texas shows the direction the rest of the U.S. will take if white conservative Evangelical Christians are permitted to reign unchecked.

Take, for example, events that have transpired since the first post of this series. One might have hoped that the revelation of a blackface-video produced at Texas A&M University would challenge all students on campus to reconsider race and racism. Certainly concerned faculty and some students have held many discussions about the campus climate. Robert Gates, the university’s president (and Bush’s current nominee for Secretary for Defense), vigorously condemned the video’s blatant racism. Only a few days later, though, Latino students in Hobby Hall, one of A&M’s residence dorms, awoke to find that their fellow students marked swastikas on their doors.

Obviously, given the size of the state, I don’t mean to imply that every single person in Texas has an allegiance to Karl Rove and/or the Ku Klux Klan. Pockets exist of reasonable people. They, though, are far, far, far outnumbered by those who seek, at best, self-satisfaction and, at worst, the misery of others.

Don’t bother bringing up Austin, either. That pitiful city’s reputation wrongly benefits because it is surrounded by fanatical conservative muck. Austin simply wouldn’t qualify as a “liberal” city in a global competition. In reality, Austin is merely “less conservative” than the rest of Texas. Residents of Austin are also shockingly provincial and often refuse to interrogate their complicity with the status quo in Texas. Yes, I might have anti-Austin agenda. That aside, the last news incident that caught my attention suggests not only Texas’s serious problems, but also the Left’s inability to develop effective strategies to grapple with such a state.

Even The New York Times picked up the story of the Houston-landscaping company Garden Guy and its refusal to work with a gay male couple. Like many Americans, Garden Guy’s husband-and-wife owners, Sabrina and Todd Farber, follow a branch of Christianity that fosters a hatred of gays and lesbians. The owner of the business drew on these beliefs when responding to a gay couple’s request for Garden Guy to bid on a landscaping contract for their new house. “I need to tell you,” Sabrina Farber wrote in an e-mail, “that we cannot meet with you because we choose not to work for homosexuals."

After receiving that note, the gay couple sent it to two hundred of their e-mail friends. Those initial two hundred, in turn, sent it thousands of others. The story, as a result, got some “legs.” Soon, the news media picked up the story. Farber was shocked – SHOCKED! – that queer people would be offended by her refusal to work with them.

This story, though, left me with some ambivalent feelings. Obviously the main issue centers on whether businesses like Garden Guy have the right to discriminate against queers. Sabrina Farber’s lack of shame about announcing that queers are less deserving of respect than heterosexuals warrants attention. It also reminds us that one goal in reforming the public sector is to ensure that any business open to the public can’t pick and choose who they want to serve.

Still, I am not confident that this particular incident warranted the attention it received. Before the news story hit big, I received an e-mail about it. My reaction then still holds today: The inability of a middle-class gay couple to get some crazy Christian to plant their Azaleas just doesn’t rank as the critical civil rights issue of our times. Queers facing violent persecution, lack of medical care, and an inability to maintain employment strike me as slightly more important than roses and daffodils.

Don’t get me wrong, some good changes came from this incident. For one, the media took some time to point out that discrimination against queer people still exists. Queer folk in Texas hardly found this “news,” but many heteros reacted with surprise. Anything that can get queer folk onto the majority’s radar has value.

Moreover, the incident also prompted the Association of Professional Landscapers to adopt a non-discrimination clause that included sexual orientation. In the future, members of that organization will be expected to abide by this provision.

Still, the incident revealed a Left that largely lacked leadership or even a certainty of our basic goals. The gay couple initially involved in the incident has shunned speaking with the press. They have not articulated clear motives nor an active agenda. Other queer leaders have yet to materialize.

Given that the Farbers already refused to work with queer people, an economic boycott would be largely ineffective. If somebody refuses to take your money in the first place, it’s hard to strike at their pocketbook by refusing to give them any money. The Farbers had also long-ago given up their membership in the Association of Professional Landscapers, so changes in that organization were moot.

Moreover, a few people hurt our cause by threatening the Farbers through their web-page or via e-mail. Nothing will turn sympathy against queer folk more than telling a hetero Christian family that they “should be sodomized” and/or put to death. Some even threatened violence against the Farbers’ children. What the fuck, people? That’s not at all helpful.

Within Houston, the Left’s lack of direction and threats to the Farbers created an image of them as the victims. Reportedly, the Garden Guy only lost $500 worth of business because of their homophobic stance. Yet, they have picked up another $40,000 worth of business from other hateful Texan bigots.

To have made this incident more effective, queer leaders needed to move the discussion away from the Farbers as individuals. Instead, we need to focus the blame for this type of hate on the state and federal governments. The Farbers discriminated against gays and lesbians as customers because the current legal structure in Texas permits them to do so (with the exception of some weak city ordinances in Dallas and Austin). Indeed, Texas actually provides incentives to discriminate against gays and lesbians. The Farbers have reaped real economic and social benefits from special privileges granted to married heterosexuals who have children.

If we allow the discussion of these types of battles to become merely about individuals like the Farbers, we will lose. It took little time for some media sources to present the Farbers as a hapless religious couple being trashed by "radical queer activists."

Fighting for Social Justice is not about seeking revenge on mean-spirited people like the Farbers. Rather, our battles are about reforming the government and laws. Texas and the federal government tacitly accepts, if not actually promotes, a notion of queer people as less deserving of respect basic civil protection. The Farbers are an example of that problem, but not the cause.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What's the Matter With Texas -- Part Two

Texas offers few incentives to return. Don’t get me wrong, there are good people there. Some close friends live in Texas. Indeed, I might have no choice but to return next year if I cannot secure another academic post.

The second news story that captured my attention last week, however, reminded me that Texas can be both vindictive and exploitative. You get two for the price of one.

The Associated Press posted a story last week about a new push by the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau to attract gay visitors. “Wow,” I thought, “Dallas sure has some chutzpah given the state’s unforgivable treatment of queers.” Don't worry, though, the creators of the campaign are clear that it will not actually bring about equality in Texas.

Last year, 76 percent of Texas voters approved an amendment that guaranteed heterosexuals’ special privileges to marry. Every corner of Texas jumped on the anti-gay bandwagon during that campaign. A month before the vote, the Ku Klux Klan rallied in favor of depriving queer folk of their rights in the allegedly “liberal” capital, Austin.

This past election day, Texan voters returned Rick Perry to the governor’s mansion for another four years. Perry had been vocally and vehemently anti-gay throughout his first term. He also stepped forward as the most influential supporter of the anti-gay amendment in 2005. When asked directly about the consequences that the amendment would have on real-life queer Texans, Perry responded, “Texans made a decision about marriage and if there's a state that has more lenient views than Texas, then maybe that's a better place for them to live.” Yep, in short, the Texas Governor told gay people to get out of the state.

Trust me, I personally took Perry’s statement to heart. You don’t have to tell me twice. I know when I am not wanted. That’s why I moved to Massachusetts, even if it is only for a year. Consider me a Perry Refugee. Let’s just hope that I am not repatriated.

So, you can imagine my surprise that the Dallas convention bureau would tell gay people that the city will “power up your pride like no other destination.” Really? No other destination? More than San Francisco? More than New York? More than Boston? More than Chicago? More than Santa Fe? Really?

Just what does Dallas have to infuse us queer folk with a new sense of empowerment? Well, I mean beyond its giant glass erection.

Apparently Dallas’ tourism board can cater to all the really best gay stereotypes. The queer section of the web-site promises “majestic architecture, hip fashion, culinary marvels and arts venues galore.” Ah, gee, no plugs for fabulous opportunities to style other people’s hair or arrange their flowers?

Texan-conservatives already voiced their disapproval of the Visitor’s Bureau. Cathie Adams, president of the right-wing Dallas-based Texas Eagle Forum, suggested that attracting queers to the city would scare the horses. "To promote same-sex activities that would be offensive to the majority of families is not profitable, economically or socially," she said. "If you are wanting families to move into the city of Dallas, are you going to show them such a promotion? I doubt it. Those families would go to Collin County."

How did the mastermind of the queer-focused travel campaign respond to such a critique? What marvelous insight did he have that would “power up” our queer pride in the face of Adams’ homophobia?

“It is unlikely that most people will ever view their targeted appeals,” he said, “unless they are members of the gay community.” No need to fret. Those good majority of homophobic Texan families won’t even notice the campaign. Doesn’t that make you feel good, queer folk? When did Dallas become that person who pretended to like us in adolescence, but really just mistreated us? “Oh, hey queers," Dallas tells us, “Don’t worry, we are so best friends! Totally, I mean it! Just, like, we are going to be ‘secret friends.’ We won’t tell anybody at school that we are friends. Also, if I run into you in public, I am gong to pretend like I don’t know you at all. It will be, like, a fun game that only the secret friends know that we are playing, because we are secret friends. [pause] Can I borrow ten bucks?”

Make no mistake, the director of the visitor’s bureau launched this campaign with nothing but dollar signs in his eyes. "It's not about being politically correct,” he said, “It's about being economically correct." He gloried in the fact that gay travelers spend an average of $100 more per day than hetero travelers. In other words, the Dallas Convention and Visitors Bureau is more than happy to give us whatever message we want to get our money. Fighting for our rights, though, or ensuring queers’ safety within the city or state just doesn’t pay. We are free to leave our cash on the counter, but not to be treated like full humans deserving of actual respect.

What leaves me even more frustrated is that at least one queer organization has fallen for this transparently self-serving pitch. The Washington-based Family Pride Coalition hosted their annual conference in Dallas within the past few months. Apparently they fell for a dazzling presentation by the visitor’s bureau. Yeah, that makes a great deal of sense. Need a place to focus on queer families? Let’s go to a state where three-quarters of the voters felt they should not exist at all. Yet, 250 queer folk (and presumably many with their families in tow) brought their cash to Dallas for this conference. That is the same as giving a school-yard bully a candy bar to show him that he is wrong for slugging you. This entry could have just as easily been titled, “What’s the Matter with Queer Rights Groups.”

Well over half of the U.S. states have passed hateful measures against queer folk. Yet, they rarely suffer any consequences for these actions. Indeed, we queer folk don’t even discuss the possibilities of economic boycotts or staged protests. Most of the major queer rights organizations are much too busy cultivating sympathy for Lance Bass’ recent hangnail.

In the meantime, Texas gets to have their pink Barbie cake and eat it too. Campaigns, like the Dallas effort, takes the language of queer rights and twists it to serve the status quo. The gay liberation movement demanded that we be treated as equals and recognized as equal citizens in our cities, states, and nations. Advertisers have decided that they can tell us that we are equal in jargon and make their sales pitch feel like we are striking a blow for sexual liberation by staying at the local Hilton. The state treats queers as a cross between Beelzebub and an ATM machine.

Many of us have limitations about how much we can move away from evil states like Texas. We, though, have total control over where we vacation. What would happen if every queer person decided that they will not give one extra dollar to any city or state that refused to guarantee queer equality? Campaigns that promise to “empower” us by giving us the chance to spend our money do nothing to advance our cause. Texas disfigures our real goals to make a buck while also keeping us in a subservient position to the majority.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

What's the Matter with Texas -- Part One

Several news stories from Texas brought my gravitas back in full force this past week. Each one raised serious issues about the current battles for Social Justice not only in the Lone Star State, but the larger nation. This is the first of three entries about these news stories. Taken together, these stories confirm that I would really, really, really prefer not to return to Texas next Fall. That, though, might be inevitable. Beyond my personal circumstances, though, these stories also indicate the struggles that face those of us interested in Social Justice.

As I have mentioned previously, people often ask me if “Texas really is that bad.” I consider it worse than many people think possible for 2006. Yet, presuming that Texas is an anomalous “backward” or “regressive” state might not be accurate. I often wonder if Texas actually serves as a harbinger of what will come for the rest of the nation. The first of these three blog entries focuses on race the latter two will focus on queer issues.

Perhaps the most disturbing of these three stories involved several students at Texas A&M University (one of the state’s two flagship universities) making a video entitled “The Adventures of Jaraboem.” A white, male student portrayed the title character in shoe-polish blackface. Within the video, the white student in blackface pretended to be enslaved, prayed to an idol asking to be made a white man, ate a banana, and then cowered as his “white master “ whipped and raped him. The students considered this film “comedy.” Youtube distributed the video until Texas A&M asked it to be removed.

When such events occur, it’s tempting for us to dismiss them as a “few bad apples.” I am here to tell you the U.S. has a whole orchard of these folk. Others simply want to toss up their hands in frustration, saying “That’s just the way some people are in Texas.” I am not convinced, however, by these suggestions. Indeed, this is not even the first time that CoG has addressed issues of blackface minstrelsy. A year ago, I had fears about the return of blackface minstrelsy.

Texas A&M’s video is just the most graphic demonstration of the anxieties or hatred that exists within many white, heterosexual men in this country. All across the nation, college students have been sponsoring “ghetto parties” for the past several years. These events involve students dressing in a combination of blackface or stereotypical costumes with “bling” and “pimp” styles. Both the University of Texas (the allegedly “liberal” alternative to A&M) and Texas A&M witnessed such events. Before you cluck-cluck at Texas, though, similar events appeared at state and private universities in the Midwest and the east coast.

The most recent “ghetto party” occurred on October 28 at Johns Hopkins University. In that case, Sigma Chi Fraternity called the event “Halloween in the Hood” and asked its mostly white invitees to dress as ““macks,” or “hustlas,” or “hoochies.” During the party, the fraternity also hanged the figure of a black man in effigy.

Given the frequency and geographic diversity of these events, we can't just shrug them off as isolated incidents. Blackface performances first appeared in the U.S. shortly before the Civil War. White slaveholders, contrary to popular expectation, did not originate this form of entertainment. Rather, urban northerners both developed and attended blackface minstrelsy in the nineteenth-century. The white, working-class became the most devout audience members of this form of entertainment.

At best, we might conclude that these students are simply ignorant of the long and complicated history of blackface. This lack of awareness of stereotypes as stereotypes, however, suggests that racism persists without check. A more sinister interpretation of these events could suggest that the students intentionally mock people of color to enforce their own sense of racial and class superiority.

In either instance, the students had an underlying presumption about African Americans as ragged and marginal figures on the far-outside of U.S. society. These students drew from the most prolific images of African Americans that circulate in the larger media. The blackface video and the “ghetto parties” shows the continued intersection of race and economic class in the United States.

Obviously, I can’t say that I have specific solutions that will solve racism. If I did, you wouldn’t find me writing a blog. Still, I would suggest that many of us genuinely interested in Social Justice might be asleep or not entirely aware of the depth of hatred and racial animosity that still exists in this country. The fact that these events emerged on university campuses should trouble us all the more. We often imagine universities to be sites far removed from such unthinking racism. Yet, this particular generation of students seems more inclined to these performances than we have seen in decades.

Explanations from students who organize the ghetto parties or make the videos often are not heard. Yet, I think we need to understand what motivates this type of thinking. They might claim that they intended only “to be funny,” but why did they think this particular brand of racial mocking would be so hilarious? What did they imagine to be at stake here? How did they come to the point where they could so callously dehumanize another group of people? We have to understand their thinking if we are ever going to address racism effectively.

Answering these questions requires all of us to once again interrogate the real ways that race and economic class informs our daily lives. At times uncomfortable, we will need to break the fear of discussing the meanings ascribed to racial difference.

We can also eschew well-meaning efforts to claim that racial difference is “meaningless” or “irrelevant” in the modern nation. Ghetto parties and other blackface entertainments highlight that race still has tremendous currency in the United States. Racist stereotypes from a century ago prove durable as white college-students currently reformulate them for their own amusement. Wishing for a color-blind society only makes us blind to racism, not racial difference.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Break from the Gravitas -- Sort Of...

We are all a little dizzy with some good electoral news for a change. My gravitas might be a bit lighter. Okay, that’s a lie. My gravitas never gets lighter. We will have plenty of time, though, to talk about the problems in the nation as imagined by GayProf. As lefty folk, let's all take a moment and savior our victories.

I don’t have much new to add that hasn’t been said by other blog folk. Let’s recount (no pun intended) the good events of yesterday and today, shall we?

    Rick “Frothy Mixture of Cum, Lube and Fecal Matter” Santorum lost his Senate seat. A man driven by hate, he often became the poster boy for young Republicans. Now, though, he will have more time to fulfill his goal of fathering his own army. How man kids does this guy have? Jesus, Rick, wear a condom, would you?

    Nancy “San-Francisco Liberal” Pelosi will become the first woman Speaker of the House in the history of the United States. Of course, only around 70 women currently serve in the House out of 435 (representing about 16 percent of the total). This is shocking given that women are roughly 50 percent of the total U.S. population. Ooops – See? I do have trouble keeping the gravitas in check.

    Donald “Talking-Tree-From-Wizard-of-Oz” Rumsfeld loses his job. Hopefully Rumsfeld will see this as a chance to spend some quality time whittling.

    Arizona “The State that Gave Us Crazy-Ass Barry Goldwater” voted against a proposed ban on gay marriage. It infuriates me that the rights of a minority would be left to the decisions and whims of the majority. Still, the good people of the Grand Canyon State reject bigotry and fear. Go on with your bad self, Arizona. Have a Cosmo on me.

    Deval “I Once Worked for Bill Clinton” Patrick became the first African-American governor of Massachusetts. Much to my chagrin, though, Massachusetts voters mysteriously rejected a proposal that would have allowed grocery stores to sell liquor. Damn you, Massachusetts.

    Robert “President of that Bonfire University” Gates will likely become the next Secretary of Defense. While his politics often leave me cold and his tenure at the CIA made me nervous, I will say that Gates always struck me as a reasonable guy, at least as a university president. He is not rash nor filled with ego. Perhaps he can bring a touch of sanity to an impossible situation in Iraq.

    Electronic “I Eat Ballots” Voting Machines showed themselves to be so unreliable that even Republicans complained about them. We might actually get momentum to return to actual paper records. Canada does it, why can't we?

    New “Land of Enchantment” Mexico retained its Democratic Governor and Senator. Sadly, the House District One race is still too close to call. **Sigh** Don’t disappoint me, New Mexico. Think of our way of life!

    Dennis “The Hutt” Hastert will no longer have a prominent position in the House. After his reign as Speaker, I think we should start imposing weight-limits on political figures. If you weigh more than a baby Steinway, no leadership role for you. How could he get any work done when at least 60 percent of his day must have gone to eating?

    The Democratic “We are the Actual Compassionate Conservatives” Party now controls the House and might control the Senate. Under the U.S. Constitution (which, I recognize, we rarely bother to look at any more), the Congress should be the most powerful arm of the government. If the Democrats in Congress really wanted to do so, they could actually govern the nation. I am not saying that we will see an Andrew-Johnson era of Congressional power flexing, but it would be nice.

    Georgie “The Most Hated President in History” Bush got a pimp-slap from the American People. We did it with our ring-hand, too. When Bushie claimed to be a “uniter,” who knew that his tactics would involve getting a combination of left and right forces together in their mutual contempt for him?

    Karl “Why Aren’t I in Jail?” Rove will no longer be given the title of political genius. Indeed, his usual tactics of using hate, especially of queer folk, failed horribly to deliver the GOP a win.

    South “Do People Actually Live in This State?” Dakota rejected a sleazy attempt to restrict a woman’s right to choose. They also saw through right-wing attempts to highjack and manipulate the left’s language about women’s self-determination and access to healthcare.

All of this makes GayProf a bit more content. Well, at least until I am declared Queer Guardian of the Nation.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Apropos of Nothing

This weekend, I welcomed Chad from Drowned in Ink to the Greater Boston Area. He is a nice guy who can give me a run for random pop-culture references in everyday conversations. Because I love my adopted city, putting the best face on Boston is always a priority for me with visitors.

Speaking of priorities, why is Boston having such a hard time with the upgrades to the T? The transition from tokens to paper cards (which strikes me as an environmental disaster given the number of discarded paper tickets that I have seen flying around the city already) has to be one of slowest and most poorly executed public projects I have seen in years.

Speaking of malfunctioning trains, Amtrak seems just as slow and unpredictable as ever. Don’t Americans feel shame when they meet European or Japanese tourists? They probably get off their planes and expect to find the most powerful nation in the world with super 190 m.p.h. bullet trains and elaborate public transportation systems. You know, like the stuff they have in their own countries. Instead they find a crumbling Amtrak huffing and puffing at 80 m.p.h trying to get out of the way of a CP freight train on its ass. What do we say to these tourists? “Gee, We could have had a functioning train system, but we decided to put all of our money into highways instead. Of course, now the highways have become hopelessly overcrowded. We Americans, though, like to spend two hours to travel ten miles on I-5.”

Speaking of crumbling infrastructure, after having just told Chad about how reliable the T’s Red Line usually is, we were forced to exit and take a bus to downtown that added an extra half-hour to our journey. The T authority claimed that they were repairing track and building a station, but, whatever.

Speaking of downtown, I still get consistently lost on Boston streets. At some point, I should really work on getting a map when visitors are in town.

Speaking of showing visitors around, many of my suggestions for Chad seemed oddly geared to death. There’s nothing like visiting cemeteries to think, “Hey, my host borders on the peculiarly macabre.”

Speaking of cemeteries, I find it impossible not to try to scare, or at least startle, people while walking amongst the graves. Yes, I am ten.

Speaking of the dead, Mt. Auburn cemetery really is pretty, especially for a town of the decomposing. Alas, we couldn’t locate Mary Baker Eddy’s grave. Little did I know, either, that Isabella Stewart Gardner resided in this cemetery.

Speaking of Isabella Stewart Gardner, that woman had too much money. Don’t get me wrong, I am happy that she left behind her nifty little museum for the people of Boston. Still, how much cash did that woman have?

Speaking of museums, Chad’s visit finally got me to the Fogg Museum at Harvard. While at the Fogg we saw a painting of John the Baptist. How did we know it was John the Baptist? Oh, that would be the severed head with the blood pouring onto the floor. Christianity has such cheery iconography.

Speaking of art, I am a total adolescent when it comes to viewing paintings or statuary. Many of the paintings were total masterpieces. If they involved a naked man, however, I instantly focused in on the dangling bits.

Speaking of dangling bits, why are men buying the Wonderjock©? Well, okay, I understand the desire for things to look bigger. The Wonderjock’s claim of having a “ball/extension support technology” looks overly optimistic. The Wonderjock also promises to "lift and separate," which suggests that they don't know men's bodies at all. Is it me, or does that sound really, really uncomfortable?

Speaking of being uncomfortable, as the temperatures steadily drop in Boston I am starting to think my time in Texas really has left me unprepared for chilly winters after all. Don’t get me wrong, I am much happier to be spending winter in Boston than the dreaded Texas. Still, it’s darn cold out there. At least liquor keeps me warm.

Speaking of drinking, if I keep up drinking at this rate, am I going to end up looking like Colonel Tigh?

Speaking of Battlestar Galactica, how happy am I that Jamie Bamber finally ditched the fat prosthetics and showed off his amazing body again?

Speaking of my obsessions, Chad merely suggesting that he was considering getting a Ph.D. lead me to strongly advocate for such a pursuit. I think completing a dissertation results in the same mindset as joining a cult. We all seem to go out and evangelize others to do the same as we did, despite our own suffering in the process.

Speaking of creepy cult behavior, I wonder if Chad realized that visiting me would result in learning an ungodly amount about Wonder Woman.

Speaking of visiting me, when are the rest of you folk coming to Boston?