Monday, January 29, 2007

Queen of the Sea

I depart Boston again for another Midwestern locale. Like last week, I will be presenting my research in my own on-the-road version of Spectacular, Spectacular.

Among other things, these trips are useful because they tell me that there is interest in my research. When working in solitary conditions, I can lose sight of that fact. Moreover, I am reminded that there are lots of funky, cool, interesting places in the upper Midwest (except in Indiana – which is a dead zone). The upper Midwest is often overlooked, I think.

In the meantime, I have [reluctantly] upgraded to the new blogger. The changes are subtle, but disorienting. Let's stick together in this -- Nobody gets left behind.

Thanks for the good wishes, whether written or thought, about my January suckitude. I chatted with a wise and sassy friend who helped me get level-headed. In fact, while stress abounds, there are many good things at play right now. It helps to be reminded – but January still sucks.

My last post, however, made me think of other childhood elements that have influenced my adult thinking about the universe. One good thing about [lay] Catholics is that they can hold multiple conceptions about how the cosmos works, some even contradictory, all at the same time. Curanderas coexist along side priests without a great deal of debate (much to the chagrin of priests).

Other good things about Catholics? Did I mention the drinking already? Oh, I did. Well, you know, I really wouldn’t drink at all -- It’s just that I can’t figure out any other way to get the vodka into my blood stream.

Anyway, astrology came to my mind as an influential guide to the universe during my childhood. Like Catholicism, the Zodiac attempts to explain the relationship between individual free-will and destiny in daily life. Within my family, we learned as much about the Zodiac as catechism. Actually, I might have learned more about the Zodiac because it just wasn’t as boring to learn. The Zodiac required less route memorization.

Keep in mind that I am not saying that my family was Nancy-Reagan crazy over astrology. Nobody in my household based career decisions or the fate of nation-states on star charts. If we had our finger on a nuclear arsenal, the sun’s relative position to Virgo probably would not have influenced the decision whether to launch – probably.

Still, we did learn a great deal about the meanings of each Sun Sign. Over time, I have also noticed some trends in the people that I meet based on those signs. Virgo, the Virgin, for instance is often into some darn kinky shit. Unlike their namesake, every Virgo I have ever known really likes the sex – and likes it in as many inventive ways as they can find. Pieces always seem like they have conflicting impulses within themselves, but are also kind hearted. Taurus folk are self-centered, gluttonous, liars (who tell many lies). Okay, that last one might just be based on a sample of one.

“What’s your sign?” I hear you asking, “We must know so that we will arrange to only give birth under that special, sacred, chosen sign.” What? Okay, fine, maybe the last bit is really just my advice to you rather than what you are actually saying.

I am Cancer, the Crab. As a stand-up comic once noted, mine is the only zodiac sign named for two diseases.

Being an inquisitive youth, I learned as much as I could about Cancerian’s basic characteristics. In many ways, I fit the crab shell pretty darn snugly.

What are the basic characteristics of Cancer that I learned to accept as truth in young days? Have you have gone for a walk along the beach? Then you pretty much know what life with Cancer will be like.

We are hard on the outside, but soft and squishy on the inside. As a people, we prefer not to be boiled alive and served with butter. I am not sayin', I am just sayin'. Go kill a bull instead.

Cancers rarely walk in a straight line. Rather, everything is approached at side-angles. If threatened or in fear of losing something, however, suddenly a straight-line appears the shortest distance.

Those claws aren’t just for show. Anything crabs deem worthy of holding in the first place will not be let go of easily. To put a positive spin on that, Cancers are loyal and tenacious. The less rosy image makes Cancers out to be a bit clingy. As a matter of fact, crabs would rather have a claw cut off than let go of things [and people] close to us. If we do lose a claw, it’s a deep wound. We retreat into the water, not to be seen on dry land for months. Eventually, however, we grow our claws back and then clinch again, just as adherently.

Astrologers often say that Cancers’ moods shift according to the changing tide and moon, their planet. What they really mean is that Cancers are one of the moodiest of signs.

Crabs also horde beyond reason. Go into a Cancer house and you will likely find soup cans stored under the bed, “Just in case.” You might ask, in case of what? That’s a foolish question. You never know when the next great soup shortage might occur.

Something else about those crabs? They’re crabby. Personally, I resist the term, mostly because it makes me feel bad. Gravitas, after all, sounds so much more refined. Truth be told, though, Cancers can be darn right crabby, especially if they spent the whole day avoiding the net that would lead them to the boiling pot.

Revenge is not Cancer's usual response. If harmed, retreat is the crab's first instinct. If pushed to extremes, however, only Scorpio rivals the fierceness with which Cancer will retaliate.

Every Cancer, gay or straight, male or female, loves their shell. By shell, I really mean their home. Travel is enjoyable, but only if Cancers know there is a haven that awaits their return. Don’t believe me? Next time you meet a Cancer, of any stripe, ask them about their home. They will have a lot to tell you about it. If they love it, they will tell you all the details of how they found it, what changes they made, and their favorite parts about it. If they, however, hate their current residence or trouble is brewing at home, they will suddenly look like you just stuck them in an eye with a stick.

Cancers also remember almost everything that you tell them. Did you have a conversation with a Cancer about which person to invite as your prom date in high school? Don’t remember? Cancer does. Cancers keep all those detail on neat index cards in their little shell, ready for easy access.

So, those are the basic crabby qualities that I always knew. It does beg the question, though, am I like Cancer because of strange and mysterious powers within the cosmos? Or because I learned that’s what I should be like since birth? The Zodiac does nothing to solve the nature verses nurture debate.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

January Sucks

January sucks. For most of my life, January has felt like the longest month of the year. Well, it probably felt like the longest because I usually include the first two weeks of February in it as well. This bleak period is bracketed by my two least favorite holidays: New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day. No matter your personal circumstances (single, dating, or in a LTR), these two dates always disappoint.

Oh, sure, we all have tried to make these days fun through the usual strategies proposed by Hallmark and liquor companies. One year, we vow to go out to a party. Remembering our disappointment, we decide to stay alone the following year. This just makes us, well, lonely. The next year, we throw our own party at home. Unless you are a multi-millionaire, these parties can’t deliver. The year after that, we determine to stay with our special someone(s) for a quiet evening. When the mood feels contrived, we wonder what happened to the romance in our relationship. These holidays just can’t live up to the hype. The six weeks in between these two days feels like an eternity to me. It's the same every year.

This January, I am struggling to balance the many deadlines that are closing in around me. My career is at a serious crossroads and I am not entirely certain how things will unfold. Without going into detail, much of it is really beyond my control. Both positive and negative elements swirl about me. I have made some mistakes that I am trying to fix. If Guadalupe is with me, then things will fall like dominoes along a positive trajectory. If not, the light at the end of the tunnel is really attached to a speeding train. I might have fucked myself (and not in the good way). It reminds me of that Gordon Lightfoot song (which made a better disco-song) about feeling like a hero in a paperback novel. Heroes often fail.

At the same time as my job takes up most of my time, I am wondering about the direction of my personal life. Like my career, I have made some mistakes. A year-out from Liar Ex (Who Told Many Lies), my personal life still feels disordered. Without a doubt, I am so much better off now than the eight years that I wasted with him. The demise of that relationship, however, was the most painful experience that I have ever had (and hope will ever have). Not only did it mean an end to the way I structured my life for close to a decade (a painful change for anyone), but it also revealed just how easily I allowed myself to be manipulated. Time and again, I betrayed myself when I knew that the relationship was destructive to me.

Clearly, my problem is not romanticizing that past relationship. Indeed, I really, really, really don’t want to repeat the mistakes of that relationship or replicate it in any way. As a result, my inclination is to avoid emotional entanglements all together. While safe, this is ultimately unrewarding. The problem is, though, I have no idea what I actually do want out of a relationship(s).

It’s times like these that I wonder about my life, the cosmos, and the meaning of existence. Only the newest of readers will be surprised that GayProf suffers from existential crises. If I had bothered to clean my bathtub, I would be taking a long bath and pondering the nature of our lives. At the moment, I feel adrift and unsettled with my life.

Being raised Catholic, a friend recently pointed out to me, meant that I learned to imagine death as the triumph over life. I had not heard it phrased so distinctly. Catholics construe living as a burden and a constant struggle. Positive things in your life are finite. If not valued, they will always be taken away by a vengeful, blue-meany of a God.

All suffering, meanwhile, is ultimately a “test” that must be embraced. Do you have a painful lesion? God sent you pain to see what you can take. Did you lose a finger in a cannery? God smites your vanity. Did that milk go sour prematurely? God loathes your gluttony – and you should probably have your refrigerator coil checked.

These visions of the universe inform my existence still even as I struggle against them. I have trouble setting aside the negative and enjoying the positive. I often expect the worst – witness the gravitas. At least, though, Catholics liked the drinking.

All of this is to say that the past couple weeks have brought into focus some seriously bad choices that I have made in my short existence. No, I don’t mean “bad” in the sense of having once gunned somebody down. Nor do I mean “bad” in the sense of having continued to have my hair feathered years after it went out of style (although...). Rather, I mean that what I want out of life has not at all been accomplished by the decisions that I made, particularly in the past year. Those choices brought me to my current point, which is marked by serious flux, financial instability, and uncertainty. Now I have to figure out how to fix those choices. In the meantime, January sucks.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

In Magical Color

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be making a couple of business trips between Boston and university campuses in the midwest. I am taking my history show on the road as I present my research. It’s exactly the same as a rock band’s tour – except without the music, adoring fans, fame, or money.

Hmm – Maybe it’s more like Eva Perón’s “Rainbow Tour” of Europe – only without the fascist undertones and migraine-inducing bun. Well, it’s mostly without those things. Of course, Eva wouldn’t have to shove all her liquids into a one quart zip-lock bag in some foolish attempt to make it look like the government is making us safe.

I am not always the best at allocating my time. As the due dates for these presentations lunged towards me, I realized that I go through some cycles as I try to write my presentations. These cycles, in turn, have observable material consequences.

Stage One: Denial

    Internal Thinking: What presentations?

    Self-Delusion: If I don’t think about the deadline, it doesn’t exist.

    Status of Apartment: Mr. Clean would be glad to call it home.

    Hours Spent on Task: Computer is on 4:00pm to 4:10 pm

    Time is Spent: Goofing off, going out with friends, spending time at the gym, masturbating.

Stage Two: Procrastinating

    Internal Thinking: Okay, I have those presentations in a couple of weeks, but there is still plenty of time.

    Self-Delusion: If I start now, I would just forget everything by the time I left Boston anyway.

    Status of Apartment: Everything in the apartment has now moved to a new level of immaculateness. Rather than writing, I am more than happy to scrub the kitchen sink or vacuum.

    Time is Spent: Reading blogs, scrubbing, watching t.v., still going to the gym, masturbating.

    Hours Spent on Task: Computer is on 9:00am to 6:00pm, but usually is spent reading blogs or surfing e-bay for the perfect casserole dish from the 1940s.

Stage Three: Guilt

    Internal Thinking: Why am I being so lazy? Must work more.

    Self-Delusion: Then again, everybody takes a little time off.

    Status of Apartment: Still immaculate, but laundry starts to build up in closet.

    Time is Spent: Alternate between typing and chastising myself for not embracing the notion that “work makes life sweet.” Also, masturbating.

    Hours Spent on Task: Computer is on 9:00am-2:00pm, but leave early to go to the gym to work off stress.

Stage Four: Anxiety

    Internal Thinking: Oh.My.God – I am in serious trouble and will never get this done in time.

    Self-Delusion: As long as I am typing, I must be making progress.

    Status of Apartment: Bathroom is still clean, but dishes start to accumulate in sink. Laundry prevents closet door from being closed

    Time is Spent: Alternate between typing and worrying that the stress will make my hair fall out. Masturbating.

    Hours Spent on Task: Computer is on 9:00am-8:00pm with shorter gym time.

Stage Five: Peak Efficiency

    Internal Thinking: See? All I needed was a little bit of panic.

    Self-Delusion: Nothing will slow me down again.

    Status of Apartment: Too busy to notice.

    Time is Spent: Typing, contemplating, and typing some more, then masturbating.

    Hours Spent on Task: Computer is on 9:00am-8:00pm, but still squeeze in a blog entry here and there. Gym time is eliminated.

Stage Six: Cocky

    Internal Thinking: Why am I busting myself over the chops? I should take a little time off.

    Self-Delusion: I have plenty of time and know my work inside and out.

    Status of Apartment: Instead of cleaning, I toss a tablet into the toilet tank to make the water blue; dishes developing mold in sink (decide to start eating out more); laundry now where ever I took off my clothes.

    Time is Spent: Sleeping, taking long walks, leisurely reading and updating blog.

    Hours Spent on Task: Computer is on 12:00pm-2:00pm. Return to normal gym schedule

Stage Seven: Panic

    Internal Thinking: Aaaaagh...

    Self-Delusion: Now that my career is over, working at the McDonald’s drive-thru won’t be so bad.

    Status of Apartment: Bathroom door is kept shut to avoid having to think about it; kitchen qualifies for federal disaster funding; I simply buy new clothes rather than laundering the ones that are piled up everywhere.

    Time is Spent: Sweating, biting nails, masturbating.

    Hours Spent on Task: Computer is on 8:00am-12:00am, only thinking about work with minor breaks to eat and sleep.

Stage Eight: Completion

    Internal Thinking: Everything is going to be okay – The project is just about finished.

    Self-Delusion: Next time, I won’t make the same mistakes. I am not going to repeat this cycle.

    Status of Apartment: Bathroom only inhabitable for short periods; kitchen sink has evolved into its own civilization. Charlton Heston crash-lands near my dishwasher.

    Time is Spent: Realizing that during the panic stage, I wrote material that is ten minutes too long for the presentation. Must now edit and make things concise -- Wishing that I was masturbating instead.

    Hours Spent on Task: Computer is on 9:00 am to 10:00pm – Time is allotted to practice delivering talk.

Stage Nine: Recovery

    Internal Thinking: That wasn’t so bad. Why all that panic?

    Self-Delusion: My next presentation is decades away.

    Status of Apartment: Decide to burn down apartment and start life over somewhere else once I finish recovery stage.

    Time is Spent: Curled in a blanket; Watching DVD episode where Wonder Woman is attacked by killer toys; Wondering what other people do for a job; drinking; and masturbating with vigor.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

I Get Evaluations

Once per year we junior faculty must cobble together a massive bundle of paperwork for an annual review by our senior colleagues. This year, I get to mail mine back to Texas from glorious Boston, thank the goddess.

While putting the package together, I remembered that I never read my teaching evaluations from the last semester that I taught in Texas. For over a year, a bundle containing students’ anonymous opinions about my classes sat sealed and untouched since the day they left the registrar’s office. To be honest, I kinda forgot I even taught one of those classes.

I fully remembered my senior-level history class. Those evaluations were perfectly normal with nothing unusual. Looking at an envelope marked “Freshman U.S. History – Reconstruction to the Present,” though, caused me to blink a few times. I taught Freshman History? Really? I checked to see if my name was on the paperwork. Huh – Why didn’t I remember? Was I drunk? Probably. Looking at the evaluations in that envelope, though, made me remember why I repressed blocked forgot all about it.

For that Freshman class, I assigned five books. One of those five books recounted the experiences of gay men and lesbians serving in the military during World War II. Why did I assign it? Well, I assigned it for the same reasons that I assigned the other texts: To push at the notion that a universal perspective about U.S. History exists. Different groups encountered and understood their role in the United States based on their race, gender, class, and sexuality. We also read books on African American women, Mexican-American Migrant Workers, Puerto Ricans during the Spanish-American War, and South Asians’ immigration to New York. All those different people considered themselves “American” and their histories impacted the larger nation. I explained that idea on the first day – and printed it on the syllabus – and reiterated it when we started each book – and had it engraved on a coffee mug that I used daily.

Oh, how some Texans in that class hated me and hated learning about the gay men and lesbians. Actually, they seemed to forget that the book was about lesbians as well. They only could remember the gay boys, who were less than 1/5 of the course content. Here is a sample of students’ comments:

The reading for this course was more about homosexuality than the history of the U.S... For a history course required by the university in most degree plans, the reading needed to be more about history than the social movements carried out by a liberal very small minority of the population. It was more of a civil rights and social/homosexual rights course instead of a general history course.


The material was more appropriate for a special topic class, not a basic history course. His readings deal largely on homosexuality and skipped over major events in history... Gay soldiers in World War II had an entire book! ... The material was offensive. While we were given fair warning, this was the only time I could take this required course. He should not [underlined three times] be allowed to teach this same class again.


I am confused as to why homosexuality was involved in our history material. I think this professor would be better off teaching a history of homosexuals course. [Sounds good to me! I hope my department chair reads that.] While I have nothing against homosexuals . . . [intro] history doesn’t mean [intro] homosexuality.


Less readings on gays – they are not important.


This is the worst [underlined three times – Three-times underline must be the universal for expressing strong emotion] class I have ever taken... The subject matter & some of the texts was [sic] undeniably inappropriate and offensive. If I had wanted to take a class about gay culture I would have signed up for it... I do not even believe that your decisions about your sexuality should be a factor in the education I am paying for.


This professor’s extreme fixation with all things homosexual seemed out of place for [intro] history. The books had little historical value, and seemed more in line with a gay sex education class. I hated this class with all my soul.

So, though we read five texts, these students clearly only remembered one -- and not even really that one beyond the subtitle. This was the same class where a student’s mother called the dean’s office asking that I be fired for assigning that book and (HORRORS!) telling my class that I was gay. Clearly, she said, I was pushing my radical queer agenda on her poor child.

You know, I had forgotten about it, but that call really put a crimp in my style. It nearly distracted me from pushing my radical queer agenda on her poor child. (What type of loser, btw, has Mommy call the dean’s office when they are in college? Yeah, way to be an adult there, Timmy.)

This isn’t the first time that I have had these types of comments in freshman classes. Nor do they always go ballistic over gay stuff. I have also had students complain that we read too much about Latinos and African Americans rather than the “real” history of the U.S. My favorite comment on a teaching evaluation came my first semester in Texas, also for a freshman U.S. history class. It said, “American history should be taught by Americans.” That comment left me confused for weeks. Was it an oblique reference to the fact that I am part Latino? Or was my perceived political stance “un-American?” Did he not think New Mexico was part of the U.S.? If I wasn't American, from which nation should I be seeking citizenship?

My home institution is 90 percent white in a state with a non-white majority. I am told that some time ago the university conducted studies to see what happens to their students after they graduate. Well, it turns out that a great many of them land solid jobs right after graduating. They, though, end up being disproportionately fired from those jobs. Why? Because they often encounter racial and sexual diversity for the first time and can’t handle it. They have no idea how to interact with people different from themselves. As a result, the university has tried to improve its curriculum and add “diversity” – Enter GayProf. So, instead of harassing their fellow workers, they get to vent of all of their negative-energy onto professors through anonymous evaluations.

Let’s get this out in the open. When professors complain about teaching evaluations, the automatic reaction is to assume that they are a baby, can’t take criticism, and/or have a delusion that every student will always love them. Well, pass me that pacifier, 'cuz I hate evaluations – And you are lying when you say that all my students don’t adore me.

Teaching evaluations have become so institutionalized, so sacred, that even slightly complaining about them must mean that I hate students; or that I am a terrible teacher; or that I am in league with Catwoman in a secret plot to take over Gotham. Well, okay, that last one is actually true, but that’s just a coincidence.

To be honest, I receive just fine evaluations from students in terms of numeric scores. Actually, I am amazed that I do as well as I do given the material that I teach and the amount of work I assign. Hell, if I was a student, I would resent me – but secretly daydream about me as well. Mmm – Me.

Given all of that, when students break out the number 2 pencils and bubble in their little forms at the end of the semester, I usually come out between “okay” to “pretty darn good.” So, it’s not really sour grapes on my part – More of mildly tart raspberries.

Students, to my mind, should have control and agency over their education. Moreover, professors should be aware and receptive to the needs of their students. Trust me, I pay attention to the things in the evaluations that help me improve my work in the classroom. I make note of the things that students actually like. I have retained certain texts for use in subsequent semesters because students responded to them. Likewise, I have dumped books that clearly left them too confused. I don't just wait for the end of the semester, either. When a particular class is not going well, I will often solicit feedback from students. During the semester, I talk with students about the course direction and their own goals in learning.

Students, however, are not adequately informed to the purpose of the evaluations or criteria to gauge their classes. They don't see them as a professional activity that reflects on them as much as on the professor. As a result, many base their assessments on things other than the amount of content or skills that they learned. They want a class that entertained them. College isn't TiVo. In lieu of being entertained, they will take a class with the least amount of work.

We, both students and professors, need a new system. The bubble-sheet with anonymous comments is just our collective laziness. They really don't tell us that much about how effective we are in the classroom (in the same way that standardized tests tell us nothing about the skills of primary-school teachers).

As a result, nobody really cares about teaching evaluations at my institution. Sure, there is plenty of talk about the evaluations. At the end of the day, though, as long as I don’t burn my students with cigarettes, these evaluations will neither advance nor harm my career.

So, what do I do with these particular evaluations? Well, first they tell me that a) some students remained unconvinced by my pedagogical approach [I would be delusional to think that all would be] and b) Many Texan students are hateful and homophobic to the point that they perceive even learning that gays and lesbians existed in the past as a personal assault on their soul. Those students didn’t like the class because they refuse to see gays and lesbians as really part of the United States – or as human. That’s not really news to me.

To be honest, though, I am simply not in business for those students. Rather, I organize and teach history courses because they are many, many more students who want to know about the past beyond the same old tired stories about George Washington’s false teeth.

If I could use negative evaluations, though, to get out of teaching intro history and, instead, teach a gay-sex class, I would break out the cigarettes right now. In the meantime, I think that I will assign a book on the history of transgender people in the U.S. next semester.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

An Ugly Turn

I have previously commented on my complicated love/hate relationship to Ugly Betty. The show has clever elements, including the fact that links to the show’s web-page (though it would have been more clever to have a pseudo-webpage, IMHO). Also, let’s face it: Any show that has both Latino and gay characters is going to pique my interest. In some ways, I still subscribe to the notion that any representation is better than a complete absence or invisibility. Given we could probably count the combined number of gay and Latino characters currently on television on two hands, I am happy that Ugly Betty is out there. Of course, the notion of a gay character who is also Latino is just a fantasy. Such men don’t exist according to Hollywood.

Recent plot turns on Ugly Betty, however, have deepened my ambivalence toward the show even more. One of the problems facing a program like Ugly Betty is that it exists as one of only a handful of representations of Latinos in mainstream televison. As a result, the producer’s decisions about character development become magnified.

I adore Salma Hayek. Beautiful and smart, Hayek has become a major force in the entertainment world. She has spoken openly about the xenophobia, racism, and sexism that dominates Hollywood. Hayek worked against the odds and created a career for herself. To do so, she sometimes literally had to make her own opportunities to show her talents, such as helming the film Frida. In interviews, she usually appears smart, poised, and reasonable. These characteristics appear even greater when compared with her less interesting Iberian counterpart, Penélope Cruz. On her personal life, she has said "I keep waiting to meet a man who has more balls than I do." I so relate to that statement. I keep waiting for a man who has more balls than Salma Hayek as well. So, I was baffled when Hayek, who serves as Executive Producer of Ugly Betty, so perfectly replicated stereotypes of Latina women that have circulated since the invention of motion pictures.

For those who don’t follow the show, Hayek played the character Sofia Reyes on the newly-declared hit. At first, the Reyes character appeared to challenge assumptions about Latinas. At least, she sure had the chance to challenge assumptions about Latinas. Reyes’ initial interactions with Daniel, the Euro-American editor of the fictional fashion magazine MODE, exposed his (and presumably some of the audiences’) assumptions about Latina women. He expected Reyes to be sexually available to him, which she dismissed immediately. He later assumed that Reyes worked as a lowly secretary because of her accent and gender. Reyes made clear the foible of his assumptions when it turned out that she also edited a magazine. This one, unlike MODE, was premised as a feminist publication.

During her first episodes, Sofia articulated the need for women, and Latinas specifically, to have self-confidence and assurance. Sofia was also one of few who saw that Betty really did most of Daniel’s work and became a strong advocate for her.

Then Sofia kinda started taking some wrong turns. As her story arc continued, she became romantically involved with Daniel. Moreover, Sofia’s alleged articulation of feminism became skewed. Rather than being about obtaining social and economic equality, the show devolved into stereotypes about feminists being sadistic and self-absorbed.

It became clear that we were not intended to cheer for Sofia. On the contrary, by the end of her story arc, we are supposed to despise her. In her last episode, Sofia reveals that she has only used Daniel and his recent marriage proposal to promote the launch of her [not so] feminist magazine. She states that by getting the notorious bachelor to propose to her in 60 days, she has demonstrated that women can be empowered -- If by "empowered," we really mean "degraded." Daniel leaves the stage seemingly suicidal.

Could there be a more unfeminist message? Call me crazy, but the feminist movement didn’t appear focused on tricking men into marriage. On the contrary, those leading the movement sort of resented the implication that women needed to trick men into marrying them - or needed to get married at all. In the world of Ugly Betty, however, feminism appears disjointed and without foundation. Betty proclaims that she could never work for a magazine headed by a scheming feminist (or words to that effect). She would rather work for her sexist boss and the superficial fashion magazine, which is allegedly more “honest.”

Beyond her non-feminist credentials, Sofia’s character also fits a stereotype of the evil Mexican siren who lures white men to their doom. This type of Latina image appeared in one of the earliest motion pictures ever produced. In 1909, D.W. Griffith (yes, that D. W. Griffith) directed a three-minute film entitled Mexican Sweethearts: The Impetuous Nature of Latin Lovers. Within the film, the main character (imaginatively named “Señorita”) works in a bar that could easily pass as a brothel. She seduces a white U.S. soldier, but just as they are about to consummate their love, her Mexican lover enters the scene to kill the white soldier.

This image of the seductive, highly attractive, but secretly dangerous, Latina woman persisted throughout the twentieth century. Latina women have been presented as “too hot to handle.” They use their sexuality against helpless white men for selfish and evil purposes. These women are usually contrasted by a demure, more “lady-like” white woman.

Even the beloved Wonder Woman comic repeated this image when the Amazon princess took a trip south of the border during World War II. In a story that Griffith could have written, Wonder Woman discovers that Pepita (who comes up with these names?) has used her feminine attributes to seduce a U.S. soldier. In a moment of lustful confusion, she slips him a “special” cigarette and gets him to divulge U.S. military secrets! The opening panel for this particular comic made clear the racial and gender implications. “Little do Americans know,” the story opened, “that the fate of a neighbor nation and our own destiny in the pacific rest upon the carmined lips of a lovely, dark, and dangerous Spanish girl.” In these ways, the mainstream media has presented a recurring image of Latina women as hyper-sexual, devious, and a threat to white men – or even civilization itself!

Perhaps the only distinction between Sofia Reyes and her literary ancestors is that she did not follow the whims of a Mexican man. In most stories focusing on the wanton Latina figure, it usually turned out that she was merely a slave to the even greater threat of a dangerous and unstable Mexican man. I am sure the producers of Ugly Betty would see that as a big feminist step forward.

Sofia did, however, have the comparison to the long-suffering white woman Amanda. Even though badly mistreated by Daniel, Amanda, unlike the impetuous Sofia, stays loyal to Daniel. She even physically fights Sofia in her last scene in the show to defend the man who tossed her aside. Hey, everybody loves a catfight.

So, with the well-established litany of such stereotypes, it’s peculiar to me that Hayek would portray a character who could so easily be identified with this lineage. Then again, Ugly Betty has other problems as well.

I can hear some protesting, “But everybody in Ugly Betty is a stereotype. It’s just a fun show. You can’t take it that serious.” Oh, contraire, you underestimate my gravitas. I can take everything that seriously. Besides, it matters which stereotypes are selected and put out in visual forms. Being light-hearted doesn’t mean a show gets a free-pass.

The Latino figures in the show could fill a revolving bar of stereotypes. Betty’s father is an unemployed, illegal Mexican immigrant trying to obtain free medical coverage. Her sister, an unwed mother, “works” by selling an herbal health scam. The father of her son is a gangster thug who walked out on his family. Betty herself is, well, ugly.

Betty fits another stereotype of the faithful Latina/o with a heart of gold. Unlike Sofia, she takes her labor exploitation and humiliation with good humor. Maybe they should have named this show Chica and the Man. Much like Chico from the seventies sitcom, Betty always allows her Anglo boss to take the credit for her hard work. An undercurrent of racism exists among her coworkers, but she never challenges it. Rather, she dutifully does her job and keeps a sense of humor. Betty shows that being a good [ugly] Latina is being a martyr.

Ugly Betty suggests the limits of Latinos’ representation in the mainstream media. Though the show’s producers intend good (I hope), they have fallen into a pit of stereotypes that have defined images of Latinos for over a century. Perhaps Sofia will return the show, repudiate her bad choices, and articulate an epiphany about the true meaning of feminism. In the meantime, I will keep watching. Hey -- It's the only vaguely-queer, thinly-Latino thing on the air.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Working for a Living

I like being a college professor. The job comes with some serious perks. Having the ability and time to do independent research makes the job seem like a luxury. It also doesn’t require a lot of heavy lifting, there are lengthy breaks, and a flexibility to set one’s schedule almost entirely.

Sometimes, though, I wonder what type of job would await me if I, for some unknown reason, had to give up the grueling 2-4:00pm work schedule of an academic. All of my formal training has geared me to a single profession. Nobody has ever informed me of possible alternatives. Even when I took one of those aptitude tests in high school, it came back with “historian” -- Well, “historian” and also “serial convict.” The latter felt like too much work.

As a result, I must depend on my greatest source of all knowledge, television, to imagine possible other careers for me. True, as we have previously discussed, television seriously misled me about what working in general would involve. Having a job isn’t all about drinking coffee and laughing with your friends. Still, television has given me a much bigger range of careers to consider. Here are some possibilities:

Cruise Director:

    Requirements: Perky Personality; Organization Skills; Sea Legs; Tolearance to Listen to Charo Over Long Periods of Time

    Past Experience that Qualifies me for this Job: My last year in college, I worked as a “concierge” for a property management company in downtown Albuquerque. Basically my job description said that I needed to keep office-tenants happy by buying them swag and throwing parties. That job was sweet – Browsing catalogs was considered my labor.

    Possible Problems with this Job: I don’t think that I could do as much cocaine as perky Julie McCoy. Remember, I am starting with a serious gravitas-disadvantage. That’s a lot of blow to bring me to Julie level perky.

Starship Captain:

    Requirements: Take Charge Attitude; Starfleet Training; A Flair for the Dramatic; Ability to Wear Unflattering Uniforms (possibly including a bun).

    Past Experience that Qualifies me for this Job: I have been telling people what to do for years.

    Possible Problems with This Job: I don’t really have enough technical knowledge. It’s like those captain folk memorized the entire schematics of 290-meter-long ships (I had to look that imaginary statistic up on Google, fyi – More evidence that I couldn’t hack it). No matter what computer/engineering/propulsion/or plumbing problem emerged on the ship, the captain always seemed to know about the system in every detail. I am not entirely certain that I fully understand how my coffee-maker works.

Oil Baron:

    Requirements: Cut Throat Personality; Must be Able to Hold Liquor; Willingness to Have Multiple Affairs; Ability to Give Long, Meaningful Glances

    Past Experience that Qualifies Me for this Job: According to television, anybody who went to high school should be able to do that job. At least, the social dynamics appear to be the same.

    Possible Problems with This Job: It doesn’t seem like oil barons actually do any work – I might like a little more challenge. Additionally, I really don’t want to live in Texas.


    Requirements: Ability to Engage in Fist-to-Fist Combat; Skills with a Whip and Pistol; Implausible Knowledge of Nazi Plots

    Past Experience That Qualifies Me for this Job: Sadly, I only have formal academic training in historical knowledge, preservation, and excavation. Clearly these skills would be useless to an archaeologist.

    Possible Problems with This Job: I don’t like being dirty. There is also no way I am sleeping outside. I also hate snakes -- especially if they are on a motherfucking plane. Oh, wait, that is something else -- I think...

Revolutionary Leader:

    Requirements: Commitment to Social Justice; Dynamic Personality; Self-Starter; Ability to Grow a Full and Luxurious Beard

    Past Experience that Qualifies Me for This Job: I firmly believe in the necessity to fight for social justice and improve the standard of living for all people. When needed, I can also rock a beret.

    Possible Problems with This Job: I don’t believe in killing people, even for a noble cause. Maybe my employer could be flexible and allow maiming in pursuit of the revolution instead. I am totally onboard with maiming.

Gay Porn Star:

    Requirements: Familiarity with Method-Acting; Slavish Devotion to Your Vanity; Ability to Have Sex with People for Whom You Feel No Attraction

    Past Experience that Qualifies me for this Job: I like the sex.

    Possible Problems with This Job: I easily chafe.

IADC Agent:

    Requirements: Spy Stuff; Wearing Glasses Three-Times the Size of your Face; Ability to Engage in Witty Banter with a Talking Computer. Apparently somebody who has been separated from the rest of the world for over two thousand years is the preferred candidate to be involved in modern international espionage.

    Past Experience that Qualifies Me for this Job: I won an athletic competition against my amazon sisters.

    Possible Problems with This Job: I don’t think that the IADC is a real agency. Plus, my eyesight doesn’t require corrective glasses.

Secretary of State:

    Requirements: Familiarity with Method-Acting; Slavish Devotion to Your Vanity; Ability to Have Sex with People for Whom You Feel No Attraction

    Past Experience that Qualifies Me for this Job: I like to travel.

    Possible Problems with This Job: I have a soul.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Why Did Jones Win?

With less fanfare than one might expect, Joe.My.God declared Mike Jones the winner of the Queer of the Year poll. Jones gathered almost double the votes of any of the other nominations. Some of this might reflect who reads Joe’s blog, but it is still an interesting choice. Jones did not have my personal vote, but I became intrigued by the amount of attention he received all through the nomination and voting process. Only Rosie O’Donnell had the same level of praise and admonishment (who also did not get my vote).

For those who don’t know, Jones gained fame when he reported that he had been hired by the evangelical-Christian leader Ted Haggard to supply sex and drugs. Haggard had built a fortune and a mini-religious-empire in Colorado by attacking gays and lesbians, undermining women’s rights, claiming a moral Truth, and preaching a simplistic message of salvation through conformity. He also served as the President of the National Association of Evangelicals. Great Hera! With all of that and constantly lying to himself about his real sexual desires, no wonder he became a meth addict.

During the past election cycle, Haggard had been outspoken in his support of an amendment banning same-sex marriage in Colorado. When Jones learned of Haggard’s real identity (Haggard used a pseudonym during their three year relationship), Jones stated that he felt a moral duty to reveal the minister’s hypocrisy.

Many expressed their dismay at Jones’ nomination and selection as Queer of the Year. Some objected on moralistic grounds, either because they disdained supporting a prostitute and tina supplier or because they disdained supporting a prostitute and tina dealer who named names.

Others wondered about the image that Jones presented of the queer community. In many ways, the media loved this story because of its scintillation and scandal. Jones’ image floated in the media because it could capture the imagination of both the left and the right simultaneously. For the left, he single-handedly took down one of the most virulent and hateful religious leaders in the nation. For the right, though, he also confirmed their assumptions about queer people as thugish criminals who push drugs and illicit sex on good (though weak) married men.

Indeed, Jones’ allegations fit within an entire year of media obsession over “gay scandals.” The media had a ball over the launch of former-governor and “gay-American” James McGreevey’s confessional book, unimaginatively titled The Confession (Jones has signed a deal for his own tell-all – One can only assume that it will be named Tell All). Likewise, Representative Mark Foley’s hands-on approach to interns basically consumed all of the news-feeds in the last weeks of October. The media loves these types of scandals because there is something for everybody. The Jones story packed in all the extremes. The media then simplified it by framing it as a battle between the hypocritical Christian minister and the drug-supplying hooker.

We never really learned much about Jones as a real person or as an individual. Sure the media had plenty to say about Haggard. They could trace his life story – His rise to power, his 14,000 member church, and of course, his wife and his children. Boy, did we hear about the fact that he had a wife and children. News folk usually popped mention of Sally-Stay-At-Home and her kiddies in a lament about how the scandal must be making them suffer. Now, I am no psychologist, but I am going to guess that living with a closeted, über-Christian, meth-addict probably predated their suffering to somewhere before Jones’ revelation.

Discussion of Jones, though, usually stopped at “a male prostitute.” If he had a family, other lovers, or even a dog, we never knew it. Apparently Jones spent twenty-four hours a day being a prostitute or obtaining drugs, because there was little else the news could report about him.

So, why did Jones win Queer of the Year? Well, I can only guess at the collective motives of those who voted for Jones.

Beyond the main-stream media, Jones’ story revealed schisms and issues within the queer community. Jones media-image repudiated the sanitized and homogenized vision of queers that groups like HRC, MassEquality, or GLAAD want to present. Jones was seemingly indifferent to monogamous marriage, children, or even a career. Instead, he was presented (and often presented himself) as a party-man who used his looks and alleged bodily-proportions to ease-by in life. He remained unapologetic about being a prostitute. Some likely found this an appealing alternative to the ever-increasing demand that queers conform to heterosexual standards and institutions.

Jones’ decisions also brought to the surface debates about “outing.” The virulent support and equally adamant condemnation suggests that the queer community lacks consensus on outing.

Perhaps, though, part of Jones appeal originates in his contrast and defeat of Haggard. There is a general satisfaction when somebody who has been so hateful falls from power.

With Haggard, though, there is also the issue that he is (whether we like it or not) an enemy within the queer category. Haggard had sexual desires for other men, but spent his life repudiating them. Even now, he has joined a “reparative therapy” group headed by Focus on the Family’s James Dobson. Haggard claims that queers, including himself, can be “cured.”

Jones, meanwhile, appeared to more than enjoy his queer inclinations. He also believed in the necessity of making those inclinations public in order to achieve political goals.

The queers who supported Jones probably saw the potential for revolt and even victory against the seemingly unstoppable Religious Right. While I doubt that he will be remembered in the long term, he captured the attention and emotions of a lot of queer folk at the end of 2006.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Not That Peachy

Boston welcomed me back yesterday afternoon. Apparently while I was gone the city decided to advance the calendar to April and spring weather.

Atlanta, as a city, bored me. To be fair, though, rain and a lack of time kept me from doing the actual tourist-oriented activities like the Carter Library, CNN, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s museum, or Coca Cola. So, my view of the city emerged only from that which surrounded the downtown convention-center.

What existed near the conference? Absolutely nothing. There are a few restaurants and a mediocre mall. Overall, though, “downtown” Atlanta consists of nothing but enormous poured-concrete buildings or round round glass towers, seemingly all constructed as offices or hotels between 1985 and 1996. Even finding a basic drugstore or convenience shop proved tricky.

Restaurant owners and the few businesses within walking distance clearly understood their dominance. They charged hefty prices for their goods. Lunch one day cost me $10 for a small tuna sandwich and coffee. None of this impressed me. No wonder Union troops burned the city. They probably couldn’t scrap up the cash for a bagel.

Maybe I just found paying those prices annoying because it was Atlanta, Georgia. In cities like New York, one expects pricey items. Heck, the cost of food in New York includes a type of short-term rent just to occupy the cafe/bar space. For a place located in Georgia, though, why?

Speaking of greedy Georgia citizens, Atlanta also fails its indigent population. San Francisco is the only other U.S. city where I have encountered a more concentrated number of people asking for money on the street. Even then, the number of people on San Francisco's streets seemed to markedly decrease since Gavin Newsome became mayor(at least based on my anecdotal experience of visiting). Obviously I am not saying that cities like San Francisco or Boston have adequately addressed their transient population or that they aren’t also failing to provide enough services. One just needs to take a stroll through Boston Common to find homelessness and poverty. Atlanta, however, struck me as particularly problematic.

The sheer volume of destitute people in Atlanta suggested to me that the city and state did not provide even basic necessities. No less than five different people asked an acquaintance and me for money in less than ten minutes as we waited for a dinner companion. We probably encountered an additional half-dozen or more on the walk to and from the hotel as well. Something is amiss in the peach state.

The next day only lowered my opinion of the city even more. Perhaps the hotels complained or maybe the history association expressed displeasure at the inconvenience of the poor asking for money as they rushed from one session to another. Whatever the case, my second day in the city saw a sudden surge in the police presence downtown. It was almost as if Atlanta replaced every transient with a cop.

This, it strikes me, has become the “solution” that people want for homelessness. As a nation, we still judge the value of an individual on whether or not he or she can perform paid labor. If that individual can’t do a job, they are deemed useless and undeserving. Even suggesting that tax dollars be spent providing social services is most often met with the greediest of responses: “Me paying taxes to help somebody who doesn’t work? No! I feel no obligation to my fellow citizens. Much better I hoard my money to buy that new H3 Hummer.” These same folk, though, don’t even blink at taxes funding an unending prison system or massive police forces. As a result, cities, like Atlanta, forcibly remove the unpleasant living reminders of our failures as a society. Conventioneers, after all, shouldn’t have to see Atlanta’s transients. Yet, the city’s effort to hide its transient problem suggests some recognition of shame. Alright, I will step off the gravitas soapbox – temporarily.

As for the conference itself, all went fine. Often, though, academic conventions leave me feeling a bit lonely. We all need to share and discuss experiences on a deeper level than casual conversation. The peculiar ups and downs of an academic convention, oddly enough, is one of those times. So much happens at these events – grad students jockey for positions, lecherous professors make clumsy passes, people get sloppy drunk at publisher-sponsored parties. I noticed more acutely that I didn’t have somebody permanent in my life to relate and laugh about the conference’s foibles.

At the moment, to be honest, I am not really looking for another LTR. Indeed, I have even evaded some opportunities. Too many things in my life are in transition to realistically want a serious relationship or accomplish a genuine level of commitment. Most times, I am content with the people who do surround me. Still, there are times, like at the conference, when I feel a certain absence.

Academic conferences also remind me of my innate shyness that I have struggled against since adolescence. “You’re shy?” I hear you asking, “How can that be? Surely the glow of your inner greatness shines for all to see.” Well, obviously that is true.

The bigger the crowd, however, the more quiet I usually become. That trait does not do me any favors given that these conferences exist, in part, for networking purposes. As a result, I have been more committed over the past few years to actively seeking out and meeting new people at these annual events. Sometimes, though, it’s a pain in the ass to try to get people to like you.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Where Have All the Smart People Gone?

New Year’s Eve passed pleasantly. Since returning from New Mexico, I have been feeling a wee-bit on the hermit side. As a result, I wanted something low-key. Besides, I find that people get too sloppy with their drinking on New Year’s Eve. As my great-uncle used to say, “New Year’s Eve is a night for amateurs.” Have I ever mentioned that I come from a long-line of alcoholics? Anyway, Atari and I drank ourselves into a coma celebrated the arrival of a new year.

Much has happened in the world that would normally capture my blogmagination. Tomorrow, though, I leave for Atlanta and the annual convention that draws together all of the historians in the nation. If terrorists literally wanted to change the direction of history in this nation, they would only need to target the convention hotel. Yes, I have these types of cheery thoughts often. What? Hey, this blog is called the Center of Gravitas for a reason. Go somewhere else for sunshine and lollipops.

My decision to attend this year’s conference did not come until relatively late. It turns out that my attendance is required, so off I go. Of course, this also means more time away from the gym. With travel and my cold, I have not been to the gym in almost two weeks. I have not taken this much time off since moving to Boston. At least coughing is a good workout for your abs.

Leaving now might be a good break. I am a bit depressed that the Massachusetts legislature caved to the pressure of right-wing religious zealots. Despite the governor-elect’s appeal to a sense of civil rights, the legislature allowed a proposed constitutional amendment banning gays from the right to marry to move forward. People on the left proved completely unprepared to deal with the right – again. They became sucked into a lame technical issue over whether the legislature should be required to vote or note. In the meantime, they ignored the fact that the religious nuts want the law to treat queer folk as less than human. Jason at PIHP discusses his anger at the left here.

So, some time away from this debate about gays’ right to marry might do some good. Yes, better for me to go to Georgia, where I have no rights at all as a gay man. What is wrong with this nation?

Anyway, this history convention is equivalent to a multi-day rock festival. Consider it Historypalooza. Only there will be fewer drugs. Also, instead of music we will be listening to egg-heads present their historical research. We are also so out of sync with mainstream culture that we still use terms like “palooza.” Nobody will be wearing t-shirts with ironic consumer images either – Just lots of herringbone and tweed. People at rock festivals probably have better hygiene as well. Okay – It’s nothing like a rock festival.

Atlanta is not the usual backdrop for this convention. Because we historians aspire to be a fair crew, the meeting moves around the nation from year to year. Sometimes it’s in the east (Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, D.C., etc), other times it is in the west. Well, if by “west,” one means San Francisco exclusively. See? Fair. This year, the AHA selected Atlanta as the city of convergence. That way, everybody will be equally inconvenienced.

Beyond spending many, many, many hours of my life in the Delta terminal, I have never actually been to Atlanta. Does Aunt Pitty-Pat still live on Peachtree Street? I imagine that Atlanta still looks like this:

I actually don’t mind attending the academic meetings. Some senior historians I know despise the annual meeting. I, though, like the idea of being able to hear new research being presented that hasn’t even been published yet. It’s exciting.

Of course, the convention does have its downside. Most academics are not known for their social skills. Indeed, it seems to be a prerequisite for the job to be a little awkward. Historians usually take it one step further. We, after all, prefer the company of dead people. I suppose, though, we are better off than literary scholars, who prefer the company of imaginary people.

Here are some things that I expect at this academic convention:

    We pay for the privilege of attending these conferences. What do we get for our $100+ investment? Well, basically the only thing that you need your official badge for is to get into the book exhibit. Yes, for a mere $100, you can get a slight discount on books from university publishers. Given that we are all hopeless nerds, we actually think that this is a good deal.

    Certain people will not bother to look at your face upon meeting you at a convention. Instead, they scrutinize your name badge. As they do so, you can almost see the calculations occurring in their little brains. First, they read your name. Are you somebody important? Have you recently published a book? Are you a potential source for a letter of recommendation? If not, they next read your home institution. Is this a university where they hope to end up with a job? Or does it have fellowship opportunities for them? If the answer to these questions are all “no,” they immediately exit the conversation. You are just a void in their quest for stardom.

    Speaking of stardom, academics measure it by the amount and type of free books that publishers send to them. There’s a ranking. If you get text-books, you are just a lowly first-year junior-faculty member teaching intro classes. Publishers who send hard-back monographs, however, think you are the Oprah of the history world.

    I will live in fear of discovering another junior faculty member or a grad student who has completed identical research to mine, only better and with a better writing style. Should this happen, I am fully prepared to become an assassin. Sigh.

    I will need to get out my “Academic to English” dictionary. So, when a professor says to a colleague, “Your research has a good foundation,” I will really know they are saying, “You suck.” When that colleague responds by saying, “Given your lengthy experience in this field, I appreciate any advice you can give,” they really mean, “Why aren’t you dead yet?”

    Numerous senior historians will disparage my sub-discipline of Latino history as "trendy." What they really mean, though, is that they liked history when it was exclusively about dead, white, straight men.

    At least one or two people will make the joke, “Tonight I’m going to party like it’s 1859!” We historians don’t have much of a sense of humor. – Okay, I will be one of those people making that joke.

    Given recent events, there will be numerous debates about where Gerald Ford will rank in history. All these debates will end with the general agreement that, no matter where Ford ranks, Bush, Jr. will be remembered as the worst president ever.