Sunday, April 29, 2007

Camp It Up

While doing research for another project, I ran across a 1965 New York Times article entitled “Not Good Taste, Not Bad Taste.” The author, Thomas Meeman, explained to an uninitiated audience the meaning of “Camp” as an emerging “New York scene.” Four years before the Stonewall Riots, Meeman reported that homosexuals had (shockingly!) created an aesthetic that some non-homos found appealing. “Camp,” Meeman reported, was “a previously unnamed sensibility, a third stream of taste, entirely apart from good taste or bad taste, that encompasses the curious attraction that everyone – to some degree... has for the bizarre, the unnatural, the artificial and the blatantly outrageous.” Since 1925, Meeman stated, Camp had “been synonymous...with homosexual.”

Meeman offered a list of examples. Camp consisted of things like Tiffany Lamps, Monopoly sets in Italian, Batman comics (which the author labeled “low camp”), feather boas, and Marlene Dietrich. He also authoritatively rejected things as decidedly not Camp, like Humphrey Bogart movies or Kelvinator refrigerators. Astoundingly, he claimed that “no television is Camp.” (!) Clearly he hadn’t watched the big shows of 1965: Bewitched, Johnny Quest, or Shindig! It seems to me that the networks were Camp-powered for 1965.

The article dripped with anxiety about the rise of Camp, particularly its link to the gays. “In many areas of American cultural life,” the author noted, “Camp taste is becoming dominant over what is today generally accepted as good taste.” This left Meeman uneasy as he also stated, “Camps taste and homosexual taste are frequently the same thing.” Maybe that one-to-one link explains why Meeman felt the need to state that he personally had “no fondness for Camp” and that he also had a wife. **cough**

Of course, the author didn’t bother to actually interview any real-life homosexuals about their views on Camp. They might have been the acknowledged creators of Camp, but clearly they wouldn’t have anything relevant to say about it.

Instead, he turned to cultural critic Susan Sontag for all of his information. Indeed, Sontag is still often credited with “introducing” Camp to the nation. Sontag’s own take on (or appropriation of) Camp reassured that “though homosexuals have been its vanguard, Camp taste is much more than homosexual taste.” Good hetero folk, Sontag suggested, could totally get in on the fun and in no way be homosexual.

Meeman seemed unconvinced. Like any article dealing with homosexuals in 1965, it suggested that some sort of pathology had to be at the bottom of Camp. Meeman solicited a New York psychiatrist’s opinions about the cultural ramifications of Camp. The doctor didn’t mince words, “It’s not only extremely childish but also potentially dangerous to society – it’s sick and decadent.” Even Sontag concluded something similar, though without the predictions of Armageddon. Camp, Sontag argued, resulted from “the homosexual's desire to remain youthful.” Like much of mainstream society in the sixties, Sontag and the psychiatrist imagined homosexuals as psychologically less developed than their hetero peers. Their desires and sensibilities ranged from “childish” to vain efforts at “youth.”

Since this (let’s face it: Campy) article in the sixties, Camp has made its way into the mainstream lexicon. We all have a vague sense of what something “Campy” means. My secret desire, for instance, to redecorate my apartment after the bottle-interior on I Dream of Jeannie would qualify as Campy. In much the same way, Camp has also retained a subtle link to gays. We can’t help but think of an animated John Waters trying to explain Camp to Homer Simpson. Waters’ character calls Camp the "tragically ludicrous" or the "ludicrously tragic."

Camp, therefore, deserves more than passing consideration. Too often, Camp has been dismissed as irrelevant or “childish” play. It’s that play, though, that I think is so important.

Like any good postmodern term, it defies easy definitions. Most seem to agree, though, that Camp involves appreciating that which appears absurd even as it claims normalcy.

So, why do many (but not all) gays like Camp? I think Sontag stumbled on part of the answer, even in 1964. She referred to Camp as “something of a private code, a badge of identity even.” Queers learn a set of pop-cultural references that get deployed over and over. Go to an all gay-male dinner party and count the minutes until somebody mentions one of the following: All About Eve, Andy Warhol, or any nighttime soap that ever aired (or, if GayProf has been invited, Wonder Woman). Something Campy will appear in the night’s conversation – unless you are at the most boring gay party ever.

Campy icons are mentioned with both reverence and also a humor that centers on a sly knowing of their absurdness. It’s our common ability to love and laugh at these things, often discovered before coming out, that articulates a sense of shared identity.

Growing up with queer desires in this nation means having a social identity with only minimal mainstream representations. Queer boys learn quickly about gender and sexual performance as part of their identity. They become keenly sensitive to “seeming” gay/feminine. Many make conscious decisions about adopting certain masculine performances, particularly if it means avoiding being beaten or tormented in classrooms. Queer boys might know at some level that they are not heterosexuals, but they also know the right time to impersonate one.

Perhaps it is the artificiality of these personal performances that makes many of us so inclined to see the artificiality in all gender performances. When constantly being informed that either your desires are unnatural or (more often) don’t exist at all, almost everything takes on an aura of the absurd.

Camp suggests that gender is a masquerade. Many of the enduring Camp images smudge the boundaries between a gender binary and expose them as arbitrary and culturally defined. I Dream of Jeannie, for instance, centered on a hyper feminine giggling blonde. Nobody could mistake anything about Jeannie as masculine as she emerged from her big puff of pink smoke. Yet, Jeannie also had real power that had only been reserved for men. Though Tony Nelson got the title “Master,” (and who wouldn’t willingly call Tony “Master” – at least for a night?) it was clear that Jeannie’s magic really controlled the house. All of the gender roles and reversals in I Dream of Jeannie are so exaggerated that they become nonsensical.

In much the same way, Camp historicizes gender roles. For many who enjoy Campy things, it is the absurdity of looking back on previous generations’ presumptions about men and women or about the ways that relationships were imagined. Noting and mocking the ways that actors like Joan Crawford played out gender roles in decades past suggests that gender roles today are as contingent, changing, and political.

Perhaps Camp’s potential for undermining a sexual binary is what Meeman and his psychiatrist found so disturbing. Not only did purveyors of Camp reject the presumption that they had to be heterosexual, they also seemed to laugh at the cultural markers of that lifestyle as well. What Meeman didn’t appreciate, though, was that he could also have been in on the joke. Camp’s humor does not seek to exclude. Rather, it uses humor to expose existing divisions in contemporary society.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

But Will You Still Love Me?

Some bloggers take themselves very seriously. For them, it becomes all about accumulating numbers and more and more comments (Okay, we all live for the comments, don’t we?). Some blogs, though, reach a point where the quest for numbers means that they post more and more. Yet, they provide less and less of what originally caught our attention in the first place (e.g. critical thinking, humor, thoughtful analysis, ass shots (depending on the blog)). Most don’t go down this road – but some lose sight of why they started blogging in the first place.

A few also develop a serious attitude. Unless you figured out a way to make your livelihood through blogging, it’s just not that deep.

Even the most popular blogs don’t have a fraction of the readers as the least popular television show has viewers. That’s right. More people in this nation could tell you what happened in NBC’s The Real Wedding Crashers than even know the meaning of the word “blog.”

If you have figured out how to make a livelihood from blogging, that’s cool. Shoot – If I thought that there was real money in this, my homepage would be PayPal. You’d need to enter your credit card number for every reference to the Mego Wonder Woman that came up. Most of us bloggers, though, aren’t adding an addendum to our tax forms because of our blogs.

Don’t get me wrong – This isn’t to say that I am knocking it. On the contrary, I really enjoy my time in the blogosphere. It’s a great place to try out ideas or swap some jokes. I have also met many cool people as a result.

Over the past week or so, though, I have felt a little tapped out for ideas. It got me to wondering about other blogs that have “jumped the shark.” You know the phrase -- The moment that a television show crossed an irretrievably bad threshold and went further and further downhill (such as Fonzie jumping a shark in an episode of Happy Days). Blogs must also have a similar life cycle.

Now I am not ready to believe it has happened to me yet. If any of the following occur, though, CoG will have officially jumped the shark:

    My nephew, ScrappyProf, starts contributing to the blog.

    I put out feelers in order to hire a blog tsar.

    Readers who meet GayProf in real life say things like, “I thought that you would be funnier/cooler/taller.”

    I wake up to find that my blog was all a dream.

    Most of the bloggers from my blog-roll call it quits and are never heard from again.

    I move back to Texas just so that I can keep making fun of the state. Oh, yeah -- I know that I am going to get more hate mail from Texans. Come on, people, it’s just a joke. I don’t have to live there to make fun of Texas.

    I stop drinking TaB.

    Somebody else is named the most desirable man on the blogosphere.

    If I turn heterosexual.

    People refer to new blogs as being “like The Center of Gravitas – only when it was good.”

    It's revealed that GayProf is the last of the 12 Cylons.

    Continued references to Liar Ex (Who Told Many Lies) make everybody uncomfortable.

    Nancy Reagan comes on the blog with a special message about saying "no" to drugs.

    Delusions keep me convinced that my identity is still anonymous.

    “Scat” becomes the number-one Google search that brings people to The Center of Gravitas (Thanks, Torn).

    Somewhere in the middle of the blog, GayProf is replaced by Dick Sargent.

    An entry about “jumping the shark” is less ironic and more just sad.

    I become the spokesperson for Jenny Craig.

    If I ever use the following words in an entry: fitty, sitch, or rotary. Or if I ever use the words “dingo” and “baby” in the same sentence.

    I am arrested for stalking Chris Evans -- again.

    Bush, Jr., says that he has confidence in me. That will be a clear sign that my blog sucks and I am a major fuck-up. If he ever develops a nickname for me, I am slitting my wrists.

    I make up a story about having sex with my UPS guy – hot, hot anonymous sex.

    The blog includes more and more YouTube content that seems totally unrelated to the entry’s topic.

    I decide to get married just so that I will have source material for the blog.

    Charlton Heston discovers that the Center of Gravitas is made out of people.

    I run out of Wonder Woman covers.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

GayProf Bop

Last night I had a few people over for dinner (including fellow-blogger PIHP). Your GayProf had too much wine – way too much wine.

It's days like these, when the sound of my own circulatory system produces a thunderous echo, that I wonder about my judgment. Ugh. Right now, I just need some quiet. Sweet-sweet quiet. And maybe a liver transplant.

In the meantime, check out this little shout-out to CoG:

Okay, I know that it is a clever type of advertising for the True Colors Tour targeted at certain gay blogs. Still, for a brief moment, Cyndi Lauper thought about me!

Well, okay not me exactly, 'cuz she clearly had never heard of this blog until four seconds before they started filming. Still, for that brief instant, something about me was on her mind. Eeeee. It’s better than an autograph. Eeeeeeeeeee.

“GayProf,” I hear you asking, “Are you so easily swayed by celebrity? We thought you kept it real, man.”

Clearly you know nothing about how much I crave validation. In the immortal words of Mika, “Love, love me.” Or was that Evita who said that? I tend to get them confused.

We aren’t talking about just any celebrity, anyway. She’s so unusual. As a queer youth, I secretly enjoyed “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” a bit more than you would expect. Or, maybe, you would have expected that.

Lauper is also a woman who had a hit single about masturbation. In my book, that scores a lot of points.

It did make me wonder, for what other celebrities would I plug? I am not talking about plugging for money. Really, I will sell almost anything for money. Do you know how little history profs make these days?

For which other celebrities, though, would I give it away? Hmm, probably if any of the following people asked or in anyway acknowledged my existence, I couldn’t help myself:

Captain Janeway

I don’t know what she is selling, but I would buy it! Only, though, if she still had the bun. I certainly wouldn’t plug for her if she had the ponytail. No, no. Bun or the deal is off.


FrankenBerry paved the way for queer-oriented breakfast foods. He was comfortable enough in his gender identity to paint giant strawberries onto his fingernails. Truly, FrankenBerry is an unsung queer hero.

Paul Lynde

Granted, if Lynde asked me to plug something I might be terrified given that he is dead and stuff. No matter how much I loved Uncle Arthur or how witty he was on Hollywood Squares, interacting with the living dead would be disquieting. For some reason, though, the fact that FrankenBerry was constructed out of dead people doesn’t bother me at all.

Lynda Carter

Want me to push those contact lenses? You’ve got it! I might ask to wear the tiara in exchange, though.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

TornWordo Dares to Ask

I was deeply saddened by the events at Virginia Tech. There are discussions to be had about the meaning and repercussions of that violence. It will take time to learn everything that we need to know. Right now, though, I think that we all need to grieve a bit.

Such events often get me to thinking about the silliness of blogging. Maybe it’s just that a low-grade existential crisis is always near my surface. Still, with all the violence and despair in the world (Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur, and on and on), it can be hard to imagine that a few Wonder Woman comics and a wry reference to Charlie’s Angels amounts to something purposeful.

Then I think blogging can be beneficial in terms of my own entertainment or exchanging ideas. We all need these things, right? So, I keep going – much like Kelly Garrett did when she landed that plane while undercover as a flight attendant.

To that end, TornWordo had a nifty deal on his blog. He answered five questions posed to him by another blog author. He likewise offered to ask five questions to others who wanted. I will do the same, if you would like me to ask YOU five questions.

Here are the questions posed to me by Torn:

1. If your ex came back begging, would you take him? Please explain your answer.

    Oh.Dear.God. NO!

    In the last year of our relationship, Liar Ex (Who Told Many Lies) made it his life-goal to quash out whatever love that I had for him. This wasn’t just a case where his feelings changed and we parted. Nobody can control their feelings, but he handed me a number of dirty deals.

    I loved him very much. Indeed, at the end I even reduced myself to basically groveling in an effort to keep the relationship together. Let me tell you, that required more than a little therapy to work out.

    Instead of being honest, however, the decisions that Liar Ex (Who Told Many Lies) made while ending the relationship showed a sleazy, selfish, cowardly inner character. Liar Ex (Who Told Many Lies) imagined he was quite clever to have treated me like shit. He often dehumanized me by referring to me as “clutter” or a “unit” or something else that implied non-human status. He even made fun of me to his loser friends when I was feeling the worst.

    Now I know just what to think of him. Time and time again, he had opportunities to be a stand-up guy, but always opted against it. Even after all of the deceptions and depraved indifference to my feelings, he managed to believe that he was the wronged party. Perhaps the only good thing about all that lying, cowardliness, and selfishness is that I have no romanticized notions about that relationship left.

    Being single does not leave me doing cartwheels, but it’s infinitely better than a relationship with a mediocre individual like Liar Ex (Who Told Many Lies). I've tried to learn from the bad choices I made in that relationship. In many ways, I am still learning. One thing has become clear to me recently. If I am going to get into another LTR, it has to be with a man who has some balls.

2. Your writing seems very methodical, like what I imagine you wish of your students, lol. Your posts come off quite polished. Do you make many revisions before you post? (How long did you spend answering these questions?)

    When I write an entry, I try and devote a significant amount of time to it. This is one of the reasons that I don’t post often. Well, that and I am kinda lazy.

    If I write on a topic that really excites me, I could spend five or six hours on it (both writing and revising). Some entries have taken more time. On average, though, I would say that I spend probably two or three hours on most posts. This entry took about two hours.

    Usually I sketch out the entry’s basic premise and write a draft. Then I read it over a few times looking for holes or places that I can add some humor (or force in a reference to a seventies television show).

    Despite this, I feel like my entries often have many grammatical mistakes, especially spelling errors. Also, I struggle with writing entries that are too long.

3. Tell a funny story that has excrement in it. You know I love me a good scat story. C'mon don't be a priss.

    If I ever meet Mrs. Wordo, our conversation will turn to your childhood experiences during toilet training. I need to know what happened on that particular bus ride.

    Well, CoG devotees will remember that my move to Boston started with me being covered in shit. Cat did not enjoy the moving truck. Feeling bad for his panicked cries of stress, I took him out of his carrier the first hour that I was on the road. What I didn’t know was that cats prefer that you leave them in their box when they get too stressed out.

    My cat educated me by crawling into my lap and promptly vomiting. Then he arched his back and took a massive shit as well.

    This left me with a cooling pile of cat shit and vomit on my lap as I sped down the highway at about 70mph. It took about ten minutes before I could find a place to pull over. In the meantime, I had to juggle with the cat to keep him from sitting in his own shit and vomit. That was a golden moment in our relationship.

    Visions of causing a catastrophic highway accident came to me. Who would want the uncomfortable task of explaining that a cat’s incontinence was the root of an eighteen-car pile up?

    That, though, is an old story. So I tried to search my memory for another scat-centered story. BTW, I live in a neighborhood on the edge of Boston known as Somerville. Therefore the community access television station has the unfortunate (though maybe accurate?) acronym SCAT. I actually do think of you every time I pass the it.

    The only other story that I could come up with involved an outhouse in New Mexico when I was a teenager. It was on the side of some highway. When I entered, somebody had shit on the seat. We aren’t talking about an unfortunate splatter – I mean somebody had taken an actual dump on the seat. At first I thought, “How can you miss when you take a shit?” Then I realized that this was probably somebody’s sense of humor.

    Recalling this obscure incident then made me remember two childhood friends who were brothers (one in second grade, the other in first grade). They had some sort of game that involved “booby-trapping” their bathroom by shitting and not flushing. Even at age 7, though, they still actually made it into the toilet. Still, I usually waited to pee until I got home.

    That’s the best that I could find in my memory. For the most part, I make a conscious decision to avoid shit or shit-related scenarios. If, however, I encounter better scat stories, you will be the first person I call.

4. Are you on team Hillary? Why or why not?

    Why not GayProf in '08?

    Hilary doesn’t particularly excite me. To be honest, I don’t feel enthusiasm for any of the potential Democratic players on the field right now. All of them want gay votes, but they have all stated that they think it is okay to treat gays like second-class citizens (in one form or another).

    Beyond that, I just don’t imagine that Hillary Clinton could win a national election. Those on the Right are rabidly against her to the point of being irrational (I am not even sure that most of them remember why they were supposed to dislike her in the first place). Moreover, I have disliked her pandering to certain constituencies. I still remember, for instance, her opportunistic ploy to try and regulate video games.

    If I had her career, I would become a powerhouse in the Senate. She is a young woman. She could ultimately reign there, perhaps indefinitely. Then again, if I were her, I would also lay-off the pantsuits for awhile.

    If she ends up with the nomination, I would probably still support the campaign. I wasn’t thrilled with Kerry as a choice (Hey, let’s nominate a talking tree!), but I still volunteered for phone duty for his campaign (which was the best one could do in Texas, given the Democrats had basically conceded the state).

    The next obvious questions become, “Why not a third party, GayProf? Also, how can we properly show our devotion to you?” Both of those are tough, but fair, questions.

    I fully support third (or more) parties. I do not support, however, unrealistic or foolhardy political strategies. Don’t get me wrong, I am not one of those people who blames Green for the 2000 election. Gore won that election no matter which way you slice it (he had the popular vote and he also won the vote in Florida). The Republican Party kept him out office, not the Greens.

    Still, one of the lessons of the Bushie era should be that national elections are not the place to gamble. They have real consequences for real people. Recent third party candidates for President, in my opinion, have not advanced social justice in this nation (and, in some instances, might have been counter productive).

    Third parties can, however, be extremely effective if they focus at the local level. If third-party supporters really want to make a difference (and not just grandstand), start electing third-party candidates to school boards, city councils, and state legislatures. These positions, while often ignored, make a tremendous difference.

    So few people vote in these minor elections, they also don't cost a lot of money to put up a candidate. I could probably run a successful campaign using my Visa card -- and I have terrible credit right now.

    Heck, there are districts where we could probably elect a third-party candidate to the U.S. House of Representatives. Given the Congressional division right now, even a few third-party Representatives would have disproportionate power because they would be needed for coalition building.

5. With whom did you lose your virginity? Females count. Was it a positive or negative experience? Expand.

    I lost my virginity to Colonel Mustard, in the Billiard Room, with the lead pipe. It was murder.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

GayProf's Origin Story

My friends, the people have spoken. They call for me to write on my decisions to go to graduate school. Well, a couple of you asked for that and Cooper asked for a my view on New Mexico (which is actually related to my decision to go to grad school). A few constitutes "the people" in my book.

About a decade ago, a decision was made to send a single emissary from New Mexico into patriarch’s world. He would teach them of New Mexico’s institutional multi-culturalism and our ways of love. A great competition convened where all the faithful challenged each other. In the end, only I remained. Oh, wait – No, that was Wonder Woman. Damn! I should probably see a therapist about the ways that I confuse her biography with my own.

Actually, my decisions about going to graduate school were part of an on-going process. A single moment of decisiveness or a dramatic turn of character did not really occur. Rather, a number of things converged. I was also very lucky to have happened to know professors who encouraged me to go to graduate school (and, later, those who supported me through it). It doesn’t make for dramatic story telling, but it is how it happened.

I had always been interested in history. Even as a student in grade school I learned that most people didn’t actually remember that much about the past. With just a little bit of reading, I found that I could know things that others didn’t. Being a bit macabre, my history reading tended to focus on human folly (such as learning lots about the Titanic (back before it was cool (though, yes, I recognize it has stopped being cool again)). I was the only sixth grader (maybe the only individual in all of New Mexico) who could give a blow-by-blow account of the sinking. I also found that I enjoyed telling such stories.

So, from middle school through high school, I projected a future as a history teacher at the secondary level. In some ways, I just didn’t have much imagination or I loved consistency.

When I reached college, however, my career plans took a slightly new shape. Within my first year, I learned what it meant to be a historian. Finding that it was possible to do original research excited me. If I was going to pursue higher education, I decided that history would be the course that I would take. Plus, I was lucky that one of my older sisters was already blazing a trail by attending graduate school (though not in history). Yes, there is another.

It took time to figure out what type of historian I wanted to be. Basically, I had lots of questions about the past. Most of those questions happened to center on New Mexico and Mexicans’ roles in the U.S.

Existing histories on the state, especially the ones for primary schools, had a teleological narrative that made New Mexico’s incorporation into the United States appear inevitable. This narrative was (is) so ingrained that most people accept it at face value. "If New Mexico had been part of Mexico (and the name alone does imply a certain connection)," I asked, "Did nobody feel patriotism towards that nation when the U.S. invaded?" The answer provided (They didn’t because they joined the U.S.) ignored actual historical evidence.

Contrary to popular mythology, Mexicans in New Mexico had little desire to become part of the United States. Indeed, the people of Santa Fe wept as the U.S. military seized the capital in 1846. Wild stories also circulated that the invading military had planned to brand a “US” on the cheeks of all the Mexicans in the territory. Clearly there was some apprehension about becoming Americans. These stories, however, were (are) not widely told. All that I had at the time was a feeling that the traditional histories were dubious.

Those doubts emerged because I felt there were many inconsistencies about how Mexicans viewed their life in this nation, even within my own family. I really loved New Mexico (and still do). Yet, there was always a certain uneasiness among Latinos in the state as well. At times, there were contrasting impulses and sentiments among the Latino population.

While most (if not all) claimed an avid patriotism for the U.S., there were also frank discussions about how racism and social inequality impacted their daily lives. While they celebrated the 4th of July, there was also resentment that wealthy Euro Americans flooded into the state and gobbled up local lands. There was a sense of shared commitment with other Latino groups in the U.S. Yet, there was also a divisive emphasis on color. Some discussions (at the time) suggested internalized racism as many Latinos in New Mexico argued they were “different” from other Latinos through the claim of being “pure Spanish.”

In a similar way, I noticed Mexican Americans’ complicated relationship to the Catholic Church. The hierarchy had a tense relationship with the laity. Many Latinos openly discussed their feelings that the Church had often failed to acknowledge their unique religious expression and the spiritual needs of the local population. Yet, most Mexicans also remained devoutly Catholic and considered it a critical part of their own sense of self. Indeed, when I first imagined my research in graduate school, I believed that I would study the history of Mexican-Americans’ relationship to the Catholic Church (that later changed).

In other words, a lot of my interest in doing historical research came from my own personal experiences grappling with different aspects of my identity. I saw inconsistencies and even contradictory assumptions about how Mexicans understood themselves within the U.S. nation.

Given that my father was Mexican-American and my mother was Irish-American, I started with a certain perspective. Likewise, claiming an identity as a gay man also aligned me with different aspects of society. Perhaps these combined to make me suspicious of institutions and majority politics.

As I developed an increasing focus on Latino history, some of my undergraduate friends made me feel uneasy about the ways that the historical profession operated. Though these friends were also history majors, none of them were interested in New Mexico or Latino/a history in the same way as me. Indeed, they even scoffed at such a pursuit. For them, studying Europe was a far more legitimate intellectual enterprise. While I had no desire to dictate their interests, it struck me as odd that they felt the need to explicitly distance themselves from Latino studies (and even denigrate it) given that they also identified as Latino/a. Moreover, they received a certain cache in repudiating the study of people like themselves.

This made me wonder about the ways that university structures perpetuated the omission of Latino history. The Eurocentric structures of the education system created a scenario where even those with a direct stake in Latino history turned their back on it.

During my last couple of years as an undergraduate, I took a variety of courses that focused on feminist theory, race and ethnic studies, and a nascent form of queer studies. I became increasingly interested (in a crude sort-of-way) in how U.S. society historically established and enforced power relations based on race, gender, and sexuality. Historical scholarship can be a powerful means to challenge and resist the status quo.

Of course, much of my thinking as an undergraduate was still pretty shallow. In between considering the underpinnings of heterosexist privilege and U.S. imperialism, I often testified about the pair of Guess(?) jeans that changed my life (Though, in my defense, they were great jeans).

I shudder to even imagine what my graduate school application looked like. Once in graduate school, however, I was extremely fortunate to find a remarkable dissertation advisor. She expanded my thinking on race, gender, and sexuality in innumerable ways. I still continue to learn from her.

So, that’s basically the story (as best as I can remember) of how I came to decide on graduate school. It’s nice work if you can get it. Let me tell you, it sure beats shoveling coal.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Thoughts From the Week

Right now I am a little low on inspiration. Or motivation. Or liquor. Whatever. So, while I ponder something more substantial to write for a new entry, I will give you some things that I have learned this week:

    I might remember a presentation that I gave a year ago as being great. When I reopen the file, though, that memory might not be fully validated.

    My current office’s new magnetic-swipe-key policy is probably just a panopticon illusion. They only want us to think that they are tracking when we sign in or out of the building as a means to keep us motivated and productive (and showing up). In reality, any data that is actually collected from the cards is probably fed to a computer that spends most of its day running World of Warcraft.

    I have spent too much time wondering why they would attempt such a strategy on academics knowing that we can (and do) work from many different locations beyond our office.

    I get an eery sense of satisfaction from vacuuming.

    A surprising number of adults watch Kim Possible.

    A surprising number of adults don’t watch Kim Possible.

    A very minor injury of my leg is all the excuse that I need to sit out of going to the gym for over a week.

    Given that I don't own any gaming system of any type, it might be odd that I still watch X-Play.

    While my apartment is currently without most types of solid food, I will make a special trip to the store to obtain coffee filters.

    I am still surprised that I actually like the new Wonder Woman comic. We are already at issue 6 and I haven't had to deploy my full gravitas (though there are some things that I would change -- and some of it has been, um, confusing). My new favorite panel involves Diana Prince shopping for toys and learning what it means to be the action figure who ends up in the bargain bin:

    The hours can really slip past you when you start watching a Workout marathon (I had never before watched this program before this week).

    Those hours can go even more quickly when you fix yourself a cocktail during the middle of that marathon.

    No matter how hard that I try, I will never have abs as developed as Jackie Warner.

    Jackie needs a better therapist.

    Watching Workout does nothing to motivate me to go to the gym despite feeling guilty over the lame leg-injury excuse.

    Jaclyn Smith is hosting a new Bravo series.

    Jaclyn Smith needs a better agent.

    In truth, though, a former-Angel hosting is enough to get me to at least give the show a watch.

    Bravo is becoming a bit formulaic in their reality shows. Take a traditionally queer environment (fashion studio; gourmet kitchen; gym; hairstyling salon) and add in an assortment of "urban personalities” (mix the queer kids with the hetero folk plus one or two African Americans), add competition, and let the drama happen. I am expecting Bravo to launch a new series on tanning salons and bathhouses any day now.

Okay, so the majority of what I am reporting to have learned this week really just involved several hours of television on Tuesday night. Any suggestions of things that you would like GayProf to write about?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Out Again

Out magazine created more buzz than they have seen in years with their latest cover issue. For those who haven’t seen it, the magazine named its 50 most powerful gay men and women in the United States. On the cover, they included cardboard images of Anderson Cooper and Jodi Foster as emblems of the “glass closet.” In other words, everybody knows that Coops and that girl who was in Candleshoe are homo, but they would never consent to be on the cover of an actual queer publication. This comes in the same week that my new favorite (though rapidly declining) artist Mika also refused to answer questions about his sexuality. Once again the blogosphere plunges into a debate about the expectations of being out or not being out.

To me, though, the recent actions of one celebrity demonstrate the necessity of being out more than all the others. Not only has he skirted the issue, like Cooper and Foster, but now he is going to extremes to prove that he isn’t gay. I think we all know who we are talking about: Ron Stoppable from the Disney Show Kim Possible.

In the earliest days of CoG, I pleaded with Ron to finally confirm what we all knew to be true: He likes the menz. Given that he still attended high school, though, I figured that he just needed some time to come out on his own. It would dawn on him eventually why he found that naked mole rat so interesting.

Within the past month, however, I have grown increasingly leery of his behavior. It’s time for an intervention.

Clearly out of fears that being identified as gay will hurt his career, Ron has suddenly altered his behavior and character in sad attempts to conform with the larger society. In what can only be described as bizarre, Ron started dating Kim Possible. I don’t want to say that Kim is clueless, but I have not seen a beard that thick since I attended a lumberjack meet-and-greet.

Yet, even his dating Kim didn’t stop tongues from wagging. When one of her friends pointed out that something wasn’t quite right about their relationship, he gave up his position on the cheerleading squad. Motivated only by peer pressure, Ron joined the football team.

Now, Ron, it’s not that queer folk can’t play the football. Yet, when one has never, ever expressed any interest in doing so and suddenly takes it up out of the blue, it seems a bit pathological. Ron is becoming paranoid about being outed at any moment.

Now I know that some will protest this. “Wait, GayProf,” a few will say, “It’s a private matter . . . and he is a cartoon.”

Sexuality in our society is never a private matter. If all the heterosexual people in the country said, “We aren’t going to ever discuss our private lives or acknowledge the people who are emotionally significant to us,” then I would say, “Okay, then, we are all being quiet.” That sounds kinda boring, but so be it.

That, however, is not at all the world in which we live. The notion that a “private” space exists that is separate from the public only reenforces the status quo. Constituting queer sexuality as a totally “private” matter ignores the very real consequences of that identity in the public realm. Everything from access to healthcare, inheritance, housing, and even taxes depend on one’s sexual identity in this society.

Even more disturbing to me is that queer people will turn against each other for acknowledging the reality of another’s sexuality. Straight people might find it distasteful that a magazine prints a glossy spread on Jennifer-Brad-Angelina. Nobody, though, considers it a violation of their basic right to privacy to reveal that all three are in (seriously dysfunctional) heterosexual relationships.

We will never be able to muster a fight for sexual freedom if we, as queer individuals, place a premium on secret-keeping. We will never create a sense of community based on self and mutual respect if we maintain silence.

The equation of truth-telling with being “radical” or “violating privacy” is one of the ways that a culture of silence thrives. Homophobic decorum will always promote lying as the best means to deal with minority sexual identities.

Though it has been said many times, I will repeat it: Being out is still the easiest and best way that any individual can promote real change. Yes, there are circumstances where being out is deadly and dangerous. I think that we are all sophisticated enough to know the difference when the situation is a life-threatening one.

This is not to say that I think outing celebrities should be a priority for queer rights. Trying to force people out of the closet also makes being out somehow punitive. That’s probably not a good idea. I also don’t expect any more or less of celebrities than of all queer people.

In the end, though, being out and visible makes a political statement and affirms a commitment that we all (gay, straight, queer, bi, etc.) have something to gain in the fight for sexual freedom. Staying in the closet, in contrast, is always self-serving and only benefits one person.

Because of my blog, I have been lucky to have had a number of men write to me about their own experiences. Several of them have discussed their reasons for being out in small, isolated, and conservative places. Some of have worked in industries or companies where homophobia was not only tolerated, but actively promoted.

Yet, these gay individuals drew on their own courage to be out. In doing so, they made circumstances better for themselves and other gay employees.

If they can do it, where the economic, social, and physical dangers are often real, I think that highly-overpaid and very sheltered celebrities can think of something to say about the question. Perhaps Ron Stoppable will lead the charge for the next generation.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Deal Breakers

Recently Kusala mentioned a New York Times article entitled "It's Not You, It's Your Apartment." It focused on apartments that ended romantic relationships. Before reading the piece, I expected that it would chart horror stories of unclean bathrooms or Star-Wars sheet sets.

Instead, I was surprised that many of the complaints focused on possessions that the apartment guest found tacky. One guy apparently broke up with his girlfriend because she had Klimt’s The Kiss hanging on her wall. I grant that the image has been overused. You know if you are going to go rummaging through a poster bin, at some point you are gong to find The Kiss. Nor have I ever been a fan – Being a big homo, that image never really spoke to me.

But to break up with somebody over it? Really? That was all that it took, huh? Couldn’t you have just waited until you were deeper in the relationship and, oh, I don’t know, mentioned that you didn’t like it? Unless she had a matching tattoo on her left breast, it hardly seems like your eyes would need to spend much time looking at it all.

It got me to think what would be the things in some guy’s apartment that would send me packing? I could think of the obvious discoveries that would prompt me to run out the door: part of a human torso in the fridge; a collection of Nazi memorabilia; children. Maybe I just have lowered expectations. Really, though, I don’t think that clich├ęd art is my cut off.

Maybe I would have some questions if a guy that I dug had the Farrah Fawcett poster on his wall – Unless he put it up with irony. 'Cuz if he had it up with irony, I would probably marry him.

Then I got to thinking about the things in my own apartment that might be deal breakers. Taking a look around, I realized that there are many potential relationship killers in my apartment:

    My apartment lacks any interior walls (except for the bathroom and closet).

    I have an insane number of dishes and stemware. Right now I have two sets of dishes in my cabinet and enough stemware to open a bar. Seriously, I have a dish problem. I would say I am a dish-queen, but that makes it sound like I want to gossip.

    My apartment has an unusual number of accent pillows.

    I enjoy drinking coffee out of a cup and saucer.

    My DVR currently has 4 episodes of the Daily Show, 3 episodes of Battlestar Galactica (which I have already watched, but might want to see again), and 15 episodes of Star Trek: Voyager.

    To keep me company while watching Voyager, I have all the action figures.

    My NRFB Mego Wonder Woman doll.

    The current contents of my refrigerator: mayonnaise, tortillas, a tube of Pillsbury cookie dough, two oranges, a bag of apples that are older than some child actors, TaB, and two hotdogs.

    My freezer has frozen chicken, pizza, and three different types of vodka. Really I just keep the chicken and pizza in there so people won't think that I am a total alcoholic. Those interventions take up too much of my time. It's also awkward to fix yourself a cocktail in the middle of one.

    My cabinet currently has a can of Pam cooking spray, Ramen noodles, olive oil, bran cereal, rice, and a package of pink marshmallow peeps.

    The only television that I own has a smaller screen than my computer.

    I have an annoying burning bush in the corner of my apartment that keeps nagging me to lead my people to freedom. I should probably repot that or something.

    Books are strewn across the room, all open to somewhere in the middle.

    As I live in an attic apartment, my ceiling slopes, making it impossible to install a sling.

    This is my new favorite shirt for the gym:

    Instead of pens, I have crayons.

    My two well-oiled gladiator servants who do my every bidding.

    A chess set, though I can’t remember the last time I played.

    I hated doing dishes so much that I made sure I had a dishwasher, but I don’t currently own a microwave.

    I keep a New Mexico flag on my desk.

    Then there are my Star-Wars sheet sets. . .

Perhaps my current lack of a long-term boyfriend isn’t all that mysterious after all.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Gotta Make a Move to a Town That's Right for Me . . .

For the past month I have agonized over a decision about where to go next year. We all knew that the Boston gig would be temporary, but I had little desire to return to my current job in Texas. I, however, enjoy living indoors. Therefore, I needed a new job.

Because fortune favors the foolish, I was lucky enough to have a choice between two excellent universities. Both had great departments. Both had great resources. Both had livable towns. In the end, I decided to start at Big Midwestern University in the fall. I am very happy with my decision. My former institution in Texas recently received my resignation.

I know that I have kept it a pretty well-hidden secret on this blog, but I didn’t particularly enjoy living in Texas. No, seriously – It might be news, but I didn’t like it.

A commentator on a previous post took me to task for my pathological disdain for the Lone Star State. While this commentator inadvertently confirmed (again) my own assumptions about most Texans who claim to be “liberal,” he still made a point.

I can appreciate that many good people consider Texas their home. Nobody wants their home shit upon over and over again. Most of the things that I said about Texas are true (worst in the nation for providing children health insurance, fattest cities, environmentally disastrous policies, depraved indifference to the death penalty, unchecked racism, institutional homophobia, and flying cockroaches). Yet, even I bristle at people from Massachusetts who slam and despise Texas without every having visited or lived there. My feeling is that you need to experience it first-hand to really understand Texas. After that, slamming Texas will just come naturally.

I acknowledge also that an equally disgruntled individual could critique New Mexico for many similar failures. New Mexico is the only state where I feel vested in this nation. Yet, it often falls at the bottom of many lists: such as prenatal care, access to education, or drunk driving. Of course, I would argue that New Mexico falls low in these lists because of U.S. imperialism rather than the mean-spirited greed of its inhabitants. Perhaps that is splitting hairs, though.

The truth is that even though I am very glad to not be returning to Texas (VERY GLAD), I also recognize there were some good things there. I will also always be grateful for the Texas university that provided my first job. The administration, in particular, were often generous with me. I also had many good colleagues. Moreover, some close members of my family still live in Texas (the more interesting Rio Grande Valley, which I don’t really consider to be like the rest of Texas).

For me, though, Texas just didn’t work out. The polite way of saying it is that I didn’t have a good “fit” with my Texas university or the state in general. Sometimes, though, that sounds too weak. Shelly Hack was not a good “fit” on Charlie’s Angels. My time in Texas provided some of the worst personal and professional experiences of my relatively short life.

Obviously not all the blame goes to Texas. I made some mistakes to be sure. It’s also hard for me to untangle the location from the crushing heartbreak that I suffered at the end of an eight-year relationship. In truth, of course, Liar Ex (Who Left No Promise Unbroken) would have been the same asshole anywhere. We just happened to be in Texas at the time and the state suffers a guilt by association.

That aside, my other experiences in Texas often left me frustrated. At times, I simply wasn’t savvy enough to understand what was at stake for those who invested in the status quo.

Being a historian, especially one who focuses on Latino history and also the history of sexuality, Texas did not bring a lot of warmth to my heart. When I first decided to go to Texas, it seemed like both the state and the institution had started to acknowledge that bleak history. In recognition of the reality of the state’s population, the university decided to invest in hiring a more diverse faculty with more diverse research interests.

What the administration (and I) did not consider, however, was how resentful many of the existing faculty would be to that change. From the day that I arrived, certain colleagues dismissed my courses on Latino History and the history of sexuality as everything from “too regional” to “too trendy.” During my time at the university, I had senior colleagues make homophobic jokes outside of my office door. Other colleagues explicitly stated that the courses offered by me and some of my other junior colleagues were “boutique” classes that only catered to “narrow interests.” In other words, the history they taught (on white straight men) was the real story.

Sometimes they dropped the pretense and little code words altogether. In department meetings they could be shockingly candid. They stated explicitly that they felt most of the women and all of the minorities hired into the department were intellectually inferior to them (though most of the those same individuals were developing stronger records than their own). In one incident, certain colleagues attempted to eliminate the department’s non-discrimination clause as a statement of “protest.”

At first I considered this atmosphere a challenge. A language of change circulated widely and a promise of a better tomorrow always appeared. Many of my good friends wanted change in the institution and were tirelessly working to do so.

Perhaps the greatest engagement came from students in my upper level classes (my freshman-level classes were always a bit more tricky). I was always happiest when I was working with my students. Indeed, I often tried to be as available as possible to student groups that formed.

Other interactions in Texas left me cold. My last year in Texas, I tried to become involved with an Austin-based gay rights group. Of particular importance at that moment was the passage of [another] measure to ban same-sex marriage. This group’s strategy focused mostly on accommodation. Rather than acknowledging that queer people were being deprived of their basic rights, they argued that our strategy should be to show how these measures hurt good straight people. Being too “gay,” they suggested, would just alienate the majority of the state. To date, their strategy of accommodation has accomplished nothing.

In a different context, some brought up a point that the leaders of this group were unaware of the experiences of gays and lesbians who were living throughout the state, many of whom were literally in danger for their lives. The leaders shrugged and suggested that all the gay people in the state should just move to the oasis of Austin. (On a related note, Austin, btw, is a white-majority city in a non-white majority state; however, 80 percent of the city’s poor are racial minorities. I have a hard time considering that an oasis.)

After a certain point, I began to feel complicit in an institution and state that were not really changing at all. Nor did it seem that my research trajectory matched the department’s interests or priorities.

I will miss many good people in Texas. Maybe it is about “fit” or maybe there is something pathological about my dislike for the state. After my personal experiences in Texas, however, I am glad and grateful to have opportunities elsewhere.