Tuesday, October 30, 2007

An Untruth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Tippi Hedren Has Nothing on GayProf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are my basic thoughts after this encounter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What to Wear, What to Wear, Trois

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

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

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

    What I Aim for: The New Doctor Who

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

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

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

    What I Aim for: Grace Kelly in Rear Window

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

    What I End Up As: Barbara Bel Geddes in Vertigo

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


    What I Aim for: Billie Holiday

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

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

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

    What I Aim For: Raw Sewage

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

    What I End Up As: Ann Coulter

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


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

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

    What I End Up As: Condoleezza Rice

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


    What I Aim For: E. T.

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

    What I End Up As: Nancy Reagan

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


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

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

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

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


    What I aim For: Chrissie Hynde from the Pretenders

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

    What I End Up As: Lindsey Lohan

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


    What I Aim for: Emiliano Zapata

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

    What I End Up As: Victoriano Huerta

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


    What I Aim for: FDR

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

    What I End Up As: Charlie McCarthy

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


    What I Aim For: Any Costume with Imagination

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

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

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

Monday, October 22, 2007


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    * His one and only love interest was unrequited.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I Wonder If It Will Involve Life Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 15, 2007

For the Birds

I have arrived. The conference went well, as did my individual paper presentation (I think). The conference also created the opportunity to meet StinkyLuLu. As it turns out, he lives within a mile of my parents’ house. We also attended the same highschool (though at different times). Small blogosphere, eh?

Alas, TenuredRadical eluded me. For some reason, the American Studies meeting doesn’t have a central message center. In contrast, the American Historical Association transitioned from a bulletin board to a conference-based e-mail system. It makes it a lot easier to connect with people. Take note, ASA.

Since I was only in town for a brief jaunt, I didn’t get to see much of the city. The little I did see, though, reminded me that I missed being in a more urban venue.

Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to be at Big Midwestern University. Midwestern Funky Town also has a great deal to offer. Indeed, it is the funkiest of all the midwestern funky towns. Still, it is a town. As it turns out, size does matter.

Or maybe I am growing more concerned that the number-one recreational activity of the queer community in MFT seems to involve camping. I don’t mean “camping” in the fun Paul-Lynde sort of way, either. No, not camping that involves ironic quips about popular culture or the tragically ludicrous. I mean camping with a tent, sleeping bag, dirt, cold, and all that nature has to offer. Let me tell you, I am not that type of gay.

The number-two favored activity among gay MFT's seems to be canoeing. Don't these people spend any time drinking?

I understand the appeal of camping and other outdoor activities in the same theoretical way that I understand the appeal of sports. These things must be great for those who enjoy it. I don’t in anyway begrudge them their fun. For me, though, I can’t think of anything less that I would want to do than sleeping outdoors. I hated it when my father dragged me away to the mountains when I was a child. I imagine with 99 percent certainty that I would hate it as an adult.

Perhaps I also find the notion of camping in the Midwest even more perplexing. Maybe I am just too much of New-Mexico son, but why would one camp where there are no mountains? Rather than a rigorous hike up a steep incline to find a fabulous vista, aren’t you just basically sleeping outdoors? Your view is of . . . trees? I have those in my backyard and I don’t even have to open the door to see them (Thank you glass – another invention of nature-avoiding humans).

What I dislike about gay campers, though, is that they are always trying to change my mind. “Come on, GayProf,” they say, “You’ll looooove it once you are out there! Think of it as returning to nature.”

If nature was so great, why did we decide to build houses in the first place? I side with the homo-sapiens who first said, “You know what? This nature stuff sucks. The hell with it. I am inventing a roof.”

I don’t understand the inclination of some people who try to convince me that I don’t know what I like and don’t like. It’s not as if I am resisting sampling the thirty-second flavor down at the local Baskin Robbins. If it was something that I had never tried, I could see their point. I have, however, been camping in my life and I know what it involves: the aforementioned dirt, cold, hard ground, lack of showers and general absence of hygiene.

Why, then, do people persist after I tell them that camping is not my scene? I don’t try to convince them that they really hate camping. When somebody tells me that they are spending the weekend camping, I don’t respond with, “Wow – You are going to have a lousy time! If you have enjoyed camping up to this point, you have just gone with the wrong attitude or the wrong people! If you stay home with me, I’ll show you why that activity that you think you like is not at all what you really like doing.” I just don’t do that. Why do they believe that they can change my mind?

Camping is like some type of cult around here. If you don’t camp, you aren’t one of the chosen people. Maybe that was one reason I felt more at home in Boston. For most of the queer folk that I met in Boston, “roughing it” meant that they couldn’t get a cottage with a third bedroom in Provincetown.

Camping (or my dislike thereof) wouldn’t necessarily be a problem in MFT except that it narrows an already extremely tiny gay dating pool. Actually, it’s not really a pool. It’s more of a small pond – in the middle of a drought – with a serious algae problem.

Don’t get me wrong – It’s not that I don’t appreciate natural beauty. I love our nation’s forests – especially when they have been turned into Danish-modern furniture (It’s a joke – Please don’t send me environmental hate mail).

Nature for me, though, is something that you enjoy from a distance. Sure, I get enthralled by the spectacular sights that are devoid of humankind. Mountains, in particular, impress me. Oceans are grand. When I was in grad school, I also spent a couple of different afternoons at the dunes of one of the great lakes (which really was, as the name promised, a great lake).

Couldn’t we just see do those sorts of things in a day hike? Do we need to take up residence to enjoy nature? My feeling has always been that we could just do a quick walkabout and return in time for cocktail hour. Or, better yet, can’t we just skip the hike altogether and enjoy the view of the mountains from the bar patio?

What I need are the gays who are less into nature and more into . . . well, apparently, alcoholism. Yeah, yeah, don’t bother telling me that you can drink while camping. It goes without saying that I would need to drink because I was camping.

**Le Sigh**

Such thoughts make me think that I’ll be alone forever in MFT. Or maybe I am just regretting that I didn’t spend more time chatting up the hunky guy who sat next to me on the plane ride home. He had a whole Anderson-Cooper vibe working for him. I bet he hadn’t been camping a day in his whole life. Better luck next time, I suppose.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Brother, Can You Spare Some Love?

For those interested in stalking GayProf, you will have that opportunity this weekend in Philadelphia. I am emerging from my Midwestern seclusion to present a paper at an academic conference.

Presenting at conferences usually stresses me out. This is especially the case given that I am trying out material from my next project (No, the Never Ending Project of Doom has not ended. I just thought that working on two projects at the same time would be crazy foolhardy sick okay). All the same, I wanted feedback on the direction that I am heading. At least, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

So that you can share in my travels, here are some things that you might or might not know about Philadelphia:

    * Philadelphia is currently the sixth largest city in the nation.

    * Philadelphia police dropped a bomb from a helicopter on a house containing a radical organization in 1985. It killed eleven people, five of whom were children. The fire spread throughout the neighborhood.

    * I often think of Philadelphia as the Boston that went wrong in the second part of the twentieth century.

    * Philadelphia was the largest city in the United States until 1830.

    * Despite its name, Philadelphia-brand cream cheese was first produced in 1880 in New York. As a marketing gimmick, the producer called it “Philadelphia Cream Cheese” because he thought that the city of Philadelphia would add a touch of class to his product.

    * Philadelphia had the first public library in [what would become] the United States which opened in 1731.

    * The Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and agreed to creating a nation independent of Britain. Their meeting rooms are now known as Independence Hall.

    * Today, Independence Hall has no public restrooms once you have cleared security. This is something that I learned the hard way the last time that I was in Philadelphia.

    * The American Philosophical Society was founded in Philadelphia in 1743 by Ben Franklin. It would compete with Boston’s American Academy of Arts and Sciences, founded by John Adams in 1780.

    * Philadelphia has one of six facilities operated by the U.S. Treasury. The mint in Philadelphia produces coins of all denominations for circulation in the U.S.

    * Betsy Ross lived in Philadelphia where she allegedly stitched the first flag. Others attribute the design of the U.S. flag to Francis Hopkinson, a delegate from New Jersey.

    * The nation’s first carpet factory opened in Philadelphia in 1791.

    * Philadelphia saw the first comic book produced in the United States, the John-Donkey, in 1848.

    * Delegates drafted the Constitution of the United States, the document that currently dictates the structure of the government, in Philadelphia in 1787. Contrary to many people’s presumptions, Thomas Jefferson did not attend this event as he was residing in France at the time. He did write home, though, to criticize it.

    * The film The Philadelphia Story ended Katharine Hepburn's reputation as "box office poison" when it became a major hit in 1940.

    * Jazz legend Ethel Waters got her start singing blues in Philadelphia.

    * Slightly more women (53% of the population) live in Philadelphia today than men.

    * Over 43 percent of the city’s population identify themselves as African American. Only 8.5 percent identify themselves as Latino.

    * Philadelphia was the site of a major celebration in 1876, marking the centennial of the nation. The efforts by people in 1976 to mark the bicentennial were quite pathetic in comparison.

    * Served as the temporary capitol of the United States in the 1790s until Washington, D.C. was built.

    * Philadelphia Freedom was the number one song in the U.S. in 1975. It was a tribute to tennis player Billie Jean King, who played on the team the Philadelphia Freedoms. Just two years earlier, King defeated Bobby Riggs in a “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match.

    * Billie Jean King was born in Long Beach, California.

    * The Society of Friends seems like one of the more reasonable of organized Christian groups in existence today.

    * Current chart-topper P!nk started singing in clubs in Philadelphia when she was 14.

    * Last year, 406 people were murdered in Philadelphia Over 10,500 people were victims of aggravated assault.

    * It has been almost two years since GayProf last visited Philadelphia. The citizens of the city have cried out to heaven and wondered why I have forsaken them. Now their wait has ended.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Flushed Away

Anon left a comment on the previous post suggesting that the annoying man in my gym locker room might be transgender and, thus, it would explain his hesitancy about showering sans shorts. For a variety of reasons, I don’t think that is the case. I think that he is just a good ol’ fashioned straight homophobic guy. Maybe its my own bias, but I don’t think that a transgender individual would be a rude as he is in other parts of the gym (for instance, he literally coats the weight bars in chalk. I don’t mean he uses chalk on his hands (which is annoying by itself), I mean he takes a gob of chalk crushes it all over the bars.).

All that aside, though, it reminded me how uptight our society is about bathroom spaces. For many people who identify as transgender, something as basic as using a toilet can become an ordeal. People are vigilante about policing bathrooms to ensure that one uses the “right” one. Those who don’t fit into a strict gender binary are often harassed, threatened, or even arrested when they attempt to make use of the facilities.

The easy solution, of course, is for bathrooms to be changed into unisex places. No gender requirement means that everybody is free to use the toilet as needed. My goddess, that suggestion causes an uproar.

If I remember my ancient history right (and, granted, it has been sometime), eliminating bodily waste was not a gender-oriented activity for Ancient Rome (or Ancient Latin America, I believe). Men and women, in other words, all shit in the same public latrine, sitting side-by-side, and didn’t consider it at all “immodest.” Given the stench, it would be hard to imagine it as an erotic event (though I suppose somebody must have fancied it). It’s only in more recent times that individuals decided that defecating must be accomplished among people with the same anatomy.

Indeed, the specter of “unisex” bathrooms is frequently deployed by ultra conservatives as one sign of the apocalyptic end of civilization that will accompany “liberal” reforms. It’s all part of what I call “toilet politics.”

When arch-conservative Phylis Schlafly thwarted the Equal Rights Amendment during the late 1970s, she included restrooms as a key part of her campaign. People might not remember, but Schlafly shrewdly made the issue of where people piss into a knockout punch for gender equality. Should the ERA pass, she promised, it would mean that unisex bathrooms would be required in all public places. Men and women would be forced to pee together (she almost hinted that it would be at the point of a gun). Even those who believed that men and women should be paid the same for the same work couldn’t stomach the idea that they might have to go potty together. I am surprised that she didn’t claim that the ERA would have required dogs to use litter boxes and cats to raise their legs on a tree.

Much more recently (like, you know, last week), the right-wing used toilet politics to derail an Employment Nondiscrimination Act that would have provided protections for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people. When they realized they couldn’t defeat the bill outright, the right maneuvered to delete protections for transgender people. This created a moral dilemma for those on the left. Could the left support a measure that only protected part of the queer community? Were gays and lesbians willing to sell out the transgender community to accomplish a short-term goal that benefited only them? Although it surprised me not at all, it turns out that [corrupt] mainstream organizations like the HRC are willing to toss queer people off the bus if they think that they can accomplish something. HRC only supports rights for queer people based on how well they conform to heterosexual standards. Those who challenge the status quo need not apply. That, though, is another issue.

For our purposes, we need to consider how the right justified the deletion using toilet politics. Protections for transgender people, the right lamented, would mean the demise of restrooms as we know and love them! They expressed horror – HORROR! – that an individual who dresses as a woman, but still has a penis, would be able to use a restroom clearly labeled for “women.” What, they asked, was the purpose of posting a stick figure in a dress outside the door if we weren’t going to assume that a vagina was under that dress?

As you might imagine, the Concerned Women (Woman?) of America was more than happy to spell out why they opposed ENDA, especially if it included protections for transgender individuals. Queers, they promised, would make quick work of harassing innocent heterosexuals. “This [bill] means,” they authoritatively stated, “that female employees would have to endure both systematic sexual harassment and a hostile work environment by being forced to share bathroom facilities with any male employee who got his jollies from wearing a dress.” Yeah, that’s how sexual harassment would play out. Straight men would start wearing women’s clothing all day long just for the opportunity to harass women in the loo. Clearly straight men aren’t currently harassing women in the workplace.

Of course, the CWA also used this statement to declare “that homosexuals are largely affluent.” Why didn’t anybody tell me??? Here I am working and in debt when my sexuality should have elevated my economic standing years ago. Thank you, CWA, for telling it like it really is.

We should be leery anytime they claim to be concerned about women’s safety. Time and time again, they have demonstrated that is never their real concern. In this case, though, are we certain that equal access to restrooms would put women at greater risk of harassment? It seems to me, that having a transgender person in the restroom would be a huge asset to safety. They are also going to be very unlikely to harass [other] women.

Which brings us to the issue of who would potentially harass women in a unisex restroom? The same people who are most likely to harass them in other places: Straight men. Once again, I am not convinced that unisex restrooms present a greater risk for women. It seems to me that other straight and gay men would not tolerate a creepy guy harassing women in their restroom. Moreover, where is the supposed “safety” in our current bathroom situation? Last time I checked, restrooms don’t require a DNA sample to open the doors. Why would we imagine that a creepy straight guy doesn’t (or isn’t) already lingering in women’s restrooms?

Or is that we are imaging the mere act of being in a restroom with a woman would send some straight guys over the edge? Do we think that hearing a woman pee in the next stall would change an otherwise average guy into a serial rapist and murderer? If that is true, what is the difference, really, between a bathroom stall and regular drywall? Trust me, I have been in plenty of places where the drywall left nothing to the imagination about what was happening in the bathroom on the other side.

Toilet politics, sadly, tend to work. Since we are small children, we “learn” (read: are policed) into accepting that we have a “right” bathroom to use. Using the “wrong” one results in public shame and maybe even punishment. Indeed, I remember from my own grade school that one of the “games” during recess involved trying to force individuals into the “wrong” restroom as a type of ritual humiliation. Both boys and girls participated in this activity. If at that young age the message about toilets is already ingrained, just imagine how hard it is to combat it as adults.

Of course, toilet politics isn’t the exclusive domain of transgender individuals. Other queer folk are also swept into these rants. The brouhaha around Larry Craig exposed straight men’s many anxieties over public restrooms. It took almost no time for the Craig story to change from “homophobic hypocrite found propositioning cop for sex” to “Are straight men in danger in public men’s rooms?”

Campaigns to keep gay men and women out of the military also often involve toilet politics. What would happen, they argue, if gay men and straight men had to shit in the same restroom without privacy????

We also only need to look at changes in bathroom architecture over the past ten years. Divisions between urinals are now de rigueur. Given that I am more than a bit pee shy, I am not going to complain about this too much. Still, it does suggest a heightened anxiety and, I would suggest, a discreet type of homophobia (emphasis on the “phobia” bit). Indeed, authorities even announced recently that the infamous Craig toilet is receiving a make-over with new floor-to-ceiling stall dividers. Why stop there? Why not give each stall its own moat and bucket of boiling oil?

If we start to think more seriously about it, why do we place such a strong investment in our toilets? The truth is that unisex bathrooms are already in place in a number of public spots and they work just fine. Even my former Texas institution had a unisex restroom in my office building. Two stalls and nobody ever had a problem (though there were also “traditional” restrooms in the building as well). If scary Texas can handle it, I think the rest of the U.S. can as well.

We need to be skeptical when toilet politics appears as a justification for denying a group their rights. A reaction of fear and discomfort is what the right-wing depends upon to maintain an unequal society.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

A Splendid Little War!

Over the past couple of weeks, radically conservative Christians tried to create a brouhaha over advertising for the Folsom Street Fair. For those who don’t know, the Folsom Street Fair is an event in San Francisco to mark the end of Leather Pride Week. Basically, it’s just a big adult dress-up party, only the costumes require a great deal of talc.

As you can imagine, radical Christians are predisposed to dislike Folsom. Queer Folk? Sex-related paraphernalia? San Francisco? Fun???? “No way, man,” the evangelicals cried out to heaven, “that’s just too much.”

This time around, though, they were particularly peeved over the official poster for the event. It satirized Leonard da Vinci’s Last Supper, only with a cow-hide theme. Spokesmen for the Concerned Women of America expressed their outrage – OUTRAGE! In the end, almost nobody took notice of the radical Christians’ rambilings except (ironically) the queer folk (like myself).

So much of the controversy confused me. For instance, the spokesman for the Concerned Women of America was, well, a man. Actually, I don’t think that I have heard any concerned women speak for the organization. Maybe they are living out the ideal that the radical Christians really want for women. Women shouldn't actually be out in public in their own organizations. No, no! Radical Christian women should be locked away in their houses making Jell-O all day (in a concerned sort of way). And they say we are the kinky ones.

Then I was confused that radical Christians had decided that a fifteenth-century Italian painting had become biblical. The do know that Jesus didn’t actually pose for that drawing, right? When did they start considering it sacred? I can’t be sure, but somehow I think Dan Brown is to blame for this.

Perhaps the most baffling element in the whole story was that the radical Christians threatened to boycott Miller beer for sponsoring the Folsom Street Fair. Isn’t “not drinking” one of the deals about being a radical Christian? So, their boycotting a brewery is a little like Mary Cheney boycotting Trojan Condoms or George W. Bush threatening to boycott the local library. They don’t seem to understand that you have to actually buy the product in the first place for a boycott to be effective.

Whatever the case, radical Christians have been itching for a Culture War for decades now. I say that we give them one. If there is any type of war I condone, it’s a cultural one. It always conjures images of a battlefield strewn with oil paintings and garden fountains.

Well, if the Christians want to claim da Vinci’s Last Supper, I say we give it to them. We will keep our first-amendment right of free speech off of it. That means, however, that they have to agree to hand over several queer sacred objects to us as well. These are some of our most holy relics and they must no longer be profaned by the heathen and undeserving right-wing hetero Christians:

Gloria Gaynor's “I Will Survive”

    Sure, other disco songs would have made more sense as an acknowledged queer anthem (“I’m Coming Out,” for instance). When one thinks about it, “I Will Survive” is basically a rant about how horrible relationships usually end up. The sacred queer apostles, however, decided that “I Will Survive” was the queer gospel. As a result, it must be played at least once per night at every queer club from Lubec, Maine to Ozette, Washington. It’s simply no use for us queer folk to like or dislike the song. We are required to acknowledge the ritual without question. Kind of like most religion.

    From what I understand, radical Christians have brainwashed Gloria Gaynor with their message. We’re going to require that they hand her over to us queer boys. She will also need to convert to atheism. Radical Christians, though, are more than welcome to listen to Tobey Keith. He’s all yours.

Midcentury Lesbian Pulp Fiction

    These novels first appeared as something marketed to titillate hetero men. Their miraculous nature was only discovered later when lots of lesbian women used them as a means to break free of their suburban closets. Now they are part of the lesbian exodus story.

    As part of our queer purification of society, we are going to need all of these texts turned over to the holy Sisters of Cunnilingus for safe keeping. Actually, while we are the subject, all lesbian sex is strictly the intellectual property of actual lesbians (or the otherwise queer-identified). Take heed, hetero men: No more porn, jokes, or fantasies about lesbians having sex. They didn’t invent it for you.

Mr. Clean

    Some claim that Mr. Clean is the Messiah. Others argue that he is just a prophet who brought forward an important message from the goddess. Whatever the case, we all worship at his feet. He is kinky like that.

    Radical Christians must henceforth live in filth in recognition that they are not worthy enough to emulate Prophet Clean. They aren’t fit to lick his lemony-fresh boot.


    Let’s be honest, it’s only the queer boys and the ‘roid heads who keep any gym financially afloat. Often times, those two groups are really the same people anyway.

    Becoming addicted to the gym is one of the queer sacraments. Then we get over it and go soft and squishy again. In the meantime, though, I am sick and tired of homophobic straight men cluttering up my gym space. Yeah, I am speaking about the bizarre guy who showers at my gym wearing shorts. For him, it’s all about his fear of gay men checking him out. What he doesn’t realize, though, is that we are much more likely to be judgmental about his chest, arms, and legs before we would even consider his penis.

    All of that unpleasantness could be avoided, though, if gyms became queer-only spaces. Let us worship in peace.

Mary Tyler Moore

    Yes, the show centered on a heterosexual woman. We all know, though, that it is one of the most sanctified images for queer men (of a certain age). Mary lived the perfect gay man's life. She had a kickin' apartment, drove a hot Mustang, and dated lots of men. So, she didn't have a penis. Must gay men always be defined by their genitalia?

    Gay men (of a certain age) hold Mary in high esteem indeed. Need evidence? I remember one incident from Torn's blog. Rummage through comments in one of his older posts and you will find a lively debate over the exact words to the theme song that transpired among queer male readers. It almost turned into a Thirty Years War when the literalists demanded perfect recitation.

    For gay men (of a certain age), singing the Mary Tyler Moore theme song is like doing the stations of the cross. It's ours. Besides, I am pretty sure that a radical Christian never turned the world on with his or her smile.

The U.S. Navy

    In the world of queer religion, the U.S. Navy is like our religious order. It’s killing me not to make a joke about “seamen,” but this cultural war stuff is serious business. I will restrain myself.

    When I was in grad school, I went with a friend to her brother’s graduation from the Naval training camp outside of Chicago. From that ceremony, it seems that naval training involves learning to sing, dance, tie festive knots, and dazzle crowds with silk flags. Plus, the Navy has more costume changes than a Cher concert. It’s all very queer already. Let's make it official! Radical Christians can keep the guns, though.

Any Image of Naked Men Produced Ever, Ever

    That’s right – From the first caveman’s scribble of his dangle on a wall, to Michelangelo's David, through beefcake mags from the fifties, all representations of naked men belong to us, the practicing queer men of the world.

    Such images of male beauty should not be dishonored with radical Christians' unappreciative eyes. Who churned out all of those priceless works of art? The heteros? I.Don’t.Think.So. It was us queer men who devoted ourselves to lovingly studying every detail of men’s anatomy. The world of art owes us a debt for mapping men's bodies. Come to think of it, any man who looks at himself in the mirror should pay us a fee.

Virgin Mary

    Radical Christians are more than welcome to keep Jesus. Why would we want to hang around that closet case and have to deal with his martyr complex? B - O - R - I - N - G.

    Mary, though, is one of us! Let’s see – A young woman who never had sex with men and yet still gave birth? Then she took a tour of Egypt? I can only imagine that it was an Olivia Cruise that sailed her down the Nile.

    From my perspective, it seems like Mary was the first lesbian to open a spermbank. Granted, it was a cosmic spermbank, but she knew what she wanted. Radical Christianity is just going to have to do without Jesus's mom.