Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What to Wear, What to Wear, четыре

Truly loyal readers, who have been with CoG from the start four years ago, know that there is a tradition here. Yes, those loyal readers remember that each year I contemplate my inability to prefect a Halloween costume. Those same loyal readers would also be able to name four supporting characters who have appeared regularly on this blog. They would dutiful remember every move that I have made and the tribulations that accompanied them. A truly loyal reader would know the make and model of my first car ever or where I attended high school. They would have small altars in their house dedicated to my image. Genuinely loyal readers would be willing to take a bullet for me. **Sigh** I wonder if such a reader exists. . .

What were we talking about? Oh, right, Halloween is just around the corner. As the official gay holiday, the expectations are always so high for choosing the right outfit. Yet, no matter how I have tried these past four years, my costumes have never quite worked out. Let me take you through what I aim for and the disappointing results:

What I Aim for: Yoda

    We all remember the unexpected way that Yoda made his way into our imagination and became a pop-culture icon. Sure, he started out as an annoying muppett who terrorized R2-D2. Eventually, though, he became the voice of reason who delivered sage advice in the form of inverted sentences. Yoda is so much part of our social consciousness, that his name is even identified by the spell checker in my wordprocessor. A great costume he is.

What I End Up With: Gollum

    Gollum, like Yoda, has his own creative rules for grammar. Less cute and endearing, though, Gollum would be a disappointing result when aiming for Yoda. Who ever turned to Gollum for advice? As far as I know, he never evidence any strange mental powers that gave him the ability to levitate rocks.


What I Aim for: Mr. Belvedere, 1948

    Of all the fussy, crypto-gay film characters to appear in the postwar era, Mr. Belvedere ranks the highest in my estimation. He was a man after my own heart. Belvedere disdained Americans’ unhealthy obsession with children, scorned the prison of heterosexual marriage, and tore apart environmentally and socially disastrous suburbs. This costume would scare the snot out of Focus on the Family.

What I End Up With: Mr. Belvedere, 1985

    After skulking around Fantasy Island, this pale imitation of the original Belvedere ended up enslaved to a middle-class hetero home in Pennsylvania. Sure, he was just as fussy as his forties counterpart, but the Reagan-era Belvedere did less to critique the banality of suburbia than to become its queer booster. Okay, there was the "very special episode" that dealt with HIV. Mostly, though, this Belvedere hid from real controversy. He even disavowed his queernees by locking himself into an unexpected and largely unexplained hetero marriage. Who needs to go disguised as that closeted mess?


What I Aim for: Phyllis Schlafly

    Going as the original Queen of Mean, Phyllis Schlafly, could quite possibly be the scariest costume ever conceived. Shlafly burst onto the national scene in 1964 with a screed that proclaimed that the Republican Party was not radically conservative enough. Never one to shy away from blatantly irresponsible statements, Shlafly frequently spoke out against any attempt to curb the proliferation of nuclear arms during the Cold War. Heck, she declared the atomic bomb “a marvelous gift that was given to our country by a wise god.”

    More recently, she has called for a purge of the Supreme Court of “activist judges” (Read: Anybody who disagrees with Phyllis Schlafly). Apparently, according to her altered Republican reality, justices who undermine the Constitution by supporting a coup that installs a half-wit into the presidency aren’t “activists.” They are “literalists.” She has also demanded “abstinence only”education, opposed the distribution of contraceptives for the unmarried, and has dismissed the use of condoms as a means to check the spread of HIV.

    Those other “accomplishments” aside, Schlafly will probably best be remembered as the demagogue who killed the Equal Rights Amendment in the U.S. through her "Stop ERA" campaign. Schlafly confidently declared that the ERA was not what feminists claimed (ensuring equal access to services, equal pay for equal work, fairness). According to Schlafly, it was really about making women susceptible to military drafts, unisex toilets, and (horrors!) lesbian marriage. The adoring media side-stepped the fact that Schlafly was a driven, highly-educated, career activist who rarely spent her days baking cookies or mending shirts. Instead, they accepted her self-created image as representing “normal moms” who opposed their own liberation. This could be a costume scarier than Freddie Krueger.

What I End Up With: Sarah Palin

    Oh, sure, Sarah Palin is just as cynical as Schlafly. As much as Schlafly downplayed her own career success, Palin’s constant refrains of being “just a hockey mom” mask her steely determination to become a mayor, governor of Alaska, and now vice president. Like Schlafly, she also pretends to speak for the majority of women (even though polls suggest that only a tiny minority agree with her).

    And, of course, she has mastered the Orwellian double speak of “hate is love” on gay issues. In her nationally televised debate with Joe Biden, she implied that she had “gay friends,” or at least she has friends who have gay friends. Palin tends to ramble incoherently, making it hard to pin down what she really meant when she said, “I am tolerant and I have a very diverse family and group of friends and even within that group you would see some who may not agree with me on this issue, some very dear friends who don't agree with me on this issue.”

    If we were in doubt about how she defines being “tolerant,” she clarified herself in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network. "I am, in my own, state, I have voted along with the vast majority of Alaskans who had the opportunity to vote to amend our Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman," Palin stated, “I wish on a federal level that's where we would go because I don't support gay marriage.”

    What a nice, tolerant friend she is! I don’t know about you, but I always like to have friends around who, based on their theology, think of me as a lesser person who deserves fewer rights than the majority of Americans.

    While Palin has some frightful elements, I can’t help thinking she is a pale (Palin?) imitation of things we have seen many times before in this nation. If Schlafly was unique and masterful in her evil, Palin looks like a tired retread. She is just another arch-conservative woman who benefited from feminism, but seeks to dismantle those gains for others.


What I Aim For: Warren G. Harding

    For decades, Warren G. Harding was most often selected as the worst president the nation had ever known (in competition with Andrew Johnson and James Buchanan). When Harding was elected in 1920, he already had a reputation of being a bit slow and woefully unprepared for the job before him. Though he died before he even finished his first time, his administration became renowned for its corruption, unchecked greed, and incompetence. He also initiated economic policies, via Herbert Hoover, that culminated in the U.S.’s Great Depression. By all accounts, a major loser. Even Harding admitted, “I am not fit for this office and should never have been here." It would be a costume that only historians would appreciate.

What I End Up With: George W. Bush

    Harding used to be considered the worst president, but I think that we can safely say that Bushie transformed himself into the most hated executive that this nation has ever known. Unlike Harding, he didn’t have the personal self-awareness to acknowledge his own ineptitude. Instead, he has unapologetically driven this country into moral and literal bankruptcy. If I appeared as Bush, even as a Halloween costume, I doubt that I could keep from vomiting.


What I Aim For: Gollum

    Cold, soulless, greedy, erratic, self-interested, and mean: These are a few of the words that come to mind when thinking of Gollum. Okay, so he isn’t Yoda, but he has the potential to frighten. His internal dialogues and erratic behavior made Gollum unpredictable and dangerous to those who surrounded him.

What I End Up With: John McCain

    Cold, soulless, greedy, erratic, self-interested, and mean: These are a few of the words that come to mind when thinking of John McCain. While I never (ever) agreed with McCain’s politics, he long ago lost whatever courtesy I might have given him when he so clearly cuddled up to Bushie to fuel his own ambition. Seriously misreading the direction of history, McCain banked on the idea that the nation would embrace the Bush administration’s mishandling of everything from the economy to wars. He was mistaken.

    During this campaign, even he has appeared frightened by the bile and hatred that has bubbled up from some of his supporters. Nonetheless, he clearly will do anything to take power. McCain has veered from one direction to another in increasingly desperate attempts to appear legitimate. He went from arguing that there was nothing wrong with the economy to suspending his campaign because the economy was in serious crisis. Most recently he “guaranteed” that he would win the White House, despite being behind in most of the nation’s major polls. To make that guarantee, he is either completely out of touch with reality or he already knows that the Republicans are planing yet another coup that will undermine the will of the people. When he starts mumbling "my precious" on November 4, I think that we will all know the score.

    Unlike Gollum, McCain has no magical ring or bastard Hobbitts to explain his personality disorders. Sadly, a McCain costume would be a more mundane form of anxious selfishness.


What I Aim For: GayProf

    Few other bloggers have the cool and glamorous personality of GayProf. He is good looking, witty, and can deflect bullets with his magic bracelets! Who doesn't want to be GayProf? Surely his own comic book or television series is just around the corner.

What I End Up With: Kevin French

    From the extremely short-lived cartoon Mission Hill, Kevin French would probably be the best I could do for a rendition of GayProf. Nerdy, self-conscious, and maybe a bit of a smug know-it-all, French would be a downer as a costume. Ask yourself this, though, is GayProf any less likely to know the details of dilithium mining in the Star Trek universe than Kevin French?

Monday, October 20, 2008

An Academic Affair

Over the past few days GayProf returned to his equivalent of Paradise Island, known in Patriarch’s World as the Land of Enchantment. By good fortune, an academic conference happened to be in my birth city, giving the perfect excuse for my return. Such visits always makes me feel a little wistful. Why did I think leaving such a great place was a good idea? It seems like so long ago that I was chosen to bring our philosophy of peace, love, and better living through turquoise to the rest of the world.

Since I don’t own an invisible jet – yet – I depend upon the nation’s crooked and corrupt airlines to transport me around. Why, as consumers, have we allowed mismanagement to be rewarded in the nation's highly overpaid airline CEOs? As we seem to be historical witnesses to the collapse of capitalism as we knew it, why not demand a revolution in air travel? Every person reading this blog should write their governmental representatives now to oppose the merger of Northwest and Delta. Remember that their explanation for wanting to do so was that they hoped to reduce competition. In other words, they want to screw consumers by limiting our options.

Before I could get home, my airline stranded me overnight in the dreaded state of Texas. For a complicated set of reasons, not a single hotel room was nearby. There wasn’t even an accommodating manger. Thus, to get even a few hours of sleep, I had to spend the night trying to arrange myself in between gobs of gum stuck in the carpet. Twenty-four hours after my original arrival time, I actually made it to ABQ.

While at the conference, I did have an official duty to speak on a panel. For those of you who have never seen me serve on an academic panel in real life, here is a pretty accurate image of what that looks like:

Okay, maybe that's not totally accurate. Nobody on my panel wore a silver jumpsuit.

Outside of the panel, being on home turf didn’t change my feeling that academic conferences are always a mixed bag. I enjoy the opportunity of meeting new people, especially given that I was able to meet some scholars whose work I have long admired. It also gave me a chance to see some fellow bloggers!

Attending the conference allowed me to briefly catch sight of StinkyLulu. For the first time, I also met Tenured Radical and had a much needed drinkie. We spent some time comparing notes over blogging, the academic world, and the possibilities of a queer future. Why, you might even say that we spent the time “paling around together.” I wonder who is more implicated by that association? Only time will tell which of our political ambitions will be endangered.

Another good element of the conference was the chance to reconnect with a good friend from my former Texas university. Early this semester I was delighted to learn that he had also escaped found liberation run screaming into the night departed Texas for a much happier location in the urban west.

We both agreed that a) leaving Texas (Yes, including Austin) was one the best things that any gay man could do for himself and b) when people at our new institutions use the phrase “hostile work environment," they have no idea what they are talking about. That is not to say that those institutions don’t have problems, because they do. Still, in seeing him again, I had the uncanny feeling that we were like the survivors of a ship wreck or maybe a zeppelin explosion. Sure, other people can recognize those things as terrible calamities; but until you spend twelve hours clinging to a headboard in icy waters or jump out a window twenty-feet high to escape a hydrogen fire, you can't truly understand the horrors of those circumstances.

Me being me, the conference also had some moments of gravitas. Given that my non-GayProf persona is mild-mannered, I often find academic gatherings a wee bit awkward. Let’s face it: professors are not renowned for their great social skills and sparkling repartee. While I am much better than I used to be, my own natural shyness makes me less than ideal for “networking” situations.

My self-doubts and insecurities can lead to some serious over-analyzing of situations. For instance, I briefly ran into a senior scholar who has always been really nice to me. In this instance, he was still friendly, but clearly in a rush. Despite a history of goodwill, I nonetheless spent considerable time agonizing over the significance of his relatively short conversation with me. Was it a sign that he didn’t like my work? Had I annoyed him in some way? Was he disappointed in NERPoD? Did my star-spangled short-shorts make him uncomfortable?

It took me a moment to snap myself out of such thinking. Just what did I expect him to do? Lavish me with praise? Say that my work had changed his life forever? Reach into his pocket and give me c-note? Pick me up and carry me around the convention center on his shoulders? While I would have appreciated any of those gestures, it’s a wee bit silly to expect them -- at least not all the time.

Given that conferences present me with a certain level of social anxiety, I am always surprised by the number of conventioneers who knock-boots. I have a hard enough time keeping up chit-chat in between sessions, how would I possibly survive anything more intimate? Mastering the protocol of conference-shagging would elude me completely. Do you exchange business cards before or after you have fully showered? Or do you simply slink away hoping that the rumors haven’t already started that you are a “conference ho?” More importantly, how do you claim condoms and lube on your expense report?

I don't think balling at a conference would be so bad if the sex was good. But what if you ended up having a lousy time in the sack? I suppose you would have no option but to "friend them" on Facebook. That means that you are going to have to look at their "status updates" on your own Facebook page as a constant reminder of the crummy sex that you had that night. "Oh great," you'll think to yourself, "He can take time to inform Facebook that he just scooped out the cat litter, but he couldn't take an extra minute in the shower to clean around his foreskin? He sure as hell better not write on my wall."

Of course, the real thing that would bother me about a conference hook-up would be that you have to see him for the next several days, if not the rest of your life. This is a pretty serious commitment for some casual spunking.

Some guy that you pick up at a bar or on-line is gone by the next morning’s coffee at the latest. In the case of hooking-up at an annual conference, you will potentially see that same trick year after year for the rest of your career. You will both get older and older. Each of you will notice how your bodies change, including your receding hairlines and expanding waistlines. It will make you both feel strange. You will quickly wonder how (or why) you ever had sex in the first place. If your night was less than mind-blowing (or anything blowing), it might ruin that conference forever. I hear some people have decided to leave academia all together rather than having to face a bum lay at the MLA.

If that sounds like too much hyperbole, you are at least guaranteed to see him over and over for the next forty-eight hours. How much obligation do you have to sit next to him if you both attend the same panel the next day? I mean, it’s one thing to get naked and sweaty together for a quick tumble; but having to sit through a ninety-minute academic discussion together? That's starting to sound like a relationship.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Never Feed Crazy Trolls

Just because I have been away from my little bloggy doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been cursed with the trolls. Alas, these trolls don’t even provide anything useful, like spinning straw into gold or keeping bridges safe with enigmatic riddle-telling.

For whatever reason, these trolls have convinced themselves that I was deeply involved in discussions about the Duke LaCrosse Team in 2006. For those who don’t remember (or lived under a rock or in a cave with no television reception), the case centered on accusations by an African-American woman (who the team hired to strip for them) that she had been sexually assaulted by the mostly white team. After fifteen months, the students were exonerated and the district attorney of Durham, North Carolina, Michael Nifong, had been disbarred.

Investigations revealed that the police seemingly attained the accusations while the witness was under pressure; the district attorney suppressed evidence (and apparently failed to ever interview the witness himself); and the Duke campus erupted in some serious displays of bad judgment. During those long fifteen months, the media (including bloggers across the political spectrum) seized on the case as a means to debate racism, sexism, sexual violence, and economic privilege. To be certain, many of those people stepped over the students' basic rights and access to justice.

At the time, though, I wrote nothing on this blog about the case. For starters, it just isn’t the type of story that I imagine as appropriate at CoG. Why? Well, first, I try to keep up the pretense of the few journalistic ethics that I learned from high school. As I remember from my time in room A-22, assertions of guilt of an accused individual before a jury-of-their peers declares hir guilty is a big no-no (This, of course, doesn’t mean that you aren’t allowed to write about such cases or speculate about their larger implications. Free speech is, well, free. It does mean, however, that one must always assume innocence and write about “alleged murders," or the “individual accused of robbery,” etc. rather than “the murder” or “the highway man”).

Second, I just don’t think that it is in good taste to write about accusations of rape in a blog whose distinctive features are campy comic books and jokes about stalking celebrities. While I am happy to point out racism, sexism, and homophobia in the media, I usually stay clear of stories about specific people who are in horrific circumstances.

Finally, as a historian, I much prefer to write about the dead and buried (or, even better, the imaginary). Everything is so much more settled that way. Current events allow too many opportunities to be wrong and, as best as I remember (and that was a long time ago (and I concede I might have made mistakes that I don’t know about (I am only human and we are talking about something almost two years ago))), I did think that there were a substantial number of things that we didn’t know about this case (despite the unending press coverage).

Since I didn’t blog about it at all, and rarely commented on other blogs that did, I was somewhat surprised that individuals, like my new friend Joey7777, started showing up at CoG and demanding that I “take responsibility for my part in the Duke Case.” Hey, if people really want to know what I think about the Duke Case, who am I to deprive them?

Let me be clear: I have no problem apologizing if I implicitly or explicitly stated the guilt of the Duke students before they had a fair trial on some other blog's comments. Such actions are, indeed, unethical and contribute to the failures of the justice system. That is not something that I want to do intentionally or unintentionally. Nonetheless, I never wrote an entry on the case here or on any other blog.

I don't have a problem with right-wing bloggers forcing left-wing bloggers to eat crow when they have crossed a line and been caught at it. That is a healthy part of free speech (concerns about free speech, I suspect, is not really involved in these accusations, which I will discuss in a moment).

Too many leftist bloggers did cross the line and write about the students as guilty without first-hand knowledge of the case. We can, of course, understand why they might have been inclined to do so. This nation’s history is riddled with cases where women, especially women of color, have been deprived of justice when they have been sexually assaulted. The media also made the case into something that had to be debated. Nonetheless, we all have to be vigilant in understanding how each case develops and remembering that every individual is guaranteed some basic rights, including the presumption of innocence.

The mishandling of the Duke Case could have provided real opportunities for people who consider themselves on the right or conservative to take a moral high ground. Had they desired, they could have become leaders by building coalitions with the left to solve common problems. Without a doubt, the Duke Case exposed that many U.S. police departments and district attorney’s offices are inadequate and geared to politics rather than justice. Those are issues we all should be concerned about, regardless of our political leanings.

It also revealed that the media was not at all an agent of justice, but rather sought to capitalize on the furor around the case for their own rewards. For this and many other reasons, I no longer think that it is valid to debate whether the media has a “conservative” or a “liberal” bias. Such debates only maintain that status quo, making us part of the “info-tainmaint” that has replaced actual news in this nation. We all, on the right and left, need to recognize that the media in this nation, composed of profit-driven mega-corporations, is not serving anybody’s interests in this society.

Alas, though, most people on the right passed on such opportunities for real change. Instead, they have decided to use the Duke case as a means to distract, or even to try to silence and intimidate people. Indeed, they don’t bother with details like whether I really wrote about the Duke Case on this blog or not. Instead, they have presumed that I must have done so because of their own assumptions about who they imagine I am as a person. I have constantly pointed out to my new buddy Joey7777, for instance, that I never had an entry on this topic, but that did not satisfy him.

After many empty statements lacking any real evidence about my supposed deep investment in this case and support of the District Attorney (whose name I had to actually look up), the only thing that he could point to was a comment by me that I allegedly wrote on Angry Black Bitch. After reviewing the past files on the topic on her blog (which, by the way, maintained its own strict journalistic standards when talking about the accused players as far as I can tell), I found only one statement from me on the topic (and I spent most of it discussing the media coverage rather than the “alleged rapists”). Why bother with little things like how much I wrote when you can just make shit up because you think it must be true anyway? Joey7777 has written much more about my supposed writings on the case than I ever actually wrote myself. The Alanis-Morisette-level of irony of making facile accusations about a case centered on false accusations seems to be lost on Joey7777 (Who has time for irony when you are certain that you are right?). Perhaps his next step will be to falsify some entries under my name.

I am not interested in these accusations because of what they say or don’t say about me and my supposed culpability in the case. Trust me, this post’s mere subject is likely to generate an unending rant of hate mail and hasty comments (Thank the goddess this blog is almost dead). I try to keep a sense of humor about such things. To paraphrase the immortal words of Kylie Minogue: Regardless of the hand that is dealt, the joker is always smiling in every deck of cards.

Instead, I am interested in how individuals like Joey7777 are attempting to use the Duke Case to simply get people on the left to shut up while pretending like they care about "justice."

Indeed, some are even deploying a guilty-by-association strategy. Such things can be seen in a discussion in another blog about gays and race (one that I don’t normally read, but there was mention of me, so I was vain enough to look it up). To be honest, in that comment section, I would say neither the left nor the right were really engaged in a productive discussion. However, a telling moment came when somebody dismissed all potential participation by one blogger by stating:

    “YOU shouldn't be criticizing anyone if you're friends with that GayProf comic book doofus. Referring to the Duke case, again: Gay Prof was all over the place saying the guys were guilty and how it represented "racism, sexism, colonialism, homophobia, misogyny…blah blah…" (all the b.s. these academics play around with), and then when the guys turned out innocent GayProf skulked away and hid from the story. So don't go knocking other guys if you're buds with that racist weasel.”

Aren’t they sweet and ever so respectful? That's Professor Comic Book Weasel to you.

We can again set aside the fact that I did not actually blog about the case and rarely even commented on other blogger’s posts about the case (hardly constituting me writing about it “all over the place”). Instead , there is a telling rhetorical strategy at play here. According to this person, if you even knew somebody who once blogged about the case (or, in this instance, seemed like they might have blogged about the case), you are apparently forever robbed from talking about race, racism, shaking up the status quo, or possibly saying anything ever again. Hmm, that's a free society in the making.

My special buddy Joey7777 fancies himself as “doing his part not to let academic sneaks and bullies get away with trying to hurt innocent people.” That’s cool with me. We/I make lots of mistakes. He can look forward to pointing out each and every one if he so desires. It's unlikely that I will respond. He has also invited me to e-mail him. I think I'll pass on that, too.

I would suggest, though, that if he was really invested in questions about social justice in this nation that he could focus his efforts on people and circumstances that matter a lot more than a random prof with a blog and a Wonder-Woman kink. He might, for instance, take an interest in the racial and economic disparity that exists in our prison system. There are many innocent people who did not have the resources that permitted the Duke students to fight the system.

Or he might consider what it means that the International Court of Justice has ruled that the U.S. has violated the rights of over fifty Mexican nationals currently on death row under the terms of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. In August of the past year, a ruling from the ICJ concluded that Texas authorities had mishandled one of those death-penalty cases resulting in a prisoner being deprived his basic rights, thus necessitating a stay of execution. The state of Texas ignored both the ICJ ruling and appeals from the UN and Mexico City, moving ahead with his murder. Every comment written here could be time spent saving people's lives and reforming our justice system. To each his own, though.

Indeed, my beloved trolls would do well to follow the statements of one of the actual Duke students involved in the case. In a statement to the press, this student reminded us that it was their status and access to financial resources that helped them to attain their release. “This entire experience has opened my eyes up to a tragic world of injustice I never knew existed,” he said, “If police officers and a district attorney can systematically railroad us with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, I can’t imagine what they’d do to people who do not have the resources to defend themselves. So rather than relying on disparaging stereotypes and creating political and racial conflicts, all of us need to take a step back from this case and learn from it.” I tend to agree.

In the meantime, I wonder how long before GayProf is linked to the Weather Underground. . .