Friday, December 17, 2010

Give It Up

December is passing by rather quickly. While we all know that I celebrate the winter Lunar celebration for the goddess Diana (wink), others are preparing for the big C. Or the big H (sometimes also C). Or the big K. The pressures of finding the perfect gifts for your loved ones, traveling to see your loved ones, and then spending an ungodly amount of time with your loved ones is likely driving you all batty. It’s like GayProf always says, “Family: Can’t live with them, can’t shove them in a trunk and drive them over a cliff.”

As I prepare the invisible jet for my return to Paradise Island, I wanted to offer my annual help to the loyal legions who keep vigil in cyberspace. Allow me to be your guide as you navigate these gift giving rituals. There is still plenty of time to figure out just what type of message you want to send with your presents this year:


    The Gift: A bottle of bourbon.

    What the Giver Meant: You’re a drunken bastard.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Give me, give me, give me.


    The Gift: A hands-free infrared soap dispenser.

    What the Giver Meant: You’re a dirty bastard

    What the Receiver Thinks: Anal retentive much?


    The Gift: A nativity set with characters from Star Trek, including Mr. Spock as Jesus.

    What the Giver Meant: You’re a nerdy bastard.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Maybe Shatner was right. Maybe I do need to get a life.


    The Gift: An assortment of flavored hot chocolates.

    What the Giver Meant: I want you to be warm and toasty in these cold winter nights.

    What the Receiver Thinks: I’d rather have a bottle of bourbon.


    The Gift: A year-long membership on

    What the Giver Meant: You're a horny bastard.

    What the Receiver Thinks: I guess that I can use this if Grindr is ever down.


    The Gift: A year-long membership to

    What the Giver Meant: You're a lonely bastard.

    What the Receiver Thinks: I’d rather have a bottle of bourbon.


    The Gift: A year-long membership to

    What the Giver Meant: You're a creepy, Christian bastard.

    What the Receiver Thinks: I don't need anybody in my life because my ability to smugly judge others keeps me warm through the night.


    The Gift: A give away tax plan for the wealthy.

    What the Giver Meant: I ignore the people who elected me in a futile effort to curry favor with the people who will forever hate me.

    What the Receiver Thinks: I see we are still waiting on that spine donor.

    The Gift: Mid-century modern ceramics

    What the Giver Meant: I am a man of exceptional style and taste.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Somebody has been watching Mad Men a bit too much.


    The Gift: The DVD collection of Glee.

    What the Giver Meant: You’re a gay bastard.

    What the Receiver Thinks: I still have fantasies that high school could have been fun.


    The Gift: The DVD collection of Modern Family.

    What the Giver Meant: You like shows with non threatening Latina and/or gay characters who subtly conform to societal stereotypes.

    What the Receiver Thinks: I enjoy the stifling suburban status quo.


    The Gift: The DVD collection of Dallas.

    What the Giver Meant: You’re an out-of-touch bastard.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Why did the eighties have to end?


    The Gift: A product made in the state of Arizona.

    What the Giver Meant: I have no social conscience.

    What the Receiver Thinks: I need better friends.


    The Gift: A Dodge Challenger!

    What the Giver Meant: It’s not like Chrysler is going to be around much longer.

    What the Receiver Thinks: I have the best friends.


    The Gift: A reclining chair with built-in massaging technology.

    What the Giver Meant: You’re a lazy bastard.

    What the Receiver Thinks: I wish it had come with a bedpan.


    The Gift: Tea Party Paraphernalia.

    What the Giver Meant: You're a crazy bastard.

    What the Receiver Thinks: ? (When dealing with the crazed, your guess is as good as mine.)


    The Gift: A copy of NERPoD.

    What the Giver Meant: Somebody, somewhere, should read this thing.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Was the bookstore out of Secret Historian?


    The Gift: A humidifier and a tub of Vick’s vapor rub.

    What the Giver Meant: You’re a sickly bastard.

    What the Receiver Thinks: (Unable to receive gift because you are in bed).


    The Gift: Your own blog.

    What the Giver Meant: You’re a whining bastard. Now you can vent your spleen without me having to listen to it.

    What the Receiver Thinks: This would have been interesting... Five years ago (Unless you are an academic, in which case you feel really hip having a blog).


    The Gift: A wildly inappropriate airport screening procedure.

    What the Giver Meant: Hey, if we make this a big enough dog and pony show nobody will notice that we blew an obscene amount of money on machines that will do nothing to make us safer.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Basic human dignity was overrated.

    The Gift: A gift card.

    What the Giver Meant: You’re an impossible-to-shop-for bastard.

    What the Receiver Thinks: You shouldn’t have gone to the trouble! Cash would have been just fine.


    The Gift: A Wii entertainment center.

    What the Giver Meant: You’re an adolescent bastard.

    What the Receiver Thinks: We are so having a slumber party this weekend.


    The Gift: An ipad.

    What the Giver Meant: I am a slave to the Apple corporation and have confused capitalist brand identification with actual individuality.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Here is an overpriced toy that will end up sitting in a drawer in six months.


    The Gift: A window’s based PC tablet.

    What the Giver Meant: I was too cheap to buy the ipad.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Why is it on fire?


    The Gift: An all expense paid trip to Madrid!

    What the Giver Meant: The holidays are meant to be enjoyed.

    What the Receiver Thinks: This is the best present, ever!


    The Gift: A trip to see your family that you have to pay for yourself!

    What the Giver Meant: The holidays are meant to be endured.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Life is suffering.


    The Gift: Diamonds!

    What the Giver Meant: You’re a greedy bastard.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Marilyn was right.


    The Gift: A key holder disguised as a realistic rock.

    What the Giver Meant: You’re a forgetful bastard.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Where am I?


    The Gift: A lava lamp.

    What the Giver Meant: You’re a stoned bastard.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Where am I?


    The Gift: The soundtrack for Burlesque.

    What the Giver Meant: You’re a campy bastard.

    What the Receiver Thinks: I missed my calling as a Cher drag queen.


    The Gift: The Clapper.

    What the Giver Meant: You’re an old bastard.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Well, I suppose it is better than the clap.


    The Gift: A Tom and Jerry bowl with matching cups.

    What the Giver Meant: You’re a weird bastard.

    What the Receiver Thinks: Now my 1930s dish collection is complete!


    The Gift: A three-month membership to a gym.

    What the Giver Meant: You’re a fat bastard.

    What the Receiver Thinks: You’re just a bastard.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Center of Fabulous

Remember that Part II of my discussion with VUBOQ can be found here. In this addition, VUBOQ shares his special holiday cocktail recipes. It's like blogging with Martha Stewart. Well, if Martha Stwart were a gay man. What am I saying? "If!"

There is even more sequins, glitter, and Cher!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Inside the Blogging Studio with VUBOQ

Over the past five years, blogging has allowed me to meet some mighty cool people in real life. On that list is the ever effervescent VUBOQ (not to mention his superfantabulous cuzin who happens to be my superfantabulous neighbor). The time had come for us to sit down for a special holiday spectacular:


VUBOQ: As you all know, GayProf is Full of the Gravitas. However, I am lucky enough to know the GayProf in the Real Life (yay! You may all envy/worship me). And, since I know him in the Real Life, I know that he is not always Full of the Gravitas. Sometimes he is Full of the Light-Heartedness and Fun and, sometimes he can be a little bit silly (especially after a couple of bottles of red wine).

GayProf: Ugh – I was full of the Spanish red. Man, I still have a hangover from your visit.

VUBOQ: So, for this joint post, my goal is to show the rest of Blogtopia this side of the GayProf. We are going to discuss the fun, the frivolous, the sparkly, the glittery, and the tons of f**king sequins.

But, we are going to start with the Food (and the booze!) ...

I had the very good fortune to visit GayProf in Midwestern Funky Town recently (you may have read about it!). During that visit, he taught me and my superfantabulous cuzin how to make tamales. For those of you who don't know, GayProf is from New Mexico, which is not a foreign country (*cough* right *cough*). BUT, they do make foreign food ... like tamales! Normally, the tamales are made with the pork products. Such as pork. and lard. However, GayProf, knowing that I am vegetarian and have eschewed all meat, made his beloved tamales without the pieces of shredded and mutilated dead pig. Our tamales were made with Crisco© (*gasp*) and beans.

GayProf: I still can’t believe that I grew up believing that Crisco© was somehow a healthy alternative to lard. They lied to me! Lard is really the only way to go. It is the secret ingredient to all great Mexican cooking.

VUBOQ: Piglet (no matter how delicious he may be) did not die for our tamales. And they were YUMMERz. Really. Ask the GayProf's Sparkly Contingent of Gays who were at his little dinner party (we'll be discussing the place settings later ... trust me).

GayProf: You’re not going to mock my dishmania, are you?

VUBOQ: Never. I may playfully poke fun, though. Anyway, his willingness to cast aside his love for Cruelly Raised and Brutally Slaughtered Pigs just for my eating preference is yet another reason I totes *heart* the GayProf.

GayProf: It turns out that I was eager to try a tamale alternative to my usual (absurdly delicious) pork filled versions. Beans worked out pretty well. It does make me wonder, though, why Mexican food in general doesn’t get the respect it deserves. To my mind, it is one of the classic world cuisines: easily identifiable and supremely influential. Yet, the only time the mainstream media gives it any credit is if a white boy adopted it (i.e. Bobby Flay or Rick Balis).

VUBOQ: Which brings us to the main point of this section: VEGETARIAN COOKING. It really isn't that difficult. And modifying UberMeaty recipes into something a vegetarian can eat isn't that difficult. Right, GayProf?

GayProf: Vegetarian cooking is hell. It’s only because I adore you so that I even attempt it.

You see, I only know how to make basically six things. Five of them involve meat in some form or another. I was glad that the bean tamales turned out somewhat okay. Otherwise it would have been quiche forever.

VUBOQ: There is nothing wrong with the quiche. Real men eat it, I hear.

GayProf: Don’t get me wrong, I admire the vegetarians (less so the vegans, who just take things too damn far (Hate mail for GayProf can be sent in care of VUBOQ at If I spend anytime thinking about the way animals suffer for our food, it makes me want to be a vegetarian. But, then I don’t think about it. La-la-la-la-la-la – Can’t hear you. I am pretty weak willed when it comes to meat, as it turns out.

Still, I’m not somebody who has to eat meat everyday. I am more than happy to have a basic bean burrito as my meal. Plus, I adore tofu. As I recall, somebody was supposed to give me a cooking lesson with tofu while he visited. **cough-cough**

It does remind me of those faux vegetarians we talked about while you were in MFT. I’ll do my best to accommodate guests who are really committed to vegetarianism (or who have similar religious convictions), but I have no patience for the people who are “vegetarian,” but make exceptions for seafood. What evidence is there that a tuna is somehow less likely to suffer pain and panic than a chicken? Frankly, it seems likely to me that a tuna is probably a bit smarter than chickens. And, as cooking goes, few things are more cruel than lobster and crab. Vegetarians who eat seafood are like people who claim that they are kosher, except they love a side of bacon in a thick cream gravy every now and again. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.

VUBOQ: Yes, the fake vegetarians grate on my last nerve. Although, I have found that their calling themselves “vegetarian” is because they don’t know the correct word for their particular eating habits. Fish-eating vegetarians are pescatarians, derived from the Greek root “pesce” meaning “not a vegetarian.” Vegetarians who eat chicken (or any other meat product) are Filthy Dirty Liars.

Haha! I kid. Vegetarians, who sometimes supplement their diets with the flesh of dead animals, are flexitarians. See? You can learn something and still be sparkly and fabulous. Now, go forth and educate the masses!

GayProf: Flexitarians? I thought that was a category on Manhunt.

Tune in tomorrow at VUBOQ's place for the conclusion of our musings.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

What to Wear, What to Wear: Part VI

Autumn is passing rather quickly for me. Such is the advantage of a research leave. I have taken full advantage of it by traveling, traveling, traveling. The only downside is that my gym schedule has been thrown totally out of whack. Erratic time at the gym brings on the ever present threat of an expanding waistline. I just hope by the end of my leave I'm not going to need a crane and Richard Simmons to get me out of my house.

For the time being, I have temporarily returned to MFT (before leaving again next week for Midwestern Metropolis). With an upcoming party on my social calendar, I must face my age-old question of what costume to wear for Halloween. As you all known, I often aim for great ideas, but end up appearing in a disappointing result:

    What I aim for:
    Robin Hood --

    He stands as a classic symbol for the fight for economic justice by stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

    What I end up with:
    Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner --

    He stands as a classic symbol of incompetence and greed by stealing from the poor to give to multinational corporations. I suppose Obama thinks that he is doing a "heck of a job."

    What I aim for:
    Father Charles Coughlin --

    For some people, the mere sight of any Catholic priest is enough to send them running to hide in the basement. Father Coughlin took it to a whole other level by finding new ways to abuse his access to the media. Coughlin started his famed radio program in Royal Oak, Michigan by appealing to working people during the Great Depression. He soon learned that he could play upon their real concerns and fears to promote his unhinged, conspiratorial racist beliefs. By the end of the decade he would be known for his antisemitic tirades and valorization of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. Few other costumes could capture "evil" quite so well.

    What I end up with:
    Glenn Beck --

    For some people, the mere sight of any white, conservative, overweight, straight man is enough to send them running to hide in the basement.Beck frightens small children to be sure, but we’ve seen it all before. Beck’s radio and television program exploits the fears of working people during this economic crisis to foster his unhinged conspiracy theories and accusations that President Obama has “a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture"(Yes, he actually said that). In the end, though, his buffoonery will result in him slipping into historical obscurity having been shamed and discredited.


    What I aim for:
    Nichelle Nichols --

    Lt. Uhura might not have had much to do on the bridge of the Enterprise back in the 1960s, but Nichols gave the role class and dignity. That was no small task given that her basic function involved mastering the use of an intergalactic hold button. She broke both gender and racial boundaries by portraying a bridge officer with real command credit.

    What I end up with:
    Zoë Saldaña --

    Lt. Uhura might not have had much to do on the bridge of the Enterprise back in 2008, but Saldaña managed to make the role totally retrograde by going along with the idea that Uhura’s chief function should be to either cheer up or make out with Mr. Spock (or making out with Mr. Spock to cheer him up).


    What I aim for:
    Gordon Bethune --

    I’m not one to celebrate CEO’s, trust me. Nonetheless, even the most ardent critic has to give credit to Bethune for dramatically changing the fortunes and service on Continental Airlines during the 1990s. When he assumed control of the airline in 1994, it had already filed for bankruptcy twice and looked to be heading there again. He had an astounding philosophy that customer satisfaction and employee contentment were critical to the success of any business (Basically heresy today).

    What I end up with:
    Jeff Smisek --

    We can credit the demise of Continental Airline’s quality with Smisek's (or, as I think of him, Sleazek's) decision to merge with United Airlines, the airline that most often finishes dead last in every measure of customer satisfaction and employee contentment. Sleazek also brought the philosophy of nickle-and-dimeing his customers to death for everything from food to baggage fees. But, hey, why do you need happy customers when you are part of a greedy new airline monopoly? Of course, special thanks should go to the Obama administration for catering once again to the interests of corporations over the needs of consumers.

    What I aim for:
    Cylon --

    In the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, the lumbering metal cylons existed as muscular killing machines. Not since the adventures of Odysseus had the lack of depth perception seemed so terrifying. From the ever-satisfying “voom, voom” sound that they made to their rotating swiss-army-knife arms, these were some richly satisfying robots.

    What I end up with:
    Twiki --

    As a youngster, I adored all robots in popular film (B-9 from Lost in Space, R2-D2, V.I.N.Cent., C-3PO (especially C-3PO)). Yet, Twiki almost always got on my nerves. And that’s funny, because his head was shaped exactly like a penis. That usually appeals to me.

    What I aim for:
    Feminist Activist

    Having recently perused the Halloween offerings for women (Drag is always an option...), I am struck by how much this holiday has suddenly demanded that women dress like prostitutes – both literally and figuratively. When manufactures are pushing costumes labeled “Sexy Ghostbuster” or “Army Seductress,” you know we need a feminist intervention.

    What I end up with:
    Sarah Palin

    Alas, I would end up looking like a woman who has reaped all the benefits of feminist activism (such as access to politics, being able to manage both a career and a family, media interest), but who nonetheless supports a party and politics that seeks to undermine women in multiple ways.


    What I aim for:
    Lady GaGa --

    Being somewhat contrarian, I have been slow to jump aboard the GaGa train. Still, I give the woman credit for capturing the nation’s imagination. Not since Elton John has a musical artist said so much with eyewear.

    What I end up with:
    Toni Basil --

    Don’t get me wrong, the song and video for “Hey Mickey” probably shaped my sense of gender and sexuality in ways that only years of therapy will uncover. Still, if you know this reference you are probably too old to be parading around town in any costume.


    What I aim for:
    A wet mop --

    Say what you will, but we all need a mop from time to time. They serve a much needed service to keep our households clean and fresh.

    What I end up with:
    Tea-Party Senate Candidate Joe Miller --

    I might be willing to degrade myself, but turning out looking like Miller would just make me cry. Let’s not forget that this is the man who said the United States should draw a page from East Germany when thinking about its border with Mexico (Yes, he really said that). I can’t help but think that the wet mop would likely be a more informed and thoughtful candidate.

    What I aim for:
    Wonder Woman --

    Could there be a better ideal for me to aspire to attain? She is smart, strong, bold, and brave. Granted, her costume might require a corset and enough spirit gum to build a space shuttle, but isn’t it worth it?

    What I end up with:
    A Hot-Topic Refugee --

    Alas, not only are her clothes dreadfully uninspired, she ended up being poorly written and juggling more continuity problems than the last season of Lost. If that wouldn't make her a disappointing choice for a costume, I also wouldn't be able to get the epic boob job required to reach that 42 DD.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bully, Bully

Like many people, I have been haunted by the recent revelations of bullying of GLBTQ youth in schools and universities. These tragedies have shocked people, I think, because there has been a presumption that somehow homophobia had been “solved” in our society. Indeed, before these news stories broke, both hetero and queer friends commented to me that they had faith in the future because the younger generation was immune from the hangups of the bad ol’ days. “It’s not like when we were kids” was a common refrain. Having spent several years in TexAss and hearing from students there, I knew that the picture was not quite as rosy as everybody hoped.

Having previously blatantly plagiarized borrowed liberally been inspired by Dan Savage’s humor, I was drawn to his “It Gets Better Campaign.” This project collects videos from queer people across the world who want to offer words of hope to young people. If you haven’t done so, spend some time watching these stories and learn about how they lived through the bullying and found a better life.

It probably won’t surprise anybody, but my gravitas found shape in some pretty grim experiences as a young person. Growing up in a Latino/Irish Catholic family during the 1980s meant that I heard clearly and frequently that being gay was not an acceptable option. Compounding that was my father’s alcoholism and abusive tendencies, which were themselves compounded by his irregular income. Having enjoyed a pretty solid middle class existence through elementary school, my entrance into middle school coincided with my family becoming broke, erratic, and unpredictable. For the next ten years we would be perpetually wondering if our utilities would be shut off again or how ends would be met. We walked on eggshells in the hopes that my father wouldn't have an outburst. To say that my home life was not a supportive and safe environment is a bit like saying the Titanic had some minor design flaws.

I can’t pinpoint one particular incident when the school bullying started, but it is worth noting that we are not talking about an occasional scuffle or a few harsh words from time to time. It was a daily eight-hour marathon of intense harassment starting in the seventh grade. I became a master of time management having been able to pace my walk to the bus stop so that it was only a minute or two from the time that the bus would arrive (as I was certainly going to be tormented, probably beat up, if I dared to show up too early). For those who have never been fortunate enough to take a school bus, let me tell you how lucky you are. They are basically rolling sardine cans of torture. The bus driver is usually too focused on keeping the thing on the road (and probably nursing a hangover) to intervene in what is transpiring in the rear of the bus.

At one point, a new driver did try to impose order on the bus by instituting a seating chart. The “cool” kids (and being “cool” and being a bully often went hand and hand in middle school) protested against such an arrangement. “There is a fag on this bus,” one of them told the bus driver, “and we shouldn’t be forced to sit with him.” My face flushed as I tried to meld with my current seat. “Well,” the bus driver said, “what you will learn when you get older is that the fags are the ones driving the fancy sports cars while you are driving a bunch of brats around in a bus.” As empty as that sounds in retrospect, that was the closest thing to a defense that any adult offered me during the entire time that I was in middle school.

Not soon after the seat reassignments, I remember exiting the school bus one day and suddenly feeling something damp hit my cheek. Then something else wet hit my face immediately after. The intense New Mexico sun was already burning holes in the asphalt, even at 8 in the morning, so it couldn’t be rain. As I looked around quickly, I realized what was happening. The other boys in the school were spitting on me. The door to the bus closed and it drove away as I was surrounded by hacking and spewing. I pushed my way through the crowd and went to the restroom to try and washout the gobs of phlegm that were enmeshed in my hair. I considered myself lucky that none of them followed me to the boy’s room, as it was a place where I was usually guaranteed a beating and therefore avoided it at all costs during other circumstances. That pretty much sums up my middle school life: literally spat upon. Friends became a concept totally alien to me as I had zero (not a single one).

At home, I learned to avoid my father until he was safely passed out for the night. During the day, I avoided anywhere that was public, including the lunch room. To be honest, I didn’t really have money for lunch anyway. The library became a refuge where I read silently. Most of the rest of the students, it seems, had no interest in books. Reading offered not only an immediate escape, but I also had sense enough to know that education might just be a long-term salvation and perhaps the key to that promised sports car.

The library seemed like an ideal hideout until the school librarian asked me not to return anymore because my silent reading bothered her. With such an astounding adult staff, it’s a real mystery why my middle school continues to be considered one of the worst in Albuquerque to this day. After being booted from my haven, I spent my lunch time roaming the school grounds with my eyes firmly fixed on my shoes and not speaking to anybody.

High school promised a change. Well, it seemed like it might offer a change at least. The school was extremely large (my graduating class had 1,200 people) and there were assurances/expectations that I would find my niche. . . or at least one friend. Those hopes were quickly dashed on day one. Things couldn’t have been worse as I had the very bad luck to be assigned P.E. as my first class of the day. Without skipping a beat from middle school, I was instantly surrounded by another group of bullies (or occasional bullies) who asked me on that first day, “Are you a faggot, Faggot?” It made me wonder what it was about me that they had so quickly noticed. It was the first moment that they had ever laid eyes on me and yet they were already singling me out as the target of ridicule and harassment. It would be years before I was willing to really admit my sexuality to myself, but these folks were dead certain of it. When the first day ended, I remember going immediately to my room and crying. My mother diagnosed my tears as a product of being overwhelmed by the change. I knew, though, that I was more overwhelmed by the lack of change.

The bulling continued for all of that year, especially in P.E. No matter the sport we were supposed to play, my tormentors found unique and novel ways to use the equipment against me. Field hockey, which we played on a freezing patch of mud, became a venue where they would intentionally send the ball my way so that they could “legitimately” smack me around with their sticks. Volleyball, which I had until that point always imagined as a nonviolent and potentially fun sport, offered opportunities for them to spike the roughly covered ball directly into my face at full force. And those were my “teammates.” Tennis left me covered with welts from being pummeled with a barrage of yellow balls. “Dodge Ball” could only have been invented by a sadistic, homophobic jerk.

Some of you might be asking, wasn’t there a teacher assigned to this class? Were you just a bunch of little animal things let out without any supervision? Of course, the class did have a teacher of record: a relatively young man named Coach Sánchez who also happened to be in charge of the football team. Let me tell you, he either ignored the abuse I faced or tacitly approved of it. In that entire year, I remember him intervening just once. A group had clustered around me and had forgone any pretense that impending injury was just a result of athletic mishap. He disbanded the group and then roughly pushed me to a corner and asked, “Why do I have to defend you? It’s not my job. I have forty other students in this class. They're picking on you because it’s your own fault.” He was actually angry that I was “allowing” myself to become the subject of torment. I had heard of blaming the victim, but this gave me a new vantage point into that sociological concept.

It was at that precise moment that Coach Sánchez mysteriously burst into flames and melted into a bizarre waxy spot on the basketball court. Well, that’s what would have happened if I had strange mental powers at the time. Perhaps it is a good thing that I hadn’t developed those . . . yet.

Since Coach Sánchez apparently took the film Tea and Sympathy as the basis for his pedagogy, the rest of the year progressed with me living in constant fear and dread. Needless to say, his singular intervention only increased the torment. “Hey, fag” one of my tormentors told me as he pushed me against the gym lockers (the locker rooms were rarely supervised by teachers of coaches. Wasn’t that nice?), “Do you want Sánchez to take care of you? Does he know that you want to stare at his dick? Fag.” That showed how ignorant the bully really was. If I wasn’t clear in my own my mind about my sexual desires, I knew for sure that I had absolutely no attraction to Coach Sánchez (And, in retrospect, is that really what he imagined two gay people did together? Just stared at each other’s penis? Idiot.).

My freshman year continued to be painful and intensely lonely. During health class that year, my teacher informed us that having gay sex was a one-way ticket to death by AIDS. Listening to him made one think that a date with another man would start with dinner and a show and end in bodybags and morticians. I delved deeper into reading and was grateful that at least the highschool library stayed open during lunch.

My story didn’t include the nice ways that the media presents stories of queer youth on television. No open-minded and understanding adult appeared to save me from the bullies or offer much assurance at all that being queer was actually a good thing. No peer reached out a helping hand or words of kindness. Nor did my hidden fantasies, informed heavily by the media, come true with a white knight appearing on the horizon to rescue me. In the end, there was only me left to figure out what to do. I know that I would have been so relieved and comforted had the "It Gets Better" campaign existed when I was young. Even the assurances of strangers would have made a big difference.

True to the current campaign’s name, things did get better for me. Much better. Thank the goddess, New Mexico only required one year of P.E. I also slowly and consciously began to work on my own social skills and to actively learn how to make friends. It might seem strange, but after many years of being almost mute in public, it was tough to figure out how to hold basic conversations. Rightly or wrongly (Healthily or unhealthily?), I also learned to totally compartmentalized the chaos at home as well. I also started working which brought me into contact with people who were already in college. My real path to queer salvation didn’t occur until I entered university too, but I did manage to find a place for myself by the end of highschool.

Today, I might still be waiting on that sports car, but I have a pretty darn good life. My job is cushy and rewarding. I have lots of friends who adore me. Plus, I can be as out as I possibly can be, including in the classroom.

I am angry that my young GLBTQ brothers and sisters continue to suffer the same types of harassment that I endured. The bullying, isolation, and despair that GLBTQ teenagers experience in this country is tied directly to the ways that our lives are discounted in our larger society. It is a discounting that starts right at the top. President Barack Obama says that he thinks queer people should have some rights, but not equal rights and that heterosexual institutions need to be “protected” [apparently from us].
Keep in mind we are supposed to consider him our ally. What else can young people conclude but that queer people are less valuable? It seems to me that school grounds are simply enacting the inequalities that exist throughout our society. Indeed, recent news stories reveal that young immigrant youths are also being tormented and tortured on their school grounds. I would argue that it is a similar symptom of the way this country has demonized others and sent the message that certain people in our society are open targets.

I suppose the traditional ending to these types of recollections should include a wise and informed gesture to the idea that these are the things that made me who I am. Or, for those of us who were raised Catholic, we are to marvel that the challenges which did not kill us actually made us stronger. Well, if that were true, shouldn’t I have developed those strange mental powers by now? With all the shit that I went through, I should at least be able to levitate a table or something.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Reality Bites

Recent news about the status of gays in this country can be chilling to say the least. These stories range from the frustratingly absurd, like Republicans blocking the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” to the heartbreaking, including revelations of torment and bulling in individual lives. In the midst of these stories, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) recently reported that the number of fictional gays and lesbians being represented on scripted television increased slightly (up to a still paltry 3.9 percent of all characters from the previous year’s 2.6). It draws into question, if there are more images of queer folk on television than ever before, how does this reconcile with the lack of GLBTQ equality in the United States?

Certainly I do marvel at how much attitudes have changed since I first came out in the early nineties. At the time, the best one could hope for on television was a “very special” episode where a never-before-seen friend reveals that he or she is gay to the protagonist. The rest of those stories tend to be devoted to watching how that central character came to terms with the revelation. While these types of episodes did usually have a core message about “tolerance,” they more often served to emphasize just how “charitable” the main character was deep down. Once established, we would never see or hear mention of that gay friend ever again.

By the early nineties, fledgling attempts at “reality” television marked a sudden departure in representations of gay people. MTV’s The Real World and other similar shows began to show gay people with actual lives and concerns themselves, often times that had little to do with the straight people who surrounded them. This opened the flood gates to making at least one gay person de rigueur for any new reality program. Scripted television has likewise come along a bit in terms of adding gay men and lesbians as supporting characters. Yet, those shows tend to only make queer people accessible if they are white and safely locked in suburbia (That, though, is another blog post entirely). Despite these changes, “reality” television (which is usually anything but its namesake) remains the touchstone for gay representation. We would do well well to consider some recent forms of this entertainment.

My students these days have never known an era of television without gay and lesbian representations (transgender people, on the other hand, remain almost totally invisible – But that is a subject for another post). It is jarring to me when they mention that Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (which I still tend to think of as “new”) was something that they enjoyed while in middle school. If Queer Eye represented a type of breakthrough in terms of the number of gay people in any given show, it also set the stage for remaking reality representations of those same people. Gone were the notions that GLBTQ people had independent lives that were worth learning about for their own sake. Instead, we found that reality television had come to depend upon representing our community (particularly gay men) as having value only in as much as they either entertained or served straight people. The show avoided delving into any of the leads actual lives and instead defined them by the job they performed for a socially inept straight man. In the end, I suppose it was better to help dress a straight man than be beat up by one.

Over the summer, a number of new and noteworthy reality shows launched featuring gay men and lesbians as the central stars. Each owes more than a little debt to Queer Eye. The producers of these new shows clearly sought to attract both a core queer audience as well as a more mainstream hetero viewership. They walk a tightrope between providing representations of gays who appeal to insider camp sensibilities while making sure that they also don’t threaten the hetero status quo.

On the Road with Austin and Santino reconciles those seemingly contradictory goals perfectly. The show centers on two former reality show contestants on a cross-country road trip together. Personally, I have adored the titular Austin Scarlett since he captured my imagination during the first season of Project Runway. Scarlett proved his talents by crafting impeccable fashion, including a memorable dress made out of corn-husks. I always felt that he was robbed of his spot in the final three (seemingly because the producers wanted a contestant who would provide more backstage drama). Aside from his glamorous persona, Project Runway highlighted his strong work ethic. While other designers went out drinking, Scarlett puritanically stayed in his hotel room to be well rested for the next day’s work. He also expressed a self-awareness that his nonconformity would provide inspiration to younger viewers who might be feeling harassed. I like that.

In his new program, Scarlett joined with his real-life friend Santino Rice for a Greek-inspired odyssey across the United States. Along the way, they stop in small towns, locate a specific heterosexual woman who needs a fashionable frock, and, after an appropriate amount of assurances that she truly “deserves” their services, they present the teary-eyed woman with the fruits of their labor. All in all, it is a pretty formulaic make-over show. To distinguish itself, the show looks to wring humor out of the notion that Austin and Santino are “fish out of water” in the small towns that they visit. In addition to the dress making, Austin and Santino frequently participate in the town’s local activities (like riding horses, fishing, or babysitting). The show implicitly juxtaposes Austin and Santino’s dilated personas against the austere town folk who surround them. Executive producer Rich Bye has commented on the reactions that some town people have had, noting “They would have been less surprised if an alien beamed into their store. They just kept staring. They didn't say a word.”

The show thereby makes gayness something that is always removed or set outside of the supposedly heterosexual towns that they visit. If Austin and Santino arrive to temporarily add some glamour and urbanity to the dull grey towns that they visit, then the town is also assured that they will just as quickly exit so that things will return to “normal.” Any hint that Austin or Santino might challenge local views of queer sexuality are avoided.

Many of the episodes center on the two preparing a dress for either a wedding or an anniversary. In an era where marriage equality dominates political discussions about queer life, it is striking that neither Austin nor Santino ever note the inability of gay men to celebrate comparable milestones legally. Instead, they happily work away to satisfy the needs of their heterosexual clients without complaint. While we occasional get hints of the affection the two have for each other, we also never learn much about their own romantic interests or ambitions. The show implicitly subjugates queer desires in order to highlight the supposedly more valuable heterosexual relationships on the show.

Perhaps I can come to understand why Lifetime, a network that started by targeting an audience of [heterosexual] women, would create such a representation of gay men. But the gay network Logo’s decisions about Rupaul’s Drag University leave me almost entirely baffled. I have previously written that I am a fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race. That show excelled because it presented an impressively diverse cast that reflected a wide range of drag performers (even if I remain concerned that the show also discriminates against contestants with non-English accents). So when Logo announced Drag University as the new companion series, I expected that it would center on established drag queens mentoring young gay men who desired a career in drag. Wrong!

The show actually focuses on “biological” women being tutored by the established drag queens. Prof. Susurro has an excellent assessment of the show’s positives. I agree with her totally (after all, she starts and ends the post by agreeing with me). The show does provide an unusual opportunity to see mostly working class women claiming the spotlight. In good Judith-Butler fashion, the show also utilizes drag as a means to highlight how all gender roles are artifices that can be manipulated at will (regardless of the anatomy of the performer). It also provides a strong emphasis on claiming femininity as a source of power. "Ultimately, DragU is a comedic send up of a genre I find largely detrimental to both the female viewers and female participants," Prof. Susurro notes, "While it is nothing deeper or more meaningful than light entertainment, it does it with the kind of diversity and attention to people’s needs that rings decidedly hollow in shows that claim to take these things seriously." All of that is great for me.

At the same time, though, the show also makes the drag queens into little more than exposition for the straight women’s transformations. Much attention is given to the straight women’s ambitions and personal relationships (I am also more than a bit disturbed by how many of the contestants report that they are participating in the show to please their man rather than for their own enjoyment, but that is another entry entirely). The drag queens, meanwhile, apparently have no lives outside of the work room. They are given only enough airtime to sprinkle the screen with glitter and sassy one-liners before literally being cast to the sidelines while straight women take over the stage.

The phenomena of queer helpers improving the lives of deserving heteros isn’t the exclusive territory of gay men, either. Out-lesbian trainer Jackie Warner has been given a new reality program on the network Bravo. In place of her first show, which emphasized Warner’s grappling with personal and professional commitments, the new show relegates Warner to the sidelines as she trains a group of straight women and men (and one gay man, who is set up as the comic relief on the program) to lose some weight. Warner acts as a combination of therapist and cheerleader to the show’s central figures.

Shows like Austin and Santino, Drag U, and Warner’s program suggest the compromises that have been made to get queer representation onto reality television. Queer people are acknowledged as important members of society, but only to the extent that they can provide valuable services to the dominant heterosexual community. Any explicit desires for civic and social equality are muted in favor of a narrative of mutual cooperation and humorous shenanigans. Queer people become hetero helpers, monitoring their fashion sense and opening the gates to their own happiness.

Maybe the only summer reality program that sought a more balanced view of queer life appeared on the obscure network Planet Green. The Fabulous Beekman Boys charts the foibles of two elite New York gay men who purchase a rural farm. The show’s link to the network’s supposed environmental message is tenuous at best. Nonetheless, of the new queer reality programs Beekman manages to show queer figures as a bit more complex and multifaceted than the others (even if its cast is exclusively white). This includes the two leads, Brent and Josh, (whose bickering defines the show), a gay goat herder (who is really attached to his charges) and another gay couple (who own the local hotel), along with a number of straight people who surround the life on the farm. Beekman allows [white] gay men to be the actual story of the reality program rather than as a plot device.

Even here, though, the show could not resist putting the queer figures into the service of hetero hegemony. One episode focuses on a straight couple using the farm as the site of their wedding. We mostly see Brent’s devoted efforts to preparing the event and insuring its perfection. Unlike the other reality programs, which tend to pretend that marriage is not a political issue, at least Beekman included commentary by Josh that noted his inability to have his relationship to Josh legally sanctioned. The two had pledged that the first wedding on the farm would be theirs, but apparently Brent sorta forgot about that when he saw the size of the bride’s deposit check. In the end, even Josh set aside his political position and came to the aid of the happy straight couple. Queer people might be treated like second-class citizens, but that doesn't mean we aren't gracious hosts.

It’s hard to consider whether these queer images represent actual real people or clownish characters who spend every waking moment wondering how they can spruce up previously depressing heterosexual enclaves. I grant that it is a type of improvement after decades of media images that presented queer sexuality as something to fear and destroy. If the trade off for my sexuality not landing me in jail or sent for electroshock therapy is being forced to sew couture, then hand me that bobbin. Nonetheless, these images also tend to present queer people as frivolous and less fully human than their hetero counterparts. These shows subsume their stories, political needs, and personal desires (including, ironically, their sexual desires given that their sexuality defines their roles on these shows). Instead queer people have been relegated to being decorators and decorative objects for heterosexual escapist fantasies.