This is a terribly sad post with which to end the year ... I have been avoiding finishing it for days. But it has been a hell of year ... a year of enormous loss. So with that ...
I spent the day wandering today ... I wanted to spend some time thinking about the film that my oldest friend, Ian Mackenzie, showed us last night. The film is called The Last of the Nomads, and it is part of a CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) series called The Adventurers. (Bizarrely, the full version of the film is only available in Canada; if you are in Canada, see it here.) The film won the Grand Prize at the Banff Mountain Film Festival.
The film is about Ian's 15-year work with the Penan people of Sarawak; Ian has some further material on the Penan and his work here.
The essence of the film is about loss ... in this case, the loss of language, heritage, and way of life of a people who practiced harmony in a land of plenty for countless generations. The loss is cruel, and heartless, the result of the immoral greed of the ruling caste of Malaysia that enables the rape of the primeval rain forest which is the ancestral home of the Penan. They tried to stop the bulldozers in the 80s with their bodies, but they were carted away. The film documents the moment when Ian discovers that the last of the nomadic Penan have settled and sowed crops.
There is no doubt that this was "inevitable" in the sense of the conflict between industrial power and greed against a people armed with sticks and time. Social structures morph and change, and they can come to an end. Countless nomadic societies have settled ... not only now but for thousands of years. But the inevitable aspect of this cannot mask that it did not have to be such a guillotining ... that a rational approach to forest resources could have allowed sustainable extraction and continued forest-living for the peoples who, by any standard of dispassionate justice, "own" that forest.
But this film is about loss ... about an execution ... about the terminal act in the assault of a government on one of its people who were in the way of greed.
So I took a large part of the day to think about loss both in the broad, historical context of what Ian showed us about the Penan and in a more personal sense. I went to Three Wells in Mill Valley, a place where a seasonal stream cascades through a forested gully. My old friend June grew up in Mill Valley and played there as a child in the 30s long before Mill Valley became the preserve of a rich liberal caste who seem to shun you as you walk the back roads ... perhaps a projection of my imagination since I have long observed how the rich look askance at those who invade their preserves without invitation. June showed Three Wells to our mutual friend Kurt, who was a mentor and best friend, and who perished of the plague in 1992. Kurt and I went to Three wells on several occasions to sit by its cascading waters and examine the Universe, as he would call our discussions.
Loss is everywhere in human existence ... it is the sine qua non of progress and change and both personal and social development. That is not praise for loss, nor does it equate one loss with another. We cannot hold back the hands of time, as it were, and the hands of time are driven by loss. My education in loss, as I have addressed from time to time in these scribblings, was AIDS ... "the Deaths", I have called it ever since ... and I had to come to grips with the unendurable. Not unique ... and I not so much comforted myself as assuaged my fears by thinking of other more horrible losses that at least someone survives.
Remember the 2004 tsunami. Ian was in San Francisco when it happened, and together we consumed the news insatiably. We had traveled together in Aceh, and knew some of the scenes. Watching the footage was addictive, not only because of the sheer horror or it, but also because of the vicarious participation in loss ... trying to fathom the unimaginable, trying to settle your mind on top of something that cannot be endured.
But, of course, it is endured. As one reads history, that is the remarkable thing about our species, that we endure against all odds. The results, let alone the causes, are not always pretty ... and there is endurance against that which cannot be controlled and endurance against that which ought never to have been.
There is also the less panoramic but more personal loss. Three local institutions emblematic of an earlier period in the history of the Castro (the San Francisco neighborhood where I live and where the defining early events of gay liberation occurred) ... Welcome Home, a hippyish greasy spoon that was a haven for gay clones in the 70s and 80s; All American Boy, a long-time clothier who supplied the clones with plaid shirts and jeans back in the day; and Gay Cleaners, the Chinese laundry run by the strangely cinematic and curiously named Gay family, apparently kicked out with a month's notice after 30 years by a greedy landlord who evidently does not read the Wall Street Journal. I am cranky about these losses because they signal the yuppification of our gentrified neighborhood, and I loathe all the cell-phone toting yuppies with their dumb-struck boyfriends in tow. I fear the loss of my neighborhood.
What sort of a loss is that by comparison with a people who lose their homeland or their way of life. Our society turns over at a furious pace ... an unsustainable pace, one might argue, but we still wait for the final proof on that. One has to be careful to balance one's sense of outrage at loss against the greater losses that we witness daily in the New York Times.
Loss. No future without it. Indeed, there is not past without it. One cannot address lass without thinking of one of my guiding aphorisms ... to whit, that there is no such thing as a zero sum game.
I won't spend a lot of time thinking of a loss from which greater gain was had ... do we have modern Europe without the guillotine, Napoleon, the Franco-Prussian War, the two great wars? Probably not, although that is not to say that all the horrors were the sine qua non. Could it not have gone another way? It turns out that there is not a lot of support in history for a flower child notion that history would have been much better if only everyone just got along.
But that is never a justification for the horrors of the moment. It is no argument that we cannot "at this moment, at this time" (paraphrasing Obama) apply reason and find ways for all sides to benefit. I think of Gaza in that sense.
And I think of those poor last nomads, Ian's friends, living in a forest hut yards from their more settled cousins, wistfully and sadly, if not bitterly, contemplating a loss whose contours even they cannot fully measure. There is no good reason for it; only greed ... a well-known historical reason. I quibble with Ian about how he records the oral texts of this people before they disappear. But I admire his courage in being willing to witness up close the agony of people unjustly stripped of their heritage, and to be willing to bear witness so that people in the future may remember these last nomads.
As I thought about this and watched the water in Three Wells, I remembered old Kurt, dead these 15 years. I remembered talking with him about issues just like this as we together watched the water swirl at Three Wells. Loss, and the future, and the unimaginable that comes true no matter what.
Photos by Arod of Three Wells, Mill Valley, California.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Thursday, December 25, 2008
On Christmas Day, the rain stopped and the sun took over long enough for my annual long walk in Christmas Hat through Golden Gate Park, and especially to remember my friends at the AIDS Memorial Grove. The Christmas tree above is from the east circle below the main entrance to the Grove. Every year, some group of gnomes puts this tree up, and I added a few ornaments today. As I did, a woman of roughly my age entered the circle, and quietly kissed a specific name among those engraved. We each sat silently and thought our thoughts ... and I wished her Merry Christmas as I left her alone.
My friend Kurt reintroduced me to Christmas in 1988 when he invited me along with Tom to cosponsor "A Victorian Christmas Party" in his home. That event is the genesis of the annual party I have co-hosted with various people ever since ... though I did miss two years for reasons that seemed important then but not now. Embracing Christmas is a little like sports to me ... you choose it or not, and when you choose it, you dive right in, you make it your own. I do not believe that there is only one way to do Christmas, and I try to enjoy everyone's different take.
For me it is about Santa Claus, and the deep northern traditions that this composite and evolving character embodies. Of course, there is plenty in Santa Claus that can be laid at the doorsteps of less northern climes ... but what attracts me is the notion of a wizard distributing presents and punishing the wicked all at once. These days, we remember the gifts, of course, but pay less attention to the willow branches and canes with which earlier eras were well acquainted.
The most fun of my annual walk is using the excuse of my silly hat, pictured to the left, to wish any one I pass a jovial Merry Christmas. The more run-o-the-mill middle class the folks are, the less likely they will return the gesture. There are quite a few "You too's" which is not quite the way one is supposed to do it. The appropriate response is "And a Merry Christmas to you also." I find older black men and folks with Russian accents are the most likely to respond in kind ... just an anecdotal survey from about a decades experience. Homeless people often response with a Merry Christmas, though I admit that I tend not to engage the more insane looking of these poor souls. Today I had a Ward and June Cleaver type family that chimed back in unison a cheery Merry Christmas; I thought maybe I had stumbled through a wormhole and I was temporarily in Indiana.
This evening, I will have dinner with my best friends at Solin and Winfield's ... we've done that most every year for over a decade ... excepting the several years when they wre recovering from a nasty fire that was the fault of their neighbor. Sad tale ... but suffice to say that they recovered and their magical home is intact and more beautiful than ever. It is one of those places where Christmas feels native and natural, and the spirit of the season shines.
And we eat and drink and make merry. On Christmas Day.
When we were children, we used to put on a Christmas play every year that we spent with our maternal cousins. It took a lot of doing, and coming and going ... I wish I still had the scripts. There are no photos or videos that I know of, but it was all-consuming, a magical interlude. Sooner or later there would be a little criing and all that, but the day the summit of the year.
Still is for me ... I try to capture the magic in my mind to review it from time to time during the long grind until next year.
So I will leave it at that, and say only this ... Merry Christmas to all!
Photos by Arod ... except the one of me, and I do not remember who took it. The other two are from the AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
We saw Milk last night at the Castro Theater ... certainly the best place to see it given that most of the events happened within two blocks of there. I went with Ian and his lover Andrew and with my sainted ex, Richard. Ian and I were in gay liberation together in the 70s in Vancouver, BC. (I used to call Ian by the pseudonym Frobisher in the blog, but I am not sure why I am so circumspect and I am changing that effective now.)
What to say: it was a great movie, I was near tears from beginning to end, clutching at air. Sean Penn's Milk is perfect ... the only time I forgot he was not actually Harvey Milk was when he had his shirt off and when they showed his backside as he spoke in front of San Francisco's magisterial City Hall ... Milk just was not that buff. The Cleve Jones character was perfect ... I know Cleve, though never well and not recently.
The one historical complaint which must be made is that it failed to show the gay movement. In reality, Milk did not invent the movement, but he did ride it and to some degree inherit it. It was not Milk or Jones running from bar to bar that got those thousands of gay people to march at different times. It was the broader movement and the broader mobilization. When things happened, people knew to go to Castro and Market. At the time of the Briggs Initiative, the main local organization, never mentioned in the film, was BAGL (Bay Area Gay Liberation) ... I googled it and found virtually no references to it, although an obit for the recently deceased activist Hank Wilson mentions the name in passing. BAGL was a mass organization with a very sharp curve from nothing to everything to nothing again. It is natural for a heroic film to slide on the history in this fashion; it is more than a little painful given that the history of this era is being written by the few survivors and often by those opposed us at the time given the terrible toll from AIDS.
But aside from this problem, the film masterfully recreated the feel of the era. The apartments felt real ... disorganized and eclectic ... the meetings were real ... chaotic and sui generis. The street was like it was. Toad Hall, the bar that the cops raided ... I loved that bar. It was the hippie bar, sylvan and dark and magical sexy. The film was nostalgia on that level; I want those heroic moments of discovery and creation back ... that's what it said.
Worth noting too that the film did not "PC" the scene ... Gay Liberation was overwhelmingly a movement of gay men and of us, overwhelmingly white. We could not get women involved both because of the open hostility of feminism and because of the unfortunate tendency of the political lesbians of the time toward non-activist lesbian separatism. I do not have a straightforward answer for why more black and Asian gays did not get involved ... one cannot lay it solely at the door of community hostility because white gays also had community hostility. But the fact is that gay men made Gay Liberation, and without us it would not have occurred. There is no shame in that, notwithstanding the ceaseless and vitriolic and dismissive rewriting of history that we have to endure. Not sure how accurate the character of Anne Kronenburg is (I'll check the spelling later), but there were always one or two lesbian gay liberationists who were often shunned by mainstream feminism. In Canada, we had the recently deceased Chris Bearchell; that was pretty much it!
San Francisco was ground center of the movement. Notwithstanding that the modern movement was invented in New York. The key events occurred in very short order here. (I was an activist in Vancouver through this period in an organization called the Gay Alliance Toward Equality, GATE; we were in ready contact with San Francisco through our friend Michael Merrill, who is pictured with Harvey Milk in the immediate previous post on to this blog, and through various other activists including Howard Wallace who is still "on the pavement", as it were.) I was chilled again to see and hear Anita Bryant, the boogey man if ever there was one; I return to her below. She succeeded in turning around our gains in Dade County and in Wichita, and also in Eugene and St. Paul which then and now were viewed as liberal. You see, then as now, it was legitimate to hate us alone ... you're allowed to do it even if you cannot openly hate almost any other group; nowadays Mexicans come close to us, but still the haters have to be careful with them and refer to their immigration status not their national name.
The Briggs Initiative almost certainly failed because of how far it over-reached. But we beat the damn thing, and that was our first electoral victory, and still one of very few. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of the film in Milk's role in defeating the initiative. At the time, I was a lefty, radical gay activist (never actually a GLFer ... see previous post ... though I tended to have knee-jerk ultraleft sympathies which were kept under control by Maurice Flood, about whom I have written before). I saw the victory then as the work of the BAGL type organizations and the mass mobilization. It is obviously more complex than that. All that said, the victory was euphoric.
And then the assassination ... it seems so natural now, like it was always fated. But it was a thunderbolt. Remember that the gay explosion had the feel of an extension of the counterculture because it took place in that context and often in that milieu. We felt we were part of the new history, irresistible, always moving forward, inevitable, unbeatable. Milk's assassination brought us back to the world like an airplane slamming into a mountain. Like so many turning points in history, it was a bit of an accident. What if Milk had gone to the bathroom and White couldn't find him. What if he had delayed or had a meeting. White didn't know any of that. He went there to kill Moscone, and then take out the fag. Shots were heard, people were wondering what was happening. What if someone had raised the alarm.
That is not how it occurred and its inevitability of is bolstered only by the fact that it did occur.
But the lesson of the film is this ... as I wrote yesterday ... Gay Liberation has always been about civil rights. And the civil rights of gay people are revolutionary because they challenge the dominance of religious control of morality and the state. True then, true now.
So in the spirit of Harvey Milk, I am going to take up once more the debate in which I was involved yesterday in regard to Bob Ostertag's frankly retrograde and compromisist approach to the gay marriage struggle. It has quickly devolved into what evidently started it ... a way for gay ultralefts to provide cover for a centrist president-elect who threw us under the bus. That's how I see it. I support this centrist president-elect, and I believe that a rational centrist is precisely what we need in this country. But the celerity with which he betrayed us must be noted, and we have a moral duty to ourselves and an ethical duty to everyone to point it out loud and clear. Whether that is a protest at the inauguration or through the ample public space for debate and demonstration is up to those who choose to make their voices heard. It is not up to a cadre of compromisers peddling half-truths and shibboleths. Sorry Bob ... I have nothing but respect for you ... but you are wrong-headed on this.
I somehow got onto a mailing list on Facebook ... I assume because Bob and I are friends ... which illustrates this underlying point. One person pointed out that Melissa Ethridge if giving cover to Rick Warren; this is what someone wrote to this mailing list (spelling errors not corrected):
Check out Huff Post. Melissa Etheridge is in our camp!
WAR IS OVER IF YOU WANT IT.
We can stop GAY. Incs and Andrew Sullivan's plans to
disgrace us at the obama inagural.
Gawd noze what "WAR IS OVER" means. But I do have to point out that the success of the gay marriage protests were precisely because activists went over the heads ... or under the feet ... of the official gay organizations and organized for themselves in a modern, more-electronic version of the same stuff we did in the 70s.
Milk would have been on the side of the activists, not the ultralefts.
Then this note today on the same mailing list:
One last thought. Obama lent his image and quotes to the No on 8 campaign. He did not have to do this, it was a huge favor to our community and probably one of the reasons we did not lose in a landslide.
East Bay black politicians like Wilson Riles, Keith Carson and Maudelle Shireek have been raising our cvil rights issues for a long time in front of audiences where there wasn't a gay person in the room. I wonder what they would think of a protest at Obama's inaugural.
So some decide to thank him for this by protesting a 60 second speech by an evangelical who's mind can be changed. That is if you believe change and personal growth are possible. A friend of mine, J.-P.-, i have no idea of her sexual orientation but i know she has a mighty fine spirit, is marching in the inaugural parade and will carry Jamiacan and rainbow flags in support of us. I would hate to have a predominantly white group rain on her parade or embarrass her. It was at my behest she carry a rainbow flag rather than an HRC flag. We'll let Andreew Sullivan do that. Obama is a bigger person than I. I would be thinking "what a bunch of $#%^ing ingrates.
Hard to know where to begin with something like this ... the inventions about East Bay politicians are particularly laughable. I am not identifying the author because some day he should be ashamed of this, and he is a well-known and respected street-level AIDS activist whose entire career bespeaks courage and commitment; I respect him deeply. But his views here are, in a word, reactionary.
What Milk taught us by his example is that we must speak truth to power. Not when it is convenient for the powerful, but always. Not when it is comfortable for us, but always. Every time. Without exception. Gay Liberation is not about race and cannot be subsumed under race. It is not even about gender, in my view, though certainly the trans-folks raise compelling issues about social constructions of gender. It is about loving whom you want to love and having sex with whom you want to have sex. It is about gay people being full human beings in every sense, and having inalienably the same rights as are inalienably a part of every other free person.
So back to Anita Bryant ... as I noted above, it was chilling to hear her voice and remember how her hatred spread its dark wings and cast a shadow over our lives. There is not a whit of difference between Anita Bryant and Rick Warren ... he has himself said that he entirely agrees with the positions of James Dobson, a virulent homo-hater, except in "tone". And that alone is what distinguishes the Anita Bryant homo-haters from the Rick Warren homophobes. Tone. Nothing but tone.
Tone and the smile of a preacher will get you a kick in the teeth. That's what Obama gave us, and it has been crushing. He should have known better, but he did not. Who is going to show him what we mean and what we demand?
What would Harvey have done?
On my way to a Christmas party at Richard's ... I will try to illustrate this with some photos tomorrow or on Boxing Day.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
My friend Bob Ostertag, who blogs for the Huffington Post, has written a piece against the gay marriage strategy, and I must beg to disagree.
The essence of Bob's piece and similar approaches (see the Facebook group "I Still Think Marriage is the Wrong Goal") is that there are larger battles and that gay marriage traps us into a conservative agenda when we should be reaching out to people of color, other oppressed people, and evangelicals themselves to fight for more important issues and for more or less everything all at once. Bob's piece is considerably more eloquent than the tired cant of the Facebook group linked above. Here is his key paragraph:
"Gay marriage" turns the real issues of equal rights for sexual minorities upside down and paints us into a reactionary little corner of our own making. Yes, married people get special privileges denied to others. Denied not to just gays and lesbians, but to all others. Millions of straight people remain unmarried, and for a huge variety of reasons, from mothers whose support networks do not include their children's fathers, to hipsters who can't relate to religious institutions. We could be making common cause with them. We could be fighting for equal rights for everyone, not just gays and lesbians, but for all unmarried people. In the process we would leave religious institutions to define marriage however their members see fit.
This is actually an old debate in gay liberation that dates to the earliest struggles within the movement immediately after Stonewall. Was gay liberation about equal rights for gay people or was it about the Revolution? The former view became institutionalized in the Gay Activist Alliance (GAA), the latter in the Gay Liberation Front (GLF). The fact of history is that the GAA-type organizations led the fight for gay liberation, and the GLF organizations produced manifestos and begged the radical left to accept them. The radical left of the 70s spurned us, but we made a revolution anyway. And the freedom that gay people enjoy today in the West is a result of the activists, not the liberationists.
Applying Bob's logic to Stonewall, we could have argued ... and no doubt many GLFers did argue ... that the riot that started it all was about people going to bars. And going to bars "turns the real issues of equal rights for sexual minorities upside down and paints us into a reactionary little corner of our own making" ... one could say that the right to get drunk is not as important as civil rights for everyone.
But wars are not won in some vague general fashion. Wars come down to battles, and battles are conjunctures formed both by the broader conditions and by the particulars of the moment. Ceding the battlefield because everything is not at issue all at once guarantees defeat. Fortunately, our movement never followed the advice of the GLF types. The freedoms we enjoy today are a result of that choice.
Our enemies in 1969 understood that letting fags associate in public was a crack in their armor. They fought it then. It is noteworthy that New York Times famously downplayed the event, and refused to use the word "gay" for a long time thereafter (until years into the AIDS epidemic). Gay liberationists viewed the New York Times as an enemy; eventually it came around. Like so many of our enemies who should have been our friends from day one, they came around because we organized around civil rights, not because we had colloquia on the downfall of capitalism.
Gay Liberation has always been about civil rights. It was then, and it is today.
I can agree with Bob that marriage is conservatizing. It is the most conservatizing institution in society. But if it is good enough for them, it is good enough for us. And if there are changes in marriage, as indeed there are, we want to participate in those changes just as anyone else would. We want that choice; we want our voices heard; we want to be full participants in society. It is not for radicals to determine what choices people get to make. And, indeed, when radicals eschew gay marriage, they cede that institution and the changes it is undergoing to our enemies. Bob argues that openly ... and he is wrong, because he thereby advocates sailing away from the vast masses of society. It is a sort of chosen isolation from the society in which we seek engagement. The argument, applied to anything else, is absurd. Wall Street is corrupt ... well, let's leave Wall Street to its own devices and create a barter economy among our friends because not everyone believes in the stock market.
In that sense, the reactionary aspect of this argument is precisely to cede the notion of marriage to the religious bigots who have always led the charge against us. Again, this is a debate that has bedeviled the gay movement even before Stonewall. The ultralefts, as we called them in the 70s, argued against our supporting Leonard Matlovich, the first soldier to come out publicly, in 1975. People pointed out that he had been a racist, that he was a converted Mormon, that we should oppose the military in general. But Matlovich was a personal demonstration of why the civil rights "strategy" was the only road to freedom for gay people. Not only did his gay self-awareness make him an activist, it also changed him personally. Are we to say to gay soldiers that we do not support them because the military is wrong in Iraq?
If it is good enough for them, it is good enough for us; and if it needs changing, we want to be part of the change just as they are part of the change. Allowing ourselves to be sidelined is surrendering to our enemies. Pretending that our civil rights are unimportant because the world is not yet perfect is precisely what our enemies want us to do.
It is worth noting that Trotsky always thought that organizing the soldiers was key to revolution. He was right, regardless of how that whole thing turned out.
So back to gay marriage. There is a very touching photo essay in the LA Times that illustrates the following point. The general civil right we demand is the right to love as we choose. It is not the right to love as others choose for us. When the left decides that it is an error to seek equality in the choices available to us, it seeks to determine how we love. The fact that some straight people choose not to marry is a red herring. Compare it to abortion ... the right to abortion does not require abortion. It says that the choice about child-bearing is up to the individual. Compare it to black civil rights ... nothing in the civil rights movement for blacks said that they must be exactly like white people; it only says that they must have the same choices. The ultraleft black movements also eschewed the civil rights strategy in the key decades of the 60s and 70s; but it was the civil rights activists who led the victories that changed America. It is upon the backs of their efforts that Obama finds himself where he is.
So to Obama. It would certainly be an error for gay people, gay leaders, and gay organizations to boycott the inauguration or to step away from Obama because of his error in picking the religious bigot, Mr. Warren, to give the invocation. This was an error for Obama not because Warren is more than a homophobe ... sure he has socially appropriate positions on AIDS in Africa. It is an error because Prop 8 changed the landscape, and Obama missed that. More significantly, he chose to assume that he would not lose us and that he could disempower a significant reactionary religious opposition to him by embracing Warren. In other words, the fags and dykes have to come with me, but the evangelicals do not. So I will feint to the evangelicals, and wink to the homos.
That's an error. It is also deeply depressing. It is our job to point out the error. It is our job to call on liberal Christians to get out of their comfortable pews and fight their co-religionists. It is our job to remind our "allies" that our civil rights were taken away at the ballot box. And it is our job to get back to winning this battle.
More than anything, the success of gay marriage as an issue is that it speaks precisely to the hopes and fears of so many people, gay and straight. It cuts through the lies and shows that we are part of society with the same hopes and fears, needs and demands. I was deeply impressed at the vocal participation of young straight people at the several demonstrations that I attended. They see it. They see the simple fact that civil rights must be defended wherever they are threatened. They see that old union saw that an injury to one is an injury to all.
We cannot allow our movement to be sidelined by some amorphous call to think about global warming instead, or about homeless people, or about you-name-it other oppression. That is the essence of the latter part of Bob's argument ... that we must enlist evangelicals because some of them agree with some of the things that we agree with. Fine. Work with them on global warming, stand by them in soup kitchens. But we have to fight them when it comes to gay civil rights. They are wrong and ... we need to be clear ... religious opposition to gay marriage is bigotry. Period. Every one of us knows that in our gut, and we are right. Bob writes "We have now come to the point that many unthinkingly equate opposition to gay marriage with homophobia." That is not "unthinking" and that little word, my good friend, is a sly slight. I have been a gay liberationist since 1972, and I have watched them and how their arguments evolve. There is nothing unthinking about pointing out that Anita Bryant and Rick Warren are of a piece. They are homophobes, and we know that because they oppose our civil rights.
The history of homosexuality for a thousand years is the history of how our enemies silence us. That still is their strategy. When the black preachers of hate complain that they are disgusted by our comparing our struggle to the black civil rights struggle, they are trying to silence our history. When Rick Warren compares the right to marry to incest or polygamy or pedophilia, he seeks to obfuscate and to drive us back into the shadows of the hateful myth making that they have practiced against us. (Of course, the Bible is full of incest, polygamy, and pedophilia, not to mention gay love ... but they like to slide by on that one.)
I recently re-read Boswell's Same Sex Unions in Premodern Europe ... must reading for everyone frankly, but especially gay people ... and I refer to his complaint as to why it is homosexuality that "dared not speak its name". Murder spoke; rape spoke; war spoke; hatred spoke. But gay love should shut up. Every time someone tells us to shut up, we need to shout out. That is what the gay marriage fight is about. Shouting that we are here to stay and you cannot force us back into the closet. We won't go.
At bottom, the ultralefts never had a significant influence on the struggle for gay liberation. And I do not believe that Bob's piece or the Facebook group will amount to anything. It has always been about civil rights, it still is, and I think we will win this one and move on to the next battle. But we must make the point that refusing to fight cedes the battleground to our enemies who are no doubt already planning their next assault against us.
Photos by Arod. Top and bottom photos from the Sacramento demonstration against H8; second one is of a photo of Harvey Milk (and I believe that the man behind Milk's elbow is my late friend, the gay liberationist and Buddhist Marxist, Michael Merrill); third photo of a Christmas tree lot at 15th and Dolores. More anti-Prop 8 demo photos here and here.
Wow! This year's event just blew my mind. Not entirely sure why, but we had double the folks we had last year ... RL, roommate and co-host, figure around 90 people. And the food ... it was a tsunami of food that literally blew us out of the kitchen. It is so hard to predict how much food will arrive ... but lots of good food is clearly the preferred approach. We have already made some commitments on adjustments to handle the food better next year ... a helper, some additional table space, and we will finally get it together on the garage and recycling bin front.
But all that, no matter how fabulous, pales beside the deeper joy that I find in this event. Those six hours are a sublime transport for me from everyday life. We labor greatly to make our home into the Christmas fantasy, and all our wonderful friends bring that fantasy to life through their camaraderie and joy. Christmas for me is about the thoughts and fears about renewal that the solstice inspires, and it is about gathering against the gloom of the seasonal darkness into the light which human beings create together. Christmas is artifice in the best human sense ... making light and merry no matter the cold and dark which nature provides.
So now a few more days until the day itself when we gather to eat and celebrate and love each other. And then 10 more days of living in the Christmas house before we return to the long year and all our struggles and endeavors, refreshed and invigorated by sharing something essentially human ... gathering and hoping and rejoicing together.
Photo by Arod of last year's Christmas tree. I will have photos of this year's decorations a little later. I have a Flickr site of photos of attendees; if you know me, drop me a note and I will send you a guest pass.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
This is the other time of the year when my OD kicks into gear ... OD being obsessive disorder in the sense that I may be obsessive, but gawd dammit I am not compulsive ... the one time to produce the course catalog at MRU (that major research university for which I toil for wages) and this time to produce the annual Christmas Party that my roommate and I offer up in celebration of the "season" or by way of marking the solstice or for the love of Santa Claus. This is the 19th time in 21 years that I have been the host of this party, in various combinations with various people over the years. The roommate aforementioned is working from home today, but he just made a brief appearance to prepare a cup of hot peppermint chocolate in order to ward off the truly cold cold that has enveloped us here. So I will take advantage of this big mug of chocolate to blog a wee, not having posted for over two weeks.
I am on vacation for three weeks ... the present week to prepare for the big party and then the following two weeks because MRU is closed for the winter break. Of course, I will read email every day, and I have a series of very compressed one-pagers that I volunteered to create ready for day one of that truly New Year, 2009. There is no rest from work in modern work world ... but whatever pissiness I might have had about that in the past pales before the indubitable fact that having a job is something for which one must give thanks as the dubya era slithers into raw and uncompromising memory.
My good friend Roy and I attended for the 13th consecutive year the American Conservatory Theater's production of Dickens' A Christmas Carol. What a romp. This is the new version, that meaning that this is only the third season for the present version. There is not much to say other than that the performance, and Roy's and my outing to it, always marks the beginning of Christmas, and it is such a sheer unadulterated joy. So rather than review, I will reproduce below a little piece that I wrote a number of years ago on Scrooge.
But first, a few notes ...
I mentioned in my last post that I did not know the issues behind the Thai disturbances. It turns out ... and I thank my good friend Frobisher for pointing this out ... that the reason that very few, including folks like me who have a long background in Southeast Asia, know the background is because of a deep state-run plot to hide it from the world. It is all about the monarchy and its role in covering for the elite who benefit from the rigid caste-like character of modern Thai society. The lèse-majesté laws in Thailand are ludicrously out-of-line with its projection as a democratic country, and foreign journalists who run afoul will find themselves unceremoniously booted out. It is only The Economist which, albeit without a byline, had the guts to publish the facts ... here and here. And now, after years of disturbances reminiscent of the Republican riots in Florida in 2000, the elite classes finally have their guy in power. Perhaps the peasants have had enough, and they in turn will march off to the airport. If they do, believe that the government will not be so chary of force as it was when the housewives of privilege were the opposition.
And then, in a whoddathunkit moment, tossed shoes are the thing of the day. In his interviews afterward, dubya looked like the broken lump of trash in the dustbin of history that he is. Street art at its finest. My friend Bob Ostertag, who blogs at the Huffington Post, has a Throw My Shoes Too project. Check it out.
So on to Scrooge ... and my thoughts thereof from 1997 (give or take a year or two).
The illustration is by Ronald Searle, from A Christmas Carol, 1960.
It is no surprise that Christmas brings out the inner curmudgeon as surely as it brings out the inner child. Most of the year, I cultivate a certain, shall we say, gay curmudgeon in myself. But I stow it away come Christmastime. Others find Christmas to be the ideal season during which to display their humbuggery, taking ample opportunity to guffaw and harrumph.
The greatest of the humbuggers is, of course, Scrooge. And in Scrooge we find a proof of my thesis here because his story is the central myth of the Victorian Christmas as we know, remember, and practice it. (Both this year and last, my friend Roy took me to the American Conservatory Theater's exquisite performance of "A Christmas Carol." If you live in San Francisco, by all means make plans to see it!) In other words, is it not curious that this great Christmas story addresses humbuggery, even if humbuggery meets its match.
Humbuggery, then, is as much Christmas as sleigh bells and wassail. But, the humbugger is not even so much our alter ego as our familiar. He participates with us as we play our Christmas games. He searches Christmas out so as to have a venue to humbugger. The twinkle of lights inspires him as it does us. And, most importantly, he understands and believes that behind Christmas is something greater than what stands before us.
Modern humbuggers often ramble on about the commercialization of Christmas. Of course, they would equally rail against the commercialization of life itself in a larger sense, but that would undermine the special holiday pleasure of taking Santa Claus's name in vain. Modern humbuggers often snicker at all the lights and sweetmeats and specificities of Christmas, averring that it is all hollow or meaningless. But they too line up, demanding, "We all want our figgie pudding" just as do dedicated Christmas sprites.
Because humbuggers merely celebrate the season of warmth and giving in a different fashion ... and we must give them the same courtesy and acceptance as we give all the various Christmastime celebrations. Let them grumble by the raging fire, and pass them another mug of wassail.
Now, some will say that they truly hate Christmas, perhaps because of some childhood trauma, or because they despise what they see as its phoniness, or because the season as we presently enjoy it devotes insufficient time to religion or ideology.
There are two arguments we can make here. The first is that this is a season whose very message transcends the specific religion or ideology or practice to become a greater reflection upon the qualities which draw us together, which make us better people. That this celebration is associated with a specific tradition or culture is no surprise, nor should it be. Surely it is a great social good that we carve out a season of the year to remind ourselves directly that there are greater goods and larger purposes, that goodwill is a facet of human being to be cultivated. The humdrum of our everyday lives does not provide the same collective venue as a designated season for higher reflection. So we use the opportunity of an ancient, syncretic tradition to remind ourselves of the currents of warmth and kindness that course through even the Scroogiest of us all.
The second argument, not unconnected to the first, is that all is not what it seems. We might say that the phoniness of Christmas masks its inevitable ability to inspire. We might say that the bright lights enable the Scrooge to contemplate human kindness while attention is focused elsewhere. We might say that the "phony" displacement of attention from the intractable problems of this terrible species to which we belong enables reflection otherwise unattainable. We might just say simply that a pause for joy is good for you, so take your medicine whether you like it or not.
Which, I think brings us back to poor Scrooge. He was cured of his humbuggery by ghosts who scared him into jolliness. We often think of poor Tiny Tim, or the efficacy of ghosts, or even the terrible effects of the promise of inevitable death. But I say, think back on Scrooge. Were not the ghosts creations of his own mind? Did he not reflect upon his own life, his own choices and the effects of those choices on those around him? Did he not find Christmas within?
So Scrooge is just like our putative humbugger ... a man of goodwill and joy unwilling for whatever reasons to express those qualities in the very season which epitomizes them. So the next time your mean Uncle Al or your surly Aunt Bess grouses at all the trouble, hand them a glass of Christmas ale with a smile and a pat on the back.
And say this: Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
Groggy thoughts having awoken way too early again ... 4 o'clock. I just give up now, make the coffee, crawl back under the covers with my warm MacBook on my lap and a rather large sleeping dog snorting occasionally in mild protest, and read the AP news flashes on Salon.
Curious how ludicrously low oil prices may have a green impact. Saudi Arabia is complaining that $54 per barrel is insufficient to guarantee new development efforts, and therefore supply might be inadequate sooner rather than later. Huzzah, I say. And, Iran and Venezuela could suffer political harm from the inability to deliver on fiscal promises made based on high oil prices. It is rational to have zero sympathy with the Iran regime, and it is unlikely that the bloodthirsty mullahs will be garbage-heaped without significant dislocation ... i.e., a revolution that does not seem to be in the offing. But something has to be a trigger.
As for Venezuela, the Chavez act is wearing thin for progressives who have largely held their breath about the man and the plan. The only thing that keeps him around, it seems, is that the right wing has been and again would be so much worse.
I have to confess that I am not entirely sure what the issues are in the Thai disturbances ... I haven't done the homework, alas ... but as usual I suspect that this is a disjunct between urban society yearning for something it cannot define or fashion and that special rural idiocy that loves a strong man who hands out gift baskets. Again ... pure speculation. That said, the country seems to be begging for a military coup in an era when those things are so passe.
Mumbai ... christ, it's Bombay in English. My cranky side cannot abide all this feel-good refashioning of perfectly good English place names. We don't say Moskva or Praha or al-Qahira. But we still know where Moscow and Prague and Cairo are, and we still feel awfully good about it. Why does it have to be Mumbai?
But that is hardly the issue now. I don't have much to add to the horror at these events that is sweeping the world. But not for one second should we forget that this is born of religion, and religion is the root of all evil.
Nice piece on Barack's independence in Salon. FDR was a benign despot, and we may benefit from one now. Reagan was not benign, but he was also not a despot. He was a cypher whose emptiness along with the scowl and the knowing laugh allowed a cabal of ideologues and kleptocrats to seize the country and drive it ruin. Like the author if the piece linked above, I hope Obama takes this unique opportunity to seize the country by the scruff of its neck and shake some sense into it.
What sort of place is it whose citizens step over a crushed body to get to cheap Chinese goods at Walmart? We are repulsed by it ... and we don't have a better idea, leastwise as a society. Daddy Obama, will you deliver both the spanking and the pudding? That's what we are hoping for.
This is not an elegant post ... but it has nothing to do with gay marriage, and so I have delivered on the promise of the last post ... unless this paragraph itself is about gay marriage.
Postscript: must-read piece by Michael Lewis of Liar's Poker fame.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Sitting in Coho, a cafe on the campus of MRU (the Major Research University where I earn my wages) waiting for my fellow traveler RL to be released from his wage slavery, as it were. My office got off at noon. It is a lovely rainy day, which is something that always makes me happy.
I realize that the last few weeks I have turned this blog into all gay marriage, all the time. Never my intention. I blog in order to make into flesh, as it were, the ceaseless inner ramblings of my more-eclectic-than-is-healthy mind. But one does get hung up every now and then, and the victory of the religious bigots really got under my skin. I am not alone in that, for certain.
The photo says it all. I took it at the Sacramento demonstration in front of the state capitol building last Saturday (November 22). We have become comfortable in the "repressive tolerance" of a society that tolerates the hate mongers and smiled benignly at us. The most gratifying part of the protests and the revulsion over the election has been the anger of our straight friends. They're sick of it too.
That said, and on another note, the Sacramento trip was fun. RL who is my roommate went as did our friends TG and MM who are lovers. MM is a student at Davis, so we swung by and picked him up. Once at the demo, I split off from them almost immediately and spent the afternoon shooting photos the presentable of which are on my Flickr site. Since I bought the Lumix DMC-FZ50, I've had a lot of fun with candid people shots ... I've worked on sliding through crowds, picking out lines of sight, and doing quick snaps while the victim ... I mean the subject is still unaware. My old friend Tom Burdick, dead from AIDS these 15 years, was an expert at that. (Tom willed his photos to me but they never showed up; I think the parental units thought better of distributing stuff to fags. Tom asked me to do something with them; he was never specific about that. I think he just wanted to be remembered. I remember you, Tom.)
There was a rather tiny counter-demonstration. Perhaps a dozen folks with very large and obviously professionally produced and graphically coordinated signs. One sign said "Gay Fascists Trashed My Truck" ... the sign was 6 feet by 4 feet. I wonder how he knew it was gay fascists ... maybe it was enviro fascists ... or perhaps it was gawd teaching him a lesson for polluting.
Another sign, roughly 4 feet by 6 feet, said "A Moral Wrong is not a Civil Right". It was propped up by a young somber woman dressed like a Mormon polygamy-practicer. Of course, this goes to the heart of the matter. They think we are immoral, and they think that private opinions of morality should influence public policy. I have watched the evolution of homophobic discourse for the 36 years that I have been out of the closet. They started with plain hatred ... some have not moved far from that. They morphed into protecting children, and then into opposition to special rights for homos. Now they are just trying to protect marriage.
All of that is bunkus. They just want to deny us legitimacy; they want to drive us back to the silence they kept us in for a millennium. It has always been about civil rights, and it still is.
So notwithstanding that I still owe Katy a post on homophobia and Halloween, I am going to try to post on something other than gay politics first. Just to keep this thing eclectic.
BTW, have just started re-reading John Boswell's Same Sex Unions in Premodern Europe. It is must-read stuff. His terrible death at 47 ... the same age as our new president ... deprived gay people of the best scholar on our history that we have ever had. One wonders whether we wouldn't be better served if all the folderol in current gay studies programs about multiculturalism and the endless rewrites of 70s history gave way to solid scholarship like Boswell's. If you haven't read the book, you should.
Photos by Arod at the anti-H8 demo in Sacramento, November 22, 2008
Friday, November 21, 2008
So, despite a temporary fading of will, I am heading to Sacramento tomorrow with RL, MM, and TG in my little 86 Honda Civic which I call "Red" ... you can guess why. I got a little doubtful about this demo because it seemed under-advertised and a little too much of a product of the organizations behind it. But, frankly, the long look of my best friend RL when I trotted out some lame excuses about not going were sufficient to wash away my doubts.
So the old activist suddenly finds himself at 2 demonstrations in two weeks ... three in three weeks if I count the one I briefly attended at MRU.
So as I prepare myself with drink, relaxation, and a Warriors game, a couple of telling articles in the recent press. But first, a basketball note ... I believe that there is vastly too much defense in the NBA, so when a game has both teams over 100 points with 2 minutes to go ... that's a good game. And this is a good game, even if I would be hard pressed to name more then 5 players involved.
Damn the black preachers of hate, but kudos to their compatriots who stand strong for freedom: Whodda thunk that Amos Brown would be such a friend? But he has stood tall and opposed the bigoted black preachers. His speech last Saturday was thrilling, and I have rad somewhere that he will speak again tomorrow. But this article in today's SF Chronicle shows the price his "brothers" will make him play. They are organizing a boycott of an NAACP dinner because of his opposition to their bigotry. Scandalous. Have they no shame? I know that I am more than a little enraged ... but there is no excuse for this, and there is no excuse for the degree to which progressives and national black politicos have let these vicious hatemongers get away with it.
Amos Brown is a man of integrity. Who among the black preachers of hate can make the same claim?
Double standard number one: Check out this article about how local political pressure forced an openly atheist billboard to be taken down. The modern American view is that religious freedom extends only to bigots and extremists. Certainly not to atheists.
Double standard number two: Check out this article that describes how an open lesbian was fired from her job at a Catholic school not because she is a dyke but because she opposed Prop 8. The Papists like to pretend that they are for life and liberty and loveliness. But they are hardened haters at the core. Never trust the church. It lies, it hates, it reviles. The love it professes is only for itself. Of course, it squeals like a drowning rat when its opponents call them on their polyphonous hatreds. But its own hatreds are "moral". Rech.
A curse on religion.
And free drinks to a tired fag who heads to Sacramento rather than pissing around the house. And free drinks also to Nepal ... check it out.
Postscript: How we blew it ... again, worth a read.
Monday, November 17, 2008
Check out this DailyKos article about the failure of the Human Rights Campaign on Prop 8, and the notion that Obama-like tactics are in charge now. Well worth a read.
I think I'm going to Sacramento on Saturday ... if I can just get some more solid info on it.
Photos by Arod. More on my Flickr site.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Just some quick notes because I am sun-fried and tuckered out. But it was a moving demonstration today in front of San Francisco City Hall. I figure about 10,000. The speeches went too long, and I missed some of the early ones. Amos Brown, local preacher of renown, gave a stirring speech notwithstanding that he confessed that his church will not sanctify gay marriages. But that "inclusiveness:" was evidently a part of the day. It was a wildly mixed crowd of gays and straights. There was anger and there was determination. There was a palpable sense that we have crossed a Rubicon of sorts.
America is a different place today than it was a few weeks ago. I can't predict where it goes. But the country is on notice that we want in, and the old excuses are just bull crap ... and everybody knows it including the bigots.
I have a hundred or so pix here.
Photos by Arod.
Thursday, November 13, 2008
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
So Timmie won! Yeah!
I am reminded of ... "Whats the matter, Lassie? Show me what's the matter."
Timmie doesn't need to worry about Lassie ... because he won.
Photo above from the boob tube tonight. Photo below ... don't faint ... from Timmie's days at UW (pronounced you-dub.)
ps., this is my "happy" post, but it doesn't mean that I am not still soul-disturbed at the christers killing my civil rights.
Sunday, November 09, 2008
The emotions I have expressed in the previous two posts continue to course through me. The Obama victory itself is emotionally twofold, both good. It is not just that we have a shot at a genuine liberal president with an aggressive agenda to change the country, but on a more prosaic level the election that would never die is finally over! We finally know what happened.
Even so, the other part of me still mourns the lost opportunity to put paid to the bigots at least in California. I think there is palpable sense among Democrats and liberals, at any rate, that this was a terrible error. I have not seen any remorse among black politicos, but I think the time will come when they understand that it was primarily the black community that let us down. Reports have it that the black vote was 70% yes on 8 ... that is disgraceful, and I cannot help but think that there is a lot of buyers' remorse at this point. Where was preacher Jesse Jackson and preacher Al Sharpton? Why didn't they lend their considerable weight to explain the cause to black christians. Where was the black congressional caucus? Where was Maxine Waters?
But that is crying over spilt milk. So here are three predictions, in descending order of likelihood.
1. There will be a National March on Washington for Gay Marriage this summer. And I'm going. I don't care what. I am sure it will fall on the deadline for my course catalog ... but if that is the case, I am moving the deadline. A national march just makes sense. There is going to be an enormous euphoria in this country as Obama assumes power ... who among you is not panting in anticipation at hearing his inaugural speech. (Note to boss ... I am taking January 20 off.) And gay people know that we got sucker-punched again. The 'publicans rode homophobia to the White House in 2000 and 2004, and the so-called "base" is primarily organized around hating homos and making sure that women can't decide things for themselves. Well we won the anti-abortion initiatives on Tuesday but we lost the anti-gay ones. All four of 'em.
(BTW, when they continually mewl and puke over the 'publican base, why does no one point out that the meaning of the Arabic noun al-qa'ida is "the base". Religious bigots, meet your counterparts, the religious bigots.)
It's time that changed. And it is time that gay people demanded of all our friends, the real ones who did show and the supposed ones who prefer smug silence, that they stand for us. We're calling you out Jesse, we're calling you out Laura, for that matter. Were calling you out, Arnold ... where the hell were you, anyway? And, Barrack, we shined you on for this one, but not next time.
So there is going to be a national march, and baby, I'm gonna be there.
2. The California Supreme Court is going to overturn Prop 8. It was a tight 4-3 decision that overturned the original ban, but those 4 have to get it at this point. You cannot use the Constitution to deny rights. That is the definition of anti-American. It is going to take a while, it will drag on and on. And we need to bring steady unrelenting pressure on the process. But in the end, they will bow to the obvious and confirm, again and once again, that religion and state are separate in America ... and more so, the state does not sit in theological judgment ... and they still salute the future and confirm that anyone can marry anyone.
That is what the Obama victory brings to this. We are facing the future now. Is the American future the sour hatreds of people who believe that the sun revolves around the earth? Or is the future a nation of immigrants in all their diversity doing their own thing and rocking the world?
That is the sense in which the victory of the medievalists and their kook-prophet pals (by which I mean the hypocritical coalition of the one true church and the no-we-are-not-polygamous heretics whom the former whisper-denounce day and night) puts our struggle on the agenda in a way beyond which we were ever able to do so.
3. DOMA will fall before the 2010 election. See #2. (I might fill this in a little, but I am due for dinner at 7.)
Photo by Arod in the tennis court where my dog Loki plays with the chow Dakota every morning from 6:25 to 6:47.
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Two emotions again, and I am going to write about both. Yes, this is still about Prop 8.
After what I wrote yesterday, I could not stop thinking about all the young straight folks sitting down in the corner of death in support of the right of fags and dykes to marry. And it made me think again that the idea of gay equality has penetrated deeply into American society. I had lunch with a now retired colleague friend of mine on Monday before the election, and her husband whom I have only met once before and who was positively apoplectic at the thought that 8 might pass. They have embraced gay rights not as a sidebar but as a critical issue for the future of our society. For so many years of my life, the vast bulk of straight people I knew took my passion for gay issues as more of a lark, a peccadillo, an enthusiasm. I think that the issue of marriage, percolated through the experience of the last decade, has associated gay rights with, on the one hand, love, and on the other, the right to stable domestic happiness.
Liberal people ... which is to say people who practice in life what the Christians eschew, to whit that people should do unto others as they would have others do unto them ... have come to embrace unreservedly the notion that freedom from fear and the freedom to enjoy life in domestic joy and stability should be guaranteed to all including gay people. And they showed that on Tuesday in California. That we were overwhelmed by fear and hatred and the narrow scope of vision of those in the fearful hinterlands, that is, I suppose, par for the course. But I am the more deeply moved, the more I reflect upon it, that we engendered such a flood of acceptance and love. We may have lost a battle, but we have we have won an army who showed their genuine acceptance of our loves and our lives.
Well ... there is one noteworthy exception that needs to be called out ...
Damn the black preachers who spew hatred ... damn them. May they meet their savior who never said a word against gay people and may he personally cast them into the hellfire that is the bigotry and loathing that fouls their souls.
Damn the black preachers who foul the name of the noble struggle in whose name they pretend to act.
I heard one of this fetid lot on TV who talked about how the water cannons had never been brought out against fags. Perhaps he forgets that we would have been happy with water cannons as his coreligionists consigned us to be burned alive for so many centuries. Perhaps he forgets that his religion sent us to prison, empowered the thugs and murderers who have tormented us even to this day. Perhaps he forgets that Christianity was killing homos in Europe centuries before more than one in a hundred people even knew what a black person was.
Shame on the black preachers of hate. And shame on those who follow them. You bear upon your souls the most significant defeat for liberty in the present moment. How can you sleep at night? What would Martin Luther King, Jr., have said to you. What would your Jesus have said?
They would have shamed you. And I shame you. And every freedom-loving American shames you.
Shame on you, black preachers of hatred.
Okay, with that, I think I will stop ranting. I will try to think of something uplifting to address ... although I owe Katy a sober reflection on why I think the banning of Castro's Halloween is anti-gay, and I will get to that.
Wednesday, November 05, 2008
... or better, Delirium and Humiliation.
It is weird to be possessed by two such profoundly opposite emotions.
It is hard to imagine the release of joy that I felt ... and I know that I am only one of millions of people in this country jousting with the same emotions ... when the media declared that Obama had won. I teared up again and again ... even old Jesse Jackson, the radical turned ambulance chaser, made me weep when I saw his genuine tears. For weeks as the election approached ... again like so many people ... my gut wrenched with the fear that somehow the 'publicans would pull it off, cheat, stick the world with that ludicrously superannuated troglodyte. So the joy of the moment was both the release from the fear and the genuine basking in this incredible turn of events. Incredible ... who can believe it.
Those scenes from the Ebenezer Baptist Church. Wow.
Obama has grown as we watched him. He weathered everything thrown up by events. He manufactured a Presidential stance, and he demonstrated a thoughtfulness and intelligence that we suspected but could not prove. I like to laugh at the lunacy of a 21-month political campaign ... no other Western democracy needs more than 5% of that to elect a leader ... but the American presidency is a kind of temporary monarchy. So the long torment of the campaign seems configured to prove that this is one we want to reign. When "folks" picked dubya, it was because they caved to their ignorance, they caved to the notion that the person who should lead us should be someone we would enjoy at a BBQ. See what that got us.
Obama proved he is reflective and that he is an orator. We shall see, of course, the translation of that into practice. But this moment, this interlude, is devoted to riding the joy that after 8 years of hellish mis-government, what I like to call one-party-no-government rule, we have a shot with a figure who is of the next generation not the one previous to the present.
Besides, we won.
But, then again, we didn't win.
Because amidst all the euphoria, we fags and dykes were disinvited from the the party.
There is, I admit, a certain humiliation in it. The sexual loathing that christers and mohamotens and other religious bigots enjoy is based on the threat of public shaming. And that shaming is a kind of stripping someone naked ... making the malefactor stand ashamed in front of his would-be peers if only he were not so diseased, so sick, so sinful. The Prop 8 campaign was a shaming. And they got away with it.
But that emotion is thin and only a rumor beneath the outrage and the pride. The pride ... the bigots have no idea of the courage that is required to be openly gay in a world in which we are reviled, in which we are murdered and imprisoned, in which ancient scriptures are misread to give comfort to bigots no bigger than the clots of crap under my shoes. The outrage that we live in a society in which a vote upon liberty is allowed. Imagine the outrage if someone proposed a state constitutional amendment that restored slavery or sent wogs back to their camps. We are the wogs now, we are the niggers, we are the ones who can be openly hated.
Make no mistake ... it is rank hatred that voted for Proposition 8. Hatred. The hatred that has burned us alive at the stake or sent us to hang in Iran or sent us to prisons or to the hands of murderers. Notwithstanding the fact that we garnered 48% of the vote ... something unimaginable when I first entered the gay movement in 1972 ... I still fear that the day may come when we are the scapegoats, the new Jews, the niggers. That is what the bigots have in store for us.
But on a better note ... today at a corner at MRU (the major research university where I toil for wages), a corner that they call the corner of death because of the reckless manner in which bicycles careen from blind corners, there was a protest against the bigots ... and every single person who voted for 8 is a bigot who should lie awake ashamed at their consuming hatred. At one point, the speaker asked for a cheer from "our straight supporters", and the vast majority of those present cheered. As a cranky olding gay man, I acknowledge you, our friends, who have stood for us. Yes. Perhaps we too shall overcome some day. And if we overcome, it will be together, gay and straight, in favor of a world where love comes first and foremost.
I just took a moment to watch again from beginning to end Obama's victory speech. His eloquence, his humanism, his ethic of work and commitment ... it is moving, soulfully moving. Take a moment and hear it again.
And ask this ... why are we left out? How much longer are we left out?
And ask this too: is this the new dawn? Can we make things different? Can we seize this moment?
And say this ... yes, we can! Yes, we can!
Sunday, November 02, 2008
A little context ... I took Thursday and Friday off to clean house in preparation for our little cocktail party in honor of Halloween. The house is as clean as it ever was ... which given the tschotschke density is quite a feat ... and the dozen folks who enjoyed our "fine ales and fancy shooters" were a fine crew. One of their number, my regular reader KW, challenged my notion that canceling Halloween in the Castro was homophobic; our exchange was interrupted by the revelry, but I promise her, and you, a sober explanation of what I mean by that assertion in the near future. And so, it is the Sunday evening of a four-day weekend, with great challenges awaiting me tomorrow. I made myself an early martini ... why? Because into every reverie comes something like ACT's production of Jane Anderson's The Quality of Life.
I quote the Chronicle review to set this up:
Set in the Berkeley hills after a major fire, "Quality" introduces Jeannette, an earthy, high-spirited woman played by Laurie Metcalf. Jeannette's husband, Neil (Dennis Boutsikaris), is dying of cancer. When her cousin Dinah from Ohio (JoBeth Williams) comes for a visit with her husband, Bill (Steven Culp), the two couples - one solidly on the left, the other resolute in their conservative Christian beliefs - are made to confront their huge dissimilarities.
It seems like the play shouldn't work notwithstanding the sterling performances especially by the two women, Laurie Metcalfe (the one person who was actually acting instead of mooning in TV's Roseanne), and JoBeth Williams of Poltergeist fame ... I wouldn't know about that given my fear of scary films. It seems like the play should be a boring recitation of the much ballyhooed "culture war" that fuels the righteous indignation of the right. And there were moments like that. But in the middle of this clash between a dying hippie alongside his life partner living in a yurt after a fire ruined them and a Midwestern couple whose daughter had been brutally murdered, in the middle of a fight over whether suicide is ever right, a little humanity bursts through.
Of course, as someone who lived through the AIDS deaths of the 80s and 90s ... as someone who ushered six best friends to untimely graves, and discussed suicide and the quality of life in pitiless and endless detail with every one of them ... well, it hit home. Yes, it hit home.
Spoiler alert ... don't read this paragraph is you plan to see the play ... the hippie wife, played superbly by Laurie Metcalf, announces that she has decided to accompany her life partner in this last journey. That's where the play turns ... and my theater companion Roy later remarked that he wondered how one would direct a play when the denouement closes the first act! And it turns out that the diehard Christian male is right about life, and the drinks-too-much hippie philosopher is wrong. They all end up estranged, but each side seems to learn something in the exchange. Notwithstanding the revelation of stasis that is the ending of this piece, it leaves its audiences in pieces ... it left me wondering about the meaning of life.
When my friend Jack died, his smugly affluent exurban family descended upon us as if from nowhere, and performed admirably. The parents asked me to chaperon the lover who was, how to put it, a wild-card, prone to embarrassing dramatics. We agreed on that. After Jack died, they executed his last will and testament to the last dotted i and crossed t. They did as he asked, and as his brother and I embraced for what would obviously be the last time, he said, "Not bad for a born again Christian." I agreed and hugged him one last time.
Not so with the exurban hardware store owners who parented my friend Tom. They undid everything he asked for as soon as his dementia was too far gone, and to this day, according to an old friend of his, they have not announced his death to any family friends in Michigan. They too are Christians.
But the death that most returns to me in thinking about this play is the death of my mentor and great friend Kurt. He is pictured above in one of his many alter egos. He viewed death as a friend; he said that AIDS had transformed him and made him a better person. We talked, endlessly and with brutal frankness about death ... for three years. But when it came, it took him by surprise, and despite all the preparation, he had missed a key problem. When it came, he could not swallow, and so the paper bag in the refrigerator was useless. He suffered unspeakable agonies for five days ... we never thought he would not be able to swallow.
I was with Kurt in his final delirium ... he imagined that there were giraffes in the room and he wanted assurance that the police were not involved. The staff of the VA where he died were sweet and helpful. But he did not die on the terms he had set for himself. And that is an unspeakable tragedy.
So to the play ... in the end, I had no sympathy for the Laurie Metcalfe character. I won't say what happened in case you see the play, but what happened is irrelevant in a larger sense. Those of use who survive ... those of us who watch early demise and thereby earn the duty to "bear witness" to it ... have a duty to live. Grieving is inevitable, irreducible, a duty and a torment. But surviving charges you with the responsibility to sequester the grief and move on so as to do what the lost cannot do but would do.
The AIDS deaths ripped me apart, and introduced a sorrow into me that never quite fully leaves or dissolves away. But I do not approve of even the soupçon of self-pity that I allow myself. This part of me actually disgusts me a little. I wish I could mount a great charger and impress my friends who are now only dust. There is no reason why I shouldn't
So I thank Jane Anderson for making think about death again. And, more to the point, life.
Wow ... this thing did not go where I intended it to ... but there it is.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Halloween in the air. The World Series on the boob-tubery, as I like to call the TV. Tonight's game delayed by heavy rain in Phillie, and right now, bottom of the first, 2 on, nobody out and the total babe from UCLA, Chase Utley, at the plate. Beautiful, stud, intelligent, athletically gifted ... and a totally cool name as well. Some guys get it all.
The creepy part of the World Series from where I sit is that it involves the fake franchise with the fake stadium, the Tampa Bay no-long-Devil Rays. I never root for a team from Florida, and I certainly never root for a team with a scale model of a cupcake for a stadium ... unless they were playing the Dodgers, of course.
Lots of Halloween around town, but still no commitment from the city that gay folks will be able to celebrate Halloween in the way we know how. The totally creepy, grey-complected Bevan Dufty had a creepy opinion in the Bay Area Reporter, San Francisco's gay paper of record. He writes: "Through the second annual "Home for Halloween" campaign we are communicating - again - that there is NOT a party in the Castro. The streets will not be closed. There is no stage. There is no party. In short, unless you live and work in the Castro, there is no reason to come here that night."
Screw you, Dufty, and the lame jackass you rode into town. Gay guys have always made their own parties whether or not that pleases the homophobes and their simpering, slobbering apologists.
Later in his tiny-minded "opinion" he writes this about that much overblown shooting incident that led to his pissing on everybody's fun: "Two years ago, one person with a weapon marred an evening that had otherwise been one of the more peaceful in recent years." In other words, one idiot ruins it for everybody, and then Bevan "I am a hero in my own little mind" Dufty plays fake-daddy to all the straight yuppies who scorn us and brush past us in their me-me-me search for a latte and self-congratulation.
Alas, young gay guys today have no sense of what it took to win gay liberation, and they cave to the midget Dufty's by their abstention and flight. So we're screwed, and in being screwed, we have to pretend we are led by tiny, tiny men.
Sorry about the obscenity folks ... but the assault on Halloween in our neighborhood boils my blood ... in case you hadn't noticed.
Another creepy item in the BAR last week about Prop K which would legalize prostitution in San Francisco. Seems that all the progressives have lined up against it with this classically fallacious logic expressed in an article that turned my stomach: "While I certainly think consenting adults ought to do whatever they want, the situation on the streets is a different reality," said Chiu, a former chair of Lower Polk Neighbors [and a supervisorial candidate]. "Many unconsenting adults and children on the streets are forced into prostitution." Of course, forcing people into prostitution would still be illegal if consenting prostitution were legalized, but such subtleties are lost on the sex-haters. Of course, pimps beating up their whores would still be illegal, but that old canard is whipped up by fake-progressives who dare not, even in liberal San Francisco, be tarred by the brush of supporting the right of people to screw freely when they feel like screwing freely ... even if there's a price. Jeez, people work at MacDonald's for minimum wage, but that isn't illegal.
The campaign against prostitution is religious ... it says that the state must control the body according to the dictates of paternalistic bastards dead these three thousand years.
I'm for adults deciding for their own reasons to have sex when and where they want to, and I'm for the state getting out of everybody's pants.
I'm for the state getting its wrinkled puckered nose out of Halloween.
And I'm for the Phillies over the Rays.
Photos by Arod: top is an installation on the art fence surrounding the Project Artaud, middle is from a bar on Haight Street, bottom is from an abandoned gas station on Market at Sanchez ... they quickly deleted this art and now the lot is being turned into more housing for the unwelcome yuppie scum who haunt our city ... call me cranky, see if I blanche.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Tonight's drink is a Yellow Boxer, a Tequila Tiki from the inimitable Beachbum Berry's Intoxica. The drink is from the Hemingway Tropical Bar, Cologne, Germany, ca 1981.
What's a Yellow Boxer ... I think, of course, of the Boxer Rebellion ... but perhaps it refers to a hepatitic pugilist ... not a nice thought when one consoles one's evenings with a cocktail and glass of wine.
But none of that matters because my luggage, possibly diverted to Johannesburg per my immediately preceding post, appears to be on a delivery truck that at this very moment is approaching the house in which I sit and tipple and write. I want my bag! I want it right now ... but I may have to wait until 10.
I approached this third-in-three-flights delayed baggage experience with as much aplomb and calm as I could muster ... yes, United has lost my luggage on three consecutive flights. No point in raging. With reference to that and the second of the three mislaying flights ... when it became apparent on arrival in Ottawa 10 or so days ago that the entire assembly of steerage class luggage had been left behind in the ill-fated Washington-Dulles airport, a female businessperson decided to unload on the poor United Airlines shill whose job it was to hand out the baggage forms. Venting, they call it. There was a line of 15 people waiting to meet the hapless employee .. so I shouted out that her venting was wasting my time. I'm loud that way. She persisted, so I repeated my complaint, somewhat louder and rather more peeved. She took the hint.
BTW, that hapless employee was the one and same who 6 days later put the wrong name and the wrong itinerary on my baggage. Coincidence? ... who knows? I am chastened, though, and will re-affirm my commitment to not yelling at imbeciles in public. At least not at imbeciles who might have a gun.
Losing a bag, losing anything, unleashes two not-precisely-contradictory but certainly-not-intertwined emotions ... the fear inherent in being revealed as vulnerable and the unease of a too quick resignation to fate. Fear and fate. I fear that something worse might happen but rely on fate to get me through. I am fated to have lost the bags, but I fear that it was my fault ... yes, I should have looked at the tag, but the bastards were the ones who screwed it up. So I am confused rather than enraged.
And of course, there is the amputation of all the old things ... I pretty much only have old things, electronics aside, because that is the way I am. I lost ... or might have lost or would have lost, but let's just go with the past tense as if it happened since that is the emotional complex I am trying to evoke. So there is the red Land's End toiletries bag that I purloined from the second of my three lovers and with which I have been traveling for almost two decades. There is my old Swiss Army Knife. And the brown belt that is worn and I have been wearing since the early 90s ... I miss that guy. I lost a pair of black shoes and a brown belt, so I am left with brown shoes and a black belt ... two black belts, but one too wide for work wear ... o the horror, the fashion nightmare. My man purse I bought for the Paris trip in 2006 and the yellow Goretex I bought for the London trip in 2004. All gone. Well, maybe not.
I lost three books that I have just read, and that is annoying since I very much prefer to own books. I lost a video camera ... DV type, under 300 bucks. But more to the point, I lost a one-hour tape of my sister and brother playing guitars and singing. I lost two favorite T-shirts ... one old, one new. And socks and underwear. For the shopping-challenged, socks and underwear are a nightmare. I never know what to buy, where to buy it. I always figure I am making a stupid choice, and so I end up making a stupid choice. I have dozens of pairs of useless socks, but barely enough underwear to get through a week. Now, I am down a couple of quarts as a result of that fool in the Ottawa airport who sent my bags to Johannesburg.
Or did he? We are waiting to find out.
The bag arrived at 20:41! Yeah.