I See You, You See Me

A dear friend told me months ago to watch the new short form Netflix series Bonding because I had liked Special, another short form Netflix series, and that this one, too, struck similar coming-of-age chords for LGBTQ people like ourselves.

Of course, I never did because, well, who has the time? There is too much white supremacy to not look away from, too many racist Twitter feeds to respond to (Note:  Because if I don’t, who will???) and far, far too much programming already backed up on the DVR that I’m already pretending that I’ll get to but know I never will.

I promise I’ll get to you Sandra… PROMISE!

Nevertheless, a stolen August weekend several hours away with still other dear friends frees you up for all kinds of things.  These include: philosophical talks, ocean views, good food and wine and…bonding.

Both kinds.

One of the coolest things about being an LBTQ young person these days is that you get to see yourself more fully represented in films, television and elsewhere.  Though not fully acknowledged, you are at least not relegated to lurking in the corners of the big and small screen as a coded center box on The Hollywood Squares or as a closeted and/or severely depressed third act revealed killer in some edgy Hollywood detective movie.

or you’re Liberace.

That is pretty much what I experienced as a 17-year-old gay kid and a big part of the reason why I now find shows like Bonding to be such a delight.

Why does a 13-18 minute per episode/seven show season about a NYC female psychology grad student/dominatrix and her aspiring stand up comic gay male assistant/best friend from high school resonate with me so deeply and, well, queerly?

There are many reasons.  So many, many, many.

Oh, calm down.  It’s not even barely remotely about the S&M, at least not in a sexual way.

Chairy, give the fans what they want #hehehe

Nor is it because it is set in NYC and has an absence of heteronormative-espousing straight male white supremacists controlling the narrative, though that helps.

Instead, it is because during its very short season Bonding managed to reflect back to me a version of myself in both its male and female protagonists.  I got to see the pain, the struggle and the triumph of getting beyond the scars of childhood wounds with characters whose sensibilities reflected the types of thoughts and challenges that I actually experienced at the time in my own world. 

This is me.

It didn’t matter that I was their age decades ago or that the world in which they now live in is a very different place than it was way back then.  What does matter is that the smart, somewhat nerdy gay guy and his female best friend (who sort of have sex on the night of the senior prom but don’t) now have the kind of loving, oddball relationship that is/was me.

No, I never donned a leather mask and urinated on…(oh gosh, never mind!) for money.  Nor was any one of my friends bold enough to be a sex worker in leather even though I can recall one or two gals I know meeting up with men they don’t know in weird places where they proceeded to…well, never mind again.

You’re leaving us hanging!

Still, by using this as a setting and embracing the gay of it all and single white female sex of it all and the general insecurity and uncertainties of one’s twenties and all, without being leering or exploitative AT ALL, something happens.  We, the audience, get beyond the window dressing of what at first glance make these stories feel rarefied and extreme.

These are two people.  They date and go to school.  They live in the kind of small and/or drab unenviable apartments most of us did/do in our twenties.  More importantly, they are plagued by the same existential questions of:

1. How will I fit in and forge enough of my own path where I don’t sell out my soul?

2. Will I find love or am I even capable of it?

And, most universally —

3.Where is home and how do/will I even begin to know how to get there or recognize it if it ever arrives?

Srsly, watch Bonding. #plug

These are the ongoing tasks of not only every young person but of every member of a generation no matter what age they are or will become.

What’s different in 2019 is that audiences get the opportunity to take these journeys with LGBTQ characters in the leads, with Black, Brown and Yellow people in the leads, and with members of either sex of any age or non-binary disposition in the leads.

And play to audiences who will WILLINGLY go along for the ride.

Euphoria is also on my DVR. Don’t at me.

There was a moment not so long ago where you’d get feedback at a writers’ pitch meeting on stories such as these like:

  1. Why does this character HAVE to be gay? Or –
  2. The people in this world feel really specific rather than relatable. Or –
  3. There isn’t enough of an audience to justify spending time with two leads who are so fringe and, too often….unlikeable.

Yeah, you might still get some of that.  But more often than that it’s –

  1. Wow, that’s an original voice we really could respond to in this format. Or –
  2. Is that based on a real story? Because that will be a real plus in reaching out beyond yours, and our, niche markets. Or –
  3. We need it now. Yesterday.  YES!

At the end of the day commercial storytelling is still a business.  But right now we live in a time when a weekend of entertainment away can also mean finding yourself seen (and heard) not only in areas where you didn’t expect to be but on platforms where you were previously very much being silenced.

It’s not everything but for today…….I’ll take it.

“This is Me” – The Greatest Showman

 

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LGBTay-Tay

When Taylor Swift gave a surprise performance of her new anti-hate song, You Need to Calm Down, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the modern LGTBTQ movement at the very place where it started – NYC’s Stonewall Inn – it made an impact.

After all, the 29 year-old singer/songwriter is one of the best-selling recording artists of all-time with over 50 million album sales and 150 million in single digital downloads.  She’s won 10 Grammys, was included in Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Songwriters back in 2015 and has appeared three times in Time’s 100 most influential people, including 2019.

She’s a goddamn icon

Whether you are fan, frenemy, enemy or simply indifferent, it is undeniable that once Tay-Tay sets her sights on, or music to, a subject she carries an indefinable weight towards changing hearts and, more importantly, minds on said subject.

As a gay man of a certain age I do not take any support for granted, especially hers, and finally understand that each small and large gesture are essential building blocks forward.

A TS lyric like, shade never made anybody less gay in a song heard internationally more times than any of us likely ever will be, can’t move the needle alone.  Still, it can certainly be the single straw that breaks the back of hate in all sorts of different people for all sorts of different reasons.

YAY TAY TAY

At this point it might be worth remembering that it was on the day Judy Garland died that a group of trans people, gay men and drag queens stood up to police harassment en masse at the Stonewall Inn and birthed the modern gay liberation movement.

The fact that they rioted in the streets of Greenwich Village for several days, refusing to be targeted where they lived, did not happen just because a gay icon was gone, as the history books like to simplify.

However, it would not be overreach to write that when that final straw dropped on that specific day, a bunch of us were extremely pissed off, much more so than usual.  Just like you don’t throw a lit match onto a gas station or sass your Mom and Dad just after they’ve gotten home from a double shift at work. There are limits to what any of us will tolerate on a very bad day.

Even Joan has limits #nowirehangers

You can’t blame it on the sass or the match or the day or the shift.   It takes the combination of some or all of those elements (and more) to fuel the uncontrollable fire that was sure to come once all the kindling fell into place in exactly the right (or wrong) way.

It was in thinking about all of the above that it became undeniable that a week had just passed where all three of the new mainstream films and TV series I had just consumed for the first time centered specifically on members of the LGBTQ community.  This would have been unthinkable just two or three decades ago not because my tastes had changed but due to the fact that no one was making this much openly gay content back then for mass consumption.

Not even Charles Nelson Reilly was technically “out”

There was Halston, a feature length documentary on the gay designer of Jackie Kennedy’s pillbox hat, Liza Minnelli’s sparkly stage outfits and just about some part of every trendy female fashionista’s wardrobe back in the 1970s.

Then scrolling on Netflix was Larger Than Life: The Kevyn Aucoin Story.  This was a hard look at the celebratory life and tragic death of young gay man credited as the greatest makeup artist who ever lived.  A guy who worked with every female supermodel of his era, including Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista, and then segued to work with the likes of Cher, Tina Turner, Barbra Streisand, Gwyneth Paltrow and Andie McDowell.

The master at work

This was all before branching out to create best-selling books and makeup lines and

dedicating his own time and money to mentor other young, forgotten gay kids, many of whom came from the same small homophobic home towns he himself had grown up in.

Watching his adopted father’s account of how the young Kevin had to drop out of high school at the age of 15 after several of the school bullies tried to run him down with their truck was enough to make any viewer question if anything has really changed at all.

Of course, this would be foolish thinking since his very own path to international fame as a proudly out gay man occurred years after the Stonewall Riots and the rise of a very un-publicly gay designer like Halston.

and certainly after Keith Haring’s “Heritage of Pride” Logo from the 80s

It is on the wings of countless real life people that Kevin was able to rise just a little bit more and the memorable gay characters of contemporary fiction emerge.  That is why watching Netflix’s just released 10-part limited streaming series, Tales of the City, based on Armistead Maupin’s best-selling books of 1970s, 80s and beyond San Francisco, seems a perfect cultural bridge to a 2019 public, yet now somehow almost routine, LGBTQ ally like Taylor Swift.I can recall devouring those Tales novels when I first came out because it was the first time I saw the gay and straight worlds melded together into the one more integrated, albeit messier, world that I lived in.

BONUS Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis together again!

Sure, it was a somewhat idealized world but it spoke to my reality closer than anything I had come across up to that point, straight or gay.  Good as the early PBS miniseries (based on the first two books) was back in the early 1990s I can recall how disappointing it felt to have it viewed as both exotic and controversial when it was first broadcast during the AIDS era.   So much so that the PBS network declined to do any more movies/shows based on the next books, which were finally produced by Showtime but gained far less attention.

For those of us still around, and for so many others, it is therefore a partial triumph of both endurance and history that the gay-themed issues tackled in the latest Tales on Netflix are today barely controversial – only merely reflective of where the world is now.  Far more potent is how the middle-aged (Note: ahem) characters of my generation co-exist with the younger out(er) and proud(er) generation after them and how they all grapple with the full history of those left from the still older generation that came before either of them saw the light of day.

Kinda like the feeling I get when I see this guy out on the trail with his husband #PeteforAmerica

It is in this more full depiction of the many inroads and detours taken in the full path to get here that these newest Tales really soars.  This is done through expert performances from the likes of Olympia Dukakis, Laura Linney and Ellen Page as trans, straight and gay/bisexual characters, respectively, of different ages whose many stylized stories not only naturally but casually intersect with a core truth of not only how it was but how we would want it to be.  Perhaps, in some ways, how it now is for all of us.  Or, well, more of us.

This new Tales miniseries is memory piece of today that is built on the past but exists clearly in the present as it consistently looks towards the future.  It is not unlike what Taylor Swift does when she comes fully out as a straight LGBTQ ally in 2019 and uses her celebrity and talents to boldly admonish all current and future homophobes in a fun but clearly commercial pop song pointedly entitled You Better Calm Down.

Taylor Swift – “You Need to Calm Down”

Robby and Me

So 31 years ago this month I spoke to a guy I didn’t know on an actual landline.  No, it wasn’t like that.  He was a friend of a friend who was new to town and he had the soft, sexy voice of a young Robby Benson.

For those who don’t know – Robby Benson was a big film and TV star in the seventies with great hair, impressive acting chops and endless boyish charm.  Extremely smart and fun loving with a talent for playing often troubled though never irredeemable characters.

NOT ROB LOWE. #better

Anyway, I agreed to take Robby’s voice to a party because It/He didn’t know many people in town and when he came to my door I was taken aback.  He not only looked a little like Robby, by way of Italian heritage, but was smart, fun-loving and far LESS TROUBLED than any of the people he played.

This was Robby as you wanted him to be.   Or so I thought.  And it turns out I was right.  That night turned into that morning and more than three decades later here we are, his voice still intact and my crush now my husband.

and they lived happily ever after #AWWWWWW

It is important to remember Robby my husband and I met in 1987 in the height of the AIDS crisis.  The idea of finding a person with whom you could survive with 31 years later seemed…well, no one was thinking that far ahead.  About a week or two was all you could manage, and even that was pushing it.

We were ending the horrible Reagan years where gay people were branded nationally as diseased sinners whom the public at large needed to be protected from.   It wouldn’t get too much better in the four years of George H.W. Bush, though one of my favorite political moments of that time was when a former boyfriend gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention nominating Bill Clinton that chastised Bush, Sr. for willfully ignoring so many of the sick (nee gay) members of his (Note: Bush, Sr.’s that is) American family.

That boyfriend is long dead but his words linger in my mind.  I think of him and so many others often, though not in tragic terms.  I wonder – what would they make of Ellen coming out nationally?  Will and Grace and the return of Will and Grace 15 years later?  Could they have imagined RuPaul would not only have a high-rated show but win an Emmy and spawn a nationwide trend towards EVERYONE workin’ it 24/7 by simply being your true self?

Preach Ru

This is to say nothing about gay marriage in the age of Grindr, gay parenting, #ItsGetsBetter, gays in the military and, well, pretty much gay everything, anything and in any way possible if you so choose.

Exhibit A  #heyantoni

That does not mean there are now zero consequences from family members, neighbors and the world at large for one’s choices.  But pretty much every choice we make has consequences.

The fact that there is even this much of a level playing field felt like a quaint pipe dream in 1987.   Kind of like your parents saying you were not even a twinkle in your mother’s eye five years before you were born.  (Note:  Okay, maybe my family were the only ones who spoke this way but nevertheless the star metaphor feels apt).

It is in this context that I tuned in NBC’s The Voice this past week and saw a gay male couple in their 30s – one African American, the other lily White but both super hot – talk about meeting, singing together, falling in love and forming their own singing group.

They then discussed their parents and siblings, families who were finally face to face for the first time at this about-to-be televised audition.  Amidst all this we were also told they had an upbringing steeped in the church, information that would have been the whole point of their appearance even a decade or two before.  Assuming, that is, they would have even been let on TV as their true selves, which they wouldn’t have been.

Never mind that I thought their musical act was kind of corny, albeit sweet – sort of Up With People trying to mix with vintage Temptations music.   What was being broadcast here was in PRIME-TIME NETWORK TELEVISION.  More than their music, their story had reduced their four heterosexual vocal coaches/International music stars to sighs of admiration and tears.

YES IT IS LISA #exceptyourlips #help

It was also pre-determined by a corporately held network, owned by a conglomerate, that this would similarly tug at the heart strings of America’s heartland. Why else make them the lead off act in the 8:00pm family friendly time block?

Heck, I wondered, what does my sometimes still stuck in the eighties self make of that?  What would any of my friends, particularly the musical ones and specifically those who were long gone, make of it?

Answer – most of us around these days don’t think of it much at all.  Those not around couldn’t think of it as real.  At least that’s what I and my husband concluded.

None of this is a reason to pat ourselves on our collective backs and break out in cheers as a nativist movement sweeps the country and the world, imperiling minorities everywhere and even thumbing its nose at some MAJORITIES, nee WOMEN.

OK OK Stay with me!

It is only to say, sometimes one has to look at where they came from as well as from where they started in order to gain perspective and energy about where they are now and in what way they are to proceed.

This year there are dozens and dozens and dozens of LGBTQ-themed films already or about to be released.  Click here for a list

Sure, we are still a niche audience but so is pretty much EVERY audience these days.  In 2018, it’s all about niche music, niche TV, niche radio, niche….don’t get me started.  So much to catch up on, so, so little time.

I’m sorry Sarah.. there is literally no time #AHSApocalypse #netflixIguess

But ultimately it’s more about subject matter and the lens within that niche.  In the seventies and eighties it was acceptable for straight male characters to make “fag” jokes without retribution.  The notable major LGBTQ crossover releases in 1987 were Maurice and Prick up Your Ears – two period pieces about a time when gay meant sick and in the shadows, and lesbian love or BTQ existence were barely an onscreen flicker.

It would be five years before Neil Jordan pulled off an international gender hat trick in The Crying Game.  This was 23 years before TLC aired its first episode of a reality show focusing on a transgender teenager, I Am Jazz.

We’ve learned that the point is the lens from which something is viewed.  We are offered the travails of a white suburban gay kid coming out in films like Alex Strangelove and Love, Simon (Note: L-O-V-E) and the oppressiveness but ultimately unapologetic victories young gay protagonists can have when their parents try to convert them to straight in movies such as The Miseducation of Cameron Post and the upcoming Boy Erased, all of them 2018 releases.

YAS. YAS. YAS

This doesn’t erase the tragic last days of Oscar Wilde in Rupert Everett’s The Happy Prince, now out at theatres.  As its star, writer and director, Mr. Everett effectively reminds us that this literary giant served TWO YEARS hard labor for engaging in gay sex (aka sodomy) with the man he loved at the turn of the century and was damaged beyond repair, not to mention shunned by society, in the few years he had left after he got out.

Yet in 2018, it’s an openly gay artist telling the story about an iconic gay artist from the past to a world that in the great majority, at least in the U.S., are on HIS side.   If that weren’t the case, you can bet Sony Pictures would have NEVER picked up the film for distribution.   

We’re not exactly to Avengers level, but good on them.

Nor would a gay Black man co-write the screenplay to his own autobiographical story, Moonlight, and then watch his story become 2016’s surprise best picture Oscar winner.

So as we all deal with the Trump America of it all, the international Nativism that could be our ultimate destructions, not to mention the latest U.N. report on climate change and the tragedy of global warming that threatens the extinction of the human species, it’s nice to remember history, progress, regression, revolution, resistance and more progress is our legacy.

It’s a roller coaster of emotions, dear.

History can turn on a dime, either way, and many of us have lived through periods where all fights seemed in vain and the best we hoped for was simply getting through.

What we didn’t know was that the future could be brighter than we imagined, BLINDING so DAZZLINGLY as to be rendered un-seeable, with only inevitable dollops of dark.

And that dream Robby Benson can appear at your doorstep just when you thought there was never a chance.

If this last thought seems too LGBTQ Hallmark, check out what one member of our new generation just unabashedly posted on his YouTube Channel.  Colin O’Leary you are 2018 Robby – reincarnated.

Who Run the World?

Generally I’ve always liked women more than men. On the surface, this would seem ironic for a gay man. On closer inspection, it’s really not.

When I was growing up it was just easier to be closer to the gals. I didn’t like traditional “guy” things like playing sports, though I did collect baseball cards and loved the NY Yankees in particular. In fact, I actually knew (and still know) their entire starting lineup from 1966.

OK.. and their smiles didn’t hurt either

Oh, don’t be so surprised. I’m certainly not.

We’re all a bit of an imperfect puzzle and if you’re homosexual those imperfections feel that much more complicated, especially to mainstream America.   Yes, even still.

But let’s table the rainbow soapbox for the moment and stick with women. I did for decades in every which way but sexually. They shared my interests in the arts, or even if they didn’t they liked hearing about it. They really listened to me when I spoke, liked to engage in discourse and seemed to generally care even when the world didn’t.

Not to mention, they seemed receptive to my opinions, so much so that at one point towards the end of high school and all through college there were almost too many women in my life to handle.

Yep, that’s me!

I remember late one afternoon my stepfather being absolutely flabbergasted at the beautiful young woman who had come over to hang out with me for the first time (Note: In retrospect, she was pretty stunning. And smart. I looked her up on Facebook recently and she has become a respected lawyer).

But even at the time I knew he couldn’t fathom how this short, slightly less than macho, snide young man he had lived with for the last five years could EVER attract the attention of the gorgeous creature he couldn’t stop staring at in our entryway.

A John Hughes rendering of the situation

It amused me to no end that I had the secret that would always elude him, and too many straight men, especially in the late sixties and early seventies.

I was actually INTERESTED in her. Instead of being interested in HER.

I won’t go into the Mika Brzezinski/Joe Scarborough brouhaha this week (Note: This can fill you in. Or this.)…

…Other than to say when the current ELECTORAL POTUS insults you on Twitter with bon mots like crazy, low I.Q., dumb as a rock and his requisite reference to any attractive female who challenges him – their BLEEDING from one orifice or anotherwell, you know you’re doing something right.

You’ve gotten under his skin.

Shakespearean in scope

Still, what’s gotten under my skin this week is Friday’s UNANIMOUS ruling by the 9-member Texas Supreme Court reversing the city of Houston’s decision to extend health and life insurance benefits to the spouses of city employees in same sex marriages.

Instead of these benefits being an automatic right based on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling two years ago legalizing gay marriage across the country, these Texas judges want a trial in Houston where this issue can be fought out in court. Though how this can be anything but a waste of time and taxpayer money is beyond me since same-sex marriage is the law of the land.

It is interesting to note seven of those nine judges were men. Two were women. All were Republicans. I maintain if any one of the many women I grew up with – especially the now adult aforementioned woman in my entryway who stepdaddy stared at all those decades ago – were on the court the ruling would surely not be unanimous. There would be at least one dissent. Which would be a start.

Let’s not forget that Wendy Davis is a proud Texas woman. #theydoexist

Still, I grew up in NYC and not Texas so perhaps mine is as irrelevant and regional an opinion and argument as the one coming from the Texas Supreme Court ruling will (hopefully) eventually be.

Fortunately, there will be THREE women from my neck of the woods – all of them from the various, glorious boroughs of NYC – on the US Supreme Court when later this year they hear the case of the Denver baker who in 2012 refused service to a gay couple that merely wanted him to bake them a wedding cake.

Yes, that one’s actually going to trial.

Even though on a recent episode of The View the baker, Jack Phillips, said:

I don’t judge people when they come in. I try and serve everybody.

Summon some Alice realness right now #eyeroll

Still, he chose NOT to try and accommodate the two about-to-be married young men, previous customers of his establishment, when they merely asked for a cake for their wedding reception. In fact, he told them it was against his religious beliefs. Even though it is against the law for a public business like his to refuse this service.

I can only imagine what Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor will make of this. Actually, I intuitively KNOW what they will make of it based on decades of experience with women like them – women who have spent years making their voices heard to those who choose to listen – or not – to them.

YES. YES. YES.

These are women who, in turn, have devoted their entire adult lives listening to others in an attempt to level the playing field for many who have come after them and have, for various and nefarious reasons, also not been heard and valued for what they had to do or say.

The trouble is there are once again NINE Supreme Court justices and this time a full FIVE of them are straight white males (and the other is Clarence Thomas). Not to tar them all with one brush.

I mean, it is 2017.

Cmon man, get with the times!

Who in their right mind would do that to someone based on their sex, or sexual preference, even if they have said things and done things in the past and present with which they vehemently disagree?

Well, certainly not anyone in their right mind. Certainly, no one in the highest echelons of the court.   Or the government.

Which begs the question of just when WILL we elect a woman president and how much worse IT (Okay, HE) will have to get before we finally come to our sense and do so?

“Respect” –  Aretha Franklin

When We Rise… and Rise and Rise

screen-shot-2017-03-05-at-8-53-35-am

There was a moment in this past week’s When We Rise – ABC’s 8-hour miniseries retelling the gay liberation movement through the personal and professional travails of four real life activists – where one realizes that it is only when the political becomes personal that a true activist is born. Or perhaps it’s the other way around – meaning it takes something awfully personal to happen to us before we muster up the energy to try and save the world.

8 hours well spent #chairreview

8 hours well spent #chairreview

Of course, no one can truly save a world, despite what politicians, billionaires or real estate moguls will tell you, and sometimes in the body of the same person. And moreover, that moment when it all clicks in and causes action is different for all of us.

A noteworthy screenwriter friend of mine named Anna Hamilton-Phelan once wrote a script on the women’s movement called The Big Click and it is only now – 25 plus years later – that I truly get what she was talking about. Oh sure, I’ve been politically active over the decades and understood the basic meaning of what she was saying. Who could argue with the idea that there are episodes in all of our lives when something goes from simply bothering us to pissing us off so royally that we are moved into action. Or from understanding in hindsight that unknowingly there were reasons ingrained in us from childhood that causes us to be passionate about an issue rather than merely just sympathetic towards it.

There are some parents in need of a medal for this gem #girlpower

There are some parents in need of a medal for this gem #girlpower

The gay heroes in When We Rise had many motivating factors but the commonality that clicked in for me was that at least one parent rejected them from an early age because of their sexual orientation and that these brave men and women had the strength to know that the problem was not with themselves and the temerity to devote their lives to enabling the world to see the truth. What this translates into was being a part of a movement to change the world even though, at its basic core, all they were really doing was standing up for freedom, equality and honesty.

This seems easy but it is anything but when the world at large, not to mention your close circle of friends and relatives, informs you in every way through words, deeds and general point of views, that you are wrong. As a gay person it is always chilling for me to revisit the outward hostility and rejection of gay people as any sort of normal through my lifetime by mainstream society.

When I was a boy in the sixties and a young teenager in the first part of the seventies, the notion of showing a same sex couple making love on a major network was as likely as, well….NOTHING. In fact, I can’t imagine anyone at the time who would have considered it a viable notion.

Well.. at least we had Charles

About as gay as it got on TV #thankyoucharles

Certainly no one in the early eighties could have imagined the full pandemic of AIDS or the experience of literally watching your friends and lovers drop dead all around you as the mainstream forces of government and religious institutions turned its back on you or leaned in with hateful condemnation and we told you so indifference.

Yet, like the leaders of civil rights and women’s liberation and so many other movements for social change these people remained undeterred, motivated in some part by the very injustices that they were consistently met with, and often from a very early age.

Horrific as the AIDS era was for our community (and others), I have always believed that without it the country never would realize so quickly that almost everyone in America knew and loved (or very much liked) a gay person. Compared to DEATH, or at least WATCHING DEATH, the onus of coming out began to feel almost laughable at some point.

Amen to that

#Reality

But then quite strangely and surreally this begat the slow opening of the door to what the majority of mainstream society now accepts as normal – gay marriage. How odd that our forbearers had to die in order to achieve it. And yet, when you look at the history of our progress towards racial equality – how obvious that this would be what it would take to achieve.

Of course, none of us should be fooled into thinking that as we progress we have achieved anything near equality in either of these areas – or many others. In the case of the LGBT community, there is currently an international brouhaha that the upcoming Disney release of the new Beauty and the Beast even features a gay character.

THE HORROR!

THE HORROR!

A movie theatre owner in Alabama pulled it from its schedule, publicly noting in a statement that: if I can’t sit through a movie with God or Jesus sitting by me then we have no business showing it.

This is followed by threats to Disney that Beauty might entirely be banned from Russia for essentially the same reason. A prominent lawmaker there has publicly called for its culture minister to screen it in advance and then bar it if he finds elements of propaganda of homosexuality. 

Never mind that the gay character in question is (and has always been) named LeFou, is merely a sidekick that has a crush on the male lead, Gaston, and that the gayest thing he reportedly does is dance a little too enthusiastically with a friend. When it comes to Disney the gay thing is still sacrosanct, in several if not many more corners.

I mean.... do we not remember Scar? #letsbereal

I mean…. do we not remember Scar? #letsbereal

Certainly a gay Disney character is not the most burning issue in LGBT freedoms but with our new administration rescinding an executive order to disallow transgender students from using the bathroom of their choice, and new religious freedom laws brewing nationally and in many statewide government offices to override other existing gay civil rights rulings in other related areas, any blanket normalcy of the community seems as far as it’s ever been.

Aside from being gay I’m also Jewish and the rise of anti-Semitic crimes of defacement and violence in the US is still in line with the ongoing history of persecution we Jews have endured through the centuries. Sure, it’s been a long time since 6 million or more of us died in Nazi concentration camps (or has it?) but as everyone in any minority group knows just when you think you and yours might be primarily safe is the very moment when you need to pay attention. And this does not necessarily mean solely watching out for members of one’s immediate minority group but to those in others, be they Black, Muslim, female (even though they, like those who voted for the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, ARE in the majority), Mexican and…(fill in accordingly).

Pretty much sums it up right now

Pretty much sums it up right now

I’d like to say members of my particular minority groups are already doing this (and perhaps they are) but the most recent evidence I can provide is this news story about two Muslim-American activists who raised more than $20,000 in over two hours in order to repair the massive damage done last month to more than 100 headstones in an historic Jewish cemetery in St. Louis.

“…Through this campaign, we hope to send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities that there is no place for this type of hate, desecration, and violence in America,” read the crowd-funding webpage started by Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi

The recognition that hateful actions towards ONE of us are hateful crimes towards ALL of us feels like 21st century activism. Ever personal, ever angry but rooted in problem-solving, progress and the united hope for a better future, along with the knowledge that, like it or not, it’s both an individual AND a group journey.

A Rare Bird

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To be an LGBT person is to acknowledge that you will always be in the minority. This seems likely even taking into account all present and future advancements in reproductive science.

I long ago came to terms with this and I can’t say it’s entirely un-pleasurable. In fact, in my more philosophical and egotistical moments it makes me feel a bit more exotic – like something to be particularly appreciated because it is so extraordinarily unique.

Yeah, I know the quest is to be treated as equals but still there are moments when I wax nostalgic for comedian Sandra Bernhard’s tart comment in the nineties:

I thought one of the benefits of being gay is that you didn’t have to get married or be in the military?

I’m paraphrasing, of course. Nevertheless there was a moment in time when this was particularly appealing.

It has its perks!

Of course, I’m also Jewish, which makes me a double minority. Though I didn’t realize the latter right away despite how much they used to try to drum it into you in Hebrew School in the sixties:

Rabbi: Always remember, the Jews have been the most persecuted people in the history of the world. We must stick together. 

Me (to myself): Really? Somehow this doesn’t seem right. What about the Civil War and slaves? Oh, we were slaves? But still… And as for sticking together, I like my Italian friends very much. Not to mention they seem to have so much more fun around the holidays. I wish I could celebrate Christmas.

Yes, I really did think like that, though not always to myself. Though of course, I am once again paraphrasing.

After all, Ol' Irving was a member of the tribe.

After all, Ol’ Irving was a member of the tribe.

When I brought myself to Hollywood and fully felt comfortable to live as my double minority self I considered it a great personal victory. Though truth be told this didn’t fully happen until somewhere in the mid-eighties and all I could think about was:

Well, I’ll show ‘em now. I’m gonna make up for all the wasted time!

Then the weight of the whole truth hit me like a ton of bricks. A gay Jew in Hollywood who wanted to be a writer was about as unique as…nothing. You could open up a window and find one. Or ten hundred. Though that’s not entirely true. Because seldom do many of us even go outside, at least in the daytime. Allergies, ya know.

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Clearly, I’m marketing a bit in cliché. But what is a cliché at all if it doesn’t contain more than an ounce of truth. I mean, I have an All About Eve poster on my living room wall and I like Bette Midler and Judy Garland. So draw your own conclusions. But don’t also forget that I never totally got Sex and the City, am obsessed much more by politics than Ru Paul (though will fight to the death for her), hate massages, and was a die-hard New York Yankees fan as a wee lad. Okay, I couldn’t play for shit, but everything about the latter is an entirely different story and will no doubt one day be the subject of an entirely different post.

Though I'd never be caught wearing vertical stripes #notflattering

Though I’d never be caught wearing vertical stripes #notflattering

The point here is no one is ALL or NOTHING, especially when it comes to their own sexual, religious, ethnic or physically specific stereotypes. Are all blondes bubble-headed? Certainly not!! Though I have met (and dated) a few, though not all of them natural. On the same token, there are a few terrorists that are Muslim – though a speck among the one billion plus Muslims in the world. And yeah, another speck of them come from the Middle East.   So what is that you’re saying?????

Twenty plus people died when terrorists took over a popular restaurant in Bangladesh on Friday. Isis/Isel/Dash is taking credit for it and who knows, maybe it was them/they/it. Though clearly it was terrorism. Three college students were among the dead, one of them from UC Berkeley. (Note: Not that it matters where they’re from but somehow the latter does matter to us, doesn’t it?). Five of the terrorists are dead and one is captured or dead, depending on which reports you believe. Forty people were wounded in and around the area and thirty-five people were held hostage overnight and then some.

Of course, these are just the latest examples of hundreds upon hundreds of terrorist incidents and fatalities in the last several years worldwide. In Bangladesh in particular, this incident specifically follows the murder of the editor-in-chief of the country’s sole LGBT newspaper, along with his lover, by six fundamentalist men who broke into his ground floor apartment with machetes and guns and hacked the pair to death.

Yes, the flip side of being a rare, spectacular exotic bird is that you’re a perpetual target from all sides for your “difference.” Though these days it is often other minorities who are doing the shooting, hacking and blowing up.

Le sigh

Le sigh

Oh wait, can you say these terrorists are a minority when there are more than a billion Muslims in the world? Well, just like not all gays like Sex and the City or prefer Ru Paul to politics, not every Muslim is a crazed fundamentalist terrorist. In fact, I’d safely venture to say that percentage wise there are more Muslims who ARE NOT insane terrorists than there are LGBTs like me that are non-SATC fans with a penchant for too much MSNBC. No, I can’t prove it. It’s based on anecdotal evidence and a life well lived, though sometimes not. So you’ll just have to take my unique, non-objective word for it as we all do with far too many sources on so many various things.

Elie Wiesel, the great writer and Holocaust survivor who died on Saturday but did manage to teach the world to never give up yet always remember, once said:

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.

This always made a lot of sense to me. It’s quite easy to be angry and spew out venom towards heinous acts or events beyond one’s understanding. And surprisingly easy after while, and after so many, to go on with one’s life, or barely acknowledge or ignore them.

What’s exceedingly difficult is to keep fighting and loving in your own unique way.

... but I can still hate this person right???

… but I can still hate this person right???

Think of it like this – when I was a movie critic back in the day my peers and I would fully acknowledge it was a helluva lot easier to write a mean, nasty review than it ever was to douse a film in unmitigated purple prose of praise. And a helluva lot more fun.

Yes, I’m mixing metaphors and analogies that probably should never be co-mingled. But that doesn’t make the above statement any less true.

There’s a very powerful tribute video that just came out from producer Ryan Murphy and the Human Rights Campaign that brought me to tears. No, really. Celebs list each name of one of the 49 deceased, mostly LGBT people, at the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, who were shot down by yet another gay-hating and, from what we know, perhaps sometimes himself same sex-attracted and Muslim – though the crazed radical kind – terrorist.

Whether he was or wasn’t any one of these things or who specifically he hated (or did not hate) is not the ultimate point. These kinds of things will happen alternately to any of us rare, exotic birds – which means pretty much all of us – and the people who love and/or hang out with us (which pretty much means the rest of us) if any of us manage to be in the right place at the wrong time.

The question remains: In our own ways – grand or small or somewhere in between –what can we do about it and how do we avoid indifference or hate? Since at some point, and given the wrong or right locale, we all, each us, will be in the minority.

 

That Ole’ Time Religion

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This will be brief.

Kim Davis, the county clerk from Kentucky who went to jail for contempt of court rather than to do what her job required her to do – issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples that bear her name and job title – was released from jail on Tuesday. To a big crowd of supporters waving large white crosses and chanting hymns. And in the presence of both her lawyer and the potential Republican presidential candidate and former AK Gov. Mike Huckabee. The latter could be seen standing behind Ms. Davis, lightly touching her shoulder periodically as she stood next to her attorney, lest anyone not be entirely sure of his unyielding support.

Oh, and this was all done as Eye of the Tiger played in the background.

What a world we live in.

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I watched this late Tuesday morning from the chair in my dentist’s office as he was preparing to finish doing a root canal on a badly infected tooth I came in with last week. My dentist, whose family is from the Middle East and who has a Muslim background, was too busy taking care of his two Jewish patients – myself and the woman who came in right after me – to notice what CNN was broadcasting. When I brought it to his attention he shook his head in disgust and said, you know this is all the same – Christians, Muslims, Jews all have these reactionary people who think they have the answer and have the right to dictate to everyone else.

I’ve heard my dentist’s thoughts uttered many times – by ME (not only a Jew but a gay Jew to boot). I have the sense that the straight Jewish woman in the next room – with whom I exchanged eyeglass stories with only minutes before – has also spoken similarly. As have numerous observant Christian friends of mine (Note: Imagine that, I actually have some observant Christian friends). Not to mention a few Conservative people I know and like who have gone out of their way to say this kind of stuff to me – lest I think even for a second they’re buying the nonsense Ms. Davis and Mr. Huckabee are peddling.

Can't fight the facts Ms. Davis

Can’t fight the facts Ms. Davis

This fight is not about religious freedom, try as they might to make it so. It is about an obstinate, publicity-seeking woman whose archaic point of view has been marginalized to the point of being irrelevant to the more inclusive changing tides of American society. This, of course, is being shrouded in knee-jerk reactionary rhetoric by Ms. Davis, her like-minded, dwindling minority of compatriots and political opportunists like Mr. Huckabee and current Texas senator and otherwise presidential candidate Ted Cruz. (Note: He was also at Ms. Davis’ rally but was iced out of her nuclear family photo-op circle by Mr. Huckabee’s advance team).

I know I’m on the winning side of a fight when I find that the views of myself and other liberals – which in this case are as mainstream as a Spielberg movie – coincide with yet a third potential Republican presidential candidate – the quite conservative Carly Fiorina.

saywhat

I actually contributed money some years ago to the senate race in California for Barbara Boxer just to ensure in my small way that there was no way she could lose to her challenger, Ms. Fiorina – a woman whose views on finance, labor and pretty much everything in the world at large I loathe. Still, anyone can surprise you at any moment and I certainly was surprised when I heard Ms. Fiorina say that Ms. Davis’ issue came down to whether or not she would do the job she was hired to do.

To paraphrase – and this is me taking the ball from Carly – Ms. Davis’ religious beliefs are irrelevant here. Her employer is the government and she was elected as county clerk to uphold government laws. The law of the land is that gays and lesbians are allowed to get married across the U.S., including in her state and district, and thus her office is in charge of issuing marriage licenses to them. These official licenses require the signature of the county clerk so Ms. Davis has two choices – to do her job or not to do her job. If she believes she is unable to fulfill the duties of her office then she needs to find another employer – not sue said employer for requiring her to do what she was hired to do.

Societal laws are fluid and always changing. Presumably, so are we as human beings. This is the nature of life. If Ms. Davis finds this not to be in her nature, this does not make her a courageous warrior in the name of God. It makes her an intransigent, irresponsible bigot who refuses to live in reality and prefers to hold the rest of her state – and country – captive in the name of a false idol. Herself.