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

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An Eye for an Eye

A different kind of chair...

A different kind of chair…

As I sat in a doctor’s waiting room for hours this week while my partner of 25 years was being treated for an emergency detached retina – surrounded as I was by numerous, very old married couples with walkers and canes tending to each other and being called Mr. and Mrs. this and that by staff while CNN blared an ongoing loop of the Supreme Court hearings on marriage equality in the background – it became quite clear to me that if things got really bad and the doctor or any of those working for him decided to be assholes and think of me as no more than “the ride,” that I could be quite screwed – really screwed – and not in the good way I have enjoyed for the last quarter century. That, in itself, is THE reason for gay marriage – a state of being that my partner and I to this day don’t have much of an overwhelming desire to enter into but will probably nevertheless take advantage of as living and breathing human beings in a societal reality ruled by laws and a medical reality where walkers, wheelchairs and various other physical maladies seem as guaranteed as our eventual legal right to one day tie the knot so as not to be screwed in that no so good way.

Things to note before we go further:

1-    My partner is recovering nicely and will have full sight again.

2-    Aside from the four plus hour wait, the doc and his staff were great

3-    I have overwhelming support from both our family and friends and enough backup to ensure I will have some, but not all legal rights to his present and future medical illnesses and the fallout/aftermath from them. This is the best that can be done right now, a lot better than many others and yet, shamefully not nearly enough of what it should be for two people who have chosen to love each other and spend their lives together for a really, really long time.

But back to the waiting room.

It's gonna be a while...

It’s gonna be a while…

At one point an older but not ancient couple (They were in their 70s – which might seem ancient to some of you but to me now just seems “older”) from Palm Springs started talking to me.  She was reading one of my favorite books, Angela’s Ashes, so I couldn’t help chatting her up, especially after I heard her dishing to her husband about the bizarre outfit one of her friends back in Rancho Mirage was wearing the previous night in an attempt to look young (That big pink scarf tied on her head, she thinks it looks good?)

In any event, this woman and her husband, a dead ringer for James Cromwell, talked to me about the news report of the new Pope giving up his luxury apartment in Rome (Can I live there?, she asked), the book she was holding in her lap (I’m only on page 2 but so many people keep telling me how good it is) and their grandson, who is a writer.

On the latter, she related:

“He just sold a script.  But it’s his first thing and he’s young, so he’s really excited.”

“Oh, trust me,” I answered, well aware that everyone but the gal at the receptionist desk in this office had long passed the point of being considered fresh-faced, “ it’s always exciting no matter what age you are. In fact, after a while you live for that excitement.”

Her husband guffawed at that one in particular and, this being L.A., I began to wonder if this indeed was James Cromwell. Sadly, it wasn’t.

... or I've probably been watching to much American Horror Story.

… or I’ve probably been watching to much American Horror Story.

Still, despite the laughs, this same couple quickly grew silent when suddenly CNN began playing arguments made by the lawyer defending California’s Prop 8 anti-gay marriage stance, and the questions being asked of him by several Supreme Court judges clearly in support of that position.

“You know,” said the woman as she turned back to me after the report was over. “We have these two very nice guys who live across the street from us in a gated community.  Now why does anyone care if they want to be together?  Do you think that’s right?”

I paused for more than a few moments.  This was because a. she didn’t know I was a gay man (uh, no she wasn’t blind) waiting for his partner to emerge from the secure medical sanctum inside and b. it meant she, a woman who was statistically assumed to be more than likely against gay marriage, would be asking this question of anyone of any sex or sexual persuasion with whom she was having a particularly friendly conversation with in a doctor’s office.  So I said:

“Well, I’m really happy to hear you say that because I’m here waiting for my partner of many years and it’s good to know others feel that way.”

Granted, it wasn’t the most original response but, then again, I was a little taken aback by her boldness and more than a little stressed that I was here at all enduring an unexpected and quite serious medical emergency of the person I share my life with.  Perhaps sensing this, she didn’t miss a beat and responded:

“Well, I don’t like when the government tells me what to do about anything,  And that includes what I can eat.  (Since we weren’t in New York I took that as a general statement and not one directed at Mayor Bloomberg for his desire to limit the size of Big Gulp sodas one can buy on the street). I just don’t think that’s right at all.”

Better not cheat!

Better not cheat!

This couple didn’t seem to have any family members or any gay friends other than acquaintances, so they then asked me a few questions about what rights I did have as a gay person.  They were particularly incredulous that my partner and I couldn’t joint file our federal taxes (“Really, we thought you could,” he said), didn’t understand why we were taxed on health insurance premiums when one partner was covered on another’s policy, were angered when they turned to the television and heard 83 year old Edie Windsor on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington DC, talking about paying more than $350,000 in inheritance tax when her lesbian partner of 40 years died, and just shook their heads when they watched a fundamentalist type on camera talk about the dangers that gays tying the knot posed to the sanctity of marriage. (I don’t know what he’s talking about, the woman commented, her and her husband turning disgustedly away from the set and averting their eyes in disbelief).

Though I know all good things, even waiting room chats in a doctor’s office, must come to an end, I was still naturally disappointed when a moment later this couple’s names were suddenly called and they began to slowly get up. I thought our conversation was over.  But in some ways, I realized by their parting words, this conversation had only just begun.

As Mr. Cromwell pulled his extremely tall frame (no, it was NOT him!) out of that fairly uncomfortable waiting room chair, he squarely looked me in the eyes.

“I want you to know, it was really a pleasure speaking with you, ” he told me as he helped his wife get past him.  An unusually large smile formed across his face.  Then he nodded.  As did I.

“I so enjoyed meeting and talking to you,” she said, straightening out her blouse and moving through the inner sanctum door that her husband waited by as she deliberately passed through first.  Then, she looked back to me and smiled one last time.  And then they were off.

I sat there for a while thinking about this couple, about my life up to this point as a member of a minority group that has struggled for equal protection under the law for many years (well, who hasn’t?), about how much I’ve seen in my relatively short time alive of this struggle, of how many people of my kind have not lived to see our accomplishments up to this point, and about how much more this country and this world has seen and how much more it’s changed through the centuries on so many political, social and moral issues.  And then, I thought about this couple once again.

Amen

Amen

It is easy, given all the vitriol being tossed about  equal rights, messing with tradition, the intent of the framers of the Constitution and God’s Will, to ignore that on the whole we live in a country where the REAL average American (regardless of age) believes in fairness, equal opportunity, and the expansion, rather than the retraction, of human rights.   A country where the Constitution is a living and breathing document that allows for the abolition of slavery, the guarantee of women to the vote, and the integration of the races so that anyone of any color skin can live, go to school or work in any place in the U.S. that they choose (well, theoretically, anyway).  Never matter that at one point it was not this way.  In time and with social change, we live in a place that can, in its laws and rules, also change based on obvious (or as they say, self-evident) truths predicated on the will and evolution of the majority of its population.

That time, change, evolution, whatever you want to call it, has come on the question of gay marriage.  Just as I, as a person who never wanted to be married (the living in sin part still really appeals to me), now realize that as the decades go on it is important to make my love relationship legal if for no other reason than that I can’t be legally screwed, the majority of people in this country have decided that to prohibit their gay sons, daughters, friends, co-workers, neighbors, or any other LGBT person they happen to meet in a doctor’s office and strike up a nice conversation with from the same equal rights that they enjoy, is essentially, and in every other way, wrong.

Marriage is not a perfect institution and no marriage is perfect.  Neither is love or any particular love relationship, or any one of us.  But legally allowing gay people to participate, enjoy and be exasperated by any and all of the above is, in 2013, part of a new social contact – one that consistently changes through the centuries – and one that ensures that this place where we live continues to evolve, grow stronger and survive over time.  Mostly, it shows that as a people we’re fair, and we’re in the equality fight for the long haul.  Not just for ourselves but for everyone.

Evolution

Evolution:  Any process of formation or growth; development.

I never cared much about getting married.   And this was long before I realized I was gay.  A time that, I might add, was long after many of my friends and relatives realized that I was not heterosexual.  What can I say?  Sometimes it takes me a while to catch on to things, to evolve.  But when I finally did for the first time, back in 1979, the very last thing I EVER imagined or even considered, or even dreamed I wanted, was the right for same sex couples to get married.

Maybe it’s because my parents were divorced and never seemed particularly happily married.  Who wanted to be like them, and, incidentally, many of their friends?  Or maybe it’s because it seemed so constricting and square and I so desperately wanted to be hip and cool and superior – or at least get out of Queens.  I’m old enough where I can’t quite recall.

Then as the years progressed and I lived through two heartbreaking decades of AIDS related deaths of some of my best friends, colleagues and peers — young gay men just like me but unlike me because they had not lucked out and won the survival lottery — it felt, and actually still sort of feels trivial.  Marriage?  Uh, how about the Reagan government showing some interest in not burying any more of my brothers, friends and loved ones if they can manage the task in between deregulating the economy for the rich and super rich, if that’s not too much trouble?  If I still sound bitter, well, uh, yeah, maybe I am – just a little.  Though I am working on it.

Of course, the eighties are over (aren’t they?) and I’ve been in a relationship/domestic partnership/common law something or other for the last 25 years.  And now that as a society we’ve moved past the deregulating making money for the super rich and it’s part of our history (oh, we haven’t and it isn’t?) –- gay marriage sorta/kinda feels (and I’m just speaking for me) well, besides the point.  Like getting permission from your 90-year-old mother to have a sleepover you’ve been having for the past two and a half decades that she actually knew about in the first place.

I take a lot of crap from my gay and straight friends for this – particularly the many who are in couples and are either married or banging the doors down to do so. I don’t get it.  I mean, I do get it, sort of.  But after all this time, I resent someone telling me that my relationship is now okay and acceptable and, if I try real hard and devote a lot of time and energy could even be legal one day.  Really??  Well, screw you (while I screw who I want) and the pulpit you rose rode in on.  In short, don’t do me any favors.

But — and I’m not saying I’m heading to the altar any time soon (so don’t ask and I won’t tell!!) –-

I’m evolving.

Well, I mean if Homer is available to officiate…

And the man who is responsible is The Evolver in Chief, Pres. Barack Obama.  A man I never met and has never met my partner and is not even the person I voted for in the Democratic primary when he was first running for president.  Well, as Katie Morosky says in “The Way We Were” about her beloved Franklin Roosevelt, the president she also at first didn’t campaign for– “some people work out better than we think.”  (Note: KM is one of my favorite movie characters).

I suspect Pres. Obama will go down in history as the person who mainstreamed the legal evolution of marriage equality and helped make it as much of an non-issue as whether the sequels to “The Hunger Games” and “The Avengers” will make money.  In all three cases it’s not if it will occur but how much and to how many.

As for gay marriage – he certainly mainstreamed/evolved it for me.  When I heard Wednesday morning that he was announcing his support I thought it was important for those who wanted it even if it seemed a bit politically facile and didn’t feel much in terms of my own life personally.  But upon actually hearing his words live on tape/digital -– I actually — teared up.

A tissue count normally reserved only for Sophie’s Choice

Know that I HATE admitting that.  Almost as much as I hate admitting I laugh out loud at reruns of “The Nanny,” a show I couldn’t bear when it first aired in the early 1990s, or the fact that I’m the one who never really liked “Pulp Fiction,” “Waiting for Guffman” “Vertigo” “Desperate Housewives” or “The Good Wife.” Plus I refused to see “Jaws”  (because I like body surfing in the ocean) and gave the little seen 1981 movie “Four Friends” a rave review while I was a movie critic at Variety and STILL think it’s a fine, touching movie despite all other reaction to the contrary.  But there, now I’ve said them all.  So hate me if you must.

Oy that hair! those clothes!

Of course, re-watching or re-reviewing any of these I could change my mind but it’s not likely.  Unlike many in the public square, I almost never flip flop.  On anything.  I feel really deeply about what I think and seldom change my mind.  Except – when I’m evolving or absolutely forced to (another line from “The WWW” but who’s counting — 2).

How the hell does Obama do this to people???  That’s what I’d like to know, even more than what gifts I’d be getting if I were to consent to marriage and my partner would actually have me after all my diatribes against it.   Aren’t I too old to register?  Shouldn’t the gift money go to charity at this point?  Since I don’t need any household items would it be too unsavory to ask well-meaning friends to contribute to a fund that would finance a belated honeymoon touring Italy for a month before I’m too old to travel from town to town in awe?  Suddenly, there are questions (too many questions), which makes me sorry that the president even went there with this whole thing.

Table for two, please.

Except – I’m not.   And I think I know why.

In no time in our history have gay people truly had the most powerful person in the world on our side without equivocation.  Never.  Metaphorically, it’s like a young teenager knowing the smartest, most powerful and most popular kid in school has your back.  Yes, I know the goal is to stand up and save yourself and yes I know that no one can prevent bad things from happening to good people all the time.  But — it still feels good to be accepted, and yes, loved, unconditionally.   For all of us in the LGBT community, to have a US president do that while declaring that our love for our mates is no different than anyone else’s and shouldn’t be treated as such – trust me, that is true evolution.

Is the president, or even this declaration, perfect  — no.  But neither are “The Hungers Games” (don’t get me started) or “The Avengers.” Yet they are embraced as a part of contemporary American culture – no matter how much one does or doesn’t feel about them.

To deny that is to deny reality.

Which is really what the fight has always been about anyway.  You don’t have to like or even go see either movie.  But you can’t pretend that they’re not there.

As for evolution, Rachel Maddow put it better than me on the first segment of her Wednesday (May 8) show as she traced the evolution of presidents concerning marriage equality and noted that it was important to understand both the personal and political history of our past presidents of the last 30 years in order to understand our present one.

Yes, Rachel is gay, but her reportage is fact-based and as unbiased as it gets.   Certainly a lot less biased than anything you’d find sitting in your local chair.

Click for full video

The second (and not yet final) example of evolution would be a Washington Post article that ran the other day detailing the prep school escapades (some would call it bullying but that’s not for me to say) of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The former Governor did issue a statement through his staff that he didn’t recall ANY of said escapades in the article and then went on to admit that though he may have participated in a lot of “pranks and hijinks” in school “if anybody was hurt or offended he was sorry.”  Still, he added he was “not going to be too concerned about the item” and that he grew up in a tolerant environment.  Some might call that last statement the beginning of an evolution while others (not naming any chairs here) might see it as a smug, misstatement of fact.   Read it for yourself and see what you think.

Yet the last word on Evolution needs to come from the classic film “Inherit The Wind,” where two lawyers argue the case for and against a science teacher accused of the crime of literally teaching EVOLUTION (the ape to human kind) in the public schools.  In this particular moment, the conservative lawyer (played by Frederic March) questions why he and more progressive attorney (Spencer Tracy) can no longer agree to disagree and must publicly come to blows in court.

Matthew Harrison Brady (March): Why is it, my old friend, that you’ve moved so far away from me?

Henry Drummond (Tracy): All motion is relative, Matt. Maybe it’s you who’ve moved away by standing still.

Amen, Hallelujah or well-said.  You choose.  All three are equally valid.