Our Friends and Family

As Russia is just about to invade Ukraine, and the U.S. and its European allies are just about to retaliate by crippling Russia economically, and the combined fallout from those actions are just about to start the 21st century version of World War III, I spent my Friday night with my good friend Midge Maisel.

No, thank YOU!

Not only that, I plan to spend Sunday night with my new friend Sam, as played by the magnificently freaky Bridget Everett, and might even this week, if I have time and have to escape that badly, finally check in with my four-decade old frenemy Tammy Faye Baker via the unique metamorphosis of Jessica Chastain. 

Though I considered loving Lucy (and Desi) a second time if Nicole (and Javier) will have me (Note: As if THEY (or anyone else) have a say these days about ANYTHING I do).

I’m talking about the fourth season of The (indeed) MARVELOUS Mrs. Maisel, the new episodes of the first season of my fellow freaks on HBO’s Somebody Somewhere and the reverse of nostalgia (Note: Rage?) provided by the 2021 feature film I’ve thus far resisted, The Eyes of Tammy Faye.

You need this show in your life

Not to mention my favorite film (or is it streaming platformed movie) of 2021, Being The Ricardos, which didn’t get a best picture Oscar nomination but should have.

And no, I don’t care that you didn’t like it.  I was thoroughly and totally entertained.

As for Russia, F them and the Trump they rode in on.

We’re all here now, right?

I write all this to remind myself, and anyone within earshot (or brain-shot), that TV and movies, especially these days, are important.  

These people are our friends and family because too often our real family and friends are not to be had or enjoyed at the snap of our fingers.

Even if they are, who knows if they’re our 2022 definition of safe to be around without wearing a f’n mask?  

The good ones probably are but when this week we hear that the U.S. Surgeon General’s 4-year-old kid gave him and his wife and their other kid symptomatic COVID all bets are off about what’s safe.

I surrender!!!

Screw Bill Maher and the rest of his acolytes who are over masks.  Safe is safe and sometimes only a pre-selected and pre-screened handful of a virtual few can provide true comfort and joy in an age of duress.

Duress meaning not so much threats or pressure but looming and persistent international insanity.

It might seem strange that a gay male adult of advancing years such as myself could find pleasure in spending time in 1960.  But the brittle, sarcastic wit and survival skills of Midge Maisel reminds me of just how much I have survived and just how much I’ve used my humor, brittleness and sarcasm to get me through in the past.

Bonus hats! Bonus Milo Ventimiglia!

Plus, um, the clothes.  I couldn’t fit into them but there is something inspiring when you take the time to match your hat and shirt with the color of your wallpaper.  That kind of attention, that effort, well, it does make you believe that anything is possible if you can get yourself motivated enough.

As for Somebody Somewhere, it’s not like I’ve ever lived in, or even been to, small town Kansas.  I’m a New York City boy whose idea of exploring the heartland was the two years I spent in grad school and working in Chicago.  

Me? A country boy?

However, what Sam and her non-traditional cohort of friends point out to me in each edgy half-hour segment is just how small town everyone’s life truly is when you strip away the big buildings and your own ego.  

No amount of sophistication can diffuse the internal rage you inflict on yourself because of the actions of some friend, family member or acquaintance the kid version of yourself endured in the past.

Not to mention, it’s nice to remember that big can be just as small and equally as lethal if you don’t figure out a way to get over yourself and be honest and bold from this moment going forward.

But what the first season of this show helps remind me most is that no one, not any one person, can do this alone.  We like to think we’re one-man bands in survival and endurance, especially those of us who see ourselves as survivors.

Really makes you think about how talented Bert is.

Yet watching Ms. Everett and company I’m reminded that often it’s only when you stop pretending and admit that you’re at your absolutely crappiest in the presence of someone you’d normally never tell anything to, and certainly never deign to hang out with, that you learn anything valuable about yourself.

Meaning insanity IS doing the same thing (or person) over and over again but expecting different results. (Note:  Thanks Einstein and sorry for the parens).

I can’t explain why I am once again tempted to be in the presence of Tammy Faye since she and her then evangelical hubby remind me of many of the hypocritical bigoted, destructive and hateful forces that truly changed American society for the worst.

Poor Jessica with those eyelashes!

Not only do we still feel their effects today but understanding the personal foibles that caused them to create a movement that is still with us in an even more poisonous form somehow makes it all worse.  

Many of us got her, and them, then.  I mean, is it really that difficult to understand those were the actions of several deluded and damaged people?

But perhaps that’s exactly the reason to spend a few hours with her now. To remind ourselves (Note: Okay, myself) that it’s nice to understand but it’s even better to use that knowledge to move around, over and right damn, gub through them.

In order to diffuse the bomb you need to know what makes it tick, if you want to use World War lingo.

Which leaves us with Lucy (and Desi), who so many of us still love. 

Lucy forever!

I can count on one finger the number of TV characters from the fifties who have survived to this day.  And still make us laugh uproariously.  And are still loveable.

One. 

Finger.

This provides me, and you, with perhaps the greatest gift of all.  

To know that survival is, indeed, possible.  Especially if you are able to laugh at yourself and the world as it quickly unfolds, and sometimes upends, all around you.

I Love Lucy Theme

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.