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.

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Tribes

We all have our tribes, be it by race, religion, sexual orientation or even…hair color.   It’s often nice to be a part of something larger than oneself but if you’re at all curious (or just get bored easily) you can’t help but be intrigued by the OTHER. For example, I for one have always wondered – DO blondes really have more fun?

OK Marilyn…we get it

Those of a certain generation might remember that old ad slogan while anyone under 30 probably has no idea. That’s another tribe – the over/under 30, 40, 50 and….so on.

What I can also personally attest to is that once you do indeed become a “so on” the ranks begin to thin a bit and your tribe often needs to expand – if for no other reason than practicality. The alternative is being left entirely alone or slowly driven crazy by the very same people who at one point provided you comfort, excitement and the fuel to simultaneously remake and/or bend the world to your will.

In America we call that – living your best life. Not sure what it is in other cultures but I’ll wager that as an expression it translates pretty well – not unlike one of those universal traffic signs.

I caught up with the movie Black Panther this weekend and enjoyed it far more than I expected to for any number of reasons. But principal among them was that it chose to use the superhero genre to look at what it means to stay a member of one’s own tribe to the practical exclusion of much of everything else.

Deserving of the (box office) throne

NO SPOILERS HERE, don’t worry.

Still, what is fascinating about the film is that it manages to advocate extending a hand to outsiders by sharing your wealth and gifts AND staying especially loyal to the very tribe who nurtured you through the years. The latter is especially the case to members you may never have met and who may be far less fortunate or classy than you and applies even if you think you don’t have much to offer.

What a concept. If I were a religious person I might say that sounds like the teachings of Jesus, Mohammed, Moses, Allah or…God? But being a heathen I define it simply as decency. A no-brainer. After all, no tribe has the market cornered on morality. Except mine.

I’m joking. I think.

for that over [age redacted] crew

The very fact I really liked Black Panther was yet one more small step away from my natural state of tribalism.   To whit, I don’t generally care for superhero films. I mean, they’re okay – sometimes fun. But, well, I was a kid who didn’t get the appeal of superhero comic books. They seemed silly, unreal and unlikely.

Except the 1960s Batman TV series – the bane of most superhero comic book fans’ existence (I think?). But the 12 year old me could never turn away from Tallulah Bankhead as the Black Widow – not to mention Adam West or Burt Ward. Which should tell you all you need to know about my childhood.   Or me.

Allow me to present… the Batusi Dance #thisisreal #ilovedit

Yet here I am all these decades espousing the virtues of Black Panther.   And asking questions like:

  • How is it that there has never been a major studio movie about a superhero of color?
  • Why is this one of the few, if only, movies of its kind to directly tackle contemporary issues of race and ethnicity with a fully coherent story AND have cool action scenes and more than a few witty lines – while still being entertaining?
  • How can so many really good actors be that f’n good-looking?

I mean…. #hott

Speaking of good-looking and living your best life, after getting home from Black Panther, and probably looking inwards for some contact with something from own tribe, I decided to watch a few episodes of Netflix’s new Queer Eye – a reboot of that early aughts Bravo series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

You know the one. It’s where a bunch of gays saunter, macho walk and/or swish into another guy’s mess of an outer and inner life and make him over. Well, to be fair, they more try to make him the best of himself within budget, reason, time constraints and what raw material there is to work with.

Oh hello honey

If that sounds snide chalk it up to my Queer way of putting things because truly, I don’t mean it to be. Many of us gay guys in general have been doing it on ourselves for years, especially those of my generation who as teenagers didn’t really have a discernable tribe and were often left to blend in – usually badly – and out of necessity had to self-teach ourselves a way to blossom into our true selves without our tribal elders.

So why not have a show where we use our talents for the greater good and, in doing so, show people we aren’t so damned…scary? Threatening? Different? Satanic? Unacceptable? I never could really figure it out.

Every episode would end like this

At least that was the overriding subtext of the original series. Times have thankfully changed a bit since then and the new one no longer seems intent on trying to prove anything. It more seems like a romp where they don’t necessarily change an uptight straight guy’s life but can also help an aesthetically challenged gay guy clean up his outer and/or inner act.

Even when the subject is a Southern, redneck, overweight, older straight guy (the subject’s self-characterization, not mine), it’s not about the queer quintet subliminally getting acceptance from the heterosexual world. The redneck wasn’t uncomfortable with the Fab 5 (he seemed to adore them from the outset), he was hopelessly uncomfortable with himself and spent most of his time sad and by himself, watching TV from an old, stained barcalounger.

One of these is not like the other

So within the settling of reality television, it seemed perfectly normal – if not downright formulaic – to watch a group of experts using their pooled tribal talents to transform yet another human life for the better. The fact that they were queer – substitute any other OTHER you like – seemed almost beside the point. Like choosing a red color palette instead of one that was blue or green.

(Note: Hopefully the subjects will evolve and extend to women, senior citizens of either sex or those of any age landing anywhere on the continuum of gender identity).

Sure, it’s staged and yeah, it’s not saving the world. And no, not all gay guys know about clothes, home design, hair, food, or culture (Note: Certainly not culture, I mean check out your neighborhood gay restaurant or bar and see just how delicious and relationship ready your selections seem).

I’m sorry… what did you say? I got distracted by Antoni the food guy #imean

It is merely one part of a tribe showing the rest of THE WORLD who they are, how they roll and just how fabulous IT and THEY can be. But instead of keeping the knowledge or fun (or whatever) to the like-minded, it’s inviting them into your party and morphing said world forward in some small way.

Immigration can achieve similar results. It happens in the theatre, where people sit together and watch a show live. I see it in the classroom everyday – or, well, at least every other day.

Blondes don’t have the market cornered on fun. That was just an old Madison Avenue ad line – a come on that left out all the other colors. Though it was thought of by one of the first female advertising executives in the 1950s. Who also happened to be Jewish. And the daughter of Russian immigrants.

Think about it.

The Weeknd & Kendrick Lamar – “Pray For Me (from Black Panther)”