Don’t Other-ize Me, Bro!

There is a moment in Spike Lee’s BlackkKlansman where a Jewish police detective, who has gone undercover as a KKK member, laments being put in this position by his Black counterpart.  It’s as if he’s forgotten (or never fully understood) the Ku Klux Klan were not only rabidly anti-Black segregationists but also virulently, and quite openly, anti-Semitic.

I’m Jewish, yes, but I wasn’t raised to be, says the character played by Adam Driver.  No Jewish rituals, no deep education about Jewish history, not even a bar mitzvah.  I was just another white kid.

Exactly.

Did someone say bar mitzvah?

Suddenly, and much to his chagrin, he’d been OTHER-IZED.

Somehow a movie set in the early 1970s has managed to become the most timely filmic statement now out there about Trumpism.  Based on the 2014 memoir of real-life Black police officer Ron Stallowrth, it tells the story of how Ron made phone contact with the KKK, pretending to be an eager acolyte, and worked with his White counterpart, Flip Zimmerman, to pose as his physical self while in their presence.

Two Ron Stallworths.

Part comedy, part drama and many parts many other things, it tells not only a racial story but speaks to the type of numbness all of us can fall into when traveling in circles where THEY are in the majority and WE are just the unwanted, or at least unfamiliar, INTERLOPERS.

To be OTHER-IZED is not a choice so much as it is a condition of where you live, where you travel and overall what you choose to do or need to do with your time.  A room full of jocks of many races can OTHER-IZE the lily Whitest of nerds just as a gaggle of snow White Hollywood BROs in power can OTHER-IZE any Brown-skinned woman of color – or any FEMALE of ANY color for that matter – who may be twice as smart and/or talented as any one of them.

Or all of them if you’re Oprah.

Gurl, you got that right. #badassbish

We are all nothing if not multi-tribal, depending on where we live, how much we make or what we do for a living.  The one tribe that trumped (Note: Ahem) all in the U.S. used to be American, but what being a REAL AMERICAN is seems to be quite up in the air these days.

In actuality, it seems to depend on which other TRIBE you belong to – or at least choose to identify with.  And with that comes a full handbook on who one needs to OTHER-IZE.

Yes.

The fact is, it is no longer feasible to be a part of ANY TRIBE where SOMEONE is not generally THE OTHER.

Right, that’s what it is Gretchen. #dontotherizeme

We here in the Southern Californian #Resistance headquarters seriously distrust Trump voters of all stripes – and that’s the best case scenario of when we’re not foaming at the mouth angry at what we see as the nasty, racist…well, so many things I can no longer count… those voters have allowed.

On the other hand, Trump voters all over the country call us snowflakes, and at best see us as weak and anti-working class – or so I’m told from the few of them that I can still bear to talk to.  At their worst, well they prove the very points we’re trying to make, probably daily, about them, though I’m sure they’d put it quite differently and probably a lot less delicately if I gave them the chance.  Which I’m not any longer.

I’m done.

The funny part is there are Black, White, Jewish, Hispanic, LGBT, straight, poor AND rich members on BOTH SIDES.  In that sense, we’re all getting OTHER-IZED daily, and perhaps hourly, by somebody, and often in ways we don’t know about as we go about our day.

Of course, there are times when we do realize we are being cast as THE OTHER, and it is at these moments we are faced with THE CHOICE.

I’m trying my best Jamie Lee!!!

Ah yes, you do have any number of CHOICES when you realize you’re the only _________ in the room – or at least woefully outnumbered, discredited or discounted in that person or group’s mind/think about those in YOUR TRIBE, depending on your looks, skin color or affect.  They are:

  1. BLEND – This is the easiest or hardest of the options depending on your denial system, how much therapy you’ve had, or both. Am I GAY????  Not a chance, I hate musicals and I have season tickets to The Lakers/Knicks/Eagles/_______.   Jewish?  Whatever gave you that idea, I don’t like those _______s any more than you do.

I was born in the 90s! I swear!

On the other hand, it’s hard to deny you’re Black if you are very dark-skinned or pretend you’re not poor if you are three months late on the rent and about to be evicted.   Though even in the latter case of ZERO money, there’s always the chance that person is just being…irresponsible.  #AreYouWokeYet?

  1. HIDE – This is not a pleasant alternative but there are advantages to just going along and being an under-the-radar, quiet part of a group. In my younger days I’ve heard straight guy locker room talk about women that offended me to the bone, not to mention bitchy talk among my gay brothers about lesbians that I should have stamped my feet more adamantly about. Yet too many times in my teen and early twenties I did neither.

Sadly, most of us are not always up for a FIGHT, especially when we have the luxury to sit behind the tallest person in class and go unnoticed.  At least metaphorically. I, for one, have also spent time with one or two Republicans I admit to have gleefully watched squirm at Southern California dinner parties rather than blow their cover to the other guests in the room.  Sure, I told myself it wasn’t my place to say or do anything to help them but these days I realize my sadistic inner self rather enjoyed OTHER-IZING them far more, in secret hopes that this would somehow wake them to their senses.

You tell ’em Cher!

  1. DENYOh, he can’t be a sexual harasser. My roommate told me he had a torrid affair with Mary Jane and she would never put up with someone like that.  And no, just because she’s from Paris and her visa expired and he’s an American citizen doesn’t mean she’s tolerating it or pretending they’re an item.  Please.  Besides which, she’s NOT marrying him for her green card to be with her lesbian lover!  Come on!!

Okay, perhaps the last example is a bit fanciful.  But it is possible to be into vintage and thrift stores and old school tech because you want to seem cool when you’re searching for work.  In the same way you can DENY you are RACIST by producing one of two Black co-workers or acquaintances of color even though there are dozens more who heard you use the N word when they were in the room.  And no, just because a videotape of that has yet to be produced doesn’t make it any less so.  Or mean that when it is it was somehow doctored. #ApprehensiveApprenticeTapePart1

Oh jesus, does this mean more Tom Arnold??? #HELP

  1. FACE THE MUSIC – The best alternative because even if you hide, blend and deny most effectively you will NEVER prevent EVERY single ONE of THEM from seeing YOU as something OTHER than THEY are. Implicit in this is that to some people you will ALWAYS be INFERIOR. And that’s in any version of the perfect world that is viable at this moment in time.

Yes, it’s easy to advise be yourself when YOU yourself don’t run the risk of being killed, permanently maimed or beaten up for doing just that.   But the way we’re going soon there will be nowhere for any of US to hide in certain circumstances. That is a condition that will be inevitable for pretty much ALL OF US at some point in our new GLOBAL REALITY.  #ThisISUs.

Meaning blending in, denying or hiding behind HATE simply won’t cut it anymore, if it ever did.  That is unless we want to live out the rest of our days as petulant junior high schoolers playing an eternal game of spin the bottle where we kiss the same people for all the wrong reasons in one unsatisfyingly long loop of endless hell.

“Too Late To Turn Back Now” – Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose (from the soundtrack of BlackkKlansman)

Advertisements

Giving (Extra) Thanks

Due to technical difficulties, enjoy this second serving of this week’s Notes post! 

There is a perfect little gem of a movie at your local theatre right now called Ladybird that perfectly evokes the real spirit of Thanksgiving. Or, at least, what it should be.

No, this is not because it has turkey dinners, enviable family gatherings or even any one real specific major revelation about what or whom we should all be majorly thankful for in life.

I mean, is there one such precious individual or experience that you can pinpoint from your past or present? Certainly I can’t think of one.

So instead what the immensely insightful writer-director Greta Gerwig (who will now finally be shed of the loaded and limiting moniker of “go-to indie actress”) has given us is a whole series of people and memories and hurts and pleasures from a fictionalized vision of her own last year of high school that trusts US to look inward and draw our own conclusions.

so angsty #inthebestway

Who was a jerk and who was wrong? Were you actually born into this family or unwillingly dropped into one of nature’s most regrettable mistakes? Are you right about more things than you’ve given yourself credit for or is that just your guilt or subconscious trying to sell you that there might have been two or more moments when THEY could have known better?

Of course we all have our THEYs but they differ depending on the age we are and what we’re experiencing.

This was the point of Ladybird for me and why it feels exactly right for Thanksgiving 2017.   We should be grateful for all of it – every last moment – for THEY have brought us to where WE are today.

If that’s not what we want we can choose to do better.

If that’s what we like we can look back in joy and appreciation – or in fear that it will inevitably one day all disintegrate and turn into dust and sand. Or we will.

a little light (and dark) humor

This is hardly revelatory stuff. Except in moments that you need to be reminded of it. Then it is.

It is also why the coming of age movie will always be a timeless and enduring genre that each generation or subset of a generation – yes that means anyone reading this – defines for itself.

No – this does not mean be grateful for the AWFUL (fill in this blank with the myriad sickening moments you’ve barely lived through or witnessed of your choice.

ah relief!

Please. This is not in any way meant to be inspirational and we have a whole host of upcoming holidays from which to draw those lessons from. But sometimes art – and yeah, many films these days still qualify as such – can remind all of us that what we get in any given year is usually a mixed bag that we figure out how to uniquely proceed through or get stuck in. It is this, all of this, that specifically makes us, individually – US.

And in the moments they are happening, we are usually the worst judges of US.

It seems not insightful but merely truthful to write this at the end of what has been a very difficult year for many of US – especially in the U.S. (Note: And its territories).

One supposes there are some – okay, at most a very small plurality – who get up each day singing the 2017 equivalent of Zippity-Doo-Da. But if you live in LA as I do, or in the NY or San Francisco areas, where many of my friends and relatives are located, it’s a tough lift to imagine.

Can we just stop with the term “Real Americans”? #dreamsfor2018

And yet –

I would like to see the negative events of 2017 – starting with Trumpism, moving through various climate and/or gun-related disasters, then segueing on to the public exposure of the nauseating ordinariness of sexual abuse in our culture, and finally ending with each of our own specific misfortunes in the last ten months – as part of a continuum.

They are part of what we are and have become – for sure.

But they DO NOT tell our ENTIRE story.

It’s too simplistic to define four years by 10 months or a single, seemingly cacophonic event. Just as it is way too reductive to define a young woman’s trajectory in life by the jerky boy she got rejected by in high school or the harsh, withholding mother who never understood her.

Even if your mother is played by the divine Laurie Metcalf

Ladybird respects her heroine enough not to underestimate her and it feels, at this time of the year, that we might all resist the temptation to pull the rug out from under ourselves or our worlds before our final scenes are played.

Some months ago I was seated at the bar of a hip restaurant in West Hollywood a dear friend had taken me to in order to cheer me up after some disconcerting news. (Note: Yes, the BAR – it was the only seating immediately available and it featured not only the same food but a real 180 degree CARRERA MARBLE countertop).

we’re very fancy

In any event, seated right next to me eating THE MOST FABULOUS food, was this very lovely, friendly and much more hip looking lesbian couple from London enjoying a pizza we knew we immediately had to order and, well many laughs we (well, I) clearly knew we had to be a part of.

After striking up a conversation, within minutes I’d somehow forgotten why we were there, tuned out the noise from any number of obnoxious Hollywood types within earshot and became thoroughly entranced with the very hip, funny London lesbianers’ tours of Venice Beach, the Hollywood sign, and tale of one particular dish at some other restaurant I’d been to many times that the most infectiously happy and hipper of the pair made me promise to go back and try because it would literally change my life.

me… 90% of the time

I felt better until it was almost time to leave when I suddenly and uncontrollably blurted out:

I just want you to know that Trump – so many of us didn’t support him. Please don’t think of us like that.

At which point, she put her hand on mine, looked me in the eye and replied:

Oh love, we know. We all know. Please, don’t take that on yourself.

MY EMOTIONS

She smiled, I nodded, she paid the check and she turned away. Then she got up and I noticed she was wearing a HUGE yet very stylishly hip diamond ring that sparkled her way towards the light by the door.

Wow, I thought, that’s quite a rock, no wonder she’s so happy.

Of course, as we know, nothing is ever that simple. Much as we’d like it to be.

Doris Day – “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”

Giving Thanks

There is a perfect little gem of a movie at your local theatre right now called Ladybird that perfectly evokes the real spirit of Thanksgiving. Or, at least, what it should be.

No, this is not because it has turkey dinners, enviable family gatherings or even any one real specific major revelation about what or whom we should all be majorly thankful for in life.

I mean, is there one such precious individual or experience that you can pinpoint from your past or present? Certainly I can’t think of one.

So instead what the immensely insightful writer-director Greta Gerwig (who will now finally be shed of the loaded and limiting moniker of “go-to indie actress”) has given us is a whole series of people and memories and hurts and pleasures from a fictionalized vision of her own last year of high school that trusts US to look inward and draw our own conclusions.

so angsty #inthebestway

Who was a jerk and who was wrong? Were you actually born into this family or unwillingly dropped into one of nature’s most regrettable mistakes? Are you right about more things than you’ve given yourself credit for or is that just your guilt or subconscious trying to sell you that there might have been two or more moments when THEY could have known better?

Of course we all have our THEYs but they differ depending on the age we are and what we’re experiencing.

This was the point of Ladybird for me and why it feels exactly right for Thanksgiving 2017.   We should be grateful for all of it – every last moment – for THEY have brought us to where WE are today.

If that’s not what we want we can choose to do better.

If that’s what we like we can look back in joy and appreciation – or in fear that it will inevitably one day all disintegrate and turn into dust and sand. Or we will.

a little light (and dark) humor

This is hardly revelatory stuff. Except in moments that you need to be reminded of it. Then it is.

It is also why the coming of age movie will always be a timeless and enduring genre that each generation or subset of a generation – yes that means anyone reading this – defines for itself.

No – this does not mean be grateful for the AWFUL (fill in this blank with the myriad sickening moments you’ve barely lived through or witnessed of your choice.

ah relief!

Please. This is not in any way meant to be inspirational and we have a whole host of upcoming holidays from which to draw those lessons from. But sometimes art – and yeah, many films these days still qualify as such – can remind all of us that what we get in any given year is usually a mixed bag that we figure out how to uniquely proceed through or get stuck in. It is this, all of this, that specifically makes us, individually – US.

And in the moments they are happening, we are usually the worst judges of US.

It seems not insightful but merely truthful to write this at the end of what has been a very difficult year for many of US – especially in the U.S. (Note: And its territories).

One supposes there are some – okay, at most a very small plurality – who get up each day singing the 2017 equivalent of Zippity-Doo-Da. But if you live in LA as I do, or in the NY or San Francisco areas, where many of my friends and relatives are located, it’s a tough lift to imagine.

Can we just stop with the term “Real Americans”? #dreamsfor2018

And yet –

I would like to see the negative events of 2017 – starting with Trumpism, moving through various climate and/or gun-related disasters, then segueing on to the public exposure of the nauseating ordinariness of sexual abuse in our culture, and finally ending with each of our own specific misfortunes in the last ten months – as part of a continuum.

They are part of what we are and have become – for sure.

But they DO NOT tell our ENTIRE story.

It’s too simplistic to define four years by 10 months or a single, seemingly cacophonic event. Just as it is way too reductive to define a young woman’s trajectory in life by the jerky boy she got rejected by in high school or the harsh, withholding mother who never understood her.

Even if your mother is played by the divine Laurie Metcalf

Ladybird respects her heroine enough not to underestimate her and it feels, at this time of the year, that we might all resist the temptation to pull the rug out from under ourselves or our worlds before our final scenes are played.

Some months ago I was seated at the bar of a hip restaurant in West Hollywood a dear friend had taken me to in order to cheer me up after some disconcerting news. (Note: Yes, the BAR – it was the only seating immediately available and it featured not only the same food but a real 180 degree CARRERA MARBLE countertop).

we’re very fancy

In any event, seated right next to me eating THE MOST FABULOUS food, was this very lovely, friendly and much more hip looking lesbian couple from London enjoying a pizza we knew we immediately had to order and, well many laughs we (well, I) clearly knew we had to be a part of.

After striking up a conversation, within minutes I’d somehow forgotten why we were there, tuned out the noise from any number of obnoxious Hollywood types within earshot and became thoroughly entranced with the very hip, funny London lesbianers’ tours of Venice Beach, the Hollywood sign, and tale of one particular dish at some other restaurant I’d been to many times that the most infectiously happy and hipper of the pair made me promise to go back and try because it would literally change my life.

me… 90% of the time

I felt better until it was almost time to leave when I suddenly and uncontrollably blurted out:

I just want you to know that Trump – so many of us didn’t support him. Please don’t think of us like that.

At which point, she put her hand on mine, looked me in the eye and replied:

Oh love, we know. We all know. Please, don’t take that on yourself.

MY EMOTIONS

She smiled, I nodded, she paid the check and she turned away. Then she got up and I noticed she was wearing a HUGE yet very stylishly hip diamond ring that sparkled her way towards the light by the door.

Wow, I thought, that’s quite a rock, no wonder she’s so happy.

Of course, as we know, nothing is ever that simple. Much as we’d like it to be.

Doris Day – “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah”

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.