When I was a kid we were the gay community. The world was much simpler then. It was overwhelmingly made up of straight people - the ones who had families and lived the “normal” life. Then there was a tiny band of gay people - outcasts, rebels, libertines, sinners, freedom fighters - who existed in the shadows but were increasingly making their presence known. “Bisexuals” were gay people not yet able to acknowledge their true identity. Lesbians were gay, and therefore easily absorbed by men into the “gay” classification. Trans people were so rare and invisible that they weren’t considered. The world was binary - straight people and gay people.
As the years have passed we have come to see that little in life is binary or simple. And so it is with our alternative community and how we see ourselves. The gay community became the LGB community in the mid-80s as we finally realized bisexuals were real, and decided that gay men and women deserved separate recognition. In the 90s we acknowledged our trans brothers and sisters and became LGBT. In 1996 “LGBTQ” gained currency, with the “Q” representing both “questioning” and “queer” as a catch-all designation.
How’s that for a provocative title? If this were a mainstream site with actual readership that title would imply clickbait, a shameless attempt to entice readers to check out the story. Alas, I’m so far off the media map that the term “clickbait” has no meaning. This is a serious piece, and those four groups share an important trait that tells us a lot about human nature. The most basic question one can ask is this: what is the meaning of life? Feeding into that question is the concept of identity. Who am I? What purpose do I serve?
Some people dealing with those questions turn to religion or spirituality of some type. Others adopt family and social relationships as the defining purpose of their lives. Some become consumed with career. Some focus on their membership in an identity group - gay, black, feminist, etc. - that provides purpose and camaraderie. Life circumstances force some into an almost one dimensional struggle to simply survive.
And then there are those who adopt a cause and become crusaders - warriors for a noble struggle against an identifiable and demonized enemy.
I’m damn tired of beginning articles with the disclaimer that I’m a lifelong progressive, that I strongly supported both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and that I think Donald Trump is woefully unprepared and unsuited for the presidency. But I’m equally damn tired of being dumbfounded by the anti-intellectual irrationality and counterproductive writings and actions of my left-wing compatriots.
The latest example of what the right calls the “lunatic left,” a description that I’m chagrined to say is not altogether unfounded, comes from the overheated pen of Michelangelo Signorile. In a piece published on May 10 he calls for a popular uprising of “raising hell,” one that would “escalate the expression of our outrage and our anger in a massive way.”
Is Tom Cruise gay? How about John Travolta or Jake Gyllenhaal? Was Abraham Lincoln as gay as Larry Kramer assumes? How about Napoleon? William Shakespeare?
We’ve been asking these questions for a long time, and continue to do so. There is one big problem with these inquiries and these debates, however. They assume that sexuality is a binary condition. If Tom Cruise is just pretending to be straight then the rumors are true and he’s gay.
I first recognized the “new millennial gay experience” as a significant development in gay life about six or seven years ago. To understand fully what that is you can go to our “About Us” page. But in brief it means a gay life where our sexual identity is just one part of our identity; it doesn’t define us, as it did for most gay people up to this point. Further, societal and cultural developments make it possible for many if not most of us to live lives where our sexuality doesn’t limit or impede our journey to the life we want. No longer will a sense of victimhood be hanging over us, constantly clouding our sense of ourselves and our future.
A funny thing happened at “LGBTQ Nation” last week. The long time gay site wanted to have its readers vote for a “Person Of the Year,” analogous to what “Time Magazine” has done for decades. The editorial team selected ten nominees, and then opened the voting to the public. In addition to expected nominees like the Pulse shooting victims, Ellen Degeneres, the transgender community, etc., were three surprising names: Vice-President elect Mike Pence, North Carolina governor Pat McCrory (father of the notorious “Bathroom Bill”;), and Milo Yiannopoulos, bane of liberals and activists everywhere.
And the winner is….Milo!
When I received my latest issue of “Out” magazine I was delighted to see a profile of gay alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopolous. I was delighted not because I agree with him or admire him - as a lifelong progressive I am adamantly opposed to most of what he espouses - but because Milo has become increasingly prominent in the cultural discourse, and because his gayness seems so out of place in the historically homophobic far right wing. As a flamboyantly outrageous anomaly he is interesting. I’ve seen him mostly in headlines and superficial stories that skim the surface, as too much of modern “journalism” does. In left wing and LGBT circles he is routinely reduced to a caricature. Caricatures aren’t very useful to someone who wants to understand the world. A profile in “Out” seemed like a terrific idea.
I was impressed by the piece.
Real O'Neals star Noah Galvin made a big splash this summer with an interview that trashed Colton Haynes and his coming out. Noah quickly apologized, and then the premiere episode of the new season implied an additional apology. But was it genuine or the result of pressure from the network and others?
People see what they want to see, and believe what they want to believe. Psychologists have been telling us that for a long time. The phenomenon is even more pronounced for people with strong political, philosophical or religious viewpoints. I see it with gay advocates almost as much as I see it for strongly religious people.
A case in point is “Advocate” editor Matthew Breen’s “Editor’s Letter” in the August/September issue, which is the issue primarily devoted to the Orlando tragedy.
Rachel Dolezal is a white woman who for years pretended to be black and became a prominent civil rights activist. Could the gay community have its own self-professed members who aren't really gay? It doesn't seem likely, but....
Watching the “Wizard Of Oz” was a tradition in our house throughout my childhood. But it was many years before I realized there were any gay connections with the movie. Even then, the only connection of which I was aware was the “friend of Dorothy” sobriquet. I always assumed that phrase originated simply because Judy Garland had become a gay icon.
“Seasoned” gays will likely scoff at my lack of knowledge, but it turns out that the movie has gay resonances beyond what I had realized.
This piece will piss off a lot of people. (Dan Savage will certainly be removing me from his Christmas card list.) However, it begins in a comfortable and reassuring way.
I’ve been a progressive since I discovered politics when I was fifteen years old. Even before I realized I was gay I identified with the poor, the hurting, and the marginalized, and I wanted to use the tool of politics to make the world a better place for those people.
In this piece I talk about the concept of microaggressions, about which too many of us go way overboard. Here's why the subject makes us look shallow, and exposes our lack of understanding of how life works.
Read the story
I've been a political junkie since I was 14 years old. Every four years I watch most of both the Democratic and Republican conventions. And I enjoy myself! And so last week I spent far too much time with Donald Trump. But, despite my distaste for Trump and my disagreement with most Republican thinking, when it was over I felt palpably reminded of the incredible progress the gay community has made over the past twenty years or so. This week I'm watching the Democrats, and that reminder is being reinforced. I think most gay people are glossing over the reality here.
The essential reality of politics and psychology in today’s America can be summed up in one short sentence: people believe what they want to believe. Those of us who call ourselves progressive tend to believe that sentence, but only about those on the right side of the political spectrum. Global warming is a classic case. But we are prone to it as well. In fact, as the 21st century evolves I am beginning to think we are almost equally guilty.
The internet makes the situation worse. In theory it exposes people to new and alternate ideas, but as used by many in 2016 it serves instead to allow people to restrict their exposure primarily to others who reinforce their beliefs. Challenging views have become stressful, and we can just ignore them. It’s pleasant in our little echo chambers, and it feels good to be told we’re right about the big issues of the day. We can get on comment sections, tell each other how right and wise we are, and lambaste people with alternate opinions as idiots.
This phenomenon has been evident in the various reactions to the Orlando tragedy.
Not all gay people liked Queer As Folk, the seminal Showtime series that ran from 2000 to 2005, but I loved every minute of it. There were a couple of vital dynamics that spanned the five season existence of the show. The most obvious was that sex is good, sex is fun, and more sex is better than less.
A second dynamic was the idea of gay people remaining unique, a distinct and separate community in virtual opposition to mainstream straight society. Us vs. them, as Brian Kinney certainly thought of it. Liberty Avenue was a gay neighborhood, and most characters had no significant straight people in their lives.
The church is full, the guests waiting expectantly for the wedding party. The music starts, played by the New Directions band, and the crowd turns around, looking down the aisle. There is Finn Hudson, handsome in a suit. He straightens his tie, dances down the aisle, and sings: "It's a beautiful night, we're looking for something dumb to do." He twirls, goes to a knee, and points down the aisle with both hands. "Hey baby, I think I wanna marry you." There is Rachel Berry. She dances toward Finn, singing her own verse. When she reaches him he picks her up, twirling twice as he carries her to the front.
"Silence Of the Lambs" director Jonathan Demme died recently, which generated multiple stories about his most famous movie. It was known for winning five Academy Awards, including all five of the major categories. It was known for its riveting performances by Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster. And it was known for generating a huge backlash from the LGBT community. GLAAD issued a strong denunciation. Gay people, led by Queer Nation and ACT-UP, protested and picketed for a year leading up to Oscar night. Larry Kramer called the film "one of the most virulently and insidiously homophobic films ever made."
Wait, what??? Sexual preference??? What am I thinking? I can’t use that term. It indicates that sexuality is a choice, as opposed to an innate, unchangeable orientation.
Over the years we’ve come to agree that “sexual preference” is a term used by the ignorant or the willfully homophobic. However, as the march of cultural evolution continues, making gay people ever more mainstream and accepted, and as my own outlooks mature, I have come to believe that we should abandon our antipathy to that phrase.
Do you read gay media? If you're reading this obscure little site of mine then I'm guessing you do. Have you noticed the prime characteristic of all of these sites (apart from mine!)? The stories are overwhelmingly negative, focusing on all the dark and oppressive aspects of the queer experience. Stories about the crazy things obscure rightwingers say; repetitive pieces about how evil Trump is and how awful and hateful his America has become; stories exemplifying the worldview that no discriminatory experience is too insignificant to not have its own story and headline.
Check out a few of these sites now for yourself. You know what they are. Scan the headlines. I'll wait.
One of the scariest aspects of being gay for many people is the need and/or desire to come out to one’s family. That is true at any age, but especially so for young people not yet well established on their own. Even in today’s relatively enlightened world the fear of rejection from the people who dominated one’s life for so long, the people who should be the ultimate and safest refuge, can be intense. And the younger a person is, the more dangerous can be the practical results of rejection.
I was palpably reminded of that fear while watching “When We Rise,” the excellent ABC miniseries that was, unfortunately, seen by far too few people. Activist icon Cleve Jones, who wrote the memoir on which the miniseries was based, came out to his psychologist father when he turned 18. Jones’ father did not take the revelation well.
Rachel, Rachel, Rachel….
I love Rachel Maddow, and this week my buddy (I can call her that because every time I watch her show we hit it off so well) was in the news herself in a big way. I assume everyone knows the basic story, but good journalism requires a summary. On Tuesday she tweeted: “BREAKING: We’ve got Trump tax returns. Tonight, 9pm ET.” Understandably, lots of folks went into a tizzy. This was huge news! And, of course, huge numbers of people tuned in to her show that night, many for the first time.
What resulted was far more debacle than triumph.
I’ve considered myself a progressive all my life. That is based on the philosophy and the political and social viewpoints that have animated my understanding of the world around me. I think for myself, so I’m not simply parroting the demands of the “Little Black Book Of Proper Progressive Thought.” In a few ways I diverge from the little black book, but overall my outlook has clearly been progressive.
Recently, however, I’ve begun to wonder whether I’m still allowed to call myself a progressive. So many of the self-described progressives out there seem to define the term not by positions on issues but by the REACTIONS they have to people they don’t agree with, and by the methodologies by which they want to engage their “enemies.” Further, the progressive community continues to shrink the universe of what it sees as acceptable behavior and expression, becoming increasingly sensitive to what it interprets as affronts and offenses of all kinds.
I haven’t posted any pieces here recently, but I’ve had several great ideas. My primary goal in my writing over the past couple of months has been to try to produce output that can be published by mainstream sites or magazines. At the same time I want to communicate ideas that are a bit outside of the mainstream. After all, how many more pieces do we need decrying how awful Trump is, or highlighting the latest inanities of the far right wing goofballs? Any idiot can write pieces like that, and those pieces add nothing to the conversation or to our understanding.
As I discussed in a recent piece LGBTQ Nation earlier this month named controversial Breitbart tech editor Milo Yiannopoulos it's 2016 "Man Of the Year." The "honor" resulted from a vote of readers that was obviously hijacked by social media campaigns promoted by Milo himself, along with Breitbart and others. The announcement was made on January 5, and included the promise of an in-depth interview with Milo to appear the following week. However, the interview has not appeared, and I have seen no mention of it or of the award since the original announcement.
This is the most difficult piece I’ve ever written. In fact, a significant part of me doesn’t want to write it at all. I put it off for three weeks so I could think through again and again my feelings, and ponder thoughtfully the complexities that increase the more I think. I’ve now been sitting here in a coffeeshop for two hours, reading news story after news story on my laptop, all the while telling myself it’s time to start writing.
This piece is difficult because I have to say some unpopular things that my compatriots in the left wing and queer communities do not want to hear.
Gay people have historically had the self-perception of being society’s outsiders. It’s not hard to understand why. Until the 1970s gay people were considered by all psychological organizations to be mentally ill. In only one state in the U.S. was sodomy legal prior to the 1970s, and it remained illegal in fourteen states until the Supreme Court’s “Lawrence v Texas” ruling in 2003. Until recent years few people came out at work, and many feared coming out to family and even friends. The “average person” didn’t know gay people, and thought of them as scary deviants or doomed sinners.
But times have dramatically changed.
For some reason my mind keeps returning to the profile of Milo Yiannopoulos that Chadwick Moore wrote for “Out” magazine. As anyone reading this knows, the profile generated a virtual firestorm of almost universal criticism from the queer community. Perhaps part of my fixation is the near unanimity with which my community expressed itself in opposition to how I thought about the situation. As a gay person I’m in a small minority in society, and now on this issue I’m in a small minority within that minority.
I read the profile yet again, and read my critique of the firestorm yet again. I still think I’m right, and have logic (and journalism) on my side. That’s not to say that I would have written the same profile Moore did.
Readers of this site probably have some difficulty figuring out the difference between the pieces that end up in the Commentary or Blog sections. That's because so far I haven't used the Blog section as I want to and should. In theory the Blog is for ramblings and stray thoughts, while Commentary is for more "big picture" pieces that deal - hopefully in a better written way! - with issues for which I've done thought and research. What I often find, though, is that I start a piece as a blog post, but then get caught up in it. Before long I've done research, tweaked the writing, and ended up with much more than I anticipated writing. I'm trying once again to start using the blog more appropriately. (Ha!, part of my brain is saying; let's see how THAT goes!)
I"ve been reading more than my usual share of the gay media recently, and I noticed something distressing to me. It's all alike.