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My Evening With Ulysses

Posted on May 17, 2014 at 9:25 PM

By Dennis Stone


No, not THAT kind of evening!


Readers of AfterElton/TheBacklot are likely acquainted with Ulysses Grant Dietz - museum curator, published writer, great-great-grandson of President Ulysses S. Grant. He and I "met" when we were both regular commenters on AfterElton, and he has written a couple of wonderful pieces for this site.


A couple of weeks ago I had the great pleasure of meeting him in person when he came to Minneapolis to speak at a conference. We met late in the afternoon at the Minneapolis Museum Of Art. I worked that day and didn't get to the museum until about 45 minutes before it closed, but in those 45 minutes Ulysses impressed me with his near encylopedic knowledge of art, especially artifacts and "antiques" like old chairs, painted plates, glassware, etc. I have a wider knowledge of art than most people, but Ulysses' knowledge made mine seem insignificant. 


Ulysses then took me to dinner after a tour around the Minneapolis lakes, and I've rarely had a more enjoyable dinner companion. He is every bit as nice and intelligent as he seems to be via his AfterElton comments. It takes me awhile to feel comfortable with people I've newly met, but I felt comfortable with Ulysses almost immediately.


We shared our stories of how and when we realized we were gay. To me that is the most fascinating aspect of a gay person. Until very recently gay people grew up in a society where homosexuality was rarely mentioned, and when it WAS mentioned it was usually in a negative way. There were no role models, no television characters to identify with, and the universal assumption was that we would grow up, meet a girl, get married, and start a family. The process of realizing that we were so fundamentally different from our peers, and fated to have a life so different from expectations, is the most important period of a gay person's life. 


One of the best parts of our evening was that we had such a great time even though our baseline perceptions of the gay experience are in some ways very different. Ulysses is more of the "traditionalist," as opposed to my "new millennialist." But here's the key point:  we have far more feelings and opinions that unite us than divide us. A lot of people focus on those things that separate them from others, but we focused on our similarities.


We didn't bury differences, though. For example, he explained why he felt compelled to give up watching "Parenthood" - a show he enjoyed in many ways - because it had no gay characters. I normally oppose that sort of attitude, but Ulysses explained in such a way that I understood, and I couldn't argue with his position as a result. On the other hand, I explained why I wouldn't react that way, and I think he saw my position in a new light. As a society we miss so many opportunities to bond with people we don't always agree with, and we therefore miss the opportunity to understand them better, and to see them as more fully rounded people. 


Ulysses told me about meeting Michael Jensen and Brent Hartinger, the creators and longtime editors of AfterElton before they left a couple of years ago. They had relayed to him how intensely stressful and time consuming was the process of writing for and editing a website. It put a great strain on their relationship because of that. (Though they weathered the storm and are now married.) That made me feel a bit better about my inability to maintain this site long term in the way I wanted to. They certainly had more content than I, but they also had a staff and edited the site on a full time basis. I have a stressful full-time job, and did all the editing, formatting, posting and photo-finding all by myself, in addition to all the writing I tried to do. So now I don't feel so bad about needing to dial back. (Though I still have dreams!)


Ulysses also told me that he keeps in contact with many of the people who used to comment regularly on AfterElton, but who have now basically disappeared from the Backlot. Unfortunately, the Backlot is a very different site from AfterElton, with different goals and a different focus. We both miss the old site, and the sense of community among a wide range of insightful commenters that it engendered. That gave me an idea that I may follow up on. Perhaps we could bring those former commenters together on my site, along with some new ones, and try to create an intelligent forum environment. From what I can see the comment sections of almost all sites on the internet are degenerating by the day, and substantive, intelligent commentary has no chance. I'm currently giving some thought to that idea, and to how best to make it work. 


At any rate, I want to thank Ulysses for a great evening!

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3 Comments

Reply Hue-Man
10:35 PM on May 20, 2014 
We've seen so many bloggers run headlong into the wall and close up shop - I hope you find the internal resources to enjoy posting again. Needless to say but we've missed you.

The typical response to the internet trolls in the comments section seems to be to shut down the comments. I always defer to the decisions that bloggers make, although I often learn more from comments than from the original posting. The Incidental Economist closed comments recently and the life went out of the site - not good for a website dealing with health matters! (I know my comments are rarely on-topic but I recognize that readers have the choice to scroll past - quickly.)

Your meeting with Ulysses reminded me of the time I was working in Paris. The Louvre had public talks given by department heads every month. One that I attended - I've forgotten the exact topic but it was something like 18th century snuff-boxes - was fascinating because the speaker was passionate about his area of expertise, "his collection", and the historical background. I wonder whether our focus on cutting government spending has made these experts disappear to be replaced with the museum equivalent of Wikipedia.
Reply Yiannis
7:31 PM on May 18, 2014 
I agree with you Dennis, Ulysses is quite an extraordinary man. I'm glad that you're thinking to create an intelligent forum environment, that will hopefully include conversations of global interest.
Reply Ulysses Dietz
12:58 PM on May 18, 2014 
LOL, Dennis--I loved spending time with you--as with an old friend, which after all is what we are. Especially now. How well you expressed our conversation during our afternoon and evening together. I hope it was just the first time.