Thursday, June 30, 2005

Common Cents: Victories Abroad and Small Steps at Home

Well, something to celebrate as both Spain and Canada legalize same-sex marriage (and Spain legalized gay adoption also - so go adopt all those gay babies).

The United Church of Christ is on the verge of passing a resolution this week in Atlanta that will support of same-sex marriage, making it the first mainstream religion to do so. You may remember them from this fantastic commercial proclaiming their acceptance of diverse congregational members. It was so controversial CBS and NBC refused to air because of it's radical message.

Less celebratory, but just as interesting is that Bush appointed openly gay Israel Hernandez, (better known to Bushies as "Altoid Boy" for his supplying of Dubya with mints) as Assistant Secretary of Commerce.

Living La Vida Queero

Here I am back again on the bitch train apparently. But yet another item has struck a nerve.

I was listening to our local NPR call-in radio talk show when a nervous caller offered to the program host that there are people who have found Jesus and left the "gay lifestyle." The caller seemed nervous and not quite fully convinced of his own assertion, but the host was gentle and asked if he left the "lifestyle" because he was unhappy because of external pressure. No, the caller replied, the pressure and unhappiness was all internal. He just prayed about it and got religion and left it behind him.

One, I hate the term "gay lifestyle." That doesn't even mean anything. Are you referring to sex with men, or more specifically my husband? That's a fraction of my life that is no different from anybody else with a spouse. And prior to having a husband? Don't tell me straight people don't have sex with non-spouses.

Drugs? Ibuprofen here and there. Booze? I drink every third blue moon. Clubbing? Sorry, don't have any baby seals around here.

Perhaps you refer to my tastefully decorated house? You're certainly not suggesting it's about my fairly conservative Old Navy polos and Dockers khaki pants. Although you might mean choice of snazzy Bass buckle loafers.

I'm not sure what kind of lifestyle I have. I guess it's quasi-yuppish for the most part. Other than that, I have no idea.

The only people who feel the need to leave "the gay lifestyle" are those who have bought into all the messages that something is wrong with them. These are the people who, if they were politicians, would be hiding in the closet while trying to kill gay civil rights legislation. They hate themselves.

Or, they've allowed themselves to think that their choice to drink heavily, consume illegal drugs, or have risky and/or promiscuous sex is because they are gay. Everybody else blames all the bad stuff on being gay, why not hang your alcoholism or lack of personal responsibility on that hook too? Face it, if you were straight, you'd still be doing the same things, only you've convinced yourself that your problem isn't that you are a slut, but that you are gay.

I would feel bad for these people, but I'm tired of them telling me and others that their personal problem is a truism about me and my, I'm not afraid to brag, very well put together life.

Monday, June 13, 2005

A Wake Up Call for the Gay Community

Hiltons to be grand marshals of L.A. Pride parade
Associated Press Friday, June 10, 2005 / 06:33 PM

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- Paris Hilton and her mother, Kathy, will be
grand marshals for the annual Gay Pride parade, one of the city's biggest celebrations.

They will greet tens of thousands of people expected Sunday at the Los
Angeles Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual and Transgender Pride Parade.

Paris Hilton, the 24-year-old star of television's "The Simple Life" reality show, provoked controversy recently by appearing scantily clad in a Carl's Jr. burger commercial.

The hotel heiress is engaged to Greek shipping heir Paris Latsis, a grandson of John Latsis, the last of Greece's shipping billionaires from the postwar boom years, who died in 2003 at 93.

This news clip exemplifies perfectly to me a problem in the modern gay community. We are, and have been for a while, failing to be the activists we need to be in order to secure not just legal rights, but societal respect and acceptance.

Pride parades have become another meaningless entertainment venue, devoid of any purpose other than to get nekkid, scare the straights, and get tweaked. Instead of putting some person of value and significance, we put up a sleazy whore who has no redeeming social value, not to mention not even any celebrity of worth or entertainment value.

She is a non-person, a non-entity, a non-celebrity. To quote a recent book on teen girls, the only reason Hilton has been put up on a pedestal is so men can look up her skirt. Why gay men (or any self-respecting lesbian) would look up to her other than to reinforce the pervasive stereotype that we are also sleazy whores is beyond me.

And so once again we buy into our own internalized homophobia. We celebrate not that which makes us special or valuable, but our most base aspect, the societal spectre that follows us and seeks to destroy us as a people not worth respect or dignity or legal rights.

We fail to make a statement other than an addiction to the sexual and the shallow. We fail to be activists and retreat into the safety and denial of a stereotype that emphasizes sex and shallowness. And it must be right; we embrace those values in the choice of Paris Hilton.

We have grown accustomed to being denied rights so long as they don't shut down the bathouses. We have accepted being seen as living demons and spreaders of perversion and disease so long as they don't call us queer and fag. We have allowed ourselves to be the gay Steppin Fetchit.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Crash Coarse

Everyone's a little bit racist, or so the Avenue Q song goes. That's certainly the main conceit of the recent movie Crash, which puts a not-so-fine of a point on that idea.

Crash, much like its name, is anything but subtle. It paints in broad, course strokes, only occasionally using a more understated approach. Not only is everyone racist, but almost everyone is a raving bigot and aren't afraid to express their bigotry. A gun shop owner has no problem insulting the Persian man purchasing a weapon from him and then denying him the purchase. A black police detective doesn't hesitate to demean his Latina partner and lover. A black wife and husband freely hurl invective at each other about how black the other actually is. And everybody is down on the Hispanic locksmith.

Which is not to suggest that the movie is entirely inaccurate. Modern racism tends to be more subtle and insidious than the coarse verbalization found in the movie, but the thoughts and perspectives expressed are certainly valid representations of the way many people think or feel. Although reflected in real life, the movie does take easy shortcuts in dealing with bigotry. The affluent city DA is politically correct in the worst sense; he cares more about surface perception that actually dealing with true racial problems. His wife recoils from any non-white, mortified of any minority after they car-jacked. Racism is also a bit too neat: Americans hate Muslims, black and white people hate each other; black and Asian people hate each other; LA police are corrupt, white and black, etc.

Even with these shortcuts, the film is not devoid of complexity. Just as virtually everybody is racist, so is no one person made completely evil. Even the most compromised characters possess some degree of virtuousness. Characters have to learn to compromise and deal with each other despite their problems and differences. Although perhaps overly simple, paradoxically a complex web of connectivity is created among the principle characters.

Yet it is this simplistic six degrees of separation that is the point to be taken away here. The title of the movie does not apply to car crashes, indeed there are only three crashes: one at the beginning, one slightly over half-way through the movie, and one at the end (and interestingly enough the end crash is the only crash we actually see happen). The movie opens with a line by Don Cheadle who speculates that people crash their cars into each other to have contact with other people that is missing in every day life. Indeed, Crash refers to the way we have the potential to crash into each other culturally. Instead of choosing to reach out in equality and with an open-mind, we choose to be hurtful and oblivious to the people around us. As much of the cultural destruction that happens is purposeful, an equal amount is the failure to see beyond our own cultural filters and lenses.

Ultimately we witness the destruction that our self-imposed isolation (both physical and cultural) brings about in both the lives of others and in our society. Although this point is brought home with a hammer, Crash does seek to raise the audience's awareness of the personal and larger consequences of failing to understand and interact with our fellow human beings. Crash could have been more interesting by playing with the more internalized and subtle aspects of racism. Some of the sub-plot and character development outcomes could have shown more meaningful results (will Sandra Bullock's spoiled rich white woman's revelation truly lead to her making her housekeeper's life better?)

Crash does offer a highly intense and thought-provoking experience that does captivate the audience. And, interestingly, at least in the theater where I saw it, drew perhaps the most diverse crowd I have ever seen at any movie. Crash has the potential to bring about meaningful dialogue and could open doors not normally open for multicultural understanding.