Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The 24th Day: A Gay Misfire

LOGO has been showing a 2004 film called The 24th Day a lot lately. It comes off to me as a film that exploits gay and HIV subject matter, throws in some interesting tidbits, but doesn't really know what to do with them, mostly due to the insufficiencies of the screenwriter. Based on a play by one Tony Piccirillo, it was also written and directed by him. According to Piccirillo, he got the idea for the play after he got strep throat or something after a brief affair with a woman (sic), and a nurse suggested he should get tested for AIDS. He confronted the woman, who told him he was making too much of it. This somehow evolved into an essentially gay film (what -- heteros don't get HIV?) about a married-and-in-denial guy, Tom (Scott Speedman) who ties up an out-of-the-closet gay man, Dan (James Marsden of X-Men) because he thinks he gave him AIDS during an encounter years before. It turns out that Tom was married, and his wife committed suicide after learning she had AIDS. He claims that he is essentially straight and had only one sexual encounter with a man -- Dan. He feels that Dan to all intents and purposes murdered his wife and ruined his life. Dan says he didn't force him to commit adultery with a man and it's Tom's fault if he passed HIV along to his unknowing spouse. Tom takes a sample of Dan's blood, gives it to a friend to take to a lab, and says he'll set Dan free if he's HIV negative, and kill him if he's positive.

Yuchhh. First let me say that the main problem with the film -- and there are many -- is that we've got a situation where a self-deceptive, self-hating, homophobic closet queen somehow holds himself to be morally superior to an out-of-the-closet gay man. There doesn't seem to be any indication that Dan knew he was HIV positive (assuming he is) at the time of their encounter, and Tom himself takes no responsibility for having unsafe sex. Dan does suggest that Tom may well have had many more homo encounters than he's admitting to, and also advises him that since his wife had symptoms first, she actually might have given the virus to her husband. To be fair, this is an intriguing (if melodramatic) situation, but the movie doesn't make the most of it, going awry long before the conclusion.

Unwisely, the film tries to be trendy when it comes to sexual identity. Dan admits that just because he has sex with a woman now and then doesn't mean he's straight (or even bi), that he has absolutely no intention of giving up men and getting a wife. Fine. But he seems to agree with Tom that an occasional episode with a man doesn't make a man gay or bi, which is ludicrous at its core. If we didn't live in a world that was full of homophobia and yet devoid of heterophobia (which affects every gay person even on a subconsious level) I might buy this notion of "bicuriosity." On the contrary, I think it's bullshit. Bicurious men are men who can't quite accept their homosexuality, plain and simple, political correctness and bisexuality be damned.

Instead of really exploring this issue -- one of internalized homophobia -- Piccirillo gives Dan a ludicrous speech about not putting people in boxes, and how men who are essentially straight but also attracted to men have a more difficult time of it than women in the same (if opposite) situation. "It's totally messed up for guys who prefer women and have a slight curiosity about men. ... "

And : "Being with a man or wanting to be with a man doesn't make you gay ... "

Uh, sure.

Let me make it clear that this speech is not given to Tom, the closet case, but to Dan, the gay guy! But it's just the sort of thing that gay guys in denial are always saying. [Read my controversial post, Seriously in Denial.]

Now another problem with this project is that it doesn't seem to be the product of what you might call gay sensibilities. The two lead actors are apparently straight. All I know about Piccirillo is that he had a four-year-old son at the time of the film's release and once upon a time was afraid he'd caught AIDS from a girlfriend. And isn't it ridiculous that in the 21st century we still don't really know who's gay or who isn't or who's in denial and who's supposedly "bi-curious" and even if we do know we can't come right out and say because even though there's nothing wrong with being gay saying someone is gay can still be considered as libelous as saying someone is a serial killer or a terrorist. (All right -- take a deep breath after that sentence.)

That being said, I also must say that I have no personal knowledge of the private lives of Marsden, Speedman, or Piccirillo. Another truth is that The 24th Day comes off as the project of straight men who are totally out of their depth (and closet cases -- not that I'm saying that that's what we're dealing with here -- might just as well be straight due to their lack of any gay sensibility). One has to ask why Piccirillo couldn't have used heterosexual characters in the same situations - after all he supposedly got the idea from an encounter with a woman. Did he think The 24th Day might get more attention or support as a "gay" movie? Does he still think AIDS is a "gay disease?" It's like having a Caucasian writing a play about African-Americans and inevitably getting it all wrong. Sometimes going for publicity-generating controversy is the worst way to go. (By the way, the title refers to the fact that Tom learned he had HIV 24 days before the film proper begins.)

The film is also a disappointment on the artistic front. A really great play could have been written employing these two characters and dealing with the same themes -- certainly personal responsibility as well as responsibility to others is important these days when it comes to the HIV pandemic (but this is as true for straights as it is for gays) -- but Piccirillo is stepping out of his league in tackling these matters. As a director, he fails to imbue his film with enough thrills or tension (it's supposed to be a thriller, after all, but mostly comes off as a talky videotaped stage play). The performances of Marsden and Speedman are certainly not awful, but the actors aren't quite up to the script's challenges, and soft-spoken Speedman is often unintelligible. They don't really seem to understand the characters -- but neither does Piccirillo. [Does he relate at all to Dan? Does he relate to the pathetic Tom?] To be fair to Piccirillo, he makes an effort, but whether the problem is lack of identification or lack of talent or both, it just isn't enough.

And why on earth does Picirillo have the two men go on and on about the show Charlie's Angels, which these characters, given their relative youth, could only have seen on TVLand if at all? I have had countless conversations with gay men of all types and ages over the years but I've yet to have a conversation about Charlie's Angels, be it TV show or movie.

I don't know if Dan was originally conceived as a "pig," a gay man who will try just about anything, safe sex be damned. There's no denying that men like this exist, but they also have their heterosexual equivalent. But there are a great many gay men who are constantly conscious of safe sex, carry condoms at all times, and are responsible to themselves and to their sex partners. Straight characters [a widow whose husband died of AIDS confronts the male drug user who gave her HIV, for instance] might have actually made the play/movie even more controversial and timely, given how HIV infection is rising in the heterosexual community.

Given its subject matter, I guess I can't fault LOGO for airing the film so that the three or four people who've heard of it can make up their own minds. Frankly The 24th Day muffs so many great opportunities for drama and enlightenment that I can't think of a better place for it than at 5 AM in the morning. Too bad. Interesting situations and discussions are sort of frittered away in a two-man acting exercise where the uncertain actors sort of sink to the level of the exploitative material.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Oy Vey -- A Daily Variety of "mincing effeminacy"

The Kid from Brooklyn, a new musical about the comedian Danny Kaye, was reviewed in Daily Variety [December 17th 2007] by Bob Verini. Verini writes: "As for Kaye's psychological makeup, tantalizing hints (a cheek touch from Laurence Olivier) that his mincing effeminacy [italics mine]was no pose go unaddressed." [For the record, in his biography of Laurence Oliver, Donald Spoto suggested that the great tragedian might have had an affair with Kaye, but while this bit of info was fascinating, it wasn't really substantiated, alas.]

As you can see from the comical pose above, Kaye -- like most comedians -- could do the mincing (but not necessarily gay) business with the best of them, although I never really thought of him as "effeminate" (not that that would make him a bad person). Certainly this doesn't mean that he, Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope and legions of others were all gay in real life. When Kaye wasn't -- for lack of a better term -- camping it up, he always seemed perfectly "masculine," which certainly doesn't preclude his being gay. What bothered me is the way Verini suggests that if a man is gay any "mincing" he does -- even if it's only for the camera as part of some comedy routine -- is of course the way he actually is off-screen, all gay men presumably -- according to Verini's mind-set -- being "big swishes." Verini may not have meant it that way -- --the reviewer is a complete unknown to me, I know nothing of his personal life -- but this whole gay-man-as-mincing-faggot business is so incredibly out of date and irritating, given what we now know of the expansiveness of the gay male community, that it raises my blood temperature no matter who says it or how.
Even those gay men who are effeminate rarely "mince" in the way that alleged comedians portray them, and -- possessed of their own inner strength (if for no other reason than their having to deal with gay-bashing comments on a nearly daily basis) -- they absolutely do not deserve the disrespect that seems continuously poured over them -- and by extension all gay men -- in buckets. Comedy may in part be about exaggeration, but when you've heard the same jokes over and over and over again it gets old real fast.

Some straight men sometimes see/describe gay men as camping, mincing, being "light in the loafers," floating several inches off the ground, etc. even when the gay man in question is butch. Most straight men -- especially if they're insecure -- can't deal with the fact that there are gay men who are a lot more manly than they are. They can only comfortably deal with a masculine gay man if they imagine that no matter how he acts in public, when he's home alone with his friends suddenly his wrists go limp and he walks around with a decided wiggle. Even if they don't think that, they still like to think that the man is somehow feminine on the inside. And this applies to gay-friendly straight men who should know better as much as it does to the homophobes.

So -- was Danny Kaye gay? Apparently Hollywood insiders of a certain age say that there were rumors for years. One prominent Hollywood chronicler I know labeled him "bisexual" (at least in the technical sense as he was married with children). While I often found Kaye to be a little overbearing for my taste, he was a talented man and a likable performer.

If it turns out he was gay, so much the better.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Don't Ask, Don't Tell on 60 Minutes

Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes did a new report this past Sunday (December 16th, 2007) on the military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy concerning gays. The gay soldiers (including mechanics, technicians and linguists) interviewed ran the gamut from cute, somewhat "sweet" young guys to very butch marines, all of whom seemed highly competent at their jobs, the point of which was made by Stahl and others. [The segment was produced by Karen M. Sughrue.] Cholene Espinoza, a lesbian combat pilot who now flies for commercial airlines and works to repeal the DADT policy, was interviewed, along with the usual homophobic suspects, such as General
Daniel Davis, who argued that military units are generally conservative and that "morally repugnant" gays who were open about their sexuality would, in essence, negatively affect morale.

Another idiot, Presidential candidate Duncan Hunter of the Armed Forces committee, claimed that gays just weren't tough enough to be in combat, more dumb all-gay-men-are-big-sissies stereotyping. He felt that the American military needed "hardened soldiers" more than the countries that permitted gays to serve! [No doubt Hunter thought it hilarious that the combat pilot was a lesbian. I have known gay men who were combat pilots and I have no doubt there are many in Iraq and elsewhere today, although they may not have been interviewed by Stahl.] I know Stahl was going for balance, but I feel she gave far too much air time to Hunter. The trouble was that it was undoubtedly difficult for her to find gay servicemen and women willing to talk on camera, for obvious reasons.

One of the gay soldiers said that about 100 people knew he was gay (he was not stereotypically gay) and felt that no one had reported him because they were his peers, "the Will and Grace generation," and didn't see homosexuality as a sickness. Even Stahl mentioned that perhaps he and the other soldiers were being a little naive. One of them mentioned how his petty officer told him that he found homosexuals to be disgusting on every level but "we still love ya," he assured him. Another man had faced much more discrimination and was discharged when it was discovered he was gay. The gay soldiers felt that the pentagon was out of touch with most Americans when it came to the DADT policy and Stahl said that indeed a survey indicated that 75% of the country felt it was okay for gays to serve in the military (that seems a little high to me).

In England gays are allowed to serve openly, and even allowed to march for Gay Pride. Admiral Sir Alan West (who I thought was terrific) made the point that the Spartans were plenty macho and, according to him, most of them were gay. He ridiculed Hunter's comments, saying one doesn't have to be all stereotypically gung ho to get the job done. Oddly, none of the group of military men who recently came out against the DADT policy were interviewed (maybe because their superiors wouldn't allow it).

This whole business of all gay men being weak sisters persists generation after generation. On The Late, Late Show a young comedian named Gabriel Iglesias recently told one of the most vile homophobic jokes I've heard in a long time. Telling about how he was on a plane when it suddenly dropped a great distance, he said "Now I'm a pretty tough guy but I went gay for three seconds," then proceeded to screech and squeal and wiggle in an effeminate manner -- acting like a gay guy, ha ha -- that many drag queens would have thought over the top. The host and the audience roared with laughter as if they thought it was the funniest thing they'd ever heard.

Now anyone would probably be terrified if they thought their plane were about to crash (not exactly a great topic for humor to begin with) but surely Iglesias could have made that point without doing the usual "faggot" routine. He never used the "fag" word, but he might as well have. Gay men -- along with lesbians -- remain easy targets, the last acceptable group to bash and make fun of. (In contrast, bisexuals don't even have their own slur word, and while drag queens get bashed -- as gay men -- transsexuals seem to be under the radar for comics, although that may change in the future as their visibility increases.)

I'd like to think that there were some straight people in the audience of The Late, Late Show who were also appalled by the "joke."

I can only imagine how any gay people sitting in the audience must have felt.

Truth Wins Out

Wayne Besen, author and activist, is executive director of Truth Wins Out (TWO), a group that is dedicated to exposing the lies of "ex-gay" groups who promote homophobia and self-hatred and who dupe confused homosexuals into believing they can turn straight. Numerous ex-gays who have appeared on talk shows to talk about how straight they've become have been caught cruising gay bars in town only hours later. Groups such as Exodus try to convince homosexuals that they can "convert" via a combination of prayer and what one might call "stupid pet tricks."

You can check out Truth Wins Out's website here.

Two has just released two Internet commercials which debunk the idiotic and offensive claims of the ex-gay moment. You can check out one of them here on youtube. [NOTE: the photo above is from the ad. That is not Wayne Besen but ex-gay survivor Nick Cavnar.]

Wayne crossed swords with a homophobic "ex-gay" in a comical fashion on the Daily Show. You can read my report of this amusing episode here.

I hope TWO gets all the support it deserves.

And I think Wayne Besen is great.

The sad thing is that many gays who don't keep up with things have no idea how many hate-mongering, homophobic assholes are out there, many of whom point to the bible to justify their anti-gay prejudice. The blog Good as You (GAY) has a link to a radio interview between "ex-gay" Charlene Cothran and a few other self-justifying homophobes which you can find here.

A Shot of Sheer Stupidity

MTV, the network that's brought us such intellectual programs as The Real World and Jackass, has now come out with another "gem," A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila. The modestly-attractive Tila [photo on left] is a reality show participant who's bent on stardom and -- even with the absence of any discernable talent -- will do just about anything to get it. She's started on a course that may remind some of Anne Heche, who used a relationship with Ellen Degeneres to kick-start her career.

Tila identifies as bisexual. Which is strange because she's said that her new reality show will help her decide whether she likes boys or girls (and here I thought bisexuals already knew that they liked both). The premise of the show is that Tila will date 16 straight men and 16 lesbians and then decide on who will be her lover. The twist is that the men and women will not be told that they'll be competing against each other until the second episode. (On this episode one gay woman wisely packs up and gets the hell out of there.)

I know there are people -- mostly the very young, stupid and possibly bi-identified -- who will say that the show is a breath of fresh air, so enlightened and liberated, fun for gays, straights and bi's.,that one would have to be an old meanie to object to it. Actually I think anyone would half a brain would see this merde for exactly what it is. A show that has absolutely nothing to do with gay (or even bi) pride and more enlightened attitudes and everything to do with simple exploitation and even homophobia, an even stupider show than Gay, Straight or Taken.

First of all, the outcome of this show was never in doubt. Did anyone seriously not think, in true Anne Heche fashion, that "bisexual" Tila would pick a guy in the final episode -- which is exactly what she does (wouldn't it be funny if he were a closeted homo?). Is there anyone of intelligence who does not see that the celebrity-seeking Tequila might be willing to neck with women to turn on straight male executives (and what is that about anyway?) but isn't willing to enter into a real live lesbian relationship for the cameras. [NOTE: Straight guys only get turned on by women getting it on together -- for whatever reason -- if the women are boobed babes -- as well as boobs -- and are definitely not total lesbians.] Tila is using a kind of mock bisexuality -- and this should insult the bi-identified as much as gays -- to be hip and different, to get attention, knowing as long as she suggests she's also or mainly into dick she won't be considered an icky "dyke." Going "straight" worked for Anne Heche, after all (does anyone think any of Heche's marriages to men will be particularly long-lasting?) If you want to believe that either Tequila or Heche are bi or straight, be my guest, but don't ask this doubting Thomas to agree with you.

So in the final episode Tila predictably picks a guy while the attractive lesbian gets to walk off into the sunset by herself. Gee -- this has nothing to do with the fact we live in a homophobic world? There is no talk about sexual identity, internalized homophobia, or any of the other factors that may have influenced her decision -- it's just show biz, as insubstantial and fluffy as cotton candy. Of course, let's not feel too sorry for the gay gal, who should have taken a hike as soon as she discovered the dumb deception behind the show (one woman honestly thought the program was a ground-breaking lesbian-only dating show and was proud to be part of it until she discovered the truth.)

I only watched the final episode, but gleaned other information from reviews and the like on the web. On one episode, one of the allegedly straight guys tells the other men that they shouldn't be upset that they lost an athletic competition to the lesbians because "they're really men, after all." Yes -- that's the level of discussion on homosexuality on A Shot at Love, which only manages to debase lesbians, especially those who aren't of the "babe" variety.

Bay Windows published an especially good review of the program by Linda Rodriguez, which can be found by searching their website. And there is an amusing write-up of the show by Susan Norfleet at the blog queersighted.

Friday, November 30, 2007

New York Blade 10th Anniversary Party

Went to a nice party on Wednesday November 28th 2007 at the Gay center on 13th street to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the local gay paper The New York Blade. A number of people agreed with me that it didn't seem as if the Blade had been around that long, but it may only seem that way because I became a regular reader only within the past couple of years. The Blade has published a couple of my rants in their letters column, and I did a piece on author/activist Wayne Besen for their annual pride issue this summer.

I met quite a few nice and interesting people, male and female, of all ages at the party, so many that it's hard to place a name (on a business card) with the face or conversation. There was Dirk McCall, the Executive Director of the Greenwich Village/Chelsea Chamber of Commerce, and Daniel Tietz, Executive Director of ACRIA (Aids Community Research Initiative of America). I believe one of these gentleman was the great, friendly guy who introduced me to nearly everyone he knew at the party, which seemed to be half of the people there! Conversations tended to be brief, as they usually are at cocktail parties (there was much more to drink than eat, not that I'm complaining!) but I had longer talks with a young lesbian (I didn't catch her name, unfortunately) whose spirit of activism reminded me of my own, as well as a nice conversation with another young woman who just started working for GLAAD (I had just reported to the group a vile joke told by an alleged comedian on the Late, Late Show -- more on that on another post). I told her that I basically did what GLAAD now does when I was with New York's Gay Activists Alliance years ago, but today's young career activists seem pretty much unfamiliar with GAA and all that it accomplished. Too bad. But the once militant days of the Gay Rights Movement have been replaced by the "nicer" (but not necessarily ineffective) tactics of the GLBT movement. I also met Karl Hampe -- hope I got the name right -- a cartoonist whose strip The Regulars details what "might happen if a gay urban attorney wound up running a coffee bar." I also met Trent Straub, the editor of the Blade, but we didn't have much of a chance to talk.

There were some highly attractive men in the joint, but I kept my flirting to a minimum, as this wasn't Ty's on a Saturday night. There were a couple of very bizarre moments, which I'll mention in more appropriate posts. I remember shaking the hand of a guy who was described to me as "an openly bisexual" politician of some sort or another, which for some reason I found amusing. I overheard him telling another guest that he was just too busy to date. Jeez -- not a bad-looking guy, presumably likes both men and women, and he's too busy to go out on a date!

Nice party, nice people. All good. Here's wishing the New York Blade many more years of success!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Malevolent Munchkin of Christopher Street


In a bar in the West Village which has been around so long it’s practically an institution, but which has frankly seen better days, there is a diminutive bartender that lately I’ve been calling the "Miserable Munchkin" of Christopher Street. We used to have a cordial, even friendly, acquaintanceship, the munchkin and I, but it got to a point where I got tired of the melodrama he created and avoided him whenever I could. I confess I also thought he was sort of cute and the last thing I wanted was to develop any kind of serious feelings for him considering he was twenty years younger than me and oh so full of angst. And I’d heard stories ...There was one man who said they’d been friends but that M. no longer spoke to him and "was not a nice person." And the outraged playwright who told me one Halloween that the Munchkin "holds out the promise of sex" to get a part. [To a straight guy it may be networking, but to a gay guy it’s a date.] I later realized that my main feeling for the fellow was one of simple paternal affection and nothing more. But most of all, I just felt sorry for the guy.

Admittedly I’ve never been very comfortable with straight-identified bartenders in gay bars (I’ve often wondered what these fellows say to their friends or girlfriends -- do they laugh about the "fags" or "old queens" behind our backs to take off the "curse" of working in a gay bar?) And I doubt if most of them are completely straight [NOTE: See post on Gay-Friendly Closet Cases.] But I got used to the Munchkin because he at least seemed gay-friendly on the surface (remember these fellows work for tips). I never really bought into his straight act, which I imagine was a big bone of contention between us, although I didn’t bring it up very often and it seemed not to bother him when I did, until a later point. Tough. When he first started working there he went on and on one evening about the women he’d been fucking (those who talk about it the most do it the least) until I finally shouted "who the hell goes to a gay bar to listen to some straight guy talk about the women he’s fucking?" which practically got a round of applause from the other customers.

The vast majority of customers of the bar think the Munchkin is outright gay and closeted, bisexual, or just deeply conflicted. Some feel he’s a straight guy who hates the thought of anyone thinking he’s gay (which is in itself a kind of homophobia). It seems to me that any guy who has a horror of being perceived as gay would want to work anywhere but a gay bar – Duh! In any case, as we shall see, this is a man with serious issues. NOTE: Let me make it clear at this point that I am NOT saying this person is gay or bisexual and have no personal knowledge of his sexual orientation or romantic life, nor any desire to have any knowledge of same.

The munchkin is an aspiring actor (one reason why I pitied him, as there is no more merciless and hopeless profession) and one night I took a friend to see him in a play where he essayed a gay male stripper. My friend is an elderly man who is very hard of hearing, so we sat in the front row, as we usually do when I’m with him. The munchkin broke out in a broad grin, convinced we were there just to get a close up look of his assets, which I didn’t even care to check out. I found this display of ego rather amusing, however, and indeed to be fair to the munchkin he could, like most actors, be very charming when he wanted to be. There are customers who find him perfectly friendly, warm and pleasant, probably because they're lucky enough never to venture into the bar when he's in a nasty funk. When the Munchkin turns off the charm, there is no bigger bitch in a gay bar or anywhere else.

Not long after we saw the show – one of a few mostly forgettable epics the munchkin has appeared in off off off off Broadway – I went into the bar and asked about his next role. He told me he had been cast in a play in which he was a straight guy (naturally) who moves in with two gay men. When they refuse to let him leave, he murders them. Amazingly, he didn’t even seem embarrassed as he told me this plot. Did he forget he was in a gay bar and that I was a gay man?
Okay. I told him the play sounded pretty homophobic to me and he responded that the playwright himself was gay (if so, another person with issues?). He then had the unmitigated gall of suggesting that if he moved in with me and the elderly friend who’d attended the first play that we probably wouldn’t let him leave. (Let me make it clear that this guy isn’t that cute. And the average guy on the make at Ty’s on a Saturday night is a lot hotter.) I responded with equal hubris that if he moved in with either of us he wouldn’t want to leave (in which case I’d have to call the police to get rid of him). Anyway, about a year later I asked him again about this stupid play he’d told me about – which under no circumstances would I have gone to see – and he told me he had never been cast in a play like that and had no idea what I was talking about. In other words, he’d made the whole thing up. Was he "warning away" two gay men, neither of whom had any serious interest in pursuing him in the first place?

Let’s look at that plot again. Straight guy murders two gay men. Is this a guy with issues or what?

This was during the first few months of his employment at the bar, and I don’t think he ever tried anything quite so glaringly homophobic again -- at least not with me. Instead he would make comments, sweeping comments about the gay community, such as "gay men don’t want to be in the military" or something to that affect. When I protested he told me to "get real." I had no chance to discuss why we have a don’t ask/don’t tell policy if gays don’t want to be in the military, nor to mention that my aforementioned elderly friend had been an Army sergeant during the Korean War, that I knew lots of gays in the military and one of the regulars at the bar had even been a fighter pilot. It was the old "gay men are big sissies, they could never survive being in the Army crap" only it was coming from a bartender in a gay bar! And there were other incidents, other comments that went right up to the border of homophobia. There was the time when with withering disdain he complained about "all the old queens who come in here and say they're related to Judy Garland," or some such nonsense which I knew was utter bullshit if ever I heard it because the only time I have ever had anything close to a conversation about Judy Garland in a gay bar -- this or any other -- was on this occasion with the Munchkin. Few of the customers in the bar were "queens" and most were a hell of a lot butcher than the Munchkin. One time -- during gay pride week no less -- a perfectly nice and friendly "queen" from Brazil did come into the bar and in a cute way said that he "used to have a big photo of Madonna" on his bedroom wall. Now, maybe the Munchkin dislikes Madonna as much as I do, but couldn't he at least have had a smile on his face when he almost spat at this nice fellow "why am I not surprised?" Instead, smirking unkindly, he came off bitchy, snide, and decidedly not gay-friendly. Madonna may never have gotten much play in this bar, and this fellow was not a regular or even a typical customer, but he was a gay man, damn it, and this was fucking Gay Pride week. Needless to say, the Brazillian did not stay long in the bar, and who could blame him (he, too, thought M was in the closet)?

Once I told the Munchkin "you don’t know what it’s like to be a gay man." He responded "Yes I do." Hmmm. "Why?" I said, "just because you’ve worked in a gay bar for a couple of years? I’ve been openly gay for twenty-five years – do you really think you know more about the gay community than I do?" "Only twenty-five years?" was his rejoinder. What a bitch! But then maybe he thought I came out of the closet at five or something; I never thought he was out and out stupid, but apparently he’s not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, either.

As I review all this I remember what another patron once said to me about the Munchkin. "The trouble with him isn’t that he’s straight. The trouble is that he’s an asshole."

There were comical moments along the way. When the bar wisely hired an attractive young man who was actually openly gay (bravo!) – a beefy and very likable hunk straight (no pun intended) from Splash bar – with big sculptured biceps, the comparatively skinny Munchkin attempted to compete with him by taking off his pants and cavorting in his underwear. It actually looked kind of cute, like he was wearing a kilt, but when one of the customers told him "put your pants on, you look ridiculous," the Munchkin got mad and 86'd him. [I imagine people may have occasionally made unkind remarks to the Munchkin (or at least what he interpreted as same – he can dish it out but he can’t take it, sensitive to his own feelings but insensitive to others’) but I’d be willing to bet that in almost all occasions they were reacting to some remark he’d made to them first.] When the bar started hiring go go boys, the Munchkin jumped up on the stage when the pros were through for the evening and did a quick non-strip for his fan club. Yes, the Munchkin had his admirers, those who couldn’t see the mood-swings and unpleasantness lurking beneath the baby face, but there were plenty of customers who couldn’t stand him. (Some of these call him "Grumpy.") One turned to me on this occasion and said, "[Munchkin] doesn’t like it when any one else gets some attention." The night he wore his underpants somebody sitting near me shouted out for M to take them off. The Munchkin thought it was me (one view of his naked body in that play was more than enough), rushed over to where I sat, and almost spat in my face: "There aren't enough sheqels." [Yes, the sheqel is Israeli -- Jewish -- currency.]

Like most people in his twenties, the Munchkin is undoubtedly panicked at the thought that he probably won’t be rich and famous by the age of thirty. As the years went by and the big 3 0 grew closer, his angst increased and he seemed to become increasingly like the stereotype of the bitter middle-aged bartender whose dreams haven’t come true – you know the type – only he was only 28! The last time I encountered one of these creatures was when I attended a party out in Brooklyn. Leaving the party I was heading for the subway when I realized I had to take a pee. I went into an Irish pub on the corner that had seen better days, ordered a beer, and took a leak. Most of the customers were elderly men who were getting a little drunk to forget they were elderly and all of their other problems. The bartender was a man in his forties who made vicious, cutting, vile remarks to these men out of his own unhappiness and misery. Not only had none of his dreams come true (I mean, you could tell), but he was working in a dump with only half a dozen customers and probably had creditors up the kazoo. He was a powerless man, and the only way he could achieve any small measure of power, in his own mind if nowhere else, was to run the bar like a petty tyrant or pathetic dictator picking on people who could not fight back and probably felt comfortable in no other bar and couldn't leave.

The Munchkin, incredibly, began to remind me of this man, especially when months went by and he wasn’t cast in a play and his mood soured. As noted previously, the Munchkin and I used to get along for the most part despite his occasional dumb remark and my calling him on it. One night he came into the bar, drunk, with two women – it was his night off. I asked one of the women if she was his girlfriend and she said "But isn’t he gay?" [A couple of weeks later she was briefly kissing the Munchkin at the end of the bar – quick, get me an air sickness bag – so I guess she decided he wasn’t totally gay.] The Munchkin then sidled up to me and said, "I’ve never told you this but you’re one of my favorite people who comes in here." (I am now one of his least favorite people.) I admit I was a little touched by it at the time. Perhaps because of the misplaced pity and overly sentimental paternal affection I mentioned before.

Unfortunately, yet another straight-identified barback/bouncer was hired by the bar not long after this. Not only was he rather surly, but he didn’t seem especially gay-friendly. (When this fellow came in drunk one night he seemed at least as interested in other men as any other customer.) I turned to a man sitting beside me and said, "why does a bar that caters to middle-aged gay men keep hiring young straight guys? How can they relate to us and we to them?" The Muchkin overheard me saying this, and instead of understanding where I was coming from – which may be completely beyond him as he is extremely immature – decided to interpret it as a personal attack on him. And boy, did he make me pay for it. The fact that it coincided with his being left on the cutting room floor of a film he been an extra in – and I felt very bad for him because of it – only made things worse. [Months previously I had told an acquaintance of mine that M had worked on a film with and met Jack Nicholson, and as M walked away, this other fellow said "I bet he winds up on the cutting room floor." I remember thinking that I hoped M didn’t think I had made that remark, but apparently he did.]

To "get even" with me, the Munchkin was almost as nasty as that straight guy in the bar in Brooklyn. He would snap at me, be extremely unpleasant, make unkind jabs, refer to my being Jewish in a way that was borderline anti-Semitic, and one night even went so far as to "86" virtually every person who dared to talk to me with one excuse after another. [There is something outrageously vile, pre-Stonewall, and homophobic about a straight boy throwing a gay man out of a gay bar.] He announced that he hated working with one particular bartender because when he was there "all the boring old guys come in" – I guess he was suggesting that I was one of them even though I’m the author of 30 published books and he’s a wannabee with little of interest on his limited resume – and on and on and on. In other words he was a complete c--t. There was even a sadistic cast to all this because at the time the bar was one of the very few I felt comfortable in (because of many changes I rarely go there now and I avoid the Munchkin like the plague). Still feeling sorry for him over his big disappointment at not being in the movie I cut him some slack, but began thinking that this was someone I really did not to want to be around anymore. (What made it worse is that I went to see that fucking movie – which otherwise did not really interest me at all – on the day it opened, because I knew I’d be in the bar that night and wanted to be the first to tell M that I had seen him in the film. Unfortunately, he wasn’t in it. That was hardly my fault.)

People who work with the public, especially as waiters and bartenders, have to leave their problems at home. Many people go to bars to get away from their own problems, not to have to deal with the bartender’s. Certainly if there’s a crisis in a bartender’s life, he can tell the customers he’s closest to, but he should never turn into a monster just because things aren’t going well for him. I mean, we’re talking about people who work for tips, no? Why go out of your way to alienate people. (Let me say that most of the bartenders I've met and see on a regular basis are friendly and fun and professional.)

But there’s a deeper issue here, and it has to do with the Munchkin’s obvious homophobia. Does he try this shit – this "I didn’t like what you said so get the fuck out of here" business – with young straight guys in the straight bar in the east village where he recently started working a couple of nights a week (and a far more appropriate place for the little fucker)? Does he still think gay men are a "bunch of sissies" he can pull this shit on with impunity? Doesn’t he realize by now that most of the men in the gay bar, middle-aged or younger, are a hell of a lot tougher than the Munchkin only thinks he is.

I don’t know what will happen to this fellow in the future, but if things don’t work out for him I hope I never run into him in any bar where he might be working. Not because he scares me because believe me he doesn’t. But if he’s this obnoxious now, imagine how he’ll be ten or twenty – hell, even two or five – years from now? I still feel a little sorry for him (although I don’t know why the hell I do) – not every younger person is happy or has an easy life, and I’m sure in addition to the known pressures, there are others I have no idea about. But either he’ll get along or he won’t. It sure as shit ain’t my concern.

I’m a middle-aged gay guy. I have problems and pressures that I doubt would ever occur to the Munchkin, nor would he give a shit about them. I don’t believe that during the past four years he asked a single customer what it was like being gay or what their lives were like. He has no feelings for nor interest in me, but I also know that on a subconscious level he’s damned pissed that I’ve basically ignored him for months. Because people who suffer from NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder), which is basically most actors, don’t like to be ignored. After not seeing him for about eleven months, I went into the bar and he was even nastier to me than before. One customer quipped that "he’s probably hot for you and can’t handle it." Well, no, I don’t think he’s hot for me.

Maybe it’s just easier to hate other people instead of -- for whatever reason -- yourself.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Gay-Friendly Closet Cases


Some months ago a bartender at the newly reopened Stonewall Inn in New York City informed me that although he certainly "fooled around" with men, he had a girlfriend and that was that. "We’re very happy," he told me." I know that’s not what you want to hear."

Well... no. Not from a bartender working at the Birthplace of the Modern-Day Gay Rights Movement. Since he cut off all discussion once he noticed my understandable perplexity – this was the Stonewall, after all – I never did discover if he was telling me he was bisexual or simply a gay guy who needed a "girlfriend" to show to mama and papa and the outside straight world (which happens more often than anyone realizes, even today). Judging from his conspiratorial tone as he told me about his homoerotic activities, I fear it was the latter. It was as if he were saying that men were okay for sex, but for a real relationship he had to have a woman.

[Let me make it clear that I was not cruising this guy, who was in his twenties and nice-looking but not my type at all. I've been told that he generally tells patrons he's "straight" and he did not use the term "bisexual" with me, so he's not even proudly bi, let alone gay. Maybe he doesn't want it getting back to his girlfriend that he has the hots for men as well. Now and then the gal pals of these "straight" bartenders waltz into the bar all bubbly and totally clueless.]

So much for Gay Pride.

And this in the Stonewall Inn, no less!

At least he admitted he has sex with men, which many "straight" bartenders (most gay bars in New York and elsewhere now have at least a couple), go go boys, porn stars and hustlers do not. The strange thing is we are not talking about homophobic ex-gays or people like former gay porn star and Republicans' darling Matt Sanchez, who denounce gays and the gay lifestyle with vehemence. No, this is a much stranger phenomenon. It seems that nearly forty years of Gay Rights since the Stonewall Riots has created a bizarre and unexpected by-product: Gay-friendly closet cases, men (and undoubtedly women) who work almost exclusively among gays but who insist that they are straight, often despite evidence to the contrary. Or any half-intelligent gay person’s "gaydar."

Gay Activist Wayne Besen, author of Anything But Straight, once told me [via email]: "I think every town has at least one closeted bartender or stripper that slinks around the gay bar, but just can't quite come out. It is very sad." Watching a "straight" bartender one Saturday night at a hot leather/denim bar in Chelsea intermingling with sweaty gay guys and half-naked go go boys when he could easily be waiting on "hot babes" in a second avenue singles bar makes me wonder if he actually expects anyone to think he’s totally hetero. I have seen other "straight" bar backs and bouncers coming on to men under the influence of alcohol on their nights off, as if they can’t give in to their homosexual impulses unless they’re inebriated. This is not what we meant by Gay Power. [In a 2006 study by the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, 9.4% of men who identified as "straight" said they had sex with men; of those 70% were married.]

Why would a straight person want to work in a gay environment? Some will drag out that ancient canard about gays being better tippers (as if there’s been some kind of scientific survey) or that they simply "like" gay people (Which kind? Drag queens? Leather Kings? Bears?) Often gullible gays accept these people as 100% straight because they figure anyone who hated being perceived as homosexual would hardly work in a gay bar or in gay porn. But the very homoeroticism of the atmosphere is what often attracts them. Their internalized homophobia, a desperate need to be seen as "macho," somehow above and superior to the crowd, is what keeps them in the closet. It’s as if they’re saying, "hey, it’s okay if you’re gay – but me? I’m not gay!" If you kindly, ever-so-gently suggest they may have at least some gay or bi leanings they react as if you’re suggesting they’re terrorists.

Let me say that when I heard the Stonewall Inn was reopening I was very excited and made sure I was there for a drink on opening day. (Yes, I was alive during the Stonewall Rebellion, but I was much too young to go to bars, thank you very much, although I have great respect for those who were there, many of whom are thankfully still with us.) I mean, the Stonewall Inn was where it all began. Yes, there was a Gay Movement even before Stonewall, with such groups as The Mattachine Society, but the movement was much more low-profile before 1969. So perhaps one can imagine how I, a man who has had a lot of Gay Pride for many decades, felt when a bartender in The Stonewall Inn virtually whispered to me that he "fooled around" with guys as if it were something to be ashamed of. The man is as clueless as his alleged girlfriend (and you can imagine how clueless I think she is. But then I think women who date bartenders in gay bars -- or gay/bi men in general -- are about on the same level of reality as women who get engaged to lifers in prison.)

The whole point of the post-Stonewall Gay Rights movement was for gays and lesbians (and genuine bisexuals) to accept their homosexual feelings with pride, to seek out same-sex relationships that would be honest and fulfilling, not to hide behind the fake girlfriend or wife-as-beard. Even today, there are countless married homosexuals cruising bars for one night quickies.

But perhaps we should interpret it as a positive sign that we now have a better class of closet queen? Instead of telling fag jokes at the coffee machine (we hope), they’re serving us drinks and introducing us to their girlfriends!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

"Otterly" Ridiculous

Okay, now and then I'm told by someone that I'm not a bear. Usually it's meant as some kind of compliment or a simple clarification. But I like being a bear.

Here's the deal: True, I am not a bear in the classic sense. The bear stereotype is a very big man, six feet two, say, built like a football player, with a big, big belly and a massive soup catcher that would put Santa Claus' beard to shame. It doesn't hurt if he has a big chest and a bass voice to match. He should be working-class, or at least look like he is. Middle-aged or on the cusp. The guys in the photo to the left won "bear" beauty contests or whatever they call them so I suppose they could be considered closer to the classic standard..

Now the bear community has expanded (to the dismay of some classic bears, I'm told, though I've never seen concrete evidence of this so far), and there are many different categories of bear. Younger bears are "bear cubs." Older bears are "daddy bears." Bears who aren't quite so large -- or fat, if we're to be blunt -- can be "otters," and even "wolves," if they're very slender.

I've lost quite a few pounds in the last few years, going on a self-improvement kick. I had my admirers when I was a larger (more bear-like?) man, but frankly I seem to do better today. So perhaps I'm not a bear, but an otter. I'll have to become really skinny before I'm a wolf, although friends tell me that's the correct classification already (and they don't mean bear classification). And I'm not "working class," as such, being a writer, although that's the class I was born into.

So sue me. I'm a "furry bear" (very hairy guy) par excellence, and I honestly don't know what else to call myself. My best friend took an objective look at me and said, "Bill, you're somewhere in the middle between otter and bear." Cool.

The bear community is fun and friendly, with no attitude. I've met some great bears and bear admirers online and elsewhere. It isn't about how young, pretty and slender you are, and a hairy body is considered an asset, not something those four "fabulous" Queer Guys would go "ewwww, yuchhh" about, recommending you get a body peel or something equally feminizing and idiotic. You can be a more mature person and not be ignored as you might be in a bar full of "fabulous" twenty-somethings (unless you wave around a few bucks or pick up everybody's bar tab and even then you'll probably go home alone).

In other words, bears are great.

Shit -- I'm a bear!


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Wanna Fuck Buck?

Ever since the days of Christine Jorgensen the public has been aware that there were men who got sex changes and became women. A comparatively recent phenomenon is the female-to-male transsexual, and there seem to be many of them these days. Although many of these FTM transgenders get artificial penises, apparently these do not look very convincing and in addition cost around $100,000. So some of the FTM transgenders just keep their vaginas. A case in point is the transgender porn star Buck Angel [see the comically overstated photo above], who is billed as "the man with a pussy." Buck appears in adult films targeted for the gay market and identifies himself as, you guessed it, bisexual. He has a bisexual wife (a body-piercing "weirdo" named Elayne Angel) but told one interviewer that he and other FTMs like him go to gay bars and pick up the "edgier" or "kinkier" members of gay male society. In other words, people who think it would be kinda cool to fuck a guy with a pussy (although I imagine many of them would prefer to go in through the back door, if you know what I mean). Buck says he has never been fucked in the ass, however.

We’ll get back to Buck and his ilk in a moment. First let me say that I support rights for the transgendered – including gay and straight transsexuals, gays with characteristics of the opposite sex or transvestites with opposite sex identities, the androgynous, and so on. I can’t say I identity with any of these people in any particular fashion (aside from acknowledging the fact that we’re all "queer" and discriminated against) but I do sympathize with their struggles. Today many of the transgendered have a remarkable confidence and pride -- at least when they're in a group and/or have support from loved ones -- and while you can feel sorry for them and what they have to go through in a prejudicial society, I can’t say that I find them in any way pitiable, (although perhaps at one time I did. And some, of course, may be just a teensy bit odd.)

Still, there are troubling questions, some of which center on transsexuals who identify as straight. Most of these, of course, would have been considered homosexual while they were still in their original biological bodies. After transitioning, they generally remain attracted to the same sex as before and therefore become – in a way – heterosexual. (Transsexuals feel that whatever their biological condition, they are actually male or female, as the case may be, both before and after surgery. Therefore a gay male transgender was a gay man even when he had breasts and a vagina, and other trannies insist they were always heterosexual. Boy do they insist!

And this is where the troubling aspect comes in, the borderline (and not so borderline) homophobic attitudes that have been expressed – too often for my comfort zone – by straight-identified transsexuals. External and internalized homophobia can strike every segment of the LGBT community it seems. For instance, on the LOGO TV series Transgeneration (which seemed to focus primarily on straight-identified trannies), a male to female trans named Raci gives a lecture on what it’s like to be transsexual and is asked if she’s ever had sex with another woman. Raci makes a disgusted face and says "No! Never!" as if the very idea is anathema to her. The lecture hall bursts into laughter, but whether the people there were giving in to their own homophobia, reacting to Raci’s, or simply thinking to themselves "of course she doesn’t want to have sex with a woman – she’s basically a gay man" is uncertain. Probably all three.

In the documentary film Southern Comfort, a transgendered man named Robert Eads insists over and over that he’s hetero even though the object of his affection – supposedly a male to female transsexual named Lola who lives most of the time as a man named John – comes off as nothing so much as a typical (and very likable) drag queen. They come off as a gay couple by any objective standard. Raci (although she can "pass" easier than others) also comes off as a drag queen and so does another MTF hetero trannie from Transgeneration named Gabbie, who is less successful than Rani at "passing." Watching Gabbie dining with her family and boyfriend or accepting an award from GLAAD, she seems little different from the stereotypical "queen."

Eads and the other FTM transsexuals in Southern Comfort for the most part seem very masculine, and if you weren’t clued in from the beginning you would probably take them for "ordinary" males. However, late in the film we see the dying Eads in a wheelchair and you can catch sight of the "woman" who once existed (Eads had been married and pregnant more than once) underneath the world-weary facade – Eads simply looks like a grandmother who’s pasted on a false mustache and beard so she can have fun with her grand kids on Halloween.

Undoubtedly the truth is that the transsexual community can be as diverse as the gay community, and there are some "transitions" that are more successful and convincing than others. Yet some times you’re given a sudden disturbing impression that reminds one of the now politically-incorrect observation that transsexuals are just gay people who can’t deal with their sexuality and would rather cross over and become heterosexual than face the facts. Of course this is pretty far-fetched – surely it’s easier to accept one’s homosexuality than to have a sex-change operation and everything that goes with it. And many transsexuals do clearly come off as the opposite gender (as opposed to merely being "effeminate" or "mannish") even before they have any surgery, making it clear – to me at least – that definite transsexuals do exist. (And I fear that young teen trannies get a hell of a lot more support than those who "come out" and transition much later in life.) But in some cases ...

The trans who merely seem like drag queens or butch lesbians may be less successful attempts at transitioning, but it begs the question if some of them are in a different classification. And the fact that some in this grouping are a bit homophobic only makes it more confusing. If prejudice is generally caused by an inferiority complex, you can understand why the transgendered can be homophobic. I’m not saying transsexuals are inferior, only that it’s no wonder many of them feel that way given the level of misunderstanding and prejudice they have to deal with, something that all other minority groups from gays to African-Americans can certainly understand. But while there may be a reason behind it that doesn’t excuse it.

Candidates for sexual realignment surgery must receive counseling, but are all psychiatrists sophisticated enough to tell a self-hating homosexual, or a dizzy queen who wants to make his fantasies of being a real lady become real, from a true transsexual? Hopefully most of them are, and don’t just react in a pc manner that says "If you say you’re transsexual you must be transsexual." Which doesn’t make any more sense that accepting that someone is straight or bisexual just because he or she says so. (As I’ve said many times, people rarely lie about being gay.) Even Buck Angel says that switching genders is becoming easy and "trendy," and that some people go underground to get hormones and wind up deeply regretting their decision.

Of course we then have to turn around and ask if many drag queens, especially those who live as women most of the time, are really gay men or are instead transsexuals. Is having a female identification the same as being female? Traditionally there are reasons why some gay men think of themselves in female terms (their attraction to men, for instance). It may also be an acknowledgment of – and even pride in – their effeminate demeanor. This may be entirely different from being transsexual, however. You occasionally hear butch gay men calling each other "Mary" or something along those lines, but this (or a variation of it) seems to happen more often amongst femmes. Some femmes identity strongly with women, and others – despite a vaguely effeminate demeanor or androgynous manner – are strictly guys, and think of themselves as same. Effeminacy and transsexualism don’t always go together. Is a drag queen who is basically female 24/7 a transsexual deep down or a type of gay man living out a "fabulous" fantasy? Ironically, some very effeminate men get very angry if you talk to them as if they’re women despite the drag, make up, mannerisms, and all that goes with it.

As for Buck Angel: Is the porn star with a pussy – as well as a beard, chest hair, and a masculine aura – a true transsexual, or a strange bi-identified lady living out one of the world’s most bizarre and complicated fetishes? Is this role-playing, acting, carried to a strange and fascinating extreme? In his "former life," Angel was supposedly a very feminine top fashion model ["I was not an ugly bulkdyke (italics mine)," he says, perhaps revealing a little more of that trans- homophobia we've been talking about.] Watching Robert Eads and and his buddy, another FTM transsexual named Max, conferring in Southern Comfort, it almost feels as if you’re watching two women giving a frantic theatrical performance, each trying to out-butch the other as the camera and the audience looks on. Observing FTM transsexuals at work and play you occasionally get the impression that some of them have an almost desperate (and understandable) need to come off as much, much butcher than any man who was actually born with a penis (a need to come off as macho? -- gee, they really are men, aren’t they?), just as drag queens want to come off as more fabulous, feminine and glamorous than any actual female. (Honest-to-goodness transgendered females seem to be less ostentatious than drag queens.) [PC advisory: these are admittedly subjective impressions, not meant to put anyone down.]

Buck Angel claims that a penis doesn't define a man, but it certainly helps. (He has to use dildoes when he wants to fuck anyone.) In one sense, of course, he's right, in that men who can't perform, have been castrated, or lost their organs due to illness or accident, are still male. But a man with a pussy (or an expensive "penis" that doesn't quite look right) must feel an awful need to be as hyper-masculine as possible to make up for it. And can this lead to a kind of macho mind-set that can be as unappealing, if not more so, in men-who-were-once-women (and "ordinary" women) as it is in men born with cocks? Judging from interviews (his porn films don't interest me, but then I've never had much interest in porn, it being a spectator sport) Buck sort of comes off in part like one of these swaggering a-holes who fuck around with other men but God forbid if you dare suggest they're gay.

Buck does his best to deny that having a pussy makes him less of a man, then turns around and says that when he's getting screwed by men in his "gay" porn films, the vagina makes the action kind of "straight" as well. He's got a point, of course, but gee, I thought he was supposed to be all-man -- how can his male on male action be considered straight? Buck does everything else -- can't he get used to taking it up the ass as well? Or is that too "gay?" Maybe he and other FTMs keep the pussy because they really prefer it over a dick, even one that came up to their -- and everyone else's -- standards. Buck says he'd get a dick if the science and surgey was up to par, but who knows? [Let's make it clear now that Buck is only one kind of FTM transgender male, and we shouldn't assume that every FTM acts like him or agrees with him. For instance, many FTMs feel a penis is quite important. And I'm sure most are not swaggering a-holes.]

I don’t know if there are as many FTM trans men cruising the back rooms of gay bars as Buck Angel suggests. Talking about Buck, friends of mine admitted they sometimes get freaked out looking around the bar and wondering which of those hot macho studs with their beards and chest hair and attitudes could be hiding a pussy under his jeans. This is not bigotry and it isn't a "fear" of the vagina; gay men tend to be into dick, after all. I find it homophobic to suggest, as some do [occasionally bi's and trans, wouldn't you know it?], that there's something wrong with a man because he doesn't find a pussy all that desirable. Most gay men may not be out and out disgusted by vaginas, women, or heterosexuality, but pussies are not exactly a big turn on, either. [On this point Buck seems to be clueless.] That's just being gay and what the hell is wrong with that?

Anyway, the next time you're in the Eagle -- in whatever city -- take a closer look at that hairy, overcompensating, hyper-macho mustachioed man busy acting up a storm before you chat him up.

Or you could be in for some Vagina Monologues.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Serious Issue of Straight Male Hairdressers

In the magazine business we have what are known as "fake issue" pieces. This is when a writer or editor creates a story about a supposed issue or trend that needs to be addressed, but the trend or issue doesn’t really exist: the magazine is only trying to create an issue in order to get people excited and sell copies. Or simply to fill up space or be controversial and get attention.

In gay terms, a recent "fake issue" was about "metrosexuals." Metrosexuals were straight men who were supposedly like gay men; in other words they cared about their appearance, were neat and fastidious, and wouldn’t need any help from those four Queer Guys on Bravo. The whole idea of metrosexuals was, frankly, as insulting to straight men as it was to gay men. There have always been heterosexual men who cared about their appearance – lawyers, politicians, any professional man – some even when they went casual on weekends. We used to call them "snappy dressers," or perhaps, in a long- ago era, dandies. Just as it’s ridiculous to suggest that every well-dressed businessman is gay, it’s equally ridiculous to suggest that every gay man gives a shit about clothes. I’m a complete slob and proud of it, and many of my gay male friends are just the same – and we are not by any means a small minority of the gay male community. Some straight men are neat and in fashion; many gay men are not. Let’s get over it. ["Metrosexuals" -- at least in its current meaning -- was coined by the New York Times, not the National Enquirer, although it should have been. Apparently the Times style editor borrowed the term from a British writer who meant it to describe how various modern-day grooming products were affecting hetero men or something along those lines.]

See, the whole "metrosexual"business, bolstered by a silly show like Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, which only perpetuated straight and gay stereotypes, was nonsense, a "fake issue" if ever there were one. Along the same lines, as far as gay issues go, was a short piece about "hasbians" in New York Magazine in 2003. According to the author, Amy Sohn, "hasbians" were lesbians who were no longer gay, who had once had female lovers but who were now with men. She seemed to think this was a trend but offered no statistics or sources; it sounded as if she were merely quoting a couple of bisexual or conflicted female friends -- a fake issue piece par shit.

Now we have – get this – The Secret World of Straight Hairdressers – an "inside story," no less– by Marisa Meltzer. Now, this one did not appear in New York but in Page Six Magazine brought out Sunday [10/14/07] by the New York Post, so naturally I didn’t expect anything intellectual. In fact, the "magazine" consists of virtually nothing but fake issue pieces.

First of all, there’s never been any doubt that some male hairdressers are straight – who cares? (And not because of that stupid movie Shampoo.) It’s a total non-issue right off the bat. And it’s no surprise that more and more male hairdressers may be at least identifying as straight. Even some of the gay ones may be sick and tired of everyone automatically assuming they’re gay. In this article the author, of course, naturally accepts that every one of the SMH [straight male hairdressers] interviewed is actually straight. I have my doubts, but that’s another story. Again, bisexuality and internalized homophobia never enter the equation. These guys are straight and that’s that. Like I say, I’ve no doubt there are SMHs as well as straight male interior decorators, just as there are gay football players, firemen, cops, and marines. But we rarely have stories about the latter group because so few are willing to come out of the closet.

Naturally, these SMHs can’t just say that they do hair because they like it and can make good money. They have to say that they do women’s hair because they’re straight and want to meet – or at least be around – beautiful women. Goodness – they certainly don’t want people to think they’re "fags." What – you have to become a hairdresser to meet attractive females? You can't just go to a singles bar? That’s just as ridiculous as a straight guy working in a gay bar so he can hit on the "sisters" of the gay men who frequent the bar. Surely there are easier ways for a legitimate straight guy to get a date! Most of the SMHs go out of their way to establish their hetero credentials. One of them, Emiliano De Pasqual (now that’s the name of a hairdresser if ever there were one), we’re told, assured his father that he was "totally the opposite" and describes himself – with great humility – as "good-looking, Italian, and very talented."Well... he’s not my type so who cares if he’s straight. [see photo above.] If you’re into Harpo Marx you might like Emiliano.

Meltzer does interview a couple of openly gay hairdressers, one of whom explains why gay men do better hair cuts, although she also mentions that he "giggles." Sure, there are girlish gay hairdresssers, but I’ve also known some that are butcher than the straight ones.

So here’s the rub. Once again, straight guys have entered a provenance identified rightly or wrongly with (some) gay males (ballet dancing, male modeling etc.), and then – in somewhat obnoxious fashion – do their best to disassociate themselves from the very men who made these professions acceptable for guys in the first place.

It would be nice to meet a genuine straight male hairdresser who – instead of barking about how straight he is – just says "I do hair because, just like my gay brothers in this business, I like working with hair, making people look good, and maybe creating something artistic out of tresses. Okay?"


Saturday, October 13, 2007

Bisexual Advocate? OR Why I'd Rather Not Date a Bisexual

A writer named Job Brother has written a humor piece on reactions to his bisexuality for the online edition of The Advocate ("Fairy Tales" commentary/October 2007). He tells how when he told his gay date that he was bisexual the man reacted as if he might as well have said he was a mythical "unicorn." Brother then goes on with a certain flair and flippancy to paint the usual abused and misunderstood portrait of the bisexual, and to mock the reasons why gays don't think they exist. He then says -- incredibly -- that gays are far more prejudiced toward bisexuals than straights. Yeah, sure. That's why we call it the GLBT movement. The article is gay -- pardon me, gay/bi -- politics Lite, with no solid underpinning or substance to bolster its arguments. Cute. And superficial.

First of all, given the vast diversity of human nature, experience, sexuality, and psychology, it makes perfect sense that some people are genuinely bisexual, although to what degree is the question. Some people call themselves bi simply because they've had one or two experiences with the opposite sex in a lifetime of same-sex involvements. Some people -- Jim McGreevey, for instance -- are technically bisexual, because they have had wives and children yet are essentially gay. Some people say they are bi because they think at some point they might have a relationship with a member of the opposite gender, although it hasn't happened yet -- and probably never will. I have encountered only one person who has ever said they they were equally -- that is fifty-fifty-- attracted to both men and women. Some people are genuinely bi, at least in the technical sense, and some people are just full of shit. I'm not saying bi's don't exist, just not in the record numbers that bi advocates would have us believe. And that "bisexual" is often a label just as phony and misleading as "straight," post-gay, non-gay and --sorry -- ex-gay. I believe that "bisexual" is actually an umbrella title that has many different meanings to many different people.

As for straight people supposedly being more bi-friendly than gays... Undoubtedly Brother is choosy about which straights he reveals his bi-status to, probably gay-friendly straight friends. Well, why would they have a negative reaction to his bisexuality when they're already okay with people being gay? Straight people can relate more to bi's, because they see them as being part-straight, or still able to, at some point, lead a straight life like them. They can share baby photos and all that shit. Straight male pals of Brother's can think to themselves, "Hey, Job and I can go out and have a few beers and pick up chicks, just the way we used to. Cool!" Why should gay-friendly straight people care if Brother is bi? Gay people aren't so much biphobic, but skeptical -- and often for good reasons. And gays tend to identify with other gays more than bi's. Bi's just have to deal with it.

The main problem with Brother's piece, despite its hip-and-clever-sounding attempt to clarify the issue, is that he avoids the main reasons why gays are so often cynical about the reality of bisexuals. Underlining the piece's superficial approach is that Brother makes no mention of the undeniable fact that we live in -- to all intents and purposes -- a straight world and not a gay one. It is gay people who are persecuted, excoriated, and belittled for their sexuality, not straight people. Yes, Brother makes the excellent point that gay bashers would hardly exclude him from their vicious ire just because he also dates/has sex with women, but the bi-identified, like the straight-identified (regardless of the truth of their orientation), often hold on to heterosexual privileges, a certain bond with straight or "normal" society, that gay people lose when they come out as strictly gay. First, it's hard for gays to feel much sympathy for bi's (many of whom are closeted/married/in straight relationships) who in general don't have to put up with all the crap that gays do, and second, anyone who thinks this doesn't influence some of those who call themselves bisexual, even if on a sub-conscious level, is a fool. Brother never goes into -- in fact, few bisexuals ever go into -- where he might be on the Kinsey scale, or exactly how gay he is or exactly how straight. So he dates/screws women from time to time to keep his hand in, hold on to a certain heterosexual pedigree -- does that really add up to being bisexual. Who knows?

Some genuine bisexuals feel that that they shouldn't be tarred with the same brush as closeted homosexuals who identity as (or at least are labeled) bisexual or even straight. This is a good point. But generally, it's the latter kind of "bisexual" that irks the average gay. So -- if the bisexuals that we rail against at times aren't really bisexual, I guess we can't be called "biphobic," can we? Also, it's these kind of dishonest or loopy bi's who create so much cynicism when it comes to the subject of bisexuality. True story. One bi female once told me "I don't like the term bisexual, but I can't call myself a lesbian because once in a blue moon (italics mine) I'm attracted to a man." Duh? "Once in a blue moon?" Once in a blue moon means "hardly ever," doesn't she know that. "Once in a blue moon" I'm attracted to a female, but that hardly makes me bisexual. I wish that true bi's would get angry at these people who trivialize the whole bisexual question and not at those of us in the gay community who can't help but be a bit perplexed/skeptical when we hear stuff like this from people who rabidly insist that they're bi and you better accept it or else. Sadly, it's this kind of utter silliness that often seems to dominate discussions of the bisexual question. Gay people can hardly be blamed for that. (At least some bi-identified individuals rightly roll their eyes at straight people who say that they're "bi" because they think it's hip or want to impress their gay friends, but who have no intention of ever getting involved in gay sex or a same-sex relationship.)

Brother never goes into the negative or condescending attitudes that some bisexuals (or at least the bi-identified) have toward gays or "monosexuals." Or the fact that even out bi's (excepting many who are in long-term same-sex relationships) don't have much gay pride because they aren't gay. And this may be why some gay people with a strong sense of pride and gay identity, may not be able to relate to the bisexual and vice versa. But honestly, I know few gay people who, despite their occasional cynicism, really hate or fear bisexuals. On the other hand, some gays feel that they can be loving friends with bisexuals, but they'd rather not date one.

Now bisexuals could argue that a bisexual is capable of falling in love with someone of the same sex, so why not date a bi? Well, it could be that lack of gay pride mentioned above. Or it could be simply for practical reasons. I mean, who needs the competition? If you date a gay man that you really like, you've got enough competition from other gay men. If you date a bisexual man you really like, your competition not only includes gay men but straight women -- and there are a hell of a lot more straight women than gay men. If you date a gay man, it's unlikely he'll call you one day and tell you he's getting married -- to a woman. Yuchhh. Not only are you rejected, but so is your entire gay life. [Don't try to explain this to your bi-identified friends. Believe me, they will not get it.] Sure, I know that you could always fall for a totally gay guy who falls for someone else, but maybe with a gay guy the odds are more in your favor.

Now, Brother is different from all these real and alleged bi's who leave posts on GLBT message boards, hiding behind cute nicknames that could conceal Lord knows who or what. (I find so many of their stories to be full of holes, illogic, immaturity, confusion, not to mention glaring Freudian slips, while a few others are intelligent, reasoned, and much more convincing.) His piece is on the Internet with his photograph. I have met out of the closet bi's, and know of at least one who remains committed to Gay Rights although he now has a girlfriend after having a long-time boyfriend (who, I believe, dumped him -- not the other way around.) Perhaps if we gay people met more of these types of bisexuals in the real world and not hiding behind nicknames on message boards, we might have a different attitude. (Some of the posts I've read about bisexuality are truly bizarre. One gay man said he could always tell that a man was bisexual because they always oozed a certain overpowering and intoxicating charm -- or something along those lines. What - gay men are never charming? I had the feeling this gay guy was a bit "intoxicated" himself. Maybe it's the old pre-Stonewall "straight guys are the ultimate thrill" business and bisexual men were the closest he could get to a straight guy. )

Then we have these bi guys who say they can have sex with men but can only have emotional feelings for women. Now wait a minute! The modern-day definition of bisexual is someone who can fall in love with either a man or a woman. But if you have no emotional feelings for men, how can you possibly fall in love with a guy? Are men like this really bisexual? We certainly can't call them straight. Maybe they're really homosexual men suffering from internalized homophobia. I mean, the fact that life will be easier for them (or so they think) if they are in a heterosexual relationship as opposed to a gay one, has nothing to do with their maintaining that guys are just for sex ... uh, sure. (If you believe that, I could probably sell you the Brooklyn Bridge.) Adding to the confusion is that while many of the guys like this are actually on the down-low and identify as straight, there are some who seem to support Gay Rights and at least say that they have told everyone -- including their female dates -- that they're bisexual. At least they say this on message boards while hiding behind nicknames. One thing's for sure, why would any gay man looking for a relationship with another man choose to date a guy who says he can only form emotional (that is, romantic) attachments with women? A one-night stand maybe, but serious dating? Come on!

So is Brother really bisexual? Who knows? Maybe he has a need to be seen as a little more "macho" (i.e. straighter than) the average gay male (And believe me, that is one BIG reason why some essentially gay guys call themselves bi. More on this below.) That's his hang up. Maybe he genuinely likes the companionship and bodies of both men and women equally (the only kind of people I truly believe are bisexual). Maybe he'll buck society's hatred and wind up in a lifetime partnership with a man instead of a woman. Or maybe he'll get married to a woman and never, ever write for The Advocate again. Certainly not with an accompanying photo. (Now, honestly, doesn't "Job Brother" sound like a pseudonym to you?) While we can't necessarily blame Brother for this, I wish his piece hadn't been entitled Fairy Tales. Yes, I know it refers to the mythical unicorn/mythical bisexual, but still ... It comes off like a vulgar slap in the face to all those mean bi-hating homos out there. (Okay, I'm a little sensitive.)

As for that whole "macho" thing I referred to in the paragraph above. Why is it that whenever I meet a bi-identified man, he's almost always -- sorry to put it this way -- a little "nellie?" The last one I met was a couple of months ago. He was fifty-two and trying to convince me that in a few years when I was his age I'd be sleeping with women. I told him that I'd gotten all of my hetero impulses out of me years ago. I'm occasionally attracted to women in a flesh-is-flesh sort of way, but not enough to pursue them, lead them on, and engage in some kind of faux relationship with them. This bisexual really began to annoy me, it was as if he was saying there was something wrong with me because I was only into males, but I'm a nice guy and didn't tell him what was on my mind: Which was that maybe the reason he slept with women -- or at least intimated that he did -- was because I could stand on West Street, he could stand across the Hudson River in New Jersey, and I'd still be able to tell from that distance that he was gay. Okay, I'm exaggerating. But most people meeting this man would instantly peg him as a fairly stereotypical gay guy and maybe sleeping with/fantasizing about women made him feel more "manly." With the exception of cool, out of the closet, self-accepting "femmes," most men -- gay, straight, or bi -- like to think of themselves as being "manly" to a certain degree. This 52-year-old might be proof that not all bi's are in their twenties (although it certainly seems that way at times), but it's a question of when he decided he was bi. Maybe in youth, maybe more recently. Not because of the fashionable "fluidity" of sexuality that we hear so much about these days, but perhaps because all the trendy talk about bisexuality has given him a way to feel like more of a "man." Sad. Frankly, he came off as being much more confused about his sexuality than "fluid."

So back to Brother's date, y'know, who reacted to his bisexuality as if he were a mythical unicorn. Brother writes that he never saw the man again. I can understand why. The gay man might have thought to himself "either this guy is really bi or he's full of shit. If it's the latter he's carrying all sorts of issues and baggage that I as a gay man can really do without. If it's the former, I'll have to compete with straight women as well as gay men. In either case, he's really not gay like me, meaning we're not all that compatible." Unfair? Maybe. But with so many attractive gay men of all different types out there, why take chances? And bisexuals can always date other bisexuals. They have social groups, after all. (Years ago, the bi group used to meet bi-weekly -- no pun intended -- at the HQ of the Gay Activists Alliance in New York. I had always intended to attend because there was a time when I, myself -- yes! -- thought of myself as bisexual. (I got over it pretty quickly for reasons I'll go into elsewhere.) Later, I thought I would attend just to see what went on. There were a lot of articles about "the new bisexuality" and how hip it was during this period, but one piece -- I believe it was in New York magazine -- said that at the bi socials the guys cruised the guys and the girls cruised the girls. Maybe because they didn't want to go into gay bars -- internalized homophobia? Maybe they weren't so bi, after all? I decided not to go because I'd be there under false pretenses, although then -- as now -- I thought I was probably a heck of a lot more "bi" than many of the bi's in the group. I did eventually wind up at a bi social accidentally, but I'll save that funny story for another post.

It's difficult if not impossible to discuss these issues relating to bisexuality with some bi-identified individuals who come off as a bit militant -- definitely for lack of a better word -- even bullying, and become so defensive that they simply will not engage in a serious discourse or listen to anything you have to say, no matter how friendly or open-minded your tone. In these pc days gay people are not even allowed to be a bit questioning about certain aspects of bisexuality. Either you damn well accept that everyone who says they're bi is bi, or you're a hateful bigot who should be thrown out of the GLBT movement. Imagine if we were all supposed to accept that everyone who said they were straight was really straight? Bisexuals often have their own agenda (others don't seem to really care, they just sleep/live with who they want to, and have no particular problem in being referred to as gay). You can't say that even some bi's are gay and you don't dare suggest that most bi's have a decided preference (their own sex?) It's reaching the point where I'm beginning to think that some gays and some bi's are really not compatible.

So it's like this. I'd prefer to date a gay man over a bisexual one. I'd prefer to date a Democrat over a Republican. But I do have friends who -- at least at some point in their lives -- were technically bisexual, and I even have friends who are Republican (but we rarely talk politics).
Am I biphobic simply because I'd prefer to be dating, looking forward to a possible romantic relationship, with someone who may understand me and have a similar world-view?

Friendship is one thing, but a partnership is a whole different matter.

I recognize other gays will feel differently, and that's their prerogative. I wish we lived in a world where Gay was considered just as good as Straight, and therefore people had no need to hide behind labels, whatever they might be, and there would be much less cynicism, confusion, and misunderstanding. People could be absolutely free to be what they are: gay, straight, bi, hell even asexual, if they wanted (but what sane person would want it?) I truly don't want anyone fired from their jobs or beaten up because they are -- or call themselves -- gay, bi, transsexual, or anything else.

But let's remember that in a world full of so much homophobia, where what seems like an increasing number of people who have same-sex relationships do not want to identify as gay, GAY PRIDE should still have -- must still have -- meaning and power. Remember, whatever Job Brother may say, the gay community is much more accepting of bi's (however skeptical we may be at times) than the straight world at large. After all, it's the homosexual leanings of bi people that set them apart from the larger straight society and make them controversial and even, at times, excoriated (by society in general). And the very reason why many gays and genuine bi's would rather shoot themselves than come out as, or be thought of as, totally gay (don't kid yourself), even in this day and age.

When Gay Pride no longer has any meaning, we're all lost.