Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Whores and Ministers on Law and Order

The Law and Order shows have recently aired two episodes about anti-gay ministers involved with male prostitutes practically back to back. The latest on Special Victims Unit featured Timothy Daly as a minister arrested for the murder of a male hustler who was apparently blackmailing him. (Can't we get past this tiresome blackmail theme in “gay” episodes on crime shows?) I liked the scene when Olivia said that the minister kept having children (ten of them) because he just couldn't accept that he was gay and had a desperate need to hide it through his many offspring (which I believe does happen in real life). This made the excellent and true point that a man can be married with kids and still be homosexual. Unfortunately this was undercut when it turned out it was actually one of Daly's sons who was having the affair with the hustler (and the actual murderer was someone else entirely) and Daly was supposedly straight. The once anti-gay minister was almost turned into a sympathetic hero, lying to cops to protect his son (whom he inexplicably thought murdered his lover) and becoming sympathetic to him in a matter of mere months, even preaching tolerance – as if that would ever happen so quickly. The show was decidedly well-intentioned, but in its attempts to be full of twists and turns, while this generated suspense, became a bit too muddled to be memorable. Frankly, it would have been more powerful and honest – and more fun – if the Daly character had been boffing the hustler or some other guy as well.

It reminds me of something I heard on the radio once. About a woman in Italy who had ten children with her husband of many years but was filing for divorce because he was gay. The announcer told the story as if it were all a big joke; it was hilarious, he thought, how could a man who fathered ten children possibly be homosexual? But if a gay man can have two or three children (or even just one) – and we know this has happened over and over again – there's absolutely no reason why he can't have ten or even more. Hell, I've met grandfathers who have many children, many grand-kids, and are still gay. At least when they're carrying on in the gay bars or online. Of course, very few men, gay or straight, want to have ten children!

So this episode of Law and Order SVU could have made that point – and tried to, I guess – but went in another direction altogether. Too bad. Still, it was quite absorbing, and I basically think the show, while imperfect, is one of the best on television.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Gay versus "Ex-Gay" -- Guess Who Wins?

Just watched The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which featured a sketch in which a medical mystery examiner investigated the case of one Wayne Besen [photo on the left], who realized he was gay at an early age. Besen seeks the “cure” which is promised by Richard Cohen, the asshole author of a self-published 1991 book entitled Coming Out Straight. Cohen was a self-hating homosexual who was celibate for a decade, got married and had three children, had a male lover on the side for a time, but still insists he is totally straight. Sure.

The sketch featured the real Cohen, who didn't seem to realize he was being made fun of – mercilessly. I don't recall the audience being told that Wayne Besen is actually a gay activist who writes wonderful pieces on his web site, and is also the author of Anything But Straight, which excoriates the ex-gay movement. [I'm not certain why the audience wasn't let in on the joke.]

Cohen demonstrates some of his idiotic methods for turning people from gay to straight on the bemused reporter, who suggests that Besen give them a try. Six months later he checks in with Besen, and finds him lustily necking with a boyfriend on the sofa.

Besen was a good sport to participate in this, but I was a little disappointed that he wasn't interviewed or introduced by Stewart, who instead chatted with another author. Still, I'm sure Besen was glad that the show zapped some of these ex-gay idiots as they deserve.

A little nitpicking: There were some dumb moments, but I guess it's only fair – considering the sketch was basically pro-gay and geared for a largely straight audience -- that the presumably straight reporter (I know nothing about the comic actor who portrayed him) act a bit uncomfortable with all the gay – and “ex-gay” -- goings-on. I know they were making fun of Cohen, but the business with the reporter tossing a football at him – which Cohen fumbles – is kind of dopey, especially now that we all should know that there are plenty of gay athletes who'd have no trouble catching a football [a fairly useless talent except on the football field]. We know Cohen isn't straight not because he can't catch a football but because his admitted gay past and boyfriend tell us all we need to know.

What about the three kids? you might ask. Well, most gay men are perfectly capable of having sex with women, even if [for some] it's only a kind of hands-free masturbation as they penetrate the female orifice. (No, we won't get into bisexuality as this point, thank you.) If Cohen was unhappy leading a gay lifestyle, that was his business. But his trying to make a name and career for himself, exploiting people as full of self-hatred as he is to make a buck, is deplorable. To prove that he is now completely straight, Cohen let out a gross "manly" belch [I guess he thinks gay people can't burp – even though he did]. What a buffoon!

On the plus side, we got to see the good-looking Besen happily necking open-mouthed with an equally attractive male lover. Way to go, Wayne! (The irony is that Cohen would probably be very happy to neck with Besen, who would probably want to throw up at the very thought.)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Gay/Bisexual Debate

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force has issued a 148 page report on Bisexual Health which may have some shaking their heads in disbelief (it can be downloaded at the Task Force's website); I certainly found a lot of it mind-bogglingly stupid.

First let me say that I never really saw the need to have a separate bi movement, and its interesting to me that a really strong one has never quite emerged after all these years – although it's certainly got certain gay rights groups by the balls. Even today the Bi Movement seems to consist of a few souls carrying a big politically correct stick as opposed to a huge congregation of committed bisexuals. [No doubt books are being sold and people are getting attention yapping about Bi Rights, which seems to be the reason behind just about everything]. My thinking was that if a bi-identified person wanted to live a gay lifestyle, they were already covered under the gay rights umbrella. And if they wanted to live a straight lifestyle, they didn't need protection because they'd be perceived as hetero and hence were “safe.”

The main focus in the Task Force's report, of course, is on health issues, and the fact that many people, especially men, who have sex with both genders, are both at risk and putting others at risk for AIDS. These are men who are on the “down low,” which was first reported in the New York Times as being a phenomenon of the African-American community but which in my experience occurs in every ethnic background. The “down low” is nothing new of course. There have always been men who who can't accept their homosexuality, who can't feel “macho” if they admit to being gay or even bi, and who have sex with men [generally but not always being the “top”] but who also have relationships with a wife or girlfriend. There's a word for this sort of thing and it isn't “bisexual.” It's called “being in the closet.”

Not that members of the not very huge Bisexual Movement would agree. [The web site that's linked to the Task Force's site is kind of thrown-together, and I was amused by the fact that the late male founder of the Bisexual Foundation had had a long-term relationship – with another man. If this guy occasionally had sex with women, would that really have made him bisexual?] There are some disturbing things to be read in the Bi Health Report, including the incredible new definition of bisexuality. According to the report “a bisexual orientation speaks to the potential for, but not requirement of, involvement with more than one gender.” Potential ---!? By that definition, virtually anyone could be considered bisexual! This is an attempt by the rather bullying bi movement – who've got Matt Foreman and others of the Task Force and other groups locked up tight in a grip of political correctness – to bolster their numbers to a ridiculous proportion. Why, there must be more bisexuals than gays and straights combined! [Yes, I understand that the report's compilers could argue that some people will always be gay and others will always be straight, and these are not seen to have any “potential,” but this is still a impossibly vague and nearly all-encompassing description.] According to the report bi's also “have a greater likelihood of suffering from depression due to biphobia.” Well, maybe they're depressed because they can't come out of the closet? Because they can't deal with being gay? Because they want to be completely straight but can't be?

Let me make it clear that if you now ascribe to the old theory that most bi's are gays who aren't yet comfortable in a gay skin, you're considered not only old-fashioned but a bigot. The funny thing is, until I read this report I was perfectly willing to rethink my position on bisexuality. In my experience, most bisexuals clearly had a sexual preference, generally their own sex. I had always thought that there might be a few – maybe quite a few – genuine bisexuals, but these I would describe as people who are sincerely attracted as much to men as they are to women, kind of a 50/50 deal. Just because I or any other gay man may occasionally be attracted to a woman, or may have had sexual congress with females in the past, doesn't make me “bisexual.” But according to the Task Force's report all you really have to do is have the “potential” to sleep with both sexes and – bingo! -- you're bi. Suddenly my shit-o-meter was on high alert and I began to think that I was right all along. I think the Task Force will find that rather than revise people's opinion on the whole bi question, their report may have the opposite effect.

Now I'm beginning to think that the bi's protest too much, and I question the research, statistics, and science of the report. I detest the “politic-speak” that the report is riddled with, silly terms such as “MSMW” to describe a man who has sex with both men and women [whatever happened to bisexual, for crying out loud, which is supposed to be the whole point?] And all the pc crap such as how two men in a committed relationship are no longer a “gay couple” but a ”same-sex couple” [presumably because we could both take up with women at any moment. Sure].

The Task Force (and GLAAD) protested a June '06 piece in the New York Times -- “Gay, Straight or Lying”-- for sloppy research methods but their report isn't much better. The Times piece at least went so far as to present opposing viewpoints; in fact --aside from some dumb, ill-considered quotes -- I found it reasoned and balanced. [For the record the piece described how when a group of men were shown gay and straight porn and their sexual responses were monitored, most of the “bisexual” men reacted to the gay porn but not to the straight. Big surprise.] It essentially left the whole matter up in the air, which is where it may always remain. Most people will never be honest – even to themselves – when it comes to sexual orientation so perhaps all we'll ever have is opinions without conclusions. [Although my opinions are at least based on decades of personal experience and interactions with people who have variously identified themselves as gay, straight or bi, not on a series of interviews or what-have-you with a small cross section of men or women.]

But most importantly, when you consider the stigma that still exists to this day over being gay, it's no wonder so many people refuse to use that as a label. Even saying they're “bi” gives them a kind of cachet, a connection to the straight world, the feeling that they're not quite as “abnormal” as if they were exclusively gay. Frankly, it's become very tiresome and even offensive. This was not what the Gay Rights movement was supposed to be about.

Are there genuine bisexuals in the world? Possibly. It depends on the definition. If you think a married man who has children but who has sex with men as well is bisexual, I suppose it may be a reasonably fair statement. Except for the fact that many of these men, when they finally come out of the closet [usually because they've developed romantic feelings for a guy] generally say that they were never straight or bi to begin with, but gay. Lots of gay-identified men can sleep with women and father children. I'll never forget one man on LOGO's TV show “Coming Out Stories” saying that before his marriage he didn't think of himself as gay or bi but “just a straight man who sometimes had sex with guys.” [In other words, he was on the down low.]

Then there's the interesting case of a guy I worked with years ago in the Gay Activists Alliance in New York. I recently learned that he describes himself as bisexual and is now partnered with a woman [I don't recall if he was bi-identified all those years ago, only that he had a male partner for many years]. Admirably, on his web site he doesn't deny his gay past, and even has a picture of his ex-male lover [whom he does not name] and describes how he and his “straight girlfriend” attend gay pride marches. His commitment to gay activism does not seem to have wavered. In fact he was once downright militant, like me, and probably still is. Is he a genuine bisexual, or is his relationship with his lady friend more of a loving friendship born out of mutual loneliness than any kind of serious "grand passion"? He had a long-time relationship with a man; was he simply unable to find another man to share his life with after the first relationship broke up? Is his “straight” relationship emotional or sexual or both? If he'd found the right man would he ever have really considered being with a woman? Only he knows for sure but the answers don't really matter. While he may not have taken up with a woman to “run away” from his gayness, there are still plenty of gays who do just that and if we truly care about these “bisexuals” we can't just let them spend a lifetime lost in indecision and denial.

I admit that there aren't necessarily any clear cut answers, but we should be open-minded without losing sight of certain undeniable realities. If the Task Force and the Bi Movement want to believe that most of the bi-identified are really bisexual, I certainly can't stop them. But if they insist that ALL of the bi-identified are part of some vast bisexual community, then that will be almost criminally irresponsible. Even if there are bisexuals who are not going through a phase between being straight and coming out proudly as gay, the fact remains that a great many of them are doing just that. And they need help accepting their gay orientation, not a lot of blather that will only muddy the waters and make them more confused – and miserable – than ever. This is not “biphobia” -- it is the basis of gay activism and its creed of self-acceptance. It is the whole point of the Gay Movement. If every person were to accept their homosexuality proudly, the struggle for gay rights would be aided immeasurably. Bi activists say that we're "threatened" by bisexuality, but what we're really "threatened" by is a dishonest diffusion of our masses, and the fear that instead of becoming out and proud some gays will only use "bisexual" as a label to hide behind, hoping to have a "real" hetero relationship instead of the satisying gay partnership that will lead to sincere, long-lasting fulfillment.

Let's remember that if many people who insist to themselves and others that they're hetero aren't really straight, it's also true that many who say they're bisexual aren't really bi. Although I could find absolutely no background information about this study in the report from the Task Force, the report claims that one study showed that 10% of men in New York City who identify as straight have had sex with at least one man in the past year, and that 73% of male New Yorkers who have had sex with men identify themselves as hetero. Does anybody really believe this has anything to do with “bisexuality?” Or with the sad, simple fact that these men do not want to be perceived as gay or project a gay image they somehow find distasteful? Why are we worrying about real or alleged bisexuals when our primary goal should be to publicize the diversity of our gay community [heck, we can even include bisexuals if we want to] and to utterly erase the stigma that still attaches itself to homosexuality? We need to get the message out that anyone can be gay, no matter what their style, appearance or demeanor, and life outside the closet is immeasurably sweeter than one lived in constant deceit and denial.

If this wasn't enough to deal with, the report details a conference for bi and bi-curious men and, while it admitted most men were troubled/curious about their gay leanings, there were supposedly some gay-identified men who were bemused by unexpected sexual feelings for women. Again, the fact that I or any gay guy can occasionally think a woman is sexy or even make out with one while inebriated does not necessarily mean that we are straight or bi. But will the moderators at these conferences [it is suggested they be bi-identified or sensitive to bi-issues, not bigoted old poops] be intelligent enough to realize this? [While some may think I'm being unfair, I don't think a man who makes out/has sex with another man while inebriated can get away with saying he's totally straight, again because of the stigma of homosexuality. A drunk straight guy may make out with a woman he wouldn't normally find attractive, but with a man, any man? Don't think so. You may disagree.]

Now I have no doubt that many activists are going to agree with me on this matter but will be afraid to say so, afraid to look narrow-minded or out-of-date. And then there's the fact that many will want to keep their jobs with the professional gay organizations that employ them. They won't want to offend any of their constituency, especially those -- like some bisexual activists perhaps? -- who may contribute generously to their coffers. I recognize that people who have unprotected gay sex but who do not admit to being gay [or bi for that matter] are at great risk for deadly STDS, and perhaps The Task Force felt this was the only way to educate health professionals about treating them. If only the overly political, academic-dumb, so painfully correct it hurts double-speak could have been ruthlessly excised from the report. It pains me that to appeal to these men on the down low we almost have to agree with them that they're “straight” -- they will not admit to being gay – as perhaps the only way to save their lives.

But if we forget all about teaching self-acceptance and gay pride, are we really doing anyone a favor?

NOTE: One of the most fascinating and scholarly articles I have ever read on the subject of bisexuality [through the ages] was written by Rictor Norton and can be found here :

UPDATE: In early June 2007 the Task Force released a revised and updated version of the Bisexual Health Report. Maybe because of all the criticism it got?

If you have an opinion about this or any other post on this blog, please leave a comment or email me at

Sunday, March 11, 2007

What's up with that?

So I go into Marie's Crisis in the West Village on Friday night, hoping to see a larger gay constituency than the last time I was there [when I met the straight-identified bartender who has “a gay brother.”] The place was pretty straight that night, a Thursday evening, but I figured the weekends would still be pretty gay. Standing around singing show tunes isn't one of my favorite things to do, but I generally found a sympathetic, pleasant group of people to talk to at the bar. Until recently, Marie's catered mostly to a crowd of gay men of mixed ages, with straight women, lesbians, and less often, straight men or straight couples mixed in. Most of the straight people seemed aware that it was a gay bar and were respectful for the most part.

I went over to the bar and saw a group of people sitting at the far end, three guys and two women. I perceived them as three gay men and two “sisters,” supportive straight female friends. Because you never know these days, I asked them in a light, friendly way if they were gay.

I didn't get the reaction I expected and was hoping for.

Nope, they weren't gay. None of them. And they didn't seem thrilled that I'd asked. [Let's just say they said they weren't gay. These days – who knows?]

Obviously referring to her boyfriend, one gal said, “I would know.” [Sorry, lady, you probably wouldn't.]

I was rather surprised and said so. I won't say the reaction from these people was necessarily homophobic, but it wasn't especially friendly. I later learned that none of them were aware that Marie's was [or at least used to be?] a gay bar.

Looking around the place, I got the sinking sensation that there were more straights than gays in Marie's that night, and, worse, many of them thought they were in a straight bar -- and maybe they were. I had a conversation with the other straight gal in this group which did not begin auspiciously. She said she thought the bar might be gay because of the show tunes. I told her in a nice way that that was stereotyping. She had the good grace to be a little embarrassed. She turned out to be a nice person who did me the courtesy of letting me talk to her about the bar, how I worried that some of the straight people [including the men she was with] were not the gay-friendly kind that used to come into Marie's. Because I could tell she was decent and probably gay-friendly [if a little young and naïve, which is forgivable] I assured her that I thought she was a nice person and that people like her should certainly be welcome in the bar. She told me that I seemed like a nice man, too.

Then something very odd happened. A very drunk gay guy at the bar turned to me and said. “You were terrible to those people. You're an asshole.”

I was flabbergasted and told him that I and the young lady had just had a very nice conversation, and that I hadn't been “terrible” to anyone. I felt like I'd been bashed in a gay bar. And not by straights, but by a fellow gay [or at least homosexual] man. What the hell was this guy's problem? It's possible that his inebriation, which made him rather incoherent, also made him incapable of really hearing or understanding anything I was saying. I realized that his negative reaction might also have been due to my sounding to him like some kind of – gasp! -- Gay Libber or something [although I wasn't on my Gay Lib soap box] and how dare I make the probably closeted asshole [except when he's in a gay bar] feel uncomfortable by reminding him that some of us gay men have an unapologetic gay identity to go along with our self-esteem. I'm too nice a guy to say to the man what was on my mind: “I'm not an asshole but you're a self-hating homo who is drinking himself into a stupor because of it."

I used to feel sorry for guys like that. Now I just wish they'd get into therapy or seek counseling at the gay center and for crying out loud accept themselves and their orientation already. You can't always help these guys, mired rigidly as they are in their alcohol and misery, attacking gay men and women with a relish that almost rivals that of the straightest homophobe.

What a sad schmuck!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Law and Order and Brothers and Sisters -- No Balls!

While you can't expect every TV show that deals with gay subject matter to have a gay activist – or even a gay – sensibility, sometimes you have to wonder where the tele-writers are coming from. I think that Law and Order: Special Victims Unit is one of the best shows on television, but I was very surprised by a recent episode in which there was a sub-plot in which two men haul guys into a van and rape and abuse them. Some of the victims are gay and some are straight. One straight-identified guy, who is about to get married, won't testify because he can't stand the thought of his bride-to-be knowing what happened. He is particularly horrified because he was aroused while he was being penetrated. Now these detectives are supposed to be sensitive and understanding but instead of assuring him that even if he were gay it wouldn't be the end of the world, all they do is try to persuade him that he's still straight. But what if the guy has gay leanings that remain unexplored and because of this his marriage will be a disaster? The possibility is never even suggested. Neither Stabler nor Benson suggest that there would be nothing wrong with this guy if he were gay.

On an episode of the regular Law and Order, the storyline dealt with a hypocritical married minister who claimed he could cure homosexuality yet was running around having sex with guys. What bothered me about this episode was that the detectives kept asking if this one or that one was cured without putting “cured” in figurative quotes, as if they really thought homosexuality was some sort of disease that could be banished like polio. This may not have been the tele-writer's intention, but it made it seem like a throwback to the 1970's.

But the Law and Order shows have always been inconsistent when it came to gay-themed episodes, probably depending on the sensibility of the writer [regardless of their orientation]. Law and Order has even had a few old-fashioned episodes in which the motive of the killer was to simply prevent somebody from revealing he or she was gay. Definitely very 70's.

Now on Brothers and Sisters we have the storyline involving the gay brother Kevin and his hunky closeted soap actor boyfriend. [Does anyone really see these two as a realistic couple?] In a recent development, a web site keeps threatening to out the soap actor. Kevin, who is certainly a far cry from a proud gay activist, is willing to keep dating this rather dumb, closeted schmuck [who apparently has a pattern of using women as beards and dumping boyfriends and girlfriends alike] simply because he's hot [okay, he wouldn't be the first man or women to stay with someone because of presumably great sex]. But Kevin's actions are deplorable: Contacting the owner of the web site [it has not yet been revealed if he's gay or straight], he threatens a law suit even though he knows the insinuations are perfectly true. Does he try to convince his boyfriend that a life of shivering in the closet isn't worth what may never even become a hugely successful career in the first place? Does he agonize over the fact that as a couple he and the soap hunk can never be out and proud? No, he just acts like an asshole lawyer. Yuchh. It's nice to have a gay character on the show, but he's a complete jerk. Let's hope he develops some gay balls in the future.

That Old-Fashioned Gay Sensibility

Isn't there a place where we can gather up all the closet cases, self-hating homos, and gay men and lesbians with old-fashioned sensibilities – maybe an island somewhere – and remove them from the gay community where they persist in perpetuating stereotypes and make the on-going battle for gay rights more difficult? I think one of the first to go to this island should be playwright Terrence McNally, who I have always thought was highly over-rated, more an example of someone who knows how to play the game than someone with any special brand of talent. A case in point is his play Love! Valour! Compassion! [full disclosure, I did not see this on the stage, but did see the film, which was also written by McNally]. Someone with a more modern sensibility might have made something memorable out of this soggy, slow mess about eight gay friends who meet periodically at a country house where they whine and bitch. Sure, there have plenty of plays and movies about heteros who whine and bitch, too, but I was still hoping for something that was a lot more advanced than say, The Boys in the Band, which this wasn't. While the characters in the play are recognizable types in the gay community, they are also stereotypes, and none of them are particularly likable. We have the grand dame precious British queen; the sort-of nelly who is himself prejudiced toward other minorities; the campy, flagrant movie musical queen [played with on again off again nelliness by Jason Alexander, the poor man's presumably straight Nathan Lane, who played this part on Broadway]; the kind-of swishy but sensual dancer/choreographer; the Puerto Rican semi-hustler [whose character is very under-delineated]; and so on. Certainly a playwright should be allowed to present characters, gay characters included, with flaws – nobody wants sanitized, dishonest portrayals – but while gay men like this may exist, there are millions of gay men who are nothing like them. Hasn't McNally ever been in a bear bar, for Pete's sake? At one point McNally even has most of the men dress up in tutus and prance around as ballet dancers which is much more idiotic and cliched than funny [what the hell was he thinking?]. McNally also perpetrated the equally moronic The Ritz, among others. Nothing I have ever seen by him compares to the really excellent gay play The Sum of Us by David Stevens.

Maybe on that island McNally can practice his true calling: writing sitcoms and doing Judy Garland impersonations.