Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Write to Marry Day

The fight for gay marriage is in reality a fight for equality. There have always been loving, committed gay couples-- many of whom have been together longer than many of their straight counterparts -- and gay couples deserve the same protections and privileges under the law that heterosexual couples have.

Sure I may snicker from time to time at modern-day gay couples who lust for the proverbial house with the white picket fence in the middle of the suburbs, not to mention 2.5 children -- it almost seems like an imitation of the conventional straight life I was raised in and longed to escape from -- but since I'm always yammering about the diversity of the gay community I have to say I'm all for everyone getting what they want whether it's my cup of java or not.

So I support gay marriage hands down. It won't automatically make some people easier with what we do in the privacy of our bedrooms, but it will bring us one step closer to equality.

Bloggers of all stripes and persuasions across the land are posting on or before October 29th to register their opposition to Proposition 8, which would amend California's constitution by banning sex-sex marriages. This would not only be a giant step backward, but would increase the likelihood of a national bill, such as that supported by the likes of Sarah Palin, opposing same-sex marriages.

In these days of an uneasy economy, there are those who might feel that gay marriage is not an important issue. I say that when the equality of several million Americans is called into question, then that certainly makes it an extremely important issue.

It goes to the very heart of the bedrock upon which this nation was built. Freedom from intolerance, equality for all. It is as much of paramount concern as the ongoing civil rights struggle for African-Americans, not to mention the fight for women's rights and against anti-Semitism and all other forms of blatant discrimination.

Hence this post in honor of "Write" to Marry Day.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Nastiness in the Blogosphere

I've been a bit appalled by the level of nastiness I see on GLBT message boards and blogs and I wondered if it was getting worse (due, perhaps, to the election year) and what other factors might be responsible. I contacted some prominent as well as lesser-known bloggers and well-known gay people (Wayne Besen, Andrew Sullivan, Michael Musto etc.) from all sides of the political spectrum for their responses and have written an article which I call "Nastiness on the Blogosphere." I think it contains some interesting opinions on the subject. [This was originally intended for the New York Blade, but since they've gone from weekly publication to bi-weekly they don't have as much room for general think pieces as opposed to hard news.]

On the gay web site queerty, a heated debate is going on as to whether a certain gay periodical has improved since the new editor has taken over, and if said editor is gay, straight or bisexual -- and if it matters. A diversity of opinions are expressed, so diverse in fact, that it’s as if the people posting are not only not part of any community, but are actually from separate planets. The comments become increasingly personal. One poster who is an actor is told that he’s too ugly and untalented to get a job. Another person, quivering with self-hate, leaves a message that reads "I’m not bisexual but I wish I were and I’d kick the asses of all the faggots who say it has to be one way or the other." The majority of posts, at least on this particular thread, are jarringly nasty.

What’s going on here? Is the level of viciousness on LGBT blogs and message boards increasing, and if so, why is it happening? There could be several factors to blame for all the in-fighting: 1.) different factions of the LGBT movement who have been lumped together for political reasons but who may not really relate to one another; 2.) Out and Proud gays versus in-the-closet gays who use the anonymity of the Internet to put in their two cents but who look at gay life very differently from out-of-the-closet gays; 3.) young gays versus older gays; 4.) Other, less obvious factors. The question was put to several bloggers.

Andrew Belonsky of Queerty says " I think it's primarily political differences - on queerty, at least. I don't think that blogs have made gays any nastier, no. There's always been infighting in every social community, so why should we be any different? That said, however, many commentators can get particularly cruel and ugly, which really isn't the most constructive activity unless you actually have a point."

Andrew Sullivan sees it a bit differently: "I'm afraid it has always been true that gays have viciously attacked other gays online." he says. "It gets personal very quickly. Some of it is classic minority group self-loathing; part of it is just classic gay bitchiness; part genuine outrage, especially at pretty useless gay political groups; and partly it's a function of very familiar patterns of varying outness. We really do need to get better at being calmer."

Andres Duque, who has a Gay Latino blog entitled Blabbeando [blabbeando.blogspot.com] says "Some bloggers engage in over the top demagoguery, sensationalistic arguments and shock tactics to engage their readership -- and increase traffic -- and some responses might react to that. Personally I prefer to stake a view without slandering or insulting others and try to be respectful of others who may disagree with my views and perhaps this is why I rarely get a negative or nasty comment on my blog. It might not be as titillating to some, but not sure that I want to attract readers who run on the latest scandal."

Aureliano DeSoto, Post-Doctoral Fellow in LGBT studies at Carleton College in Minnesota [americanqueer.blogspot.com], says "LGBT folks as well as everyone else, have very little sense of etiquette or really know, for that matter, how to articulate critical commentary in ways that are not ad hominem and personal. This might just be a general function of the coarsening of our larger public culture."

"From a socio-cultural perspective," DeSoto adds, "lesbians and gay men have engaged in sometimes quite vociferous debate over what, how, why, and who constitutes gayness, really from the Mattachine Society of the 1950s onward, when the question was whether gay people constituted a separate category of experience or were just sexually different ...The movement of these questions onto the Internet is just a continuation of conversations that used to mostly happen in community papers, newsletters, flyers, wheat-pasted manifestos, and at the bar.

"And I would say, for what it's worth, that LGBT people are avatars of Internet culture, so perhaps there is some greater meaning to whatever perceived increase of hostility and aggression [there is] on gay blogs. Generational differences and dimensions of outness do seem to be more prominent in online media, especially the latter, since for many the Internet is an anonymous space, and that has empowered ... closeted men who have no public expression of gay identity but an investment, sometimes quite conservative, in these questions -- not to mention their participation in sexual online cultures such as Manhunt or Craig's List."

"I think the Internet has always been a place where cowards become bold and attack anonymously," says activist and Truth Wins Out President Wayne Besen [waynebesen.com]. "What has changed, of late, however, are the issues - two in particular. The first is the presidential elections. There are many spiritually and emotionally empty people who live vicariously through candidates and wrap their identities around these leaders. They become larger than life - almost like Gods. So, if you criticize the candidate, these individuals take it as a personal sleight and react insanely over the Internet. I saw a glimpse of this when I criticized Obama over using "ex-gay" gospel singer Donnie McClurkin. The level of irrational Internet comments and e-mail was mind blowing. People really need to get lives - or at least get a grip."

"The second issue was the debate over including trans people in ENDA," says Besen. "From the standpoint of trans people - and many of their supporters - this was not just policy, but an existential question. If abandoned by the GLB community, they would have been left to fend for themselves. So, it was quite understandable that it got ugly, raw and personal. Were the trans people about to get shafted supposed to smile and take it? Sometimes it is important to throw down and duke it out. Much of this occurred on the Internet and it wasn't pretty - but, in the end, the fight may have been pretty important."

Some bloggers have had kinder, gentler experiences. Says Michael Musto, "I recently started a blog, "La Daily Musto," on villagevoice.com and the tone of the comments is generally upbeat. There’s some bitchiness, but generally in a good-humored way. So not all gay blogs elicit pure hate from their readers -- except whenever I mention Clay Aiken. But if there IS a rise in blog comment bitchiness, I’d say all of those factors [you mentioned] are involved. The anonymity gives people who generally can’t express themselves a chance to vent and to go overboard because they don’t have to suffer any consequences for it. And the different LGBT subgroups often resent each other (the "straight acting" ones often hate the out, femmy ones, and so on), and drag out their darkest biases which they probably would not trot out in public."

"This is a political year with much at stake," says Wayne Besen, "so there is a natural tendency for such attacks to multiply. Politics is about power and with this comes a brutal struggle, and this accounts for much of the nastiness online.

"I wouldn't get alarmed, as things ought to calm down in 2009."

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Endangered New York City Nightlife?

In the past few months there as been much talk of an anti-nightlife campaign being waged in the city, with gay venues especially being targeted. Is this an exaggeration or are gay New Yorkers really in danger of losing a lot of their homo-friendly spaces?

Last March several clubs in Chelsea, including gay bars Splash and View, were raided, along with several non-gay establishments, a few of which held gay parties on occasion. Drugs were cited as the reason for the raids. Back then several owners of gay bars in Chelsea, as well as a representative of the New York Nightlife Association [NYNA] told The New York Blade that gays or gay clubs were not being targeted. Despite highly exaggerated accounts of the places being shuttered for good, most of the clubs were re-opened within days.

The problem was not just drug use, but the fact that residents of the area dialed 311 to complain of the noise generated by bar patrons lounging on the sidewalks to have a smoke. This is a problem for straight bars as well as gay. According to Robert J. Benfatto, Jr., the president of Community Board 4, which oversees the Chelsea area and determines which establishments will be granted liquor licenses, "The clubs can’t control the crowds once they leave the bar."

The situation was not helped when Splash and two other bars that had planned to hold Gay Pride events were again raided over Gay Pride weekend. The timing understandably engendered much suspicion and paranoia. However, Splash was the only gay bar out of the 13 establishments to be hit over that weekend. Nevertheless, given the negative history between gay bars and the police, gay activists are quick to investigate any possibility of discrimination.

Much of the controversy recently centered on the Roxy nightclub on West 18th Street. The
Roxy was not a gay place, but had a popular gay night on the weekends. Suspicions were fomented when the Roxy reapplied to Community Board 4 for a liquor license and the hearing was delayed on more than one occasion. On August 12th the application for a license was withdrawn by the club itself, and they will probably not reapply. Robert J. Benfatto, Jr. told me "it is my understanding that something happened between them and the landlord."

According to Benfatto, the problem with the Roxy and other clubs has little to do with an anti-nightlife attitude in Chelsea or anywhere else. "Years ago The Roxy was in a manufacturing area that was approved for big clubs. Re-zoning has turned the area into a residential neighborhood." It is no longer a good mix.

Many of the people who seethe when the noise level of the street smokers goes too high don’t necessarily have anything against nightlife and may even enjoy it themselves. It’s when they’re trying to sleep and have to get up early on weekdays to go to work that they reach for the phones. Some bar owners in Chelsea have gotten together to address the problems. One solution was to hire off duty cops to stand outside the bar in their uniforms and keep order. Unfortunately, the city doesn’t allow "pay detail" – the name of this program – for establishments that have liquor licenses, with the exception of large venues such as Madison Square Garden. As for the drug issue, the Roxy went so far as to hire undercover agents to make sure their employees weren’t dealing.

The New York City Council introduced a Nightlife Security Initiative to address some of the problems. Their suggestions included changing the shift of the cabaret unit of the police to last until 5AM instead of four, so that they could deal with the noisy flow of often drunken patrons coming from the bars. Responding to the death of bar patron Imette St. Guillen, who was killed by a bouncer with a criminal record at The Falls, bars were to do background checks on all employees – this was also supposed to help deal with the drug problems as well, which persist.

Nightlife – gay or straight – isn’t going away any time soon. Benfatto told me that "most applications that come before this board are approved. Very few are turned down." But the larger clubs with the noisy smokers and drug deals in the bathroom will have to take more of the initiative in policing their establishments and patrons – and cooperating with the police and State Liquor Authority – or the raids will undoubtedly continue.

As for the Roxy? The beloved club appears to be gone for good. However, some people aren’t willing to let it go. Or at least let our nightlife go without a fight. Ryan J. Davis, who headed a "Save the Roxy" campaign, told The Blade "We’ll be turning the 'Save The Roxy' nightlife movement -- and it is a movement, with over 300 people activated -- into a committee as part of the Jim Owles Liberal Democratic Club. There, we'll be able to provide oversight of New York City's Appointed Community Boards."

Thursday, October 2, 2008

"Family" Men

The number of supposed "family men" who fool around sexually with guys is probably legion, but because there's only an occasional Jim McGreevey "scandal" outing these guys most of the public still thinks if a man's got a wife and kids he's straight.

Now let's talk about Paul Newman.

Years ago I tricked with a guy who said to me: "Paul Newman is gay."

"He is?" I said. "How do you know?"

He said: "I only say people are gay if I've had sex with them."

Now it's true that many people will say they have had sex with celebrities as a way of making themselves more fascinating and the like, but I found this guy completely credible. He was also an actor, one of the actors in The Boys in the Band, in fact, and I could certainly see him and Newman together.

Whether you believe this or not, if it's true, Newman would certainly not be the first family man who liked dick. Whether you want to call him a bisexual or a married homosexual, I wouldn't be surprised if, however he defined himself, he was attracted to men and suppressed it as much as he could because, after all, "fags" don't become superstars. In this Newman would not be the first or the last movie star to closet himself with a wife and children for the sake of a career. Newman was not known as a skirt-chaser. He built a private cottage for himself on his property which wife and children were not allowed to enter. If he occasionally indulged in his passion for men while presenting a heterosexual front, it would make him no different from tens of thousands of other men over the decades. It's ironic that he played the conflicted "Brick" in the film adaptation of Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

When it came to Gay Rights Newman could be quite contrary. On one hand, he and wife Joanne Woodward were liberals who presumably supported Gay Rights. Newman gave serious thought to playing the gay coach in the film version of Patrica Nell Warren's gay novel The Front Runner. On the other hand he decided to make the film Slapshot instead of Front Runner, and while the homophobia of the hockey players and fans in the movie was hardly unrealistic, the script also had him telling a woman that her son would grow up to be sucking dick (the old domineering mother creates faggots nonsense). He also taunted a hockey player that his wife was a "dyke, dyke, dyke!" which some dumb-ass New York Post critic, writing about the "best" scenes in Newman's movies, seemed to think was hilarious (it wasn't). Many gay activists thought Newman's guilt or fear over his own activities so panicked him that he chose the macho, homophobic role of Slapshot over the sympathetic gay role of The Front Runner coach.

Whatever the true story with Newman, his legacy will be that of the typical heterosexual family man whose wife and kids meant everything to him. Of course, men who love dick can certainly love their children and (in their own way) care deeply about their wives, but it's not the whole story. Had he come out at least as a bisexual -- had he only appeared in The Front Runner -- it might have done a lot of good but he chose not to. Those heterosexual privileges, even when he was wealthy and essentially retired, clearly meant too much to him. Some men in this position don't come out because they don't want to hurt or embarrass their wives, but in Newman's case I bet it was more about his image. So the "family man" legacy, no matter how much of it is pure bullshit, will go on until some biographer or other person with solid, substantiated information tells the world otherwise, and even then much of the world won't want to believe it. Paul Newman a fag! We in the Gay Community have made great progress in the past few decades, but sometimes I think we haven't made any at all.

One last thing about Newman. As co-author of a book on Robert Redford, I can tell you that the rumors of an affair between Newman and Redford, no matter how delicious some people may find it, appear to be completely unfounded, and I've never uncovered any substantiated gay rumors about Redford.