Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Stalled in Congress

My Own Private Idaho... Not

ust cause I was tappin' my feet and wavin' under the stall wall, that doesn't mean I wanted anything GAY. No indeed, I happen to need a wide space when I, the senior U.S. Senator from Idaho, go to the crapper; and that's why my foot brushed up against that cop's foot.

Peeking through the crack in the door to his stall? no way. Lordy shucks. Golly gee. Not me. But isn't it nice he noticed my pretty blue eyes!

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Sinator Craig from Iz a ho, I mean Idaho, was just misunderstood. Just like Foley from Florida and so many other conservatives, Craig deserves our compassion. Poor thing. What will his wife, adopted children, and grandchildren think? Surely they won't think he's GAY! Not That.

We know what Mitt Romney thinks-- that he no longer wants Craig's support. He never has, nor ever will, be in favor of gay rights, right?

This event gives a hole new meaning to "stalled" in Congress. Those family-value Republicans are just too hip, as in hypocrites. They should be flushed with shame.

Story: from Salon--


Those old Republican homophobes have the rest of us tapping our feet in impatience to rid our
selves of the most corrupt government since Caligula.

Bust of Emperor Caligula in the


Sunday, August 26, 2007

"City that Care Forgot"

The carefree citizens of New Orleans...

Will that description ever again be apropos? Two years after the horror of Katrina, the mood is more resignation than not caring. New Orleans is in an identity crisis.

The first day I arrived in New Orleans thirty-six years ago, I was dazzled by the jazz in the Quarter, by the Wednesday afternoon crowd on Bourbon Street, by the architecture and the sense of joy in life there. A Bloody Mary at Lafite's in Exile brought exactly the right flavor. I had arrived at just the place my life at 23 needed to grow. It was fertile soil.

Now it is time to return, once again, if just for a visit. To look for the qualities that made my life there in the 1970s so rich: rich not materially or monetarily, but in genuine experience. I learned how to be gay in New Orleans and took a lover who, like me, loved art, and who was himself learning how to come out. Little did I know what a great role he would play in the future growth of the New Orleans art community.

My first year in New Orleans and at Tulane University was a revelation. A week with Allen Ginsberg gave me an understanding of Beat values that is with me still. The friends I made there helped shape my best humanistic ideals.

Working at a sidewalk cafe known for its Po-Boys, I met the widow of a horse racing jockey. What stories she shared with me over the roast beef. But the words that came back two years ago she had repeated often:

"The wind and rain erase it all, Jack."

Materially, that may be true. But spiritually, I'm hoping there is a rebirth possible, however long it takes.

This morning (Monday) I heard a wonderful commentary by Chris Rose on NPR. Listen Up!

'We Fight to Save New Orleans'

Listen to this story... by

Morning Edition, August 27, 2007 · Life is difficult in post-Katrina New Orleans. But those who are rebuilding the city now know that the most important four-letter word is not "love," but "home."

Chris Rose is a columinst for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.

Let the good times roll again...


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Thing of Beauty

Always a Joy, this film is having a much deserved revival: It is a lovely story of the discovery of love between two young men. Here is an article from AfterElton.com:

Why Beautiful Thing is a beautiful thing

One of our two new main page articles today is Brian Juergens' look back at the 1996 British film Beautiful Thing. For those already familiar with this funny, but touching coming of age tale, the article is a nice reminder about what made the movie so special. And for those who haven't yet seen this small-budget, big-hearted movie, Brian's look back is a great introduction to the film.

I clearly remember how much I loved it on first viewing. It was one of the first movies I ever saw with gay teens in it that approached anything to which I could personally relate my own experiences growing up. Yes, Jamie (Glen Berry) and Ste (Scott Neal) have to struggle with their sexuality, but they aren't suicidal, addicted to drugs, or out on the street hustling. I know that is the fate of too many gay youth, but it wasn't my experience and it was wonderful to see two boys fumbling toward a relationship. Okay, I never got that far at the same age, but it was nice wish fulfillment to see someone getting that happy ever after ending.

As a bonus the movie features out actor Ben Daniels in a terrific supporting role. You might remember Daniels from our coverage of the recent BBC America miniseries The State Within.

The Article:

Looking Back at "Beautiful Thing"

In 1996 a quiet little film from across the pond about a love affair between two working-class, young British men made its way to American shores. Avoiding a battery of clichés and focusing on the journey of its two teen protagonists and the community in which they lived, Beautiful Thing captured the attention and hearts of American audiences, gay and straight alike.

Jamie Gangel (Glen Berry) is a teenage boy who lives with his overwrought bartender mother in a London high-rise housing project. Jamie has few friends and is picked on by the other boys at school; he's not flamboyantly gay or even terribly noticeable, but the other boys take advantage of his sensitivity as an opportunity to attack.

Jamie's universe is limited primarily to his apartment (where he likes watching old, romantic Hollywood movies) and the area immediately outside of it, which is populated by an assortment of interesting — and volatile — characters. His mom, Sandra (Linda Henry), is a straight-talking, chain-smoking, hard-drinking woman who shoots from the hip and apparently goes through boyfriends faster than cartons of smokes. Her latest flame, misplaced surfer dude Tony (openly gay actor Ben Daniels), is a much mellower sort and seems to genuinely care for both Sandra and Jamie, although both of them are a bit too hardened to really notice.

On one side of this odd trio lives Leah Russell (Tameka Empson), a teenage black girl obsessed with Mama Cass who, when not blasting the music of The Mamas and the Papas on the balcony, is usually twisted on ecstasy or drunk. On the other side lives Jamie's schoolmate Ste Pearce (Scott Neal), a sporty youth who receives regular beatings from both his alcoholic father and drug-dealing brother. When Sandra comes across a bruised and crying Ste by the river one night, she takes him into her home, and the relationship between Ste and Jamie changes dramatically.

Beautiful Thing is by no means a perfect movie. But much like the budding love of its protagonists, the film represents something daring and, well, beautiful for gay film: It focuses on teenagers. Beautiful Thing was one of the first gay films that many moviegoers saw that dealt with coming-of-age and coming to grips with one's sexuality all at once, and it did so with humor and uncommon sensitivity. The fact that the film could handle the complex subject of gay youth so well without condescending to or objectifying its teen leads is something remarkable in and of itself.

That said, Beautiful Thing — based on Jonathan Harvey's play of the same name — is decidedly TV movie-like, and it seems to be driven primarily by a fantasy logic based on wish fulfillment. There are a number of realities that the film doesn't bother with, including Ste's family's reaction to his sexuality; the fact that Jamie and his mother are essentially moving away; and Sandra's bizarre snubbing of Tony, who has been nothing but supportive. Ultimately, those don't matter because they're not the focus.

The focus is on the connection between these two young men trying to forge a relationship against all odds. Indeed, the moments where the movie truly sings are the moments when Jamie and Ste embrace, dance, kiss and connect. The message of the film — foreshadowed by the rainbow that appears at the beginning — is that despite the noise and the fear and the problems and the probing neighbors, you can find something special to transport you away from the aspects of life from which you want to escape.

While that is somewhat like believing that if you close your eyes, it will go away, it is fine for this movie and its goals. The complications of gay love — or any love, really — are left to films with steeper agendas.

Beautiful Thing is happy with its kitchen-sink drama and flights of fancy, which include grin-inducing musical sequences (set to The Mamas and the Papas, of course) and a scene where Jamie and Ste go to a gay bar to see a drag show. In his review of the film upon its release, Roger Ebert took issue with this particular scene (although he liked the film overall), noting:

To begin with, no London teenager is going to be completely in the dark about homosexuality. Not in these times. Nor are most 16-year-olds going to find much amusing in a pub full of older men, many of them in drag, a lot of them drunk. Teenagers of any sexuality seek others their age, think 30-year-olds are "old,'' and might be a little slow to dig middle-aged men doing Barbra Streisand imitations. … [T]his pub is not going to be the answer to Jamie and Ste's search, and yet there are times, I swear, when the movie actually seems to think that once you come out of the closet, you head straight for the pub and live there happily for the rest of your life.

Ebert's critique is spoken like a man who never had to go digging for a group that he fit into. The truth is, many gay men do "come into their own" in gay bars and pubs, because those are the only places in their community where gay people congregate openly — especially in 1996. There was no gay student group or gay community alliance in the boys' working-class neighborhood for them to join.

The film's focus on Jamie and Ste's finding each other and their new place in the working-class community is what makes Beautiful Thing such a rewarding and memorable experience. This is one of the first widely seen stories of young gay love that took place in the working class. There is no gauzy, Merchant-Ivory romanticism or period details to make the story seem distant or allegorical. These are kids that most of us know (or even were ourselves), in familiar settings with familiar conflicts and concerns — although most of us fortunately never had a neighbor who hallucinated that she was Mama Cass and wandered into traffic.

The film is also unique in that it admitted that gay men don't get a free pass when it comes to their relationships with their mothers. Many gay films seem to suggest that mothers welcome their gay sons with open arms, no questions asked. While many gay men may have had smoother relationships with their mothers than their fathers while coming out, it is by no means a hard-and-fast rule.

In Beautiful Thing, when Sandra learns that Jamie might be gay, she hits the roof and doesn't come down easily. By contrast, easygoing Tony adjusts to the news much more quickly. Sandra's at times overwhelming concern for her son — and the fact that she's been the boy's sole caregiver for his entire life — clouds her ability to see the pain that he's going through. It's not until she has seen the comfort and strength that Jamie's newfound relationship provides him that she is able to come to terms with his gay identity.

Looking back at the film after 11 years, it still holds up as an endearing, funny and very sweet movie of first love overcoming the odds, and the poster's cheeky tagline, "An Urban Fairytale," still holds true. Most critics agreed that the film's good nature outweighed its drawbacks. Is it unabashedly optimistic? Sure. Does it stumble over uneven acting, overly earnest dialogue and budget limitations? Of course. Does it have enough unfinished story threads to weave a nice-sized handkerchief? It certainly does.

But the moments when the two lead characters find solace in one another's arms, eyes and hearts more than outweigh the film's shortcomings. And while the unlikely resolution concedes that this journey is far from over, it leaves us comforted that these two young men and their loved ones are going to be all right.

For viewers not used to seeing such a breezy, inspiring look at first love, that's a beautiful thing, indeed.

Keep viewing,


Sunday, August 19, 2007

Turning 60

Thank you to all the stars who came out to help me celebrate surviving six decades of decadence and delight.
To Dar, Starr, Maggie and Joce who orchestrated the surreal encounter of the closest kind, my eternal gratitude.
Here's a glimpse of the weekend:

With Love,


Friday, August 17, 2007

Born to be Wilde

A literary approach to Nature V. Nurture:

World-conquering Alexander the Great did not identify himself as a gay man. He simply loved his life-long companion, Hephaestion, and regularly penetrated the lovely Persian eunuch Bagoas. Women were for political alliances and heirs. So went the ancient world in varying degrees from Macedonia and Asia Minor to Japan . Gore Vidal appears correct in dismissing the idea of a gay identity, altogether, arguing that there are no homosexuals or heterosexuals, just homosexual and heterosexual acts.

Vidal may be right about history, but he is not right about being gay today. Even if we assume Kinsey was correct in attributing a continuum of desire in all humans from heterosexual to homosexual, making everyone, in effect, bisexual to a degree, people today do consider their sexual preference to be a key to their identity. Gay literature, including Vidal’s own The City and the Pillar, reveals how essential that identity is. Of what, if not a gay identity, were Andre Gide and Marcel Proust writing when they wrote Corydon and Cities of the Plain? One has only to read Jean Paul Sartre’s exhaustive study of Jean Genet (or, of course, Genet himself) to get the full meaning of gay existence. Whether or not you agree with Michel Foucault that the concept of “homosexuality” was born in the 19th Century as a construct of science and society, it is clear that being homosexual, today, goes to the heart of who we are.

Logically, Vidal (and followers of Foucault) must dismiss the nurture v. nature dispute as meaningless. If there is no gay identity, if there are no gay persons, then it makes no sense to ask if gays are born that way. Looking back at Alexander, we are tempted to say he was just a product of his culture, one in which women had a limited place, and bonding with men, especially on long, all-male military campaigns across the distant lands of what is today Iraq and Iran, left no choice but to engage in homosexual acts. Oliver Stone’s bold-- but failed-- attempt to uncover in Alexander a homosexual identity would have to be, for Foucault and Vidal, just plain wrong-headed.

Yet, anyone who has read Plato, Mary Renault, or Marguerite Yourcenar, knows that the great loves in many ancient Greek and Roman men’s lives were other men. Socrates literally swoons in the Charmides when he sees up the toga of that charming young man (who was Plato’s uncle):

I caught sight of the inwards of his garment, and took the flame.
Then, I could no longer contain myself. I thought how well Cydias
understood the nature of love, when, in speaking of a fair youth,
he warns someone, ‘not to bring the fawn in the sight of the lion
to be devoured by him,’ for I felt that I had been overcome by a sort
of wild beast appetite.

There aren’t just homosexual acts, there are also overpowering homosexual desires. It is this desire that makes us who we are. The question remains, are we born with it, or is it culturally induced? The character of Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium (like Hedwig of Hedwig and the Angry Inch) presents us with a story clearly favoring the former. We are born looking for our other half, and the sex of that other is predetermined.

In literature, from Andre Gide and Oscar Wilde to Edmund White, David Sedaris, and Augusten Burroughs, the answer is also a resounding “born that way.” I dare say the same holds for women if one reads Sappho, Collette , Virginia Wolfe, Gertrude Stein and Rita Mae Brown. The gay protagonists know they are gay from the moment they have desire. White’s short story Cinnamon Skin reminds us of our own nebulous desires at the age of thirteen, wanting to sleep with a man, but having no idea what that would involve. In Mexico , he finds out:

He didn’t kiss me. He pulled my underpants down, spit on his wide,
stubby cock, and pushed it up my ass. He didn’t hold me in his arms.
My ass hurt like hell.

That the realization of his desire turns out to be full of pain and without romance does nothing to alter the boy’s identity as gay. The same is true of Augusten in Running with Scissors. His sexual initiation by Neil Bookman is equally void of joy or pleasure. Yet, it confirms Augusten’s gay identity.

Vidal is right that so-called straight men are capable of gay sex acts. Likewise, many gay men and lesbians have performed straight sex acts, sometimes for their entire lives. The film version of Kinsey’s life and work is an honest look at how prevalent bisexuality and sexual experimentation has always been among intellectuals. From Bloomsbury to the Beat generation, engaging in the whole spectrum of sexual exchange is essential to ones identity.

That is my point. How else can you “know thyself,” unless you do it all? Again, it is literature that is most revealing and goes deepest into the psyche. Think of all those descriptions of adolescent gay sex. One boy experiences only lust, preparing himself for the day he makes it with a girl. The other is wrecked by the love he feels, the understanding that this is who he is, a boy in love with another boy.

Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin (as well as Greg Araki’s stunning film version of the story) reveals how deep this truth is. The reaction of the young boys to their molestation is all about identity. Neil does not become a gay hustler because he is molested. He is gay to begin with:

I focused on ‘Edward Cunningham’s’ series of pictures:
He nibbled a strawberry, poured champagne, relaxed in
A Jacuzzi, toweled off. He had tanned skin, feathered hair;
And, like almost all the other men, a moustache. Edward’s
Was the shade of my ‘goldenrod’ crayon in the Crayola
box. The camera had caught the gleamy water beads on his
belly button. I slipped my hand into my Fruit-of-the-Looms.

This is Neil, at age nine, looking at his mother’s Playgirl. As he matures, Neil’s ultimate struggle becomes how to reconcile being gay with the horrifying thing that the coach did to him.

I have no quarrel with the Kinsey Scale; it supports the view that being gay or straight is a given at birth. There may very well be those of us right in the middle, able to love either sex equally. For the rest of us, however, sexual preference is pronounced. At eighteen, I fell in love with my girlfriend’s brother. The experience was heartrending. It was 1965, and the terms “queer” and “gay” were both offensive to me. But I knew that I was homosexual. I engaged in, as Vidal says, heterosexual acts and homosexual acts. Despite the fact that the hetero acts were far more pleasant, and the homo acts with my friend humiliating and anything but satisfying, I knew to the core that I was a homosexual. Vidal’s The City and the Pillar, the novel that certainly changed the course of his professional and creative life, revealed to me the same truth. Only a man who is homosexual by nature can love and desire another man with all his heart. Vidal’s Jim Willard is as homosexual as a man can be; his love, Bob Ford, is as heterosexual. The sex acts or lack thereof don’t matter at all to their identities (Surely, Vidal knows this—which may indicate that his ongoing interview stance is a tad tongue in cheek).

To know the self is to know whom one is –or isn’t- capable of loving. We are born with a predisposition toward being gay or being straight, not altogether bisexual, as Freud suggested. The particulars of our romantic experience shape our sexual identity. Love becomes the nurture our nature requires to find our true identity, the kernel of our soul with which we are born, and must learn how to accept.

As Polonius in Hamlet says,

"To thine own self be true.."