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    My daily writing--emails, journal entries, marginalia, more emails, blog posts, and tweets--shapes me as a writer, helping and hindering the big stuff I'm trying to accomplish. Every word counts.

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Want to Stop the Bullies? Stop Acting Like One.

Does anyone else find it ironic that Dan Savage and Perez Hilton have become so vocal against bullying? Bullying is integral to their personae. If they were devoted to calling out hypocrisy in a kind of Dexter-style verbal assassination approach, they might have more credibility, but I question whether their motivations are even that honorable.

Whether providing sex advice or standing up for gay rights, Savage throws slurs against trans people, people he judges to be too heavy and others. Until spring 2009, he even used that mainstay of middle school culture, “retarded,” although by the request of a reader promised to start using “leotarded” in its place. Of course, Perez Hilton’s fame is the result of his daily attacks on celebrities, regardless of how much power or sanity they have.

I have enough of a sense of humor to appreciate that some people make money doing things like they do. But I have enough plain ole sense to question their motivations and whether their efforts deserve much support. To be clear, they aren’t the worst offenders. They’re not stalking particular college students and blogging about them or posting video of their private lives online. But the bullying inherent in the work they do to make considerable amounts of money has become insidious in our culture. They didn’t cause the problem, but they certainly support it, which makes it hard for me to believe they can be part of the solution without undermining it.

Of the two of them, I keep looking for reasons to respect Savage. Maybe that explains why I’ve spent so many words questioning his significance in my last post and this one. When he’s at his best, he ditches the naughty sex-columnist act and just gives straightforward observations with an unapologetic tone that is far more provocative than anything he’s ever said about cock-sucking. But then he makes a wisecrack, apparently to entertain Keith Olbermann, and softens the blow. It’s as if he doesn’t take himself seriously. Continue reading

Want to Help LGBTQ Youth? Act Like a Grown-up.

I’m not a fan of Dan Savage. He seems like one of those celebrities who’s trying to prove something to himself but feels compelled to work things out in public. He makes provocative, unsubstantiated, and sometimes just cruelly ignorant statements, such as, “You can have too much sex. It is possible–gay people proved it in the 70s–to literally fuck yourself to death.” Comments like this one cause me to cringe every time he’s chosen to be the go-to gay pundit. With misinformed friends like him, who needs enemies?

Although he’s got no sympathy for old, dead queens, he’s apparently got a soft spot for LGBTQ youth. His latest effort, “It Gets Better,” is a YouTube channel where those of us who have survived and thrived can upload videos to encourage LGBTQ youth to persevere. To get things rolling, Savage posted a video of his partner and him talking about their individual experiences of being bullied before they met and building a family. They seem like a pleasant couple, but the video is self-indulgent and so boring I had to turn it off about halfway through, but if one kid finds some hope in it, it’s worth the effort. And presumably Savage’s celebrity will draw enough interest that there will be something for everyone on the “It Gets Better” channel.

It’s a nice idea, although ironic, given Savage’s recent use of a trans slur to attack a politician. But Savage deserves a nice word or two for this effort. But it’s important to acknowledge a collection of outreach videos aren’t going to do much to address this enormous problem. Kids need someone in their lives to stand next to them and guide them to the light at the end of the cliché.

Sadly, LGBTQ youth continue to feel great shame as they try to come out. Ellen and Will and Grace haven’t made things that much better for them. Various studies indicate that 1/4 to 1/3 of LGBTQ youth have attempted suicide.

Supporting LGBTQ youth should be the central issue in our movement. Fighting for equal rights in our personal lives and the workplace is important–definitely–and youth need to feel assured they’ll achieve equality as part of “the system,” not in spite of mainstream culture working against them. But we must keep people alive and help them feel empowered, not ashamed, so they’re equipped to stand up for themselves.

Yes, a lot of us who are adults now managed to hold on, day after day. But how many of us are still fighting the overwhelming feeling of shame that did almost kill some of us? In fact, some LGBTQ adults still feel such isolation and don’t feel safe to come out to certain people in their lives. Do we really believe it’s okay for our youth to suffer like we did/do? We may believe they watch the DADT and marriage equality battles and feel encouraged by the rights they’ll get to enjoy. However, that time is a long way off for them. And knowing that we’re not exactly winning right now probably doesn’t bolster their spirits as slurs and fists are thrown at them and friends and family turn backs on them.

LGBTQ youth need the adults in their lives to act like grown-ups. So if you’re already fighting for our rights, don’t forget to help the kids you know and support the efforts already set up to help them. The Ali Forney Center provides housing to homeless LGBTQ youth in New York City. The Trevor Project provides suicide prevention services, including a national hotline. And PFLAG, GLSEN, and The Matthew Shepard Foundation offer a wide range of national and community-based educational services to promote acceptance.

Build on these important efforts, whether you use the information they provide to help one kid or decide to start similar services in your own community. LGBTQ youth aren’t waiting for Dan Savage or some other celebrity to come and give them hugs. They need to know that people in their lives care about them. Don’t know any queer youth, you say? Then challenge the homophobic messages coming from the people in your community. Standing up to individuals you know can be scarier than marching past strangers in the street. Doing the little things is a bigger deal than you may realize.

If the Product of Your Process Isn’t Cash, Kindly Eff Off.

Does Jonathan Franzen’s anointment as the latest Great American Novelist illustrate unconscious gender bias toward men? There’s a lot to consider in answering that question, but my short answer is that I agree with those you say yes.

Focusing on quantity, periodicals that review books tend to review more books by men. In regard to quality, books by women are commonly sorted into sub-genres rather than categorized as literary fiction. The numbers and discussion about this issue resonate with my experience in writing and lit programs, where the products that served as models of great writing were mostly written by men.

Our cultural failure to identify many women’s books as great literature (I won’t call it blindness–seeing but not acknowledging is not the same thing) is surely related to how great books are written. Simply put, products are the result of a process, and you get out of it what you put into it, based on the resources you have. Meghan O’Rourke observes, “[Writing a book] takes a lot of time and solitude. In my experience, women are not as good at insisting they need that time and solitude.” Most of the women I know who are writers struggle to find time to write, even if they have strong support systems.

Because traditional gender roles pervade, women tend to do most of the consistently thankless stuff: cooking of meals, the fetching of children, the fixing of problems, etc. In a workplace with mostly male workers, women still provide the kinds of support they’re expected to provide at home. Writing is rarely one of those duties, unless there’s something uncredited to be written, like a newsletter or press release.

To be fair, in some homes and workplaces, biological sex diverges from gender role, and the people with less power do the supporting. Those situations haven’t become very common yet, but they’re worth noting, because unconscious gender bias probably has more to do with gender roles and social class, i.e., one’s place in the hierarchy.

With this in mind, I’ve got to say that O’Rourke loses me with her next comment. She writes, “I wonder how many female writers have, like me, sometimes wished they were a man so everyone—family, friends, partners—would understand a little better when they go in the room and shut the door for weeks on end.” How I wish I could wag my penis and get a few weeks to do nothing but write. That doesn’t happen for any of the male writers I know (except maybe one, but that dude’s going to get that thing cut off if he keeps going like he is). Continue reading

Aaron Sorkin Needs to Apologize for Wasting Space

In a response to criticism about a Newsweek editorial that argues gay actors (especially men) can’t convincingly play straight, Aaron Sorkin sort of defends the writer, Ramin Setoodeh, mainly by urging Setoodeh’s critics to direct their energy toward the “pig-ignorant bigots” in Congress. Apparently, fighting ignorance and bigotry conveyed through mainstream media is not a good use of resources.

Sorkin says the editorial isn’t homophobic, just incorrect. However, one of Setoodeh’s main points is that once people find out an actor is gay, they don’t feel convinced when that actor plays characters who are straight, even if we found the performance convincing before we found out that the actor is gay. In my opinion, that’s the kind of irrational thinking that is part of homophobia, so it’s difficult for me not to see that editorial as homophobic.

If that term is inaccurate, fine, but to say Setoodeh’s editorial is merely wrong doesn’t get at the bigger issues. For one thing, such a reading of a gay actor’s performance says a lot more about viewers than it does about the actor. Why does it matter to audience members whether or not the actor playing the role has the same sexual orientation as the character he plays? Have they considered that some gay actors don’t play straight convincingly because, rather than lacking some inherent ability to perform heterosexuality they are simply bad actors?

Also, why is the topic being covered at all, and what is the occasion for covering it now? Will a piece on actors’ unwillingness to do their own stunts be next? Of course, gay bashing is provocative, getting the attention of those who agree and those who don’t. And Newsweek could use some attention.

Another point Sorkin gets wrong is that you can’t play gay or straight, just femme or butch. I sort of get what he means, but this comment is based on the assumption gender and sexual orientation have clear relationships, i.e., that gay men perform effeminate behavior and that lesbian women perform butch behavior. What about butch gay men who like to kiss other men? A straight actor playing a butch gay male character must perform the appropriate behavior convincingly, e.g., not appearing grossed out as he approaches the other male actor and and willingly opening his mouth at least a little bit when they kiss. Whether or not the actors actually touch tongues, they should make it look like it happens, but I realize I should leave this up to the director. Continue reading

Self-Service Judgment for the Discriminating Social Critic

Coming out is typically a difficult process. Anyone who’s done it knows that, although many might not admit that it’s true. They think coming out is old news. It’s “boring.” They’ve “been there, done that.”

It’s easy to lose empathy for newbies, especially people who set off our gaydar years ago, and especially if they’re celebrities. But we shouldn’t dismiss anyone’s coming out experience. Who are we to judge? More important, how much credibility do we think we have to pass judgment?

Gosh, I’m glad you asked. I’ve attempted to quantify it for you.

1. If after you came out you moved to a major city, you lose 5 points of credibility. If you moved to said city’s gay ghetto, subtract an additional 10 points.

2. If you came out in college but didn’t tell your parents, give up 5 more points. If you also dared to call yourself an activist, subtract 10 more points–and, oh, by the way: Fuck you.

3. If you dated someone seriously but didn’t introduce him/her to your loved ones, take off 5 points. Lose 10 more points if you lived with that person and 10 more if you celebrated holidays with your family without him/her. Continue reading

Stand for Equality

While it seemed that everyone else at the National Equality March in DC wanted to see Lady Gaga, my Starstruck Moment happened when Lt. Dan Choi’s personal space overlapped the orbit of mine. There are a lot of people I respect, but I usually don’t lose my shit over any of them. Choi’s a rockstar. His golden aura blasted through my sunglasses, I shit you not.

Approaching the Capitol--Natl Equality March 2009

Approaching the Capitol--Natl Equality March 2009

The person I’ll remember most held a sign that stated, “This Straight Woman Stands With You.” As I remember, she held the sign above her head. The vertical presentation struck me; she looked immovable. But she was alone. No one around her interacted with her. She appeared pleasant but unremarkable, someone I could pass in the grocery store and not give a second thought. The people near me cheered, and I cheered with them. The straight woman who stood with us gave a smile but seemed shy about the attention.

She made an impact on me, but I had to keep going. The day was about travel: By van and train and foot. From central PA to DC. From McPherson Square to the White House and on to the Capitol. From separation to unity. But not from discrimination to equality.

The March inspired me, but it’s too early to say what sort of historic significance it will have. If those who are throwing that term around believe it was precedent-setting, I’d argue it was decidedly unhistoric. Continue reading

What Has He Done to Deserve This?

When I heard that President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize, I wondered the same thing a lot of people did: What has he accomplished? I’m not exactly a fan considering how little he has actually done regarding LGBT issues. His recent speech at the Human Rights Campaign dinner was nice, but he reiterated his campaign promises–the same promises he removed from the White House web site a few months after his inauguration.

After reading the criteria for the Nobel Peace Prize, though, I understand why they gave it to him. He has worked “for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses” I’m sure there were other qualified peacemakers; there always are. Maybe someone else should have won (he seems to think so). But it’s not as if they gave it to Khadafi.

I do think the choice was unwise, or at least poorly timed. Prez is just getting started in what will hopefully be a first term. Receiving this prestigious award raises expectations and reduces his margin of error. He’s boxed in to two choices: #perfection or #fail. And although the Nobel committee is taking some heat for the decision, he’s being scrutinized as if the decision were his. He was surprised, and whether or not he accepted the honor, he is considered presumptuous.

Many of the critics of this decision are otherwise strong Obama supporters. Continue reading

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