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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.

    My name is James Black. I'm on Facebook and Twitter. Friend and/or follow me if you like.

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“Ooo-They’re-Gay” Jokes Are Still Cutting-Edge 1980s Comedy

I overheard an offensive-to-me joke–that ole chestnut about insulting two presumably heterosexual men by insinuating they’re a couple. It’s the kind of “humor” that closet cases and straight people who are insecure about their own relationships use to feel better about themselves, blending the ick factor with a dash of gay panic. I do remember that shit seemed fresh in the locker room back in junior high, and did my best to laugh along. (My time in the junior high locker room was all about trying but failing to cover what made me ashamed.)

Instead of simply fuming about the latest telling of this joke, I got a chance to respond directly and in writing. Having some time to puzzle over the situation was helpful, as it usually is for how my brain processes information. I’m all for bringing the funny, and people have a right to say what they want. I’m even open to being the butt of a joke that’s actually funny. (Ha! I just said “butt.”) But when your tired words and ideas enter my airspace, prepare to engage. Free speech is about as multi-player as you can get.

The topic is important to plenty of people other than me in this age of openly pursued “bromances,” which are decidedly “no-homo” in contrast to civil unions or marriages, but not as “no-homo” as plain ole friendship. Gay panic seems to be cooling into gay anxiety, for some, at least. I encourage them to get help with that cultural shit. I probably wouldn’t be alive if I hadn’t.

For what it’s worth, I offer the bulk of my letter here, without identifiers, to inspire, entertain, infuriate, and/or bore my dear readers. Or pick a verb of your very own. Continue reading

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.

Phobe-Reduced Weddings

My last screed dealt with weddings as systemic insult. Despite the many positive responses I’ve received, some friends think it’s unfair to blame our friends for celebrating that they have and we don’t. Such is the nature–and reality–of privilege, which makes us complicit with misuses of power.

You’re looking at me, thinking I’m a hypocrite for not admitting all the ways I have privilege. Okay, fine. I’m complicit in a lot of ways. I’ve got work to do on that, and I’m doing it. I could easily dismiss my lack of privilege in regard to sexual orientation by saying, “Hey, I’m white; I’m middle class. I’ll just smile and nod so my straight friends will like me, maybe soak up a little of their privilege.” Yeah, well, I’ve done enough of that.

The insult is not only way up there in The System. It drips along the strands of the social-cultural web and sticks to me. It’s not just what weddings mean that makes me uncomfortable. I’ve grown to hate how I feel when I’m at or in them. Invariably, someone in the wedding party or one of the guests tosses out a homophobic slur. At one wedding, a brother of the groom toasted him with, “I’m glad you didn’t marry a guy.” He was young, you say, so don’t hold it against him. He didn’t know what he was saying. It was just a little levity to break up the tension, right? If I’m fed up with being invisible (which, in case this point is not clear: I am), I’m doubly sick of my identity and relationship being used as a source of comic relief.

And of course at almost every wedding I’ve ever been to, there are Bible verses, and, just as often, bastardizations of Bible verses that emphasize the importance of male-female bonding while completely ignoring or misrepresenting the important same-sex relationships in the Bible. It’s their faith, you say, and I should respect that. While I respect their right to worship as they wish, I also have every right not to respect the content. And being a curious person, I have to wonder if they’ve considered how much they really know about their faith and that it’s telling me something about them that they might not intend for me to know.

And there are the petty insults. 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

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