Thursday, December 11, 2008

Time for more phonographs

the 1911 United Talking Machine Company's 'Symphony'



Many smaller independent phonograph companies appeared out of Chicago during the teens. Many of them, including the United Talking Machine Company, used Columbia Phonograph machines and applied their own labels. These Columbia machines were known as "client machines."
This United Talking Machine Company "Symphony" machine was sold as an "in store promotion." The customer would receive the machine for free with the purchase of a set number of records. The catch was the odd spindle size, in this case 1 7/16 inch, so that only United Records could be played on the machine.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Stoddard & Whitman

In 1867, the twenty-four year old self-described “boy poet” of San Francisco, Charles Warren Stoddard, had his first book published. It was a slim volume of forty-five poems, underwritten by subscription, and published by Anton Roman. Amid mixed reviews and anxious to garner approval and autographs for his growing collection, the young Stoddard sent his book out to leading literary figures of the day including Walt Whitman. Just the year before Stoddard had written, “I have been reading Walt Whitman and him I thought a fool––and him I am growing to glorify. Who shall say we are not all babes and fools; and that this one and the other one who are declared gross and rude––because their eyes see all things clearly and their lips speak out––who shall say they are not prince and king among us––and shall by and by shine brightly and be understood.” Apparently Whitman did not feel Stoddard saw or spoke things clearly, for he did not respond.

In October 1868, after a year of trying to recover emotionally from the critical failure of his volume of poetry, Stoddard decided to return to the Hawaiian Islands. He had spent a glorious six months there in 1864 recovering from a “nervous disorder.” The twenty-one year old made fast friends with the thirty-eight year old manager of the Royal Hawaiian Theater, Charles Derby, and also discovered the delights to be found with naked native boys.

On 2 March 1869 Stoddard wrote once again to Walt Whitman from Hawaii. This time Whitman did respond. Stoddard wrote:
May I quote you a couplet from your Leaves of Grass? “Stranger! if you, passing, meet me, and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you?”
I am the stranger who, passing, desires to speak to you. Once before I have done so offering you a few feeble verses. I don’t wonder you did not reply to them. Now my voice is stronger. I ask––why will you not speak to me?

So fortunate to be traveling in these very interesting Islands I have done wonders in my intercourse with these natives. For the first time I act as my nature prompts me. I would not answer in America, as a general principle,––not even in California, where men are tolerably bold. This is my mode of life.


Stoddard now spoke to Whitman in Whitman’s own language; he told Whitman that he understood more now, “Now my voice is stronger. . . For the first time I act as my nature prompts me.” Stoddard had come to fully understand the meaning of Whitman’s language, that Whitman speaks not only to Stoddard but to all men-loving men, all “Strangers” to whom he desired to speak.

I mark one, a lad of eighteen or twenty years, who is regarding me. I call him to me, ask his name, giving mine in return. He speaks it over and over, manipulating my body unconsciously, as it were, with bountiful and unconstrained love. I go to his grass house, eat with him his simple food, sleep with him upon his mats, and at night sometimes waken to find him watching me with earnest, patient looks, his arm over my breast and around me. In the morning he hates to have me go. I hate as much to leave him. . . .

You will easily imagine, my dear sir, how delightful I find this life. I read your Poems with a new spirit, to understand them as few may be able to. And I wish more than ever that I might possess a few lines from your pen. I want your personal magnetism to quicken mine. How else shall I have it? . . .


In “speaking” to Whitman, Stoddard relayed his erotic encounter in Hawaii. A lad of eighteen who manipulated Stoddard’s body, whom he spent the night with wrapped in his arms. Stoddard then told Whitman that he knew Whitman understood how much Stoddard loved being there. Stoddard was telling Whitman that he knew that, like himself, Whitman was also a lover of men. Stoddard’s phrasing of his request for a few lines from Whitman’s pen, “I want your personal magnetism to quicken mine,” has a sexual feeling; as though an exchange of literary lines could be like an exchange of bodily fluids. Indeed, how else would Stoddard have it?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Charles Warren Stoddard, Ambrose Bierce and the Taxonomy of Desire

When Charles Warren Stoddard arrived in London on 13 October 1873 to begin his new career as roving reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, he received a letter from his friend Ambrose Bierce who was in Paris for a month to escape the London weather. In his letter Bierce implored his friend to be careful, “You will, by the way, be under a microscope here, your lightest word and most careless action noted down, and commented on by men who cannot understand how a person of individuality in thought and conduct can be other than a very bad man. . . . Walk, therefore, circumspectly . . . avoid any appearance of eccentricity.” What Bierce had learned from his publishing and newspaper friends in London was that homosexuality was something that people went to prison for in England. He did not want such a fate to befall Stoddard.

Bierce and Stoddard had been friends in San Francisco since 1868, where they discovered a shared fondness for getting drunk. Following Stoddard’s arrival in London, he and Bierce maintained a steady correspondence through the fall of 1875. At one point Bierce expressed a wish for Stoddard to remain in London, as Stoddard had been on an extended trip throughout Europe and now hinted at going to Ireland. Bierce even offered Stoddard a small loan when he learned he was “between remittances.”

These were two men who were fond of each other; enough so as to carry on a regular correspondence, worry when a letter was not forthcoming, and offer assistance to each other. Once Bierce left London and returned to America Stoddard remained on tour in Europe and the Middle East. Their paths would not cross again until the fall of 1878, by which time Bierce and Stoddard abhorred each other. What had precipitated such a dramatic shift in feeling? Letters which Bierce exchanged with a new protégé, George Sterling, after Stoddard’s death reveal the real reason. Bierce wrote, “I did not care for him––my objection to him was the same as yours––he was not content with the way that God had sexed him.” Bierce evidently had not felt that way on 13 October 1873 when he expressed to Stoddard via his letter from Paris how men in London could not "understand how a person of individuality in thought and conduct c[ould] be other than a very bad man.” Bierce had been aware of Stoddard’s predilections, was friend enough to warn Stoddard of what he perceived as the danger London presented, and continued to carry on a relationship.

What sheds light on Bierce’s shift in attitude is an exchange from George Sterling concerning their mutual disgust for Stoddard. In a letter to Bierce, Sterling wrote “I’d not seen him for three months before his death, as he was a case of inversion of sex, and it gave me the “jims” being with him after I’d found that out.” Inversion was one of many competing nineteenth century medical terms attempting to form a proper classification for what later became known as homosexuality. Homosexual, itself a medical term coined in 1870 by Carl Westphal’s article on “contrary sexual sensations,” represents the creation of a category, a type, a species, where before had only existed a catalogue of forbidden acts, a temporary aberration. The nineteenth century fascination with the body and attempts at scientific classification and definition by type grew out of western colonial needs to define white, European, male superiority as a way of rationalizing oppression, exploitation, and enslavement of those who were seen as different or weaker. So it was Sterling’s (and Bierce’s) perception of Stoddard as a type, a species, a “case” so different from themselves as to illicit disgust and revulsion.

In 1873 Bierce and Stoddard were friends. Bierce was warning Stoddard that he might be seen as a “bad man” because of his “individuality [of] thought and conduct.” It is evident that Bierce knew what Stoddard did and what the legal ramifications for those acts were, but by 1878 Bierce found Stoddard himself abhorrent. Stoddard had not changed. What had changed were the ways in which masculinity itself was defined and categorized, the ways in which certain behaviors were assigned classifications linking them not only to perversion but a perversion which came from within the body, a physical aberration, a sickness, a plague. I believe we can see the effects this taxonomy of desire had on the nineteenth century male social sphere in the changing dynamics in the relationships between Charles Warren Stoddard and Ambrose Bierce as well as Stoddard's relationship with various other men. We may also see, reflected in his writing, how this change affected Stoddard.

Today is twenty-one years of domestic bliss.



I love him so much, my life would be so empty without him.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

This Is How I Feel

I worked today, served breakfast to folks headed to and coming back from the rally at city hall, wishing I could have joined. It was an exceptionally fine day in SF, perfect for naked protesting. Alas, but not for me. Was anyone naked at the protest? I saw one gentleman wearing a tiny black posing thong and a cowboy hat on Castro Street as I walked home after my day's toil. I stopped to tell him how much I appreciated seeing him around. He said he had been at the rally wearing his itsy-bitsy costume!

I've been thinking a lot about the aftermath of this election, trying to reconcile my ambivalence with my sense of outrage. I do not believe in special rights for married people. I think government sanctioned marriage creates an institution which privileges a group of people; those who are able to take advantage of that institution and its specific rights which are not available to everyone. And everyone is not able to join that institution, either because they can not find a partner, choose not to, or are in relationships which do not fit the definition prescribed by the state. In that sense, when I see signs saying "Equality For All," I do not buy the argument--do not want to be a part of that movement--because it is a lie. It is NOT equality for all, it is only about being added to the list of people who are privileged with the rights which the institution of marriage affords.

However, I do not believe it is okay to change the constitution to disadvantage one group of people. What is next, shall we vote to rewrite the constitution to not allow blond people the right to vote? Of course not. This is about bigotry and homophobia, which we must fight. But do not tell me it is about equality, it is not.

Now get out there and make some noise! And a big thanks to everyone who did just that today.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Connects with my ancestors

Charles Warren Stoddard writes of his first three years living in San Francisco in his memoir In The Footprints of the Padres. Stoddard's narrative begins in Rochester, New York in 1855 when he is twelve. He leaves with his mother and older brother to travel via the transisthmian route to meet his father who has been living in San Francisco for two years. Speaking of his trip along the San Juan River across Nicaragua, Stoddard writes:

. . . a canoe shot out of the shadow and approached us . . . Within it sat two Indians, . . . with picturesque nudeness that served only to set off the ornaments with which they had adorned themselves . . . They drew near us for a moment, only to greet us and turn away; and very soon, with splash of dipping paddles, they vanished in the dark.
These were the flowers of the forest. All the winding way from the sea the river walls had been decked with floral splendor. Gigantic blossoms that might shame a rainbow starred the green spaces of the wood; but of all we had seen or heard or felt or dreamed of, none has left an impression so vivid, so inspiring, so instinct with the beauty and the poetry and the music of the tropics, as those twilight mysteries that smiled upon us for a moment and vanished, even as the great fire-flies that paled like golden rockets in the dark.


Native nakedness left an impression on the young Charles, an impression which was to influence and entice him for the rest of his life.

Friday, October 3, 2008

What I Learn in School

1919 - 1920 investigation of same-sex sexuality at the Newport Rhode Island Naval Training Station. Concerned about "immorality" within the ranks, the Navy employed decoys to seek out, have sex with, and testify against men who self-identified as "queers." The following is from the official trial transcripts, an examination of a decoy by the defense:

Q. You volunteered for this work?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. You knew what kind of work it was before you volunteered, didn't you?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. You knew it involved sucking and that sort of thing, didn't you?
A. I knew that we had to deal with that, yes, sir.
Q. You knew it included sodomy and that sort of thing, didn't you?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. And you were quite willing to get into that sort of work?
A. I was willing to do it, yes, sir.
Q. And so willing that you volunteered for it, is that right?
A. Yes, sir, I volunteered for it, yes, sir.

from Rupp, Leslie. A Desired Past. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Body Freedom March


Today at 2:00 I meet up with four or five like-minded men to stage a naked body-freedom stroll through the Castro. We had on hand a video documentarian, as one of our group is hoping to produce a spot for public access television. We began undressing near the 33 Muni stop at what once was known as Hibernia Beach (B of A Beach?), across the street from Starbears, where we garnered quite a few bear stares. We proceeded down 18th St. to Hartford. Moby Dick's looked like it might capsize from the sudden rush of men towards the plate glass window to witness our parade. No sooner had we crossed to the other side of 18th St. when a police cruiser appeared, swooping in on us and pulling to a stop on the corner across the cross walk. The police officer informed us we would have to stop and get dressed as he had had a complaint. All of us complied except for our organizer, George Davis, naked yoga guy and mayoral candidate, who walked over to speak to the officer. The officer told George if he did not get dressed he would be arrested. George did not respond. The officer asked George if he should consider that a refusal to obey orders. Again silence from George. The officer told George that if he got dressed he would issue a citation, but if George did not have valid ID on him, he would have to arrest him. George told the officer that he had been issued citations before and they had always been dismissed as simple nudity was not illegal in San Francisco. The officer than proceeded to call for a wagon and took George's ID. Meanwhile our videographer was filming the proceedings. At this point George, having made his point, decided to put his pants on. The officer than told us he understood our stance, and our right to free speech, but with that right, he explained, comes the responsibility to not break the law while expressing it. We explained that we were not breaking the law, that simple nudity was not illegal in San Francisco. The officer responded that he had received a complaint, so we were breaking the law. George asked him to produce the complaint. The officer admitted he did not have it in writing, and therefore could not arrest us. By this time the patty wagon had arrived. The officer informed us that we were free to go, but if he had to return because we continued with our naked stroll, we would be arrested. George expressed that he intended to file a harassment complaint with the Office of Citizen's Complaints, which he has done each time in the past when he has been hassled or falsely arrested by the police. At this point the officer asked to speak to another member of our group in private. After the police left, that member told us the officer was afraid that George was going to claim he had tried to hit George. He said he had reassured the officer that George would not lie, but would only state what had happened.

So even though there is no law forbidding an act, one may still be kept from freely engaging in that act when it is perceived as being illegal by the public or by the police. The fear then becomes if one wants to engage in said act, will there then be an effort to make it illegal? Many nudists believe this is a sufficient argument why we should not be naked in public. This is the carceral state at its finest, self-policing at its most efficient.





Photos courtesy of Cailfornia Showboy.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

RE: Nudity in Public


In reference to my previous posting about public nudity in front of Magnet, there have been several requests to clarify what the standards are here in San Francisco. Since I received a posting from one of my online nudist groups about this very matter today, I thought it might be helpful if I were to just copy that posting here. I am not the author of this post, nor did I check it with the authorities mentioned, however this is correct as far as my understanding of the situation at this time.

Hi everybody

All this talk about what is legal/illegal regarding public nudity, I
thought I would go to the source. So, I had a very interesting chat
with an Assistant District Attorney this morning. The question
was, "Is public nudity legal or illegal? And, what is the position of
the DA's office regarding public nudity?"

In my discussion the ADA had a short conference with a supervising
attorney AND an SF Police officer. Here is a summary of our
discussion. Please do not take this as legal advice or a
recommendation to run out naked without giving that some thought for
your self.

1. Lewd behavior is illegal and the DA's office is more than
happy to prosecute anyone in public with an erection, masturbating,
or ejaculating (list not exhaustive of possible lewd acts.)
2. There are several laws governing nudity. Basically nudity has
not been legalized (which is different from illegal – brackets my
add). So, one could be arrested for nudity absent lewd behavior. But …
3. Simply being naked in public is not something that the DA's
office is interested in prosecuting, whether in large groups (like
trying to arrest 2,000 nude folks at Folsom,) or small groups 1-5
people strolling through the Castro.
4. The police will make an arrest if there is a complaint. The
ADA did say that it would take time for the police to arrive to where
the complainant was, the complainant has to complete paperwork and
then must appear in court to give testimony about the behavior. (Not
likely that there are that many people in SF so upset about nudity
that they are going to go through all of that. Again brackets, my
add.)
5. Child Endangerment – Being nude in front of a child does not
constitute Child Endangerment. However, if the nude adult was clearly
seeking sexual gratification involving the child, (your life will get
really complicated. – Brackets mine.)

I suspect that there is nothing new here that most of us didn't
already know. However, it was very informative to chat and hear from
those who would be in a position to prosecute the case.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Magnet

Today, after work, my friend Les, who is here visiting from San Diego for tomorrow's festivities, and I were strolling around Castro, naked, enjoying the breeze and the sun when we decided to take a break on the bench in front of Magnet on Eighteenth Street. Les and I are both experienced nudists and we know it is not acceptable to sit anywhere without sitting on a towel or some such piece of cloth. After a few minutes a gentleman came out of Magnet and informed us we would have to either put our pants on or move from the bench. My first thought was to wonder why. My second thought was how gender presumptive of him to assume we both wore pants!

Upon returning home, I went to the Magnet website were I found this:

Core Values
As gay men, we have the right to health and well-being. Our health and well-being have physical, mental, spiritual, and social aspects. Our vision of gay men's health includes community building and working for social justice. A set of core values guide our decisions. These are:
SELF-DETERMINATION
We believe we have the right to make our own decisions regarding health and well-being. Gay men should always be at the forefront in matters that affect us as individuals and as a community. We share responsibility for our individual health, the health of our partners, and the health of our community.
SEXUAL EXPRESSION
We believe gay men have a right to satisfying sex lives free from guilt and shame. We believe our sexuality is an integral component in how we define ourselves as individuals and as a community. Healthy sexual expression involves both our bodies and our minds. We share a responsibility for sexual health--for ourselves, our partners, and our community.
DIVERSITY
We believe in the value of diversity and that our diversity makes our community stronger. By examining our differences as gay men, we improve our understanding of each other.

So I called Magnet to inquire why we were asked to remove ourselves from their bench. Their Medical Assistant, Robert Blue, informed my that they could not have people breaking the law in front of their health clinic. I informed him that mere nudity is not against the law in San Francisco. He suggested I could call Tuesday and speak with Steve Gibson, the managing director. I also mentioned that I felt our treatment did not fit in with the parameters outlined by their website. His response, "Okay." Hopefully Mr. Gibson will have more of a response.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

the 1927 Victrola 2-60 Portable Phonograph

"In distinction of appearance, in completeness of equipment, and in musical performance, the new portable Victrola Number Two-Sixty is the most remarkable portable instrument ever offered to the public," so read Victor's add copy for the VV 2-60.



Victor had introduced electrical recording only two year prior, in 1925. While the older acoustically recorded records could be played on the new Orthophonic Victrolas, the newer electrical recordings had serious acoustic shortcomings when played on the older acoustic equipment. As a crossover solution, Victor introduced the Vtla # 4 soundbox, which is essentially an acoustic soundbox with a much larger diaphragm, 2 inches in diameter compared to 1 1/2 inches for the previous #2 soundbox, which played both acoustic and electric recordings remarkably well.



Unfortunately, like many Victor products of this period, the diaphragm was made from pot metal which becomes compromised as it ages, tending to crack and crumble. Not many have survived. The Victrola 2-60 had a production run of only two years with Victor records showing total shipments of 59,239 units.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Gay Marriage

I was at the LGBT Center last evening and saw the congratulatory celebration of the CA Supreme Court's historic decision (I was there to attend my San Francisco City College "AIDS in America" class). While there I too was infected with the sense of accomplishment, hope, and joy the crowd was feeling. At the same time, I asked myself the same questions I have been asking for the last number of years, Who decided that Gay Marriage was the "community's" main priority? Who decided that marriage equity is what everyone in the community wants? And most importantly, WHY DON'T WE HAVE A CURE FOR AIDS?

By seeking to be included in marriage we are buying into the a structure which elevates a specific group of people over others and gives them special rights not given to everyone. It boggles my mind that we as Queer people can not see this. Why are we not fighting for universal health care, open borders, the right to form a family anyway one chooses, guaranteed housing for everyone, guaranteed food for everyone. What ever happened to our VISION?

WHY DON'T WE HAVE A CURE FOR AIDS?
Too much money has been made for too long by AIDS Inc in perpetuating this pandemic. There is no profit in finding a cure or a vaccine while so much money is still being made by the AIDS industry. We who are lucky enough to have insurance or live here in "the bubble" can take our cocktails, be concerned, but basically are in denial and are living in a pseudo post-AIDS world.

Where is our ANGER?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

California Marriage

California supremes just overturned the ban on same-sex marriages. Now we shall see what happens with the marriage amendment proposal up for the November ballot which would change the state constitution declaring marriage is only between a man and a woman.

I guess there is NO hope of getting marriage itself ruled unconstitutional?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Letter to the dead

Dear Mom & Dad,

When I was a child, first becoming conscious of the world around me, it seems you did your best to shelter me from the worst of its horrors. I remember my first childhood terrors: fear of the dark, of the horrible monster which lived in my bedroom closet, of the unseen and unspeakable creatures which lived just on the other side of my bedroom windows at night. As I became older, the terrors came not from my imagination, but rather from the nightly news broadcasts you and I watched each evening: political assassinations, the growing, unceasing, daily count of the dead in Vietnam, protests in the U.S., more political assassinations, riots in the streets, shootings on college campuses, the burning of cities. It seemed like the entire world was exploding in fury and coming apart at the seams. Of course, you knew the answers to these problems. It was those people who questioned authority, those who were different, or dared to be different who were causing the problems. It was the “outside instigators” who were coming in to convince the blacks that they shouldn’t be complacent and be thankful for what they had, the Jews and Communists who were stirring up the problems. You sat in the comfort of your living room chairs and diagnosed the country’s problems each night as David and Chet told us what in the world had gone on that day. And you sheltered me from fears that these things could touch us (me). It only happened to those people, those people who didn’t follow the rules.

As each day turned into a month, each month turned into a year, seasons passed, worries, no, terrors grew within me. The war was going on and on, the death toll each night was growing. As we watched the evening news, you seemed to become angrier and angrier. Angry at those anti-war protestors, those who were burning their draft cards, those who were escaping to Canada, those who were burning the flag. I knew my day was approaching. What would I do? What could I do? Each passing year, each passing month, each passing day became a sentence of sorts, I felt I was living in a prison awaiting the final sentence to be delivered, death in a foreign jungle of which I knew little about and even less about why I would be there fighting –– except it was the “right” thing to do. Why was I so certain that death would be my fate? Because I was marked. I was different. I was one of those people you cursed about each night while watching the nightly news. I was the sissy, the boy who couldn’t throw or catch a ball in gym class, who couldn’t climb a rope, who couldn’t wrestle. It was my destiny.

In spite of this growing terror, this sense of impending doom, we were isolated from the violence we were witnessing. It was all happening on the other side of our television screen, not really effecting or touching us directly. Yes, we knew cousins who did not return home from Vietnam, or returned home missing limbs –– but they still weren’t “us.” And even when block after block of public housing and slums were burnt in Lancaster following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., it was on the other side of town, that place were we need not go. The terror in the night, the monster in my closet, outside my bedroom window was revealed as real; that shelter you tried to create to shield me was splitting at the edges from the violence, terror, and horror of the world which could not be denied. However it remained in the closet, outside the window, on the other side of the television screen; it didn’t touch us, we could no longer deny its existence.

As the terrors increased around us, I became cognizant of future terror. I was trained well for this. From my first moments in institutional life, sitting on the floor in the basement of the elementary school with my back against the wall and my head lowered and covered with my arms for air raid drills in kindergarten to the duck and cover drills which would follow I learned that the world was inherently a dangerous place. Not dangerous in a way that you could prepare yourself for, or see coming – this danger, this terror would just fall from the sky and in an instant turn our bright sunny world into dark fire and brimstone. I was also becoming aware of a growing threat to the environment, mostly from the media. I wasn’t yet aware of Silent Spring, or able to connect the dots – you dismissed those concerns as foolish fantasy, harmless, naïve.

The real terror, the persistent daily concrete threat I faced each and every day paled in comparison to the imagined future and unseen threats which only touched me in my imagination; those threats and terrors which hid behind the door, outside the window, on the other side of the television screen where much more horrific than the daily constant abuse I suffered from my peers at school for being different and the constant berating and belittling I received at home from you. The terrors, the threats in my imagination could become as large or as horrific as my imagination would let them, they were unknown and would always multiply; the daily terrors, it seemed, at least had some semblance of boundaries, I was conversant with them.

The days went on, turning into months, the sixties ended, Nixon resigned, Saigon fell, I was becoming an adult. I began the process of realizing how wrong you were about so many many things. The threats, I now realized, weren’t from outside of the country, weren’t from the communists, or the Jews, or the blacks, they weren’t from the “other,’ they were from those who were supposed to be our guardians, those who were supposed to help us, to protect us, who lied to us, betrayed us, our leaders, they were from you.

The eighties ushered in new terrors, new horrors; horrors and terrors I now face as an adult. Horrors and terrors which touch me, which I could never discuss with you – it would have taken just too much effort to make you understand. Reagan, mo[u]rning in amerika, trickle down = homelessness, greed, AIDS – these terrors, these horrors can compare to the daily abuse I experienced as a child, they where/are concrete, not imagined. The real terror, the true horror is the apathy of amerika, of Reagan, of Bush, of Clinton, of Bush, of __________, of you, of the middle class, of the upper class, of the gays, of myself; all of us who wallow in the shit of our privilege. Yes, I am HIV positive. Yes, I have an AIDS diagnosis. I never told you this while you lived. Telling you was one more thing I didn’t need to deal with, I was dealing with enough already. I moved to San Francisco, to find a family, to get away from you. I found my family here. Most of my family who I found, who I loved, who loved me, are dead now. I remember how my family would come to my aid when I had nothing, showing up on our doorstep with groceries when we first moved here, Joe and I, and hadn’t yet found work. They fed us. They loved us. We loved them. They died the most horrible sudden deaths, brave men who even in death wiped our tears and told us everything would be alright. They cared for us and we cared for them. No one else would.

You, Mother, died in the eighties, The very day you died I was on a plane back home to help Dad. That was the best day of my life, I was free, finally free. You could no longer touch me, hurt me. No more was there the off chance that the phone would ring, and your voice would be on the other end to push my buttons you knew so well how to push, to belittle me; even as a man you could do that to me. For the first time in my life I truly felt, completely, like a man. Dad and I actually had a conversation. We had never done that before. He was free too, although he worshipped you in death, you who I know tormented him in life as you tormented me. He couldn’t wait to die after you left, he wanted to die, he told me. I helped him do as he wished.

I don’t know what happens after death. I know that Dad would stare at the clouds and imagine you, Mother, were up there and you could see all and know all now that you were dead. I have seen much death in my life, I have held lovers as they died, comforted them, stroked them during their last breaths, I have gotten the news over the phone, in the mail – oh, so many I have seem die. I think they are just gone. I think you are just gone. They, and you, only exist in our memories. That is our legacy, how the future remembers us. That is why I am so profoundly sad now. Our greed, our privilege, our uncaring, our judgements, our indifference, our shit is coming down on us. It is worse than communism, worse that black uprisings, worse that Vietnam, worse than greedy politicians, worse than AIDS, worse than 9-11, the worse blowback we have ever seen –there will be no more more now. Everything that humans have done, the good, the bad, everything will soon be gone. We have destroyed the only place we have to live, Mom and Dad. It is beautiful, fragile, our Mother and Father, wrapped up in one but we didn’t care. We only cared about ourselves. Now it is too late. I know this. I think everyone knows this to some degree or another, they must. It is over, done, we have gone beyond reparations. The world will go on without us humans, we will soon cease to exist.

The polar caps are melting at ever increasing rates, the faster they melt the more blue ocean is exposed which absorbs more heat which melts the ice faster, the seas are rising, the oceans are dying, seafood will soon it seems be only a luxury or a memory, gas prices are rising – meaning we are beginning to run out of oil for our sprawling society, we turn to corn for fuel (and packaging) and wheat prices go through the roof precipitating food riots around the world,. The weather is worsening, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 385 parts per million (scientific evidence suggests for life to be preserved on a planet similar to the one on which life developed we will need to reduce CO2 to at most 350 ppm), we’ve managed to melt enough portions of permafrost in the north to send huge quantities of methane pouring forth into the atmosphere, warming temperatures have introduced a foreign beetle into Canadian forests which have destroyed unprecedented areas of forestation; and the thing is, we are only stepping harder on the gas, pouring on more coal. When the system which is destroying us provides us with water from a tap and food from a grocery store there exists little incentive to change the system or to bring the system down.

I remember thinking, back during the mid-eighties, when the obituaries in the Bay Area Reporter were filling more and more pages each week, when more and more of my friends and family were dying every day, when the pain of all those deaths seemed more than I was able to bare, that maybe, just maybe, those men were the lucky ones. It is us who survive and live through the coming collapse who are the ones we should be crying for. And yet, here we are. Who is to blame? Who is in denial? Are the ones who yell for change in denial as much as those who bury their heads in the sand? All I know is I hate what I see. Nothing you tried to protect me from, nothing I could have imagined equals this. No one is guilty for we are all guilty. No one is innocent for we are all innocent. Soon it will be over, all of it, everything, civilization, art, architecture, war, death, AIDS, nothing matters. I fear the days to come.


Your loving son,
Woody

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Silverlake Life; the View From Here

Silverlake Life: The View From Here is a documentary concerning the body, its physical metamorphosis over time from complications stemming from AIDS, and the larger discourse of the ways in which society views and treats the body. It is an unflinching record of the day to day lives of two men, Tom Joslin and Mark Massi, partners of 26 years, who both are dying from AIDS. Unlike most films on AIDS, these men are not actors, these men are real, their disease is real, their lesions are real, the wasting we see is real, and the reactions of those they love and who love them are real, and those they come in contact with are real.

What strikes me most about this film is the graphic depiction of the way in which society treats bodies. There exists a strange dichotomy. The medical technicians who care for these men touch their bodies, touch their lesions; there is no sensationalism here, it is just factual; the state of things. The men themselves touch each others bodies, showing us painful eyelids encrusted with lesions. It is all matter of fact. As a much younger and healthy Mark Massi proclaims from a rooftop, “blatant is beautiful.” Contrast that physicalist sensibility, that extension of philosophical thought being the idea that it is our physical bodies which make us human for which we should not be ashamed, with the woman who runs the resort where these two go to relax. She wants to be accepting, she wants to do the right thing, but asks Mark to keep his shirt on in the pool so the other guests won’t have to see his karposi’s lesions. She is similar to John’s mother, who Mark describes as the typical liberal, she can say homosexual but feels sorry for us all the same.

The most amazing moment of this testament happens on 1 July in the film when, holding the camera on Tom lying in his bed with a shaky hand and sobbing, Mark tells us that Tom has just died. We have all witnessed death so often in the media that we have pretty much become immune to it. But this is the real thing, I don’t think I have ever seen on film a real corpse – the reality of it is powerful. This is where the film asks the question which we all face, asks it not only of us the viewers but of Mark as well. Which is what ultimately makes this film transcendent. We, along with Mark, having been a witness to Tom’s physical decline, must now grapple, along with Mark, what the meanings are surrounding his physical death.

The coroner comes and we see Tom’s body looking so frail, like those photos of corpses from Dachau, being handled like just another object as it is placed into the body bag. The coroner loads the bagged body unceremoniously into the back of the wagon, and even though he wears latex gloves, announces he needs to go wash his hands. We sense societies increased discomfort with the body in death. The essence of Tom is gone. What animated and made Tom Tom has left his body, leaving not only his body but hard questions: where did Tom go? is the mind separate from the body? is our logical belief in physicalism so easily destroyed with the death of one whom we care for and love? Mark addresses this question, even as he speaks to Tom’s ashes when he spills them on the floor, telling Tom he’s all over the place, telling us that Tom is dead, he is gone, that’s it, he doesn’t exist anymore – at least that is how he felt until Tom comes back to visit him.

So even Mark can not escape the discourse of dualistic thought which is that from which our discomfort with the corporeal arises. Which is why this film is powerful, it forces us to face Tom’s and Mark’s bodies, and in doing so forces us to face our own, stripping us of our cultural clothing to confront our physicality and wonder what it is which makes us who we are and why is it that we seem unable to embrace our physical being.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Saturday, Sunny Saturday

Saturday was such a lovely day. Downright hot at work at the diner. Two beautiful shirtless men came in, who my workmate persuaded to remain shirtless. They sat in the window and I waited on them. Extraordinary! Reminds me of why it is so nice to live and work in San Francisco in the Castro (in spite of my ongoing critique). Upon leaving work I became shirtless as well. Walking along Castro to Eighteenth St., I spied some friends engaged in sunning and cruising the intersection, so I joined them.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Some thoughts from Father Greybeard

SCENTED herbage of my breast,
Leaves from you I yield, I write, to be perused best afterwards,
Tomb-leaves, body-leaves, growing up above me, above death,
Perennial roots, tall leaves—O the winter shall not freeze you, delicate leaves,
Every year shall you bloom again—out from where you retired, you shall emerge again;
O I do not know whether many, passing by, will discover you, or inhale your faint
odor—but
I
believe a few will;
O slender leaves! O blossoms of my blood! I permit you to tell, in your own way, of the
heart
that
is under you;
O burning and throbbing—surely all will one day be accomplish’d;
O I do not know what you mean, there underneath yourselves—you are not happiness,
You are often more bitter than I can bear—you burn and sting me,
Yet you are very beautiful to me, you faint-tinged roots—you make me think of Death,
Death is beautiful from you—(what indeed is finally beautiful, except Death and
Love?)
—O I think it is not for life I am chanting here my chant of lovers—I think it
must
be for
Death,
For how calm, how solemn it grows, to ascend to the atmosphere of lovers,
Death or life I am then indifferent—my Soul declines to prefer,
I am not sure but the high Soul of lovers welcomes death most;
Indeed, O Death, I think now these leaves mean precisely the same as you mean;
Grow up taller, sweet leaves, that I may see! grow up out of my breast!
Spring away from the conceal’d heart there!
Do not fold yourself so in your pink-tinged roots, timid leaves!
Do not remain down there so ashamed, herbage of my breast!
Come, I am determin’d to unbare this broad breast of mine—I have long enough
stifled
and
choked:
—Emblematic and capricious blade, I leave you—now you serve me not;
Away! I will say what I have to say, by itself,
I will escape from the sham that was proposed to me,
I will sound myself and comrades only—I will never again utter a call, only their
call,
I will raise, with it, immortal reverberations through The States,
I will give an example to lovers, to take permanent shape and will through The States;
Through me shall the words be said to make death exhilarating;
Give me your tone therefore, O Death, that I may accord with it,
Give me yourself—for I see that you belong to me now above all, and are folded
inseparably
together—you Love and Death are;
Nor will I allow you to balk me any more with what I was calling life,
For now it is convey’d to me that you are the purports essential,
That you hide in these shifting forms of life, for reasons—and that they are mainly
for
you,
That you, beyond them, come forth, to remain, the real reality,
That behind the mask of materials you patiently wait, no matter how long,
That you will one day, perhaps, take control of all,
That you will perhaps dissipate this entire show of appearance,
That may-be you are what it is all for—but it does not last so very long;
But you will last very long.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Sunday Beer Bust and Ballot Initiatives

Went to the Eagle Beer Bust yesterday. The Satyr's were there. Haven't been Eaglin' in over a year. Drinking does not mix with my new angina medication. It was crowded, lots of overly testosteroned guys, much too masculine to know how to smile. Very conservative (in that that 'you're not wearing the right _______ ' way in which only the gay community can be conservative) crowd.

And then someone handed me this:




http://presidentialmemorial.org/

Friday, April 4, 2008

Mourning, Melancholia, and Violence

Douglas Crimp, in his essay “Mourning and Militancy” tells us, according to Freud “mourning is the reaction not only to the death of a loved person, but also ‘to the loss of some abstraction which has taken the place of one, such as fatherland, liberty, an ideal. . . .” Crimp asks if we can include “the ideal of perverse sexual pleasure itself rather than one stemming from sublimation? Along side the dismal toll of death, what many of us have lost is a culture of sexual possibility: back rooms, tea rooms, bookstores, movie houses, and baths; the trucks, the pier, the ramble, the dunes, Sex was everywhere for us, and everything we wanted to venture: Golden showers and water sports, cocksucking and rimming, fucking and fist fucking. Now our untamed impulses are either proscribed once again or shielded from us by latex." A younger member of my AIDS in America class suggested that he didn’t think this was the case any longer, Crimp’s essay having been written in 1989. He related how among his friends activities such as these were still the norm and there was much partner swapping and sexual partying. I enquired if safe(r) sex practices were used? When they were engaged in rimming, were they using a barrier? He replied that they all knew they should be, but no one does. We are living in the pseudo post-AIDS era.

An acquaintance of mine is riding in the AIDS Lifecyle. He has recently been hired as the director of production for a porn company which specializes in bareback and swallow videos. This company also has casting booths at San Francisco Pride and other gay events around the country. Their online application asks such questions as HIV status, hepatitis status, do you have any current health problems or STDs?, are you taking any prescription medication?, and are you comfortable engaging in sex acts with partners who may have a different HIV status than yourself? I have not spoken with this person or this company, so I do not know if the way one answers these questions would be reason for disqualification. Nor do I want to be sex negative. I realize that everyone should be able to make a free choice about how they will live their lives and the actions and risks they are willing to take. But I also realize how influential the media is on informing the choices we do make. I must ask if their is not some correlation between companies which make videos like these, which seek models at community gay events such as Pride and my friends revelation about his crowds sexual practices? And isn’t there something just a little incongruous about riding in the AIDS Lifecylce and working for a company that encourages unsafe sex practices (yes, they have a personals section on their web page)? I really want to know? Where and how do we as a community accept responsibility for ourselves each and other? How do we balance that with the need to maintain our sexual autonomy? I really want to know.

Crimp goes on to suggest that for many gay men, what they are suffering is not mourning but rather melancholia; if safe sex to some men is seen as an act of defiance, to those who remember pre-AIDS sex it is more akin to resignation. Crimp tells us “In Freud’s analysis, melancholia differs from mourning in a single feature: ‘a fall in self-esteem’ [ . . . . ] it is a ‘dissatisfaction with the self on moral grounds.’” Examples of which he gives include Randy Shilts and the work of two Harvard trained social scientists, Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen’s "After the Ball," which urges gay men to “clean up our act” meaning purging our community of “fringe gay groups.” This is a pattern which seems to be repeating and replicating over and over within the gay community. We package and market ourselves in the hopes of gaining acceptance and equality at the cost of our freedom and individualism.

Mourning is something our culture doesn’t know how to deal with. Death, it just doesn’t sell. We don’t want to face it, best to ignore it. How else to explain this feeling that my boyfriend and I have noticed among our circle of friends of a persistent state of melancholia? It extends, it seems, beyond the perimeters of any one community to include all thinking and moral people. When anyone asks if he is depressed my boyfriend is quick to respond “How could I not be? I would have to not be paying attention.” If we as a people find ourselves in a persistent state of melancholia which manifests as a new moralism, an urge to “clean up our act,” to deny the truths of our past freedoms and identities; could we find ourselves mourning this one more loss, this loss of our self esteem?

Which brings me to Crimps last point in his essay, which is the death drive. Crimp tells us that Jacqueline Rose argues that “it is only through the concept of the death drive that we can understand the relationship between psychic and social life, as we seek to determine ‘where to locate the violence’ [ . . . ] By making all violence external, pushing it to the outside and objectifying it in ‘enemy’ institutions and individuals, we deny its psychic articulation, deny that we are effected, as well as affected, by it." Which brings me back to my earlier questions concerning media messages about barebacking and unsafe sex. We know what the answers are. We know AIDS still kills. The cocktails do not work for everyone. They do have horrible long term consequences. We must find a way to acknowledge our complicity in the violence.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

No blacks allowed. No gays may live here. Asians not welcome. We would never think of condoning this sort of behavior, yet when it comes to sex and dating we have no problems with it. We may say that it is just a preference, just a matter of attraction. The same arguments were used for the lunch counters and the drinking fountains in the jim crow south. What are our real reasons? Have we really examined these beliefs? Why are we attracted to the people we are attracted too? These are very complex issues and questions. There are no easy answers. I do not wish to tell anyone what they should do or what they should say. I only want to challenge us to examine our long held beliefs, our preconceptions and consider what we say and how we say it and the affect it has on others.

When I began my journey in my Gay Male Relationships class we spent a good deal of time discussing the types of men we would consider dating. One of the lessons which I took from those exercises was the ways in which we limit ourselves, the restrictions we place on potential dating prospects before we have even met them. I remember someone in class saying, “it’s a miracle we ever find anyone to date.” Although race and ethnicity did not come up in those discussions, they really are just one more way of limiting ourselves.

As we know, race has no genetic basis. No one characteristic, trait, or gene distinguishes one so-called race from another. The very concept of race is a modern one. It did not exist as a way to categorize people in pre-modern civilizations. In fact, race is a construct whose basis is rooted in the foundations of the United States. In the beginning of the colonial American era race as a construct did not exist. Natives were seen as savages, the native populations divided themselves by nations, slavery was based on religion (if you were Christian you could not be enslaved). When Pocahontas married John Rolfe it created a scandal in the English court, not because Pocahontas was an Indian, but because she was a princess, royalty, and Rolfe was a commoner. The concept of race evolved over the closing decades of the seventeenth century as a way to justify the enslavement of Africans. With the signing of the Declaration of Independence a contradiction arises. How can we claim that all men are created equal and have enslaved peoples? Rather than abolish slavery, the course chosen is to justify slavery by the “nature” of the enslaved. Thomas Jefferson is the first to suggest, in 1781, that Africans are innately inferior. As late as the late nineteenth century, not all Europeans were considered white.

Since the concept of race is such an American idea, so tied to our beginnings, our concepts of liberty, our economic well being, the very building and expansion of our nation, is it no wonder that race and racism are embedded so deeply in our society as to seem imperceptible? We would all like to believe that racism doesn’t affect us, that we treat everyone equally but do we? Are whites aware of their place of privilege? We can if we wish arrange to be in the company of people of our race most of the time. We can avoid spending time with people who we were trained to mistrust and who have learned to mistrust our kind. If we should need to move, we can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which we can afford and in which we would want to live. We can be pretty sure that our neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to us. We can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that we will not be followed or harassed. We can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of our race widely represented. These are but a few of many examples of white privilege we tend to take for granted everyday. Even more important then being aware of our privilege, how much of that privilege would we be willing to give up?

We can try to justify our racism by claiming it is merely attraction or preference, but if race is purely a construct, one whose very genesis lies in the foundations and formulation of our nation and society, and permeates everything we know and are taught from childbirth, can we be sure? As Dwight A. McBride explains in "Why I Hate Abercrombie & Fitch,"

1 The particular and prevalent experience of American racism (with its deep roots in the institution of American slavery) permeates virtually all aspects of American life and culture.

2 Because of this legacy of white supremacy and its persistence in the form of white American racism, the notions we have evolved of what stands as beautiful and desirable are thoroughly racialized. Indeed, even our ideas about aesthetics in the broadest sense are shot through with racial considerations that render attempts at depoliticizing them impossible.

3 By showing that race permeates the sanctity even of desire, we demonstrate, once more, race’s saliency in American life and culture.


A claim which will often arise when attempts are made to politicize desire are cries of the policing of desire. Since race is such a pervasive factor in our national discourses, it seems it would be foolish to remove the question of politics from any discussions we have around desire.

In “The Gym Body and Heroic Myth,” John DiCarlo postulates, “These bodies outwardly represent a kind of wealth, a fullness in which a person has the means, discipline, the work ethic--and the leisure time--to perfect his body. It is a clean-cut, middle class body, symbolizing the final embourgeoisement of the gay community and its related aspirations. . . . The values of the marketplace rule the central circles of gay life, perhaps to a disturbing degree, where the body is advertising and 'knowing the price of everything’ is a main principle of doing business.” What we are really doing when we eliminate entire groups of people based on the notion of preference is acknowledging our participation in the gay market place of desire. We can see this marketplace of desire at work where ever we look, we are constantly bombarded by images of what is considered “desirable.” Of course, the question of race, class, and power is tied up in these images. Who benefits and who loses by that which is put forth as marketable, as desirable? When one considers we are a nation where racism is taken for granted and privilege goes unacknowledged, these questions gain even greater significance.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Restrictive Dating

My Gay Male Relationships class blew up again this past Monday night. I, once again, was the incendiary. We were discussing cross-cultural relationships. Our teacher was explaining the difference between attraction and fetishization. He began by saying,"When you will only date men from a race or culture different from your own that is fetishization because it is based on stereotypes and it is wrong." I raised my hand and suggested it also worked the other way. If you exclude men from your dating pool based on race or ethnicity, that was wrong as well. He responded by saying, "No, that is attraction, and okay. I disagreed and suggested that it was based on racism, at which point the entire class erupted. No one was willing to own their racism, they all denied it and said it was ridiculous to suggest that having a preference was racist. I explained that I believed we were all racist, that we could not live in our society and not be racist, that I was racist, saw my racism everyday and fought everyday to overcome it. I also suggested that I would not want to limit who I might be attracted to by excluding any type of person. It seems that racism is the big elephant in the room which no one is willing to acknowledge. One man went as far as to suggest that yes perhaps it was racism but we should call it something else!

I am really disturbed by this. I am disturbed that what we would never condone anywhere else is so freely acceptable when it comes to sex and relationships. I am disturbed that it seem to be an issue which we are not even willing to examine. I am disturbed that this behavior is being taught and reenforced in my community college.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Messages Concerning Safe(r) Sex

Persons with AIDS’s lives changed in March of 1996 with the introduction of what is referred to as “the cocktail.” I remember my lover Chris and I having a conversation about the future over lunch one day in 1990. We both were positive with AIDS diagnoses but were both healthy. Chris had a cultivated devil may care attitude about life in general which was one of the things I found attractive about him. I, on the other hand am more grounded and have a tendency to plan and save. Chris was chiding me for this propensity, “You know Woody, we will both be dead in five years and what good will all that money do you then?” Well, perhaps he was planning on being dead in five years, but I certainly wasn’t!, and I told him so. Chris died in October of 1995. Had Chris lived to see the introduction of the new “cocktail therapy” of non-nucleoside protease inhibitors would he be alive today? That is a question no one can answer. It is a question that certainly entered my mind many times when I started my new therapy in 1996.

Not only have most PWA’s lives changed but so seemingly has the face of AIDS itself. AIDS seems to have become a “manageable” disease. People are living longer. The sense of hopelessness and terror has been removed. No longer is the obituary pages of the Bay Area Reporter growing bigger and bigger with each passing week. It is so easy to slip into seeing the years following the introduction of cocktail therapy as “post-AIDS.” The fact is, people are still dying. The new drugs do not work for everyone. They do have catastrophic long term side effects.

AIDS has changed so many aspects of our lives and our culture it is really difficult to grasp the enormity of it all. It has made us more sex phobic, it has pushed us into a new conservatism masquerading as liberalism, and it has caused us to confuse the right to self-determination with misinformation. I am holding in my hands a pamphlet produced by the City and County of San Francisco’s Department of Public Health called “Reading This Might Save Your Ass.” It is the language of “straight talk” using code phrases such as “save your ass” and headings such as “Fucking, Sucking, Rimming, and Making Your Dick Work For You.” Under the heading of fucking I read, “Fucking with out a condom is the easiest way to spread HIV. Play it smart. Hopefully the people you have sex with will be honest and will know their HIV status . . . but they might not know or they might not want to tell you.” “The easiest way” belies the very concept of “straight talk.” What all of this “straight talk” doesn’t say is AIDS kills. What all of this straight talk avoids saying is Fucking without a condom is unsafe, if your partner is infected you will be too, if you are infected you will infect your partner and there is no cure. AIDS kills. Fucking without a condom these days is inexcusable. It is murder.

And now we seem to be getting the message that serosorting is okay. It seems the message of use a condom every time didn’t work for everyone, or some of us have become burned out on it. And we have the cocktail now. Well, if the message didn’t work, don’t soften the message, change it. A young man I know who, when I first met him, was expounding on how the message of AIDS, the very name AIDS, was too sex-negative. “It’s time to forget AIDS,” he told me. “It’s time to re-name it, call it something else, because it is not the same as it was in your day.” Well, six months later he came to me and told me he had seroconverted. Now that is a tragedy. That should not be happening today. Suggesting serosorting as a possible safe(r) sex strategy for positive men runs the risk of re-infection with a different strain of HIV and the possible mutation of a super-strain, for negative men of course the risk of one partner not knowing their current status or of lying is always going to be present. It just seems too risky and stupid to be a strategy which should be receiving any endorsement from the HIV, Inc. and public health communities. There is still no cure. AIDS still kills.

Chris finally did learn how to save. After four or five bouts with pneumonia for which his Kaiser Hospital health plan refused to admit him to the hospital -- take these antibiotics and make an appointment to see your doctor in three weeks, they would tell him and I would drive him home and carry him up the stairs to his apartment as he was too weak to walk -- his sister and I finally had to place him into a hospice. One October morning my phone rang. It was the hospice calling to say that Chris was non-responsive and I should come over as I was designated his agent to make health care decisions. Apparently Chris had been diagnosed with cytomegalovirus and was going blind. Rather then tell me he decided to save his sleeping pills until he had enough to take his life. The nurse told me that usually they don’t resuscitate at the hospice, a fact I already knew, but since Chris had had a hand in this they would pump his stomach if I wished. This was what Chris wished now though. I sat with him for the next ninety minutes, holding his hand, stroking his head, reassuring him that everything was okay and that he should just let go. I know he heard me. I know he knew I was there. I could tell by the way he responded to my words, my touch. He finally died as I sat next to him, holding him.

This is what we have forgotten. Scenes like this still happen today, just not as frequently. We must not forget this still happens. AIDS has not changed. It still kills. There is still no cure.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Just How Serious ARE We?

(03-05) 07:28 PST WASHINGTON (AP) --
President Bush says the United States has to change its habits and "get off oil" to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign suppliers.
Bush made his comments in a speech in Washington after OPEC said it would not put more oil on the global market. During a trip to the Middle East in January, Bush had urged OPEC to increase production in order to ease soaring gasoline prices.
While calling for energy conservation, Bush joked on Wednesday that it probably did not help that he rode to his speech in a 20-car motorcade.



Last evening on the news I watched how George Bush told OPEC that they must start pumping more oil because energy is costing too much which is hurting the economy. If our economy tanks, he reasoned, we will buy less energy. Well, I am not really sure we can blame our current economic situation on OPEC or entirely oil dependancy. Rather forty years of failed economic policy which stifled growth in production due to inflationary fears in favor of uncontrolled growth in financial speculation brought about by deregulation in the financial markets, the latest manifestations of which we have seen in the sub-prime market implosion, corporate junk bonds, asset-backed commercial paper, and muni-bonds insurance companies collapse.

Well, it is much easier to blame it on the Arabs, isn't it. So today Bush says we must "get of oil." All joking about 20 car-motorcades aside, if we were serious we wouldn't be talking conservation, we would be actively seeking and investing in real sustainable alternatives and a major shift in the way our infrastructure is structured. We would be turning away from a growth based economic model to an economic model based on sustainability. An economics that sees the economy as a vehicle to improve human well-being rather than as humans as cogs to further expand the economy.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Queer as Stereotypes

I don’t watch television. Although I have seen a few episodes of Will and Grace, I admit I have never watched Queer as Folk. The episodes I have seen of Will and Grace I found to be unrealistic stereotypes of the LGBTQ community and not very funny. I do not view these shows as a sign of progress towards a wider acceptance by society but rather a minstrelization of homophobic, sexist, and classist stereotypes presented in such a way as to placate an oppressed community while formulating a corporatized, sanitized model which may be used ultimately to regulate identity. This explains my surprise and apprehension to find a segment of Queer as Folk being used to demonstrate the pitfalls of dating in my Gay Male Relationships class without the benefit of any type of disclaimer or qualifier from the class facilitator beforehand.

I was not disappointed. A younger character in the show was preparing for a date. His date was a doctor, an older man. From the very start of the scene we are told by this man’s friends that anyone over 40 was, well “OLD.” The implication being of course that older gay men are not worthwhile, are pretty much invisible within the community. Of course all of the young, groomed, clipped, toned, white friends were portrayed as being immature; which is agist as well. We were fed the myth of the older man as more successful while the younger man needs to borrow clothing from his friends to look presentable.

I admit that the clip did highlight some information about dating and being open to exploring differences, although in extreme exaggeration. I do also realize that Queer as Folk is ‘just’ a television show, admittedly one I had never seen before. At the risk of making hasty generalizations, let me say why I am concerned with using this sort of teaching aid without first qualifying it. It only serves to re-enforce those stereotypes which are already so embedded in our culture by an out of control media. All too often we take for granted that which is presented to us, we take for granted not only the messages it is imparting on us but we also take for granted our ability to examine and dissect that message with a critical eye. When I hear my fellow class mates refer to all younger gay men as being immature like the ones in the show, I am saddened for the younger gay men in the classroom and in the community. When I heard the remarks being made by the shows characters about ‘old’ men over 40, as a queer man of 51 who often feels invisible within my broader community, I was hurt an offended. When I saw the stereotype of what that ‘older’ gay man is, I knew that it was just that, a stereotype, but it still serves to define and re-enforce what are and are not acceptable notions of success. When I continually hear my fellow classmates refer to men who are sex-positive as ‘sluts,’ when I hear how narrow their expectations are for a prospective dating pool, I know that these media stereotypical messages are having an effect.

The only real interest the media has is its own bottom line. It is not interested in building community, understanding, or bridges. It is interested in profit. What is the best and easiest route to profit? A universal need. A universal consumer. Homogeneity. When we unquestioningly allow the media to define us we lose the ability to control our own futures, to say who we are, to be individuals.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

It is important to know how to accessorize.

Friday, February 22, 2008

the Dream That Got Away

As a young boy, fantasies of adulthood life were fueled by a ready supply of idealized role models waiting in the wings of my vivid imagination. Asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I had a ready answer which would change from day to day, sometimes from hour to hour. In retrospect, my choice of daily activities were an even greater, if less articulated, indication of what the future could hold. It seems obvious now that one of my great interests was archeology and the exploration of history. I was forever excavating the yard for remnants of earlier times and was fascinated with anything old, the more worn the better. When my digs were unproductive I was undeterred, I would then bury things to ‘find’ the next day.

My best ‘digs’ took place in my parents bedroom when they were away from the house, however. I adored rooting through the big cedar chest under my parents front windows to see the treasure trove hidden beneath the blankets, newspaper clippings, photos, risque Christmas decorations . . . One moment of discovery stands heads above the rest. One afternoon I discovered, entombed in the bottom of my parents gun cabinet buried beneath boxes of shells, a double record album -- The Best of Judy Garland. Now, this would be somewhat akin to finding a copy of Penthouse on the Pope’s coffee table. I mean, my parents listened to nothing but Johnny Cash and the Carter Family and religiously tuned into HeeHaw and the Grand Ol’ Oprey every week. Perhaps that album was magically secreted there by some great Queer spirit who was looking out for this lost boy growing up in a mid sixties town with a dearth of Queer role models or sensibilities. Regardless, I listened to that album, and my life was changed. I could feel the warm richness of Judy’s voice reaching out to me, caressing me, comforting me, making me laugh and cry. Yes, I kept that album. Who deserved it more? My parents who left it buried in the dark, silent in the bottom of their gun cabinet, or me, who played it hour after hour, enraptured? I think the answer was clear!

I became Judy Garland. The next album to appear was the double Carnegie Hall Concert album. I knew the albums forwards and backwards. When my parents went away, I would put them on their stereo downstairs, crank it up and be Judy Garland performing at the top of my lungs, until I discovered that the neighbors could hear me. I sang those songs everywhere I went. I would go on walks around the neighborhood -- just to sing and pretend I was Judy Garland!
As I got older I realized that my being Judy Garland had to be a bit more discreet, but boy, I still loved the idea of belting one out. I owned every record I could find, bought every book that appeared. I was the only person I knew who even remotely liked Judy -- until I moved to San Francisco. Low and behold, I found other men who liked Judy as well! But my days of fantasy were it seemed over. I mean, it just wasn’t healthy to obsess so over one woman. Yes, yes, I would still listen every once in awhile, I bought the television show when it appeared on DVD, and all of her movies, but no more did I stand in the middle of the living room with my pretend microphone, the stereo blaring, and become Garland on stage before my adoring masses!

Last week I discovered, ‘digging’ through Amazon, Rufus Wainwright’s Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall. WOW
! Here is this man, living MY fantasy, live, on stage, in front of real people! Amazing. Even the li
ner note photographs are Rufus posing like the photos of Judy on the original album. How fantastic! I am not alone, not then, not now, nor will I ever be! And fantasy IS important. I was living in shame, managing my stigma by hiding it! 


Never be ashamed. Don’t let your dream be the dream that got away!

Prevent Sexual Variance ~ Partner for Life

On my way to my first class of the semester, Gay Male Relationships, I descend the stairs at Harvey Milk Plaza to board the inbound MUNI train. Inside the station new display ads cover the walls -- catch my attention. They are all close ups of male couples in differing poses suggestive of romantic attachments. The copy on the ads state this dating service, “Partner for Life,” is better then “M4M,” it is “LTR.” “One night stands are great, 365 are Better” declares one ad. I look to the other side of the platform. Yes, the ads are repeated over there as well. All of the display ads at the Castro Station are taken over by “Partner for Life.” All of the ads promote the message that partnering for life is ‘better’ than any other choice. My train arrives at the next stop, Church Street, where I alight, where there are no display ads proclaiming the superiority of partnering for life.

Walking to my class at the GLBTQ Center, I consider what this means for me. While I haven’t traveled to all of the other MUNI stops, I wonder if these ads appear elsewhere. Are we as a community still so ghettoized? I feel these ads which seem targeted at what is perceived as the “gayborhood” are engaging in furthering the attempt to construct and regulate a “safe” arraignment of what gay family and gay sex means which will be more palatable to the larger normative culture at the exclusion of alternatives within the community. Should it be the job of a dating service to become the promoter of alternative views. Not necessarily. However, I see a pattern here which repeats again and again, from the presumptive insistence that marriage equity is the goal of the entire community to the censorship of a more open and vital sexuality by institutions within the community such as the GLBTQ Center itself, which has taken it upon itself to filter internet access, censor art shows in its space, and outlaw nudity within the Center. I read my first homework assignment for my Gay Male Relationships class, which deals with “Chronically Single Gay Men,” and I learn, “ . . . there are more men looking to be in relationships now than in the ‘70’s. ‘Some of this is an evolution of gay male culture away from the revolving sexual door that characterized so much of the era of the sexual revolution . . .’.” This trope becomes repetitive. When questioned by the Bay Area Reporter concerning the rule banning nudity at the Center the director of the Center responded by saying he felt there would have been a time when you would not have been able to make such a rule, -- now the ability to make such a rule was a sign of the gay communities evolution, its maturation.

When we perceive changes in a community as a maturation or an evolution we are hierarchizing behavior. In claiming that a new behavior is somehow better than the old what we are really doing is governing others sexual behavior. We are engaging in a subtle sexual shaming. Gayle Reubin, in her essay “Thinking Sex,” suggests that hierarchies of sex serve no real purpose except to prevent sexual variance.

The “normative” sexuality, typically and historically post-marital monogamous heterosexuality, has the luxury of maintaining invisibility by the very nature of its dominance. It has the luxury of seeing its sexuality reflected back to itself everywhere, from automobile ads to Hollywood film to Literature. Their sexuality is constantly being reenforced at the same time it assumes a visible invisibility by the very nature of its universality. It is in this way the dominate group may deny its own sexuality, may remain inconspicuously sex-phobic. Any variation to what is perceived as normative suddenly becomes not only visible, but prurient.
When the LGBTQ community condescends to the idea of an “evolution” in its behavior or a belief in a type of sexual expression which is better than another, it seeks to cleanse itself of the stigma of queerness placed upon it by the hetero-normative culture by engaging in the marginalization, shaming, and stigmatization of members of its own community in the very manner in which it has been marginalized, shamed, and stigmatized by the dominate group.

The fact the the ads for “Partner for Life” only appear in the Castro Street MUNI station is irrefutable evidence that the “evolution” of LGBTQ sexuality has not normalized to the extent that it may co-exist along with the invisibly visible dominate heterosexual sexuality.