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
believe a few will;
O slender leaves! O blossoms of my blood! I permit you to tell, in your own way, of the
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
—O I think it is not for life I am chanting here my chant of lovers—I think it
be for
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
—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
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
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
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:

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.