Friday, January 20, 2023

DO I HAVE TO RESCIND MY "GAY" CARD IF I DIDN'T EVEN THINK ABOUT GOING TO THE MADONNA CONCERT?


So Madonna having a 40th anniversary concert tour. It opens in Vancouver at Rogers Arena, a ten-minute walk from my place. Tickets went on sale today. I didn’t get them. Didn’t even try.

 

Weirdly, I’ve never been to a Madonna concert. I had all her albums up until “Ray of Light.” Even bought the extended single for “Get into the Groove” when it didn’t appear on an album. Hell, I bought the 45 of “Sidewalk Talk” by Jellybean Benitez because Madonna sang backing vocals. And, let’s face it, Madonna wasn’t really known for her vocals.

 


I adored Madonna as much as the next gay in the ’80s and ’90s. I even considered myself a fan before the gays latched onto her. That first hit, “Holiday,” had me. It wasn’t ever going to be nominated for a Grammy, but it was an insanely catchy piece of pop music. It made me want to dance around in my dorm room. It made me happy. When “Borderline” got me believing there might be a career for this singer who dared to be so self-important as to go by one name—hoping to be more Cher than Melanie—I bought her album. I loved it all. I propped up the album cover in the window, letting it compete with my enormous poster for Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” album. Every song gave me happy dancing vibes. Through repeated plays, I managed to never scratch the vinyl. I suppose I took extra care. 

 


Madonna broke out as MTV and music videos were taking off. I always stopped everything I was doing when “Borderline” came on. There’s a little kick she does against a street pole that still gets me. I don’t know why. Her video for “Lucky Star” was barebones—simple dance moves against a white background. I couldn’t look away. Madonna worked some sort of hypnotic power over me. I was a fan before ever coming out, before ever stepping foot on a dancefloor in a gay bar.

 

Still, no concert. I’m admittedly not a huge concert goer. My experience has been shelling out lots of money for crappy seats, particularly back in the ’80s and early ’90s when I didn’t have much money. I once went to a Bette Midler concert and only glimpsed her from high above whenever she appeared on the right side of the stage which, as luck would have it, was far less than half the time. (Or so it seemed.) Still, I’ve been fortunate to see some greats. Barry Manilow—say what you want about his music, but the guy knew how to put on a show—Elton John, Natalie Cole, Barbra Streisand, Melissa Etheridge, Sarah McLachlan, Lady Gaga, Anita Baker, even Kenny Rogers in his prime. (It was during my Texas years and I had a crush on a guy who was in the group I went with. It was mighty weird pining over a dude, giving him sideways glances as Kenny sang “Lady.”) 

 


I suppose the Blond Ambition tour would have been when I wanted to see her the most. I passed. I think part of me knew the vocals wouldn’t be nearly as good as her voice on record. I give her credit for using a real mic while dancing around, Burning Up more oodles more calories than I ever worked off during Super Step classes at the gym. Glad she didn’t go the Janet or Britney route and lip sync. In truth, I was never drawn to Madonna as a staged spectacle. I didn’t need the shock value gimmicks involving conical boobs and potshots at Catholicism. Feigning shock and indignation over attempts to ban or arrest her were sideline theatrics that most of her fans lapped up. Papa Don’t Preach, indeed! It made seeing her live come off as its own daring act. Truth is I never cared for her tough girl banter and watching a concert clip of her vaudevillian banging around with backing vocalists on “Causing a Commotion” came off as juvenile. All I wanted was the music. I stayed home, irking only the neighbors as I sang along—badly—to “Crazy for You” and “Open Your Heart.” 

 


She’s always sought the limelight. Craved it. Commanded it. Sometimes I wonder how much bigger she’d have been—is that even possible?—had she gotten her start with TikTok going at full steam, with all the other social media platforms. She’d have out-Kardashianed Kim. 

As much as her extensive discography, she’s still remembered for writhing around in a wedding dress while singing “Like a Virgin” at the 1984 MTV Awards, her “Justify My Love” video, “Erotica,” the Sex book and deep throating a bottle in the “Truth or Dare” documentary. 



Yes, she pushed sex while Nancy Reagan was telling youth to “Just Say No” and she accepted gay men with open arms while governments and the public shunned them during the AIDS crisis. She made coming out better. She made clubbing more fun as we Vogued and stared at the screens, ogling the male models in her “Cherish” video. An icon, without a doubt. 

 

But then it got derivative. Kissing Britney and Christina at the 2003 MTV Awards. Mounting herself on a crucifix during a 2013 tour. I had to look that one up. Don’t remember it. Don’t know if I even read about it at the time. Madonna wasn’t making headlines anymore.

 

Madonna’s attempts to grab headlines now seem forced. Embarrassing even. There have been inane comments about COVID and more flesh-baring moments that come off as tired and desperate rather than edgy. It’s hard to come off as hip when she’s already been there and done all of that. A fake Truth or Dare video with Amy Schumer saying, “I dare you to go on tour” seems childish…and boring. Brings the game back to its roots—fifth graders on a playground—instead of that era of the ’80s and ’90s when gays lapped up everything Madonna said and did.

 


By now, I’d have hoped Madonna would have evolved. Matured even. Maybe taken inspiration from the legacies of Dolly Parton, Audrey Hepburn and Jane Fonda. I don’t want to see a sixty-four-year-old mother of six baring her breasts yet again, searching for ways for it to seem fresh. It’ll never be fresh again. 

 

Not that Madonna’s leaning on me for career and image advice, but I’d rather Madonna spend more time as the strong advocate she’s been, speaking out about gay rights, women’s rights and the continuing discrepancies in healthcare and education in places like Malawi from where she adopted four of her children. I Googled Madonna’s name along with “trans rights” and nothing specific came up. I would have thought she’d have been speaking out against J.K. Rowling, mocking conservatives who are afraid to use public bathrooms and showing up at protests to raise concerns about violence toward people who identify as transgender.  

 

Scanning her activity on Twitter over the past year, there’s lots of self-promotion, which is to be expected, along with a couple of tweets about voting, another that says “Artists are here to disturb the peace,” a couple of Pride tweets and a few in-the-moment about abortions rights after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, one about Uvalde, one from thirteen months ago about “bring(ing) lifesaving healthcare to children in Malawi and all around the world.” It’s good but there is no sustained attention to any cause. 

 

Not that she has to do anything. I’ve just always associated her with poking at entrenched conservatives while putting the spotlight on, not just herself, but human rights. I also Googled Annie Lennox, another ’80s icon, to discover that Lennox continues to do the good work. It’s not so well known in North America because her star has faded. I believe Madonna can still get attention, albeit a fraction of what she once garnered. She could put it to good use, getting into “good trouble.” She’d find creative ways to bring attention to causes, probably building on the brash, ballsy reputation she’s built. That would excite me. That would make me pay attention to more of what she’s up to. I probably still wouldn’t pay for a concert ticket but, if she were part of a large-scale concert for a key cause, that might be what it takes for me to finally see her live.

 

In the meantime, I’ll sit out this tour. I’ll continue to listen to the music though. Currently, I’m rediscovering “Drowned World/Substitute for Love,” the overlooked “Ghosttown” and gems like “Rain” and “Don’t Tell Me,” along with all the bigger hits. 

 

If you got tickets, enjoy the show. Dance, sing, laugh. I suppose that’s how it all started as Madonna rose to fame all those years ago.

Monday, January 16, 2023

EXIT, STAGE RIGHT


I’ve delayed this post because I thought the issue would go away. And yet this guy’s like the dinner guest who won’t take the hint and just leave.

 

Haven’t we all said it? “Bye, George.” 

 

Still, he stays.

 

It seems apropos to
mention toilet paper.

Why can’t George Santos fade away, unceremoniously flushed from memory like Milli Vanilli, that “Cats” movie and pumpkin spice toilet paper. Let anyone’s retelling about any of them follow with the uninformed saying, “You’re kidding, right?” If only.

 

As a Canadian, I remained blissfully ignorant of George for a while. Every country’s political arena has a few kooks; I didn’t need to gawk at what was going on regarding a newly elected member of the House of Representatives from New York. But then the bits and pieces of the representative’s misrepresentations leaked out in tweets I read and news stories I skimmed. George Anthony Devoider Santos claimed to have a degree in economics and finance from Baruch College in NYC. Never happened. He said earned an MBA from NYU. He didn’t. Worked for Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. Nope and nope. While writing this, I came across an article that said Santos lied about attending a high school in the Bronx and being a star volleyball player while at Baruch. That’s just some of it. I don’t want to know more. I’m not a constituent, thankfully. 

 

This is the kind of person who would lie about watching “The White Lotus” and digging Beyoncé if he thought it would improve his standing. Heck, I don’t think I could even trust his answer to “What’s your favorite color?” 

 


To be sure, the guy is delusional. A pathological liar. Someone who delights in deception. I know there are cynics who shrug and say, What do you expect? He’s a politician. They’re all liars. But even the most cynical would concede that something truthful might slip out once in a while. Not so, it seems, from Santos.

 

I also realize plenty of people embellish their resumés. There are limits, of course. Lying about degrees and previous employment should get anyone fired. It appears that George Santos’s entire resumé is a fabrication. (Who lies about their high school? Did he make it through ninth grade?) Who is he really? How can the 746,000 people living in New York’s 3rd congressional district have any trust in him? 

 


George Santos isn’t as much of an anomaly as I’d like him to be. A person like him can feel emboldened by his idol, Donald Trump, a man who regularly makes things up about elections, his intelligence, his medical records and his businesses. Trump knows that his base will swallow anything he dishes out. Too many of the supposedly reputable Republicans have not dared to call bullshit. “That’s just Trump” some seem to say with a shrug. Much of Trump’s hot air about wealth and corporate success may have been dismissed as puffery, but the lack of fact checking and holding the former world leader accountable only gave him carte blanche to tell more dangerous lies. Then there’s Kellyanne Conway who introduced the public to “alternative facts” back in 2017. An impressionable wannabe politician like Santos only had to point to the most powerful members of his party to inspire him to run for office on wholly false qualifications. As galling as it is, it’s no surprise at all.

 

I’m disappointed with the Republican Party for either not vetting him or, as The New York Times, intoned yesterday, discovering the falsehoods and not disqualifying him as a candidate. Naturally, I’m disappointed—astonished even—with Democrats at the local level in opponent Robert Zimmerman’s campaign office and at the state and national level who didn’t do their own fact checking. Furthermore, the media needs to be called out for its own negligence in covering a key race. According to The Times, only “The North Shore Leader on Long Island, run by a Republican lawyer and former House candidate, Grant Lally,” found cause to label Santos as a “fabulist—a fake.” (According to Wikipedia, it has a circulation of 20,000.) A telling statement in yesterday’s article: “None of the bigger outlets, including The Times, followed up with extensive stories examining his real address or his campaign’s questionable spending, focusing their coverage instead on Mr. Santos’s extreme policy views and the historic nature of a race between two openly gay candidates.” 

 


It's only because Santos claims to be gay that I’m blogging about this audacious hanger-on. I can cast this vial individual aside, knowing I’m not an American or a New Yorker. But I feel the slightest association in that he’s gay. My knee-jerk reaction when I heard this was to dismiss him as one of those Log Cabin Republicans whom I cannot relate to. I don’t know how a gay man can put economics ahead of social issues, particularly regarding the LGBTQ community. Republicans have neither been our allies nor our advocates. Most recently, they have railed against trans rights to rile up the base, translating fear and ignorance into increased campaign coffers and votes. The fact they’ve stoked hatred, resulting in threats and violence, lowering the sense of safety and self-esteem among trans and nonbinary individuals matters not to them. Honestly, it’s unfathomable to me that anyone queer identifies as Republican. I don’t think such a person has any true sense of the history of LGBTQ hate and discrimination. 

 

Reps. Barney Frank and Gerry Studs
(undated photo)

Thirty years ago, I would have been embarrassed and appalled to learn someone so undeserving as George Santos got elected to Congress and refused to do the right thing and step down. Nowadays, it’s ridiculous for someone like Santos to make me feel any personal sense of shame. Clearly, doing the right thing is not in Santos’s playbook. Moreover, my gay identity is neither dented nor dinged because of someone like Santos. Thirty years ago, there were far fewer out-gay men, particularly in politics. Every move by gay Representatives Gerry Studs and Barney Frank mattered. (Indeed, both fell under scrutiny for sex scandals though each weathered the investigations and continued to be reelected to Congress.) We’re now in an era where, with the exceptions of country music and sports, coming out as a gay public figure warrants little, if any, attention in North America. Maybe a day of trending on Twitter alongside other topics like today’s popular fodder, #Conspiracy (yawn) and #TheLastOfUs (shrug…I don’t pay for its streaming channel). There are currently eleven other queer members of the House. More importantly, we can be proud of how brightly Pete Buttigieg shines in American politics. 

 


I could question Santos’s gayness as some have. Apparently, it’s come out—no pun intended—that he was previously married to a woman. Further, his purported husband seems to have disappeared from public view, along with the wedding ring Santos wore. It’s clear that we don’t know who George Santos is. I’m not sure if even he knows.

 

If Santos is gay, so be it. That has nothing to do with why he needs to fade away. My frustration with political parties and the press don’t compare to my astonishment over George Santos himself and the lies he hath spun. He is ultimately responsible for the breadth of deceit. He must be held accountable. 

 

May we forget him as quickly as we’ve erased another disgraced Republican congressman, Aaron Schock, who came out in 2020, five years after his resignation. Don’t Google him. Let him live in his newfound obscurity. Let that be Santos’s ultimate fate as well.   

 

 

Monday, January 9, 2023

MOCK JOCK


My boyfriend, Evan, thinks I’m a jock. He tells me he got this impression when he first came across my photos on my OkCupid profile a year before I reached out and sent him a message. He figured I was a dumb sports dude and passed me over. 

 


There’s a whole lot wrong with that. Just being into sports doesn’t signify a diminished IQ. I’m supposed to say that. I’m supposed to disregard any impressions I get from inebriated guys watching games at the bar of a pizzeria I frequent. It’s the booze, not the basketball. They’d be just as avid fans if they drank straight tomato juice during the game, right? (As an aside, who put clam juice in a V8 and decided it was a thing?) 

 

The bigger issue is that Evan passed on me because I came off as a jock. Surely there were many reasons for guys on dating sites to dismiss me but me being some hardcore sports dude? How had I even conveyed that? I recall a photo of me cycling and one of me hiking and another of me at the beach, fully clothed, just smiling because it’s, you know, the beach. That’s my happy place. I wasn’t playing beach volleyball or jogging along the shore (which I do, often, when I travel). I wasn’t even hauling one of those metal detectors, which I presume to be heavy enough for a mild upper body workout, searching for gold or nickels or someone’s lost keys. 

 


In no way should the photo of me in the sand have given off a jock vibe. I think I was wearing a hoodie in the shot which, to Evan, is jock clothing. (Walk through Safeway and check out all the guys wearing hoodies while loading up on Doritos and pork rinds. That oughta destroy any jock connotation.) 

 

I suppose I wanted the biking and hiking pics to convey that I’m an active person, at least when not lounging in hoodies. Jock though? Me?!

 

The weird thing is that Evan still thinks I’m a jock. This after ten months of dating. It’s baffling.

 

I can say with 100% certainty that not a single person in elementary school, junior high or high school ever mistook me for a jock. Just the opposite. I went through physical education at a time when lame teachers assigned to people to be captains who then took turns picking classmates to make teams. I was always the last boy standing against the wall. If it was a good day, I’d get picked before Mary Novakovic. But then a lot of days weren’t good at all. Not in P.E. I can’t count all the times Stephen P. loud-whispered, “We lost because of you!” He said what the rest of the team was thinking.

 

Jock.

 

Um, it just sounds weird. Like calling me a Martian or a Muppet or a Fanilow. (Okay, I did own several Barry Manilow albums and I did see him in concert and I never change the radio station when “Mandy” comes on even if “Looks Like We Made It” is a better song though not as epic as “Weekend in New England.”) Maybe Fanilow fits, but I’m neither a Martian, nor a Muppet (even though I adore the Swedish Chef), nor a jock.

 


Evan begs to differ. The latest piece of evidence he’s holding over me is the fact that I just went to a college football bowl game, shelling out more than $1,200 Canadian to see my alma mater, TCU, beat Michigan at the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona. (This, incidentally, is the fifth time I’ve gone to a bowl game to watch TCU play.) I might have also gone to Los Angeles to see TCU play Georgia in the national championship today, but my bank account won’t cooperate. Honestly, I thought getting to the Fiesta Bowl was as good as it would get. Never thought we’d win. Isn’t that proof that I’m not a dumb jock? I’m realistic. I don’t go around boasting about My Team. I don’t wear jerseys to pretend I’m What’s His Name. (Really, I only knew the quarterback, Heisman Trophy runner-up, Matt Duggan, whom I called Max for the entire first half and whose last name I only realized I’d mispronounced when I saw the highlights on TV after the game.) 

 

Not a jock.

 

I think I watched the last ten minutes of one TCU football game in the regular season. Instead, I just checked out the scores online and watched the team move up the rankings in the weekly polls. It wasn’t much different than following the Billboard music charts which I’ve done ever since I was a kid listening to American Top 40 while my peers were outside playing baseball or throwing the football around or skateboarding in the neighborhood. (One scabbed knee from a tumble on the driveway was enough for me to let Tony Hawk have all the glory. For the record, I had to Google him, thinking he might be a surfer or racecar driver instead of a skateboarder.)  

 

I should add that I went to the football game with my two besties, both women, from my days at TCU. They are my bowl buddies. I should also say I didn’t drink beer at the game. I’m realizing now that I didn’t drink anything at all. Apparently, I think stadium refreshments are overpriced, but I’m a sucker for premium football tickets with hefty service fees. 

 


I think that makes me more of a dork than a jock, but I’m not going to enlighten Evan. If my boyfriend still thinks I’m a jock, I’m weirdly flattered. Hopefully, he’s cast aside the “dumb” descriptor. I don’t dare ask.

 

And one more thing:

 

Go Frogs!

 

 

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

O CHRISTMAS TREE


Throughout adulthood, I’ve had mixed feelings about Christmas. I’ve spent the holidays alone many times over the years, part choice, part default. It can be hard walking by every storefront and many a home, getting blasted with Christmas displays and messaging. Sometimes I just want a Wednesday in December to be like a Wednesday in August, only colder and, fingers crossed, maybe with a blanket of snow. 

 


I’m not a total humbug. I smile the first two or three times I hear “I Want a Hippopotamus” each year and I’ll never click the remote away from “Rudolph, the Red-nosed Reindeer.” Not even on a Wednesday in August. (Thanks, YouTube!) It also amuses me that some Proud Boy in South Carolina sang the line, “Don we now our gay apparel” today. I’m picturing a rainbow tie-dye tee and a Queer Eye baseball cap while the MAGA hat finally gets a run through the wash cycle. If the colors bleed, causing all the Fruit of the Loom undies and t-shirts to turn pink, so be it. Sugar plum faeries can be downright impish.

 

I haven’t decorated my home because I turfed all my decorations in early 2020. It wasn’t specifically a Christmas purge; rather, I pared down my possessions as I planned to move 4,400 kilometers from Vancouver to Toronto. Five days before the movers arrived, COVID shut down the world. The big move was off. I’d unnecessarily Marie Kondo’d my home. Whatever. 

 

The next two Christmases past without any thought of restocking stockings, twinkly lights or tinsel. I complied with COVID protocol, spending the day alone, trying not to react as people I knew posted Christmas dinner photos, a dozen smiley faces gathered ’round the table. They seemed to be saying, “Ha ha” instead of “Ho ho.” I rejoiced, knowing my credit card had been spared a spike on account of gift cards and travel expenses. Different things make different people jolly.

 


I surprised myself a couple of months ago as a Christmas decorating impulse popped in my head. I was walking by a park a block from home. It’s nothing more than a sliver of land, an empty lot next to a bridge, the grass trodden over, leaving mostly mud. I looked past the one dead tree, nothing more than a slim trunk and two barren branches, and stared at a blue spruce destined for a similar demise. It was twelve feet tall, but all its limbs had been cut off the lower half. It reminded me of a taller though somehow sadder version of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree. Yes, maybe I would decorate it come December if there weren’t a humbug infestation first. 

 

Graffiti on a wall at the tiny park

I walked by the pathetic park patch daily, the tree rarely registering since tents occupied by the homeless pulled focus due to their colorful tarps and people. Sometimes folks sat at a lone marked-up picnic table, rarely eating, more often looking drugged out or simply fatigued. I’ve read and heard plenty of judgment about people choosing to be homeless, as if living off food banks and a once-monthly measly welfare check is the high life. No work! What a gig! 

 

What a crock. I’ve lived in this neighborhood for nearly six years. It’s clear that life without proper shelter takes its toll.    

 

I’ve seen people in tents shuffled around, booted from one street or park to another without any longer-term solutions in the works. Many people fear or shun the homeless, but I see important social connections and “regular” ways of life...as regular as they can be while on the street amid mental health and addiction issues. 

 

I’m 100% safe walking through my neighborhood. As I observe interactions—laughter, chatter about the weather and gut-driven political rhetoric—I see people who have made connections in these clustered homeless communities. They’re making do with what they have…and don’t have.

 


When the first cold spell of winter hit Vancouver a few weeks ago, I was in Key West, appreciating the town’s efforts to get in the festive spirit with a Christmas parade and lawn signs like the only-in-your-dreams “Let It Snow” and the playful “Seas and Greetings.” My mind flashed to nameless people in tents only blocks away from my home. I don’t have the means to create permanent change to improve their lives; the problems are so complex. Still, maybe that blue spruce would brighten someone’s day or night. Maybe I could buy some simple decorations and spread a little holiday spirit.

 


The day I returned from Florida, I hit the local dollar store, bought some simple ornaments and garland, dragged out a ten-foot ladder from my building’s garage and made a tree so dreary a little bit cheery. 

 

It looked like the creation of some grader who wasn’t afraid of heights. I’d underestimated what I needed so only the front half of the tree was adorned. “A little bit cheery” can turn out sadder than what was there in the first place.

 


I made another trip to the store, stocking up on more garland and adding a treetop star to my shopping bag. After lugging the ladder another time, the Charlie Brown tree looked merry enough for me to hear the Peanuts gang perform “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” in my head. Maybe the tree would stir a happy Christmas moment in someone else’s mind, too.

 

Passing by a week later, the decorations remain in place, except for the lowest garland. I like to think someone reached up and tugged it down to adorn the winter jacket they picked up at Goodwill or retrieved as a treasured find from an alley dumpster. Maybe it hangs inside someone’s tent or is draped at the foot of a cot in an emergency shelter that opened when the temps dropped once again. 

 


That decorated tree makes me smile more than any display I could have created in my own home. When I see it, my Christmas wishes extend far beyond my own circumstances. I’m hoping there will be moments of joy for those who truly struggle, not just during the holidays, but throughout the year.

 

  

 

 

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

PONDERING PRONOUNS


It was bathrooms, then girls’ sports programs. Drag queen story hours remain a red-button issue, but pronouns are the new battleground. For people who neither understand nor support trans rights, new objections must be stirred up to keep the wedge issue hot. Haters can get bored, after all. In an atmosphere where politics has become an arena sport, tossing the villain to the mat loses its wow factor; you have to add a new move tantamount to throwing the enemy out of the ring. “They” is the latest buzzword to cause an all-out smackdown. 

 

I’m going to focus on another pronoun though: We. By that, I mean all of us in the queer community. We have got to get it together. We have got to speak up. We have got to be united.

 

I could provide a historically focused testimonial about how the LGBTQ community was far from united as I was coming out in Texas and California in the 80s and 90s. (That’s right, I needed two decades to come out. Such a drama queen!) Back then, it was gays and lesbians first. Bisexuals were widely disparaged and dismissed since wanting to have it both ways came off as clinging to a safety net. They were whom we spoke of as in transition. Per thinking of the time, eventually they’d grow their full faerie wings. 

 

Transgender people were an afterthought at best. I recall highly political gays regarding them as a distraction. If America didn’t know what to do with its fags and dykes, how would they ever get their heads around people who claimed to have the wrong genitalia? Some rationalized turning away from transgender rights by saying lesbians and gays were defined by sexuality while trans issues pertained to gender. At best, it seemed that a fight for trans rights would come later.

 

As objectionable as that was, it’s how things have played out. Conservatives are foaming over trans rights because it’s the last queer frontier. Yesterday, President Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law. Political and legal fights regarding gays and lesbians are slipping away. Rather than concede, conservatives are rallying against all things trans.

 


The fears of men claiming to be trans infiltrating women’s restrooms haven’t materialized. I haven’t read about ten-year-old kids born as Wayne or Chuck winning blue ribbons in girls’ potato sack races or taking the final spot on the girls high school basketball team. Waynes and Chucks don’t change gender willy nilly for the sake of a faux bronze medal that’ll be stuffed at the bottom of a sock drawer in three years’ time. 

 

Trans resisters oversimplify things to ridiculous levels because their disciples don’t know anyone who identifies as trans. Saying little boys want to take over girls’ sports gets digested as easily as telling them unicorns eat honey lavender croissants. (Wow, unicorns have good taste! That should be a thing…for non-unicorns, too.) Suddenly, a swarm of people who’ve never bothered to watch a single WNBA game or women’s soccer match feign concern over girls’ athletics. Hogwash. 

 

So it’s pronouns. It’s so easy to stir the pot. It doesn’t even matter that too many people don’t know what pronouns are. Yesterday, someone named Brigitte Gabriel tweeted, “Gender pronouns are just another form of communism.” Um, what? She didn’t stop there. “My pronouns are Impeach/Biden.” Oh, Brigitte. Political humor? My side is not splitting. So off the mark. She—oops, not her pronoun—Impeach/Biden could easily be dismissed as a random kook on Twitter, but Impeach/Biden has 741.9K followers. Her tweets got 9,897 and 19.3K likes, respectively. (Incidentally, Impeach/Biden also identifies as a National Security Expert. I’ll leave you to process that on your own.)  

 

This could devolve into a post about grammar. I must focus. 

 


We 
must focus. I believe we’re at a point in time when 99% of the LGBTQ community supports trans rights. Sometimes, however, we meander down unhelpful pronoun paths, especially those of us who are older. I used to criticize old cranks who couldn’t change with the times, but now I’m having to check myself more often. I’m aging into the Old Crank Zone. A few cases in point come instantly to mind: (1) I’m not going to call Facebook Meta; (2) Sorry, Johnny Depp, but Gene Wilder will always be Willy Wonka; and (3) I’m never having pumpkin-spiced coffee. Others may muck up their coffee if they so choose. (Don’t even get me started on matcha.)

 

Note to self: Breathe. Shake it out.

 

I’ve sat around too many café and pizza joint tables listening to gay guys my age resist the expanding menu of labels to consider regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. The basic argument: “In my day and time, I walked ten miles in the snow to school, got bullied as a plain ol’ faggot and finally came out as gay. I figured things out just fine without any demis, pans, aces or other cards. I was he/him, but friends could call me she or her after a couple martinis. It was always a good laugh…mostly because of the martinis.” Yep, my guys are sounding old.

 

Some of the newer terms may very well fit me better than the basic GAY label. I’ve been reading and processing things, but I may stick with “gay” simply because it was the only term that made sense when I went through that prolonged work and angst in coming out. I came out many times to various people with varying results. Coming out anew with some clarifying modifications feels exhausting. Maybe that’s the age thing again.

 

I will admit that I initially tripped up on having to announce my pronouns during Zoom meetings and during in-person events. It even brought back bad memories. I imagined myself back in high school in East Texas. If I’d had to state my name and pronouns during one of the many classes taught by disinterested football coaches, there’d have been unchecked snickers after I identified as “he/him.” I can even picture my nemesis, Keith, raising his hand once a week and saying, “Coach, can we sit in a circle and reintroduce ourselves with our pronouns again. I’m real bad with names.” It’d be a setup for the old he/him joke again. Almost more hysterical than someone fake(?) farting to Keith and his gang. As a highly anxious/sensitive kid, fear of pronoun putdowns would have been to blame for acne breakouts. (Surely it couldn’t have been all the Diet Dr. Pepper.)

 


I also struggled for a moment with “they/them,” not because I wanted to deny someone’s trans, nonbinary or gender-fluid status, but because of the grammatical adjustment. It was about singular versus plural. Long before some queer people adopted they/them, I denied a growing acceptance for “they” representing a single person. I clung to the awkward “he/she” instead of “they” in sentences like, “If someone wants a pumpkin-spiced latte, he/she can at least drink it without slurping or resorting to orgasmic moans.” I can now admit that “they” sounds better than “he/she” in that sentence. We’ve been using the traditionally plural pronoun “they” to refer to a single, unknown person of either or any gender for a long time now. Why does everyone forget that?

 


Language evolves, grammar changes and, yes, pronouns aren’t static either. I don’t think I’ve used “thee” or “thou” in conversation all year and I’m hoping the royal we continues its slow death. (Ah, yes. Another example of a typically plural pronoun taking on a singular persona. I wish for its demise not on the basis of a singular versus plural stance but rather due to the stuffy arrogance it conveys.) Personally, I’d have preferred that the pronouns ze/zir gained more traction for trans, nonbinary and gender-fluid folks. New pronouns, new recognition. Why co-opt an existing pronoun, causing added confusion and overwrought resistance? Alas, I’m not the pronoun police. Furthermore, even though I’m not much of a he-man, I’m not typically viewed as someone who might check “Other” for gender on a questionnaire. Regarding their preferred pronouns, it’s not my choice to make.

 

When we continue to bitch about the awkwardness of using “they/them” for people who don’t identify as cisgender, we play into the hands of trans haters and, more broadly, queer haters. A conservative who flatly rejects the possibility that God may have bestowed the wrong genitalia at birth, will cite the cranky fifty-year-old gay who purports to be frazzled, inconvenienced and even affronted by “they/them” as chosen pronouns. “I’m not a hater,” Vern will say. “The gays don’t like these pronoun contortions either.” All the while, nonbinary, gender-fluid and trans individuals remain subject to cheap shots, ridicule and far worse. 

 


Make the change. Practice during commercials while “The Andy Griffith Show” each afternoon. For fun, pretend Opie is nonbinary. Or Barney Fife. Maybe Auntie Bee. Heck, refer to each of them as they. It’s a way to add some zing to watching reruns.      

 

Recognize you’ll mess up sometimes. You’ll be corrected, sometimes in a manner that seems to be delivered with impatience and contempt. I seem to recall taking a similar tone when my mother would suggest I try dating girls. When we flub, they may very well view us as being contrary or not trying hard enough. 

 


I’m certain that any offense I take in being corrected for a pronoun flub pales to the hardships they have encountered and will continue to encounter. I’ll strive to get it right more. Much more. I know using “they/them” represents acceptance. Let only the true haters bemoan pronoun updates.

 

To those of you who identify as queer or an LGBTQ ally, it’s time we fully support them, a pronoun in this case I’m using both singularly and plurally.

 

  

 

   

Friday, December 2, 2022

THE SHADOW THAT HATE CASTS


Strange time to be in northern Colorado. I made it through the whole Meet the Parents week which included an open house and a Thanksgiving dinner. I could feel the scrutiny, every move and non-move being analyzed. Most of the time, I think I passed muster; a few times, I came off as disinterested or passive. Although Americans and Canadians are similar, there are subtle differences and my classically Canadian reserved nature, mixed with neither wanting to intrude nor being able to shake bouts of introversion, seemed a potent recipe for baffling friends and family who so love my boyfriend. Evan has no problem filling a room with his sense of style and his ability to keep people engaged. So what could he possibly see in me? They may never get it. Still, Evan loves me and that’s what matters.

 


I was in my head a lot, not so much trying to figure out Evan’s upbringing, but instead trying to make sense of the current state of being gay in America once drifting beyond the Left/West Coast. As Evan’s parents drove us from the Denver airport to Fort Collins, I saw a sign for Laramie, a town in Wyoming, only known to me as the place a young, gay man, Matthew Shepard, was beaten and left tied to a fence outside of town. He died six days later at a hospital in Fort Collins. This was a notorious hate crime before anti-gay attacks could be designated as such under federal legislation or Wyoming state law. That was long ago, I told myself. 1998. So much has changed. 

 

Two days later, however, news broke of the shootings at Club Q in Colorado Springs, another town not so far from where we were staying. In an instant, it felt like not much had changed at all. Queer people remain the object of hate for, not the majority of Americans, but still for millions of them. Politicians and news personalities play up hate, fueling fear with misinformation comprised of vial lies and cheap shots. 

 


I wanted to go to a vigil. I wanted queer people in Colorado Springs to feel supported and loved. Selfishly, I suppose I also wanted to feed off that communal love to push me to call out hate and shake the complacency I’d fallen into, holding hands so freely with Evan when we’re in Seattle and Vancouver. Our obligations didn’t allow time to attend. We hadn’t left space on the social calendar for events following a mass shooting. Go figure.

 


After a couple more days, we took a break from Evan’s family and friends, staying at a place in rural Wyoming, not far out of Cheyenne but, under the circumstances, feeling too remote. During a morning jog, the cold wind whipping my face as I headed along a road leading to a hamlet, I wondered who was in the pickup trucks that passed me. Was my stride too gay? Maybe my blond highlights were a dead giveaway. Rather than peer into the trucks, I glanced at tumbleweeds caught in wire fencing that paralleled the road. This wasn’t Laramie, but it was the same state. Matthew came to mind again.

 

When we left Wyoming and pulled back into the driveway at Evan’s parents’ home in Fort Collins, I noticed a sign in the front yard. Had it been there before? Had I grown too accustomed to the message so it hadn’t registered? 

More EQUALITY

More HOPE

More HUMANITY

More PRIDE

More ACCEPTANCE

More LOVE

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

            --MLK

 


The next day, I did another run, this time noticing a more common sign, one that I’ve seen in Bellingham, Seattle and Portland over the past several years. While initially heartened by its display in windows and on lawns of homes and shops, I’d gotten to a point of taking it for granted just as I do a security sign sticking out of someone’s front garden, a rainbow sticker on a store’s door or a going out of business banner dangling below a rug store’s awning. When something nears the point of being omnipresent, it becomes meaningless.

 

Until its meaning feels urgently important once again. These were positive signs in Fort Collins.

 

I suppose I’m an alarmist. There was reason to be more aware of my surroundings, but I’d been too infected by the culture of hate that plays in the news and on social media from the state that turned away from Liz Cheney and the land of gunslinging Lauren Boebert. Colorado was fine, Wyoming was fine. In fact, everything was better than fine. While Evan and I walked the relatively empty streets of downtown Cheyenne, we stopped for a selfie under a shop sign that depicted cowboys riding horses. As I stretched and strained, holding out the camera to get everything in the frame, a real cowboy rushed toward us. “Do you want me to take your photo?” he said. It was a simple gesture, offered in the friendliest tone. Kindness trumps, well…Trumpism. If anything, people I came across during my stay were more openly warm than in either Vancouver or Seattle.

 

In Canada, we rarely talk politics and certainly not with acquaintances. I don’t know who my friends and relatives voted for in the last municipal, provincial or federal election. We stick to other mundane topics like traffic, weather and where to get a good cup of coffee. (We mostly agree that it’s not Tim Hortons.) I feel things would be better in the U.S. if people’s political views were kept more private as well. At present, it’s a reflex action to shun and even ridicule people who align with The Other Party. Humanity takes a back seat to the blood sport of political potshots.  

 


Unfortunately, there is no sign of Americans turning down the volume on politics. As long as anti-gay rhetoric is spewed, it must be challenged and refuted. Hopefully, we can forgo responding to hate with our own hate. Queers coined Love Is Love. Let’s spread the sentiment beyond marriage equality. We can be thoughtful and strategic in working to make hate crimes a thing of the past, once and for all.