Jul 18, 2015

Mad Max: Beyond Homophobia

I've been watching the Mad Max movies.  Well, sort of watching them -- they're 90% Wacky Races, colorful post-Apocalyptic figures in weird cars chasing each other through the Australian desert.

With an obvious good vs. evil plotline, and guess what?  The good guys are all patiently described as straight, and the bad guys as over-the-top gay.

Mad Max (1979), set in an Australia that just started to break down, pits good, noble, uber-heterosexual Family Man Max, who has a wife and daughter, against an outlaw gang of mohawk-haired gay guys who hug and kiss all over each other.

Oddly enough, Max wears a leather-fetish outfit that looks like it belongs on Folsom Street.

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), is set about 10 years after the Apocalypse, with the kind, gentle, white-clad, and uber-heterosexual residents of Gasoline Town hounded by a gang of post-Apocalyptic gays.  Their leaders look like refugees from Folsom Street.

There's also an explicit gay couple, the psycho Wezand and his boyfriend//slave, the Golden Youth, who gets killed.

The heterosexuals escape and flee north to a heterosexual future.

Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985), the only one of the franchise I saw at the time of its release, stars gay-fave Tina Turner as Aunty Entity, leader of an evil Bartertown full of grotesque gay men.

By now AIDS is in the news, so the gay men are all diseased, like this leather-clad, tattooed Angry Anderson with his drag-queen totem.

But Max shuts it down, with the help of a group of kids and hunky teenagers  living in a heterosexual Blue Lagoon Paradise.  They fly off to the fabled Tomorrow-morrowland and a heterosexual future.  In the last scene, they've all reproduced.

How many different ways are there to demonize gay people?

Looks like three.

Jul 16, 2015

Who Says Childhood is the Best Time of Our Lives?

After reading about the 38 gay events  from my childhood  -- marrying the boy next door, seeing my cousin Joe naked,  getting kissed by a boy vampire, slow dancing in the school gym, my boyfriend Bill -- you might get the impression that I grew up in a homoerotic Eden, with muscular guys torn out of their shirts around every corner, all waiting for me to hug, kiss, or fondle them.

But those events are memorable because they were rare.  There were countless days of boredom, fear, and misery.  Life was rough, and there was no hint that it would ever get better.

1. Gender policing was constant.  Boys could reveal that they were really "girls," and therefore reprehensible, by carrying their books wrong, by wearing the wrong socks, by using the wrong words (greetings consisted of "H'lo," not "Hi," and we used last names, not first names.)

2. Thus opening themselves up for a barrage of physical assaults from Mean Boys and miscellaneous bullies.  And the adults never intervened.  "You will be fighting every day for the rest of your life," they said.  "You must learn to defend yourself."

3. Even more oppressive was the utter lack of civility in children's culture.  You found a small group of friends and clung together to ward off the constant jibes and insults from members of other groups.

4. No one knew, or let on, that same-sex desire, behavior, or romance could exist.  Same-sex friendships were portrayed as trivial, inconsequential, always abandoned instantly and without hesitation for the pursuit of the feminine.

5. That pursuit of the feminine was expected to be, or to soon become, our sole reason for living. So the interrogation of "What girl do you like?"  What girl do you like?" never ended.

It got better.  By high school, the gender policing was minimal -- it was ok to play in the orchestra, or say "delicious," or wear white socks.  The physical assaults ended.  Members of different cliques began to treat each other civilly.

But still, same-sex desire, behavior, or romance was never mentioned, presumed not to exist, and the "What girl do you like" interrogation intensified day by day, year by year.

That's why I hated it when a nostalgia-minded adult exclaimed "This is the best time of your life!  All joy and freedom, no problems, no responsibilities!"  I still do.

Where did that idiotic idea come from, anyway?

I blame Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), who disputed then then-current view of children as born evil, infested with original sin.  He proclaimed that they were "noble savages," untrained but endowed with the best of human nature.

By the time of the Romantic Era (1815), William Wordsworth was proclaiming that we come down from heaven "trailing clouds of glory."  Only later do "shades of the prison-house" close upon us.

During the late 19th century, more and more children were attending school instead of going to work, and gradually adults and children began to inhabit different spheres. They had different daily activities, games, toys, books, music; children were shielded from knowledge of sex and death, shielded, indeed, from any knowledge of adults except for relatives and childcare professionals.  And the adults began to look back at that separate child sphere with nostalgic longing.

Lewis Carroll was only 28 years old when he wrote:
I'd give all the wealth that years have piled, the slow result of life's decay,
To be once more a little child for one bright summer day.

But the worst offender is "The Barefoot Boy," by John Greenleaf Whitter (1851), which millions of schoolkids were forced to memorize by adults trying to impress upon them that their lives were perfect.

You've probably heard of it, or some of its many parodies, such as Max Shulman's humorous novel, Barefoot Boy with Cheek

But have you actually read it?  It's awful, even worse than James Whitcomb Rileys stuff.  It's about a "barefoot boy with cheek of tan" who wanders around the countryside, investigating woodchucks, moles, tortoises, orioles, and wasps, which is something a thousand times better than anything adults do.  The moral: we are born with an intimate connection to the natural world, but when we grow up, life stinks.

Ok, I never did any of those things when I was a kid, and the only cheeks of tan I was interested in were in a different part of the anatomy.

Jul 13, 2015

The Sacrifice of Isaac

One of the most horrifying stories in the Bible is the Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22).

You probably remember it: God tells Abraham to kill his son.  So he takes Isaac out into the woods, ties him up, raises the knife -- then, at the last moment, an angel appears and says something like "Hah, hah, fooled you -- God was just kidding!  Here's a lamb for you to kill instead!"

When I was a Nazarene, no Sunday school teacher or preacher ever tried to explain the historical/cultural context of the story, how human sacrifice was commonplace, and some gods, such as Dagon, actually did demand children.

They didn't try to distinguish Abraham's act from the many crazy things people did today because "God told me to."  Or wonder about what kind of God would play such a dirty trick.

Instead, they just praised Abraham for his unquestioning obedience, and drew a parallel with Jesus: .  God wants to kill every one of us, but Jesus offered to take our place, so God killed him instead.

That didn't make me feel more comfortable.

I found it a example of the savagery beneath the heterosexist imperative: everyone said that fathers were wise, loving, and benevolent, but at any moment they could turn violent.  And then say God told them to.

That didn't make me feel more comfortable, either.

According to the Biblical account, Isaac was sixteen years old at the time, already an adult in the eyes of his community.  But the Sunday school teachers and preachers always envisioned him as a very little boy, too young to understand what was going on.

I preferred the illustration in my Children's Story Bible (top photo): a very muscular, grown-up Isaac with a handsome teen-idol face, naked except for a little white cloth, tied up with his arms behind his back, like Bomba the Jungle Boy.

Other artists have generally depicted a grown-up Isaac: an ideal opportunity to paint muscular male bodies.  Gregorio Lazzarini shows Isaac fully nude, and transforms Abraham into a muscle daddy.

Jacopo Ligozzi's version (left) even has a penis showing.

See also: Bible Beefcake.

Jul 12, 2015

The Princess: Sometimes Boys are Girls

Sometimes boys are girls.

Eight-year old Sarah may have male physiology, but who cares?  She has been telling her family that she is a girl since she learned to talk.

Her father and aunt are ok with the dresses, the female pronouns, and the name "Sarah."  Her mother, not so much; she insists on boy-clothes and the name "Seth," hoping desperately that "it's just a phase."

Nope, not a phase.  Sarah is a girl, and every girl has a right to be a Princess.

While Mom is busy fretting over her child's future of bullying, transphobia, loneliness, and angst, Sarah is negotiating grade school admirably.

She has a coterie of friends:
1.  Irma, a cisgirl who likes superheroes, monster movies, and wearing boys' clothes (cis means that your physiology and gender identity match).
2.  Jordan, a teenage transboy who sometimes babysits (Mom doesn't realize that he's trans)
3. Chuck, a cisboy with a crush on Sarah.

Actually, it's the non-trans-related situtions that make the strip.  It's no big deal: Sarah is a girl.  Any questions?  Ok, then let's get on with the story.  In this case, Sarah and her friends playing restaurant.

This is one of the funniest child-oriented comic strips out there, on a par with Soup to Nutz and Frazz.  

And, with its G-rated humor, perfect for gender-atypical kids of any age (and gender-typical kids, too).

Christine Smith has been publishing the webcomic The Princess twice a week since 2009 (older strips are archived on The Duck).  There's a collection available through Prism Comics.

See also: Dykes to Watch Out For.
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