Sep 3, 2016

Body Shaming, Bullying, and Just Being Mean

You grow up an outsider, constantly excluded, demeaned, and ridiculed for being gay.

You're called names, yelled at, told that you're a sinner, a pervert, a monster striving to destroy the society, as well as a frilly little lacy thing fit only for doing manicures and shopping for shoes.  You long for things to get better.  You long to find a place where you belong, a home.  And one day, you arrive.  You escape from the grim homophobia of the Straight World, find you way to West Hollywood or the East Village or another gay neighborhood.

Open up the closet door, watch out, here I come!

A new guy, nervous, scared, wounded from a lifetime of homophobia, but certain that here you will find friendship and love.

Instead, you are excluded, demeaned, and ridiculed.

Gay men -- your family, the place where you belong -- stare, snicker, and gossip about you.

Everyone travels in tightly-closed cliques, impossible break into unless you're dating one of them.

And dating is impossible.  The competition is rough, and you are constantly being rejected, for the most trivial of reasons,

You're too tall or too short, too fat or too thin,too old or too young.  Your chest is too hairy or too smooth.  Your penis is too small.  Your ears are too big.

I've never been shamed for my weight or size, but when I was a teen I got it for being too swishy, in West Hollywood I got it for having a red birthmark on the back of my neck (of all the crazy things to notice!).  In the last few months my age has been starting to cause some "instant blocks" on dating apps.

I've never understood why many gay men are so quick to demean their brothers for a physical trait that they have no control over, as if it is a moral failure or evidence of weakness of character.

You don't get a small penis because you are a bad person or have an inadequate personality.  It's purely a matter of genetics.  And there's nothing whatever you can do about it.

You can't help getting older. It is a fact of life, not evidence of a moral shortcoming.

If you are fat or thin, you can theoretically go to the gym, but for many people weight management is very, very difficult, a life-long struggle with their metabolism.

Demeaning and rejecting someone on the basis of his physical appearance is known as body shaming today, but back in West Hollywood, we called it "being mean."

It's a form of violence.  It sends a clear message that the person being shamed does not deserve friendship or love, should not be seen in public, indeed does not deserve to exist at all.

That's a very strong message to be sending with a sneer.

In West Hollywood, my friends and I never refused to interact with people based on their physical traits.  If they said "hello," we said "hello."  And if asked to share a friend's boyfriend, we never refused.  It was basic courtesy.

This is a new world, but still, there are ways to be inclusive and welcoming without going home with guys you find unattractive.

1. Remove specific requirements from your online dating profile.  Reading "must be height-weight-proportionate, hung, under 30, masculine" over and over is like getting a dozen rejections without even talking to anyone.  Don't mention your tastes in men at all.  You won't be inundated by gorgons, believe me -- you're not all that. And it won't kill you to chat with someone skinny, swishy, small beneath the belt, or over 30.

2. Save Attitude for the rude guys.  In public cruising spots, people often give Attitude, pretend not to see, guys they are not attracted to.  Again, you can feel rejected a dozen times without ever interacting with anyone.  Save you Attitude for guys who make crass, boorish come-ons, and deserve to be ignored.

3. Talk to guys outside your comfort zone.  If you usually hang around with bodybuilders, talk to a fat guy.  If you like them under 30, talk to a 60 year old.  You'll find that they aren't much different from your usual contacts.  They have the same desires, dreams, hopes, and fears as everyone else.

4. Find something to like in everybody.  The most hideous guy on the planet has something attractive about him.  He tells bad jokes, has an interest in Star Wars memorabilia, or he spent a summer in Brazil.

If nothing else, he has survived a childhood of incessant attempts to force him to comform to the heterosexist mandate or kill himself.  He's still here.  That, in itself, is impressive.

5. Don't reject guys automatically.  Sure, you are especially attracted to guys who are muscular, hairy-chested, big beneath the belt, big-eared, between 40 and 50 years old, and have pierced nipples. Goatees and hook earrings are an immediate turn-off.  But the gay world is small, and there aren't ,many guys who will fit your exact requirements, be into you and available, and have personalities that you can stand.

Try someone who does not fit your ideal of the perfect man. It won't kill you, and afterwards, if you still don't like him, no harm done.

6. Reject guys based on social criteria.  If you must reject someone, before or after a hookup,  say "sorry, I don't think our personalities are compatible" or "sorry, I don't think we have enough in common," not "you're too fat" or "your penis is too small."  That is, something that is no one's fault, rather than a physical inadequacy.

The uncensored post, with nude photos, is on Tales of West Hollywood

Sep 2, 2016

O.J Simpson and Kato Kaelin: a Gay Connection?

O.J. Simpson was a celebrity of the 1970s and 1980s, a football player turned actor.

I didn't know him from his football days, of course, but I saw him in movies like The Cassandra Crossing (1978), Goldie and the Boxer (1979), Back to the Beach (1987), and The Naked Gun (1988), as well as the famous Hertz Car Rental commercial where he flies across an airport lobby.

He was rumored to be gay, but none of my friends in West Hollywood claimed to have hooked up with him; he wasn't that big a star.

On June 13th, 1994, his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were found murdered outside Nicole's house.

At the time, model and aspiring restauranteur  Ron Goldman was identified as an unrelated passerby, but later he was identified as Nicole's friend, who had come to return a pair of glasses that her mother left at his restaurant.

O.J. was charged with the murders, and for the next year, the "trial of the century" was nearly all we talked about.  We heard the defense and the prosecution, knew all of the players in the courtroom, speculated that O.J. had a romantic relationship going on with his houseguest, aspiring actor Kato Kaelin (played by Billy Magnusson in a tv movie).

Kato became a celebrity in his own right, with interviews and photo spreads.  Later he claimed that he and O.J. were never close friends. No word on whether he is gay or not, but he was briefly married to a woman, and has a child.

It was a hugely polarizing trial: most African-Americans thought that O.J. was innocent, and being railroaded.  Most whites thought he was guilty.

He was acquitted on October 3, 1995, for lack of evidence "beyond a reasonable doubt."  A civil trial, where the burden of proof is lower, found him liable for the murders.

13 years later, he was convicted of several counts of robbery and kidnapping for breaking into the hotel room of a sports memorabilia and drug dealer, an incident parodied on Breaking Bad.

I don't know if O.J. is gay in real life, but apparently his father, Jimmy Lee Simpson, who died in 1986, was.  The family kept his gayness a secret.

There is a nude photo of O.J. on Tales of West Hollywood.

Meanwhile, want to see Billy Magnussen in his underwear?

Aug 31, 2016

Chaim Potok: The Gay Jewish Romeo and Juliet

During my junior year in high school (1976-77), our English teacher assigned My Name is Asher Lev (1972), the novel by Chaim Potok about a Hasidic Jewish boy torn between his artistic talent and his extremely conservative religious heritage.

I could relate: I was being torn between my artistic interests and my extremely conservative religious heritage (no theater, no movies, no science fiction, no rock music, no nothing but church and the Bible).

And I didn't miss the fact that Asher Lev displays no heterosexual interests.  He does, however, become the apprentice of established artist Jacob Kahn, who teaches him about life and love, an interesting parallel to the "coming of age" movies that pair a young boy with an older woman.

I quickly sought out Chaim Potok's other works.  The Chosen (1967) is also about culture clash, but this time it's the Orthodox Reuven bonding with the Hasidic Danny (played by Robby Benson in the 1981 movie).  The novel follows them from their initial meeting at a baseball game (where Danny's pitch hits Reuven in the eye).

They remain partners to college, where Reuven's Zionism angers Danny's father, Rabbi Saunders (Hasidic Jews believe that establishing a secular state in Israel is blasphemous). He forbids Danny from speaking to Reuven again.

Danny complies, but the loss of his life-long friend has a devastating effect.  After years of anger, depression, and pain, Rabbi Saunders relents, and the two joyfully reconcile.

I finished the novel, speechless.  An amazing, touching Romeo and Juliet story!

(Robby Benson isn't shirtless in the movie, but it's impossible to write about him without at least one shirtless photo.)

How did a conservative Jewish writer manage to create two touching portraits of same-sex romance?

Certainly not by design.  But maybe the gender-stratified world of Hasidic Judaism, where men rarely interact with women outside their families, left a space free of the  heterosexist shouts of "Look at the girls!  Aren't girls great! Aren't you glad that you are attracted to girls, like every other boy in the world?"  When heterosexism stops yelling, gay voices can be heard.

Aug 30, 2016

12 Things to Like About Autumn

It's only the 30th of August, still summer according to the sidereal calendar, but in the real world calendar, classes have started, so it's autumn.  My favorite season of the year.

1. Everything is new.  New jobs, new classes, new students, new books, new clothes, new shows on tv, new theater and symphony seasons.  New muscular physiques and bulges to gawk at.

2. Everything is busy. The mind-numbing boredom of summer is replaced by days packed with activity.  Every moment  is vibrant and alive.

3. It gets crowded.  The mind-numbing loneliness of summer is replaced by crowds of people, returning from their conferences, vacations, visits to relatives, and various excursions, ready to hang out with you again.

4. It gets cool, so you can jog a few miles without getting soaked.

5. You can stay inside.  People stop longer pressuring you to spend every waking moment outside.  No more hot, fly-infested, uncomfortable picnics, no more sitting on lawn chairs and swatting mosquitos. It's cold out --- go ahead, stay inside and watch tv.

6. Football.  I don't like watching football, but I like watching football fans.

7. A regular gym schedule. The disruptions of summer are over, so you can get back into a regular gym schedule.  And so can dozens of other gym rats for you to sneak peaks at in the locker room.

8. The trees change.  After two decades in Los Angeles and Florida, where they didn't, it's quite a spectacle.

9. The days get shorter. The sun sets at a normal time, instead of that ungodly 8:00 or 9:00 pm.

10. The best holidays, Halloween and Thanksgiving.  Not to mention my birthday.

11. You can eat again without worry.  Have an apple cider donut or piece of pumpkin pie.  Your cute sweaters and lumberjack shirts will cover it up, anyway.

12. Snow is coming soon.

See also: 10 Things I Hated About Summer and Playing Outside.

Aug 29, 2016

Hippolytus, the Gay Charioteer of Greek Myth

In Greek myths, Hippolytus, a chariot devotee (similar to today's auto racers), was the son of Theseus (who killed the Minotaur).  After he rejected the advances of his stepmother Phaedra, she told Theseus that he raped her, whereupon Theseus asked the god Poseidon called up a sea monster to terrorize Hippolytus'  horses and drag him to his death.

In the Euripides play Hippolytus (428 BC), we learn why Phaedra was so interested in the lad.  He rejected Aphrodite, the emblem of heterosexual love, for Artemis, the "chaste" goddess of the hunt.  Angry at the slight -- how dare there be any non-heterosexuals in the world! -- Aphrodite caused Phaedra to fall in love with him, thus leading to his death (this is a scene from a performance at the National Theater of Athens).

Jean Racine's Phèdre (1677) gives Hippolytus a girlfriend, Aricia.  This ballet version stars Slovenian dancer Tadej Brdik (left)

The 1962 film version, directed by Jules Dassin, stars gay actor Anthony Perkins as the son of a shipping magnate (Raf Vallone) who has a consensual -- but doomed -- romance with his stepmother (Melina Mercouri).

Several artists have depicted the death of Hippolytus, so they can show straining muscles and minimal clothing.  Peter-Paul Rubens (1577-1640) shows us a beefy specimen, part of his cloak transformed into a faux phallus.

Pierre Subleyras (1699-1749) depicts several guys thrown from the chariot.  Hippolytus must have been riding with a coterie of boyfriends.

I don't know why his wrists are tied.

Joseph Désiré Court (1797-1865) goes about as far as he can go.  I think it's hidden by a stirrup.

Aug 28, 2016

Converting the Fundamentalist Boy

Upstate, September 2010

The Freshman came into Sociology of Religion class ready for a fight.  I knew all the signs.

He was Hispanic, tall, broad-shouldered, with short dark hair, dark skin, and a round open face.  A muscular physique, but not a football player.

Intense, one of those front-of-the-room hand-raisers.  The first to get to class, pull out his notebook, and sit with his pen ready to take notes. And frown with disgust at everything I said.

He rarely interacted with the girls in the class, always sitting next to boys and choosing boys for partnered work.  Probably gay.  Maybe he didn't know it yet.

There was a King James Bible atop all of his other books, even though the Bible was not one of the required texts for the class.

I knew where he was coming from.  I grew up fundamentalist, with three sermons per week that were mostly quoted Bible passages, Sunday school and NYPS classes that were mostly Bible studies, plus extra points for reading your Bible daily and extra extra points for carrying it around so you could witness to the world.

We were told that the Bible was literally dictated by God, word for word, to the human authors. We didn't even call it the Bible, usually.  We said God's Word.

Obviously if God wrote it, it had to be perfect, flawless, with no errors, no mistakes, no lies.

If the Bible said the world was created in six days, obviously that's what happened.  God would know, wouldn't he?

Methuselah lived for 969 years.  Check.
There were 2 or 7 of each animal on Noah's Ark.  Check.
Joshua caused the sun to stand still.  Check.

It took me years to acknowledge that Mark 13 didn't exist in the earliest manuscripts, that the book of Daniel contains words that didn't exist at the time of Daniel, that some of the Pauline Epistles were written in a polished, erudite Greek totally unlike that of the Apostle Paul.  That none of the writers of the Bible expected it to be taken literally.

This Freshman was just starting his journey.  He had stormed into the classroom ready to defend God's Word against attacks, probably planning to win the souls of the Professor and the entire class.

 I had to work carefully.  I didn't want the Freshman storming out of the class in anger and dropping.  If he was gay, he needed this class.  Most internalized homophobia is due to a mistaken belief that the Bible promotes anti-gay hatred.

My tactic: don't dispute the literal meaning of the Bible.  Turn it against him.

I started slowly, with an easy one: the story of Sodom.

"None of the Biblical writers thought that the sin of Sodom was same-sex activity,"  I said.  "It was a lack of hospitality to strangers."

The Freshman's hand shot up.  "What about Jude 7, which says that the Sodomites were punished with eternal damnation for going after 'strange flesh.'"

"Strange flesh, sarkos heteros in Greek, wouldn't mean same-sex acts -- hetero means 'different.'  It probably means an attempt to have sex with strangers."

On like that.  Leviticus.  Thou shalt not lie with man as with woman.  Abomination refers to ritual impurity in ancient Judaism, like eating pork or mixing cotton and linen fibers.

Romans: Men burned with lust toward one another.  The Apostle Paul was referring to a specific case in which heterosexual men engaged in same-sex acts.  He was not aware of the existence of gay men.

Colossians:  arsenokoitai and malakoi shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.  "Homosexuals" is a mistranslation.   Arsenokoitai is a vulgar slang term, similar to our assholes, meaning basically jerks.  Malakoi means "soft."

The Freshman looked like his head would explode.  He frowned, sighed, thumbed furiously through his King James Bible.

"But it says 'effeminate!'  That must mean gay!"

"We need to look at the original Greek manuscripts, not a translation."

"But God guides the hand of the translators, so it means exactly the same thing in English as in Greek!"

And on and on.  Sometimes it felt like the class was taking place between me and the Freshman, with the other students merely onlookers.

The breakthrough came when I mentioned the MCC, a gay Christian denomination.

"It must be weird going to church when God hates you," the Freshman said, "Singing praises the God who is going to send you to Hell.  How can they deal with it?"

I was getting annoyed by his pig-headedness.  "They don't think God is a bigot," I said.  "Their reasoning is, why would God be homophobic?  Or prejudiced against any minority group?  Actually, a large number of Protestant denominations agree: Episcopalians, Lutherans, Baptists..."

A few days later, the Freshman showed up during my office hours.

"Do you happen to have the address of that gay Christian church?" he asked.  "I want to go there to them."

"There are several hundred in the United States.  The closest is in Albany.  But be careful -- you'll be outnumbered.  The congregation numbers around five hundred."

"Five hundred!  Come on -- you're exaggerating.  There aren't that many gays in the world!"

We moved on to other topics for the rest of the semester, so I didn't know if the class helped the Freshman overcome his homophobia or not (the quiz questions were all neutral).  He got a B+, and vanished, like students usually do.

Late in the spring semester, the Freshman came into my office again.  "Thanks for telling me about the MCC," he said.

"Did you find your visit enlightening?"

He grinned.  "You could say that.  I'm dating the pastor."

Hey, these stories can't all be about me hooking up.  I do have other interests, you know.

The uncensored post is on Tales of West Hollywood

See also: The Bible, Christianity, and Homosexuality at
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