Masc 4 Masc

Well, it’s been a good run (no it hasn’t) but it is finally time for me to be cancelled and evicted from the blogosphere. Today I shall defend the Masc 4 Masc guys, and in the process address Sixpence’s feigned befuddlement at the fixation many gay men have with having sex with straight men. (He is still a dear, though.)

The core of the argument is simple: when we signed up to be male homosexuals, not all of us were on the same page. Some of us correctly thought that to be homosexual was to be attracted to other homosexuals; others of us mistakenly believed that to be homosexual was to be attracted to men. We committed the sin of fetishizing secondary sex characteristics typically associated with masculinity: deep voices, body hair, British accents, big muscles, Walking Dead T-shirts, questionable skincare regimes, and the stoicism borne of being out of touch with one’s feelings. We had a conception in our brains of what “masculine” meant, and that is what drew us like moths to a flame.

But then God played a cruel trick on us. He didn’t make us macho and butch. He gave us lilting voices, affinities for showtunes and dance, emotional sensitivity. We talked with our hands and cried in public. With enough effort we could look butch: we could work out at the gym and spend hours each day pushing body hair out of reluctant follicles. We could put on Toyota caps and “forget” to shave our scruff. But it would never be good enough. As the old insult goes, “he looked so butch until he opened his mouth and a purse fell out.”

But you know who can be butch and macho, seemingly without effort? That’s right. Straight guys. I agree with Sixpence: straight guys are probably no good in bed. But that’s almost beside the point. Sooner or later, we all learn that — like potato chips and chocolate bars — straight guys are bad for us. That does little to stop the craving, even though we would be better off with a plate of steamed broccoli instead.

Since straight guys are off-limits, what are we left with? Our fellow homosexuals. So we seek out the butchest, most masculine specimens available in the dating pool, because — for better or for worse — that is what we find attractive. Enter Masc 4 Masc.

There are some gays for whom stereotypical masculinity comes easily. Some of them are genuinely into sportsball and motorcycles. Some of them naturally assume body language and vocal mannerisms that fly under other people’s gaydar. They are the lucky ones — at least to those of us attracted to them. For the rest of us, it takes effort. Some element of Masc 4 Masc is a contract: “I am attracted to masculine men, and I have to work hard at appearing masculine myself, so I am looking for a partner who will make the same commitment.” If this sounds like the demands many people make of their partners to stay fit and attractive, that’s not a coincidence. There is a reason the catchphrase is “no fats, no femmes”.

Is being Masc 4 Masc okay? That’s where things get complicated.

Just a Phase

We often mock the Masc 4 Masc crowd on the same grounds that we mock bisexuals: they are just phases reflecting internalized homophobia and reluctance to accept one’s gay identity. Believe it or not, some of us don’t come out as gay right away. Instead, we test the waters by timidly announcing that we bisexual, and then we mysteriously sleep exclusively with men. So many gays go through this process, in fact, that when some guy announces he is bisexual we assume that he is just gay and in denial. Therefore, bisexuality does not exist, and men who cling to bisexual identities are fair game for mockery.

The same story holds for the Masc 4 Masc crowd. Because some of us claim that we like “normal guys, not like those ones that make the rest of us look bad”, we assume that anybody who claims to be attracted to masculine men is internally homophobic and in denial. Once they grow to accept themselves and their sexualities, we reason, they will let that go and be attracted to any man it is politically correct to find attractive. In the meantime, the Masc 4 Masc crowd deserves our derision and mockery. It’s just a phase, right?

Masculinity, Femininity, Misogyny

Consider the word “masculine”. What comes to mind? I’m willing to be something comes to mind, even for you gold-star woke gays.

Now consider the word “feminine”. What comes to mind now? Are there any differences? If there are, you are not woke enough.

There is a lot of stuff going on here, and it is tricky to disentangle. Because I am a homocon dinosaur, there are specific traits I associate with masculinity, and specific traits I associate with femininity. But there is a real paradox here. I cannot defend any of these traits out loud, because there will be exceptions to any trait you name. (Go for it. Name something you would define as masculine but not feminine, or vice versa.)

At the same time, we cling to these unspeakable notions of masculinity and femininity pretty tightly. We have collectively decided (or had decided for us) that it is okay for trans people to undergo some severe body-modifications so that their bodies are in greater concordance with their gender identities. At the same time, we have made it socially unacceptable for gay men to be attracted to people who are more masculine and be not-attracted those who are more feminine. We call this “internalized homophobia”. But for some reason it is also unacceptable to propose that gay men can take one step further and be attracted to women instead. We call that “the ex-gay movement”, and to respectable gays those advocating such positions are pariahs.

There are good reasons for these social sanctions. We don’t want trans people to suffer from dysmorphia. We don’t want femmes to face systemic and hurtful rejection from other gays. We want to outlaw the ex-gay movement because generations of homosexuals (often teenagers) have been traumatized by the movement. These good reasons do not change the fact that holding all of these positions simultaneously is incoherent.

Why are we in the broader culture so hung up on masculinity and femininity anyways? We all know the answer to this: patriarchy. Unlike what the mixed-sex marriage advocates tell you, masculinity and femininity are not complementary categories enjoying valuable and equitable territory in God’s Heart. Rather, masculinity and femininity are complementary categories, and masculinity is superior to femininity.

Why should we (as gay men) worry so much about being butch, anyways? Why should we fret about being femmy in the first place? Because gays are as steeped in our culture as everyone else, and we see femininity as weakness, and treat it with derision. Hello misogyny.

The misogyny in gay male culture runs deep. It might be worse than the misogyny straight men feel for women, because gay men (unlike our straight counterparts) do not require the company of women for sexual satisfaction. Hence, “he opened his mouth and a purse fell out.”

It isn’t just the straights who think of us as sissy-boys. We do this to ourselves. You are all too young to remember this, but back in the old days we would intentionally feminise our names and misgender each other in public conversation. “Did you hear about Dr Spoetta? She broke her sewing machine, and now might not have a new frock ready for Palm Springs! Can you imagine?” The surface explanation was that this misgendering helped us hide in public society, but I am willing to bet that some of this was our own shame disguised as catty cruelty. What could be more shameful — more of an insult? — than a man being treated like a woman?

“But what about drag?” you proclaim. What about it? Are you trying to tell me that misogyny is absent from drag culture? Why exactly do we refer to drag queens who look a little too much like women as “fishy”?

This gets even weirder and more upsetting when it comes to situations where we celebrate feminine gays. Think of our founding myth: the riots at the Stonewall Inn. We talk about how it was those who didn’t fit in — the drag queens, the transwomen — who finally put their collective foot down against the police raids. And what do we celebrate about their actions? They threw rocks. They got angry. They were tough and aggressive in standing up for themselves. They acted like men. Even those who identified as women acted like men. “There’s nothing tougher than a drag queen, honey,” we say. But what if those drag queens and transwomen had embraced their feminine sides instead, being demure and caring instead of angry and aggressive? Would we be celebrating them then?

We are in a curious bind. On the one hand we want to overcome the humilation of being treated like sissy-boys and girly-men by reclaiming it. We want to embrace our mannerisms and voices and love of musical theater as elements of our whole selves. At the same time, many of us don’t want that at all. We are Pinocchios, and some part of us would give it all up to be real boys.

It is true that different gays are into different types of men. Some like the young twinks, and some are drawn to feminine men, but lots of us (even those of us who imagine ourselves enlightened) continue to find those butch masculine traits attractive. Just look at the illustration Sixpence chose to illustrate his entry. Does that look like a guy who moisturizes to you? (For that matter, consider the gay fascination with Tom of Finland.)

The difference between the respectable woke gays and the Masc 4 Masc crowd is that the Masc 4 Masc crowd are expressing their preferences openly and bluntly, and the rest of us won’t.

How to Develop a Fetish

Maybe patriarchy is awful and incorrect, and valuing masculinity above femininity is also awful and incorrect. So what? We are drenched in this culture, and some of us imprinted on it. As I argued in one of the entries linked above, the heart wants what the heart wants. Our sexual preferences are not a function of the neocortex, but of our reptile brains, and once our preferences are imprinted (so the theory goes) we are stuck with them. Maybe some of us made the mistake of being attracted to toxic masculinity. What do we do now? Pretend that this is not the case? If we can’t expect pedophiles (or poop fetishists, not to equate the two) to change their preferences, why do we expect those who fetishize masculinity to do so?

Yes, some of the Masc 4 Masc crowd is expressing internal homophobia. Yes, if given the opportunity some of that crowd will find itself falling in lust with men who are less butch. That does not mean that none of that attraction is genuine.

Even more threatening is the way that our culture wants to extirpate conventional straight men as thoroughly as it has extirpated stone butch lesbians. It is not okay for straight guys to be out of touch with their feelings. It is not okay for them to be gruff and depend on brute strength to solve their problems. It is not okay for them to offload the emotional labor of their relationships onto their wives and girlfriends. There is some element of our culture that wants straight masculinity to either become metrosexual or be ostracised from society.

So now we are blaming the Masc 4 Masc crowd for preferences they did not choose, and we publicly disparage those who possess the traits they prefer. I am not surprised they are defensive.

Rejection

The real problem isn’t that Mascs 4 Mascs exists. Lots of weird fetishes exist, and we do not fret so much about them even if we think they are weird. Part of the problem is that there are so many Mascs 4 Mascs, so we run into all the time. But there are two other problems in addition to this.

Firstly, we prioritize masculinity over femininity, so those of us who are not very butch get rejected over and over again. We feel our potential dating pool is smaller, especially when we are femmy guys who like masculine ones. We get bitter and resentful, and we start making demands. “Those bitches are self-hating homophobes if they can’t see what a catch I am,” we tell ourselves. (Yes, of course we call them “bitches.” Misogyny, remember?) But what else are we going to do? We’re not desirable like real men. We’re girly-men, and deep down inside we feel we are not worthy because of mannerisms and traits we did not even choose to have.

Secondly, we have not figured out how to exclude others with kindness.

Whether justified or not, most of us have preferences, and ideally we would like to ride the relationship escalator who matches our preferences. But we have no way of expressing those preferences without making some people feel left out and excluded and hurt. So instead we get hard. We add all kinds of conditions and disclaimers to our profiles: “no fats, no femmes”, “no endless texts”, “drug and disease free, UB2”. And those of us who don’t fit those categories get hurt. In turn, we hurt others. (And that, kids, is why everybody on dating sites comes across as cold and heartless.)

So what are we supposed to do? When we don’t feel that spark, how do we let others know we are not interested without hurting them? If we are good respectable woke gays and pretend that we are attracted to everybody, how kind are we being when we lead others on? Worst of all, what happens when others are attracted to us and we don’t reciprocate? We have no good ways of dealing with this, so we ghost and we say cruel things, and then we all get hard. (So much for gays being in touch with their feelings.)

Are the Mascs 4 Mascs to blame for this? They certainly have their parts to play. But so do the rest of us — even those of us who think we are woke. Mascs 4 Mascs have their problems, but I continue to believe that the problem is bigger than they are, and I have a lot of difficulty laying all the blame at their feet.

And for those people who have self-examined and become comfortable with their sexuality and purged their internal homophobia and are STILL guilty of being attracted to masculine men? Sucks to be them, I guess. They should have chosen better preferences.

Crucified

Okay, fess up. The following video ended up on my hard drive, and I want to know which one of you put it there.

I know it was one of you because music videos don’t end up on my hard drive unless one of you posts a video to your blog. My computer is too old and slow to play Youtube, so at that point I have no option but to download your video to watch later. Well, now it’s later and now I want an explanation and possibly an apology.

HIV Non-Disclosure

If the title was not trigger warning enough, be aware that this is one of those “alienate the rest of my readers” posts.

Recently, I listened to Episode 643 of the Savage Lovecast, Dan Savage’s situational ethics podcast. One call in particular made me more furious than usual, and I am still trying to understand why. In the spirit of free association I am going to type things out and see whether I can find any clarity.

The call in question was from a transwoman sex worker. She had a sugar daddy who was offering to take her on a trip (a boat cruise?). She had not told the sugar daddy (or presumably her other clients) about her HIV+ status, and wanted Dan’s blessing for this. She claimed to have an undetectable viral load, and since undetectable equals untransmissable, she reasoned (or “reasoned”) that this was none of her sugar daddy’s business, and besides if he knew maybe he would not be her sugar daddy any more. Dan gave the sex worker his blessing on ethical grounds, but cautioned that legally there might be laws (oh so regressive laws!) that mandated disclosure from HIV-positive people to their sex partners. Dan said that if the caller did not want her sugar daddy seeing her pills, she should not go on the trip.

The caller was pretty flippant. She rhetorically asked whether she was the future for not disclosing. She was pretty clear that she was happy not to disclose to her partners, and she was pretty clear that she did not want to lose business on account of her status. Hearing that made me very, very angry. To be fair, I was already angry, but this call made me angrier in ways that other calls (including the previous call, which was also about HIV disclosure) did not. Let’s explore why, starting with the most phobic reasons.

Am I just being HIV-phobic? Sure. There is an element of that at play. Intellectually I know that undetectable is untransmissible. I also know that it is safer for somebody to be on HIV meds than sleeping with somebody whose status is unknown and who is not on PrEP (aka HIV meds). But even though my intellectual comfort with HIV has improved over the years (particularly since 1996), I don’t think that emotional gutpunch will ever go away. Maybe it would if I was in an intimate relationship with somebody who was poz. Maybe not. I have a lot of debilitating and sometimes irrational phobias, and HIV is one of them.

If some hypothetical universe where somebody was willing to sleep with me, I would be pretty ticked off being in that sugar daddy’s position. That is not limited to HIV. If somebody had syphilis or chlamydia or even herpes, I would want to know, so that I could be the one making the decision of sleeping with that person, as opposed to having that decision made for me. I feel very strongly about this, and it is probably a large source of my anger.

So there is an emotional gut-punch of HIV-phobia, but I do not think that explains everything. Let’s turn to the next accusation. Am I just being transphobic? Am I reacting so poorly to this call because the caller is a transwoman?

My answer to this is maybe. Certainly other people (in particular some trans activists) would label me as transphobic, because I do not adhere to every ideological stance taken by (some? most?) trans activists. I do not, however, think that I am more transphobic than the median LGBTQ+ person. I won’t pull the “some of my best friends are trans!” nonsense on you (it is not as if I have friends) but I do know and occasionally interact with at least a dozen trans people through my activities with local LGBTQ+ groups. I am not trans and do not claim to know what being trans is like, but I broadly support the rights of trans people to exist and live with safety. But I am sure it is possible that I reacted poorly because this caller was a transwoman as opposed to a gay man or cis woman sex worker.

Am I just being anti-sex-worker? Maybe. There is definitely an element of my reaction that is related to the caller being a sex worker, but that has more to do with trust and less to do with her profession. I believe that uncoerced prostitution should be legal, but that people should have good choices available to them so they do not have to become sex workers unless they really want to. But overall I do not see that much difference between being a sex worker and being a regular worker. They are both forms of prostitution, in my view.

I think there is more going on here, though. The first thing has to do with what being ethical means. My personal definition (which I am sure I have unconsciously stolen from some famous philosopher) is that ethics is the tension between individual and group benefit. When I do something for my own benefit at the expense of broader society, then I am (usually? always?) acting unethically. In that light, I see two ways in which this caller is clearly acting unethically, and neither has to do with HIV-transmission directly.

The first way in which this seems unethical is the same way in which staying in the closet is unethical. By being out of the closet straight people see us and become more used to having LGBTQ+ people around, and thus they are less likely to be phobic to us or about us. In some sense, we have gay marriage because Lynn Lynne Mary Cheney came out to her dad, and because George W Bush enjoyed watching Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Having said that, although remaining closeted does some passive harm to our fellow LGBTQ+ people (by not paving the way) it is difficult for me to argue that it does active harm, provided that we are not acting in homophobic ways ourselves to fit in. I consider not coming out a venial sin, not a mortal one.

In the same way, this caller is missing an opportunity to reduce HIV stigma in the world by not coming out as HIV positive. That part is a venial sin. But there is something about her situation that feels more serious. The caller is staying in the HIV-positive closet not only to avoid stigma, but to financially benefit from this lack of disclosure. That seems more serious to me. The caller wants to have as much business as possible, and is unwilling to disclose any information that might reduce that business, regardless of whether those reasons are rational or not.

Say this sugar daddy (or the caller’s other clients) is comfortable with the idea of hiring an HIV-positive sex worker. Then there is no harm done if the caller comes out. Say the sugar daddy is not comfortable with this, and like me feels a gut emotional reaction to HIV. Then what? Then this caller is definitely doing harm to broader society, because when this guy finds out it will affect not only her business, but the business of other sex workers as well.

That brings up trust, which I think is the biggest ethics violation here. The caller is not disclosing her HIV status because she has a financial incentive to hide it. In doing so, she undermines trust in all sex workers. (To be fair, this is a problem with all of capitalism, which is why the smoothest transactions happen between partners that already know and trust each other, and the most frictionful ones happen between strangers.)

But she also undermines her own trust. She knows that her sugar daddy would prefer to be aware of his sugar baby’s HIV status, but she does not want to lose the business. Otherwise she would not have called at all. So she is deceitful for her own benefit. Why should we believe she is trustworthy in every other way? When she says that she is undetectable and therefore untransmissible, why should we believe that? What other things is this caller willing to lie about to secure her business? The flippant way in which she dismisses this deceit makes me want to not trust her at all.

The analogy that comes to mind is when people have affairs (another activity that Dan Savage almost always blesses, on the basis of increasingly flimsy “what-if” scenarios). The damage when someone has an affair is not usually the sex. Usually it is the loss of trust from that person’s spouse. How do you recalibrate to know the ways in which this person is or is not trustworthy?

Maybe I do not like this caller because she is HIV positive, or because she is trans, or because she is a sex-worker. I definitely do not like this caller because she has demonstrated herself to be untrustworthy, and I would feel very very betrayed if I was her client. Maybe that is just my internalized hatred speaking, and this really is about transness or HIV status or career choice. But based on how I have reacted when straight, non-sexworker men of unknown HIV status have ripped me off, I have my doubts.

Sympathy for the Devil

In a recent comment, Debra (the dear! [1]) exhorted me to “not go over to Satan”. As is usually the case with Debra, this was wise and insightful advice. Unfortunately, it is not easy advice to follow. The Prince of Temptation has done a real number on me. I mean, just look at him:

Satan on a cruise

With that broad chest and manicured goatee, he would fit right in on Fearsome’s blog:

Satan portrait
Cuddly Beard

As you know, I am not much of a Christian. Everything I know about Satan comes from the documentary South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. (Incidentally, this is also where I learned everything I know aboot Canada.) Although it was released in 1999, the documentary has aged well. In the film, Satan has recently gotten into a same-sex relationship with Saddam Hussein, but already the relationship is rocky.

Saddam and Satan

Being from 1999, you might think that the filmmakers would portray Satan and Saddam’s relationship as a great big joke, and although there are jokey elements, the issues that Satan and Saddam face are not that different from any straight relationship where one partner is a tone-deaf, emotionally abusive jerk:

Kenny asks Satan what is wrongSaddam doesn't nurture Satan's emotionsSaddam just wants sex and can't learn to communicate

The thing is, Satan just wants the same thing every gay on Grindr is looking for: love and companionship with someone who understands them and appreciates them for who they are inside. But I have some news for you, Satan: Saddam isn’t that guy. He is not good enough for you.  You’re gorgeous, and you have a job, and you have that deep resonant voice that would fit right in with a Gwaenysgor choir. You can do so much better than Saddam Hussein Abd al-Majid al-Tikriti.

Girl, I know you have baggage. We all have baggage. Sure, Jesus doesn’t like you. Join the club. Sure, a lot of people don’t like your career. The thing is, every society has unpleasant tasks necessary  in order to keep it functioning, and we should celebrate you — not disparage you — for being willing to get your hands dirty and do what needs doing. Sure, you are the embodiment of evil and sin in the world, but does that mean you don’t deserve love? That it is okay for that Saddam to mistreat you and diminish your self-worth?

I don’t care that you skip leg day. I think you are gorgeous, and although I am no catch I would like to think I would make a better boyfriend for you than that Saddam. I would listen to you go on about whatever book you are reading. We could stay up and cuddle instead of just having sex. Admittedly, my immortal soul is a pretty steep price to be in a relationship, but am sure we could work something out.

Oh, who am I kidding? I wouldn’t be a better boyfriend than Saddam Hussein. If anything I am more controlling and less mature than him. At least Saddam was good in bed, and he managed the affairs of an entire country for decades. Meanwhile I can’t pull myself together enough to get to the grocery store before it closes. Come to think of it, I suck at both nurturing emotions and at communicating effectively. Debra is completely right. I am not boyfriend material for anybody, and I should keep well enough away. I have hurt more than enough people for one lifetime, and you deserve better.

But don’t give up hope, little horn. Somewhere out there there’s a boyfriend who is kind and supportive waiting for you, and I hope that you and he will cross paths sooner rather than later.

Satan looking up

[1] Yes, as we recently learned, this expression is not intended to be entirely complimentary. I do not care; we should never let facts spoil a good catchphrase. All of you (well, most of you) are dears, and you will just have to deal with it.

Books for Sixpence

Sixpence Nottthewiser (the dear!) recently posted an entry about the importance of reading. He writes about being horrified when he finds no reading material in some beautiful man’s apartment. Although I am in no danger of receiving a visit from Sixpence (or anybody else), and although anybody who did visit would be horrified for different reasons, I do sometimes read books. When Sixpence asked us for a favorite book to recommend, I had to speak up. So here are a few of the favorite books I have read over the past five years or so. Although I occasionally read books for straight people, for this entry I picked out books that are related to LBGTQ+ authors or themes in some way.

The Young in One Another’s Arms

by Jane Rule

Jane Rule is an amazeballs lesbian writer. Her strength is writing about the nuances of relationships. The Young in One Another’s Arms is about a one-armed landlady interacting with her boarders. The novel consists of the flow of everyday human relationships in a boarding house punctuated by surreal, sometimes violent episodes of ultradrama. It is such a strange novel.

Unlike some of her other works (eg Desert of the Heart) this book is not explicitly lesbigay, but it is so strange I feel compelled to recommend it. My guess is that you will either like it or be bored stiff.

Tomboy Survival Guide

by Ivan Coyote

Several autobiographical essays by a thoughtful, observant writer. I was not expecting to find an ally in the homosexuality wars from a butch lesbian who transitioned to male (sort of?) but there you go. (I think my allies in the homosexuality wars try to bring us together rather than driving us apart. But what do I know?)

Particularly memorable to me was the story “We’ve Got a Situation Here”, which tells the story of Coyote being scheduled to talk at a high school, and then the local Concerned Parent Organization finding out.

The Naked Civil Servant

by Quentin Crisp

Yes, it’s a classic. Yes, you have very likely read it. Read it again. Yes, it’s hilarious, because Quentin Crisp is a comedic genius who can turn a phrase like nobody’s business.

In some ways it is a very sad story about a crossdressing homosexual who just couldn’t bring himself to fit in regardless of the cost. I for one am grateful that this book helped him find his place in the world.

Real Live Nude Girl

by Carol Queen

As you know, I don’t fit into lesbigay culture that well. I feel like a freak and an outcast even among the homosexuals. Carol Queen gives me hope that there might be a place for freaks in this world. Queen is a sex radical to the sex radicals. She is partnered to (and has sex with) an openly gay man. She has such adventures! She goes to work as a peep show model to see what it is like! She trains doctors how to give pelvic exams by sitting in stirrups with her pants off! She goes to graduate school and watches seventeen simultaneous porn movies projected on a giant wall!

I am nothing like Carol Queen. But something about her approach to sex, about her rejection of labels, about her acknowledgements that sexuality is tough for everybody (even the straights) resonates so deeply with me. If I had to recommend one book that matched my sexual politics most closely, it might be this one. I was skimming through some illicit photocopies I made of some of the essays in this book, and I just want to type them all out for you word for word. This book is probably going to be difficult to find (it was published in 1997) but it is completely worth the search. If I had to pick a single recommendation, this would be it.

Far from the Tree

by Andrew Solomon

This book starts out fairly lesbigay. Solomon has an unusual family structure. He and his husband have some children and he is the sperm donor to some others. They make a complicated family. Solomon is gay, of course, and his gayness launches the explorations of this book. Gay children usually have straight parents, and the book explores how parents deal with children who are very different from them.

But the book does not stop with parents of gay children. It explores the lives of parents whose children have become criminals, about the lives of parents whose children are profoundly disabled, about parents whose children are on the autistic spectrum, and even about parents of children who are child prodigies. None of them have easy lives (do any parents have easy lives?) but the explorations are fascinating.

You might know Solomon from another landmark book: The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression. This book changed the way I think about my broken brain. If you suffer from melancholia (or maybe even if you don’t) that book is also a worthy read.

Captivity: 118 Days in Iraq and the Struggle for a World Without War

by James Loney

This is yet another book that does not come across as particularly lesbigay (and it is yet another book written by a Canadian. What’s up with that?), but Loney’s sexuality is definitely a factor in the story.

You might remember James Loney’s story. He was a member of a pacifist group called Christian Peacemaker Teams, whose role was to use their First-World privilege to intervene in scenes of conflict, with hopes to de-escalate the situation. Loney was in Iraq when he and three of his fellow CPT members were kidnapped and held for ransom. Much of the book relates Loney’s experiences in captivity, and the complicated feelings he had about his treatment and his rescue. The book is full of contradictions, but Loney is aware of these contradictions, and faces them directly and with honesty.

In this hyper-polarized world Loney somehow looks for the humanity in everyone — even the captors who mistreated him. He fell in love with a philosophy that spoke to him, and he tried to live that philosophy at the expense of his own well-being. But he does not come across as a saint or a martyr. He is just a guy trying to live out his values.

The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Get Pregnant

by Dan Savage

I have documented my affinity for Dan Savage before, and I continue to feel an affinity for him even though he is uncool and mainstream. He can be awfully strident at times, but he is also articulate and smart and once in a while he allows himself to demonstrate vulnerability. I like a good Dan Savage rant as much as the next mainstream homosexual, but Savage is at his best when he is off his soapbox.

I appreciated the ambivalence Savage showed in having children at all, and the mixed, politically-incorrect anxieties he felt in learning about the troubled history of his birth mother. (She’s giving up her unborn baby to fags. Duh.)

This book is very much a time capsule. I will never ever ever get pregnant or have a baby, but it is worthwhile look into the lives of a couple that really wanted one.

Saving Alex

by Alex Cooper and Joanna Brooks

The subtitle of this book is “When I was Fifteen I Told My Mormon Parents I was Gay, and That’s When My Nightmare Began”. The subtitle is not a lie. Alex’s nightmare, in this case, was being sent off to a reform house to punish away the gay. It’s harrowing. It made me angry. But it was well worth the read.

My Husband is Gay: A Woman’s Guide to Surviving the Crisis

by Carol Grever

What’s interesting about this book is that it was written in 2001, long before having a gay husband was acceptable. Much of this stuff is similar to stuff you will read on the “Gay Husband” corner of the blogosphere, but it is written well and all in one place.

Men who come to terms with their sexuality, come out of the closet and live their lives with authenticity have to go through an emotional journey. So do their wives, but we homosexuals often neglect that part. To some extent, this book fills in the gaps.

Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Journey to Manhood and Back Again

by Norah Vincent

Norah Vincent (a lesbian) wanted to know what men were like. So she went undercover, posing as Ned, a somewhat metrosexual man. She joined a bowling league. She went to a monastary. She tries to date women posing as a straight guy. She visits strip clubs. She goes to John Bly manhood groups. Sure enough, she learns what life is like in exclusively male spaces.

I learned a lot from this book. Despite being fairly male, and despite participating in some communities that are largely male, I have never felt in tune with male culture. I have never played poker or been to a strip club or joined the clergy. I do not really know what it is like to be a real man interacting with other real men. Ned enters these spaces and observes, and I am the richer for it.

We talk a lot about “toxic masculinity” these days, but I am still not sure what that is, or how it differs from regular masculinity. I guess this book offers some clues. It also offers sympathy, which appears to be a common theme of many of the books I am recommending.

It is worth noting that this book took a toll on its author, which Norah Vincent documents in her followup Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin.

Boys Like Us: Gay Writers Tell Their Coming-Out Stories

edited by Patrick Merla

Back when I participated in an LGBTQ+ reading group at the Lurkville Community Centre, I read a lot of LGBTQ+ anthologies. Many of them were mediocre, with a few standout stories. This collection was much better than average.

I wrote about this collection before, in my entry about Chip Delany, but there were a number of other standout stories as well. We have all read a lot of coming out stories, both in blogs and in print. I am not certain that this collection has anything new to say, but it says those things in an interesting way.

The New Moon’s Arms

by Nalo Hopkinson

A flawed fiftysomething woman adopts a young boy who may or may not be a sea creature. I thought that this was going to be tedious and boring, but I was pleasantly surprised. It also does not seem to be particularly lesbigay, but keep reading.

Mayor Pete

I probably should not write this entry, but I realized that (a) repressing it is not working, and (b) if I am going to alienate my entire readership* then I might as well do it in one blow. So here goes.

In this corner of the blogosphere, there seems to be a lot of enthusiasm for presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, otherwise known as “Mayor Pete”. Many people have been posting inspirational video interviews and praising him as a hopeful candidate. People went nuts when he formally announced his presidency.

But along with the Mayor Pete wave comes the Mayor Pete backlash, and not every corner of the Internet is as enthusiastic about Buttigieg as this corner is. Another place I lurk heavily supports Elizabeth Warren, and somewhere in there I ran across a critique of Mayor Pete — in particular a critique of his character and his campaign, based upon the pre-presidential-run book he wrote. (Apparently one of the qualifications for running for President in the United States of America is authoring (or “authoring”) an inspirational autobiography.) In order to protect your innocent enthusiasm I won’t link the piece here. Instead I’ll put a link at the end of this screed, long after you have stopped reading.

I wish I could say that I stayed strong after reading this attack piece, but you know me better than that. I was swayed. The piece throws a lot of criticisms at the wall — many from a far left perspective — but some of them stick, and I have been swayed. I have suspicions now. In particular, I am wary that once again we are being manipulated, and that once again we are going to be disappointed.

I want to believe, y’know? I am tired of being cynical and hopeless about politics. I admire the faith that the system isn’t rigged, that we can somehow elect leaders who will govern with wisdom and won’t be in the pockets of our lobbyists. I read all of you celebrating and wish I could join the party. But I wish I could be Christian, too, and that isn’t happening either.

I am also upset that any time I see something hopeful, along comes a wave of criticism to sow the seeds of doubt. This is a deliberate strategy used by political opponents to foster indecision and inaction — and it totally works on me. But once you see the patterns they cannot be unseen. So here are a few words of caution about Mayor Pete. Some of these ideas are taken from the attack piece, and some of them have come to mind since.

As most of you know, I have exactly no business writing about any of this. I don’t get to choose the Democratic nominee for president any more than you do — less, even, given that I am Lurkistani, not American. However, we do not have a president in Lurkistan, so we adopt yours, and follow American politics closely. Also many of the blogs I read come from the Greatest Country on Earth ™, so I get a big dose of American politics there too. I may not have qualifications, but I have opinions.

Blowing the Filter Bubble

Why am I seeing so much about Mayor Pete? Should I believe that this is a grassroots movement that sprung up from nowhere? I am getting my Mayor Pete fix from your blogs. What are your sources? Are you searching them out yourself? Or are they being curated for you?

In this world of “personalized recommendations” I do not trust that there really is a grassroots. Somebody seeds these videos that go viral. It is in somebody’s interest to get these videos to our eyeballs. Who is engineering this? What do they have to gain from it? Are their interests in alignment with our own?

Although it does not pertain to this situation directly, there is a good (if slimy) book that illustrates how easily we are manipulated, called Trust Me I’m Lying, by Ryan Holiday. (And how did I come across this book, hrm?) The premise of the book is that news organizations are desperate for stories, so big media companies republish stories from smaller ones. But the smaller ones are also hungry, so the farther down you go the easier it is to feed the story you want to a small news source. If the story is juicy enough, it gets fed up the media chain until your friends of friends see it, who post it on their blog or Twitstream or wall, and then it hits our eyeballs.

Nobody tries to get to our eyeballs more than political campaigns. Mayor Pete seemed to come out of nowhere. According to his mythology, one day he was minding his business as the mayor of South Bend and the next he was getting booked on late night talk shows. I don’t think that is an accident. Given that he has both run for DNC chair and written the mandatory presidential autobiography, I also am disinclined to believe the mythology.

So why are we hearing about Mayor Pete? Why are we talking about him and not, say, Wayne Messam, who is also a mayor, also young, also inspirational? Why are we not talking about Julián Castro, who was also a mayor, is also young, and served with Barack Obama? Is this a meritocracy — the superiority of Mayor Pete bubbling to the top of our consciousnesses? Or is something else going on here?

As a somewhat-relevant sidenote, why do we feel that Kamala Harris is scary and shrill? Why do we feel that Bernie Sanders is too old now? He certainly is not cool the way he was in 2016. Why did we feel as if we needed to hold our noses and vote for Hillary instead of supporting her enthusiastically? There are a lot of narratives floating around, and it is surprising how quickly they come to mind. Where do these impressions come from? Are we doing the research ourselves and drawing our own conclusions? Or are they being fed to us?

Comparing Candidates

I have read some people supporting Mayor Pete with statements like “all the other candidates made me feel uneasy, but Mayor Pete really speaks to me.” I am glad the rest of you have been getting comprehensive information about the Democratic nominees. I haven’t. In fact, I did not know who most of the other nominees were before researching this blog post, and I probably can’t name half of them now.

This is a real problem. In fact, it is multiple real problems. Let’s for the moment assume that there are not frontrunner candidates and also-rans, and let’s also assume it was somehow our job to identify the best candidate to support in a nomination. You don’t go about that by being fed a steady stream of media about one candidate in particular. You do that by comparing candidates, which pretty much no politician wants you to do.

How does one actually compare candidates? Debates can work, although debates are highly orchestrated. In municipal politics questionnaires can sometimes be useful. I spent a little bit of time looking for some presidential candidate comparisons, and ran into a New York Times questionnaire about climate change. If you have any articles left (or know how to get around the NYT article limits) then it might be worth a look. The last question of the questionnaire is about nuclear power — a contentious issue on the left. The responses to that question are especially telling, but overall one gets a clearer sense of which candidates have insights into these topics, which are willing to say whatever they think we want to hear, and which are not willing to address certain questions at all. I feel Mayor Pete’s responses to many of these questions are illuminating.

How many side-by-side comparisons of these candidates have you done? If you have not done many, are you still willing to declare fealty to a particular candidate?

Now let’s talk about frontrunners, because here in the real world there really is no point in comparing all of the 17 (or 18? or more? Wikipedia says over 200?) candidates as if they all have an equal chance of the nomination. Some of the candidates are well-entrenched and some are upstarts like Mayor Pete. For a while those candidates will be in the running and we will all support our favorites and we will fight among each other, because there is nothing more a Democrat likes more than infighting. And then somebody (hint: probably somebody with money, and with entrenched support within the Democratic Party) will win. Then what? Are you prepared to hold your nose and vote for that candidate?

Do we think that Mayor Pete could surge in popularity the way Bernie did in 2016? If so, do you think he would be the establishment-supported candidate? It looks as if superdelegates are less of a thing but I am sure that the powers that be in the Democratic Party will find other ways to ensure the party doesn’t get too democratic. I do not have an answer as to whether Mayor Pete could be the establishment candidate, and that in itself is disconcerting.

The Gay Thing

This is a blog about sexual perversion, so let’s talk about the gay thing. In particular, let’s talk about the familiar refrain, “It’s not just that Mayor Pete is gay!”

Let’s get one thing out of the way first. Mayor Pete is allowed to live his life however he sees fit. He is not obligated to be a sex radical. If he chose to wait until age 33 to come out as gay then who am I to criticize him? Maybe these tearjerking stories about how he was in denial about himself for so many years are actually true. I am not one of those who demands that Mayor Pete be more of a sex radical.

However, that does not let him off the hook and it does not let us off the hook.

When you think to yourself, “It’s not just that Mayor Pete is gay!” do you actually mean it? Pretend that Pete Buttigieg was a nice, white, cisgendered man who went to a good university, served in the military and was married to a nice woman named Chastity who had a kickass Twitter account. Look deep in your heart. Would you be as enthusiastic about Mayor Pete if he was another straight white charismatic politician like Tim Ryan? Really? Okay then.

Even though Mayor Pete’s sexuality is not biasing your perception of him in any way, consider how much he is playing it up during this campaign. Watch that video where he declares his nomination again. He gushes about his husband and about marriage equality a lot. Do you think that is an accident? Do you think his heartfelt story about coming out during a mayoral campaign because he didn’t want to be single anymore was an accident? Hint: he is cultivating an image, and he is doing so deliberately. Do you ever notice how he relates his brave story about coming out during a mayoral campaign and receiving a majority of the vote, but does not acknowledge South Bend as a university town? Sure, that university is a Catholic institution, but even Catholic university towns skew liberal — especially in 2011. Instead his narrative is being a poor gay mayor in an Indiana city that was once built on heavy industries that left town, as if he was in the Trumpiest of Trump Country. None of this is an accident.

How is a white, male, cisgendered, highly-educated, relatively wealthy politician supposed to stand out in a world where black people and even women are allowed to run for President? Would it not be convenient for the aforementioned white male to have some other characteristic that would allow him to stand out?

And isn’t it fortunate that Mayor Pete is just gay enough to make liberals feel good about themselves while being so inoffensive that he doesn’t scare away those who are more socially conservative? Again, I am not criticizing Mayor Pete’s sexual choices, but aren’t they convenient? Presumably he was completely celibate before deciding to come out as gay and look for a husband. Mayor Pete never gets edgier about his sexuality than joking about the app he used to find said husband. And is it not darling (and suspiciously heteronormative) that Chasten adopted Buttigieg’s last name? Mayor Pete really is the living embodiment of the notion that gay people are exactly like straight people except for the people they choose to love.

I do not know the extent to which Mayor Pete organized his life such that his gayness would be so picture-perfect. But I highly suspect that he has cultivated this image of being gay and inoffensive very, very carefully. And honestly, I am tired of gayness being used as political leverage.

Look. I am glad that gays are cool now. It is much better for politicians to be using their gayness as an asset, as opposed to the bad old days when Anita Bryant said we should not be allowed to teach in schools, or Mike Huckabee wondered why we were not quarantined to prevent spreading AIDS to straight people, or the Mormon and Catholic churches insisted that we were intent on destroying the institution of marriage**. It is nice that gay people are the heroes and not the villains now, but homosexuality is still being used for political ends.

Claiming that Mayor Pete is leveraging his sexual identity for political gain is not the same as claiming he should remain in the closet, or that he should never mention his sexuality, or whatever. It is possible to simultaneously be a gay politician and not make it a central part of your narrative, if you so choose.

I have one more thing to say about homosexuality and politics: it is our responsibility as gay people to avoid giving politicians a free pass because they are gay. Just because a politician is gay does not mean that said politician will be effective. Debra recently elected a leader who is rumoured to be gay, but that does not imply that I agree with anything that leader stands for or does. Although not a politician directly, lawyer Roy Cohn was a gay political figure who was heavily involved in the McCarthy anti-communist witch hunts. Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn was openly gay and openly anti-Muslim. All too often those of us (gay and straight) who think of ourselves as enlightened are willing to give politicians a pass based on their homosexuality, and I do not feel this is justified.

Anti-qualifications

What is up with our fixation on electing people who have special stories? Why are we so opposed to nominees for President of the United States having relevant qualifications for the job?

I am not diminishing the importance of city mayors. For the most part, I feel that running a city (even a relatively small city like South Bend) is a complicated matter, and I think many mayors do an admirable job. However, municipal politics is different than state or federal politics, and for some reason we think it is okay that Mayor Pete has no legislative experience at the federal level.

I mean, President of the United States seems like a pretty difficult job too, but I think it is difficult in different ways than being mayor of a small city. Should we not have some expectations that the presidential nominees have some knowledge of how federal (or at least state) politics work?

Buttigieg is not, of course, alone in this. We all know what happened in 2016, and the qualifications for office that presidential nominee possessed. But (and here’s where I lose the rest of my readership, if I have any left) it is not as if Barack Obama was well-qualified to be president either. His legislative experience consisted of half a term as a Senator, which is something but not a lot. Frankly, I feel that Obama’s lack of experience as a federal politician showed, and that it hurt him.

I am not claiming that one needs to be Vice-President of the United States in order to be qualified for President (sorry, Joe Biden). I am not claiming you need to be in your 60s or 70s. But is it so unreasonable to expect a term or two in the Senate or House of Representatives? Being a state governor also seems like a good qualification. Is serving in Afghanistan and then becoming mayor of a small city for eight years enough? Even if you want to smash/reform the system, surely you should understand how the system works?

Trump

Speaking of Trump, why are we all so certain he is going to lose in 2020? Most of you are too young to remember this, but way back in 2004 we had an unpopular president named George W. Bush, and a decently qualified candidate in John Kerry. There was no way that Kerry could have lost the election against such an unpopular incumbent, right?.

The End

There is no chance you read this far. I didn’t read this far. I furiously unsubscribed from this blog several sections ago.

Look. I hope you’re right. It would be fantastic if Mayor Pete was the real deal, and won the nomination, and somehow beat Trump in 2020, and was the smart, well-spoken president who is going to solve all our problems. Oh wait. Where have we heard that before? One of the reasons we all fell in love with Obama was because he was a blank slate. We all projected our hopes and wishes for the presidency onto him, and — surprise! — he turned out not to meet those expectations. In a similar way, I feel we are projecting our hopes onto Mayor Pete. I worry we are being fooled again. So hate me if you want (yes, I know you already do), and hold on to your enthusiasm and hope, but also do your homework. Please don’t be fooled again?

If after reading these 3000 words you want to read thousands more, here is a link to that attack piece that I mentioned at the top: https://www.currentaffairs.org/2019/03/all-about-pete.

  • I guess JP is British, so would not be as repulsed by this entry as the rest of you. But if I throw in some grudging respect for the Extinction Rebellion movement then he should be covered too. I’ll alienate Kato by forgetting that Australia exists.

** I’m still working on that last one.

A Round-Heeled Woman

The Board of Directors Here at Spo-Reflections sent me a terse note after my last entry, advising me to write something less self-indulgent and more cheerful or else. So here is a cheery book review about a memoir entitled A Round-Heeled Women, by Jane Juska. The name “Jane Juska” may not be familiar to you, but you might remember the (in)famous personals ad she posted to The New York Review of Books in 1999:

Before I turn 67 — next March — I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.

Apparently this set off an avalanche of lascivious personal ads in the New York Review of Books. When I first heard this story the vision of dozens (hundreds?) of book nerds writing dirty notes to each other and engaging in orgiastic literary copulation both amused and comforted me, but this was years before Grindr. What I didn’t realize is that the writer in question had a story, and that she wrote this story down. So I sashayed to the local university library and signed the book out.

I think I was expecting John Rechy’s Numbers written by a straight woman. That’s not what I got. Jane Juska does document a number of sexual conquests, but through the course of her adventure she has fewer partners than certain unnamed bloggers on busy weekends. And in rereading her personals ad, it becomes clear that Juska is not in search of a lot of sexual partners. She wants a lot of sex, but she wants sex with a man she likes. That is a big difference.

Readers in search of salacious bedroom scenes won’t be entirely disappointed, but much of the book consists of memoir — how did Juska end up spending 30 years of her life celibate? How did she find the gumption to post the ad? — and the logistics of finding and meeting different men, most of whom were (duh) in New York. Given that Juska lived in California, this made for a lot of plane trips back and forth. She also includes some details about her life at the time, including an intriguing chapter on volunteering inside San Quentin Prison.

Juska’s adventures in dating will sound familiar to many who have ventured into the shark-infested waters of modern love. She triages responses into yes, maybe, and no, and even among the yeses she finds flakes and freaks. Some dates lie about their ages. Several behave in hilariously inappropriate ways. She falls for a few only to discover they do not reciprocate their feelings (after they have slept with her). Not many want to discuss Trollope, but one who does leads her on an adventure to view an original Trollope manuscript.

Juska is not shy about her apprehensions around this process. She had children from a previous marriage; what would they think? She had a job as a schoolteacher; could she book time off? Would her social standing (and possibly her employment standing) be harmed by her love life? And of course, she worries about her looks and her age. Does she look too old? Are her boobs too big? These are questions we all have to face when looking for men we like and want to have a lot of sex with.

The book is well written and quick to read. In reading it I learned many interesting things. For example, did you know that some women have sex drives independent of the desire to have babies or snag a man? Apparently this is true. Furthermore, I learned that some women are attracted to men visually:

Sometimes, as I lie on my futon reading, say, the Times or The American Scholar, I will feel the familiar tickle between my legs. But mostly, I am aroused by men, parts of men. I love men’s asses, even the ones that aren’t perfect. I am aroused by the sight of John’s neck, of Bill’s forearm, of Sidney’s voice, Robert’s hands, Graham’s legs. Men have fabulous legs, no fat, long muscles. Walking down the street in the summertime, all those men in shorts, is a thrill for me. And I adore penises. They are different from one another, straight and crooked, long and short, thick and thin, endlessly fascinating at rest or attention. They do wonderful things for me and I do wonderful things for them.

Now isn’t that the kind of book you would like to spend an afternoon with?

P.S. to Sixpence: I saw your blog post about my entry. You are very kind. That guy is hot and I look nothing like him. Also Blogger and I do not get along, and there are few Blogger blogs on which I can comment.

Sandy

A few weeks ago Nurse Heartthrob blogged about a neighbour rechristening Heartthrob’s bantam cockerels Julian and Sandy. “Julian” and “Sandy” refer to sketch comedy characters from an old BBC radio programme called Round the Horne. That sent me off to Wikipedia and Youtube.

The premise of the skits were that Julian and Sandy are campy gay men, but since homosexuality was illegal at the time, the comedy consisted of slang called “polari” and double-entendre.

Here is a short skit called the “Bona Gift Boutique”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=muAPba7s0A8

And if you like that there is a vinyl rip of their comedy album, “The Bona Album of Julian and Sandy”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9koGCymZNPk

After listening to some skits I was somewhat surprised. The comedy is rather camp and somewhat British. Although not side-splittingly hilarious, the skits are not bad, and contain lots of catch-phrases that (like the Three Stooges) get funnier when you re-enact them on the playground than they are on screen. The surprising thing was that although Julian and Sandy are portrayed as very very camp, and they embody several gay stereotypes, they don’t come across as objects of derision. In some ways they remind of of Scott Thompson’s Buddy Cole skits from Kids in the Hall. That is not a ringing endorsement (despite my affection for the Kids in the Hall the Buddy Cole sketches never worked for me), but it makes for a good segue, because both Hugh Paddick (who played Julian) and Kenneth Williams (who played Sandy) were themselves gay.

None of this is really worth blogging about; if you saw Nurse Heartthrob’s blog post you probably looked up Julian and Sandy as well. What struck me was less Youtube and more Wikipedia — in particular, what happened to the actors. Hugh Paddick who played Julian seemed to turn out okay. He found a boyfriend and they stayed together for 30 years.

Kenneth Williams who played his friend Sandy had a different path. On the one hand, he was successful in showbiz, appearing in the Carry On films, and when he died he had hundreds of thousands of pounds to his name. On the other, he was lonely and celibate, felt he never lived up to his potential, and (intentionally or not) overdosed on barbituates at age 62. I guess it is not surprising that this sad life story struck a chord with me, but maybe it should be. I am not in showbiz, I am not funny, I do not have hundreds of thousands of pounds to my name, and barbituates are a lot more trouble to get a hold of than they used to be. Nonetheless, Williams’s life story resonated deeply. Many days I feel that loneliness and sense of failure acutely. What’s the bloody point?

Do I Sound Gay?

Overall, my gaydar is pretty terrible, but over the years I have developed an ear for “the gay accent.” If I was better-versed in linguistics I could describe it to you, but you know what I am talking about.

We tend to emphasize the gay accent when doing drag or speaking in camp, but many of us possess (or suffer) from the accent even in our everyday speaking voices.

Many of us internally-homophobic wannabe-straight guys don’t like the gay accent. There are many disparaging, often misogynistic phrases for it: “He looked so butch, but then he opened his mouth and a purse fell out.” I confess that I did not like the accent either, but as I have gotten more involved in the LGBTQ+ community locally I would like to think that I have gotten over it. Nonetheless, I detect the accent in my voice, and I hate it. Why can’t I sound butch, like the straight guys I idolize so much? What did I do to develop this? Was it conscious? Subconscious? Is it something in my biology? Where does this accent come from, and why is it so prevalent in gay men?

A few years ago a filmmaker named David Thorpe made a movie about the gay accent called Do I Sound Gay?. Like me, Thorpe struggled with the accent in his voice, and like any good documentarian he went on an adventure to learn what it is, where it comes from, and whether he could get rid of it. He visited speech therapists and interviewed famous gay people like Tim Gunn, Dan Savage, and George Takei. I read press for the movie when it first came out, but did not get around to watching it until recently.

The documentary is.. okay. I learned a few things about what makes the accent the accent. I learned that there are LA speech therapists who promise to train you out of the accent. Also, David Sedaris is kind of dreamy, in a David-Lettermanesque way.

The movie definitely has its flaws. Thorpe offers some explanations about how gays develop the accent, but they are uniformly disappointing, hearkening back to 1950s psychological theories of possessive mothers. The ending is very sad. The movie also contains gratuitous shirtlessness, which might be upsetting to some of my readers with more delicate constitutions. On the other hand, the movie is well-made and heartfelt. I don’t feel that I wasted my time in watching it, which is rare for me. (I keep trying to watch Hollywood movies, and I keep being disappointed.) If you are looking for a way to fight off existential dread for an hour and seventeen minutes, watching this movie is not a bad way to do so.

Shadow Penguin

Believe it or not, I do lurk on a a few blogs without opening my big fat mouth. Travel Penguin’s blog is one such example. Every day David posts a nice picture and a short mini-essay. Often these mini-essays express wise life lessons. They usually end with a question, prompting his readers to join in the fun. Although Travel Penguin is the mascot of the blog and not the author, I get the two confused and think of “Travel Penguin” as being David’s handle.

It is a good thing I am not a Jungian, because over the past few weeks I have started to realize that I am probably Travel Penguin’s Shadow blog. He posts interesting pictures and pithy entries with concrete points; I post rambling walls of text. He consciously avoids writing about the bad stuff; I wallow in anguish. He looks forward to travels and new adventures; I agonize over purchasing a different brand of toothpaste. He made his family proud by becoming a lawyer and devoting his life to public service; I have disappointed everybody. He is generous and spends money for quality; you already know how miserly I am. He is open to experience, conscientious, outgoing, and agreeable; I am deeply neurotic.

Travel Penguin posts every single day, almost always on the stroke of midnight. He blogs for personal fulfillment, not for adulation or comments. In fact his excellent blog receives few comments, and it does not bother him. He is not envious of other bloggers, does not write entries comparing himself against them, and would never have inappropriate crushes on them. He is comfortable with himself and his body. He has overcome adversity and come through the other side. A decade ago he took a big risk by taking a new job in Washington DC, and despite the sacrifices it worked out well. He appreciates that life is finite and our opportunities for adventures is short. His blog comments are always kind and supportive and never mean-spirited criticisms disguised as “jokes”.

He is now reuniting with his witty and attractive husband (who — for mama — is a scholar) after a decade apart. His recent entries make it apparent how much this pleases him — he is almost giddy. I am happy for them too, and not even in an Alanis Morrissette “You Oughta Know” way. (Travel Penguin also uses analogies that — when not contemporary — are at least recognisable by his readership.)

I will never admit such, but I think I am the Gollum to Travel Penguin’s Frodo. I would bite off his finger to gain his precious gift, but of course his gift is not to be found in any of his possessions or any of his digits. It’s not even a gift. It’s his character, which he has worked hard over the years to develop. No amount of finger chomping is a replacement for that hard work.