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New Year’s Madness

Leonardo Ricardo/Len Clark: Feastival pot.

Leonardo Ricardo: Feastival pot.

There are times I am astonished at my own greatness.

Isn’t that the most ridiculous line you’ve ever read?

I want this essay to explore what it’s like to wake up one day and find yourself with talent.

A million people have that experience; “Hey, I’m Peyton Manning.” Or Julie Andrews, Barack Obama or Yo-Yo Ma.

Then they get up and go to the bathroom, the same as you or me.

Isn’t life crazy? You’re Frank Lloyd Wright, and then you get up to take a leak.

How do they stay sane? I do not know.

Of course I’m not Julie or Barack or Peyton. I’m not even Leonardo Ricardo, who is a certified genius and all his friends know it.

I’m not Stephen Helmreich. He’s the actual genius I’m closest to, and he’s so much smarter than I am it’s not funny.

But I am Josh, and that is good, and hello, 2013.

Think about “the hardest-working man in show business.” Who is that to you? Sammy Davis, Rich Little? The term has been applied to several performers.

What it actually means is “He’s not that talented, but he uses all he’s got.” They try to express their total admiration, “Look at how good this guy is!”

But “Everyone’s a genius on Skid Row.” A social work supervisor told me that in 1984 at Gay Men’s Health Crisis. I didn’t much like her, but I’ve always remembered what she said.

Using what you’ve got, instead of peeing it away, is the name of the game.

“I’m John McEnroe! I’m Diana Butler Bass! I’m (fill in the blank)!”

Fame is public recognition that a person has talent and uses it, in public.

That takes courage, to do your thing in public; Emily Dickinson was very, very lucky. She was private, but she managed to attract a few devotés who loved her poetry and made her well known. Without them, I’d have to come up with a new example for Ms. Dickinson. In her lifetime she wasn’t famous at all.

But a few key people recognized she was a soul of uncommon beauty. So they talked her up and now we know her name.

Fame is happenstance. I bet right now you can name a hundred people in your life who are all-stars.

Few of them are famous, though. The set of people who are {famous} ≠ those who are {talented.}

Fame itself is not a thing one ought to pursue. (Kim Kardashian is pregnant! Who exactly is Kim Kardashian?) The person who is wise as well as talented pursues her talent, not her fame. She can’t help it; Susan Boyle was born with that voice, and she has to sing.

She would die if she could not; the people on Skid Row have voices but prevented themselves from singing.

God makes more talent than “men” make famous.

It’s kind of a scary thing. But then you look at a bowl by Leonardo Ricardo and just go, “Wow.”

How did he do that? And why? “It takes so much patience,” that pointilism of his. He’s in fucking Guatemala; who gets famous in Guatemala? But the place is teeming with talent, apparently.

He doesn’t need to be famous; he’s famous among his friends, and that is good enough.

If someday he becomes actually famous, won’t that be a joy. (Or not; it can go wrong.)

I do not know why I am not famous – except that I come from a particular place, which might as well be Guatemala, and I’ve never pursued fame, especially compared to Kim Kardashian, and “talent” I think probably seeks its own level and finds it.

If, years later, you go back and watch Susan Boyle’s introductory video on “Britain’s Got Talent,” you’ll see that whatever she lacked in looks, she made up for in chutzpah. She walked out on that stage prepared. She knew what her talent was, and that if she could get a chance to sing, she could bring down the house.

They gave her a chance and she brought it down. Instant worldwide fame.

Most of us don’t know what she’s done since, but she’s still got that voice inside her body. She still can make, and always will make, that sound.

I’m no Susan Boyle. I don’t even carry Doug Blanchard’s water. I’m just Josh, and that’s pretty good.

I’m happy with my life, this first day of 2013. I’m singing. It’s what my body needs to do, so I’m doing it.

What prompts these musings? Why am I yammering on here? Several things which fuse in my mind.

• I looked over ten days’ worth of posts from dailyoffice.org. This is the public performance I’m best known for now; Morning and Evening Prayer, plus graphics I select, with an occasional prayer of my own composition. I’m happy with my posts, with the art and little comments. It’s some beautiful stuff, and my site’s had two million visitors. I like what I’ve done, and I’m pleased to have a following. Every day, a thousand people get e-mails with my stuff. It’s mostly about God and not about me, but people sign up because, well, I deliver them God.

Leonardo does too; Stephen and Doug and Diana and Grandmère, Robert and Malcolm and Sara. We all do this; we all deliver God, which is a really fun thing to do.

But the other day some friend of Leilani’s posted a hurtful comment. She re-posts my stuff on Facebook for her followers, but FB gave her trouble with the link, which she mentioned in frustration, and some guy wrote, “Go to Mission St. Clare, it’s much better!”

That’s the competition, and no, it isn’t better. It’s run by a machine and not a person. But it’s good, and I’m happy to acknowledge it – because God is good, who you kiddin’? – and anything or anyone who delivers God is doing right. Still, I wondered if that guy knew how hurtful his Christian comment was. “Josh is bad, St. Clare is much better!”

Oh yeah? Sez who?

• I put out a book last fall, The Gospel According to Gay Guys. It’s extremely long, starts out with graphic Gay sex, and it’s not going to make me famous, but I’m proud of it. It distills everything I think I know.

It’s sold enough to pay my electric bill for a few months, and my genius friend Stephen raved about the first couple of chapters he read before life made him put it down. I was pleased by his excellent reaction.

This book has one reader-review on Amazon. It’s one star; I haven’t read it. I just know the person hated it.

I do have the ability to piss people off. Usually I don’t even know when I’m doing it; I make a simple statement, some truth that is evident to me, but whammo, I’m in big trouble.

The few times that Jack, my late beloved done-me-wrong, raised his voice to me, I rushed to stop what I was doing in the latest pissoff. But I can’t do that with strangers, and even Julie Andrews ain’t gonna win ’em all.

• Some part of me is glad I have that pissoff factor. The same thing led me to march for Stonewall in 1974, when sidewalk gawkers outnumbered Pride participants; in 1980, when I led a student rebellion at college; in 1982, when I founded AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati, the world’s second-oldest AIDS services organization. Prophets get stoned; I’m proud of my battle scars.

But I don’t like bad reviews, when I’m trying to deliver you God here.

• I’m engaged today in a mini-debate on The New York Times website. They ran an article about Lincoln and Walt Whitman, part of their Civil War series. I commented on Lincoln’s Gay sensibility, which I see dimly between America’s Poet and America’s President. This got some Likes, as well as a chorus of dissenters. A hundred and fifty years later, after three states have voted in Gay marriage, Lincoln’s hetero defenders still turn out in force. That’s fine, I’m not surprised by this, but it does get old after awhile. I don’t claim the fact that he slept in the same bed as other guys while circuit-riding in the wilderness proves he was Gay; for that I look to his relationship with Whitman, distant but respectful. Those two loved each other, but America still doesn’t want to hear it.

God cannot possibly be Gay.

• But God is Gay to those of us who are, and Straight to those who swing the other way, and female if you need her to be; Jewish, Arab, Christian, Black and utterly Japanese. What else would God be but Black or Japanese?

I do not whine; I’m not famous and never will be. Some people hate my books, my sites and my life. Some people like them, too, and for that I’m very glad. They enable me to keep singing by their belief.

Leonardo, down in volcanic Guatemala, keeps on making his bowls and pots and tables and entire house with pointilistic perfection, and if you ain’t been there it’s your tough luck. His doggies snuggle up; he’s got a Juan Carlos, too. The garden blooms, the feasts get made and he lives happily ever after.

Not famous, just talented. Happy New Year.++

To Luke I'm the center of the universe - or at least the guy with crunch food twice a day.

To Luke I’m the center of the universe – or at least the guy with the food twice a day.

Thelma Glass Has Died; Lessons from Her Life

Thelma Glass (David Campbell/Alabama State University)

Professor Thelma Glass of Alabama State University has died. She was a principal organizer of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, the nonviolent action which propelled Martin Luther King, Jr. to world prominence. She was 96. Go here to read her inspiring story in The New York Times.

I want to focus on a detail we often overlook: people like Rosa Parks weren’t just forced to sit in the back of the bus. One hears that phrase so commonly these days that its meaning is weak tea.

Instead Blacks were told, “Sit in the back and give up your seat to a White person.”

Male, female, it didn’t matter; any White person. An able-bodied kid, even one who couldn’t sit still. This was the law.

In fact it was psychological warfare—brainwashing, programming, conditioning. “You matter so little that you have to stand up so a snot-nosed kid can sit down.”

The entire Jim Crow system of segregation was built to control people’s minds as much as their bodies. Colored drinking fountains—movie balconies—waiting rooms—swimming pools—all were intended to keep the people feeling down; worthless, helpless, confused, intimidated, separated, alienated and self-destructive.

If you can control people’s minds, their bodies follow.

There wasn’t a single White person, ever, who believed they would be harmed if they had to drink from the same fountain as a Black person. When you’re thirsty, water is water—and on the farm, it all comes from the same tin cup or gourd, and everyone cheerfully drank after each other without the least concern about hygiene. Remember when you were a kid? “Gimme a drink of that Co-Cola.”

No cooties to be found—including when a Black person got out of her seat on the bus and a White person plopped his butt right down where she’d been a-sitting.

It was largely psychological. But if you dared not to cooperate in your own brainwashing, they’d burn down your house, or bomb your Sunday School.

I’m still stunned by all the violence Whites were willing to commit to maintain their little advantages. I’d guess their self-esteem was pretty shaky too.

And it’s not as if the violence doesn’t continue, or the little mind games; just this week news bubbled up about a White Baptist church in Mississippi that refused to allow a Black, heterosexual couple to get married, purely for reasons of race. This couple had been attending there awhile, but when it came time to stand up in the White folks’ sanctuary, some of the members threw a fit—and the timid, “sensitive” pastor let them.

Thank God you don’t live in Miss’sippi. Or if you do, just slip out the back, Jack. There must be 50 ways to leave the Worst State Ever.

Now let’s bring it home to us. What did Prof. Glass do, and why did it have such an impact?

What does it mean for us today?

What she did, with Rosa Parks, Dr. King and the Montgomery Women’s Political Council, was remove one of the cornerstones in the edifice of racist psychological warfare.

Eventually, with a great deal of suffering and death, the rest of the structure fell down. Black folk stopped letting White people control their thoughts.

I think this applies directly to LGBTs.

The most homophobic people on earth are Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual. We’ve internalized homophobia; we’ve let Straight people brainwash us and control our thoughts.

We then turn around and use their weapons against ourselves, and each other.

I think we do this as much now as we ever did. Psychologically we’ve not made much progress at all. We’re outwardly more free, but our most casual, everyday conversations are laden with Straight people’s thought patterns.

Every “camp” remark ever made is homophobic, dividing the world into worthy Straight people and unworthy Gay people, or worthy men and unworthy women. (Because, you know, to be Gay and male really means you’re just a woman.)

Does this mean we give up our humor? Not at all. It means start being funny for a change!

My Jack was a wit; he kept everyone in stitches. He almost never made camp remarks. He liked Gay people, and fought for us.

Here we are, in 2012, and we’ve still got Gay men signing up for non-existent cures. Evidently they can’t think straight – or Straight’s the only way they can think, and they hate themselves.

We’ve still got Tyler Clementis jumping off bridges. That should teach the camp crowd something – but instead they always blame someone else.

We still churn out devastating statistics on LGBT depression, smoking, alcoholism and drug addiction, and tons of new HIV infections.

We worry about children being bullied, instead of teaching them to fight back.

There is plenty of blame to go around for our personal problems and social problems – but we’re perpetrators too, and we never take responsibility for it. We’ve got more denial than all the rivers of Egypt.

You can’t watch 10 snippets of Gay porn without seeing 8 snippets of homo-hatred. “You like that, bitch?”

Um, no, I don’t. We are not female.

We’re just Gay, that’s all.

I would like us to stop oppressing each other and ourselves. We can’t do much, directly at least, about anti-Gay violence, but we can stop thinking like some Straight people do.

Remember, the oppressor’s as terrified as we are. Do you think those ’50s crackers didn’t know they were doing wrong, bombing churches, burning crosses, shooting people dead?

They knew, all right, and so do we.

It isn’t a crime, when you’re an oppressed person, to absorb the mind games and thought patterns drummed into your head.

But it is a crime to keep thinking that way once you lose your chains. And it’s a felony to make other victims keep feeling bad about themselves.

It’s the old programming principle; garbage in, garbage out.

We’re still putting out an awful lot of garbage, every day, in most of our thoughts and conversations.

“Pride” is supposed to be the antidote to this, but it takes more than marching in a parade or buying a T-shirt. It takes deep soul-searching to root out all the bad programming.

There’s nowhere to go to get a brain transplant. If there were, none of us would smoke, drink or get HIV.

What we can do, though, is act. Ms. Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, and got arrested. She knew she would; she’d planned it all out.

Then once the news of her refusal reached Ms. Glass, she acted too; the Women’s Political Council acted – and within four days all the buses were empty.

The Black folk who depended on the buses had to make other arrangements. Some walked and some caught a ride with a friend.

They all knew instinctively how important it was to grab onto that cornerstone and yank it.

They didn’t need to go to therapy to change the voices in their heads; they had a tremendous advantage over LGBTs in the support of their families, who always knew racism was wrong.

This isn’t to say there weren’t Black folk who were scared to death to challenge the system; there were. The longer the bus boycott went on, the more internal dissent there was. It’s hard to get someplace when you don’t have transportation.

But they acted, and within a year they won, and only later did they stop to think about what they’d done and what it meant.

The larger civil rights movement was rife with internal dissent; the historical record shows that Dr. King got stabbed in the back more often by fearful Black pastors than any other group. But still he kept it together, even as younger, more militant leaders emerged, without his principles of non-violence. They didn’t win the Nobel Peace Prize, he did.

LGBTs have made remarkable strides as everyone now sees. We’ve been to the mountaintop and seen the promised land.

But if we want to be actors and not just reactors; if we want to have real pride and not just the kind you buy; if we want political change as well as inner peace and joy, we have to change our behavior and our thoughts.

We have to stop oppressing each other as a crooked way of showing/hiding how oppressed we still feel.

If you find it hard to change your thoughts, change your behavior; boycott Chick-Fil-A – and don’t be too quick to laud Target for running Gay ads and selling Pride trinkets just two short years after donating $150,000 in corporate money to a bigot running for governor of Minnesota.

Penney’s, Ellen’s sponsor, didn’t slip corporate cash to bigots first.

And don’t tell me that you can’t keep up with all the terrible companies, so therefore you don’t do jack shit.

Don’t tell us that you love Jesus or the pope or the Mormon church so much that you’re sticking with them no matter what – or we’ll come and pull you off the bus so you can walk. (You can still love your church, but don’t give them one thin dime as long as they treat LGBTs like the antichrist.)

Don’t tell us that you’re voting for Mitt Romney, “even though you disagree with him on this issue,” without expecting the rest of us to call you out. The only thing the Republican Party stands for now is greed – so we know exactly who your god is, the Almighty Dollar. You didn’t get the Gay gene without also getting the Gay compassion, the Gay empathy.

The more we act to liberate ourselves and others, the more our thoughts realign. (If we try changing our thoughts before our actions, it takes forever.)

Most of all stop oppressing other LGBTs with your idiotic remarks and pathetic humor.

Gay women are women; Gay men are men; and yes, you can play with those roles and gender boundaries all you want – as long as you don’t oppress others.

Bisexuals are real people with real feelings, so stop trying to make them fit your brainwaves.

Transgenders are allowed to be themselves – so hire one.

Imagine the world you want to live in, and your place in it; then act so that it comes true, and your thoughts will follow you. Create a world in which everyone is free.

That’s what Thelma Glass did, and she wasn’t much different from you or me.

But what made her different was that she acted. First Rosa, then Thelma, and suddenly it all went viral.++

My Clothes Are Depressing Me

Although my life is going fairly well, a few days ago I found myself starting to feel down for some unknown reason. The next day it happened again. And I started to realize it’s because I was wearing an old ugly shirt.

When I changed my shirt I felt better, and had a more productive day.

This set me to thinking about the whole complex set of feelings people have about what we wear. We all feel better when we look good, however we define what looking good means to us.

Most people have some clothes that make us feel special; others that we wear to work; everyday clothes for bumming around the house, and stuff in the back of the closet we should have thrown out years ago.

Somehow I’ve allowed the back of the closet to dominate my whole wardrobe. It’s not that I don’t have lots of nice things, but I’m hanging onto way too much junk for no good reason.

When that starts to affect my everyday functioning, it’s time for a change.

See if any of this applies to you. Our tastes in clothing are idiosyncratic, very personal, yet they’re also affected by what other people wear, what’s in style; “fashion” is very complicated, always changing, and styles change a lot faster than our minds do.

One reason I now find myself with a bunch of ugly shirts I don’t like goes back to a decision I made when I was 14. I liked clothes then, but I also made a decision that “fashion” would never rule my life, because it makes a person materialistic, as well as subject to the whims of other people.

When you’re 14 you want to be your own person, not your parents’, not even your friends’. I didn’t want to be subject to someone else’s desire to sell me something, especially if I didn’t need it.

There I was, walking in front of the county courthouse, deciding I would not be materialistic or motivated by money. After all, fashion-mongers are as greedy for you to buy a pair of shoes as McDonald’s is to sell you a Bic Mac.

I now think of that teenage decision as a kind of declaration of voluntary poverty. I would be a social worker, a servant of others, a Christian even; poverty, chastity, obedience and all that. (The only one I’ve ever managed was the poverty part.)

I’m still happy all these decades later for the anti-materialist, pro-service, willful poverty aspect of my decision, but I also recognize that my 14-year-old mind saw the world in black and white, either-or, rich or poor.

It was the 1960s, I was headed straight for hippiedom, and maybe it’s taken me all this time to re-evaluate.

I guess most people my age have long since sold out and joined the Corporation; I never did and never will (who would have me?), but I’m not sure this makes me morally superior. Hairshirts fell out of fashion centuries ago.

But there I was a few days ago, wearing these ugly togs and thinking, “Get rid of it!”

My rule has always been, when it falls apart, trash it. But don’t be spending money if it hasn’t fallen apart. The money I saved could and did go to the poor, to GLBT rights, to progressive causes, which are a lot more important than my old shirt.

However, all these decades later I now find myself with a closetful of junk and a need to shop! How did I get here?

Sometimes it’s because I tend to hoard things with memories attached; I still have and still wear two sweaters my mother bought me that year, a navy blue V-neck and a yellow mohair. They still fit, though the elbows betray their age. (Does anyone alive still know what mohair is?) I loved those sweaters, which I had to grow into at that age, turning up the cuffs; I loved them for themselves, as nice things to wear that kept me warm, and I loved that she bought them for me, a complete surprise. We never had much growing up, but there I was with two nice sweaters. So I’ve kept them this whole time and never outgrew them. She couldn’t have picked better sweaters; in her later years we used to trade the blue one back and forth. She’d visit me in Ohio where I was living and I’d lend her my navy blue, which she’d wear home to Indiana, and a year later I’d be at her house and say, “Hey, where’s my sweater?”

Both the blue and yellow are “Mom” things, and I don’t care if you can’t even picture a yellow mohair sweater.

There have been many other presents over the years; people have always felt a need to buy clothes for me, perhaps because they knew I wouldn’t buy them myself, or because they knew at Christmastime, For Josh, Buy Warm. They were absolutely right in that department, I’ve got 25-year-old longjohns I climb into every winter. I get cold easily, not enough bodyfat just like my Mom, and winter clothes were always thoughtful gifts, even if they were sometimes ugly.

I have T-shirts from every Gay rights gathering I ever went to. They’re museum pieces, without a museum; Marches on Washington, Gay Games 1990, Pride Days in Cincinnati and Columbus, plus two years ago in New York. I’ve got sweats and tees from when the Reds won the World Series in 1990 and lots of old Purdue stuff. How can I send those memories to the landfill?

I have the golf shirt I was wearing when Dick married Linda outdoors on the hilltop in Colorado; it has holes in it now, so it’s hanging in my basement. I can’t give that one up without trashing the Bro I’ve always loved.

However, the problem with accepting any gift that comes along, and thinking you have to keep it because NN gave it to you, is that their idea of pretty is usually my idea of crappy. Late husband Jack’s Uncle Kenny always used to buy me the cheapest possible polyester shirts from Wal-Mart, invariably brown. I’d wear them, but I always felt like s—, which is also brown. I hate the colors sold to men in fall and winter. I want bright colors when it’s cold out, not olive and brown. Kenny once did give me a bright red fake flannel that I loved, but it was cheap and fell apart quickly. I’ve never found any shirt in the same bright red these past 20 years. Autumn is depressing enough; why would I want to look like autumn?

This morning I looked for a long-sleeved shirt, and picked out an old one I hate, knowing I’d be writing this post and throwing this shirt away when I go to bed tonight. This shirt also was a gift that doesn’t fit into any of the above emotional categories; I barely knew the guy. But he did succeed in providing me a piece of cloth to keep alive his memory these decades later; he was so strange, that whole episode with him was weird. Let’s call him Mr. Trick.

(Okay, I ain’t proud of it, but remember what I said about mastering poverty, chastity and obedience.)

He already had a lover, and another friend who was a member of the household, but he somehow fixated on me and insisted on giving me the shirt I’m wearing right now, that I picked out this morning so I could write this post.

There was also a cheap ring involved, which for some reason I accepted and wore for five days, even though I was with Jack and told him about it. Then Mr. Trick showed up at our store and asked for his ring back, said he’d made a big mistake, so I took it off and gave it back. He walked out and I’ve never seen him since.

I guess I got some egotistical charge out of the whole thing, that a stranger would be enthralled with me. Then he came to his senses, went back to his boyfriend, and here I am wearing the most god-awful shirt you’ve ever seen.

Why have I kept this? It’s going in the trash tonight.

I do have a tendency to hoard things, but I have never for one minute liked this shirt; why hang onto it, except for that childish decision I made so long ago outside the courthouse?

Ya know, a shirt’s a shirt, or somethin’.

It’s a Western shirt, as in Country and Western music. It’s black with cheap but extensive white embroidery from the neck to the top of the chest. The buttons are snaps, which I rather liked in my younger years; it used to be fun to pull apart my shirt in one dramatic move when I was ready to move on some guy and get naked. In the clone days we’d all heard of the Marlboro Man.

But the Midwest, where I’m from, isn’t cowboy country; until I was 45 I hated country music. I still wouldn’t give you 10¢ for George Jones or Patsy Cline. I hate the twang – though I’ve since come to love Reba McIntyre, the Oklahoma girl and Broadway star. I didn’t grow up with this music or this look. Why do I own this shirt?

The Midwest raises hundreds of thousands of cattle, but we never needed cowboys to drive the herd hundreds of miles to the next waterhole, because unlike the West, we’ve got water everywhere you look. So that whole cowboy thing is not, never has been, my culture.

But here I sit, typing out the story of how one young Gay guy went nuts one night, and I let him. Told him the truth but wore his ring till he came back to fetch it.

I’ve never seen a person go crazy in love like that before; that’s why I kept his shirt. If he’d asked for it back I’d have gladly handed it over.

Then again, maybe I kept his shirt so I could one day tell you this story. Writers are whores, I freely admit it. Hand me a story and it will get published eventually.

Still, the joke’s on me. I’ve got Geoffrey Beane, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and others hanging on my shirt rack, all of whom I wear in a fairly strict rotation. (Designer clothes are worth the extra money, not because of the name, pricetag or snob appeal, if you can see and feel the difference in quality, fabric and workmanship.)

So far none of my label shirts have led to a story anything like Mr. Trick’s. It was nice, at a time when Jack had no sexual interest in me, to be wanted by a decent guy who lost his head for a little while, though I was relieved when he ended it.

Meanwhile it’s really stupid for me to keep old stuff I hate because someone I truly loved gave me some offhand thing decades ago; Bro and wife once gave me some hand-me-downs he didn’t want, which I didn’t like at the time but kept anyway. Why?

Well, you know why. When you don’t have the loved one near you, a used shirt will do.

Gay shirts, Purdue shirts from old glory days; sweaters my mother surprised me with in my freshman year in high school. Those may be worth saving, because they don’t depress me. But anything that does has got to go.

I still wear a bright red Columbia University sweatshirt I bought in the winter of 1984 in graduate school, to get me through a horrible New York winter while I worked at Gay Men’s Health Crisis. That hoodie’s lost its strings, and the front pockets are fraying off. It hangs lower in the front than it does in the back. It’s the only thing I have left from those days of running support groups for PWAs, tramping about from hospital to hospital on Christmas Eve, running workshops to sign guys up for SSI and SSD. The truth is I hated the Columbia School of Social Work and it hated me, but I did love those guys.

It’s good to hang onto the memories, but it’s not good to wear a worn-out sweatshirt to the grocery store in 2010. It’s time to give it up and go shopping.++

Silence=Death, but so does hanging onto the past. (Keith Haring)

New Film “Stonewall Uprising”: 3 Nights That Changed Everything

Police surround a Stonewall rioter, June, 1969. (Bettye Lane via First Run Features)

Steven Holden tells in today’s New York Times about a new documentary on the Stonewall Riots. It sounds like a must-see.

“The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous. He is not interested in, nor capable of, a lasting relationship like that of a heterosexual marriage.”

So declared Mike Wallace in authoritative voice-of-God tones in “The Homosexuals,” a tawdry, sensationalist 1966 “CBS Reports,” excerpted in Kate Davis and David Heilbroner’s valuable film, “Stonewall Uprising.” Funny how yesterday’s conventional wisdom can become today’s embarrassment.

The most thorough documentary exploration of the three days of unrest beginning June 28, 1969, when patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a seedy Mafia-operated gay bar in Greenwich Village, turned on the police after a routine raid, “Stonewall Uprising” methodically ticks off the forms of oppression visited on gays and lesbians in the days before the gay rights movement.

Holden’s review itself is valuable reading until we get to see the film:

The cultural demonizing of gay men in public service films depicted them as at best, psychologically damaged and at worst, ruthless sexual predators. Lesbians were nearly invisible.

The same “CBS Reports” peddled the medical opinion, since discredited, that homosexuality was determined in the first three years of life. The movie has ominous vintage footage of electroshock aversion therapy being administered, accompanied by the suggestion that it might be a promising cure for what was widely regarded as a mental illness. The most unsettling historical tidbit concerns the treatment of homosexual patients at a mental hospital in Atascadero, Calif., where some were injected with a drug that simulated drowning, a process that one commentator describes as “chemical waterboarding.”

It’s easy today for LGBT people in the West to forget what Gay life was like back then—and what it’s still like now in large parts of the world, including Russia and its satellites, the Middle East, nearly all of Africa. Latin America is doing somewhat better, including parts of Mexico and Brazil, but progress is uneven; people still win elections in the United States by denouncing Gay people and denying us rights.

Holden tells us the film even quotes one of the cops:

Because so little photographic documentation exists of the unrest, the film relies mostly on eyewitnesses, including Seymour Pine, the now-retired police officer who led the initial raid of six officers and who describes it as “a real war.”

The details of the raid are reconstructed by several who were present, including Howard Smith and Lucian Truscott IV, journalists for The Village Voice whose offices were nearby. The film focuses on the first night of the unrest.

As one rioter remembers: “All of a sudden the police faced something they had never seen before. Gay people were never supposed to be threats to police officers. They were supposed to be weak men, limp-wristed, not able to do anything. And here they were lifting things up and fighting them and attacking them and beating them.” It was the first stirring of what came to be known as gay pride.

“This was the Rosa Parks moment, the time that gay people stood up and said no,” Mr. Truscott recalls. “And once that happened, the whole house of cards that was the system of oppression of gay people started to crumble.”


Opens on Wednesday in Manhattan at the Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, west of Avenue of the Americas, West Village.

I’ve written before about the “dueling stereotypes” of Gay men as limp-wristed sissies who somehow manage simultaneously to be dangerous predators; Jamie gives Kent a tart little speech about it in “Murder at Willow Slough.”

You can hear the same lies told about us in the debate on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. For heaven’s sake, Straight men have been sharing bathrooms and showers with us since the beginning of time! There’s no need to build a new barracks, or run a huge expensive poll of 800,000 soldiers, or wait until the freaking Pentagon learns to obey an order for once.

Bill Clinton should never have caved. When the Joint Chiefs of Staff threatened to quit (and yes, they certainly did) he should have fired them until he found a general who understands that civilians control this military and not the other way around.

I will never support a Clinton and this is why. I didn’t vote for Bill Clinton in 1996 and I certainly did not vote for his pandering missus in 2008.

My late lover Jack was a Vietnam veteran. I was once at a Gay Pride dinner in Dayton, Ohio where military issues were the topic of the year; the speaker asked, “How many of you served in the military?” Half the room raised their hands, including a lot of women!

But it all started in 1969, outside a seedy joint in Sheridan Square, when the limp-wristed predators finally fought back.

They changed my life, they changed yours, and those rioters are our patron saints worldwide. Maybe someday their descendants will riot in Russia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. No one gives you rights, you have to take them.++

Jack & Me in The New York Times: Gay Hospital Horror Stories

(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Tara Parker-Pope reports in the “Well” blog in the April 19 New York Times.

It’s half a dozen horror stories of Lesbian and Gay couples, and sometimes their children, being denied access to their loved one during medical emergencies.

Ms. Parker-Pope was following up on President Obama’s executive order to Medicare- and Medicaid-funded hospitals to let domestic partners in. She points out how spotty enforcement is, and is likely to remain, no matter what legal status and documents Gay partners have.

She did a nice job and spent a lot of time on the phone with me. She chose me to interview because of a comment I left on the subject last year on The Times website. (Who knew reporters actually read the comments?)

My only objection is the headline, which she didn’t write: “For Same-Sex Couples, Equality in the Hospital.” That should be INequality, dummies.

But I’m glad, even though Jack’s gone, that some small part of his suffering made it into print in the “newspaper of record,” or if not in print, at least online. Most injustice and human suffering never sees the light of day.

Getting Over the Loss of a Love

Jack & Josh, wedding night.

It’s been years now. I should be over it, right?

Yes, actually, I should. And starting with this post, I’m over it.

There was this guy, see? He was smart and nice. I was in love with him. If that’s too much for your brainwaves, get lost.

I don’t apologize for being Gay and I don’t apologize for loving Jack Ferguson.

But I am starting to rethink my marriage vows, and wonder what the hell I thought I was doing.

I’m not going to retell Jack’s story now; you can click on the Jack category in the sidebar. Take it from me, he was a great guy.

I was 33 when we met; he was 38. He died a couple of years ago, having suffered for decades with a terrible disease that disabled him and put him in a wheelchair as an amputee.

There were many times I thought he was a goner; the guy was so sick. In the midst of one crisis I proposed to him, and he accepted. We were married in front of an Episcopal priest named Wayland Melton and 40 guests in, what, 1991? That long ago? I should check my wedding ring, because we had the date inscribed inside.

The price of gold is through the roof these days but I’ve never given up that ring. I remember when we bought those matching rings, at a chain jewelry store in the Western Hills Shopping Center in Cincinnati. We didn’t apologize, we just bought ’em, and the guy who waited on us barely blinked an eye.

They’re pretty rings; classy, elegant. We mighta spent 200 bucks plus tax.

My mother came to the wedding; so did Ronn Rucker and a whole bunch of friends. We were Gay and AIDS activists then, publishers of a Gay newspaper that was fierce in its defense of queers.

We may not always have been right, but we sure felt our power. He gave me the nickname Stud Reporter.

That little bit of power we claimed — every newsroom in the state subscribed to us, and if Josh got pissed about something there was always a story in it — was due in no small part to the masculine man I married, ex-Navy, Vietnam, high school track star. He was an analyst, not an initiator, but I relied on him. We were two minds, not one; that changed everything. Journalism is a collaborative craft.

Three or four years later we separated. We’d moved to Columbus, Ohio and he got homesick. I didn’t see it coming; I thought it was the happiest year of my life.

Maybe he also got sick of me, but he never said so. As far as I’m concerned we were close the rest of our lives.

When Gay marriage isn’t legal, what do you do when it’s time to divorce?

What do you do when you promised God, a priest and 40 faithful people that you’d love this man to the ends of the earth?

I did the only thing I knew; I loved him to the end.

A few years ago now; maybe it’s time I stopped mourning.

Maybe it’s time I finally started living for myself again.

I’m never going to have another lover; I’m old and ugly and I’m too out of the loop. For years I prayed to God to give me a lover, but God didn’t and… that part of my life is over. I’m okay with that now, kind of, though for the first decade and a half, After Jack, I used to beg God to give me someone to love.

I was born for marriage; I was born for love. I’ve loved well in my life, so don’t feel sorry for me. Jamie, John, Frankie, Eddie, Randy — I’ve been well loved by incredibly nice guys. (All were kinda hot, too!)

But now I am alone, and this is my state, and I want to come to grips with it now.

I’ll never really know whether Jack said one thing to his friends about me and another thing to my face. Some evidence says he did, but no one’s ever come out and said as much.

I didn’t go to his funeral. The people who were taking care of him in his last days pretty much shut me out, and his plans, or theirs, for the final disposition of his body offended me. His ashes are supposedly ensconced at sleazy little dive bar on Walnut Street in Cincinnati.

Guys used to fuck in the bathroom there, if that tells you anything. I bet they still do.

Here is the current reality: when Jack left, I lost everything important to me; my lover, my home, my job, my business, my career, my status and role in the GLBT community. I was a leader, with an aggressive voice, a talent and a venue.

Then he got homesick, and a year later it was all gone.

He was important at the newspaper; I couldn’t do it without him. Together we made enough money that I could support him; but apart my life fell to pieces. I tried to keep the work alive for another year, but then my mother got sick, she needed a live-in caregiver and I was relieved to move back home.

She died shortly afterwards, and I immersed myself in the ecstatic but not remunerative task of composing novels. One actually sold fairly well. The other bombed.

Nothing’s been the same since. I wonder if my great artistic fulfillment (and modest trust funds) meant I postponed doing the emotional work of mourning that I ought to have done. Grandiose fantasies are very entertaining while they last.

I have managed in the post-Jack era to do a couple of things I’m very proud of; a few years of working as a suicide and homicide prevention specialist in Gary, Indiana and starting a website that helps people to pray online every morning, noon, evening and night.

That site and its blog have reached 800,000 page views in five years. It sure isn’t Twitter but it’s not bad for the Book of Common Prayer.

I plan to keep doing it at least until a million hits. It’s the second-largest Episcopal church in the world, although it’s only virtual.

That’s the kind of thing Jack and I used to do together; not the praying, but the public impact. We had so many successes together; mostly my work but man, was he essential.

But that was then, and now is now, and what did I mean when I stood up next to my double amputee and promised God and the whole world that I would love Jack for better, for worse?

I stayed married when Jack did not. (I’m told he later had sex as an amputee that he’d never have with me, who loved him because he was still the same person he always was.) I was no saint, but I made a commitment and kept it.

I’ve always thought that was the finest thing I’ve ever done, but maybe not. It doesn’t serve me today.

Three times in my life I’ve stood up before God and the Whole Company, and made vows; confirmation, commissioning and marriage. I meant what I said every time, in sickness and in health.

If you take God seriously and you’re about to solemnly swear, you’d better mean it. And I always have.

My job now is to recognize that my marriage vows are over, and Jesus is my Lover from here on out.

I don’t sexualize the Second Person, but Julian of Norwich knows what I’m talking about.

The mistake I’ve made is to deny the depth of my mourning. Jack and I were never rich and famous but God, we had the perfect life!

“Let justice rain down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” And we got to live that!

Then one day we didn’t.

The man’s dead. I need to stop my self-destruction. As if I could somehow share his, by empathy.

I’ll never be rich and famous, or influential, or have any power as a spokesman or advocate for marginalized people. Those days are gone. I live in obscurity, without much media access and no one clamoring for my defense.

What I’ve got are the prayers. And those are quite enough.

I can’t fully tell you why Jesus moves me as he does; that’s a product of childhood, a young adult encounter with beauty, civil rights, social work, social justice; the firstfruits of Gay liberation, a period of peer recognition and the experience of being loved by a succession of gorgeous Gay personalities, of whom Jack was the ultimate. Not perfect, he couldn’t stand confrontation, but Gay and masculine, brave and funny, courageous and garden-variety heroic.

Scratch me a millimeter and you’ll find that’s what I think ALL Gay men are like. My term is the “shared Gay personality”—and the women are much the same. Good God, what women have done in my lifetime!

Now I’m entering a new phase, the start of my last one, as a “young old” guy. No more self-destruction; now it’s time to live for God. We’ve got a pretty nice relationship, but up to now I’ve resisted going deeper into “the cave,” that depth in every soul where the Divine dwells in us. I’ve had more work to do; I’ve left mourning unfinished; I’ve left sadness unfelt.

I have to let go of things that don’t exist anymore; my own aspirations, I suppose. I’m never going to be on Rachel Maddow; I used to be Rachel Maddow, young and smart, goodlooking and funny, utterly without fear.

So you go, girl, all the way. I don’t need to be you. I’ve already been you in 1986, so now I can sit back in my rocking chair and wave at the parade.

I also don’t need to be married to Jack Ferguson anymore. Fuck him if he can’t take a joke. He was married to young, smart, courageous and ambitious and he wanted to move back to the Ludlow. Now his ashes rest 30 feet from a toilet that stinks.

I divorce you, I divorce you, I divorce you. Such a sweet man.++

Purdue on Top in Big Ten

Dr. James H. Smart, president of Purdue and founder of the nation's first athletic conference, the Big Ten, in 1895.

Okay, now I’m certain the basketball gods are conspiring to bless my little heart. Purdue beat Ohio State and Illinois this week; OSU then went to East Lansing and walloped Michigan State—putting my beloved Boilermakers in sole possession of first place in the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives, otherwise known as the Big Ten.

One favorable event is a random act; two are a coicidence. But when three similar things happen, you’ve got a pattern on your hands. I’m going to have to break down and buy a TV!

I haven’t watched the idiot box since Jack got sick in 1986; there just wasn’t time to take care of him, do his job and mine, cook and clean and pay the bills, plus turn into a couch potato every night. By the time I got done with my work, prime time was over. And I didn’t miss it. I blame television for everything that’s wrong with society; how else can you explain Sarah Palin?

Think of those thousands of commercials I missed!

But now the Boilers are sitting all alone on top of the standings in men’s basketball. That’s miracle #1, thanks to Keaton Grant’s 15 points off the bench Saturday against the Illini. (He equalled his season high of 13 three days earlier against the Buckeyes.)

Keaton Grant earlier this year. (Michael Conroy/AP)

As the 4th-ranked team in the country in both the AP and coaches’ polls (#3 as of tomorrow, I bet), the Boilers may receive a #1 seed in the Best Sports Event in the World (the NCAA Tournament) beginning in three weeks. The #1 seed receives the easiest path to regional victory and a chance at the Final Four. (That’s miracle #2.)

But now wait, because this third event is truly miraculous. I have just found out that the off-brand cable company that serves my hometown (pop. 1800) just 45 miles north of the Purdue campus has finally decided, after years of delay, there might be customers here for the Big Ten Network.

Crash, that’s the sound of me keeling over dead.

Obviously I’m old enough to remember when all Purdue basketball games were televised for free on one broadcast station, WTTV, Channel 4 in Indianapolis. But those days are gone, because businessmen figured out how to charge people money for what used to be free. (Gas stations now charge you to put air in your own tires, too.) Now, college basketball is scattered all over the pay-TV dial, from ESPN (1, 2, U and 360) to CBS to BTN. The only way to watch is with cable or satellite, and the only thing I have any interest in seeing is Purdue sports. Just think of all those reality TV shows I’ve missed. (I still wouldn’t recognize Paris Hilton or Brittany Spears if they walked up and kissed me on the mouth.)

Cable TV costs a minimum of $400 a year, and without the Big Ten Network I had no reason to subscribe.

Now, however, a miracle I’ve waited a lifetime for might actually take place: Purdue winning the National Championship next month in Indianapolis. I have to get cable; I owe it to myself not to miss this.

Of course, TV technology has changed, and my old analog TV, which I still have from the days when Jack would watch “Roseanne” back in the ’80s, and which weighs 90 pounds and isn’t worth moving, is out of date. I not only have to sign up for cable, I have to buy a new idiot box.

So I’ve been shopping online, and my my my, what pretty new boxes they have these days. They weigh less too.

I’ve found out about a new American manufacturer named Vizio, which makes TVs that use less energy, even below the standards of EnergyStar 3.0. They sell a 32-inch set with 1080 pixels and 120 Hz for a list price of $548; maybe less if I can find a good deal.

For $200 less you can get a Vizio 32-incher with 720 pixels and 60 Hz, but the pixels and refresh rate matter a lot in picture quality; since this is going to be the last TV I ever buy, let’s not be a cheapskate. OTOH, an extra 10 inches costs $200 more at $748, which is more than my house payment. What to do???

Let’s try dreaming.

Purdue Wins National Championship in High-Def!!!

That’s one way to look at it. Or:

purduelosesin2ndroundtono-name-u — in which case I don’t want to see it even in low-def.

Which do I think will happen?

The Boilers are #4 in the country, sitting atop the Big Ten with three games left to play. When Illinois took out JuJuan Johnson, Purdue’s high-scoring big man, yesterday, up came Grant off the bench; that’s the mark of a championship team, finding a way to win no matter what. Purdue’s riding a 9-game winning streak, after putting together a 14-game streak to start the season. (They had three straight losses in between.) They’re one of the hottest teams in the country, almost sure to get a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Even better, this year’s team is dominated by juniors: Johnson, Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore. All of them will be back next year.

I think I’d better buy the best damn TV I can afford. This will be my last chance to see the cutest guy in basketball, Purdue senior Chris Kramer.

Life is a crapshoot. GO BOILERS!

The Secretary of Defense, Purdue's Chris Kramer. (Don Ryan/AP)