Saturday, June 30, 2007

Danger Men Working

Theater is a medium of risk, requiring more of a suspension of disbelief than film because the audience is physically closer to the action. As Tom Stoppard says, there’s more “danger.” Artists like Stoppard are also aware that bold symbolism is less effective within film’s realism. (Theater would have better suited a movie like Stephen Frears’ “The Queen”. Take the scene in which Helen Mirren’s heroine sees the majestic stag. On the stage the stag could have been projected in silhouette, looming large in shadow, magically, against the back wall.) Danger too is what makes the “school of Mike Leigh” greats like Gary Oldman and Tim Roth a different breed from the modern day giants of RADA like Ralph Fiennes and Clive Owen. Simply put (despite the film training of the former and the stage training of the latter), Mike Leigh’s actors are fearless. It’s the difference between the breathtaking artistry of Gielgud and the hair-on-end fire of Olivier. Unfortunately, I fear that in the future this risky profession of acting will become obsolete. Already there is an accelerating trend towards finding interesting “characters” in real life then having them reprise their “roles” onscreen. When I first saw this in Iranian cinema years ago I thought directors like Kiarostami innovative. Now I see Kiarostami’s prescience as well. Here reality TV has helped to blur the boundaries between fiction and documentary, which meld into a hybrid form of filmmaking, sadly leaving acting a quaint remnant of a glamorous theatrical past. Where there is no danger there is no art.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Dear Graydon

(An edited version of the following appeared in the Letters to the Editor section of the February 2006 issue of “Vanity Fair”. Addressing “The 60 Minutes Takedown,” it was my response to an article on Dan Rather’s fallen producer Mary Mapes.)

For shame! I can’t believe “Vanity Fair” would publish such sanctimonious drivel, let alone that Mapes could garner a book deal from such (to use the author’s own phrase) “horseshit.” As a fellow “left-wing liberal,” I advise Mary Mapes to take a long hard look in the mirror before casting stones in the name of a free press. Mapes has done what the Bush administration she so heavily criticizes does best – shirk responsibility while investigating select sources sympathetic to an already drawn conclusion. By her own admission Mapes had known about the “simmering controversy over (George W. Bush’s) National Guard Service” since 1989 when she lived in Dallas. But unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past half-century, preferential treatment for and slacker behavior from a member of the Bush family is not really “simmering” nor “controversial” news any more than poverty and racism in America is. And as an ambitious journalist Mary Mapes needed “news.”

So whom did Mapes seek out as her number one source since she couldn’t use the now deceased man who purportedly had written the disputed memos? Not the 86-year-old former secretary to that man, which would have seemed the logical thing to do. No, that agenda-less source was only granted a television interview after Mapes drew fire. (Could it be because the elderly secretary held the opinion that “the memos were fakes because she hadn’t typed them”? Was Marian Carr Knox inconvenient to Mapes in the way Joe Wilson was to the Bush administration?) Instead, Mapes chose an unreliable, anti-Bush, anti-National Guard cattle rancher – then had the audacity to blame the subsequent CBS investigative panel for its “rigid, legalistic ideas of how reporting should work…Dick Thornburgh would have found Mark Felt an inadequate source.” To compare her cattle rancher to Woodward and Bernstein’s loyal FBI man is shocking enough – but to forget that Felt was only one of a huge number of reliable sources is unethical journalism.

Though unethical journalism doesn’t seem to bother Mapes in the least. “I don’t know what would have happened if Burkett had stuck to his original story,” she muses at one point, suggesting things would have turned out differently (her job perhaps saved!) if Burkett’s confession not given “corporate CBS the cover they needed” to issue an apology. But Burkett’s original story was a lie – a tiny inconvenient fact to Mapes who shows herself to be every bit as arrogant and self-absorbed as Bush and his top brass. When she complains that the investigative panel grilled longtime CBS staffers “whose work had never before been questioned or criticized,” I couldn’t help but think that it was about damn time someone did! Maybe this was the problem – no accountability within the leadership. Sound familiar?

Mapes may have been raised a farm girl but it’s evident her feet haven’t touched humble soil in years. I am not a trained journalist nor have I ever set foot on a farm – but I sure know horseshit when I read it.

Made Gay In The U.S.A.

Just because there is a biological component to gayness – a “gay gene” – does not negate the fact that people can indeed be “made” homosexual. (And I’m not talking about the “ex” gays and lesbians who found religion and now live happily ever after in Colorado Springs.) If we are going to acknowledge that nature plays a role in defining sexuality, why can’t we be honest and admit that nurture can as well?

Spending so many years in a relationship with a gay-for-pay sex worker was akin to doing anthropological fieldwork in human desire. David very much wanted to be gay – it would have made life a hell of a lot easier. Shacking up with a sugar daddy in a long-term relationship would have been preferable to the hustle of porn and tricks. The only problem was a genetic one – that damn “straight gene” that kept his dick hard for pussy. Though David always claimed to be bisexual, his “homosexuality” was limited to a desire for power over men, only wanting to cock-tease or hate-fuck, to conquer and control.

I remember being struck by the words of a "New York Times" film critic describing the typical onscreen baddie. “Sadism is sensual; it’s also a need.” David’s homosexuality was inextricably linked to his childhood abuse. Gay sex was familiar to him – and there was comfort in that familiarity. Conversely, the absence of sexual manipulation, of vengeance, was the very cause of his often being “scared” with women.

Indeed, there are scores of lesbians and gay men in the world who were abused as adolescents – and who cling to homosexuality for that reason. Being female, lesbians molested by men tend to eschew the male oppressor, look for comfort and feel safer with women. Being male, gay men abused by men seem to see in homosexuality an opportunity to rewrite history, to vanquish the oppressor, to regain a sense of power lost long ago (or because they also find safety in that which they know intimately). In either case, are these people truly any more homosexual than “ex” gays are straight? It’s an interesting question and one that won’t be solved in the human genome. So perhaps instead we should just learn to accept the yin and yang of nature and nurture – and stop looking to science for answers that need no solutions.

Weird Science

“New York” magazine ran an article entitled “The Science of Gaydar,” which once again made me question the very definition of queer. Predictably the piece only dealt with the science examining “strict” gays and lesbians – and in fact one researcher, a straight guy named Michael Bailey, has argued male bisexuality to be a myth and many transgender people simply “peculiar sexual fetishists,” which must make his research a heck of a lot easier without all those pesky complications like the genes for bisexuality and transgender getting in the gray way. Luckily, the subcategories under the all-purpose umbrella of “homosexuality” are coming out faster than the pace of research into the “sexuality gene.” By the time genetics catches up, the bi boys and dykes with dicks will have taken over, sexual and gender identity rendered a quaint relic of the past.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Come As You Are

The oddest thing about attending Folsom Street East, the annual Leather Pride street fair, was hanging out at NYC’s last leather bar The Eagle with Jimmy and Michael, swimming in a sea of testosterone, me the sole biological female amidst hundreds upon hundreds of gay men sardine-packed all the way up to the open air rooftop – and feeling completely at ease. I could safely breathe even in the stifling body heat of the stairwells, forgetting my female form for the afternoon. Wearing a black wife-beater bearing the words “Rough Trade” and black jean shorts, I fit in just as well as anyone (Jimmy even spotted a guy sporting my same top!), thus was treated accordingly. I’d noticed two other biological women outside in front of the bar, looking down uncomfortably, awkwardly avoiding eye contact while winding their way through the crowd. They were with a guy who didn’t blend in any more than they did, all in somewhat preppie street attire. I shared nothing but white skin and a pussy with those two, I thought. Gender seemed such a ridiculous category.

I thought of why I’m such a big fan of boxing and kickboxing. I fit in with the male pugilists when I’m at the gym. After eleven years of Muay Thai training I’m accepted, respected. At The Eagle I’m first and foremost a leather aficionado. At the gym I’m just one of the kickboxing crew. My gender is checked at the door.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Whose Gay Pride?

The day after I saw a “60 Minutes” interview with Barry Diller and his wife Diane Von Furstenberg, I read a “New York Times” article on former boxing champ Emile Griffith. Neither Diller, a titan in Hollywood’s so-called “Velvet Mafia,” nor Griffith, who was marching in the upcoming Gay Pride Parade, would candidly come out. And I found myself both applauding that decision and understanding their position. For what exactly does it mean to be “gay” in the 21st century? Certainly the definition of homosexuality when Griffith was cruising the Stonewall Inn is different than the one accepted by today’s Chelsea boys at Splash, just as it differed for the patrons of The Slide over a century ago. Bisexual men were not necessarily considered gay in Griffith’s youth (and what does “bisexual” mean anyway – does that include “gay-for-pay”?) So to whose idea of gay would Griffith be coming out? Far more disturbing was the callous and militant view taken by Williamson Henderson, founding president of the Stonewall Veterans’ Association, that Griffith’s beating of Benny Paret – who taunted Griffith with a homosexual epithet at the weigh-in – in the ring “set a precedent there, about not calling someone, a gay person, a slur word. That should be monumental in gay history.” Huh? Benny Paret died several days after being TKO’d in the twelfth round and Emile Griffith has been haunted by it ever since. Perhaps someone should tell Henderson that the definition of “gay pride” has changed in the nearly forty years since Judy Garland performed her ultimate swan song!

Likewise, Diller takes heat for being married to a woman – the same woman who’s been his best friend and confidante for decades, who he loves dearly and treats her children as his own. They are a power couple not unlike Bill and Hillary – right down to the probable lack of sexual attraction. So why is Barry and Diane’s marriage viewed as a farce? If gay couples don’t want to be defined by their sexual acts, but by who they love, I can’t think of a better poster couple for marriage, be it called gay or straight. Diller and Griffith should be held up as heroes for their refusal to “come out” – and be shoved into someone else’s gay closet.

(Though personally I’m against gay marriage because I don’t believe in special privileges like tax breaks for “lifestyle choices” – and heterosexual marriage and having kids most definitely qualify as “lifestyle choices.” It’s as crazy as health insurance being linked to traditional employment (conform to capitalism or die!) – as absurd as the American way.)

Taking Sides

“The New York Times” once ran an article about the rise in lesbians transitioning to become “straight guys” – and the sense of betrayal felt by their female sisters for “going over to the other side.” However, a parallel sense of outrage is rarely present when “gay brothers” become “straight sisters.” Are gay men generally more accepting? Hardly. For all the bitching and moaning in the dyke community, more lesbians by far stay with their partners after transitioning than gay men stay with men who transition to become women. This should come as no surprise, since men are bound to the visual first and foremost. More than that, though, they are bound to identity, even more so than their most political lesbian counterparts.

So it should come as no surprise that adult gay men who transition are extremely rare, not because the sex change desire does not exist for adult gay men (as Dan Savage posited in a follow up column), but because these men are rendered invisible by this unbending, “solid male identity,” choosing the transgendered closet over certain exile from their communities. Think about it. If an adult gay man were to suddenly realize he was a (heterosexual) woman, he’d be a fool to have a sex change. What gay man would stay with him? Who would he fuck? A “real” gay man would never be with a woman who was once a man any more than he’d be with a biological woman (or anyone lacking a fully functioning dick for that matter). Not to mention transgendered women don’t want to be with gay guys either! Only another man can affirm a gay man’s manhood, only a heterosexual man can affirm a transgendered woman’s womanhood. Either way, masculinity – and insecurity – trumps all.

Gay-For-Pay Denial

As someone who spent nearly six years in a relationship with a gay-for-pay hustler, I find former New Jersey governor James McGreevey’s egotism and level of denial absolutely astounding. “Of course, I have to admit that there’s a chance Golan isn’t gay. I have thought about this often,” was perhaps the most honest thing the disgraced McGreevey admitted to in his entire (self promotional) “New York” magazine interview. There’s a subconscious reason McGreevey always had to make the first move, why he never simply asked former “lover” Golan Cipel if he was gay. Yes, Mr. McGreevey, in all likelihood Golan Cipel is straight – he “hustled” you. Relationships of this sort occur all the time between handsome, hetero-identified guys looking for money (or, in this case, power) and lonely gay men (usually passing as straight with a matching set of wife and kids) willing to provide it in exchange for sex and companionship. It’s really no different from gorgeous models marrying the Trumps of the world. True love – or at least mutual physical attraction? Rarely. The difference is that most men in McGreevey’s position aren’t so narcissistic as to buy into their own fantasy. (No wonder Cipel was shocked when McGreevey offered to give up politics and family to be with him. Would Donald Trump have assumed Marla would run away with him if he sacrificed his career and all his millions to Ivana?) Golan Cipel’s only mistake was getting involved with a man so delusional he refused to see that the mutual agreement was sex for power, not sex for love. Though I don’t condone Cipel’s blackmailing behavior, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for a guy who discreetly provided a “service” McGreevey desperately needed then was given the boot as a result of McGreevey’s own indiscretions. While Anna Nicole Smith was awarded millions for her companionship, Golan Cipel was left only with a ruined career – and the added kick in the groin of McGreevey’s lucrative book deal.

But I'm A Chick

For many years I was the gender-bending equivalent of the lead character in Jamie Babbitt’s fabulously campy, coming-of-age dyke flick “But I’m A Cheerleader” who naively assumes that all teenage girls go through a “phase” of decorating their lockers with pinups of bikini-clad babes in lieu of “Teen Beat” heartthrobs, a matter of style over sexuality. (Fantasizing about the cheerleading squad while kissing the football quarterback didn’t make a girl, like, a lesbian, right?) Likewise, growing up I just assumed all teenage girls anxiously awaited the latest “International Male” catalog in the hopes of finding that perfect belt to go with their oversize, Hanes men’s, V-neck Ts (this was the eighties after all and Cyndi Lauper, a hetero female, was one of the reigning queens of androgynous chic!) At one time didn’t every teen girl swoon over the muscles of her first crush – then go out and pump iron so she could acquire those biceps for herself? And didn’t every sensitive, new wave chick think Andy Bell and Jimmy Sommerville were speaking directly to her? At some point didn’t all those teenage girls who escaped to the Village to study theater secretly aspire to lip-synch onstage with the downtown drag queens (and unlike those drag queens, only to bands with male lead singers) – it’s just that I had the chutzpah to realize that dream? Didn’t every straight girl get choked up with emotion at the Gay Pride Parade? Wasn’t I just a strong woman lacking in any maternal instinct whose fantasy to become the sex slave of a bisexual male couple really wasn’t all that unusual?

And wasn’t denial just some body of water in a distant land, far, far away?