Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Not Playing at a Theater Near You

It’s the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Museum of Modern Art’s “New Directors/New Films” series time! Check out my reviews of “Japan Japan” (small town fag in Tel Aviv) and “XXY” (Buenos Aires, inter-sex teen in small town Uruguay) at The House Next Door.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Gay for M.M.A.

“The New York Times Magazine” has done a public service by publishing Gladiator, Paul Wachter’s article on the underground versus state-sanctioned arenas of mixed martial arts, through the lens of an ex-con named Shad Smith who’s participated in both. Shad Smith also happens to be openly gay and, rightly, Wachter does not dwell on this detail any more than the other fighters do. As Smith himself allows, while fans will sometimes taunt him, the world of M.M.A. is “like a fraternity…once these guys see you in the cage, as long as you don’t make a fool out of yourself” you’re treated like everyone else. Finally one of the biggest misconceptions about fighting (boxing, muay Thai, M.M.A., jujitsu, etc.) as a macho, misogynistic, homophobic sport – when it’s actually the opposite – has been exposed. Anyone who’s ever spent time around serious fighters knows they dedicate themselves to what happens inside the ring. And gender and sexuality are checked before you set foot inside that space. There’s no time for categorizing people when your life is on the line. The only relevant question is, “Can you hold your own?” Fighters don’t distinguish between men and women, straight and gay. Everyone trains the same and is held to the same standard. Sports where opponents draw blood are very often the most civilized.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Revolution Will Not Be Categorized

Finally a "Times" reporter gets it right! When Girls Will Be Boys by Alissa Quart delves much deeper than just the dilemma faced by women’s colleges when students transition from female to male. Unlike the Stonewall generation, the Genderqueer Revolution is not about fitting easy definitions – “gay or straight” does not translate neatly into “male or female.” We’re transmen/women as well as gender nonconformists who’ve never desired hormones, and we run the gamut from post-op transsexuals to those that “pass” as the biological sex we were born into (“trans” being the operative word – we transcend gender in a way that the gay and lesbian community does not transcend sexuality). That society reduces us to a group “born into the wrong body” is offensive, for it implies that there is a “right” body to be born into. This revolution is not about making it easy for society to categorize us. (As Eddie Izzard eloquently put it in his recent “Times” interview, “I have fought for the right to be able to wear a dress, not that I have to wear a dress. I didn’t jump out of a not-wearing-dress box into a have-to-wear-dress box.”) It’s about making it easier for us to live comfortably inside our contradictory selves.

(An edited version appears in “The New York Times Magazine” Letters to the Editor section.)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Eddie Izzard Is My Hero(ine)!

Never underestimate the power of comedy to illuminate. The “NY Times” published an intriguing piece with “lost Python” (John Cleese’s words) and actor Eddie Izzard who still happens to be happily cross-dressing despite masculine appearances to the contrary. Caryn James’ interview excerpted below:

“(Izzard) said he is clueless about Broadway shows because “I’m a straight transvestite; I know nothing about musicals.”

He doesn’t always mention being a transvestite in his shows, he said. But he did in the two I saw, and it worked as a disarming strategy: acknowledge it for fans who are wondering what happened, then move on. “I am a transvestite; I’m just off-duty at the moment,” he told the audience, and immediately went on, “I never was a transvestite; it was a tax thing.”

As he explained later: “Some people would heckle me and say ‘Where’s the dress?’ and I’d say ‘Don’t oppress me, you Nazi’ — tends to shut them up. Because I have fought for the right to be able to wear a dress, not that I have to wear a dress. I didn’t jump out of a not-wearing-dress box into a have-to-wear-dress box.”

But isn’t he now in a have-to-wear-pants box for career purposes?

“Slightly,” he acknowledged. “Socially, politically, the number of out transvestites in the public eye are few.” And in American-accented voices he imagined one studio executive trying to persuade another to hire him:

“ ‘Yeah, he’s a transvestite — but he hasn’t been wearing a dress for a while.’ ”

“ ‘Yeah, I suppose that’s O.K.’ ”

Being a transvestite is “still not part of the establishment,” he said. “ ‘Twelve transvestite senators turned up today’ — it hasn’t been said yet. You’re always sort of outside the loop.”

When he started performing in England, he wore ordinary men’s clothes but worried that the press would learn of his transvestism and run with the news in a lurid way. He told reporters that he was a transvestite; they thought it was a joke. “So I thought, I’ll wear a dress and wear makeup,” he said, “and they wrote, ‘O.K., he is a transvestite, but he looks a mess.’ ”

“By the time I got to America in ’96, I thought, I’m going to bring it to America so I don’t have to do a two-step here,” he said. Eventually people saw him only as the cross-dressing stand-up, though, so he veered again, and here he is as Doug Rich.

Sort of. In the poster art for “Stripped” he is wearing an open lacy shirt, suit and jeweled collar pin, an image he described as rock ’n’ roll. He may be wearing a bit of eye makeup — more than most men but less than Keith Richards. It’s a dandyish, Beau Brummel look that hints at the balance he has to find at this stage of his career.”

And life, I might add. In fact, Izzard is just going through what every one of us whose gender and/or sexuality don’t match society’s “norm” eventually face. How do you come out without having that part of yourself define you completely? It’s really no different from what any minority throughout history has had to deal with. How does Spike Lee go from being a “black filmmaker” to being just a filmmaker who happens to be black? In the same way Izzard is attempting to become a comic and actor who “happens to be” a transvestite. You start out by acknowledging the thing that defines you – and then move beyond it, others’ reactions be damned. It’s the only way for one to grow both as an artist and as a human being. “She’s Gotta Have It” Spike Lee is no less black for having directed the conventional crime thriller “Inside Man.” Likewise, Eddie Izzard will always be a transvestite whether he’s wearing sequins or suits (or both). (In fact, “straight” Izzard in pants is more a true transvestite than gay Divine – who only did drag onstage as part of his shtick, and indeed was gearing up to play a male role on “Married With Children” when he died – ever was.) “Lost Python,” dramatic actor and trailblazing pioneer. That’s Eddie Izzard defined.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Shame on Spitzer, Shame on "The Times"

“What do we know about the woman Gov. Eliot Spitzer allegedly hired as a prostitute?” asks Melissa Farley (author of “Prostitution and Trafficking in Nevada: Making the Connections”) and Victor Malarek (author of “The Natashas: Inside the New Global Sex Trade”) in “The Myth of the Victimless Crime,” their Op-ed in yesterday’s “New York Times.” “She was the one person he ignored in his apology. What is she going through now? Is she in danger from organized crime because of what she knows? Is anyone offering her legal counsel or alternatives to prostitution?”

To which I pose an equally important question, “What do two academics studying sex trafficking know about high-end call girls?” I would venture next to nothing as the following supposition attests, “But most women in prostitution, including those working for escort services, have been sexually abused as children, studies show. Incest sets young women up for prostitution — by letting them know what they’re worth and what’s expected of them. Other forces that channel women into escort prostitution are economic hardship and racism.”

While I don’t doubt that sexual abuse, incest, poverty and racism are indeed factors in many women’s decision to “rent out an organ” (as the two put it), these “studies” that they’re relying on are as flawed as those 1950s studies that found gays to be depressed, often suicidal people because of their homosexuality. Today we know that 1950s gays were often depressed not because of their orientation, but because of the stigma society attached to homosexuality – and that the gays that were relatively happy weren’t participating in these studies, most likely because in order to function in society you had to stay in the closet to co-workers, friends and family. You weren’t going to volunteer for some study! Likewise, these “studies” that the article’s authors are citing are only examining a certain segment of the prostitution population – the unhappy hookers who were forced into their profession, who were victims of incest or abuse (the type of women who out themselves as former prostitutes when they seek help, and are thus easily identified guinea pigs for a study).

The honest truth is most hookers – especially those making a thousand dollars an hour – are not named Natasha, not “helpless victims.” No, they’re women like Spitzer’s “Kristen,” girls-next-door who’d rather spend a few hours a week having sex than forty hours waiting tables to pay for college. Tellingly, a neighbor who lives in the same Chelsea building as “Kristen” gave this reaction when interviewed, “I had no idea she was like that.” Like what? I wonder. Now ask yourself, if you were “Kristen” would you have the courage to come out and fight society’s misconceptions about yourself and what you do – or would you stay in the closet? Only when we take away the stigma attached to the world’s oldest profession will we uncover those happy hookers society now shames.

And the two authors righteously continue, “Telephone operators at the Emperor’s Club criticized one of the women for cutting sessions with buyers short so that she could pick up her children at school. ‘As a general rule,’ one said, ‘girls with children tend to have a little more baggage going on.’” So really, I ask, how is this environment any different from the environment faced by women in high-powered, corporate America? A great many CEOs think employees “with children tend to have a little more baggage going on.” Or so studies show.

But then who am I to criticize academic researchers? Unlike Farley and Malarek, though I’ve never been a prostitute (I’m a terrible hustler), I have been involved in the sex industry in some capacity for over a decade now (including a six-year love affair with a high-end call boy). And the dirtiest job I ever had? Working as a receptionist at a commercial editing house for a condescending boss for ten bucks an hour. I, like “Kristen,” decided long ago that I’m worth much more than that.

(And if you're interested in a truer picture of prostitutes, "The New York Times" also published The Double Lives of High-Priced Call Girls, which almost makes up for this big Op-ed flop.)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Joy of Selling Sex

I don’t buy into the myth that sex industry workers as a whole are more emotionally damaged than your average Joe – perhaps just “damaged” in a different way. Regardless of whether you’re a Wall Street titan or a Times Square stripper, mental health is sacrificed when you’re seduced into letting your job define who you are. That said there are a vast variety of personalities drawn to the sex trade. In fact, professional S&M can best be described as the bastard child of the sex industry in the way that the transgender community is to the gay world (having little in common, only lumped in there with the rest of the marginalized). Unlike stripping and hustling, sadomasochism isn’t directly about sex – sexual desire is merely a byproduct of power play. It is also nondiscriminatory and an equal opportunity employer since a dom/sub can be any age, weight, race, sexuality, gender, transgender – any human being under the sun! S&M is riddled with contradictions, as the best tops are not “bitches” but maternal/paternal and slaves are far from submissive since the bottom is really the one in control. Which leads me to wonder. Why is prostitution of the body illegal, while the prostitution of the soul accepted, and of the mind encouraged? Unlike corporate hustlers, all the male escorts I’ve known at least wholeheartedly believed in what they were selling.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Camp Galore!

Scan the Internet Movie Database for Michael Sarne’s “Myra Breckinridge,” based on the infamous book by Gore Vidal, and you’ll find among the plot keywords “Non Statutory Female On Male Anal Rape.” Which makes one wonder if that category was coined solely for the groundbreaking Miss Myra herself, exquisitely brought to life by the underrated Raquel Welch.

Now playing at The House Next Door:

My double bill of Myra Breckinridge and the CineKink Film Festival Wrap-Up.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Guilty As Charged

The first thought that came to mind when I heard that former righteous Attorney General, current New York Governor Eliot Spitzer brought the feds down on a high-priced bordello with his indiscretion was, “Thank goodness they caught him – he’d be the client from hell!” A probable sample of what the feds didn’t catch on the wiretap:

Client 9 to Emperors Club VIP Booking Agent: I specifically asked that the girl be wearing black stiletto heels and these are clear chunky platforms, are they not?

Booking Agent: But –

Client 9: A simple yes or no answer will suffice.

Booking Agent: Yes, uh –

Client 9: Take her back! Send another! No further questions.

So I say Spitzer should do the right thing and devote his upcoming free time to a worthy cause – lobbying for federal legalization of prostitution. I rest my case.