Saturday, June 27, 2015

Why I had to un-friend my favorite aunt on Facebook today

"I don't understand it, but I accept it."

Those words would have to rank near the top of my list of the most annoying things straight people say about gay people. What they're really saying: "You're sinners, but you're here and you're queer, so what choice do we have but to put up with you?"

Despite serious misgivings, I decided to let it go when my Aunt Juliet did the whole song and dance at my brother Jeff's wedding 11 years ago. I had just introduced her to my then-boyfriend Khleber, and I was so determined not to ruin Jeff's big day that I let it pass when she started talking about how sad she was that I would miss out on a spouse and kids, all the things that heterosexuality would have supposedly granted me that she herself was living without.

Come to think of it, Jeff's wedding day wasn't the best moment to be gay. The stench of homophobia was in the air, and my Uncle Achille, who was performing the ceremony, made an even bigger stink than Juliet.

I was best man, and I was so nervous about getting it right that I totally missed the thing Achille said about two men in the Garden of Eden. Being the fire-and-brimstone Bible thumper I'd always known him to be, he couldn't just leave a tender moment alone. He had to drop in some judgment, which, in hindsight, I realize was totally for my benefit and for that of my brother Alexi, who is also gay.

He made some crack about how God created Adam and Eve, not "Hemp and Shemp" ...or something to that effect. The names are not as relevant as the intended message: God hates you, faggots. Fortunately, both the words and the message went over my head because my head was elsewhere.

Wait, where's the ring?…Oh, there it is.

When my mother repeated her former brother-in-law's comment later at the reception, her voice dripping with disgust, she was furious. It was actually my first time hearing it, and I wasn't sure if her reaction was about what Achille had said or the forum in which he'd chosen to say it. I decided she was angry for me and for Alexi, and I loved her for it.

As for my uncle, I had only one personal encounter with him at the wedding. It was when he walked into the men's room and caught Khleber and me in a warm embrace. He glared at us but didn't say a word, not even when I directly addressed him and asked how he was doing. I bit my tongue and let his silent treatment go. He'd always been my least favorite uncle, and I knew I'd probably never see or speak to him again after Jeff's wedding day.

Now I can say the same thing about Juliet, who today became the first family member ever to be un-friended by me on Facebook. The deal breaker arrived on the morning shortly after I learned that the U.S. Supreme Court had declared gay marriage legal. It was wrapped in big box of hate and re-posted on Facebook:

The post itself isn't even worth debating. It's passive-aggressive drivel, hate dressed up in Sunday church clothes. If you think I'm a sinner who is going to hell, if you don't support me or marriage between my kind, I have absolutely no use for your "love" or "friendship." As for the alleged name-calling and stereotyping, if you're going to walk the homophobic walk and talk the talk, be prepared to be taken down for it.

But on a more personal level, why would a woman who has at least three gay nephews spread this message in a place where she knows they'll likely read it? Was she trying to douse a celebratory occasion with some good old-fashioned negativity, just as my uncle did on my brother's wedding day?

Here's the thing about homophobia. Like racism, it doesn't always carry a pitchfork and twirl its moustache. My Aunt Juliet would probably never openly criticize me or my life. The last time I spoke to her, we had a perfectly pleasant conversation. But at the end of the day, she thinks I'm defective. She can hide behind "love" and the Bible all she wants, but she's homophobic. I have as much use for homophobes as I do for racists. As the kids say (or at least used to), deuces.

Alexi, who tends to take this sort of thing better than I do, may or may not agree with my reaction to the latest incident of homophobia within our family ranks. But I'm pretty sure he understands and accepts it. That's a lot more than I ever got from others who have called me family.

I can do better...and I already have.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

"The Nod": I see other black people and I feel so…relieved?

I never thought about it until this very moment, but Black-ish is the modern reboot of The Cosby Show that My Wife and Kids never quite pulled off.

Here's where the classic '80s sitcom and the current one intersect: Black-ish, like Cosby, is a vehicle for a former stand-up comedian (Anthony Anderson) who stars as a tough-love dad married to a beautiful high-powered professional wife (Tracee Ellis Ross, exhibiting stunning comic timing at which Girlfriends barely hinted) with four cute kids.

And here's where Black-ish veers off to the left: First, there's the contemporary biracial angle, which I don't believe has been previously explored on a TV sitcom. That makes the Johnsons on Black-ish as much of a modern family as the one on Modern Family, a sitcom I find as unfunny and un-relatable as I find Black-ish spot-on.

Second (and perhaps most significantly), while Cosby celebrated "buppie" African-American culture (Who can forget adorable Rudy Huxtable lip-syncing to the blues?), Black-ish, in a lot of ways, challenges it. (Note: While I prefer to use the term "black" over "African-American" when referring to people, I do believe "African-American" is an accurate description for a specific cultural awareness.)

Considering what a confronting and divisive issue race can be, I'm surprised Black-ish is such a mainstream hit, though I probably shouldn't be. White people can watch it without feeling too guilty or getting defensive. Rather than aiming its race commentary strictly at them, Black-ish often hangs the bull's-eye on black people themselves.

One of the most memorable episodes during the first season was based around "The Nod." That's the head bob of acknowledgement that blacks often give to other blacks when passing each other on the street. Frankly, before "The Nod" was given a name in Black-ish's third episode, I'd never devoted much thought to it. But when I saw that adorable black baby giving "The Nod" on Black-ish, I instantly recognized it.

Today I recognized it in real life, and my reaction alarmed me. It's a tough week to be black (by birth, not whim), with the Rachel Dolezal hot mess (please, make her go away) and the massacre in an historic black church in South Carolina. I've been incredibly affected by events of the past week, but I didn't realize how much so until I reached the top of the hill at the end of my run this afternoon.

There was an SUV full of black people at the intersection, and as soon as they saw me, the began waving energetically, giving me multiple thumbs up and fist-bumps from the other side of the rolled-up windows. I responded in kind, overcome by unexpected exhilaration, like Moses having reached the mountaintop to find, not God, but my sort-of saviours waiting for me. I was a mangled mass of emotions, the most surprising of which was relief.

I actually felt RELIEVED to be in the vicinity of other black people. That's something I can't say I'd ever felt before. I lingered a moment, waving and fist bumping, secretly hoping they'd jump out and we'd rush toward each other in slow motion, uniting in one of those touchdown sports embraces. I was sweating and panting just enough to make it feel like an authentic thrill-of-victory moment.

What was I thinking?

The occasional isolated incident aside (one, unfortunately cop-related), I can't say I've ever felt like I was under attack as a black man in Sydney. Yet here I was standing at an intersection, feeling relief at the sight of an SUV filled with black people. What was up with that? Perhaps it was the isolation I generally feel in cliquey Sydney exacerbated by current world events, which somehow made me feel even more isolated and vulnerable than usual.

Maybe I was mistaking relief over being finished with my grueling run for something else.

As I pondered this while crossing the street, I saw a very attractive black man walking toward me. I looked at him expectantly...hopefully. Would he give me "The Nod"?

I held my breath as he passed without seeming to even notice me. It wasn't until I felt a surge of disappointment rising inside of me that I completely understood the relief I'd felt a few moments earlier. It had been completely unrelated to my crossing the finish line of my afternoon jog. It was all about seeing other black people in a city where I so seldom do. It was all about commiseration and camaraderie in these difficult isolated times. For a brief moment, I wasn't alone with everybody.

Now I totally get "The Nod." I'm probably too shy and insecure to adopt it as my personal thing (What if they don't nod back?), but I'm pretty sure I'll never take it for granted again.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Should black women be offended by the interracial relations in The Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar"?

Scarred old slaver knows he's doin' all right
Hear him whip the women just around midnight
- "Brown Sugar," The Rolling Stones

At the end of my recent blog post, "White women, black men: The other side of interracial dating," I compiled a mini-list of songs about interracial romance/sex and left off one milestone: "Brown Sugar," a 1971 No. 1 single by The Rolling Stones.

It's incredible that I overlooked it, for this is a song that has contributed to a number of debates and (for me) sleepless nights. Sometimes I feel slightly guilt-ridden over the fact that it's my favorite of all the Stones' American Top 40 hits.

It's hard to listen to a lyric like the one above and not think of Michael Fassbender's Edwin Epps and Lupita Nyong'o's Patsey in 12 Years a Slave. Some insist that Mick sang "with" and not "whip," but with or without a whip, the image is still a heinous one.

First off, let me emphasize that I wouldn't dream of calling Mick Jagger, who wrote the lyrics, a racist. The Rolling Stones did more for the mainstreaming of American blues music (and by extension, blues musicians, who were mostly black) than any other British Invasion band. And when it came to girlfriends, Mick certainly didn't seem to have any color limitations. He even fathered a daughter by Marsha Hunt, a black actress who appeared in the original London production of Hair.

But if you look past the Stones' incredible musicianship (no doubt admired by members of Foreigner, whose "Hot Blooded" would open with pretty much the same guitar riff later in the '70s) and Mick's intoxicating vocals on "Brown Sugar," you'll realize how brutal the lyrics are. It's amazing that this song was a huge No. 1 hit in 1971, at the height of "Black Power" and just a few years after the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing.

If it were released today, I can't imagine that the PC brigade would even allow "Brown Sugar" to be played on the radio. Iggy Azalea might be engaged to a black NBA star, but if she ever got it into her head to record a rap cover from a white girl's point of view, her career would be as good as over.

I like to think Mick's heart was in the right place, even if his head wasn't. The Stones' "Brown Sugar," like the different song with the identical name that would provide the title of D'Angelo's debut album 24 years later, is first and foremost a celebration of black female sexuality.

But what should we make of its first two verses, which are set on a plantation during slavery times? And what about the rockin' tempo: It's not the mournful dirge that a slavery-referencing song probably should be but a rollicking party song!

I don't know what Mick's true intentions were, and if I ever get to interview him, that will be the first thing I ask. Second question: Does he really think the rape of black female slaves by their white masters was the good time that "Brown Sugar" makes those midnight sessions out to be?

By juxtaposing the rape of black female slaves by their white masters with the third verse's modern boy lusting after a black girl (while fantasizing about her mother!), "Brown Sugar" makes a direct link between old-school racism and jungle fever (an offensive phrase that suggests black people are animals, which is even worse than likening us to food).

This is a crucial connection, and kudos to Mick if his intention was to get listeners thinking as well as talking. Whether or not people are brave enough to admit it, being attracted to black people sexually doesn't automatically absolve a white person of racist impulses. There can certainly be a racist element to white-on-black attraction, particularly when it ventures into the realm of fetishism and objectification, when blacks cease being multi-dimensional individuals (in the eyes of horny whites) and exist only as a collective sexual entity.

Was "Brown Sugar" celebrating this misguidedness or commenting on it? Its raucous spirit suggests the latter, but my knowledge of the Stones' history with black music/musicians makes me hope for more. This big neon glittering question mark hanging over "Brown Sugar" is why I kind of despise myself for loving it as much as I do.

I've told the story of Alvaro, the guy in Buenos Aires who reacted so horribly when I rejected him. He didn't stop at hurling the N-word at me. He also threw in some vivid slave imagery as well, saying I should be picking cotton on a plantation in Alabama! I wonder if he was listening to "Brown Sugar" the entire time he was courting me and totally identifying with that "scarred old slaver."

Mick is said to have written the song for either Marsha Hunt or Claudia Lennear, who was a member of Ike and Tina Turner's Ikettes. Even if he didn't, I imagine both black women must have heard it. As much as I'd love to know what Mick was thinking when he wrote "Brown Sugar," I'm dying even more to know what they were thinking when they listened to it for the first time.

Brown Sugar, how come you taste so good
Brown Sugar, just like a black girl should

It sounds like high praise indeed, but nothing compared to what's showered on the object of the Stones' affection (either a girl, presumably white, or heroin) four U.S. singles later in "Angie." "Brown Sugar" gets the rough sex. "Angie" gets the tough (as in durable) love. Her song may be the tearjerker and, in my opinion, the lesser of the two, but I'd rather have what she's having.

10 more things everybody loves that I just don't get

"Everything popular is wrong." - Oscar Wilde…or whoever

I'm now old enough to have outgrown my youthful concurrence with one of the greatest aphorisms Oscar Wilde may or may not have ever uttered. Yet, I must make a concession: In the immortal words of The Cult, I am the king contrary man.

I knew this for sure after I wrote my last blog post, published it, and then realized how many things I left off the list. The Dutch woman on the Serengeti safari I took last year was right: I must be from another planet. She said this after I made yet another pronouncement that sounded like Martian-speak to her ears. (I think it was something about my distaste for chocolate - see below.)

Anyway, here's my second list of things you probably love that I can really live without:

"Billie Jean": The cold, harsh truth: For the biggest album of all time, Michael Jackson's Thriller sounds incredibly dated today. I'd much rather listen to Bad, Dangerous, or the new tracks on HIStory. "Billie Jean" may still get the most posthumous play, but if it were up to me, I'd never ever have to hear it again. As '80s Michael Jackson thrillers go, "Smooth Criminal" is the baddest, most dangerous one of all. Proof:

cats: I'm allergic to them, but sneezing aside, I don't understand why anyone would choose to live with a cat, which is like a lover who keeps turning his back to you in bed. I'd prefer a dog, which is like the ultimate cuddler/spooner.

chocolate: It's tolerable in white. The rest of it is too bitter for a sweets guy like me. I'd rather skip the medium-brown stuff unless there's a fruit filling attached. Even then, dark chocolate still makes me wince.

garlic: I'm allergic to it, which makes everyday life extremely difficult because they seem to sneak it into everything. Including some people's mouthwash! Yuck!

ice cream: I don't dislike it, but I've never really understood its temptation status. I probably haven't had a scoop since I left Buenos Aires in 2011, and I definitely don't miss it.

James Bond: I care about 007 only because he's inspired so many great songs.

Modern Family : Not funny. I'm pretty much guaranteed to hate any laugh-track-free show that tries to sell the sort of ironic hipster humor over which Entertainment Weekly salivates. That's why I never got into 30 Rock, The Office, Community, Parks and Recreation, or, well, being EW's TV editor. Sorry…not sorry.

movie franchises: I pride myself on having never seen a single Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Twilight, or Hunger Games movie. Though I loved superhero comics and the Superman and the Batman TV series as a kid (the former mostly because it was my bonding tool with my big brother Jeff), the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman movies and The Dark Knight aside, I haven't seen any comics-based movies as an adult. I once dumped a guy in part because his obsession with Transformers worried me, so I clearly take my aversion to this stuff very seriously.

Paris: If you want to go to the South of France, I'm in. But beauty aside (all man-made, which makes it even more underwhelming than Rio), the City of Lights might be one of the most boring places on earth. Once I've done the Louvre, Musee Picasso, and the garden at Musee Rodin, I'm over it. Runners-up: Rio, Venice, and Montreal, though it's been a while since I last visited the latter, and it could possibly pull a Berlin-in-2013 and make me love it if I went now.

Stand-up comedy: If I found someone standing on a stage trying to make me laugh either amusing or entertaining, I would have paid more attention during my brushes with several pre-superstardom comics during my time at University of Florida. Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno and Jeff Foxworthy all performed at UF's Gator Growl, and every year, I struggled to keep my eyes open. Zzzzz.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

10 things everybody loves that I just don't get

the beach: What kind of Sydney-sider am I? I think I might find baking on the sand more bearable if people (especially Sydney-siders!) didn't make me feel like such a weirdo for preferring to chill out elsewhere. How about at the pool (in a prime UV-protected covered spot)...or indoors...or anyplace where I won't be risking wrinkles and where I won't end up shedding grains of sand for weeks?

Bruno Mars: He's perfectly harmless, and there lies his problem. He's scrubbed so bright, clean and neat that my skin kind of hurts just thinking about him. The oxymoronically titled "Uptown Funk" sounds like a styled-within-an-inch-of-his-calculated-scruff guy who's spent too much time staring at himself in the mirror perfecting the "messy" look. Bruno is a talented guy, but if I never again heard any of his songs, I probably wouldn't even notice.

coffee: I've gone so long without ever even tasting it that at this point, it's become a thing. Drinking coffee now -- even trying it for the first time -- would be, in the immortal words of Sophia Petrillo, like getting tackled on the 1 yard line.

couch pillows: Too much work. I hate having to fluff them and adjust them every time I get off the couch. It would make more sense to just buy a comfortable sofa with no movable parts.

Foo Fighters: It would take a strong, strong man to break his leg onstage in concert, be carted offstage on a stretcher, get fixed up backstage, and return to finish the show. Dave Grohl makes a blood-splattered Enrique Iglesias look like a coaster. The show must go on has never been more true. I'd probably be even more impressed if I cared about Foo Fighters, but I can't name a single one of their songs.

The Olympics: I pretty much lost interest after Bruce Jenner became a star at the 1976 event. I was seven years old, and he was the first celebrity I ever crushed on. The only thing that could pique my interest in the Olympics now would be if Caitlyn Jenner decided to make a comeback at the next one.

reality TV: I've said it before, and I'll probably continue to say it until reality TV is dated history. If I wanted to see "real" people, I'd turn off the TV and go outside. There are real people everywhere. But I'm a lot more interested in living my own life than I am in watching theirs.

sunglasses: I always feel like I'm not seeing everything whenever I wear them.

taking baths: For the first minute after my body adjusts to the nearly unbearable hot water, I can kind of understand why people get into them. But by the second minute, I'm just going through the motions of relaxation, thinking about the shower I'm going to have to take afterwards to actually get, you know, clean.

zombies: My friend Marcus once tried to explain to me what they are. I'm still not sure I understand, but if I do, why would anyone love something like that? Aren't they basically ghosts with bad fashion and terrible grooming that everyone can see?

Monday, June 8, 2015

The final word (for now) on dating in Buenos Aires

My four-and-half-year stint in Buenos Aires has finally come full circle more than four years later...I think.

Maybe it's half circle, for I'm back where I started a few years after my arrival in BA...but not quite. For a time while I was living there I wrote the Gay & Lesbian section in Time Out Buenos Aires's quarterly magazine, which was called Visitors at the time. Now, some six years later, I'm its main feature, the front page story...of the Gay & Lesbian section, not the Time Out Buenos Aires magazine.

Fun fact: Some of my editorial touches, remain, like this one, under "INFORMATION AND SAFETY":

"A word from the wise to the horny: male prostitutes (taxi boys, as they’re known in BA) continue to be an unavoidable – and illegal – fact of the city’s nightlife. So if you’re not leaving alone, choose your post-club escort carefully. Now get out and have fun!"

Mine, all mine.

The Q&A to the left represents a major accomplishment for me. It's more than a very nice plug for my book Is It True What They Say About Black Men?: Tales of Love, Lust and Language Barriers on the Other Side of the World. It's also a sort of coming home. Now if only I could get Time Out Melbourne and Time Out Bangkok on board, it would be the perfect threesome!

Click here to check out the full interview.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

I would go out tonight, but...: Why I'm totally over bars (but not bartenders!)

It's finally happened. The moment I once thought would arrive when I turned 30 has belatedly -- very belatedly -- come knocking.

And this moment of truth has brought with it a dose of hard, cold reality: I'd rather have all of my teeth pulled out with pliers and inserted into my rectum than ever spend another night in a crowded (or even merely bustling) bar or pub.

Yes, I'm officially old, and I'm ready to embrace it. I have Zanzibar, billed as the best rooftop bar in Sydney, to thank for my new unrepentant-homebody attitude.

Last night I met up with an acquaintance there, at his suggestion. At first, I had my reservations. Zanzibar is not exactly a hop and a skip away on foot. I'd have to travel more than a few blocks to get there, and I was venturing into the great unknown, which I typically enjoy unless it requires changing trains.

My colleagues at work all said I'd have a great time there, though, and it is in Newtown, Sydney's hipster central (though unlike Melbourne's Fitzroy district, Cape Town's Observatory, and Buenos Aires's San Telmo, in an utterly mainstream Epcot Theme Park sort of way). I've been meaning to branch out of my inner-Sydney social rut and a world without 1.30am lock-out laws, so I agreed to drinks there. Still, I couldn't shake those nagging reservations, which extended beyond the effort it would require to get to Zanzibar.

How far I've come from the days when I loved discovering new bars and didn't mind dragging my ass halfway across town to get to them. Once upon a time, I described myself as a barfly and meant it. Then on my birthday last month, I ducked out of a bar work party after one drink (Did I mention that parties have fallen out of my favor lately, too?) and cancelled plans with a friend so that I could spend the night alone watching my American soaps on YouTube instead of making pointless small talk while sipping champagne. That's when I realized this ex-barfly had lost his wings. I was grounded and ready to start my descent down Barstool Mountain.

With the exception of one memorable night at Sixth of May in Jerusalem two summers ago and a first date at an empty five-star hotel bar in 2012, I haven't really enjoyed myself there in years -- especially not after dark, when all the other barflies start buzzing about. I hate the crowds, the pushing, the prodding, and the people stepping on my shoes, spilling drinks on my clothes, and pointing their cigarettes in my face.

Is that supposed to be fun? To be honest, the only reason why I go to bars at all anymore is because I know that I'm unlikely to meet a decent guy while I'm at home sitting on my couch (my favorite place in the world, regardless of where I happen to be calling home) or on Grindr. So off to the bar I go…with no expectations, only a glimmer of hope.

Lately, the glimmer remains, but the motivation has more or less left the building. I already gave up clubbing years ago, and I doubt I'll ever step foot into the nightlife again if a dance floor is involved. I've continued to drag myself to bars, though with decreasing regularity. As I looked around at all the people who seemed to be having such a good time at Zanzibar, I felt a pang of jealousy. That used to be me.

I can't say the thrill is completely gone. Windsor Castle in Melbourne is almost always a guaranteed blast, but that has everything to do with the company I keep there and the fact that my friends and I always go on weekends during the day. I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be on a Sunday afternoon in Melbourne than with friends on the back patio at Windsor.

Alas, I haven't found my Windsor Castle in Sydney...or a group of friends I'm dying to spend Sunday afternoons with. Not yet.

At the start of last night, I hadn't given up trying. I was going to Zanzibar. I wasn't crazy about the island off the coast of Tanzania when I went last year, but perhaps this Zanzibar would be more to my liking.

I couldn't believe I was going to a rooftop bar in the middle of winter. Oh well, this is Sydney, a city where people are prone to eating on the sidewalk and running around in shorts and t-shirts in June, apparently oblivious to the fact that summer's long gone. But when in Sydney...

So up up up I went, to Zanzibar's rooftop bar. The place itself was nothing special. As seems to be custom in Sydney, the patrons were attractive, the bartenders attentive but unengaging, and the decor makeshift. The latter was a mix of tacky and tropical, with a big-screen TV on which a football match was playing, three plastic flamingos plastered on the wall, and several heating lamps intended to ward off the chills but only making me wish I was in front of a home.

I kept thinking how much I would have loved this place circa 1995, maybe even in 2010. It reminded me of one of the rooftop bars I used to go to in Buenos Aires with Mariem and Cara. The only thing missing was Mariem and Cara...and the surplus of energy I still had in 2010.

The drunk girl didn't help, though I probably would have LOVED her in 2008. In fact, I met someone just like her on my birthday that year who turned out to be one of the biggest nightmares of my four and a half years in Buenos Aires. But I was absolutely enthralled with that one in the beginning. Yes, she was brash and aggressive, but at least she was entertaining.

Seven years later, a drunk person slurring and talking at me is no longer entertaining. Last night's girl -- woman, for she appeared to be at least in her mid-thirties -- was just annoying. Sure I appreciated all of the compliments she was throwing my way, but I could have lived without the constant puckering up. It's not like I didn't tell her right away that I'm gay, but then, I doubt she would have demanded kisses from a straight guy. I can kind of see why Stephan Jenkins from Third Eye Blind once joked that I only pretend I'm gay to get girls. I'm surprised more straight guys don't play that angle. Ugh. Bar tactics.

But I'm not really interested in meeting girls. I'm still interested in meeting guys, but it's been ages, perhaps years, since I've met an interesting one in a bar. So there goes that motivation.

I have no desire to talk over loud music, constantly having to lean in and ask people to repeat themselves. Last night at Zanzibar I didn't even bother to do that. I could barely make out the Aussie accent of the guy I was there with, and at a certain point, I gave up and just nodded and laughed when his vocal modulations suggested it was time to do so. funny. I probably spent more time looking at the hot footballers on TV than I did looking him in the eye.

At 10pm, I announced that it was time for me to bolt. A few years ago, I wouldn't even have showered to go out until 11. Now 10pm might as well be way past midnight!

I think I may just have to make peace with giving up my cool cred. I had a good run, but I've earned the right to bow out of bar hopping gracefully. I've earned the right to be able to tell my colleagues that I have no nighttime plans for the weekend and not feel so guilty for not being more social. I work hard. I work out...sometimes. Every day I earn the right to spend my evenings sitting on my couch writing, reading or watching American TV on my computer. Right?

Right. If anyone's looking for me tonight, that's probably exactly where I'll be.

5 great bar songs (If only more bars had better music...or a jukebox)

"Please Mr. Please" Olivia Newton-John

"Barstool Mountain" Moe Bandy

"I'm Gonna Hire a Wino to Decorate Our Home" David Frizzell

"Set 'Em Up Joe" Vern Gosdin

"Lived in Bars" Cat Power

Sunday, May 31, 2015

White women, black men: The other side of interracial dating

The other night I had the strangest conversation with a 38-year-old Australian woman. My friend introduced her to me, and I was immediately a little taken by her.

She was congenial and chatty, with a distinct no-bullshit edge. Most importantly on a Friday night, she was a straight woman in gay bar who wasn't playing the I'm-such-a-fabulous-fag-hag-card and taking up way more space than necessary. (There are way too many of those in Sydney!) She was definitely my kind of girl.

And as it turned out, I was her kind of guy. One of the first things she told me was how attractive she finds black men. She wasn't trying to pick me up. As I said, we were in a gay bar...she had absolutely no ulterior motive and no shot with me. In fact, though she complimented my biceps, she made no direct comment on my looks -- unless you consider a compliment about "black men" a direct compliment to each one of them.

She was just making conversation, and she was doing most of the heaving lifting, so I let her proceed.

"I really find black people attractive. Actually, I find them more attractive than white people. I'm not sure why. There's just something more there. Don't get me wrong. I also like white men. I find them beautiful, too. But I just find black people to be better looking. The men are just hotter."

I was really starting to like this girl. There was something almost apologetic about the way she was expressing herself, which meant she'd spent some time thinking not only about her racial proclivities when it comes to sexual attraction but also how it must come across to black people. And her high praise included black women -- that underdog demo that, Beyonce aside, is often overlooked by whites with an up-with-blacks agenda.

She must have read my mind when she made the disclaimer about finding white men attractive, too. I hate any kind of exclusive or discriminatory thinking when it comes to race and sex, even when it works in my favor. I have no problem with racial preferences. It's the racial blockades by which I cannot abide. She was a chocolate queen, but she was open to other flavors. I couldn't ask for anything more.

Her openness, however, wasn't surprising. I can't recall ever previously having had a conversation with a white woman who dates black men about dating black men. But from a distance, I've noticed that when a straight white woman dates a straight black guy, it's less likely to be part of a pattern, her thing. Most of her exes will not necessarily be black.

Uninitiated straight white women who have yet to "go black" are probably just as curious. However, after their curiosity is satisfied, their long-term behavior is probably less likely to be racially motivated. Once they "go black," they're probably more inclined to go back. I have no scientific evidence of this; it's just a working theory. And I realize there are always exceptions.

Meanwhile, I find that with gay white men who date black men, it tends to be more of a trend. (One can probably say the same thing about gay black men who date white men.) You're rarely the first, and you probably won't be the last. Again, this is not a blanket theory. And there's no judgement here, only observation.

I once presented this idea to a friend (a white guy who dates black men exclusively), and he had an intriguing response. He said it probably has to do with the male emphasis on the physical. Men are driven primarily by physical attraction when choosing a partner, while with women, other factors can play just as vital a role. That might be why women are less likely than men to stick to a physical "type."

What my friend said made a lot of sense, but even if I was willing to accept this theory, I knew that it didn't make women any more color blind than men. After all, I knew the woman I was talking to probably never would have been having this conversation with a white person. Clearly I was first and foremost a black man to her...a gay black man. She probably wouldn't have been having the conversation with a straight black guy either. I couldn't think of a less likely way to get lucky.

Contrary to what many white people who find black people more attractive than white people think, most black people don't really want to hear about it. We'd rather be judged on our own merit, not the merit of our race. We'd rather pretend that you like us for us, not for that specific physical attribute that we share with every other black person. But this was not a pick-up, so I let her continue.

She then started to tell me about the guy she lost her virginity to 20 years ago. He was black, and they remain great friends to this day. Now here is where our interaction started to get a little weird.

She pulled out her phone and began clicking through photos. She wanted to show me one of him. I wasn't sure why. It's not like I had asked what he looked like. I was kind of curious, but I was more interested in seeing a throwback photo from 1995 than in seeing what he looks like today.

Once she found the photo she was looking for, she was on a roll. She showed me a succession of pictures of her now-40ish first-timer posing outside shirtless because, well, why not?

She looked at me expectantly. Clearly she wanted to know what I thought...or more accurately, she wanted my approval...or my respect...or something. Maybe she wanted me to know that she had done well. She not only loves black men, but she can pull in the cream of the chocolate crop, one who barely ages.

I was neither impressed nor unimpressed. He wasn't a bad-looking guy, but I didn't think he was any reason to show off to a complete stranger either. I wondered if she would think I was racist if I told her I didn't think he was all that. But wait, I'm black, too. I am under no obligation to find every black person attractive. Neither are white people, but I was probably in less danger of being labeled racist by an overcompensating white person.

So I said nothing. I just nodded. She could take that as a sign of approval if she wanted to. I'm not sure she even noticed. By then she'd moved on to new business: the nights she's made out with girls. I leaned in to hear more.

4 great songs about interracial romance/sex

"Society's Child" Janis Ian

"Brother Louie" Hot Chocolate

"Island Girl" Elton John

"Jubilee" 10,000 Maniacs

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Stuck in the ’70s: Picking apart the 50 biggest hits of the decade

Excuse me. I'm about to geek out again. What am I obsessing over now? A meeting of two of my favorite things: 1970s music and a marathon Casey Kasem countdown. This one is a very special American Top 40 flashback from 1980 in which Casey counted down the Top 50 hits of the '70s.

What a decade...musically, my all-time favorite. Sorry, '80s fanatics. That decade had its moments (particularly the new wave and post-disco soul of 1980-82 and alternative rock), but the slick, polished mid-to-late '80s pop sound, which generally emphasized production over substance, just hasn't aged as well. The proof is in a 1986 American Top 40 countdown that I recently cringed through.

I'm still trying to process the '70s Top 50 after four listens, and there's no better way to organize a countdown in my head than to write about it. So here goes…

George, Art and Paul X 2… I've always tended to think of The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel as strictly '60s acts, but not so fast. Like Paul McCartney and George Harrison, Paul Simon is represented on the countdown in two incarnations -- solo, with "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," No. 48, and with Art Garfunkel, on "Bridge over Troubled Water," No. 2. It's always struck me as interesting that Simon's biggest post-Simon & Garfunkel success and his only solo No. 1 sounds less like a Paul Simon song than any of his other hits. When I was a kid, I could have sworn it was by some black guy! And despite the African influences that colored his later work, Paul Simon is nothing if not white as snow.

Today "50 Ways" sounds more dated to me than vintage Simon generally does, which might have more to do with its ubiquity when I was about six years old than with the production of the record. As for "Bridge," I've always been more about Aretha's 1971 cover, but until Casey Kasem educated me, I had no idea that it's basically a Garfunkel solo track written by Simon.

Hail Canada...again... The Guess Who was like a Canadian Hollies -- a second-tier band whose hits spanned both the '60s and '70s but with completely different sounds in each decade. Can the same group possibly be responsible for both "These Eyes" and "American Woman" (No. 38)? How come I never noticed until now how similar "American Woman" is to Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love"? That they were released mere months apart ("Love" in November of 1969 and "Woman" in January of 1970) must mean the similarities were purely coincidental. Right?

What happened to '70s classic rock? "American Woman" aside, classic rock is sorely underrepresented in the decade's Top 50. No appearances by Grand Funk Railroad, The Steve Miller Band, or The Doobie Brothers, all of whom had a pair of '70s No. 1s. Even Paul McCartney, the hardest-rocking ex-Beatle, is represented by his considerably softer side, via "My Love" (No. 28) and "Silly Love Songs" (No. 17).

Elton rocks… So "Crocodile Rock" (No. 36) was Elton John's biggest hit of the '70s? Odd. Is that the first song anyone thinks of when they think of Elton? Interestingly, though, the bulk of Elton's '70s No. 1s were uptempo pop-rockers ("Bennie and the Jets," "Philadelphia Freedom," "Island Girl," "Don't Go Breaking My Heart," No. 44), though Elton is probably better known for mournful piano songs like "Daniel," "Rocket Man" and "Your Song."

Those uptempo ones have aged quite well, though. They sound better now than I remember them sounding when I was a kid. I used to hate "Crocodile Rock." Now I can listen to the entire thing without being tempted to turn it off. I'd still rather hear "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road," though.

Beatlemania continues… Wow. George Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" (No. 15) was the biggest hit by an ex-Beatle in the '70s. Does that make him the ex-Beatle with the biggest solo single overall? I think it's pretty safe to assume that John Lennon's six-weeks-at-No. 1 "(Just Like) Starting Over" and Paul McCartney's seven-weeks-at-No. 1 "Ebony and Ivory" and six-weeks-at-No. 1 "Says Say Say" surpassed the '70s success of "My Sweet Lord" in the '80s.

Family feud… Hmm... The Osmonds' biggest '70s hit ("One Bad Apple," No. 11) was bigger than The Jackson 5's ("I'll Be There," No. 19). Who knew? I have to admit, I prefer "One Bad Apple" to that particular Jacksons track.

Rod's triple… When Rod Stewart hit No. 1, he really hit No. 1. Each of his three chart-toppers made the Top 50 ("Da Ya Think I'm Sexy," No. 35, "Maggie May," No. 13, and "Tonight's the Night," No. 6). In fact, only the Bee Gees had more songs in the '70s Top 50 (more on them later). But here's the odd thing about Stewart's '70s run. Aside from his three chart-toppers (all good songs, none essential to my listening pleasure), he had only one other Top 10 '70s single, "You're in My Heart (The Final Acclaim)," which hit No. 4 and is my favorite of the quartet.

Motown's '70s… Then there's Diana Ross, whose four '70s No. 1s were her only Top 10s of the decade. Of her chart-topping quartet, only "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (No. 30) made the decade's Top 50.

With the exception of Ross and The Jackson 5, no Motown acts placed in the decade's Top 50, not Marvin Gaye, The Temptations or The Miracles (each of whom scored two No. 1s in the '70s) and not…

...Stevie Wonder. Stevie Wonder! Where's Stevie Wonder? He had five No. 1 singles in the 1970s and not one of them ranks among the decade's 50 biggest hits? I demand a recount!

Where is the soul?... There's a noticeable dearth of soul men in the Top 50. Unless you're going to count Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now" (No. 26) as soul just because he's black, Billy Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones" (No. 45) is the only song sung blue by a male soul soloist (i.e., a single black male) on the countdown. There's no Al Wilson, no Al Green, no Barry White, no Isaac Hayes, no Edwin Starr -- and they all went to No. 1 in the '70s.

Also shut out… The Eagles, who also had five '70s No. 1s; John Denver, who had four; and The Rolling Stones, Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, Cher, and Helen Reddy, all of whom had three.

Speaking of no Denver hits... Country music's lone representative in the '70s Top 50 is Olivia Newton-John's "I Honestly Love You" (No. 41), which means country-crossover No. 1s by BJ Thomas, Charlie Rich, Freddie Fender, Billy Swan, Mac Davis, Anne Murray, and Glen Campbell are nowhere to be heard.

Speaking of no Glen Campbell, a number of other artists who had two No. 1 singles in the '70s didn't make the list… The Staple Singers, Jim Croce, Ringo Starr, Neil Sedaka, Michael Jackson solo, and Frankie Valli -- though The Four Seasons slipped in with "December 1963 (Oh, What A Night)" at No. 42.

Comeback kings... The '70s were great to returning pop and rock vets from previous eras. Like Neil Sedaka and Frankie Valli, Sammy Davis Jr., Chuck Berry, Paul Anka, and Johnny Mathis all reached the Hot 100 summit, but of all the resurgent stars, only The Four Seasons made the final 50.
In fact, perhaps not so surprisingly, the '70s Top 50 is dominated by quintessentially '70s acts, which might help explain Motown's near shut-out. (By contrast, two of the '80s biggest hits -- Olivia Newton-John's "Physical" and Diana Ross and Lionel Richie's "Endless Love" -- were by acts who were prominent in the '70s.)

Other '60s acts that missed the Top 50 despite topping Billboard's Hot 100 in the '70s: Paul Revere & the Raiders, The Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian, The 5th Dimension's Billy Davis Jr. and Marilyn McCoo, Dionne Warwick, Janis Joplin, and Herb Alpert.

Nonsense song… According to Dewey Bunnell, the member of America who wrote the then-trio's first and biggest hit, "A Horse with No Name" (No. 22), the song is about absolutely nothing. That would make it the '70s musical forerunner of Seinfeld.

Disco dud… Though it was the decade of disco, there are actually fewer disco songs than I expected in the '70s Top 50. Aside from Andy Gibb's two entries ("I Just Want to Be Your Everything," No. 40, and "Shadow Dancing," No. 12), two of Bee Gees four ("Night Fever," No. 16, and "Staying Alive," No. 9), Donna Summer's two ("Hot Stuff," No. 33, and"Bad Girls," No. 24), and Rod Stewart's "Sexy" disco turn, the genre is represented only by Gloria Gaynor (with "I Will Survive," No. 37), The Emotions ("Best of My Love," No. 20), and Chic (with "Le Freak," No. 18). That means none of K.C. and the Sunshine Band's five No. 1s made the cut.

M.I.A.… It also means Johnnie Taylor's "Disco Lady" missed. That's actually fairly suspicious, considering that it was a HUGE hit that spent four weeks at the top and was Billboard's No. 3 Hot 100 single of 1976. The Four Seasons' aforementioned "December 1963" was the No. 4 hit of 1976, so how did it make the list and not "Disco Lady"?

WTH?… If, as Casey says, "Le Freak" was the biggest disco song of all time, why is it lower on the list than "Night Fever," "Staying Alive" and "Shadow Dancing"?

Bee Gees revelation… Before listening to this countdown, I would have called "Staying Alive" Bee Gees signature song and "Night Fever" their biggest hit. After all, it spent a whopping eight weeks at the top. But the trio's biggest hit was actually "How Deep Is Your Love" (No. 8), which spent 17 weeks in the Top 10 and FOREVER on the chart.

Hello, '80s… The Knack's "My Sharona" (No. 9) is the most '80s-sounding hit in the '70s Top 50.

No thanks… I've never cared for Don McClean's "American Pie" (No. 7). It might be my least favorite song in the Top 50. As much as I love Three Dog Night, I've never been a fan of "Joy to the World" (No. 3) either. (Fun fact: "Jeremiah was a bullfrog," the opening line of "Joy," gave me one of my childhood nicknames, "Bullfrog.")

All by myself… Before listening to Casey count down the biggest hits of the '70s, I never would have guessed that the biggest one by a foreign act would be Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Alone Again (Naturally)" (No. 5). It might very well be my favorite song in the Top 10, closely followed by "My Sharona" and then "How Deep Is Your Love."

Built to last… Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" (No. 4) might be the most durable song in the Top 10, a true pop standard. It's still being sung by singers who were born decades -- DECADES! -- after it hit.

M.I.A. II… Where is James Taylor's "You've Got a Friend"? Fun fact: The Taylor-sung cover of the Carole King Tapestry track entered Billboard's Top 40 the same week in 1971 that the King-sung Tapestry track "It's Too Late" (No. 14) slipped into the No. 1 position for the first of five weeks. Taylor's wife-to-be Carly Simon was also in the Top 40 that week with her debut, "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be." I would have expected her signature "You're So Vain" -- one of the first pop songs I can remember ever hearing -- to be higher than No. 29.

Love of "Life"... For a decade that was so heavy on one-hit-wonder No. 1s, it shouldn't be much of a surprise that the biggest hit of the decade, "You Light up My Life," was sung by one-hitter Debby Boone.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

My problem with ELLE Australia's breastfeeding cover

Nicole Trunfio was one of the first Aussie celebs whose name I was introduced to when I started working in Sydney seven months ago. Somebody told me she was the model who once pissed off Naomi Campbell enough to get quite the humiliating tongue-lashing from the notoriously hot-tempered diva.

One of the first stories I wrote was about her: She was expecting a baby with her husband, a black American blues musician named Gary Clark Jr. Once her face and name were familiar to me, I noticed that she was one of social media's most gorgeous exhibitionists. A colleague of mine said she knows Nicole's body better than she knows her own.

Now with one magazine cover Nicole has all but ensured that she'll no longer be the relative international celebrity nobody that Naomi Campbell dismissed her as. She appears on the cover of ELLE Australia's June issue breastfeeding her four-month-old son Zion.

ELLE editor-in-chief Justine Cullen explained how the photo came about:

"This wasn't a contrived situation. Zion needed a feed. Nicole gave it to him, and when we saw how beautiful they looked we simply moved her onto the set. It was a completely natural moment that resulted in a powerful picture."

Fair enough. Then Nicole had to go and add her two cents when posting the shot on Instagram. #Groan

"There is nothing more powerful and beautiful than motherhood. The last thing I want to do is be controversial, so please take this for what it is, let us #normalizebreastfeeding there is nothing worse than a mother that is judged for feeding her hungry child in public. #weareonlyhuman I'm so proud of this cover and for what it stands for. I obviously don't look like this while I am breastfeeding but this stands for all women out there, whether you breastfeed or not, we gave birth, we are women, we are mothers. Thank you ELLE for being so bold and making such an encouraging, positive and healthy statement. #womenunite

So let me get this straight: There is nothing worse than a mother that is judged for feeding her hungry child in public? Nothing worse?

I realize that women are put-upon and undervalued. Patricia Arquette made that very clear at the Oscars. Women should be paid the same as men, and they shouldn't be punished for having the nerve to turn 30. (In unrelated news, Maggie Gyllenhaal, 37, was recently turned down for a film role because she was deemed too old for the 55-year-old male lead.)

But did I blink and miss the moment when motherhood fell under attack? We now have to "normalize" breastfeeding because the masses think it's abnormal and want hungry babies to starve?

There will always be some assholes who object to everything, including young children on airplanes and in restaurants. Is that not their prerogative, though? Will seeing a beautiful model breastfeeding her baby on the cover of ELLE change their minds about public breastfeeding? Will "normalizing" it make those detractors OK with it?

Frankly, I'm sick of everything being turned into a front-page issue. I'm over celebrities telling me how to feel about everything. Most of all, I'm tired of seeing Nicole's body parts. Here is a model who is constantly posting sexy shots on Instagram trying to turn an appearance on the cover of a glossy fashion magazine into a moment of utmost sociopolitical importance.

Why is it up to her and to ELLE to "normalize" breastfeeding? I don't think anyone thinks it's abnormal. But in a society where we are constantly touting freedom of speech and thought, whether it's Dolce & Gabbana's or caterers who refuse to serve at gay weddings, do people not have the right to not want to see women breastfeeding in public, too?

Almost exactly three years ago, Time magazine ran a cover of a woman breastfeeding a toddler. A similar pro-breastfeeding argument was made then, but as far as I can recall, without the "normalizing" twist. Though there was nothing "natural" about the Time cover, I wonder if Nicole and ELLE realized that the general concept had already been done...and by a magazine that's far more likely to influence social and political thought.

Personally, watching female celebrities parade around the red carpet in various states of undress for years has numbed me to the visual effects of the female anatomy, with or without a kid's mouth attached. I think if a woman wants to breastfeed in public, it's OK. But what's wrong with a bit of discretion? The baby can still get fed and everyone can enjoy their meal in peace. I don't need Nicole Trunfio and ELLE magazine trying to enlighten me.

Just to be on the safe side, ELLE shot two versions of the cover. There's a safe glamour shot of Nicole and Zion on the one that will be sold on newsstands. Subscribers will get the breastfeeding one. If ELLE was all about making a statement rather than money (and in the magazine's defense, the editor didn't say that they are), they would have gone for the gusto and just sold the breastfeeding cover, potential lost newsstand sales be damned. But we all know what it's really all about in the end.

I wonder if Nicole has thought about how Zion will feel when he grows up about seeing himself sucking his mother's breast while his baby bum is exposed. Maybe she's hoping that breastfeeding will be "normalized" enough by then that he won't care.

As far as cover vs. cover, I prefer the non-breastfeeding one because Nicole looks lovely and you can see the baby's adorable face. I have a feeling that in 10 to 20 years, Zion will prefer it too.