Friday, September 19, 2014

Am I Transphobic?: My History With Transgender Women and Effeminate Men

Want to join me as I stumble through another particularly messy topic that I spent a lot time chickening out of covering? Now that I've faced the uncomfortable and potentially inflammatory (again), I still haven't approached anything resembling clarity regarding transgenderism and me, but I think I might be coming up closer.

The question posed in the title is one I'd been putting off answering for months. It first popped into my head when Jared Leto won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar in February for playing a transgender woman in Dallas Buyer's Club, immediately making transgenderism a long-overdue topic du jour. But I wasn't ready yet: I considered it for about 30 minutes, and then I put it on the backburner. (Click here to read the rest of the article.)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Thoughts on Qantas In-Flight Entertainment from Johannesburg to Sydney and Back Again

What would any long-haul Qantas flight be without white wine, hot chocolate and in-flight entertainment?

I loved the general themes of the Angelina Jolie-headlined retelling/retooling of Sleeping Beauty: Romantic love is not the only true love. Maternal love reigns supreme. Sisters are doing it for themselves. Loving well, not getting even, is the best revenge. And love, not hate, will conquer all. Plus, Jolie is almost always watchable, even when her movies aren't. But the whole thing is so cartoonish (I almost think it would have worked better as an Enchanted-style mix of live action and traditional animation), and I couldn't figure out whether the camp was intentional.

Also, it was clearly created as a 3D spectacle, so my aisle seat in coach on Qantas flight 64 probably wasn't the ideal viewing space. I could see distracting evidence of the 3D effects on the miniature screen. It was like watching a sleeping beauty who fell into her deep slumber before she had a chance to wash off her make-up.

Having recently completed a marathon viewing of several seasons of Weeds (1 to 3 and 8), some of them nearly a decade belatedly, I'm not sure if I am up for another dysfunctional-family comedy-drama from Showtime. I wasn't bored watching the two season 4 episodes of Shameless, and I love Emmy Rossum's gritty side, but will someone please explain to me why a couple who is having trouble conceiving would even consider having the husband screw the wife's mother so that they could possibly be the proud parents of the wife's sibling?

The Immigrant
Love her and leave her has never applied more than it does to Marion Cotillard and Oscar after she won Best Actress in 2008 for La Vie en Rose. If Cotillard were Jennifer Lawrence and she gave the performance she gives in The Immigrant, she would be a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination. Speaking Polish no doubt boosted Meryl Streep's Oscar appeal in Sophie's Choice, and as far as I could tell, Cotillard pulled it off masterfully as The Immigrant's titular character caught between two cousins (Joaquin Phoenix and Jeremy Renner) and, like Sophie, having to make a difficult choice. She does tortured and conflicted so effortlessly, fooling you into thinking she's not even acting. But I'm fully prepared for the Academy to overlook her yet again.

The Normal Heart
Julia Roberts made me cry. Matt Bomer broke my heart. Alfred Molina made me look forward to seeing his work as John Lithgow's lover in Love Is Strange. Jim Parsons made me wonder if he's only capable of doing variations on The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon Cooper. Taylor Kitsch made me wish he'd send me a message on Grindr, which had everything to do with how the actor looks and nothing to do with how he acted here, which, frankly, was somewhat generically. (In his defense, he was playing the dime-a-dozen closeted "straight-acting" gay hunk.) Finn Wittrock, whom I've loved since he was Tad Martin's long-lost son on All My Children, confirmed my long-held suspicion that daytime soaps were just the beginning for him.

Meanwhile, Mark Ruffalo, an engaging actor of whom I'm quite fond and the human crux for which The Normal Heart beats, impressed me because he's sexy even when he isn't trying to be. For the most part, though, his performance didn't move me. His fake weeping as he watched his lover succumb to AIDS didn't help. Tears -- actual tears -- may not be enough to save starving children, but they are needed to really sell a dying-too-young scene. See Oscar nominee Bruce Davison in Longtime Companion to see how the living side should nail it.

My biggest problem with Ruffalo's Emmy-nominated performance in The Normal Heart was how mannered and self-conscious it seemed. He lacked the natural quality of other straight actors who have played gay in leading film roles in recent years (Sean Penn in Milk, Colin Firth in A Single Man), perhaps because Ruffalo's character, Ned Weeks, was pretty much a stand-in for Larry Kramer and Ruffalo played it that way. Ruffalo appeared to be trying too hard to capture Kramer specifics instead of just embodying the fighting spirit of the real-life activist and the film's screenwriter, on whose play the movie is based, and letting Ned be his own man.

I bought Ned's anger and righteous indignation, which, like villainy, are not the hardest things to sell from an acting standpoint, but because of all the anger and righteous indignation, when Ruffalo's Ned should have been making me feel, I mostly didn't. After a while, the performance became exhausting for me to watch. Ned was one of the good guys, but his compassion was too angular. (So was Julia Roberts', but it worked better for her satellite character.) His moral compass needed a little less hard edge and little more soft vulnerability in scenes where he wasn't caring for his dying lover (Bomer). During the one in which Ned slammed the milk against the wall, Ruffalo was doing all of the capital-A acting, but I couldn't take my eyes off of Bomer's quiet, helpless response.

5 Things I Realized While Watching The Other Woman
1. As a daytime soap fanatic, I love a good catfight, but there is something so engaging about women working together to vanquish a common enemy (in this case a serially cheating spouse). The First Wives Club this trio of other women were not, but then who is.

2. Cameron Diaz is a Hollywood rarity, an actress who made it largely on the strength of her physical appearance (not that she didn't eventually prove her acting chops) but seems to be allowing herself to age normally. She doesn't look freakishly twentysomething, or like she's trying to be. She looks like a fortyish woman who is still smoking hot.

3. Leslie Mann is every bit Melissa McCartney's comedic equal, and I wish she were better known as that than as Judd Apatow's wife who occasionally appears in his films. Though the spoils weren't all that great, she stole The Other Woman from a top-billed Diaz and made it mostly her movie.

4. At sixtysomething, Don Johnson is still Miami hot.

5. Why aren't more people talking about Taylor Kinney? I've caught glimpses of him in the glimpses I've seen of Chicago Fire, which I'd glimpsed mostly to catch a glimpse of Jesse Spencer. I might be tuning in for more in the future.

Surviving Jack
Admiring Christopher Meloni's physical gifts could only preoccupy me for so long before I started to realize how not funny Surviving Jack was. (No offense to Meloni, who nicely sent up his hunkdom on Veep last season.) I'd never heard of the Fox sitcom until it showed up among the in-flight entertainment options, and after the very first scene, I knew it couldn't possibly still be around. (Indeed, Fox axed it on my birthday this year after only a few episodes had aired.) Memo to future comedy writers who want to create something about the spiteful side of parenthood: Do it with a little bit of love. (See Damon Wayans comically toeing the line between parental affection and contempt in My Wife and Kids.) Being nasty is not inherently being funny.

The Millers
I love the cast, but during the four back-to-back episodes I watched, I couldn't stop wishing they were on a better show. If I ever sit through it again, it'll definitely be for Margo Martindale, who basically does here what she did last year in August: Osage County only more broadly. I'd gladly watch her watching paint dry because she'd no doubt find a way to crack me up while doing it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

More Thoughts on Ray and Janay Rice, the NFL, Public Opinion and the Failure of Our Legal System

Some of the responses to my previous post on Ray and Janay Rice got me thinking -- again. Valid dissenting points have been made, but my biggest concern remains the sincerity of a public that has cast its collective self in the role of judge, jury and executioner. (I have no doubt that if they could, they'd sentence Rice to death by blows to the head.) Is it all about getting justice for victims of domestic abuse and fighting what is a global epidemic (and not one that's just contained to football husbands and wives), or is it all about punishing a football hero and a sports culture that had it coming?

Let's look at the four main arguments I've heard/read that have been made in favor of exacting revenge -- I mean, punishment -- that will last for the rest of Rice's life.

The Role Model Argument

Are football players role models? I'll give them that. When football players sign on for the NFL, are they signing on to be role models? I'll give them that, too. But who isn't a role model? Everyone is a role model to someone. Do we now start gauging the severity of crimes on to whom and to how many you are considered to be a role model?

I know that football is pivotal to the American way, but I believe many people overvalue its importance to all Americans. I'd never heard of Ray Rice until last week. Surely there must be millions of non-football fans who were as clueless as I was, and some who still are. If you think about it, the influence of pop stars is far more pervasive than that of sports stars. Should we hold them up to the same personal-professional standards?

I mentioned Chris Brown in my previous post, but let's go back farther. Last year I watched an episode of TV One's documentary series Unsung on the late R&B singer Tammi Terrell. Perhaps the most revealing thing in the episode was Terrell's abusive relationships with James Brown and then-Temptations singer David Ruffin. In fact, there was some speculation that a severe beating by Ruffin may have exacerbated the brain tumor that eventually killed Terrell in 1970 at age 24.

I haven't been able to listen to James Brown since without thinking about how he treated Terrell, and I briefly considered never again listening to his music, but what would have been the point? Should Brown, one of the most popular entertainers of the time, the black Elvis and a role model to many (then and now, nearly a decade after his death), have been banned from recording and touring after he beat the crap out of Terrell following one of his shows? Think of all the iconic music the world would have missed: "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," "I Got You," "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" and pretty much everything Brown did from 1964 on.

No, I'm not saying that great music is more important than the welfare of young women. But those who are aware of the tempestuousness of Brown and Terrell's relationship probably wouldn't want to erase those classics from the rock and soul canon any more than contemporary R&B recording artists were ready to stop lining up to collaborate with Chris Brown after he assaulted Rihanna. It should be up to the legal system, not a loud and vengeful public, to determine if and how domestic abusers get to resume their careers, regardless of what those careers might be.

But yeah, I get it: The NFL reserves the right to do just that in the contracts its players sign. Alright then. However, constantly calling out Rice's professional/celebrity status makes it seem as if that's why the public deems the abuse to be so bad. If we heard about a plumber doing what he did, and even saw video of it, would everyone be as up in arms over it, demanding that he never again unclog a drain, or that a lawyer who slugs his wife be disbarred in every state for life, or do they want the NFL to permanently dump Rice (on top of his already being fired by the Baltimore Ravens) only because he no longer deserves a lucrative football gig? Is there a hierarchy of abuse that depends on what you do for a living and how public a profile you have? Does the abuser's being a well-known role model to a lot of people somehow make it worse for the abused? Isn't she supposed to be the focus?

And what does the fact that football players are on the pedestals we put them on say about us? It's not just the NFL's fault that they are overpaid and in a position to get away with murder, figuratively speaking, of course.

The "The Video Shows Just How Terrible the Assault Was" Argument

The second video should not have been grounds for increasing Rice's punishment, and it wouldn't have been if the prosecution had done its job. A friend of mine argued that it was the second video that showed just how aggressive the attack was. Now let me get this straight. We see a first video of a man dragging an unconscious body out of an elevator, and we already know that he had punched her off-screen. Does it really take seeing the second video to know that the attack was brutal? Of course, it was brutal.

Do her shoes falling off her feet make it somehow worse? Are we once again creating a hierarchy of abuse, but this time basing it on our feelings about the footage? Was abuse less serious an offense in the days before TMZ when we didn't all have access to such private moments in people's lives? In becoming voyeurs, we've also anointed ourselves as a sort of supreme court, responsible for doling out punishments to everyone who is caught acting badly on video or on tape because a crime is so much worse when we see it and hear it than when we just know that it happened? Tell that to the women who are beaten every day in the privacy of their own homes by men whose names nobody knows.

It's not important whether the NFL had access to this footage or not. What's important is that the prosecuting attorney must have, and still Rice got off with a slap on the wrist. Why aren't we demanding retroactive justice from the law? Because it's so much more dramatic, a much bigger statement, to hit Rice where it really counts: in his bank account? Who is this helping again?

The Let's-Protect-Women-from-the-Macho-Football-Star Argument

Yes, football players can be assholes. Yes, they sometimes degrade women. But is that a malady that is so unique to football players? What about the way Hollywood treats women? The music industry? Men in general. I would be more supportive of this argument if it seemed to come more from a place of genuinely wanting to look out for women and less from a place of wanting to knock football players down a few pegs. The primary focus during this entire controversy has been on Ray Rice when it actually should have been on his then-fiancee Janay Rice (nee Palmer).

Does anyone know the names of the two men who tortured Matthew Shepard and left him to die in 1998. Regardless of whether the crime was motivated by Shepard's sexuality, as the victim, he was always central to the story. In death, he became a martyr, an enduring symbol of the ongoing gay-rights movement, though in life, he hadn't made any notable contributions to it. If Twitter had existed back then, "#MatthewShepard" would have been trending for weeks.

We may be more desensitized to violence against women than we are to gay men being brutalized to death, but that's no reason to make the victim of domestic abuse a secondary player, an afterthought, in a case that should be all about her. Many people probably still don't even know the name Janay Rice, which as far as I can tell, never trended on Twitter. Or do the specifics about her (other than that she married Rice anyway) not matter because she isn't Rihanna?

So don't tell me this is all about looking out for the best interest of Janay Rice and women like her. It's about Ray Rice's celebrity, our need to be indignant about something (in the social media age, having a voice has become a birthright and being appalled a national pastime), and our need to put a rich and famous jock in his place.

The Marijuana Argument

There's also the idea that domestic abuse is a far more serious offense than smoking marijuana, and the punishment doled out by the NFL should reflect that. I think that, once again, this is something that needs to be taken up with the legal system, which treats drug offenses far more seriously than domestic abuse.

A friend made an interesting suggestion to me: The law actually has inadvertent firing power. If district attorneys were forced to prosecute offenders to the full extent of the law, especially when there is irrefutable video proof, that would kill two birds with one stone. If people charged and convicted of domestic abuse were in jail where they belong, then they would be unable to show up for work -- whether their job is in the NFL or at the local deli -- and ultimately they would end up being fired, without employers having to overstep their authority or rely on way too arbitrary personal-conduct clauses.

But the question would remain: How do we help Janay and other women like her by preventing future incidents of domestic abuse? Or is punishing Rice the only thing that matters?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Public Punishment for Private Sin: Would Banning Ray Rice from the NFL Help Anyone?

I'm sports dumb, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. Two letters aside, I can barely tell the difference between the NFL and the NBA. One week ago, I'd never heard of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, and I still have no idea what a running back even does for a living.

Frankly, I hope it won't be long before I'll never again have to read Rice's still-trending name or see his face. I don't know which is worse: the way he knocked out his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, with one blow to the head in that elevator in Atlantic City's Revel Casino Hotel last February 15, or how he callously mistreated her unconscious body afterwards, as if she were a human-sized rag doll.

Why Palmer married him anyway is beyond me. I'm not one of those people who believes wondering what she was thinking is tantamount to blaming the victim. At some point, we all have to answer for our choices. That said, she's not the first woman to stay with a man who physically abused her, and that she did doesn't make her a bad person, or even a stupid one. This is ultimately between the now-Rices.

Remember the old saying: "To err is human, to forgive, divine"? Well, that applies to both parties in domestic-abuse disputes, too. Maybe Rice apologized profusely, promising never to let it happen again. If he did, it's possible that he actually meant it. While I find his actions to be reprehensible, I have nothing to say about the man himself. It's neither my place nor any of my business.

It probably shouldn't be the National Football League's either, but a personal-conduct policy erasing the line that separates "private" from "professional" gives the NFL the power to play judge and jury and impose punishment for something Rice did off-the-clock. The policy is apparently meant to keep in check those feelings of entitlement, unaccountability and invincibility that the NFL bestows upon players in the first place. Following the incident, Rice was charged with felony aggravated assault and received a two-game suspension. But after TMZ ran footage of the punch on September 8 (the site had previously run video of the aftermath in February), under the pressure of mounting public criticism for not being tough enough, the Ravens fired Rice, and the league suspended him indefinitely. Pending what exactly? That's unclear to me. Maybe until his name stops trending, and the NFL can quietly reinstate him without too much uproar.

Ray Rice is not the first sports star to face the public flogging squad, and coming only months after Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned for life by the NBA for privately making racist remarks, he's just the latest high-profile person to be publicly and professionally censured for things said and done in private. I'm not so comfortable with this development in a post-tabloid era when someone is always watching and possibly recording. How far into players' private lives can the NFL go to pinpoint "personal conduct" offenses? Will marital infidelity or getting into a fist fight with your brother in the backyard while a recording app on some bystander's smart phone happens to be turned on eventually be grounds for dismissal?

While NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell recently implemented a new uniform punishment system for domestic violence (a six-game suspension for first offenders, a lifetime ban afterwards), there's been frustrating inconsistency in how we've responded to the transgressions of our non-sports stars. The list of actors and musicians who have committed domestic abuse is long. It's just as much of a problem in Hollywood as it is in the NFL, yet it's rarely addressed. I wonder, though, how lifetime bans would go over in entertainment.

What if Chris Brown had been permanently blacklisted by record labels and tour sponsors after physically assaulting then-girlfriend Rihanna in 2009? If Solange Knowles had an endorsement deal to lose, would we have demanded it be rescinded after her own elevator altercation with Jay-Z? Of course, violence inflicted by women against men is rarely taken seriously, especially if social media gets a few good memes out of it. I'm pretty certain that if Jay-Z had fought back, his career would be as done as Chris Brown's seemed to be in the months after he beat up Rihanna.

Imagine "Proud Mary" still being primarily a Creedence Clearwater Revival song (for a banned Ike Turner wouldn't have been able to record an iconic 1971 remake with Tina Turner), or Josh Brolin, who was arrested in 2004 for a domestic assault incident with then-wife Diane Lane, still being best known for the 1996 film Flirting with Disaster. How far back in our celebrities' pasts would we go to demand retroactive retribution for personal-conduct offenses? Should Justin Bieber have been dropped by his record label after the leaking of an old video in which he told a "nigger" joke?

Is getting caught on video the key? It seems as if Ray Rice is being punished less for knocking out his wife than because the punch was caught on tape that went public. If someone had privately sent the video to Commissioner Goodell rather than having it broadcast so publicly on TMZ, would Rice's punishment have been as severe? A law enforcement officer claims to have done just that five months ago, prompting the NFL to do nothing.

If the NFL had been able to keep the entire incident secret, perhaps there never would have been a day of reckoning for Rice. The NFL is now doing a lot of grandstanding, but the fact that the league's powers that be initially gave Rice little more than a wrist slap suggests that the more severe penalty imposed after video of the punch went public is more about PR than any sincere commitment to fighting domestic violence.

And what about the public's vociferous intervention? I could understand it if Rice were an elected public official who owed it to his constituents to walk the straight and narrow, lest his actions reflect poorly on the government. Sports stars fall into a tricky gray area, though. They're in the public eye and well known by a large number of people, but they remain private citizens. Should any guy who hits his wife or girlfriend lose his job, especially if it's caught on video, or is domestic violence somehow worse when it's committed by a rich sports star who may or may not think he's above the law?

Does the mass obsession with taking away Rice's livelihood by banning him from the NFL for life stem from a collective desire to prevent future episodes of domestic violence, or is it mostly a punitive thing, extracting vengeance for a woman who doesn't seem to want any and in the process, prolonging and compounding her suffering? The logic seems to be that it's up to the NFL to make Rice pay because he did a terrible thing and wasn't punished severely enough by New Jersey prosecutors, who agreed to dismiss the charges if Rice completed a year-long rehabilitation program. The legal system should be held more accountable for letting so many domestic abusers walk. Even if a victim refuses to press charges, video proof should make full prosecution mandatory since a crime was clearly committed.

I'm as poorly versed in law as I am in sports, but as far as I know, the NFL is acting within its legal rights by imposing an indefinite ban on Rice. While I believe he should be at the mercy of a tougher legal system and not the NFL, I honestly don't care if he never gets to play again. But I'd rather see the Rices undergoing intensive therapy than see him out of work. The latter wouldn't solve anything (certainly not violent impulses), nor would it fix the legal system, which has failed yet again.

I get the knee-jerk reactions to the videos. I'm appalled and outraged, too. But we shouldn't be blinded by our fury, becoming so obsessed with damning and punishing that we forget about rehabilitating and healing. We've done judgment. Why not try compassion? If not for Ray Rice, for his wife and for all the women who continue to live in fear and danger. Lifetime bans might make us feel better and make the NFL look good, but ultimately, they do nothing for the victims of domestic abuse.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Do Gay Men Really Have Terrible Taste in Music?

Oh, Rufus Wainwright, why did you have to go there? An offhand comment by the Canadian singer-songwriter during a recent interview made headlines and inspired my latest piece in HuffPost Gay Voices.

When it comes to musical taste, the only steadfast rule is that there's no accounting for it. Why Iggy Azalea and not Azealia Banks? Why Beyoncé and not Solange (her "Losing You" trumps everything on Beyoncé combined), or Kelly Rowland, for that matter? Why do some countries gravitate toward certain singers and songs, sending them to the top of the pops, while other countries ignore them altogether? (Poor Robbie Williams, still not an American success story.) And what does Robyn have to do for America to get her again? (Click here to read the rest of the story.)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

How Computers Mangled the Art of Writing

My friends have gotten me all wrong over the years. Many of them seem to assume that I sit around like their stern 7th-grade English teacher, with my figurative red-ink pen in hand, inspecting and then ripping apart every sentence in every email that everyone sends to me. I can't tell you how many emails I've received followed by emails apologizing for typos, misspellings, grammatical and punctuation errors, and global warming, as if those were things for which one has apologize. I've even had people tell me they refrain from sending me emails altogether for fear of what I might do with them on the privacy of my own laptop.

Well, newsflash, folks: I'm only human, and I know you all are, too. I'm the king of typos, and I'm fairly unapologetic about it. I don't have a personal copy editor to proofread every single word I write before pressing send. And why would I want one? In this not-so-golden age of emailing and texting, written communication could use evidence of humanity, now that we don't rely on handwriting to impart it. (Why do you think we're always having to "Type the letters in the box" on certain websites? To prove we're not monkeys!)

To this day, I have no idea what the signatures of the last few guys I dated even looked like, which is kind of pathetic, and not just because you can tell a lot about someone from their penmanship. I wonder how things would have worked out if our last few tense email/text conversations had gone down on paper instead, if there had been several crossed out words alongside lapses in good spelling and punctuation, indicating someone who was searching for the right words, the right way to verbally express his emotions, someone who was being human. I may not want to sit through a book or a professional email that's riddled with typos, but when someone is writing to me on a personal and intimate level, I expect imperfection. It makes them seem more sincere and less douchey.

I'm not saying I'm cool with illiteracy or egregious grammatical blunders -- like double negatives, and lack of subject-verb agreement and linking verbs -- but there's no need to proofread every missive to perfection. Typos and other assorted literary blemishes (within reason) can make emails seem more authentic, more real, more honest, more vulnerable -- all qualities I look for in someone with whom I'd want to regularly exchange them.

I once had a new Argentine ex send me a post-mortem email that was so perfectly constructed I was certain someone else had written it for him. While his English was by no means perfect, he was majoring in English at university with the intention of one day teaching it at a college level, so it's not as if we regularly had communication breakdowns due to any language barrier. I'm not sure why he felt he needed a ghost writer to edit all of the personality out of the last email he ever sent to me, but the prose was so arch and stilted in its perfection that I didn't buy it when he ended with "I'll always love you."

So, relax, people. Feel free to send me emails written with a human touch. I promise I'll read them without critiquing spelling, punctuation or grammar (as long as the latter doesn't make you sound like you dropped out of school after sixth grade). Confusing "you're" and "your," "it's" and "its," and "an" and "and" may produce speed-reading bumps, but they rarely stop me dead in my tracks. Everybody makes mistakes. That's what makes humanity beautiful.

Anyway, I'll probably be too busy rolling my eyes at all of the annoying deliberate touches -- the smiley faces, the incessant exclamation points, the LOLs -- to even notice the stuff that you don't do on purpose. I blame computers, not the educational system, for the way we now mangle the written word. Back in the good-old letter-writing days, did anyone use a colon followed by a parenthesis to indicate that what was just written was written with a smile, occasionally replacing the colon with a semicolon in order to wink? If you have to announce the joke after telling it, hasn't it already fallen flat?

A few years before smart phones and texting made all those annoying communication devices epidemic, my friend Mara and I were already laughing at, not with, people for using punctuation emoticons, which are right up there with XXXs and OOOs in the realm of pointlessness. Perhaps we overdid it a little, too, deeming guys unsuitable dating material for piling on smiley and winky faces, but our distaste was in the right place. Now, before you accuse me of contradicting what I just wrote, we never criticized them for anything I've already given a free pass. We slammed them for ending too many perfectly fine sentences with " :)," " ;)," and so on. To these eyes, and presumably to Mara's, they had a way of draining all of the gravitas out of a potential suitor and giving him the whiff of frivolity.

If you have to constantly end sentences with ":)" to let people know that you wrote them with a smile, perhaps you should adjust your overall tone so that your sunny disposition is clear. We may not have the benefit of facial expressions to guide us with written communication, but that's exactly why we have words. And what does ":/" and ":S" even mean?

There's also something off-puttingly glib about too many emoticons, or using them in lieu of actual sentences. A simple ":(" in response to a passionate email from me set the stage for the break-up with one of my exes, and he wasn't even an emoticon-er, which had been one of his assets. One or two well-placed emoticons I can handle, but when nearly every sentence ends with one, they can begin to seem a little phony. When what comes before it isn't exactly sunshine and rainbows, a smiley face can come across as being passive-aggressive, too, like you could't resist being kind of testy and bitchy, but you didn't have the guts not to try to soften the blow.

(For the record, I have less of an issue with simple graphic emoticons, possibly because I see them as much as an aesthetic device as a communication accessory. And they have the power to perk up boring IM conversations. But one per email, please.)

Exclamation points serve a completely different purpose. They're supposed to indicate enthusiasm, and I, for one, love it when an email begins with "Jeremy!" But life is not a Shania Twain song title. Nobody but possibly the world's most annoying person delivers every single line with breathless glee when speaking. So why end every written sentence with an exclamation mark -- or five? It only make the one that came after my name seem less special, less honest. I might assume it has nothing to do with me, and the person doing way too much exclaiming just wants to be liked by everyone.

To be honest, though, I'd take too many exclamation points to an overabundance of LOLs. My love/hate relationship with acronyms (currently set to hate) has been documented (here), so I won't use this space to rage against the machines for making them so commonplace, instead focusing on what is perhaps the most overused acronym of all time: LOL.

I love to laugh out loud as much as the next cut-up, but not everything is a laughing matter, and if everything is to someone, then how funny can any of it actually be. I don't know which is more off-putting, when "LOL" is in response to something I've written, or something the person using it has written. When it's the latter, it's the equivalent of laughing at your own jokes, which is something that most socially aware people would avoid doing in real life.

Would we actually laugh out loud if the sentence for which we're using it were uttered orally? Has anyone ever actually rolled on the floor laughing (ROTFL) or laughed his or her fucking ass off (LMFAO)? Most people are simply not that funny, and too many LOLs can feel patronizing, dismissive and, yes, phony. I prefer a sparingly used "hahaha" (just one "ha" is bordering on ridicule), or just tell me how funny I am. (Remember the episode of Scrubs where Zach Braff criticized Mandy Moore for always saying "That's funny" but never laughing?)

Sometimes when I'm sighing over yet another "LOL," I start longing for the good old days when people not only wrote letters but they wrote letters that didn't have to fall back on emoticons and acronyms to communicate what words are perfectly capable of relaying. (On the plus side, though, kids today are learning the English keyboard at an earlier age, which makes typing class and typing teachers -- never the nicest ones of the bunch -- pretty much obsolete.)

Did Teddy Roosevelt use emoticons and acronyms in his handwritten love letters to his first wife, Alice, when he was courting her? I think we can assume that he didn't, but had he done so, at least he would have had a good excuse. Quills and dip-it-in-ink fountain pens must have been horrendous to maneuver, especially when you had as much to say as the 26th U.S. President did!!! (TR was not exactly known for his understatement, but I suspect that when expressing his feelings to Alice, he did with love, not a ton of exclamation points and "<3.")

People were able to communicate just fine without the use of backspace, delete, cut and paste and auto correct. Sometimes it meant crumpling up a page and starting over, but it was usually worth it in the end. Those letters that are read in voice over during documentaries about events that happened centuries ago, always sound as eloquent as any perfectly constructed email. I'll bet there were plenty of typos in them, but not one single emoticon or "LOL."

So the next time you're considering whether to write to me and you decide not to for fear of being graded, reconsider. I'd really love to hear from you. I promise I'll shut up my inner editor, if you just let your words -- poorly spelled, misplaced and badly punctuated as they may or may not be -- and not modern communication flourishes do your talking for you.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

You Can Dance If You Want To, But Probably Not to These 11 "Dance" Songs

Dancing and dance songs have been vital to rock & roll right from the start, sort of like love and love songs. But unlike "love" songs, which are almost always about love, "dance" songs are sometimes dance songs in name only. Don't try dancing to these at home.

"Dancing Days" Led Zeppelin (1973) It rocks. It rolls. It's one of my favorite Led Zeppelin singles (possibly my favorite, considering that it was the B-side to the nearly equally awesome "Over the Hills and Far Away"). While it inspires me to bang my head for an entire 3:43, play air guitar and run a little faster around Cape Town (not necessarily at the same time), I wouldn't dream of shakin' my body down to the ground like a dancin' machine and then blamin' it on the boogie when it's on. The "g" in lieu of an apostrophe at the end of "Dancing" is a dead giveaway of its more genteel intent.

"Dancin' Man" Q (1977) Here's a dancing apostrophe attached to a song that's a little mid-'70s show-tune pop, but it's one of the better discoveries I've made during my recent ongoing Casey Kasem's American Top 40 listening binge.

"St. Vitus Dance" Bauhaus (1980) In the late '80s at MFP (My Friend's Place) in Gainesville, Florida, had the DJ dared to play this in the middle of a three-song block that also included "Headhunter" by Front 242 and "Wildflower" by The Cult, I would have found a way to lose it, and now, a quarter of a century later, I'd be wondering, What was I thinking?

"Don't Forget to Dance" The Kinks (1983) If "Come Dancing" -- which has a certain waltz-like quality -- hadn't been a surprise comeback hit in 1983, would The Kinks' follow-up have gotten anywhere near No. 29? As danceable/undanceable 1983 "Dance" songs go, this one was well below its predecessor and what was likely the biggest one of the year -- Men Without Hats' "The Safety Dance," which I probably wouldn't consider to be much of a dance song either if it didn't actually have choreography to go along with the title.

"All She Wants to Do Is Dance" Don Henley (1984) And that lady did an excellent job of it in the video, but while it's probably the most un-Don Henley thing Henley ever did (It was such a long, long way from "Hotel California"), and quite possibly his idea of funky, it's so not a dance song.

Don Henley - All She Wants To Do Is Danc by jpdc11

"Don't Stop the Dance" Bryan Ferry (1985) It's more post-Roxy Music music to move sexily to (see the girls in the video below for instructions), or, to paraphrase Johnny River's 1977 hit, sway to the music to, not bust any full-on dance moves to.

"Bring on the Dancing Horses" Echo & the Bunnymen (1985) After this college-rock classic from Pretty in Pink, Ian McCulloch and company would get the dancing thing closer to right three singles later with the cha-cha-cha-ing "Bedbugs and Ballyhoo," which I'm almost certain I must have danced to at MFP.

"Dance" Ratt (1986) I loved Ratt in the '80s, and I was certainly a fan of hair metal, but unless it had the rattlesnake shake of Motley Crue's "Dr. Feelgood," it rarely made me feel like dancin'. Not even with a title like this one's. It was one of my favorite Ratt singles, but it had even less of a backbeat than "Round and Round" or "You're in Love" or "Lay It Down," all of which were far more suitable for dancing undercover (which was the title of the 1986 album from whence "Dance" came).

"I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)" Whitney Houston (1987) One of my most memorable college moments arrived in 1990 when I went to Mardi Gras for the first time with a group of my University of Florida friends. On the morning of our arrival in New Orleans, we were all dancing around our hotel room to Whitney Houston singing "I wanna dance with somebody," already a golden oldie at the time, at the top of her/our lungs. In the middle of our drunken haze, my friend and then-roommate Rebecca and I were coherent enough to look at each other and simultaneously ask, "What are we doing?" Exactly.

"The Dance" Garth Brooks (1990) I know. He was singing metaphorically (It's not the final destination, but the journey, or "the dance"), but as anyone who has seen Garth Brooks live well knows (and I'm not one of them), he's never been above throwing in a dance at the most inappropriate moments. It would never ever work during this one.

The Dance - Garth Brooks from BlueHighways TV (BHTV) on Vimeo.

"I Can't Dance" Genesis (1991) Is it any wonder?

Monday, September 1, 2014

Who Cares What Jennifer Lawrence Looks Like Naked?

Yeah, I know. Spoken just like a gay men -- the title of this post, that is. But seriously, until Jennifer Lawrence started trending on Twitter yesterday due to the leaking of nude photos that are supposedly of her, I'd never once wondered what she looks like in the altogether. If I had, I probably would have assumed she has a great body, so in a sense, those revealing photos didn't actually reveal anything at all.

The most surprising thing about what I saw when I clicked on her name under Twitter "Trends" isn't that Jennifer Lawrence went there -- if she did indeed go there, and I've yet to see irrefutable evidence one way or the other. I, for one, don't really buy her self-deprecating falling-down good-girl act. Jennifer can no doubt get, in the immortal words of the late Whitney Houston, freaky dirty when she wants to. The real shocker here: those hackneyed poses. Do straight guys really get turned on by a woman wearing nothing but an "I'm too sexy" expression? Isn't sexy supposed to be a little less manufactured and desperate?

Hopefully, the Academy Award winner is a good enough actress to at least sell a sexy moment in a less cheesy way. I wouldn't really know. None of her three Oscar-nominated performances have called on her to be particularly sexy. Hmm... Did I just find something that Jennifer Lawrence isn't able to do? If she can pull it off, there's no evidence in those photos.

Speaking of acting prowess, is Jennifer's superstardom shot? Of course not -- even if the photos are proven to be authentic. Plenty of rising starlets have come back from "Nudegate" and "Videogate" scandals with their careers eventually relatively intact. And it's not like we don't see naked actresses all the time. Halle Berry might owe her Oscar, in part, to disrobing, climbing on top of Billy Bob Thornton and demanding "Make me feel good" in Monster's Ball. Seth MacFarlane even did a "We Saw Your Boobs" skit when he hosted the Oscars last year about what is almost a rite of actress passage: doffing everything onscreen. Ironically, his song and dance included the line "We haven't seen Jennifer Lawrence's boobs at all."
So Jennifer Lawrence may or may not have ended up stripping after all for some low-budget snapshots. Who hasn't? Well, maybe not you, but I certainly have. Fortunately, I've never been famous enough to live to regret it, but there's still time. I may have long since destroyed the photos, but evidence of them could still be out there somewhere.

I'm not sure how my first boyfriend, Derek, and I ended up on the roof of his Hell's Kitchen apartment building -- or why. When I asked him to shoot me in the nude, he obliged without asking any questions, so I never really had to figure that out. Maybe I just wanted to be a little bad. I think I was itching to do something daring but in a safe enough environment that it wouldn't cost me anything. My biggest worry was that the photos would look terrible. After all, it's not as if my reflection in the mirror after taking a shower was anything to write home about -- or enticement not to put my clothes on.

Derek was an artist, though, and he knew his way around a camera. Maybe he could have worked some magic and made me see myself in a new way. It could have been the end of my body dysmorphia and the dawning of a new kind of self-esteem. Or not: If my body photographed as poorly as my face, boy, was I in trouble.

Unfortunately, Derek didn't have a Polaroid camera, so I couldn't see what I looked like after the first shot. Otherwise, it probably would have been a quick wrap. Trial and error wasn't a possibility either. Those were the days before digital cameras, so if you took one picture, you had to use the entire roll before you could see any of them. And unless you had a dark room or had access to one (and knew how to use it, which I actually did, having taken a photography class at the University of Florida), you were at the mercy of commercial developers.

Even if my nudie shots were to ever "leak," most people probably would forget what my nether regions look like long before they forget my face. Of course, at 23, my genetic blessings weren't nearly as apparent as Jennifer Lawrence's (I've become far more comfortable with the shirtless pose since my 39th birthday, which was the next time I struck one), but would anyone who has seen her alleged photos be able to pick the body in them out of a line-up of similarly flawless ones? Maybe it's the gay in me, but when I think of those photos, I mostly picture the expression on Jennifer's face -- so bored, so clearly not particularly invested in the role of exhibitionist.

I can understand the boredom. It's a body. We all have one, and we've seen them, too -- good ones and bad ones. So why are we still so obsessed with them? I often listen to my gay male friends talk about some guy they're dating or used to date or want to date, and before they get to eye color (if they ever do), they tell me what a amazing body the guy has/had, as if the idea of a gay man with a six pack and killer pecs is supposed to shock me or make me think more highly of them both. Personally, if you've seen one hard body you've seen them all. Ultimately, faces pull me in and what's behind them keep me around.

All that said, I have to admit, I get the titillation and curiosity factors. I've never been known to look away in lieu of looking at a celebrity penis. But I've also never seen one that I could pick out of a crowd. (I can barely remember anything Jennifer Lawrence's X-Men: Days of Future Past costar Michael Fassbender bared as a sex addict in the 2011 film Shame other than his character's soul.) A body is a body is a body. I am reminded of this every time a doppelganger shows up on a daytime soap and sleeps with the unsuspecting heroine who may know what her loved one looks like but clearly has never paid much attention to his other body parts in bed.

Could it happen to me? I'd like to think not, but every time I log onto to Grindr and see a bunch of interchangeable torsos, I start to feel more susceptible to doppelganger deceit. Unless there was some defining characteristic (like that one guy with only one testicle), I remember very little about the bodies I've taken to bed, even the ones I woke up next to on a regular basis. There are very few details about, say, Derek's face that I don't remember in detail 21 years after we broke up and a good decade since the last time I saw him, but the lower I go, the blanker my memory goes.

So I've learned to care as little as possible. If more people followed suit, those hackers and leakers and fakers who post nude photos of famous women that may or may not be real would lose all of their power. We'd have to find something more important to look at and talk about, and Jennifer Lawrence could go back to tripping and getting Oscar nominations for attention.

Friday, August 29, 2014

My Coloring Book: Notes on Being Black and Dating White

The following is my latest essay on dating and race, for Medium.

I can't say for sure when it hit me  -- the harsh reality of race and racism, that is. It probably didn't knock me down like a punch in the stomach but perhaps arrived in a series of taps on my back that gradually intensified, becoming harder, faster, louder, eventually moving to the front and slapping me across the face. Maybe it crept up on me like a bad moon rising or a slowly marching band of gloom playing a requiem for dreams indefinitely deferred.

Although I was well aware of prejudice against black people growing up in Kissimmee, Florida's Deep South, I actually had few encounters with overt racism. White folks sometimes gave me the side eye, and I'm sure some of them talked behind my back, but it's not as if they went around saying terrible things to my face. Not one white person there ever made me fear for my physical well-being.

If the white kids hated me, they were, for the most part, discreet. Sure they called me an Oreo --  "black on the outside, white on the inside" --  as if not adhering to their stereotypical image of how a black kid should act was a badge of honor, and the only girls who ever went out with me or showed any interest in me (all two or three of them) were black, but for the most part, my white peers befriended me or left me alone. Although I knew about white-on-black racism, and I was aware of how some white people saw me (as different and probably inferior), I never felt particularly ostracized by them because of my skin color.

Aside from some housing issues when I was in college at the University of Florida in Gainesville (unfortunately for me, a black roommate/tenant wasn't always the most-desirable roommate/tenant), I wouldn't really have a problem with The White Man until I started dating him. Of the four white people whom I can vividly recall directing the N Word at me personally in my lifetime, two were the rednecks who used to chant "I smell nigger" every time they passed me on the playground. The other two were gay white guys, both Argentine, who tried and failed to get me into bed during my four and a half years living in Buenos Aires.

That's when I began to draw that thin line between fetishism and outright racism. I hadn't quite made the connection on New York City's gay scene, being more accustomed to the traditional "I'm just not into black guys" form of racism (which, comments of the two playground rednecks aside, is more insulting than anything anyone ever said to me in Kissimmee). In Manhattan's massive melting pot, I often felt invisible to gay men because most of them, especially the white ones, were not searching for someone like me. Black may be beautiful, but blue eyes were everything.

I learned to live with it and tried to look the other way, which is what I also did when I met white guys with a blacks-only dating policy. I avoided them mostly because I wanted to feel special. I wanted them to like me for my unique qualities, not because I fell into the limited color-based boundaries of their attraction. It wasn't until those two Argentines concluded their ardent pursuit of me with the N word that I realized that chasing after black men and sleeping with them doesn't necessarily preclude racism.

"Just because he fucks you, doesn't mean he respects you." - Juliana Qian, "The politics of racial attraction"

There are many stories of slave masters bedding and beating their human property (one of them told, to devastating effect, in the 2013 Oscar-winning film 12 Years a Slave) to back that up. I once jokingly called a white boyfriend "racist" after he made an on-color comment, which I've since forgotten. "Yeah, I just had a black dick in my mouth, and I'm racist," he said with a chuckle in his defense. I laughed, too, but not just with him. I didn't seriously think he was racist, but that wasn't because we'd just had sex. To his credit, though, race seldom crept up in any of our conversations. We talked about many things during our time together, and race was rarely one of them.

I'm not sure whether that was due to his lack of awareness in the ignorant sense or his lack of awareness in the It-didn't-matter sense. (He was Australian, and therefore white-on-black racism was not part of his national heritage, though Australia has plenty of other forms or racism to go around.) I knew I was an aberration from his romantic norm. Dating a black guy was neither a personal habit nor part of a socio-political-sexual movement for him, and perhaps that's why, for better or for worse, he never treated uncovering the mysteries of my black male psyche like his manifest destiny.

In my experiences with gay white men, it often seems like the more black men they've dated in the past and the more exclusive their pursuit of black romantic partners has been, the more hyper-aware of skin color they become in general. Although understandable, that can become problematic if/when they begin to instinctively attribute particulars of my personality to race or base assumptions about me and my life on it. I'm so much more than black. (For the record, while my serious boyfriends all have been white or Latino, I've dated pretty much every race and ethnicity under the sun, for despite any personal preferences I may have, my attraction is limitless.)

In a city with racial politics as complicated as Cape Town's (I relocated to South Africa's gay mecca after my extended stints in Buenos Aires, Melbourne and Bangkok), my dates with white men almost always seem to end up on the subject of color. Shortly after my arrival here, I met a white expat from the U.S. Midwest who had been living here for ten years. When he described Tamboerskloof, my first Cape Town neighborhood, as being "very white," his tone was laced with disapproval. I wondered what he would have thought of someone describing a neighborhood as being "very black." Did he not realize that the racist undercurrent of his observation was just as powerful? And why was he telling me? Should I have been living somewhere with more black people? Would he have said the same thing to a white person?

During our conversations, race kept interrupting. When I mentioned my dream of one day adopting a baby from Tanzania, he seemed surprised and perplexed. Tanzanians, he pointed out, were the least attractive of all Africans. As he started going down his mental list, beginning with the most attractive Africans (those from the Democratic Republic of Congo), I wondered if he'd written it down somewhere or if he'd recited it so many times with other black dates that he'd committed it to memory.

I wondered where I fit into his hierarchy of black. Did I rate as high as the guys in Senegal? As low as the Tanzanians? Despite the strangeness of his commentary, it was obvious that he did indeed think that black was beautiful (if it originated in certain countries only), and I quietly gave him credit for recognizing that there's inherent variety in "African." But I was disarmed, too. He was categorizing black Africans as one might categorize dogs. Were the black natives of each country merely interchangeable specimens? Should I have reconsidered adopting a baby from Tanzania because he might grow up to be unattractive to certain white men?

On another occasion, I was having lunch with another white American expat in De Waterkant, a predominantly white, upscale-ish and touristy area in central Cape Town, when a large group of patrons arrived and joined the group that was already seated at the table directly behind us. I prepared myself for the worst, for I'd spent enough time in restaurants to know that nothing good comes from the arrival of a large party that has nothing to do with you.

Apparently, they were so excited to see each other that they forgot they weren't the only people on the terrace. They started hugging and kissing each other, rubbing their butts into the back of my chair and practically sending my face flying forward into my burger. I turned around and shot them a WTH glare, which they didn't notice because they were too busy fawning over each other. My lunch date, however, couldn't miss it.

"You know, that's a race thing," he announced, his tone halfway between sympathetic and accusatory. "They're doing that, treating you like you aren't even there, because you're black."

"Oh. Really?" I knew what it felt like to be invisible in an all-white crowd, having been to enough gay bars in the United States, but race couldn't have been further from my mind. "So how do you explain that black people in Cape Town do that sort of thing to me all the time, too, probably even more than white people?"

He couldn't. The large party whose behinds were poking the back of my head probably didn't even realize that there was a behind in my seat, much less a black one. To put a racial slant on their obliviousness was sort of like assuming that the white driver whom I once saw run a red light at the corner of De Waterkant and Buitengracht and hit a black man on a bicycle was driven by some racist impulse. He probably was just being a typically reckless and impatient Cape Town driver.

On yet another Cape Town date (the third one with a white expat from Scotland), he made yet another observation about everyday white-on-black social crimes. He said he used to witness them firsthand every time he went out to dinner with his ex, who, of course, was black. From his point of view, white waiters and waitresses always seemed to hand the bill to my dinner date, not to his ex, because they presumed that the black man, no matter how finely attired he might have been, wasn't paying. I'd had enough bills placed on the table right in front of me to know this simply wasn't an actual culinary trend.

My biggest problem with these knee-jerk assumptions, aside from the fact that everything that happens to a black person doesn't happen because he or she is black, is the way black men keep getting cast as the victim, damaged at the hands of The White Man. So many things besides being black (like being male, being American, being gay and, most of all, being human) have contributed to who I am and to my experiences. I've never thought of myself as a victim.

As I explained to the second expat above, in my self-image, I'm a man first, gay second, American third, and black fourth. (Interestingly, his hierarchy was as follows: 1. White, 2. Upper middle class, 3. Male, 4. American, 5. Gay - which explained a lot.) My first two self-identifiers spawned innate qualities, while the qualities spawned from the other two are derived more from my experiences as those two things than from the self-identifiers themselves.

My maleness, my gayness and even my American-ness are things I identify as in my head when nobody else is around. When I'm alone, though, I don't think of myself in terms of my skin color, and I rarely do when I'm with my friends, most of whom never bring it up. Even when I look in the mirror, it's not the first thing I see. But there's always something - or rather, someone - there to remind me when I go out with certain white men.

Although in my experience, it has never been malicious or nearly as condescending as the way super-liberal feminist Maude Findlay (Bea Arthur) treated her maid Florida Evans (Esther Rolle) in the early seasons of the '70s Norman Lear sitcom Maude, hyper-awareness of race in white people who exclusively date black can still sometimes have uncomfortable and unfortunate consequences. I'm firmly against choosing romantic partners based on race or rejecting them for the same reason, but I understand that's exactly what some people do. I just wish more of them were honest about why they do it and what it might say about them. Being white and dating a person of color doesn't make you color blind. In fact, when it becomes a pattern, it can lead to seeing color more than individuality.

That's something I think about every time I sit across from a white date, and the conversation takes a turn into familiar and expected territory. Once again, I'm almost certain that the main thing he sees when he looks at me is black.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

25 Random Things I Said in 2009 That I'd Still (Mostly) Say Today

So the 25-year-old me is quite different from the 45-year-old me. But as I found out the other day when I stumbled upon an old Facebook "Note" from February 4, 2009 titled "25 Random Things About Me," despite the myriad changes in my life over the last five and a half years (including relocating to three different continents), not so much has changed since I was on the cusp of turning 40 (a milestone I reached on the day the above photo was taken). I hope I make fewer typos now!

1. I have never tasted coffee in my life. It used to be because I hated the smell. Now it's just a thing I refuse to do for no real reason at all. 

And now it's just a thing. Period. If I've gone so long without tasting it, why try it now?

2 I hate the beach. If I never again see another grain of sand, my life will go on. Give me the mountains any day.

The spectacular beaches in Thailand, which was more than two years away, helped me to better understand how the other half (those beach bums) holidays and why they do it, but I continue to be partial to a view from above.

3. Every so often I get terrible panic attacks that make me feel like I'm in death's grip. In fact, several days before I moved to Argentina, I went to the ER two time in less than 12 hours (once at 3am!) with scary-ass panic attacks!

When I wrote this, I was flirting with a dangerous Klonopin dependency. I now haven't taken it in two years and nearly five months. The panic attacks continue and so does the temptation to fight fright by popping a Klonopin (an urge I probably would have succumbed to a lot time ago had I not irrevocably misplaced my Klonopin stash in Bangkok in April of 2012), but I've learned to sweat it out.

4. I love being alone so much that sometimes I think I might be a little bit crazy. (I'm sure I'm not the only one!)

My penchant for solitude solitaire has only intensified. Although that parenthetical aside was referring to the second part of the sentence that preceded it, I now think I'm a little bit crazy for an entirely new set of reasons (least of which is No. 5!).

5. I'm so ridiculously anal and neat that I often dream about cleaning my toilet or scrubbing the floor or accomplishing some other mundane household task with which most normal people couldn't be bothered.

Clearly insomnia wasn't as much of a problem then as it is now, though I'd gladly clean for sleep.  

6. People usually can't believe that I'm almost 40 or that I'm chronically single, but I am. When all is said and done, and I'm about 41 or 42, I have a feeling I'll probably pull a Demi Moore and end up with someone 1/2 my age.

As a matter of fact, one year and nine months later, during my first trip to Melbourne, I did. He and I met six nights before my departure, and we ended up spending four of my last five nights in Melbourne together. I was already planning on ditching Buenos Aires for Melbourne, but I couldn't have asked for better incentive to make me actually go through with the relocation. Read all about how our first meeting went down and what happened between us after I moved to Melbourne in my forthcoming book, Is It True What They Say About Black Men?

7. I'm terrified of thunder -- not lightning, thunder. Oh, and heights scare the crap out of me. The one time in my life that I went skiing, I wouldn't even dare to use the ski lift. I kept climbing up that mountain again and again on my own two feet.

Going up up up still freaks me out, though I try to make it to the top of whichever city I'm in at least once.

As for the sound of thunder, well, it doesn't freak me out quite so much anymore, but it's still my favorite Duran Duran song.

8. I love air conditioning. Sometimes I turn it on in the winter just because I love the sound it makes. I also used to love to sleep to the sound of a vacuum going. Call me crazy. You know you want to.

Boy, was I on a call-me-crazy-shtick kick back then! I still love AC, but having to live without it for one month in Berlin last year and for my first two months in Cape Town cured me needing it. I rarely use it in my current apartment, but it's nice to know it's there if I ever get the urge to crank it.

9. I brush my teeth and floss fanatically. In college, everyone used to make fun of me because I'd spend 30 minutes in one sitting with a toothbrush in my mouth. I have a major phobia of bad breath.

Bad oral hygiene remains my No. 1 deal breaker.  

10. My greatest accomplishment of the last two years and nearly five months (since moving to Buenos Aires) has been learning to communicate in Spanish. My favorite word: entonces (then). Regular use of it makes one sound so erudite.

What was I thinking? Until I just reread this, I don't believe entonces had even crossed my mind since I left Buenos Aires in 2011. But then (entonces!), used alone in Spanish, it's sort of like "Anyway" in English, and I still say that all of the time.

11. I don't do unrequited love. I could never fall for someone who didn't love me back.

To borrow from the article I recently shared on Facebook, "Fuck, yes!" or "No way."

12. I love bad boys. But doesn't everyone?

Not as much as I used to, and I'm now wise enough to look and not touch... a lot.  

13. I was a total nerd until college (some of the people reading this will attest to that). Let's face it, cool is NOT reciting all 39 (at the time) presidents in front of every class in the second grade!

Is it considered nerdy when you spend New Year's Eve watching history documentaries that you've downloaded from YouTube?    

14. I don't do drugs, but I've tried pretty much everything (except heroin) at least once. (Should I be putting that here?) And yes, I inhaled.

On the plus side, these days I'm a lot more honest with myself when I'm writing about myself.  

15. I hate my middle name, which I will not divulge. I also hate Paris, Rio, Miami and Caribbean islands, although I was born on one of the latter, and I know I'm supposed to love them all.

"Hate" is such a strong word. I hate less these days. My middle name still sucks, but I'm more "indifferent" now to the places I used to "hate." I did have a pretty decent time when I returned to Rio for Carnival in 2010, though.

16. I've interviewed pretty much every music star I want to (except Madonna and Elton John). My favorite: David Bowie.

In the last five years and eight months, not a single new talent has emerged that I'm dying to interrogate.  

17. I have pretty high-brow taste in movies and literature and left-of-center music taste, but I love trashy TV. One of the worst things about living outside of the US is having to watch my soap operas on YouTube. But at least I have Two and a Half Men (which, by the way, I discovered here).

One Life to Live and All My Children are now gone (twice) and I've added The Young and the Restless to my must-watch list. As for Two and a Half Men, Ashton Kutcher is a lot prettier, but I still prefer Charlie Sheen.

18. I get hideous migraines several times a month, but I can function with them. I'm still convinced that a brain tumor will ultimately get me. Either that or I'll be run over by a speeding car.

I'm still on the same page regarding migraines and the brain tumor, but if the latter doesn't happen while I'm in Cape Town (the most unkind-to-pedestrians city I've walked through yet -- and I've been to Amman!), then I'm probably home free.

19. I can't swim, and I have no interest in learning -- or in swimming pools, for that matter.

The ex-boyfriend who was half my age swore he was going to teach me, but thankfully, he never got around to it. He said I was missing out on one of the greatest joys in life, which made me wonder how worthwhile his was.

20. My favorite book is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I know it's cliche to say, but it changed my life -- it turned me into the slightly mean and selfish person I am today!

Selfishness is still a virtue.  

21. Italian or Italian-descended men (which would describe many Argentines) are my strongest weakness.

Clearly I hadn't been to Australia yet!

22. I never thought much about high school as an adult until I joined Facebook and started reconnecting with many of my old friends.

I can't say I think about high school much now, but I'm happy to be in contact with so many people from way back then.  

23. I hate small talk, and I don't like to be touched by strangers.

So much so that there's an entire section in my book titled "Don't Touch Me There!"  

24. I am extremely jealous, but I'm good at hiding it. None of my exes probably have a clue.

Maybe I'm getting over it. Jealousy was one of the few emotions that I never felt with the ex who was half my age.  

25. I'm ridiculously shy, although most people wouldn't guess that either. Although I never drink in private, it's probably the reason why I sometimes overdo the whiskey and Coke a bit in social situations.

Now it's tequila with a beer back. And if I can ever find another bottle of Beyerskloof Lagare red wine (yes, red red wine, which I used to hate), I'll start drinking at home again. In fact, the other night, instead of dreaming about cleaning my bathroom, I dreamed that I was running around Cape Town trying to find a suitable Lagare substitute. I didn't, but hopefully, that dream won't come true.