Saturday, June 27, 2015
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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 fireplace...at 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. Haha...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