All posts by Dan Vera

A Reminder of the Hatred and Intolerance Around the World — the self portraits of men living in countries where homosexuality is against the law.
I'd only add that Conservative members of our current Supreme Court have voted in ways that would have placed my lover and I in this group. The Lawrence v. Texas decision that outlawed so called "sodomy laws" ended the direct criminalizing of our love for each other.

Why Ricky Martin Matters

So a closeted Gay kid growing up in Caracas, Managua or Corpus Christi, Texas, just got another model for living his life openly. That model is Ricky Martin. And unlike the hundreds highlighted by our global media, Martin shares a language and culture with that closeted Gay kid.

RickyMartin Ricky Martin has come out of the closet and a lot of the commentary around the internet and blogosphere mirrored that of Nathan Lane's anti-climactic coming out years ago.  I recall a comedian at that time commenting that Lane's disclosure amounted to "tea leaves" that did not need to be read.  Certainly Lane, already known for playing flamboyantly Gay characters, didn't surprise many.  But we brush these statements aside at our peril: the peril of hardening ourselves to jade.  In Lane's case it was a long path that included a mother who reportedly told him she preferred him dead than gay.  Lane came out when he could and that decision was his to make.  He hurt no one by his timing.  In Martin's case he has said he came out now because he has two kids and didn't want them to live with that kind of duplicity.  On a side note I'm struck at how Martin, like another prominent singer long-rumoured to be Gay, chose to be honest because of his kids.  I'm speaking of the American Idol contestant-singer Clay Aiken's who came out because he didn't want to lie to his children.  It's as if they reached a threshold where the containment units of the closet couldn't hold anymore.  I think we can all relate to that if we're honest.

But what many comments in the English language press (and internet) don't get is how much of a big deal Ricky Martin's coming out is for Latin America and for Latino GLBT people.  I can't think of a popular Latin-American entertainer with Martin's track record to come out of the closet like this.

Now that last statement might hit some people in the United States as funny.

"Prominent?" "Livin' La Vida Loca dude?"  "Menudo guy is 'prominent'?"  "Har Har."

I realize that in the United States' he's basically known for Menudo and Livin La Vida Loca. But consider for a moment that Ricky Martin has sold more than 60 million albums in his career.  Ponder that figure for a minute.  Those are albums.  Not singles.  That's more albums than Christina Aguilera's sold worldwide.  This isn't "Livin' La Vida Loca" one-hit wonder territory.  He's an enormous star in most other parts of the world.  In 1998 Martin was chosen to sing the anthem of the FIFA World Cup. That recording of "The Cup of Life"/"La Copa de la Vida" reached number one on the charts in 60 countries.  I bet you've never heard this song before.  Probably because the United States, not being a soccer-playing country, wasn't among those 60 countries.  But this is all to say that he was a huge star in Latin America and Europe before he appeared in the American consciousness and continues to be for rest of the world.

Some of the response to his coming out reveals the real ignorance on the part of many people in this country about Latino subjects or continents beyond Europe and the Northern half of North America.  And it's this lacuna of understanding by many in this country that reveals to me why his coming out is so important for Gay Latinos in this culture.  It provides one proud out Gay person of color for those of us who are not helped by a monoracial or monocultural understanding of what it means to be gay.  This paltry understanding was brought home for me a few days ago by a comment I read in response to Martin's coming out.  Something to effect that the story made him hear Lucille Ball's voice intone "Riiicky" from the old "I Love Lucy" show.  The "Ricky" in that case was the character of "Ricky Ricardo", played by Desi Arnaz.  Not surprising really because in my experience as a Gay Latino man, I can attest to the fact that for many non-Latino people, gay and straight a like, there are few Latinos in the popular consciousness.  If you're Cuban, your very existence evinces in word-association are to Ricky Ricardo/Desi Arnaz, or the Italian-American Al Pacino's Scarface impression.  It's pretty much the same for other Latino nationalities.  If you're Gay and Latino the circle pretty much shrinks to nothing.

A little side story to make my point:  When I came out of the closet in that far-ago time of the early 1990s, my mother struggled mightily with the announcement.  While she has come a long way and become supportive of me and my partner, at the time it was hard for her to come around to it.  Certainly there was the religious bias and misinformation.  But a big part of it was cultural.  I've written before about the feeling my mother had that my being "Gay" was some weird American thing.  Like a virus I'd picked up here.  I believe the turning point for her was coming to understand what my "being Gay" meant.  Which for her happened when she was able to connect my "being Gay" with the many Cuban intellectual and cultural figures she knew and loved.  People like Ernesto Lecuona and Lezama Lima. 

Looking at the public impressions of out Gay culture at the time my mother could be forgiven for thinking that there were no Gay Latinos in existence.  I can only remember Pedro Zamora, the Latino character on MTV's The Real World who had HIV and became an AIDS educator.  The situation hasn't improved that much in the insuing years.  For someone of Ricky Martin's starpower to come out makes a difference for people trying to ground their understanding of what it means to be Gay in a Latino context.

I also love the fact that Ricky Martin came out of his own accord.  There was no George Michael-like tea-room sting, no spurned lover suing him for support.  Martin chose his own moment to speak his own truth.  He also wrote eloquently about his timing and his decision to be honest.  I'll let his own words speak for themselves:

"Today is my day, this is my time, and this is my moment. These years in silence and reflection made me stronger and reminded me that acceptance has to come from within and that this kind of truth gives me the power to conquer emotions I didn't even know existed … I am proud to say that I am a fortunate homosexual man. I am very blessed to be who I am,"

"Many people told me: 'Ricky it's not important,' 'it's not worth it,' 'all the years you've worked and everything you've built will collapse,' 'many people in the world are not ready to accept your truth, your reality, your nature.' Because all this advice came from people who I love dearly, I decided to move on with my life not sharing with the world my entire truth. Allowing myself to be seduced by fear and insecurity became a self-fulfilling prophecy of sabotage. Today I take full responsibility for my decisions and my actions,"

Know that these eloquent statements have been translated and read and talked about in Spanish throughout Latin America.  So a closeted Gay kid growing up in Caracas, Managua or Corpus Christi, Texas, just got another model for living his life openly.  That model is Ricky Martin.  And unlike the hundreds highlighted by our global media, Martin shares a language and culture with that closeted Gay kid.  Martin has created music that this closeted kid and his family have danced to for years.  Martin has been a source of pride for Latino people — you don't get the FIFA gig for being some washed up musician.   A lot of Gay Latino people just received a point of pride and identification of sorts.  May he emboldened more people to come out of the closet and live openly.  This is an incredibly important thing that has just happened.

Good for him.

Burroughs on Gay “Pride”

A nice piece from the writer Augusten Burroughs.  Wish he'd named some of those forebears, but still take his point.  It's reminiscent of something Harry Hay used to say about not needing Gay "Pride" marches but Gay "Freedom" Days.  That it was crazy to be "proud" about being Gay.  It was like being "proud" for having blue eyes.  I think he said "blue eyes" as memory serves.

Long Hairs In Texas

A story from Texas this morning seems trivial.  A little kid in pre-Kindergarten is being sent home, suspended, because his hair is too long.  Four years old and this kid has already run smack dab into institutional gender comformity.  It's not the style of his hair it's just the length.  And it's not very long either.  Little "tater tot" as he likes to be called just likes wearing his hair long.  But that's not acceptable to the defenders of propriety at the Mesquite Independent School DisLonghairtrict outside of Dallas, Texas.

When the boy didn't comply (his parents are supporting him 100%) the school isolated him from the rest of the students.  The boy is FOUR YEARS OLD.   But we must not let such untoward behavior contaminate the rest of the children Can't let the other boys wear their hair a bit long.

Now this blog is about Gay issues and this story isn't directly about a Gay issue.  But I do think it's related to Gay experience in that it's a reminder of the still present gender conformity that is drilled into the (well-shorn) heads of kids at such an early age.  What's missing in the Associated Press coverage of this story is a recognition that the boy is not wearing hair the way BOYS are "supposed" to wear it.  Girls can have long hair and braid it and have it in pony tails.  There is no doubt that this wouldn't be an issue if Taylor was a girl.  But he's a boy and Balch Springs, Texas has very strict rules about how boys should look.  And I think it's right here that the problem starts.  This is one of the places where societies start laying down expectations on how boys and should be, and act, and dress, with no sense of whether such judgments are based on anything more than personal mores and prejudice.

Even worse little Taylor Pugh likes his hair.  Click on that link and look at him sitting there beaming.  His hair isn't causing a problem for anyone but the uptight scolds who don't have anything better to do but over-regiment the lives of little kids in their care.  As the wise sage musician Frank Zappa once said "Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible."  Well the Mesquite Independent School District will make sure there's no deviation from their boring calcified norm.

I expect this will not hold up in court.  And I applaud Taylor's parents for letting their son pursue what he loves and for exploring his own individuality.  It's an important lesson to learn at an early age.

Tom Ford on Becoming Post Human

Tomford So, I just heard Teri Gross interview with Tom Ford about his new movie adaptation of Christopher Isherwood's story "A Single Man." Gross also asked for his opinion on the state of fashion.  He made some comments about the current state of fashion and how we imagine the body these days.  I went back to the audio to capture it.  Fascinating comments:

"Right now everything is pumped up.  Cars look like someone took an air pump and pumped them up. They look engorged.  Lips, pumped up.  Breasts, pumped up.  Everything is pumped up. And it's also kind of offputting.  It's sexual but in such a hard way that it's, for me, not sexual at all…

We are becoming post-human.  Actually we are!  We are actually starting to manipulate bodies, because we can, into a shape.  We are becoming our own art.  What happens for me is it desexualizes everything.  You know you start to become more polished or more lacquered, like a beautiful car.  Does anyone want to sleep with you?  Does anyone want to touch you?  Does anyone want to kiss you?  Maybe not, because you're too scary!  But, you're beautiful, you're glossy, you're shiny, but you're not human.  Very interesting. It's fascinating culturally."  Tom Ford in his interviewed by Teri Gross's Fresh Air


Gays In Cuba

GaycubaThe current issue of In These Times offers a rare look at life for "Gay in Cuba."

The piece (indeed all the issue's cover stories) were translated by the Cuban-American blogger and Lambda Literary Award winner Achy Obejas.

The assessment seems to be that nothing's changed since the days of Reinaldo Arenas.

But it's great to know that there's a Reinaldo Arenas Memorial Foundation in Cuba that's working for change there.

The article is definitely worth a read.

No Surprise Bishops

USCathBish The Associated Press is reporting that the Catholic Church's years-long investigation into child-abuse shows no link between homosexuality and the abuse of children. 

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (infamous of late for injecting themselves in the Gay Marriage debates in Maine and now the District of Columbia, commissioned the study from the John Jay School of Criminal Justice and the results have come in:

"What we are suggesting is that the idea of sexual identity be
separated from the problem of sexual abuse," said Margaret Smith of
John Jay College, in a speech to the U.S. Conference of Catholic
Bishops.

I guess they're just to have to stow one of their canards away.

"At this point, we do not find a connection between homosexual
identity and the increased likelihood of subsequent abuse from the data
that we have right now."

Let's hope they pay attention to Margaret.