All posts by Eric Fritter Riley

A Gay Paradigm Shift

Tyler Clementi II I've been reflecting on the recent news coverage of gay teen suicides for a week now. While for those of us in the queer community, where the knowledge of teens committing suicide as a means of escaping the daily psychological torture of coming to grips with sexual identity is nothing new, it seems the mainstream media have finally caught on to this very serious problem.  But why now?  Why not 40-50 years ago in the infancy of the American gay liberation movement?  Why not 30 years ago during the peak of the AIDS crisis coverage?  Why not 12 years ago when the Trevor Project started?  Why are gay teen suicides finally getting mainstream national media attention?  Because we're finally starting to see the overwhelming change in social attitudes required to shift mainstream thought to be inclusive of gay people in general, and the deaths of these young people are catalyzing that change.  I know the phrase "paradigm shift" has been used ad nauseum since Thomas Kuhn wrote his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in 1962, but that premise still holds true.  It takes years for a change in society to really take hold of people, and what I think we're seeing in this news coverage is a huge step forward not just for acceptance but more importantly for inclusion in the larger social fabric of the nation. 

In this very year we have seen the transcript from the Prop 8 trial, and the ruling of Judge Walker in that case which held that the proponents of this proposition had no defensible reason to support the exclusion of gay people from the institution of marriage.  What little evidence they presented was unsupported by history or fact, and their expert witness (of which there was only one) was basically rejected as unqualified to actually comment on the matter at hand.  It was abundantly clear that the sole motivation of proposition 8 was to oppress a sexual minority for no good reason.  Even members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, who were instrumental in the campaign to support proposition 8 are looking back at the division and strife that they have caused and it is driving them to tears.  I have no doubt that as the wheels of the judicial system continue to grind away, that this and all other state constitutional amendments that discriminate against gay and lesbian couples will be erased as a thing from a less enlightened time.

Also in this very year we have seen Bishop Eddie Long, Ted Haggard, and many, many others.  These men, a product of a conservative ideology that says that homosexuality is sinful and wrong, have worked diligently to uphold that worldview, even unto the suppression and utter destruction of their own self-identity.  The lives and well-beings of gay people everywhere have been dramatically influenced by people like this through religion and politics.  These are gay men  who live in denial, believing that their lives are wrong, that we must continue to support the heterosexual relationship as the only type of relationship that matters.  But in secret, their hearts pull them elsewhere, and they turn to abusing themselves, others, or both.  Ultimately we get fire and brimstone from these bully pulpits, where they push their own self-hatred outward to others, forcing more gay people and their families to experience the same pain and conflict that they are feeling.  Again, there is no defensible reason for this, and ultimately these structures will change both from within and from without.

It's these very outre political and religious statements against homosexual people that have brought to light the gay teen suicides.  It took a political campaign the size of prop 8, the national conversation that surrounded it, the trial that brought out the facts behind the prop 8 supporters, exposing the hypocrisy of the political and spiritual leadership who wrangled it into being and seeing the emotional damage that it caused, for people to finally realize that anti-gay speech and actions are a devastating practice that can drive young people to suicide.  When your state tells you that you don't deserve the same rights as other people, when your minister tells you you're going to hell for what you feel, when you believe no one around you feels the same way you do and calls you names for what's inside of you, when you fear what may happen to you if you share this secret with your own family, is it any wonder that you would become isolated, downtrodden, lonely, despairing and feeling that there is no hope left.  Suicide seems like the only option.  It is a tragedy, and one that has sadly been repeated for a very long time, long before these most recent notable deaths.

But the fact that these suicides, which under any other circumstance would have been the story in a local newspaper if that, have been taken up by the mainstream media like CNN and the New York Times, to me that says there has already been a change.  Poll numbers in support of gay marriages are rising.  Important religious figures are taking a stand and changing the tone in the church and calling their faith traditions on their stance.  Don't Ask, Don't Tell is on the brink of repeal.  The teen suicide stories have sparked a number of celebrity campaigns to speak out against anti-gay bullying including the star studded "We Give A Damn" campaign and the more down to earth "It Gets Better" campaign onYouTube.  Anderson Cooper called out a Michigan Assistant Attorney General for stalking and cyber bullying the openly gay president of the U of Mich student council in a hate filled blog.  All of these stories combined tell me that we are already living in a different time, and that there is no turning back any more.  The American public is finally looking critically at homophobia and its disastrous consequences, and it is only a matter of time before we have a sea change of public opinion.  

Homogenization

LRLogoStandard

 This morning on NPR I heard an article about the closing of Lambda Rising, DC's oldest, exclusive GLBT bookstore. While I couldn't locate the segment online for this morning's session I did find this interview with All Things Considered from last Saturday. A lot of things ran through my head, well, the economy is sucking and small businesses are failing. Niche markets are hardest hit when disposable income suffers, and queer literature is indeed a niche market.

What hits me hardest though is the sentiment that "every mainstream bookstore has a GLBT literature section."

Though true, Borders and Barnes and Noble both have gay literature sections, they pale in comparison. A mainstream bookstore may carry at most 100-200 titles in a GLBT "section" usually at most five shelves versus 20,000 titles in a store like Lambda Rising. Thinking about the selection process alone and only the most highly rated potential sales would even be chosen for that select shelf. Not to mention that most mainstream bookstores would include the erotica in there as well, thus taking up one of those five shelves with literary porn. Throw in biographies and histories and gay literature standards that are always selling (Jeanette Winterson, etc.) and you've got next to nothing left for new ideas, new fiction, theoretical works, subcultures… You only get what the mainstream bookseller thinks the gay consumer will buy, the lowest common denominator.

With the fading of indie bookstores and the move to the homogenous big box store what we get is a watering down of the breadth of gay culture. We become one small, carefully selected shelf in the vast body of popular literature.

This makes me wonder about monoculture.

When I was a child, I grew up in a small town with little to no ethnic diversity. People weren't German, Greek, Italian, Appalachian… We were all just white people. It didn't even occur to me that my family was of Irish descent until we got one of those family reunion ploys in the mail to get people to travel to Ireland. They must have sent every Riley in the country a mailer. Until I was about 18 years old, the only diversity I saw was on television.

Suffice it to say I didn't understand what being gay was until I was much older, and even then my perception of what it was colored my understanding of who I was. I didn't claim a gay identity until I was 21 or so. I didn't think I was one of the kinds of people I saw on television. I was different from them. It took me actually reading about gay people, going out to clubs, going to the GLBT community center and eventually finding the Radical Faeries before I could truly say that yes, I was gay and that it doesn't look like x, y or z. The kind of gay I am is not even in your alphabet. But it took years and years of learning and time and structure to form the identity I claim now. I had to learn the language, to navigate the wilds of subcultures to find the kinds of people who made sense to me.

I talk to a lot of people, many of them not much younger than I am, who say they're "post-gay" or don't identify as that kind of gay. They're something else, some kind of new-gay. Part of me wonders if they say this because they've grown up with an understanding of gay as some sort of homogenous identity. Perhaps much like I grew up just being generically a white person, these people have grown up with a definition of gay and they reject it because they recognize something more in themselves.

As we transition to a world where the breadth of gay identity is plowed under by mega-corporatizing influences, I suspect I'll hear more of this claim of a "post-gay" identity. Who we are needs the breadth of a library to explicate and understand the diversity of our lives, but our larger society run solely on profit incentive doesn't care about that. They only want to make money, they don't care who we are, where we came from or where we're going. They only care that we'll probably buy erotica. And we probably will.

There’s Something About Larry

There's Something About LarryMad Magazine, that purveyor of social satire and all things dreck, caught my eye this morning. The cover for the January issue headlines the year’s 20 dumbest people, events and things of 2007, and the image of their mascot Alfred E. Neuman is posed hiding on a public toilet seat, pants down, uncharacteristically wide-eyed, while a man’s black dress shoe sticks out under the stall and a hand comes reaching up.

Yup. You guessed it. Senator Larry Craig made the list, and the subsequent article "Craig’s Lust" shows a spoof DVD entitled "There’s Something About Larry," the Wide-Stance Edition no less. It made me chuckle and also shocked me a bit, especially looking at that cover art. I’m glad we have it here at the public library.

Though the look on his face makes me wonder. Alfred E. Neuman is known for his maxim of "What, Me Worry?" The look of shock and fear on his face is a little surprising for his character. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Alfred look surprised or afraid. He’s always in his Zen state of obliviousness. Is it the scene that’s making him worry and fear, or is it just Craig himself that he fears? It’s a little unclear. Knowing that Mad always goes for the direct hit I could easily say that he’s afraid of Craig himself coming after him in the toilet, especially with the hand there! But still, it seems out of character, and a little too much "Gay panic." I think I’d rather him be blase about the scene, or sarcastic about it, or even snickering at it than afraid.

That doesn’t mean that it isn’t funny. Cuz trust me, I found it funny. Just complicated.

My Big Gay Day at ALA

As you all know may know I’m a librarian. This last weekend I attended the annual conference of the American Library Association here in Washington, D.C. If you didn’t know the ALA has one of the oldest professional associations for GLBT people, the GLBT Round Table and nearly every year since 1971 the GLBTRT has presented awards to the best queer books of the year. Sunday morning I attended the 2007 GLBT Round Table Stonewall Book Awards Brunch and these were the winners.

Holleran_grief The winner of the Barbara Gittings award for best GLBT fiction was Andrew Holleran for his book Grief. Grief is a compelling short novel revolving around a man who upon the death of his mother travels to D.C. and becomes engrossed in the letters of Mary Todd Lincoln. Deeply moving, Grief was the unanimous choice for the fiction book of the year. Unfortunately Andrew was away in Europe on a book tour and couldn’t recieve his award, but he shared his thanks in a letter that was read before the crowd.

Other finalists for best literature were:

The Manny Files / Christian Burch
The Night Watch / Sarah Waters
Rose of No Man’s Land / Michelle Tea
A Scarecrow’s Bible / Martin Hyatt

Bechdel_funhomeThe winner of the Israel Fishman award for best GLBT non-fiction was Alison Bechdel for her graphic novel memoir "Fun Home." Fun Home tells the story of Alison and her family. Through the process of coming out to her father and sharing her experiences her father begins coming to terms with own sexuality. Alison Bechdel spoke this morning at the brunch and she shared her own story of coming out through literature, and the ping-pong process of reading about sex and actually having it and how sometimes the twain did not meet. It was really quite funny and I look forward to reading her book. Oh, and by the way, it’s also nominated for the National Book Critics Circle award for best non-fiction book of the year and it’s already won loads of awards. The full list is available at: http://dykestowatchoutfor.com/reviews-and-interviews

The other finalists for best non-fiction were:

Covering: The Hidden Assault on our Civil Rights / Kenji Yoshino
Gay Power: An American Revolution / David Eisenbach
Male-Male Intimacy in Early America: Beyond Romantic Friendships / William Benemann
Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son: A Memoir / Kevin Jennings

Maupin_michaeltolliver After the brunch I attended a few other lectures on library stuff, and spoke to a few people about books, bought a few books from the trade show floor reps and then headed up to the Public Library Association keynote speech by Armistead Maupin. Originally Elizabeth Edwards, wife of presidential candidate John Edwards, was slated to speak to the ALA, but unfortunately she couldn’t make it. As Maupin noted to the attendees there was an irony in that Elizabeth Edwards was in San Francisco speaking at gay pride, when one of the most noted gay authors was in Washington DC speaking to a bunch of librarians. We laughed. Oh, his speech was fantastic. It was about the common questions he gets asked, about his inspiration, his life, and his new book Michael Tolliver Lives.  I won’t go into all the details, but suffice it to say that some of the story in MTL is based exactly on his life, specifically the opening sequence where Michael at 55 finds the love of his life on the internet, and that’s not giving anything away as it happens in the first chapter. This directly mirrors Maupin’s own experience falling in love with his partner, Christoper Turner founder of daddyhunt.net.

I ended the day by walking another gay colleague back to Lambda Rising to go to the Alison Bechdel book signing and having a couple bits of kissy time. It was lovely.

And I got LOADS of books.

And I’ll be blogging them. Just you watch. ūüėČ

Denial and Despair

Back in November when the story about Ted Haggard hit the airwaves I wrote here on the Gay Wisdom Blog that I thought he had a lot of thinking to do (see: and the charlatans continue…).  This week Ted Haggard said, or rather one of the four ministers who have overseen his intensive ex-gay religious therapy said, that Haggard is now 100% straight.  But all to what end?  He’s lost his church, his position as the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, he’s leaving Colorado Springs, the only thing remaining is the relationship with his wife.  Given the huge breach of trust from having an extra-marital affair, with another man, while possibly experimenting with highly addictive drugs, his marriage is probably not the calmest harbor in his storm, but it’s the last external thing to cling to.  If he did lose his marriage as well in this situation he would have been left with absolutely nothing but himself and his feelings of guilt and shame and failure, and that’s a terribly dark road to walk.  Unfortunately for him he’s taken the route of denying his sexual feelings in an attempt to try to cling to a "normal life," and we’ve all seen how well denial plays out in one’s life.

I’m not apologizing for Ted Haggard.  No.  I’m extraordinarily sad for him.  I can’t imagine the scope of what he’s going through as a result of his outing.  On the scale of life traumas this is a huge hit.  But at least he’s still alive.

The same can not be said for Rev. Brent Dugan. Dugan was a Presbyterian minister in Pittsburgh who recently committed suicide from the fear of being outed on the KDKA-TV news.  This local news channel began running commercial promos saying that they were going to expose his "illicit behavior."  Dugan saw these promos and fled, and while the news station was back-pedaling he took his own life.  Dugan was 60 years old, single, and having a discreet relationship with another man.  He left copious notes for everyone he was leaving behind expressing his "profound sorrow and sadness, and sense of solemn grief and embarrassment, about what he thought would come to be known about his personal life."

I keep coming back to "Why?"  Why on earth would Dugan take his life?  Why on earth would Ted Haggard try to go through ex-gay "therapy?"  Maybe it’s that they have their lives, they have their secrets and they’ve lived with them for so long that they can’t imagine their lives laid open.  Maybe it’s that they have their preconceived notions of gay life and they can’t deal with the shame of how they believe "us," "the other," "not them" to be, though they themselves feel the same feelings.  Maybe it’s because they have their religious beliefs that tell them how sinful it is to be a homosexual and they can’t defy their God.  I could go on coming up with reasons, trying to understand, but to me it makes no sense.  It’s as if we live in different worlds. 

But our worlds are not different, it’s just our choices.  I went through crises of faith and sexual identity, and I’m sure most all of us have, and maybe continue to do so.  In our own way we’ve made our choices about living in the open, staying the closet, repressing or expressing our sexual nature.  I’ve come a long way from suicide and religious intolerance; others, like these men, are not so lucky.  But I believe the world is changing for the better.  Before our very eyes we see the changes. From welcoming and affirming congregations, to religiously affiliated gay marriage ceremonies, to commercial appeals for religious tolerance; the religious landscape, though battle scarred is very much changing.  There will always be voices of intolerance, but I believe that those voices are diminishing.  People change, and to me it seems we’re changing for the better.  Hopefully, in time, people like these men will not have live in denial and despair, but can come forward, serve their congregations faithfully, openly and in peace.

So may it be.

And the charlatans continue…

The focus of my re:Sources guide for this latest issue of White Crane was on religious hypocrisy. We don’t have to look very far to see that it’s still going on, because it’s been all over the news of late.

Last week Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and leader of the Colorado based New Life Church, was called out on his relationship with another man. Haggard has been a vocal supporter of Colorado’s anti-gay marriage amendment, which goes to a statewide vote tomorrow, November 7th.

There are so many layers to this story, not just Haggard’s adultery with a 49 year old male escort, but also what seems to be a possible crystal meth habit as well. I see this whole package as an prime example of the soul-crushing power of religiously based homophobia.

This one man rose to power holding this secret, and using his own internal pain directed his anger back against the gay community. In his own attempts to understand himself he turned to illicit relationships for cash, he fell into one of the most dangerously addictive drugs available (and one that is running rampant through the gay community), and he just kept on lying about it. Denying who he was led to this amazing fall from grace.

And let’s be honest, this is a big problem for the evangelical movement. Their constant repression of homosexuals leads to exactly this kind of situation; someone in the closet who rises to a position of power only to be outed and fall. The sadder thing is that Ted Haggard is just one of the most visible victims of evangelical homophobia. There are many other people, children and adults, who are twisted up inside because of this hate.

I know. I was one of them once.

I was lucky in that my family allowed me to come and go from religious beliefs as I saw fit. But I wanted to believe that I could be "good." And I tried, and I suffered because of it. I left when I decided that any God who made me this way and also wanted me to suffer because of it was no God I wanted to have in my life.

Maybe it’s Stockholm Syndrome or masochism, but I don’t understand why people would want to be subjected to that kind of emotional and psychological torture. Maybe it’s lust for power, or a desire for personal control. Maybe they just don’t know any better. Whatever the reason, the effects are obvious; lying, denying, self-loathing, and abusive and addictive behavior.

What will happen to Ted Haggard? This must be an extremely difficult time for him. What will he do with his life now that he’s no longer in his position of power? Will he look at himself for the person he is, and re-evaluate his relationship with God? He’s got a lot of explaining to do, and he’s got to start with himself.

Change in Editors Leaves Gannon Behind

For over a year I‚Äôve been on a personal media boycott against the Washington Blade, DC‚Äôs largest gay news weekly. Why? Because of executive editor Chris Crain’s continued, pigheaded printing of editorial commentator Jeff Gannon. Gannon, a former gay-escort-service-boy-turned-right-wing-political-sockpuppet has been spewing vitriolic, self-loathing, gay-baiting garbage all over the editorial pages of the Blade for over a year. His columns were so foul that I would always walk away from them with anger written all over me.

There were dozens of other reasons to hate the Blade, repeated transphobic comments among them. To me, however, seeing Jeff Gannon‚Äôs bald head in the paper made me want to vomit all over it and shove it back in the box. I couldn‚Äôt believe that a gay newspaper would print something so wrong, by someone so virulently opposed to the gay rights movements that he would actively work against it. It was like having Roy Cohn as a guest writer. 

Hundreds of people complained, and complained regularly.  But for whatever reason (maybe Crain liked hate mail?) Gannon continued to be printed.  The letters to the editor would pour in and Crain would say that they just couldn’t get anyone better.  In one editorial he even went so far to say that if he could sign on an ex-gay writer to the staff he would do so in a heartbeat.  It was more than gross irresponsibility, it was a full on assault upon the readers of the paper.

However, all of that is changing. Last Friday, September 15th, Chris Crain announced his departure from his executive editor position at the Blade. He seems to be moving on to the greener pastures of Rio de Janeiro with his partner. Good for him, and good for the Blade. Kevin Naff, formerly managing editor, will take his place. In an article published today on Media Bistro Kevin says that his first action will be to drop Jeff Gannon. Even better!

So for me, the boycott is over, and as of this week I’ll be picking up the Blade once more. Let’s hope that Kevin does more work to turn the paper around and up the quality of the editorial page.

Cheers!

Viva Pedro

Vivapedro Last night my boyfriend and I had the luck to notice that the Pedro Almodovar film "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" was playing at the AFI Silver Theater in Washington, D.C. (well, Silver Spring, Maryland, but it’s close enough). When we got there we saw that this was just the beginning of something much more exciting.

Viva Pedro is a retrospective re-release of eight classic films by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar, all leading up to the U.S. release of his latest film "Volver" opening on November 3rd.

Almo1Selected theaters around the country will be showing these movies, and copies of the VHS and DVD’s have been pulled from store shelves until the series is over. The selections include: "Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," "Talk to Her," "All About My Mother," "Live Flesh," "The Flower of My Secret," "Law of Desire," "Bad Education," and "Matador."

Now I hadn’t seen "Women on the Verge" in like 10 years, and it was a very different experience watching it on video then and seeing it in the theater now. For one, I was only 20 when I saw the film and being young and naive camp humor was pretty much lost on me. No longer! Oh my god, it was a RIOT in that theater! The credits alone had my gay heart singing with glee. But the scenes themselves were just beyond compare. Pepa setting Almo2_hfire to the bed and putting it out with the garden hose with the look of joy and hate in her eyes, the girlfriend who had a fling with terrorists and was running from the law, the psycho wife with two revolvers in her handbag, the closeup shots of high heel shoes walking on marble, doing voice dubs for Joan Crawford movies… I mean the list goes on and on and on. It was a great experience, and if you have the chance to go out and see one of these movies, please, do yourself a favor and go!