Curing gays with smartphone apps

Posted: March 22, 2011 in Opinions

I might be the only one, but the new iPhone app “Exodus International” kind of amuses me. Only in today’s world would people believe they could cure people’s homosexuality with an app. When Judy Garland or Freddy Mercury comes on the television, it buzzes “Warning-Gays-Warning-Gays” or when the owner puts on a pink shirt or tight jeans, it zaps him until he takes those gay clothes off and puts on some cargo pants and a hoodie. Walking into a gay bar will actually make the phone explode in your pocket. I understand the attempt in an app world that makes facebook look like a church dating convention. I read that there are over 6,000 different smartphone dating apps, grindr being the one that probably scares the Exodus people the most as it tells gays exactly how far other gays on grindr are, whether 2 feet, 100 feet or 15 miles, but people aren’t finding love any quicker, even if the guy with big pecs in the cafe next door that is appearing on the screen seems enticing. These apps might make old dating sites like lovecupid and manhunt and e-harmony seem antiquated, but they will not cure your gay, just as they won’t make your grandmother any more accepting or unicorns real.

The 100,000 people who have petitioned against the app, while well-intentioned, are just giving legitimacy to something that is clearly ridiculous. It is a stupid idea that gayness can be cured in the first place, but one that must be fought especially because the books of the fake psychologist who came up with the idea has been used in Uganda as reason to pass the death penalty against people who persist in acting as homosexuals. But that they are now curing it with an app just shows how dimwitted these people are. Apple did remove an app before Prop-8 was passed that called homosexuals “immoral sexual partners” following the signatures of only 7,000 petitioners for promoting hateful content, and this certainly qualifies as such, and regardless its 4+ rating as “non-offensive” is completely incomprehensible. But we need to stop giving legitimacy to these organizations that attempt to change people with a simple app. Soon we will be having an app for your psychologist, an app for your doctor, an app for a lawyer to represent you in court, and maybe an app for public education so we don’t have to take the trouble to send our kids to school. Or maybe we already have these apps. I don’t actual have a smartphone so I don’t actually know. I’m still in the dark ages of the early 2000s with a very dumbphone. But I’m pretty positive no one is getting cured from being gay by an app, so let’s not add fuel to the fire by giving them the attention they don’t deserve, and instead just call them what they are: really fucking stupid.

 

Update: Apple has canceled the Exodus International app following 150,000 signatures in protest, a necessary move considering the attention given to the situation.

Let’s Outlaw Marriage (seriously)

Posted: February 25, 2011 in Opinions

President Obama has asked the State Department not to defend the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA), deeming it unconstitutional to give a separate status to legally married same-sex couples, a change in policy for the administration after Obama initially upheld the statute signed originally by George W. Bush. His views of gay marriage have not changed he claims–he is for civil unions and supposedly against gay marriage–although those thoughts are “evolving” he says, a claim hopefully to pre-empt a change of opinion on gay marriage as soon as he gets re-elected. A second term would never be possible if he flip-flopped on the issue before 2012. Gay marriage candidates do not win elections. What all this means for legally married gay couples is still unclear. Gay marriage still does not provide a path to citizenship if one member happens not to be American. It is still unclear if all states must recognise same-sex unions from other states where it is legal. It is always a step in the right direction when the attorney general declares his department will ignore a piece of discriminatory legislation. But I hate this obsession with marriage!

I am presently in Great Britain where same-sex civil unions are legal and not significantly controversial. If you are straight however, you can only get married, and there are currently two British couples suing the government for the right to get a civil union because they are currently barred by British law. They want the right of partners without the necessity of a church-sanctioned institution. This is the problem with the American obsession with marriage: why would gay people want to join this religious institution of unity when these religions have systemically rejected queers since their creation? In what would be a true understanding of the separation of church and state, the government should only allow civil unions–both for straight and queer couples–and allow churches to marry or not marry couples. Then any gay couple who wants to marry instead of simply gaining the rights of a union could find a church that will do so, and any church that wants to uphold their unchristian doctrine of only supporting the love of straight people could continue to have the right to only marry who they choose. But why the continuing obsession with a push for marriage? Well adult americans who are not married, even the straight ones, are second class citizens, looked down upon by the happy straight unions. And there is always the fact that many American don’t want even civil unions for gay people, thinking any form of union between two people of the same sex is against god’s wishes. So the fight remains for same-sex marriage; even if we can’t fully adopt a true separation of church and state, there is still the opportunity to make such institutions non-discriminatory. So does Obama’s and Eric Holder’s decision to ignore DOMA change anything? Well not too much, but it does allow state courts and legislators a little more legitimacy in passing marriage and civil union laws or deeming the existing ones unconstitutional. And until this obsession with marriage ends, which may never happen in the United States that, as we are so constantly reminded, is founded on the institution of the American family, a little gay marriage may be the best we can ask for to make queer citizens truly equal citizens. But I wish we could move past this idea of marriage. Get all the rights from immigration to health care to parenting–allow everyone to have civil unions and outlaw government sanctioned marriage.

Being an “issue”

Posted: February 12, 2011 in Opinions

Walking around the streets of Madrid, I’ve heard many queer twenty-year-olds decrying the gays that can’t stop talking about being gay and constantly present their sexuality as an issue. “You’re gay! Get over it!” they say. “No need to advertise.” And I understand this. In the same way I don’t want to have to come out every day for the rest of my life, people don’t want to be a walking social issue. A funny Rolling Stones article recently declared queer people are finally gaining acceptance and equal representation on television because they finally have gay reality TV characters as trashy and pathetic as their straight “Jersey Shore” counterparts. True acceptance embraces both the best and worst of a people, and so it’s great it is finally acceptable to have a complementary force to balance the ultra-familial and stereotypical “Modern Family” pairing. But just because being gay doesn’t have to be an issue as life permeating as many make it to be, people can’t turn their backs on the queer issues that persist. Not everywhere is as gay and accepting as Madrid or New York City or San Francisco.

In pop-culture news, Richard Chamberlain recently recommended gay men who want leading roles in Hollywood should stay in the closet, with the idea that a gay actor cannot realistically play a straight character because the audience will always be thinking about his being gay. The fact everyone thinks their straight while they are in the closet shows how easy it is. As for audiences focusing on an actor’s sexuality, it might be true about Sean Hayes whose entire shtick is acting effeminate and cannot get a laugh doing much else, but other than him, it is a ridiculous notion about acting yet confronts the widespread presumption of an American and worldwide audience that is by nature homophobic. It’s the same understanding of and response to an audience as Dr. Phil had when recently advising a mother whose son plays with Barbie dolls to present him with more masculine toys, presumably GI Joes and planes and trains, to help steer him in the straight direction. I mean Dr. Phil is a bastard even without such a prescription, but in this he is just responding to the heteronormative familial preferences of the public that somehow believes you can steer kids away from the gay. And that is an issue that must be confronted. The status quo here is not acceptable, so even if being gay is not an issue to you, get over it and help move things in the right direction. I’m not even talking about issues of countries like Iran or Uganda or Jamaica where queer issues are actually issues of life or death. Even in the United States or Spain or any democratic country, until the queer issue is not an issue, it remains an issue, and should be talked about as such. Maybe not every passing moment of every day of every week of every year, but we still have a while to go before being queer doesn’t seem so queer.

My mother just sent me the following message:

David Kato is a man whom we should remember. He was killed with a hammer outside his home in Kampala on Thursday. He was an outspoken gay man who came out several years ago while studying in South Africa. A Ugandan magazine called “Rolling Stone” published photos and addresses of 100 gay men and lesbians in Uganda with a closing statement “Hang them”; the article accuses the gay population of going into schools and grabbing children, feeding the hatred magnified by the evangelicals who traveled to Uganda from the U.S. in 2009. The magazine denies that its publication had anything to do with the murder; “there has only been one”. The murderer was an acquaintance of Kato’s. The police claim that it was not a hate crime, just a robbery. So horrible and sad and scary…”

I bet she was thinking of me, her son, when she read about this. It makes me think of my friends who live where walking in the streets openly queer is a potential death sentence and at least a guarantee of targeted violence. Uganda may be one of the few countries that is passing legislation to punish homosexuality with the death penalty, but there are many more countries where the hateful reality is the same even without such laws. There are parts of the most liberal and democratic countries where the reality is the same–Matthew Shepherd’s death was not too long ago, and he was only one famous story in a long list of many. This is the future for many. It is a future worth fearing, and I don’t know quite how yet, but it is also a future worth fighting.

Labels of Sexuality

Posted: January 21, 2011 in Opinions

People are obsessed with labels–gay, straight, bisexual, transgendered, transexual, transvestite–which often result in divisiveness between the categories. When I attended gay pride in Boston this past year, a day that is supposed to celebrate the queer community as a united whole, I attempted to attend two parties: one was a dyke party with no guys allowed, and the other a gay guy party. Besides the fact that this leaves no party for those who identify neither as gay nor lesbian, the two parties violated everything that Pride is supposed to be about. I have embraced the term queer to describe everyone who does not identify as straight because labels are divisive and the queer community should not reject its disparate parts. But why the almost militaristic obsession with labels?

I only have personal experience with “bisexual” and “gay” since leaving my straight persona behind, and while I understand the term bisexual may be offensive to some as it only acknowledges two sexes when clearly there are more, I will continue using the term because when I came out, I self-identified as bisexual. I had girlfriends before and my dick certainly hadn’t felt gay in those instances. Even after coming out in as a Junior in college, girls didn’t seem to care how I identified, even those who I hooked up with, but guys would get angry that I did not identify fully as gay. So I started being gay to the gays and bisexual to others. This may have been partially because I felt “bisexual” was an easier pill to swallow for everyone who knew my straight self before, which is what gay guys argued when they told me that by using bisexual I was not fully accepting that I was gay. I felt bisexual at the time, and personally, I never did not understand the distinctions. How do I identify now? Well I am attracted to guys and girls, but I am more attracted to guys than girls, as in when I’m with a guy I do not think of dating girls but when I am with a girl I do fantasize about guys. And I will end up with a guy. So if bisexuality needs to be defined by a 50/50 percentage split, I am definitely not bisexual and maybe no one is as so many people proclaim. But if being bisexual is being attracted to more than one sex, maybe everyone is bisexual because everyone has a twinge of attraction for all genders somewhere somehow.

For me, coming out was a long process. It never crossed my mind that I could be gay until college, and this includes a High School where I masterbated to gay porn half the time. Others I have talked to claim to have known since 8 or 10 years old and are surprised when I describe my experience of understanding my sexuality as a process. Obviously, people have different experiences, and people must respect that. And however people label it, their sexual preference does not change with the evolution of the labels. You are what you feel, no matter what you call it.

Just Kids

Posted: January 19, 2011 in Pop Culture

Anyone who is anyone, which realistically is everyone, needs to read Just Kids by Patti Smith, which tells the story of her relationship with Robert Maplethorpe. It feels almost pornographic to get such unfettered access into the lives of these revolutionary artists in 1960/70s New York City during the height of the sexual revolution and the dawn of rock and roll. And it doesn’t hurt that her prose is practically poetry, and not in the hard to read way, but in the exquisitely beautiful you almost hate her for writing so well kind of way. It is also striking for its almost accidental account of the complexity of sexuality. Patti and Robert were lovers, meeting each other by chance when both were homeless and broke with nothing but the certainty that they were artists and had to pursue their art no matter the cost. They lived and were together for many years with an extreme intimacy–artistically, cerebrally, as friends, but also sexually–yet he ends up becoming one of the most famous gay artists who have ever lived, taking Polaroids of S&M and distinctly homoerotic almost pornographic imagery. But his love for Patti was real. His desire for Patti was real. Their bond and intimacy was real, demonstrating the purity of their love, not constricted by their sexual preference of even their future relationships with other individuals. Even when no longer a couple, they lived together for a few more years, unable to break from the bond of their love. You will feel the tragedy of his death due to AIDS, but more so you will feel the vibrancy of their lives in becoming each others’ muse on paths that lead to Robert  bringing recognition to photography as art on par with painting and sculpture, and with Patti merging poetry with rock as never before conceived. Read it, for knowledge of a time and the lives of two beautiful and genius souls, but also for insight into the nature of love. And if you haven’t already, start looking up their work. You will soon be obsessed.

Some examples:

Self-Portrait, Robert Mapplethorpe, 1978

“Gloria,” Patti Smith, from her first album Horses

(Robert Mapplethorpe took the photo that is the cover of the album but also the photo that appears in the video.)

Republican Aides

Posted: January 15, 2011 in Opinions

It is a running joke in Washington D.C. that most of the gay congressional aides work for Republican congressmen, and as with most jokes, people are laughing at reality. People argue, and accurately so, that demographics do not vote as a bloc and there are more important issues than the gay ones to many in the queer community. The Log Cabin Republicans, a gay faction of the Republican Party, was an important force behind challenging “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” funding successful lawsuits against the policy in both California and Washington state, and embodying the idea of the fiscally conservative socially liberal individual that so many young Republicans use to self-describe. But even if their reasoning makes cerebral sense, these gay Republicans are supporting the forces that keep them as second-class citizens in this country. No part of the African-American community was supporting the party fighting against the Civil Rights Act in the 1950s and 1960s, so why are there so many doing so in the gay community? In a country so obsessed with the American family, queer individuals are not equal until queer couples are allowed to marry. The Supreme Court finally made it legal nation-wide to fornicate in 2001 (a little late but at least it happened), and Congress recently ended the discriminatory policy of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” a major victory considering the prowess and popularity of the military in the United States, but while we are a step or many steps closer, we are not there yet. And until we are, no queer should vote for the party that fights against their rights, let alone work for the Republican agenda. The socially liberal fiscally conservative Republican no longer exists in congress anymore–that’s pretty much what Democrats have become–as Republican leadership practically requires all members to stand in line. There is obviously a large and very safe community of queer Republicans in D.C. as the great number of gay Republican aides shows, but their service while commendable, demonstrates the shame that is still endemic in the gay community. People are still ashamed to come out to friends and family, and even those who are out do not want to make a big deal about it. While jobs and health care and the economy can easily be considered more important than the issue of gay marriage, the queer community is still a second-class demographic, given different rights than the average United States citizen, and until that is no longer a fact, the queer community needs to unite as a community and only support and work for those fighting (and voting) in the right direction, and not for the Right.

Does this photo offend you?

Posted: December 1, 2010 in Random News

Does this photograph offend you?

Walt Whitman, 1891

How about now that I tell you it’s of Walt Whitman during the time he spent with his homosexual lover and Confederate deserter Peter Doyle?

How about this photo? Does it offend you?

Eakins, Salutat, 1898

But it’s showcasing the male body as an object of admiration.

How about this portrait of James Baldwin? Offensive?

Delaney, James Baldwin, 1963

Before you decide, let me remind you that he is a notorious queer writer. Really liked the penis.

Does this self-portrait of Robert Mapplethorpe offend you?

Robert Mapplethorpe, Self-Portrait, 1975

I mean there are no penises and no sodomy like other Mapplethorpe pieces, but he is a homosexual. And died of AIDS, that icky homosexual disease.

Or how about this painting by Keith Haring that he never finished? Offensive?

Haring, Unfinished Painting, 1990

He didn’t finish it because he died of AIDS, so probably totally offensive. Oh, and another big homo.

The Smithsonian presently is holding an exhibit called HIDE/SEEK at the National Portrait Gallery that claims to be the “first major exhibition to focus on sexual difference in the making of modern American portraiture.” It’s amazing. When I was there last week, I loved the exhibit, as it had some of my favorite artists from Warhol to Rauschenberg and actually explored queer themes. Never did I find any painting controversial. The most nudity is in Eakins’ Salutat (shown above) and all that shows is a little butt cheek. Yet Eric Kantor called the exhibition “an outrageous use of taxpayer money,” and John Boehner says “Smithsonian officials should either acknowledge the mistake or be prepared to face tough scrutiny beginning in January.” A “mistake.” Either showing queer themes is a mistake, or the Smithsonian is going to have to deal with its liberal agenda before Republicans take over the House says Mr. Boehner, ready to fight for his party’s idea of Family Values. And the Democrats aren’t focusing on the economy?

But seriously, what is offensive here? The exhibit celebrates queer identity in the most water-downed way I have ever seen, and this is unacceptable? The most controversial piece is a video by David Wojnarowicz called A Fire In My Belly.

It depicts ants crawling on the cross bearing the body of Christ, and is supposed to represent the “agony and suffering” of Wojnarowicz’s partner who was dying of AIDS. Catholic League President argues, “If it’s wrong for the government to take the taxpayers’ money to promote religion, why is it OK to take taxpayers’ money to assault religion?” And the National Portrait Gallery complied. The video has been removed.

Whether or not the individual video is offensive is theoretically debatable although seems a bit bogus, but the true outcry is over the representation of queer themes and issues involving HIV and AIDS in a federally funded museum. How in 2010 could this be controversial? Especially with such a not in-your-face collection. Really, I though it was part of the permanent collection because the exhibit seemed so natural, so free flowing from the permanent presidential exhibit. And now it is part of the national debate and will probably be used as an excuse to take money from the arts as another provably non-effective approach to cutting the deficit. But my real concern is the assault on the first amendment, that because art alludes to queer themes it should not be exhibited under federal money. And why did these GOP leaders chose to go after the exhibit on World AIDS Day?

I’m offended.

The Search for a Hero

Posted: November 28, 2010 in Opinions

When I told my mother recently that Abraham Lincoln was gay, she reacted angrily. Granted the only documented evidence is that President Lincoln slept in the same room and bed as another man for about a five year period before he was married or president, but she “defended” him, claiming that just because he slept in the same bed as another man does not equate being a flamer. Which is true. But it also misses the point. She felt the need to defend him, implying there was something to defend against. She thought I was claiming some outrageous accusation against the great president who ended slavery and united the union which in turn may signify something truly offensive against the United States of America, whereas I believed my assertion to be completely neutral. No term existed until the 1880s for homosexuals, queers, gays, lesbians or transgendered folk, so there would be no definitive proof as to whether Lincoln was gay or straight. He might have been very straight, but he very well might have been gay, and it seems a little antiquated to assume straightness as the status quo and certainly should not be considered offensive when I do not. I stick by my statement that President Lincoln is gay. I mean no insult–if anything, from me it should be considered a compliment. We queers need our heroes too, and since Lincoln very possibly if not likely was a homo, he seems like a great place to start.

The first openly queer politician in America was Harvey Milk, and anyone who lived in the 1970s or has seen Sean Penn’s brilliant performance know how that story tragically ended. Queers haven’t appeared much in our political landscape since, and while progressive, politicians like Barney Frank are not exactly easy to rally behind let alone have achieved heroic status. Great men and women throughout our history have been rumored to be queer–Alexander the Great, Socrates, Lord Byron, Michelangelo, James Dean–and for others the evidence is a little more clear–Oscar Wilde, Federico Garcia Lorca, Virginia Wolfe, James Baldwin–but societal acceptance of queerness has only recently become sufficient enough that prominent people are coming out during their careers and lives. People like Barney Frank, Neil Patrick Harris, Ellen Degeneres and Ricky Martin, and while they should be celebrated for coming out, the level of hero is a slightly higher standard than most have reached. There are heroes everyday in our personal lives, whether it be a really good friend who made you feel better on the worst possible day or someone who saves the life of a complete stranger, but the mainstream heroes are few. We need a few well-known queer heroes to empower the masses and to rally behind, people with stories to inspire greatness in others. Hopefully as we move forward in the future, more and more people will feel comfortable to come out and openly proclaim their queerness, and as that occurs, we will have more and more openly queer heroes. But until that happens, we need to claim our queer heroes wherever we can find them which will simultaneously allow us to map a queer world history which at present is very deficient. If evidence suggests Lincoln might be a homosexual, we should claim him. Being gay would just be another attribute of a great man and a true hero, and we queers deserve our heroes too.

There are many reasons How I Met Your Mother has been so popular for so many years: Jason Segal and Alyson Hannigan have undeniable charm, and even if you don’t laugh during the rest of the show, you are guaranteed to chuckle at least a few times at Neil Patrick Harris’ one-liners. But How I Met Your Mother sucks for a reason many abominations of pop culture suffer for–it spreads the message that unless someone is in a relationship or married, they will be miserable. Ted, the protagonist of the show played by Josh Radnor, is probably the most annoying character on television, a sentimental unfunny boob. The underlying purpose of the show is for Ted to inform his children how he met their mother, and the audience has to suffer through Ted’s endless dejected search, a damn “love story in reverse.” Presumably he will be happy whenever he finds the woman, but up until now, he has just been the embodiment of misery, and yet this is the premise on which the show is built. He doesn’t reach the unbearable levels of wretchedness as Bella in Twilight 2, whatever the second one is called, where she mourns incessantly after Edward leaves her yet immediately is fine and welcomes him back when he wants to reunite, but it’s still pretty excruciating to watch.

What message is passed to the impressionable in the audience? You will be miserable–barely even able to exist–if you are single. If you aren’t dating someone, settle for anyone who will date you, and if you were dating someone, welcome them back no matter what they did. Just find someone. Otherwise life is shit. What happened to feminist messages of individual empowerment or masculine stereotypes of self-reliance? All people, whether in a relationship or not, need to be able to make themselves happy individually, and shows like How I Met Your Mother and movies like Twilight pretty much go against all self-empowering messages.

Maybe they are not to blame. We citizens of the United States are constantly reminded that our country is founded on the institution of the family. This message is explicit in our tax code and health care, which give significant breaks to the married and their families. It is explicit in our national conversation over family values: Is gay marriage a constitutional right or an abomination? Should gays be able to adopt? Does that immigrant have the right to come into this country because his wife or family are here? The message is consistently reinforced in our pop culture, in productions such as television and movies, but also in news over the excitement of two celebrities getting together or the tragedy of two others getting a divorce. If something fits into the familial institution, then it becomes acceptable, the most likely reason gay marriage is at the forefront of queer political causes. Everything from the law, to news, to our cultural reproductions tell us we need to have a serious relationship and eventually should aspire to marry, that we should try to mimic the perfect couple, like John F. Kennedy and Jackie O., but even the ex-president and his wife couldn’t mimic the conception of themselves as John’s infamous infidelities so aptly demonstrate. 51% of marriages end in divorce, and from personal observation of the world, anyone can tell that not every marriage that survives is the happiest of affairs. People need to be told that relationships or marriage will not make you happy in themselves–that only you can make yourself happy–and it would be nice if our cultural representations would reflect that reality, instead of giving us the bullshit message of How I Met Your Mother that makes single people think there must be something wrong with them.

But now that I have trashed his show, I feel like I need to give Neil Patrick Harris the credit he deserves. He is hilarious, even in the show, but more amazing is that he came out as gay during the height of his career. Unlike Ricky Martin and Clay Aiken and Lance Bass and all the other queer celebrities who decided to tell the world their big gay secret after no one gave a shit about them anymore, Neil Patrick Harris came out during the making of a popular TV series where he plays a very heterosexual character. And his popularity has only grown: with his online Dr. Horrible show, repeated recruitment for guest appearances in other shows and movies, and as a host of award shows. He is awesome, popular, and very gay. I guess How I Met Your Mother is not ALL bad? But it sure sucks a lot.