Saturday, January 26, 2008

My weekend has meaning!

The Universe is telling me to recharge my gay batteries. Imagine my glee when I woke up today and discovered that I'm watching sports this weekend. I even called C in Denver to let him know, as I know he'd be proud. It's time to watch the National Championships, ladies and gentlemen. Of US Figure Skating!

If you didn't know I was THIS gay, you haven't been paying attention. This afternoon NBC is showing the pairs and dance freestyle finals. Tonight is the ladies freestyle. Tomorrow night, the men take the ice. Sponsored by Smuckers and ADT Home Security. I was trying to explain how exciting this is to Squid over IM, though I don't know that I gayed her up enough to care much. I even wrote her a quick poem:

Repeat after me class...
Toe loop, salchow, axel, lutz.
Camel spin, sit spin, don't be a putz.
Double, triple, then a quad.
Hot men in spandex with rockin' bods.

To learn more about figure skating jumps, click here. To follow the championships online, click here.

So why is that we gay men love figure skating? I can only speak for myself, but I remember watching skating with my mom. The Olympics were favorite times, as she and I got to spend time together. Watching the pageantry and elegance. The fantastic costumes and the intritcate choreography. Timed perfectly to all sorts of music. There was drama and tension. And there were stories.

In just one hour today, I've heard about skaters who have overcome lung cancer and watched the final couple in the pairs competion as he proposed...just after they finished skating and before they had their scores. They won the silver medal. I listened as they explained the couple who won today in their first appearance in the senior nationals, won last year in the first appearance in the junior nationals. No couple has ever done that. People skating with injuries. Examples of good sportsmanship. Overcoming incredible odds to be there. Dedicating a performance to someone who didn't live long enough to see it themselves.

There are records set, and sometimes perfection. But most of the time, it's the struggle for perfection. That's why Mom and I loved it so much. We related. We fall short, but's perfect and moving and beyond description. It's watching people create new things. Dick Button, the "old guy" who comments on skating most of the time, was the first person to land a triple jump in competition back in 1952. Kurt Browning, one of my favorite male skaters, landed the first quad in 1988.

They're amazing athletes, requiring gymnastic skill, flawless balance, impressive stamina, AND artistic ability. Performance and showmanship. Determination and pageantry.

So what's so hard to understand? It's about the essence of being a gay man. And there's men in tight clothing. And many of them are gay. And there are sequins. And hair stylists. And over the top makeup. Feathers. And people who can follow a beat. Yeah. TOTALLY GAY. And totally FABulous. This weekend I'll be watching TV with my mom. I'm sure she's still watching. She wouldn't let a little thing like death keep her from this mother - gay son bonding time, even if it wasn't okay that I was gay. Watching figure skating with her WAS.

Anyone wanna buy me a trip package to the Worlds in LA? ;) Oh...and C's response was "You're a mess."

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

And they're off...

The semester is out of the gate, and off to a blazing start. Things are racing at a mile a minute, and it doesn't show signs of slowing. There are conferences to plan for March, presentations to make tomorrow, meetings to schedule...and that's just for PACMWA! Work is busy this time of year with schedule changes, interviews, and too much paperwork. Coming up soon we have birthdays, superbowls, and other such merriment. There's a house to get fixing on, and a hot tub to get fixed! So much to do, so little energy to do it...

Left foot, right foot...repeat as needed.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A dance down memory lane

Pardon my long-windedness, but this post is worth reading, I promise. In fact, I ask that you read it as a personal favor to me.

So tonight I find myself at home crocheting and watching "Small Town Gay Bar," a documentary released in 2006 by Malcolm Ingram. (And produced by Kevin Smith, who just took yet another leap forward on my list of heroes.) It ran on Showtime - the reason I got satellite. It documents the history of 2 gay bars in northeastern Mississippi. There's a lot of it that is eerily familiar.

The first is in Shannon, MS (pop. 1657). My hometown was around 1400. The second is in Meridian, MS (pop. 39,968), birthplace of Fred Phelps. Phelps was interviewed, though he'd never heard of the bar in his own little stretch of downhome. It also describes a few others that didn't survive the test of time. Granted "Rumors" has only been in Shannon for about 8 or 9 years. "Different Seasons," the reincarnation of "Crossroads Estates" outside Meridian, has only been open again for about a year. Both bars are now run by former patrons, because they understood how desperately the areas needed an outlet for those who are different.

Their stories aren't easy. Or neat. Rumors went through a brutal anti-gay murder. If you haven't heard of Scotty Joe Weaver you should go to Google. The local townsfolk aren't exactly accepting of their queer neighbors, though the bars are left mostly alone. Now. Over the years, local Christian groups, law enforcement, and public officials have written down license plate numbers. Then read them over the radio and published them in newsletters. The worst problems have come from the American Family Association, which was started in 1977 by a preacher in Tupelo, MS. They now boast a nationwide network of over 400,000 supporters, and are one of the most formidable (and prolific) "moral authorities" in America today. In other words, I view them about as favorably as Fred Phelps, though their rhetoric isn't as vile (ar overt).

Yet despite everything the bar regulars had been through, they all agreed on one thing. In interview after interview. Without prompting, they described the people in the bar as "family." It's a word I've blogged about frequently, and explained to countless panels and classes. It's a word every GLBTQ person understands, as well as its importance. Even the straight folks in the video described the bars as a welcoming place where you could just be yourself. And how amazing that can be, especially in a place where it's not always possible.

SO many memories. I remember my first trip to a gay bar. At that time it was called Nightengales, and it was in an old converted doublewide trailer on the outskirts of Fort Collins. Then it became known as the Tornado Club. Then Club Static. Today it's closed. It was the only gay bar in the area, and it was a 60 to 90 minute drive to get there. Just like folks in Mississippi, who can drive 90 minutes to Memphis. It wasn't much to look at, but for the first time I had a place I didn't have to worry about what people would think. I could flirt with other guys. I could dance with drag queens, drink with lesbians, and just let my hair down.

We also took over a bar in Laramie (the Ice House/The Cowboy on Third/whatever it is this week) on Thursday nights, when Club Retro held "Alternative Night." The goths, freaks, and queers frolicked openly once a week. That night it was OUR bar. OUR home. OUR refuge. The folks clad in leather, spikes, piercings, and tattoos joined in the kick lines to "Come on Eileen." In one night we'd dance to "Bloodletting," "Dancing Queen," and "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)." We'd help carry in the CD's for our DJ friends, dance all night, close the bar at 2am, and then go see Carol. She was the late night waitress at Foster's Country Corner. We boycotted Shari's for being rude to our friends who couldn't always afford food, but Carol waited on the goth and gay freaks with a smile, selling 99 cent all-you-can-eat biscuits and gravy. I'd make it home around a little before 4am, take off my white grease paint, fatigue pants, and combat boots. Then be up for class at 9am.

I remember when Steph planted a chair in the middle of the dance floor and did a body shot from between Lisa's pleather-clad thighs for her birthday. You could have cut the sexual tension with a knife, and ALL the boys who liked girls were watching. I remember Lisa returning the favor for Steph's birthday. "Leather David" (as opposed to Blonde David and David with a Beard - yes, I still know their real names) happily played "pass the ice cube" with both Lisa and I. Little Craig usually won "who kisses better," due in part to his tongue ring. His wife Carolyn giggled when I'd swoon after a kiss. If I was having a bad day, Ian would physically pick me up, then MAKE me grab his near-perfect ass. And if a "normal" walked into the bar, they usually took one look inside and turned around. If they so much as looked at us funny, they were out on the street. Shadow, sometimes bouncer, sometimes DJ, sometimes bartender, would make me his infamous "Black Tulip" in my request for a drink that was "sweet and tasty but will fuck me up." DJ Chickie and her boyfriend DJ Steve would take turns spinning each week. Sam tried to be a club kid in a place where nobody even knew what that meant.

They were definitely a family, and there is no doubt in my mind that they saved my life. They kept me sane and let me know I wasn't the only one. They taught me it was okay to be different, and that it was also okay to express that difference. To let it out. To let go. To just BE. My size didn't matter. My orientation didn't matter. The fact that I blushed when sex was mentioned (just like our Squiddy) didn't matter. I was one of them. I was PART of them. And they were part of me. The bar was eventually sold, our regular DJ's moved away, and Alternative Night moved to the Parlor for a while, where little Craig started spinning under the name "DJ Darth." Dawnsie even created a drink called "The Big Gay Jim." That, too, eventually faded away, but every time I walk into one of those bars, even years later, I still smile and remember my family and the amazing times we had.

Those little refuges helped create the person and activist I am today. They taught me about acceptance...of myself and others. They taught me not to judge a book by it's cover, no matter how pierced or inked it is. They taught me that people who think they are SO different from one another have SO much in common. I'd like to think over the years I've paid that forward, perhaps several times over. We joke about my house being Laramie's gay bar. We've even named it Ruby Slippers. But isn't that because we don't have a space of our own. For a while, we even had the "real" Cowboy Bar, thanks to Kristen being both my office aide at IT and the manager of the bar. We held a freaking drag show under a banner for Skoal, after all! Those small town gay bars live inside my heart and my memory. The thought of them has me in tears now, just as the movie did.

Today's lesson: do everything you can to create "a small town gay bar" for someone - a sanctuary. Where people can be whoever in the hell they are. Where they can explore who they want to be without judgment. Or labels. Where all that matters is having fun and being true to yourself. Create it in your town, your living room, or your heart. And share it. And anywhere you're lucky enough to find such a place, cherish it. They are too few and far between. They save lives and rescue souls, though they are often the most simple, run-down, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants dives.

Today's homework: Take a moment to remember places like this from your past. And TELL SOMEONE ABOUT IT. Recount your memories to friends, family, or most importantly, someone who could use such a place, even if it doesn't exist anymore. They deserve to know that they're out there. Share them in the comments on my blog, if you like. And for those who sometimes visit Ruby Slippers, I'll keep the movie on the DVR for a while. And happily do my best to bore you to tears with tales of YesterLaramie. Our queer masquerade balls at the pyramid church on the prairie, DJ Chickie's most famous lines, the exploits of my first lesbian gal pal Lisa, or the most dismally attended Gay Awareness Week events ever held. The stories and struggles deserve to be told. And you deserve to know about those who came before. Who helped me in the ways I try to help others still today. I have photo albums, and bad poetry, and endless love in my heart.

Thanks to all who are now or ever have been a part of ALL my "small town gay bars."

Friday, January 04, 2008

Catholic Cardinal has me seeing red

(Note: One of my goals for the blog this year is to do more to highlight queer news, and not just my own life and insights. This week has certainly given me something to start with!)
The top Catholic in England released a statement about the equality laws in England. One gem:

“Most parents do not want their children to be taught that marriage is no more than one lifestyle choice among many,” he said. “They do not want to expose their children to the risk of becoming promiscuous or indulging in drug and alcohol abuse.”
Because married people are never promiscuous or use drugs or alcohol?! I still cannot believe that in today's world people cannot move beyond the archaic stereotypes that all queer people sleep around and are pill-popping boozers. Sure, some of us will fall into those groups, but that's because of the people they are, not the fact that they aren't married or heterosexual. Marriage is not a magic bullet to cure all of society's ills. Get it through your heads, and get over it.

“It has taken us a long time to realize that if we cut down trees, use cars with highly leaded fuels and build factories with toxic emissions, we were gradually destroying the ecosystem within which we live and breathe,” he said. “Yet it is equally true that we are rapidly moving the very structures on which society is built and on which humanity depends; we are gradually destroying the ‘ecosystem’ that supports the family,” he added.
Wow. I suppose I should be happy that such an obviously conservative person admitted publicly that we've been hurting the environment. Since he's not actually a politician, I'm not. I'm also aghast that someone could compare being unmarried to being a planet-detroying carcinogen. I grew up in a married household until I was in 1st grade. My parents fought constantly, my father was controlling and abusive, and actually informed my sister and I that th divorce was our fault. Is this the "ecosystem" in which we want children to be raised?

After the divorce, my mother raised us in an essentially single-parent fashion. While not cannonically Catholic (and why should it be, since I was raised Lutheran?), my "ecosystem" taught me to be self-reliant and pro-active. It raised me to be moral, benevolent, kind, and generous. I was a straight A student, graduated #2 in my class, and finished my college coursework with a 3.592 GPA. I didn't get into fights in school, didn't do drugs or drink (until I was off to college), and was a pretty good kid, generally speaking.

Today we have blended families, divorced families, and single parents. We have test tube babies, adoption, foster parenting, and grandparent-headed-households. What harm does it do to mention this to kids? Why is it necessarily bad to ensure our schools are mentioning ALL types of families? Why can't we be honest about the way things are changing.

It doesn't harm the few remaining nuclear families that haven't (yet) gone into meltdown. It doesn't scar kids. It doesn't make them gay. It doesn't make them evil or deviant. Just ask the American Association of Social Workers, the American Pediatric Association, the AMA, either APA, and a whole host of other qualified, predominantly heterosexual professional associations or organizations. They might just know a thing or two.

The family unit does not look the same today as it did 200 years ago. You're not as likely to see grandparents or extended family members living with the family unit. This doesn't mean the family is being killed off like an endangered species in the path of a mini-mall development. It means that times change, and we're adapting to things as we go. 200 years ago, you also didn't see "press releases" from "the Church." Does that mean that it should revert back to the old ways, failing to move into today for the sake of a supposed golden yesteryear gone by?

Some parents don't want their children being taught that people with a different skin color are equal either, but it doesn't make it right. And thank goodness that somewhere along the line, someone started teaching kids that you shouldn't persecute Christians or throw them to the lions. Too bad this one doesn't want to return the favor.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Happy Holly-gays!

I know, the holiday season is technically done, as evidenced by the lack of sleep I got on New Year's Eve. But I had a hard time getting into the Christmas spirit this year. I now have a nephew AND a niece in Holland - both of whom I've not yet met in person. I hate airfare. Work has been increasingly poopy for some time. I managed to get my scheduling done and survived the end of semester without a body count, but am still quite burned out on work. The weather was bad, many of my cronies were leaving town, and I was generally feeling blah about the holidays.

On the upside we managed to pull together most of the original flock, as NerdyGirl and MandyFish were both able to return to Laramie for a bit. Flock Hall was host to a late Holiday Party on the 28th, so on the 27th we spent a day shopping in Fort Collins. The weather was terrible and the roads iffy at best, but we managed to stay warm and have a good time. My carload continued south to pick up MandyFish from the airport, though the weather delayed her flight again and again. We also rescued a stranded Mark, as Greyhound had diverted his bus to Denver and then cancelled the bus to Laramie due to road conditions. I got to bed at 5am, though it was certainly worth it to see everyone again!

Most of us are quite familiar with the phrase "It's the thought that counts." It's often said with a grain of salt, or even dripping in sarcasm. It's a joke to some of us, or at least is used as such. When I was growing up Christmas often reminded me of what we didn't have, especially when answering the dreaded question, "what did you get for Christmas?" While my friends were enjoying a new Nintendo, designer clothes, a computer, their own TV, and large checks, I was opening socks, underwear, and some very meager presents. But it didn't matter, as the holiday spirit was ever-present and my mother always made sure it was a good Christmas.

Today I'm too old to get checks from the extended family, and my sister and I have an understanding about sending presents back and forth. It costs more to ship something than it does to buy it, so we refrain. It was another homemade holiday for me, and most of my friends got jewelry, cookies, or something I crocheted. By Christmas, there wasn't much under my invisble tree, and I was admittedly a bit blue about it. Then we had the Flock party.

I hadn't seen a tree with that many presents under it in a great long while, I assure you. By the time presents were passed out, we each had a modest stack in front of us. There wasn't really anything extravagant, as none of us are sitting on a gold mine and we have to make our pennies count. I was SO moved at the thought and effort that went into the gift-giving, though. A little trinket from the kitchen store, something that went with someone's hobby, etc. It didn't matter whether the gift was worth $2, it was quite specific to the person. We had a great meal, and the last of the group headed home around 2am.

As I drove home, I thought about that phrase. "It's the thought that counts." On our shopping trip, I'd seen it in action too. This person knew exactly what they were getting that person. That person saw the perfect little something. She needed help in distracting him so she could buy it and smuggle it to the gift wrapping area. "You can't go back there right now." "You should go over there for a little while?" "What am I going to get so-and-so?" "What do you WANT?" The value was in the love a gift represented, not the cost. We were also together as a family, and that was the best part of all.

In the end, it was a great holiday for me. I ended up with three times "the haul" I'd expected, and every single gift was thoughtful and dear. I got to see a few folks who have been gone and away for far too long. I was reminded that near or far, our various families are always with us. Most importantly, I felt loved and was able to give others that same warm feeling. What better gift - and lesson - is there?

Happy holidays to all, with ALL MY LOVE!