Friday, June 27, 2014

5 Things You Didn't Know about Maine Republican Governor Paul LePage

While known today for taking a hardline against "welfare," Maine Republican Governor Paul LePage know a thing or two about poverty (and privilege).

1. English is his second language. French is his first.

2. He is the son of a mill worker.

3. At age 11, he ran away from home after his father broke his nose. He was homeless for two years.

4. After working odd jobs through his adolescence, LePage was taken in by Peter Snowe, a state legislator and future husband to U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe.

5. LePage was rejected from Husson College because of his low SAT verbal score. Snowe convinced Husson to give LePage a written test in French. Eventually, LePage was accepted to Husson and improved his English there, eventually becoming editor of the school newspaper.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Looking for Reality

If you needed any more evidence that sexual racism is alive and well in the gay community, look no further than Looking - HBO’s gay version of Girls.

To make a short story even shorter, Looking is a show about gay white boy problems.

That's not a read. That's just a fact.

Despite promises of a diverse cast, the creators of Looking have produced another gay show about white men made by white men for white men and those who aspire to one day marry a white man.

I hear the gasps. 

“But Gary, there’s only been two episodes AND there are Latinos, a black guy, and an Asian guy in the show. And one of the white guys looks…working class. It may as well be an ad for United Colors of Benetton. What more do you want?”  

Here’s what I have to say to that.

When we think about stories, we should ask ourselves a couple of things.

                                                   1. Whose story is being told?
2. Does the story ring true to your lived experiences?
3. Whose stories are being highlighted and whose stories are being hidden?

When answering these questions, I can’t help but think about this famous line in Their Eyes Were Watching God:
     Where is me? I don’t see me.

I’m not saying it’s a bad show. It’s entertaining. It raises some important issues. But as a gay man of color, all I see are dollar signs, reruns, and window dressing. No matter how much blush we put on the characters, you can’t hide the fact that the show doesn’t focus on issues salient to men of color.

Of the three main characters, one is Latino. Progress? Yes. A sea change? Hardly. As a guy with a dark complexion myself, I can’t help but notice Agustin’s fair-skinned features and the fact that he’s from Coral Gables, Florida - an upper-middle class neighborhood where the median income is nearly $80,000.

Once again, I ask: Where is me? I don’t see me.

The characters with the most potential to raise important issues for men of color are Richie (the doorman at Esta Noche) and Frank (Agustin’s boyfriend who lives in Oakland). So of course, they are second-tier characters. We know next to nothing about them, but at least they will show up in almost every episode. But so far, they’ve been only ancillary - Kelly and Michelle to the Beyonces of the world, blinded by her light.

Richie is Patrick’s rebound guy. He treats him like a foreign species. He essentially researches “how to have sex with a Latin guy?” before going out on a “date” with Richie - a date which consists of Patrick trying to lube him up with liquor, petting his hair like a pet, and asking him questions about his origin as though he were a Martian.

Frank, a light-skinned black guy, is Augustin’s partner. Yet, we have no idea what he does. We only know he is devoted to his partner. It’s early in the season, though.

The thing that bugs me the most is how a show based in San Francisco  - where more than a third of the population is Asian - has only introduced one Asian character  - a video game programmer who spends his 15 seconds of fame talking about the OkCupid algorithms. A fairly lengthy google and imdb search couldn’t even find his name. And he didn’t even make a cameo in episode two.

So when you ask yourself whose story is being told here, it’s obvious that this is the tale of the guys who aren’t responding to you on grindr, who have to do research about “people like you” before having sex, and who see you as their human sex toy experiment.

But even this story is only partially true because once Richie rejects Patrick for treating him like an exotic animal he found in the safari, Patrick begins to mope and eat cheesy carbs. He may actually be sad. And this may actually be his coping mechanism of choice. But romantic advantage suggests that Patrick has more options. He could open Grindr and order one of the many gentlemen callers eager to take Richie’s place. If the shoe were on the other foot, would Richie have it so easy?

No matter what the writers and producers say, Looking is a show about the problems of being a fit, educated, fair-skinned gay male in America. And it’s not even telling that story honestly.

I know there are some people of color who think this show is a big step forward. I’m no more the voice of my generation than Looking is for men of color. But I will say this: I agree that Looking does a better job than shows like Queer As Folk in getting #boyslikeus some screen time. However, in 2014, this is nothing to celebrate. Our stories deserve to be told as well.




Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Dear Anonymous: You’re racist

Warning: this article may contain some truth.

Just when we thought all the damage done by the likes of Julian Assange and Eric Snowden had finally come to an end, "Anonymous" rears his ugly head. Well…mask. And No. I’m not referring to the group of loosely associated international hactivists with the cool mask that looks like the guy from the movie V for Vendetta. This "Anonymous" is more ignoble.

In his “secret” post, I’m Not Racist, I’m Just Not Attracted To Black Men, Anonymous seeks comfort from other anonymous strangers on the internets to quell his conscience from the creeping suspicion that he may be a racist. You see Anonymous - who is white -  is only into white guys. Can you believe it? Me either. And what’s worse, those white guys on Grindr are into him too! Rough I know. But these groundbreaking revelations aren’t what shocked the conscience of our faceless cipher. It was a conversation with his (black) friend.

You know exactly what conversation I’m talking about. The conversation gay men of color sometimes have with white gay men. The one where gay men of color complain that they have to work so hard to get any white cocktails while their white friends do nothing more than send the standard “sup” message (if it’s a virtual space) or look across the room (if it’s a club or bar). I’m sure this conversation has been going on since the time of ancient Egypt. As the conversation continues, the white friend admits he hasn’t been with many or any people of color, followed quickly by “but you know I’m not racist. It’s just a preference.” Anything said after this point by either party is almost guaranteed to be unintelligible. It's a breach too far.

Usually, at that point, I sigh and take the advice of poet Kate Rushin - not to be the bridge to other people’s humanness.

This isn’t one of those times.

Anonymous: I want to ease your anxiety about whether or not you’re a racist. Based on what you wrote, it’s pretty clear you are a racist for at least three reasons.

1. You benefit from a system of romantic advantage based on race.
Many people think racism is about intention (see Madonna’s apology on using the n-word). It’s not. It’s about function. Clinical psychologist Beverly Tatum (and many others) defines racism not as disliking a race but as a “system of advantage based on race.” Attractiveness is a socially-constructed ideal formed by the cultural messages one receives from  his or her environment. According to Polish psychologist Robert Zajonc (1923-2008), mere-exposure to a thing makes you more likely to like that thing. In other words, while beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the beholder’s eye is more likely to find something or someone pleasing if it has seen something like it before. So Anonymous, that thing you call “chemistry” is really a socially-conditioned psychological response to the fact that you’ve seen a whole lot of white people in your life.

2. You can exclude entire races from your romantic life and still have options.
 Ask yourself what would happen if your black friend removed every other race from his romantic gaze except for white guys. Wait. You don’t have to imagine that. You already know. He’s miserable because he doesn’t have many options. Why is it that you have so many when he has so few? You both like white guys. Whatever could be the difference? The fact that you can do it and he can’t is an example of “the system” at play. Guess who’s winning?
3. You appeal to an unknown higher power to explain your relative advantage.
When reading your post, I couldn’t help but think of the judge who wrote the following:

“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And, but for the interference with his arrangement, there would be no cause for such [interracial] marriage. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

This rationale was used to de-legitimize an interracial marriage half a century ago. And to be fair, you didn’t
say this. But what’s similar is since you had no rational way of explaining your preference you appealed to nature, to chemistry, to unknown bugaboos that take over when it hurts our heads too much to reexamine the assumptions of our lives in order to absolve you from responsibility and to distance yourself from the role you play in the oppression of others.

In the words of poet Andrea Gibson , privilege is not having to think about it.

Anonymous, if you really want to absolve yourself, stop defending systems that help you and hurt others. Research it. Expose it. Then, fight against it. It’s only by trying to change the system that you will truly come to understand it. If you take nothing else away from this post, understand that, when bigcockjohnny89 responds to you instantly on Grindr, it is because he’s accustomed to associating beauty with whiteness because our dominant culture is white. It takes more effort for your black friend to get attention because we aren’t used to seeing blackness as equally beautiful. This dynamic doesn’t make you racist. Defending it and allowing yourself to benefit from this system of romantic advantage without challenging it makes you a racist.  


Gary                                                                                                                                  #iwokeuplikethis

I know I’ve thrown a lot at you, Anonymous.

Here are some resources for you if you choose to take the road less traveled and begin to seriously examine privilege. I mean, preferences.

Peggy McIntosh (video) 101
Justin Ford (video) 201
Tim Wise (video) (He some good books. I’d suggest White Like Me) 301

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Mirror, Mirror

Open any gay “dating” app - Grindr, A4A, Jack’d, OkCupid, Scruff, Gay Romeo - and you'll notice the follow:

1. Pictures of faceless torso taken in front of smudged mirrors

2.  Almost everyone describes himself as fit and masculine and is “’looking’ for ‘fun’ the ‘similar’ guys”.

3. Couples looking for a third

4. An aversion to “effeminate” men, men of color, and “older” guys (aka those over 30).

In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde argues that men [and women] are most themselves when they have to wear a mask or play a part. The more I think about that line, the more I realize…that was a read. Having worked so hard for so long to secure spaces of our own, we now use that security to turn on each other.

Bang. Bai. To the fats, fems, Asians, blacks, Latinos, and old men. There is no room in the inn. Not tonight or ever. Give me your young, your masc, your white and delight-some straight-acting gym bunnies who smell of lemon pledge and bleach. 
Color me naive: I thought it was the meek who’ll inherit the earth.

This blog is for any person in the “community” who has felt as if he or she doesn’t belong, for whatever reason. It’s your journal, your bullhorn, the canopy bed your parents would never buy. And the screen you’re reading on is a mirror to the privileged among us.