Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Let Meghan Murphy Speak!

Have we gone insane?
I ask that quite literally. A woman dares to identify as a woman, and dares to say that there are two genders, and people consequently brand her words as ‘hate speech’ and ‘equivalent fo physical violence’?
What is going on here?
Anyone who has actually read Meghan Murphy’s writings will tell you that her words are not hateful, and that she is not ‘transphobic’ or even homophobic. She is a thoughtful woman with an important, well-reasoned point of view.
Frankly, even if her words were homophobic, I — for one —would not demand that she be silenced or locked up.
Those who wish to ban Meghan Murphy’s ideas are effectively burning books. It is not merely ironic — but terrifying — that a library in a free society is being asked to curtail freedom of speech.
Vickery Bowles is undoubtedly Toronto’s top librarian. She should be given some sort of award for defending Meghan Murphy. She is on the right side of history, and has spoken bravely and eloquently— as a librarian should — about the importance of the unfettered circulation of ideas in a free society.
We need to stop the finger-pointing, name-calling — stop the hatred and the demonization — and start respecting each other as human beings.
Will some be driven to pain, distraction, or even suicide by ideas they hear or read? Sadly yes; this is the downside of living in a society that does not censor ideas. The alternative is much more horrifying — a world unburdened by the unfettered circulation of ideas
Words are not violence. Books are not violence. Libraries are not violence. 
In fact, they are quite the opposite.
Society has a duty to protect the weak from physical assault, but not to protect the vulnerable from offensive speech
Libraries offer ideas that may offend. It is their job to challenge our established and entrenched feelings and prejudices, and that is a good thing.
We abandon them at our peril.

Sunday, 27 October 2019

You Are Erasing My Desire

With the rise of transgender washrooms comes the end of urinals. Apparently what we have to look forward in this ‘ideal world’ is rows and rows of bathroom stalls, with all genders and non-genders waiting in line to use them. There is only one problem with this model of the new washroom. 
It erases my desire.
Washroom sex is part of gay culture. And before you say — ‘What the…?”  — try and understand that yes we are a minority group, and yes we are oppressed, and yes we have developed a culture that is different than yours. Sure gay men are sometimes raped by other  men. But our rape does not make us afraid, like heterosexual women. No, in our bars, bathrooms, backrooms and bath houses we have developed a civli sexual culture in which gay men understand that they can flirt and touch other gay men — in very intimate ways - and that 'no still means no.' Sure there are rude outliers — but gay culture simply has less rules around unwanted touching. Frankly we need them less than you do.
Men’s bathrooms are sexual places. Try reading the graffiti (or maybe that will be banned now, too?) Yes, when men — all of them, straight or gay — stand at urinals, you know what? They look. They look, and sometimes they touch. Sometimes they get a message — ‘No way.’ Most men when they get that message will stop touching. It’s civil. But all men know that urinals are sexual places, whether men choose to be sexual there or not. Period.
The end of urinals means the end of all that. It means the death of an iconic gay image — the drag queen at a urinal, her dress hiked up above her ass, proudly, freeing her libido and her wee. It’s over. We will not see that image again; we are not allowed to have that desire again.
I want to ask those who believe that all washrooms should be transgender washrooms one simple question.  Why are you doing this to us? Why?
Why are you so intent on erasing my desire?

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Why Are Computers Polite?

I was buying stuff at the grocery store - at one of those automated quick check-out stations? And  when I was done with my purchase, the computer chirped — in a soothing female voice — “Thank you so much for your visit, and have a nice day!”
I resented it deeply. And at first I wasn’t sure why. Then I glanced back at the real live human cashiers (remember those?). They were all indeed living beings —  some with crooked smiles, some fat and some thin, some old and some young — and each I’m sure, replete with a complex, deeply changeable temperament. They were, in other words, people. I realised that — as deeply flawed as human cashiers are — I would rather do my business with an imperfect living person than an impeccably polite machine. 
For I am human, and am deeply imperfect too. Frankly, life  — for a writer — is sometimes lonely, and I relish any human contact (that includes an argument!).
So sure, judge me. But I don’t think that I’m alone in this. I think that — not only do people need to buy things at stores that are staffed by human beings — but that it is good for them to do so.
The politeness of computers signals the real problem. The digital world is increasingly replacing the human one. But I’m not here to rail against computers; the issue is actually capitalism. More and more, governments are being run by big corporations  — that’s what ‘populist’ leaders are, ‘ordinary’ business men, just facilitating business. Computers no longer simply disseminate information, they steal your data and clock your preferences, in order to  earn lots of money for big corporations.
In a capitalist culture, everything comes down to expediency and use. New products must make things faster and easier.  Human contact, in contrast, is slow and sometimes difficult.
Nevertheless, I humbly suggest that human contact is something every single person desperately needs. Computers are great, and necessary — and so is capitalism. But we must not forget that our economy essentially has no heart.  And some things that are easy and fast, also, coincidentally, kill the soul.

People need people (to quote Barbra in that increasingly relevant song from Funny Girl). Without other people — climate change or no climate change — we will suffocate. No, not from lack of air, from lack of love.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Anorexia, Judy and Me

I went on a diet to facilitate an operation a few months ago. I lost 45 pounds. This weight loss necessitated that I wrangle once again with my personal issues around gender.
Don’t worry about me. I’m not anorexic. But, boy! — or perhaps I should say, girlfriend! —  the gender issues that had been percolating during my summer diet kinda reached the boiling point after watching Renee Zellweger in Judy. The film triggered me — in the way that art is is supposed to trigger people. (It’s always a good thing when art upsets you and challenges your fundamental world view!) 
I was a fat, effeminate little boy. Judy Garland was a fat little girl. We both struggled with eating disorders. And for Judy and me, being skinny was all wrapped up with being beautiful and feminine. As a fat little boy I struggled with shame when people noticed my effeminate mannerisms, asking ‘You talk with your hands, why?” — and suggesting “You’re a big kid, shouldn’t you try out for the football team?” Of course I never wanted to play football (in reality I dreaded the thought). For me, as for a lot of gay men, my big masculine physical body was at odds with my inner feminininity.
I am not ‘trans.’ In fact one of the reasons I am writing this is to explain that gay men and lesbians have always had lots of issues around gender — and we had them way before the notion of ‘transgender’ ever existed. 
After losing 45 pounds, I began to feel very at home in my body. Before losing the weight, I was a big guy who made people uncomfortable because of my fluttering hands. Now — on the far side of my diet —  I have long slender arms and legs, and no belly to speak of. I feel graceful and delicate.  I feel like me. Now, when I dress up in drag I look like a female porn star — though an ageing one  — (the kind of girl I’ve always been inside, really!).  Not all gay men are effeminate, but we all (due to stigma) deal with issues of gender. Lots of gay men have eating disorders for many of the same reasons women have them  —  because being skinny seems to fit with being girly in a sexist society. If you want to be a feminine sex object, you are ordered to be lithe, poised, and petite.
Hey -- it’s nice to be an effeminate gay man, comfortable in my new body. 
But I promise I won’t be losing any more weight.

Cuz now I’ve got it all figured out!

Sunday, 22 September 2019

We, ‘The Disgraced Generation’

I’m speaking to the present generation of senior citizens — my generation. 
We are the ‘disgraced generation.’ 
Once, I imagined that at the very least that my ‘golden years’ might be a time to look back fondly on all the things I’d worked so hard at in my life; a time when I could, at the very least, feel somewhat proud.
But for my generation — the disgraced generation — it was not to be. The young have done more than just discard against us, or even rebel against us. They are quite furious at us, and are not content to remain quiet about it.  It’s hard to blame them. The world is in a sorry state — what with climate change, and the re-birth of populism, the rise of xenophobia, and the ever- widening gap between rich and poor. What do the young have to thank us for? Wouldn’t you be angry?
But for people like me it’s more than a little jarring. The young have not just turned away from me, they have publicly shamed me for my life’s work. I set out to make it a better world for gay men — whom I considered to be oppressed — and to celebrate male femininity. Now I know that was all quite literally in vain. Now I know that most people consider gay men to be the most privileged beings in the world, and our effeminacy has become perhaps part of what makes us seem the most spoiled and irritating. 
But never mind me. Consider a huge literary celebrity like Margaret Atwood. I remember seeing her read at York University in 1973, and watching with admiration as she hoisted her right leg up on a table, resting it there — crosswise — for a poetry reading; looking every inch the fierce feminist. I remember being brilliantly entertained by her cruel, funny poems. But even Margaret Atwood has been taken down a peg— scolded for a celebrating a feminism that was an exclusionary sham.
I know that we, the old, not only didn’t make the world better, but we made it far, far worse. I just want the young to remember that for most seniors, being so despised in our old age has taken us somewhat by surprise. When we were young, people respected the old — even if there was no reason to do so. I’m not saying those were the good old days — far too many egregious sins were swept under the carpet. I’m just saying today’s oldsters, well — we didn’t expect to be disgraced in our dotage, and it might take us a little time to adjust.

Here is my advice for the ‘disgraced generation.’  Death — which of course comes to us all — is no great respecter of legacies or reputations. It might be good for us, and I mean this quite sincerely, to learn some humility at this point in our lives. Ignoble humility is, after all, a good preparation for death. 

Friday, 13 September 2019

Should We Censor The Joker?

Joaquin Phoenix’s new flic The Joker is stirring up endless controversy. The Toronto Star says: “at the post-screening party, a debate broke out amongst the journalists and industry executives over whether the movie could become part of the texts cited by mass shooters.” Sarah Hagi of The Globe and Mail warns us: “the film does offer a queasy sense of entitlement, which seems to ring true to how lonely, violent men view themselves.”
The subject here is censorship — though no one seems capable of of mentioning the word. For even if critics are not asking for The Joker to be pulled from theatres, this brand of journalistic rhetoric delivers a chilling message to artists and creators. Has the time come finally to stop creating films and plays with controversial themes? Maybe we should only write stories about politically correct heroes and heroines — men and women who are non-violent, ‘virtuous,’ tolerant, and loving? The problem with cleansing art of any representation of toxic humanity, is that repellant individuals do exist (and will exist forever, unfortunately). Not thinking about them — or not talking about them — doesn’t solve the problem, it simply exacerbates it.
Those who suggest that The Joker should not have been made or widely distributed are buying into the false notion that art is the cause of human evil. This has never been proved, and never will be. Art — far from being the cause of societal distress — is merely its symptom. Art offers a barometer about what plagues and obsesses us; it is a unique and often weirdly accurate snapshot of how awful we are.
But it is is not only art that is threatened by these veiled journalistic threats. This controversy over The Joker also endangers free speech. Social justice warriors have recently suggested that only those they deem ‘without privilege’ can ever really be victims of censorship. These suggestions are much more toxic than any movie representation of a comic book villain. Censorship is censorship no matter who is censored. I detest right-wing hate as much as anyone, but eradicating such speech from theatre, films, books and entertainment will merely silence thought and drive hate underground.
Joaquin Phoenix’s The Joker originates from the long tradition of discomfiting and attractive villains — one that goes back to medieval morality plays. We might as well banish ‘The Devil’ from Everyman. (The fact is that ‘The Devil’ happens to be the most interesting character in the play — much more enthralling for an actor to portray, or for us to watch — than a rather pallid and predictable character named Jesus!)

The fact is that banishing the representation of evil from art, spells the end of art itself.

Friday, 23 August 2019

I Used to be Jealous of Xavier Dolan

Wouldn’t you be? I’m an old gay writer. Nobody cares much about me anymore. But just as my ‘decline’ began, a young whippersnapper appeared. He quickly became the new god of the gay art scene. And he’s cute as a button to boot.
In case you’re wondering; yes I have seen some of Xavier’s flicks — and, I kinda like them. 
Which is another problem. This made me really jealous; the guy is not only cute, and a great actor, but he can direct!
Well now I can relax because there’s nothing to be jealous of.
Xavier Dolan has been knocked off his pedestal — a victim of political correctness, intersectionality, and the ’woke folk.’
What I interpreted all these years as a rejection of my writing had nothing to do with me. It’s just that what used to be the called ‘the love that dare not speak its name’ — and became (briefly, in my heyday) ‘the love that won’t shut up’ — is now, well, pretty much over.
I haven’t seen Dolan’s new film The Death and Life of John Donovan. But my critique of the reviews of this film has nothing to do with whether the critics are right or wrong, and everything to do with the cultural prejudices that dominate their writing. Angelo Murreda in The National Post refers to the film as “a comparably minor story…about a relationship between a gay actor unable to live frankly in public and an awkward pre-teen in search of a friend.” The Globe and Mail’s Kate Taylor is even more explicit in her dismissal of the film’s subject matter: “I am prepared to believe that a rising actor in the early 2000s in New York would be as firmly closeted as Rock Hudson in the 1950s, but I’m not prepared to believe it’s still society’s fault.” Wow.
When Kate Taylor was a theatre critic she never seemed very fond of my work. But I never dared imagine she was homophobic. It’s now clear to me that she always thought gay men were repulsive, annoying whiners. It’s just that now she can be completely comfortable about expressing her homophobic views in a culture climate that believes homophobia is over, that feminine boys are probably asexual and trans anyway — and that all us privileged fags should just shut up.
This cultural shift will not pan out well for anybody, gay or straight. There are (have you noticed?) lots of tortured young men out there, many conflicted about their sexuality and its relationship to masculinity, some of them with guns — some of them who are ‘incels’ — and some who are shooting up gay bars.
Pretending that homophobia does not exist will not make them all go away.
But hey— let’s look at the bright side.
I’m no longer jealous of Xavier Dolan.