Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Not a Fan of Pete

 I know, it seems perverse of me. Because I must admit that he’s an amazing young man. He’s evidently brilliant, attending Harvard and then Oxford (as a Rhodes scholar), and speaking seven languages. But then just hearing ‘Mayor Pete’ hold forth during the 2020 presidential campaign is enough. His studied articulation of the middle-of-the-road democratic party platform is astute, to say the least. And just as a bonus, he’s charismatic. And he’s kinda cute — in a puppy dog sort of way  way — with his furry eyebrows, pug nose, and toothy smile.

So what’s not to like?

The problem is that Pete is not only gay, and married, and a Christian, but he is recently gay (he came out five years ago) and recently married (for a year and a half) and most importantly, he is not just Christian — but terrifyingly devout. So devout, in fact, that he can’t seem to mention his sexuality without mentioning God. Dare I say that being so recently out — and so recently married — might mean that Pete may have some emotional baggage to deal with quite outside of running for president?

But that’s not my concern here.

My concern is that if we gaze for too long at this pesky little pup in his perky little suit, we might just forget that Stonewall ever happened. It may become a little too convenient not to remember that during the late 50s and early 60s Mayor Pete-style homosexuals carried signs and wore suits claiming to be ‘just the same as you and me,’ but achieved precisely nothing on the road to gay liberation. It took a bunch of randy bull dykes, sex trade workers, drag queens, and effeminate gay boys at Stonewall to win that fight. Pete seems to be trying to convince us that if we were all just nice, devout,  middle-class, multi-lingual Rhodes scholars we too might get our homophobic Dads to love us.

But I have other concerns as well. What will happen to our queer lives post President Buttigieg? Well, exactly what happened to black people after Barack Obama. Obama’s presidency confirmed — for so many — the agreeable fantasy that racism was over. Having a gay president will once and for all confirm that the-love-that-dare-not-speak-its-name had better finally shut up. Buttigieg’s presidency will also further polarise America, as it drives homophobia deeply and quietly into the psyches of the Christian right. If you think they hate us now, just imagine how they’ll feel after some  little Christian fellatio artist becomes commander-in chief?

The homophobic attacks have already entered the mainstream, but no one will acknowledge them. Recently Biden railed against Mayor Pete’s effeminacy, charging that while Biden was busy doing big manly stuff — like negotiating the Iran deal and the Affordable Care Act, Buttigieg was busy in South Bend — “installing decorative lights on bridges.” So  what if Mayor Pete can’t make American great again. After all —like any gay man — he is certainly more than capable of sprucing it up.

All this is not to say that Pete Buttigieg doesn’t deserve to be be president. Or that he shouldn’t be president. But sadly, a Mayor Pete Presidency will probably not make the world a better place for people like me. In fact, Perky, Pesky Little Pete, will probably make it much, much worse.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

Do You Know About ‘Wannabes?’




A ‘wannabe’ is apparently a person who wishes to amputate their extremities; usually an arm or a leg. It’s very important for you to know about wannabes. Of course I’m sure it’s true that they’ve been around since the dawn of time. Because — after all — there  really is no limit to what fantasies the human imagination can, and might, entertain. So, why talk about wannabes now? Because the central obsession for wannabes has become the central obsession of our culture today.
No, it’s not that there are suddenly a whole bunch of people who want to hack off their limbs. But according to Elizabeth Loeb “wannabes increasingly frame their arguments for redefining their own sense of corporeal integrity by making reference to transsexual practice.” This means — in plain English — that wannabes think their situation is similar to that of transexuals, who modify their bodies in order to change the gender they were assigned at birth. More than that, it means wannabes think that they should not only have the right to self-amputate, but that they are should be considered normal, mentally healthy individuals, and that any and all medical procedures related to their self-willed amputations should be paid for by the government.
A tall order you say?
Well, let’s not sweat the small stuff; I think adults should have the right to do anything they want with their bodies, as long as they are not physically hurting anyone else by doing so. And I’m not going to waste time in this little essay musing on how the government spends their money, or pondering the nature of mental illness. I ask instead, what is it that draws transgender theory and the ‘wannabe’ movement together? Clearly, both have fantasies of who they wish to be. The transgender children’s movement, for instance utilises the apropos and touching image of a ‘mermaid with a moustache’ to exemplify their fictional musings about themselves. The wannabes invoke the inspiring image of a starfish, who — when it loses one point of it’s star — just grows another one back. These are eloquent icons that represent significant and moving fictions. 
Human beings have always loved fiction, and always will. But it’s terribly important to separate art and reality. The best fantasies, of course, seem to be real. But they are not. Have young people forgotten this, as they increasingly live their lives playing computer games like Jumanji, where their online avatar can change gender, skin colour, whatever — completely, at any moment, without consequence?
This article is not an invitation to persecute transgender people or wannabes. Leave them alone. They have a right to do whatever they want to themselves. And don’t ban Jumanji; video games are not the problem. The problem is that transgender theory and disability theory have now elevated personal fiction into public fact. 
We are not starfish or mermaids. We cannot cut up our bodies without consequence. And, sadly, sometimes our most beautiful dreams are not destined to become reality.

I just thought you should know.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Greta too, will grow old…



I was very sad when Buddies in Bad Times Theatre dumped me. I’m pleased to say that bad feeling is gone. I’ve realised something about all of this ‘generational’ business. This weekend in the press the left is telling us that the very idea of ‘generational divide’ is a product of our imagination; while the right insists that divide has never been greater and that young ‘uns  were never more cruel. I beg to disagree. The fact is that, quite simply, Greta too, will grow old.
What do I mean by that? The ‘woke generation’ is no more extreme than we were back in the 60s. And what they are doing is ultimately for good. Why? Because it won’t, ultimately work.
Take a look at our dreams back then — it was no less than world revolution. If the hippies had their way, blacks, gays, women and the poor would have taken arms against a sea of oppression. It would have been the end of the ‘family’ as institution: we would all be living communes, taking psychedelic drugs to realise our true potential, and enjoying promiscuous sex to spread the love. And, it goes without saying, capitalism would dead. You may have noticed that all that didn’t actually happen. Those were the ideals of a generation, but we had to settle for considerably less. Kicking me out of Buddies and vilifying me was very necessary; as are so many other ‘cancellings’ of the older generation — and as were the beheadings in the French Revolution. In order for the smallest change to happen, the dream must be big, and yes, I must say it — it must also be at least somewhat scary and violent. I have no doubt that those ‘woke kids ‘ — who are now insisting that there is no gender and that racism is okay when it’s directed against white people — will be singing a different tune someday. They will be raising a heterosexual family and pulling in a hefty salary from a big, white mega-corporation.  How many hippies stayed hippies? How many became virulent consumers? Capitalism is a sweet, sweet lover, and a liar too.
It’s good that Greta Thunberg is here. Something must be done about climate change, and if we didn’t have her melancholy, suicidal extremity, people would do nothing.
And we will never forget her, just as we will never forgot Allen Ginsberg. 
But did we all end up being gay, promiscuous, drug taking, meditating, mystic poets? No. We did not.
Is that a good thing? I’m not at all sure……

But we must remember, that Greta too, will grow old.

Friday, 20 December 2019

The Death of Tragedy



We live in the era of melodrama.
It is the era of good and bad, there are no longer any shades of grey.
Recently, I read Streetcar Named Desire with my students and asked them if Stanley was a bad man. ‘Why yes of course —yes  — he raped Blanche.’ I asked them to tell me, then, if Blanche was a good woman. They were confused —their faces contorted with discomfort. ‘But….you are asking us a question that can’t be answered,’ they said. 
Ahh.  
Well gee, I thought that was the whole point. Now the same students who are upset by Blanche’s dual nature — a mixture of good and evil — are obsessed with comic book heroes. I told my students I didn’t want any more talk of comic book heroes in their papers. One of them complained ‘But with comic book heroes, there is hope that good will triumph over evil.’
Okay, I get it. This is the world we live in now. Us and them. The world is divided into good and evil, period. How did we get here? 
Adorno once stated (and I am paraphrasing) ‘there can be no art after The Holocaust.’ I fear he may have been right. What Adorno meant to say was that it was impossible to write about The Holocaust without trivializing human suffering. But what I think happened is this: when we saw naked human evil up close, we lost all sympathy for the tragic hero. (The only author who has dared to see Hitler somewhat as a tragic figure is Karl One Knausgaard in his novel The End.) That is why, these days, if you dislike your opponent enough, you call them ‘Nazi!’
What is lost in all this? Of course we have abandoned political civility — the ability to have rational debates in the public square. But we have lost much more than that. Tragedy is about looking inward, about seeing the flaws in ourselves. When Greek audiences wept, wailed and screamed — bewitched by the masks, the music, dancing, and the shocking portrayal of mothers killing their children (Medea), women falling in love with their stepsons (Phaedre) and bloodied heads nailed to the door (The Bacchae) it was not just because Euripides was a ‘shocking’ playwright (something we rarely see today!), but because he was forcing them to look inward, and examine themselves.
When Prospero says of Caliban “this thing of darkness I / acknowledge mine’ he is doing something we are incapable of doing anymore. 

He is recognising the evil inside.

Thursday, 19 December 2019

Rudy Giuliani Is No Hero


President Trump’s personal lawyer is not only up to no good in the Ukraine, he’s been up to no good for years. People keep asking “What happened to Giuliani?” As if he has had some dramatic fall from honesty and integrity. Giuliani is just the same crooked hypocrite he always was. His career — like Donald Trump’s — is mostly hype. As Associate Attorney General under Ronald Reagan Giuliani was famous for high profile cases — some involving organised crime. But though Giuliani may have put many criminals in jail, many of those he prosecuted also walked away — while Giuliani continued to bask in the glory of the celebrated indictments. As for being ‘America’s Mayor,’ the The New York Times says “Giuliani has exaggerated the role he played after the [911] terrorist attacks, casting himself as a hero for political gain.” Which is what Giuliani and Trump do best.
The 1980s is usually seen as a time when New York City was ‘cleared of crime’ by various mayors. In the 90s Giuliani took all the credit. But this was less an idealistic ‘clean up’ than an opportunistic money grab that toyed with the lives of sex trade workers and gay men (as brilliantly illustrated in the recent HBO TV show Forty Deuce) who were helpless to defend themselves in a misogynistic, puritanical post-AIDS environment. It is undeniably true that the crime rate in New York City has plummeted. But at what cost? Forty Deuce shows that New York’s mayors and police conspired with big real estate to close bars, bath houses and and massage parlours, driving gay men and sex trade workers into the streets. The result is evident to anyone who takes a trip to New York City today. Gone are the colourful neighbourhoods and sexual variety that characterised the once great city. (This sad story is also chronicled in Times Square Red, Times Square Blue by Samuel Delaney.) A small price to pay to stop crime, you say? But the crime problem did not originate in the massage parlours and the bath houses, and could have been eradicated without enriching those already flush with cash.
New York City is now a bland, bloated tourist destination, promoting mega-musicals and family vacations. We have Giuliani to blame for that. (Toronto, by the way is poised in the same direction — enriching the already rich and destroying neighbourhoods.) Meanwhile Trump and Giuliani stand up publicly against queer rights and abortion, while their own tawdry personal lives spill over with a succession of adulterous affairs and divorces.

It’s hypocrisy, alright. And as long as no one speaks up, our world will be dominated by a dull colourless hypocrisy — one that fills the pockets of the privileged, and oppresses those who are open and honest about their sexuality.

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?