Jun 06

LGBTQ Memoirs, Recent and Notable

Below are selected quotes from recent and notable LGBTQ memoirs. (Also see previous posts on coming out and on closets):

“Queers do not come out of the minefield of homophobia without scars. We do not live through our families’ rejection of us, our stunted life options, the violence we’ve faced, the ways in which we’ve violated ourselves for survival, our harmful coping mechanisms, our lifesaving delusions, the altered brain chemistry we have sustained as a result of this, the low income and survival states we’ve endured as a result of society’s loathing, unharmed. Whatever of theses wounds I didn’t experience firsthand, my lovers did, and so I say that, for a time, it was not possible to have queer love that was not in some way damaged or defined by damage sustained, even as it desperately fought through that damage to access, hopefully, increasingly frequent moments of sustaining, lifesaving love, true love, and loyalty, and electric sex.” Michelle Tea, Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions & Criticisms (2018)

“The best way I can describe [being transgender] for myself […] is a constant feeling of homesickness. An unwavering ache in the pit of my stomach that only goes away when I can be seen and affirmed in the gender I’ve always felt myself to be. And unlike homesickness with location, which eventually diminishes as you get used to the new home, this homesickness only grows with time and separation.” Sarah McBride, Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality (2018)

“Gay men are terrified of our own perspective. We love perspective, other people’s perspectives, rarely our own. We write for other people, we act and use other people’s words, we lip-synch and use other people’s voices. We fear using our own perspective because it endangers us. It lays our desires and weaknesses bare. Camouflage is our defense. But defense isn’t enough. It is survival, nothing more. It is managing your status as an object. Perspective is power.” Guy Branum, My Life as a Goddess: A Memoir through (Un) Popular Culture (2018)

“But here’s the remarkable thing about self-love: When you start to love yourself for the first time, when you start to truly embrace who you are—flaws and all—your scars start to look a lot more like beauty marks. The words that used to haunt you transform into badges of pride.” Jacob Tobia, Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story (2019)

“Ninety-eight percent of discrimination is not overt. Ninety-eight percent of discrimination is infuriatingly subtle. You feel it in the lack of eye contact a person makes with you. You feel it in a noted absence of enthusiasm. You feel it in a hesitation or a slight physical tic. You feel it in a pause that goes on for just a moment too long. You feel it in an uncomfortable clearing of the throat. You feel it when, out of nowhere, the air is sucked from the room as if it’s a NASA vacuum chamber. You feel it everywhere, but there is rarely any hard evidence.” Jacob Tobia, Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story (2019)

For more info about LGBTQ Pride, see this link. Other LGBTQ memoirs can be found here.

Jan 17

“Dallas Buyers Club”: Is It Worth Seeing?

Dallas Buyers Club stars Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, among others. Is it worth seeing for the acting? The story? The “straight savior” angle? Or is the latter a turnoff?

The basic plot, from IMDB: “In 1985 Dallas, electrician and hustler Ron Woodroof works around the system to help AIDS patients get the medication they need after he is himself diagnosed with the disease.”

Based on a true story, Dallas Buyers Club was written by Craig Borten and Melisa Wallick and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée. According to Richard Corliss, Time, “Borten and Wallack based their script on hundreds of hours of interviews with Woodroof, then waited 20 years for the film to get made.”

After the “vocally homophobic antihero” (Peter Debruge, Variety) gets diagnosed, Woodruff proceeds to be helped by such folks as his physician (Jennifer Garner) and Leto’s transgender AIDS patient.

The Main Performances

Alonso Duralde, The Wrap: “McConaughey is the only reason to see Dallas Buyers Club, but he’s enough of a reason to see Dallas Buyers Club.”

David EdelsteinNew York Magazine: “It’s difficult to talk about the beauty of Leto’s performance, because he just, well, is. The transformation is so complete—­physically and vocally—that it’s hard to believe he could ever be anything else. Rayon (née Raymond) is high on being Rayon, to the point where you sometimes forget that he’s dying, too.”

Woodruff as the “Straight Savior”

Peter DebrugeVarietybelieves that making Woodruff the main character in this movie “ensure[s] that no matter how uncomfortable audiences are with HIV or so-called ‘alternative lifestyles,’ they will recognize Woodroof’s knee-jerk bigotry as uncool. And thus, the film manages to educate without ever feeling didactic, and to entertain in the face of what would, to any other character, seem like a grim life sentence.”

This sentiment is echoed by Rex Reed, New York Observer: “It’s the story of a lout who finds redemption through unexpected motivation, becoming an accidental activist in the process and learning a valuable lesson in humanity about how to help others after it’s too late to help himself.”

The AIDS Crisis

I think it’s well worth noting that Mark S. King of HIV Plus Magazine gives the film high praise for its gritty depiction of the truth of AIDS.

A river of infected blood runs through it. So too does practically every other bodily fluid, along with bruises that won’t heal and purple skin lesions and flakes of dry, reddened skin. And that’s kind of beautiful. Because that’s what AIDS looked like in 1985, and it’s been ages since we have fully remembered it…

I have never seen AIDS shown this way in a film. And of all the movie portrayals of the disease, from Parting Glances to I Love You Phillip Morris, nothing else has captured the ugly physicality of AIDS like Dallas Buyers Club. Even the tearful hospital-bed goodbyes in Longtime Companion seem overly romanticized by comparison…

Mar 27

“American Honor Killings”: Murders of Gay Men

A new nonfiction book by novelist David McConnell refers neither to “gay panic defense” nor “hate crimes,” widely used terms and concepts used for decades often to controversial effect—but to “honor killings.” In American Honor Killings: Desire and Rage Among Men McConnell provides case studies of men in the U.S. who’ve killed gay men. It seems that the motives behind these murders have been more complex than is implied when commonly used labels are assigned:

Beginning in 1999 and lasting until last year’s conviction of a youth in Queens, New York, the book shows how some murderers think they’re cleaning up society. Surprisingly, other killings feel almost preordained, not a matter of the victim’s personality or actions so much as a twisted display of a young man’s will to compete or dominate. We want to think these stories involve simple sexual conflict, either the killer’s internal struggle over his own identity or a fatally miscalculated proposition. They’re almost never that simple.

In an interview with Saeed Jones, BuzzFeed, McConnell further explains his preference for focusing on the perpetrators—versus on the supposed effect of the victims’ identities on the would-be murderers:

I’m not proposing that we start calling them ‘honor killings.’ I just want the focus to move away from the victims and onto the perpetrators because I think these crimes are something that comes out of them, out of their behavior, their obsessions, their fears, their sense of the world. It’s not the fault of anybody who’s hurt or attacked, whether it’s a class or an individual. And I think if we start calling them hate crimes or ‘gay panic,’ it absolves these guys, to some degree. Very often, panic or extreme emotion from any kind is absent from these murders. In many of the crimes I researched, the guy had a very intense reaction to homosexuality, but often it was crossed with anti-Semitism or a really vile kind of racism. In other words, it’s this generalized kind of hatred that’s [made them] lash out at anyone perceived to be weaker or a second-class citizen.

It may be important to note that when McConnell was conducting extensive research for American Honor Killings, including visits and correspondence with the convicted murderers, he came out as gay to all of them; they were apparently able to deal with this. Interestingly, at least one of the killers is bisexual, and another, Darrell Madden, has come out as gay since being in prison.

“While his conclusion may be questionable,” states Kirkus Reviews, “McConnell convincingly shows how fluid terms like ‘gay’ and ‘straight’ can actually be. One such example is the case of Darrell Madden, a former homosexual porn star who became an anti-gay neo-Nazi and murdered a homosexual in 2007. This was one of five cases where young men, with homosexual pasts or fears, killed homosexuals, or suspected homosexuals, in crimes discussed as hate crimes.”

Comparisons are made to Matthew Shepard’s murder and African-American James Byrd Jr.’s by white supremacists. “‘Hatred was a critical factor in these murders. It would be poisonous to pretend otherwise,’ he writes, but it is not the whole story. In McConnell’s opinion, a review of the perpetrators, victims and circumstances indicates more—’hatred often seems to exist prior to its having a clear object.'”

McConnell further explains to Jerry Portwood of Out how he views the killers as a group: “…(T)hey did largely hate gay people, but it was born of ignorance more than anything. I think the sexuality came in as a method of access to the victims. They were going to kill somebody — they were so angry and wanted to kill a marginal figure in society — and the access they had was to gay men because that’s how they could ‘hook up’ that way.”

Mar 12

“That’s So Gay”: Is the Popular Phrase Sometimes Okay?

The phrase that’s so gay doesn’t hurt everyone. Nor is it even offensive to all lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals. But it does indeed hurt some. Studies and common sense show that it hurts lots of people, in fact—especially young ones.

The title of a brand new book by psychologist Kevin L. Nadal uses the term “microaggressions,” first coined in 1970 by psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce, to describe those subtle forms of hostility that most LGBT people experience frequently. That’s So Gay!: Microaggressions and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community shows that “(t)hese accumulated experiences are associated with feelings of victimization, suicidal thinking, and higher rates of substance abuse, depression, and other health problems among members of the LGBT community.”

Microaggressions have three different subtypes, as listed by the APA: microassaults, microinsults, and
microinvalidations. “That’s so gay” falls into the category of microinsults—“snubs, gestures, and verbal slights.”

Microassaults “include intentionally calling a person who identified as a sexual or gender minority a derogatory slur, or telling a trans person that they cannot use a multiple-stall restroom or rejecting their entry into a multiple-stall restroom when they try to use one,” and microinvalidations “serve to exclude, negate, or nullify the psychological thoughts, feelings, or experiential reality of certain groups.”

Sam Killermann made the following flowchart to indicate when it’s okay to say “that’s so gay”:

The point being, of course, that it’s usually not okay unless you’re appropriately describing a person with a gay or lesbian orientation.

Below LGBT activist Ash Beckham gives a rapid-fire and interesting speech about how the words “so gay” can hurt:

Although both girls and guys use these words, I can’t find any research specific to the former. There is some regarding male adolescents, though. British sociologist Mark McCormack reports in his 2012 The Declining Significance of Homophobia: How Teenage Boys Are Redefining Masculinity and Heterosexuality that it’s now commonplace for male teenagers to be comfortable with their own or others’ gayness and to not equate saying and hearing “that’s so gay” as homophobic.

From his blog post “The Complexity of ‘That’s So Gay‘”:

To be clear, I am not advocating for the use of the phrase ‘that’s so gay.’ One of the problems with it is that older generations will hear homophobia even where none is intended. Indeed, some of the LGBT students I spoke to felt uncomfortable with the phrase at the same time as they argued it did not connote homophobia. In The Declining Significance of Homophobia, I develop a new model for understanding this changing use of language, which highlights how the intent, effect, and environment within which words are used are vitally important in determining whether homophobia is present or not. And when doing this, it is crucial we listen to young people’s perspectives. When someone says ‘that’s so gay,’ we should also consider discussing with them why some people might find it offensive, the history of gay oppression and the value of empathy. By engaging with young people about this issue, we might even find that we learn something about their increasingly positive attitudes toward homosexuality.

Keep in mind, McCormack studied teens residing and going to school in Britain. To an interviewer writing in Salonhe states that “the U.S. is a decade behind the U.K. on this particular front.”

Why is that?, McCormack is asked. Well, it may very well have something to do with our “polarities.” On the one hand, we have such factors as the evangelical Christian movement and lingering stigma about AIDS being a gay disease; on the other, we see burgeoning anti-homophobia strategies and support.

Again and again, on all kinds of contemporary issues, it’s all about our red/blue, black/white, either/or in the U.S., isn’t it? Truly, just as homophobia is and always has been a disease, so is our ongoing polarization.

Dec 24

“Ties That Bind” By Sarah Schulman: Familial Homophobia

Sarah Schulman is brilliant, vulnerable, and relentless. Ties That Bind should be required reading for every family—gay and straight. Ellen Bass, poet and author of The Courage to Heal

Prolific author Sarah Schulman‘s powerful 2009 book The Ties That Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences came out in paperback this year. It’s an emotionally and politically stirring book—and yes, one I’ve actually read—that’s especially relevant right now when many LGBT folks face holiday-related challenges.

So, what is this new term, familial homophobia? Schulman came up with it herself in order to describe the too-common phenomenon of gay people being “excluded from family love and approval” to various degrees, something she knows all too well from personal experience. From the book description: “With devastating examples, Schulman clarifies how abusive treatment of homosexuals at home enables abusive treatment of homosexuals in other relationships as well as in society at large.”

As expressed by Schulman to Dick Donahue, Publishers Weekly (2009), this phenomenon—that “(i)t is in the family that people are often first rewarded for being straight and punished for being gay”—permeates other cultural institutions as well. Whereas the gay press, for example, heaped praise on her book when it was released, she tells Donahue, “This interview is the very first engagement with a mainstream publication acknowledging that the book even exists. It’s a strange through-the-looking-glass experience, one that I have had all my life. It speaks volumes that work that LGBT people love and embrace is often ignored completely by mainstream institutions.”

A prime example of this relates directly to the above. Although she was interviewed for Publishers Weekly, her book was not—“which is crazy, because almost every book gets reviewed there.” Indeed, a Google search today finds no review ever done by PW.

Maybe the mainstream world simply can’t handle the following type of message:

Anything that creates homosexuality as inferior is pathological, is untrue and has negative consequences on people and on society. If your family is victimizing you or harassing you through shunning, exclusion, diminishment, you need to know that it’s not your personal problem. It’s not because of you, it’s not because of your family. It’s because you live in a culture that allows that to go on without any reaction.

Can therapy help? Well, Schulman devotes a whole chapter to “The Failure of Therapeutic Solutions.” She makes it clear that she has felt burned by therapy and that she’s far from the only one who’s had such experiences when trying to deal with familial homophobia.

Schulman notes that while many therapists advocate breaking away from one’s homophobic family, she’s more in favor of gay people fighting to maintain the connection while working to change the dynamic. “What is essentially wrong about the say-nothing-and-separate approach is that it allows the homophobes to own the family.”

June Thomas, Lambda Literary, sums up what Schulman wants from us all, gay and nongay:

…(S)he counsels intervention—observing familial homophobia and doing nothing is akin to passively watching physical abuse—and reconciliation through negotiation and due process. This may sound legalistic, but being heard is one of our most basic rights, and one that gay and lesbian people have repeatedly been deprived of.

Thus, as further explained by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore in Utne:

If your parents direct you not to bring your lover to a family reunion, it’s time for your sister to demand that your lover be included. If commercial publishers refuse to print lesbian work, straight best-selling authors should protest. Ties That Bind argues that this type of allegiance is far more important than gay access to problematic institutions like marriage.

In reviewing Ties That Bind, Andrew Ross, chair of the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at York University, states: “Schulman’s lucid dissection of the role that families play as incubators of homophobia could hardly be better. This [is] a truly indispensable book. It should blow away the hot air generated by the public debate about ‘family values.’”