"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Saturday, December 31, 2005

It's All About Men

Alex, a new correspondent from the wonderful world of the Web, has given me permission to use her post about one-night stands as a starting point for some ruminations of my own.

Alex says:

You see the men and you want them, then and there. Tall, bronzed, thin T-shirt, sculpted body. Your purpose for the rest of the night is to get them into your bed, or you into theirs. You don’t care about their minds, their erudite expostulation of Aristotle’s ethics; you just want their body. “The more time we spend talking, the less time we have for foolin’ around”.

I have a theory about males in general. There is one reason for their continued existence: sex. We're not really necessary, except that we provide a convenient way to provide some mixing in the gene pool. Being human, it's a lot more complicated than that, but there you have a basic rationale for the existence of men. If you look at a couple of small details in the physical function of the male, it seems that whatever designer had a hand in creating the human male was not thinking much about sexual fidelity -- at least, not originally. Consider that men, at their sexual peak (and for quite a distance on either side of it) are, as we say in Chicago, ready to "vote early and often." It's no mistake that our nearest anthropoid relatives, chimpanzees and gorillas, keep harems.

Gay men, of course, since the complications of parenthood are, at least in the basics of the whole thing, somewhat remote, are in a position to explore that side of their natures. Hence, we are condemned as being promiscuous.

Yes, and. . . ?

Promiscuity by itself is neither here nor there, although it seems to frighten heterosexuals immensely, especially those who practice it the most. We always hear, of course, the "public health" message, which is another of those cart-before-the-horse kinds of things. If we weren't trapped in this patriarchal, women-as-property, all-encompassing disapproval that passes for "morality" in some quarters, we might derive some benefit from such things as honest and realistic sex education, intelligent discussion of disease transmission and ways to prevent it, and just maybe a little bit less in the way of screwed-up heads.

Because we are human, we can't escape realizing that there is an emotional component to sex that may or may not apply to other species, since we don't really understand emotion, in the first place, and we have no idea what other species "feel," in the second. So I'll just stick with human men.

Gay men are probably the most romantic creatures alive. I don't know one who doesn't get off on the idea of candlelit dinners for two, moonlight walks along the shore, holding hands in the movies, all of it, whether he'll admit it or not. To anyone who is using the brains his designated deity gave him, that should be a clue to the fact that, yes, gay men do have feelings for each other that are pretty much the same as straight men and women have for each other. It's just that our traditional way of learning about each other was slightly different. Men being subject to the training they receive in most Western cultures, intimacy is not the easiest thing for them. I think that's one reason that we continue to cruise and pick each other up for sex. Somehow, you can get past those initial barriers that too often leave men tongue-tied and inept -- or sounding like a car salesman. You've already been intimate, and if it seems warranted, you can get on to the good stuff. Courtship was likely to be compressed into an evening or less, and it was kind of hit-or-miss, but when it worked. . . .

Alex says:

And then there was the one who wasn’t the one-night-stand.

The one you sat around the wine cask with all night, but then he slipped out without you managing to invite him home. And you had to arrange to “accidentally” bump into to him on campus. And he looked more and more gorgeous each time you saw him, and you couldn’t stop smiling every time you saw him. And he had to go away for the summer to work on his family’s farm. And you wrote him letters and when he finally returned he was bronzed from the sun and you couldn’t wait to get him into bed but it still took a number of days and when you finally got him there… it was great, and you couldn’t remember the sex so much as the feeling after, the way the sex seemed to open up a channel between the two of you that everyone must see – a rainbow linking you. And how fantastic you felt and how beautiful life was and how all you wanted was to walk by his side and be with him and drag him into your bed every night and it just kept getting better and he felt the same.

The one you fell in love with.

I couldn't have put it better myself.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Read It And Weep, Wildmons

I couldn't resist. This has popped up a couple of places.

Who's afraid of a couple of gay cowboys? Not moviegoers, who helped "Brokeback Mountain" post the highest per-screen average over the film-flush holiday weekend.

The Ang Lee film, which follows the 20-year forbidden romance between two roughneck ranch hands, earned $13,599 per theater, compared with $9,305 for weekend winner "King Kong" and $8,225 for "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe."

Under the category: "If we ignore it, it will flop because we make everyone's decisions."

At Random


I've not mentioned Ben here. Ben and I have been together for seventeen years, since he was five weeks old and I could carry him in one hand. He's still pretty lively, but is starting to have lapses -- I think it's the onset of senility, but so far it's not desperate, just occasionally inconvenient. He's fading from black to a rich dark auburn color, and is quite an attractive cat, although he's gotten pretty bony lately. (Under "lively": I just had to take a break from writing to play string for a while, so he would shut up for a minute and let me concentrate -- umm -- did I mention vocal? It doesn't seem to have sunk in that he should be feeble at this point. The things we do for peace and quiet.)

He's lasted through several boyfriends and has always been there when I needed some uncritical comfort. I told him once that if he were six-four and had his balls, I'd marry him. I meant it. Like me, he's fairly reserved, but very affectionate once you gain his trust, independent, stubborn, but ultimately reasonable.

We were made for each other.

Thus Passeth the Old Guard

Thomas Kuehn, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, points out that one essential element in a paradigm shift is for those who adhere to the old paradigm to die off. They have an investment in the current order that seems to obscure their ability to examine evidence or to approach new theories with objectivity.

Charles Socarides is dead.


One group of wildmons gives up. From NYT:

A rare rift among conservatives, however, led the two groups to promote dueling same-sex marriage bans while sniping over which proposal was better. At the center of the split was disagreement over how far the camp opposing gay marriage should go in trying to repeal the significant spousal rights domestic partners are granted in California.

Polling conducted for ProtectMarriage.com by Harris Interactive last summer showed that while a majority of voters supported a same-sex marriage ban, there was much less support for taking away the rights domestic partners already have, Mr. Pugno said.

The public mind is an odd thing. Let's face it, Americans, for the most part, want to be fair and generous. It's part of our self-image. We can be stirred up by rhetoric and do nasty things because of it, but we don't really want to treat people badly, in general. (I make an exception for the wildmons. They live to demonize someone, and it doesn't really seem to matter who -- communists, the Soviet Union, liberals, gays, it's all one. It must be really hard to have to hate someone to justify your own existence. On my better days, I pity them.) Consequently, you have opinion polls like the one above, because "marriage" has become a buzzword that denotes an ideal state that is largely made-up from whole cloth. But people are resistant to taking away rights that have been granted. People in general also seem to be willing to allow civil unions and domestic partnerships as a legal vehicle for recognizing gay relationships. They do begin to recognize those relationships as legitimate. It only took forty years.

The irony, of course, is that the wildmons just don't get it. Blinders? Mmmm -- yeah.

We're going to win a war we never declared.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Man-on-Dog Boy

I haven't gone after Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) for a while, but he continues to amaze me. Now that the Dover School District has been raked over the coals by a federal judge for their adventure with ID, Santorum is disturbed to discover that some of the Board members may have had a religious motivation for pushing the policy. Like he didn't know. (Please keep in mind that the Philadelphia Inquirer labeled him "one of the finest minds of the thirteenth century." He also ripped off the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for his kids' educational costs.)

But the day after a federal judge ruled that the district's policy on intelligent design is unconstitutional, Santorum told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was troubled by testimony indicating that religion motivated some school board members to adopt the policy.


Richard Thompson, president and chief counsel of the center, said Santorum's withdrawal came as no surprise because, several weeks earlier, the senator had indicated that he was unhappy with the center's involvement in the case. "It is a very controversial issue, as you know, and he is involved in a very hotly contested Senate race, and it's probably in his best interest," Thompson said Thursday.

That sounds about right. And he just keeps digging himself in deeper:

Santorum said he disagrees with the Dover school board's policy of requiring the teaching of intelligent design, rather than just teaching the controversy surrounding evolution. He said the case provides "a bad set of facts" for a test on whether theories other than evolution should be taught in science class.

The problem is, there's no "good" set of facts. All this BS about "teaching the controversy" is just that: there is no scientific controversy, and no scientific controversy is going to be generated by a religious doctrine. As soon as a legitimate scientific controversy exists, I'm sure no one will have problems with teaching it, although probably not in high school right off the bat. You don't teach new theories in high school, you teach established science.

The only controversy here is political.

In light of which, here's a statement from Donald Wildmon's AFA blasting Santorum.

I found this instructive:

[Diane] Gramley (president of AFA pf PA] said in conclusion, "The majority of Americans understand what is at stake and want the controversy to be taught. They want their child's teachers to have the academic freedom to openly discuss Evolution, Intelligent Design and even Creationism. The majority of Americans, and especially Pennsylvanians, do not agree with Senator Rick Santorum or Judge John E. Jones."

1) Science is not subject to public opinion polls. 2) These jerks do not want an open discussion of evolution and the religious nutfudge doctrines that oppose it. That's the last thing they want. 3) "Academic freedom" is not something that they want to wave around wildly, because academic freedom means thinking independently and asking hard questions, which is not in their worldview.

AmericaBlog asks some questions to which we all know the answers. He wonders at the continually shifting positions of the radical right, subcategory religious fanatic. One more time: it's not about belief, it's about power. It's been amply demonstrated time and time again that the wildmons are compulsive liars. It's been demonstrated that their political arm is all about expediency -- let's think about the long history of stealth candidates, overly broad legislation touted as achieving limited ends that turns out to have epochal consequences, distorted "information packets" distributed to voters in which it's almost impossible to find an actual statement of fact. They're sneaks and liars. Got it?

I'm way past being nice about it. Let's just call it what it is: lack of moral fiber.

If I sound a little annoyed, it's mostly because I'm tired of the MSM parroting these goons as though they had some legitimacy. When they stop calling ID a "theory" and start holding its feet to the fire, then maybe I'll regain some patience.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Cultural Shift, Part II

A very good piece by Wayne Beson at PlanetOut on Brokeback Mountain. His thinking is very close to mine, although he's managed it much more concisely.

The main reason that "Brokeback Mountain" will be a crossover hit is because of its universal message. Its success comes down to the ending scene, where Ennis del Mar is alone in his bare-bones trailer overlooking the haunting prairie. He opens a closet and wistfully touches the hanging clothes of Jack Twist, who has been murdered.

It is a gut-wrenching moment not only for the character, but also for moviegoers. They are forced to confront fears of loneliness and to ask themselves if they have lived life to the fullest and expressed their love to the people who matter most.

Gay or straight, the answer to such questions is all too often "no." In essence, we all have our own secret "Brokeback Mountain," and the movie subconsciously asks people to find their purpose and embrace their passion, because life is short and fragile. It is the searing, powerful message more than the fact the messengers are gay that will ultimately help people understand the struggles of gay people, and more importantly, themselves.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Happy Holidays

And Bill O'Reilly be damned.

I'm really off, here -- I would normally have wished you all the joy of the season a couple of days ago, but time and I are coming to have a somewhat adversarial relationship, something akin to my relationship with inanimate objects. It's not quite that bad, actually -- mostly we just ignore each other.

At any rate, I am going to light a green candle and think about the turning of the year for a while, and, since most of us celebrate this time of year, even if we don't all celebrate exactly the same thing, I want to wish you all a hopeful and blessed season and good things in the coming year.


Believe it or not, this comes up because of Brokeback Mountain (and just how could that happen?). It has to do with mainstreaming gays. You can call it, depending on your ideological stance, assimilation or co-optation, but it seems to be happening.

I'm actually of two minds about the whole phenomenon. On the one hand, acceptance by the main culture is necessary: it's called survival. There is no real reason we need to continue to be marginalized, in some cases hunted. (I'm not talking about the rabids here: they're fading; all the noise is just their frenzy at the realization that their time is not only past, it never really happened. They're merely the latest manifestation of one of the nastier streaks in the American psyche.) And we have to face the reality that most gay men (and lesbians, it would seem) are really just like everyone else in this country: middle-class, ready, willing and able to become "normal" and even complacent, a little self-absorbed, and chubby. (I am outraged that, even in the midst of middle-age, I have to succumb to wearing pants with a 32-inch waist. Lo, how the mighty have fallen! I take solace in the fact that love-handles are sexy.)

But I miss the difference. For a brief moment, there was the beginning of something very special and good among gay men: sensual, sexual, spiritual, yeasty and vivid. Our own poets, priests and shamans were making something that I thought then we as a nation really needed (and by "nation" I mean all of us in this impossible muddle called "America"). Subsequent history has proven me right: the plague happened, the response was what you'd expect from a nation that can't deal with reality very well, the impulse was redirected, and the national we has gotten really boring and venal. (If you don't think the two can go together, just look at the White House.)

One of my favorite movies of all time is a short called The Dead Boys Club, from the beginning of the plague. It's a simple story -- friends gather for the funeral of an AIDS victim -- and really not particularly substantial, except that it holds the beginning of a mythology: the narrative is intercut with scenes of the dead protagonist at the clubs. (He actually does become the protagonist, even though he only appears in memory.) I tried to explain to someone (a straight friend) what it was like, to be one of a thousand men on a dance floor. It's something beyond words -- as I recall, the phrase I used was "beyond tribal." It's not the same as being one of a thousand mixed couples (been there, done that). There's a particular energy that happens (and I know it happens even without drugs, which I don't do and never have), and it's not like any other energy going.

I think we also began to define a new standard of morality. It had a lot of rough edges at that point (well, we had no guidelines, the only rules we'd ever learned didn't fit, and we were kids flailing around trying to figure it all out), but I think at its core was something solid: a sexual morality based not on who we slept with, but how we treated them, which can't help but feed back into the way you approach the world in general. It was a sort of morality that was beginning to work its way past the traditional power games because it was a morality coming from people who had a legitimate (and traditional) expectation of dealing from positions of equality. It was built on a distinctly personal interchange without the sexual politics and without the baggage of traditional of male/female relationships. (The scene in Brokeback Mountain (aha!) in which Ennis threatens Jack over suspected infidelity and Jack refuses to tolerate it is a good, concise illustration of what we were having to do: most of us only had the roles we had learned growing up straight (which everyone does), which on the one hand dictated that we did not submit to that kind of control, and on the other dictated that we exercise that kind of control.) There was probably a certain amount of synergy between gay lib and women's lib in this regard -- heading toward the same place, or places very close together, but starting from two radically different points. (It's also very interesting to note that Ennis' objections were not to Jack having an affair with a woman -- that was acceptable and, indeed, even expected -- but to having an affair with another man, because that intruded on the -- call it the "sanctity" of their relationship.)

Of course, in real life at that point, discovering that your boyfriend was cheating on you with a woman would have been devastating. We had bought into enough garbage from the mainstream culture to feel that we couldn't compete against a woman. We have, I hope, learned better.

This sounds all very nebulous, and it is something that's hard to pin down. The development of a specifically gay culture is well-documented, and in some areas has been studied beyond exhaustion; the shift to our becoming just a component of mainstream culture -- a target audience -- is less well understood. Andrew Sullivan has an interesting article on it that I haven't fully digested yet. He welcomes the idea, apparently; I don't, particularly, except that, as I stated above, I think a certain amount of assimilation is necessary, politically, at least. Think of it as camouflage. We're good at that.

I think the fact that our most vociferous critics have very little idea of what morality is and on what it's based indicates that we were on the right path in a lot of ways -- we really had something solid to offer. I'd really hate for us all to move to the suburbs and start driving SUVs. We were special. I like being special. I love the idea of a country where everyone has something special about them, where we all have differences that make us all richer. Perhaps that, once again, could start to be the ideal, once the wildmons have finally died off.

This is a topic that will probably surface from time to time, as I think more about it. In the meantime, how about some feedback?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Day Off

It's not that I've blown my wad on Brokeback Mountain. I've had a heavy writing schedule lately and I'm just a little burned out on writing. Besides, I want to focus on The Book, a/k/a/ the Fantasy Novel From Hell. I tend to write very lush descriptive prose, and it's making people crazy, including me, so I saturated myself in Glen Cook for a couple of days to get my head back to a more terse mindset. I've actually started a rewrite of the first chapter, which I really like. (Let's face it, when you have 35,000 words and you're only on Chapter 4, you've got a problem.)

I also just got an advance copy of Charles de Lint's next book, which is wonderful and I can't quite figure out why -- it should be irritating the hell out of me, but it's not. That review will be showing up at GMR in mid-January.

And the CDs are building up to critical mass. I'm listening as fast as I can!

Besides, the news has become such an unremitting litany of nastiness that I can't think of any comments -- it's all right there in the papers (finally -- it's about time they started doing some reporting).

And why did The New York Times wait a year to break the domestic spying story? Until after the election?

So, given the choice between Charles de Lint's particular and very special brand of urban fantasy and any number of accounts of contemporary dystopia, what do you think I'm going to choose?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Cultural Shift

Can't seem to let go of Brokeback Mountain. Aside from its artistic merits, I think it is going to show itself to be a profoundly important film. The early box office is encouraging, not so much as to belie the rabids' contention that it will flop if they ignore it (which we knew was bullshit anyway; reportedly, it has already made back its costs on foreign box office), but because of the demographics -- it outsold King Kong in advance sales in Plano, Texas, the first weekend it showed. It's a two-pronged sort of thing: there is a huge amount of buzz (Focus on the Family notwithstanding), so people want to see it. I'm sure the buzz generates a little bit of prurient interest -- or I was, except that the buzz is now focusing on the tremendous acting and the universality of the story. What people are being offered is a good movie about star-crossed lovers.

The other prong is that people are going to see this movie and get a very different idea of gay men than what they had in their heads when they walked in. And I think because of the emotional impact of the film, that new idea is going to take firm hold. And Hollywood is not going to be able to go back to the old stereotypes, not if it wants to be taken seriously, and Donald Wildmon is going to be pissing into the wind. (You have to understand that "Donald Wildmon" in this usage is just a catch-all term for the anti-gay Christianists. They all run together in my head, so whichever name pops up is the name that gets used. They're pretty much fungible.)

OK, so I'm predicting. I don't do that much, but I have a feeling about this one.


We're having some problems with the sidebar accepting links. We're working on it.


Interesting comment by Andrew Sullivan on Brokeback Mountain, slightly elaborating on a point I touched in one of my posts: the damage to families that the Christianists like to point to as the result of the men's love for each other is really the result of their homophobia (and I use that term advisedly: it's a clinical condition, and I begin to think that's what we're dealing with here).

[Y]ou can see the damage done to so many lives by the powerful, suffocating evil of homophobia. So many lives. Sometimes I start to imagine how much accumulated human pain has been inflicted for so many centuries on so many gay hearts and souls, . . .

If nothing else, the film really brings home the point that, because Ennis and Jack are not free to be together, where they want to be and should be, because they are forced to live in the closet, the harvest is pain across the board. I recently met a woman who had gone to my high school (a year behind my sister) who married a man who turned out to be gay. She still has some bitterness about it. We talked abouit the fact that her ex-husband was running scared and didn't have an out. I think she feels a little better -- what was most hurtful was that he lied to her, and even realizing that he didn't know an alternative didn't serve to make her feel better.

And we can thank the likes of Donald Wildmon for this.

(I'm not even going to be snarky about Sullivan's reaction to the film as a whole. I won't. Honest.)

ID, Down for the Count:

My regular correspondent JP at Aces Full of Links noted a very interesting thing about the decision in Kitzmiller (the Pennsylvania ID case). There's a thing called the "Wedge Document" developed by the Discovery Institute's Center for Renewal of Science and Culture (and I just love the way the Christianists twist the language; Goebbels would be proud). Science certainly isn't going to be renewed by these jerks. From the opinion:

"the IDM’s "Governing Goals" are to "defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies" and "to replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God."

The point being, of course, that without scientific materialism, you have no science. But then, I guess if you already know everything about the universe, you don't need it.

The idea that science can somehow destroy morality still comes up a blank. Granted, many scientists are atheists, but anyone who's been reading my posts (in their various guises) knows that I don't think religious motivation is a necessity for moral behavior. Science itself is value-neutral in that regard. It has no morality of its own. Morality is what human beings bring to their endeavors, not something that is intrinsic to the endeavors themselves. And, last time I checked, being godless in this country was still legal. Perhaps the fundie wackos should spend some time thinking about what their morals are based on and how they can become better people (which in my universe means being willing to live and let live).

Group Sex is OK:

Interesting story from Canada: sex clubs are not illegal. In other words, if they're doing it in private, butt out.

Bath houses and swingers clubs which feature consenting adults cavorting in twosomes, threesomes and moresomes, are legal, the Supreme Court of Canada said Wednesday.

In a major decision, the court re-wrote the definition of indecency to use harm, rather than community standards, as the key yardstick.

The 7-2 majority ruling, written by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, said indecent acts must be shown to be harmful to the point where they ``interfere with the proper functioning of society.''

Public sex would meet the test of indecency, but orgies and partner swapping among like-minded adults in private don't, McLachlin wrote.

. . .

Bastarache and LeBel wrote that harm should not be the main ingredient in determining indecency.

``We are convinced that this new approach strips of all relevance the social values that the Canadian community as a whole believes should be protected.''

The problem with this approach arises when you have mutually exclusive "social values." If they are anything like their American counterparts, I'm sure the dissenting justices are referring to those things that fall under the rubric of that "public morality" that they can't seem to define. Ironically, they fall back on a standard that the right holds in contempt when the PC left cites it: offense. I guess it must depend wholly on who is being offended. The more substantive issue is what social values are to take precedence? It seems to me that the overriding social value, both in Canada and the U.S., is personal autonomy within the framework of the common good. I find in the quote from the dissenting opinion a distressing hint that that particular ideal should give way, on a case-by-case basis, to upholding imposed sectarian moral dicta, which are by no means universal, particularly within societies as diverse as those in North America.

I get so tired of dealing with these effing dinosaurs who can't deal with reality. Not that I have to deal with them personally -- if that were the case, I'd just ignore them, which is what I do anyway. It's when they insert themselves and their "beliefs" into positions in which they can screw up the rest of us that I start to get irritated. About all I can think of at that point is to fire off a letter to the effect "Hey shit-for-brains -- why don't you go over to WalMart and get a life?"

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


There was one more massive post on Brokeback. It's just below. No more long ones. Maybe.


Y'know how, after you see a movie or read a book or anything like that, after a while it sort of recedes and you put it in perspective? The opposite seems to be happening with me with Brokeback Mountain. Or maybe not: when I left the theater, like most of the audience I didn't have much to say. I was thinking that it was just the impact of the movie and I needed time to digest it, but I'm having the opposite reaction to what I expected. I seem to be getting closer in, rather than farther away. Maybe it's just emotional trauma -- I won't deny that the film hit me really hard, for a lot of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with the film and which I'm not going to discuss here, except to note that one of the things a work of art in any medium should do is connect with your own experience. Brokeback does, at least for me. In 1963 I was only a couple of years younger than Jack and Ennis are when the story starts; my small Midwestern town was, while not potentially as violent about homosexuality as the West, not what you'd call sympathetic. And I was in love for the first time and couldn't tell anyone -- especially the boy I was in love with.

Distance plays a role in the impact of this movie, big-time, if only because of the way it removes it. As audience, we are more-or-less used to maintaining some separation from whatever it is we are seeing. That's part of the effect of art, it seems: It's a little bit removed from us so that we can absorb the ideas it presents with some mediation -- ideally. Perversely, we place higher value on a work that diminishes that separation. That's why, thinking on my reaction, I start to realize that I'm like someone recovering from a severe emotional trauma: first the emotional numbness, then as it fades, the obsession about the events of the trauma -- in this case the constant replay of scenes from the movie -- the ability to feel pain again, and eventually, I hope, the distance. (I had, now that I think of it, a similar but less extreme reaction to the story. Film is, indeed, much more immediate than the printed page.)

Of course, part of this effect is tied into our own emotional histories. I think any gay man over forty is going to have a reaction similar to mine. I suspect that younger men will not understand the need for secrecy, not on a gut level, unless they grew up someplace that's still back in the 60s. I think this is where straight men and women are not going to connect -- they've never had to hide like that, they've never been in a situation where the most important thing in their life had to be kept secret. I think they will have a reaction, the same way they react to Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story or Tristan und Isolde -- doomed love, for whatever reasons it's doomed, has a great appeal -- but it's not going to be the same kind of reaction.

A slight tangent, but not really -- Spencer Windes made that comment about the power men have over each other -- power over each other, and to my thinking, power with each other. Each variety of love has its own unique qualities, and men, especially the way we train them here, create something that's at the same time awkward, intense, sometimes brutal, while at the same time holding the possibility of infinite tenderness and caring, while remaining mostly inarticulate. That's the impact of Ennis del Mar for me. As verbal and articulate as I am, I hit places where words fail (and that's one of the big ones, loving someone). A thought about that: I wonder if, like me, even very articulate men tend to try to make the spaces around the words do the work, using the words as steering points. Maybe that why we, as a group, are so physical: words don’t work for us very well.

But what we make together, as men, is something that is not really obviously delineated in the movie, or in the story, but it's something that's there. Maybe that's why this story couldn't be placed anywhere but in the High Country of Wyoming: it's a merciless place with the kind of poetry in it that no one has really managed to capture very well, intensely spiritual, as Spencer pointed out in his essay about the movie and being raised a Mormon. It seems that no one except some gay men worry about gay men and spirituality -- in fact, from the rabids (and I number the current pope among those) we hear a great deal about how intrinsically sinful we are, when so many other cultures have recognized us as having a special and unique kind of spiritual power. Maybe that means they are worried about it after all, even if not in the sense that I meant. "Frightened" is probably the word I'm looking for: our power is a threat to their power, and they are, after all, about power, not about belief.

I think this comes back in a way to what I said about who gets to define who we are, which is one of the central themes of Brokeback Mountain as I see it. Jack and Ennis have a chance for something very strong, very good, and very beautiful, but because he's accepted the way the world has defined him. Ennis cannot take it in his grasp. That's really what the Wildmons of the world want for us: never to become what we can be. Maybe that's a goal for us: to bring that power, that spirit to our lives and our relationships with each other. Spencer's point at the end of his Mormon essay is a good one, I think -- they had the chance to share that moment on the mountain -- but placed against what their life together could have been, living that moment every day, it's a poor second.

Being Random


OK -- the info dump is over. I just wanted to get those posts on Brokeback Mountain revised and moved over here to inaugurate the new site. For further reading on the movie by some people who are thinking deep thoughts (and in some cases amazingly similar to my deep thoughts), check out particularly cabanaboyscoot, Left Coast Breakdown (including this exchange on place), and towleroad. (This is by way of getting you to notice my new links area to the right.) However, do remember the tandem posts at Hunter's Eye.

The Scientific Evidence for ID:

I wanted to present a post on the scientific evidence for Intelligent Design, but I found the opinion on Kitzmiller, et al. vs. Dover Area School Board, et al. It's 139 pages and it's in PDF format, but you can handle that. Can't you? Besides, it's much more interesting than a blank post.

A few choice quotes, courtesy of Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly (no link -- this is most of the post):

First, while encouraging students to keep an open mind and explore alternatives to evolution, [the Board's disclaimer] offers no scientific alternative; instead, the only alternative offered is an inherently religious one, namely, ID.

....The citizens of the Dover area were poorly served by the members of the Board who voted for the ID Policy. It is ironic that several of these individuals, who so staunchly and proudly touted their religious convictions in public, would time and again lie to cover their tracks and disguise the real purpose behind the ID Policy.

....Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board's decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

Since eight of the Board members who voted for the ID policy have been booted out of office, I would guess the Board will not appeal.

Offhand, I'd say the Kansas School Board is in serious trouble. Again.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

From the Personal to the Universal

"The nature of this love was so rugged and hostile and also was so beautifully encompassing and grand and powerful," Tracy Lamb said, "just like the environments they were in."

I devote a paragraph in the Green Man Review piece to the role of the land. There have been a couple of comments about the cinematography in Brokeback Mountain, some to the effect that it is too "pretty." To each his own, I guess. Take the landscape as a metaphor for the love between Ennis and Jack. Pretty? No. Beautiful, with a hard-edged, elemental, uncompromising beauty that we seldom encounter. It's a passionate landscape, if one can ascribe that sort of feeling to geologic processes.

Spencer Windes at Left Coast Breakdown was kind enough to mention my last post on Brokedown Mountain, and he brought up a point that I only touched on: men have power over each other. The quote above actually comes closer to my feelings about that: we have power with each other. What we have, if we are dogged and stubborn and lucky enough to build a stable relationship, is something that is unique. We find the soft places in each other and if we are the men we should be, we shelter those soft places for each other, guard them with all our strength -- we can feel deeply, powerfully, and we can focus that feeling on each other. That's passion. That's the driving force behind anything that any of us has made that has any pretense at being "great." It's also something that can orient our lives. It's also what I saw in the movie between Jack and Ennis. They didn't have a vocabulary to articulate their feelings, but their physical resources were not only turned to violence and sex, but also to tenderness and gentleness. There are any number of layers to the politics of that, and I've barely skimmed the surface.

First of course, and most apparent in the movie, are the personal politics, the ways we reach consensus on what our relationships are to be. In the film of Brokeback Mountain, Ennis can't accommodate Jack's dreams; there is a deep fear there, not only of their probable fates, but also of losing what little sense of himself he has. He doesn't recognize the possibility of creating a new self. Jack makes the major concessions, and very quietly finds other ways to satisfy his needs, which are more than Ennis can allow himself to recognize. (I just had a lengthy discussion with a friend who felt that Jack had given up on Ennis and found his relationship with another man; I can't really see it. I think Jack was making do, and that his feelings for Ennis were so deep that they could never be lost.) Their negotiations are largely unspoken, except for one angry scene, and really take a form that most of us will recognize, once it's pointed out to us. It's those nuances we pick up from each other when we're closely in touch.

In a larger dimension, the necessary personal politics between Ennis and Jack are a result of the overriding social politics of their context: admitting to that kind of love is a death sentence. I find it very difficult to understand that, because I've lived in a fairly sheltered environment, at least since I came of age and started making an independent life. (When I was younger, I at least had the sense not to publicize my feelings; there are times and places where getting in touch with yourself and expressing what you feel is a big mistake.) A career in the arts, a liberal and supportive milieu -- but don't ever think it's really that liberal. There is tolerance with a fair, although variable, degree of indulgent condescension: yes, of course it's OK and I have no problem with it, with the ever-present subtext "but you're not a real man." (And when their own sons come out, watch the panic. Sometimes, to be sure, the panic is simply because they love their children and know what they're in for. This is not by any means a universal reaction, but I endured it enough to recognize it as a majority position.) I want those people to see this movie, and really look at it hard. They won't. They'll just be even more comfortable with their attitudes, because they won't see what they really are. It's perfectly safe for them: it's only a movie.

It's this not seeing that is at the root of the larger political rumblings. I've forced myself to read some of the articles put out by the Christianist press, and even those that recognize the validity of the film (which so far are in the minority of those I've seen) see it through a moral filter that I still can't recognize as any sort of true morality, made even more troubling by their complete inability to recognize the role that they and those like them played in creating this tragedy. The most common remark has been how this "perversion" shows how families are ruined by the illicit adultery of the two men. It obviously hasn't occurred to them that without their condemnation, Jack and Ennis would have been free to settle down together and there would have been no wives to be cheated on. If there is blame, they are holding it in their cold, cold hands.

I can't claim to be sympathetic to Christianity, at least to its most vocal proponents. It, like the other Abrahamic faiths, is built on hierarchy. Hierarchies are about social control: they are a political function, pure and simple. Historically, of course, in the age of god-kings and then priest-kings, the roles were folded together. (And apparently we are seeing an attempt to reinstate that condition.) The morality here is a set of rules, and fairly arbitrary ones, set up to define a particular culture in a particular cultural matrix: strongly patriarchal, women and children are property, authority is unquestioned. Mmm . . . I don't respond well to authority.

It seems to me that Christianity, particularly in its most aggressive forms, can't really be sympathetic to a pluralistic, democratic society: the cards are stacked against it. (I suspect that the same holds true of Islam; Judaism is not a proselytizing religion, and so Jews find it much easier just to let everyone else go to hell in their own way.) In the form of the Christianists, of course, it's been perverted as a means to political power -- the sort of regime that Hammurabi would be proud of. That sort of mindset just doesn't lend itself to much in the way of individual freedom. It relies on received wisdom and discourages inquiry. Even those who give their hearts wholeheartedly to the real lessons of Christ carry within them the sure knowledge that they are right and everyone else is wrong. For the more virulent examples, it devolves down to my earlier remarks about communication: if they won't hear you, you can't talk to them. And they won't see what's in front of them, which in this case means something beautiful and precious.

This may not seem to be about the movie, but it is.

Identity: Subverting the Archetypes

There are interviews with both Heath Ledger and Ang Lee in this week's Windy City Times (vol. 21, no. 15, December 14, 2005). In the piece with Lee, the interviewer, Richard Knight, Jr., makes the comment that he (meaning "we") wants to own the film. I can understand that -- I want some ownership here, too, but I think making that attempt would be a mistake, in a way. In a big way. I don't think the community (and by that I don't mean the alphabet soup that calls itself "the community," I mean specifically gay men, who once had a community and a culture of their own) should fall in with what the media have christened the film: it's not a "gay" movie except in the most rudimentary sense -- the lovers are both men. "Gay" means a lot more than that, and in this instance that's the crux of the whole thing: these men are not "gay" in the sense that they are participants in any cultural or even personal identity that bears that label. In fact, a major part of the power and depth of the story is that they reject that identity. They are just men who fall in love with each other, which is actually, I suspect, much more the way things were before nineteenth-century psychologists decided that "homosexual" was not only a pattern of behavior but a personality type. (I think that the current attempts to identify Lincoln, Washington, etc. as "gay" are missing the point entirely, and the energy would be better spent debunking the whole mythology of "personality types" and specifically the idea of a "gay" identity as anything other than a cultural phenomenon, developed, I think, much more as a defense against a hostile society than as an outgrowth of a specific pattern of personality. One might as well say that "Jewish" or "Black" identified a personality type outside of participation in a distinct subculture. I can certainly understand the urge, but think about it a minute. Our credibility starts to go down the toilet.)

So, it's not a gay story. It's a story, more than anything, about men. I'm making no guesses as to whether Proulx put that there deliberately (and actually, after running across that quote from her about Ennis and Jack that I put in the last post, I more than suspect she did), but that's what I found, after thinking about it a while. Like all good stories, it tells about men by telling about two specific men, and if you can pull yourself past the fact that they are two men who love each other (and that's a whole topic in itself), perhaps you can start to see the larger story about what we have done to men (and, insofar as men can be blamed for our culture, which I don't take as a settled question, what men have done to themselves.) It's the inarticulateness, the necessary recourse to physical means of expression, the inability even to identify feelings -- it's an American icon, the Marlboro Man (who, incidentally, was gay -- at least the actor who portrayed him was). It's lacking the resources to identify yourself. This is not something that has to do with sexual orientation. It's the traditional male role in America, the strong silent type. (I have to admit to a particular weakness for that type, since I don't really like to talk much myself. I do insist, however, that he have some means of expressing himself other than a left hook.)

That's the up side of the liberalization of attitudes that has been happening over the past couple of generations, giving people the means to identify themselves in some way that means something to them. We can make jokes about it, but if you can't come up with an identity and a context that mean something to you, what have you got? And if, like Ennis, we are forced to identify ourselves by someone else's criteria, all we can expect is heartache, that nagging suspicion that our lives have been wasted. It's really become an expectation, I think, that we have a certain freedom to determine who we are and that no one has the right to abrogate that freedom.

There are, of course, potent forces in American society today who want nothing more than that very abrogation, to make sure the only means we have for self-identification are the definitions they provide. Hence the ludicrous quote that I posted from the Focus on the Family article. (I'll say it again: not only did he not get it, he didn't want to get it, he had no intention of getting it, because it conflicts with his preconceptions, which I consider really warped to begin with.) I realize that I'm about to lose my liberal, politically correct credentials here (what tatters of them are left), but I can't think of any way that anyone can convince me that the likes of Donald Wildmon and the rest of the rabid right are hitting on all cylinders. They're shrewd, resourceful, and very clever, but they're crazy, which is what you call anyone who is trying to impose their subjective reality on the collective reality that we've all worked out together. That collective reality, the consensus-in-the-making, is that gay men also deserve recognition of their humanity and that an intrinsic part of that humanity is their sexuality. That's one reason that it's so important that this movie not be seen as a "gay movie." It's not, really, it has none of those cultural tags, it's a story that quite explicitly rejects that identification, and one big mistake that I think a lot of commentators are making is to accept that terminology without examination. We really need for it to be seen as a universal movie -- think about it for a second.

We're not only men (speaking from myself as a more-or-less representative example of that group), but we're human beings. I recently had a coworker comment to me that there is universality here for anyone who has ever felt deeply toward someone and found external obstacles that precluded developing any sort of real relationship. In her case it was Mexican-American co-ed meets Scotch-Irish boy who couldn't get past his upbringing to meet her as an individual human being. In the context of this movie, does that sound about right? We need something that is going to pull us, as a category, out of the PC window-dressing area and into the thick of the human mix.

So what about straight men? Aside from their being a category at porn sites, what about them? I know straight men who are going to be able to see Brokeback Mountain and understand it very, very well. I also know straight men who are not going to be able to get far enough past their own insecurities that they will be able to see what the movie is saying. So what else is new? (The downside of marketing to target audiences is that they're never monolithic. I suppose it works well enough, though.)

Perhaps part of my take on this (OK -- a big part of my take, the very foundation of my take) is that I see this kind of romance as perfectly normal. Two men fall in love -- what could be more unremarkable? It should be unremarkable. Maybe someday it will be.

"Getting It": First Thoughts on the Politics of Brokeback Mountain

I'm starting this new site off by revising and reposting my previous thoughts on the politics of Brokeback Mountain. I may interweave some of the other comments I've made on the movie from the Writer's Blog at Hunter's Eye. Bear with me.

There is, inescapably, a political message to Brokeback Mountain. Releasing that movie at this time has to be taken as a political act, not because it's a "gay" movie (on which question I'm reserving judgment, although I suspect it's "gay" only in the most rudimentary sense), but because of the way it subverts the whole discourse on gay. A lot has been written about the frontal assault on stereotypes, and the way that Jack and Ennis are, ultimately, dead ringers for any straight guy you want to pick. In that sense, I see it as a tremendously positive force: the message is simply that gay men are just like anyone else in all respects that really matter.

It was enlightening to see some comments by "real" cowboys in that regard, from "Good Morning America":

What do real cowboys think? To find the answer, "Good Morning AmericaWeekend Edition" traveled to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.

Seven-time world champion cowboy Ty Murray, who is straight, actually welcomes the movie.

"I think it's something that's now just being more understood," Murray said. "Hopefully, this movie helps people further understand it."

. . .

Although people don't readily think of gay cowboys, one woman at the trade show said, "You have to kind of look past that and see what the whole story is about."

There's a deeper meaning here, too, that is in a way also political, but leads also to the personal, that I think Lee's comment (as noted in my Writer's Blog entry at Hunter's Eye) about the fact that Jack and Ennis don't recognize love and so spend the next twenty years trying to get a grip on it encapsulates very nicely. That, I think, cuts two ways, and is a critical point in any dialogue that might go on (and for thoughts about that issue, scroll down a bit). I think, in the face of both the movie and the story, we all have to recognize that love is not subject to outside definition. Most of us can understand that in the abstract, but when it comes to actualities, we get a little lost. The story brings that home, even as it points up the nightmare of falling into something like what Jack and Ennis fall into and not having any framework to hang it on. Ennis can't say to himself that he loves Jack -- the concept is completely missing from his arsenal.

Annie Proulx, who wrote the original story, came out with a comment very close to a couple that I have made about Ennis and Jack, as quoted in NYT:

In an interview in a Wyoming newspaper, Annie Proulx, who wrote the original story on which the Ang Lee film is based, corrected the common misconception about her two characters. "Excuse me," said Ms. Proulx, "but it is not a story about 'two cowboys.' It is a story about two inarticulate, confused Wyoming ranch kids in 1963 who have left home and who find themselves in a personal sexual situation they did not expect, understand nor can manage." Jack and Ennis are not cowboys (if anything the two are shepherds), but they are, in Ms. Proulx's resonant words, "beguiled by the cowboy myth."

She also says that the adaptation of the story was a perfect fit. If so, I think that people will come away from it with some new thoughts -- hell, I have new thoughts after reading the story, and I've been living this one for my entire life, although I at least had the option of leaving an environment in which I didn't exist in any recognizable form and finding a vocabulary and context. They didn't fit very well, but at least I had something to work with. It will lead in some quarters to dialogue. In other quarters, unfortunately, it won't, because in those quarters, no dialogue is possible.

To have a dialogue you have to speak the same language, and that is something that is no longer true in public discourse in America as molded by the Christianists. I take it as a fundamental unwillingness to accept any possibility of compromise, not to mention a complete disdain for objective reality. From Focus on the Family:

"If you're not looking at this through the eyes of someone caught up in the 'love affair' between these two men," Baehr said, "then the movie appears to be twisted, laughable, frustrating and boring Neo-Marxist homosexual propaganda."

If you approach anything from a closed mindset, you will have pretty much the same reaction -- approaching that remark from my mindset, you wind up with "twisted, laughable, frustrating and boring Neo-Fascist heterosupremacist progaganda." ("Neo-Marxist"? Excuse me? That must have been thrown in just in case someone wasn't already angry and paranoid enough. Can't have enough buzzwords, after all. And, given the comment about "anger strategies" later in this article, it becomes part of an obvious and quite cynical strategy.) At any rate, the commentator gives it all away in the quote above: he doesn't get it, and what's more, he has no desire to get it. It is not in his world view and is therefore, a priori and without examination, bad. (I find it highly instructive that FoF's website has no way for you to contact them, except to get a subscription to regular distortions.)

And frankly, in the quote that follows, take a look at the tactics: claiming responsibility, even in a negative way, for results (I'm reminded of the American Family Association's Donald Wildmon claiming success for their nine-year boycott of Disney, during which Disney had record revenues, not to mention the demands for payback from the preznit because, after all, it was the Christianists who gave him the election; I rather thought it was Diebold); the demonization of "Hollywood," which has somehow become a monolithic entity bent on destroying America; the deliberate call to use Christianist followers as a weapon, but very carefully, since it backfired last time (the fact that it usually backfires hasn't quite penetrated; I don't know that it ever will); the claim, implicit, to speak for all Christians (they don't even speak for all evangelicals).

It's important to let people know the truth about this film, according to Dick Rolfe of the Dove Foundation, but evangelicals shouldn't overreact. Hollywood would love to see Christians object to "Brokeback Mountain" the same way they did to "The Last Temptation of Christ."

"If Christians protest too loudly," he said, "they can end up making the mistake of calling attention to a movie that otherwise may not do very well at the box office."

That's exactly what happened with "The Last Temptation of Christ," a blasphemous film which was protested in the 1980s.

"Any success that that movie had at the box office," Rolfe said, "has been attributed to the amount of attention and protesting that Christians did exhibit toward the film. So we have to be very careful not use our anger strategies to a point where they boomerang on us."

Horse's ass -- of course if you make a stink about something, people are going to want to smell it for themselves. Not everyone believes your crap.

(By the way, given the emphasis on "it will flop if we ignore it" in the FoF propaganda, it's worth noting this, from Box Office Guru:

Exploding in platform release with one of the most spectacular grosses ever seen for a limited release bow was Ang Lee's cowboy love story Brokeback Mountain which debuted in only five cinemas but grossed an estimated $545,000 for a jaw-dropping $108,910 average per theater. The Heath Ledger-Jake Gyllenhaal drama has been showered with praise by critics and is already one of the top contenders for the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, and other prestigious prizes. This weekend, it was selected by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association as the best picture of the year with Lee also winning the director's trophy..)

They either have a completely inflated sense of their own importance, which assumes a shaky hold on reality, or they are -- how shall I put it? -- deliberate liars.

Thinking back on the reaction so far from the Christianists to Brokeback Mountain (the movie; I wonder indeed how many, if any, have read the story), to their repeated attempts to discredit Darwinism, trying to "take back" Christmas (and who else, after all, wants it?), their general assault on anything that smacks of independent thinking, there is only one possible conclusion: there is no hope of dialogue here. I hope the movie troubles people like Wildmon and his ilk, but it won't trouble them in any constructive way, won't make them think anything new, because they will reject it out of hand without ever seeing what's actually there. As a reviewer of books and music, I come to each new work with the idea that there are certain general forms that will most likely be adhered to, there are, in a very general way, certain expectations that are justified in terms of formal considerations, but the treatment, content, world view are not something I get to dictate. I can accept them or reject them, but I need to try to understand them if I am to maintain any visible integrity. That attitude obviously is not in play with the likes of FoF. Officially, at least, new thoughts are not part of the recipe. But then, from all available evidence, neither are compassion, generosity, charity, tolerance, simple humanity, or anything else that Jesus taught.

The historical parallel that keeps coming to mind in all this is Dmitri Shostakovich, who elected to stay in Russia and to try to please the Stalin regime, with lamentable results. (It's interesting to note that his chamber music, which did not receive widespread exposure in the USSR, is in general far superior to his symphonies.) In fact, look at Soviet art in general, or the art under any authoritarian regime: art in the service of ideology, banned if it strays outside the strictly defined bounds of acceptability, and if it does stay within those bounds, excrutiatingly boring and empty. That is really what the Christianists are trying to do here. Think about this the next time some "Christian" demands that a book be removed from the school library.

C. J. Cherryh, in The Chanur Saga, says "Don't shoot at something you can't talk to." It seems to me that if the something in question not only refuses to hear you, but is determined enough and aggressive enough to bend all its efforts toward destroying you, you have no other choice.

More on Brokeback Mountain:

Here are some of Spencer Windes' comments from Left Coast Breakdown, and a sensitive and thoughtful essay on his reaction as a gay Mormon

Andy Towle at Towleroad has extensive coverage, updated frequently.

And some screencaps, from which comes the image at the head of this post (when I figure out posting photos).

My own first reaction to the story is in the Writer's Blog at Hunter's Eye.

Like everything else in my life, my blog is under construction. Actually, we're moving: Scalpel, at http://home.earthlink.net, is moving to Blogspot and becoming, once again, Hunter at Random. Expect everything to change here, several times.

As soon as I figure it all out, I'll be moving my most recent posts, about Brokeback Mountain, over here.

Until then, dos vedanya.