I Just Called To Say I Love You

How was your Thanksgiving? Ours was rather lovely; we had our deep dish pizza and a lovely visit with our friend Lisa; then Paul and I watched three movies on Netflix: Fourth Man Out, Closet Monster, and Handsome Devil. We also watched another episode of a Hulu original series, Future Man; which we had given one more episode to get better. And the fourth episode definitely delivered. We laughed a lot all the way through it; and it finally started delivering on its premise.

The three movies were all gay films, which we generally don’t watch very often. I know I should be supportive of gay films, but so often they’re aren’t very good–or at least that used to be the case. When a major studio makes one (Philadelphia, In and Out, To Wong Foo, etc.) they’re awful; indies always mean well but don’t have the budget to really do them well or cast good actors, so we stopped watching them a long time ago. Every so often, a film like Beautiful Thing or Latter Days will come along, but still, fairly rare. My incredibly cynical self is very pleased to say that the three films we watched yesterday were enjoyable in varying degrees, which also makes me tend to think that perhaps we should watch more gay cinema. And really, isn’t mainstream film always a crapshoot, too?

Fourth Man Out was the first movie we watched; its about a group of four guys who’ve been best friends since they were kids and then one of them comes out to the others. It was a comedy, so the coming out was handled in a comedic fashion; the friends were a little taken aback, and then there was some awkwardness about what you can or can’t say around your gay friend which was sweet and kind of cute. The gay character was a mechanic, so there was a sense to me of ‘see, a gay guy can be just a regular guy’ about the movie which was well-intentioned but…the really charming part of the movie was watching the friends try to help him navigate the gay dating world, and there was a really charming scene where they take him to his first gay bar. And the ‘meeting someone from on-line’ trope was treated as comedy (and who hasn’t met someone whose picture wasn’t them?) and there were some moments that I thought might have been in questionable taste–but overall the film was charming. The lead, gay Adam, was played by Evan Todd, who’s very good-looking:

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His best friend, Chris–and their relationship/chemistry was quite charming, was played by the impossibly good-looking Parker Young:

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Another one of the guys was played by Glee’s Chord Overstreet, almost recognizable in a heavy beard. But the movie’s true charm was the relationship between Adam and Chris; how they learn from each other and grow and finally find their perfect matches because of their friendship.

Closet Monster starred Connor Jessup from American Crime, who is an appealing and talented young actor I would pretty much watch in anything.

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This movie was apparently very popular on the indie art film festival circuit and won lots of awards; for me, it was the weakest of the three and were it not for Connor Jessup, we would have probably stopped watching. As a little boy, around the time his parents broke up in a very nasty and volatile break-up, young Oscar witnessed a violent hate crime against a gay teenager–and that, plus the divorce, have been deeply internalized and traumatized him as he comes of age as a gay teenager with an interest in horror movies and a desire to become a make-up artist for horror films. He’s applied to the best school for this in New York, and cannot wait to get away from this awful town he lives in. He’s desperately unhappy–who can’t relate to that–with big dreams, and is developing a crush on another boy he works with at a Home Depot type store. Wilder, played by Aliocha Schneider, is coolly confident in himself and tries to draw Oscar out of his own shell, with some success.

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The point of the movie is ultimately that Oscar needs to stop spinning his wheels and move in a positive direction in his life; and it does eventually get there after a bizarre costume party where he has his first sexual experience with a stranger and comes to terms with his feelings for his mother; his relationship with his father remains unresolved. But it was an arty film; Oscar’s hamster speaks to him in Isabella Rossellini’s voice–he got the hamster originally the day his mother left his father so it symbolizes the last time he was happy; and there’s a lot of moments where the director slaps the viewer in the face with his symbolism and hidden depths. There are some gorgeous shots, particularly at the end, but there are also some serious plot holes. But as I said, Connor Jessup is a very talented and appealing young actor, and he carries the entire movie.

The last film we watched, Handsome Devil, was by far and away the best of the three. Set in an Irish boarding school obsessed with its rugby team, it’s from the point of view of young Ned, who is bullied by his schoolmates in no small part because he doesn’t care about rugby and doesn’t fit in; he is played charmingly by Fionn O’Shea. He comes back to school against his will–his father and stepmother live in Dubai and for some reason he can’t live with them there; it’s kind of implied that he’s an inconvenience for them. He’s delighted when he gets to school to find out he’s got a single room and won’t be sharing. There’s also a really funny sequence where he talks about his English teacher; he simply turns in the lyrics to old songs for papers and get’s A’s; the song that is handed back to him with an A written on it to illustrate this voice over is Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Walk Side,” which is hilarious if you know the words.

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But he winds up with a roommate after all, Connor. Connor can’t go back to his old school–he was kicked out for ‘fighting’–AND it turns out Connor is a great rugby player; the long-missing piece for the school’s team which will make them champions. Ned reacts by moving all of their furniture to the center of the room, kind of forming a Berlin wall. They also have a new English teacher this term, Mr. Sherry, who is played by Sherlock’s Andrew Scott. Mr. Sherry, and his class, reminded me of Dead Poets’ Society, and I don’t think that was accidental. But Ned and Connor slowly become friends–Connor is Ned’s first friend, really–and of course there’s the requisite homophobia (they all treat Ned like he’s gay, but we never really know for sure) and obstacles for the boys to face before the film’s end. This movie is really charming, and is about friendship, and has some absolutely lovely moments. O’Shea is fantastic as Ned, and you can’t help but root for him as he learns who he is and what being a friend really means; Nicholas Galitzine plays Connor and does a fine job with a less complex part; but the chemistry between the two boys is terrific. I highly recommend this movie.

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It was also highly educational to watch these films, and it also made me realize that I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to gay-themed films; I should probably watch more of them in the future–and I think I’m going to. Watching these movies reminded me of the kinds of novels Kensington used to publish after the turn of the century; particularly the novels of Timothy James Beck. I miss those novels, and Kensington did a great job of finding and publishing fun gay-themed novels in those days. I was one of Kensington’s authors; Kensington was where the first three Scotty books were published, and pulling together the Scotty Bible has also put me in mind of those days again. Kensington first published Rob Byrnes,  and also those wonderful novels by Michael Thomas Ford. Kensington was also home to William J. Mann’s fiction, from The Biograph Girl to The Men from the Boys, All-American Boy, and several others; Kensington also published Andrew Beierle’s The Winter of Our Discotheque, which remains to this day one of my favorite gay novels.

Sigh.

And now back to the spice mines.

Allentown

I was so tired last night when I got home from work–and I worked a short day! After work yesterday, a friend and I went to lunch to a place on the corner of Tulane and Carrollton called Namese, and I had an enormous  bowl of beef pho, which was absolutely delicious. I was in the mood for noodles, and having never actually had pho before, was quite thrilled to try it, and it was amazing. I’ve been wanting to try pho since seeing a show on our local PBS channel, WYES, about the big Vietnamese community in New Orleans, and one of the things they talked about on the documentary was pho. I’d been wanting to try it ever since, and got my chance.

DAMN THAT WAS GOOD.

I’d known we have a big Vietnamese community in New Orleans for quite some time–most of them live in New Orleans East, and were devastated by the flooding after the levees failed back in 2005. Poppy Z. Brite wrote about that community in his brilliant (and deeply disturbing) Exquisite Corpse, doing it so well I never had the nerve to try to write about it myself. (Our first, and only,  Congressman from Orleans Parish was a Vietnamese; Joseph Cao, who defeated “Dollar Bill” Jefferson in the post-Katrina scandal created by the fifty thousand dollars in cash he had stored in his home freezer. Cao was born in Ho Chi Minh City (then called Saigon), and only served one term in Congress–but I liked Congressman Cao; he put New Orleans ahead of party, and I was sorry to see him go.

I have an idea for a noir involving the Vietnamese communities of the Gulf Coast that I hope to write some day. I’ve also been toying with an old idea for a horror novel that’s been dancing in my head for the last thirty years or so–I can tell that I am writing another book; my creativity always spikes when I am writing a book.

Honestly. One would think I could get that under control.

Anyway, I also finished reading Margaret Millar’s Do Evil in Return last night. It wasn’t the below edition I read, but rather one of the volumes of The Collected Millar; this volume also contains Fire Will Freeze, Experiment in Springtime, The Cannibal Heart, and Rose’s Last Summer. But I rather like that Gothic-style cover.

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The afternoon was still hot but the wind carried a threat of fog to come in the night. It slid in through the open window and with curious, insinuating fingers it pried into the corners of the reception room and lifted the skirt of Miss Schiller’s white uniform and explored the dark hair of the girl sitting by the door. The girl held a magazine in her lap but she wasn’t reading it; she was pleating the corners of the pages one by one.

“I don’t know if Dr. Keating will be able to see you,” Miss Schiller said. “It’s quite late.”

The girl coughed nervously. “I couldn’t get here any sooner. I–couldn’t find the office.”

“Oh. You’re a stranger in town?”

“Yes.”

“Were you referred to Dr. Keating by anyone?”

“Referred?”

“Did anyone send you?”

Margaret Millar is a treasure, and her work, despite now being dated because of societal and social changes, are worthy of not only being read by modern audiences but also deserving of study. She, along with Dorothy B. Hughes and Charlotte Armstrong, formed a triumvirate of strong women writing suspense novels featuring women protagonists that were the equal of anything written by male contemporaries; there were numerous other women doing the same, but these three had longer careers and are now being rediscovered, in part thanks to the diligent work of Sarah Weinman and Jeffrey Marks. Library of America has released a two-volume collection of works by great women writers of the time; Soho Crime is releasing thick volumes collecting all of Millar’s work, which I am happily acquiring. I read Armstrong when I was young, and loved her; I am in the process of working my way through the canons of both Millar and Hughes, as well as two other great women writers of the same period, the incomparable Patricia Highsmith and my personal hero, Daphne du Maurier.

Do Evil in Return, originally published in 1950, is ultimately a novel about how society and its hypocritical misogynistic treatment of women can destroy them. The main character of the novel, Dr. Charlotte Keating, is a strong, independent woman with a successful practice in a small California coastal town. She is both single and hard-working; owns her own car and her own home–no small feat for a woman in 1950–and the book opens with a young woman coming to her for help. The woman, Violet O’Gorman, is only twenty and married, but finds herself with a particular problem; estranged from her husband, she had a one-night stand with a married man which has left her pregnant, and she is desperate for an abortion, which of course was illegal in 1950. Dr. Keating–Charley to her friends–refuses to break the law and perform this service, but her heart goes out to her patient and wants to help her, but while distracted by a phone call doesn’t notice the girl slipping out of her office. With a local address her only clue as to how to find Violet, she goes looking for her…and soon finds herself wrapped up in a terrible string of events beyond control, a noose tightening around her own neck. For, like her patient, Charley herself is involved in a love affair with a married man–a platonic one, to be sure, for she refuses to become intimate with him as he is married–and the similarities she sees between herself and young Violet is part of what drives her. The following morning, Violet’s body washes ashore, an apparent suicide, according to the police but Charley herself isn’t so sure.

And of course, she is right.

Millar’s particular genius lies in how casually she lays out her cards; she never tells her reader straight out what’s going on, but allows it to unfurl naturally, leaving it to her reader to figure it out. When we meet Charley’s platonic lover, there is no mention of his being married–Millar simply talks about the stifling existence he has at home with Gwen. As the story continues the reader slowly realizes that Gwen is actually his wife, and she is also one of Charley’s patients. Charley has tried to foist Gwen off on other doctors, but hypochondriac Gwen refuses to see anyone else–and is incredibly needy, ringing Charley for help at all hours of the day or night. Charley’s own feelings for Gwen’s husband also aren’t that simple; and in 1950 divorces weren’t as easy to obtain as they are today.

Perhaps the strongest part of the book is how Millar clearly depicts how claustrophobic a woman’s world was in 1950, and the delicate balance a single, independent professional woman had to maintain. Exposure of the relationship would ruin Charley, both personally and professionally; just as Violet’s unexpected pregnancy has ruined her. Society’s expectations of women, and their sexuality, are the true villains, the true evil in this novel; and the realization that this world Millar so brilliantly depicts was only sixty-seven years ago is truly chilling.

I think this book would be excellent reading for a Women’s Studies course; to let young women know how truly awful and misogynistic society was not so long ago, as a reminder to everyone today how far women have come in a short period of time, and how hard they fought to get to where they are today.

 

Shame on the Moon

I have, as an almost fifty-six year old gay man, witnessed some history throughout the course of my over half a century on this planet. When I was young, I used to hear about the great wisdom you acquire with age; I’m still waiting for that to happen. I remember when Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were shot; I remember the Tet offensive and when the first man walked on the moon. I remember the Watergate break-in, the scandal that followed, and how a newspaper toppled a corrupt presidency that was abusing its power. I remember the Iranian revolution and the taking of American hostage in the embassy in Teheran; I remember the slaughter of Israeli athletes in the Olympic Village in Munich. I remember watching my gay brethren die from AIDS while the political establishment laughed and made jokes about the right people dying; and I remember the Towers falling that beautiful September day in 2001. I watched CNN non-stop while a military coalition liberated Kuwait,  when the Berlin Wall fell,  when Communism in eastern Europe collapsed.

There have been times in my life when I’ve shaken my head over the actions of my government, the ruling of our courts, and at legislation debated and passed by Congress.

But never did I imagine, in my wildest dreams, that I would bear witness to Nazis marching with torches in a college town in support of white supremacy, bigotry, anti-semitism, racism, misogyny, and homophobia in the United States of America in 2017–or that scores of people would be defending them.

Have I been a good ally to the oppressed people of this nation? I don’t know, but I tend to doubt it. I tend to focus, as most people do, on my own rights and that of my community; I’ve spent most of my adult life fighting for my rights as a gay man but have always advocated for people of color and women, because I do recognize that the oppression of one is the oppression of all; that none of us are truly equal until we are all equal. I’ve studied history; I’ve studied civics; I’ve studied the Constitution. The entire point of learning and studying is history is to learn from the mistakes of the past so as not to repeat them.

Sinclair Lewis was an extraordinary social critic and fiction writer who probably isn’t remembered, and studied, as much as he should be in this modern day.  I’ve not read enough of Lewis; most of his canon remains, sadly, unread by me. But I did read Elmer Gantry about ten years ago, and was stunned by how true it was; and how it still applied in so many ways today. Shortly after that I read It Can’t Happen Here, which is one of his lesser known works and considered to be highly flawed in terms of being a novel. The point of the book, written and published in the 1930’s, was that so many Americans of the time didn’t believe what was going on in Italy and Germany could happen in the United States; Lewis, ever the social critic and commentarian, took that as a challenge and titled his book that, and wrote a novel detailing exactly how fascism could rise in the US and take over our government. It was chilling reading it, in the wake of some of the laws and executive orders passed in the wake of 9/11. I don’t really remember much of the story, frankly; the days when I could remember plots and characters and quotations from every book I read have long passed. But it is, I think, due for a reread.

We often wonder how the good German people allowed what happened there to happen. It is easy  for evil to persuade basically decent people to take its side, and how, when things are going well, incredibly easy it is for people to only look at the good and turn their heads away from the bad. The towns near the concentration camps, who claimed they didn’t know what was going on? Bitch, please. You never noticed the smell? You never wondered what that smell was? But, hey, I’m prospering and we don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from and how to keep the lights on, and aren’t the streets clean and the trains running on time? I don’t believe those stories we’re hearing about what’s happening to the Jews! And since they’ve been oppressed, look at how much better things are!

That’s how it happens, people.

I will do better. We all must do better. No one is free and equal until we are all free and equal.

In 2006 I was invited to speak at the Virginia Book Festival in Charlottesville. I was given a tour of the town and a tour of the University of Virginia campus; I was shown where Edgar Allan Poe lived when he was a student there and other landmarks. I was not only impressed with how beautiful the town and campus were, by how friendly and welcoming the people who lived there were. I always meant to go back again, to spend more time there–I didn’t get to see Monticello–and it was with horror that I watched the news over the weekend, seeing what was going on in the lovely little town I remembered, appalled and ashamed that this was being broadcast to the entire world.

This is unacceptable. The state of the union is unacceptable.

I have to do better. We all have to do better. As a nation we can do better by our most vulnerable citizens, and we must.

The eyes of history are on us.

Have you ever wondered what you would do if you’d been a German in the 1930’s? What you would do during the Civil Rights era of the 1950’s and 1960’s?

This is your chance to find out who you are as a human being and as an American.

This is Heather Heyer, who gave her life on Saturday to oppose evil. May she never be forgotten.

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Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

Tuesday morning, and my windows are covered in condensation. Nothing new there, of course, but at least I can see blue sky and sunshine through the beads of water. Perhaps today will be our first day this summer without rain? Stranger things have, of course, happened.

I got quite a bit done on the line edit yesterday; at some point I am going to have to input all of this work into the e-document, and I will be very curious to see how much I wind up cutting. As I go through the manuscript, line by line, I am amazed at how often I repeat myself, or how often an entire paragraph is simply a series of sentences saying the same thing only in different words. A very strong push this week, and I might actually have the entire line edit finished by the end of the weekend. It’s not very likely to happen, but there’s always a possibility. My friend Lisa will be in town later this week, and I am going to try to see her for at least a drink and perhaps dinner. I don’t see her enough as it is.

I also got some work done on the Scotty book yesterday as well. The story is starting to take shape in my mind, and I need to get a strong first chapter together before I can get going on the rest. I am trying to take what I can from the several different versions of a first chapter I’ve already started; I think I can make the whole thing come together–at any rate, that’s my goal for today. I hope to get at least two more chapters finished this week, if not more. I also want to revise a short story. It will, I suppose, depend on how much energy and how much time I have.

I am still processing Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones, “The Spoils of War,” and I also can’t stop thinking about Owen Matthews’ The Fixes. There’s an essay I’d like to write, about straight people writing gay characters that reading this book put into my mind, but it’s not really taking form and I am not really sure if it will–the curse of a creative imagination; too many ideas. But The Fixes is so incredibly well written and well done you’d never know that Owen Matthews himself isn’t gay; but really, if you have any experience whatsoever with alienation, you should be able to write believable gay characters; alienation is the key, now that I think about more deeply, and I wish I had thought of that before I taught my character building workshop at SinC Into Good Writing last September here in New Orleans.

Alienation, in fact, is a constant theme in Harlan Ellison’s oh-so-brilliant work.

Paul and I are thinking about going to see Dunkirk this weekend; whether we actually do or not remains to be seen. I have to work on Saturday, and as such my weekend shall be Sunday and Monday; having a Monday off will actually be rather lovely.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines before I head into the office.

Here’s a Tuesday hunk for you, Constant Reader:

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Baby, Come to Me

Yesterday was had a rather intense storm here in New Orleans; there was flash flooding all over the city, cars ruined, water inside buildings; that sort of thing. I don’t know if my street flooded or not (guess I’ll find out if my car got ruined tomorrow morning when I am ready to go to work), but we certainly were lucky and didn’t get water inside of our house. The rain is going to continue some today; there’s an advisory for everyone to stay inside and off the roads, just in case. We get these kinds of storms and flash floods every once in a while–the price of living in a low lying city surrounding by water where parts of the city used to be swamp and are now floodplains, and our pumping system tends to get overwhelmed when we get a lot of water in a short period of time. I’ve been caught out in these storms before, having to wade through water up to my hips at times. My car was flooded when I was on my way home from work the first year we lived here and I got caught in one of these storms. There’s no point in railing against these storms and short-term floods; they happen periodically and you have to deal with them, unfortunately. Last night was also supposed to be White Linen Night, an annual event every August in the Arts District where all the galleries serve food and alcohol, booths are set up on Julia and Magazine streets to sell food and drink, and people wearing white go from gallery to gallery looking at (and hopefully buying) art. Satchmo Fest was also this weekend; clearly, both annual events were cancelled yesterday because of the deluge. I ran my errands early–thank God–and so intended to spend the rest of my day inside and working on the line edit, doing some writing, and reading as well. I did no line editing and no writing yesterday; instead, I was caught up in the last half of Lyndsay Faye’s staggeringly brilliant The Gods of Gotham, and could not put it down until it was finished.

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When I set down the initial report, sitting at my desk at the Tombs, I wrote:

On the night of August 21, 1845, one of the children escaped.

Of all the sordid trials a New York City policeman faces every day, you wouldn’t expect the one I loathe most to be paperwork. But it is. I get snakes down my spine just thinking case files.

Seriously, is there anyone who enjoys paperwork?

The Gods of Gotham is the perfect historical crime novel. I’ve read a number of them, and there are some truly excellent ones (one of my favorite novels of all time is The Affair of the Blood-Stained Egg Cosy, set in the 1930’s), but I’ve also staggered my way through some seriously bad ones. But even with the bad ones, I always have tremendous respect for the writer for even trying; I can’t imagine trying, much as I love history, because there are so many gaps; so many things to research, from small to large, intricate intimate details that may be impossible to find out–or you might find them out when it’s too late. To be truly successful, a historical piece of fiction has to be completely immersive; the author has to bring that world to life but make the reader understand it and how it was to live in that period without giving in to the temptation to put everything you’ve researched into the book/story, aka hitting the reader over the head with a history lesson. Writing a convincing, involving story with characters the reader can identify with, appreciate, and root for, is hard enough without setting it in another time period.

Lyndsay Faye has managed this incredible juggling feat, and pulled it off with aplomb. The Gods of Gotham is set in New York City (obviously) in the late summer of 1845; when the city has newly created a police force, identified by the copper stars they wear (which, obviously, is where the slang term copper, and its derivative, cop, came from; this is clearly made obvious throughout the story without Faye stopping to explain; a lesser writer certainly would have made that egregious take-the-reader-out-of-the-story error). Our hero, Timothy Wilde, is a bartender when the story opens; his older brother, Valentine, is a good-time Charlie who likes to get wasted, frequents whorehouses, and also works as a fireman. The relationship between the brothers isn’t great; they lost their parents to a fire when they were children, and they butt heads alot. Valentine is also involved with the Democratic Party. After an enormous fire leaves Timothy jobless and homeless and broke, he rents a room from a widowed German baker, Mrs. Boehm, and is then pressured by his brother into becoming a copper star; a beat cop in the newly formed city police, which not everyone in the city wants or approves of. Soon, Timothy is wrapped up in a bizarre mystery involving a child prostitute he runs across one night; wandering the streets in a nightdress, covered in blood; and soon the investigation expands to involve a possible serial killer of child prostitutes. Politics, nativism, religious and ethnic and racial bigotry all play a part in this tale; as do sexism.

The truly great historical novels not only shine a bright light on the past, but thematically show how little has changed over time. The Gods of Gotham could easily be set in the present day, with Timothy Wilde as a modern police detective. The bigotry against the Irish and Catholics could easily be translated to Middle Eastern refugees and Muslims; it is truly sad to read and see how we as a society and a people fail to learn from the mistakes of the past, repeating the same errors over and over to our own disgrace. Faye has brought New York of 1845 vividly to life with careful brush strokes that never are too big or too broad or invasive to the story; her city streets are alive with noise and people and sights and sounds and smells. Her characters are all-too-real; even the worst of her villains (particularly the diabolical madam, Silkie Marsh) are believable three-dimensional and live and breathe on the page.

I hated seeing the book end, quite frankly; but there are two more Timothy Wilde novels to savor and look forward to, as well as her Edgar nominated Jane Steele (The Gods of Gotham was also an Best Novel Edgar finalist), and her Sherlock Holmes work. (And yes, my recent interest in Holmes was triggered by Lyndsay’s interest in Holmes…and there were times when this book itself reminded me of, in the best possible ways, of Nicholas Meyer’s Holmes pastiches from the 1970’s, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and The West End Horror.)

The Gods of Gotham, if you haven’t read it yet, needs to be added to your TBR pile immediately.

Reelin’ in the Years

It’s raining again on this first morning of June; gray and slick and wet outside my condensation-veiled windows as I sip my second cup of coffee. It’s Thursday; there’s only tomorrow to get through before the weekend, and I still am feeling a bit off, as I often do during short work weeks. But I am still feeling rested and like I am getting good sleep, even if I am not sleeping all the way through the night–I wake up once or twice, but am able to fall back asleep, which is a lovely change. (Plus, every morning around five Scooter turns into a purr machine, along with the kneading with claws extended. Sigh.)

We finished watching London Spy last night, and wow, absolutely amazing how that went completely off the rails in the final two episodes. I was enormously disappointed, obviously. The show had such an amazing premise, and would have worked beautifully had they simply put as much thought into how to end it as they did in how to set up the premise. And there were so many wonderful, brilliant options! I will still chalk the show up as a win on several levels: 1. Beautifully realized, realistic gay characters; 2. Probably the most honest approach to gay sexuality I’ve seen in any film or television series, or at least one of the most honest; 3. An excellent, absolutely powerful depiction of what it is like to get an HIV test; 4. Excellent job of taking a crime trope–innocent person caught up in something far beyond their scope to deal with, including the inability to trust anyone while caught in a trap which includes rabid paranoia. It went off the rails, alas, and became completely unbelievable in its final two episodes, which is a pity.

But at least they tried, which is more than I can say for most television/film/production companies.

And remember–twenty years ago such a show would have been unfathomable. Twenty years ago we were embracing horrible Hollywood films like Philadelphia and To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar,  which had queer characters (although Wong Foo’s drag queens, with the exception of John Leguizamo’s Chi Chi, were completely sexless; no lust or love or even desire for Patrick Swayze and Wesley Snipes!) which was something we could embrace, but both films had that false Hollywood veneer that rendered them inauthentic and castrated. (Don’t even get me started on In and Out.) Then again, it’s not like Hollywood is exactly churning out films with queer characters front and center, unless someone (straight) is gunning for an Oscar.

Ah, well.

Not sure what we’re going to watch next; either The Night Manager or The Magicians, most likely.

And now, back to revising.

For Throwback Thursday, here’s gorgeous young Richard Chamberlain.

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Vogue

I finally watched Strike a Pose,  the documentary which takes a look at where the dancers from Madonna’s “Blonde Ambition” tour wound up, and what happened to them. That tour was also documented in another documentary, Truth or Dare, which was also extremely controversial at the time of its release.

strike a pose

It was ironic, as I reflected on watching Strike a Pose and how it affected me; what it made me think, and what I wanted to say about it on here, that I checked Twitter and saw a tweet from one of my friends:

A gentle reminder that using “it’s so much better than it was” when queerfolk are talking about their daily life is a dick move, “allies.”

The Blond Ambition tour was in support of Madonna’s fourth album, Like a Prayer (which is one of my favorite albums of hers; I’ve never tired of the title song or the second single, “Express Yourself”), which was enormously controversial when it was released…of course, back then almost everything about Madonna was controversial. She’d signed a mega-million endorsement deal with Pepsi, which was also geared to promote the album. When the video for “Like a Prayer” was released, people got up in arms about it and Pepsi cancelled the endorsement deal–Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” Pepsi commercial never aired–which only got her more publicity. (In an aside, I’ve never understood the issues with the “Like a Prayer” video; it was all about racism, and finding the strength through prayer to stand up to it–but everyone, as usual, got caught up in images from it without the proper context.)

I didn’t go see Truth or Dare in the theater; I rented it from Blockbuster when it came out on video. I had an enormous crush on the dancer Salim–he was just so handsome in the “Vogue” video–and as a Madonna fan, I was curious to see what it was like backstage on one of these massive tours. I was also–and remain–grateful to Madonna for all she did for the LGBT community, as well as bringing attention to HIV/AIDS, and being one of the first celebrities to do so. It was quite an unusual experience to see all these gay men in the film, so openly and brazenly gay and unashamed and just being themselves. The 1980’s was an incredibly difficult decade for me, personally–I’ve still not unpacked my twenties completely, maybe I never will–and the 1990’s didn’t start off much better for me. But at the time I watched Truth or Dare I had already started down a path to make a better life for myself, coming to terms with myself and who I was, and who I wanted to become, the kind of life I wanted. So the documentary resonated for me a bit; these were gay men who’d followed their dreams, and despite everything, despite all the hate and homophobia and prejudice and bigotry, made those dreams came true.

That was kind of aspirational, if not inspirational.

Seeing where the dancers ended up afterwards, some twenty-five years or so later, in Strike a Pose was kind of sad in some ways, but good in others. Being a ‘Madonna dancer’ was both a blessing in some ways and a curse in others, but they all seem to be doing well now, and it was fun seeing them all together–the ones who are left; one died from AIDS complications–again; it was also painful to listen, and see, them talking about their own personal struggles with HIV, the stigma and the shame–another legacy from that time.

Recently I was given the opportunity to talk to a retirement specialist, to help me come up with a plan for my retirement, and she was a little nonplussed about how “unprepared” I was for my looming retirement. “You should have started in your twenties,” she gently chided me.

I replied, “When I was in my twenties I thought I would be dead before I was forty.”

My reply made her feel uncomfortable, and bad–which wasn’t my intent. I knew she wasn’t being insensitive…but I wasn’t trying to make her feel bad, either. I was merely stating the truth, awful as it might seem now.

We all thought–no, believed, we were going to die young.

So, yes, it is very true that things aren’t as bad as they used to be, that things have gotten better in our society and in our world and in our culture.

But for fuck’s sake, that’s a pretty goddamned low bar–and progress doesn’t mean we’ve overcome everything, either.

Now I’d like to see Truth or Dare again. Strike a Pose struck a chord in me, obviously, and I do think it’s an important film…I’m glad I saw it.

NOTE: The Blond Ambition tour was also supporting Madonna’s album I’m Breathless: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture Dick Tracy. It was that album that contained “Vogue,” which is a timeless classic.