Monday, August 11, 2014

The Power of Rescuing Others

"I said I love myself... The very minute the word myself came out of my mouth I knew I had been completely transformed because up until that point I would have never said that. I would have said I love  you because I had no sense of my self. I thought of myself as you. And the minute myself came from my mouth I knew--and I've always known ever since--that I would never ever cross that line again to being crazy."  --Marsha Linehan



Read more here.

This is part of an ongoing story about a patient suicide. Click here for Patient Suicide Part One: The Phone Call, here for Patient Suicide Part Two: 30 Minutes to Think, here for Patient Suicide Part Three: Fully Present, here for Patient Suicide Part Four: What's a Life Worth, here for Patient Suicide Part Five: Treat People Like They Matter, here for Patient Suicide Part Six--Leftovers, here for Patient Suicide: Part Seven--Training Monkeys/Herding Cats, and here for Patient Suicide: Part Eight--On Scarves and Lessons Learned

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Freaks, Geeks, Outcasts, Cultural Appropriation, and Boys Like Me

Cultural appropriation is a serious issue. Colonizing cultures have scoured the world to pick up choice pieces of culture that don't belong to them to exploit for personal pleasure and profit. I think of this often when I see herds of women and men clad in pricey yoga pants from Lululemon marching down Harvard Square to pay for a work out that makes them feel enlightened--a workout that is devoid from any connection to the actual philosophies that are at the root of yoga.

There have been numerous thoughtful responses to an OpEd piece about gay men appropriating black women's culture written by Sierra Mannie called "Dear White Gays." You can find two of the responses that I've most respected here and here.

I hadn't had anything to add to the dialogue that other people hadn't already said. Then this morning I came across Chris Koo's cover of Beyoncé's Crazy in Love and got to thinking what it might like to be a young person who violates gender norms in a community where the are little (if any) outlets for the safe expression of self.

Do you think Koo is appropriating black women's culture like Sierra Mannie might think?





In our rush to play the Oppression Olympics and decide who should win the title of Queen for a Day (see also), we forget about the actual pain that actual people are facing all around the world.

I think of these young people taking on the mannerisms of Beyoncé or Nicki Minaj or Katy Perry or Lady Gaga or whomever else is the pop icon of the day. We forget about the freaks, geeks, outcasts, and gender queer folks around the world who just can't (or won't) fit in with cultural expectations. We forget that these young folks who violate gender normed behavior find connection, solace, hope, and liberation in images of empowered people in popular culture.

I think of my own experience as a kid desperately wanting to have red hair like Annie Lennox and writing a paper about Boy George. I was trying to find people who were like me, so I could be like them, so I could fit in and be liked by others.

I wrote that paper about Boy George for a grade school music class. My teacher was concerned I might be like Boy George and he didn't like that. He held an emergency conference with my parents (who were, by the way, very uninterested in their nonsense). The music teacher and my sixth grade teacher suggested my parents have me join the Boy Scouts so I could be like the other boys. My teachers were worried that if I wasn't like the other boys,  I wouldn't be liked, so I should be someone other than who I was to be properly likable.

The message was clear. In the eyes of my teachers, there was something terribly wrong with me.

We forget young people who don't fit in have few (if any) supportive role models. These freaks, geeks, and outcasts face enormous pressure to be someone other than who they are in order to be acceptable human beings. No one to support them. No one like them. No one to be like. No one to be liked by. No one to celebrate the value and dignity of their experience.

No one, that is, except the role models they can find in popular icons.


I think of why my friend said in his blog Meanhood:

But there are some white gays who live in rural areas who are ostracized by everyone in their community, they have no friends because they are too femme, and unlike college kids and me, they cannot “pass,” they are hated, so they make friends with other lonely souls, other black people, women who are themselves shunned in that culture, and they blend together. If they don’t know black people then they cling to starlets, pop stars, yes Beyonce, independent women who flaunt a sexuality that they wish they could flaunt themselves.


No doubt Mannie was expressing the pain she experiences in her life. That's important to recognize, value, and take collective community action to alleviate. What Mannie missed was a recognition of the pain that other people face. It's what most of us miss.

In our single-minded obsession with our own experience, we forget to look outside and recognize the pain other people experience.

We won't create a better world when we busy ourselves with the game of who is right. Who has more pain? Which pain is more important? It's a game where no one wins and everyone loses.

We need to find a new way of being were we are able value our own experiences as well as imagine and respect the experience of the other.

Mannie failed at this. Many of us do.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Extraordinarily Valiant and Extraordinarily Fragile: Intimacy Between Men

Two Young Corporals

Our history classes tend to focus World War II narratives on the personal sacrifices made by the "Greatest Generation" in an epic struggle between good and evil. Wit far less frequency, we examine with the enormous social changes that occurred within America's social structures and spaces.

The iconic imagery of Rosie the Riveter demonstrates the enormous shift in the lives of women. In 1939 approximately 5,100,000 American women were employed (26%). By 1943 that figure shot up to 7,250,000 women (36% of working aged women). Some 46% of women between 14 and 59 and 90% of single able-bodied women between the ages of 18 and 40 were engaged in some form of work or national service by September 1943.

World War II was also the first time in American history single sex social and living arrangements were the norm for the country. The physical intimacy of sharing close quarters along with stressful wartime conditions led to the creation of a large scale social space in which both emotional and sexual intimacy between men was possible.

Experiencing dislocation from support structures of civilian life and facing the horrors of war, servicemen turned to their fellow soldiers for emotional and psychological support. Bronski writes "the stress of leaving home, shipping out, active battle, and years of war allowed men to be vulnerable with on another in ways impossible outside of this environment."

The pre-war standard of the strong silent American Male was quickly replaced with a man that had experienced the traumas of war and developed a degree of ability to experience and show levels of emotional intimacy never before seen in the American Man. While we don't know whether the two young corporals were good friends or sexual partners, we do know their arms around either other, gentle hand holding, and quirky smile can communicate to us across the boundaries of time. Their relationship, forged in the trauma of war, opened up increasing possibilities of what relationships between men could be like.

In the national imagination, the nobility of the cause made these bodies heroic, highlighting the tragedy of their destruction. Images of fighting men in the popular press were a jarring paradox--extraordinarily valiant and extraordinarily fragile. Documentary combat photographs were often juxtaposed with pictures of shirtless men on battleships or in trenches--dirty, sweaty, and vulnerable. Images of patriotic men, many of them teenagers, dying for their country highlighted their fragility and nobility. This new standard of national masculinity, and its counterpoint image of strong women, radically altered how America viewed men and women. Bronski, A Queer History of the United States, pg 162)

Some look toward these vintage images of men in World War II as evidence that same-sex attraction has always existed. While that is a true statement, many err in identifying these all these men as gay. While some of these men were most definitely gay, many of them were good friends, alone together facing the traumas of war, experiencing for the first time the potential for friendship, intimacy, and emotional vulnerability between men. Somewhere in history we've lost the notion of the potential of friendship and intimacy between men. Our modern society has classified emotional and physical intimacy between men as something only belonging to men who are gay. In excluding these possibilities from heterosexual men, we've hobbled the American notion of masculinity. 

Imagine what we might be like as a country if we opened up the possibilities of what it means to be an American Man once again?

For more images of vintage men and their relationships (some gay, some straight) visit: Happy Spring; Two Men and Their Dog; Adam and Steve in the Garden of Eden: On Intimacy Between Men; A Man and His Dog; The Beasts of West Point; Vintage Men: Innocence Lost | The Photography of William Gedney; It's Only a Paper Moon;Vintage Gay America: Crawford Barton; These Men Are Not Gay | This Is Not A Farmer | Disfarmer; Desire and Difference: Hidden in Plain Sight, Come Make Eyes With Me Under the Anheuser Bush, Hugh Mangum: Itinerant Photographer, Two men, Two Poses; Photos are Not Always What They Seem,Vintage Sailors: An Awkward Realization, Three Men on a Horse, Welkom Bar: Vintage Same Sex Marriage, Pretty in Pink: Two Vintage Chinese Men, Memorial Day Surprise: Vintage Sailor Love, Memorial Day: Vintage Dancing Sailors, The Curious Case of Two Men Embracing, They'll Never Know How Close We Were, Vintage Love: Roger Miller Pegram,Manly Affections: Robert Gant, Homo Bride and Groom Restored to Dignity, The Men in the Trees, The Girl in the Outhouse, Tommy and Buzz: All My Love,Men in Photo Booths, and Invisible: Philadelphia Gay Wedding c. 1957. You can also follow me on Tumblr.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Wings: The Kiss

There has been some minor hoopla because of a kiss between Michael Sam and his boyfriend, Vito Cammisano, that aired on television.

One would think this never happened before.

Check out the 1927 silent movie classic Wings.