Sunday, August 12, 2012

The only part of Christianity I have retained is the part the church dumped centuries ago: the teachings of Jesus, specifically the Sermon on the Mount. Impractical in the real world, incompatible with capitalism or any other model of personal success. Still, despite a lack of belief in a personal god, much less a miraculous savior, I put my faith not so much in fate--though perhaps there is some overlap with such a belief--but in the Galilean idea that nature and the flux of circumstances will look after me, until, of course, the day they cease to, and that no amount of worry, prudence, ambition, hope, guilt, enthusiasm, or fear extending past the present day will ever do me much good or harm. The best I can do is look inward for whatever kingdom exists inside myself. To let my instincts, senses, and reason direct my life moment by moment and rest assured that the universe will not let me live a moment too long or too short.

Monday, February 13, 2012


What I know about love could be written on a postcard. I am not loveless, but it's an emotion that's always puzzled me a bit. If it's an emotion. I've always felt too easily manipulated by love. I am distrustful.

What else could love be but an emotion? Well, it could be an act of will. I remember, when I was in college, telling myself to love this guy, an acquaintance of mine from back home, and doing a pretty good job of it for another four years or so. Emotions were involved with this declaration of commitment, but I'm not sure if any of them were love. I'm not even sure, looking back, whether this so-called "act of free will" was anything but a rationalization of something else that had already taken me, involuntarily. 

It could be a natural right--like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It (or the pursuit of it) might even be an integral part of the pursuit of happiness.

Love could also be, of course, a myth--a story we tell ourselves and others that conveniently frames our bodily urges and the circumstances that life faces us with. I don't know. What I don't know about love could be written on many postcards.

Is love something I do, is it something I sense, or is it something I am in? Is it something I have any control over? Do we--as some modern evangelical psychotherapists would argue--choose whom we love? If so, is all love a choice (heterosexual and homosexual, normal and perverse, bad and good, long-term and short-term?) 

Have I, in fact, chosen to love pineapple?

Me, I like the idea that love is a choice. I've always been a fan of free will, despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Most certainly, to act on love is a choice. How we act on love is both a choice and, much as we would like to deny it, a social construct: i.e. something we do according to (or in adamant reaction against) social rules and norms that belong not to just us individually but to a whole civilization, constructed by a given culture at a given point in history--and as malleable, fluctuating in value, and ultimately disposable as legal tender.

So what do I mean when I say I love? 

I mean that the object of my love makes me a better person, that my desire is to ensure the loved one's safety and happiness more than my own, that the experience of loving this person or this thing or this idea transcends all reasoning. 

Should I always act on love? Yes. 

But I should not insist on loving when love is not there. I should not become so in love with the idea of love that I counterfeit its appearance, its declarations, or its deliriums. Most of all, I must not pretend to love simply to please others or to feel as if I belong--and I should be careful, very careful, of how much I'm willing to twist or cover or re-characterize my love just to suit the laws and opinions of others.

Would this fit on a postcard?

Monday, January 16, 2012

I Secretly Voted Against Your Right to Marry

Frankly, I don't know why lesbians and gay men want to get married and have children. In fact, I don't fully understand why anyone, gay or straight, would want to conform to most social norms unless doing so would further some unique and self-determined ends. 

Years ago in Savannah I had an arch-conservative office-mate who kept a loaded firearm at his desk and nailed a placard to the wall over his desk that read, "Heterosexuals Have Rights Too." (The sign conveniently ignored the obvious, that in 1993 in Georgia homosexuals had no rights, per se.) In my first year at the college where we both taught English, he handed me a photocopy of a psychological study he had found in a journal that concluded that homosexuality is not conducive to a normal, well-adjusted life. Out of curiosity I read the article, but said nothing about it. A few weeks later he asked me what I thought of the piece. I replied, "Normality strikes me as a rather pedestrian goal." He laughed and said, "Good answer." 

He had gone to Woodstock in the sixties but converted to Reagan conservatism in the seventies. He was a libertarian and advocate of Ayn Rand's Objectivism. Had he lived, he no doubt would have joined the Tea Party. He had the temperament typical of Tea Partiers: absolutist, reductionist, ready to argue, and financially motivated. But he killed himself (with his gun) a year or two before I moved to North Carolina. He lived most of his adult life pursuing rational self-interest and promoting gender norms and laissez-faire capitalism. I have to assume that his suicide meant he had not found the pressures of such a life any more fulfilling for him than for gay and lesbian teenagers who have to live in the hostile society he promoted, kids whose rates of suicide are estimated at two to three times the national norm--a statistic I first read in the article my office-mate passed on to me.

I have led a full life, denying myself little except for the respect and support of zealous church people, the pitter-patter of little footsteps, and a supportive spouse--in other words, the traditional lifestyle that would have (according to statistics) promoted my upward mobility and financial success. 

However, if other gay people want to get married and raise children, I think they should. Even though I retain my reservations about whether matrimony does anybody any real good, I don't think I or the government have the right to stand in the way. My take is that the "life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness" upon which the nation was founded ensures every citizen a go at finding whatever form of fulfillment he or she can find. 

I support the right to any form of marriage so long as both parties can give their consent and they are not coerced, i.e. by rape or slavery, and perhaps so long as the marriage poses no untreatable health risks to their offspring, should they choose to procreate biologically. 

I don't understand why only the legally married should enjoy a host of financial and health benefits, denied to us singles. These include tax benefits; estate planning; distribution of benefits through Social Security, Medicare, and disability insurance; veterans' and military benefits; benefits through employers' insurance and retirement programs; hospital visitation rights; proxy decision-making; adoption; retail family discounts; protections from domestic abuse; burial arrangements; and more. Perhaps as a single man I am prone to be a bit, well, selfish, but it would never occur to me to award myself special and exclusive privileges that, by rights, could be extended to everybody without rubbing any skin off my nose. 

I don't understand why convicted rapists can get married--and, by the way, according to Mosaic law (Deut. 22.28-29), the model (we're often told) of the American justice system, must marry the women they raped--but two men or two women cannot. I don't understand on what grounds politicians who have divorced and remarried can charge gay people with threatening the integrity of marriage. But then I have not yet seen evidence that suggests that married people do have more integrity or contribute more to society than single people.

I don't see why it's okay, given the traditional separation of church and state, for federal and state laws to prohibit churches from marrying two people of the same sex. Religious conservatives would have us believe that marriage rights for gays and lesbians would force congregations to not only accept but also seal same-sex marriages. But right now any religious body can refuse to marry people for whatever reason--for instance, because the engaged couple belong to different faiths or because one or both parties have been divorced. Still, many conservatives promote the fear that legal same-sex marriage would limit a church's autonomy. Based on what evidence? At present, the opposite is the case: churches that favor extending the sacrament of marriage to people of the same sex are forbidden by law in most states from doing so. This is tantamount to, let's say, North Carolina asking its citizens to vote on which form of baptism should be the legal definition of baptism. I would think that the form of marriage that religious bodies regard as having spiritual value would be a matter for religious leaders to decide, but to decide only for themselves and their trusting followers. 

North Carolina (where I live) puts the question of same-sex marriage up for a vote in four months, in a proposed amendment to the state constitution. The purpose of a constitution is to organize a centralized government and define its powers, usually with protections that prevent "the tyranny of the majority" (as Alexis de Tocqueville phrased it in Democracy in America) from ignoring the rights of individuals and minorities. The proposed amendment to the state constitution would not only ignore gay people's rights but also repeal any privileges conferred upon their relationships at their workplaces and in their places of worship. 

Putting the civil rights of a minority up to a vote is antithetical to the spirit of American liberty and equality. Had the civil rights of African-Americans been left to a popular vote in the 1950s and '60s, we Southerners would probably still be under Jim Crow. The Equal Rights Amendment, which would affirm merely that "equal rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex," has not passed in the forty years since its introduction. North Carolina is one of the fifteen states that resisted ratification. But the effect of North Carolina's Amendment 1 would be worse. It would be as if an amendment were proposed to legally codify that men would retain certain rights that would be deliberately denied to women. That is injustice. Anyone who would hide in a voting booth to deny against anyone else's right to marry is petty and cowardly--when, with a little gumption, he or she could respond to the minister's call to the congregation to "speak now or forever hold your peace," and put something on the line for the sake of conviction ... and, with luck, spark a long-remembered brawl at the wedding reception.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

2012 Golden Globe Awards

I used to like the Golden Globes more than even the Academy Awards (the so-called "Super Bowl for gay men"). Back in the '80s it was shown late at night (on the east coast), and 70 percent of the show was cutaway shots of nominees getting shitfaced and otherwise misbehaving at the tables. A delight! But lately my interest in awards shows has lost its pulse. The only thing that makes me wish I had a television connection for this evening is the host, Ricky Gervais, and my fingers are crossed that he will be twice as scaldingly honest as he was last year and somebody posts it all on YouTube immediately. The only improvement I can think of there would be to have Wanda Sykes, Kathy Griffin, and Sacha Baron Cohen working red-carpet duty. Still, I am a movie lover.  Less and less lately, but still ... and, besides, I might very well have to stop saying I'm gay unless I post my picks (not necessarily predictions) for the best in all the nominated categories.

Best Motion Picture--Drama
Anything but the three I saw this year: The Descendants, Hugo, and Moneyball--and probably none of the ones I haven't seen, since lack of interest was crucial to my decision not to even bother trying to see those. If I could order off the menu, I'd choose Beginners of the films I saw in 2011--and, of the ones I missed, I would probably favor Shame, Melancholia, and We Need to Talk about Kevin. Or if I wanted to go for the longshot, I'd name the very admirable Gun Hill Road.

Best Motion Picture--Musical or Comedy
Of the two I saw, I'd pick Midnight in Paris, because I think Woody Allen is (still) a genius, though his most brilliant work was over thirty years ago. Of the other three, the only one I have a real interest in seeing is My Week with Marilyn.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture--Drama
Michael Fassbender for Shame, because I'd like to see him naked again. I haven't seen the movie, but it's a point in his favor that he is not playing a historical figure or a man with a disability or homosexual tendencies. I say that with full knowledge that he plays a sex addict, but really I have not yet been fully convinced there is such a disability as sexual addiction apart from a culture that finds sex in general ridiculous, aberrant, and uniquely iniquitous. (For the record, George Clooney, whom I usually like, was just George Clooney in The Descendants, a movie I disliked for its self-pitying sympathy for wealthy males, exasperated by its thorough bashing of a woman who is comatose and unable to defend herself and whose perspective we get in only one dazzling sign of life in the opening shot.)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture--Drama
I haven't seen any of these performances, but I will say this: I love Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, and Tilda Swinton, but I'd give the prize to Swinton in We Need to Talk about Kevin because (see above) I have a general prejudice against awarding acting honors based on a movie's educational value ("this is history") or sympathy for an underprivileged group ("this is tolerance"). Art is not about didacticism or niceness. That's my position anyway.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture--Musical or Comedy
I'd give this one to Joseph Gordon-Levitt for yet another movie I didn't see, 50/50. But at this point in his 24-year career (and he is not 30 till next month), he has transitioned from child star to leading man and from television to big screen very well--and his accomplishment in 2004's Mysterious Skin and 2009's (500) Days of Summer was remarkable. I like Ryan Gosling, too, just not so much in Crazy Stupid Love, a decent movie that could have been a lot better than it was (no fault, though, to the acting).

Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture--Musical or Comedy
I have seen Bridesmaids and liked it and admired Kristen Wiig's performance. I have not seen the three films featuring the other four nominees--but this may be the only category in which I am really very interested in seeing all the nominated films. Based on the fact that I like acerbic comedy (and love director Roman Polanski), I think I would favor Kate Winslet in the all-but-Albee Carnage--or her costar Jodie Foster (the film's trailer makes it look like she actually acts in this one).

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
Easy one. Christopher Plummer in Beginners.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture
I strongly suspect my vote would go to Janet McTeer in Albert Nobbs, had I only seen the movie. (I know it's irritating to hear I saw next to nothing this past year. Blame work. Blame Netflix. Blame blogging. Blame books.)

Best Director--Motion Picture
Woody Allen. For pretty much everything.

Best Screenplay--Motion Picture
Woody Allen. See above.

Best Song--Motion Picture
I have not seen (or heard) any of these movies (what's new?), but I would lean towards a Madonna and Mary J. Blige tie for oh so many reasons.

Best Original Score--Motion Picture
Frankly, I would like the Hollywood Foreign Press to vote for "none." Movie music has been incredibly overbearing these last four decades--and that does not even extend back far enough to cover Bette Davis's quip, "Do I walk up the stairs or does Max Steiner?" Minimalist use of music in The Birds and any number of Robert Bresson movies has convinced me that powerful emotion can be conveyed without a music soundtrack and the audiences filmmakers should be making award-nominated movies for should be fully capable of coming up with an appropriate response to narrative events without a musical cue--or, on TV, a laugh track.

Best Animated Film
Oh fuck.

Best Foreign Language Film
I'll go with the hype and say Iran's A Separation. I still love Almodovar, but I liked him a lot better before he started taking the Douglas Sirk comparisons literally.

Best Television Series--Drama
I saw two episodes of American Horror Story online and was mesmerized, even though my low-cost WiFi froze my laptop screen every six or seven minutes. That I made it entirely through two whole episodes before deciding, "Hell, I'll just wait for the DVD," is a testament to how good I thought it was.

Best Television Series--Musical or Comedy
Hands down, Modern Family.

Best Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Downton Abbey. Probably.  Though I am very much looking forward to seeing Cinema Verite and Mildred Pierce.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series--Drama
A tie among all the performers except Kelsey Grammer.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series--Drama
Probably Juliana Margulies. I'm shooting blind now. I haven't seen any of the nominees, and The Good Wife is the only one I recognized as the title of a TV show.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series--Musical or Comedy
Please, don't insult me. Alec Baldwin in 30 Rock. The only right choice.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series--Musical or Comedy
Tina Fey in 30 Rock, if by musical we still mean singing and dancing and by comedy we still mean funny. Otherwise, I quite liked Laura Linney in The Big C--though, really, I'd still probably go with Fey.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
Idris Elba for Luther--and, crossing categories (and years), The Wire and The Big C.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television
From everything I've heard but not yet seen, Kate Winslet for Mildred Pierce.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television
Peter Dinklage for Game of Thrones. I want him to thank all the little people who made the award possible. Am I awful? Am I going to hell? But, yes, he does need to say that.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Series, Mini-Series, or Motion Picture Made for Television
Jessica Lange for American Horror Story. Oh my god, yes! 


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