DADT BS (updated below)

I’m really not happy with the way the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repeal is being handled.  The policy, born in 1993, is pure discrimination, nothing less.  It places on a certain segment of the population an unfair burden, that is, that LBGT service members cannot reveal or discuss in any way, shape or manner their sexuality.  That’s bullshit.  Think about it.  How often do you say “my wife” this or “my boyfriend” that in casual conversation?  No brainer.  You just talk about them in the same banal way you talk about the weather.  But if your partner is of the same gender, then all bets are off.  Can’t mention them, except maybe as a “friend.”  But if this “friend” keeps cropping up in conversations, potentially it could lead to one outing oneself accidentally as co-workers and superiors put two and two together.  Outrageous.

Far more harmful, of course, is the pressure real life couples have to go through if one of them is in the service and the other is a civilian spouse.  Straight civilian spouses have a panoply of support services at their beck and call, including each other.  Gay civilian spouses could never take advantage of this network because it would put their military spouse at risk of being fired.  Worse yet, if the military spouse is injured or killed in the line of duty, the spouse is not notified.  The spouse has no visitation rights.  The spouse has no pension rights.  The spouse isn’t even accorded such standard military dignities as a visit from military personnel presenting a flag and sympathy.  Nothing.  Zilch.  Nichts.  That’s beyond outrageous.  That’s plain cruelty.  My partner and I have been together for over 16 years.  Woe betied any hospital that would try to get between us if anything happened to the other.

The press to overturn DADT has been anemic at best.  The policy was created in a state of weakness and so far it is being repealed in a similar state.  The basic problem with the repeal effort is that it has been a series of capitulations to a population of homophobes who have no interest in repeal.  The generals and commanders fighting repeal are projecting their own homophobia onto their charges, stating that they “aren’t ready” for the change.  Some aren’t, though the much vaulted survey of military personnel showed that for many in the US armed services, DADT repeal is no big deal.  But that doesn’t matter.  In the end, these leaders of the armed services should lead.  If they are commanded to discontinue this policy, then that’s what they should do.  PERIOD.  They need to train their troops not to be bigots and to do their work.  As a manager in a non-military setting, I am charged to uphold the nondiscrimination policies of my company.  It’s as simple as that.  And if the military leaders can’t do that, then they need to resign and let someone else takeover who can.  There is no middle ground in cases of discrimination.  You end it quickly and decisively or it does not end at all.  This nonsense about not causing waves during war time is just a smoke screen, again, that the homophobes use to continue that which they feel comfortable with.

And don’t make me laugh about soldiers worried about bending over in the showers, as if cases of sexual assault are going to rise if DADT is repealed.  Please with that.  The armed forces need to take care of its existing problem with sexual assaults against its servicewomen.  The homophobes aren’t making such a big deal about that.  They’ll pay the problem lip service, but showing leadership to end it is another matter.  But they’ll gladly use the truncheon of sexual assault as a reason not to end DADT.

As I’m fond of saying, you can either pull the bandaid off slowly, feeling the tug of each hair as you do it, or you can yank it off in one quick jolt.  You’ll remove some hairs that way, painfully, but the hair will grow back and the pain will diminish.  The only ingredient missing is leadership.  LEADERSHIP.  No more studies.  No more committee hearings.  No more time wasting.  Just end it.  End it, Mr. President.  I would think that the recent court case that decided against DADT would be a god-send.  It’s like a get out of jail free card.  The finicky Senate gets bypassed and the law gets struck down.  Why do the appeals?  Why must it end by a legislative process?  I expect it is possible for the Supreme Court to uphold DADT in the end, but if we don’t appeal it that far, then it can’t.  Stop the appeals.  Let the shameful policy die an overdue death.

You can’t negotiate with bigots.  You can try and maybe you can change a few minds, but in the end, you have to put your foot down and say “this is what we’re going to do.”  That’s the only thing that needs to happen.  Mr. President, you can do this at any time.  Just do it.

Update – December 18, 2010

And in the end, the Senate does the right thing and banished this ridiculousness to the dust bin of history.  I predict within five years, folks will look back and wonder what the hell all the fuss was about.  So it goes with these sorts of things.  Good Riddance to DADT.  May we never see the likes of it ever again.

An Excerpt for World AIDS Day, 2010: Sin Against the Race, Chapter 3

While writing this book, I was often influenced by current events.  Bay Area residents might recall the fire on New Year’s Eve 2000 that destroyed the Casa Segura needle exchange and AIDS services center in East Oakland.  I tried to recreate the reactions to that incident in the story.  The fire also serves as a plot point to further complicate things for Alfonso as he continues to grieve over his cousin’s death from AIDS.  You can read more about Alfonso, etc., in the first two chapters of Sin Against the Race which are available here on the gar spot.

I’m posting this excerpt with World AIDS Day in mind.  I remember MC’ing a demonstration in Berkeley somewhere on World AIDS Day that ACT UP/East Bay put on.  Then-assemblywoman Barbara Lee spoke at it.  She’s wonderful.  At the demo, I called for a national program, akin to President’s Kennedy’s call to send a man to the moon in 10 years, to find a cure for AIDS in a similar amount of time, or sooner.  Well, this demo was likely 15-16 years ago, so ‘or sooner’ didn’t happen.  Nor did a presidential declaration to end AIDS by some specific date in the future.  Progress has been made in some areas, to be sure, but to think that AIDS is not a crisis is dangerous folly.  It is.  Folks are still getting infected.  Folks are still getting sick.  Folks are still dying.  The drugs are still too expensive.  And too toxic.

As I rewrote Chapter 3 this past year, I wondered if the fight for needle exchanges as a means to stop the spread of HIV was still a relevant topic.  I thought I remembered hearing that the Obama Administration was going to make it easier for such programs to exist by lifting the federal ban on funding such programs.  Oops.  So sadly, the issue is just as relevant today as it was when Casa Segura burned to the ground, over 10 years ago.

Chapter 3 starts below the fold.  Happy reading.  Fight AIDS!  Fight back!  ACT UP!

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Ptolemaic Logic

Ptolemy was an Egyptian-born Roman philosopher and scientist who lived around the First and Second centuries AD.  He’s best known for the Ptolemaic System of the universe, an expansion of Aristotle’s view that the Earth laid at the center of universe and all the heavenly bodies, including the sun and stars, revolved around it.  Aristotle’s theories did not account for certain observed movements of the planets, such as retrograde motion.  Ptolemy tried to clear this up with his version.

Of course, Ptolemy’s version of the universe was wrong, too.  But that didn’t stop others from defending and modifying it to the hilt.   The concentric circles of the Ptolemaic system became more and more elaborate to account for every discreet and hitherto unexplained motion of the planets.  After a while, the whole cosmos looked like a giant a print from a Spirograph set.  Pretty.  Mathematically fascinating.  But astronomically and physically impossible.  No matter.  The importance was that the Earth remain the immovable center of creation.  To maintain this fiction, the Ptolemaic Model was tweaked, twisted, turned, tossed, stirred, and shaken.

And therein lies the heart of my new definition for the adjective ptolemaic:  something intentionally complicated to uphold a belief system that is at its core false.  Note the difference between this use of ptolemaic and that of byzantine.  Byzantine usually refers to something that is intricate and involved, a byzantine bureaucracy, for instance.  A ptolemaic bureaucracy would be one that is intentionally complex to support a way of doing things that is in and of itself false or wrong or silly.

Pope Benedict XVI was widely quoted saying the other day that in some cases condom use is OK in order to help curtail the spread of HIV.  He offered male prostitutes as a (bizarre) example of the sort of people for whom condom usage was fine.  Wow!  I applaud the Pontiff for making the connection between condom usage and the curtailment of the spread of HIV.  But does he really mean to imply that only male prostitutes spread HIV disease?  Or that male prostitutes, and presumably their johns, are the only population at risk for HIV disease?  I think I’ve heard that one before.  But the Pope’s logic is that male prostitutes do not procreate, therefore there is no contraception involved — something which the Church remains steadfastly against — therefore, it’s OK.

I call ptolemaic!  Condoms have been the Vatican’s boogeyman since long before the AIDS pandemic spread across the planet.  Contraception is a no-no.  No condoms for you!  That’s bad enough.  Responsible procreating is something everyone should take seriously.  However in the age of HIV/AIDS, the no condom message is highly irresponsible in the very extreme.  But for a simple piece of formed latex, plus other preventative methods, HIV has run roughshod over swaths of the Earth’s populace for over 30 years.  The message, then, should be loud and uniform:  Use A Rubber.  But to carry forth such a message would contradict too many of the Church’s major tenets:  no sex out of wedlock, no gay sex, no contraception for married (one man, one woman) couples.

So for the Pope to say it’s OK for queer hookers to use rubbers to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, but that it’s not OK for others to so for the same reason smacks of perverse hypocrisy.  Everyone, even straight people, even straight married people, can get HIV from unprotected sex.  This is a reality which the Pontiff and the Church are unable or unwilling to recognize.  Hence, his logic is impaired and deeply ptolemaic.

Sadly, the Catholic Church has a long tradition of supporting positions which it holds dear irrespective of the facts.  Ask my friend Galileo.

Excerpt: Sin Against the Race – Chap. 2

[Editor’s Note:  This is from an earlier draft of Chapter 2.]

It’s interesting how things can change during the editing process, even in the later stages after rereading and rehashing the paragraphs many times.  The beginning of this  chapter was in Chapter 1, but after much tinkering I finally felt that it works better here.  The result is that now almost all of Chapter 1 takes place in Sammy’s store, reaffirming its place as the home base.

Thanks to everyone for reading and for the words of encouragement.  I hope you continue to enjoy it.

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KPFA and the Importance of Voices

KPFA and Pacifica are not new to drama, alas.  I remember the last go-round quite well.  I was sitting on the floor of the apartment, doing yoga stretches in preparation for my evening workout.  I had the KPFA Evening News on the stereo.  Long time news co-director Mark Mericle read through the headlines.  Then he became distracted.  There was a pause, which on live radio always seems longer than it really is.  I could hear someone yelling in the background “Don’t hurt me!  You’re hurting me!”  Mark came back on the mike, his voice betraying his anxiety at seeing a colleague in trouble, to explain that Flashpoints presenter Dennis Bernstein was being arrested at his desk and dragged out of the building.  I can’t remember why Dennis was being arrested, except that it was part of the larger purge that was going on at the time.  A measured calm returned to Mark’s voice as he tried to give a blow-by-blow of the arrest occurring just few feet from him.  And then, there was silence.  This time the pause was permanent.  I sat on the floor blinking for a moment, debating on whether to continue with my workout or go to the station to see what the hell.  Naturally, I ended up doing the latter.

I got to KPFA in Berkeley to find many more listeners had gathered to find out what the hell.  By this point, the coup was a fait accompli.  The interim station manager piped in music from the already pacified KPFT in Houston — that’s all KPFT did at that time, air music and light programming.  So now they were bringing this mess to Berkeley.  Yeah, good luck with that.  Fortunately, the coup was short lived.  After many weeks of protests condemning the heavy-handed tactics used to change the network, KPFA returned to local control (as did KPFT and the rest of the network).  Life continued.  For a while, anyway.

Right, so now, eleven years later, KPFA is embroiled in another unfortunate internecine battle.  Pacifica’s current executive director, Arlene Engelhardt, states that the network, and KPFA in particular, are mired in debt.  Drastic Steps are Required.  So, wielding the Beeching Axe, Ms. Engelhardt laid off nearly everyone that worked on the station’s long-running Morning Show this past week.  The Morning Show.  One of the station’s most popular programs, and many state its most reliable fund-raiser.  And the station was planning a fund-raiser this week!  In light of the current circumstances, the fund-raising effort has been cancelled.

This latest episode also played itself out on the air.  Last Tuesday, November 9, was to be the first day that morning programming was to be piped in from LA Pacifica station KPFK.  But the laid off Morning Show staff had other ideas.  They took control of the studios and aired one last home-grown program to explain what was going on and discuss how the station, and the Morning Show, ended up where it ended up.  Made for fascinating live radio.  It really did.  It was sort of like pirate radio.  To her credit, Arlene Engelhardt allowed herself to be interviewed during the rogue Morning Show, though to my ears her explanations for her actions — strictly fiduciary, seniority based layoffs, etc. — rang hollow.  Despite protests, she has not reversed the decision to end the Morning Show.

I’ve listened to the Morning Show for most of the 21 years I’ve lived in the Bay Area.  It’s been a good mixture of local, national, and international news and commentary, reports and rants, summaries and speculations.  Now its gone.  That makes no sense to me at all.  There is word that members of the current Pacifica National Board want to make KPFA and all Pacifica stations an all-volunteer effort, and eschew paid, professional staff all together.  What a waste of fine talent.  In addition to the great talent that’s always comprised KPFA’s news and current affairs staff, the station has for decades managed an apprenticeship program, grooming a new generation of critically thinking journalists.  All of this is at risk now because of this in-fighting.  Amazing.

We need KPFA’s voice more than ever.  The Republican’s are retaking the House in just under two month’s time.  We need as many non-Fox, fact-based voices as are available.  Ms. Engelhardt needs to find another way to balance the bank sheets that does not involve ditching the station’s most popular programs and talented presenters.  We need all hands on deck.

Photoessay: Hidden in the Open

I love photographic exhibits.  One of my favorites was a retrospective of California based 20th century photographers at the Oakland Museum of California some years ago.  It featured the works of Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, and other masters of that generation.  A good photograph tells a story reflecting some aspect of the age in which it was taken.  It becomes a window to the past.

A few weeks ago my sister sent me a link to an absolutely amazing online photoessay entitled Hidden in the Open:  A Photographic Essay of Afro American Male Couples. Not only did this serve to introduce me to the exhibit’s totally cool creator, Bronze Buckaroo, but the exhibit itself has enthralled me with its depiction of African American males in various poses of closeness and friendship.  As BB notes, we cannot know for certain if in fact all of the men in the pictures were gay.  Though some of them, in my eyes anyway, scream girlfriend! with snaps flung high.  It is too easy to fall into these pictures and speculate on the lives behind them, both the figures shown and the one behind the camera.  Where did they hang out?  What music did they listen to?  What were their hopes and dreams and fears?  What would they tell you about themselves if you could interview them?  Each photo tickles you with these questions.

Hidden in the Open is a well put together exhibition that pries open a window to the past that is too often boarded-up.  I highly recommend checking it out.

Excerpt: Sin Against the Race, Chap. 1

[Editor’s note:  This excerpt is from an earlier draft of the first chapter.]

 

Sin Against the Race began life close to 20 years ago as a short story about a young black man in his late teens named Bill Hawk.  During his coming out process, Bill witnesses a gay bashing in the large city park across the street from his family’s apartment, and he has to decide whether to retreat back to the closet or come out swinging.  The story has grown and evolved considerably over the years.  An excerpt was published in an anthology, Sojourner:  Black Gay Voices in the Ages of AIDS in 1993.  A backstory involving Bill was published in Harrington Gay Men’s Literary Quarterly in 2005.  (You can find a bit of that story at Bronze Buckaroo’s Wandering-Caravan site.)  The book as a whole has acquired a respectable history of rejection notices like all good manuscripts do.  But I’ve continued to work on it, between life events and the ever-present urge to Give Up.

That urge evaporated in 2008 with the passage of California’s Proposition 8.  I received a Yes on 8 mailer featuring a group of black (male) religious figures, all advocating a vote to “protect marriage.”  Protect it from what?  Anyway, I became incensed.  To be sure, the phenomenon of homophobia in the African American community, often and loudly touted as one of the contributors to Prop. 8’s passage, was grossly overblown by the media.  But that isn’t to say that it does not exist.  Prop. 8, of course, is an abomination and that there are some in the African American community who willing supported it, like the reverends and preachers on the Yes on 8 mailer, proved that no, in fact, Giving Up is not an option.  So I spent the next two years rewriting SATR (as I affectionally call it) from scratch.  Much has changed.  Most notably, the emphasis has moved from Bill to his friend Alfonso Berry, III, the scion of a politically powerful black family, who out of necessity has lived his life in the closet, until Life Events happen.  I am at a stage now where I am comfortable showing it around.  Hence the except, below.  It’s the first 23 pages or so, so it’s kinda long.

Have at it, and thank you.

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Evolution

1985.  UCLA.  Sophomore year.  I fell into the swell of anti-apartheid protests that engulfed the campus that year and began to live the life of the “activist student.”  My mother made a suggestion.

“You should start writing a journal.”

I agreed with her, but it took another year before I began in earnest.  She knew I was a writer before I did.  She was often right about those sorts of things.

The journal started as a chronicle of my burgeoning career as a student protester.  I was studying the life and ways of Mahatma Gandhi at the time, and it showed.  Yikes!  I cringe at some of my early entries.  I sound like a bloody Gandhian puppet.  My voice, my real voice, was deeply buried, yet to be discovered.

1987 should have been the journal’s first watershed year, but it was a test I failed miserably.  I barely wrote in it at all.  I still look back at that period with much regret and sadness, because I would love to now be able to reread an accurate chronicle of what I truly thought and felt at that time.  I even remember erasing one of the few honest entries I had made.  I wrote them in pencil in those days, so tenuous I was, so afraid to speak too loudly, even as I shouted slogan after slogan at protest after protest.  My journal had (and has) no audience apart from myself, though I fancied it an open book for all to see, again, mimicking the Gandhian model.  A facade, and a sad one, which kept me from having conversations with myself, conversations I desperately needed to have.  I suspect my whole pretense about the open journal was to keep me from having those conversations.  I remember taking an intro to psychology course at that time.  I failed because I never went to class.

In any case, the cracks to my facade began to appear by the end of ’87.  First was the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights on October 11, an event woefully underreported at the time and now a date observed internationally as Coming Out Day because of this event’s importance to queer history.  I knew a couple of folks at UCLA who went.  Their stories intrigued me, even if I was not able or willing to admit it.  They gave me hope.  Then something else happened.  In late November, I had my first true sexual experience, and it was with a man.  Until that point, I had never had sex of any kind with a man or a woman — as closeted as I was with myself, it never felt right to me to date women so I never did.  I wrote about this great episode obliquely in the journal, scribbling some gibberish about getting it out of my system and expressing relief that I could finally “move on.”  Ha.  Move on to the next man, no doubt.

Flash forward to April 1988.  I finally admitted to myself, in my journal, that I’m a gay man.  That broke the dam and the flood has continued, in one way or another, ever since.  So in the end the journal became a tool to help me come to terms with, and accept and embrace, my sexuality.  I came out to my family by writing them a letter entitled “What James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, and Gregory Russell have in common.”  I made a special trip to the family house — I had moved out by that point — and gave the letter to my mother and sister, who were home at the time.  My mother put down the letter after reading the title and stood to give me a hug.  My sister joined her.  It was all good with them and later with my father and three older brothers, too.  I exhaled.

It’s impossible to write without honesty.  It’s impossible, I continue to learn, to write well without the courage to say what needs to be said.  As I continue to write fiction, largely about things black and gay, I continue to find new challenges for myself to say what I really want to say, to say it clearly, to say it well.  the gar spot is just another evolution of this process.  Forces in my life have often advised me to start blogging.  (“Fool!  Start a blog!” my sister often said.)  I resisted because I didn’t think I’d have enough to say to maintain a proper blog.  Who knows, maybe I don’t.  I leave that for you and the fates to decide.  But at least now, finally, I’m willing to give it a go.

Mazal tov.