May 2010 Archives

Freedom of (personal) Expression

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When I first read Andrew’s op-ed piece in the ‘Prince’ this week, then his resposting on Qmmunity, I was a bit distressed about his assumptions of what it means to be gay. Unfortunately, his assumptions are also held by many others in and out of the LGBTQ community, so I think it’s useful to address some of this confusion.
 
I should start by saying that I appreciated Andrew’s honesty in speaking about the ever present homophobia on this campus. Though there is great institutional support, many students would rather LGBTQ people be unseen and unheard, quietly left to the confines of the rainbow lounge in the LGBT center. A printed article describing this environment speaks to the strong desire for this to change. As someone who has been harassed in the ways Andrew describes, I appreciated that section.
 
My issue with the column, however, has to do with the descriptions of ‘homosexual expression.’ What is homosexual expression? Let’s deconstruct that phrase. A homosexual is someone desiring of sexual relations with someone of the same sex. So wouldn’t homosexual expression be acting upon those desires? Andrew describes the harassment (gay) male students at Princeton have experienced while making out with other males. He even goes on to note that the kind of harassment gay males endure is strikingly different from the kind endured by gay females. In fact, the harassment of gay females is more aptly described as over-sexualization and infatuation, neither of which are appropriate responses. This is a rather unfortunate double standard that I would hope one day changes. This is the homosexual expression to which he seems to refer.

Why "Don't Ask, Don't Give" Is a Mistake

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Almost everyone in the LGBT community is disappointed with the Obama administration. Granting hospital visitation rights to same-sex partners was a step in the right direction, but then came more of the same: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) -- the most visible gay issue nationwide besides marriage equality -- has yet to be repealed. This latest failure to achieve equality has come to embody the totality of Democratic inaction in recent years regarding gay rights, and LGBT resentment is mounting as the party continues to balk at the gay agenda.

Some -- John Aravosis and Joe Sudbay, to be precise -- have made it their mission to finally stick it to the Left after years of waiting in vain for change. Their brainchild, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Give” campaign (DADG), is a boycott of the DNC pending the repeal of DADT and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Unfortunately, DADG won't force Democrats’ hand on these issues. Even worse, it will likely damage the gay rights movement in the long-run.

Jazz: A Straight Man's World?

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parse.jpg“Are you straight?"

As a jazz pianist, I'm asked this almost every time I’m at a session. In this context, it is slang that we musicians use to verify that players know what the form of a tune will be before it starts. Among a few close musician-friends who know my sexual orientation, I sometimes joke in reply: “No, actually.” But when the question comes up at a gig or jam session with unfamiliar musicians in France, Holland, or Boston, I just smile to myself and reply, “yeah.”

It goes without saying that one’s sexual orientation -- just like gender, race, religion, you name it -- has no place on the bandstand. All that should matter is what a player brings to the musical conversation. If any genre has come to stand for an affirmation of common humanity, it is jazz. Despite being borne out of the suffering of a distinct ethnic group, its endeavor to transcend the historical memory of African American suffering has earned it almost universal appeal.

cloacamaxima.jpgPrinceton history is something of a hobby of mine, and reading between the lines of Princeton history to pick out the gay bits is even more of a hobby. It's a really entertaining game, partly because the homoeroticism that pervaded pre-coeducational Princeton is just so blatant: they don't call it the Princeton rub for nothing. Princeton is in the mold of plenty of other elite universities catering primarily to wealthy young men in the 19th and early 20th centuries: homoerotic as all hell. Like Harvard and Yale, we didn't just copy Oxford and Cambridge's architecture! (A tour of between-the-lines homoeroticism at Princeton is necessarily going to leave out women, I'm afraid--coeducation coincides with gay liberation in the historical record, such that by the time queer women arrived on-campus, forms of understanding queer identity had changed somewhat from the protohomosexual attachments of yesteryear.)

The New Coming Out Story

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pqmunity.jpgComing to Princeton as a brand new, bright-eyed freshman is, let’s admit, a terrifying prospect all on its own. While we’re being honest, I should confess: Arriving as an openly homosexual male has brought its own set of challenges. Battling through the suffering that accompanies hiding an identity for years, then rejoicing through the triumph of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel when the truth demands to be liberated — these experiences taken in their entirety represent a coming out story. But that was before Princeton. Since arriving — and approaching the end of my first year — I have learned that the story is far from over and, for better or for worse, requires rethinking.

There has long existed a stereotype about homosexuals coming out of the closet: The Midwestern boy secretly stashes away some savings and quietly packs a suitcase so that, on his 18th birthday, he can announce to his corn-husking parents that he is gay and flee to New York or Los Angeles with nothing but his gayness. With a self-congratulatory attitude, many like to believe this stereotype is a relic of the past. It’s possible that the new coming-out story, however, will make us yearn for that original rainbow stereotype.

ciarawendypost.jpgCiara recently released her new music video for "Ride" (ft. Ludacris) in which she busts out some fantastic dance moves, my favorite of which seems to be an above-ground version of Michael Phelps' Olympic breaststroke (0:34). Tracy Clark-Flory has praised the agency of Ciara's sexuality in this video and how she has appropriated the sexual aggressiveness of male rappers without necessarily making herself a trophy object to be attained or exchanged. This song illustrates her female sexual power; Ludacris plays a fairly small role in the video, he spends much of his time squatting on the ground under her stiletto and hanging out in the corner of the frame. He's more of a sideshow than a sexual agent. Ciara is large and in charge, which is confusing to those who envision a monolithic female sexuality that is characterized by passivity.

Which reminds me of the 2005 pop news obsession with her alleged "hermaphroditism". Sound like something we heard in 2009 about another female artist, the one-and-only, the ever-so-queerpopular Lady Gaga?

The Temperamentals

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Gay plays, as they've proliferated and mainstreamed over the last 10 years, tend to address relationships between lovers, friends, and family. Plays by and about gay men often delve into sexual conquests and disappointments; the more exploitative ones use nudity to draw audiences and encourage a prurient, if fun, spectatorial pleasure. Plays by lesbians, which thanks to gender discrimination remain relatively fewer than those produced by or about gay men, tend to be more relationally based, dwelling on family dynamics and the domestic sphere.

I'm overstating grossly here to underline how refreshing it is to see a play about gay (or "homophile") activism in the 1950s as the focus of an evening at the theatre. Written by Jon Marans, The Temperamentals tells the story of Harry Hay, considered by many historians to be the father of the U.S. homophile movement, who doggedly persuaded men to sign the manifesto of what he called The Mattachine Society. The Society was named after a troupe of medieval dancers who only appeared publicly in masks, an apt metaphor for closeted homosexuals of the '50s. Hay was the first to publicly call gays and lesbians a "minority" and to argue for homosexual rights along the lines of what would soon become the civil rights movement.

As an event happy to succeed by telling its important story, this production's one acquiescence to commercial pressure is director Jonathan Silverstein's casting of Michael Urie (of tv's Ugly Betty fame) in one of the supporting roles. Although some of his tv character's flaming gestures and flamboyant sarcasm seeps into his performance as Rudi Gernreich, Harry Hay's young Viennese-Jewish clothing designer boyfriend, Urie's acting is subtle, generous, and sincere, bringing depth and intimacy to the complicated exchanges between the two lovers.