Monday, May 4, 2020

"1900": Bertolucci Serves Up Homoerotica With Fascism, Italian-style


   

"Although I think 1900 is a movie there is a lot to say about, my critics keep distant from it. It's as if they were fucked up the ass and refused to come."

   Bernardo Bertolucci

 

 

   And it's on that most-Italian of notes - as voiced by the most-Italian of directors to achieve notoriety by bringing anal sex to the masses - we're drawn to reconsider 1900 almost a half-century after the fact.

   Often flagged for its homoerotic undertones, Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1976 sprawling opus 1900 (aka Novecento) attempts to anchor itself in the unlikely fatalism of its male principals' relationship. The births of the two boys occur on the day Emilia-Romagna’s favored son Giuseppe Verdi dies in the early days of 1901. Alfredo is born into the landed gentry, while Olmo is a peasant, and a bastard. And they subsequently develop a close boyhood friendship premised upon attraction of opposites.

   1900 is indeed sprawling cinema, in much the same way that cities sprawl exponentially when ungoverned by uniform town planning. The movie’s only focused narrative is its determination to advance Communism, with Olmo and Alfredo's story being that of two opposed faces of class distinction and wealth distribution, within a specific time period of legalized homosexuality. While wildly varying attitudes to same-sex relations are intrinsic to the history and psyche of Italian males, the traditional underlying view is that it's significantly more natural to Southerners and illiterate peasants. Bertolucci knows his history well enough to flesh out his characters with enough sexual nuance to set us up for a visceral loathing of Fascism no matter how we sexually identify.

The Padrone & The Paisan


   Clocking in at well over five hours, 1900 as a bromance with Fascism as its Valentines card has decidedly more relevance today than when it was released. A century after their time we might question whether two men of opposing classes could ever bond – or more to the point – would ever be allowed to bond as boys. And yet in the lushly bucolic region of an Italy long gone they do, and they are. In their century Italian males and their patriarchy are caught up in turbulently uncertain times. In our century, so are we. Which warrants taking a fresh look at Bernardo Bertolucci's didactic 1900 as our minds ponder more seriously otherwise tangential subjects like history repeating itself.


Critics, Dicks And Director's Cuts


   Modern marketing mythology would have us believe that most cinematic efforts were (and are) unfairly and irrationally assembled by studios against the auteur's intentions and what-nots. And the romantic notion that film directors nobly ply their craft with little or no regard for the views of even the most intelligent critics is almost a given. Thus, The Director's Cut: that thing which re-sells a movie well beyond its usual shelf-life as temporal entertainment.

   Unsurprisingly, 1900 was always destined to be a candidate for revisionist appreciation and evaluation on those terms. But all is not what it seems. For starters, Bertolucci endorsed Paramount's drastically shortened American version, despite contractually holding the upper hand on any cuts which weren't his. Despite it being a critical and commercial success in Europe as was, he protesteth not too much or too long over the Stateside insult.

   As for critics (important and otherwise) he appears to avoid compromised appeasement by perversely offering what they're least expecting as response. With The Conformist, Pauline Kael warned that his obsession with style for style's sake could lead him to make "luscious fruity movies". 1900 emphatically refutes the idea: its summery, pastorale lusciousness is progressively drip-fed jaw-dropping wintry cruelties. He agreed with feminist excoriations of his Last Tango In Paris wherein Marlon Brando wasn't nude but Maria Schneider was. But he never responded to Ingmar Bergman's broadside that Last Tango would have been a much more truthful film if  Schneider's Jeanne had been a boy.

   Bernardo Bertolucci certainly doesn't hold back putting dicks onscreen in 1900. He claimed all his beloved actors' dicks were an extension of his own – and dutifully anoints the junior Alfredo and Olmo with dicks and earthy curiosity about each others dicks, as opposed to a curiosity about each others stations in life.


Homoerotic, Homosexual Or Homosocial? 

 

  The auteur was a neo-Freudian, and his attitude to homosexuality reflected that pre-Liberation limited analytic orthodoxy. He alleged homosexuality and bisexuality to be merely of adolescence without disapproval per se. He never made a film about LGBT existence - neither did he seek to diminish it. To his credit then, when Olmo and Alfredo reunite as young men after World War 1, it’s to his peasant Communist male Olmo (Gerard Depardieu) that he assigns overt homosexual desire within adult male friendship. It’s the dilettantish Alfredo (Robert de Niro) who wipes off his passionate kiss on the lips in shock. We're not to know whether homophobia or his ingrained contempt for peasantry has apprehended homosexuality or true equality. And since both actors singly were either side of thirty, the likelihood of them being mistaken for youthfully callow is a stretch too far.

Crossing boundaries with sex and love as the equalizer?


   That scene takes place in the barn rooftop where as boys they’d played power games with silkworms and appendages. As adults, war-fresh Olmo unexpectedly encounters Alfredo while hauling grain on his shoulders. Overjoyed at finding his childhood friend he shamelessly pins him down in submissive sexual position while ripping the buttons and insignias off their uniforms...Olmo has fought, Alfredo has been purchased a uniformed exemption. Looking lustily down at Alfredo he declares “I like you this way” and Alfredo responds with “Kiss me my hero!” But Alfredo’s only kidding. Olmo’s not, and his hand wanders lazily over his dick after being rejected.

  The director has made a political statement with homosexuality as a broad associative metaphor, although his harsher self might claim that in doing so he's sabotaging his own alleged heterosexual bias, in service to his political bias. He cuts to an obviously truncated and uneasy dialog covering rats, the wartime trenches and breadth of worldview. It ends with Alfredo humiliatingly kicking Olmo in the ass. The camera lingers on Depardieu’s face long enough to make his hurt palpable...while suggesting Bertolucci's omnipresent cinematic theme of "once a traitor, always a traitor" has collided with love and sex.

The face of something other than shame


   But Bertolucci is far from done with the homo motif to make a point. 1900's most notorious sex scene finds our "young" men in bed with a girl who Alfredo vulgarly treats himself and Olmo to. It all goes downhill again, but in reverse. Olmo can't get it up, and the paid lady suggests that Alfredo might know how to help him out. Alfredo's eager to oblige and reaches across for Olmo's dick, but now it's Olmo  who turns away, perhaps repulsed by the capriciously callous behavior of his friend, perhaps by his taunts about free love. There was a time when Gerard Depardieu fully naked was something to behold, and it's in his raw state that he becomes the conscience of the film when the girl has an epileptic fit.


The non-Joy Of Triangulated Sex

  Later in the day Alfredo meets Ada (Dominique Sanda) and brings her to a peasant's dance to meet Olmo. Ada's a full-throttle, free-spirit type in the predictable Lady Brett Ashley mold, Alfredo's smitten and Olmo wonders if he can do better than female pazzos - only to be told that he's a country bumkin who doesn't understand. Mistaking Ada for the lover of his exiled and urbane black-sheep uncle Ottavio, Alfredo has failed to grasp his beloved uncle's Bohemian proclivities but catches on quickly. Bertolucci's grand up-sweeping tableau with Ottavio as von Gloeden photographing naked boys is a much a political statement as everything else in 1900: Fascism literally destroyed many of the artist's unique niche images of Italianism - as it destroyed legalized homosexuality and more.


 

When Heterosexuality Can't Save The Day


Sunday, July 14, 2019

Men, Sex And Bi-Phobia




  Lateral suspicion and hostility towards bi-men can be superficially viewed in the context of just one more example of how LGBT Inc will eat itself with the very identity politics our opponents accuse us of, and ridicule us for. Smarter groups and movements stress the importance of using identity politics judiciously - not as a default stance in bickering with our allies. We're seeing it with alarming frequency - most often as media "opinion pieces" from scribes who assume that all media exposure advances Queer goals. It doesn't. Media primarily exploits, and we're wise to know it.

For better or for worse, bi-men are remarkably absent from media - especially mass media. Remarkable because if you crunch the numbers they possibly comprise one of the largest demographics of Queerdom: men who have sex with other men. And it's sex which drives the phobia: the bisexual man isn't a sexless academic abstraction. His sexuality is part and parcel of his complete self. It's his unique masculine trait, rather than a reflection of somebody else's sexuality or their identity(ies). And his "acceptance" may be more threatened than he realizes, since acceptance of gay sex itself appears to be falling...the concept of LGBTIQ quickly becoming a notion of enforced asexuality.  And that directly contravenes a founding principle of Stonewall: we knew from the get-go that homophobia was all about our sex. And all subsequent reliable science and studies indicate that same-sex attraction has both epigenetic and sociological purpose, while homophobia is increasingly proving itself to be both unnatural and reactionary for no good reason.

So Why Would Gays Hate Bisexual Men?


   Male bisexuality is a conceptual knock-on afterthought to the relatively modern notion of male homosexuality as identity and pathology. Prior to that, our civilization for better or worse only acknowledged sexual acts between men within the broader "rules" of male sexuality, as policed by patriarchy. While Joe Kort is correct to point out that the time-worn trope of "You're not bi - you're just gay and in denial" is sloppy therapy and bad politics gone too far, his creation of the non-bisexual straight man who has sex with other men might also be therapy and bad politics gone too far.

Or a nifty new diagnosis for a therapist to net more clients. The here and now is all very well and good, but good ole Joe seems to have forgotten that like all transgendered people men who love and desire and have sex with other men are part of the backbone of mankind's formative myths, legends, beliefs and religions...things that are less easily dismissed than we imagine. That's their legitimate pedigree, and one not to be erased or dismissed by more recent religious beliefs, debunked psychiatry or poor psychology.

All of which should nevertheless eradicate any conflict between gay men and bi-men. Yet an apparently two-sided conflict remains...sometimes simmering, sometimes quite hostile. I've critiqued bisexual men's part in the conflict, and it would be remiss to not examine gay men's attitudes in more critical detail.

The genesis of gay men's negativity towards bi-sexual men probably arises within the paradoxes surrounding falling in love with straight men, and the sexual seduction - or otherwise - of same. While pursuing the romantic delusion of acquiring a non-gay man doesn't usually end well, pity help the non-gay who is seduced by a self-loathing gay man. His social status will be diminished, he will be called "she" and his to-be-expected reasonable sexual desires will be trashed by bottom-shaming. If it all sounds like projected self-dismissal at a very deep level it's because it is.

The bisexual man presents a significant challenge (or threat) to gay men who aren't as secure and authentic as we'd like to have folks believe. Most often that insecurity manifests itself in the belief that bisexual men are just casual sexual opportunists...paradoxically not unlike many gay men. Or more to the point: "Our little hearts might get broken if we can't railroad the guy into a relationship of dubious intent." In that scenario, neurosis has closed the door on the idea that a bisexual man may very well be open to a healthy, loving sexual relationship with another man. And how we ascertain that is best done with open and honest dialog which leaves both men feeling better about it all: our nominated identities may very well be cold and superficial and highly unlikely to sustain anything meaningful.

The personal can't help itself from becoming the political, and post-AIDS Queer initiatives ran into obstacles from old-school gays and lesbians who opposed bisexual inclusion in what became LGBT. And many still don't get the fact that sexual mavericks are sexual mavericks, and for that reason are part of something organically and historically shared, not things to be whimsically excluded or included.

The Bi-man: Cool Guy Or Pariah?

  
   We're told a lot of stories about porn, and most of it's bullshit. Realistically, so many lines have become so blurred across the reality/fantasy divide that pornography, sex work and sexuality itself have been been steered by technology into uncharted territories. Pornography isn't a public health crisis for gay men, and no amount of neo-Puritan blowback is going to make it so. It can't be reasonably assumed that otherwise applies to bi-men. Personally, you'll never know as much about a man as you think unless you know his pornography. As social study of men, it's oh-so-informative and getting to be more so.

Like many, I'd assumed that bisexual men in Western pornography had more in common with bisexual women in the industry than not. The differences however are stark enough to be delineated as non-acceptance versus (albeit fetishized) adoration. Whether it's industry prejudice or a reflection of consumer tastes isn't yet clear, but the sublime post-Queer Karley Sciortino ("Slutever") pushed the topic early in her 2019 TV series.

While chicks-with-dicks in porn go no more to validating trans people than women in porn go to validating women, the apparent lack of interest in bi-men must be noted. On balance, is he then most sexually undesirable, as evidenced by his relative invisibility?

As it is in porn, so apparently it is in that surreal life we call real life. Where and who are the bisexual men peopling our screens? The heartthrobs who do it and talk it and don't give a damn, and demand more roles for bisexuals while they do it? We need names. While bisexuality-with-elan has some history courtesy of recent rock'n'roll mythology, many contemporary men actually experience their bisexuality not as greater opportunities but as loneliness.

The innate value of a bi-man as man and person shouldn't be up for consideration as a worthy debate topic. By LGBT+ or anybody else. What should be considered is his status as a Queer, and specifically whether or not he's been unforgivably marginalized by queer "communities" - whatever form they take. As things stand now, he's probably being subjected to more marginalization from broader society than even he knows.

The good news is we can change that - to everyone's benefit.





Friday, May 17, 2019

Israel Folau Can Fuck Off Now


   But he won't. The smart money has it that God will tell him to go as far as the Supreme Court and collect, rather than take a vow of introspective poverty in order to work effectively with the less fortunate. One couldn't expect more or less from a chronic shamer, unwilling to accept appropriate shame and consequences. The ignominy of a pariah isn't necessarily forever, however unrepentant wrongdoers often tend to set themselves upon the path to martyrdom since it has wondrous payoffs for the arrogant ego looking to perpetuity. In the meantime there's always common secular law to be milked for all its worth in service to power grabs in the name of furthering religious authority.

Kicking Off


   Words hurt. They do. But let's not rush to jump on that LGBT strategy as the only reason why Israel Folau needs to know the force of a society's disapproval and scorn. Without getting too Talmudic about it all, an essentially emotive point-of-view does indeed resonate with many, but that which comes from the heart invites iniquities. We're wise to know that a victim experiencing hurt means success for any bully. And as we've not unexpectedly seen, Folau is all too willing to have himself painted as a victim who deserves to be conflated with Colin Kaepernick, despite the latter's courageous battles not being fueled by homophobic bigotry.

While many rush to defend his freedom to express religion, most fail to keep a scorecard on who and what he's hurting...consequences never being quite what they seem. As a zealot, Folau's the last person to be trusted with defining well-meaning religious intent, so let's not get ahead of ourselves by tacitly giving him a pass along the lines of good intentions. Let's just first line up Folau's victims in some corrected order:

  • Truth is often a casualty of religion because Australia's laws legitimize and codify religion as belief in the supernatural. Scientology was the test case. It's immaterial whether or not Folau is telling the truth about anything at all because there's no requirement to do so. Truth is only ever apprehended by disciplined thinking, but we do Truth a great disservice when we think we need to respect "somebody's truth"...as if Truth itself is a matter of invention, dependent on individual whimsy.
  • We're all people of Faith to some degree or another. We're usually told things like achievement are as simple as ABC: Act upon a Belief, sustained by Confidence. As it is for religious believers, so it is for non-believers. Sometimes the facts and the evidence justify hypothesis in the pursuit of objectivity, sometimes the Belief itself is just an appalling abrogation of principled humanity delivered from the darkest hearts and egos. The religious who take faith seriously enough to experience "faith challenges" invariably question the quality and worth of the belief. It's simply Machiavellian to seize upon a belief (or a fact out of its true order) so as to create a desired end. 
  • Common assumptions about theology mistakenly portray it as universally devoid of Critical Thinking but that's not quite so. Philosophically humanist approaches to faith don't necessarily dismiss a leap of faith to belief in a loving, just and merciful higher power which simply but consistently does good. No reasonable evaluation of Israel Folau's faith conforms to that paradigm, but instead suggests destruction and opposition to faith as a creative force.
  • Liberty is defined as different things across different disciplines. The good news is that it generally denotes absence of arbitrary restraints, modified by the rights of others. The bad news is that liberty and salvation become entwined within theology, and often end up being at odds with secular freedoms in the hands of religious evangelism. But lofty ideas about liberty are just that unless they translate directly to how we experience the human condition. Or more precisely, our proximity to achieving peace of mind as a reasonable psychological goal, devoid of chaos and delusion. Folau's specific and general damnations about sin coupled with promised "salvation"  bring exactly nobody peace of mind, and must be viewed as a spectacular fail for his brand of evangelism.

"Liberté, égalité, fraternité" as a tripartite motto can lurk in the back of our minds as something wonderfully aspirational when we forget that all three have served to justify the basest intents of politics and religion. But they're not a bad encapsulation of the core concerns of much of philosophy's questions as we know and explore them. It's hard to dispute that equality defines the lives of most North Koreans and all those in servitude to theocracy. Similarly, fraternity in practice hasn't given society much more than toxic masculinity, on current reckoning. And homophobes like Israel Folau offer men nothing new or worthwhile as we face up to our modern challenges. Men in droves are finding out that carrying homophobia is an unwanted and non-productive burden. Whatever team you're on, homophobia is bound to diminish it rather than strengthen it. It always has, and would-be Messiahs are wise to know it.

The Homophobia Offense As Power Play

 

Talent, money and fame have elevated Israel Folau to a rarified and privileged position within male hierarchy. It was his choice to assume the mantle of male leadership, regardless of what he perceives "God" told him to do. For every Christian soldier bravely onwarding his homophobia, there's another man of faith whose educated contempt for it eschews any assumed need to discuss it: the eminent theologian Dr. Eugene Scott's stock response to it was always a succinct: "The real perverts are already in the churches."  Misogyny aside, homophobia often justifiably presents to the public consciousness as a canary testing the mineshaft of masculinity. But homophobic men institutionalizing themselves as leaders and/or teachers represents significant blowback which can't be ignored. One of the characteristics of toxic masculinity is that it seeks dominion and power over other men with homophobia as a weapon.

Responsible quality journalists never descend to scriptural debates because it's the domain of non-thinkers, slogans out of context and worse. Broadcasters don't permit it because it bores their audiences who switch off in droves. Evangelists and fundamentalists however are drawn to it like catnip, on the non-negotiable laid-out assumption that a god literally wrote scripture. Those of the Christian variety face significant challenges as Christians because under scrutiny their full acceptance of their Messiah is very "iffy" indeed. And there's every indication that Queer Jesus is a threat to their re-conceptualized Christianity.

Calling The Game


   Sloppy online dictionaries have a bad habit of redefining words and language to suit ideologies. The word "bigot" has undergone significant redefinition recently, and the apparently subtle shift now encroaches on the concept of tolerance. That's highly problematic since tolerance is best understood by putting Karl Popper's Paradox of Tolerance through its paces. While bigotry and intolerance are not the same, it's becoming more commonplace than ever for the emboldened promoters of intolerance to attempt shutting down their opponents with accusations of bigotry. And opponents who haven't applied too much critical thinking to their position often back down - sometimes in the erroneous belief that unlimited and infinite tolerance are somehow innate to good and "righteous" people. It's a dangerous vanity to accept the unacceptable from a bully - especially when it's delivered with no more argumentative authority than an ad populum attack. Sublimated and/or residual Queer guilt often determines whether or not we respond appropriately to toxic ideas and people of bad character, and if indeed we make an appropriate distinction.

   Shorthand modern morality certainly doesn't wish to see itself derided as fascistic, but it does leave itself open to the accusation when it can't or won't take an ethical stand, and clearly define its boundaries on tolerance. While they will most certainly change from individual to individual,  there's no justification for us as a society handing default victories to ideas best understood and known as anti-social. We're usually quite aware of physical menace but when it's verbal we often miss the cues. Or worse, we buy into it by first believing that those who come with the trappings of piety automatically deserve respect as if they're more respectable and of real authority.

   When it comes to religion, fundamentalists and evangelists alike tolerate no legal, moral or ethical limitations whatsoever. It's what they are. It's what they do. We can spin our wheels with attempts at reason, but are there ever reasonable outcomes in negotiating with the unreasonable? Does the good and ethical person simply say: "Fuck off - I'm at the end of my tolerance for you and your kind."?

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Queer On A Hot Tin Roof: The Paul Newman Edition





   History likes to teach us that America in the 1950s was a cultural and intellectual backwater, a swamp of moralistic naivete. It wasn't, with only mass media like newspapers and Hollywood movies upholding sexual repression. Important writers featured in Playboy alongside nude women, and live theater was booming and edgy with notable queers like Tennessee Williams at the fore. Literary homosexualists like Gore Vidal and James Baldwin roamed free to varying degrees. As Hollywood lost its screen monopolies and battled television for attention, it found itself shackled by extreme censorship as it struggled to present the sex audiences hungered for. Not that a company town with a bordello sensibility like Hollywood was breaking its neck to present gay story-lines: a man doesn't get a  dick or pussy choice at a whorehouse.  



Motherfucking makes it to comic books

   The movie business left to its own imaginative devices was only ever beholden to sensation and smut for adults. By the Fifties it still had to look outside itself for modern plays and books which could bestow upon the product some class, of the artsy-fartsy kind. The matches made in literary agent's offices usually yielded up bowdlerized on-screen stories which were often bizarre and senseless while invoking East Coast cerebralism. Hoisting de-sexed screenplays onto screens as art was the brief for many or most....putting asses on seats while not coming off like Commies or Jewfags was the goal. The era took itself seriously enough for coastal reciprocity: on her way to tragic sainthood Marilyn Monroe made a Stanislavsky stop at the Actor's Studio in New York, and married Arthur Miller too. If Freud couldn't go to the circus, then the circus would go to Freud...and find some goddam motivation to polish turds for Academy Awards consideration.

Psychoanalysis was all the rage but few questioned its motives in keeping homosexuality a dirty but highly lucrative mental illness. It was good enough for self-styled progressives to deflect Kinsey's findings on male sexuality towards frankly open vilification of the "fairy", as contrapuntal to what evidenced a red-blooded post-war American male. Hollywood's Production Code was committed to reinforcing Catholic fundamentalism (with more than a tinge of anti-Semitism) for largely Protestant audiences. So much so that its queer invisibility imperatives went as far as ensuring only even coded approaches to homophobia, lest homophobia itself fell under intelligent scrutiny. 

   No movies from the waning Golden Era of Hollywood about maybe-queer male sexuality have enjoyed as good a revisionist run as Cat On A Hot Tin Roof.  The 1958 M.G.M. potboiler adaption of Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer-winning play has had a post-modern life of its own, due in no small part to having the hinted-at homosexuality of its protagonist excised. Latter-day critics usually give the film a pass despite this. And they have a point if the film's bastardry undercuts the playwright so emphatically that mention of the unmentionable would sabotage the counter-purposes of the film. Testing Roth v. United States (1957), Cat On A Hot Tin Roof sandbags its prurient sex with more than enough Catholic intent to mask sexploitation for the sake of sexploitation.

Erstwhile, Way Down South In Dixie...



As articulated by Tennessee Williams, Cat is the story of Brick Pollitt and not Maggie The Cat. The true lead character, he's the wretched focus of a dysfunctional family confronting the end of a patriarchy, albeit one with as much homosexual as generational history. The Pollitt plantation was established by two gay men, and came into the hands of Brick's father Big Daddy by virtue of their sponsorship of him whilst a very young go-getter. (After Straw died, Big Daddy became Ochello's "partner".)

Not thinking about the dick that got away
  A raging homophobe, Brick is mighty uncomfortable ensconced in the very bedroom of the plantation's founders. Like most addicts, he manages to elicit sympathy of the "buyer beware" kind, for hurts and losses not honestly or yet articulated. Big Daddy isn't buying any of it, and as he needles his son about his sexuality he reminds the failed frat-boy jock that tolerance was a quality he's brought to the family and the plantation. But while genteel queerness and much cotton pickin' may have assured the Pollitt's ascendancy, of immediate concern is the carnal. When it comes to the livestock management aspects of human sexuality as it applies to inheritance, the surly but favored son just won't do his duty.

Brick's alcoholism runs his life, and of course the film can't help itself from jumping into that disease's cause, in the name of steering dysfunctionality to a breeding, functional (read: "heterosexual") resolution which necessarily requires our hero to just get it up. While Williams was more than happy to leave his characters nuanced enough for directorial interpretation, he never suggested reinventing the Pollitt herd as a palatable group of human beings.


How Homosexual Is Brick?

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Obfuscations Of "Leaving Neverland"



Neverland Redux: Wade "Little One" Robson, Dan Reed, James "Rubba Rubba"" Safechuck


    Liking or disliking Michael Jackson and his music has little to do with the public spectacle that is Leaving Neverland.  In the overcrowded genre of media about Jackson's pedophilia, director Dan Reed goes for the home run with a slap in the face for those in danger of becoming inured to the subject. Jockeying for center stage is the opposing attack movement firing at Leaving Neverland and its participants. Their discreditation platform wins hands down when it comes to obfuscations since none of their "policy points" stands up to scrutiny: legalism isn't truth being told.

   Torrents of celebrity marketing across decades only ever reinforced my hope that Jackson would just go away. And then he did, sort of. What's always interesting is the business of celebrity branding, and how 'artists' wield their powers of litigation to prevail in life, and in Jackson's case, to curate a lucrative legacy in death. Trawling through the extensive documentations of litigation and more, it's notable that the names of Wade Robson and James Safechuck aren't Johnny-come-latelys by any means, and they're on board the good ship Leaving Neverland with enough unredacted testimony to elevate the sordid Jackson saga up to something else.
 
   It's taken a few weeks for a suspect media to partially recover from the shock of Leaving Neverland, and they're now predictably scrambling for The Story which best dodges two male victims mentioning the unmentionable: "We were two little boys who enjoyed sex with a man." It might not be a great credibility defense but, given some thought, it's one hell of an offense. Expert forensic psychologists aren't rushing at Leaving Neverland in droves - no doubt unsure which horses to back, and which to hobble. Wade Robson and James Safechuck admit past lies, but director Dan Reed gives them close to four hours to tell their rebranded and lurid but consistent tales.

   The non-appearing "Jackson's Camp" predictably dismiss it all as "They're in it for the money", as if to pre-establish the moral high ground of the moneyed. The director is on very shaky ground in claiming that Robson and Safechuck are not...and utilizing that questionable claim as backup evidence of their credibility. Safechuck actually passed on the potentially lucrative opportunity to testify on behalf of Jackson - citing his repugnance of Jackson's character. Perhaps they just are owed money (and lots of it), under a breached implicit contract which dare not speak its name.


How Do You Clean Up A Dirty Story? 


     It's unreasonable to make judgment calls exclusively around who's lying, but it's quite reasonable to theorize that pedophilia is as much clustered manipulative lying as it is sex. As spectacle, Leaving Neverland strikes many as harrowing and disturbing and so it should. As a vehicle to fuel our tendencies to personal and collective rushes to judgment it's quite frustrating. The undeniable complexity of Robson and Safechuck's victimhood as viewed through a prism of "feel pity for us" isn't an easy sell when their past deceits get in the way, and they're not obviously appealing for sympathy anyhow. The most glaringly phenomenal aspect of their new stories is that they are applying pederast values to their part in pedophilia ("We were in love," "We enjoyed the sex", "He didn't do right by us."). It's hard to dispute the reality that pedophiles do shape their victim's sexuality to their own purposes from a very young age, while simultaneously acknowledging that maybe Robson and Safechuck are on to something in terms of approaches to remedy and healing.

   "What's the difference between pedophilia and pederasty?" you might ask. "What side of (around) fourteen are we talking about?" is the most viable answer. While arbitrary ages aren't the last word, they're all we have as a society to begin determining consent issues. But puberty as the onset of manhood isn't a bad place to define the point at which the worst type of pedophile might dump young male prey. (While there are pedophiles who exploit post- and pubescent males, the dynamics of attraction, power and negotiation usually differ. That exploitation may be of teenage male sex fantasies and experimentation, without any relationship to defined pederasty.)

   "Around fourteen" seems to be the age cutoff for Jackson, but we're left to wonder why puberty doesn't rate a mention. How exactly does being dumped and shamed for physically becoming a man impact on a boy in the long- and short-term? It's undeniable that Robson and Safechuck, with the assistance of Leaving Neverland , are sailing to ports unknown in asking us to look at victimhood, pedophilia-plus and perhaps child sex trafficking in both older and newer ways.

   Reed could have plugged the many holes in Leaving Neverland's hull with a clear understanding of what a modern pedophile is, as opposed to what a defined pederast was. As a frame of reference it goes a long way to individualizing and humanizing the stories Jackson's victims tell. Their stories are punctuated by Jackson's failures to honor the central responsibilities of a pederast in terms of setting the younger man up for life (with education, especially) - prior to finding him more sexually attractive after pubescence. In many ways it's progressive and courageous to air Wade Robson and James Safechuck's anguish around those exact issues: selling them as the consequences of "being in love" while going hard with graphic genitalia recollections misses the mark.



Who's To Bless And Who's To Blame?


   The director responds to questions around broad and long-term coverups with "The answer has something to do of course with the dazzling glare of celebrity and our instinctive deference to talent and wealth. But it also has a lot to do with collective ignorance."  If Leaving Neverland doesn't stand as an indictment of celebrity worship then we've completely lost our way. "How could she?" is the knee-jerk reaction to Robson's ruthless stage mother. "Very easily" is the answer if we're honest enough about our real motives behind issues like 'wanting the best for our kids and ourselves'.

   "Jimmy" Safechuck claims to be "still working on it" when it comes to forgiving his own mother. For the sake of his own healing he probably needs to work a bit harder on it since she knows and admits she fucked up as a mother. It's just a log-jam situation: she's gone as far as she can go, and drawn-out penance doesn't serve anybody or anything, mother or son. Sadly, there's no mention at all  of interventions in terms of his mental health. He presents as a beautiful soul in need of it.

   But back to what Leaving Neverland has been positing on Robson and Safechuck's behalf: that they're not in it for the money. With that consideration not necessarily under a cloud, their claims are certainly tied to the shocking: "We were two little boys who enjoyed gay sex and wanted to get paid." Dan Reed does a fine job of avoiding the implications by bringing in his big guns at the exact point pesky questions about sexuality might get asked: wives and kids. That's about the time that Leaving Neverland starts to take on water. And despite some very slick editing, it all lurches towards the tabloidish,  in an "it is what it is" kind of way.

   The moral of the subliminal story of course is that heterosexuality just might save the day, albeit with some mental trauma along the way. Just one pesky but reasonable question which needs asking is "Would Robson and Safechuck be more or less sympathetic and credible if they were gay or bisexual?" There's actually way, way too much wives and (especially Robson's) family in the second half of Leaving Neverland, to the point that it appears Wade Robson might be in the director's chair. With a brief nod to therapy which isn't revisited, the show immediately invokes the paranormal instead of credible professionals explaining the fine points of how pedophilia does cause sexual dysfunction but heterosexuality doesn't heal it or cure anything. Or that the questionable goal of some treating therapists (to restore men's "true" sexuality) is binary thinking and often presents all homosexuality as a dysfunctional sexuality default. Instead, in an idea torn from the pages of Weekly World News, 'breakthroughs' for dysfunctional and deluded families happen when a relative has a dream that somebody got molested.

    For a couple of weeks The Story was fan backlash and bans on radio play for Michael Jackson, in the absence of that elusive something which might pass for both balance and objectivity. The fact that people who were in no position to know anything were excluded from Leaving Neverland goes a long way towards scuttling hack media notions about the necessity for "balance". With that pretense out of the way, a lack of prior convictions for Michael Jackson  is being pressed into service as objectivity. That he was acquitted / never found guilty of pedophilia isn't objective truth. He wasn't found innocent either, thanks to liars and the expert legal help which only power can buy. Decades of clever serial sandbagging have created a "Michael Is Innocent" myth, and if a pair like Robson and Safechuck who were there force us to confront that myth then we might be on the way to apprehending some truth.


Is It All About Penis-touching vs. Bullshitting To Beat The Band? 

Friday, March 8, 2019

Queer: Good Gay, Bad Gay, Black Gay, White Gay?



The Other Side of The Rainbow: GLAAD Alternative Hall Of Famers


   While Jussie Smollett has admitted no guilt (and indeed hasn't been found so by a jury), Kevin Spacey has "apologized" to an alleged victim. What they have in common is that as things stand  both are causing significant "discomfort" for LGBT+ Inc.

   It was bound to happen of course. As the movement forges onwards with its assimilationist agenda it tends to dismiss Queerdom as an entirely academic pursuit, somehow divorced from a self-imagined reality and undefined by critical thinking. We became the United Colors of Benetton to all intents and purposes. However, People of Color propped up on a Gay Pride float in the hubristic name of inclusiveness is a far cry from how we really feel about "gay boys who offend", and how differingly we might really feel about them along racial lines. While Spacey's accused of underage offenses and Smollett's not, the latter has recently and serendipitously showed up for big-picture consideration -  when, and if, we get past their privileged celebrity.

   A black/white male setup shouldn't be seen as either reflective of Queer global racial interactions or any specific localized example. For some gay men it is so, for some gay men it isn't. While many gay men are completely unaware of their own whiteness, no reasonable Queer assumes that black and white gays are the same, beyond their existence.

   Sameness can't be entertained as an assumptive basis for anything when black men rarely experience the status of a white man in any society: herein lies the necessity of a truthful general gendered discussion which shapes a specific sexuality as experienced discussion. While sexuality can facilitate the crossing of bridges, it isn't the bridge. Less so if it's underpinned by outright denial of disadvantage. When it comes to gay men and race, denial while virtue-signalling can be an exhausting undertaking on the best of days. Time and energy are usually better spent just listening to stories, rather than obfuscating or trying to set an agenda for the betterment of others, as we see it.

   The headline topic is also that of Professor Ian Barnard's most recently published paper (2018). With Smollett on board, the paper is even more relevant. (Barnard is of course a go-to academic whose  Queer Race: Cultural Interventions in the Racial Politics of Queer Theory serves to  effectively challenge tropes like "queer man" equates with "gay white male", all of the time, within its many other definitive insights.) 

   "Good Gay, Bad Gay..." opens with:

"As Deadline .com bluntly put it, 'Kevin Spacey Apologizes to Anthony Rapp for Alleged Sexual Advances; Chooses to "Live As A Gay Man."' The outraged response of progressive intellectuals, activists, and cultural critics to Spacey’s twofold tweet has demonstrated, inter alia, the resilience of old school assumptions and expectations about coming out and about gay identity and gay identifications. These outraged responses have come especially from younger generations of intellectuals, activists, and critics, but also across generations, genders, and sexual orientations. Despite decades of attacks on models of gay identity that center on teleological narratives of coming out, and critiques of the privileging of coming out as the apotheosis of a triumphalist gay identity as racist and ethnocentric in that privileging’s assumption of identity as coherent and univocal, and the assumption of a safe space to come out into (#BlackLivesMatter has served as a forceful reminder of the illusion of such safe spaces for black men, in particular), here we are again at a coming out crossroads, at a coming out as crossroad. 

 Here we are again swept into that narrative expectation of coming out as a crossing from innocence into experience, even when that coming out is compromised and contaminated by decades of denial (on the part of Spacey), by decades of knowingness (on the part of Spacey watchers), and now by the specter of sexual harassment and sexual assault. And despite “queer’s” supposed resistance to utopian or censorious prescriptions for positive representation, the expectation—indeed, the demand—that queer articulation carries with it a triumphal narrative of gay goodness, or, at least a triumphal narrative of victimhood overcome (“it gets better”) persists. Persistence is not always a good thing. It is as if “queer’s” efforts to decenter heterosexuality and heteronormativ-ity are, in the United States anyway, frantically skidding backward into liberal defensiveness in the wake of the Trump-effect’s jolt back to the culture wars, to a multiculturalism no longer taken as given, to kindness and empathy suddenly embattled. Or proof that the triumph of same-sex marriage across the globe is just more evidence of neoliberalism’s cannibalization of queer antiassimilation-ism. As if the antisocial turn in queer theory had not happened. Or, at least, possible evidence of its failure to yet make an impact outside of academia"

(The full - and highly readable - paper continues at Queer: Good Gay, Bad Gay, Black Gay, White Gay?)

   Neo-liberalism/advanced capitalism has form when it comes to throwing us crumbs-off-the-table "rights" like same-sex marriage. It also has form when it comes to pitting groups against each other, with the ever-growing list of LGBTI  "alphabet people" simply seen as vulnerable minority target groups who can be easily picked off without a defined and assertive Queer flag to rally around. ("Defined Queer flag" meaning that queers aren't foot-soldiers and numbers for other groups / ideologies seeking political advancement via alliance: dominion and purpose can quickly become dilution.)

   But the Queer isn't exclusively a political animal, and LGBT is far from a fully-formed personal identity. Staying in your own lane and knowing at what point to rally aren't mutually exclusive. Gay men who aren't in their own lane enough to support and promote a strong and healthy masculinism at nobody's expense have probably learned nothing from feminism. Sublimated masculinity and gender-fluidity aren't interchangeable terms, and men who come to believe they are probably won't have a lot of empathy or solidarity with brothers who in reality are doing it tougher. And yes, I use the term "brother" in both the racial and non-racial senses if there's a perceived difference.

   Aspirational chatter about equality is quite empty when the Gay Dream (or whatever it is), is predicated upon the assumption thats it's equally within the reach of any and all black men. The hail-brother niceness of it all doesn't quite cosmetize what's  essentially archly conservative exclusion. An older generation of gay men for the most part prefers to side-step all intersectionality issues which Queerdom insists he face up to. The young queer man tends to get intersectionality concepts, but he faces significant challenges going antisocially into an age of Pseudo-modernism.
 
   We've become intellectually sloppy when we don't know the difference between inclusion and tokenism, and revert to old gay habits from the self-defeating closet. Changing times always create newer opportunities for adaptive "passing", and gay men like Milo Yiannopoulos serve to remind us that self-imagined empowerment at the brutalizing and divisive expense of others isn't sustainable anyhow.

   With reactionary forces ominously looming worldwide, LGBTQ+ needs to significantly pick up its game, and look at how it stumbled around "handling" Jussi Smollett and Kevin Spacey. Western alt-Righters have successfully made subtle but deadly inroads, and are ready and waiting with recycled factoids like "gays are racists and pedophiles" and "black men are homophobic", to name two of the more obvious. "Bravely fighting back" will simply evidence that we've lost control of the narrative. We've all got skin in the man game, and we're wise to know it.

   The above notwithstanding, it's easy to see that "man problems" of the non-gay variety aren't going away any time soon. What's not so easy to see is what gay men are doing about our own "man problems". Are we sweeping racism and our gender under every inappropriate carpet we can dream up? 


Thursday, February 28, 2019

Prison Walls & Eros - Part 3: A Brutal Splash Of Hard Paint






   The Berlinale Teddy LGBT Film Awards are important inasmuch as we’re invariably reminded that the Anglo version of Queerness as represented in film is often remarkably shallow and universally untrue. From its first award (Almodovar’s 1987 Law Of Desire) through The Way He Looks to last year’s winner Hard Paint (Tinta Bruta), the Berlinale reliably and regularly commits to the real diversity of the Queer male. And just as importantly, across three decades it's never committed to the ongoing Anglo triteness of "coming out" as central to queer men's stories. The pathos of fuckups who can't or won't come out - as well as the recycled tragedies of AIDS and homophobic violence - very quickly become exploitation of misery when consistently purged of anything resembling enjoyed sexuality or an uplifting experience at Le Cinema.

   Hard Paint throws everybody who sees it. Is it a loosely-assembled docudrama about a very ordinary Gen Z guy, or a Queer New Wave masterpiece which cannily draws us into a lived experience, and then some? Co-directors / writers Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon have chosen to ignore the fact that housebound online nerds are usually dismissed with a presumption of asexuality, or something like it. A predictable filmic device would then be to utilize a leading man who employs fashioned looks and acting tricks to mirror our own wishes to be “revealed” and “awakened” as someone desirable or lovable. Pedro (Shico Menegat) however isn’t gaming us that way: he’s unpolished, ungendered and disaffected. Looks-wise, he’s counter-gay at best. All in all, he's an unlikely candidate upon whom to hang a film which defiantly challenges the genre of young and silly faux-queer filmschool fluff.  Much more about sex than it lets on, Hard Paint confidently splashes its way to manhood without contrived ideas about young queers.

NeonBoy on the job as objet naïf.


  Pedro’s also like a virgin, slightly on the other side of sex: he scrapes out a meagre living as NeonBoy, performing online by dancing around in cheap underwear and smeared in neon paint. This crude flagrance doesn’t quite contrast with a bleak and shabby life in the bleak and shabby port town in Porto Alegre, Brazil. His back-story is jolting: the introverted sissy has violently fought back against bullying and is facing criminal charges for doing so. He hunts down a competing online copycat Leo (Bruno Fernandes) who refuses to be warned off, and seduces him instead. While Leo’s seduction speech is corniness personified, it subverts the notion that conflict drives real hot 'n' horny sex: Pedro and Leo’s sex is disarmingly natural. Their ensuing relationship however isn’t to constitute the film’s central tension. Instead of predictable neurosis for the sake of drama, a more real (and decidedly more Brazilian) type of guileless loving just becomes part of the disjointed narrative.

   “Disjointed narrative” may be exactly what our young queer lives were all about if we care to remember. What we view later as a syrupy blur was probably just a jig-sawed melange of experiences around our life in general, as people "moved on" but our queerness remained static...almost as if it were our jailer. Sex and sexuality however form part of the classic Existentialist narrative when it's reduced to men attempting to live their lives as free men. Pedro and Leo are constantly menaced by ominous and stark threats to freedom: imprisonment in its many forms hangs over their lives at every turn. 

   Hard Paint however isn’t afraid to wield sex like a weapon: after a thriller-like episode with a pickup we’re left in no doubt about the difference between sexual performance and sex...if perhaps we missed the NeonBoy metaphors. Notably, Pedro and Leo aren’t “porno-matched” inasmuch as their physical selves defy the narcissistic overtones of much male same-sex casting, as we've come to know it. Their freshness isn't mere casting serendipity - performances like these usually only come from surrender to the intense intelligence of good direction. With few establishing shots and questionable editing choices, the film stays true to both cinematic and personal interiors, as accessed through themes of abandonment (as experienced) and voyeurism (as practiced). Virtually any political statement can be made utilizing the male body, but things are bound to become interesting when philosophy intrudes and humanizes the relatively masculine body.

Pedro & Leo

  In Latin regions the marketing for Hard Paint screamed Escándalo!, and sensationalized the bruta aspects of it all. The movie’s real strength however is within its innate acceptance of loneliness and dehumanization as part and parcel of the ongoing queer male experience. Depressing? Not necessarily...gay men in denial of their own existential loneliness often take it to extreme levels of acting out, and project loathing onto other guys who've come to honest terms with it. The odor of the "l-word" can be a cringe-worthy threat, as we court and carry on. The presumption that existential loneliness - and loneliness in general -  is both fatal psychological flaw and erection killer is erroneous. Neither mean "relationship problems", and needn't be read as cause for dismissal or masked as indifference.
 
  The self-deceiving homosexualist may casualize thoughts about dehumanization, and relegate the entire topic to vague social and technological abstractions in which he may or may not be an active participant...because after all we are of the flesh, and of our sex drive, right? Hard Paint forcefully disagrees, and is in singularly orthodox agreement with Sartre's Theory of Sexuality. The Being of the queer man is relatively robust when his sexuality isn't thwarted by bad faith about himself.  It's not too much of a stretch for the queer man to step away from the habitual male self-victimization anxiety patterns of heterosexuality, and sanely celebrate what he's not required to take on. Reolon and Matzembacher shatter a central gay vanity with the guns of psychological humanism: what remains is a not-so-fragile expose of two men experiencing what sex means by simply purposing it properly.

  Hard Paint keeps itself in check in terms of anger and melodrama, and appears to avoid liberation-through-love as the payoff. The takeaway? We’re enriched more than we know if can walk away from the show open to the possibility that the next charmless man we’re not attracted to may be the very man we should be with. Pedro takes us to that place in two hours flat; and without a hint of confected romance we're well and truly seduced.

Caveat

While Hard Paint is a new film, it must also be seen in an even newer context. The likelihood that gay men (and LGBT people) will in future experience the uneasy balance of freedom, rights and homophobic violence portrayed in Hard Paint is under immediate threat in Bolsonaro's Brazil. In terms of film history, it may very well be on its way to becoming one of those films: the pre-Nazi films of the Weimar Republic, which stand only as hope demolished by modern reactionary forces.

Hard Paint is free for Australian viewers at SBS On Demand.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Marvin Gaye: Sexual Healing, and Otherwise




    As they've done for years, Hollywood sharks continue to circle the prey that is a big-budget Marvin Gaye musical biopic. The seductive call to a violent epic fleshed out with a baby-making sensibility is irresistible. There's no need to muddy the waters with perversion, or a sensitively questioning take on the man. To put it bluntly, there's little likelihood that anybody's planning on remaking "Glen Or Glenda" with a dope soundtrack.

Contemporary male bisexuals and cross-dressers have only themselves to blame if their broad “acceptance” hasn’t followed in the wake of the LGBTIQ successes of the last decade. Beginning with their inclusion at the onset of the Queer movement (where they enjoyed more currency than transgendered people), the majority have subsequently declined membership. Often demonstrating little more than a determination to uphold that brand of closetry and disassociation whose by-line (and identity) begins and ends with “I’m not gay", they wonder why nobody's really taking them seriously these days.

There's been little movement since this 2014 New Republic piece on the matter, so perhaps these guys need to think some more about what they are, rather than what they’re not. And that would begin with a broad look at all aspects of sexual attraction and masculinity, rather than playing to a numbers game which invokes “preferences”, as proof of something beyond aspiration. Profits aside, there's little to be gained from re-imagining Marvin Gaye - there is however a persuasive case for more appropriately imagining the man.

Subverting Boundaries And Delusions

 

   Some males exhibit hysteria around their own sex appeal when it comes to other men. (It's traditionally been impossible to gauge in advance whether acknowledging or disavowing their same-sex appeal will cause most offense.) The many versions of  "I'm not gay" presented as discussion-ending fact can't pass reasonable scrutiny for homophobic motivations and/or content. Realistically, Gen Z's ideas about pansexuality and sexual fluidity are coming to dominate modern narratives about sexual identity. With simple attraction as the touchstone - and a never-say-never attitude - even bi-sexuality as an idée fixe is looking a little old-school to under 24's. 


The data spewed out in "A Billion Wicked Thoughts" suggests that our ideas about a "homosexual male sexuality" versus a "heterosexual male sexuality" need drastic re-thinking, and not along fixed behavioral points on the Kinsey Scale. Two irrefutable facts about male sexuality (that gay interest is  a primary internet search, and that dicks elicit arousal in most men) can't be ignored. Common sense suggests that overlaying the data with older evolutionary thinking about male / female sexual selection science is to create conclusions which rely entirely on a host of binaries which may be substantially irrelevant. Queering Marvin Gaye then simply means he's re-evaluated for our times and not his.

The evolving 60s  style of Motown's Prince Charming

   The insinuating sex appeal of one of music’s most sexually attractive men – Marvin Gaye – is as intriguing as sexual attraction itself. The coltish thighs and rump packed into tight pants of his early Motown days was a nice way to package a girlish voice which swung easily to the R&B pop of the day. His boy/girl duets went a long way to cementing the genre, while establishing the boy's romantic appeal. Artistically he’d rather have been known for standards and show tunes, and he'd obviously learned more from Peggy Lee's contrived intimate vocal style than any other rowdier or assertively male influences. In lionizing Sinatra, his vocal shifts may very well have taken a lot from that old adage of the world of opera: "Tenors thrill the ladies but baritones get to fuck them". With remarkable insight, his biographer David Ritz (in the excellent “Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye”)  challenged an older Marvin Gaye as to whether that voice was in fact indicative of a softer “woman within”: the sometimes candid Gaye dodged that bullet by attributing it to showmanship.

The bullets Marvin Gaye couldn’t dodge were those fired by his violent, cross-dressing father who shot him to death in 1984 – the day before his forty-fifth birthday. The father’s actual sexuality was never as well-defined as that of his siblings’: Marvin Gaye's paternal uncles were all gay. Suffice to say that the abused young Marvin’s shy sexuality, fueled by “daddy issues”, went on to define yet another conflict in a highly conflicted life. He pursued hyper-heterosexuality as an antidote to an unimaginably painful sexual insecurity - a pursuit which  could only sabotage a damaged boy’s potential for intimacy.

Humanizing A Heterosexual Fail


   While openly acknowledging his own cross-dressing tendencies as inheritance, as well as being intrigued by seeing himself as a woman, Marvin Gaye stopped short of acknowledging any inherited sexual ambiguity from father or uncles. Nor did he expound on the sexual aspect of his perhaps fetish. Religiously conflicted as well, he unsurprisingly embraced heterosexuality as religion, which compounded his woes to the degree that sexuality (as well as his innate sensuality) would bring him no worthwhile peace or comfort, spiritually or otherwise.


Saturday, February 9, 2019

Sex-positive Isn't A Medical Condition






In a world of free-wheeling nosiness, I’ve come to believe that a “frank” question like “Are you gay?” deserves a truly frank (and reasonably unisex) answer: “Nah – I just like to have sex with other men. Do you know any attractive ones?” I figure that getting laid is more important than doing P.R. for identity causes, or other things things I’m even less interested in. It’s served me well, and I don’t have to get into the peripheral stuff like how I missed out on the gay decorating gene. Non-gays who are asked the same question often get to point by being upfront about what they’re after.

But I acknowledge that it’s a gay thing to get all fey when the topic implies cocksucking and M2M anal sex. Few of us can claim Arabic male modesty, as even fewer can claim to have asked ourselves just how sex-positive we truly are. Do we flaunt our homosexuality, or is our flaunting more about other things than the down-and-dirty basics?

The basics of course are nothing new. All kinds of men have had all kinds of sex with each other across all times. Homosexual sex, in all its prurient filth, forms part of the male heterosexual narrative. Gay Libbers in the early Seventies sharpened their focus on homosexuality as definitive of The Homosexual, within broader demonization of "The Other". As a menacing “whatever” cocktail of faggotry, sissyness, Jewishness and Commie tendencies, “The Other” was most successfully pressed into service by American war machine propaganda from the 1930s onwards. Not quite sophisticated racism, but a very close relative.

By focusing on liberating homosexuality itself, a more sharply defined narrative can be seen to deviate from earlier “pleas for tolerance”, bad psychiatry and de-sexed “sissies”...as figures of menace, ridicule and general entertainment. Sex sells, and for the first time in millennia the concept of gay rights had both a face and a groin and a determination to assert both, as sex-positivity with no apologies.

Politics & The Price of Free Love


It was always going to be an uphill battle to assert the sex-positive underpinnings of Gay Liberation when middle-class white gay men followed their muse of assimilationism, as determined by their middle-class suburban backgrounds and the sexual permeations of same. Or, more succintly, they didn’t leave their neuroses behind when they became “gay”. As a consumerist class we just bought what was sold by our early lifestyle sponsors: porn and alcohol. We mistook the former for sex education, and the latter as numbing medication for the psyche. We may have also missed the fact that we were vulnerable to our homosexuality being exploited by pernicious politics, and all that advanced capitalism determines will be. As we enrich the condom industry far beyond its wildest expectations, we don't often pause to ask if perhaps marketing principles like competition aren't preying on our male sexual insecurities.

Ill-prepared when AIDS hit in the 80s, guilt and shame obscured whatever sex-positivity we may have had. AIDS was a tremendous win for sex-negativity, inasmuch as assumed trust between men was replaced by life-or-death fear. Such a climate is likely to kill love unless we're acutely aware of the fact. We clearly see this evidenced by the embracing of “dating” as a new mating/sex ritual in response to AIDS. The ritual is a time-honored post-war American practice - born of American Puritanical prohibitions on sex, and its assumed immorality. To transfer that heterosexual sensibility to men who have sex with each other implies that the boy/girl dynamic must be clunkily reimagined in terms of how sex is transacted, rather than prioritizing whatever love may be in the situation. Dating might serve some men who want to “glue” a relationship and tease or trap a potential partner, but it can’t remotely be seen as a characteristic of sex-positivity, or leading to it.


Defiance, dollars, and..? (Photo:Ed Freeman)

The Queer movement challenged the exclusive-but-assimilationist tendencies of the gay men who in many ways squandered the opportunities presented by the 70's sexual revolution. For many, their approach to sex was simply an exploitative party which hurt as much as it healed. Sexual acting out isn’t sexual liberation if its origins are in prudish suburbia. Dating itself presents many great opportunities to grow real and lasting love between men. Conversely, we’re sabotaging ourselves when we go down the counter-productive path of assuming we have unlimited choices. We don't, and many are simply swiping their way back to existential loneliness - while paying for the privilege of  suspended reality in the form of ads and more.

Mark Brennan Rosenberg at HuffPo wades into the mud when he asks "Why Do Gay Men Make Dating So Hard For Themselves?"  Indeed...when the numbers get crunched, gay men might just end up happier with arranged marriages if their still-exclusive hopes and dreams hinge on superficial drivel like income, where we’re at sexually and what we have in common. One thing's for certain: vague ruminations about "chemistry" (and when it might happen) aren't the sign of a man who's genuinely looking for anything substantial.  Addiction to searching-into-perpetuity probably precludes actually ever finding something worthwhile, now or later.

The State of The Queer Nation in the US is both local and universal: the old habits of gay men still cling on twenty years after principles of inclusion ensured the rapid successes of the LGBTIQ umbrella as an outgrowth of Queer activism. “Intersectionality” seems to be a no-brainer for everybody except some older gay men, so perhaps they need to first deal with this modern challenge from “radical” feminism: “Where are gay men now for us, when women were there for you - front and center - in the darkest days of AIDS?” That’s quite an indictment…even more so when we take on board the commonalities feminism and gay rights historically share.

If some gay men feel politically put-upon, then perhaps the best thing they can do is to come to grips with their sexual alterity, rather than smugly seeing a gayer (but less homosexual) world as anything but a betrayal of a Gay Lib core principle. Once they get that, they might then look at the fact that the Queer movement opposed their non-inclusive tendencies from the get-go, and for very good reasons. And then they might put the two together and come to see that their own lives might be significantly improved with practiced sex-positive inclusivity.  

Cultural Cringe


Queer Nation's early 90's upending of middle-class gay and lesbian narratives (as preached to the choir) saw the group cut through to America by speaking directly through tabloid media. National talk shows like "Nine Broadcast Plaza" were chasing Jerry Springer's audience, and very quickly learned that well-dressed "real live queers" almost coming to blows with homophobes gave their viewers just what they wanted. What producers also learned, to their complete shock, was that "Hilary's Deplorables" actually supported things like gays in the military, and didn't want preachers telling people to boot their gay kids out either.

LGBT has a great unacknowledged debt to low-brow exploitative culture. The shoddy, emotive, not-for-primetime documentaries about transgenderism in the early Noughties paved the way for Caitlin Jenner's Vanity Fair cover "triumph". Hollywood's pretensions to art and entertainment represent a need to learn from trash TV.

"Naked Attraction": dick pics first, gentlemen!

The U.K. has made an artform of the genre, and it's current shocker is the very Queer-friendly "Naked Attraction". It's posited on the idea that everybody wants to closely examine genitals before they see faces or hear voices, and that's what dating is really all about. With no snickering or genital shaming, it's Grindr and Tinder come to life for one and all.  Contestants invariably represent the non-professional classes, but a nevertheless relatable range of Gen Y queer men.

As a cultural statement it's a graphic statement of liberation: "It's perfectly fine and fun for girls and boys to really like dicks and asses". What's not perfectly fine is that "Naked Attraction" is confined to adult viewing, when it should be shown in schools for sex-ed classes.


Sex Education...a.k.a. You're Gay  - No Need To Get Into That Homosexuality Shit!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

On Holocaust Remembrance Day...



Because if we don't know better and do better it will happen again. Curb your antisemitism.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Toxic Masculinity: Are We In Or Out?




    

Are we not men?


     "L" precedes "G" in LGBTIQ for good reasons, not the least of which is to remind gay men that pre-Queer tendencies to exclusion of all but the overtly masculine weren't quite as cool as we thought. A community like that isn't a viable or effective movement, nor is it acceptable to a socio-political alliance committed to broad change. Gay Liberation, as determined by gay men, hadn't lived up to the early-70s promises demonstrated by significant actions like forcing the American Psychiatric Association to de-pathologize homosexuality. For close to twenty years gay men accepted limited rights while establishing an elitist culture which often embraced the rise of Neo-liberalism and its attendant pitfalls. Homosexuality - as practiced - took a sharp turn from freewheeling counter-cultural liberation towards the fetishism of hyper-masculinity. A slightly cleaner psychiatric bill of health doesn't necessarily mean that a gay man will automatically question the psychology of masculinity.

For the homosexual to pursue and desire masculinity for the sake of masculinity means alighting upon a psychological minefield - best explored and navigated only with good psychology. As projection, we often indulge in desire for men we neither like nor respect - to much the same degree that our non-gay brothers cause exemplary shipwrecks in their pursuit of women. And since we're talking about male psychology, it's immaterial whether or not women do it, or the degree to which they might. While good psychology (and the life-skills acquired from it) are of prime importance to all, functioning as a man who wishes to experience positive outcomes from sex and intimacy with other men as well as negotiating life in general requires supportive psychology. That is, one which supports a unique, integrated self in being the best man he can be. Nothing "special" per se - just something which doesn't bulldoze the specifics.

I've complained for years that the field of studies we call Masculinities is a neglected and scattered pursuit which tends to retread time-worn tropes - especially notable when offset with related and component studies around feminism and gender. Ergo male homosexuality presents as a psychological dead-end street without some solid framing within masculinity as understood, and understood well. The likelihood of death for a man who desires other men at the hands of toxic masculinity is reflected in suicide and murder statistics, which aren't adequately or entirely explained by catch-alls like "homophobia". We can look at simple cause and effect only up to a certain point.
 
When it comes to masculinity, homosexualists certainly have skin in the game. And we owe it first to ourselves to sort out what masculinity is inherently good and healthy, and what is just plain toxic. Ruminating about men and masculinity is a pointless exercise if our discrimination isn't focused on concepts like "real men versus toxic masculinity". We're probably on a winning trajectory if our daydreams about real men turn to equating sexy masculinity with characteristics like the easy-going kindness which only comes from real masculine security. Toxic masculinity is very much at home in a binary narrative about tops and bottoms - less so if the narrative shifts to life's givers and takers.

The paradoxes of toxic masculinity are many, but the central paradox, i.e. that toxic masculinity seeks to both reward and punish its adherents goes a long way towards meaningful definition/s. And it's only recently been fingered as a belief system more akin to religion than good psychology. The appeal of toxic masculinity is both obvious and covert, with the dual promises of superiority and domination ahead of simple survival. Not unlike bad religion and bad psychiatry, its dark obverse is rooted in "curing" perceived threats to its ideological self by whatever means it takes.

Toxic Masculinity isn't an interchangeable term for  "patriarchal society", and while the latter nurtures the former, toxic masculinity opposes any real tolerance which may emanate from within patriarchy. Its toxicity lies within its archly reactionary but changeable characteristics, as well as its punitive practices. The tentacles of toxic masculinity aren't restricted to derision ("He throws like a girl!"), hurt feelings ("Just man up!") and exclusion ("Not man enough"). Coupled with social tendencies veering towards nationalism in a climate of to-be-desired hyper-masculinity, the syndrome manifests as distrust and extreme competition between men, to the degree that personal and deep love between men of all sexual preferences becomes less attainable.


Good Psychology Often Offends


   Though long overdue, good psychology flew in under the radar in August of 2018 when the American Psychological Association quietly dropped its APA Guidelines For The Psychological Practice With Boys And Men. Empiric inasmuch as they incorporate most responsible research and academia around masculinities from the last thirty years, when applied as psychotherapy there's every reason to be optimistic. A vacuous "Wikipedia On Masculinity" it's thankfully not, and a shit-storm of reactionary outrage has recently erupted from the usual suspects a.k.a. those who call themselves conservatives and traditionalists. That's the American experience so far.  It remains to be seen whether incels and "men's rights advocates" will follow U.S. Fox News in condemning the APA, if indeed any of the above give a rat's ass about the science and art of psychology, as scholastically researched and presented.

What's researched and presented however must be able to tick boxes like philosophy and ethics to pass muster before its work-ability can be evaluated. Otherwise it's just pop psychology, and may or may not be even appropriate to the times...although any good psychology is eminently appropriate to its times. While a psychology might do no harm, it's relative worth hinges on whether or not it actually works for individuals in ways that ideology and identity don't, and can't.

The APA Guidelines don't seek to entrench treatment (they're up for review in ten years), but are justified as holistically needs-based in response to what they rightfully claim: that boys and men have historically been the focus of psychological research and practice as a normative referent for behavior rather than as gendered human beings. That's an expansive brief to say the least, and certainly invokes the need for a disciplined approach to psychotherapy from practitioners. Queer consumers of same who desire productive outcomes are entitled to know what to expect in terms of practice and consistent common-sense service delivery. Any form of counseling which doesn't signal adherence to the guidelines should be approached with extreme caution.

The Ten Guidelines (minus rationale / treatment) are as follows: