Monday, July 29, 2013

I would cuddle you so hard.

So says a shirt frequenting the local gay watering holes nowadays. So much for the hankies in the back pocket advertising what wild (or not-so-wild but still sexual) things you were into. Of course, those largely died out as guys became more open and willing to say what they wanted. Props to the interwebs and such for that.

But really? CUDDLE? That's all you would do? I'd hope for something more. Something more animal, something more feral, something more bestial than just a warm fuzzy cuddle.

Unfortunately, it seems like that's what guys are resorting to more and more. Or at least advertising. Maybe I'm wrong, and maybe guys are using that as a ruse to actually bed other guys. I hope I'm wrong. But it's almost like we men are becoming emasculated. (BTW...there is a significant and really depressing amount of scientific evidence to support this hypothesis, too...just search around.)

One of my good friends wrote last night about this very topic. He started out as a kid much like me (and much like millions of other gay men out there), having that dream, then waking in fright and dread about what it meant, and how it went against everything that he heard and was taught. For him, it was even worse, growing up a devout member of the Catholic church, right alongside the rest of his Italian family.

So he learned to hide it, to be one of the guys, to be a hard-partying womanizing frat boy by college. Only in his last year of college (again, much like me), did he finally come out, much to his family's consternation and his friends' confusion. Stereotypes die hard, and a brutally masculine, non-swishy man just cannot be gay, right?

As the years passed and he became more comfortable with himself, he realized at some point that he was not just this butch gay guy, but a full-out leatherman, with all the serious role-playing and heavy sex that culture entails. And it hit him hard, in the best way possible. So not only was there a place for the non-swishy gay men, but the hypermasculine ones who were as far from that stereotype as possible.

Now, years later, he's seeing evidence of...well, at least for himself, some dying down of the testosterone-laden past he's had. It happens as you grow older. But he's beginning to rage against that dying of the light. Getting a full-sleeve tattoo, hitting the gym again in earnest, and doing what he can to ensure that he remains as queer and true to himself as possible. He exults in living the life that few dare to, in being that wild man. He laughs a bit too loud. He rides his motorcycle a bit too fast. He wears his pants a size too small to show off his impressive package (accentuated with a PA). He occasionally wears his full Tom of Finland leather gear to choir rehearsals, and even to church, where he works as the music director and organist. And he loves every last bit of it.

And I love him for it. Guys like him, with so much passion, pushing at the bounds of propriety and acceptability, are too few and far between in this world of beige and cubicles and suburbs and long commutes.

My life has taken me in a decidedly less wild trajectory than his. No leather in my past, I was nowhere near as butch as this guy was. My personal revolution was largely internal; aside from temporarily dyeing part of my hair green, you wouldn't have guessed I was subversive in any way. I wasn't swishy, but you could have justifiably called me effete back in the day. You could have blown me over with a breeze. And I was terribly shy.

Some things don't change. I'm still pretty shy when it comes to meeting guys I'm attracted to. Not the butchest guy to come down the pike, either (though I'm also not FAAAAbulous). But at least I look and feel more substantial. Every day, I live a bit closer into what is truly who I feel I was meant to be.

And I think this may be why I have such admiration for my queer brothers and sisters. We were dealt a hand that forced us to suppress ourselves for a long time - especially during the time that would ordinarily be the most transformative. The act of being true to ourselves in the face of a society that disapproves of such a thing becomes exponentially more meaningful and urgent than it otherwise would.

In particular, I have tremendous admiration for those whose need to be completely true to themselves takes them on the most extreme journeys. Drag queens are among them. It takes some real courage to engage in the transformation into some of the most fabulously dressed and made-up creatures on the planet. This is not in small part because we live in a society in which women are, unfortunately, construed in many ways as inferior to men. But among me and my friends, drag queens are deserving of the highest adulation possible. In fact, for many of us, RuPaul's Drag Race is a ritual during the first third of each year. Many straight guys have their football or basketball or baseball. We have our Drag Race.

Recently, I've also begun to admire - much more than in the past - the trans folk of our culture. One of my best friends from college came out to me in a very low-key manner at a bar in Minneapolis, simply saying that she really was jealous of Chaz Bono. (I assume it was because Chaz was able to afford and undergo breast removal surgery.) The bit of exposure I had for the trans community suddenly was directly in front of me and a significant part of my life. Although she - to my knowledge - hasn't acted on anything since that time, she was the only trans man I'd known -- until about a month ago.

Just a few weeks ago, another college friend posted on FB that she was trans, and that from here on forward, she requested that we call him by his new chosen man's name, that he was taking testosterone, and that he was about to get his breasts removed. Wow. What balls. (Check out his blog "So that others may follow", which I have a link to on the right.) His partner, who is a lesbian, is staying with him and supporting him throughout his journey, too. (Update: Just found out right now that they just got engaged! Cue the tears of joy to my eyes.)

Then another college friend said that she was about ready to come out to her new workplace, and asked us all for support and prayers. This confused me, since she was a lesbian, and well, if you can't come out in Minneapolis, where can you come out? Then it hit me...this was why she had turned her FB name into two men's names. So he was trans, too! Pretty wild, this: three trans FTM guys within the span of two years of college. Whoda thunk? (Update: He was fully accepted, no issues whatsoever. What a huge blessing.)

These are the people who are true to themselves, who lend vivid, unignorable color to an increasingly beige world of people who would cuddle you so hard, who may seem weird and off-putting. But they're inevitably the most interesting, wild, and passionate people I know. They will be among the ones who help transform this world into a better, more tolerant, loving, and celebratory place. I'm glad to call them my sisters and brothers, and to count myself among them.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Notes from light rail, pt. 1

Damn, wish I had headphones.

Stranger making funny faces on the bus at a baby while the mom looks on, amused, contented and happy. Takes a village?

Shit-ass luck. Takes just one errant bus to thrown my whole schedule off and make a 90-minute commute twice as long. RRRGH...

Burgeoning business... Will it take the place of my other one?

NDs are not my people. Don't feel part of the tribe. I'm bad. How bad? Not GMO-free, not gluten free, eat like crap (including fast food more often than I'm willing to admit), sleep with electric appliances near my head and with a bedroom so light you can see across the room easily, read a backlit tablet before bed ensuring my sleep will be awful...Just happens.

Having said that, I looked at the mirror this morning, and possibly for the first time ever, was fully content with what I saw. Finally saw myself as a grown man, full, filled out and...well, not muscle-bound. Not yet, at least. About damn time, though. You'd think this would happen before the age of 38. And this, after a night of packing for Bear Week, and yes, being vain and trying on all manner of shirts (still fit) and shorts (just barely). Liked the way I looked then, too.

FB messages bad when you're trying to eke out your identity in a positive manner. Many messages bring you down or distract you from carving out your identity.

Why am I carsick while reading on the light rail, but not while typing?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Like A Prayer - Madonna

No, really. This happens to be one insanely awesome album, the best she's ever done. It doesn't contain what I consider her undisputable highs ("Holiday" and "Vogue"), but it's her most consistent. It lands right at the end of her coy boy toy phase, just before she began to indulge in hardcore Erotica and Sex. That confluence alone would make Like A Prayer an especially fascinating chapter in Madonna's chameleonic career. But she went another step and practically made a concept album out of it, with at least half of the songs dealing with Family, whether literal or figurative. To belabor the point: mother ("Promise to Try"), father ("Oh Father"), sisters and brothers ("Keep It Together"), children ("Dear Jessie"), lovers ("Love Song", "Cherish"), spouses ("Till Death Do Us Part") get it.

What Madonna does here, also more than with any other album, is bare her soul. Much has been made of her intense love and longing for her mother, who died when Madonna was five, and whom Madonna has emulated and idolized. You hear her feelings spilled out on the gorgeous and deathly serious "Promise to Try," full of swelling strings and deep piano. Her pain also bleeds through on "Oh Father," during which she invokes not just the pain her father inflicted on her, but the symbolic Father of her church as well. But arguably, her deepest pain comes during the frenetic "Till Death Do Us Part." Remove the lyrics, and you have what could almost pass for a happy pop song. But at the time, Madonna was going through tremendous relationship anguish with her then-husband Sean Penn, and the couple divorced shortly before Like A Prayer was released. If the rumors on the tabloids didn't spell out her troubles clearly enough, her lyrics sure did: After listening to "The bruises, they will fade away/You hit so hard with the words you say," it was hard not to feel guilty over reducing Sean and Madonna to a celebrity couple for our consumption and amusement.

On the lighter side, "Dear Jessie" is a sweet and whimsical pop confection sung to a little girl, all "pink elephants and lemonade...candy kisses and a sunny day." Who knew Madonna could be so endearing, guileless, and motherlike? There's no other song in Madonna's canon like it, and it's utterly delightful. And in the midst of so many relationships on the album gone wrong, "Cherish" celebrates a deep and fulfilling relationship gone right...beyond infatuation and even beyond romance into joyous hopes for a lifetime of solid love with her perfect man. (I must pause here: that video. WHEW...that video. Those perfectly muscled and gorgeous mermen. *sigh*) And if there is any song that still keeps one foot firmly planted in the '80s, it's "Keep It Together." With a funky bassline and awesome syncopation, the song could fit seamlessly in True Blue from three years before. But instead of yelling "where's the party?" or naively gushing that "love makes the world go round," she profoundly asserts: "Brothers and sisters...they hold the key to your heart and your soul...don't forget that your family is gold." So much for the lighthearted hedonism of her youth...she's beginning to grow up.

The best and most convincing message on Like a Prayer comes in the form of self-affirmation and women's empowerment with "Express Yourself." The version here is pretty lighthearted and celebratory, full of synthesized brass and hoots. You know Madonna has some hard-won wisdom when she sings "You deserve the best in life, so if the time isn't right, then move on! Second-best is never'll do much better, baby, on your own!" Pop seldom has such profound lyrics, so hearing this song on FM radio was a revelation. (The version on The Immaculate Collection is a good deal rawer and funkier, but both versions are equally effective and enjoyable.)

The two songs that bookend the album are also nearly mirror images of each other. I'd argue that the title song is actually one of the weaker songs here. Bouncing between hushed gospel choruses and the bold sounds Madonna is known for does not make for a convincing song. Having said that, check out that edgy video. And duh...we all know what she meant when she sang "I'm down on my knees/I wanna take you there." (Again, I have to point out the version on The Immaculate Collection, which is a vast improvement on the original; its insistent crescendo suits the mood perfectly.) But then you play the song backward, add in some wild guitar strangling and botched tongue-in-cheek Catholic prayers ("Who art all good/Like I knew you would/And deserving of all my love"), and you have the hilarious "Act of Contrition." It would be unfair to disclose how the song ends. Just listen to it.

Hell, just listen to the whole album. And buy it. Yes, it's kind of a relic from the '80s, but it's also damn near impeccable. I'm not the biggest Madonna fan - in fact, I find it hard to muster up much enthusiasm for the majority of her music - but this album really has to be heard.