Just Enough to Be Dangerous?

It’s nice knowing just enough Unix command-line stuff that you’re not afraid to try something that will make your life easier, but also knowing little enough that you probably won’t try something that’s likely to take the whole server down with you.

MTV at 25

MTV turns 25 on Tuesday. What’s really interesting is that MTV itself can’t be bothered to mark the anniversary at all; that particular celebration will be held on sister station VH1 Classic, which will apparently be playing every video featured on MTV’s first day of programming.

Should be interesting. It’s too bad not many people will see it.

Twin City Sentinel

While we’re discussing content, have I mentioned that I am the proud new owner of twincitysentinel.com? For those of you who aren’t Winston-Salem old-timers (in other words, all but maybe two of you), the Twin City Sentinel was Winston-Salem’s old afternoon newspaper, which ceased publication in the mid-1980s. I was surprised the domain was available, actually.

I haven’t decided for sure what to do with it, but maybe it will become everything Planet Charlotte sort of never did. And maybe it will even use (gasp) a content management system.

An Honorable Disease

When I read this a few weeks ago, it pissed me off so much that I almost spit out my dinner:

“To imagine that it’s just like every other disease — like cancer or diabetes — is false,” said Tracy Welsh, executive director of the HIV Law Project. “Getting a positive test result is something that turns somebody’s life upside down.”

Let’s talk for a minute here.

I understand that HIV/AIDS is, in numerous ways, different from many other diseases. First and foremost, it is a communicable disease, and a very stigmatized, sexually-transmitted one at that. It requires a different disease control approach due both to its nature and to its history. I get it. I understand.

What I do not understand, though, is why individuals with HIV are considered by some to be so much more “heroic” than those with other diseases. I don’t understand the suggestion that dealing with HIV is somehow more “significant” and “devastating” than dealing with any other life-threatening disease. I don’t understand this woman’s implication that being diagnosed with HIV “turns somebody’s life upside down” while being diagnosed with cancer or diabetes is apparently just a fucking walk in the park.

Like Cancer or Diabetes:

In 2001, I lost one of my oldest friends. Stan died at age 46 of heart-related diabetes complications. Because he was so young, and because he was a homosexual male, many of my acquaintances were surprised to learn that he hadn’t died of AIDS. Human nature being what it is, I understood on some level.

But in a few of these acquaintances, I noticed something a little deeper. It was almost imperceptible, but it seemed they were ever so slightly disappointed that he had died of something other than AIDS. Somehow, it was almost as if his death were somehow slightly less tragic, just a little less significant, because he hadn’t fallen prey to “the” disease.

I’ve talked to a couple of other people who have had similar situations over the years, and it really bugs me. It’s as if there’s some sort of Klingon death ritual and young homosexual soldiers aren’t considered to have died honorably in battle unless they succumb to this particular malady which is, as we all know, not a gay disease.

Five years later, my friend Stan is no less dead for having died of diabetes. I think it’s safe to say he was rather devastated by it.

Upside Down:

To make it more personal, I was myself diagnosed with cancer this past February. It was later revealed that I had an early stage lymphoma that would probably respond well to treatment. For the first month, however, I had no real idea about my prognosis. I went to bed every night wondering if I was going to die within a year or two. I still wonder how much my lifespan may have been shortened by the stress of the cancer and the ensuing radiation therapy, and I probably will for the rest of my life. And there’s no guarantee it won’t come back.

In those first few weeks, I cried. A lot. My husband cried. My parents cried. Hell, my doctor even got weepy.

I had CAT scans and PET scans and blood tests, one of them, ironically, an HIV test. I also had a partcularly unpleasant procedure known as a bone marrow biopsy, which involved yanking out some bone tissue and some marrow from my pelvis using a stylus and a hook — while I was wide awake. It was rather strenuous; the doctor was red-faced and sweating like a pig afterward. I didn’t feel so hot either.

Once my diagnosis was certified, I spent three and a half weeks with blue marks on my chest and had a large nuclear weapon aimed at my chest every morning at 10:00. There’s a quite good chance that I’m cured now, but I’ll never know for sure. I’ll be paranoid about every ingrown hair or pimple or bump I get for the rest of my life. And insurers will be somehwat reluctant to touch me for the foreseeable future.

My experience with cancer was very mild compared to many other people’s. And yet, I’d say that my life has been pretty thoroughly turned “upside down” by it.

Why Am I Telling You All This?

I’m not telling you all this because I want sympathy or your good wishes. That’s why I hadn’t mentioned the cancer before, and I don’t really plan to mention it again unless it becomes an even bigger issue at some point in the future. It’s not something I plan to spend a lot of time thinking or worrying about if I can help it. I only mentioned it today because this miserable HIV industry spokesmoron pissed me off so much.

I’m not telling you all this because I think more money should be spent on cancer research than on HIV/AIDS research, because I don’t really have an opinion on that subject. I don’t want more attention paid to “my” cause than to someone else’s. I don’t even have a cause.

I’m not telling you all this because I want to minimize the suffering of persons with HIV nor the impact of the disease on their lives. I have had many close friends with HIV over the years, and I’ve lost several of them to it. I know how bad it is. I also know, though, that heroism and honor are found in just about the same proportion among HIV-positive and HIV-negative indivduals. Having HIV (or any other disease) doesn’t make an individual any more brave or heroic than not having one.

I am telling you all this because I think we need to remember that there are other diseases that are just as devastating as HIV to the individuals involved. When a life is threatened, someone is generally pretty devastated by it, no matter what the cause. To suggest otherwise is insensitive and obnoxious.

I thus suggest that Tracy Welsh occasionally leave her little HIV industry bubble and see the rest of the world. She might be surprised that people with HIV are not the only ones on the planet whose lives are turned “upside down” by potentially fatal diseases.

The Big Gay Essay

I am homosexual. I am not gay. There is a difference.

I have sexual relations exclusively with men. The means that I am homosexual. That is all it means. This fact does not have any implications with respect to my politics nor my taste in music or fashion or literature. None. The fact that I have sexual relations with men does not say anything about me other than that I have sexual relations with men. Sexual orientation is about sex. Only. Period.

My lifestyle can beat up your lifestyle:

Many homosexual people also consider themselves to be gay. “Gay” is not a sexual orientation. “Gay” is a lifestyle and a collection of cultural, social, and political values that some homosexuals (and no doubt some non-homosexuals) share, most of which are not inherently related to sexual orientation. The fact that I have sex with members of my same sex does not mean that I am predisposed toward any certain set of non-sexual behaviors.

There are those who believe my last statement suggests that all homosexuals are nothing more than one-dimensional sexual beings. Actually, the opposite is true. My sexual orientation is only a small part of my life. I am not a one-dimensional individual. I have many and varied interests. However, the mere fact that I am homosexual does not mean that I am naturally inclined toward certain dance music or TV shows or fashions any more than being a carnivore might make me enjoy bullfights or being black would make me crave watermelon. There’s just no connection.

In fact, it is those people who allow their sexual orientation to dictate the everyday, non-sexual aspects of their lives who really seem one-dimensional to me. People who read only “gay books”, see only “gay movies”, and listen only to “gay music” hold no real appeal for me. As someone who values individuality and the ability to think for myself, a culture of lifestyle fashion victims being spoon-fed a very specific package of jargon and merchandising holds very little appeal.

Despite what I’ve said in the past, I now agree that there is a “gay community”. I just question whether the majority of homosexuals actually choose to be members of it.

A bill of goods:

Sexual orientation is a morally, socially, and politically neutral factor. The mere fact that I prefer to suck dick does not make me inherently morally superior to anyone else, nor does it make me inherently inferior. It also does not infuse me with a specific set of values common to all homosexuals. While it may well shape my opinions of political issues specifically related to my sexual orientation, even this is not a given.

The fact that I suck dick does not mean that I support every fuzzy left cause that surfaces, any more than preferrring women would automatically make me a member of the fanatical right. This assumption really irritates me, even when it’s a fuzzy left cause that I do support. It’s insulting. All homos don’t think alike. What, actually, do nuclear power or the rainforest or subsidized housing for the homeless really have to do with one’s sexual orientation? While I do have very specific opinions on these issues, they are centered in my brain, not my testicles.

Entitle this:

I call it “Gay Entitlement Syndrome”: the erroneous assumption that people should go out of the way to shop “within the community”. It’s pure and simple guilt-based marketing, nothing but a solicitation for charitable contributions, and it’s no way to run a business. My custom must be earned; I make my purchases with the company that most matches my needs and offers the best value and quality for my money. I do not owe anyone my business merely because we share a sexual orientation, and any business that assumes I do will have to get by without my patronage. I will not be taken for granted.

An example: when I used to drink, I found that I often preferred doing so socially in “non-gay” bars. The beer selection was invariably better and usually cheaper, I was actually able to have conversations with my friends, and I wasn’t faced with horrible, annoying dance music that all gay people may like, but that some homosexuals really hate.

On the other hand, bars serving my “community” were essentially useless for any purpose other than for picking up guys — and they were often somewhat lacking on that front as well. However, “gay bars” were all in all a better option for meeting sex partners, so that’s what I used them for.

If a bookstore or bar owned by a homosexual best meets my needs, I’ll gladly patronize it. If it doesn’t, I’ll go somewhere else. Simple, huh?

The protective homo cone of self-righteousness:

Socially and culturally, everything still comes down to personal choice and responsibility. And homosexuality does not, and will not, free one of personal responsibility for the choices one makes, nor is it an excuse for inferior quality work nor for the abandonemnt of critical thinking skills.

Homosexuals commit bad writing, thievery, murder, stupidity, and any number of other capital offenses in approximately the same proportion as anyone else, and they should be punished, spit upon, or laughed at accordingly whenever they do so.

Why settle? Why should we hold homosexuals to a lesser standard of behavior than anyone else? Why should anyone feel obliged to pretend that shit created by a homosexual smells better than shit created by anyone else?

Attractiveness, masculinity, “community”, and the need to justify:

Unfortunately, many people who might agree with many of my premises also have the mistaken notion that I’m on some sort of macho crusade. Nothing could be farther from the truth. While I’d agree wholeheartedly that sexual orientation and gender identification are not inherently related, I’d also argue that “masculinity” is an extremely subjective and ultimately rather nebulous term. Like “attractiveness” or “unpleasantness”, the definition of “masculinity” depends largely on the individual doing the defining. My definition may have to do with athletics or other interests, while yours may be centered on aggressiveness, manner of dress or speech, or even occupation.

On some level, people who obsess over “masculinity” bother me just as much as those who define everything in terms of sexual orientation. In fact, I think they often tend to be people who define everything in terms of sexual orientation, if perhaps unconsciously. Ultimately, it’s a preferred personality type or even just a fetish. And that’s fine. Don’t make it something it isn’t.

Related is the whole notion of a “bear community” or a “leather community”. Don’t get me wrong. Being sexually attracted to big, hairy guys is a very good thing. Even though I’m not so inclined myself, I have a vested interest here: if no one liked big, hairy guys, I’d never get laid. It’s also OK to be polyamorous or monogamous or to have a foot fetish or to engage in any other consensual adult sexual behavior. If someone needs a “community” to make such behavior socially acceptable (in other words, to divorce it from its sexual context), that tells me that he’s not comfortable with his own sexuality to begin with.

Sex is good for its own sake; it doesn’t need further justfication, be it potluck suppers, charitable events, or a stupid black and blue flag — with or without optional paw print attachment. If you want to be around people who share your interests, that’s great. Just don’t delude yourself about what the specific interest is.

Groups of “regular guys”, “gay athletes”, etc. all stress that their organizations are definitely not about sex. Bullshit. It it weren’t all about sex, the sexual orientation of the members wouldn’t matter. I’ve always found that picking one’s sexual partners based on their sexual orientation works pretty well. I’ve never seen the logic of picking one’s friends, one’s favorite musicians, or one’s bridge partners on that basis. If you’re not planning to fuck them, why should you really care which sex they prefer?

Sex also is not political. Try as I may, my penis will probably never acknowlege your moral and ethical preference that I be attracted equally to all body types, ethnicities, and ages. It also doesn’t recognize your desire that I enjoy the right sort of pornography.

Is the presevation of individuality more important than “community-building”? Damned right it is.

The fight ain’t over:

Discrimination based on sexual orientation is very much alive and well, and even pervasive. The attacks come not only from the right wing religious nut jobs, but also from our very own fellow homosexuals, those who would tell us that certain relationship (lifestyle? fashion? political?) choices are valid while others aren’t. We have our very own authoritarian factions, ranging from those who find alternative choices “embarrassing” to the “community” to others who think those who choose more traditional options are “middle class assimilationists.”

Such enemies of sexual freedom must be fought off, from within and without. However, we each must also follow our own individual strategies for doing so. Who the hell is some pointy-headed “queer theorist” to decide what is and isn’t a valid relationship choice or method of protest, for that matter? As someone who has (happily) been both an outspoken sexual anarchist and a member of a largely traditional relationship, I can say that my choices at any given point in my life frankly are none of anyone else’s goddamned business.

First and foremost, we have (and must fight to retain) the right to make our own choices, and we have the responsibility to deal with the outcome of those choices. Fighting for someone else’s right to tell us what choices we should make is moronic and self-destructive. Sadly, it’s a the primary focus of most political activity in the US today.

But it’s all just semantics anyway, right?

Yes and no. I prefer precise language, so I’ve long since stopped using the terms “gay” and “homosexual” interchangeably. The best analogy I can come up with here is “old” vs. “antique”. All antiques are, by definition, old, but not everything old is an antique. Similarly, all gay people may be homosexual, but not all homosexual people are gay.

When asked to describe myself, my sexual orientation is just not one of the first characteristics I use in that description. In fact, it’s pretty far down the list, because I don’t find it partcularly relevant to most situations. It’s not something I hide, by any means, but it has no more (or less) relevance to what makes me “me” than do my eating habits or the preferred temperature in my home.

With this website, I’ve revealed more about my sexuality to the world than most people ever will conceive of doing, but my sexual orientation is not the primary defining aspect of my personality. Thus, I’ll never be “gay enough” for some.

And thank god for that.