Reading is good

For the record, by “reading” I mean “reading more than just the inflammatory headline and then sharing it to display your sense of moral outrage and to ‘prove’ your point.”

I came along at a particularly lucky time in American history. Despite the fact that i grew up in a small-to-medium city in a moderate-to-conservative region, I always had access to good reading material and usually took advantage of that fact. It’s what helped me survive my teen years and make it to my senior year in high school (1982), which was the point where I realized for the first time that I could successfully invent the person I wanted to be and that I deserved better than the losers I’d been hanging around with up to that point. By the semester I graduated, I’d finally seen that it was OK to be smart and to have friends who were smart too.

A decade or so later, when Borders and Barnes & Noble became major retail forces, to criticize the way these chain bookstores were destroying local, independent stores. I was very conflicted about this because I remembered growing up in a place that didn’t really even have viable independent stores that sold the kind of books i wanted to be reading. Most of the independent stores around here were either religious in nature or were of the “books and stationery” variety, which meant that they sold primarily inconsequential and uncontroversial titles.

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(Waldenbooks, Thomas Hawk, CC BY-NC 2.0)

In fact, it was the Waldenbooks branch at the mall where I found books about cities and about subcultures, and (gasp) books and magazines that told me it was OK to be the homosexual I was…ahem…practicing to be. Without the big chain store and its broader perspective, there’s no telling how long I would have had to wait to read messages that challenged the everyday bullshit of the early Reagan-era South. It’s all well and good to criticize the chain bookstores when you live in a big city located in a region with options. The chain were the only option here at the time, and I’d argue that stores like Borders and Barnes & Noble were extremely important in providing this function for the generation who came along in the pre-Internet 1990s.

Of course, the library was important as well. In the early 1980s, the Greensboro Public Library had a surprisingly large collection of titles from among the “gay liberation” classics of the early 1970s. When I look back at them now, I find a lot of this stuff sort of cringeworthy (though many of these books presented a much more open-minded and diverse notion of what a gay person could be than much pf the “gay culture” crap that followed) but it was precisely what I needed to be reading at the time. It goes without saying where this love for the library took me, although it was a rather long and circuitous route.

Reading (and realizing that doing so was a good thing) was also what prompted me to seek out used book stores like the original Browsery, which was on the second floor of a dumpy building near UNCG and only seemed to be open at night, and newsstands like the International in Charlotte, tucked away in the back of a mall hidden in an apartment complex off Providence Road. It was harder to find the things you needed then, but it was not impossible…assuming you cared enough to bother.

I’m sort of babbling and don’t really have much of a point here, I guess, other than to reiterate that I was luckier than a lot of people my age and older who grew up in less urban and bookish areas. My parents did not read a lot of books but did read a lot of everything else, so they were good role models. Being in a sort of college town (though not a college-dominated town) also helped. Having access, though, and the desire to seek things out, was the key.

There’s a lot of access now too, which is amazing and wonderful, but I wish there were more propensity to filter out the crap and be selective in a world with a major signal-to-noise deficit.

Ushering out the old

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This very nice girl was my New Year’s Eve date thirty-five years ago when I was a senior in high school. She holds the distinction of being the last date I had as a heterosexual impersonator.

I don’t think her heart was in it any more than mine was, really, as evidenced by the fact that the minor traffic accident we had earlier (not my fault and not alcohol-related) was the biggest excitement of the evening.

About that whole “passing” thing…

(Sorry. Another repurposed social media post.)

Even though I’ve pretty much been “out” (sometimes quite obnoxiously so) since I was about 17, there are a few people who have accused me of “not being gay enough” over the years. I assume it’s because I dress like a slob, because I like indie rock bands more than I like dance music, or because my personal obsessions often tend to be more geeky than “fabulous.” It bothers me that their definition of what a gay person can or should be is so narrow and limited.

My apparent gay culture deficiency notwithstanding, I have NEVER had much patience for closets or “passing.” I have always shuddered anytime someone said “I never would’ve guessed you were gay” as if that were some kind of compliment. (Clue: It’s not.) The fact that I don’t identify with the entire marketing campaign does not mean I am not happy with who I am.

This article addresses the issue of “passing” among Jewish people, but there are some significant lessons here for newly complacent LGBTQ people as well. Make no mistake about it. This is NOT the time for staying silent, for “passing”, or for staying in the closet. The next few years are maybe the most important time in recent history to be EXACTLY who you are, and also to assert both YOUR right to be that person and the rights of everyone ELSE in the room to do so as well. And if it makes some people uncomfortable? Tough.

The lost boys

Me, seventeen years ago:

My definition of geekiness is based more on an active intellect combined with an almost childlike enthusiasm for a few really esoteric subjects (one of which may or may not be digital in nature). The “childlike” part is very important; a good geek is first and foremost a big kid.

I like to think that on some level, I’ve never really grown up. I think anyone who knows me would agree that I can seem a lot like an eight-year-old when I get excited about one of my obsessions, and it remains something I very much value in others. It was one of the things I found most attractive about my ex-husband, and I think it’s something my friends find appealing (or at least somewhat amusing) about me. And anyone who was online in the 1990s would probably agree that it’s a personality characteristic that defined much of the early development of the internet.

It’s something of a stereotype that a certain subset of gay men take that whole “childlike enthusiasm” and a youthful viewpoint (not in itself a bad thing) to an extreme, dressing like seventeen-year-olds long after they starts looking ridiculous, clubbing and partying way past the time when their bodies are able to handle it, and pretty much refusing to acknowledge that there is a future that probably should be considered.

This is kind of understandable, really. A lot of us had really unpleasant experiences in adolescence–exponentially worse than the standard teen angst, particularly if you consider both homosexuality itself and a sort of geeky and non-mainstream outlook in other areas as well–and it’s tempting to devote some of your adult freedom toward reliving that adolescence in an attempt to “get it right.” And I speak from experience here. I did this myself on some level, although “party boy” is maybe too strong a term in my case. I think I always maintained some basic functionality and at least worried about the future, even if I didn’t do much about it for quite some time.

I was lucky and I always had friends who wouldn’t have let me get away with throwing my life in the toilet, and ultimately I actually did manage to grow up at some point, at least as far as managing my life goes. Childlike enthusiasm about specific things is attractive.  Not knowing how to live your life as an adult is sad, and it’s impacted a lot of the friends I had earlier in life–gay ones disproportionately–in some very negative ways. I’m thinking about one particular friend in general, who now finds himself with no job and no prospects, and with basically no life as he exits his middle fifties, but there are a lot of people like him.

I’ve known Jack (not his real name and he won’t be reading this, nor will any of his local friends who might recognize him) since 1982 and we were really close friends for fifteen years or so. He spent most of his twenties working in clothing retail, because he was interested in fashion and because the flexible hours allowed him stay out late drinking and partying. Clubbing basically became the primary focus of his life and his career choices, which is not really all that unusual for someone in his twenties, I guess, but the problem was that he never exited that stage of life. At age thirty-five, he was still living in his parents’ basement, and any initiative or ambition from his earlier years had largely vanished. At this same age, he got a DWI, which was followed by additional DWIs. He hasn’t driven in twenty years, which is probably a good thing for the rest of us but maybe not so good for him.

By age forty, he had moved out of the basement, but had also largely stopped working in any sort of legitimate “day job” and was exclusively working in bars, most likely under the table. There were two big issues here: (1) this was the start of his exit from the world of the employable since it was the end of his traceable “paper trail”, and (2) it simultaneously exacerbated his substance abuse issues and shielded him from any sort of “reality check” that might have forced him to examine what was going on. His life became more and more about interactions with sketchy characters and becoming dependent on their assistance and on (ahem) untraceable sources of income.

Then the bar jobs ended, and Jack found himself unemployed and middle-aged, reliant on alcohol and other substances, and without a car or a license in a city where these things are almost required. He landed, with roommates, in a little house owned by his parents, where he currently lives rent-free, mainly because the house is likely not up to code and is therefore not rentable. The roommates have since moved on, and he’s on his own there, living on food stamps and a few bucks a month he gets for taking care of his parents’ yard, and relying on (mostly) sketchy friends for assistance. Somehow, though, he always manages to have beer. It’s been this way for several years and the really sad thing is that he now seems to think this is a somewhat normal way to live, as a recent issue I won’t detail here demonstrates. I guess he’s making the best of it, but its sometimes seems reminiscent of the hoarders who don’t think there is anything unusual about their lives and homes.

And I have no idea what I can do for him. I’m pretty sure there’s not much. I don’t want to give him money and be an enabler. His parents seems a bit wary of him, but I’m sure they wouldn’t let him starve as long as they’re still around. That may only be the case for a few more years, though. For a while after I moved back to Greensboro, I tried to spend more time with him and be a “role model”, which I guess was probably pretty presumptuous of me. I tried to get him in touch with some resources like Family Services. But it’s really gotten difficult to be around him–particularly when he wants beer money, though that has fortunately not happened all that often. And to be honest, I don’t want to be his only “stable” friend, because I’m not ready to be the one to pick up the pieces when the inevitable implosion happens. I don’t want to bail hi out of jail if it comes to that. And I’m not good at taking in strays; i don’t think Jack would be comfortable sleeping on the deck like my feline friend did.

There are a lot of lost boys like Jack in my life, both here and in San Francisco, and most of them were very intelligent, capable individuals who made really bad choices in life. I’ve lost touch with some of them. A couple of them have died. I fully realize there are vey complex issues with mental illness and substance abuse, a repressive society that doesn’t deal well with variation, etc. But at some point, it has to come down to taking responsibility for the consequences your own choices about how to deal with it all. And to be fair, I think Jack does this. I don’t think he blames the government, his parents, or anyone else. But this recognition needs to be followed by action, and that’s where he’s stuck.

I wish I knew how to help because I see how easily I could have gone down that path under different circumstances. I also know that I can’t really help until he decides he wants it. And I’m afraid that time may never come.

NC GOP vs. urban

My “angry activist” side has mellowed considerably over the past twenty years or so, but this makes me boiling mad. And it makes me even angrier that so few people seem to realize all the implications of what’s happening here.

For those of you who don’t see what the “bathroom ordnance” means to you:

Let’s be clear about what’s really going on. It’s not about “bathroom etiquette” nor is it even specifically about LGBT rights (though it would be evil enough if it WERE about either of these two things). It’s about a gerrymandered state legislature telling the cities of North Carolina that even though they are responsible for basically all the population and economic growth in the state, they are unfit to govern themselves in a very wide range of areas. And if they step out of line, the legislature will make life miserable for them. 

Cities in North Carolina (and their residents) are basically being punished for being insufficiently deferential to the party in power. HB2 is the next logical step after the Charlotte airport controversy, the Greensboro redistricting controversy, the sales tax grab, and any number of smaller initiatives designed to minimize the impact of cities in an increasingly urban state. Urban growth, of course, also means “urban values” which may not be compatible with “traditional North Carolina Republican values.” Therefore, urban growth and economic development it brings are viewed as threats.

If you live in an urban area, this nasty brand of politics will affect you sooner or later, regardless of your sexual orientation or gender identity. Most of these legislators couldn’t care less about who uses which bathroom. Like so many other non-issues in the past century or so, it’s merely a convenient distraction. Stay focused. Don’t fall for it.

Pardon me for sharing what is essentially another Facebook rant. I will try to avoid additional sermons over the weekend. I cannot promise this, however. Like I said, I’m really mad. And I’m also really sad that a state I love is letting something like this happen.

The obsession with bathrooms

Conservatives have been using public restrooms as a ridiculous tool for building opposition to progressive legislation at least since the dawn of the civil rights movement. Potty panic was first used to scare while people who were afraid to pee next to black people. Later, the threat of “unisex bathrooms” was used to help defeat the Equal Rights Amendment.

And now, North Carolina has passed legislation that is ostensibly based on making sure that people use the appropriate restroom based on their “biological sex.”

But it ain’t about bathrooms. Not by a long shot.

In addition to the bathroom regulations, which are a small part of the package, the ironically named Equal Access to Public Accommodations Act will:

  • Prohibit cities from passing nondiscrimination ordinances that do not match the state law, which excludes protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as protections based on veteran status, etc.
  • Impede or eliminate the right to sue based on discrimination categories that still are protected.
  • Supersede any local regulations on hiring contractors that do not mirror state law.
  • Prohibit any local ordinance that would raise the local minimum wage (of which, to date, there have been exactly…none).

See what they did with that last one? Not sure how it fits into all this? No, neither is anyone else.

Once again, this is not about the fucking bathrooms. The sponsors of this legislation couldn’t care less about the bathrooms, but they know that their base will, by and large, not take the time to pay attention to what the law is really about.

This is a power grab passed in the dark of night by a rural, conservative legislature that, thanks to gerrymandering, no longer reflects the increasingly urban, moderate population of the state. it’s the next logical step by a legislature that has usurped local authority in setting city council districts, attempted a hostile takeover of a major urban airport, and engaged in unconstitutional redistricting.

We’re engaged in a war here.

#WeAreNotThis

Otherstream at 20: 2015

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It’s kind of hard to curate posts that are less than a year old, but I tried. This is the final year to be covered in my “twenty years” retrospective. I may talk about the actual anniversary tomorrow and try to draw some broad conclusions. Or I may not. You’ll have to check back by to see which it is.

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December

Otherstream at 20: 2014

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Only two more years to cover before Wednesday’s big anniversary.

January

February

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April

May

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July

August

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December

 

Otherstream at 20: 2010

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In 2010, I got my first tenure-track position (which is working out quite nicely, thanks), my ex and I recommenced living together full-time after five years of the bicoastal thing (that didn’t end well at all), and I didn’t write much of any consequence. Highlights follow on the march to the big anniversary on 13 January.

January

February

March

April

May

June

July

August

September

October

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December

Otherstream at 20: 2008

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There was better reading in 2008 than in 2007, maybe because I was tying (at least for a little while) to generate content for four different websites, all of which eventually landed here. I’d call this year “reflective” and “hectic” with grad school and all. I also worked a very odd part-time job, continued with my freelancing, and migrated the site from static HTML to WordPress. I’d sort of forgotten what a busy year it was.

January

February

March

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May

June

July

August

September

October

November

December