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.

Remembrance Day

(Apologies for another recycled social media post.)

I was sitting in a diner in Niagara Falls this morning having a late breakfast. The Remembrance Day ceremonies were playing on the TV, and when they came to the moment of silence, everyone in the restaurant, including the servers stopped in their tracks and silently looked up at the screen. 
It was not obnoxious or jingoistic, just a quiet and reflective display of respect. I found it quite moving. But it also made me worry that my fellow Americans might be losing the knack for such dignified displays, particularly in light of this week’s election.

But yeah, I’m still coming back…

Fixing the funk

I was in kind of of a post-election funk most of the morning (sort like everyone I know, not to mention the entire population of Canada) so I drove across the river to Gatineau, which allowed me to feel like I was in even more of a foreign country. Back to Ottawa for lunch and some exploration in Westboro and another stroll around By Ward Market. Meatloaf and pie in a diner, followed by “The Wrong Man” (the Hitchcock film, not the one we just elected) at the ByTowne Cnema, a 70-year-old theater that just happened to be right next door to my hotel. I was feeling better by the end of the day.

What the world needs now

The less said about the American election today the better. I spent the day in the warm, fuzzy embrace of the Canadian capital. Roamed around the Glebe, hit a few bookstores, took a very long stroll downtown by Parliament and by Library and Archives Canada, and had a lovely dinner at a Thai place on Bank Street. I swore I wasn’t going to watch the election returns, preferring to wake up on Wednesday with the outcome set, one way or another. That plan didn’t work, alas…

Election Day

Long Facebook post I’m repurposing here as well. Sorry if you’ve already read it…

On this U.S. Election Day, I am in Ottawa, the national capital of Canada (I voted early for the first time this year). People here are very apprehensive about what may happen today, me and so am I. If you have convinced yourself that one candidate is “no better” than the other, you clearly have not been paying attention. Perhaps more than in any recent election, there is a very clear choice here, between an America that is paranoid, racist, and governed by irrational fear, and one that is positive, inclusive, and will try to protect the basic rights of all its inhabitants. Is there a perfect candidate? No. There never is. But there is really only one candidate who is worthy of serious consideration by reasonable people.

And in North Carolina, the choice is just as clear. A vote for the current regime demonstrates that you do not care about me and other LGBT individuals in the state, about protecting the rights of other minority voters, about maintaining educational excellence, nor about attracting new businesses to the state.

The ball is in your court. Vote. Make the choice that suits your beliefs. But don’t let some stupid notion about there not being a real choice convince you that voting doesn’t matter (that’s just lazy) or that a “protest vote” helps anyone at a time like this.

Enough. I’m off to have a big Canadian breakfast and to enjoy a beautiful day in Ottawa.

The 8th of November, eh?

With my passport fail now in the process of being corrected, I have decided that I will indeed make my autumn excursion to Canada, even though it will be later in the season than I prefer, resulting in a cooler and darker journey than usual.

It will also mean I will be outside the country on Election Day, which seems like a really safe and sane option.

Of course I will vote before I leave. But I will avoid the whole American scene the day and night of the election, and that makes me really happy. I can hear about the winner on the CBC, which makes things seem much more civilized. (You can rest assured that the Canadian media will cover the U.S. election far more completely than the U.S. media have ever covered a Canadian one.) And if the fires start, I’ll sit them out at a shawarma joint on Bloor Street somewhere.

Better still, if I’m in Canada and the unthinkable occurs, I will be better positioned to decide whether or not to come home.

So look for me in a Canada near you come early November.

Hard choices

The upcoming U.S. Presidential election is probably the most important vote most of us have faced in our lifetimes. The two candidates–and let’s be honest and admit that there are only two viable candidates–represent vastly different future paths for our country. If you want to have your say in which path we choose, making your choice is essential.

It is tempting for some people to vote for one of the alternate candidates (which in most states means Jill Stein or Gary Johnson) as a “protest” vote, or because of a sincere belief in their message. This is everyone’s right, but I would ask those of you who choose to exercise this right to be honest with yourselves. You are essentially choosing to abstain from the process. You are choosing not to make a choice at all until there is a “perfect” choice for you.

Let’s be honest here. Neither Gary Johnson nor Jill Stein will ever be elected President. Period. No matter how much you want it, no matter how much you complain about the structural inequities of the two-party system, no matter how much you blame the media, and no matter how unfair you think it is, it is not going to happen. If a third party ever emerges as a significant force in American politics, it will be because its builds support from the ground up through local and state elections, and not because it insists on pushing a spoiler Presidential candidate every four years. Do I hope this eventually happens? Yes. Has it happened yet? Clearly not.

Don’t want to limit yourself to a choice between the lesser or two evils? Tough. We all do it every day. We are all faced with choices where neither option is ideal. We either choose one or we don’t choose at all. The former requires some front-loaded effort and also carries the risk of being the wrong choice. The latter requires much less front-loaded effort and in most cases is always the wrong choice. “Benign neglect” is generally not the best option for most situations, and I argue that voting for a candidate with no chance of being elected is more or less a form of benign neglect. Except that it isn’t always so benign–by not making the choice between two electable candidates, you also cause damage to the one of these two who might be the best match for you.

A few years ago when my mom developed dementia and my dad was unable to care for her, we had several choices. The two realistic ones were that we could move her to a facility where she would be cared for or that we could get him some help to care for her at home. Neither choice was particularly palatable, both for financial and emotional reasons. But they were really the only two options that would effect any sort of result. That’s not to say there were no other options. We could, for example, have prayed and “put it in God’s hands.” A lot of people choose this option, and while it makes them feel morally satisfied that they’re “making a statement” of their faith, it generally does not produce any result at all, because it is a decision not to make a realistic choice.

We realized, however, that refusing to choose one of the viable options and waiting until there was some theoretical option we liked better would make things exponentially worse and would be a danger to all parties involved. So we chose from among two options that we didn’t like. We had to. We were not happy about it. But abstaining from this difficult decision was not a luxury we had.

If you’re being honest with yourself, a vote for Stein or Johnson is at best a statement that you are not satisfied with a flawed  process. Unfortunately, it is also a statement that you refuse to be a part of that flawed process by supporting whichever of the two electable candidates best matches your values. You essentially have chosen not to decide. Again, it’s your right, but I would argue that it is neither particularly courageous nor particularly principled. And it’s maybe just a little lazy because it involves making the easy choice that will have no effect rather than making the difficult choice that will have an effect one way or the other.

My perspective is, admittedly, that of someone who has made a choice between the two candidates and does not consider my choice “the lesser of two evils” in any way. Is my candidate a perfect match for me? No. Is any candidate ever a perfect match for anyone? Probably not, because that would pretty much require as many candidates as there are voters for each office. But I am happy with my choice and I know that my candidate also has a chance of actually being elected.

If you sincerely believe in you candidate, that’s great. It is your right to vote for whichever candidate you choose. But at least be honest enough to recognize and acknowledge the end result of your choice. Or lack thereof…

Calm the fuck down

Let me start by making it clear that I am absolutely terrified by the political climate in the US right now and by the fact that we are edging precariously close to electing a racist, xenophobic, misogynistic sociopath to the highest office in the land. I fully “get it” and recognize that this is probably the most important election of my lifetime…at all levels.

I also recognize that the whole country is on the verge of having a stroke. That worries me a little bit too.

There was a time when I spent the bigger part of my life being perpetually outraged and angry. Some people who knew me at the time might suggest that it was one of my defining characteristics. I had an opinion on everything and was not hesitant about sharing it, no matter how irrelevant or inappropriate the venue nor how serious the overreaction. If you’d tell me you were going for a beer, I’d make sure you knew just how much I hoped it wouldn’t be a Coors. If you were casually listening to Axl Rose or Donna Summer, I’d make damned sure you knew exactly what awful things either had said (or was believed to have said) in the past ten years. I’m sure I was pretty annoying. I’m also sure I changed vere few viewpoints.

I really began to recognize this behavior in others when I lived in San Francisco in the 1990s, where even the most innocuous comments (e.g. “I’m off to lunch” or “It’s nice out today”) would often elicit a shrill and politically programmed response on the evils of anything from factory farming to global warming to corporatism and average wages in the restaurant industry. If I mentioned I was hungry, I might get a lecture about world hunger and how Americans were fact, lazy, and overfed. A comment about my small apartment might get me very quickly schooled on homelessness or conspicuous consumption. Yes, I’m exaggerating–though not as much as you might imagine–and yes, I was guilty of doing some of the same things, albeit with what I thought was a little more humor.

The point, though, is that at some point I realized that it’s really fucking exhausting–both for me and for everyone around me–to be perpetually outraged and angry and complaining about everything all the time. I also realized it was making people tune out a lot of what I was saying.

Is there a lot to be angry and outraged about? Of course there is.

Will this fact change if you constantly make yourself and everyone else miserable because of it? Probably not.

Things have gotten a lot worse in the past few years with social media and the rise of clickbait journalism whose purpose is not to inform but to grab audience share by whipping everyone–left or right–into a frothy, outraged frenzy by appealing to emotion and righteous anger (and adding a “share this if you agree” chaser). That’s why I’ve been doing a judicious amount of social media muting and pruning lately.

I think I it’s pretty clear that I value irony, sarcasm, and snark, and that I have a pretty low tolerance for stupidity and injustice. But I don’t feel the need to talk about what’s wrong with the world every fucking minute of my life. That doesn’t mean that i don’t care. I do. I stay awake some nights caring so much. But being outraged and morally indignant is now how I want to spend my life.

I believe the key term here is “perspective.”

This weekend I did a semi-humorous Facebook post about how sometimes I think my life might better be lived in a 1950s film noir. Most of my friends took it for what it was. One relative seemed not quite to get it. And one friend followed up completely out of left field with a response about how horrible life would actually have been for me as a gay man in the 1950s. It was not just an overreaction that missed the point of a very lighthearted comment. It was also really condescending, suggesting that I don’t understand history, which really pissed me off, considering history is pretty much what I do.

This was an old friend so I held my tongue even though it really bugged me. The whole tone of the post just reminded me of that whole shrill, strident tendency to respond to everything with a political rant that made me hate initiating a conversation with some people in San Francisco. It’s like the “angry vegan” meme where there’s a vein popping in the guy’s neck because it’s been more than five minutes since he’s had the chance to tell anyone he’s a vegan.

If I ever become that person–vegan, carnivore, or otherwise–please smack me upside the head. Thanks.

Still alive…

I’ve just been saying more on Twitter than anywhere else because I’ve been really busy. A lot going on at work, plus I made a weekend run to Baltimore a few weeks ago.

And I’ve been spending a lot of my free time working on Groceteria, both on research and on the site itself. It feels really good actually having the time and inclination to do that again. I didn’t realize quite how much Id been missing it. I’ve been doing things here and there over the past couple of years, particularly for the past six months or so, but my activity level is way up now. And it really helped keep my mind occupied this weekend while all the shit was happening in Orlando…all of which just gets weirder and weirder.

And speaking of surreal: Der Fuhrer is in town tomorrow night. I’ve already planned ahead so I can avoid leaving the house till all the buildings stop burning and the street fights end.

Sigh. Should’ve emigrated when I had the chance…

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.