Quick Thoughts on Kraft and Human Traffickers

Personally, I have no moral judgment against consenting adults receiving money for sex from other consenting adults, as long as all parties concerned are doing so completely from a place of free will. I don’t think it’s my place to judge what consenting adults do with each other behind closed doors, including whether money is exchanged between them or not. But, it’s a different matter altogether with trafficked individuals, who have been captured and imprisoned into a life of prostitution. Shame on both the traffickers and purchasers of the “services” provided in such heinous, criminal circumstances. Robert Kraft and others should know better. To Kraft et al, I say, find unfettered consenting adults for sexual servicing and stop perpetuating a cycle of brutal exploitation. And I do think that paying for sex with a trafficked individual should be considered a serious felony offense, and an even more grave one if the person is a minor.

This incident involving Kraft is yet another example of largely rich white males continuing to exploit women and minorities in this skewed, power-imbalanced culture. Nothing new, sadly, but well-worth fighting to stop.

Me, Maria Muldaur, and Black Panther

In February of 1975, my parents decided to resign their posts as English teachers at Modesto Junior College to travel around California and, if I remember correctly, British Columbia, Canada for the rest of the school year.  We mostly stayed at friends’ and friends of friends’ homes, driving around in my mom’s 1960-something VW station wagon and then, soon, a 1969 VW van.  It may have already been the latter vehicle we rode in entirely during this period.

In any case, my parents made it a point to go to my 3rd grade classroom and gather text books and consumable lesson manuals for me to work through during the months ahead.  I did not consciously know it at the time, nor did my parents, but this method of on-the-road homeschooling would be problematic for me.  I learn best by listening to and watching someone disseminate information in a classroom setting, taking in information primarily via my hearing, enhanced along by visual aides, such as viewing writing on a chalkboard, slideshows, movies, etc.  Some interactive question and answer time can help with my learning as well.  But, alas, here I was left to my own devices to take in information and express it back via only the two-dimensional pages of texts and workbooks.  Through life experience, one lives and clearly learns what works and what doesn’t.

Focusing was a challenge to no end, made particularly difficult by having no routine of place and time as we moved around from day to day or week to week.  My parents’ minds were preoccupied elsewhere, such as deciding where to go next and how to save money, among many other adult concerns.  “Did you finish your homework today?” was a frequent refrain I heard from Mom and sometimes Dad.  “No, not yet,” I often replied.  “Well, get to it!” was said, usually by my mother, or some other similar response.  That was largely the extent of my parents’ involvement with my schooling during this latter part of my year in 3rd grade.  I was eight years old.  I sat with school books in other people’s dining rooms, living rooms, outside on sidewalk curbs, doing my best to get through some reading, writing, or math lesson (though the math I barely remember working on, as it’s possible I did not have a math workbook).  My imagination and ever-changing environment distracted me to no end, that and a deep sense of loneliness and uncertainty.  Looking back, it is amazing that I managed to complete whatever schoolwork I did.  Many of the pictures in the books and manuals were interesting to look at, which helped somewhat to sustain my attention.

Around the beginning of this itinerant period, I remember us staying on a few occasions in a semi-communal household of young women.  This was still in Modesto, or somewhere close by, I believe.  One of them, Christy Ellis, had been a student of either my father’s or mother’s and had taken an interest in me.  The year before, when she lived alone, I had spent a lot of time with Christy in her small apartment listening to then popular music, such as Joanie Mitchell’s latest album, and doing things together in downtown Modesto.  But, that is perhaps for another story.  So, there we were, hanging out with Christy and her roommates, a group of women in their early to mid twenties, my parents being older by less than ten years.

I started talking to one of the roommates, bonding with her around the new Maria Muldaur album she was playing one morning.  “It Ain’t the Meat, It’s the Motion,” crooned a sultry woman’s voice through the stereo.  I was entranced.  Some months before, I’d been swept up by Ms. Muldaur’s 1973 and ’74 hit song “Midnight at the Oasis,” my imagination carried along to an exotic desert locale with camels and a large, bejeweled tent filled with plush cushions and female belly dancers.  I was thrilled that this beautiful woman singer had another record out, this time with a song that made me want to move from within a deep erotic place that I was far too young to understand.

While staying in this household, two publications made deep impressions on me.  One was the week’s current issue of PEOPLE MAGAZINE laying prominently out on a coffee table in the living room.  A closeup of Cher was on the cover.  She wore multiple turquoise necklaces and her head of long black hair was topped with a cowboy hat, feathers stuck in its brim.  A Native American look was clearly going on, which was especially trendy at the time.  She smiled broadly at the camera, her long purple polished fingernails matching her dark lipstick and eye makeup.  I was impressed and intrigued but in a muted, interrupted way.  On one hand, this photo embodied the dark-haired witch imagery of powerful, mysterious women with whom I’d already started to become intrigued.  On the other hand, my parents disapproved of such an expression of blatant excess and, I’m pretty certain, co-opting of Native American culture.  Mom also found imagery of women in commercial media, such as that of Cher on PEOPLE’s cover, to be sexist, objectifying.  Dad found that particular picture pretentious and, again (I strongly believe), co-opting of Native Americans.  I remember him complaining about the picture to someone when we were away from the house.  (My folks had already begun researching Native American cultures and we would later visit Indian reservations in the years to come.)  So, to avoid irking Mom and Dad, I secreted away my own fascination with this photo, which was neither borne out of sexist objectification or viewing it as having anything to do with crass, superficial emulation of Native Americans.  To me, in a deep intuitive way, the image simply embodied an aspect of the Great Goddess, who I would grow up to understand and revere as a core part of my spirituality.  I would go on to watch THE SONNY AND CHER SHOW on TV now and then, enjoying Cher’s chameleon-like quality of colorful, showy costume changes and theatricality, though never caring much for her singing.  There was something magical to her then that captured my rich imagination.

The other periodical that struck me deeply at this time– far more so than the PEOPLE issue’s cover– was the Marvel Comics series BLACK PANTHER.  I was either in a local supermarket or convenience store with Christy or one of her roommates when I came across the latest issue of it on a stand.  The actual initial moment of discovering the comic is vague to me, but I know I was accompanying one of the young women of the household and not either of my parents.  At my request, she bought a copy for me, which I’m pretty sure neither Mom nor Dad would have done at the time.  Back then, they often were reluctant to buy me such mindless “trash,” especially my mom.  (She has long since relaxed around my liking of comics, having even bought me one or two as gifts.)  The comic cover was that of a hyper muscular man covered from head to toe in a tight black costume that stuck to him like a second skin, a pointy little feline ear on each side of his head.  Pure masculine strength stared out at me with virile determination, ready to lunge.  I was hooked.  Complementing Maria Muldaur’s wonderful, sizzling “It Ain’t the Meat, It’s the Motion,” here was the object of my interest to act out that song, except it was both the meat and the motion.  However, I had no idea about such a connection between the song and this image for me at the time, I just knew I had to have the comic.

Back at the house, I proceeded to look through the colored newsprint pages and managed to recruit Christy to read the story to me, which I found both suspenseful and disturbing.  I have very little recollection of the actual narrative, which was mid-story, following from previous issues.  What I do remember is that the opening scene beheld the hero, Black Panther, bending over a pool of water in a wild jungle, nursing his wounds.  His body suit was torn in several places, revealing bleeding, brown-skinned flesh.  His vulnerability and pain upset me deeply.  I wanted to go to him and help somehow in his time of need.  I wanted him to be strong and healthy again, like how he was portrayed on the cover.  Some villains were stalking Black Panther and it was basically a kill or be killed situation.  I think I had one of Christy’s friends read the comic to me as well.  I stashed the comic somewhere and eventually misplaced it during our travels and many moves.

Like Black Panther by himself in the wild and facing danger, I felt alone and uncertain during that year I discovered him and throughout most of my childhood and adolescence.  My wounds weren’t physical like his in the comic book, but they were there inside me due to familial discord resulting in my parents divorcing before I turned five and me subsequently having to adjust to a new mother, Dad’s second wife.  In the summer of 1973, I had lived with my father and (new) mother in a thatched roof hut in the jungle of Belize for two months, which I had very much enjoyed, the weather being warm and the lizard and amphibian fauna particularly fascinating to observe.  I’m sure this positive experience further enhanced for me the mystique of Black Panther and his own jungle life.  In short, I could deeply relate to Black Panther and his predicament in the comic, even though my jungle was no longer a literal one but one often made up of asphalt and concrete, unpredictability, and social isolation from peers and consistent adult attention.  I had to learn to navigate this frequently rough outer and inner terrain on my own, or so it felt at the time.

The primal male strength yet vulnerability and heroism of Black Panther deeply appealed to me as a fatherly protector in my colorful, wish-fulfilling fantasy life.  This contrasted with the actual life of a sensitive, sad little boy in need of more tender attention than he happened to be getting from loving, but otherwise preoccupied and insecure parents.  Obviously, though, there were more implications than this.  Black Panther was clearly an early fantasy crush for me, one clue of many that I was different from most latency-aged boys and their nascent sexual interests.

In 1975, my imagination did not just find ways to comfort and entertain me, for it often met those deep needs just well enough.  My creative thinking led me to inwardly and outwardly listen to my very own growing life impulses, impulses of how my body wanted to move and feel and who I wanted to move and feel with in the world.  Listening to Maria Muldaur awoke something in me, her singing giving voice to these budding stirrings, those nonverbal, primal urges to celebrate life, such as through dancing alone and with others, which I would eventually do now and again over the  years to come, while enjoying feeling deeply erotic, both alone and with others.  Black Panther offered me a sense of where and to who I would direct and share those impulses as I grew up.  This would almost entirely be with men, regardless of their ethnic backgrounds.  And both Ms. Muldaur’s singing and the images of Black Panther gave me meaning when I so badly needed it, being an oasis or safe clearing for me in a desert or jungle of fear, loneliness and frequent boredom, affirming that the sky was the limit as far as being able to envision the great expanse of beauty and wonder in the universe.  From grand tents filled with belly dancers in a faraway desert to hunky, powerful feline men in a jungle, or anything else you can possibly imagine, there is always more to life than whatever tedious, solitary-feeling difficulties happen to be at hand in the moment.  Meaning and connection to something more and bigger than one’s own lonely existence is there to be found.  Connecting one’s imagination to the imaginable in the world around you, it’s all good.  Doing so has been a life saver for me.

 

 

A Personal Declaration

I am a pro-feminist ally Two Spirit gay man, really as feminist (and ever-evolving) as one can be, short of being cis-gendered female and, from there, identified as feminist. My heart and mind are aligned with women deeply, as that is my nature. Those who know me well know that I speak truthfully from my heart.

In the past few years, I have learned that what I have stated above remains very much the case while more clearly separating out this commitment to myself:  I will not be a doormat of domination and/or disrespect from others, including feminist-identified strong women.  Previously, it was just domineering, intimidating, difficult men with whom I set down such a clear boundary.  Now, it’s anyone who comes across this way to me– domineering/disrespectful. This is a fairly recent development, one that has taken a few years to clearly figure out and delineate. Self respect means being clear about being treated fairly and kindly by anyone and everyone, regardless of their gender and identity as a feminist. And, yes, I am always open to learning from and owning up to my mistakes. But, for someone to be in my personal life on an ongoing basis, I will expect the same reciprocation of valuing and respect that I myself am willing, able, and glad to express, no matter who you are. Peace.

She’s Not Understood

I enjoy watching old horror and sci-fi movies that portray beautiful, mysterious femme fatales.  Basically, in each of these films the dark aspect of the goddess is portrayed and misunderstood by clueless Westerners all around her, namely straight men and other safe (for men), bland-seeming women. A part of me can so relate to this archetype, trope, or whatever you want to call this “type.”

It is the rare person I meet who I feel deeply understood by. Perhaps, to some extent or other, this is somehow the case for most– if not all– of us.

Movie Review (LOVE, SIMON)

The movie LOVE, SIMON moved me to tears a few times.  I especially appreciated the portrayal of loving, understanding parents that I myself never had at 17 years of age (though they have long since come around). It was interesting and compelling how the use of email and the Internet were central to the story, given how teenagers these days are bound so closely to cell phone and computer technology. The anonymity maintained between the main character of Simon Spier (Nick Robinson), a closeted high school senior, and his mysterious, online love interest set up some cleverly written intrigue and suspense in the narrative.

While Simon was portrayed as a relatively masculine white male within a suburban upper middle income family, much of the cast, including extras within the high school setting, were people of color. I could see how the filmmaker and writers were appealing to a white mainstream audience while also trying to be racially/ethnically inclusive, a delicate balance to strike. I imagine some viewers will be critical of the director Greg Berlanti’s and writers Isaac Aptaker’s and Elizabeth Berger’s portraying of diversity or lack thereof, such as having a wealthy white male be the central character. It would have been daring and interesting if he were, say, overtly feminine and from a less privileged background. I do take the movie to task with its flawed, conventional messages about gender and heteronormativity, which I will discuss later. However, Nick Robinson as Simon acted with such sincerity and sensitivity that I found myself soon not caring about his demographics. The whole cast delivered solid performances. The spunky, no-nonsense African American drama teacher (Natasha Rothwell) stood out for me in particular. A close second was Alexandra Shipp as Abby Suso, one of Simon’s close friends, also African American. She was allowed to share some back story, being a child of divorce and new to the school, having grown up out of the area. These experiences I related to and I know many other viewers surely did and will as well.

The only stilted, somewhat two-dimensional character was Tony Hale as Vice Principal Mr. Worth. I would have liked to see him more developed, like he started to seem but then was stopped short by the script writing. He ended up remaining annoyingly chummy, awkward, and sexually ambiguous. This last attribute was likely the director’s intention, that and having Mr. Worth provide comic relief.

Funny, awkward moments peppered the script, balancing levity with very serious subject matter, including blackmail– an age-old issue for queer people– by an insecure peer. I found Simon and his friends navigating a more complex social landscape because of cyberspace, which did not exist for me back in high school. At the same time, the movie’s school campus appeared quite tolerant and safe for gay/queer students, as a very feminine, black gay male character, Ethan (Clark Moore), showed while delivering withering one-liners to homophobic peers, without fear of retaliation. Very refreshing, even if accurately reflective of only some actual schools in large cities across America.

Simon is well-adjusted in this world of school and home life and he makes it a point to stress how “normal” he is. A fantasy scene has him walking along as people wave banners and flamboyantly dance along with a toned-down Simon before he states, “Maybe not that gay.” Um, not that gay?? This leads to my one strong criticism of the film: it’s theme of heteronormativity and conventional gender traits as being equal to well-adjusted and “normal.” What homophobic, transphobic poppycock! How narrow-minded and…boring.  And while Simon’s black, femme gay peer Ethan (Moore) is present here and there, he is always single and off to the side, token, not even a friend of Simon’s, except perhaps just beginning to be towards the end. The director and writer played it safe and, in doing so, lost me at a deeper level or place in myself. True embracing of diversity would have allowed for celebratory, front-and-center portrayals of more gender queer (e.g., flamboyant, “super gay,” femme, butch), even non-binary folk. Everyone except Ethan is clearly binary, cis-gendered, “normal.” Ah, well. I guess it will still have to be another movie where I and many others are fully reflected.

It felt at least partially affirming to watch a mostly well-written, gay-themed movie with good production values in a theater I frequent, where largely blockbusters are shown. Slowly, inroads are being made, even if LOVE, SIMON is just a good start towards more stories and images of positive, wide-ranging queerdom in mainstream American movies. I’ll take it, thank you, and still keep expecting better and more.

My Inner Muse

My inner muse feels and is very feminine, which is great to know so clearly after all these years. This makes sense given how I identify as being significantly part woman internally/psychologically-spiritually, even though I am cis-gender male on the outside. Lately, my muse has had me creatively writing steadily and often about many things, all from a feminine-feeling sensibility in terms of what I like to write about and the overall aesthetic I draw from when writing. All very feminine in content, feel, and style. This goes far beyond the influence of my parents and other major figures in my upbringing. It is a strong, sometimes strident, sometimes gentle female voice coming through me, into my fingertips, and out as words onto the page or computer screen. She doesn’t sound like anyone I know or have known in particular. She sounds like…me, or, more specifically, a very major part of me.

One reason I have been inhibited with writing for so long is that I had to release an old internalized belief of how and what I thought others wanted me to write, namely parent figures in my life, past and present. I thought I should write “like a man,” whatever the hell that even means. It’s like there was a subtle layer of homophobia and sexism just under the surface of my conscious awareness, constraining my dear muse as if she were being tied and gagged to a chair most of the time, allowed to be unbound to write a bit of “proper,” “neutral,” “professional-sounding,” or “acceptable” material here and there. Then, she had to go back into the shadows and shut up. Yeah, enough of that. She’s done with being silent and I am the much better for it. I’m done with being silent.

Interestingly, my folks no longer hold over me these strict expectations that I write in a “masculine” voice. However, I do remember that they once did long ago via all sorts of indirect and direct messages they used to convey that I needed to butch it up more, be a man and not such a sissy/fag/weakling, etc. After all, I (read: they) didn’t want my peers to think I was gay, even though these peers pretty much already knew I was. (That horse left the barn at my birth, folks.) That wouldn’t be good. Conform or be isolated, either/or. It could be argued that my folks didn’t extend these expectations of cis-gender conformity to my actual writing, but then even one small memory of my father’s disdainful face over a short story I had started to write in detail about a pretty boy when I was…a (somewhat) pretty boy…reminds me that I am speaking truth to experience here.  That little story promptly died in my mind.  Well, my folks didn’t know any better at the time, bless their hearts. They do seem to know a lot better now. People can and do evolve.

And I thought I’d unburdened all of that old shame. Well, there was a bit more there, it seems, which has steadily melted away. I write in the voice that’s mine to write from. And if some or many readers find my writing sounds/reads as “manly” (yeah, right, but okay– lol) or neutral, that’s fine with me and doesn’t matter anyway. I hope people enjoy my jottings, grapple with my views, are stimulated, regardless of the gender tone the writing comes across as being, if there even seems to be a “gender” there at all for readers. Perhaps I may not always feel a gender to this inner muse, or I may find another writing muse comes forth who has another gender or no gender or is a mix of genders. That will be interesting. I’m not concerned, just open and curious.

In the meantime, the inner muse I do know and experience is female and growing ever-clearer of late. She has always been there. She loves being out in the open– in the light of day, in the dark of night, under the winter sun, under the spring moonlight, in faraway lands, at home in Beverly under the bedroom skylight. Listening, watching, then drafting the best choice of words to knit together into points to be made, thoughts to be shared, images to be conveyed. She’s here, folks, and she’s going to stay. She has a lot to say. I have a lot to say. And I’ll listen, with my inner ear. And my muse will sometimes write out what she has heard with me. She will do so with gusto, like a woman tossing back her long, black hair over one shoulder, before looking down to write, smiling and sighing, “Ooh la la!”

Not So Kindly Remembering Billy Graham

I feel mixed about Billy Graham’s passing and his legacy, though mostly negative.  A good handful of my gay Pagan friends have expressed understandable disdain for him and what he leaves behind, given how he spoke hatefully about homosexuality.  Unfortunately, Graham’s son is even worse, another dime-a-dozen, polarizing evangelical hater we can do without.  Thinking realistically, I strongly suspect the son won’t change, much as some are surely naively wishing he will be “inspired” to be more like his father.  I have one friend on Facebook who wrote this as a wish before they then deleted the post after I filled them in about Graham’s stance on gays.

When you are actually a member of a group that is spoken of so hatefully, it’s different than being an ally of that group, no matter how well-meaning you are as that ally.  A gun pointed at one’s own head is different feeling than when it is pointed at your friend’s, much as the latter is painful and enraging to witness.  Allies can only empathize and understand up to a point.  Hence, I would have to be self-hating in the deepest way to block out feeling my own and the collective pain of my gay brothers right now to then somehow “rise above” and speak respectfully of Billy Graham.  For my own self respect and integrity and for that of my fellow gay men, I just can’t.

That all said, speaking from the concept of relativity placed along a spectrum of “bad to absolute worst,” I do wish all evangelicals were more like Rev. Graham, who was “bad” behaving as opposed to “worse” or “the worst” among all the offenders of such social and (un)spiritual conduct.  For he too adhered to the sticky wicket of hating on us gays in the name of being “true” to the Bible and its teachings.  Such extreme, troubled thinking and speaking has been a big part of visible, vocal “spiritual” expression in the U.S.A.– by Graham and his generally even more intolerant ilk.  Billy was accepting of other faiths and races, as I heard liberal Christian apologists say on public radio earlier today, and they are right, of course.  But, yet again, that leaves just us homosexuals as the token pariahs or “filth,” one group among the masses, the rest all to be loved by “good Christians.”  So, Graham was part-way to decency, which still left him short of full arrival there.  Logically, how was he completely a “good Christian” then when Christ himself preached to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” leaving no group of people, including gays, to be left out of that admonition?  Expecting me to praise Graham would be like expecting a black person to think and speak kindly of an inherently racist leader upon that leader’s death, even though said leader had expressed and done goodness in so many other ways.  The white, heterosexist patriarchy holds its haters close and dear, including Graham.  After all, it’s “just gay people” and nobody else.

It’s simply too soon to expect those of us who were direct targets of Graham’s deeply hurtful beliefs and words about us to “get over” this.  Healing takes time.  Maybe someday I will have more positive things to say about this old preacher, maybe, though maybe not– regardless of how healed I and my brethren have become over this spiritual level of toxic shaming Graham participated in doing.  Ultimately, I trust and hope, Graham will have to account for that somehow in the after life now that he’s shed his mortal coil.  Regardless, his relevancy for me and my fellow queers is fast-fading away, and therein lies the healing.

I feel very similarly about the current Pope as I do about Graham, except maybe a little softer towards the former because he seems to be wrestling a bit with his beliefs against gays, perhaps.  The Pope in his position is the gentlest of “bad” compared to his “absolute worst” predecessors, and for that I am guardedly thankful.  On other fronts these days, there interweaves a network of far more hardcore, villainous-behaving leaders and followers who we GLBTQ+, other minorities, women, and disenfranchised/vulnerable groups of people are up against.  We need to do all we can to neutralize them from power as peacefully as possible.

Reflecting on Billy Graham’s legacy, I am reminded how organized religion has not done well by me or my gay brethren.  This has been particularly the case for Abrahamic faith institutions– though filled as they are with wonderful, loving individuals.  Hence, this is a big reason why I am not a member of such an organization.  I worship the gods alone and in small groups, making my way on rare occasion to a local Unitarian Universalist Church, where I take the best, leave the rest, and am accepted, at least formally, as I truly am, a gay Pagan.