Monday, July 17, 2006

I Guess Gay Doesn't Mean Happy

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The incredibly tedious Opening Ceremonies to this year's Gay Games should serve as a stern warning about the terrible price of mainstreaming. For four excruciating hours on Saturday evening, my butt sweated on a hard plastic chair in Soldier Field in 90-plus degree heat as I watched what can only be described as the most miserable high school assembly I have ever had to attend. And the worst part is, I actually paid to be there.

Not so much money as the participants, who should be howling that the best part of the show happened long after they left the stadium, which they had to do if they were competing in the next day's 6am triathalon. Not so much as the suckers who coughed up 100 or 150 bucks a seat. I bought my tickets Friday afternoon, shelling out 35 per plus handling fees for two mediocre seats above the timber line of the stadium. That night, I watched in horror as fistfuls of free tickets were given away at the bars in my neighborhood, apparently because saner people than I had just said no to the 35-dollar base ticket price.

I should have known this was a bad sign, but I consoled myself with having donated money to a "good" cause. And drank another double pint of Harp.

Next day, with enough free tickets in our hands to gain separate entrance for each one of all our various limbs, should we choose to play twister among the stadium seats, my friends and I climbed the ramps to the top of Soldier Field. At 8pm, the start of the festivities, the seats were still fairly empty, though that changed in the next hour to about half full.

The sun was sinking behind the Greek pillars at the top of the old part of the stadium, and it was a beautiful, if sultry, evening. I admit I had my fears when I looked at the organization of the program: five parts to the ceremonies, each with its own theme. First, a "Prologue," with speeches of welcome and the procession of athletes from all over the world. Megan Mullally was supposed to say something.

Second, "Exclusion" would feature a dance of some kind, Kate Clinton, a song by Andy Bell of Erasure, and four legends of women's music--Holly Near, Barbara Higbie, Nedra Johnson, and Teresa Trull. Hmmm. A little slow, but I guess there has to be some solemnity, right?

Then I saw that the third part of the program was called "Oppression."

Oh, no, I thought. This is going to suck.

"Oppression" looked like it would go on forever. Scheduled were speeches by James Hormel, and George Takei, another Andy Bell song, a tribute to Tom Waddell, an award in his name, more speeches, a Jody Watley song,a "rainbow run" against HIV and cancer, and something with the AIDS quilt.

Then would come "Expression." This would feature more dancing, a song by Heather Small, a song by Andy Bell, some marching bands, and Margaret Cho. Are you counting? Are we done yet? Hey, Margaret Cho will be there! How bad could it be?

Oh, then there would be "Ignition" and the lighting of the torch. Cool! I love giant torches!

So the program starts. The athletes march in, and it's really nice to see so many people from so far away. China, for instance. A huge bunch from The Netherlands. Bulgaria. One lone guy from Uganda with a handwritten sign who got a huge ovation. More people from California than from all the other countries combined. Until Chicago showed up. Twenty-one hundred people from Chicago.

The lights go off and all the athletes are holding variously-colored glowsticks, to form a giant rainbow flag on the filed. Cool! How did they get the bands of color so nicely organized? You can see a fuzzy approximation of the colors in the tiny picture above that I took with my cell phone.

Megan Mullally was in a hot little black and white dress and spike heels so high she looked like she was on point. Her voice was rich and warm, and she was relaxed as she slammed the Rupublicans for the politics of exclusion. She was great. We loved her.

Unfortunately, things went downhill from there. I'll summarize by saying we sat though interminable sad and angry speeches. Even Kate Clinton wasn't funny--she just spoke very slowly about how hard it had been to be a female athlete when she was young. OK Kate, but can you tell a story? You were a high school English teacher once, for crying out loud! Can ya give us an illustrative example? It's 92 degrees out here and the only thing to drink is Miller and Bud Light! Pleeeese!

At some point an actor read a gay boy's suicide note. An angry woman raged about the Bush administration. Someone started a speech and I heard, faintly, a man's voice in the stands screaming "We Know!"

Unfortunately, nobody heard him, and the speeches droned on. Andy Bell kept appearing with listless disco anthems. Everyone was wilting. The four women's music ladies belted out an extremely depressing a capella "We are a gentle angry people, and we are singing, singing for our lives," putting the "eee!" in "cliche."

The dance numbers were, well, odd. They featured people in strangely caped costumes and one lone guy in a t-shirt that looked like an International Male take on the wifebeater, and this guy kept flexing his arms beseechingly at the heavens. Maybe he was imploring the Goddess to end it all with a hailstorm. At one point Greg Louganis gave out an award, but I couldn't hear anything because my head had melted and collapsed like a candle.

"Good luck with this," some cute boys said, gesturing at the field as they left the row next to us. By the time the gay marching bands, drill teams, and flag twirlers came on, it was past 11pm, and lots of people had fled the stadium in disgust. The bands were great but my ass was permanently stuck to my seat, and a thin plastic veil of heat grime covered my face and neck. How had we fallen so far? Where was the irony? Where were the drag queens, for heaven's sake? Gays were the people responsible for the best entertainment and cultural production of the twentieth century, and THIS was the best we could do?

The whole thing reminded me of that dreadful queer tv show from the early 90s, the one that took itself so seriously and tried so hard to be politically meaningful and socially non-offensive that it was unwatchable. What was it called? Ugh.

The marching band was terrific. Where had they been for these long three hours? Just as they began making formations, a streaker ran across the field. Everyone perked up immediately.

The streaker surrendered quietly to security guards at the other end of the field, and I blessed him in my heart for having remembered how to be entertaining.

Margaret Cho commented on the streaker, noting that when she saw his balls whizzing by her face, she knew she was at the Gay Games. Everyone laughed, probably because that was the first they had heard of it. Gay? Up until then, a Promise Keepers rally would have been more exciting.

A cool acrobatic troup in tighty whities rolled hamster wheels around the stadium, then somebody lit the torch, and eventually some real pretty fireworks went off, but by then everyone was cross. The worst moment was being one of five people left in the entire stadium to applaud the last song, a terrific number by the Gay Games Mixed Chorus, who sat there all night in long-sleeved white clothing only to have ABSOLUTELY NOBODY left to hear them perform.

Which brings me to my question.

Why does every gay event have to look like every other gay event? Is an athletic event the same as a Pride March which is like a protest which becomes Take Back the Night?

Why Exclusion AND Oppression? Is it worth being pious if you make everyone so angry and bored that they associate politics with torture? Should people pay to be tortured like this?

Okay, those are lots of questions. But seriously. The "real" Olympics pays tribute to the courage of athletes without making us watch two hours of clips about Bosnia and footage of the Olympic hostages. The "real" Olympics has a sense of the balance between respect and celebration, politics and triumph, tragedy and hope. Where were the gay and lesbian athletes that felt not only the agony of defeat, but the thrill of victory? Billie, Martina, Greg, Brian?

Most important of all, where were the drag queens? Drag emcees? Baton twirlers? tumblers? Female impersonators?

Even Janet Jackson flashed some booby at the Superbowl.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Insensitive, or Just Bad Timing?

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Is it me, or does anybody else agree that it was in really poor taste for the New York Times to publish, in the same week that both New York and Georgia rejected same-sex marriage, Maureen Dowd's insipid column today about heterosexual married couples getting all giddy about amalgamating their last names?

Whether we agree with marriage or not, it is hard not to feel disheartened and depressed about this week's bad news. New York decided that heterosexual unions are less stable than ours, but that the children of heterosexuals are more worthy of state interest and protection than the children of same-sex couples. The New York majority decision also recirculated the unproven assumption that children who grow up in heterosexual households are better off than children who don't. The "truth" of this assumption will be news to people who grew up with fathers or mothers who beat them and raped them while their opposite-sex spouses looked the other way. Apparently half-baked, unproven moral opinions are suddenly valid if uttered by judges. But I digress.

I didn't link to it because it's on Times Select, so unless you are paying for the paper I don't think you can read it. But it doesn't matter, cause it's stupid, and I'll tell you about it here.

To begin by adding insult to injury, Dowd titles her piece "A Tale of Two Rachels," leading many a reader to wonder, hope even, that she was really, for once, talking about two women. Maybe even women in a couple. But nope! Fooled ya! She's talking about a married man and woman who decide to make their first and last names the same! How freakin' hilarious is that! The woman takes her husband's last name, and the husband takes his wife's first name--but ends up only using it as an initial, to avoid problems making plane reservations! So he's still a guy on paper, and she's got his last name!

Those heterosexuals are so rad! Changing society one custom at a time!

Another couple decided that the wife would legally change her name to his when they had kids, but keep her "maiden" (ya, right) name as her professional moniker. Amazing!

The only guy in Dowd's account to truly change his last name is Tony Villaraigosa, the mayor of LA, who by all accounts seems like an ok dude. Yay, T. V.! You got a pretty name out of the deal, too.

Changing your name is icing on the cake, the mere symbol of the union already recognized by the law, the state, the church, the families, the neighbors, and everyone else, when one is legally married. It's frivolous and fun, and anyone who wants to do it should have a good time being inventive.

But seriously, kids. Is this the right week to gloat about it?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

what happens in vegas, stays everybody else's access to marriage

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So New York decides not to extend marriage to same-sex couples on account of how the blanket of marriage seems too small to cover those darn impulsive straights. With three in the majority, one supporting, and two dissenting, the court argued that opposite-sex people need marriage because they can accidentally become parents at any time, while same-sex people cannot:

"These [same-sex] couples can become parents by adoption, or by artificial insemination or other technological marvels, but they do not become parents as a result of accident or impulse. The Legislature could find that unstable relationships between people of the opposite sex present a greater danger that children will be born into or grow up in unstable homes than is the case with
same-sex couples, and thus that promoting stability in opposite-sex relationships will help children more. This is one reason why the Legislature could rationally offer the benefits of marriage to opposite-sex couples only."

I so wish this would mean that infertile couples now can't marry, and post-menopausal women can't marry, and impotent men can't marry. What if you couldn't marry if you need a surrogate, or in vitro fertilization, or fertility treatments of any kind? Or if you're old? Or if you need Viagra? Or if you've had a hysterectomy, or a vasectomy, or had your tubes tied? Or if you're on the pill? There'd be hell to pay, that's what.

It's clear that there's a willing blindness here about non-reproductive heterosexual sexual activity. After all, as the judges argue:

"A person's preference for the sort of sexual activity that cannot lead to the birth of children is relevant to the State's interest in fostering relationships that will serve children best."

The decision later takes up the question of excluding childless straight couples and dismisses it by arguing that such an exclusion would be too intrusive. Apparently, however, it's not intrusive to prohibit gay and lesbian parents from marrying. So the possible but unlikely children of childless het couples are more worthy of potential protection than the actual, living and breathing children of gay couples? Or is it just that straights are way more unstable, as a rule?

And does this mean that marriage will be extended to polygamists? After all, if anybody is engaging in sexual activities that could lead to accidental and impulsive conception, it's those Big Lovers, right?

I think it's time to hurl ourselves into the fray, and I encourage all of you to out every straight couple using birth control to your local officials and representatives. Those of you who prefer oral or anal sex, or do use birth control, or cannot conceive without performance-enhancing drugs or fertility treatments, you are on notice. Your parasitic enjoyment of the rights and privileges reserved for breeders is over, your queer status now about to be revealed as anti-American and selfish.

Meanwhile, we lezzie girls need to throw a sperm-wrestling party or two, while the homo boys can play "surrogate toss," if they can find women willing to be human horseshoes. These diversions should up the accidental factor enough to get us our piece of the marriage pie, and also prove an entertaining spectacle. Cheer up, queers. Summer picnics in the park are about to get a lot more interesting.