Storytelling

I got excused from jury duty a couple years ago and celebrated by watching 12 Angry Men. That, for those of you that don’t know, is  film that in just over 90 minutes captures everything that is complex and beautiful about the American justice system. As a case study in the way that our own experiences and psychological biases can impact our ability to evaluate evidence, that film was decades ahead of its time. When it was made, many of the suppositions that the characters make in deconstructing the prosecution’s argument had yet to be corroborated by scientific studies and real-life trials. But as the O.J. Simpson trial showed, even if there is little reason to believe that the defendant is innocent, convicting them based on faulty evidence is not the American way. The burden of proof is on the prosecution, and if the only cause for certainty in the minds of those shouting “Guilty!” is the inherent human need to make everything fit together, acquittal is the only option. In this sense, the politics of 12 Angry Men are radical even today.

It’s something of a misconception that people go to the movies just to escape. They don’t just want fantasy; they want to see their world reflected back at them. Fiction provides us not just with comfort, but a reminder: Yes, happy endings are possible. Dr. Manhattan would counter that nothing ever ends, but the point is the universe does, in fact, have a shape to it. However, that shape reveals itself only after the fact. I’m getting very tired of losing friends, getting kicked out of apartments, and failing to get a date due to the same old bullshit happening over and over. Every time, I get just a little bit closer, but I never actually get there. It’s why I have such a complicated relationship with nostalgia. I’ve only had a couple of truly outstanding moments in my life. The night as a canvasser when I made quota with less than ten minutes to go on my last attempt before being let go, the moment when I learned I’d gotten into Columbia, I could go on. Each of these outstanding moments set me up for no end of heartache and stress. I was accepted into the school I’d dreamed about since high school, then spent the next few months losing sleep over whether or not I’d be able to find housing and come up with the money to pay for it all. I did, although not in the ways I’d hoped. I made quota as a canvasser, then spent the next few weeks desperately trying to repeat my success. They fired me. Not a happy ending, is it?

I think we need to dispense with the notion that storytelling serves no practical purpose. It challenges our preconceived notions and causes us to question our ability to make predictions. It’s not too difficult, at the outset of most books, films, and plays, to have some idea of how it will all end. But if the writer can surprise us with how, then he/she has achieved their purpose. When I complain about being single, people tell me, “You’ll find someone.” That’s not the point. How will I find someone, and when? (If your answer to that last one is, “When you’re least expecting it,” do me a favor and kill yourself.) I met a man slightly less than a year ago who managed to, in the space of five to ten minutes, make the voices in my head scream a bit softer. I kept hoping that we’d somehow meet again, but couldn’t make it happen. Oh, well. Now, I live in New York. God knows there’s no shortage of good-looking young men around there, right?

I have a talent for breaking down other people’s arguments, bit by bit, piece by piece. It’s difficult for me to put into words because most of the time, people think I’m just obsessing over petty details. I have grappled with OCD before, but that’s not the problem. When I played James Joyce in a play once, I spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about just what sort of Irish accent I should be attempting. Rural? Dublin? Should I seek out recordings of the real Joyce and imitate him? The answer turned out to be, “Just find something you like and stick with it.” Finding something I liked took awhile.

James Joyce and I have something in common. (No, it’s not his unusual fetish, and fuck you for even bringing that up.) Both of us have a need to take the entire world apart and put it back together again. Joyce, as portrayed in this play (Stoppard’s Travesties, in case you were wondering), is the sort of man who could go to a party and not hear a single word anyone says. He doesn’t care. All he can think about is his book. He’ll show up to social occasions to show respect for his friends, but if something about his work is out of joint, nothing else matters. That man spent ten years writing Ulysses and seventeen writing Finnegans Wake. I can’t make head or tail of either novel.

Pleasant surprises don’t happen very often. Unpleasant surprises happen all the time. Sometimes, I feel like I’m in free-fall. I’d like to say that I hope someone catches me, but I’m pretty sure I’ve hit rock bottom once or twice already. Doesn’t mean I couldn’t use a leg up. If anyone has a really hot friend they’d like me to meet, give him my phone number.

At the End of the Day

I can see the skeleton of the life I am trying to build for myself. It’s tiring, because every time I think I have one part hammered out, it slips away. I’ve recently started looking for an apartment again, and what drives me up the wall is that there is no number I can call and say, “Hey, I’ve been kicked out of two apartments and moved close to a dozen times in the last year and a half. Why doesn’t somebody just give me a place?” I can’t live without a roof over my head, so I have no choice but to reenter the housing market. It would be a lot easier if I sensed that anybody gave a shit. But really, people don’t care how long I’ve looked for an apartment, how cruelly I’ve been denied a stable situation up until now. I have poured out my soul to prospective roommates and all but begged them to give me the place, and their response is usually a nod followed by, “Thanks for coming in.”

I find that my life is like that in more ways than one. I’m most of the way through a two-week vacation from school right now, and the first thing I did after getting home (right after catching up with the world and seeing The Dark Knight Rises, of course) was to text my friends and let them know I was back in the area. Two of them (a brother and a sister) didn’t respond. After texting them several more times, I learned that they were still in Europe on a very long vacation. I know for a fact that they knew I was coming back. How irresponsible is it that they didn’t bother to tell me they’d be gone? Isn’t it just common courtesy to change one’s voicemail so that people know you’re out of the country for a prolonged period of time, or something? That kind of behavior is not just typical for my friends, but quite common in this day and age. People click “Attending” on Facebook invites for events they have no intention of attending just because they want to be polite. That’s shitty. It always stings more when someone tells you they’ll come and doesn’t show up. It happens all the time. Some of the people who do it genuinely do care about me, but they still haven’t gotten it through their heads that when I contact someone, I expect a prompt response. I’m not interested in anyone’s excuses.

I thought of this while watching, of all things, the recent debate between Dan Savage, sex columnist/redefiner of “Santorum”/It Gets Better co-founder/all-around pillar of awesome, and Brian Brown, the current head of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). If you’ve got an hour, watch it. It’s very informative, and also kind of scary.

Savage has said that he considers this debate to be a failure on his part. He invited Brown into his home in the hopes that Brown, upon seeing what a normal life Savage has with his husband and son, would at least soften his anti-gay marriage stance. Brown did nothing of the sort, at one point becoming so incensed that he literally started foaming at the mouth. He’s never more frightening than when he stops debating and starts joking around. I’m not entirely sure that he was kidding when, late in the debate, he suggested taking Dan out back and giving him a beating.

If Dan’s goal was to convert Brian Brown, then he has unequivocally failed. People like Brown and Maggie Gallagher (the former head of NOM) operate on a closed loop. They have a narrow perception of how the world is supposed to work, and when reality begins to deviate from that, they devote all of their energies to restoring what they perceive as order. Brown and Gallagher have said that there is nothing that could convince them that gay marriage is anything other than a threat to human civilization. Again and again, they hammer away at one simple point: “Marriage is between a man and a woman.” Nothing else matters. They are human beings, but the part of them that needs to control other people’s lives is overtaking the part that treats other people with respect. The country is slowly leaning towards equality and mutual love and tolerance. These people are being eaten alive by ignorance.

I’m finally catching up on the Olympics. It’s entertaining stuff, although I just like watching people suddenly start to give a shit about sports like fencing and diving right before returning to football, baseball, basketball, and hockey. There was a scandal a couple weeks ago in which it was revealed that Olympians–brace yourself–have to pay income taxes just like the rest of us. This shocking secret was brought to light by, of all people, Grover Norquist, which as far as I’m concerned, is reason enough to discount its significance. President Obama said he supports giving a tax exemption to the athletes. Why? Is the money they receive and the gratitude of a fawning nation not enough? If we really want to honor Olympic athletes, why don’t we continue to care about them after the ceremonies are over? The highest-paid gymnast makes, at best, a tiny fraction of what the most successful NBA or MLB player makes. I’m not sure why. I can only speak for myself, but I don’t think basketball or baseball are necessarily more entertaining. Maybe it’s just more fun to take off your shirt and paint your chest before going to a football game than, say, a wrestling competition. Then again, maybe not. I think wrestling is very hot–I mean, I think it’s a great spectator sport.

Professional sports are still, sadly, as much about proving one’s masculinity as actual achievement. Women are making strides, but they have a long way to go. There is not a single out gay athlete in any of the four major team sports in America. Some have come out after retiring, but any who come out while still playing will forever be known as “the gay one”. It’s annoying. Trust me, I’ve been there. There is something about a guy who doesn’t conform to stereotypes that forces people to confront their prejudices. Paradoxically, I think a few out gay players might make professional (or even college) football a little bit less gay. It might at least put a stop to all of the jokes about repressed homosexuality.

I see two worlds: the one that I want to live in, and the one that I actually live in. There must be a point of contact between the two. Without it, there’s no reason to go on. The nice thing about hope is that you only need one grain.

Abuse

I got dumped recently. Well, not really, but that’s kind of how it feels. A friend of mine with whom I’ve been very close for the past year or two deactivated his Facebook account and changed his phone number. Seriously. I know him far too well to think that he did this to me out of simple carelessness. No, he thought it would be funny. He knows how deeply I trust him and how easily he can get under my skin, so he removed himself from my life in the rudest manner possible. The last time I talked to him was back in May. He invited me to see The Avengers with him. We live over an hour apart, but I made the drive to see it at the theater he’d be at rather than one near my home. When I got there, I texted him to find out where he was. He didn’t answer. I called him. He hung up. When I finally found him, all he did was talk about his costume. (He was dressed as Taskmaster, the dude in the picture.) Since the theater was crowded, I couldn’t sit near him, but figured we’d chat after the movie. When it was over, he brushed past me without even asking me how I’d liked the film. A few weeks later, I invited him to come watch Doctor Who at my house. He didn’t answer. When I pursued him, he told me that he was far too busy with other things to attend. Since I was about to leave for grad school, I figured he’d want to see me one last time. Instead, he sent me a text reading, “Good luck!” That was the last I heard of him.

I’ve talked about my arch-nemesis once or twice on this blog before. He was a man who, when I’d finally started to work up the courage to talk about my sexuality, told me that since he’d grown up in the Castro and knew people who were survivors of the AIDS crisis, he might be able to offer me some advice. As soon as I gave him permission to do so, he immediately began to undermine everything I said. He insulted me, belittled me, put words in my mouth so that he could accuse me of saying the opposite of what I actually had, then repeat my original argument back to me as if he’d just thought of it, and at the end of it, told me that I had nothing to be worried about because he was only doing this out of love and support. I’ll decide for myself whether or not to feel loved and supported, thank you. The friend I described in the last paragraph is not as parasitic as my arch-nemesis was. My nemesis took all of my best qualities–outspokenness, common sense, and a certain talent for “tough love”–and twisted them into a force for pure evil. I’ve honestly never felt as violated as I did when I was talking to him. I opened up to him about the most painful and sensitive subject there is, and his response was to shit all over me, then blame me for getting hurt. I felt raped. That man was a half-person, able to function only by finding needy people and making them dependent on his approval (which, of course, he always withheld.) My friend was three-quarters of a person. I still have the birthday gift he gave me, a lead figurine of Doctor Doom that he said reminded him of me. But when I found out that he’d changed his phone number, the feeling was one of great emptiness, as if I couldn’t figure out how I would function in this world without him. If I said that to a support group, they’d probably tell me that in the long run, this is for the better, that I’ll be able to stand on my own now that he’s gone. I know that already. What I really want to know is why he did it.

Abusive people always seem to convince themselves they’re doing you a favor. Since they know better than you what you want, they’ll go ahead and give it to you. My mother, after getting a glimpse of what a rage-filled and bitter man I can be, suggested therapy. I don’t need somebody with a psychology degree scrutinizing me under a microscope. There are people for whom therapy works. Good for them. I’m not after a shoulder to cry on. The only thing I care about is respect. My friend probably thought I found his dismissive nature endearing, expecting people to laugh it off with an, “Oh, that’s just [insert name here].” He never truly understood how damaging and infuriating that could be. Someday, he might. But I don’t think I’ll get to tell him.

There is, when you get right down to it, nothing in my relationship with this douchebag that hasn’t happened to me before. I’ve been through this with my college roommate, a friend from high school who, when he realized that our lives were taking different directions, simply stopped talking to me. We shared a room for two years, but during the second semester of the second year, he said not five words to me. I kept hoping he’d ask me for something just so I could deny it to him. Of course, he didn’t. Such is life.

An apology is not half as good as just not doing the bad thing in the first place. If I sense someone is expecting my forgiveness, I’ll withhold it. It’s all I get.

On a musical note, I’d like to say that while the Jeff Buckley version of this song is superb, I think John Cale’s take is more fitting for this piece.

Here’s the Deal, Folks

Not the hottest diver in the Olympics, but definitely the guiltiest pleasure.

I feel that I do not spend enough time talking about my masturbatory habits on this blog. Every day, I receive comments and emails from people demanding that I spend more time detailing all of the strange and crazy things I do just so that I can spend five minutes every day thinking about something other than sex. I hate to generalize, but ladies, you really don’t know what it’s like. Even if you are a total slut, you are still likely to be more in control of your libido than just about any man in the world. Even the most mild-mannered and gentlemanly among us is likely to be a total pervert as soon as he gets home and the blinds are drawn. I like to think of myself as mature and responsible. Though I’m likely not quite, I certainly try to be. So you can imagine how frustrating it is when I spend the entire morning rooting around porn sites trying to flesh out whatever bizarre fantasy has lodged itself in my brain this time. I look forward to the day when my penis does not have the ability to reduce me to a drooling moron at a moment’s notice. Surely my mind will regain control of itself sooner or later, right?

My penis has veto power over virtually everything except my survival instinct. (And even then, it’s a close call.) The problem is that there are a million little pieces that must fall into place before I can move on to another stage in my life. Eventually, they add up, and I’m able to build upon what I’ve learned confident in my knowledge that no matter what happens, I won’t have to go backwards.

So if it ever seems like I’m repeating myself, it’s only because I can’t let go of something until I know it’s really over. I hate Gertrude Stein, but she was onto something when she pointed out that there is no such thing as repetition, because saying something over and over again subtly changes its meaning every time. Somewhere along the line, you fall into a rhythm.

I still don’t fully understand why it’s so difficult for me to get what I want. I demand that others treat me with respect, and in return, I extend them the same courtesy. Time and time again, they knock my hand away. I complain about this all the time. Lately, the thought has occurred to me that perhaps people justify being so passive-aggressive around me by telling themselves that they’re sparing my feelings by not telling me what they really think. It formed the basis of an intense fight that my mother and I had all the way back in February. She insisted that what she and my father were doing to prevent me from making my own decisions was all for the better. I had to explain to her that I don’t give a flying fuck whether what happens to me is good or bad unless I have some agency in the matter. It’s still a bit too early to say this for sure, but I think that’s starting to sink in. She doesn’t second-guess my every move the way she used to. Once or twice, I’ve even contemplated calling her to ask how she’s doing. (Do I care? Not really. But it seems polite to ask.) I’m getting better at telling people to go fuck themselves. When they realize that I don’t care about their approval, that I concern myself with nothing other than meeting my own standards, they stop coddling me. They talk to me like a big boy rather than someone who just doesn’t get it. A professor that I had a massive argument with back in June has been nothing but supportive since. I daresay she’d even go to bat for me if somebody else accused me of not pulling my weight.

If there is anyone reading this who is still stuck in that stage of their life in which they’re not allowed to think for themselves and wondering how to pull themselves out of it, let me give you this little tidbit: Never let anyone make you feel bad just for being who you are. Hopefully, you know that already, but what you might not know is that there is a lot that you might be willing to compromise in order to preserve your own essential nature. No one except you is allowed to decide what that is. Whenever someone begins a sentence with, “Maybe if you just…”, I stop listening. I don’t need anyone else, not my friends, my family, or even God Himself telling me what to do. I’ll decide what to do. The only thing I ask from those around me is unconditional support. I grant it to them; I expect it in return.

There was a time when the knowledge that I didn’t have a boyfriend would tear me apart. What was so frustrating wasn’t that I was single, but that I couldn’t even see my way clear to finding someone. I had no prospects, very few friends, and knew only guys who were single, not my type, or straight. Really, all I’m looking for is someone who can ease my raging misanthropy and quiet the voice in my head telling me to murder everyone until it’s no more than a dull roar. I’m pretty sure that’s the kind of thing that Nicholas Sparks writes about.

I Am a Gay Republican

Let me be clear about something: I’m not defending my party’s stance on gay rights. We’re definitely behind the times on this one, but I truly believe that with a hearty push from some of our less-stodgy members, we can move this party forward into the 20th century. It’s just a matter of asking people whether their prejudices are more important to them than accepting everyone without judgment. As a gay Republican, I believe that it is my responsibility not to let my belief that I should be treated just the same as other minorities and women stop me from supporting the party that has destroyed the national economy and fought the President every step of the way as he tries to rebuild this great nation. I refuse to be a one-issue voter. Sometimes, being hated, feared, and discriminated against just for being who you are is the price you have to pay for standing up for your ideals.

In case any of you were wondering, yes, I would take a job writing for The Onion if they offered me one.

I haven’t been following the news quite as closely these past few days. I have, however, gathered that a certain Republican Congressman said something so over the line that even other Republicans are trying to distance themselves from him. This is not surprising. The Republicans are getting increasingly desperate. Ricky Gervais had a pretty good routine about the way that homophobes get increasingly self-contradictory as we move closer to full legal equality for gay people. To save you the trouble of watching the clip below, I’ll summarize: it used to be that being gay was evil because it led to decadence and sin. Now, it’s evil because we don’t want our children to see how boring homosexuals are. They’re not sure why it’s wrong to treat gay people like human beings, but they’re completely sure that it is. Well, that’s nice to know. It’s kind of like Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate. Their fiscal policies are diametrically opposed, but now, they’re bending over backwards to argue that they actually agree on lots of key issues. “Vote for us,” they say. “Not because we have any sort of positive vision for the country, rather because, well, do you really want the bla–er, the Dem–er, the man who has failed to show the proper leadership running things?”

I’m not sure I could ever stake my entire future on the hope that people won’t wake up to the emptiness of my message. All the Republicans have right now is prejudice. They don’t stand for anything, and they’re banking on the sad truth that many Americans are either scared old white people or dependent on scared old white people for their livelihood. That needs to change. It is changing, but Republicans will stop at literally nothing to hold back the floodgates a little bit longer. Mike Turzai, the majority leader of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, has admitted that the state’s new voter registration law is nothing more than an attempt to swing the state for Mitt Romney in November. Mitch McConnell has explicitly stated that all he cares about is making Barack Obama a one-term president. I guess the real question is: what do you love more, your country or your prejudices? For some people, the answer is obvious, but for others, it’s less so. Glenn Greenwald, a writer I admire even as I roll my eyes at his purism, had to move to Brazil to be with his partner. If they’d been able to get married, that wouldn’t have happened. But, you know, gay marriage can’t be made legal. For the sake of the children.

As those of you who care about the entertainment industry will know, a lot of celebrities have been coming out of the closet lately. Athletes, however, remain a fairly secretive bunch. Are there any out gay men in the MLB or NFL? A Google search turns up only former athletes. Of the 12,000 or so athletes who competed in the London Olympics, only 20 or so are openly gay. (How I hate the phrase “openly gay”. I’m openly white, but no one ever says so.) Of those twenty-plus, only three are men, and of those men, two are equestrians. (“Equestrian”, to borrow a line from Lewis Black, is the gayest word in the English language. Brokeback Mountain should have been called Two Equestrians.) That leaves Matthew Mitcham, the Australian diver who came from behind to win gold in Beijing and serves as an inspiration to many just by being so goddamn adorable.

I went to an all-boys Catholic school. Most of the guys I knew there were definitely not homophobes, and in classroom discussions about homosexuality and religion, several students said that they didn’t think it would be a big deal for an out gay guy to go to our school. But who would it have been? One student a few years ahead of me was a rowing champion who went to Harvard, but once his “secret” became known outside of the crew team, it was all anybody talked about. I think that’s what holds so many guys back. They don’t want to be labeled. I know just how they feel. From what I’ve heard, things have changed in the few years since I went to school there. The guys who were so obviously gay that they didn’t even need to come out are now starting to come out. That’s progress, I guess. But for those of us who are straight-acting and not a part of the “scene”, there is much work to be done.

I think what I’m really trying to say is: Obama 2012!