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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

WTF? Ricky Martin is Gay??

So, whoever would have guessed that Ricky Martin was gay? OK, all of us really. But it matters. And it shouldn't matter - that's the trouble.

I can remember years ago as a scared gay teen desperately looking for any sign of gayness in singers, actors, public figures: I just wanted to know there were others out there like me, and they'd been successful. But of course, so many successful queers have had to hide who they are in a way that straights don't. And that's not right.

There have been some really nasty homophobic comments on message boards and youtube since Ricky made the announcement.

The saddest thing for me is that it still seems necessary for success in the entertainment industry to pretend to be someone you aren't. The general public are the problem more than the industry itself, yet it's a vicious cycle: if people in the public eye are warned that coming out will kill their career, they won't, and so the hypocrisy continues, and instead of queers seeing that being gay is normal, and in every part of society, they arre left without the songs, the films, the general culture, that reflects us and who we are.

Imagine if Ricky sang "He Bangs" or used "He" instead of "She" in La Vida Loca? Why hasn't Elton done a strong song that is about two men loving each other? It just seems ridiculous and sad that these things just aren't possible. The Pet Shop Boys are the first group I can think of that unambiguously sang about gay ife, but even they were tentative at times. I want to hear songs that talk about my life, not straights.

When are we going to have the first openly gay All Black in this country? And don't pretend there's never been one - there has. But the NZ Rugby Union would rather stop playing than admit it.

Why? What is so threatening about us? Why are we seen as such a profit-killer (cause that's what it's about - money) and a curse for popular entertainers? Even Ellen took her time in being public about it loving women instead of men.

If queers of every stripe are ever going to have real acceptance, real success and happiness in this world we need to be seen as part of it, not something to be denied. We need more visibility, not less. Gay Pride was about exactly what its name said - taking pride in who we are, not apologising for it, not accepting discrimination, not accepting being second-best.

There is nothing wrong, unnatural or sinful about same-sex attraction, or any form of being gender or sexually different. Yet the fact that ricky Martin thought he had to hide it for so long shows the power of social conformity, the way we are told to present ourselves instead of who we really are.

You only get one go around in this world, why should so many of us feel the need to pretend to be who we aren't, and how can we change it? No, who we are attracted to isn't everything about us, but it is an important part of it.

I live in the hope that more and more people in the public eye will be able to pursue their careers without fear and homophobia stopping them being who they are, and that those of us in the general public can do the same, but I wonder how long it will take, or if it will ever really be that way. We need to stop accepting soceity's opinion that we're second best - we're not.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Human Frailty

Once again I am forcibly reminded, I am my body. Crossing Queen St on Wednesday on my way to a meeting at the AIDS Foundation, I felt this sudden Bang! like someone had slammed the back of my left calf with a hammer. I'd pulled a muscle, just by running across the road. Pain! And not the fun kind! I rang my Dr, got an appointment. Rang my boss and told her I wouldn't be back in. Staggered onto the Link and got to the meeting. The Dr couldn't see me till after 2, and they're only 5 mins away from my Dr and home, so I thought, "Just go for an hour" and I managed.

The Dr said "you've pulled your left calf muscle near the top." Gee, really ? A compression bandage (so not sexy) and panadol - not even a decent opiate-based pain-killer. Although a surprising number of friends have them in their medicine cabinets it turned out, offers of all sort of things came in - thanks for that! An awful lot of people have walking sticks lying around too it seems.

But now, 2 days later, and only slightly mobile, it takes me back to those bad old days years ago in the mid 90s when I was based at Herne Bay House and had to learn how to walk again. I had been so sick, had lost so much weight (down to 50 kgs at one point), that even getting from room down the corridor to the dining room there was a major effort, resulting in exhaustion and breathlessness. It was a triumph the day I could walk all around the house. After a while I could even, slowly, walk down to the shops. I bought a pie and doughnut at the bakery. Nothing ever tasted so good.

But being that sick, for that long, made me conscious of just how much we (or is it just me?) take our bodies for granted. Just simple things like being able to walk to the shops, being able to stand up in a shower and wash myself. All of those little things we normally just assume we can do.

And now here I am, stuck pretty much at home until I can move more easily. My life is limited again in a physical sense. And that is one of the things I remember from being so sick: my life being constrained to one room, dependent on nurses, (I love and admire nurses,double their salaries I say: anyone who can wipe your arse and still treat you like a dignified human being 1 minute later is a fantastic human being and valuable professional), waiting for friends or family to visit, measuring the day by when meals arrive, being sick and being so dependent on others - that sense that my body had betrayed me - hideous. And when you're body is crapping out on you it's pretty hard to keep your mind and heart in good shape too.

People talk about keeping a positive attitude, and fuck that used to piss me off when I was that sick. But I did learn the value of it eventually. Life does hand you shit at times, and you have to deal with it. I liken it to having to change a tyre on the motorway in the rain. You can bitch and moan about it as much as you like, but you still have to do it, so why not calm down and just get on with it.

But it was a horrible time in my life, one when I and most around me thought I was dying. Now, a pulled muscle is nothing like coping with PCP and other AIDS related conditions. But it reminds me of those bleak sad days in my past. And of how far I've been lucky enough to come.

And I am lucky: friends have been offering all sorts of support (enough with the jokes about keeping my legs elevated though guys) and I feel cared for and that's a lovely thing to know.

I've had to cancel a few dates, one in particular I'd been looking forward to; I feel like a kid who's been told Xmas is cancelled dammit. I won't be dancing for a while, and that is a bummer. I won't be able to walk to work as I usually do, and I probably won't be propping up the bar for a while. But this will pass, and I will get back to normal, again.

I'm lucky, and it's good to be reminded at times of how lucky I am.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Acting My Age

I was out dancing the other weekend and "Forever Young" came on. I was dancing with a small group of old friends, some of us have been dancing together for 30 years. I'm 48 and I often go out dancing. Do I want to be forever young, as the song says, or not? Should I have taken myself off the dancefloor in shame?

Gay men are often accused of having a Peter Pan complex. And while we visible ones on the scene help create this stereotype, it's often applied to all homos with thin-lipped disapproval, to show we aren't really serious or mature somehow. We don't want to grow up, apparently. We like to do "young" things, like dance, dress up, go to parties, sleep around, and worry about our appearance, apparently. We spend money like teenagers, apparently. So we are judged by some, including some of our own, to be immature.

Well what's mature? Holding down a nine-to-five job till you retire? Getting to bed at 10 on a Saturday night because you're really too old at 50 to be out in a bar and dancing, it's just not seemly.

And so what if parts of this accusation are true? Most people are forced to grow up because of the needs of families, children, buying a home, all the stuff that typically goes with being straight. As gay men, we don't tend to follow this path. Our lives are different, because most of us don't have kids to worry about, and we can do a lot of things without having to put a whole group of other people in our calculations. I can remember a few years ago my mother saying to me, out of the blue "You know, I don't feel any older inside than I did when I was 20, it's just my body has aged." I hope I can say that - imagine feeling old inside. I don't want to.

Often it seems to me that the criticism of gay men not acting their age comes from our own, from other gay men, who for whatever reason, feel uneasy at the prospect of men in their 40s, 50s or 60s still going out and having a good time. Do we remind the young ones that they too will age, and do the older ones disapprove out of envy? I think so. But who decided that everyone had to retire to the suburbs at 39 and behave like their grand-parents?

You know, our generation watched an awful lot of friends sicken horribly and die, and while I was dancing with that small group of old friends the other weekend, we were all aware of all the ghosts on the floor who hadn't made it. I think, far from being immature, we're very mature: we grew up pretty damn fast in the worst days of the AIDS epidemic. We had to. And I think that experience helps us value now, value the joy and fun that is in the world, because we've seen how fast it can all disappear.

I know the scene is not for everyone, I know it can be shallow, vapid, and heartless and so can some of the men on it, and I've been through times in my life when I haven't been interested in it, but I've enjoyed coming back into it as well. I'm lucky because of the friends I have. And while some of those friends the other week were my age, or older, and dancing till 3 in a sweaty shirtless frenzy, they all have real grown-up jobs, and are strong clear individuals.

I don't care that I don't have a gym-buff body (well, if I could take a pill for one I'd do it but you know, I'm lazy...) and I don't think I'm having a mid-life crisis by having riotous weekends at 48 when most of the men I went to school with are fast asleep in the suburbs next to a woman they married 20 years ago. They are the ones who will wake up one day and have a mid-life crisis, I won't, because I've been lucky enough to lead a life that allowed me a lot more choice: I have very few regrets. I will get a new tattoo this year, and probably another piercing. And I will keep on dancing like a fool. Because life is for living, you only get one go, and I just don't care what anyone else thinks.