Tag Archives: Gay Life

The GOP on transgender rights: ‘They’ve chosen a war they can actually win’

Republicans insist on home rule unless they think besieged minorities are getting uppity. Behold the Florida House:

Florida’s House bill is similar to legislation passed in Idaho, which was quickly challenged in federal court and is now on hold after a judge ruled the state cannot ban transgender students from sports teams. Similar bans have been signed into law by Republican governors in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. Lawmakers are debating them in dozens of other states.

The Senate version would allow transgender athletes to join girls’ or women’s teams if their testosterone levels are below a certain limit for a year before they begin competition.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kaylee Tuck, R-Lake Placid, denied that the bill would ban transgender girls from playing. She argued that the bill “does not even mention the transgender language” and repeatedly referred to transgender girls using an anti-trans slur: “biological males.”

Having discarded with the relief of the morally constipated the fiction of believing in “fiscal conservatism” when Donald Trump raided the public larder, Republicans can turn their attention to what animates them: wanton cruelty to American citizens they can caricature. The attitude is not new. Writing during the Clinton impeachment about a political press whose nepotism and venality didn’t prevent them from affecting an unearned sanctimony, Greil Marcus remarked, “The secret weapon was that some belong in the United States, and some people don’t; that some are worthy, and some are worthless; that certain ideas and opinions are sanctified, and some are evil.”

No GOP legislator can point to a case where the boogeyman of a rapist preys on girls in bathrooms by pretending to be trans. “Perhaps they believe that, in picking a fight with children, they’ve chosen a war they can actually win,” Adam Serwer writes.

Conflicts between civil rights and religious freedom can certainly present thorny legal dilemmas, but most of what I’m describing here involves Republicans consciously choosing not to leave people alone. There was no threat to life or liberty that demanded same-sex-marriage bans, Sharia bans, or draconian state-level immigration laws. They embraced these causes because they believed that picking on these particular groups of people was good politics, because of their supporters’ animus toward them, and because they believed that their targets lacked the votes or political allies to properly fight back.

He refers to the attacks on trans Americans taking place in state after state with Republicans in the governor’s seat and majorities in legislatures. Thanks to ghouls like Samuel Alito, “religious freedom,” a concept as foreign to the Constitution as “liberty of contract,” has turned into a considerable weapon.

Finally, the human cost. To be queer is to dislike oxygen because it tastes like fear; to be queer is to dwell in a world where relatives and friends know its language and have learned its habits without sharing either with you. Transgender adolescents deal with an additional layer of disruption. “The capacity to invoke fear, whether of gods or humans, is all about power: who can act coercively, who can control thoughts and behaviors,” Ashon Crawley writes this week in a marvelous piece about the impact of Lil Nas X’s “Montero” video on her. It’s as if conservative legislators had indeed watched the video, and felt afraid themselves: their assumptions, appeals to an old order, and perhaps their own suppressed desires stirred by forces they can stifle with pieces of paper signed by governors.

From the annals of the fully vaccinated: Introversion vs. shyness

Loath as I am to treat this thing as a deadline or as if it set to a metronome, I became fully vaccinated at 12:01 a.m. this morning. The CDC’s guidelines kick in. Not much will change. I won’t freak out during rare moments when a jogger or another walker crosses my path in the mornings (risks were minimal anyway). I’ll likely resume careful outdoor dining, mostly lunch so as to avoid crowds. I would like to figure out a dating protocol that doesn’t require me to say, “Hi! Show me your vaccination card, please” (if it comes down to this, readers, I won’t object). My grandmother won’t ask for the hundredth time why I mask. To her credit the ninety-six-year-old has kept her wit. “From the nose up it’s Alfred,” she said when asked if she recognizes me. “From the nose down I don’t know who the hell you are.” Continue reading

The GOP hates queer people, pt. 32426

Behold what John Roberts and His Furious Five, particularly Samuel Alito, have wrought: legislation in Arkansas awaiting the governor’s signature which will allow health care providers to cite “religious liberty” as an excuse to deny treatment.

Opponents have said types of health care that could be cut off include maintaining hormone treatments for transgender patients needing in-patient care for an infection, or grief counseling for a same-sex couple. They’ve also said it could also be used to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control, or by physicians assistants to override patient directives on end of life care

“There is no sugarcoating this: this bill is another brazen attempt to make it easier to discriminate against people and deny Arkansans the health care services they need,” ACLU of Arkansas Executive Director Holly Dickson said in a statement. The ACLU did not say whether it planned any legal action to try and block the law before it takes effect.

The law is among several measures targeting transgender people that have easily advanced through the majority-Republican Legislature this year. Hutchinson on Thursday signed a law that will prohibit transgender women and girls from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.

Transgender Americans are not citizens to the GOP. They’re not even people. Consider this: in most states the police can arrest you for denying an animal medical care.

February reading

(Photo via John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images)

I reread no books this month, a rarity. I returned to Muriel Spark, whose The Comforters (1957) mixes the spiritual and the profane with astonishing confidence for a debut novel. And I took up Karl Ove Knausgaard after a four-year separation.

Apt, I thought. I want to discuss two biographies that examine  like Knausgaard in My Struggle the cost of the construction of an identity. Hilary Holladay’s biography of Adrienne Rich, the first major one on the poet, re-freshened my own conclusions of a figure who pissed off white guys of all ages when I took college English courses two decades ago. Thanks to an early and now mortifying crush on Harold Bloom, I condescended to Rich too, preferring the tensions of the earlier volumes before, like many poets coming of aesthetic age in the 1960s, the putative maturation. I wish Holladay had explained what made Dream of a Common Language and Diving in the Wreck the metrical breakthroughs they remain: how did this formidable student of verse metrics break the vessels of her style? On Rich’s lesbianism, fraught relationship with her autocratic father, alcoholism, and impressive fecundity Holladay more than does her subject justice, if hamhandedly on occasion. About Anthony Burgess “and his brethren,” she speculates, they “wanted Rich to vanish into thin air and take everything ever uttered about female empowerment with her.” And she writes gaucheries such as: “Had she asked a judge or committee for the moon in those days, who knows but she wouldn’t have come home to find a cratered chunk of it glowing on the street in front of her apartment.” But her exegeses on seminal feminist criticism collected in On Lies, Secrets and Silence and the booklength Of Woman Born (which I’m reading now) demonstrate Rich’s historical consciousness: she was immune to the era’s solipsism. Rather, she understood how the construction of a self is a communal experience, requiring mentees, sympathetic and hostile colleagues, and lovers.

Ignoring the gushing, first-name ersatz intimacy, and the year-by-year grind more obsessed with accuracy than truth, Scott Eyman’s Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise is the best sustained analysis on this most elusive of Hollywood stars because, the author of John Wayne: The Life and Legend argues, to be a star is to sustain elusiveness; and The Cary Grant Project, which entered its final act when he retired in 1965, sustained its superficially superficial veneer until his death in 1986. A childhood resentment toward his mother became acute as the man from Bristol born Archie Leach realized he might assuage the pain of abandonment in the bifurcation of his selves. Many stars created new identities; the wonder of Leach was his self-awareness and the degree to which he believed in his persona, even at the risk of psychological ruin. Contemporaries marveled at his sangfroid, shook their heads when he succumbed to what they deemed faddism. George Sanders, as acerbic offscreen as the desiccated wits he played onscreen, once said about him: “witty, sophisticated and debonair on screen; in life prey to theosophical charlatans, socially insecure and inclined to isolation.”

Thus, the years of experimenting with LSD, here examined by Eyman with a meticulousness and an admirable lack of tut-tutting. Alert to the nuances in Grant’s performances, however, Eyman abjures what Orson Welles would’ve called dollar book Freud.

Grant’s genius was to be simultaneously amused and amusing. The world, he implied, is hopelessly variegated, not to mention bizarre, and imagination is every bit as vital as a flush bank account.

The triumph of his performances in The Philadelphia Story and late-career delights like North by Northwest and Charade rests on his original pivoting between subject and object; playing the center of attention and whirling like the intensest of dervishes gives him the chance to observe the action. When he looks at a character, particularly a woman, he gives him and her his full attention, yet a passing rain cloud of reluctance and even disdain briefly rumbles in those hooded dark eyes: it’s noticeable in Only Angels Have Wings (1940) when he and Jean Arthur horse around, in Notorious (1946) even as Ingrid Bergman ravishes him over chicken, the sea-kissed night air hovering like a perfume.

Subject as object. Speculation about Grant’s sexuality persists, of which I’m guilty and why not? What Eyman calls “his strange mixture of entirely sincere courtesy and oblivious narcissism” is often the provenance of queer folk. Eyman treats Grant and readers like adults: he takes him at his word. During his retirement, in a confession to a devoted secretary, Grant admits to being gay as a young man, bisexual in his early Hollywood years, and straight thereafter. Sexual politics in the twenty-first century often amounts to a sexual monoculture, scornful about ambiguity when not a way station to a fixed state; to Grant’s credit he didn’t hide in plain sight so much as let others, with his usual elegant passivity, categorize in hindsight. The persona Archie Leach had created in Cary Grant reveled in surface. Audiences, to quote Pauline Kael, did not want depth from him. They didn’t forgive him the four divorces; no forgiveness is possible when no blame is cast. Sharing a home with Randolph Scott in the 1930s and going public about it — there was no disguising what happened between them — might’ve been the supreme test for a star of his rank. Nothing stuck to him: the Teflon star.

The moviegoing audience, then and now, was not stupid. His public was as sophisticated as Grant taught them to be. A ferocious head for business (after his RKO years Grant was one of the first stars to function untethered from studios, and he parsed contracts like John Adams did Locke) and an instinct for self-preservation that he raised to a spiritual power led Grant to divorce four women after the inevitable emotional withdrawals, but he never lost interest in children of his own: indeed, interviews with surviving stepchildren and the young stars with whom he co-starred adduce Grant’s genuine affection and often decades-long curiosity about their lives. Perhaps too curious. The birth of Jennifer when Grant was in his sixth decade brought him new peace but gave him something else to fuss over; he adored her, but adoration can be smothering. Grant, who basked in adoration like plants did sunlight, understood.

Written in jargon-free prose and not above tart asides, A Brilliant Disguise shames most film biographies. Eyman’s own adoration isn’t slavish. His evaluations are fresh. He doesn’t think Only Angels Have Wings and I Was a Female War Bride (1949) are all that, dedicates a scant couple paragraphs to Grant’s early peak Holiday (1938), and pays a compliment too many to the inert Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream Home (1948), screened by yours truly last weekend at Eyman’s insistence. Based on eager testimony, he joins the swollen ranks of those who thought the multimillionaire a cheapskate. This may surprise readers, as well they should. To have been Cary Grant is to have incarnated the audience’s most generous estimations about poise, finesse, and dwelling comfortably in the world. Mythmaking was his specialty. He once remarked, “I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until finally I became that person. Or he became me.” Many of us could stand to make it a nightly prayer.

February’s list:

Muriel Spark – The Bachelors
Hilary Holladay – The Power of Adrienne Rich: A Biography
Ali Smith – Spring
Wallace Shawn – The Designated Mourner
Karl Ove Knausgaard – My Struggle: Book Four
Lewis L. Gould – The First Modern Clash over Federal Power: Wilson versus Hughes in the Presidential Election of 1916
Naguib Mahfouz – The Thief and the Dogs
Scott Eyman – Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise
Melissa Maerz – Alright, Alright, Alright: The Oral History of Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused
Elizabeth Bowen – Friends and Relations
Craig Fehrman – Author in Chief: The Untold Story of Our Presidents and the Books They Wrote

The GOP vs LGBT equality: ‘exploiting religion to justify my innate cruelty’

(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Aware that a supermajority of Americans are okeedokee with gays and lesbians marrying whomever they choose, Republicans have dressed their revulsion toward us queer folk in different clothes. “Religious freedom” is the new cause. Continue reading

You can dry the tears on my dress: The best of Dusty Springfield

When Dusty Springfield introduced herself to a new generation on Pet Shop Boys’ No. 2 hit “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” she came on as a human-sized wink. Coy, arch even, she sighed with such exquisite poise through Neil Tennant’s split-screen breakup narrative that she redressed an era of blowhards (if more listeners had been aware of Springfield and Tennant’s sexualities, they might’ve uncovered even more subtext). She was the era’s Cassandra, warning of the coming ashes in the fire.

I’ll have more to say in other media anon. Continue reading

Kate Winslet makes ‘Ammonite’ worth watching

A actor who in youth showed no fear or self-consciousness inhabiting women whose will is a manifestation of their intelligence, Kate Winslet promises to fascinate as she approaches her third decade in film. Ammonite is unworthy of her. This film about British paleontologist Mary Anning and her romance with the younger future geologist Charlotte Murchison (Saoirse Ronan) has problems with familiar beats and too close a similarity to writer-director Francis Lee’s last film God’s Own Country; but Winslet fills the role of Anning with such concentrated fury and attention to her work that she imbues the film with interest if not quite suspense. After a few years’ lull and a thoroughly uninteresting performance in Steve Jobs, it’s good to see Winslet back. We’re only now beginning to realize this actor’s depths. Continue reading

January Reading

Aware of the tedium of  year-end compiling, and because I miss my professional book reviewing days, I’m going to post monthly lists. I follow no program. At the library I pick up whatever my hungry eye sees, for example The Genius of Birds, Jennifer Ackerman’s ornithological study about which readers will likely learn ’round these parts next month. Continue reading

The best films of 2020: part four

We approach the end!

Click on hyperlinked titles for full reviews.

8. The Assistant (dir. Kitty Green).

” he cloistered, toxic world of The Assistant offers evidence for the prosecution. This film traces the humiliations suffered by an office peon (Julia Garner) at a Manhattan movie production company. When she suspects her boss has other motives for hiring younger women, she reports the case to HR — to devastating results. Written and directed by Kitty Green with an attention to daily labor as anesthetic and poison, The Assistant argues that women remain objects, men prefer each other’s company unless they’re horny, and playing by the rules is no guarantee of advancement.”

7. Sorry We Missed You (dir. Ken Loach).

“In Sorry We Missed You, the British chronicler of proletarian despair dissects the dehumanizing effect of delivery services. Unlike much of his work (Poor Cow, Ladybird, Ladybird, the Cannes hit The Wind That Shakes the Barley), only some of which has gotten American distribution, Sorry We Missed You has a tonal range that will assure detractors right up to its devastating conclusion.”

6. Days

“In Malaysian director Tsai Ming-lang’s first film since Stray Dogs (2013), longtime star Lee Kang-sheng lies facedown on a hotel bed while Thai newcomer Anong Houngheuangsy gives a back massage. For almost twenty minutes we watch the shades of discomfort and bliss on Lee’s craggy camera-ready face; Tsai, breaking from his penchant for infamous long takes, shoots Lee in closeup and cuts to Anong, straddling Lee while his expert hands crunch those back muscles. The sequence ends with, well, a happy ending….Although Days sounds like a film of unrelenting bleakness, Tsai suggests that the activities with which his characters keep loneliness at bay give meaning to the moments when the clouds break.”

5. The Truth (dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda).

“Beginning as a goggle-eyed waif sensational in Yves Saint Laurent who waltzed on the fault line between postwar formality and the new freedoms of the soixante-huitard era, Catherine Deneuve has aged into the least fussy grande dame in world cinema. She hasn’t turned more precious or bitter; she hangs on to a De Gaulle-era idea of living: she still smokes with a winning unfussy carelessness and shows little interest in keeping trim despite her still formidable couture….The Truth is at first glance one of those films like Autumn Sonata in which the daughter hurls accusations at her mother before it’s reached the fifteen-minute mark, but Kore-eda, taking his cue from Deneuve’s Zen-worthy composure, is allergic to portent and angst. Nothing much of consequence happens in The Truth except yielding to the pleasure of watching two great performers and savoring the deftness with which Kore-eda (Shoplifters, Nobody Knows) keeps the momentum at a fine froth.”

Remembering David Bowie in 2021

The death of David Bowie in January 2016 tolled the bell on lives lived, personae affected, boys swung, stations stationed. It augured a twelve-month period when Maurice White, Phife Dawg, Merle Haggard, George Michael, and closest rival Prince let their legacies breathe on when they no longer could. Worse, our experiment as a republic suffered a perhaps mortal blow on Election Day. In an oeuvre fascinated with apocalypse, first as a grotesquerie in itself that is a function of ahh-youth, then as a manifestation of a restlessness immune to cocaine and a happy marriage, Bowie’s albums taught me how a species of wanderlust keeps despair at bay and is itself despair. As much a so-called confessional songwriter as Lennon, Joni Mitchell, and James Taylor, Bowie used his image manipulations as peeks into a psyche about as interesting as yours and mine. Above all else, I learned how The Real Me comprises the gestures, sentences, and obsessions thrown away or fussed over; the rest isn’t worth consideration. The young aesthete who sang “Planet Earth is blue/and there’s nothing I can do” was not indulging an echt-gloom: he stated a truth. Twenty-five studio albums set aflame a century’s worth of self-help pieties. Continue reading