Teenage lust: ‘Being 17’

Once in a while you watch a movie that dredges buried emotions and nuances. Being 17 is one of them. Directed by the seventy-three-year-old André Téchiné, Being 17 is as observant about teenage lust as a movie made by a man half his age, even if you discount the fact that Téchiné has long had an interest in exploring love roundelays with the eye of a novelist and grasping the consequences with the heart of a family friend. I wanted to hug this movie.

Set in the Hautes-Pyrénées, Being 17 follows two young men who excel as fighters, not lovers. When Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein) comes onscreen he has just cut his mop of blond hair; a silly purple earring aims to startle. These prove too much for Thomas (Corentin Fila), who trips him in class after hearing Damien recite Rimbaud. In retaliation Damien attacks on the basketball court. The war is on, as much about class as adolescent rage. On Damien’s large estate lives a family friend who teaches Damien boxing. Part of Téchiné’s achievement is to toy with the audience’s knowledge about what really fuels the boys’ contempt for the purpose of building curiosity about the architecture of their families, hobbies, habits. Damian’s mother Marianne is a veterinarian, his father a military doctor with whom she often Skypes; Thomas, an adopted child of mixed race, helps his father on the farm while his mom’s laid up with a pulmonary infection. During a house call (it’s a small town), Marianne tells the mom, Christine, that she’s pregnant. Because Thomas’ grades are slipping and the three-hour journey from home to school exhausting, Marianne proposes Thomas stay with them.

Marianne enforces a truce but it doesn’t last long. A broken wrist and a bruised torso are added to the damage report. At one point Thomas and Damien are so pissed at each other that after school they meet in an isolated snow-covered summit to pummel each other. Nevertheless, classic rivals still manage mutual respect. Téchiné’s shots of Thomas watching Damien’s ease in the kitchen (Marianne prefers drinking wine to cooking) and complete mastery of poetry and math adduce his veiled envy; the intimacy between Damien and his parents is a delight too (we Americans want parents with whom we can drink wine at seventeen). For Damien it’s Thomas’ spontaneity and natural warmth; in one of Being 17‘s attempts at brief poetry Thomas strips and dives into an icy creek, an act which leaves Damien breathless. But dichotomies don’t interest Téchiné much. Given a warm bed and people interested in his well-being Thomas proves as diligent a student as Damien; and his parents, grateful to Marianne, make up in love what they lack in sophistication; they genuinely want Thomas to do well on his “bac.”

Klein and Fila give wonderful performances; I hope they get recognized for creating modern queer archetypes. With her prominent jaw and white sunburned radiance, Sandrine Kiberlain’s Marianne not only matches physically with Klein but proves a third corner of a romantic triangle. Suffice it to say that Téchiné upsets expectations on this front too. But as The Witnesses, Wild Reeds, and My Favorite Season showed, a democracy of feeling animates his best work; he may be the greatest living French devotee of Jean Renoir’s oft-quoted line said by his character Octave in The Rules of the Game, “The truly terrible thing is that everybody has their reasons.” Alone and required to project authority, Marianne has her reasons too. A woman whose cheerful surface masks hidden resentments and passions is a movie cliche; Marianne, however, relishes the projection of cheer, in large part because she’s good at it. Entwined in this cheer is a deep sensuality (even Christine responds to it). In one of Being 17′s few violations of its interest in the boys Téchiné’s camera watches as Marianne’s husband Nathan, back from his danger zones overseas, makes love to her. Then she awakens — it’s a dream. That Téchiné regular Alexis Loret plays Nathan makes Marianne’s pangs understandable. And Damien is on to Thomas: he accuses him of catching a bout of strep throat on purpose (he turns off the space heaters and lets the bitter cold mountain air into his room) so that he can stay in bed and be attended by Marianne.

This accusation comes at Being 17‘s midpoint, and it’s a tribute to the sturdiness of Téchiné’s architecture that Damien’s motives are revealed as part of a pattern instead of an epiphanic moment; in his films our private thoughts, because formed by friction with external forces, have public consequences. Having sketched the other characters first, Téchiné returns to Damien. He asks Thomas to drive him to a thwarted online hookup with an older man (there’s a charming icebreaker when each reveals the other’s lied about his age). This man owns a large livestock farm, and Téchiné does what few directors would: interrupt the narrative so that the man can explain to Thomas, the farmer by birth, how his modern equipment works and the number of gallons of milk he produces (the scene doesn’t work; Téchiné’s quick, glancing approach is off a beat). Infuriated, Damien lashes back on the car ride home: “You’re more his type anyway.” Thomas is unprepared though for another confession. “I don’t know if I’m into guys or into you,” Damien says without affect, thus all the more shattering.

Attentive to the painful ritual of clandestine peeking, aware of the thin line between sadism and suppressed homosexual attraction, Being 17 isn’t a gay film so much as a queer one—in both the contemporary and classic sense of the adjective. It’s queer that the white Marianne would feel a shiver in the bones around the mixed race Thomas. It’s queer that the white kid—a child of privilege—with the Bowie posters on his bedroom wall would fetishize the farmhand of color. The singularity of Téchiné’s approach is to delineate the contours of a relationship but suggest the rest. Parsing every filigree but eschewing motivation has sometimes produced baffling pictures. A worthwhile aesthetic, nevertheless. Psychology matters less than behavior. It’s possible that Damien means what he says: he doesn’t know if he’s gay but he sure loves Thomas (his character doesn’t scan this way though; call it adolescent delusion). Thomas’ attraction to Damien may be as much situational as the frisson between him and Marianne. To be queer is to be aware of possibilities and, animated by the thought of transgressing, seizing them.

In its last half hour Being 17 does. While many plot threads get tied the film’s conclusion is as open-ended as Wild Reeds—and it ends with another beautifully executed whirling camera. I won’t reveal what happens to Thomas and Damien; the denouement may strain plausibility too, an exemplar of what A.O. Scott called in his review of 1998’s Alice et Martin “an excess of curiosity about the world it depicts — a surfeit of generosity, intelligence and art.” There are worse accusations. Being 17 is a film in love with characters, played by actors comfortable in their sets and with each other, interacting in a natural world; it’s a film that, thanks to Julien Hirsch’s camerawork, is in love with air, animals, and water (an important secondary character in Téchiné films like The Witnesses and Wild Reeds). Why did you trip me, Damien asks when the hostility ebbs. “I thought you were pretentious,” Thomas explains. Applause, please, for co-writer Céline Sciamma, whose own Girlhood last year limned similar charged moments. The shifting-sands texture of Being 17 reflects the muddle of youth better than any film I’ve seen in years. It’s one of 2016’s best.

Trump and LGBT voters

Like Asian Americans, gays would seem a constituency that would lean Republican because, so the thinking goes, we’re rich, like nice things, and don’t want to pay taxes. The reality is complicated. Most studies don’t include ethnic breakdowns of gay respondents of surveys; the result is, guess what, the respondents tend to be white college-educated men.

Besides, most LGBT men and women will not support a party that for decades refused to endorse work discrimination bills, marriage rights, and AIDS research. I don’t know what is so complicated. To placate the evangelical vote without whom no Republican can win, Trump chose as his running mate the governor who signed a bill allowing proprietors to keep men with lisps who mince out of their businesses. None of this matters to what this Out article calls a minority of a minority. And, boy, are they sad.

Charles Moran, a Trump delegate at the Republican National Convention, admits that it’s sometimes difficult to understand what Trump actually believes, but he also thinks the vitriol targeted at queer Republicans who support the nominee has gotten excessive.

“The righteous indignation basically slut-shames people for supporting Trump,” Moran says of the reaction from some liberals. Tall and thick with blond hair and a deep, enunciated voice, Moran is a longtime Republican fundraiser and event planner. We met at a coffee shop in Los Feliz, a liberal neighborhood east of Hollywood.

Moran’s gay friends have learned over the years to overlook his contrarian views, but some, he says, have come on board for Trump. One couple he knows well—white, upper-middle-class, “new landowners”—recently told Moran that they were supporting Trump because they can’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton. Moran feels that “[Trump’s] level of authenticity is what’s driving people to him.”

“He’s a successful person. I feel he possesses the character and personality traits that will make a strong president… He didn’t walk in and make a certain set of promises, and then not keep them,” Moran says.

As stupid and deluded as Moran is about “strength” and keeping promises, the use of “slut shaming” in this context should embarrass anyone over the age when Mom prepared peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for school. Donald Trump’s saying nice things about gays is as meaningful as the selfie with the taco bowl. I expect him to say, “Gay people? They’re great. Tremendous people. Some of these guys — have you seen them? Beautiful guys. Beautiful. If I swung that way, I’d hit on them.” It occurred to none of these people that after the Pulse shooting in June, Trump tried pitting the gay community against Muslims as if there were no such thing as gay Muslims. This must be the strength that Charles Moran has in mind.

The Clintons have played dirty pool when it comes to LGBT matters too, most recently when the triangulating Hillary, always on the hunt for new votes, said twaddle about Nancy Reagan and AIDS. But it’s 2016, and LGBT activists don’t need Michaelangelo Signoriles anymore to get a Democratic candidate’s ear

Against Me! look for some measure of peace

Against Me! – Shape Shift With Me

I know Shape Shift With Me is a singer-songwriter record because the vocals are mixed so that we notice how smart the words are. But lots of singer-songwriter records sound good – too good in many cases. Back when Butch Vig interfered with Against Me! he treated them like a noise-rock act with Sugar in their veins; now Laura Jane Grace and Marc Hudson treat the band like Bob Mould did the nobodies in his post-1994 solo records (the ones on which he didn’t play everything, that is); they treat them, to rewrite one of her new tunes, like some fucking band.

Nevertheless, about half of Against Me!’s seventh album crunches and roars and in places offends like I’m used to. The more original the songs, the more gleeful their purloining of images, lines, and slick tricks from generations of mopes, losers, and misanthropes. “Shallow graves of all dead rarts/I like dark clouds the best,” Laura Jane sings in “Dead Rats,” nodding to ancient Smiths over a mothballed sub-Slayer riff. In “Crash” the hook goes “Another crash. Landing,” like that, with the music stopping in its tracks; meanwhile, the character in the song promises to stay in “your” orbit a while like Harry Nilsson’s spaceman going round and around and around. But Laura Jane is most compelling when she’s burning not yearning. Often the situation’s unpleasant, as when he wants to grab the title character in “Rebecca” by the skull and kiss her (how romantic!). “Norse Truth,” the album’s manifesto, settles into a declamatory mode that a David Johansen or Corin Tucker would recognize except Laura Jane can’t be said to have a light touch: “Tits out for the boys/Hard cocks/hard cunts/line’em up.” As Laura Jane yells, “I wanted you to be more real than all the others,” the arrangement gathers her up, spins around, consuming itself. A meager diet, though. The guitars aren’t loud enough, the rhythm section not interesting enough. This explains why I’m quoting lyrics oftener than is my wont.

Testing the limits of her new identity, Laura Jane is searching for chords and arrangement commensurate with the tumult of the last few years. A song called “Boyfriend” relies on non-diegetic recognition for an otherwise familiar story that Billie Joe Armstrong could have sung during his basket case days/daze. But after 2005’s Searching for a Former Clarity kicked off a helluva streak the muffled, tentative Shape Shift With Me can’t help but disappoint me. Obviously I wish she finds the peace she deserves; finding peace comes before recording albums. She can wipe her ass with what we think of them anyway: “C’mon shape shift with me/What have you got to lose?” she asks in “Norse Truth” but adds, “Ah, fuck it.”

The pain in the ass of being pure at heart: Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean – Blonde

He’s one of the good guys. Since 2012 he’s been trying to write music commensurate with the urgency and force of his Notepad confession, only to discover that being semi famous means the audience views the art through the lens of the biography as if Frank Ocean were patron Sean Carter. This phenomenon can have an anesthetizing effect: songs with undeveloped melodies get a pass, mediocre singing confused with honesty. On his second official release in two days, Frank Ocean shows little interest in connecting. Because days are weeks in the internet hypercycle, listeners should have had a chance by now to form an opinion: Facebook needs you, folks.

“Less morose, more present,” he sings, intentions muddled, on one of Blonde‘s least memorable tracks – supplication or erroneous statement of fact? At its best Blonde exploits our unease if not boredom. Over swelling backing vocals and the tinkle of a piano, Ocean commemorates a love so devastating that it hollowed out life: “It’s all downhill from here.” Planet earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do is Blonde‘s unspoken message. Not so far from the decades of fiction and Hollywood film in which homosexual love ended badly. The first two thirds of opener “Nike” shows an Ocean electronically distorted to sound like an ages-dead blues crooner summoned with a ouija board to testify about the wages of greed. From Robert Johnson to PJ Harvey those who summon the blues regard the form as prayer while still reveling in the sin — or at least the memory of sin. Ocean’s one of the few practitioners who eschews pleasure; it’s possible that’s why he leaves me unmoved (2011’s Nostalgia, Ultra had a song called “There Will Be Tears”).

With cases like Blonde I’ve found “Hamlet and Its Critics” a lodestar. Obsolete for decades and quietly renounced by the author himself (in 2016 we would call it expert trolling), T.S. Eliot’s essay lambasts Shakespeare’s most famous play for never finding the object that corresponds to the emotion expressed in the text. “We must simply admit that here Shakespeare tackled a problem which proved too much for him,” Eliot wrote. “Why he attempted it at all is an insoluble puzzle; under compulsion of what experience he attempted to express the inexpressibly horrible, we cannot ever know.” To expose his material to sunshine he employs the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Andre 3000, but, in a stroke of singer-songwriter control, subsumes them. The result is a midtempo crawl beholden to a private argot of heartbreak. “Maybe I’m a fool.” “Two kids in a swimmin’ pool.” “I don’t relate to my peers.” These phrases and clauses come from “Siegfried.” By themselves they have an Imagistic resonance; stuck in a sequence of unforgiving woe, the track dissolves.

An avatar who’s helped thousands of young men accept the questioning of their sexuality, Ocean is still testing the volatility of his own aesthetic mixture. An affinity for the genteel yawp of Bon Iver and the skeletal confessions of Waxahatchee doesn’t make him college rock, though; Ann Powers and Jason King have posited Meshell Ndegeocello as a influence, and I hear it. Without knowing a scrap about his life, I’d say on the evidence that Ocean hasn’t yet made the inevitable transition from the heartache of unrequited same sex love to checking out guys’ asses and abs. Based on the evidence of the music, pleasure itself arouses his suspicions; it could be that suspicion is an arousal. He knows the dark without knowing the possibilities of what you can do in the dark. To be one acquainted with the night, he should reckon with the light. When I hear the lines “showed me love/glory from above,” I assume they’re not about his beloved peeing on him – I want that kind of carnality. Maybe collaborators and samples stimulate his most inspired work. Until the next visual album, however, Blonde too often reminds me of what Eliot called Hamlet‘s biggest flaw: “We should have to understand things which [he] did not understand himself.”

For LGBT students ‘heartbreaking’ levels of violence at school


A study completed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirms what many of us who are gay and/or work with LGBT students: they’ve got it bad and it has gotten worse. The NYT summarizes:

These children were three times more likely than straight students to have been raped. They skipped school far more often because they did not feel safe: at least a third had been bullied on school property. And they were twice as likely as heterosexual students to have been threatened or injured with a weapon on school property.

More than 40 percent of these students reported they had seriously considered suicide, and 29 percent had made attempts in the year before they took the survey. The percentage of those who use various illegal drugs was many times greater than heterosexual peers. While 1.3 percent of straight students said they had used heroin, for example, 6 percent of the gay, lesbian and bisexual students reported having done so.

The raw data:

Being physically forced to have sex (18% LGB vs. 5% heterosexual)
Experiencing sexual dating violence (23% LGB vs. 9% heterosexual)
Experiencing physical dating violence (18% LGB vs. 8% heterosexual)
Being bullied at school or online (at school: 34% LGB vs. 19% heterosexual; online: 28% LGB vs. 14% heterosexual)

Although the report acknowledges that “sexual contact” is vague and the surveyed were still in school, it nevertheless refutes the belief among conservatives and even complacent liberals that It Gets Better.

‘Gays shouldn’t be killed; neither should they get married.’

Good luck, gentlemen:

His self-described ties to the gay community pre-date the 2016 election, by virtue of decades of socializing in celebrity circles and doing business in New York City. Nevertheless, Trump has opposed same-sex marriage since he first dabbled in presidential politics in 2000.

Jim Bopp Jr., a conservative Indiana delegate on the platform, said the old platform language on same-sex marriage is no longer appropriate since last year’s landmark Supreme Court ruling that allowed same-sex couples to marry nationwide.

This won’t change the core of the issue, Bopp told CBS News. He also said that adopting friendlier language toward gays and lesbians should not be perceived as a major concession by conservatives.

“Trump has stood with the victims of Islamic terrorist who murdered gay people because they are gay but so did I – that’s not being gay friendly, that’s being human friendly,” Bopp said. “If the question is should they murdered, of course not. But if it’s whether or not we should have gay marriage, it has nothing to do with it. They weren’t killed in Orlando because they couldn’t get married, they were killed because they are gay. And we oppose that.”

Bopp’s statement at least has the benefit of honesty: “Gays shouldn’t be killed; neither should they get married.”

Getting by: Blood Orange and Alex Anwandter

Blood Orange – Freetown Sound

On his third solo album, the producer assembles seventeen pieces that sketch the limits of ’80s revisionism: discreet splashes of keyboard color, stiff drum programs, and vaguely anxious rhythm riffing. I write “pieces” because a third aren’t songs so much as doodles. Deborah Harry (“E.V.P.”) and client Carly Rae Jepsen (“Better Than Me”), allowed to shape the material, give the best performances. When Dev Hynes opens his mouth to croon the admittedly novel lyric to “St. Augustine,” I never thought I’d miss Solange Knowles.

Alex Anwandter – Amiga

The Chilean electro pop singer has made a few 2016 best of lists for the fraught “Siempre Es Viernes en Mi Corazon,” and his third album offers more goodies: flamenco-indebted acoustic guitar hook and Middle Eastern-inflected closing melody in “Cordillera” like freestyle used to make; bubble house on “Traición”; clap-along stomper “Amiga” that Katy B would love. So strong is the first half that for a while I shelved the album after suffering the ballad half. Third and fourth listenings reveal Anwandter’s unsubtle subversions, like sneaking the refrain “Soy mujer” into the self-evident “Manifiesto.” When his voice cracks on “Que Sera De Ti Mañana?” the recorded show of clumsiness endears him to those of us who know this activist fights his wars in the press so he can win the right to be as cuddly as he wants in bed.

Queer — like everyone else


It was supposed to be a cool night. August is grueling but not brutal—a tropical climate’s nod to an impeding change of season that is itself more nominal than real. In the AOL chatroom, he wondered if I was sure about the weather. This was charming—a nineteen-year-old Ohio transplant worrying about rain. I’ve got this, I thought. I could hide my inexperience. Then he gave explicit directions about how to enter the University of Miami and on which block to collect him. In the year when cell phones hovered at the point of ubiquity, we had to explain things to each other once (college students still had phones in their dorm rooms: he didn’t want his roommate to answer). I was disappointed. Four years my junior, and he wasn’t new to this sort of thing after all.

For readers who didn’t mature before the advent of OKCupid, Grindr, and Match.com, AOL chatrooms marked the Triassic Period of dating/hookup sites. You’d join an “m4m” chat, watch the chaos, and hope someone noticed your stats fast enough to send an instant message. The way stats and greetings and exhortations to join some dude who wanted “to get some fuckin groove on in South Pointe Park!!!” hurled across cyberspace reminded me of the bit in the Inferno when Dante and Virgil watch the illicit lovers hurtle past each other in an unceasing storm. If you were lucky, you spoke on the phone (there was no texting). If it worked, you arranged to meet, although in the pre-Grindr days you could end up, as friends learned, driving to a bar several miles away and no one showing up.

I don’t remember who responded first. I don’t remember his name. I’ll call him Chris. A sophomore history major at UM, he owned no car and didn’t work. We spoke on the phone, not the first conversation since my coming out to friends a month earlier but the first whose momentum and my desperation made deciding easy. I tried to discuss interests—bands, movies, shit like that. He was polite, but I heard silent fingers tapping impatiently on the receiver.

“Wanna meet later?”

“Sure. Where?”

“We can decide. And you’ll have to pick me up.”

An adventure! My friend Raquel, worried, offered to follow me. Nah—I could handle a punk-ass Ohioan. When I showed up at the UM entrance as per the instructions, a scrawny punk-ass is what I saw: smaller than I by a couple inches, wearing a long-sleeved flannel shirt, round wire-rimmed glasses, and a cap. Turns out he was green—about Miami. A fair trade for polite trade. Ignorant of gay bars, terrified of exhibiting Chris in straight ones, I suggested Miami’s lookout point: a pine-covered spit of land on the Rickenbacker Causeway called Hobie Beach. As a kid we made several desultory attempts to meet family; guests could bring pets, and dog paws were tough enough to withstand the broken beer bottles, jagged rock, and mud that substituted for sand (as a four-year-old I waded into the water in sneakers). But with its view of Biscayne Bay and downtown, it was a good place to do drugs or neck with a girlfriend, or, if it was your fancy, pick a fight with a dude whom you thought was checking out your girlfriend.

As for Chris, his sangfroid was impressive—readers who think I cut an impassive figure should have seen this dog-sized iceberg. He thawed when I explained Hobie. A beach! Northerners love beaches like Freddie Mercury loved sex. But he refroze when it looked like I had no idea where the hell I was going. I missed the turnoff into Hobie, which meant a mile drive into Key Biscayne for the first legal U-turn. By the time we reached the beach it was nine o’ clock: too early but for the die-hards, their dark cars an expectation I wanted fulfilled. We sat on the pine-needle-covered not-beach, our backs against the wheels of my Escort. Refuse, old barbeque, drying sea salt, and sex created mephitic fumes. About twelve feet from our feet a water rat rustled the needles. I chattered like a fool in the tone I’d come to recognize over the years: the out of body detachment of a distracted soul listening to his pharynx recite words as practiced as a Kiwanis Club speech, in this case a description of my personal history with Hobie. Chris stared—curious? bored? My detachment didn’t fade even when we kissed. I allowed myself to think, I am a man, tasting another man. What did another man taste like? Upper lip hair.

Not much happened—and everything. The groping was so predictable as to demystify homosexuality for good. This is what I’d been afraid of: a balding undergraduate disappointed by a diffident older dude who’d confused Three Mile Island for Fire Island. It had taken longer to reach Hobie than to reach our idle climax. He refused my offer of a drink; as punishment he listened to a C-90 mix of that summer’s Madonna, Missy Elliott, and Chemical Brothers songs, speckled with a couple tunes from Wire’s 154,new to me (I love that tape). We exchanged phone numbers and goodbyes with the blitheness and excitement of men grateful they’d never see other again.

Unfazed after rejecting her offer, Raquel had gathered the posse at a Denny’s close to home. When I entered twenty-five minutes later, the crew burst out laughing. I laughed too—who didn’t want to be part of a joke? “Go to the bathroom, bro,” she said. Good advice. My collar was fucked up, hair a mess, and my lips looked like smushed rose petals.

As redundant as a birthday card, gratitude doesn’t encompass what happened that August night. Gratitude requires indebtedness. If it hadn’t been Chris, it would’ve been another balding undergrad. Interchangeability was the point. And so I went, relieved that banality of experience was the point too. I was queer like everyone else.

Dollar book Freud


In the days when the world missed reading an incisive and garrulous twentysomething movie critic, I wrote long essays in my journals. I quoted Orson Welles’ line about Rosebud in my review of American Beauty, a movie which I hasten to say I liked because ah youth: “dollar book Freud.” Beguiled by good intentions, many allies now cite self-hatred as a motive for Omar Mateen’s murder of forty-nine people at Orlando’s Pulse last Saturday: he was a regular, he’d visited gay dating apps, and so on. Too reductive by half. Remember the film version of Reflections in a Golden Eye , in which thick-torsoed crypto-homo Marlon Brando dabs makeup in front of the mirror — and what that led to? To theorize, as I have often, that homophobia leads to violence is not to assert that self-loathing leads to mass slaughter. Reporters and sympathizers miss the point as surely as those who claim RADICAL ISLAMIST TERROR WHOA NELLY inspired Mateen’s wrath.

To my relief, The Miami Herald’s most recent Orlando story included the following:

Dr. Harley Stock, a Broward clinical psychologist who has profiled terrorists and taught at the FBI Academy, cautioned that still too little is known about Mateen to fit him into an easy profile.

Questions about Mateen’s possibly repressed sexuality turning into violence may be overblown, Stock said, because there is no credible research linking the two.

“This concept of repressed sexuality came from Freud. It’s outdated. People have latched onto it because it’s an easy explanation,” said Stock, of the Incident Management Group, which assesses workplace threats.

Stock also believes Mateen doesn’t fit the profile of someone who is clinically mentally ill because such people are normally incapable of planning such “goal-directed” attacks.

“The majority of individuals who commit violent crimes, including terrorists, are not mentally ill,” Stock said. “The guy is a bad actor. He’s not crazy.”

A congeries of resentments, the person who was once Omar Mateen looked as incapable of coherent thought as a hermit crab. But at the moment I will not explain him, nor will I denigrate the millions who suffer genuine mental trauma, other than by calling him a sadist who hated gays.

Strong opinions

"From Here to Eternity" won eight Academy Awards® and was named the Best Picture of 1953.  The film's director Fred Zinnemann (left), shown here on set with Ernest Borgnine, was honored as the year's Best Director for his work on the drama. Restored by Nick & jane for Dr. Macro's High Quality Movie Scans Website: http:www.doctormacro.com. Enjoy!

He had a lean torso with clumsy thick biceps and arms that faded into thinness at the elbow. In 1995, many guys still wore the remains of the Poppy Bush era’s fringe haircuts; he’d shaved his to the scalp — the better, maybe, to perch wraparound sunglasses. The cut had the effect of accentuating the huge eyeballs and thick lips. When he walked into the film class I was taking that summer, often a few minutes late, he’d grab a desk and swing his sandaled feet atop the nearest unoccupied one. He spoke a handful of times, once to ask our professor to spell “extradiegetic.” She had forbidden us to write and present our final project on obvious auteurs: Woody Allen, Coppola, Scorsese, like that. He chose Kubrick (how’d he get away with it?), and when it was time to show and discuss his favorite scene he chose the billiard room pas de deux between Peter Sellers and James Mason in Lolita.

Three months later he flaunted his contempt for punctuality again, this time more than fifteen minutes late for our first fall semester course. Outnumbered and insular, English majors at my public university in those days stuck together; his acknowledgment with a nod that he recognized me signaled our faint boredom with the required thing. The nod unsettled the sunglasses from the top of his head, though: they fell with a clatter at the moment that the late Philip Marcus, one of America’s preeminent Yeats scholars, was making a fine point about “Under Ben Bulben.” A wonderful teacher and a delicious bitchy companion during office hours, Marcus was a horror whenever he read poems aloud—imagine an assistant vice president of human resources delivering a speech through a vocoder. But Carlos * asked a question about the Mareotic Lake. I was nerd enough to catch the reference to the Witch of Atlas, a Biblical figure about whom Shelley wrote a poem that I’d read in my spare time because that’s who I was.

For several weeks I paid attention to Carlos. Sometimes he came on time. Most of his questions demanded that Marcus clarify a reference Marcus assumed we got (to the Cornell professor’s credit, he never patronized his students). How we chatted each other up after class I don’t remember; Carlos approached me, though, remembering me from last summer’s film course. Three years older, girlfriend with spiked jet bangs who met him to drape herself on his arm like a blouse ready to be hung, he didn’t need me, but in those ten-minute after class bullshit sessions I realized he respected my brains. In gratitude I gave him my copy of Nabokov’s Strong Opinions, and he looked flattered that I remembered his Lolita presentation. A disappointment he would turn out to be: guile and fluency of manner exceeded his intelligence. His opinions about Joyce and Yeats were commonplace—“That dude did great fucking shit with words!” he said once, and I can confirm it because the sentence is in my journals. Never fear: those biceps and the way he wore jorts (it was 1995), tight V-neck shirts, and sandals were their own provocation. At the time I worked and had to split directly after class, so the only time I followed him and his girlfriend to the cafeteria felt subversive and creepy and marvelous.

When the semester ended, I did the most courageous move of my life to date, maybe ever. In those days before the internet we still used the phonebook to find each other. He had a listed number and address. Over the holiday break I wrote him a three-hundred-word letter explaining how much our chats about Nabokov and Joyce had meant to me. I said nothing offensive or cheeky. To my shock, Carlos responded and went longer. As I expected, he shared his unease: he thought when he saw the envelope that my “sexual preferences ran towards [him]”; because they didn’t, though, we could continue our conversations, he said. For the next four months we would exchange more letters and even phone calls, most of which came from him. I learned that he had been a physical therapy and English double major and worked at a hospital; that he smoked bushels of crippy; that he had a crush on a woman who lived in his girlfriend’s condo in North Beach.

“Is it creepy that I leave notes and poems on her dashboard?” he asked.

“Of course not,” I said. “It means you like her.”

He played guitar—on the phone he strummed the opening chords, note perfect, of Soundgarden’s “Fell on Black Days.” He showed me the songs he’d written to this woman, one of which he’d called “When I Think of You.” When I reminded him that Janet Jackson had a good song with the same title he got uptight: “I don’t her stuff well enough.” The odd part was that we never saw each other again after the last class in December: an epistolary platonic romance. I still lived at home and used the house line. My mom asked once if this guy who often called and whom I hadn’t brought to the house was gay. That was enough—I could never see him. David Bowie’s “Strangers When We Meet” was a comfort; when I commemorated Bowie in January I singled out this Outside track for its swelling arrangement and cut-up lyrics. He sought inspiration too: he was reading Dante, which was one way he one-upped me. The letters were good: he wrote sentences and used punctuation as he was taught. I’ve kept them.

A week after my own graduation he wrote his congratulations (“Now that you’re out of that jail, we must share a pitcher of beer”). I didn’t respond. The thread had snapped, no one’s fault, a result, I’d learn five years later, of hardening into a complete person with lusts and caprices. Thanks to Carlos, I wrote a run of short stories in which he figured as a catalyst, a disturbance. So deep was my cover that the friend who read my drafts shared her, ah, curiosity about this new direction but went no further.

I didn’t appreciate his looks until much later either. I’m confident my sexuality wouldn’t have bothered him; his insouciance probably would have led him to be flattered by the attention. And I still wonder what that beer must have been like. Every few months I’ll Google his name. He’s had trouble with the law, often serious—what a prescient metaphor, that jail line of his, har har.

* I’ve changed his name.

Let’s start a war! The first visit to the gay bar


On the night I visited my first gay bar my great grandmother lay in a hospital bed three weeks from dying. I make no causal connection: I happened to be free that night. Besides, she was ninety-five. Dementia had eroded her intelligence and self-control, reducing her to a lame menace with a taste for violence. I loved her, or, rather, the woman she once was, and was glad to be rid of her. Almost seventeen years later, I’m fairly confident I didn’t suggest the visit to Club 5922. Alan and Raquel did, aware that sometime in July I had confessed my sexual leanings. Raquel may have been more excited about the visit than either of us, but Alan, a straight man of preternatural sensitivity, was the one who said, in his baby powder voice, “Yeah, let’s do it!”

Nervous, unsure whether I wouldn’t be more comfortable presiding over the slow death of a novogenarian at Pan American Hospital, the twenty-four-year-old graduate student who’d never kissed a boy went along for the ride that was presumably for him. I don’t remember which of them drove; we did listen to PJ Harvey’s Is This Desire? (Alan was a fan, thanks to whom I am too) and Madonna’s “Beautiful Stranger,” the latter on the radio. Miles from scenes shown in The Birdcage in South Miami, the county’s dowdiest bourgeois corner, Club 5922 hosted a gay night on Thursdays that attracted men who didn’t feel like the trek across the bridge. This conclusion carried over to the looks and behavior of the guys. I had no gay club stereotype; it was like asking Robinson Crusoe’s Friday to imagine a stagecoach. Their stonewashed jeans, goatees, faint potbellies, and reluctance to look me in the eye weren’t reassuring so much as disappointing, ordinary—as I was to them, a short, balding boy with the perpetual smirkness.

At any rate, I was always the dancer, and after we got drinks I took Raquel and my gin and tonic to the floor. Alan’s liberalism didn’t take him further than the endearing shoulder-shudders favored by non-dancers; he separated from us for a couple of minutes, in theory to look for girls. He was out of luck though: Club 5922 was too commonplace for them, unlike several South Beach gay bars which, my friends would later learn, presented ample opportunities for hooking up with women delighted by the ecumenical spirit of straight dudes hanging without hang-ups with their gay bros. As for Raquel, she didn’t wait for her beer to shake the remains of her commonplaces. Seeing the possibilities of a stage, she jumped on it and danced with the first lonely planet boy who didn’t resist her. I joined, on a Tanqueray buzz.

I wish I could say that I met a beautiful man who gave me a ride home and took me for a ride. Instead the night introduced me to the empathy of friends whose expanses were wider and vaster than I’d dealt with when I was the short, balding graduate student who quoted Stevens and Wilde because their aperçus seemed cooler when I stripped them of sexuality and human feeling. We stuck around for two hours—I’d had enough, and I’m sure they had too. Before we even walked into Club 5922 it had been their intention—I know this from what they told me then and later—to coax me into giving the disembodied admissions of July the sinew with which their lives as unafraid heterosexuals had been reinforced.

Sixteen days later, a time frame I can recall as surely as my birthday, I had that first kiss. A sordid affair, actually, on Key Biscayne’s Hobie Beach, distinguished by drunken brawls and rats as big as alligators. As my pick-up, four years younger and five years more experienced, stepped towards me crunching on pine needles and shards of Michelob, I was relieved that this tryst was the paradise that I had dreamed of—that long slide to happiness, endlessly. A paradise all too human.

Making do — again


I haven’t mentioned the Second Amendment. There’s no point. If Hillary Clinton is elected, she will nominate Antonin Scalia’s successor, and if this nominee believes in a historical interpretation of the Second Amendment we may get a repeal of Heller. For the nonce, though, we have a commentariat so frightened by accusations that they’re soft on RADICAL ISLAMIST TERROR WHOA NELLY that they won’t acknowledge an obvious explanation for the Orlando massacre: that Omar Mateen may have hated homosexuals enough to claim kinship with ISIS as an excuse:

At least four regular customers at the Orlando gay nightclub where a gunman killed 49 people said Monday that they had seen the killer, Omar Mateen, there before.

“Sometimes he would go over in the corner and sit and drink by himself, and other times he would get so drunk he was loud and belligerent,” said Ty Smith, who also uses the name Aries….

…Pulse, the nightclub that was the scene of the massacre, is 15 miles north of Disney World. Smith told the Orlando Sentinel that he saw Mateen inside at least a dozen times.

“We didn’t really talk to him a lot, but I remember him saying things about his dad at times,” Smith said. “He told us he had a wife and child.”

The sequence in this story, if true, suggests another motive: self-hatred. As much as I recoil from this Freudian gloss on impulses that often assume inchoate shapes, this development looks plausible. Allow me this glibness: when Dylann Roof killed nine people at Emanuel AME Church almost a year ago this month, no one in the chattering classes suggested that white supremacy abetted by the Christian religion as practiced in the South — the legacy of John Calhoun — meant we should Wage War on white Christians in South Carolina. Yet when the removal of Confederate flags from statehouses became the preferred method of atonement, my readers can remember the unease from certain quarters.

Thirty-six hours after awakening to the news, I’m more not less shaken, and, uncharacteristically, feel more not less alone. My compulsive reading’s a problem. If social media didn’t exist, I could assume the better impulses of “friends,” friends, and relatives. I’m hurt that I haven’t gotten simple queries: “Are you OK? How are you feeling?” “Did you know anybody who might’ve been in Orlando?” (a legit question, by the way, for not only is it Pride Month but the first weekend after class ended for thousands of primary and secondary ed kids). Questions that adduce the inquirer’s curiosity. Instead, I read posts that look like Bill Kristol’s talking points. Worse, no acknowledgment that a majority of the dead were of Latin American descent.

I’m in the humiliating position of acting like a Bowie fan in 1972 or a Morrissey fan in 1985 but in 2016, avid about eating the smallest crumb of empathy. When MSNBC’s Chris Hayes teased a story with the line, “How the LGBT community is affected by the mass shootings at Pulse Nightclub,” or interviewed a former black Pulse dancer, and alluded to “the worst instance of LGBT violence” in many decades, it was a rebuke to the likes of Bill O’Reilly interviewing Brit Hume and “Morning Joe” entertaining Michael Hayden’s diseased, secondhand reiterations of the power of the national security state.

In 2016 we still don’t see ourselves represented. We have to make do. Again.