When David Bowie died almost a year ago, I remember no eulogists arguing that his place in the rock canon wasn’t deserved. His acceptance began in the late nineties as a generation of Billy Corgans absorbed his sounds and wannabe poseurs appropriated his queerness. When I adumbrated that his canonicity rested on how he presented himself as a fan first, hence the fascination with experiments, I was hoping no one saw him precisely as another Billy Corgan — a rock and roller who worked for appreciation in the conventional manner.
But the late George Michael never got these chances, Aja Romero writes, because unlike Bowie he saw himself as pop first:
This need to universalize Bowie’s gender and sexuality along with his music isn’t a coincidence. Prince and Bowie were queer icons, but they were allowed to be queer icons with plausible deniability precisely because their music crossed over into more universal forms of rock. As long as they could perform on stages alongside more traditional rockers, they could code themselves as queer without ever having to defend or justify their sexuality.
But Michael started out as a pop idol whose music was dismissed as frivolous by critics for decades. He was rarely taken seriously as a musician, so his queerness was never allowed to have plausible deniability. He was robbed of that deniability through his arrest and forced outing, but well before that, as we see in the Rolling Stone article, his attempts at coding — the longstanding Hollywood practice of identifying as queer subtextually, not publicly — were called out and dismissed.
To cut the yobs minor slack, Michael disappeared for half of the nineties. Yet when he released Older it got no American promotion; I still find it inexplicable that one of the world’s biggest stars could barely ship platinum in 1996 while breaking every British chart record. Then he got the same treatment every rocker over forty got in the TRL era.
More men would fool around with what Cleveland in Michael Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh called their sexual chemistry sets if we promised them that giving blowjobs doesn’t make them gay. My youngest students admit to going on dates with their girlfriends, best friends, and their best friend’s boyfriend. For men and women in their thirties, it’s not even a question.
As tolerant as they’ve become, though, the tolerance is a radius, not a circumference; it encompasses the world, not themselves. Doctoral student Tony Silva’s journal article “Bud-Sex” posits that white rural straight-identifying men “normalized and authenticated” their sex with other dudes “as straight and normatively masculine.” In rural Idaho, according to the article, scores of Ennis Del Mars partake in sodomy without the self-loathing:
While relationships with regulars were free of romance and deep emotional ties, they were not necessarily devoid of feeling; participants enjoyed regulars for multiple reasons: convenience, comfort, sexual compatibility, or even friendship. Pat described a typical meetup with his regular: “We talk for an hour or so, over coffee … then we’ll go get a blowjob and then, part our ways.” Similarly, Richard noted, “Sex is a very small part of our relationship. It’s more friends, we discuss politics … all sorts of shit.” Likewise, with several of his regulars Billy noted, “I go on road trips, drink beer, go down to the city [to] look at chicks, go out and eat, shoot pool, I got one friend I hike with. It normally leads to sex, but we go out and do activities other than we meet and suck.” While Kevin noted that his regular relationship “has no emotional connection at all,” it also has a friendship-like quality, as evidenced by occasional visits and sleepovers despite almost 100 miles of distance
As Jessie Singal correctly notes, road trips and drinking beer and shooting pool suggest more than mere casual sex; far from segmenting their sexual selves, these men have absorbed them, figured out how to give the quotidian some electrical shocks when necessary — like gay men. That’s the rub. Although these rural men may have wives and girlfriends whom they love and raise happily family with, they find fulfillment in extending the boundaries of homosocial activity.
We have a term for this. Reading George Chauncey’s bloody essential Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male some years ago, I wondered whether the gradual acceptance of a clinical term for what men and men and women and women do in bed or in car seats didn’t frighten these people: If I do a, I must be b. Given the trends towards the reclamation of opprobrious language noted by Christina Cauterucci in a fine recent piece about women with same sex leanings recoiling from the word “lesbian,” we should try harder as queers to proselytize for what I called in a piece last year “indispensable frivolity.”
Bisexuality is a rebuke to order, the same way the women whom Cauterucci cites use “queer” as “a statement of political worldview rather than sexual orientation.”
In a land where Senators Mike Lee and Ted Cruz and Vice President-Elect Mike Pence exist, rubbing their faces in the frivolity gets’em more enraged. Meanwhile if at first you don’t succeed:
“The prospects for protecting religious freedom are brighter now than they have been in a long time,” the Texas Republican told BuzzFeed News. “We are having ongoing conversations with our colleagues both in Congress and leaders in the new administration about a multitude of ways we can honor the commitment made to the voters in this last election.”
The First Amendment Defense Act would ban the federal government from punishing individuals and corporations — for example, denying them a tax exemption or a grant — if they act on a “religious belief or moral conviction” that marriage is between one man and one woman. It also protects those who think “that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”
So here we are, on the battlefield again.
Thank you, Jacob T. Levy, for explaining why “identity politics,” that execrable term, didn’t cost Hilary Clinton the election:
Identity politics at its best, in other words, isn’t just a matter of being on some group’s side. It’s about fighting for political justice by drawing on the commitment that arises out of targeted injustice, and about having the intellectual resources to let us diagnose that targeted injustice. It lets us spot the majority group’s identity politics rather than treating it as the normal background state of affairs, and to recognize the oppression and injustice that it generates.
By all means, we should criticize identity politics when it goes wrong, as it often does in moments of symbolic, cultural, and campus politics. But there’s no source of political energy and ideas that doesn’t sometimes go wrong; goodness knows that a commitment to abstract philosophical principles often does. But a revitalized liberalism must be a vital liberalism, one with energy and enthusiasm. The defense of liberal principles—freedom of speech and religion, the rule of law and due process, commerce and markets, and so on—has to happen at least in part in the political arena.
Far from being discrete zones of occasionally intersecting enthusiasms, my politics and my identity are a praxis that has defined my voting patterns, choice of profession, and hair style. No one asks white men to separate their biases and privileges from their voting habits, for not only would it be impossible but it’s who they are. Whether striking down miscegenation laws or allowing homosexual men and women to marry, always I get a sense that an elected official who is an ostensible ally is tapping his – usually his – foot and glancing at his watch, wanting to say, “OK, you got this done, let’s move on to more important things” but lacking the courage to say so.
I hate the CIA. Seventy years after Harry Truman signed its charter, the spook club and its un-public budget have trespassed and sinned beyond any accountability. Which makes it strange that Donald J. Trump hasn’t nominated me to head it. Betty De Vos despises public education. Scott Pruitt scoffs at climate science. Jeff Sessions sneers at the Voting Rights Act.
But nominating Rick Perry to lead the Department of Energy is first-class trolling. For the first time since Bush II-era Arabian horse expert Michael Brown, a president has appointed a moron to a Cabinet post. Perry is so stupid he couldn’t even name the department he said in 2011 he wanted to eliminate that Trump has chosen him to head.
Immolating himself in the fires of his stupidity in 2012 and 2016, he nevertheless makes many Republicans hard. In 2014 National Review Online, contemptuous of homosexuals looking for equal protection under the law, published a writer named Tim Cavanaugh whose idea of policy analysis was to ghost write an OK Cupid profile for the former Texas governor:
Perry’s roof-raising speech Friday, which was festooned with ten-dollar words and an emphasis on state governance as a mechanism for crowd-sourcing solutions, broke through in part because it came in a new package: Perry the collected-but-not-cool thinking man, wearing a muted tie, a bespectacled elder statesman whose long tenure as chief executive of the Lone Star state bestowed wisdom on him while showering prosperity on Texans.
Hold on, the best sentence is next:
Here’s the visual package in a blowup of the above picture, from Perry’s appearance with National Review’s Jim Geraghty.
You can’t see Perry’s sensible shoes, but he’s working a subdued, knees-together posture, modestly leaning in to his interlocutor, fully committed to the pursuit of better solutions.
Bias confession: This reporter’s heart is with Cruz and/or Paul, but the Republicans have a very deep bench of governors. America’s most recent experiment with electing a senator to the White House has now been exposed as a folly the nation was smart to suppress during the preceding four decades. The 2016 candidate will be a governor. Perry brought a new self to CPAC, and his idea-guy act proved a better vehicle to move the crowd than his previous instantiation as a big Texan in cowboy boots.
Before my three conservative readers quote Chris Matthews on Barack Obama’s effect on his leg, I want to point out that while we liberals can go gaga over personalities too we don’t lavish our crushes with so many ill-chosen adverbs, nor do we use “instantiation” — not even in TED Talks! If Perry never had Tim Cavanaugh’s heart, he certainly had the rest of him. But I’ll let readers decide whether Young Thinking Man was worth the slobber or whether Jason Schwartzman commanded by Rudolf Hess isn’t preferable. Spoiler: no glasses, no modest leaning knees, a visual package if you squint.
From the director of How To Survive a Plague comes a booklength narrative about AIDS. Andrew Sullivan’s review:
This was not a long, steady march toward success. It was a contentious, sprawling, roller coaster of dashed hopes and false dawns — a mini-series where major characters suddenly die and plot twists shock. Nine years into the fight against H.I.V., the average survival time had increased from 18 months . . . to 22. As late as 1994, after more than a decade of organization and activism and research, the activists had split between centrists and radicals, and the new class of drugs, protease inhibitors, were failing in early clinical trials. Worse, the deaths climbed in numbers year after year. AIDS was not an early crisis that finally abated; it was a slowly building mass death experience. The year with the most corpses in America was 1995. The darkest night really was just before the dawn.
Anyone born after 1980 can’t know how fear of contamination affects our ssxual habits, especially when plague victims fell around us.
Despite the progress, so millions dead, including my uncle. Thom Gunn, one of the twentieth century’s great elegists, wrote some of the sharpest and most shattering poems about AIDS, many collected in the epochal The Man with Night Sweats. Here’s “Still Life”:
I shall not soon forget
The greyish-yellow skin
To which the face had set:
Lids tights: nothing of his,
No tremor from within,
Played on the surfaces.
He still found breath, and yet
It was an obscure knack.
I shall not soon forget
The angle of his head,
Arrested and reared back
On the crisp field of bed,
Back from what he could neither
Accept, as one opposed,
Nor, as a life-long breather,
Consentingly let go,
The tube his mouth enclosed
In an astonished O.
Raise a glass.
Ken Blackwell, tapped last week by President-elect Donald Trump to head domestic policy during the businessman’s transition to the White House, has made anti-LGBT statements for years. Among them: Homosexuality is a sin, and gay people, just like petty thieves and fire-setters, can be rehabilitated.
The Ohio politician has long endorsed a controversial mental health practice known as conversion therapy or reparative therapy. The goal is to cure a person of his or her homosexuality, and in the case of transgender people, to reaffirm the gender into which they were born.
In the past, treatments have included inducing vomiting and using mild electric shock while patients viewed homoerotic images. Since the 1990s, however, the therapy has been denounced by many medical and scientific societies and even outlawed in a handful of states. In 2015, the Obama administration expressed disapproval of the practice after Leelah Alcorn, a 17-year-old transgender teen, took her life in Ohio after being forced by her parents to undergo conversion counseling.
While Blackwell will be overseeing a wide swath of domestic issues facing the new administration, one big question facing the LGBT community is whether a Trump administration will promote the discredited therapy.
I love the feigned neutrality — “one big question” is whether a Trump administration will tacitly or overtly encourage methods that break or destroy homosexual men and women.
We live in a new political order, so prepare for more legislative mischief like the kind in Texas this week. For example, Senate Bill 92, which would overturn nondiscrimination ordinances protecting LGBT citizens in cities. The bill would prohibit cities or counties from passing laws barring discrimination “on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, or any other basis for legal protections not explicitly mentioned in state law,” according to the Texas Tribune.
Sen. Konni Burton introduced a bill on Thursday – which just so happened to be national Transgender Day of Remembrance – that would require public schools give parents “any general knowledge regarding the parent’s child possessed by an employee of the district” and records “relating to the child’s general physical, psychological or emotional well-being.”
This may sound vague — and even harmless. But Burton has explicitly said this is a response to guidelines adopted by Fort Worth school district earlier this year, guidelines that banned staff from telling parents about their child’s transgender status. The rule was quickly extinguished by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Texas’ leader in anti-LGBT policies.
If passed the bill would require elementary and high school teachers to narc on their students. Now, had Hillary Clinton won the electoral vote two weeks ago the Texas Senate would still have tried to pass this bill; but years later should opponents challenge its constitutionality the Clinton Justice Department might’ve filed friendly briefs before a Supreme Court with a non-Scalia on the bench. I….doubt Attorney General Sessions would’ve followed suit.
It may be true that due to demographic change, Democrats won’t need white working class voters to win presidential elections in the near future. But they do need them to win back state legislatures, gubernatorial races, senate and congressional seats. The thing about these “irredeemably racist” hinterland states is that they all have cities, and in those cites are minorities. These states also have women and immigrants and LGBT people and disabled people. As it stands, the marginalized populations in red states live under the rule of increasingly authoritarian statehouses and governors, whose priorities include depriving gay & trans people of their rights & safety, depriving poor and black people of the franchise, depriving working people of the right to organize, and depriving women of the right to get an abortion—not to mention empowering police, prosecutors, and immigration enforcement.
Unless leftists are content to condemn these populations to permanent white, nativist, reactionary rule, we have no choice but to prioritize organizing—yes, “winning over”—white workers in these states. Make no mistake: the most inspiring organizers in the country,many of them black and brown and gay and trans, are already and have long been doing this work. But the instinct among some liberals right now to write off Trump-voting states altogether is both politically and morally untenable and insulting to the organizers struggling—in an often hostile environment—to empower oppressed communities in the South and upper Midwest
Although I’m divided over questions like whether Keith Ellison should lead the Democratic National Committee, the idea of abandoning minorities and queers to the Scott Walkers and Gregg Abbotts and Rick Scotts strikes me as churlish, morally indefensible, and craven — as much as the chatter about California seceding and liberals moving to Canada. I heard the same twaddle in January 2005; our voices are louder now.
If The Handmaiden gets too complicated, immerse in the upholstery. Park Chan-wook’s first movie since 2013 revels in double crosses and kink, moving confidently to a conclusion that if not exactly faithful to Fingersmith honors the Sarah Waters novel’s spirit and respects devotees of Victorian interior design. The director of Oldboy and Lady Vengeance has created a thriller whose convolutions prove rewarding for those who stick around. Distrust, however, the claims that The Handmaiden is a touchstone of queer cinema. It’s Bound with period flavor, set in foreign lands.
Kim Min-hee stars as Hideko, a young woman in 1930s Japan kept a virtual prisoner by her uncle (Cho Jin-woong), a buyer of rare books who has brought her up to read porn aloud (sample title: “Decadent Girls Who Sell Lingerie”). An orphaned Korean scam artist (Ha Jung-woo) conceives a plan whereby Hideko will install his pickpocket ally Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) as her maid while he worms his way into Hideko’s heart for the purpose of marrying her, taking her fortune, and sending her to the loony bin. “His ties to the colonial government even let us use electricity!” the suitor crows. Like Zhang Yimou at his most refulgent, Park treats the film’s first third as color-drenched conventionality as the inexperienced Hideko seems to fall in love with Sook-hee, whose butterfingers are so smooth that, in The Handmaiden‘s silliest bit of would-be erotics, she can rub down Hideko’s sore tooth while the latter sits in a tub of scented water. She’s also an expert pedicurist.
To divulge more of the film’s twists would be malpractice, I suppose. As in Bound and a myriad noir flicks, characters aren’t who they say they are and expectations change; even cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon gets into the spirit of the proceedings, often giving the movie’s final two-thirds the denatured tones of a horror film. I wasn’t bored watching The Handmaiden, but after an hour of skullduggery and toenails I got restless. The movie isn’t about anything except its own ingenuity. The politics of the Japanese incursion into Korea are referenced without resonating beyond motivation, and even this is a stretch: the Count could be any schemer who wants to eat the rich by joining them. An, um, interrogation late in the picture drags; often Park luxuriates in cruelty as if it were a set of expensive sheets (he does, however, include a shot of a giant octopus writhing in an aquarium, so there’s that).
As for the sex, it has the pneumatic precision of performers choreographed by a male director; it’s the only explanation for why the panting and thrusting shown in The Handmaiden and 2013’s Blue is the Warmest Color aren’t as salacious as Park and Abdellatif Kechiche, respectively, think. The depiction of convincing sex in good recent queer movies has depended on a sense of pent-up aching rivers (Andre Téchiné’s wonderful Being 17) or an expression of class triumphing over class (Joey Kuhn’s wildly uneven Those People). Although The Handmaiden certainly conveys Hideko and Sook-hee’s relief and hunger, they figure in a movie devoted to sensation. Lesbian hookups, blood, and plotting in an exotic remote era – The Handmaiden is queer in a facile way. “Men use the word ‘mesmerizing’ when they wish to touch a lady’s breast,” Hideko remarks late in the picture. I can’t best this description of Park’s method.