When I read that Kyle MacLachlan was cast as a gay dad in Giant Little Ones, I imagined him parodying his Dudley Do-Right rigidity and bland handsomeness — would Agent Dale Cooper and Jeffrey Beaumont play a circuit queen? Alas, he doesn’t. But in this Canadian film released last spring he scores a modest triumph regardless. As Ray, MacLachlan emanates the faint sorry of a man who has not lived up to his own expectations. After marrying Carly (Maria Bello), having two kids, and making enough money to live in a colorless — in every sense — Toronto suburb, a fellow he meets at work asks him out for coffee. He sys no, but he admits he couldn’t stop thinking about this fellow Brandon. Some time later he finds the nerve to ask Brandon out for coffee. This whirlwind romance prompts Ray to seek a divorce. Continue reading
A couple months ago at the MoPop Pop Conference, I presented a paper on the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub exactly three years ago today. A portion of the paper pivots around Elizabetn Bishop. I wrote:
As I’ve gotten older and my tolerance for many things broadens, a line from her valedictory villanelle “One Art” rattles around my head with the stubbornness of an Ariana Grande hook. “Then practice losing farther, losing faster.” An injunction. As imperative and weirdly transparent as David Byrne ordering listeners to “watch me work!” in 1978. Well, beginning in 1981, a gay community that had seen a remarkable acceleration of if not heterosexual respect then its mainstream visibility, saw the fallen around them: slowly at first, then they—we—lost farther, lost faster. Brothers who died at hospital furtively stuffed into garbage bags. The speed at which an ex we high-fived on Christopher Street on Tuesday was dead on Saturday. His parents wouldn’t take the call.
We lost farther, lost faster. It became, if not an art, then a craft. A practice.
In a new documentary about the plague years, the nurses at San Francisco General Hospital’s world-famous AIDS ward created by Cliff Morrison speak about themselves, colleagues, and patients without originality. Although a few have retired or moved on to other jobs, they project the modesty of men and women on whom the Angel of Death has left their mark. They don’t act for the camera. Laboring in twelve-hour shifts without quite adjusting to death rattles or Kaposi sarcoma, they offered macaroni, hugs, and smiles for patients whom parents and lovers had abandoned. The nurses’ spouses and lovers needed reassurances too. “We didn’t know we weren’t getting the disease,” a nurse reminds the audience, for they worked during the early years when even the most sophisticated hospitals hadn’t yet proscribed gloves and masks for casual contact — one of the many changes of law that the AIDS crisis wrought.
Devoted to the talking head in medium shot and the montage of file footage, Ward 5B is similarly unambitious, succeeding on the basis of doggedness and — this is important — a workaday empathy. Good people find pleasure in doing good, the film suggests, even when the good wears them down. David Denmark, nurse, says that he drowned the pain in alcohol every night. The patients in Ward 5B were sent there to die. (“A very, very unpleasant death,” nurse manager Alison Moed Paolercio says with characteristic understatement). You’re here to care for people, not cure people. To establish the sense of loss, directors Dan Krauss and Paul Haggis choose Blondie’s “Dreaming” as the soundtrack to archival film of bustling Castro Street in the late seventies. “This is our day, this is our day,” says an out-and-proud reveler surrounded by mustachioed hunks holding the hands of lovers.
As many times as I watch sequences like this over the years, I can’t shake a foreboding that often tastes like despair. The reckoning was coming. A conservative backlash accumulating clout, support, and mail-in funds since the Ike era would witness its greatest triumph in the election of Ronald Reagan. Ward 5B shows how the political trade winds blew much of that vitriol into the hospital. For Republican congressmen like William Dannemeyer the extra compassion the AIDS patients became — you guessed it — “special treatment.” Lorraine Day, one of the more sinister real life personages to appear in recent film, at first explains with an admirable lack of cant her reasons for testing for AIDS before surgery. Then she drops the phrase “political correctness.” Alarms should sound. Water finds its level: Day, a Holocaust denier who believes that Jews run a one world government, later married Dannemeyer (in 1989 the congressman read into the Congressional Record graphic descriptions of gay sex in what is surely the first time the term “rimming” entered a public document; Chaucerian mountebanks like Dannemeyer obsess over sex as much as they condemn it).
But the stories about Ward 5B don’t require enemies for focus. Caregiver Rita Rockett shares anecdotes about her hospital Sunday brunches, bringing burgers and pasta and soda. Hank Plante, one of the few openly gay reporters, shakes his head in admiration at the shrewdness with which the nurses insisted on getting the hugs and kisses with patients on film (she received hate mail for hugging one while pregnant). The banal horrors of precaution for once failed one nurse, called Jane Doe, who contracted HIV after a failed needlestick. She’s shown alive later in the film as if for suspense purposes, in one of the film’s lapses in judgment. Rudimentary framing also turns Day into a stock villain. Longtime Paul Haggis watchers will recognize these elements as typical of his bludgeoning kind of filmmaking, but for the most part he and Krauss defer to the intelligence of their subjects. “They did good things,” Paolercio says about her staff. Ward 5B ensures that their deeds will not be interred with their bones.
Here are some of the films I watched or re-watched in late May and early June: Continue reading
When Katherine Meizel invited me to write about the Pulse shootings for a MoPop Pop Conference panel called “Raise Your Voice: Music and Mass Violence,” I wanted nothing to do with it at at first. Not because of that anodyne excuse I’ve Moved On. Quite the opposite. I held on to the anger. I didn’t want to lose the anger. So I wrote a paper set a minute before the massacre began. I prefer it to my “Deadbeat Club” submission. Here it is:
When I am dead, my dears, sing no songs for me — no sad songs. My contribution to MoPOP Pop Conference’s theme “Only You and Your Ghost Will know: Music, Death, and the Afterlife” posits the B-52’s “Deadbeat Club” as yet another of the quintet’s songs devoted to partying out of bonds, this one haunted by the ghost of Ricky Wilson. I’ve attached the PDF below. Thanks for reading.
W. Bradford Wilcox and Lyman Stone of the Institute for Family Studies posit in this Atlantic article that adults 18 to 34 are less happy than their predecessors. They link the erosion of happiness to a waning sex drive. This generation couples less frequently, abjures church going, and values friendship above all else. The result? A “sex recession.”
Nowhere has this sex recession proved more consequential than among young adults, especially young men. Some academics and journalists have now begun grumbling about what they are calling a “moral panic” about the decline in young-adult sex. Before the 2018 data came out, the Daily suggested that the decline in sex was modest, and the sociologist Daniel Carlson claimed that the amount of sex one has “is a weak predictor of how satisfied you are with your sex life.” More important than frequency, the argument went, is the quality of your sexual relationship.
In other words, Wilcox and Stone conclude that frequency of sex is a key indicator of happiness. This inspired David French, considered a reasonable conservative, to write a response to “The Happiness Recession,” to which I won’t link. The article delighted him. At last – proof that falling birth rates and secularism are anathema to a healthy society.
But French and social media commentators mistake cause for effect. To imagine that happier people are likelier to find solid spouses requires no cogitative strain. Sad people may not go to church if they believe God has it in for them. More importantly, how do these articles define the happy/sad binary? Chronically sad people may suffer from depression, and while God and church and spouses have palliating effects it’s a chronic disease.
Finally, the emphasis on relationships and sex reflects our continued obsession with the home, the product of our labor and the stage where we play the roles for which our parents and teachers trained us. Evidence suggests that for many adults the Great Recession affected, in ways that we’re beginning to understand, the age at which they leave home, marry, and have children – if they choose to have children. Besides my reading habits, bachelorhood constitutes my essential queerness. I prefer to sleep alone in my bed. Developing friendships – for their own sweet sake – and tending to existing ones gives me a resounding pleasure. A couple times a quarter I’ll arrange a tryst. A Stephen Dedalus type until my junior year of high school, I cheerfully bade farewell to God while understanding the communal ties that bind even doubters to church; the shrewder among them recognize that church going exists to remind them of the sublimity against which friendship often brushes.
Aloneness defies the expectations of a culture that despite expanding the membership of who belongs still disdains the cultivation of interiority.
It’s possible I have readers who remain devastated that federal marshals will not frogmarch Donald Trump and his children out of the White House. I had to talk a white male acquaintance off a Facebook ledge yesterday after he moaned that Donald Trump was good as re-elected.
Put simply, I’m fucking tired of some friends implicitly hoping Trump wins so they can return to moaning about how awful the state of the world is. Those of us who are brown and gay in a state that Ron DeSantis barely won thank you for the leftist solidarity.
At any rate, here’s a reason to keep fighting every GOP candidate running for office between now and 2020, possibly forever: the Trump administration, in a move that surprises no one, has asked a federal court to dump the entire Affordable Care Act, including protections for patients with pre-existing conditions. More:
“The Department of Justice has determined that the district court’s judgment should be affirmed,” three Justice Department lawyers wrote to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is now considering the case. “[T]he United States is not urging that any portion of the district court’s judgment be reversed.”
Regardless of the outcome, legal experts anticipate that the 5th Circuit’s ruling will be appealed to the Supreme Court. If the courts ultimately strike down Obamacare — over the objections of a group of Democrat-led states, which have spent more than a year defending the health law in court — the consequences could be substantial for patients, health care organizations and other groups that have adapted to the nine-year-old law.
The story mentions the fate of the prescription drug controls for which the administration has theoretically fought, a fate dependent on the ACA, but Donald Trump cares about prescription drug controls like I do about Michael Bolton B-sides. He cares about prescription drug controls like he does about infrastructure. That his most fervent voters depend on the ACA matters not a whit.
Another phenomenon, reported by the paper of record:
Between 2015 and 2018, support for laws aimed at protecting L.G.B.T. individuals from discrimination fell by nearly 10 percentage points among Republicans under the age of 30. This was one of the key findings from a survey of more than 40,000 Americans’ views on L.G.B.T. issues that the Public Religion Research Institute released Tuesday.
One theory: “The ranks of young Republicans are thinning, with more socially liberal individuals opting to identify as independent.” I have my own theory: the Trump administration’s contempt for trans citizens has liberated young men and women from the tyranny of courtesy.
Purge them from public office. All of them.