Archive for November, 2009

A Few Incidentals

Friday, November 27th, 2009

Well, in my last posting I talked and talked and went on and on about minority characters in the movies. And yet with all I wrote and with all the talking that I did with God before writing it, there was a big point that I wanted to say and never got around to.

One aspect of the minority experience is “passing.” Blacks and other “ethnic” minorities can sometimes pass for white. Obviously this notion assumes that there is a reason for them wanting to pass, that there is something better about not being what they are, and of course that’s true. It’s not that there is anything inherently deficient about them, but rather that there is something wrong with society, something wrong with our culture in that we have allowed ourselves to treat other human beings as if they were worse than the majority at things that are not borne upon whatever traits put them into the minority. God says I should provide an example here because my phrasing is getting dangerously opaque. So an example of what I’m talking about is that being of a different skin color does not make one better or worse at math, so skin color should have no bearing on hiring an accountant. Of course, being pushed into a subculture that is defined by the color of one’s skin may have an effect on your interests and skills, not because of the color of your skin, but because of the norms and foci of that subculture. So some things may appear to be related to race that are in fact cultural rather than genetic, and other things may be attributed to race while actually not being any different if actually measured.

Anyway, returning back to the notion of “passing” before I end up with another thousand word article that doesn’t get to the point that I started off heading for… A lot of gays pass for straight. As a matter of fact, that’s often been a point of contention between other minority communities and the gay community when it comes to the struggle for equal rights, equal respect, and equal treatment. Some minorities complain about any comparison between their struggles and ours, saying that we can’t understand what it has really been like for them because we can always play straight to get out of the spotlight, that we can pass through uncomfortable zones without being confronted, without being spotted by those that would do us wrong.

So let’s get back to movies, because that’s where I started this discussion. In movies there are many characters that may be gay, and we just don’t know it. Except for the few main characters in a movie, you often don’t know what the sexuality of any given person is. Sure there’s an assumption that they are straight but there’s no guarantee. For those of us queers desperate to find role models that represent our group, we can dream. We can look at the crowd of incidental characters and tell ourselves that ten percent of them, or even just three percent of them, are like us, are whole and complete human beings, flaws notwithstanding, who just happen to be queer.

And that’s where the ethnic minorities are right. Some of them just can’t pass for white no matter how good an actor they may be. But whether you’re black, latino, or gay, changing yourself to pass for what you aren’t is still killing a little of what you are. God pointed out to me the flip side of passing is what it can’t do. An actor that is black, is always going to be playing a black character, a character that can be seen to be black, even when they’re just part of the crowd. The fact that they are black may be incidental, but it will still be there. But gay characters are intentional. They have to tell you in some way that they are gay, in words or in actions. They aren’t really gay unless they tell you. Characters aren’t just incidentally gay. Well, except for Timon and Pumba.

So the next time you wonder why someone you encounter doesn’t just act like the majority, take some time to think about it. Do you want them to act the way the majority does because there’s something truly lesser about how they behave, or is it just that you’re uncomfortable around anything different than you’re used to. Take some time to think about what they might have to give up, what about themselves they might have to crush or kill to act the way that you expect.

Pirate Majority

Friday, November 20th, 2009

I’ve been reading, of late, a bit of the online ramblings of Steve Barnes. Steve is a talented Science Fiction writer who often talks about how the world looks from a black perspective. There’s things that are wrong about the world that are unique to each particular minority’s perspective and there’s things about the world that all minorities hold in common. I’m going to try to talk a little about both.

I do talk to God about it, but she doesn’t always get it. I mean, when it comes to empathy, well, no one’s better at it than she is, but even the best empathy can only take you so far. I tried to get her to look at things from the perspective that she’s her own minority, since she’s the one and only god, but she just pointed out that she’s also the super-majority because every thing and everyone is part of her. For her being one with everything is not just zen, it’s, well, everything.

Probably the thing most unique to the African American perspective is seeing how the remnants of slavery still play out. There’s got to be a thousand little societal tics that come out of our ancestors having the appalling effrontery to actually claim ownership of other human beings and I’m probably blind to most of them. Some of them I can see when they’re pointed out to me, for instance Steve points out how rare it is for a black man to kiss a woman in a movie, but there’s doubtless others that I’m missing and would probably dismiss if they were pointed out. Even if we jump at the opportunities we get to walk a mile in each other’s moccasins, there’s a lot that we miss; the world’s a lot bigger than one mile.

So let’s take one example here and look at it just a little. God and I went out this week and saw the movie “Pirate Radio.” I liked the movie, I liked it a lot, but it’s a mixed bag when looked at through “minority goggles.” There’s one black character. There might be some others in the scenes filled with extras, but if there was I didn’t notice them. And if there was, and I didn’t notice them, well that’s part of what I’m talking about as to having my own blinders. There’s also one gay character, but she’s accepted because she’s just one of the guys. Although, unlike the black character, they make a point of showing that she gets laid. So as I said, there’s one black guy, and because I’ve been reading Steve’s stuff recently it was enough in the front of my mind that I took the time to note how he was treated by the filmmakers.

Mostly he’s a background guy. He’s part of the chorus, as it were, but he’s the part of the chorus that’s right up front when they’re providing comic relief but just blends in when they’re doing something more serious. He’s got a big goofy grin and comes across as a bit of a doofus. He’s just what Steve would have predicted, non-threatening and easily dismissed. When the boatload of women arrives for their biweekly day of debauchery, presumably there’s a date for the black guy. I say presumably because he doesn’t end up in the lounge with the one couple that’s not yet ready for sex and the one new guy that’s fresh out of boarding school and doesn’t know any women. I also say presumably, because I never saw him with whoever came for him, but I assume she was there. Of course, later events suggested that the lesbian hadn’t had a date but didn’t hang out in the lounge, so maybe he didn’t get laid.

If I remember Steve correctly, he suggests that this is due to xenophobia and to men feeling threatened by sexual competition from other ethnicities, especially blacks. Lesbians are okay because men don’t feel threatened by women, at least not until they encounter them in the workplace (which I didn’t get from Steve, just for the record).

What about my own minority then? What did the movie look like from a gay perspective. Well, it was kind of strange. I’ve already mentioned that unlike the vast vast majority of films, there’s a gay character. I think I’ve already gotten across that like the vast vast majority of minority characters in movies, she was relegated to sidekick status, portrayed in a sexually non-competitive way, and was mostly ignored, but she did get some attention, she did get lines, and she did get laid. In short, she was more than set dressing, but not by much. But something else was going on. It was a boat full of straight men, and believe me, they made it clear that these guys were straight, yet they were kissing each other (on the cheeks), hugging each other, and putting arms around each other. The only (mostly) full body nude shots were of guys, played for laughs sure, but none the less… It was, I’d say, subversively gay. It was not quite titillating but it was certainly surreal.

So go see it. See it with an open mind. Revel in the killer classic-rock soundtrack. Let it give you a feel for how revolutionary the music of the sixties really was, in more ways than one. And then take a few moments to reflect on how narrow the demographic portrayed in the movie is; it’s a good chance to practice your own empathy. One black guy, one gay character, women used mostly as props. Is that the message that sixties’ rock sends to you?

Now, I Ask You

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Spending a lot of time with God, the temptation is to ask a lot of questions. Especially questions that don’t lend themselves to easy answers. Of course, we’ve all been told how God feels about people that give in to temptation.

It is somewhat interesting though, to think about the different classes of questions and who we go to get the answers.

There are hard questions, but questions that we’re pretty sure have answers. For those we turn to scientists. God tells me that the Scientific Method is the best thing going when it comes to answering questions. He also told me that setting up a double-blind experiment to find out what’s for dinner is going more than a little overboard.

Then there’s the questions that probably don’t have definitive answers, but where working on the question nonetheless has value. This includes questions like “is murder always wrong” and “does my dog really think I’m never coming back every time I leave the house,” but not “does my chewing gum lose it’s flavor on the bedpost overnight.” These are the questions that we give over to philosophers. Philosophers seem pretty keen on questions with slippery answers, but you probably don’t want to ask them if slippery answers provide for all their lubrication needs.

Then there’s the final class of questions: Questions that can’t be answered at all, at least not if we’re honest about it. Those are the questions we give over to religion. Why are we here? Or it’s alternate phrasing, “does man have a purpose?” Is there life after death? The big thing about religions is they don’t mind taking a stand. You give them a big question and they have no problem with coming up with an answer. Lack of evidence doesn’t deter them. Lack of insight doesn’t deter them. The only thing that does seem to deter them is lack of funds, but that hasn’t proven to be much of a problem.

I asked God about that final class of questions. What I wanted to know, was, is it a good idea to be asking them at all? Do we need to ask them to be able to find out which ones are really type two and not type three? Do we have to ask them just to satisfy some weird little itch in our brains? God gave me a long look. I was starting to get the feeling that I had just asked one of those type three questions and he wasn’t going to give me an answer. Then he got a mischievous grin on his face and told me that it was good to ask any questions we felt like asking, as long as we didn’t make pests of ourselves to anyone we asked.

Then he told me that of course we also shouldn’t believe any answers we get. Especially ones we get from someone else.

In the Maine

Friday, November 6th, 2009

Another political defeat this week. The citizens of Maine essentially vetoed their legislature’s decision to allow gay couples to marry. Bigots all over the country have been celebrating this temporary rollback of inalienable rights.

You’d think a state that gets so much of its money from the sale of shellfish would be able to recognize that we’ve learned a thing or two since Leviticus was written. Then again, God has pointed out to me that conservatives tend to pride themselves on their lack of ability to learn anything new.