Why I won’t be tossing out this Dolce & Gabbana shirt

“We oppose gay adoptions. The only family is the traditional one. No chemical offsprings and rented uterus: life has a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed.” — Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana in Italy’s Panorama magazine

First of all, a disclaimer is in order…two of them. The statements above were translated (and poorly punctuated) from Italian to English by The UK’s The Telegraph. Having seen ideas get mangled in translation from Spanish to English and vice versa, I would consider this more in the spirit of what the Italian designers said than what they actually said. (If any native Italian speakers are reading this, please help me out here.)

Second, since when are quotes attributed to more than one person? Are Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana two simultaneously talking heads?

All that aside, the part of D&G’s interpretation of family that I object to most is the part that rejects gay parents. If the only family is the “traditional” one, then they must oppose single mothers, single fathers, single foster parents, single legal guardians, widowed parents and anything else that doesn’t reflect the picture-perfect Norman Rockwell version of family.

It’s misguided thinking for sure, but it warrants understanding and communication more than knee-jerk moral outrage. When I first came out and my mother was taking a minute to adjust to having not one but two gay sons, my friends cautioned me to be patient with her and consider where she was coming from. She was a woman born in the 1940s in an ultra-religious society. Should I really have expected her to immediately start waving the rainbow flag?

One could make a similar case for Dolce and Gabbana and some of their more antiquated ideas. Dolce said that procreation “must be an act of love…You are born to a mother and a father — or at least that’s how it should be.” Gabbana added, “A child needs a mother and a father. I could not imagine my childhood without my mother. I also believe that it is cruel to take a baby away from its mother.”

Italy is devoutly Catholic, so Dolce’s archaic view of procreation should surprise no one. And considering the matriarchal bent of the classic Italian family, it makes sense that two staunch Italians would deem a maternal presence necessary to that unit. However, that makes me wonder what they think about lesbian adoption and adoption by straight single men. Note to interviewer: Don’t forget to ask the obvious follow-up questions!

I could spend hours poking holes in their views on gay adoption and “traditional” families, but everyone else seems to be focused on their comments about in-vitro fertilization, which are pretty over the top. “I call children of chemistry, synthetic children. Rented uterus, semen chosen from a catalog,” Dolce declared, spurring Sir Elton John to blast him on Instagram for calling his children “synthetic” and vow never to wear their designs again.

Elsewhere people wondered how two gay men could say such things. I asked myself the same question, not because of their stance on gay adoption or IVF but because of the lazy implied link between the two. Who died and made IVF a gay issue? Nicole Kidman, Angela Bassett and Sarah Jessica Parker have had babies via IVF and surrogacy, 51-year-old supermodel Elle Macpherson is expecting thanks to it, and Kim Kardashian’s doctor supposedly just told her it’s the only way she can have more children. I suspect that half of straight Hollywood uses IVF to become pregnant.

I have several straight female friends who have turned to IVF to become mothers, so I don’t see how it’s possibly a gay thing. Now that it seems to have become one, however, do I follow Elton John’s lead and boycott Dolce & Gabbana? I considered it for a hot second, but what would be the point?

I have gay friends who oppose gay marriage and nobody has ever suggested I boycott them. There are likely plenty of people with whom I do business on a regular basis, gay and straight, who oppose gay marriage, and possibly gay adoption, for whatever reason. It’s definitely misguided, but I’m not sure I can automatically equate it with outright homophobia. Do I banish them from my life anyway?

It’s interesting that some gay people are quick to defend sexual prejudice within their ranks (“No Asians,” “No Blacks,” “No whites”) as “preference,” yet they’re unwilling to tolerate ideology that differs from theirs. That’s the height of hypocrisy.

As for IVF, I’d be lying if I said I haven’t had my issues with it. We take people to task for buying expensive dogs instead of getting a homeless one from the shelter or pound, and one can make a similar case with babies when adoption is an option.

I remember cringing a little when a gay friend of mine described the process he went through to find a suitable egg donor and a surrogate. It sounded a lot like the process of choosing a 15-minute stand on Grindr. But how many people who become parents through traditional means would turn down the option to pre-determine certain baby qualities before conception if it were possible and free of charge? It may not be, for me, the ideal commencement of life, but it’s certainly not an invalid one.

So who am I to judge anymore? But just because I’ve put aside most of my reservations and fully accept pre-natal technology doesn’t mean the rest of the world has to do the same.

I considered tossing the one Dolce & Gabbana item in my wardrobe, but I’ll be hanging on to it, after all. If I can be friends with Republicans (and I am) and people who’d never date anyone of my color, enjoy entertainment created by artists and performers who embrace different political and religious points of view and live in a country where gay marriage is still illegal (Get with the program, Australia!), I can wear a shirt by designers who are ill-informed enough to call children of IVF “synthetic.”

The supposedly “synthetic” ones I’ve seen look pretty authentic to me. However, looking at them through Dolce and Gabbana’s eyes, does being “synthetic” also make one soulless and less than human? That sounds like the basis for future prejudice and discrimination, and two gay men should know better than to stir that particular can of worms. But they’re designers, not philosophers.

It’s important to call people on their stupidity without dismissing them. As long as they don’t express outright racism or homophobia — the kind that leads to name-calling, rejection and violence, or denying service to gays or certain ethnic groups (Shame on Indiana!) — I can deal with the unenlightened and any ideas they might be trying to sell.

But one Dolce & Gabbana shirt is probably enough.

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The lost art of talking: 11 things I’ve learned about having a decent conversation

“It’s so funny how we don’t talk anymore.” — Cliff Richard.

So sang Sir Cliff in his massive 1979 pop hit. I wonder what he’d sing about the state of conversation today.

Talking is such a lost art. Some blame social media and modern technology, which is ironic, since both have improved the expediency of communication exponentially. If they were to add the deterioration of good grammar to the list, I’d say they have a solid argument. But this is not about grammatical shortcomings in a world where the misguided can mistake “conversate” for a heightened command of the English language.

This is about a world in which we’re “friends” with strangers we’ll never meet on Facebook, and our self-worth is determined by our number of “likes” and “followers,” the latter of whom we communicate with through narcissistic selfies and in 140 characters or less (#hashtags included). In this strange new world, people aren’t really saying much anymore.

Many 21 year olds are hard to talk to but not because they’re young and have nothing to say. They’re hard to talk to because they’ve grown up in a modern world where they don’t have to do much actual talking. Texting and tweeting don’t exactly allow the gift of gab to flourish.

So if you were born in the ’90s or later and struggle with face-to-face communication, or if you’re old enough to know better but don’t, this one’s for you.

1. It all begins with “hi,” “hey,” “hello” or “howdy.” A clever opening is optional…and unnecessary. Some jerks on Grindr insist on being impressed and take issue with certain one-word openers. Personally, even if I were up for “Fun?”, I’d prefer “Hi” to some of the crude alternatives (“Horny?” “Looking?” “Hung?”).

If you want sophisticated opening prose from a stranger, listen to “All I Want,” track one on Joni Mitchell’s Blue album. Taking issue with “Hi” makes you seem like a douche before the conversation has even begun. How does the line go? “You had me at ‘hello.'” Yup, that’s good enough for me.

2. Q&As are for interviews. Maybe it’s the grumpy old man in me taking over, but nothing will make me want to end a conversation faster than a string of queries. I know, questions are the cornerstone of conversation, but a good conversation should flow naturally, and it shouldn’t be all about the person doing the heavy lifting. Answering boring questions is a lot more work than coming up with them. After asking two or three good ones, start making some interesting declarations…about yourself, not the other person.

3. Speaking of lame lines of questioning, “What’s up?” and “What’s doing?” are not conversation starters. I really never know how to answer those ones. They make me feel like I’ve got to deliver some vicarious excitement. “How are you doing” never gets old, though — especially if the person asking really cares.

4. Look at me when I’m talking to you. I was recently chatting in person with a 20 year old who spent most of our conversation messaging his friend on Snapchat. I let it go because he did offer some interesting information about the driver’s licensing system in Australia. (There are fewer requirements to run for President of the United States than there are to become a full-fledged Australian driver.) Good thing it wasn’t a date, though, for if it had been one, he would have been breaking my cardinal rule of dating, which is…

5. Put your phone away! Answering one’s mobile at the dinner table is the No. 1 date killer. Don’t do it.

6. Acronyms should be used sparingly in writing and never in oral conversation. I admit “YOLO” might look kind of cool on paper, or onscreen, but “LOL” takes more effort to say than simply laughing, which sounds infinitely more sincere.

7. Don’t stand so close to me. If I can smell what you had for your last meal, we have a problem. Lean back!

8. It’s OK to ask someone how old he or she is, but if they don’t want to divulge a number, let it go. No matter how often people say age is just a number, it’s not. It’s so much more than that. For better and occasionally for worse, I’m not the man I was at 25, or 30, or…well, we’ll just stop right there!

Age matters, and if it didn’t, people wouldn’t ask. Not everyone is comfortable with big numbers, so take the hint if someone declines to reveal theirs, and just drop it. If it does matter to you and you must know, move on. The world is full of people who have no problem revealing their true age.

9. Just drink up. Toasting, though harmless, is pretty pointless…and it often results in unnecessarily spilled booze. It’s extra-annoying when the person insisting on toasting acts like making eye contact when the glasses clink is the height of courtesy. Making eye contact when you’re actually talking — and listening — is far more important.

10. Don’t say a word when the other person is talking…unless it’s to interrupt them. Yes, I’m totally fine with people getting passionate and talking over each other from time to time. Raised voices mean people care. I’ll take that and the occasional (occasional) interruption over quiet indifference. That said, there’s no need to pepper someone else’s monologue with “yeah…yeah…yeah.” When people do it to me, it makes me think they’re in a hurry for me to shut up.

11. Be respectful of conversations of which you’re not a part. I’ve rarely had someone interrupt a conversation of mine for something that couldn’t wait. If you have to ask “Am I interrupting?”, then you already know that you are, so why even do it?

Now talk, drink and be merry!

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In defense of NSA (“no strings attached”)…sort of

They’re probably my three least favorite letters in gay life: NSA, aka “no strings attached.”

Even if I wasn’t completely over acronyms, I’d probably never actually use this one in everyday conversation. In the gay lexicon, it’s something considerably colder and less romantic than the straight version of NSA that inspired the Ashton Kutcher-Natalie Portman rom-com No Strings Attached, which was not about puppet love.

In the cinematic version of NSA (and, by extension, the straight one), there’s more of a human element. It’s a lot like the “friends with benefits” thing also documented in a movie (starring Justin Timberlake, whose former group NSYNC once released an album called No Strings Attached, and Kutcher’s future wife and Portman’s Black Swan costar, Mila Kunis).

Gay NSA is generally less personal or personable, at least as I understand it in Grindr-speak. Size (Hung?) and preferred position (Top or bottom?) are far more important than pesky details like names. Yes, it’s as incredibly unsexy as it sounds, but when you wake up horny craving sex for breakfast, it’s a pretty expedient way to satisfy morning hunger.

I presume the reason why the old, antiquated phrase “one-night stand” doesn’t apply is because the peak NSA hours tend to be right before and after dawn when gay men seem to be at their horniest. “Anonymous sex” is apparently also passe, probably because it sounds too brutal and unfeeling, and “casual sex” sounds like you’re watching a ball game at the same time. “NSA” may be direct and a little lazy (which doesn’t necessarily bode well for the sex), but it’s vague enough to almost pass for something people do in polite company.

I spent many years being wary of NSA under all of its names, and I still cringe a little every time I see those three letters on Grindr. Would it kill guys to pursue it without spelling it out? Shouldn’t it be understood that if you have sex with a stranger there won’t be strings attached?

What un-deluded gay man is dreaming of a white picket fence and mentally picking out matching wedding bands while riding home in a taxi with the boy he just met. Even in Buenos Aires, where porteño guys would often drop “Te quiero” (I love you) before the cab reached its destination, I knew better than to ever take them seriously.

All that said, I used to pride myself on never hooking up with anyone I wouldn’t be open to seeing again, even ones I met on holiday — or ones who were on holiday when I met them. Paolo, one of the two great loves of my life, was visiting New York City from Milan when he and I met. That our relationship (doomed as it was) ended up unfolding on three different continents over the course of nearly a decade is proof that anything can happen between two strangers in the night if both are open to it.

Then one depressing birthday (incidentally, the one after I saw Paolo for the final time), I decided to throw caution and moralizing to the wind and take the NSA plunge. I’m terrible at names anyway, and I rarely remember them, so would it kill me to not bother asking?

The experience itself was unmemorable, but I’ll never forget the way it made me feel — not cheap and dirty, as I was expecting, but strangely liberated and, well, clean. There were no messy emotions. I was able to turn off my brain in a way I couldn’t before when I was half thinking about the future. If I was never going to see him again, who cared what he thought about me? I could go way out of character for once and just live in the moment.

But once the moment was over, there was nothing, no future prospect, not even afterglow, which has always been my second favorite movement in the extended sex suite (my favorite being the dance leading up to the first kiss). That’s the downside of NSA, and as a cuddler/spooner, it’s a pretty major one. I was proud of myself for giving it a go, and I could finally say I understood why people do it, but it wasn’t really me.

It’s still not, but I have an even better understanding of it today than I did right after that mind-opening birthday. I think that for some, NSA is almost a form of armor, especially in a city like Sydney where, to quote the guy at the 2:19 point in this clip, nothing means anything. If he’s just a body, not a person, he can’t hurt you.

And if you’re after instant gratification — and in the Grindr age, nearly everyone seems to be? — NSA is the uncomplicated way to get it. You can turn off your mind and just enjoy now. Who cares if you don’t remember it an hour later? There’ll be another new NSA session soon enough, if you want it, because there’s always another hot guy “looking.” (And “hot” is key to NSA because if personality isn’t going to be a factor, the NSA prospect has only the physical to work in his favor.)

It’ll probably never be my thing because my brain is too pivotal to my turn-on process and living in the future is just part of my character. But now that I understand NSA, it’s easier to live with it. And if I do decide to go there, I know I won’t have to worry about making awkward conversation or how to delicately usher him out the door in the unlikely event that I want to skip afterglow.

By the time I think of an excuse why he can’t stay, he’ll probably be already gone.

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Why clothes no longer make the man for me (as long as both are clean)

Mens_Coats_1872_Fashion_PlateIf I could turn back time and change three things about my much-younger self, I know exactly what they would be: 1) I would have come out sooner (during the summer between my freshman and sophomore years at the University of Florida); 2) I would have cared less what others thought about me; and 3) I would have rethought my entire approach to footwear. The latter could have cost me meeting Mr. Right much earlier in life.

In my twenties, bad footwear was my public enemy No. 1, and I had the most ridiculous sartorial rule about it: I wouldn’t date anyone who wore running shoes when he wasn’t running. It didn’t matter what he was wearing on the rest of his body — his feet had to be perfectly attired.

That’s not to say I’m a suit-up kind of guy. I’ve never been one, and thank God, it’s never been required of me. But I had my clothing hang ups, which had more to do with level of stylishness than degree of formal. I kept them until my last year few years in New York City.

If only Kevin had stuck around that long. He’s the ex who dumped me in the spring of 2003 because he wanted “a t-shirt and jeans kind of guy” (his words). I wonder what he would have thought of “Casual Weekend Jeremy,” the alter ego who started emerging twice a week toward the end of my time in NYC. Whenever my best friend Lori saw me on the weekend, she’d marvel at what I had on (frequently a t-shirt and jeans or track pants) because it was so unlike the trendy and sometimes flashy business-casual designer attire that I favored the rest of the week.

“I love Casual Weekend Jeremy,” she once said, coining the moniker that she still occasionally drops. I’d smile, knowing that he’d soon go away for another five days.

After I moved to Buenos Aires and no longer had an office full of people to dress to impress, I spent the next eight years looking like Casual Weekend Jeremy 24/7…at least when warmer weather permitted it. When I flew from Cape Town to Sydney last September to be interviewed for my current position at Ninemsn, several of my friends asked me what I was going to wear because they couldn’t imagine me dressed up. Dov said he’d never even seen me in a shirt with a collar and couldn’t imagine me wearing one.

On the day of the interview, I dressed like it was a Tuesday morning in 2005. I wore black slacks, a brown button-down Hugo Boss shirt and $800 black John Varvatos boots. When one of my future bosses commented that I looked too fresh to have just arrived after a billion-hour flight, I knew I’d passed the dress test.

Now that I have the gig, I don’t dress up every day, but I’ve yet to wear track pants, shorts or flip flops to work unless it’s my once-a-month Sunday shift when there is no one there to see (and judge) me. I do miss Casual Weekend Jeremy, though, especially since he once again only surfaces on weekends — and sadly, not always to great reviews.

You’d think Casual Weekend Jeremy would be a smash in Australia, a land where board shorts and Havaianas rule, but I may have miscalculated Aussies…we all may have miscalculated Aussies. They have a worldwide reputation for being so laid back, and in some ways they are, but there’s another side, one that’s anything but easy.

I find that as a general rule, they’re cool, calm and collected mostly in presentation. Truth is, I’ve never lived in a more micro-managed society. It’s in the strict adherence to rental rules, the unyielding customer service, the lockout laws and the dress codes. Yes, dress codes. I never had an issue with them until I moved to Australia, and Casual Weekend Jeremy was just as under-dressed in Buenos Aires, Bangkok, Cape Town and everywhere else I’ve been since I left New York City.

To date, I’ve been denied entry into three nightspots down under for not dressing up to sartorial code — one in Melbourne and two in Sydney — and they weren’t fancy blazers-required establishments. Wearing running shoes on a Saturday night in Melbourne and Havaianas on two separate Friday nights in Sydney led to my being turned away from places with dirty sticky floors where people who looked far worse for wear than I did were being admitted.

Several months ago, my friends and I couldn’t have lunch at one of my favorite places on St. Kilda Beach in Melbourne because, according to the host, who could have used with a bit of grooming, my shorts could pass for gym wear. Never mind that it was a blistering summer day, and the restaurant was right on the beach. Was I expected to show up red-carpet ready?

Things might be about to get worse. I recently read that Qantas Airlines will be imposing a strict dress code in its airport lounges because, well, looking good is apparently more important than feeling good during a billion-hour flight. Considering those micro-managing Aussie tendencies, I wonder how long it will be before the new requirements extend to long- and short-haul Qantas flights.

The writer of the pro-Qantas dress code editorial was thrilled by this development because “Thongs, bad shorts, trackies and sloppy singlets fill up terminals and airport lounges to the point where we’re seeing better-dressed bodies on bus and train trips.” Not in the airports that I frequent, and even if they did, bad body odor and terrible breath are far more frightening to this frequent flier than what that writer perceives as lapses in good fashion sense.

Telling fliers that they can’t be as comfortable as they want to be in-flight is as unfair as twentysomething me expecting my boyfriends to look sharp from head to toe 24/7. I love flying Qantas, and I hope the dress code backfires because I want to continue to love flying Qantas.

Clothes don’t necessarily make the man nor do they define travelers, who can be annoying and revolting dressed to the nines. A friend of mine recent posted a Facebook status update where he slammed the woman sitting beside him on a flight for snoring, farting and picking “parts of her body that ended up in her mouth.” Yuck. I thought he was a bit harsh, but to his credit, he never mentioned what she was wearing.

On a packed airplane with crying babies, too little legroom, lousy in-flight entertainment, farting, snoring and picking, board shorts and exposed toes really should be the least of everyone’s problems.

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In defense of change

Change is good.

Or so the old saying goes. I must have heard that one a thousand times, but the instance that sticks out most in my head is when an old colleague used it on me. I had just announced my plans to leave Teen People to take a job at Us Weekly, and I was feeling nervous about my decision. This particular colleague dropped by my office to wish me well, and I ended up unloading my misgivings on him.

He wasn’t a big fan of mine, and I knew he was glad to see me go. For him, any old cliché probably would have done if it ended our conversation as quickly and painlessly as possible. I’m pretty sure he pulled that one out of his ass. He probably had no idea what an impression he made.

He was right…sort of. Change can be good, and in this professional instance it was not only good — it was essential. But change can also be not-so-good. There’s a lot to be said for stability, predictability and the dreaded routine. Change for the sake of change only is often just a waste of time.

When I was younger, one of my relatives came to live with us for a while. One of my most vivid memories about him (among many vivid, unpleasant memories) was that he used to change undershirts several times a day. Every time I think of him, I also think of his white V-neck t-shirts flapping in the wind on the clothesline in the backyard like blank flags at half-mast.

As I can’t recall him ever doing anything more strenuous than thumping his Holy Bible, I had no idea why he needed to change his t-shirts so often. Maybe it was because my mother did all of the laundry, so why not? Change for the sake of change may have been good for him, but it was a burden for my mom. Though I’ve fully embraced change in my recent adulthood, I’ve remained suspicious and maybe even a little afraid of it too.

But now I’m beginning to see change in an entirely different light. Even when it’s not-so-good, or just for its own sake, it can end up having a net positive effect. Hannah Horvath on Girls would probably agree.

The fourth season of Girls won me over after a kind of hum-drum third season, and I think it was all because of change. There was so much of it. The biggest one: Hannah moved to Iowa (albeit briefly) to attend grad school, which set off a chain of unfortunate events for Hannah but fortunate ones for this viewer.

As a result of the stint in Iowa, she lost Adam, and upon her return, even more change was in store. She took a job as a substitute high-school teacher and her friends became a less prominent presence in her life. Hannah spent more time with Adam’s new girlfriend Mimi-Rose in episode 7 than she did with Marnie, Shoshanna and Jessa the entire season! If that wasn’t enough life upheaval, her father also came out as gay. That’s a lot of change for a 10-episode season.

(As an aside, I love the juxtaposition of her dad announcing he’s gay to her mother getting tenure, which, in academia, is the antithesis of change, as Loreen “I never have to move again” Horvath clearly realizes.)

The move to Iowa was one of the best developments that the series writer and star Lena Dunham has come up with yet. It took Hannah out of the orbit of her annoying New York circle, none of whom, with the exception of Adam and Shoshanna, I could possibly care less about. The Iowa episodes were some of my favorite ones of the season, partly because her New York crowd were barely in them. But most of all, I loved them because the change of scenery and Hannah’s ultimate failure in Iowa were the catalysts for the first signs of true emotional growth we’ve seen in her yet.

I don’t think she would have been able to be so supportive of her father and not make his coming out all about her without the Iowa experience. And look at how she remained in the background during the water-childbirth scenes, not grabbing center stage as old Hannah surely would have done. Had she not let go of so many illusions about herself, about her life, about life in general after Iowa, she probably would have taken Adam back in the season finale rather than seeing that they simply didn’t work anymore…if they ever actually did.

I’m thrilled that Hannah is starting to evolve, but I’m glad that she hasn’t completely changed her irritating ways. Her interaction with her student Cleo offered much-needed assurance that old-school Hannah is alive and well. Some might find her insufferable, but I love her despite her flaws…because of her flaws.

I get Hannah. Maybe it’s the writer in us. We’re a strange, complicated, contradictory breed. I hope friends and strangers don’t feel about me the way people do about Hannah, but I wouldn’t be too surprised to find out that some of them do. It’s not like I’ve never picked up and left everyone I cared about behind for far less clear-cut reasons than Hannah’s motivation for moving to Iowa.

I’m sure more big changes (some just for the sake of it) are in store for both Hannah and me. Maybe they’ll bring about continued evolution and make us more palatable to the people around us. Perhaps, as it did with Hannah, change will finally put me in the orbit of a guy who might actually be good for me and not just provide more fodder for my writing.

I like Mr. Parker. He’s cute and he totally nailed Hannah in just a couple of episodes. I’m curious to see where they go in season five. I love that he called her on her thirst for drama, but I hope she doesn’t bend like Carrie Bradshaw did with Aiden when she tried to give up smoking for him on Sex and the City. Hannah’s dramatic tendencies are a large part of what makes her and Girls interesting.

The last thing she (or I, a once-again thoroughly entertained viewer) needs is change in the form of a sexy new guy swooping in and altering Hannah or her maddening ways. I love them just the way they are.

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Why I Think I’d Rather Climb Ev’ry Mountain Than Date in Cape Town

So this is what I’ve been missing?

That was my thought exactly when I read the digital display on the iPhone that my new acquaintance was holding up in front of my face. I wasn’t sure what to think, but he clearly had an agenda. He wanted to elicit a specific response from me — not shock, not outrage, but the ah ha! of enlightenment. He was waiting for me to finally get it.
We’d met two days earlier through a mutual friend, and we’d immediately found common ground. We were both gay black men from the United States who had spent a significant amount of time living and traveling abroad. A self-described “academic” (translation: professional student) whose specialty was African studies, he told me that he’s been based in Cape Town for one year, but he’s been coming to South Africa for 10. He seemed to have a love-hate relationship with Cape Town that was similar to the one I used to have with Buenos Aires (before the hate took over). We had a lot to talk about.
I told him about my experiences at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, and how my background played into my reaction to everything I saw there. He nodded. He understood. I told him about Sophiatown Bar Lounge, and how on my final night in Joburg (or Jozi, as Cape Town locals also call it), the jazz scene there had reminded me of something out of the Harlem Renaissance. He knew exactly what I was talking about and described it as “1990s A Different World-style new African awareness crossed with 1920s jazz.” Bingo!
I told him about the book that I’m working on, Is It True What They Say About Black Men?: Tales of Love, Lust and Language Barriers on the Other Side of the World, which documents my experiences as a gay, black man living abroad, with a focus on my various romantic entanglements over the last seven years. He got everything I was saying in a way that most of the (white) people I told about it never fully grasped because it hadn’t happened to them. Nothing I said surprised him. He’d lived it, too.
When I saw him last night, he asked me about my experiences dating in South Africa so far. I was ashamed to say that I had nothing. I haven’t been out on a date since my second week in Tel Aviv nearly two months ago, nor have I enjoyed (or not, which is typically the case these days, hence my inactivity) any romantic encounters in nearly just as long.
I go through these celibate, hermetic stages with increasing regularity as I get older. I suppose that years of romantic disappointment have taken a toll. That and the fact that I simply haven’t come across anyone who has captured both my eye and my mind. I’ve seen plenty of attractive men, and I’ve even been pursued by a few of them, but I’d rather spend my nights in my own company than that of a relative stranger who is too busy wondering what I look like naked (or fiddling with his smart phone) to be listening to anything I’m saying. Been there, done that. I’m better off alone.
But I’ve occasionally wondered if I’m missing out while staying in. Not on any potential Mr. Rights — I gave up on his existence ages ago — but on new, fascinating stories to add to my gallery of exploits. I’m in South Africa, after all, a country in which I’m no longer the racial minority, the exotic forbidden fruit. There shouldn’t be the same mystique about me here that there was in Argentina, or Australia, or Bangkok, or any of the places I’ve visited these last few years.
I had imagined that if I were to dip into the Cape Town dating pool, my experiences might be a lot like they had been in the United States, where there were enough black guys to go around that nobody ever wanted me simply because they’d never had anything like me before. And South Africa’s history of racism and segregation (both of which continue to be blemishes on the gay scene, judging from what I saw at Crew and Zer021 last Friday night) would see to it that I’m just as invisible among the white gay population here as I had been in the U.S.
I left the U.S. before the rise in social media, the acceptance of online dating, and the emergence of Grindr as the principal meet market for gay men, so I have no idea how the new technology would influence how guys back home would respond to me now. Grindr in South Africa, though, has offered more of the same old, same old in the proposals I’ve been receiving. (I’ve pretty much retired from making the first move because I deal with enough rejection in other areas of my life.) I easily could be in Melbourne or Bangkok or Berlin or Rome or Tel Aviv, the only difference being that for the first time, a few black men are thrown into the mix of guys who approach me.
For the most part, the guys on Grindr in South Africa are, surprisingly, white. I’m not sure if the reason for this is social (homosexuality being less accepted among African blacks) or economic (African blacks being less likely to have smart phones with which to use the Grindr app), but the lack of a black presence on Grindr in South Africa has brought out the same response to me online as the lack of a black presence in everyday society brought out in every predominantly white or Asian city I’ve spent time in since 2010, whether I was online or off, surrounded by gays, straights or a mix of both.
I’m bombarded by the same indelicate messages from horny guys who are only looking for one thing. For many, my skin color continues to make me the fresh catch of the day. “So want a black cock!!” one guy, a tourist from Greece, indelicately announced, as if there weren’t plenty of those to go around in Cape Town. (Tourists and expats, incidentally, appear to comprise a larger portion of the Grindr population in Cape Town than in Joburg, which might explain the resurgent awareness of “black” here.) Others, some South African, have resorted to the question that has been the bane of my bachelorhood for more than seven years: “Is it true what they say about black men?”
They make it so easy to lapse into dateless celibacy, which might be as much of a reason as the places I’ve been in for the peaceful easy feeling I’ve enjoyed these past two months. But sitting across from my new acquaintance who was inquiring about my impression of gay dating in South Africa, I felt uneasy because I had nothing to contribute. Then there was the Grindr conversation I was looking at. It was one in which he had approached a shirtless white piece of beefcake who appeared to be in the shower. My acquaintance began the exchange with a simple “Howsit?” followed by his own shirtless pose.
The second sentence of the guy’s three-sentence response sent a chill down my spine:
“I’m sorry, but I don’t cross racial lines in dating.”
I was as disarmed by his perfect punctuation as I was by the declaration it had been wasted on. He simply could have ignored the message, or he could have offered some vague reason why he wasn’t interested. Despite the formal tone, there was a certain level of hostility in his message. He came across like a well-educated bigot. I’d encountered plenty of those, though I’d never been rejected by a guy who specifically offered my color as the reason.
“I guess that’s the kind of reaction I’d get if I were online dating in the U.S.,” I concluded. While allowing gay guys to hide behind fakery, Grindr has also had the effect of making them more brutally honest, often to a fault. Maybe the modern American gay guy who doesn’t do black wouldn’t have any qualms about bluntly saying so either. Could “I don’t cross racial lines” be a delicate way of doing it without getting too specific and bogged down in “black” and “white,” sort of like subbing “fun” for “sex”?
My new acquaintance begged to differ regarding the U.S. comparison. Clearly I didn’t get it. This response, he pointed out, was uniquely South African, because it had the lingering thumbprint of Apartheid all over it. It wasn’t just a personal choice, nor was it personal, not exactly. It was a cold, clinical reflection of the institutionalized racism and segregation that had defined South African society for decades. He hadn’t said, “I’m not attracted to black guys,” or “I don’t date black guys.” His specific wording (without being specific at all) seemed to imply that it wasn’t just about preference or attraction but rather adherence to a long-standing principle. In his dating world, the events of the early 1990s in South Africa hadn’t changed a thing. It might as well have still been 1984.
Wow. I hadn’t even thought of that angle. I am, after all, new in South Africa, and he is someone who has had an entire year of dating experience in this country, plus his African studies, to influence how he contextualizes Grindr messages. He’d seen and read it all before. I thought I had, too, but this was a first for me. I was glad I had ventured out for a beer after a day spent climbing Lion’s Head and scaling Signal Hill, if only to experience vicariously something I had no desire to live firsthand.
I was even more grateful for my current dateless, sexless existence. I don’t need ugliness like that ruining all of Cape Town’s breathtaking views.

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Can Spotless Minds Really Bring Eternal Sunshine?

Yesterday I had a Channing Tatum night. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean I spent it with someone who looked like Tatum, or as good as Tatum, or — better yet! — the real thing. Instead, I passed a portion of my Sunday evening marveling at Tatum’s specimen of physical perfection on display in two of his three 2012 hits, The Vow and Magic Mike, which were playing simultaneously on two different South African DStv channels, while being underwhelmed by his acting range, or rather, lack thereof.

I’m no expert on his oeuvre, having now seen exactly four films starring or costarring Tatum — She’s the Man,Magic MikeSide Effectsand, as of last night, The Vow— but judging from my personal viewing evidence, he seems to excel at playing hunky nice guys in bad-boy packaging because muscles and taut washboard abs scream bad to the bone. (Well, I suppose his white-collar criminal in this year’sSide Effects was no pillar of society, but we caught up with him after he’d done his crime and his time, which, unfortunately for him, wasn’t his final price to pay. Ouch!)
Although I missed the first 15 minutes or so of The Vow last night, having read the reviews last year when it was out in theaters (and on the way to becoming the sixth highest-grossing romantic drama in history, according to Wikipedia), I knew the back story. So I understood why there was so much quiet tension in the first scene I saw, the one in which Tatum’s character, Leo, was about to take home his amnesiac wife (Paige, played by Rachel McAdams, who is a far more effective and exciting actress in brittle, bitch mode — see Mean Girls and Midnight in Paris). If I remembered what I had read in those negative reviews correctly, the couple had been in a terrible car accident that left Paige without several years worth of memories after she regained consciousness. (Hey, what was Jessica Lange doing in this picture?! She’s always welcome on my TV or big screen.)
Watching Paige stare blankly at Leo, I asked myself, “Where’s the drama?” Was I supposed to feel sorry for a sleeping beauty who awakens from her slumber with no memory of a guy who looks like Channing Tatum standing over her, love and concern gushing forth from his eyes? There should be only one thing left to say: “Take me… home!” That lucky girl.
Of course, for the sake of drama, the movie pretended that Leo wasn’t being played by one of the sexiest men alive, so Paige was torn. She didn’t remember her beautiful, devoted husband, and her memory was being extremely selective when it came to her family (and how thrilled her parents, played by Lange and Sam Neill, appeared to be about that little twist), from whom she apparently had been estranged before the accident.
Was she better off without all of the bitter memories of her terrible falling out with her folks and all of the pain it had caused, even if it meant that she didn’t remember her own hot husband? At least she had her other selectively positive memories, the ones of her former love Jeremy (played by Scott Speedman), who was ready to pounce again despite now being spoken for. Channing Tatum or Scott Speedman? That lucky girl. Again, where was the drama?
I suppose the drama would be in losing huge chunks of your life and having people you don’t remember telling you how important you are too each other. It must be like those mornings when you wake up momentarily not knowing who you are or where you are. Imagine if that confusion lasted all day, every day, indefinitely. Or waking up from a blackout night out, and having your friends tell you about all of the embarrassing things you did the night before, none of which you can recall. That must have been how Paige felt.
The Vow played as torture what had been the main goal for Jim Carrey’s and Kate Winslet’s characters, ex-lovers reunited in reverse, in the 2004 film The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In the later movie, we were meant to identify with the trials and tribulations of waking up with a blank slate, and in the earlier one, we were sold the benefits. Both had a similar effect on me. After watching them, I found myself dwelling on the pros of pressing delete on some of the sordid, but unforgettable aspects of my past. If I happened to have Channing Tatum hovering over me, vowing to get me through, all the better.
But now that I’ve had a night to sleep on it, I realize the folly of my desire to edit my own history. As much as I’d like to file away some of those low points in a place where I can no longer access them, I couldn’t imagine the person I would be without them. Would I be as bland and cranky as Paige in The Vow? What would I talk about? What would I write about? What would I think about? It’s as much my pursuit of happiness as my memories of sadness that drives me every day, makes me the person I am. Without one, would the other have any meaning?
I’d rather go on spending way too much time focusing on lost loves and hard times, if it means that I’ll appreciate the good times ahead even more, if it guarantees that despite the occasional bout of writer’s block, I’ll always eventually have something to write about. Without your memories what is there to talk about, to laugh about, to cry about, to think about?
The way I react to so many things in the present — like my recent trip to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg — depends on the personal history that I bring to my experiences. It might not always be pleasant, but as I learned yesterday, after a rainy, blustery Friday and Saturday gave way to a sunny Sunday, stormy weather makes clear skies appear even more blue.
I wouldn’t want to forget the dreariness of the first half of the weekend because I’ll need it for future reference, when the storm clouds roll in again. Then I’ll remember that with weather, as with life, every time the rain starts to fall, a rainbow is right behind it. Sunshine always eventually follows.

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