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What the !.:);) Are You Trying to Say?

“A kiss is still a kiss,” or so goes that old song “As Time Goes By.”

I beg to differ. A kiss is no more just a kiss than a word is merely a word.

I didn’t get around to demonstrating the varied nature of kisses, but I did attempt to explain the complex properties of a single word to Bart the other night, and I swear, I wasn’t talking about “old.” The word to which I was referring: “Thanks.” My point was that when someone says “Thanks” and nothing more via email or text message or IM, you can’t always take the word at face value because it can be spun in so many ways. Followed by an exclamation point, a period, a smiley face, a winky face or no punctuation at all, “Thanks” can take on subtly different meanings.

Consider…

“Thanks!”: Perhaps the most sincere expression of appreciation for one’s time/patience/compliment/whatever. But there’s also an element of finality to go along with the enthusiasm: Case Closed. Conversation: Over.

“Thanks.”: All business — and quite rare. If someone ends with a period, he or she has likely offered a more formal “Thank you.”

“Thanks :)”: Generally more open-ended than “Thanks!”, and open to different interpretations, thanks (!?) to the tricky smiley face. A “smile” can simply be intended to underscore the spirit in which something is said, or it can be more calculating, carrying a tinge of passive aggression, as if to say, “I know I’m being sort of a bitch, but I say this with love — and a smile.” It depends on the context. I suspect that smiley faces are so overused in modern written communication (the kind the doesn’t involve pens and pencils — how old-fashioned!) because they’re vague enough to hide behind, and outside of Grindr, Manhunt and online comment sections, where anonymity brings out the asshole in everyone, people are most comfortable when they aren’t being too straightforward.

“Thanks ;)”: There’s an element of flirtation there. “Maybe I can thank you later in person?”

“Thanks”: Leaving your simple expression of gratitude punctuation free is tantamount to saying, “I couldn’t be bothered to even end the sentence.”

My other point, the one that led to our great debate, was that in the context of gay-dating applications (like Grindr), if you approach someone with a compliment, and they respond with a mere “Thanks,” all of the above still apply. In general, though, if he’s interested in continuing the conversation or ever actually meeting you, he’d probably encourage it by writing more than one word.

Bart, who insisted that some people are probably too shy to write more than “Thanks,” thought I was being overly analytical, coming up with conspiracy theories when one should usually just take what people say and write at face value, not reading more into it than what is said and written. That’s like telling a psychologist not to try to read people’s minds. I’m a journalist and a writer, I explained to him. I don’t take anything at face value.

There is almost always subtext, hidden meanings and ulterior motives to be found in the things people say and write, even if they aren’t deliberately put there. In a time when most of our daily communication isn’t in person, we must look beyond body language to understand what people are really saying. (“Haha,” to put another example out there, isn’t equal to “LOL,” which feels less sincere, is more about the person who wrote it than what the other one said, and often serves the same vague purpose as a smiley face.) The written words of a borderline illiterate person can still be loaded with meaning. If this weren’t the case, I’d have so much less to write about, and I’d have no book!

Of course, as a writer and journalist, I’ve been trained to look at language differently than the average person (and I don’t mean “average” pejoratively, but rather in the sense of those who aren’t conditioned to think of a word as being more than just a word). In New York City, most of my close friends were fellow writers and journalists, and we could spend hours sitting around analyzing a single sentence, searching for something more than the words on the page, or screen.

There’s not always more there, but to communicate with people and not look for trends and tendencies, semantic and syntactic clues, to overlook cultural linguistic dynamics, is to underestimate the power of language and human nature and perhaps miss what people are actually saying whenever they say anything. We reveal so much about ourselves by what we say/write and the way we say/write it. No, in written communication, 1+1 doesn’t always equal 2, but one can still draw conclusions that hold up and make sweeping generalizations to which there are obviously exceptions, based on experience and personal observations.

One of my personal observations that night was that Bart was being very naive, though he made some valid points. After taking offense at being called “naive” (“Im old. You’re naive. We’re even,” I joked), he suggested that I was simplifying people by narrowing them down to patterns of behavior. I argued that I was just reporting what I see and read. The modern texting/email/IM era has dumbed down communication in many ways, and it’s dumbed down many people in the process.

That said, I think people can still be very complex and often eloquent when communicating. (Though it’s harder for the younger generation because they’ve had less practice, and even when they’re face-to-face with friends, they’re often too busy having dumbed down conversations on their smart phones to engage the people who are physically with them). But written communication generally isn’t what it used to be in the days when people were more likely to speak and write in multiple sentences, and people wrote letters instead of sending emails and text messages. Because we had to make a physical effort to mail letters, if we communicated with people from a distance, we did so because we truly cared.

In this age when predictive text does so much of the work, we’ve become lazy communicators. But there are still patterns that people fall into without necessarily even realizing it, signposts that develop. Sometimes choosing how to follow “Thanks” or whether to follow it at all isn’t even something that one consciously thinks about. There’s an automatic response that correlates to how the writer feels. It becomes as second nature as oral communication, though still more loaded because we can’t enhance and complement what we write with body-language clues or pitch alterations, which provided a humorous running gag for Wendie Malick on last week’s season four premiere of Hot in Cleveland. The words “people like us,” or “would you look at that,” when written, can be interpreted in so many ways, which might be why people like Bart — but not Veronica Chase! — would rather not even try to digger deeper than just the words.

I wasn’t sure if Bart bought any of it, but when I got home he sent me a message:

“Thank you! Had a great time, and a good challenge!”

Perfectly communicated, I thought, as I rolled over and went to sleep. And for once, no over-analysis was necessary!

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Look, a Damsel with a Dulcimer!: Under the Influence of “Kubla Khan”

https://i1.wp.com/1.bp.blogspot.com/-KwLiUH7Hs5I/ULr37849hdI/AAAAAAAADUM/--G2RMPVtWQ/s400/ShangriLa.pngLast Friday night, alone in my hotel room, waiting for that mushroom shake to free my mind (for the second time that evening) so that I could return to my normal mental state (still overthinking, but without the special effects), I caught the end of the 2011 movie Sanctum on HBO. I was too deep in overlapping thoughts to payattention to the TV — in fact, I didn’t even notice it was on, until the end of the film, when I heard a voice quoting lines from one of my all-time favorite pieces of literature: the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem Kubla Khan.

How fitting, I thought to myself. A poem that Coleridge wrote in 1797 (or thereabouts, according to Wikipedia) after awakening from an opium-induced dream was the perfect kicker to a night like this. I’m not sure what an opium-induced dream feels, or looks, like, but I figured it couldn’t be far from what had been going on right before my eyes earlier in the night while that band was playing “Wish You Were Here.”

I’d considered scribbling it down on my iPod Touch’s Notes application, but something else distracted me (the baby/monkey/evil troll?). Then during the taxi riding home, I begged the driver to hurry so that I could document all the peculiar goings on swirling around in my head. Now that clear thinking is once again prevailing full-time, I suspect that on paper they wouldn’t have had quite the same effect as my favorite lines from Kubla Khan, which, decades after I first read the poem, still make me feel like I’m tripping right beside Coleridge every time I read them.

“A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora”

I’m not sure what any of that means, but can’t you just picture it? That’s the mark of a true master of prose, someone who can take a such a singular experience (say, deep slumber following an opium trip) and make it, if not quite universal, something that everyone can relate to, or visualize. In college, I took an Oral Interpretation class in which I recited Kubla Khan for one of my assignments. As I stood in front of the class, quoting the classic poem, feigning horror and ecstasy, I swear I could actually see Coleridge’s visuals looming behind the confused faces of my classmates. I got an A.

“That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice”

Over the years, I’ve known several talented poets — my brother, a friend from college, the 26-year-old from Chicago whom I met in DJ Station a few weeks ago — and although I can’t say that I “get” the art form in general, I have a high level of respect for great poets that I usually reserve only for songwriters, among literary artists. I think it’s because I couldn’t imagine ever writing a song worth singing, or, my childhood ode to Thanksgiving Day aside, a poem worth reciting.

Perhaps there’s a poet in me waiting to release something that’s even a fraction as great as Kubla Khan. Hopefully, unlike Coleridge, I won’t have to take anything to get it out.

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What Do People See When They See You?

“I hate to admit that I find your elusiveness motivating ;)”

I just received the text message above from someone I don’t really know. He’s one of those guys we all have floating around on the periphery of our life, the one with whom we always exchange “Let’s get together soon” pleasantries, without actually intending to make it happen. The way I see it, if you really want to hang out with someone, you don’t just talk about it, you just do it.

In this case, I’ve always assumed that our failure to launch was a mutual thing. In all the months that we’ve been flirting with the idea of going out, it’s not like he’s ever rung me up and asked, “Want to meet up for a drink?” Yet the insinuation of his text message was that it has been all my not doing.

If so, it certainly isn’t intentional. I haven’t been trying to send a certain message by not saying much at all. If my game plan had been to create an aura of elusiveness, I wouldn’t even have known how to do it. I learned a long time ago that it’s pretty futile to try to manage people or how they perceive you. No two people ever respond to or interpret any one action in quite the same way. Have you ever forwarded a text message or an email to several of your friends trying to get a read on the person who wrote it? How often do you get the same interpretation twice?

I once sent a text message to someone I knew better than the guy above: “Morning. How are you?” I didn’t really have any ulterior motive in sending it, and once again, I wasn’t trying to create any particular effect. I just wanted to say, “Morning. How are you?” Most people, I imagine, would have read it and chalked it up as a simple start-your-day-off-right greeting, but the person I sent it to, bringing all of his personal baggage to the table, suggested that I was trying to be aloof.

I felt honored that he thought I could be so calculating so early in the morning, but really, what’s so aloof about “Good morning”? Was it the fact that I left off the “Good”? Don’t songwriters do that all the time?

I didn’t even bother trying to defend myself. Why give him more ammunition to use to misread me? He was going to think what he was going to think about me, and there was very little that I could do about it. Although I’ve never considered myself to be aloof, or elusive, I’m pretty sure these two guys aren’t the only ones who have. But then there are as many opinions of me floating around as there are people to have them. A former boss once gave a speech about me at my last-day-at-work party, and he described me as “the most congenial guy you’ll ever work with.” Does that sound like someone who’s aloof, or elusive?

What people see when they look at you doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with you. Perhaps it has more to do with whether they exited the bed to the left or to the right that morning, or whether they woke up alone or with excellent company. How people respond to something I’ve written might have nothing to do with the actual words I use. As a blogger, one who’s accustomed to getting reactions to what I write that run the gamut from loving it to loathing it, I know that’s right.

This is why I once got so frustrated watching a friend agonize over a two- or three-sentence text message that she was sending to a guy she’d just met. Granted, this particular text message was in Spanish, and it was to someone who didn’t speak a word of English (and boy, have I been there), so that created its own special challenge. Spanish is a language in which taxi drivers won’t have any idea what you’re saying when you say, “El Salvador,” unless the accent is on the final syllable: El SalvaDOR!”

The way I see it, though, in any language, anyone who will construct a personality profile based on one simple text message deserves what he or she gets — or doesn’t get. In the end, this guy ended up breaking my friend’s heart anyway, so all her effort was for naught. If only she hadn’t bothered to respond to his first text message.

Speaking of messages that go unanswered, right after I received the text message above, a message showed up in my email inbox from a business associate I’d emailed months ago who’d never responded. He apologized for the delay. He’d only just seen the email a few moments earlier. To be honest, I’d forgotten all about it, though I probably spent days after I sent it coming up with all sorts of negative impressions he must have had about me.

It’s nice to be reminded that it really isn’t always about me.

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13 More Warning Signs That He’s Probably Not “The One”

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. So declared the title of one of the best-selling books of the 1990s.

And where would you rather be? Mars or Venus? Regardless of one’s sexuality, wouldn’t hanging out with lovely Venusians be preferable to killing time with a bunch of Martians? In Roman mythology, Venus, for whom the planet is named, is the goddess of love, Cupid’s mom. If we mere mortals could actually get to Venus (the planet, not the goddess), I suspect tickets would sell out faster than opening night of an Adele/Taylor Swift/Rihanna triple-bill concert tour.

Here on planet Earth, where we’re stuck for the time being, we all could probably use some divine intervention from Venus (the goddess, not the planet) to help us negotiate the rocky road of romance with Martians, especially when two of them (a pair of Martians) are intertwined, and there’s no calming, nurturing Venusian influence.

I’m not saying I’d rather be a man who loves women (though it may have worked for Burt Reynolds in 1983, it’s one desire I’ve never harbored), but Martian-on-Martian romance can be such a challenge. You already have to contend with a largely disapproving Earthling society while negotiating the code of conduct in a relationship where there are no traditional roles or clearly defined boundaries. The least you could do is find a decent Martian to hitch your rocket to.

Alas, on Mars as it is on Earth, Mr. Right is so elusive, hard to get, though, if he truly is Mr. Right, not so impossible to hold. Mr. Wrong, however, is a trickier dude, a he wolf, mad, bad and pretty dangerous to know. Whatever planet you’re from, here’s some friendly advice, a few more warning signs, to help you weed out the bad Martians from the decent ones in both the gay and the straight dating pools.

1. Never underestimate your instincts. “Where there’s smoke there’s fire,” my mother used to say, and how right she was. If your normally clear head is overcast with doubt, if your gut tells you he might be a fraud, he probably is. Proceed with caution — kiss with one eye open — or not at all.

2. Don’t let all of the action unfold on your turf. Not just so that when it’s over, you won’t be the one left with most of the memories, living with them every day. Sometimes it’s better to travel, if only just to see how the other half lives. If he extends no invitation to his domain, you’ve already been warned. He probably has something to hide, even if it’s just a crummy apartment with a mattress on the floor instead of a proper king-size bed.

3. Maybe it’s because I grew up listening to a country song by David Allen Coe called “You Never Even Called Me by My Name.” Or perhaps Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” continues to resonate with me more than a decade after it was a No. 1 hit. I’ve always felt that one’s name is the surest route to one’s heart, which is probably why my mine goes bang and then skips a beat every time I hear Cheryl Cole’s “Call My Name” and Florence + the Machine’s “Say My Name.”

If he’s not going to call you (and truthfully, I prefer texts), he should at least have the decency to call you by your name. His neglecting to say your name when he’s talking to you (“Hello, Jeremy” has a much nicer ring than a simple “Hello”) doesn’t mean he’s forgotten it (unless you met him the night before), just that he’s not into you enough to acknowledge what might be the most personal thing about you. No matter what a girlfriend of mine once said — during an argument, she insisted that I stop beginning and ending sentences by saying her name — the well-placed dropping of someone’s name (preferably the one belonging to the one you’re with), in and out of bed, can be either the greatest aphrodisiac or the most tender term of endearment.

4. It’s in his kiss (as Cher once sang). And he should be laying them on you, unprompted. Kisses don’t lie (as Evelyn “Champagne” King once sang). If you’re instigating every one of them, and he’s merely kissing you back, find something better for your lips to do. Buy a bag of lollipops, or lemons. They’re less sour than a tentative kiss, and they’ll leave your breath lemon fresh for when a decent kisser — one who wants to kiss you first — comes along.

5. Are you starting to notice that he pops Xanax like aspirin? Isn’t that stuff like the anti-Viagra? If you’re going to be dull and low-energy out of bed, the least you could do is perk up between the sheets.

6. Is he a weak conversationalist who always takes the best seat in restaurants, the one where he’s facing the entrance — and the action — so that all you have to look at is his face and the wall? Frankly, I’d rather stare out a window at the far more interesting passersby.

7. If he seldom lays his cards on the table but never forgets to put his smart phone there, find another place to sit. Why spend a round of drinks trying to gaze into the eyes of a guy who can’t take his off his phone?

8. Beware if you find yourself overthinking every text message so that he doesn’t get the wrong idea, or that you don’t bruise his fragile ego. (Oh, beware those fragile egos!) Text communication between two people who belong together should flow naturally and easily. Save the angst for when you’re talking on the phone, or face to face, or not at all.

9. If he takes too many hours (as in more than one) to respond to your text messages when you know his smart phone is practically attached to his palm, stop sending them.

10. What do you do with a guy who bottles up everything inside except for anger? (Hint: Where’s the nearest exit?) We’ve all dated at least one angry young man, the one who has trouble expressing himself unless it’s through rage (hopefully, without fists flying, Chris Brown-style). Who wants to spend life walking around on eggshells? Love hurts, but it shouldn’t f**k up your feet, too.

11. Does he show up for a romantic dates in a posh setting looking like he just crawled out of a clothes hamper? I’m all for dressing down, but there’s a time and place for cheap t-shirts and tattered jeans. If he can get all dressed up for work, can’t he at least put on a decent pair of shoes for a nice dinner with you?

12. Picture this: He invites you to go away for the weekend after less than two months of dating and then a few days before take off, he sends you a text message telling you that he’s excited about the upcoming holiday, and then suggesting that you “don’t rush into things” and “see what develops.” It’s like proposing marriage before asking to just go steady. Who does that? If you must go, be sure to book your own room in a hotel that’s preferably far away from where he’ll be staying, alone.

13. It’s bad enough that he insists on being friends on Facebook. After you reluctantly accept his invitation, he never publicly acknowledges you by posting on your timeline or even “liking” anything you put there. I know: How 2012 of me. But trust me, there’s probably no greater sign that you aren’t destined to be “friends” forever. One final warning: When you finally come to your senses and dump him, expect to be unfriended and blocked within the hour.

3 More Great Songs About the Wrong Guy

“Mr. Wrong” Sade

“The Wrong Man” Anita Baker

“He’s a Liar” Bee Gees

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The Art of Faking It in Public

My best friend worries about me.

“I’m fine, happy,” I assured her when she stated her case during her recent visit to Bangkok.

Of that, she had no doubt. She said I did seem calmer, more at peace, you know, kind of happy — but she was still concerned. She knows I’ve always been a lone ranger. She’s become accustomed to it over a decade and a half of knowing me. But she could tell that my proclivity to solitariness had intensified since the last time we’d seen each other two years earlier.

Part of it is getting older, part of it is being disappointed by people, part of it is being bored with people, and part of it is a genuine appreciation for my own company. I’ve often said that I’ll probably end up like Greta Garbo, a total recluse tucked away in my ivory tower. But that’s a decade or two off.

My best friend was more concerned with right here, right now (the time and place, not the song). Sometimes, she said, she worries that my tendency to withdraw into the seclusion of my own brain — or my apartment — might prevent me from giving people a chance. Not just every kind of people, The One, the proverbial Mr. Right, with whom I might have a shot at living happily ever after. If I’m going to retire to an ivory tower, would it kill me to have a little company there?

Usually whenever anyone tries to psychoanalyze me, I tune them out, but I knew she had a point. So did my last boyfriend (I grudgingly admit): “There’s a reason why you’re alone,” he said to me shortly after we broke up, and I could tell this was what he was getting at, too, my tendency to be so guarded with people, physically and emotionally.

I don’t think it’s really that simple, though. It’s not always all about me, and what I do and what I don’t do. It’s only been in the last few months that I feel like I’ve made a conscious decision to be single. For most of my life, I’ve been single mostly by default. It’s not like guys are lined up outside of my door waiting to take me out. But who knows? Maybe if I spent more time outside my door, they would be.

I’m speaking metaphorically here. I get out quite a bit, but just because I’m outdoors doesn’t mean I’m outside. I spend the majority of my life deep inside my own thoughts, regardless of my physical location. Even at 10 years old, when I listened to Gino Vannelli’s Top 10 hit “Living Inside Myself,” I heard the title as a sort of personal statement. That’s exactly what I was doing.

That’s exactly what I’m still doing. It takes a person who is independent and self-sufficient to perhaps an almost-unhealthy degree to pack up, kiss his loved ones goodbye, and move to the other side of the world, to a country where he knows no one and doesn’t speak the language, just because he can. And I’ve done it twice! (Thrice, if you count Aussie English as a foreign language!)

Don’t misunderstand me: For all my reclusive tendencies, despite my monastic existence, I can play the social butterfly as good as anyone. It’s always been easy for me to meet people, to make acquaintances (making good friendships, however, can’t be faked — they take time and genuine interest on my part). I can cold rock a party like nobody’s business.

But every time I enter Mr. Congeniality mode, I’m wearing a mask, one that I usually can’t wait to go home and wash off. When I’m standing in a crowded room, laughing and pretending to be charming, I’m often panicking on the inside. Whiskey helps, but as I heard someone on TV say recently, monastic types often tend to overdo that bit.

Most people laugh when I tell them I’m painfully shy (I’m pretty sure my British friend, now visiting Thailand from Sydney, guffawed when I broke the news to him on Saturday night), but I am. It can be a huge effort being around people because I often don’t know what to say or where to even look. I see people so effortlessly engaging in small talk, without the benefit of too much whiskey, and I feel a twinge of envy. Sometimes I wonder, why can’t I be you? Then I dive in and pretend that I am. Apparently, I pull it off.

As long as I can control my whiskey intake, my best friend shouldn’t worry. I would never want to trade places with those authentic social butterflies who can’t bear to be a party of one, people who fear what they might find out if they’re allowed to sit still and alone with their own thoughts for too long, forced to dig too deeply into their own psyche.

I’ve already been there, done that and lived to write about it. Not everything I’ve found out is pretty, but for a writer like me, there are no tools more useful than a twisted psyche, a love of solitude, and the ability to fake it in public.

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Being Gay Today: It’s More Fashionable Than Ever, But Is It Ready to Wear?

The things you hear when you’re not really listening, or talking about something else entirely. This morning as I was half paying attention to the TV in the background while cleaning, I heard someone make an interesting assertion: He, or she (I can’t remember who was speaking, or on what show, or if I totally imagined it all), said that being gay today is more fashionable than ever.

True or false?

I thought about Edina’s reaction to finding out that her son is gay on an Absolutely Fabulous special from 10 years ago, of the ladies’ search for GBFFs (gay best friends forever) on a 2011 episode of Hot in Cleveland, of Days of Our LivesChandler Massey, whose Daytime Emmy Award win last night made him the second performer to get one for playing a gay character, of sex and the city (the show and the actual thing, in the years since the show).

Is being gay today indeed more fashionable? I hadn’t yet made up my mind a few hours later when someone happened to land on the subject while we were having a conversation about something completely unrelated.

“To be gay is now almost fashionable in Western culture,” he said.

True or false?

This time, I agreed without hesitation. The man had a point. But as fashions go, being gay remains a somewhat underground one. It plays so much better in the big city than out in the country, in the art house more successfully than in the multiplex, on cable TV more comfortably than on network television, and, unfortunately, in the closet — on a plastic hanger, of course — more safely than outside of it. It’s fashionable, yes, but with so many strings attached that it still can be quite an unsightly burden to wear.

There’s no doubt that gays today have it better than we did five, 10 or 20 years ago. But that doesn’t mean things are any more perfect for gay people than the first black President means that racism is now U.S. history. Homophobia is simply a more recessive trait than it used to be, which in some ways makes it more insidious. At least if you call me a “faggot” to my face, I know what I’m up against.

This is one of the reasons why I believe gay marriage is such an important issue. There’s an emerging school of gay thought that frowns upon this particular fight because it encourages young gay men and women to overvalue the wrong things, to mimic a “straight” institution created by straight people. Gay pride’s overemphasis on this political hot topic, some argue, will lead young, impressionable gays and lesbians to think that marriage should be the endgame of one’s existence, and gay people should have loftier goals than heterosexual-style domesticity.

While I shudder at the thought of a generation of potential gay bridezillas, young urban gay professionals who are secretly biding their time until someone puts a ring on it, that’s not a strong enough argument in favor of suspending the ardent pursuit of legal marriage for gays and lesbians. With or without it, there always will be some people, gay and straight, whose primary goal in life is to find a mate and live happily ever after, just as the women’s liberation movement hasn’t cooled the burning desire of a too-large number of women to be married with children. If we’re not going to outlaw marriage among straights to discourage that kind of mindset (which I’m not saying I would oppose), why support denying it to gays — or acting as if it’s okay to do so — to the same end?

I’ve never been a fan of marriage, so my support of gay marriage has nothing to do with any personal desire to fall into holy matrimony. It’s more about making what has become fashionable, more acceptable, too. In the United States, it’s the last thing standing in the way of gays and straights being equal in the eyes of the law. What else are gay activists supposed to focus on?

Regardless of how fashionable the state of being gay has become, and no matter what you see on Hot in Cleveland, there are still plenty of pockets in the United States, particularly in the middle of the country and south of there, where gay people continue to be actively ostracized and discriminated against. Were this not so, there wouldn’t be so many of them cowering in the closet. For many who oppose it, gay marriage has become a platform to promote intolerance (for some compelling evidence, click here), which is why it’s so important to fight tirelessly on the other side.

My point here is not to argue in favor of gay marriage — which I’ve done numerous times before, and frankly, I’m kind of over it — but to argue in favor of continuing to fight for it. Regardless of where you stand on the subject of marriage, denying it to gay people suggests that they are not equal to straight people, or that gay people pose some kind of threat to an antiquated institution that straight people have already spent centuries stomping on.

I have a bigger problem with the sort of homophobic thinking behind the argument against gay marriage than I do with the idea that my next boyfriend and I might not be able to get married and live happily ever after in the state of Florida. You can’t say that you’re okay with people being gay, that you’re accepting of your gay brother or sister or son or daughter while insisting that marriage is a sacred union reserved for men and women only.

That’s like saying black is beautiful — now get to the back of the closet!

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Why I Love the ’90s, Part 3: The 90 Best Things About the "ME" Decade

Everybody loves ’80s music, and I do, too. But as much as I appreciate the pop culture of the Ronald Reagan decade, personally, those were hardly the best years of my life. I was too busy trying to make sense of who I was, struggling to fit my square self into a round hole, to really seize the days and enjoy them. In some ways, the ’90s was the decade in which I was truly born.

An ex-boyfriend (see No. 2 below) once told me that the thing he admired most about me was the way I completely invented myself. I took it as a compliment, but he was off by about 12 years. Necessity was the mother of my invention (I needed to perfect a presentable, acceptable image if I was going to survive on the playground), but that was back when I was trying to be someone I wasn’t, from around ages 10 to 22. By the time he and I met, I had stopped inventing and reinventing myself — I was finally just being myself. Despite some terrible outfits and questionable hairstyles, the ’90s were best for me because it was my era of self-discovery.

One of the other interesting distinctions between the ’80s and ’90s is how differently I remember the two decades. I can assign exact years to ’80s albums, singles, movies and events more or less from memory, but for the most part, with the ’90s, specific years are less clear — perhaps because, for the first time, I didn’t have school years with which to associate them. Everything in the ’90s tends to fall into three categories: the early ’90s, the mid ’90s and the late ’90s. Thankfully, in the 2010s, we have Wikipedia to provide dates, when needed.

Lisa, my former high-school classmate and current Facebook friend who calls the ’90s her “religious cult years” because she knows so little about them, suggested that I document and celebrate my second favorite decade (nothing compares to the ’70s) with an official list. What a great idea. So here are 90 reasons why the ’90s were, to quote a Styx song from the early ’80s, the best of times.

1. Coming out and coming into my own.

2. My first love (and my second and third ones, too)

3. Kir royales: Was I drunk on love, or was it just the champagne?

4. New York City’s East Village, circa October 1992 to October 1995, and my first bachelor pad there

5. Sex and the city: Not the show, my life!

6. The summer of ’95: My best one ever, and the last hurrah of kick-ass NYC.

7. The summer of ’96: New York to London to Prague to Budapest to Vienna to Prague to London to New York.

8. My milestone birthday party at Cheetah: 30 was the new 20 (now it’s 40)!

9. My mom’s surprise 55th birthday party in Atlanta five days earlier

10. Never letting a birthday sneak by without a decadent birthday dinner.

11. Monday nights at Sugar Babies

12. Tuesday nights underground at Jackie 60

13. Wednesday nights upstairs at Flamingo East

14. Thursday nights at Bowery Bar

15. Friday nights at Sound Factory Bar

16. Saturday nights at the Roxy

17. The blizzard of 1996

18. Mardi Gras (1990-1991)

19. Gainesville, Florida

20. Driving solo from Los Angeles to San Francisco over Christmas break 1994

21. My first trans-Atlantic crossing (Can you believe they ever permitted smoking in-flight?)

22. European vacations

23. Museo del Prado en Madrid

24. My favorite London spaces: Soho Square, Kensington High Street, Camden Town, King’s Road, Earls Court, Notting Hill Gate, Portobello Road Market, Hyper Hyper and Neal Street/Covent Garden

25. Shaftesbury Avenue, West End theatre and discovering Julie Christie for the first time in a revival of Pinter’s Old Times

26. Jigsaw menswear

27. Top Shop before it was everywhere

28. Wednesday nights at Heaven

29. Mondays and Thursdays at G.A.Y.

30. Sundays at DTPM

31. That comically unflattering photo of Monica Lewinsky that seemed to accompany every story about her. Say what you will about ML, but thanks, in part, to her, Bill Clinton’s U.S. Presidency was the only one of my lifetime that I actually enjoyed.

32. Great Britpop bands with one-word, one-syllable names

33. The sounds of the time: Britpop, Madchester, dream pop, grunge, trip hop and drum ‘n’ bass

34. Interviewing David Bowie — twice!

35. The last golden age of the soul diva: Toni Braxton, Mary J. Blige, Faith Evans, Kelly Price, and ’80s holdovers Regina Belle, Miki Howard and Angela Winbush

36. Annie Lennox’s Diva: It lived up to its title and then some.

37. Babyface’s For the Cool in You: This was just one reason why the ’80s super-producer was still relevant in the ’90s. La Face Records and Toni Braxton’s debut album were two others.

38. Kate Bush’s The Red Shoes: In one fell swoop, Bush delivered her strangest and most accessible album, a hard act that it took her 12 years to follow.

39. k.d. lang’s Ingenue: Here’s one of those rare instances where an artist’s great commercial triumph was exactly what it should have been.

40. Joni Mitchell’s Turbulent Indigo: A mid-decade surprise that was right up there with her ’70s classics.

41. Linda Perry’s In Flight: “She didn’t need any help,” Pink once told me when I thanked her for helping Perry get the recognition she deserved (via her Perry-written and produced 2001 single “Get The Party Started,” which I actually hated). If only that had been true.

42. Maria McKee’s You Gotta Sin to Get Saved: I once saw McKee in concert at Irving Plaza, and I couldn’t believe the things she could do with so many instruments.

43. Morrissey’s Vauxhall and I: A brilliant album, Morrissey’s best (and if you listen closely, his coming-out album, too), with not a weak link in earshot. “Speedway,” one of the best album closers in the history of albums, still makes my jaw drop.

44. Neil Young’s Harvest Moon: This was the one that turned me on to the legend, belatedly.

45. Neneh Cherry’s Homebrew: Speaking of great album closers, “Red Paint” used to leave me nearly in tears because it hit so close to my New York City home.

46. R.E.M.’s Automatic for the People: Volume two of R.E.M.’s spectacular run of ’90s greatness (from 1991’s Out of Time to 1996’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi) and the best of the four-set series.

47. Radiohead’s The Bends: More than any other musical opus, this and No. 46 are the ones that define the entire decade for me.

48. George Michael’s “Too Funky” video: The visual and aural embodiment of the supermodel era.

49. Roxette’s “Spending My Time” video: It must have been some love.

50. Bjork’s “All Is Full of Love” video: The ultimate space-age love song.

51. Depeche Mode’s “Barrel of a Gun” video: I prefer my DM pitch black and extremely twisted.

52. The KLF featuring Tammy Wynette: Justified but so not ancient!

53. Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach: Painted from Memory and the Sessions at West 54th episode that celebrated it remain essential listening/viewing 14 years on.

54. Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave: “Where the Wild Roses Grow” was the highlight of “Indie Kylie”-era Minogue. As much as I love pretty much everything she does, I wish she’d push her boundaries — or let someone do it for her — like she did in the mid to late ’90s again. 

55. Texas: Not the place — the band, massive everywhere but in the country of its namesake state.

56. Jamiroquai’s near-U.S. breakthrough: But I never really got all the hoopla over “Virtual Insanity,” the song or the video.

57. Shara Nelson‘s stunning double play: What Silence Knows and Friendly Fire

58. Canadian queens: Shanie Twain, Celine Dion and Sarah McLachlan

59. Fierce ruling dance divas: Billie Ray Martin, Kristine W., Ultra Nate, Joi Cardwell, Sandy B, et al. 

60. Girl power, riot grrrls and Lilith Fair

61. Teen pop for twentysomethings: Thank you, Brandy, Monica, Aaliyah and Robyn. Oh, and the boy was mine!

62. TLC and En Vogue: The best girl groups ever!

63. The Trainspotting soundtrack: No, the movie didn’t make me want to go out and get high, because the music took me there.

64. The Until the End of the World soundtrack: Featuring fantastic music by Neneh Cherry, Depeche Mode, U2, Elvis Costello and especially Lou Reed that ranks right up there with their best work of the decade — or of any decade.

65. Red Hot + Blue, a various artists tribute to Cole Porter to benefit AIDS research and relief (more Neney Cherry!) that gave me a whole new appreciation for the Great American Songbook. De-lovely!

66. PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love tour: Seductive and kind of scary, two qualities that shouldn’t go together that Harvey wore better than anyone since Siouxsie Sioux in the previous decade.

67. Saint Etienne, Grant Lee Buffalo and American Music Club at Manhattan Ballroom on September 23, 1994. Damn, my allergies that night!

68. Kings of remix: Junior Vasquez, Danny Tenaglia and Armand Van Helden

69. Single white males who rocked my world: Matthew Sweet, Michael Penn and Joe Henry

70. Annie Lennox, Simply Red and Gwyneth Paltrow (the latter in a sighting, not in concert) in Central Park

71. Four years without a TV (1991 to 1995)

72. Small-screen comedy queens: Fran Drescher, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Lisa Kudrow, Carrie, Miranda and Samantha (but not Charlotte) on Sex and the City, and, of course, Karen and Jack on Will & Grace

73. Samuel L. Jackson in Jungle Fever

74. Miranda Richardson in Damage, The Crying Game and Enchanted April — all in one year (1992)!

75. Juliette Binoche in Blue

76. Elisabeth Shue in Leaving Las Vegas

77. Fernanda Montenegro in Central Station: I’ve never really forgiven the Academy for giving the 1998 Best Actress Oscar to Gwyneth Paltrow instead.

78. Julianne Moore when she was almost famous (in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Short Cuts and Safe)

79. Emma Thompson 1993-1995 (minus Junior)

80. Dramatic sibling rivalry between Jennifer Jason Leigh and Mare Winningham in Georgia and Emily Watson and Rachel Griffiths in Hillary and Jackie. “You don’t sing. You can’t sing.” Ouch! (I just can’t get enough of dueling sisters — see my 2011 love of Melancholia and Martha Marcy May Marlene.)

81. Jennifer Jason Leigh, never Oscar-nominated, unlike every other ’90s film star mentioned above

82. Reality Bites: It spoke to me, in 1994, like The Breakfast Club did to my peers in the ’80s.” Melrose Place is a really good show.” I re-enacted that Winona Ryder-Janeane Garofalo scene shortly after meeting my second boyfriend, the Friday it hit theaters, a few days after I saw the movie at an NYC screening. He laughed — and then he asked me out. By the way, he loved Jennifer Jason Leigh. Brownie points!

83. Beautiful Thing: My favorite gay-themed film until A Single Man came along.

84. Reading Entertainment Weekly cover to cover in bed every weekend

85. Hard copy: Not the TV show (1989-1999)! Magazines, newspapers, books and letters — Remember them?

86. The blinking light on answering machines

87. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh: One of the few fiction novels published in the ’90s that I read in the ’90s and loved in the ’90s.

88. Birkenstocks

89. Life before Atenolol

90. MTV’s The Real World, back when reality TV was still a novelty. The Truman Show, back when a movie about a TV program about a man’s everyday life was actually an original concept. Oh, how I miss the ’90s!

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