28 August 2007

Sins of the Closet

... Here we go again!

Craig says 'I am not gay,' did no wrong

BOISE, Idaho - Under fire from leaders of his own party, Idaho Sen. Larry Craig on Tuesday the only thing he had done wrong was to plead guilty after a police complaint of lewd conduct in a men's room. He declared, "I am not gay. I never have been gay."

"I did nothing wrong at the Minneapolis airport," he said at a news conference with his wife, Suzanne, at his side....
According to the prosecutor's complaint, obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, airport police Sgt. Dave Karsnia, who was investigating allegations of sexual conduct in airport restrooms, went into a stall shortly after noon on June 11 and closed the door.

Minutes later, the officer said he saw Craig gazing into his stall through the crack between the door and the frame.

After a man in the adjacent stall left, Craig entered it and put his roller bag against the front of the stall door, "which Sgt. Karsnia's experience has indicated is used to attempt to conceal sexual conduct by blocking the view from the front of the stall," said the complaint, which was dated June 25.

The complaint said Craig then tapped his right foot several times and moved it closer to Karsnia's stall and then moved it to where it touched Karsnia's foot. Karsnia recognized that "as a signal often used by persons communicating a desire to engage in sexual conduct," the complaint said.

Craig then passed his left hand under the stall divider into Karsnia's stall with his palms up and guided it along the divider toward the front of the stall three times, the complaint said.

The officer then showed his police identification under the divider and pointed toward the exit "at which time the defendant exclaimed `No!'" the complaint said.

The Aug. 8 police report says that Craig had handed the arresting officer a business card that identified him as a member of the Senate.

"What do you think about that?" Craig is alleged to have said, according to the report.

I think it's pretty sad. And pretty typical of people uncomfortable with their own sexuality. I also think gentlemen like the Senator are the reason why a lot of us are suspicious of those who are so adamantly against gay rights: They're arguing with themselves. The Lady doth protest too much, methinks...and not only me but others as well, including columnist Dan Savage as well, as he says in this CNN interview:

I remember many years ago being *terrified* to pick up one of Time magazine's 'special issues' with some gay (I think they used 'homosexual') topic blazed across the cover, out of fear that someone would see me looking at it and assume....correctly...that I was 'one of them.' IMHO some of the same dynamic is at work here. I can't support rights for 'those people' or else folks will think I'm One of Them (which, of course, I'm not. Just because I like to ....uh....well...you know....in public bathrooms, that doesn't make me "gay"....)

Senator Craig had been called on his extracurricular activites before. Mike Rogers at blogactive made an attempt to drag him out of the closet (the Devil in me wants to say, lift him up off his knees...) back in October of last year, going so far as to track down men who the Senator had had encouters with in other mens rooms, including the one in Washington DC's Union Station.

This is the way The Down Low works (and since I doubt the mainstream media will call the Senator "on the DL" because that term appears to ONLY apply to African-Americans and not white men leading a double life, like former Governor and rest stop enthusiast Jim McGreevey): engaging in risky behavior on the one hand while tossing out homo-hate with the other in an attempt to 'throw people off the scent' (remember Ted Haggard anyone?)

As I said, it's sad. Very sad.

I'm not saying that there would be no Tearoom Trade if everyone suddenly came out and the world shifted into being a better place for gay men and lesbians to live in. Considering men and the way we are sexually socialized, I suspect there would still be some guys who'd adopt the Senators 'wide stance' in the public loo. And having seen a heterosexual couple going at it in a public space usually reserved for same-sex activity, if straight men could go into bathrooms and fool around with women, they'd do it too. (I'm a fan of the idea of 'runs' SF writer Samuel R Delany created in his novel Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, designated areas where humans and non-humans alike went off to have guilt free sex).

I'm more interested in, and have been thinking about, something that my doctor calls 'being out as a sexual being.' People who are more comfortable with sex and their sexuality tend also to be more willing to take care of themselves (i.e. not engage in risky or possibly health-harming behavior). It's not about coming out of the closet, it's about self-recognition, and a comfort level with who you are, what your desires are, and how you like to have them met, and being able to express those desires to your partner(s) and those you care for.

24 August 2007

Under the Bridge

Here's some literally breaking news from today:

Route 295 reopened in Prince George's Co.
Chunks of concrete fell from bridge over parkway; no crashes or injuries reported
By a Sun reporter
2:35 PM EDT, August 24, 2007

The Baltimore Washington Parkway has been reopened after being closed earlier this afternoon when chunks of concrete fell from a bridge onto the roadway.

Shortly after noon, fist-sized pieces of concrete fell from the Greenbelt Road Bridge onto the northbound lanes of the parkway in Prince George's County, according to the United States Park Police. No crashes or injuries were reported but both the bridge and the parkway beneath the bridge were closed. As of 2:30 p.m., all lanes on both roads were open.

In the initial confusion after the parkway was closed, it was unclear which level of government was responsible for the bridge. A state highway administration spokesman said it was a federal bridge, while the park police spokesman said he understood that it was a state-owned bridge.

If only "infrastructure" were sexy!

What does it take for us to wake up? A bridge in Minnesota. Flooded subways in New York City, and prior to that, an explosion that shot steam and debris hundreds of feet into the air. Sinkholes here in Baltimore.

I'm not a "lets turn our back on the world" style America-First-er here, by any means, but geeze!

When are we going to take care of ourselves, of our own foundations? Do we need to 'declare war' on it? That has seemed to be a good way to get people in motion: Perhaps we need A War on Error! Those falling bridges want to rob us of our Freedom (to drive)! Maybe then we'd get some serious focus on it (and I can break out my long held belief that we need another WPA style rehabilitation program, or a domestic Marshall Plan). Sadly, we live in an age when "it's somebody else's problem, not mine" is the order of the day. And no one wants to pay taxes!

We've done it before, we can do it again. If only it were pretty (and, of course, CHEAP)!

An essential part of any successful action on the part of the United States is an understanding on the part of the people of America of the character of the problem and the remedies to be applied. Political passion and prejudice should have no part. With foresight, and a willingness on the part of our people to face up to the vast responsibilities which history has clearly placed upon our country, the difficulties I have outlined can and will be overcome. General George Marshall

19 August 2007

Beauty or the Brain?

"And it’s not that we haven’t desired our AfroBoHo icons (damn near all nerds in reality) in sexual terms — I’m thinking of the Stephen Shames photo of a bare-chested Huey Newton holding a copy of a Bob Dylan album (which incidentally graces the cover of Robert Reid-Pharr’s new book Once You Go Black), and have you seen Zadie Smith lately, for that matter — but we are disturbed when our heroes speak back to our desires."
Mark Anthony Neal

I've been trying to figure out a way to say this for some time.

Years ago, the wonderful writer and editor Carol Taylor had a sign up in her NYC loft that read "Eroticize Intelligence." To me that had a number of meanings. One was to recognize that the best 'sexual organ' in the body is the brain: if your mind's not engaged, no matter what you're doing with the rest of the body, it's not going to be truly 'hot.' Also, since Carol is both very smart and very sexy, to me it meant that there was not and should not be some kind of division between those two attributes: one can put Einstein's brain in (insert name of favorite hottie here)'s body, and...umm... 'double your pleasure/double your fun" as it were.

So much of what passes for 'mainstream black culture' today celebrates the one-dimensional 'thug' image. Erotically that falls in with old-line stereotypes of blacks (men in particular) as purely physical beings, animals without brains, great in bed but dumb as dirt. You want them to be waiting for you when you come home at night for an evening's throwdown, but the idea of actually trying to talk to them, having a conversation, or being seen in public with them is anathema. Introduce them to your friends? No way. And lord help you if you try to have a meal with them (other than a McBurger combo meal) since they probably don't know how to deal with silverware.

Somehow this dumb brute image has returned, and we are (being forced to?) aspire to it.

We live with other stereotypes as well, namely that good looking people obviously can't be smart. Or that it is somehow 'wrong' to think of intelligent people as physical beings, crush objects for both their brains and their 'brawn' or whatever. It's "big head vs little head" (for us guys), one thing or the other. Either they're brainy or their beautiful, and never the twain will meet. And the idea that someone smart is also a physical being filled with desires and needs? Disgusting, Shocking and Impossible!!

Frack that!

There are any number of (black) people who are whip-smart and slap-yo-momma gorgeous. It's time we recognize that and honor them. I've had the pleasure of meeting and in some cases becoming friends with folk who I find both physically and mentally attractive. It is one hell of a rush to see that mix, and I don't think there's anything wrong with that. (I've considered listing some of my favorite 'hot brain' folks but am afraid it would just get too long...although I really do feel the ...um...urge?...to give a shout out to Michael Eric Dyson, my friends John and Ernest, Elizabeth Alexander, Tayari Jones, the late Ed Bradley, who I want to be like when I grow up....see what I mean, and I haven't even got started in good yet!)

I don't feel that I am 'trivializing' these people or their brain power to say that these folks are also p-h-Y-n-e as well. If anything, the combination is and should be a great turn-on. There is nothing better than having an intense and stimulating conversation and intellectual interaction, followed up by an intense and stimulating physical interaction, where you give your bodies a chance to speak.

I'm with Carol: Black Nerds of the world Unite! It's time to "Eroticize Intelligence"! You have nothing to lose (not even the horn-rimmed glasses -- in fact keep 'em on: They're sexy!)

10 August 2007

Late Summer Reading

One of my sisters and I are both members of the Black Expressions Book Club (I think she joined before I did). It is one of those 'Book-of-the-Month' type clubs that sells 'exclusive' (i.e. inexpensive hardback) copies of titles by African-American authors. My sister was on the verge of dropping them, however, because of her disappointment in the types of books the club choses to promote. Most issues are filled with a great deal of what the book business calls 'urban fiction:' stories from 'da hood,' featuring "thugs" and their women; or variations on the 'girlfriend' genre, made popular by Terri McMillan. A couple of things that don't fit these molds are there as well but for the most part these are our choices -- in addition to Christian literature, cookbooks, a few financial books, and a selection of DVDs.

Since in the main I don't read "urban lit" I really don't want to comment on it. The subject matter for the most part doesn't appeal to me, and looking through the pages of some of the works, the style (...or lack thereof...) of the writing doesn't appeal to me either, although there are exceptions. The Library's Young Adult/Youth Services person here speaks highly of Tyrell, by author Coe Booth. By its cover and subject matter (a 15-year old living in a homeless shelter tries to keep his family together and avoid the easy money temptation of the drug trade) it looks a good deal like any number of other 'Urban' books, but the quality of the writing and character development, it's refusal to supply a stock solution to the Tyrell's problems, make it a cut above the rest. So you really can't judge a book by it's cover.

I've recently been (re)reading work by black (and for the most part male) novelists of the 1960s and '70's: John A. Williams (photo at left), William Demby, William Melvin Kelley, John Oliver Killens and Rosa Guy, all of them very good writers, 'political' without being polemical, writers 'of their times' (and the Black Arts Movement) in the best sense of the word. And, sadly, for the most part not very well known to many readers today (Rosa Guy is much better known as a Young Adult author these days). The great wave of black women writers that came after them, with Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Ntozake Shange at its crest, seems to have washed them away from the collective memory. I thought this was a shame, and was curious about why that happened.

I've been thinking about this since The Other Half recently asked me for a list of '25 books every black man should read before age 40' -- one of those impossible tasks that folks ask people to perform on a regular basis. He was asking because his co-workers (or at least the black men under 40 he works with) think he's pretty intelligent and up on things, and wonder how he got to be that way.

The question really is impossible, of course. There are so many great titles to choose from, and how do you limit it to 25? And, for me at least, it tends to change from week to week, as I think of more things which excited me and lead, I suspect, to the formation of my world view. I asked some writer friends for suggestions as well for suggestions as well. Here's mine (not in any real order):

1 The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Dubois

2 Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

3 Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

4 The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

5 For colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange

6 Native Son by Richard Wright

7 Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

8 Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

9 The Color Purple by Alice Walker

10 The Autobiography of Malcolm X

11 Brutal Imagination by Cornelius Eady

12 The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

13 Fences by August Wilson

14 Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown

15 Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

16 The Chaneysville Incident by David Bradley

17 I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

19 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

20 Meditations of Marcus Aurelius

21 The Constitution/Declaration of Independence

22 The Plague by Albert Camus

23 Let the Dead Bury Their Dead by Randall Kenan

24 A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest J Gaines

25 Cane by Jean Toomer

As you might imagine, these are some of the works that deeply influenced me, helping to make me the person I am today. Not all of them are by African-American authors, or even had black people in mind when they were written, but all, I think, tell us something about the nation and the world we live in, and offer ways with which to navigate through it. You may also note I've included some works usually considered "women's books" to the list. It seemed essential for me to do that (their works have helped to save my life over the years).

FYI: Authors most frequently mentioned (their names/works came up more than twice) when I asked this question of friends and fellow writers were: Alice Walker, August Wilson, Frederick Douglass, James Baldwin, John Edgar Wideman, Langston Hughes, Malcolm X, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, W. E. B. Dubois, and Walter Mosley.

Most frequently mentioned texts (again they got more than two mentions) were: Works by Baldwin and Wideman (people said "Anything" by these two), Black Boy and Native Son by Richard Wright, theater by August Wilson ("Collected Plays," Fences, "Joe Turner's Come and Gone"), works of Langston Hughes (Collected Poems, The Big Sea, The Ways of White Folks), novels by Walter Moseley (his 'Easy Rawlins' and 'Fearless Jones' series), The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Song of Solomon and The Bluest Eye (Morrison), The Color Purple (Walker), The Fire Next Time (Baldwin), and DuBois'The Souls of Black Folk.

Emperor Marcus says: Go Forth and Read!

08 August 2007

Barry, Barry, Barry!

I want to extend my heartiest congratulations to Mr. Barry Bonds, new Major League Baseball home run king. Last night he broke Hank Aaron's record of 755 career home runs. His is an amazing achievement, no matter how you slice it.

One day, I hope we will have a serious, sustained conversation about steroids, and other performance-enhancing drugs and other technological assistants (like Lance Armstrong's oxygen tent). For now however, thanks in part to the radioactive combination of Race and Sports, it doesn't seem possible to do that. All folks can do now it seems is scream at Barry Bonds.

People talk about Bonds getting bigger over the years (So have I, btw: it's hard for even me to believe that I could once pack myself into a pair of size 29 jeans, but I did it in 1984). His shoe size has grown. And look at that big bald head!

These same folks also forget that, so far, Barry has not tested positive for steroids (It's also difficult to say how, exactly, steroids would assist someone in hitting a little round ball with a big wooden stick. Seems to me you might need a bit of skill and talent for that in the first place). Nor do many remember the death threats, bad press, and snubbing from the then Baseball Commissioner that Henry Aaron got as he approached (Baltimore's own) Babe Ruth's "sacred record."

Okay, so Barry's not a 'nice person.' He's 'short on people skills.' He's 'surly' ... although somehow the Giants got him to dress up as Paula Abdul for their "American Idol" style mild hazing of the rookies this past year...I guess it's hard to be surly when you're up in a dress!

Sadly, this is often the case when a person of color doesn't want to play "the game." They become the "big scary black man" of SOME peoples obsessions (cf my previous post!) I'm reminded of the Baltimore Orioles' own 'surly' superstar, Eddie Murray. I remember the chants of "Ed-die! Ed-die" in the stands during his glory years. He too was not a great schmoozer of the local sports press, and was chided for being a 'dull' interview, non-responsive, aloof, surly.

When Ted Williams was here and inducted into the Hall of Fame 37 years ago, he said he must have earned it because he didn't win it because of his friendship with the writers. I guess in that way I'm proud to be in his company that way. I was never one much on words. For me to focus a lot on the individual, that's not the way I learned to play the game. Baseball's a team game. You win as a team, you lose as team. You also do so many things together, but it is not an "I" thing. That is one reason why I didn't maybe have the friendship with the media maybe like I could have. But I had to do what I had to do to make myself successful. That's what I learned, and that's what I preach today to my kids. And I still believe it. (Eddie Murray's Hall of Fame induction speech, 7/27/2003). As his Wikipedia entry notes, Murray also gave kids from Baltimore's Northwood Baseball League a dozen autographed bats, 24 autographed baseballs and 100 autographed Hall of Fame programs. Not bad for someone "surly and aloof."

One of my co-workers fits the profile of the big scary black man, tall, bald, thick. He's like a human wall coming toward you. The guy also has a great personality, very warm and friendly, and is, in some ways, just a 'big kid.' I'm sure that this is really him, that his ebullience is genuine, but I've also found myself wondering how much of his personality was formed in order to put others at ease, so they would NOT be afraid of him. Not everyone has this ability to be 'nice', however, in order to allay other's fears. Should they then be judged negatively for that?

It's also a dangerous thing for baseball fans to romanticize too much about 'the good old days', although it seems to be woven into the fabric of the game. Babe Ruth was overweight, and had huge appetites for food, alcohol, and women. Ty Cobb was a racist (as were many other players of that era), and flat out mean to many people. While sports radio blares on and on about putting an asterisk next to Barry's name in the record books, I and many others wonder if we should also be considering doing the same thing next to the names of all those 'greats' who never had to face the amazing cornucopia of talent that was the Negro Leagues.

As Dave Zirin commented to me prior to his program here at the Library in Baltimore, white sports figures are usually 'given their humanity.' They are allowed to make mistakes, be fragile, and are also allowed to redeem themselves. Black and other players of color are seen as extensions of the equipment, simply cogs in a system, and often interchangeable (this is particularly true of Latino players). They...we (African-Americans in general, and black men in particular)...are something more than human when they're successful; something less than human when they fall.

In the hyperbolic world of sports talk, people's masks of politeness and correctness slip very easily. Folks think they can get away with saying just about anything. I urge us all to pay attention to the commentary that will be going around for the next week or so, or until the end of the season, as Bonds starts to approach 760 homers. Genuinely listen to what people have to say about him -- and think about what their comments says about them -- and us.

Bravo Barry!

Poetic coverage ("...on a cool Tuesday night near the shores of San Francisco Bay, 755 finally perished at the hands of a relentless, controversial invader from the west named Barry Lamar Bonds. Seven fifty-five is gone. Behold, 756.") from the Washington Post

Commentary from Salon's "King" Kauffman

Barry-mania from the San Francisco Chronicle

Dave Zirin on Barry ("756*")

06 August 2007

(Still) Brutal Imagination

I was going to blog about other things (like this week's buzz word 'infrastructure'), but then:

In 2001, Cornelius Eady published a great book of poetry, Brutal Imagination. Written in the persona of the imaginary black criminal Susan Smith invented to take the blame for the drowning death of her children, the book also takes on the voice of other African-American stereotypes (like Uncle Tom and Steppin Fetchit), and ends with "The Running Man" series, about a bookish young black man who becomes a criminal. It is one of those books of poems that is as moving and satisfying as a good novel.

I thought about that book on hearing about the lastest news from Florida State Representative Bob Allen. Allen has been charged with solicitiation of an undercover policeman in a public park. Turns out he didn't offer the policeman $20 for a blowjob, and really want sex: he was just afraid -- of Big Scary Black Men...and also the weather:

State Representative Bob Allen says he was feeling nervous and offered sex to get away from a man he didn't trust.

"This (undercover officer) is a pretty stocky black guy, and there's other black guys around in the park that—you know!"

Allen said he was also frightened of the weather. So he fled to the men's room.

"I said the building is safer than staying out here, so I went back in and I sat down."

He said he offered the man in the men's room what he thought he wanted, just so he could get out safely.

"I went ahhh -- I'm about to be a statistic. You catch all kinds of people, so a legislator is like whoa! You know, especially one that's the (police union) guy of the year...this is too ironic!"

As one of those 'stocky black guys', all I can say is, "Yeah, Ironic. That's the word I was looking for."

When called, I come.
My job is to get things done.
I am piecemeal.
I make my living by taking things.

"How I Got Born" by Cornelius Eady
From BRUTAL IMAGINATION (G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2001)