Heeeyyy, Gurrrlll: Or Don’t Adjust Your Set; That’s Really a Fag on Your Screen

Let me make one thing abundantly clear.

There are gay men and there are fags.

Gay men are males who happen to love and sleep with other men; fags are every stereotype you can cram into one one syllable word about homosexuals: vapid, fashion conscious, promiscuous, pop culture loving, musical quoting, overly emotional, beauty obsessed, precocious, sassy Sissy Marys.

Homosexual men, like any group you want to qualify, are made up of a myriad of types: some emotional, some stoic, some monogamous, some slutty, some smart, some stupid, some worldly, some self-involved, some into sports, some into theatre, some into both, some into neither, and an array of shades in between. As a “culture,” we share an oppressive history (for those who actually take the time to seek out the facts and figures not found in our textbooks, which is most of them) and a “sensibility” (sarcasm and wit learned to mask the haters, obsessive detail to beauty to prove we are good enough). In the company of one another, we may occasionally call each other “girl” – or more accurately “gurrrlll.” This is not because we are secretly wearing dresses on the side, but because we have come to self-identify as partially female because of the over-masculinization of our culture and decades of being told that being homosexual is akin to being a woman (particularly for us bottoms). The inflection of “gurrlll” stems from our kinship with black women, also known for being sassy and loud, and marginalized. Many gay men have learned to be “masculine” (i.e. aggressive) by imitating strong black women. But in addition to the imitations and the club scene with its booty popping music and stench of sex, gay men also have the ability to get past all of the stereotype and the bullshit and get to the person and discuss things like straight people that have nothing to do with “being gay.”

Now, when gay men and straight men interact, there can be a few scenarios. One, the gay man spends the whole time terrified that the straight man hates him and hides behind sarcasm or caveman-like monosyllabic utterances he thinks sound heterosexual (this is common with strangers). Two, the gay man and the straight man actually hate one another (this is most common in the South or the current Republican Party where apparently tact is a foreign concept). Three, the gay man and the straight man know each other and sexuality is mostly irrelevant (this is most common in the workplace, a forced situation where you actually interact with them on a personal level therefore see them as more than stereotype, yet there is still that doubt that when they are alone with their other straight friends they make fun of you and they may worry that when you are alone with your gay friends that you talk about wanting to sleep with them – which if you are cute, we are). Four, the gay man and the straight man are friends and sexuality truly is irrelevant and trust that the hate does not exist (this takes some time to truly believe).

Now let’s put these pairings on the big and small screens. First Season of Glee Kurt falls into Category One with his father, pretending to be butch and on the football team. Category Two, fill in Brokeback Mountain, The Laramie Project, Prayers for Bobby, and the Pacino/Friedkin cluster fuck known as Cruising, where homosexuality either leads to your death or your metamorphosis into a serial killer. Partners with Ryan O’ Neal and John Hurt fulfills Three and Partners, the new television series starring David Krumholtz and Michael Urie finishes us up with Four.

I was excited about the prospect of this show. Two new shows (coupled with The New Normal) with gay characters and themes on the air! And Modern Family is still going strong. It is a new day! But, despite what Harvey Fierstein once believed, we are past the point of “visible at all costs.” It is time to evaluate the types of gay men we are putting on the air.

In addition to my above definition of fag, I think a simpler one can be made: Feminine And Gay. And these, for the lion’s share, are the gay men we – and I do mean we because Hollywood is run by us! – continue to pipe into the homes of the heartland. What is the easiest way to change the perceptions of a stereotype? By showing the opposite as a valid, authentic version.

I am not denying that fags exist. And I am not denying that I fulfill much of the criteria. I dance. I am sassy. I say “gurrrlll” to my gay friends. I have learned to be sexy from women. I listen to Madonna. And Cher. And Bette. I love The Golden Girls and RuPaul’s Drag Race. But, I also am incredibly smart. I am interested in politics. I am a hermit who doesn’t give a damn about what clothes he wears or that the house usually looks like a frat party has just ended. I am not afraid to get dirty or do things that will muss my hair. I love Schwarzenegger movies. But if my life were made into a sitcom, none of the latter would be interpolated into my character because I, relatively speaking, would be the fag. And must adhere to the guidelines our culture has dictated forth.

Gay relationships on television for the most part fulfill what most straight people think about us: one of us is the woman and one of us is the man. I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked which one I was between Julian and me by seemingly intelligent, young people that live in the country’s two major melting pots of diversity. If they were asking, Which one is more outwardly emotional? then I would answer, me. If they were asking, Which one makes less money? then I would answer, me. If they were ballsy enough to ask, Which one is the bottom? then I would answer, me. But these are not questions they ask. For the record, I have a penis. Therefore, I AM A MAN. We are both men. Your question is uninformed and very 1975.

If I have a criticism about The New Normal, which is actually a really good show that gets better and less stereotypical as the episodes progress, it is that Bryan is a fag and David is a butch. How do we know this? Because Bryan shops at Barney’s, likens baby clothes to something Lady Gaga would wear, is obsessed with appearance, and works in the entertainment industry; and David is a beer drinking, football watching, doctor who thinks with his head and not his heart. What Modern Family does well is that the two men are both equal parts “masculine” and “feminine” (aka stoic and emotional). I wish Ryan Murphy would have taken his lead from them, but so far he is actually turning in a show with good writing and great performances so my complaints are small. And then there is Partners.

Based on a 1995 series with an almost identical premise (save making one of the leads gay), Partners lets us in on the “joke” that this is a gay-straight buddy show literally in the first 15 seconds of the pilot. Louis’ first line has to do with fashion, his second has to do with choosing a spa over a game room, and his third line tells us his fantasy wife is Bette Midler. And in the following scene, he intimates that he was promiscuous once upon a time. Do I have to tell you his sexuality?

The episode continues with more signposts, such as him having a tattoo of Clay Aiken on his ass, his dog’s name is Elphaba (as in the witch from the musical Wicked), commenting on the fashion choices of a woman in his yoga class, and making either a fisting or blowjob reference (the line could be read either way).

Observe some of his one-liners: “If this isn’t a story about you or me in the next 30 seconds I’m going to eat my fist.” (This buttresses the aforementioned non-verbal sex joke between them and displays his apathy for those outside of himself). “A woman who wears Cosmic Radiance by Britney Spears should nor serve on a jury.” (Pop-culture reference!) ” Gays can’t drive stick. Ironic, right?” (Unnecessary sex joke!).

Now observe the dialogue between Louis and his straight friend Joe:

Joe: “I don’t want my drama to get in the way of our work.”
Louis: “That’s funny. I always feel that our work gets in the way of my drama.”

Drama Queen Fag Alert!

Or the dialogue between him and his boyfriend, Wyatt:

Louis: “She wants to get married and gave him a play-me-or-trade-me ultimatum.”
Wyatt: “Wow. A play-me-or-trade-me ultimatum.”
Louis: “What is a play-me-or-trade-me ultimatum.”
Wyatt: I don’t know. I was just going along because I didn’t want to seem gay.”
Louis: “Wyatt, my love. You are a male nurse who DVR’s everything on Bravo. That ship has sailed.”

Gay couples either have an all or nothing understanding of sports (juxtaposing The New Normal‘s butch/fem model and Modern Family’s attempts at inclusivity) and reminding us that all gays watch Bravo, one of the most vapid of networks. And that we should be ashamed of who we are.

But the “jokes” don’t end there. Even Wyatt and Joe have an interaction that illuminates the differences between them:

Wyatt: “I’m in the cardiac wing today. That’s why I have a heart on. I could give you one if you want.”
Joe: “No, I don’t think you could.”

If you aren’t rolling your eyes, read it out loud to catch the play on words. A line solely designed to prove how straight Joe is, which says to all those straight men out there, “Just because you have gay friends doesn’t mean you are gay.”

Having Louis and Joe’s ostensibly Category Four gay/straight relationship at the center of the piece should afford license for them to relate to one another without obvious sexuality references, but this is a “comedy” (or at least attempts to be); therefore everything is amped up, therefore the gay one has to be “SuperGay” to the max to counteract the straight one, lest we get them confused. This makes “being gay” the joke in and of itself. Which is counterproductive.

Look, I am not above a good joke about a marginalized group. Racist jokes are hilarious if done right and gay jokes can be amazingly funny (although as a gay person, it must be done REALLY WELL if they are a straight comedian). But when we have a political air and a country divided on gay rights and gay issues, why is CBS, a network with an historically older fan base, the very minds that need to be changed in this country, why are you serving up stereotypical realness? The New Normal specifically addresses politics through Ellen Barkin’s bigoted character and functions as a clever polemic to the issues we face while the characters on Modern Family just are who they are and show the changing of the guard through Ed O’Neill’s acceptance of his son and his partner. Who is Partners for? It’s definitely not for socially conscious gay people. It’s not for anyone who enjoys good writing (the jokes and style are painfully out of date; the characters are blase and cliched to the nth). The universe is flat and unexciting and the acting is wooden. With the thousands of pilots written each year, how did this get on the air? The concept of a gay/straight alliance is not enough to make a show. Did anyone read the script? Most pilots you watch you can see that the show has legs. You can imagine the situations they will potentially get into and hopefully if it is a good pilot, you can’t wait to see them get in those situations. Partners, besides being hokey and dripping with stereotype, is just an ill-conceived series. You can tell this was developed by the Will and Grace team, only Will is straight and his name is Joe and Louis is the irresponsible Jack-like fag who gets his best friend into all kinds of shenanigans.

Yes, I am glad we are on TV. But it’s not enough. It’s how we are on TV. It’s actually important. Network television pipes into the millions of homes across the country in small towns where gay people are still ostracized and hated. A local NBC affiliate in Utah banned The New Normal from being shown because gays having babies was too much for their religious viewers. This is what we are up against, people. If we continue to give them what they expect of us in the form of shows like Partners, we will never be seen as whole people and deserving of respect. Let’s raise the bar.

Why I am Voting for Barack Obama

A few weeks ago, I worked yet another wedding on the Sony backlot. If you work enough weddings, you come to realize that no matter the bride and groom’s ethnicity, religion, or budget, every wedding shares two things: they are boring and incredibly depressing.

Despite it being their “special” day, to a server, it is just another event in which you load a buffet, pour water, and count rental napkins in bundles of ten after the music has ended. On the subject (and placing more points in the boring column), all weddings – and all events with a DJ really –  seem to have required songs (“Don’t Stop Believin’,”Celebration,” “”Closing Time,” and an unnecessary amount of Black Eyed Peas) and this DJ in particular seemed to just push Shuffle and let it ride (in what universe does “Summer Nights” come after a Jason Mraz ballad?) Watching white people dance badly to bad music must be in the Wedding Planner’s Handbook.

If you don’t know the people (and even if you do) listening to their speeches – speeches from people who are clearly not writers, clearly not public speakers, clearly from people with nothing very engaging to say, peppering their speeches with cliches (“Ever since ______introduced us to ______, he’s been like family and I’m happy today that you have finally made it official” followed by rounds of applause), bringing people to tears with their corny lines – induces eye rolls and occasionally the Walk Away to keep from laughing or choking on the saccharinity.

Weddings are still the last stand of relationship legitimacy. In front of your friends and family, you and your chosen life mate get to proudly profess your commitment to one another ’til (theoretically) death do you part. Which makes sitting through these events of camaraderie and respect as a homosexual aggravating, embarrassing, and sad.

The quest for gay rights has been a long and slowly evolving one in America. Jamestown saw the first prosecution of alleged homosexual acts when Richard Cornish was charged with the rape of a male indentured servant in 1624, a claim that was later rebuked by the “victim’s” own brother. In 1636, sodomy – the “unnatural” sexual acts of oral and anal sex, derived from the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Bible – was made a crime punishable by death in the Plymouth Colony. In 1641, the Massachusetts’ Body of Liberties used the Letivical Law pertaining to homosexuality as grounds for capital punishment. Even our beloved Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1778 in his Bill for Proportioning Crimes and Punishments that “whoever shall be guilty of Rape, Polygamy, or Sodomy with man or woman shall be punished, if a man, by castration, if a woman by cutting thro’ the cartilage of her nose a hole of one half inch diameter at the least.”

As the nation grew, sodomy laws spread throughout the states and remained a nationwide felony until 1962. Ironically, it was Midwestern state Illinois (coincidentally the Congressional state of the first sitting President to support gay marriage), not the liberally minded New England states one would expect, that adopted the first modernization of the law by removing consensual sodomy from criminalization. Other states were slow to follow until the official beginning of the Gay Rights Movement in 1969 with the Stonewall Uprising.

Prior to Stonewall, there had been other run-ins with the law, including a scuffle at Cooper Donut’s in 1959 Los Angeles where author John Rechy and a handful of others narrowly escaped arrest; a protest in 1964 against the military’s treatment of homosexuals,; and a riot at the Black Cat Tavern in 1966 where over 200 people picketed against the actions of the police, which lead to the publication of The Advocate magazine. There were also fringe groups like The Society for Human Rights (founded in 1924, again in Illinois) that sought “to promote and protect the interests of people…abused and hindered in the legal pursuit of happiness…guaranteed them by the Declaration of Independence…” and The Mattachine Society, created during the Communist Era with the goals to “unify homosexuals…educate homosexuals and heterosexuals toward an ethical homosexual culture…lead the more socially conscious homosexual to provide leadership…and assist gays who are victimized.” These organizations grew from a need to portray homosexuals as people, not social deviants who were worthy of the lobotomies and institutionalization they endured for the first half of the 20th century.  Homosexuality had to be kept a secret to avoid these punishments, unfortunately looked upon as “cures.”

The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City, was a sanctuary for the most dejected of homosexuals, including runaway youth and drag queens; people that no one had expected to fight back. But fight back they did.

The riots lasted for three evenings and attracted hundreds of nearby onlookers, gleaning much media attention. They fueled a need from the gay community to take action and stand up for their rights. A new organization, the Gay Liberation Front, was founded to spread the word from the rooftops that “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.” If the Mattachine Society was Martin Luther King, GLF was Malcolm X.

GLF coordinated the first Gay Pride Parade on June 28, 1970 to commemorate the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. This has become an annual event throughout the United States, including a parade, festivities, and political activism to keep the banner high.

Henceforth, sodomy laws began to trickle off the books. The ‘70s saw 20 states (CA, CO, CT, DE, HI, IN, IA, MN, ND, NE, NH, NJ, NM, OH, OR, SD, VT, WA, WV, AND WY) join Illinois while the ‘80s added AK and WI. GA, KY, MD, MT, NV, PA, RI, TN, and Washington, D.C. followed suit in the ‘90s with AR, AZ, MA, MN, and NY changing their laws before the landmark Supreme Court case Lawrence vs. Texas (2003) overturned the sodomy laws against homosexuals in the remaining 14 states (AL, FL, ID, KS, LA, MI, MS, MO, NC, OK, SC, TX, UT, and VA). The case ruled that private actions between consenting citizens could not be outlawed under the Constitution. (Strangely enough, AR, KS, KY, MO, MN, TN, and TX still consider anal sex between unmarried heterosexual people illegal while AL, AZ, KS, KY, MO, MN, NY, NC, TN, and TX extend this ruling to married heterosexuals. AR, SC, and MI even outlaw oral sex)

Congressman and outspoken Libertarian Ron Paul stated in the first Republican debate that there shouldn’t be rights specifically benefiting one group of people, whether they be gay, black, or female; there should just be rights. Unfortunately, this is a pipedream. This would require all parties to accept others, regardless of how they may differ from themselves, as their equal. Despite almost 250 years of history, America, for all of its evolution and comparative progressiveness, is still a country divided over race, religion, how to raise our children, and what it means to live the American Dream. And as American citizens, we have this individual right not to support or endorse people or lifestyles we disapprove of, but as a governing body, if our Constitution is worth its parchment, we do not. Basic rights, such as the ability to visit one’s partner in the hospital (which Obama finally extended to us in April of 2010) or take care of our loved ones by covering them on our insurance should not – and cannot be infringed upon by outside parties who constitutionally don’t have the right to do so; the pursuit of happiness does not come with a qualifier. Hence the need for gay rights. I wish gay laws and rights could be decided upon by homosexuals, but that is not how our system works. If we are honest with ourselves, many of our laws are not made by people at all.

Throughout history, God has been used as the justification for innumerable crimes, policies, and mandates from the Crusades to 9/11. Thankfully, since the adoption of our Constitution, America has waved the flag – ostensibly at least – for the separation of Church and State, even going as far as the Supreme Court with McCollum v. Board of Education Dist 71 (1948), which banned religious instruction in public schools. However, in the case of gay rights, religion is the deep-rooted, most important factor in the justification for the denial of marriage among our gay citizens.

Marriage has long since been touted as a religious event, dating back to the “marriage” of Adam and Eve in the Book of Genesis. Marriage was the foundation of civilization, the divine joining of love between a man and a woman as a devotion to the Lord. According to the Bible, the concept of this between homosexuals is not only against the Laws of God, but also anything remotely homosexual is referred to as purely carnal, not the slightest bit emotional or sacred (unless you take Jonathan and King David into consideration, which some pro-gay theologians entertain).

The three oft-quoted passages of the Bible used to defend Christian bigotry against homosexuality are Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:27, and the most cited example, the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. In this passage, God sends two angels to the neighboring towns to investigate the reported iniquity of its inhabitants. God promises Abraham if the angels can find even ten righteous people, he will not destroy the town. However, the angels are so taken aback by Sodom’s “outcry against its people” that they send the call to God to demolish the area.

The debate between theists and non-believers, as well as inter-fighting between Christians, has been over what is meant by “the sin of Sodom.” Why was Sodom destroyed? Some Christians believe it is stated very clearly: the men wanted to have sex with the male angels, God saw this as depraved, and decided to wipe out the town. Reading the passage in its entirety, this theory is hard to refute. However, the tale of Sodom of Gomorrah is referenced numerous other times in the Bible, some blatantly blaming homosexuality, some not.

Jude 7 says, “Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”

However, Ezekiel 16:49-50 states, “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, surfeit of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did abominable things before me; therefore I removed them, when I saw it.” One could attach homosexuality to the list of “abominable things” – a reference to Leviticus – but this doesn’t claim it was the only reason.

The Leviticus argument states “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” This is listed among the Letivical Laws, rules ordained by God related through Moses on how to live a righteously Jewish life. Other laws include the forbiddance of eating rabbits and pigs (11:6-7), sacrifice of “two turtledoves or two pigeons” as an offering to repent for masturbation (15:14), the forbiddance of sex with a woman on her period (18:19), and the penalty of death for adulterers (20:10). If we clearly don’t follow the other rules in a modern context, why must we uphold the “laws” on homosexuality?

The Letter of Paul to the Romans was written, along with the rest of the New Testament, well after Christ’s death. If Christianity is the religion of Christ’s teachings and homosexuality is the abomination of God’s law that we are told it is, then why did Jesus in all of his speeches and parables leave it out? Look through the Gospels. You won’t find it. Romans is Paul’s interpretation of the faith. In addition, if homosexuality is at the top of God’s list of don’ts, why isn’t it part of the Ten Commandments? They are repeated three times in the Bible (Exodus 20:2-17, Deuteronomy 5:6-21, Matthew 19:16-19). One would think it would be mentioned at least once, especially by Christ, but it is not. In fact, Jesus told us “do not judge, or you too will be judged (Matthew 7:1-2) and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:28-31). What part of that means that we should be allowed to get away with selective compassion?

By referencing these scriptures I am not trying to claim that Christians don’t have the right or the scriptural basis to dislike, hate, or even damn homosexuals, even though it seems antithetical to Christ’s message. I am also not claiming that all religious people are anti-gay. There are innumerable churches, catalogued by state on gaychurch.org, that support and affirm homosexual men and women’s place in religion. And of course, famous televangelist Tammy Faye Baker proclaimed in our defense on more than one occasion, “God Don’t Make No Junk.” What is important is that wherever ones religious views may align, we should not and cannot in a free America where we are supposed to keep God out of the courthouse allow lawmakers, politicians, or even small emphatic groups of believers withhold legal rights from homosexuals on religious grounds.

But unfortunately this is exactly what has and will continue to happen if Barack Obama is not reelected. It is not the middle of the road Christians who are the loudest in the campaign against rights for gay people. They are the descendants of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, two hate preachers who blamed gay people and the ones who support them for the tragedies of Hurricane Katrina and 9/11. Robertson, host of The 700 Club (an ultra conservative television program) and Falwell (now deceased) believed that AIDS was God’s punishment for the sin of homosexuality. They were leaders in the Moral Majority movement throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s who got Evangelicals out to vote for their presidential nominees Ronald Reagan and Bush, Sr. and campaigned for “traditional” values, damning homosexual behavior as a crime against nature. I would be remiss not to mention Anita Bryant and the Westboro Baptists here. Bryant led an anti-gay movement of her own entitled “Save Our Children” – not to be confused with the philanthropic “Save the Children” – as a response to the then recent passing of a human rights ordinance in Florida that barred sexual orientation as being used for discriminatory grounds, the first legal statute of its kind. Bryant’s ultra-conservative Christian group got the law overturned and continued to serve, alongside Falwell, as the “God-fearing” opposition to gay equality throughout the ‘70s. The Westboro Baptist Church are a small group of “Christians” whose sole purpose seems to be to spread the fact that homosexuality is the root of all evil. They are the assholes (there really is no nice way to put it) who picket the funerals of dead soldiers with signs reading “God Crashed Your Plane” and “God Hates Fags.” Their website is actually http://www.godhatesfag.com. That’s not a joke. Look it up. Or better yet, don’t.

If what St. Paul says is to be believed, then we must also accept Romans 14:13: “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.” Bob Barr clearly didn’t obey this edict when he wrote the Defense of Marriage Act.

The question of gay marriage is a fairly recent dilemma in our nation’s history. (It wasn’t until 1973 that Maryland became the first state to legally define marriage as between a man and a woman) Something uniquely American, given our 10th Amendment, is that states have sovereignty to make laws and regulations not covered in the federal constitution, which allows gay marriage to be decided upon on a state by state basis, unless it is federally amending like the right for black people to vote.

The idea for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) started in Hawaii when three same-sex couples fought the Hawaiian courts over the constitutionality of gay marriage’s prohibition in 2003. The court agreed to their demands, but the decision was quickly followed by an amendment to Hawaii’s constitution that defined marriage as between a man and woman. (Hawaii later made civil unions legal in February 2011)

DOMA was written out of fear that the fight for gay marriage would spread to the other states and disintegrate the “sanctity of marriage.”  This was in large part because of the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution that states that judicial proceedings from one territory must be upheld in another. In the case of gay marriage, if Hawaii had allowed gay people to wed, other states would have to legally acknowledge the marriages of those couples married in Hawaii within their own states. Hence DOMA was born.

The bill was signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, officially defining marriage as between a man and a woman. This embarrassing piece of legislaton was one of two controversial bills (the other being Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 1993) signed into law by Clinton, who ironically was supported by the Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay advocacy group in America, during the general election.

President Obama and federal district court Judge Joseph L. Tairo have since debunked the constitutionality of the law, citing discriminatory grounds and the usurping of state’s rights. Also, despite DOMA’s federal reach, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Iowa, Vermont, New York, and the District of Columbia grant same-sex marriage rights to its citizens, with Washington, Maryland, and Maine awaiting a voter referendum to achieve full legal status in the November election. (Surprisingly, California, a state that makes its revenue on weed, wine, and the movies, and became the first state to teach LGBT history in public schools, revoked gay marriage in 2008 after a voter referendum).  In addition, Obama signed the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act on December 22, 2010, which allows gays and lesbians to openly serve in the military without the threat of discharge or the loss of benefits. These gestures are a step forward to acquiring rights for all of our gay citizens; however, they can very easily be reversed if Republicans are allowed to take back control of the White House.

Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are staunchly opposed to the idea of gay marriage and support its constitutional ban. As expected, these ideals stem from their faith. Not only do they believe homosexuality is wrong, according to the common interpretation of the Bible, but the idea of gay marriage is an attack of the most personal order.

Some have claimed that it is not the idea of homosexual partnership, per se, that is offensive, but the phraseology of “marriage,” something seen as religious. Why not call it a domestic partnership or civil union? For starters, calling it something different creates a “separate but equal” mentality; we should have learned from the struggle for black rights that separate is never actually equal. Additionally, by calling it marriage, we would be afforded over 1000 federal and state benefits such as sick leave to care for a partner, tax breaks, and the assumption of a spouse’s pension; whereas, civil unions and domestic partnerships only offer roughly 300 benefits and only on a state by state basis. If gay couples travel or move to a state that doesn’t honor gay marriage, their rights are null and void.

For those who believe that the word “marriage” is religious, therefore unworthy to acknowledge homosexuality, let me put your mind at ease. Most gay people are not looking for religious acceptance. We know this is a losing battle of wills. What we do want is to be afforded the same civil rights as heterosexual couples. But if marriage is truly a covenant with God, then let’s keep it that way. Marriage should cease to be a civil affair altogether and solely be recognized as a religious connection of body and spirit. But as long as people can get hitched for money on live television, Britney Spears can have a drive-thru drunken nuptial in Vegas, and people can get wed and divorced into the double digits all under the umbrella of marriage, I should be allowed to make a solemn commitment to the man I love and reap all of the social and financial benefits the same way heterosexuals do.

Opponents to gay marriage also site the expectation of children as just cause to deny rights. Marriage’s purpose is to bear offspring and multiply. OK, fine. Then really go with that. That would mean the old, the sterile, and the disinterested would also be denied the right to marry because they could not fulfill their obligation to society through the contract of marriage.

The idea of gay parenting is even scarier for the opposition. How can two men raise a girl? How will she find her identity? And what if they raised a boy? Surely, he would be homosexual. These fears are a blatant manifestation of their own homophobia and ignorance. In fact, there is no statistical proof that children of homosexuals are less likely to be “socially well adjusted” (whatever that means) or more likely to turn out gay than the children of heterosexual parents. If that were the case, no one would be gay because most gay people come from straight homes and certainly live in a straight dominated culture. This theory is just plain silly.

There is an archaic belief still held onto by the most ignorant that if gay men were allowed to be parents they would molest their male sons. This was disproven by the International Academy of Sex Research back in 1978 so there is really no excuse for this theory in a modern world. Even the American Psychological Association, an organization that categorized homosexuality as a mental disorder until 1974, states that the “perception that most perpetrators [of molestation] are gay men is a myth and harmful stereotype.”

Thankfully, there are only a handful of states that harbor any of these sentiments by making gay adoption totally illegal: Utah, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Michigan. The other states adhere to a plethora of combinations such as permitting (or not specifically prohibiting) single GLBT adoption, joint adoption, and second-parent adoptions (the adoption of a partner’s child).

Barack Obama’s views on homosexuality and gay marriage “evolved” for quite some time before finally coming out recently in full support of marriage, not just civil unions, perhaps with a little pressure from loose-lipped Biden’s approval of marriage equality on Meet the Press. But unlike Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan – who have categorically been against gay marriage, civil unions, gay adoption, the repeal of DADT, and the strengthening of DOMA – Barack Obama has always been open to the idea that his views may have been incorrect.

From The Audacity of Hope:

“And I was reminded [after a phone call from a disappointed lesbian supporter] that it is my obligation, not only as an elected official in a pluralistic society but also as a Christian, to remain open to the possibility that my unwillingness to support gay marriage is misguided….I must admit that I may have been infected with society’s prejudices and predilections and attributed them to God; that Jesus’ call to love one another might demand a different conclusion; and that in years hence I may be seen as someone who was on the wrong side of the argument…When I read the Bible, I do so with the belief that it is not a static text but the Living Word and that I must be continually open to new revelations.”

These are words that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan would never speak, even if they felt them in their heart, for fear of alienating their base.

My aunt challenged me on being a “single-issue voter” because my reasoning for disliking Paul Ryan was because of his stance on gay marriage. This is a manifold statement. For starters, when the “single issue” is literally your legitimacy as an American citizen, it is pretty damned important. Secondly, if Barack Obama, Joe Biden, or Hillary and Bill Clinton had not come forward in support of gay marriage, I would still be a Democrat (Colin Powell and Dick Cheney support gay marriage and I am not rallying for the RNC). I am a Democrat because I believe in a country that takes care of and respects all of its citizens, not just the ones who can afford to pay their own way or “borrow money from their parents.” I believe we are a nation of individuals that must come together as one to help those help themselves. When you lose your job, you deserve unemployment. When you contribute taxes from your paycheck for 40+ years, you deserve a thank you from the government in the form of Social Security and Medicare. When you are sick and can’t afford health care, you deserve to be treated with humanity, not as a deductible. I believe in a party that acknowledges institutionalized racism and does what it can to right the wrong. I believe in a party that even if they are of faith, will not cram it down your throat and govern from the pulpit. This is why I am voting for Barack Obama.

Is he perfect? No. Is he the Messiah? No. But he owns his shortcomings and despite the past four years of stymies and filibusters, still believes in bipartisanship, still believes that others may have better ideas, keeps his cool in the face of adversity, and isn’t afraid to admit mistakes. I admire that he loves America, but owns its shortcomings and isn’t afraid to admit them to other countries. A President that knows making unpopular decisions is part of the job description. A President who values diplomacy over war, yet can kill the bad guy when necessary. A President who knows we have economic problems, but refuses to jeopardize the health and wellness of his fellow Americans to fix them. A President who knows that someone’s sexual orientation has nothing to do with the love they feel for their country and the desire they have to serve it. A President who signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, helping everyone get equal pay for equal work; the Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act, cracking down on toxic mortgage lending and keeping Americans in their homes; and the Fair Sentencing Act, making the sentencing of crack and cocaine possession more equal, helping to end racial bias in the judicial system. A President who understands the pitfalls of student loan lending and is working to enact legislation to bring down the crippling debt that affects so much of Gen Y.

It is abundantly clear who I am voting for and why and I would be lying if I said I didn’t want you to vote for Obama too. I think he is steering the country in the right direction and in regards to the economy, it is impossible to turn around eight years of two wars without raising taxes to pay for it and financial improprieties of Big Business in just four years. FDR knew in order to get out of a depression, you have to spend. So does Obama (another decision that he is making for the good of the country and not for political popularity). Do we have a giant problem on our hands? Read. My. Lips. Yes. But when Congress, the governing body who really makes the rules in a democracy, is overtaken by radicals who refuse a compromise that would reduce 2.4 trillion dollars from the ever climbing deficit just to defeat the President, legislatures who are hired to serve the people, not a party’s agenda, it is impossible to make affective economic change.

It is staggering to me that roughly only 65% of the voting population cast a ballot in any given General Election, when we have numerous shows garnering millions of votes to elect a fucking pop star. Voting for President is the most important – and really only – civic duty we have, yet we are lazy, empathetic, or both about getting to the polls. We get off work to do it, people. Regardless of your politics, your social views, or economic beliefs, I urge you to get out and vote. America is waiting. Be the change you want to see.

The Familiar Strangers

Living away from your hometown has many advantages. For one, if you decided to uproot from family and friends, chances are you weren’t from anywhere progressive, metropolitan, or a place bearing a breathtaking aesthetic; people aren’t moving away from the beach. Living elsewhere also makes you somewhat of a celebrity when you return; the one who got out and “lived” has returned to share his tales from the front. You are pampered to the hilt by grandparents who never get the chance to spoil you and your favorite meals as well as parties in your honor are arranged by parents who want to show you off and share their joy with the ones they – and you – love most. Unlike a permanent interaction – full of minutea, boredom, and fights – these moments of respite from the quest for cash and the hunt for happiness are filled with relaxation and bliss, like scenes from your favorite movie on repeat.

But living away from that home base, that foundation of the person you became, has one gigantic glaring drawback: it turns the people that you once knew so well into strangers.

The thing I remember most about growing up is the tight knit, unbreakable bond of my family. My “immediate” family is quite small: Mom, Dad, Stephen, and myself. Mom was the responsible one and she never let anyone forget it; Dad was the eternal kid, laughing over fart jokes, who occasionally morphed into this unrecognizable monster, forcing me to eat soap when my sass went too far. They equally shared chores – Mom cutting the grass while Dad cooked – and were never afraid to fight loudly when the kids were in the house; Stephen and I learned how to eavesdrop stealthily, taking a perverted joy in hearing the things we aught not have, learning to scamper from the stairwell whenever we heard footsteps approaching the foyer. But what always dominated was their love. It was obvious and often, Stephen and I frequently catching them in an embrace or as we got older, a sex joke. (One time when I was about 11, Dad made a “69” reference, to which I blurted out, “I know what that means!” Marge laughed with sarcastic incredulity and attempted to call my bluff, but this 4th Grader was well schooled on the lingo. My mother’s face aged about ten years during this exchange, unable to believe that her little boy was no longer innocent). Dad, a physical therapist, took us to school in the morning – Catholic school, his childhood faith and Mom’s chosen one via Catechism – and Mom, a phlebotomist who chose the graveyard shift so she could be there when her kids got home from school, picked us up. We ate dinner as a family whenever possible – something that got more difficult as we got more involved in extracurricular activities  – went to Mass on Sundays (sometimes) and tried to stay awake through Father Quilligan’s monotone homilies (Mom the On-Purpose Catholic kept a vigilant eye on her “three” sons), and spent those early years in Cub Scouts as a family; Mom was my Den Leader, Dad was Stephen’s, so naturally we had most of our meetings, earned merit badges, and built boats for the Raingutter Regata as a family unit. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Stephen and I were very different kids. With my flair for the dramatic and love of the arts, I was very much Marge’s son. With his flair for the comedic and love of sports, he was undeniably Richard’s boy. Mom took me shopping for dance shoes; Dad coached Stephen’s baseball team. I was the honor roll kid; Stephen struggled. I was the more cautious, afraid of consequence; Stephen was absolutely fearless, flipping off the roof of the house and throwing dinosaurs through windows. But we shared that ever-important commonality of parentage. He was the only one I could smirk to when M&D made up an excuse to leave some lame party. Or knew where they hid our Christmas presents and baby teeth. Or that the basement floor was really an ocean full of alligators. Or how loudly Grandma snored. Or the right moments to ask Mom and Dad for money. The only one who understood their quirks and received their love.

The extended family was quite extended. Dad came from first generation Italian/German stock (Saia, Sicilian deriving from the name “Isaia” or “Isaiah”/Lindow, a town in Germany). Jim (really Vincent, but no one called him that, not even Grandma who called him “Daddy,” which says everything about the power dynamic in their relationship) worked for Swank Motion Pictures, a still successful film distributor strangely centered in the MidWest. Throughout his retirement (and up until the Dementia destroyed him) he edited films for airplanes and hospitals, reclining in that brown chair, writing down all the dirty words and sexual content that needed to be extracted for popular G Rated consumption. Rita, an old school housewife who cooked, cleaned, and changed every diaper with a smile on her face, was the storyteller, the drama queen, the proper lady who washed her hair once a week and volunteered at St. Francis, the thrift store at Cathedral, their parish and venue for my parents’ nuptials. They met at the USO where Grandma was again a volunteer and wrote love letters throughout the war to one another (a story that sent elation through Grandma’s eyes back when she could remember one moment to the next). Upon his return, like good WWII Catholics, Jim and Rita had eight kids:









(Clearly they had something for the J’s)

Jeanne and Jack lived in Wisconsin with their five kids (Lisa, Mark, Michelle, Brian, and Jeff) so we only saw them a handful of times growing up. I have incredibly vague memories of going to their house and playing outside with Brian and Jeff as well as flashes of them at Grandma and Grandpa’s house before the massive renovations we did at their house (Jeanne and Jack built – ? – paid for – ? – the kitchen cabinets?). Jack worked in a bank and evidently made a lot of money.

Joan and Tom lived in California with Kaitlyn and James. They were the hippies. Joan always wore some flowing skirt and long necklace while Tom always had his guitar on hand for an impromptu sing along. They were beach people who taught mental handicapped children. We went on a vacation to Disney together the summer before I turned 12. All I can remember is Kaitlyn, then 5, whining in the back seat while we drove through Alligator Land (someone forgot to tell the alligators they were supposed to be on display), Joan’s specific requests regarding the air conditioning (“Richard, can you just turn it down a hair?”), the daily thunderstorms, and my implicit culpability in Kaitlyn’s shoplifting a rubber figurine.

Jim and Kathy (then Marianne, then Luanne, and now Gail) had three daughters: Angie, Mandy, and Allison, who at least in my mind, became called The Girls. Jim worked on airplanes and Kathy…I’m not sure what she did. They divorced when we were fairly young and it caused quite the drama; Catholic families do not separate. I remember cleaning out their old house when I was 10 (?) and painted over a receptacle, stirring the fear of an electrical fire. Jim was the family cut-up, with some fierce competition from Dad, always saying and doing whatever was necessary to be the most inappropriate one at the party.

Jan and Dave worked for the Police Department. None of us kids liked Dave. He was terrifying. He carried a gun and even as children we could tell he was an asshole. Kristen got the short end of that marriage and was an outcast. We treated her poorly. Jan always looked beautifully timid, on eggshells in her own house.

Tom and Shirley were the ultimate. We Loved hanging out with them and their daughters. I would jump on the couch, waiting for their car to pull in our driveway, like Santa was on his way with a million dollar check. It was always a wild time with Emily and Amy, playing dress up, sledding in East End Park, going through the drive-thru in our Cozy Coups, eating on the “fake dishes,” and pretending to be married. Amy was never shy, flashing her underwear at every turn, and Emily, one year my senior, seemed like she was always an “in-between” unsure whether her place was with the adults or the kids. Shirley was the Scary Lady with the Glasses and Tom would position himself in front of the television the entire party in his recliner, just like his father, with the occasional inappropriate remark. Just like his father.

Julie and Pancho also lived in California. Pancho, the few times he came home with Julie, Sarah, and Shawn, fit right in with the rest of the arrestedly developed men in our family, reaching for innuendo and gross-out humor for attention. Julie was young and hip, yet always seemed coyly offended when Pancho would go for the sex joke. Julie apparently was a “pig,” or like a pig, or something to do with a pig because Jim, Dad, and Tom (and any one else who were in for the joke) would always get her some kind of swine-y gift for her birthday, etc. She did something in medicine, he was an electrician (?).

Jackie and Mark were definitely the coolest aunt and uncle. The cousins would spend the night, Jackie and I would sing together at the piano, and Mark would hook us up with awesome computer games like Hugo’s House of Horrors. They had no kids and traveled. They were liberal. Jackie, like ALL of the women in our family, was out-spoken and ran the roost. I chose her as my Confirmation Sponsor.

I need to stress the fun, excitement, and anticipation that went into our family gatherings. As you can probably glean, they were epic events. We got together for every birthday, every holiday (major and minor). We took annual trips to Giant City, baked cookies at Shirley’s church, delivered food baskets to the poor through Jackie’s, and sent Jim and Rita to California so we could renovate their house. We were loud, we were crass, we threw food, we played games. We were family.

Mom’s family was much smaller (only consisting of her and her brother, Tod and his wife Debbie/son Scott; a threesome we got together with on a much more infrequent basis on a much calmer scale that we were never very close with in the same way that the Saias formed a bond), but contained my two favorite family members, and two of my favorite people of all time: Tod and Betty West.

Imagine the most amazing grandparents possible. Then give them ten more awesome points. That would be about half of what T&B were worth. How can you qualify sleep-overs and trips to Frosty Flav? Watching movies and learning Canasta? Talking for hours about Native Americans and the touch of your grandmother’s fingers? You can’t. It’s irredeemable. Tod was incredibly smart, very sweet, and called me Oso, “Little Bear.” He would pick you up, turn you upside down, and shake all the “piss and vinegar” out of you. Betty, like Marge, loved to tell a story (only natural because she dreamed of being a writer) and ate any kind of junk food she could get her hands on. Halloween at their house consisted of foot long candy bars and almost gallon sized Jif was always available in the cupboard. Stephen and I stayed over religiously.

But something began to change the older Stephen and I (and all of the cousins) got. The families started to separate. Maybe things weren’t amazing when I was younger and it only seemed that way because I was kid. Or maybe the kids were the only thing holding us all together.

The question “Are the Girls coming to Christmas/Thanksgiving/the birthday party?” usually yielded the answer No. They were the first to separate from the family fold into another dimension called Teendom. I was drawn to Mandy for her punk-rock sensibilities (a nose ring! magenta hair! a girlfriend!), much to the consternation of Emily and Amy, and lamented her passing. Jackie and Mark started having children and found Jesus and changed exponentially. Emily and Amy got boyfriends. Stephen got a girlfriend. I moved to New York.

Every time I came home, I began to look at these people more and more like strangers. Had we really changed? Or had age forced me to see them for what they were?

It’s amazing to me that I don’t speak to Emily and Amy anymore, but I do speak to Lisa. It’s been almost ten years since Dad, Jim, and I did The Nutcracker; almost 20 years since Dad and I did The Sound of Music. Debbie has died and The Girls all have kids. Jan is remarried. Jim and Rita repeat their stories on a loop and Tod and Betty can’t live without oxygen tanks. I see my parents as real people, full of faults and humanity. They save lives and endure tragedy I wouldn’t have the strength for. They are getting old. Stephen lives in DC, working for the Department of Defense. When did he become an adult? I talk to aunts and uncles like contemporaries. I have a partner. Was it really that long ago we were all crowded around Tom and Shirley’s dining room table playing “the stupid game”? Who are these people now and who were they then?

How well can you really know another person? Even the people you spend years loving, sharing, and enduring. Can they ever be anything more than familiar strangers?

I know that Stephen and Dad are still alike in the way they process emotion and conflict and Mom and I are the same. I know Stephen wants to be a politician and despite years and miles, we share similar political/religious beliefs. I know Mom and Dad are burnt out on their jobs, but still like helping people. I still know Betty is stubborn and Tod is a well of knowledge that never runs dry. I know there will always be peanut butter and ice cream on hand when I spend the night. But does this mean that I “know” them?

The closest I have ever gotten to “knowing” someone is Julian. We have been dating for a little over four years and of course I know the basics. I know his favorite foods (pineapple fried rice, cereal), his favorite TV shows (Monday Night Raw, The Golden Girls, Judge Judy), his favorite singers (Lauryn Hill, Harper Blynn), and his favorite movie (Wet Hot American Summer). He doesn’t like mayonnaise, but he does like coleslaw. He lives in t-shirts and pajamas. He doesn’t believe in God, but does believe in “God.” He prides himself on his intelligence. He exercises. He breaks into song. He wants to be famous. He is a solitary man. He doesn’t like conflict. He is an amazing lover. I know the noises he makes. The dreams we share. His most embarrassing moments. I know he likes simplicity. Doesn’t like a lot of things hanging on the walls. Posters must be framed. He doesn’t drink water from the tap. He tries to eat healthily. He has digestion problems. He likes to follow the rules. He makes me laugh.

But what about what happens inside his mind? Only speculation. In this way, he will always be a stranger. Even the way he treats me, the way he feels about me is all my interpretation of what he is projecting.

But the most familiar stranger we will ever “know,” no matter how many years may pass, is ourselves.

If I can look at myself objectively, which of course is impossible, I would say I have changed very little since childhood (minus the natural maturation process, which all that really means is I have acquired tact). I was a smart-ass sassy kid and I am a smart-ass sassy adult. I needed to be the center of attention then and I need to be the center of attention now. I had trouble dealing with criticism and conflict then and…well, you get the picture.

If you think about it, it seems impossible to know ourselves because we are many people. Like Zelig, we change depending on the company we keep. Our roles are different. With my parents, I am always trying to prove I am independent; with Stephen, I am the quiz kid, trying to unravel his own enigma; Tod & Betty, I get to harken back to when I am nine and pig out on junk food while watching TV all day, curtailing my outspoken nature so as not to offend and eschewing responsibility at every turn; with my best friend Joshua, I get to be Dear Abby, espousing relationship advice, and then get to be a hot mess myself anytime my own relationship feels in the toilet; with my friend Mary Helen, I get to share a history of psychological woes, a biting sarcasm, and a common backstory; with my writing partner, I get to be the strong focused one, keeping us on track; with Julian, I am the shy kid, the powerful bitch, the sassy teen, the martyr, the slave, the confidante, the snuggler, the boost, the shit-talker, the springboard, the frustration, the cure, the Husband.

But still, this man is a mystery. How do the things going on in my head translate when they escape my lips? Will this extroverted body finally supplant my introverted mind? This is why I write. To get to know the familiar stranger. And to share him with others. Writing is the only time I feel “honest.” The only time I feel that a direct pipeline has been connected from thoughts to words. I am not an articulate speaker. But writing allows the chronically running hamster to speak for himself. It allows me to reveal and remain hidden. To say things I would never say to your face. To live inside my head, the only time I feel “real.”