November 18, 2012

Not Everyone Should Be Asked to Be Thankful

One of Mark Twain's more interesting pieces for me is his short story War Prayer, which asks a very interesting question. When we ask for victory in war, what are really asking for? For when one thinks of ones country being victorious in war, we very rarely think of the consequences, for the lives lost, the blood shed, or the psychological wounds that are created by war.

I would like to ask with this article, a question that might seem unrelated, but I think is very much in the same vein as Twain's question. When we give thanks, what are we really giving thanks for? For example, when we give thanks for the food we have, do we think of the possible workers who may have been exploited in the name of corporate profits, so that we may have that food?

Make no mistake, I am grateful for what I have. I know my current situation, while far from ideal, could be worse.

But this is going to be the first Thanksgiving I will be celebrating following the death of my Aunt Janine from breast cancer. She had been first diagnosed shortly before I graduated college. The first instance was eventually beaten into remission. Then two years later, the cancer came back.

This was last year, several months before Thanksgiving. Not knowing the exact situation, I sent an email to her, asking if it would be okay if I were to come down to their place on Long Island to cook Thanksgiving dinner there myself.

She emailed me back informing me that the cancer was terminal. I remember wanting to send something, to make some final statement to her. I didn't want to call because I was afraid of interrupting some valuable rest time. I wanted to send an email but frequently ended up finding myself staring at a blank computer screen, unable to write anything.

It turned out that Thanksgiving was the last meal that Aunt Janine was able to eat solid food. She passed away several days later.

This past October, which happens to be Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I found myself reading about Pinksploitation and how slapping a pink ribbon on everything allows some corporations to wrack up large profits while continuing to use known carcinogens in their products.

I don't know what I should be thankful for in this situation. I just think it needs to be said that not every cloud has a silver lining. There really are certain situations that are just plain awful.

Yes, I know the dangers of overly negative thinking as well as anyone. I am very aware how giving into negative feelings can cause one to lose all hope. I know how easily despair can bring one's life to a grinding halt. Being depressed or sick sucks, but stigmatizing those who are mentally ill or otherwise unhealthy, by making them feel guilty for their feelings or telling them that there is something "wrong" with them solves nothing. I refuse to tell someone they have to feel better about their own situation and that they should therefore focus on and be grateful for those things that they do have.

I know as an exercise, that it can be useful to focus one's thinking on the good things one has to help oneself feel better. But about a month ago, I was in a situation that made me feel very, well, depressed. I found myself thinking of the things I did have and as a result, found myself becoming even more depressed over the situation. Why, when I have all these good things in my life, should I be depressed? Surely there must be something wrong with me for *being* depressed when I do have so much to be thankful for.

It was only after I came to the realization, that hey, there really is nothing wrong with me for being depressed, that I started to find myself (oddly enough) feeling better. Telling myself that I was not to blame for being sad and upset was what allowed me to feel better. It was not thinking about the good things I have which enabled me to break out of the period of depression I found myself in.

As far as LGBTQ rights go, I can say that I am somewhat grateful that as a nation we are making progress towards marriage equality. I am thankful that the state I live in (New York) has laws against employers discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.

But I am not grateful for the fact that ENDA has not yet passed at the Federal level, nor am I happy about the fact that GENDA (legislation that would outlaw discrimination on the basis of gender identity) has languished for so long in New York State.

I am also not grateful for how the marriage equality movement has taken so much attention away from these important pieces of legislation or from other issues that so desperately need our focus.

I find it difficult to be grateful when organizations such as the Salvation Army continues to discriminate against the LGBTQ community or when organizations such as the Boy Scouts of America still send the message to our community's youth that there is something fundamentally wrong with with being queer.

I am frustrated that the struggles for civil rights of the Transgender and Transsexual communities continue to receive far too little attention and political action.

I can say that I am grateful that I have never experienced homelessness or been sexually assaulted but I refuse to give thanks to a world in which the condition of homelessness exists and in which rape culture is celebrated by the mainstream.

Ultimately, I think there is something problematic about a culture that only celebrates that which is positive and refuses to critically think about any possible shortcomings. "We ARE number one and you HAVE to be grateful for that" is not a great message to tell people who have terminal or long term debilitating illnesses, who are unemployed or living in poverty, who are marginalized, or who live in constant fear, be it from bigotry or the possibility of facing overt violence.

All I ask is that people give some real thought this year to what we are really giving thanks for.

November 16, 2012

Silver Demon - Market Research Question

Alright, I've been having this debate in my head for some time, but I can't decide on a subtitle for my Silver Demon. There are two possibilities that I keep going back and forth with: The Knights of Isophyl or Gods of the Abyss.

Personally, I'm leaning towards The Knights of Isophyl but I'm a little nervous that since no one (unless they happen to be really familiar with obscure bits of queer history or George Heard) will recognize it, which might turn off some publishers that I submit a manuscript to. Therefore, Gods of the Abyss might be a little bit more useful when trying to sell it.

What are peoples thoughts? Would people be willing to buy a book called The Knights of Isophyl?

November 15, 2012

Queer Review: The Boondock Saints (1999)

The Boondock Saints
Director: Troy Duffy
Writer: Troy Duffy
Cast: Willem Dafoe, Sean Patrick Flanery, Norman Reedus, David Della Rocco, Billy Connolly, David Ferry, Brian Mahoney, Bob Marley, Richard Fitzpatrick

A bloody mess, but also a glorious one, The Boondock Saints manages to achieve something very few films do: entertain while providing a few kernels of philosophical thought regarding the nature of justice for the audience to chew on.

When the MacManus brothers (Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus) are accidentally pulled into the activities of the Russian Mafia, they are forced to kill two mob hitman in self defense. This provides them with an idea (go after and start killing members of the Russian Mafia themselves) and the means to pull it off (money and guns they steal from the hitmen). With the help of Rocco (David Della Rocco) a friend of theirs who also happens to be a carrier for the Russian Mafia the two go on a vigilante killing spree with members of the Mafia as their target. Soon, FBI Agent Paul Smecker (Willem Dafoe) is hot on their trail, although he quickly finds himself both admiring and sympathizing with the brothers cause.

The Queering
"What is justice?" is a question that has plagued mankind ever since Socrates interrogated Euthyphro on their way to a trail. The very trial that history tells us that ended with Socrates being sentenced to death for corrupting the youth of Athens. The first time I saw The Boondock Saint I dismissed as a rather shallow look at the true nature of justice. However, a second viewing made me realize that while The Boondock Saints does not really seek to answer the question, or even add anything particularly meaningful to the discussion, it does at least manage throw a few interesting twists out there.

The most interesting twist involves the sexual orientation of Dafoe's character, who appears to have been inspired somewhat by the historical view that J. Edgar Hoover himself was either gay or a crossdresser (never mind that the only hard evidence we have comes from a witness who had every reason to defame Hoover or that Hoover aggressively persecuted gay men during his tenure as director of the FBI). In any case, Agent Smecker is presented as a brilliant analysis, who investigates crime scenes while listening to classical music. He is also as being very uncomfortable with his identity. At one point, Smecker is shown in bed with a young hook up, who gets slapped away when he tries to cuddle with the FBI agent.

One of the reasons (it has been speculated) that Hoover never admitted to the existence of organized crime, was because the Mafia had damning evidence that Hoover was gay. Likewise, it is heavily suggested that Smecker's sexual orientation is preventing him from pursuing and prosecuting members of the Mafia. In a key scene, after exiting a gay bar, Smecker stumbles drunkenly into a Catholic Church and ends up in a confession box. Here, he engages in a philosophical conversation with the preacher about the nature of justice, where he laments about the restrictions that the law has placed upon him that hold him back from going after the Mafia full throttle. This conversation convinces him that what the MacManus brothers are doing is just.

The next time we see Agent Smecker, he is in full drag, apparently (and I am reading a bit into this scene I will admit) having decided to fully embrace his identity as a means of aiding the brothers in their quest for vigilante justice. Just as the brothers are breaking societal laws by executing members of the mafia, so too is Smecker violating social mores by engaging in his queer identity.

As far as the plot itself goes, The Boondock Saints has an interesting structure. Rather than simply presenting the MacManus brothers as they go about their business, each action set piece is presneted only after we've seen Smecker deconstruct the resulting crime scene. This essentially kills suspense, but keeps things more interesting than a more straightforward approach might have accomplished. There is still a lot of fun to be had in seeing how close Smecker ends up in his analysis. In one scene, as a means of showing Smecker's growing closeness with the MacManus brothers, Smecker is shown analyzing the crime scene, side by side while the brothers go about their business. It is in this scene, that Willem Dafoe comes this close to parodying one of his most famous moments from Platoon.

At the end of the day, The Boondock Saints is a bloody and violent film that contains enough interesting subtexts to save it from being just another film about vigilante justice.

While failing to achieve full Sainthood, these Irish boondocks deserve a look by anybody who won't mind the fairly graphic violence (and there is plenty of it) contained within.

The Rating
*** out of ****


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.

November 14, 2012

More Info on Margaretville Interfaith Council and The Holy Innocents Church

A church's struggle for interfaith inclusion goes viral via The Watershed Post

A public outcry has erupted in a tight-knit Catskills community over a local interfaith council's reluctance to allow an independent Catholic church to join as a member. The dispute has prompted the council's pro bono lawyer to resign in protest, and stirred up local tensions about same-sex marriage and religion.

Bishop Francisco Betancourt, a founding pastor of the independent Catholic Holy Innocents church in Halcottsville, said that his church has been trying to join the Margaretville Interfaith Council for 12 years, ever since the church was established. Throughout that time, Betancourt said, his efforts have been met with a resounding silence -- a response that was never quite clear enough to be 'no,' but never a welcoming 'yes.'

The reason his church has not been welcomed, Betancourt says, is Holy Innocents' willingness to perform same-sex marriage, an issue that Interfaith Council leaders acknowledge is deeply controversial among their members.

Read the whole article here

November 13, 2012

Silver Demon: Speaking for the Voiceless

In The Republic, Plato takes pains to express his contempt of most art. Plato's view of art of course was shaped by his conception of his beloved Forms. For those who do not know, Plato conceived of the forms as a metaphysically "real" world that everything in our world is based upon. A chair is only a chair, according to Plato, because within the realm of the Platonic Forms, the true form/idea of a chair exists.

Everything that is a copy of something else is inferior to the original (Plato claims) therefore, our world is inferior to the world of the forms. By default then art, which attempts to "copy" things in our world, is therefore a copy of a copy, and therefore further degraded from the Platonic Forms.

One hates to think what might happen to Plato, if he were still alive today, of the apocalyptic rage he might experience when he saw Hollywoods' fetish for sequels, remakes, adaptations, as well as the remakes of sequels of previous adaptations which then go on to have novelizations and video games based upon them.

In any case, this brings me to what I want to talk about: Speaking on behalf of those who have been marginalized.

In the process, of writing my LGBTQ Superhero novel Silver Demon, it did not feel right to me to not honor real life LGBTQ heros, as well as using the opportunity to highlight both bits of LGBTQ history and LGBTQ individuals that have either been overlooked or forgotten.

To that end, I created secondary characters based upon real life LGBTQ individuals. This is in addition to naming individuals after LGBTQ historical figures, even when It was only afterwards that I started wondering, was what I'm doing really all that ethical? After all, I am taking individuals, some of whom were quite controversial in their time, and putting words in their mouths that they themselves might not have agreed with. I have of course made every attempt to stay true to the essence of what the established record says about these individuals, but error on my part is always a real possibility.

In the same vein, I have felt a certain responsibility to raise awareness of issues facing the queer community, such as the high rate of homelessness among LGBTQ youth. I also felt it important that I not just include white, able bodied, cis-male character, in addition to characters of various religious and cultural backgrounds.

However, I personally am cis, male, able bodied, white, raised christian (specifically Methodist), identify as agnostic, currently part of Oneonta's Unitarian Universalist Society. I have also never personally experienced what it is like to be homeless. By creating characters who are not part of my tribe or within my own experience, am I, to a degree, committing a form of cultural imperialism? I do not know what it is like to live in our society as a person of color. I am not blind or deaf, nor am I required to rely on a wheelchair for basic mobility. I am not a member of either Islam or Buddhism. Is it therefore possible then for me to somehow appear not only to be speaking for other groups (which I'm not trying to do) but because I have included such characters, end up misrepresenting the experiences of these groups?

There is a phenomenon in many narratives, in which a member of a non-oppressed group (typically a white, cis, straight man) manages to save a member or members of an oppressed group. Examples of this are abundant, Dances with Wolves, Dances With Wolves in Space... er Avatar.

While I think Hollywood (or whoever is telling a particular story) does this for very specific reasons - they get to have a character (the white, cis, straight man) who appeals to the widest audience possible - while still getting to address the Important Issues of the Day. However, these narratives has the unfortunate effect of making the minorities in question look weak and unable to solve their problems. This problem is the one issue that I think I was fortunately able to avoid easily enough in my own work.

However, there are even thornier issues yet. When I was doing research, I discovered the stories of brothels that were maintained by the NAZI's in concentration camps such as Buchenwald, which is where a significant part of where the back-story in Silver Demon is set. This also happens to be the one topic I feel would be the easiest for me to get wrong. I do not wish to exploit a tragedy or human suffering but if I ignore the issue altogether in the story, would I be contributing to the oppressive silence surrounding rape and sexual assault?

I don't think there are any easy answers to these questions. Anything I create can only be considered a copy of something of our real, non-Platonic Form world. Therefore, I can only ask, am I creating something inferior and exploitative or enlightened and informative? And then work towards the latter and while trying to avoid the former.

November 12, 2012

Local Issue: Shame on Margaretville Interfaith Council!

Sharing because of the shortage of local pro-queer media:

From Diversity Rules Magazine: Shame on Margaretville Interfaith Council! by Jim Kouri

The Margaretville Interfaith Council is not allowing membership to Holy Innocents Catholic Church, an Apostolic Catholic Church independent from Papal Authority, primarily because of its acceptance of queer folks and marrying them. The council is concerned that other churches will leave the council if “the gay church” is allowed to join. Holy Innocents Church does a lot of good things in the greater Margaretville area and it's a real travesty that the Interfaith Council sees fit to discriminate against this church, a fellow Christian Church helping people in need and ministering to them.

Here's a link to Holy Innocents and check out for yourself what great church they are:

If you want to help in battling discrimination in this small Delaware County village, contact Francisco J. Betancourt, Co-Pastor, at 845.586.2201. Tell him you heard about his plight from Diversity Rules Magazine and you want to know how you can help!

If you want to express your outrage directly to the Interfaith Council the contact person is, Rev. Richard Dykstra, Secretary/Treasurer. His contact information is as follows:

Rev. Richard Dykstra
PO Box 702
Margaretville, NY 12455

November 3, 2012

Queer Review: Spiderman (2002)

Director: Sam Raimi
Writers: David Koepp. Based upon the Marvel Comics by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Willem Dafoe, Kirsten Dunst, James Franco, Cliff Robertson, Rosemary Harris, J.K. Simmons

Sam Raimis' first Spiderman movie represents the perfect summer flick. It is big, bold, and comes with some rather interesting queer subtexts.

When Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) is bitten by a genetically engineered spider, he becomes a superhuman with powers resembling those of an arachnid. At first, Peter attempts to use his powers for selfish ends, but when his beloved uncle Ben Parker (Cliff Robertson) is murdered, he decides (in the grand tradition of superheros everywhere) to fight for the greater good. Unfortunately, while Peter Parker is becoming Spiderman, Norman Osborn (William Dafoe) is turning into the psychotic Green Goblin and his plans do not include allowing Spiderman to continue fighting evil.

The Queering
Spiderman to me is the best example of a "pure" summer flick one could hope to find. The action sequences are big and bold and the characters larger than life. There is humor and a nicely developed straight romance. Tobey Maguire was the perfect choice to play the famous web slinger and the ending even manages to generate some legitimate pathos.

Admittedly, Spiderman is a 100% heteronormative film on the surface. Peter spends a lot of time longing over Mary Jane (Kristen Dunst) while she gets romanced by his best friend Harry Osborne (James Franco). The opening lines include "But let me assure you, this story, like any story worth telling, is all about a girl. That girl. Mary-Jane Watson. The girl I loved since before I even liked girls." Peter even taunts one of his opponents with the line, "That's a cute outfit. Did your husband give it to you?"

But once you delve beneath the surface, there are more than a few interesting subtexts swinging around. For starters, there is something more than a little queer about a guy who dresses up in spandex, running around the city of New York at night. Then there is the need for superheros, in general, to have a secret identity, much like the way queers must hide their sexuality or gender identity in the closet.

I could also put this in the context of the Isophyls - when Spiderman is nearly arrested after saving a baby from a burning building, my thoughts immediately went to Alan Turing. As the Green Goblin says to Spiderman "Well, to each his own. I chose my path, you chose the way of the hero. And they found you amusing for a while, the people of this city. But the one thing they love more than a hero is to see a hero fail, fall, die trying. In spite of everything you've done for them, eventually they will hate you. Why bother?"

In a more general sense, there is a connection between Peter Parkers' conversion to Spiderman and the onset of puberty. One scene has Peter acting like he just got caught masturbating by his Aunt May, when he had in fact been testing out his newly acquired web slinging abilities.

On the other side of the spectrum is Norman Osborne, who takes an immediate and strong liking to Peter. While their relationship can be read in the context of father and son, once Norman becomes the Green Goblin, there is a certain seduction to the way the Green Goblin attempts to convert Peter to evil. It is also possible to read the emergence of the Green Goblin personality as the result of Norman repressing his gay urges. During one attack as the Green Goblin, he yells out to the board members that had just fired him, "OUT, AM I?" Then there is the fact that Norman never considers the possibility that Peter might be in love with a girl until Harry tells Norman that Peter is in love with Mary Jane; the first female loved one of Peter that the Green Goblin attacks is Aunt May.

Worth hacking through at least a few spider webs to see.

The Rating
*** out of ****


Want to find a review of a particular work? Check out the Title Index, the archive of all reviews posted listed alphabetically.