Love is Proud, and We’re Proud of It

loveisproudI once fell in love with a man in Panama. He had a gorgeous smile, a thing for fried plantains, and the best butt on either side of the Puente de las Americas. In some ways he was more experienced than me, in others very naïve. We flipped for each other, and burned through 18 condoms in our first weekend together.

Luis was funny. Luis was very smart, as witty in English as in Spanish. Luis lived at home, was not out to his parents, and is probably still scared to death of his mother. He lied to his parents whenever I came to town, about where he was going and who he was going to see. He wouldn’t hug me hello or goodbye at the airport—I got a handshake if I was lucky, and he looked over his shoulder before he’d give me that. On my first trip to Panama, our entire relationship was conducted in our mutual friend’s apartment and on her balcony, where we couldn’t kiss in the daytime, lest anyone passing in a speeding car on the busy street three stories below recognize Luis in the arms of another man.

It wasn’t until my second trip that we ventured out to the bar. Nobody had any fear about being seen out at the bar, Luis explained, because no tattle tale’s reputation could weather the inevitable round of And what were you doing there? that would follow any attempted outing. It was a safe space, even if everybody there did know you were a married man making out with a Catholic priest. It was the only public space in which I ever felt Luis relax.

We went more than once, but it’s our first trip to the bar that’s etched across my soul as one of the ten most memorable nights ever to happen to anyone ever pretty much since people invented remembering stuff. The music that night was all in Spanish, poppy and insanely danceable. We might have each had one cocktail, I think there was rum in mine, but it’s hard to merengue on a crowded floor and eat the face off the grinningest man in the club without spilling, and anyways only a crazy person would have stepped out of Luis’ arms just to go stand in line for a drink. We held each other for hours, sweating and dancing and laughing at nothing. I sang along to words I’d never heard. Luis taught me how to unhook my hips and move my feet. He led, he spun me like a top, and the more we danced and the later it got, the longer I wanted to never stop dancing. Sure the sex with Luis was fantastic, but I never knew two people could have this much fun together.

I was already living in San Francisco. I was already flying London and Sydney, New York and Miami. I’d been out for a decade and wasn’t going back into anybody’s closet for anything. Our break-up was crushing, sudden and hurtful, and not long in coming. But that night, dancing in a gay bar—with a guy I hardly knew, to songs I’d never heard before, sung in a language I didn’t speak—I knew uncensored, joy-splattered love for the very first time.

These days I’m not a big bar-goer. But you’d never know it to read my stuff. The Gay Club is the scene of a turning point in more of my stories than I should probably admit. Todd and Josh fall in love in one, Tanner and Clark fall in love in another. Fox discovers his respect for Thumper in a backwoods bear bar, and Esau and Drew engage in all manner of scandalous behavior in a Downtown Denver hotspot. Boys dance, boys flirt; boys propose, boys break up; boys win cash prizes in amateur strip shows and cum surreptitiously in their shorts on the back patio. Like the bar in Panama, the gay bar’s a safe space in M/M fiction, where characters can get up to whatever needs getting up to without having to factor in gawking passersby or the disapproving Dominant Paradigm. (Unless the gawking passerby is into it…)

The shooting in Orlando is horrifying and havoc-wreaking on any number of levels. I’m not here to tell anybody how to feel; I’m pretty sure I don’t know how I feel about it. My husband works at one of the more popular bars here in Denver, and I’m now a 9-1-1 operator—it’s easy to imagine the ways a personal nightmare could unfold in a similar situation here; impossible to know the ways the lives of those involved in or affected by the real-life rampage have been shaken, smashed, and re-shaped. All I do know is I believe in the mission of this anthology: to celebrate queer love so that love may triumph over hate, and to try to get a little bit of money to people dealing with funeral expenses and medical expenses and mental health expenses they never should have had to incur in the first place. I very intentionally set my story for this project in a gay bar yet again, to help reclaim that safe space—for my husband, who works in one; for my friends, who hang out in lots; for all the people falling in love with people like Luis in places like Panama who need a safe space to dance and flirt and suck face and engage in all manner of scandalous behavior.

I was pleased to be invited to contribute to this anthology, and I’m thrilled with the turnout. Proud to count myself among the forty-nine JMS authors—to say nothing of the millions of other people trying to make sense of spinning through space on this big ball of dirt—who believe that love is the answer. That love is stronger—importantly, braver—than hate, and worthy of a safe space, be it a bar or a bookshelf.

JMS Books will donate every penny of the proceeds from the Love is Proud anthology to Equality Florida to benefit the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting and their families. So please enjoy the e-book, or better yet, clear a place on your shelf for the paperback, out tomorrow.

Stamp Out Discrimination

imagesLFSLV43XMy cousin makes fun of me; she is certain I am the last man alive in these days of e-mail and Face Time that still makes use of the post office. But I use it all the time. I still send letters and postcards and thank you notes and Valentines — I always need a stamp for something. And the first time I put a Harvey Milk stamp on a letter, I was surprised at the emotions it stirred up. Seventy years ago they put us in concentration camps for being gay; fifty years ago they still put us in jail; thirty-five years ago they binged on Twinkies and assassinated us for daring to participate in city government. Now George Takei rules the internet, Ellen is the darling of daytime TV, and they put Harvey Milk on a stamp. Much to the dismay of some Republican lawmakers, we have arrived. It’s enough (apparently) to bring a tear to the eye of a boy who came of age at the height of the AIDS crisis with the fear that just being gay would literally kill him.  So when the Finnish post office announced their plans in 2014 to release Tom of Finland stamps, I had to have them. As in, I priced air fare to Helsinki so’s I could go stand in line at a post office and get some.

If you must know, Tom of Finland has never been my favorite artist. I like a nice round butt in tight pants as much as the next guy — probably way more than the next guy, actually — but for the most part his men are too muscled, mustachioed, and leather-daddy-ish for my tastes. Do they all have to wear that hat? But the fact that a whole freakin’ country could recognize Tuoko Laaksonen’s contribution to world culture (the gay part of it, anyway), and celebrate an erotic artist by putting some of his erotic art on stamps, without people feeling the need to rise up and pass a bunch of grandstanding retaliatory laws (one has a butt!)  reinforcing their Jesus-mandated prerogative to, I don’t know, use different stamps — or not mail wedding pizzas with them or whatever — was huge, and I wanted in. And only recently did I learn that my friend in New York called her friend in Sweden and asked her, Hey, next time you’re in Finland, could you scoop up some stamps for my friend?  A request her pal graciously fulfilled (Tak, Pernilla!), and I got my set in the mail a few weeks ago. They’re gorgeous and kind of sexy and subversive in a history-making way, and they deserve a fate better than getting sifted to the bottom of the pile of crap priceless memories here next to (and on top of and underneath and behind) my friend’s old dining room table desk, and so off I went with them to Michaels to see about getting a mat cut and getting them into a frame.

slide_345601_3618742_freeTo the extent that what I’m about to say could serve any purpose beyond perpetuating stereotypes, I present as gay. Like, as way gay. I look like I’m gay, I talk like I’m gay, I wear pashminas and toenail polish and, because I live with a drag queen, there are days that I leave an actual trail of hot pink glitter in my wake as I flounce through places like Michaels. And in case the people working in the custom framing department weren’t the type to pick up on not-so-subtle social cues, yesterday I was also waving around a sheet of stamps emblazoned with a naked guy and his butt saying “Frame these!”. First an unflappable young man offered help. When I told him I was hoping for a custom-cut mat to fit a ready-made frame, he assessed my artwork without comment, suggested a nice blue, and then produced a stack of mats from which to choose. While we were weighing the options, his co-worker approached the table. She saw what we were working with, and sure enough, she had something to say about it. Continue reading

Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia

HAHAT 2014The Hop Against Homophobia and Transphobia has ended. Thanks to everyone who participated, and congratulations to commenter H.B., who won a copy of my new book, Love Has Reasons. The hop is over, but homo- and transphobia persist, so I’ll leave my rant against them below for you to enjoy: 

Chocolate LickFull disclosure: I think homophobia is scaredy-cat control-freak bullshit. You don’t know me. What the fuck business is it of yours what me and my husband get up to on the mornings when he just can’t let me sleep past four? (He loved when I was flying international; somehow me being cross-eyed exhausted is a huge turn-on for him.) (I said it was none of your business, I didn’t say I wasn’t gonna tell you all about it anyway.) There’s a tweet (apparently falsely) attributed to Morgan Freeman that used to get passed around with some enthusiasm: “I hate the word homophobia. It’s not a phobia. You are not scared; you are an asshole.”  While I can get behind this quip in spirit (cuz if you actively promote discrimination or bullying or general shit-headishness because Being Gay is Wrong!, you are an asshole, no offense), I take issue with its content.  I think homophobia and transphobia are absolutely driven by fear.  It’s just not me of whom active homophobes are afraid.  If you’re not scared to death of the rainbow-glitter-loving queer pounding on your own closet door and howling for release (ahem), the notion that me going about my gay business is somehow a threat to you or “the children” or “society” should be wholly foreign, if not downright laughable.  I hate to break it to you, but any moth drawn to this flame(r) is a little bit gay already. Everybody loves a chocolate fountain, but you’re not dipping your pound cake in one if you’re not already at the Golden Corral, iyou know what I mean… Continue reading

It’s Never Easy to Say Goodbye. Except When It Is.

I want very badly to let Fred Phelps’ death pass unremarked upon, mostly because of how I imagine it would aggravate the crotchety old attention whore.  But he spent so much of his energy foisting himself onto the queer consciousness, I feel like saying my piece will help me send his bullshit karmically packing along with the rest of him.

Fags R Cute (reddit)

If the frightened and tight-hearted bigots of Westboro have taught us anything, it is that not every death is a tragedy.  The passing of Fred Phelps is not a loss to the American Community, the Brotherhood of Man, nor even, according to what I have read, to most of his family — a legacy, it is tempting to speculate, on which he might have hoped to improve.  He chose the burden of hate that he lugged through this life, and he can take it with him when he goes — he neither needs nor, frankly, warrants any from me.  I wish him a more forgiving god than he would ever have wished for any of us, though still I hope he planned ahead and packed mostly for exceptionally warm weather.

It seems that Westboro doesn’t believe in funerals for its members, which I find a hilariously convenient tenet of their “faith.”  I’m annoyed that there won’t be a funeral for the most famous funeral-crasher since Harold and Maude, but not for the reason you might expect (or for that matter that I would have expected of myself).  The only thing that was ever sacred to this man, his megalomaniacal family, or their quasi-political fund-raising-organization-masquerading-as-church was media attention, and the most fitting send-off I can imagine would be for the number of vociferous, sign-waving picketers at his own going away party — be they from military families or the gay community or families or victims of the numerous tragedies he sought to exploit or just the fair-minded community at large — to total Zero. Continue reading

Singing the Praises of Gay Propaganda

steve-nyman-shirtless-skierAt the end of the summer of 2012, a story of mine was included in EM Lynley’s Olympic-themed anthology Going for Gold.  The collection of eight stories about gay Olympians (and their boyfriends, natch) was something of a Reader Favorite, and has seen renewed interest during the ramp-up to the Games of the Twenty-Second Winter Olympiad in Sochi, which arguably has a higher profile in the Queer community than Games past, due to the visibility and virulence of recent anti-gay laws passed in their host country.  Hell, I’m paying attention, and Michael Phelps doesn’t even ice skate.  Specifically, Russia has outlawed “gay propaganda,” which includes not only art and literature but any kind of public or private speech that seeks to legitimize gay people or equalize their families with any that hew to the more traditional model, in order to Protect the Children from being exposed to these notions.

Laff-a-lympicsAnd frankly, I kind of dig being a part of a project that links Gay and Olympics quite so explicitly at this moment in time.  The International Olympic Committee is not exactly famous for its explicit support of LGBTQ equality.  Yes, we’ve had the Laff-A-Lympics, and the Pig Olympics, and 2014 has already crowned the winner of the Selfie Olympics, but if you travel to Cleveland this summer, you will be invited to enjoy the ninth quadrennial Gay Games, so called because weeks before the First-Ever in 1982, the IOC (and the USOC) sued to block the use of the word “Olympics” in conjunction with this particular sporting event.  More recently, a member of the IOC from Italy called the United States’ inclusion of three gay athletes in its official delegation to Sochi “absurd.”  From where I’m sitting, it takes a certain amount of guts to roll up in a country that has recently chosen  not only to pass, but in some cases to harshly enforce, laws against being visibly gay — you know, lest it harm The Children to behold you — and then go on and be gay on what will, for two weeks, be the most visible stage in the world, but I don’t speak it — maybe that’s what “absurd” means in Italian. Continue reading