Weddings: How very, very queer

Wow, marriage.

Eee, gay marriage.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that Iowa just legalized it, Friday, becoming the third state to do so. And there’s a tiny chance that Vermont might soon follow (though the state’s House vote fell just four votes short of the majority approval needed to squelch the governor’s intended “veto” – but we’ll just have to wait and see on that one..). As expected, the social conservatives are outraged – perhaps with even more fervor than usual given that Iowa is far from a hotbed of liberal thought.

Glum, anti-gay marriage Iowans gather in January 2008, when the case was first brought to court.
Glum, anti-gay marriage Iowans gather in January 2008, when the case was first brought to court.

You can almost write your own thought bubbles for these non-fans of not-straight-people marriage: Suddenly, it seems, perhaps it’s not so trendy to be outwardly anti-gay. It feels, at the risk of sounding naively optimistic, that positive momentum might finally be with As more and more state governments begin to take seriously their duty of protecting the rights of minorities (i.e. not putting issues related to minority rights up to majority vote), their greatest fears might just come true: Among them, the defeat of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (which President Obama has promised to repeal) and further spreading of state-approved queer unions. A right-wing nightmare, no?

But, as much as I want to throw my hands up in the air and dance wildly to RuPaul remixes, I still can’t help but feel that the Iowan decision – in the grand scheme of things, even if it does encourage similar action in other states – smells of too little, too late. For this is exactly the case for some people. Take, for example, Shirley Tan, a woman who has been in a committed lesbian relationship, mothering twin 12-year-old sons, for the past 23 years, who is on the verge of deportation from California’s Bay Area to the Philippines. If she and partner Jay Mercado were allowed to marry, it would be a non-issue. Instead, Tan (and her family) must argue her right to remain stateside, receiving a two-week emergency stay last week with the help of politicos. Learn more about the story below (and from this San Jose Mercury News article):

In light of the continued inequity in the other 47 U.S. states, activists are rightfully continuing to organize, rally and raise a general stink… But I have to question some of the tactics: Here in Chicago, the homosexual drinking establishment Cocktail has come under some fire for banning bachelorette parties from taking place on its premises. Hung outside of Cocktail is a sign that explains the ban, in addition to offering a statement:

Until same-sex marriage is legal everywhere and same-sex couples are allowed the rights as every heterosexual couple worldwide, we simply do not think it’s fair or just for a female bride-to-be to celebrate her upcoming nuptials here at Cocktail. We are entitled to an opinion, this is ours.

And other bars have followed suit. I have to wonder: Is alienating a (likely) already queer-friendly audience beneficial to the cause? Allies are crucial to any civil rights battle, and though I understand Cocktail’s point-of-view (and the fact that they are acting completely within their right as independent business owners).. I’m simply not sure how this sits with me.

No protest here: RSVP +1.
No protest here: Color me RSVP'ed +1.

On a more personal level, I recently received a wedding invitation to the ceremony of one of my dearest friends, coming up this summer. And I couldn’t help but smile when I thought ahead to the day, and the incredible impact that it will have for my friend. Flaunting a privilege? Rubbing it in? Hardly. I could not be more excited for Sarah and the life that she is building with her fiance. Ya know, happiness and eternal love. That’s all that all of us really want anyway, right?


Download: Yael Naem ‘Bachelorette (Bjork Cover)’ (mp3)

Download: Born Ruffians ‘Wedding Bells and Midnight Strollers’ (mp3)

On remembrance


Last Thursday, November 20, marked the tenth anniversary of the recognition of International Transgender Day of Remembrance.  The day was originally conceived following the violent murder of Rita Hester in Boston.  The negative media coverage and police treatment of the Hester case — which remains unsolved to this day — prompted the outcry from the LGBT community.  The day is recognized through candlelit vigils and rallies held all around the world.

Please take a moment to read the names and stories of those who are no longer with us following the last year.

I think it is important to think about the many -isms and -phobias stacked up against the transgender community, inarguably one of the most vulnerable groups of human beings on this planet.  Sexism, racism, classism and homophobia are just four of the main ingredients of transphobia.  Listed at the link above are the names of our brothers and sisters who have fallen victim to hate.  These murders are usually unsolved and often directly involve police brutality or indifference.

It pains me inside to know that we live in a world where people are still killed, everyday, simply for being different.  Surely, one day, we will evolve past hatred toward understanding?  Not as long as faces like Mike Huckabee are condoned for their homophobic and short-sighted statements on national television, as seen below in an interview on The View last week, just two days after a trans woman was killed in Syracuse(This man denies evolution, too… and he was quite nearly a presidential candidate for this country?!)

Stand up and be counted as a transgender ally, because everyone deserves justice and an equal chance at happiness.

Meet me at the rally

On the morning of Wednesday, November 5, I awoke with feelings of hope, renewal and pride unlike anything I’d experienced in.. well, at least eight years. On the heels of four days spent knocking on doors; reminding voters in Madison, Wisconsin, to get out the vote; I remained physically and emotionally exhausted, but knowing that our nation had elected its first ever African American president quickly made the pain of aching feet dissipate.

My elation at Barack Obama’s victory was quickly squelched by the news from California that a slim majority of that state’s voters had chosen to reverse the state supreme court’s decision to legalize gay marriage by approving Proposition 8.

How could it be, I wondered in disbelief, that the lefty land of Hollywood, fruits and nuts [as aptly described by my right-leaning — Understatement of the Century — father] had just written inequality into their state law book? How could barely half of a state’s people take away marriage rights from our community? What was to happen to the thousands of lesbians and gay men whom had already wedded in the state? And why, I wondered, did it matter so much to those who had said ‘yes’ to overruling marriage equality? Who exactly are these people, and what do they want from us?

I’m sure that many of you reading this blog have wondered many of the same questions regarding the latest injustice to face our community. And as bothersome as these questions are, I think we need to save finger-pointing and self-deprecation in the past and look forward to the next questions: Where does our movement go from here? How do we spark a revolution?

Our answer can be found in the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” We must, as a community, take each others’ hands, hit to the streets and make our voices heard.

Alongside my fellow happy, chilly protesters du jour.
Alongside my fellow happy, chilly protesters du jour.

dscn5044This is precisely what happened yesterday, Saturday, November 15, as tens of thousands of protesters simultaneously gathered in cities across the United States and world to protest the continued denial of marriage and other civil rights to the LGBT community. I was lucky enough to be present at the Chicago rally (click for video clips) which began at Federal Plaza and continued through the streets of the busy downtown loop area, blocking traffic and raising hell, just as intended. Though an accurate number would be near impossible to quote, the amount of protesters was awe-inspiring. Certainly at least 3000 gay men, lesbians and their friends and family were present, making our chants of “Yes we can!” echo against the walls of high-rise office buildings and shopping meccas.

dscn5062I was amazed as I walked alongside people from all backgrounds and of all ages, as a community united in uproar against the disgusting decision. We were greeted with thumbs up, peace signs, smiles, car honks and; in the case of one older man I observed; slow, steady applause accompanied by trembling tears of joy. Not everyone was having it, though. One woman passing by screamed at a demonstrator: “Why do you think you’re so damn special that you can shut down the streets?”

dscn5051This issue is not about being special. It’s about being equal. It’s about spreading love; and as Keith Olbermann so nobly articulated in a magical, must-see special report; treating your neighbors as you would like to be treated. I, like so many others, dream of a day when I can stand before my family, friends and community to proclaim undying love to the person that I want to grow old with. And it’s going to be to a man. It’s going to be a marriage — not anything else going by any other name — and it’s going to come complete with every other right that heterosexual marriages are granted. I believe that everyone deserves the chance to make this dream come true.

dscn5057Saturday’s protest was preceeded the previous weekend by another demonstration against the induction of right-wing-nutzo James Dobson (of Focus on the Family fame) into the Radio Hall of Fame — a demonstration which I was able to report from. Both protests were peaceful but the message was clear: We’re not going to take this lying down. I could not have been more proud of my community for getting out and demanding equality. I have renewed confidence that it is dscn5049going to happen, because — gay, straight, white, black — together we are going to make it happen.

Below are a number of pictures from Saturday’s protest. Want to get involved? Check out, open your hearts and minds and help to create a better and more equal world for everyone.

Download: Phoenix ‘Rally’

Download: Nina Simone ‘Here Comes the Sun’

Download: Ben Sollee ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ (Sam Cooke cover)

So, Gayken came out

I realize that this news is a few weeks old, but given that it was far from the most shocking headline ever to cross the cover of People (reportedly at a very hefty price tag to the magazine — $500,000, to be exact), I felt it was worth addressing anyway: Former American Idol winner Clay Aiken has officially sashayed out of the closet, and long-suspecting Kathy Griffin was forced to go scrambling to write hours of new material for her upcoming tour.

I couldn’t be happier for Clay. No matter what he was paid, it was obviously not an easy decision, and his love for his child is endearing (if you haven’t watched the above Good Morning America interview, I highly encourage doing so). I mean, if you were someone with any degree of gaydar, it would be a lie to say that you had never at least suspected Aiken’s sexuality, given years of ambiguous answers to questions on the incessant rumors, lack of beard/girlfriend (which many other Hollywood types feel the need to employ) and any other number of factors. But there’s no word other than naive to describe those who at once claim to not be homophobic while also claiming that Aiken’s choice to make the announcement was somehow made less valid by our perception of its transparency. Below are excerpts from some comments posted on a friend’s uploaded photo of the People cover:

ROFLLLLLLL . NO WAY! Clay is gay? *gasp* how could this ever be? … i think its hilarious he even bothered to make an announcement of it … timing isn’t his forte im guessing? … What a bitch! lol.

These comments are exasperating, almost more so than the comments by Aiken’s many right-wing middle-aged female “fans” expressing disdain for being “misled” by the singer. When Aiken announced his sexuality, he opened the giant box of paradox facing queer entertainers today. By coming out, he risked losing thousands of fans, promotional deals and has forever — for better or worse — altered his career path and faced thousands of criticisms ringing of the familiar “why do you gaaays have to rub it in our face?” If he had remained closeted, he would have forever known that he was not being fully honest. He would forever be a caricature of what record labels and publicists wanted him to be in order to sell records, and would likely have faced struggles to build a positive self-image as a human being.

As trite as it might sound — and I can’t believe I’m even saying it — but figures in the public eye have feelings, too. Often growing up in front of casting directors, agents and the public, many have probably have not had the opportunity to learn more well-adjusted means of dealing with feelings like internalized homophobia and low self-esteem. Money and fame simply do not buy happiness. And who are we to criticize anyone’s decision to come out and acknowledge any piece of their identity puzzle, whether it be their sexuality or anything else?

Just take a look at the story of 23-year-old Korean actor Kim Ji-Ho, who committed suicide earlier this week. Kim hung himself at his home in Seoul. When he had announced that he was gay, he faced public scrutiny and a destroyed career. His suicide note read, “I’m lonely and in a difficult situation. Please cremate my body.” This was the fourth such suicide in South Korea this month.

As much as it may be trivialized by tabloid rags covering Aiken, Lindsay Lohan‘s trysts with Samanatha Ronson or the gay rumor du jour, we need to realize that these issues still hold a lot of significance for many, many individuals in our ever-diversifying and global community. Coming out, as well as discrimination, is a never-ending process. For some it is empowering, for others, a constant struggle. For many, it is a matter of life or death. Above all, it is an experience that cannot and should not be generalized or patronized.

National Coming Out Day is two days away, this Saturday, October 11. Take the opportunity to go and do something that makes you feel good for being you, and tell someone you hold dear how much you appreciate them being them.

And never forget to smile.

Big city livin’

A lot of people have been asking me what life has been like since moving to the “big city” [i.e. Chicago] and I suppose the time has come for something resembling a more standard update on my life in the past several weeks.

I just yesterday returned from a weekend trip to Madison to partake in the inaugural Forward Music Festival and visit with friends. The festival was mostly enjoyable, effectively satiating my craving for live music, and was a thrifty deal, at $25 for a weekend pass. Tsk tsk to festival organizers for switching the Saturday schedule at the last minute and causing me to miss the performance of The Dials, a Chicago-based band — this was not the only changed or grossly off-schedule occurrence that happened during the festival. That said, Neko Case, Leslie and the LY’s and Flosstradamus alone were worth the price of admission, not to mention the bits and scraps of many other talented performers that I was able to catch over the course of the weekend. And I’m hoping to catch Thao Nguyen (whose set I also, unfortunately, missed at FMF) at the Hotel Cafe stop in Madison later this fall.

For those of you unaware of the grandeur that is Ames, Iowa-bred, gem sweater-wearing Leslie Hall, feast your eyes post haste:

Just a few weeks prior, I was fortunate enough to catch another of my favorite live musicians in a free outdoor show downtown, when Andrew Bird played the Jay Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park. The selection of songs was spectacular — from the many newly-penned songs played to the glorious ‘Fake Palindromes’, which inspired a mass audience migration to the stage — and were enhanced by both the picturesque backdrop of the park’s scenery and the bottle of merlot that my roommate and I split. The next time this man comes into your town, do not hesitate to clear your calendar and check him out.

Andrew Bird against the backdrop of the beautiful Pritzker Pavilion.
Bird playing against the backdrop of the beautiful Pritzker Pavilion.

My occupation at this moment would technically be “freelance writer,” though this is hardly full-time, nor is it paying the bills, which has made a profound impact on the amount of time I’ve been able to devote to this blog, in addition to my choices of entertainment. If you’re interested in reading some of my work, spotlighting talented queer Chicagoans, check out my recent articles from EDGE Chicago, featuring the co-founders of the Bare Boned Theatre company and singer-songwriter Ian Wilson.

Beyond that, my other work as a writer: (a) Angry insomnia-induced blog rants on a certain hockey mother, (b) Dozens upon dozens of cover letters, (c) The beginnings of a manuscript — yes, a manuscript, tentatively titled Adventures in Wonderland.

The manuscript is turning out to be based very much on my own life, drawing inspiration from everything ranging from Sylvia Plath poetry to subway performance artists. It is about the adventures of a young gay man new to a large urban setting in a world of vigilant social networking, intrusive advertising, online dating sites, divisive and a wilting economy. It’s about disappointment, fear and naivety coming head to head with hope, optimism and love. Wandering lost through the world at the very time when you’re expected to be found. Keep your eyes out for a preview to be released on this blog before Halloween.

In addition to writing, I’ve been spending some time volunteering, which has been a total blast. Two weekends ago — during that freakish flood of the city — I had the treat of participating in the fabulously ornate Aware Affair: Superheroes fundraiser, hosted at the MCA Loft by the Test Positive Aware Network (TPAN). My duty? Wander the glamorous space with a clipboard in one hand and a drink (compliments of the open bar) in the other with my very own personal male-model-hero, as pictured below, in the green briefs at center, at my side:

Male superhero models are fun.  The Republican is on the far right; Greenie in the middle was "mine."
Male superhero models are fun. The Republican is on the far right; Greenie in the middle was "mine." Photo:

This boy — who was STRAIGHT, who knew!? — was just one of many models who showed up for the gig as eye candy for the predominantly male guests. I had to laugh when he expressed concern over the amount of attention that he was receiving from some of the older men at the event — did he not realize that he was covered only in tiny briefs, glitter and body paint? I’m not sure what the expectation was, but I’m thankful that I was paired with this particular heterosexual male model-musician-student instead of the Republican in the red briefs who spent ten minutes explaining to me why John McCain’s military experience alone should be reason enough to secure any vote, regardless of any lacking in the Palin department.

Attacked by the Hulk.
Attacked by the Hulk.

‘Til next time, I’m outzo.