Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Introduction to Queer Sage

Even as a toddler I had something to say.

When I thought about this blog two years ago, it was kind of simple. I wanted to interview LGBT people that I met who had interesting stories about coming out and surviving. Instead, I focused on my other blog about design and faith, my various writings about architecture, and my paid work. While the blogs are personal, they don’t link much of my own personal history to the life I have now.

Over the last two years, my thinking about sexuality has continued to evolve. There are several reasons for this: some are personal and others are more political. On the political front, there has been an enormous amount of news about gay marriage and its legalization. This appears to be a step forward. There has also been the likely repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Another apparent step forward. At the same time, there have been several stories about young queer youth committing suicide. With so many hateful new voices from the Republican right getting louder, it is important to support political changes so the larger goal of gay equality can be met. And so kids won’t be bullied and people can live—and hopefully, live a more joyous life. As the late activist Harry Hay would say, to be gay is to be radical.

The recent publication of Justin Spring’s Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade was the catalyst to get this blog going. (More about that book and its author in the next few entries.) We no longer have to be secret in sharing our histories.

Don't buy that sweet pose. Loved the sandals.

The nuances in some of these discussions can get lost because the last gasp of the hegemonic order is so violent, so cruel. It certainly is not safe to be out in many parts of the country, indeed the world. That’s why we are drawn to larger cities like New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. It’s safer.

I am often drawn to the spaces in between, whether it is the built form of the city or political arguments. In the case of gay marriage, I fear that in the desire to be accepted, we are imitating a deeply flawed institution. Of course I understand this is about choice—we want the option, and right now we don’t get to choose marriage. My musing doesn’t change my political point of view on the subject; it just throws the personal into greater relief.

One reason to question marriage as an institution has been that oft-stated argument that it has been the structure to keep women oppressed. From chattel to housewives to working women/housekeepers/children minders. But there is a more subtle and difficult argument and that is the one about monogamy.

Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man's World by Alan Downs

Although Alan Downs’ Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man's World is not a fantastic read, Downs makes some important points about gay men and their development. (I am hesitant to write about other sexual minorities, because I think their experiences are vastly different from my own.)

This deep disapproval we feel from our parents and/or community becomes our center. And recognition becomes like an addiction. Indeed, it can get easily mixed up with chemical and other addictions.

The Parents. Philip Larkin’s poem comes to mind.

Choosing monogamy is like drawing a line in the sand. We understand where we stand. It’s easier that way. Rather like when you are a child and you are finger painting with a limited palette or any one color. With unlimited choice, it can become a mess. But back on the other side of the line, many monogamists end up having huge fights, divorces, and endless drama because they find it too difficult to remain faithful in practice.

There are several advantages to coming out relatively early in your late teens or early twenties. It’s one less secret to carry around. I was constantly taunted in high school, but the bullying, if that’s what it was, didn’t make me want to kill myself. Indeed, I just thought that all those idiots would end up on a production line or in an office, and I would be fabulous. For me, the root of depression did not lie in what teenage boys thought, but rather in the deep disapproval of my parents, so deep that it rarely found a verbal expression. Once, when I was about 16 or 17 and still living at home, my father said something like, “I hope you don’t end up gay. There are a lot of them at work and none of them are very happy.” I snapped back, “It doesn’t look like anybody ends up very happy.” It closed the conversation. While he disapproved of my sexuality, he also knew I suffered from depression and didn’t want to see me unhappy. He was born in 1919, and by 1974 his family didn’t make much sense.

The Parents on their 50th wedding anniversary in 1990.

The purpose of this blog is to make sense of those distances and maybe to help minimize them. We have to hear our own stories, our own advice. We will move closer to healthy and equal lives if we are not so distant within our own selves.

One of my favorite parts of Justin Spring’s new biography of Samuel Steward is when he quotes Gertrude Stein writing to Steward. on January 12, 1938, “…the question of being important inside in one…” In the afterword Spring writes “That question of self-respect was (or the lack of it) was, of course, intimately connected to his sexual identity.”

I think that’s what I want to explore here.

Fashion forward in the 60s with a Nehru shirt


  1. This is such a sweet post. Wow, thank you!

  2. As a slogged through my '70's Mexican fog period,I lost you, and you lost me. I wish I could turn back the clock! You said your father didn't want to see you unhappy. I don't know if most fathers then even thought about whether their kids were happy or not, certainly not mine. Your attitude toward your high school classmates was the germ of your growing self-respect; parents, well when are we ever free of them? We just remain determined not to be paralyzed by their disapproval. I love your blog.