Tuesday, 27 September 2016

MUCH ADO ABOUT AIDS



There’s been much talk about Xavier Dolan’s new film It’s Only the End of the World. Critics are bitterly divided; there were walkouts at Cannes, but the film went on to win the Grand Prix.
What’s all the fuss?
The film is beautifully shot and acted. All Dolan’s films are. His endless closeups — though not exactly unprecedented — come with with an honourable pedigree: they do homage to the elegant masterpieces of John Cassavetes and Andy Warhol. And Dolan’s radical form seems to suit his subject matter.
Oh yes— and by the way — what is the subject matter?
I must say I’ve never seen a movie in which the subject matter was actually invisible. Perhaps that’s why critics are so confounded by the film.
Not very much happens in It’s Only the End of the World. Set in the recent past, the film tells the story of a man who returns to his family after a long separation. The family argues. He is mainly silent. When the young man phones another man, it becomes clear that he is preparing to talk to his family about something. So what does the young man finally tell his family at the end of the film? 
Nothing. 
He loses his nerve.
Sorry for the spoiler; but it’s hard to feel bad for revealing that nothing much happens in a movie in which, well — nothing much happens.
What’s astounding is that nowhere does the movie tell us what the young man is longing to tell his family. But, oddly, the reviews all say that the film’s subject matter is AIDS.
How do they know?
The young man is handsome. And he is a playwright. And he has weary eyes (ringed with red). And a flashback reveals that the young man once kissed a boy with long blonde hair.
So, ergo; therefore - what? Well it stands to reason. The young man must be dying of AIDS. If this film was discovered in a time capsule a thousand years from now, no one would have any idea what it’s about, but we sure think we know, because we are, for some reason, so very fondly attached to what are now the much too familiar, old narratives about AIDS.
I’m tired of this. As a gay man who has lived in a community dealing with this illness for 35 years, I’m tired of the shame, the secrecy and the lies. Very few young gay men die of AIDS these days. Most who are diagnosed with HIV live to a ripe old age. And most HIV positive gay men are not getting all red around the eyes because they have to tell their parents they are going to die. Instead they are negotiating condom-less sex on GRINDR with guys on PREP, while dealing with the fact that although AIDS is now a chronic, manageable illness, they still have to fight the stigma of being a ‘Truvada Whore’ and the fear of being criminalized for spreading a so-called lethal disease.
When do we stop imagining we are living in Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart and face the future? Or even just live in the present?
No, for some reason, gay men would rather not be honest about the realities of AIDS. Instead we prefer to imagine ourselves as the sexless, pitiful characters from those ancient AIDS plays, men who cried in the darkness about their secret affliction — men painted as enduring lonely, tragic deaths, harangued by angry families, supported only by tortured lovers and  the requisite caustic nurse.
All I can say is, I wish it would just stop.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

SULLY: A Vote For Trump



It put my cellphone in flight mode. That’s how good a movie it was; and how wonderful a storyteller Clint Eastwood is. But it’s important to note that Clint Eastwood in real life shares politics with the vigilante he played in Dirty Harry. He’s a tough ol’ cookie, and pretty much as far right as he can be. (Remember when Eastwood somewhat famously and wackily directed a speech to a chair at the Republican National Convention four years ago?)
So I’m not going to deny that Sully is damn good entertainment. But what I am going to say is that the politics of the movie will offer up solid votes for Trump in November.
Who is Chesley Sullenberger, after all, but Donald Trump? Like Trump he is a very white man — in this case not blonde — but white haired with a white moustache. But much more importantly, he is a man who stands up to the government, to the establishment (in this case represented by the NTSB, The National Transportation Safety Board). And Sully does it alone, except for his trusty sidekick  — played by the much too good looking. personality deficient and also very white Aaron Eckhart (Mike Pence, anyone?). 
But Trump hasn’t just convinced his supporters that he is standing up to the establishment. He stands up in his own particular way — in a manner which is quirky, surprising, and even scary, at times — but fun. Sully Sullenberger was supposed to save 155 passengers by turning the plane back to La Guardia Airport, but he didn’t. He saved the passengers by executing a daring landing on (not in as he reminds the NTSB) the Hudson River. This is very important. For what people like about Trump is not just that he stands up to Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama and The Affordable Care Act, and all of the bureaucracy of big government that would tax people to death and take away their gun privileges, but that he does does so in his own crazy way. In other words, he is an individual.
This means that Trump, for some, can do no wrong. He can say all the crazy things he wants and do all the crazy things he wants, because that’s the most American thing about him. Rob Ford ultimately became pretty unpopular in Toronto; only because we are boring Canadians (thank God!). Up here we actually value good manners, tact, and the rule of law more than we admire ‘individuality.’ But Trump does it (as Sinatra sings) ‘My Way’ — and that’s about as American as it gets.
In addition to all this, Sully — like Trump — is a hero for the working man: ordinary guys buy drinks for him in the movie, and a sweet female motel worker hugs him, just out of — well — admiration overflow. And in Eastwood’s movie Sully’s challenge is compared to the 9/11 tragedy. Who saved New York after that? Well the man who takes most of credit for it is none other than Rudy Giuliani — a Trump sometime surrogate and hardcore supporter.
No, you won’t convince me otherwise. Eastwood made this movie and released it
to get Trump elected. 
And the sad news is that it might work. 
I saw the movie at Cineplex Odeon Varsity in Toronto. The Cineplex Odeon Varsity reminds me of an entertainment centre in a very upscale seniors’ building. Many of the people in the audience are so old they move with difficulty.
But lots of them put their hands together and clapped. 
Loud.
Be afraid folks; be very afraid.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

It’s Time to Stop Bashing Drag Queens



I’ve had it with this recent trend. The fashionable yet stupid idea that drag queens should stop ‘appropriating’ black culture reached it’s apotheosis in Sierra Mannie’s article 'Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture’  published in TIME on July 9. Mannie argues “at the end of the day, if you are a white male, gay or not, you retain so much privilege. What is extremely unfairly denied you because of your sexuality could float back to you, if no one knew that you preferred the romantic and sexual company of men over women.”
Mannie’s offensive and idiotic article does not stand in isolation. I recently attended a queer conference at which a trans person made the argument that drag is misogynistic, that drag queens appropriate black culture, and that drag queen humour is offensive. People in the audience applauded the remarks.
These arguments against drag queens betray more than just a basic misunderstanding of drag; they are indicative of deep seated homophobia. I am a proud drag queen. And let me tell you, I’ve been pressured lots of times to take ‘drag queen’ off my resume. Once, when I was being introduced at Canadian Stage many years ago the artistic director asked me “Should I really read what it says here — that you are a ‘drag queen extraordinaire?” I told him:  “Yes, that’s why ‘drag queen’ is on my resume!” Very embarrassed, the artistic director somehow manage to include ‘drag queen’ in the introduction. And he was a gay man.
Before my father died he implored me to take ‘drag queen extraordinaire’ out of my author’s bio, saying —“You don’t really do the ‘dressup thing’ anymore, do you?”
I lied to my father, because he was dying. I said: “I’ll think about it.”
But drag queen is still on my resume. Once a drag queen, always a drag queen.
And here’s why.
Drag queens — contrary to what Sierra Mannie may think, are not masculine, straight acting gay men with a lot of privilege who decide they want to  make fun of women at weekend parties. Look into the heart and soul of every drag queen and you will find a young man who was exiled, othered, criticized, and — most likely — physically abused, for being effeminate.
Sure. There are some butch gay men who don a wig for a party or Halloween, so their friends can reassure them they are far too hot to dress like a lady. But those gay men are not drag queens. What is a drag queen? A drag queen is a gay man who dresses like a woman for entertainment, or  business, or personal pleasure, on some sort of regular basis (i.e. more than once in a lifetime!). Drag queens are gay men who are either startlingly effeminate in real life (no, they are not putting it on — that’s the way they are, they were ‘born that way’ to quote LADY GAGA!), or, at the very least they are easily identifiable as gay when they are not in drag, because they are never quite masculine enough. These gay men carry with them a stigma related to their effeminacy, which they — in contrast to what Sierra Mannie says  — cannot jettison at will. It is part of who they are, and it forges a clear barrier between them and other people, even other gay men — who treat them like garbage because they are effeminate (see the GRINDR ads: ‘no fats or fems’).
Drag queens were there at Stonewall, and they were some of the first (if not the first, because no one knows who the first person was) to throw rocks at the police. The trans movement in fact, owes its history to the brave drag queens who were the first trans people and who should still (in my view) be considered trans.
Drag queens do not ‘appropriate’ black music. They consume racist mass culture like everyone else, because racism is endemic to capitalism. Drag queens (many of whom are black) love and worship black women. To attack drag queens for doing so is homophobic. Period.

You heard it here first — from Canada’s one and only ‘drag queen extraordinaire.’

Sunday, 28 August 2016

DON'T BREATHE Deciphered



Donald Trump worms his way into everything these days. 
He’s even managed to wiggle his way into a summer movie hit. 
Don’t Breathe is a very entertaining movie which needs no help in order to take its pride of place at the top of its genre. But it does get help — and from the darn’dest things.
All entertainment is, after all, political. 
So beware of those who say ‘It’s just a movie.
I’m not suggesting a vast right wing conspiracy. But filmmakers want money. And the best way to get it is to make sure a movie —without being evidently controversial — strikes the deepest emotional chords possible.
Don’t Breathe is all about race and sex.   
On the one hand there is a man with a dark complex past living alone in a house, and on the other hand there are three juvenile delinquents who attempt to rob him. 
All these people are white. 
Race enters the film (craftily) through the characters’ hair. The least sympathetic juvenile delinquent (and the gang’s leader) is called ‘Money.’ He also has a dollar sign tattooed on his neck, and sports dreadlocks. The man living alone in the house, on the other hand, sports — atypically — a quite magnificent head of perfectly coiffed white hair. He also wears a white t-shirt. He is very white.
The film is not accidentally set in Detroit — a poster-child for the abandonment of the American worker.
The very-white-guy-who-lives-alone also happens to be war vet, and also happens to have kidnapped a young woman — who he thinks is responsible for running over his daughter with her car.
This rather convoluted and somewhat unlikely ‘dark past’  (as ‘dark pasts’ in these movies go) clearly makes the very-white-vet into a very-angry-very-white-man-with-a- gun who has decided to take the law into his own hands, because he doesn’t trust the legal system to right the wrongs that will plague him until the day he dies.
In other words, he is a Trump voter, for sure.
And then we get to the climax.
You think it takes a lot to scare people these days? Well this movie is so scary, it will frighten not only pretty straight girls, but big butch dudes as well. The very-white-vet — when he is trying to impregnate a young woman with a turkey baster filled with his own sperm (don’t ask!) is then forced to eat his own ejaculate.
I’m not kidding!
I just thought you should get the news here, as most people will probably neglect to mention the sperm-eating incident. They will say they liked Don’t Breathe because it reminded them of Wait Until Dark
At the showing I attended, the sperm-eating moment caused the biggest reaction I have ever heard from a thriller movie audience. Several young men generally indicated an extremely high level of manly discomfort.
All of which goes to show that if you want to scare straight guys, decapitation and disembodied entrails won’t do the trick. 
But this rather seminal discomfort, I would posit, is highly hypocritical, as most men have tasted their own sperm at one point or other. (Or somebody else’s.) 
Out of curiosity, if nothing else.
That this sperm-eating moment is a hugely ‘gay’ event in the film needs hardly to be remarked upon. And who do we habitually associate with sperm and turkey basters? 
Why lesbians, of course.

Take my word for it: Don’t Breathe is one uncannily frightening thriller — and it’s destined to be the hit of the summer — but for reasons that perhaps, so far, I suspect, no one has mentioned.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Overheard Conversation: Donald Trump and Kellyanne Conway



I want to say she's a a bigot.

You can’t say that.

Why not?

Because.

Because why?

Because it’s not a good idea.

(pause)

But she called me a bigot.

Yes, but just because she called you a bigot, doesn’t mean you should call her one.

Why not?

I told you, it’s not a good idea.

(pause) 

What about if…if I say I won’t deport all the Mexicans.

You would say that?

Sure, I would say that.

You would?

Yes. For sure. If  I can call Hilary Clinton a bigot.

(pause)

But if you call Hilary Clinton a bigot, you have to have a reason.

I have a reason.

What.

She didn’t help them.

That’s not enough.

Why not. 

When didn’t she help them?

Whenever. In the…past…she had a powerful position, she was running this country, and the blacks aren’t doing any  better. Why can’t I say that?

Okay Don’t say ‘blacks.’ Don’t ever say ‘blacks.’

Why not.

African Americans. Say it with me. Right now.

Okay, okay. (pause) African Americans.  (pause)  But why can’t I say she’s ignoring African Americans then?

Because ignoring African Americans is not really bigotry.

Why not?

It’s just not.

(pause)

Look, what about if I say, okay, we’ll let the Mexicans stay and they’re not bad people,they’re good people and maybe just maybe, there’s a path to citizenship and…and I’m sorry I hurt their feelings.

You’ll say you’re sorry?

Yes, I will. I’ll say…I’ll say — I shouldn’t have been so harsh. I’ll say I have feelings. I feel for them. The Mexican people.

You’d say that?

Yes of course. Of course I’d say that. I’d say that in a heartbeat. I’d say that now.

But—

But I really want to call Hilary a bigot. 

Why? why are you so obsessed with calling Hilary Clinton a bigot?

I told you, she called me one.

Come on. That’s schoolyard stuff.

I don’t care. It’s what I want to do.

(pause)

So…you’re willing to give amnesty to the Mexicans?

I’ll give them whatever they want. Whatever the Mexicans want, I’ll give them..

Really? Amnesty?

Sure. Amnesty. If that’s what they want. If that’s what you want.

Well maybe we shouldn’t say amnesty. But you can say you have feelings for them.

Okay. I can do that.

And you regret…

I should say, regret?

Yes you can say you regret. You’re not sorry, you regret. (pause) 

But -- dammit. (pause) Shit. 

What?

They'll say it’s a flipflop.

If they do, that’s not a problem.

No?

No.

Why not?

We’ll just say it’s not a flipflop.

I should just deny it you mean.

Yes.

I should deny it just like that?

Just like that. That’s not a problem.  If they ask us if it’s a flipflop we’ll just say, a candidate's opinions evolve. Especially a thoughtful candidate, who listens to his constituents. A candidate like Donald Trump. In fact, it could be a good thing for you to change your position.

Okay. Makes sense to me.. (pause) So I can say Hilary Clinton is a bigot?

(pause)

Yes.

Today?

Yes. This morning if you like.

High five?

High five.

YESSSSSSSSSSS!!!!!!





Saturday, 13 August 2016

If That’s What It Means to be Queer — I Quit!



A few years ago I wrote an article titled ‘If that’s what it means to be gay, I quit!’ I was tired of apolitical, churchgoing, family-oriented, unsexual gays and lesbians, and outed myself as an ‘ESPIE’ — an effeminate sexual person. 
As a limp-wristed horny gay man I thought — ‘Well even if I’m not gay anymore I can still be queer!’ But recent developments have indicated that I might not be comfortable calling myself queer anymore either.
Last month I attended a queer conference in Vancouver. Someone at the conference said: ‘I have a dear friend who is asexual, they consider themselves to be queer.’ I said ‘That  doesn’t make sense to me. Queer is a word originally used against people because of the kind of sex they like to have. Hasn’t being queer always been about sex?’ Nobody seemed to agree with me.
Hm.
At the same queer conference I also learned that some very vocal queers these days don’t like drag queens — and they’re certainly not ashamed to say so! Someone said drag was misogynistic, someone else said that drag queens perform to appropriated music — and that their humour is hurtful and unpleasant. Others agreed. My understanding was always that drag (as Judith Butler taught us) gives freedom to stretch the binary gender boundary. And don’t forget, drag queens are, and have always been, radicals — they were on the front lines at Stonewall.
But that is all history. And modern day queers don’t seem to care a fig about history.
All this is relevant to the changes taking place at Toronto Pride. The Executive Director of Pride Toronto — Mathieu Chantelois — recently resigned. 
His resignation has a lot to do with ‘new queer’ vs. ‘old gay and lesbian.’ 
At the the most recent Toronto Pride, Black Lives Matter marched in the parade, staged a protest against the police, and offered an agreement for Chantelois that would ban the police from formally marching in the parade. Chantelois signed the document, but after the parade he promptly disavowed his action. Now, as Chantelois resigns, there are voices calling for a more race-sensitive, trans-inclusive Pride.
The battle lines are pretty clear. The question is this: will Toronto Pride be a gay and lesbian parade — celebrating the mainstream values of nice, married middle-class white gay and lesbian parents pushing strollers and waving rainbow flags? Or will it be ‘new queer,’ focused on  issues of trans and race?
I haven’t marched in Pride for years; but I don’t think I’ll be marching when it turns ‘new queer.’ I mean, I’m all for a more race-sensitive, trans-inclusive parade, and I’ve fought against racism and for trans people most of my life. But the conference made it clear to me that in the ‘new queer’ world, there is absolutely no time or space for subjects that matter very much to me, for instance: AIDS, drag, sex, and feminism. The lack of support for my ideas at the queer conference made it very clear: these subjects are past-their-due-date and irrelevant, and the ‘new queer’ powers-that-be might even be offended by someone bringing them up.
So you see, now that I no longer can call myself ‘gay’, I find it doesn’t make sense to call myself  ‘queer,’ anymore, either.
Gee, what’s ol’ Sky to do?
It looks like I’ll be having my own party every June — all by myself!
Wish me luck!

Monday, 25 July 2016

I am NOT your ‘ELDER’




I am not your elder.
That is not my culture, that is a term from another culture and it has absolutely no relevance to mine.
So please do not call me that.
I am a white Canadian guy and I have very little knowledge of Aboriginal culture; and as much as I may have learn about it, I cannot claim to ever fully understand it, as I am not in it.
From my admittedly limited understanding, Canadian Aboriginal culture treats the older members of their community with great respect — younger people are interested in what ‘elders’ have to say, and give them a pride of place, based on the notion that they may have gathered wisdom in their many years upon this earth.
This may be true of Canadian aboriginal culture; however in modern day Canada the situation is quite different.
I know what it is to be old in Canada today. My disabilities are treated with irritation and fear. (When I walk slowly on the street I am told in no uncertain terms to get a move on!) I live in a culture that only values youth — and the kind of unwrinkled, slender beauty that is associated with it. Before I open my mouth it is assumed that I probably won’t have anything important to say; I can see people bracing themselves for the interminable tirade of an old bore. I have yet to encounter a young person who values my experience. In my work I am constantly told that I have ‘had my day’ and that it is time for me to move aside for a contemporary point of view.
If I go to the movies or go online I am overwhelmed with youth culture — pretty people talking about and doing things I did and talked about years ago — all as if it was something new, and without history.
But listen. I’m not complaining.
No, really. 
Honestly.
You don’t believe me?
Well it’s my culture. I have lived with the advantages of being young in a youth-obsessed culture for many years, so now I must reap the disadvantages of being old in it. 
That’s just the way it goes.
I fully accept it.
What I’m complaining about are white people who appropriate an Aboriginal Canadian term and call me their ‘elder.’
I think it’s an unfortunate trend that accompanies the earnest and positive efforts to rectify some of the wrongs committed by the Canadian government against Aboriginal Canadians in the past.
All well and good.
 But people are throwing around terms like ‘two spirited’ and ‘elder’ as if they were the same as ‘queer’ and ‘old’ —- and as if it were all just a big game of Pokemon Go.
Well it’s not.
I know that for most people in Canada, age is not a matter of respect. They are in fact quite uncomfortable as they watch me stumble, — on my unlit way — to ‘dusky death.’
Respectfully — you just don’t know what you’re talking about.

So please don’t call me ‘elder.’