Whether it is big or small screen,gay men are everywhere.
We are often served images that reinscribe stereotypes: the raving queen, the hard core -rough trade -nobody knows I'm gay, the "I will fuck anything" and have no moral center gay, and finally, the culture expert/innovator who entertains.
It is time we reclaimed our brilliance,creativity,power and yes "ovahness".
Reclaiming the aforementioned without asking for permission and an obsessive focus on white supremacy would also be a wonderful addition.
I know three things that if given up will make our lives suck less: a severe lack of attention paid to mental health; an over dependency on drugs and alcohol; and not handling our finances.
Some years ago, I wrote about cruising and the deeper implications it exhibits regarding issues of mental health, loneliness and shame.
Many people chose to share comments that labeled me prudish, judgmental and self righteous(despite my sharing that this world had seduced me on more than one occasion).
As with any group that has been shamed for who we are and what we do, it was easier to attack me and my suggestions than it was to have an honest look at what I'd drawn attention to (death, STD infection and incarceration and being labeled a sex addict which would prevent and inhibit employment and livelihood and the fear that keeps many of us from building a well thought out deeply intimate relationship with another man).
Delusion and denial are the roots of serious mental health issues.
These issues create individuals who will use and manipulate others to meet their own needs.
As I mentioned in my post, cruising was not fun or fulfilling. It always left me hungering for real connection. It fed the loneliness monster and provided entertainment.
People are not entertainment.
When our mental issues are ignored, we feel the need to dominate others by creating oversized personas and bitchiness masquerading as bravado designed to hide low self esteem, shame and feelings of "not enough".
Competing for scraps left by Supremacist culture, we are often nasty and biting to other gay men when it would be just as easy to offer support, understanding and solidarity.
If you are a sociopath with a large ego,insightful suggestions as to how you can make better and more productive life choices are perceived as threats. As a result, you must obliterate all attempts directing you to more favorable solutions.
I have known gay men who pitifully try to seduce straight men then terrorize everyone in their social circles when their ridiculous and pointless plans are thwarted.
Are we so filled with self hate that we must endure misery and angst to give ourselves something to do?
Making mental health as important as being fabulous and over-the-top would change an entire culture and have severe repercussions for the larger (straight) community.
Gay folks can then come to the table and demand change from a place of "enoughness".
Along with attacking things that attack us and claim our minds, we must let go of our fascination and dependency on drugs and alcohol.
Regardless of weed's (non harming properties) and alcohol's benign affects, the folks I know who partake are not indulging periodically.
A celebratory drink to honor an achievement is one thing. Needing a drink daily or a toke on the regular is something else.
I used to have an alcoholic friend whose witty retort about his daily cocktail was an insightful : I'm not an alcoholic; Alcoholics go to meetings.
While we all had a good chuckle at this brilliant and ascerbic comeback (which is what you do at 23), the constant and daily imbibing told a different story.
All of the folks I know who do drugs constantly make awful life choices: quitting jobs for no reasons with no plans or financial safety net, dating all the wrong people and a general lack luster existence replete with no goals or long term desires.
I know folks who defend their drug use and will argue with anyone that suggests they let it go.
There might be something to look at when you fight or attempt to legitimize your choices.
How do you feel about not doing it ?
What comes up when the thought of saying no is presented.
I take pride in saying no and feel great about it.
If gay men really want to thrive and share our brilliance with the world, it is imperative that we handle our coins.
I know of no other group that has the earning potential of gay men.
I also know no other group that makes such ridiculous, short term decisions.
If kids and all that comes with that is not a part of your future, does this give you the right to screw up piles of money?
Some years back, I wrote a post that highlighted gays men refusal to grow up and Capitalism's reliance on this refusal as a money making machine.
When you don't feel great about yourself, you are ripe for pimping and being used.
Gay male culture,regardless of what progressives and liberals tell us about working class and poor gays, has access to a plethora of resources.
I have been a poor gay.
It is not fun being broke all the time and at the mercy of (so -called)friends and their constantly shifting compassion levels.
Gay men who want to "own" their lives must get clear about their money, what it's doing and the power it wields.
I'm often amazed that gay men in their 50's are no further ahead than gay men in their 20's when it comes to financial planning and money management.
Social Security is on its way out regardless of what our elected officials tell us.
Gay brothers no one is coming to save us.
I recently created a financial power of attorney and a medical equivalent should my health deteriorate.
I have also started creating a living revocable trust along with a will and a way to protect my home despite which one of us goes first.
Many people think death preparation sounds morbid.
Most folks think that if they don't discuss death it will kindly skip over them.
While that might work in fairy tales and t.v.shows, in real life we are all gonna check out at some point.
No One's Coming !
We have to figure this shit out and become responsible for living well and protecting those we love.
Have the uncomfortable conversations.
Make this the year you handle the present and the future.
Take full control of your life by also taking full control of your mental health, dependency on substances and finances.
There are people depending on you.
Most of us are raised by people who know nothing about love.
Many of us confuse love with care(http://goodmenproject.com/guy-talk/why-we-confuse-love-with-care/) and then wonder why we are so confused, angry and carry a world of hurt inside our hearts.
It is not p.c. to say you don't love your children or for them to say they didn't or don't love you.
If what you long for is a real relationship saying there was care and never love would be a great start.
A while back my husband and I were discussing our upbringing.
I shared the theory that a great deal of what I and most people consider love screws us up in our adult relationships (intimate and platonic).
I pointed out that in therapy, conversations with close friends and another form of healthy thinking, R.C., I began considering that maybe I wasn't loved.
For many years, I bought into the philosophy that those that said they loved me (no matter how manipulative and cruel they were) simply needed forgiveness and understanding.
Most of us don't want to examine or question our upbringing from the standpoint that maybe you weren't wanted or loved.
Being told I should be like other boys; shooting down my dream of being a dancer burning up Studio 54 (once Saturday Night Fever went to series), imitating Eartha Kitt and wanting to be a writer, allowed me to see that humiliation and cruelty have no place in a relationship that calls itself love.
Perhaps you were that rare child with rare parents and adults who were able to meet your needs in healthy, non-manipulative ways.
Most of us did not have that experience as a result of the adults around us never examining their needs because we are all taught not to have any beyond the age of four.
To be an adult committed to mental health, we must face what scares us.
We are told that forgiving the unforgivable and being upset with those that have hurt us (which is a natural response to repeatedly inflicted pain)is something that keeps us stuck and unable to own and direct our lives.
While many people believe that understanding and the intellectual self explanations that accompany the aging process allows us to hold on to ourselves, I disagree.
As I aged, came out, created art and moved into and out of relationships and all over the country, the same (two)life lessons continued to reappear. First, I knew very little about love and the second thing was that the denial of any and all feelings was unhealthy and a recipe for disaster.
I have learned to be around family and anyone else who professes love and then offers up very unloving ways of interacting with me, in a very limited and guarded capacity.
I have learned to trust and watch behavior.
While this had not always felt good or comfortable, it has kept me out of all sorts of schizophrenia and ridiculousness.
Some people are evil, stupid, and are in now way interested in being shown kindness or "taught" how to treat anyone.
Hollywood has pimped us out by creating fantasy and unrealistic images of love and interaction.
Fairy tales explain things that confuse us and offer distractions for things that cause pain.
As adults who want "true love", we must give up fairy tales and start asking real questions:
Have I ever been loved well?
How did I know?
Have I done grown up work that will allow me to love another without manipulation, coercion or domination ?
When I began teaching, I wanted six children of my own.
Once I entered the classroom and noticed the pure insanity of the "system", the way children were treated and expected to learn and one awful teacher to many, I rethought my decision.
I assumed that it was the educator's job to educate no matter the obstacle or refusal by a parent,an administrator or god forbid, the student.
There is no way to teach in a risky, transformative way if school is considered a joke by adults who undermine all that committed teachers try to do.
My vision of reform begins with changing the way we parent.
Informed parents can turn things around if their parenting is transformed.
I have come up with seven things that can transform the way we all parent.
These techniques work and can be tweaked and modified accordingly.
1. As a caregiver, address and emotionally handle your personal demons
Seek professional help before having children. Many religious orders suggest six months or more of counseling prior to making a lifelong commitment. Watching children grow and develop, it is easy to see where they get emotionally stuck which is typically where their parents remain stuck. My parents constantly struggled with finances.I have learned many money handling techniques(good and bad) from watching them and listening to their tales of financial "gloom and doom". My parents were and continue to be menaced by the “mean green”. I have had to master a proactive and healthy relationship with this most necessary and productive tool on my own.
2. Stop thinking of your children as property
As a parent, you’ve been entrusted by the universe to guide, mentor and love these young folks not manipulate, dominate and treat them as if they are your personal property to do with what you will. Has anybody ever felt great about being an object? It doesn’t sit well and at some point will lead to a serious rebellion.
3. Stop Policing the Bodies of Young People
As our children grow and change, it is our job to understand and accept that we are now dealing with young people. Most adults never learn to interact or create spaces to be with other adults in the absence of sex and sexuality. As Americans, we both fear and obsess over sex. We learn to dread and attempt to control it. The body politic teaches us that some bodies are better than others. We take this warped thinking into our feeble attempts to raise children who feel good about their bodies. Many adults have never been taught to respect their bodies which in turn means they will not respect the bodies of young people. Bodies of all types frighten us. Bodies take up space and demand to be seen. Many of us fear that those we love and care for will be “seen”. Being seen can get them hurt, abused and exploited. Teaching them how to see themselves is what’s most important. It will not guarantee that your loved ones will not be hurt. It will offer them the tools to make better and wiser decisions regarding their bodies. Many of us learn and experience the brutality and soul crushing that is body policing from our families. As young child , I was often teased and humiliated for not being the physical embodiment of what young males should be and do(participate in competitive sports, in particular,the ridiculousness of football). When that got old, there was always my weight to judge and critique. For many years, I had no understanding of what healthy bodies and weight looked like. My confusion over bodies was complete as I watched my parents struggle with weight and reserve some severe judgments for my sisters. On several occasions there were jokes about what the life of a fat girl would look like. My parents have never addressed their angst and fear of the “body”. I have watched the confusion and cruelty of fathers who have no way of dealing with girls becoming women. It is imperative that we attack the confusion around budding sexuality and not our young people. To prepare for the inevitable, it would be wise for those of us who influence and care for young people to understand and accept a few things: they will change and look to us regarding how to accept and understand their changes; they will be given messages from the media that bodies are for sex and sharing only. It is our job to assist them in developing a critical awareness of their bodies and its limitations. We must teach them that their body belongs to them. We must show them the joy that comes from loving, respecting and listening to their bodies. When my youngest sister was transitioning into womanhood, she was not having my big brotherly let-me-take-care of you hugs. I had to learn (via the insight of a very wise female friend) that she was claiming her space, her body and with it a new level of independence. She was no longer a “kid”. Childhood was now giving way to young adulthood. Rather than demand that she allow me to shame her back into childhood, she swift kicked me into a new realm of our relationship. I relinquished the policing that I had been unaware of and decided to move into a more serious and respectful manner of interaction. When we allow it, our children can parent and guide us. We must allow it and usher in an understanding of the possibility for change and maturity this can allow.
4.Encourage your children to take risks and stop thinking of them as helpless
In the brilliant and paradigm shifting, Weapons of Mass Instruction, John Taylor Gatto states: “Don’t think of them as kids. Childhood exists, but it’s over long before we allow it to be. I’d start to worry if my kid were noticeably childish past the age of seven and if by twelve you aren’t dealing with young men and women anxious to take their turn, disgusted with training wheels on anything, able to walkabout London, do hundred mile bike trips, and add enough value to the neighborhood that they have an independent income, if you don’t see this, you’re doing something seriously wrong.” While this may sound harsh, I concur. I am often shocked at the level of maturity that young people fail to exhibit not to mention the lack of trust they and those that love them fail to provide in their direction. When I was fifteen and sixteen, my parents sent me to a premed program in Atlanta miles away from my Detroit hometown. I was able to take college courses, deal with demanding professors, learn a public transit system and interact with several people I had never met. Years later at 27, I used this skill set and moved to Japan for the summer and worked in an organic tea garden.
5. Teach them to fail early, often and big
We have now moved into an era where failure is not ok. Resiliency is a skill that never gets old and will keep your children from becoming spoiled, violent mass murderers who go completely postal when they hear the word no or things don’t go according to their plans. Learning to bounce back from failure and public humiliation is something that is difficult to watch and yet our global economy demands it. Mistakes are now highly welcomed. We have left factory and group think behind us in favor of reinvention, on-the-spot-solution creating and a constant level of change that has forced us to toss out manuals of what and how to do anything. Mistakes and failures are good experiences and great teachers. Often, we hover like psychotic, over caffeinated vultures wringing our hands waiting for our moment to pounce to make sure no one is upset, disappointed or uncomfortable. Parents that don't suck allow the discomfort of uncertainty and waiting. Win or Lose their loved ones will learn form feedback not from unasked for help or panicked concerns regarding what people will surmise from their parenting skills if their child fails.
6.Stop lying about money
Insist that they know the household income and what they can and cannot afford. If your child is at least six and is asking for money because they understand what it can do (purchase toys, food and things that bring them pleasure), it is time for them to start working and contributing to the household. One of my students started working at six. As a result, when she recently divorced, she had a serious nest egg and was not in a panic regarding her survival. I think getting kids involved in financial matters early and often is a great way to teach financial planning, budgeting and the grave difference between wants and needs. Until I was in my 30’s, I was completely ignorant about how much my parents earned. It has taken me several years to change my financial habits as a result. To be a parent that doesn’t suck, you must have your kids working. I don’t agree with paying for grades. I do agree with performing odd jobs around the house and earning their keep. Teaching them to bask in a job well done is a lesson that will allow them to self assess and self correct. I’ve met 20-year-olds who have never worked. It is time to get our young people to work and assist them in the building of self esteem that this will engender. Salt mines and shucking oysters may not be available but everyone I know who started working early (pre-teen years) is a money genius. They understand and dictate to their money; it does not dictate to them. So the next time one of your bundles of joy approaches you with an open palm and a set of sad, puppy dog eyes, do yourself a favor and shove a want ad into those paws and redirect him to craigslist and a job board.
7.Don't treat them as friends
Our job is not to pal around with them. They will make mistakes. It is our job to assist them when and if they need it and only if they have exhausted every other option. Mom and Dad or grampa and grampa should not be the first and only solution when things begin going South. Ask questions and offer insight not swoop in with one hundred solutions and reasons why he/she is going about it all wrong. There is no substitute for allowing a young person you love figure crap out. They never forget two things (a) they solved a problem and (b) you let them. We may know certain things as a result of having lived longer. Friends don't let friends make dumb mistakes and yet ridiculous mistakes that provide scrapped, bloody knees and simple cause-effect results teach young people life long lessons.
Although I have taught and loved children now for a decade writing this piece is still difficult.
Whenever I write about children and what they need, I run the risk of being shut down by well meaning parents.
I have taught in schools, lived through the disaster that was 70’s and eighties parenting skills, tutored and watched hideous train wrecks that could have been avoided with some commitment to change and the patience and intelligence to rethink children and their needs.
Great, productive adults don’t just appear.
Great, productive, brave and independent children aren’t just plopped out of a box.
My child rearing influences include resources as wide as Joss Whedon, Roseanne, Brene Brown, bell hooks, Alice Miller, John Taylor Gatto and Seth Godin.
I am co-raising nine grandchildren and not one technique works for them all all the time.
I am constantly adjusting, reinventing and relaunching.
Celibacy is Unrealistic
Gay men are taught that everything must be handled sexually.
Celibacy is a wonderful way for gay men to handle emotional needs without sexual activity.
We are not encouraged to seek counsel to deal with our problems in ways that require silence, contemplation or self- reflection. We are supported in using one another and not figuring out productive ways to change our lives.
When I was a sexual 20 something, I encountered many guys who were either unsure about their HIV status or lied about it.
Most men are not vicious enough to outright lie about their status and their motives for wanting to have sex.
When I realized that I had been lied to and outright manipulated, it became a personal obsession to ensure that my health remained great. At 24 I decided to forgo sex for at least one year or until a great guy came along.
Giving up “giving it up” made me productive.
I once read: men become successful in their 40’s because no time is wasted trying to get laid and being on the prowl.
During my self- imposed celibacy, I finally began my career as a writer.
I was able to redirect my life energy to writing, thinking and figuring out how to effectively self- actualize.
It is time we all looked at and committed to doing this whole sex thing in a very different way.
Limiting Sex/Attraction to One Type Will Make Me Happy
One of the major things that keep us from finding and keeping true love is our addiction to and fascination with “types”.
Whether you’re black and only date white or white and only date and sleep black, you are limiting who you will love.
I have met wonderful men of all races.
I have also met a few hardcore assholes who would still be assholes no matter their race.
As a black gay man, I thought it was my duty to love a black man.
I was unaware of “types” and that I could be boxed into a flavor of the month.
Spending the Summer in Boston changed my perspective.
Although it was the first time I had ventured outside my race for dating, companionship and sex, I found myself questioning what the big deal was and why I had waited so long.
When the Summer ended, my beautiful, kind, thoughtful and wealthy suitor begged me to stay and continue or relationship in a more adult and complete manner.
Many men have obsessively tried to get into my pants.
Few have tried with a Herculean effort to get into my mind.
If what we are seeking is true love, it might be time to can the bullshit, look at what and why we find certain things attractive and broaden our lust eyes.
Andrew Morrison-Gurza is a brilliant writer who writes extensively and insightfully about dating while disabled. In his great post: he addresses dating and sex while being wheel chair bound and self managing a chronic illness.
We each point out the need to date, screw and build relationships beyond what is comfortable and familiar.
When we fall in love or level headingly decide to devote ourselves to loving another well, it is not with a set of genitalia or skin color.
We must widen what we like and who we can love.
Porn Star Sex is Available to Everyone
While most of us have seen porn, it is rarely viewed with a critical eye and the understanding that it is a form of entertainment.
Repeated viewing makes you believe that every cock is huge, there is never a need to negotiate sexual interaction and most importantly this is the only thing that matters to men.
No one will suggest that we refrain from viewing it until we are not driven by images created by people who don’t love or respect us.
My initial viewing of gay male porn at nineteen was brought to me by my first gay male relationship.
My terrorist enjoyed encouraging me to watch porn and then blatantly and cruelly denying me sex.
Entwined with my initial relationship, porn taught me that sex was mechanical, always available and didn’t require much conversation.
Without true, non -sexual conversations there is not much chance of finding and keeping true love.
True love is not about the type or frequency of sex.
True love is also not about mechanics, predictability or fantasy.
It forces us to be uncomfortable and often requires that we straddle the unfamiliar with the possibility that everything could change at any moment.
When things change, we have to deal in the moment and not go into familiar roles and behavior.
Love demands that we think.
In porn, no one is thinking they are doing.
In porn everyone is a fuck beast and is a master at doing the deed.
True love requires some errors.
A while ago, there was much discussion about bareback porn.
Committing to truth and an understanding and proper view of fantasy (the substance abuse addictions in our communities is staggering)would eliminate the need for debate.
People would understand that having unprotected sex is dangerous and can have lifelong affects.
We are led to believe that we can have or recreate what our personal fave porn performers get paid to do.
We think this is possible without a crew, lights, directors, sexually enhancing drugs and twelve hours shoots.
Great Sex is Risky Sex
Sex in public bathrooms and abandoned houses with strangers.
We have all been schooled in the ridiculousness that for sex to be “hot”, good or worthwhile , it needs to include some life altering risk.
For too many of us, liberation means having the right to not give a fuck and doing whatever with whomever we choose.
This is not grown up liberation.
It is a stupid, petulant response to being told that we are not enough.
It is our collective response to a large group of folks that hate us.
Risky-kick up your heels- I don’t give a shit sex often lulls us into thinking that we are bad asses and all the bullying and familial shunning was wrong.
What could be more liberating, we are seduced into believing, than screwing in the open where the “straights” might have to witness us having a good time?
Risky sex is enthralling because of what it can and can’t offer.
While it offers a chance to “perform” for people who are disgusted and obsessed with our sexual expression, it does not satisfy on the deepest level.
It also does not provide an opportunity to fully see another human.
When we are tricking in a public place, the possibility of fresh dick and a belief that all fantasies may be fulfilled is overwhelming.
We crave closeness and settle for a warm body who will offer orgasms without much personal or psychological work.
A constant search for risk leaves us unprepared for true love and the kind of joy that is based in cultivating relationships that lead to real risk: (emotional connection).
While dallying in the world of constantly available and predictable “risky sex”, I longed for a real connection with another gay man.
When a practice is no longer working and is actually causing problems does it make sense to hold onto it and hope one more body, cute smile or low self -esteem liaison will improve our outlook and offer us a way to enjoy another sans exploitation.
When you are doing the deed with someone you don’t know and without exploration of anything other than the physical you are using another and being used as well.
Can we change or challenge this notion?
What Sex Can and Can't Do
Most gay men are taught that the only thing that matters is what is between our legs and what we do and don’t do with it.
Gay subculture is consumed with sexual activity and our personal attractiveness.
As a young queen, most of my interactions with other gay men was sex based.
Could I get you to fuck me? Would you be blown away by my sexual prowess?
Would I be so phenomenal that you’d leave your current relationship and stalk me for a deeper commitment?
None of the gay men I knew attempted to dissuade this ridiculous and pointless use of my time.
When I meet gay men who are young and full of promise and possibility and obviously being hormone lead, I often draw attention to what their gifts are beyond the bedroom.
Many of them, like my younger self, are not clear about the contributions they can make with their clothes on.
While we are perfecting sexual techniques and gathering sexual body counts we are also quickly aging.
Being a walking mattress at 25 or thirty is cute.
Being one at fifty is a different story.
At 23, I assumed that a grand roll in the hay equaled an opportunity to create a wonderful long lasting “true love” type of relationship.
When a roll took the place of some serious , hard down thinking and examining beyond the sheet action, things began to shift and change drastically.
My one year of celibacy convinced me some twenty three years ago to dig deeper and demand more of myself.
In one year, I discovered what sex could do- make you feel physically good; and what it couldn’t do- cure loneliness, depression and cripplingly low self- esteem.
As an older person in the community, I still maintain that we are as confused about sex as ever.
Gay brothers, friends and ex-lovers please wake up.
Please demand more from yourself and those that you say you care about.
We can and must do better.
Sex is powerful and we are more powerful.
We must examine all the lies fed to us by the heterosexual community and the ones that we have decided to create in our own communities.
When I spent way too much time dating assholes in the 90's, I came across a great quote that changed who and why I dated.
bell hooks spoke of making love while listening to the genius that is Stevie Wonder.
I took this observation to heart like all things hooks and Wonder.
As a kid, I didn't recognize his brilliance.
In the last forty years, we have yet to produce an artist as gifted, socially relevant and vulnerable as Stevie Wonder.
Most artists have refused to trot the path of love, spiritual renewal and commitment to full and unabashed, humanity enhancing artistic expression.
While artists and anyone raised in this culture gets seduced into worshiping money and doing any and everything to get it,Talking Book and the subsequent Songs in the Key of Life were not cheap, produced for mass consumption albums.
Everything you could ever want to know about love, politics and human possibility can be found when listening to Talking book, Songs in the Key of Life and Innervisions.
Politics come into play when he speaks of going to Saturn and living amongst people who not only don't take more than they need but also put back things they don't need(Songs In the Key of Life).
bell hooks often states that to love blackness in this culture is dangerous and upsets the masses.
Stevie loves himself and his black culture.
There is no way to produce his incredible body of work without a love of black humanity and humanity at large.
While each album stands on its own, Wonder's fascination with and devotion to social change and liberation via incredible musical arrangements is mind boggling.
We all have much to learn from this ballsy, leave it on the floor person.
Any artist who believes in truth as power and allowing our minds to wander unfettered owes a huge, unpayable debt to this man.
Prince, by allowing his genius to take him wherever it chooses, is a direct result and influence of Mr. Wonder.
Janelle Monae is another artist on some futuristic shit who has taken a page from the Wonder creativity book.
Perhaps my obsession has been brewing slowly.
Maybe it started when as a struggling, broke-as-hell artist living in Harlem, I listened to him for guidance and reassurance that I could make it, create art and have a voice.
Broke, scared and lonely, living in one cold room in Harlem, Stevie sustained me.
Perhaps it was 2008 when I was preparing for another life transition (moving to the West Coast) and was sure I could make it but unaware as to how.
Listening to him nonstop helped me pull it together, face personal demons and press on towards a new dream.
Perhaps it is time to pursue two life long dreams that are centered around this incredible man.
The first dream is having an opportunity to perform with this titan.
While I have adored and appreciated several artists, I am not moved to share the stage and "work" with many of them.
My second dream regarding Mr. Wonder: A kick ass tribute band.
Will I resurrect my dream ?
Is it time to let this dream go and create another ?
Stevie would not let go of a dream or calling so why should I ?
Here is my set list : "Sir Duke", "Knocks Me Off My Feet", "Superstition", "As", "Another Star", "All in Love is Fair", "Pastime Paradise", "They Won't Go".
There is a way to make art and a life that truly matters.
There is a way to do it with substance and a conscious.
This is my dream.
Ten years ago, I received a call with an offer to work with Lauryn Hill.
As a result of my obsession with this talented young woman, I couldn't agree to the gig fast enough. In my excitement, I called my sister (a fellow groupie), my cousin and anyone else I could dial up.
While I spent most of the night preparing for the next day's life changing opportunities, I was not prepared for meeting the artist in person.
She seemed broken.
I saw such misery and pain that my desire for fame and the end of obscurity ended.
All I wanted to do was hug her and ask : how you be ?
What I witnessed was an artist who had been pushed beyond their limits and was in need of rest and contemplation. My perception was that she had been pulled in so many directions for so long that she was now unable to belong to herself.
Was I another fan demanding a performance and happily willing to forego the need that she and we all have to safeguard our talent in ways that allow us to resist the unforgiving pimp that is fame and fortune ?
Was it more important that I pitch my ideas and a way for us to collaborate than offer a soulful connection.
What I had no way of knowing at the time was the dramatic shift that pop culture was gearing up to serve the masses. At a very pivotal time, pop culture was at a point wherein something new was being craved and yet there was a hunkering for predictability.
Lauryn Hill existed at that very pivotal place of "between".
Culture critics, academics and community elders love to highlight the problems that occur when we allow musicians and celebrities to rear and influence our children. Few will confess to being influenced by the culture at large and in turn influencing the same culture.
We are all products and creators of our shared cultural experiences.
What Ms. Hill represented in her 1998-2004 heyday was the possibility of success that was based in loving blackness, loving and embracing womanhood and allowing your talent to determine how far you could rise.
Loving blackness in this culture is a problem and can get you much side eyeing and baffled looks.
I said "loving blackness", not apping, obsessing over or constantly acculturating it.
Her dark skin and full natural hair could have allowed the larger white establishment and pop culture to dismiss her and keep her a small and powerful underground entity.
This ain't what happened. She wore her blackness proudly.
I saw her on the cover of major fashion magazines sans lightening and all of the other bullshit black folks feel we must consent to if pop culture success is our ultimate goal.
Videos filled with this rich dark skin blasted the air waves and our eyes.
Her love of blackness and respect for black artists who proceeded her was clear.
Unlike many young artists, there was no ridiculous claim to originality and the outrageous claim that she had invented a new and unrealized or unheard of musical art form.
Her music gave young girls something to aspire to and young men a vision of a woman whose primary concern was not the male gaze.
She never denied nor exploited her sexuality.
In the past fifteen years post her solo debut, much has changed and remained the same in regard to black folks, women, music and popular culture.
When my little sister went form talking with much pride about this young woman who had accomplished so much so early in her life to explaining the significance and media sensation that was "Paris Hilton", I knew the end was near.
There is no guarantee that Ms. Hill would be interested in remounting her throne or that anyone would be interested if she did.
There is a need for young women to see other young women "belong to themselves" and not gleefully trotting towards anything that will offer them celebrity.
Our new world order is full of blond weaves, trash talking and a depth of soul violation that is sickening and almost humorous.
I never worried or winced when my baby sister listened to Lauryn Hill.
I worry when the only thing black woman can do or take pride in is being the "baddest bitch".
Be like Lauryn and bell hooks: develop a real taste for rebellion, be clear in communication and love yourself fully and maybe we won't need Ms. Hill because her job and mission is complete and successful.
Miss Brown was an addict, a sex worker, a transgender MTF and my friend.
When we became cooking buddies, I began to learn a great deal about transitioning and its challenges.
She taught me a great deal about about men, power, money and negotiating of sexual liasons.
While I struggled to be progressive, I often was aghast at the things she endured to become her true self and live in a non-exploitative and non-objectified manner.
I often struggled with seeing her as female because I knew of her birth gender.
I am ashamed to admit I had not seen her as a full human.
I saw her as entertaining.
I saw her as educational.
I saw her as fun. I saw her as an individual who brought laughter and some new insights.
I never saw her as a person struggling to make sense of a world that didn’t like her as male and hated and attempted to destroy her as a transgender female.
Many of us struggle with the same dislikes of transgender individuals.
We hate, dismiss and psychologically deny them for several reasons.
When I began to examine my uncomfortability , it became clear that it landed differently depending on whether the transperson was MTF or FTM.
Male to female always brought up a ton of thinking about domination, oppression and white supremacy.
My opinion was one that questioned why anyone would willingly move from a position of power to one of powerlessness.
With my tribe that went from female to male, my perception was that it was only a shameless grab for power and entitlement.
After some serious self examination and some heartfelt listening, I discovered that I was wrong on both accounts.
What frightens us all is visibility and the bold choice to remake and reinvent without anyone's approval.
Most gays spend a lifetime waiting for someone, typically,a family member or uncomfortable friend to grant them permission to be who they are and live boldly and freely.
When one of our own gets bold, we have the option to either applaud and join them or wish they would slink away in shame painfully awaiting for approval of the ubiquitous “they”.
To claim space anywhere in the world at anytime is thrilling and dangerous.
Most of us fear the trans community because we fear the responsibility and visibility that comes with choosing to redirect our lives and our gender.
Few of us have made decisions about how we live and exist in a world that hates and attempts to control and destroy anything that is not white, young and male.
Choosing an identity makes folks realize how much society( a group of people they have never met) influences their thoughts, behavior and sexual expression.
Miss Brown shared with me the brutal physical abuse she endured first at the hands of her homophobic grandmother(who tried to beat the sissy out of her young male body) while threatening her then later at the hands of the medical establishment who told her the operation and hormones could cause death.
Her response to both threats: I’m willing to risk it.
Choosing death and visibility over lies and self denial is brave.
All my trans folks who decide to live have much to teach us all.
Confrontations with those in power and those that offer conditional love provide examples of how to take on the wall of shit that we all face when we decide to self create.
Choosing to forgo a lifetime of meaninglessness means you are inviting all kinds of danger and vulnerability.
Ms. Brown struggled with addiction and self medicated via tricks and drugs; she had tackled the initial battle of taking on a world of bigots and intimate terrorists and won.
She had not disappeared.
She underwent her transformation not seeking to gain or relinquish power.
She reordered her identity.
Forgive us for our fear.
Forgive us for our lack of bravery and courage.
Forgive us for not doing the internal work that would allow us to accept, revere and learn from your ranks.
We are ripe to learn lessons of how to be brave and offer a big middle finger to society who can only accept us when we clone ourselves and allow people to go unchallenged and their bigotry unchanged.
Trans folks also understand exploitation.
The school of resistance is rewriting its curriculum.
Time to show up and show out.
Please join us in our valiant world domination.
Fairy tales and movies can teach us to love ourselves or misogyny.
Filmmakers and creatives often rely on stereotypes to keep us entertained and non thinking.
As a boy, I loved stories of all kinds and lacked the cultural insight of a dear friend who told me that when reading Hansel and Gretel, she always sided with the witch (it was her house first).
This radical and feminist memory of Hansel and Gretel reemerged when I found myself at two very different films that represented women and children of color in divergent and revolutionary aspects.
My seven year old grandson wanted to see Annie.
While I had hesitation about a film with a young natural haired black girl at the center (my fear that her hair would be referred to as a problem and become the running punchline in the movie),I soldiered on with my grandson expecting two hours of tomfoolery and hoping to witness a balance between humor, story telling and a proper valuation of young black female depth and power.
My fears were somehow lessened when thirty minutes into the film my young charge began singing along with the score before telling me : she looks like me and then sharing: I love it.
What was witnessed that day was that you can be brown, well loved and significant. It doesn't mean you won't have challenges and morons who can't or won't understand you. It means that there is a place for you even if and most importantly if you have to self create it.
We are all influenced and shaped by images that we witness.
Into the Woods was very disturbing.
I could not understand why a film with Meryl Streep(whom I adore) caused me such angst and discomfort.
I was disturbed watching a grown ass man lusting after a young child.
When I let that go, I immediately reached for my critical lens of how the other women were being portrayed in the film.
Much of the tale centered on women who will:sacrifice any and everything, including their lives for their children and or get punished when they indulge in or dare to have any desire for anything that only benefits them.
I saw this so many times in the film I began wondering whether this was the original theater version or had it been punched up Hollywood style by a pack of woman haters still stewing about the one that got away.
After the giant's home is burglarized by a small boy, the entire cast rallies around him to take down the angry wife set on revenge.
When the couple desperate for a child strikes a bargain with the witch, both the witch and the young wife die (get punished).
The young wife in a moment of ecstasy and curiosity allows a dashing prince to "seduce" and kiss her.
Five minutes later she dies.
When the witch finally is restored to her former glory, her punishment is becoming a large pool of tar.
I was glad that none of my granddaughters saw this.
It would have been difficult explaining why the men stole, lied, manipulated and charmed and still were rewarded with their desires.
At some point, I will co-write tales for girls and women with girls and women in ways that uplift and celebrate.
I will try to steer my young charges male and female away from films that demonize those with dreams and power who wish to see (experience) how far their ambitions can take them.
Any suggestions for revolutionary and women positive fairy tales ?
Any suggestions for males who appreciate collaborative efforts with people who may look, think and see the world differently and yet want similar things ?
My kids need it and I am desperate for something I have yet to see.
We have to stop teaching young people that ambition packed in the female form is a bad thing.
At 47, I have realized much time has been spent like Carrie Bradshaw and the girls: Chasing men who don't want me or can't or won't love me.
My entire twenties was spent coasting from one ill-fated and dead end relationship to another.
The one constant was my soul crushing, mind numbing loneliness and state of "please love me".
Spending years trying to get the wrong people to give me some kind of "act right" got very old and just plain pointless.
Telling someone you date : "this is how you act like a decent human being" is never a good sign. Most of the gay men I know have a disturbing undercurrent of loneliness that runs their lives.
When loneliness undergirds each and every decision, our capacity to make great choices is severely diminished.
Loneliness often is the result of and leads to severe depression.
Many times in the male species it reveals itself through flat out promiscuity.
Since as a culture we are not taught to recognize nor accept male depression, we are often guilty of looking the other way when a dear friend begins sexually acting out.
All the chat lines and hookup sites are filled with people looking for sex and a good time.
They might be seeking human interaction.
When I've been offered the opportunity to screw around with someone I don't know and decided instead to have a meaningful conversation with a trusted friend, I felt sated.
When I've gone for the comfortable and yet limiting sex with strangers, I've never felt wonderful.
Sexually satisfied occasionally.
But truly uplifted, changed, had my self esteem and feelings of self worth increased exponentially ?
I'm afraid not.
The dirty little secret is that we are lonely.
Whether we enter relationships we know are doomed at the start or stay in ones long after we should have left the fair (both of which I've done on more than one occasion), decisions get made based in loneliness and shear desperation.
Being a gay man in this culture is a lot of things.
This country and its culture is aggressively steeped in isolation. Many of us were isolated as children because of our "difference".
When isolation is added to an oppressed and hated culture , there is a space created that sanctions sex for any and every reason and then adopts a philosophy that won't allow for true feelings to emerge and be handled.
In a few weeks there is a convention of gay men that I will be attending.
Discussing the types of things that will be addressed (with a friend who will also be attending), I shared the thrills and possibilities created when several men of different life experiences, ages and socioeconomic backgrounds gather and exchange ideas.
At some point in the conversation (one minute into it), I was informed by my friend that he never sleeps alone at any convention.
This let me know that even at 54, he could still "pull a date" and get some dick despite this not being the point.
I could only wonder : Are you that lonely ?
With the only possible answer being, yes.
Why not make the decision to make this an opportunity to look for and demand more of yourself and your community ?
We annihilate loneliness not by denying or indulging it.
We destroy it by understanding that we have been engineered to accept this as our fate and yet this is complete nonsense.
We attack it by sharing with our friends that we are at the abyss of loneliness and ready to make the leap into ridiculous choice making and need help in making wiser decisions.
We need the types of friendships where allies recognize our blind spots(loneliness tendencies) and tell us to "knock it off" early and often.
We also have to hold ourselves responsible for our behavior.
It is easy to become and remain confused about what we're doing and why when the isolation beast seductively invites us to make that call, text or hop on the line with other lonely souls who are "just bored and want to have a look about".
Good friends who want the best for you will not leave you alone and trust that you will make great decisions.
They will give you a good swift kick in the pants until you do.
If you have these types of relationships in your life, great.
If not, start looking for and cultivating them now.
My favorite and most valued gift by the aging process is a great big case of the "Fuck Its".
At 15, 20 and even into my thirties there was a great deal of energy put into what people thought of me and adjusting my life and thinking to accommodate the ubiquitous "them".
While everyone commented on how "nice" (the original definition of this word was "dumb") and pleasant I was, there was much upset and resentment waiting to be(unleashed). Creating a false persona allowed me to keep the secret (my being gay)hidden.
Being nice and not a problem, I could live and exist happily undetected.
This thinking kept me trapped in awful relationships and heinous partnerships.
People love it when you are eager to accommodate, cosign bullshit and engage in all manner of tom foolery. When I began fighting my way out of Mr. Nice Gay mode, folks looked at me with disbelief and many feigned shock.
When a person in a relationship makes a drastic change, all parties are affected, have reactions and feelings and ultimately must make some adjustment.
Nobody wants to adjust if their needs are constantly being met.
The ability to not give a fuck is a great section of the aging process.
When I say not giving a shit, it doesn't mean being an asshole which is a role people will attempt to assign you. The not-giving- a- shit means: I will not twist myself into a pretzel in an effort to get folks to like or accept me. It also means I will not hand over my thinking , self esteem or self validation to another and hope they come up with something grand.
Whenever I've handed over the reins of my life to someone, I have never been happy with the results.
When I've co-directed an initiative, my joy increased as a result of consistent and deliberate actions. As we age, there is less tolerance for foolishness and shenanigans with people that have no grand vision for their lives and whose concern in life is getting by with the least amount of intellectual or spiritual effort.
As I've aged, I have constantly and shamelessly asked myself : Is this activity something I want to engage in or invest my energy into ?
Is this the best use of my time?
Part of the aging process deals with the comfortability and brilliance that occurs when we make a decision to be bold.
You can't be bold if your primary concern is hurting someone's feelings or what they will think of you. There is really nothing better than making choices from a well thought out and guiltless position.
Aging has forced me to spend a whole lot less time being concerned with the opinions of others and most importantly, how I look to them.
Letting go of the crazed production that is "image" is also wonderful.
If I'm tired, I rest.
If I'm pissed off, hurt or confused, I can choose how I will address these issues with my husband, friends and coworkers. Sometimes a great big box of "shut the hell up" is required.
At other times, it is important to speak out and up and opt for deliberate and swift action.
My younger self had the need to constantly and psychotically remain busy at all costs.
Brene Brown says this is the new addiction: Staying busy so that we don't have to deal with the realities/truth of our lives.
I encourage all of you to embrace growing older.
Those of us who are most affected by this need to be "nice" (gays, women and minorities) should purposely and gladly welcome the attitude and power that comes from aging, being clear and the natural outcome that this provides.
If we have spent lives of dire desperation, anxiously awaiting for someone to give us permission to dream and accomplish heart passions, then the aging process can look pretty crappy.
There is nothing to dread or lament if we have lived lives of meaning and exploration that have allowed thinking, spirituality and self knowledge to grow.