what we mean when we call you girl

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Girl.

It’s the four letter text message that says it all. Add a “u” or a few rrr’s but it still says everything. It says, “Oh my god.” It says, “Can you believe this shit?” It says, “I’m exhausted and I can’t get it into it.” It says, “I agree with you.” It says, “I’m sorry.” It says, “My mind is blown and I need to resort to one word that expresses everything.”  But to me the word girl when spoken among gay men means, “You belong and I get you.”

When I turned 21, I was dating an older guy (who was like 25 at the time but being the hateful little queens we were, we all acted like he was Grandma Moses) and I spent a lot of time with his friends. To each other, they were all “girl.” It was a term of endearment and while I don’t remember the precise moment, I do remember how I felt when I was called “girl.” When dishing and drinking cocktails or playfully making fun of each other, the word bounced around the room with each person catching it and tossing it back. My natural social nature mixed my extreme people pleaserism helps me acclimate fairly quickly to any situation so soon enough I was being called girl too. Getting the moniker “girl” and addressing others with it too meant that I had arrived as a young gay man and in that moment it felt important. After spending my teen years bullied and in the closet, I felt like myself finally and the being able to drink like a grown up didn’t hurt either. The girl had arrived and she wasn’t going back.

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Through nightclub life in Los Angeles and hanging out with drag queens, I had found my girls in the mid-nineties and me and the phrase were off to the races. It was said in rage, it was said in gossip, it was said in concern and it was said instead of getting into deeper uglier details. It could also be said in the realm of gay superficiality, one as a creature of the night I was exposed to a lot. You’d call someone girl instead of remembering their name or call them girl to feign a closeness that really didn’t exist. Regardless, girl cemented itself into my language which is interesting given the origin of the word. According to this fascinating piece, the word has a bizarre and storied history. In the 15th Century, both men and women were called girl. Women, believe it or not, were referred to as “gay girls” while young men were called, “knave girls.” In my mind this sort of makes sense. I mean what if 15th century homos were just walking by one another and saying, “Knave girl!” which would later become “Hey Girl!” Okay, I’m totally making up my own etymology myth here but it could have happened. What struck me about this little blip of a factoid is that at one point we were all girl. I know. “We are all girl” sounds like some horrible feminism lite campaign started by a lip gloss company. But still it’s cool to think that back in the day sexualizing the moniker wasn’t even a thing. That we were all called girl.

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At age 44, it’s now just part of my gay vernacular and something I say all of the time even when I talk to straight people. The women in their fifties and sixties who I used to work with loved when I’d exhaustedly call them girl.  But the word isn’t even so much about gender as it is the perfect every occasion word to perfectly nail a myriad of situations. Thanks to RuPaul’s Drag Race the gay context of the word has gone mainstream and people now know how we use it. When I was thinking about this topic before I sat down to write, I wondered if for me the word had even further power. During my childhood, I was always called girly or sissy or gay (even though I was the least sexual child on the planet) or having everything I do from walking to talking described as “like a girl.” So it would be natural to shun the word. Some gay men work overtime with the masculinity to avoid the word and the negativity associated with it. Yet I think what we, as gay men get to do, is reclaim it. We take what was negatively labeled on us and turn it into a word of power, of humor and most importantly a word of belonging. My best gay friends and I call each other girl and when we do it’s like a verbal hug. It’s code for, “I love your big gay crazy ass.” When my bestie from the recovery texts me girl or bitch (a word we’ve also reclaimed and that I adore), I know that I’m loved even though he’s a few thousand miles away.

 

I’m willing to accept that I’ve spent some 1,000 words gaysplaining the word girl and its personal meaning to me. See, in the brewing intolerant times we live in, being as gay as humanly possible has become something of a personal mission. Like, I’m inches away from performing a non-stop Judy Garland lip synch routine in a park while covered in rainbow body glitter. Owning my big girl self isn’t just good esteem-wise but it’s a pink neon middle finger to the world at large. As gay men are currently being put in concentration camps and trans people are being murdered, I can’t hide. As LGBT suicide and addiction rates explode, I can’t look the other way. In fact, as a person who is out and healthy and expressive I have a responsibility to keep the lights on for those who are still in hiding and in pain.

So girl, when we call you girl, it means something. It means we get you. It means we have your back. It means we love you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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eventually, you’ll think about your ass

tumblr_mdm66xNgHD1rrajnno1_1280.jpgEventually, you’ll think about your ass. And by think about “ass”  I don’t mean, ass in general, like “ass” as a greater entity. As in getting yourself some or a piece of. And I am also not talking about thinking about someone being an ass. If you are awake and reading this, you’ve already done that 40 times today. Nor do I mean you’ll think about someone else’s ass which again has probably already happened today. No, I mean “ass” as in the one attached to you. Eventually, you’ll think about your own and wonder where it all went wrong.

Someday soon or maybe it’s already happened, you will walk by your ass in a full length mirror and say, “Well, fuck.” You’ll give it a double take, questioning your first glance. Surely, that whatever that is can’t belong to you. Or you’ll wonder if there’s a lightbulb burnt out in your bathroom. Or perhaps it’s the angle you’re staring at it which it makes it look so depressed. Maybe it has dimples where it didn’t before. Maybe weight changes have left tiny tracks across it. Maybe it was happy and now looks sad. Maybe it used to be solid and now jiggles. Or maybe if you’re like me, you’ll notice that what was once high, tight and smooth is now a flattened, saddened shell of its former self. Like if 2016 was an ass, it would be yours.

In an act of aging gay male rebellion, I do not however spend a lot of timing romancing my younger self. When your younger self is a glitter and cocaine covered coke whore and not a male model this is easy to do. Nevertheless, I don’t spend hours looking at myself and wondering if there was a twink wandering around nearby whose youth and life-force I could suck dry in between spray tanning sessions. I’m okay with my impish, Moby-ish looking self and know what my physical strengths are. I have nice blue eyes. I have dreamy dimples. I have soft and attractive hands that proudly tell a life story free of physical labor. I have good skin, nice legs and calves, thanks to walking everywhere and I have a great ass. Or I used to, anyway. In fact a random drunk guy at a beer bust at a leather bar in Los Angeles once said I had “the best ass in the city.” Which me even remembering is remarkable for lots of reasons, primarily of all the compliments I’ve ever been given this is the one I’ve cherished? Sigh. So much for not being a vapid, shallow gay man. Anyway, the point is my backside was my magical power in the gay world. Sure, I didn’t have abs or massive biceps but none of that mattered when you got a glimpse of ” the best in the city” ass. So imagine my surprise when I noticed at age 44 it didn’t exactly look like it would win any awards.

What it is about tragedies that happen in the bathroom that make them harder to deal with? Is it the lighting? The intimacy of the setting? Or the fact that you went in there to do one thing and discovered something awful instead? Whatever the case may be, it happened last year as I stepped out of the shower. The old mirror with the shitty brass frame that lived in the linen closet broke the bad news: my ass had flopped down. Gone was the “you could bounce a quarter off of it!” posterior of the past and here was this butt that looked like it gave up. Like it just decided to quit. Suddenly, I had the “I can’t even” of asses. I went to bed and woke up with middle-aged white man ass and I was not happy about it. Like what the hell? Didn’t the goddess of great body parts owe me a few more years of great butt-ness? I didn’t know it would just vanish at midnight like Cinderella’s coach and horses. I thought we’d have another decade or so together. Just to make sure, I put on my glasses and checked out the situation in two different mirrors. Son of a bitch. After, failing the three mirror test the writing was on the wall, or on my ass rather, I was getting older. Despite having multiple people (all of whom I promise I do not pay) tell me regularly that they thought I was in my thirties, my ass knew the truth. I was a forty-four year-old gay man who’s last free pass in the hot to trot gay world had literally gone south.

But really why did I care? I’m married and not out there shaking my stuff five nights a week trying to land a man. So who gives a crap if my butt had seen better days? The answer lies, as it often does, in a Google search.  In preparation for this piece, I Googled, “How a butt ages.” The search results are as hysterical as they are depressing. “My Butt Keeps Going South As I Age-Help!” an article from Prevention was my favorite. Titled with the same urgency as say, “My Husband is Cheating on Me-Help!” or “My Teen is Addicted to Crack-Help!” it says everything it needs to about how we feel when we find out our ass has fallen into a deep sleep and probably won’t wake up. Other results like, “Ways Your Butt Changes, By Decade” from Cosmopolitan and “Spending All Day On Your Butt Ages You By 8 Years” from Men’s Health are so damn sad sounding that I considered just buying big, billowy men’s caftans and riding my days out left on this planet with my ass in hiding. This little search tapped into the bigger reality: aging is hard and unavoidable.

One of the things we people who’ve stopped killing ourselves with drugs and alcohol do  is practice “accepting the things we cannot change.” Aging, despite what Men’s Health and science might tell you, certainly falls into that category. Despite having the interests of a 13 year-old girl and the mental focus of a 22-year-old, I have to accept that I’m aging. Granted, I know I’m only 44 and not 87 but time is marching on, and to paraphrase Dolly Parton’s line from Steel Magnolia’s eventually you realize it is marchin’ across your ass. For me, accepting this is easier than say, getting butt implants or-gasp- doing lots of exercises to reverse the aging of my ass. I am trying, as a whole, to be a person of quality. A person who has rolled with the tides of adversity and come out the other side. Therefore, my state of my rapidly sagging butt can’t be something I freak out too much about. Now that the shock has worn off, I do know that when I die and people get up and say nice things about me (again totally uncompensated to do so) the guy who said I had the best ass in LA won’t be there. Instead, or at least, I hope, people will talk about how I wasn’t awful and that I tried to do nice things or that I at least made them laugh.

So yeah, eventually you’ll think about your ass. Or maybe it’ll be your arms. Or the skin around your eyes.  You’ll wonder where it all went wrong. But then you’ll move on. I promise you will. You’ll wonder about important things like what you’re having for dinner or when’s the next time you’ll get to lie down.

‘Strike a Pose’ Strikes a Chord

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“Look, around. Everywhere you turn is heartache. It’s everywhere that you go.” Madonna,Vogue, 1990

It wasn’t the scene of Madonna simulating oral sex on a bottle. Nor was it the many scenes of her openly discussing her love life. It wasn’t even the scene where she turned “Like a Virgin” into a masturbating with a crucifix blasphemy filled ballad that people were talking about when they talked about 1991’s Truth or Dare. It was the scene where two of her male dancers kissed each other while playing the game in the title of the film. The sight of two men making out on the big screen was so nonexistent in 1991 that jaws dropped around the world when the film was released. Now over 25 years later, the story behind that kiss as well as the all the dirt on the tour, the film and the diva herself can be seen in the new documentary Strike a Pose, now on Netflix.

As a Madonna fan, I’ve been dying to see Strike a Pose since I read about it last year. The main reason being that Truth or Dare was seminal in my life as a gay teen trying to find the courage to come out. What that seemingly simple scene did for me and others like me was show that who we were was okay. Madonna and her dancers were presenting a life where you could be yourself and not give a fuck about what people thought. Sure sounded good to me, the terminally effeminate and unique soul that I was. Yet according to the film, that scene and the glamorous carefree life that came with it also came at a price.

Strike a Pose profiles the lives of six of Madonna’s dancers from the Blonde Ambition tour who were also featured in the “Vogue” music video. Luis, Jose, Salim, Carlton, Kevin and Oliver became instant stars during the tour and their fame exploded when moviegoers met them a year later in Truth or Dare. The movie takes an unflinching look at the past and pulls no punches especially when talking about the AIDS crisis. Two of the dancers, Carlton and Luis, tell heart-wrenching stories about how they were terrified to tell Madonna and other members of the company that they were HIV positive. Carlton found out in Japan while Blonde Ambition was getting ready to take over the world and Salim was diagnosed in 1987 but kept it hidden. Their stories are incredibly sad and ironic given that Madonna was vocal advocate for HIV and AIDS, having just lost her friend artist Keith Haring to the disease. These dancers were very young and I can’t imagine how terrifying that world was back then. Thus the story of Strike a Pose, after it gets done dishing the showbiz details, quickly becomes to a story I can really relate to: a story of survival.

How do you deal with the fall outs of instant fame? If we are to believe Strike a Pose, the answer is, not very well. These kids thrust into the spotlight were given all the drugs, booze and VIP access that they could handle and they rightfully took advantage of it. Naturally, things got ugly pretty quickly. Jose and Luis, who became minor club sensations with a record of their own, both got hooked on heroin and parted ways with Madonna after their addictions got out of control. For Carlton and Salim, the battle to stay well in a society where everyone with your condition is dying is a very real one, not helped by collective shaming and ignorance. In one of the films, more devastating segments, we’re introduced to Gabriel, the dancer featured, along with Salim, in that famous kiss. Gabriel died from complications of AIDS in 1995 at the age of 26. According to his mother, Gabriel wanted Madonna to cut the kiss from the film and after she told him to “Get over it”, he  went on to sue her for forcing him to come out. It’s an unsavory moment but not the only one. Kevin and Oliver also sued Madonna for compensation from the film. Yet the movie goes surprisingly lite on the Madonna bashing which is surprising given that her reputation as a difficult  boss and coworker is legendary.

It’s because of this however that Strike a Pose is effective and moving. By avoiding being a victim, bitchfest, Strike Pose turns into a portrait of growth. It isn’t about Madonna anymore. It’s about the six dancers and what happened since their worlds were turned upside down. Against the odds, these men have somehow stayed well, gotten sober and survived. Salim’s story, for me, is the center of the films’ heart and message of resilience. Still dancing and living in New York, Salim speaks  publicly for the first time about being positive and the result is a raw, tear-jerking emotional moment.

As a fan of Madonna and Truth or Dare, the movie delivers on the serving the desired nostalgia of the time. With clips of the film and access to the songs, the movie gives a fan what they want. But as somebody sober with HIV, the movie goes a lot deeper and soon becomes relatable and courageous. Gay men like myself have always been attracted to women who survive. Cher, Elizabeth Taylor and Tina Turner all had been through the ringer and counted out but somehow came back. It’s a glamour and toughness that we as gay men latch onto and find aspirational. Yet what Strike a Pose does beautifully is finally give gay men the fierce, empowered, truthful comeback story of their own.

Au revoir, Louis. Au revoir, Chappelle

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“There is nothing to apologize for. I made a joke, that’s what I do, “- Joan Rivers

Last year, my act of pop culture rebellion was I wasn’t going to pay to see any more Hollywood remakes or reboots of old films. This was brought on by that Ghostbusters. And no, it’s not because it was an all-female cast. What kind of misogynistic a-hole do you think I am? It was because it looked like a poorly written mess. Like I get it they bust ghosts. What else about that universe do we need to know about? Plus as a storyteller and film lover, supporting rehashes over fresh new stories felt hypocritical. I’m pleased to report, my little rebellion went very well. Nary a remake in my 2016 movie repertoire to be found. After just watching the Netflix comedy specials of Dave Chappelle and Louis CK, my 2017 pop culture rebellious act became crystal clear: I’m done with straight, male comedians.

There’s a two-minute joke at the beginning of The Age of Spin, one of two new comedy specials by Dave Chappelle on Netflix, where he looks like he’s going to go there. By “there” I mean the giant pink elephant in room of his widely chronicled bizarre behavior. He starts this hour-long special by addressing a TMZ story wherein he was booed off stage for being drunk. He wisely corrects the story with a great punchline: he wasn’t drunk. He was high. And he wasn’t booed offstage. Sure, people booed but he stayed on stage. It’s a great joke and hints at a self-aware special that promised to address all of the stories and do it in a way only great comedians can, by making fun of himself. Sadly, that hint is all we get. We instead get rape jokes, gay jokes and trans jokes.

Which would be fine. Let me be clear. Comedy doesn’t offend me. It never has. I grew up in the 1980’s where HBO and Comedy Central were flooded 24 hours a day with comedians many of them telling jokes that made your jaw drop. I like hearing comedy that tells the truth and sometimes the truth has to be dirty, raw and unpretty. That quote at the top of the post was made by the queen of offending people Joan Rivers who made a zinger about the women kidnapped in Ohio back in 2014. Rivers’ joke was a funny one but she was also able to roast herself first and foremost. This is the missing ingredient from The Age of Spin. Chappelle mentions he hadn’t performed in Los Angeles, where the special was taped, in over ten years. He also casually talks about a comeback. The subversive, hot topic jokes feel desperate. When he gives us a look into Dave Chappelle, the troubled and beaten down entertainer whose over a decade away from his groundbreaking show, he lights up. He provides belly laughs. He feels relevant again. Yet it’s fleeting. Part of what made him so good back in the day was his ability to tell it like it is. See his amazing SNL opening monologue for proof.

But without the self-reflection, the rape jokes, the gay jokes and the trans jokes fall flat. Instead of an hour of watching a comedy great return to the top of his form, we’re trapped watching a desperate and at times criminally unfunny attempt to claw his way back. Had he been able to take legendary public bellyflops with mental illness into a funny, confessional hour, it’d be something to actually talk about.

Yet Dave Chappelle alone doesn’t shoulder the responsibility of me swearing off straight dudes telling jokes. Louis CK’s dully titled special, Louis CK 2017 isn’t exactly something to write home about either. Also on Netflix, CK’s issue is similar. When reflecting on society as a whole and taking himself out of the equation, it feels like we’re watching an overpaid Vegas headliner doing their greatest hits. But his material absolutely soars when he talks about his family, his personal fears and his children. CK also goes there with trans and gay jokes and why these are even part of the straight man’s cannon is completely baffling. Like aren’t straight men horrible and fucked up enough to draw plenty of jokes from. Keep our names out yo’ mouth! While not as ill-conceived and tasteless as Chappelle’s, they are a cheap laugh and at least CK incorporates himself into them. His Magic Mike joke which finds him obsessing about the movie and questioning his own sexuality. It’s the best joke of the set which leads to a hilarious penis/microphone bit. As a fan of the sitcom CK walked away from, this mildly entertaining special doesn’t feel like a return to form as much as it does a people pleasing exercise meant to elicit hoots and hollers from other straight dudes.

Me being done with funny, straight guys is unlikely to make a difference and I know this. It’s the dominating source of things mainstream funny. One glance at the primetime sitcoms of the moment and we know that straight men still rule the playground. And to be honest, my latest act of rebellion has less to do with their straight-dudeness and more to do with my exhaustion with the genre. Much like the busting of ghosts, I know what to expect. I’ve heard it all before. I get it–women are hard to get along with, being a dad sucks, blah blah blah. Mainly, I don’t identify with their “struggle.” I resisted the urge to throw my computer out the window recently when reading about Tim Allen complaining how hard it is to be a straight white conservative in Hollywood and comparing it to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, for fucksakes. Boo fucking hoo, Tool Time. I don’t care which is fundamentally my issue. At my core, I just don’t give a crap anymore about the narratives of Kevin James, Tim Allen, Seth Meyer, Jimmy Fallon, Dave Chappell or Louis CK. So I’m giving up straight guy comedy for 2017. I will let you know how this experiment goes.

However, John Oliver gets to stay. Primarily, because he only talks about the news, he’s brutally funny, unapologetic and I might be the only gay man who knows who he is.

 

 

Bartles & Gays

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When you’re seventeen and somebody offers you a wine cooler while you watch a 300 pound drag queen do a version of “Rhythm Nation”, you take it. And if you’re me at age seventeen, not only do you take that wine cooler but you’ve already taken nearly everything else anyone has ever offered you. I’d like to say it was because 1990 was a freer, wilder time but if we’re being real here I would have been a drunken teen delinquent in even during the Revolutionary War. Getting lit with Paul Revere, y’all! Yet 1990 was unique for me because it was the year that I went to my first gay bar.

Down by the railroad track in an area of Denver that’s now filled with stoned bros stumbling towards sporting events, was a 3.2 gay bar called Stars. In my mind, it was Stars with a Z but when it comes to details from the late eighties and early nineties, I am admittedly an unreliable narrator. Whatever it was, it looked a lot like liberation in that moment. Already a fixture on the teen goth and alternative nightlife scene, I was always in search of new spots to dance, be loaded and be my snarky, bitchy little self. I was also in my coming out phase which officially wouldn’t really happen until later but at seventeen I knew I liked boys, I hated my parents and I loved to dance. That was enough. I was, as our dear Janet says in the aforementioned song, “looking for a better way of life” and I was pretty sure that included kissing boys and getting wasted.

The bar itself was nothing to speak of really. Kind of a hole in the wall and filled with a mix of lesbians, creepy older dudes, drag queens and lots of queer youngsters like myself. Allegedly the bar, was supposed to be 18 and up but my shady ass always found a way in. I remember this curvy, gorgeous biracial girl named Shanni who helped sneak me into a club through a fence on the patio. She seemed like the disco unicorn of my dreams and like a girl I’d never met before. Little did I know that all the gay clubs were filled with awesome chicks like her but I was thankful for her assistance. 1990 lent itself to a “look the other way” type of attitude about underage people hanging out and drinking in bars. Plus, Denver had that whole weird ass 3.2 drinking thing which was basically, let’s face it, a preview for the hardcore boozing coming attractions. The humble trappings and colorfully sketchy regulars didn’t scare me off. I was in love with the place. It blew my brain open to see gays of all sizes and colors being themselves and having a really good time doing it.

The song of the summer was certainly “Vogue” by Madonna. It was that song that gave every homo a chance to be flamingly gay on the dance floor and be as over the top as possible. It was our anthem and the moment that solidified Madonna’s role in my coming out. I remember sipping wine coolers with a friend watching a pimpled, discount version of Madonna lip synch the song and him saying of the performer, “Well, bacne certainly isn’t very vogue.” I had entered the realm of gay nightclub cuntiness and it came with drag queens and a dance floor. I truly belonged.

Other songs like “Everybody, Everybody” by Black Box, “Two to Make it Right” by Seduction and “Hold On” by En Vogue were also deep in the gay club rotation. Although I worshipped (and still do) at the Church of Madonna, what my mind kept coming back to when I sat down to write this was Janet Jackson. The songs we were hearing in the club that summer were from Rhythm Nation, 1814 which was released in the fall of 1989 but still getting tons of airplay. The children today would definitely describe that record, with its political undertones and brutally honest outlook, as “woke AF.” The mind-blowing thing about that record is that it has a mere three songwriters for the entire album. Doesn’t sound that impressive but when you consider that most of today’s “deeply personal” pop records boast upwards of 50 songwriters it at least proves we were dealing with a different caliber of artist on the radio back then. Sorry, but with 50 writers, nothing can be deeply personal. That’s a group assignment. Anyway, while not overtly gay and far from her all-out-sexual phase of her career, the songs of that record like “Miss You Much”, “The Knowledge” and “Black Cat” had a self-awareness and strength that on some level as a gay man in the making I must have needed to hear.

Ms. Jackson aside, my inner personal dealings with people my age or older weren’t all that amazing. Pretty disastrous, in fact. I mean, I was seventeen and just coming out so I was an asshole. I wanted boys to like me but had zero game. There was always some dramatic falling out with a group of friends that I knew from the club which I was usually smack dab in the middle of it. So thank god there was alcohol. The wine coolers made dancing and talking to boys easier. They made meeting new people easier. They made me easier. Tasting like Kool-Aid’s more ghetto sister, wine coolers were what I secretly really looked forward to the most about those evenings. Not too harsh and grown up in their 80’s appearance, wine coolers made underage drinking feel more normal. They also unshackled me from any other fears I had. That summer, I did cocaine for the first time, had my first three-way and basically checked off all the “I’ll never do that!” boxes off my list. And again, I was only seventeen. No wonder I felt like a Sheen family member by the time I turned 20.

At age 44 as I write this with Janet Jackson videos in the background, I feel for kid with the wine cooler. As if coming out wasn’t enough of a mindfuck, the poor dude had to wrestle with addiction that was already proving to be unmanagable.He had no idea the ride he was in for. Yet I wouldn’t change a moment of it. I wouldn’t go back in time to warn him about his future. Mainly, because that’s impossible and even if I could go back in time, the bitch wouldn’t listen anyway.

Instead what I’m left with is some amazing music, some hilarious fuzzy memories and some times that I loved but don’t really miss. Well, much, anyway.