Gay Per Saying: Penguin, Iceman, and Queer Discovery

A few months back, I went on a little bit of a Twitter rant about the monoculture that’s grown up around what a gay narrative is. At the time, I was railing against Robin Lord Taylor’s assertion that his Penguin wasn’t “gay per se” because the character didn’t recognize a gay sexual attraction until his late twenties.

Twitter was enough spleen venting for me at the time, but recent responses to the new Iceman comic over at Marvel have brought the whole thing bubbling back up for me. In a turn which should surprise no one, the usual suspects are railing against the notion that an adult Bobby Drake is “suddenly” gay. Because it’s the usual suspects, I want to bat them aside and ignore them, but I keep coming back to Robin Lord Taylor, a gay man, supporting a very similar narrative about queerness:

Honestly, I feel that part of the reason why I don’t like to say that Oswald is gay per se in the sense that I’m a gay man, I’ve known I was gay my entire life, and for someone at the age of 28, 29, or however old he is to just suddenly question his sexualization wasn’t something I totally understood.

The “gay per se” is fine, because despite hard lines drawn in conservative social settings, there’s plenty of sexuality that falls between homosexual and heterosexual. If The Penguin acted to reverse erasure for bisexuality, pansexuality, demi-sexuality, sapiosexuality, all of that would be wonderful. That, however, isn’t where Taylor’s coming from.

No, Penguin isn’t “gay per se” because, ostensibly, the character hasn’t experienced this kind of attraction in his youth, like Robin Lord Taylor and many other gay people do.

That? Is a problem.

The Closet Isn’t the Only Room In My House

The fact of the matter is, I wasn’t much of a sexual being at all until my late 20s. When I started feeling sexual attraction, it was toward men. What the majority of people hear when I tell them that is that I was in the closet until my late 20s, but that’s not accurate. It’s the easiest story for them to tell, however, because that’s the one they always hear. A large swath of queer people will tell you that they always knew. I can’t count the number of gay men who tell some variation on, “When I was six I saw the neighbor with his shirt off and it was all over for me.”

It’s a prevalent story. It’s a valid story. It’s an important story, the closet, because we need to acknowledge the pain and despair of people who know who they are but choose to hide that because of societal pressures and fears, who may never come out, or who make tragic choices to escape lives of repression. I don’t want to minimize that narrative in any way. I just want to make the point that it’s not the only one.

When I say I wasn’t attracted to men until my late 20s, that’s not a euphemism. I don’t mean that I wasn’t comfortable approaching men until my late 20s, or that that I was afraid to acknowledge my attraction to men until my late 20s. I mean exactly what I’m saying: my queerness wasn’t a tangible part of me until then. The only thing shut behind my closet door was my winter coat.

Some Doors Are Riskier to Open

I get it, I really do. A large part of the queer rights movement is predicated on the notion Gaga anthemed: we do not choose queerness, but are born this way. The logic follows, then, that if queerness is inborn, it should also always be there, right? Drooling over a TV idol shortly after being able to form complete sentences is primal reinforcement of that. Beards and girlfriends from Canada allow for late-stage gay reveals without robbing people of the core reality of their sexuality.

Saying that people may not discover a queer identity until later in life risks opening a door. If queerness can appear late in life, then the same logic as above can insist that queerness may be quashed at a later point, as well. Enter torturous “conversion therapy” and other such nonsense.

Tract Housing Isn’t the Only Kind

If people were robots, I might agree with the logic of the above constructions. If who we are happened to be nothing more than a string of indelible code with predictable responses, then sure, everyone’s queerness would express the same way, at the same time, and follow the same patterns.

I don’t subscribe to that. I’m a gay man. I’m queer. My queerness is a part of me. The fact that I didn’t discover it, that it didn’t let itself be known to me until later in life, doesn’t make it less integral to who I am or less innate a part of me.

It doesn’t fit the more commonly expressed narrative, and by doing so it makes the wider arguments about that narrative trickier to navigate, but that doesn’t make my narrative any less real or deserving to be told.

I’m Out of Housing Metaphors: Fuck Structural Restriction, Anyway

It comes down to this: sometimes it just takes a neighbor washing his car or a ring of keys to make a person’s identity clear. Sometimes it takes encountering the time-displaced, alternate younger version of your mutant super-hero self. The thing that makes stories different and unique is that people are different and unique. So down with the universal closet and monoculture, and up and outward with queer narratives that celebrate their own variety over homogeneity. That’s half the point of diversity, of decolonization, of intersectionality: if you think you know how “these stories” go, you just haven’t read enough of them yet.

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If You Can’t Tell People of Color From Dogs and Martians, I Can’t Help You

I did a bit of spitting and stuttering about this interview of The Coen Brothers by Jen Yamato on social media, but the more I stewed, the more I had to rant about, so I thought I’d take it to the lengthier venue of the blog.

Ignore the title of over at The Daily Beast. This is only tangentially about The Oscars. It’s far more substantively about the Coens who, after saying diversity is important, spin on their heels and dig in when questions of diversity are leveled at them (specifically, their newest film). The most egregious response comes from Joel Coen, when asked about criticism of a lack of non-white characters in Hail, Caesar!:

You don’t sit down and write a story and say, ‘I’m going to write a story that involves four black people, three Jews, and a dog,’—right? That’s not how stories get written. If you don’t understand that, you don’t understand anything about how stories get written and you don’t realize that the question you’re asking is idiotic.

I suppose I should at least be impressed by how very many ways Coen is fundamentally wrongheaded in such a short space. I mean, efficiency of language is something.

Still:

Let’s get some of the most hateful bits out of the way right here. A white, straight man is sitting around telling his Asian-American female interviewer that she’s an idiot for questioning his choices as a creator. This is such prototypical whitemansplaining that we might as well just stop using other examples. Joel Coen wins the crown.

I’ll give him some mild kudos for thinking to include “three Jews” in his hypothetical list that Writers Don’t Make. In the end, though, whether he’s throwing an ostensibly self-deprecating bone at himself or not, he still just implied that switching out white people for ethnic minorities if there isn’t A Big Reason for it is as asinine as replacing people with dogs. Aside from the fact that you’re only half a step removed from making “mongrel” comments, there, someone who claims to know “how stories get written” should probably know the difference between people and dogs. (special exceptions for writers of werewolf and anthropomorphic fiction notwithstanding). If you don’t, I’m pretty sure no one asking you questions is the one who’s an idiot.

More specific to the film in question, though, it sounds like Hail, Caesar! is exactly the kind of story which did start with a list of character concepts: The Marquee Actor, The Water Movie Starlet, The Hollywood Fixer. It’s a “day in the life” movie, after all, predicated on the notion that there are a lot of stories to tell about different Hollywood types. That kind of story by its very nature involves sitting down and thinking about which iconic character types you want to explore, what unique elements you want to bring to them (because if this is the same story we’ve already heard, why do we give a fuck?), then finding a way to weave them together.

Which is to say, if you’re already sitting down and saying we want a story with a big name star and someone from those Busby Berkely water musicals and a fresh-eyed kid and a grizzled veteran, you’re doing exactly the thing you’re pretending is idiotic: making a character list  with types of people in the real world.

Meaning that in the actual examining, it’s not idiotic at all. It’s how you craft characters. You sit down and think about who the people in your world are. Where they’re from. What they do. You give them lives and backgrounds. Different lives and backgrounds. If you didn’t, you’d have a story filled with a dozen of the same person. Which, short of that bit in Being John Malkovich, is a boring, horrible idea.

Pretending that taking a few moments in your character-building to consider the ethnic or sexual or gender or disability backgrounds of your characters as you strive for a vital, varied world that engages your audience is — at the insanely least — disingenuous.

And on the subject of four of one, three of another, etc., it’s long past time we stop pretending there’s a quota going on here. Seriously. There’s a request for storytellers to be more thoughtful about the world around them. That’s actually pretty much your job. It doesn’t help that this all comes with the infuriating implication that a movie full of white people is one where race happened naturally. Never considering if there was maybe too much White Default going on in the story is, actually, a choice.

If someone asks you “why is this movie so white?” and you have an answer which suggests it was for reasons other than being too lazy to conceive of any other configuration, fine. Whether or not it resonates, at least it means you thought about it. But when someone asks you “why is this movie so white?” and you just get dismissive and defensive, that tells me you never thought about it before.

In the end, I’m utterly exhausted by the authorial defense which insists that taking five minutes of story planning to consider that people other than the White (mostly male) Default exist in the world is some kind of egregious impediment to creativity or artistic integrity or storytelling or whatever-the-hell other stand in for The Muse happens to be word of the day.

People of all stripes exist in the real world. If you’re a storyteller, you’re building a world, too, and it is nothing short of lazy if you do not — in the course of that worldbuilding — consider the place of diverse individuals within it.

This Isn’t About Uma Thurman

I’m not going to post a link, because first: it’s all over the place, and second: none of it deserves the three people I’d send it in traffic. “It” is another deluge of articles speculating on an actress’s purported plastic surgery. This time it’s Uma Thurman. The headlines range from relatively neutral (“Did She Have Plastic Surgery”) to vaguely supportive (“…Sports New Look”) to flat out mean (“What Happened to Her Face?”).

And, as it was with any number of actresses who’ve been the subject of this kind of thing before, despite liberally using images of Thurman, this story isn’t about her at all. It’s about the writers and the readers and the people tweeting and posting to Facebook.

There’s a lot of “why would she, she was beautiful before?” going around, I notice. Which infuriates me on a number of different levels. First of all, it’s rather willfully ignorant. Why would an actress in her forties, whom other people know in part for her “beauty” feel pressure to do things to maintain that? I’m pretty sure every single person posting those before and after jpegs has answered that question by asking it: you feel the way Uma Thurman looks, the extent to which she fits in your definition of beautiful, is significant. To her career. To her value to you as an actress and entertainer. To her, I guess, integrity as a human being.

That people are invested in how an actress looks, in how “beautiful” she is rather than how talented or eloquent or hard-working or devoted to her craft — you know, the parts that go into the act part of actress — and that this investment drives clicks and sells magazines, is exactly why an actress might feel pressure to undergo procedures to extend her ability to fit in that stupid box you’ve put her in. Every person who’s asking that asinine question is part of the problem.

The assumption, too, that Thurman has to spend time answering to people about her motivations as regards what she does with her own body doesn’t help. Thurman’s a grown up, folks. She’s sane and educated and independent. She can get a haircut or a new lipstick or a nose job or whatever the hell else she feels like doing. Do we really think the people asking will suddenly go whoops, my bad if she gives us a good answer? Why are we assuming a successful woman like Thurman wouldn’t have one? What the hell is a “good” answer, anyway? Whatever it might be, Thurman is obligated to disclose a grand total of zero reasons to us. Why should she?

It doesn’t help that this isn’t actually even about whether Thurman did or didn’t have surgery. It’s about the fact that she looks different in one picture than she does in another. That she isn’t maintaining whatever look it is We associate with her. A look, more importantly, of which this collective, judgmental We approves.

We have no reason to believe Thurman did or did not have “work done,” whether that’s an eye lift or a chemical peel or just a fucking fad diet and a personal trainer, prior to this. Until We noticed, no one gave two shits what the actress was or was not going through to look the way she looked. We approved of the results. We deigned to judge her beautiful, and so long as she maintained this, We didn’t ask.

Then something happened that We noticed, and she didn’t fit in the box We built for her. We no longer approved. Only then did Thurman’s life choices suddenly, supposedly, matter. Though even then, that’s just a Macguffin. It’s ultimately inconsequential if the change was due to surgery or a lack of eye makeup or just from the fact that people’s faces change as they age. Our picture got ruined because We saw change that struck us wrong.

People aren’t pictures, even if we take millions of pictures of them. They grow, they change. There is no scenario by which they don’t or won’t. So how about this: if the eternal immutability of Uma Thurman’s — or anyone else’s — face is so central to your life that you feel shame and fear and anger and doubt at the prospect of losing it, I suggest you take a picture. Any picture that makes you feel warm and safe with this person you don’t know and probably never met. Then you and that picture should go into a safe, dark room and lock yourselves away from time and external stimuli. I wish you a happy, healthy forever.

Just make sure you don’t look in a mirror with the light on. You might notice something different in your face, and we wouldn’t want you subject to any more of that kind of trauma.

Slut-Shamer Pride

So, in an op-ed for The Advocate, Levi Chambers — the editor in chief of Gay.com — has a few things to say about what he sees as inappropriate attire for Disney Gay Days. Me? I have a few things to say about what seems a fairly slipshod argument he’s making:

Halloween is the perfect time to be sexy. Adults can dress like sexy superheroes and go to their favorite bar or club. No problem. That said, dressing like a hustler for the Gay Days Anaheim events at Disneyland is wrong.

The majority of the LGBT people celebrating kept their behavior PG, but a few thirsty fellas must have thought they were at a Pride after-dark event. In line for the Matterhorn Bobsleds, I noticed beaus wearing T-shirts with identifiers like “Top” or “Bottom” scrolled across their backs in the Disney font. I even spotted a few stickers on chests that blatantly read “slut” or “DTF.”

The time when it’s traditionally appropriate to tramp it up, if our example is to be believed, is Halloween. You know, that time of year when the streets are traditionally filled with children of all ages running around asking for treats and being adorable. Which is totally different than visiting Disneyland.

So, yeah. The counter-example actually makes it explicitly clear that one group of people may feel that a given event (whether that’s Halloween or Gay Days) is for something different than another group, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Not the best way to shore up the argument. You want one thing; other people want another. Totally okay for some holidays, but not for others because reasons.

Never mind that, though, since this isn’t just a holiday: it’s Disney. And Disney is no place for the barest of innuendo. Because Disney would never, ever turn up sexy in their children’s properties. Disney treasures childhood and wants it to last as long as possible, which must be why their animation arm made its contemporary comeback by marrying off a 16 year old girl.

The six year olds may just think Tinkerbell is super cute and spritish, but I’m fairly certain there’s a contingent of parents who are getting something entirely different from the view at Pixie Hollow, folks. Which, honestly, brings me directly to the next point.

I’m having an incredibly difficult time drawing the correlation between a tarty word on a t-shirt or sticker and “dressing like a hustler.” Honestly, it smacks incredibly of the same kind of logic that suggests the mere presence of homosexual individuals sexualizes an event, a movie, or a book. It’s the kind of base over-reaction that claims King and King exposes little Timmy to the raunch of anal sex.

If the argument’s going to have legs, I think it needs far better examples than what we’re getting here. If little Timmy assumes sexual positions when he sees the words top and bottom, if he’s decoding acronyms like DTF, the cat’s out of the bag. If knowing about Dirty Gay Sex ruins childhood, Timmy’s was clearly destroyed a long time ago.

I’m not close to convinced that the kids at Gay Days are any more likely to catch the innuendo of most of the phrases Chambers mentions than they are to realize Dad might like face character Jasmine’s top for more than the fact that it’s shiny and brightly colored.

You might get me to agree “slut” is questionable, but even if I grant that all of the above are a step too far, are you honestly telling me that, on a full day at Disney, the only people you saw who were wearing shirts with messages you thought might be in poor taste, or who were wearing something a bit too revealing, or behaving in a way you felt might be more sexual than appropriate, were red-shirted LGBT attendees?

Even at Gay Days, I find that amazingly difficult to believe. That many people don’t get together without someone’s taste level going in a direction someone doesn’t like. If there wasn’t some straight guy running around with a tattoo or a t-shirt involving a pinup girl, you could knock me over with a feather.

But, you see, apparently signing on to attend an event which is meant to create a safe space for LGBT folks, which Chambers himself says “is meant to be a celebration of all things gay,” actually just obligates one to represent All LGBT Forever in a way that makes everyone else feel safe and un-threatened.

Remember: you’re LGBT first, and a person second. We need to hold you to an entirely different standard than everyone else. In the name of equality. Or something.

Countdown to Awkward

Having had some time to mull it over after a few quick, snarky Twitter posts, I thought it might be worth the time to unpack my frustrations with number seven on Newsarama’s recent The 10 Biggest Questions the MARVEL/NETFLIX Deal Raises:

[W]e can’t help but wonder will Marvel stay faithful to the comic book and make Iron Fist a blond-haired, blue-eyed martial arts expert?

Let’s be clear here, we know NOT all Asians know martial arts and there is absolutely no reason a Caucasian can’t be a martial arts expert. We’re not going there. In truth, the reason we bring it up isn’t a “diversity” issue … it’s a following the money issue.

I don’t believe the item is meant to sound racist. I’ll admit I can see the intent there, but great oogly-mooglies is it buried under a whole mess of awkward.

First of all, that whole “stay faithful” phrasing sort of can’t help but land badly. Faith is a loaded word, and pretty instantly pitches the question with an implied correct answer. Richard Dawkins notwithstanding, most people see faithlessness or a loss of faith in a negative light. It qualifies the question in a way that leans heavily in the direction of said blond-haired, blue-eyed territory. So in the end, what probably wanted to be value neutral comes across as some kind of “respect Iron Fist’s important Caucasian heritage.”

Speaking of value-neutral-that isn’t, the followup doesn’t help matters overmuch. The author kind of bends over backwards trying not to piss off the don’t diversify my comics crowd. Again, I realize there’s a lot of folks who are likely to storm off into NerdRage at the idea of diversity, but as I’ve said before, scare quotes imply an allegiance, whether you want them to or not.

Diversity is real. Its existence is not in question, but treating it with quotation mark insulation so you don’t have to touch it means, well, maybe you aren’t really ready to talk about it?

The write up probably doesn’t do itself any favors by choosing as its possible extra-diversity character the martial arts guy, and suggesting he could maybe be Asian. At least they admit the cliché, but with everything else already kind of piling up in the wrong column, it’s hard not to have that feel like a lot of flopping about and stumbling. If you aren’t saying you only think of Asians as martial artists, why is the martial artist the only one you’re suggesting be Asian? I mean, we do realize there’s nothing inherently Caucasian about women or blind, Roman Catholic men, yes?

So, there’s that in a bigger-than-nutshell. I think there was a fair amount of good intent there, but in the end, the execution makes some really painful missteps. The result is an incredibly tone-deaf attempt to discuss the topic of diversity in media that I think muddies rather than contributes to any real discussion of same.

Dirty Living Does You In

It took me a very long time to finally let go of my hard key phone for a touch screen. I’m still adjusting. I’m not much of a fan of soft keyboards, though I suppose I’m getting used to it. But the smudges. Oh, dear Flying Spaghetti Monster, the smudges drive me crazy. On a whim I typed into the interwebs asking the google to tell me if there was a good way to prevent the smudges, and I found out about smudge attacks.

The University of Pennsylvania produced a research paper on the topic and basically concluded that they could figure out the password over 90 percent of the time. The study also found that “pattern smudges,” which build up from writing the same password numerous times, are particularly recognizable. Furthermore: “We showed that in many situations full or partial pattern recovery is possible, even with smudge ‘noise’ from simulated application usage or distortion caused by incidental clothing contact.”

Oh, great oogly mooglies. Seriously, it’s not enough that I have neurotic fits about the phone looking smudgy. Turns out, not cleaning the screen may actually make it easier for folks to break into it. Because I needed even more paranoid scenarios to kick of my neuroses.

I think I’m having a clean cloth sewn into every one of my clothes.

I Suppose Altar Boy Robes Constitute ‘Suggestive Clothing’?

The headline of the article is enough all on its own to push a rage button or two: Divorced parents also to blame for pedophilia, Polish Archbishop Jozef Michalik says. Imagine how super-exciting it was to discover that the content is actually even worse:

“We often hear that this inappropriate attitude (pedophilia), or abuse, manifests itself when a child is looking for love,” Archbishop Michalik said.

“It (the child) clings, it searches. It gets lost itself and then draws another person into this.”

Are you… seriously, you have to be kidding me. There must be a translation error. Please? I just … did you seriously just say that underage kids are out there dragging priests into molesting them?

When we actually get to the bit about divorce which inspired the original article’s headline? It’s part of this little gem: “Today nobody talks about divorce doing great harm to a child. It’s obvious that sex abuse does great harm, one can’t forget about it, but it’s not the only thing.”

It’s starting to fall into place, here. To rational people, suggesting that young children are luring priests into their own molestation would be the kind of thing which smells like week-old vomit. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I didn’t even say it.

Then you follow up by suggesting that divorce and sexual molestation are somehow equitable in the pot of childhood negative experiences? I have to assume that your grip on reality is tenuous at best. In which case, it’s really just wrong to go picking on the mentally unstable. It’s like messing with a child, and what kind of horrible human being does that?

(via Joe.My.God.)