Thursday, May 16, 2013

Self-Absorbed (Or General Dumbassery)?

This piece also appears on HuffPost Comedy

Are we all so self-absorbed -- our attention span like that of a toddler -- that we can't pay attention to the announcements continually repeating the same information? In an age where we can't seem to do anything without our smart phones how dumb have we all gotten?

I recently had to report for jury duty. There were wall signs all over the juror waiting room stating: No Cell Phone Use In This Room. We were verbally instructed that if we needed to use our phones we were to step out of the room to do so. We were instructed that we weren’t to tweet, play games, check our email, take pictures, or record video. We were instructed to turn them off, not just silence them. These verbal instructions were announced over the loud speaker. An excuse of not hearing didn’t apply.

I sat judgmentally (I know I know, judge not lest ye...yet there I was unable to follow that easy instruction) shaking my head at the number of people that had to be told repeatedly to turn off their cell phones. I’m guilty of being addicted to my twitter feed, checking my email, and playing too much Words With Friends, but I powered down when I was told to do so and settled in for the hours of waiting that were ahead of me. It was almost a relief of sorts to be unreachable. It’s kind of like when I’m at the gym. The phone is locked in my locker and I’m on my own time. With my phone powered down in the jury room, I was free to sit with my own thoughts; initially taking interest in the process happening around me then later, focusing on a magazine to relieve the boredom.

I watched in amazement as one of the perspective jurors in the jury room stood talking on her phone merely minutes after a security personnel team member made yet another announcement about NOT using cell phones in that room. When the security team member saw the woman, she asked, "Ma'am are you talking on your cell phone?" The question went unacknowledged. The woman on the phone gave no indication that she was the person being asked the question. As the security team member approached her she quickly ended her phone conversation and smiled at the woman. Her smile was one of those Oops-I-didn’t-think-No-Cell-Phones-applied-to-me-Sorry smiles. The security team member wasn’t amused. She had the patience of Job, but she didn’t care about anyone’s excuses and as nicely as possible I heard her tell people so. I loved her.

It is the smallest thing to turn off your phone (or to silence it if turning it off is too anxiety inducing for you). You don’t even have to remember it outright. When you go to the movies there’s a visual on the screen with an announcement. When you attend a live theatrical performance a bodiless voice fills the theatre instructing you to turn off your phone (and unwrap your candy). When you’re sitting in the court room before starting voir dire a person standing in front of you reminds you to turn off your phone. All you have to do is pull it out of your pocket or purse and turn it off (or at least silence it). That’s all. In that moment when cell phones are mentioned, you check yours and make sure it’s off or set to silent. But inevitably an obnoxious ringer rings or clangs or beeps or chirps. 

I was sitting in voir dire (the examination to ascertain a juror’s competence) when that inevitable happened -- the unique, muffled sound that has become so familiar when someone’s purse starts ringing. The judge’s instructions were interrupted. Concentration was broken. All eyes tracked toward the sound. Frustration was writ large on many faces. It’s understandable. We are connected to the world, but not to what’s happening in front of us. We don’t think those posted placards and announcements apply to us. 

Sitting on a jury panel, instructions are of the utmost importance. One has to pay attention, listen to the details. Can we pay attention enough when we’re dying to check Facebook for the latest cat video? Can we take the fate of someone else’s life into our hands when we’re so self-absorbed that we need to check-in via foursquare? I’m being dramatic, but I’m being dramatic to make a point. As a juror, we have to be able to discern between true and false. If we can’t be bothered to follow the simple request of turning off a phone, how can anyone expect us to follow all the information being given to us via testimony then use that information to render a decision of guilty or innocent.

We will walk down the sidewalk (or into the street) texting or reading on our phones expecting every one around us to move out of our way because we’re too busy in our own world to be bothered with our surroundings. During the opening monologue on the May 15, 2013, episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, even Jimmy Kimmel mentioned how texting-reading-emailing while walking is a normal action that takes place on the streets of New York City. His joke: he wants to develop a car made from Nerf material so he can “bump” these oblivious, self-absorbed people and give them a scare. Sounds good to me. I myself want to run into them on the sidewalk more often than I want to move out of their way. I walk and text myself, but I am constantly looking up to see where I’m going and more often than not I’m walking along the curb when doing so as opposed to down the center of the sidewalk. These texting-reading-emailing walkers are like people with huge umbrellas that have no idea how to maneuver in New York City. I made a decision a long time ago that I was tired of bending my umbrella to accommodate theirs. Now I just let the umbrellas collide with no remorse and no decline in my stride.

Our phones have become an extension of our hands. We don’t know what to do without them. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to rewind a scene I missed in an episode of one of my favorite television shows because I was checking my twitter feed or looking at Instagram. So many times that I’ve started trying to leave my phone across the room or in my bag when I’m watching television. And God forbid I forget it at home: let the anxiety begin. I’ve been late to work before because I chose to walk the 7 minutes back to my house from my subway stop after realizing that I didn’t have it. This is because I didn’t want to miss anything -- texts, tweets, Facebook comments -- not because I felt I needed it in case of an emergency. I’m shaking my head at myself.

For those brief periods when we’re asked to turn off our phones (at the movies, at a Broadway show, in the jury box) we should do it. Detach for those few hours. Focus on the reality of the present moment. It ain’t deep. Don’t panic. All the voicemails and texts and tweets will be waiting for you when you get the chance to power up again. It’ll be like Christmas morning. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

My Grandmother and Katherine Chancellor: Restless No More

It’s common knowledge in my family that for all the years she worked, my grandmother took her lunch break from 11am to 12 pm. The town fire alarm would sound (as it did every day back then) announcing the arrival of lunchtime. She would drive the half mile home, make herself a quick lunch, sit down in her chair and watch her “story:” The Young and the Restless.
In the late 80s early 90s, Y&R had some of the most outlandish, creative, edge-of-your-seat story lines I’ve ever had the pleasure to get sucked into. I loved it. I couldn’t wait to see how Sheila Carter was going to torment Lauren Fenmore next. And when David Kimble awoke from anesthesia and looked in the mirror to see his new face, the reveal of the word “killer” carved into his forehead by his plastic surgeon was shocking and unexpected. Those story lines have stuck with me all these years. None were more exciting, however, than the ones that included Katherine Chancellor. That woman was feisty to the max. She didn’t take shit from anyone, least of all Jill Foster, the former manicurist who slept with, and got pregnant by Katherine’s husband. That rivalry produced some of the juiciest scenes and verbal smack downs I’ve ever seen in daytime drama, and at one point or another I’ve sampled them all (’85-present).

Katherine Chancellor was the epitome of a Grande Dame. She was elegant, sophisticated, and glamorous. (That’s how I always see my grandmother in my mind -- sophisticated, perfect hair and make-up, elegant.) One thing I seem to always remember about Katherine is her accessories; her diamonds to be exact. She often wore a large clustered diamond ring on her index finger. It was oblong and reached to the knuckle. It seemed so out-of-the-ordinary, yet exactly right for her.

Fearlessly portrayed by Jeanne Cooper for 40 years, Katherine symbolized to me the vibrant, active, older woman. Like my grandmother, she had the love of her family, but she had a mind of her own and wasn’t afraid to speak it. Well, if I’m being honest, she was more outspoken than my grandmother, but she had writers that my grandmother didn’t have so that kind of puts my grandmother at a disadvantage.   

To read that the character of Katherine was controversial is not surprising. This was after all a character that went through the same facelift surgery as the actress. Jeanne suggested and allowed footage of her own facelift to be used for Katherine. I did not see it first hand, but I’ve had the pleasure of watching it on YouTube. The idea and the execution was nothing short of groundbreaking. Jeanne made Katherine seem real; she made her human. She wasn’t afraid to show her worst side -- honest, ugly, and venerable. 

After I had moved away from my hometown, I used to call my grandmother sometimes to discuss the day’s goings on in Genoa City, the setting for The Young and the Restless. I really missed those phone calls after my grandmother passed away in 2004. Katherine Chancellor was my connection to her. There were many times I wanted to call and ask her what she thought of the current story line or what she speculated might happen. I continued to watch The Young and the Restless just so I could feel close to her. As with many people, I am fickle and eventually gave up watching Y&R. The writing got bad -- characters doing things that were out-of-character. But even as I would tune in from time to time while eating my own lunch I always felt an immediate connection to Katherine.

With the passing of Jeanne Cooper, and by extension Katherine Chancellor, my heart aches. The connection that I always felt to my grandmother by watching this character is now gone. I’m saddened by her passing. I wish I could talk to my grandmother about it, but short of sitting at her graveside and talking to myself, I don’t have that option.

I hope I never forget the conversations I had with my grandmother about Katherine and her doppelgänger, Marge. I hope I never forget the times that I would make sure to be at my grandmother’s house at 11am so that I could watch her “story” with her. We didn’t talk except during commercial breaks, and she didn’t like questions. If I didn’t know what was going on, I had to wait until an appropriate moment to ask. No interruptions tolerated.

It’s hard to separate the characters in daytime from the actors who play them. We get so involved in their lives that we forget they aren’t real people. Thank you, Jeanne, for bringing to life one of the best character’s daytime television had the pleasure to offer us. You and Katherine will be missed. If you see my grandmother up there, don’t be surprised if she calls you Katherine. Introduce yourself. She’s a nice lady. Her name is June.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Another Gay Man's Reaction to Chris Broussard

This blog also appears on HuffPost Gay Voices

Words affect us. They can hurt us. They can give us strength. They can positively reinforce or negatively tear us down. They can inspire us to action or cause a reaction.

Positive Reinforcement. “I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay.” In a country where many place professional athletes on the highest of pedestals, NBA Basketball player Jason Collins did a brave thing when he said those words. We have yet to see the impact they will have on his NBA career, but regardless, it took courage, especially when he has so far to fall. In a society that is fickle enough to love you one minute and turn on you the next, Mr. Collins faced his fear and embraced his life. Hopefully, his coming out will be an example that living in truth is better than living in fear of truth.

Negative Tear Down. In our slowly evolving society we still have too many people willing to publicly denounce homosexuals with verbal criticisms. On the program “Outside The Lines,” ESPN reporter Chris Broussard became another to voice his opinion on the matter. He said, “Personally, I don’t believe that you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle...if you’re openly living that type of lifestyle, then the Bible says ‘you know them by their fruits’ It says that, you know, that’s a sin.” He went on to say, “And if you’re openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality--adultery, fornication, premarital sex between heterosexuals--whatever it may be, I believe that’s walking in open rebellion to God.” 

The day after making the above statements, Mr. Broussard spoke via phone with the hosts of the radio program “Breakfast Club” on New York’s Power 105.1. As a basis for his beliefs he cited Biblical passages from First Corinthians and Romans in the New Testament, as well as, from the Book of Leviticus in the Old Testament. He did make a point of saying that not all Old Testament laws (e.g. not wearing blended fabrics, not eating shrimp) carried forward in the new covenant made in the New Testament. To which I had to question, Why cite Leviticus at all in this matter? Then I remembered we’re dealing with people who have their go-to passages for proving homosexuality is wrong.

Mr. Broussard must not have a problem with those NBA players who have tattoos. I mean the Bible does state in Leviticus 19:28 “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.” That looks like a direct quote from God himself. Then there’s Leviticus 20:10 “If a man commits adultery with another man’s wife, both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death.” We wouldn’t even consider doing that today. As for First Corinthians, in Chapter 7:32-35 Paul suggests we stay single so we can focus on God without the distraction marriage brings. Paul’s words, not God’s. I’m not using these verses to make fun of Mr. Broussard, I’m using them to point out that we can’t pick and choose what we’re going to follow then ignore the rest.

With the right afforded every person who lives in this country to speak his mind, I acknowledge that Mr. Broussard has every right to speak his. He can do so privately or publicly if he desires, but come on. To quote “Aibileen” from the film The Help “Ain’t you tired, Miss Hilly? Ain’t you tired?”

Reaction. To all those out there who sometimes act like superior human beings I ask, “Ain’t you tired?” I’m tired. I’m tired of conservative, heterosexual Christians like Mr. Broussard saying they’re okay with gay people, but think we should constantly fight against our same-sex attraction. 

When I began to experience attraction, I was drawn to men. It’s wired in my DNA. Fighting those feelings would be like fighting the urge to drink water when I’m dehydrated. I can’t accept that the God I believe in wants that. Homosexuals are born. We’re not recruited, or converted, and we don’t make a choice. We exist as homosexuals from birth; trying to understand our feelings as we hit puberty in a society that often tells us we are not normal. If it’s not normal for homosexuals to be born homosexual, then why does God allow us to keep being born?

I refuse to believe I was born with a disadvantage; expected every day to fight against my same-sex attraction in order to please God. This expectation that I should fight my attraction to men comes from members of society who fear what they don’t understand. I’ve never once thought I should be disappointed in God for making me gay. I've questioned it, yes, but I haven't been disappointed, and I don’t think God is disappointed in me. I also don’t think I’m living in open rebellion to him. God is the higher power with understanding beyond that of the human mind. 

Heterosexuals are not the chosen few who get to participate in and enjoy a sex life. We gay men are not supposed to be sitting alone in a corner somewhere crying, wishing we could be dancing with the hot guy sitting across from us. We’re supposed to be dancing with him. 

Every gay person who continues to come out and live their lives, regardless of the threat of discrimination, hate speech, family rejection, and condemnation based on religious laws, is braver than anyone who will quote the Bible as their reason for stating another person’s life is wrong. We’re supposed to love our neighbor as we love ourselves and loving ourselves starts with accepting ourselves. If that includes being gay, then we have to strive to be true to ourselves, love ourselves, live our lives, and love who we love.

Thank you, Jason Collins for being another man to show us that living our lives in our truth is important; you’re an inspiration. And thank you, Mr. Broussard for showing us, once again, the hypocritical side of many of today’s Christians. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Coming Out as a 'Side.' Guilt Free.

This piece appears on HuffPost Gay Voices

Have you heard the one about the teapot? He sings, “I’m a little teapot short and stout. Here is my handle. Here is my...” He looks to the place where there should be a spout, but there’s another handle. Over and over he repeats his song until finally he gives up saying, “Damn it. I’m a sugar bowl.”

At some point the little sugar bowl convinced himself he should be one thing when actually he is another. Why am I talking about teapots and sugar bowls, you ask? It’s a metaphor for those pesky “top,” “bottom,” “versatile” labels we gays like to put on ourselves and others. We’re not always what we think we are; or the way other people see us and expect us to be.  

I recently read an article by Dr. Joe Kort in The Huffington Post titled “Guys on the ‘Side’: Looking Beyond Gay Tops and Bottoms.” I found it both interesting and enlightening. Dr. Kort defines a “side” as someone who prefers, “to kiss, hug and engage in oral sex, rimming, mutual masturbation...practically every sexual practice aside from anal penetrations of any kind.” I love the idea of a side. I’m totally a side.  

Full disclosure: I've had anal sex as both a top and a bottom. It’s fine. I’ve enjoyed both positions at various times, but I don’t love either. I know men who do, and that’s great for them. But what’s best for me is being relaxed with the other person and comfortable with what we’re doing. I know I'm not the only gay man who enjoys using his mouth, his tongue, and sensual touch. There's more than just pitching and catching. There's connecting in a way that can often be more intimate than the actual act of anal sex. Why do you think Julia Roberts’ character in Pretty Woman didn’t kiss? It’s more intimate than intercourse.

I found myself in a friends-with-benefits situation once that lasted for about four years. I was the top. Things were great until they weren't. It was empty. The sex--both anal and oral--left me dissatisfied. Sure I got my rocks off, but he wouldn't even kiss me. It wasn't fulfilling. I like to kiss. I need to kiss. For me, it’s sensual and erotic.

Seriously. I may watch--and get off to--a power bottom taking it balls deep in a porno, wishing in my fantasy life that I was him. (I watch too much porn.) But in reality, I’m more confident being a side. People have always tried to label me as a bottom. Maybe I am. I’ve been known to wish aloud that I could let my inner bottom out. But I’m skittish about the pain and paranoid about not being clean enough. And you know what? I’m the one who has to be okay with my choices, likes, and dislikes. Not identifying as a top, bottom, or versatile doesn’t make me less attracted to men, less of a sexual being, or less of a gay man. And it doesn’t have to make my sex life less exciting either. I’ve been punishing myself for years for not being what I’ve been convinced I was supposed to be when in reality all I needed to be was content being who I am. 

What I continue to recognize in my own life is the struggle I have with caring what other people think e.g. will this guy leave my house disappointed if I only kiss, suck, rim, touch, etc. It’s time for me to get over that bullshit! Trusting someone enough to put a part of his body inside mine or vice versa is not something I’m apt to do with a stranger, and there’s nothing wrong with that. So until I meet someone who makes me feel comfortable enough to go there, I’m going to stick with what I am comfortable doing. Judgements be damned.

The sugar bowl is just as necessary as the teapot to the entire tea service and is no less important than the saucer of lemon or creamer. They all fit together in one way or another. One just has to find the right combination. It takes all kinds of us--top, bottom, versatile, and side.  

I’m embracing my sideness. I’m a sugar bowl, damn it! At least for now.