Sunday, January 31, 2010

Deny! Deny! Deny!

Have we learned nothing from Bill Clinton?

Remember when, even during the 1992 campaign, all those stories about his mistresses started cropping up? Until the Monica Lewinsky mess and impeachment twisted his arm and forced him to reveal himself to be the hound dog we already knew he was, he adamantly denied the affair stories. When the truth was revealed, it was sad and pathetic. Did he really think we (and Hillary) didn’t know?

All of this entered my mind with the latest (and hopefully last) saga in the John and Elizabeth Edwards soap opera, “The Days of Our Crazy-Ass Lives.” John released a statement finally admitting he was the father of Rielle Hunter’s toddler, and apologized for the repeated denial of that fact to the America public and most grievously his family. Perhaps this was in part to get ahead of the upcoming book of his former campaign aide, who at first stated that he was the father but who later recanted and admitted he was covering for his boss.

Meanwhile, we learned Elizabeth kicked the Ken Doll out of the house and is on her way to filing divorce once North Carolina’s year of separation requirement is fulfilled. And apparently, she accompanied John last month to make a monitored visit of the 2-year-old love child. Remarkably, she had Christmas gifts for the child and encouraged a picture with his daddy.

I think John may be vilified in part because he’s a public figure whose first whiff of scandal wafted from the pages of the National Enquirer. But really, he’s exhibiting traits in human nature found in most of us.

When we do something wrong that threatens our relationship, the first instinct seems to be covering it up. Most of us talk about honesty but we fear that the misdeed or issue at hand will be the one that nets no points for coming clean. It will anger and hurt the other person and make he or she leave. So now the objective is keeping quiet and covering it up if need be.

The problem, though, is that, especially if it’s a biggie like an affair or a love child, you can run but you can’t hide. Forget karma. Circumstances will unlock those secrets soon enough. And then having to admit something you formerly denied becomes worse. You’re double branded for being a deceiver and liar and it looks like you’re playing your loved one for a fool.

From the outside, it’s hard to tell if the paternity of the mistress’ child was the driving force behind Elizabeth’s decision to split from John. But when we knew for certain there was only the affair and John’s claims that he wasn’t with Rielle during the time when she conceived, Elizabeth vowed they would work through it. But shortly after the paternity came to light, that desire to work through it seemed to evaporate.

I can imagine Elizabeth, already dealing with infidelity, was livid that in such a low point, John couldn’t bring himself to admit to everything. The final revelation made everybody foolish – in public, no less. And you couldn’t help but wonder if John copped to everything early on if the marriage couldn’t be saved. Yeah, it’s bad. But it’s easier to figure out what to do and rebuild trust when everything is on the table.

It’s funny how sometimes we think we can’t get caught or we fancy ourselves “protecting” our loved ones from a mistake, when it’s really about absolving ourselves from some of the accountability and ultimately making it easier for us (not the other person).

The whole episode made me think of the immortal words that Judge Judy likes to appropriate: “Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining!”

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Late Bloomers

Is it a case of better late than never?

Recently, two once-famous Baby Boomer actresses – Meredith Baxter (“Family Ties”) and Kelly McGillis (“Top Gun”) – came out. It’s worth noting that both women are hovering around 60.

The public reacted with a shrug, perhaps in part because they haven’t been on the pop culture radar in so long. But when I heard, I wondered if their age may bring up a criticism that has been a bane of our existence: We supposedly choose to be gay.

I know many people wonder why if sexual orientation is really innate, then how can people like Baxter and McGillis lead heterosexual lives for decades, then suddenly “decide” they prefer their own gender?

First, we should remember the times these women grew up in. They understood homosexuality to be a “psychological disorder” into their early adulthood. Living a gay life was not presented as a real or legitimate possibility. So even if there were feelings, they likely saw themselves as not being able to act on them and have a happy career or personal life.

Secondly, and more important, that choice vs. birth argument undercuts a fundamental truth: the mysterious nature and complexity of sexuality. I think sexual orientation is derived from a combination of factors, including genetics and social environment. If one can concede we can never know absolutely everything about the human body and its wonders, how can we presume to be able to simply ascertain what makes up sexual orientation?

In recent interviews, Baxter expressed that she had turbulent relationships with men throughout her life and got to a point to where she didn’t understand why certain things didn’t gel. But embarking on a romance with a woman after her divorce made things fall into place. She obviously knew something was up but just didn’t understand what it was.

So an older man or woman who comes into his or her gayness late in life shouldn’t be looked at as suspect. It’s judgmental to say their previous lives were shams. I’m sure what they had at the time felt right. It’s not simply a phase, escape from boredom, or confusion for most. It’s a realization that happened to come late in life.

I suspect that as the generations advance, we’ll be seeing fewer seniors coming out because our society is tolerant enough to where coming to grips with who you are doesn’t seem a scary, isolated prospect. And we’ll be doing that much earlier in our lives.

Despite the age, I suspect Baxter, McGillis and others are finally feeling comfortable in their own skin. I also suspect they aren’t looking back.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Matter of Life and Death

We live in a time where we assume certain evils (slavery and the Holocaust come to mind) just will not be replicated or committed in this day and age. After all, we're in the 21st century. We're more enlightened. The world is more integrated and linked than ever. How can something glaringly base and wrong be propagated?

Well, it's 2010 but some things remain the same.

Uganda leaders are proposing a bill that would impose the death penalty on some gay men and women who live there. Yes, sexual orientation would be punishable by death.

It disturbs me somewhat to put a fine point on it, but the proposed legislation specifically targets those who are guilty of "aggravated homosexuality", when one of the participants is a minor, HIV-positive or a "serial offender", which basically includes all of those who simply live as gay men and women without choosing celibacy. And get this: the proposed bill would propose a sentence of no less than three years for someone who knows of "homosexual activity" and fails to report it to the authorities withing 24 hours.

Uganda's ethics and integrity minister (gotta love the irony) has argued that, realistically, the punishment would likely end up being merely life in prison. Well, I guess I was overreacting.

A leading evangelical in Uganda is leading a "million man" march on February 17 to promote the bill and denounce the "scourge" of homosexuality.

The United Nations, not to mention various leaders and gay groups in western countries, have expressed outrage at this. They rightly see that if criminalizing people based on race and gender is considered unthinkable even in most third world countries, how can a notion like this even be remotely entertained?

Perhaps the most disturbing response is the slow one, or lack of one, from U.S. evangelicals, many of whom over the years have forged close spiritual and financial ties with their biblicially conservative African brothers, especially those in Episcopal churches that have been the loudest bill supporters.

Prominent pastors like Rick Warren notoriously kept out of this for months before finally condemning the death penalty notion. Even more conservative American religious leaders have said nothing. Some of the Christian groups most publicly tied to Uganda have been the quietest. Joyce Meyer Ministries, Oral Roberts University, the College of Prayer in Atlanta — all have close ties and declined to express reservations about the death penalty.

Everyone is entitled to his or her view of homosexuality in light of faith or the Bible. But surely, the taking of someone's life because of who he or she is, is a heinous act that should be without debate.

This reminded me of James Byrd, an African-American Texas man who in 1996 was beaten and chained to a truck where he was dragged for three miles to his death by three white racists. The lynching-by-dragging ignited a firestorm but it also raised fears that something like this could happen in that day and age. Then Matthew Shepard was beaten and left hanging to die on a fence post in Wyoming. Suddenly, American society was face-to-face with the hatred in its midst that supposedly was of its past.

This week Uganda's president called for the bill to be withdrawn, saying it was harming the country's foreign policy. The sponsor has refused to do so, and it is expected to be considered in February.

In the age of Obama and a supposedly post-racial society, we can't forget that base fears and hatreds will spawn atrocious acts and policies. And we can't take for granted that we won't need to be vigilant in guarding against all forms of discrimination.

Even if we reach 2810, there will be no utopia. Not as long as there is human nature.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Catch a Tiger by the Tail

Well, Tiger Woods is having a crappy Christmas, don't you think?

While he waits for the divorce proceedings and while we wait for the next alleged mistress to pop up on Extra, his whole embarrassing episode made me realize that our technology age has put a big dent into our ability to carry on sexual episodes - adulterous or not - with privacy.

When Tiger first crashed his car, who was first on the scene? The ambulance? Cops? Firefighters? Nope - TMZ. The gossip site's picture that brought Jazmine Sullivan's song "Bust the Windows Out Your Car" to life began the whole speculation about what went on.

Then we had the voice mail heard around the world. One of his mistresses saved a voice mail with Tiger pleading her to change her phone voice mail so his ever suspicious wife wouldn't put two and two together if she pulled up the number. And then that was released and played for everyone to hear.

I'm now waiting for the sex tape.

Yes, Tiger is famous and would be more vulnerable to being trapped in the cross hairs of a public relations nightmare than an average Joe. But our world is now set up to where privacy is receding and something we do, despite our best efforts, can come back to haunt us sooner or later.

Who's to say your next trick or dalliance isn't being secretly recorded by a Web cam or a Blackberry and will be posted on YouTube? Who's to say someone you dated won't post something embarrassing about your intimate life - or even just something personal - on Facebook or Twitter out of spite? What would you do if you couldn't help yourself and looked at your lover's cell and found friendly texts from someone you didn't know?

I have a few friends who used an online profile to find a hook-up and a third party somehow found out about their dalliances and pointed it out to other people and in one case, a friend's boyfriend.

And I've had many an occasion when I've had friends or acquaintances tell me some personal information - including HIV status - about someone with a recognizable online profile and then I've seen hat person out and about. And I'm sure he has no clue his life story is being circulated even more than his username.

We try to be careful - maybe never using names or real names, making sure people come to your place to ensure there's no funny business, setting up e-mail accounts solely for sexcapades - but something can always catch us. And all it takes is one misstep for something to be extremely public.

I wonder if that will make a lot of us just figure out more clever ways to be duplicitous or if that would make us second guess our actions the next time we cheat or do something else we feel deep down is wrong.

What is true for sure is that our technological advances have made us more communal but more vulnerable to gossip and lack of privacy. We can be so easily found out now. And we're going to have to be able to stand by our actions come what may.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Extra, Extra!

When I took a business trip recently, I scheduled a meeting with my group's higher-ups and reporters at my former newspaper. When I walked through the newsroom, it felt like a ghost town. Vacant desks, offices, and whole floors. There must have been a fifth of the staff that remained after I left several years ago.

There was a sadness to seeing a shell of a former self. I was a lot sadder when I heard about the Washington Blade, the venerable gay newspaper that was a 40-year institution, suddenly ceased production and lay the future of LGBT news in serious doubt.

Its owner Windows Media also shut down the gay newspapers in Atlanta and Miami. And for many employees, they were informed with a padlock on the door. Even here in DC, the staff was given short clipped answers that weren't answers. No reasons why, no severance, no Plan B. Some of the Blade staffers have heroically started a small paper, almost an insert really, to keep things going.

When I first heard of the closing, online in a short news item, I immediately begain to think of the hole left. Who was going to cover hates crimes, gay marriage, and legislation that affected us? With mainstream and independent publications laying off reporters, reducing coverage, closing bureaus, and eliminating beats, we can't depend on established outlets suddenly investing in resources to shine a light on our issues.

We're our own voice and the totality of that has probably been taken for granted by a lot of us until this moment. Even the lighter parts of the Blade - advice columns, arts listings and reviews, ads, home and garden tips, comics - have been sacrificed.

For now, we have the DC Agenda [] that has admirably, and in just a week, been able to restart the former Blade's news and features coverage. They have a long way to go but they recognize the importance of the LGBT voice and have sacrificed time, work, and, undoubtedly, money to get this off the ground.

Check out the site and make a donation, if able. And remember that not many media focus on our community. We can only look out for each other.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Institution That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Maybe the key in the gay marriage fight is actually not mentioning it by name.

Washington state's voters approved an "everything but marriage" law, expanding rights for gay domestic partners and giving them such benefits as the right to take sick leave to care for a partner, adoptions rights, and child custody and support.

Even though it's not full-fledged marriage, this marks the first time a U.S. state has granted a gay equality measure by ballot initiative, instead of through the courts or the legislature.

It seems that the difference perhaps is that because the controversial m-word wasn't included in the ballot language, voters were able to concentrate on the rights discusses as opposed to their preconceived ideas of an institution they see as only for a man and a woman.

I don't think it's a stretch to theorize that some gay marriage opponents aren't bigoted so much as fearful of change. Marriage is something that has become a religious and cultural institution for heterosexuals, laying down the foundation for family. It's not discussed or rarely evaluated in terms of rights, benefits, and equality given to its participants. But we've upset the apple cart because we've put marriage in those terms.

We've called attention to the fact that marriage laws, at least in this country, are pretty much exclusionary and discriminatory and make gays de facto second-class citizens. I imagine many straights think of the ritual - bridal gowns, nervous grooms in tuxedos, church organs, receptions - and wrinkle their nose at two men or two women adjusting that rosy, traditional picture. For them, it's like having church on Tuesday night or seeing boys playing with Barbies. It's just not how it's supposed to be

After Prop. 8 in California, Elton John remarked that what was making people uncomfortable was the actual word marriage. It seems he was prescient. Would similar wording on other ballot initiatives produce the same results? Is merely changing the framing of it all making the difference? Washington gives a strong argument for a yes.

In a way, it seems insulting. We have to parse words and not mention the unmentionable to persuade minds. Even though we're merely insisting on universal rights, we have to have hat in hand and offer careful arguments that don''t offend sensibilities. We're fighting for marriage but have to couch it in palatable terms because, after all, there are a lot more heterosexual voters than straight ones.

It may be kowtowing, but prejudices and presumptions are very strong. And sometimes the art of language makes a huge difference.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Too Late Show

What's the difference between being a defender and an apologist? It may be easier to point you to the supporters of Roman Polanski and David Letterman.

Let's start with the Oscar-winning director first. You surely know that he fled the country more than 30 years ago rather than face sentencing for having sex with a 13-year-old girl. As a consequence, he's never stepped foot on U.S. soil since, for fear of landing in jail.

Well he landed in jail anyway, but just over a month ago in Zurich, and he and his legal team are fighting extradition back to Los Angeles.

Immediately after his arrest, some big Hollywood names - including Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, and Harvey Weinstein - rushed to his defense. But you would have thought a saint was about to be burned at the stake. Many decried this as unfair persecution, pointing to his artistry, the grisly death of his wife to Charles Manson's followers, and his survival of the Holocaust as proof that he's suffered enough.

And then there's Letterman. A blackmail plot of a CBS producer thwarted by federal officials revealed he had several affairs with female staffers over the years. This from a man who joked for years about not getting any.

Quite a few celebrities, media commentators and fans thought there was no harm, no foul. All the sex was consensual, so who cares? And they feel that those who attack Letterman are moonlighting as moral police officers.

Well, I'm not one to shake a moral stick at anyone but I think both men's supporters are ignoring some inconvenient truths.

Let's start with Polanski. Yes, a recent documentary showed the judge in his case loved publicity and seemed ready to renege on a plea bargain. However, there's a powerful central truth. He plied a 13-year-old girl with champagne and Quaaludes and had sex with her over her protests.

The same documentary showed the same girl, all grown up, stating she forgave Polanski, has moved on and thinks everyone else should, too. But she also reminds the viewer that...Polanski had sex with a 13-year-old girl, which is illegal.

As for Letterman, a former female staffer (who did not have sexual relations with that man) recently wrote a piece exposing the environment created from Letterman's dalliances. While the staffer never witness anything she'd categorize as sexual harassment, there was indeed favoritism. Apparently, Letterman's girls, many very young and with negligible experience, got plum assignments. Some others employees were uncomfortable but felt powerless to speak up.

Plus, there's the general folly of sex in the workplace (Grey's Anatomy notwithstanding). Can a boss who chooses certain employees for sex really create a fair environment? At the very least, there's a skewed balance of power at stake. At worst, an emotional fallout could make things messy - and litigious.

Polanski may have been made into a monster by some zealots, but his supporters queasily go to the extreme in the other direction. They rhapsodize about the movie Chinatown but they easily ignore that...he had sex with a 13-year-old girl, which is illegal.

And Letterman supporters point out he's an entertainer, not a politician bound to a moral code. True. But he also crossed the sexual line on the job and humiliated his wife (who has been with him for 20 years) and the mother of his child with his unfaithfulness (Letterman himself has noted this).

The apologists need to realize that the only apologies in these cases need to come from the men who affected people's lives with their reckless actions.