“Something Like Summer” (2017), directed by David Berry, is another film from Blue Seraph Productions with appealing young adult cis gay male characters (following “Judas Kiss” and “The Dark Place”). It is based on an interesting source, a novel by Jay Bell, a screenplay adapted by Carlos Pedrazza. Bell’s novel is said to be one of a series of related novels with a closed group of characters and has certain popularity.
But this film, set around Austin, TX, longer (115 minutes), seems kindler and gentler than the other two, as presents itself in the beginning as a musical, as the lead character Benjamin Bentley (Grant Davis) sings at a stage event, framing his own life. One day he gets into a bike collision with old friend Tim Wyman (Davi Santos), who is in the process of coming out, while raised by a strict, Mexican-American (but “European” ancestry) Catholic family. After a very minor injury to Tim, they become closer and are on the verge of starting a relationship, which gets challenged by Tim’s family. Tim is a promising artist, and is starting to develop a following for his paintings.
Then Tim meets an airline flight attendant Jace Holden (Ben Baur), who draws him into another competing relationship, with Jace living in a nicely furnished mobile home with a cuddly feline, Sam.
Think now, the inevitable possibilities for jealousy exist. Furthermore, there can be a wedding ceremony.
The film starts to span time, which amounts to twelve years (communicated through various little signs). There’s a hint of the passage of time (and growing a little older) in the first airplane scene where it appears that Ben now has minimal chest hair.
And there can be unexpected medical tragedy, which is sudden and shocking, and which has nothing to do with HIV. Cerebral aneurysm is a very bad scene; it has happened twice in workplaces in my career.
The plot of the film reminds me of James L. Brooks “Terms of Endearment” (1983), where the plot takes a shocking medical turn two-thirds the way through the movie, or even the classic “Love Story” (1970) with Ryan O’Neal.
There was a QA, with Rayceen Parvis hosting (and with a mandatory love-in). Producer Tom Ly and actor Ben Baur were there. Ly spoke about the challenges of crowdfunding independent LGBT film.
“Something Like Summer“
David Berry, Jay Bell (novel)
1.78:1 Digital video
When and how viewed:
HRC Washington DC Reel Affirmations event, sold out
“Seeing Allred”, directed by Roberta Grossman and Sophie Sartain, gives us a complete history, a lot it in Gloria Allred’s own words (she is now 75, two years older than me) of her activism for women and sometimes other groups.
Much of the film focuses on the litigation against Bill Cosby, where she represents many plaintiffs. Sje also helped represent the Goldman family in the O. J. Simpson case in the 1990s.
But the film also traces the culture of intimidation, where women are silenced from speaking about rape.
Allred tells the story of her own rape, before Roe v. Wade, and her illegal abortion, from which she almost died.
Gradually, the film starts taking up LGBT rights. The early 1993 battle over gays in the military is mentioned, along with the early versions of the fights over gay marriage and adoption. Gloria seems to believe that homophobia is and indirect part of the way straight men control women and assert a claim to have a right to children by them anytime they demand.
Gloria assists clients in testifying before both Nevada and California legislatures on removing statues of limitations on rape prosecutions. “The privilege of being listened to” becomes an issue in one hearing. She also demands that a college become an activist as a way of giving back.
The last part of the film traces the 2016 election, through watching Election Night returns, and then the Inauguration protests and the Women’s March the next day. At one point at the March Allred turns back a fundamentalist homophobe (with a free speech meme) who doesn’t even realize that Trump has no specific objection to gay marriage. She has pointed out, however, that Donald Trump rejected a transgender Miss Universe contestant.
The last part of the film also deals with women who accuse Donald Trump of sexual harassment. The film makes it look like these cases could blow the presidency wide open.
Joe Biden’s memoir, “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose” intermixes the most productive years of Biden’s vice-presidency under Obama, with the tragic loss of his son Beau Biden in 2015 to an aggressive brain tumor.
The book narrative is often out of sequence, starting out on vacation and then shifting to his vice-presidential home near the Naval Observatory, before taking off with competing narratives.
Beau had served as Delaware attorney general, and had been quite supportive of progressive causes, including LGBT marriage equality. The family’s Catholic upbringing did not lead to any personal moralizing on the social issues.
Biden first notice symptoms around 2010, which went away until about 2013 when he was diagnosed with an aggressive glioblastoma. His genetics made the cell type particularly aggressive. The physicians (including MD Anderson in Houston) tried a novel approach of engineering a live virus that would attach itself to the tumor cells and stimulate an immune response. In the end, it seemed promising for a while but Biden suddenly deteriorated and died with family present on May 30, 2015.
I had an uncle who apparently died at age 60 of a similar tumor in 1976. Even with genetic causes, its actual appearance is unpredictable.
Biden discusses his foreign policy work, especially with regard to ISIS, Russia, and Central America. He covers the second Obama term well, a history that took a shocking deadend with the election of Trump. He wrote the book just before we have a real understanding of the Russian “fake news” campaign and of the way Trump would be able to resurrect tribalism within “the proles”. Biden is quite specific in his account of Putin’s cruelty with rebels in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics.
He also talks about infrastructure, and his work on improving natural gas lines and other critical infrastructure, some of which he says is made of wood. He does not seem to particularly oppose pipeline developments and on may economic and industrial policies he may have been more conservative than Obama. But he would have supported aggressive policy on climate change (picture above: damage in Florida keys from hurricane Irma, my visit).
But he also talks about the depth of the financial crisis of 2008, and of the need to make work pay better in relation to capital.
Toward the end, he talks about the sudden decision not to run against Hillary Clinton, and about his reservations about superfund money in the Democratic Party primaries.
Beau’s story also reminds me of the narrative of Lee Atwater, who collapsed at a speech in 1989.
Somehow, I wonder about the “originality” of books by established politicians, who have made their names for themselves before taking up the pen. Echo Hillary’s book.
Joe Biden (Beau Biden)
“Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship and Purpose“
Flatiron books, hardcover (airport purchase) also Kindle, 264 pages
“The Whole World” (“El Mundo Entero”, directed by Julian Quintinalla, Spain, 30 min, in Spanish) was the best and principal film. This film is set in a town in southeastern Spain, set up in sunlit, exaggerated colors, almost as if animated. The town itself looks like a glimpse of heaven. Julian, an attractive 30—year old, visits the cemetery where his mother La Chary (Loles Leon), who had died at 51 from breast cancer, materializes in her only afterlife form. She relates how she protected him as different, from the bullies, and from a rogue psychotherapist. Then Julian will meet Peter (Candido Gomez), who was another attractive gay teen when he was growing up, ten years older. But the overriding idea is that Julian himself seems to be in a layered afterlife of his own.
“Pool” (“Piscina”, directed by Leandro Goddhino, Brazil 20 min, in Portuguese). Claudia wants to investigate the family’s past as it fled the Nazis, and encounters a German lady, Marlene, who has set up an apartment in an empty swimming pool. Marlene recounts the past persecution of gays, while there is a parallel story of Claudia’s own lesbian marriage in which she is raising a child.
“Dusk” (directed by Jake Graff, UK, 15 min), tells the story of gender-fluid Chris Winters in the hostile 1950s, a time that took Alan Turing’s life.
“Little Potato” (directed by Wes Hurley, 13 min, USA/Russia) invites a young gay man to tell his story growing up in Vladivostok, Russia, at the time of the fall of the Soviet Union. His mother also contributes. But the film anticipates the hostile 2013 anti-gay propaganda law in Russia, which has led to asylum seeking in the U.S.
“The Real Thing” (directed by Brandon Kelly, 7 min) puts a new spin on the whole debate about the relationship between the LGBTQ community and the military. A father returns home from deployment to his home in Texas, in fatigues, to find his child has transitioned to female. He hugs her at the end.
“Better Known as Peaches Christ” (directed by Jeff Dragomanovch, 4 min) lets a drag queen tell his story. Is he more than just an entertainer? I knew a bartender named Peaches in Dallas in the 1980s, but he was very cis.
(Posted: Thursday, September 14, 2017 at 10:45 PM EDT)
I’ve covered some of the argumentation about gay marriage in a review of a film about it here July 5. But an encyclopedia-like book like Nathaniel Frank’s “Awakening: How Gays and Lesbians Brought Marriage Equality to America” (2017) can cover a lot more detail than a documentary film or video. Still, this particular issue seems to have both sides talking at or past one another, playing with the subtleties of language itself, like in “Paul’s” Youtube videos.
I have to admit some distraction. I had to finish reading the last chapter on Obergefell and then the philosophical Epilogue (Arnold Bax-like) just as the news exploded this morning with Donald Trump’s edict by twitter banning transgender troops from the military. Different topic (I’ll come back to the military thing soon with another post) – and indeed a marriage with a transgender person can turn into a straight marriage but without the possibility of procreation, exactly like a heterosexual marriage when the woman is past menopause. I guess that shows partly why tying marriage to procreation gets so problematic.
At the very beginning, Frank says that marriage law is important by indirection: logically, those who are not married or do not have the benefits of marriage can be excluded from some of society’s benefits as a consequence of mere logic. In fact, that generally describes how things were in my own life in a world that (until very recently) where being married usually meant having minor dependents that one had sired – but it didn’t always mean that. And single people and same-sex couples have always had dependents. But someone without dependents can find his life disrupted by the needs of others anyway – as I found out with my own eldercare situation. There is a “dynamic imbalance” in life (like in a chess position, say a Sicilian) between having fewer responsibilities and more disposable income, and at the same time being less welcome in some situations,
The debate over “gay marriage” has become sometimes interchangeable with “gay rights” or “equality”. Or let’s say “the right to marry” is a tricky idea. As a logical matter, anyone has the same “right” to marry a consenting adult member of the opposite gender (when gender is binary), but not the same capability to procreate or even enjoy penetrative heterosexual activity in a relationship. Frank talks about discussions about marriage as early as 1963, and then about the Baker case in Minnesota in the early 1970s. Frank also explains how marriage became a focus (among gay “activists”) as to whether gay people should assimilate (and share risks and responsibilities, including serving in the military) or resist. Did liberation mean walling off the outside world and creating your own (like in the East Village and the Ninth Street Center, with its polarity theory, in the 1970s)?
Indeed, overseas, “gay marriage” as been illogically comingled with gay rights in general, as in Nigeria with its draconian law in 2013.
Frank indeed covers the history of gay rights in general, including Stonewall, Anita Bryant, the Moscone-Milk assassination in San Francisco in 1978, the Briggs Initiative in California that could have banned gay teachers (1978), the AIDS crisis and Reagan’s indifference, the sodomy law litigation (Hardwick v. Bowers in 1986 and Lawrence v. Texas in 2003), and the history of “don’t ask don’t tell” in the military. In the 1990s, particularly in Hawaii, debate on gay marriage for its own sake as a marker for personal equality in general, started to develop, even as cases like Romer v. Evans (Colorado Amendment 2) grew. Then, of course, Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, under political pressure. Frank presents the 90s as more negative for gay people than it really was for me. Frank gives many side anecdotes that are important for other issues: Dan Choi and don’t ask don’t tell as a valued Arabic translator needed for intelligence purposes; the fact that one of the important marriage cases involved a person who died of ALS; the male couple in Florida who took care of foster kids with HIV.
Then , in the 2000s, the cascade of litigation started, with Massachusetts in 2004, leading eventually to Obergefell, with many steps along the way. These included the idea that you could encourage the states to go their own way and experiment first, before solving it federally, although then you had the Full Faith and Credit issue (to be resolved in Obergefell). Along the way came Gavin Newsome’s marriage day, and then the whole Proposition 8 saga in California.
Frank has a few juicy quotes that show how gay marriage became a cover for a bigger question about hyperindividualism and sexuality. On p. 236 he refers to the risk that the “gradual transformation of marriage from a pro-child societal institution into a private relationship designed simply to provide adult couples with what plaintiffs say is personal fulfillment. It was a sinister echo of the old canard that homosexuality was primarily about indulging individual selfishness, while somehow heterosexual pairing was about contributing to the greater good.” When was this canard actually stated? Is the greater good to be found in protective courtship and doting? It strikes me that this is like a three-lane highway in Virginia (indeed, Marshall-Newman, 2006): it can be more challenging to raise adopted kids in a same-sex relationship that survives a few decades of aging than a conventionally heterosexual one with biological children. If marriage is expanded to include relationships with no penetrative complementarity, will heterosexuals decide that it isn’t important to marry before having kids? Indeed, the record so far is that gay marriage does not encourage heterosexual divorce or discourage heterosexual marriage. (Baseball player Bryce Harper beamed his Mormon heterosexual wedding celebration on Superbowl Sunday on Facebook.) Later, on p. 349 (in a chapter on Obergefel there appears, “While defenders of gay marriage bans in 2015 did all they could to avoid appearing anti-gay, the notion that letting gays marry would transform the institution from being ‘child-centric’ to ‘adult-centric’ fit squarely in the tradition of demonizing gay people as selfish and indulgent, and gay rights as the triumph of a narcissistic culture over a responsible and temperate one committed to the common good.”
In 2010, Nathaniel Frank had published “Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America” through St. Martins, about nine months before Congress approved the gradual dismantling of “don’t ask don’t tell”, the certification of which was completed in September 2011.
Freedom to Marry was the legal assistance organization, largely under Eva Wolfson, that helped steer the many courtroom victories that finally made gay marriage legal in the United States, under the Full Faith and Credit clause in our federal system, in June 2015. Wikipedia has a detailed factual history of all of the separate cases here, finally leading to a cadence with Obergefell.
“The Freedom to Marry”, directed by Eddie Rosenstein, is a relatively new documentary chronicling the entire achievement. It ends with a happy shutdown – of the offices of the group at the end of 2015, when its work is done. It makes a good companion piece to “Love v. Kentucky” (April 17). There was some call for people to sponsor screenings of the film, but now it is available on Amazon and iTunes.
Of course, that was about the time that Trump’s campaign was getting going. Donald Trump has even said that he views same-sex marriage as settled law, but Neil Gorsuch’s behavior in his first days as the new Supreme Justice replacing Scalia leads one to be concerned. Remember, back in 2003, in his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas, Scalia (“a peaceful man”, by his own self-description) predicted a coming legalization of gay marriage. I want to take a moment here to note the passing of freelance writer Phil Chandler, who wrote many columns on gay equality, from ending sodomy laws to marriage.
The new film does give a useful history, particularly of the 1990s, when there were pioneering cases in Hawaii and Vermont while the parallel debate over the military “don’t ask don’t tell” got going (and when Romer v. Evans was resolved). In 1996, President Clinton signed DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, meaning that the federal government itself would recognize only heterosexual unions as marriages, even if states wanted to experiment on their own. In my 1997 “DADT-1” book, I even encouraged this approach, that it had to start with the individual states to go anywhere. My own “29th Amendment” has proposed that. I did not see how quickly the tables could turn, starting in 2004 in Massachusetts, even with George W. Bush (the “sanctity of marriage”) in office. I remember those times. In the summer, Rick Santorum had tried to propose a federal marriage amendment limiting federal marriage to “A Man and a Woman” (like the 1966 French film), while Diane Feinstein excoriated Santorum for wasting the Senate’s time when it needed to pass an anti-terrorism bill. I recall the C-span program, with a Bruckner symphony playing during the intermission. Earlier that year, then editor Chris Crain (“global citizen”) had penned his famous editorial in the Washington Blade, “Piddle Twiddle and Resolve”.
The film also shows the vigorous counter-demonstrations at the Supreme Court in 2015 (the film has shown the countdown of days until oral arguments, to maintain the impression of suspense), even the Westboro Baptist Church. There seems little doubt that what they object to is not just gay marriage but the permissive practice of homosexuality (and now gender fluidity, which is something different) itself. The opposing sides seem to talk past one another. There is one passage where an anti-gay group makes no apologies for demanding abstinence from people who find only homosexual attraction interesting. For several years, the conservative paper “The Washington Times” always used quotes this way: gay “marriage”. Earlier arguments against gay marriage in conservative periodicals frankly talked about babies.
The arguments for marriage have always centered around “Equal Protection” rather than “due process” (the latter was more relevant in the sodomy law litigation). There is a tendency to divide society into affinity groups, and especially define suspect classes of people who have rights abridged by being members of the group (or of a “people”). I am not very comfortable personally with arguing things this way.
Of course, it is true, if you have, for example, an elderly same-sex couple and one depends on the other for eldercare, or one dies, and then the couple is hot treated the same by the courts as a heterosexual couple would have been, this is a personal problem for the survivor and represents unequal treatment. (I can remember sitting next to a lawyer on a plane in 2006 whose legal specialty was this problem.) But I also recognize that, at an individual level, talking about “equality” as an absolute concept gets one running around in circles. One can say, for example, that all of us have the same equal right to marry a member of the opposite sex (assuming sex is always binary, which it isn’t, even in most of nature). But then I am left with the idea that I get much less reward from the prospect of heterosexual intercourse (which could have led to procreation earlier in life) than a “typical” male. So my life takes its own individualized course. Equality becomes very situational. My parents are deprived of a lineage since I as an only child. I develop the ability to find a lot of satisfaction in the projection of certain fantasy material, which can have artistic and expressive value. I take on fewer responsibilities (not having kids) and less debt, so I have more disposable income even if I am in a sense “less than equal”. But I can be called upon to make sacrifices for those who have kids – that might happen in the military (it didn’t, but it could have), or I could wind up having to raise a relative’s child (again, it didn’t, but the “Raising Helen” scenario has happened in other families). What does equality really mean in this interpretation? It seems that personal morality encompasses a lot more that owning up to one’s own choices in the narrow libertarian sense.
“Love v. Kentucky” (2017), directed by Alex Schuman, documents the litigation by six same-sex couples in Kentucky and the role these cases would play in the final Obergefell v. Hodges opinion at the US Supreme Court in 2015, making recognition of same-sex marriages among all states the laws of the land.
The couples were often elderly. At least one or two had raised children, and one had survived non-Hodgkins lymphoma of one husband, with the other shaving in sympathy. One of the couples was Timothy Love and Lawrence Ysunza (USA Today story).
The state tried to use arguments based on “tradition” (Robert Schuler’s old idea from the “Hour of Power” at the Crystal Cathedral in CA back in the 80s), which amounted to nothing. Then the state tried to make a connection to the need for reliable procreation.
But there was little said about how heterosexual couples were “injured”, other than the fact that their social supports didn’t stand out or identify them (as reproductively heterosexual) as clearly once gay marriage was legal.
The film doesn’t get to the narrative of Kim Davis, the Rowan County clerk who went to jail for refusing to sign her name to same-sex marriage certificates, until the end. The governor pushed through a law saying that clerks don’t have to sign their own names to certificates if their religious beliefs are affronted (by lawful duties in their public employment which normally uses their names). NBC News has a good summary of the story here.
The justices in Kentucky noted how quickly same-sex marriage had evolved in public opinion. In 2006, neighboring Virginia had tried to shut down same-sex marriage (and even civil union) with the Marshall-Newman amendment.
In the 1970s, I once reported to a manager whose last name was “Husbands”.
I received by mail a review copy, an “Advance Uncorrected Gallery”, of the second edition of the book “Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight”, by psychiatrist Loren A. Olson, MD, with a Foreword by Jack Drescher, MD The first edition had been published in 2011, with Karen Levy, by the InGroup Press. The new edition is due from Oak Lane Press on April 1, 2017. The review copy was supplied by FSB Associates.
The book is monumental in its coverage of the cultural, moral, and particularly psychological history of “the gay community” and particularly of the value of gay men born in earlier generations. The author was born in 1943, the same year as me, even before the “Baby Boomers”. So, like me, he is a “Traditionalist”.
The book at first focuses particularly on gay men who have married and had children, and then “come out” in mid-life or later (and move out from “living straight”, often leading to divorce and custody issues). Olson introduces the acronym MSM, “men who have sex with men”, as not always synonymous with “homosexual” or “gay”.
Olson covers he vitriolic anti-gay societal attitudes immediately after WWII, that loosened in the late 1960s, leading to Stonewall. He notes that earlier generations had accepted homosexual men without naming them as such. But in the early 20th Century, the idea of eugenics became somewhat popular, along with the idea that sexuality (even to the point of considering masturbation and fantasy) should be completely dedicated to create and raising “better” future generations. We can certainly connect that with fascism. Olson presents McCarthyism (in line with the hypocritical FBI director J. Edgar Hoover) as a “conflation of cowardice, homosexuality, and treason” in an era of pinko-phobia (my own take). He also relates this to his own upbringing in Nebraska (he practices in Iowa), where his mother implied that a boy who couldn’t manually start a lawn mower was a sissy. He traces the gradual change in attitudes up through the 1990s (living through the AIDS epidemic) and mentions the 1982 movie “Making Love”, as dramatizing the issue of a married man’s coming out.
Olson covers the issue of intergenerational gay relationships. He shows surprising candor in discussing the body image problem for gay men (sometimes it becomes “body fascism”), but maintains that a certain subset of young adult gay men are attracted to older men, even when overweight, bald, and hairy. The term “chubby chasers” gets mentioned. He describes the physiology of male sexual arousal, and relates it to age: young men have the greatest testosterone levels from about age 15 to about 30, with some variations; after about 35 or 40, most men drop off slowly. He does discuss the opportunism of pharma on this. He notes that men who come out later in life, after marriage, would not have experienced being “in the market” when their bodies were likely to be perceived by some people as the most “desirable”. He notes that agism has more effect on women and gay men than on straight men (even after divorce); men tend to care more about the visual satisfaction that their partners provide than women do, but then again, not always.
He also discusses the moral and legal issues concerning illegal relations between some men and underage teens. He distinguished between pedophilia and pederasty, but he might well have introduced “ephebophilia”. Since this book is in final revision, he might have the opportunity to discuss the “fall” of provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos over the latter’s reported videos on this matter (my further comments).
The last two chapters do discuss briefly recent advances in gay history: the end of “don’t ask don’t tell”, and the Supreme Court victories in gay marriage. He also discusses hate crimes from enemies who remain, especially the horror of the attack on the Pulse disco in Orlando. He also mentions the arson at the Upstairs Lounge in New Orleans in 1973 (film review Feb. 16).
He also discusses the needs of gay seniors, often living alone, with widely varying degrees of independence and health. Many were prudent enough three decades ago never to become infected with HIV. He notes that never married gay men and women, especially, as they get older, are more likely to wind up taking care of other relatives, out of filial piety. He does provide some discussion of genetics, epigenetics, and gender expression and sexuality. A gene that makes a male brain predisposed to more sexual interest in other men would reduce births fathered by homosexual men, but might increase childbirth from women with the gene, and therefore result in a net gain in population.
He also has an interesting mathematical definition of self-esteem,, as a reciprocal of the difference between the ideal self and actual self.
My own take needs to be mentioned. As I have written before, I “came out” a second time, in 1973, after a listless but interesting period of heterosexual dating without sex. In my novel, “Angel’s Borther”. I introduce a 40-year old man, still at the end of his biological summer, married with children, with a day job as a history teacher but also as a covert intelligence agent, who is suddenly sent to the site of Auschwitz where he meets a mysterious, precocious male college student with whom he falls in love. Previously, he has avoided homosexual activity (partly out of “public health”) except for some “rite of passage” sessions when in college, which he feels need some sort of culmination.
Mentioned In the book:
Met Life’s Study “Out and Aging: The MetLife Study of Lesbian and Gay Baby Boomers” (link) (2006) And sequel “Still Out, Still Aging” (link) (2010).
Loren A. Olson, MD
“Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight“
2017/4/1, second edition (first ed. 2011)
Oak Lane Press, Des Moines, IA; 286 pages, paper, 9 roman; Foreword, Preface, Introduction, 12 Chapters, Endnotes, indexed
Remember how all the episodes of “Smallville” on WB started with Remy Zero’s song “save Me?”, back starting around 2001? (just before 9/11). For years we were treated a cleancut extraterrestrial-born and alien but very attractively human teenager Clark Kent using his “powers” (manipulating space-time around himself as if he were an Alcubierre drive) to save people. And except when influenced by red kryptonite, he was always a great person, almost Christ-like, an angel. And he is European-white (although one of his best friends, in whom he first confided that he is an alien, as if he were “coming out”, is black).
Or, more recently, in 2012, I watch a short film video at a local church of teenager running a mission at Double Head Cabbage in Belize. A tall blond high school teen, who looks like he could toss no-hitters now for the Washington Nationals, lets kids, mostly of color, climb all over him. This is an experience in bonding with people who look “different’ from you and are maybe less fortunate, at least economically and with infrastructure. The intimacy in the film is rather unprecedented. It belongs in DC Shorts (a short film festival), I tell them.
Or, in September 2015, at a National Book Festival sponsored by the Smithsonian at the Washington DC Convention Center, journalist Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn present their books “A Path Appears” (also a video series) about how to help people, both in rural Appalachia and in Africa. Kirtof also promotes a video, KONY, about a Ugandan warlord.
So now we have this book by Jordan Flaherty, “No More Heroes: Grassroots Challenges to the Savior Mentality”, challenging the whole premise of global do-goodism, that you can make your karma better by volunteering to help others, on your terms, when you get to look good and impress the people you help that you’re really better than them: you’re richer (like Trump, or Zuckerberg, or Bill and Melinda Gates), whiter, taller, bigger, stronger, smarter, have a higher IQ, more gifted, more desirable. You get to rule the world. “They” do as you say. Of course, you’ll be benevolent. You’ll take care of everybody. As Trump says now, everybody can buy insurance again, because I say so. (I don’t think Trump had better try to deport real aliens.)
Flaherty loads up his book, especially the first eight chapters, with examples of self-serving “generosity”, going back to European colonialism and US manifest destiny, even the “we are the world” globalism of the 80s. He quickly gets to the topic of nearly mandatory volunteerism, as when (p. 25) he mentions George W. Bush’s call for every American to commit to two years, or 4000 clock hours during the rest of your life, to community service. (I also remember Bush’s saying at Ohio State about that time, a person without responsibility for others is truly alone). Some of his most telling examples center around New Orleans after Katrina (and even New York after Sandy), both with the ineffectiveness of hit-or-miss volunteer trips, and with the pretentiousness of Teach for America. I was rather shocked at the degree to which teachers had to deal with the most intimate aspects of kids’ lives.
We tend to talk about “giving back” as something to get our karma right, become right-sized, and go back to feeling we individually “deserve” what we have. It’s as if life was about getting a grade or accumulating non-monetary “life points” (a term killer James Holmes actually used). Authoritarian politicians can easily take advantage of this idea.
In fact, consider Maoism in the 1960s. where Communist China forced intellectuals to “take their turns” becoming peasants. I can remember those on the Left in the early 1970s (like the People’s Party of New Jersey) who used this example to argue that Chinese Communism was ideologically purer than Soviet style.
Flaherty wants us to realize that, as pastor Rick Warren argues in “The Purpose-Driven Life”, that it “isn’t about you.” (He doesn’t mention Warren, but he should.) It’s about your tribe, your team, well, no, its about the people, your mass movement. He wants people to join up, become like Eric Hoffer’s True Believers. The mass movements will make things right for your group, especially if you’re among “people of color” or, less often, LGBTQ (or maybe both).
He traces the history of the Occupy movement (which Steven Bannon trashed in a 2012 film, reviewed here Jan. 9, “Occupy Unmasked”). He builds up Black Lives Matter (without mentioning the factual problems particularly with Michael Brown’s narrative that led to Ferguson) and takes the usual offense at “all lives matter” which is actually more demanding than it sounds.
Flaherty, when describing how to “change” (and shake off the moral liability if inherited privilege) says, “Instead of shaming people for their mistakes .. .appreciate and lift up principled action when you see it.” (Catalyst Poject). Then, “This transformation demands moving from individual focus to collective action. Instead of asking ‘How can I be the single best white antiracist activist with the sharpest critique, most specialized language and busiest schedule?’ ask ‘How can I find ways to bring more and more people to social justice work, from lots of entry points, to grow vibrant mass movements?’” In other words, win converts, not just win arguments. In fact, recruit people. Pester them until the sign up. Well, there’s a contradiction in that, because that sounds like trying to save them.
I do recall a time at an MCC campfire in June 1979 in Texas when a particular guy into saving souls put his arm around me in a prayer and considered me one less able than others as someone special who needed saving. Wow.
Clark Kent, in Smallville, used to say, I’m not special, I’m just different. But Clark didn’t try to create a mass movement. But he didn’t need to.
Curiously, Flaherty poohs traditional efforts at gay equality, like gay marriage and the “right” to serve openly in the military (e.g. oppose “don’t ask don’t tell”) as accommodating “neoliberal violence”, by emphasizing individual station in life as the most important political objective.
But once the “people” get control with their mass movement, what kind of a world do they forge? Without individual egos and meritocracy, people don’t accomplish much. Flahety would have people surrendering all and living in moneyless or shared income intentional communities, maybe after a period of revolution, expropriation and collective moral purification. It’s true that people who have the most to lose will take the fewest or smallest risks for changes that benefit others, but they may also take the least risks in stepping up in individual circumstances (as in Chapter 6 of my DADT-III book). That’s the “Rich Young Ruler Problem”.
“No More Heroes: Grassroots Challenges to the Savior Mentality”
AK Press, Baltimore; 248 pages, paper (e), 11 Chapters, endnotes, indexed
“Soldier of Change: From the Closet to the Forefront of the Gay Rights Movement” (2014), by Stephen Snyder-Hill, with a Foreword by actor George Talei, is one of the most contemporary and thorough and up-to-date books on the history of the military gan ban and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, taking it through the repeal in 2011, told as a personal account by an Army captain who was eventually able to marry his male lover and legally hyphenate his name in Ohio.
Hill (born about 1970), raised near Columbus, Ohio, first joined the Army in 1988, seeking skills and a career, and wound up fighting in the Persian Gulf war in Iraq and Kuwait (recall Matt Damon’s 1995 film “Courage Under Fire”). He recalls being “asked” if he “took it” when joining, and “lied”. After the war, but while he was still on active duty, President Clinton’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Pursue” was introduced. He was honorably discharged in 1996 and went to college and eventually became a medical dietician.
After 9/11, he re-enlisted and became an officer, rising to Captain, in food service. He became part of Operation New Dawn in Iraq in 2010 until President Obama began to withdraw troops from Iraq (which we can speculate as to whether that made way for ISIS, but Hill never goes there). During his long second stint, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed, starting with a law at the end of 2010, and “certified” by September 2011. (my posts are here (look at December 10, 2010 and September 20, 2011). He asked a pointed question online of socially conservative Senator Rick Santorum (“It Takes a Family”, his 2005 book) in the 2012 GOP presidential debates, and help fight for the repeal of DOMA by participating in litigation, and then fought for equal benefits for same-sex spouses in the military. He ran full circle.
He really covers a lot of ground. Back in Ohio as a civilian, he had dealt with “change your sexuality” probes by evangelical Christians (I recall the group “Love and Action” in the 1990s). In the Army, he faced constant intrusiveness from other soldiers over the lack of girl friends, and the culture of sharing so much (like letting people borrow cell phones during his second stint) made civilian expectations of privacy impossible, Back in 1993, recall, the main arguments against lifting the ban had been the lack of “privacy” in military living, and in the idea of “unit cohesion”. The privacy issue was often viewed in terms of seeing other men nude, as in showers, and noticing differences (circumcision, or traits like body hair that could be related to race), but the real problems is that tightly cohesive units don’t respect privacy the way gay singles who live alone or in privatized relationships expect. Hill makes the valuable point that sexual cues from gay men in intimate environments are only picked up by other men with gay identity (although I personally think more men “notice” than he wants to admit.) But the unit cohesion argument ran into another Waterloo; it had been used before, in 1948 when President Truman integrated the military by race (as in the HBO movie “Truman” with Gary Sinese).
I’ve never bought the “identity politics” idea of “gay rights”. I think that sexual orientation is a more complex issue than race (and more complex in many ways than gender identity). Colin Powell had gone into this point in his 1990s book “My American Journey”. A more logical comparison would be to “religion”, because the practice of religion is “behavior” more than it is “genetics” or “biology”. The question in my mind was always, why did others make my sexual orientation their business, but one answer used to be, they expected me to participate as a “male” as “part of the group” able to protect women and children, sometimes. That was a bigger part of the issue when I was growing up (in the 50s and 60s) than it is for young men today, at least more affluent young men.
The need for absolute legal and nominal equality in his marriage and personal relationships may seem over the top. But consider, that to walk in others’ shoes sometimes and really belong to the larger community, one needs to be recognized as fully an equal. Hill often mentions be thanked for his service and exposure to sacrifice by people who did not recognize the inconsistency of their own attitudes (and sometimes even, as he says, irrational group hatred).
It’s interesting to me that Hill’s narrative is different from mine in that he did not actually deal with conscription as I did (in the 1960s). But he mentions that the Army relented on enforcing DADT when it needed people deployed, and in fact, before DADT, the military often simply avoided bringing up the topic – to the point that the politicization of gender issues in the military under Clinton only added to people’s desire to “ask”. Back in the 1960s, in fact, the Army stopped “asking” on draft physicals, fearing people would use the ban to avoid Vietnam.
Hill mentions SLDN (Servicemembers Legal Defense Network), now called Outserve, and talks about meeting the parents of Barry Winchell, murdered in a hate crime on base in 1999, at a dinner in 2012, which I attended. In fact, I attended all the dinners from 2003 to 2012 except 2011, when I had the flu but had made the donation for the ticket. That year I had to use other people’s YouTube to cover the event on my blogs. I remember the menus, ranging from vegan to “Cornish game hen”.
Hill’s book (like Daniels and Le Blanc, June 23, 2016) will be important ammunition if the Trump administration, with Mattis as Secretary of Defense, wants to erode the gains for non-straight men and all women in the military. Mattis’ own book (Dec, 7) had questioned the national security implications of “social experimentation” in the military, but, as Hill says, it is all too easy for this ruse to hide animus.
“Soldier of Change“
Potomac Brooks (University of Nebraska Press); 198 pages, paper, 15 roman, 22 chapters with Foreword and Epilogue