Valentina Thompson (theseoverusedwords)

For my last ever post on this blog, I am going to be writing about my best friend and poet, Valentina Thompson. A little backstory: I have known her since we were little 10/11 year olds competing for the most reading points in our English class. The competition made us bond and we became friends and she stuck by me all throughout high school and even through college even though I moved across the country. We are from a small city just outside of Los Angeles, California and she started writing sometime in high school—somewhere around our junior year—and our whole friend group knew her as “The Tomboy.” In October 2012 (our freshman year of college), she made a Facebook video coming out as bisexual. She explains how she feels about sexuality and clears up some misconceptions about who she is as a person. Nowadays, she identifies as a lesbian and she attends the Pride Parade in San Francisco every year.

She has grown as a poet since writing on her calculus homework in high school: she runs a poetry blog on Tumblr and she has even been published on Poetry.com; she is also looking into publishing her own book of poems. She is very much an open book and writes through a lot of her pain. Valentina share something in common: we were both told that we suffer from depression and poetry is her outlet. Everything she writes, you can feel in your soul.

One of the poems I want to bring attention to is one she published 10 months ago titled “A Facebook Post about Facebook Posting about Sexuality.”

A Facebook Post about Facebook Posting about Sexuality

The title is pretty straightforward—she vents about what it is like to be “different” in a heteronormative society. She talks about what it feels like to have stigmas have an effect on how she goes about her day. She explains how words make a difference and that she is not asking for much—she is just asking for equality and for people to listen and try to understand.  This poem speaks to how frustrated she is because she feels silenced. She feels the heteronormative pressure that keeps building no matter what she does. My favorite line in this whole poem, though, is “…every single one of us who is out and visible and vocal about what we’re being denied is brave. And special. And worthy.” This speaks so much to me because I know how hard it is for LGBTQ+ adolescents and adults to accept themselves, much less think they are worthy of basic human rights such as equality. It it frustrating to read how torn my friend is about her lack of equality, and that’s just dealing with one aspect of herself. That’s just the frustrating that comes with being out of sync with heteronormative society.

Another one of my favorite poems, that should have attention brought to it is “Broken Fuses and Bathtubs (LGBTQ/Suicide Awareness).” This poem hits so hard with me because the people she is speaking about in this poem are people that I also know. These are people that also understand her struggle and just need to feel worthy and special. This poem also highlights how important it is to recognize that their lives are not something to be sexualized but also looked down on because it is different. It deals with the very real reality that suicide is not just an idea. It deals with the very real reality that there are people that have to hide themselves for their own safety and for their own sanity. The people she lists at the end are people I know I love–they’re people I didn’t realize were struggling. These aren’t just people who identify as gay and lesbian. These are people who are often forgetten when equality is sought. These are people who also identify as bisexual, transgender, genderqueer, asexual, etc. These are people who should not feel forgotten.

The last poem that I will talk about is “Why Your Depressed Lover Keeps Saying Sorry.”

Why Your Depressed Lover Keeps Saying Sorry

 

This poem never fails to make me cry, and she even read this poem aloud at a poetry reading and I come back to it every once in awhile to remind myself that I am not alone in feeling the way I do. This poem speaks to the side of her that has to deal with another sect of misrepresentation and inequality: mental illness. I can tell you from my own experience that dealing with depression sucks. It’s awful. It feels like nothing could ever make you happy again. It feels like someone has turned off all the lights and left you alone in the dark. But then trying to explain this to other people is a nightmare. As soon as I saw this poem on my Facebook feed, I tagged my boyfriend in it and I read it to him that night because there were finally words for me to help me express these feelings to him. Her poetry is rarely gender-specific, so it is something you can identify with and apply to your own life. Being able to identify with the author is so important because you don’t feel like they’re feeding words to you that they think you would want to hear. She speaks from the heart and gives the reader every piece of her.

Valentina Thompson, what can I say. Her poetry is so beautiful and if you get the chance, you should really check out her poetry tag on Tumblr. (i love you val)

Longtime Companion

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I just want to start off by saying that I knew that I was going to cry at some point while watching this movie, but I had no idea it would hit me as hard as it did. It tore my soul to pieces and I could not form coherent thoughts until 45 minutes after I watched this movie, so here we go!

For this blog post, I watched Longtime Companion which was a movie released in 1990 (5 years before I was born) and it follows the story of groups of gay men, who are all related to each other in some way, and it follows their journey from the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in 1981 and finishes the story in 1987 after AIDS has infested their lives. The title itself refers to the term that was used in newspaper obituaries to describe the loved one that was left behind after a death.

I do not want to spoil anything in this movie in case any of you do want to watch it, but I will just have a spoiler alert in here anyway.

First of all, I could not find this movie to watch anywhere. Amazon wanted me to pay $100 just to buy the DVD, but our dear friend YouTube had the movie in its entirety. The quality was horrible but it was still pretty watchable. The story was hard to follow at first because names aren’t important to mention in the beginning, I guess, but after a while, I got the hang of who was who and how they knew each other. Bear with me here:

The beginning starts off in 1981 with Paul and Howard, a couple living in an apartment in New York, and then it pans to their neighbor Lisa, and then it introduces Allen (Fuzzy), and a group of friends: Willy, John, and David. They being this story by reading in the newspaper about this new epidemic amongst gay men that they believe is caused by frequent sexual partners and drug use. No one really knows what it is. Fuzzy and Willy eventually meet each other on the beach, with John’s help. Fuzzy and Willy fall in love, and we are later introduced to David’s lover, Sean. These men are all faced with the possibility that this epidemic will catch up with them and their carefree ways, but because it is so new, they don’t take things as seriously as they should. However, this movie is structured so that every so often, a year passes and a member of the group either dies or receives news that he has the disease. The movie ends so that one of the couple just wishes that it could be over and compares the finding of the disease to the end of WWII.

This movie highlights what it was like for the gay population when the AIDS epidemic first came about. It was written about in the papers without a name at first and the lack of information on this disease lead to the continuous “carelessness” that came about in this time. As time went on and more homosexual males died from this disease, the panic grew, and rightfully so. AIDS is such a scary disease. I had had some experience with it reading some fanfiction that a friend recommended to me (no judgments here, right guys—also it’s called Twist and Shout but standbyme on AO3), and it hurt my soul, but watching it happen is such a different story. This movie does a good job of showing what it was like to live in the constant fear of just kissing your partner, much less make love to them, because there was a constant fear of contracting this disease. It hit me so hard, I think, because I know so many gay men and I can’t help but think that if they had been alive during the rise of this epidemic, there would be no hope for them. I think that the rise of this epidemic is so important to know about just because it lead to a complete shift in the gay lifestyle and lead to research on the disease, where they found out that it could be caused by other things. I also think this epidemic is important in understanding the stigmas that surround the gay community even now because for so long it was believed that gay equaled to having AIDS. This movie was so beautifully written and delivered, and I would definitely recommend sitting through the movie on YouTube.

LGBTQ Nerds

Live Long and Prosper My Nerdy Friends!!!

Keeping with the Star Trek Theme, Let’s take about George Takei and nerd culture in the LGBTQ community.

George Takei is an American actor who is best known for his role in Star Trek. George Takei officially came out in 2005 but announced that he had been in a committed relationship with his partner for 18 years. Now that Takei has come out, he has been a huge equal rights activist. I wanted to talk a little about nerd culture and I think George Takei is a very good mix of the two. He is best known for his role on Star Trek and he is looked up to by many.

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Takei was first cast in 1950, a time when asian and gay actors were not given very many roles, but it wasn’t until 1965 that he was cast into Star Trek as Lt. Sulu. This role threw him into the spotlight. After years on comic cons, Takei gained a prominent social media following. He now has eight million followers on facebook and spreads his LGBTQ activism. He is even more of an LGBTQ icon because of his age. Takei just turned 78 a few weeks ago. This coupled the struggle he faced with coming out, makes him an important part of the LGBTQ nerd community.

On Proposition 8 and the election of Barack Obama, Takei made a very powerful statement:

“Last night, I was filled with pride to be an American. It was an exhilarating night of celebration. Barack Obama’s victory was a miraculous moment in our history. It was a night of joy, yet, President-elect Obama reminded us of the long road, the steep road, that lies ahead for us as a nation. And indeed, as a Californian, I was profoundly mindful of the challenges ahead. The discriminatory Proposition 8 on the California ballot was winning. Our fight for marriage equality was going down to defeat. It was astounding to think that the hard won equality that made my recent marriage to Brad Altman would no longer be possible for others. The evening became bitter-sweet.”It is now Wednesday morning – the day after the election. The words from Barack Obama’s victory speech still resonates in my mind. What an amazing night it was – the culmination of a turbulent struggle against a disgraceful history of slavery, prejudice and racial conflict. The road ahead is long, the road will be steep, he said. Our struggles for equality for another minority, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender, will be no different. There will be setbacks, disappointments and sacrifices to be made. Barack Obama spoke of the “renewed promise” of America. It happened last night with the presidency. And equality and justice will happen for us as well. We will make it happen. Yes we can.–George Takei, November 5, 2008

 

As the social media fame continues, I hope Takei can keep being an inspiration to other LGBTQ community members who share his struggles. One of the concepts that we discussed in class is the correlation between the arts and queer individuals. Many members of our class talked about how they found something special in the art that they didn’t else where. I’m sure the experience is different for everyone, and I’m sure Takei has felt something similar.

Nerd culture, especially in the past, has been very male dominated. Movies like “Fan Boys” emphasis this domination and create a homophobic atmosphere by using words like “gay” and “queer” as derogatory terms. This is why, at least in my opinion, there have not been many openly queer nerd icons until recently. Jim Parsons, from the Big Bang Theory, Misha Collins, from Supernatural and Zachary Quinto, from the recent Star Trek, are other queer actors in the nerd realm. Hopefully more individuals can take lessons from Takei or and other queer actors and learn to be who they are.

Kill Your Darlings

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From director John Krokidas, Kill Your Darlings is a 2013 American biographical film telling of the college days of Beat Generation members such as Allen Ginsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), Jack Kerouac (Jack Huston), William S. Burroughs (Ben Foster), and Lucien Carr (Dane DeHaan). This film debuted at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, and after garnering much acclaim, has won many awards across the board.

The true events that inspired the creation of this film had been previously documented in And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, a collaborative novel written by William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. The novel, and in turn the film, trails the lives of Beat Generation authors long before they had published their famous works such as Ginsberg’s Howl, Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, or Kerouac’s On the Road. Written in 1945, this controversial novel remained unpublished and hidden under the floorboards for many years until it finally came to light in 2008. At the time of its publication, although written many decades prior, the authors were already well known worldwide. While Burroughs himself did not think this novel worthy of much praise, dismissing it as “not a distinguished work,” his audience disagreed. The tale of friendship and murder captivated the readers of the novel, and glued the viewer of the film to their screens.

Kill Your Darlings begins with a young Allen Ginsberg, circa 1940s, starting off his short-lived career at Columbia University. It is there that he meets Lucien Carr, an alluring young man whose main goal at university is to challenge the strict guidelines set up by the school. Carr is introduced to the movie, and Ginsberg, when he jumps up on a library table and reenacts a sexually illustrious passage from Henry Miller. The book this passage comes from is held in the restricted section of the library, and Carr, after its recitation from memory, is promptly chased out by security. After this incident, Ginsberg is completely enthralled with Carr. Not long after the movie begins, the viewer sees that Ginsberg, although a well kept, sober young man, may not conform to the standard literary guidelines Columbia has set up for him. In an exchange with a professor, young Ginsberg challenges the rigid guidelines set forward for a “successful poem.” He brings to the table Walt Whitman, a main influence of the Beat Generation authors, claiming that as a point Whitman never followed these rules and that is what made him the success he was.

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From the transcript of “Kill Your Darlings,” an exchange

between Allen Ginsberg and his Professor

Ginsberg and Carr, continue their journey together into madness by creating the “New Vision.” They want to turn the literary world on its head. Drugs, alcohol, and sexual tension fuel these young Beats as they team up with Kerouac and Burroughs to fulfill their vision. Along the way the tumultuous relationship between Carr and David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall) is revealed. Carr is the object of Kammerer’s obsessions. While Carr’s sexuality is fairly ambiguous, it is clear that he has no romantic interests in Kammerer. As the storyline progresses, Carr becomes completely fed up with Kammerer. In an attempt to leave Kammerer behind, along with Kerouac, Carr attempts to run off and join a merchant marine ship headed to Paris. Kammerer is informed of this plan and a deadly confrontation between the two ensues. Carr ends up stabbing Kammerer and then drowning his body in the river.

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Top: Real life newspaper article written about the murder

Bottom: Movie replication of article

It is important to note that the time frame of this movie is a significant period in Queer Culture. While homosexuality obviously exists in literature and the culture, when it becomes personal it is denied. Walt Whitman, a great inspiration to many of the Beats, had a very similar experience. In Whitman’s work, Leaves of Grass, the “Calamus” cluster celebrates the “manly love of comrades.” Many critics argue that these poems are an expression of Whitman’s homosexual love. While the homoerotic content is fairly clear, in a correspondence between Whitman and John Addington Symonds, in 1890, Whitman vehemently denies that he himself is a homosexual. When confronted about his own sexuality he fervently declared “no, no, no!” I am straight “I have six children,” none of which is true. The depiction of homosexual love is accepted when it is just words on paper, however as soon as the finger pointed at the poet, Whitman himself, he denied that accusation. He created a little family for himself because being gay meant not being “The Poet” Ralph Waldo Emerson had in mind. Similarly, many of the Beats were notorious for being homosexuals, but some went to great lengths to conceal their sexuality, like Burroughs who had a wife.

At the time of Kill Your Darlings, gay liberation had yet to occur. Even Ginsberg, who later goes on to produce Howl, an epic poem riddled with homosexual content, keeps his identity hidden. Homosexuality is a crime, sodomy laws are still in effect, and being gay can get you jailed. In this vein, Carr uses gay panic to his advantage. Carr testified that Kammerer was a sexual predator, and Carr killed him in self-defense. They bring up the concept of an “Honor Slaying” which is “relating to a lethal attack committed when the accused is defending himself against a known homosexual.”

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Link to Video Clip from Kill Your Darlings explaining Honor Slaying

In an era of gay panic, this defense is enough to get Lucien Carr’s sentence reduced from murder to manslaughter. This is an important time period for Queer Culture because the simple act of making a pass at someone you are attracted to is an excusable reason to find yourself murdered. Kill Your Darlings portrays a hidden element of the Beat Generation’s lives, a time before they are out and living in a world riddled with hatred toward homosexuality. While many of them will face ridicule and lawsuits later in their lives because of these issues, at this era they are hiding behind the concept of “Honor Slayings” and letting gay-hatred propagate through their lives. This movie brings to light the dark past of the Beats who were all complacent in the murder of an individual some of them considered a friend.

Whitman and Carr both had their reputation on the line when confronted with ideals about homosexuality. Although far less extreme as Carr, Whitman created children for himself in order to escape the label of a homosexual. Likewise, Carr clung to a defense that heavily depended on him being completely heterosexual. If there was a single drop of evidence proving he had even the slightest of homosexual tendencies, the guilty charge of murder would have stood. Both men lived their lives in such a way that their sexuality came into question. When brought into the light both men went to great lengths to turn the spotlight away from them in order to return to what the heteronormativie world around them deemed as normal.

Gay New York by George Chauncey

It is often thought that before events such as the Stonewall Riots incited a gay movement there was no existing queer culture because people felt compelled to hide their identities. In George Chauncey’s 1995 book, Gay New York, he shows that this claim is misguided through a variety of collected evidence.  He instead explores a world in which the homosexuals between 1890 and the 1940s forged safe spaces for themselves throughout New York, and there was a web of complex relationships including sexual meet-ups, social connections, drag shows, and more.

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Gay New York refutes the widespread beliefs about pre-World War II queer culture. Chauncey not only proves that there was “gay” activity, but that these events “sustained and enhanced gay men’s communal ties and group identity.” In fact, before the 1930s, there was a certain openness two men could have regarding sex and romance. However, that is not to say that the two men could stroll down the street holding hands. Instead of coming out, the term we use today, the men “came in” to the homosexual society. This coming in process was almost a ritual of being introduced to cultural peers. Instead of coming out of the closet, which sounds hidden or isolated, this was being introduced to a society that shared feelings and interests. Walt Whitman was writing in the mid to late 1890s, but his story seems different. Perhaps the relationships and intimacy he describes in his poems were similarly rich to those in the New York gay culture, but he was one of the members that became involved in the night life, but hid his identity behind a veil of respectability and masculinity during the day. Chauncey’s book describes the life that many speculate Whitman to have led. He might have been a victim of the “crisis of masculinity” that Chauncey describes, in which men were challenged by the more fluid gender roles of the early 20th century, thus causing them to overcompensate with shows of strength and heterosexuality. This could be the cause of Whitman’s adamant negation of John Addington’s Symonds question regarding the poet’s relationships with men. He wanted to adhere to the masculinity of the time to maintain his image and popularity.

The homosexual culture described in Chauncey’s book had different norms than the heterosexual culture of the time. While looking at Gay New York, it is worthwhile to compare the acceptance of very “queer” and flexible norms to the emphasis on normalization in today’s queer culture. The largest fight of the current community is the fight for marriage equality. The way that this is often presented is through a lens of comparison to straight parents, because if queer couples can prove that they are not at all different from straight couples they will appear less threatening. Through this normalization, have we lost the rich culture that Chauncey writes about? Despite the strides we have made in a variety of areas, by claiming to be the same as the dominant culture the queer community has moved away from the richness of relationships that Chauncey describes. As we move out of the closet, we also seem to move away from one another. How can we maintain a sense of queer identity and accept our differences while still making strides towards deserved equality?

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M4M

Cruising on Craigslist

When cruising was introduced to the public in William Friedkin’s “Cruising,” there was a focused leather bar approach to the idea of gay men interacting with one another in New York City. Since then, the bars and clubs that were home to gay men have been erased and replaced with restaurants and shopping strips. Gay men were forced out of a private environment where they could be comfortable with their sexuality and enjoy the company of others who shared their tastes.

“The Meatpacking, back in the 80s, was very big into leather bars and transgender prostitutes,” said Jeremiah Moss.

“It went from a place where you could find underground sex of all kinds, to basically a suburban style upscale shopping mall, which is what it is now. It’s where tourists go to shop.”

Since the decline of the leather bars and sex clubs, New York has completely changed its culture. It once was a liberal city where free expression was nurtured. But now, it’s lined with outlets and giant advertisements. The gay underground culture has since been pushed out or to the edges of the city. And because of cases such as Mark Carter’s, all gay people have the right to be afraid and feel unwelcome in NYC.

So where did they go?

Online. Today, the homophobic culture seems very harsh and outside of the gay meccas such as San Francisco, gay men no longer have an outlet where they can feel comfortable getting away to. There private sexual life has to be put on display for shaming in order to fully embrace their own sexuality as Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner suggest in their response to “Sex in Public,” so ultimately they have had to find alternative, more discrete methods.

Websites such as craigslist have become a resource for people to find relationships based on specific desires, whether it be a quick blowjob, BDSM, paddling, “gumming” or just an evening romance. Under the “Personals” tab one can navigate into their preferred sexual orientation such as M4M (Men for Men) and find partners based on sex.

Each post will have what the creator wants in the relationship and how to contact him. Users are able to be very specific about their desires in order to fully disclose what will be expected. This method is very similar to how handkerchiefs are used in the leather bar scene except without any confusion.

“ Pretty Boy Jock on the DL Looking to Play with Straight/Bi Dude Ass”

“ do you need a cocksucker – m4m”

Craigslist can offer the ability to form intimate relationships that would otherwise be difficult to establish in a normal public setting.

In our discussion of Oscar Wilde’s sexuality, it was concluded that his sexual affairs were all done under the public light. Wilde’s grave is a beacon for homosexuals but his life also proved many things. The primary thing is that he never publicly announced his homosexuality. While the specific reason is unknown, one can conclude that because it was illegal to homosexual at the time, he reserved from publicizing this information. This illegality of homosexuality gave precedent to the present in that many people still look down upon homosexuals.

In Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home,” she writes about how her father kept his homosexuality unknown from her and his wife for many years. And he would even take discrete trips to NYC to express his homosexuality. This kind of attitude that gay men have had in history only furthers proves that traditional cruising is at least much less effective because these men have to do it in complete secrecy.

Craigslist and similar sites have made accessing other men with similar interests more accessible through their semi-anonymous forum. And with the death of traditional cruising, it’s a resource that is valuable to the gay community.

The Price of Salt

Patricia Highsmith published The Price of Salt (or Carol) in 1952 during a period of popularity for lesbian pulp fiction novels. Because the characters were lesbians and the plots followed love connections between women, it was most common for the story to end with one of the women committing suicide, being murdered, or going insane. During this time in history homosexuality was not accepted, so the unfortunate endings seemed to be the only option for lesbian fiction. Patricia Highsmith changed that patterned with The Price of Salt. Because this novel pushed the boundaries of lesbian fiction, Patricia Highsmith used a pseudonym when the novel was first published. The Price of Salt was one of the first lesbian pulp fiction novels that depicted lesbians in a positive new light and gave them the opportunity for a happy ending.

The novel opens with Therese working seasonally at Frankenberg’s, a department store in Manhattan. Therese is a young struggling artist trying to make it in New York (sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?). She is juggling her job, set designing, and her boyfriend, Richard, when she meets Carol at Frankenberg’s. Carol is an elegant, classy married woman who catches Therese’s attention the second she steps onto Therese’s vision. Therese cannot get Carol out of her mind, so she sends her a Christmas card without knowing what to expect in return. Carol finds the card endearing and decides to meet with Therese. The two women spend the next few weeks spending time together and getting to know one another. As Therese becomes closer with Carol, she loses interest in her relationship with Richard, and he struggles with the growing bond between Therese and Carol, eventually ending the relationship. When Therese visits Carol’s home she learns that Carol is going through a terrible divorce and custody battle. As Carol waits for her dates in court, she decides to take a road trip and asks Therese to go with her. They head west, away from the drama that they have been facing at home. It is not until they get to Chicago when their relationship goes to the next level and they spend their first night together, as lovers. As their blissful travels continue, Carol’s best friend (and former lover) calls to inform Carol that her husband hired a detective to follow Carol and Therese on their trip. The mood of the novel immediately shifts to panic and the women’s paranoia is translated through the pages. Therese and Carol cannot lose the detective, so Carol decides to return home to face her divorce and custody battle. While Therese waits patiently for Carol’s return, she receives a letter from Carol informing her that she has lost custody of her daughter due to her relationships with Abby and Therese. In order to see her daughter, Carol must not see Therese anymore. The tragic news sends Therese on an emotional downward spiral and eventually, she heads back to New York. The lovers decide to meet one last time. When Carol invites Therese to move in with her, Therese refuses only to realize hours later that she cannot picture living her life with anyone but Carol. The anticipation of a happy ending builds through the last few pages ending with Therese walking towards Carol with an open heart ready for a new beginning.

The main conflict of the novel, Carol’s custody battle, shows the harsh stigmas that were placed upon homosexuals at the time, the stigmas that may have caused Patricia Highsmith to use a pseudonym. The only factor that played into the court’s decision in Carol’s custody battle was her sexuality. She was forced to choose between her daughter and her lover. Her husband’s violation of privacy and spying proved to the court that Carol was a lesbian, and therefore an unfit mother. During this time period, if one parent was queer, custody was automatically given the to straight parent, regardless of parenting capability or attentiveness to the child. Carol’s pain was felt by many at the time.

Today, courts are not allowed to make custody decisions based on a parent’s sexual orientation. Rightfully, courts are making decisions based on what is best for the child. Feminist advocates helped make this change in our judicial system. These decisions that directly affect people’s lives should not be based on bias like they have in the past. Since The Price of Salt was written, the familial structure has reformed to incorporate the diversity of people. Marriage equality, adoption rights, and custody battles are evolving. This shift in “where to draw the line,” as Gayle Rubin says, is part of the reason these situations are changing. The idea that lesbians were not fit mothers has crossed the line and is now on the side along with all other acceptable things. Non-normative family structures are becoming common and accepted; therefore, if Carol was going through her custody battle today, it probably would have had a different outcome.

The Price of Salt is a beautifully written novel that explores sexuality and makes readers think about the evolution that has occurred since the novel was written. Catch it in theaters starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara soon!

Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin

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Bayard Rustin’s role in the Civil Right Movement has often been overlooked. Rustin remained mostly in the background of the movement, solely an adviser to others, such as Martin Luther King Jr. The PBS documentary Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin delves into Rustin’s experience as a Civil Rights activist and how that was affected by his outward homosexuality.

In 1942, Rustin was on a bus going from Louisville to Nashville when he was asked by drivers to move from his seat in the second row to the back of the bus. Rustin refused, and the police intervened, beating and arresting Rustin for refusing to move his seat.38045_enlarge

Rustin was famously an advocate for nonviolence. “The man who believes in nonviolence is prepared to be harmed; to be crushed. But he will never crush others,” Rustin said. When Rustin became an adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. and gave advice on how to run a nonviolent campaign, he noted that King was young and inexperienced in such a feat.

In 1953, Rustin was arrested on a morals charge for publicly engaging in homosexual activity. He went to jail for 60 days and was referred to as a pervert. However, he continued to live his life as an openly gay man regardless.

Davis Platt, Rustin’s first major partner at the beginning of his career, recalled the difficulties of keeping in touch while Rustin was in jail.

“We were determined to stay in touch with each other. There’s no question that I saw him as my lover and he saw me as his lover. It was clear that our letters could not explain clearly what we felt, so we developed a code. I would write about myself as a woman,” Platt said.

Platt, along with many others, always admired Rustin’s upbeat and brilliant personality. Platt described him as having “an intelligence, such a love of life, such a sense of humor, really a lot of wisdom. And he had absolutely no shame about being gay.” However, Platt noted that when they lived together and walked down the street, although they never met any hostility, everyone would stare.

Rustin went on to work for A.J. Muste, an activist in the Civil Rights Movement and anti-war movement. Muste served as a mentor to Rustin, and Rustin claimed that he never made a difficult decision without speaking with Muste about it first. Eventually, Muste voiced his opposition against the fact that Rusin was gay. He put pressure on Rustin to give up his homosexuality, seeing it as a threat to his effectiveness. He tried to break up Rustin and Platt, and pushed Rustin to deny all aspects of his homosexuality.

Rustin was sent to a therapist in hopes of better understanding being homosexual. He was frustrated by the fact that society couldn’t deal with it. The therapist advised him to quiet down about his homosexuality because it was obviously upsetting others and wasn’t a central part of the work he was doing.

As Rustin’s work with Dr. King furthered, he continued to run into obstacles regarding his sexuality. “Adam Clayton Powell didn’t want blacks picketing the democratic convention,” Rustin said. “He want so far as to warn King that if King did not withdraw his support from that demonstration, he would go to the press and say there was a sexual affair going on between me and King. Martin was so terrified by this threat that he decided he would get rid of me.”

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Despite the fact that so many were against Rustin being gay, his path on the Civil Rights journey hardly faltered. The need for a mass gathering in Washington began to emerge, and A. Phillip Randolph, whom Rustin had previously worked with, advocated Rustin as the local choice to organize it. Rustin was a critical contributor in the organization of the March on Washington, and after the March’s success, appeared on the cover of Life magazine alongside Randolph as the leaders of the March.

 “I don’t think without Bayard Rustin the modern civil rights movement would have won half of the victories that it won.”

Rustin’s courage and success as a person rests hugely on the fact that he encountered endless criticisms about his sexuality, yet for years he wore it proudly on his sleeve, and endorsed it brazenly as part of who he was. He lived during a time where he not only had to contest racism, but homophobia as well. Rustin countered both of those disparagements with an undying determination to make America a better country by instilling equality in its citizens. He stood firmly by his beliefs and made historic accomplishments as a result.

Rustin began dating partner Walter Naegle in 1977. The two were together ten years before Rustin passed away in 1987 due to a perforated appendix. Naegle explained: “In the last years of his life he was really returning to where he had started: the belief that we are all members of one human family.”

Bayard-and-Walter

“Twenty five, thirty years ago, the barometer of human rights in the United States were black people. That is no longer true. The barometer for judging the character of people in regard to human rights is now those who consider themselves gay, homosexual, lesbian. We are all one. And if we don’t know it, we will learn it the hard way.”   

Country Music and the LGBTQ community

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5b/Chely_Wright_Broadway.jpg

Rather obviously, country music is entirely hetero-normative. We do not see openly gay, lesbian, or trans country music artist who writes or sings about their relationships. For the most part, country music is men singing about women they love or women they want to have sex with and women singing about men that cheated on them or broke their hearts. These cultural norms in this genre of music make it next to impossible to break out in this business if you so choose to be open about your sexuality if it is not hetero-normative.   Have country music artists come out? Yes. However, these artists are very slim, the first person openly coming out being in 2010. Most recently in November 2014, Ty Herndon and Billy Gilman came out within hours of each other stirring up the country community. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/11/21/country-artists-ty-herndon-and-billy-gilman-come-out-as-gay/ Coming out is one thing, but are any of these people that choose to reveal their sexuality headliners or overly successful? No. Why is it that even in the R&B community which use to be historically homophobic, they are beginning to be a lot more supportive of gay, lesbian, and trans but country has remained stagnant?

Chely Wright was the first person in country music to publicly come out as gay. For the majority of her music career she appeared to be straight, even dating Brad Paisley, a very famous heterosexual male country singer, while they were on tour together. She wrote songs like “Hard to be a Husband, Hard to be a Wife” which is overtly hetero-normative, but she also wrote songs with titles like “Let me in” which is not telling of her sexuality at all. Chely in fact was intending to mask her sexuality the entire time. She has said that not only did she know she was a lesbian since she was 9, but she also swore to herself in her teen years that she would never reveal her sexuality to anyone as it was “immoral and would kill her career”. She eventually did come out to family in 2005 and later came out publicly in 2010. She is by far the most successful career wise in terms of people that have come out in country music, but she only came out when her music career was over. I can’t help but think it had to be much easier coming out not having the pressure of having to sell albums, tours, tshirts, etc. She in a lot of ways got to a point where there wasn’t much riding on her sexuality anymore, so while it was brave to come out, it wasn’t nearly as risky for her career as some of the younger artists who are coming out more recently.

When reading Chely’s story I couldn’t help but be reminded of Walt Whitman and his story of “coming out”. Could we find a pattern in Chely’s music like historians did in Whitman’s work?

Lyrics from the song “Not as In Love”

I want the earth to move, I want bells to ring
When he walks in the room, I wanna hear angels sing
It’s not a bad situation I’m in right now you see
I’m just not as in love as I’d like to be
No I’m not as in love as I’d like to be

Are these out of the many, many lyrics she has written not some how indicative of her feelings for women over men? For most listeners of this song when it came out in 2001, the thought was probably, “shes not in love with this man so she should move on to another man”. If one would have known her story, they might have saw these lyrics as her expressing how it is in fact a man that doesn’t satisfy her at all. In future lyrics that were released around the time she came out, she was much more candid about her feelings, even expressing that it could be a woman or man to end up with.

 

Lyrics from the song “Like Me”

“And who’s gonna end up holdin’ your hand-
A beautiful woman or a tall, handsome man?
There’s no doubt they’ll love you, but it’s yet to be seen:
Will anyone ever know you like me?”

Obviously, Whitman was a little different because his poetry wasn’t as overt in the coming out process, but like I said, she is not nearly as successful and has not been since coming out.

Why doe’s non-normative sexuality seem to be a death sentence in country music? I think it is the fan base. Country music has historically not been diverse. It is an industry run by white men with very little African American men, much less women then men, and almost no other ethnicity found. In order to bridge the gap for LGBTQ to feel comfortable coming out in country music, there needs to be much more diversity in general.

The Harvey Milk Foundation

Introduction

For my third post I decided to analyze Harvey Milk, “the first openly gay person to be elected to public office in California”. In my analysis I also take a deeper look into the Harvey Milk Foundation http://milkfoundation.org/, a foundation that is guided off of Harvey Milk’s dream.

 Historical Context

It was not until the age of 40 that Harvey Milk was open about his sexuality. Around 1972 he moved from New York City to San Francisco to the Castro District, an area where a migration of gay men was occurring at that time in history. It was not until 1977 that Milk won a seat in San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors after unsuccessfully running for office three times prior. His mission was “to build a better tomorrow filled with the hope for equality and a world without hate”.

While in office he was accountable for a strict gay rights ordinance for the city being passed. Milk grew to be a local celebrity in the gay community of San Francisco. Sadly, 11 months after winning his seat in the Board of Supervisors he was shot and killed in City Hall by a former supervisor, Dan White.

When was it created

The Harvey Milk Foundation (HMF) was created in 2009 by Stuart Milk and Anne Kronenberg. Stuart is the nephew of Harvey Milk and is a global LBGT human rights activist and political speaker. Anne Kronenberg is a LBGT rights activist and was Harvey Milk’s campaign manager during his 1977 campaign, when he won office.

HMF is a non-profit organization geared toward empowering local, regional, national and global organizations to live out Harvey Milk’s dream for a better, equal tomorrow. The organization focuses on the equality of all individuals within society to be able to participate equally. May 22 is dedicated to being Harvey Milk day. One of the HMF’s main missions is to see this day celebrated in as many communities as possible to help educate the world on inclusion and acceptance. A set of online and news media materials are always accessible on the foundation’s website and work hard to build events and monuments that have an educational focus.

I chose to include this artifact in the digital archive because Harvey Milk was a prominent figure in history in the uprising of LBGT acceptance. He empowered individuals to stand by who you are and educate the world on equality in all aspects of life.

Some could say that Harvey Milk was the leader of gay culture in San Francisco. He was looked at as an icon in the 70s and brought individuals of all cultures together to realize they are all equal. Even though he was assonated shortly after entering office, his legacy has been continued through his foundation to build a better tomorrow. Milk gave other individuals hope to pursue what they believe. He was the first openly gay person to be elected into public office, that in and of itself is an accomplish that changed the “political game” forever.          

To this day the Harvey Milk Foundation is utilizing their voice to educate and empower. On their website they have a section dedicated to education. There you can find a list of books which can be useful resources to help educators teach their students more about equality, Harvey Milk, and nonviolent activism. The HMF founders are frequently speaking to audiences about gay rights and pursuing LBGT equality.

The Harvey Milk Foundation was built on the history of Harvey Milk and his dream for a better tomorrow. Without Milk a new path to gay politicians would have been taken and San Francisco may not be the city it is today. Milk’s legacy is being continued and his lessons are always being passed along.

Walt Whitman’s poems could be related to the HMF. Whitman described his sexuality through his writing and attempted to expose his homosexuality to his readers. Unlike Milk, Whitman had a change of heart and re-structured his poems so his readers would not know what he was trying to exemplify. Milk stood by his beliefs and found for equality and positively impacted the lives of so many. IF Whitman would have done the same he could have reached a number of his readers as well.

HMF2HMF