I’ve always felt somewhat like an outsider in the gay community. My first forays to gay bars after turning 21 elicited two types of responses from men. Standing there (all five feet seven inches and 128 pounds of me) trying to seem like I belonged, I’d either get a well-intentioned, but withering, “Smile honey, it can’t be that bad!” or a chickenhawk telling me what he wanted to “do to me.” Either way, I wound up feeling alternately invisible, pathetic, or puny.
With the creation of Rick at the age of 26, I unleashed a part of me that got to be all body, and not brain. Rick was impulsive, tough, and uncensored. He could stand his ground as a little guy.
It was amazing to go out with the energy of Rick, and have men’s responses to me transform. One could argue I was simply playing into the performance of white, muscled, masculinity, that is so pervasive in the American gay community as the ideal, and being socially rewarded for it.
But just as going out as Dina Brown felt like a very natural skin, so did being Rick. As Rick I felt like a “man” for the first time. I allowed myself to take up space in a room. Rick could stand or dance alone at a club, or be comfortable in silence, not having to assert his identity through words or humor. His mantra was a celebratory, “Fuck it.”
And in my early years of teaching, where I felt like my body disappeared in the classroom, and all I became was words and ideas in a button down shirt, it was exciting to live as Rick outside my day job. And those years of clubbing in Los Angeles and Berlin, were the closest I’ve felt to being part of a gay community.
My encounters in this version of gay “community” proved largely superficial and sexual. Interactions began to feel more like transactions. And so at a certain point, Rick began transacting.
In the end, I think it was Rick who nearly killed me. After years of living under the tyranny of my mind and the litany of self-abuse and self-medication I’d inflicted on my body, part of me thinks it was Rick who finally rebelled in the Berlin subway on July 25, 2005 and said, “Enough. Fuck it.”
In sobriety, Rick is still with me, but he’s more integrated into my daily life. Rick has as much place in my classroom as he does in the gym. I’ve found a more intuitive and fluid sense of what it is to be a gay man, which is as much about being Dina Brown as it is being Rick.
I still feel outside the gay community, though. Maybe this is because I’ve reduced the idea of a gay “community” to scenes of bars, circuit parties, and other public gatherings that seem to revolve around status, substance (ab)use, and playing the music loud enough to be able to safely avoid conversations of any depth. With this limited definition of community, and the performances required to “belong” I leave myself seesawing between feeling “better than” and “less than”, never quite hitting the elusive balancing point of “a part of.”
- Is there such a thing as a “gay community?” Is it a neighborhood, an online space, an idea, a political stance? What does membership entail? What are the possibilities and limits of such community identification?
- Regardless of your sexual orientation, what communities do you consider yourself to be a part of? What function do such affinities serve in your life?
Share your thoughts and comments in the “finding community” blog feed below, and I’ll keep posting mine as well.
Digital Discourse Gets Dirty: David Duran’s “I’m Sorry my HIV Offends You”
A thoughtful Huffington Post article by David Duran critiquing digital discourse in the gay community, particularly around HIV status:
What I find most offensive is the treatment of HIV-positive guys who are online looking for most likely the same thing you are. “I’m clean, UB2.” -The most ignorant statement most commonly found online.
Check out the full text of “I’m Sorry my HIV Offends You” here.
Are the Gay “Community,” Our Friends, & Lack of Personal Responsibility Causing Much of Our Pain?
A compelling cover story this week in the LA WEEKLY by Patrick Range McDonald entitled Gay Happiness, the New Frontier: Are mental and physical health problems really a reaction to bigotry? resonates strongly with questions and experiences I’ve tried to explore and express through THE SKIN I’M IN. The article tries to go beyond simply blaming cultural persecution for gay men’s problems, challenging gay men and LGBTQ organizations to explore how the (American, and increasingly globalizing) gay version of “community” with its preoccupation with surface and substance (abuse) foster a large component of the sense of alienation, illness, and self-abuse that continue in gay males.
Feeling outside of mainstream culture, young men turn to the gay community which, as currently structured around bars, design, fashion, physique, and corporate sponsorship, often leads to an equally, but more troubling sense of alienation and outsider-ness from within. Gay men are also searching for a way to explore a sense of spirituality outside of organized religions that so vocally reject them, and this can be a major challenge. Of course, a new brand of spiritualized, self-exploring gays run the risk of becoming as much a trope, commodity, and clique as its nightlife, beauty, and retail therapy counterparts…
Check out the article , and share your thoughts and experiences in the feed for this post.
Sports, Masculinity, Lazy Language, and the (News) Cycle of “Progress”
Shortstop of the Toronto Bluejays Yunel Escobar was suspended by his team for three games today for playing with “Tu Ere Maricon” written in his eyeblack. It’s great that the Bluejays took public action to discipline Escobar, but his own apology speaks to a level of continued ignorance: “I don’t have anything against homosexuals. I have friends who are gay…” Then in direct reference to the word Maricon, “It’s a word used often within teams…it’s uh, as uh, it’s a word without meaning in the way [I] used it.”
This coming off the anonymous Fluter Online Magazine interview last week with one of Germany’s leading Bundesliga soccer superstars who says that he is gay but afraid to come out (English coverage of the article in Der Spiegel Online here). The player is apparently out to teammates and team brass, all of whom he says have no problem with his sexuality. But he has a fear of the media frenzy coming out might ignite and the reaction of fans. Some select quotes: “I have to put on a show and deny my true identity every day…I don’t know whether I will be able to take the constant tension between the model heterosexual player and the possible discovery, until the end of my career.” All this told to a 25-year-old reporter for publication in Fluter which is youth magazine published by the Federal Agency for Civic Education.
Bundesliga officials and even German Chancellor Angela Merkel chimed in on the interview, on a weekend where ironically, all soccer players donned jerseys reading “Geh Deinen Weg” (Go your own way) as part of a campaign to promote soccer as a means of transcending religious and racial intolerance. Merkel told press, “He lives in a country in which he need have no fear of outing himself publicly…We have to acknowledge there are still fears when it comes to the social environment [in football]. We can only give a signal: You need not fear.”
Meanwhile in U.S. NFL football, a storyline of another sort plays out as a Maryland state delegate Emmet C. Burns’s attempt to censure Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo for supporting a gay marriage proposition on the state ballot backfired, making both Avanbadejo and Minnesota Vikings player Chris Kluwe (who posted a colorful open letter to Burns in defense of gay marriage and free speech) internet heroes of the week.
These stories coming in such close succession after an Olympics in which the number of out athletes was a marked topic of media conversation (only 23 of over 10,00o competitors and only 4 of them male were out at the games), seem like revamped headlines to old news. In May of this year former Redskin player LaVar Arrington said in a radio interview that the first active NFL player to come out would be a “national hero.” Granted he was already retired at the time, but it is sobering to remember former NFL player Dave Kopay came out in Lynn Rosellini’s Washington Star cover story way back in 1975…
What do yo think? Do these three incidents speak to progress and substantive discourse, or are we simply going round and round in mediated cycles of progress and prudery?
Community as Family: Father’s Letter Disowning Gay Son Goes Viral
“This is a home movie. Or rather, a search-for-home movie.”
In many ways, a sense of community is about finding a sense of home. Here is a link to a video of mine called HOME from 2009. It’s comprised of home movie footage in a mix of amateur formats (super 8 film, Hi-8 video, and mini DV) that I shot as I travelled between Berlin and Los Angeles with my first boyfriend between 1996 and 2005. He was German, and the opportunity to explore my identity in Berlin was something I’ll always be grateful for. Years later in 2008, with all the Prop 8 controversy aflame in California, I felt such a sense of deja vu. I pulled out this old footage and found the Prop 22 footage from 2000 now included in Home. I remember at the time, the passage of Prop 22 felt like such a blow to the possibility of my boyfriend (in America on a student visa) and I ever being able to set up a home in the United States.
World Premiere of THE SKIN I’M IN
World Premiere of The Skin I’m In
The Thursday 8th March evening programme at Byron Bay International Film Festival offers its audience a World Premiere. The Skin I’m In is the latest film from Broderick Fox, an established and award winning US filmmaker. The fact that he’s chosen this World Premiere for Byron is very special. What’s even more impressive is that he’s flying all the way over from Los Angeles to join with ACON in presenting this special first screening. For those of you who don’t know, ACON is the largest community-based gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) health and HIV/AIDS organisation in Australia. They promote the health and wellbeing of the GLBT community, people with HIV, and support for people at risk of or affected by HIV, including sex workers, people who use drugs and the family and/or carers of people with HIV.
Screening with The Skin I’m In are short films Hold on Tight and Simply Rob. An evening full of empowering entertainment focused on the challenges and realities faced by countless people within every community. Read full article
“The Skin They’re In” Professor’s Film Fosters Discussion of Tattoos on Campus
The Skin They’re In
By Jacob Surpin
After last week’s premiere of Professor Brody Fox’s documentary, THE SKIN I’M IN Jacob. sat down with six tattooed Tigers and asked them to share the stories told by their ink. Read Full Article