It’s Not Where You Start: Freedom

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

With all of the activism I’ve been doing over the past couple of weeks around GLBT visibility and rights, I’ve been thinking a lot about queer ethics. I spent high school figuring out what gay identity meant for myself and how that got negotiated in individual relationships. I was, generally speaking, in the closet.

And yet by the time I graduated I had a close circle of a dozen or so friends whom I had told, and another half-dozen or so guys with whom I had never had a conversation about gay identity, but I assure you they got the message.

I came out to my parents the day they dropped me off at college. A week later, as the period for choosing classes began, I discovered a freshman seminar on the subject of Homosexuality in American Literature and Culture since 18something something. Freshmen seminars were small classes of fifteen or fewer students with one professor. They were highly selective, with an application process that involved writing essays and having a one-on-one interview with the professor. And I knew I had to be in this class. Thus began stage two of my gay-identity formation: understanding who I was in relationship to a community and a history.
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It’s Not Where You Start: God Help the Outcasts

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

Today is National Coming Out Day.

Coming out is an ongoing process. The first time I told someone (out loud!) that I was gay was in 1993. It was New Year’s Eve, and for some reason I was home alone. TBS had a triple-feature of “sing-along” musicals — Grease, Viva Las Vegas, and West Side Story, each outfitted with lyrics & a bouncing ball to earn them the sing-along moniker — hosted by Tommy Tune. I watched the entire triple feature, and then some, while on the phone with my friend Amy, who was also spending the night at home, across town.

Why didn’t we just decide to meet somewhere? Neither of us drove yet, and I guess it didn’t occur to us to take a cab? Who knows. In some ways, the simultaneous intimacy and distance the phone provided was just what we needed. We were already at that point best friends. And we each had something we wanted to share with the other. So unfolded what we have come to refer to as our Epic 13-Hour Phone Call. (And yes, we called it that before epic became the most overused adjective of our generation.) I was so sure Amy was going to tell me she was gay. She didn’t. That didn’t come until many, many years later. She had a different revelation, but knowing that we each had something to share, something that made us worried and vulnerable, made it easier for me. Coming out is always a risk. Coming out the first time is terrifying. But knowing that we each were taking a risk equalized what is normally a treacherously uneven power dynamic. Of course, we both knew that we were devoted to each other and there was pretty much nothing either of us could have said that would have threatened our relationship. But that didn’t make it any less scary.  Continue reading

It’s Not Where You Start: Let Go (Canto de Ossanha)

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start

Ever since I saw this clip, in the documentary Mitzi Gaynor: Razzle Dazzle! The Special Years, I’ve been obsessed with this song. It turns out I had heard it before — Rosemary Clooney & John Pizzarelli covered it on their album Brazil — but their version doesn’t have any of Mitzi’s fire. (Astrud Gilberto did a great version, though.)

Of course, the only reason I rented the Mitzi Gaynor DVD was because I was going to see Mitzi Gaynor live and in person, doing her one-woman-show (which was basically a club act with extra patter) at a theater in Boca. My parents are retirees, which means they have fulfilled the ultimate dream of their lives: they are snowbirds. For the goyim in the audience, “snowbirds” are what Jews call their parents (and grandparents) who spend summers in the north and winters in Florida. This means that when I go to visit them, I am often treated to shows aimed at their demographic, both on the condo circuit and beyond.  Continue reading

It’s Not Where You Start: Better

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

[Edited 10/7: Turns out that Make It Better and It Gets Better aren’t the same project. Both are worth checking out.]

Chances are, if you read my blog, then you’re probably aware of Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project. In response to the recent uptick in visibility of gay teen suicides — which I suspect is just that, an increase in visibility and not an increase in suicide incidence, since every study I’ve ever read has warned of the high suicide rate of gay teens in the USA — Savage and his husband made a YouTube video talking about their own difficult teen years and reassuring viewers that life got better for them, and it can get better for teens today.

The video has spawned an online movement of others making It Gets Better videos. And since many of my friends know I like to make online videos every now and then, I started getting messages asking if I was going to make one.  Continue reading

It’s Not Where You Start: Cornet Man

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

Outside of the relationship that I am currently trying to get over repair sort out understand, I haven’t really had serious relationships. That is, I’ve never dated anyone long enough for the relationships to coalesce into anything resembling depth. But looking back, I have several people with whom I had long-term, ongoing… arrangements… and I have grouped them in my mind as my retroactive exes.

My retroactive exes are a group of five or so guys from various parts of my life that I didn’t “date” for a variety of reasons — we were too young and in the closet, or I was too hung up on one thing or another, or… well, you get the idea. But each was someone I cared about and who helped create the person I’ve become. So I consider them retroactive exes, which means I get all the benefits of having exes — great memories, a history to reflect on — with none of the downside — namely, we never really had to break up.

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It’s Not Where You Start: I’m Hip

Originally published on It’s Not Where You Start.

Tonight I attended the Boston premiere of Howl, the Allen Ginsberg bio-pic starring James Franco as the preeminent beat poet. I have been looking forward to this movie for about a year, and not only for the promise of seeing James Franco make out with Aaron Tveit.

It may not surprise you to know that I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Ginsberg. As a gay Jewish kid growing up in a town with few gay or Jewish (and no gay, Jewish) peers, I found both Ginsberg’s biography and his poetry resonated with me quite a bit when I first encountered it at age 14 or so. Looking back, I wonder if that’s entirely accurate, or if I knew that beat poetry was supposed to appeal to alienated youth, so I convinced myself I liked it. I do remember getting a thrill from “Please Master” that had as much to do with seeing a portrayal of my sexuality as it did with seeing any portrayal of sexuality.
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Jewschool.com: Two gay Jews walk into a bookstore…

Originally published on Jewschool.com.

When I was younger, I was half convinced that all gay people were Jewish. Certainly, the only images of gay people I saw in the media were characters in the plays of William Finn, Tony Kushner, and Paul Rudnick. (That I considered Broadway plays to be “the media” is likely a unique feature of having been a gay, Jewish, middle-class kid.) I’ve remained a fan of all three writers ever since, so I was delighted to see that Rudnick had a new memoir out last month.

I Shudder is a collection of autobiographical essays very much in the David Sedaris mold, although Rudnick’s New Jersey Jewish relatives, New York theatrical exploits and Hollywood headaches provide quite a different framework for his humor. It’s to his credit that stories about his great-aunt Lil are every bit as entertaining as his account of visiting a real-life nunnery for inspiration while writing Sister Act. His only missteps come in the segments that give the book its title. Peppered throughout the book are “Excerpt[s] from the Most Deeply Intimate and Personal Diary of One Elyot Vionnet.” Rudnick certainly can write in character — his “If You Ask Me” column in Premiere magazine, written as middle-aged housewife Libby Gelman-Waxner was hysterical — but Elyot’s complaints about the insufferable people one encounters in life don’t measure up. These essays’ weakness is only made more visible by their inclusion in an otherwise fabulous collection.

Mental: Funny in the Head, by Eddie SarfatyRudnick isn’t the only gay Jewish funny man with a new collection of autobiographical essays. Eddie Sarfaty, a stand-up comedian who’s probably best known to those who summer in Provincetown (where he’s had a regular gig for many seasons) has produced Mental: Funny in the Head. I’ll say up front that it’s unfair to Sarfaty to compare his book to Rudnick’s — but they came out within months of each other, and I read them back to back, so what can you do? On the other hand, I have a soft spot for Sarfaty because he performed a stand-up show as one of Keshet’s very early fundraisers, back before anyone had ever heard of us.

My feelings on Mental are much more mixed. When it’s at its best, such as when Sarfaty writes about his relationships with older relatives, it’s both funny and touching. (His publisher has posted Second-Guessing Grandma, the first essay in the book, for free on-line.) But too much of the book doesn’t measure up to its best parts, and I found myself impatient for chapters on the comedian’s sex life to end so I could get to the good bits about his European vacation with his parents. The nice part of a book like this is that you can skip past chapters you don’t like without worrying that you won’t be able to follow what comes next. The essays aren’t presented chronologically, and when events from previous essays are mentioned, they’re explained as though the reader is encountering them for the first time. I loved roughly half of the essays, but could have done without the other half. (My favorites: “My Tale of Two Cities,” about the aforementioned European trip; “Can I Tell You Something?” detailing the comedian’s experience teaching a stand-up class for amateurs; and “The Eton Club,” a tribute to a certain kind of gay culture that died off with AIDS.)

Both Rudnick and Sarfaty profess their own distance from Jewish religion, but both books are infused with Yiddishkeit, from the focus on Jewish family dynamics to the meditations on how Hillel’s teachings might inform the way we partake in online cruising sites. Neither book is likely to inspire readers to find any great insights into Jewish culture, but I suspect most Jewschool readers will find many moments in each that provoke a knowing smirk of familiarity.