Breaking the Silence Awards recognizes corporations and leaders who use their platform of influence to advocate for Sexual & Domestic Abuse awareness. Since the inception, the I Love Me Foundation has provided supportive services through legal referral assistance, advocate support, financial aid, employment referral and housing assistance to over 1,500 youth, young adults, sex workers, and those in the under-served communities.
Yes, that’s Kelly Osbourne and Robert Harrell – get excited! But also, please keep your cool. It’s Los Angeles and chill is what we do best, even in the heat of the day. Make no mistake…
The day wasn’t without its lively moments. Yes, we talked about abuse, survival, disenfranchised communities – all things liberals love to talk about! We also had a blast. It was a celebration of #MeToo, #TimesUp, and the transgender communities and communities of color that support their struggle.
It was about female empowerment, humanity, and rejoicing in our ability to tell the truth, so that when the artifice falls away, and we take the narrative back from our abusers, we reveal a truer version of ourselves, which is a boon to our loved ones, to the communities that support us. It was a celebration.
Robert spoke with a tremble in his voice, but a power in his spirit – about how inspired he is with his mother. About how 90% of rapes aren’t reported the first time. How, when he came to her as a boy with his story of abuse, she believed him the first time. He honored her with the Purple Heart Award, and she beamed! She was so proud of her son! He was so proud of her! It was quite amazing to watch.
I teared up, myself, during this part. Something about him emphasizing the first time struck me as incredibly powerful. I certainly wish, when I came forward with my own abuse story, people would have believed me the first time. He made an important point – we have got to retrain ourselves as a society, to stop doing the abuser’s work for them. To stop minimizing, to stop shoving people into “victim” boxes, when what they are doing is actually heroic.
I was impressed with the desserts. The food was all fantastic, and Chaz Dean was the main sponsor. He looked sleek and stylish and his table was extremely well groomed – don’t worry.
Alexander from West Hollywood Gateway, with Desireé, and my date, Steven Reigns.
Steven was named Poet Laureate of West Hollywood. It’s true! Okay, I’ll stop bragging about Steven. I was flattered he asked me. It felt like getting asked to prom. I spent last week walking on a cloud!
I was grateful, but my absolute favorite part of the day was watching 80 year old California Representative, Congresswoman Maxine Waters speak with the exuberance and stamina of a much younger person. She speaks with the clear, strong voice of someone who knows she is exactly where the universe wants her to be, because, in part, she bent the universe to her will, by climbing over, tunneling under, or going around any walls her opponents put in her path.
We were lucky enough to walk the five flights of stairs right behind Maxine. We weren’t too thrilled with the no-elevator-situation, but Maxine didn’t care. She may have mentioned getting some exercise in, but she was unflappable and determined, and by the time we reached the top floor we were all joking about what an incredible photo-op it would be, if next time the Congresswoman jet-packed in with Elon Musk. She has a sense of humor, but by the end of her speech, she made a metaphor about how, if she could take the stairs in life, the rest of us could, too. It’s fifteen minutes long, but she doesn’t stop to rest, and she doesn’t let up on the abusers. She is determined to see abusers like Brett Kavanaugh prosecuted for their crimes, and she is still determined to see the impeachment of this illegitimate, corrupt, racist dog-whistle blowing Presidential administration. She, among all politicians, is the only one who makes me want to stay and fight, and not emigrate to Europe. I can’t help it, there’s a 14 year old gay boy inside me that just loves her. She can do no wrong, in my eyes.
I’m incredibly grateful for the day, and for the reminder that yes, I love me.
Gregory is perplexed, and sort of chasing me up the hill. I’m not running, but it’s a steep climb and I’m race-walking. I don’t understand my powers yet -I can’t control them. In the years to come, I will learn that if emotionally triggered, or feeling slightly manic, raising my heart rate isn’t a good idea. Bad things happen when I do that.
Sweet Gregory is trailing behind me on the 59th Street Bridge. I am race-walking us to Queens. A mean plan has sprung up in my young mind. I’m going to make him walk me all the way home, then tell him to get back on the subway. I’m not going to sleep with him tonight, or any other night. He’s changing, and I don’t recognize him at all any more.
Which is fine. I don’t recognize myself, either.
A racing heart sits inside an awful, jealous, mean, petty version of myself. The quickening pulse thrums out my eardrums. Mania starts to rise; I’m too young to realize its power. Too young to know that if I let the mania swell too fully inside me, I can unleash a terrible force, Like Father, when he built Asteroid M. But, my powers are yet undefined. It’s 2001, and I don’t even know much about myself. All I know is that I’m different than other folks, and that I have to hide it.
An arctic, icy blast lights up behind my eyes. I pick up the pace. Gregory complains.
Hey! Why are you walking so fast? It’s the middle of the night! What’s the rush?
I’m so busy these days Sweet Gregory! I have a rehearsal tomorrow and an audition!
You said you weren’t rehearsing until Friday?
It’s another project, duh! I said I was busy! Keep up!
I don’t want Sweet Gregory to keep up. I want him to lag behind me forever, but his voice has developed two decades in the last nine months. He’s coming into his full power, and I don’t even know what my power is yet! It isn’t fair. He’s a spoiled brat from a wealthy family. That’s not who the arts should be for! The arts are for real artists who had to struggle to get where they are, not for pampered babies whose families paid for their every whim.
(No, that’s not true, another voice in my head suggests. The arts are also a place the rich place their black sheep family members. Their broken. The sociopaths that don’t have a flair for business.)
I think of the improv classes I’m taking. How I had to scrape money together at the end of the month for rent, how I kept taking classes. I think of the regional and Off-Off-Broadway musicals, sometimes for little or no money at all, just to get a chance to get some free voice practice in. Ice crystals form behind my eyes. A bluish-white whisper floats from my mouth. Sweet Gregory is confused. He notices a change in me, but he can’t place it. He’s out of breath. We keep rushing. He stumbles, but I don’t pause to help him, I race out front.
Come on! I have to get up early tomorrow, I say.
Gregory puffs and huffs behind me. Good luck with that golden voice, I think to myself. Maybe I’ll stick around and wear you out, Sweet, Sweet Gregory? Maybe, I’ll just keep you tired your whole life, so you can’t sing…
I sense something preternatural near me. A flash in my mind – two unctuous, undulating eels, twisting in East River silt, rutting up tree roots, sliding past rusting cans.
My third eye pops open. I’m linked now, with the two gargantuan eels. This happens sometimes when my powers take over. They link to whatever animals nearby that can use their base instincts to fuel my agenda. Most of the time it’s just birds, but sometimes it’s uglier animals, depending on now insipid I feel inside when the mania triggers. The third eye swells. My skin is gooseflesh. I pause. Blue white light.
Lead him to the top of the bridge, the eels whisper, I am two places at once. I am standing on the Queensborough Bridge with Sweet Gregory, and I’m cold, submerged in the inky water of the East River, amongst flotsam and jetsam, amongst moss and fishes, and discarded needles, river rocks, and sharper stones. Algae, particulate, brown earthy life, and two self-satisfied, overgrown, fear-driven eels.
Gregory catches up. Thank God you came to your senses!
I didn’t. And you thank God, Gregory! I don’t believe in your Catholic God who speaks an infallible voice through a man called the Pope. I don’t believe any of it!
It’s okay! It’s just religion! We don’t have to agree! Michael, what’s the matter with you tonight? You sang really well, back there! You’re funny! You know that funny people don’t have to learn to sing all that well? Think about all the character actors who make it on Broadway, just croaking out one song a night! It’s the dream job! Full salary for one fun song, and a few lines in the second act! Are you jealous?
Am I what???
Are you jealous of me?
Poison flows through my veins. Hatred pumped so quickly by my heart, fluttering and pounding away – endless pounding in my very soul – pounding deep into my core. Fuck you, Gregory – I’m not jealous. I feel sorry for you!
I didn’t stop so you could catch up, Gregory. I stopped so you could have a fair start. We’re racing to the top of the bridge. I feel my tongue splitting in twain as I say this. My tongue silver, my words, quick. I shift eye contact – right, left, right, left, right, left. Like a swinging pendulum on a grandfather clock. Eye to eye, I press into his mind, a bit, gently, I enter him. It’s easy. He doesn’t even know he has a third eye.
Race me up to the top!
Gregory looks uneasy, stunned, then his eyes glaze over, fuzzy, and he smirks.
Okay, he says, all Fairfield County, all bright and cheerful, but neutral underneath. It’s the tone of voice you might hear from someone who wants to talk about your problems endlessly, but offer no real solutions – it’s a classic politician’s voice – cheerful, smarmy. I’ve used my power to briefly create this moment, in order to make him chase me. It’s working. I feel in control again.
Okay? Ready, set, go!
He’s playing along now, and so am I. For a while I let us run neck and neck, but I’m a competitive swimmer, and I have been for more than a decade. Moreover, my mania will provide an adrenaline dump that usually lets me win a sprint. I’m fast. Gregory is taller than me but I pull away toward the top of the bridge. By the time I see his silhouette approaching, I’ve already climbed over the safety barrier. I’m perched at the apex of the bridge, with a slimy smile on my face. Two eels twisting inside my third eye. Two eels whisper to one another in the riverbed murk and muck, hundreds of feet below us.
Take it. Take him. We want a sacrifice. We need blood.
This takeover is unprecedented. I’ve approached animals before with my eye open, but I’ve never been hijacked like this. It terrifies me when my third eye opens on its own. I have to learn to control this. Go away! I’m shouting at the eels. Get out!
You asked us in! You can’t banish us until you grant a request. We require a sacrifice.
I don’t believe them. I think they’re lying. I clench my teeth; try to force my third eye closed. It moves a bit, then snaps back open. The eels giggle and hiss. Reflexively, I tighten my jaw again, and tear of a good sized chunk of my inner cheek.
We want blood… We need blood. We can’t get back on land unless you feed us. We’re trapped down here in the river.
Who are you?
We’re a little bit like you.
You are not like me.
No, not exactly. But we have powers like you. We could share.
I want you out.
We need blood, and we ain’t leaving.
Sweet Gregory approaches. He is red-faced and out of breath. Sweating through his Oxfords. He’s grinning.
Okay, okay, you win! Come down off there…
I’m not coming down, Sweet Gregory.
What? You’re nuts, come off it.
Come up here with me, Gregory.
Michael, I’m not coming up there. You could fall. If you fall you’ll die.
Gregory, life is about taking risks. That’s what I didn’t like about your song tonight. You sang it perfectly, but there wasn’t any risk in your voice. It sounded like you were doing something for the purpose of not being criticized, but it didn’t sound like you were pulling your own heart out. That song happens right before a character in the show leaves his home country to be with a foreign woman. You sang all the notes perfectly, but you didn’t tell the story.
Michael, I’m 22 years old. That role is written for a 40 year old man.
I want you to take a risk with me. Let’s jump into the river.
What?!?! No. Get down from there right now. This bridge is 350 feet tall, Michael. You’ll die if you jump.
I just read how someone jumped off last month and swam ashore.
Michael, did you also read that 70% of people who jump from this height, even into water, will die on impact? Because that’s an important part of the story, and I read the whole thing.
Make him join you, and push him in, the eels whisper to me, or, join him! We need blood to grow stronger – the more, the better. Both of you, strong bloods. Smells so good. Smells so powerful, crossing our river…
Help us. We won’t let you die, if you deliver us Sweet Gregory’s head, like the head of John the Baptist. We can reward you! We can show you how to control your powers!
You’re just like us, kiddo. Don’t you think we started off as people? Let us show you how to shape your own destiny. Let us unlock your power, and sip some for ourselves, to boot!
Brúttó. Þið tveir eruð ógeðslegir. Farðu úr huganum! Get out!
You’re the one who let us in. We require a blood sacrifice to leave. It’s simple. You can’t force us out until we get blood.
Gregory is nervous. He can tell I’m considering jumping, now, in a real way. He can tell he has caught me on an evening where I’m so full of self-loathing, I feel like I have nothing left to lose. He can tell I’m dangerous, but he still loves me, a little, and he wants me to stop threatening to jump off the 59th Street Bridge.
Michael, please come down.
Gregory, why are you going into journalism?
Michael, I have to tell you – I’m up for a job as an editor.
They really liked the articles I wrote for Show Music, and so it’s looking like I could be the editor of Next Magazine soon.
You’re an actor! You’re a great musical theater actor! That’s a local gay magazine that runs interviews with drag queens and has-been Broadway folks looking to rekindle something. Why would you leave the arts? Look – you can learn how to act better, but not everyone gets a voice like that, Gregory. Don’t waste it.
My father respects me now, Michael. It’s important to me. He doesn’t respect acting, as a career choice, but journalism! His son the editor? He respects it. What’s more, I can pay my rent doing it! I’m taking the job.
Bring him to us!
Gregory, come up here.
No. I don’t want either of us to jump off a bridge tonight.
Just come up. I promise not to jump, or try to talk you into it. Just take the risk with me. Just hang off the side of the bridge! It’s fun.
Gregory comes up past the safety rail to sit with me on an iron girder.
Push him. Push him over, and we’ll show you how to REALLY use that third eye.
I push my tongue into the gash I bit into my cheek – a thick viscous iron taste. Blood. My third eye swells. Sing for me, I say. Sing another song for me, Sweet, Sweet Gregory. From Chess? The show you sang from at the cabaret bar?
Gregory clears his throat.
Now, sing, I say.
“What’s going on around me
Is barely making sense
I need some explanations fast
I see my present partner
In the imperfect tense”
Keep him singing!
“And I don’t see how we can last
I feel I need a change of cast
Maybe I’m on nobody’s side
And when he gives me reasons
To justify each move
They’re getting harder to believe
I know this can’t continue
I’ve still a lot to prove
There must be more I could achive
But I don’t have the nerve to leave
Everybody’s playing the game
But nobody’s rules are the same”
Push him over to us! You’ll be so powerful!
“Nobody’s on nobody’s side
Better learn to go it alone
Recognize you’re out on your own
Nobody’s on nobody’s side
The one I should not think of
Keeps rolling through my mind
And I don’t want to let that go
No lover’s ever faithful
No contract truly signed
There’s nothing certain left to know
And how the cracks begin to show”
Join us. We work for powerful gods. They will reward you for unlocking us from this watery prison.
“Never make a promise or plan
Take a little love when you can
Nobody’s on nobody’s side
Never stay too long in your bed
Never lose your heart, use your head
Nobody’s on nobody’s side
Never take a stranger’s advice
Never let a friend fool you twice
Nobody’s on nobody’s side”
I place my hand on Gregory’s back. I slide it down to the small of him.
I could push him. I could end both of us.
“Everybody’s playing the game
But nobody’s rules are the same
Nobody’s on nobody’s side
Never leave a moment too soon
Never waste a hot afternoon
Nobody’s on nobody’s side
Never stay a minute too long
Don’t forget the best will go wrong
Nobody’s on nobody’s side”
I bite open my cheek. The blood runs into my mouth. I grab Gregory’s thigh. I could easily throw us both into the river. It would be so simple.
“Never be the first to believe
Never be the last to deceive
Nobody’s on nobody’s side
Never make a promise or plan
Take a little love when you can
Nobody’s on nobody’s side”
I widen my third eye. I spit the blood down into the abyss. It falls 350 feet to the surface of the river.
NO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?? YOU FOOL!
Trance-like and slack bodied, I open a portal to Ragisland. I suck up the last notes of Gregory’s song into my Eye, immediately placing his voice inside a small, impish cherub statue a few miles south of my memory castle. I shoved the golden voice into the cracks in the little angel’s marble. The statue rests behind a waterfall, it makes a steady, constant sound vibration.
I’ve locked Gregory’s voice here, at the same moment as my blood sacrifice to those eels. Its mine now. I can always visit his voice. He won’t need it anymore, anyway.
I leave the waterfall, the statue, behind. In the cold spring, now, I thrust my fists into the water. I clench myself. My eyes turn opaque, translucent white icy blue. My jaw, slack, bluish white light from my mouth. The eels in my hands, squirming. I seize them. I’m ousting them from my memory castle. I take them to the portal, and fling them out of my mind, back into the East river to meet their oily bodies, rutting and churning up scrum.
The astral plane is closed, this portal sealed. The eels hiss and scream, and fight one another for the meager blood sacrifice I’ve offered. They wanted a five course meal, and I barely gave them a bite – but they got their blood.
This isn’t over, Michael Martin. We’re not going anywhere. We know who and what you are now. We have tasted you. We’ll never let this go.
Shut up, I hear myself say. You guys are real dicks. They slink off down the coast a bit
We climb down off the pylons. We’re back on the bridge. I tell Gregory to head back to Manhattan, but he insists on walking me to Queensborough Plaza to catch the 7 back to Manhattan. I feel affectionate toward Sweet Gregory again. I want to hold him and be naked with him again, but I can’t. Part of me doesn’t want to ruin the relationship I have right now (though it seems to be ruining itself). Part of me doesn’t want to corrupt him with my frantic, crazy, manic whatever-the-fuck is going on with me. My inner cheek is bleeding. I can’t control my third eye. I’m toxic right now.
Gregory hugs me at the station before heading up the stairs.
I’m proud of you, I say, and I’m surprised that I mean it.
I’m more proud of you, Michael. I know you’ll eventually make a living doing theater, or at least being funny! You’re perfect for that. I just need to do this. I like the idea of making a living now, and having my Dad’s approval.
You’re a better person than I am, Sweet Gregory.
No, I’m not! I have flaws! You’re a great person!
No, I’m not, I say, and I kiss him on the cheek.
He hurries up the stairs, but then over his shoulder – Yes, Michael. You are a great person! You’re exceptional!
You are, I say! I’m not a great person! I’m barely even decent!
Gregory doesn’t hear me. He disappears into turnstiles, fluorescent lights, ancient carved up wooden benches. His silhouette is distinguishable, for a brief moment, behind the opaque, tagged-up, art-deco glass panel that NYC’s yesteryear forgot to update. Behind the glass, his shadow merges with a sea of others. I can no longer sense his strong blood.
I walk the short distance back to my place in Long Island City. I stop worrying about the eels. I grind my tongue into my cheek and taste the blood already coagulating, already knitting itself together, patching my wound. The mania subsides.
I spend the wee hours of the morning in Ragisland, admiring a statue behind a waterfall. I’m listening to the vibratory hum of Tiny Gregory the Cherub mix with the sound of water showering down all around me, creating a shimmering barrier to hide us.
I was spending time with one of my Wizard friends, and now I’m teasing her about it. She’s fascinated with my friend Wendell, and has been ribbing me about how I’m hoarding access to him. Somehow, without being told, she can sense Wendell is training me in sorcery, and she’s envious. She wants in. But Wendell is here at Akbar with other pals – theater writers, performance artists, radical faeries et al – and I’m not about to bother him to teach us incantations, hand witchery, or request the tricky instructional task of opening dimensional portals.
It’s too much to ask at 11pm on a Monday.
The after-show is winding down; people are starting to remember to get tired. My band played a couple of songs, (at Ian MacKinnon and Travis Wood’s Planet Queer), and we’re all basking in the after-gloaming. The boys and I did well, and now’s the time we collect our accolades out front on Sunset with the smokers, travelers, fortune tellers, and ghosts. I’m pretty confident after tonight that our show on Sunday, July 29th (at 7pm! 10 bucks!) at the Satellite will be pretty tight. Everyone seems to be feeling pretty okay.
Then, for the second time in less than five days, there he is. Andy Goddamn Dick.
(She’s there too. The lovely blackberry-lipped pixie-faced girlfriend. The woman in the sundress from the first night. The one who kept storming in and out. She’s not angry tonight. She looks different, though, almost goth. She’s put together a simple outfit. Black shorts, tight, a matching halter top. Maybe that’s what it is. But she seems calmer tonight. More fluid. Andy is feeling gregarious. He’s shaking hands and saying hello to folks. I’m glad he’s feeling better – his cataclysmic #metoo resurfaced recently, but he seems less cagey than last time. I realize, he’s dressed just like her – that’s cute!)
Hey, I say to my wife, that’s the guy I was telling you about yesterday – Andy Dick from News Radio. Wanna meet him?
So, I call out to Andy. I wave. I don’t think he recognizes me, then, suddenly, he does.
Andy has always been such a bright light to me. Like me, it’s clear he has issues with his energy level, and maybe his is even worse than mine, now that I’ve encountered him a couple times? Sure, I have my hypomania flare ups, but he seems to be running pretty hot, pretty consistently. Then again, what the hell do I know? I never open the newspaper anymore. I can’t even do NPR in the car. It’s just silence and daydreams, and rattling around the old memory castle any time I have a long drive ahead of me. I just added a small, secret courtyard somewhere on the grounds. Not sure exactly what I’m going to put there. Possibly, a very fey Minotaur? A two-spirit Wendigo? The Thin Woman?
There’s still time to mull it over, I think, smirking. We only have the entire rest of our lives…
Andy comes over. I beam at him. Look who it is! Andy! Hey – I wanted you to meet my wife, Ann. Andy smiles. It’s genuine, but then his eyes narrow as he starts to shake her hand. I turn to try to introduce Lammy, but Lammy is just staring at Ann and Andy, his mouth agape. Lammy takes a while to process things, sometimes.
I think to myself, oh, maybe he’s still thinking about the show. You do that sometimes. If a show is particularly good, it can feel a bit like waking up from a dream, after, if there’s flow.
Lammy is suddenly alarmed. He points. I glance over at Ann, who looks horrified for some reason. Andy is smirking, impish, a sudden ugly, triumph in his eye. I don’t like this, but now Ann is rushing off, possibly to the lady’s room? I missed something. Lammy looks shocked. His head turns toward Ann, who is disappearing inside. Should I go see what’s going on with Ann, I ask? Lammy says, yes. That would be a great idea.
I catch her in the ladies room, wiping her ear out with toilet paper. She looks annoyed. There’s a smudge on her face I noticed earlier. One of the performers kissed her on the cheek and left burnt umber on her cheek. It looked sweet out in the street lights – like a kiss – but here in the ladies’ room, she’s rubbing it and it starts to smear into a bruise. Then, it fades – gone, entirely. She throws the toilet paper into the toilet. (Women love toilet paper. Good luck, if you sire three daughters; you’ll bankrupt yourself on toilet paper.)
She takes more, and wipes out her ear again.
Moments like this, you shouldn’t envy. She looks at me, and I look at her in the ladies room.
Did Andy do something?
Ann sighs. It seems like she is considering whether to speak to this at all. One of the things I love and respect so much about her is her incredible self-control, her wisdom about situations like these. Ann never comments unless she feels like engaging, which means, sure, you can ask her a question, but she never owes you an answer. Finally, though, she speaks.
He stuck his tongue in my ear.
Yes. It’s gross and tiresome.
(This, to me, seems like an understatement. There’s something in her body language that looks exhausted, beyond annoyed. There’s an awfulness just beyond her blue, orange flecked eyes, and it’s speaking to me. It’s saying, Michael – this is one of 10,000 instances like this. It’s saying, this is just a small part of a lady’s daily hassle. Indeed, I think to myself, gays inflict this vulgar, pathetic type of behavior on one another all the time).
Ann, I’m so sorry! I didn’t see it. I was trying to see if Lammy wanted to meet Andy too.
She shrugs and sighs. It’s getting late, she says, and gives me a crooked smile. Andy has moved into the bar, to continue his daily binge. We sidle past him quickly, trying not to raise his attention.
We get out into the fresh air. Ann is parked across the street. I walk her over to her car. We came separately tonight. We talk about Andy a little, and how it sucks that, even supposed safe spaces are sometimes inundated with predators. But mostly, Ann wants to talk about what a lovely mini-show Evil Mutants had, and what a supportive, generous community Planet Queer cultivates.
She’s being generous. I know she’s grossed out and she’s trying to make sure my evening ends on a good note.
(In other words, she’s being a good person.)
We talk about upcoming events, meals we need to plan for the week, and I tell her I’ll see her at the compound, or back on campus. We have nicknames for the estate we’re haunting these days.
I kiss her cheek; we say our goodbyes.
I wait outside on a bench with Lammy and a boy named Robin who’s flirting with him. Ann drives by and I wave, but she’s got her mind on the road. It occurs to me – She’s no Orpheus. She’s my wife, not Lot’s – this creature does not look back.
A snippet of parchment flies out of a dusty cabinet in my castle’s study anti-chamber. It’s a private study I put retired ideas, just off the King’s quarters. He needs to be near his early writing, so he can remember what Prince-hood was like.
Just like Orpheus, you’re heading down the Harefield Road.
Clear out the underbrush, someday you might emerge.
But like Lot’s wife, you couldn’t help but watch it grow.
Just be careful you’re not petrified….. by the suuuuuuuurrrrrge.
(breakdown and final chorus)
You looked back!
You looked back!
Your eyes were begging, (please, oh please,)
just cut the kid some slack!
You looked back!
You looked back!
With a glance you missed your chance.
I’m never coming back.
You looked back.
On the concrete, something I haven’t seen yet in California. Something I only ever think about in Florida – a Palmetto bug. It’s long and sleek and shiny. About two inches of hairy legs and antennae. They’re glorified roaches, but, to add a horrifying, odious layer – they can fly.
But, this one is languishing on the sidewalk, twitching, half squished. It’s clearly in the throes of death. It occurs to me – the most humane thing might be to kill it now, but there is a Buddhist principle in some sects that forbids this sort of thing. I consider the dilemma, but, presently, I have bigger cats to skin. I turn to Lammy, who seems to read my mind. What are you going to do, he asks?
Head inside, I say.
I enter the cool blackness of Akbar. Behind me I hear Lammy mumbling something which sounds like, good idea.
I’m not sure. Maybe Lammy was talking to me. Maybe he was inviting cute Robin into his memory castle. In any case, Lammy’s opinion about this isn’t relevant to me any longer. I’ve pulled the trigger.
My purpose seems off. I’m incomplete. I don’t feel whole.
There’s no integrity to me, since integrity just means wholeness, completion, strength of structure. None of that exists inside me, in this moment. A jealous monster sits in a cabaret bar, listening to Sweet, Sweet Gregory sing about crossing borders. A jealous monster feels small, threatened, insignificant. Beware, the out of work actor. His spirit holds an ugly birthday candle so paltry, the very thought of casting a shadow is nearly out of the question.
And most days, it won’t even try. It will just whisper out to Trouble in the middle of the night.
Gregory’s voice sounds like that of a man, but if a man were a god. I’m flat-out livid with jealousy. My skin is gooseflesh. Envy’s green kudzu has over-run the wild, round, smoky mountains of my heart, and winnowed me down into bayou swamp land. Much more of this, and I’ll widen out into the delta, disappearing into the deepest waters. I will go live in the magma canyons at the bottom of the ocean, with the strangest, most improbable fishes.
Gregory is singing and it feels like a rock salt blast to my belly.
I feel betrayed.
Greg is brazen these days. Defiant. Years have passed, he has enjoyed every inch of his artistic growth. And now, has now looked me up to flex his muscles. To show me he has surpassed me. And indeed, he has.
If ever was heard a perfect, operatically trained baritone, if ever was heard perfect pitch, it exists in 21 year old Gregory. Our summer affair has inspired him, I had thought, when re-connecting. I was worried he would be angry with me. Over the course of our summer, he taught me Alfredo sauce, opined philosophy, sometimes he even paid the check! I took his blue-blooded rosebud and showed him what a garden truly is. And, honestly, on the phone, it sounded fun. It sounded innocuous.
Sure, I broke his heart in an ugly way, when he went back to Boston College – but I thought that was forgiven? Obviously not.
Now, he has planned some just desserts for me. He’s showing me he’s better.
And he is.
He sings better than me. If a science existed to measure singing ability, it would be empirical fact – accepted law of nature – that Gregory is a much better singer than me. There isn’t any comparison. The gods don’t always have a fair hand when they give out gifts, a bitter nine year old inside me thinks to himself. A more forgiving twenty-something inside me thinks, who knows? Maybe I’ll even kiss him again?
Those kisses dry up and flake off my dashboard, though when he starts to sing. He creates that serendipity you need to really lull an audience. He really puts them in a trance. I’m simply jealous. I identify it immediately, and tuck it away in a quaint little shame pocket in my memory castle.
But, why should Gregory get all the singing talent? I know the words to write. I know how to tap into the Oracle of the Holy Spirit. Gregory learned a few tricks, sure, but so what? An ugly worm in my brain leaks out into a cobwebbed synapse.
The adrenal is thrumming. Lights flashing in my cortex. I see inky forest black -fragments.
SOS! May Day! Please send reinforcements!
(Aide-moi à avoir le petit mort, ma chère.)
A man, homeless, a shadowy figure, walks by spitting on the ground, pawing at mounds of carbuncle. He shrugs. I hate him, too. He doesn’t care. He gets to jump on the next freight train out of town – I have to deal with this garbage happening in my home base, my lair, my den. Fuck that guy. Picking at his face like a moron. No wonder he has nowhere to go.
We’re in a dive bar. It’s Rosie, Too on 10th ave. It’s the lowest-rent cabaret bar in NYC and it’s mine.
I’m the one who comes here and practices Sondheim songs, or improvises, or tries to sing REM. I’m the one who wants so badly to sing. I’m the one overcoming layers upon layers of self-hatred and shame, and trying – desperately always trying – to find my own voice. Even a rusty, hollowed out version would suffice. I chain smoke cigarettes because I want a voice like Billie Holiday. I soul search, and shoot dice in alley-ways to be like Tom Waits. I have sex in the Chelsea Hotel to be like Leonard. To be like Janice. Gregory did none of that.
A trusted friend of mine in college once leveled with me and told me I would never get paid to sing, that I’d be much better off just doing “straight theater.” I laughed and defined “oxymoron” for him. But, I internalized it. I tended to that piece of anger over the years, singing anyway, leaving college early. I go to New York first. I forgive the man who told me I would never get paid to sing, but I never, ever forget. I wrote it all down. I’m getting behind myself. Ahead. I’m manic, and I’m blurring borders. Everything mixes together, and I’m shadowed by The Man With the Lacerated Face on the N train. He’s in my traffic pattern, and always staring at me from a threadbare green hoody.
I walk Long Island City. I argue with my boyfriend. I can feel him slipping away, and I trigger arguments so I can go have seven gin and tonics at rowdy honky-tonks. Gregory isn’t coming at the most convenient time, but I’m glad to have the distraction.
Sweet Gregory takes me out to this cabaret bar, this offshoot of a much more centrally located bar called Rose’s Turn, on purpose, with a glimmer of mischief in his eye. He’s still beautiful. More so, now. Somehow, he has fast-tracked his artistic development. It must be the money, I think to myself. It must be his Rich Daddy paying for opera lessons. Gregory was bright and boyish, kind – when he showed up this afternoon, and I can tell he means me no actual harm, but I’m working against an ugly Minotaur and an impossible labyrinth of a heart.
I’m happy at home, with Lovely Jeffrey, but Lovely Jeffrey is graduating soon, and his heart isn’t really in theater. I’m going to be alone again. Forlorn. Abandoned. It’s fine, though. I’m good at being alone. I don’t get lonely. I practice.
Sweet Gregory is bringing the house down. He has the audience in his rapt spell: an upstart young mage has now become a full fledged sorcerer. And what am I? Wizened, bothering these nice folks once a week with my improvised songs? Trying to see if, magically, without any formal training, I can produce an evocative Bessie Smith cover? Trying to sing women’s songs from Mack and Mabel, and surprised I’m not getting the same effect an alto would? I’m a fraud and a liar and a poseur. Sweet Gregory is the real star. How did this happen in two years? Gin, I think to myself, but I know it’s deeper than that. I start to think of my energy level. How I always have to hide my special powers. Gregory interrupts.
He sings a song called Anthem, from a show called Chess:
[THE RUSSIAN] No man, no madness Though their sad power may prevail Can possess, conquer, my country’s heart They rise to fail She is eternal Long before nations’ lines were drawn When no flags flew, when no armies stood My land was born
And you ask me why I love her Through wars, death and despair She is the constant We who don’t care And you wonder will I leave her — but how? I cross over borders but I’m still there now
How can I leave her? Where would I start? Let man’s petty nations tear themselves apart My land’s only borders lie around my heart
Chess is my musical. I’m the one who wanted to play the Russian. This is completely unfair. The vile, vulgar fink. No, he’s just Sweet Gregory, I chide myself. Where is your Holy Spirit? Can’t you find some sort of generous part of yourself? That’s your friend. You were his first friend. Be kind.
The crowd roars with approval, and what’s worse, what hurts even worse – Sweet Gregory baited me into this situation. I had mentioned singing here over the phone, and one could almost hear the gingham in his voice when he said, “Oh, maybe we should go try it?” All crisp and nonchalant, with old Loki behind it, winding up to become his trickster self. Pretending he’s going to help his brother, but actually making things more complicated and treacherous – just for fun. For the sake of chaos. Sweet Gregory looks like Iago, or Rasputin, or Walter Raleigh. Some person who just wants to seize the world without even knowing what the borders are.
Tense. Staunch. Conservative. Uncompromising. Gregory. No more Greggie Sweet Sweet, I think to myself, and toss a few flowers over my shoulder that I picked. Tulips on Madison avenue, outside Chanel. Across from St. Laurent.
Whereas I am simply militant. I’m a dingy, militant queer.
You could almost think he set me up, letting me introduce him to the actors, vagabonds, liars, show-folk, who work here. A rogue’s gallery! Dark skinned sirens in a cowboy hats, drinking ‘adult tea’ out of ceramic coffee cups. A brunette, buxom Greek girl with pure platinum confidence and golden engraved pipes. A jittery piano player, over-caffeinated, flirting, drinks way too much, pees way too much in the ladies room, which has a lock on the door.
“It’s a single service ladies room, and it’s a girl’s only hope for a quiet, private moment to powder her nose.”
This place isn’t Carnegie Hall, sure, but it’s dusty and somehow safe, even in the Maelstrom of west Hell’s Kitchen. ‘Clinton Hills,’ a real estate agent tried to coin it, but it didn’t stick, mostly because Bill moved up to Harlem. No doubt Bill was chasing other hills than I was. Believe me. Believe me.
This melange of joggers, pimps, mailmen, addicts, tarot-readers, street performers, beggars, clerics, and whores. Right near the West Side highway, and it’s sweet, cool, rocky waters. It’s a small offering of light, in an otherwise ugly economy, but it’s mine, and these people like and respect me.
Gregory has ruined this.
He insists I go first.
I do something stupid. Comedy. My old bag of tricks. Something that gets some chuckles. Maybe I was a sea-witch singing about Unfortunate Souls, vamping and bragging about how much I like to help people, how every boon comes with a sacrifice. How, I can steal a voice and take that power and make it mine! The audience likes me. They love a Funny Girl like me. Odd, and cute, and flirty. A little weird. Maybe a pupa or a larvae. Maybe spinning a cocoon?
But, then, right after my turgid attempt at camp – an arch-angel. Connecticut’s own blessed Gregory, with the placid, kind eyes of a cow. Singing like a goddamn virtuosic savant. Fuck me.
I don’t deserve to even be here.
He’s had two Manhattans – “Never more than two drinks,” he says, all Cape Cod and Old Saybrook. “Yeah right, at least never in the same location, on the same night!” I chortle, Gregory laughs along. He’s confused. Why am I being sardonic? Aren’t I having fun?
I’ve had too much by now. I’m jealous, and everyone knows jealously is just a mixture of fear and anger, mostly fear. Add a healthy dose of regret, and a few carefully placed blames, and you’ve got a really poisonous concoction. A really deadly venom. I want away from the jealousy. I make an excuse, and pay the tab.
There is a secondary thought. There are two ways to get rid of jealousy. You either love it away, or you fight it away – that’s the paradigm. I grab my things.
Where are we going, Gregory wants to know?
Do you like dares?
I’ve played truth or dare once or twice.
I dare you to follow me on a walk.
Where are we going?
Anyplace I hang my hat.
Stop it, be serious, Barbra.
I’m not Barbra, or Liza, or Judy. I’m not any of those folks. I’m not Mike Nichols, or Sartre, or Plato. Okay?
Michael, slow down! I’m coming, but don’t walk so fast! Let me grab my cardigan.
I don’t slow down! Come on! Let’s go! Did Michelangelo slow down, or was he hyperactive? Did Michael Cunningham slow down or did he write The Hours with mild bi-polar? Did Michael Jackson slow down, or did he run around the world telling his story, and singing his songs? I don’t slow down, Sweet Gregory – you catch up! 8th avenue now, Broadway, Park, Madison, 3rd, 2nd, 1st, York.
What is the point of this, Michael? Did you like my song? I sang it for you. You said you liked it. It was a surprise.
It was perfect.
Haha, no. No, it’s not perfect but I worked on it with a coach.
No, it was perfect. The singing was perfect.
What does that mean?
I don’t want to tell you.
What does it mean?
What do you mean?
I mean – that was a fine vocal exercise, Sweet Gregory. But you didn’t act the song. You just sang it perfectly.
But, that’s what training is! I did a professional show. I did Pippin and I was one of the leads!
So what? You did one show? I’ve done fifty at least.
(I’m lying now. Maybe at this point I have done 30 shows. I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing! The ugly toad inside my gut is croaking like Louisiana voodoo.)
Sweet Gregory is patient. Sweet Gregory chases me through the streets and to a bridge. The Queensborough Bridge. We start the incline. I’m going to make him walk me home again. Farther this time. 7 miles at least. I can outpace him. His feelings are hurt from my insult, and his confidence lags. Now, I finally feel powerful. Now I’m closing in. Gregory is telling me about journalism now. How, making a difference in the world is much more manly than doing theater. How he feels empowered, and self-actualized in that sphere. I scoff. Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs? Uh, no thanks. I took Intro, I’m good.
Who filled your head with such nonsense?
(There is a pause.)
“Michael. You’ve heard me speak of my father.”
“Sometimes, when I can focus enough to listen. ”
“You know, then, that I’ve invited him to every show I’ve ever done – which, by the way, is many more than just the one professional musical I just finished.”
“Okay, so what? People don’t always go to shows. It’s not for them, anyway, it’s for you.”
Gregory stops and tries to reach me. He grabs my shoulders and stares at me. He goes pretty deep. It’s intense.
“Michael, this isn’t about you. This is about me and my father. He came to my musical and he wasn’t impressed. He wants me to do something. Useful.”
“Oh really?” I ask, cheerful and bright, but underneath that, a horrible Cain raises a scythe against a Sweet Brother, coveting God’s favor of his immense, glorious bounty.
“Tell me more about what your father wants” I say, and I bound up onto the bridge.
I’m baiting Sweet Gregory to follow me to Queens. He springs my trap. We are laughing, hysterical, raw, unfettered as we race each other up the bridge. Squall and squalor behind us. Water underneath. Concrete. The air all around. The heavens above.
“You tell me,” I say to Sweet Gregory.
“Tell you what?”
“You tell me about your father, and I will tell you about bridges.”
Flotsam and jetsam swirl in the garbage laden river underneath us. It won’t cost much, I think to Sweet, Sweet Gregory, as I lure him to the apex of the bridges curve.
Just your voice.
It’s the best voice. I know all the best voices. These voices, have you seen the voices we have around here? We’re going to have the best voices. Believe me. Believe me. There’s a few people, my NRA people, that might get a little cagey come November, but we have good voices.
Me: I’m sorry about that. Did you see August Osage County? What did you think?
Him: Seriously, are you Bisexual?
Me: I keep thinking if I hadn’t seen the Broadway play, I might have really liked the movie. I liked it quite a bit, actually, but I might have been blown away if I hadn’t watched the Broadway show twice.
Him: Don’t change the subject! Stop it.
Me: Julia Roberts really blew the doors off the hinges. It’s worth seeing just for that.
Him: I didn’t see it yet, okay?
Me: Okay. No spoilers, then.
Him: I’m asking you a question, and you’re avoiding it.
Me: I don’t see why I owe you the information. It’s just information, after all.
Him: I read your site for years. I’m extremely curious. What happened? It seems like you’ve made a 180, and I don’t know what to make of all of it. It seems…
Me: Don’t trail off. How does it seem?
Him: Hypocritical. It seems hypocritical. Sorry.
(There is a long pause. I sit on a bench at the bus stop.)
Him: You waiting for a bus now?
Me: Only if it’s an express bus to Canada.
Him: What does that mean?
Me: I dunno. It’s about half a joke. I’ll let you know when/if there’s a punch line.
Him: Hey. I’m sorry I called you a hypocrite – just how I see it.
Me: Ha. Then you’re not really sorry! You’re frustrated about quite a few things, and I’d suspect the root of it has very, very little to do with me.
Him: You can’t just… You can’t write about the gay community for years, and talk openly about being a poly-amorous homosexual – you can’t run some sort of online ‘brotherhood of man’ pie cult for the gays, and then just get married to a woman. Just, poof, you’re married and normal again. Just like that.
Me: Can’t I? Why can’t I? Why can’t I marry whomever I want? Isn’t that the underlined point behind the Marriage Equality movement?
Him: Don’t you feel you owe people like me an explanation?
Him: Because I am one of your readers. Because I’m your audience.
(There is a long pause.)
Me: Well… thank you. I’m flattered you’re reading, that you’re still reading, and that you took the time to contact me. All of these things are incredibly flattering, and part of me agrees with you. A huge part of me thinks I owe it to you to tell you exactly how my sex life is structured, what it means to be LGBTQ in a traditional marriage structure, and send you home with a slice of pie and a warm feeling of hope for tomorrow.
Him: That’s what I’d like, yes.
Me: Then again, I’ve read quite a few books on writing, and while authors agree it is important to have an audience, they seem to also agree that catering things to your audience leads to atrophy in a major way. Bill Cosby said something like, I don’t know what the formula for success is, but I know the formula for failure is trying to please everyone.
Him: Teach me, oh wise one.
Me: I’m not getting paid to teach you, or, for that matter, to tell you how to live your life, or to tell you how I live mine.
Him: Okay, I’ll admit – it’s none of my business.
Me: Thank you.
Him: But I’m CURIOUS.
Me: Yes. You’re curious. That’s exactly right. You expect me to tell you intimate details of my personal life to you, the way I would to my therapist, because you read my site for a while and you feel somehow entitled to missing information. But you’re just an audience member. You’re just tuning in. You don’t know me and you have no real right to my inner physical, emotional, or intellectual life, beyond what I publish on my site, which by the way you read for free – so I owe you even less.
Him: People are going to want to know! You wrote about your sex life for years!
Me: No. Incorrect. I did not.
Him: Yes you DID. You’re being a hypocrite!
Me: Actually, I wrote about awkward dates, urban alienation, and my disappointment in a community full of brilliant, motivated, socially broken people. I almost never mentioned who I was having sex with.
Him: Come off it. You were sleeping with all those boys who made pie with you.
Me: Incorrect. Those were models, or friends, or people who contacted me online who wanted to help. It was very rare I slept with the people on my site.
Me: The “Awkward Dates” happen with people I don’t sleep with. That is the whole point: Here’s how NOT to sleep with me. The irony is, it’s pretty easy to sleep with me, if you’re cute and sweet, but most gay people have no interest in being kind, gentle, or generous of spirit – at least the ones who live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn don’t. They think they don’t have to, and in some sense, they’re correct. Someone will stomach their painfully underdeveloped, spoiled, sour personalities. But that someone isn’t me…
Him: Still seems hypocritical to me.
Me: You’ve now called me a hypocrite three times.
Me: So take a deep breath.
Me: I’m about to tell you what I think about you.
(Pause. He looks concerned. I take a deep breath and count to ten.)
Him: A walk? That sounds so weird and creepy, in the middle of the night.
Me: Is it? I just don’t really want to go drink right now. I’m trying to shed the winter layer.
Him: But isn’t a bar… Safer, somehow?
Me: We can stick to Colorado – it’s well lit. I’ll try to resist the urge to take you to a park and chop you into small pieces.
Him: That’s what I meant when I said weird and creepy!
Me: Let’s operate off the assumption neither of us is a murderous sociopath?
Him: You don’t seem like a sociopath to me.
Me: Thanks, man! I like your attitude!
(We walk for a while, chatting. I find out things about him. He’s in medical school. He’s into extreme sports, hiking, and surfing. He seems nice enough, and he’s no dummy. He’s read most of Kurt Vonnegut, so he gets points.)
Him: So, I guess you’re wondering why I’ve contacted you?
Me: I guess I am, now that you mention.
Him: I wanted to ask you a question. Do you mind if I ask a personal question?
Me: No, I guess not, as long as you don’t mind not getting a full answer, depending on the question.
Him: Haha, fair. Fair enough.
Me: What’s the question?
Him: Well, I have a few questions. Firstly, are you bi-sexual? I read your site for a long time and I always assumed you were gay, but now you’re married to a woman, and what’s the deal? Is she a lesbian? Does she need a green card, or whatever?
Me: Oh wow. I thought personal question meant something like ‘boxers or briefs?’
Him: No. You clearly wear briefs. I’ve seen your Instagram.
Me: Fair enough.
Him: Are you bisexual?
Me: Let me ask you a question. I’ll answer yours, but let me do the rudest thing and follow up a question with another question. Does it matter?
Me: Does it matter? The difference between me being Gay or Bi? Or even straight?
Him: What do you mean? Of course it matters. Of course .
Me: How so?
(There is a pause. He looks confused.)
Him: Do you realize, I’ve read you for years?
Me: No, I usually go into these meetings pretty blind. When I meet with people it’s much more likely they’ve lurked or stalked me, whereas I might only have a brief email and a fuzzy photo to go on.
Him: But how can you do this? You talked about Gay dating, alienation and minority rights for years. How do you just get to marry a woman and continue on like nothing happened?
Me: Because nothing happened. I got married. It was pretty important to me, in the scope of my life, but in the grand scheme of human events, it’s not even a blip on the radar. It’s just a marriage. Most people do it at least once.
Him: But why a woman? Are you Bisexual?
Me: Again, I don’t see how that matters. It’s clear that I’m definitely a member of the LGBTQ community. Right? And, consider this: you haven’t told me your sexuality, yet you seem to think it’s fine to pry about mine and my wife’s?
Him: I’m Bi.
Me: Okay, good. I’m Queer.
Him: What does that mean? In what sense?
Me: It means I am as Gay as Kurt Cobain.
Him: What about your wife?
Me: She’s whatever she is.
Him: Stop. This is frustrating.
Me: This is nobody’s business. One of the perks of marriage is people stop prying about who does what, when, with whom, and how.
Him: But I’m curious!
Me: Well, that’s flattering. Are you openly Bi?
Me: Do people know you’re Bisexual?
Him: Some people do.
Me: Your family?
Him: No. My brother knows, I think, but by and large, no.
Me: Your work friends?
Him: No. I don’t want them thinking I’m weird, or off.
Me: Your friends from school?
Me: So, pretty much, just the people you have sex with.
Him: You make it sound sad.
Me: No, you make it sound sad. You’re the one who made those choices.
Him: It’s just what happened. I’m a victim of circumstance.
Me: You’re what? 28? 27?
Him: I’m 30 this year.
Me: Okay, well, welcome to the club. I’m going to say something, and I hope you don’t get offended.
Him: Are you going to call me a Jerk?
Me: I don’t do that anymore, Jerk. Just kidding. No, just this: There’s no such thing as a victim of circumstance. Not really. I believe life is a series of choices. It’s in the art of choosing we discover what kind of man or woman we become. If you don’t like your circumstances you have a right to make a different choice. It might be more difficult to make a courageous choice. It might, in fact, be stupid to make a courageous choice. It might make your life more of a struggle to make an honest choice, or to have enough integrity to look your family in the eye and say, here’s what I am – here’s how I was born and here’s the way things are for me. I’m sorry you feel differently about how I should live my life, but then again, my life is the only thing that is arguably entirely mine – and I’m the one who has to live it.
Him: What’s that have to do with the way the world is?
Me: To say you’re a victim of circumstance is a bit misleading when you’re the one creating your own reality.
Him: That’s arrogant. That’s incredibly arrogant, and I knew you’d say something like that. I knew you’d come up with a way to make me being down low about my sexuality my fault. My sexuality doesn’t define who I am anymore than my liking baseball defines who I am. Why do I have to make a huge issue of who I’m sleeping with? Doesn’t my mother deserve a good birthday, Christmas, Thanksgiving without me ruining everything by talking about sex with dudes? Why are people so obsessed with where I’m putting my penis? It’s nobody’s business.
Me: And yet, you’re so very obsessed with where I’m putting mine.
(There is a long pause. He starts to speak, then stops, then looks confused.)
Here’s an article I wrote a while back for Thought Catalog. It was a response to a critical New York Times piece on The Irony Generation, whatever that is.
I guess I’m part of the irony generation.
That feels weird to say. I’ve never admitted that I was a hipster before. So many other hipsters are so much more ‘hipster’ than I am. They’re the ones described in news articles — with the mustaches, and the ill-fitting shorts, the home-brewing, trombone playing, annoying uber Williamsburg attitudes. I’m not like those hipsters (those hipsters are actually quite rare), but I am a hipster. And until recently I didn’t even realize that I was one, or wanted to be one.
But I am. And I think — sarcasm aside — I might be proud.
My hipsterism is what you might consider mild. Yes, I do teach improv comedy and comment on the internet for a living. No, I don’t buy Applewood Smoked Bacon over Oscar Mayer bacon. But only because I’m poor. I have a pretty good idea that locally raised Applewood Smoked Bacon might actually kick the ass of Oscar Mayer Bacon every single day of the week. But, like I said, I’m poor. So Oscar Mayer it is! Did I say Oscar Mayer? I meant off-brand supermarket bacon! Actually any cheap protein, I’ll take. Did I mention I was poor?
Shit. I’m off topic, and getting ironic. Fucking hipsters. Okay, so:
I keep a narcissistic blog where I harvest my own awkwardness. I do not write for the New York Times, a publication that jumped on the lets-kick-hipsters-in-the-nuts bandwagon about 10 days ago. I wish I wrote for them, but I don’t. The world isn’t clamoring for my opinion, so I turn inward for inspiration. I have found that if I speak to my own self-consciousness on my blog I gain readers. I also gain attention and gain opportunity. Those are important things for a fledgling writer. It’s a powerful moment for me to realize that I can build my own audience.
But I am also a hipster, I suppose. And that’s where the problem is, right?
People are annoyed with hipsters. Because we’re so inauthentic? Ironic? Disaffected? I disagree, but you’re entitled to your outsider’s opinion. I mean, hate sells papers, or gets internet traffic, after all.
But I will say this: Deal with it.
I’m not saying this to be glib, or to ironically detach from the social phenomenon. Quite the opposite, actually. I just mean that you have to deal with it. It’s a part of a society you helped create. You can write articles about how it’s annoying for a while, and they’ll sell (whatever that means in the digital age), but eventually you’re going to have to deal with it — in a real, sincere, unironic way. Hipsters aren’t going anywhere. So, you can write hipster-hating blog entries, newspaper articles, tumblr posts all you want. We’re a social phenomenon. A very weak, very flabby, very nerd-atrophied social phenomenon. And we’re not going anywhere.
But hey –
What if it’s better to examine the cause, than naively complain about the symptom?
What if… just follow me on this for a sec — I’m stoned — What if we actually dared to ask the pertinent question? What caused the Irony Generation in the first place? I think I know the precocious, adorable, twee answer to that question: The 90’s. The 80’s. The 70’s. And every social movement before that.
It’s been heavily debated whether irony is the disease, or the symptom. I think it’s neither, but if we’re going to classify an entire generation into such a simple this-or-that metaphor, I’d have to go with symptom. I think that’s an important distinction, too. Irony isn’t the infection. The digital age is the infection. Globalization is the infection. Outsourcing of American jobs is the infection. Hipster irony is the symptom of those things, manifested in the fabric of pop culture. If you’re going to hate on something for making the world ironic, hate on NAFTA, or Facebook, or the Bravo channel. Hipsters are just a sign of the times. The youth movement is just a reflection of generations before it.
And that’s the thing. Hipsterism is just a reaction to political and economic phenomenons that predated it. The internet, a terrible economy, a culture obsessed with pseudo-reality. Everyone’s expected to run PR on their own lives. It’s easy to point the finger at the manifestation of that — an irony clad 22-year-old on an old-fashioned bike, on his way to marching band practice — but by and large it’s my guess that it’s not that generation pulling the strings. What’s responsible for this?
A few things that I can think of.
A bad economy, for one. It seems we all agreed that globalizing was the best idea for the world in the 90’s. Bill Clinton signed NAFTA and we were all going to run dot coms instead of working at factories. That was fine for about seven to twelve years, until people realized that getting a lot of attention online doesn’t mean an income stream, and that even getting that attention was difficult. Meanwhile, the idea of a union job, or even a corporate one where you could work 20 years then retire has all but dried up.
The hipster generation was financially screwed by the generation that preceded it — our parents’ generation — the same generation that left us home alone after school, and taught us that if we want dinner, we better research good food and make it ourselves. God forbid, though, we respond to a terrible economy in a resourceful way! Don’t start an Etsy, or a locavore butcher shop, or teach improv comedy for a living. Society will call you a hipster! Well, what if I’m just making a living? Is it then okay for me to wear a Diff’rent Strokes T-shirt? Or does that mean I’ve glibly checked out of society?
Social media has made everyone feel both hyperconnected and desperate that they’re missing something. That’s stressful, especially for those who grew up with rotary phones. Could your hatred of hipsters just be a manifestation of you yourself feeling out of touch? Or, perhaps you’re just hating what people have always hated in any social movement? Perhaps you just hate posers. Even that is misguided, though.
Every social movement has posers. In fact, the bulk of any social movement is a bunch of posers. I’m thinking of the people who participated in the Summer of Love, who then became disco dancers seven years later. The people who did cocaine in the 80s and were the first wave of yuppies to hit the urban landscape. I’m thinking of my parents’ generation, and how they changed with the times. Thank goodness they were posers, too. Can you imagine what would have happened if they’d all joined communes? If they never got over doing Angel Dust? Awful. But they changed with the times, as we all are forced to do.
Every social movement also has an older generation, or even members of the same generation looking on and scratching their heads — saying to themselves, kids today. From the beatniks to the American Apparel kids, the hipster types have always been hated. But that’s okay — because part of the mantle of being a hipster is to be hated by some. What is putting on a beret, or a pair of bell-bottom jeans, or a trucker hat, if not a statement of one’s own individuality? To me, it’s an announcement to the world that you’re willing to try being a free-thinker. That you realize you’ve inherited a broken society, but that you’re looking for creative ways to help fix it, or at least fix yourself in the context of that society. Does that make you a parasite? I don’t think it does. Does it make you sarcastic? Again, I don’t think so.
Am I missing something important, here? To say that we should ‘learn to live without irony’ is glib. It’s sarcastic. And it’s unrealistic. It’s a phenomenon created by the older generation. We didn’t create the internet, or reality television, or the economic crisis caused by globalization. We’re just trying to navigate the mess you created. Sorry if my thick glasses frames are annoying you in the process. I thought they were cute when I bought them and I can’t afford new ones. Did I mention that I’m poor? Seriously. Feed me.
And amidst all the muck being slung against the irony generation one important thing is being forgotten. They’re not doing too shabby. I’m thinking of relevant artists, like Wes Anderson, Sufjan Stevens, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ryan Gosling. These guys are all sincere, and they’re all linked with the term ‘hipster’ quite easily on a Google search. Or let’s look at the more sarcastic side of things — Andy Samberg , Donald Glover, Kristen Schaal, Aubrey Plaza. Are these not brilliant voices that are helping to shape the ethos of a generation? Can you not see the authenticity underneath their adorable fashion choices?
Irony is neither good nor bad. Just as sincerity is neither good nor bad. It’s just a mode of communication. Neither is more effective. It is extremely rare for people to be fully ironic, just as it’s extremely rare for people to be fully sincere. Irony is merely a symptom of a generation that I happen to be a part of. And no. I won’t apologize for that. Why should I? This is human evolution, and every generation has it’s growing pains. And most importantly — every generation is shaped by the one that came before it. Deal with it.
Yes. Irony is the ethos of the current generation. But rather than teach people how to live without it, I say you’re smarter to teach people how to live with it. It’s not going anywhere. To categorically complain about irony is myopic. It misses the point. There are different types of irony. There’s sarcasm, and then there’s the simple beauty of something being surprising or funny for the opposite reason it’s supposed to be. Have we become so annoyed at society at large that we actually get angry when people without pants start getting on the subway car? Can we look at the authentic emotional intent behind what a flashmob is? Must we run to our ivory tower and type out an article criticizing a movement that simply tried to put a smile on our faces?
Yes, there’s an ugly side to irony. Think of the significance of a 37-year-old man wearing a Diff’rent Strokes t-shirt. Consider — Diff’rent Strokes was supposed to be groundbreaking, in that it was supposed to show us that whites and blacks can all live together as a family. Consider where we are now. Half the country can’t stand the idea of a black president. There’s an irony there, but it’s not an irony my generation created, by any means.
I say, lets enjoy our subway ride. If people start walking on with no pants, we can get through it. Maybe they’re not making fun of us. Perhaps they’re just orchestrating a poetic moment? This generation isn’t without its problems, but every so often it surprises me. Every so often I think, hey, these kids are on to something. Every so often I even get inspired to be part of it. And that’s not ironic. That’s sincere.
This blog post gives an introduction to the “rice queen” term and identity, which is used predominantly to describe white gay men who are primarily attracted to Asian men. The blog post outlines a conversation that Michael Martin has with an older fellow, and illuminates the problematic that exists in the fetishization that is inherent with the “rice queen” moniker. The fellow that Michael converses with frequently reduces entire national and racialized identities into a few characteristics, and denies the complexities that these folks have as human beings. Additionally, Michael Martin comments on the imperial aspects of what many “rice queens” do: travel to Asia in search of cheap sex workers.
In this blog post, Michael does nothing to combat the overt racism that his conversation partner is spewing, but rather voices his discomfort with the rampant racism being perpetuated in the conversation. Though the blog post breaches the “rice queen” topic and label, Michael does not begin to implicate his admitted dominant attraction to Asian men in this system. He seeks not to deconstruct his own location in a racial hierarchy and the imbalance of power in his own relationships with Asian men, but merely frames the fellow whom he is having the conversation with as the evil person, and upholds himself as the one that recognizes and stands against racism.
This blog post speaks to the fetishization of coloured and racialized bodies, which, while deemed disgusting, undesirable and ugly by dominant white society, is also positioned as being for the purpose of white sexual consumption when it is so desired.
Hi. Thanks for writing. “We” who? Are you the Borg or something? Also, why would you refer to me in the third person? Creepy. Okay:
I don’t think it’s my job to combat racism in America, but I do write about things that happen to me. Conversations I have, etc.
I’m not responsible for racism in the gay community, or in the world at large. I have a blog that is well attended, and I do my best to remind gay people to play nice with each other. Ultimately, however, the blog is just my outlet to process my own feelings of alienation. I’m a member of an oppressed minority who has not yet garnered its civil rights. Let me say that again. Gay people have not yet garnered legal equality in the United States. That makes us (and trans, or gender queer people) the bottom rung of the civil rights ladder. If I feel like processing an awkward, but polite conversation I had with an older person from a more racist generation – that’s what I’ll do. And I’ll do it online to call attention to the issue.
I am not ‘required’ to start a shouting match with an old gay man who just wants to cuddle with someone on a Friday night. I have respect for people, even racist people. If anything, I’m interested in hearing his perspective, because it’s so foreign to me. It makes me feel good that society might be slightly different now than when he was my age.
I’m not interested in ‘getting my head in the right place,’ if that means people from one oppressed minority are attacking people from another oppressed minority. I don’t quite think I deserve a kick in the nuts for talking about racial politics on my blog. I think calling attention to the issue is valuable for its own sake, and I won’t change my format or apologize.
People seem to be uncomfortable that I’m eroticizing Asian men on my blog. Too bad. It’s about time we as a society started looking at Asian men as sex symbols. There are very few Asian male sex symbols in the media today, though things are slowly changing. I don’t think I’m helping make great strides in racial politics, but then again I’m just a comic. I say what’s on my mind and some people listen. I’m grateful, and on a good day, humble.
I do think it would be useful if you folks went after straight white people, instead of a working class gay guy, but that’s your prerogative. Enjoy complaining to your friends about my blog, and as always, thanks for reading!
I’m the guy from Duke University/UCB that you talked to on Friday at the Blue Boar. Since talking to you I’ve followed your advice by not fucking anybody in the comedy world and so far it’s going great. It was fun hearing gossip and an honest perspective about UCB, and I’d love to pick your brain again about how one goes about turning comedy and song writing into a career.
It was fun talking to you, too.
So, yeah, don’t fuck any comics. I’ve watched a few of my friends date themselves out of career options when relationships with other comics go bad. One friend in particular springs to mind. She’d had so many failed relationships with UCB comics that there were few teams at the NYC theater who would have her perform with them. Politics, politics… She’s still successful in her own right, but for my money I’d do it differently.
Aside from that, my only other advice is keep going. And, don’t just improvise. Write jokes. Write sketches. Write pilots and spec scripts. You never know when you’ll meet the person who can put your script in the right hands. Also, just keep writing and performing as much as possible. That sounds cliche but it’s true. Keep at it.
I hope this helps, and please invite me to your shows?
You may not remember, but about two and a half years ago, I wrote you about being in the closet at the Naval Academy. I just wanted to say thank you so much for the advice you gave me to stick it out. Soon after you posted your response, I started to come out and the response was mixed but mostly good. My last two years at school were much better since I wasn’t worried about people finding out about my sexuality and I actually found a great group of friends who were either out or in the process of coming out. This past May, my boyfriend and I graduated from Annapolis and started our careers as officers. I am so glad that I decided to stay and just wanted to again say thanks for helping me make that decision.
It isn’t very frequent I get a follow up from one of my advice letters, and it’s nice to know I didn’t steer you in a disastrous direction. You and your boyfriend sound totally adorable and everyone in the world must be jealous when you two arrive at a military function in dress uniforms, holding hands. In fact, I’m picturing that right now, and I’m wondering if you two would like to come photograph for the blog in uniform?
Thanks for coming out of the closet. It’s important we stay visible, since the world needs positive gay role models. You boys are an inspiration.