Monday, June 29, 2009

Packing heat for Jesus

It was weird enough when I was going home from Quaker meeting yesterday and passed a "Bible Chapel" where a man was getting out of or into a Hummer, clearly dressed up for Sunday services. I thought: How can someone who claims to follow Jesus drive what is so obviously a war toy, an armored tank of a car, let alone a gas-guzzling one?
Of course, this wasn’t the first time I asked myself such a question. Even as, I have to admit, there at times when I all but gag over all the oh-so-right Priuses parked in the meetinghouse parking lot.
What made this instance stand out and what was even weirder was the small item I saw in the newspaper later in the afternoon. According to the report, a "gun-toting Kentucky pastor" encouraged his Pentecostal congregants to bring their guns - unloaded, in holsters - to a service celebrating the Second Amendment. About 200 did, many with their guns.
Again, I had questions. Why would a minister carry a gun and encourage his church’s members to do so? Where do guns fit in with Jesus’ message, which was all about love and peace? Would Jesus be a member of the N.R.A?
And, again, this of course was by no means the first time I have had such questions. It is like when Republicans go on and on about getting government out of our lives and then do their damnedest to pass laws against same-sex marriage, if not also other anti-gay laws. It doesn’t help that many Republicans also are pro-gun and claim to be Christian.
So many questions. WWJD?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Anti-type casting

I see a lot of theater - or more than most people in this country do. I try to see at least one or two plays a month. (Usually, I go to very little theaters, which I think are the best and of which there are dozens in the Los Angeles area - a real gift.) I’m also very interested in how disabled people are dealt with in plays and in the theater.
In the first half of this year, I got the treat of being able to indulge both of these interests in a most intriguing way. I saw two productions which were fascinating mirror reflections of each other.
The first play, which I saw in January, was Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, in which three of the four characters were portrayed by disabled actors (including Ann Stocking, who I have worked with and who, all the more with her short stature, was a ferocious Martha). Albee did not write disabled characters and probably did not have disabled actors in mind, but this Blue Zone production in North Hollywood did more than prove the new company’s mission statement point - that disabled actors should be seen and treated in the same way as non-disabled actors. I would argue that the disabled actors made the play better, in that the disabilities echoed the insular and confined world that the play depicts. (I had seen a production several years ago with able-bodied actors, as well as, of course, the movie.)
Then, in early April, I went to the University of Redlands to see the theater department’s production of Mike Ervin’s The History of Bowling, directed by Victoria Ann Lewis, with whom I have also worked. Ervin’s play is a hilarious, almost absurdist examination of disability and features two disabled characters, but this production featured all able-bodied actors. Ms. Lewis was frustrated that there were no disabled students available, but I found that not only did the play still pack its powerful wallop; the actors playing the disabled characters were notably more effective in their roles.
There are those who fervently argue that only disabled actors should play disabled characters, but, after seeing these two productions, I’m not so sure. Even more fascinating is that Blue Zone’s first production, last year, was The History of Bowling, which I saw and which, of course, featured disabled actors playing the disabled characters. The kicker is that, as good as this production was, Woolf was even more effective and powerful.
After all, what does it mean "to act?"

Monday, June 15, 2009

Still here

I recently attended an afternoon concert by a symphony orchestra here in town. I went on my own in my wheelchair - nothing unusual there - and I was in one of my usual, everyday get-ups: magenta overalls; a light blue, long-sleeved, collared shirt; a blue, white and purple hand-knitted skull-cap; mis-matched high-tops with rainbow laces and with my dreads streaming all the way down my chest. A woman sat near me, and when intermission came, she walked past me, doing her best to try not to acknowledge me.
She knew who I was. She couldn’t have forgotten me. She had kicked me out of an apartment.
It was about twenty years ago. I was living in an apartment complex, and she and her husband were the managers. They evicted me, saying that my attendants made too much noise when they came and went. I believe something closer to the truth came out when my parents tried to intervene. The woman told my parents that people like me - disabled people - shouldn’t be living in their own places. (She was essentially telling my parents that they were irresponsible and neglectful. Also, shortly before this, my cat was fatally poisoned.)
Several friends encouraged me to fight the eviction. I probably could have won, but I didn’t want to raise a stink and didn’t want to stay where I was clearly not wanted. Besides, I liked the place where I moved to; not only was the location better, but being in a house was much better than an apartment.
What’s more, I feel that I have been victorious in the end. I see this woman around town from time to time - this was by no means our first encounter in the last twenty years - and it must drive her crazy. It probably disturbs her to no end when she sees me still zipping around - free - getting out there, out and about, out in the community. Not only that, but I’m doing it in all my bright colors and with my dreadlocks or mohawk or whatever flying behind me.
Every time she sees me, she sees that she is wrong.
All of us outsiders - all of us cripples, all of us queers, all of us freaks and weirdos, all of us whatever they don’t like - have to keep getting out there and show them that they are wrong. Yes, this is hard and tiring and gets to be a real drag (and not the good kind!), but if we don’t, they will get what they want - a nice, little world without us.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Girlie guy

One evening last month, I held a meeting outside on my back patio, where the jasmine was spectacularly in full bloom. I told my straight friends who came - bless them for not being completely bewildered - that "a queen should show off her flowers."
An attendant of mine sometimes calls me a princess. I quickly correct him, saying I am a queen. "And don’t you forget it!" I tease him.
Does this all mean that I think I’m actually a woman or that I wish I was a woman?
Definitely not!
Some of this is a joke - but only some. I do not wish I was royally and don’t see myself as imperious - at least I hope I’m not! But I did glow with pride when the story of Sergio Garcia came out last week, even gushing about it to a few people.
As reported in the Los Angeles Times, Sergio is an 18-year-old gay senior at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles who ran for prom queen, at first as a joke, and won and was crowned. He didn’t wear a dress when he was crowned; he wore a suit. He didn’t want to or feel the need to wear a dress. "But don’t be fooled," he said, "deep down inside, I am a queen!"
You go, girl! But he’s not a girl. He’s a guy - which is the point.
Apparently, there are plenty of people who don’t like this point. A few days after the article appeared, there were several letters in the paper from people, including at least one person who claimed to be a strong supporter of gay rights, outraged that a boy would dare claim to be a queen. They either wanted him to settle for being king or to be trans. They couldn’t handle him being a queen, like those who insist that boys can’t play with Barbie dolls.
My reaction was to laugh and think that these people have too much time on their hands and to want to tell them to get a life. I also felt put on the defensive, like I could easily be invalidated, even ashamed of my gushy pride. And what about Sergio? How did he feel with all these people mocking and dissing him in the paper?
During this same period, I was shown a video on YouTube of Jay Brannan singing "Housewives." I had not heard of the singer or the song, and seeing the video was a powerful, validating revelation - even more so than Sergio Garcia.
In the video, while quiet, domestic scenes go by in the background, Jay sings about wanting to be a housewife, making guacamole while his boyfriend works on the car. He sings about wanting to do the dishes and scrub the floors while his boyfriend is barbecuing turkey burgers ("he knows I like them charred"). He sings that he wants "to have his wear his be his everything." It is evident from his sweet, infectious smile that Jay means every word of this. That this is a very real desire is also clear at the end of the song, when he sings, "...but we haven’t met. We haven’t met."
This is not about being a cool, New Age man doing his share of the housework. This is so much more than that. As with Sergio, Jay, who is very much a man and clearly sees himself as a man, doesn’t just want to expand the role of being a man. He wants to get rid of that role. In fact, he does - boldly, in your face, for all the world to see - get rid of it.
Jay may well end up being unsatisfied with the housewife role. He’ll probably find it restrictive, confining, demeaning, unattractive - as many women do. But for now, in this song, it is tremendously liberating, even empowering. It is mold-breaking.
I find the video extremely moving, probably not only because it depicts what I crave but also because it reminds me of the power of creating one’s own life. I am sad that I am physically unable to make guacamole and wash the dishes, like I want to for a boyfriend, but the video reminds me that, all my life, I’ve had to figure out other ways of doing things, if not other roles. For example, because, for various reasons, I can’t take a regular job, I’ve had to make up my own job. Besides, I have my paid attendants who can make the guacamole and wash the dishes. Surely, there’s a way for them to fit in the picture.
I love being a man. I love my shaved head, my beard and, yes, my cock and balls. I love having them and enjoying them. I don’t want to have my life without them, not as a man, as much as I respect and support those who are lead to change their gender. But, as with Sergio and Jay, I don’t think my beard or my dick should dictate what I should do or what role I have. Let me make that guacamole for my man - or at least see that it gets done - while I go shirtless in my overalls.