Friday, March 16, 2007

More Random Thoughts

I heard a joke once that the definition of insanity is performing the same actions over and over again but expecting a different result each time. I've decided that my personal definition of neurosis is performing the same actions over and over again, knowing one will get the same result each time, but doing it anyway.


My friend Mark was visiting from Amsterdam this week and he brought copies of the newspaper he edits there, called TED. It's aimed at a youth market, with a focus on world culture and politics, less on entertainment and gossip. After reading my entry on this blog about Brokeback Mountain, Mark asked if I would be willing to work up a five hundred word version of it for his newspaper. Last March it was published in TED, and I finally got to see a copy of it this week. I'm a published writer. In Dutch. This cracks me up. I guess I have to admit I didn't entirely believe it had really gone to press. Why Mark would want to pay me for an article he never intended to use, I have no idea, but that's just the way my brain works sometimes.

It's funny looking at the page. There's my old black and white headshot on one side then the article, then a picture from the movie of Jack and Ennis leaning up against the old truck. Next to my name, in bold, it says "Patrick Lacey, een gay acteur uit New York, legt uit waarom Brokeback Mountain hem persoonlijk diep raakte. De film is de eerst mainstream Hollywood film die het leven van homo's in beeld brengt."

How true.

Looking at the article is lots of fun. Of course I don't speak a word of Dutch, so looking at it is more like looking at images than words. You know the experience: Indecipherable, indecipherable, lots of words with double aa's, double ee's, indecipherable, Jack en Ennis, indecipherable, gay cowboys, indecipherable, an impressive number of z's, for some reason my eye catches the words begreep and herkende, just because they seem like they'd be fun to say, indecipherable, alcohol, indecipherable, oh wait, can I guess what kinderen means? How about claustrofobie? Zit? No, probably not that one... dood is fun... 300 Hectares, gotta good guess there, indecipherable, indecipherable "normaal", sure, (quotation marks included), lots of words ending in lfde and jk, just can't get over the number of z's, or j's and k's for that matter, indecipherable, oh Jack en Ennis again, of course gays and Brokeback Mountain one more time each, Ik herkende shows up a lot, which makes me think it means "I recognized" since I used that phrase a lot, indecipherable, indecipherable... and that pretty much sums up my experience of the article. Only my complete faith in Mark keeps me from wondering if the article makes me sound like an utter moron, or is actually a recipe for kugel. My first experience as a paid writer. I don't think I'm gonna quite the day job or the (presently theoretical) career to become a Dutch columnist, but it's a lot of fun to think about this going all around Holland last year.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Self Censorship

I read an interesting article two weeks ago in the New York Times, that I've been mulling over ever since. I don't know if you can read it without having to sign up for the Times online service, but if you want to, here's the info on it.

FASHION & STYLE February 18, 2007 A Kiss Too Far? By GUY TREBAY For same-sex couples, simple public displays of affection are fraught.

I remember Dan Savage said somewhere that for same-sex couples, public affection is always a political act. Whether we like it or not, I think that's true. Even if one is standing smack-dab in the middle of a gay ghetto, the couple has made a conscious choice, a risk analysis has been conducted and the results have been deemed within acceptable parameters. Both people also know the safety is fragile at best. Three of the four times I've been harassed, (I've been spit on, but never actually bashed, knock wood) I was in a 'gay' neighborhood. Every time I was with a friend or boyfriend. Two of the times we had our arms around one another (thereby 'asking for it') but two of the times (including the spitting) we hadn't been kissing, touching, or indeed doing anything that I could ascertain was particularly gay, yet something still set the individuals off. The ugliest time was on a bus in Seattle, going through Capitol Hill, the gay district on a Friday afternoon. My boyfriend and I saw a friend on the street at one of the stops out working in his garden. While the bus waited for the light to change we chatted about his flowers through the window. I have to assume we were just WAY too faggy in our conversation or vocal patterns for the guy on the bus who confronted us later.

This is all preamble to my actual story, however. My point is, even in supposedly liberal, open-minded places like Seattle and NYC, I have learned to be careful, pick my neighborhoods, and accept that even so a casual sign of affection between me and a boyfriend could set someone off at any moment. I've learned I have to be ready for the worst at any time, in any place. Often I will choose to take the risk, depending on who I am with, and how easily we could get help if we needed it. Brian and I were of like minds on this count, though we didn't really discuss it much. If we were on the subway and I was getting off before him, I was usually unwilling to kiss him, simply because I felt in getting off the train I would have more options to protect myself should trouble arise, but Brian would be trapped on the subway, at least for one stop, if someon chose to attack him. Usually we kissed in those situations though, because he would kiss me first. And if he was getting off first, I would kiss him first. Over all we probably kissed one another hello and goodbye just as much as most straight couples. But there were exceptions.

The incident I'm thinking of happened in 1999. I had been out of town for two months, first at a very ill-fated job in Florida (another story) then for a month with my family in Indiana, recovering from the job. During that time I had called Brian every day, and often emailed him in addition. We'd been going out for just over a year at that point. His support was key during a very trying time. The day I arrived back in NYC, Brian planned on coming up to my place (we weren't yet living together) after work. Expecting him later, I ran out to the store for a quick errand. Brian, however, had gotten off work early, so we ended up running into one another unexpectedly down by the subway station. I was overjoyed to see him. We looked startled, smiled, explained what had brought each of us to that place at that time, then he went back to my place and I went on to the store. There was no kiss, no hug, no physical contact of any kind. Casual observers might have assumed we'd seen each other that morning over breakfast. The place was crawling with people you see, with a high percentage of teenagers, and a predominantly Latino population that had previously proven itself quick to ridicule. I don't know if we both had the same reaction, or if Brian read my hesitance and didn't want to challenge it, but bottom line, we didn't touch.

I was furious at myself for days afterwards. All sorts of thoughts raced through my head. Had I sold my neighborhood short by assuming Catholic Latinos would have a problem with two guys kissing? Had I made Brian feel like I wasn't happy to see him? Would New York teenagers even notice, let alone care what a couple of guys were doing? Had I simply chickend out? I don't know, since of course we didn't put it to the test. Partly the instantaneous risk analysis had reminded me I was close to home; if someone in the neighborhood had a problem with me, he or she could be a long-term problem, not just an unpleasant one-time event. But I think I was also more vulnerable at that point, precisely because I was so happy to see Brian, and felt such tenderness for him. Just one shrieking teenage girl, or one guffawing teenage guy would have been more than I could handle right then. Just the THOUGHT of being ridiculed, even by one person, even by some random teenager I might never see again, was enough to stop me right then.

Dan Savage is right; same-sex affection is always a political act. That may have been the sticking point for me in that moment. All those times on the subway, or out in public with my boyfriends, I knew I wasn't just saying hello or good-bye, I wasn't just telling someone I loved him. I was daring the world, taking a chance. It might be a small dare, depending on the neighborhood, but there was still a risk being taken, a statement being made, and we both knew it. That Spring day in Harlem, I didn't want to be daring the world, making a statement, or taking a stand. I wanted to tell a man I loved that I had missed him, and was happy to see him. That day, that statement had to wait until we were safely behind closed doors.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Be a Man! Part II

Brief update on the physical therapy (PT). So I've learned this great trick with a cane, where I place the point of the curved handle in the center of a knot (or what Kelly calls a 'trigger point', meaning, I guess, a point where a lot of my aches and pains get activated at once), then pull gently across and down with the rest of the cane... AHHHH. Hurts so GOOD. These are knots that I've been unable to stretch out for years, in some cases decades. When I've had a really good massage, the LMT has been able to peel some layers away from some of these knots, but he or she has never been able to get rid of them entirely. I'm not able to either, but just being able to access them at all is a big improvement. Twice now after PT I have spent some time digging into my back with a cane, and have then slept like a log. I mean a serious, 4000 year old, Sequoia tree log. Slept like I hadn't realized I needed to sleep in YEARS. It's been really amazing. Makes sense of a lot of other things too. Along with pain as a constant companion, I've gotten used to not sleeping well. That seems to be the common lot of most of my friends and relatives. Aging, or perhaps just being aware of the state of the world, does not seem to lead to truly restful sleep. It's been by no means consistent for me; the last two nights were as troubled, broken, and uncomfortable as usual. But those two mornings of waking up, realizing I had slept all through the night, and actually felt like getting out of bed... I mean, WOW. What a revelation. Makes me a little greedy, and of course I'm afraid of jinxing it by commenting on it so early on... two times does not a pattern make, obviously. But they were gifts nonetheless.

I've been making other discoveries (or rediscoveries) about my various issues with pain and masculinity. I've been remembering what it felt like to be an eleven year old budding homo who sucked at sports. Add into this the fact that I was raised in a pacifist household. Indeed when I was eleven, my folks came to the conclusion that it was unfair to expect me to give up the option of fighting other kids before I'd been able to make that decision for myself. With their sad and qualified blessing, I was given the option to retaliate the next time the bully in my sixth grade class started picking on me. I wasn't that methodical about it, but I did end up fighting him, and enjoying a rather spectacular and public victory. It may have been a little lopsided. He was really just interested in humiliating me, I think. He'd get me in a headlock, and would have been content to keep me there forever. I, on the other hand, wanted blood, so I managed from the headlock to punch him hard, three times, in the face. My Dad, having grown up in a tough working class Irish-Italian neighborhood in Philly, had told me the best way to end a fight quickly was to hit the guy in the face. He was right. The poor bastard didn't know what to do with that, and things ended pretty much at that point. On one other occasion, two years later in eighth grade, I was surrounded by five guys during lunch recess who started punching me. Again, there wasn't any serious damage being done me physically, they were bored, felt like picking on a sissy, and I was available. Only one guy had any real beef with me (though I never learned what it was), so I focused on him. I limited my punching just to him, pushing him back, and thus breaking out of the circle. This gave the odd impression to them that I had somehow managed 'to win' despite the odds. Maybe it just made clear that I wasn't going to be quite as attractive a target as they had originally thought. Whatever it was, they gave up, or lost interest, or went looking for more satisfying meat. That is the sum total of my fierce fighting past. Impressive, no? Even at the time, I felt like I had won the battles but lost the war by letting these assholes set the rules of engagement. I thought punching one another because we disliked each other was a stupid way to go about things (and truth be told, the only thing I had against any of these guys was their penchant for hitting and ridiculing me). But as I was discovering that there might be something to all those accusations of being a faggot, I was even more determined not to be seen as weak. As I said before, sucking at sports was the biggest mark against me, but then being reluctant to fight was also huge. It didn't really come up much, to be honest. I think I was rarely seen as someone who was worth the trouble, or I was seen as harmless enough to ignore, but not so pathetic as to be satisfying to torment. Certainly by Junior High I had perfected the art of being invisible. It was handy for adolescence, but hasn't always served me well at auditions, since it's still my fall back position whenever I'm feeling fragile, shy, or uncomfortable.

It's not like I was alone in my eschewing fighting; I was part of a Quaker community, including a youth group, where issues of non-violence and anti-militarism were regularly discussed. I saw lots of other guys navigate the ground of being guys (which is to say, 'cool') without regularly resorting to fisticuffs. But somehow, I think my secret fear that I really was a sissy complicated the issue. So much of what was said about sissies seemed to be true in my case. Sucked at sports, unwilling to fight, wanting not to get into trouble with authority figures (wow, navigating that one was complicated, probably because the cool kids changed the rules shamelessly to suit their purposes), being rather thin-skinned, yup, I was batting .1000. So to speak. I thought there were arguments to be made for defending weaker and helpless people from criminals, but seriously, how often did a fistfight between two twelve-year olds in the locker room have anything to do with justice? No, even at that age, I knew what was being battled out was guys' egos and their positions in the pecking order. I was able, with little objection, to abstain from the whole thing, so I did, but it did leave me questioning what there was left to say about being male, and what of it I was entitled to claim.

I still get really annoyed when people assume I'm physically weak, no matter how innocently they do it. I don't go around offering to arm-wrestle guys in bars (especially now), but anytime someone suggests I'm 'really more intellectual' (the adult way of calling someone a wimp, "not that there's anything wrong with that,"), I get a bit testy. When I see the modern, urban ways of establishing the pecking order (taking up too many seats on the train, cutting in line, pushing people out of the way as one walks, blasting one's music, heavy on the bass), I still feel a rage bubble up that borders on murderous, then I feel silly for letting this asshole set the level of discourse. There's got to be more to masculinity than chest thumping and getting hot women. The stereotype of the Metrosexual, or as he was known in the '90s, The Sensitive New Age Guy, is still presented more as a slur or joke than an admirable way of being a man. And of course implicit in both those roles is the idea that here is a guy who is sensitive, well-groomed, clean, and emotionally expressive, but don't worry everyone, he loves the ladies. Nope, no pole-smoking for this guy, he's all man, underneath the hair-gel and designer clothes. Nothing to worry about. So if one actually IS gay, and not a 'straight-acting' one (god I hate that phrase), the implication seems to be, don't worry about masculinity, you withdrew from the discussion ages ago.

All this from my sore head/neck/shoulder/back etc.? Goodness. Something tells me I'm not done yet either. I'll keep stewing, I mean mulling this over. Would love to hear your thoughts.