How I Binge

One of the many buzzwords you hear today is “binge watching,” which is basically watching loads of one programme in one fell swoop. Frankly, I’ve called this marathon watching, but I’m a product of the 80s, when marathons were special events on networks.

A lot of these binges are tied into the success of Netflix’s entrance into the production market, where instead of weekly releases of a programme, they dropped all episodes at once to much success. I’ll be honest with you, I have little interest in what Netflix is offering (and all they really offer the Australian market is esterophilia). 

Recently I read an article in The Hollywood Reporter where Jenji Kohan, creator of one of the Netflix successes, Orange Is The New Black, said that binging is hurting the shared experience that used to happen when things were released weekly. Indeed, it’s quite funny to read the entertainment news websites’ attempts to cover shows whose episodes are released all at once, because the journalists have no idea how to write for an audience who could be at any place in the series. 

Even though none of the new binge shows appeal to me, I do enjoy binging. My current delight is the early 2000s Australian* crime show Stingers. I’m under no illusion that I’m probably one of the very few people watching episode after episode, and that’s fine with me. Binging for me is about personal enjoyment, and I don’t expect anyone else to be on the same page as me. Perhaps befitting my background as a scriptwriter, I’d rather discuss things with the scriptwriters, network executives, and producers.

* I tend to watch a lot of Australian & New Zealand programming simply because it’s new to me. Bizarrely, you barely see any old (as in not currently in production) Australian television programming on Australian television. But that’s another subject entirely

Talking about religion 

Discussing religion has always been a bit tricky for me, mostly because an old American saying that has stuck with me: “The quickest way to clear out a room is talk race or religion.” 

  

My parents were from two separate branches of Christianity, my father was a Catholic and my mother was Baptist. (I should add that they both frowned upon Pentacostal theatrics.) This created somewhat of a conundrum for them when it came to what branch I’d be raised in. What they came up with was what I’d call “Commercialist Protestantism” although that wasn’t what they called it.

“Commercialist Protestantism,” is basically “Christmas = Santa Claus and presents” and “Easter = candy and the Easter Bunny,” with a belief in The Golden Rule and that you can always talk to God. 

To their credit, they wanted me to establish my own spiritual relationship with the world, although my mother often worried that I was never baptised (oddly enough, Baptist liturgy says that children shouldn’t be baptised as it is a choice one should make on one’s own without pressure). 

I mention my religious background because one of things I have encountered a lot as a gay man are other gay men for whom religion was wielded as a weapon of fear and intimidation. It’s something I really cannot comprehend:  how can any faith sustain itself when it scares others into such trauma? 

Personally, I have no ill will towards any religion, and I believe that there are not necessarily bad belief systems, but rather people who seek to use faith to serve their own biases and selfish ends.

And in case you are wondering if I still subscribe to Commercialist Protestantism? Well, I do…with a bit of a twist:

  

Remembering Appomattox

Here in Australia and also in New Zealand, there have been a lot of memorials commemorating the 100th anniversary of Gallipoli where many Australian & New Zealand soldiers died and where Australian and New Zealand identity within the commonwealth was strengthened.

In the US, April 9th commemorates an important anniversary (although the date is not so widely remembered), the surrender of the Confederate troops at Appomattox Court House, Virginia.

The Last Salute

This year marks 150 years since that surrender and its lasting effect on national identity. No longer was the USA, a collection of states, but rather a unified country.

Despite all of our many regional differences, there are some core beliefs that Americans hold true which are that everyone is equal and has a right to pursue their dreams.

It is somewhat of a shame that April 9th is not as widely commemorated as other dates in US history, however you could easily say that is a reflection of the overall legacy of the Civil War itself. CNN posted this article 4 years ago (on the anniversary of the start of the Civil War) about “4 Ways We’re Still Fighting The Civil War,” and this article from Time asks the same question.

Yet, what I find rather fascinating is while there was a rush of articles to commemorate the anniversary of the start of the Civil War, there’s not so many about the end of it, and about the healing and successes since then, which undoubtedly there have been. (Frankly, myself and my whole family are a testament to that.)

Father-Son Lessons from beyond

My relationship with my father was “civil,” which frankly was quite a minor miracle, because it could’ve been much worse as he was operating with the psychological handicap of being a vet of the Korean and Vietnam wars. The best way to describe it is that there was a certain melancholy around him that happened before I was born, and there was likely nothing I could’ve done to really make it disappear.

I mention the distant relationship I had with my father because this feature from NPR explained so much of my father’s seemingly odd behaviour when I was growing up.

When my parents moved to Mequon (a predominantly white suburb of Milwaukee), my father took it upon himself to introduce himself to the local police, thinking that if they knew him as a person and not just “some black guy” he wouldn’t be treated for being “black in the wrong place” (and honestly in the late 1970s you couldn’t fault his logic).

His strategy did work, as the one time he was racially profiled by a [nervous and subconsciously bigoted local], he had the police very much on his side, and the accuser rightfully had a lot of proverbial egg on their face.

All that said, growing up, I noticed that my father went out to of his way to avoid being alone in public without either myself, my mother, or preferably both of us. Much like the man in the NPR piece, I think it was because of that “thug” perception. He saw himself as a family man, but was aware (presumably from a traumatic experience) that the perception others would have of him would be considerably different. So my mother & I were his armour. Racism terrified a man who was a Vietnam POV.

And not once did he mention this directly, but he taught me to always carry myself in a somewhat deferential (but still proud) manner as a black man.

And even to this day when I’m in public, I feel a degree of anxiety about someone saying something based solely on my appearance, an appearance that I can’t do anything about. Whether it’s from being black, being gay, being American, I can never relax fully as the only black man in the room.

This seems to be unique to black men, as my mother never displayed or expressed any hesitation about being on her own in public in Mequon. Having grown up in Mequon, I was at ease there (it was my home, after all), but in places that are like it, I find myself getting the nervousness and hesitation that I think my father must’ve had.

Still, I manage to challenge my comfort zone–(If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have ever left Mequon!)–if only because I believe that one day I will feel relaxed as the only one whatever in the room.

My father passed away in 2002, so I have no idea what he would’ve made of the Michael Brown shooting. I can say that from the scant bits of news we get on it here in Australia, that a bit of a chill goes down my spine. I know that no matter what I have done and achieved, I can never override someone’s prejudices that they have in a split second. And that could very well be that second which determines if I live or die.

Below: The view out the window on Christmas morning at the house I grew up in Mequon.christmasmorning2008.jpg

What does gay look like?

The rainbow flag, sometimes called 'the freedo...

The rainbow flag, sometimes called ‘the freedom flag’, has been used as a symbol of gay and lesbian pride since the 1970s. The different colors symbolize diversity in the gay community, and the flag is often used as a symbol of gay pride in gay rights marches. It originated in the United States, but is now used around the world. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Something historical happened today: The US has its first active openly gay athlete in professional sports (story via Rod2.0), with Jason Collins being the proverbial trailblazer–he’s actually a Wizard (pun intended).

 

What I find particularly interesting is his coming out statement: “I’m a 34 year old NBA center. I’m black. And I’m gay.” He identifies himself by job (and it’s a really good one), ethnicity, and then orientation. That I think says a lot about the gay community and how it struggles to really deal with those of us who are multiple minorities.

 

It is no secret that most of the English-language developed world has a White middle-class majority. To its credit, it’s also good that the English-language developed world is also trying to correct it and get towards a post-racial state of affairs.

 

In my experience, I have occasionally wondered whether I’m really included or not, particularly in the gay community because I don’t fit the perception in the media sense of being gay.

What’s that perception?

 

Well, when you turn on the news or read a newspaper and see something representing the “gay community” it is most often a white gay male in his late 30s to 40s.

Now, while it is great to have any representation, but I think it’s time that we start thinking about the effects of having the rainbow community represented in a largely monotone shade.

 

Here in Australia, we are fortunate to have Senator Penny Wong,  who is Asian, as one of the most prominent openly gay people in the media, because she causes people to think twice about that old ridiculous chestnut that “I can’t be gay because I am XYZ ethnicity.”

 

In the US, we’ve had ever increasing minority males and females come out, and yet there is still this perception that ethnicity trumps sexuality. We need more people to come out as being proud of both their ethnic background and their sexual orientation.

 

This where being a role model does matter, because being a role model, allows you to start changing minds on a larger scale.

 

While I wish that I had grown up seeing successful black gay men in media, I am glad that generations after me will be able to.

 

 

 

My father: The Veteran

The current crisis in North Korea has brought up memories of my late father.

My late father was a Veteran of both the Korean & Vietnam Wars, serving in the former when he was a teenager.

He was never that terribly forthcoming with details about his military life, but through references and from what my mother shared, I knew that he was a POW for a significant amount of time in Vietnam (long enough to be presumed dead) and that the very second anything on television referred to Vietnam he–in a very quiet voice–would politely ask my mother to change the channel.

With the Korean War, I know nothing except that he lied about his age in order to sign up and my memories of him talking about it are basically him saying that he served in it and that was that.

In 2003, one year after he passed, I wrote a play called Airport Lounges wherein a major scene involved the lead character imagining what the Korean War was like. (No spoilers)

Although my mother & I flew to Korea while he was alive, we literally were changing planes. For me at least, I couldn’t bring myself to ask for a proper trip to the country, because I would view it through the eyes of a scared teenager serving in the US Army.

Whilst my father lived to see the US formalise relations with Vietnam, he never expressed any desire to visit.

North Korea never featured much in US news in the 1980s & 1990s as much as Vietnam did, but I do hope that I live to see peace on the Korean peninsula, and that I am able to visit a place whose conflict has had such a profound effect on me decades before I was born.

The Antipodean Dilemma of the Gay Traveler

I’ve lived in Australia for 4 years now, and I do love living here, but it’s location in the world can be trying.

If you have your family and/or business mostly in the Western part of the United States, getting there is about a 12-14 hour nonstop flight to Los Angeles or San Francisco.

(This also explains why Australians tend to view the US through a Californian lens, and worthy of its own post.)

Getting to the Midwest or the East Coast generally involves adding on a flight from California to one’s final destination, adding on an extra 3-6 hours.

QANTAS itself operates a flight from New York to Los Angeles (where you can subsequently connect to its flights to the Australian East Coast), mostly due to the presumed reputation of US carriers and also to get its own significant slice of the fare pie.

Now, the reason I bring this up, is because QANTAS has been in the Australian media a lot these days because of their new alliance with Emirates, a major carrier from Dubai.

Emirates has been making serious inroads into the Australian market because whilst it’s 13 hours to Dubai from Sydney, it’s also 5 or 6 hours from Dubai to Europe, and the Europe to Australia market is huge and competitive.

Whereas before one generally flew QANTAS from Australia to Europe via Singapore (where homosexuality is illegal, but the law is rarely enforced), or via Hong Kong (where it is at least legal to be gay), or Bangkok (same), now those who want to fly the main national carrier will be routed through the UAE, a country where there are significant legal differences with Australia, homosexuality being illegal and prosecuted being a notable difference, as this article in the Star Observer points out.

Even the Australian government itself warns gay travelers to the UAE.

The other main Australian carrier, Virgin Australia, has an alliance with UAE carrier Etihad Airways, to fly its Europe bound passengers via Abu Dhabi. (Oddly enough they don’t emphasise the daily Virgin Atlantic flight from Sydney to London via Hong Kong, but that’s a bit of a quirk of Virgin Australia’s ownership.)

Getting to Europe without going through the UAE is seemingly difficult, but not impossible.

Air New Zealand avoids the issue by having its London flights via Los Angeles, though it’s not the most pleasant transit experience from what I’ve heard.

China Southern, Cathay Pacific, Thai, and JAL have been encouraging Australians to get to Europe (and the US) via Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Tokyo respectively.

That said it is hard to avoid the intense advertisement by the UAE carriers. I gave in, even though I was fully aware that by doing so, I was giving money to a homophobic government.

So I flew to Chicago from Melbourne via Abu Dhabi.

The flight was present, but when I got to the lounge, I was not able to log into several gay-identified websites (AfterElton, JOY94.9, The Advocate), because they were blocked.

Perhaps this is a bit close to my heart, because I’ve worked in the LGBT media. Others might not be bothered by it.

For me, personally, the cost savings were outweighed by the moral compromise.

Life is not a movie…no matter how much we want it to be

I can count on one finger how many times I have ever read the New Yorker. I’m not ashamed to admit that to me at least, because the attending baggage of being a New Yorker reader is much larger than the content.

Rally for Marriage Equality

Rally for Marriage Equality (Photo credit: vpickering)

For whatever reason today, one of my news aggregators popped up with this opinion piece from The New Yorker.

The article talks about the relative tranquility and unremarkable atmosphere in the recent US Supreme Court hearings about the Defense of Marriage Act & California’s Proposition 8.

Life is not a Hollywood film, and yet, we, particularly in the media and in the public try to organise real world events in that matter.

It’s understandable, because one of our greatest teachers growing up is the entertainment industry.

Take a look at your average long-feature news report, much like a bit from a reality show, it will have music that will steer you emotionally one way or another. (This is nothing radical, Dateline NBC did a feature about this, and even poked fun at itself. For further reference, read this report from UCLA & Carelton University)

Still, that’s the great thing about the US judicial system: it asks people to take away the emotionality and make a judgement on the facts.

This is why the rather subdued environment in the Supreme Court is remarkable. The facts are that DOMA is unconstitutional.

It’s also why I wonder what will happen to the activist machinery that has been set up around the marriage equality debate.

It’s time to think beyond marriage, beyond the happy endings.

And after marriage…?

Let me just get the following statement done and dusted:

I believe that the right to marry and the benefits that come with it should not be prohibited on the basis of sexual orientation.

The US Supreme Court is currently hearing two cases that could potentially legalise same-sex marriage in the United States. One of which would look at the legality of California’s Proposition 8, which overturned the California’s same sex marriage legislation. The other one, which is the big one on a national level, is looking at the legality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prevents federal benefits being sent to same sex partners, as well states that the federal government will not recognise same sex marriages and says that US states are not federally required to recognise a same-sex marriage performed in another.

What concerns me most about the tone of the same sex marriage debate is how little of it (particularly in gay media) is concerned with life after marriage equality.

Why aren’t we talking about gay divorce? Because it’s not legal?

Why don’t we talk about the ins and outs and hard, and yes boring work of relationships and the fact that not all of them will end well.

Actors Mike White & Justin Long appeared in this particular ad when Proposition 8 was on the ballot in California. It’s “realness” was breath-taking:

I think that was a brilliant ad, because that is what the reality of married coupled life is. It’s not fabulous, it just is.

I would like to hear more stories about how boring and mundane married life is in addition to how fulfilling it can be. (Indeed, research has shown that there are health benefits in being married.)

Without a doubt, I see myself being married as opposed to just being de facto*, and I don’t look down upon those who opt not to do either. If you’re not a relationship person, then don’t get in one, and vice versa.

But in reading and observing the gay media and gay-oriented social media conversation, the marriage equality conversation, I believe, obscures another debate that the gay community in particular seems a bit scared to have, which is where does gay culture go afterwards?

There are some who feel that we, as gay men, will lose our “specialness” by being forced into the same monogamous relationships as heterosexuals, and that “gay culture” will end.

Personally, I think gay culture will shed any residual Peter Pan complexes as a result, and that is a good thing. (It’s equally ludicrous to think of the heterosexual community as this being monolithic bastion of monogamy.)

But part of that growing up process means thinking about relationships that don’t go smooth and things that aren’t romantic:

It means addressing issues like the suicide rate amongst the LGBT-identified, providing safe spaces for LGBT-identified homeless, HIV/AIDS education, bringing LGBT identified seniors into the greater LGBT conversation, getting rid of social homophobia in media and in day-to-day life.

Same sex marriage may go some ways towards working to resolve this issues, BUT the absence of same sex marriage DOES NOT PROHIBIT US from working on them now.

Rather than reading yet another post or article about  how “everyone should have the right to marry, because it’s the right thing…” I’d rather read about how steps are being done to get rid of homophobic language in film.

I’d rather be doing my bit, not by agitating for marriage, but by helping create a better life for all, and marriage equality might be the remaining legal barrier, but there’s a lot of societal work to do, and we are all up to the task.

We owe it to ourselves and more importantly, to those who will come after us.

*In Australia, there is legislation providing for “de facto” partnerships, which confers many of the rights, benefits, and responsiblities of marriage in any long-term relationship, regardless of sexual orientation. The closest thing the US has to it–and legal recognition differs wildly by juristiction–is common-law marriage.  Where it differs from civil unions is that there is no need to publicly make a declaration of your relationship.

Related articles

 

Another (not-so) Modest Proposal

Believe it or not, you have to pay for an ambulance here in Victoria.

That’s right, call 000 (equivalent of 911 or 999) for an ambulance and a week later you get socked with a bill usually ranging in the mid three figures if you’re not a member of Ambulance Victoria.

If you’re a member or in a private health fund, the cost is less or zero.

This morning, I read an article from the Telegraph (UK) that wealthy Muscovites are using deluxe ambulances to get around Moscow’s atrocious traffic.

Perhaps the Victorian government could employ the same idea here?

If you’ve got a stubbed toe and some ducats, why not get the deluxe ambulance service to take you to The Alfred?

Wouldn’t going for that colostomy be a bit easier to hack if you knew you had an ergonomic leather seat with pumped in Vivaldi?

And given the tendency of money launderers to be very conspicuous consumers, it certainly would be helpful to law authorities.