Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Need to Relax? Looking for Some Guidance?

 Talking with Nick Venegoni about Alternatives to Talk Therapy 
My friend Nick Venegoni has been studying and training in various therapies for several years now, and he's been working with clients for over four years. His Website is full of useful information about the types of therapy he offers, which includes everything from fairly traditional talk therapy to guided meditations, hypnotherapy, art therapy, and other transpersonal and integrative approaches. The site even offers a flavor of his work through a free guided mindfulness relaxation exercise.

Having worked as a counselor in the past, especially around issues of gender and sexuality, I talk to a lot of people who ask me to recommend a good therapist, so I thought I'd find out more about the work Nick does. I hope it's helpful!

Brent Calderwood: "Mindfulness" is a word that's used a lot by psychologists these days, notably in the treatment of depression. What exactly does it mean? Why do you think it's become so "trendy"? How does it show up in the work you do?
Nick Venegoni: Yes, the term mindfulness is a bit trendy these days, but it's nothing new. I believe that it came out of different kinds of meditation practices, and it engages a person’s awareness to the point of noticing their thoughts and learning that they are not their mind. … It's also extremely effective in the treatment of depression, stress, anxiety and anger…. I think it is trendy because it is so effective when a person commits to the discipline.... A majority of my clients start each session with a simple mindfulness exercise, and as they internalize the changes and see the benefits, they begin to look forward to it. I encourage them to practice on their own between sessions, and many do.

You have training in several types of therapy, including hypnotherapy. Why might someone seek hypnotherapy, and what happens during a typical session? 
People seek hypnotherapy for a variety of reasons, mostly for help breaking addictions, phobias or habitual behaviors. But hypnotherapy can be a quick, powerful and very effective way to get to and heal core issues as well. I practice hypnotherapy in the style of Depth Hypnosis as created by Isa Gucciardi, PhD, and the kind of work I prefer to do focuses on the former - to sink into a place deep in the psyche which might not be as accessible in a normal, conscious state. Often healing these deeper wounds results in resolution of habits, addictions or phobias, which were simply symptoms of the wound, not the wound itself.

You have a Masters in Transpersonal/Integral Counseling Psychology. Those first two terms may be new for a lot of people. What exactly do they mean, and how do they show up in the work you do?
Transpersonal means across or through the personal - encompassing everything about a person and beyond. It's a way of conceiving all parts of an individual, not just the parts that are wounded but the parts that are strong and healthy as well…. Integral in this case means the essential core of a person as well as integrating that which is necessary to become more complete - integrating and synthesizing that which supports our health.

What advice would you give to someone who's interested in the kinds of therapy you do, but maybe they don't know how to get started or they don't know what kind of therapist would be best for them?
I would recommend that they think about what works best for them in therapeutic situations, and do research on a variety of therapists. Most have websites or listings which give a taste about their style and strengths. Then make contact - most therapists are willing to have a 10 to 15 minute phone conversation to see if you're a good fit. It's also helpful for the therapist because sometimes the therapist might be able to tell the prospective client they could be better served by a different clinician because of a specialty or skill set, and could give the client referrals. And it's OK if you go see a therapist and decide it's not a fit - it's important to feel safe and comfortable with a therapist.

Nick Venegoni is a registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern (supervised by Karen Palamos, LMFT, MFC38971) who specializes in working with people struggling with anxiety and anger through mindfulness based practices. If you'd like to know more about him, check out his Website here

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Live FREE Music!

San Francisco is chock full of music and musicians, much of it free! Here are two upcoming shows I'll be participating in: 

Friday, August 27
Marianne Barlow, Brent Calderwood, and Russell David @ SoCha Cafe
Acoustic rock, folk and alt country songs at the hip Mission venue, which serves coffee, beer, and wine.. Free. 8:30pm-11pm. 3235 Mission Street (@ Valencia). www.brentcalderwood.com, www.simplemuzik.net, www.mariannebarlow.com

Sunday, September 12
Drew Boles and Brent Calderwood @ Brainwash
Queer singer-songwriters Drew Boles and Brent Calderwood perform acoustic and electronic guitar- and piano-based pop and folk music at the hip SoMa cafe, where you can do your laundry, throw back lattes and beers, and get a taste of the local music scene all at the same time! 7pm-9pm. 1122 Folsom Street (@ Langton). www.drewboles.com, www.brentcalderwood.com

I've been seeing lots of great singer-songwriters and local musicians lately. One of my favorites is Carletta Sue Kay, a San Francisco performer/band headed by Randy Walker (Carletta) that deftly combines rock, roots music, country, camp and cabaret all into one satisfying package. If my ears were right last time I heard Carletta Sue Kay live, one of her songs has the hook, "It's not love till someone calls a cop." If that's not right, someone let me know—'cause I'll use it myself!  Their next show is this Thursday, August 26 at 111 Minna Gallery, 9pm-1:30am. Also playing are the fabulous Ex-Boyfriends

Last May, I attended a great evening of gay singer-songwriters, some local, some touring, at the Metropolitan Community Church in San Francisco. Called Sing Out San Francisco, the evening showcased cutie Tom Goss, along with the sensitive-but-edgy Dudley Saunders, Daniel Owens and Jeremiah Clark in diverse evening of original pop, folk and jazz music. I was impressed by all of them, especially the guitar and piano stylings of Clark and Owens.

I'll be updating you on other local musicians and artists in the coming weeks and months. In the meantime, here's a few videos to tide you over!

Monday, August 16, 2010

"We Were There" Tells a Story That Needs Telling

Emmanuelle Antolin, Tamara Loewenstein, and Melonie Green
We Were There
June 10 – September 30, 2010
African American Arts & Culture Complex
762 Fulton Street @ McAllister
San Francisco, CA 94102-4119
(415) 292-6172

I recently visited “We Were There: The Lesbian Response to the Early AIDS Epidemic among Gay Men," a new exhibit showing now through September 30, co-curated by Melonie Green and Tamara Loewenstein. "We Were There" is also the name of a moving short film created in conjunction with the exhibit and directed by Emmanuelle Antolin. 

photo by Leigh Meryhew
I spoke with Antolin, Green, and Loewenstein about the project.

Q: Who helped you make this project happen? 
 TL:The National Queer Ar ts Festival and Queer Cultural Center of San Francisco awarded Emmanuelle Antolin with a small grant that allowed her to begin film production. The African American Arts & Culture Complex (sisters Melora and Melonie Green) have been incredibly generous with their space, resources and time. 

Q: What's the response been like so far? 
MG: Those who were featured in the project (via photographs, featured in the film, pamphlets on the walls, etc.) were so moved. Some were surprised to see their work on the walls. They certainly didn't expect to see their words on the walls. I think seeing the exhibition made things very real for them. The film was such an inspiration. It received laughs, tears, applause.

Q:  Describe the curatorial process for the exhibit.
TL: The curatorial process was a very collaborative one. Emmanuelle was able to gather most of the images during her research in New York City and at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco, among other resources. The three of us went through all the images we had gathered and decided together which ones should be key images or themes within the exhibition. Later, Melonie and I worked together to finalize our selection of photographs, images, posters and ephemera. From the beginning we wanted the space to have an ambiance of intensity that communicated the activist sensibility of the period.
MG: Tamara and I discussed putting the words on the walls. we had a few ideas. I suggested that we hand write the quotes ... because in the grand scheme of things, this was a DIY movement and seeing the quotes on the walls gave it a very organic and "real" vibe and feel. From there we decided to paste and post the posters on the walls unframed to continue that element of DIY and "in the moment" feel.

Q: What's the future of this project?  
EA: As we go further with this project, we feel that quality film production, in-depth research, interactive web presence and more are integral to making this piece come alive the way it is meant to. So far, I have funded the entire project from my personal savings, with the exception of a $500 seed grant from the Queer Cultural Center, and a few donations. I did this because I got into it, I knew this story had to be told, and had to be told right. Now I am seeking funding to help me complete the film and expand the project.  I'd love to talk to anyone who feels the same and would like to discuss funding.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

James L. White's "The Salt Ecstasies":
the return of an out-of-print classic

(This review first appeared at LambdaLiterary.org)
Part of Graywolf’s wonderful “Re/View” series, which publishes important work by out-of-print and outsider poets, The Salt Ecstasies, one of the jewels in the crown of Graywolf’s impressive poetry catalogue, seems long overdue for such treatment. Luckily, it was worth the wait. Series editor Mark Doty introduces the collection with a thoughtful essay, and has included two previously uncollected poems, as well as excerpts from James L. White’s journals.

In addition to making The Salt Ecstasies available to a new generation of readers and writers—the book, published posthumously in 1982, has been hard to find outside of libraries—this new edition gives us the chance to reconsider White’s work and legacy beyond that of being a ‘poet’s poet,’ unknown to most and idolized by a rarefied few.

White’s outsider perspective permeates much of his work. Whereas the work of his contemporaries leaned heavily on the erotic, political, or erudite, White’s poems, as Doty points out in his introduction, “are heartbroken in that everyday way we recognize; they are the exhalation of a sorrow held so long it’s become as ordinary as it is sharp.” In this way, he is a sort of Minneapolis version of James Schuyler, and a male counterpart to many lesbian and feminist writers of his period.

“Making Love to Myself,” for instance, one of White’s best-known poems, takes a stance on autoeroticism otherwise unheard of among gay men, even down to its title. “Men don’t usually ‘make love’ to themselves,” Doty observes—“they jerk off….” In his plainspoken and poignant free-verse style, White begins
When I do it, I remember how it was with us.
Then my hands remember too,
and you’re with me again, just the way it was.
Free of ego, shock, or posturing, White’s diction and tone invite the reader into this most intimate of moments. “What a sweet gift this is, / done with my memory, my cock and hands”: alloyed with the heartfelt, language that might otherwise be too crude or obvious becomes credible and eloquent. After these lines, though, comes a turn; typical of White’s poems, and, one senses, of his life, the erotic is short-lived, hard to hold:
Sometimes I’d wake up wondering if I should fix
coffee for us before work,
almost thinking you’re here again, almost seeing
your work jacket on the chair.
As the speaker goes on to ponder his break with his working-class lover, self-pleasure seems all but gone. The pervasive pull of loss and longing are stronger than those brief moments of joy, stronger even than fantasy, so the poem is aborted: “I just have to stop here Jess. / I just have to stop.”

If so many of White’s poems are about not fitting—frequent themes are loss, aging, being overweight, illness, isolation, and a bittersweet childhood—they tell us much about the human heart. They also debunk assumptions about gay life and gay literature pre- and post-Stonewall, the closet on one side of the riots and liberation and free love on the other. White’s potential partners, then, are just as likely to be closeted, or ’straight,’ as not—if they seem fickle or reluctant as a result, there are also moments of vulnerability and tenderness that are lacking from other more modern, liberated, cocksure writers. From “The First Time:”
Sometimes I’m their first.
Sweet, sweet men.

We’re bunglers when it’s really good:
bow legs, pimply backs, scrawny chest hair,
full of mistakes and good intentions.
Another poem on similar themes, “Lying in Sadness,” sparkles with striking images and emotions that seem instantly relatable, yet particular to the speaker’s experience. “I love you completely as salt” in the first stanza, and later “You exhale a fist of memory,” followed by the last stanza: “When you return to something you love, / it’s already beyond repair. / You wear it broken.”

In his journal from October 1979, White demanded bare honesty of himself: “Don’t be afraid, Jim. Sometimes this will hurt you but there is also great beauty in your life. Don’t be afraid, Jim, or if you’re afraid, just go on and do what you do have to do: tell it, tell the story.”

Writing on the cusp of the decade, White trained his pen on age-old, deep-seated fears and desires that for many of his fellow gay writers were sublimated beneath the post-Stonewall frisson of political and sexual liberation, and then sidelined by the political and sexual stridency that the AIDS crisis demanded. Writing in the spaces between, before, and outside those zeitgeists, White explored the sublimated and unearthed the sublime.

White knew how painful it could be to stare directly into what we fear—including the ways in which many of us today still feel alienated, different, and indelibly queer. Perhaps writers and readers at this moment in queer history are again willing to take up the work White started 30 years ago; in so doing, we may come to a deeper, more personal sense of liberation, and even connectedness—to ourselves, to each other.

James L. White
Graywolf Press
ISBN: 9781555975616
Paperback, $15.00, 96p

Monday, August 9, 2010

Patricia Neal: Great Career, Tragic Life
(January 20, 1926 – August 8, 2010)

Patricia Neal, a Kentucky coal miner's daughter, was not only a first-rate actress who's been called the American Jeanne Moreau—she also lived a life so dramatic in its own right that it was the subject of a 1981 TV movie, The Patricia Neal Story

During the filming of the screen adaptation of Ayn Rand's controversial classic, The Fountainhead, the 21-year-old actress began an affair with Gary Cooper, then 46. It ended after Cooper's wife sent Neal a telegram requesting its termination, and also after Cooper's daughter spat at Neal in public. 

In 1953, Neal married British writer Roald Dahl, whom she'd met two years earlier at a dinner party thrown by Lillian Hellman. According to Wikipedia
In the early 1960s the couple suffered through grievous injury to one child and the death of another. On December 5, 1960, their son Theo, four months old, suffered brain damage when his baby carriage was struck by a taxicab in New York City. On November 17, 1962, their daughter, Olivia, died at age 7 from measles encephalitis.    
While pregnant in 1965, Neal suffered three-burst cerebral aneurysms, and was in a coma for three weeks. Dahl directed her rehabilitation and she subsequently relearned to walk and talk ("I think I'm just stubborn, that's all").

On film, Neal commands your total attention in every scene she's in, whether she's sharing the screen with Paul Newman (Hud, for which she won the Oscar), Gary Cooper, or even an alien robot (The Day the Earth Stood Still).

Recommended viewing:

  • 1949 - The Fountainhead 
  • 1951 - The Day the Earth Stood Still 
  • 1957 - A Face in the Crowd 
  • 1957 - Breakfast at Tiffany's 
  • 1963 - Hud 
  • 2003 - Broadway: The Golden Age

Neal's obituary in The New York Times

Monday, June 21, 2010

"We Were Here": Film Moves Entire Festival Audience to Tears

Every year, at least one film in the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival garners so much audience support and community spirit that I'm reminded not only of why I love film but also why I'm grateful to be a part of this eccentric and beautiful multi-lettered community. This year, one of those films was We Were Here: Voices from the AIDS Years in San Francisco, which previewed yesterday to a full house at the Castro Theater.

Director David Weissman and his editor/codirector Bill Weber, the documentarians who brought us The Cockettes nine years ago, that dizzying paean to early '70s hippie genderqueer gay counterculture, have created an entirely different animal with We Were Here. While The Cockettes hinted at the epidemic to come—many of the Cockettes and their collaborators, like disco diva Sylvester, were felled by the disease—We Were Here is at times a eulogy to the decade that followed, looking at AIDS head-on. It's a perspective our community as a whole has been slow to adopt, but one that this film may well ready us for.

In the 30 years since AIDS first made its appearance in San Francisco's gay community (back when I was starting kindergarden in the East Bay Area), much has been learned about the virus's treatment and prevention. But despite all this acquired knowledge, young gay men are still acquiring HIV at alarming rates in 2010. Many my age and younger seem totally unaware not only of the history of the "lost generation," but also unaware of the prevention methods our community learned in the intervening 20 years. To many men 35 and under, it's a laughing matter, or at most a faint spectre. Many men over 35 who lived through the crisis are also either unaware or in post-traumatic denial about the lingering epidemic, but to most of my friends just 10 years older than me, it's a very real part of their daily lives, as well as a haunting memory.

This topic, with its galaxy-sized weight, can get overwhelming in the blink of an eye, so We Were Here tackles it slowly, building on a brief visual history of the burgeoning post-Stonewall gay community in San Francisco, and settling into interviews with just five well-chosen, eloquent individuals who survived the '80s and have come out with a goldmine of wisdom to share.

And to me, that's the greatest gift of this film. Sure we've acquired medical knowledge that can help with prevention—and certainly, that knowledge needs to be deepened and shared until HIV can be sent backstage to join polio and the bubonic plague—but more than medical knowledge, the film seems to ask, what wisdom do we have to share? What did the AIDS crisis teach people that can now be passed on to the next generation of queer men, and, more broadly, to the culture as a whole? If there is any meaning or utility to be had from all these horrific deaths—deaths that glutted the obitiuaries sections of gay newspapers worldwide for well over a decade—that usefulness has to be more than simply teaching young men: "Wear a condom" and "Don't do what we did" (the only messages I received when I first came out and began visiting the war-torn but reemerging Castro scene of the early 1990s).

"Don't do what we did" is an especially pernicious message. After all, so much of what queer people in the '70s, '80s, and '90s did was wonderful, and shouldn't be cordoned off into the same dark recesses where grief and survivor's guilt still linger. We Were Here offers hope that a change is coming: Weissman's film helped bring a whole audience out of the closet about their own grief, guilt, and wisdom.

Wisdom, more than anything, is what we need to heal—and to conquer the virus. And this film has more wisdom than just about any I've ever seen. Wisdom about loving ourselves enough to value our own lives as well as the lives and well-beings of our partners. Wisdom about queer men and women working through their differences and even taking care of each other. Wisdom about valuing our families of choice at least as much as we're taught to value married couples and nuclear families. Wisdom about knowing how and when to fight, and when to let go. Wisdom about how to turn anger into action. Wisdom about living with grief and loss, and the love and hope that seem to survive and return even after and within the worst of circumstances.

I'm grateful that I was there yesterday at the Castro Theater, but I hope We Were Here reaches a much wider, worldwide audience, so that the healing and dialogue can continue.

If you want to learn more about We Were Here, or if you want to help it reach more people, please contact David Weissman through the film's website, wewereherefilm.com.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Great District 8 Chili for Chile Challenge:
Eat, watch supes duke it out, and rebuild an orphanage in Chile all at the same time!

Hey "The Defibrillator Readers"! Want something to really get your heart going? My friend Jeff Cotter, the handsome E.D. (that's Executive Director!) and founder of Rainbow World Fund (shown here at another event with Dame Edna!), is hosting this fabulous event in the Castro this Sunday, May 23. 

The Cook-Off is a fundraiser to rebuild an orphanage in Santiago, Chile. How cool is that? Please come, and invite your friends! 

Event: The Great District 8 Chili for Chile Challenge
Time: Sunday, May 23 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Location: Most Holy Redeemer Church Hall, 100 Diamond St., San Francisco, CA 94114 (in the Castro)
This is a Chili Cook-Off between the District 8 Supervisor Candidates to raise funds to help rebuild an orphanage in Santiago, Chile that was destroyed by the recent earthquake.
The Cook-Off will be Emceed by Supervisor Bevan Dufty and Sister Roma of The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgences and will include participation by the top District 8 Supervisor Candidates (Rebecca Prozan, Scott Weiner, Rafael Mandelman, Bill Hemmenger). Other participants will include The Consulate General of Chile, Betty Sullivan, Andrea Shorter, Greg Bronstein, Ethel Merman of EMX and an array of glittering talent from our community. The Challenge: Each of the Board of Supervisors Candidates from District 8 are bringing a large pot of their best chili recipe to be judged by a distinguished panel of celebrity “chili experts” alongside that of each of the other candidates. Prizes will be awarded and there will be musical and comedy performances. Silent Auction and Raffle. There will be wine, vodka, and tequila bars, and free food!

Come cheer on your favorite candidate! This is a fantastic opportunity for the LGBT and Friends community to come together in unity to help the children of Chile.

If you absolutely can't come, you can still help by spreading the word - tell your Bay Area friends about the event. Make a donation:  http://www.rainbowfund.org/donate
Visit the event website to learn more about the participants and the orphanage:
Check out the event on Facebook at: 

Drew Boles, Brent Calderwood, and Russell David at Bluesix, Thursday May 20, 9pm Sharp!

Start Time:
Thursday, May 20, 2010 at 9:00pm
End Time:
Friday, May 21, 2010 at 12:00am
3043 24th Street at Treat
San Francisco, CA
Drew Boles, Brent Calderwood, and Russell David @ Bluesix
Local queer singer-songwriters Drew Boles and Brent Calderwood perform acoustic and electronic guitar- and piano-based pop and folk music at the hip Mission club. Singer-songwriter Russell David also performs. Singer-songwriter Marianne Barlow makes special appearance. Cover charge: $5. 9:00pm 3043 24th Street (at Treat).
www.drewboles.com, www.myspace.com/brentcalderwood, www.simplemuzik.net 

Small Town Boys: Gay Men Revisit Their Histories and Hometowns on June 11

SF LGBT Center, Ceremonial Room, 4th floor

1800 Market St.
San Francisco, CA 94102 
A great artists collective I'm a part of, GuyWriters, will present award-winning author K.M. Soehnlein at its June 11 literary reading titled “Small Town Boys: Gay Men Revisit Their Histories and Hometowns.” Soehnlein is the author of The World of Normal Boys and most recently Robin and Ruby. The reading is part of the Queer Cultural Center’s National Queer Arts Festival.

This presentation from GuyWriters will offer a night of poetry, fiction and essays on life before the big city. Sometimes San Francisco can feel like a city of small town boys. Ask a gay man where he is from, and you’ll here destinations near and far. Whether it’s the Bible Belt or the Rust Belt, the Eastern Seaboard or the Gulf Coast we all came from somewhere. What did we leave behind? And what did we hope to find in San Francisco?

Other featured readers for this event include poets James J. Siegel (Ghosts of Ohio), and Eric Leigh (Harm’s Way). Also featured is Michael McAllister (Dogpoet.com and contributor to “From Boys to Men: Gay Men Write About Growing Up.”), Michael Layne Heath and Gabriel Lampert.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Poets 11 Finale Reading at the SF Main Library this Saturday, plus What's New in LGBT Lit

As many "The Defibrillator" readers know, April was National Poetry Month, and the City of San Francisco, a major contributor to Modern and Postmodern Poetry, was well-represented. Among the many poetry-related events in April were the SF Public Library's branch readings, at which laureates from each of San Francisco's eleven districts, as selected by poet laureate at Beat hero Jack Hirschman, were invited to read their winning contributions to the 2010 Poets 11 anthology, a handsome volume published each year by the Public Library.

This Saturday, May 8, yours truly will be among the laureates invited to read at the Poets 11 Finale in the Koret Auditorium at the Main Library at 1pm. Yes, that's right. I was named a winner for the Sunset District—I love the beach, and am happy to call the Sunset home. I was even happier to call it home when I found out about my Poets 11 honor!

The San Francisco Library system has been keeping busy with events for readers of all stripes, and among its recent events was a celebration of the latest batch of Lambda Literary Awards nominees, hosted by Christopher Rice, scion of Anne Rice, as well as lesbian mystery writer and editor extroardinaire Katherine V. Forrest.

Tony Valenzuela and Katherine V. Forrest. Photo by Rink

Also in attendance were Lambda's new, handsome E.D. (that's Executive Director, boys) Valenzuela, and many of the Bay Area finalists who are currently under consideration for this year's Lammies, to be held Thursday, May 24 in New York City: Tommi AvicoLli-Mecca, Patrick Latellier, Randall Mann, Minal Hajratawa (who has a poetry project about unicorns in the works!), charismatic Portland artist and zine grrrl Dexter Flowers, the always urbane Kevin Killian ("purring like a cat or a vibrator" stood out from his reading) and many more!

Lambda has been good to me—I've won two fellowships to study with great teachers like Dorothy Allison, D.A. Powell, and Eloise Klein Healy at Lambda's annual Writer's Retreat in L.A. In fact, for over 23 years, Lambda has been good to a lot of LGBT writers, awarding the established literati and nurturing the careers of emerging talents. Support Lambda by visiting their website, donating to the Writer's Retreat, or becoming a member!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Legacies of Love: A Heritage of Queer Bonding

I reviewed Winston Wilde's fascinating nonfiction book about the rich historical tapestry of LGBT relationships for the Lambda Literary Review back in 2008. Lambda has recently launched its own website, where my past and future reviews of my favorite LGBT authors are finding a new life. Hope you check out that site, as well as this great book ... and I promise to write something new for you soon! 

Winston Wilde
Reviewed by Brent Calderwood

It has often been stated that the blessing and curse of queer relationships is that we must create our own rules and models. Since most of us come from heterosexual families and heteronormative cultures, we often feel that we are reinventing the wheel—or, more accurately, inventing the wheel—when we attempt our own queer romances. This can feel like freedom or chaos, and sometimes a little of both at the same time. 

Several seminal books about LGBT relationships have come down the pike over the years since the late 1970s, notably The Male Couple by David P. McWhirter and The Intimacy Dance by Betty Berzon. John DeCecco’s Gay Relationships offered a more scholarly approach, full of fascinating statistics and charts regarding monogamy, age disparity, and much more. However, like many LGBT self-help, social science and academic works, these tomes have become dated to varying degrees. As LGBT relationships become more mainstream, and as marriage for gays, lesbians, and trans people becomes legal and acceptable in more and more parts of the world (including the United States), a book is needed that bridges historical and cultural limitations. 

As if on cue, Winston Wilde’s Legacies of Love: A Heritage of Queer Bonding has been released from Haworth Press to fulfill this timely but timeless need. The author, a sexologist and psychotherapist, devoted fourteen years to this labor of love, and the time and research shows.  Wilde’s attention to historical documentation, coupled with generous illustrations and juicy, little-known details about the romances of many queer legends, makes this a book worth returning to again and again. It turns out that we do have models after all, and Wilde elucidates this heritage with taxonomic specificity, but also with the light touch of a neighbor relating news over the backyard fence. 

Divided into seven chapters, Wilde enumerates various patterns. These patterns are fascinating because of what they reveal about history, and about the changing values in the dominant culture as well as within queer culture. Predictably, most well-known examples of Intergerational Love, for example, are from previous decades and centuries, dating back to Socrates and his young pupil and lover Alcibiades in the 5th century B.C.E. The author fascinates with lesser known couplings, like 13th-Century Persian mystic poet Rumi and his older, married lover Shams al-Din, who was murdered by one of Rumi’s jealous pupils. Other relationships went more smoothly, thankfully, including the thirty-three year romance of author Christopher Isherwood and the artist Don Bachardy, thirty years his junior. 

Revelations, at least to this reviewer, were the intergenerational relationships between 20th-Century writers Sara Teasdale and Margaret Conklin, as well as the passionate but short-lived romance between Martina Navratilova and Rita Mae Brown. Bringing the Pattern of Intergenerational Love to the present time, Wilde profiles the partnership of authors Malcolm Boyd and Mark Thompson. As Boyd writes to the younger Thompson, “I realize how thankful I am for your life, how precious our time together is, and what an extraordinary adventure we have embarked upon.”

Legacies of Love is chock-full of touching and revealing quotes and declarations of love, culled from love letters, poems, and historical documents. Many of these are timeless and prescient. Margaret Mead, who had a brief relationship with her professor Ruth Benedict, said, in the middle of the last century, “What is new is not bisexuality but rather the widening of our awareness and acceptance of human capacities for sexual love.” In addition to what queer readers can learn from these relationships, the book reminds the reader again and again what queer relationships have taught their participants; in the case of Margaret Mead and others, those personal lessons have been translated into intellectual, political, philosophical, spiritual, and artistic contributions. And of course, relationships teach us much about ourselves as well. In chapter 7, Pattern of Peer Love, Wilde quotes Paul Monette, who wrote of his late partner Roger Horwitz in 1988: “When we came together as lovers we knew precisely how happy we were. I only realized then that I’d never had someone to play with before.” 

In addition to its more thoughtful and poignant moments, Legacies of Love dishes the dirt on several Hollywood affairs and romances, including those of actors Cary Grant and Randolph Scott (pictured in the book washing dishes in the kitchen they shared while donning matching aprons), Marlene Dietrich and Claudette Colbert, and Laurence Olivier and Danny Kaye. 

Finally, Wilde explores several relationships of the Victorian and Modern eras to remind us, lest we forget, just how 
queer heterosexual relationships can be. In Pattern of Heterogender Love, Wilde gives equal time to the open and ahead-of-their time pairings of Calamity Jane and Wild Bill, Jane and Paul Bowles, and even the three-way relationship of Rudolph Valentino, Natacha Rambova and Alla Nazimova. Much can be gleaned from the courage and queerness these lovers exhibited in their own time and place. As Virginia Woolf’s lover, Vita Sackville-West wrote to her gay husband Harold Nicolson, “We are sure of each other, in this odd, strange, detached, intimate, mystical relationship which we could never explain to any outside person.” Luckily for us, Wilde has taken it upon himself to explain their relationship, and scores of others, in ways that inform our understanding not only of our queer past, but also of the loves, partnerships, and marriages we embark upon in our present lives.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Swish Beneath the Swagger: Liberating Our Queer Selves

Fans keep asking, "Brent—why no blog entry last week?" 

Actually, no one asked. But I create these little scenarios in order to justify writing another post at midnight when I should be sleeping. The answer to this koan is, I've been busy looking for full-time work, like a lot of folks these days. My hippie friends (that's most of my friends) insist it's because of Mercury retrograde. According to them, computers and other tech devices fail when Mercury seems to move backwards (as seen from Earth) several times each Earth year. 

It's a bad time to use electronic devices or sign contracts they tell me. I tell them I need to find a job.  Did Mercury make my computer crash, really? I tend to think it's because I make computers break by looking at them. Either way, I'm grateful to some wonderful friends for their help and support in getting back online. 

Owing to all this busy-ness, I haven't had time to report on some of my recent wanderings yet, so in the meantime I'm trotting out an older essay of mine. It made waves when it first appeared in the Bay Times in 2008 (I received more angry letters to the editor than just about any other editorial that year!) and led to my participation as an interviewee in the film The Butch Factor, now on DVD and appearing on the LOGO Network.

Christopher Hines, the multitalented director of The Butch Factor, a documentary about gay men's relationship with masculinity and with themselves, first saw my article in its longer form, "Queer Liberation? No Thanks, We'll Pass." The think piece first appeared on queer scholar and dandy phenom Trevor Hoppe's fabulous academic/populist online journal, Beyond Masculinity—which is also well-designed, clean and pretty, especially when you compare it to other academic-type sites. I  then went on to present "Queer Liberation?" at Hunter College in New York City at the "Twilight of Queer" conference in 2008. (Trevor, BTW, also appears as an interviewee in The Butch Factor, bringing a refreshingly un-butch irreverence to the doc.) 

An mp3 of me reading the essay (at about 15 minutes—not for sissies!) is available for free download here.

Or, you can read the shorter version here, edited by Lewis Nightingale, who coordinates the Bay Times' "Sparks!" column through his association with The Community Initiative, a local nonprofit whose mission is to help gay and queer men find community and thereby lessen depression, HIV risk, and the many other deleterious effects of isolation. The Community Initiative regularly sponsors support groups, retreats, political actions, and panel discussion. This Thursday, the Community Initiative is hosting a panel discussion titled "The State of Gay Media in SF" at 7pm at the GLBT Historical Society, 657 Mission Street #300 (between 3rd and New Montgomery). It's sure to get lively.

And now, here's that article I promised...

The Swish Beneath the Swagger: Liberating Our Queer Selves

Published: January 3, 2008 in the San Francisco Bay Times

photo by Rink for SF Bay Times

Having grown up in the Bay Area, I've witnessed many of my gay brothers metaphorphose over time. Now 32 [34 now] and having been outand politically active in the gay community here for half of my life, I often run into the skinny, soft boys I knew from queer youth groups in Hayward, Berkeley and Oakland, newly transformed into hulking Adonises. I even occasionally see some of them at the gym, where I seem to spend as much time as they do. We’ve abandoned our dreams of turning heterosexist norms on their heads and embracing our deviance. After years of trying to be accepted by our straight peers, we gave up and ran for the hills of San Francisco. There, we learned the same lesson over again that was drummed into our skulls as kids: If you want to make it in the world, kid, you’d better turn that swish into a swagger.
Despite living in what many refer to as the “Gay Mecca,” I still feel an intense pressure to conform, and the rules eerily resemble the ones that the jocks used to enforce in gym class. Don’t move your hands too much when you talk. Don’t lisp. Don’t smile or make eye contact with other boys (well, with one new proviso: only if you want to have sex with them). And don’t let anyone accuse you of being a 90-pound weakling. Get big, big, big. Size matters.
The Castro is full of men who are on their way to or returning from the gym. A lot of these guys would get winded just from walking to their mailbox, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at them. They’ve made a career out of pumping iron, all in the ironic effort to emulate the thugs who pantsed them in the schoolyard.
Don’t get me wrong - I’m certainly not immune. I understand the desire to be considered attractive and healthy, but there’s something frightening about a community of men who are bulking up their bodies to achieve some predetermined definition of masculine perfection, meanwhile neglecting the fragile psyches that drove them there in the first place. When I visit the Castro, I see a lot of hurt little boys hiding inside the suits of armor they’ve created. As gay men, I think it’s time we ask ourselves: What is the armor for? What, or whom, are we protecting ourselves from? From gay-bashers? Doubtful. If Stonewall taught us nothing else, it taught us that an artfully thrown beer bottle is far more effective at deterring physical assault than a high-definition six-pack. No, we’re protecting ourselves from one another - that is, we’re protecting ourselves from being rejected by other gay men. Having left our homes and old lives behind, we need desperately to find love and acceptance, and the possibility of being rejected yet again, by yet another community, for being soft and effeminate - or even sick, dirty, or contagious - is too much to bear. So we head to the gyms, there to sculpt physiques that look strong and healthy. Then we go to the locker rooms, where we keep our heads down and hone our finely tuned peripheral vision, just as we did in high school. If we make connections there at all, it is in the steamrooms, where faces and eyes are obscured.
It’s a sad tale, I know, and one I fear will add a new label to my already-chafing nape: cynic. Am I risking ostracism yet again? Who wants to be around a cynic, after all? After all those hours I’ve spent in the gym, the last thing I want to do is earn the scorn of other gay men. But if I am critical, it’s because I’m an idealist. It’s because I love men, and gay men in particular. And I think we can contribute more than we currently do - to ourselves, to each other, to the broader culture. I believe our presence as queer outsiders in a heteronormative world is illuminating. But we can only bring our own kind of light to the world if we are, in fact, present - here, now. Present to the reality that we will never gain political, social, or personal acceptance by disappearing ourselves, subsuming ourselves to bland, outmoded notions of masculine identity.
Queer liberation means being accepted as we are. For that to happen, we must each start by accepting, and being, fully ourselves - masculine, feminine, somewhere in the middle, or maybe somewhere entirely outside of the gender binary. We’re almost there, too. In coming out of the closet, we jettisoned expectations about who we were supposed to be in order to find out who we really were. Along the way, many of us gathered with other gay men in urban enclaves. And although it’s understandable that once there, we reverted to imposing those old, familiar expectations on each other, that strategy hasn’t brought us any closer to personal or political liberation. It’s time to make a change.
It’s time to let go of those tired old expectations and give ourselves permission to be who we really are. This will require letting go of a lot of fear, the fear that drove us into the closet in the first place: the fear that we would be punished for failing to be just like the other guys in the locker room. But guess what? Now we are just like the other guys in the locker room, in the gyms we’ve made for ourselves in places like the Castro - so why are we still afraid? If we let go of the fear and look each other in the eye, we will see ourselves in each other. We will see the beautiful, queer, imperfect boys - and men - that we were meant to be all along.