Friday Jukebox: Shape of My Heart (Sting)

For this week's Friday Jukebox, I decided to step into the way-back machine.  And yes, I picked this song partly because he's singing about clubs, hearts, spades, and diamonds - but it's always been one of my favorites.

Sadly (or happily, depending on your point of view), this song was recorded in the days before every single that was sent to the radio stations got the "full" treatment on video.  Some, like this one, were mostly shots of the performer sitting with the band, and singing.  The imagery in the lyrics could have been translated into some amazing visuals, I think - more than just a few random (lovely, but random) shots of the English countryside). And I always pictured Sting playing the lonely card player he's singing about here.  But watching Sting simply play a guitar and sing is never a bad thing either.


The American Nightmare

So yesterday, Barack Obama unveiled his birth certificate.  He's the first President in our history to do so.  And if that weren't sickening enough, Donald Trump followed up with a press conference of his own, congratulating himself for forcing Obama's hand.

I've read a lot of opinions in the last 24 hours about both men, in newspapers and on the blogosphere.  But most of these opinionators dodged what I feel is the most important question.  It's a question that was posed to me by a colleague who I think might have been fighting back tears when she said to me, "Why the f*ck does anyone care what the hell Donald Trump has to say, anyway?"

And the sad truth is that ... we do. We. Us. All of us.  Love him or hate him (and please, count me in the latter camp), we're interested in what he has to say.  And this is a sad truth for one sad reason: he's loaded.

I blame the American Dream.

Folks in this country generally understand "The American Dream" as the belief that if you work hard enough, you can be as successful as you want to be.  It doesn't matter where you were born, or who your parents were, or the color of your skin, or whatever challenges life has thrown your way.  And because this is America, we generally understand "successful" to be synonymous with "rich."  Believing in the American Dream is important to us, and there's no denying that it works for some people (Exhibit A: Oprah.  Exhibit B: Barack Obama, himself).

But we, as a nation, need to do some growing up when it comes to the American Dream.  Because we've confused the idea that it's possible with the notion that it's possible for everyone.  I've often wondered why so many working class Americans consistently vote against their own economic interests in favor of the billionaires, and I'm beginning to wonder if it's because they're voting in the interests of their perceived futures.  After all, they're all working really hard.  And this is America.  So who's to say that they won't be billionaires themselves someday?  Except, of course, that they won't all be.

And there's another downside to the myth of the American Dream, and it's this: we've bought into the notion that intelligence, work ethic, and character will make you rich in this country, and have slowly come to believe that the reverse is also true: that riches are a sign of intelligence, work ethic, and character.  And it's simply not true.

Let's take for example, The Donald.  Donald Trump is the very opposite of a self-made man.  He made a fortune by being born to rich parents.  Period.  Now, I'm not suggesting that people who inherit money are automatically arrogant, ethically misguided, stubborn assholes with bad hair (although that's certainly true in Donald's case).

What I am suggesting is that the size of your bank account has no correlation to your intelligence or character, whatsoever - no matter how you made your money.  I'm suggesting that we, as a nation, should judge who merits our attention based on a person's words and actions, because a person's words and actions are a much better gauge of a person's intelligence and character than the size of his/her bank account.  And using this test, Donald Trump fails miserably.  As James Poniewozik so astutely noted yesterday ...
Trump's remarks literally began, "I am very proud of myself." Because of course he is. Because who wouldn't be proud to have cynically embraced a toxic nutjob theory, on the basis of no good evidence, questioning the President's legitimacy, then having his suspicions shown to be an Al Capone's vault? Who wouldn't be proud to have turned himself from a national punchline into a national punchline with a shot at a Presidential nomination, through sheer, up-by-the-bootstraps pandering to Internet conspiracists? That takes talent, folks!
And there you have it.  Donald Trump has a ton of money.  That doesn't make him worth your time, or mine.


A Closet with a View

“I just don’t understand why anyone has to talk about their sex lives at work,” she said. “I don’t talk about my sex life at work.”

She was a participant in a diversity class, and the topic of sexual orientation in the workplace had just been raised. As a workplace diversity educator, her statement was one that I’d heard many times before. She didn’t have anything against gay people, she said, but why did they have to bring such a private thing into the workspace? Isn’t it possible, she wondered, to show up, do the job, and wait until quitting time to be gay?

It was tempting for me, someone who has been openly gay in the workplace for over a decade now, to respond with, “well, I don’t know … couldn’t you just show up, do your job, and wait until quitting time to be straight?” But she wouldn’t have understood. To her, and to most of America, being straight isn’t sexual; it’s normal. Being gay, on the other hand, is a different matter entirely. And it is different, I suppose. But not entirely.

And so, in situations like this, I tend to take a couple of steps back and approach the situation with perhaps more gentleness than necessary. While it might be oddly comforting and infinitely more satisfying to simply tell this woman how ignorant she is and how bigoted she sounds, my goal in teaching these courses is not to emerge victorious, but to create change.

“Let’s say that it’s your first day on the job,” I propose. “And let’s say that it’s very important to you that no one at your new workplace knows for a fact that you are heterosexual.”

And she looks a little confused. Why on earth, she must be wondering, would she want to do that? And her reaction is telling. Some of the more progressive thinkers in the class give her a knowing smile – pointed, but not condescending.

“Just play along,” I say. “You don’t want anyone at your new office to know, for a fact, that you’re straight.” There’s a slight pause, to let the concept sink in. “What do you have to do differently?” I ask. “What steps must you take to ensure that your secret is safe?” And now, she suspects where I’m headed with this, but is still silent. So I make a gesture, opening the question to the entire class.

And the answers come quickly. “You couldn’t discuss your husband or wife,” one participant offers. “If anyone asks what you did over the weekend,” another replies, you’d have to talk around the fact that your spouse even exists.”

“You couldn’t even talk about your kids,” a young woman in front offers. There’s actually some resistance to this point, as many in the class correctly point out that lots of people, straight and gay, are raising children these days. “Yes,” she offers, “but as soon as you open that door and start talking about your family, it would be really hard not to acknowledge your co-parent at some point. I think it would be better to just leave all that stuff at the door, so you’re a professional and nothing more.”

“What else,” I ask. You couldn’t take personal calls at work. You’d have to take your wedding ring off. (“And how does your spouse feel about that?” I ask. And the class acknowledges that, even knowing the reasons why, that would be a particularly painful negotiation to conduct.)

One gentleman in the back of the class offers, “you’d have to ‘gay it up’ a little.” People laugh, but I pursue the comment. I ask the man what he means. “Well,” he says, “if I didn’t want people to know I was straight, I’d want to throw them off track a little, you know … act sort of gay.” Even if that’s not who you really are, I ask. Yes, he replies, even then.

Finally, the young woman in front speaks up again. “You’d have to find one or two people at work that you really trust,” she says. “That way, you could tell them and at least feel like someone at work has your back.”

“But this is a big secret,” I note, “and once it’s out, it’s out. I mean, that’s some pretty good gossip right there. So first of all, how could you be sure that these one or two people are absolutely trustworthy? And even if they are, is it really fair to them, burdening them with this secret of yours?”

“Well,” she says, “I mean … well … it wouldn’t be easy, I guess.”

“So,” I say, “this is now your life at work; this is your reality. Are you happy? Do you like your job?” There are no words, but several people are shaking their heads from side to side. “Do you like the people you work with?” Again, no one speaks, but there are more than one shrugging of the shoulders, as if to say that there’s no liking or disliking anyone that you never really get to know. “Now let’s say you’ve been at this job for a year, and your first performance review is happening. Your boss likes your work, but tells you that you’re going to need to do a better job of networking. ‘Building relationships,’ she’ll say, ‘is really important at this company, and people don’t really feel like they know you. Just open up a little,’ she says. What do you say?” And again, there is silence.

“I quit,” says the gentleman in the back. And people laugh. But my attention has now turned back to the woman who raised this issue to begin with. She’s not laughing. And I think, maybe, that now she gets it.

This essay also appears at Pam's House Blend and the blog The Human Race Horses.


An Open Letter to Bancroft, PLLC

To: bancroft@bancroftpllc.com

Date: April 25, 2011

Subject: DOMA

To Whom It May Concern:

I'm writing not as a stakeholder of your firm, but simply as a citizen of the United States, to express my disappointment at the news that your firm will be defending the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act.

Dr. Martin Luther King, borrowing from Rev. Theodore Parker, said that "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."  In the specific case of justice for lesbian and gay Americans, this arc isn't nearly as long as we thought it would be.  The rate at which Americans are rejecting the discrimination and hatred foisted at their lesbian and gay neighbors is astonishingly quick, and the direction of the debate is unmistakable.  That DOMA is unconstitutional (and it is) is almost beside the point; in less than a generation's time, the law (if it survives the courts) will simply be overturned by the nation's legislature out of sheer public pressure - and if your firm continues in its current direction, it will be recorded in the nation's history as a key player on the wrong side of the fight.

Truth be told, I never heard of your firm until this morning; now, you are likely forever linked in my mind (and the minds of millions of Americans for whom the equal rights of lesbian and gay Americans are of interest) with a law that the President of the United States and the nation's Attorney General have rightly deemed unconstitutional and therefore indefensible.

And forever is a long time.


Red Seven
Washington, DC


An Answer in the Affirmative

This essay was originally written in 2007, but my opinion - like so many of my opinions - remains relatively unchanged.

When I was in college, our school newspaper featured an editorial page. Each week, two columnists would present opposite points of view on the issues of the day. It was a Jesuit school - Catholic, yes, but a very liberal brand of Catholic - and there weren't too many topics that were taboo. As I recall, abortion and gay rights were both discussed and debated, from both sides, numerous times.

One week, the topic was "Affirmative Action."

The young woman who favored affirmative action used a lot of the concepts we still hear today -- that women and people of color have been historically disenfranchised and underrepresented, and that affirmative action, while not perfect, is a tool that society can use so long as it is still necessary, and went on to argue that it was still necessary, and she then laid out some statistics to bolster her case.

The young man who opposed affirmative action told one simple story. It was the story of another young man, who happened to be white. This young, innocent white man earned a grade point average of 4.0 while in high school, and was in fact the valedictorian of his graduating class. In addition, he was the president of the student council and the star of the football team. He was universally loved by his teachers and fellow students. All agreed that he was destined for great things.

But ... (cue the threatening music) ... he was denied access to our school to make room for ... (gasp!) ... black people.

Well, right away, I knew something was fishy about this story. I was not the valedictorian of my class (and it was a small class), nor did I receive a 4.0 grade point average. I was not the president of my student council, and I never set foot on the football field unless it was to sneak a cigarette during lunch. Most of my teachers liked me, but I'm sure there were one or two who thought that I was only "okay" -- more than a few times I was told that I wasn't living up to my academic potential. What the hell, I thought ... I'm having fun, and a 3.7 grade point average doesn't exactly suck.

This was my story ... and I got into this school. And if I could get into this school, then the perfect boy who was sculpted out of cream cheese certainly should have been able to survive the admissions process. And if anyone should have been denied access to our particular institution of higher learning to make room for a disenfranchised other, it should have been me.

This mythic kid was just that, I figured -- a myth. Upon reading both essays twice, I determined that the young woman had several valid points and that the young man who couldn't stop praising this imaginary victim of "reverse racism" (I hate that term, and only use it in a mocking tone) had just made the whole thing up. I made a mental note in that moment, that people who argue against equality and fair treatment for everyone are very often full of crap.

But something just occurred to me a couple of days ago. And now, I don't think that the mythic boy, the stuff of legends, the epitome of everything that's right with America was made up at all. I think he was completely real. And I believe that everything that our young anti-affirmative action activist wrote about him was absolutely true. Except that he left out one crucial detail.

The kid was home-schooled. C'mon, think about it.


Happy Eggs and Bunnies Day

It's Easter.  For many, it's the most important day of their faith calendar.  For others, it's the first time they'll go to church all year.  For folks like me, it's just another Sunday.

I glided from twice-a-year Catholic into agnosticism back in 2006 or 2007, and became a full-on atheist a year or so later.  (Funny, as agnostics and atheists by definition don't organize, there aren't rituals to welcome you into the non-faith community, so my dates are a little fuzzy).

It's been an interesting journey, and more or less a happy one.  Which is why it's always such a surprise when people put on the long face after hearing of my new secular outlook.  Once, a very well-meaning acquaintance said to me with quivering voice, "I just think it's so sad that you lost your faith."

It took everything I had to not respond with, "I didn't lose it.  I know just where I put it.  But thanks for your concern."

I used to say that I wasn't one of those angry atheists; that I don't care what anyone else believes so long as they keep their religion out of my laws and don't try to coerce me to follow their far-fetched religious notions as my only legal option.  Y'know, dumb things like you can't buy alcohol on Sunday, or two gay people can't get married.  That kind of stuff, that has no real justification other than the Biblical - in a society that is increasingly diverse, religiously, wherein not everyone follows the Bible as the best guide to a moral life.

Then I met Shorebird (not his real name), my, um -- boyfriend?  I guess that's the right word.  We share a house and a bed, but we haven't applied for a marriage license, even though we live in one of the relatively few places in America where the document would be legally binding.  "Domestic partner" seems a little sterile - but that's another topic for another day.

Anyway, when I first went out with Shorebird, his Facebook profile said, "Christian."  And I thought, "well ... this could be a problem.  Not with me, I mean ... I'm one of those open-minded atheists, but he might not appreciate where I'm coming from, and -- oh hell, just go out with him and see what happens.  He is awfully cute."

And on the third date or so, I broached the topic of religion.  And to my relief, he wasn't as stolid a Christian as I might have first imagined.  In fact, he was struggling with the idea of faith quite a bit.  And by "struggling," he was beginning to wonder if it all wasn't just a load of Bronze Age hogwash.  I innocently suggested he listen to a brilliant work by Saturday Night Live alum Julia Sweeney called "Letting Go of God."  It had helped me come to terms with being a big, bad, atheist - and if it didn't have the same effect on him, it might give him some things to think about - or a quick chuckle.

Fast forward six months or so, and Shorebird has embraced atheism full on.  (Where's my toaster oven?  Just sayin'.)

But he didn't stop at Julia Sweeney.  He now reads Sam Harris, Dan Barker, and his personal favorite, Christopher Hitchens, with relish.  And his brand of atheism is just a shade angrier than mine.  Once, I thought it would be fun to watch a documentary called "Jesus Camp."  I had seen the film in theatres before, and it had given me a good laugh.  So I got my hands on the DVD, and to my mild disappointment, Shorebird didn't think it was funny.  He later described it as "watching child abuse for two hours."  Turns out that his upbringing (as a Pentecostal, where folks spake in tongues with alarming frequency) was a little more intense than my Catholic upbringing (all of that eating the Lord's flesh notwithstanding), and he had been left with considerably more scars.  And he's given me a lot to think about.

I still don't feel a lot of anger toward religious people; rather than shake my fist, I'm much more inclined to just shake my head.  But I'm inching toward that anger, especially when I see innocents (and that includes most kids, and certainly the gay ones) being put through the religious ringer.  You might think that gay kids committing suicide was something terrible that happened last summer, when a new story about a gay suicide hit the news wire every other day.  The truth is that gay kids have been killing themselves at a fairly steady rate for years, a rate that continues today, even though that story in 2011 no longer seems new.

So all this is to say, I'm ambivalent.  Which isn't saying much, I realize.  But it's an ambivalence that is especially present for me today, the most important day of my former faith calendar.  But I'm not anti-Easter, not at all.  For instance, I don't really have anything against bunnies and eggs, mostly because some of them are made out of chocolate and to the best of my knowledge, ancient pagan fertility rites never made people feel bad about their sexuality - just the opposite, I would imagine.

Happy Eggs and Bunnies Day, everyone.


Book Report: Water for Elephants

I originally wrote this review back in 2007, but am re-posting now, as the film version comes out today, and sometimes people wonder, when a film-based-on-a-book comes out, if they should read the book first.  More thoughts on that at the end of the piece.

Usually, when I visit the adoptive lesbian moms at the beach, I bring along a book -- something to read during the occasional quiet moment, or to ease the passage between awake and sleep each night.

Unfortunately, during my recent Thanksgiving trip, which will forever be known for its deliciously slow pace and bounteous quiet moments, I'd forgotten the book I was reading. And maybe I left it at home on purpose; even though I think the author is a literary genius, for some reason this particular book wasn't drawing me in. My unconscious mind might have very well set me up to be a hundred miles from home and without a book to read.

"I forgot to pack my book," I said to one of the moms as we were walking around downtown Rehoboth, and just happened to be strolling toward my favorite independently owned bookstore in town.

"I know just the thing," she said in reply as we made a sharp right turn through the front doors.

Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen, is a really fast read. I actually finished it more than a week ago and had sort of forgotten that I blog about books I've read after I've read them -- that's because I spent so long trying to finish that book by that literary genius that never really hooked me.

It's about a kid who almost graduates from an Ivy League school with a degree in veterinary sciences, and who ends up, quite accidentally, on a train inhabited by circus performers and workers. He takes a menial job shoveling manure and other unpleasant tasks, but when his medical skills become known, he is quickly elevated to a much higher post, and assumes care for "the menagerie," a collection of animals including giraffes, lions, panthers, horses, and the like. It's also about the 93-year-old man that the circus kid eventually grows up to be. Occasionally, we'll break from the circus narrative to spend a moment of ennui in the horrible, clinical nursing home. These passages are sweet, and the give the reader a chance to catch his/her breath while reminding him/her, by comparison, how exciting a life in the circus really is.

The novel starts out with a prologue. No characters are introduced to you, and you're in the middle of a chaotic scene. Something has gone wrong. The band is playing "Stars and Stripes Forever," which is a secret code to all who work the circus that something has gone horribly, terribly wrong. The animals are stampeding, and our narrator is searching for someone named Marlena. When she is found, our narrator is witness to a murder. And then we move on to Chapter 1.

Whether or not the novel works has a lot to do with this prologue, actually. While reading the novel, I suspected that the author would eventually return me to this chaotic scene, and she did. And I assumed that when we got there the second time, it would make a lot more sense, and it did. What I didn't expect was that there would be a delightful surprise there, a tiny bit of information that wasn't included in the initial passage that changes ... well, everything. And if I say more, I'll give it away, so I won't.

Nonetheless, the prologue isn't perfect. When I read the very first paragraphs of the novel, which is written entirely in the first person, I assumed that the narrator was a woman. He's not, but the author is -- an assumption without merit, I suppose, but novelists who write in the first person usually voice characters much like themselves: same race, same gender, usually the same sexual orientation. When a man writes from a woman's perspective and does it well (She's Come Undone and Memoirs of a Geisha come to mind), it's considered a mild form of genius, but for all the praise I've heard about Gruen's novel, no one has singled out her ability to write in the male voice -- and they really should. Yes, I suppose that women have to know a lot more about men to get on in the world than vice versa, but Gruen's insight is uncanny, including moments when the narrator describes the shame of being a twenty-year-old virgin, his humiliating first sexual experience, his much more satisfying second sexual experience, and how he, at age 93, still regards his penis as something almost separate from himself. It's all sort of amazing.

Anyway, back to the prologue, which I appreciated because it sent the reader straight into the action, saving the exposition until later when the reader is already in a state of entrancement, but lost some of its edge when, halfway into the novel, I had sort of forgotten about. Thinking back, I wish I had taken a moment at about the hundred-page mark to re-read the prologue. At that point, having already met the beautiful and talented Marlena, I would have been just frantic to know exactly what the hell happened there.

And the other thing that strikes me about this book, what strikes me about a lot of books, is the title. Titles are very curious things. They can either be crucial to the book's meaning or something strictly designed to sell copies. I doubt that "Water for Elephants" was dreamt up for commercial reasons; without the recommendation of the adoptive lesbian mom, I'm not sure it would have ever captured my interest. But after reading the book itself, I think it's a brilliant choice. We first hear the phrase "water for elephants" in one of the nursing home scenes. A new arrival to the clinic brags of his experience working the circus as a young man. "I used to carry water for the elephants," he says, and our narrator immediately knows him for a liar. Apparently a lot of young men of that era claimed to be water carriers for the elephants, but no such job ever existed, and those who claimed to do that job were deceivers. Our narrator gets quite worked up over the liar in his midst, until a kind nurse reminds him that, even if it's not true, the old man believes that he carried water for elephants. Therefore, he might not be a liar, even if his story isn't true. And so the title evokes all kinds of meaning, about the power of memory (this is, after all, a tale told by a 93-year-old man about his 20-year-old life), and the way we remember things the way we wish they were rather than as they actually happened. And it also speaks to the power of illusion, which is what a circus is really all about anyway.

I heartily recommend this novel; it's a great read, with lively characters (I never even talked about Kinko, Uncle Al, or Old Camel) and an instantly recognizable backdrop that never ceases to surprise. It's gritty and sexy. While it might not have been as artful as Wasserstein's Elements of Style or moving as Kent Haruf's Plainsong, it's easily the most fun I've read this whole year.

So yeah, I'd recommend this - why not?  It's a fun, breezy read - but if you're inclined to see the film first, it might not be worth going back to the book later - assuming, of course, that the film is well done and enjoyable.  I will admit that the main reason I still remember this book fondly was a surprise at the end that I have not and will not give away here - and the movie will spoil that - assuming, of course, that the script is faithful to the source - and in this case, why wouldn't it be?

Friday Jukebox: I Wrote the Book (Beth Ditto)

"Friday Jukebox" is a fun thing I like to do when there's a song - new or old - that I'd like to "spin" ... I'm not promising that there'll be a song here every Friday, but it's a fun little tradition I'd like to pick back up again.

Most of the songs are likely to be older rather than newer.  But I thought I'd start things off by at least pretending to be current.  This song was the free download of the week last week on iTunes, and since I'm a fan of Beth Ditto, I thought I'd grab it.  I was surprised that it was so reminiscent of '80s disco, and not the rockin' stuff she sings as frontwoman of The Gossip.  But I immediately liked it - I think mostly I just like her.  And yes, if I'm honest, part of it is that I admire her chutzpah.  She's a big girl, she owns it, and she's sexy as hell - more because of it than in spite of it.

And yes, I realize the whole black-and-white, hotel room with a slutty vibe thing is totally "Justify My Love," I prefer to think of it as an homage rather than a rip-off.  Discuss.


Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum

In 1986, when I was fifteen, I saw the film Cabaret for the first time. Before the year was over, I had probably watched that one movie at least forty times, and I’ve probably seen it forty times since. As one might expect, I can quote entire scenes from memory. Additionally, I seem to have memorized every note of the score, every dance step, every camera angle, every raised eyebrow.

I didn’t know why I loved Cabaret so much. One might blame Brian, the character played by Michael York, the leading man in the film’s seemingly heterosexual love story. He’s gay. The first time I saw the film, the discovery of Brian’s true sexuality hit me like a ton of bricks; I sat in my living room, mouth agape, literally unable to move. Even today, I’m taken aback when I hear Brian speaking his truth for the very first time.

So yes, although I’d remain in the closet for another ten years, there was likely some sort of unconscious recognition of myself there. But years later, I now know what truly drew me to insert this particular cassette into the VCR over, and over, and over … and her name was Liza.

Every gay man seems to have a diva of choice, and mine is and forever will be Liza Minnelli. In college, I wore out my copies of “Live at Carnegie Hall” and “Liza with a ‘Z’”; in the early 90s, I saw her live in concert three times. I realize that she is now perceived by many as a parody of her former self, but I don’t care. Fat, thin, out of rehab or on the way back in, single or married to yet another gay husband, I just love her.

Logic would dictate that as a homosexual man, I would have chosen a different sort of person to worship. And by different I mean … I don’t know, another man? Mel Gibson had chiseled features, a sculpted physique, and some semblance of sanity in the mid-1980s … why not Mel? Why not any number of handsome (male) matinee idols?

I know that I’m not alone among gay men when it comes to the diva thing. Few adore Liza Minnelli to the extent that I do, but whether you’ve chosen Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, Diana Ross, Cher, Joan Crawford, Bette Midler, Lucille Ball, Dorothy Dandridge, Bette Davis, Madonna, J-Lo, Tallulah Bankhead, BeyoncĂ©, or Christina Aguilera (or some combination of the above); many (if not most) gay men of all generations have pledged their devotion to one or more icons who speak to our collective soul.

Why do we love them so much? There are likely as many answers as there are divas to choose from, but they do share several things in common.

First of all, they love us as much as we love them. A true diva knows that she has struck gold when she wins the hearts, minds, and wallets of gay men everywhere. Compare us to other groups of fans, and we rank up there with Deadheads as the most loyal followers in America. Also, they’re really good at what they do. Whether it’s singing, acting, dancing, looking fabulous, or reinventing their public persona every three years, there’s a standard of quality that cannot be undermined. Taken as a group, the gay guys have always exuded exceptional taste.

But I have a theory about our beloved icons. I believe that gay men love these tough-as-nails, glamorous, gutsy broads because they validate our existence every time they teach us that you don’t have to be masculine in order to be strong.

I’m fully aware that the stereotype of the mincing, effeminate gay man is just that: a stereotype. There are some gay men that fit that description, and there are also others, who are jocks, bookworms, bikers, preppies, cowboys, etc. But almost all of us have felt the sting of discrimination at some point in our lives; we’ve all been called names. Faggot. Homo. Plus a few others that are unprintable here. But it’s not uncommon for gay men to be called simply: Girl. Pansy. Fairy. You can be as butch as you want to be, but there’s no escaping that for many homophobes, you’re as low as a man can get because you’ve made yourself a woman, and there can’t be anything worse than that.

Enter the diva. She’s undeniably female, and stronger than any man in her path. She’s probably been criticized at some point for being somehow less than ladylike. Ball-breaker. Man-eater. If nothing else, she’s a survivor, proving her strength not through attitude, but simply by standing back up every time life knocks her down. We don’t simply enjoy these women; we need them. We need them to be tough, we need them to be fabulous, we need them to be unafraid. And when the world is cold, we need them to belt it to the rafters, “What good is sitting all alone in your room? Come, hear the music play. Life is a cabaret, old chum. Come to the cabaret.”

This essay was originally written for "Letters from CAMP Rehoboth," a newsletter serving the gay, lesbian, and straight communities of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware