One of Your Own Kind, Stick to Your Own Kind

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On paper, Arizona’s Bill SB1062 – the controversial measure that has crossed Governor Brewer’s desk allowing businesses to refuse service to LGBT people on religious grounds – isn’t even worth a reappropriation to toilet tissue. Plain and simple it is discrimination, no matter what the Libertarians or Republicans want to cite about “religious freedom.” It is gross misconduct, a backwards step in our history, and should be fought, teased, and reviled by anyone who gives a shit about truth, justice, and the American Way. A person elected to look after the interests of ALL of her constituents shouldn’t need tacit threats from important corporations and a possible economic windfall to do the right thing.

Yet, if I take a step back and look at the larger picture here, remove myself from the political ramifications of such an action, and forget for a second that it is designed to keep out people like me and my husband, I understand and even agree with its sentiment: human beings feel more comfortable, more safe, and maybe even happier around other people like them.

This weekend was bursting with these types of feelings. On Saturday, I accompanied Julian to his Gay Basketball League’s draft party. We sat around eating pizza, drinking, and playing pool while a small group of team captains deliberated and traded players. One of these players, seated on the couch next to us no less, leaned in with a friendly handshake to introduce us to his…girlfriend. Julian and I shared one of those married looks, those silent “Did you hear what I heard?”s, putting me if not us both on watch; our group had been infiltrated by…one of them. Within those first few seconds, the familiar question of “How should this change my behavior?” washed over me. I thought, “Does everyone else know there is a hetero among us? Do they also think it is odd? Why would a straight guy specifically join a gay group? Is he bi? ‘Ex-gay’? Does he have a gay brother and is trying to prove something to his bigoted family?” Or maybe he just likes to play basketball with his friends. I kept drinking and it went to the back of my mind. I could continue with my gay behavior. We could all continue with our gay behavior. Obviously he is OK with us and accepts our many shades of Shade.

We left the draft party to go play Mafia at my friend’s house, a gay friend. Going from such a homosexual event, minus the token straight guy and his beard…I mean girlfriend…I was unsure of how this would go down. Would we be the token ones here (minus the host of course), trying to figure out which versions of our gayness to exhibit? Would it be full of obnoxious hags, the absolute worst of the feminine gender, constantly proving how comfortable they are with the interracial gay couple across the room? Or would it be an assortment of people – just people – playing a game?

Last night, Julian and I had a RuPaul’s Drag Race premiere party and very specifically ONLY invited gay men. Not even lesbians (the whole two we are friends with) were welcome. Of course, women and some straight men like Drag Race; there were enough of them at the Battle of the Seasons show to prove that. But we wanted to share this experience, our yearly joy, to build upon the innumerable great memories we have of RuPaul with other gay men. To sit around, snap our fingers, purse our lips, and All T All Shade, call not only the queens on the screen but the queens in our living room out on their bullshit. To connect with people like us.

Part of me thinks I should harbor some kind of guilt about these feelings. That I have no right to be a hypocrite. That yes, we should embrace all types of people. Yes, we should specifically seek out people that are different than us in order to grow, to evolve, to learn. Yes, we should see past the things that separate us and focus on the things that unite us. But there is also something beautiful, something intangible, something nurturing about surrounding ourselves with others who share a common experience. Every group – whether the borders are drawn along religious, racial, sexual, or other lines – have magical things about them someone outside of the group cannot understand no matter how much integration or empathy or well intended political correctness one can muster. However, those borders get really shaky when the lines are drawn on Hate. There is a delicate balance between celebrating one’s group and putting down another by keeping them out. I think we have to embrace this balance, never forgetting what it’s like to be on the receiving end of having the door closed in our face. To be proud of who we are, to celebrate what makes us different, but never to let fear or hate or feelings of superiority make our decisions for us.

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‘Cause You Got to Have Friends

The best part of marriage is the insular universe you create. The secret jokes. The unspoken understandings. The living-in-your-underwear-on-the-couch-ordering-take-out-watching-reality-TV-and-playing-with-the-dog nightly rituals. The characters you become during sex. And the comfort to actually be the most authentic version of yourself you are capable when another person is present.

But one of the downfalls of marriage is that same insular universe. The friendships you once had transform for the lesser if they don’t all but disappear. The feeling of self shifts from an I to a We. The what-should-we-do-tonight-I-don’t-care-what-do-you-want-to-do-tonight ping pong game that results in neither of you really doing what you want to do because you feel an obligation to hang out even though maybe you just want to read a book. The characters you become (in spite of yourself) during sex. And the old baggage you sometimes have to actively remember to forget.

Last night, Julian‘s basketball team had a game some 2 hours away and wasn’t going to be home until late. Finally! This was my chance to be alone. To hang out with someone else! To not have to consult about what to do. To make the decision MYSELF. I was not going to waste this respite. But what to do? And with whom?!

I knew I wanted to do something interactive. No wandering around the bookstore or going to the movies or listening to albums on The Rolling Stone 500 for me. This behavior was getting stale. Most of my days – Hell, most of my life – is spent inside my head, alone with my books, my movies, or my music. Or online “talking” with “friends.” Or with Julian. Or the ever adorable, yet silent Dodger. I needed some old fashioned human connection. A conversation. A face to face encounter.

But who the hell was I going to call? My longest friends, Joshua (the one with whom I volley relationship drama) and Trevor (the one with whom I trade texted quips), live hundreds of miles away. The smatterings of people I could imagine spending an evening with and not feeling like immense amounts of catch up would be involved were either busy or non-responsive (this is what you get trying to make plans the afternoon of…). Then there was the fear of the ever important balance of personalities and egos crucial to assembling a group of strangers. Would her loquacious nature be overpowering to his stoic grace? Do I assemble a group of burners or drunks? And if someone doesn’t do either, would that be awkward? Where do I want my own presence to situate? Center of attention? Or passive observer? And would people from the Valley really drive to LAX during rush hour? A very small list developed. And as usual, Maureen came to the rescue.

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Maureen and I met back in my Party Staff days, catering to the stars for our measly $11 an hour. I was drawn to her bubbly personality that seemed to balance out my work persona of Fuck These People and This Party. She is the person I count on to bring me out of whatever funks I’m in because she is relentlessly chipper, borderline obnoxious. She reminds me that somewhere in here I am kind. And maybe I shouldn’t pretend so hard that I am not a nice person. (Incidentally, one of the new executives at work, also named Maureen, recently complemented me on my work ethic and its accompanying smile; maybe I am not as self-aware and calculating as I think…). When Maureen #1 is sober, she reminds me of my mom when she is drunk, the good time Sally who wants everyone else to have a good time; when she is lifted, she plays like the sister I never had, listening to my (drunken) bullshit with an attentive ear and opens up my heart to things I usually wouldn’t let in without inebriation. So naturally we got drunk as soon as possible last night.

Since I so rarely am around other people – and I mean really around other people; the niceties of water cooler conversation don’t count… – there is usually this adjustment period. This jolt to remind myself, “Hey. Focus! Exist in the real world now.” I must find my way on how I want to relate, how I CAN relate, and how I probably should relate. Which is where booze and weed come into play.

This drunken relaxation, this sigh of relief, is not specific to my interactions with Maureen; they are indicative of my interactions with everyone. I would always choose to be drunk or high if I could. And when Julian and I are home alone, we are usually stoned. I can’t speak on what this does for him, but for me this helps box the ever-present anxiety into a corner and allows me to enjoy the moment in the moment instead of worrying about what the moment could mean. It helps expedite the aforementioned transition from Cerebral to Tangible and makes me a lot more willing and able to participate at a jovial level.

Maureen and I had a nice time, watching Rocky Horror complete with a running quotation commentary. Neither of us had seen the film for a long time, but some things just stick with you; we also tried to remember the Nicene Creed and actually got most of it – some things REALLY stick with you. We talked of family and work and it felt really nice to connect with someone who was not my husband. I wish we had had more time. Maybe next visit the transition will be shorter. Or the drinking will come sooner.

But quite early in the evening, almost from the moment I picked her up, I started wishing…that Julian was going to be home when we got there. All the excitement of having an evening to myself, a friend to myself, to momentarily enjoy the I instead of the We suddenly flew out the window and my full blown addiction to my husband started to creep into withdrawal stage. I needed my fix and I needed it now. Needed the way he pulls his green hoodie over his long hair. Needed the way he pauses the TV when a contestant says something incredulous. Needed the way he sings to himself with all those Lauryn Hill-isms and I join in and change the key. Needed his “Breakfast Can Wait” dance.

It reminded me that he is indeed my best friend after years of scoffing at the idea that your lover is, could be, or even should be. But what is a best friend if not the friend you like the best? And if you are going to marry your friend, making a commitment to be friends until you die, you better like him more than everyone else. Julian is the one person that I need to talk to every day, the one person that has seen the incredibly ugly creases and is still around, the one person whose presence, even on the bad days, still fills the room with hope and wonder. The one person that can make me swoon and sweat and scratch and claw despite almost six years of looking at his face.

But it doesn’t mean that he should be my ONLY friend. The We is wonderful, but so often I feel like I am letting the I get away from me. That I need to make excuses for myself. To defend my dissenting opinions. For those who only know me as bold and brash, there is a very equal part that is timid and terrified. I need to remember to reassert Jonathon. To not get so lost in the bliss that I can’t find my own way. And this means making human connections with other people. Stopping to listen. Waiting to care. Allowing others to be flawed. To collect different styles of friends to enlighten and expand and energize my own journey. To be a better friend to myself.

And then to come home, stronger, to the arms of my best friend.

Bad Cinema: W.E. (Dir: Madonna, 2011)

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“What have I done to deserve this?”

This quote happens somewhere past the midpoint and it perfectly sums up my thoughts on the movie. Actually, it sums up my feelings on this entire era of Madonna’s career. It’s all so baffling. After sticking by for twenty years, from Virgin to Dominatrix to Guru to Cowgirl to Hip Hop Diva, how could our leader abandon her throne in such a shameful way? This complete infantilization of her image, this constant string of embarrassment (the Anderson Cooper speech, the “secret” project, the grillz, the Miley episode, the Gaga episodes, her entire Instagram account, MDNA), this joke that she has become, slowly ruining her legacy at every turn. In this moment, “Vogue” is playing loudly in my headphones and I shake my head in frustrated nostalgia. Could this song be more perfect?! Or its performance at the VMAs in Victorian garb?! Or a slew of other moments that defined music, sexuality, and culture throughout the ’80s and ’90s and beyond? I need to know, Why Madonna? WHY! What have we done to deserve this?

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But we are here to talk about W.E., a terrible movie that would be terrible even if Madonna – an icon who has had her share of box office bombs and critical jeers – hadn’t written, directed, and produced it. The fact that Madge was at the helm just adds fuel to the fire, perhaps, I must admit, unfairly. I will say I have to give GW (that’s Grandma Whore, Trevor’s and my affectionate nickname for Ms. Ciccone…) credit for branching out and trying to conquer new mediums and material (this part of her legacy lives on). But it is done in such a ridiculous, horribly amateurish way I wish she hadn’t even tried.

Asleep at the wheel.

Asleep at the wheel.

Her “style” is definitely inspired by the Europeans: numerous close up shots of lighting cigarettes, the back of heads, feet walking, etc. in a shaky handheld; focusing on the atmosphere over plot (although never imbuing her characters with the requisite personalities – or giving them anything interesting to say; the dialogue is truly terrible – to overcome the lack of narrative); the use of “ghost” sequences between Wallis and Wally; and an array of beautiful clothes (the costumes were nominated for an Oscar). But her American sensibility comes out most ironically in her use of music, overscoring the film within an inch of its life. The most egregious moments are when Wally deals with her IVF drugs. During her injections and later when she smashes all of the vials in the kitchen sink, the music plays like a horror movie chase, making childbirth seem more terrifying than when Rosemary was pregnant.

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W.E. stands for Wallis and Edward, Simpson and Windsor respectively; the romance of the century; the American and the Heir, those mis-matched paramours who took down the British aristocracy with their love affair, abdicating the throne and changing history. Making a film about the Duke and Duchess of Windsor would have made for a wonderful story. And one fitting to Madonna’s own life: the paparazzi, the demonization, the dating “beneath your station” (Lourdes’ father was M’s personal trainer and Madonna has gone through quite the bevy of back up dancers…), the mystery; the same reasons she was well suited for Evita – incidentally, there are moments in which you feel like you are watching outtakes from Evita as you catch a profile glimpse of Wallis Simpsons’ very similarly styled young Eva Peron haircut and the films’ similar color palettes….And Madonna definitely infuses her own Madonna-isms (read, crude sexuality and juvenile humor):

– the security guard Romeo is wearing no underwear under his kilt and flashes the other security guard watching on screen
– the dance party to punk music where she dances with a bald black girl that could have come from the rank and file of her latest tour
– the bellboy getting distracted looking at Wally’s ass
– and lest we forget, the martyred parallels between her and her two lead women, the “No one told the story from her point of view” whine that seems to flash like neon, akin to Madonna’s own feminist brand of Girl Power

The whole damn affair just never adds up to any kind of catharsis or even a modicum of humanity. Madonna clearly set out to give their romance dignity or whatever that resembles in her universe, but spends so much time diverting our attention elsewhere that we are unable to give a shit about Wallis, the only even slightly two-dimensional character in the mess and presumably Madonna’s surrogate and reason for doing the project in the first place.

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There is a modern (1998, that is) parallel story of Wally – yes, named for the Duchess – a mousy housewife that is so obsessed with their “perfect” romance she spends every day all day in Sotheby’s pouring over their belongings that are about to be auctioned. She makes friends with the security guard, Evgeni, who then serves as the perfect romantic distraction from her distant semi-abusive husband (that’s funny! Wallis Simpson’s first husband was distant and abusive!). She wants a baby above all else, even going so far as to taking IVF drugs behind her husband’s back. Maybe she believes that a baby will make her husband love her like Edward loved Wallis. At the auction, she spends 10000 dollars (well, her HUSBAND spends 10000 dollars; he had “demanded” once upon a time for her not to work), let me reiterate 10000 dollars on a pair of Wallis’ gloves. Her level of obsession is borderline creepy. Really, the entire movie we are just watching a pathetic woman being pathetic. I wanted to reach through the screen, shake her, and demand that she got her goddamn life together. Especially when Madonna gives her no qualities in which we can root for her or a compelling back story to understand her life’s journey. She is vacant. Like the film.

W.E. cuts back and forth between these two stories to try and find some kind of connection, some lesson, but if it isn’t going to work with Amy Adams and Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia it certainly isn’t going to work with Abbie Cornish and Andrea Riseborough.

W.E. fails for many reasons – the slow-mo sequences alone almost kill the thing – but it is the lack of soul that does her in. Who are these people? Why do they want what they want? Why do they need it? And why should we care? Like its maker, the characters in W.E. remain an enigma, hiding behind a fog of style to desperately try and make up for their lack of substance.

***Rip van Winkle***

The Heterodox Homo and the Time His Husband Got Homogeneous

While reading up on cults – a semi-regular ritual of my days – I came across a word I didn’t know. Heterodox. Thinking it had something to do with sex, naturally I looked up its definition:

Heterodox (adj.) – not conforming with accepted or orthodox standards or beliefs.

So I was kind of right.

It seems funny that the very definition of my life, the very mantra by which I try and exist, was so perfectly encapsulated in a word I had never heard. And it seems all the more fitting to learn today, Valentine’s Day; a day that has never really meant all that much in the Saia/Michael household; a day that is met with eye rolls and feigned bouts of nausea; a a day for suckers who need to buy into the consumerist crap in order to say I Love You; a day for other people. Not us. Not these trailblazers.

One of the things that bonds Julian and me is our desire to live individually. We don’t really have friends in the traditional sense of hanging out or even purging our souls; we kind of just got each other. And the dog, but he’s not a really great listener. We value the unexpected, the unconventional, and spend most of our time in one way or another, analyzing the ideas of Right and Wrong, Black and White (literally and figuratively), and forging our own path through the woods, sexually, emotionally, and creatively.

So this morning when Julian asked me out to dinner for Valentine’s Day, I was of course surprised. This from the man whom when I mentioned the “holiday” off-handedly last week pretended to swallow imaginary vomit. We laughed, thought nothing more of it, and went back to watching Scream Queens. Our first Valentine’s Day – well, actually not our first Valentine’s Day; our first Valentine’s Day was when we met on gay.com and I tried to sleep with Julian, but he turned me down; something about trying to not sleep around anymore or whatever…it wasn’t until we were together a year that he reminded me that April 29, 2008 was not the first time we had spoken… – anyway, our actual first Valentine’s Day together as a couple was kind of awful – I was going through some serious bullshit – and ever since, we’ve never really done much of anything. Except that hot air balloon ride. That was pretty cool. So I thought, what the hell? Let’s go out.

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All my life I obsessed over Valentine’s Day. My mother was always my Valentine – I think that tells you something about our dynamic and my childhood – because when I was into girls (and there was a period I was into girls) they would do bullshit things like promise me a kiss and then give me a piece of Hershey’s and when I realized I was really into boys, no one was digging on me; to wit, my first crush’s birthday was February 13 so Valentine’s Day during high school was a dramatic event fit for a late-career Bette Davis. So without fail, Marge would give me a gift and a card and an array of my favorite candy (5th Avenue is my jam) way beyond the point where this would be considered “acceptable” – she even texted me this morning, 30 years old and married. I think she does it because we are bonded on this day, indicative of our symbiosis that has lessoned but will never completely disconnect, for better and for worse. It reminded me of the best note she ever gave me. Knowing that I was having a hard time in high school, lonely and afraid that I would never find love and acceptance, she wrote: “Happy Valentine’s Day. Someday this will be a very special day for you. Love, Mom.” Seems simple, but given the time and the emotions in our house, it was huge and inspirational.

And of course the sentiment came true. I found love in the form of Julian Gerard Michael, friend, partner, jokester, artist, puppy whisperer, teacher, sex machine. And now Husband. I am thankful everyday that he is mine. I don’t need some stupid consumerist holiday to prove it! Screw Hallmark and See’s and FTD and Kay’s. My man and I see right through your chicanery. And don’t need any of it.

Or do we? Do we show each other our appreciation “enough”? And what does that even mean? I’m not going to buy him some goddamn bear the size of our couch. Your commercials are ridiculous, Vermont Teddy Bear Co. And no, woman on the side of La Brea. I’m not going to buy your big pink heart shaped pillows or your bouquets of roses. But I’ve got to do something, right? The feelings of guilt and fear come over me, the feelings psychologists at ad agencies prey upon: I must show my love in material ways. But then I take my deep breath, the one that years of Blue Dreams have shallowed, and remember what this “holiday” is supposed to be all about. It’s about checking in. It’s about being present. It’s about getting off the couch and out of your pajamas. It’s about taking the time between dreams and distractions and dishes and the never ending drudgery of work to say, “Hey there. Remember me?” Of course, we don’t need a special day to do this. We should always be there for one another and listen and care and love and laugh. But we aren’t. We get complacent. Or caught up in our own bullshit. So I guess, against my heterodox nature, sometimes it’s nice to go with the flow, to engage in society’s traditions. No one says you have to do them like everyone else, that they have to mean the things we are told they should mean. Valentine’s Day, like love, is myriad. And specific to the one’s experiencing it.

So tonight I’m putting on my tie – and my new pair of underpants – and stepping out with my Valentine.

Bad Cinema: Spice World (Dir: Bob Spiers, 1997)

I know I should be focused on writing this piece, banging it out because I am behind and need to start cleaning for our UnSuperBowl Party, but I would rather continue lip-synching for my life to “Too Much” than worry about anything else. ‘Tis the magic of music. ‘Tis the magic of the Spice Girls.

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I’ve thought about writing this review for a while. Spice World is the perfect type of movie for Bad Cinema. Despite my love for its tacky glory. The soundtrack is of course the jam and the Girls are so….what? Who are the Spice Girls? Are you serious?

OK. For those of you over 35 and under 21, in the mid to late ’90s, the Spice Girls (Mel B., Mel C., Emma, Victoria, and Geri) were a Simon Fuller managed band as big as the Beatles in terms of sheer fan-domonium and hold the record, with over 80 million albums sold worldwide, as the best selling female group of all time. Yes. Better than Destiny’s Child and The Supremes. Their tours were sold out events, their merchandising rivaled Star Wars, and they sparked a global “girl power” movement. And now, over a decade past their prime, Sporty, Ginger, Scary, Baby, and Posh remain in the collective conscious as tongue in cheek jokes, as cheesy as their nicknames, flashes in the ever changing public’s pan, completely discrediting the fact that they can actually really sing; call it the One Direction Syndrome. Their eponymous debut is still a solid pop record, infused with R&B grooves (particularly the sultry crooner, “Say You’ll Be There,” which is the definition of WERKING…) and tight harmonies (“Mama”).

But their movie, Spice World, certainly doesn’t do them any favors as being taken “seriously” as a band. Maybe I am missing the boat in my indignation. One of the great things about The Spice Girls – and Spice World – is that they don’t take themselves seriously. They know it’s all a crazy ride and are enjoying every minute.

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Spice World is like A Hard Day’s Night for the ’90s, following the band through their adventures as they prepare for an important concert, stopping along the way to sing their hits. And there are many (mis)adventures: There is their cantankerous manager Clifford (Richard E. Grant) who must dispel the Bond villain type quips of the record label (Roger Moore) to the girls. There is the inept documentary crew (Alan Cumming) trying to get to the “truth” at the most inopportune times. There is the hungry producer (George Wendt) trying to pitch his own film to Clifford. There is the owner of a tabloid rag (Barry Humphries) who wants to see them sullied so badly he hires a creepy undercover photographer (Richard O’Brien) to catch them in a scandal. And lest we forget their extraterrestrial fans, their fey drill sergeant dance instructor, their platform shoes, and their bus driver, Meatloaf. And the music. That awesome, guilty pleasure music that could only have been made in the ’90s.

But the music, the fame, and the money all mean nothing if it gets in the way of their sisterhood. The Girls’ best friend Nicola (Naoko Mira) is about to have a baby and nothing, not even their sold out concert at Albert Hall, is going to stop them from being there for her. Now THAT’S Girl Power.

Spice World is pretty terrible. But that’s beside the point. It’s not meant to be “good.” It’s meant to be fun. Which it is. The Girls are very charming while they solidify and subvert their stereotypical perceptions. And you can tell they had a hoot making it, critics be damned.

***KARDASHIAN***