The Closet: A real WMD.

My heart broke into pieces when people in the Orlando gay community reported that Omar Mir Seddique Mateen may have been gay.  I did not want him to be gay. I wanted him to be simple hateful man that I could blame for all of my sadness and rage on right now.  I have no sympathy for Mateen. None. He was a murderer. A murderer who legally bought powerful guns in order to murder members of my community. I wish he and those guns never existed.

Obviously, I support a ban on assault weapons. Hell, I am a radical and I support a ban on all guns. However, if there is truth to the reports on him being in the closet than we need to talk about it.  Guns are a critical part of the problem, but queer hatred (whether internal, external, or both) is the other part of it.

The closet is a dangerous weapon. For any of you that have experienced it, you know what it can do to you. The closet makes you hate. First it makes you hate yourself. Then you hate those who escaped the closet. You probably hate the people who you blame for putting you in the closet. The closet breeds hate. You hate being in the closet, but you hate the idea of being out of the closet even more. It’s the place queer hatred is born.  The closet is the worst place anyone can imagine and many queer people have spent too  much time in it.

The only analogous place that I can imagine is solitary confinement. I’ve never been in solitary confinement and probably never will be, but one glance at letters from the prisoner’s in solitary confinement look like many young queer person’s journal.  Phrases like: “Please, somebody help”; “I need HELP!!!”; “I hear voices echoing as I try to fall asleep.” are all from prisoners in solitary confinement, but undoubtedly resonate with someone trapped in the closet.  Being in the closet is our solitary confinement.  You are alone, begging for help, being punished with incomprehensible severity, and never sure when it will end.

Like solitary confinement, being in the closet is a recipe for disaster. Being in the closet is a torture that strips people of their dignity, humanity, and sense of self.  Do you know what’s the worst part?  We force children to develop in the closet. If you need a guarantee for madness, then stay in the closet. No one survives in the closet.  Coming out is the only way to survive.

The Orlando Pulse Massacre has made me think about when I came out of the closet and my discovery of my first gay dance club.  It was November 16, 2000. George W. Bush had just stolen the White House from Al Gore, and I had used that campaign to come out to my canvassing partner. He himself was gay and like a bunch of silly college boys, we drank cheap booze, snuck beers on the Pittsburgh city bus, and went to a seedy subterranean bar called Pegasus to dance the night away.  I had never danced with a man before, and from the top of the steps I saw 50 beautiful men dancing with one another. It was shocking, inspiring, and it was the happiest thing I had ever seen. As I write this, I am smiling, just recalling the memory. Barry Harris’s “Dive in the Pool” was blaring on a bad music system, and I made my way to the dance floor. It was fantastic.

There was no going back in the closet after that night.  I keep thinking what would have happened if I had not escaped the closet.  What if I was weak willed? Or had excessively oppressive family? Or a right wing religious tradition? What could the closet have done to me?  Obviously, I would not have went on a killing spree.   The closet makes life topsy turvy.  The logical thing to do, would be to come out of the closet and live a truthful life.  However, the closet does not let you use much logic.  Let me tell you a story about how insidious the closet is to a person.  At the age of 18 I was like every other horny 18 year old. I thought about sex a lot. I was very much in the closet, but my fantasies continuously drifted toward men.

That year my grandfather died and one night I fantasized about some male model I saw on TV.   I cried for an hour before I went to bed, because I thought my heavenly bound grandfather now knew I was gay and I hated that feeling.  I was an intelligent and critically minded young man, and sexual fantasies were leading to full scale delusions like I was some Bedlam mental patient.  How did I rid myself of the paranoia of a judging ghost relatives?  I came out of the closet 8 month later.

Every time we allow someone to stay in the closet, there is serious potential for something terrible to happen.  Coming out is a revolutionary act and we need to embrace and encourage it.   We need to be out and proud.  It is not good enough to smash our own closets, but we must destroy all of them.

I get why it is hard to come out of the closet.  I really do.   Queer hatred runs really deep in a lot of places.   It does not help that the right wing politicians and their religious vanguard clamor to spit their dangerous anti-queer rhetoric. No one wants to come out in a world that feels dangerous.

What would have happened if Mateen would have come out of the closet?  Maybe he could have escaped with some humanity and not have become the inhumane monster that he did.  If staying in the closet has any chance of creating another Mateen, then we need to ban the weapons and smash the closets.

I am lucky.   I survived the closet.  Many others were not lucky.

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A Year Later

There is a scene in Casablanca where Captain Renault explains to Rick that he is shocked to find gambling going on in the nightclub. He then turns to immediately collect his winnings from the night. Whenever I hear disappointment for President Obama’s policy choices and priorities I tend to think of this scene.

When talking to friends and neighbors I am shocked that they are appalled at the President’s lack of movement on queer rights. “Why are you shocked?” He’s doing exactly what we he told us to do. Now, I am not blaming you; I also fall for his waxing eloquence. It sounds so good to hear a president who enjoys the English language for its magnitude rather than its flexibility. However, it’s not just how you say it, but what you say that counts.

From the beginning he has been a lukewarm ally in our constant struggle for equality. He openly opposes our efforts for gay marriage. His White House says that priorities like The Defense of Marriage Act have fallen from the agenda. The reality is that after the first year of his presidency the romance is wearing thin.

Our community should not feel tricked. We really did not have any other place to turn. The republicans had proven themselves to be repugnant sadists, benefitting off of our suffering. Third parties, though tempting, are still a joke in the United States. The Democratic Party was our best choice and the party knows it. The reality is that the queer community is not going to get the attention we deserve any time soon.

How did we get ourselves in this predicament? How did we align ourselves with a party that takes us for granted and another that bullies voters with tales of us? There was a time in the United States when the queer community was aligned with all sorts of progressive groups and communities. We were part of a movement that was tired of being crushed and dramatic social upheaval seemed near. We were women, latinos, blacks, queers, differently abled, asians, socialists, basically everyone that was sick and tired of being marginalized. And we didn’t rise up. Before we knew it the movement splintered and fell apart. Everyone was left to decide their own fates. For many that was the last time the queer rights movement was to be part of something bigger.

HIV/AIDS ravaged our community and left us in the precarious position of working with politicians not out of love of their politics, but because of the government purse strings they held. Democrats were more generous on health issues than Republicans at the time so we found friends in the party. People will do anything to save their family and in the 1980’s the queer community was its own family. Saving the ones we loved introduced us to a political arena devoid of radicalism and we did what we could to make sure people survived.

By the time the 1990’s had arrived there was no doubt we were a constituency of the Democratic Party. The Republicans had proven themselves to be inadequate when it came to helping those with HIV/AIDS. This led us to herald in a new Democratic President. We then watched Bill Clinton stab the queer community in the back, and then turn us over and stab us in the gut. The community should have risen up and said “No more!” but we did no such thing. There was no movement of seething anti-establishment groups left for us to reach out to and the Republican Party was no “safe zone.” We took what the Democrats gave us.

There is no need to rehash the nightmare decade as it should be remembered, but we came to the democrats again in 2008. In any other time we should have been wary of the party that had treated us so poorly in the past, but it was a time of hope and change. However, none of it really happened. There was little change. By 2010 I have lost hope. We have seen no big legislation pass that would help the queer community, unless there is some hidden Wall St. investment no one told me about. The Bush-Obama Wars continue on at full speed and in some cases accelerating. Rendition continues as an official U.S. policy. Warrantless wiretapping is still around too! At least queer people aren’t being used as a political whipping boy.

This is why I am not shocked by the President’s lack of usefulness to the queer community. At the end of the day, he’s still a democrat.

crazy

Controversial? They really are saying this shit is controversial? Making gay people straight is not controversial, it is sick and fucking twisted and destroys peoples’ lives. There is absolutely nothing to debate on this topic. You can’t make someone straight, there is no possible way to do it. And to even call it controversial adds a hint of legitimacy to these fuckers beliefs that there is something WRONG with being gay.

No. Being gay is fine, it is not a mental illness. That’s the end of the fucking argument.

June is Here

So it is Gay Pride month all across the world, and well we should all take a minute to think about the world we line in. Thirty-six years ago the police of New York City were harassing queers and queens as was par for the course and those very same queers and queens finally said, “fuck off!” Some say emotions ran higher than usual that night, partially because the recent announcement of Miss Judy Garland’s death, or maybe it was just really hot out and we all get pissy when it hot and humid. Begin the Stonewall Riots.

Thirty-six years later I am allowed to be out and proud about being a gay man, and to be something of an activist. I still don’t have equal rights, but sex is not illegal any longer, and the medical field doesn’t consider me batty so there has been some progress. Pride is celebrated with great pomp and fanfare and I think it is duly justified, however slowly but surely the fight has been tempered. You don’t see many anti-police brutality contingents, but now you seem Coors and Coca-Cola floats.

I will not harp too long on the corporate adoption of gay pride, because there are plenty of lefties who bitch about it all of the time. Groups like the AFL-CIO’s Pride at Work are a great organization that is working to break down the very heterosexist culture of the labor movement.

On the topic of the labor movement and the queer movement I would like to relay a little story that has me as the main attraction. About a month a go I was shopping in the Giant Eagle for arugula, when a woman turned to look at me and said, “That is really great.” Completely by chance, I was wearing an SEIU Lavender Caucus t-shirt that a friend of mine had got for me in San Francisco. The Lavender Caucus in SEIU’s queer caucus.

I looked at the woman with an, “umm thanks.”

“Well my sister is in a labor union, and she’s not out. I think it is really great you are out in your union,” she said. I had a feeling she herself was a very proud bull dyke, but who’s to know. I said thanks, and continued with my produce shopping.

I have been working with queer people for a few years, and have heard every possible problem or coming out story imaginable. These few lines of exchange made me realize how proud I am to be gay, and not just Queer as Folk gay, but a gay activist fighting for workers’ rights.

So this June, celebrate gay pride month. Even you breeders should join in. Take in a drag show, do something fabulously campy, and remember there are a lot of people not in the streets and parties with us. An inordinate number of them of course are working class people.

To all of my comrades past, present, and future:

HAPPY GAY PRIDE!!