Written by Mark S. King
Monday, 30 September 2013 19:19
When I was nine years old, I took my parents’ album of the Broadway musical “Damn Yankees” and memorized every syllable of Gwen Verdon’s show stopper, “Who’s Got the Pain When They Do the Mambo?”
Once I was satisfied with my lip-synching and choreography (I decided that a mambo was a dance in which young boys gyrated and flung themselves on and off the living room sofa), the number was ready for public display. The premiere was a simple affair, exclusive and unannounced. Mrs. May from across the street had stopped in for afternoon coffee, and opportunity knocked when Mother busied herself in the kitchen for a few minutes.
Not a smart move, Mother, leaving Mark alone with the company.
“Mrs. May, would you like to see me do a song?” The unsuspecting woman gave a polite “yes, that sounds nice” and before Mother could run interference I had turned on the stereo and dropped the needle at the precise moment where Gwen breaks into song.
Mrs. May stared and stared, her hands folded neatly in her lap, as I brought out every
sashay, twist and thrust in my dancing arsenal. My moves may have been imperfect but I vocalized brilliantly, thanks to Gwen. As I struck my final pose, arms reaching for the heavens, frozen and triumphant, I saw mother standing in the doorway, holding a plate of cookies and breathing heavily through her nostrils.
Future performances would be limited to my bedroom, where I could conjure an audience cheering with acclamation and mothers wouldn’t put you on restriction.
It is that boy, the cheerful but feminine performer, that I always feared would creep out of me as I navigated young adulthood as a gay man. I worked to shed his characteristics, to replace every soft gesture with a wooden one, to embrace the gym and tank tops and Levi jeans with the same fervor I once had for my beloved Broadway musicals, with mixed success.
And then, a lifetime later, as I worked for an AIDS agency in Atlanta in the 1990s,
destiny called. An upcoming drag contest to benefit our agency was suffering from poor participation, and my boss asked if I would consider entering.
Being a drag queen, even for a night, terrified and delighted me. But the performer in me won out, wouldn’t you know, and Anita Mann was born. I created an interactive video rendition of Donna Summer’s “This Time I Know It’s for Real” and won the contest.
Soon I was performing with a group known as “the camp drag queens of the south,” The Armorettes, who hosted a Sunday night show at Atlanta’s now-demolished Armory to raise funds for AIDS organizations (they are still performing, now at Burkhart’s on Sundays at 8 p.m.)
Over the years they have raised over $2 million dollars, and their shows have been hugely successful every week. But my own phobic notions lingered. I didn’t want to be known as a drag queen (“It’s comedy! I’m a performance artist!” I would insist). I never appeared anywhere in drag but on that stage – I would always get dressed
at the show, and was out of drag for the final curtain call, in a bid to display whatever masculine credentials I had to offer.
I would hear other gay men make disparaging remarks about drag and I withered, unable to admit I was playing to a packed room every Sunday.
The nexus of shame and shamelessness is a complicated one. Each week I put on full
display the very things about myself that I had worked so hard to reject — my femininity, my silly pursuit of acceptance through laughter and applause. And just as I gained confidence in what I was doing and why, I would lose a potential boyfriend when he learned of my weekend talents.
As a growing meth addiction encroached on my free time, I abandoned Anita Mann to its demands.Anita’s dress and wig would be relegated to a duffel bag hidden in the back of the hallway closet. I had found a vocation in drugs that offered twice the shame and every bit of the need to keep quiet about it. It took a few years before Anita would make her comeback. Armed with a TV set and a sense of the absurd, Anita performed at a sober fund raising event.
Her rendition of “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” grows more insane by the moment. And yes, I am aware that I speak of her in the third person. Maybe it is because I view her as a character I have created, and perhaps it is the remnants of shame, and of my need to keep her at a distance.
It’s strange, how those things that we have drawn the most shame from are also able to liberate us, and to help others. My HIV status. My drug addiction and recovery process. My drag personality. As I have embraced each of these, I’ve found self-acceptance and a way to carry a message of hope, and even joy, to others.
Meanwhile, I still struggle with the need to project as much masculinity as I can muster. I swagger more than I sashay. I sport a beard when possible. And I work to maintain a strict gym regimen. It’s important for me to stay in shape if I expect to fit in that dress.
Mark S. King is an award winning columnist, author, blogger (creator of the ongoing blog “My Fabulous Disease”) and AIDS advocate who has been involved in gay causes since testing HIV positive in 1985, when the HIV antibody test first became publicly available. Read more of his work at www.marksking.com
Written by Topher Payne
Monday, 30 September 2013 18:56
This morning I was looking for our dental insurance card in Preppy’s wallet, and re-discovered something I’d forgotten, something that filled me with great joy: he has a Sam’s Club card. In addition tomy husbands’ love and health insurance, my marriage entitles me to access to the land of bulk discount transcendence.
I don’t know why we haven’t taken advantage of this more often. I love bulk shopping. I could be buying boxes of two thousand Otter Pops. I don’t currently eat Otter Pops, but I think if I had a whole bunch, I would.
Before I moved to Atlanta, I spent a summer in Florida working as an intern. Internships, for the uninitiated, are a clever little ruse used by companies as a legal form of slavery. In
exchange for a room and one hundred nineteen dollars a week, I was expected to be on call 24/7, as the company demanded.
They say it’s a learning experience, and there is truth in that: I learned a myriad of
preparations for Ramen Noodles, and that Country Time Lemonade is a great mixer for cheap vodka.
On the upside, I wasn’t alone in my indentured servitude. Another intern arrived a month after me, and I was assigned the task of driving to Orlando to fetch him. He was from some tiny British hamlet with cobblestone streets and Ye Olde Taverns on every corner. His name was something unbearably English, like Beverly or Scone or something. And I was the first American he’d ever met.
I’d never represented my countrymen in such a manner. I wanted to make a good first impression, so I did what my mother would do. I baked cookies. He sat silently in the car, taking in the sights and munching on the cookies as I drove up the Interstate. I resisted the urge to pepper him with questions, assuming he needed a moment to adjust to our great land and its divergent customs.
“There’s too much butter in these cookies,” he said at last. And here, we had our first example of a cultural difference. In his tiny Dickensian hamlet, this was likely considered an act of charity:
Informing the person who prepared your food how they might improve it to your liking in the future.
But in the American South, critiquing a gift is completely unacceptable, even if it brings out painful memories or an allergic reaction of some kind. I tried to figure out how to put that tactfully, to save him future embarrassment.
“How do I open this window? Your car positively reeks of cigarettes.”
Or, perhaps this guy was just a jerk.
Playing the radio led to a diatribe on the inferiority of American pop music, with the apparent exception of Tina Turner, whom he adored.
“But she hates America, you know,” Beverly Scone informed me. “She says it in all her European concerts, so Americans don’t know about it. You Americans think you know everything that’s going on in the world, but you don’t.”
I was really starting to despise Beverly Scone, which was clearly just fine with him, as he had arrived fully prepared to despise America. We spent the next three hours in the car, arguing over the warped picture of our country he’d apparently derived from watching
“Baywatch”, “ER”, and “The X Files.”
He asked how many guns I owned, if any of my friends’ parents were still married, if I used drugs, and if I was a homosexual. The gay question (which I figured was answered when I baked cookies for the bastard), was the result of his uncle and aunt visiting New York once and stumbling upon Gay Pride. I concede that must have been a startling experience.
Back in Gainesville, I had to make a stop at Sam’s Club to pick up supplies for our employer. And as Beverly stood in the grocery section of Sam’s, staring at the boxes of five hundred frozen cream puffs and thirty pounds of Colby-Jack cheese cubes, he was overcome. It was like
Jodie Foster in “Contact,” you know? “No words, so beautiful...”
I saw an expression of awe spread across Beverly Scone’s face, as he realized that should he ever want to fill the trunk of his car with mashed potatoes, or make sausage patties for his entire village, this ountry has a place where you can make that happen. It made me feel
patriotic. America: We never, ever fail at excess
Written by Melissa Carter
Monday, 30 September 2013 17:28
Just for the record, I have never been accused of being a prude. I was a
teenager when Tipper Gore waged her war on music and campaigned for
warning labels on the covers of albums by Madonna, Prince and NWA.
I rarely complain about the lyrics of a song based on their crassness. But something
about Bruno Mars' new single pushed me over the edge.
I was driving home one afternoon flipping channels on the radio, and
came across Bruno singing "Gorilla" for the first time. The lyrics caused me
to literally look at the radio dial and give a slight turn of my head, much like
my Goldendoodle does when she hears a high pitched sound or is generally
confused by something.
Maybe it was Mars' soulful delivery that had me expecting some kind of romantic message. But romance was not on his mind when he belted out:
I got a body full of liquor with a cocaine kicker and I'm feeling like I'm
thirty feet tall, So lay it down, lay it down, You got your legs up in the sky
with the devil in your eyes, Let me hear you say you want it all, Say it now,
say it now.
Okay. I get the fact when comparing this to, say, Prince singing about
Darling Nikki or The Divinyls talking about touching themselves, this current
song is not groundbreaking. But it is the chorus that reached a new level for
mainstream radio that was shocking even to me.
You'll be banging on my chest, Bang bang, gorilla
.You and me baby making love like gorillas, You and me baby making love like gorillas.
Gorillas? Really? That's the point where I turned the station, but had I
stayed with Bruno this is what I would have heard:
Yeah I got a fistful of your hair, But you don't look like you're scared,
You're just smiling tell me daddy it's yours, Cause you know how I like it
you's a dirty little lover, If the neighbors call the cops, call the sheriff, call the
SWAT, We don't stop, we keep rocking while they knocking on our door, And
you're screaming give it to me baby, Give it to me motherf*cker.
Put aside the crassness of the lyrics for a moment. There is a bigger issue
here. The double standard of sexual expression in music is being
communicated in huge bright flashing neon.
We have spent the past few weeks analyzing the downfall of Miley Cyrus, after her performance at the MTV Video Music Awards. Her ever present tongue, affinity for foam fingers,
and nude riding skills on a wrecking ball has prompted commentary on how
women should act in order to be considered a role model.
But what about men? Even though they seem to stay fully dressed in
public while women like Miley are barely clothed, men are skipping the
foreplay and literally comparing their relationships to the mating rituals of
gorillas. And where is the backlash against Bruno?
There was backlash at a middle school in North Carolina, but not for
Bruno. Administrators there weren't offended by sexually explicit lyrics.
Instead they were up in arms over a love song about same-sex couples. A
social studies teacher at West Alexander Middle School in Taylorsville, N.C.,
was recently suspended for showing his 8th grade students the video “Same
Love” by Mackelmore and Lewis.
Superintendent Jeff Peal told a local paper that it was “inappropriate” for the teacher to show the video to the students.
“At West Alexander Middle School, there was an inappropriate video shown in class, outside the bounds of the curriculum that called for disciplinary action last week,” he said.
An attorney for the school board said officials believed the video was
unfitting for a middle school classroom.
"Everyone has her/his own musical taste, but if a video by Miley Cyrus is
ripped apart, so should one by Robin Thicke. If Eminem can talk about
violence against women, Rihanna should be able to talk about S&M freely.
And when there is public commentary about who our children should be
looking up to, let's be fair about who we criticize.
Written by Topher Payne
Friday, 13 September 2013 14:08
I go to McDonald’s. I can’t say I’m proud of it, but I’m a sucker for cheap and convenient, which was a real problem back when I was dating. I’m fully aware of the hidden costs of scarfing down a McChicken and a McDiet McCoke while sitting in McTraffic, and that price will be paid by the size of my ass. But we all do what we have to do.
I had birthday parties at McDonald’s as a (fat) child. I survived in New York on $10 a day eating nothing but food served under those magical golden arches, and other than the mild chest pains, I was really grateful for them. Their MSG runs deep in my veins.
So I’m at the drive-thru, offering up my handful of quarters for my meal (because you can do that there), and the woman at the window is taking another order, apparently for a Happy Meal. First, she asks, “Apples or fries?” which I think is pretty neat, if fundamentally flawed. Who eats apples with a cheeseburger? That’s not a logical culinary combo.
It’s the sort of haphazard three in the morning meal that would be thrown together by a drunk dude based upon what happens to be in his kitchen: “Let’s see, I’ll have a cheeseburger, some apple sticks, this can of water chestnuts and half a jar of olives.” While the logic of the meal escapes me, I can appreciate what they’re going for. Obviously, things have changed since I was a kid.
Or perhaps they haven’t, because the drive-through employee’s next question is one I’ve heard for thirty years: “Girl toy or boy toy?” The rational assumption here is that one of the Happy Meal toys has a penis, and one has a vagina – because that would be the difference between boys and girls.
Now, I’m not a parent, but if I were I would take real issue with serving my child a meal that includes a My Little Pony with a cervix. And then my kid would have all these questions, and I’d say, “Hush, child, stop your incessant questions regarding your toy’s genitals. Daddy’s watching his stories. Now finish your apple slices and freshen my martini.”