13 December 2010

Book Review: The Gay Metropolis

Kaiser was a founder and former president of the New York chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association. He has taught journalism at Columbia and Princeton, where he was the Ferris Professor of Journalism.

I will admit that this book took me 14 years to read. My first college professor, who I was very close to, read this book when it first came out and insisted that I read it when I visited him once unannounced -- when in town. I bought the book and then carried it with me wherever I lived.

I don't think I would have appreciated it had I read it 14 years ago. I remember when I was a teenager still, he told me once that he was so "in the club" that he was out. He was in a committed long term relationship with a woman so this was even more perplexing to my young and delicate mind at the time. But, he was the father figure every gay should have. He told me about a 'slut phase' which I thought didn't apply to me. Me: "I didn't go through a slut phase." Him: "Yet."

He was gentle, steered me away from straight guys, towards Spinoza and supported my Vajrayana Buddhism, and towards an understanding of my self that resolved the conflicts that bring about self-hate in every minority. But the fruits of his planting would not come to bear until well after his death.

I found two themes running through reading Kaiser's book. One was that I couldn't put the book down. The other was that I had difficulty picking it up. To the latter, I think there is some resistance to the fact that I couldn't put it down. I grew up when AIDS was first named. I remember my mother telling me some scientists believed that people got AIDS by having sex or mixing blood. In my mind I thought of two guys naked in bed and contracting AIDS when scabs on their knees touch.

But, inescapably, my social and cultural milieu did in fact shape my understanding of myself, just in time for my gentle professor's intervention. It did not occur to me until after reading this book how powerful one authority figure (who was not gay) could be in being a positive, affirming role model. I talked to him for hours about my crushes, gay sex, religion, philosophy, politics, etc.,. It never occurred to me in my precocity how exceptional this time with him was. But it was enough to reorient me from potentially very destructive paths to which I can only thank him that we made contact.

I mention all of this because this book puts all of that in context. No one, anywhere in the world, who identifies as gay, can truly be untouched by modern American gay history. Additionally, I think it shows how, in some ways, there are parallels and in some ways, there are differences. Most of the repressive actions of the Philippine government towards gays and sexuality are actually reactions to directives by the Catholic hierarchy that have been indirectly adopted from American puritanism -- as opposed to some universal Catholic attitude towards gay politics.

This is true if we look at Brasil, Argentina or Spain and how the Catholic response there has been articulated differently and how the civil government provides for same-sex marriage and other gay civil rights protections. Of course, now after Benedict spoke on the lesser-of-evils with condoms, it will be curious if the CBCP sticks to its guns against condoms (like evangelical Protestant American preachers) or will let the RH Bill become law without threats of criminal reprisals or ecclesiastical nuclear bombs.

Every time I picked up Kaiser's book, I felt like I was transported back in time from the late 1930s until the 1990s. Part of the thread that weaves my life was exported from the US. I came to understand my professor's joking 'yet'-s about my protests to a slut phase. Instantly, the history of modern American gay culture allowed me to see, a previously, unorganized set of experiences which, in my mind, I had grouped all as gay but without further disposition or organization. This is something that my helpful professor friend/mentor was able to easily see and try to help locate me in but I was too resistant or other-focused to receive consciously then. I don't think I would have appreciated the book if I had read it when it was first new. I think I needed more time to develop and mature from when he offered it to me. But I'm glad I bought it and held it until this time, when I could appreciate it.

Okay. So I will leave you with two sets of images that I thought appropriately sum up some of the feelings I felt while reading the book.
The other leitmotif of the sixties was a feverish violence, which peaked in April 1968 after Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in Memphis. The assassination of John and Robert Kennedy bracketed King's. After Bobby's killing, John Updike wondered if God had withdrawn his blessing on America. William Styron remember this decade as an era when 'one of those liberal well-intentioned people would say, 'You don't mean, do you' -- and James Baldwin would interrupt and say, 'Yes, baby, they're going to burn your house down.' (144)

The version I read was a 416 page paperback published by Houghton Mifflin (September 1997), ISBN-13: 978-0156006170. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was at abebooks.com.

11 December 2010

Movie Review: Antarctica

Okay. Well. What an interesting movie. I don't really know much about middle class Jewish life in Israel let alone gay middle class Jewish life in Israel. Okay, so the first half hour was a little bit confusing, but the rest of the movie was interesting. The narrative point of view and plot is a little loose but its an interesting formal type of movie and, well, you eventually want to know how it ends. If you're into white guys, this might be a movie to watch or if you want to see a selection of Israeli cinema, then watch.

06 December 2010

Book Review: The Sexual Organization of the City

Edward O Laumann is a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago. Stephen Ellingson is an assistant professor of sociology at the Hamilton College. Jenna Mayah is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago. Anthony Paik is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Iowa. Yoosik Youm is an assistant professor of the sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

I will admit upfront, that I'm not a sociologist and I've generally avoided most sociological literature. This has been in part because of the heavy reliance on statistical regressions that I've always found in sociology along with traditional political science, etc.,. There were parts of this book that were really really uninteresting (including almost every methods section of every chapter).

Now, I may not have gotten passed the first chapter had I not stumbled upon this passage:
Derek is a bisexual African American man from the city's South Side. Following his usual routine of looking for a straight, Hispanic gang-banger, Derek visits a public park in Chicago's Northwest Side neighborhood of Erlinda -- the scene of a curious interracial detente that brings together unlikely buyers and sellers. Gay white and African American men looking for 'drive-up' (i.e., a quick blow job) cruise the park to trade cash or drugs for sex with drug addicts, Hispanic gang-bangers, and other straight-identified Hispanic men looking to make a quick buck. At the park, Derek meets Juan, forty-something, straight, married and Hispanic. The initial encounter is a simple transaction: oral sex for a few dollars. On subsequent visits to the park, Derek keeps coming back to Juan. The two become friends, and the casual sex becomes something more than casual. The relationship ends when Derek decides to be exclusively heterosexual. Juan, however, decides to become exclusively homosexual, takes a new lover and is dumped by his wife.
So you see, the 350+ pages was undaunting if I could get some analytical insight into the workings of this dynamic, its cultural and social context, etc.,. The book was a dense forest of research into the sexual organization of Chicago. It is a place I've never been to. It also did it through the lens of "sexual markets".

When I first skimmed through book, I thought I had stumbled upon a chapter on prostitution, but instead, these sociologists have adopted the so-called "theory of sex markets" where individuals and groups are studied using the metaphors and theoretical functions of market economics and market actors. It's a fascinating way of looking at things, although, these sociologists certainly aren't psychologists and may have benefited a little from cross pollinating with the current research on brain and understanding.

I was very much fascinated with the breadth and depth of this book and it reminded me of the tremendous life time work of Landa Jocano. I suspect that with enough funding, a similar series of chapters could be written about the sexual organization of Manila and the sexual organization of the Philippines. It would be an ambitious project and could build upon the work of Michael Tan et al in their Love and Desire about the understanding and organization of sex in the lives of young Filipinos.

I found the most interesting chapter to be Religion and the Politics of Sexuality and how various churches with varying degrees of autonomy from their central religious offices come to deal with homosexuality and how that is mediated by the actual congregation. I think an extensive social survey conducted similar to the one in this book would provide some real meaningful answers toward population research and sexuality research in the Philippines. Of course, more immediately, we need to pass the Reproductive Health bill immediately and then fine tune approaches to reproductive health with more refined data and analysis.

The version I read was a 435 page paperback published by University of Chicago Press (November 21, 2005), ISBN-13: 978-0226468976. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was at abebooks.com.

03 December 2010

Book Review: Take the Stranger By the Hand

John Donald Gustav-Wrathall teaches American Religious History as adjunct faculty at United Theological Seminary in New Brighton, Minnesota. He wrote this social history of the YMCA.

I had always wondered exactly why the Village People sang a song about the YMCA. Let be liberally quote from the lyrics and you can fill in the background with prancing Village People in their costumes:

You can stay there, and I'm sure you will find
Many ways to have a good time.


You can get yourself clean, you can have a good meal
You can do whatever you feel ...


No man does it all by himself.
I said, young man, put your pride on the shelf,
And just go there, to the Y.M.C.A.
I'm sure they can help you today.
Well, it turns out that the whole YMCA phenomenon really did start as a "Young Men Christian Association." The first turn from a devout evangelical movement to a pre-gay community culture in the mid 1900s in the US was that churches were concerned that the YMCAs were competing with churches. To accommodate the churches, they added "physical" work to their program and were able to develop a theological basis for it. At this time, there was a very body negative approach to human life by evangelical Christians. Everything was focused on the spiritual/mental side of things. (Yes, it was the Victorian period.)

Once the YMCA organization entered into the physical side of the universe, sex education appeared. At this point, the whole YMCA program focused on very intimate male friendships and well, from the 21st century perspective, it really all sounded like thinly veiled gay guys using the Bible to talk about how much they were into each other. Then, as the infrastructure of gyms and dormitories appeared, then the gay-sex cruising subculture appeared and was apparently tolerated even with major public scandals in 1912 and 1919 until the 1970s when the gay consciousness and rights came to the fore and technology allowed panopticism to invade the architecture and spatial politics of YMCA buildings.

This reminded me of all of the Youths for Christ or Victory Christian Fellowship and other Protestant youth movements where their leaders just seem so really really gay. Remember Gigil? The whole conflict starts because Katrina Halili falls in love with one of these closeted gay evangelicals who, when confronted with marriage, comes out.

The first half of this book may not be interesting unless you're interested in American social and religious history. Of course, it does lay out the framework for modern U.S. gay community and how a repressive anti-sex/anti-body Victorian Christian culture ends up producing a gay cruising scene.

I also found fascinating the discussion of how homosexuality was once completely engendered -- that is "real men" or "straight men" were the tops and the "queans"/"queens" were the bottoms. This is an under-researched area in global LGBT/gender studies that I'd like to hear more about in a comparative or transcultural way.

The version I read was a 288 page paperback published by University of Chicago Press (June 1, 2000), ISBN-13: 978-0226907857. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was at abebooks.com.