28 December 2008

Unabashed BFFs: Melissa E. + Rick W. 4EVA!

Celebrities are getting their chance to mouth-off in Huffington Post blogs more and more these days: Jamie Lee Curtis (a diatribe about Paris Hilton's mother's lack of parenting), Alec Baldwin (an angry rant on fathers' rights and direct hit at his ex-wife). The HuffPo perpetuates the idea that celebrities have something important to say solely due to their celebrity status.

In her very own Huffington Post blog, blah-ly entitled "The Choice is Ours Now," Melissa Etheridge, as our gay high priestess, begs us to make the right choice: convince straight people that we are nice and socially acceptable. In a series of clichés, Etheridge talks about that "mountain" us gays have been climbing to freedom of identity. Speaking solely for myself, I have been busy spelunking in a cave of societal shame, not climbing any mountains. As gay spokeswoman, Melissa pens so eloquently the hurt we felt after the high of Obama's win when Prop 8 was passed. "Still sore and angry we felt another slap in the face as the man we helped get elected seemingly invited a gay-hater to address the world at his inauguration." Seemingly? Not seemingly. He did invite a known gay-hater, Melissa, it's a fact. Think of it this way--you are seemingly a spokeswoman for gay people.

"As I was winding down the promotion for my Christmas album (apparently still winding down that promo conveniently mentioning it in this piece posted just three days before Christmas)," she describes her planned performance for the Muslim Public Affairs Council. The MPAC, Etheridge says, "tries to raise awareness in this country, and the world, about the majority of good, loving, Muslims." And here she is trying to raise awareness about the majority of good, loving, gays. [As an aside be sure to run out to your local gay sex club and pick up my Christmas album which includes the hit, O Cum All Ye of Little Faith.] It turned out that the keynote speaker of the MPAC performance was to be none other than Pastor (T)rick Warren, gay-hater. Melissa reports that she first considered canceling her appearance (you should always go with your gut) but instead she instructed her manager to "reach out to Pastor Warren and say, 'In the spirit of unity I [Etheridge] would like to talk to him.'"

This is my favorite part from Melissa's piece: They gave him my phone number. On the day of the conference I received a call from Pastor Rick, and before I could say anything, he told me what a fan he was. He had most of my albums from the very first one. What? This didn't sound like a gay hater, much less a preacher. He explained in very thoughtful words that as a Christian he believed in equal rights for everyone. He believed every loving relationship should have equal protection. He struggled with proposition 8 because he didn't want to see marriage redefined as anything other than between a man and a woman. He said he regretted his choice of words in his video message to his congregation about proposition 8 when he mentioned pedophiles and those who commit incest. He said that in no way, is that how he thought about gays. He invited me to his church, I invited him to my home to meet my wife and kids. He told me of his wife's struggle with breast cancer just a year before mine.

Melissa apparently succumbs to flattery easily. If Fred Phelps was overheard humming Come to My Window does that make him less of a gay-hater? She should have asked Slick Rick to name one of her albums or even just one song if he's the fervent fan he claims to be. The saddest part, perhaps, is that like most politicians, Warren told Melissa everything she wanted to hear and she fell for it head over boots. She's just not savvy. The mention of his wife's breast cancer was so over-the-top and manipulative. I can just hear one of his advisors now, "Be sure to get that breast cancer thing in there, she's really into that." Slick Rick was clearly pulling out all the stops. Now go back to your people, Melissa, and tell them I am an open-minded, gay-loving preacher.

Melissa seems to have taken a page from her new BFF, Rick. "Brothers and sisters, the choice is ours now," she says, sounding more and more like a sermon. "We have the world's attention. We have the capability to create change, awesome change in this world, but before we change minds we must change hearts. Sure, there are plenty of hateful people who will always hold on to their bigotry like a child to a blanket." Like a child to a blanket? "But there are also good people out there, Christian and otherwise that are beginning to listen. They don't hate us, they fear change." I disagree. They do hate us, but, yes, that hate is fueled by fear. I would point Melissa and everyone else to Michael Bronski's genius book, The Pleasure Principle: Sex, Backlash, and the Struggle for Gay Freedom. "Gay hating," Bronski explains, "derives less from a feeling about particular people than from a profound attachment to maintaining the existing social order. This helps explain why vocal antigay politicians are sometimes capable of maintaining cordial relationships with gay friends or family members." Melissa, you got duped.

Melissa suggests that instead of "marches and boycotts, perhaps we can consider stretching out our hands. Maybe instead of marching on his church, we can show up en mass and volunteer for one of the many organizations affiliated with his church that work for HIV/AIDS causes all around the world. Maybe if they get to know us, they won't fear us." Now she sounds like a child holding onto her idealism "like a blanket." It is not that gay-haters are incapable of having friendly relationships with gays but, as Michael Bronski says, "it is the idea--the concept of homosexuality--that is, sexual pleasure without justification or consequences--that terrifies the gay hater." It doesn't matter how many gay people gay-haters personally get to know and like, the concept of our sexuality will always terrify them.

"I know, call me a dreamer," Etheridge says, so self-aware. Okay. Dreamer. I don't want Melissa Etheridge acting as spokeswoman for the queer cause. This is the problem: we don't have a leader for our movement. We turn to gay celebrities to speak for us. I don't want Ellen, Lance Bass, Doogie Howser, or Clay Aiken speaking for me. My vote, as usual, goes to Sandra Bernhard.

For more, read this NY Times Op-Ed piece.

18 December 2008

Unabashed Abashedness: The Other Matt Siegel

While perusing a friend's Facebook page a few months ago, I noticed a comment left by a man with my exact first and last name--almost. His last name had a few letters switched but otherwise it was a funny coincidence. Since he was a mutual acquaintance I sent him a message (re: Look at our names!):

Matt Siegel
August 6 at 12:29pm
you are the reason people misspell my name

The Other Matt Siegel*
August 6 at 12:45pm
OH - I've heard of you! You live in LA also, which makes this even more strange. We should probably be in the same room at some point, just to confuse people.
"Siegel" is more common than mine, so I argue that you cause my misspelling?

Matt Siegel
August 6 at 1:51pm
If we were in the same room I would address you as Matthew See-glee.

*I am referring to him as "The Other Matt Siegel" in an effort to protect his identity as much as possible without losing the point of the story.

It also turned out that he was attending graduate school with an artist friend of mine. We had a nice exchange--seven emails back and forth. From the way he was engaging me I suspected he was gay.

It is a common notion that artists have as many social graces as someone with Asperger's. With that said, my dearest friends all happen to be visual artists. On a recent Saturday night, said artist friend took me to a holiday party at one of his classmate's homes. The first seemingly-gay-but-straight art student hipster I met with his oversized, attention-seeking, red, Sally Jesse Raphael eyeglasses, looked down at the floor and away upon introduction. Charmed! My friend informed me that the other Matt Siegel was at the party so I told Sally Jesse that I would catch him on the flip-side, that I was going to meet the other Matt Siegel, and perhaps he would look me in the eye. (To his credit, Sally Jesse apologized to me later. And to his parents' credit, he was hot.)

I jauntily approached the other Matt Siegel, looking forward to revealing my unexpected presence. "Matthew See-glee," I exclaimed, making reference to our email exchange just a few months earlier, "I am Matthew Siegel." His endearing dimpled chin and strong jaw fell. I looked him in the eye like an adult awaiting some response. All I got were a bunch of "Whoa's" while his shoulders tensed up and he stammered away. Utilizing my stellar communication skills, I pulled the conversation out of murkiness referencing our mutual Facebook friend and the conservative Ivy League college they attended together. I commented that he must certainly be a fellow Hebrew with that name of his--our name--but he promptly thwarted my assumption. He was a Protestant, 100% all-American WASP. In fact, he spent some of his teenage years as a missionary spreading the gospel or whatever they spread. [For extra credit: This Matt Siegel (meaning me), spent some of my teenage years spreading a. my legs b. Chlamydia or c. A & B?]

Things became quiet after the WASP flew out of his nest so I resorted to interview mode asking questions that might indulge his ego. It didn't work. The other Matt Siegel was shell-shocked. It was as if I had just informed him we had been switched at birth à la Big Business (one of my favorite movies but probably not one of his). He was examining me from head to toe -- surely he was admiring my navy Nom De Guerre short trench and accordion boots. I was mystified as to what might be irking him. It seemed that in 5-4-3-2-1, blood would spurt from his ears. To my surprise, he acknowledged his strange behavior. "You're going to have to give me a minute to take this in -- I just need to adjust." Take this in? Adjust? To what? What's there to take in? We have the same name, there's nothing to take in. With silence befalling us and my interest waining, I bid the other Matt Siegel, adieu.

I tried to shrug off his reaction unsuccessfully. How did this meeting that should have been delightful at best and uneventful at worst, result in a seemingly embarrassed and shaken other Matt Siegel? I walked back through the scene in my head. There we were, face-to-face, the two gay Matt Siegels. He was a handsome man, not visibly queer like me. I, too, handsome, but the man part debatable. That was the most striking difference. He wore a basic sweater with one wacky accessory, some shoes he probably considers risqué. My effortless style reeked of gayqueerfaggotry as usual. It has since I was a child, pairing my mothers navy blue silk skirt with American flag-like stars on it, a red cashmere sweater that accentuated my sock bosoms, and twirling around in her closet. An Independence Day outfit. The other Matt Siegel stood rigid and controlled while I moved like Stevie Nicks tramping about like a gypsy on acid. Artists spend their entire professional lives trying to make a name for themselves and here, in front of his disconcerted eyes, was another faggot, close in age, with his same name -- almost -- living an unabashed queer existence. I was his worst nightmare.

The devil on my shoulder closely resembles Bette Midler in a huge hat and lizard pendant on her lapel. Initially, I began devising a plan to drag our name through the gay dirt. Visions of masquerading as the other Matt Siegel, skipping through the streets of LA filled my head. I, too, would be a missionary, spreading the queer word under the guise of the other Matt Siegel, the WASP grad student, the one who feared the defilement of his name via me. I wanted to exorcise his gay shame. And maybe we could fuck afterwards.

After working on this blog for the past week, I happened to run into the other Matt Siegel last night at a party. I caught his eye and he turned away. Very carefully I approached him--not at all jaunty this time. He gave me a labored hello. Getting right to the point I inquired as to why he had reacted to me the way he did that night. "Well," he said, "you just came up to me and mispronounced my name. I thought that was kind of rude." Now, my jaw hit the floor. It was my turn to be flabbergasted and dismayed. "Are you serious," I said getting heated, "I was nothing but warm and friendly toward you." He gave me a half-assed apology, "Look, I'm sorry if I came across as rude but--" and proceeded to tell me since he apologized to me, I should apologize to him for mispronouncing his name. I declined his request.

More times than I care to remember, I have heard gay men bitch that their sexuality does not define them and to that I say it does define me. It's not some tiny part of me that only takes place in the bedroom. I don't desire straight approval or some verification that I am "normal." I was never the status-quo. My gayness and queerness proceed me naturally. It affects all of my feelings--my loves, my hates. The most infuriating bigotry I face on a regular basis is from other gay men who are embarrassed by my organic, unabashed queerness.

The other Matt Siegel stopped me on my way out of the party and sincerely apologized and took responsibility for his behavior. "Look, I don't want there to be bad blood between us. In fact, I'd like to be your friend. I was being an ass that night." That meant a lot to me. Finally, more than simply posing as a man, he was acting like an adult. After that I began to question whether or not I should even publish this piece at all. After all, he had apologized and I have no interest in causing strife for him or being a jerk. I realized, though, that this piece is less about him and more about my struggle for acceptance within my own people and myself. And though I firmly believe his initial problems with me run much deeper than a simple mispronunciation of his name, I am reminded that a name is only what you make of it. My name--our name--means very little to me. I'd change it tomorrow if I came up with anything better. Over the years my name has been marked by slander, infamy--I take credit for some of it--and as I evolve I hope it will carry new meaning: compassion and authenticity.

Sandra Bernhard Questions Change

by Sandra Bernhard

I am sitting today in New York City in disbelief.

After the past eight years of twisted lies and cynical abuse by the Bush administration. After the long hard fought campaigns of Clinton, Obama and McCain. After Obama’s victory and the euphoria of the election… here we are once again stunned by the shock and awe of total stupidity.

How can Barack Obama, the first black president of the United States of America, invite one of the most divisive religious leaders in the world to invocate his inauguration? This is the day the world was supposed to change, for the better, the more compassionate, inclusive, forgiving, thoughtful.

To choose Rick Warren, who actively fought the gay communities legal right to full protection of our constitution is completely reckless. This is a person who compares gay marriage to that of a brother and sister union. This is a man who vocally diminishes the legitimacy of gays.

The inauguration is no place for this religious fundamentalism in any way shape or form. We can have that conversation later in the proper setting. This is the day that is supposed to restore the true meaning of brotherhood and the rights for all Americans. To lift the veils of secrecy and hatred and the ugly legacy we have left behind! This is how Barack Obama chooses to begin his legacy?I am deeply angered and terribly disappointed at this turn of events. I think Mr. Obama needs to reevaluate this decision immediately.

It is unacceptable!

06 December 2008

Unabashed Milk Spillage

I have pondered whether or not I should put my two cents in regarding Gus Van Sant's Milk considering how much press it's getting. Who cares about my two cents? Then I thought, "Matt Siegel, you have a unique perspective. Spill it."

I was nervous about seeing the film. I have spent many a year feeling sad and angry, so why spend money to feel that way? I'm such a jew-ess. Give it to me for free and I'll see it immediately. I made a date to see Milk with my friend, actress, Jill Clayburgh. I mention her by name because, to me, she is the ultimate mother and nurturer, on-screen and off, and I wanted someone safe to go with me.

On our way into The Grove, I mentioned how I wished an out gay man could have played the title role in Milk and Jill got pissed, calling me pigheaded and asking me if I would prefer that the movie not have been made at all. Mama, why are you being so firm with me? I understood her point, it was a big Hollywood film and needed a major name attached to it. My feeling about the casting had more to do with the fact that in such a gay industry, many, many, many actors are in the closet for fear of not getting jobs as a result. Where has Rupert Everett been since he came out years ago? One shitty movie with his faghag, Madonna, is where he's been. It is common knowledge that once you come out, casting people and executives believe it is too difficult for audiences to see you as anything but gay. I began running through out gay actors in my head as alternatives to Sean Penn but the prospect of Doogie Howser playing Harvey Milk made me want to go back in the closet. With that said, I liken the casting of Sean Penn in Milk to Anthony Hopkins playing a light-skinned black man in The Human Stain.

I was also freaked out to see Milk because Gus Van Sant, like any red-blooded, American gay male, likes to cast pretty boys in his films. He loves finding those other-side-of-the-tracks bad attitude twinks, and turn them into actors, as he did in Elephant. I guess he's drawn to their untainted, virile, boyishness. Me too, Girl, me too. I accompanied a friend to the Milk open casting call in San Francisco a few years ago, and Gus was sitting at a table cruising/casting. I don't blame him. So when I saw that James Franco had been cast to play Harvey Milk's lover, I was not surprised but I was bummed. I find really hot guys distracting and annoying on-screen and off. You won't catch me cruising any male models along Santa Monica Boulevard. I refuse to give hot people more unwarranted attention than they already get. Plus I want to reject them before they can reject me. Do you see how real I am? Who else would admit that?

Perhaps as a result of my psychoses, I found Franco's depiction somewhat uninspired. I think he was really proud of himself for playing a fag. He's so open! Just like Jack Black and all of those other actors who came out to support Prop 8 after the fucking election. Thanks for that. That whole Prop 8 musical just reeks of self-congratulation from those hetero actors. Put a dick in your mouth and call me in the morning, please.

Emile Hirsch was solid, if a little affected, and his opening scene with Sean Penn was memorable. His curly wig and pedophile glasses reminded me of several trans hipster boys I know. Allison Pill, the only female supporting character, in a leather jacket and a bad perm, held her own as the only lesbian and only woman in the bunch. I applaud the brief depiction of gay male misogyny. It is an important, oft overlooked prejudice in the gay male community. Jill and I agreed that Sean Penn's performance was absolutely top notch. There was not one second where I found myself skeptical of his Harvey Milk. It was brilliantly nuanced and utterly committed.

Spoiler alert, spoiler alert! Believe me, you want this part spoiled. I was shocked to see a really fuckin cheesy story line. A very hot, butch, gay teen from Minnesota calls Milk as he is rushing out of his apartment to a possible riot situation. The gay teen says he's gonna kill himself, his parents are sending him to a mental institution the next day and he had seen Milk in the newspaper. So Milk is like, "get on a bus tonight and go to LA or New York or San Francisco" and the hot, gay, suicidal teen is like, "that's the thing. I can't. I'm in a wheelchair" and the camera pans out to show him in a wheelchair. My eyes rolled out of my head and into the popcorn under my chair. And, hello, why couldn't it be a fat fuckin' femme calling Milk up? A young Bruce Vilanch, perhaps? Because it's not pretty enough. And to bring shit full circle, the kid calls Milk a year later, conveniently and unbelievably while election results are coming in, and tells him he's alive and well in Los Angeles. Useless bullshit, Gussy. PS...I took Bruce Vilanch to dinner at an Argentinean restaurant a few years ago where he ate a plate of melted cheese, did not try to pay for the meal, and when I was dropping him off at home, offered to eat my ass. Didn't you have enough to eat tonight, Bruce?

Amongst gay youth there is great apathy and rampant ageism towards our predecessors. The value of this film may lie less in educating ignorant heterosexuals and more in educating ignorant homosexuals.

05 December 2008

Unabashed Tomwiggery, Wiggin' Out, and Other Hair-Related Plays on Words

She keeps Ike's ashes in an urn under that thing. This is a good case of when you announce retirement, stick with it, go with your gut. Maybe get a six month gig in Vegas where this sort of tomwiggery will fly.

Unabashed Idealism: The Retarded Prom Queen

Every time this commercial from the mysterious Foundation For A Better Life airs, I brace myself for someone in the crowd to yell "retard!" or for a bucket of pig's blood to fall on her from above. If I was this down syndrome girl's mother, I would snatch her off that stage so fast her tiara would spin. She is not some mongoloid martyr there to make this group of kids feel P.C. And you know there is some bitch posse in the corner talking shit on her: "I can't believe that retard won. Fuck her, I'm gonna kick her ass on Monday."