Photography provided by the kind and sexy bears of Heetizm
Male Media Mind was a grassroots organization dedicated to unifying the Black Bear Community through Dialogue, Insight, Creativity, and Knowledge. Essentially a group of Black Bears who got together to talk about hot topics of the day, for a couple of years there we made a huge impact not only on our community but also with our heterosexual counterparts who decided to check in and see what their relatives, friends, and coworkers were talking about each week.
Though the organization has since disbanded due to some behind the scenes Fleetwood Mac-esque drama, at its height we provided some kick-ass content and if I may say so myself, I did a pretty awesome job on the graphics and commentary. So here is just a very brief (and very biased) sample of what we did at one point in time.
"I took my love / I took it down / Climbed a mountain and I turned around / And I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills / 'Til the landslide brought me down" -"Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac
The Real Housewives of Atlanta M3 Bearcast
Beautiful People Make the Prettiest Villains
Being a Fox of a certain amount of girth, poverty and intellect I can tell you that I have run into my fair share of Leopards living in Los Angeles. From business associates, friends, roommates, and lovers alike, there is no denying the power that a muscular frame or smooth skin or straight teeth or mesmerizing eyes can have while negotiating even the slightest of decisions. I have always likened myself to being an anarchist in the eternal rat race this city sells as extravagant normality; thinning things that are naturally thick, whitening things that are naturally dark, all in the name of portraying yourself as an avatar that doesn’t exist in nature. But as mighty and as just as my fight has been to side step the whole preoccupation of beauty and its prejudices, I have to admit that my inner yearning to sit at the cool kid’s table has reared its ugly head on more occasions than I would care to mention. I have agreed to do things, offer assistance, enter into business agreements that in hindsight I clearly would not have made if the other party naturally looked like Michael Jackson post-surgery or maybe Biz Markie’s less attractive older brother. I scoff at men who make decisions based on the attractiveness of the women in the vicinity of the deal when all along I do the same thing, just with men.
I recall this when I encounter the support certain factions receive when they take clear and distinct platforms of insensitivity, derision and callousness. From lowly bloggers who proclaim that the utter annihilation of the overweight, the HIV+ and Christians would bring about a more just world to mega super pop stars who release albums filled with references to spilling and swallowing semen while their spouses compare their dominance in the relationship to that of concussion inducing domestic violence, I wonder how easily audiences would accept their actions if they were to originate from bodies that were short and/or pudgy and/or acne ridden and/or scarred?
I pondered this while watching an episode of the old sitcom Taxi where the main antagonist of the show, Louie De Palma, was played by the stoutly Danny Devito. The threats that piped out from his five tall, five foot wide body rivaled the intensity and heft of any villain imaginable, which only added to the comedy and complexity of his character and the show itself. But this was 1978. This was pre-Ronald Reagan and the curious metamorphosis of the “Me” generation prioritizing conservative political and cultural pursuits, highlighting money, youth and beauty (over the “Now” generation’s pillars of service, culture and civil justice). And by 1982, Reagan had his foot firmly planted in the White House, Taxi was cancelled and a slew of shows began to infiltrate the airwaves whose villains were just as De Palma evil, but in much prettier shapes. From Joan Collin’s turn as Alexis Carrington on Dynasty to Jane Wyman’s turn as Angela Channig on Falcon Crest, American audiences swooned at the juxtaposition of malevolence played through the pretty. That legacy continues on today in reality shows where the physically appealing Omarosa Manigault of “The Apprentice” fame was voted as one of the nastiest villains of all time by TV Guide. And while no one could deny the absolute beauty of former Ms. USA Kenya Moore, you would be equally as hard pressed to deny her less than amiable character on “The Real Housewives of Atlanta”.
And all of these pretty villains maintain healthy fan bases. While there is a curious deliciousness to creatively delivered malevolence, I can’t help but wonder how palatable these actions would be if they were carried out by people who didn’t just so happen to coincide with societal beauty norms? The proposition that the beautiful receive preferential treatment is not a novel idea, what I ponder is… when does that glow where off? You have to question the boundaries of this beauty bubble when Rolling Stone puts the Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its cover and would that decision have stayed the same if he did not have the milky skin and tousled locks of an older Jonas Brother? Would that decision would have stayed the same if the Boston Bomber was perhaps Gabourey Sidibe? And was bald, African American Bear Christopher Dorner even on the table of discussions of “let’s-be-provocative-and-put-a-killer-on-our-cover”?
When I recall my experiences here in Los Angeles and take an honest look at the numerous Leopards I have welcomed into my home, welcomed into my bed and collaborated with professionally I am a little in awe at the sheer and consummate stupidity I displayed by equating their beauty with emotional depth or intelligence. When I look back and I superimpose the image of their hideous doppelgänger in their place, the exact same people just in completely different and offensive bodies with unpleasant facial features complete with acne, sags and wrinkles, I realize how different my choices would have been and how my own vanity came into play wanting to associate with people I thought were as beautiful as I was.
The conceit was that no one that beautiful could ever be too far from having likable and pleasant characteristics complete with a certain level of emotional maturity and easy-going spirit. But the record has definitely shown that there is no rhyme and reason to the connection humans have between their inner beauty and outer beauty. There really is no way to tell a person’s heart by simply looking at their sparkling green/hazel eyes or their smooth muscular arms or their voluptuous behind. I can tell you from experience that I have interacted with some of the finest Leopards that God could have ever created and plopped in my life path; that I have sat lotus position at their feet, basking in the marvel of a beauty that clearly could only have come from the work of deities with heavenly intentions. I have worked with them, I have lived with them, I have dated them and I can tell you from first-hand experience that on more than one occasion I have looked into their deep sensual eyes and slid that glance over a body that seems to have been chiseled from marble and diamond and I have thought to myself, “My God, this is one crazy ass motherfucker.” And it was not the pleadings of a Fox with low self-esteem trying to compensate my own lack of physical beauty, it was a complete objective view of the person standing before me and realizing that, I have made a horrible mistake. “I have confused your outside with your inside which would be a conundrum in itself since you are in all actuality hollow so if your outside were actually your inside, well that make you… nothing.”
And sometimes it does. As I happily trudge through the jungle of life with my Fox learnings I have definitely come to appreciate the beauty of the Leopards but am wise enough to know that those pretty spots have nothing to do with their heart or their spirit. And for me it makes those spots, a little moldier, a little stale. I come upon those lowly bloggers who unload piles of cynicism, derision and misinformation and I know the viewing public is simply fascinated by those beefy arms and pectoral muscles bursting out of their chest clamoring for air and attention because their audience is growing. But I know where that beauty bubble ends. I know that if those same intentions where expressed by someone who looked like Shemp Howard they would have been barbequed at the stake by now. I know that they are a crazy ass motherfucker. I know that they are nothing. What I don’t know, is when the rest of the forest is going to stop catering to those Leopards. What I don’t know is if those spots will ever go any deeper than the fur.
Funny: Jokes That Hurt... Jokes That Heal
On the opposite end, comedienne Morgan Murphy makes several extremely humorous observations on life that often color outside the lines of polite conversation on her special "Irish Goodbye". She eventually summarizes that people often say to her that if she were not a comic that she would be the funniest girl in the office, a sentiment that she does not agree with because her male counterparts would never be seen as the funniest guy in the office. She explains, "They'd be the fucking crazy guy in the office. They'd be the guy where everybody's gathered in the little kitchenette at lunch around the microwave and going, 'Um, that guy talks about rape all day. Something's wrong with him. No, like seriously wrong with him. He shouldn't work here. He thinks it's funny." I found the sentiment to be extraordinarily funny since I have indeed found myself to be that guy; spouting inappropriate humor during inappropriate times, damning the displeased audience around me for not having a stronger backbone in accepting a little cynicism, discontentment, and naughtiness. Indeed, in this world of increasing political correctness, I do find a heightened yearning to color outside the lines since there seem to be so many of them nowadays. It doesn't take too much of an effort these days to be misconstrued as a racist, sexist and/or homophobe. One ill intention towards Barack Obama could get you labeled a racist. Expressing your distaste in men in high heels could get you labeled a homophobe. Even the eternal LGBT stalwart RuPaul was smacked with the label "Transphobe" for using the word "She-Mail" on his television show "Drag Race." Much like the veins of a porn star's penis, the lines of impropriety are thick and numerous these days. One ill will could get you inadvertently labeled a "Bully". So in an exasperating world shared by rebelliously inappropriate humorists as well as highly attuned communities tiring of malignment it does evoke the question, have we as a society become too sensitive to take a joke and are the joke masters helping matters by making fun of it?
While I fully support efforts to thwart bullying of all kinds, particularly in our schoolyards , I am also a big proponent of self defense and increasing society's emotional wherewithal. While I find the cause of eliminating bullying a most amiable one, I question the realism of its total annihilation. I think there is something to do be said about learning how to deal with assholes outside of acknowledging their assholishness by pointing a finger and simply calling them bullies. This definitely comes to mind when recalling the pockmarked tradition of insult comedy. When I first stumbled upon works by notable insult comics Andrew Dice Clay and Lisa Lampanelli, I was initially (and instantaneously) offended, repulsed and enraged. Speaking with all the delicacy and succulence of a shit covered baseball bat, both comedians unraveled their take on life using epithets filled with so much vile, derision and affronts to human decency that even the most dedicated bleeding heart liberal would question their ideas on censorship... and the death penalty. And when armies of incensed people approached them displaying the emotional wounds they incurred while experiencing their shows, the both of them seemed to pull out the "I'm a comedian, these are just jokes" card. A defense I have never abided by until hearing their individual interviews on one of my favorite podcasts, "WTF with Marc Maron". Both comedians convincingly separated themselves from their onstage personas and effectively gave some much needed objectivity to their work. While I initially considered them both to be bullies, drunk with "spotlight courage" and enlarged "microphone muscles" spouting off diatribes about their disgust of anything even remotely ethnic, feminine or decent, during their interviews I was able to see the intentional and artful sarcasm in their work whereas they were pointing out their own indiscretions and mocking themselves in front of an audience. And every despicable feeling I had about the words that came out of their mouths, it seemed as if they shared the same disgust of racism, sexism and homophobia and were mocking the true racists, sexist and homophobes they based their onstage personas on. Though I still admittedly cannot fully embrace all of their work, I do tend to view them more on the lines of complicated, intriguing and frustrating art house installations whereas Archie Bunker, fully aware of his idiosyncrasies, tells tales of the days when the "Darkies" first moved into his neighborhood.
In this, they are "just" comedians and they were "just" telling jokes and it was me who construed their comedy as ammunition against my own character as a Black, gay man. And while I feel accomplished that I was able to deconstruct some of the behavior I considered to be intimidating thus eliminating those particular "bullies", I understand the inclination to not want to delve that far in trying to separate the intentions of a comedian saying "nigger faggot" as opposed to a civilian saying "nigger faggot". As a Black gay man I feel neither is necessarily justifiable, but in the context of open entertainment in a show, there does seem to be more of an opportunity for investigation and discussion and I do thank Maron for that opportunity. In this pin prick of a world of ours where each new breath lies the possibility to expand culture, it is a daunting task for minority communities to remain sacredly tethered to our people while fully experiencing a day to day world inclined to "mainstream" influences. In this, we are to have thick skins and shrug off minority discontentment when presented by humorists but be willing and able to fight, picket and revolt when the same minority discontentment is used against us politically, socially and/or financially. It is much simpler to call bullshit on the whole affair and label all that discontentment as prejudice. But maybe if we dug a little deeper, our own ammunition against racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia and hypocrisy can be more nuanced. Instead of vilifying humorists with itchy trigger fingers, we can direct our full attention to establishments putting in efforts to lessen our civil rights, affect our ability to earn a living, disregard violence against our communities.
This doesn't, however, give comedians free range to fuck with us. There does seem to be a growing trend within the comedy community to turn over the applecart just for the sake of turning over the apple cart; using the most offensive, racist, sexist, homophobic language just for the sake of using racist, sexist, homophobic language in hopes of getting a laugh. From my view as a comedy nerd eagerly watching from the back row of open mics, coffeshops and comedy clubs, I have noticed that the "compost pile" mode of comedy whereas you just pile shit on top of shit on top of more shit in hopes something will spark, rarely ever works. And while I agree that society as a whole could stand to strengthen our resolve and not be so quick to position ourselves in the role of "victim", there is no denying the level of antagonism on the level of a Disney Villain from comedians who try to rationalize their prejudice as normal occupational hazards of living in a multicultural society (Bernard Manning) or the humorists "cleverly" constructing urbane bits of comedy in a vacuum insulated from the pain of American History (the Onion deciding to tweet, "Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that [9 year old] Quvenzhané Wallis is kind of a cunt, right?" on Oscar night 2013).
There was a time when I worked in the Box Office of the House of Blues Sunset Strip where I developed a maddeningly dysfunctional relationship with a female co-worker that was very similar to that of Fred Sanford and Aunt Esther or maybe Drew Carey and Mimi whereas we would spike hurtful jabs to each other at any given moment during the course of the day. The goal being, to see who can disrespect the other the most, converting them into a pile of broken bones and dreams. During one particular exchange in which my nemesis commented on the sanity of people who lowered themselves to sleep with me, I lobbed back that the last person to sleep with her had to be lowered into the ground. Stunned, she kept repeating that she couldn't believe that I said that, then ushered in a hideous silence that flooded the box office for an uncomfortable amount of time. She later revealed that the last person she slept with was her husband and he had indeed... died. After excusing myself from the box office and ingesting a couple of sticks of nicotine and a shot of Cuervo I subsequently apologized saying that I had no idea her husband had passed. I have always remembered this exchange when people talk about the boundaries of humor. Even with MaleMediaMind one of the initial questions asked when I first came on board was, "What, if anything, is too serious to joke about?" And while my many of compatriots felt that nothing can not be shellacked with the gloss of humor, I have always maintained that timing is everything, some things actually are sacred, you just don't call a 9 year old a cunt, and you don't make fun of someone's recently deceased husband. And if I were to use the experience as a microcosmic view of the boundaries and sensitivities of a comedy inclined world, I think it would be best to swing for the rafters and be as provocative as possible. If you break something, be adult enough to admit it and apologize for it. And if someone breaks you, be adult enough to accept their apology. And the next time you're up to bat , try not to swing in that same direction again. I guess the goal is to always keep playing with each other and not let our own sensitivities and egos stop the game.
Coincidentally she did accept my apology then went on to explain how if I ever did get plastic surgery to make sure they switched my ass and my face back to their original positions. I retorted that she just wanted me to do that so she wouldn't have to bend over so much to kiss my ass. Again, I do believe some things actually are sacred and should not be touched. But I think with humor, you can figure out why... and move on.
When Private Goes Public
When you integrate new technologies into your life and subsequently that life experiences it's natural bumps and pitfalls, there does seem to be this increased inclination to blame those technologies for the fall. According to Divorce Online, a third of all divorce filings in 2011 contained the word “Facebook” and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers claims that more than 80 percent of U.S. divorce attorneys say social networking is on the rise in divorce proceedings. But are these technologies the cause of these relationships ending or are we as a society shooting the (technological) messenger? Facebook doesn’t create adultery no more so than photography can create obesity; they are both tools that help expose what’s already there. It is just as fool hearty to assign blame to a social media network that exposes your adulterous behavior when you shouldn’t have been committing adultery in the first place as it is to blame a photographer for exposing your muffin top when it was you who ate fifty whole muffins before the photo shoot.
There is also a common predilection to avoid social media all together in an effort to remove, repel and/or prevent drama in otherwise functional lives. But in practice, you would have to eliminate social contact all together to fully flush out any and all possibilities of “drama” since it is an unfortunate occupational hazard of living a life outside of the vacuum of your own experiences and thoughts and encountering a myriad of outside opinions, conjecture and intentions. In this, it is more than likely beneficial to not deny the stealthy integration of social media into our normal everyday waking lives, but rather to do our best in better understanding how it works. And while many discussions have been made that stand in judgment of people who overexpose themselves via social media platforms, in this highly technological world of ours that can process a constellation's amount of information within a baby's breath amount of time, “overexposure” is sometimes a misunderstood and unintended echo. This definitely comes into play when observing the reactions to relationship statuses on Facebook. While some interpret “In A Relationship” or “Married” as an echo of codependence or a thirst for superiority and acknowledgement the original statement was simply, “In A Relationship” or “Married.”
This misinterpretation of my own Facebook relationship status combined with several restrictions that have been put on my account including a suspension due to Facebook’s now highly publicized and infamous “Real Name” policy has definitely coerced me into investigating how big of a role social media has in my life. Considering how much of a “crunchy” bohemian who still has Barbra Weathers 45 rpm records I always claimed myself to be, I found it to be shockingly painful to have that main mode of communication removed from my life. It felt something akin to having a lung removed and wanting to scream full throttle to the world about all of my pain, all of my joy, all of my brilliance and the dizzying ways I am full of shit and nothing coming out but impotent whispers. And once the suspension was over, my profile was then bombarded with restrictions and a certain level of social shunning resulting from misinterpretation of my posts and profile status. All of which have made me a little gun shy about freely posting what is truly in my heart and what is really on my mind. And while I have taken a little bit of time to shake my fist in the air, damn the Facebook “gods” and create a grocery list of “haters” that just don’t get me, the bigger query involves the desire to expose my private life to the public and who is to blame when it results in less than desirable consequences.
Never one to shy away from exposing and sometimes even overexposing intimacies of my various relationships, updating my relationship status on Facebook once I got into one was a no brainer; mainly to tell the truth about my relationship status, lay claim to our relationship and well… yeah, I think we’re cute together. A sentiment I’m realizing is not shared by many in long term monogamous relationships, particularly in the LGBT community. With so many gay men claiming their eternal and undying love for their paramours on a consistent basis, summarily breaking up, then claiming their eternal and undying love for the next paramour, then the next, then the next and then the next… the optimism of the LGBT community has worn down to a blunt nub when hearing of a new declaration of eternal and undying love. It also does not help when after declaring eternal and undying love, some simultaneously post and request pornographic pictures in secretive groups in hopes of surreptitious sex. But even still, I trudge on drawing hearts and bows on the public electronic locker door of social media, I declare my own eternal and undying love to the collective eye roll of a community, I damn popular convention to keep my private life private and to adhere to loose unempirical rules of etiquette that can be found anywhere on the net nowadays, including one by blogger Jessica Catcher the lists “12 Facebook Statuses You Should Retire” that include:
The Braggy Relationship Status (e.g. “My BF is the beeeest! It’s not even our anniversary or my birthday! He’s just so sweet!”)
The Attempt to Make Mundane Tasks Sound Interesting Status (e.g. “OMG such a busy day! Laundry, gym, grocery store, I have a paper due tomorrow! Someone get me a coffee! LOL!”
The Detox/Cleanse/Health Food Junkie Status (e.g. “Day 6! EAT CLEAN!! Check out this nom vegan dinner I made!”)
The Sad Sack Status (e.g. “I guess I’m single again. I really thought he was the one”)
The Chain Letter Hoax Status (e.g. “Bill Gates is giving away money! Share this and you’ll get $5,000!)
The Overly Aggressive Passive Aggressive Status (e.g. “SMFH! Why do ppl gotta be talkin smack! Whatever! Just tell me to my face!”)
The Threatening Facebook Status (e.g. “Facebook sucks. I’m ditching this ho.”)
The Friend Purge Status (e.g. “If you can see this, you survived my friend purge. Lucky you.”)
The Bored Status (e.g. “Ugh I’m so bored! LOL! HMU!!”)
The False Information About Facebook Status (e.g. “Facebook has changed their privacy settings once more! I post shots of my family that I don’t want strangers to have access to! Follow these instructions or I will have to delete you…”)
The Spoiler Status (e.g. “OMG! Did you see Breaking Bad? The ricin was in the Stevia!”)
The Vague Status (e.g. “Ugh.”)
While I find this list amazingly funny, it does beg the question of, what the fuck are you supposed to post? If the idea is to express what you are feeling, and feelings by nature are organic, messy and annoying, aren’t these items (aside from #5 and #10) and a slew of others just a part of the human experience that we are supposed to be sharing on or offline? It is enough to make anyone utilizing social media platforms to be a little gun shy about posting anything out of fear of breaking some hipsters’ rules of decorum. You could post something as simple as “I’m having a great day” and it could be number 13 on the list; “The Too Happy Post: No one wants to hear how happy you are.”
And with Facebook’s “Real Name” policy, that scrutiny goes all the way down to your name. Regardless if the name on your Drivers’ License does not reflect who are, what you do, your current place in life or anything you care to associate yourself with, you have to use it. Despite the fact your pseudonym might prevent your abusive husband from finding you, increases your brand, affects your income and identifies who you are as a person aside from a Facebook consumer, you have to use it. Damn if you can’t afford the name change that can run upwards of $600 that would reflect your current sex, spirit and/or persona and until you wade through Facebooks’ Help Desk’s bureaucracy for an infinite amount of time, you have to use it.
So if you are saying things you don’t want to say under a profile name that you don’t want use, what you essentially become is a marionette whose cords are tethered to Facebook’s “Powers That Be” who pull your stings according to the sarcastic needs of hipsters unaware of the textural differences of cultures and lifestyles different than their own. But alas, we are talking about Facebook here, the number one social media platform in the world with over 1.31 Billion users who feel more than privileged to be connected to greater lexicon of the world. The inclination might to damn Facebook and to flatly declare it to be the villainous enemy to a conscious and free thinking society who values its own identity and nomenclatures, but if the enemy comprises over 18% of the planet’s population, the wait for the revolution that would entice the world to unplug from that particular source might be a lengthy one. Plus, there are benefits in understanding social media platforms and how they fit in the greater landscape of communicating to the world at large; namely that everyone is not the audience for your posts and you are not the audience for every post. I think this addresses all of the “Do’s and Do Not’s Of Social Media Posting” lists including Catcher’s. I believe… Do say what the fuck you want to say; don’t filter what the fuck you want to say for fear that you would wind up one someone’s list. And if people feel as though you are crying emotional “Wolf”, let them turn their backs on you, your cries weren’t for them anyway. If someone’s post does not coincide with your own morality, feel free to turn your backs on them. While it is popular to bellow the principles of “Free Speech”, one of its more powerful tenets is often overlooked; the “Freedom To Walk Away When Someone Is Saying Shit That You Don’t Want To Hear.”
And it is the belief in these particular freedoms that have slowly been stiffing my resolve when it comes to being the kick-ass, balls-to-wall, social media poster, blogger and graphic designer that I usually am. And with innovative new social media platforms such as Ello creeping out of the shadows and giving us free thinking artisans, citizens and social media denizens alternatives to the puppet show that Facebook is slowing becoming, maybe the wait for that revolution is not as far off as I conjectured. And maybe when the next generation has one hand downloading the 25 centillion songs available on iTunes and the other hand proclaiming their undying love of their relationships using the name that best identifies themselves without the judgment of a bitter community waiting for it’s fall, they’ll think of this dubious time in the history of social media and think, “thanks for sticking it out, thanks for being honest
The eight guidelines that Salmansohn suggests are: Saying a Prayer, Focus on Gratitude, Look for the Lesson, Maintain Perspective, Learn the Lesson, Let Go of Resentment, Stay Centered and Get Revenge Positively. All of which seems to fit into my newly formed mantra for healing of “Forgive but Never Forget”. Now the concept of “Never Forget” does overlap with the universally panned concept of “Holding a Grudge” since both require a healthy dose of continued acknowledgement of past indiscretions and the all of the residual emotions that come along with it including resentment. And while Salmansohn quotes Carrie Fisher in referring to resentment as “the poison you swallow hoping the other person will die”, I tend to think of resentment as an occupational hazard of having emotions and being aware. The trick is definitely to not be consumed wholly by resentment but the human heart, particularly if it’s open and warm, is much too delicious for antipathy to not nibble on when it has been betrayed or disregarded or maligned. I’m not confident if anyone can fully disengage from the resentment earned from those bites, the scar tissue alone can conjure up a base level of discontentment, but I do think as you heal you develop stronger defense mechanisms, and that granule of rancor that you carry from the experience, can be the strongest armor in making sure you don’t feel that pain again.
My relationship with my ex-employer lasted for close to twelve years and together we have made indelible improvements in underserved communities in south Los Angeles. When asked about the future of my ex-wife-cum-ex-employer without my assistance, I harken back to another divorce, Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt in 2005. Speculation has swirled in the press that while Pitt was married to Aniston, he engaged in an illicit affair with “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” co-star Angelina Jolie which fueled the split-up. Pitt and Jolie have since parented six children and have used their immeasurable fame and wealth to provide considerable support to humanitarian and political causes. But still, there was the affair. Jolie’s announcement of undergoing a preventive double mastectomy to lower her chances of developing breast cancer to under 5 percent in a Time magazine cover story brought genetic testing in the spotlight with Eric Topol, a geneticist and director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute referring to Jolie’s advocacy for wider accessibility for BRCA gene testing as a “moment that will propel genomic medicine forward.” But still, there was the affair. Pitt founded the Make It Right Foundation that organized housing professionals in New Orleans to finance and construct 150 sustainable, affordable new houses in New Orleans's Ninth Ward following the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. But still, there was the affair.
After my own “divorce” papers were served swiftly and brusquely, I kept tabs on the progress of the company, not so silently hoping that my absence would be the one block in their Jenga tower that once removed, would crumble the entire organization. But alas, its foundation remains strong and the tower continues to grow. This is when the Aniston-Pitt-Jolie affair comes in to play for me. The ex-spouses (the detractors, the antagonists, the haters) can bring enlightenment of a medical condition to the masses, they can house people in need, they can cure cancer, cure AIDS, eliminate racism, sexism and homophobia from the face of the planet and receive satchels of gold for their efforts and none of it would deter from the fact that… they fucked you over. And in that fact is an unyielding need for them to give you solace via a simple apology or even an acknowledgement that they have done you wrong. But the truth of the matter is that apology more than likely will never happen. And whatever reprieve from the pain that you thirst you for is never going to trickle out of their faucet. Keeping tabs on them in hopes of their demise is a feeble attempt to try to be right instead of trying to be happy. They’re going to keep going regardless of your intentions and you would be wise to offer up your own ambivalence in regards to them in pursuing your own goals.
But that bitterness will remain. Not as intense as when the discretion first occurred, but that aftertaste is lingering. And again, while the goal is for it to not overtake your palette, I think it would be wise to remember that sour flavor to avoid eating certain dishes again. I don’t think it’s a matter of being emotional more so a matter of being emotionally economic and knowing where to lay your loyalties. When I think of the more traumatic moments in my life where family members have tried to annihilate me because of my sexuality, the employers that have deceived me, the friends that have betrayed me, the ex-lover that tried to sexually assault me, I can’t imagine an existence where a base level of discontentment does not come into play if I ever had the displeasure of encountering them again. I will, however, say a prayer, I will focus on gratitude, I will look for the lesson, I will maintain perspective, I will learn the lesson, I will stay centered and I will get revenge positively… by keeping a granule of resentment. I will never forget. I will foster enough forgiveness to do the heavy lifting of carrying the burden of that memory, but it will always have weight.
Love As A Second Language
Furthermore, as cliché as the sentiment may be, regardless of the racial and cultural differences that exist, love is truly the universal language. However, as is the anatomy of language, misinterpretation is an unfortunate occupational hazard. What is said might not necessarily be what was intended or received. And while there is a basic understanding in the intent of the word “love”, contextual interpretations can vary wildly. This would always come to mind when I have entered into relationships with people of different cultures whose understanding of the word “love” was slightly misaligned from my own perception; particularly ESL (English as a Second Language) individuals. One of my own personal rules of thumb when it comes to relationships is that “everything is inadmissible before you say that you love someone.” In other words, if you are dating someone, anything that is done outside of that relationship should not affect the relationship if neither party has inferred a serious monogamous intention by saying the actual words “I love you”. For me, after the words have been said, accepted and returned, all bets are off; you are no longer single, you now are committed to each other. “Unapproved” sex with someone else is now considered adultery and should be dealt with on the level of someone who has committed treason. I personally hold the phrase “I love you” with a certain amount of reverence so it has been off-putting when people have uttered those words to me prematurely, like say for example… minutes into a clandestine sexual tête-à-tête in a bathhouse. The solemnity that I hold the phrase immediately sparked my cynicism at hearing it via breathy broken English. The desperation I had at the time for affection/attention sparked my imagination in hopes that against all odds and archetypal convention that maybe, just maybe, this could actually be love. But alas, hindsight is 20/20 and looking back at those encounters it is adamantly clear that while my paramours might have wanted to either express the joy they were having at the moment or maybe even wanted to extend the boundaries of our rather salacious liaison, their “love” was not my “love”, no matter how desperately I wanted it to be.
I also remember this sentiment while feeling the euphoric sense of joy in the beginning chapter of a prior relationship when they similarly expressed their love for me fairly early on and I implicitly did not repeat the intention but instead offered, “You can’t say that to me. We can’t say that we love each other.” When he enquired why not I replied, “Because we just met, and we are not lesbians.”
This fear of “love misinterpretation” was definitely on the radar in the beginning throws of my current relationship. Someone offering the sounds of crickets when you offer them your heart is not necessarily a deal breaker (it could just be timing, maybe wait just a little longer) but it is unavoidably embarrassing. And I did not want to pull the trigger too early myself with visages of stifling commitment, confinement and restraint swimming freely between my increasingly chilly feet. But with enough time, communication and openness, my feet did begin to warm up, as did other parts of my anatomy. Needless to say, when it was time to talk about love, commitment and all the extra accoutrements that go along with it, we had the same intentions. We speak the same language; which comes in handy during moments of eventual disagreements.
In a prior episode of MaleMediaMind’s “Bear Essentials”, the contributors discussed The Five Love Languages as described by Gary D. Chapman which consists of
Words of Affirmation, showing love through verbal affirmations
Quality Time, devoting time to give undivided attention to loved ones
Receiving Gifts giving a symbol of emotion to loved ones
Acts of Service, providing a useful service that can benefit the ones you love
Physical Touch, showing love through the act of physical touch
The purpose of identifying these languages is in an effort for couples to better express themselves in their relationships; with the keyword in each tenet being “love” because the word alone, though heavy with intention and feeling, in and of itself cannot sustain a long term relationship. Much like those deliciously moist words uttered by ESL individuals during a fairly thirsty time in my life, without subsequent actions and a shared understanding of the intention, they slide out of the system leaving you hungry for something more substantial. Love is what love does; it’s just a matter of making sure that what you’re doing isn’t in vain.
During personal conversations with friends in regards to our collective relationships that sometimes relegates to an all-out bitch fest where we are venting about how our respective partners are wrong or misguided in one form or another, I more than likely find myself intoning that every absurdity that we have expressed with the upmost bias… should be expressed to our partners; mainly because I have found that “intent” to be one of the most misinterpreted aspects of communication. While you might feel that working overtime at your job fully expresses your commitment to the financial stability of your relationship, you partner might interpret your actions as an expression of you lack of interest in them because… the prospect of the intent of their actions was never discussed. It’s only honest communication that’s going to allow true intent to emerge and allow you to see, for example, that what you thought were the profiles of two people facing each other was only the image of a single candle. Without explicit intent that image, as well as relationships, can take on any form that your imagination will allow, even outside the confines of the others’ persons objectives.
Love On Top... And Bottom
While malady coursed through pretty much every aspect of that relationship, one of the main issues (that many of the other problems eventually funneled down into) was our shared passive aggressive navigation of sexual practices. We fell into the eternal quandary that has stifled, quelled and exasperated male homosexual couples since the beginning of time, “Who is going to be the top? Who is going to be the bottom?”
Personally, I have realized that when it’s just sex, navigation seems to be relatively simple. You follow your carnal instincts. You tell the one night stand, the Adam4Adam hookup, the Pizza Hut deliver boy, the homeless dude with a six pack, what you want done and then you do it. For the most part, we know our bodies and we know what feels good so riding that surface level pleasure and surfing with no attachments involved can be freeing and exhilarating. Relationships, on the other hand, require you to drop anchor and figure out who this other person is outside of the surfing and in turn find out who you are. And with enough speculation, assumption and misinformation handed down to us through the millenniums, and sometimes by our very own religions, about the unyielding laws of weak willed, passive femininity and dominating, domineering masculinity, it can be quite maddening trying figure out where you fit in.
Sexually speaking, both Dean and I knew exactly what we wanted. But when the anchor was dropped and the relationship was struggling for stability, tougher, more intense questions bubbled up like, “If I am always taking the sexual role of penetrating, then as a Top, am I the ‘man’ who controls the relationship? Do I want to be the ‘man’ all the time? Does this make me a ‘man’? Do you consider yourself to be a ‘woman’ because you are being penetrated? Can a real man be a bottom? If I want to Bottom does that make me a woman?” These questions went on and on and neither of us bothered to really investigate the answers out of an extreme fear of what those answers would connote.
Now usually when topic conversation veers around to a discussion of “Tops” and “Bottoms”, I usually roll my eyes and grunt thinking that it’s a moot conversation. That eventually, as you get older, you’re inevitably going to “Flip-Flop” if you will, so the whole preoccupation is a little pointless. After Hurricane Dean I do have to say that I do look at the matter with more reverence. As gay men, our preference of sexual roles is paramount, annoyingly so. In heterosexual relationships, because of biology, it’s a conversation that is rarely if ever discussed. With a man and a woman there is a plug and an outlet. You can fancy up the plug and you can fancy up the outlet but there is really only one way to get that electricity going and it is a pretty simple fix, you stick it in. With two men however, that predetermined assumption of roles is out the window. So you have find out fairly early on and with a certain level of honesty how your partner gets his electricity… and if you are willing to supply. I do now hold a greater respect for those male on male dating or hook up sites that add the question of sexual roles to their profiles. There may be the intonation that it’s an intimate question, only to be answered when/if the relationship gets serious, but I maintain it’s better to know sooner than later. Picture this: you get to know someone on a deep and spiritual level, create a friendship and companionship that rivals any relationship you have ever had. Cry with them. Share with them. Open yourself up to them. Then you find out they’re into scat. They’re still a beautiful person. They still respect their mom. But are you willing to roll around in shit with them? Are you willing to give up on what could possibly be the best relationship of your life for just one sexual practice? Be it that they are into scat… or a bottom like you… or a top like you… or some other aspect that doesn’t coincide neatly into your sexual practices? Wouldn’t it be better to know this information before you got your heart involved… and purchased those 300 count white linen bed sheets?
I maintain the acceptance of those incongruent sexual practices is not an easy task. It can be done and it has been done successfully since the beginning of time, but it was not through a simple, “I love him so I’ll change” sentiment. It takes a certain amount of self-reflection and communication with your partner. If you do not have a lot of experience being penetrated or have had bad experiences being penetrated, being in love alone is simply not got to lessen that pain. There are emotional ties involved to that practice and every media outlet associates it to femininity and submission and if you were brought up with those strict gender roles of masculine overbearance and feminine obedience, it can be a daunting task to discover the pleasure and supremacy of being penetrated. The same is true with someone who repels the idea of penetrating and discovering the release and acquiescence of topping. It’s going to take some patience, commitment and honesty with both partners. And as a community I do think we are far overdue in standing up and putting to rest the idea of “feminine bottoms” and “masculine tops”. For one, the connotation is that all bottoms are feminine and that femininity equates to weakness smacks of misogyny and a maddeningly level chauvinism that turns a blind eye to the fact that without bottoms… there would be no tops. Two, appearance, demeanor and mannerisms are not fail-safe indicators of peoples’ sexual practices. Not all drag queens are bottoms. Not all football players are tops. Which leads to the last point, what difference does it make if all of us are undervalued as citizens? There is no more value in being a top than it is being a bottom if at the end of the day none of us can get legally married in 37 of the 50 states in America. And in the hip-hop community you’re a “faggot sissy” if you give or receive.