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Sunday, June 30, 2013

On Society: The San Francisco Gay Pride Festval 2013

The Gay Pride festival takes place this weekend in the City of San Francisco. The LGBT community in the Bay Area is large enough and demonstrative enough to have prompted Oakland to host its own Pride Festival in September in the last few years. Thus, those of us who live here are reminded at least twice a year of the prevalence of homosexuals in our area and in the country at large.

Personally, I think it's a disgrace. To my mind, there is absolutely no reason why the gay and lesbian community should still, in the twenty-first century, have the reason or need to hold a festival in order to discourage feelings of shame in being gay.

I mean, really, people. Homosexuals have been around for thousands of years that we know of, and probably since the beginning of humankind. Clearly they aren’t going anywhere. Get over it.

And people are getting over it. Like non-whites, like non-Christians, non-heterosexuals are gradually becoming a part of mainstream America. They’re characters on television, and in movies; characters with depth and style, not mere stereotypes of what homosexuals were once popularly supposed to be.

Yet, compared to other minority groups, there’s still a difference in the way gay and lesbian characters are handled in the popular media, and this, to me, is the crux of the matter, the yardstick by which we know that the homosexuals have not yet gained acceptance as a mainstream minority. Because so many of the roles featuring homosexual characters are not about ordinary people who happen to be homosexual, but about their homosexuality itself.

And that’s a crucial difference. Living where I do, I’ve met many gay and lesbian couples and the fact is, apart from the same-sex issue, most of them are basically indistinguishable from heterosexual couples. In my experience, most homosexuals don’t actually fit the “types” you’ll see featured if you attend the Gay Pride festival. Most of them are perfectly assimilated into a mainstream American lifestyle, and many more of them would be if the heterosexual community would simply let them. Being gay doesn’t mean they have different customs and values; if it did, they wouldn’t be fighting so hard for the right to marry. Shouldn’t we be applauding their desire to make permanent commitments to their selected mates? Doesn’t that make them more like the majority culture, not less?

Yet people continue to argue about homosexuality as if it’s a moral or behavioral issue and not a physical one. But homosexuality simply cannot be a choice, for the very logical objection that if it were, who in their right mind would choose it? Who would willingly volunteer to spend their lives being mocked and scorned and beaten and abused if they could help it? The fact is, there’s no overcoming the sexual instinct, not for heterosexuals, and not for homosexuals, either. And it seems to me to be both foolish and pointless to try.

Minorities will always be minorities, and to a certain extent, they’ll always stand out because of that. Indeed, this melting pot that we call America was basically founded as a haven for differing minority groups, and its multi-culturality only continues to increase as the decades pass, which is certainly not a bad thing.

But the day will eventually come when non-heterosexuals won’t have to be defined by their sexual orientation. When they’ll be able to be people first and gay second. When they’ll no longer need a Pride festival to champion homosexuality. Because no one will even give a damn anymore whether they’re gay or not.

I’d like to attend the Pride festival a few decades from now, when they make the announcement that it’s to be the final one. And if the LGBT members of our community are all at home or at work going about their own business, then I’ll know it’s time to celebrate the equality that they have finally achieved.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

On Books: The Devil in Massachusetts: A Modern Inquiry into the Salem Witch Trials

Starkey, Marion L., The Devil in Massachusetts: A Modern Inquiry into the Salem Witch Trials, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc: New York, 1949.

I wrote a report on the Salem Witchcraft Trials when I was in the seventh grade. Most of what I remember about it was having to deliver it orally to the class off of those stupid 3x5 cards, from which I read it essentially verbatim. Not only because I was incapable of spontaneous speech, but also so I would have something to look at besides the eyes of my classmates. This worked pretty well except that my hair kept falling into my face and I had to keep tucking it back behind my ears so I could see. I don’t think I would even have recollected that part of it except that all the kids made fun of me afterwards for playing with my hair during my speech. Strange the things children find amusing…

Anyway, being a native of Massachusetts, I was perhaps more drawn to this particular subject than I otherwise might have been, particularly since Salem was a mere two hours away from my hometown and we actually visited the Salem Witch Museum on a school field trip during my formative years. A skeptic even at twelve, I was impressed most by the illogic of the proceedings, in particular the torture devices by which “confessions” were sometimes obtained. But I can’t say I had a fair recollection of the actual historical events until I recently read Ms. Starkey’s fascinating and very well-written study of the subject.

Ms. Starkey, by her own description, decided to approach the Trials from a psychoanalytic standpoint, Freudian analyses of human behavior being tremendously popular in her day. Her theory is that the teen-aged girls who were essentially in charge of accusing the witches were suffering from hysteria brought about by the repressive nature of the Puritan society in which they lived. (She doesn’t go so far as to term it sexual repression, which perhaps would have been too delicate a matter to address in American non-fiction in 1949, but it’s implied.) Whether faked or not, the fits into which the girls dissolved, repeatedly and often, under the claimed tortures of invisible witches, did accomplish the objective of placing the girls squarely in the center of attention in the community. It’s certainly plausible that the people of three centuries ago suffered just as much from the illness of “look-at-me-itis” (as I like to call it) as the humans of today.

Now as you’re reading through Ms. Starkey’s history, it becomes apparent that the witchcraft hysteria that so rapidly engulfed the community did not really come about because the people were overly superstitious or inclined to belief in demons and witches. Rather, it arose because they were na├»ve. By and large, they simply could not believe that the stories the accusing girls told could be anything less than true. And if you have that kind of faith in the stories of children, then the idea of putting another citizen to death on the basis of spectral evidence alone doesn’t seem quite so outlandish.       

Of course, had there not been an underlying belief in witchcraft to begin with, no reasonably rational person could have overlooked the wildly evident illogic of the proceedings. For example, one of the most surefire means by which the allegations were proved true took place during the examinations themselves. The accused witch would be brought into the presence of the accusers, at which point they would cry out in pain, claiming that the “specter” of Goody So-and-So was pinching them mercilessly. Now, really. Why would any witch with even less than half a brain send her specter to attack innocent children right in the midst of her own trial, knowing that this would be taken as evidence of her guilt? And if these witches truly had the power to use their “specters” to do evil while their physical bodies went about business as usual, then what was the point of locking them up? And as time went on, the quantity of accusations and the quality of the persons accused both increased greatly, to the point where witchcraft of such magnitude would have been logistically impossible to have carried on unnoticed in such a small community.

There were those who made arguments along these lines right from the very start; one patriarch even “cured” a girl of her visions by simply threatening her with a lashing, and suggested that the same punishment be applied to the other accusers as a means of ending the witchcraft threat. And the community at large did, of course, in time, come to see the light of truth through the veil of hysteria and lies, but not before twenty innocent people were hanged for sins they did not commit.

Not even the most faithful of God-fearing folk believe any longer that the Devil possessed the old-time villagers of Salem and turned them into witches and wizards. But, if you believe in that kind of thing, you could conceivably make the argument that the Devil was, indeed, in Massachusetts in 1692. Not the Devil who hosts Black Sabbaths, acquires the souls of young girls by forcing them to sign their names in a book of his legions, and accompanies his servants in the forms of familiars like black cats and snakes, but the Devil who works his evil in underhanded ways: by entering the hearts of good, worthy citizens and turning them horribly and pitilessly against one another.  
 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

"Scars" An Exploration of the Map of My Body

My essay "Scars" has been published in Ducts Webzine of Personal Stories:
 
http://www.ducts.org/content/scars/

This piece began with a single phrase that one day randomly insinuated itself into my conscious mind. “The map of my body.” It’s not so illogical when you think about it. The body really is a landscape all its own, complete with hills and valleys, rivers and woodlands, plains and caves. It’s subject to the same physical upheavals: quakes, tremors, winds, storms, and, for the less fortunate ones among us, active volcanoes spewing noxious elements. Much like the modern human landscape, roads run through it in every direction and across countless crossroads; around each peninsula and over every mountain, as if the body itself is a vast network of highways and intersections. And in the midst of this wandering journey, if you care to take it, every so often you find a historical landmark, a sign, if you will, of some noteworthy event that took place on that very spot.

Of course, the body doesn’t have any of those giant brown placards telling you what happened in some otherwise unremarkable field or forest lining the highway, and without that, the landmark is no more meaningful to most than any other scrap of land. Only one who is intimately acquainted with the history of a particular place can look out over the fresh green growth carpeting a battle-scarred land and see in his mind where the cannons once stood or the blood once spilled. Only the expert can envision the scene of the carnage without assistance or direction. And who is more expert than one who lived through it?    

We flock to them, the physical places where great events happened. We read the signs and try to imagine the precise square foot in which Custer fell or Washington froze, as if standing ourselves upon the spot in which it happened can make it somehow more authentic and real; can bring us somehow closer to the events of the past. And it does. By fixing history in space, it also fixes it in time; assigns it a permanent place in our collective consciousness. A landmark cannot fade into history like words in a textbook; so long as someone is interested enough to proclaim its continued existence, it is, and will remain, undeniably, everlastingly real.

And so with our scars. A scar is a story, a memorial to tragedy or triumph. It matters little whether the event that precipitated it was momentous or meaningless; it stakes a claim in our memory because we carry a physical reminder of it always. It is indelibly carved into the landscapes of our bodies, a point at which something significant enough occurred to leave a mark, a mark that we can use to trace history. Not the history of a world or a nation, but a history fully as complex and grand: that of a person.

* * *

"Scars" is one of the essays to be featured in my forthcoming collection Stories from My Memory-Shelf: Fiction and Essays from My Past (only $0.99 Kindle, $5.99 paperback). To learn more about it, please visit the book's webpage or subscribe to my newsletter. 

 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

eRomance Publication and Author Commentary: Careful

http://www.fictionmagazines.com/shop/romance/eromance-vol-01-no-05/

This story is actually an excerpt from my first novel, My Life with Michael: A Story of Sex and Beer for the Middle-Aged, currently out on query. The piece has been heavily modified to make it self-contained, but the theme is essentially the same as that of my book: how aging changes our view of sex and romance and the people with whom we want to share those things.

It’s a cute story, I think; one of my sweeter pieces. Many of my romantic short stories carry an undertone of heartache (it’s only my erotica that’s funny), and it amuses me to have written something so light and fluffy, almost as if I were becoming sentimental myself in my old age. Shh, don’t tell anyone!

Anyway, “Careful” is about a newish couple in their mid-forties and how the two of them relate to one another when the male character suffers a back injury. My favorite line from this story? This one:   
“So he let me help him out of his shoes and shirt and pants, and then I wiggled myself into the lacy pink chemise that delicately covered up my sagging this and drooping that while he scooted awkwardly up into the bed and under the covers.”
Paints quite the romantic picture, doesn’t it? :)