Monday, December 19, 2005
by Wayne Besen
If it weren't for gay people and gay bashers would anyone know about Wyoming? Sure, it is a beautiful state with some fine folks. But Matthew Shepard, Mary Cheney and now the movie Brokeback Mountain are the only reasons it makes news.
One would think the state would be so ecstatic about the national attention generated by the gay cowboy movie, it would produce custom "Brokeback Mountain" vanity plates. But no, the movie has yet to find an exhibitor in the state. Aren't Wyoming's residents the slightest bit curious why the rest of the nation can suddenly find their state on the map?
Wyoming isn't alone in miscalculating America's readiness to embrace this cinematic masterpiece. I've been getting e-mails from people who are furious that they are being treated like children and denied the opportunity to share in the Brokeback experience.
"It would be sad that I would have to get on a plane and travel to larger, distant cities to see this wonderful movie that's long overdue," a man wrote me from South Carolina. "I wonder if it will be on sale when it comes out on DVD or will I have to special order it especially when there are more lewd and sexually graphic straight movies on display for all to see?"
Theatres that won't show this movie will ignorantly cite "community standards." This reminds me of efforts to close strip joints in small towns citing the same reason, yet conveniently overlooking that people who live in the community pack these places.
This is not to draw an equivalent between stripping and Brokeback, but to make the point that the complexion and complexity of communities is far different than often presented. Having traveled throughout America, I can say that the whole blue/red state conventional wisdom is misleading. In all corners of this nation you find substantial numbers of gay people and thoughtful, progressive straight people. So, to deny a substantial minority enriching cultural opportunities, such as Brokeback Mountain, does not reflect community standards, but rather tyranny of the slight majority.
Try as some might to suppress the movie, Brokeback Mountain is an unstoppable force. The acting is superb, the cinematography magnificent and the message piercingly honest. But most important, it was released in a diffuse media age where the real impact won't be felt until the movie goes from the big to little screen.
As the man who e-mailed me said, he will see Brokeback Mountain on DVD if the local yokels deny him the theatre experience. The movie will also be available on digital cable's multitudinous channels. And now, people will be able to literally watch the gay cowboys from the closet on their easily concealed video I-Pods.
While the Hollywood media machine's unveiling of Brokeback Mountain has been as dramatic as Wyoming's Grand Teton mountains, the long-term effect on American culture will have more in common with the rolling hills of the Great Plains.
Mainstream Americans will watch this movie in the coming years in the privacy of their own homes. Attitudes about gay people will be transformed and greater acceptance will follow. People will learn how destructive the closet is, not only on gays, but also on the people caught up in the sham families created to protect these closets. It will also help undermine the right wing's promotion of ex-gay ministries. The dramatization of shattered families in Brokeback Mountain exposes these groups for the divorce mills they truly are.
Indeed, "ex-gay" leader Stephen Bennett in USA Today talks about how his program is so feckless that merely seeing Brokeback Mountain caused one of these arranged marriages to nearly shatter.
"I just spoke with a married man on the telephone who is contemplating leaving his wife and children," said Bennett. "He says he's gay, and Brokeback Mountain has influenced his decision."
What has not been talked about is the profound affect the movie is having on the already out gay community. It has caused many people I know to reevaluate their lives and ponder the meaning of life, love and relationships. Watching the struggle of the two protagonists Jack Twist and Enis del Mar makes today's gay people stop and think, "I really have it easy. Given this freedom, have I lived true to myself and opened myself to the possibility of love?"
The main reason that Brokeback Mountain will be a crossover hit is because of its universal message. Its success comes down to the ending scene where Enis del Mar is alone in his bare-bones trailer overlooking the haunting prairie. He opens a closet and wistfully touches the hanging clothes of Jack Twist, who has been murdered.
It is a gut wrenching moment for the character, but also for moviegoers. They are forced to confront fears of loneliness and to ask themselves if they have lived life to the fullest and expressed their love to the people who matter most?
Gay or straight, the answer to this question is all too often, no. In essence, we all have our own secret Brokeback Mountain and the movie subconsciously asks people to find their purpose and embrace their passion, because life is short and fragile. It is this searing, powerful message more than the fact the messengers are gay that will ultimately help people understand the struggles of gay people, and more importantly, themselves.
Monday, December 12, 2005
by Wayne Besen
Every so often a really stupid idea infiltrates the gay community and takes on a lethal life of its own. For example, I don't quite understand how crystal methamphetamine, a.k.a. "Tina", became the club drug of choice. When did staying up for a week without sleep and listening to droning music without lyrics become fun?
Another really dumb idea someone ginned up - probably while tweaking on Tina - is "barebacking," which is glamorizing sex without condoms. "Hey, let's make HIV infection sound like a night at the rodeo!"
The latest harebrain notion to toxically slither into the gay vernacular is "condom fatigue." This is the theory that the rules for safer sex have to be reinvented because people are fed up with using prophylactics. Proponents say that a "Just Say No" approach to unprotected sex is impractical. "I think in reality, people don't like using condoms, and we don't talk about this a lot," Atlanta HIV educator Malik Williams told The Washington Blade
Well, I don't particularly like stopping for red lights either because it tends to slow me down. Nor, do I like pausing at crosswalks for rumbling trucks. Let's not forget seatbelts - they totally suck. And riding a motorcycle with a helmet keeps the wind from freely blowing through my hair. I'm also over the gym and would prefer that the government declare TV watching an aerobics sport and cheese fries a food group.
Unfortunately, there are laws of nature and common sense that can't be defied no matter how annoying or cumbersome. However, this hasn't stopped some well-intentioned prevention experts from trying.
Williams went on to tell the Blade that if someone has unprotected anal sex five times a week and then chooses to replace one sexual encounter each week with oral sex, "this is a success story."
I'm sure Williams is trying to do the right thing and should be commended for working to find innovative solutions from a place of care and compassion. I'm not convinced, however, that playing Russian roulette with one bullet instead of two will lower the HIV infection rate. This idea that we can run every other red light will weaken the overall prevention message and allow people to justify potentially deadly transgressions.
There are those who would argue that my approach isn't realistic because the HIV rate is not significantly going down, even though we've known how the virus is transmitted for more than two decades. I respond by pointing out that the glass isn't half empty. The condom message has reached tens of millions of people who do practice safe sex.
Instead of promoting irresponsible strategies that will compound the epidemic, here are a few practical steps that will reduce HIV:Repetition:
People need to be constantly reminded that wearing condoms is the norm and the expectation. Advertising should be ubiquitous with the message: "No Bag, No Shag." Positive reinforcement is crucial to limiting new infections.Availability:
It isn't the 70's anymore and most people go to the bar to meet-up with friends, not hook-up with strangers. So, when connections are made they are often spontaneous and neither partner has emergency gear. This is why bars and clubs - gay and straight - should make condoms and lubrication widely available. Easy access helps people make the right decisions and protect themselves.Stop Lying:
Sex does feel better without a condom. One-night stands can be really pleasurable and emotionally satisfying. Drugs can sometimes enhance sexual pleasure. Telling people that they didn't have as much fun as they know they did is remarkably counterproductive. When we lie about these simple truths, we undermine our credibility and become part of the problem. The message should be: Yes, these activities are fun, but they can also be fatal. Is it really worth your life or the aggravation of drug cocktails? If we talk to people like adults, they often act like adults. Have A Plan:
Take a moment to create a safe sex strategy. Think about sexual boundaries. For example, if you can't handle your alcohol, make a rule that you won't go home with someone if boozing. Having such boundaries is key because negotiating them during the heat of passion often leads to bad decisions. Trust:
Don't trust the guy you just met on the Internet. If he lied about his penis size, what makes you think he's telling the truth about his HIV status?
People are human and will make mistakes. None of us are immune to letting our guard down. Instead of complaining about condom fatigue, we should put on fatigues and declare war on unsafe sex. Where the rubber meets the road, there is still no safer alternative for sexually active people than condoms.
Monday, December 05, 2005
by Wayne Besen
When some evangelical Christians express their unique brand of "love", it is usually time to run in the other direction. They seem to think that love is insulting people with a saccharine smile and patronizing them with phony compassion. May I suggest we buy these evangelical Christians dictionaries for Christmas so they can understand the true meaning of the word?
Exhibit A is Pastor Rick Warren, author of the best selling book The Purpose Driven Life. On World AIDS Day, he and his wife convened a conference of 1,700 evangelical pastors to urge them to minister to people with AIDS.
"The fact is the evangelical realm of the church has failed in this area," Rick Warren told ABC's World News Tonight
. "They put it off too long; they didn't care."
"We've been wrong," said Kay Warren, his funnel cake sweet wife. "We need to repent, say we're sorry, and open our doors to everyone who's HIV positive and say, 'He loves you.'"
Ostensibly, this sounds promising and a potential bridge to evangelical Christians who have been a major cause of great suffering during the AIDS epidemic. If you dig beneath the surface, however, it becomes clear that this effort is shallow and the love conditional.
"People ask me, is homosexuality evil? I say, it's just not natural," Warren told ABC.
For a moment, let's forget that homosexuality occurs in nature, and is therefore natural. Let's forget that gay people have existed since oxygen. Let's forget that same-sex behavior is quite common in the animal kingdom. Let's forget that gay people are in every known society, no matter the strictures placed on them. Let's also forget the avalanche of new science that points to biological origins for sexual orientation.
What we will focus on is the impact of Warren's ignorant statement and how it is a catalyst for spreading HIV. Indeed, Warren is not part of the solution, but part of the problem.
While working on my first book, Anything But Straight
, I had the pleasure of meeting dozens of openly gay evangelicals. I also met so-called ex-gays who were trying to unsuccessfully change their sexual orientation.
When churches made the people I interviewed feel that their love was "unnatural", as Warren suggests, they became depressed and their self-esteem inevitably plummeted. A large factor in HIV prevention is making people feel they are worthy of living. People with high self worth will usually take the necessary precautions to protect themselves. While those who believe their love is sin or unnatural are less likely to make smart decisions in the heat of the moment. What is the incentive for a person who believes that God despises the way they experience love to wear a condom?
Many of the "ex-gay" men I interviewed went through what I call the "sin and repentance cycle." They refrained from sex for long periods of time until the dam inevitably broke. Then they would go on wild, guilt-ridden sexual binges where safer sex was an afterthought.
The Warrens can offer all the syrupy "love" they want. But, from my experience, the very people they are most likely to reach, gay Christian closet cases, will only hear their unloving condemnation, which can lead to self-destructive behavior.
If they really want to stop the transmission of HIV, the Warrens will find the moral courage to proclaim that same-sex love is equal to heterosexuality. They will recognize the inherent beauty in gay relationships and celebrate successful same-sex unions.
The Warren family can also begin by holding their fellow evangelicals accountable for their homicidal assaults on the gay community. For example, the American Family Association is hawking an "ex-gay" video, "It's Not Gay."
On the cover of the video is Michael Johnston
, an HIV positive "ex-gay" leader who left ministry in 2003 after he allegedly had unsafe sex with several men in Norfolk, Virginia. The AFA's spokesman Buddy Smith publicly acknowledged Johnston's failure calling it a "moral fall."
So, it is disgusting, even demonic, for the AFA to continue promoting a product
featuring the disgraced ex-gay. They are not only committing fraud, but they are helping to spread HIV. If Rick and Kay Warren want to be useful, they can call the AFA and demand that this garbage be expeditiously pulled from their website and an apology be immediately issued to the GLBT community.
AIDS has killed millions of people while evangelicals have been, at best, indifferent. It is great that they want to get in the compassion game a quarter of a century after the fact. However, if evangelicals want a truly loving marriage with the gay community, they need to treat us with respect in both sickness and in health. If they are going to condemn our loving relationships in the bedroom, there is no place for them at our bedsides. The last thing anyone needs is more phony love and purpose driven lies by intolerant right wing ideologues.