Kathi Wolfe – Washington Blade: Gay News, Politics, LGBT Rights http://www.washingtonblade.com America's Leading LGBT News Source Tue, 18 Sep 2018 19:24:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.8 Village Voice’s muckraking, bad-ass spirit will live forever http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/13/opinion-village-voice-closes/ http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/13/opinion-village-voice-closes/#respond Thu, 13 Sep 2018 10:30:00 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=47774577 Thank you to an institution that always covered LGBT lives

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Village Voice, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by Beyond My Ken via Wikimedia Commons)

Saying goodbye when someone you love dies is heartbreaking. Bidding farewell to a beloved cultural institution is almost as wrenching. Recently, like many of its aficionados, I was gobsmacked to learn that the Village Voice, the Pulitzer Prize-winning alternative weekly founded in Greenwich Village in 1955, had closed.

I shouldn’t have been so shocked that the Voice, a pioneer in its coverage of LGBTQ issues and its pop culture criticism, folded on Aug. 31. A year ago, the Voice became digital only after it stopped publishing in print. Like so many news outlets, it’s had financial problems and staff layoffs. Still, it’s sad.

Why am I sad? Because, as it was for many of its readers, I felt a personal connection to the Voice. When I was a kid in Southern N.J., a family friend, when he visited from New York, would bring my parents that week’s Voice. I didn’t understand much of what was in the Voice then. But I could tell from the adults’ animated talk of “films” and “art” that the paper was manna from heaven for my folks in the cultural desert of our small town.

When I was in graduate school, I turned to the Voice as I was coming out. Later when I worked in New York, everyone I knew felt an affinity for the Voice. The paper championed the work of my friend Al Carmines, the Obie-winning composer. My friend Martha turned to the Voice to learn what was happening on the music scene. We laughed in neurotic recognition at Jules Feiffer’s cartoons and scarfed up its investigative journalism – from Wayne Barrett’s reporting on Donald J. Trump to its Pulitzer Prize-winning series on AIDS in Africa.

The Village Voice was founded by Dan Wolf, Edwin Fancher and Norman Mailer. Richard Goldstein was the arts editor and then the executive editor of the Village Voice until 2004. “It was 1966. I was 22 with hair down to my navel, fresh out of journalism school,” Goldstein, who is gay, told the Blade in a phone interview. “I walked into Dan Wolf’s office and said I want to be a rock critic. They said ‘what is that?’  They said, ‘Try it.’ No one else would consider it. I tried it. It became my column ‘Pop Eye.’’”

The Voice Village was a left-leaning paper. Pop culture from the media to jazz to indie films fell under the Voice’s critical eye. “We were the first to cover off-Broadway. The Voice was the first do advertising criticism – the first to do media criticism,” Goldstein said.”

Its pop culture criticism grew out of its left-leaning political convictions, he added. “It came from the left wing idea that art is the art of the people. Record companies didn’t know who we were,” he said.    

The Voice hired openly gay writers as far back as the McCarthy era, Goldstein said. “It was unheard of then for a publication to hire an out gay writer, you could be fired if you were gay!”

“Lesbian Nation” author Jill Johnston wrote for the Voice as a dance critic. “But, she evolved. She came out and became the first openly lesbian writer to cover lesbian issues,” he said.

That’s the way it was at the Voice. Writers could evolve and develop their own style. “Jill didn’t use punctuation,” Goldstein said. “She thought it was too masculine. She stared down editors who insisted otherwise.”

The Voice was on the scene during Stonewall. “The Voice office was above the [Stonewall Inn] bar,” he said. “When the riots started, two reporters ran down to the bar. Two stories about Stonewall ran on the front page.”

The Voice led the way in covering not only queer culture, but LGBT rights politics. In 1979, the paper began publishing an annual issue on queer life. In 1984, the Voice ran one of the very few interviews that James Baldwin gave about being gay.

Things weren’t perfect at the Voice. It wasn’t always sweetness and light. “Not every writer was pro-gay,” Goldstein said, “there were fights. You could sometimes hate the people you work with.”

Thank you, Village Voice for kick-starting our lives! Though you’ve closed, your muckraking, bad-ass spirit will live forever!

 

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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Happy 150th anniversary to influential ‘Little Women’ http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/08/happy-150th-anniversary-to-influential-little-women/ http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/09/08/happy-150th-anniversary-to-influential-little-women/#respond Sat, 08 Sep 2018 16:55:12 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=47465046 Gender-bending novel still resonates with queer readers

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Little Women, gay news, Washington Blade

(Image public domain)

When I was 10, I didn’t want to wear a skirt, comb my hair or learn to keep house. I wanted to run around outside and to write. I felt alone, like an alien dropped into GirlLand: the other girls were so different from me. Until I read “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott. When I met Jo March, the novel’s gender-bending sister, I no longer felt alone.      

“Little Women” has been adapted numerous times for the stage, screen and TV. Who can forget Katharine Hepburn as Jo March in the 1933 movie of the novel directed by George Cukor? A movie adaptation of “Little Women,” directed by Clare Niederpruem, will be released nationally on Sept. 28. Another movie of the novel, directed by Greta Gerwig of “Lady Bird,” will be out in 2019.

Even if you live in a cave, you’ve likely heard of “Little Women” published 150 years ago this month. Set during and after the Civil War, the novel tells the story of Meg, Jo (short for Josephine), Beth and Amy – the four sisters of the March family.  The family is poor.  Meg and Jo have to work. Their father is largely absent: he’s away as a chaplain in the war, and a figure in the background when he comes home. Their mother (“Marmee”), as a single parent, holds the family together. Lawrence, a.k.a., Laurie, a rich teenager, lives next door with his grandfather.

This would be a boring, unremarkable, outdated story if not for some surprising twists.  Meg wants what every girl in the 19th century is expected to aspire to: she hopes to find a man, marry, set up house and have children. Beth, like other fictional 19th century invalids, is practically an angel. She’s too otherworldly to think of marriage and kids. But, Amy, girly, likable, though shallow, is a bit unusual for girls of her time. She’s not only a fashion plate and social butterfly, she loves art and devotes herself to her drawing.

Jo’s gender-bending practically leaps off the page. Jo doesn’t want to be the least bit girly, to marry or to be mired in domesticity. “I hate to think I’ve got to…wear long gowns…,” Jo says, “…I like boys’ games and work and manners! I can’t get over my disappointment in not being a boy.”

More surprising, at a time when women were discouraged from pursuing careers and being authors, Jo is a writer. Alone in her garret, eating apples, Jo in her “vortex” writes stories.  She uses the money that she earns from her stories to help her struggling family. As Anne Boyd Rioux, author of the new book “Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy: The Story of ‘Little Women’ and Why It Still Matters,” says, Alcott’s novel has inspired writers from bell hooks to Barbara Kingsolver to Susan Sontag to John Green to Anne Tyler to Jhumpa Lahiri.

“I was able to tell myself that I too was like her [Jo],” said Simone de Beauvoir, “I too would be superior and find my place.”

I wouldn’t have written any poems if I hadn’t read “Little Women” in the attic as a kid.

The genderbending isn’t limited to the girls in “Little Women.”  Laurie goes against the conventional view of masculinity.  While his grandfather wants him to go into business, he’s intent on becoming a musician.

In its 150th year, “Little Women” still resonates for queer people. “Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Graphic Novel: A Modern Retelling of Little Women” written by Ray Terciero and illustrated by Bre Indigo will be out in February.  In this retelling the March family is blended, multiracial and LGBTQ inclusive.  Terchiero, who is queer said in a statement, “…Bre and I wanted to see ourselves in the characters…which is why we made the family diverse and one of the characters LGBTQ.”

From your fans, Happy anniversary, “Little Women!”

 

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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‘Far from the Tree’ will enrich your understanding of family http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/08/23/opinion-far-from-the-tree/ http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/08/23/opinion-far-from-the-tree/#respond Thu, 23 Aug 2018 19:32:13 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=46581782 New doc explores parents’ efforts to understand their children

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Far From the Tree, gay news, Washington Blade

A scene from ‘Far From the Tree.’ (Screen capture via YouTube)

Jean, my stepmom and I loved each other. Yet, though she tried very hard, Jean couldn’t understand what it’s like for me to be lesbian and legally blind. After many years, she stopped believing that lesbians are disgusting and became a supporter of marriage equality. Jean was proud of me. She’d post every poem I wrote on her fridge. Yet, Jean felt that I’d have had a much happier life if I hadn’t been queer and visually impaired.

Nearly every queer and/or disabled person I know has experienced this feeling of both love and isolation from their family. This disconnection often doesn’t come from lack of parental love. We’re disconnected from our families because our identities are so different from theirs.  Mister Rogers taught us to like everyone as they are. But that’s difficult to do if we can’t find bridges between differences. The experience of ourselves and our families is rarely accurately represented on screen.

Thankfully, ”Far From the Tree,” a new documentary playing nationally, directed by Emmy Award-wining Rachel Dretzin, speaks eloquently to our experience. The film, available on Video On Demand, is adapted from the best-selling 2012 book with the same title by gay writer Andrew Solomon.

The documentary tells eye-opening stories of difference and identity. Solomon, an LGBTQ rights activist and a Columbia University Medical Center professor of clinical psychology, is a producer of the film. Solomon’s book tells hundreds of stories of parents who love, but struggle to relate to children who are so unlike them. For the book, Solomon profiled families with children who were autistic, deaf, transgender, criminals, people with dwarfism or different in other ways from their parents.

The 93-minute film, though it features only a few people, is no less powerful than the book. Through the doc, we meet Jason who has Down syndrome and his mom; Jack, an autistic teen; Loini who feels that she’s found her tribe when she attends the Little People of America convention for the first time; the Reese family whose teenage son Trevor has murdered a child; and Joe Stramondo and Leah Smith, a hetero married couple with dwarfism.

Like the parents featured in the film who struggle to comprehend their children’s identities, Solomon’s folks, when he was growing up, didn’t understand his gay identity. On screen, Solomon talks movingly about his life. “I think my mother imagined that her first-born son would be part of the real mainstream, the kind of kid who was popular at school, athletic, at ease in the world and basically quite conventional,” he says, “And instead she got me.”

Why does “Far From the Tree” speak so forcefully to me and many others who are queer and disabled? Because so few people have recognized the parallels between the different facets of ourselves and our families’ attempts to not only love, but understand us.

Don’t get me wrong. The film doesn’t imply that different identities are alike. It doesn’t say that having Down syndrome, being a little person or autistic is the same as being queer; or that being a criminal is the same as being LGBTQ or disabled. What “Far From the Tree” does say is this: Parents love their children no matter how different their identity is from theirs.

“You love your children,” Solomon says, “It isn’t really up to you. They just have come along and changed you.”

When I was young, homosexuality was considered an illness. If I’d have come out to my parents as a teenager, they’d likely have sent me to a psychiatrist. Though things have radically changed, I worry that in the Trump era this progress could be set back.

Many people believe that I want to be healed. They don’t get that my vision impairment isn’t a tragedy; it isn’t just eye disease. It’s a part of my identity.

Leah Smith and Joe Stramondo don’t want to be cured of their dwarfism. It’s essential to who they are. There are similarities in experiences of oppression between queer and disabled people, Joe Stramondo emailed the Blade. “There is a history of LGBTQ people being regarded as ‘defective’ and in need of a fix or cure,” he wrote, “to most people outside of disability activist circles, it is almost unthinkable to regard disability as an identity to have pride in rather than a defect to be fixed.”

“Far From the Tree” does much to correct this misperception. Check it out. It’ll enrich your understanding of identity and family.

 

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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New Arceneaux essay collection finds humor in autobiography http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/08/10/new-arceneaux-essay-collection-finds-humor-in-autobiography/ http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/08/10/new-arceneaux-essay-collection-finds-humor-in-autobiography/#respond Fri, 10 Aug 2018 14:40:49 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=45855877 Houston-born writer recalls childhood, Beyonce, Jesus and more

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Michael Arceneaux, gay news, Washington Blade

Michael Arceneaux brings dead-pan humor and self-deprecation to his new book of essays. (Photo courtesy Atria)

‘I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé’

By Michael Arceneaux
Atria

$17

256 pages

Maybe you’re among the unenlightened. Flea-infested hookups don’t make you smile. You don’t genuflect before Beyoncé. Don’t worry. Dive into “I Can’t Date Jesus,” a debut essay collection by writer Michael Arceneaux. You’ll emerge laughing out loud at post-hookup fleas and worshiping Beyoncé.

Literary mavens talk of  “original,” “wryly humorous” and “insightful” authors the way politicos spit out talking points. Yet with Arceneaux, no other words will do. What else can you say when a book’s dedication alone makes you check your privilege while laughing? 

“Once an old high school classmate told me … in Houston that I would end up working in Burger King,” Arceneaux writes, “because I had majored in journalism. This book is dedicated to dummies like that who don’t know when to shut the hell up.”

“Also: pay fast food workers livable wages,” he adds. 

Arceneaux, born in 1984, raised in  Houston and a Howard University graduate, is a black, Southern queer man. His funny, spot-on work has been published and heard widely.

Arceneaux’s bio is dizzying. He’s a regular contributor to sites from Essence to Into to the Root, and has written for publications from The New York Times to The Washington Post to Vogue to NPR’s Code Switch to Buzzfeed to Comedy Central Online. His fans enjoyed his political and pop culture commentary on his humor blog The Cynical Ones. Essence magazine called Arceneaux one of the top #BlackTwitter voices. He’s been featured on media outlets from MSNBC to NPR to BET to Viceland.

It’s no wonder that Arceneaux aficionados are happy to see “I Can’t Date Jesus,” a compilation of 17 of his essays, in a book. There’s the pleasure of not only reading his pieces in book form but of learning more about Arceneaux’s personal life. The volume is a memoir and commentary on being a black, Southern, queer, recovering Catholic chock full of biting, often hilarious takes on politics and pop culture.

Arceneaux grew up in a working-class family. His dad drank too much and abused his mom. His mother loved him, but believed that homosexuality goes against the teachings of Christianity and the church. Even at age 5, Arceneaux, though he didn’t have a name for it, knew he liked boys. When he and another little boy at the daycare center found that their tickling game is “fun,” Arceneaux got nervous. “Fun came at a price, however,” Arceneaux writes, “if you were caught.”

Once Arceneaux was caught behind the playground pulling his pants down in front of another boy (who responded in kind). 

“It was like show and tell: the remix,” he writes. “I knew that I had enjoyed what I was doing, but I also knew that others — namely my parents — wouldn’t share my enthusiasm.”

At age 6, Arceneaux learned what his feelings for other boys could be called. But, it wasn’t a Mister Rogers teachable moment. His Uncle Daniel (his dad’s brother) died of AIDS. In response to Daniel’s death, his father said “Fuck that faggot.”

“That slur is what will always hit me in the pit of my stomach,” Arceneaux writes. “More important, this is how I learned how being different could lead to your demise.”

Coming out for him was a long process involving awkward attempts at sex, running away from and then greeting his Howard classmates at a gay Pride parade and Beyoncé. Why is Beyoncé his “lord and garroter?”  Because, Beyoncé, who like him went to Welch Middle School in Houston, is “home” to Arceneaux. 

“Beyoncé’s stance on remaining exactly as she’s always been no matter what is happening around her,” he writes, “has instilled in me the strength to remain the Gulf Coast ratchet bird I am.” 

Arceneaux writes about the personal and the political — from racism to marriage equality to Madonna to Donald J. Trump — with David Sedaris’ blend of humor and pathos and James Baldwin’s dazzling, lacerating honesty. Woe to any white editor who tries to box him into writing about “black homophobia, AIDS, sexual racism.”

You leave “I Can’t Date Jesus” wanting more and that’s a good thing.

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Queer literary legend Edmund White comes vividly to life in new memoir http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/07/27/queer-literary-legend-edmund-white-comes-vividly-to-life-in-new-memoir/ http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/07/27/queer-literary-legend-edmund-white-comes-vividly-to-life-in-new-memoir/#respond Fri, 27 Jul 2018 18:56:16 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=45249546 Lauded writer recalls everything from childhood trauma to recent health scare

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Edmund White, gay news, Washington Blade

Edmund White (Photo courtesy of Bloomsbury)

‘The Unpunished Vice: A Life of Reading’
 
By Edmund White
 
Bloomsbury
 
$28
 
240 pages

Are you turned on by secretly perusing the dictionary? Do you drool with desire over the smell of library books? Probably not, in our Grindr, YouTube, Internet meme age. You likely don’t think reading is sexy or transgressive. But you will after dipping into “The Unpunished Vice” by Edmund White.

The word iconic is an overused cliche. Yet, there’s no other way to describe White, 78, our most eminent queer writer. The number of literary prizes he’s received is mind-boggling. This year alone, White, a memoirist, essayist and novelist, was awarded the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Career Achievement in American Fiction and the Lambda Literary Foundation’s Visionary Award.

But White, growing up in the Midwest in the 1940s and 1950s, didn’t start out as an esteemed openly queer man of letters and literary activist. (White was a founder of the 1980s queer writers group The Violet Quill.) When White grew up, homosexuality was illegal and considered sinful or, at best, a sickness. If you were caught having queer sex, you were arrested. You wouldn’t have thought about leaving the closet or meeting folks who were out.  This wasn’t good for White, who liked boys.

In “The Unpunished Vice,” an essay collection that blends  memoir and literary criticism, White vividly evokes how reading has informed and nourished his life and work.

You couldn’t make up White’s life if you tried. When he was 12, his mother gave him a biography of Nijinsky, the queer Russian ballet dancer. “Was it just that he was an iconic artist … and she wanted to stoke my artistic fires?” White wonders, “Or was it innocent compliance with a sissy steak I’d already manifested?”

When he was a child, words were magical and sometimes sexual for White. His mother was a psychologist.  During an era when no one spoke and rarely wrote of sex, especially queer sex, White eagerly looked up “penis,” “intercourse” and “homosexuality” in his mother’s medical dictionary. These words “were exciting just because they appeared in print,” he writes.

As a teenager, White was a Buddhist. He embraced Buddhism so he could “root out” his desires for boys. At his boarding school in Michigan, White was disappointed when he met a boy from Thailand who’d been a Buddhist monk for a year. He’d never meditated he told White, and the older monks had only wanted to play cards and feel up boys. It was a time, White writes, when “the three most heinous things in America were heroin, communism and homosexuality.”

White spent one summer at Walloon Lake in Michigan. His father  made him do yard work for a month.  Loading a wheelbarrow with pine needles on a hill would, his father believed, cure him of being gay. White got through it by reading “Death in Venice” by Thomas Mann, a tale of a man’s infatuation with a 10-year-old boy.  White read it secretly at night in his bedroom. “Teenagers … are particularly prone to the seductive power of dark narratives,” he writes.

White’s longing for travel and the queer writer’s life writer has been amply satisfied. He’s lived in Paris, traveled to Istanbul and written 28 books. His works range from “A Boy’s Own Story,” one of the first novels about coming out, to “The Farewell Symphony,” a seminal novel about a lover dying of AIDS to biographies of Genet and Proust. 

“The Unpunished Vice” gives us engaging glimpses into White’s reading and writing life. He and his husband, the writer Michael Carroll, are an amusing couple. Carroll, 25 years younger, can’t stand opera and ballet — the culture White adores. Most moving, is the essay on White’s recovery from a 2014 heart attack, during which he has torrid dreams about silent film star Valentino, but no interest in his life-long passion of reading.

A few of the essays on writers such as the piece on “Anna Karenina” are a drag. They read like lectures.  (White recently retired from teaching at Princeton.) And while White’s stories about his writer friends are fun (who knew Joyce Carol Oates dances in the corridors at Princeton?), the name dropping’s a bit much.

But don’t be put off by this. “The Unpunished Vice,” is a good, sexy read.

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Mister Rogers still inspires http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/07/19/mister-rogers-still-inspires/ Thu, 19 Jul 2018 12:56:27 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=44959389 New documentary reminds us to resist cruelty with love

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Mr. Rogers, gay news, Washington Blade

You may not remember how radical, how innovative ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ was.

Alert the National Weather Service! Hell has frozen over. Republicans, Democrats, 80-somethings, millennials, LGBTQ people, straight folks, poets, Wall Street gurus – Attila the Hun (if he were still with us) – are all crying for the same reason. What’s got so many tear ducts leaking? “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” a new documentary about Fred Rogers, the beloved host from 1968 to 2001 of the children’s TV show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

You likely have fond memories of Fred Rogers, who died at age 74 of cancer in 2003. If you’re like me, you may not remember how radical, how innovative “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was for its or any time. I didn’t know until I saw “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” that Francois Clemmons, who played police officer Clemmons on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” for 25 years, was the first black American to have a recurring role on children’s TV. Or that Clemmons, who is writing, “Vanity Fair” reported, a memoir called “DivaMan: My Life,” is now openly gay.

Changing from his suit and loafers into his comfy cardigan and sneakers, Mister Rogers invited us all to be his neighbors. He used puppets to help children deal with feelings that are hard to express. After Bobby Kennedy was murdered, Mister Rogers told kids what assassination meant. Above all, Fred Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, understood that, as he said, “love or the lack of it” is the root of everything. Because he didn’t want anyone to feel excluded, Rogers didn’t use religious language on his show. Rogers’ deceptively simple message for every child (and the child in every adult) was: You are not a mistake. You are valuable and loved for who you are.

Few times have been more mean-spirited and fractious as our current era. Our country is as, if not more, polarized and hurtful, than it was on Feb. 19, 1968 when Mister Rogers introduced us to his “Neighborhood.” Over the more than 30 years that his show ran, adults turned to Fred Rogers – seeking a way to explain sad, scary things from divorce to being in the hospital to our kids. He knew that tying your shoes or bathtub drains could scare tots. Young children watched Mister Rogers because he loved and listened to them even when other grown-ups from their parents to their teachers didn’t pay attention or talked down to them.

Today, when meanness is a prized form of cultural expression and kindness is ridiculed on Twitter, we’re flocking to see “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” directed by Morgan Neville, who directed the doc “20 Feet From Stardom” and co-directed “The Best of Enemies,” a documentary about Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley Jr.’s feud.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” reminds us that his “Neighborhood” was radically inclusive for its era. Rogers, a lifelong Republican, and Clemmons, on the show in 1969 shared a towel after dunking their feet in a swimming pool. (At that time, pools in the South were racially segregated.)

Grace Cavalieri was a colleague of Fred Rogers when she was associate director of children’s programming for PBS. Rogers was the same off-camera as he was on-camera, Cavalieri told the Blade. “You’d be having breakfast with him, and he wouldn’t eat a thing!” she said. “All the kids in the restaurant would come by. He’d talk to all of them.”

Clemmons couldn’t be openly gay while he was on Rogers’ show. At the time when the program aired, there’s no way that he could have been out. Yet, in a moving moment in the film, he speaks of how Rogers was a “spiritual father” to him.

No film, however touching, could mend the broken spirit of our time. Yet, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” shows us how resistance to cruelty can be waged through kindness and love.

 

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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Be afraid, be very afraid, of Brett Kavanaugh http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/07/10/opinion-brett-kavanaugh/ Tue, 10 Jul 2018 22:21:10 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=44554168 New fears for future of abortion, marriage rights

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Brett Kavanaugh, gay news, Washington Blade

Judge Brett Kavanaugh (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Court of Appeals of D.C.)

I rarely worried about the end of the world. Until Justice Anthony Kennedy announced that he is retiring from the Supreme Court. President Donald Trump has nominated Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, 53, a conservative federal appeals court judge and former aide to President George W. Bush, to replace Kennedy on the Supreme Court. He worked for independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr when President Bill Clinton was impeached. Since then, Kavanaugh has argued that a sitting president shouldn’t be subject to investigations.

If Kavanaugh is confirmed, the impact would likely be devastating for so many of us – LGBTQ people, women, people of color, children, elders – anyone not male, straight, white and rich. Basic rights, which we’ve too often taken for granted, including the right to marry, vote and have an abortion, could be taken away. And, given Kavanaugh’s views, who could trust that the Supreme Court would protect Robert Mueller in his investigation?    

Kennedy, though conservative, often, was a swing vote on the Supreme Court. He voted with the liberals on the court – particularly on landmark LGBTQ and reproductive rights cases.  Kavanaugh is way to the right of Kennedy. If he is confirmed, for the first time in decades, conservatives will have the balance of power on the Supreme Court.

Ironically, the Supreme Court has often been off the radar screen for those of us who should have been paying attention. We drank Champagne when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. We worried about the religious right’s opposition to abortion and increasing insistence on their “right” to “religious freedom,” yet we didn’t fear that Roe v. Wade or marriage equality would really be overthrown or gutted.

Now, we’re waking up. Wondering if it’s only a bad dream. Unfortunately, it isn’t a dream.

Kavanaugh would “guarantee 40 more years of Trump’s values on the Supreme Court,” Rachel B. Tiven, CEO of Lambda Legal, said in a statement, “We have reason to fear that Judge Kavanaugh will abuse his power on the Court to protect the wealthy and the powerful while depriving LGBT Americans of our dignity, demeaning our community, and diminishing our status as equal citizens.”

Kavanaugh’s nomination is key to Trump’s plan to strip health care from millions through the courts, Neera Tanden, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress said in a statement. “This nomination is also payback for the hardline anti-choice activists who have defended his disgusting misogyny no matter what,” she said.

For years, Republicans and Tea Party members have successfully worked to place conservative judges in the courts from state courts to the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, Democrats and other progressives haven’t been engaged with our country’s courts – from the local level to the Supreme Court. A progressive group, Demand Justice, recently conducted a focus group for 10 Democratic-leaning women. Several of the women didn’t know who Justice Kennedy was, NPR reported.

If Kavanaugh is confirmed, many of us could feel the impact in our lives. My friend Ruth is a straight, retired family nurse practitioner who’s involved with her church. Yet, she worries about the consequences if the Supreme Court rules that health care providers should be permitted to refuse to perform abortions or deny treatment to LGBTQ or other people who they dislike.  “It goes against the Hippocratic oath — medical ethics,” she told me, “and it goes against the values of religion.”

I don’t want to demonize people who are pro-life or those who are religious. Religion plays an important role in many of our lives and the issue of abortion is complex. My mother, who was diabetic, had an abortion for health reasons. It was a difficult decision for her, she told me. Some of my relatives are just coming around to support marriage equality. I still love, though I intensely disagree with, the members in my family, who haven’t, and may never, come around.

Even so, I don’t wish to live in a theocracy. I want our Supreme Court to protect the civil rights and reproductive freedom of everyone in our country.

What can we do to prevent this from happening? First, though it’ll be an uphill battle going against nearly insurmountable odds, let’s do all we can to keep Kavanaugh from being confirmed. Second, let’s vote in the 2018 midterms in November for members of Congress who would protect us from Trump’s Supreme Court picks.

Hopefully, justice will prevail.

 

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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Sedaris reflects the joys, sorrows and pride of family life http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/06/29/opinion-david-sedaris-reflects/ Fri, 29 Jun 2018 13:47:13 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=43984275 New book ‘Calypso’ tackles middle age woes and more

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David Sedaris, gay news, Washington Blade

David Sedaris (Photo by Hugh Hamrick; courtesy Strathmore)

“We’re both nuts!” David, my late brother joked to me one Christmas, “that’s why we haven’t killed each other!”

“Yeah! Certifiable!” Pat, my sister-in-law added, joining in on the teasing.

As Pride season winds down, the Trump administration continues to separate immigrant children from their parents and bakers with “family values” refuse to bake gay wedding cakes, I’m thinking about families. In his latest essay collection “Calypso,” award-winning, beloved gay humorist and writer David Sedaris riffs hilariously and poignantly on the joys and sorrows of family life.

“Calypso” is Sedaris’ ninth book. Sedaris, 61, got his start as a young, unknown writer (and house cleaner) on public radio where he made listeners laugh out loud by recounting his experience as an elf in SantaLand at Macy’s over the holidays. In “Calypso,” Sedaris, a famous, bestselling author who’s been with his boyfriend Hugh for 26 years, has moved far from his elf days. In “Calypso,” he tells us what it’s like to be middle-aged, thinking about mortality, performing his work across the world, reeling after the election of Donald J. Trump and, above all, a member of his family.

Why does “Calypso?” and Sedaris’ other work resonate so much with readers and listeners of all generations? Because your family – no matter how much you love them – will, more times than you’d care to count, drive you crazy. Yet, LGBTQ or not, many of us wouldn’t want to be parted from our families. No matter how our family is constituted (married couple or a group of friends) or perversely, no matter how bizarre, we’re often proud of our families. We know that, however much we try to stop it, mortality looms before us and our loved ones.

Often, we think of tragedy as being separate from comedy. Sedaris, who received the American Academy of Arts and Letters Medal for Spoken Language in May, throws this bifurcation under the bus from the get-go in “Calypso.” “Though there’s an industry built on telling you otherwise, there are few real joys to middle ages,” Sedaris writes in the book’s first essay “Company Man.”

But, just as Sedaris seems to be taking you into Debbie Downer Land, the piece quickly morphs into Sedaris’ musings on how he and Hugh act around houseguests. “The only perk [to middle age] I can see,” he writes, “is that, with luck, you’ll acquire a guest room.”

Like so many of us, Sedaris wants he and Hugh to be on their best — “company” — behavior when they’re around guests. “I remind Hugh that for the duration of their visit, he and I will be playing the role of the perfect couple” he writes. “This means no bickering…If I am seated at the kitchen table and he is standing behind me, he is to place a hand on my shoulder right on the spot where a parrot would perch if I were a pirate instead of the ideal boyfriend.”

Sedaris’ family is its own hilarious, eccentric ecosystem. Hugh observes to Sedaris that most of his family never says good night when going to sleep. His brother Paul is obsessed with juicing his food. Sedaris and his sister Amy buy distressed clothing in Tokyo.

Yet, pain lurks within the humor. In 2013, Sedaris’ sister Tiffany committed suicide.  Before her death her family wasn’t aware that Tiffany was mentally disturbed. “All of us had pulled away from the family…in order to forge our own identifies,” Sedaris writes, “Tiffany, though, stayed away.”

Sedaris tries to connect with Lou, his 95-year-old father and Trump voter who once kicked him out of the house for being gay. In the essay, “Why Aren’t They Laughing,” Sedaris confronts his family’s failure to acknowledge his mother’s alcoholism.

Being gay is only one facet of Sedaris’ sensibility and his family is unique. Yet “Calypso” reflects the joys, sorrows and pride of our family life. Check it out.

 

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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‘RBG’ doc celebrates life of rock star justice http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/06/09/opinion-ruth-bader-ginsburg/ Sat, 09 Jun 2018 04:06:41 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=42860206 A staunch defender of women’s rights and marriage equality

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Photo public domain)

“I couldn’t believe it,” my 70-something cousin told me after a recent visit from her teenage grandson. When they were deciding what movie to see, he told her, “We have to see ‘RBG’!  She’s cool!”

I’d believe it in a heartbeat! The coolest, most dope superhero on screen now isn’t the Avengers. It’s Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a.k.a. RBG, the 85-year-old Supreme Court Justice.  Ginsburg, the subject of the engaging new CNN documentary “RBG,” is such a rock star that Lady Gaga is almost a warm-up act in her wake. Everyone from third wave feminists to hetero granddads is flocking to see the film. (The doc has grossed over $4 million, Vanity Fair reported.  Most documentaries gross less than $1 million.) When I saw it, everyone aged from eight to 80 applauded not only when Ginsburg argues for equal rights (for women and men), but when she, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Super Diva,” pumps iron!

The release of “RBG,” co-directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West, coincides with the 25th anniversary of Ginsburg’s appointment to the Supreme Court. (Ginsburg was appointed to the court by former President Bill Clinton in 1993.)  As anyone not living on Mars knows, Ginsburg, beloved by liberals, feminists and the LGBTQ community for her support of women and marriage equality, is a popular Tumblr meme. We who are her fans can’t resist calling her the “Notorious RBG.”  The moniker, a riff on the rapper Notorious B.I.G., was the title of a book about Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik. “We were both born and bred in Brooklyn,” Ginsburg says of the rapper.

It’s hard to think of Supreme Court justices as living in this world rather than on Mount Olympus. “RBG,” through interviews with her friends, family and colleagues as well as archival footage of her late husband Martin (Marty), shows Ginsburg in her humanity. Her granddaughter calls her “bubbe,” and Marty says that her cooking is so bad that she’s banned from the kitchen.  Whether listening to Ginsburg arguing cases in support of gender equality before the Supreme Court when she was with the American Civil Liberties Union, or watching her laugh as she views Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon’s impressions of herself, we’re seeing a vibrant, brilliant, woman — not an other-worldly monument. (Ginsburg was a ACLU Women’s Rights Project co-founder.)

It’s almost impossible to imagine today how restricted things were for women when Ginsburg came of age. In 1956, Ginsburg was one of only nine women in her class of some 500 men at Harvard Law School. Though she made the Harvard Law Review, the dean asked Ginsburg (and all the women in the class) why she felt justified in taking the place of a man. In that era, women couldn’t buy property, wear pants in public in some cities or eat alone in many restaurants.

Without Marty’s steadfast (and, for that time, exceptional) support, it’s unlikely that Ruth Bader Ginsburg would have been able to raise a young daughter while going to law school.  “RBG” makes it clear that her husband was instrumental in having his wife nominated to be a Supreme Court justice. Marty was her “New York Philharmonic,” says the couple’s friend and law professor Arthur Miller. “I became the person whose career came first,” Ginsburg says of her marriage.

Without making your eyes glaze over, “RBG” shows how Ginsburg has been a staunch and pioneering defender of women’s rights, marriage equality and reproductive freedom throughout her career — before and after going on the Supreme Court. “I ask no favor for my sex,” Ginsburg says, quoting 19th century abolitionist Sarah Grimke, “All I ask of our brethren is that they will take their feet from off our necks.”

In the Trump era, the feet of our brethren are getting closer and closer to our necks. Here’s to RBG! May you be notorious forever!

 

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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Love songs re-imagined as LGBT standards http://www.washingtonblade.com/2018/05/12/love-songs-re-imagined-as-lgbt-standards/ Sat, 12 May 2018 17:29:03 +0000 http://www.washingtonblade.com/?p=41580018 ‘Universal Love’ arrives in time for Pride season, June weddings

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Universal Love, gay news, Washington Blade

‘Universal Love’ album arrives just in time for Pride season and June weddings.

“Birds do it, bees do it/Even educated fleas do it,” enthused Cole Porter, in his 1928 hit “Let’s do it,” “…let’s fall in love.”

Ninety years later, hetero or LGBTQ, following Porter’s exhortation, we’re still, madly, exuberantly, falling in love. Nothing celebrates and nourishes love and romance more than music – from Beatles tunes to soul classics to Broadway musical standards. What couple hasn’t spoken of “our song?”

I felt the ping of youthful first love, when after hearing Van Morrison sing “Brown Eyed Girl,” the girl I was with told me, “you’re my brown eyed girl.”

Yet, many of us who are queer often feel disconnected when listening to songs.  Frequently, the music we hear – whether contemporary pop, classic rock or showbiz tunes — is addressed primarily to a hetero audience. Love songs to women are sung by men. Women sing love songs to men. Artists, even some queer artists, often use the pronoun “you” rather than a same-sex pronoun in a song.

Once, a woman and I heard Van Morrison sing “Crazy Love.” It’s a fab song! I love Van the Man! But, it was surreal for us, two women on a date, to hear a guy, sing “she give me love, love, love, love, crazy love.” Though, lovely, something gets lost in translation, when you encounter this disconnect.

In the age of marriage equality, where are the queer-friendly songs – the ones you can dance to without being a pronoun contortionist?

Don’t despair! Love conquers all. As Bob Dylan memorably sang, “The Times They Are a-Changin.” Just in time for spring, wedding and Pride season, a new EP “Universal Love -Wedding Songs Reimagined” has been released. The LGBTQ-friendly album features six queer and straight artists covering popular standards. MGM Resorts International funded the album of same-sex wedding anthems. Between 20 to 30 percent of the nuptials at MGM’s 15 hotels in Las Vegas are gay weddings, MGM International Resorts chief executive Jim Murren told The New York Times.

In a nod to how LGBTQ-sympatico the cultural landscape has become, all of the songs’ publishers gave permission for the music’s lyrics to be changed on “Universal Love.”     

Most indicative of the changing times, on “Universal Love,” Dylan who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016 for his iconic lyrics, sings a queer version of the 1929 Great American Songbook standard “She’s Funny That Way.”  Some of us Dylan aficionados are a bit cynical because he has just come out with a collection of whiskeys called Heaven’s Door. Yet, props to Dylan, for his work on this album. In a nod to queer love, Dylan records the standard as “He’s Funny That Way.” Dylan jumped at the chance to be a part of “Universal Love,” Rob Kaplan, the album’s producer told The New York Times. “It wasn’t just ‘yes, I’ll do this,’…It was ‘hey, I have an idea for a song.”

Valerie June’s version of queer playwright, songwriter, and actor Noel Coward’s 1932 song “Mad About the Boy” takes you back to the days of camp and big bands. Then, a gay version of the song written by Coward was never performed because of homophobia. It’s a pleasure to hear June, a woman, sing this standard as “Mad About the Girl.”

On the album, Kesha does a knock-out rendition of Janis Joplin’s “I Need a Man to Love” (recast as “I Need a Woman to Love). Kele Okereke beautifully recasts the Temptations classic “My Girl” as “My Guy,” and St. Vincent does a kick-ass version of the Crystals’ 1963 hit “And Then He Kissed Me” (morphed into “And Then She Kissed Me”).

For the EP, Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie revamps the Beatles’ classic “And I Love Her” as “And I Love Him.” As so often happens, the straight artists who sing in “Universal Love” became supportive of marriage equality because their queer family members or friends wanted to marry. Gibbard joined the same-sex marriage bandwagon because his sister is a lesbian. “When my sister got married, it was everything that my parents — and I — could have ever expected from a wedding ceremony and more,” Gibbard wrote in “The Daily Beast” in 2012.

Another new album “Instant Love” features women singing love songs to other women.  Listening to Irma Thomas sing “Crazy Love” on “Instant Love” is breathtaking.

Our world is filled with problems from wars to hate to poverty. Yet, let’s take a moment to celebrate queer, “crazy” love.

 

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

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