Christopher Rice

(Photo Credit: Nancy Rose)
  Desperately Seeking Divas
Haven’t we had enough of ditsy disappointments masquerading as divas?

By Christopher Rice
From The Advocate November 20, 2007


Here’s how the ad should read: “GAY COMMUNITY DESPERATELY SEEKS DIVA. Seeking genuinely inspiring performer with loads of raw talent and a real pedigree for turning tragedy into triumph. No perky D-list actresses or strung-out heiresses need apply.”

The “diva drought” first became apparent to me this year as I sat in the opening night screening at Outfest, Los Angeles’s gay film festival, listening in mild shock as Tori Spelling told a string of off-color jokes implying most of the attendees planned on having sex with
each other in the bathroom—or right there in their seats if they were content to stop at oral. Those of us who were there to see the beautifully wrought drama Save Me or cheer on director Bill Condon as he was honored with an Outfest Achievement Award were at a loss for words. (How the numerous lesbians in attendance felt about Miss Spelling’s monologue is fodder for another column.) How can it be that the minority that rioted in the streets in large part over the death of Judy Garland is now content to get giggly and grateful when a pretty young actress, reminiscent of one of the popular girls in high school, makes seemingly urbane jokes at our expense?

Don’t get me wrong. Miss Spelling has had some good turns in her gay-friendly career, most notably her portrayal of a wildly self-obsessed aspiring actress in the gay indie film Trick. That said, we shouldn’t underestimate our power as an audience for pop culture, and we shouldn’t pretend that we are shallow and easily satisfied just because we think it will ingratiate us to straight celebrities who have deigned to show us their approval. It’s fine to have fading pop stars perform at our clubs every now and then, but the stages of our pride festivals are becoming way stations for every has-been female vocalist looking to make a comeback. Their ill-advised single typically has a name that seeks some new combination of the wordshigher, joy, heaven, your arms, sweat, and swimming pool, and they usually open their act with some patronizing comment about how we gays have always stuck by them, even though most of the crowd doesn’t have a clue who they are.

Paris Hilton’s appointment as grand marshal of the 2005 Los Angeles LGBT Pride Parade in West Hollywood was an insult to anyone who has so much as distributed a pamphlet on behalf of gay rights. Gays responded quickly and resoundingly, and since then Hilton has failed to find the kind of loyal gay following that might have insulated her image during her criminal travails. (Indeed, when a squadron of news helicopters parked themselves in the sky over West Hollywood at the crack of dawn on the day she refused to return to prison, it seemed entirely possible that a mob of gay men would tear her limb from limb—myself included.) I bring up Paris Hilton because she’s a great example of what a diva is not—an absurdly privileged young woman who has downright solicited all the negative attention she can get, as if she is convinced that each brick thrown at her by the media will cover her expansive shallowness with layers of permanent celebrity. Perhaps she could have groomed herself as more of a gay diva by showing an emotion besides wounded pride or by struggling through a personal tragedy created by something besides her avarice, but instead she chose to turn herself into stroke material for frat boys, a fickle bunch once they start drinking and hardly the kind of guys you can count on to keep you out of jail.

Regardless, too many gay men are content to leer at the exploits of Hilton and her ilk rather than seek out a new generation of genuinely talented women whose struggles dramatize and illuminate the emotional turmoil that many gay men feel defines their own lives. This is what a true diva is, and we owe it to society not to give up any ground when it comes to this definition. We belong at the leading edge of pop culture. We have no business comforting the losers in back.

Copyright Christopher Rice



SAAD all over 

By Christopher Rice
From The Advocate  June 19, 2007
 


I’m still trying to wrap my head around the hard fact that the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation is steadfastly refusing to even consider giving its Media Awards to programming from gay media outlets. Even more distressing than GLAAD’s policy of exclusion are the public comments the organization has used to defend itself in the wake of a scathing open letter from Stephen Macias, vice president of Here Networks, which announced that the company would be boycotting GLAAD’s award ceremonies in Los Angeles and New York. First, GLAAD president Neil Giuliano said, “We don’t try to tell Logo or Here what kind of content they need to have, because they already are fair…and inclusive.” Does he really mean to say that gay people never unfairly represent other gay people? Has only Tony Kushner heard of Roy Cohn? If Here launched a showtomorrow called Killer Tranny Hookers Want Your Husband, would GLAAD respond? 

The organization’s mission statement reads, “GLAAD is dedicated to promoting and ensuring fair, accurate, and inclusive representation of people and events in the media as a means of eliminating homophobia and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.” But now, according to a decision made by a dizzying series of ad hoc committees, GLAAD has decided to honor only programming that comes from “mainstream media outlets.” Never mind that the term “mainstream media” appears nowhere in GLAAD’s mission statement. Never mind that up until now the term “mainstream media” was traditionally used by Fox News to describe any news outlet that didn’t present the liberal side of the issue with a commentator who was either a felon or deformed. Now it’s being parroted by gay people to justify excluding other people. But there’s a reason for this, as Media Awards PR man Nick Adams informed Gabriel Rotello in a written statement for the Huffington Post. The awards must focus on “those whose attitudes about our right to fairness, dignity, and equality” need to be transformed. Gotcha. So it’s all right to exclude other gay people as long as we’re trying to make people who don’t like us like us some more? 

In all fairness, GLAAD’s policy doesn’t specifically exclude gay people. It’s very inclusive of gay people who work for straight people who don’t like us, and it’s also very inclusive of straight people who throw us a bone every now and then. The only ones excluded are all of the gay people who work for gay media outlets that are generating content for gay people. Is their content any good? Who cares? GLAAD isn’t even going to consider it. FYI, for those keeping score, this year’s award for Best Film went to the action-packed red-state phenomenon Little Miss Sunshine. Honestly. If the GLAAD Awards get any more mainstream, they’ll be held on the south lawn of the White House. 

Just for the record, I don’t think either Logo or Here has yet produced Emmy-worthy programs, but with this kind of treatment from powerful gay groups, I wonder if they’ll ever get there. Both networks are relatively new ventures and as such are making the most obvious choices available to them in order to establish a core audience and financial base—Logo through ad revenue and Here through programs with DVD sales potential. But I’m not demanding that they win all the awards; I’m asking that they be considered for them. 

GLAAD excels in the role of media watch-dog, which is why it’s so astounding that no one in the organization can recognize that its behavior is making as destructive a slur as any hurled by Ann Coulter. The message is clear: Gay content created by gay media outlets is not important to our community’s growth. I’m far more offended by this message than by any predictable explosion from a shock jock. What does Giuliano think of this? Not much, apparently. When the Washington Blade asked what he thought of Macias’s letter, Giuliano said, “That kind of rhetoric and that kind of tone should be reserved for our adversaries.” Sorry, Neil. Look at the message you’ve sent, and you’ll realize you’ve become your own adversary. 


Copyright Christopher Rice



The Next Brokeback

By Christopher Rice
From The Advocate  May 9, 2006
 

Here’s my advice to all of you who are still broken up about Brokeback Mountain’s loss at the Oscars. Head to your local gay bookstore and shell out a few bucks for something besides porn. As it turns out, Jack and Ennis weren’t hatched during a pitch meeting at the Ivy. They first came to life in the pages of The New Yorker, a magazine driven almost entirely by words alone. 
In some sense, the literary origin of Brokeback—and the highly visible marketing of Annie Proulx’s short story, on which it is based—has masked a spreading indifference to the written word among gay men. Gay op-ed pages abound with condemnations of the formulaic treatment we receive on television sitcoms, but any defense of the gay bookstore and the much wider array of representations it offers is weak at best. At worst, we get dismissive essays from successful gay authors who seem determined to disregard the bookstores that helped give them their start. 

Rather than spending all of our energy trying to guilt-trip the media into representing us more diversely, it’s time we put our passion and our dollars behind the nuanced representations of gay men that have already been written. 

Don’t think you’re part of the problem? Here’s a test. Which of the following do you recognize? Mack Friedman, Richard McCann, Barry McCrea, Vestal McIntyre, Sulayman X, Aaron Hamburger, Dennis Cooper, Harlan Greene, Thorn Kief Hillsbery, Keith McDermott, Patrick Ryan, Blair Mastbaum, Bart Yates, K.M. Soehnlein, Michael Lowenthal, Eric Shaw Quinn, John Morgan Wilson. This is but a small sampling of current writers whose work collapses stereotypes of gay men. (Here’s hoping you’re already familiar with living gay literary lions such as Alan Hollinghurst, Felice Picano, Andrew Holleran, Edmund White and others.) 

If big gestures are more your style, get out your checkbook and spend a paltry $25 to join the struggling Lambda Literary Foundation—sponsor of the Lammy awards—the only organization dedicated to increasing the visibility of LGBT writers. 

All of that’s pretty easy. The hard part will be letting go of excuses like “I try to read before bed but I fall asleep”—to which I’m always tempted to reply that I hope you don’t read the CNN news ticker while on the treadmill. Patronizing your local gay bookstore and setting aside 20 minutes each night to read is not too much to ask when the next gay-themed film to take American culture by storm may be at stake. 

Otherwise, we had better prepare ourselves for an endless slate of happy-go-lucky sex comedies firmly rooted in the “taming the go-go boy” school of storytelling. 

Brokeback is just one of many recent successful films that are faithful adaptations of written source material. In Brokeback’s case, it was the short story’s impact on several well-placed straight filmmakers that ultimately carried it toward the big screen. 

That’s because gay men have been remiss in forming a potent segment of the book-buying public with the power to nudge gay titles into the Hollywood pipeline. If we truly want Hollywood to present us with representations of gay men that challenge and even devastate us, this situation needs to change. And why shouldn’t it? After all, we each have the power to change it before bedtime tonight.


Copyright Christopher Rice



Death and Rebirth 

By Christopher Rice
From The Advocate  October 11, 2005 


I was brought to New Orleans against my will. When I was 10 years old my parents packed up our Castro District Victorian in San Francisco and moved us to the city my mother had been forced to leave against her will when she was 14. They assured me that we would only be spending a summer there. Before I knew it summer had come and gone, and I was being enrolled in an elite Episcopal prep school several blocks from our first home in the city, which stood on “the wrong side” of Magazine Street. 

The first boy I met at the school’s orientation party would become my closest friend for the next four years before taking his own life at the age of 16, a death that sent shock waves through the Garden District community we both grew up in. His grave sits on the opposite side of Interstate 10 from where my family’s mausoleum holds the bodies of my father and my sister. 

I write these statements in the present tense even though I don’t know the condition of these final resting places in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s strike against the city. I am haunted by images of my father’s coffin being released to the floodwaters. Mourning an entire city feels impossible. Yet mourning a grave feels selfish when New Orleans residents who were too impoverished to evacuate have drowned inside their attics. 

Ironically, the cemeteries are also where I’ve found the seeds of hope for the city’s emotional recovery. While the physical recovery from this disaster will be enormous, there is no other city in the nation that is as spiritually equipped to deal with mass death on this scale. New Orleanians bury their dead above ground because they have to; the water table, before Katrina, was too high to accommodate basements and below-ground graves. The city rose to this challenge, not with banks of sterile oven-slot tombs but with dazzlingly elaborate mausoleums. Not only are they temples to the world that may exist beyond this one, they are testaments to the spiritual possibilities that can arise in response to nature’s constraints. 

Contrast this attitude with the dumb outrage expressed by Malibu, Calif., residents every time a wildfire races through their multimillion-dollar acreages, and New Orleans is revealed to be a city with a deep and meaningful acceptance of nature’s cruel realities. 

Ever since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, I have spent my evenings pausing and rewinding news footage of my hometown in search of some intersection or landmark so that I might winnow down the enormous and numbing sense of loss I feel. I came close with a clip of a burning mansion in the Garden District, the neighborhood I grew up in, but the clip was too brief and the camera spun wildly away from the house and up to the military helicopter hovering overhead. There was also the battered Clearview Mall on Veterans Boulevard, which sits next to the interstate on-ramp I would take to go home after visiting friends in areas of Jefferson Parish that now lie underwater. But the wide shots, the helicopter views that pan ceaselessly over a newly formed swamp of homes, businesses, and lost lives, turn my city into something incomprehensible. Impossible. 

After several days of continuous news coverage CNN finally brought me the proper word for what I was witnessing: “appalling.” It came out of the mouth of a musician named Jack Fine who had weathered both the storm and the first few days of its aftermath. For the first time, a native had articulated the combined sense of powerlessness and anger I was feeling by describing the events that had befallen my hometown as a kind of spiritual assault. 

If there is anything specific and unique about the pain New Orleanians have felt in the wake of this tragedy, it comes from the fact that to live there is to drink in the raw materials of the place in a way that is neither possible nor expected in other parts of the country. The city bombards your senses without discretion or gentility, and when you leave it you are branded by its purple sunsets. To have lived there for an extended period of time is to enter into a strange contract with it—an agreement to become part of a place with a cultural identity so big and genuine that it will always eclipse your own, to become someone who is willing to articulate the city’s mythos to the wide-eyed traveler who has never been there. 

As the water drains and the full scope of the disaster is revealed, those of us who are sworn to make sense of this strange city to the rest of the country will discover whether or not we have been charged with giving the city’s eulogy.


Copyright Christopher Rice


More


PRIDE AND SELF-HATRED

By Christopher Rice
From The Advocate, June 22, 2004


If you have a difficult time enjoying gay pride season, try writing a compelling column about it. Go ahead. I dare you. Remember, I said compelling. That means you can't condescend to your reader about how the real meaning of pride is an adorable and eccentric boyfriend, a cabin in the Poconos, and an adopted child (and a six-figure salary to support all three). You can't delude yourself into thinking that anyone wants to read about how you and your girlfriend were laughed at for wearing Daisy Dukes and cut off in the drink line because you had breasts instead of rock-hard pecs.

If drag queens and half-naked boys make you uncomfortable, join the club. It's a big one—and no, it's not called the Christian Coalition. It's nameless and includes just about anyone who isn't a drag queen or a boy with a good reason to shed his shirt in public.

When June hits I won't be gearing up for the pride parades themselves. Instead, I will be preparing myself for all the nasty things that will be written about them in the gay press. Why? Because in my reasonably short career as an out gay man, pride celebrations have not been defined by the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence so much as the bitching and moaning that follows in their wake. More often that not, arguments for and against pride events form a kind of sweaty lockstep that heads off any meaningful cultural debate:

"How can a single celebration represent the diversity of gay and lesbian experience?" "How could any nitwit expect it to?" "If you don't like it, don't go." "I don't go, but you morons always end up on the front page of The New York Times!"

These arguments usually butt heads until someone gets a bloody nose and runs screaming for the protection offered by that great cancer of gay political and social discourse—the self-hatred defense. It's leveled against any gay man or woman who dares to turn a critical eye on some aspect of the community that's either unsightly or killing people. It implies that the detractors secretly engage in the very behavior they are criticizing or are smoldering with resentment because they don't have the guts to join in. Either way, it's a cheap shot designed to strip opponents of their self-respect—and maybe even their sexuality—and nowhere is it used to more immediate and dire effect than in discussing pride ideals, discussions that never make it out of the gate as a result.

But still, the bitching goes on. Year after year gay men and women return to the same argument like moths to a flame. Rarely have I heard critics of pride observances suggest a single change or improvement. Indeed, most of them just want the phenomenon to vanish; time hasn't done it in, so they have taken it upon themselves to eradicate it. Meanwhile, pride supporters seem to view any attack on their communal celebration as an assault on their very being, and they go for the throat as a result. Somewhere along the way bouncing drag queens and crepe paper-strewn truck beds become either a march to Valhalla or a one-way trip on the river Styx.

It is the persistence with which so many of us continue to engage in this ham-handed back-and-forth that strikes me as the most significant aspect of the gay pride season. Why do so many of us return? Is it because we're genuinely invested in the impossible goal of stitching together a pride celebration that fairly represents every single member of our 10% demographic across the board? I don't think so.

For some of us, it's not the parade we want to change—it's the debate that follows it. We're looking for the magic turn of phrase that will push the discussion past the realm of histrionic personal attacks, past the false and suffocating dualities that come about when the self-hatred defense is used against those who hold unpopular viewpoints, and into the realm of an objective and reasonable debate, a debate that could enhance our community's powers of self-analysis by including twice as many participants. In other words, a celebration that would include everyone. 


Copyright Christopher Rice



THE REAL GAY SURVIVORS


By Christopher Rice
From The Advocate, September 28, 2004


Gay men have a secure presence on even the most mainstream of reality TV shows--you know, those network vote-off-a-thons designed to force impossibly pretty contestants into slowly driving one another out of their little minds. As a writer fascinated by human beings' reactions to stress and the universal truths those reactions reveal, I try to pass off my affection for these shows as research.

This is crap. I just like watching people come unglued.

Every television season I hold out hope that the gay male contestants on these shows will somehow manage to rise above it all, turning their minority status into a unique identity that allows them to play the game as no one else can. This never happens. Most of these guys turn themselves into stool pigeons for the first brassy female who gives them her blessing, usually a svelte take-no-prisoners blond who bears a striking resemblance to right-wing attack poodle Ann Coulter.

If, like me, you are marginally offended by the formulaic spinelessness of the typical gay male contestants on shows like Survivor and Big Brother, I would like to direct your attention to a lesser-known reality show on the A&E network.

Airline, a half-hour reality show about Southwest Airlines and the incredibly furious people who fly it on a daily basis, offers up a bevy of gay male airline employees with Lucite balls. For the most part, the show is an extended commercial for Southwest Airlines and its suspiciously happy employees. But it also portrays gay men as the powerful gatekeepers of a strange and frenzied world we're all dependent upon. Piss them off at your own peril.

These guys are not interested in giving you a makeover. And just because they don't wear that "Everyone Loves A Jewish boy" T-shirt doesn't mean they are obedient civil servants who smile at the oppressors they openly despise. No, the gay boys of Airline are routinely pitted against passengers whose self-righteous anger borders on hysteria.

And they always win.

We might have the show's editing to thank for this. Red-faced fathers unleash volleys of profanity until the gay employee they're assailing cuts a quick but telling glance at the man's pale and horrified children who are standing close by. Father clams up. Cut to commercial.

The show's gay shining star is Mike Carr, a bullish and undeniably sexy Los Angeles International Airport supervisor who moves hell and high water to find lost luggage and helps elderly passengers change their soiled undergarments. But Carr is at his best when he's reining in passengers he has deemed too drunk too fly. His victims usually threaten lawsuits and pound their fists against the ticket desk. They insist that they have only had one drink, even as drool flies from one corner of their mouth and Carr describes the sickly sweet smell coming from their pores.

But Carr never looses his cool. His dire proclamations about the passenger's travel plans typically begin with phrases like "With all due respect" and "Sir, if you could just listen to me for a second."

If things end badly, as they often do, Carr turns to the camera and offers a distinctly 12-step reading of the situation. "I'm sorry it had to get to this point," he explained after preventing two inebriated, verbally abusive--and possibly schizophrenic--sisters from flying to visit a father they hadn't seen in 35 years. "But I'm only in control of my behavior. Not the passengers'."

The stereotype of the gay man who outdoes his bullies with a sharp-tongued quick wit (and a certain stoicism) is not a new one. It is, however, rarely found in the nuance-free world of reality television. Airline gives us gay men in their everyday working environment who react to the volatility and irrational behavior of those around them with a stiff upper lip and an unflappable sense of humor, all without caving in to the absurd demands placed on them. It may be a stereotype, but in the current political climate, it is an inspiring one. 


Copyright Christopher Rice



A KICK IN THE TEETH


By Christopher Rice
From The Advocate, April 13, 2004


I think it's safe to say that President Bush has no idea that in proposing an amendment to the Constitution to ban gay marriage he has accomplished something that no other event or political figure has managed to do: He has galvanized a previously apathetic generation of gay men in their mid to late 20s.

We are the first gay generation to be maligned and dismissed not by our straight oppressors but our gay aunts and uncles. The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide is full of dire warnings about us. We are too satisfied with our vapid media representations on reality television. We are too hungover and broke from circuit weekends to fathom our continuing oppression. We have mistaken retail recognition for social acceptance.

But on the evening after President's Bush's announcement, we came out in full force--among an estimated crowd of 400--to protest the proposed ban on same-sex marriage. And we did it in West Hollywood, Calif., no less, gay America's leading purveyor of scented candles, closeted celebrities, and pornography. Who are we, and where have we been? And what are we going to do now that we've hit the pavement?

I came out around the same time protease inhibitors did, and I made a beeline for the bars in search of the kind of hedonistic lovefest I had read about in the novels of Edmund White and Felice Picano. The experience was akin to dressing up in your Sunday best only to find your favorite church with defaced frescoes, overturned pews, and the central air turned down to 60 degrees. The supposed golden age had come and gone; Harvey Milk had been shot; Gore Vidal had moved to Italy. New medications managed to hide the physical devastation wrought by AIDS, but there was no hiding the wrecked emotions of the survivors. Their contradictory and condescending message? The best is over. Try to feel an ounce of the joy we felt--just don't do anything we did.

We wrapped ourselves in a quilt of high fashion and wealth to insulate ourselves from the emotional devastation. Without meaning to, we made being a gay as grim and humorless a task as I imagine it was in the 1950s. We turned the badge of sexual outlaw into the badge of strung-out underwear model. We replaced camp and its social sophistication with sarcasm, high on cruelty and shock value and low on wit and erudition. (Goodbye, Oscar Wilde. Hello, Simon Cowell.) A genuine interest in pop culture was replaced by a lionization of Hollywood moguls and fashion icons, based more on their real estate holdings than on their latest creations. Drugs like GHB and crystal meth enabled a 1970s sexual free-for-all that flew in the face of 1990s medical realities and relied on a 1950s code of vague secrecy and denial. (When a young friend of mine died of a drug overdose at a bathhouse, the real shock to his close friends was that he had been frequenting bathhouses.) In his pathological addictions to wealth and crystal meth, spree killer Andrew Cunanan became the perverse and unwanted icon of my gay generation.

Gradually we began to realize that we were our own worst enemies, and a crusade for personal accountability began. The media joined in, and circuit parties and bug chasers earned more ink than the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. It was a noble endeavor, but its austere tone had the contradictory effect of driving many young men out of the streets and into the bars. Matthew Shepard's murder had the potential to galvanize us, but the overwhelming media response and the horror expressed on both sides of the fence convinced us that our work had already been done for us. (To a large extent, it had been.)

The only thing that could wake us up was a desperate president's naked appeal to his financially powerful Christian conservative base. It was a kick in the teeth. Expect to hear the line "We're here! We're queer! Get used to it!" once again--only this time it will be the drug-addled circuit boy shouting it at the seasoned, middle-aged activist. 


Copyright Christopher Rice



BLOODY CRYSTAL

By Christopher Rice
From The Advocate, March 16, 2004


As research for my current novel, I interviewed a West Hollywood, Calif., sheriff's deputy who told me a story that chilled my blood. Recently he and his partner responded to a complaint from a cab driver who couldn't get rid of a particularly obnoxious passenger. When they arrived at the scene, the out-of-control passenger bolted into the middle of traffic. The deputies grabbed the man and wrestled him back to the sidewalk, where they realized they were covered in blood. One of the man's feet was lying next to them on the sidewalk; the man had no idea that it had detached from his body.

The deputies traced the man's previous whereabouts to a gay nightclub, where a reluctant bartender finally gave them an explanation. After closing time, the taxi passenger, the bartender, and several others had decided to have sex on top of the pool table. During the proceedings, one of them decided to try twisting the taxi passenger's foot against the force of his anklebone. Apparently, he succeeded in twisting the man's foot through several revolutions before the skin tore and the bone snapped. The collective response was to put the man in a cab.

All of the men in question were high on crystal meth.

Crystal meth is old news to many of us. Since the 1990s, the wasting, wild-eyed "tweaker" has become a fixture on sidewalks of urban gay centers throughout the country. New York's gay nightlife has been vastly altered by the drug: Where blissed-out ravers once offered hugs and light sticks, lockjawed sex addicts now offer bug-eyed glares and brazenly explicit propositions.

To view the popularity of crystal meth among gay men in a historical context is to invite some deeply disturbing comparisons. Amphetamines and their cheap and easily manufactured stepchild, crystal meth, have long been used by bloody despots and cold-blooded killers. Adolf Hitler is reported to have taken nine to 10 injections of amphetamines a day. Outlaw biker gangs introduced crystal meth to California's Central Valley in the 1980s. Timothy McVeigh was said to have been a habitual user while drawing up plans to bomb Oklahoma City's federal building.

Now the drug of outlaw bikers has taken up long-term residence at gay bathhouses. Some attendees of this coming Easter's White Party in Palm Springs, Calif., will be amped up on the same drug that coursed through the veins of Matthew Shepard's killers as they tied him to a fence post.

Crystal doesn't cause murderous violence, but it is the undisputed drug of choice for calculating killers. My West Hollywood sheriff's deputy assures me that alcohol deserves the blame for most of this country's random acts of violence. But nothing about Hitler and McVeigh was random. These were men with fatal tunnel vision, an ability to divorce themselves from all forms of empathy and compassion in the pursuit of bloody strikes against a threat they had magnified 10 times over in their minds. How much crystal meth aided them in this endeavor is a question we will have to ask their ghosts.

I have had my own experiences with substance abuse, but not meth. The one time I did it, I felt like I had landed in an Edward Hopper painting: Time collapsed, the world lost all texture, everything inside me wanted out. So I cannot answer for those gay men who are trapped in the grip of this drug. But unlike so many other drugs that narcotize the user into a state of blissful detachment, crystal meth is about big plans. I want to know what the plan is.

The continuing presence of crystal meth in the gay community has introduced a never-before-seen level of calculated violence and self-destruction. I'm not saying that pursuit of sexual excess belongs in the same category as domestic terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and hate crimes—the resulting damage is primarily self-inflicted. But then I remember the taxi passenger's foot flying across Santa Monica Boulevard, and I wonder if crystal's toll on gay people will be just as bloody as the rule of any murderous tyrant.


Copyright Christopher Rice



ADOLESCENCE AND APATHY

By Christopher Rice
From The Advocate, December 23, 2003


Most of the gay men I know are incapable of imagining life after 35, so naturally they were horrified to learn that I had spent a weekend in Palm Springs. If you're gay and in your 20s, you're not supposed to do this unless you work in the porn industry. (White Party attendees get a weekend pass.) Most gay men of my generation view Palm Springs as a bastion of outdated÷and embarrassing÷modes of gay expression: handlebar mustaches, assless chaps, and show tunes, to name a few.

But Palm Springs has something to offer that the urban gay ghetto does not. It has love handles and laugh lines, big bellies and gray hair. In other words, it has middle age. Make that a happy, carefree acceptance of middle age.

At the Palm Springs pride festival, the majority of booths were dedicated to home-improvement and legal advice, and the most popular dance floor was crowded with line dancers and two-steppers, giving the sense that these men actually wanted to dance with one another. It was a celebration of the lives that middle-aged gay men are actually living and of the sex they are actually having (with the men they are actually having it with). I was shocked, enlightened, and hopeful. There was life after spandex, Aveda, and Crunch, and it didn't look so bad after all.

Unfortunately, this life exists well off the radar screens of most gay men who live in urban ghettos, trapped in a perpetual state of adolescence. Here in West Hollywood, if you're not in your 20s, you talk about them incessantly and dress like you still are. If you are in your 20s, you wear your sexuality with a chiseled, humorless gravity, a take-it-while-you-can mentality implying that life after 35 is devoid of spiritual and carnal fulfillment. Here, communal celebrations are driven by the beliefs that true love can only be found in the arms of an impossibly beautiful (and straight) go-go boy and that long-term commitments require his-and-his Range Rovers and a house with a view in the Hollywood hills.

One popular knee-jerk defense for this behavior is the absurd and self-pitying notion that gay men were denied an adolescence and therefore have the right to act like teenagers well into their 40s. Wrong. We had an adolescence just like everyone else÷we just didn't like it.

My erudite friends also tell me that I'm simply seeing a complex, historical love of youth and beauty that's unique to the gay community, an intrinsic aspect of our sexuality with precedents reaching back to ancient Greece. This line of thinking implies that my naughty thoughts about porn star Trent Atkins are somehow noble and empowering when compared with the rise in heart rate my father experienced every time he saw a picture of Britney Spears. (It also glosses over the fact that in ancient Greece bottoms over 30 were labeled prostitutes and subject to execution.) The unique thing about gay men is our capacity for discussing our sex drives with a laughable degree of grandiosity and self-importance even as they become less and less interesting and controversial to everyone else.

We are entering an era of intensifying civil rights struggles, and many gay thinkers have noted a bewildering apathy among gay men, especially when it comes to marriage rights. I don't think it's bewildering at all. Marriage brings adult responsibilities, and many of us are unwilling to grow up. As my good friend Eric Quinn put it, a trip to the Black Party becomes a lot more complicated when giving in to temptation means handing over half your income to the angry lover you left at home.

Legalized marriage does not preclude us from having unconventional, nonmonogamous relationships, yet some men's apathy has the potential to punish us all. So if you're one of those who doesn't want the party to end, just don't plan to crash on my sofa at 5 a.m. I have to get up early for my next visit to Palm Springs. 


Copyright Christopher Rice



OUR OWN LUNATIC LONG SHOTS

By Christopher Rice
From The Advocate, September 30, 2003


I've often heard that if the gay community wants to adore its Michelangelos, it has to accept its Jeffrey Dahmers. Here in California, the recall election fiasco has brought out a flock of wing nut candidates for governor. So if the lunatic long shot has become an undeniable political reality and the gay and lesbian community truly wants a place at the table, we need to belly up to this new phenomenon.

Here are the requirements as I see them. You must have no experience in political office. You must be a household name, especially if it's for doing something that makes people wince. Finally, you must be audacious enough to insist that some reality of your completely unpolitical business is key to solving a current political crisis. For instance, Hustler impresario Larry Flynt wants to make up for California's massive budget shortfall by legalizing and taxing prostitution statewide. Is anyone going to argue with this lecherous millionaire over the profit margins of the sex industry? Can you say "untapped reservoir tip"?

So with these requirements in mind, I submit the following lunatics and long shots from our own ranks.

Chi Chi LaRue. As one of gay porn's most famous directors, LaRue opts to shoot his sex scenes in real time. It's a "get in and get off" approach that eschews the multiple camera setups and various positions that can exhaust already overworked performers. His out-of-touch solution to political gridlock? A quick, hands-off approach to federal government that should appeal to gay conservatives and sex addicts alike. Screw filibusters! Literally! He'll get the budget passed even if it means hiring a hunky plumber to turn the speaker of the house over his podium and gag him with his own belt buckle.

Brandon from Survivor: Africa. In an era when the gay boys of reality TV were primarily Ÿber-sensitive girl-worshiping ninnies, Brandon was a welcome blast of dragon's breath and surely the nastiest bitch to ever hit the cradle of civilization. This twiggy bartender from Texas displayed a tough, no-nonsense approach to sensitive social issues ("I'm sure glad I'm gay, because I can't stand women") and survived lions with his mouth intact. What fat-cat politico wouldn't quake in his boots after a sufficient tongue lashing from this powder keg of fairy dust?

Michael Alig. This out-of-control club kid turned power-tool—wielding maniac is experiencing what you might call an eleventh-hour revival with the recently opened indie film Party Monster recounting his exploits. With New York night life at its current plateau, is it any wonder people are pining for the last days of club land? Who cares if Alig's in prison? He meditates now. From K holes to the Middle Way, Alig's tale of transformation and rebirth is the stuff that American political dreams are made of. (Especially if you're high.)

Camille Paglia. Openly lesbian but intellectually bisexual, Paglia has enraged many with her ice-water-in-the-face approach to issues. She thinks that the best way to stop the spread of HIV is for gay men to stop having unsafe sex with scores of strangers and that young women who want some one-on-one time with famous athletes they've just met should expect more then small talk. In short, Paglia has the potential to be our own Jesse Ventura, a fiercely independent leader who eventually realizes she's too good for the office she sought.

Catherine Tramell. The Terminator's run for governor proves it just might be possible for a fictional character to obtain political office. Who better than the woman-loving man-killer from 1992's Basic Instinct? She had lesbians crying foul and gay men rushing out to buy ice picks. Who better to penetrate the Sacramento or D.C. boys' club? Imagine the committee meetings.

Would we be offended by such candidates? Sure, they'd secure gobs of camera time and send countless harmful messages about the lesbian and gay community in the process. But imagine how legitimate Hugh Hefner feels every time Larry Flynt opens his mouth. 


Copyright Christopher Rice



I HATE BOYS

By Christopher Rice
From The Advocate, June 10, 2003


I want children, and so does my boyfriend. We're lucky to have figured this out. I didn't exactly raise the subject on our third date. (Truth is, we never had a third date. Our first six months together felt like an extended sleepover.) There's just one problem. As it turns out, my boyfriend doesn't want children. He wants boys. He wants those three-foot-tall holy terrors who take more than their allotted five minutes on the swing set and then call you "crybaby" because you've burst into tears over this injustice. He wants those thugs who organize "secret organizations" to plot your demise simply because you ratted out the guy who boasted about cheating on the bonus question in geography.

Boys are not children. They are acne; they are designed to humble you with their flashes of cruelty and then recede into the realm of farcical childhood memory.

When it came time to write this column, I gleefully announced to Brian that I would be writing about his hatred of women. Of course, Brian denied hating women. According to him, the real reason he doesn't want to raise a girl is that there are so many...er...girl things he wouldn't be able to help our imaginary daughter with. "Like menopause!" he finished. I took a deep breath and informed him that menopause would probably take place 30 years after our daughter left the house.

"I like boys!" he proclaimed. "I am a boy. I understand boys."

Brian's implication was obvious. I didn't understand boys. I am a transgender-lite: a gay man, happy in my male body but genetically predisposed toward more female than male behaviors.

This might be true to a degree. As a child, I longed to bring packed Broadway houses to tears with my renditions of soul-searing ballads like "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man," but I'd be damned if I'd perform them in anything other than a suit. I have always surrounded myself with women in hopes that I would soak up some of their superior qualities. But I doubt that I could endure the mind-boggling pain of childbirth, and I'm still no good at giving the men in my life the illusion of control.

Rather, years spent in the company of women have done little more than put a stereotypically female veneer on my unfortunately natural and numskull male behaviors. I routinely refuse to ask for directions and leave dirty laundry piled on the floor. But after I do both, I like to sit down and have a long talk about how it made me feel. Should my son mutter something vaguely antigay, I would probably simultaneously burst into tears and hurl him headlong across the living room. Afterward, I would have to listen to my Kelly Clarkson CD to come down.

In short, years of transgender ambition has endowed me with only a smidgen of that which makes females complex and superior. I like the results girls get, but I'm still not sure how they get them. Which doesn't qualify as Brian's definition of understanding, I guess.

Boys I understand all too well. I know how to be one and sleep with one. What else do I need to know?

Fact is, Brian and I don't need a child we understand. We need a child who doesn't quite understand us. We need a daughter who laughs at us when we overload the trunk of the car or take apart a set of shelves without the instructions on how to put it back together. We need a daughter who will look troubled and put out as she watches us try to stretch the gasoline dispenser over the trunk instead of turning the car around so the tank faces the pump. Brian and I are two boys living in a community where a "boy" can be anywhere between 4 and 45. The one thing missing from our lives is the daily presence of a female who is patient but unimpressed.

The way I see it, Brian and I have had the question backward. We need to stop thinking about what we can give a child and start thinking about what a child can give us. Even if it's the finger. 


Copyright Christopher Rice



THE CHALLENGE OF LOSS

By Christopher Rice
From The Advocate, February 4, 2003


My father, Stan, was an artist and professor who first discovered his voice in 1960s San Francisco. He became an award-winning poet in the brief span of time just after the beatniks started to lose ground and the hippies were gathering numbers. For Dad, homosexuality was a colorful enigma and an intrinsic part of the city he was so madly in love with. After I came out to him at 18, he treated my sexuality in much the same way. Gentle teasing was his preferred method for showing me that my sexuality would always cause me more disquiet than it would ever cause him. I think he knew even then that the struggles that lay ahead for me would cast him on the periphery.

He was right. He stood back and watched as I wrestled with the tiresome questions that confront so many young gay men who've been told they're attractive one too many times. Fads or friends? Tricks or partners? Shame or sobriety? In none of these struggles did my dad play a central role, which is probably why my sexuality played no role at my father's bedside as he waged a four-month battle with inoperable brain cancer.

It sounds strangely boastful to say that I had not one unresolved resentment toward my dad. Surely I had some reason for a tearful confrontation reminiscent of an off-Broadway play, where misunderstood gay son finally speaks his mind to unforgiving father. I'm embarrassed to admit how badly I wanted such a grievance. I craved any self-serving and dramatic distraction from the swift and unrelenting passage of his illness.

From biopsy to death, there were no breaks and no miracles. Before treatment, Dad lost the use of his right side thanks to the tumor's position. After finishing chemo and radiation, he slipped into a world of frightening delusions that included knives being driven into his back and burning sheep running across fields. (The radiologist was baffled and had no explanation.) Just as the tumor was brought to a standstill by treatments, pneumonia and a host of other infections landed my dad in a light coma he would never come out of. Worst-case diagnosis for a glioblastoma is usually six months. My dad got four.

As someone who once used his sexuality as a hot button for almost every occasion, I was shocked and humbled by how small a role it played in the biggest upheaval of my life so far. Being gay had been my way into or out of any conflict. At my father's bedside it was neither. Still I searched for an angry distraction, so I shuttled my resentments elsewhere.

I was envious of my older gay friends who had survived the worst days of the AIDS epidemic by gathering around the beds of dying friends and lovers. What a perfect rehearsal for this, and I had missed it by a decade! Wasn't I part of a community that had put forth unforgettable tales of loss and love? Where was my collective frame of reference for an illness this debilitating and swift? I was ashamed of my gay contemporaries who had prepared me only for sudden deaths, specifically the dance floor casualty, where the dying happens too quickly to get your attention, and when it's done there's always the stigma of blame to ease the pain of your loss.

It's amusing to hear "anger" listed as a single stage of grief. For me, anger is the water of grief. It moves everything else, and you're never sure what direction it's going to flow in. When my father died on December 9, it was like a speeding train had squealed to a halt and the conductor ordered my family, still dizzy and nauseated from the ride, to grab our bags and get off. Only now am I starting to realize that nothing could prepare me for all that came before.

Death as a concept is something we can all pretend to be familiar with. We break it down into broad categories that some are more intimate with than others: AIDS, cancer, and homicide are just a few. But as an event, death is terribly specific. Everything about my father is now united by a denominator too common to illuminate who he really was. No sexual orientation and no community can prepare you for the real challenge of loss: the challenge of remembering how a person lived and protecting their true identity from the poisonous power of how they died. 

Copyright Christopher Rice


 


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