Happy National Coming Out Day!

I came out to my mom twenty years ago, the day after Ellen Degeneres came out on national television. I was so inspired but I was so terrified. I could only make the attempt over the telephone and I couldn’t even say the words; I made my mom guess until I finally said “Yes” when she finally got around to “Are you gay?” Coming out became easier after that, but you never really stop coming out.

Why, when we have marriage equality in the United States, is it still important to come out? Because some tolerance is not full acceptance. Because intolerance never seems to go away. Because it’s still necessary to stand up and be counted. Because people still react in surprise or anger or hate. Because LGBTQA+ children and adults are still being bullied, attacked, murdered, shunned, disowned, fired, and discriminated again. Because the globe is still overwhelmingly bigoted and violent toward LGBTQA+ people. Because it still matters and will continue to matter.

Things were better for me after I came out. Every time I come out. But why shouldn’t things have been good to begin with, despite me being gay? Why couldn’t I have grown up loved unconditionally, free to be me, comfortable with my sexuality? Why did I wait until I was 24 years old to start the process? Why did it take a celebrity to inspire me enough to start? Why is coming out still so hard? Why does there have to be a process of coming out at all?

Because we still have so far to go.

Movie Review: Everything is Free

[This movie was removed from YouTube. If it goes back up, I’ll update the links. The video he added soon after, How to be a Slut in America – Part 1, is every bit as interesting [and has also been taken down.]]

When I say that Brian Jordan Alvarez’s new queer film Everything is Free—now available for free but age restricted on YouTube—is not afraid of penises, I mean that as high praise, and this is your opportunity to bail out of this review if this isn’t subject matter you’re comfortable with. You also might want to bail if you don’t want anything spoiled; come back after you’ve watched the film.

And when I say this film is further evidence that we are in more than just the Golden Age of Television, I mean that there are so many great web series and independent films and really video content of any kind. There’s a lot more crap out there because it’s easier than ever to capture and edit video, the price of software and hardware has plummeted, the number of platforms has multiplied, and many more people from many different backgrounds are releasing their video visions to the world, but the good stuff is better than ever, too.

[Spoilers ahead.]

Everything is Free comes from the brilliant mind of Alvarez, who wrote, directed, edited, starred in, and composed some of the music for his film. Alvarez is known for his comedy, and his latest effort is really damn funny, but it’s also full of drama, art, surrealism, and heat. Like really fucking hot moments of sensuality and nudity doing more than just titillating the viewer. The unexpected appearance of an erect penis in a YouTube video is a proclamation, a vulnerable character moment, kinda funny actually, hot, and happens as the drama escalates into homophobia and violence.

Ivan (played by Alvarez) is a gay American artist living in Colombia. His best friend and his friend’s brother, Cole, both straight, come to stay with him. As they begin to meet other Americans in Colombia, Ivan finds himself attracted to Cole, and is surprised by Cole’s tentative interest in return. As the relationship sputters and halts to a start, Ivan and Cole soon face an unexpected obstacle that adds a lot of tension and takes the film in unexpected directions.

What I find refreshing about Alvarez’s work is his unapologetic approach to depicting queer experience. I didn’t realize how much I hide and apologize for my own queer sense of identity until I started watching Alvarez’s YouTube videos. I also didn’t recognize  how much I have normalized on heterosexual ways of being, including monogamy and nuclear families. Ivan crafts a family of friends around him, and experiences his sexuality without apology, even to the ostensibly straight brothers who drop into his world. He expresses attraction, tests limits, has multiple partners, and isn’t afraid of being in love and lust. There’s a line late in the movie when Ivan asks why he’s the one being made to look crazy because he’s in love with a straight man that really resonated with me. I have also found myself in love with straight guy friends, relationships made all the more confusing by a level of intimacy and dependence that developed between us that straight guys don’t talk about and frequently end up lashing out unprovoked as they struggle to understand and set their own limits. It’s so refreshing and comforting to see this explored in Everything is Free.

The direction and acting are fantastic, but I am also impressed by Alvarez’s editing and color choices. There are surreal and artsy moments that make the film even more fascinating, and will lead me to watch it again to derive additional meaning. There’s a lot to think about here. I thought the end felt slightly tacked on and more hopeful than necessary, except it’s also really funny and satisfying in it’s own way.

If you’ve seen previous web series and shorts by Alvarez, then you have seen many of the other actors in this film. It’s always wonderful to see Stephanie Koenig, Jason Greene, Jimmy Fowlie, and the rest of the gang. They all work so well together, with a style that’s part improvisational, part pure joy.

So when I say I’m looking forward to seeing more of Alvarez’s films, it’s because he has matured into one of my favorite writer-directors, and I’m learning a lot about myself in the process of appreciating his art. This is a Golden Age of Creativity and of diverse voices describing experiences that haven’t been explored enough.

Book Review: The Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson

The Art of Being NormalThe Art of Being Normal by Lisa Williamson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lisa Williamson’s wonderful “The Art of Being Normal” explores the complicated and emotional coming-of-age of two English teenagers. David Piper wants to be a girl. Leo Denton has secrets of his own. The novel switches back and forth between the two characters’ points of view. Both characters are vulnerable and matter-of-fact in tone and diction and their voices capture the weight of their teenage worlds, but David is the more cheerful of the two while Leo is much more emotionally withdrawn and angry. Their family lives are very different: Leo is from a lower class and fights with his irresponsible mother while missing his father who left when he was a baby, and David is from a higher class with two doting, loving parents who think they know what’s going on with him, but have the details all wrong. Leo has two sisters who adore him, while David’s younger sister can’t quite figure him out. I found these family dynamics to be one of the highlights of the book.

They meet when Leo starts attending David’s school. School is rough, and David and Leo spend much of the book dealing with bullies; the unfairness of teachers, administrators, and parents; and their own emotional landscapes. These scenes are often tense and upsetting, but there is also a lot of humor and young romance, including Leo’s blossoming relationship with Alicia Baker, a girl who sees right through his apathy. A climatic road trip contains some of the best scenes between David and Leo, and also some of the most emotional moments. Starting about half way through the book I was in almost constant tears as revelations and obstacles escalate and the two characters try to overcome them. While I’m a little cynical about how their story arcs conclude, these are still very satisfying and soaring conclusions.

Williamson uses a matter-of-fact tone, straight-forward structure, and limited lyricism to prevent the often very emotional content from becoming melodramatic or sentimental. The style is very naturalist and frequently emotionally raw. David and Leo are not characters given to overwrought language, and this helps suggest how they are prepared to deal with what life throws at them. My heart often broke for David and Leo, and I could not help rooting for them to find happiness and acceptance.

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Book Review: The Gilded Razor: A Memoir by Sam Lansky

The Gilded Razor: A MemoirThe Gilded Razor: A Memoir by Sam Lansky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been on a tear through a few memoirs this week, and I saved this one for last for two reasons: the subject matter and the reviews that suggested it was funny.

But it’s not funny. Not really.

In terms of subject matter, narratives (books, movies, or TV shows) about drug use make me exceptionally uncomfortable. I generally avoid them but every once in a while I steel myself and dive into one. Lansky’s account of his drug use is riveting but also very upsetting. I cannot read about his experiences, even told using the voice of his past, flippant self, and find anything particularly funny about them. Here’s the thing, though: I don’t think Lansky does either. In my opinion, Lansky is not using humor in any gratuitous way to bring readers into his story. Humor is not the tone of the book, but part of the characterization of past Lansky, and I think the book is stronger for this approach.

The memoir is propulsive, though, and it’s easy to get caught up in the momentum of the rocketship ride that was his youth. By the end it seems miraculous that he survived. Lansky writes with a matter-of-fact tone and attention to detail, and he also uses urban and wilderness settings to great effect as background to his rapidly deteriorating situation and search for help. It’s fascinating to read his memoir and think about what he values in telling his story in comparison to other writers of memoir.

I think that it is potentially quite difficult to find the right ending for a memoir, one that lives up to the situations and emotions in the preceding history. I felt that Lansky’s memoir transitions rather abruptly at the end to what changed for him at age 19 so that he could become sober, but I wasn’t sure exactly what had changed. I would have liked more analysis and contemplation about what happened at this transition point. As it is, however, the rapidness of this transition follows an emotional arc that left me in tears. The final two paragraphs, in my opinion, are too humble; Lansky ends with a universal statement, but what struck me the most about his memoir was how singular his strength was to overcome and manage his demons.

This is a very brave memoir, one in which Lansky allows himself to be extremely vulnerable and open. I feel grateful as a reader to have been offered this glimpse at his turbulent life.

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Book Review: The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son On Life, Love, and Loss by Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper

The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son On Life, Love, and LossThe Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son On Life, Love, and Loss by Anderson Cooper
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I started Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper’s conversation The Rainbow Comes and Goes not expecting to enjoy it much, but by the end of the book I was thoroughly charmed. The first quarter of the book explores Vanderbilt’s childhood, one which found her thrust into the limelight at only eight years old because of a custody hearing between her mom and aunt instigated by her grandmother and nanny. This section describes a life of privilege, money, and fame that is very alien to me, but soon Vanderbilt and Cooper get to shocking revelations and more universal experiences that brought them down to Earth and kept me reading.

Mother and son establish a nice rhythm during their conversation and their honesty and vulnerability comes through in their words. I often found Cooper’s reactions to his mother’s revelations endearing; she was not one to talk about her past, so much of what she told him was brand new to him. This leads him to ask questions during their conversation that help her explore her past and self even more deeply.

My favorite sections in the book include surprising (to me) information about the actors and other famous people Vanderbilt knew, dated and even married, and other allusions to the era like songs and movies. While reading, I listened to songs by The Andrew Sisters and Harry Richman on Apple Music, based on a couple quick references to these singers Vanderbilt mentions. I think one of the reasons why this book works so well is because Vanderbilt really evokes the eras she is recalling.

The last section of the book serves as a contemplative and philosophical wrap-up, and although I found the generalizations and platitudes in this section less engaging, I felt Vanderbilt and Cooper had earned the space for them. Their conversation seems to have been a positive experience for them both, and brought them closer together while allowing them to explore their pasts and shared losses. It’s fascinating to read Cooper discover the ways he is like his mother, after thinking most of his life he was nothing at all like her, and it’s wonderful to read how in opening up her past to her son, Vanderbilt is also able to tell her son how proud of him she is and how much she loves him. She comes across as a wonderfully alive person at age 91 (when they had this conversation) who was often challenged in her past by circumstances beyond her control, but resilient enough to overcome some truly traumatic experiences and heartbreaking losses along the way.

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News Bytes – Wednesday, June 19, 2013

3-D Printing

Robotics

Space Science

Demographics