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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Art Heroes: Andres Serrano

The piece after the vandals destroyed it
I was in college finishing my degree in Toledo when the question of funding the National Endowment for the Arts came under fire in the senate. Jesse Helms was the chief complainer, bringing forward Andres Serrano and his piece “Piss Christ” as an example of why the government shouldn’t be funding artwork. Serrano has always been one of my heroes due to the button pushing nature of his artwork. I also love the fact that he uses religious imagery, most of it in a respectful and quite lovely nature. However, “Piss Christ” although beautiful, doesn’t sit well with many. My first year of teaching at Columbia Central created a bit of controversy when one of my students created a replica of Michelangelo’s “David” fully nude with the word “Censorship” hidden in his pubic area. The piece was banned at the local high school art show at the mall and the Cit Pat did a front page article decrying the censorship. But in an ironic moment of hypocrisy chose not to show the full piece of art in the paper. I wrote to Serrano and shared with him the censorship by the mall. Melissa, the artist who created the piece was devastated that the piece didn’t get its showing with her fellow students, so I suggested she add her thoughts as well. We were thrilled when we received a hand-written letter back from Serrano. It is one of my prized possessions. Here is the letter:


Dear Thomas,


I am sorry that I wasn’t able to respond to your letter earlier, but I have been traveling a great deal lately. It is unfortunate that one of your young students had her drawing yanked from an art how. She should realize though that an artist can make work that will be interpreted or misinterpreted by the public. This is not necessarily a reflection of the artist’s intent or talent. The beauty of art is in its power to incite or provoke thought. After all, if art did not cause a fuss now and then things would be very boring. What you have to remember is that the best provocation is sometimes unintentional. As such, it can cause an artist a great deal of confusion when his or her art comes under attack. If your students want to become artists, then so be it. Some will go on to become rich and famous and others won’t. I don’t know which is better.


Sincerely,


A.S.

Recently, a copy of “Piss Christ” was vandalized in Paris, bringing this amazing, but controversial piece back to the limelight twenty some years after its creation.

More on the piece’s destruction here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/18/andres-serrano-piss-christ-destroyed-christian-protesters

Friday, April 29, 2011

Tales of the Kitteh: Rumspringa Edition


Several months after Edwin came to live with us, he began to hole up in the basement much like Greg Brady moving to the attic of the Brady house to exert his independence and get his hippy groove on. After we all left for the day, Edwin would venture to the basement and perch on my studio chair and watch for mice. After we went to bed, he went back down for the night shift with Yukon sleeping in his pen. We loved the fact that our mouse population dropped, as they can just walk into our house through Yukon’s massive dog door. But just as the mice can come in, we worried that Edwin would try to venture out, and sure enough, he did just that the other day. I noticed that he had not shown up for our morning get together in the bathroom. Before I left for work, I searched the house up and down and he was nowhere to be found. I sighed and headed in to work keeping my eyes open for him (or a kitty cookie on the road) as I drove. He is chipped, so we took comfort in the fact that if he did show up somewhere, they could scan him and get his digits and get ahold of us to claim him.


I got home Tuesday and spent the afternoon walking around trying to find him around our house and the neighborhood. Anna was aware that he was missing and got a little sniffy talking about missing him. On Wednesday, I went to the animal shelter and walked with the woman as we peered into cage after cage of meowing kitties. Note to self: DO NOT GO TO THE SHELTER ON A GRAY, RAINY DAY AGAIN. Holy shit, I don’t know how those people work there. It was very sad.

Anna and I had a talk on the porch Thursday morning while we waited for her bus. She said that she missed him and that she was really sad that she left. I had to explain to her that sometimes animals got out and they would come back. But sometimes they didn’t. I asked her if she was ready to accept that fact and she started crying and buried her face in my chest. We both got it together moments before her bus pulled up and she went on her way. I did the walk around the house and sadly got into my car for my last day at work for the semester.

After a day of critiques and petty excuses from my students, I was mentally and emotionally wiped out. I had shared with Tod my sadness with Edwin leaving as he is an awesome cat, so add that to the stress of work and it was pretty draining. However, the phone rang about four o’clock and it was Tod shouting that Edwin was back. I got a little misty as he began to share the details of finding him waiting and meowing on our porch when he and the kids got home. Anna apparently flew to the porch and ran inside to slam the basement door shut keeping away from his escape route. Yes, we will be refiguring the basement to prevent this kind of escape again.

My heart soared and I could hardly wait to get home and see him again. After three days of worrying about him and his Kitty Rumspringa I was happy to see him and listen to his very loud purr. As I sat on the couch watching Ab Fab while Tod did grades, Edwin crawled up into my lap, flipped over so I could rub his belly, and promptly fell asleep.

Yes Edwin, there’s no place like home.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Finally going to Where the Wild Things Are!

So we finally got around to watching “Where the Wild Things Are” last night. Almost two years after its theatrical release. I won’t lie that I was excited to see this film, but I was also quite nervous, which is probably why I waited so long to actually sit down and watch it.


It has many things going for it:

1. The story, natch. Who can resist that?

2. Spike Jonze

3. Groovy soundtrack featuring Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

So why the delay? First off, we got busy. Eli moved in shortly before that and our lives were changed. Sitting down to watch anything became a chore (it’s getting better) and frankly we are too tired to go out to see a film in the theatre. While we were waiting though, I did manage to get my arm/tattoo/sleeve done with Max and his epic proclamation: Let the wild rumpus start! It was a huge hit in New Orleans at the Prime Time Family Reading training. I can’t tell you how many of the story tellers and other book-nerds in attendance took a picture of my arm.

I love the story, and I guess that it what concerned me. How do you take a book that has less than a paragraph of writing and turn it into a feature film? Jonze worked with Dave Eggers to create the screenplay, and according to what I have read, Maurice Sendak gave his blessing to the final write. I read Egger’s Zeitoun, a horrific but extremely readable tale about post-Katrina New Orleans. I couldn’t put it down. No really, trust me on this one.

So after a sugar-fueled day of naughtiness and bad behavior, we sat down to watch the film after our own Wild Things were tucked in bed, or so we thought. We knew Anna would be interested in the film, as she loves the story, but we knew that there were things in this movie that we might not want her to see. We were glad she wasn’t there, as the film is way beyond her ken right now. However, Maxine appeared about 20 minutes into the film and demanded that she be able to watch it with us. NO, we said, and sent her back to the room. The film is a noisy one, and I love our sound system, especially in the attic. Movies are amazing, especially loud ones. But, we were good parents and turned off the goodies and turned down the volume so she would go to sleep. We think she saw some bits of the film, but we told her that she had to be older to watch it. Didn’t give her a number, just said older and she seemed to be okay with that.

I loved the first part of the film, as it visualized what Sendak had drawn in live action. The characters, un-named in the book, now have names and personalities, and I loved them all. I found myself tearing up as Max got the party started in the film with great enthusiasm and loved the monster pile. What fun. But after they milked the book, it got weird. I had read parts of Egger’s screenplay in the New Yorker and loved what I read, but I didn’t like how it fleshed out on the screen. I found the Wild Things and their issues to be a bit much and not in the realm of the story. I honestly got a little bored. But as the climax came about, and Max returns home (no spoilers, trust me, if you’ve read the book, you know how it ends) I identified more with Max’s mom than him, even though he is who is on my arm. As she slipped into slumber at the table looking at her little Wild Thing full of love and devotion, I caught myself once again tearing up as I have stared in amazement and horror at my own little Wild Things the same way at the dinner table as they create their own rumpus over the night’s meal. Yes, the book came out the year before I was born, and I will always love it. But now I understand that Wild Things do grow up; I just hope they never forget their younger, wilder days.

Thanks Maurice for a wonderful book, and thanks to Spike for taking it to the next level.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Greetings

From all of us here at JH2D, have a great Easter.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Times, they are a changin’: a belated 4:20 post.


When I taught high school, I told my students that they could not make the following items:

1. Ashtrays

2. Bongs

3. Pipes

There were many reasons, first of being the fact that these items are for activities that were illegal for high school students to take part in at any level. “But the ashtray is for my Mom for Mother’s Day!” they would whine. I would retort that if they really loved her, they would encourage her to quit smoking instead of encouraging it by giving her an ashtray.


As for the pipes and bongs, there was the issue of safety, not to mention the illegal status of the pot. We fired at a very low temp so the clay was still fragile. I had heard a story about a woman who was hurt at a music festival when her pipe exploded in her face due to the high heat created by drawing on the burning um, tobacco on the fragile clay. I would share these horror stories, as well as listen to their excuses:

1. It’s a bubble pipe for my niece/nephew

2. It’s for my grandpa who smokes a pipe

3. It’s a musical instrument. I forgot to drill the holes. Can you fire it anyway?

I even had one moron open the kiln mid fire and tossed his pipe into the glowing chamber. It began to pop and explode a few moments later and ruined the top shelf of artwork being glaze fired. I made sure to tell the students who ruined their artwork.

But now it’s a different time. I have not mellowed with age, but I am seeing more paraphernalia being made in my studio at JCC on a regular basis. With the new medical marijuana laws, it’s becoming an everyday occurrence to drive by dispensaries and supply stores. What was once a rather clandestine activity is now literally out on Main Street in full view. One of my students makes $2500 a month growing pot for her client base.

Holy Herb Bongman! That’s a lot of cash for grass.

Let me think about this for a minute. We have a big basement, plenty of light, and a big ferocious dog. I may have to look into this second career option.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Ted Nugent and reality

Former rocker, and Sarah Palin’s grandpa, Ted Nugent is back in the very dim spotlight again after posting an opinion piece in the Washington Times. Here are some of the highlights:


Basketball superstar Kobe Bryant was socked with a $100,000 fine by the NBA last week for calling a referee what the NBA thinks is a derogatory, ugly and vile name. To be exact, Mr. Bryant committed this egregious verbal foul because he used a word demeaning to homosexuals, the most protected class of people in America.

If the NBA had any true gay convictions, the NBA should host a Homosexual Night. During halftime, the homosexuals could come down on the court, hold hands and prance around the court to music by the Village People. The NBA could then give each homosexual a pink basketball as a symbol of solidarity.

Homosexuals are a protected class in America. If you think what happened to Mr. Bryant was a travesty, just wait until you see what homosexuals in the military do when they claim they have been mistreated because of their sexual orientation.

Let’s break this down for Uncle Ted:

1. Yes, Kobe was rightfully punished for what he did. He was at work, doing his job, and he chose to use language that was inappropriate. If I am teaching at the college and I call one of my students an “Inbred-Texas-hillbilly-pig-fucker” there will be consequences. H.R. will be all over me (like stink on said pig). I don’t think I would get a $100,000 fine, I’d probably get fired.

2. It’s about respect. The official, whether Kobe agrees with him or not, is there to keep the game fair and within the rules. Ted always talks about respect in his rants, but when things like this come up, the issue of respect is out the door in favor of free speech. It’s funny how the Right is like that.

3. Protected class? Are you using drugs again? Please show me how I am a protected class in this homophobic society/country. If you can show me that my rights as a gay man are right up there with your rights as a straight man, we’ll talk. Until then, STFU.

NOT in the Village People?
4. NBA and homosexual night? Really? That just doesn’t trip over the tongue now does it? Come to think of it, neither does “Cat Scratch Fever” but that’s another topic. How about NBGay night? That has a ring to it. And, the Village People? Maybe on a Retro NBGay night. Teddy, we’re all about the Gaga now, catch up. And, by the way Ted, were you in the Village People at one time? God bless the internetz.



While I am all about supporting the First Amendment, just as feverishly as Ted supports the Second Amendment, I draw the line at speech that borders on hate speech. Had the situation been turned and the ref said “Fuckin’ n*gger” to Kobe, it would have not been tolerated either, and the ref would have probably been fired, not fined. Both the N and the F word are loaded words, and they bring a lot of emotion and controversy when they are used. The NBA did the right thing and I applaud them for their actions. However, I am all about the MLB right now and am busy stalking Brian Wilson (and his amazing beard) of the San Francisco Giants.

Links if you must:

Ted’s rant is here: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2011/apr/19/nbas-gay-gag-order/?page=1

The always informative Towleroad had the first post I saw about this: http://www.towleroad.com/2011/04/rocker-ted-nugent-rips-nba-for-fining-kobe-bryants-anti-gay-slur.html

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Carol Burnett and Friends: Thanks for the memories



When I first came out as a teenager back in the 80’s, my parents wondered what every parent wonders… WHAT DID I DO? Well Marty and Dick, let me tell you: You let me watch the Carol Burnett show on T.V.
Aside from old Looney Toons, Laugh-In, and Match Game, nothing had a bigger impact on my sense of humor and what I consider funny as an adult. I didn’t always get the show, as some of the innuendoes were way over my head, but watching it in reruns now, it’s a wonder I’m not an alcoholic drag queen in West Palm Beach. I always remember my parents laughing out of control and my Mom doing her war whoop laugh (the one she does when something is too funny and sends us into spasms of both laughter and embarrassment) as Carol and her minions did their work. The true acid test of any comedian/comedy will be the test of time. The show might be thirty years old, but they still hit the mark and continue to make me laugh even to this day.

The college hosted Tim Conway and Harvey a few years back, so Tod and I bought tickets for both of our parents. We all giggled through their great set of both old and new material, all of it spot on after a few decades. Afterwards, the person in charge of the booking got us backstage so I could meet them both. I was in awe to be around such greatness as Harvey is freakishly tall and Tim is pretty short. I shook both of their hands and asked for autographs (natch) and struggled to keep my composure as I told them how much I loved them and their work. I didn’t tell them that they made me Gay, although I really wanted to. I would love to be able to have a conversation with Freddie Mercury, Charles Nelson Riley, and a whole bunch of other guys who are gone now and tell them how much they influenced me as a young homo.

Vicki Lawrence was at the college with her "Mama" tour, and since we were out of town I asked the lady in charge if I could at least get her autograph to complete my collection since we couldn’t see the show. I kind of feel like a serial killer collecting heads or something, but now, my collection is complete: I have the four biggies at last.

So readers, what is your favorite Carol Burnett Show memory? Me, it would have to be Carol as the Queen and Tim Conway as the hollow soldier who has to get the medal from her. Fun fun fun. And who can forget Mrs. Wiggins? I would kill to have a secretary like that. Comment and let me know your favorite memory. If you are too young or are scratching your head and wondering what I am talking about, please see the Amazon link above and order it so you too can feel the joy.

Carol, Harvey, Tim, and now, Vicki, you’ll all live together in my memory as well as in the snappy multi-paned frame I buy to house you all. I'm so glad we had this time together!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Gay (Single) Parenting

What a week it has been, I am so glad it is coming to an end. Tod has been away at camp with his 6th graders and I have been doing the single parent thing all week. You may remember when I wrote about this a few years back. While I may have openly mocked Bristol Palin and Brit Brit on this blog, it’s more for their stupid behavior than for being a single parent. My hat is off to all those who are doing it on their own for whatever reason.


It’s a lot of work.

We had to call in the reinforcements from Ohio as I had to teach all day yesterday and we needed someone to watch the kids until I got home. Grandma and Grandpa Oakley came to the rescue and surprised Anna when she got off of the bus yesterday afternoon. We have stopped telling Anna about future events as she obsesses over them and makes everyone miserable with her worrying, so this was something she wasn’t expecting. The kids got to play and hang out with G and G and they didn’t seem to mind us being gone. It was nice to come home to a quiet and clean house after a long day at work. Needless to say, I am eager to have my husband home again, not only to help with the kids, but because I miss him as well. I know Eli, our resident Daddy’s boy, is eager to have him home too. Each morning I would hear “Dada?” as I opened his door and then I would get a pouty “no Papa” as he realized it was me. Yup, Anna and I are pretty much chopped liver to him. To his defense, he is a creature of habit. Tod is usually the one who wakes him up each morning, so he is totally out of routine.

Our lives have been pretty crazy over the past few weeks with spring break and all; we’re hoping that these next few weeks will be a little calmer and a bit more normal, whatever the hell that is. I have come to the realization that there is no such thing as normal when it comes to parenting. You roll with the punches and do what you can.

What have YOU been up to dear reader?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

SAINTS! For sale

Saints preserve us!



I recently posted on Facebook a quick poll about which artwork should be sent to South Bend for consideration for their upcoming show. The piece that got the most votes was “Saints among us.”

In honor of mother’s day, I am offering this print for sale at the special price of $20 with half of that going to our local PFLAG chapter. After all, if it wasn’t for all those PFLAG moms out there supporting us, where would we be? If you would like to order a print,( 8” x 10” btw), send me an email at taoakley@gmail.com and we’ll hook you up just in time for Mother’s Day.

If your mom was NOT a PFLAG mom (as some are, sorry to say) consider buying one to support our work here in Jackson.

Order soon and order early!

Thanks for your support.

T

A video from Indiana

Our buddy Rob made this video of the kids (both big and little) playing. Please enjoy!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Rick Baxter: Defending Marriage Fail


Back in 2003, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners decided that the pending threat of Gay Marriage was enough to stir them to act so, at the urging of Rick Baxter, they adopted a ludicrous resolution protecting the sanctity of marriage. The resolution, in part, reads: "Whereas, as a matter of public policy, Michigan recognizes that it has a compelling interest in encouraging, supporting, and protecting marriage to promote, among other goals, the stability and welfare of society, its families, and its children..."

When it was in its early reading stages, community members from all walks of life came to both support and decry the measure. The resolution’s author and sponsor, Rick Baxter went on record as saying: "The historical, grammatical and contextual definition of marriage is one man and one woman," he said. "Why is this important? What it means to be married ultimately affects the family unit and what it means to be a family." Rick and his fellow Republicans knew that this issue was a contentious social issue and they knew it would bring out the easily ruffled social conservatives to the polls. Their plan worked, and if you recall the horrific election of 2004 and all the horrible anti-Gay vitriol that it brought, you can guess how the election turned out.

So why am I rehashing all this? Long time readers will know that I am no fan of Rick and my disdain for him knows no bounds. I got into a bit of hot water when I organized the short Spice boycott of 04 and since then, my crusade against him and the store in question has ebbed. Many folks have asked what I have against him, as I have been a frequent letter writer to the Voice of the People, criticizing him and his position in government. I am usually a pretty mellow person by nature, but when someone attacks me, demonizes me, and hurls false accusations at me, my friends, and my family, I go in full defense mode.

• He made it personal back a few summers ago when he painted gays as the downfall of traditional families. Each day when we went to the mailbox, fliers with menacing images of LGBT people were juxtaposed against scared, mostly white, heterosexuals clutching their children and their bibles.

• He made it personal when he wasted time writing needless and unnecessary proclamations against something I felt very strong about, Gay Marriage.

• He made it personal when he stepped on the LGBT community to weasel his way into politics.

And now, I find out that he is now divorced. Thank you Facebook for recommending him as a friend so I could discover this delicious bit of irony for myself, it made my weekend. The Norman Rockwell version of the American family that he shoved down our throats with his ads and mailings featuring HIS family is now dissolved. While I feel sorry for his family and kids, I have to wonder how he feels about his resolution now that he has worked to destroy marriage on his own. Yes, this is a delicious bit of Schadenfreude; I will not deny that fact. The irony that Tod and I are happily married (LEGALLY!) and he is not should not be lost on anyone.

So what to do? I turned to the bible to help understand my feelings: Proverbs says: "Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth: Lest the LORD see it, and it displease him, and he turn away his wrath from him." (Proverbs 24:17–18, King James Version). Yeah, yeah, I understand... but do YOU understand how much fun I am having at his expense? Back to the bible:  Jesus Himself had nothing but scorn and contempt for the hypocrites of his time. Let's read Matthew 23 “Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

Jesus never once said anything about gays, but he had plenty of things to say about divorce and hypocrites, Rick, I hope you are listening.

Went to the vaults to find this article: http://www.pridesource.com/article.html?article=4463

Tempest near a tea pot: Or how Rick Baxter ruined a great store in Jackson for me.

Some background information for an upcoming post:
Several months ago, I was dispatched to a local wine merchant to secure a gift basket for the banker that helped us finance our new home. The owner of the establishment is a loud and obnoxious guy, but likeable nevertheless. As this oaf and I were wandering about the store selecting wine for this gift, another customer came in and began commenting on a young man that was going to be performing in town that weekend. The owner began mincing about, making faces, elevating his voice a few octaves and generally mocking the alleged sexuality of this person. I was steaming inside, but was frozen with what thoughts of what to do. I had over $100 worth of business in a basket right in front of me, and here was the owner of this store mocking this young man’s and my sexuality as he valiantly attempted to wrap the basket in cellophane and raffia. It was lunch, the place was crowded, and I was tired. I wasn’t ready for a fight or for any kind of confrontation. If I didn’t get the wine here, I would have to travel across town and buy it at a mega-store, something that I didn’t relish on a Friday afternoon. I sucked it up and left the store with the wine in hand, and a lump in my stomach. I got home and relayed all the details to my partner and the other couple who went in with us to buy the gift. The comments that came back ranged from: “I would have said something (what?)” to “I would have walked out.” I debated both scenarios in my head, and neither one really offered any kind of easy out for me.

I had recently been awarded the “Mission” award from the Jackson area PFLAG chapter for my work with the Gay-Straight group at the college where I teach and for my advocacy and support of LGBT issues here in town and beyond. I felt that I should have sent the award back to the group, and asked them to give it to someone with a spine. I was tired, and I didn’t feel like being an activist that day. I wanted the wine, I wanted to deliver it to our banker, and I wanted to be done with the day. If I would have confronted this lout, he would have blown it off as a joke. He wouldn’t have gotten the deeper message in what I would have told him and his behavior would have most-likely continued both at his store and in his private life. If I would have walked out without saying anything, he would have simply put the wine back on the shelf with a shrug and been done with it, no questions asked. Maybe I got called away for an important phone call, maybe I forgot my check book… maybe…

I just returned from Chicago with a group of friends and one of their siblings graciously hosted all of us for the long weekend. We had decided that some kind of food gift would be appropriate, so I stopped by a local culinary store to buy the goods and have them shipped off to Chicago. I love to cook, and consider it to be my top hobby, even eclipsing art which is my vocation. I have often fantasized about being called to the witness stand in a trial, and instead of swearing on the Bible, I would demand a copy of “The way to cook” by Julia Child instead… but I digress. The cooking store is one of my favorite haunts here in town as it is chock full of goodies, gadgets, and stuff only a certified gourmand would want, let alone know how to use. As I was checking out, I noticed a stack of “TEAM BAXTER” flyers on the counter. I asked the people behind the counter “when did this become a political shop?” and one responded that one of the workers there is married to Rick Baxter, the politician the flyers were promoting. Baxter is a very staunch anti-gay county commissioner here in Jackson County. He is now running for state office and is using the momentum he gained passing his ridiculous “defense of marriage” resolution here in Jackson this past summer. He is regularly the topic of conversation on our town’s forum on M live and he spends a great deal of time reassuring the readership of the forum that he is NOT homophobic or anti-gay, rather just worried about the sanctity of marriage. I was deeply disturbed to find this kind of propaganda at the store, and I mentioned this to the workers ringing up my order. The one worker responded back that “they felt it was okay to support him” seeing as his wife works there. I said “then I don’t know if I can support YOU” and left my stuff on the counter. As I was walking out, one of the workers yelled to me, “you can still support us!” and I replied with “well then I would be supporting Baxter and his campaign, as you are using your store to help further his political career.”

They just did not get it. I am sure that there is a high percentage of LGBT clientele that frequent that store, as well as their supporters. As I drove back to the college, empty handed, but full of pride, I mentally composed a letter that I eventually sent out to all of my gourmand friends on my email address book, telling them my tale of woe. My mind was running a million miles a minute, and I had class to teach that night. Putting my thoughts down on paper and sharing this experience with my friends seemed to be the right thing to do. I asked them to not patronize the store until I had heard back from the owner regarding this situation. My rationale being, if they didn’t support us, why should we support them?

One of our friends is friends with the owner of the store, and he was on the phone immediately with the owner once he received my letter of concern. The owner was mortified, and asked that I stop “trashing” her business. She agreed to talk to me, and it was reported that the two workers would be “talked to” as well. She also reassured my friend that the flyers were there on accident, and that they were removed. She and her husband were out of town, and had no idea that Baxter’s wife had put them out there in her absence.

After the phone call, I sent out another letter telling everyone that the store had removed the flyers and that the great Spice Boycott of ’04 was now officially over. I thought that it would be as easy as that, but it wasn’t. People were hurt and wanted their feelings to be known to the owners of the store. A quote from a fellow PFLAG award winner summed it up nicely: “Even small statements, like where we buy our saffron, paprika, and stuffed capers, carries weight if enough of us are speaking.” I couldn’t agree more. I still sent my letter of disgust to the owner, with an added postscript to my letter thanking them for their swift action. But I remained vexed over the one worker’s attitude. She didn’t seem to care that I was walking out of the store and leaving about $75 worth of business on the counter. She didn’t seem to care that my feelings were stomped on, and that my entire view of the store had been clouded by a harmless stack of paper. They seemed to be more concerned with a sale than with the feelings of a customer. I am not a business major, but it doesn’t take an expert to realize that the core of any business is the customer base, and when the customers are not happy, business will suffer. It seems to me that the person behind the counter missed that day in training where they talk about keeping the customers happy and most importantly, coming back.

I didn’t mean to become an activist that night, but it just happened. It would have been easy to suck it up and buy the stuff, ignoring the attitude of the employees, but I couldn’t. I wondered in my head if this is how Rosa Parks felt the day she defied moving from her seat. I am by no means comparing myself to Miss Parks, but I wondered what would have happened if Rosa said, “okay cracker, here’s your seat” and moved to the back of the bus as she was told to do. Where would we be now as a nation?

Although the materials may be gone, the attitude of the one employee is still there, and that bothers me. I was eager to hear back from the owner, and eventually I did.

It wasn’t easy hearing the owner of the store tell me that I was wrong in what I did. She was not happy with me, and I was not happy with her. Both of us were in the alpha mode, looking out for number one and neither one was hearing what the other had to say. Her main complaint was that I didn’t come to her with my complaint, and that I painted her as a homophobe, which in my estimation, I did not. The woman that I saw behind the counter was apparently working on the books, and seemed to be busy in some administrative task. I assumed she was the owner… and since the whole attitude was permeated throughout the whole front of house, I assumed it was everywhere in the store. When I asked about the flyers, the woman behind the counter’s comment about “we thought it was okay since his wife works here…” lead me to believe that she was in deed in charge. The owner swears that she had never seen the flyers, nor had she been aware of their distribution. Fair, but I want to know just how long those had been out there for distribution. She even went so far as to tell me that I should have “thrown them away” instead of doing what I did. Uh, no, it’s your store honey. She was also concerned about my email, and where it emanated from, and how I was abusing my work account, even going so far as to call the president’s office to complain about my actions. But what bothered me the most and I can not either confirm or deny the validity of this comment, is her stating that she had talked to “a lot” of her gay friends and none of them seemed to see what the big deal was, and basically accused me of over-reacting to this situation. She mentioned that my credibility in the gay community was now tarnished by this action, and that I wouldn’t be respected anymore. Ouch.

I shut down. I apologized to her, sent out yet another email, and did what I could to help rectify the situation. But a lesson was learned, and it is one that will be with me for awhile. You play with fire (controversy) you will get burned. I ended up with an upset stomach, headaches, insomnia, and potential litigation (yes, she said she is calling her lawyer, and is threatening to sue for defamation of character and libel), and a potential blotch on my employment record with her phone call to the college president.

So where do I go from here? I sulked around for a week or two, and slipped into an apathetic haze, barely responding to simple questions posed by my partner. It hurt, it hurt a lot. I was trying to make a statement and it back-fired, and I needed time to recover from the whole scene. She didn’t understand how disgusting those flyers were to me, it was as if a cobra was coiled up on the counter, ready to strike at me. I was repulsed that someone as repellant as this county commissioner would dare show his face in that store. I always felt comfortable there, and “at home” as I browsed the aisles, but those days are over. I don’t know if I can ever go back there, as the image of “TEAM BAXTER” and the hatred and homophobia he brings to our community still shroud my memory.

I thought back to October during the awards dinner for PFLAG, and my own words came back to haunt me. In my acceptance speech, I spoke of the need to watch out for each other. We need to share the burden of activism; we need to share our resources and our hides. For if it is just a few of us doing the work, then who will be left to do it when we are all burned out? This experience has left me emotionally drained and exhausted. I have replayed the film-loop of that Tuesday afternoon’s events in my head a million times, analyzing each frame for culpability or error on my part, and I have finally come to the conclusion that I did indeed do the right thing in leaving my purchase on the counter and walking out empty handed. I have also absolved myself for putting out the email so quickly, but I went on the premise that perception is reality, and in my view, the store was supporting Baxter and his intolerant heterosexual agenda. My Latin teacher in high school had a poster behind his desk that read: Noli nothis permittere te terere. Which, when translated to English reads: Don’t let the bastards get you down. I should have remembered that phrase as I moped about these past few weeks. I let that bastard get the best of me, and I let his hatred fill my own personal life and space. In a way, I had let the terrorists win, and I had let my country down by not fighting this good fight for what is right and true here in America. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of spices.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Born this way

I posted a bit more on our collaborative piece for Mine/Yours last month on my artsy blog.
You can find out more here: http://reddragonstudio.blogspot.com/2011/04/born-this-way-artistic-collaboration.html

Warning: nudity.

Please think about following that blog as well. I promise to post and keep it interesting.
Tom.

Standing up with Ben (and Gareth)


I have been a fan of Ben Cohen for some time now, even before he came out as an ally to the LGBT community. What’s not to love? He’s a rugby player, drop dead handsome, and he’s on our side, I can’t think of anything else to add to the equation. Ben has been posting videos against homophobia and bullying, and has recently kicked off a Beers with Ben tour stopping at a variety of venues to support those efforts. As much as I would like to go and hang out with this great man and have some brew with him, I will have to settle for following his blog and doing what I can here in Jackson (alas, not on his itinerary).

As our kids get older, we are noticing that they are adopting who they follow and emulate on a regular basis. After a few episodes of “ ICarly” it became apparent that Sam was Anna’s hero, much to Eli’s dismay. Eli will copy anything that screams or makes noise on the TV and loves books that have that vibe. Even though he’s not real verbal yet, those things stick out for him and he readily copies. We worried early on in the adoption process about being matched with a boy, as we have gone on record as saying that it’s easier (and cooler) for a girl to have two dads than a boy. Just look at Rachel on “Glee” and how is she very vocal and sometimes very adamant about her parents and their sexuality. The slur “fag” is still the default taunt for playground harassment, and for a boy with two dads it’s open season, so naturally, we’re going to have to be aware of that as Eli gets older.

So how does Ben fit into all this? The culture of sports in the USA isn’t exactly ready for their close up on “Glee” quite yet. There is still much homophobia and taunts on and off the field. Watch a few hours of programing on ESPN and report back to me on the commercials you see. They may not be overtly homophobic, but they border on it on a regular basis. From NASCAR and the innuendos about Jeff Gordon to the lesbian slurs regarding female athletes, it’s not a pretty scene on or off the pitch.

But travel over the pond, and we have people like Ben and Gareth Thomas ( an amazing Welshman who came out) who are standing up to that kind of nonsense and making the world a better place for LGBT and questioning youth all over Europe, the Americas, and beyond. We hope that Ben and Gareth are still playing when Eli gets older and can begin to get behind a sports figure. I know Tod will do his best to indoctrinate Eli to the culture of the Big House at the University of Michigan, and I know my family will do their best to pull him south to the Buckeyes. Add in his grandpa and foster dad and their love of Michigan State and the boy will have much to cheer for regardless of the school. But I want them to know about Ben and Gareth as well. I want them to know that superstars don’t have to be on the pitch to make a difference in the world.

For more on Ben and his efforts please go to his great website:
http://ben-cohen.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=blogcategory&id=2&Itemid=106

For more on Gareth and his journey:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/gareth-thomas-how-the-truth-has-set-me-free-2046501.html

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Michelangelo, my kids, and me


Since my Renaissance Art History class back in my college years, I have loved the work and ideals of Michelangelo. When Dr. Putney started showing us slides of his work in the museum’s Little Theatre/lecture hall my heart leapt and my imagination soared. The majesty of the Sistine Chapel is incomprehensible at times, and some day, I hope to see it in person with my own two eyes instead of pictures in a book on the web. This three decade love affair has included reading everything I can on the Master and it was while I was reading a book on him that I discovered his alleged last words: Ancora Imparo, or, “Still, I learn.” Great words from a great man, although, I believe my last words would probably be: “Fire this doctor NOW!”


I decided before we had kids that I wanted those words tattooed on me some day, so I began playing with the words and the fonts. I printed it out a million different ways and taped them on to every conceivable place on my person. I thought it was a pretty nifty tattoo idea, as I had never seen it before. We were in Chicago a few months later and Tod comes up to me at a garden center/gift shop and takes me over to see the tattoo of the girl behind the counter. She had a sleeveless top on and coming out from the straps on the back of the garment were what I thought were MY words.

DAMMIT Chi-town Hipster Chick, you beat me to it!

After I calmed down and my desire to kill subsided, I started looking at how she presented her tattoo and realized that we had two completely different concepts of how to ink this on our persons. She was a design major (natch) and was in love with the Vivaldi font and its flowing lines. I didn’t care so much about the font as I did the meaning behind the words so I soldiered on with my idea, but tabled it for a few years.

Flash forward to 2005 and we are new dads and the new little one in my life was presenting me with challenges each and every day. As we went through with Tod’s adoption, he got her footprints turned into a stylized heart on his chest with her name above it. I decided that since I was an artist and used my hands for a living, I would go with her hand print. So one night we inked her up and the two of us struggled to get her ink covered mitt onto a piece of paper in my sketchbook. I wish we would have filmed it, it was pretty funny. I worked with our amazing tattoo guy and we centered the hand above the words of Michelangelo, a fitting touch to my new role as parent. It was tattooed at the base of my neck (see above). Depending on what kind of shirt I am wearing, the tattoo is pretty much invisible except for the tips of Anna’s hand poking out above the collar line. Five years later, I am adding Eli’s hand print below the words, pointing down my back. His hand is much larger than Anna’s 10 month old hand, but it will be a marker for how old he was when he came to live with us.

Each day does present its challenges, and each day I continue to learn and grow, hopefully until the day I die.