Archive for the ‘Family life’ Category

The martyrdom of St. Jeremy

August 26, 2011

The trials of adolescence, as depicted in Zits:

Another playful allusion to Saint Sebastian in art (examples both serious and playful here), minus the homoerotic tones.

Bullying and rage

November 20, 2010

Liz Phair, “Stray Cat Blues”, review of Keith Richards’s Life, NYT Book Review 11/14/10:

Keith learned [growing up in Dartford, an industrial suburb of London] what it felt like to be helpless and afraid, serving as a daily punching bag for bullies on his way home from school. By the time he fought back and won, he’d discovered a fury in himself for which he would later become infamous. The plight of the underdog was his passionate crusade, and anything or anyone that represented injustice in his eyes was fair game.

Maybe you’re not accustomed to thinking about the famously dissolute Rolling Stone Keith Richards as having a moral purpose, but there it is.

There’s been plenty of discussion recently about bullying — especially in connection with cases of gay teenagers who committed suicide after being taunted, harrassed, or attacked physically — and what sorts of aggressive behavior constitute bullying. Even beating up another kid might not be seen as bullying in certain circumstances, for instance in hazing and similar initiation rituals, and many people (including people in positions of power, like parents, teachers, coaches, school principals, and the clergy) are inclined to view verbal attacks as “just” teasing, kidding, or name-calling that’s part of childhood life, something that the target should learn to “take” and tough out. And sometimes they’re quick to blame the target, to say that targets “bring it on themselves”.

I was myself verbally harassed as a child, labeled a “sissy”. I wasn’t effeminate, nor (compare the classic “sissy boy” of works like Richard Green’s 1987 book  The “Sissy Boy Syndrome” and the Development of Homosexuality) had I any interest in women’s clothes, makeup, and the like. But I was deeply unathletic, artistic, unaggressive, bookish, good at school, geeky (as we would say today), and friendly with girls as well as guys, so I was gender-deviant, and the label for such boys was sissy. Which was freely applied to me, along with the slurring nickname Arniella.

I had lots of friends, so I coped ok. Then a group of guys decided it would be entertaining to beat the shit out of the sissy and advanced threateningly on me, with one guy in the lead.

From somewhere in me, I pulled out massive red-faced shaking rage and said to this guy, “If you touch me, I’ll do my best to kill you.” He pushed me, and I punched him hard in the face, and barked out “Back off.”

And he did, and the others did too. And they never threatened me physically again (though of course the name-calling went on). They seemed to have figured out that though I was a sissy, I was a dangerous, possibly crazy, sissy, not someone to be messed with.

This is where Keith Richards’s story connects with mine.

Fortunately, no adult witnessed any of this; otherwise, I’d probably have gotten in trouble for fighting (and the other boys would have been counted blameless). I never told my parents, or anyone else, even though my parents were unbelievably supportive of me and made home a safe place for me. (I think now that if my father hadn’t been the great and adaptable dad that he was, I surely wouldn’t have made it to adulthood.)

[Topic for another time: the label sissy and how it gets used, for boys and men and as a label of self-identification. Surprisingly complex business, as I’ve learned recently.]

Then there’s rage, still driving Richards, and still in me, channeled into my gay activism, my willingness to expose my life publicly and accept being treated as a model, and my counseling of lgbt students, trying to make things better for them.

And driving others as well. There’s Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters (website here, Wikipedia page here), in a wonderful “It Gets Better” video (in a project instigated by sex columnist and author Dan Savage in the aftermath of the suicides I mentioned above) here, where he says, in a measured way, “I made a career out of my rage”, admitting that he still has a lot of rage in him.

[The “It Gets Better” videos are a topic for another posting. Check them out; there are hundreds and hundreds.]

Shears tells the story of the worst year of his life, when he was 15 and thought (unwisely, as it turns out) that it would be ok to come out to his friends. And was harassed, bullied, beaten up, and despised. Called into the principal’s office, he was told that “this was happening because I wasn’t keeping my private life private” (heterosexuality is public, homosexuality is private). Now he says, leaning forward earnestly in the video (wearing an in-your-face Tom of Finland t-shirt), that teachers and principals who say things like that belong in jail. That’s as close as he gets to being visibly outraged.

He was failed utterly by those who should have been trying to protect him.

[The private/public distinction is yet another topic for future postings. Here the problem is that, starting with the “gay men and masculinity” project, I’ve amassed such a huge collection of material on the subject — from sociology, anthropology, the legal literature, philosophy, queer studies, and the media — that I scarcely know where to begin.]

Grownup performances for children

August 3, 2010

[Not about language. But not about gay life or Gayland, either.]

Following up on the splendid response my grand-daughter Opal had to a performance of the Mikado (see here), her mother and I have been surveying other possibilities in the line of grownup performances (including movies) that might appeal to her.