Friday, December 29, 2006

My 2006 top ten movie list

Unfortunately, this year I did not see very many movies. Thus, actually compiling a legitimate list of what I thought were the 10 best movies this year would be stupid, since I only saw about 20 (well, 27 actually). So, in lieu of that, I'm simply going to tell you what 10 movies I saw this year I either liked the best, or had the most impact on me, or that I think are the most worthy, but in no particular order. Also partly because I'm just really lazy and don't feel like trying to rank them right now.

So, without further ado, here goes!

The horror!
I know a lot of people will disagree with me, but I thought both Hostel and The Descent were top-notch horror standouts in a year glutted with generic, over-the-top gorefests. Yes, I know, both movies were horrifically violent and difficult to get through, but I also think they both really delivered the unsettling and long-lasting goods, which is more than I can say for all the other ones, even though I didn't see any of the other ones. Despite the violence in Hostel being indescribably stomach-turning and disturbing, in its defense it was delivered sparingly for maximum horrific effect. The film went the extra mile to establish legitimate characters that we can care about, and (at least in my interpretation) delivered a scathing social commentary on American apathy and cynicism.
In The Descent, one could argue that what it's really doing is using a cave metaphor for uncovering the id's buried resentments and hostilities, though I might be reading a bit too much into it. The monsters are some of the most terrifying I've ever seen, though I have to admit I think the film would have been better without them, or at least used with a little more discretion. The claustrophobia and being lost miles underground was terrifying enough, though without the monsters it would have been a completely different film. But very effective overall, and definitely makes me think twice about ever going spelunking again. Does for nature hikes what Jaws did for going to the ocean.

George W. Bush's America.
Though I can't honestly say I'd ever want to sit through it again, United 93 is probably the most moving and emotionally eviscerating film I've ever seen. I sat through at least half the movie literally sobbing and when it was over, all I wanted to do was call every person I've ever known in my entire life and tell them how much I loved them. It's not a film about heroism, and I think that turned a lot of people off, but it's more grounded in a reality about people just trying to save their own lives, and acting on their most base impulses in a desperate and unimaginable situation. People have often questioned why this movie was ever made, but if for no other reason, look at it as a reminder of how quickly and suddenly it can all be taken away. And goddamnit, fight for your right to live! (Metaphorically speaking.)
On the other hand, Why We Fight was of course blatantly political, but, I feel, very even-handed examination of America's love of guns and war. Far from being cynical, as some have charged, I think it's a desperate plea for Americans to wake up and take back their country and hold it accountable for the deep (and divisive) disconnect between what America claims to be, and what it is for the rest of the world.

They finally struck the right chord with me.
This year brought two dramas that I loved by directors whose previous films I've really hated: Michel Gondry's Science of Sleep and Nicole Holofcener's Friends with Money. I'm not really sure what to say about either film, except that they were both unexpected delights to me. In the Science of Sleep, I was able, for the first time, to become emotionally involved in one of Gondry's films about the fantasies we create for ourselves (and the lies we tell ourselves) regarding love and heartbreak. In Friends with Money, there was just something about Jennifer Aniston's lost character, surrounded by all of her married, wealthy friends and still obsessing about an ex-boyfriend, while engaging in recreational drug use and casual sex that I somehow really related to.... It's a smart film that didn't pander or offer easy explanations or get too sentimental. Despite an incredibly sweet ending, but one that rang a little false, this movie has stuck to my ribs like a thick peanut butter sandwich.

Boys will be boys (and God knows I love the boys!).
There's something about boys just being silly boys, and riding their skateboards and getting in fights and chasing girls that I love. They're so vibrant, and any movie like this that's halfway intelligent (I'm also looking at you, Stand by Me) makes me really nostalgic for a childhood I never lived, but desperately wanted. I was never one of the boys, and never did "boyish" things like play sports or ride skateboards, and any male friendships I ever had were usually pretty short-lived. Mostly I liked to stay in and read and draw, but I wanted to be one of the boys, I just didn't know how. So when movies come along like Wassup Rockers and, I'm afraid, Jackass 2, I'm drawn to them like Paris Hilton to an oil heir. Flat out, Jackass is just the most I've laughed in...well, probably since the first Jackass movie. For creativity alone, I give it four stars. Not to mention the over-the-top homoeroticism (which they totally play up) that never goes anywhere overtly sexual that somehow makes it that much sexier. Wassup Rockers takes a bizarre turn towards the end, and being Larry Clark, of course goes a few places it shouldn't, but taken as a whole, I thought it was a sweet movie that celebrates the insouciance and endless possibilities of youth, even if those possibilities are only emotional, not physical. The boys genuinely seemed to care about one another, and it was refreshing to see boys that age display real sensitivity and just be good kids looking for a good time. I like to think that this is how real boys this age are, and not the tough, impenetrable, machismo-ridden assholes that most movies portray boys this age to be (except for the one sensitive, dorky kid in all those movies that either has to be gay, or, if straight, be totally ignored by girls).

The personal is the political.
I can say without a doubt that my top 2 absolute favorite movies of the year 2006 were Marie Antoinette and Shut up and Sing. Both films created entire worlds completely foreign to me, but that I was elated to get lost in. Though they came from very different places, both emotionally and literally, they were both so much fun, and so moving to me, and both deeply political in their own rights. Both films explored the conflict between trying to live private lives, and trying to live to please other people and how difficult (and sometimes impossible) it can be to live up to the expectations of either one. Both are about very strong and outspoken women fighting against the constraints put up for them, all pretty much against their wishes in both films, though in Marie Antoinette, she was more or less thrust into a situation she never asked for, and in Shut Up & Sing, they somewhat invited it in. But I think both films are full of life and love and inspiration, and the quest for something authentic when you're expected by millions of people to be anyone but who you really are.

Well, that's it. Thanks for reading! (And please feel free to leave comments telling me how awesome/stupid I am, and what incredibly evolved/pathetically awful taste I have.)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

1 in 33 still seems like a lot, considering

Anyone else heard about the serial man-raper in Baytown, Texas? Weird.

My dad

When I got up this morning, my dad asked me if I would be interested in going down to the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville and looking at an exhibit they have up right now about the portrayal of race throughout the history of film. Um, of course I would like to do that.

It was a nice exhibit, but we were both a little disappointed that it was pretty much nothing but posters. There wasn't a whole lot of real in-depth analysis, aside from an explanation behind the story of each film they had a poster for. They had some cool stuff though, like an original Song of the South poster, and an original Birth of a Nation poster in Spanish.

The best part though was a pretty large exhibition of Eudora Welty photographs on display in a different gallery of the building. I've never really seen her work, and always just thought of her as a writer.

My dad impressed me today. Not because he wanted to go see an exhibition about race, because he's super into old jazz and blues and gospel, all of which are predominantly "black music," and he's into history. He's always been a subtle champion of the underdog, in life and politics, he's just not overly exuberant or showy about it. He did know who Eudora Welty was, though, and that surprised me.

After that, we stopped at a little coffee shop to have a sit-down and some coffee. Talk eventually drifted to some friends of my parents who's two grown children have had all kinds of awful problems, not excluding drug addiction and prison time, which one of them is now facing for violating his parole (he's looking at 8 years, in fact). My dad was telling me about how the husband of the couple is extraordinarily conservative and homophobic (I grew up with these people and played with their daughter, and I didn't know this), and at one point the husband had said, "I'd rather have my son be a criminal than be gay." My dad scoffed at this and said, "I'd like to ask him how he feels about that statement now that his son is facing prison time, for the second time. And I have nothing but pride in my sons."

Holy shit, did my dad just make a direct reference to my being gay, and how proud he was of me? Methinks he did. That's the first time he's ever said anything to me about it, which sort of confirms what I already thought about my dad, which is that he just really doesn't give a shit about that stuff. I always kind of thought my dad was very much a live and let live kind of guy, and as long as you're not hurting anybody, why should anyone care? He also doesn't give two shits about what anybody thinks of him, and I have to say, I have mucho respect for that.

After that, he took me to the new natural foods store in Rogers, which I have to say I was pretty impressed by. It's the real deal and it was neat. And cute boys work there.

Then we went to a big flea market where I found a whole bunch of old Time Life sets of classical records divided up by composers. They come in these really neat, brightly-colored cardboard carriers, and each one has 4 records, a book about the composer, and a listening guide to the records. And each one was only $5. So I bought three: Beethoven, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky. Even though I don't have a record player, I was excited about them, since I plan on getting a record player eventually, and I've been wanting to start collecting old classical records. So these are a good starter kit.

I couldn't even tell you the last time I spent an entire afternoon with just my dad, and it was really pleasant. I'm lucky.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

No one ever told me grief felt so like fear

For Christmas i got a novel I asked for called Grief by Andrew Holleran. It's about a man who's been caring for his invalid mother in Florida for 12 years, and as the novel begins, she's just died and he's accepted a teaching position at a university in D.C. In the house that he rents, he finds a book of Mary Todd Lincoln's letters to Abraham and he becomes obssessed with her. Apparently 3 of her 4 children died, one in infancy, one as a young child, and the third from some virus he picked he up in Scotland when he and his mother went there on vacation after President Lincoln was shot. Before that, after her husband was killed, she didn't get out of bed for 6 weeks, and various mourners ransacked the White House and stole lots of items as souvenirs. When she was finally essentially kicked out of the White House, she was blamed for all the missing stuff, and accused of stealing it. She never really recovered, and then after her third child died, she basically went completely crazy, and her surviving son had her committed. Seventeen years after her husband was shot, she died, homeless, in her sister's house.

All the main characters in the story are middle-aged gay men, who were all adults in the 80's and lived through the AIDS crisis (well, the genesis of it anyway; it's not like the crisis is over). People say the next generation (which is me) suffers from "AIDS fatigue," since we never really had to live through the years and years of having to bury every friend and lover we ever had, and the constant terror of every sore throat, or cough, or runny nose being an omen of our own long and torturous demise. One of the characters in the novel likens it to being at a dinner party, where random guests are taken outside and shot, while everyone else is expected to just sit there and go on eating.

Today I picked up my nephew from school 3 hours early, and took him to the lake to feed bread to ducks. (Yes, it was just me and a 4-year-old.) It was fun, except the ducks were really geese, and you know what geese are, especially when you're feeding them? Fucking aggressive and scary. So after being swarmed and squawked at, we both got sort of freaked out, and went to play on the playground, which was fun. A young hispanic man was also there with his two tiny children, both about my nephew's age. My nephew's not shy at all, so he went up to play with them and introduced himself to the dad, and the dad introduced himself back. The kids didn't speak English, so I taught my nephew to say, "Hola, mi nombre es Cade." It was awesome, even though he really didn't have any idea what he was saying.

Monday, December 25, 2006

I went all the way home for Christmas and all I got was this lousy t-shirt....

Not really. But of everything that I did get, I think my oldest brother's gift is definitely one of my favorites:

Yes, I know it's backwards in the picture. But it proves my brother loves me. (And just in case you can't read backwards, it says "Property of Colbert Nation."*)

But the real irony is that this is what I almost got him as well, but decided not to. Now I really, really wish I had.

*it's even printed on soft American Apparel cotton.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Home is warm and toasty (except outside where it's cold and rainy and supposed to snow tonight; god, i hope it does).

Merry Christmas Everybody.

(I know, I need a real camera. I've also decided to jump on the ipod bandwagon and now I'm torn between a camera or an ipod for my birthday. yes, it's only December and I'm already thinking about what I want for my birthday....)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Go Kurt!!!!

His cardboard standups began appearing in theater lobbies nationwide today!

I'm so proud of you, Friend. Congratulations.

You've come a long way, baby

Remember when Mark Wahlberg, previously known as Marky Mark, of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, got famous, and it was for no reason except that he was the crazy, younger brother of a New Kid on the Block (granted it was the one who set hotels on fire and made fun of gay people, but still), and he was most known for dropping his pants and dancing around in his white Fruit of the Looms?

I remember.

I really like Marky Mark, er, Mark Wahlberg, as an actor, and unless they've done something truly abhorrent, I don't really believe too much in holding someone's past against them (I think he's mostly innocent, unless you count that wretched "Wild Side" cover or "re-imagining," or whatever, as one of the more painful atrocities visited upon mankind). But unfortunately, I think maybe Marky Mark may have played a fairly integral part in my sexual identity (well, at least fetish-wise).

Perhaps I'm revealing a bit too much here, but Marky Mark came to prominence just as I was really discovering my sexual identity and masturbation, and what really turned me on. And you know what did it for me? Fucking Marky Mark and his tighty-whities. There was that Rockin' Jock basketball thing that was on MTV all the time, where celebrities played against each other, and Marky Mark (along with his ever-present Funky Bunch) performed the halftime show. Well naturally the pants came down, revealing all his Fruit of the Loom glory. Of course I taped it, and anytime my parents left the house, I would put the tape in and watch it and jerk off. I was incorrigible. It was my first pornography (and if only it had stayed that innocent!), and I couldn't get enough.

Even that god-awful video for "Good Vibrations" got me going, what with Marky Mark sitting on the edge of the bed, the blinds on the window casting a slotted shadow across his body as the girl he just banged is getting dressed. The emphasis is supposed to be on the girl, but he's just sitting there, watching her, and his leg is propped up, and you can see the majority of his big, beefy thigh, and he was clearly supposed to be naked. It drove me wild.

I guess I'd never really given much thought to such things as underwear before, but I can honestly say that it's probably largely because of Marky Mark that to this day, plain white briefs get me hotter than anything (on the right people). So pure, so simple, so masculine. So revealing, yet leaving just enough covered to still be mysterious.

But why, you might ask, am I writing about this now, and what made me think of it? Well, I'll tell you, but after I do, you'll be sorry you asked.

Today I was driving around, flipping through the channels on the radio, when I passed over BOB FM, and what was playing but "Good Vibrations."

"Holy shit," I thought to myself, "I haven't heard this song in probably at least a decade, if not much longer than that."

And then I got an erection. I swear to fucking God.

"Good Vibrations" got me hard.

Believe me, I was just stunned as you probably are.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

By theologians no less

I was at a dinner party last night when of course talk of the Bushes came up, and we were talking about the news that was recently released about how much it was going to cost taxpayers to protect Dubya after he was no longer president (to which my host suggested that we should just go ahead and shoot him, and save everybody a lot of trouble; can't say I disagree). Someone brought up then about how Laura Bush apparently wants to move to, and settle in, Dallas.

I guess that's partly confirmed by this story talking of a protest by SMU "Facutly, Administrators and Staff of the Perkins School of Theology" of tentative plans to locate the George W. Bush library there at SMU. From the letter:

"We count ourselves among those who would regret to see SMU enshrine attitudes and actions widely deemed as ethically egregious: degradation of habeas corpus, outright denial of global warming, flagrant disregard for international treaties, alienation of long-term U.S. allies, environmental predation, shameful disrespect for gay persons and their rights, a pre-emptive war based on false and misleading premises, and a host of other erosions of respect for the global human community and for this good Earth on which our flourishing depends."

"[T]hese violations are antithetical to the teaching, scholarship, and ethical thinking that best represents Southern Methodist University."

Call me hateful if you want, but I'm already reveling in how cruel history is going to be to George W. Bush. I think my hatred for him borders on the pathological.

it goes on...

Okay, I love American Apparel just as much as the next odious hipster (in fact, I woke up this morning to a $100 gift certificate in my inbox for American Apparel from my parents and burst into ecstatic squeals of excitement and promptly spent it all in about 20 minutes), but come on! Do we really need to have this unleashed upon the world for aging hipsters everywhere to be ironically showing off their hairy beer guts for everyone to see??!!?! Gag me with a spoon, Ralph Maccio!! They seriously need to draw the line somewhere; it's out of control. I'm sure the day is not long enough when we'll start seeing these at Trail of Dead shows the world over.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Hey dude, totally love your vintage Jawbreaker t-shirt. Weren't those on sale at Factory People last week for $95?

Saturday night George and I went to a birthday party for someone I don't even know at the Beauty Bar (my new most-hated bar) and the crowd was as if Urban Outfitters and Factory People copulated in an unholy union of carnal atrocities and gave birth to a 400-headed, black-clad retard known as The Strokes spilling drinks on itself and dancing to electroclash remixes of Dead or Alive ("Dude, it's so ironic!") while trying desperately to look like it's having the Best. Night. Ever. so it can have lots of hilarious pictures to post on its MySpace page so everyone who looks at it can think that person must be really popular, and, like, really, really crazy and fun! Ohmigod!

We met the Asian girl from Taiwan wearing only her underwear, way too much makeup and high heels. She kept interjecting the conversation with "meow, meow." As in, anytime there was a lull, or someone said something witty, she would say, "Meow, meow," the way that someone might say "Ho hum." Then we met her friend Rocco from Italy. I told him Rocco was one of my favorite names, and asked if he'd ever seen Rocco and His Brothers, and he replied, "Rocco Siffredi?"


Then there were the two boys sitting next to each other dressed identically as Elvis Costello but didn't know it.

Interpol was walking around. I think my favorite record of their's is The Head on the Door.

There was the group of young, twinky gay boys from the now-defunct FABRIC, who, well, also all looked like Elvis Costello, and also didn't know it, and just stared, bored and judgemental down their noses from their rectangular, black glasses that probably weren't even real.

As Bill now so famously put it, "Where did all this L.A. trash come from?" I honestly don't think I would have felt more out of place at a frat party. Swear to god. What a fucking black-clad, graphics-tee, baggy pants with your Calvin Klein boxer-briefs so conspicuously showing Nightmare.

Then there was Slick Rick's bus parked right in front of the club, with a steady parade of gangsters coming in and out of it, with black and Latina girls 47 pounds too fat for any of the outfits they were wearing, making a steady parade up and down the sidewalk, back and forth, so anxious to be the next vessel of whatever bug or virus Mr. Rick undoubtedly has crawling all over him.

George and I finally got tired of bitching and making fun of everybody (I know, it's hard to believe) and left after 2 drinks. On the way down the street George said to me, "You know, I hate to admit it, and it probably sounds pathetic, but I think we're just too old for this party."

Thanks a lot, Douchebags.

Friday, December 15, 2006

From Mark: a Movie Survey

1) Does film best tell the truth (Godard) or tell lies (De Palma) at 24
frames per second? (Thanks, Peet)
Depends who's talking.

2) Ideal pairing of actors/actresses to play on-screen siblings. Me and Romaine Duris. As long as we're gay, incestuous siblings. They make movies about that, right?

3) Favorite special effects moment. The way, in Fever Pitch, that Jimmy Fallon was made to appear even slightly charismatic or interesting or sympathetic.

4) Matt Damon or George Clooney? Can I just be in the middle?

5) What is the movie you’ve encouraged more people to see than any other? Magnolia.

6) Favorite film of 1934. I wasn't alive in 1934.

7) Your favorite movie theater*. So far, the Inwood in Dallas.

8) Jean Arthur or Irene Dunne? Who?

9) Favorite film made for children The Secret of NIMH.

10) Favorite Martin Scorsese Movie. I can't think of one Martin Scorsese movie that I've ever seen.

11) Favorite film about children. Stand By Me.

12) Favorite film of 1954. I wasn't alive in 1954.

13) Favorite screenplay written by a writer more famous for literature than
Did Stephen King write the screenplay for Carrie?

14) Walter Matthau or Jack Lemmon? What are they doing?

15) Favorite character name. Clay.

16) Favorite screenplay adapted from a work of great literature, either by
the author himself or by someone else.
Great literature rarely makes great screenplays.

17) Favorite film of 1974. I wasn't alive in 1974.

18) Joan Severance or Shannon Tweed? Who's Joan Severance again?

19) jackass: the movie-- yes or no? Duh.

20) Favorite John Cassavetes Movie. A Woman Under the Influence.

21) First R-rated movie you ever saw. i don't know, but I used to flip through the HBO guide when I was a kid and find all the movies that were marked as having Nudity in them and sneak into my brother's or parent's rooms (they had TV's) and watch them at night and try to see boobies. I think i was really looking for weiners, but I told myself I was looking for boobies, probably partly because, even as a very small child, I knew they wouldn't show weiners in those crappy beach movies about spring break. I'd be lucky to get a butt shot.

22) Favorite X-rated film (remember that, while your answer may well be a
famous or not-so-famous hard-core film, the "X" rating was once also a
legitimate rating that did not necessarily connote pornography)
Midnight Cowboy.

23) Best film of 1994. What came out in 1994?

24) Describe a moment in a movie that made you weep. When Steve-O got the beer enema in Jackass 2.

25) Ewan McGregor or Ewan Bremner? Whichever one would buy me more whiskey.

26) One of your favorite line readings (not necessarily one of your favorite
lines) from this or any year.
I don't understand this question.

27) What, if any, element in a film, upon your hearing of its inclusion
beforehand, would most likely prejudice you against seeing that film or
keeping an open mind about it?
The inclusion of Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts or robin Williams.

28) Favorite Terry Gilliam Movie. I've never seen a Terry Gilliam movie.

29) Jean Smart or Annie Potts? I don't know these people.

30) Is it possible to know with any certainty if you could like or love
someone based partially on their taste in movies? If so, what film might be
a potential relationship deal-breaker for you, or the one that might just
seal that deal?
Braveheart: deal-breaker.

You know what's awesome??!!?!

Having had even a rudimentary course in Statistics, I totally know what's going on in the equation below! That's exciting. (The copied post is from Andrew Sullivan:

Stats and Willies

15 Dec 2006 10:51 am

A reader answers my earlier reader's worry about the statistical validity of the large study that found that gay men have bigger willies than straight men:

As a stats nerd myself, I had to comment on your reader's concerns about the differential sample size regarding the penis size. His concern is very likely unfounded. The differential sample size, per se, would have no effect on the relative differences between the two groups or on interpretation of the differences. Indeed, both of these samples are very large sample sizes and so sample size should not affect the characteristics of distributions. Generally, you only worry about it when you have sample sizes below 30 and that is not the case here. If there were differences in the shape of the distributions, your reader would be right and it would confound interpretation. However, it does not appear as though that is the case (see attached article).

Even if the distributions were skewed with a small proportion having very large penises (and more so than the proportion of those having very small penises), it would not really be a problem unless they were skewed in different directions. Because of the large sample sizes, the outliers (either very large or very small) would not have substantial effect in affecting the interpretation of the differences (or the mean in this case). Unfortunately, as a straight guy, I’d like to believe it’s not true!, however I don't believe that there are statistical reasons to doubt the analyses ...

I've had several expert emails on this and they all agree. Here's the math:

According to Wikipedia, the population standard deviation in penis sizes is .8 inches. Other surveys had a smaller SD, but for argument's sake, we'll use the larger one. If we assume that gay and straight men have different average penis lengths but the same variance in lengths (i.e. Same standard deviation - this property is called homoscedasticty - no joke) we can use this .8 figure for our SD without issue. Our calculation is straight-forward:

Mean Difference in Penis Size: .33 inches
Gay Sample Size: 935
Standard Error (Gay Average): SD*Sqrt[N]/N = (.8)(Sqrt(935))/935 = .0262
Standard Error (Straight Average): (.8)(Sqrt(4187))/4187 = .0124
Standard Error (difference) = Sqrt(.0262^2 + .0124^2) = .028986
Z statistics = .33 / .028986 = 11.3847

With this very high z-statistic, the probability of Kinsey's results happening by pure chance are extremely, extremely low - way less than .0001. Of course, this result depends upon accurate self-reporting and our assumption about having the same variance. If this result is not true, it is not because of the sample sizes.

Alas, stats was not my strong suit in grad school - but I did pass! The issue of self-reporting would only be salient if gay men were more boastful than straight men, but I don't immediately see why this should be so. They're probably all exaggerating a little.

Of course, if we are to agree that gay men have slightly bigger peepees than straight guys, the question is: why? Maybe hormone levels in the womb are a factor. I've long thought that the theory that homosexality is partly a function of abnormally high levels of testosterone n the womb was worth looking into. The stereotype is that gay men are somehow more feminine than straight men. But it could be that they are actually more masculine in the sense of having higher testosterone levels in fetal development. That might also shed light on the black-white-Asian penis differential. Are there any solid studies on that? (Apparently not.)
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Does having the last name Hilton automatically make you some kind of monster?

Salon today has an interesting article about celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton, who is quite gay, and makes it his specialty to try to "out" closeted celebrities. He even basically took credit for outing Lance Bass and Neil Patrick Harris, and plans to do the same for Anderson Cooper, Jodie Foster, Kevin Spacey, and a whole score of others (is there anyone out there who still honestly doubts the heterosexuality of any of those mentioned anyway?).

The article is interesting to me, though, because it spends 3 pages discussing the politics of outing, and what a controversial and divisive figure Hilton is in the gay community aside from being lauded and celebrated in the media world. I'm not sure what it says about me that I consider myself a total media whore, and gay, and I've never heard of the guy until now.

I have very mixed feelings about outing people, however, but at my core, feel that it's a nasty business and nobody has any right to do it. The one exception I make for that is if you're some kind of politician or Ted Haggard-type figure, and you actually have a hand in making real policy or cultural change, and you're a hypocrite and a liar, then by all means, yes, out them. But if you're Neil Patrick Harris and you're an inconsequential actor on a useless sitcom that no one's going to remember or even think about in 2 years, then who the fuck cares. Leave the guy alone.

"Doogie Howser" star Neil Patrick Harris was a more recent target -- in his attempt to out the actor, Hilton appealed to the readers of his site for photographs of Harris with other men, at one point writing, "Shame on you Doogie! Shame!!!" After Harris came out, Hilton wrote a gloating post: "We are so proud (despite the nay-sayers) in having a hand in bringing about change. We've said it before and we will say it again: the closet no longer exists if you are a celebrity or a politician!" He followed his statement with the names of a dozen celebrities he claims are gay. He told the L.A. Times, "In my own way, subserviently, I am trying to make the world a better place." This raises the question: How does drawing cum stains on Clay Aiken's mouth, crudely scrawling the word "bottom" across a photo of Lance Bass or putting a call out to anyone who has "slept with Neil Patrick Harris" make the world a better place for gay or straight people? And what does it say about the mainstream press that it has adopted him?


Not everyone in the mainstream press is in Hilton's thrall. At a Mediabistro event in New York last month, Us Weekly editor-in-chief Janice Min, talking about how her magazine is dealing with the rising popularity of blogs like his, said, "I love Perez, but this is a guy who draws cocaine sprinkles falling out of celebrities' noses and writes things like 'sucks dick' on pictures of celebs he wants to out."

It's people like this guy that make me really embarrassed to be gay sometimes. I mean, how much shame and self-loathing do you have to feel to engage in this crap, to be so desperate to denigrate other gay people just to have them publically in your company.


Thursday, December 14, 2006


Tonight at Sidebar, we sat out on the back patio, and while everyone at the table was busy getting drunk and talking about whatever they were talking about, I was staring up at the huge windows in the condos at the top of the Hilton.

In the next to top window on the far right corner, way up in the sky, I could see someone's Christmas tree glowing in the darkness of the rest of their house, as all the other lights were out. It was covered totally in white lights and it looked really warm and cozy.

It made me really sad. But it also made me feel hopeful.

In the unlikeliest of places....

Tuesday I found out I got a score of 150 out of 150 on my research paper for my Child Development class, which you can read here, if you're at all interested and haven't already.

And I just now found out that I got a score of 101 on the final in that same class (that's out of 100) that I didn't even crack my notebook to study for, and didn't do the reading. The final dealt with adolescent and pubertal development, socialization and subsequent disorders.

Perhaps I've unintentionally found my calling.

We rule the streets tonight until the morning light

I'm at Quack's doing laundry and trying to get some writing done (I've made it my goal to write a novel over my Christmas break) and they just started playing the Go-Go's record Beauty and the Beat. God, what a great record.

When I lived in Dallas I bought this on tape, because my sad little silver Mustang only had a tape player (it was a '92) and it rarely ever left my tape player for months. There were so many times Valerie would sit in my front seat and we'd just cruise up and down the freeway, or drive downtown blaring the Go-Go's, and sometimes Valerie would tie a silk handkerchief around her head and we'd both put on our oversized sunglasses and pretend like we were in the video for "Our Lips are Sealed." It was around that time that I started kicking myself for not taking the authentic t-shirt from that tour in the early 80's that my roommate Clay tried to give me my first year at the University of Arkansas. Even though I didn't take the t-shirt, at the time my heart swelled with pride when, in turning down the shirt, that bitch Jenny J*mison* desperately wanted it and Clay wouldn't give it to her. When she protested by saying, "But you offered it to Ryan!" Clay said, "Yeah, but Ryan's Ryan, and if he doesn't want it, then I'm going to keep it." I wonder if he still has that shirt. It was pretty ratty at that time, and that was 11 years ago. So probably not.

Anyway, just a bit of nostalgic waxing this afternoon. Just hearing it played in its entirety instantly transports me back to that time so vividly. It's a little bittersweet. I guess like most nostalgia.

*if you didn't go to high school with me, which excludes everyone who reads this except Mandy, you have no idea who Jenny is, but trust me that she was annoying as hell. And usually got everything she wanted, especially from guys, which made Clay's refusal of her all the better. And also because I was horribly in love with him at the time.

Their lips are sealed. That's not what I heard....

"The Holy Papa do not shop at Prada!"

Out magazine today has a pretty interesting article about gay life in Rome, and some of the history of that gay life. (Take it for what you will, however; Out magazine is the journalistic equivalent to Highlights for Gays.) Included are discussions about the extreme homoerotism of so much religious art and iconography, titillating gossip about Julius Caesar having been an insatiable bottom, Italy's first transgender member of Parliament, and why so many gay Roman men still live with mom and dad and are happily living in the closet.

Scarcity of real estate also sustains the “Mamma Hotel” arrangement. There can be no gay neighborhood in a city like Rome because salaries are too low and rents are too high for more than a small minority of young professionals to support themselves. (Scattered across the city, Rome has three gay saunas, one gay restaurant, and about 10 gay clubs. Garbo’s yuppified atmosphere is rare. Most bars, like the twink-packed Coming Out or the harder Hangar, have a grittier edge.)
This economic stagnation creates domestic flexibility. Because the young have no place to go, their families can’t throw them out, which makes families extremely resilient. It also makes dating all but impossible—which is why many Romans mostly make do with sex, often in dark rooms and saunas.
Compare “Mamma Hotel” to America’s urban gay culture—in which announcements of sexual orientation enlarge, for many, the distance that’s created when we leave home. In our 20s and 30s, that distance grows larger as gay men join the upwardly mobile class of their peers, carving out individualistic identities based on economic consumption (and, often, some kind of therapy before finally beginning the lengthy process of reconciling with our parents). Which culture is more restrictive? Which is more free? For all its limits, Italian gay life safeguards something valuable that many in America struggle to find: a sure sense of involvement with family and community, a certainty that one is not alone in the world.

For all its benefits, it sounds like a pretty lonely life to me.

But the most interesting part of the article, and strangely, the most sentimental, comes towards the end, when discussing the various aspects of life in the Vatican. It seems widely "known" and agreed upon that obviously the Pope is gay (his bright red shoes are from Prada, for crying out loud, though it's denied that he shops there; they were a gift) and his boyfriend is his private secretary, a 50-year-old blond, dashing athlete of a man who's been compared to George Clooney in the Italian press.

The story gets sentimental when the article talks to an expat American living in Rome with AIDS. He says he gets free healthcare there: he's received thousands and thousands of dollars worth of treatment, chemotherapy and medication, even though he lives there illegally. When he talks of being afraid that the doctors wouldn't treat him because he wasn't an Italian citizen, they replied, "Don't worry, we're doctors. We're here to take care of you." Contrast that to America. The man, nicknamed Ichabod by the journalist due to his extreme height, says that he grew up in the American Midwest, and developed a great distaste for hypocrisy. He continues: The Vatican is one of the most homophobic institutions in the world and probably the most gay institution in the world, outside of gay nightclubs. And yet within that paradox there is actually a great deal of room for humanity and passion. For me, living in Italy has been about learning to live in paradox.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

You know, I wasn't breastfed....

I think I need to do some research on what kind of formula my mother used to feed me when I was a baby. They've already proven (well, mostly) that the "gay gene" comes from the X chromosome, the maternal side, so I can already partially blame my mother for ruining my life, but it seems as if I might have even more ammunition: soy!!

The acclaimed research scientist Jim Rutz penned an editorial recently unequivocally linking soy products to the "rising" rate of homosexuality! It's a fascinating piece, and really, I think Rutz makes a reasoned argument for further investigation into this atrocity that Israel, France, the UK and New Zealand have already figured out and are cracking down on. The most damning piece of evidence is laid bare in this paragraph:

Soy is feminizing, and commonly leads to a decrease in the size of the penis, sexual confusion and homosexuality. That's why most of the medical (not socio-spiritual) blame for today's rise in homosexuality must fall upon the rise in soy formula and other soy products. (Most babies are bottle-fed during some part of their infancy, and one-fourth of them are getting soy milk!) Homosexuals often argue that their homosexuality is inborn because "I can't remember a time when I wasn't homosexual." No, homosexuality is always deviant. But now many of them can truthfully say that they can't remember a time when excess estrogen wasn't influencing them.

Very interesting.... I wonder if that might also explain why almost every fag has a tiny penis, too. It's curious that no one has made that connection before!

Not convinced yet? Well listen to this and then take your foot out of your mouth:
Doctors used to hope soy would reduce hot flashes, prevent cancer and heart disease, and save millions in the Third World from starvation. That was before they knew much about long-term soy use. Now we know it's a classic example of a cure that's worse than the disease. For example, if your baby gets colic from cow's milk, do you switch him to soy milk? Don't even think about it. His phytoestrogen level will jump to 20 times normal. If he is a she, brace yourself for watching her reach menarche as young as seven, robbing her of years of childhood. If he is a boy, it's far worse: He may not reach puberty till much later than normal.

It's astounding, and honestly, I plan to throw out all the tofu in my fridge as soon as I'm done writing this. Maybe it's not too late for me, especially if I go start stuffing myself with a whole lot of hot, juicy meat. Like, a hamburger.

Thank God Jim Rutz finally had the balls (so to speak) to stand up and take a stand on this! Maybe within anothr generation or two we can totally wipe out the homosexuals!

Or at least shove the few remaining ones back into the closet and alleys where they belong. Boy howdy.
Clearly fed a lot of soy as a child.

Friday, December 08, 2006

My completely arbitrary list of my favorite books that I read in 2006.

I figured since everybody else gets to make top 10 lists, I should too. I think I only bought about 3 records, and saw about 10 movies, so neither a music nor movie list would be adequate. However, what I did do was read a whole lot of books. All kinds of books, some for school, most for pleasure or for growth.

My following list does not encompass just books that were released in 2006, but just my favorite of what I read.

Drum roll please....

10. Lunar Park by Bret Easton Ellis - I can't help it: I'm a total sucker for everything this guy writes, no matter how awful or self-indulgent it is. His latest concerns an aging writer (himself; they even have the same names) trying to "settle down" and live right in suburbia, but there's only one problem: the violence, mayhem, chaos, and nihilism of his books are coming back to haunt him in physical form, taking the shape of a serial killer stalking the children of his neighborhood (including his own children), a drug habit he can't kick, a co-ed he's fucking, menacing neighbors, a bitter, ex-model wife, the ghost of a dead father who abandoned him, and a homicidal child's toy that will not die. Take it for what you will, it's either an exceptionally sincere reckoning of a middle-aged man trying to come to terms with what he's wrought on the world (most notably American Psycho), or it's just an uninspired, sensationalistic piece of nonsensical claptrap. I haven't really decided, but I reveled in every twisted moment of it.

9. Breakup by Catherine Texter - Out of the blue one day, Miss Texter's husband announced that he was having an affair and wanted to leave her. But...for some reason, he just refuses to move out the house they own and live in with their 2 daughters in Brooklyn. This heartwrenching memoir of a "perfect" marriage of two writers that was suddenly torn apart by buried resentments being revealed is hard to get through not only beacause it's extraordinarily painful, but because sometimes, I think maybe the writer reveals a bit too much. You have to give her props for laying her pain out on the page, but it just reads like an hysterical diary occasionally. Regardless, anyone who's ever continued to live with a lover for any amount of time after a breakup, or just had a particularly protracted breakup for whatever reason, will find much to relate to.

8. Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood by Karen Zailckas - At the age of only 24, Zailckas penned this very sad, often shocking memoir of becoming a secret alcoholic at age 15, engaging in binge drinking in college, and building a life for herself in NYC after college. The drinking continues, often to the point of blacking out (every weekend) and now incorporating many sexual encounters that she often doesn't remember that get progressively more dangerous. One morning after waking up alone and locked in a man's apartment she didn't even remember going home with, she decides she's had enough. An engaging walk inside what I'm afraid is a fairly typical young girl's psyche. Brave, honest, and terrifying.

7. Five Men Who Broke My Heart by Susan Shapiro - A bittersweet journey down memory lane by the married Shapiro who was inspired by a visit from an old boyfriend one day to track down all the men that had broken her heart and try to figure out what really went wrong in each relationship. Needless to say, she gets way more than she bargains for: old wounds were opened, old hurts revisited, but it also provided closure in several instances, and ultimately, of course, made her realize the real treasure she has in her husband, and that no matter how painful and devastating each breakup was, it happened for a real reason, and got her to where she is today. Not terribly profound, but touching and inspiring. Not to give anything away, but one of the last paragraphs of the book touched me immensely and immediately brought tears to my eyes. On her birthday, Susan's husband, father, and three brothers surprise her with a brand-new laptop (she'd always been terrified of and confounded by technology, and still wrote with an old typewriter, well into the 90's), fully loaded with her own email account, and all the writing and editing programs she needed, set up and ready to go for her. About it she writes: I sat at the new screen, touched by the conspiracy of my husband, father and three brothers, five men who never broke my heart. (Just kicked it around a bit.) Stuck on what wasn't there, I'd always missed what was. For everything important, I was late.

6. What Becomes of the Brokenhearted by E. Lynn Harris - I've written about this book before, oh Loyal Readers, but since it's on the list, I need to write a bit. Another staggering memoir, this one about growing up gay, poor and black in Arkansas in the 60's. The author takes a familiar and agonizing journey through his own shame and resentment, desperately searching for someone to heal him, never realizing he can only heal himself. Awesome and courageous, I was inspired to email the writer after reading it, just to tell him how much I loved it and meant to me. to my surprise, within only a few hours, he replied back, telling me how perfect my email was, and how happy he was to hear from me. He's sweet. Well worth checking out.

5. Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth - Finally a good old-fashioned novel about perverted sex, rampant misogyny and self-loathing Jews with overbearing mothers. Hilarious, I couldn't put it down. For anyone who's ever dealt an internal battle with their own salacious desires, and having to come to terms with the fact that people are real and have feelings. I totally meant to read more Roth after this, but never got around to it. A masturbatory nightmare. In the best possible way.

4. The Velvet Rage: Overcoming the Pain of Growing up Gay in a Straight Man's World by Alan Downs, M.D. - I almost think this book should be required reading for every parent who worries about why their gay children are so fucked up, and blames it on the gay, as opposed to where the blame really belongs. I won't even get started because it's not important right now, and anyone reading this already knows, but this is a heartbreaking book. There are few things more important in life than having your feelings validated (thank you, also, therapy!) and this book certainly does that. I hope to one day write books this intelligent and kind.

3. Nightswimmer by Joseph Olshan - A straightforward but highly complex novel set in NYC in the early 90's about gay men trying to make a go of love and relationships in the specter of the tail-end of the worst part of the AIDS crisis. A book about all relationships, though, and how past loves can haunt us, and unresolved relationships can take up precious space in our hearts and lives; how the inability to let go of the ones that hurt us can plague our futures in both predictable and unexpected ways. Depressing for its insight, wisdom and love, it's a book that anyone who's ever loved and lost can relate to, especially if that Loss still crosses our minds and we wonder what might have been.

2. Eighty-Sixed by David Feinberg - Somehow my literature teacher from last semester gets away with assigning this book, but I don't know how, especially at a Catholic institution. Divided into two parts, Eighty-Sixed is a book about gay sex. Beginning in the early 80's in NYC, the first half is a flip and giddy tour through all the debauchery and sexual perversion you can imagine. Not a deed goes unexplored or unexplained from fisting to cum-guzzling. It's essentially pornography, all told with a tongue-in-cheek and very funny, detached style. But then there's the second half of the book where everyone gets AIDS and dies. I'm not kidding. It's almost more shocking than the first half for very different reasons, obviously, as the narrator and his friends and lovers have to suddenly come to very harsh terms with their previous lifestyles of careless fucking and detached, callous heartbreaking. It's a terrifying book, and one that makes me want to praise God every day that I wasn't around in NYC in the 80's. It's moving in an entirely unsentimental way, and when the narrator finally allows his heart to open and feel something, he confesses that he's never cried before because he was afraid that if he started, he'd never stop.

1. Name All the Animals by Alison Smith - A memoir that reads as breathlessly as a novel, Name All the Animals tells the story of the aftermath for a very conservative, religious family when their prized 18-year-old son dies suddenly in a horrible car accident. Told from the little sister's point-of-view, who was only 13 when her brother and best friend is snatched from her, the book is a grown woman coming to terms with something she had absolutely no way to cope with as a child. She admires her parents' resilience and adherence to their faith, but the author explains how only days after her brother's death, she literally watches Jesus walk out the bathroom door and out of her life for good. She attends an all-girls Catholic school, and eventually, through a forbidden and all-consuming relationship, learns to transcend her pain, confusion and sense of abandonment. So wise, tense, thorough, and moving. This is one of those books that's so smart and so engaging, that you just want to buy copies for everyone you know, but realize how much it would break your heart that no one would ever actually read it. And it's too bad. There is much to be gained from this gem of a literary masterpiece.

And that's my list. Thanks for reading, and thank you to the writers for writing and sharing. I love you all.

(UPDATE: D'oh! I can't believe I forgot My Dark Places by James Ellroy. The famous, and infamous, crime writer traces back his interest in crime to the brutal, and currently unsolved, murder of his mother when he was 11. He turned to crime fiction as escapism, and met the Black Dahlia (in literature) and used her as a surrogate for his poor mother. It's a dark, as the title promises, and grievous coming to terms with some real fucking loss and heartache. As an adult, he goes back to L.A. and tries to hunt down his mother's killer himself. Fascinating, relentless and brutal, it's a book not only about Ellroy's personal obsessions, but a catalog of his stunning breadth of the city of Los Angeles' sordid history of gruesome and bloody crimes of passion. This would definitely be in the top 5 of my list somewhere.)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

My new favorite show

Is Million Dollar Listing on Bravo. It's a reality show all about the real estate business in Hollywood and Malibu and it's fascinating.

I love all the crazy buyers and sellers, and the human drama involved in so much of it, like the couple selling because they're getting divorced, and they're both devastated about it, or the gay guys that are about to adopt, like, 20 kids, and need a new, fun kid-friendly house. Or the real estate agent who's trying to sell her ex-boyfriend's house for him, when she's clearly still in love with him.

I love how people spend 20 years personalizing their homes, and then decide to sell and have to spend $15,000 remodeling to make it look more "normal," but that allows them to up the asking price by $100,000. Or how a bigger backyard on the house in Beverly Hills could have upped the asking price by a million dollars. On the episode now, there's a guy leasing his Malibu pad for $30,000 a month, and the agent really wants him to sell the house, because he would make an almost $200,000 commission on it, but the owner is really emotionally attached to the house, even though he doesn't even live there.

It's a really interesting look into this totally crazy world that is so far removed from my life that it may as well be taking place on another planet. I love it.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I wonder how many right-wing heads will explode over this!

Apparently, Mary Cheney is pregnant! She and her girlfriend of 15 years are expecting next summer, and Daddy and Mommy Cheney seem to be very excited.

I love Americablog's take:
And get this. They live in Virginia, where a new state constitutional amendment pretty much guarantees that Mary's baby is screwed.

In November, Virginia voters passed a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions; state law is unclear on whether Poe could have full legal rights as a parent of Cheney's child. The circumstances of the pregnancy will remain private, said the source close to the couple. This is the first child for both.

Oh, but Virginia law was already far worse than that. Virginia had already set up new Jim Crow laws targeting gays two years ago. Those laws may vitiate any legal agreement between the two, period, about anything. The law ensures that Mary's partner has no legal rights whatsoever in their child, or in what happens to Mary (or vice versa), such as if one partner has to go the hospital, the other can't visit. The law may even nullify any wills that Mary and Heather write regarding each other, and it may make it impossible for gay people to go to court to resolve any difference about anything - the courts can't recognize gay unions, so they can't make any decisions that would imply recognition (custody, hospital visitation, wills, etc.) It's beyond ironic that Virginia's new law, one of the most hateful, bigoted laws on the books, is now targeting the vice president's own daughter and soon-to-be new grandchild.

It's all so delicious. Except for some reason this makes me hate her even more.

(UPDATE: I really like Andrew Sullivan's reaction: There is surely coming a point at which the sheer dissonance between what the GOP base believes and the way even the most conservative vice-president in modern times deals with the reality of his own family must surely prompt some kind of Republican adjustment.

You cannot be a party that sees gay love, marriage and parenthood as the work of Satan and have a vice-presidential family that is busy building a lesbian family as an integral part of it. For my part, congratulations to the two moms and best wishes for a healthy, safe pregnancy and birth. And congrats to the lucky grandparents on both sides. Commiserations to James Dobson, Hugh Hewitt, George Allen, Rick Santorum, Sam Brownback, Mitt Romney, and, of course, George W. Bush, who backed a federal constitutional amendment to strip the daughter of his vice-president of dignity, family and civil rights.

Monday, December 04, 2006

N v. N

If anyone's interested, here is my research paper for my Child Development class. I think it's pretty good.

As Nature Made Them?
The Controversy Over Intersexed Individuals
The term “intersex,” as defined in Stedman’s Medical Dictionary and in the Compact Oxford English Dictionary is “one having characteristics of both sexes,” but unfortunately makes no distinction as to what those “characteristics” are (Blizzard, 2002). For the purposes of this analysis, I will go with the most universal and understood application, which is the more specific definition denoting the presence of genital/reproductive structures of both genders, otherwise known as genital ambiguity.
As unique as it might sound, intersexuality affects approximately 1 in 1500 children born in the United States (Lev, 2006). What makes it controversial is that it cuts to the very heart of the decades-old debate over nature versus nurture. Is genitalia, for instance, the only factor that determines a person’s gender? Or is psychosexual identity something that’s learned over time? Do doctors and parents have the right to determine a baby’s gender identity if it is in question, or should the decision-making process be left up to the child, to decide at an older age, when they are capable of making an informed decision about how they want to live?
Back in the 1950’s, the Johns Hopkins research team led by John Money believed that a child’s gender identity could develop as either male or female, regardless of the sex, as long as the gender rearing was in the same direction as the sex assignment (Lev, 2006). But this raises the question of what determines sex assignment in the first place, and how accurately is it applied. Generally, on a newborn infant with ambiguous genitalia, a precise diagnosis is achieved by combining the results of an extensive physical examination and laboratory evaluation. This includes determining the location of the gonads, the “adequacy” of the phallus, and the size and location of a vaginal orifice, if present (Newman, Randolph, and Anderson, 1991). Regardless of the genotype, most children with this condition are believed to be best suited for the female role. The crucial determinant in assigning a male gender is the size of the phallus and whether or not it is “adequate” to support a male sex assignment. Experience has shown that intersexed adults with the most maladjustment in life have been those patients raised as males in the hope that the penis will grow at the pubertal stage to a more “normal” size, but which it ultimately doesn’t. They essentially become men going through life not with a penis so much as a somewhat larger than average clitoris (Newman, Randolph, and Anderson, 1991). Nevertheless, current endocrinology textbooks continue to include phallus size among the important considerations in assigning gender to an ambiguous newborn (Phornphutkul, Fausto-Sterling, and Gruppuso, 1999). All of this continues to beg the question of whether assigning a gender is even the correct thing to do.
Surgically “correcting” ambiguous genitalia based on the sex assignment assessed by pediatric endocrinologists is the current routine and has been the recommended protocol endorsed by the American Pediatric Association for the past 30 years (Lev, 2006). But recent studies have started to show that this may not be the best avenue. The current routine is based on the idea that normalized genitals will lead to normalized psychological and sexual development, but this is far from proven (Lev, 2006). There is very little counseling support for either the parents or the child in these conditions, and deception, lies and secrecy are a typical mode of behavior. Secrecy and silence in a family, however, usually have traumatic effects on children whose memories are often denied, whose questions are typically avoided, and who have been lied to. They suffer from feelings of humiliation and betrayal, especially toward their parents, but also to members of the medical and helping professions, thus preventing them from seeking further help or treatment (Liao, 2003, and Walcutt, 1995, as cited in Lev, 2006).
The standard protocols of determining and assigning a gender, then raising the child as such, are slowly beginning to fall away, largely due to protest by intersexed persons themselves and by longitudinal studies now being performed by the medical community to determine the self-rated quality of life by adult interesexed persons. In 1993, a concerned group of intersexed adults disappointed by their gender assignments as infants by doctors and parents, formed the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA). They have been influential in drawing the attention of the medical community to the fact that the traditional approach to diagnosing and treating intersexed patients needs to be reexamined (Blizzard, 2002). Much focus is now on destigmatization of the conditions and promoting an open and honest dialogue, not only between the parents and the health care professionals, but also between the parents and the child (Diamond and Sigmundson, 1997).
The standard, or traditional, approach, based on John Money’s earlier model, hypothesized that nurture influences far outweighed nature influences, and it was based on two criteria: that the gender needed to be established early (no later than 18 months), and the external genitalia must be compatible with the sex of rearing (Blizzard, 2002). However, 50 years later, science has learned that imprinting of the brain by testosterone and/or other androgens (steroid hormones that stimulate or control the development and maintenance of masculine characteristics) occurs to a greater extent than previously believed (particularly by Money). This has been evidenced in large part by the disproportionate number of intersex males raised as females, but whose etiology was not complete androgen insensitivity, elected to reassign themselves as males when they reached adolescence or adulthood (Blizzard, 2002).
In the United States, intersex is a recognized medical condition, but not a recognized societal designation. Regardless, the pediatric researchers Diamond and Sigmundson recommend that no surgeries be done for purely cosmetic purposes, though this is difficult to explain to parents who just want a “normal” child. Surgery as infants can drastically affect post pubertal sensitivity and function of the genitalia. They recommend a moratorium on any such gender “assignment” surgeries until at least adolescence, when the patient is able to give a truly informed consent (Diamond and Sigmundson, 1997). In addition to this, they suggest ongoing counseling, peer support, and consistency by the parents, in whatever role they choose to assign to the child, regardless of the appearance of genitalia, but it’s imperative that a gender be chosen, as opposed to raising the child as a “neuter” (Diamond and Sigmundson, 1997). There is the fear, however, that designating a gender without altering the genitals to match only reinforces stereotypes and makes the normative developmental processes that much more challenging for children and adolescents. Too many parents become too preoccupied with ensuring that their children stay within the “correct” gender guidelines of their designation, and it leaves little room for the child to explore options related to their gender identity and sexual orientation (Lev, 2006).
Due to its heavy ethical and practical complications, the study of gender assignment has been dubious and more hypothetical than actual (Lev, 2006). Although John Money vigorously counseled against sex reassignment after toddler age, due to the brain being (in his belief) highly malleable at birth in terms of gender identity, very little progress has actually been made in recent years in regards to understanding what determines gender identity. Gender identity is a highly complex biological and psychological process, and the relationship between prenatal biological processes and postnatal psychological influences is still under serious review. Very little long-term clinical data currently exists to help facilitate the understanding of the relative importance of prenatal and postnatal influences (Phornphutkul, Fausto-Sterling, and Gruppuso, 1999).
The study of, and treatment methods for, intersex children are highly contentious subjects. It is not always clear that everyone involved wants what’s best for the intersex individual, as gender politics and future reputations of the doctors play a large role. In most cases, genital “correction” is performed for purely aesthetic purposes, even though the physical health of the child is rarely, if ever, at risk. Future fertility potential for women, and the means to try to steer the direction of sexual desire in a concretely heterosexual direction (as one of the main fears cited by parents of intersex infants is that they will grow up to be gay) are two of the largest factors in determining the current protocols (Holmes, 1995, as cited in Lev, 2006).
The jury is still out on what is the best avenue of treatment, but as more and more longitudinal studies are being performed on intersexed individuals, a common consensus is growing that surgery to infants is not only a bad idea physically, but more importantly, grossly disrupts and upsets the normal psychological development of children and adolescents.
It is highly unlikely that all operations on ambiguous genitalia will cease, as most doctors, and parents, quite adamantly want to “normalize” their child and move on, probably even foregoing much counseling once it seems everything will be “fine.” But the fact that 24% of intersexed adults eventually reverse their gender isn’t a fact that can, or should, be easily ignored (Preves, 2003, cited in Lev, 2006).
Rather than help solve the nature versus nurture argument, this topic seems to more acutely exacerbate the arguments both for and against both nature and nurture. One would be hard-pressed to concretely state, based on the overwhelming evidence, that simply having the genitals of one gender or another makes you that gender. All factors of conditioning and biology come into play, but ultimately, one has to ask what, exactly, a gender identity is, and if that is determined by biology (that is, the physical self), conditioning, or some combination of the two.
It is my hope that in the near future, as intersexuality begins to come out of the closet, so to speak, that it is a topic more people will be more comfortable speaking about. Just in the last few years, it has practically become a cultural phenomenon: numerous articles have been written on the subject in major publications such as The New York Times; a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has been written about the subject (Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides), and numerous intersexed and transgendered characters are popping up all over the large and small screen in movies like The Crying Game, The Adventures of Sebastian Cole, and Transamerica, alongside top-rated television shows like Nip/Tuck. These presentations might seem trivial or sensationalistic, but any way of getting them into the public consciousness will eventually reduce the fear and stigma attached, and hopefully eventually turn into more mature and sympathetic presentations.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

William wants to die

Yesterday at work I was flipping through The Economist (don't ask me why I was reading The Economist; it's a long story) and came across a very brief article about the passing of the author William Styron on November 1st. Part of the article talked about his notorious writer's block he suffered after he quit drinking in the 80's. Apparently at one point he wanted to kill himself but had so much difficulty composing what he felt was an adequate, and eloquent, enough suicide note, that he decided not to kill himself.

Which, for some reason, I think is one of the coolest things I've ever heard. I can't wait to read his books now.