Rage Against the DeSantis Machine

Rage Against the DeSantis Machine

As if 2022 couldn’t double down on the crazy any further, clips of people enraged over what they perceive as media giant Disney or our under-siege educators “grooming” their precious Becky and/or Ken to become members of the LGBTQ+ community have the nation transfixed. I offer this counterpoint-slash-reality check to ill-informed agitators in front of Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and beyond.

I’m a 54-year-old gay male, American-born, and of Mexican descent.  I am the second child born of immigrants in California and the country they chose to make their home, leaving their own families behind.  Coming to America was their choice, and my siblings and I could not have flourished better under their watch and care as their American-born children.

There. I said it. I’m gay. No one made me “this way.” No one groomed me. I led myself to the LGBTQ+ community through an inherent need to feel safe and visible. First, I reconciled my fears as to what society would think, and, especially, my parents. Devoutly Catholic and structured in terms of their principles, their difficulty in accepting my truth remains a painful episode. However, it is a period that mercifully was made easier by the support of my siblings, turning my parents around in terms of what losing would mean to them all.

I remember my first real conversation with my mom one afternoon after I came out. I took her to lunch and a movie. She was a wee bit subdued at first, but slowly, she’d pepper our conversation with direct questions about my sexual identity. I explained that choice had nothing to do with my sexuality.  No one molested me. No one influenced me. It just felt like the most natural thing in the world.

I distinctly remember realizing when I had no attraction to the female gender.  It was in 1976 while watching a first-run episode of “The Bionic Woman.” (It was the multi-part “Kill Oscar” storyline that was a cross-over with “The Six Million Dollar Man.”) I want to think something about the image of Steve Austin fighting off the evil Fembots in hurricane-tossed Hawaii wearing nothing besides his mustache and a pair of swim trunks was what made me take notice.  His hairy chest was swoon-worthy.  Of course, I kept that to myself and spent the next 15 years lying to myself about my sexual identity.

Perhaps that TV memory was or wasn’t the moment.  Perhaps I knew I was gay after listening to my Dad’s original cast albums of My Fair Lady and Camelot, both featuring Julie Andrews.  (He saw BOTH original productions on Broadway, which still elicits feelings of jealousy today.)

Maybe it was when I discovered Linda Ronstadt’s first and glorious recording of American Songbook classics, “What’s New” in 1983. Maybe it was Maria Callas singing opera or the Burt Bacharach/Hal Davis catalog, genres my father also introduced to me.  Or maybe it was my first time watching Rosalind Russell rip through “Rose’s Turn” in the filmed version of Gypsy? All of this happened during my formative years as a kid.

The first film I remember seeing in a movie theater was Disney’s The Aristocats in 1970. Did a subliminal message exist within the song “Ev’ry Body Wants to Be a Cat?” Was it hiding code to turn me gay? Please, I wanted to be a cool cat. However, it did inspire me to have a career in the filmed arts, which began in earnest at the age of 19 and continues to engage and inspire me today.

Oh, and how I can forget the first song I learned by heart as a child! Yes, that honor goes to Petula Clark’s 1964 monster hit, “Downtown.”

Better yet, my identity as a child of Mexican nationals provided a broader selection of art and artists to further inspire and give my life an incredible context. Hearing my mom’s favorite music of her youth meant Lola Beltran, Jorge Negrete, and Pedro Infante would also teach me about the language and spirit of a people that experienced the power of oppression and conquest, too. Assimilation may have won the first battle for my soul, a time when I referred to myself as “George.” Life experiences, maturity, and pride brought me back to Jorge, also the name of my father.

The iconic duo of Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete (Foto: Twitter / @limberopulos_)

I gravitated to these artists because they inspired me to want to know more about a world that extended beyond my Chicano suburban existence in Pico Rivera, CA.  I felt connected to the art and artists that remain my greatest mentors and heroes.  Not just because the gay community favors them; instead, they endure because they were pioneers to appreciate.  That I’ve met many aficionados who happen to be gay men is the icing on the reality cake, validating that Los Gays possess incredible cultural taste.

The point is that we are ALL influenced by a broad variety of external social, political, and cultural forces in a lifetime. I firmly believe our sexual and gender identities, however, are truly biological, not bids to merely find ourselves “more interesting.” Exceptions exist, sure. But to generalize and marginalize an entire community to fit an agenda? No. When politicians dare to prey on the fears of the weak and uneducated, the results can be irrevocable. The devastating truth about Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill and other such discriminatory legislation is this idea of forcing conformity on young people.  Such blind homogenization is both dangerous and damaging in that it stigmatizes what is entirely natural and pure.

Again, during my elementary school life, I knew I was different, but I lacked the awareness and words to understand why.  The awareness would arrive much later and it ultimately made perfect sense once I stepped away from the fear. A voracious reader as a kid, my teachers could not keep up with my pace of finishing all the material on their curriculum.  These outstanding and dedicated educators resorted to giving me things NOT on the curriculum that would nurture and encourage my ability to process and understand different narratives.  It affected how I related to the other kids, most of whom had no idea what I was talking about most days.  Hell, my vocabulary alone was enhanced by my reading my parents’ issues of Newsweek, the LA Times, and the LA Herald-Examiner.  I had to know what they knew, too, about the world.

As a result, my cultural references were not things that mattered in my classroom or playground.  It felt worrisome to me, so I suppressed certain parts of my personality to “fit in” or conform with the larger group.  It remains my biggest regret to this day, this desire of being ignored or left behind.  Censoring myself to stop the bullying and social isolation meant killing the part of me that brought me such joy and pride.  I saw the bigger picture, and I knew it would lead me away from the suburbs to find the place that would understand and encourage me to be the best version of myself, not just my sexual identity.

Donald Sutherland in the 1978 version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (Photo: United Artists)

Our young people desperately need advocates and champions, not a group of red hat-wearing pod people from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” telling them they’re invisible.  We need a greater understanding of sexual and gender identity, not criminalizing what remains a real struggle for so many innocent people. Choosing not to care or recognize the importance of gender and sexual identity is reckless and can be dangerous, even deadly, for those who have no emotional support. We have to find a middle ground, not promote a mantra of “grooming,” which is frustrating and sickening.

I can’t understand how people like DeSantis think forcing people to subscribe to ONE point of view cannot be considered an act of “grooming.”  How is indoctrinating generations to espouse every “ism” found in the fear-mongering GOP playbook a civil and just act?  This demented cry of “Beware Woke Culture” features once-benign terms appropriated and weaponized, again, by the right to conjure up yet another Boogeyman of panic, this time in the shape of Disney.

Fighting Disney is nothing more than a malignant weapon of mass distraction launched by a party that only deals in regression, not progress.  It wasn’t so long ago that people chastised Disney for being extraordinarily slow in creating works that genuinely reflected the diverse faces and cultures of the world.  Today, kids – and adults — can see and hear themselves in many of their favorite films and TV series, something denied to countless generations.

How dare Gov. Ron DeSantis and his rabid-mouthed ilk think they can legally force so many of our youth BACK into a closet with acts of stigmatization and fear.  How does that serve the greater good of our evolving society?  What scares his acolytes more about the presence of people who do not conform to sexual or gender norms?  They label us all pedophiles and purveyors of dangerous liberalism when leaders like DeSantis wrap themselves in a divisibility cloak of evangelicalism, shielding their abject ignorance and cruelty.

The New Faces of Fascism 2022 — Front: Reps. Lauren Boebert, Madison Cawthorn, and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Back: Matt Gaetz and Paul Gosar (R-AZ). Not pictured and not missed, Texas Governor Greg Abbott.  

DeSantis knows what scares people who do not care or want to possess a broader worldview.  His brand of anger is nothing new, but he’s learned to refine such a message thanks to the internet and a media complex incapable of stopping coverage of the clown cars driven by people like Texas Governor Greg Abbott, Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), and Matt Gaetz (R-FL).  Oh, let us not forget the Grifter Dynasty of Donald Trump, a debacle that led to an insurrection and the proliferation of several “Big Lies” extending beyond the 2016 and 2020 elections.

Full disclosure, I am proud of my time as an employee at Disneyland, learning much about people and storytelling thanks to the countless amount of guests that felt comfortable sharing a little piece of their lives with me as they waited in line to board a ride.  That comfort level drives my career as a producer/interviewer of studio-produced content today.

I worked for Disneyland while attending California State University at Long Beach from 1989 to 1991.  I spent those two years working primarily in Adventureland and Frontierland as a Jungle Cruise skipper, Tiki Room host, and on the Big Thunder Mountain and Mark Twain crews.  Perhaps I took a photo of your parents as kids enjoying the day.  Maybe they took a picture with me, smiled and laughed at my jokes, or even teased me for working at the park.  Either way, not one guest knew much about me or any cast members on site that day.  Fate brought us together to exist in the same space.  All we had in common was being at a place designed to make good memories.

I still see the looks of relief and comfort when I would speak to a guest in Spanish, establishing a connection to the park in a way they could understand and interact with on a personal level.  I will never forget creating the wheelchair section for the disabled guests, many of whom had never been to the park before, like many children and adults visiting that day.  During the Main Street Electrical Parade, that combination of light, music, and their favorite characters elicited so many good and positive emotions two times nightly.  Again, my crewmates and I did all we could to ensure our guests had a good time and did not feel judged for their disabilities.  We would often receive a handshake, a “Thank You,” or a squeeze on the shoulder for jobs well done.

That is the power of the Disney experience.  You don’t have to share in it, but don’t ruin it for people, either.  The key design feature of the Disney universe is to be a home for everyone, regardless of their views or backgrounds.  Is it perfect?  Nothing in the world can make that claim.  But it matters to millions of people around the world, nonetheless.  We must look like savages to them, which saddens and angers me.  The message of being the “Happiest Place on Earth” is taken seriously by its many employees, past and present.  Because that’s what matters first – the ability to make sure you are happy and safe in that space for however long you visit.

Projecting all this perverse hate and bile onto that sentiment to serve someone else’s ego is a slap to the many of us who gladly made sure YOU were a satisfied guest.  Why should any of you care what we do in private?  I can guarantee you that is the last thing on our mind when facing a guest.  Nor is anyone looking for converts, a grotesque and ridiculous notion.  It is the same in any business; you focus on the company and clients to make sure they return.

Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) Photo: Brittanica.com

I want to think education can help stem the tide, but not in this climate of turning back the civil rights clock and the banning/burning of books that could illuminate the path to tolerance and respect.  No, the river of America churns and roils with anger, fear, and desperation thanks to people who feel it’s their duty and God-given right to stop a world they feel no longer belongs to their kind. Revolutions start with exhausted masses no longer willing to be force-fed a steady diet of lies, contradictions, and hatred for those who want to make the world a better place.  If they only knew people like DeSantis don’t care how they get their votes to win.  They only care about keeping their positions in power to fulfill their agenda of authoritarianism.

I can only offer this poem from Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), a respected Protestant clergy who dared to speak publicly against Adolf Hitler in public. His dissension led to his spending seven years in concentration camps.  This poem, written in 1946, continues to reverberate with even greater power today.

FIRST THEY CAME

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

What makes any of us think Generation Blame, Whine, and Hate will not turn against the rest of society, refusing to conform or subscribe to their violently ignorant agenda?  You’re deluding yourself if you think keeping them in power will improve your life.  On the contrary, as history has proven, it is just the beginning of something so much worse.

As Pastor Niemöller concludes in his poem:

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Visitors stand in front of the quotation from Martin Niemöller that is on display in the Permanent Exhibition of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
PHOTO: US Holocaust Memorial Museum

DeSantis Says Disney “Crossed A Line” In Opposing ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill – Deadline

Ron DeSantis Says Disney “Crossed A Line” In Opposing Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill; Claims Company Never Called Legislative Leader About Bill – Update
— Read on deadline.com/2022/03/florida-dont-say-gay-walt-disney-1234989289/

File this under STFU, again.

DeSantis only knows how to set up dividing lines, not unifying communities.

‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill passes in Florida, goes to governor | AP News se

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s Republican-dominated legislature passed a bill Tuesday to forbid instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, rejecting a wave of criticism from Democrats that it marginalizes LGBTQ people.
— Read on apnews.com/article/dont-say-gay-bill-passes-florida-legislature-b173917e985833963e45a8d0464a4399

At what point does a civilized society hold its leader accountable for rendering communities invisible and oppressed?

At what point do we take our ELECTED public servants to task for their inability to lead us all not just those who serve their interests?

When do we finally say ENOUGH?

Our world is off its axis. Our anger is directed at each other instead of those who want to divide and conquer us.

What angers me further is how these acts of hate are being validated by those who stand on a pulpit of “family and good Christian values.”

Your “God” seriously sucks.

Bill Cosby: Supreme Court Rejects Appeal for Overturned Conviction – Variety

The Supreme Court has declined an appeal by Pennsylvania prosecutors in Bill Cosby’s overturned sexual assault conviction.
— Read on variety.com/2022/tv/news/bill-cosby-supreme-court-appeal-conviction-overturned-1235197877/

What a surprise. With a bench made of misogynistic entitled men and wannabe handmaidens, what else would you expect?

The violent narrative against women, the LGBTQ+ and POC communities in this country knows no bounds.


Be afraid, be very afraid.

Bryan Singer: Blake Stuerman Alleges Abusive Years With X-Men Director – Variety

Blake Stuerman says his relationship with Bryan Singer from 2009 to 2013 was “abusive.” Singer says Stuerman has “an axe to grind.”
— Read on variety.com/2021/film/news/bryan-singer-blake-stuerman-1235136986/

You hear things. You see things. You ignore them all and abuse is normalized because so many victims fear reprisals. And the others who stay silent can only wag their fingers and say, “I told you so.”

In this era of self-confession, when do we see real compassion and progress in an industry that promotes itself as a Dream Factory? Especially when we know it is a nightmare of false promises, mixed messages, and half truths crafted by too many power players without a moral compass.

Stephen Sondheim.

Stephen Sondheim transformed our cultural landscape as a composer and lyricist. For many devout followers of musical theater, he remains an icon, a true master of this powerful art form. News of his passing is heartbreaking and devastating, knowing we will never hear a new work of his. Yet, we are empowered and consoled by his legacy, one that will resonate for generations to come. I am not alone in feeling strong emotions today. Mr. Sondheim, thank you, for everything you left us in your work. Rest in power, our forever hero.

www.nytimes.com/2021/11/26/theater/stephen-sondheim-dead.html

Ingo Rademacher Out At ABC’s ‘General Hospital’, Last Airdate Set – Deadline

Longtime General Hospital actor Ingo Rademacher is no longer part of the cast, Deadline has confirmed.
— Read on deadline.com/2021/11/ingo-rademacher-general-hospital-last-airdate-set-1234870108/

Doubling down on the lack of humanity cost Ingo Rademacher more than his job. He lost his soul.

What the hell is “medical freedom?” Come on, Ingo. What is the benefit in being the cause of illness or death by avoiding the thing that can benefit all those around you?

You’re confusing freedom with selfishness and ignorance. See you on the Fox News channel with the rest of your exhausting “community”

Quotes, Janet Mock Edition

Quotes, Janet Mock Edition

“I believe that telling our stories, first to ourselves and then to one another and the world, is a revolutionary act.”

Janet Mock on the set of Pose. Photo: FX Networks

It is an act that can be met with hostility, exclusion, and violence. It can also lead to love, understanding, transcendence, and community. I hope that my being real with you will help empower you to step into who you are and encourage you to share yourself with those around you.”

― Janet Mock, Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More

“Basic”

“Basic”

As defined in the Urban Dictionary:

1. Used to describe someone devoid of defining characteristics that might make a person interesting, extraordinary, or just simply worth devoting time or attention to.

2. Lacking intelligence and unable to socialize on even an elementary level.

3. Annoyingly frustrating because of the above

Oh her? Don’t even worry about her, girl. She’s so basic.

I think I preferred being gay in the 1990s. Well, sometimes I do.

That’s not an admission of not enjoying my gay life today. I enjoy it very much, although I probably hide out more than living out loud. Still, I honestly believe I am not alone in recognizing the limits that exist within the complex reality of the community today. Our tropes have been remixed, rebranded, shaken, and stirred into such a vast panoply of categories, it is no wonder we have begun to lose our connection to each other. It’s the same phenomenon of having too much choice. And while we continue to be political firebrands, I often feel it is hard to a distinguishing voice, one that embraces the entire group. Perhaps that’s an impossible task.

When I was sorting out my gay identity in the mid-80s to 1990s, I will never forget the fear and desperation I felt over what I perceived as a paucity of role models and resources with which to understand being homosexual. Yes, I loved watching old movies, Paul Lynde and broke my mother’s kitten heels as a kid, pretending that I was Ann-Margret in “The Pleasure Seekers.” Yes, I fell under the sway of Gershwin & Porter, Bette Midler, Linda Ronstadt’s “What’s New” and Joan Rivers’ infamous comedy album “What Becomes a Semi-Legend Most?” I wasn’t led to all of these places. Most happened by osmosis. Some of my favorite teachers, who probably felt I needed a little encouragement, steered me ever so gently towards some cultural touchstones. Bottom line, it all felt right, just like the crushes I felt for Han Solo, Steve Austin and Thomas Magnum, private investigator. However, as I poured through the oeuvre of Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, and Jacqueline Susann, their depictions of homosexuality only left me titillated and confused. Man, I had questions and no one to turn to for answers.

As a teenager, you didn’t dare mention anything “gay” for fear of being ostracized or brutalized by the macho fucks who prowled the school hallways. Pretty much anything that did not look or sound like them meant “faggot.” Advanced vocabularies were a secret shame for us chubby, nascent homos. It was all closets, stereotypes, and slurs, as I am sure it was for many teenagers surviving the early 80s. It didn’t help that the HIV/AIDS crisis was being treated like a biblical pestilence by the media. But how else would you view the deaths of 40,000 people between 1981 and 1987 as anything but a genocide? Gomorrah was burning and it was devastating to hear from Anita Bryant and your own friends’ parents that being gay was the match that lit the fuse. Asserting your homosexuality at that time was not going to be like an ABC Afternoon School Special.

As I ventured to UCLA and beyond, I began to discover the resources with which to further define my gay identity. It was about being part of the “gay and lesbian” community, even if only the white gay male narrative was what clearly in focus. I still didn’t see myself in the growing media presence of gay men. Although, we have come a long way in that regard. In many ways, it still is a very white focus, regardless of the gender. Room for progress? Yes.

While I stayed firmly in the closet when it came to my parents, I had no problems letting my gay flag fly elsewhere. After UCLA became an educational Waterloo, CSU Long Beach can take credit for leading me to the artistry Armistead Maupin, Charles Busch, Reinaldo Arenas, David Leavitt, Manuel Puig, Larry Kramer, Keith Haring, Joe Orton, Harvey Fierstein, Pedro Almódovar and so much more. Once I landed at Paramount Studios as an intern, I hit the mother lode (and not that stalwart WeHo bar.) Several of the men I worked with in the studio’s National Theatrical Publicity department presented themselves as being incredibly secure with their bad ass gay selves. It was the first of many safe and illuminating havens I experienced in terms of associating with professionals who were out in the workplace.  I was made aware just how gay men and women were the ones to make life and style synonymous terms. In this ACT UP era, it was time to understand we were “fierce.” More, I became hyper aware as to the debt attached to the attitude, parlance, and strength of the community, realities contributed by African-American, Latino and Asian queers. It all made for an intoxicating existence, especially when viewed on display at clubs Circus or Rosie’s or Jewel’s Catch One, where we embraced each other, fell in love on the hour and felt so invincible on the dance floor.

When I started writing this post on being “Basic,” it was meant to be another statement on dating today. That was before I sat down to watch the poignant if erratic “Strike a Pose” documentary. It is a “where are they now” piece that was produced by a Belgian-Dutch team, the film celebrated the 25th anniversary of “Madonna: Truth or Dare,” itself a cultural moment of considerable influence. The documentary regrouped seven of Madonna‘s unforgettable backup dancers, charting the course of their lives, trials, and considerable tribulations in the years since their co-starring in the Material Girl’s iconic 1990 Blonde Ambition tour. That zeitgeist moment, one that influenced so many young gay men and women, had a bittersweet impact on these men’s’ lives. How a defining cultural gift proved so challenging and heartbreaking for these incredibly talented men helped me broaden the context of what I wanted to say about this era of being “Basic.”

I was very much one of those fans who found refuge and pride in a movie theater during that summer of 1991. I instantly re-felt the impact of “Truth or Dare,” despite the difficulties faced by this group of men as chronicled by “Strike a Pose.” It was also like finding being a letter from a long-ago love. Witnessing these men, all nearing 50, still moving to their own music with purpose helped me understand the need to keep moving forward, of re-embracing my own strengths and colors. More, they inspired me to not feel adrift or isolated as a result of being 50 and gay in a world that still caters to the proverbial youthquake.

The first paragraphs on “Basic” were these:

When it comes to 21st century dating between men, two categories remain in play. The first group – or the Exceptionals – are men worth dating, but are most likely paired off or not interested in being a couple at all. This group does not include those who are in open relationships, a social phenomenon that is just more macho-induced “having your cake (or cock in this case) and eating, too. And then we have group two: The Basics. Oh, man.

Created by the internet, this constantly trending crowd thinks it’s redefining our world and perhaps they are with their throwback looks and sway back attitudes. They live for the now, even if they don’t know what that means.  It isn’t just millennials, either. Basicdom is spreading to all age groups like a virus as social media swallows the rest of us whole. And what’s in between is a collective of damaged goods spouting mangled psychosexual manifestos and more. It is no longer men you date or men you don’t. What we have today are next level distrust and basic human disconnection.

I couldn’t continue down this path, one I’ve covered before and a Bombeckian take felt trite and unnecessary. Instead, I wanted to focus on how unfunny being labeled “basic” is to those who wield it as a joke or a tone-deaf insult.

While I applaud how millennials have turned up the dialogue to address and give names to the many facets of out and/or queer life, they are still working on variations of a theme long-established. I don’t think today’s young gay men quite understand the debt they owe previous generations, their lives, struggles, deaths and everything in between. Gay is a living, breathing creature, one that can decide the color of its plumage without a care in the world. Hide it, suppress it, oppress it, this creature will fight its way forward to be seen and with even greater radiance. A context to our present is missing today, a respect for history and the sacrifices made for us all to be able to say, “Sissy that walk.”

You will find nothing “basic” about being gay, now or ever. But it pisses me off that we are quick to diminish someone for not possessing whatever trend or ideology that makes them “interesting” or “worth devoting time to” in this world.  We all can’t look like refugees from the Electric Company or Romper Room. More, we can’t let striking a series of selfie poses, drinks up and duck lips be what defines our sexual freedom!

We all will get older. We all will find how our experiences can impact the future if take our narcissism out of the equation. How we dare shame those who are poz or act like PrEP is the golden bullet that will keep us young and fuckable. How dare we ignore those who choose a unique brand of queer, or want to unleash their true gender identity, are older or chubbier or a different color or creed? Bad enough religious zealots want us dead, still! We cannot castigate or diminish our own brothers and sisters. Not now.

Homosexuality is a reality that was never about a life style choice because it sparks to life in our very DNA. We should remix “basic” and take the dialogue back to basics when we were all vital human beings living life on our terms: compassionate, honorable, forward thinking and positively sexy.

 

Key Photo: Art by Keith Haring