Thursday, August 6, 2015

LGBT Revisionism and LGBT Careerism

There is a great deal of tongue clucking- and rightly so, over the new film "Stonewall." The reasons are many but center on the appropriation of the story of that pivotal night and the way in which Hollywood deforms the truth for commercial purposes. LGBTQI people are furious to see the tale told from the point of view of a white suburban male, and that a riot initiated by transgender women of color has seen them sidelined, while the history, and the honor, is colonized by gay white men.

In short: Truth is sanitized- revised to comport with a preset idea of how it was Way Back When. It is the same process by which the 60s are turned into an era of "peace love and flowers." The 60s did have an aspect of that idyllic ideal. I saw it. I was there. But the Summer of Love in 1967 was brief. And more to the point, the 60s was a decade in which great leaders were gunned down, (e.g., JFK, MLK, and RFK), and where heads were busted by cops and hardhats. Yet as seen through a rosy lens of hindsight, platitudes of "peace love and flowers" trump the hard-nosed reality of an era when the nation was being torn apart by a second civil war.

Not only as an activist, but as a writer, I'm familiar with the spite of Stalinist revisionists when it comes to upsetting cozy assumptions of a narrative they want enshrined. It makes sense: careers are built on 'owning' a socially approved angle on a profitable commodity, such as being a 60s radical, or vanguard 70s "gay liberationist." But the actuality of such eras is far different from the reductionist simplicities and certainties, which translate into easy acceptability at the expense of nuance.

In 2008, I published a memoir about my life in of San Francisco's "gay liberation" culture in which I was prominent as a poet and as the primary scriptwriter and star of the iconic free theater troupe, "the San Francisco Angels of Light." Shortly before official release, my book- FLIGHTS OF ANGELS- was scuttled by its publishers; put simply, they got me to pay for the publication, then abrogated the written contract, expecting me to pay more money in advance. I didn't. They retaliated by pulling the book. I don't mind and I don't regret it. Refusing to buckle to bullying is a simple matter of principle.

What happened next was revelatory. The book was hailed by many in the print media as a fascinating, no-holds barred tale of the 70s- the highs and the lows of a gorgeous and luminous vision, one which certainly existed. It was also a journey into the most idealistic and unusual underground in modern LGBT history- something which, at its best, was shining and radiant- a theater, which inspired Harvey Milk and gave utterance to the collective dreams of a people. But it would have been a rank lie to present the "Angels of Light" as pure flower children dancing in joy and innocence while creating beauty. Of course, that part is true... in part; and, where it existed, it existed in abundance.

But there was an underside of drug addiction, manipulation, sordid and psychotic depravity, which ran in tandem with the beauty, and which, ultimately, destroyed the group. Its locus was a drug dealer with a shrine to Hitler in her flat, one who opined, "Hitler failed. He didn't get enough Jews." It seems incredible that such a person could exist within a tribe or extended family of artists who worked for free for 12 years, to create free theater as a gift of love for their community. But such was the case.

Perhaps dichotomy is inevitable with great art? Perhaps there is always the light in striking contrast to dark? That which exalts in an existential battle with that which seeks to demolish and degrade? I don't know. I do know that, among a few shrill LGBT Stalinists, there was outrage that an insider- (me), would present the story of the "Angels of Light" and/or suggest that the cosmic force of gay light was counterbalanced and, indeed, ultimately demolished by centrifugal chaos and progressive damages as the 70s spun on to the threshold of AIDS and other forms of disintegration brought about, inevitably, by age and penury, the cost of addiction, and trying to sustain a dream despite a marginal existence.

The porno critic of a local newspaper took umbrage to my book. So did a self-anointed cultural critic who lived in SF during the first 6 years of the 70s but never did anything more engaged than having a walk on role in one "Angels" epic, a show, which I starred in and had the dominant role in scripting. Having stood by watching as the "gay revolution" took form, years later, he pronounced himself an expert. Now, along with the aforementioned porno critic- a friend of the Angel Dust dealer with a shrine to Hitler- he shared his outrage... in an anonymous review of the memoir, which was banned five times by amazon since it was so clearly the rant of an unbalanced observor.

My point isn't that hysterics masquerade as critics or that people with no actual knowledge of a scene present themselves as informed. My point is that any history requires honest accounting of what made an era great, as well as the human failings or mounting pressures, which combined to make it brief. It was true in the incandescent years of "the Angels of Light." Yet I saw inversion of truth in the two "critics" who attacked my book, which was a personal memoir, not a formal history.

Today, the film "Stonewall" panders to the commercial taste of a market, which wants historical testaments sanitized and doesn't mind shunting aside uncomfortable aspects which interfere with the Pablum of easily-digested maxims. The larger loss is that such a film repudiates complex- (dare I also say "thought provoking"?) paradoxes of how any outsiders work through their demons and psychological 'Shadow' as they progress towards maturity. And that robs the telling of greatness.

The trajectory of LGBT history was neither smooth nor easy. And the personal stories of those in the vanguard were often rocky. But how could it be otherwise? We're taking about people brought up to be self-hating and called 'sick.' Correcting that horrendous lie took years of concentrated effort by heroes, such as Frank Kameny. But I suggest that one hallmark of coming to the reality of wholeness and the appreciation of complex history is found in the willingness to face the diverse, contradictory and, sometimes, self-canceling aspects of our Past. That is how we grow. And keep evolving.

In the case of Stonewall- the event, not the film- we can now appreciate that it wasn't gay white men asserting a leading role; it was transgender women of color, such as Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. As such, the attempt by the film "Stonewall" to evade that fact not only deprives the picture of accuracy, it repeats the damage inflicted by a culture which wants history presented in bite-sized pieces instead of the often-difficult, painful and contradictory ways in which it actually occurred. But artistic value lies in facing facts as they are, not in how we'd like them to be in order to promote easy acceptance of ourselves, friends, or facile group-think. Or so say I.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Don Trump's hair for President

In an age where TV image counts for so much, I find myself so mesmerized by The Donald's hairpiece that I have a modest proposal, since I feel it might improve his standing with the public.

If The Donald would run with his own merkin as VP ,the public could rest assured that, in a worst case scenario, such as a terrorist-driven gale, if he blew his top, the nation wouldn't be shorn of his level-headed example. Indeed, with a single deft move- something easily accomplished, our President could recover. 

Put baldly, no President can be positive of his VP. Witness Joe Biden coming out, er, embracing, er, marriage equality even before President Obama had a firm grip on it. But if The Donald is his own VP, he can be sure of his backup. If so, he wouldn't have to worry about being exposed by himself any more than he already is. This would give him time to concentrate on winning back Miss America, or building a Trump Wall to keep out "illegal aliens," who might ruffle his hair.

In sum, let Don, brace himself for the unexpected winds, which beset all Presidencies. If so, with luck, not only he but the rest of us would be spared the embarrassment of being exposed by Fate.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Obama, ISIS, and the war of Ideas by Adrian Brooks

I love Obama but I think he's wrong when he says that the way to defeat ISIS is through "ideology." It's self-evident that ISIS members are the worst Muslims imaginable. Still, it is a mistake to imagine that they can be reasoned out of their beliefs or that their barbarism is something Western problem-solving can amend.

The Shia Sunni split in Islam dates to the 7th century. That schism is an internal matter. Each side claims the sacred mantle of the Prophet. Each bases its actions on its interpretation of the Koran. Given the contorted history following the end of the Ottoman Empire in WW1, and the meddling of the colonial powers, a tragic choreography is playing out.

I'm not claiming to have any answers. But ideologues who behead women or sell them as slaves or "wives" to their own troops won't substitute anything for their belief system or values. Waging holy war- Jihad, is seen as a sacred duty for 'the Faithful,' and, whatever we may think, the people in ISIS are, indeed, acting in accordance with their interpretation of what their religion requires. As such, while Obama's maturity is commendable, he's wrong about seeing this as a war of ideas. After all, "One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter."

Thursday, July 2, 2015

"What Evan Wolfson and Marriage Equality Have Done For the People Who Despise Them"

At a moment when Marriage Equality has become national law, albeit by the slimmest of margins, (and, thank you Justice Kennedy),  LGBTQI folk and our allies would be moronic not to realize how harrowing this decision is for millions who don't share our belief in what is now deemed to be a Constitutionally guaranteed right. Revolted by their visualizations of what same-sex unions mean,
and haunted by unreal notions, including that we will soon agitate for the freedom to marry dogs, they spin their wheels in an effort to comprehend what has happened to a country they thought they understood as one explicitly defined by the Bible.

In fact, what "the father of marriage equality" Evan Wolfson and his colleague, Mark Solomon, (among others who worked at Freedom to Marry) have done is to make the nation stronger. Though our adversaries don't yet realize it, this transformation of consciousness will be perceived much in the same light as the 1919 law granting women the right to vote. Or the momentous Civil Rights- and Voting Rights- legislation, which LBJ passed, thereby enfranchising African Americans. Both advances were epochal; both had been met with stout resistance; in both cases,  the losing side bewailed the future of the United States, as previously received.

As previously received....

Therein lies their fallacy and the same blunder which opponents of Marriage Equality make today. For in these movements towards "a more perfect union" postulated by the Constitution, the Republic and its people make actual progress. In the process, of course, old givens are recycled; that which was known- a received wisdom, oftentimes never questioned- are subjected to new inquiry. It is the never-ending quality of regeneration at the heart of the American Experiment: our willingness to start over, to cast aside the unworthy or the unworkable and put our shoulders to the wheel in the service of a finer and more compassionate Whole. And this is the very essence of healthy democracy. 

One side doesn't have to degrade or shame the other for being tardy. As Lao Tze wrote 2500 years ago, "If one leads, another must follow."  It is the law of Nature; it's also human nature- to grow and stretch, expand and put aside the archaic in favor of what meets the reality of the Present.

This is where we are as a People: in the Present.

The gift which Evan Wolfson, Mark Solomon and their colleagues at Freedom to Marry bestowed upon the nation is to help harness a huge and still-expanding recognition of humanness. And human diversity. In its way, it is as stunning an achievement as the Emancipation Proclamation or the Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education. As a civil people, we have the right to expect leaders to lead; legislators to legislate; and courts to rule. This is the usually difficult, oftentimes infuriating, way in which our system plays out. That some will bridle is to be expected. But, in due course, they certainly will come to appreciate that what makes us truly strong isn't our weaponry. Our power- true power- lies in our character. Some may call it virtue. I do. But in leading us to this wider embrace of our own citizens, irrespective of superficial differences, the patriots who ushered this issue forward brought us into the moment, reminded us of whom, and what, we are and renewed our collective sense of Self.

They are heroes.

Monday, June 29, 2015


The great activist and feminist, Charlotte Bunch, who, among other accomplishments, successfully lobbied the United Nations to include women's issues as Human Rights issues, is interviewed in my anthology, THE RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY. I heard from her today, saying that she likes the book and is willing to offer it her support. What an honor to be endorsed by someone, who deserves to be on US postage stamps.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Adrian Brooks, Judy Shepard and "The Right Side of History"

I'm thrilled that, on this day, with Pride marches across the land- Human Rights heroine and activist Judy Shepard sent the following endorsement of my anthology, THE RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY:

“I am honored to be included among the many brave and committed individuals who have worked tirelessly through history in the fight for LGBTQ rights. The complex and diverse set of voices woven together by author Adrian Brooks in The Right Side of History inform what many may not know about the history of gay rights, and reveals stories and narratives that give us all a better understanding of the path of this battle for fundamental equality.” Judy Shepard, Co-Founder and President, The Matthew Shepard Foundation

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Marriage Equality...

We all know the battle for full LGBTQI equality isn't over but, with this historic ruling from the Supreme Court and the incredible endorsement by President Obama, we can grasp the fact that we've won a tremendous victory. It's no exaggeration to say we're on THE RIGHT SIDE OF HISTORY, as my newly released anthology asserts. And while more tasks remain, this is time to celebrate. Millions lived in dread and pain without imagining such progress; we stand on their shoulders. They can't ever be forgotten. I know I join millions more sending thanks to Justice Kennedy for his part in this historic decision. Yet even in our moment of triumph, let's recommit to ensuring equal rights and equal legal protection for women, the poor, the aged, people of color, undocumented workers, students, the disabled and anyone else who feels the sting of bigotry or burden of economic injustice.