Category Archives: Musings

River Phoenix, my best actor

Joaquin Phoenix made me cry last night while accepting the Oscar for Best Actor. “Run to the rescue with love—and peace will follow,” he said, quoting lyrics written by his late brother, the actor

River Phoenix. A lot of people don’t know that River was a talented musician as well as an Oscar-nominated actor. He fronted the band Aleka’s Attic, and in many ways, music was his greatest passion.

I have never been one to idolize celebrities, with one massive exception, and that is River Phoenix. Since I was young, the story of River—his childhood in Venezuela, his meteoric rise as an actor, his passion for music, his empathy and sensitivity and kindness and vulnerability, and yes, his tragic end—has both haunted and inspired me. I’m staying with family now, but when I lived alone my apartment was decorated with his photos. My phone case has his face on it—intentional, as he serves as a constant reminder to both do good in this world and create art. His films are the ones I watch over and over. His songs are my lullabies.

He was a phenomenally talented actor. His breakout role as a sensitive and troubled young boy in Stand By Me earned him legions of teenage fans and a place in the pantheon of 1980s Hollywood. Yet he was a pinup boy who loathed celebrity and its attendant vices, choosing instead to live peacefully in the swampy quiet of Gainesville, Florida.  His tender, heartbreaking portrayal of a teenage rent boy in My Own Private Idaho remains the single best film performance not nominated for an Academy Award. He did receive an Oscar nomination for Running on Empty—though he eschewed awards in general, not putting much stock in the politics of Oscar campaigning or the inherent silliness of judging art against art.

Last night I tweeted that River would be proud of Joaquin. I don’t doubt he would. I also suspect, though, that River would have said something along the lines of “remember this doesn’t mean anything” to him—that it’s about the art and the stories and the message more than a golden statue or box office revenue. (Joaquin knows that, too, I reckon; I see a lot of River in him.)

In this way, as in so many ways, River was a remarkable human being—defying the stereotype of your vapid matinee idol. He was defined by decency and compassion. Most people know of how River Phoenix died, but it’s how he lived that is truly remarkable. He was a vegan before it was cool and before the media even knew what that word was (a magazine once called him an “ultravegetarian.”) He was an environmentalist before environmentalism went mainstream, buying up large swathes of rain forest in order to protect them. He was an early champion of gay rights at a time when that was an issue most in Hollywood didn’t want to touch.

It’s this, I think, that has always drawn me to River. When he died in 1993, I was only seven years old—too young to really understand who he was or appreciate the legacy he left behind. It was only as I became a teenager that I began to feel a connection with him. Watching old clips of him, reading old interviews, and listening to his songs made me feel as though we were kindred spirits. He was funny, at times even goofy, but below the surface was a visceral pain—deep and abiding and torturous. It was a pain I understood.

River Phoenix felt. I don’t mean he felt in the sentimental, manufactured way that, say, Sarah McLachlan singing about homeless dogs makes you feel for a moment and then move on with whatever it was you are doing. I mean he felt the pain he experienced, and the pain others experienced—whether humans or animals—in his bones. In the seminal biography of River, Last Night at the Viper Room, Gavin Edwards relays a story about how upon his girlfriend ordering meat, River ran out of the restaurant in tears. It’s a level of empathy and love—in this case for the earth, for the animals—that few of us can ever hope to understand, let alone feel.

I always feel a little weird talking about River, because when I talk about him I do it as though I knew him, though of course I never even met him. But over the past 20 or so years, as I’ve grown up, I feel like I have gotten to know River—or at least, the parts of himself he shared with the public. I don’t feel that way about any other celebrity or historical figure. River is singular in that regard—the only icon to breech the steel fortress of cynicism I have built against the cult of fame. He doesn’t feel like a movie star to me—though he undeniably was—but more like an old friend whom I miss dearly.

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.

On Phillip Schofield and remembering my own coming out

 

In a very moving statement released on Twitter this morning, and in an equally moving segment on This Morning, Phillip Schofield came out as gay. Married for 27 years to his wife Stephanie, they have two daughters. By Schofield’s own account his wife and children have been nothing but supportive. This can’t have been easy for the 57-year-old ITV presenter, who has worked in British media for over 30 years, but he has handled it with grace, humility, aplomb.

I am always curious about gay men’s journeys to self-acceptance and, in many cases, self-awareness. I think I always knew I was gay. One of my earliest memories is, aged five or six, getting butterflies when the boy next door grabbed my hand. Of course I didn’t know what that meant or have a name for it, but I knew I felt differently about him than about my other friends.

Later in childhood, I had what I can only retroactively identify as a major crush on my best friend Kyle. He spent summers with his dad, who lived down the street, and I would count down the days until he arrived from Arkansas. My other friends would get jealous and angry as, all summer long, I neglected them for Kyle (an unfortunate pattern that would, shamefully, continue into early adulthood). He and I would spend hours playing with other children, but often alone as well. It was all very chaste and innocent—we couldn’t have been older than ten—but when he would “rescue” me as we played Power Rangers I always felt a tingling, sinking feeling in my chest and stomach which (again, only later in life) could I identify as “puppy love.”

I came out to myself around 14, and to the rest of the world—including my family—at 15. This was in 2001, when teenagers coming out was still a rarity and depictions of LGBT people in popular culture even rarer. Yet there was very little angst around my decision. Once I realized I was gay there was no self-torture, no self-hate. It was almost as though realizing, for the first time and to some mild surprise but no great consequence, that I had a freckle on my leg. “Oh, never noticed that before. Wonder when that happened. Oh shit, it’s almost time for Dawson’s Creek, don’t want to miss that!”

Coming out to my family was not easy—I don’t think it’s every an easy process—but as I would learn from LGBT people in later years much easier than most comings out, especially as a teen and especially in the early 00s. I was out at school, which meant my brother (who was in the same year as I) was the first to know. He shrugged it off and, actually, never brought it up until I finally did about a year after he found out.

The decision to tell my parents was a weighty one. We had gone to an amusement park the Saturday before. My mom and my little sister commented on the attractive boys they saw, while my dad and my brother talked about girls. Realizing I could never have a conversation like that with either, and feeling like I was missing out, I decided to tell them. I went to school that Monday, discussed it with my friends and, plucking up the courage from them, told my parents that evening. They took it well—as well as two working-class Midwestern parents could take such news in 2001—and that, save for a few further conversations over the next few weeks—really was that. (As a bit of trivia, it was Monday, 10 September 2001 – the day before 9/11. There’s a personal narrative to be written about that week in my life, I’m sure.)

At the time, it took a lot of courage. I was trembling as I sat them down. No matter who you are, coming out is never easy. In the back of your mind is always a fear of rejection and hate. Looking back on it now, though, after nearly two decades and hundreds of conversations with other LGBT people who have come out, I see that it was a relatively painless process for me. Over the years, I have wondered why my coming out was so easy compared to so many others. There were no other gay people in my family, at least not that we knew of. My family wasn’t particularly leftwing. My parents didn’t have gay friends—though they liked Ellen DeGeneres, and I always suspect she helped a lot. So what made the difference here? I have a few ideas:

  1. I was raised to be self-assured and independent: my parents and grandparents instilled a confidence in me that has served me well through life. They always encouraged me to do what I want, to take risks, to not be afraid of the consequences (within reason), and to make my own way.
  2. I was deeply introspective, even as a child: I’ve always lived in my head, even as a kid. I had friends, but the bulk of my time was spent playing alone. When you spend so much time with yourself, you can’t help but to get to know yourself on a deep and intimate level. I once knew a man who, at 23, only just realized he was gay. He saw a sex therapist because he couldn’t perform in the bedroom with women and even entertained that he might be asexual. That he was attracted to other guys never crossed his mind. I couldn’t imagine not knowing such a basic truth about yourself, but for many gay men same-sex attraction is so buried in their subconscious they don’t recognize it until years later. (It’s important to note that I’m not saying this is Phillip Schofield’s story. I don’t know what his story is, though I’d love to one day hear it.)
  3. I knew other LGBT kids: The autumn of 2001 was a tumultuous time in my life – among other things, I came out, 9/11 happened, and I moved from Ohio to Kentucky – but when I came out I was still living with my parents in Dayton. I was not the first student to come out at Walter E. Stebbins High School. My freshman year there was some drama when, if I remember correctly, a bisexual senior girl left her girlfriend for a football player. There was a sophomore who wore nail polish and lipstick and was openly gay. There were others, too, who blazed the trail for me. And then of course, there was the internet. AOL chat rooms, TeenOpenDiary, message boards—they all helped me find community with other gay people, some of whom were just coming out like me and others who had been out for years. I knew that coming out wasn’t the end of the world, but the beginning of living authentically, because I had others who lived that truth.
  4. We weren’t a religious family: We believed in God, I think, but we were not devout Christians. The one time I remember my parents talking about God was when, one December, my mom got mad at me and my siblings for not wanting to watch a program about God. It was about God promising to come for Christmas, then never showing up, except that He did three times in the form of three different needy people. I didn’t want to watch not because it was about God but because the thought of God showing up on my doorstep terrified me. We never went to church as a family, though my sister and I did go to church with friends, but being raised outside a faith tradition meant that I had little fear that my parents were going to beat me with a Bible or send me to a conversion camp or throw me out. I didn’t have the anxiety of grappling with my “mortal sin” because I was never taught that being gay was a mortal sin.
  5. My family believes in fairness and kindness: I think this might be the most important. Despite all the teenage “ugh I hate my parents” temper tantrums, I knew they were ultimately kind and decent people. I mentioned Ellen earlier. My mom and I used to watch her sitcom together. When she came out, I was upset because the character had never been gay before. Later I made a homophobic joke about her name, calling her “Ellen Degenerate” – a word I didn’t know what it meant but must have learned from some bigot on the television or radio (I don’t know who, but I’ve always blamed Rush Limbaugh), because I knew it wasn’t good and had to do with her sexuality. My mom snapped at me “don’t call her that,” the message being “gay people aren’t degenerates.” That stuck.

It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. I was relentlessly bullied in my Kentucky high school. My father worried I would get AIDS. My mother said “obviously we are disappointed” when I came out (though she has since apologized profusely for the hurt those words caused and doesn’t herself remember saying them). There were stumbling blocks and learning curves for all of us. But we got there quicker than most.

Every LGBT person’s journey is different. Mine is but one of millions, and this short essay is far from the entire story. Some people had a much harder time of things than I did. Some probably had it easier. Certainly, the cultural circumstances in which we come out matter a great deal, and I benefited from coming out at the beginning of what was to be a rapid shift in public opinion on gay rights which began with Ellen and Matthew Shepherd and continues right up to today with Pete Buttigieg and now Phillip Schofield.

Ultimately, the only point of this is to share a little of my own story, which I’ve been thinking about since Schofield’s announcement. My life got a lot better after I came out. I hope Phillip Schofield’s does too.

Thoughts on that woman who wouldn’t vote for Pete Buttigieg because he’s gay

 

I can’t stop thinking about this viral video of an Iowa voter asking to change her vote after she discovered Pete Buttigieg is gay. My first thought was “where the hell has this woman been?” The fact that Pete Buttigieg is gay has been plastered everywhere. Hell, I’ve written about Pete’s sexuality and what his historic run means to me as a gay man at least three different times. My second thought was “I hope every single person who says Pete isn’t gay enough sees this and realizes that if he’s gay enough to experience homophobia he’s gay enough for them to shut up about it.” Then, my third thought was “I bet they’d say ‘see, that woman didn’t even know Pete is gay!’ as proof that he’s just a straight-acting poser who isn’t gay enough.”

That video bothered me. That woman’s homophobia is something I’m familiar with. As a gay teen coming of age in eastern Kentucky, I experienced my fair share of that. When I ran for class president my senior year there were people who wouldn’t vote for me because I’m gay. I had more than one person—friends, classmates, family members, a teacher—tell me I’m going to hell and will burn for eternity. They all insisted they said it out of love. Maybe they did. It still felt a lot like hate, though.

That video inspired me too, though. Nikki van den Heever is the woman being credited on Twitter as the precinct captain who calmly, patiently, and thoughtfully tried to explain to our bigoted friend why Pete’s sexuality doesn’t matter. She was articulate and compassionate—both towards Pete and towards the woman who didn’t want to vote for a gay man. It brought to mind another woman, Crystal O’Connor, from Buttigieg’s home state of Indiana. You might remember her as one of the owners of Memories Pizza, a small family business in Walkerton which became the center of the 2015 Indiana RFRA controversy when O’Connor said she wouldn’t cater pizzas to a gay wedding.

That’s a homophobic opinion, to be sure, but something about the way the O’Connors were treated has always bothered me. For one, why were they even asked? Who in general wants pizza at a wedding? Not gay people, I’ll tell you that. (Okay, maybe I would, but I really like pizza.) And did it really further the cause of gay rights to publicly humiliate and cancel them for expressing an opinion when asked? The vitriolic reaction they received has always troubled me, but my concerns are mitigated by the fact they made bank off the controversy, receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in a GoFundMe campaign. I guess homophobia pays well.

I much prefer the way van den Heever handled the caucusgoer. She kept her cool, explained her position, didn’t belittle or condescend, and contained a situation which could have gotten ugly. She expressed respect for the woman’s right to hold a different opinion without ever actually saying she respected the opinion—because respecting the right to be homophobic is one thing, but respecting homophobia is quite another.

From what I’ve seen, no one has doxed our homophobic friend. No one has sent her death threats. No one has threatened to ruin her business. Of course, no one has raised close to a million for her either, so maybe she feels like the loser here. I would.

I can’t get that woman out of my head though. She seemed so ordinary, like the type of woman you’d meet at a rummage sale or chat to in line at the grocery store. She wasn’t a foaming-at-the-mouth homophobe ready to go out and bash a gay. She was your grandma, or your auntie, or you. A nice Midwestern woman who just happens to not like gay people.

It’s not justifying homophobia. Thinking of that woman, though, and thinking of Memories Pizza, and thinking about all the people in my life who have felt emboldened to condemn me to Hell for daring to love another man, I keep thinking about how nice they were. How well-intentioned. How they genuinely thought they were the good guys, that they were doing the right thing. When the religious right talks about “deeply held beliefs” vis-à-vis opposing gay rights, they’re not blowing smoke up your ass. They really do believe in the righteousness of their cause.

That’s both reassuring and concerning. They don’t think they’re being hateful, which counts for something, or at least is better than intending to be hateful. But on the other hand, how many people out there are so convinced they are right that they would be willing to refuse to sell pizza to a gay couple or refuse to vote for a gay candidate. I know the answer. Most gay people know the answer.

Which brings me back to the “Pete’s not gay enough” crowd. Pete’s clearly gay enough to have a homophobic Iowan refuse to support him. He’s gay enough to where, if he held Chasten’s hand as he walked down a rural road he might here homophobic slurs. He’s gay enough to have felt the suffocating pressure of life in the closet. He’s gay enough to know the liberation that comes from leaving it.

I’m a Christian who is gay. I’d like to sit down with that woman and have a conversation. I doubt I’d change her mind, but I might at least be able to convince her that voting for a gay man isn’t a mortal sin. Orthodox religious people are here and they’re not going anywhere. Gay people are here and we’re not going anywhere. The country is plenty big for both of us, if we can just establish a baseline of respect.

I don’t need every evangelical to believe I am fine the way God made me; my value isn’t tied up in what Intolerant in Iowa thinks, but is derived from my own self-worth and my God. I do need them to accept that I have a right to exist in the public life of this country, though. Similarly, as much as we’d like to stamp out these homophobic attitudes, gay people need to accept that we’re not going to win over everybody. Some people are just stubbornly prejudiced, though they wouldn’t consider themselves prejudiced at all. They really do feel that strongly. Browbeating them into submission isn’t a long-term solution.

Mayor Pete himself is running a campaign on bringing the country together and overcoming differences of opinion. He would probably be hurt by what that woman said, just as any gay man would be—more, maybe, since she’s saying it about him—but having read Shortest Way Home (in which Mayor Pete briefly writes about Memories Pizza), I don’t think he’d want us attacking her or her faith. (Not that anyone I’ve seen has. I’m just making a point.)

Still, I wonder if that woman knows any gay people. She probably does, though she might not know she does. I wonder what they think seeing her doggedly decide Pete Buttigieg isn’t worthy of being president after learning he is gay? I feel bad for them. I also hope they’ll pull her aside, maybe over a cup of coffee, and come out to her (if they haven’t already). I hope they’ll share a little of their struggle and listen as she shares a little of hers. Studies show tolerance and acceptance of gay people increases if you know gay people. Maybe she just needs a little call-in. SI mean, she’s participating in the Democratic caucus, so she’s clearly not a lost cause.

It hurts me that a woman who thought Pete was the candidate for her changed his mind just because she found out he’s gay. That speaks to the level of homophobia still present in much of this country, a homophobia many gay people experience on a daily basis. We’ve come a long way since I came out in 2001, but we’ve still got further to go. I’m heartened, though, to think that Pete Buttigieg might have won the Iowa caucus. If he didn’t win, he did very, very well. Love trumps hate, and Iowans have shown that just because one homophobic woman won’t back Pete because he’s gay, for many more people it isn’t an issue. That’s encouraging. We should hold on to that.

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.

’twas the night before Brexit

 

I feel like I should write something to commemorate Brexit Eve, but honestly I feel like everything I want to say has already been said. Three-and-a-half years ago I wrote on this blog why, despite a deep Euroscepticism, I believed people should vote Remain. Then, after the referendum, I encouraged people to get on with making Brexit a success—which, to me, meant fighting for a fair, progressive, leftwing Brexit.

2016 was a long time ago. I’ve since lost my Euroscepticism and become, if not an enthusiastic at least a pragmatic Europhile. Some may say that I’ve given into tribalism, but I’ve come by my feelings on globalization and international cooperation honestly, having seen not just Britain but the world double down on isolation and nativism. From America to Brazil to Austria to the Philippines, the far right is ascendant and seeks to dismantle the internationalism of the last quarter-century. It makes me sad.

I keep thinking about the people who will be celebrating tomorrow. In some ways I can’t begrudge them. Many Brexiteers have wanted this for a long time, working to take Britain out of Europe for years or decades. For them it’s the moment they have been waiting for, a culmination of all their work and the fulfillment of their deepest political desire. Still, given how divided the country is, the raucous celebrations being planned and the celebratory tea towels with Boris Johnson’s smug and utterly punchable face screen-pressed onto them seem crass, at best. A little magnanimity from the Brexiteers would be nice, but I’m not holding my breath; “conciliation” is not one of their traits. Indeed, it is a vice rather than a virtue to most of them.

Then I remember the children who will grow up British but not European. The teenagers who feel as though their future has been robbed from them. The #FBPE Twitterati who genuinely believe the European Union is the key to all future success and that, outside of it, Britain will be but a shell of its former self—a has-been among nations, the senile old uncle to whom no one ever writes but still somehow winds up at Christmas dinner, at least. Anyone who has ever experienced electoral loss can sympathize with them.

For the dyed-in-the-wool true believers, though, it’s even more painful than an election defeat. Boris Johnson might be Prime Minister now, but within five years we’ll have a chance to put him out. Brexit is a once-in-a-generation, if not lifetime, event. What’s done is done. It’s like a Panem reaping: your name has been drawn; you can’t go back. It’s well and truly over—may the odds be ever in your favour.

For what it’s worth, I doubt the worst will come to pass. It seldom does. Whatever the consequences of this foolish retreat into itself, Britain is still one of the wealthiest nations on the planet. That isn’t going to stop being true anytime soon. There will be hiccups, no doubt – I wouldn’t want to be in Dover next month, and God be with us if the prosecco runs out – but it’s hardly the war. You’ll still have bread, and electricity, and bombs won’t be falling on your house. Low bar, I realise, but I’m grasping at straws.

I don’t know what comes next. What do the Remainers put their energies towards now that overturning the referendum is impossible? It will be interesting to see. One thing I hope is that we can move forward. For four years Brexit has dominated the national conversation. You couldn’t turn on Question Time without at least half the conversation being dominated by Brexit. The other half was dominated by racists, and often the two overlapped. Not always a correlation, but rarely a coincidence. There are pressing issues facing the nation, though. Maybe they can get addressed now. Maybe.

My heart goes out to those who are sad, or angry, or bitter, or alternately or simultaneously all three. It’s a tough pill to swallow. If the medicine shortages come to pass, it could also be your last pill to swallow. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. As I said, probably won’t.

To those who are happy, those who wanted Brexit more than they wanted anything—even more than they wanted an all-white royal family—I wish you well as you celebrate getting both. Truly. And I’m sorry for that dig just there. It’s unfair. Not unwarranted, but unfair. Not all of you are foaming-at-the-mouth racists. Just a lot of you. But seriously, party to your heart’s content and your liver’s capacity. Just remember for every verse of “Land of Hope and Glory” you sing one of your compatriots listening to “Ode to Joy” and quietly weeping. You can leave the European Union, but you have to take them with you.

Skylar Baker-Jordan has been writing about UK and US politics for more than a decade. His work as appeared at The Independent, Salon, Huff Post UK, and elsewhere. He lives in Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter or become a supporter by contributing to his Patreon account.

Five things the American resistance can be thankful for this Thanksgiving

trump-protest-chicago

Protesters outside Trump Tower, Chicago. Photo: John Gress/Getty Images via CBS.com

I don’t feel there’s a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. My country has elected a fascist and Native American water protectors are being attacked by the occupying American police. Colonialism and authoritarianism are alive and well on the shores of the United States, and if you’re a decent person, it’s hard to find anything to celebrate this November.

But in the spirit of what this holiday is meant to mean, I’ve decided to try to find five things I am grateful for. There’s the obvious – the Chicago family that adopted me in as their own; my friends who are basically my siblings; my beloved cats; a steady income; Britain – but I don’t want to focus on the apparent and instead dig beneath the surface.

What can we, the American resistance, be thankful for? This is my attempt to inspire us all to resist and battle in that vile man’s America.

 

  1. The legends who came before us

    Pontiac. Abigail Adams. Tecumseh. Sojourner Truth. Nat Turner. John Brown. Frederick Douglas. Chae Chan Ping. August Spies. Lucy Parsons. Emma Goldman. Sitting Bull. Ida Wells Barnett. Chief Joseph. Alice Paul. Inez Mullholland. Henry Gerber. Bayard Rustin. Dr Martin Luther King, Junior. Ella Baker. Malcolm X. Harvey Milk. Grace Lee Boggs. Gus Garcia. Cesar Chavez. Sylvia Rivera. Brandon Teena.

    We stand on the shoulders of giants. These people have fought for liberation – from American colonialism, American sexism, American racism, American homophobia, American transphobia, American capitalism – throughout our history. If you don’t know their stories, I suggest you Google them. I specifically chose those who are dead because those who still live will play a vital part in the resistance to come, though I’m grateful for all they’ve contributed and will contribute, of course. But we must look to our ancestors for inspiration, guidance, and power. Their spirits and their struggles live and are fought through us. I’m grateful for the courage they provide me.

  1. The art of marginalised Americans

    From Phyllis Wheatley to Zora Neale Hurston to Walt Whitman and Gertrude Stein, our ancestors have given us some truly remarkable art that tells our stories and sparks our imaginations. Maya Angelou. Gore Vidal. Truman Capote. Hattie McDaniel. Lena Horne. Ma Rainey. Janis Joplin. Marian Anderson. John Okada. And the contemporaries who inspire me: Ellen Degeneres, Neil Patrick Harris, Adam Lambert, Saeed Jones, Madeline Miller, Lady Gaga, Wanda Sykes, Ava DuVarney, John Legend, Wilfred Chan, Kellee Terrell, Kendrick Lamar, Laverne Cox, Scott Turner Schofield, and so many others.

 

  1. Community and fellowship

    We cannot take this for granted in the age of that vile man. Now, more than ever, we must pull together at the grassroots level and support, uplift, and love one another. We must find community with likeminded folks who share our values of equality, love, and liberation. Now is not a time to go it alone. It is time to join hands with others who share our values, and get on with the work ahead. I am so grateful for the community of wonderful, progressive and radical friends I have who make me feel less alone in a world where my own family votes for fascism. It cannot be understated how important it is to find a family of choice, a community that accepts, embraces, and emboldens you.

  2. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton

    Sounds a bit odd, right? One is going leaving office in two months and the other lost the election. But regardless of what you feel about either, they’re the highest profile members of the resistance. They will be the figures to which many – maybe most – of us rally. President Obama has led us from the Great Recession to a time of economic prosperity, and Secretary Clinton won two million more votes than that vile man. The country was with her. It was not her failing, but a failing of our democratic institutions. We will need them more than ever in the next four years. They both must rise to the challenge of leading the resistance and standing up to white supremacy, bigotry, and fascism. I can think of no two leaders better positioned to do it. I’m still with her, and I still believe that yes, we can.

  3. Solidarity

    There is no finer thing. Right wing populism is on the rise in much of the Western world. It’s going to take quite a bit to defeat it. But I am so grateful for my allies around the globe, including Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, the Labour Party, SNP, and Green Party in Britain, and countless socialist parties throughout Europe. This is a scary time in Western history, but America, know we are not alone. There is a global resistance to the rise of reactionary populism and neo-fascism. We can take comfort that our allies across the sea have our back. The American resistance is not alone.

Happy Thanksgiving, my fellow progressives and radicals. The rest of you may think this maudlin, but I couldn’t care less. You’re either with us or you’re against us. Welcome to the American resistance. And even though things look bleak, the resistance has so much to be grateful for.

 

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me.
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free
While God is marching on.

Skylar Baker-Jordan is a freelance writer based in Chicago. His work has appeared at the Independent, the Advocate, Salon, the Daily Dot, the Gay UK Magazine, Pink News, and elsewhere. He is currently pursuing a visa to emigrate to the UK.

*Editorial note: This blog refers to President-Elect Trump as “that vile man” as we cannot bring ourselves to call him anything else.

Equal at last: A few thoughts on what the SCOTUS decision means to me as a gay man

Just over a decade ago, I sat weeping as my home state of Kentucky passed a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and civil unions in our fair commonwealth. I was 18 years old, a freshman in college, and had worked tirelessly trying to persuade my fellow Kentuckians to vote against discrimination. I went door-to-door in Bowling Green, talking to voters about what it means to be gay. Some were sympathetic, even understanding. Others were forthright in their opposition to equality. Most were polite. A few were hostile.

I knew we were unlikely to win, but at 18, I think you always have hope that somehow things are going to work out in your favour. That, you know, it can’t possibly be as bad as you think. But it was. 75% of Kentuckians voted to amend the state constitution to bar gay marriage. We were one of many states to do so that year.

As the night crept on, it became clear that not only would the amendment pass, but that President Bush would be re-elected on a platform that was decidedly anti-equality, swept back into the White House by a tide of homophobia he himself had instigated.

I was at my friend Jonathan’s house. We’d recently stopped seeing one another romantically, but it still felt right to be together. He was the gay person I was closest with, and on that night, I desperately wanted another gay person with me. We cried in one another’s arms, taking shots of vodka or gin or whatever was in the house, really. Drinking numbed the pain. Cuddling cured the sense of rejection. America might hate us, but at least we had each other.

A couple days later, I had a conversation with my friend and fellow activist Kelli Persons. “It won’t be our generation that wins marriage,” she told me sombrely. “We may see it in our lifetimes, but it’ll be our grandkids who get it done.”

I agreed. It was a stark juxtaposition to the jubilation I felt when the Massachussets Supreme Judical Court ruled in favour of equality the year before. In November 2003 I was a senior at Leslie County High School, deep in the East Kentucky coal fields. My life was a daily crucible of homophobia, with slurs so violent I still find it hard to believe I made it out unscathed. As a teenager whose only exposure to gay people had been Jack McPhee on Dawson’s Creek, the Massachussets ruling was a complete shock. I had no idea that there was a place in my own country where I was actually viewed as equal before the law.

I decided I had to move there. I applied to colleges there. I got accepted to one.

But fate had different plans, and I ended up at WKU, where on election night 2004, I felt the full weight of bigotry and oppression land upon me like a giant homophobic anvil.

I spent the remainder of my college career fighting for LGBT equality. When the university closed the Outlet, our LGBT resource centre, I pressured the university to reopen and rehouse it, a fight I’m still waging as an alumnus. I became the president of our gay/straight alliance. I helped form a statewide network of LGBT students pushing for fairness in our schools. I spoke at a rally when one of those students was expelled from his university for being gay. I became a vocal supporter of domestic partner benefits for university employees. I cried when, in 2010, that came to pass.

Never did I fathom that five short years a Supreme Court decision would render that whole fight irrelevant. I could only dream as big as health insurance. Never did I imagine our relationships would be granted true equality in this country. Not so soon. Not before I turned 30.

Yet here we are. Something I’ve dreamt of, worked towards, and fought for since I was a teenager is finally a reality. And it feels fucking great. True, I’m not getting married. I’m not engaged. Hell, I’m not even seeing anyone. My most committed relationship is with bourbon. But that doesn’t matter.

You see, this day means something to every gay, lesbian, and bisexual American, regardless of whether or not they’re rushing to the alter. Today, the Supreme Court of the United States of America affirmed to the masses what I have known all along—that I am equal. They didn’t give us the right to marry; they acknowledged that it’s been there from the beginning. I already knew that. Today they pointed it out to the rest of you.

The first time you feel as though you are finally an equal citizen of these United States is a feeling I can’t really describe to anyone who isn’t also experiencing (or hasn’t in the past experienced) such euphoria. There are no words. But there are actions, which may illustrate what it’s like. Here are just a few things I’ve done today:

  • Ran into my office screaming “gay marriage!”
  • Blasted “Born this Way” through half the city
  • Had a mimosa
  • Had another one, bought for me by the straight guys at the bar I always go to cos EQUALITY
  • Cleaned my apartment
  • Did laundry so I’d have a REALLY cute outfit to wear to the gay bars tonight
  • Decided that outfit made me look fat and chose another one
  • Broken down in tears at the convenient store
  • Danced to “Same Love” in my back yard and gave no fucks
  • Shouted “Glory to God!” as I read the decision
  • Chosen a wedding venue (my college campus)
  • Sorta proposed to a British guy
  • Broken down in tears in my car, making it difficult to parallel park
  • Wished my cousin happy birthday
  • Lifted a glass to Harvey Milk, Bayard Rustin, and Ellen Degeneres
  • Cried again

There is still work to be done, I know. We can still be fired for being ourselves in 29 states. My trans siblings, especially my trans siblings of colour, are being murdered in our streets. Kids are still being sent to conversion therapy. “Faggot,” “dyke,” and “gay” are still deployed as insults in high schools throughout the country. And somewhere, right now, while I’m typing this and celebrating, an LGBT child is begging for food or sleeping on the streets. We’ve got a long way to go.

But for today, for just one glorious day, I am focusing on the fact that for once we’ve gotten it right. For once, this country has acknowledged that all men and women, even gay men and women, are created equal. That for once my dignity as not only an American, but a person, has been federally and officially and finally recognised.

Today, as we prepare to celebrate Pride, I am proud. Proud to be gay. Proud to be an American. Proud to be finally, truly, and irrefutably equal.

The Curious American: Live from London

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You lot really are amazing. What started off as, if I’m being honest, a seemingly naff suggestion by Twitter followers in February has come to fruition. Because of you. I’m sat in London (well, Walthamstow) ahead of the general election, ready to report and analyse my heart out for the next two weeks.

When we started the GoFundMe campaign, the idea was simple: use the ingenious format developed by Humans of New York to cover the British general election. Ask everyday Londoners, and maybe people elsewhere in the country too, what they think in both the run up to and the fallout from 7 May. What is their biggest concern? What do they hope changes? What can Westminster politicians do to improve their lives?

This is still going to happen. But I would like to, on occasion, take it a step further. Instead of just posting a few sentences “in their own words,” with a few people (whom I’ve yet to meet, mind!), I’d like to dig deeper and put their particular lives in the broader context of politics and policy. What do the policies of these parties, and the likely coalition government—whatever that looks like—mean for this person? This is a question I want to ask. Additionally, I’ll offer some of my standard fare, and possibly even return to a cheeky post or two.

While here I’m going to be focusing mainly on The Curious American. I don’t plan on pitching a whole lot anywhere else. Full editorial control is one of the nicest things about having my own platform. It means I can publish things when I want, and given the context, that is more important than ever. So watch this space, because it’s going to be more active than ever before.

And again, that’s all down to you. You all have given me this opportunity. You’ve shown that you believe in me and my work, and that means more than I can ever express. I hope I do you proud.

Before I go to Asda to buy a hair dryer, because daft me left mine in Chicago, there are three people I want to thank in particularly. They have been the ones who truly made this a possibility. Unfortunately, they’ve also made it clear that they wish to remain anonymous. So all I’m going to say is that I am truly humbled by how generous and kind you were, especially since I know you’re sacrificing so much, and not just financially, so that I can pursue my dreams. I am very fortunate to know all three of you.

Everyone else, if you still want to give, I could still use the money. I’m on a shoestring budget here, enough to get around London but that’s about it. I’d love to be able to take a couple day trips, or to even just not have to worry about whether I’m spending too much while I’m out in the field. So there’s still time to get a nice little paragraph like the one before! (And, you know, to help continue to make my reporting a reality.)

I also want to open this up to suggestions. Anything you’d like to see me write about, talk about, or ask about? What kind of content do you want while I’m in London? Maybe something that doesn’t have anything to do with British politics, even. You lot made this happen, so for the next two weeks you lot are driving content. Let me know in the comments below!

x. Skylar

Fuck 2014. Let’s Raise a Glass to 2015!

Me, in the autumn of 2014

Me, in the autumn of 2014

My mate Jim tweeted about a tradition he has of opening the door to show the old year out and show the new year in. I like this.

I’m happy to see the back of 2014, and excited to meet 2015.

Look, this year fucking sucked. I entered it depressed, was sacked from a job five days in, and pretty much wallowed in misery for the first 10 months. It’s the year I gained 50 pounds, and losing it has been a struggle. It’s the year my brother deployed to Afghanistan. My adopted Chicago mum was diagnosed with cancer, after my adopted Chicago dad had to have emergency surgery on their holiday in Hawaii. It’s also the year I didn’t have sex. Not once. Nope. Never.

But this is also the year I published my first national piece in America. It’s the year I got a free car. And a free trip to London. And it’s the year I started working with an editor who not only gets me, but really seems to believe in me. It’s the year I met the Doctor and took off in the TARDIS, the year one of my best friends married her soulmate, and the year I attended my first NLGJA conference. It’s the year I reconnected with my family, met 4 of my nieces and nephews. It’s the year I met booberry.

I just gotta get this out though. This year has been hell. The Columnist folded, unexpected and unannounced, even to its writers. MB was a horrible fit for me, and completely unfairly sacked me. Starbucks is, quite possibly, the worst job I’ve had since I was 18 and worked at our campus “sports bar” (use that term loosely, cos they didn’t serve alcohol). And at the end, my best friend moved away. This year was bloody miserable.

But I’m optimistic. I’m looking forward to 2015. I’m starting it off right. I have an essay about to be published at a major US site, and I’ve got a regular contributing gig to a UK magazine I’m going to start writing for. I’m going back to London in February, and I’m hoping that booberry and I can figure out something (if he wants to; I’m not convinced he does). And I’ve got a good day job that, while it’s not my passion, I like. My boss is awesome. The people I work with are awesome. I can’t complain.

My family is all in good health. My friends are so incredibly supportive. My life is good.

I’m spending New Year’s Eve getting drunk by myself in my apartment, but that’s my choice. It seemed fitting. I needed to decompress from the year. I needed to reflect. I needed to process everything that’s happened.

And I have. And it’s done.

2014, fuck you. 2015, kiss me.

#ThatAwkwardMoment when you get your big break, then leave the country

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Dreams do come true. In case you missed it, I published my first piece at The Advocate last week. When I was in high school, I used to sneak and read it at Barnes and Noble every time I visited my parents in Ohio. Never in a million years did I think I would have a byline on their site. To be honest, it’s still pretty surreal, but it feels fucking great.

It’s so funny, because when I started blogging again last month, I spent quite a bit of time lamenting the fact that I kept pitching and not hearing back. And then, one drunken election night, I tweet to the managing editor that I have a pitch, and she says to e-mail it over. Bam, there you go, first piece. I suppose this is evidence that if you just whinge and moan enough, the universe finally gets tired of hearing your bullshit and throws you a bone?

Haha, I kid. Look, I’m over the moon thrilled to have been allowed to write for The Advocate. It’s exactly the confidence boost I needed. In fact, I just finished another piece tonight that I’ve pitched to another high-profile site. I’ve got a couple more that I’m going to be working on in the coming days. I’m a guest lecturer at Triton College on Wednesday, where I’ll be talking about gender norms in same-sex relationships. I’m very excited for that.

But perhaps the most exciting thing happening to me this week is that I’m returning to my beloved London. I fly out on Friday, and I’m there for 8 glorious nights. What am I going to do? Not go to that Starbucks between Embankment and Charing Cross to see if Danny, the cute barista, still works there. Nope. That’s not happening.

Okay it might. It’s on my way to the National Portrait Gallery and it’s going to be chilly so I will need a coffee. Don’t judge me.

Honestly I’ve no idea what I’m going to do whilst back in the motherland. My mate Nick is making a Thanksgiving feast on Thursday, which coincidentally is the same day I’ve applied to be in the Question Time audience. So that’s one day booked. As for the other seven? No clue. I plan on doing some writing; I know a lovely coffeehouse in South Kensington I may squat at, but beyond that…?

I know, I know, I should try to take some meetings. And I’m going to put word out on Twitter that I’m there, and if any journalists or, more importantly, editors want to meet up for a coffee or a drink, I’m game. But I don’t want to just start tweeting at writers who follow me and asking them out to brunch. That seems intimidating, completely unprofessional, and a bit bonkers. “Hi, perfect stranger who sometimes reads my work, would you like to meet up with a totally-not-a-serial-killer stranger from the internet?”

Not a good look.

So we’ll see. Frankly, I’m not established enough yet to even have the clout to ask for and expect to receive a meeting with the likes of (NAMES REDACTED FOR FUTURE CAREER PROSPECTS). That’s why I’m not putting a lot of pressure on myself to network and find a job and make my dreams come true overnight. I’m a small fish going to a very, very big pond, and I’m going to just keep a low profile, look at some paintings of dead kings, and get drunk at a gay pub. Maybe make out with that guy in Kensington Gardens again. That was hot. There’s also an economist I’m looking forward to seeing again. Fingers crossed.

I don’t want to make it seem like I’m not super excited, because I am, or that my ambition is waning, because clearly it isn’t. But there’s some freedom in letting go. As I wrote about last month, the constant pressure to produce, perform, and skyrocket to the top took the joy out of writing. I’m rediscovering why I love this medium, especially online commentary and analysis, and so I’m just taking it day by day. I’m being proactive where I can, but otherwise, I’m enjoying living the life of a burgeoning pundit who just published his first piece at a major news outlet.

The only three things I do know with any certainty is that when I land, I’m going to be exhausted, but empowered by the adrenaline rush I always get when I’m back on British soil. I know that I’m about to see how the British interpret one of America’s most sacred traditions, Thanksgiving dinner. And I know that when it’s time to leave, I’ll once again bawl like a baby.

Everything else is being left up to chance. But considering how well this month has gone so far, I’m optimistic. Who knows? Maybe I won’t get a column with GayTimes, but maybe my quest for prince charming, or even better, the perfect pint, will come to an end.

I don’t know why I love Britain. But don’t call me an Anglophile.

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The most frequent question I’m posed, bar none, is “why Britain?” I get asked by British acquaintances who don’t understand why I love their country so much, and I get asked by Americans who can’t understand why I don’t love ours more. Britain’s broken, so I’m told, and who would want to leave the sunny states? They have a queen, I’m reminded, and bad teeth and even worse food. (Hey, I never said Americans were kind, or fair, or informed.)

Of course, I recognise the problems facing Britain. And of course I see great things in America. I’ve written about both. But the fact is I could never work for the CIA because I’m on record as saying “she is my Queen, and I’d gladly die for her.” More than once. On the same 4th of July.

To those of my friends stateside, this is my defining quirk. I’m the man who draped himself in the St George’s cross when England faced the USA in the 2010 World Cup. In university, I gave a speech defending the position of the Crown and decrying the Declaration of Independence as a treasonous document. I couldn’t sing past the second verse of “America, the Beautiful,” but by God I’ll sing through my sobs when “I Vow to Thee, My Country” plays.

For me, which country that is has always been clear. I can offer, at random, a litany of things I admire about the Brits-fair play, sturdy resolve, Jack Wills. But I have no explanation or understanding of how I developed a fascination with the UK as a child, or when that grew into a passion which has long since evolved into a full-blown obsession. Moving to Britain is, frankly, the only thing I care about, and I can’t even tell you why.

I’m not alone. There are countless Americans who, like myself, love the history, the culture and the landscapes of the British isles. We watch British telly, listen to British music, and read British books. We’re called Anglophiles, and we’re aplenty.

I’ve always found that term problematic, though, and have never felt it aptly described me. To begin with, it’s hopelessly restrictive. Anglo means English, but it leaves out the rest of the United Kingdom, which I love with just as much ferocity (except during the Six Nations Championship). And it’s not a pretty word. Anglophile. Ang-lo-file. It sounds like a tool my granddad would use to whittle away at a statue of Charles Townshend. The abstract noun, Anglophilia, is even worse, suggesting we somehow get our jollies from a phone box or Nigel Farage.

Yet many Anglophiles do fetishise the UK. Having read Jane Austen or the Brontë sisters as children, they fell in love with yesteryear. They see cobblestone streets and high tea and bowler hats. Don’t get me wrong, these are lovely aspects of British life, but they all emphasise the myth of Merry England, a utopian fantasy that never existed.

For the vast majority of them, their love stops there. They don’t recognise that the country gentry in Emma wouldn’t have associated with their sort, even if they did talk to Harriet. They don’t see that the class stratification presented in Downton Abbey is still very much a live and quite visible at the Lord Mayor’s banquet. They’ve never heard of Enoch Powell or Nick Griffin. To them, Stephen Lawrence is an adorable child star, not a murdered teen.

They long for a stereotype or a fiction, and while that means they fail to see the bad, it also means that they erase the reality of the millions of workaday Britons. Its these people whom I most admire, and whom enrich my love for their country.

This is why I’ve always shirked the label. Britain isn’t a fairytale, and British people don’t all live happily ever after. Sure, it’s glamorous; nobody does pomp and circumstance better than the Brits. But it’s also gritty and grimy, complex and diverse. Its history is proud, and I believe its future is bright, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been moral failings, and that there aren’t any now. As the advert for the BBC 2 comedy says, Hebburn is a place on earth. Heaven, however, isn’t.

Still, I am unseemly patriotic, especially considering my only claim to “Britishness” is a smattering of ancestors buried in the United States before there was a United States. I’ve dedicated my life to writing about Britain, extolling its strengths and promise while critiquing its shortcomings. I do this because I love that country, because I want to see it prosper and grow. I do it because I want, more than anything, to contribute to its success. It’s why I get up in the morning, and it’s what I dream of at night.

I certainly don’t expect anyone else to understand when I myself am at a loss. But if I were forced to give an answer, to reach into the deepest part of my soul and tell you why I love Britain, I imagine that answer would be simple and clichéd.

Why Britain? Because it’s great.