Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Living in Remarkable Times

Here's a little essay I wrote as a man of my time, of my place. Living In Remarkable Times appears in this month's OUT magazine. No doubt my claws will be back out another day, but here I just wanted to prove I can be thoughtful.
Amazing illustration by Edward McGowan.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Hunt For The Pearl

In one of his other novels, Edmund White dawled on a description with his usual masterful languor and remarked how rendering that particular detail was unimportant, but it was simply his style, for he was only ever a writer of snapshots. And his snapshots have always been worth a thousand pictures. In his new autobiography Inside a Pearl, White, like a firing squad, pelts you with a barrage of balled up snapshots that keep coming until you simply crumple beneath their collective weight.

Exhaustively mentioning everyone he ever met or brushed up against during the years he spent in Paris, a reader would require an encyclopedia of 20th Century arts, celebrity and aristocracy (or by showing off his extraordinary memory, perhaps he just wrote it, glossary-free) to keep up with quick asides about Cocteau's lover and Marie-Helene de Rothschild when they went to the chic club, the one Margaux Hemingway used to pass out in, with Pablo Picasso's mother who, at that time, was married to the inventor of the polio vaccine.

It's all so senseless, including a one-sentence excuse to say the two words Catherine Deneuve (a name also regurgitated in PR materials for this book). If you want to know what Edmund White has to say about Catherine Deneuve, it's this: he interviewed her.

He employs his friendship with Marie-Claude (ex-wife of the man who wrote Babar the Elephant)  as a throughline, much like he did with "Maria" in his classic The Beautiful Room is Empty, but that sweet tenderness is lost in a sea of those superfluous snapshots so wantonly fired. He even seems to lose the plot, as it were, twice describing the attic where MC beavers away at her diorama boxes. For sure there is insight and information to be gleaned here, and his wry observations about French, English and American peculiarities are not just stunning but told with such assuredness that the reader has to accept them as fact.

Some highlights were the brilliant skewering of the Academie Francaise, or the frustrating way the English deplore snobbery to a fault. The unfortunate thing is, Edmund White comes off as a snob here, and his pearls are to be hunted for among all the pretentious name dropping, whereas in previous works they're tripped over constantly. I've come to love him as the humble outsider and all the while reading this one, I couldn't help but wonder if the old goat was still pathetically pining after that wannabe actor, T, who made him a slave in his far superior, elegiac 2006 autobiography, My Lives.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Bet you haven't read this kinda thing before!

MY PRISON PEN PAL -- check out my feature in this month's OUT magazine: "why I befriended a convicted sex offender and never regretted my raunchy missives from 'Randyland'." Being a highly sensitive, not usually touched upon topic, I spent a lot of time trying to get the tone right (my natural instinct is to go for glib, which was not exactly going to work here). So I hope you like it. There was a lot I didn't cover with the limited scope of such a story. I did actually meet my pen pal, was able to buy him that Denver omelet.
As I wrote about Randy's release, his "after-birth" being like a time traveler to the future -- I got to wondering how many decisions we've made that we wish we could time travel to the past and redo differently. I know there are a lot of guys who read OUT magazine in prison, and I wish them hope.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Just TRY drowning!!

Or stepping on a blue-ringed octopus, or swimming outside the flags... because guess who's North Bondi's newest lifeguard!!??
After months of training on CPR, First Aid, boards plus loads of Run-swim-runs and signals, I finally got my certificate and join the rest of my amazing squad of Bronze Medallion lifesavers! Huge thanks to our incredible and incredibly patient trainers Drew, Jodie, Rhys and Rhys! Season is over, but I start patrolling next summer... Is your faith restored in the safety of Sydney's beaches?
ceremony inside the clubhouse. Those windows look like paintings!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cyndi Lauper was so hungry she ate a squirrel.

It's no secret that I've been in thrall to Cyndi Lauper since the dawn of my worldly understanding, and I even wrote a piece for Out about being able to thank her that fortuitous time I ran into her in the Lower East Side. It seemed also fortuitous that my editor at DNA should hand me her autobiography.

I was so excited to see what influenced this girl from Queens, and the best part was reading all about her growing up, different, unlucky with men and especially unlucky with work. She was super poor, for many, many years. At one point, she was living up in Vermont and she had a boyfriend and they were so hungry that he went out in the back and shot a squirrel, which she skinned, fileted and cooked. The boyfriend had invited a taxi driver in for dinner and when he asked what kind of meat it was she lied and said it was chicken. He didn't believe her, so finally she said it was squirrel and then he didn't believe her -- so she showed him the skinned pelt in the garbage. The dinner ended abruptly.

Leading up to her fame as a musician and singer, she kept getting fired from ill-suited jobs, each one more absurd than the last and all told in her distinct bubbly voice. There doesn't seem to be any resentment or rancor throughout. At one point, Cyndi worked at a dog kennel and pound. She liked the pound dogs better because they were more loving and appreciative but, "the woman who owned the place used to like to put them to sleep (she had this weird thing going on). Whenever I would see she was coming to put one to sleep, I'd take the dog for a walk. Then she kind of got wise and killed them on my day off."

Later she worked at a sort of general store underneath the elevated subway in Queens with these old ladies during an early 80s recession when the oldies were forced back into the workforce. One of these coworkers was 80-something Minnie, heavyset and wearing all black with nurse shoes and stockings worn above the knee (Cyndi writes that she was punk and didn't know it) and Minnie was a real character who would "start out talking normally - until I kept questioning her about something she didn't feel like talking about. Then she'd say something like, "Look, you seem like a nice kid - but go fuck yourself." Another hilarious aside comes when Cyndi asked what she's doing for Christmas and old Minnie said she'd be lying naked on a bearskin rug with some milk and cookies waiting for Santa to come up her chute.

One of the main reasons behind her gay activism was her friend Gregory, who looked out for her in Manhattan before she hit it big. He was super-creative and lived with his boyfriend downstairs and bedazzled everything, "including me". He was kicked out of his home at 12 years old by his parents and then, just as she rocketed to fame, died of AIDS. Her hit True Colors was a demo Ann Murray had turned down. She writes, "True Colors was kind of a country ballad with gospel overtones. I heard the lyrics and melody and thought, If it's a kind of prayer to feel better then it should be sung like one." And so she did. She has since dedicated this healing hymn, as well as her True Colors residence for homeless GLBT youth in Harlem, to Gregory. 

Read All About It!

I wrote a huge feature on a forty year old mass murder case of Juan Corona for DNA magazine,
The Machete Murders of Sutter County. This was the very first serial killer case in the USA, and its magnitude totally swamped the small town Northern California sheriffs department which kept digging up more and more bodies in the local orchards. The case also had strange gay subplots, like the victims (mainly alcoholic day laboring "fruit tramps") buried with their pants pulled around their ankles and a defense which, pathologizing homosexuality, kept on blaming Juan's gay brother - even though he was in Mexico at the time of the murders. I spent a lot of time researching the case and haven't seen another story as up to date - and the now-demented convicted killer's recent parole-seeking confession gives it all a chilling finality.
Check it out in issue #170 -- plus my recap of the dizzying, dazzling Tropical Fruits NYE festival.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Otherwordly Future Festival

I have no idea how I let Bam talk us into the  FUTURE MUSIC FESTIVAL. Something to do with, "it's what's next Jess, got to keep up!" and even though it cost $200 and featured a ton of artists I didn't know, I like to keep up.
Sydney's Randwick Racecourse is an amazing, huge outdoor venue and there were multiple music stages with lineups throughout the hot day. What I wasn't prepared for was that what's next - was the generation. I had no idea the crowd would be so... future.
 Out of a hundred thousand millenials, with a median age of 21, we stuck out. To put it gently, they are unseasoned partiers. So at first, I wasn't feeling it. But they weren't causing trouble, everyone was having fun - and just read to see what happens next.
You've got Tinnie Tempeh on stage, and Pharrell Williams, and then comes Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and a couple songs in, they play SAME LOVE and the crowd is still going wild, thousands of millenials rocking out and singing along to an anthem about gay love I already feel like I'm on another planet, because in all my life I could never have predicted such a thing. First that there would exist a song like this at all, let alone win a Grammy, or that thousands of teenagers would be rocking out to it, singing along to it, and not pelting the stage with beer bottles.

And then it really went otherwordly. A shirtless surfer dude, maybe 19, comes up to us during Same Love and says that we're "what this is all about" and that he's "proud" of us and cut to us gay boys completely speechless. We thank him awkwardly and and then a random girl pokes me on the shoulder and asks if she can have a picture with us. It was sweet, well-intentioned if naive; it was tokenism at its finest. And I must admit I'm totally feeling this generation.
Me and Simon representing gen X
the foam dance floor

Lazy millenials resting on the dance floor!

Monday, April 07, 2014

Pee Shy

In his poignant memoir, Pee Shy, Frank Spinelli writes about an important topic so many are reluctant to talk about. He was abused by his boy scout leader as a child and what was unresolved back then he daringly confronts thirty years later and ultimately finds justice.

After confessing the abuse he suffered as an 11 year old at the hands of a boy scout leader, who was also a cop, his parents did not prosecute but let it go and pretended it never happened. Later in life, he discovered his abuser, Bill Fox, had talked a suicidal teen boy from a ledge and then adopted him and wrote a book about it, portraying himself as a hero-cop. When he discovered that Fox had also taken in fifteen other young boys, Spinelli knew he had to take action and he becomes a one-man predator catcher.

The book is a slow burner, carefully setting the stage to show how a Catholic Italian family from Staten Island became convinced that the boy scouts would make a macho man out of their son, while ignoring all the troubling signs of a storm brewing.

Full disclosure: Frank is a friend, and I knew many of the characters in the book and have known his quest for justice has been years in the making. I’m so proud that he has finally found closure, and now his catharsis will be a wake-up call, and also a great help to so many in similar circumstances.

Dr Frank Spinelli
I was able to get Frank for a quick chat about his book, which you can check out here.  

Why do you think – in the era of Sandusky (Bill Fox was such a Sandusky!) and Catholic investigations - we aren't talking about this more? 
Dr Frank Spinelli: The idea of a man having sex with a man is still something that makes people cringe. For any normal person, imagining a grown man molesting a little boy is utterly disgusting, and to think the abuser likely knew the family and the boy makes matter worse. Child molestation is such a complex issue because, unlike rape, it involves a grooming process in which the molester gets close to the child, befriends them and then abuses them. And you have to remember that in most cases, the molester was a highly regarded individual. As with Sandusky, I’m sure most people didn’t want to believe someone like him could do such a thing because then they'd have to question everyone they know who has access to children. Unfortunately, most people would rather live in a state of denial than ask those questions.

It's curious how the abuse manifests itself differently in adults. Do you still speak to Jonathan [Frank's childhood friend who was also molested]? Does he know about the book and his portrayal? 
Abuse and trauma affects people differently. There was an amazing book/film called Mysterious Skin in which two boys were abused. One remembered the event vividly and the other had a vague memory of the event. Johathan has chosen not to revisit the past. He’s asked me not to contact him so I will respect his wishes. I hope one day he’ll read my book. I doubt he will.

 Has your family read the book? Or do they still prefer to not look at it?
My sister, Josephine, and my mother read the book. My eldest sister still hasn’t “gotten around to it”. Afterwards Josephine said to me, How come you don’t hate us? My reply was, I did. For a long time I hated my family. Only after years of therapy and learning to forgive myself first, did I learn to love my family again. My mother’s reaction shocked me. I was very proud of my mother for reading my book in the first place, but she called me after she finished it and said, “Children are like seeds. You plant them and hope they grow into beautiful flowers. Sometimes a wolf comes and destroys those flowers. I’m so sorry, but I didn’t know what to do.” I no longer hate my family and it’s nice to know we’re in a better place.

Are you still pee-shy, or have nightmares?
Less so now, but when I was in the thick of it - during the hearings - I was a mess. I sometimes couldn’t pee in my own apartment. It was torture like I had some urinary warden living inside me parceling out pee time. But in all honesty, if I use a public bathroom, you can bet your bottom dollar that I’ll dart into a stall if one’s available over a urinal any day. I hate urinals. Wait hate is a strong word. I dislike urinals but I’m growing to like them more and more. Maybe one day urinals and I will be friends.  

Your parents didn’t talk to the police – Bill Fox was the police – and yet you have great respect for the police who acted on your complaint.
I have great respect for the police and the legal system. One bad cop wasn’t going to taint my view of the police. One bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch… wait, isn’t that a Michael Jackson song and wasn’t he accused of child molestation? All kidding aside, if you suspect a child is being sexually abused go to the police! Child molestation is a crime.  

Do you believe Bill Fox was remorseful? Did you see or have contact with him again after that day in court? 
No, he is a monster

Do you think pedophilia is a sexual orientation? Do you think it can be cured? 
Pedophilia is a pathological condition. I would be careful in labeling pedophilia a sexual orientation. It’s a pathological condition. We tend to use sexual orientation with regard to healthy sexual relationships.  

We have a sex offender registry for sex offenders but not a murder registry for convicted murderers. Do you think in some ways we as a society view violent crime as less horrific than sex crimes? 
That’s an interesting question, and I’m not sure I know the reason why we don’t have a murder registry. I would imagine it’s because if you’re convicted of murder you’ll likely already in jail. But it is public record.

What's your favorite response to the book so far? What is your biggest hope that it will accomplish? 
The reviews have been so great, but when readers take the time to write reviews it is so humbling. In writing this book, my hope was to give voice to all the boys Bill molested who wouldn’t come forward but who reached out to me privately and to all the survivors of child molestation. I want to say with Pee-Shy, you are not a victim. It wasn’t your fault and yes, you can find love and have a life that isn’t defined by something that happened to you when you were a child.