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Two words affirm most every sacred oath.

I do.Two Grooms 2 do

From the Presidential oath of office, to the seal of judicial testimony and, of course, that most joyous oath, dearest to us all, marriage.  More than any other, those two words mark a beginning.

After taking way-too-long to state the obvious, on June 28, 2013, the judicial system envisioned by our founding fathers upheld the constitutional rights of all Americans.  Now, all Americans (or at least all the ones in California and in a few other constitutionally adherent states) have the right to marry.  What’s more, our Federal government can no longer actively discriminate against us and we will be treated a bit more like citizens in our own country.

The cynical will stir up a lot of other nonsense, encouraging bigots to believe that it is somehow the majority’s right to vote away the inalienable rights guaranteed to us all.  Their premise is too stupid even to say out loud and only the most ignorant among us will fall for it.  But the cynics will use that ignorance as means to rip off the gullible and get out the bigot vote.

For now though, there is a little more equality in California and across America and a lot less risk to all Californians and Americans that their civil rights might be voted away.

Now what?

We’ve been fighting for the right, but now we have arrived at a new and much scarier place – marriage.

I haven’t even had a date in I’m not sure how long so marriage isn’t on my horizon.  I’m just glad that I have greater recognition as an actual citizen in this country.  With DOMA gone, I feel like I finally turned 21 and I actually have real-full,-grown-up-American-rights, at least within the borders of the state where I’m lucky enough to live.  So, we’ve gained a bit more recognition and with growing support, little by little, things are actually getting better.

Even so, there’s this new beginning.  We’ve spent a lot of time fighting for the right to marry.  Now that we’re here, I wonder if we’ve paused to consider what having that right actually means.

With a 50% failure rate among our straight brothers and sisters, who have had thousands of years to work it out, I’m not sure anyone among the newly enfranchised has really paused to reflect on the simple but profound oath that underlies this right and institution.

I can write my own vows.  I can take the old fashioned ones prescribed by some faith.  Or I can simply agree to comply with those the state administers.  Whatever the vows, every “I do” comes down to the same thing:

“I promise it’s you and me forever, no matter what. Period.  I do.”

Golly.

That’s huge.  And a little terrifying.  I’m not saying I don’t want it, but from the safety of the sidelines I can say, hats off.  That is a lot.  I think it’s easy to get lost in the ceremony and the drama and the celebration and hard to really grasp the scope of the commitment that marriage asks of us, gay or straight.

We’ve been so busy arguing for the right, we don’t even know what we’re going to do about the whole last name thing.  Will we all be hyphenates? Will we keep our names? If we give up our names, whose do we take? What about the children’s last names? If it’s hyphenates, the exponential potential for last names offers a whole new challenge.  If hyphenate child marries hyphenate child, then do they have four last names? And their children? That’s eight last names in two generations.

Is it “I now pronounce you husband and husband” or “wife and wife” or just “married?” How do we refer to our spouse? Will we just keep husband and wife? Or will there be new words for it?

But beyond the norms of the social construct, how the hell do you live up to that promise?

It has always been my belief that Gianni Versace would still be alive today if there had been gay marriage back then.  My reasoning goes something like: if Andrew’s “husband” had been faced with giving up half of all his income to ditch Andrew and move on to a newer model, Andrew would still be living in the beach house they shared — one way or the other — and Gianni would still be designing loud clothing and opera sets.

So, with all my worldly goods I thee endow.  Ready for that?

How about in sickness and in health?

What about when the wagon of love breaks under the baggage of life? The romance is fun, the heat of passion is exciting and the wedding is beautiful.  Most of life, though, is the groceries and the dishes and the bills and the flu.  My parents are still together 125 years later and it’s not because everyday has been filled with sunshine and roses.  There have been times when we kids thought they should call it quits.  But they’re still there.

Staying, when you’d rather go, is at the essence of the commitment of marriage.  If our straight brethren and sisteren can only manage it less than half the time even with every social convention and institution on the planet built and conceived to support and encourage their bond, I wonder – and with more than a little awe — at how we will do at this.

Without the right, gay people have not had the opportunity to mature as a society.  Our mating practices and rituals are stunted, juvenile and unevolved.

I look forward to the collapse of the extensive second-class conventions peculiar to our furtive and fearful sexuality.  Imagine an end to our misplaced value on youth.  What about the jettisoning of the possibility of a third to keep it interesting? What if we scrapped our mistrust and ostracism of the single among us by those already paired?  Think of us overcoming our lack of respect for the commitments of others and bringing an end to the destructive open season on other people’s partners.  Envision us maturing past the disregard for our elders and coming to know and possibly even revere our own history and heritage.

I can’t wait to see what happens when being gay is no longer one long competition for attention in a dark, smelly bar.  I long for the possibility of the new and stronger community that can grow up around this fearsome commitment we are preparing to make to each other; that we have fought for the right to make to each other.

We have asked for and been given equal rights, but now we must accept equal responsibility.

Do I think it will be easy? With a 50% failure rate, apparently not.

Do I think we’re up to it?

I do.

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A special holiday gift from http://www.Eric Shaw Quinn.com and all the residents of Greater Christmasville.

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The Colosseum and me from the porch of Hadrian's Temple to Venus.

My list of what I want to see in Rome is now much longer than it was before I arrived.

It was impossible for me to fully realize Rome in absentia in much the same way I could not have understood the American desert southwest before regarding it face to face.  I had seen pictures and Roadrunner cartoons featuring the buttes and canyons of the big square US states.  But not until I stood flatfooted on the high desert plain and saw mountain ranges hundreds and hundreds of miles away as clearly as houses across the street, could I begin to comprehend the vastness and the immense privacy of that awesomely desolate place.

So too was my experience of Rome.

I have seen pictures and paintings of the Coliseum so often in my life that, like Devil’s Tower to the characters in Close Encounters, I could probably have reproduced il Colosseo in some detail before I ever actually climbed into the stands of that most storied stadium.  But, as I made my way onto the Palatine – the hill on which the city began – I found myself experiencing the oddly familiar surroundings of this eternally famous place in a wholly unexpected way.

It is inexplicable to me that such a wonder as Rome could have sprung up in a time when most people were living under hides stretched over sticks.  I can see how those who are so disposed, could easily make a case for the intervention of some extraterrestrial or interdimensional  intelligence intervening to alter the course of humankind forever by creating the anomaly that is Rome.  In context, the achievement, is as alien and unexpected as such an outlandish explanation might suggest.

Dazed, I wandered through rubble still so monumental in its ruin as to impress and amaze a man who had actually flown across the world in less than a day for a glimpse.

The ruins of the Roman Forum still nicer than many of the neighborhoods where I've lived.

My day on the Palatine and in the Forum was too long without food or water.  Unlike most of Rome, there was not a cafe on every corner.  In these places of ancient sanctuary the very stones are accorded protected and endangered status  and are unblemished by Cafe Romulus or any such blasphemy.  So, by the time we’d made our way through Severus’ palace, Domitian’s Stadium, Augustus’ living room, Trajan’s Market, Saturn’s temple and the Basilica of Constantine, I was in a kind of dehydrated, creatively hallucinatory state.  Since Xanadu had already been written – the poem not the musical – I turned my unfettered thoughts to the improbability of the city around me.

We took refuge at a cafe in the Piazza Novona.   I sat sipping limone te and contemplating the plashing waters of the Fontana dei Quatro Fiumi– calling it the Fountain of Four Rivers is like singing Puccini in English, just not the same in translation somehow.

The Fontana dei Quatro Fiumi and company in the Piazza Navona.

Hundreds milled about me.  Some idiot woman was desecrating the site singing whiney-American-lady-pop-music.  I tried to avoid eye contact with any of a roaming band of mimes for fear they would endeavor to “entertain” me.  I wondered at the place.  I tried to imagine the cheering multitudes and the thundering hooves of the horses orbiting the circus of the hippodrome that had once stood where I now sat dipping indescribably good bread into drinkably fresh olive oil.

Suddenly, I saw it.

I understood Rome.  Perhaps it was just that it was nearly five in the evening and I had yet to have lunch.  Or maybe it was a little belated jet lag.  Possibly it was just a little too much science fantasy  and SimCity over the years.  But I don’t think so.

Rome is a trap for the smartest animals in the world.

I hate to use the world trap because it sounds so negative, but there it is.  Unlike the more innocent creatures of the wilderness, a cage or a pit wouldn’t hold us for long.  Many simpler creatures in fact simply stay, never thinking to leave.  But people are tricky.  You have to make them want to say, fight to stay, work to stay.

This bit of Serverus' Palace plumbing was around 200 years old when Christ was born -- I was much younger then, too.

First, you have to get them there.  Well, they say all roads lead to Rome, but that’s not quite true.  The fact was all the roads started in Rome, so they had the effect of leading there, but really served as much as an enticement as mere transportation.  The roads of Rome were among the greatest, if not the greatest, technological achievement of their day.  They were the equivalent of today’s telecommunication in their effect on the world they connected for the first time.  Christianity owes as much to Roman roads and the common language of Greek as to the words of Jesus himself.  Without the Greek lingua franca and Roman roads to carry those words, Christianity might be a small middle eastern Jewish sect.

Okay, so now the Roman roads have led the “prey” into the city.  How do they keep them there?

This is where the 40 ft statue of Constantine stood in 308 AD and where I stood in April 2011 A

Like any seduction, Rome is at once attractive and illusive.   For thousands of years there’s been so much to see and to do in Rome, but it has been and remains, very hard to stay.  So our trap draws people in, “captivates” them and then makes remaining in the delicious snare a personal achievement that one might work a lifetime to maintain.

That’s a pretty brilliant trap.

The Pyramids are great – new and old world.  The Parthenon and its environs are the seat of philosophy and forms of governance that we are still debating and perfecting without, as yet, much improving – though women are allowed to vote now and we have dispensed with the whole hideous slavery aspect of ancient democracy.  But no place represents the same kind of achievement as that of Rome.  There are cities/traps modeled after it, but there’s no debate about the source of their form.  We’re still building coliseums and filling them with gladiators.  Many new roads surround us.  Our prey arrive in cars and ships and planes.  People pour in and then work themselves literally to death in order, not only to stay but, to pay for the care and maintenance of the trap.

I don’t think that it was aliens or that the Roman’s ever thought about the building of Rome in such terms, but the effect is undeniable.

I try to imagine the world then — not as myself, who will not walk on the grass in front of my own house or go outside if it can be avoided, but — as a noble savage.  It was a green and abundant world unspoiled by the civilization for which Rome is the ultimate blueprint.  My savage self might spend his days wondering through this simple world, tasked only with my survival, plucking olives from the trees, making fires for warmth and cooking, living out a brief but uncomplicated life as free as the birds of the air or the other creatures in the forest.  Or I could go to this violent, foul smelling crowded heap of stones and waste called Rome.  There I could fight and claw for enough shiny metal to buy the very fruits and flesh I might have plucked or hunted for myself for free so that I might live out my short and dark life surrounded by and in the company and close proximity of the most vicious and dangerous creatures on the planet.

All that's left of 40 ft Constantine and a lot of extra me -- thanks pasta!!

Intended or not, that’s a pretty awesome, impressive and fearsome achievement.

And then Cafe Navona brought my lunch.  A perfect, pizza caprese, a bottle of still water and te caldo and I was ensnared, as content and as captivated as the other simple savages who’d come before me, charmed by the most beautiful and successful trap in the world.

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Shame

Basic cable wannbe Colton Haynes kissed a boy and tried to “Big-Homophobic-Brother” the evidence. Ashton Kutcher made out with Sean William Scott in a movie and will be making 750K an episode on 2 1/2 Men this fall. Who’s sorry now?

Never do anything you wouldn’t want to read about on the front page of the newspaper.  Admittedly, today the front page of a newspaper might be a good place to keep a secret, but you get the idea.  Those are words that I try to live by.

I don’t mean live your life like you’re in a PTA meeting or on the Mouseketeer’s Club or as a living saint.

I mean if my life was being reported in the paper or on-line or in a continuous series of YouTube posts, I wouldn’t alter my behavior to suit others.  I try to suit myself.  If I want to send out pictures of my junk on Twitter or sleep with my secretary or sell senate seats in Illinois, it only needs to be okay with me.  If I’d be ashamed for other people to find out about what I’m up to, then I shouldn’t be doing it.  But if I’m gonna do it, I own it.

No one can gossip about my behavior if I’m okay with it –Warts-and-Sunday-School – all of it.  It’s not gossip if it’s true.  So, if someone’s making stuff up about me or hacking my Twitter account to make me look bad, then that’s on them and I can deny it with confidence.  But if I’m sending dirty pictures of myself to people I met online and people find out and post it on their blog, we’ll then I’d best state proudly and in a good loud voice:  “And damn fine pictures they are.”

Insofar as I can tell, the only thing Representative Weiner’s has done that concerns anyone other than Mrs. Weiner is that he lied about the pictures when he got caught.  If he has holy hell to pay for that with his wife, that’s between them.

I feel the same way about that Senator who was screwing his married staffer, or that idiot South Carolina Governor or that guy in the airport bathroom stall or President Clinton.  It’s none of my business.  Usually they only get into trouble when they try to cover it up.

I guess it all comes down to that most useless of all human emotions – Shame.  I can’t think of a single purpose for this one.  A little guilt helps keep me on the right road, but being ashamed of my choices in life? That means I’m more concerned with what you think than how I feel.  That just seems a complete waste to me.  Especially if I’m feeling ashamed of what people only pretend to think.

It is not possible, in this age of E-Harmony and Girls Gone Wild, for us to continue to pretend to this ridiculous Victorian-at-best shock, horror and moral-blush-inducing-alarm.  I’d be willing to wager that the majority of men out there have or have had a picture of their junk on their phone and/or hard drives in the process of dating, adolescence and simply being male.  There is just too much online hooking up going on for that not to be true.  Sex is our most powerful and most sustaining drive and we will apply whatever technological means at hand in its pursuit.  I’d also plunk down good money on a bet that the second movie ever made was porn.  Maybe it was just a kiss or a woman’s ankle but, in context, still porn.

What’s more, our continued pretense around the penis seems to me to a form of sexism that surely we can begin to grow past.  Boobs are EVERYWHERE.  We are inundated with this most visible of the female sexual arsenal and, with the rather inexplicable exception of Janet Jackson’s left nipple, impervious to literally having boobs thrust in our face.

There is an entire industry built around the design and manufacture of foundation garments that make breasts more visible, noticeable and unavoidable.  I don’t think that’s a good or a bad thing, but it is an undeniable fact.  Imagine garments that made the penis stick straight out and pants cut so low that you could see all but the tip.  I think it would be incredibly uncomfortable, but then I’ve no idea how it feels to walk around with your boobs half-exposed and pointing the way.  We are surrounded by women’s breasts all the time yet we have no reaction.  But, apparently, even a glimpse of penis through thick, decidedly-unsexy-gray-underpants turns us into a pack of grade school simps.  By this standard, the Sears Catalog, if it still exists, is more shocking than Representative Weiner’s pictorial but there has literally been nothing else on the news for going on two weeks!!

My point is this I think.  We’re only pretending to be shocked.  No one cares, save a very few very silly, probably very old people.  MoveOn.org was originally founded to get the House and Senate to GET OVER and MOVE ON from Bill Clinton’s cigar interlude with that horrid little opportunist who saved her dress for the DNA.

The number of under-and-unemployed in this country is holding around 25% and all we can talk about is how you can kind of see this representative’s junk through his underpants? Really?

But more than that, we have got to stop telling public figures and particularly politicians that they should lie to us.  We’re a big, grown up country now and we need to start acting like one.

When a football player sends pictures of his erection to some woman, we should be thankful that he’s not accused of raping her after she came up to his room drunk at two in the morning.  If some Freshman Republican House of Representatives guy is all excited about what he and his new trainer have done with his chest and he posts it on Craig’s List, we should turn the photo over to Mrs. Freshman Republican and close the door.  That way, when some little hottie gets a gig on the basic cable channel that brought us Gay-Porn-Star-VJ Simon Rex and the ambi-sexual bed hopping of The Real World he might not feel so much shame over an old picture taken of him kissing some boy for a magazine that he hires lawyers to help him pretend it didn’t happen by claiming it was porn.  (Winner Worst Defense EVER!!)

In fact, it might even be possible that when horrible old Newt tells the truth about Paul Ryan’s death-to-grandma-coupon-healthcare he can actually scrape together enough character to own his own words.

I think we live in an age of cynicism where politicians pretend that we can skip paying taxes and maintain the highest standard of living in world, closet cases pretend they’re the Family Research Council and racists pretend that it’s the about the birth certificate.  We don’t believe any of it, but we pretend we do, because we’re just as ashamed of what we really think as they are.  Shame, it would seem, leads us to that still more Victorian practice: hypocrisy.

So, in the end, the building is on fire and we’re all too embarrassed to admit that we smell smoke?  Now that’s a shame.

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Il Mio Ritorno*

Gentle readers,

I hope you can forgive my long silence.  I returned from Italy a month ago today and have yet to write a word aside from the occasional Facebook bleat.

I came back deliciously exhausted by three weeks filled with excessive quantities of inexcusably delicious food,  heart stopping scenery, beautiful Italians and hideous tourists.  Few of the clothes I’d packed still fit, I was so tired I could not hold my head up and I could not have been more pleased with how I got my extensive blisters.  To my dismay, so far the most lasting memory of this most amazing trip has been more than a little disconcerting.

For the past thirty days, I have suffered the oddest malady.  On the first leg of my return flight home, as my flight from Venice descended to land at Heathrow, my ears “pressurized.”  It was not my first flight so I wasn’t unaccustomed to the uncomfortable sensation, though this seemed especially painful.  We hung at the awkward altitude for a bit as we waited to be cleared, so it was also a bit more protracted than usual, but still.  My left ear went back to normal as we landed but not the right one.

It’s been thirty days.

I’ve been through doctors, anti-inflammatories, endless anti-histamines, even steroids and no change.  Thursday, another specialist and I hope . . . but we’ll see.

My point, dear readers is to let you know I haven’t forgotten you.

I have however been hopped up on allergy pills, roided into a stupor, sleeping at odd times and fitfully even then.  My protracted case of the mini-bends has put half my world on mute and given a mild case of inner ear disorientation, but that’s not the worst of it.  There has been a bad horror movie sound track – all heart beats and breathing (mine) – echoing in my head since London THIRTY DAYS AGO!

You know I almost never use exclamation points so you can tell just how strung out I am.

Meanwhile, every time I sit down to write, it’s not bad enough I’m hopped up on some med or other, I feel as though I’m appearing in a bad version of the Tell Tale Heart.

But I can bear my isolation no longer.

It is time to write about Italy, at least.  I can wait no longer (and the pictures are too good not to share).  So I’ll see how it goes.  If you don’t hear from me for a while, you’ll know there’s Raven, perched on the scalp of some Italian souvenir bust or other, croaking at me in triumph “Nevermore.”

On the plus side, unless Thursdays’ specialist is a miracle worker, I probably won’t hear him.

* This could possibly mean “My Return” but don’t take my word for it.

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It’s my birthday!

I’m also happy.  I love my birthday.  It’s the day that makes all my other great days possible.

I feel fortunate in this.  I don’t find that my attitude about ageing is shared by my peers or those who, in time, will be potential peers, should they be lucky enough to attain age of any substance.

We live in a ridiculous culture that equates getting older with personal failure.  We eschew wisdom and experience in favor of the unearned physical attributes of youth.  Everyone gets to be young and cute.  It’s no trick to be 12 or 21.  Youth requires almost no effort and rarely offers more than greater elasticity and a bit more hair.

Age is the great democracy.

I am amused by the frequent age bashing of those who are both young and stupid.  I’m not saying those two attributes necessarily go together but they are all too frequently inseparable companions.  Combined, they bring on a kind of intellectual blindness and delusions of immortality that produce a  disdain of people for achieving something that should, if you aren’t a complete moron, be your life’s principle goal.  If a young person has the good fortune and the good sense required to put together a few years, they too will be old.  The only escape is death.

Our misunderstanding of media, further fuels this absurd belief that people who’ve gotten older have screwed up somehow.  Because it’s easier to sell crap to the inexperienced and uninformed, 3D movies about stapling your testicles to alligators and TV shows about high school moms and celebutards dominate the octoplexes and the airwaves.

As a result, the studios can use insubstantial digital fireworks to fill stadium seats with butts and marketers are able to sell a lot of useless crap to people who are still gullible enough to believe that said crap will make them happy, sexy, popular, attractive, etc.  The sad outcome is that we grow up believing that life and good times have passed us by if we succeed in accruing a few years and few gray hairs.

If in the future we are judged only by what is most often at the top of the charts, it will be assumed that the single most important social issues of our time revolved around our physical appearance and our mating habits.  I’m sure this isn’t a unique or even a recent cultural development. Still, as I look back in the science and history books I find almost no examples of how any individual’s sex life or physical appearance changed history or advanced culture.  Troy was a debacle, Cleopatra and Henry VIII were only practicing the statecraft of their day and Marie Currie just married her lab partner.

I say all this not from a point of superiority, but as a former young person and member in good standing of this superficial culture.

Many, many, many years ago, I too was young.

Back then, in the days of better living through chemistry, The Pill was so successful that condoms had become a sort of down market joke; the province of those too young, too poor or too rushed to get a prescription filled.  Among my people, for whom pregnancy was not at all a risk, the only prescription we ever needed for non-recreational use was the occasional penicillin booster.

We were naive and defenseless.  I was still in high school when people started to die.  They called it GRID – for Gay Related Immune Deficiency – at first.  We had no idea what caused it.  We had no idea how to prevent it.

I am alive today by the grace of two twists of fate I cursed at the time.  First, my parents could not afford to send me to the colleges in and around the big cities in the Northeast where I longed to go.  I had to attend a state college in South Carolina where being gay in the 70’s was like being Jewish in Iran.  I got to New York after my graduation in the early 80’s where I was faced with my second piece of unwanted good fortune.  I was the plain one with the good sense of humor.  Everyone wanted to be my friend but my friends all went home with Prince Charming and I went home on the train with everyone’s coats and backpacks.

Thanks to the influence of the media of the day, you had to look like Burt Reynolds or Richard Gere to be sexy.  I was pale and skinny.  I wasn’t nearly hairy or stocky enough to be desirable, so I went home alone.  It broke my heart and it saved my life.  With few exceptions, all my friends from that time in my life are dead.  They were dead before I was 30 – and before they were.

I am today that rarest of endangered species – a 52 year old gay man.

It is not lost on me that I’m lucky to be 52.  It took more grace, good fortune and just dumb luck than skill or intelligence to get here.  I don’t know how much I’ve learned along the way, but I have figured out that getting older is a privilege and an achievement.  I’m not rich or famous – yet!  I’m still single so I still get to discover what first love feels like.  But most of all, I’m alive which means everything is still possible.

I raise a toast each year on this day to my little gang at Uncle Charlie’s who didn’t get to see 30 or 40, let alone 52.  And I celebrate me today for being born and for managing to stick it this long.  Happiness, it turns out, isn’t something that arrived on my birthday, it’s how I got here.

Happy Birthday!!

 

 

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