homophobia


I’ve been working with the University of Oregon Men’s Center since last spring, helping out with their research projects. During one of our last meetings, a couple MBA students pitched us the idea of growing mustaches for “Movember” (Mustache + November) as a way to increase awareness of prostate cancer. We went for it, so I’m six days into a mustache. (If you want to see the final product, read at least the last paragraph in this post.)

Here are the “Rules for Participants” from the Movember website:

1) On Shadowe’en (October 31st), the complete moustache region, including the entire upper lip and the handlebar zones, must be completely shaved.

2) For the entire duration of Movember (Movember 1st – 35th inclusive), no hair shall be allowed to grow in the goatee zone – being any facial area below the bottom lip.

3) There is to be no joining of the moustache to sideburns.

4) Failure to conform to all of these rules may, at the discretion of the official Movember Committee, result in instant blacklisting and may void invitation to the end of MOnth festivities (this year lip-marked for Movember 35th!)

5) Movember Committee accepts no responsibility for lost jobs, rashes, food/beer encrustments or any other such mishaps caused to the wearer (or his partner) of a Movember Moustache. You grew it yourself.

So I’m growing a mustache and it’s a little terrifying. I think I look silly. I wonder if my clients will be able to take me seriously. And this is the first time that I’ve resented my therapist costume. In my street clothes I can (maybe) pass as a moderately hip guy who’s growing a mustache because it’s silly. In my therapist costume–khakis, button-up shirt–I look like nothing but an overly earnest businessman who is clueless about the fashion implications of a mustache. I squirm about it.

It’s also poking me in the homophobia, much like taking ballet did last year. My mustache reminds me a lot more of Freddy Mercury than one of the Beatles. I’m getting over that, though, by watching footage of Queen on Youtube. Freddy Mercury was an incredible rocker.

And anyways I like to push myself in these ways, bust my ego a little, uncover and deal with lingering homophobia, and support a good cause.

Prostate cancer has an amazingly low profile, considering that it’s more common in men than breast cancer is in women. One in six men in the US get it and it kills 30,000 of us a year–more than every other kind except lung cancer. The prostate cancer rates are so high in the elderly that it looks like pretty much every man would get it if they lived long enough. It doesn’t tend to produce symptoms for a long time after it starts growing, so it’s important to get checked after you hit 40. Yes, unfortunately this involves a “digital rectal examination”–a finger in the butt that could save your life. I’ve had one and it’s no fun but it’s not that bad.

Here are the major symptoms according to the Google Health:

  • Urinary hesitancy (delayed or slowed start of urinary stream)
  • Urinary dribbling, especially immediately after urinating
  • Urinary retention
  • Pain with urination
  • Pain with ejaculation
  • Lower back pain
  • Pain with bowel movement

I’m also registered with Movember, so you can donate a few dollars to the cause in my name. The proceeds go to the Prostate Cancer Foundation and LIVESTRONG Young Adult Alliance. Just click here and follow the directions. If my donations add up to $100 or more, I’ll post a photo of the final result in December.

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I’ve never been a huge fan of Dan Savage. He rubs me the wrong way kind of like Dr. Laura rubs me the wrong way. They both have moral codes so strong that they don’t need to know very much about a person before dishing out copious advice. Of course, they are both in the business of giving advice, so I guess it comes with the territory. I just want anyone with that much power to listen more and be less sure of their moral code. Their supplicants are real people with complex, unique histories, families, confusion, and pain. Advice before understanding is premature–I read that in one of my textbooks and underlined it. True. And if you think you understand someone after they’ve said a few sentences, you are wrong.

But this video makes Dan Savage a hero to me. This is using power for good. So many gay kids kill themselves! It’s a real, ongoing tragedy and shame in the US. Just at the developmental phase where fitting in is the highest priority, these kids are often denied respect and bullied mercilessly. But it gets better:

A couple days ago I posted a great clip from Jay Smooth, called “How to Tell People They Sound Racist.” I’ve looked over his websites, illdoctrine.com and nildoctrine.com and his you tube channel and have decided to officially endorse him. He’s very smart, very hip, and I just like him. He’s a feminist hero, too in an often mysogynous hip hop culture. About half of his posts are political and about half are about hip hop. All of them seem insightful and funny, though keep in mind that I am no judge of hip hop or hip hop commentary.

Here are three clips I liked a lot. The first reminds me of Potter & Heath’s Rebel Sell: It’s a critique (and possibly a mocking) of the idea that you can simultaneously (and self-righteously) know nothing about politics and somehow “know” that politics is not worth paying attention to. It’s great.  The second is about homosexuality in hip hop (this is him being a hero). The third is about hipsterism. They are all short and good.

Ballet is such a weird, cool system of moving! It’s so deep in Euro-American culture it’s difficult to see at first just how bizarre it is, all floaty and lilty and superhumanly graceful, even during those acts of incredible athleticism. I love how much attention we pay to our feet, the subtleties of articulation, how they move against the floor, exactly how they lift. I’ve been walking around in a constant foot meditation for the last few weeks. I love how wildly unintuitive it is, the toe-pointing, the isolation of the leg and arm motions, and especially how the arms move—all elegance and flair, which I have been avoiding for decades. I love how much my balance has improved. I’m reconnecting with the classical piano music, or whatever it is—I know ‘classical’ means something very specific to those in the know. I’m starting to see dancing when I listen to my Mozart piano sonatas while studying.

I’m still a bit cringe-y at the prancing and leaping, but less so now, and I imagine the better I get at it, the less cringe-y I’ll be.

Compared to me at my peak, in junior high school, I am not homophobic. I wasn’t even that homophobic then, on the full scale of the trait, but “gay” was definitely a put-down and though I didn’t know that I knew any LGBTQ folks at the time, I had the sense that they were lower on the hierarchy of normalcy than I was.

I’ve come a long way. Last fall, for example, a young woman leaned her upper body out of the passenger window of a passing car to shout “fag!” at me, and I was merely amused. (Tilke told me later it was probably because I was wearing red pants. Heterosexuals are allowed to wear blue, black, khaki, and camouflage pants.) It’s impossible to measure, of course, but if you forced me to say, I’d guess I have about 1% of the homophobia I had then. I don’t mean to make that sound like that’s a big deal—it’s just growing up. One of the main things I think “growing up” means is coming to not feel threatened by things that aren’t threatening.

But getting rid of what co-counselors call ‘oppressor patterns’ like homophobia is kind of like learning to tune a guitar; the further you get, the harder it is to do. Tiny increments that used to be inaudible to me, now sound teeth-grindlingly out of tune. It’s like my mom always says, “Whatever you focus on expands.”

I’m thinking about this because I’ve started taking a ballet class—two, actually, four hours a week—and we started right out with a move that poked me right in the homophobia, a ballet leap called grande jete. It’s a beautiful motion, but I get a little uncomfortable watching men do it. And there’s something about doing it myself that makes me squirm. And being seen doing it e,specially by strangers, set my emotional alarms off. I haven’t been able to deconstruct it much, yet. My body just shouted “wrong!”

I’m looking forward to whatever insights come from this. My first guess is that it’s fear of ridicule. Whatever it is, facing it could really help my dancing. I’m from the punk rock generation. We’re not allowed to be passionately graceful. It has to look accidentally or clumsily graceful. That is holding me back.

Here’s some amazing leaping (though I don’t think any of these are grande jetes):