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When the World Makes You Stupid
My Fellow Shennyer:
Are you familiar with Gay Shame? Not the thing the hetero world tries to instill in us, but the anti-Pride protest movement documented pretty thoroughly on its Wikipedia page? The general idea was that after Gay Liberation in the 60s/70s became Gay Pride in the 1980s, our annual parades became more about corporate sponsorship and cultural assimilation than rights and freedom.
‘The first Pride was a riot’ is the kind of T-shirt Gay Shame would endorse.
I like Gay Shame as a movement, a reminder, but it’s hard to make space for them this Pride season, what with all the open hate our governments are spewing at us—which is, ultimately, a better conversation to have this Pride, as opposed to the in-group conversations of late around kinks and nudity. (If you think there’s no place for kinks at Pride, I invite you to stay home with your sex-shaming friends, where y’all can read this blog post on the issue.)
What makes hate and destruction a ‘better’ conversation is that it common enemies are good for solidarity, and solidarity is good for liberation. It’s not good for pride; pride seems to gather individuals as individuals, which reminds me of RuPaul’s famous signoff: ‘If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?’
Once, I lay in my therapist’s office and told her I wished I could love myself, a la Ru. Was I even able to love anyone else?
‘Maybe instead of wishing to love yourself,’ she said, ‘you try to accept yourself.’
It saved my life, probably.
1. Chia Pudding
At a recent breakfast meeting, the extortionate catering company at my school ($131 for 75 cookies) put out pots of yogurt with berries and honey. Yogurt sends me to a toilet as surely as God sent Pat Robertson to hell, so I was pleased to also see some pots of vegan chia pudding, the grey seeds lining the glass like a hundred amphibious eyes. Not an appetizing visual, I get it, but the taste was great and I felt full after. If there’s no love lost between your body and lactose, and if you really need to up your fiber intake, here’s my recipe for a good late-night snack:
Chocolate & Peanut Butter Chia Pudding Serves 2 1 tbsp cocoa powder 1 tbsp chocolate protein powder (I like this vegan one) 1 tbsp peanut flour 1 tbsp brown sugar 3-4 tbsp chia seeds (to taste/texture) 1 cup milk (I use A2 milk for toilet-avoidance) Whisk first four ingredients in a large bowl until lumpless and fine. Mix in chia seeds thoroughly. Stir in milk, really give it a good beating. Pour mix into a small bowl or food storage container and refrigerate for 1 hour. Give it another hearty stir after the hour, and put it back. Ready after 2 hours of fridge time.
Chia seeds are what makes it set: too little and it’s soupy, too much and it’s bread dough. Experiment with whatever you like, and if there’s no protein powder or peanut flour in your house, the recipe I cribbed this from was just 2 tbsp cocoa and 2 tbsp brown sugar. Easy. Delicious.
2. Jeremy Atherton Lin’s Gay Bar: Why We Went Out
So much lies in the past tense of that verb. Lin’s memoir of his life in gay bars and clubs is the best thing I’ve read of gay history in a long time. He’s got a deft way of tracing the causes behind certain aspects of queerness. Why do gays act so straight in gay bars? Because in the 1940s and 50s, queer bars exhibiting ‘proper’ gender behavior were less likely to get raided. Why do heteros feel disgust toward gay men? Because some of the earliest visible gays were seen being led in handcuffs out of back alleys and public toilets—the ‘dirty’ spaces they had to hide in to find each other. If you, like, me, are looking for new directions the memoir is headed, Gay Bar is for you: impressionistic, tangential, leaping happily from the deeply personal to the broadly historical. And he’s a hell of a stylist:
[H]aving escaped from a salon in a lavish town house piled with cocaine and decorated in humongous black-and-white photographs of the unfortunate and impecunious, we were received by the glamorous vampire who works the door. They’re a tall, glassy-eyed creature with lank hair and a way of coolly receiving us as if we were expected—and not for being us, thankfully, but just two more soused midnight shadows. We gave them our cash and moved into the humid jostle.
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When the World Makes You Stupid
Last week, the Lyft driver taking me home stopped at the very intersection N & I used to live at. Fulton Avenue is one of the few four-lane roads on the west side of town, with no left-turn arrows. We were turning south on Stanyan, and I knew that once the light turned green, we’d have to wait for all the oncoming traffic to get through.
This backseat driver couldn’t help notice the driver didn’t put his turn signal on.
I got anxious, and a little incredulous. Here he was signaling to God and everyone that his intention was to go straight. Sure enough, another car pulled up behind us, close to the bumper, and I got more anxious. When the light changed, my driver pulled forward four feet into the intersection, and then—and then—he put on his turn signal.
If I were the sort of person people wanted to watch get punk’d on TV, I would’ve wondered whether I was being punk’d on TV. This is behavior as incomprehensible to me as how far away a light year is. I sat there in the back seat suddenly aware that the turn signal—what it is, what it’s for—does not signify for everyone the same way.
Cars whizzed by us in the right lane, driving westward, and the car behind was, of course, stuck, no turn signal on, waiting to go straight, and my heart broke for his plight, and my yellow bile boiled for my driver’s troubled relationship to the world of signification.
But then the right lane cleared.
And there was enough space between us and the car behind for the latter to go around us.
But the car behind us didn’t move.
My Lyft wasn’t able to turn until after the light turned yellow, and as I looked back I saw the car behind us didn’t press through. He stayed put, accepting that he’d need to wait for another long cycle of stoplights.
Earlier that evening, I was having happy hour beers with a colleague in the philosophy dept who is moving next month to the Netherlands. We sat at a cocktail table facing the bar, where in front of us a younger couple sat on neighboring stools in happily intimate postures. The man, on the left, sat in such a way that his thin running shorts presented his ass to the room like a ham on a platter.
It was a mild distraction, but I was more focused on the letters printed on those shorts’ waistband: RAPHA. No clue what it was, but the word was repeated on the hem of the track jacket on the woman to his right. RAPHA. They looked like private school alums, or, safer bet, it was the tech company they worked for. I made a mental note to look it up later, but only a mental note, is the thing. Mid-conversation, I did no googling at the bar.
That night, after I got home, I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and found, for the first time in my life, an ad for Rapha sportswear.
We all have stories like this. N and I have been watching a lot of Below Deck lately, and in one ep everyone drank something called a Painkiller, prompting me to look up the recipe. Two days later, N got a Facebook suggested post about Painkillers.
That’s how it works. We understand, kind of, how it works. It has to do with IP addresses and tracking cookies. Or it’s about granting apps access (or not) to our microphones. But I never even said ‘Rapha’, I just saw it, and then thought it, and the algorithms knew I wanted to know more about it.
I deny all nonessential cookies. I use Brave instead of Chrome, DuckDuckGo instead of Google. For many years I even texted on Signal. I’m a longtime algorithm thwarter because shit like ‘Invictus’ hit me at a tender age. We should be the masters of our fates, right?
One way to live with the algorithms that shape our lived experience is as a kind of mystery. It feels to me like the history of science in reverse: we’re told about and claim to understand the data science of coding and algorithms, of plagiarist AI/chatbot technologies, but living amid their uncanny effects throws us back to the early days of mankind, when we knew the celestial orbs were moved by gods and only the espied flights of birds could tell you whether that wound would heal.
It’s hell for a person who needs to know everything all the time.
This world that’s ours is too big for our understanding. For many of us, that incomprehensible bigness is a gift, an endless source of inspiration. But for others it’s too scary, and thus a problem. I’ve written before about the drive to seek out pundits, politicians, or priests who can ‘make sense of all the chaos’, but today I’m thinking about the consequences of that fear of a too-big world.
If the bigness of the world scares you, you’re going to need to make it smaller—like the Bible, another too-big thing some people can only approach by tossing out its messy first half. You go provincial, hermetic, or you demand that the world as it comes to you be not just understandable, but recognizable and familiar. This fear lies behind all the anti-trans hate surging in pockets of the world, where rather than explore a thing you don’t understand, you—like a toddler in a tantrum—try to destroy it.
To fight—on Twitter, on battlegrounds, at school board meetings—to ensure that your life, and your children’s lives, be made smaller? Cue Fargo GIF again.
Once a week I go for an early morning walk in Glen Canyon, a little ravine in the middle of the city with a creek that finally has water running through it again. Here’s a pic of the steps that go down into it:
At the top of those steps, which I climb gaspingly at the end of each hike, sits this bench:
Let me zoom in for you:
If you wanted to know who Jared was, there’s probably a way to find out; this is a bench in a city-owned park after all. There was a time of my life, not very long ago, where finding that story was something I’d get excited about, maybe even pitch to a magazine. But now, the story of Whence The Bench is less interesting to me than the story of What We Do With The Bench, the story of how to go forward into our unknowing lives.
Was Jared, tragically, an infant who died at 8 months, or, absurdly, a man who sat on a bench for 8 months? If I can be allowed a demand these days, it’s that the answer be Yes.
This week’s natatorium is the moody, brutalist Tokyo Metropolitan Indoor Swimming Pool, built for the 1964 Summer Olympics: