Friday, July 18, 2014

A Big Birthday. I survived!

Living the philosophy "here for a good time, not a long time", I have to acknowledge that turning 40 is more miracle than milestone. And somehow I have managed to outlive the world's most important poets. Jesus. Rimbaud. And this year, the great Anna Nicole Smith.
Thankfully tons of friends were on hand to celebrate, and we won't stop for at least another few months. First up, I always wanted to do laser tag since I was a kid.
Laser Fag!
So we did that and it got really aggressive. My friend Dave had to apologize repeatedly to a gaggle of 12 year old girls for calling them "sluts" in the heat of the action. At another point, the lasers weren't firing. We're all running around shooting but nobody was dying, so I went outside to the operator who said he wouldn't activate the game until "that woman finishes her drink". In the locker room, all alone, is a girlfriend, Shelly, suited up in armor, drunkenly sipping a cocktail, lasergun in the other.

Guess we shouldn't have started drinking at my friend Aaron's birthday party at noon!

happy birthday Aaron!

Afterward, we headed to celebrate at this really daggy/homey old-time pub (just my style!), The Cricketer's Arms, and yeah - thankfully not much photographic evidence survives.
Great cake! Despite lack of copy editor...
The next day we got dragged up and entered Polly's Follies at the Stonewall Hotel for my birthday bonanza. Well, Mai Tai and I entered, while Bam (Belle Igerent) and Simone (Simone de Beavoir) just got drunk! Surprisingly, the injuries from the drag adventures paled in comparison to laser tag.

Pics from our frocked-up affair are still being fumigated, but here are a couple of teasers.
stopping traffic in Darlinghurst.
I'm the 40 year old lady in red!
 Who cannot keep her leg down!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Can You Joke About AIDS?

That's the topic of my latest essay for this month's OUT Magazine, which you can read here. I lost a few 'friends' after asking for AIDS jokes online and also in my research I found some seriously sick humor coming from those right at the center of the epidemic. As I get older, I find my writing is less strident, which hopefully doesn't mean less persuasive, but by the end of the piece I don't really want readers to know where I stand on making AIDS jokes (but of course you know where I stand).
Illo by Edel Rodriguez

Monday, June 23, 2014

I Remember House

I was going to spend a nice quiet evening at home, but then I thought WHO OR WHAT HAVE I BECOME?! So I pulled myself together and went to church...

Thursday, June 19, 2014

You Buy DNA Magazine for the Articles, Right?

It's more than meets the eye in DNA Magazine Australia this month! In researching the life of Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky, I discovered that his untimely death by "cholera" is, actually, a chilling whodunit – with the victim himself a prime suspect.
I wrote that feature, followed by an interview with groundbreaking Swan Lake choreographer Matthew Bourne and a roundup of the world's best strip joints, er, nude beaches. There are also amazing reads on our electroshocking past, the transgressive word police, Australia vs Marriage Equality by Nicholas Fonseca, gorgeous Tasmania by Marc Andrews and then, you know, just to rest your eyes, ogle cover god Todd Sanfield for first time in the Virgins, shot by Kevin McDermott.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Angel's Grapefruit Technique

Grapefruit - it's not just for breakfast anymore. This had me laughing all day. I'm loving Angel's how-to video. There are way too many quotables here: "Do Not Boil It. Do Not Microwave It".
And kudos to the sound mixer. As one commenter noted, "it sounds like Jabba the Hut eating a space frog."  

Monday, June 16, 2014

Weekend Tripping

And now for something a little bit different.. because how many firsts do I have left? On Saturday,
Australian Rules Football... Sydney Swans vs Port Adelaide at the cricket grounds. There is something creepy in the mighty roar of a crowd. Bloodthirsty. Reminds me always of rooting for the lions to kill the Christians.
But then you have a couple drinks and kind of get into it. Especially when the outfits are attractive and sporty and not all padded up like an armored knight as in American football. They also don't have lots of whistles and time outs. If they fumble, they're not allowed to actually hold onto the ball. If they do, the whole bloodthirsty crowd starts chanting "Baaaaallll". And anytime they pass it, they don't throw it. They sort of pop it, like you'd serve a volleyball.

We sat right behind where the players swapped in and out of the game. Each time a player came off the field, they were handed this old fashioned phone, like a 1980s phone with a spiral cord. This was not a prop. They actually spoke into the big old receiver and we kept guessing who it might be calling to congratulate them. God? Jennifer Lopez? We were told it was the coach. Now you'd think coach is on the field with his players, but he's not. He is up in a booth somewhere, apparently for a better view of the whole playing field. And of course the opportunity to use a retro 1980s phone.

Sunday took a 2.5 hour train all the way down to Kiama... for no other reason than to have a couple beers and see a sleepy country coastal town...
... and its notorious blowhole.
I should have taken video - the spewing that comes up from this gaping hole in the rocks... and the sound.. and mist. There was this kid, about 5 years old, who was so excited about each geyser-like spout, his father kept pleading with him to leave but the kid just wouldn't he was so mesmerized. I bet they're still there.
blowhole and rainbow! Zhoozed up by Instagram.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Capitalism #Winning!

Living outside of the States it's always curious to see how the country is perceived, and ultimately how I perceive it. For sure, I can admire the ingenuity and innovation that keeps America ahead. It is also a nation of friendly, boisterous people and I'm glad that I was brought up to speak up and have opinions, to challenge and be challenged. And look how in America the free, brave, and beautiful... those qualities (ingenuity and opinion) mate, twist and flip to this challenging conclusion: bulletproof blankets for your kids at school!

Yes, this has happened. America, you do the planet proud.

All these family-value preaching supposed patriots braying about 2nd amendment rights. By that, the founding fathers clearly meant assault weapons. Why not explosive bombs, too? And hand grenades? Hand grenades don't kill people. People kill people!

Here is a map of America that shows the 74 school campus shootings (from murder to suicide to accidental firing) that have happened in the year and half since 26 kids and teachers were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary; the event that truly showed American mettle -- because not even after that slaughter would lawmakers even pass a bill to expand background checks for firearm purchases.

The gun lobby bankrolling congress proves not just that Americans prefer guns to their kids. More than ingenuity, more than opinions, America values the dollar and what that ultimately looks like is schoolkids cowering beneath bulletproof blankets.

Friday, May 30, 2014

This Culture War Is Over

My home state of Oregon became the 18th state to usher in marriage equality. Behind Arkansas and Uruguay, but honey we got there! 
As it becomes clearer to everyone that this is a civil rights issue (and not one of "privilege" - privilege is your church not paying taxes), federal judges are falling over themselves to leave history with the most memorable quotable. In his decision striking down Oregon's gay marriage ban as unconstitutional, Oregon federal judge Michael McShane's is the most eloquent I've read:

"Where will this all lead? I know that many suggest we are going down a slippery slope that will have no moral boundaries. To those who truly harbor such fears, I can only say this: Let us look less to the sky to see what might fall; rather, let us look to each other...and rise."

And then Michael Sam gets drafted by the St Louis Rams to become the first openly gay football player in NFL history. When he gets the news he's been drafted, he kisses his boyfriend. ESPN airs the kiss and the internet explodes. What was he supposed to do? Shake his hand?

And with the culture war over in the USA, the haters have fled to spread their ministry of maleficence to places that are listening: Russia, Nigeria, Uganda. Meanwhile, closer to home, the fallout is something less obvious. As the gays blend more seamlessly into society, we're losing queer culture as the ghetto becomes redundant. The oldest gay bookstore in the nation (I had a reading there, once), Giovanni's Room closed this month after 41 years serving the Philadelphia community. It was also one of, if not the, last.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Eurovision 2014 #unstoppable

Wind machines, raised platforms, shameless key changes, Latvian cake bakers, removable hair pieces, 360-degree pianos, human hamster wheels. Eurovision will put you in a gay coma. As with the World Cup, Eurovision is disturbingly huge the world over – but virtually unknown in the USA. 

Baltic nations and even Russia are allowed to compete and this year's biggest controversy surrounded the Austrian entry, a bearded drag queen named Conchita Wurst, alter-ego of Thomas Neuwirth, who sang a James Bond style power ballad, "Rise Like A Phoenix", looking pretty as a champagne flute. 

For some reason, this look is violently confronting - especially to Russia, who took time out on their invasion of Ukraine to declare war on Eurovision's degeneracy, crying for bans and President Putin threatening to secede from the contest. 

Now just calm down Russia, if a bearded dude in a dress spelled the end of civilization, we wouldn't have survived Rasputin:
But back to Eurovision, which explicitly states it is not, repeat NOT political. In this case, of course, no means yes. Because each time Russia's entry, two teenage twin girls, performed or received votes, the audience in Copenhagen loudly booed. I felt bad at first, these two pretty girls singing a pretty good (and by good, I do mean camp as a row of tents) song featuring conjoined ponytails, light sabers, a teeter totter and massive wind machine action. Just... watch and marvel.

Their lyrics were all about showing the world love, too, so likely they don't support Russia's firm stand against human rights, but at the end of the day if these girls are representing their nation (and by extension its agenda) at an international event - they're caught in the crossfire.

And I guess it wasn't political that Ukraine gave their 12 points all to the fearsome Conchita Wurst, either. In fact, a lot of countries voted that way and the controversial bearded lady ended up not just winning, but winning by one of the largest margins in the contest's history, dating back to the 1950s. The song is actually really good, so if you're easily freaked out just close your eyes and listen to this anthem, shades of Shirley Bassey and all... 

Upon winning, when asked if she had any words, she said "This is dedicated to everyone who believes in a future of peace and freedom. You know who you are. We are unity and we are unstoppable."

Perhaps the most surprising thing of all? The following day, "Rise Like A Phoenix" went to #1... in Russia.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Monica Lewinsky Slams Slut-Shaming in Vanity Fair

That the Monica Lewinsky scandal was so huge testifies to the fact Americans don't get enough sex. In the early 2000s I crossed paths with Monica as she was walking through Tomkins Square Park and I told her she was beautiful, because I imagined that’s what I might want to hear if forced to live out my days forever in the halls of junior high school hell. Imagine all the sniggering and snide sophomoric humor this woman is subjected to by those who would humiliate her to death. If she had killed herself, as even the strongest among us might have understandably done in the glare of such scorn, I guarantee the conversation today would be very different. And it probably goes without saying, but I totally would have blown the President.

Here's the intro to her essay in this month's Vanity Fair. Lewinsky says it's time to stop “tiptoeing around my past—and other people’s futures." 

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Beachfront Camping

Headed with friends to camp at Coledale, about 30kms north of Woollongong (you know a place has an Aboriginal name if it has a W and about a hundred vowels). We put up camp in the dark and then woke up to this view: 
The best setting ever, even though we didn't have the best tent because you really can't go past my friend Tom's Vokswagen Bus tent.... which you would not expect to be highly functional, but it was.
Breakfast of Nisha's homemade bircher meusli.

We had so much fun at this spot. Lots of music and lively activity and exploration going on - including massive swell in the surf.
Liquid lunch at the nearby Scarborough Hotel.
Saturday night we headed on the train to terrorize the locals at Woollongong's gay nightclub, INDUSTRY.
Woollongong is known as "the Gong". We definitely gonged it hard. 
And caught some crazy public bus back at around 3am. The last thing I remember is the poor beleaguered driver telling us to shut up or he was going to let us out in the middle of nowhere.

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!