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6 entries from September 2011

My Favourite Blasphemy

Where is he gay today? Rila Mountains, BulgariaRila Monastery-Sofia Day Two 051

It reads: I'm a Virgin, But This is an Old Fresco.

A belated Happy Blasphemy Day, everyone.  Hope you all managed to score a zinger on September 30th.   Alas, you couldn't have burned me at the stake this year.  No chance to flip the bird at God.  Unless my ongoing contentment as an apostate Catholic homosexual affronts the Almighty in principle.  Surely that counts.

Note that being an atheist does not automatically make me a hereticHeresy is defined as telling untruths about God.  I merely point out the fact that religions contradict each other, and with very few exceptions, demand belief to the exclusion of all others.  Therefore, not believing in any one or more of them is the functional equivalent of not believing in any of them.  Absolutely true, Ninth-Commandment-wise.  But hardly a rousing hurrah for the Lord above.  

I didn't directly insult God—which, by the way, is the defínition of blasphemy—so I'll need to tell you about another time I landed a pie in His face. 

Opportunities to insult God ain't a dime a dozen, let me tell you.  The last time I sneered at the Almighty—in public earshot, so it makes a difference—was over a year ago, in early summer 2010, on a visit to Bulgaria. 

Rila Monastery-Sofia Day Two 077a
We climbed into the mountains south of Sofia, to the Rila Monastery.  St. Ivan of Rila (876-946 AD) lived in a cavern, and his followers built the complex.  They wanted to bask in his holiness, and perhaps pick up the odd miracle or two, but found the caveman thing a bit too hard-core. 

Rila Monastery-Sofia Day Two 082
The Dupnitsa Eparchic Hilton.

You can stay in the monastery, and for many, it makes the perfect spiritual retreat.   The building contrasts monastic simplicity with rich ornament; everywhere one turns, one sees a detail which provokes a moment of contemplative pleasure.

Rila Monastery-Sofia Day Two 077a
Rila Monastery-Sofia Day Two 077a
Rila Monastery-Sofia Day Two 077a
Rila Monastery-Sofia Day Two 082
Rila Monastery-Sofia Day Two 082
Rila Monastery-Sofia Day Two 148
Rila Monastery-Sofia Day Two 082
Rila Monastery-Sofia Day Two 148
Nice and peaceful, until you enter the chapel, or catholicon.

The door bitch, an angry brown-robed Rassaphore with a Rasputin beard, hassles you on the dress-code.  Uncovered heads, uncovered shoulders, or short pants earn you a puke-green hospital gown, which you must use to cover your immodest flesh.  They forced a burqua-style robe on the woman in the picture below, since God had never seen female legs before, it seems.  The Almighty thinks you're just overgrown ribs, ladies.

Rila Monastery-Sofia Day Two 148
Master Right and I marvelled at the lush ornament inside the church, and approached the altar.  Thinking that we might contribute to the maintenance of this UNESCO World Heritage site, we lit a votive candle, and made a donation far in excess of that recommended.  And in Euro, too, which at the time still seemed like a jolly nice currency. 

As we turned to leave, the mad monk tried to pull a swifty.  He took our candle from the candelabra, blew it out, and pocketed it.

Now, he may have had a reason.  Perhaps he wanted to make room for other worshippers to sacrifice—except, there was plenty of room left.  Maybe church authorities wanted to keep soot off the murals behind the altar—but then, they might easily move the candelabra to another position.  Perhaps he noticed that Master Right looked Asian, and doubted that someone of another faith could offer a sincere votive prayer.

Or, he was just an asshole.

I favour the asshole theory.  Every member of the uniformed clergy in this joint was scowling.  My childhood church in Pittsburgh, which followed the Roman canon in Carpatho-Rusyn, hailed from this part of the world.  They were grouches, too; our monsignor was a turd of the highest order.  Bile and resentment—or at the very least, grumpiness—oozed from ever pore.

Rila Monastery-Sofia Day Two 148
A friendly CSR asking "How may I help you today, pilgrims?"

Whassup with that?  Hadn't the Holy Spirit filled them with the milk of human kindness?

Of course, there's a good reason for being a grumpy cleric.  Sexual frustration. 

Celibacy must wear them down.  People get grumpy as hell without sex.  If I adopted a contemplative life like these guys, I can tell you what I'd be contemplating before long.

Now the way I see it, forcing healthy human beings to eschew their biology insults His creation.  It disrespects God's grand design.  Surely as much an affront to the Creator as any of the other inventive sexual uses to which God's creatures put their bodies. 

So I blasphemed.  I took a photo.

"No photo inside!" scowled the monk, followed by some other complaint in Bulgarian.

"How does it feel to be a virgin?" I asked.  "It must be awfully miserable."

"No photo inside!"

"I've had a lot of sex, and it's fantastic.  Would you like me to tell you what sex is like?"

He looked at me, fuming, as I added, "...sex with an adult, that is."

"No photo inside!"

So I took another photo, and we left.  Here it is.  Taking and sharing this photo, so that it may help you wonder at the glory of your God and the miracle that is mankind, may be a blasphemy. If so, may we always blaspheme so beautifully.

Rila Monastery-Sofia Day Two 082
On the way back to Sofia, we stopped for lunch.  We dined on a terrace, under a tree, next to a mountain stream.  Trout, caught that morning in the very same stream.  Another moment that caused us to marvel at what believers call Creation, and to enjoy it, gratefully.

Rila Monastery-Sofia Day Two 185a
I asked the waitress if she had any spare fish to slap on the back of Christian cars, since they like that sort of thing.  She said no.  What?  According to the New Testament, you can't run out of fish!

See?  A joke at God's expense.  Rather a nice blasphemy, to round off a (mostly) pleasant day.  Click on the quote from Salman Rushdie below, to join next year's Blasphemy Day on facebook.

Salman Rushdie Quote

This little tale reminds me of many half-written posts in my outbox about last year's fascinating trip to Bulgaria.  Stay tuned for more of them.

What word shall we hijack next, cocksuckers?

Robbed the rainbow
It sounds preposterous.  But some actual Germans read Deutschland über Elvis.  I know this, because the fewer readers a blogger has, the more obsessively he checks his readership stats. 

If one clicks through to the entry pages from Germany, one can see that many Deutsche let Google Translate do the heavy lifting.  

But Google gets tongue-tied translating queerspeak.  Take this sentence from a recent post:

We often [do this] when we're feeling a bit gay, in the homosexual sense of the word.

The algorithm translated it as:

Wir [tun dies] oft, wenn wir ein bisschen Gefühl Homosexuell sind, in der homosexuellen Sinne des Wortes.

I played around with Google Translate for a little while.  It wouldn't translate gay as bunte, hell or frölich, meaning bright, colourful, happy or carefree, no matter what.  No, a house painted in gay colours, always becomes a house painted in homosexual colours. 

Don't write this off to the crudity of online translation.  Google had no such trouble with the word gaily; it ascribes no sexual meaning to the adverb, the same as in English.  (This might have proved tricky, since adverbs are among the few elements of English grammar more complex than the equivalent German.)  And it had no trouble with the double meaning of the word queer.   Google does not mistake a queer bar for a queer noise from your car's diff. 

You know what this means, don't you?

It means we've won. 

All those tetchy conservatives—most recently Bob Katter in Australia, but countless more—who whine about us homosexuals hijacking the word gay, have lost. 

Google doesn't pull this stuff out of its cyber-ass.  Google looks at billions of sentences every day.  This is mainstream speech.  We've got gay, dammit! 

"Homosexuals have hijacked the word Bacardi!"

Furthermore, Google Translate made gay respectable.  It didn't use the German schwul, a mild vulgarity.  In 1914, pioneering Berlin sex researcher Magnus Hirschfeld lay the seeds of the term when he repeated the old wive's tale that gay men tended to have warmer skin.  (Traditionally, a German would refer to his male lover as a "warm brother").  Schwul is a corruption of schwül, which can mean wet, close or muggy.  To use Schwul would suggest the local chapter of Moist Liberation meets in a humid bar  

What's second prize?

Yeah, we've won.  Meh.

All this moaning over the word gay belies the fact that this stupid little word sat around idle for a century.  

Nobody has talked about a nosegay for decades.  In This Joint is Jumpin', Fats Waller sang that a rent party was "ten times higher than gay".  But that was 1929.    By mid century, the word had been quarantined to campy songs in musicals, usually sung by the female juvenile lead.  Think Maria in West Side Story, or Nellie Forbush in South Pacific (Nellie Forbush. How obvious can you get?)   Some used gay to mean hedonistic, uninhibited or louche—giving it a pejorative sexual twist.  A gay house was a brothel, and a gay Lothario was a male libertine.  A tone of distaste and disapproval pushed the word onto our team, as it were.

"Those damn homosexuals have hijacked the word

Gays have rehabbed the word, and now it means...well, us.  Most people use it in a matter-of-fact way.  It's almost neutral. 

Almost.  For some, gay means sad or lame Especially to teen boys going through their anti-emo, wannabe-thug stage. 

As more gay men and women tell their stories, sadness and struggle often emerge as themes.  One could be mistaken for thinking every gay's life story contains tragedy—perhaps, in our current culture, it must.  

Look at the thoroughly admirable (and absolutely necessary) It Gets Better Project.  Storytellers know that the reason happily ever after ends tales is because happiness, while nice to experience, is pretty dull to watch.  The Better bits, with the best will in the world, don't grab you like the bits describing how it was worse.  

Frankly, that's unavoidable.  Physical and psychological brutality against gay men and lesbians is so commonplace that it must feature in recounting our experiences.  Besides, the only way we will rally the indifferent mainstream into active support is through arousing their emotions. 

But all this tugging at the heartstrings might make us seem, as the youngsters say, gay.  In our culture, powerful and angry earns more followers than powerless and sad.  Dan Savage, founder the It Gets Better Project, manages this aspect carefully.  In his public statements, he guides our response toward action, away from pity.

"Those damn homsexuals have hijacked the word latte!"

And even those who use the word as an everyday term for homosexual can't quite shake some of the baggage.  To me, gay still holds echoes of flippant, unimportant, silly, immature, fluffy

As I've said before, I'd rather be thought unimportant than immoral.   And with all its faults, I'd rather be a gay man than a faggot, fruit, pillow-biter, Mary, nellie, pansy, nancy, sissy, turd-burglar, shirt-lifter, cock-, ass- or butt-pirate.

Of course, we can make all those terms neutral through usage, too.   When will we remove the stigma attached to effeminacy, and ditch the assumptions we make about masculinity?   When will words like cocksucker and sodomite be simple descriptions of behaviour rather than a condemnation of one's character? 

(As I reflect on the last couple of paragraphs, I'm warming to the term -pirate.  It's suggests an all-male environment.  There's a sense of being an outsider, thumbing your nose at authority.  Yet a pirate remains morally in the right, somehow—one becomes a thief out of desperation or wickedness, but piracy is a calling.  Pirates act butch, but ain't afraid to wear earrings—their deportment drips with sexual transgression.  Gay men of my generation claimed the pirate shirt and fulsome moustache as their own. Everybody loves pirates. Swab the dicks, me hearties!)

Stealing Pride

The hijacking of gay causes outrage, but pride slipped through the cracks.

Like gay, pride was a word that lounged around with its feet up until homosexuals took it out for a run.  Pride smacks of immodesty; the correct response to someone complimenting you on an achievement is oh, it's nothing.  It's uncool to try too hard.  Proud people just stroke their own egoes.

Religious circles roundly condemn the word, since (at least on paper) "pride" is a sin.  Fundies seem confused by the term gay pride. Why should we want to claim a sin as a virtue?

Even sympathetic straights get their knickers in a twist. "If you were born gay," they reason, "it's no achievement.  There's no such thing as straight pride. Why are you proud to be gay?"

"Are you ashamed to be straight," I ask?

"No," they say.

"Precisely", I reply. 

If one earns the right to pride only from personal accomplishments, then to be an open happy homosexual man or woman surely qualifies.  It's easier than it was, but it still ain't a picnic. 

In my own coming out, I experienced little resistance or condemnation, but it still took work.  Work, inside my own head and heart.  Work that took a long, long time.  Courage?  Maybe, maybe not.  But certainly effort; effort which improved my character.  Can I be proud?  I leave that for others to judge.  But, yeah.  I feel proud of making that journey.

Lexical Larceny

Let's get down to brass tacks.  Right now, we need a new gay word. 

Repetition of a word is not just a rhetorical device, it's a psychological tactic.  If we use positive language around being gay, and don't allow ourselves to be trapped in the habit of irony, we can do our cause some good.

It's time we stole a word that the language hasn't orphaned already.  One which the straight world values, and must sacrifice as a gesture of goodwill.

"Those damn homsexuals have hijacked porn!"

Here's the need.   More jurisdictions recognise gay rights than ever before.  Many, however, have moved in the opposite direction.  How do we describe the difference between the two?

It should be an adjective.   Since authorities may recognise more rights, or fewer, the adjective must be capable of degree.  (Unlike, say, unique, dead or pregnant.)

You need to use the word in a sentence like this:

"Since it passed the gay marriage law, New York is much more "——" than Alabama."

Terms like just or progressive are too broad.   Phrases like "gay-friendly" are both awkward and weak.  This is more than just casual friendliness we're talking about.  

It would be tempting to do a Santorum, another Savage invention.  Can we take a homophobe's name and repurpose it, to make a point?  But the point, then, is about the homophobe, not the cause.  Not right.  

Same goes for destigmatising an existing word.  The point of this exercise is to take a new, baggage-free word and convert it to gay use.   We clutch at bad words, simply because nobody else wants them.  Let's stop that.

We need to adopt a word that's powerful.  Is New York more juggernaut, high-caliber, horsepower, avalanche or Red Bull than Alabama?

We need to adopt a word that's righteous.  Is New York more solar, low-emission, responsible, or Nelson Mandela than Alabama?

We need to adopt a word that's heroic.  Is New York more freedom, Everest, liberation, or Wolverine than Alabama?

Perhaps we might adopt a word that refers to something everyone in the world likes.  Is New York more sushi, pandas, Mad Men or brown-paper-packages-tied-up-in-string than Alabama?

I look forward to your suggestions.

"Those damn homsexuals have hijacked the word love!"  But maybe they had a claim to it, already.  

*   *   *   *   *

The gay knitting wool ad was lifted from a post by Dr. Gloria Brame at the Bilerico Project—many thanks, Gloria!  All others were taken at New York Pride in 2003.

Fest Fatigue

Wies'n under construction, August 2011

This is our fifth Oktoberfest in Munich.  It's a light one.  Only two lots of visitors from abroad.  In the past, our poor spare room scarcely had time to draw breath before getting stuffed to its rafters with the next mob of thirsty AusländerMany a foreigner who lives in Munich knows the feeling.

On the other hand, 2011 has thrown up a punishing schedule of work events on the Wies'n.  It's impossible to do business in Munich without schmoozing away much of September.   Our office lies, literally, across the street from the festival grounds; both clients and colleagues from out-of-town take good advantage of this.   As it sits on my desk, my phone buzzes with faceboock check-ins over the road.  

I don't want to sound like a wet blanket, but frankly, Oktoberfest is hard work.  You need energy and stamina.  Beer provides both of these, but takes its toll on brain-cells, waistlines and the social reputation of the drinker.  

As I sit here at my desk, I can tell you that I'm well-and-truly over it.  But put a beer in my hand, and I might just find some enthusiasm.   Beer...it's magic!

Art of the Earth, Part One

Peter Adams Ore WhatCan you remember the last time you touched the earth? 

I can't.  Maybe it was tending plants in a window box.  Maybe it was picking up a dropped fork at a backyard barbeque.  Maybe it was lying on the grass in the English Garden.  We live only a block from this urban miracle, yet the last time I set foot there, it was upon a layer of snow.

There are places where the earth asserts itself; where soil is part of the soul.  Two artists of my acquaintance are celebrating this in a unique way.

One is Peter Adams.  He and I once collaborated on commericals and film projects (some of which we have wisely chosen to forget).  But he has returned to his first love and (arguably) greatest talent, telling stories through photography.   

He recently produced a book about Hill End, 80 km west of Broken Hill in outback New South Wales.  The town cannot forget its relationship to the earth.  It is the source of its greatest wealth and riches: the largest gold nugget in the world, at the time, came from there.  In its heyday, it boasted 8000 residents.  Now, barely eighty live there. 

Peter has documented the lives and beliefs of those eighty people.  They show a keen awareness of, and attachment to, the earth which surrounds them.  "It's not 'til you're buried here that you can be called a local" said one.  Only when the earth claims you, do you truly belong.

His book, Ore What?, is an extraordinatily rich and lucid document, which in many ways sums up some of the things I treasure about life in Australia.  A love of place, a solid forbearance; and a melancholy that resists cheapening by sentiment. 


Another artist I know makes the earth a theme, in a wholly different way.  But more about that in a later post.

Photo Friday: Cars

Mercedes Benz Museum 057
Designers try to make cars look sexy.  And the sexiest car looks even sexier if you can show it in a tryst. 

Though not as famous as the gull-wing SL of the fifties, the original Mercedes-Benz SLR (Sport Leicht Rennwagen, or Sport Light Racing Car) was devoted to victory on the track.  It helped Stirling Moss make his name.   And it is a thing of beauty into the bargain.

Mercedes Benz Museum 057
Mercedes Benz Museum 057
In 1954, the Mercedes-Benz Rennabteilung (Racing Department)  designed a transporter around the car.   You can see that the racer doesn't rise above the roofline of the cab; a veritable vehicular cuddle.  Seldom do we see such automotive intimacy.  From the rear, the two vehicles even resemble each other.

Mercedes Benz Museum 057
The truck itself was no slouch in the performance stakes.  It could reach over 160 kph (100 mph).   This, the racing department argued, would let the team reach the track earlier for more prep time.  (Hat-tip to car photographer Chris Wevers for that tidbit.)

In fact, the odd looks of the transporter attract almost as much interest as its glamourous cargo.  The playful bermuda-shorts interior shouts 1954, doesn't it?

Mercedes Benz Museum 057

By the way, this week's Photo Friday challenge is deceptively difficult.   Cars are all shiny surfaces, rather like shooting a mirror. 

That's why this post shows two different SLRs.  The transporter and its cargo sit in a bright, windowed room in the Mecedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart; we see patches of white burnout everywhere on the car bodies.  The picture at the top was taken in a darker, windowless room with controlled light.  It's a street version of the SLR.  That means it sports turn signals, and a grille without the structural reinforcement of a lamella. 

A lamella, by the way, is a technical term for a bar which goes from one side of the car grille to the other.  It has its origins in biology, where it can refer to a ridge on the skin or elsewhere; technically, fingerprints are made up of lamellae.  A surprisingly useful word in car-talk.

An important disclaimer:  Daimler is a client of the company I work for, and my duties include services to them.  This post, though, expresses my own private views, and does not represent my client in any official capacity.