Tag Archives: Bisexual

Farewell Lou Reed, Pioneer and Activist

28 Oct
Lou Reed, 1942 - 2013

Lou Reed, 1942 – 2013

The music world was stunned yesterday when a rock pioneer breathed his last. Lou Reed, the outspoken chameleon whose contributions helped launch virtually every left-of-center rock genre, died of complications from a recent liver transplant. He was 71.

Lewis Allan Reed was born in Brooklyn on March 2, 1942. He learned to play guitar at an early age and performed in a number of doo-wop and R&B groups. He went to Syracuse University, studying journalism and film. After graduation, he did a brief stint as a house composer for Pickwick records before branching out into more avant garde and subversive sounds.

Reed is perhaps most famous as the co-founder and principle songwriter of the Velvet Underground. Noted for their work with Andy Warhol, the quartet’s four albums ran the gamut from raw noise to delicate folk pop, with Reed’s deadpan vocals featured on most tracks. Despite minimal sales, the band’s output was massively influential. Reed went solo in 1970 and continued to produce challenging music on a wide variety of themes.

Openly bisexual, Reed was given electro-shock therapy as a teen in an attempt to “cure” him. (He famously wrote about the experience on the harrowing song Kill Your Sons.) His songs were frank explorations of very real themes largely avoided by popular music to that point. He explored sex thoroughly, often championing the gay and transgender people he had met while working with Warhol in his songs. His finest album, Transformer, flirted with glam rock and explored gender and sexual identity in ways that were frank and playful both. (The album also produced his only real hit, Walk On the Wild Side, the first Top 20 song to refer to oral sex.)

He also explored addiction and its complications and wrote many frank songs about domestic abuse and broken relationships. While the content was often dark, it was anchored by his unremitting sense of humanity and deep-rooted optimism. Reed was an outspoken critic of the forces of greed and corruption and never hesitated to criticize politicians, other musicians, or the press for their shortcomings in working for a better world.

Reed was a tireless philanthropist, contributing to many causes. He focused on AIDS and LGBT issues (including work with Cyndi Lauper‘s True Colors projects) as well as support programs for children. He participated in the first Farm Aid concert and contributed to animal rights campaigns. After recording an all-star version of his finest song, the lovely Perfect Day, to help support the BBC, he agreed to release it as a single, with all the proceeds going to Children In Need.; the single raised £2,125,000.

Years of alcohol and drug abuse had taken their toll, and Reed was increasingly frail in recent years. After receiving a liver transplant in April, he seemed to be doing much better and spoke of his increased energy. Sadly, the transplant had some complications, and Reed succumbed after a brief illness. He leaves behind a legacy of frank speaking, activism, and musical originality that will never be matched.

Advertisements

A Tribute to Gore Vidal

1 Aug

Today we have lost a pioneer and legend in the LGBTQ community, the incomparable Gore Vidal. Eugene Louis Vidal was born in West Point, NY in 1925. At his christening at 13, the boy’s name was modified to Eugene Luther Gore Vidal, correcting one name to match his father’s and adding a family name from his mother’s side. He promptly dropped the first two names, wanting to go by something distinctive. As noted by biographer Fred Kaplan,

[He] wanted a sharp, distinctive name, appropriate for an aspiring author or national political leader. “I wasn’t going to write as Gene since there was already one. I didn’t want to use the Jr.”

That strong sense of self was a guiding principle throughout his life. A sharp wit and acerbic personality, Vidal looked at American history as a narrative of inevitable decline (you gotta love that). His first novel, Williwaw, was written in 1946 when he was only 19. One of the first novels published about World War II after the war, it received high praise. He followed it with the then infamous The City and the Pillar, noted for its frank presentation of homosexuality. This was maverick writing, especially in 1948. One of my favorites of Vidal’s was Live from Golgotha: the Gospel according to Gore Vidal, as Vidal takes his own look at the New Testament.

Over the course of his impressive career, Vidal wrote 25 novels and two memoirs. He was also a prolific essayist and occasional playwright; the latter talent earned him work as a screenwriter for television and movies. He famously adapted Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer for the screen, resulting in the astonishing film starring Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift, and Katharine Hepburn.  If you have not seen this move, you really MUST.  “We were procuring for him!”

Like few other authors of the 20th Century, Vidal relished a role as a public figure and managed a parallel career as a commentator and gadfly while still creating great literature. He was a frequent guest on television programs and his gifts of quick wit and cool detachment made him famous. Blending a populist spirit with an aristocratic air, he was a delightful conundrum with a singular consistency. He once said of himself,

I’m exactly as I appear. There is no warm, lovable person inside. Beneath my cold exterior, once you break the ice, you find cold water.

Outspoken on politics, especially foreign policy, he ran for office twice (losing both times). He famously observed,

There is not one human problem that could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.

A great fan of conspiracy theories, he firmly believed that those in power practiced deception to further their aims. Considering himself a “conspiracy analyst,” he was also outspoken when he felt a speculation was mere paranoia. Speaking about the George W. Bush administration, he noted,

Everything the Bushites touch is screwed up. They could never have pulled off 9/11, even if they wanted to. Even if they longed to. They could step aside, though, or just go out to lunch while these terrible things were happening to the nation. I believe that of them.

Famously bisexual, Vidal noted that he preferred same-sex sex but was not choosy. He was briefly engaged to Joanne Woodward before he met his long-term partner, Howard Austen. Vidal and Austen were together for 50 until Austen’s death in 2003.

One of a dying breed of the observational class, Vidal was a significant force in the culture of 20th Century America. His contributions to literature and letters cannot be underestimated, nor can his pioneering work as a frank reporter of gay life. He died yesterday of pneumonia at his home in Hollywood Hills, CA, leaving a space that can never be filled.

What’s in an acronym? Parsing the LGBTQQIP2SAA community

11 Jul

Trying to cover everyone

Every few months another online debate flares up about exactly what the LGBT community should call itself. Generally speaking, most people default to LGBT (or GLBT, with a slight majority favoring the L-first version). This explicitly calls out key components of a diverse group: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender. As shorthand goes, it’s fairly effective, recognizing the spectrum of sexual orientation and gender identity in four simple letters. Of course, it can’t please everyone, and like most compromises, leaves plenty of people feeling unheard.

Four other forms of shorthand see frequent use in the media and on the Internet. Many people opt simply for “gay.” Unfortunately, that leaves out any aspect of the community that doesn’t identify explicitly with same-sex attraction. It also traditionally applies to men, resulting in sexist language, however unintentional.

Opponents of the community typically use “the homosexual community” which manages to be gender neutral but also leaves out significant populations (although those populations may be just as happy not to get attention from these groups.) The more academic term “sexual minorities” is also used. Although this has broader meaning it also draws focus to the word “sexual,” avoidance of which resulted in the use of the word “gay” in the first place. Members of the LGBT community don’t want to be defined strictly by possible behavior, but as complex, fully realized human beings. In an America with a strong puritanical streak – even today – the word “sexual” still has too much power to stigmatize.

Many activists have reclaimed the word “queer” as a preferred descriptor. Taking back the word from the bullies and foes is a way to regain power. This is much like Bitch magazine co-opting a frequent slur as a way to raise feminist activists above their oppressors. For many, however, the scars from being called “queer” are too deep and too fresh to choose it as an identity. So what’s a diverse, inclusion-inclined community to do?

Over time, a number of other additions have been suggested to the LGBT acronym. The most common is Q, signifying “questioning” to recognize that many people are uncertain about their sexual orientation or gender identity (or both). Some also use the Q for queer. At full throttle, the letters wind up something like LGBTQQIP2SAA – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender,

  • Two Q’s to cover both bases (queer and questioning);
  • I for Intersex, people with two sets of genitalia or various chromosomal differences;
  • P for Pansexual, people who refuse to be pinned down on the Kinsey scale;
  • 2S for Two-Spirit, a tradition in many First Nations that considers sexual minorities to have both male and female spirits;
  • A for Asexual, people who do not identify with any orientation; and
  • A for Allies, recognizing that the community thrives best with loving supporters, although they are not really part of the community itself.

That manages to be pretty inclusive, but it’s also pretty unwieldy.

Labels are tricky things. Most oppressed and minority communities have struggled with finding a descriptor that they feel embraces them and that they can embrace. The evolution of Negro to Colored to Black to African-American shows a clear transition from outside labels to a community claiming its own identity, although many with the community object to African-American. The journey from Indians to Native Americans to First Nations is similar, with many outside the community being unfamiliar with the latter designation. The transition from handicapped to disabled was successful (and codified in law) but the attempt to destigmatize to “differently abled” was just too awkward to find common usage.

It’s that kind of awkwardness that stymies the best attempts to find the magic LGBT label. The problem stems from the best of intentions, inclusion. People are complex, with multiple identities. Everyone has a sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion (or lack thereof), ethnicity, and many other components. It’s laudable for the LGBT community to recognize that there is strength in working together and to try to find a descriptor that shows that intent. In the long run, the intent matters more than the label. Rather than take umbrage at a less than fully inclusive LGBTQ – which at least shows good intent – let’s focus on the work we need to do together to make this a better place for everyone.

Moment in Women’s History: Tallulah Bankhead

12 Dec

On December 12, 1968 the world lost an enigmatic and self-purported “wild” treasure.  Tallulah Bankhead died at the young age of 66.  Bankhead was quite famous for her deep, throaty, and evocative voice.  Some of my favorite quotes by Bankhead are:

I’m not at my best when I start to moralize or philosophize. Logic is elusive, especially to one who so rarely uses it…I’m as pure as the driven slush…If I had my life to live over again, I’d make the same mistakes, only sooner.

Bankhead was a woman who spoke her mind and worked to be her own person, living life on her terms–quite remarkable for a woman of her generation.

Yes, there were many rumors that Bankhead was bisexual and Bankhead herself helped to promote these rumors. She was a long standing Democrat and a supporter of liberal causes.  She actually worked on the campaign for FDR.  My hope is that Bankhead will inspire many future generations of women to live life on their own terms and not allow anyone to limit their potential.

Celebrating LGBTQ History Month: June 24, Lady Gaga

24 Jun

Today I would like to honor and pay tribute to Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, better known as Lady Gaga.  Gaga identifies as bisexual, a group that often is misunderstood or neglected. TSM tries to focus on issues around social justice and LGBT issues; Lady Gaga falls into both categories and deserves to be celebrated for her highly visible and fierce dedication to civil rights.

Her detractors leave me nonplussed.  I don’t see many 25 year olds, or many people in general today, who are willing to take serious risks and stand up for a population that is marginalized.  Gaga took a very strong stand for LGBT rights.  She defended Adam Lambert from a homophobic attack, and she joined the fight against the discriminatory DADT policy.  She organized a rally to repeal DADT and offered a wonderful speech regarding discrimination.

I was particularly impressed with the stand she took against Target.  What other celebrity would break a contract to stand by their convictions?  And of course, her latest album Born This Way, which was so compelling that my husband and I actually bought the album.  We have not purchased any music in years.  Many of the songs on Born This Way address inequality and discrimination.  The song Americano is about two women who are in love.  I also love that the song addresses immigration rights and I certainly don’t see a lot of folks talking about immigration discrimination! While I like the lyrics, I have to admit I really also enjoy the music. II thank Lady Gaga for her advocacy, her visibility, and her courage.

%d bloggers like this: