Generic: Vin Diesel (2008)

Generic: Vin Diesel (2008)

 

Fun fact: Since 1999, I’ve been hailed around Hollywood as “The Generic Guy.”

Now, in entertainment industry parlance, that means I’m the one studios call to handle their “generic interviews.” These were either fashioned into featurettes or similar “behind the scenes” programming, as well as feature stories planted in specifically chosen print or digital sites. Such a job did have an enviable quality as I would usually get a lot more time than most journalists, as well as travel wherever the talent was best available. Junkets, film festivals, film sets, these interviews were never boring and the best part? It was always an adventure. 

This is no longer the case in 2017 since my focus is strictly placed on creating original content for broadcast, home entertainment and, mostly, online platforms. But those early, palmier years had me interviewing more celebrities than Barbara Walters at her peak. It was like having the jet setting talk show of my dreams, without an audience knowing who the hell was asking the questions.

Being a producer in this capacity fulfilled my biggest dream of becoming a journalist, despite its also being an extension of my career as a publicist. That I was firmly embedded with the International film publicity teams was just one of the many blessings. They were fantastic colleagues and collaborators, all of whom treated me with great respect, care and trusted my ability to do the best job for their films and tv series. Why I was able to last as long as a “generic interviewer” was because I aimed to avoid asking generic or gossipy questions.

I believed then and now in the power of conversation, even in a junket setting, which was can be as in depth as speed dating. The rewards are so much greater when you just relate to the person in front of you. It takes about 30 seconds for most people to either be engaged or write you off. We all get a few talent who prefer to be in lock down mode or rip the mic right off, or just sit there taking up oxygen. Fear of libel prevents me from naming names. I’d rather focus on the positive anyway.

A lot of candid and entertaining chatter has happened over the years and I’ve often thought about collecting the best interview transcripts into a book. I even have a title: Generic. Envision a brown paper cover on the outside, a Hollywood life chronicled on the inside. 

So, why not test run a chapter?

Thanks to Facebook, I was reminded of an August afternoon in 2008 when I went face to face with Vin Diesel. He was promoting the infamous futuristic thriller “Babylon A.D.” What makes this interview interesting was knowing he was about to return to “The Fast and the Furious” after a run of flops that slowed down his momentum as a box office draw. The swagger that was hallmark was tempered a bit, most likely from his also being a new father at that time. Regardless, the ensuing conversation was one I won’t forget as it was referred as a “fireside chat” by the studio’s publicist. Adding, “All that’s missing are the brandy snifters and the velvet smoking jackets.” 

If only.

Yet, we did talk about the fear of building walls at our borders, a key theme in “Babylon, A.D.”  Funny what can happen in nine years. Here’s more of what happened that August afternoon at the Loews Regency Hotel in New York City

No matter the generation, when a film star is launched, audiences can’t wait for a second helping of what sated their hunger in the first place. But, pop culture is notoriously fickle, and people will move on to their next craving without mercy. It is a wonder why anyone wants to be an actor in the first place, but yet, the temptation is too great for some to ignore. And — which one of us can’t resist a delicious fantasy to post on our walls, computer screen – or beam down on us from a big screen at the multiplex?

Enter Vin Diesel.

Since hitting the box office lotto with THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS, Diesel has become the ultimate representation of not only macho cool, but the face of a multi-cultural generation finally seeing itself on screen.

Born in 1967 as Mark Sinclair Vincent, Diesel was a product of the Love Generation. Raised in an artist commune in New York, Diesel was determined from a young age to express himself through the arts. Acting since he was 7 years old, he would encounter adult rejection because of his mixed heritage. Deemed either too black or too white or sometimes not enough of either, it was his supporting role in Steven Spielberg’s award-winning SAVING PRIVATE RYAN that would prove to be more than a lucky break.

As a counterpoint to his sensitive voice performance as the robot in THE IRON GIANT, it was Diesel’s brash confidence that proved the “Nos” to fuel such films as PITCH BLACK and XXX. With the box office returns to prove it, Diesel was being hailed as the arrival of a new kind of action hero.

And then the banquet became something less enticing.

For Hollywood pundits, his refusal to return for the FAST AND FURIOUS and XXX sequels was on par with career suicide. Then, the head scratching decision to star anew as PITCH BLACK’S Riddick in the epic CHRONICLES OF RIDDICK with mild success. Perhaps in a bid to stave off further disappointments, Diesel went the route of The Rock in playing rock hard and cuddly with THE PACIFIER. While a surprise hit, Diesel seemed to be enduring an identity crisis on screen.

Seeking real challenges and opportunities to add new ingredients to his own screen recipe, Diesel showed great dramatic prowess as real-life mobster Jack DiNorscio in Sidney Lumet’s FIND ME GUILTY. Despite receiving acclaim for his performance, the film offered disappointing returns – and an uncertain future for Diesel himself.

I sat down with the actor for a one-on-one interview during a press tour for his latest film effort — French director Mathieu Kassovitz’s wildly controversial BABYLON A.D. A bold take on the dystopian future personified by such films as BLADE RUNNER and THE FIFTH ELEMENT, Diesel anchors the film as a soulless mercenary for hire named Toorop. Engaged by a crime lord to escort a mysterious young woman to New York, their danger-filled journey reveals the girl actually harbors the power to save a desperate world from itself.

After serving as executive producer on last year’s HITMAN, it appears Diesel enjoyed the chance to engage in the aesthetics of another French auteur. To hear him discuss BABYLON A.D., however, it comes as no surprise that Diesel is a real Showman, as brash and confident as the anti-heroes he’s played over the last decade.

However, I was surprised to find that Diesel is less concerned about trying to replicate any kind of prefab formula. He just doesn’t give a shit as to any labels the industry/media have, as he is content with his life:

He’s a new father.

He’s got a new film that sated both his comfort zones in action and drama.

He knows success and failure and he’s fine if either strike at any time.

I often wonder why every comic wants to be a serious actor, and why action stars want to be more than just brute muscle. I also don’t know why audiences can’t seem to want to see their favorite star recipes tampered with. What I enjoyed in our conversation was that Diesel is determined to give people what they want, but on his terms.

He’s a man of action for a reason.

JORGE CARREON:

You seem to be content with following your own path, despite people wanting to keep you locked into a certain type. Why return to this particular genre now?

VIN DIESEL:

I was talking to my father last night, who was in the screening. I always act like I don’t know what movie he’s talking about when he talks about a movie, ‘cause I want to get as much as I can. I said, “So it was packed with action?’ and he said, “Yes, it was.” I said, “So, Dad, so this other studio wants to move forward on this action film. Would it be too soon? Should I go back to the dramatic thing right now, and then do an action after?” He said, “Vin, your action film audience can’t get enough. “ There’s something about the action film genre. When you’re a fan of action films, you can’t get enough. It doesn’t matter how old you are. And he then went on to tell me a story about the guard that lived in our building. And he said, “Yeah, Vin’s got another movie coming out.” This is a guy that knew me as a child. And he goes, “Is it action?” And my father said, “Yeah,” he said “GOOD! And I’m there!” I probably never considered it as much as I did just last night talking to my father, how loyal and almost fanatic we are about action movies. We need to have them and expect to see them and make an event out of them. When I go to see an action movie, I get that charge, you know? I was raised to study the craft intensely from a very young age. You’d almost think well action movies are action movies. First of all, “action movie” is a new term, okay? Films like THE WILD ONE, GONE WITH THE WIND could be called “action movies” since they were made with the best effects that technology could provide at that time. It wasn’t until the Arnold generation that this title of action movies even came about. So every movie that I approach, every character I approach, I approach with the same conviction and the same attention to the craft, whether it’s a dramatic piece by Sidney Lumet or whether it’s an action piece.

CARREON:

What’s your take on Mathieu Kassovitz’s vision of the future in BABYLON A.D.?

DIESEL:

The thought of this was taking something that had the action component and then string it together if you will all these sequences with this real French auteur style, you know? That’s what the fun of doing this film was and the challenge of doing this film and what was attractive about doing it. I had just come off this incredible experience with working with Sidney Lumet. I was hungry for different kinds of directors. The fact that it was an action piece was a comfort zone. That was the easy part, so to speak. And I was going to go. What was attractive was having a visceral take on an action movie.

CARREON:

Do you have faith? Do you have faith in humanity?

DIESEL:

Yes, I do have faith in humanity. And I will guard that faith against any cynicism to my dying day. But, I’m the son of an idealist. I’m the son of artists. I am an artist! I think by being an artist, you have to have some kind of faith in humanity otherwise you wouldn’t be an artist. You wouldn’t expect anyone to get what you are saying in your art.

CARREON:

Do you have a spiritual faith, or a faith in yourself?

DIESEL:

I have a spiritual faith.

MJ:

That’s interesting in the context of the film because you are a man of blank morality.

DIESEL:

You are so right, you are so right. Fascinating and interesting about playing that role, but the real me? Very strong on the spiritual faith. It’s interesting because part of the subtlety of the Michelle Yeoh character was that representation of that kind of spiritual faith.

CARREON:

Mélanie (Thierry, Diesel’s co-star in the film) was saying, in her mind we are not too far away from the world that is presented in BABYLON A.D. Do you share the same belief?

DIESEL:

I don’t know. I know that when we were making this movie, we were making this movie about a character having to export somebody through borders around Russia. I would pick up the New York Times and you’ve got borders increasing around Russia. Specifically Russia and Georgia and all that. And you see the seeds of something that is scary.

CARREON:

I guess we’re not too far after all, Vin you’re scaring the shit out of me!

DIESEL:

No, I’m just saying in the general sense. I have my own philosophy about how the border thing is working and how it’s…

CARREON:

And how it’s not.

CARREON:

And how it’s not and where we’re going to be in a few years with borders. But everyone might think I’m crazy.

CARREON:

We’ll have to look at this ten years from now and see if you’re right. I hope not.

DIESEL:

It’s a tricky thing because the borders will be increased and strengthened in a way no one will recognize. No one will ever see them being built. The walls of China, so to speak, that are going to divide our world are going to be constructed while we’re not paying attention. What we’ll be focused on is the virtual world where there are no borders. So the physical world is going to build its borders while we indulge further into the Internet, into a world where there are no borders. When you are locked in front of that screen you’ll never see the wall being built.

CARREON:

And they’ll be surprised.

CARREON:

And they’re going to be surprised.

CARREON:

Which did you find more challenging, the physical or the emotional aspects your role in BABYLON A.D.?

DIESEL:

Both are challenging in different ways. I become the character. As crazy as that sounds, live in that character and I don’t think of anything as being more challenging than the other. Might not be the smartest thing because when I’m in character I jump off the roof, I jump off the roof. It’s less of a specific thing that’s more challenging. The more you delve deep into a character, the more exhausting it is on you, right? You know, you hear all the time about actors that go and do these really deep performances and than need a year to try and detox and cleanse. Because, if it is done right and done with integrity, becoming a character is a heavy deal.

CARREON:

It ain’t easy.

DIESEL:

It ain’t easy. You live in that space. That’s if you are striving to do something significant in your craft. You end up living in a space and that space ain’t always a comfortable space.

CARREON:

Why do you think the multi-cultural face enhances this move?

DIESEL:

For me, any film that has a multi-cultural face is enhanced, personally. But I think it plays to this movie in a really good way. You know, Michelle Yeoh was originally written in the book as an old French kind of typical nun. And I think by casting Michelle Yeoh in that role, as opposed to the traditional, she was able to bring an unspoken spirituality. A spirituality that you didn’t have to really talk about too much, but she brought it to the screen, she brought it to the role and it helped the overall picture.

CARREON:

And Mélanie is interesting as well.

DIESEL:

So exciting! She’s one of our big finds in the movie. I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of Mélanie.

CARREON:

You have a huge vested interest in this. Why?

DIESEL:

I’ve done enough movies now. You reach a place where you realize dreams which is surreal. It’s a surreal experience. I want my work to be significant. I take great pride in the art. I come from artist housing. It was government subsidized in New York, which were basically projects for artists that made less than ten thousand dollars a year. That’s the environment in which I was raised. That’s kind of affected me in Hollywood because sometimes I don’t take the big Hollywood picture payday thing and that causes a ripple because the studio needs that thing and I’m too idealistic. And the script isn’t good! And no one really gives a shit whether I think the script is good or not, but they care when they know I care, that I’m invested in a movie. I’ve had my challenges with that because sometimes I can be too precious and too involved, but I stand by the work that I do and I stand by the films that I do. And my philosophy about making movies is that everybody included in that process of making a movie should feel that way. I feel like the third wardrobe assistant should feel just as accountable for the movie as the director. That’s my own thing.

** This interview with Vin Diesel was conducted on August 20, 2008, at the Loews Regency Hotel in New York City for 20th Century Fox International. It has been edited from the original transcript.

“Dad”

“Dad”

Dad: How far is your house from here?

Me: About 14 miles.

Dad: I’m tired. I think you should go.

Me: But I promised Mom I’d watch you.

Dad: Where’s Mom?

Me: In Mexico. Visiting her family. She’s coming home today.

Dad: I’m fine. I don’t need you here. I’m tired. You should go.

Me: Okay.

That’s when I called my sister…

The day didn’t start out this way.  That exchange happened around 6 pm. We’d made a day of it, Dad and I. We ran errands, had lunch, even went to a movie together. Then things got a little complicated, ending with my saying to my older sister, “Thank God for pharmaceuticals.” In the end, I had to turn my Dad into Neely O’Hara to restore order. Under normal circumstances, this day out with Dad should have been like it was 40 years ago when we were father & young son. Now the roles are reversed, but with one crucial difference: Alzheimer’s.

Being with an Alzheimer’s patient is a bit like being in a scene from “Groundhog Day.” Repetition is the name of the game and it requires a decent amount of patience and humor when they are this stage. You push away thoughts about the silence still to come when they enter a state of haunted immobility as they no longer engage with the world. For now, we can still have conversations. These are comprised of lightning rounds of the same group of questions as they fixate on specific topics. In my Dad’s case, it usually involves the measurement of space or time.

I was assigned one day to sit and care for Dad, which was also the day Mom was to return from visiting her family in Mexico. Dad’s mental long play record was stuck in one groove. His current jam was the track about where was Mom and when would she return. My younger sister had gone to work and I was chuffed by the idea of getting to spend time with Dad in during the regular week.  I sat in our family home living room, taking care of Emails as Dad took his usual spot, the outside porch. Yet, for the next 90 minutes, he’d rotate from the living room to the porch. Each time Dad would enter the room, he’d ask:

Dad: Tu viniste a cuidarme?

Me: Si, papá.

Dad: Muy amable.

He seemed touched to know I had been asked by the family to take care of him. He’d rap on the table, an emphatic gesture that made me smile. An hour or so later, his pacing evolved into that of a caged animal. His eyes glittered in a unique way and the rapping, which at first felt like a war buddies fist bump, now had a tone of anger. Without hesitating, I took Dad on a Target run.

My Dad has been afflicted with Alzheimer’s for well over a decade. We’ve been fortunate to have him mentally present with us for so long. He recognizes my mom and sister, who care for him 24/7. As for the rest of my siblings, we are in iPod shuffle mode. Sometimes he knows who we are and we ignore the times he doesn’t.

Sometimes we are simply “los muchachos,” a catchall term that refers us as being his “kids.” It offers its own comforts, being part of that group memory. We’re still his children. Then reality takes over. One time, he told Mom I couldn’t be his son since I’m too old as he’s only in his 50s. I go, “Mom, that makes you an OG cougar.” We both laughed. You have to laugh, otherwise, you cry.

Dad’s eating habits are changing. Texture matters, in addition to the color of his food. At times, he can forget when he’s had a meal, then he’ll insist that he hasn’t. He is losing weight. He’s irascible at times, the Latino machismo surging to a boiling point when contradicted. Again, those glittering eyes are a sign for us to be calm. That’s when he’s in that “mad” mode.

My mom and sister have learned to wait out the tantrums instead of fueling them further, although I see now why Mom has no fuse at all anymore. Their matrimonial sea roils and it calms itself just as suddenly as if nothing happened at all. Yet the after effects are revealing the wear on her, too. The one saving grace? Whenever things do get too intense, Dad’s physician has prescribed Dad a mild sedative. Yes, it is on par with giving a screaming toddler Benadryl, but sometimes…

IMG_5787

I can see Dad’s age now. He’s 92. I regret not getting him on record to capture his view of the world, the chronicle of a Mexican immigrant father, businessman, and world traveler projected against the canvas of contemporary history. Today, he can’t differentiate what he sees on the television screen, fictional or otherwise, from his real life.

When we do receive those treasurable moments, though, it is on par with winning the lottery. Like the time, I went to meet Dad and my younger sister for a showing of “Atomic Blonde.” As they entered the cinema, he saw me and instantly opened his arms for a hug. Usually, he just offers a gentlemanly handshake and a pat on the shoulder, which was his way. But this was wonderfully different. For a moment, we were on the track many grown sons are with their older parent.

Families, particularly Latino families, do not like to share the truth of their loved ones’ health, especially serious conditions. For whatever reason, illnesses are a “private matter.” We become traffic wardens, telling onlookers, “Move along. There’s nothing to see. Everything is alright.” But everything is not alright. Our parents will get sick. They will change because of an illness, not because of some cosmic punishment.

I understand the desire, particularly when it comes to our parents or grandparents, to want people to remember how they were and not as their infirmed selves. It is such a waste of time, time left with us that we can’t possibly measure or gauge. Family can become so entrenched in denial. Better living through chemistry, at least when it comes to Alzheimer’s, yes. But the truth is it is just a stop gap.

I see where we are heading with Dad. That’s why I choose to laugh now about his, “Yo soy el dueño de esta casa” demeanor. It wasn’t easy knowing he wanted me to leave his house. My work caring for him was done and he wanted his independence and space back. Later that night, I regaled my Mom and younger brother about how Dad refused to go to sleep because he wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to “steal his shit.” Eventually, like a toddler, sleep caught up with him. Granted it was aided with the sedative I gave him a few hours earlier, but our cherished Poppadoodles was finally having a well-deserved rest.

I do not regret the frustration I felt at times that day. At times, I wanted to just yell, “Why don’t you understand?” I felt robbed because I can’t stop thinking about the conversations we could be having now we are both able to communicate again. It all seems so unfair. I can’t tell him I finally understand what he tried to teach me when I was a kid. I can’t tell him how he hurt me when I came out to him 17 years ago. I can’t tell him that I forgive him. I can’t share with him how I think this full circle reality we share is so good and inspiring to me.

Like “Groundhog Day,” we will be back at the same starting point the next day and the one after that. Our “Dad’s Day Out” will be forgotten, but how marvelous to know that when we do get to do this again it will be like a brand-new adventure. We have nothing to mourn or feel sorry about here. Dad is a part of many lives, not just with the family here and in Mexico, but our friends, too. As long as that smile still shines through I will remember what his mind can’t hold anymore. It’s the ultimate privilege and the best story I am ever going to be able to tell.

From the Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles website:

“Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles is a leader in developing culturally and linguistically appropriate programs and services, including those for Latinos.  Research shows Latinos with dementia are low users of formal health services and less likely than non-Latinos to see a physician.  Given the significance of familia in the Latino community, families (particularly daughters) provide a disproportionate share of Alzheimer’s care.

In order to reach these women (and their families) ALZGLA has taken a creative approach…we produced a bilingual, educational telenovela.  Lost Memories tells a story familiar to many Greater Los Angeles families.  It also disseminates complex medical and health information to caregivers with the goal of raising awareness of Alzheimer’s, fighting stigma, and encouraging Latino families to seek help sooner.

In honor of Latino Heritage Month,the 4-episode web series will debut September 19 at alzgla.org and on YouTube.

 

“Basic”

“Basic”

As defined in the Urban Dictionary:

1. Used to describe someone devoid of defining characteristics that might make a person interesting, extraordinary, or just simply worth devoting time or attention to.

2. Lacking intelligence and unable to socialize on even an elementary level.

3. Annoyingly frustrating because of the above

Oh her? Don’t even worry about her, girl. She’s so basic.

I think I preferred being gay in the 1990s. Well, sometimes I do.

That’s not an admission of not enjoying my gay life today. I enjoy it very much, although I probably hide out more than living out loud. Still, I honestly believe I am not alone in recognizing the limits that exist within the complex reality of the community today. Our tropes have been remixed, rebranded, shaken, and stirred into such a vast panoply of categories, it is no wonder we have begun to lose our connection to each other. It’s the same phenomenon of having too much choice. And while we continue to be political firebrands, I often feel it is hard to a distinguishing voice, one that embraces the entire group. Perhaps that’s an impossible task.

When I was sorting out my gay identity in the mid-80s to 1990s, I will never forget the fear and desperation I felt over what I perceived as a paucity of role models and resources with which to understand being homosexual. Yes, I loved watching old movies, Paul Lynde and broke my mother’s kitten heels as a kid, pretending that I was Ann-Margret in “The Pleasure Seekers.” Yes, I fell under the sway of Gershwin & Porter, Bette Midler, Linda Ronstadt’s “What’s New” and Joan Rivers’ infamous comedy album “What Becomes a Semi-Legend Most?” I wasn’t led to all of these places. Most happened by osmosis. Some of my favorite teachers, who probably felt I needed a little encouragement, steered me ever so gently towards some cultural touchstones. Bottom line, it all felt right, just like the crushes I felt for Han Solo, Steve Austin and Thomas Magnum, private investigator. However, as I poured through the oeuvre of Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, and Jacqueline Susann, their depictions of homosexuality only left me titillated and confused. Man, I had questions and no one to turn to for answers.

As a teenager, you didn’t dare mention anything “gay” for fear of being ostracized or brutalized by the macho fucks who prowled the school hallways. Pretty much anything that did not look or sound like them meant “faggot.” Advanced vocabularies were a secret shame for us chubby, nascent homos. It was all closets, stereotypes, and slurs, as I am sure it was for many teenagers surviving the early 80s. It didn’t help that the HIV/AIDS crisis was being treated like a biblical pestilence by the media. But how else would you view the deaths of 40,000 people between 1981 and 1987 as anything but a genocide? Gomorrah was burning and it was devastating to hear from Anita Bryant and your own friends’ parents that being gay was the match that lit the fuse. Asserting your homosexuality at that time was not going to be like an ABC Afternoon School Special.

As I ventured to UCLA and beyond, I began to discover the resources with which to further define my gay identity. It was about being part of the “gay and lesbian” community, even if only the white gay male narrative was what clearly in focus. I still didn’t see myself in the growing media presence of gay men. Although, we have come a long way in that regard. In many ways, it still is a very white focus, regardless of the gender. Room for progress? Yes.

While I stayed firmly in the closet when it came to my parents, I had no problems letting my gay flag fly elsewhere. After UCLA became an educational Waterloo, CSU Long Beach can take credit for leading me to the artistry Armistead Maupin, Charles Busch, Reinaldo Arenas, David Leavitt, Manuel Puig, Larry Kramer, Keith Haring, Joe Orton, Harvey Fierstein, Pedro Almódovar and so much more. Once I landed at Paramount Studios as an intern, I hit the mother lode (and not that stalwart WeHo bar.) Several of the men I worked with in the studio’s National Theatrical Publicity department presented themselves as being incredibly secure with their bad ass gay selves. It was the first of many safe and illuminating havens I experienced in terms of associating with professionals who were out in the workplace.  I was made aware just how gay men and women were the ones to make life and style synonymous terms. In this ACT UP era, it was time to understand we were “fierce.” More, I became hyper aware as to the debt attached to the attitude, parlance, and strength of the community, realities contributed by African-American, Latino and Asian queers. It all made for an intoxicating existence, especially when viewed on display at clubs Circus or Rosie’s or Jewel’s Catch One, where we embraced each other, fell in love on the hour and felt so invincible on the dance floor.

When I started writing this post on being “Basic,” it was meant to be another statement on dating today. That was before I sat down to watch the poignant if erratic “Strike a Pose” documentary. It is a “where are they now” piece that was produced by a Belgian-Dutch team, the film celebrated the 25th anniversary of “Madonna: Truth or Dare,” itself a cultural moment of considerable influence. The documentary regrouped seven of Madonna‘s unforgettable backup dancers, charting the course of their lives, trials, and considerable tribulations in the years since their co-starring in the Material Girl’s iconic 1990 Blonde Ambition tour. That zeitgeist moment, one that influenced so many young gay men and women, had a bittersweet impact on these men’s’ lives. How a defining cultural gift proved so challenging and heartbreaking for these incredibly talented men helped me broaden the context of what I wanted to say about this era of being “Basic.”

I was very much one of those fans who found refuge and pride in a movie theater during that summer of 1991. I instantly re-felt the impact of “Truth or Dare,” despite the difficulties faced by this group of men as chronicled by “Strike a Pose.” It was also like finding being a letter from a long-ago love. Witnessing these men, all nearing 50, still moving to their own music with purpose helped me understand the need to keep moving forward, of re-embracing my own strengths and colors. More, they inspired me to not feel adrift or isolated as a result of being 50 and gay in a world that still caters to the proverbial youthquake.

The first paragraphs on “Basic” were these:

When it comes to 21st century dating between men, two categories remain in play. The first group – or the Exceptionals – are men worth dating, but are most likely paired off or not interested in being a couple at all. This group does not include those who are in open relationships, a social phenomenon that is just more macho-induced “having your cake (or cock in this case) and eating, too. And then we have group two: The Basics. Oh, man.

Created by the internet, this constantly trending crowd thinks it’s redefining our world and perhaps they are with their throwback looks and sway back attitudes. They live for the now, even if they don’t know what that means.  It isn’t just millennials, either. Basicdom is spreading to all age groups like a virus as social media swallows the rest of us whole. And what’s in between is a collective of damaged goods spouting mangled psychosexual manifestos and more. It is no longer men you date or men you don’t. What we have today are next level distrust and basic human disconnection.

I couldn’t continue down this path, one I’ve covered before and a Bombeckian take felt trite and unnecessary. Instead, I wanted to focus on how unfunny being labeled “basic” is to those who wield it as a joke or a tone-deaf insult.

While I applaud how millennials have turned up the dialogue to address and give names to the many facets of out and/or queer life, they are still working on variations of a theme long-established. I don’t think today’s young gay men quite understand the debt they owe previous generations, their lives, struggles, deaths and everything in between. Gay is a living, breathing creature, one that can decide the color of its plumage without a care in the world. Hide it, suppress it, oppress it, this creature will fight its way forward to be seen and with even greater radiance. A context to our present is missing today, a respect for history and the sacrifices made for us all to be able to say, “Sissy that walk.”

You will find nothing “basic” about being gay, now or ever. But it pisses me off that we are quick to diminish someone for not possessing whatever trend or ideology that makes them “interesting” or “worth devoting time to” in this world.  We all can’t look like refugees from the Electric Company or Romper Room. More, we can’t let striking a series of selfie poses, drinks up and duck lips be what defines our sexual freedom!

We all will get older. We all will find how our experiences can impact the future if take our narcissism out of the equation. How we dare shame those who are poz or act like PrEP is the golden bullet that will keep us young and fuckable. How dare we ignore those who choose a unique brand of queer, or want to unleash their true gender identity, are older or chubbier or a different color or creed? Bad enough religious zealots want us dead, still! We cannot castigate or diminish our own brothers and sisters. Not now.

Homosexuality is a reality that was never about a life style choice because it sparks to life in our very DNA. We should remix “basic” and take the dialogue back to basics when we were all vital human beings living life on our terms: compassionate, honorable, forward thinking and positively sexy.

 

Key Photo: Art by Keith Haring

“Erma”

“Erma”

It’s been another week to upchuck thanks to the now even lower set of public standards established by our “president.” Defended by his equally inept minions as “fighting fire with fire” over media criticism, we are forced to bear witness to the tweeted verbal diarrhea of a school yard bully. Morning show hosts are being called out as “psycho” or “ugly.” He’s approving clips of his taking down the CNN logo like a WWF star. It’s all being done to overshadow a travel bans, dangerous health care laws and other exhibitions of governmental malfeasance now threatening the stability of the country. Hell, let’s make it the world. After years of “scripted” reality shows, we are keep tuning in on “That Crazy Trump!” because so many Americans can’t tell the difference anymore. Besides, it’s so entertaining! He’s keeping it real! He’s giving it to the Left, finally!

Yeah, he’s giving it to us, alright. However, one key difference must be recognized. We are ALL going to wake up with a scorching case of moral herpes. America will be that person other people whisper to you about NEVER dating because “they’re whores.” We are exactly that, whores. Trading our sanity and moral compass for the promise of something, white, rich and devoid of anything that sounds/looks like Barack Obama.

Many people turned to the Trumpian Way because they wanted to go back to the “old days” of when America was great. One of the sadder realities about such sentiments is that Trump does not represent what made this country such a beacon of hope to many. We know that racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia will fight to the end before leaving their places at the table. It is why many have taken up the mantle of resistance for generations. However, this era on “notice me” and “I want it now” has overtaken the important of virtues of shame, accountability, respect, tolerance and inclusivity. More, it is robbing us of the one thing that could bind us to see our way through it: a sense of humor.

The era of “snark and awe” punditry has obfuscated the role of the news person represented by Chet Brinkley, Walter Cronkite, Peter Jennings, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw. The columnist and humorist is no less present, either, replaced by bloggers, vloggers and YouTube “personalities,” fueled by a cynical and arch tone aimed at showing how stupid everything and everyone can be today. It is the equivalent of graffiti with punctuation, offering little analysis and said as loudly as possible. All that matters are that these posts make an “impression.”

Making an impression.

Before, it meant impressing the group as they met you for the first time. Now? Social media marketing execs with crow about millions of impressions, but they cannot accurately gauge if it goes beyond just “looking” at the post. Does the audience engage with it beyond just blithely sharing it with their friends? Does it provoke them into acting? Of buying? Of contributing to the cause? Of any of the interactions we did not take for granted decades earlier?

The American columnist once carried such power, a power on par with reach and impact of Twitter today. From Andy Rooney to Ann Landers, from Louella Parsons to Hedda Hopper & Rona Barrett, and from Walter Winchell to Frank Rich, Americans read, listened and watched their way to understanding the political, social, cultural and gossipy effluvia of the growing celebrity age. They could turn the tide on national opinion and they gave it context beyond 140 characters or less. Sure, some of them appealed to the lowest common denominator. William Randolph Hearst makes Steve Bannon look like sloppy kid reporter with pizza stains on his chin. But we had a choice. We had options that catered to something classier. One stood above the fray, whose columns were about our shared humanity in a crazy world, all written to make us feel like we weren’t alone in our flawed beauty. And it made us smile, cry and laugh. Sometimes all at once. We had Erma. Erma Louise Bombeck of Dayton, Ohio.

Friends, she was a wise one. Clever, authentic, and funny AF. It was hella fun playing “Beat the Clock” during those elementary school mornings, the ones where she’d appear on Good Morning America right before the end of the final hour. My mom, who loved Auntie Erm as much as I did, would listen and laugh and then sweep us all out the door to our faithful aqua Beetle and haul ass to South Ranchito. She was so worth the tardy slip.

The inimitable Erma Bombeck, one of the most beloved American humorists of the 20th century. Her “At Wit’s End” nationally syndicated column appeared three times a week in 900 newspapers worldwide, earning a weekly readership of 31 million people at its peak. Bombeck’s columns, books and morning show appearances seduced a legion of fans comprised of women, men and even precocious kids like me. So beloved was she to her readers, it was like she was that Auntie Mame-like tía you couldn’t wait to see on family visits. No one exists like that today, a lost generation replaced by Kris Jenner and Kim K., who are now the criteria to be declared “New York Times Best Selling” writers in this era of Selfie Life as Style.

“They never lost their temper, gained weight, spent more money than their husbands made, or gave viewers any reason not to believe they were living out their lives in celibacy. 

Their collective virtue was patience.  

It was the age of the God, Motherhood, Flag, and Apple Pie. All you had to do to be a mother was to put on an apron. No one did it better than the prime-time mothers. I was of the not-quite-ready-for-prime-time-mothers.” – From Motherhood: The Second Oldest Profession, 1983

Unfortunately, life after Donna Reed, Harriet Nelson and Carol Brady has been a trauma that will never be solved with a warm, homemade chocolate chip cookie and a hug. Aunt Erma was that voice of sanity in the chaos faced by the country in the 1970s and 1980s. While many fought for equality at home and in the workplace, people were still becoming parents and struggling with the many realities that plagued every new mom and dad. Erma was in the trenches with them, offering up a much-needed laugh in the face of what seemed insurmountable. She spoke to us, about us and it gave many of us a sense of security in knowing we were not alone in the changing tide of family dynamics.

Given our current state of angry racial, gender and cultural politics, a new generation may fault the writings of Bombeck as a dusty reflection of that suburban, white reality. Isn’t that what Trump’s legion of “fans” fighting to restore? But here’s the rub. It was never lost, just remixed by the inevitable forward motion of other groups in the land of plenty. Latinos, African Americans, Asians, all groups aspired and succeeded in reinventing the suburban experience in their own image. Struggling through oppression is not the only narrative we can contribute anymore! We have more to offer tales from life on the house on Mango Street or pen the umpteenth take on the “last mama on the couch” play, too.

The impact of Bombeck’s writing was a needed respite, especially after the upheaval of the 1970s. The 1980s were no easier thanks to the barrage of the Phil Donahue/Gail Sheehy/Self-Help Guru/You Can Have It All narratives that we started to ingest. We need a little Bombeck-style love again. We need someone who can write about the themes that are continuing to happen at a breakneck speed, despite the ugly that has exploded forth with Trump.

We continue to be new parents.

We continue to raise children.

We continue to be children.

We continue to see children as parents.

The grass is still greener over the septic tank.

We are still thinking if life is a bowl of cherries, while are we STILL in the pits?

We need a new Aunt Erma’s help to cope.

I say resist the snark and awe. Enough of the screaming. Enough of the blaming or bullying total strangers. No more extoling the virtues of sex tapes, reality stars, impressions and followers. We need to stop thinking our best means of curating an authentic life are those posts that disappear in 24 hours. We need to speak up and share our best insights and humorous outlooks at life today. We need to share those stories when we hear our kids refer to spaghetti as “gasphetti.”

Whatever our political sensibilities, we do share one common reality: we are such flawed human beings. Bombeck wasn’t shy to offer keen insight into her own less than perfect reality, which was a welcome breath of the authentic. As wrote about her family in “If Life is a Bowl of Cherries…”:

“I did not get these varicose veins of the neck from whispering. We shout at one another. We say hateful things. We cry, slam doors, goof off, make mistakes, experience disappointments, tragedies, sickness and traumas. When I last checked, we were members in good standing of your basic screw-up family.

There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.

And how do you know laughter if there is no pain to compare it with?”

We are all enduring the pain of an era we can’t seem to fathom on the daily. Maybe it’s time to take a breath and look beyond the 140 characters. Maybe it’s time for us to champion voices that lead us to feel it all a la Bombeck again.

Hmmm. Maybe it’s time for some tío Jorge realness in our lives? Who’s with me?

“Gender”

“Gender”

“Nobody wants to be alone
Everybody wants to love someone
Out of the tree go pick a plum
Why can’t we all just get along?”

From “Androgyny” by Garbage

It was an unusual Sunday at home in that it was quiet and I was totally alone. I’d just returned from my umpteenth work trip this year to discover that, unlike the gorgeous temperate weather of Vancouver, LA was as hot as Satan’s asshole. While I wasn’t exactly loving making sopa in my Hanes t-shirt, I occurred to me that it I could finally be a puta in my own home! Without hesitation, I reached over to my iPhone, whispering, “You whore,” and ignited the Growlr and Scruff apps with a newfound purpose. That was before I realized I was better off making soup in my undies. Behold this exchange with Bachelor No 1:

HIM: Are you masculine?

ME: What?

HIM: Would you define yourself as masculine?

ME: I find that question rather insulting. What the hell does that have to do with anything?

HIM: It’s just a question. I’ve never had anyone react this way to it before.

ME: People want to see us dead. Why are we wasting time being shitty to other gay men by judging whether they’re masculine or not?

HIM: I’m not responsible for Prop. 8. LOL

ME: Come over, decide for yourself. But I’m not answering the question.

I sat there, annoyed, sticking to my guns as he continued to insist I define my level of masculinity. I know it is a part of this era of people seeking guarantees so they don’t waste on anything like being committed to a single choice. No one takes a chance, but they extol the virtues of being on PrEP. They’ll list “Daddies” as a like, but won’t even acknowledge you if you’re really age of true Daddyhood. They say they hate douches who judge or have a long list of criteria, but ignore you if you dare to “Woof” them.

As we continued to volley back and forth with the texts, my anger stared to refine itself. Heat be damned, I was sticking to my original point. It IS a fucking stupid question. If you’re gold star homo who enjoys sucking dick and engaging in butt sex, how can that make you LESS of a man?

ME: I paint my toenails and I am skilled enough to tackle you hard.

(That brief period of playing football at Meller Jr. High and ERHS had its benefits after all. Thanks Coach Peterson!)

HIM: So, you’re masculine then?

ME: For fuck’s sake. Yes.

HIM: I’ll be over in 40 minutes.

So, how was he in person? Like any other friend of Dorothy’s I’ve met and nowhere near my chosen example of “All That is Man,” otherwise known as the great porn star Zak Spears.

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The experience left me quite pensive after he – mercifully — left. It wasn’t anything like the incredibly gratifying experiences I recently had in NYC and Vancouver of late. Both gents could not have represented the evolving gay identity of today’s homosexual any better. Confident and honest, they were very much in tune with their sexual selves, proving themselves fantastic lovers as a result.  So, why are some of us determined to make these distinctions of what qualifies as the measure of masculinity? It annoys me as much as that current vogue of telling people you’re being a grown up or “Adulting” or whatever the hell that means.

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I can joke that we are barely over the period when Metrosexuals jammed the “gaydars” for many of us – and women. That we’ve gone from playing Gay or European to Gay or Hipster!

Yet, gender fluidity continues to spill over into fashion, with men wearing skin tight jeans and even just plain ole tights as their daily uniform. As many men explore once feminine tropes, today’s younger generations continue to take great pains to redefine their sexual or gender identities, eschewing the use of traditional pronouns. He and She have given way to Cis, Latinx and a list grows with each year as these “woke” beings lead the vanguard as to what defines sexuality and identity. It’s hard to keep it all “straight” anymore! (I know, low hanging fruit.)

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I spent the better part of my adolescence and teens being subjected to a litany of slurs that were just variations of one word: “faggot.” The damage caused followed me into adulthood. I still bristle at the mere suggestion of anything that diminishes my sense of masculinity. I like being a man very much. I am out, proud and part of a community that has so much to teach the world. Yet, how is it, despite all the prejudices and intolerance that want to see us eradicated off this earth, gay men can be their own worst enemy?

We slut shame, even though we proudly crow being in “open relationships.” We femme shame even though we love watching those divine queens serve up glamour realness on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” We poz shame as we brag about being on Truvada, ignoring that the rise of STD’s that is not slowing down or that our brothers of color are experiencing an unspoken genocide because of HIV/AIDS in certain parts of our country.

We are still playing that stupid “straight acting” card, despite the great strides taken since Stonewall. I wonder, is it because we want to protect ourselves from the grotesque hatred against our sexual selves? Is it self-loathing about being a cocksucker or buttfucker? I wish I had an easy to qualify answer. I know the space between who we desire and what we fetishize is rather small indeed. We want to fuck who we want to fuck. Period. But if we homogenize ourselves into being one type, we ignore the incredible diversity that populates our community, itself such a disservice.

We can choose a lot of things in this life. How we look on the outside. What we think we know about the world. Who we want to love or make love to in those moments of blissful carnality. But we cannot change who we are on the inside as men and women of the LGBTQ community. That is not a choice. That is our reality. We are truly born this way. If we are ever going to move forward as a group, like the greater section of our woefully ignorant society, we need to stop shaming or disavowing those who don’t fulfill some outdated criteria many of us had NOTHING to do in establishing.

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I get ignored on these stupid apps on the daily for a variety of reasons and I’ve let that beat me down to the point where I feel that awful sense of being invisible again. I will be leaving them soon. But, it is important to note that I know what I can offer a man and it has been appreciated. And it will happen again. So, if a quasi-queer, but butch in bed, sweater wearing, Chanel Le Vernis sporting, Phil Donahue-era and book smart homo is your thing, you know where to find me.

By the way, I forgot to mention Bachelor No. 2, himself a Latino. After a few texts, he wanted to know if my voice was “very very masculine.” At first, I played it flip and responded by saying I was a “raging, but awesome queen.”

Of course, he wrote, “Really?”

I responded, “Actually, no. But I’ve been told I sound really white.”

I didn’t hear from him again.

 

“Shame”

“Shame”

“A very simple statement
A very simple crime
A lot of grief reflecting in how we spend our time
I want to change things
I want to make a change
I’m tired of spending time agonizing yesterdays”

— From “Shame” — Written by Martha Davis, Performed by The Motels

What’s your secret shame? You know, the thing you do when no one is looking?

What is that one vice or action you judge yourself for the most when you look in the mirror?

That loss of control we feel when we indulge in our secret shame is on par with an electric burst of adrenaline. It’s when you let a sly smile cross your face, that sweet release of euphoria when you reach that peak moment. It is a high, one that seduces you to keep going back again and again for another hit.  And it is always followed by your telling yourself, “This is the last time” or “Starting June 1st, I’ll get back on track!”

But you don’t. Because all you want to do is indulge in that behavior you’ve let overwhelm your sanity and self-control. Because it feels that bloody good.

Initially, this essay was going to be titled “Failure,” but I thought better of it. Shame can be overcome. Failure is a trap that can keep you locked up in a zone comprised of a darker shame. It is when you just give up and when it comes to addiction, you can’t just give up. It is a dangerous path, one that can have longterm effects and consequences.

I know I can’t reverse the decisions I’ve made during these last weeks. I can’t blame Fatlanta anymore. I’ve been home for nearly two weeks, embarking on a new project that is taking me to Vancouver. I cannot un-eat the food I’ve been attacking with unsteady hands of late. It’s been consumed and absorbed. I can only feel and see the effects daily and that sense of shame is now one that has me staring at the mirror with anger and disgust.

In six weeks, I am turning 50. While the excitement builds to this milestone, I have a few outstanding narrative threads that have yet to be resolved. The biggest one? Being a total bully to myself when it comes to this issue of food and wellness. Yet, instead of allowing the excitement of this milestone to lead me to a stronger place, I am a woeful mess right now. I can feel the anxiety throwing me off balance. Anger is present where hope should be right now. It is roiling the sanity I have worked so hard to reconstruct, letting frustration and outbursts of emotion spill out and over without warning at times.

I’ve been battling over what is keeping me in this dark space, but the source is both personal and social. The first layer? I didn’t think I’d be living the life of a gay spinster, locked away from potential suitors like Catherine Sloper in The Heiress or Laura Wingfield in The Glass Menagerie. I am probably skirting closer to becoming Miss Havisham in Great Expectations now. I held a torch for Tucker so long, I developed muscles in my arm I didn’t know existed. Yet, after seven years, my self-made prison isn’t so much the pain of leaving him behind when I did. Not anymore.

The damage I inflicted on myself over Tucker pales in comparison to what I’ve let take its place. The new layer is playing caretaker, scratch that, enabler to someone who has yet to understand that being an eternal dreamer doesn’t create a dream life. It is the most selfish way to live, keeping people in a state of stasis until YOU figure YOUR shit out. It is cruel and unforgivable. Anger is holding up my house of late. Anger and self-defeat to be exact. And it is punishing everyone around me, keeping most us from reaching new destinies in the name of “family.”

I hate feeling lonely and rejected, but the pitiful attempts of my meeting men are merely my picking at an old scab. It fills me with a different shade of shame because I am still in my prime, dammit. I should not have to fear my sexual self, much less repress it. Yet, because I can’t control the anger I feel, I have opted to rebuild the prison in which I’ve locked myself away. I’m getting heavier, covering myself up again. I am returning to the protective embrace of comfort foods because I want to feel the warmth of something loving and familiar, even though I am well aware of the only outcome of this reunion. I am angry that I don’t have a relationship to assure me that “It’s going to be okay.” Dammit, I don’t want to be fixed! I just want to be reassured by someone’s care and open heart. And that tender kiss, elusive and beautiful, has never felt so out of reach to me.

Layer three? It is bad enough we are living in a world without grace or accountability, where shamelessness has replaced decency and compassion. All we do is rip each other apart with lies, innuendo and avarice. We speak in tones of violence because we have to be heard above the din, leaving a body count as proof of being heard. We have leaders who spout the most reprehensible things for attention and justify their destruction of all civility.

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We denounce political correctness as being the enemy of a tottering state. The demand of restoring decency and peace is not being “PC.” We are surrounded by varying degrees of terrorists, all of whom think they are just and fighting a holy war built on a religious dogma that can only end in death. That’s the biggest, ugliest shame of all, forcing your will on billions of people who just want to live without fear!

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As I near the end of this post, I feel a different kind of shame. How can I wallow in my own self-pity when so much is off balance in this world? I can only say, I am no less flawed or confused as any other human at the moment. Yet, I can scream into this void, a blank page onto which I can spout all that ails me on the inside right now. Clarity does take form as I let this my thoughts unravel and let my insanity release its stranglehold.

Perhaps we all need to understand what shame means again.

Perhaps we all need to remind ourselves that accountability takes more strength than merely Tweeting obscenities and lies or shoving world leaders out of our way for a photo opportunity.

Perhaps we need to stop letting our fear keep us from turning away from the woes of our world because it is too hard and what does it matter anyway?

Perhaps I need to put down the fork and take a long look at the person struggling to become better and stronger again.

Perhaps it is time to stop being a coward and start loving the one person who has designs on making a difference, not use depression as an excuse to keep my addictions alive. What good am I to the rest of the world if I can’t withstand that which is within my power to fix and heal?

I know I can’t get better alone. None of us can. Neither can this planet. Shame is not always a bad thing. Shame can also keep us from making the same mistakes over and over. Not because failure or flaws are “bad,” because we must let what is “good” about ourselves cast a light to help other lost souls find their way back to the group, too.

Naive? Perhaps.

People have become quite adept in finding new ways to peddle their brands of hate, which will only succeed in making the world a lot sicker and dangerous. But to combat this sinister world order, we have to believe in the good within ourselves again. Therein lies the need for empowerment and education! To stay in this state of isolation would be more than a shame, I recognize that. No more agonizing yesterdays. It’s exhausting and self-defeating. Perhaps it is high time I learn to love locally, then act in the name of goodness…globally.

 

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

— Dylan Thomas

 

“Beautiful”

“Beautiful”

“Beauty’s where you find it
Not just where you bump and grind it
Soul is in the musical
That’s where I feel so beautiful
Magical, life’s a ball
So get up on the dance floor…”

— From “Vogue” by Madonna/Shep Pettibone

I started this entry with a basic question:

Do you remember the last time you felt beautiful?

It was my intent to deconstruct that specific moment when you knew you could express yourself without fear of being called out for being “different.” It’s that version of yourself that is obfuscated by societal norms or misguided attempts from our parents to “protect” us from a judgmental world. This post was not supposed to be about outward beauty, although that is a prison of different making. As for the rest of us who haven’t scored big at the genetic lottery, we tend to water down the impact of the word “beauty” to its most superficial definition. What do we do with the concept of having a bold personality, of being able to express a powerful sense of verve when we’re young? Why do many of us spend much our adult lives, countless dollars and more trying to coax that child back into existence in the end? Does that qualify as being beautiful, too?

As I discussed this post with my boss and best sparring partner, I found myself unable to defend my position on what I felt meant being beautiful. He kept leading me outside of the boxed context of what I insisted was the point of this piece.  He led the debate beyond what is “pleasing to the senses or mind aesthetically.” Before I could even begin to write about “beauty,” he insisted, I had to dig deeper into the complexity of this word.

Greek philosopher Plato maintained that beauty is a universal construct. We may not always recognize beauty through our senses. Each individual’s reaction can be triggered through a different means: sight, sound, smell, etc. Perhaps when we acknowledge something as being “beautiful,” it is because it is a potent reminder as to how our souls possess a wonderful sense of mystery.

The late English art critic John Berger opined that “seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.” When we do begin to learn how to speak and we start amassing a vocabulary, we also start learning how to use these words to build declarative statements and opinions. These bloom into judgments, influenced and curated by those around us. From that point, how we “see” things in inextricably affected in the end by what we learn and by what we think we “know.”

Bridging Plato to Berger takes a bit more than the foundation I am laying here. Yet, I can see a link to a key moment in my childhood. Addressing the issues of the consequences of being bullied and the body dysmorphia/food addictions that continue to haunt me, which remain a key focus of this diary. So, my initial to my question was:

“I haven’t felt or deemed myself as being beautiful in a long time.”

I reference that hat glorious Spanish summer of 2014. I felt in control of my self and my soul. I felt powerful and limitless, just like I did up until the 4th grade when I became aware of what I saw as being “me” was “different” from the rest of the pack. More, once I understood the hurtful words and opinions hurled at me through elementary school junior high from those who rebuked me mercilessly, I opted to hide much of what made me “me.” And I hurled those same words back to others weaker than me with decided force and intent. My concept of beauty, the image of myself, has never been the same since.

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I think about the moment I thought I understood what beauty could mean. Given my middle class life, of course it was built around media. As I discovered much later, I wasn’t alone in my nascent gay self, pouring over Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Interview and New York magazines, drawn to the light of these glossy pages like a pilgrim making the journey to Lourdes. It is no coincidence that I hid here as much as I did in the literary and musical testaments to cafe society that I regularly snuck into the house from the library. Dad worked in textiles, which first opened a window into fashion, then all things New York City, for me. It didn’t take much to to begin whispering the names of photographers, editors, models and designers with solemnity of a prayer during Sunday mass: Avedon. Penn. Elgort. Newton. Scavullo. Saint Laurent. Givenchy. Dior. Lacroix. Lagerfeld. Halston. Versace. Ellis. Dovima. Turlington. Evangelista. Campbell. Tilberis. Vreeland. Wintour. They were all what I deemed as being “beautiful.”

I felt so superior in thinking that no one knew who they were in Pico Rivera. In reality, this world shielded me from those who tormented me in the hallways of South Ranchito and Meller Jr. High. I knew one day, I’d be able to move amongst them, the ultimate smalltown boy revenge. What it really meant was that I had capitulated to bourgeois materialism in the guise of being cultivated.

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Looking back at this now, was this fascination (obsession), really the best definition of “beauty?” Wasn’t this realm of artifice derived from fashion and fashionistas merely examples of what is simply “pretty?” Did it fall under the tenets of beauty attributed to Plato? What did it reveal about me at a young age, chubby, acne’d and peculiar in terms of my own personal code of aesthetics? Was I merely wading into this pool of superficiality, engaging in a clichéd game of middle class rebellion because I hated NOT being one of these people? Perhaps. Oh yes, perhaps. Misguided or not, memorizing the pages of Judith Krantz’s “Scruples” or Jackie Collins’s “Hollywood Wives” left me breathless and eager to get the hell out of the SGV as soon as I could. Needless to say, I sold myself short.

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It is no irony that I became a publicist, that messenger of all things glittering and glamorous. I battled with never being as cool as the message, even at the peak of years at 20th Century Fox. I lived and died at the altar of the Hollywood experience. I needed not have bothered. What we should find is truly beautiful is not always the thing we see outwardly. Yet, we continue to bandy about with words that act more as hyperbole than being catalysts of profundity.

I continue to grapple with long cycles of depression, excess eating and overindulgence, which includes the manner I continue to spend my money on material things. It would be easy to fault a steady diet of glitz and glitter as the source of my demons. I won’t, because I still admire the craft of couture, which is a true art to me. I knew what I was doing then and now. As to when I’ll take firm control of those urges, I won’t ever stop trying to compartmentalize them until they torment me no more. Yet, after the debacle of “Fatlanta,” I am still faced with that blasted question: “Do you remember the last time you felt beautiful?”

Now that this conversation has started, I realize I have much to learn and understand about what is “beautiful.” It is more than my long held ideal of becoming a gentleman in the style of my cinematic hero Cary Grant. As for the current state of fashion and fashion magazines, the joy is less apparent in this renewed era of status mongering and greed. Nor can my definition be something on par of Madonna’s exquisite paean to other icons of film glamour, “Vogue.” But a singular truth can be found within these beats, “beauty is where you find it.”

As I begin to redefine my own standards of beauty, I realize something is happening at long last. I am finding myself again in these discussions that stir my collective senses.  I am learning again thanks to an evolving family of friends who choose and want to think beyond what is accepted or acceptable. This time feels so much like Spain. The arrested development that I’ve allowed to set in has no place in this quest for wellness. Perhaps what makes us beautiful is believing in the desire to grow and to be challenged by a world, even one in flux.

Given our current political state of ugly at the moment, we have to train our eyes to see beyond what lies what ahead or even what we think we’ve learned about people, even ourselves. Perhaps beauty is the possibility afforded by being better and stronger and willing to accept our flaws, to finding the willingness to build them into strengths.

Only when we allow for acceptance and tolerance can we best repel the rhetoric from people who dare keep us asunder in a state of homogenized hatred.

Only when we begin to understand the true nature of beauty will we be able to say, “Life’s a ball!” and just fucking dance already.

We are forever accountable for our journeys and decisions. Perhaps that’s what I’ve come to finally learn:

Be your true self. Be beautiful.

Cary Grant photo by Richard Avedon

Dovima & Ray Bolger photo by Richard Avedon

Kristen McMenamy & Nadja Auermann photo by Richard Avedon

Gia Carangi in YSL photo by Helmut Newton