8 June 2004

All Reagan all the time

Various pieces about Reagan have come across my inbox in the last
couple of days.  Many of them are angry, such as this one from
activist and academic Eric Rofes:

What Do We Do with the Rage and the Fury This Time?

By Eric Rofes

is easy for some to see the few sensible voices refusing to jump on the
bandwagon that is dramatically rewriting the Reagan years as
cantankerous malcontents raining on our nation’s patriotic parade
honoring this “national hero,” “great leader” and “greatest president.”

Call it a grudge steadfastly maintained by old timers who
never learned know how to forgive and forget.   Criticize it as a
lack of respect for the dead. Condemn it as simply more Reagan-bashing
from the Left.

Or identify it for what it really is:  bold truth-telling amidst a nation
wrapping itself in the worst kind of denial masquerading as ultra-patriotic zeal.

Finger it as an attempt to puncture the Bush administration opportunistic

efforts to utilize Reagan’s death to revive a failing campaign for re-election.

the surviving victims of the conservative social and economic policies
of the Reagan-Bush era, the past few days of all-Reagan-all-the-time
television coverage by Stepford journalists have seemed oddly and
horribly familiar.  They remind us of the stark cultural divide
that emerged ever more powerfully during the Reagan years between the
privileged classes holding power and those who were marginalized,
oppressed, and silenced.

For queers, they hearken back to the first seven years
of the Reagan administration, when the tidal waves of AIDS began
washing over the shores of the U.S. lesbian, gay, bisexual, and
transgender communities.   Those of us who were out and involved
in queer community life during the 1980s, watched as our friends and
lovers dropped dead around us while America looked the other way.

Reagan’s disgraceful and willful failure to speak out on AIDS and take action for
those seven years mirrored much of the nation’s failure to acknowledge the terror visited on our communities.

many gay men during these years, I felt a profound disconnect between
the world I inhabited and mainstream America. I was working as director
of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Community Center during these
years as terrified gay men poured into our clinics, support groups, and
counseling center.   As our small and under-resourced communities
struggled to educate the public, initiate the first prevention
campaigns, care for our friends, and bury our dead, Reagan said nothing
and did nothing.   His medical and health leaders did nothing. His
budget directors, attorney generals, and legal experts did nothing.
While gay men wiped drool and shit off our lovers, read mounting
obituaries in gay papers, and funneled into the ranks of volunteer
caregiver organizations, mainstream America marched forward to the
Reagan priorities of making money, protecting privilege, and creating a
culture of greed.  

I the only one who is experiencing the current media love-fest of
Reagan as a revisiting of the trauma of those early AIDS years?  
Am I the only one raging at the television screen, ripping the
newspaper to shreds, cursing at my car radio?   Am I the only one
hungering for community leaders to create activism and rituals to
disrupt and puncture this outrageous and insulting cultural amnesia?

Just as our queer community was abandoned and left on
our own to create the early responses to AIDS, I encourage us to
immediately initiate community-based opportunities to express our
outrage at the dishonest reinvention of the Reagan legacy and to link
up with all the other communities that are experiencing similar fury.
  In particular I suggest we:

o  Urge our community centers to immediately organize speak-out and teach-in
sessions that will take place on the same days as Reagan lies in state in
Washington, D.C. or very soon after.  These community forums can serve as a place
to vent our rage, expose the truth about Reagan, educate younger activists,
and commemorate those who died due to Reagan’s failure of leadership.

o  Create public “shrines” in queer neighborhoods that colorfully
and creatively expose what Reagan and his conservative movement did to
people with AIDS, queers, people of color, women, poor people, and
children.   If we use campy neighborhood shrines to honor queer
icons and community leaders, let’s also use them to vilify our greatest
enemies, especially when the rest of the nation is honoring them as

o  Yank our Silence = Death tee-shirts out of
storage, put them on, and explain what the slogan owes to Ronald
Reagan…or be sure to wear colorful bright and gay clothing on the
national days of morning for Reagan.   We should all interrupt and
speak out when friends, work associates, and family members mimic the
media’s mindless commemoration of the Reagan years.  

could only bring his lips to form the word “AIDS” when hundreds of
queer community leaders converged on Washington D.C. on June 1st, 1987,
sat in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue, and got arrested and taken
off to jail.   I remember that day well.   We organized this
national direct action event at the moment our terror and exhaustion
morphed into outrage and fury.

Today, after just a few days of hearing
repeated voices in the media discuss Reagan as “the best president we
ever had,” “a man who loved all Americans,” and “the man who brought
the nation together and restored unity and pride,” my outrage and fury
are back.   I’m ready to take action.  

Hugo speaks rather eloquently about at least one thing that Reagan did for gays.

Jonathan Rauch, a well-known advocate for gay marriage, writes that Mr. Reagan single-handedly turned the tide against the measure.
Reagan gave political cover to those in the “silent majority” who might
have been uncomfortable with homosexuality, but who were even more
uncomfortable with outright bigotry. Three weeks after the defeat of
the Briggs Initiative, Harvey Milk was assassinated in San Francisco’s
City Hall. Thus in the same month, November 1978, the GLBT movement in
America won its first great victory at the ballot box, and gained its
first martyr. In the first of these, there is no denying that Ronald
Reagan played a crucial part. In this, he was on the right side of
justice and history.

It probably wasn’t enough.  Rumor also had it that he did such things to protect family and friends who were gay.

My friend Billy writes, “What use is it to get
into pissing matches over which of his policies were good and which were
evil.  What is done is done.  So as his remains are put into the ground I
invite you to join me in clearing any of those poisonous memories from the
dusty shelves of your mind and spiritually throw them into the grave with
him–buried forever.   Louise Hay once said that forgiving is a gift I give
myself, I use it to free myself from the past and live in the present.”

James Alison has noted, in another context, that forgiveness is not
an action, it’s a process, of which the ability to say that we have
forgiven a person is only the final outcome in a transformation of
one’s whole life.

My response has been to hear an echoing of part of the gospels:

“Another disciple said to him, ‘Lord, let me go and bury my father
first.’  But Jesus told him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury
their own dead.'”

Whatever you thought of Reagan, creating the world of justice, peace, and mercy will not be found at his funeral.

Posted in Politicks on 8 June 2004 at 3:32 pm by Nate


Hugo’s got a posting about plagiarism in one of his classes.

Mercifully, my own experiences with it have been few.

I always find it amazing that students think we teachers won’t figure
out that they’ve plagiarized.  Usually, it’s pretty damn
obvious.  I had one case where the student wrote two paragraphs in
barely standard, badly constructed prose, shifted for two paragraphs to
a Freudian psycho-sexual analysis way beyond anything presented in
class, in complicated prose, and then back to the student’s badly
mangled own work.

I don’t feel quite so bad about giving the F in that case.  If
you’re stupid enough to submit an assignment as above, you probably
shouldn’t pass the class to begin with.

Posted in IvoryTower on 8 June 2004 at 3:01 pm by Nate
5 June 2004

What I wish my students knew

Jon Stewart gave the commencement address at William and Mary (which I found via Jay). 

When I left William and Mary I was shell-shocked. Because when you’re
in college it’s very clear what you have to do to succeed. And I
imagine here everybody knows exactly the number of credits they needed
to graduate, where they had to buckle down, which introductory
psychology class would pad out the schedule. You knew what you had to
do to get to this college and to graduate from it. But the unfortunate,
yet truly exciting thing about your life, is that there is no core
curriculum. The entire place is an elective. The paths are infinite and
the results uncertain. And it can be maddening to those that go here,
especially here, because your strength has always been achievement. So
if there’s any real advice I can give you it’s this.

College is something you complete. Life is something you experience. So
don’t worry about your grade, or the results or success. Success is
defined in myriad ways, and you will find it, and people will no longer
be grading you, but it will come from your own internal sense of
decency which I imagine, after going through the program here, is quite
strong…although I’m sure downloading illegal files…but, nah, that’s a
different story.

Love what you do. Get good at it. Competence is a rare commodity in this day and age. And let the chips fall where they may.

I wish that I could convey this to my students.  No amount of
demonstration or explanations seems to convince them otherwise than
that they will be tested and graded on life itself.

Posted in IvoryTower on 5 June 2004 at 7:01 pm by Nate

Hooking up and dating

Last week’s NYT Magazine had this article about the teenage culture of dating and sex.

An interesting quote:

…And while gay high-school boys frequently advertise that they
”don’t do hookups” and are only looking for relationships, fewer
straight teenagers make that claim — and many make it clear that
they’re looking for anything but commitment.

”Straight teens have abandoned the rituals of dating, while
gay teens have taken them on,” says Peter Ian Cummings, the editor of
XY, a national magazine for young gay men. The Internet, Cummings says,
has made it possible for heterosexual teenagers to act the way ”most
of straight society assumes gay men act.”

I think it’s quite interesting that the gay boys are acting in this
way.  It seems that their understanding of the world’s working is
much more realistic than that of the straight teenagers.

The straight teenagers in the article seem to have the attitude that
the culture of hooking up that they have created will last only
temporarily, that once they’re ready to “settle down” that there will
be a mate and a life for them.  But until then, they can have sex
with no consequences.  But I’d contend that they probably do
encounter some consequence, in that they don’t get the chance to do a
lot of learning about relationships while they are forming models of
relationality.  I fear the possibility that these straight kids
won’t be able to find the sorts of relationships they want “when
they’re ready” because they won’t have learned how to find and hold a

In addition there seems to be an element of wanting what you can’t
or aren’t supposed to have.  People in our society aren’t
“supposed to” have lots of random sex, just for the sake of sex, with
no relationality attached to it.  The norm, at least on some
level, is that sex is supposed to somehow go with relationship. 
What these kids are doing is a form of rebellion, like many of forms of
teenage rebellion, but this one may perhaps have long-term relational
consequences, as opposed to dying one’s hair and so forth.

Interestingly, the gay teenagers are “rebelling” in some sense,
also.  The straight people in those teens’ lives tell them that
being gay has dreadful relational consequences (at least if their
upbringin has any similarity to mine).  They’ll live lonely lives,
they’ll never have children, the relationships that they do have will
be unfulfilling, and they will be cut off from “normal” society. 
The normal is abnormal for gay kids, and so they strive for it with all
that they’re worth.  They try to court one another, to go to the
prom, to hold hands in public.  They want to get married, perhaps
have kids, and die with a person they love.

The delicious irony in all this, is that it’s those who are
supposedly unable to create and sustain stable, productive, socially
useful, perhaps even ethical relationship who offer the better examples
for all.

Posted in OnTheWeb on 5 June 2004 at 4:07 pm by Nate
3 June 2004

Marryin’ thoughts

So some of the furor over allowing gays to marry civilly has died down, and, predictably, I have some thoughts about it.

God, it’s a good thing.  Just from the legal standpoint alone, it
simplifies a number of matters.  BF and I are going through the
process of designating each other as our health-care proxies. 
What this means is that in the event that either of us is unable to
make our own decisions regarding the care that we wish to receive, the
other will be the person empowered to act.  We’re doing this for
two reasons.  First, for both of us, the other partner is the
person we believe best knows our wishes and desires for how we want our
health care to proceed.  Secondly, since we have no real legal
status toward one another, our next-of-kin would be the person
empowered to make health care decisions; in my case, at least, some
members of my family don’t approve of my relationship with BF and I
want to make sure both that he is the ultimate arbiter of my care and
that he is not excluded from taking care of me if something were to

We’re also going to go about registering as domestic partners in a
couple of months when our travels are over, primarily for the benefits,
as Harvard grad students are much better taken care of than students at
his university.

But all of this reminds me of how incredibly complicated the creation
of legal pathways to respect one’s wishes can be.  And with the
marriage option finally open, there are plenty of people who keep
asking when we’re gonna tie the knot (which has even sparked an article in The Onion). 
But our situation is more complicated than the simple act of getting
married.  BF’s future employers, which will likely be Catholic
theology departments, may not look kindly upon his having a civil
marriage to another man, and they may even deny him a “mandatum” (a
sort of teachng license for Roman Catholic laity) because his marriage
would violate church law and teaching.  So part of the decision
comes down to job versus marriage benefits.  It’s not solely that,
but that’s at least a moderate consideration.  And I’m not sure
how we’ll navigate that one.  We love our jobs and we love each
other, and I don’t think either of us wants to have to choose.

Posted in RmAuNsDiOnMg on 3 June 2004 at 6:51 pm by Nate

Travelling anxiety

As I get older, I enjoy certain forms of travel less and less.  I
think that by nature, I am something of a “nester” who’d often prefer
to stay in the area and enjoy the people around me rather than strike
out on my own for a long period of time.

I say this because I embark on five weeks away tomorrow.  I have
four weddings to go to over the next six weekends, and they’re all in
the Bay Area.  Hence, rather than commute to the Bay every couple
of weekends, I just decided to stay with friends out there for the
duration.  I’m also going to see my family for the first time in
about 18 months.

BF left this morning for a couple of professional conferences, so he’ll
be gone for about 10 days.  And then he’ll join me in California
at the end of the month.  But I won’t see him for about
three-and-a-half weeks.  It’s been a long while since we’ve spent
that much time apart, and it feels a little sad that I won’t wake up to
him, make dinner with him, or any of the other things that you do when
your partner’s at home with you for what seems (right now) like a very
long time.

I have to take the car out to a friend’s house in the suburbs tonight,
since I park on the street, and the local parking officers are pretty
nuts about getting you to move for the weekly street sweeping. 
But I’m biding my time until later, trying to find stuff to do. 
Packing’s mostly done….

Posted in Day2Day on 3 June 2004 at 4:14 pm by Nate