Friday, June 29, 2007

The Black Fly in Our Chardonnay

Can you imagine the citizens of "land of the free and the home of the brave" actually having less rights and freedoms than the communist country of Cuba?

Well as crazy as it may sound, this flight of fantasy may become an ironic grim reality if Mariela Castro Espín has her way. Does her name ring a bell? She just happens to be the daughter of Raúl Castro Ruz , acting president of the country and the niece of Fidel Castro.

Cuba has come a long way in the area of queer equality. "Following the 1959 revolution, Cuba’s communist government embarked upon a pervasive effort to rid the nation of homosexuality, which was seen as a product of a capitalist society. Through the 1960s and 1970s this campaign included the frequent imprisonment of lesbians and gays (particularly effeminate males) without charge or trial, and confinement to forced labor camps. Parents were legally required to report their gay children." (I'd recommend watching or reading Reinaldo Arenas's autobiography, Before Night Falls to find out more about this repressive period.)

However, homosexuality was decriminalized in 1979 (this didn't happen in the US until 2003) and since the 1980s, Cuban society has become more welcoming to gays and lesbians. Toward the end of the decade, literature with gay subject matter began to re-emerge. When I was in Mexico on a language course, they had a special screening of Strawberry and Chocolate (produced by the government-run Cuban film industry). I was so glad I got to see it and would love to see it again.... in my native language!

So what does all this have to do with Ms. Castro? Today I heard on the radio (103.9 Proud FM) Ms. Castro has just introduced proposals that would "update the country’s Family Code to include the legal recognition of same-sex relationships and transgender people (source). The proposals include recognizing same-sex couples and extending to them all the same rights and privileges that opposite-sex couples enjoy, including inheritance and adoption rights. “One cannot continue perpetuating discrimination and exclusion as a value,” she said. "

"If the Cuban Communist Party and National Assembly support the reform package, Cuba will become the first country in Latin America to accept same-sex couples and extend to them the same rights and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples. Legislation passed by Columbia’s Congress and endorsed by President Alvaro Uribe that would have given gay couples together for two years a full range of entitlements and benefits was defeated in the Colombian Senate June 20. Supporters have vowed to reintroduce the legislation for another vote. Costa Rica, Argentina and Brazil are also considering recognizing same sex-unions. Currently, Mexico City; the Northern Mexican state of Coahuila; Buenos Aires, Argentina’s capital; and the Brazilian state of Rio Grande Do Sul are the only places in Latin America that recognize same-sex couples."

During this season when many cities across the United States and Canada celebrate the queer diversity of their citizenry through various "Pride" events, I find this news to be very ironic. Don't cha think?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Pinch Me!

Since my move to Canada, I've been having a strange run of good luck. Now, if you are a regular Danifesto reader, it might surprise you that I even believe in the concept of luck. In general, I really don't (I believe in a mix of predestination and free-will.) but the recent string of events has compelled me to share.

We felt extremely lucky to be able to catch an amazing performance of Beyonce at the Yonge-Dundas Square downtown less than a month after our arrival. Holding the concert outdoors was a great idea because Beyonce would have brought the house down otherwise! My only wish is that I would have been a little bit taller! That or had the foresight to wear taller shoes!

Then I happened to win free tickets from Xtra to see Mika! If you aren't aware, Mika is a British pop star who plays the piano and sings fun songs. He's really good at falsetto. The concert was at the Mod Club and it was like attending the birthday party of a 10 year old! There were clowns, people on stilts, drag queens handing out lollipops, big balls and bubbles! For the encore, Mika and the band came on stage wearing animal mascot costumes. A fun distraction was watching his purple pants sliding down only to have him pull them up every two seconds. I had SUCH a great time!

If that wasn't enough, one of our friends was too sick to use his tickets to Diva Oz Vegas! Not a mere drag show, this musical included a sexy "Cher"crow, a glittering Tin Diva, and a buxom Lioness led by a Judy Garland wanna-be and a Rita Hayworth-esque Glinda! I was blown away by all the music (none from the Wizard of Oz), choreography and costumes! This year, DQ raised $110,000 for Casey House. (Casey House Hospice is an internationally-renowned facility and one of the world’s first hospices for people with HIV/AIDS. There is no cost for Casey House services which are delivered in a variety of settings; in the home, at clinics and with a mobile health bus.) Since DQ began in 1987, the 10 productions have contributed over $1,000,000 dollars!

Then, just yesterday, my fabulous friend of five years called me up and asked if I wanted to go with her to the True Colors concert that night at the Molson Amphitheatre! I thought for a mili-second and then quickly said YES before she could change her mind! The concert was a group of queer/queer-friendly musicians that were raising money for the Human Rights Campaign. Last night was their ONLY Canadian stop. Favourite moments from last night included: pissing myself over Margaret Cho's jokes, hearing the Cliks perform the cover to Cry Me A River, Beth Ditto of The Gossip belching, saying "Who cares?" and then stripping off her dress (!), watching Andy Bell of Erasure dance to Respect and Chains of Love, Cyndi Lauper doing a groovy version of She-Bop and then of course at the end performing Time After Time. After five hours of music, we didn't hang around for the final encore but according to this review, they probably ended with this crowd pleaser. All in all, a pretty great way to start off my first Pride in Toronto! (Deborah Harry of Blondie and the Dresden Dolls also performed.)

Now I'm curious! What does my luck hold next? Stay tuned!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

IS One the Loneliest Number?

I have to say that I heart my Conversation class. The students are at an intermediate level so they can express themselves enough to actually have a conversation about something beyond "At the Grocery Store" or "In the Taxi." What they need are opportunities to do this. This week I picked the topic of Singletons.

Singletons, if you don't already know, is a term coined by Helen Fielding, the author of Bridget Jones's Diary. Bridget Jones used it to refer to herself and others that had no romantic partners. In so doing, she recognized the "us and them" situation, distinguishing singles from couples or "smug marrieds" as she called them.

With the exception of one couple, my class consisted entirely of singles. When polled, all of them claimed to be happy with their lives. But when asked "Are single people happy being single?" ironically they all answered no. I was actually a little surprised. Furthermore, not one of them wanted to be single in the future. I thought for sure that (out of a class of 15) at least one person would want to be single!

Given the inevitability that all of us will be single at some point in our lives, I had to wonder, is one really the loneliest number?

Our class identified some reasons why a person might be single. A mental or physical handicap or deformity might curtail marriage. Circumstances such as poverty or lack of suitable mates would also be factors. Someone mentioned a life of service or mission and referenced Mother Theresa. Of course this led us to the ultimate singleton- Jesus of Nazareth. Was He happy being single? Surely someone who is fully human (yet God) would have feelings of loneliness and a need for intimacy. To quote a song from the 80s "Ponderous man, truly ponderous!"

(Oddly enough, not one person gave being gay as a reason for being single. A unmarried middle-aged man, more often than not, used to be a gay man. My, how times have changed, eh?)

It occurred to me while talking to a classmate at my recent high school reunion that some people will be woefully unprepared for singlehood when it comes along. Does this girl, who immediately married her high school sweetheart and had two kids, even know who she is? I truly believe that a person is different by themselves than when they are with someone, no matter how much they protest "Nothing will change! I'll still be the same!"

This started me thinking about how different my life would have been if I had never been single. There would have been fewer goals, self improvements and risks taken. I would be in debt with kids and possibly have little professional satisfaction. There would be numerous trips untaken and stories untold. Not to mention the unmet life long friends and privotal moments that made me the person I am today. And, at the risk of sounding like an arrogant bastard, the person I am today is a vast improvement over previous versions!

So in closing I think it's vitally important to be content (rather than happy) no matter what marital status you may find yourself in. While I will acknowlege that there are downsides to being a singleton, there are disadvantages to being a "smug married" as well. The following from the last episode of Sex in the City really sums it up best:

Later that day I got to thinking about relationships. There are those that open you up to something new and exotic, those that are old and familiar, those that bring up lots of questions, those that bring you somewhere unexpected, those that bring you far from where you started, and those that bring you back. But the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you find someone to love the you you love, well, that's just fabulous.

Friday, June 08, 2007

(Please) Don't Tell Me To Stop

Much has been going on in my life and I'm still trying to return to some sense of equilibrium that was lost after my recent trip to Kansas and then company visiting from Kansas. But life marches on, in spite these things as I'm sure it does for you as well.

Unfortunately the war in Iraq has also been continuing with US deaths at just over the 3,500 mark. It's always important to note when discussing fatalities in war that there is another statistic, often overlooked in all those news reports. That's the number of Iraqis that have been killed. At the minimum, there are 65,000 Iraqis estimated dead.

With all these deaths, it would seem more important than ever to have good Arabic-English translators. At hearings on the State Department's 2008 budget, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice repeatedly suggested that qualified language experts were needed at the agency, prompting this delicious exchange with Representative Gary Ackerman (D-NY). Ackerman noted that at least 322 language specialists with skills in Arabic, Farsi, and Korean have been discharged from the U.S. Military under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy began in 1993. Ackerman suggested the State Department hire back those language specialists, but not before getting in a hilarious zinger (source).

What does it say about us (the United States) as a country that we fight for freedoms but discriminate against the very servicemen and women that are leading the fight?? A staggering 11,082 people have been discharged from the military since its implementation. Of the 25 countries that participate militarily in NATO, more than twenty permit gays to serve; of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, two (Britain, France) permit gays to serve openly, and three (United States, Russia, China) do not. It's telling that the US is in league with Russia and China, two countries known for their wide-spread human-rights abuses. Just for fun I looked up the other countries that prohibit gays from serving openly in the military and the results were even more disturbing:Brazil, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Philippines[1], Saudi Arabia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen. (Canada, my country of choice, has included gays in the military since 1992.)

According to an article in today's New York Times, presidential candidates are predictably divided along party lines on the issue of repealing this 14-year old policy that ironically was implemented by the last Democrat to hold the office to which they aspire. According to the Pew Research Center, 52 percent of Americans favored allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military in 1994, while 45 percent opposed it. By 2006, that majority had grown to 60 percent, while 32 percent opposed the idea. A national poll conducted in May 2005 by the Boston Globe showed 79% of participants having nothing against openly gay people from serving in the military.

What was most compelling to me was this editorial from an ousted translator. I'm stunned that, despite the fact that he lives in a country that openly treats him as a second-class citizen, he is eager to serve his country. "As the friends I once served with head off to 15-month deployments, I regret I’m not there to lessen their burden and to serve my country. I’m trained to fight, I speak Arabic and I’m willing to serve. No recruiter needs to make a persuasive argument to sign me up. I’m ready, and I’m waiting."

It was comedian Danny Williams who quipped "If they don't want us in the military, then I say that straight men can't be florists and straight women can't be UPS drivers." His point clearly is that, at the end of the day, people are people, whatever their race, origin, creed, gender, age or sexual orientation. As I've quoted before from the movie Chocolat: "I think that we can't go around... measuring our goodness by what we don't do. By what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think... we've got to measure goodness by what we *embrace*, what we create... and who we include." Let this post serve as a call for us to return to the ideals we used to define ourselves: liberty and equality for all!