March 29, 2007

On the Phone with Peter

I have a telephone that makes the old-fashioned “ring” sound because it reminds me of old times at the farm, my family, and that most of my life was spent in the Twentieth Century. Anyway,the telephone woke me up early Sunday morning. After a few rings I picked up the receiver, and said“Hello.”

“Isaac?" Peter said.

“No, it’s Vincent," I said, laughing despite myself. "I’m the guy Isaac brought home from the disco last night.”

“Hah! There are no discos anymore, Isaac. People go clubbing these days.”

“Smart ass!”

“I’ll take you clubbing sometime, if you want.”

“No you won’t.”

“Why not?”

“I went with Adam and Stephen a couple of times. I enjoyed watching all the young guys dance, but I couldn't participate because I got too tired.”

“That’s not what I heard.”

“Okay, so I danced once. I thought I’d have heart failure right there on the dance floor and the boys would have had to call an ambulance and rush me to the hospital, and…”

“A bit dramatic, don’t you think?"

“So, I won’t dance. Don’t ask me.” I confess I sang the old song to Peter on the telephone. My voice wavers with that old-man-raspy-voice quality that young actors use to great advantage when portraying us old farts.

“I had something a bit more sedate in mind anyway.”


To be continued.

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March 24, 2007

Passing: Continued, a Book Review

Kroeger, Brooke. Passing, When People Can’t Be Who They Are. Cambridge: Perseus Books Group, 2003.

Through six detailed biographies Brooke Kroeger examines “passing” as a common phenomenon in our contemporary culture. Though the typical conception of passing is that of black posing as white, the author looks at passing accomplished for many reasons including combinations of religious, ethnic, racial, and sexuality. Referring to both the 1934 and 1959 film versions of Fanny Hurst’s “Imitation of Life” the author states the following. “Despite the different plots, the moral in each version of the story is the same. Passing, if not altogether bad, is at least a really bad idea, and society, or life itself, will punish the “passer” for breaking the rules. A “Peola,” a passer, in fiction or in real life, has never been a good thing to be. “(Brooke, 2) Of course, the author is talking of black passing as white whereas I am most concerned with gay passing as straight, not quite the same thing, but similar enough to draw many parallels between the two. For instance, Ms. Kroeger goes on to say that the actual culprit in both versions of the story is racism, not passing, and it’s fair to say that the real culprit in gays passing as straight is intolerance (heterosexism), not passing.

“The prevalence of passing today really shouldn’t have surprised me. As scholars tell us, wherever there is prejudice and preconception, there is passing, and of prejudice and preconception we as yet have no lack.”(Brooke, 4)

So what harm is there in passing? Kroeger’s intention, at least in part, is to challenge the negative views the general culture has of passing through biographical research into the lives of six contemporary persons who have passed. She includes commentary from psychologists and other experts, and juxtaposes these with actual tragic passing sagas such as the motion picture "Boys Don’t Cry" the story of the murder of Brandon Tina.

The LGBT community as a sub culture also maintains the negative view held by the larger culture, the belief that a LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) person will lose his/her self-respect, that he/she will have low self-esteem, and that other maladjustments will be manifest. It is also the general belief within the gay community that “coming out” is the only remedy to the alternative passing life style of dysfunction, though many (perhaps millions) in small town and rural America still find it necessary to protect themselves from family and a religious culture that will turn on them if they should drop the pretense.

Kroeger describes passing as “performance,” a description that might be applied to all as we place our personality before others (by way of Judith Butler) in that we “perform” those parts of ourselves that we know will be best received whether by those around us, and/or the critical self within.

In her biography of David Matthews a young man who passes as white and Jewish, Kroeger proffers “the whys and wherefores of being someone with an ambiguous personal presence, one that offers the right to float and a shore pass for both sides of the gully between the black identity he has no choice about and the white and Jewish identities he can so ably “perform.”(Brooke, 16)

Again we can draw some obvious parallels between passing (in this case double passing) for color / Jewish ethnicity and homosexual passing for heterosexual, as the homosexual most often has no choice about his/her sexuality (despite evangelical Christian dogmatism), but can perform as a heterosexual in public and the work place. However, a major difference exists between passing for another race versus passing straight for gay. That difference being that our families make assumptions concerning our identity – that we are, like them, black, or white, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, but always we are believed to be, and taught to perform as heterosexual. Those who cannot perform the part are labeled, queer, dyke, butch, fem, bitch, dolly, pansy, and so on. They are ostracized and risk emotional and physical harassment at home and school. Thus, the gay person feels he/she must cover his/her sexuality and pass for “straight.” If the performance is successful, he/she is given all the perks his family, society and culture normally bestow. The youth is taught that passing is necessary. He/she is encouraged in the disguise whereas a charade to disguise race is under most circumstances extremely difficult if not ludicrous for all who pass the passer “know” despite the mannerisms, accent, body language, and other learned characteristics the poser manifests.

I have found Kroeger’s book to be informative and intriguing, if a bit frightening - Frightening because I am convinced that in all but the major cities, and/or in many careers it may be just as necessary to pass as in the past. The book demonstrates the fluidity of identity, and I fear that many - as I was for most of my adult life - live a performed reality, an actor on a stage, isolated from much of objective reality, as well as their own innermost persons.

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March 21, 2007

Artworks About Passing: Sanctuary – 1950’s to 1970’s

I promised in my last entry that I would display some of the artwork I created during the time I was passing as heterosexual, and here they are with a brief description of my studio at Orchard Hill Farms. Sadly that studio no longer exists.

I kept my attic studio, “Sanctuary,” under lock and key much to Rebecca and Ruth’s consternation. I had to because all my visual and written fantasies including the pencil drawings of semi-nude Amish men and ink drawings of male anatomy were there. The Varnastrama journals in which I wrote about visits to an alternate reality, where men fought with outer-space-aliens for domination of a world in which the Roman Empire never collapsed were scribbled in black bound journals and kept on a shelf next to my rickety old desk. I also processed my photographs about the silver foil man in a tiny dark room in a closet at the back of that studio space. The foil man was my alter ego who reflected the life and light around him, but was isolated from that life by his metallic shell Thus, Sanctuary was the place in which I attempted through my art to deal with the strains of my secret double life.

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March 17, 2007

Being Gay, Passing - God and My Middle Years

From 1930 until the last decade of the Twentieth Century, as an adult worldly male (one who has left the Amish order), I transformed my concerns about Amish directives (Procreate! Do not desire same sex objects!) into erotic images that are meditations on desire.* These images allow me to cross the bridge from my Amish heritage to my “gay” concerns.-- The Amish hat, suspenders and black pants, signified a god-like (and ironically a godly) Amish male, and an onanistic/spiritual response during my years passing for heterosexual.*2 The image and its accouterments were iconic and unattainable. Nevertheless, the images were objects of desire, onanistic orgasm, and transgressive spiritual fulfillment. Thus, being gay, desiring, and having an orgasm became tied to spirituality, a worshipful state of mind, and God. I reorganized my belief in God, so that it contradicted the religious instruction of my Amish childhood. The new belief system supported my position as an adult, homosexual male, caught in a culture that does not allow me a positive conceptualization of my sexuality. In the reorganized belief system, I understood that I was gay because God made me that way, and, because God is good, being gay and desiring a person of the same sex, must also be good. To create a gay man, and designate him as evil, in my mind, would mean that God made a mistake. That is a contradiction. God being perfect does not make mistakes.

* I will publish some of those early erotic images in my next journal entry.
*2 The Amish also use the term “gay” to refer to the world outside the order.

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March 10, 2007

Gays Passing as Straight: Continued

Based on my look at “Gays passing as straight”, I offer the following bibliography. It is by no means complete, and I intend to continue my search and update it in the future.

Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter: on the Discursive Limits of “Sex”. New York: Routledge, 1993.
---. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1990.

Duberman, Martin. Cures: A Gay Man’s Odyssey. New York: Plum, 1992

Hooker, Evelyn. “The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual,” Journal of Projective Techniques 21 (1957): 18-31.

Humphreys, Laud. Tearoom trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places. Hawthorne, New York: Aldine De Gruyter, 1975.

Katz, Jonathan Ned. The Invention of Heterosexuality. New York: Plume,1996.

Kinsey, A. C.;Pomeroy, W. B.; & Martin, C. E.. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1948.

Kroeger, Brooke. Passing: When People Can’t be Who They Are. Cambridge: Perseus Books Group, 2003.

Savin-Williams, Ritch C. & Kenneth M. Cohen (eds.). The Lives of Lesbians, Gays, and Bisexuals. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1996.

Roberts, Tara & Harris, E. Lynn, as told to Asha Bandele. “Passing for straight: brothers who secretly have sex with men explain the attraction plus, women talk about the price of loving a man on the down low” Essence Magazine, July 2004. In Look Smart, Find Articles on line, Saturday, March 10, 2007, 11:17 AM EST.

Tobias, Andrew. Psdnym., John Reid. The Best Little Boy in the World. New York: Ballantine, 1973.

Troiden, Richard R. “Self, Self-concept, identity, and homosexual identity: Constructs in need of definition and differentiation.” Journal of Homosexuality. 10 (1984-85) 97-109.

March 06, 2007


I watched the motion picture The Human Stain last night after having rented it from Netflix, and was amazed at its power, though it is but a cameo of the Philip Roth novel. I’m not sure why it received so little attention. The cast is spectacular, Anthony Hopkins, Nicole Kidman, Ed Harris, Gary Sinise, Wentworth Miller, Mimi Kuzyk. Hopkins portrayal of the senior Coleman Silk is, as one would expect, superbly nuanced, while Miller’s interpretation of the young Coleman Silk is balanced, though a bit stiff. Nicole Kidman does her superior best as a raspy voiced Faunia Farley in which there is no trace left of crusty origins, only the detritus of a destroyed personality and life. Ed Harris is chilling in his understated portrayal of the psychotic Lester Farley. Gary Sinise’s and Mimi Duzyk’s characters are however written too thin to demonstrate the subtleties of Roth’s Nathan Zuckerman and Delphine Roux. I suppose part of the problem here is that cinema necessitates the dilution of the novel in order to zero in on the singular most important piece of plot that will carry the cinematic vehicle to an easily recognizable visual denouement.

The subject, passing has been done in the past, most noticeably in the novel Imitation of Life, (1933) by Fannie Hurst, and the two films based on it, Imitation of Life, (1934), directed by Fred Stahl, staring Claudette Colbert and Warren William and Imitation of Life (1959), directed by Douglass Sirk, staring Lana Turner, John Gavin, Sandra Dee, Susan Kohner, and Juanita Moore. The 1934 film deals more poignantly with the subject “passing,” than the 1959 Sirk version, which attempts to be a more thorough critique of 1950’s American society and culture. However, the subject of “passing” has not only to do with light skinned blacks posing as white, but also gay and lesbian men and women posing as heterosexual and the twenty-first century “down low” phenomenon of married black American males refusing to claim the bisexual and/or gay identity that their sexual behavior describes. Having spent many decades of my own life passing as heterosexual, I am an expert on the matter.

I have recently had several conversations with young Peter about passing, and I hope to continue writing more on the subject in my next few entries, dear Journal.

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March 03, 2007

Writing as a Form of Meditation

I woke up with the above title hovering like a deep velvet dark-but-luminous purple cloud at the edge of consciousness this morning. I don’t know what sparked it – the detritus of a forgotten dream perhaps – but after some thought, I know that I do use writing as a form of meditation.

I write every morning, during and after my breakfast. I write in the quiet of my bedroom. Sometimes I play baroque music softly while I work, sometimes not. The process frees my thoughts, opens and sometimes unlocks doors in the house of consciousness. Through the process I cleanse the mind, dust the furniture so to speak. Writing allows me to ascend the stairs to the attic, and descend to the basement in order to sort and clean the dark and cobwebbed corners there.

Now that I’ve bludgeoned the house metaphor to pieces, I would ask for reader’s comments. Can you site particular examples that serve to answer the following questions? Are there problems that writing has helped you to solve? Can writing have anything to do with altered states? Has writing served to carry you closer to your spiritual center?

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