Saturday, March 30, 2019

Self on a Shelf: Interabled Relationships, Queen movie's censorship, and other not-yet-abandoned topics in my novels

Bohemian Rhapsody in China = NoHomo
How long after an artist has fully explored a topic that they care about should it be abandoned, or put on a shelf? 

Granted, my novels will always be about gay men and the depiction of their humanity. But the specific themes and interests have to be stored and cherished, then put on a mental (and actual) side shelf to make way for new exploration, unless you're the kind of artist who continually explores the same themes; not that there's anything wrong with that. It's just not my style.

Allow me to touch on some of my recent novels' themes. I'm going against all the author tips for discussing one's art while trying to lure in a few sales. "Write short quick blogs! Tweet funny memes!" Nope, a few long rambling essays a month or so is where I'm at.

Flick of the Wrist
While finishing Now I'm Here, my sixth novel, I immersed myself in Queen's music, even made a chapter-by-chapter playlist. As the recent awards season proved, the film Bohemian Rhapsody was a crowd-pleaser, despite having warped the life of Freddie Mercury into a truncated and myopic tale.

Nevertheless, I piggybacked on the film's release and success as a tie-in for the novel, which includes the main characters Joshua and David attending a Queen concert, and a lead character who gains fame with his solo versions of "Bohemian Rhapsody."

But I again felt more of an uneasy connection when the film premiered in China. A few minutes of scenes that reference Mercury's homosexuality were snipped out of the film to satisfy the country's censorious culture ministers, and with the tacit approval of the movie's distributors and producers, included co-executive producers and band members Brian May and Roger Taylor.

Manya Koetse covers the issue at length for What's on Weibo, including the length of two minutes cut from Chinese screenings, and the history of the country's repressive cultural bureacracy.

As The Himalayan Times reports via AP, “The cut scenes really affect the movie,” said Peng Yanzi, a Chinese LGBT rights activist. “The film talks about how (Mercury) became himself, and his sexuality is an important part of becoming who he was.”

Scenes that were deleted include one in which Mercury reveals to his long-time partner that he is not heterosexual. In the part of the film where Mercury tells the band that he has AIDS, the dialogue goes silent."

Any scenes including (explicit) portrayals of prostitution, LGBT relations, extramarital affairs, polyamory, or pornography, will generally not be permitted to reach a large Chinese audience, wrapped in conservative rhetoric that accuses such scenes of “promoting obscenities” or being “harmful to the healthy development of Chinese minors.”

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Some diehard straight fans didn't care. 

"At least they'll get to see something, and get to enjoy Queen's music," snipped one fan on a Facebook group I've since left (stomps feet, leaves room, lets door hit him on the ass). It's still difficult to scroll one of the multiple Queen fan groups on Instagram without feeling a sense of exclusion (the exception being a few devoted to his late partner Jim Hutton, like JimMercury.

Mercury's being gay was what inspired Now I'm Here, as did my own life experiences as a young gayling enraptured by his flamboyant persona.

To deny, ignore, or limit a person's true life story, even in fiction, is a lie of omission. Despite having had Now I'm Here published months ago, its main themes still echo in my head. And a few late reviews have proven that long after the film's grown dust on one's DVD shelf, I hope to still find new readers. So I still get peeved when yet another instance of gayrasure takes place.

Were I to tell your story, straight woman Queen fan who insists that Mary was Mercury's only "love of his life," would you mind if I removed your husband and children from your story? You would? Okay, we're closer to being on the same page.

Stairs to Nowhere
On to other pages. 
My fourth and fifth novels, Every Time I Think of You and its sequel Message of Love, explore an interabled relationship between Reid and Everett, two young men in 1980s Pennsylvania. I had never used the term 'interabled' in book descriptions, publicity or blog essays here, which shows how much more advance research I could have done, aside from the dozens of books interviews and other research involved in writing those books, including Botanical Latin.

Most of that research isn't displayed, but hopefully more woven into the story, and story is the most important thing. And although those books are set from 1979 to 1985, current issues facing disabled people continue to catch my attention.

The most recent is the wave of PR for the massive architecture project and 'grand opening' of the Hudson Yards, a skyscraper oddity that has impressed tourists more than Manhattan residents.

Most glaring in the array of shiny new edifices is what is called 'The Vessel,' which has been described as a giant shawarma. What's truly preposterous about designer Thomas Heatherwick's idiocy is that the structure is composed of Escher-esque maze of stairs "to nowhere." 

Other nicknames have included Staircase McStaircaseface, Meat Tornado, The Rat’s Nest, and Chalice of the Privileged. What, no mention of Venture Brothers nemesis Monarch's flying hive ship? Or, as I posted on Twitter, 'All stairs? It should be renamed 'Vessel of Odious Ableism.'"

That such a preposterous thing should be constructed, with no one ever having questioned its limits for those who cannot or don't want to walk up and down stairs, represents the kind of blatant stupidity our country is enduring on a daily basis. At least I'm not alone in this. As FastCompany reports, "(Almost) Everyone Hates the Vessel."

Take the Nay Train
On a more practical ground level, NYC's subways have been forced to install elevators for the disabled, this after years of complaints and fights with city officials. 
The New York Times reports on the awful conditions for wheelchair users and other commuters. Only about a quarter of the subway’s 472 stations have elevators.

I touched on this in a scene from Message of Love, when Everett and Reid visit New York City for Pride weekend in the mid-1980s. Everett endures the stink and inefficiency of the subways and the few functional elevators at stations. Only this month have advocates been able to force the city to install more elevators.

"The ruling, issued on Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Edgardo Ramos in Manhattan, came as part of a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) filed in 2016 by disability rights groups, joined last year by the Justice Department," as reported by Reuters.

I still follow the Facebook group Representing Disability in an Ableist World, because I care, but also because it reminds me why I wrote those two disability-inclusive books. People are still getting it wrong.

Get Your Phil
So I really can't dismiss or scroll on when news of the unqualified dunderhead "Dr." Phil-hosted episode castigating interabled relationships as "100% out of 100 doomed." 

The fraudulent therapist, whose years of bogus "advice" have harmed many through luring gullible guests onto his specious TV show, were basically told that their relationship was wrong.

RootedInRights clarifies what "Dr." Phil got wrong:
"The theme of people with disabilities as burdens on their loved ones kept coming up throughout the rest of the episode. When Dr. Phil first spoke with Bailey, he said, “You hate being a burden.” Sure, he could have been mirroring Bailey’s thoughts and emotions, but at no point did he try to reassure Bailey that, no, he is not a burden. Instead, Dr. Phil just reinforced the archaic disability trope that all disabilities are simply 'too much.'"

But in writing for NewMobility, Kenny Salvini sees the show's focus as more about a problem of codependency, not so much about ableism.

"Taken in its entirety, I think Dr. Phil’s show was rooted in good intentions, and his comment may have been a clumsy choice of words that was then taken out of context," wrote Salvini. "The show was about the unhealthy dynamic of a single relationship, and some harsh words were used to try to get through to the couple involved. Without that context, it’s easy to take that one comment and turn it into the ignorant potshot that easily riled the masses."

To be more objective, "Dr." Phil's attitude is that a partner/boyfriend etc. should not also be a caregiver. The line between medical and physical assistance should be drawn, says he. Some agree, but more people were upset, and the hashtag #100outof100 trended.

Deaf career counselor Meriah Nichols writes, "I know many, many people with a myriad of disabilities (from paraplegics to blind, deaf and deaf-blind) who need physical assistance from their partner, but give their abled partner so much. Not just love and companionship (although in and of itself that’s enough); no; I have seen them give their abled partners support, ideas, stability, homes."

The hashtag #100outof100 includes more than 2000 photos on Instagram, with interabled couples visualizing their lives that counter the TV host's bias. 

But look what's (mostly) missing; gay couples, lesbian couples, bi and trans couples.

Queer exceptions include Adaptive Alex, Kath Ballantyne, and a few others. 
So, hey, go follow them and keep them in your thoughts when some straight white authoritarian therapy fraud tries to tell you how the world should be.

And speaking of frauds, I'll limit my comments on heinous and utterly evil Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' plan to defund the Special Olympics, because it's just so astoundingly horrid that it was soon swiped down even by the grossly, obstinately heinous Hair Furor. But wait, even that's a lie. The White House wanted it cut (Rolling Stone), and DeVos was just a stooge.

No doubt millions of others look forward to the day when this entire disgusting regime's history is also put on a shelf.

Self on my Shelf
So, in writing this rambling essay, I've proven something to myself. I'll never not be a disability ally, just because I wrote two books a few years ago. 

I'll never not love Queen's music, despite its surviving band members' duplicity in erasing Freddie Mercury's legacy in a film. 

Although I will admit to being once-again ignorant of Botanical Latin names (see book pile photo). That's one aspect of my fourth and fifth novels that's definitely checked out of my brain (but the book is still pretty cool).

As for my first three novels, while I consider those themes "done," I'll still feel amusement at a fancy dinner or gala as I recall the amusing backstage shenanigans of cater-waiters, still feel a bit of mixed awe and contempt as an arrogant bike messenger zooms past on a street, and still, when watching a wrestling match, feel a twinge of pain in my neck, and quietly empathize for the athlete getting clobbered by his opponent.

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