Monthly Archives: July 2010

Armchair Therapist: Come out, come out whever you are!

If you’re gay, I’m gonna need you to go ahead and just be gay without all the equivocation and pretending and nonsense. I know, I know, it’s easy to say “come out already” when I’m hetero and I don’t really understand what it’s like to be ashamed of my feelings, or my life and everything in the world tells me that I’m wrong for being the way that I am. Except for the fact that I know EXACTLY what you’re going through because the closet of #mentalillness is still quite large and quite full of folks sitting at work wondering if they can sneak out to that weekly therapy appointment without anyone finding out. But this isn’t really about my issues, I’m writing this week about how I want public figures to proclaim their homosexuality and stop faking the funk like folks can’t see the truth. In particular, I’m talking about one of my favorite performers of all time, Maxwell.

GASP!

Before you start sending me hate mail realize that I am a HUGE Maxwell fan. In fact, I’m listening to his oeuvre on my iPod as I write this, not just for inspiration, but because I love having his voice in my ears.  The man can SANG, unlike the Drakes and the Trey Songzes of the world trying to pass off that trash as male R&B.  But back to Maxwell, who I used to want to be my future baby daddy until I realized he’s probably in a relationship with a dude as gorgeous and talented as he is. I’m not trying to insult the brother by saying that I think he’s gay; I just want him and his fine self to be happy. And when I saw him this last time in concert he was not a happy man. Let me tell you how I know.

This falsetto for hire:  he had me at “ooohhh…”

Long ago in a galaxy far, far away known as the 1990’s, Maxwell arrived on the scene like the second coming of Al Green and Sam Cooke in a pretty brown wrapper with a curly Afro and dimples. When you’re blessed with that kind of voice and those looks, there’s little else for you to do but croon your heart out and wait for the sisters to sop it up with a biscuit. Enter “Urban Hang Suite”, which the artist told the world described the journey of a love affair with his fantasy woman. #Swoon.

Having always loved a true male R&B singer, I saw Maxwell in concert at Radio City Music Hall and I may have drooled the entire time. Not only was he just beautiful to look at, and to listen to, but he looked supremely comfortable onstage amidst the velvet couches and slinky backup singers. He rocked the sweet falsetto and the sexy, raspy lower register with equal aplomb. He did his now-signature cover of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work,” long a favorite, and I literally cried. He also covered Nine Inch Nails’s “Closer” (that’s right, the “fuck you like an animal” song) with a tambourine and a quasi-gospel feel and I nearly fell out of my seat. If you saw that show, and you went to the concert on a date, you definitely got some that night. Maybe you even fantasized that your man was Maxwell. Either way, you had a good time.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when, after 3 albums, a label dispute and a long hiatus from the industry, Maxwell returned to New York City and I had a ticket in my hot-and-bothered little hand. I’d been talking about the man’s live show since 1996, the ambiance, the versatility, the quality of the performance. You should know that I’m a music snob and I’d pay good money to see in only a handful of artists in person. Not everyone can sing live, Taylor Swift, and not everyone can hold my attention for more than 2 songs in a row. But I was sure that Maxwell would deliver a great concert experience in spades. I wasn’t wrong, exactly.

Putting the “MAN” in “romance”

When Maxwell came onstage, something wasn’t quite as I expected. First, the sound was a little off in the arena and I couldn’t really hear his voice like I wanted to. If you paid attention, you could tell he wasn’t happy with something and he kept taking out his earwig and talking to the musical director. If you were too busy looking at his heiney in them sharkskin pants, you probably missed it. Eventually they fixed the levels but the high register never really came out over the speakers. When you could hear Maxwell his voice sounded good, but you couldn’t hear a lot of it. Maybe he was annoyed and that’s what I noticed as being different.

Next, he was a little flaming, not exactly prancing around, but more effete than I’d seen him before. Not quite Freddie Mercury, but noticeable to me and my gay-dar. Now, I don’t go around branding all non-thug men of a certain style as homosexual just because they’re not grabbing their crotch 24/7. I know enough gay people to know they come in all shapes, sizes and ranges of personal habits, and the stereotype of the fastidious, slightly swishy gay man is limiting and insulting to men and women alike. Still, if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a good chance it fucks like a duck. Look, I don’t really care who Maxwell sleeps with so long as he keeps singing and works the funky jazz ensemble into his band.  But I’m not the typical fan.

Why male perfomers kinda have to be straight, or at least straight-acting

If you stood outside the Garden before the show, you would have seen hundreds of typical Maxwell fans:  women who clearly expected him to spot them from the stage, and propose marriage or at least a post-show quickie. Groups of sisters with hair did, nails did, sporting new outfits complete with uncomfortable shoes.  That level of preening was designed to extend some fantasy that the artist is singing romantic words and sexy phrases directly to them.  I do understand that music-industry stardom is predicated on some level of physical attraction, and I can fantasize with the best of them, but I’m really gonna need some of these women to get a life, especially if they were buying the most egregious pretense of heterosexuality I witnessed from Maxwell, in which he sang an interlude to women’s private parts and referred to them as all manner of seafood.  Yes, he did.  No, it was not cute.   I can accept wearing the cloak of heterosexuality to keep your fan base happy.  Luther Vandross did it for years, though we knew exactly what he meant when he sat on Oprah’s couch and talked about “the person” he was in love with.   But fun with pronouns is less egregious than totally missing the mark with a cunnilingus reference.  I don’t know why Maxwell even had to go there.

Actually, I do know why – he has to be straight so women who find him attractive will buy his records and attend his concerts.  And the sexuality has to be so overt as to make an arena full of sane woman scream wantonly at some man proclaiming himself a “sushi eater”. *face palms* No hetero man in the world would use those words, so I’m convinced that whole part of the concert was cooked up by record company executives to distract the audience from the gay-boy flounce.   As were the pairs of panties that magically flew through the air, which Maxwell daintily put in his pocket.  Then there was a woman who tried to kiss him and, even though he had to hug her to keep the fantasy alive, it was more like a pat on the back than a passionate embrace.  Not that I like strangers trying to put their mouths on my face, but the look on his face during the whole interlude was all about, “um, no THANK you.”

“I feel just like a weight has lifted” – Maxwell, Fistful of Tears

Of course, throngs of women all caught up in the magic of straight smoke-and-mirrors also didn’t see what I really saw from Maxwell that night: someone who is just going through the motions but not really feeling it. Sure he hit all his marks and covered the stage like a good performer should, but the movements were highly contrived and choreographed. This was not the Maxwell from years ago, freely striking his hip with a tambourine, but rather someone wearing and saying and doing what he’s SUPPOSED to do to make the women scream like they’re supposed to so he can get his paycheck.  Mission accomplished, even though he looked a little hemmed up the whole time like he was trying to break free from something and couldn’t quite get it to happen.

Then, during “Fistful of Tears”, one of the best (an non-romantic) tracks on BLACKsummer’snight, Maxwell broke it down for the audience the way a singer sometimes does when they’re having a moment.  He brought down the fourth wall and talked about being proud and overwhelmed by his success, and happy to be welcomed back to his hometown of New York City. Woo hoo!  (The home crowd loves humility.)  He also talked about growing up poor in Brooklyn and never imagining he’d get to perform at Madison Square Garden.  More cheers!  Then he made mention to having felt such despair that he wanted to end his life. Yay…um, wait, what?

*scratching record sound*

That’s the moment when I knew, REALLY knew, that I was seeing a performance not just of Maxwell‘s music, but of his life.   Some artists wear their hearts on their sleeves, or in their lyrics, and if you really pay attention you can see what’s going on with them.  Such is the case with Maxwell’s touring mate, Jill Scott, who talks about divorce, kids, record company bullshit in between songs.  You could feel the lightness in her confessions, and the sister actually cries onstage.   But you can’t be that transparent if you’re gay and watching thousands of women scream about how much they love you.  Or if your new label has packaged you up like Marvin Gaye and expects you to put some sexual healing on the female record-buying public.  When you’re looking at how to reconcile your public image with who you really want to be and it doesn’t make immediate sense, the struggle could send you off the deep end.  And I wouldn’t want that to happen to an artist as talented, versatile and seemingly genuine as Maxwell.

So, if you’re reading this, at least know that I’d still love you if you came out.  And the gay mafia would make a run on your catalog on iTunes.

Uninvited: How social media ruined my birthday

The marketer in me loves social media tools and their ability to find segments of consumers ripe for the picking, er, for “targeted product messaging”.  As a blogger, I use Twitter, Facebook and associated techniques to publicize the crap I write to those most likely to care or laugh (i.e. my friends and family).  But all methods of technology-based communication and community-building building have repeatedly confounded me in a particular area:  my personal life.  Witness the social media induced debacle that was my birthday party.

There’s a regrets RSVP option for a reason

First, I’m getting on in years and also pre-menstrual, so I have a tendency to be inappropriately cranky right now.  I also need to get back into therapy and cease with authoring my recovery into pithy buts of humor.  Nevertheless I’m pretty sure I should be annoyed that only 3 of my friends and family showed up to my birthday party on Monday.  You should know that I share a birthday with one of my oldest and dearest friends, Tanya.  Since we have many of the same friends and also want to celebrate with each other we sometimes throw a joint party.  This year, I sent out our invitation utilizing the first line of defense in party planning – I sent an evite.  As per usual, I was pithy and witty in the invitation text, as you can see:

We’re pushing 40 but not too old to party on a school night! Come out to the rooftop bar at La Quinta Inn (we keep it classy) and buy us a few celebratory drinks – and a few for yourself – while we bask in the glow of the Empire State Building (kinda) and the neighboring water towers.  Fancy digs it ain’t, but your presence and the terrace-y atmosphere will create more than enough charm to last past sundown and into the night!  Happy Hour drink specials run from 5:30PM – 8:00PM, so come early if you love us but you’re thrifty with your ducats.  And if you bring cute, single hetero boys for the traditional birthday smooch, both of us will be forever in your debt!  Hope y’all can make it.

Cute, yes?  If you know me or Tanya well, you’ll take the message in the snarky yet earnest manner it was intended.  I was feeling saucy, so I set up the invitation and mailed it to my guest list, then Tanya forwarded it to hers because she was in Alaska for a week and not so much with the planning.  At any rate, I was situated at the bar at 5:45PM – the first to arrive – followed by 10-15 of Tanya’s coworkers.  Fortunately I know most of them, so I had something to do while waiting ANOTHER HOUR FOR MY FIRST GUEST TO ARRIVE!!!!!   To those of you who contacted me directly about not coming:  you’re forgiven.  If you said you were coming and didn’t show (and you know who you are), you’re dead to me for the moment but we may speak again someday if you buy me gifts and ‘fess up to your mistake.   But to the rest of you…there are not words to express my disappointment.  Yes there are:  you suck.

I thought I followed the accepted protocol:  after the evite, I posted the party on Facebook.  I also dispatched individual invitations to select Twitterati that actually know my real name and have met me in person. Still, radio silence coupled with collective no-show activity.  Not to be a total asstard, I did get many a birthday wish on Facebook, and on Twitter, and I’m really glad to know that so many people remembered me yesterday.  However I’m not exactly sure if it counts as remembrance when I create a hashtag for my birthday (#HappyBirthdayIGuess) and some social media application automatically tells everyone I know what day I was born.   I did everything I could to portray myself as The Birthday Girl and, later, as Rejected and Not Drunk Enough.  If I’d gone to happy hour right after work, and gotten liquored up at some sports bar, I could have partied with more people than bothered to show up for me last night.  Not that I’m not grateful for what I have, I just thought I was going to get a little bit more.

Social networking:  Neither social nor networking.  Discuss.

In our rush to use digital means to manage our personal lives, we’ve gotten away from the whole in-person aspect to socializing.  Yes, I get a certain kind of pleasure from gaining Twitter followers or from seeing the growth in my blog subscriptions.  But it’s not the same as having actual contact and actual relationships with living people.  Yes, behind (almost) every Twitter account is a real person, or at least there’s a human behind the ‘bot or the Google Reader service that sifts through the ether to find relevant content.  Still when life is just as easily lived behind a digital wall, and its sometimes preferable to send an e-mail than (gasp!) have a phone conversation, a request for a face-to-face meeting is a rarity even when that invitation is in the form of 1′a and 0′s.  So if I actually want to see you then you must mean more to me than the hundreds of people I type at every day.  Remember that I work in marketing, so technically I have a one-way relationship with the entire population of New York City and Nassau and Westchester where my company advertises.  Those public eyeballs don’t mean that much to me, personally, but I’m pretty invested the flesh and blood peepers swirling in the lobes of my friends and family.  Still, I got more feedback and attention from people who barely know me than from folks who have been varying parts of my life for years.  No amount of RTs can erase the feeling that somehow I wasn’t worth spending even a few moments with, or the time it would take to say “sorry, can’t make it, have fun.”  Humph.

Just so you know, I’m never throwing another party for myself.  Or if I do, it will involve engraved invitations and a paid assistant to dispatch with follow-up calls to the guest list.  If you don’t find out about that future soiree, consider it a non-vitation and keep it moving.

Become the Change You Wish to See, or Why I Need to Lose 40 Pounds

On Monday I turn 38 and, as is wont to happen around my birthday, my penchant for self-reflection intensifies as I contemplate the next year of my life.  This year, I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to lose this nagging 40 pounds (okay, maybe 50 for good measure), get back into a size 8 and stay there for good.  My decision has little to do with aging or healthy living, though I do feel better when I exercise regularly.  Nor does the impending trip to Weight Watchers (or whatever program I’m giving myself as a gift) stem from a desire to fit into Lucky Jeans – plus anything sold at Express – again.  Nope, I want to lose weight because I’m not attracted to fat men.

Damn the double standard, I like what I like

Now you’re thinking that I was a little hasty back there in my dismissal of the zaftig among men as undateable.  After all, you men may say, who am I to be picky if I need to lose 50 lbs?  Some of you might opine that men of all sizes like large women, or that I should learn to love myself no matter how much I weigh and I can still be sexy in a size 18.  First off, picky is in the eye of the beholder and if I want a nice piece of salmon, don’t try to give me flounder and say it’s the same thing.  I know what pleases me in dinner and in people and I know how to get it.  Furthermore, trust me when I say that I love my curves and work them to their fullest advantage on the regular; I don’t have any self-hate with regard to my size.  Why, then, do I think that dropping some poundage will land me the date of my dreams?  Two words:  buffet dinner.

The couple that eats together…

Have you ever been to Las Vegas, or any city that boasts cheap food in abundance?  My Dad lives in Nevada and like all senior citizens, he likes a good deal.  Buffet meals fit my father’s financial obligations because the portions are unlimited and he can always sneak out a chicken leg to eat later.  If you go to Vegas and size up the patrons at the nearest food trough, you’ll always find a bunch of oldsters with stacks of food that may or may not leave the building before consumption.  If I was on a fixed income, I’d bring plastic baggies and insulated totes to dinner.  In addition to the geriatric set, you’ll also find many, er, robust couples parked in front of the all-you-can-eat sign.  Apparently stuffing your gullet full of crappy foodstuffs constitutes a bonding as well as eating occasion.  I’m not a fan of the entrée called “look, its fried” with “greasy” as an appetizer.  And if I’m gonna eat a heart attack on a plate, I’ll have it made-to-order portion rather than sitting under a heat lamp where its cholesterol molecules gain strength hourly.

Unlike my brethren of the buffet, I have not maintained my pleasing plumpness by eating fast food, fried food, or empty calories.  My waistline has been cultivated by large quantities of gourmet cheese, European chocolate, well-prepared meats, and expensive alcohol.  Of course I inhale the occasional bag of puffed Cheetos, but I’ve never met a vegetable I didn’t like, and I bake my own bread.  My fat has a pedigree, just like the rest of me, and it does discriminate against those whose sole culinary criterion is quantity.  I’ve seen Mr. and Ms. Rotund waddle up to the buffet line, drool on the sneeze guards and put away piles of chow I wouldn’t even glance at.  I’ve also seen them repeat the process in the same sitting, trying to pass of some sad piece of iceberg lettuce covered in Thousand Island dressing as a vegetable.  Just who are they trying to fool?

Fat, not nasty

The food snob in me will never become one of those “shovel it in” people; I eat for taste and necessity, not just to fill my belly, so I prefer to savor what I consume rather than wallow it and swallow it.  Watch an overweight person eat:  they’ll either appreciate the vast array of what they eat, or just choke as much of it down as quickly as possible to make room for the next mouthful.  Lack of chewing at the dinner table and messy eating habits were contributing factors to a few breakups in my past.  There were other reasons those men were not long for my world, but they were also the two heaviest men I ever dated and had the worst taste in food.  We couldn’t really agree on eating out because they wanted White Castle when I wanted to eat at Four Seasons.  I exaggerate slightly, but not by much.  And if I’m planning to sit across a table from someone for any period of time I’m expecting them to have table manners, talk to me during the meal, and agree that Olive Garden is not haute cuisine OR real Italian food in spite of the bottomless breadsticks.

What I’m saying here is that there are fat folks who are fairly oblivious to food and their various food-related habits portray that engagement.  In my experience, these are the overweight people who wear lots of t-shirts, buy shoes at the supermarket and have bad haircuts, the “Fat Nasties”.  On the other hand, there are people who consume more high-quality calories than our bodies need, and may consume those calories as foie gras and snifters of aged whiskey.  They may be overweight, but wear good shoes and ironed clothes because they have respect for themselves and their appearance.  Now I may be fat, but I’m no Fat Nasty in that being big doesn’t determine what I wear, where I go, or my social circles.  I go to the beach and ride bicycles in spite of what my ass must look like in the seat.  I choose friends because I like them, not because they make me feel skinny/pretty/less insecure about myself.  And I’m incredibly well fed because my parents introduced me to escargot, the maitre d’hôtel and white tablecloths at an early age.  I have some taste, y’all, and you better have some too if you want to hang with me.

The moral of this story is, I’m going to head to the gym after work today.  I plan to make my outsides match my insides in hopes that nobody invites me to the all-you-can-eat rib joint because they think I need a truckload of dinner make me happy.  I’d rather eat pretty food with a fancy-pants hipster who wants to make me happy in spite of the fact that we’re having dinner.