Mendacity

In case you haven’t got it yet, I love old movies.  As an aside, if you are also an old movie fan and you haven’t checked out John DiLeo’s blog (http://screensaversmovies.com/), you must.  One of my favorite old movies is “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”  First of all, Elizabeth Taylor is stunning.  Second of all, so is Paul Newman.  And best of all, is a script by Tennessee Williams that despite its being rather liberally butchered for the Hollywood censors, still manages to convey a lot of the original plays awkwardness and distaste for one thing…mendacity.

mendacity (plural mendacities)

– The fact or condition of being untruthful; dishonesty.

– A lie, deceit or falsehood.

No one, absolutely no one in the film is telling the truth.  It is gorgeous and tragic.  But it only works because it is fiction and not real life.  It is Edith Head and Richard Brooks and Louella Parsons and 1958 Hollywood, nothing more.

Unfortunately, we seem to be in an age that is quickly embracing mendacity as the rule instead of the exception.  I could launch into a lengthy expose on the recent Republican National Convention and how my P90X workout buddy, Paul Ryan, seems to have major issues with the fact check button on his computer (maybe he’s a little high from all of that Shakeology ™?)  I could also dive into “the Mittster” himself’ by pointing out how he left out one important phrase at the beginning of his speech, “Once upon a time…”, but I will resist.  I know that next week the Democrats will also engage in their fair share of mendacious salaciousness feigning perspicaciousness while resulting only in audaciousness…in short, we’ll hear them lying too.  I have no plea or bargain to strike with either party.  I would however like to speak directly to a group that I not only identify with, but a group for whom I have always had great hopes: black folks.

Word on the street is that black folks (aka, African Americans) are in a quandary.  As first fired, last hired,  we have seen little if no change at all in our economic status during the Obama administration.  There are no more of us starting businesses, or owning homes or affording college or sailing our yachts or showing our dressage horses than before Obama was elected.  So if we (black people) then listen to the rhetoric being spouted by the Republicans, it would make sense that we would agree with them that Obama has been a “do nothing” president.  But then, the Democrats point most specifically to the benefits that come with “Obamacare” and the administrations effort to rebuild the American international reputation after the Bush bulldozer, and they say, the world is a safer, healthier place for us.  Not to mention that Obama is black (well half…but that’s a totally different blog concerning how we truly embrace people who are mixed race) and he therefore represents a kind of “hope” that a Romney or a Ryan could never represent for us.

Right now there is a concerted effort to make the issue of marriage equality (aka gay marriage) a divisive issue in the black church and black communities in general.  We don’t talk about it.  We don’t make a point of standing up and making a show by marching with posters that say “I love my gay son” or any of that.  In most black communities, centered around the church, blacks don’t talk about anything LGBT even if they know its there.  I’ve often gotten the feeling that many of a certain type in the black community regard LGBT rights as a frivolous pursuit by entitled white people and therefore it is not something that involves “us.”  Blacks who deny the LGBTQI communities in their midst are sadly deluded.  They are missing out on true relationships with their sons and daughters, brothers, aunts, sisters, uncles and even sometimes parents, because of a desire to remain ignorant to the truth.

Ladies and gentlemen, black people have sex.  And yes sometimes its not always with someone of the opposite gender. And get this, whether it is M/F, M/M, F/F or whatever, its not always “Mandingo/Foxy Luv” sex.  Sometimes, its as boring and mundane as the sex you might imagine Mitt and Ann having.  The important thing is to own the fact that we have it and it ain’t no big deal.

Black church leaders are calling for a boycott on the election because of Obama’s stance on same sex marriage.  They claim that embracing this practice is anti-Christian and goes against God and nature.  They believe it is important to make a statement to Obama that he has “betrayed” the black people by embracing something they see as a white evil.

Mendacity.

I have a growing number of black LGBTQI friends who have all left the church because of the hostile environment they have encountered.  From my view, the only people who have perpetrated betrayal are the church leaders who go against the teachings of the very Christ they espouse by turning away people who are already marginalized.  We are met with the claim that we “weaken” the cause for validity in a white dominated culture; that we are over sexualized and that we are a shameful representation of sexuality.  I know they are wrong, but I will put aside how sickened I am by their stance to make a plea for a temporary truce.  Right now, we have an opportunity to elect the first black (mixed) president in the history of the United States to a second term.  He has been battled and un-cooperated with and challenged from day one, because he genuinely does think differently than all of the old white dudes who came before him.  Yes, he is just as much a slimy politician as the rest of them, but he does speak our language and he is a symbol of something much more important than making sure Warren Buffett gets another tax break.  He’s a symbol that the face…the literal face of America has changed permanently.

Black church leaders of America, I ask you to put aside your differences with me and the rest of my LGBTQI cronies and we will do the same.  Our battle for reconciliation will go on much longer than either this election season or the next administration regardless of who wins because human sexuality is as old as the human race.  And I say to the black community, do not disgrace the work of all of the Civil Rights warriors by withholding your vote…there are enough people trying to cheat you out of it as it is.  I say, if you really don’t want all that Obama stands for as a leader for this country, then vote against him, but don’t be a coward; don’t let the men who want to play a false God with my sexuality, women’s bodies or your rights to have assistance from a biased system that continues to oppress you…don’t let them have their day.   And if you are willing to continue to meet the LGBTQI community face to face through our common faiths and shared spirituality, then put that vote in the blue column and we’ll meet you at church where we can really discuss the validity of my existence before the eyes of God and find a way to embrace each other with the true love He designed and hopefully without any mendacity at all.

Muscle Irony

In 2003

I love Paul Ryan.  Here’s someone who has hitched his wagon to the Romney horse (lame though it may be) and is all gung ho and ready to “energize” the base, and make the Romney campaign relevant to young people and to…well…BRING IT!

Yes those immortal words from the fitness guru du jour Tony Horton, repeated, time and time again in his P90X video series.  Yes, P90X…muscle confusion…push through the pain…BRING IT! It brings back memories.  You see, I have the delicious fortune (although none of the money) to be featured throughout the P90X series.  It was a great little fitness modeling gig while I was working for Equinox in LA back in 2003 (yes nearly 10 years ago) and it was great fun.  The people I twisted into “crow” with and “crunchy frogged” with and “Dreya rolled” with were an absolute delight.  When I worked on this project, I knew it would be popular but had no idea HOW popular.  It wasn’t until a couple of years ago when I was working for Disney Cruise Line in a totally non fitness capacity when one of the dancers on board approached me and said, “The guy in our workout video looks a lot like you…” I was taken off guard until they told me that the entire cast had been doing the AbRipper X workout and they thought the guy with the dreadlocks looked a  lot like me.  I informed them simply “…because, it IS me.”  That began what is now a regular occurrence where I have to “manage” my incredibly minor celebrity.  Someone recognizes me or corners me conversationally about being in P90X or asks me questions about it.  It seems quite endless and I am deeply flattered.  And now with the presumptive Republican Vice Presidential Candidate talking about it, I must brace myself for another onslaught of P90X Mania.

I don’t believe that wellness should be politicized.  Wellness and health are for everyone.  But the only problem is that Paul Ryan doesn’t think so.  Again, I’m not trying to be funny or political (much) but he’s touting a national financial plan that would complicate and probably limit the options available to people who are medically vulnerable and are currently having their health and sustenance needs served served by Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.  That strikes me as a pretty bizarre irony when he’s marching around being hailed as an example of health, showing off his “guns” and talking about 6% body fat (which for those of you who are trainers know is unhealthy) based on a product that really only certain people can afford to purchase.  I don’t live in that world.  If I weren’t in P90X, I couldn’t afford a copy.  A little over 5 years ago, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.  Besides the intense emotional roller coaster that this continues to be, it meant making some extremely challenging family choices.  Lifestyles were forfeited to care for her, houses were lost, savings evaporated; but financial ruin was averted when we were able to secure her into a care facility that would be paid for by a combination of Medicaid and her Social Security.  If it were not for these two “entitlement” programs, my family would be absolutely destitute and probably still trying to manage her care on our own and maybe even on welfare.  We are not stupid people, we have multiple advanced degrees, we’ve had exciting careers, we did intelligent (though limited) planning…and it all went to hell.  Thank God for Medicaid and Social Security as they currently exist.

The core of P90X is “muscle confusion.”  This is basically where you systematically fatigue the muscles in an unexpected or non-regular pattern.  Variety becomes the key to improving fitness.  With a muscle confusion workout, one constantly changes the “target.”  Paul Ryan says it very well in a recent YouTube Post: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8wb374ZdZ2w

Unfortunately, he seems to be “bringing it” to his political agenda as well. Although he was a trainer in an earlier life, he’s forgotten an important element of the whole muscle confusion paradigm and I think on the political front as well…functionality.  You see, muscle confusion burst on the scene when trainers began to focus more on “functional fitness.” Functional fitness is training people to be able to actually do things as opposed to just looking like they can.  So instead of just giving someone a giant weight and having them do barbell chest presses, you have them do chest press, but you also have them do push ups, and you have them add a balance element, then you combine it with other movements, etc.  For me this was always my favorite kind of training to do with clients and it got amazing results.  What is missing for me with Paul Ryan and his political platforms and with Romney and the GOP in general, is the basic functionality of what they are about.  Neither of these men has had to make a choice between keeping their job and shepherding the process of putting their parent into nursing care (though Ryan faced hardship in his youth.)*  Not a pretty choice to have to make or one anyone could have anticipated.  When you have to make choices like that, you get very focused on functions like “must eat,” “must have shelter,” etc. Not necessarily, how big are my “guns” and how high can my horse prance.

Okay, I said I wasn’t going to politicize this but it is hard not to.  You see beyond “bringing it” and muscle confusion and 6% body fat, by watching P90X, I know that Paul Ryan would have had to personally watch my naked sweaty body repeatedly… legs in the air, bending over, spread eagled, and he’s proud of what he’s been able to accomplish while watching me.  Good for you Paul Ryan!  But he doesn’t realize that my body didn’t come from P90X.  I got that body by doing countless hours of ballet and figure skating, sport specific training and, for fun, wiggling around on the dance floor in night clubs on Santa Monica Blvd with half naked men.  Bravo Paul Ryan, if you can look in the mirror and say, “Hey, I look just as good as Adam the Ab guy!”  My question is this, would you look at the mirror any differently if you knew that I was a gay Liberal Christian studying to be a minister to marginalized queer communities of color?  I find it ironic that pretty much everything Paul Ryan and the Romney campaign represent from a narrow minded limited lifestyle perspective seeks to actually deny me an existence in the United States…yet he is willing to stand there trying to look like me.  Just think, Paul Ryan, if I was living in your United States, I would probably have killed myself when I was 16 because I knew there was never any hope of being accepted by society or my family.  Where would you have been with no one to compare your weenie confused body to and say “Yeah, I want to be like that.”

Okay, I said I wasn’t going to go political, so I’ll keep it simple.  Thank you to all of the fans of P90X, I love that you love this product and I wish you all the best in health and happiness…as Tony would say… BRING IT!  Thank you Tony Horton and Beachbody.com for letting me be a part of this phenomenon.  And thank you Paul Ryan for the free press.  Keep up the good work and maybe if you continue to “bring it” someday you won’t just look like a gay, black, progressive Christian minister, who is 5 years older than you and can still rock a speedo…but you’ll magically find yourself lucky enough to be one.

In 2010 (Photo: Ryan Adkins)

*Note: Paul Ryan collected Social Security benefits after the untimely death of his father and lived and cared for his grandmother who had Alzheimer’s as a teenager.

The Best Man

As far back as I can remember, my parents had novels by Gore Vidal on their bookshelf.  Titles like Julian and Burr and later Lincoln were things I lived with in my youth like wallpaper.  These books would arrive as part of their subscription to Book of the Month Club.  The books would regularly arrive in their corrugated packaging and I would see them just as regularly placed on a shelf to collect dust.  One day, however, I picked one of them up and started reading.  This simple act catapulted me into a world of politicians, frank sex, history, religion and really everything that today I consider utterly fascinating.  Thank you Book of the Month Club.

I began with the historical novels because they were accessible, enjoying their interweaving of fact and fiction; how they seemed so present with references to places I could actually see someday.  But then I made a project of looking at the less mainstream works like Myra Breckinridge and his “coming out” novel The City and the Pillar, his essays, interviews and screenplays and the man became an obsession for me.  I thought to myself how I would like nothing more than to be able to weave humor, sex, fact and fiction into such a delicious concoction of entertainment.  I was completely smitten and  I developed a mad crush on him when I saw his youthful image at age 21 (my what a lovely mouth.) When I discovered a link between him and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, my little gay heart swooned even more.

But what was it that I found so damned attractive in both the writing and the man?  He was opinionated to a fault.  He was a snob. He was a member of the 1%.  I realize now that I was intoxicated by the contradictions he embodied.  Here was a man who was part of the “upper classes” who although not willing to ever step out of that world, was fully willing to take pot shots at it and expose its seamy underbelly.  To listen to him in interviews, one is immediately struck by almost caricature-like affectation, yet what he says is often fairly gritty and down to earth.  Like one of my other heroes, Cole Porter, he fully acknowledged that he was coming from the standpoint of glaring and exclusive privilege, yet he was also willing to see the ridiculousness and irrationality of that same privilege…at least to a point.  We don’t have that anymore; where are the people who are willing to recognize that they have all the cards, but at the same time that the cards are all Jokers and not Aces?

So today, Gore Vidal, the last of my favorite 20th century authors has passed away.  My great inspirations: Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote and Gore Vidal.  Just the other day, I shared with a friend how much I always dreamed of sitting down for lunch with him at his villa in Italy just to chat over politics, people, travel, sex…and just once touch that great brain first hand.  I always imagined sitting up there on a balcony at sunset, having had just a little bit too much Chianti, a faithful manservant clearing away the dishes and an aged but still saucy Gore Vidal sitting across from me.  As I inhale the glorious smell of the ocean wafting up from the cliffs, I catch a glimpse of him out of the corner of my eye and notice a smirk on his face that is somewhere between paternal academic admiration and pure flirtatious lust.  And with that one stolen glance, I am able to understand the man and all of his life’s work completely. Irreverent, improper, audacious, pampered, privileged and pompous, bombastic, bellicose and utterly brilliant.  Thank you very much, Gore Vidal.