Last Splash

Okay folks, this one hurts.  I know that people passing is part of the circle of life, and when our favorite stars go, it should really just be a general sadness for them and their families while we enjoy the biography specials and the exposes on E!, but when I read that Esther Williams died today at 91, it kind of hit my like a truck.  You see, when I was an adolescent, trying to figure out just what was going on for me in terms of my not being attracted to girls and having a rather powerful crush on one of my male neighbors, I was also watching old movies on the TV.  Debbie Reynolds and Judy Garland were favorites; but above them all, standing on perfectly arched feet was Esther Williams.

I’m not quite sure what it was…maybe not so much a single quality, but a combination of things that made her seem at once other worldly and totally human.  In my youthful mind, she had the perfect body and face…which is a little ironic, because when I look at her now, she’s built a bit like a boy…clearly, I had formed my likes by this point.  She also seemed to have an irrepressible sense of humor.  When I watch her films now, I get the sense that frequently they had to do multiple takes because she was always cracking up.

It seemed to me that even though she was stunningly beautiful, she never took herself too seriously.  Although, that was different when it came to her swimming.  Watching her glide through the water, you could tell that this was a trained athlete, with flawless timing and technique…at least to a non-athletic swimmer like me.  She was beauty and strength and humility and glamour.  Wow.  Watching a woman like this in action gave me incredible respect for the full dimension of feminine culture.  In a bizarre way, seeing her was the beginning of me understanding that the other little boys and the terrible way they talked about girls as objects wasn’t right; nor was the way that some of the little girls acted like objects.  There was obviously much, much more to being a woman.  What a great foundation for getting to know the powerful young women of my teens not to mention the women of my family.

So to Esther and her family, I send a prayer, immense gratitude and a wish that somewhere some little gay boy is watching your old movies, looking at you and thinking, as I did, “if that is what a woman can be,  then I will always be in awe of what woman can be.”

RIP

Colonial Fool Part I: Are You Being Served?

So, I just have to be cranky for a minute.  This morning when I went into ‘Sweet Inspiration’ cafe in the Castro for a nice cup of tea before meeting with friends for brunch, I experienced something that is unique for black men who frequently have to navigate white worlds.  The gentleman before me was greeted by the counter person with the words, “how can I help you sir?” to which the patron replied with his order.  This customer probably looked to be a fairly typical Castro-ian (35, white, male, decent income…judging by his backpack, etc.) he was wearing tennis shoes and a t-shirt.  When it came my turn for service, I was greeted with “Hey, man…”  As far as I know, I look fairly typical if even a bit affluent as Californians go (shorts…it’s 70 degrees, sunglasses, casual linen shirt) but I do have dreadlocks and brown skin and these I believe are the exclusive reason for not being greeted without any kind of deference of respect.  I was greeted according to my race and not to my status as paying customer.

Why am I cranky?  Because this happens to me every day, everywhere I go…except for black establishments, where I am always greeted as “sir.”  I feel a right to be cranky about this because, for many years, I was in the service industry.  I learned early on, that if I didn’t greet a customer as “sir” or “ma’am”, it would surely show in my tip.  I am greeted this way by both young and old, male and female.  The only consistent thing among these service professionals is that they are all white.  Now, this isn’t everyone.  I think there are some people who have gained a little bit of a clue and realized that by greeting me as “man” or “bro” or “dude” or “blood”, they are not showing me any kind of solidarity.  Instead, they are only showing me the fact that they are aware of my skin color and the history in this country that surrounds my skin color…oh, and their deep rooted fear of being in relationship with me.

I suppose I could be happy to be greeted at all. My parents have shared stories of traveling to the South in the 1950’s and not being served at all.  I have also experienced the “we’re just not going to serve you until you leave” thing in more than one state north of the Mason Dixon.  But somehow I thought we had passed a law against that…

So with this brief blog entry, I will begin a series of pieces all about deconstructing American colonialism.  For me, colonial rule is alive and well.  Not only in white people trying too hard, but in where faith sits in our culture and how it divides us racially and culturally and economically.  Colonialism is also alive in how we continue to purpose women toward sex and procreation.  Colonialism guides us in how we see masculine and feminine and it continues to create systems of “us and them” that began with the decimation of the native peoples of this land. On top of it all, I own part of this way of being; I am at times responsible for perpetuating the legacy of colonialism as any “Taylor the Latte Boy” who calls me “man” or a black woman “sister” or greets Latinos with ‘hola’, etc.  As far as I can tell, more than any other ill in American culture, it is the continued perpetuation of colonial values, ethical priorities, relationships, social definitions and a host of other cultural perversions that stands in the way of our living into the most important value that is espoused by both lofty world thinkers and children everywhere: to be loved.

Therefore, dear ‘Sweet Inspiration’ Barista, cute though you may be, you have a lot to learn.  For although I do identify as a man, I am not your “man” and you can’t relate to me better by assuming a linguistic posture that you think might be “familiar.”

You can call me “sir,” thank you very much.

Kristin Chenoweth singing “Taylor the Latte Boy”