Here’s what I’d like to see.

Washington, D. C., 12:55pm:

Within hours of Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) announcing that he had reversed his position on gay marriage after his own son came out of the closet, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) gave a press conference announcing a new stance on abortion.

“During my career in Texas and my first coupla months here in the Senate, I’ve taken a position against abortion, rooted in part in my faith and my faith tradition, and also because the ladies can be selfish and irresponsible,” Cruz began. A senator known for his extreme far-right views (called by some of his GOP colleagues to be “wacko, but in a good way”), Cruz stunned his own caucus with his revelation:

I listened to my colleague talk about his change of heart after learning that his own son was gay, and I was very moved by his Christian love for his child. I’m sure we were all moved.

But then I thought, why is it that so many of my colleagues only change their minds about social issues when it strikes their own family? 

So I began reading about the issue of abortion and realized that approximately 1/3 of all American women have had abortions in their lifetimes, and that 1 out of 5 women is raped in her lifetime. I read about families destroyed when a  woman died during pregnancy because she felt morally obligated to carry the child. And I realized the simple contradiction between my firm belief in smaller government, and my insistence on monitoring women’s bodies regarding abortion and birth control.

Thus, I change my position today not because someone in my family needs an abortion, but because my entire position was wrong and morally inconsistent with my own political values in this great nation.

Well, you can’t blame me for wishing, right?

Don’t get me wrong: it’s great Portman changed his mind. But dammit, why do they only change position when suddenly their own family has a need? I’m sorry, folks, but this should not be how policy works.

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Holy shit. This film about the long AIDS crisis in San Francisco should be required viewing, it’s so good. It is grueling — I went through ten double-strength tissues and was reduced to sobbing at several points — but it does this by focusing on the personal experiences of five remarkable individuals who survived the epidemic by doing something about it.

Sometimes when I talk with my students about this part of our recent history, I realize they have no sense of several things. First, the joyousness with which so many gay men inhabited San Francisco during the 1970s and early 80s, finally finding a place where they felt at home. Second, the way that the slowly-moving news of a mysterious “gay cancer” affected all people, both gay and straight. Sex could kill you — a point that moralistic bigots like Jerry Falwell did not fail to remind us of, as if most of us required new reasons to feel guilt and shame. And finally, that this epidemic raged for so long that it couldn’t help but demoralize the people fighting hardest to find a cure, those who saw their friends dying all around them.

A lot of what we remember now is governmental inaction, like Reagan’s refusal to acknowledge the disease until late in his second term, or the drug companies’ shameful privileging of profits. But for this documentary those stories (like the ones Randy Shilts exposed with And the Band Played On in 1987) remain subsidiary to the experiences of these five remarkable individuals.

David Weissman’s We Were Here shows that real people — ordinary people — made a difference. It is truly the best example of showing that we are not pawns in a big game of life, subject to the whims of the powerful and the grand forces of history. In a massive, guerrilla, grassroots effort, real people in the Bay Area changed the course of treatment, caregiving, community-building, and memorialization of the dead. They changed the course of political action to change public health practices.

This documentary leaves you with an abiding respect for these ordinary people who fought and protested and risked so much to do the right thing. Tears are still dripping out of my eyes as I write this, for the film is truly that wrenching. As I watched it I wept for my dead friends and my surviving friends and my own young adult years witnessing those men grow sick and waste away. I am so glad, and so proud, to have had the chance to hear these five individuals’ stories.

Wednesday: bad news dump.

2 November 2011

Fact is, I’m in a cranky mood. The NY Times has a piece that claims “Progress for Women, But a Long Way to Go” — about the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Gender Gap Report — but I had to read halfway down the page before I learned anything about that progress. One of the contributors to the report explains in the most tepid way, “We are seeing progress in education and health, but we’re not seeing much progress on the economic and political side, which is a big concern.” Woohoo! Let’s write a headline that leads with PROGRESS!

Then there are the reports that sexual assaults on women at various Occupy! protests are not being reported to the police. “We handle it internally,” says one Occupy! leader. Because we wouldn’t want those upset women’s selfishness to ruin the protest?

Shorter University in Georgia demands that all its employees officially reject homosexuality.

And then there’s Herman Cain’s sexual harassment case in the very midst of the 20-year anniversary of the Anita Hill allegations against Clarence Thomas. Don’t even get me started on the many ways these two cases are different — just because Cain and Thomas are both black men does not make the cases similar in the least — but the shoulder-shrugging about why it should matter sure looks similar. “I guess this proves Herman Cain is more like an actual politician than most of us realized,” writes one online commentator. [Feminéma hits head against wall.]

Twenty years since Anita Hill. Twenty years. “Progress” is not the word to explains what’s happened in the meantime.

According to Maureen Dowd’s NY Times column today, the fall TV lineup ricochets back and forth between a group of shows featuring strong women (because female viewers flock to these shows) and a bunch of shows that learned only one thing from Mad Men: that it must’ve been awesome in the 1960s before feminism. No fewer than three new shows are set in those glorious earlier times — including one called Playboy Club (gawd) and another about stewardesses in 1960 (because we’ve never seen that before). Dowd quotes a top producer who calls it “Hendricks Syndrome”:

“All the big, corporate men saw Christina Hendricks play the bombshell secretary on Mad Men and fell in love. It’s a hot fudge sundae for men: a time when women were not allowed to get uppity or make demands. If the woman got pregnant, she had to drive to a back-alley abortionist in New Jersey. If you got tired of women, they had to go away. Women today don’t go away.”

That’s not all the 60s had going on. So, attention, HBO/AMC/Showtime/TNT: have I got a pitch for you! It’s about the 60s, and it’s the most original show idea in years featuring two perennially popular female stars! It’s a mashup of Nine to Five and Glee and Mad Men! It has Broadway and show tunes and history and workplace conflict, and I’ll entertain all offers for the rights to this fantastic plot!

My dramedyical will star Dolly Parton and Kristin Chenoweth (the musical theater star of Wicked; how has Hollywood missed these women’s striking resemblance, considering their shared singing talents?). They are mother and daughter, both divorced, living in New York in 1965 in a small rent-controlled apartment. More precisely, they live in Chelsea in a neighborhood full of gay men before Stonewall made it popular to talk about gay rights, and both women have large circles of gay male friends spanning several generations.

Chenoweth is trying to make it as a singer like her mother used to be, but Broadway finds her too blonde and too 1950s for the moment. The biggest play that year is the multiple award-winning Fiddler on the Roof; despite her cringe-making attempts, Chenoweth has not persuaded anyone she can “play Jewish.” Moreover, Broadway producers already have their favorite daughter-of-a-star: Liza Minnelli, the 19-year-old daughter of Judy Garland, who has just won a best-actress Tony for Flora the Red Menace (sparking just a little jealousy from our heroines). To make it worse, her gay friends have no sympathy for her kvetching about Minnelli, as many of them have adopted Garland as an idol.

With rent monies dwindling, mother and daughter both take nine-to-five jobs as secretaries — but these wannabe divas have a hard time with the easy sexism of the office workplace. Unlike the character she played in Nine to Five (1980), Parton is no sweetie-pie pushover with a sugary accent; she’s pissed off that she’s 65 years old and working in a demeaning job. She’s accustomed to receiving unquestioning adoration from men instead of this “take my hat and get me a cup of coffee” bullshit.

In addition, after years in musical theater, Parton has never spent much time around straight men — she assumes all men are gay until proven straight. This offers innumerable opportunities to tell her boss that “your ‘wife’ is on the phone.” Moreover, even two years after the Equal Pay Act of 1963, secretaries’ wages are lame, noticed especially by our two stars who make multiple references to how much Minnelli is making for a not-so-successful play. Their paychecks give them the opportunity for a little righteous indignation … and perhaps proto-feminist collective anger.

This isn’t just a story about women — it’s also a story about gays and lesbians. Parton and Chenoweth get locked up by the cops one night after belting out show tunes with their friends at their favorite bar because the bar owner had missed a “protection” payment to the local precinct. Parton has former lover, Elizabeth Peña (who’s so beautiful I don’t understand why she doesn’t get more parts), who now works with Cuban immigrants and gets a little bored with the esoteric musical theater mindset of Parton’s Chelsea world. One of Chenoweth’s best friends, Sal (Bryan Batt, above, who played Salvatore Romano in Mad Men) is trying to balance a closeted office identity with an increasingly confident role in a neighborhood “homophile” group, a splinter of the defunct Mattachine Society. The real-life figure of Harvey Milk appears in several episodes before he moves to San Francisco.

I don’t know about you, but I’d watch every episode of this show. Looking at the world of the 1960s through the eyes of women who didn’t accept the ugliest effects of sexism is an awesome idea. Contact me today with your offers and lucrative contracts!