Us Vs. Them

tim-tebowIf you’ve met my Mom, you no doubt love her. She is a sweet little lady with a big heart. She is also a Christian and, like most Christians, she makes her decisions by asking herself, “What would Jesus do?” 

Yesterday, my Mom shared on Facebook something that someone named AskDrBrown posted about Caitlyn Jenner. It was a picture of Tim Tebow, in heroic profile, with the caption, “The people who are applauding Bruce Jenner for ‘being himself’ are the same people who condemned Tim Tebow and told him to ‘keep his beliefs to himself.'” 

Let me be clear, this is not about my Mom and me. I don’t think that she posted this comment about someone in the LGBT community to hurt my feelings. I think that as a Christian she probably feels that the Liberal Left is often persecuting and judging the Religious Right. Certainly this kind of contempt that we see on places like Facebook and Twitter and in the media go both ways.  And I see what she posted as her way of saying, “I am a Christian.” I respect that.

Of course, I thought quite a bit about what she posted all day yesterday. I wrote about it in June, but there is a part of me, that when I see people write negative things about Caitlyn Jenner’s identity, I somehow take it personally. (I’m not saying that kind of sensitivity is a good thing.)

An aside here, I like Tim Tebow. I mean, I certainly don’t know as much about him as I know about, say, Bethenny Frankel, but he seems to me like a decent Christian guy, trying to glorify God in the way he lives his life. He does not go out of his way to say homophobic or transphobic things, that I know of, anyway. And, because I AM gay, I have noticed that he is quite handsome, in my humble opinion.

The thing that I found myself really thinking about yesterday was not my Mother, but this AskDrBrown who originally posted the transphobic/Caitlyn-phobic comment in the first place. It’s a classic effort to polarize the world we live in: Liberals vs. Christians, LGBT vs. Conservatives. While I don’t think my Mother had malice in her repost, I do sense that, for AskDrBrown, cruelty was part of his intent. Why else would he refer to Caitlyn as both “Bruce Jenner” and in the male pronoun? Whether AskDrBrown thinks Caitlyn is going to heaven or not, it’s unkind, heartless, petty, judgemental and provincial to not respect a person’s wishes of how they would like to be addressed. 

I know that, in a way, it truly is Us vs. Them. This social dichotomy is one of the themes that runs through my entire blog. I grew up conservative, identify as liberal in adulthood. I have many people close to me that are big cheerleaders on each side.  Sides exist and probably they are necessary. But I also think that this Us. vs. Them pathology has its problems too. And let me be the first to admit my own guilt.

My 30th high school reunion is coming up next summer. I am planning to attend. I think. I enjoyed our 20 year reunion but back then, none of us were on Facebook, we didn’t know exactly how we all landed politically, and spiritually, and socially. No one had seen pictures of Eric and me at pride festivals. I hadn’t seen pictures of classmates with the deer they just shot. By the time next year’s reunion rolls around, I will probably have a clear handle, from each classmate, about who plans to vote for Hillary, who plans to vote for Bernie, who plans to vote for Jeb and also, yikes, who plans to vote for Trump. Can I really spend an evening or a weekend reminiscing with someone wearing a Trump/Cosby ’16 t-shirt and ball cap? Do my classmates really want to see the choreography I do when Taylor Swift’s Welcome to New York starts playing? Well, I hope so, because WE ARE THE CLASS OF ’86. And we have history and memories and shared laughs and shared tears. We have our differences, yes, but hopefully, for a weekend anyway, we will only focus on what we share. Right?

I hope that a little good can come out of AskDrBrown’s mean spirited Facebook post, and that is that I can be a little kinder, a little less polarizing. We are all in this together, the conservatives, the liberals, the football players, the decathletes, the doctors, the restaurant hosts, the deer hunters, the Meryl Streep superfans, the Kansas moms, the Real Housewives. It is not Us vs. Them, merely We.

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Carole

20130821-135526.jpgAs I type this, Eric and I are en route from our mini-vacation in Palm Springs. We had a lot of fun, and a good part or our vacation was spent by or in the swimming pool. The property where we stayed is a boutique hotel, with a gorgeous pool in the center courtyard. We stayed here a couple of years ago and loved it. One thing we noticed, how do I say this delicately, is that the crowd was a little more glamorous last time. Two years ago it was sun-kissed, tone bodied, bikini wearing Hollywood hills types of both sexes and all proclivities. This time, it was mostly pasty European 50-somethings. And that’s why Carole stood out to us all the more.

I’ll call her Carole because at first notice, she reminded me of Carole Radziwill, my favorite Real Housewife. The first time I saw my Carole she jumped into the pool, put on her goggles and swam a few lanky laps then ascended from the pool like the vision she was. Dark hair, a little longer than a bob, silky tan skin. I didn’t know if she was 25, 35 or 45. When she walked away, I watched her go back to her chaise which was tucked away in a more private area in the courtyard. She took out her MacBook and started typing or reading or working on something. 45 minutes later, she put down the MacBook, grabbed her goggles and headed back to the pool to repeat the cycle. I was transfixed, I pointed her out to Eric who said, “She’s Fabulous and that swimsuit is Malia Mills!” And so began our united fascination and shared conjecture with and about all things Carole. Eric thought she was French and I thought she lived in LA, but had only recently moved here from New York. Eric thought she’d once been a model, I thought she worked in fashion writing or was perhaps working on a novel. When we talked more about her over dinner on Monday night, Eric (slightly tipsy) vowed that he would talk to her the next day.

Tuesday morning, I was excited to see her sitting, reading the paper and drinking coffee at the restaurant bar where the hotel set out a coffee urn for the hotel guests. I grabbed my own coffee and my own paper and sat down a few stools down. I hoped that she’d initiate a conversation with me. “Strong coffee, isn’t it?” “Yes it is and hot, too!” Or perhaps, “I see Lee Daniels’ The Butler did well at the box office this weekend!” “Yes, I really want to see it.”
“Me, too.” “Yes, let’s all go see it this afternoon.” Well, that didn’t happen. We drank and read in silence, though for some reason, she did clear her throat several times. I held out hope that Eric would initiate a conversation when he joined us, but he didn’t. “I’ll talk to her this afternoon,” he told me when I quizzed him about his sheepishess.

As I lay out by the pool Tuesday afternoon, I wondered if maybe the Carole who existed may not be as interesting as the one I’d imagined. My Carole was by now a fashion editor, a novelist, getting over a break up and desperately missing her German Shepherd Max that she lost custody of in the break up. Her first novel sold “okay” but her publisher assured her that her new book, “In the Swim” was poised to make her the next Lauren Weisberger. Is she ready for the high profile life that awaits her? She’s been having trouble sleeping and she’s taken to watching episodes of Tosh.0 on her MacBook. “Is He Gay?” she asks herself as she slips into a fitful sleep. In her dreams, she is best friends with the effortlessly stylish 40-something gay couple that she’s seen at the pool.

My daydreams came to a crashing reality on Tuesday afternoon when Eric came back to the room. “She’s not French. She grew up in Rancho Mirage and her suit isn’t Malia Mills. She doesn’t even know who Malia Mills is.” He’d struck up a conversation by complimenting her suit. I asked if she seemed bookish, he said she did not.

This morning when Eric and I were eating breakfast, she walked by us. Eric said hi, she said hi. I’d hoped she’d stop so he could introduce me to her, but she kept walking.

I’ll probably never know Carole’s story, Eric did find out her name and he told me her name. It’s not Carole. I thought about telling you her name here, but I know that a lady like Carole likes to have a little mystery.

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Aspirational Lifestyle

IMG_7180In the mornings that I am not rushed to get out the door, I like to sit at my computer with a cup of coffee and peruse my favorite websites, especially New York Social Diary. It touts itself as my link to society and indeed it is.  I look at the pictures of charity balls and book signings and equestrian events and it’s not hard to imagine that if I’d just stayed in Manhattan a few years more, I would have easily turned into this girl.  My favorite part of the website, however, is the section called Big Old Houses, by John Foreman.  In Big Old Houses, Mr. Foreman will visit mansions, castles, and apartments.  Most of the estates he profiles are in the New York area, but he also visits other places throughout the country.  I love it on every level.  First of all, he does a great job of researching the history of the property and the people who built it and lived there.  He also posts lots of pictures showing what the properties look like now.  Some are fabulously maintained, others less so.  Some are still owned by the family, others are owned by the state or private institutions.  I also like it because as you read more of his posts, he reveals more about himself and he’s a prettty interesting character himself.  I won’t give away all his secrets here, but he does love a kitchen and a bathroom.  And he’s got a soft spot for cats, too.  The first time I heard the term aspirational lifestyle was in reference to the Real Housewives franchise on Bravo.  Ultimately, we watch the show because these women live lives that we aspire to, at least on some level.  We also watch it because they are usually egotistical, alcoholic trainwrecks and we get to feel superior about ourselves for not having their problems.  And if you’ve read just a little bit of Big Old Houses, you know that egotistical, alcoholic trainwrecks have long been part of the fabric of American culture.  But I digress.  The post that warmed my heart the most was the one where Mr. Foreman profiled his own house which I believe is in upstate New York.  He offers a bit of the property’s history and shows a copious amount of pictures and, as he does in all his posts, paints a portrait of the person who lives there.  It is not the most opulent property, some of the furniture should be replaced and it looks like the wallpaper is deteriorating in spots.  He confides that he has rented it for 31 years.  He is an aging homosexual living with antiques and pets and friends and lots of pictures of loved ones.  I can’t help but see a bit of myself in him.  And while I get the sense that his life has not amounted to all that he aspired to, he has riches:  a family that loves him, a few valuable collectible pieces, a great bathroom, a fireplace to keep him warm on a blistery winter night.  One could do worse.

Manhattan, When I was Young

1333647646_real-housewives-of-nyc-zoomThey say that anything is possible.  An example of this is that one of Bravo’s Real Housewives led me to one of my favorite authors.  In early 2012, when I read that someone named Carole Radziwill was going to be one of the new Real Housewives of New York, I picked up her book, What Remains, a New York Times bestseller about her husband and their friendship with his cousin, JFK Jr. and JFK Jr’s wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy.  I was moved by her well-written account of love and loss. She wrote in the book about another book Manhattan, When I was Young and how it was a comfort to her during a troubling time.  Talking me into reading a book about New York City is about as difficult as talking me into eating chocolate cake for breakfast.  So, I read it.  The author, Mary Cantwell, broke the book into five different parts, the five different apartments she lived in when she first moved to Manhattan in the 1950’s, first as an unmarried college graduate with a new job into her first years of marriage and early motherhood in the 1960’s.  The book is about her husband and children and jobs, but centrally it’s about a stranger coming to New York and finding their place.  I loved it.  And then I read her other books, American Girl: Scenes from a Small-Town Childhood and Speaking with Strangers: A Memoir.  All three are currently available as a trilogy called Manhattan Memoir.  I read all three in the span of a few days and they are wonderful.  The first is about her childhood, the third is largely about her daughters and travels writing for Mademoiselle and Vogue.  But her second is the one that touched me most.  While I was reading it, I google earthed every address she talked about in the book.  Of course, every building is still there.  And it wasn’t hard to imagine a twenty-something moving to New York, a heart full of dreams, making their way with successes and failures in the big city.  She reminded me of Peggy from Mad Men, but she also reminded me of someone else I know even better.  

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Ray Barnhart Likes Girls

It’s hard to believe it’s been five years since I posted this video. This is from a night I produced called Ray Barnhart Likes Girls. Five of my favorite storytellers (Sarah Taylor, Rebecca O’Brien, Amy Scribner, Traci Swartz and Linda Bailey Walsh) joined me to share tales of the relationship between gay men and their straight female counterparts. It was a fun night and the rush I felt at the end of the evening I still carry with me. My best friend Michele is still my best friend Michele and it’s exciting to think about how much her life has changed since 2008. She is the busy mother of two toddlers, at least one of whom has inherited his parents’ performing gene. Her husband Stan is no longer new on the scene and he has turned out to be as special as I suspected he might be. And me, my life has changed in a few ways, too, but I’m still the kind of guy who can spend a Friday night in front of the computer drinking chardonnay, eating pizza rolls and reliving a favorite memory.