23 June 2008

Running Out Of Fools (Part One)

Ari Gold1

I'm Jewish, and not only have I never considered myself a "k*ke," or a "y*d," I would verbally assault anyone who would dare use those epithets in referring to me or to any other Jewish person. It's a matter of honor! It's a matter of dignity! It's a matter of having a healthy self-esteem. It's a matter of self-respect.

The reason that virtually no one would even think of publicly using words like "k*ke" and "y*d" is because they know that all Jewish people and organizations would come down on them like a ton of bricks! Is it even conceivable that any university in the world would have a course, program, minor, or major entitled "K*ke Studies?" Yet it is very common for faculty and students in universities to . . . normalize the word "Queer" when titling courses, programs, minors and majors dealing with Gay issues.

. . . when people use hateful epithets in reference to LGBT people, they . . . know that nothing (bad) will happen, that there will be absolutely no negative or threatening repercussions awaiting them (because) many (LGBT) people . . . seem to revel in and frequently use those words themselves.

Jews usually don't have self-loathing, (but) LGBT people all too often do have witting or unwitting self-loathing . . . (they) use those historically punishing words on themselves in the name of "liberation," ignorantly thinking that they are appropriating and neutralizing (them), even when Gay bashers use those very words (for) bashing their victims . . .

Like Jesus says: “Forgive them, Lord, they know not what they do" . . . they have become mutual allies with the most reactionary homophobic forces in the religious and secular worlds!

These epithets (provide) evidence as to the "deviance", the "otherness", the "abnormality" of LGBT people . . . (they) confirm and reinforce the hateful rhetoric that is spewed by powerful religious homophobes in all sorts of venues, from the pulpit to the media, and (serve) no better purpose than to provide these religious homophobes with . . . ammunition that they need and use to sway potential allies away from our cause for equal rights.

It's a profound tragedy, no matter how we look at it. But it's a tragedy that must be confronted, overcome, and renounced so that positive, coordinated grassroots activism can occur . . . LGBT people (must) become emboldened to demand that they be treated with dignity . . . only then will the homophobic oppressor be forced back under the rock from which he or she came, and the acquisition of full and equal civil and sacramental rights . . . become a reality!

These wise words come from Dr. Jerry Maneker, excerpted from his recent essay ”On The Need To Confront Internalized Homophobia and The Sabotage of LGBT Civil Rights.” Now let me tell you the sad story of a gifted young recording artist who sacrificed his dignity in order to further his career.

I fell in love with Ari Gold! I don’t recall exactly where or how I first heard about him, but by the time I did, he was already a Pop culture phenomenon. Imagine: A Gay icon who, for a change, really is Gay! An in-demand jingle, demo, session singer and voice-over actor since childhood, Ari honed his God-given talents over the years and grew up to be a formidable R & B vocalist, songwriter, producer, fashion model, video star and dance club diva. His ascendancy to cult stardom was accelerated by the fact that he’s drop-dead gorgeous, and fills out a tight tank top like a brick house! Him being a Yale University alumnus might've had something to do with it, too.

Ari’s been featured in a plethora of Straight and Gay lifestyle publications, opened shows for RuPaul, Chaka Khan, Cyndi Lauper and other headliners, and collaborated in the recording studio with the likes of Diana Ross, Dave Koz and Desmond Child. Most notable of all is his charity work on behalf of Gay Rights; he supports New York City’s Ali Forney Center, a refuge for homeless LGBT kids, as well as the Gay Men’s Health Crisis organization, and he’s participated in benefits sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign and the ACLU.

I’m always on the lookout for Gay role models, and Ari Gold certainly seemed to fit my criteria. Whenever I read one of his interviews, he invariably impressed me with his positive vibe. His political consciousness seemed highly developed, and he was determined to break down barriers for LGBT artists. I thought he represented Gay men exceptionally well! Dude seemed to epitomize pride, and I felt privileged to buy his product.

While Ari's music is too much on the Hip-Hop side for my taste (I’m strictly an Old School kind of dude), I do enjoy his singing voice, and I adored his song lyrics! They're a potent mix of sexuality, spirituality, space travel and social consciousness. Ari really opens up and exposes inner feelings the way a true artist should, and he has no problem identifying his love interests with male pronouns.

Playing his albums on my stereo system was like an act of liberation for me; I’d crank ‘em up loud, not caring if the neighbors heard! Ari’s most popular recordings include “Wave Of You”, “I’m All About You”, “Love Will Take Over” and current dance club hit “Where The Music Takes You.” My favorite of his songs was “Mister Mistress”, an incisive number that rips the covers off of “down low” Gay relationships! I also dug “Bashert”, a love ballad that puts a cosmic spin on marriage.

What I liked most about Ari Gold was his refreshing outlook on things LGBT. He charmed me big time with the liner notes of his new album, Transport Systems, and with the foreword he wrote for his 2005 fashion photo portfolio:

Gay people can rock . . . we can be masculine; we can be feminine. We can be our own sex symbols. We can be multi-dimensional human beings. We can look to each other for inspiration. We can be role models. We can be Pop stars. We can be everything we are and everything we want to be. And I think that is something we can be proud of.

I've been on Ari Gold's email list for about a year. He's very good about responding personally to questions, as well as to the occasional spicy wisecrack! To be sure, I've exchanged both kinds of messages with him. Three months ago, I emailed Ari to express my enthusiasm for Transport Systems. I also told him that I appreciated the fact that he doesn't use derogatory terms in his lyrics, even though he’s an urban-oriented act. "Don't ever let me hear you call a woman a 'b*tch', a Black person a 'n*gger', a Jew a “k*ke”, or a Gay person a "queer". Keep representing respect, and you'll have me as a fan forever," I remember saying. Well, imagine my shock when he circulated the following press release last week:

I just got home from some incredible shows in Switzerland, Memphis, TN, and San Jose, CA! When me, my manager Rich Overton, and my special guest, singer Kelly King, got picked up from the airport in Zürich, they were playing (my record) “Where The Music Takes You” on the radio! To be so far away and hear your song on the radio was thrilling . . . well, it only gets better, 'cause the song was #1 on their station . . . Logo has announced the nominees for the Click List’s Ultimate Queer Video 2008, so please vote for “Where The Music Takes You”, directed by Joe Phillips. I mean, what’s more queer (sic) than a cartoon interracial Gay kiss that saves the world?

It would be an understatement to say I felt let down after reading this email. My heart just sank to my knees! I was angry enough to send Ari one of my four-alarm electronic smackdowns, but I decided a subdued but firm reproach would be the best way to communicate my displeasure. I clung to the possibility that maybe, maybe, in the heat of excitement, he’d succumbed to a momentary lapse in judgment. I really hoped that I could snap him back to his senses:

Glad things are going well for you, Ari. I’m not interested in validating anything that describes Gay people as “queer”, though. And I’m disappointed with you for using that derogatory word in a casual way.

I was soon to learn that Ari Gold hadn’t lost his senses. He’d lost his integrity.

Hey Don, I totally understand your feelings about the word “queer”, as someone who has been called all kinds of names, including that one, for being Gay. But I do believe that context is important, and I do also believe in taking the power away from the people who have defined the word "queer" to be a negative thing. I don’t believe that homophobes should have ownership of language and that’s why I think it is OK for Gay people to take the word and give it a different meaning, something that can express the diversity of our community. With that said, I was only using the word because it is used as the heading for LOGO’s Gay video countdown . . . LOGO is the only Gay network we have, so I think it's more important to support it than get upset about the language they choose to use. But I appreciate you expressing your honest opinion to me, and it's an important dialogue to have.

I felt like I’d been slapped in the face! How dare Ari dismiss my aversion to hate speech as an “opinion”? How dare he patronize me with that lame argument about “ownership” of insults? How dare he try to include me in some misbegotten “queer” diversity against my will? How dare he try to placate me with idiot logic straight out of a Mad Hatter’s tea party? And how dare he not mean any of it?

He knows damn well that "queer" is a slur! That line about him “only using the word because” of LOGO and needing to support the network in spite of "the language they choose to use" was a dead giveaway. Dude must've been running out of fools, but he sure chose the wrong candidate to fill that vacancy!

Reading his response, I felt disrespected four or five different ways, but Ari’s dishonesty was the worst disrespect of all. Right before my eyes, my golden boy turned into a block of lead; my shining Gay knight came tumbling down off his steed with a resounding crash! However, the impact hurt me more than it did him! I poured that hurt into my response:

Ari Gold, I don’t know you personally, but I know your song lyrics, and I’ve read your interviews. They tell me you are a man of more than average intelligence. Your intelligence level is anything but average; I wouldn’t be surprised if you were one of those Mensa people. So it dismays me no end that you’d pitch some tired-ass, counter-productive bullsh*t my way that I know you don’t believe! That “reclamation” mantra is something people repeat by rote. They use it to cover their asses when someone calls them on derogatory usage. It really disappoints me that you’d stoop to that level. You are so above doing that!

I’m not going to insult your intelligence by explaining why that mantra is meaningless. You already know. I’m just going to tell you that I expect more from a role model for Gay men, which is what you are! And I’m also going to tell you that, as burdensome as that role can be, few LGBT celebrities on the scene today are better equipped to fill it than you. But you’ve gotta want to fill it, even when it means going against the grain. You’ve gotta take it absolutely seriously. Ain’t no seriousness in what you just said! If you insist on using that word, that equivalent of “k*ke” and “n*gger” in your emails, Ari, take me off your email list. I love you, but I won’t accept abuse, not even from a loved one.

"Running Out Of Fools" continues with Part Two.

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