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.

Running Out Of Fools (Part Two)

Ari Gold1

Abusive is the word for anyone who’d try to convince me that it’s ever OK for me and my kind to be called “queer”! I am so sick, and I am so tired of women and minority groups acting as if the vile, ignorant trash that vile, ignorant people throw at them is worth claiming! Are they insane, or what? One day, I saw a post in an online feminist forum urging Progressive women to adopt "c*nt" as a term of endearment. Hello? It's only the most vulgar, misogynist word ever coined! What's an unrepentant sexist to think when he hears women addressing each other that way? Can feminists really be stupid enough to believe that kind of behavior inspires respect? Lord, deliver me! It’s as if we were untrained gold miners who can’t tell the difference between lead deposits and gold deposits.

In my time, I've been called a "queer." I've been called a "f*ggot". I've been called the b-word. I've been called a host of slurs that begin with the letter "p", too, most of which can't be repeated here. Usually, this happened while I was being threatened and/or beaten up. Never once did it occur to me that the proper way to respond to those insults was to agree with them!!! I did not, and do not give bigots the power to name me! When we adopt the stigmatizing labels our oppressors hurl at us, we do not empower ourselves. We empower them!

We validate and embolden them. Even worse, we allow them to infect us with their ignorance! Nobody slams that point home more effectively than Sanam Hakim, a columnist for the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Daily Collegian. In a powerful 2005 column titled “Words You Can’t Reclaim” she wrote:

Words like "n*gger" or "redneck" or "b*tch" or "f*g" were never words that were originally "good". They are words that were created solely out of hatred, and it is not our responsibility to add fine print and use them in a different context! It is not our responsibility to convince Black people that they actually are "n*ggaz," but that it's a good thing; to convince White working-class Americans that they are rednecks, but that it's a good thing; to convince women that they are b*tches, but that it's a good thing; to convince homosexuals (sic) that they are f*gs, but that it's a good thing. It is our responsibility to make sure when Tim McGraw asks if there are “any rednecks in the house”, no one cheers. It's our responsibility to stare blankly if DMX asks "where my n*ggaz at?" It is our responsibility to make sure our children know these words, the history of where they come from, and to make sure they don't ever use them, even if they mean it in a nice way.

Ancient alchemists couldn’t transmute lead into gold, and neither can we! The question is, why we would want to do so in the first place? Nobody really buys this crap about toxic words being detoxified by casual use! I know better than to believe such nonsense. What I do believe is that many of us internalize the toxicity of those insults to the extent that we identify with them.

We think we really are pieces of worthless garbage (the true meaning of “f*ggot”)! We really believe that we’re half-male/half-female freaks (the true connotation of “bulld*ke”). We really see ourselves as abnormal (the true understanding of “queer”). So we bow down and capitulate to bigotry, but since that ain't such a cool thing to do, we rationalize our behavior! We claim our acts of capitulation are really acts of self-affirmation. In effect, we play ourselves for fools! It’s nothing but our friendly neighborhood witch doctor, Internalized Shame, working his voodoo on our psyches again!

Shame may explain the self-defeating, self-deceiving behavior most of us engage in, but it doesn’t explain the behavior of someone like Ari Gold. Ari is no fool! His last email to me notwithstanding, he’s no insensitive assh*le either. The song lyrics I alluded to reveal him to be a deeply sensitive artist with a high degree of political awareness . . . much too high a degree to ever ascribe to the naïve crap he slung in my direction!

Unfortunately, if you have sensitivity and intelligence, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you also have principles. Ari’s lack of principles are painfully clear here: In order to compete for a dubious award from a Gay entertainment venue, and thus keep his media profile high, he was willing to endorse the kind of despicable language he’d avoided using up until then. It's so shameful, and so painful to see! Even more so, considering Ari's heritage. In his bios, he always speaks of how proud he is to be Jewish. I wonder if he’s ever taken time to note how similar the verbal demonization of LGBT folk is to the way European Jews were verbally demonized under Adolph Hitler’s régime?

The contemptuous rhetoric is almost identical: Jews were vilified as dirty, immoral, and corrupting influences, peddlers of disease, a blight on decent society, and never to be trusted around children. Along with intellectuals, Gypsies, and (you guessed it!) LGBT Germans, Jews were considered “queers” under the Third Reich, in the truest sense of that word: People who are twisted, abnormal and sick! Accordingly, the Nazis called them such "empowering" names as schweine (swine), parasiten (parasites) and schädlinge (vermin).

Do you think Ari would ever recommend “reclaiming” those dehumanizing labels for the Hebrew people? Would he argue for "vermin" being used "in context" on Jews? You can bet your copy of the Torah he wouldn’t . . . not even in his dreams! Yet he dares to feign pride in his identity even while he allows himself and his work to be denigrated with the “queer” label. That's pride? Not in my book, it isn't! I guess Ari has forgotten that what he does as a Gay man he also does as a Jew. Somewhere down in Hell, Hitler must be laughing!

So, obviously, I’ve fallen out of love with Ari Gold. I’m certainly not ignoring the important charity work he's done, and the uplifting music he’s produced so far in his career. However, when he undermines both that good work and his integrity with rotten judgment, don't expect me to turn a blind eye! I wasn't just blowing steam when I accused Ari of lacking seriousness. I meant what I said!

For many months, I’ve been stressing the need for LGBT folk to prioritize the equality struggle by showing more dignity, being more concerned about distorted imagery, and taking care not to toss slurs around as if they had no potency. Time and time again, I've warned against strengthening our oppressors by appropriating their language! I've pleaded for us to recognize the negative influence of internalized shame, denial, stereotyping, ignorance and all the other pitfalls I spoke of in my March 2008 series of posts titled "Stumbling Blocks to Gay Liberation".

I write from a Gay Christian perspective, but my essays are intended for each and every LGBT person who can read and speak English! When I say “we”, I’m talking about Gay men, Lesbians, Pansexual and Transsexual folk of any and all religious persuasions. My criticisms don’t exempt any of us, not even a charismatic Gay Jewish celebrity I happen to have had a crush on!

Ari Gold can do better. Ari Gold must do better! Unlike many of us, though, Ari Gold hasn’t got as far to reach when he goes for that higher standard. I hope he eventually finds the courage to go for it, even if it results in a few career setbacks. No doubt there are lots of entertainment industry types like those Logo executives, eager to market him as an exotic “queer” icon; but he should realize that those people have no interest in breaking down barriers. They just want to profit from Gay marginalization! He should also realize that hypocrisy is one fashion accessory that doesn't look good on him!

Ari Gold never did take me off his email list, and I suspect he didn't out of pure spite. After his video won that Logo award he craved so bad, he sent me the press release just so he could rub my nose in it! We had a couple more exchanges before I finally had to block his messages. Here are excerpts from our final conversation:

Yes, take me off your list, Ari, and keep me off until you decide to be honest and acknowledge the fact that labels aren’t inconsequential things. Labels used irresponsibly can demonize and marginalize oppressed people. Shame on you for pretending you don’t know that; I won’t let you play dumb with me! Logo is now promoting Adam Joseph and other (acts) who slap the word “f*ggot” on their releases and portray Gay people as sex-obsessed drug addicts in music videos. That’s the trend you’re becoming a part of with your "Queer Video" award, all for the sake of supporting "the only LGBT network we have". Does the network support LGBT folk? I don’t think so! I think it’s exploiting us, distorting our image, and doing so for profit’s sake.

This is what he had to say:

I am the last person to think labels are inconsequential . . . Yes, Logo is owned by a large corporation, as most companies these days are. It's hard to make any money and be completely outside that. So I agree that there is always a level of exploitation happening. But Logo does in fact support LGBT folk . . . it employs LGBT people at its network, and I and out artists like me would not be having a career and able to make a living off my art as an openly Gay artist if not for a network like Logo. It's OK to disagree with Adam Joseph’s use of the term "f*ggot" or Logo's use of the term "queer", but it is the kind of attitude that you have that makes our community divisive and unable to truly move forward in achieving our acceptance and rights . . . if you think Logo is distorting our image, then you should think about ways that you can put out the kind of image you want to see of Gay people. That’s what I try to do instead of just complaining about what I image I see of Gay people.

Only I'm not the owner of a cable TV network, am I? Nor am I a recording artist with a budget for music videos; the only image I control is my own. Ari was full of sh*t, and the pathetic part is, he thought I couldn't tell he was full of sh*t!

Nobody has to depend on Logo for employment; both Gay and Straight folk work there because they choose to do so. The idea that Gay artists couldn't get exposure if it weren't for this network is even more ludicrous: Openly Lesbian and Gay musicians have been pursuing successful careers since at least the 1970s, long before Logo was even thought about (remember Sylvester?)! Granted, none of 'em got rich or became household names, but I guess fame and fortune depend on what compromises an artist is willing to make, don't they? If you're willing to cast aside principles (or if you had none to begin with), climbing the ladder of success is probably easier, faster, and far more lucrative. But how much humanity do you lose on the way up?

This dispute is hardly about "the kind of image I want to see of Gay people". That's an old trick my opponents always fall back on, trying to make the argument about me! It's never been about me! It's been about recognizing what hate speech is. It's been about taking responsiblity for what you put out there in the media. It's been about getting LGBT folk out from under imposed images and stereotypes that threaten to crush the life out of their equality struggle!

That's a struggle Ari Gold evidently doesn't give a damn about, despite his pleas to the contrary! For him, this argument boiled down to what was good for his career. He wanted to be a video star, and if LGBT folk got slandered in his pursuit of stardom, tough t*tty! He ought to be ashamed of himself, and I feel ashamed for ever having fallen under his spell. The musician who emailed me was a selfish opportunist at best, and a con artist at worst; what he said to me proves as much!

If speaking the truth makes me divisive, then so be it! I hope the damn Red Sea parts again if that's what it takes to wake people like him up from their self-indulgent stupor! In response to Ari's last email, I told him to "put it where the sun don't shine." I could've used sharper language, and believe me, I wanted to! However, I'm a Christian, so I restrained myself. Many years ago, a wise Black woman told her unruly child: "God don't like ugly!" The truth of those words resonated then, and it still resonates today.

There will be a divine reckoning for the ugliness displayed by Ari Gold! No, he won't suffer for anything he said to me; my hurt feelings are of no consequence. He'll be punished (as "artists" like Adam Joseph and the executives at Logo will also be) for bearing false witness, glorifying ignorance, and daring to value self-promotion and profit over the welfare of God's LGBT children! Sexual slurs and demeaning images are loaded weapons, and if you handle loaded weapons in an irresponsible manner, you're going to hurt yourself, somebody else, or both!

God never fails to put reckless, arrogant people in their place!  Read how He humbled the man who later became the Apostle Paul:

ACTS 9: 1-9
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the High Priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the (Christian) Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from Heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him: “Saul, Saul!  Why do you persecute Me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” He replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

My Lord settles accounts in His own way, and in His own time! As for me, I've already settled my account with Ari Gold. His music CDs and photo book went out in my trash: I can find more constructive things to do with my time and money than spend them on his misleading kind of product! As a rule, I have nothing to do with celebrities who identify themselves as "n*ggers", "f*ggots,  "k*kes", "d*kes", "rednecks", "ch*nks", "c*nts", "b*tches", "mojados (wetbacks)" or "queers". Like I said before: I'm strictly an Old School kind of dude!

Sure you haven’t got the wrong number?
You sure it’s me you wanna talk to tonight?
Everyone in town’s got your number,
Everybody’s got you pegged right.

Is that why you got in touch with me?
I guess you must be runnin’ out of fools!

Go ahead with all your sweet talkin',
Go ahead, for all the good it can do.
Have yourself a dime’s worth of talkin’,
And then I’m gonna hang right up on you!

‘Cause this time, you’re not getting through to me.
I guess you must be runnin’ out of fools!
Even fools like me.

Excerpts from the song “Runnin’ Out of Fools”, 
words and music by Rick Ahlert and Eddie Snyder, 
copyright ©1964 Screen Gems-EMI Music (BMI).

Read Sanam Hakim's unedited "Words You Can't Reclaim" column and Jerry Maneker's unedited essay about 
sabotaging Gay liberation.