Thursday, May 30, 2013

Trek Slash Fiction

For some “Trek” fans, even seeing a gay character in the series wouldn’t be enough. In a sense the show never gave some fans what they wanted, and in return, they’ve done it themselves: They’ve imagined Kirk and Spock as gay lovers.

The idea has been explored thoroughly in the mode of sexually explicit self-published fan works called “slash” fiction. In slash fiction, devotees use established characters from their favorite books, movies or television shows — “The X-Files,” “Harry Potter,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” — and write their own plots. The genre allows its writers to become part of a world that they could previously only experience through a television screen, says Henry Jenkins, an MIT media studies expert who has written widely about slash.

“I often reference that moment in ‘Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan’ where Spock is dying and Kirk stands there, a wall of glass separating the two longtime buddies,” explains Jenkins “Both of them are reaching out toward each other, their hands pressed hard against the glass, trying to establish physical contact. They both have so much they want to say and so little time to say it. Spock calls Kirk his friend, the fullest expression of their feelings anywhere in the series. Almost everyone who watches that scene feels the passion the two men share, the hunger for something more than what they are allowed. And, I tell my nonfan listeners, slash is what happens when you take away the glass.”

On the Web, “Star Trek” slash stories are archived according to their protagonists. Among the most popular categories are “P/Q” (Picard paired up with the Continuum’s Q), “J/7″ (Voyager’s Captain Kathryn Janeway with Borg beauty Seven of Nine) and, of course, “K/S” (Kirk-Spock).  For reasons that are the subject of much speculation, almost all of it — including the male-male stuff — is written by women. Much of it is full of soul-searching dialogue, torpid stares and inner ruminations: “Spock averted his eyes. He felt a powerful desire to make Kirk stop, ask him the dangerous questions which hovered unsaid on his tongue.” Even once the action begins, the foreplay is endless.

In P/Q slash, Picard is often depicted as a hypersensitive lover patiently teaching a frustrated Q how to enjoy sex. A typical K/S plot leaves Kirk and Spock stranded on a planet — one of the pair is injured and the other must care for him. In some of the female-female slash, there is no sex at all. The money shot in “Only Over You,” for instance, a Web-posted J/7 story by a woman identified as Magiluna Stormwriter, consists of Seven lying in Janeway’s arms while the captain sings her a lullaby: “People say they know me, but they don’t see. My heart’s your future, your future is me. Angel, please don’t go … I’m out of my mind and it’s only over you.” As far as I can tell, they don’t even bother to take their clothes off — it’s just two women sitting around Utopia, being gay.

In some cases, authors of slash take pains to make clear their same-sex protagonists are heterosexual at heart. But many fans go a step further and say that Spock and Kirk, Q and Picard, and Janeway and Seven are truly gay — or at least have gay tendencies. In the early and mid-’90s, when “Trek” slash was at its height, this led to accusations of homo- and heterophobia on “Trek”-related listservs and message boards. In the “slash wars,” as some call them, arguments turned on obscure plot details and alleged double-entendres.

But the majority of gay Trekkers I spoke with don’t particularly care whether Q is gay, much less whether Spock and Kirk have ever done it. Most just like reading stories that show gayness as part of Roddenberry’s universe. They’d be more than happy with Whoopi Goldberg’s idea of a background shot of two nondescript men holding hands in a bar.

Brynen points to the mid-’90s Warner Bros. television series “Babylon 5″ as an example of how the issue could have been covered. “It was just a throwaway line or two in a single episode,” he told me. “Two male characters have to go undercover to Mars to contact the local resistance. And their cover is that they’re a honeymooning couple. When they’re told this, they make faces at each other and the scene is good for a few laughs. It’s not a big part of the plot. But it’s important. They’re not gay, but the clear implication is that it’s perfectly normal for there to be male-male honeymooning couples. It speaks volumes, even though it was just a few seconds of one show.”

Trek Tolerance

So what if Star Trek has not had a gay character? Who cares? To the average non-Trekker, all of this attention to what kisses who in which universe seems absurd — the comic obsessions of "Star Trek" fans encouraged and compounded by the gloomy obsessions of identity politics. There are now about two dozen shows on television that feature gay characters. Would it matter much if we added one more?

The answer, many gay Trekkers agree, is yes. To those reading the mass media's political tea leaves, "Star Trek" is unique not because it's set in space or in the future, or because it's the most successful franchise in the history of television, but because it represents a Utopia.

True, there is violence and strife, but always thanks to outsiders: the Klingons, the Romulans, the Cardassians, the Borg, the giant lizard-man Kirk fights in "Arena." Within the quadrants controlled by Starfleet, all is blissful tolerance and everyone gets to wear the same tight uniforms.

So it's one thing to exclude a group of people from a world as imperfect as our own, but what does it say when you've been kicked out of Utopia?

"They don't need money in 'Star Trek' and they don't need religion," says Cecilia Tan, founder and editor of Circlet Press, a Cambridge, Mass., publisher of gay-themed science fiction. "There are no Christians in 'Star Trek.' Everyone's a sort of secular humanist. Everyone is accepted and happily employed. So everyone wants to see themselves in that world. It's like, if everyone's all happy and well-adjusted, where are the happy, well-adjusted gay people?"

It was precisely because the original "Star Trek" series was shot through with Utopian themes that it seemed natural for it to boldly go where no television show had gone before. In an era when such casting decisions were risqué, Roddenberry put an African-American actress (Nichelle Nichols, playing Lieutenant Uhura) and an Asian-American actor (George Takei, playing Lieutenant Sulu) on the Enterprise's bridge. Not to mention a Russian helmsman during the height of the Cold War.

The stupidity of prejudice was a recurring theme on the show. In a famous third-season episode, "Plato's Stepchildren," Kirk and Uhura engage in the first white-black kiss American television viewers had ever seen. This was 1968, just one year after the Supreme Court struck down 16 states' laws prohibiting interracial marriage.

How important was a competent, black woman on television at the time? "You cannot [leave]," Nichols claims Martin Luther King Jr. told her when she considered leaving the show after its first season. "Don't you realize how important your presence, your character is? Don't you realize this gift [Roddenberry] has given the world? Men and women of all races going forth in peaceful exploration, living as equals … This is not a black role, and this is not a female role. You have the first nonstereotypical role on television, male or female. You have broken ground."

King persuaded Nichols. She stayed with the show and became an important part of its iconography. Uhura developed so much brand-name recognition that, in 1977, NASA asked her to help recruit female and minority astronauts.

Yet some point out that King was exaggerating when he said Nichols had a nonstereotypical role. "The three recurrent female characters in [the original 'Star Trek'] all performed tasks that were accepted 'women's work' in the mid-1960s," notes Rex Brynen, a political science professor who teaches at McGill University, in his 2000 essay "Mirror, Mirror? The Politics of Television Science Fiction." Uhura "was essentially a futuristic telephone operator … Christine Chapel and Janice Rand were a space-traveling nurse and secretary, respectively. All were young, attractive and dressed in very short skirts, as were most of the other women to appear in the show … Even the show's slogan — 'to boldly go where no man has gone before' — signaled its reflection of, rather than challenge to, established gender stereotypes."

"There are an endless number of episodes that deal with the issue of ethnic and cultural tolerance," Brynen added. "Though the show's producers aggressively cultivated 'Star Trek's' image as a trailblazer, they were far more progressive on race than they were on gender and sexual orientation."

There may not have been any gay characters yet, but two Star Trek actors have come out as openly gay:  George Takei and Zachary Quinto.  Hopefully, in the new J.J. Abram Star Trek movies, we will finally see a gay character emerge.  With Enterprise doing so poor in the ratings, there is doubtful that a new Star Trek series will be developed, so it is up to the newly rebooted movies to bring us a gay character.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Sexuality in the Stars

Several instances of the Star Trek franchise coming very close to featuring GLBT issues can be seen in "Next Generation" and "Deep Space Nine."  It had been rumored that "Enterprise" was to have a gay crewman, most likely Lt. Reid, but it never materialized as part of the show.

In the "Next Generation" episode, "The Offspring," the android character Data decides to build an android daughter, whom he calls Lal. Data educates her as best he can, but Lal becomes confused when she sees two people kissing. In a typically "Star Trek-ky" "What is this 'love' you speak of?" scene that takes place in the Enterprise D's lounge, Whoopi Goldberg, playing Guinan, teaches Lal about the birds and the bees.

"According to the script, Guinan was supposed to start telling Lal, 'When a man and a woman are in love …' and in the background, there would be men and women sitting at tables, holding hands," says Richard Arnold, Roddenberry's research consultant on "The Next Generation" and a columnist for the official "Star Trek" newsletter. "But Whoopi refused to say that. She said, 'This show is beyond that. It should be "When two people are in love."' And so it was decided on set that one of the tables in the background should have two men holding hands — or two women, or whatever. But someone ran to a phone and made a call to the production office and that was nixed. [Producer] David Livingston came down and made sure that didn't happen."

That was back in 1990. The next year, Roddenberry responded to a Gaylaxian-led letter-writing campaign by promising to bring gays into the "Star Trek" universe. "In the fifth season of 'Star Trek: The Next Generation,' viewers will see more of shipboard life in some episodes, which will, among other things, include gay crew members in day-to-day circumstances," Roddenberry wrote in a statement to the Advocate.

A few months later Roddenberry suffered a fatal pulmonary embolism and heart attack. And many gay Trekkers took his statement to the Advocate as a promise that Rick Berman, Roddenberry's successor, was dutybound to honor. Berman, however, didn't see things that way.

Before he joined the "Next Generation" team in 1987, Berman had spent five years producing a children's show called "The Big Blue Marble." At Paramount, he oversaw production of shows like "Family Ties," "Webster" and "Cheers." Unlike the creator of "Star Trek," Berman had little abstract fascination with the destiny of human civilization. No one I spoke with accuses him of homophobia. But he certainly wasn't interested in putting "ensign tutti-frutti" on a show that, in some markets, was broadcast in the after-school time slot.

The last three seasons of "The Next Generation" came and went without gayness. Ditto for seven years of "Deep Space Nine" and "Voyager," both of which Berman helped create and produce. The fifth "Star Trek" franchise, "Enterprise," aired without a gay character. Berman was head honcho for that project, too.

"Gene talked to me about the issue of how gay people could be depicted," says Ernie Over, a Wyoming journalist who worked as Roddenberry's personal assistant.. "And the consensus between us was that we should show people in background situations — two people walking down a hallway holding hands, for example. You would do it without dialogue, without making a big deal about it. In the 23rd century, that would be accepted as normal.

Over the years, some gender-bending has been permitted — but always with a sci-fi twist that makes it something more confusing than garden-variety homosexuality. For example, in "Rejoined," a 1995 "Deep Space Nine" episode, female science officer Jadzia Dax and a female guest character named Lenara Kahn exchanged a steamy smooch. Without the sound or context, it could have been confused for a lesbian kiss.

But in space, just because something looks gay doesn't mean it is. It turned out that Dax and Kahn were, to use a "Star Trek" term, "joined trills" — compound entities whose biological form (the human-looking "trill" part) is inhabited by an ethereal creature called a "symbiote," which jumps from trill to trill as the hosts die. Although Kahn and Dax were strangers trill-wise, their symbiotes shared a straight relationship back when the Kahn symbiote had a male host.  The show featured a Trill taboo, not because both characters were women, but because they had known each other previously with different hosts.  When a symbiote moves to a new host, they must leave their old romantic relationships.  However, this was basically forgotten when Ezri became the new host when Jadzia died.  Ezri does attempt to rekindle the relationship with Worf, but ultimately, it does not work out.  

However, "Rejoined" did show the fluidity of sexuality in the Star Trek universe, but not all fans saw it that way.  "That kiss was not a 'lesbian' kiss because both women were actually heterosexuals," complains Rochus Boerner, a 27-year-old Arizona State University graduate student who maintains a Web site devoted to uncovering what he calls Paramount's "saga of deceit, lies and broken promises." "Their desire for each other was induced by their symbiotes, who were remembering a past heterosexual relationship … [W]hen the episode ended, Jadzia was 'back to normal' again."

Gay Trekkers undoubtedly uttered an even greater sigh of disappointment following the airing of a 1992 "Next Generation" episode, "The Outcast." In the story, Commander Riker becomes romantically involved with Soren, a member of an androgynous race called the J'naii, whose leaders ruthlessly suppress any manifestation of sexual identity. "I am taking a terrible risk," Soren tells Riker. "Some [J'naii] have strong inclinations for maleness. Some have urges to be female. I am one of the latter … In our world, these feelings are forbidden. [We] lead secret and guarded lives. We seek each other out, always hiding, always terrified of being discovered."

When Soren is outed, she is put on trial by the J'naii council. "What we do is not different from what you do," she pleads. "What makes you think you can dictate how people love each other?"

Her arguments fail, and she is brainwashed into androgyny. According to one "Next Generation" supervising producer, "The Outcast" was supposed to have been "the gay episode." But many gay viewers wondered why Berman felt the need to slink around in allegory.

Jonathan Frakes, who played Riker, complained later that the episode wasn't "gutsy" enough and that "Soren should have been more evidently male." On e-mail chat groups, some gay Trekkers saw the episode as worse than timid. "The depiction of Soren's society seemed to be something taken right from Rush Limbaugh's show or Pat Buchanan's campaign literature," complained an anonymous message poster. "If you listen to those people, you'll hear them talking about how the feminist and homosexual political agendas want to destroy the traditional family and make society into a sexless, genderless collection of politically correct clones … Soren's society was a depiction of those people's worse nightmares."

A 1999 "Deep Space Nine" episode that touched on lesbian motifs, "The Emperor's New Cloak," provoked similar reactions. Viewers saw Lieutenant Ezri Dax, the station counselor, exchange a kiss with one woman and express interest in another. Unfortunately, it was not the genuine Ezri Dax they were watching but, rather, her menacing counterpart from an alternate, more evil universe. The "real" Ezri remained solidly heterosexual in her normal, heterosexual world.  Another example is in the Deep Space Nine episode "Crossover." Kira Nyres, Deep Space Nine's executive officer, encounters her mirror self, who is Intendant of Terok Nor, the Mirror universe's Deep Space Nine. The mirror Kira falls in love with her double from the other universe. At the time, Nana Visitor, who played Kira, dismissed the idea of her character being bisexual, saying that she intended to portray this as "total narcissism on her part. It had nothing to do with sexuality". However, later episodes continued to show her surrounded by a mixed-gender harem, and eventually depicted her being in a romantic relationship with her universe's version of Ezri Tigan the unjoined Ezri Dax.

Do any of these close calls to having GLBT characters matter?  That is what we will discuss tomorrow.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Blood and Fire

Over the past four-and-a-half decades, California science fiction writer David Gerrold has produced 42 novels, 11 of them nominated for major industry awards. But among Trekkers — they hate being called "Trekkies" — he is famous for another reason. In 1967, at age 19, Gerrold sold Paramount Pictures a lighthearted "Star Trek" script in which the Enterprise became a breeding farm for tiny, fecund balls of fur. "The Trouble With Tribbles," as the episode was titled, consistently polls as the most popular episode in "Star Trek" history.

In fall 1986, when Paramount announced it was creating a new "Trek" series, "The Next Generation," the now middle-aged Gerrold was brought on-board to help create it. Before Gerrold had done much more than move into his Los Angeles office, he traveled to Boston for the 20th anniversary convention of the original show. Following a speech to a large crowd of Trekkers, Gene Roddenberry, the creator of "Star Trek," took a question about "The Next Generation" from a fan named Franklin Hummel, a Boston Public Library employee and director of a gay science fiction group called the Gaylaxians. Gerrold was in the crowd, taking notes.

"Franklin asked whether there would be a gay character on the new show. He made the point that [the original] 'Star Trek' had been a leader in bringing black and Asian characters to television, that this was the next step," Gerrold told me in May. "Gene agreed. He said, 'Sooner or later, we'll have to address the issue. We should probably have a gay character.'"

Back in Los Angeles, Gerrold says, Roddenberry mentioned "the gay issue" in a meeting about the direction of the new series. Apparently some members of the staff were surprised. "Next Generation" producer "Robert Justman made a remark about 'ensign tutti-frutti,'" says Gerrold. "But Gene very calmly explained that it was time."

A few months later, in late 1986, Gerrold began work on "Blood and Fire," his first — and, as things turned out, only — "Next Generation" script. In the story, Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his Enterprise D answer a call from a distressed medical research vessel. When the mission team beams over, it finds that the ship's crew is infected with "Regulan blood worms," an apparently incurable pathogen so deadly that Starfleet Command has ordered its officers to destroy any ship they contaminate.

Aside from its obvious reference to AIDS, the script also contained a casual nod to homosexuality. "How long have you been together?" Commander Will Riker asks a pair of male officers who accompany him to the blood-worm-stricken ship.

"Since the academy," one replies.

"This was during one of the worst parts of the AIDS crisis," Gerrold says. "Before protease inhibitors, before AZT. AIDS was not a treatable condition; it was a fatal disease. And the fear of it was widespread, so much so that blood donorship had reached critically low levels.

"On a more personal note, Michael Minor [art director for 'Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan'] and Merritt Butrick [who played Kirk's son in the 'Star Trek' movies] were also infected."

In Gerrold's script, curing the disease required a complete blood transfusion. To treat the infected, the worried Enterprise D crew was asked to donate blood. "I felt this plot point would raise the consciousness of 20 million 'Star Trek' fans overnight," says Gerrold. "In fact, I was hoping that we could put a card at the end of the episode encouraging people to donate blood."

Gerrold never got a chance to lobby for that card. After a series of arguments with Roddenberry's underlings, Gerrold quit the show, and the episode was permanently shelved. Gerrold says, half-joking, that the script got caught up in "orifice politics."

The breakup was bitter. Roddenberry, who had sent Gerrold a telegram congratulating him on "Blood and Fire" ("Everybody loves your script"), now began badmouthing his work at "Star Trek" conventions.

"A large part of the problem was that Gene's health was failing," Gerrold says. "He didn't have the physical strength he needed — and he was experiencing mental lapses as well."

Gerrold says that some of Roddenberry's collaborators stepped in and began to make decisions about the show. Other writers, including Herb Wright, were fired. Roddenberry's lawyer, Leonard Maizlish, even went so far as to write story memos and rewrite scripts. And Maizlish was hardly sensitive to the gay issue. "The last time I saw [Maizlish] I was helping Herb Wright pack up his office," says Gerrold. "The lawyer came to make sure we weren't stealing anything. To my face, he called me 'an AIDS-infected cocksucker. A fucking faggot.'"

Some details of Gerrold's story are disputed (though not the bit about Maizlish, who is now dead; David Alexander, Roddenberry's authorized biographer, referred to the lawyer in his discussions with me as "Roddenberry's dark presence").

Many "Star Trek" insiders say Gerrold's "Blood and Fire" was simply a bad script. "David has made a career out of this sort of claim," says Ernie Over, a Wyoming journalist who worked as Roddenberry's personal assistant. "He had an agenda, which was to get gay people onto 'Star Trek.'"

"I knew Gerrold from 1972, and I'd read all his books up to that point. 'Blood and Fire' was not his best work," says Richard Arnold, Roddenberry's research consultant on "The Next Generation" and a columnist for the official "Star Trek" newsletter. "I was almost offended by the stereotypes. The scene I remember particularly was when the gay couple was having a sort of lover's dispute. The one we could call the wife was expressing concern to the other about getting into dangerous situations. He was saying stuff like 'You know how much I worry about you when you're away.' I mean, come on. This was absolutely ridiculous — for Starfleet officers or for gay men."

But whatever the merits of the "Blood and Fire" script, Arnold, Over and other "Star Trek" insiders agree that Roddenberry's subordinates have deliberately kept the official "Star Trek" canon free of any explicit mention of homosexuality since the creator made his comments to the Gaylaxians 15 years ago.

Decades after David Gerrold wrote a Star Trek script dealing with homosexuality that was shelved by the producers, a revamped version of the episode was filmed by the fan series Star Trek: New Voyages.

"I knew about the script and the story, and I approached David with an idea of using it in our series," said New Voyages executive producer James Cawley. "A few of the original elements were kept intact but changed to make it relevant to 2001 as opposed to 1987." The gay characters in the revised script will be Captain Kirk's nephew Peter, seen as a child in "Operation: Annihilate", and his lover, Lieutenant Alex Freeman.

"Producers did not want to address homosexuality in Star Trek even though the original series talked about race and war and drugs and hippie culture," noted Cawley. "We have dared to [do] something that the franchise holders would never do. We are including an openly gay couple in the Enterprise, showing the world that...the prejudice and the bias will be gone [in the future]."

The actor playing Peter, Bobby Rice, has already been involved in another fan production, Star Trek: Hidden Frontier, which is set in the Next Generation era and has also included gay characters. Cawley saw his performance and sought him out to appear in New Frontier. "It's pretty wild. I never thought I'd be a Kirk," said Rice. "I feel like what we are doing is fantastic and groundbreaking ... homosexuality should be generally accepted in the future. Star Trek has always been about tackling these kinds of issues."

Gerrold said that he was delighted with the longer screen time than a 44-minute television episode and the fact that he can portray events he could not have scripted in 1987. "At one point they are talking about getting married, and at one point they actually kiss on-screen. But we are not going any place that's thematically out of place in Star Trek," he said. "I'm enormously proud of how far we have come in such a short time and that I get to live long enough to see this episode be shot."

"To Boldly Go..."

The Starship Enterprise, arguably the most famous vessel in the history of fiction, has seen some amazing sights. Its crew has gone back in time, averted intergalactic war and defeated monsters that eat whole planets. In the two newest movies, J.J. Abrams has given Star Trek a reboot with an exciting new take on the 47 year old franchise.  I'm a big Star Trek fan, and as such, I went to see the newest movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, last weekend.  I loved it.  When I saw the first Star Trek by J.J. Abrams, some people in the theater were not thrilled with the reboot.  Into Darkness, however, bring back some of the story-lines Star Trek Fans are familiar with.  This was a movie for new Trek fans and old.  The movie is filled with references to the original Star Trek, and at the same time, allows new fans to experience Star Trek in whole new light. 

Star Trek took on many issues of its day.  Most Star Trek stories depict the adventures of humans and aliens who serve in Starfleet, the space-borne humanitarian and peacekeeping armada of the United Federation of Planets. The protagonists have altruistic values, and must apply these ideals to difficult dilemmas. Many of the conflicts and political dimensions of Star Trek represent allegories of contemporary cultural realities. Star Trek: The Original Series addressed issues of the 1960s, just as later spin-offs have reflected issues of their respective decades. Issues depicted in the various series include war and peace, the value of personal loyalty, authoritarianism, imperialism, class warfare, economics, racism, religion, human rights, sexism, feminism, and the role of technology. Roddenberry stated: "[By creating] a new world with new rules, I could make statements about sex, religion, Vietnam, politics, and intercontinental missiles. Indeed, we did make them on Star Trek: we were sending messages and fortunately they all got by the network."

Yet there's one frontier that has consistently eluded producers: Through three seasons on television and six movies, the decks of the original Enterprise have never witnessed a single word or gesture of gay affection. The same goes for the Enterprise D from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and the eponymous craft from "Deep Space Nine" and "Voyager." No same-sex kisses. No hand-holding. Not even a casual reference to the existence of homosexuality.

It is an odd distinction for the franchise that, 45 years ago, gave America its first televised interracial kiss.  In the 1968 episode "Plato's Stepchildren", Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Captain Kirk (William Shatner) kiss. The episode is popularly cited as the first example of a scripted inter-racial kiss on United States television. Originally, the scene was meant to be filmed with and without the kiss, so that the network could later decide whether to air the kiss. However, Shatner and Nichols deliberately flubbed every take of the shot without the kiss so that they could not be used.  With many groundbreaking topics and depictions "You would think that occasionally a gay or lesbian character would [appear] somewhere in the 24th century," wrote a contributor to the Lavender Dragon fan newsletter a few years back. "Has the Federation [of Planets] found a 'cure' for homosexuality?"

Star Trek's creators have beaten around the bush on the issue, but never fully embraced a homosexual character in the Star Trek franchise.  This is what I want to look at this week in my posts, so,stay tuned for more.

P.S. There will not be a poem for this Tuesday, but I will be back to my regularly scheduled program next week.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Hearing and Doing the Word

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.  Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.  But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless.  Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

James 1:19-27

Continuing our look at James, the above passage is one of the most poignant.  When you come before God’s Word, how do you prepare your heart for reading and doing? James instructs us to receive the Word with quietness, calmness, a pure heart, and with humility. When you read the the Bible at home, when you hear it on Sunday morning, or when a brother or sister in Christ brings the Bible to you in teaching, correction, exhortation, or rebuke, receive the Word with meekness. Pray for a teachable spirit that is willing to discipline itself towards godliness.

Be doers of the Word! James has a strong call (really the thesis statement of the book of James) in the close of chapter one. He warns of false religion, a Christianity filled with marked up Bibles, but not lives marked by doing what the Bible actually teaches. Which one more describes you? Do enjoy memorizing gossipy facts more than you do memorizing the Scripture? Is it easier to discipline yourself to weekly care for your wardrobe than it is to daily spend time in Bible study and prayerful action? All true religion should lead to a deeper relationship with Christ. As we exercise our faith through the book of James, it ought to lead to a closer walk with Jesus, a closer guarding of our tongues, and a greater care for those who can’t care for themselves.

As GLBT Christians, our faith is often brought into question.  Those who question whether we can be true Christians and live a life of homosexuality or bisexuality are deceiving themselves about the Word of God.  Christ brought us a message of peace and love, not of antagonism and anger.  In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus says:
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness."
If we both hear the Word and do the Word, we are following the teachings of Jesus, and on the Judgement Day, Jesus will say to us, "We'll done, my good and faithful servant."  However, if we listen to the false teachings of Christ that have been defiled by the hearers and not the doers, then we will fall away from God's grace.  We must persevere, we must hear the word, do the word, and resist the false teachings.  If we do these things and accept the word of God with meekness, then we can be doers of the Word. 

When we hear our detractors, we must be quick to hear the true word of God, slow to speak so that we are not taken by our passions, and slow to anger so that we may prove our heavenly spirit.  When I see news stories like the one this week in which Westboro Baptist Church and their ilk blaming the Oklahoma tornadoes on God's wrath over the support of GLBT equality, it angers me partly because I know they are wrong and partly because they are merely adding to the suffering of those who have already suffered so much.  I think it should anger most people who believe in the true word of God and the teachings of Christ.  I then calm down and think of what Christ tells us to do and as James tells us, "be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God."  For people like Westboro Baptist Church, I can only pray that one day they will see the error of their ways.  It may only come in the afterlife when they are punished for their hatred, but one day, they will realize what they have done wrong.  They have been false teachers the ones that James warns of as followers of a false religion, a Christianity filled with marked up Bibles which only focus on a few incorrectly interpreted passages, but not lives marked by doing what the Bible actually teaches.  

I probably sound judgmental here about WBC, but I don't mean to sound that way.  I am using them as an extreme example.  I believe strongly in "Judge not, lest ye be judged." However, I did want to use an example of what I believe James is speaking of in the passage above.  Jesus was a champion of the meek, and I believe that if he walked the earth as a man today, as he did 2,000 years ago, then he would welcome GLBT Christians with open arms.  After all, we are Christians who believe in His core teachings of peace and love.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Moment of Zen: Summertime

School's out for summer.  It has finally arrived. Finally, a little freedom is at hand.

Last Day of School

No kids today, just paperwork to be done and I have to get my room ready for summer.  This won't be much of a post because I have had a horrendous headache.  It woke me up I. Te middle of the night Thursday night and it has been off and on in intensity since then. It's one of those where it is hard for me to even look at the screen because it looks so bright.  I just need to make it through tomorrow and possibly graduation if I'm feeling better.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

When I was little, my dad used to tel me, "Will, you can pick your friends, you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your friend's nose."  Those seemed like a reasonably astute observation to me when I was eight, but it turns out to be incorrect on a few levels.  To begin with, you cannot possibly pick your friends, or else I never would have ended up with Tiny Cooper.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson

And thus begins Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan.  Back in August 2012, I came across a news story on NPR about the 100-Best Ever Teen Novels.  NPR began the discussion by saying:  
It's almost a cliche at this point to say that teen fiction isn't just for teens anymore. Just last year, the Association of American Publishers ranked Children's/Young Adult books as the single fastest-growing publishing category.
It's true since Harry Potter came out, more and more teens are getting into reading and more and more adults are also reading these same books.  I read the Hunger Games trilogy (#2 on the list) and really enjoyed it, and last night I finished Will Grayson, Will Grayson (#34 on the list and the one I decided to buy immediately but just got the chance to read).  By the way, To Kill a Mockingbird was number three on the list, but it should have been number one because I think it is one of the greatest books ever written, young adult or adult.  Harry Potter was number one, and I can understand it only because so many kids read them and is a major reason for the teen novel boom. 

Enough about other teen novels, I really want to discuss in this post the novel Will Grayson, Will Grayson .  Will Grayson, Will Grayson is collaboration between John Green and David Levithan.  In designing the plot for the book, the two authors decided to split it evenly in half. John Green wrote all the odd-numbered chapters while David Levithan wrote all the even-numbered chapters. This also held true for the main characters' names, with Levithan choosing the given name and Green the surname. The only plot they decided on together was the fact that the two characters would meet at some point in the novel and that their meeting would have a tremendous effect on their lives. After this decision, they separately wrote the first three chapters for their half and then shared them with each other. After sharing, they then "knew immediately it was going to work", as stated by Levithan.

Green’s Will is a straight kid with a chip on his shoulder with a flamboyant gay best friend named Tiny Cooper. The other Will is gay and struggles with depression.  One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical.  

Hilarious, poignant, and deeply insightful, John Green and David Levithan’s collaborative novel is brimming with a double helping of the heart and humor that have won both them legions of faithful fans. Will Grayson, Will Grayson debuted at #3 on the New York Times bestseller list for children’s chapter books, the first book starring gay characters ever to appear on the list.

It’s hard to explain exactly why this book works so well, but a big part of it is the cynicism of the two Will Graysons. Both characters are so jaded that it balances Tiny’s optimism and enthusiasm. Without that balance the story would have felt like getting punched in the face by sunshine every time Tiny spoke, but it never feels that way. Instead Tiny is the anomaly. He’s the exception to the sarcastic rule and because of that it’s so refreshing for everyone in the story to have someone in their life that’s encouraging and joyful about life, despite whatever hardships he’s going through.

At first I didn’t love the second Will Grayson’s chapters. His whole section is written only in lowercase and that drove me nuts, but I got used to it. Levithan wrote that the reason for the lack of capitalization is because the second Will Grayson sees himself as a lowercase person.  He is so pessimistic and kind of mean, but he grows on you. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I began to enjoy the 2nd Will’s story so much more after Tiny becomes a part of it. You quickly realize that Tiny brings out the best in almost everyone.

The first Will Grayson’s father adds so much to the story. Parents tend to be absent in young adult books, but his Dad makes a brief appearance here and it reminded me how important good parents are. Sometimes just being there or saying I love you can make all the difference in a child’s life and I loved the quiet scene Will and his Dad shared.  The second Will Grayson's mother is also an important character that helps you u deer stand her son and helps to point him in the right direction.

I want to close with a quote from "Acknowledgments"  page for Will Grayson, Will Grayson:
We acknowledge that being the person God made you cannot separate you from God's love.

Two more days left of school!!!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Three Stupid People in The News

A prominent member of the Westboro Baptist Church is drawing a link between the Oklahoma tornado's devastation and a local team's support for openly gay NBA star Jason Collins.
Why can't people get it through their thick heads that God does not punish us on earth, but in the hereafter.  Only Satan tempts us to make us think that God punishes us, because Satan believes that we will then turn from God.  Westboro Baptist Church with its messages of hate and false teachings is more in line with a Satanic cult than a Christian church.

The rights of same-sex parents in Texas are at the center of allegations leveled this month against Judge John R. Roach, who presides over the 296th District Court in McKinney. On May 8, state resident Page Price claimed in a Facebook post that Roach had enforced a "morality clause" in a custody agreement between her lesbian partner, Carolyn Compton, and Compton's ex-husband. Price said the judge's ruling will effectively split the same-sex couple apart.

For gays and lesbian living in Texas, the state's prohibition on same-sex marriage does not simply limit whom they can and cannot marry. The ban also affects everything from medical power of attorney and estate planning, to parental custody.  It's judges like Roach (perfect name for the man by the way) who give the justice system a bad name.  Conservatives often rail about "activist judges" but to me, someone who would take their antiquated idea of morality and pass judgement on a couple is an activist judge, not someone who follows the tenements of the American legal system: "Equal Justice for ALL."

Chris Busby is the vice president of the Log Cabin Republicans of Houston and has worked as a volunteer supporting the Republican Party for a number of years. Recently he made the decision to run for a Precinct Committee Person (PCP) vacancy in the Harris County Republican Party...Busby's application was "lost" in the process. Then, when Busby was finally called up to be interviewed, it was noted that he was affiliated with Log Cabin Republicans, a gay Republican group. Committee member Terry Lowry was apparently so horrified by the thought of a gay Republican that he pulled out a hate pamphlet entitled "The Homosexual Agenda," which dates back to the 1970s. From it, he quoted excerpts pertaining to the repeal of age of consent laws, asking Busby if he agreed with this rhetoric from the 1970s that claims that gays are pedophiles and child molesters. Some people in the room later explained that the line of questioning was about baiting Chris to admit that he himself is a pedophile. One of the other committee members implied that the only reason that gays want to be part of the party is so that they can relax pedophilia laws. 
Another one from Texas, Terry Lowry, and I personally liked Houston when I was there for a conference one time.  I can't quite understand Log Cabin Republicans but that is beside the point.  The Republican Party knows that it must change in order to get voters nationwide.  Therefore, it should welcome Log Cabin Republicans, not claim that all gay men are pedophiles and child molesters.

So there you have it.  Three idiots in the news. Click on the titles of the articles to read the full news item.

The Countdown Continues: Three more days of school.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

"Four Winds" by Sara Teasdale

Four Winds
  by Sara Teasdale

"Four winds blowing thro' the sky,
You have seen poor maidens die,
Tell me then what I shall do
That my lover may be true."
Said the wind from out the south,
"Lay no kiss upon his mouth,"
And the wind from out the west,
"Wound the heart within his breast,"
And the wind from out the east,
"Send him empty from the feast,"
And the wind from out the north,
"In the tempest thrust him forth,
When thou art more cruel than he,
Then will Love be kind to thee."

In 1884, Sara Trevor Teasdale was born in St. Louis, Missouri, into an old, established, and devout family. She was home-schooled until she was nine and traveled frequently to Chicago, where she became part of the circle surrounding Poetry magazine and Harriet Monroe. Teasdale published Sonnets to Duse, and Other Poems, her first volume of verse, in 1907. Her second collection, Helen of Troy, and Other Poems, followed in 1911, and her third, Rivers to the Sea, in 1915.

In 1914 Teasdale married Ernst Filsinger; she had previously rejected a number of other suitors, including Vachel Lindsay. She moved with her new husband to New York City in 1916. In 1918, she won the Columbia University Poetry Society Prize (which became the Pulitzer Prize for poetry) and the Poetry Society of America Prize for Love Songs, which had appeared in 1917. She published three more volumes of poetry during her lifetime: Flame and Shadow (1920), Dark of the Moon (1926), and Stars To-night (1930). Teasdale's work had always been characterized by its simplicity and clarity, her use of classical forms, and her passionate and romantic subject matter. These later books trace her growing finesse and poetic subtlety. She divorced in 1929 and lived the rest of her life as a semi-invalid. Weakened after a difficult bout with pneumonia, Teasdale committed suicide in 1933 with an overdose of barbiturates. Her final collection, Strange Victory appeared posthumously that same year.

Countdown Conitnues: Four Days until summer vacation begins.

My thoughts and prayers are with the tornado victims in Oklahoma. There is a link to the Red Cross near the bottom of the right column if anyone would like to make a donation.

The Final Countdown Has Begun

Five Days

There are five more days until school is out for summer.  Today is a review day for the exams.  Tuesday is the first of the exam days, so we will dismiss at 11:30 am, but there will be grading that needs to be kept up with so I don't fall behind.  Wednesday will be another exam day, dismissal at the same time, but their will be an end of the year luncheon for teachers along with a retirement party for one of our teachers, who, by the way, has been teaching at my school for thirty years.  Thursday will be the last exam day, and all grades will have to be in before we leave, but that afternoon, we will have a teachers party away from school.  Friday is our last day.  It is a teacher workday, so we have to get all of the final checklist of end of school things to get done.  Then I will be out for summer, though there is a possibility of teaching summer school in June.

The photograph above of the five young men is by Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931) and is known as Land of Fire. It is one of the most famous and republished images by Gloeden. It shows a view upon the Vesuvius from Naples from the terrace used by both Gloeden and by his cousin Wilhelm von Pluschow. The background Vesuvius was heavily retouched, almost repainted, on the glass negative. 
Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (September 16, 1856 – February 16, 1931) was a German photographer who worked mainly in Italy. He is mostly known for his pastoral nude studies of Sicilian boys, which usually featured props such as wreaths or amphoras suggesting a setting in the Greece or Italy of antiquity. From a modern standpoint, his work is commendable due to his controlled use of lighting as well as the often elegant poses of his models. Innovative use of photographic filters and special body makeup (a mixture of milk, olive oil, and glycerin) to disguise skin blemishes contribute to the artistic perfection of his works.

Testing Your Faith

My preacher often tells the story that each time he asks his wife what he should preach on this week, she always answers, "The Book of James."  I've yet to hear him preach on the book of James, but there are some wonderful passages in James that I would like to share with you over the next few weeks.  The first passage is known as "Testing Your Faith."
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.  For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away.  For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.  Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.  But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.  Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
James 1: 5-18

James regards trials of life as inevitable. He says when, not if you fall into various trials. At the same time, trials are occasions for joy, not discouraged resignation.  I know that sounds like a difficult task, but if we believe that God has a plan for each of us, then we know that the trials will lead to something greater.  We can have joy in the midst of trials, because trials are used to produce patience.

Patience is the ancient Greek word hupomone. This word does not describe a passive waiting, but an active endurance. It isn't so much the quality that helps you sit quietly in the doctor's waiting room as it is the quality that helps you finish a marathon.  The ancient Greek word hupomone comes from hupo (under) and meno (to stay, abide, remain). At its root, it means to remain under. It has the picture of someone under a heavy load and resolutely staying there instead of trying to escape. The philosopher Philo called hupomone "the queen of virtues."

Faith is tested through trials, not produced by trials. Trials reveal what faith we do have, not because God doesn't know how much faith we have, but to make our faith evident to ourselves and those around us.  If trials do not produce faith, what does? Romans 10:17 tells us: "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." Faith is built in us as we hear and understand and trust in God's word.

Trials don't produce faith, but when trials are received with faith, it produces patience. But patience is not inevitably produced in times of trial. If difficulties are received in unbelief and grumbling, trials can produce bitterness and discouragement.  The work of patient endurance comes slowly, and must be allowed to have full bloom. Patient endurance is a mark of the person who is perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

The act of faith and patience is given to us through God's infinite wisdom.  If we have faith in God, then we can ask his for his guidance.  In my nightly prayers, I always begin with "Lord, please forgive me of my sins.  Help me to be a better person and to follow the path that you have chosen for me."  God knows that path, and he calls us to follow it. Matthew 7:13-14 says:  "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few."

Life is filled with trials and temptations but our faith can guide us through that narrow gate.  We must remain steadfast and patient, for God says we must stand the test to receive the crown of eternal life.  We will be tempted and lured and enticed to follow our own desires, but if that desire is given birth through sins, or if desire gives birth to sin, then we must have the patience to resist.  If we resist, the rewards will be great.

We must remember that, "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above" which comes down to us from our God in Heaven.  So the next time that you are feeling like there is no hope, that the world is against you, or the trials seem too burdensome, rejoice in God and he will lead you through the troubled times.  Have faith and patience and you will receive joys and eternal rewards.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Exam Time

I was working late into the night last night making out exams and study materials for my students.  Semester exams are next week and today and Monday are review days.  These are always busy days trying to help the students prepare for their exams.  Other than that, there is not much to write.  Students never realize the amount of work teachers put into preparing their education.  If they did, maybe they would study harder.  Nah, probably not.

Proper Grammar

On his 77th birthday, a man received a gift certificate from his wife.  The certificate paid for a visit to a medicine man living on a nearby reservation who was rumored to have a wonderful cure for erectile dysfunction. After being persuaded by his wife, he drove to the reservation, handed his ticket to the medicine man and wondered what would happen next. 

The medicine man slowly, methodically produced a potion, handed it to the 77 year-old, and with a grip on his shoulder, warned, "This is powerful medicine and it must be respected. You must take only a teaspoonful and then say '1-2-3.' When you do that, you will become more manly than you have ever been in your life, and you can perform as long as you want."

The old man was encouraged. As he walked away, he turned and asked, "How do I stop the medicine from working?"  

"Your partner must say '1-2-3-4,'" he responded. "But when she does, the medicine will not work again until the next full moon."

The old man was very eager to see if it worked so he went home, showered, shaved, took a spoonful of the medicine, and then invited his wife to join me in the bedroom. When she came in, he took off all his clothes and said, "1-2-3!"

Immediately, he was the manliest of men. His wife was excited and began throwing off her clothes. And then she asked, "What was the 1-2-3 for?"

And that, boys and girls, is why we should never end our sentences with a preposition! One could end up with a dangling participle!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Great Gatsby

The kids at my school have gone gaga over the movie "The Great Gatsby."  I have not seen it yet, and I probably won't until it comes out on DVD.  (The next movie I will go see is the new Star Trek movie "Into Darkness."). Have any of you seen "Gatsby"?  I'm glad to see the kids excited about The Great Gatsby; many of them are even looking forward to reading the book.  Personally, The Great Gatsby is not my favorite Fitzgerald book.  I prefer This Side of Paradise and Tender Is the Night , but The Great Gatsby is a classic.

With all of the excitement over the movie, I have had several of the kids in my Drama Club show an interest in doing the play The Great Gatsby.  However, it has a large cast and a large number of male parts.  I have mostly girls in my Drama Club, and they are never keen on playing male parts.  However, I would love to do a 1920s era play that would have a small cast of 8-12 and have mostly women, but I haven't been able to find or think of anything that fits that description.  So, since I know some of you have experience in theater, I would love to know if any of you have a suggestion or two.  If you know of anything, please let me know.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Not by Sophie Cabot Black

by Sophie Cabot Black

that you are unloved
but that you love
and must decide which

to remember; tracks left 
in the field, a language
of going away or coming back--

and to look up
from the single mind,  
to let untangle 

the far-off snow
from sky
until no longer

held as proof
is also where birds
find agreement

strung along branches
each with their own song
for the other,

every note used
to sing anyway--
how to hold the already

as the not yet 

About This Poem

"This was written for a friend who kept asking me if anyone would ever love her. Always that question, and what is there to say except to endure enough to see what happens. Maybe even to be brave enough to start first, to love without expectation, even hope."

--Sophie Cabot Black

Sophie Cabot Black is the author of three books of poetry. Her most recent is The Exchange: Poems (Graywolf Press, 2013). She divides her time between New York City and rural Connecticut.