Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Stereotypes - Hateful, Hurtful, Hilarious

In the late 1980s, I was watching Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons), reading l'écriture féminine, and sharing dresses with Thomas Lauderdale.
Flash forward to 2008, and now I'm listening to l'écriture dangereuse, and Thomas and I are both wearing pants. Well, I'm actually wearing leopard overalls, but more on that in a moment.

Back in the late 1980s, Tom Spanbauer published his first book, Faraway Places. Spanbauer is known for "Dangerous Writing," which, given that it is something he does not define it on his website, in a show of solidarity and/or sloth, I will not define here.

What matters is, it's dangerous + writing + Thomas Lauderdale, who this very evening hosted a reception in honor of the reissuing of Faraway Places (the lambda literary equivalent of the DVD release of a certain Glenn Close/John Malkovich/Swoosie Kurtz/Uma Thurman/Keanu Reaves/Michelle Pfeiffer blockbuster).

The closest I got to dangerous writing back in the late 1980s was writing my senior thesis on ethnic jokes. Which actually turns out to be quite relevant, because the Tom Spanbauer reading turned out to be a long series of ethnic jokes.

Interaction 1:
I remind Adam Levey that I invited him to my seder. He apologizes for not coming and asks how it was. I point out that it has not happened yet - first seder is Saturday night. Really? he says. I was on the phone with my mother this morning and she was talking about her seder for like two hours, and I totally thought it had happened already.

Look, I say, I know you aren't coming to my seder because your shiksa girlfriend isn't in town to drag you to it.

He admits this is true, he's a total guy about social stuff, let's her do all the arrangements. I point out that Jewish men are especially bad in this department. Because of our overbearing mothers? he asks.

Overbearing? Just because she talked about seder for two hours? Yeah, I say, we have a number of friends that the Cheez has mistakenly thought were gay, and I've had to point out repeatedly that he was just mistaking Jewish male emasculation for latent homosexuality.

This is the first year in my life when people I meet assume I'm straight rather than gay
Adam admits. I think it's because my neck is starting to get thick.

Or it could be because you walk around with your unbelievably sexy shiksa girlfriend
I say.

A lot of gay men walk around with unbelievably sexy women
Adam points out.

It's true, I say. No one has ever mistaken Thomas Lauderdale for a heterosexual.

Interaction 2:
After reading from Faraway Places, Tom Spanbauer is taking questions, most of which are about his experiences as a gay man who was raised Catholic in small town Idaho.

As he is answering some deeply personal question, a not-exactly-falsetto-but-still-it-probably-violates-the-bounds-of-don't-ask-don't-tell voice booms out Will all you people who want to talk please move to the other room so the rest of us can hear Tom?

A hush falls on the room, a welcome hush for those of us who have been straining to hear the dangerously softspoken writer.

Thank god for the fags,
I say, they take some pressure off the Jewish women, in the telling people what to do department.

It's because I was an Episcopalian choirmaster in the South
Bill-the-Shusher says. I know how to shush the boys when they're talking out of turn.

Every Jewish woman and Catholic queer needs a southern Episcopalian choirmaster, I say.

Interaction 3:
I am talking to the only black person at the Spanbauer reading, who happens to also be the only black person in a seminar I am teaching on William Faulkner and Toni Morrison. I hope you aren't suffering from too much sliding eyeball syndrome in the seminar I say.

What do you mean? she asks.

It's when there's one black person in the room, I say, and the topic of race comes up, and so everybody slides their eyeballs over to see how that person is reacting.

Actually I have noticed she starts to say, but she is interrupted by some white person from an insanely small and homogenous Oregon town, who comes over to ask what it was like for her when, while reading from his book, Tom Spanbauer said the word nigger.

Interaction 4:
The room is clearing out for the evening. I'm saying good-night to my outgoing friend Floyd, when a woman comes over, gesturing madly at my leopard overalls, which I have tastefully accessorized with a leopard cape. And a leopard trim purse. Oh, and there are leopard cat ears on my bike helmet, though I hadn't donned that yet.

I'm a costume designer the woman tells me, and you know what they used to call that back in the 50s? Puss Print.

All I can do is wonder why they ever stopped calling it Puss Print. Perhaps my fellow Jew Hélène Cixous (whose been known to sport the spots herself) can write a nice essay advocating a feminist reclamation of Puss Print.

She's beautiful, she's laughing, and nu, she's wearing leopard.

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