Change rarely happens organically, and gender equality, in both Hollywood and the world at large, is the sort of issue that requires a forceful push by those who see the need for change. But the fact of the matter is, when it comes to the womaning-up of Hollywood, the people doing the pushing behind the scenes are mostly male. The Lego Movie sequel will have lady stuff as imagined by two dudes. Lady Ghostbusters was greenlit because it’s the brainchild of a man. I don’t have gender breakdowns of studio executives, but I’d bet my left ovary the decisions coming out of Warner, Marvel, and Sony originated in male-dominated meetings. And while the execs’ hearts may be in the right place, their minds are on getting people talking about their movies, and eventually getting butts in seats. If that means adding in some “female stuff,” hey, everybody wins, right?
Well, do they? While Hollywood is finding ways to slot women into its preconceived projects, female creators with their own ideas toil in the trenches to get their smaller, personal projects made. Two of this year’s best movies written and directed by women, Gillian Robespierre’s Obvious Child and Gina Prince-Bythewood’s new Beyond The Lights, took years of finagling and compromising on the part of their creators, and were eventually released on a relatively small scale. Meanwhile, of the 39 major studio releases originally slated for summer 2014, only one was directed by a woman, and even that comes with a big fat asterisk: That one film, Jupiter Ascending, which Lana Wachowski wrote and directed with her brother Andy, was pushed to 2015, thereby decreasing this past summer’s number of female-directed major releases to exactly zero.
Yesterday I saw my appendix. It was pink and tiny, quite hard to see, but how interesting to be introduced to it for the first time. In for a routine colonoscopy (my fourth, on account of a family history), I refused sedation as I always do, and I had the enormous thrill of witnessing parts of myself that I carry around with me every day, but never really know or acknowledge. I chatted with my doctor about many things, including the various justices of the Supreme Court, the details of my procedure, and, not least, the whole question of sedation and anesthesia. He told me that 99 percent of his patients have either sedation or, more often now, general anesthesia, since that is increasingly urged by the hospitals. (In Europe, he said, about 40 percent refuse sedation.) He listed the costs of this trend: financial costs that are by now notorious, lost workdays for both patient and whoever has to drive the patient (whereas a non-sedated patient needs no caretaker and can go right back to work), lost time for nurses and other hospital staff, and, of course, the risks of sedation and the even greater risks of general anesthesia.
And, I’d add, the loss of the wonder of self-discovery. You are only this one body, it’s all you are and ever will be; it won’t be there forever; and why not become familiar with it, when science gives the chance? I began refusing sedation out of a work ethic; I continued through fascination.
What are the countervailing benefits of unconsciousness? Naturally someone benefits from charging the notoriously high fees, and no doubt greed is part of the explanation for why U.S. hospitals increasingly push anesthesia. But what benefits might there be for the patient? There are no pain nerves in the colon, so any discomfort is due to pressure (unless one has done 300 sit-ups the previous day, and thus has inflamed abdominal muscles, a practice I have learned to avoid!) and, of course, to disgust and shame. On a scale of discomfort from 1 to 100, with childbirth way up there, colonoscopy ranks around a 5, much less uncomfortable than a facial peel, and it lasts only 30 minutes. So we must conclude that a great part of what motivates people to choose sedation, imposing great costs on society, on their loved ones, and on themselves, is disgust and shame. The way the nurses talked made it clear to me that patients are terrified that they might fart during the procedure—and of course it is the cleanest fart in town, since the colon has already been thoroughly cleansed.
It seems only a matter of time before the house where Prophet Muhammad was born, located opposite the imposing Royal Palace, is razed to the ground, and turned, probably, into a car park. During most of the Saudi era it was used as a cattle market; the Hijazi citizens fought to turn it into a library. However, even to enter the library is apparently to commit an unpardonable sin—hence no one is allowed in. But even this is too much for the radical clerics who have repeatedly called for its demolition. Also in their sights is Jabal al-Nur, the mountain that contains the cave of Hira, where the Prophet used to retire for meditation and reflection and where he received his first revelations.
What I find particularly troubling is how few are willing to stand up and openly criticize the official policy of the Saudi government. Turkey, and the arch-enemy of the Kingdom, Iran, have raised dissenting voices about the erasure of history, but most Muslim countries are too fearful of the Saudis. There is real fear that their pilgrim quota will be cut—just as the Saudis refused to give visas to the Iranian pilgrims during the late 1980s. Popular vituperative complaint between consenting adults in private, though it is the norm in Muslim circles, is, as it always has been, inconsequential and irrelevant. Far from cautioning the Saudis, architects, including some who are Muslim, are actively colluding with the destruction of Mecca. Peace activists and archaeologists have raised concerns in newspapers and in the pages of learned journals, but the mass of believers are silent. Archaeologists fear that access to the few remaining sites open to them will be blocked. Would-be pilgrims understandably worry that they may be barred from performing a compulsory sacred ritual. Everything else for believers comes secondary to Mecca’s place as the destination for one of five ‘pillars’ of the practice of faith.
Mecca today is a microcosm of its own history replayed as tragedy. The city that has serially been remade in the image of the wealth and imperial splendour of whatever power was dominant is the plaything of its latest masters—who happen on this occasion to be lacking any aesthetic sensitivity, so that the underlying theme of naked power and wealth-driven consumer excess is brazenly exposed for all to see, devoid of saving graces.
Twice in my life I have had to fight for my safety. Twice in my life I have physically pushed a man out of my home. Twice in my life I have thrown a man off of me and locked myself in a room where he could not come after me, until he left, until someone else came to help me. It took every ounce of physical and emotional strength that I had. It was exhausting. It was frightening. Had I been the slightest bit more tired, had I been at someone else’s house, had I not had the hope of someone else’s arrival to sustain me, I might have fought and lost. To Ellen and her mother, I might be an example of a “good” near-rape victim.
I should not have had to do it either time. The first time I said No, the first time I turned my head away, the first time I crossed my arms over my chest and walked away, the first time I said “What are you doing?”, the first time I displayed a clear and obvious distaste for what was being done to me rather than with me should have been enough. That expectation — that the person saying No should be prepared at any moment to fight someone else off – is an undue burden. Pretending that active consent is ambiguous and confusing and difficult to obtain is a pernicious lie that has no basis in reality. It is abundantly clear when someone is eager and ready to sleep with you.
I said No. Sophia Katz said No. Saying No was easy, making the man who wanted to hear Yes listen to me when I said No was the challenge. A man who wants to hear a Yes will find a way to drag it out of you.
Saying No was easy. Getting Shaun and Adam to listen to my No took everything I had.
It should not take everything you have to turn down someone’s offer for sex.
My wife, Daphne, got to something I’d been trying to figure out for years when, after reading a particularly asinine article in the February 2003 issue [of Thrasher magazine], she said: “It’s really not OK that these people are using so little of their brains.”
“Using so little.” It’s the perfect indictment of everything that’s wrong with—and the most succinct encapsulation of everything that’s brilliant about—skateboarding. The beauty of using so little in a country that uses so much. Living for a plank and four wheels in a profligate culture. And the saddening fact that Thrasher has, in many ways, been failing to move against the wind. Jake Phelps, the current editor, a San Francisco skater to the bone, wrote a sort of suicide note in the March 2003 issue: “I’ve never felt as depressed as I do now… I try to stay focused on the mag—my life is in this mag. And its life is in me… I feel distant from the spots, skaters and special people I’ve known… God this is awful.” These desperate words, especially jarring in contrast to Thrasher’s ironic dirtbag voice (it used to be ironic, big-hearted, dirtbag), were wedged into an issue stuffed with ads. An issue fifty-four pages longer than a contemporaneous Vanity Fair.
Feeling depressed by your success is a rare predicament for an editor in chief. (I wanted to tell him to try aromatherapy.) I figured Phelps was about to hang it up and let Thrasher go fully corporate. There were certainly skateboard doomsday signs aplenty. I attended a screening of Dogtown and Z-Boys, a documentary about the earliest days of skating, in a private theater at the Sony Corporation’s New York headquarters. The place was filled with MTV celebrities and their posses. I was the only person with a plank on wheels. A guy in a long black leather jacket pointed at me, turned to a young woman, and said: “Ooh, he brought his board,” and I felt ashamed.
Skating through midtown Manhattan that night, I remembered that I used to think skateboarding would never get too big because it hurt too much. Because you can’t take the pain out of skateboarding. Because putting yourself deliberately in harm’s way is a quick, easy, and reliable route to the truth. But what I didn’t realize is that you can take the skateboarding out of skateboarding—make the act a mere accessory to its style.
You pull up the news story and look at the bruised and bloody eye of the anonymous victim. You wonder if you know him. You feel a little guilty about just how glad you are that it isn’t you.
You’re disheartened that it happened so close to you. You’re disheartened that it can happen anywhere. You’re disheartened, but you’re ultimately not surprised.
People around you say they can’t believe this kind of thing can happen in 2014. None of the people who say this are gay. You think about how many times you’ve seen people stare at you on a date just a little too long. You remember all the times you’ve heard someone mutter faggot as you pass by. You remember walking home at night when you lived in the Gayborhood and seeing cars drive by filled with people who made the journey just to gawk at you. You are other, and people will always find ways to remind you, even if it’s subtle.
God help you if you are gay and have the audacity to enjoy yourself too much. Double that if you’re a gay man of color.
It never fully leaves. Years later, you find yourself at a New Year’s party and idly ask a friend a question about dads, and after 10 minutes’ conversation you realize both of you are on the verge either of insensate bawling, or else ready to throw a chair through a window. Or you find yourself back in the old hometown at Christmas, talking a drunk high school buddy into getting back in the car because the house he asked you to stop at – one you didn’t recognize – is his dad’s new house, with his new family, and your friend is talking about how much he wishes he could just ring the doorbell and beat his father’s face into a gory smear, until it looks like someone dropped a tray of lasagna out a fifth-story window.
Or you find yourself at a college football party last weekend, and Adrian Peterson comes up, and a woman from out of town asks, “Do people in the south really do that still? How does it stop?” And a dude in his early thirties who looks like a 6ft-3in brick wall says, “Everyone on my block did that. It stops as soon as they realize you might be able to beat their ass just as good.” And without thinking about it, you kill the party for the next two minutes by saying, “It’s not just the south. I grew up in San Francisco. Sometimes nobody winds up bigger or stronger. Sometimes it stops because you move out. Or because you realize that if both of you don’t grow up, one of you is going to die.”
Baseball has one saving grace that distinguishes it—for me, at any rate—from every other sport. Because of its pace, and thus the perfectly observed balance, both physical and psychological, between opposing forces, its clean lines can be restored in retrospect. This inner game—baseball in the mind—has no season, but it is best played in the winter, without the distraction of other baseball news. At first, it is a game of recollections, recapturings, and visions. Figures and occasions return, enormous sounds rise and swell, and the interior stadium fills with light and yields up the sight of a young ballplayer—some hero perfectly memorized—just completing his own unique swing and now racing toward first. See the way he runs? Yes, that’s him! Unmistakable, he leans in, still following the distant flight of the ball with his eyes, and takes his big turn at the base. Yet this is only the beginning, for baseball in the mind is not a mere returning. In time, this easy summoning up of restored players, winning hits, and famous rallies gives way to reconsiderations and reflections about the sport itself. By thinking about baseball like this—by playing it over, keeping it warm in a cold season—we begin to make discoveries. With luck, we may even penetrate some of its mysteries.
We all used the same method for eating peppers. We picked them up by the stem, bit off the pepper, and, encouraged by Agustin, threw the stem into the garden—a mulch operation, in a manner of speaking. But just about everybody on the patio had a different method of eating sardines, plus a persuasive rap about why it was the best method available. Everyone began by peeling off the skin, in quick strokes meant to avoid burnt fingers, and everyone put the sardine on a piece of coarse white bread. Then came the division in tactics: Should you just put the sardine on the bread and eat around the bone, flipping the bread over halfway through the sardine to allow the dark sardine residue to soak into both sides equally? Should you remove the bone, put the sardine on the bread in lumps, and add roasted peppers on top? Or how about pimientos de Padrón on top instead of roasted peppers? Eager to be a good guest, I tried every method at least once. Then I said quietly to Alice that a family that has serious discussions about how best to consume sardines is my sort of family.
I have known beaches, but I have no particular fondness for them. I don’t like sand in my crevices. I don’t like sand at all. I don’t enjoy all that sunshine and heat without the benefit of climate control. I don’t enjoy other people at the beach — sticky children, young people with firm bodies and scanty bathing suits, those of less firm body staring forlornly at this spectacle. People bring pets, and I am not an animal person. No, I do not want to pet your dog.
After 10 minutes, I find myself bored. What are we supposed to do at the beach? I’m black, and so I understand sunbathing as a concept but less so as an activity. How long am I supposed to lie in the sun? When do I turn myself over like roasting meat on a spit? How often do I apply this sunscreen you speak of?