Archive for March, 2010

Count Me In

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

Queer the CensusIt’s census time again: that special time of the decade when the federal government counts the citizenry to determine the proper apportionment of representatives as laid out in the Constitution.

But besides determining how many congressmen each state gets, the federal government also uses this count to apportion the distribution of federal tax dollars. A great many government agencies — as well as non-government researchers, policy makers and advocates — also rely on census data as the last word on who’s who (or what) in the country. So if you and your kind don’t exist, statistically speaking, you’re not likely to be part of the policy picture.

I admit there’s a certain romance in feeling like you belong to an exclusive subculture that works and plays right under the noses of the masses with only a very few of their members tuned in finely enough to pick up on your inside humor and conspiratorial winks. But there are practical drawbacks to relegating your life to a world of secrets and shadows. For example: you might live in fear of losing your job if discovered. Of course that job may not matter if, after discovery, some forthright delegates from the masses tie you to a fence on some windswept prairie and beat you to death, anyway. But you get the idea.

The number of questions the census asks is pretty limited, so there’s not a lot of room to get granular in assessing the makeup of the population. But, since 1990, when the Census Bureau added a designation for Unmarried Partner, those of us with an inclination toward the members of our own gender have had a quiet means for announcing our presence … if we happen to co-habitate with that partner.

Being counted by the census doesn’t sound like a lot. But it would bring queers of many stripes — lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender — closer to becoming a statistical reality in the eyes of the government and of everyone who depends on that government for information about the population.

That questionnaire will be in your mailbox very shortly, so it’s not likely that any pressure we exert now will coerce the Census Bureau to include any specific questions about sexual orientation or gender identity. But we can still use this census as an opportunity to make our annoyance (or anger, if you have that much energy) known. Here’s what we can do:

  1. Sign the on-line petition at the Task Force’s Queer the Census site and pass the link on to anyone you know who might also sign.
  2. Then add to your response the question we really want to answer by sealing your census questionnaire envelope with this sticker from Queer the Census. And just in case you don’t receive your free stickers in time to mail your response, you can download one as an Adobe .PDF document. Just print it out and slap it on with a little glue stick.

For more information about the Census, its importance to queers in these United States, and what you can do, visit the site of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

They Made Me a Homosexual: Mail Order Catalogs

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Sears, Christmas, 1965OK. I don’t really think these bits of cultural ephemera created in my nubile little child-brain the lust and longing for members of my own gender that would propel so much of my behavior through the rest of my life. So maybe mail order catalogs didn’t make me a homo. But I’m convinced they helped to shape the kind of homo I would become.

The images we breathe in from day to day help us to settle on a particular aesthetic bent. I may have been pre-programmed with an interest in men. But what aspects of manliness would eventually catch my juvenile eye wasn’t set until I had a chance to see what was out there. And living as shuttered a life as I did, catalogs were an important window into the wonders of maleness to be found beyond the confines of my room.

Sears, Christmas, 1969There was nothing as exciting as the arrival of the Sears Wishbook — the annual Christmas catalog — which seemed to hit our door sometime in late August. Not only did it give me plenty of time to drool over toys I might get, or to fetishize the four-color pages of artificial trees, ornaments and fruitcakes. But with some 400 pages in each book, there was a lot of other stuff to fire my fantasies, too.

Even before I began to lock the bathroom door and turn deliberately to the men’s underwear sections of these books, there were other images of men (and men’s fashions) that mesmerized me. The perfect man of the mid-60s catalog world became my perfect man, too. He had strong features, full lips, broad shoulders, big hands and great sideburns: all features that continue to grab my attention today.

They seem to pull me away from the present and back to the sense memories of that five-year-old boy. Suddenly, those memories are as crisp and vivid as when they were brand new. And they still hold the power to lure me into an almost trance-like state, to leave me floating outside of time and space, here and now, like the magical images of some mystical religion.

Sorry … I got carried away there.

JC Penney, Fall, 1973Anyway, it was only a short path from this gateway flavor of soft porn to the hard-core debauchery of the Fall and Spring catalogs. By the time I was dragging those five-pound books around with me, I knew exactly what I was after. And to raise the stakes for my hormone-saturated brain, by this point we had already reached the early 1970s.

For those of you who don’t know your low-end men’s underwear history, those were the years of low-rise briefs, bikinis and, yes, mesh underwear. I still can’t look at those men in mesh briefs and shirts without trying desperately to find evidence of those things that are supposed to be hidden from polite view: a patch of chest hair, the happy trail leading down into the waist band of the model’s briefs or (is it even possible?) a glimpse of some real pubic bush.

I don’t expect anyone else to find something redeeming in these images — never mind something really hot — but you can still enjoy the styling of the men and the finest catalog copy money could buy.