Thursday, December 22, 2016

2016 The Year of Coming Out

2016, for all its faults, is looking like the Year of Coming Out, at least from where I see things. 

I say this because more friends than ever came out of the closet to me this year. 

One woman came out as bisexual. An affable and beautiful artist, she bravely came out to her parents as well. My partner, Anita Dolman and I, supported her wholeheartedly.

A close friend, but still a very valued one, came out at as bi as well to my partner and I. She has been divorced from a man for several years and we didn't know she was bi because she wasn't very vocal about her sexuality. To paraphrase Woody Allen, being bi does double your chances of meeting someone (He actually said "Bisexuality immediately doubles your chances for a date on Saturday night."). Joking aside, we feel that we have found another ally somehow.

A co-worker of mine, with his gelled-up hair dyed a different colour - or mix of colours - on a monthly basis, also came out to me as pansexual. I came out to him as being bi. Then I went home and asked my wife what pansexual was.

"It's what the younger generation is calling bi, only they don't make distinctions about who they love, whether another person is a man or woman, trans or queer."

"I'm already that, but we don't call it that."

"It's because we're old," she replied with more than a dollop of irony.

"If that's the case, then this means that in my twenties, I was pansexual before pansexual was pan!" I answered with a modicum of satisfaction. "I was sleeping with everybody, from drag queens to men to women."

"Yes, you did have a fondness for drag queens," she replied.

"Still do."

It should be noted that the adjective pansexual is defined as "not limited in sexual choice with regard to biological sex, gender, or gender identity."  

As well, a transexual friend is realzing who they are. They have been out to one parent since they were a teenager and out to their longtime partner for decades. Still, they have discovered that, like declaring one's queer identity, you sometimes have to come out of the closet again and again. And often the closet is mistaken for just wanting your privace. As my friend puts it, there are "all sorts of closets of all sorts of shapes and sizes." 

I'm there for them in any way I can be because they have been there for me.

They are, as of yet, still staying quietly closeted, unsure of what friends will expect if they do come out. As well,this friend is still working through coming out to their parents. They're also working out how they want to express themselves as trans.

So that's why I'm calling 2016 the Year of Coming Out.

In fall 2014, a close friend of mine came out and told myself and my partner that he had been secretly seeing a man for about a year. Things were looking not so much serious as permanent, so he wanted to come out to everyone around him, one at a time. I admired his courage and his deliberatenss in doing so. He came out to me at Irene's Pub, a local drinking hole with cozy booths. I found out that he came out to my best friend in the same environs.

I had worried that he was lonely. So, after years of my worrying that he wasn't seeing anyone or doing any dating at all, it turned out that he had met someone online and that someone had turned into his boyfriend. At the same time, my friend had also been dating a woman - the rogue! - and made a decision about whether he would date the woman or the man. 

This news, and this secret, overjoyed me. It meant to me that he had a chance at happiness, and has taken it, instead of being the romantic recluse that I had though he was this past decade.

A few months back, I sat across from the aforementioned best friend at the pub, drinking and pontificating about how many people we know - or at least that my partner and I know - who came out of the closet this year. 

Ten years ago, my partner and I thought that everyone was queer until proven otherwise. Since then, our friends close and distant have slowly  but steadily revealed who they truly are or have realized who they are, at least partially. 

My pal, with whom I have been through nearly three decades of everything, sitting there with his pint of stout, mistook my comments for a prompt for him to come out. He looked up at the T.V. bolted to the wall of the bar. Two men were doing a competition whereby they took an axe to a tree and compete to see who could fell the trunk first. This event was followed by an archery competition.

"I'm as straight as that," my friend said, pointing at the archer letting loose an arrow at a target.

"Really?" I replied. "As straight as an arrow?" I rolled my eyes. "You couldn't have said it another way? Or some such statement.

Nevertheless, the realization that so many people I know are coming to grips with their own self-realization gives me great hope in a year that has been bereft of hope at times. 

I refer to the passing of artistic talent at the genius level. The passing of David Bowie. The passing of Prince, And, of course, the passing of Montreal's man, poet and singer Leonard Cohen. The prognosis of Tragically Hip leadsinger Gord Downie has also added to the terribleness of 2016.

This has been a rough year, ending on a particularly dark political note. 

But I digress. 

But hope is a rare and good and beautiful thing. It's a gift. And with each friend who told me who they are this year, I felt that much better about humanity. I'm not that kid in his twenties trying to figure it out, and feelng alone. Now I'm here for them. I also feel like I have bet on the right horses* and am lucky to have these friends still.

*= Blogger's Note: Please note that this expression was borrowed from Anita Dolman.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Year's Best Begins - Best Comeback goes to H. P. Lovecraft, Alan Moore's Providence

As 2016 hurtles to a close, I am starting my year's Best-Of-List. This will be piecemeal. This list will be sporadic, in both postings and lengths of posts. But, dammit, this list will be worthwhile and full of hypnotizing rabbit holes that one can explore. And I'm starting with H.P. Lovecraft.

Best Comeback for a Writer of Questionable World View:
H. P. Lovecraft

The amount of proliferating tributes to and controversy surrounding Howard Phillips Lovecraft is seemingly infinite. 

There are Lovecraft E-zine podcasts, for starters. Films about the author include the 2016 animated children's film, Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom and various documentaries. Comic books  from 2016 about the penner of cosmic horror fiction include Alan Moore’s reexamination, Providence and John Reilly's and Tom Rogers' upstart, Herald: Lovecraft and Tesla:History in the Making, not to mention the Cthulhu-themed issue of Afterlife with Archie (I kid you not).  Scooby Doo’s Mystery Incorporated, which ran from 2010-2013 and was yet another episodic iteration of the Mystery Gang, includes mythos references. One episode features a monster who is clearly identifiable as Cthulhu. Heated debates about Lovecraft's xenophobia and racism are regular occurrences at writers' conferences and awards juries. Enthusiasts, academics and aficionados attempt to reconcile the problematic author with his hugely influential opus. As well, plentiful other pop culture references abound across the board. 

However, if there was any doubt about the controversy and importance surrounding the author, in 2015, the World Fantasy Convention decided to stop using a bust of the author as its awards trophy, amid debate about Lovecraft's beliefs. 

All of these factors point to an obvious fact.

H.P. Lovecraft is back, and everywhere, and more in vogue than ever. Granted, the resurgence of interest in Lovecraft has been building for well near a decade now, and has had high and lows. This year, though, interest is clearly higher than ever. I detected the first rumblings while I was working in comic-book retail around 1999. At least, I first started noticing plush Cthulhu dolls appearing on retailers' shelves then.

Speculative fiction tributes to Lovecraft are so prevalent that Mike Davies of Lovecraft E-zine podcast runs an independent press of the same name that publishes weird fiction and cosmic horror. Publisher and editor Davies keeps up with the deluge of Lovecraft-related works on-air and in print. And thank gods, he does. Otherwise, I don't know how one would keep up with Lovecraftian works.

That said, I found two particularly notable speculative fiction works in 2016, Alan Moore’s and Jacen Burrows' Providence comic-book series and Victor LaValle’s novella The Ballad of Black Tom. Two documentaries, while not from 2016 but still relevant, are Frank H. Woodward's illuminating Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown and Shawn R. Owens'  The Eldritch Influence: The Life, Vision, and Phenomenon of H.P. Lovecraft. First up is Alan Moore's mind-bendingly good 12-issue series Providence (Avatar Press).
Cover of issue five. Art by Jacen Burrows.

I hit Alan Moore’s Providence pretty hard. Each issue features two-thirds comic book and one-third prose. In a lesser writer's hands, the prose wouldn't soar. But with Mr. Moore, he demonstrates the subtle differences between graphic novels and the written word, fortifying the journal entries of a Commonplace Book with the protagonist's observations and emotional state that may not have been readily apparent in the comic-book panels. Between Jacen Burrows' intricately (and beautifully) detailed artwork and Moore’s thoroughly and lovingly performed research and the infusion of a queer hero into the mythos, I was wooed. I'm on the home stretch of Avatar Press' 12-issue series - issue 10 - and still quite in love with it.

The last literary contribution in for 2016 appears to be Victor LaValle’s much-praised novella The Ballad of Black Tom from Tor. It's a response to Lovecraft's most overtly racist story "The Horror at Red Hook" and features a black protagonist hustling in Harlem in 1924. Ballad is at the top of my reading list for 2017.

(Editor's note of April 17, 2018: Read it in early 2017 and was swept away.  The Ballad of Black Tom is an admirable piece of work. It's weird fiction steeped in literary conceits, and a tribute yet a rejoinder to H.P. Lovecraft that is still, at times, minimalist.)

Director Shawn R. Owens' 2003 documentary, The Eldritch Influence: The Life, Vision, and Phenomenon of H.P. Lovecraft, while featuring amateurish camera work and bridging segments with actors portraying Lovecraft's characters in awkward-at-best portrayals, did cement this renewal of interest. The film also included articulate bits from Brian Lumley and Neil Gaiman, among others. But the piece felt part biography, part fanboy highlights, and part loose ride through the author's works with no real linear or logical course.

Frank H. Woodward's 2008 doc, Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown, while clearly borrowing the motif of portentous quotations from the author and discomfiting music, was superior. Fear offered insights in a slicker, prettier package, a clearer, lucid arc covering Lovecraft's life and influences, with glorious and frequent artwork, a more coherent focus, and an examination of Lovecraft's less-than-admirable qualities that is now all the rage. Illuminating interview subjects included the likes of the descendent master of weird fiction, Caitlin R. Kiernan,  as well as Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell (again), and directors John Carpenter and Guillermo del Toro, Neil Gaiman (again) and director Stuart Goron (again).