Politics and the rutting season

Like wild animals looking to mate, politicians during campaigns make a lot of noise over sex, but the real substance is the diminishment of our sexual freedom

Politicians are strange animals. They hibernate for years at a time, only emerging to participate in the curious ritual known as “campaigning.”

Much like “rutting season” for deer and elk, the politician spends much of the campaign season trying to make as big a show as possible of his prowess.

The culmination of the rutting season ends in showy battles where animals clash their antlers together, making great cracking sounds in the forest.

For the politician, this clashing happens in televised debates where there is much sound and fury and very little substance.

The only reason I say this is because there is an undertone of the whole season that is disturbing.

For elk and deer, it is the season of mating, and only the heartiest males can herd together a sizable group of females to impregnate and then leave.

Habaerman.Hardy.NEW
Hardy Haberman Flagging Left

For politicians it is the season to gather together voters whom they will screw in a metaphorical manner and then abandon, breaking all the pledges they made to their constituents.

OK, so I tortured that metaphor about as much as I can. Here is the point of this whole thing: Both rutting season and campaign season have one thing in common — sex.

For politicians the campaign is the ideal time to focus on the most incendiary topics, and sex is right up there in our society, along with taxes and religion.

The advantage in focusing on sex is it deflects focus from the real issues of the economy, war and jobs.

After all, it’s difficult for the average American to understand the real issues behind the economic problems, job losses and the ongoing wars. But sex? Well, that one is easy.

For politicians, focusing on sex is a slam-dunk. Point to those folks who have sexual preferences that differ from the majority of your voters and you are taking fewer risks.

In a society as sexually repressed as ours, any variance from the perceived norm causes panic, and that can be used to sway votes your way.

It is a sad fact that Americans do not consider sexuality, and more specifically sexual freedom, a basic human right. Because of that, politicians find it easy to whip voters into a frenzy using sex as a campaign issue:

“Ban gay marriage! Stop the homosexual agenda! Stop teaching sex education! End public access to contraception! Stop HPV vaccinations!”

At their root, these issues are all about sex and the discomfort Americans feel even discussing it.

It’s time America grows up and stops behaving like a herd of deer. If we could honestly and thoughtfully address our discomfort in talking about sex, we would go a long way towards becoming a greater nation.

The sooner we accept sexual freedom as one of our basic and sacred human rights, the sooner we will cease being a dysfunctional, adolescent society.

Sexual freedom is the fundamental human right of all individuals to develop and express their unique sexuality. It is nothing to be afraid of, yet politicians and clergy have taken this sacred right and tagged it with incendiary language like “promiscuity” and “immorality.”

It should come as no surprise that they are lying to us. Sexual freedom, like all our rights, is something to be taken seriously. It is the right to express in speech and writing our unique sexuality.

It is the right to obtain medically accurate and inclusive information about sex and sexuality. It is the right to control our bodies and our relationships. It is the right to engage in consensual sexual activity as an expression of who we are as human beings.

It is one of the many gifts we have been endowed with, yet sex is systematically excluded from most discussions of citizens’ rights.

This Friday, Sept. 23 is Sexual Freedom Day. The Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance celebrates this day each year with seminars, conferences and media events. This year the conference takes place in Washington, D.C. at the Pew Charitable Trust Foundation Conference Center and will feature panelists from across the country and around the world.

The idea is to provide a safe space to start talking about sex and human rights.

Elevating the conversation is vital to assuring our rights as LGBT Americans. The sooner we can mature as a country, the sooner issues of sex and sexuality will cease to be tools for use by politicians.

And the sooner we can stop behaving like a herd, the sooner we will cease to be treated like frightened animals.

Maybe then we can concentrate on actually making our country a safer, healthier and better place.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 23, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Travel diary

The Crescent celebrates 25; gays pick Sydney as fave destination

SYDNEY TOPS | A recent study shows Sydney is an across-the-board fave destination among inter- national gay travelers. (Photo courtesy New Mardi Gras)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

The Rosewood Crescent Hotel celebrates its 25th year with some sweet deals that will make for a luxe vacation or staycation. The “25 Offers for 25 Years” includes specials throughout the hotel including The Spa at the Crescent, Beau’s Lounge, The Conservatory restaurant and even Starbucks. They celebrate with the original 1986 room rate of $100 and booking is now available through April 6, 2012. The hotel will book at this rate for select rooms for the upcoming July 4 and Labor Day weekends. CrescentCourt.com.

If your vacay requires major gay flair, read the Out Now Global LGBT2020 Study first. The study recently revealed the best spots around the world for LGBT tourism. The results are a culmination of information from six continents which help paint a picture of LGBT travelers and their destinations for the next three years.

“Out Now is delighted to be dramatically expanding the global knowledge base of tourism data with the LGBT2020 research study project,” said Out Now CEO Ian Johnson. “We sample in 10 languages and in 2011 we will reach people living in 25 countries around the world. There has never been an LGBT market research project with the scale and true global reach of LGBT2020.”
So which spots were tops?

New York ranked one for global travelers. London was a fave for Europeans, Australians and North Americans while South Americans favored Paris. But Sydney was a popular choice for all travelers. The U.S. narrowly beat out France as the top country to visit. To see the entire study, visit OutNowConsulting.com.

LGBT travelers can connect with others thanks to the new IGLTA Tripping Network. The social network encourages gay travelers to engage in conversation and “to make the world a better place through cultural exchange.”

Think of it as part Facebook, part Yelp, but with a personal touch. Travelers could connect with local gays for guiding them through neighborhoods, meeting up or even providing a spare room. The site also helps to connect with gay and gay-friendly businesses.

The network hasn’t forgotten safety concerns and protects travelers with the TripSafe Program which includes references, ratings, videos and emergency hotlines.

“This is all about facilitating cross-cultural connections and we’re excited to offer members of the LGBT community a safe way to connect with each other all around the globe,” says Jen O’Neal, Tripping.com’s cofounder and CEO. For more information, visit Tripping.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 3, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Every inch a lady

INSECT ASIDE | Michelle Matlock forms part of a romantic triangle in Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Ovo.’

All abuzz over Michelle Matlock, the lady-loving ladybug of ‘Ovo’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Michelle Matlock is the female romantic interest in the Cirque du Soleil show Ovo — a role that, Hairspray aside, rarely befalls bigger girls. And girls of color? And openly gay? Well, she’s basically the only one. Like, ever.

“I think it’s pretty special,” she says from a break in performing under the grand chapiteau in Frisco. “Not only for me being a big girl but a black girl. You don’t see us being a love interest  much — even though I’m a bug.”

Yeah, did we leave that part out?

Matlock plays the giddy, delightful ladybug, wooed by a handsome housefly to the dismay of the other members of her garden of tight-knit insects. About 10 different acrobatic acts perform in the show, but Matlock is one of the story anchors, a clown who has her own share of tumbles, pratfalls and jumps.

Clowning might seem a far cry from Matlock’s classic training at the National Shakespeare Academy in New York, but she doesn’t see it that way.

“My base is theater, but over the last five, six years, clowning has dominated my career,” she says. “It’s actually a culmination of everything I learned [at the conservatory]. I used almost everything I’d ever experienced to help create the role. I had intensive clowning [there], and we had ballet and modern dance — a well-rounded program. I just never thought that seven weeks would actually be the kind of work I’d be doing the rest of my career.”

Not the entirety of her career, though. Matlock is also the creator of a one-woman play called The Mammy Project, about stereotypes of black woman, especially ones of size. The idea came about when Matlock was asked to audition to be the face of Aunt Jemima pancake mix. The play begins with the first woman to create Aunt Jemima, back during the 1893 World’s Fair, and goes up through Hattie McDaniel’s performance as Mammy in Gone with the Wind and Matlock’s own experiences. It’s one reason Matlock is so pleased that she could create the Ladybug as a romantic figure.

And create the role she did. She auditioned for Cirque du Soleil in 2004 after several years’ experience clowning in other circuses, but while the audition went well, they didn’t have a part for her at the time. “But we have some shows in the works,” they told her.

More than four years later, in November 2008, she became part of the team that created Ovo. She’s been touring with the show ever since and just signed to stay with it through 2011.

That schedule has taken its toll on her relationship with her girlfriend, who has remained in New York (she also works in theater).

“It’s been difficult, especially at the beginning, maintaining a long-distance relationship,” she says. “Fortunately, we’ve gotten over that. It has been nice for us. And now that I’m signed through 2011, she might come and join me on tour. She is a stage manager and very organized. She might work for Cirque. And then it’ll be another challenge: Working together.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

From Broadway to broadcast: London staging of musical ‘Fela!’ comes to Angelika screens tonight

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  |  Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

When Stephen Hendel first approached out choreographer Bill T. Jones about directing Fela!, Hendel’s hoped-for musical about the life and work of Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, Jones had absolutely no experience on Broadway.

But that was OK — neither did Hendel.

“I’d never produced a musical — not any theater show — before. And this was the first time [my wife] Ruth and I had lead-produced before, though Ruthie is a Tony voter. And the show was out of left field from the mainstream fare on Broadway,” Hendel says by telephone from New York.

This week, the culmination of their efforts will be seen by the largest audience ever, as Fela! airs as part of the National Theatre Live series of stage productions filmed for moviehouses opens at the Angelika, starting tonight.

The path was one of mutual enthusiasm by relative novices. Hendel was put in touch with Jones through a mutual acquaintance. Hendel had already spent several years trying to generate interest in his idea for a non-narrative musical overloaded with dance and tribal rhythms. And Jones was very interested.

“I could see he was really, really brilliant and that many of the themes — of an artist in society, of being a political artist and being a black man — were all issues will had spend him career exploring and living. We agreed when and if I got the rights [to the music and story], Bill would direct and choreograph the show.”

It took nearly a year for that to happen. In the interim, Jones got an agent who secured him choreography duties on an off-Broadway play called Seven. One of the hopefuls was not cast, but Jones loved his energy. He would eventually originate the role of Fela on Broadway.
Jones, for his part, made an impact as well, winning an Tony Award for choreographing Spring Awakening and becoming a hot property in the theater community. And Hindel got him started. (Hendel himself has continued his theater work, co-producing American Idiot, another outside-the-box, Tony-nominated musical from last season.)

The journey from New York stage to London stage to, this week, movie screens across the world, was a surprisingly natural progression.
“We opened on Broadway and got amazing reviews, and the National Theatre [in England] came to see it. Nick Hytner, their artistic director, called me to talk about bringing it to the Olivier Stage in London, so we created a production for the National,” Hendel says. He then learned that the National was beginning its second season of broadcasting stage works from its and other London stages to movie theaters across the world.

Hendel was in. The version airing this week at the Angelika Film Centers in Dallas and Plano was shot with nine cameras at the London shortly before Fela! closed its original Broadway run earlier this month. That means the broadcast is the only way an American can see the show for the time being.

“It’s like having the best seat in the house every minute, only you get things you can’t see sitting in a Broadway house,” Hendel says. And it is just one more way people in the U.S. can experience a musician Hendel has long loved but most people have never heard of.

“People thought we were crazy [doing the show] — who’s ever heard about Fela Kuti and would want to see a show about a Nigerian they’d never heard of?” he says. “It has been a big challenge making audiences aware of what it’s about and why it’s so entertaining and important. We want people all over the world the see the show and why we’ve spent eight or nine years working on it. It’s been a total joy and a total thrill.”

Still, Hendel says the cinema version does not replace seeing it live, which he hopes will happen; he is planning to announce soon a U.S. and international tour to start mid-2011.

Until then, though, the Angelika’s the place to be.

Fela! airs at the Angelika Mockingbird Station Jan. 19 and 20, and at the Angelika Plano Jan. 22 and 23, at 7 p.m. Visit AngelikaFilmCenter.com for details.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Top 10: Bus driver’s plight led to trans protections at DART

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Ever since Democrats took over the Dallas County courthouse in 2006, judges here have been routinely granting gender-marker changes — court orders that allow transgender people to obtain driver’s licenses and other forms of ID that match their appearance.

Needless to say, this has been a critical development for the transgender community, but as it turns out, even with Democrats in power, gender-marker changes don’t always go smoothly.

In one controversial case uncovered by Dallas Voice in February, an employer tried to intervene in family court to challenge an employee’s gender-marker change, prompting a Democratic judge who was considered a strong LGBT ally to overturn her decision to grant it.

The employer was Dallas Area Rapid Transit, the judge was Lynn Cherry, and this newspaper’s report about the case prompted an outcry from LGBT advocates.

After all, if DART was willing to intervene in family court to challenge an employee’s gender-marker change, would the agency do the same if it didn’t agree with a divorce settlement or a child custody arrangement?

DART offered no good explanation as to why it had sought to intervene in the case, leaving the LGBT community to believe the decision was fueled by bigotry and transphobia. And LGBT advocates demanded that the agency redeem itself by adding gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy.

The employee in the case, a longtime DART bus driver who asked not to be identified, said the agency’s decision to challenge her gender-marker change was the culmination of years of discrimination and harassment on the part of the agency.

DART had added sexual orientation but not gender identity to its nondiscrimination policy in 1995.

After meetings between representatives from DART and Resource Center Dallas, the proposal to add gender identity appeared to be on a fast track for approval when it unanimously cleared a committee in April.

But suddenly in May, despite the fact that the amendment had been under review for months, the agency’s Board of Directors voted to table it so they could seek more information about the definition of gender identity.

Then, following a 30-minute, possibly illegal closed-door session in mid-June, the board hastily approved new language that effectively gutted the proposal.

The new language said the agency wouldn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity, “except to the extent permitted by federal and/or Texas law.”

Because there are no federal or state protections for LGBT workers, legal experts said the new language would’ve not only undermined the trans protections, but also rescinded DART’s sexual orientation protections from 15 years ago.

The LGBT community was outraged anew and even more galvanized than ever over the issue.

Claude Williams, an LGBT ally on the DART board, accused the agency’s attorneys of “duping” board members into supporting the new language. Incidentally, it was these same attorneys who’d sought to challenge the employee’s gender marker change.

Finally, on June 22, Williams and other allies on the DART board put forth a motion to remove the language that would’ve gutted the proposal, and to approve it as previously written — with both gay and transgender protections in tact.

Faced with immense pressure from the LGBT community, the board unanimously approved the motion — and received a standing ovation from what was the largest LGBT audience to attend a government meeting in North Texas since Fort Worth City Council meetings in the wake of the Rainbow Lounge raid.

— John Wright

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 31, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas