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

If he could turn back time…

… Dallas drag legend Wayne Smith wouldn’t change a thing. After all the stops and starts, he leaves leaves town reflecting on a career of laughter, music … and a nip slip

STEVEN LINDSEY  |  stevencraiglindsey@me.com

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DO YOU BELIEVE IN LIFE AFTER WAYNE? | You’ll have to — next week the Cher impersonator and his handsome husbear head to life in the Midwest. (Gregory Hayes/Dallas Voice)

WAYNE SMITH FAREWELL
The Round-Up Saloon,
3912 Cedar Springs Road.
Jan. 11 at 8 p.m.  Free.
Hungdinger, 4000 Cedar Springs Road. Jan. 12 at 8:30 p.m.

…………………………

For nearly 20 years, Cher has performed almost nightly along the Cedar Springs strip.

“What’s this?” you say. But oh, yes. With a voice and appearance so convincing, patrons react to her as if she’s the real superstar, not Dallas native Wayne Smith performing what has become his signature role.

Known for being friendly and outgoing to everyone who crosses his path, it’s Smith’s singing prowess that has sets him apart from the many drag performers who lip-synch. He’s a true impersonator and a remarkable performer who has helped define Dallas’ gay scene for the past two decades.

But not so much the future of it. Smith will be missed by thousands as he packs up his bags next week to move with his husband Ben Wilson to Columbus, Ohio. It only takes a quick glance at his Facebook page to see how many lives he’s touched here.

In true Cher fashion, Smith isn’t going gently into his Texas retirement. He’ll give multiple farewell performances, with the final curtains this week at the Round-Up Saloon, Hungdinger and the Drama Room.

But performing isn’t the only major event of the week. Tomorrow, he and Wilson celebrate their third wedding anniversary (they were legally married in Stowe, Vt.); a few days after he turns 50.

“I don’t mind. AA-Freakin’-RP!” he jokes about his age. “It’s wonderful to be this old because I’ve done so much with my life. I had a hit children’s books; I sold 67,000 toys at Neiman Marcus, I had a fashion show at the Beverly Hills Hotel, I had my own salon one street over from Rodeo Drive and so much I can’t even remember. I was even a question on Hollywood Squares!”

Smith left Dallas after high school because he thought Los Angeles would be a better place to live as a gay man.

“I went out there to be the next Bob Mackie. Instead, I ended up working for him, which was great because I got to shop with Cher and hang out with people like Marie Osmond, Betty White and Carol Burnett, which was really incredible.”
One fateful Halloween, Mackie talked him into dressing up as Marilyn Monroe; he won a costume contest with his outfit. From such humble beginnings came the drag legend.

“Somebody approached me from La Cage, the original club in Los Angeles that started the show in Vegas. They were starting a new show at the Fontainebleau Hilton in Florida and they needed a Marilyn.” He also had to come up with a second character; a friend convinced him to do Dolly Parton. But one little nip slip changed his attitude forever.

“It was a total disaster,” he laughs. “I think I was the first person to have a wardrobe malfunction. I was doing Marilyn in the pink dress from ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend’ and every time I raised my arms, my nipples showed. The producer was watching me with his hands over his eyes and I thought, ‘Oh this is great.’ I’d already done Marilyn in a couple of gay bars and I knew I was the best ever. I was a diva, girl. That is really the day when I learned humility.”

Convinced he’d blown his chances, he was persuaded to give it another shot — with a twist.

“I turned it into a comedy act,” he says. “We had big neon poles around the stage and I pretended that my boobs got stuck and I had to pull one around the other side. Everyone was walking in, the performers and the staff, and they were all standing there laughing.”

He was hired on the spot and for a year, he performed in the famed La Ronde Showroom, a stage once graced by Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra. When the Florida show closed, Smith was invited to join the cast in Hollywood — and finally got to play Marilyn.

“In Hollywood, if you’re Marilyn, you’re the star of the show. She’s on everything. She’s on toilet paper!” he laughs. “It was the best thing that could have ever happened because I really learned to perfect character makeup. I did Norma Desmond, Marilyn, Dolly — I even got to do Lucille Ball because she personally asked me to impersonate her when she was at a birthday party for Milton Berle at the club. If the room had blown up that night, we would’ve lost so much Hollywood royalty. The room was just packed full of people. It really was amazing.”

Ball never got to see his impersonation of her because shortly after her request, she passed away. To this day, he has a picture of the star from a scene in Mame, which she autographed, “To Wayne, Love Lucy.” It’s one of his most treasured pieces of career memorabilia. “I broke up with a boyfriend while I was performing in Aruba and had a friend break into my apartment in Los Angeles to make sure he got that picture back. And he did!”

In 1989 — shortly after If I Could Turn Back Time was released — Smith ventured into performing as Cher. After a year abroad where he performed Marilyn, Dolly and Cher, he landed back in Dallas and has been performing here ever since: First at Moby Dick, then at Woody’s, Mickey’s, and his latest home, the restaurant/cabaret Hungdinger. For much of his time in Dallas, Smith performed as Cher five to six nights per week up and down the Strip.

“I’ve had an incredible, incredible career here in Dallas. I really have never wanted for work. I’m giving up five nights a week to go to ‘what if’ in Ohio,” he says.

He may not know what lies ahead, but he’s sure of his mark on the world.

“I used to feel like I haven’t done anything with my life. But my dad actually taught me a long time ago that I had. He asked me how many people I’d performed for over the years,” Smith recalls. Between all the shows at La Cage and on TV, they estimated that he’d entertained millions of people. “My dad asked me, ‘Did you make those people forget their problems for a little bit and laugh? How many people can say that?’”

It dawned on him that what he does is much more than just sing a bit in clubs.

“Yeah, some people say I’m an attention whore, or just a drag queen, or just a female impersonator, but you know what? I’ve had people come up to me who are sick or had somebody die in their family to thank me for helping them forget their problems, even if just for a little while. I’m a court jester. I just wear different outfits,” he says.

But though he’s leaving town, this is definitely not the end of Smith — wherever he may end up.

“I’m not Cher, I’ve never claimed to be. But if I can mimic it enough that people still like it, I’ll keep doing it if I’m in a wheelchair gummin’ it to I Got You Babe.”

And that’s something plenty of people would gladly pay to see.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas