We’re great at making the most of winter

It’s a given that the LGBT community is full of ideas, and with winter just weeks away, we turn our attention to ways we have learned to not only survive the short days but to have fun doing it.

Our Pittsfield meeting on Saturday, November 5, 2016 will take place as usual from 2-4pm at the Berkshire Atheneum in Pittsfield, in the conference room on the second floor. If you haven’t sat around the big table and shared your thoughts with us, this may be the perfect chance to get to know your LGBT neighbors in the Berkshires.

Some of us are lucky to have a fireplace to gather around, enjoying the indoors and good companionship. Others still get out and go cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and even ice fishing. Some busy themselves with homemade holiday gifts and decorations, and others ready ideas for February’s 10×10 Winter Arts Festival in Pittsfield when everyone leaves their shelters to meet on the streets of the Cultural District.

So what do you do? Looking for ideas, or have some to share? Join us for a brainstorming session to make the next few months as much fun as possible.

Rainbow Seniors thrill to “Orpheus in the Berkshires,” part of Williamstown Theatre Fest

Getting out and about with Orpheus and his drag queen Sirens
by Ed Sedarbaum

Fourteen members of Rainbow Seniors sat entranced last Sunday as we watched the Williamstown Theatre Festival’s community production of Orpheus in the Berkshires. Added to the thrill of watching a brilliant production of a great musical play was seeing one of our own, Danny Trotter, singing and dancing his heart out in the show along with our personal friends, this writer’s barber, and scads of talented local children.

The word massive usually connotes something solid and unmoving. Yet while this production was massive indeed, it was as light as the breezes and as fluid as a stream, as close to 100 performers drifted in and out and around the huge public space of Greylock Works (the old Cariddi Mill) in North Adams.

The theme of the show was also very local – the heroin epidemic that has been growing here in North County – the product of brainstorming sessions over last winter and spring with community members and organizations.

Obie-winning playwright Lucy Thurber reimagined the Orpheus and Eurydice myth so that the young people of a town much like North Adams are cast into the grip of Hades by taking “ambrosia,” a drug meant for the gods that is deadly to humans. They are rescued by Orpheus (a young woman in this production), who descends into the underworld to win the favor of Hades with her beautiful singing voice, so that he will let her bring the young people back to the arms of their grieving families and friends.

The directing was masterfully helmed by WTF associate artistic director Laura Savia, who always kept the audience’s attention focused on the characters’ movements, even as dozens and dozens of other cast members silently drifted into place for their own massive entrances. The discipline of the performers was amazing to see – especially given how many young children were in the cast. As amazing as everyone’s singing and dancing and acting chops.

The director told us after the show that one bit of business – the Sirens being portrayed by drag queens — actually came from a suggestion made by one of our members when she visited Rainbow Seniors this winter. It’s nice to know we had a hand in the production in addition to Danny’s great singing and dancing. Laura expressed the hope that even more of us will join in on the creation of next year’s production.

Pittsfield Rainbow Seniors wowed by stories from Bill Finn, dancing with Vic Ziter

Bill Finn at the piano. Photo by Alex Reczkowski.
Bill Finn at the piano. Photo by Alex Reczkowski.

The July Pittsfield gathering of Rainbow Seniors on July 2 at the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield was truly a personal “show and tell” event that will be long remembered.

Show – Vic Ziter

The “show” part was led by member Vic Ziter who is a professional ballroom instructor as he introduced a whole bunch of Rainbow Seniors and guests to the simple basics of classic steps. Dancing with each of them, and then with each other, the dance was such fun it went into overtime. I participated for the first part, and then had the pleasure to watch my friends take to the floor, becoming ever more confident as they practiced.

Tell – William Finn

Bill Finn opened the meeting with his own show and tell. Tony winner, Pulitzer Prize nominee and creator of the Broadway shows Falsettos and the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Bill Finn is both a Pittsfield resident during the warmer half of the year, and the producing director of the Musical Theatre Lab at Barrington Stage Company.  During the winter he teaches at NYU. This fall his musical, Falsettos, is being revived by the Lincoln Center Theatre.

Finn spoke off-the-record, sharing much of his life on, off and backstage starting with Williams College and leading to the Great White Way. It seemed everyone in attendance had a question to hurl at him, and he swung right back with witty answers and an honesty that was – at times – breathtaking. To top off his act he pulled the cover off the Berkshire Athenaeum’s well-tuned piano and gave us a rendition of his latest ditty, a song written for his rabbi and synagogue in New York City.

A good time was had by all.

 

Five nicely done lesbian movies on Netflix

Promotional still from All About E
Promotional still from All About E

The long July 4 weekend is made for watching fireworks…and we don’t mean the kind that the neighbors oooh and aaahhh over. Rather it’s a great time for catching up on delectable lesbian rom-coms that weren’t made for straight men. If you have a Netflix subscription, here are five worth checking out.

1. Cloudburst (2011). Brenda Fricker and Olympia Dukakis. A lesbian couple escapes from their nursing home and heads to Canada to get married. Along the way, they pick up a young male hitchhiker.

2. The Duke of Burgundy (2014). A butterfly expert and her housekeeper are in an intimate master-and-slave relationship but their elaborate romance is about to take a turn.

3. Mosquita y Mari (2012). A very straightforward and beautiful coming-of-age tale. The isolation that both of these girls feel is as palpable as the sense of relief they feel when they’re together. This isn’t some lurid, Lolita-via-Thirteen bullshit, either. This is a textured, unromantic look at life as a a teenager today.

4. Liz in September (2014). One’s escaping a broken marriage. The other’s broken by illness. A well-made lesbian love story that gives off that twinkly, Nicholas Sparks, beach-read sort of vibe that many people look for in their romances.

5. All About E (2015). The chemistry between the two female leads is mercifully believable and their love scenes seem authentic without feeling gratuitously pornographic, which comes as an honest-to-God blessing when you’ve already seen 17 lesbian romances clearly intended to be enjoyed by 13-year-old boys.

“We’ve Been Around” spotlights trans pioneers in new six part series

WBA title grid

Rhys Ernst (producer of Amazon’s Transparent) has unveiled a new docuseries We’ve Been Around, which celebrates the previously untold stories of transgender pioneers in history. “With this series,” Ernst says, “I wanted to look towards my own trans history and forbearers to see where I came from and where we’re headed.”

With a dynamic mixture of archival footage, live action, and animation tailored to each particular story, the series moves through history from Civil War battlefields to prohibition era brothels, from the East Village to San Francisco at the height of the AIDS epidemic, telling stories of pioneers who lived authentically – long before the world knew the word “transgender.”

We’ve Been Around, created by Ernst and up for Emmy consideration, is a six-episode docuseries. Each episode is approximately five minutes. Here’s the first. We plan to feature others in the next few weeks.

CAMP TRANS

Amid the punk ethics of 1990’s identity politics, trans activists Leslie Feinberg and Riki Anne Wilchins spearhead a movement to protest the trans-exclusionary policy of a women’s music festival in CAMP TRANS #wevebeenaround #camptrans

“The trans movement may be making headlines, but our rich history is often overlooked. Trans people have always existed, and have lived many different lives. The central theme of We’ve Been Around is stated in the title. We’ve been here, throughout time, often hidden in plain sight. These stories show us just how important it is to share our histories,” concludes Ernst.

For more series information, and additional episodes to be viewed, go to www.wevebeenaround.com

Gossipy summer reading about Hawthorne and Melville in “The Whale: A Love Story”

melville1

It’s love at first sight for Herman Melville (r) and Nathaniel Hawthorne (l) in Mark Beauregard’s new novel The Whale: A Love Story (Viking) – and likely a shock for most scholarly readers. Try this excerpt on for size:

“Herman Melville sat fidgeting in a railway car next to Oliver Wendell Holmes as their train chugged toward Stockbridge. Herman was staying at his cousin Robert’s bed and breakfast in the nearby town of Pittsfield…Nathanial Hawthorne was riding up from Stockbridge to meet them.

“Hawthorne’s features were so fine that they could have belonged to a woman: eyebrows that prettily framed his coffee brown eyes; a hawkish Roman nose; sensuous red lips, the bottom lip a wide devouring flare; and waving chestnut hair that fell in ringlets behind his ears.”

And a chapter later, we read that “Herman forgot all about his whale manuscript, and he forgot about his debts and even about his wife and son and mother. He forgot about himself. The only thing he knew for certain was the radiance of Nathaniel Hawthorne.”

Oh, my. Those closeted literary types. Of course, when scholars who are unafraid of the LGBT elements take on the greats, the heteros get sniffish about it. “Where’s the proof,” they demand. It may be right there, in front of them, in the barely disguised stylized writings of a different century before they invented the word “gay”. But to be safe, Beauregard has labelled his work a novel, and invented a bit of history to go with that which is known.

We know a lot about this relationship because there is a body of letters from Melville to Hawthorne. But there is mystery, too, because Melville ended up burning all of his from Hawthorne. Beauregard knows how to decipher these gems, and it does seem the conclusion is inescapable: From the moment Melville first met Hawthorne to the day he died, he was totally infatuated by the good looking writer. Even his The Whale (Moby Dick) was dedicated to his colleague “in token of my admiration for his genius.”

The book keeps the two out of each others bedrooms, but does allude to some kisses, affection and frottage in barns and outdoor locales.

As Tim Pfaff comments in his Bay Area Reporter book review, “Altogether plausibly, Beauregard’s Melville is wholly without gay self-hatred – but at the price of not being able to see anything beyond his personal desires and obsessions. He’s not reliving, but rather, stuck in his own neglected childhood, and everything about him is childish in that way that is often true of the greatest artists. There are lovely, memorable children throughout this book, but for Melville they’re little more than barriers to his access to Hawthorne; there is no greater child than Melville, and he’s a petulant one at that.

“Also preposterous, but in ways that are calculated to make you love him the more. The depiction of a love-besotted, barely clad Melville marching sweatily through the snow at night to see the object of his mania, his make-believe lover with the gall not to answer his overheated letters, is wrenching in its pathos and easily this novel’s finest and truest scene.”

Imagining dinner conversations and idle moments spent between the great writers of the past has always been a favorite way to spend time during the languid days of Summer. This book fills that niche very nicely.

Ed Sedarbaum’s powerful words in response to the Orlando massacre


 

Yesterday, Rainbow Seniors of Berkshire County joined with goodhearted people of a wide variety of communities in Berkshire County to rally behind and mourn for the victims of the Orlando massacre. There we so many calls for action, not just “thoughts and prayers.” Here are the remarks I delivered on behalf of Rainbow Seniors. I realize I owe an apology to Esat Bici for saying he came from a good family. – Ed Sedarbaum


(Remarks delivered at the Pittsfield Vigil and Rally, June 15, 2016)


I am not ashamed to confess to you that even my anger takes second place to the fear in the pit of my stomach since the massacre in Orlando. I want to tell you why this gay senior citizen feels that way. 

In 1990, a gay man was murdered in our neighborhood of Jackson Heights, New York. He was not murdered by a Muslim, not by a backwoods yahoo or a criminal gang. He was murdered by three white teenagers, the products of good Christian church-going families. They left a party swearing to “find a faggot or a homeless person to stretch out.” They found Julio Rivera. They bludgeoned him with the claw end of a hammer and finished him off with a knife. 

The police, not wanting the press looking over their shoulder, refused to call it a hate crime. Julio was Latino, so of course they thought they could get away with calling it a drug deal gone bad. It fell to the LGBT community to raise the alarm and force the authorities to take action. 

Knowing that the local police did not see my community as worthy of protection, you can imagine how frightened I was given that the murderers’ friends, self-styled skinheads, were on our streets, trying to intimidate us activists with sneers and glares. For several years.

Last Saturday night’s massacre in Orlando — and that’s the word for it; tragedy is too literary for me – the massacre brought back my fears from those horrible days. 

And that, of course, is the very purpose of a hate crime: to intimidate into submission and invisibility the entire community targeted for extermination. 

Call it terrorism if you prefer, but I do not blame the Muslims. I do not blame the Muslim religion or their community just because the killer was a Muslim. I blame the people who have taught America whom it’s okay to hate. 
• The conservative state legislatures that delight in rescinding the civil rights ordinances passed in their more progressive cities
• The conservative governors – and one presidential candidate – who use fear and hatred to motivate their voters
• The conservative-dominated US Congress that allowed the ban on assault weapons to expire and never be renewed (defying, by the way, their hero Ronald Reagan, who supported the ban)
• Religious leaders of all faiths who tell their congregations – including the little children sitting in the pews – that homosexuality is a sin. Lord only knows what they say about transgender people.
• And the supposedly enlightened media, who adopt the language of our enemies when they call civil rights legislation “bathroom bills.”

In case you think that all this hatred takes place somewhere far away, you should know that as I sat in Patrick’s Pub last night, writing this speech, I overheard a man at the next table say, about Orlando, “Those gays deserved it.” I told him to always lower his voice when he says kike, faggot, spic, or the N-word. One of us might be at the next table.

Yes, it may turn out that the killer harbored homosexual urges. Urges that he was taught by ISIS and American thought leaders to hate, and hence to hate himself. (That’s how I felt for the first 30 years of my life.) And when disordered thinking marries fascist ideology, violence is bound to erupt, sometimes in murder, sometimes in suicide.

I know I will sleep better tonight after being surrounded by political, civic, and religious leaders who see me and my fellow Rainbow Seniors as community members worth protecting. And most of all, I will sleep better tonight having seen all you warm and wonderful neighbors who gathered to express sympathy and support.

But I will still wake up tomorrow afraid.

What I won’t do, and what I hope the members of Rainbow Seniors won’t do, is allow this act of hatred to prevent us from gathering at our meetings, our picnics, and our public events. We have worked too hard to overcome the dreadful messages we were raised to believe about ourselves. And we need to be around to show the children who are growing up worried about their sexuality that they can grow up to be old, fat, and happy, like me, no matter who they are. 

And so we will hold in our hearts the love and support you are demonstrating tonight. We will not go back. Thank you.

 
To listen to all of the speakers at the rally, go to the Jason Valasquez report on Greylock Glass.

Berkshire Stonewall’s Jason Verchot on the outlook for LGBTQ issues

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LGBT organizations more important than ever
Opinion by Jason Verchot, President, Berkshire Stonewall Community Coalition

In light of the recent tragedy I feel that I should say something, but I just don’t know what to say. As many of you know, there have been ongoing conversations about the future of this organization for some time. One of the questions asked is “Do organizations like this really need to exist anymore?” And in truth, it’s a difficult question to answer.

For those of us living in Massachusetts, we’ve enjoyed protections under the law for a number of years, from anti-discrimination laws to gay marriage. On a federal level, we’ve seen the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and a landmark supreme court decision that ruled any ban on gay marriage to be unconstitutional.

But that doesn’t stop bigotry, fear, and hatred from rising to the surface. How many anti-LGBT laws are being proposed in bills across this country at this very moment?

And then there is the simple truth that there are other minorities that have had protections/equal rights under the law for far longer than the LGBT community, yet still must deal with the fact that just because you have equality under the law doesn’t mean that you are treated equally.

And as I read various responses/reactions from politicians and the media, it seems to me that there is a desire to rationalize all of this away by saying “this a gun issue”, or “this is an terrorist/Islamic extremist issue”. And while I agree that the ease with which guns can be acquired, and the fact that religion is too often used as a justification for infringing on the freedoms and safety of others, at the end of the day these aspects point to a bigger issue: We live in a culture where fear has been cultivated and permeates everything we do, and every decision we make.

I’m not sure what else to say. I hope to see as many of you at the vigil on Tuesday as possible, and I wish you all the best. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I realize my thoughts may not be cohesive, and I thank you for your patience.