AJAX BELL

Author of the Queen City Boys books


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History in the present, in pictures

I hope many of you are already reading The Gay Men Project.  If you aren’t I’m glad to introduce you to it. It is, I suppose, something like Humans of New York, but both larger and more narrow.  I love reading the first person accounts of these men’s lives. How diverse their experiences are, how different.  Seeing the older men talk about the times they came out, how they came out, how being gay affected their lives. And the younger men, not all, but so many saying how being gay is such a small part of their identity, just a thing, nothing to make a big deal about.

I think about this a lot, this split.  I am so grateful, so thankful, that simply being gay is slowly becoming meaningless. Just an aspect of a person, not their entire identity. This is hugely important and the kind of acceptance we’ve been fighting for all these years.  And I feel a little loss in the face of it. ‘Gay’ has never been a homogenous (heh) culture but a mass of connected subcultures and it’s hard to see those dissapear. Yes, the terrible sterotypes, the negative judgements are washing away with them and good riddance.  But there was once a narrative that we are losing. An oral tradition of sorts, codes of conduct, akin to secret handshakes, passed down from generation to generation. And even the stereotypes weren’t all bad, many existed and allowed you to find your own, even when outsiders couldn’t quite see what was going on.

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Truly the need for secrecy was awful.  It existed to keep gay people safe. That there was so much threat, to their jobs, lives, and persons, that it required being hidden was terrible.  Being 40, I lived only on the very far edges of that, heard about, passed down verbally to me, as the history of a subculture. I’m glad the threat is lessening, dissipating. But the stories, the transfer of information from person to person is disappearing too. Becoming ancient lore, mythology, something barely seen. Subtext in old books and movies is lost, without this code and key to understand it. And that part I’m going to miss when it’s gone. It’s becoming a humorous stereotype of all it’s own, gay movies now filled with a greek chorus of older gay men shaking their heads at the youth of today for not knowing the great gay icons, not knowing the struggle.

The Gay Men Project preserves some of this passed on history. You can see bits and pieces of it in older men’s stories, still being shared, in a different way to the next generation.

I also love the diversity of pictures, of people. In an era when gay men’s bodies are becoming as scrutinized and modified as women’s have long been, it’s nice to have a break from the sculpted abs and designer clothes. To see real people shouldn’t be be so refreshing, but it is and it’s a great reminder that being out is what gives us all freedom.  When you can see that these are simply your neighbors, your friends, your family, integral parts of your community. Not monsters or perverts, but average people, it’s so very important to the cause, to equality, to freedom.

So thanks, Kevin Truong, for the work you’re doing to relay this these beautiful stories and pictures.

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Only Lovers Left Alive

tumblr_n61mx7lrnm1r7wwqao1_500Last night I went and saw Only Lovers Left Alive with Darrah.  It was playing, as far as we could tell, only one week, Mon-Thur, two shows a night, at different times each night. At a theater inconvenient to most anyone who would probably be interested in it.  If they could even discover it was playing.  7pm on Thursday and the audience was the two of us, a solitary fangirl (I saw you, ma’am and recognized what you are), and two 50s-ish guys.  I mean I guess the theater can argue the limited run was for lack of interest but, c’mon, Nashville.  Why wasn’t this at the Belcourt,and publicized, like at all?

Still I’m grateful we saw it the theater, and in a quiet theater no less, because it was amazing.  I couldn’t watch the first couple minutes, where everything was spinning.  Too vertigo-y for my delicate brain constitution, but the rest of it was fucking perfect.

I want to crawl inside this movie and live forever. I over identified with Adam’s character, so crawling inside it obviously means Tilda Swinton would be my wife, which is all I’ve ever wanted out of the world. But there’s more reasons than that.  My coworker asked what it was about this morning, and I said, “it was vampire movie, but if I had to use single words to describe it they would be: soft, comfortable, calm and romantic.”  There really wasn’t angst and suffering in OLLA, just a little irritation and exasperation. And of course, the vampire thing.  I started reading Anne Rice and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro when I was 14 or 15.  Yep the vampire thing is kind of over played in pop culture now, but it will always be a huge part of  my emotional and intellectual upbringing.  OLLA was the vampire movie of my goth teenager dreams.  It filled me with the same calm wonder as discovering the Romantic poets did, or finding The Chameleons UK and feeling like someone else really understood my inner world.

The pacing of the movie was oddly relaxing.  There was no real sense of urgency in it, even when people were hurrying to do things. There was tension, but it never felt scary or anxiety inducing.  There was just this pervading sense that whatever came could be handled, somehow.  Which is perfect, if you’ve lived forever and been through everything, sure this too shall pass, you  know it will.  The film was also very much a snap shot. No long flashbacks, only casual discussion of their long past together.  Just here, right now, a small window into a long long life. And everything was left to be inferred.  There was no explanation for vampirism or powers or anything, it was just a given you’d know some parts and figure out others.

And of course now all I want to do is go shop for just the right white leather jacket.  I mean if I can’t marry Tilda Swinton can I at least please be super cool like her?

tumblr_n4zjh1y5fE1sw6awyo1_500I left the theater feeling both calmed and utterly delighted.  I want to write stories like this.  Stories that are merely a slice of life, a small window of a larger tale, but still utterly engaging and interesting. Stories that lack complicated plots but are rich and detailed with character, scene, setting and tone.

I totally recommend OLLA, but watch it undistracted, so you can live in it while it unfolds.


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I been missing you, hope you’re missing me

Wow, so yeah I haven’t really been blogging at all recently, huh? Maybe it’s time to start again.

I’ve been complaining lately to friends about how much I miss LiveJournal. The heyday of it anyway, since it still exists. Recently I’ve watched a lot of movies and TV that I want to squee with someone about.  I miss my old LJ community, a group wide, deep, and diverse enough that at least surely a couple people would be interested in talking to me about which Korean dramas I’m watching, about German pop-glamrock bands, about anime, and about why I might be the only person left who still enjoys Supernatural (do I enjoy it because I watch it in a void without fandom’s influence? I may never know).  But now I feel like I’m just shouting into the void or pestering my friends with things they don’t care about but indulge my babbling out of love (which is actually kind of awesome in it’s own way).

Lacking that community I’ve been trying to seek out folks I lost in the diaspora years ago. Looking the Tumblrs and the Twitters, poking around sites I last saw faces I recognized, but everyone has moved on to unknown fandoms, has changed their names, or otherwise I’ve forgotten how to recognize them.  Which is kind of sad, but won’t stop me from continuing to shout into the void.

So I’ve been watching Ouran High School Host Club (OMG Hitachiin twins!) in fits and starts, mostly when I work out.  Which it’s totally not conducive to working out because I find I’ve often slowed or stopped and am staring at the TV, slack jawed.  I mean really it’s like an entire anime made up of nothing but fanservice.  And layers of meta so deep you need hip waders to get through it.  Somehow despite how obvious it’s pandering is, it’s still gripping and smart enough that I actually care about all the characters.

I found this amazing academic paper, which didn’t tell me much I didn’t know about OuranHSHC, but it did prove that I made major misstep in my life by not going into a field where I got paid to teach and write about things like anime and manga.

Man, this show is so weird.  It gets as much right as it does wrong and I’m not sure you’d really enjoy it if you weren’t already familiar with anime and boy’s love manga. Or maybe you’d love it and be super disappointed when everything else didn’t turn out to be like the crazed, ridiculousness this anime is.  It’s on Netflix, subbed or dubbed, and I think everyone should watch it and come contemplate Mori-san’s love for Honey-sempai with me. We can talk about how every episode is more batshit crazy than the last. It’s just nuts. Nuts only my fangirl homegirls would really understand. If only I could find them all again.

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There is so much more love in the world than you can conceive of

Let’s talk about Tom Daley coming out. For those of you who don’t know (I’m assuming a possibility that the media storm about it has only been in the kind of online circles I travel in) Tom Daley is an Olympic Diver from the UK who came out this week in a very sweet little video (link has a transcript if you don’t have patience for a video). I’m very proud of him for his brave act, but I’m more interested in the responses I’m seeing in the media and in comments I’m seeing on stories about this. Really I just want to address the common responses I’m seeing.

1) “It’s no one’s business who he loves.” While in an ideal world this is true. Tom says it himself in his video that in a perfect world he wouldn’t have to do this. I wish he didn’t. But he does because all over the world people are still persecuted, punished, stigmatized, shunned and even killed because of who they love. Coming out is the only way to combat that. When your family, friends, and public figures that you admire make public statements about who they love it makes the entire idea of queerness less threatening. It opens a conversation to help everyone understand that two women or two men getting married isn’t a threat to anyone’s way of life. Because, yes, who your partner is IS a private thing, but it can’t be a quiet thing until we’ve made society at large safe for every one in it. Visibility is key to safety and coming out is key to visibility. So, of course it’s no one’s business who Tom Daley spends time with but until he and everyone queer is 100% safe then public coming outs will stil matter, will still mean something. It’s fine if YOU don’t have a problem with it, but it is important to recognize that your support is much more meaningful than dismissing it as something that is “no one’s business.”

2. Tom Daley “still fancies girls.” This so important and so complicated. Headlines say, “Tom Daley comes out as gay!” People angrily respond that he obviously came out as bisexual since he made a point about liking girls. Headlines say, “Tom Daley comes out as bisexual!” People angrily respond that he did not label himself, so we should not label him, besides he’s young and this probably just his way of easing into gayness or not ostracizing part of his fanbase. This is such an important conversation and it’s important especially because it’s happening. Whether Tom is gay, bisexual or something else actually is no one’s business. He’s been clear that he is with a man, he is very happy and he feels safe and supported in the relationship. That’s all that matters. So why are we arguing about the label? Because bisexuality is a real thing and it is often ignored or erased. Erasure happens because if a person likes boys and girls they generally pair up with one or the other and immediately become identified as gay or straight. Bisexual men are frequently told that they are just not yet fully admitting that they are gay. Bisexual women are often told that they are attention seeking, confused, or just slutty. Homosexuals are as guilty of these responses as the straight majority is. So when Tom Daley says he fancies girls at a time when he does not need too (everyone is going to say he’s gay anyway, everyone knows he’s with a man, so why temper it with mentioning girls?) it matters because it opens to conversation about how sexuality isn’t binary. It isn’t just gay or straight. There’s a whole huge spectrum out there that goes beyond the Kinsey scale. What it boils down to is that it still shouldn’t matter who someone’s partner is, but it does matter that they feel supported in their lives. We’ve been making some strides with gay marriage. As a society we are becoming more comfortable with lesbians and gay men in public spaces. But the whole array of human sexuality, the bisexuals, transgendered, genderqueer, asexual and whole host of other possibilities are still invisible. So when Tom Daley says he’s fancies girls he’s allowing for public conversation, allowing for visibility for everyone who hasn’t yet been invited to the table of acceptance.  No, it doesn’t matter how we label him as an individual, it isn’t our business, but it is our business to pay attention and to listen to our friends and family so we can better understand how they identify and make them feel safe as well.

So congratulations, Tom Daley, on your new found happiness, and thank you for making important conversations possible.

On a more shallow note, holy smokes, Tom Daley is beautiful and his boyfriend is so handsome! And they seem so smart and thoughtful. There haven’t been many present day celebrity romances that have me me all fluttery, but this feels very old school romancey to me, very Bogart and Bacall. I’ll be over here sighing, with cartoon hearts in my eyes, every time I see a picture of them.


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Almost making it

So ever since I saw the movie I have been thinking about the striped sweater that Kristen Wiig wears on the plane in Bridesmaids.

Of course it’s no longer in stores and all the similar ones I can find are priced way out of anything I can afford.  So I set out to make it.  How hard could it be, anyway?  It’s like three pieces of fabric.

Test run #1 wasn’t the right fabric, but close enough.  I used a shirt pattern I already had and tried to guess about how it should be broken up between stripes and black.  The end result is wearable, although just not quite there yet:

But it’s close and super comfortable and it’s the first tee shirt I’ve ever made!  Sewing with knits is not fun.  Seriously do not like it.  But the end result is good enough that I’m definitely keeping it.  My second attempt I drafted my own pattern and found better fabric.  Alas the pattern fit was wonky and way off and the fabric shrunk like crazy when washed.  Still it is also wearable if not exactly perfect:

So close and yet still so far.  I might make one final run on this.  Redraft the pattern, keep hunting for the right fabric and eventually end up with the unbelievably simple shirt.  Or maybe I’ll just give up and be happy with what I have.  I mean I know how to sew tee shirts now.  A whole new world of sewing is open to me!


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cookies and stories

Most importantly I made gluten free peanut butter cookies this past weekend.  Here is the recipe:

1c peanut butter
1c sugar
1tsp vanilla
1 egg

Beat peanut butter and sugar together, then add egg and vanilla.  Roll into walnut-sized balls and place on greased (or parchment papered) cookie sheet and crush in # pattern with fork.  Bake 10(ish) minutes at 350′.  Eat.  Be amazed at how much like a floured cookie this is.

I made many and brought them to work.  No one seemed able to tell that they were any different than any other peanut butter cookie.  I might next time reduce the sugar and add a second egg to see if they can be chewier.  These came out just like I remember the standard Joy of Cooking recipe, just like a PB cookie, but I would like chewier version.  Also I recommend greasing up your hands before rolling the dough balls, as they are sticky wickets.

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I am still reading Deathless.  I don’t ever want it to end.  I feel like I’ve been seriously slowing down on it all week in a subconscious effort to draw out the fairytale as long as possible.  In my head the whole story is animated in paper cut-outs like the cover:

Also it makes me want to dress like a fashionable 1930s revolutionary and decorate my entire house in Russian folk art.

Speaking of folk art: Lubki prints of popular culture stories (I’m not linking to the original source here because it’s in Cyrillic).  I could totally decorate my house in there.  And then lounge around in this skirt.  And people would only think I’m slightly less crazy than they think right now.

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I also saw X-men: First Class this week and loved it.  Think this is an awesome introduction to the universe.  Though I’d recommend the comics over the other movies.  But despite some small casting discrepancies it was pretty well done and very enjoyable for a summer movie.  My triffling story problems with it are endemic to current films and don’t really detract from the movie (characters have instant changes of heart, but who has time for back story and moralizing when there’s explosions to be watched?).  Also Michael Fassbender wears the heck out of some clothes in this movie.  Mmmmhmmm.

Heading to the west coast in a little more than a day for my amazing little sister’s graduation.  Very excited to escape the oppressive middle TN heat right now.  Need to pack a neat capsule wardrobe, both fashionable and urban and for much cooler temps.  It’s kind of exciting.  Also need to finish some web work I promised folks and do a metric ton a job work before I go.


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Movies, books and needle books

Was a slow, relaxing, mostly wasted weekend. Lots of reading, walking and a some chores, not much else.

I did go see Thor on Sunday with Talks to Owls.  I enjoyed it thoroughly.  My only complaints were that his transformation was a little abrupt and barely shown and I think Alexander Skarsgård should have played Loki to up the eye candy and keep me even more amused. The actor playing Loki was too whiny and not nearly mischievous enough.  I feel that Skarsgård could have done a much better job at being trickstery.  Overall worth the price of admission though.  I forget how much I like going to the movies.  I wish the good theater by my house would reopen.  Stupid flood damage keeping me from movies for more than a year.

Hi Alex! Glad to have a thin excuse to post a picture of you!

I also read  the Hunger Games trilogy.  A fast but riveting read.  Highly recommended. Like I can’t stop thinking about it and harassing my friends to read it so they will talk to me about it.

And I didn’t touch any of sewing projects I have around the house in various states of doneness, but I did make a little felt book for my embroidery needles out of some scrap denim and silk I had lying around.  I’m pretty pleased with it. And Talks to Owls just got me these owl scissors  so I’m be all ready to get embroidering!