Brown Queer 2018

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Monica Lewinsky.

Not Monica herself, exactly, but a simpler times when I liked to lie on the floor in front of the wood paneled, vintage-seeming TV that dominated my family living room growing up. I remembered her name because it sounded interesting, and because my parents changed the channel when news of the scandal came on. Changing the channel and lighting a joint, they’d eventually have myself or my siblings take lit incense around the house before kicking us to our bedrooms, cells off the tiled, yellow kitchen.

Looking back, I don’t blame them; who wants three kids around killing your buzz?

If other 5th graders were talking blowjobs and stained dresses at school I was defiantly not around, so I maintained a blissful ignorance punctuated with pop culture jokes and late night TV. This is not too hard to entertain since no one talked to me much in school. I find myself relating to Carrie White in Steven King’s Carrie, all youthful, gullible wholesomeness by way of an awkward nature and religious, softly hypocritical parents. Unlike Carrie, most of us learn to roll our eyes internally being told not to drink, smoke, breed or engage in homosexual acts by parents who do precisely these things, be it in prison or pre-vasectomy. Given the option as teens, who can say for sure they wouldn’t broil their peers just a little and take down a house.

I got facts sometime in high school, when I could Google with relative confidence and read the whole thing on Wikipedia. I think like most Americans, I hadn’t much refreshed my info on Monica since, but for a vague awareness of a reality show and a line of handbags.

In the years before my half-assed Lewinsky Enlightenment, bits of information had slowly come in unbalancing jabs. A job in the white house! That’s impressive, you know, for the most part. Ideally, a person has done a few things right in their life in order to work in building where important decisions of huge scale are determined, to say nothing of history and, like, democracy. Yet, shit, here were are.

Meeting someone with such a job provokes an outward “Oh! The White House, wow… can you even talk about it?” while generally feeling the kind of self-doubt usually reserved for an unplanned shoeless situation on the desperate last day of needing to do laundry, socks toeless and graying on a friend’s grandma’s creamy, clotted carpet. I’m trying to think that at the end of the day, we’ve all procrastinated a little, right?

I can imagine how the greeting oh’s Monica has received over the years have changed, the pitch of recognition high and false these days and for a while now. Everyone already knew about Carrie’s mom, her pious, grandiose personal relationship with Jesus, the ghost, Ghoul and whatever else.

Monica by now must be some assassin level ninja at navigating, and probably largely dodging, these loaded hellos. More than likely meeting an ill-informed kid with a cold tummy from Nebraska would have been a relief back in those trial days and since.

Having now left my small, rural hometown in Nebraska, where about half of the 15K population are also blessed with cocoa colored skin, dark hair and eyes and the general brand “Mexican,” I’ve been learning these sorts of landmines are everywhere.

I’m not saying this slice of America is any less salty and racist than the rest, just that walking down the street, shopping and being in public in general feels somewhat, slightly less conspicuous when the sherif is also Mexican and a loose relation, when there’s Mexican-owned business and teachers growing up. I remember when I first found myself traveled anywhere else at about 16, in Minneapolis, MN, turning to a friend and saying “I’m the only Mexican…”

It’s a feeling built slowly: being served last or not at all at the bar; followed in the store; polite hellos and foiled plans with nervous, probably friendly allies; the waitress saying hola; the dude on Grindr calling me papi and the homeless man ranting about “illegals” when I  walk by. To say nothing of politics, the 2016 election and President Trump’s famous “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people” pretty much sums up and confirms the ambivalent patience and attitude required needed to survive while being brown these days. This while trying hard to ignore The Wall, deteriorating immigration policy, DACA; the fresh price tag of GLBTQ rights already peeling and frayed at the edges.

Ideally, we are defined by our actions and not judged on identity. All respect to Monica, but at least she is largely known for a factual dick sucking than for being a race accused of being hypothetical rapist drug dealers. These are the lines that stick. I have to hope that no one really believes in entrepreneurial Mexican babies, slinging rock and taking advantage from birth, a tortilla in one hand in a gun in the other, but really who knows what people will believe? More Mexican stereotypes hiding as associations, like foreskin, Catholicism and an army of cousins.

I’d prefer to be known equally for my oral proficiency as with the rest of my actions, but that isn’t too realistic when, below the surface, where you’re from, the sound of your voice, who you fuck or the color of your skin is a national talking point. I picture my equivalent, maybe someone only different enough from me to be white and sexually republican enough. What steaks in the fight do they they have to learn about my experience, much less join the fray? It’s easy privilege, another series of jokes and innuendo I’m not and won’t be in on.

So I find this longing to be that kid in front of the TV glow, before my parents flick their lighters and change the channel, before the incense swirls and tickles my nose. I’m longing for an innocent, earnest and pre-disenfranchised “hello.”

Hi, Monica.

Stop Saying Beards are Over. Facial Hair is so Fetch.

There’s no denying what a torture chamber the modern bathroom can be.

Hold the psychologist jokes and copies of Everybody Poops. I’m talking about brows we tweeze and wince; the scraps of plastic we pluck onto our irises; teeth of combs digging into our scalps; the blemishes you’re not supposed to squeeze; soap in our damn eyes, man.

My least favorite, the series of razor blades, a precise little potato peeler, dragged across the skin and the little cuts and gouges we greet with mock surprise.

How did that happen?

I don’t think I’m alone. Just look around at the unshaven masses resisting what some great forces are trying to end, calling for the death of this great shaggy era.

Everybody Shaves Something is an anxiety-saving book I wish existed. It would follow a puberty-age figure with a branded name and have pictures of their journey discovering proper maintenance of various hairy parts of the teen body. If Gillette bites, we’ll go with Gil for a name.

In my Coming of Age, Sex Ed pamphlets did the job summing up condom use and basic anatomy, but not really how to avoid the kind of embarrassing razor burn that delays plans of inviting anyone from taking a closer look.

Maybe our friend Gil would spend a page or two advising on the mainstream standards of beauty that promotes the idea that hairless equals desirable, but that wouldn’t be very good for razor sales.

The hashtag #beardporn is a thing and only the tip of beard-related obsession…

There are undoubtedly some skills that carry over from learning to shave the face, but that’s assuming you ever learned that properly. My dad was generally getting high or watching professional wrestling when he wasn’t at work.  And really, to this day I still feel too awkward when I’m in the bathroom with anyone else to breathe more than an, “excuse me….” before darting out with wet fingers.

I imagine that other’s experience starts over a Sunday morning breakfast, a square-jawed and perfectly-shaven father notices my light stubble saying something like, “why, Eric, you’re becoming a man before our very eyes!” Flash to a white and blue-tiled room, equipped with razors, creams and lotions; little bubbles of advice floating over my shoulder.

“You don’t need to run the water the whole time.” “With the grain first, son.”

That’s the advice I got from commercials and the internet. A few drinks at night with friends that grew up poor, with a single or divorced parent generally has this effect of self-raising. When my parents were not at work, they were relaxing or hustling the shopping and gifting to keep three kids well enough so that other people mind their own business. Sometimes I wonder if  there’s a glow of understanding that draws me to scrappy friends like me that taught ourselves to drive, pay bills and express ourselves only when plied with substances.

Luckily for a good number of my friends, recently hairyness is next to godliness. You can order a mustached dildo if that’s your thing, the hashtag #beardporn is a thing and only the tip of beard-related obsession. In this market, a desperately sweating and suddenly hip Gil starts pushing pomade and beard soap.

There are definitely other shaving dudes out there, but I’m not friends with those type of guys: dudes with MBAs, accountants and dudes that work in finance. I’ve fallen in with friends that generally have tech jobs, student debt and interesting hobbies.

It’s a sign of the changing times, and I’m in favor of it. Ideally, there are less ideals that support systemic oppression out there influencing these standards. There was a time when my friend John, whose long hair and chest-length, curly beard would never have gotten a professional gig. Finally, it seems like what you can do might matter a little more than what you look like.

Being white still helps a lot.

The climate is now more Not Everybody Needs to Shave Something. Gil promotes different facial hair styles and cautions against the neck beard. He tells knowingly of trimming armpit hair to ease in applying deodorant; how a little shave below should always involve every shaving product available, that fucking capitalist. Almost alone, I’ll be buying in as my friends grow out their facial freedom.

Somewhere, a group of grumpy elders gather in arm chairs, regretfully discussing how they failed a generation due to someone unknown loss of power.

“All it used to take was a, “get a job, hippie” but now… I don’t know…”

They don’t know, which is why the headlines keep coming up announcing the end of the bearded era. Like computers and internet being a phase, like pants for ladies or being gay.

Sorry, facial hair is here to stay…. even if I can’t grow much myself.