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POPeration! Blog

What’s on the Surgeons’ Minds?

Ain't Too Proud to Parade!

Eric Peterson

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by Stacey Fearheiley

There's still time, so...Happy Pride Month! I say this, because I mean it.
Interestingly enough, as a cis white girl, I’m really feeling it this year. I suppose it’s not too hard to understand why.

It’s like that Spartacus movie….”I am Spartacus.” “I am Spartacus.” “I am Spartacus.”  I am LGBTQ. I am an immigrant. I am black. I am Muslim. I am Mexican. That’s where I am right now.

And being all these things, if only as an ally, I am also really really scared and sad. I guess what would encompass all that would be, “I am an American.”  I’m not as proud of that as I used to be.

This year I went to the Capital Pride Parade in Washington, D.C. It was wonderful! And for a while…a short several hours…I was able to feel that pride in being in this country that I love so much.

I’ve been to the St. Patrick’s Day parade. (Fun with green and beer!)
I’ve been to the Cherry Blossom Parade. (So many blossoms, so little understanding of how to make them grow.)
I’ve been to numerous Labor Day and Independence Day parades (Or should they be called the March of the Political Candidates?).
Parades, in general, are fun. Especially when they are about purely American stuff–like freedom, celebrating the working man, and the idea that my vote matters.
But this year, at the Pride Parade, it felt different. It felt more. At this parade, I felt joy.

Now, I don’t bandy that word about very much.  It gets shouted and sung from the rooftops all throughout December and frankly, I rarely feel a bit of it.  It seems trite, hackneyed and tired.  So, understand, I use that word in its truest definition.

I stood there with my rainbow EVERYTHING, and waved my rainbow flag and bantered with other goers.  I watched as float after float,  and group after group marched by singing and dancing, throwing swag or high-fiving the sidelines.

My feet hurt, my arms were tired, the sun was hot, I was getting elbowed, and…it all didn’t matter.  I was aware of all that, but I didn’t want to leave.  Because in the midst of all the people, parade, discomfort, crowd and noise…everyone was happy.  There was this beautiful, probably rainbow-colored, bubble that seemed to encase us all…like Taco Tuesday in the Lego Movie.  It was surreal.  But it was joyful. That was the word.

And as I looked around at a crazy diverse crowd of people — all there to enjoy the moment and each other and to celebrate everyone’s right to parade –I felt like we were all Spartacus.  We were all Pride.  We were all Joyful.

Happy Pride, ya’ll.  Wish it could last all year.

The Golden Age of Binge-watching

Eric Peterson

There's such so much to watch these days. Is that a good thing?

by Eric Peterson

It’s 2018, and a question I’ve come to dread is, “Are you watching, such-and-such show on such-and-such network? You MUST.” Seriously. It’s almost as bad as, “Did you see what Donald Trump tweeted now?!”

And it’s not because my friends and acquaintances don’t have excellent taste. In years past, I appreciated their recommendations. And in all honesty, I still do – but at the same time, it’s frustrating. I barely have time to watch my shows; I can’t watch yours (and yours, and yours) as well. We are living in a time with so much good television; it's impossible to keep up.

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But is it too much of a good thing? There are certainly some positives associated with lots of television options. For instance, I believe that one of the most important functions of art is to serve as a mirror. As a gay man, if I were still limited to three channels to provide me with entertainment options, I’d certainly still be waiting for Queer as FolkThe L WordTransamericaNoah’s ArcQueer Eye, or any number of television shows that allow me to see myself reflected in the popular culture. The same is undoubtedly true for people of color, and other non-dominant populations. And that’s great. And important. I believe that.

And, I think there’s something to be said for popular culture being … well, popular. And it’s just not anymore.

When the Roseanne revival premiered on ABC earlier this year, several friends asked if I’d be watching. I demurred; for many reasons, I am not a fan of Roseanne Barr (and no, her recent repugnance on her Twitter account did not surprise me at all). But even without me, the show was a huge hit. With 18 million people watching the premiere, it instantly became ABC’s most popular show. So okay, wow. 18 million people. That sounds like a lot.

But compare that to the finale of M*A*S*H (the most watched program of scripted television in American history).  In 1983, 125 million people watched that show, and the Roots finale drew 100 million viewers in 1977.

And sure, those were the highest rated television shows of all time, but even the original run of Roseanne got twice as many viewers on average throughout its fifth season in 1992 as it did for the lauded premiere of its revival in 2018.

As I write this, the biggest hit in scripted television last week was an episode of NCIS on CBS, with 12 million viewers. That’s less than one percent of that M*A*S*H finale, only a third of what Roseanne picked up in the 90’s, and the most-watched program in the entire country right now.

I don’t think it’s a question that we live in a very fractured culture these days. Our politics are moving farther away from the center and clustering around the extremes. People are retreating into their comfort zones, where they remain ever more separate from those who are different from them. As a result, our worlds are increasingly homogenous, unless you’re putting in a whole lot of effort to shake things up. And that’s a real problem. Not being exposed to people who look different and think differently increases the likelihood that we will fall victim to stereotype threat. It pushes us further to our corners, and makes life more dangerous for the marginalized and oppressed.

I’m well aware that our increased polarization is not the fault of lots of television networks pushing out lots of television shows. But I also believe that it isn’t helping. It used to be that we had more cultural markers to bring us together. There was a time when everyone knew what “Whatchoo talkin’ bout, Willis?” meant, and where it came from. Someone could say “Oh, Archie” in their best Jean Stapleton and you immediately got it. There was probably some value to be gained when all of us collectively experienced the shock and horror of the chicken turning into the baby during the finale of M*A*S*H (if you don’t know, I won’t tell you; I still need therapy).

I believe that those common experiences can bridge other kinds of differences. As shallow as it sounds, I believe that they bring us closer, and that the current cornucopia of options on broadcast, cable, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and all the others is only pushing us further apart. Perhaps only by inches, but it’s happening at a time when we really need to be moving in the other direction.

Sadly, I don’t have a solution for this problem. We have thousands of options, and they’re not going away. I’m certainly not going to get in between you and your RuPaul’s Drag Race, if that’s your thing; I wouldn’t dare. The only thing I can do is promise not to hold it against you if you don’t want to watch my latest discovery, as long as you don’t hold it against me if I don’t want to watch your favorite show, either.

This essay was originally published by Letters from CAMP Rehoboth.

Life is a Cabaret, Old Chum

Eric Peterson

by Eric Peterson

In 1986, when I was fifteen, I saw the film Cabaret for the first time. Before the year was over, I had probably watched that one movie at least forty times, and I've probably seen it forty times since. As one might expect, I can quote entire scenes from memory. Additionally, I seem to have memorized every note of the score, every dance step, every camera angle, every raised eyebrow.

I didn't know why I loved Cabaret so much. One might blame Brian, the character played by Michael York, the leading man in the film's seemingly heterosexual love story. He's gay. The first time I saw the film, the discovery of Brian's true sexuality hit me like a ton of bricks; I sat in my living room, mouth agape, literally unable to move. Even today, I'm taken aback when I hear Brian speaking his truth for the very first time.

So yes, although I'd remain in the closet for another ten years, there was likely some sort of unconscious recognition of myself there. But years later, I now know what truly drew me to insert this particular cassette into the VCR over, and over, and over...and her name was Liza.

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Every gay man seems to have a diva of choice, and mine is and forever will be Liza Minnelli. In college, I wore out my copies of Live at Carnegie Hall and Liza with a "Z"; in the early 90s, I saw her live in concert three times. I'm telling you; every time this woman walks on stage, any stage, she is the hardest working woman in show business, and she is going to give you a show you'll never forget. I just adore her.

Logic would dictate that as a homosexual man, I would have chosen a different sort of person to worship. And by different I mean...I don't know, a man? Mel Gibson had chiseled features, a sculpted physique, and some semblance of sanity in the mid-1980s...why not Mel? Why not any number of handsome (male) matinee idols?

I know that I'm not alone among gay men when it comes to the diva thing. Few adore Liza Minnelli to the extent that I do, but whether you've chosen Barbra Streisand, Judy Garland, Cher, Joan Crawford, Bette Midler, Donna Summer, Bette Davis, Madonna, Diana Ross, Chita Rivera, or Christina Aguilera (or some combination of the above); many (if not most) gay men of all generations have pledged their devotion to one or more icons who speak to our collective soul.

Why do we love them so much? There are likely as many answers as there are divas to choose from, but they do share several things in common.

First of all, they love us as much as we love them. A true diva knows that she has struck gold when she wins the hearts, minds, and wallets of gay men everywhere. Compare us to other groups of fans, and we rank up there with Deadheads as the most loyal followers in America.

Also, they're really good at what they do. Whether it's singing, acting, dancing, looking fabulous, or reinventing their public persona every three years, there's a standard of quality that cannot be undermined. Taken as a group, the gay guys have always exuded exceptional taste.

But I have a theory about our beloved icons. I believe that gay men love these tough-as-nails, glamorous, gutsy broads because they validate our existence every time they teach us that you don't have to be masculine in order to be strong.

I'm fully aware that the stereotype of the mincing, effeminate gay man is just that: a stereotype. There are some gay men that fit that description, and there are also others, who are jocks, bookworms, bikers, preppies, cowboys, etc. But almost all of us have felt the sting of discrimination at some point in our lives; we've all been called names. Faggot. Homo. Plus a few others that are unprintable here. But it's not uncommon for gay men to be called simply: Girl. Pansy. Fairy. You can be as butch as you want to be, but there's no escaping that for many homophobes, you're as low as a man can get because you've made yourself a woman, and there can't be anything worse than that.

Enter the diva. She's undeniably female, and stronger than any man in her path. She's probably been criticized at some point for being somehow less than ladylike. Ball-breaker. Man-eater. If nothing else, she's a survivor, proving her strength not through attitude, but simply by standing back up every time life knocks her down. We don't simply enjoy these women; we need them. We need them to be tough, we need them to be fabulous, we need them to be unafraid.

And when the world is cold, we need them to belt it to the rafters, "What good is sitting all alone in your room? Come, hear the music play. Life is a cabaret, old chum. Come to the cabaret."

The Boy Who Loved

Eric Peterson

When I was a closeted high school student, most of my friends were girls. There was just something about the air of testosterone that surrounded most of the boys I went to school with that was unsettling. I was undoubtedly attracted to many of them, and that attraction was certainly covered with a thin but powerful veneer of paranoia, which made the attraction feel like repulsion – but in my conscious mind, I just couldn’t compete with all of that masculine energy. It scared me.

Recently, I found myself in New York on my own for a couple of days, in between a business trip and a planned excursion with friends. On a whim, I decided to indulge that inner child of mine, and I purchased tickets to the Broadway production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – a two-part theatrical sequel to the original seven-book saga. I couldn’t wait to re-enter J.K. Rowling’s world of witches and wizards, magic, and fantasy.

And I got all that I expected. Dementors, transfiguration, even floo powder – it was all there. What I also received, but didn’t necessarily expect, was a peek inside what my childhood might have looked had I met a gentler kind of boy to befriend.

While Harry Potter, now a 40-year old government official (he’s like the Attorney General of the Wizarding World) still earns his place as the titular character, much of the action belongs to his troubled son, Albus Severus Potter. Traveling to Hogwarts for the first time with his cousin, Rose Granger-Weasley, he is reminded that his parentage will make him instantly popular, and he could likely have his choice of friends. But inexplicably, he chooses to travel with the awkward and lonely Scorpius Malfoy – the son of his father’s childhood arch-enemy, Draco.

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You can’t help but feel for Albus at the opening of the play (NOTE: I wouldn’t dream of writing any spoilers here; any details I write about you’ll learn within the first 30 minutes of a seven-hour play – so read on, Potterheads!) – he never asked to be a part of a famous family, and he can’t help but feel as though he’s a disappointment. Despite his fervent wishes to the contrary, he is placed in the dreaded Slytherin house upon his arrival at school, and his choice of best friend is clearly not one that his father approves of. 

Scorpius comes with his own set of issues. First and most pressing, his mother is gravely ill. Second, his father is angry and distant. Third, his father might not even be his father – there are rumors floating about that his father is someone even worse than Draco Malfoy.

But in spite of everything, a relationship that grows between these two boys sparks, and then deepens, until each is the only person in the world that the other truly understands. I should note that the script (by Jack Thorne, based on a story by J.K. Rowling, Thorne, and director John Tiffany) makes it abundantly clear that both of these boys are romantically and sexually attracted to various girls in their orbit. And yet, Albus loves no one in the world as he loves Scorpius, and the feeling is returned. As the story winds through various moments of misunderstandings and physical separations, they miss each other with a sense of pain that is usually only reserved for romantic tales. Even the language used to describe them is romantic. At one point in the story, their mutual friend Delphi tells Scorpius, “You two – you belong together.”

Not all queer fans are happy with what they’re seeing on stage. Aja Romano wrote a blistering essay in the online magazine Vox called, “The Harry Potter universe still can’t translate its gay subtext into text. It’s a problem.” In it, she details the number of times that the series has disappointed its LGBT fans. Remus Lupin was a werewolf, a direct response to the bigotry faced by persons with AIDS, and Nymphadora Tonks was a punk witch who met every criteria of a soft butch; through the course of the books, they married and had a child. Professor Dumbledore was given an explicitly gay identity by Rowling – but not in the books themselves, where his sexual identity is best described as celibate (we’ll see what a young Dumbledore looks like later this year, when The Crimes of Grindelwald hits theatres). Now, we have these two boys, who share long embraces, get jealous when the other moons over a pretty girl, and miss each other desperately when they’re apart. It’s making some queer fans angry.

I took a slightly different view. I found myself exhilarated by the love story in front of me without needing to see them snogging. Perhaps, I wondered, Albus and Scorpius seem obviously gay to both straight and gay audiences alike because we’ve rarely, if ever seen, a friendship between boys that is at once platonic and this intense. Stories about intense bonds between women abound in our culture, particularly gay culture (see Steel MagnoliasBeaches9 to 5Thelma & Louise,Bridesmaids, and a hundred others). And what, I wondered, would happen if straight boys around the world had permission to love the other boys in their lives this much. It would have felt like magic to a boy like me.

This essay first appeared in Letters from CAMP Rehoboth, a newsletter for the LGBT community and its allies in Rehoboth Beach, DE.

A Rose-Tinted Mirror

Eric Peterson

Pixar Studios probably didn't make Coco for me, exactly. But that's how I saw it.

by Eric Peterson

One of the perks of doing a lot of business travel is that I catch up on a lot of movies and TV shows. Recently, I decided to download Call Me By Your Name onto my iPad, and watch it on a flight from Washington to Dallas, TX. The scenes of two young men falling in love in the Italian countryside were gorgeous, for me … but let’s just say that for the sixty-ish, surely heterosexual, probably a Trump supporter, clearly uncomfortable woman next to me, the view was transformative – but probably not in the way she’d have liked.

So these days, just to get along with my fellow passengers on ever more cramped airplanes, I tend to save anything that might involve scenes of sex, violence, and other “mature” imagery for my hotel rooms. What I watch on the airplane has become decidedly more PG-rated. On the way back from Dallas, one of the free movies offered by the airline was the Disney-Pixar film Coco. Perfect for even the Trumpiest of the Trumpies, I thought. It might be about a movie about a young Mexican boy who crosses a border (between the land of the living and the afterlife), but at least it’s not likely to be too erotic or gory.

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First of all, let me just say that nobody warned me. For the last 10 minutes of the film, in my window seat on a sold-out flight, I was openly weeping. I don’t think I elicited any audible sobs, but with my headphones on, I can’t be sure. If you haven’t seen Coco, don’t judge. This little cartoon practically reaches into your tear ducts and turns the faucet on; I’m not sure I could really trust anyone who didn’t cry when watching it.

But after I had recovered myself, it occurred to me – that movie might have been gayer than Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer making out by the river. Not gay in any literal sense, of course – but this movie, aimed at children (but like all Pixar films, made with adults very much in mind), also told a story that I was entirely familiar with. The story centers on Miguel, a young man with dreams of being a musician. The problem is that, four generations earlier, his great-great-grandfather had the same dream. He abandoned his family to pursue a career in show business, and never came back. And so, Miguel’s family doesn’t listen to music. They shut their windows angrily, if music is playing outside. Early in the film, Miguel’s grandmother surprises Miguel talking with a mariachi in the town plaza and accuses the man of corrupting her grandson. Miguel has secretly taught himself to play the guitar in the attic of his family home, but his love of music is for him, a love that dare not speak its name, if you see where I’m headed with this.

The dramatic action of the movie really begins with a traditional coming out scene. Miguel, buoyed by a discovery concerning his great-great-grandfather’s true identity, musters the courage to tell his secret to his family – and is met with misunderstanding and scorn. Suddenly, Miguel’s predicament is clear: he cannot be his authentic self and remain a valued member of his family. He must make his own way.

One hopes that this is a predicament that young queer people experience less and less in this century than the last – and yet we know that it still happens. Conversion therapy centers still operate legally in many states, and even the most progressive parents can be momentarily stunned to learn that their child isn’t who they thought s/he was. Like it or not, this is still a story that a lot of queer people can see themselves in.

The rest of the film, without giving too much away, is about Miguel’s goal to eventually win back his family’s love on his own terms, with no conditions. Being a Disney film for children, I was almost positive he’d eventually succeed. But even when he predictably does so, the moment is so sincere and so vulnerable, it made this 47-year old gay man cry real tears on a crowded airplane, next to a man who looked like he would have been quite comfortable chewing on a piece of straw, the way they did in the Westerns my dad used to make me watch as a kid.

I’ll be traveling again soon, and once again must face the usual dilemma of what to watch while sitting next to a stranger. I suppose I could always just read a book, but I think I’m up to the challenge this time. There’s another cartoon I’ve had my eye on; this one is called Ferdinand, and it’s about a bull who, despite all outward appearances, would rather sit in the meadow and smell flowers than engage in more traditionally masculine activities like bullfighting. I’m sure that one won’t be gay at all.

This essay was also published in Letters from CAMP Rehoboth.

Sum, sum, Summertime Preview Time!

Eric Peterson

Smell that?  It's the smell of hopeful Summer Blockbusters in the offing.  This week Eric and Stacey watched and then judged some of the talked about movies coming to a theatre near you this summer!

Below is a way for you to judge for yourself if a: you want to see it based on the trailer; b: Eric and Stacey got it right re: whether or not these films are watchable.

#Summer2018Movies....could be fun.  Your POP surgeons definitely look forward to seeing how spot on they were about the hits and misses.

Give your thoughts.  What are YOU looking forward to?  What did they get wrong?

Don't forget to subscribe!

Infinity War---What I didn't know!!! (Ironically...no spoilers.)

Eric Peterson

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by Stacey Fearheiley

Was I the LAST person to know that the movie Avengers: Infinity War was a cliff hanger?  I didn't realize it until the LITERAL very end.

Yes, I felt stupid as my family members kept telling me that I should have been aware of it.  BUT I WASN'T....and I felt ill prepared.

I also forgot who was part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  And every time someone showed up, I'd have an "a-ha" moment.  I got tired of that.

Also, didn't remember how many infinity stones there were.  Apparently 6.  I always lost track of what stone was where with each Avengers movie I saw.

Hawkeye is married?  Vaguely remembered that....but still, kind of a surprise.

I don't care for Black Widow with blonde hair.

Did Stark and Pepper get engaged somewhere?  All they talked about was an upcoming wedding.  I didn't get a close up of her ring.

What grade, exactly, is Peter Parker in?  He looked a little old to be on a field trip...on a bus.

In the end, as I sat there absently tossing bits of popcorn in my mouth as the credits rolled, I asked my daughter how many more movies would be a part of the MCU.  She then asked,  "in which phase?"

Yeah....I didn't even know there were phases.  I guess you could say this movie taught me a lot.

BTW....the number of movies in ALL phases of the MCU = 81,263.

(Bet YOU didn't know that!)