Saturday, March 14, 2009

Due to my aversion to paying $10 a ticket and having to sit in theaters with the poorly behaved movie-going masses, I never see Oscar nominated movies in the theater. So tonight I rented Milk. I knew I wanted to see it even before it was released but my distaste of the theater experience overpowered that desire. But I watched it tonight.

My uncle is gay and is very near and dear to me. He’s the person who bought me books about the pyramids as a kid and jewelry from his far-flung travels as an adult for my birthday. He’s the person who will help me finish off the wine at dinner. He’s the one who eats the skin from the salmon that I won’t eat even though he lectures me about how that’s where a higher concentration of Omega 3 fatty acids are. He’s the only other person in my family who I could successfully get hooked on Mad Men as much as I am hooked on it. Come to think of it, he’s still got my Mad Men box set that I let him take back to Washington DC with him this Christmas.

I wrote a thing about a bizarre experience I had about 7 years ago when I found myself in the uncomfortable position of meeting Anita Bryant face to face on her turf. I don’t know what I ever planned on doing with it but at the time that I wrote it, I kind of wrote it out of an “oh man, this was weird” kind of thing. But after watching Milk, I think it’s probably as good a time as any to post it…

It was my gay uncle of whom I was thinking when I found myself in the surreal position of having to be the lone dissenting voice that stood up to Mrs. Orange Juice Herself, Anita Bryant. Clearly, I had not left the house that day expecting that to happen. A little back story: I unwisely dated a guy named Johnny for a few years when I was in my late teens/early 20’s who was 14 years older and much more messed up than I was. He was a local musician, former junkie, perennial retail worker, jujitsu blackbelt and all-around mess. At some point, had taken to smoking copious amounts of pot and reading the Bible at night. Did I mention that I was 20 and that’s the only excuse I have for tolerating such behavior? After a few months of toking and atoning, he decided to take up a friend’s recommendation of a church. I can’t remember how the actual pitch went but it was very similar when high school guidance counselors try to extol the “extreme” and “bodacious” nature of ACT Prep classes. As a born, baptized and raised Episcopal, this Snowboarding Jesus approach was strange to me. But seeing as how Johnny had read the book already, I figured we might as well go see the movie.

And oh what a spectacle it was. The screens were the right size for Extreme Jesusing. They may have even been in HD. I don’t know because we missed the previews since we had to wait for the tram to take us from our car to the church. That’s not a joke. We had to wait for the God Shuttle because we could only find parking in the economy lot. I have never felt the creepy crawlies run up and down me so fast and so violently as I felt that moment we entered the venue, errrrrr, sanctuary. No, it wasn’t the Holy Spirit taking me over. It was a feeling of shock and disgust. Again, this is from someone raised in and comfortable inside the confines of a church. But this wasn’t a church. This was some sort of time share presentation. I asked where the crosses were as there wasn’t a single one in sight. I was told that the church didn’t believe in displaying the cross as it was a reminder of bad times. Bummer, right? Then the pastor came out. I had never imagined that the spawn of every retired, non-starting NFL player turned used car franchise owner and their catalog model/succubus mate would ever stand before me. But there he was. Pastor Mike.

Pastor Mike introduced himself and started some sort of call and response routine which I never really caught onto. He told us that he wouldn’t be doing one of his trademark, life-changing sermons this Sunday because there was an extra special guest in the house. A God VIP? Here in Club Christ? It must have been my lucky Sabbath.
Pastor Mike starts to build up a good head of steam and launches into his introduction of our extra special guest. He starts by saying that she was once a beauty queen and national celebrity who did not cave to the pressures of the ungodly Hollywood types and stood up for her good Christian values. She even lost some career opportunities just because she stuck to her guns. I had a really bad feeling that I knew to whom he was eluding. But he kept going. “In fact, the ground she stood in the name of her faith was standing up against an ordinance that would force Christian families to have their children taught by open homosexuals and predators.” Cue gasps from the audience, errrrr, congregation. Cue me covering my face with a surprisingly large pledge envelope. “Please welcome our sister in Jesus, Anita Bryant…” and the applause and standing ovations start. Like Robert Altman winning the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award at the Oscars.

I stood up and calmly walked outside and called my mom and then later, my grandmother. I can’t tell you if my laughter was rooted in the absurdity of Anita Bryant receiving a hero’s welcome or if it was one of those laughs that spring from you when you’re watching a Funniest Home Video in which you know that someone is about to do something very bad and very stupid. I am eternally grateful that my family found Anita Bryant’s guest appearance as amusing as I did. Now what to do? I knew that I had no easy access to pies and I had heard rumors that she had become a smidge less homophobic in the past few decades. So I thought I would take a page out of her Good Christian book and write her a short note. I can’t remember what the note said exactly but the main thing that I wanted to convey was the fact that my uncle was not only a gay man but also a music director at his church, a regular participant and donor in various charitable organizations and an incredibly responsible and upstanding member of society. A Good Christian Gay, if she could believe it. I decided that after the service, I would deliver my note to her even though it would mean I would have to wait in the autograph line. Yes, the autograph line.

Johnny rolled his eyes. Yes, the guy whose first, and only, gift to me was a Dead Kennedy’s b-sides mix tape. He thought I was being silly. Clearly, we were not to be the Jessica Tandy/Hume Cronyn of the scene. But I soldiered on in my mission to deliver my note and noticed that Pastor Mike was standing next to Anita Bryant and I was only half a dozen people down the line from my encounter. When I made it up to the front, I shook Anita’s hand and handed her the note telling her, “My uncle is a great man, a Christian and gay. I don’t appreciate that you called my uncle a monster. Jesus probably doesn’t either. Most of the people here today don’t know their history but I do and you are not a Christian, you are a bigot.”

If you ever want to see an autograph line grind to a halt, try that one. Pastor Mike was first to jump in. By putting his arm around me and laughing, exposing his big white ivory tiles that Jesus needed him to have to spread his message. After a moment of Anita Bryant trying to be absolutely sure I was not a process server, she recommended that I read her book which, as Jesus-luck would have it, was for sale in the church’s bookshop and which she would be autographing starting in ten minutes. Pastor Mike made some sort of wink-wink, nudge-nudge motion to Johnny and said something about me being “feisty.”

Johnny and I split up shortly thereafter and he since married a member of the church and, I was told, later burned or destroyed all the secular music and memorabilia that he had collected for over 20 years. I ran into him years ago and while the discussion was extremely uncomfortable, he did give me one good little chuckle. He told me about how Pastor Mike commented about what great servants of the Lord he and his wife had both become and how he was so pleased to see his wife fall in line with the beliefs of the church after initially “causing such a fuss when Anita Bryant came to minister to us.” Johnny had to correct him and I’m sure his wife appreciated the humor of the mix-up greatly. I’m just glad to see I made such an impression on Pastor Mike.


K-Mo da Vanilla Thrilla said...

Wow. I had forgotten about Johnny's descent into X-
TREME weirdness...
On a lighter note, however, doesnt your uncle drive a bitchen 88 Camaro?

nerver said...

i'm so tardy on this. forgive me.

that was absolutely brilliant. like you, as a born and raised Episcopal as well, i would've reacted to that church similarly...but i don't think i would've had the balls to give Anita Bryant that note. you rule.