Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Michael Thomas Ford Book


A couple of weeks ago, I was with my friends at Barne’s and Noble looking for a book to read for this class. The assignment was to read a book (of our choosing) that deals with cultural issues and the truth is, I was having a hard time picking one. I have to admit, my number one criterion was that it had to be at least a little humorous. I stood in the section of the store entitled “cultural issues” with a blank stare for quite a while as my eyes glazed over the titles. Every single book donned titles implying that whatever culture was being explored was in a de facto oppressed state. That was, until I came across the title It’s not Mean if it’s True.

Michael Ford’s book is a satirical look at, for lack of a better term, “gay life” in America--or more specifically, his experience with it. It is funny, but it is serious at the same time. It is a collection of essays about everything from his experiences at the gym to the writer’s own terrible fashion sense. But each essay has a lesson learned, which Ford wants to get across with a little irreverence added.


In this book, the reader is treated to the perspective of one man. He never pretends to speak for the entire “gay” community. If fact, he makes a point in the last chapter to identify himself as “queer” because he does not like the term “gay.” He asserts that he has an “obsession with words and their definitions,” an obsession that he and I share. His point is, “gay” only includes men, and this leaves everyone else out.

The idea that came through loud and clear for me was that even though he recognizes struggles that are still present for his group, the truth is, being gay or different in any way nowadays is actually kind of cool. He laments the gay activist who makes it a point to only attend certain movies, read certain books, and has no time to enjoy life because they spend all their time attending rallies. He seems to be of the opinion that even though he basically agrees with the positions these individuals take, they need to lighten up a little.

Also, through his essays about going to the gym and his self proclaimed poor sense of fashion, Ford points out another problem and how it manifests itself in reality. He does not want to be forced into the stereotypical great hair, great clothes, cultured gay man. This was an area that I could relate to quite well, because of my own rage against the stereotype I get to labor under constantly. I am a white male, I own firearms and a big truck. So far, so good, right? But I can understand the story of Mozart’s opera, “The Magic Flute” (in Italian) and as long as I feel safe, I am quite comfortable talking about my feelings. Where does that leave me?

It reminds me of high school. Back then, my friends and I used to listen to what was then called “New Wave” music. I have to admit, we liked it, not necessarily because it was great music, but at least in part because it was different. Everyone else was listening to Def Leppard (sic) and New Kids on the Block, and we walked around campus staring at them like they were just lemmings following the corporate version of what they should like. We were “soooo above that kind of selling out.”

In the 90’s, “New Wave” was given a different label, namely “alternative rock” and it was then legitimized. It got to the point where it was no longer the alternative but rather just “rock.” It wasn’t fun anymore. Then I turned 23, got married, owned a business and it all seemed a little silly. I have no idea what “the kids” are listening to these days, but I bet they listen to whatever it is to be different.

I am not suggesting that being homosexual is always an attempt to be different, although I bet for some it is. Even Ford would admit that. But what is interesting, (and worrisome), is that now that homosexuality is chic, how long before it isn’t? Shouldn’t it just be it? It is a realistic fear, I think, to wonder if it [the popularity] will go away like a fad, and homosexuals will be forced back into the closet.

Lastly, Ford also complains about the fact that the message being sent out by the LGTBQ “leaders” is that they need to present themselves as “just like everybody else.” By this he means, the white picket fence, two cars, mortgage, and BBQ’s. He does not agree with this as the ideal model, because, getting back to his previous point, “we are different.” As stated before, he prefers the word “queer” he says “because I choose to be, and because it’s who and what I am.” He suggests that being queer is not just about sex, but a statement about challenging norms.

That’s fine, as long as you realize that sending signals to the world that you don’t want to fit in has consequences. When I am driving around in my big truck, everybody probably assumes that I am listening to heavy metal and on my way to a NASCAR race. Too bad, but who cares? To his credit, I think he does realize this, and is OK with it.


I suppose in the conclusion of what is basically a book report, I should either recommend or not recommend this work. I do. There is never anything wrong with reading someone’s idea of reality, even if you might disagree with some of it. Michael Ford obviously has a sense of humor about himself—this is my favorite kind of person. His stories from his youth were touching vignettes about insensitivity he encountered by some of the people around him. These stories make me ashamed to be an American. But his story of not letting any of it define who he is makes me proud to be one. I prefer to dwell on the second part.


Post a Comment

<< Home