On the Authors’ Blog of my publisher Bold Strokes Books, I write about how life as an expat led to writing my debut suspense novel Calvin’s Head, which comes out in September. Wow. That’s next month, folks! Check out Events Page for latest news of readings, signings, interviews, etc.
Amsterdam Gay Pride is in full swing and once again I am elsewhere. I haven’t minded missing the celebration the last couple of years. But this year I wish I were there. My former employer is sponsoring one of the eighty boats in the Canal Parade in honor of some very special guests – eight young LGBT activists from parts of the world where being gay can be a matter of life or death.
Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW) has always been openly supportive of the international LGBT community. In the late 80s, producer Pete Myers began covering stories about gay social issues on his weekly show Rembrandt Express, long before other mainstream media. When I took over producing an arts and culture program in the early 90s, he encouraged me to talk with as many LGBT artists, musicians, writers, and filmmakers as possible. Three programs I produced between 1998 and 2004 that were honored with NLGJA Excellence in Journalism Awards are part of his legacy.
Before the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival began last weekend in New Orleans, the friend I stayed with took me to newly opened Crescent Park. We climbed the elegant rusted steel Piety Street Bridge (one block from Desire) to cross the railway tracks and explore the beautiful, if minimally designed, riverfront gardens. All that remains of a once bustling wharf is a lone three-story white wall and the burned out skeleton of beams extending over the muddy water. The city skyline glimmers in the distance. Rusty poles bearing words like Diversity are interspersed with concrete slab benches etched with quotations.
That quote in particular struck a chord, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. Perhaps a premonition of the experience I anticipated having the next four days? I’ve attended many festivals, conventions and conferences in the last two years. Saints and Sinners, with its combined queer and literary focus, was by far the most inspiring, entertaining, enlightening, and – (How do I say this? In Dutch the word is ‘gezellig’ – an almost untranslatable mix of cozy, warm and friendly.) I thought: this is what Christopher Isherwood meant when he wrote about his tribe.
I got my first hate mail. Well, not actually mail and not my first, but I’ll explain that later. My first hate comment since I began writing this blog on LGBTQ topics in January was short and to the point: “Dirty fag.” I can’t say I was surprised, except perhaps that it took so long. (In seven months I’ve had over 3100 views by visitors from 67 countries.) One friend even noted it was a sign that I’m “reaching the right audience, and not preaching to the converted.” True enough, and an apt metaphor.
The cowardly act of schoolyard name-calling was hidden behind a curious Twitter handle: Girolamo Savonarola. In case you’re not up on Italian Renaissance history, Savonarola was a 15th century Dominican friar who castigated the rich and powerful in Florence with fiery apocalyptic sermons. His reform campaigns included the infamous Bonfire of the Vanities, in which objects deemed “occasions of sin” were burned – masks and carnival gowns; playing cards and musical instruments; “immoral” books by Ovid and Boccaccio; paintings by Botticelli.
Amsterdam turned gay overnight. That’s what happened in 1998 when 250,000 gay and lesbian athletes and fans descended on a city with a population of only 720,000 in one fell swoop. Not only was it the first time the Gay Games were held outside North America, Amsterdam was the smallest city thus far to host the Games. So for eight days packed with countless events the European capital was clearly, and never more visibly, the Gay Capital of the World. It was unprecedented in every way.