( Rick MacPhearson's final column)
Looking for print media coverage of local queer goings-on? Prepare yourselves. The Portland Press Herald dependably reports on the Fine Arts Cinema, Carolyn Cosby, Michael Heath, AIDS, cruising ordinances, gay bashings or any of a number of homophobic initiatives that happen to be in season. All in all, overwhelmingly affirming coverage, to be sure.
The folks at Gannett can even be counted on to reduce Southern Maine Gay Pride festivities - a weeklong celebration and one of New England's largest festivals - into perhaps three photos with an accompanying two-sentence caption buried on page three of the local section. Press Herald writers, some of whom may even be queer, reliably ignore anything smacking of everyday queer culture.
An alternative? Casco Bay Weekly, a brazen employer of out and outspoken queers, provides somewhat more rounded coverage of Portland's queer scenes, enough that some readers have referred to the paper as the Casco Gay Weekly. But my column has run in a 4-week cycle alternatively with "Nine," "Sportland" and "Byte Me," columns focusing on music, sports and cyberculture, respectively. In this kind of company, being queer looks more like a pastime or hobby than a life.
This past June, CBW editors and myself decided not to use the word "queer" on the cover of the queer pride issue for fear of offending readers. It's worth noting that those alternative weeklies (some in even smaller markets than CBW) that ran stories on Pride and used the word "queer" on their covers have yet to be burned to the ground by irate readers and advertisers.
And what happens when queers try to cover themselves? Consider the Portland-based Community Pride Reporter. A bimonthly queer rag covering news from Maine and New Hampshire, CPR has more in common with a high school paper whose adult advisor is out with the flu than a substantive media outlet. And that's being nice. The paper's mission is ostensibly an expression of the diversity of queer voices; CPR stories, reek of editorializing, however, and there's little room for views not in sync with the paper's monolithic queer agenda. Instead, we're treated to features like, "Gee, I like k.d. lang," or asinine editorials on "the good old days" of unsafe sex with married men at the Fine Arts Theatre. Then there's the consistently poor writing and editing. Community pride, indeed.
What Portland deserves is a moratorium from the Press Herald pulling queer-related news off the wire and more effort in local reporting and getting queer voices on the editorial page. CBW needs to get more balls, and CPR just needs to get a clue. I almost wish I could stick around long enough to see these things happen, but after three years in Portland, I've decided to uproot and move on.
I've been accused of being highly critical of Portland's queer communities, although it may be more correct to say that I've been highly demanding. As a skeptic, I have a low tolerance for rhetoric, dogma and blithe ignorance. Tacit assumptions irk the bejeezus out of me, and I demand accountability. Of course, this is asking for trouble, but as the saying goes, better Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.
As such, I'm not entirely surprised by the chilly reception handed me by local queers. I suppose I'm a queer Mainer's worst nightmare: the uninvited queer "from away" who calls attention to the local goings on, warts and all. The responses of locals to my observations have sometimes puzzled me. Maine GayNet's Paula Stockholm recently stated online that she refuses to read me because my writing indicates I have "no clue about our community." Other than being queer, active in the local culture, quasi-literate and willing to write, what prerequisites am I exactly lacking? It frightens me that someone as allegedly committed to communication as Stockholm would be so intolerant of opinions outside her apparently clannish mindset. Anyway, last time I looked, queers more "in-the-know" than me weren't exactly beating down the doors to get their own thoughts into print.
When I arrived in Portland, I was thoroughly underwhelmed by the staggering silence from the local queer community and the lack of open dialogue on important issues. Three years later, I leave similarly underwhelmed, but content that I added my voice and prompted some discussion. Contrary to popular belief, I was rarely interested in getting you to agree with me. I was, however, interested in challenging you to think.
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