Tag Archives: Homophobia

Ron Ben Israel, Queerest Chef of All

Ron cascade

Is there something gay about the wild visual and tactile fantasies at play in dessert-making?

“Of course, it’s a gay sensibility! We don’t say it in public anymore, but fuck them, of course it’s a gay sensibility!” said Ron Ben Israel, one of the most elite wedding-cake makers in America and the queerest queer to have ever starred in a TV food series.

You’ll remember him as the madman behind Sweet Genius, the Food Network pastry-competition show where he subjected patissiers to amusingly cruel tests like making a cake with duck fat and fusilli that somehow reflected the artistic inspiration of a diamond. The surrealism of Ben Israel’s tests seemed queer in itself: on the show, he made chefs confect chocolates out of Pop Rocks and beef jerky, inspired by a disco ball, and insisted on another occasion that they create a frozen dessert out of squid ink that also somehow got across the idea of butterflies. Continue reading

Five Days with Fred Phelps

Donna with Phelps

I had the privilege of reading this piece at a recent Brooklyn Museum event with Queer Memoir for Women’s History Month, March 5, 2016. It’s a companion piece to the original article I wrote for Poz magazine in 1994 about the five days I spent undercover with the Rev. Fred Phelps and his family in Topeka.

Anyone here remember the Rev. Fred Phelps? I can see that some of you do 🙂 He was this guy who had a church in Kansas that was almost all members of his family, and they would fly all over the country to celebrate at the funerals of people who died of AIDS.

He and his adult children would picket funerals in New York and LA and Topeka with enormous signs that said “Fags Equals Death” with a big smiley face. Or they would say “God Hates You. Filthy AIDS Spreaders.” Phelps liked to send personally-crafted, mean letters to bereaved family members. Right after Nick Rango died, Phelps mailed his mother a letter calling him a “famous fag” and “filthy piece of human garbage who checked into hell November 10.” “I love to use words that send them off the edge emotionally,” Fred said. “There’s nothing better than that.”

I decided to go visit the guy and write about him. I was a writer for the Village Voice at the time and for the past couple of years I’d specialized in getting in Christian disguise and writing about antigay activists. They really scared me and at that time, they were really getting powerful, even in New York. But Fred scared me more than the rest, not just because he was all about hurting us in a very personal, emotional way but because he had a history of violence.

Two of his adult children said he’d beaten them all, including their mother, with an axe handle, and starved some of them. They remembered a game involving Fred holding a child in the air and repeatedly smashing his knee into the child’s groin while laughing. Fred was convicted of battery on someone protesting one of his demonstrations in the 90s, and other folks his church had hit had filed charges. I called the church and said I was a writer for a conservative publication and I wanted to visit Phelps and his flock in Kansas. They said come on down. Continue reading

Russell, Aaron and Me

Photo: Federico Novaro

All the facts in this piece are as reported by major newspapers, or by me for a Nation article in 1999. This piece was published in Salon in October of that year.

Sometimes the news takes you farther than you really want to go. After I read the first blood-spattered story in the Times, I found myself identifying with Matthew Shepard’s killers, the boys who tortured him for being gay.  I still identify in a way that makes me flinch. I am gay. I hate violence. And I never tortured anybody. Why would I feel any sense of kinship for the creeps who hit Shepard with a pistol butt?

I’ve been channeling them ever since the murder. I can see them in the bar, as he pays for their drinks, as he gets affectionate. They’re 21 years old, and they are starting to get stirred up in a way that’s unusual for them, heavenly and enraging all at once. There is nothing wrong with what Matthew Shepard is doing; he is a beautiful boy who is lonely and romantic and who thinks he may finally have a date. In Laramie, it’s hard to meet people if you’re gay. It’s even hard to meet people if you’re straight.

Maybe, he thinks, he has a lead on a date, even if not the actual date. Gay people in Laramie like to meet other gay people just to socialize, just to meet people who might have friends who’d be dates. I have felt that way, too; it is a universal feeling shared by everyone who has ever really wanted a date, and I can channel Matthew, wanting somebody tender, somebody who might really know the way to treat a boy, someone with lips wine-dark and soft.

Russell and Aaron look like they could be gay, they even look cute. Their hands are dirty, but that only adds to their appeal. They are, after all, roofers. Walt Whitman noticed how sexy roofers are, and they are — those bare chests perched precariously on houses, sunburned awkwardly. But these are also boys who think they’re nobodies, they’re wimps. Continue reading