Published in: January-February 2011 issue.


Attorney, Prosecute Thyself  Someone who’s so obsessed as to stalk and/or harass another person is always a little pathetic. But when the stalker is as highly placed—and as relentlessly creepy —as Michigan’s Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell, who launched a year-long campaign of harassment against University of Michigan student body president Chris Armstrong, it becomes front-page news. Shirvell, an alumnus of U-M and an evangelical Christian, started his attacks on Armstrong shortly after the latter, an openly gay man, won his election. According to an investigation, the assistant AG’s actions included, but were not limited to: putting a swastika across a photo of Armstrong’s picture and posting the mash-up on-line; repeatedly calling Armstrong “Satan’s representative”; repeatedly harassing and heckling Armstrong outside his home, once at 1:30 AM, and at other locations; and falsely accusing Armstrong of binge drinking Michigan-Armstrongand improper conduct at churches and on school grounds. Now if these were rivals in a Dickens novel—Mr. Shirvell and Mr. Armstrong—there’s no doubt about which would be the shriveled crank and which the steadfast hero. But nowadays we base our judgments on physical looks. Above is a widely circulated montage showing Shirvell and his defaced image of Armstrong. And here is the student body president without defacement. It’s the face of a guy who probably has better things to do on a Saturday night than skulk outside another dude’s apartment. What might motivate Shirvell to do just that surely cannot be explained by anything in his job description or even his evangelical zeal. This is a man possessed at once by envy and love—it’s an old story (think Iago). He’s also a man out of a job, as Shirvell was finally relieved of his post, after much discussion in Ann Arbor and in Lansing, late last year.

A Tale of Two Cities (Buffalo and Brooklyn)  One of the truly not-ready-for-prime-time candidates this past election season was one Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for governor of New York. At one point in the campaign, Paladino went to an Orthodox temple in Brooklyn and obligingly delivered a virulently homophobic speech that the rabbis had handed to him upon entering. Soon after that, it was announced that Paladino had once had a financial stake in Buffalo’s gay community, having collected rent from two gay clubs located in buildings he owned: Cobalt, which was run by his son William; and Buddies II, operated by Queen City Entertainment. The clueless Paladino was forced to apologize to the gay community for his “poorly chosen words” at the temple—chosen by the rabbis, that is, who, upon hearing about this spineless reversal from a candidate they had endorsed just days earlier, withdrew their support. But it wasn’t over yet: the dust-up was enough to bring Paladino’s gay nephew, Jeff Hannon, out into the media-sphere to lambaste his homophobic uncle, and there went the family vote. Paladino lost to Democrat Andrew Cuomo by almost a two-to-one margin.

Spanking the Opposition  There wasn’t much to celebrate in last November’s elections, but some took comfort in the defeat of Christine “I am not a witch” O’Donnell in the Delaware senatorial race. In addition to the usual anti-gay and anti-choice positions of the religious Right, O’Donnell made a point early on of taking a position against—wait for it—masturbation. This plank, along with her admission to some youthful dabbling in witchcraft, provided ample fodder for standup comedians; but the best satire was home-grown right there in Delaware. Shortly before the election, a pro-masturbation rally was held in Wil-mington to which masturbators from up and down the state were invited to beat a path. Organizer Harley Farger called for a “Million Masturbators March” (a bit ambitious in a state of 900,000) and encouraged the “wank and file” of his organization, MasturNation, to attend. A spokesman for the Wilmington Police Department worried that the march could cost his city thousands of dollars, “especially when you include the cost of cleaning up afterwards.” Is this what he meant to say?

How Much I Feel  A photographer in Canada has released a book of erotica for the blind, Tactile Mind, that features raised images of people in the nude with sexually explicit captions, made from thermoform plastic, the material used for Braille. The reliefs of naked men and women include author Lisa Murphy and some of her friends, who even spiced things up by dressing in bondage and wearing masks for some of the pictures. Murphy says she put the book together so as to include the blind in today’s sexualized society. She got that one right, and one has to wonder if this product’s appeal will be restricted to the target audience. Just as George Costanza discovered on Seinfeld that talking books for the blind were a great way to avoid reading, Tactile Mind just could be a crossover product for people who don’t necessarily gravitate to the printed word.

Two Random Facts:

•  A huge study of sexual behavior conducted by Indiana University’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion, compiled from almost 6,000 subjects and published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, has found that eight percent of men and seven percent of women identify as gay or bisexual. This proportion is far larger than claimed by religious conservatives and begins to approach the ten percent that’s often attributed to Alfred Kinsey’s research of some sixty years ago.

•  The “world’s longest kiss” as officially recorded in Guinness World Records is now held by two men, Matty Daley and Bobby Canciello, who locked lips for an astonishing 33 hours, in public, without eating, sleeping, or (apparently) going to the bathroom. The two men, students at the College of New Jersey, were consciously seeking “to queer Guinness,” and now they have.