Phil Sparrow in photo with tattooed torso and cigarette in mouth  Samuel M. Steward, PhD aka Phil Sparrow was a gay pioneer in the world of tattoo, sexual researcher as an associate of Dr. Alfred Kinsey, and a writer of gay erotica under the name Phil Andros. His book Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos chronicles his years as a tattooist among the derelicts and young sailors that roamed the darker side of Chicago. He kept a detailed diary of his customers and their reasons for tattoos.

   Phil Sparrow was a pseudonym for Dr. Samuel Steward after he left a 20- year position in academia in the early 1950s that was dull and unrewarding and entered the wild and at the time, underground world of tattooing on the shady side of Chicago. His book Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos offers an interesting view into the life of a gay man, a tattooist no less in the 1950s and 60s. I found this book when I Googled “gay tattoo artists” and his name appeared, among others. His story is fascinating and deserves a place not only in tattoo history but in our gay archives as well.

   Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos was published in 1990 and the era in which it takes place now seems archaic compared to the surge in popularity of tattoos and modern well lit, sanitary shops. When Phil Sparrow started his tattooing much of it was done with flash, a premade design displayed on the walls of tattoo shops. Phil started in the bad side of Chicago where gangs, drunks and sailors from a nearby naval training base gathered to get a tattoo and sometimes share their sordid tales. His was a step above the “jaggers”, a derogatory term for unscrupulous tattooists. Phil made certain his equipment was sanitary and refused to tattoo under the age of 18. He would not, like some would, tattoo someone who appeared drunk. Later when he moved from Chicago to Oakland, CA he became the “official” tattooist for the Hells Angels

   What of Samuel’s gayness in the days before Stonewall? In this book he mentions the subject only briefly and without much detail. He was out in his personal life but feared being labeled a homosexual in his business and on the street as it might attract too many “tricks”. He writes, “In those days, before the Stonewall incident, it was imperative that if you were homosexual you had to keep it hidden”. As far as gay men that he knew there was not much interest in getting tattooed with such reasons as “I hate needles” and “I would never put THAT on my body.”

   Samuel’s book is a fascinating look into the world of tattooing in the 50s and 60s from the perspective of a literary and artistic gay man. As much as the gay community and society as a whole has now embraced tattoos Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos is a fascinating snapshot of the artforms mid to late 20th century history.

optimisticWe're in the midst of unprecedented disruption, and there's no guarantee that we'll make it to the next century or even mid-century. Institutions are more fragile than we had hoped. The news cycle is a batshit 24-hour cycle of gaslighting by the president and far-right government. Objective facts and reality are questioned to the point of tragic parody.

And yet, I'm hopeful for the future.

I can't explain it, especially at a time when we appear to be going backward at breakneck speed. That hope compelled me to move across the country. It pushes me to keep going, to keep fighting. In other words — it drives me forward on a daily basis. I refuse to let it die, no matter what overpaid pundits or prophets of doom may say.

Of course, I could cite the statistics that show how we're better off now than we've ever been à la Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now. I could mention the fact that this era of instability and transition presents a golden opportunity for transformative change, or that renewable energy's proliferation and global climate ambitions increase by the year, making the worst-case climate scenario less likely as time goes on.

But that's not why I have hope. It isn't really a numbers thing. I've thought a lot about this since Trump won and my sense of optimism was shaken to the core. In one night, much of what I thought I knew about our progress as a country crashed like a house of cards. I felt numb. I, along with millions of others, was terrified of what a Trump presidency actually meant. I basically had a mini-nervous breakdown in the shower the next morning and continued to feel like a zombie for several days. To this day, thinking about November 8, 2016 almost feels like I'm reliving a trauma.

Why do I keep the faith alive? What's the use? Maybe I really am naive or delusional, and maybe the jaded-asshole process is still ahead. Maybe it's because I grew up with a belief that I had a duty to live for a purpose bigger than myself. Even though I'm no longer religious, that framework still largely stands. Whatever it is, I keep coming back to the fact that I have an unshakable belief in the human spirit. I know — it sounds ridiculous and corny. But it's true.

Despite the chaos of current events and our collective existential dread for what lies ahead, I won't stop believing—fighting—for a future that I know we can reach. We've defied the odds since our species emerged from Africa 200,000 years ago, and we always seem to come through fires more resilient than before.

We're all part of a story that transcends each of us. Progress is a continuous, generational struggle, one with frequent setbacks. It's maddening when it happens and easy (even natural) to feel like it's all been in vain. It isn't until we step back and see the 30,000-ft. view that we realize how far we've come. My own compulsion to explore boundaries and connect to consciousness is innate in all of us. I know it is.

No matter what 2020 has in store, the beat goes on.

social media mobileSocial media. There are many forms of it such as Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and many more, but they all have something in common and that is that they’re being frequently used by people of all ages in this day and age. Although this may sound normal, it’s actually very dangerous. Yes, there are many good benefits about social media, but the amount of cons about social media definitely outweigh the amount of pros. Here are some reasons as to why social media is actually bad rather than good.

Using too much social media could result in isolation. Various aspects of their off-line existence, such as their jobs, families, and health are neglected due to people becoming so reliant upon online social networking (Source 1, Paragraph 2). This proves that social media is negatively influencing people to not be aware of the important priorities that they have, but instead make them, in a way, abandon it. Rather than connect with people, opponents argue that social media actually tends to isolate those from others (Source 1, Paragraph 6). Those who are too dependent on social media should really refrain from using too much of it because you can find ways to connect with others without always using social media. Isolation is a very big and recurring result that often comes from using social media too much.

Cyberbullying also often occurs on social media. Negative information posted on the internet with the intentions to destroy someone and have the information spread quickly to hundreds of people is called online bullying or in other words cyberbullying (Source 1, Paragraph 19). To teens, this might be very common because bullies use social media as a platform to ruin someone’s reputation and/or decrease their self-esteem. Social networking systems, online chat rooms, or via email are where cyberbullying can usually take place (Source 1, Paragraph 20). All sorts of social media are ways where bullies and others can use it to their advantage and make others’ lives miserable. Social media are programs that can be beneficial to those with bad intentions.

When it comes to social media, there are many risks involving privacy. There are many agreements when it comes to social media exposing its users to certain risks involving privacy regardless of whether or not it isolates or connects those who use it (Source 1, Paragraph 7). Whatever social media may do, whether it be isolating or connecting others, the users must be extra careful about the information they display because it can be exposed. No matter how carefully you protect your private information about social media, distant friends can still access it (Source 1, Paragraph 9). This shows that you can’t rely on social media when it comes to the protection of your private information. The privacy protection that is supposedly guaranteed by the terms from social media has many risks to it.

It is true that social media is a good way of communicating with others, although there are many bad ideas about it. One cannot deny that it helps form relationships for many useful things whether it be for work or romantically. However, social media is really harmful both physically and mentally toward the user. Many people fear that teens that use too much technology would not be as smart as earlier generations and won’t know how to interact with others (Source 2, Paragraph 6). Therefore, social media is dangerous and should be used wisely.

People isolating themselves from others, cyberbullying, and risks involving privacy are all negative results of social media. Everything has its ups and downs and social media is no exception. The negative outcomes of social media are sure to exceed the many positive views about social media. Clearly, social media is harmful and should be handled with good and thoughtful supervision.

truck coupleLast month my husband Brian (Yes, his name is Brian also) and I celebrated our thirty-five-year anniversary. I truly can’t believe we’ve been together for thirty-five years! It seems as if it was just yesterday that we were teenagers, sitting on a rock by the river, getting to know one another.

It was the end of the summer, the year was 1984, and I had been secretly lusting over Brian all summer. At the time, I was openly gay, however Brian was a devout Christian and didn’t even know Gay was an acceptable possibility. He was curious and questioning his sexuality as he began hanging out with my group of colorful friends. Our summer social activity was to park along the riverbank at night and party. In the cool California air, for hours we laughed, drank, and played Truth or Dare, until like clockwork, at two a.m., the local sheriff drove out and cleared all the cars away.
The night of September 8, 1984, Brian and I had separated from the crowd and had wandered over to the rocks on the river’s edge. After hours of talking, I finally worked up the nerve to confess my feelings to him. He admitted he had the same feelings, but was unsure about if it was right to act on. That night, I asked him to take a chance, to take a leap of faith, to trust me I promised not to hurt him. He accepted what I asked of him, and that night, we had our first kiss.
For years, we debated whether our official anniversary would be September 8th, or since the clock had struck midnight, and ‘our date’ continued, would the date actually be September 9th.

Twenty-four years later, and after a ruling by the Supreme Court of California, affirming Marriage Equality, on September 9, 2009, while standing before God, our family, and our friends, we were legally married and made the 9th our official anniversary date.
When I first decided to write this month’s blog, I was thinking about how much has changed since that summer in 1984. I would have never foreseen that after a twenty-seven-year career in law enforcement, I would be writing romance novels about gay men.

Every day, I sit down at my computer and get to craft stories about the lives of people, fictional characters that will enter bookstores, libraries, and homes around the world. Although all of my characters are vastly different from one another, they each contain bits of my and my husband’s story within their character.
In Ancient House of Cards, it was our struggle with religion and our relationship with God that was an issue. Sad to say, but the ‘church’ failed Brian and I early on in life, and much of the pain we felt has been irreversible. Before Sunrise is a reflection of the demons within us, and our struggle to keep a lid on them. Life is hard and at times doesn’t seem fair, but you must continue to swim or you will drown. Come to the Oaks echoes our innocence, our belief that our love could transcend all obstacles.

Diego’s Secret is about trusting our hearts even if it meant losing your family. Brian’s family had a very hard time with him ‘Coming Out’ in the beginning. Their love for their son never wavered, and over time their relationship has healed and flourished.

I poured my heart into Escaping Camp Roosevelt. So much of that book were pages from my life. The feeling that you’re not good enough, failure, disappointment and trust, are all things I have struggled with, and to some degree, continue to struggle with.

So, as in life, my characters have to ask themselves, “Is love worth the risk?”. To know that in coming out, they could lose everything and that by choosing love, there is a real chance they could get hurt, have their hearts broken, and still be willing to take the risk. Is this not what we all may have to ask ourselves in this one life that we get?

Romance is about the heart fluttering and the feeling that you just might die if you have to spend a single moment away from the person you love. Now, I am not talking about the mushy stuff our mothers may have read, but real relationship issues, dealing with a moral dilemma that is often surrounded by dishonesty, hurt, risk, and most importantly, real love that makes the struggle worth it all in the end.

Writing romance is so much more than rescuing the damsel in distress, or a cheesy love scene. It is about life, and what we all want… to be loved and to be in love.

Bryan T Clark

defend modestoContent Warning: Talking About the Inherent Violence of White Supremacy and supporting them through the politics of politeness.

A good friend of mine posted the image below. It is a flyer for the counter protest of the White Supremacist- er, I mean "Straight Pride" event that occured this last Saturday in Modesto.

Featured on it is a silhouette of a gun, with flowers growing out of the barrel. Bold print says
Not in our Community, Not in our -lives-
Stop Anti-LGBTQ Bigotry
Smash White Supremacy
Make Proud Boys Piss Themselves.

I want it clearly stated for the record: I LOVE THIS POSTER. It is clear, concise in its position to have folks show up to stop the spread of White Supremacy, mocking them through solidarity.

The very first comments on my friend's page were to the tune of "A gun on a protest poster? Surely they invite violence on themselves with such imagery." Several people agreed that the gun was a bit much.

I countered that the gun with flowers growing out of it is a pretty iconic image from Vietnam-era protests in this country, where non violent anti-war activists put daisies into the barrel of the guns of soldier and police lines. I also offered that the gun with a flower growing out of it is a straight forward message of peace: If a gun has a flower growing out of it, it can no longer be used for it's designated purpose. It is now a flower pot instead. Modesto and the Central Valley coming together in solidarity against such an event could and would drown out that hate rhetoric. I supposed that the only people who would see violence in this image are people who seem to think that it would be the protesters fault if violence were to occur against them for holding this sign or sharing it on social media.

Now, I am sure that there have been replies to that message, but I decided that I do not wish to start a debate on someones page who probably wasn't asking for that to happen. So I am doing it here. Because I realized that my original response was not adequate to the situation at all. I was focusing on the wrong part of the responses.

When someone, anyone, in this year of our gods 2019, finds it acceptable to suggest that White Supremacists will only commit violence unless they have been unfairly provoked is.... so deeply ignorant of what is going on in our country at this moment that I cannot begin to find words for it. But I'm gonna try.

Men, women, and children are dying in concentration camps in the US.

ICE literally ran over people last week who were doing a peaceful protest in front of detention centers.

Our fascist president has recently called Democrat- voting Jews traitors.

Violence against all minority groups has risen to insane numbers, I believe the largest number I have seen is something like 30% since LAST YEAR.

White Supremacists do not need a reason to inflict violence upon others. Their whole ideology, their function in the past and the here and now, is to kill and "cleanse" the US of people like me, Jordan, and every single one of my queer, disabled, POC, poor, minority religious friends AND to enslave child baring people.

A flower pot shaped like a gun is not the problem. And choosing to accuse activists trying to protect our communities through PEACEFUL PROTESTS of bringing violence upon themselves smacks of victim blaming ("what did you expect for choosing to hold hands with your husband in public?") and just plain wrong.