The New Millennial Gay Experience
|Posted on May 10, 2018 at 9:15 PM||comments (2)|
By Dennis Stone
I remember it well. May 9, 2013. The Minnesota legislature passed a bill legalizing gay marriage in my state. I recall the sense of euphoria, the feeling that something had been achieved that for so long I didn't think was possible. Just six months previously we had faced a state ballot measure that would have amended our constitution to prohibit marriage equality. For much of the campaign we thought we would lose. No state had ever defeated such a ballot proposal. But we eked out a win, with 52.6% of the vote. In retrospect it wasn't really all that impressive a win. Gay marriage wasn't legal, and defeating the ballot proposal would not have legalized it. But passing it would have dashed our hopes for years. Yet only a bare majority of my fellow citizens valued my rights and my dignity enough to turn down the proposal. Polls had consistently shown support for marriage languishing in the upper 30s to mid 40s.
We celebrated the defeat of the ballot initiative, but it was more a sigh of relief than a truly happy time. Marriage still seemed a distant dream. But sometimes social progress moves from a gradual trickle to an increasing flow to a cascade. We knew society was moving our way, but we weren't aware of how fast it was moving. Amid protestations that it was moving too fast, that society and morals were being eroded, that our children were threatened, our legislature passed a bill legalizing marriage equality, and on May 14 Governor Dayton signed it into law. What had so recently seemed nearly impossible was now a reality!
One of the guys who worked for me at the time is gay, and another had been a staunch equality proponent for years. When word reached us that day at the office we all celebrated, wide grins pasted on our faces for the rest of the day. The gay guy left a bit early to go to a wildly enthusiastic rally at the nearby state capitol. Unfortunately I had a major project due and could not attend, but the story led all local news reports that day, and I experienced the exhilarating celebration vicariously, flipping from channel to channel while surfing through the internet.
As I look back now, five years later, I am struck by two things that together reflect both the state of gay America today and also its history. The first is how swiftly everything has changed. When I was born, being gay was considered by most everyone - from regular citizens to psychiatric associations - to be a mental illness. Having gay sex was an illegal act that could lead to arrest and prosecution. As of 1970 only one state - Illinois - had decriminalized gay sex. It wasn't until 2003 that the Supreme Court legalized gay sex for the entire country. Even at that late date it was illegal in fourteen states. It wasn't until 2004 that Massachusetts became the first state to legalize marriage. And as a result of that shocking action a wave of constitutional amendments passed in other states that made it almost impossible to consider marriage in those states. And consider this: as of May 1, 2012 no president or major party candidate for president had ever supported marriage equality. All - including Barack Obama - had expressed the opinion that marriage was between one man and one woman. It wasn't until May 9, 2012 that Obama finally broke through that wall of fear.
The second thing at which I marvel today is the overwhelming degree to which gay marriage is taken for granted, less than three years after the Supreme Court legalized it throughout the country. No one but far right nutjobs decries it today. A couple of local clerks refused to issue licenses in the early days - the most notorious being Kim Davis in Kentucky, who was jailed for her refusal - but there has been no meaningful revolt. Almost no conservative journalists or commentators ever mention the issue, and many have expressed support or at least indifference. In the prior two decades many Republican politicians sought votes by railing against the "gay agenda," demonizing gay people and warning about all the calamities that would befall us should gay people get equal rights, especially - gasp! - marriage! Gay marriage is simply taken for granted today by the overwhelming proportion of our population. A growing majority overtly supports it, especially younger people, and most of those who don't support it are either resigned to it or aren't really bothered by it. Conclusion: gay marriage is already an accepted, non-controversial aspect of our society.
I think it's unfortunate that our exaggerated fears of Trump - wildly exaggerated, in many cases - are preventing many of us from seeing, appreciating, and celebrating the dramatic gains we've made in recent years. Despite additional gains we still need to make, this genie is out of the bottle, and is never going anywhere near that bottle again.
|Posted on February 10, 2018 at 2:00 PM||comments (0)|
By Dennis Stone
I've been talking about what I call the "new millennial" understanding of our gay life since early 2013, when I created this site. Since then I've felt rather alone in that attitude, and I've been waiting for the idea to catch on, or at least to be discussed. A new piece by Dylan Jones on the Attitude Magazine website not only discusses the concept, but sees the situation almost exactly as I do. In his first paragraph Jones says: "We’ve reached an exciting turning point in LGBTQ history. For the first time in living memory, many queer kids are being treated in much the same way as other kids. They’re allowed to be themselves in school, they’ve got strong, healthy characters to look up to on television and in movies, and they’re experimenting sexually without fear or reprehension. Shame is largely a thing of the past and homophobia is, like, SO 2008."
I couldn't have said it better myself! Because of this significant evolution Jones makes the case that gay kids who fit that description are just naturally living different lives than we older gays did, and because of the nature of those lives they shouldn't be "obliged" to learn gay history. "Why should they?" he askes. "This is just their lives. They’re existing as they should always have been allowed to exist – happily and freely. They shouldn’t be made to feel guilty, or even grateful for that."
Straight kids have never grown up particularly interested in history. It's a natural aspect of growing up that there is so much to discover and experience in the current world, so many new experiences to have, that for many or most there isn't much interest in what happened for previous generations. Now that many gay kids are growing up the same as their straight peers it's only natural that they react to history in the same way. As I do, Jones takes care to point out that life is not perfect or without homophobia, especially in some schools and for trans people. But society has changed so much that huge numbers of gay kids are now growing up "unscathed," as Jones describes it, and are therefore free to react to life and their society in a way we older gays could only dream about.
Jones adds a criticism of older gay men who try to tell young gays what they SHOULD be doing, how they SHOULD be reacting to their world. "Whether they’re patronising them with history lessons or declaring that their actions have brought about 'the end of gay culture'.”
The Advocate wasn't having this defense of the new-fangled, carefree attitude, however. That didn't really surprise me, since The Advocate has become a strident purveyor of the "woe is us" outlook ever since Aaron Hicklin and Matthew Breen left the publication. What disappointed and surprised me, however, was that the Advocate rebuttal was written by Amanda Kerri, by far my favorite Advocate writer, and the one who has always been most able to maintain an open mind not beholden to the "party line."
Kerri's piece was not persuasive because she never really addressed the point that Jones was making; she never genuinely considered the impact of how the new world of the young gays Jones described is dramatially different from the world in which she grew up. She began by talking about what a history buff she is, how much history means to her, and how important it is to a proper understanding of the current world. I am also a history buff, and I agree with all of that. But she and I are unusual. The average person does not share our passion for history.
Prior generations of gays did know a good deal about gay history. But that was because marginalization into insular and secretive groups of oppressed people created a need to understand their world and what it meant to be gay in an unwelcoming society. Even more so, for young gays yet to join the community there was a natural, intense need to understand everything about a scary new identity that would make their lives so different from that of their peers, and that threatened them with danger and isolation. I remember that period myself. Homosexuality was not discussed in public; gay characters were extremely rare in movies and on TV. When I discovered books about homosexuality in my college library I devoured them.
Now consider the impact of a new world where gay people are visible everywhere, where in large parts of society they are accepted without question, where shame and fear and hiding are not part of life. To older gays that sounds like a pollyanna distortion of reality. But for the young gays Jones is talking about that is truly their world. And for someone who lives in that world, who is discovering and experiencing all the wonders of life just like anyone else, the idea of studying and focusing on the traumas and hate, the closets and invisibility, of past generations just doesn't resonate as a high priority. That doesn't mean they don't care about prior generations, or aren't thankful for the struggle that paved the way to our present. In my experience most indeed are aware of and appreciate that struggle. But at the same time they are just too busy living their lives to piously devote time and study to the past. In other words, they are just like most other young people of both today and of past generations.
I do think that Jones made one significant mistake in his Attitude piece. He refers to queer and LGBTQ people. I share his thesis when it comes to gay people, but I think that trans people are far behind gay people in general acceptance, and in living the unscathed life that Jones describes. Kerri picked up on that when she talked about the increase of anti-LGBT homicides in 2017, most of which occurred in the trans population. I think it's unfortunate that we feel we always have to approach the LGBTQ community as a homogenous whole, rather than a collection of disparate parts. If something is untrue for trans people that doesn't mean it's also untrue for gay people.
In a similar vein Kerri tries to say that Jones' thesis is invalid because so much anti-gay discrimination still exists, "especially outside of progressive bubbles like London or New York City." But in addition to discounting the vast progress all across the country, and not just in the biggest cities, that contention completely misses the point. Pockets and areas of intolerance do not diminish the reality and the status of what is now likely the majority of young gays. And those are the people Jones is talking about. TheAdvocate has fallen into the pattern of diminishing the positive and accentuating the negative. It's disconcerting to see Amanda Kerri fall into that outlook.
In her last paragraph Kerri made some grandiose assertions that simply aren't true. "We cannot continue to fight for our rights against discrimination without understanding the urgency it holds because of our past." "We can only improve ourselves by knowing not merely who we are, but who and why we were." And most egregiously: "Without knowing our past we allow ourselves to become victim to those who would like to return the world to it — where we hid in closets or darkly lit speakeasies, and died because of society's disgust." Seriously? If young gays don't know the gay past they won't be able to fight off attempts to return us to the closets, to the dark days of the 1950s? If anything, the reverse is true. The modern, liberated young gays would be the last to ever be forced into any closets, the last to accept erosion of their taken-for-granted freedoms.
The bottom line is that life for a huge number of gay kids is MUCH different from anything we older gays could have dreamed of at that age. That makes a difference in how they approach society and how they approach history. I have no resentment toward them for not prioritizing gay history, and for living their lives like their straight peers. That is not sad, that is not a betrayal, that is not ingratitude. That is a sign of our progress. That is a sign that all the work we did was successful. Their unfettered lives are all the thanks I need.
|Posted on January 9, 2018 at 1:05 AM||comments (0)|
By Dennis Stone
Everyone knows that gay journalists are all safely ensconced on the left side of the political spectrum. Well, except for a couple of anomalies like Milo Yiannopolous, that is. We take it for granted that anyone who has lived a gay life, and has been immersed in the issues of the gay experience in order to write about them, must have adopted a leftist worldview. Conservatives have been our enemies, after all, historically opposing gay equality and even gay acceptance. When we read the work of gay journalists in outlets like the “Advocate,” “Out,” “HuffPost,” etc., we know what we are going to get.
And then along came Chadwick Moore.
Moore gained attention and a good deal of notoriety in 2016 when he wrote a profile piece on Yiannopolous for “Out” magazine. The piece was lambasted from all corners of the queer and progressive worlds, derided as being a “fawning” and “normalizing” portrait of a vile gay traitor.
The thing is, that was a gargantuan overreaction. The piece was actually a neutral look at a highly visible and newsworthy gay person. I strongly defended the journalistic qualities and appropriateness of the piece in an article I wrote for this site. Gay journalism should not be trapped by the limiting assumption that all writing should be part of a praise/condemnation dichotomy in service of the “movement.” Journalism has always celebrated the neutral examination of controversial people and issues. Gay journalism should be able to do the same, and let readers make up their own minds.
A few months after publication of the piece I was surprised to learn that Moore had turned in his leftist philosophy for a conservative one. He announced the change in a piece in the “New York Post” titled “I’m a gay New Yorker, and I’m coming out as a conservative.” He revealed that the extreme reaction to his “Out” piece had shocked him. He received death threats, accusations of Nazism and worse. Friends and long time bar mates shunned him. His best friend ended the relationship, calling him a monster. In a discussion with a date he mentioned that he opposed Trump’s wall, but believed in strengthening our borders. The date called him a Nazi and left.
All of that caused Moore to rethink his allegiances and his viewpoints. A lifelong liberal, he came to realize that he generally liked conservative people better than liberals. Conservatives were more open-minded. He began to see that he was living in a liberal bubble with people who considered you a traitor if you dared diverge from the accepted way of thinking. He gradually realized he thought more like those on the right than those on the left.
In the “New York Post” piece he talked about how difficult it was to come out as conservative in gay New York, where he lives. The headline of a profile in the “Des Moines Register” (he went to college at the University of Iowa) was: “It was easier for him to be gay in Iowa than conservative in New York.” I don’t doubt any of that for a moment. Despite being gay and liberal myself, I’m highly critical of mainstream gay and progressive people for exactly that reason. There is a huge amount of enforced orthodoxy and intolerance of alternate views.
Since his “conversion” Moore has routinely been dismissed and demeaned in gay and progressive circles as a traitor, an enemy, complicit in our oppression. One piece said this about him: “Asking that the gay community embrace you and your politics is like one turkey asking another to be okay that he voted for the farmer and Thanksgiving.” Put another way, his gay card has been revoked. It’s not hard to see why Moore became disenchanted with the left.
What is curious about all this, though, is not that Moore backed away from his liberalism in the face of the reaction to his Yiannopolous profile. What is curious is that he went almost instantly to a brand of conservatism that embraced Donald Trump and aspects of alt-right philosophy. He became Editor-In-Chief of Milo’s site “Dangerous,” and he sounds like a typical Fox News fan on his Twitter feed. On December 10 he tweeted this: “Man, he’s looking good these days. Keep up the winning, Mr. President. You got this.” His profile on “Scruff” began with “Proud Western chauvinist” and ended with “build that damn wall.”
So what is going on here? How could negative reaction to a published piece in a gay magazine lead this Hillary Clinton voter and lifelong leftist so suddenly to become almost the opposite of what he had been? Why wouldn’t he reject the stridency and unthinking orthodoxy of his critics, and make cogent arguments against them?
To me, there are two possible explanations. Perhaps his progressivism had been superficial, born of an expectation in the gay community that liberalism was inevitable for gays. He never actually thought through his ideology, but just accepted the mantras of the side of the political divide that supported gay people. He read and took to heart the ideology of the “Little Black Book Of Proper Gay and Liberal Thought.”
Related to that explanation is the possibility that his thinking had been gradually evolving away from liberalism and toward conservatism, but he had not really been aware of it. Modulation was occurring, often subconsciously, and sudden awareness hit when the liberal and gay communities attacked him so viciously.
Bubbles are real, and one of the most insidious aspects of our modern life. They afflict liberals and conservatives alike, and supporters of various single issues, from gay rights, to abortion rights, to religious freedom, to immigration foes, and on and on. I am constantly amazed by how shallow is the thinking of so many people today, and how little they expose themselves to any contrary positions or arguments.
Chadwick Moore has stated that he was living in the liberal gay bubble, and it clouded his thinking. The problem is, he seems to have exchanged one bubble for another.
The second possible explanation for his sudden and radical conversion is that he is what some would label today as a “snowflake,” unable to handle criticism. As I’ve expressed before, I consider criticism of Moore’s piece to be extraordinarily unfair, a product of the one-dimensional and bubble-generated thinking of a sizable portion of the gay community. But, fair or unfair, journalists have to expect and deal with criticism. It’s possible Moore was so disconcerted by being attacked from within his bubble that he overreacted and was driven to the other “side,” to people who opposed the people who were attacking him. And once inside that bubble, he allowed his new co-habitants to shape his thinking just as the denizens of his previous bubble had done.
Either conclusion leads me to negative opinions of Moore, but also negative opinions of the current state of our society. Regarding Moore, his political opinions appear to have little depth behind them, whether his previous liberal opinions were simplistic adoptions of the ideology of his peers, or whether his new views are a thin-skinned overreaction to his attackers.
I myself have major issues with a large segment of today’s progressive community, from the intolerance of opposing views to the demonization of conservatives to reflexive reactions to people and events. But none of that has influenced my positions on issues. They have evolved in various ways over time, but they remain overwhelmingly progressive. Some are more progressive than the mainstream, and some are a bit more conservative. But I don’t let my disillusion with the small minded and intolerant actions of some segments of the left influence my principles and positions.
It’s hard to believe that Moore has subconsciously been a Trump-supporting conservative during the recent years of his literary career, and simply woke up when attacked. It’s also hard to believe that attacks from the left, as personal as many of them were, would convert a genuine progressive into a diehard conservative. I believe that it’s very possible that the conversion was a combination of the two factors. Perhaps his underlying thought had been evolving in a more conservative direction in recent years, but the power of the bubble obscured that evolution. Perhaps also the attacks generated an overreaction born of hurt and dismay with the actual intolerance of those attacks.
Despite everything I’ve said above, I think Chadwick Moore is at heart a good man with the potential to be a strongly independent thinker and voice. Everything I’ve read about him points to that potential. I’m hoping that time and reflection bring him to that point. He may well remain a genuine conservative, but I admire thoughtful conservatives even as I disagree with them.
Ultimately I want to smash all the bubbles out there. It will never happen, of course, at least in the foreseeable future. Chadwick Moore has burst out of one bubble, and if he can do it once, he can do it again. It’s a bit like the Matrix, where we have to awaken people one by one! Perhaps that’s a labored metaphor, but it feels right.
|Posted on December 20, 2017 at 7:15 PM||comments (0)|
By Dennis Stone
John McCain has an aggressive form of brain cancer, and will likely die in the next year. It's the same type of cancer that killed Ted Kennedy and Joe Biden's son Beau. About a week ago Biden was a guest on "The View," which now has McCain's daughter Meghan as one of its panelists. While talking about her father's battle with cancer she began to cry. Biden rose from his seat, took a seat next to Meghan, clasped her hand, and consoled her, urging her to hold on to hope.
It was a touching moment, revealing that differences of politics and philosophy need not obscure common humanity and vulnerability. Life transcends those ultimately insignificant differences. I'm sure you know that McCain is a conservative and Biden is a liberal, and the two butted heads on policy many times when they served in the Senate together.
The first story about the Biden/McCain story that popped up on Google News was from Fox News, so I read that one, wondering if they would slant it in some way. They did not, but then I read the comments. That was a mistake. I expected perhaps some kind words for Biden, normally seen by the Fox News universe as an enemy. I was aghast, dumbfounded, and ultimately deeply depressed by what I found. Not only were there almost no kind words for Biden, but there were also almost none for either Senator McCain or his daugher. Most commenters viewed Sen. McCain as a traitor, an enemy, an evil man. Several were hoping and even praying for his quick death. They berated his daughter as a RINO ("Republican In Name Only") who has revealed herself on "The View" as a liberal, and therefore an awful person. There were also huge numbers of posts calling Biden a lech, a serial sexual assaulter, a perv, etc. That's because he has a history of being an old-fashioned touchy-feely person who values hugging and human touch as part of the interaction process. I've rarely been as shocked by a comment section, though some of the overtly racist attacks on the Obama family actually surpassed this comment section. I wondered how Fox News could allow those comments. I just checked the story again, and was happy to see that posts reveling in McCain's upcoming death had been removed. The ones lambasting Biden as a pervert remain, however.
Who are these people, I wondered. Why didn't a large contingent of other Fox readers rise up in rage and denounce them? How could regular people not be outraged at the depravity, at the lack of humanity? Some readers will say that's because that is what conservatives have become. But....
The same thing happens on the liberal side. The worst I recall was after the murders of policemen, when commenters or Twitter users made posts celebrating the murders and hoping for more. When Republican congressman Steve Scalise was shot and nearly killed by an anti-Trump gunman some commenters hoped he would die. One site had a long analysis piece that argued that since Scalise opposed marriage equality and held conservative positions (which by definition would harm people, according to the writer), it would be a good thing if he died. He had been saved largely by a black queer woman police officer, and the piece suggested that those of us who are liberal or marginalized in some way would be making a mistake if we saved someone like that. The world would be a better place if they weren't in it. Most of the commenters agreed with the writer.
Are these comments representative of a gradual erosion of humanity in the internet age? Do they reflect a hardening, a fracturing of the commonality of all human beings in our brave new world, where people live in bubbles populated only with people who all think alike, and with other bubbles representing people we hate and distrust and don't consider worthy of our consideration? When I was a kid people didn't think like that. Interestingly, people then didn't have access to news media tailored to their way of thinking, to which they could restrict themselves. People got their news from the three networks, or the daily newspaper, or Time and Newsweek. There weren't alternate sets of facts, and so people didn't splinter so readily into mutually exclusive groups.
Perhaps things aren't so dire, however. Perhaps what I'm seeing are small groups of outliers. Perhaps the type of people who rush to comment on internet stories are fringe types. People who fixate on political issues and disagreements because they have nothing else of substance in their lives. People who are in essence misanthropes or narcissists who get meaning from constant anonymous hate that makes them feel less powerless.
I don't know the answer to those questions. For the sake of our country, indeed for the sake of the human race, I hope I'm seeing troubled outliers. And if that is true I hope the rest of us can reject the hate, and can cross the philosophical and political divides to see everyone as our brothers and sisters, no matter how much we disagree. Like John McCain and Joe Biden have always done.
|Posted on December 13, 2017 at 6:20 PM||comments (0)|
By Dennis Stone
I've complained before on this site about how one-dimensional gay media is. To read gay sites and gay magazines you would think that there is only one way for "good" gays to think, and that the community overwhelmingly subscribes to that worldview. I've whimsically referred to gay people owning and constantly referencing the "Little Black Book Of Proper Gay Thought." Yes, people know there are gay conservatives out there, and that a few even support Donald Trump. Gay media occasionally mentions them, but it's taken for granted that they are odd-duck anomalies, easy to dismiss or make the butt of jokes or derision. Gay media implies that, apart from curiosities of that type, we're essentially a rather one-dimensional community when it comes to issues.
I think they are wrong about that. Based on my experience I think there is a much wider range of views than most people realize. Anything but a monolith, we run the gamut on all issues, whether political, social, cultural, or philosophical. On a political level there are certainly far more liberals than conservatives, but there are large numbers of moderates, and those classed as liberal have a broad gradation of thought. Pick an issue, and there are gay people all along the spectrum. Some want to shut down speakers and speech that they don't like, while others are absolutist on allowing all voices. Some seek to enforce politically correct words and actions, and others think political correctness is a blight. Some seek to fight microagressions, while others belittle the concept. Even something seemingly as straightforward as the "Colorado Bakeshop" case has far more nuance than the "Little Black Book" allows.
I have recently been hired to write articles for a new site scheduled to come online in mid-January. It's not a gay site, and that is one of its appeals for me, since all of my prior writing, both here and for other sites, has been based on gay issues. The purpose of the new site is to present views on issues from multiple viewpoints, and to do it in a way that is not strident. Respect those who think differently, in other words. I have sold two pieces to them already, and they say they will want more in January.
As I was reading the "Advocate" recently it suddenly hit me that we in the gay community badly need a site of the type to which I'm currently contributing. The "Advocate" - and any other gay media outlet you could name - comes at issues in exactly the same way. When I read a headline I know exactly what the piece will say. What's worse is that each is written as though the position taken is obviously the only one a self respecting gay person could possibly take. The thing is, I'm a liberal on almost all issues, but I often disagree with the tone, the argumentation or the lack of nuance in these stories. And I'm far from the only one. The articles that attract multiple comments often have comments that take the writer to task.
Imagine if we had a gay site where the contributors had a range of views, and, most importantly, independent minds that respected other opinions even when they disagreed. The site would have at least one regular conservative writer, one from the Larry Kramer old school mode (though with an open mind), one with distinctly new millennial ideas, etc.
Alas, I don't see it happening. Well, maybe someday way down the road. After all, years ago I didn't see marriage equality happening either. But we need to move past our current polarizing society to a place that celebrates civil discourse between people who disagree. And we need to get to a point where the loudest and most strident voices don't generate the most clicks. Most importantly, we need to get to a point where the "leaders" of the gay community begin to see that the "new millennial gay" outlook is real, and represents not only our future but a dominant part of our present as well. I'm not holding my breath.
|Posted on November 25, 2017 at 7:50 PM||comments (0)|
By Dennis Stone
Every once in awhile something happens that changes society forever. The 9-11 attacks represent one such example. The Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage is another. The avalanche of sexual harassment claims following the Harvey Weinstein accusations is the most recent example. American society is significantly different today than it was just two months ago.
This change primarily affects the relationship between men and women, but in the wake of the accusations against Kevin Spacey and George Takei it has impacted the gay world as well. The reaction to Spacey in the gay world has followed a course that seems obvious to me. It’s easy to disparage him, for three reasons. First, the initial complaint was made by a man, actor Anthony Rapp, who was just fourteen when Spacey assaulted him. Second, many additional accusers have come forward, including those alleging recent transgressions. Third, it’s easy for the gay community to attack him because many have resented the fact that he did not come out until now, and therefore he’s never been “one of us.”
The George Takei case is very different. He is a revered figure in our community, coming across as an overtly nice guy whose attitudes and priorities have always been exemplary. And he’s been exemplary while maintaining a great, occasionally ribald, sense of humor. An “icon” was how many recent stories described him.
When former model Scott Brunton recently accused him of a sexual assault in 1981 when Brunton was 23 and Takei was 43 many of us were dumbfounded, and weren’t sure how to react. I remember thinking that George was about the last guy I would have expected to be the subject of one of these accusations. I wondered if it was true, and then if, as is usually the case, other accusers would step forward with their own stories. As of yet none have, and George issued a denial that included this phrase: “The events he describes back in the 1980s simply did not occur.” The denial is in line with those issued by many of the recently accused.
One result of the current societal change is that we’ve been admonished and are increasingly inclined to believe accusers. That seems generally appropriate since most cases end up validated. Many liberals and queer people seemed to think that Takei deserved an exception, however. I checked out many liberal sites, e.g., “Salon,” and “HuffPost,” and many commenters said they were giving George the benefit of the doubt, or that they flat out believed his denial. The reasoning, in many cases, was that they couldn’t believe an icon of our community would do the things that Brunton alleged.
As someone who has been both gay and a huge “Star Trek” fan since I was a kid I wanted to believe Takei. But I also pride myself in rational analysis, one result of which is looking past my biases to see things as they really are. When I do that I am inclined to believe Scott Brunton. The first reason is the simple truth that most accusations turn out to be valid, absent of monetary claims or desire for revenge. Brunton is seeking no money, and only wants an apology. His motivation appears to be disappointment at Takei’s disapproval of other people accused of sexual assault, and Takei’s apparent hypocrisy.
One of the reasons to believe an accuser is if he or she told others about the assault at the time. Brunton told several friends about Takei’s alleged assault, and has been telling the story for years, with no prior interest in going public. Cases like that almost always turn out to be legitimate.
Even more compelling is a discussion George had with Howard Stern on the latter’s radio show. They had been talking about the Weinstein case, and below is a transcript of what followed.
Stern: “Did you ever grab anyone by the cock against their will?” Takei remained silent.
Stern: “Uh oh. You’ve never sexually harassed anyone, have you?”
Takei: “Some people are kind of… umm… skittish. Oh maybe… um… afraid and you’re trying to persuade.”
Stern: “Do we need to call the police?!? What are you saying, George? You’ve never held a job over someone if they didn’t touch your cock.”
Takei: “No, I never did that,”
Co-host Robin Quivers: “But you didn’t do this grabbing at work.”
Takei: “No, it wasn’t at work. It was either in my home- he came to my home.”
Stern: “So what do you mean? You mean some guy who was hesitating to have sex with you and then you gave him a gentle squeeze on the balls or something?”
Takei: “More than a gentle…But it didn’t involve power over the other.”
George certainly seems to be talking about a situation amazingly similar to what Brunton described. He has since claimed the whole thing was a “skit,” and he said this: "For decades, I have played the part of a 'naughty gay grandpa' when I visit Howard’s show, a caricature I now regret." When I put all the facts together I’m left believing that Brunton’s story is likely true.
And what if it is true? Well, either way it raises a couple of thorny issues that specifically impact the gay world.
The most important question is this: is there a difference in the concept of sexual “assault” or impropriety between the gay and straight worlds? I have seen no one of prominence, no one with a significant voice, make any such claim. I don’t know if I could be considered to have a voice, but I am hereby making that claim in a qualified way. Things are indeed different in the gay and straight worlds.
First, and most importantly, in the straight world there is usually a large disparity between the two parties in physical strength, power (whether it be social or employment related), and historical status in a patriarchal society. Look at almost all the accusations of the past two months, from Weinstein to Roy Moore to Charlie Rose. The male felt entitled to his actions simply because he was a male and the victim was a female. Moreover, the men had positions of power in relation to the victims, often a direct level of power on the job.
The Takei situation is very different. Physical strength was similar, there was no employment relationship, and as two gay men there was no perception on either side of historical status difference. In keeping with that, after Brunton said he was uncomfortable and wanted to leave, George simply said “If you feel you must; you’re in no condition to drive.” Brunton had no job or opportunity to lose, no fear of retribution, no danger of being physically restrained.
There is another big difference between the straight and gay worlds in regard to sexual impropriety. The gay community has historically followed different rules when it comes to sexuality. Many revel in our differences from the established heteronormativity. We are more free, bawdier, sometimes outrageous, less burdened with inhibitions and straitlaced prohibitions. We have been outlaws, setting our own standards in defiance of straight society. And many of us value those differences.
It is simply a fact that a lot of what has always gone on in the gay world would be considered harassment or assault in the straight world. Guys grab each other’s asses (and more!) on the dance floor or in other situations. Crude jokes or comments are made. Advances are not constrained by the “normal” restrictions of the straight world.
These actions and attitudes are far from universal, of course. And in light of recent developments perhaps we should have a conversation about whether changes should be made in our “community standards.” In fact, a debate about that very subject has begun. Some are advocating that we adopt standards closer to those of the straight world, while others are outraged that our traditional rebel outlooks are being threatened. For what it’s worth, I’m more romantically than sexually oriented than are most gays, but I nonetheless would like to see us maintain our current standards. Much of the outrage in straight America has to do with the disparity in strength, power and historical status between men and women. Since we in the gay community don’t have those differences between partners we can treat sex in a more relaxed, less emotionally fraught manner.
The more I thought about it the more I came to think that Brunton overreacted, and has been carrying along baggage that has been unnecessary. No actual harm was done, Takei used no force, and Brunton was free to leave without any coercion. I suspect that I myself likely would have left Takei’s home in that situation since I’m not comfortable with casual sex, but I am confident I would not have considered it assault. Just a horny gay guy wanting to have some fun. In fact, it would have been a fond memory. Sulu wanted to have sex with me! That’s what I would tell friends, and I’d be telling the story until the day I died.
Whether or not we think that the gay and straight worlds are different, I think we have to evaluate events of the past in light of the standards at the time, rather than using the sensitive standards that are evolving today. Interactions of the type between Takei and Brunton have been very common in the gay world. That’s just the way it has been. I have not done that sort of thing, and you may not have done so either, but it has been common and in many quarters it has been routine.
I have to be clear about one vital point: I do consider Takei to have been wrong in that he began his physical interaction with Brunton while he was unconscious. But, assuming Brunton lost consciousness temporarily from drinking rather than from being drugged, the offense was minor since nothing significant happened prior to Brunton regaining consciousness. The incident should not sully Takei’s reputation. It should not change his status as an icon.
Our “dirty gay grandpa” should be free, even in today’s new world, to admit actions of that type. It should not be seen as a sorry excuse if he or I or anyone simply says that the gay world is different from the heteronormative straight world, and especially that it has been different in the past. I wish George had done exactly that, rather than deny the story (assuming my feeling that it actually happened is correct).
I realize that our current environment won’t allow such honesty. The nation’s psyche is too raw from the explosion of revelations about the toxic attitudes and actions of men toward women. The degree to which Harvey Weinstein and others could get away with abhorrent behavior for years is appalling. The current societal upheaval will undoubtedly change the relationship between men and women, and those will be long overdue changes.
The situation is far less clear in the gay world. Certainly there will be a new emphasis on treating minors with respect, and on avoiding the sort of serial abuse in which Kevin Spacey routinely engaged. But will the gay world in general change? A recent piece in “The Advocate” argues that we should adopt the same standards of interaction being demanded by women in the straight world. Most commenters on the article disagreed, some strenuously. I think we should be careful to not go too far down the road of abolishing our freedom, our freewheeling sexuality, our unique culture. We should not forget that there are valid reasons why we can and should be different from the straight world.
|Posted on November 20, 2017 at 7:00 PM||comments (0)|
By Dennis Stone
This was not a conversation I was expecting to have….
The fourteen year old girl sat facing me, on the other side of a small, portable fire pit that added some heat to an uncharacteristically cool fall evening. Her father, a good friend I hadn’t seen for awhile, sat next to me. We were catching up on our lives since we had last seen each other, and I asked Emily how her summer had gone. She said she had broken up with her boyfriend Jack, and something about the way she said it made me feel there was a significant story there. Shawn confirmed that when he rather nervously said that we didn’t want to talk about that.
A short while later Shawn went into the house to take a phone call, and what followed was a remarkable conversation between Emily and me. She had known for some time that I am gay, and she clearly felt safe discussing sensitive subjects with me. I asked about Jack, and the story that spilled out was heart-breaking. Jack is transgender, and has recently begun hormone therapy. That fact seemed remarkably unimportant to Emily. She just loved him as a person, and felt about him the way her classmates felt about their boyfriends.
Unfortunately, her parents did not feel the same way. They are divorced, and agree on little, but they agreed that Emily and Jack had to break off their relationship. Emily fiercely resisted, but despite her tears and anger and protest, she had finally given in.
Emily showed me a couple of pictures of the two of them. They looked so happy together! With hormone therapy just begun Jack looked quite a bit like a typical young girl. I think that was part of the problem. The combination of the gay angle and the trans identity was too much for the parents when it came to their own innocent fourteen year old. And I had the impression they thought the relationship was at least partially fueled by youthful rebellion, and that it would not end well.
The concept of non-binary gender was not new to this family. A year ago Emily’s sister Cara, now eleven years old, had begun dressing and acting much like a typical boy. Shortly thereafter she texted her Dad her secret: she considered herself genderfluid, and felt as much like a boy as a girl. She was too nervous about his reaction to address the subject in person, but he reacted perfectly, assuring her that, whatever her sexuality or gender identity might turn out to be, she would always be loved unconditionally.
I asked Emily about Cara, pointing out that I had noticed that she had been dressing and acting much like a boy. “Yes,” she replied, “I think the best word for her would be genderqueer.” I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by this knowledge and easy use of the terms of non-binary gender, but I was. And delighted! “She doesn’t really see herself as either a boy or a girl,” she continued. “She’s just a person. In fifty years the whole concept of binary gender won’t exist anymore. People will just be people.”
She actually said that. In virtually those exact words. How about the other kids in school, I wondered. Do they share this open mindedness? By and large, yes, she replied. Jack hadn’t faced much discrimination at school, though he had been the victim of some online harassment. Cara’s openly genderfluid friend Tristan also was well accepted by their classmates.
Emily informed me that the overriding attitude about gender in her school is blase, that most students understand and accept the reality that some people can relate to their identity only apart from the traditionally defined roles of male and female. As Emily had said, people are people, regardless of their gender identity. She and her classmates see the adult world as hung up on a needless binary structure that won’t exist in the future. Put another way, adults are “squares,” as we would have said when I was a kid.
Unlike a lot of queers I don’t blame people of prior generations for their lack of understanding. Human beings are forged and informed by the culture and mores with which they grow up. That is the human condition. It has always been that way and always will be. I have a dictionary from the 1980s in which the definition of “gender” is one word: “sex.” That’s the understanding with which most people of prior generations grew up. Attitudes and understandings change, but it often takes a long time. The newest generation is growing up with different realities and viewpoints, and that makes me feel good about the future.
Politicians come and go. Generations come and go. Social evolution is a bit more durable. Yes, the kids are alright. And, as always, the kids are the future.
|Posted on October 29, 2017 at 7:45 PM||comments (0)|
By Dennis Stone
On July 28 I posted an article talking about the likelihood that Cyrus Goodman, a character on Disney's popular "Andi Mack" series, would become the network's first gay kid. It happened in the first episode of the second season (Friday, October 27). I was a bit surprised that it happened so fast; I had thought it likely that Cyrus' realization that he was seriously interested in classmate Jonah Beck would evolve gradually over three or four episodes. But Cyrus confessed his feelings to his friend Buffy midway through the episode. It was understated but perfect. And it sets up what I think will likely be the best, most understanding portrayal of what it means to grow up gay in today's world.
Here's a bit of background for those who did not see the show. The titular character is a sensitive, thoughtful, but insecure middle schooler. Her core group of friends includes Cyrus, Jonah, and Buffy. In the second season's first episode Jonah surprised Andi by expressing his interest in her. Both Cyrus and Buffy expressed their happiness for the new couple, as friends would be expected to do.
Later, however, Buffy noticed that Cyrus was acting depressed, and she asked him what was wrong. He confessed that he really wasn't happy for Andi and Jonah after all. "Are you jealous?" asked Buffy. Cyrus despondently shook his head yes, his eyes downcast. "Do you like Andi?" He slowly shook his head no. Buffy suddenly understood, and she said rather than asked, "you like Jonah." Cyrus nodded, his eyes remaining downcast. After a moment he said, with a trace of both desperation and sadness: "I feel weird. Different." Buffy replied, with a reassuring and supportive tone: "Cyrus, you've always been weird, but you're no different." Cyrus said he was glad he told her, and she assured him, "you'll be OK, I promise."
That terrific scene reflects how different it is to grow up gay today than it has ever been before. Until recently most kids would not have so quickly felt comfortable in telling anyone. And the recipients of such news would be confused, uncomprehending or resistant. Perhaps even hostile. But Buffy knew instantly what Cyrus meant, and just naturally felt the need to show support and reassurance, with no judgement whatever. It's still a sensitive and rather momentous realization for both the gay kid and his friend. And I suspect that will always be the case since being gay will always be so different from the identity of most kids. But for many if not most the battle to overcome shame will not be the dominant factor it was for previous generations, and support of peers will be far more accessible and a far more important part of the journey. Actors Joshua Rush and Sofia Wylie deserve a lot of credit for how they played the scene.
I predicted there would be an uproar, and a call for a boycott. Right on cue, One Million Moms obliged on both counts. However, I've been pleasantly surprised by how little negativity there has been. Even Fox News and the notorious Breitbart had remarkably straightforward stories that did not indulge in judgement. However, the Breitbart story had generated 1594 comments as of my last check, and most were predictably negative, some outrageously so. Fox News did not supply the option for comments, which they sometimes do when they expect over-the-top offensive comments. I am confident that the One Million Moms' protest will fizzle spectacularly. Certainly, Disney has no intention of being swayed.
One Million Moms say that they want one network to be the bastion of "family values," and they are disappointed and angry that Disney has abandoned that status. The irony is that "Andi Mack" is actually reflective of family values, not in opposition to those values. Kids will continue to grow up gay, and that will be true in both liberal and conservative households. That's a simple fact, and it can't be changed by One Million Moms or any religious people not wanting it to be true. There is no bigger family value than enabling kids to grow up feeling OK about themselves, and feeling that society accepts rather than rejects them. It's also a family value to teach straight kids to respect and validate their fellows, no matter what identity with which they are born. In that scenario gay kids will be happier and healthier, with far more support, and straight kids will be more tolerant of those who are different. Shows like "Andi Mack" help to promote those family values. Is One Million Moms really saying they want gay kids (who will not be made gay by TV or any other aspect of society) to hate themselves, or that they want straight kids to bully and ostracize gay kids? Those are family values?
The median age of "Andi Mack" viewers is ten. To One Million Moms that's shocking. How dare they expose kids of that age to something like this? But that attitude reflects the opinion that being gay is shameful, and that young kids won't have to confront it until they are much older. We know, of course, that gay feelings often emerge when kids are really young. "Andi Mack" is not talking about kids having sex, but rather they are talking about affectional attraction. Kids understand affection and wanting to be with someone because they "like" them. The "Andi Mack" producers and writers are consulting with experts in various fields to make sure they are both realistic and sensitive to the needs and sensibilities of their audience.
"Andi Mack" reflects the "new millennial gay experience" in that it shows a new world with the family values I describe above. Being gay is different, and always will be, but it's now much easier to come to terms with than it was for previous generations, and it's something that can be shared with peers without shame, even as early as middle school. More and more kids don't have to carry it around as a "dirty little secret," fearing exposure and therefore pretending to be something they are not. "Andi Mack" is helping to bring that reality to more and more kids, and that's a great thing for which Disney should be applauded.
|Posted on August 3, 2017 at 10:10 PM||comments (0)|
By Dennis Stone
The LGBTQ community reacted with unified outrage last week when President Trump announced that transgender people will no longer be allowed to serve in the U.S. military. In keeping with how all recent presidents have announced major policy changes, he informed the world of the new ban through a series of tweets. After all, as he recently told a crowd, he “can be more presidential than any president that’s ever held this office,” with the exception of Lincoln. How could anyone argue with that?!
While totally expected, of course, the outrage was great to see, and seemed somehow more potent and genuine than much of what has seemed to have become pro forma “resistance.” There are careers at stake, thousands of real people’s lives impacted in a dramatic way. In addition to that there is the symbolic nature of the new policy. As a community we’ve had over the past few years a series of successes that has made our increasing liberation seem inevitable. And then here comes a major setback. Could that be a sign of a retrenchment to come, fueled by Republican control of the House, the Senate and the Presidency, plus a majority of state governments?
NO! It is not indicative of any retrenchment, and, in fact, buried within this apparent debacle are the signs of our continued evolution toward full equality. There is good news here!
First, I should point out that the proposed ban is just that: proposed. Trump does not have the power to unilaterally implement such a ban. In fact, in a memo to his chiefs and commanders, Gen. Joseph Dunford, Jr., the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Of Staff (the highest ranking officer in the U.S. armed forces) stated that there would be no changes to current policy until “the President’s direction has been received by the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary has issued implementation guidance.” That has not happened, and Defense Secretary James Mattis had been caught off guard by Trump’s tweets, according to the New York Times. The Times described Mattis as “appalled” by how the situation was handled.
The U.S. military has historically been one of our most conservative and tradition-bound institutions. In previous times they opposed integration of blacks, women and gays into the armed forces. But an amazing thing happened in reaction to Trump’s tweeted ban proposal. In addition to the reactions of Dunford and Mattis as described above, Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft implied he would defy the ban. He reached out personally to each of the thirteen known trans people in the Coast Guard, and he said this to Lt. Taylor Miller, who is openly transitioning: “I will not turn my back [on you]. We have made an investment in you and you have made an investment in the Coast Guard, and I will not break faith."
Further, a group of 56 retired generals and admirals released a letter in which they condemned the proposed ban. Among several other messages of support the letter said this: “Patriotic transgender Americans who are serving—and who want to serve—must not be dismissed, deprived of medically necessary health care, or forced to compromise their integrity or hide their identity.”
As someone who clearly remembers the resistance to the heretical idea of gay people serving in the military, this level of support is mind-boggling. Revolutionary, in fact.
The good news does not stop there. Do you remember when no serious presidential candidate had ever supported marriage equality? Way back in 2012? Until then a majority of Americans opposed this most basic of rights for gay people. And Republicans routinely played on fears of gays and gay rights to try to win elections. Meanwhile, the rights and dignity of trans people were barely on the radar. But, following Trump’s proposed ban a wide range of Republicans - from moderate to deeply conservative - expressed disagreement, often in strongly worded terms.
Perennial maverick John McCain - a deeply traditional military man - was one of the first. Sen. Orrin Hatch, up for re-election in deep red Utah, followed suit, as did Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, chairman of the powerful Appropriations subcommittee. Many other Republicans chimed in as well. Very few came out publicly in support of Trump, and the silence of those who didn’t comment at all was telling - they don’t see the restriction of trans rights to be a winning political issue.
This is remarkable. In twenty short years we’ve gone from a country where Republicans gleefully jumped on the anti-gay bandwagon to win elections to a country where they almost never talk about gay issues, and where trans people in the military is an idea that many leap to DEFEND!
This, my friend, is what is known as massive social transformation. One of the points I keep making on this site is that the LGBTQ community is not sufficiently aware of how much progress has been made, how much freedom we’ve won, how much support and acceptance surround us. Gay media seek out every little story that shows the negative. Gay organizations seek our money by warning that we’re “surrounded by hate.” It simply isn’t true.
The proposed ban on transgender people in the military feels at first hearing like a setback, a major attack on the worth and dignity of our trans brothers and sisters, a signpost of a newly dangerous world. But if you step back and ponder what’s actually going on, you see it as a botched strategic move of an out-of-touch would be politician. You see a Republican party that has moved toward acceptance of all LGBTQ people, including trans people. You see a societal revolution that ultimately can’t be turned back.
|Posted on July 28, 2017 at 12:00 PM||comments (1)|
By Dennis Stone
Gay people in movies or on TV are no longer either unusual or controversial. Gay kids, on the other hand….
One of the last places you’d expect to see an unequivocally gay middle school kid would be the Disney Channel. Historically squeaky clean, aware that it’s viewership demographic includes very young kids, it has produced a multitude of kid-centric sitcoms that try to be ethnically diverse but rarely go anywhere remotely controversial. Young kids mature at different rates, and parents want to retain control over how and when they learn about the more mature aspects of the human experience.
But here comes “Andi Mack,” a new show that premiered in April, with its twelve episode first season running through June 23 (and with reruns being regularly shown since then). It is breaking all sorts of new ground for Disney. Andi Mack is a mixed race (Asian and Caucasian) middle schooler who discovered in the first episode that who she thought was her older sister was actually her mother, while the woman who raised her was her grandmother. That was obviously a huge shock that generated all sorts of family drama.
There had been rumors that the show would include a character who was questioning his or her sexuality, and would turn out to be gay. Those are still officially rumors and speculation, but there is no doubt in my mind that Cyrus Goodman, one of Andi’s two best friends, will be the gay character. So much of what he experienced in the first season resonates with my own experience as a young gay guy who at that age hadn’t yet realized he was gay.
Jonah and Cyrus
Andi has a crush on Jonah Beck, the quintessential “big man on campus,” who, unfortunately for her, has a high school freshman girlfriend named Amber. Unlike the stereotype in these situations, Jonah is not an elitist bully, but is actually a nice, considerate guy, though a bit self-absorbed. The groundbreaking situation here is that Cyrus ALSO has a crush on Jonah. However, neither he nor the other characters realize it. Cyrus sees himself as simply wanting to be friends with the coolest kid in school, a goal made more desirable by the fact that he hasn’t had many guy friends in his short life.
Perhaps that is all it is, you might suggest. Shy, insecure boys often act much like Cyrus, and their desire to be friends with one of the cool boys can mimic the desires of gay boys. However, Cyrus in many ways embodies several gay stereotypes, from how he dresses and his concern about clothes, to a sort of “prissy” personality, to mannerisms many would classify as feminine. Further, I see an interest in Jonah that clearly goes over the line into romantic pining.
There was one situation in the season finale that made it clear that Cyrus is gay, and that the show fully intends to pursue that situation. Jonah was breaking up with Amber on a sidewalk, immediately after Andi and Cyrus had left and were walking away. Amber angrily said the breakup was because of Andi. Jonah denied it, since he had become convinced that Andi no longer was interested in him as a potential boyfriend. “Watch,” Amber said, referring to Andi, “if she turns around to look it means she likes you as more than a friend.” Jonah watched for awhile, and then turned to go. At that moment Andi turned around and looked back longingly at Jonah. She turned around again, and then Cyrus turned around, staring at Jonah with a look that brought back my own youthful longings. Said a young online commenter: “Cyrus looks so hurt I’m crying.”
Oh man, do I relate to all of that! I had a series of intense infatuations, both painful and exciting, before I fully realized in my late teens that I was gay. Like Cyrus, I just thought those feelings reflected my struggle to have the “normal” guy friendships that my shyness and nerdiness made difficult. Like Cyrus, I had to watch my “crushes” interact with girlfriends and more typical guys, while I suffered in a pining combination of pain and desire. You would think that intensity would have told me something (and would tell Cyrus something), but at that age emotions and knowledge and perceptions are so turbulent and new that rational thought and contemplation rarely enter the scene.
Cyrus as gay has all sorts of fascinating components and potential controversies. The first and most important, of course, is the reaction of parents. I have seen rather strenuous objections online to the main plot twist of Andi discovering her mother’s identity, and then later being introduced to her father. “It’s too soon for kids to have to think about those things,” they say. If and when Cyrus “officially” becomes gay the objections will be much more fierce. And those objections emphatically are not just from parents who have issues with the concept of homosexuality. Many parents who are totally fine with gay people simply don’t want their young kids exposed to something like that via television. They want to make those decisions for themselves. My prediction is that there will be some pushback, and then a threat or reality of a boycott from some group. In today’s ever more enlightened world, however, the objections will quickly fizzle, and life will go on.
A more fascinating issue is Cyrus’ stereotypical traits. A lot of people online are bothered by that, and are hoping that someone other than he turn out to be the rumored gay character. However, I see two sides to that coin. The traditional view, probably shared by most gay people, is that propagating those stereotypes is a disservice to the community. Haven’t we had a long enough history of gay people being seen in those terms? Gay people come in all sizes, types and personalities, and another stereotypical character would not be helpful, especially a character in a show produced for kids.
Gay kids (and adults) who conform to the stereotypes to some degree are very common. Just yesterday my checkout clerk at Target was a young guy who could have been created by a homophobic sitcom writer in the pre-Stonewall era. A majority of the gay people I’ve known have possessed some aspect of the stereotypes. I’ve reached the point where I embrace those stereotypes because they are real, and they reflect real people. The key is to reflect those traits in a sympathetic rather than a ridiculing way. So far, “Andi Mack” is doing that with the character of Cyrus.
Luke and Noah from “As the World Turns” instigated my desire to write about the gay world. I still miss the heady days when discussions of “Nuke” dominated the late, lamented “AfterElton” website (where I was first published). Luke and Noah were celebrated partly because they were so non-stereotypical. They were exactly like straight guys, except they slept with men! Hallelujah! That was part of an entertainment world change that made most gay characters indistinguishable from straight characters.
I eventually came to see that development as a two-edged sword. It unwittingly served to demean and marginalize the feminine gays to some degree, and to make stereotypical attributes seem negative. I recall spirited debates on “AfterElton” after “Glee” introduced Kurt Hummel. Many commenters were enraged that we were back to a stereotypical gay. At least eventual boyfriend Blaine was more like a straight guy.
If the stereotypical Cyrus is the gay person on “Andi Mack” (and I’ll be stunned if he is not), then young viewers will have their likely first exposure to a gay person be informed by the stereotypes. However, imagine the benefit and support and validation that it would give to young gay kids who are a bit feminine, who do possess some of the stereotypical traits. Further, since the show will clearly tell Cyrus’ story in a positive, sympathetic way, it will help straight viewers to interact with their more stereotypical peers (or older relatives and friends) with acceptance and understanding.
The show appears to be setting up a romantic triangle with both Cyrus and Andi interested in Jonah. Will Jonah turn out to be bi, or will he be straight, dooming poor Cyrus to unrequited love? Online speculators are already decrying the unfairness of portraying a gay character in love with a guy who doesn’t return his romantic feelings.
The thing is, in the real world Cyrus would almost certainly be fated to be hurt and disappointed, since Jonah will most likely be straight. That is true both because the odds of that scenario are overwhelming, and because Jonah has been portrayed as having genuine interest in girls. In my own case, not one of the many guys with whom I became infatuated turned out to be gay. As painful as it can be - and for me it was exquisitely painful - that’s the reality that a lot of young gay people will experience.
That will be a difficult road to travel for a TV show aimed at kids. Just having a gay character at that age, who is experiencing life and love without realizing he’s gay, is tricky enough. But then handling all aspects of that in a way that’s realistic while still being hopeful and affirming will require a deft touch.
The final issue I want to discuss is how long the show will keep Cyrus and his friends in the dark about his true nature. As I said earlier, throughout my youth I had infatuations without realizing I was gay. I recall telling my best friend in high school that I had gay “tendencies,” but I still thought I would some day marry a woman and raise a family. Of course, that was a different era, with much less exposure to gay people and gay culture. I had no Kurt Hummel, no “Will and Grace,” no explosion of joy with the legalization of marriage, etc.
Nonetheless, it is not at all strange that Cyrus and his friends haven’t even considered the gay angle yet. But at some point in the near future that consideration will become inevitable. Who will realize it first - Cyrus, or his friends, or the subject of his romantic feelings? How will those realizations change his world and his relationships? It will be a tricky path for the show to walk.
The second season of “Andi Mack” begins this fall. I normally don’t watch kids shows (and I’ve only skimmed the first season of this one), but I’m intrigued by how this will develop. The evolution of a gay kid is usually a bit of a rollercoaster, and Cyrus Goodman may portray that evolution better than any previous character has.
|Posted on July 12, 2017 at 8:30 PM||comments (0)|
By Dennis Stone
Professional sports is one of the few remaining arenas where someone’s coming out is still noteworthy. It amazes me how many gay people haven’t realized it yet, but people coming out is no longer a big deal in much of the straight world. Entertainment people are coming out all the time, and very little notice is taken. Do you remember the headlines when George Takei and Lance Bass came out? If they came out today there would be brief mentions in the media, and then people would go back to their viral videos and political posturing.
But coming out in professional sports, especially football, is still a big deal. Former pro football player Ryan O’Callaghan recently came out “officially” (more about that word in a bit) in an article on OutSports.com. The story wasn’t a huge one because O’Callaghan was not a star and had only played for four seasons, mostly as a backup, before injuries ended his career. But O’Callaghan is only the seventh player in the history of the NFL who played at least one regular season game and then later came out. None have come out while in the league. Michael Sam came out before being drafted, but he never progressed beyond pre-season games. When the first active NFL player finally comes out it will generate a media explosion, especially if the player is a star.
O’Callaghan’s story wasn’t huge because of his relative obscurity, but it did generate widespread coverage and comment. As I read the story on OutSports I was struck by several aspects of it that reflected the “new millennial” era we are in, and that also reflected the degree to which so many gay people don’t recognize the liberation and progress of that era.
O’Callaghan was so frightened by his identity and so sure that he would face widespread rejection, especially by people important to him, that he had planned as early as high school that he would kill himself once his football career was over. Until then football would be his “beard.” But he couldn’t see any possibility of living a fulfilling life of love and acceptance once people discovered his secret, and so suicide seemed like the only solution.
After injury ended his career during training camp in 2011 he began abusing painkillers to deal with his vulnerability and with the knowledge that his death was near. He began distancing himself from friends and family to make his suicide less painful for them. He had been persuaded to see the team’s psychologist about his drug issue, and after months of talking and trust-building he finally came out to her. That was the first person to whom he had EVER come out in his entire life.
The psychologist talked him into a gradual process of coming out to more and more people in his life. One of the first people he told was his last general manager - and friend - Scott Pioli. Based on how Ryan expressed his request for a meeting Pioli assumed that something really serious was going on, and he was prepared for the worst. In a completely different way Ryan was also prepared for the worst. When Ryan said he was gay Pioli expressed his support and then asked, “so what’s the problem you wanted to talk to me about?” He didn’t think being gay rose to the level of a problem. Ryan encountered much the same reaction as he continued to come out to other people in his life.
The most noteworthy aspect of Ryan’s story is the wide disparity between his fears of coming out and the reality of coming out. That is a disparity experienced and then marveled at by a wide array of gay people, both famous and not. They routinely talk about their dread, their fears of rejection, their assumption that their relationships with friends and family will change - and not in a good way. But then we hear and read over and over about how positive and cathartic the experience was, how embracing were the people with whom they shared their lifelong secret. And often, as with Ryan and his friend Scott Pioli, the reaction is simply “what’s the big deal?”
It stuns me that in 2017, with gay marriage the law of the land, with widespread societal repercussions for any anti-gay epithets or pronouncements, with almost all mainstream conservatives expressing some measure of support for gay people, there would still be so much widespread fear of rejection. Based on where American society is today, especially among young people, it would be much more of a surprise to encounter old-fashioned prejudice than the routine acceptance that we so often see.
Rejection does happen, of course. Gay kids still do get tossed out on the street. Bullying still does occur. But I find it curious that so many people - with family and friends who have loved them their whole lives - assume the worst, and are surprised when the worst doesn’t happen.
That leads me to the second significant aspect of Ryan’s story: the fact that SELF-ACCEPTANCE is the biggest obstacle to gay people living a happy and secure life. Ryan couldn’t accept himself, and therefore he couldn’t understand how other people could accept him. I’ve always said that no matter how many laws change and no matter how much societal acceptance we attain, self-acceptance will still be a problem for many gays. Sex is at the core of human identity, and being gay will always put a person in a small minority, and at odds with the dominant mainstream goal of getting married and raising a family. People don’t like to be different, and it’s hard to be more significantly different than being gay in a straight world.
Beyond that, both the Christian Bible and traditional Islamic teaching condemn homosexuality, and therefore there will, for the foreseeable future, be a segment of society that can’t see gay people as anything other than sinners. Self-acceptance will continue to be easier as society grows and matures, but it will remain a challenge for many.
For me the most surprising aspect of Ryan’s story is that his recent coming out was not his first public coming out. He had been out to family and friends, and then in 2014 he brought his boyfriend to his induction into the Shasta County Sports Hall Of Fame. He thanked his boyfriend in his speech. The local media was there. So he had come out to family, friends, and former teammates (including a couple of NFL stars), he was dating openly, and he had announced his sexuality in a speech with media present. That sure sounds like a full-fledged coming out to me. And yet three years later an article appears in OutSports that announces that Ryan O’Callaghan has come out. Only now is he “officially” out.
That situation represents a two-sided coin. On the one hand, a former football player being gay was such an insignificant situation to the local California media that they didn’t bother to report it, or even to approach Ryan with questions. Ho hum. On the other hand, there seems to be an appetite - among large segments of both the gay and straight communities - to know every time anyone at all prominent is identified as gay. It’s the old world and the new world colliding. I can see the day coming when coming out publicly really won’t be a “thing” any longer.
To a large degree that collision of worlds is generational. As Ryan himself said after the 2014 speech in which he thought he was coming out to the world: “At 29 I was, at that point, where today a lot of 16-year-olds are.” That evolution and that social maturation is at the core of the “new millennial gay outlook.” That process is inevitable and unstoppable. It’s too bad so few gay people recognize it.
|Posted on June 22, 2017 at 1:25 AM||comments (0)|
By Dennis Stone
When I was a kid we were the gay community. The world was much simpler then. It was overwhelmingly made up of straight people - the ones who had families and lived the “normal” life. Then there was a tiny band of gay people - outcasts, rebels, libertines, sinners, freedom fighters - who existed in the shadows but were increasingly making their presence known. “Bisexuals” were gay people not yet able to acknowledge their true identity. Lesbians were gay, and therefore easily absorbed by men into the “gay” classification. Trans people were so rare and invisible that they weren’t considered. The world was binary - straight people and gay people.
As the years have passed we have come to see that little in life is binary or simple. And so it is with our alternative community and how we see ourselves. The gay community became the LGB community in the mid-80s as we finally realized bisexuals were real, and decided that gay men and women deserved separate recognition. In the 90s we acknowledged our trans brothers and sisters and became LGBT. In 1996 “LGBTQ” gained currency, with the “Q” representing both “questioning” and “queer” as a catch-all designation.
In the 21st century we have been adding more and more letters to recognize more and more subgroups. One of the longer ones I’ve seen comes courtesy of the “Open House” residence at Wesleyan University: LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM. Those letters stand for: “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Flexual, Asexual, Genderfuck, Polyamorous, Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/Submission, Sadism/Masochism.”
My first reaction to the issue of our acronym is that I don’t think we should have one. I personally prefer “queer” as a simple term that encompasses all statuses under the “sexually non-conformist” umbrella. The ever growing acronym increasingly looks silly, and not just to straight people. And who gets to decide what statuses are included? It is not to our benefit to have a name with multiple variations and that appears to be a living, growing organism.
I have a more substantive problem, however, with the usage of our acronym in any of its iterations. The groups represented by each letter are widely disparate, with different life experiences, different challenges, different equality statuses, etc. To take an example from the Wesleyan acronym, how much similarity exists between a married straight guy into sadism and a gay or trans person? Differences are significant even for people included in the simplified acronym LGBT. As groups, gay people and trans people are substantially different. Bisexuals have unique identity and life issues. Gay men and lesbians often experience life as separate communities, and there has sometimes been an unfortunate level of distrust and animosity between the two groups.
The point is that the queer or LGBTQ+ community is anything but homogenous, but is too often treated, by friend and foe alike, as a monolithic entity. For example, bathroom laws are described as anti-LGBT, and stories in the gay press talk about how they endanger LGBT people. In fact, they violate the rights of one very small component of the LGBT community, but don’t impact the others at all.
That sounds as though I’m one of those gay people who wants to eliminate the “T” from “LGBT.” That is emphatically not true. I feel a kinship with trans people, and I feel a duty to use our combined clout (“stronger together,” as Hillary Clinton might put it!) to help all members of our coalition. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t accurately understand and interpret our world. Gay kids shouldn’t be told that they are “under attack” because of a newly proposed bathroom bill. They SHOULD be told that our trans brothers and sisters are under attack, and that we should support them in any way we can.
As a writer I think it’s important to be able to refer to the gay community as an independent entity, with its own issues and realities, rather than as one part of a larger group. This is especially true from a “new millennial” perspective. The world is a dramatically different and better place today for gay people than it was throughout the previous years of my life. Unfortunately, the trans community today remains far behind us in acceptance and equality. Our current ethos - as expressed in the gay media - makes me feel a bit guilty for talking about the gay community as opposed to the LGBT community, and for talking about how positive things have become for gay people. However, it is neither selfish nor exclusionary to do so.
There are important characteristics - such as a history of social marginalization - that bind queer people together. But there are other important characteristics of each individual group that should be recognized, and that should allow us to consider and talk about each group individually.
I belong to the LGBT community. I also belong to the gay community. Those two communities are not the same thing. Sometimes I want to talk about the LGBT community, but in other contexts I want to split the acronym and talk about the individual realities of the gay community. And that’s OK.
|Posted on June 14, 2017 at 4:10 PM||comments (1)|
By Dennis Stone
How’s that for a provocative title? If this were a mainstream site with actual readership that title would imply clickbait, a shameless attempt to entice readers to check out the story. Alas, I’m so far off the media map that the term “clickbait” has no meaning. This is a serious piece, and those four groups share an important trait that tells us a lot about human nature. The most basic question one can ask is this: what is the meaning of life? Feeding into that question is the concept of identity. Who am I? What purpose do I serve?
Some people dealing with those questions turn to religion or spirituality of some type. Others adopt family and social relationships as the defining purpose of their lives. Some become consumed with career. Some focus on their membership in an identity group - gay, black, feminist, etc. - that provides purpose and camaraderie. Life circumstances force some into an almost one dimensional struggle to simply survive.
And then there are those who adopt a cause and become crusaders - warriors for a noble struggle against an identifiable and demonized enemy. The battle defines their lives and provides the meaning and purpose that make life worth living.
Several years ago I read a profile of an African freedom fighter who had been fighting for several years for the liberation of his country. He was interviewed shortly after the victory of his movement and the installation of the populist government for which he had so long been struggling. I expected him to feel ecstatic and fulfilled, and to go back to a “normal” life with his family. However, I was surprised by his expression of aimlessness and emptiness. He said he was planning to go to another African country and join an insurrection movement there. He was a freedom fighter, a warrior. That was his identity, that was what gave his life meaning. Without the struggle he was lost.
That dynamic is what unites the disparate groups listed in the title of this piece. The movements for which they fight give their lives meaning, and determine, both for good and ill, how they conduct themselves and how they interact with their fellow humans. There is something admirable about commitment to a cause, about looking past one’s selfish desires to what one sees as a greater good. And for those groups with whose goals we essentially agree, such as gay activists, we can appreciate and admire their successes, the improvements to the world they are able to achieve.
However, in most cases it is my opinion that the negative aspects of the commitment to a crusade outweigh the positive. This is obvious to most of us when we consider groups such as ISIS, whose members murder the innocent and generate fear and terror in their pursuit of what they consider the ideal world. But it’s also true of most crusaders.
Consider a couple of traits that are common to the groups listed in my title, and to crusaders of all stripes. First, there is a self-righteousness and arrogance that won’t allow consideration of contrary points of view. In fact, in many if not most cases the world becomes an arena of “us vs. them,” good guys vs. bad guys.
Second, independent thought becomes a casualty of the war being fought. I’ve referred to the “little black book” of proper gay or proper liberal thought. Each crusade has its own little black book that lays out how the crusaders should think about each issue. Related to that is the lack of nuance, the inability to see the world as anything but black and white. Simplicity over complexity, when the reality is that most things in life are complex. Third, for many the fight is an unchanging commitment, immune to a changing world, as with the African fighter I mentioned.
I reflected on all of this recently when I was reading about the LGBT activists in Washington, DC, who protested and blocked the Capital Pride parade, resulting in a major delay and re-routing. They had a multitude of grievances, including the presence of police, the presence of corporations, a planning board made up of too many rich white guys, etc.
As I read their comments and perused their website it seemed to me that they are suffering from the crusader mentality I have described in this piece. Their lives are defined by fighting the “good fight,” and that fight can never be won. There must always be enemies. Most queers consider it a good thing when the police seek to be allies and march in solidarity, or when corporations that have installed strict LGBT protections want to be our friends. Those are distinct signs of our “war” being increasingly won, but crusaders don’t really want the war to be won, they want - and need - to fight.
I mentioned simplicity as a trait of the true believers. There’s little more simplistic than “police are bad,” or “corporations just want our money” or “rich white people are evil.” And don’t even think about trying to engage true believers in intelligent conversation, or having a back and forth exchange of ideas. Either you see things their way, or you’re a sellout or a “tool of the establishment.”
I am not saying that people like the DC activists don’t have legitimate points to make that should be considered. There may be value in their contentions. Or there may not be. But we accomplish nothing - and, in fact, can go backward - when we have an inflexible perception that being queer demands that we incessantly seek out enemies to fight. Think of it this way. Fighting against police and corporations who WANT to be part of our Pride isn’t quite the same thing as fighting against indifference to AIDS, or lack of marriage equality, or all the other things we fought for and against in the past.
I am emphatically not saying we should become complacent, or that fighting for what we believe in should be abandoned. But we shouldn't seek out enemies because our identity is “fighter” or “activist,” and because we feel empty without the crusade. Reasoning is a good thing. Nuance is a good thing. Looking at all sides of an issue is a good thing. Let's not sacrifice those good things to fulfill a desperate need for relevance or purpose.
|Posted on June 11, 2017 at 3:35 PM||comments (0)|
By Dennis Stone
Not all gay people liked Queer As Folk, the seminal Showtime series that ran from 2000 to 2005, but I loved every minute of it. There were a couple of vital dynamics that spanned the five season existence of the show. The most obvious was that sex is good, sex is fun, and more sex is better than less.
A second dynamic was the idea of gay people remaining unique, a distinct and separate community in virtual opposition to mainstream straight society. Us vs. them, as Brian Kinney certainly thought of it. Liberty Avenue was a gay neighborhood, and most characters had no significant straight people in their lives. When “breeders” (as Brian called them) showed up they seemed like interlopers in the insular and segregated world that the gays of Pittsburgh had created.
The conflict between that idea and the emerging concept of assimilation intensified as the series continued, reaching its apotheosis in the final episode. Brian’s lifelong best friend, Michael, moved to the suburbs with husband Ben to raise a family. Brian called him a “Stepford fag,” and implored him not to go.
Assimilation is a dirty word to much of the gay community. One dictionary definition says it is “the process of adapting or adjusting to the culture of a group.” Another, more chilling, defines it as “the state of being absorbed into something.” That reminds me of the Borg on Star Trek: The Next Generation, where the individual consciousness is sublimated to the larger group.
Series creators Ron Cowen and Daniel Lipman talked to Huffington Post about the show in 2015, and Cowen said this about assimilation: “If you want to assimilate, you want to be like them, what do you keep of yourself and what do you sacrifice in order to be part of the mainstream? You always have to give up some part of your identity to blend in. That’s the thing we need to figure out.”
Ron Cowen has it completely wrong. The “assimilation” trend we see today is not a matter of gay people trying to “be like them.” Few of those moving in that direction have any desire or intention to blend in or give up their identity. Rather, the phenomenal social revolution of the past twenty years has allowed many if not most gay people to live openly and safely among straight people, to have close and meaningful straight friends, to be part of mainstream society without compromise. In essence, they are assimilated without even trying.
The ghettoization represented by Liberty Avenue was essential in earlier times, when gay people could be themselves and feel safe only around other gay people. That situation solidified over the years and became a dominant aspect of gay life. Remember what Brian Kinney said about straight people: “There's only two kinds of straight people in this world: the ones that hate you to your face, and the ones that hate you behind your back.”
Consider a young gay person coming of age in a previous generation. His burgeoning gay identity was frightening, and there was no one to confide in, no role models on TV or in mainstream movies, few resources of support or approval. His isolation led to an overwhelming need to connect with other gay people so he could feel open about his identity, so he could be his true self. A common refrain I hear from people of those generations is how relieved and empowered they felt the first time they entered a gay bar or attended a gay fellowship group. “For the first time I felt like I was with my own people,” they say. In that world the development of segregated gay communities was both inevitable and necessary.
Times have certainly changed. Today the reality for many gay people is acceptance and friendship from mainstream society. Corporations and institutions of all kinds - even churches - express support. There are gay celebrities everywhere, gay characters with whom to identify, often other gay people at work or school, solidarity expressed by presidents and other public figures. YouTube is filled with young gay people buoyantly discovering and exploring their worlds. By the time of college - and increasingly in high school - gays are able to confide in their peers and be full fledged participants in the society around them. The forces that drove them to insular communities to be themselves have largely disappeared.
I have talked to young gay people who love and value their straight friends. They have no desire to exchange them for gay friends in order to be a part of a community that many see as unnecessary and even anachronistic. Gay people will always feel a special kinship with other gay people. The objects of their affection will mark them as different from the rest of society. But the natural evolutionary result of our increasing acceptance is more people remaining within the mainstream society rather than choosing to separate from it.
Gay people are not assimilating. They are not giving up parts of their identity or making sacrifices to fit in with the straight world. They are not trying to be like the straight people that surround them. Rather, they are being themselves, whether gloriously flamboyant or more reserved. For the first time in our history many can do that without having to create a world within a world.
Don’t think of it as assimilation. Think of it as liberation.
|Posted on June 1, 2017 at 10:40 PM||comments (0)|
By Dennis Stone
The church is full, the guests waiting expectantly for the wedding party. The music starts, played by the New Directions band, and the crowd turns around, looking down the aisle. There is Finn Hudson, handsome in a suit. He straightens his tie, dances down the aisle, and sings: "It's a beautiful night, we're looking for something dumb to do." He twirls, goes to a knee, and points down the aisle with both hands. "Hey baby, I think I wanna marry you." There is Rachel Berry. She dances toward Finn, singing her own verse. When she reaches him he picks her up, twirling twice as he carries her to the front.
Here come Quinn and Sam, singing and dancing up the aisle, the crowd smiling and clapping, reveling in appreciation of talent, youth and enthusiasm. Next are Kurt and Mercedes, followed by Artie, his wheelchair pushed by a buoyant Brittany, who seems to be bouncing on a cushion of air. Santana and Puck are right behind them, followed by Tina and Mike. (Wow, Harry Shum, Jr. knows how to move that body!)
And then the groom appears: Kurt's father Burt, anointed by many Glee fans as the world's best dad. He does an endearing "Dad dance," and the crowd loves it. He gets to the front of the church, and turns around, arms outstretched to his approaching bride. Finn’s mother Carole sashays toward her soon-to-be husband as he goes to meet her. Arm in arm they move to the front of the church as the song continues, the crowd claps, and Kurt cries. As I watch I am crying too.
I happened upon the video yesterday on YouTube, and was transported back to a time that seems both like yesterday and like a moment from a prior life. What a time it was! Gay people were exploding in visibility and acceptance across the country, and Glee was a big part of that. By then it had become my favorite show, and each week I looked forward to Tuesday as “Glee day.” Gay entertainment site AfterElton was at its peak, still run by Michael Jensen and Brent Hartinger. I was a prominent part of the internet’s best commenter community, and on Wednesday I would waste a bit of my company’s time engaging in spirited back and forth commentary with other fans.
In the wider world Barack Obama was our president, the marriage equality movement was gathering steam, and the world seemed to be moving onward and upward toward an ever greater degree of equality and humanity. Problems and inequalities remained, of course, but we were moving in the right direction.
As I watched the video I was amazed by how intensely I felt the nostalgia, and by how much I had not consciously acknowledged the degree of change since then. Glee hasn’t been with us for a couple of years, of course. Cory Monteith has died, and Mark Salling has been charged with child pornography. It was hard to watch Cory and Mark singing and dancing with such apparent happiness in such an innocent time. Most of the rest of the cast have faded into relative obscurity.
AfterElton lost Michael and Brent, then changed its name to The Backlot, then was absorbed by NewNowNext, and finally disappeared completely. The terrific commenting community disappeared with it.
Most importantly, we exchanged Barack Obama for Donald Trump, and all of a sudden the world doesn’t look so bright and hopeful. The citizenry is far more polarized, and far too many people on both sides have become closed-minded and reactionary. Innocence and hopeful anticipation are hard to find. The world of endless possibilities has been replaced by a world that feels like a darkening day that presages a coming storm.
I’m depressing myself as I type this. But I’m actually here to tell you that things aren’t as bad as they seem, and we have the opportunity to return to the hopeful joy we felt during Glee’s heyday.
Everything in life is perspective, and we can choose how we look at the world and at our lives. I think we are making a big mistake when we let our antipathy to Trump dominate our perceptions of the world. The American system and government are time tested and resilient. We survived Richard Nixon, and we’ll survive Trump. Don’t fall for the idiotic talk about encroaching fascism. Step back for a moment and think about it with an open mind. Very little of your day to day life is different today than it would have been had Hillary won. The minute you recognize that the dark clouds begin to clear.
LGBT acceptance and support throughout society continues to increase, even among conservatives and Christians. Every day it gets easier to be openly gay. We have to be vigilant about fighting for the “queers left behind,” as Colin Walmsley termed them in an excellent piece last year on Huffington Post, but we should not lose sight of how much better life is becoming for the gay community. When the Glee episode I described aired marriage equality did not exist, and no American president or nominee had ever supported it. Today even Donald Trump calls it “settled law,” and has not opposed it. We don’t always see it, but social progress continues.
On a smaller level we have the responsibility to find things to be excited about, much as we used to be excited about Glee. There are always TV shows, books, movies, music, websites, sports, creative endeavors of many kinds. Stop focusing on a perceived social or political darkness, and embrace the good things.
Find something that in a few years will cause you to look back with joy and nostalgia. It’s up to you.
|Posted on May 20, 2017 at 8:40 PM||comments (0)|
By Dennis Stone
I’m damn tired of beginning articles with the disclaimer that I’m a lifelong progressive, that I strongly supported both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and that I think Donald Trump is woefully unprepared and unsuited for the presidency. But I’m equally damn tired of being dumbfounded by the anti-intellectual irrationality and counterproductive writings and actions of my left-wing compatriots.
The latest example of what the right calls the “lunatic left,” a description that I’m chagrined to say is not altogether unfounded, comes from the overheated pen of Michelangelo Signorile. He is a gay activist, a veteran of the venerable ACT UP movement of the 1980s and 1990s, and currently the editor of Huffington Post’s “Queer Voices” section. In a piece published on May 10 he calls for a popular uprising of “raising hell,” one that would “escalate the expression of our outrage and our anger in a massive way.” What he means by that is that Republican officials should be “hounded by protesters everywhere, especially in public,” but also at their homes. Whenever they go to and from their cars, eat in restaurants, etc., they should be met with angry denunciations, yelled questions and challenges, chanting, etc. Signorile wants to apply the methods of the ACT UP movement to the current situation.
ACT UP, of course, was our movement’s response to the horrors of AIDS, to the literally hundreds of thousands of deaths, and to the government’s woeful response to the crisis. So what is the horrific nature of today’s world that requires a similar response? The only specific thing Signorile mentions is Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey. He posits that act as an indicator of Trump moving our country toward fascism. Beyond that it’s just an amorphous hatred for everything Trump stands for. He alludes in a backhanded way to the new Republican health care bill, but otherwise does not offer any specific sins that mandate our noisy outrage.
Signorile’s piece is one of the most absurd pieces I’ve ever read, betraying a woeful lack of understanding of what’s actually going on in our country. And I say that as an ardent Trump foe and a devotee of anti-fascist dystopian novels from George Orwell on.
There is literally no chance that Trump could ever produce anything approaching fascism or authoritarianism. As much as Signorile hates Republicans (and my own distaste is reflected in my prior insistence on eliminating the capital “R” in the word), they overwhelmingly oppose anything smacking of actual authoritarianism. They worship the constitution and the freedom it represents. Republicans from John McCain in the Senate to powerful Jason Chaffetz in the House have expressed strong misgivings about anything approaching abuse of power. Many supported the idea of a special prosecutor or congressional investigations, and many have begun speculating about impeachment. When it comes to authoritarianism, to usurping power he constitutionally doesn’t have, Trump’s leash is very short.
Beyond those general terms, it’s ridiculous to assert that the firing of Comey is an “authoritarian power grab.” The president has full legal power to fire the FBI director. There is widespread speculation that Hillary Clinton would have fired him had she won. If Trump fired Comey to overtly impede an investigation - and that is not proven at this point - it would be obstruction of justice. And then legal and congressional remedies would be pursued, and Trump would be as susceptible to them as Nixon was in Watergate. But to see the firing as a precursor to fascism is silly and betrays a serious lack of understanding of both fascism and how our government works.
Further, the bureau is currently being run by Assistant Director Andrew McCabe, a Clinton appointee, and it is staffed by large numbers of agents of long tenure who supported Comey. McCabe testified last week that there has been no effort to obstruct the agency’s work. A new director will be nominated shortly, and any nominee would have to give assurances to Congress of independence of the White House before being confirmed.
Most importantly, a “Special Counsel” has now been appointed by the Assistant Attorney General to investigate all issues surrounding Russian election meddling and possible collusion with people in the Trump campaign. Robert Mueller was the man chosen, and he was FBI director for twelve years, including under President Obama. He is recognized by everyone who has worked with him as a man of high integrity. The Russian investigation will go forward with even more vigor than before, and the Comey firing will not matter.
This is how the system works. We are no closer to fascism today than we have ever been, and yet people like Signorile continue to ignorantly raise that fear.
Not only does Signorile not understand fascism or the governmental process, but he doesn’t understand why ACT UP tactics won’t be as successful this time around. ACT UP changed hearts and minds, and changed the governmental reaction to AIDS, because the goal was so transparently worthy to good-hearted people all along the political spectrum. Over 300,000 people died. Think about that. The death and trauma affected people of all parties and philosophies. As the deaths piled up, as famous people began to fall, it became increasingly possible to pull people together to fight the disease. What was needed was visibility and understanding, and ACT UP was an integral part of providing that.
In today’s world there is no clear obtainable goal that can be achieved through harassment and outrage. Signorile appears to think that if we apply ACT UP techniques to Republicans they will buckle to our will and defeat Trump’s policies, and then impeach him. That simply won’t happen. ACT UP tactics won’t turn conservatives into liberals, and they won’t get them to see fascism where it doesn’t exist.
What’s really going on here is that Signorile simply doesn’t like conservative policies, and he’s upset with a government currently dominated by conservatives. That’s well and good; I don’t like conservative policies either. But the actions Signorile is espousing are arrogant and anti-democratic. He doesn’t want to discuss differences of opinion, or to try to work through the different worldviews of conservatives and progressives. He wants mindless chanting and slogans rather than legitimate discussion and debate. He doesn’t believe in respect for opposing points of view because he doesn’t recognize the legitimacy of opposing points of view. And so mindless chanting and harassment seem like legitimate methodologies.
Signorile previously published a distressing piece in which he described how he unfriended and totally cut out of his life a childhood friend who had voted for Trump. This was a woman who had supported his coming out in an earlier, much less gay-friendly time, and who supported marriage equality. Someone who had never been less than supportive and friendly. Someone who sent him a message of moral support following the Pulse massacre. But he “discovered” when he looked through her Facebook page that she had posted a couple of videos from a commentator who made the case for supporting Trump despite his flaws. And that was enough for Signorile. They could no longer be friends.
He didn’t contact her to explain his reasoning, but rather unfriended and then blocked her on Facebook. If she were to reach out with a phone call or text he would not return it. Instead of contacting her personally he wrote an open letter on Huffington Post. At least he was able to turn the ending of a lifelong friendship into a political act of “resistance.”
I find his jettisoning of his friend to be incredibly sad. In his one-dimensional, intolerant world there is no freedom to hold an opinion at odds with his own. There is no argument that could be made for supporting Trump over Clinton, no matter how one might feel about taxes or the size of government or entitlements or any other issue. There is only one acceptable way to think. He says it’s not about rejecting someone over “politics.” Rather, “it’s about putting our entire democracy in danger of transforming into an autocracy, and legitimizing and making alliances with our worst adversaries, whose goal is to dominate us.” What a pile of steaming bullshit.
I have friends and relatives who supported Trump, almost exclusively because they opposed Clinton and what they thought she stood for. We’ve had discussions that have been mutually respectful. I think they understand why I so strongly oppose Trump, and I understand why they felt they had no choice themselves. In other words, we acted like mature adults with an understanding of the need to allow people the freedom of their own consciences. A maturity Signorile lacks.
The worst aspect of the attitudes that Signorile holds and espouses is that they are so self-righteous, so intolerant of alternate viewpoints, and so logically overblown that they make the vast middle and the open-minded conservatives think we on the left are more dangerous than Trump and the conservatives who support him. They perceive a totalitarian, Orwellian aspect that threatens them if they don’t get in line with the “approved” viewpoints. And those fears are not unfounded. Orwell was a socialist who nonetheless saw the dangers of “1984” and “Animal Farm” coming from the left. When we jettison friends for not thinking like we think they should, when we “escalate the expression of our outrage and our anger in a massive way” and apply it to anyone who doesn’t oppose everything Trump does and says, we stoke the fears of “regular” folks. We seem more dangerous than Trump, as difficult to believe as that might be.
In all of this we are kicking ourselves in the teeth. The “regular” folks hold the keys to elections in this country, especially national elections. I read the comments on Huffington Post following both of Signorile’s articles. I was aghast at how absurd and anti-intellectual they were. Inchoate rage with no reasoning beyond “Trump is bad.” Cries of “resist” and “take to the streets” and “rage” without a cogent expression of what they were trying to accomplish. The writers are quintessential “bubble dwellers” who think they represent a great popular movement because they are surrounded by people who think the same way. The problem is that they are actually a small minority. Having a disapproval of Trump’s performance emphatically does not equate to the “raising hell” mentality of Signorile and HuffPost commenters.
Today in my local paper there was a story of a school board meeting disrupted by chanting and yelling by a group called “The Social Justice Education Movement.” This is in a liberal city, but the overwhelming response of commenters on the story was to be appalled by the tactics of the group. Said one: “SO SICK of these so-called ‘social justice’ bullies who think they can yell, push, threaten and cajole everyone else around. Enough is enough. Get a job, go to work, pull your weight, and quit trying to tell the rest of us how to think and live our lives.” Regular folks are open to our ideas and our criticisms of Trump, but they are not open to the sort of actions that Signorile is endorsing.
The bottom line is that mainstream America does not want what Signorile is selling. It has the potential to backfire spectacularly. Trump’s performance is setting us up to take back both the House and the Senate in 2018, and the presidency in 2020. But as much as people are frightened and disturbed by Trump’s presidency, they are even more disturbed - and offended - by tactics on the left that attempt to bully people into thinking in a prescribed way; tactics that don’t allow for reasoned discussion between opposing points of view; tactics that attempt to shame people for their viewpoints, and seek to destroy lifelong relationships because of differences of opinion.
The sad irony is that our country is in a place ripe for the victory of progressive ideals. Most people want social justice, believe in diversity, support marriage equality, and want more economic opportunity for all. Most want sensible gun control, abortion rights, protections of the social safety net, etc. But the inflexible self-righteousness of people like Michelangelo Signorile, the excessive restrictions of political correctness (no, that’s not just a right-wing shibboleth), and the perception that there is only one approved way to think are converting our potential allies into enemies.
Michelangelo Signorile fears fascism. I fear waking up the morning after the elections in 2018 and 2020 and discovering that our arrogance and our self-righteousness have led once again to Republican victories.
|Posted on May 4, 2017 at 7:00 PM||comments (0)|
By Dennis Stone
"Silence Of the Lambs" director Jonathan Demme died recently, which generated multiple stories about his most famous movie. It was known for winning five Academy Awards, including all five of the major categories. It was known for its riveting performances by Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster. And it was known for generating a huge backlash from the LGBT community. GLAAD issued a strong denunciation. Gay people, led by Queer Nation and ACT-UP, protested and picketed for a year leading up to Oscar night. Larry Kramer called the film "one of the most virulently and insidiously homophobic films ever made."
Interestingly, the outlook of many gay people toward the movie has mellowed over the years, with most - though not all - of today's objections based on the perception of transphobia. Demme's death and the resultant articles got me thinking about the movie again, and about the legitimacy or lack thereof of the outrage and criticism.
I saw the movie in a theater back in 1991. I was stunned by it (in a good way). Hannibal Lecter, Clarice Starling and Buffalo Bill (Jame Gumb) were extraordinarily compelling characters. I did not perceive the movie as homophobic, and was not immediately aware that others in the community saw it that way. In those days, before the ubiquity of the internet, people were allowed to reflect and make up their own minds before being inundated by the reactions and group think of the wider world.
So why did so many gay people, especially the activists, react so negatively and vehemently. Serial killer Buffalo Bill was perceived as gay, and this was a time when few gay people appeared in movies or on TV shows, and those that did were disproportionately presented as limp wristed stereotypes, or criminals, or disturbed, or unhappy victims of some kind. And here came a character who was perceived as embodying all of those characteristics in one demented, murdering soul. The gay community desperately needed and wanted mature and positive representation. Was that too much to ask? As the most inspired protest chant went, "We're here; we're queer; put us in your movie." I love that!
I didn't have the same reaction because I didn't interpret Buffalo Bill as a gay character. Protesters pointed to a reference to a previous male lover (who Bill had killed). Then there were Bill's characteristics. As a GLAAD leader said: "The killer in the movie is a walking, talking gay stereotype. He has a poodle named Precious, he sews, he wears a nipple ring, he has an affected feminine voice, and he cross-dresses. He completely promotes homophobia.” The problem is that Bill considered himself to be transsexual, not gay, and all of those characteristics fit with that self-perception. The male lover would fit into that scenario as well. The whole point of the character was that he hated what he was, and wanted to transform himself into something else: a woman. Hence his obsession with butterflies and their metamorphosis from one thing (chrysalis) to another (butterfly).
I did not see a gay character. Rather, I saw a psychopath, someone whose entire being was warped by his past, someone who was so outside the realm of decency and "humanity" that every action and attribute were beyond conventional interpretation. Even in 1991 I was aware of fluidity and context in relation to sexuality. Bill may have had one or more male lovers, but for me that did not make him gay in any meaningful sense. Hannibal Lecter, his psychiatrist, explained it as a part of Bill's desire to morph into something willfully "out there." At that time being gay was certainly "out there." Further, having a male lover would fit into his desire to become a woman. We are always reminding people that there is a big difference between gender identity and sexual orientation.
After the controversy erupted Demme took pains to make clear that the character was not meant to be seen as gay. He said at the time: "We knew it was tremendously important to not have Gumb misinterpreted by the audience as being homosexual. That would be a complete betrayal of the themes of the movie. And a disservice to gay people.” Ted Levine, the actor who portrayed Bill, has stated that he never saw the character as gay, and had no intention of playing him that way.
For all of those reasons "Silence Of the Lambs" and Buffalo Bill did not offend me, or make me feel demeaned.
For neither the first nor last time in my life I was on a different wavelength than the activist wing of the community. In the first draft of this piece I stated that I found it surprising that gay activists would interpret Buffalo Bill as gay. But the more I think about it the more I understand it. The warriors of Queer Nation and ACT-UP were in the midst of their boisterous and increasingly successful fight against AIDS apathy and various other forms of homophobia. Full of anger and rage from the devastation of the disease, energized by their increased visibility and prominence, they were not in a place to be able to see the complexity and nuances in a character like Buffalo Bill. Overlooking the transsexual dynamic, they saw a man who had had sex with a man, and therefore they saw a reprehensible representation of the community they were defending.
I understand that reaction. There was another important factor, however, that isn't nearly as obvious, but was just as important: insecurity. The activists of 1991 were raised in an environment of social disapproval that young gay people today can't really understand. There were few positive gay characters in the movies or on television, and almost no gay celebrities. Young gays were enveloped in a sense of isolation as their identities emerged, and then they lived through the horror of AIDS. Insecurity was almost inevitable.
Even in today's much more open and enlightened world insecurity is a common attribute of the gay psyche. While writing this piece I watched the fascinating documentary "Do I Sound Gay." At one point director David Thorpe was talking to two friends about his "gay voice". One friend had perceived David to think his voice was "bad." "Do you think that yourself?" asked the other friend. The casual reply floored me: "Well, you know, I have a sort of generic self-loathing that is created around my gayness." I think that sort of negativity is a larger part of the gay psyche even today than we want to admit. It was certainly even more prominent in 1991, and activists were not immune, despite their bravado and combativeness. The combination of insecurity, rage, and a lifetime of slights and marginalization made it easy and perhaps inevitable that a character like Buffalo Bill, in one of the most seen movies of the year, would be seen as a reprehensible outrage worthy of furious demonstrations.
I've always had a love/hate relationship with "activists," and the reaction to "Silence Of the Lambs" is an example of why. While activists are vital in raising awareness, pushing for change, and making it clear that we will stand up for ourselves, a corollary is that being an activist to some degree removes the ability to think and reason. At least about the issues at the core of the activism. That will offend a lot of people, but think about it for a moment. All that matters is pushing the agenda. No one wanted to hear Demme or anyone else discuss the complexity of the character, or how neither Demme nor Thomas Harris, the author of the book, intended for Buffalo Bill to be interpreted as a gay man.
I want to say a few words about the transsexual angle. When I saw the movie in 1991 the issue of transgenderism was much less understood and prominent than it is today, and I didn't give it enough thought. Today I better understand how the movie could be seen as transphobic. In fact, I see it that way myself. The crux of the movie is that Bill wants to be a woman, and in pursuit of that goal he becomes a murderer. Hannibal Lecter says that Bill isn't a "real" transsexual, but the reasoning isn't persuasive. Being declined for sex confirmation surgery is far from definitive. And the premise that Bill wants to be a woman simply because he hates his current identity and wants to be something else is problematic.
Some people have referred to the movie as an outdated relic of an earlier time in regard to the LGBT issues. To some degree that is true regarding the transphobia aspects, but I actually think the movie is AHEAD of its time. And today is not yet that time. We are still too sensitive and too insecure and too reactive for what I would consider a "correct" understanding of the movie. Consider a world where gay people and trans people are fully accepted and secure in their identities, and where fluidity of identity is understood. In that world a serial killer formed and deformed by an abusive past could have a male lover without it being any comment on the gay community. He could pathologically want to change himself into a woman without it being seen as a representation of the trans community. Positive gay and trans characters would not be rare in that world, and so a negative character would not be a threat.
As odd as it may sound, that's essentially how I interpreted the movie, even in 1991. Based on people to whom I've talked, and comments I have read, I am not alone. There is very little black and white in the world; most everything is gray. "Silence Of the Lambs" exists in that gray world.
|Posted on April 18, 2017 at 8:05 PM||comments (0)|
By Dennis Stone
Do you read gay media? If you're reading this obscure little site of mine then I'm guessing you do. Have you noticed the prime characteristic of all of these sites (apart from mine!)? The stories are overwhelmingly negative, focusing on all the dark and oppressive aspects of the queer experience. Stories about the crazy things obscure rightwingers say; repetitive pieces about how evil Trump is and how awful and hateful his America has become; stories exemplifying the worldview that no discriminatory experience is too insignificant to not have its own story and headline.
Check out a few of these sites now for yourself. You know what they are. Scan the headlines. I'll wait.
See what I mean? While I was waiting for you I checked out a prominent site myself. The top headline was about homophobes wanting to cut off the arm of a gay guy who had a suggestive picture of Green Bay Packers football star Aaron Rodgers tattooed on the arm. That sounds like a scary story. It turns out that all that happened was that a few goofballs in the Twitterverse replied to the tweet of the tattoo artist who had created the suggestive tat and had tweeted a picture of it. The headline regarding cutting off the arm came from a tweet suggesting that Rodgers should "confiscate" the arm. That was it. Wow, there are nasty and homophobic people on Twitter! Stop the presses!
Another story was about an uncle posting on Instagram about the My Little Pony easter egg he gave his nephew. Some commenters said boys should get only "boy eggs." So now we have another headline, complete with an interview of the uncle. Then there was a story about a lawsuit against a West Virginia county whose clerk told a lesbian couple applying for a marriage license that God would judge them. (The clerk gave them the license.) And a story about how Katy Perry was prohibited from interacting with gay people while growing up. On top of all of that, each new day brings new stories attempting to convince us of what we've known and felt for months: Donald Trump isn't our favorite politician!
Gay media seems unconcerned with how real gay people live today in the real world. The world in which literally millions live lives of safety and acceptance. The world that has been utterly transformed over the past ten years. The world that has literally never been better for gay people as a community, where coming out has never been less traumatic, where millions are out and happy and essentially equal to their straight peers. To say the preceding is emphatically NOT to say that everything is wonderful, that there aren't too many left behind, that there aren't a lot of young people facing intolerant families, and that there is no political danger in our future. And it's especially noteworthy that there are many countries where being gay is far more dangerous than it is for those of us lucky enough to live in Western countries. But we can recognize the shortcomings and the work left to do without ignoring the true nature of gay life today. Gay media is painting a scary and dishonest picture that focuses on the darkness and ignores the light. I am concerned that young people may see this dark vision as reality, and become irrationally afraid.
My favorite gay site is "Out." I've always respected its intention to cover all aspects of the gay world, and to reflect the many faces of that incredibly diverse gay world. Sometimes they get in trouble with the Debbie Downers of the rest of the mainstream world, most spectacularly when they did a straightforward profile of Milo Yiannopoulos that didn't paint him as evil incarnate. (See my passionate defense of the profile here.) "Out" has a regular section they call "Positive Voices." I'd like to think that section is a tiny refuge from all the dark stories, a place where the positive and joyous aspects of the gay experience can be discussed. Alas, "Positive Voices" is a section devoted to HIV and AIDS. That is a subject eminently worthy of discussion, perhaps more than it is given, but the positive stories need a section too.
The New Millennial Gay Experience that serves as this site's raison d'etre has no place in mainstream gay media. I want to talk about the ways in which gay life is changing and improving, and the issues that arise from that tectonic change. As the gay world dramatically changes there are all sorts of stresses and tensions that arise, all sorts of new ways of thinking that are evolving. Assimilation discussion, anyone? Many people don't understand or don't accept this new world. Many, especially those that maintain or read mainstream gay media, don't want to talk about anything but the negative. In a world with a balanced gay media I would talk more about some of these negative subjects myself. Simply because they do exist. But the gay media is so fixated on those things at the expense of the exhilarating advances and evolution we've experienced that I can't bring myself to add to that sad cacophony.
Based on the people I know, and on many of the reader comments I see online, there are a lot of people who agree with me, and would love to see the bright and beautiful side of the gay experience. How great would it be if a rich person or group set up such a site and promoted it as an alternative?!
I think it would meet a need. And I think it would do quite well.
|Posted on April 8, 2017 at 4:10 PM||comments (0)|
By Dennis Stone
Wait, what??? Sexual preference??? What am I thinking? I can’t use that term. It indicates that sexuality is a choice, as opposed to an innate, unchangeable orientation.
Over the years we’ve come to agree that “sexual preference” is a term used by the ignorant or the willfully homophobic. However, as the march of cultural evolution continues, making gay people ever more mainstream and accepted, and as my own outlooks mature, I have come to believe that we should abandon our antipathy to that phrase.
Get the mug at: lookhuman.com
Actually, I would argue that we should overtly “reclaim” the phrase, much as we have reclaimed the word “queer.” More about that in a bit, but let’s start with why I think we should stop getting bent out of shape when people now use the phrase. First, and most importantly, it is not actually incorrect. I, like other gay men, could choose to have sex with women, even though I’m only attracted to men. Gay men have been doing that throughout history, marrying and having children to hide from and fit in with an intolerant world. So even though I’m gay and could have sex with women, I PREFER to have sex with men. That is my sexual preference.
In today’s ever more enlightened world we want to affirm gender fluidity and reject the traditional binary construct. But at the same time many of us are resistant to the concept of fluidity in sexuality. I have never had sex with a woman, but many of the people who identify as gay HAVE had sex with opposite-sex partners. Contexts.org recently did a study based on data from the 2002, 2006-2010, and 2011-2013 National Survey of Family Growth. The surveys included men and women 15 to 44 years of age. They showed that 39% of men identifying as gay have had a female sexual partner at some point in their lives, while 59% of women identifying as lesbian have had a male sexual partner. Despite those experiences their self identity indicates that they PREFER to have sex with same-sex partners.
The bottom line is that in the fluid, non-binary world in which we live, “sexual preference” is a valid, legitimate concept.
The second reason to stop being antagonistic toward the use of the phrase is that it is rare for someone to use it with the intent of indicating a belief that orientation is a choice. Most people use it innocently as a commonly heard substitute for orientation, unaware that we in the gay community interpret it differently, and that many of us take offense. We who are gay focus a lot of energy and attention on the subject of sexuality, but, believe it or not, straight people have other things on which to focus. If they don’t mean to claim that our orientation is a choice it seems rather pointless to take offense.
In simple terms we should lighten up about language, not only about the phrase “sexual preference,” but in general. It’s a sign of maturation, a sign of our awareness that we are no longer the misunderstood outcasts we used to be. For many of us the insecurity of the past has been replaced by a confidence born of our own strength and the burgeoning acceptance that surrounds us. A straight person referring to “sexual preference?” Nope, that’s not going to bother me.
As I stated at the beginning of this piece, I’d actually like to reclaim the phrase. There’s something about objecting to it that has always made me uncomfortable. We’re sort of saying “you have to accept me because I was born with this unfortunate condition and there’s nothing I can do about it; it’s not a choice.” Because who would choose that condition, after all, as awful as it is? That’s the underlying context to some degree. But I have NEVER felt that there’s anything unfortunate or wrong about being gay. Whether I chose it or not, whether I can have sex with anyone but prefer men, who cares?
Yes, my sexual preference is that I like men.
|Posted on March 21, 2017 at 11:10 PM||comments (0)|
By Dennis Stone
One of the scariest aspects of being gay for many people is the need and/or desire to come out to one’s family. That is true at any age, but especially so for young people not yet well established on their own. Even in today’s relatively enlightened world the fear of rejection from the people who dominated one’s life for so long, the people who should be the ultimate and safest refuge, can be intense. And the younger a person is, the more dangerous can be the practical results of rejection.
I was palpably reminded of that fear while watching “When We Rise,” the excellent ABC miniseries that was, unfortunately, seen by far too few people. Activist icon Cleve Jones, who wrote the memoir on which the miniseries was based, came out to his psychologist father when he turned 18. Jones’ father did not take the revelation well. He wanted Cleve to get electroshock and other barbaric conversion therapies to eradicate the “illness,” and he made financial help for going to college conditional on that therapy. The atmosphere became so poisonous that Cleve soon left to make a new life in San Francisco.
Young Cleve Jones back in the day.
Later in the series another harrowing coming out was portrayed. Richard Socarides, who became a senior advisor to President Clinton, came out to his father, the notorious Charles Socarides. The father had become famous for his work and books on the subject of homosexuality, based on his passionate belief that it was a mental illness that could and should be cured. When Richard came out to him he reacted angrily, and then pulled a gun from a drawer and threatened to shoot himself in the head.
I was struck by the reactions of Jones and Socarides to their familial rejection. Rather than meet anger with anger and rejection with rejection, both reacted with disappointment and pain. But both continued to maintain communication in the hope of a more accepting future. Their hurt and sorrow, their patience and hope, did not reflect weakness or a lack of self-respect, but rather the depth of their love and a belief in the power of time to change viewpoints. When Socarides ended the conversation with his father by saying “I love you Dad,” I did not see capitulation or a lack of self-respect. Rather, I saw a strong and self-confident gay son towering over a clueless little man.
Unfortunately, Socarides’ hope was not rewarded. His father never changed his views, and their relationship was never the same. Jones was more fortunate. His father became an unconditionally loving advocate and supporter, and they became close once again. As he told the “Daily Beast” about his parents: “Both of them were quite perfect in every way. They went to quilt displays and marches and became activists. There was a rapprochement.”
His advice to young people today who encounter resistance or rejection from their parents? “I hear from young people every week who have come out who are rejected by parents. I always tell them, ‘Do what you need to do to protect your heart. Maybe a bit of distance would be good, but leave the door open.’ I think what happened with my parents, especially my father, was repeated around the country.”
Many in today’s gay community feel that the best response to any rejection or disrespect is confrontation or reciprocal rejection. Anger is the watchword of the day. We want to raise our fists and fight back against any who would not accept us as equals, who would not embrace us for what we are. If someone - whether family member, co-worker or friend - has negative reactions to our sexuality, then fuck them. We don’t need them in our lives, and WE’LL reject THEM. To react in any other way shows a lack of self respect, it reflects a passivity we can’t afford.
But the thing about anger and about fighting is that we have to know when and with whom to be angry, when and with whom to fight. Fight against any attempt to roll back our hard won rights, fight against the bathroom bills that keep popping up, fight for the long overdue Equality Act (soon to be reintroduced in Congress). In the spirit of “One Struggle, One Fight,” fight for racial equality, an increased minimum wage, environmental protection, humane treatment of animals, and all the other issues you care about.
But don’t fight your family, even if they are not accepting and supportive. Take your cue from Cleve Jones and Richard Socarides. Give your family time to grow, to learn, to mature. Continue to love, continue to be the bigger person. You have the superiority, you have the moral high ground. Recognize and understand it. Own it.
Leave the door open.