Does this photo make me look gay? Do I make this photo look gay? And what’s with the hair? It looks very Presidential, only fuller, don’t you think?
This was me around the time I realized that I liked boys and the power of Sun-In and a hairdryer. I’ve been thinking about the person in this picture as I recently watched a TV show that you probably did not. ABC’s When We Rise condensed the sweeping arc of gay-rights over the past 50 years into a four-night, eight-hour miniseries. A big commitment, I know—and I don’t just mean from viewers. That a major TV network devoted a week of prime time to telling queer stories is a major sign of progress.
Yet this was no Roots. Ratings sucked, which some might say also signifies progress. Today, the notion that gay people are, you know, people isn’t as wackadoo as it used to be. And so a history lesson depicting the heartaches, struggles, and triumphs of the gay movement can’t capture attention the way that the heartaches, struggles, and triumphs of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills can these days.
Still, I liked the show. It spoke to me, maybe because I was born in 1976 and pushed open the closet door when I was 13. Not many middle-school boys back then openly proclaimed their love for Madonna or knew the entire “Vogue” routine. Even fewer kids supported those who did; gay-straight-student alliances were not yet a thing.
As I watched When We Rise, I obviously reflected on how today so many people take for granted the reality of being gay now vs then. In the early ’90s:
- I remember being taken to a psychologist not to change my orientation but to confirm that I might be passing through a phase. (Confirmed! I’m still going through it!)
- I remember stealing gay books from Waldenbooks because I was too scared to be seen buying them.
- I remember being called a faggot one day in high school. I remember being called a faggot the next day, too. And many days after that.
- I remember a guidance counselor who stood in the hallway like a deer in headlights after hearing such barbs hurled at me.
- I remember a theater of moviegoers reacting in (likely feigned) disgust when two male dancers kissed in Madonna’s Truth or Dare. I also remember being one of them, pretending to be grossed out since I wasn’t fully out.
- I remember wearing kooky clothes to school and feeling relieved that people were making fun of me for something other than being gay.
- I remember wishing that I were fat, because I thought one F-word wasn’t as insulting as the other.
- I remember another student coming out and admonishing me for being a disgrace to all gay people (it was either the bathrobe or phone cords I wore to school).
- I remember a friend telling me to walk in front of her because she didn’t want to be seen with me. A friend.
- I remember being fired from a summer job as a supermarket cashier seemingly for being gay, and letting them get away with it because I didn’t want to be that guy who played the minority card. (You can read about it here.)
- I remember deciding to pursue a career in fashion design (my eventual college major), because gay people belong in the arts. I’m gay. I liked clothes. See the logic? A glamorous job in HR never occurred to me. To this day, I’m frustrated that I made a major life decision based on the wrong reasons, or the right reasons at the time, or without much reasoning to begin with.
I remember a lot more, and probably forgot even more. And though I enjoyed the TV show, it made me queasy to relive such memories. I bet the show unnerved lots of homosexuals. Homosexuals! To even hear that word used on TV was weird. Like I’ve always said: Never trust anyone who refers to gays as homosexuals. Continue reading
“Who are you to judge me?”
It’s a question that isn’t really a question. No one ever asks it so much as hurls it as a defense to shut down dialogue—which is exactly why I’ll use it to start this conversation, and launch this blog.
The problem with invoking some let-he-who-casts-the-first-stone nonsense to silence someone is that it assumes none of us has the right to judge. The reality, however, is not that we’re too judgmental. It’s that we’re not judgmental enough.
So I’m throwing the first stone. I hope you don’t bruise easily.
For starters, tell a mother she’s raising little Johnny well. “Thank you,” she’ll reply, beaming with pride. Point out that she’s neglecting her son, and she’ll shoot a menacing glare not seen since Satan possessed poor Marlena. “Don’t you dare tell me how to raise my child! DON’T JUDGE ME!”
What she really means is, “Don’t judge me—unless you’re judging me positively.” Girlfriend, you can’t have it both ways.
Sure, there’s the maxim instructing what you’re (not) supposed to do if you’ve got nothing nice to say—and it’s a good rule for most etiquette matters. Want to use the salad fork instead of the dinner fork? Who cares? (Well, some people care. But they shouldn’t, certainly not in the way that we’re talking about here.) It’s one thing to violate a custom—I’ll cut into my Lean Cuisine with your $357 steak knife if I feel like it, thank you—but quite another to act in ways that impact others. Now we’re talking ethics.
When behavior falls under an ethical domain, it’s not just OK but obligatory for you to judge, negatively or otherwise. In fact, all of us already do that, only we keep our thoughts to ourselves. So the issue isn’t so much judging but judging publicly. Continue reading