The Gay In The Light
“THAT’S what a FAGGOT looks like!” So declared a boy in my seventh grade class at St Columban’s, a private school I attended in Portugal. It was the school I was at when I had my first suicide attempt. It was not, though, the first time I encountered that kind of name calling. Years earlier, in Ohio, I was in grade school and was, frequently, called JAP, CHINK, SLOPE. I am Spanish Filipino on my Mother’s side of the family and homosexual, through and through. I have been, in my life, diminished in as many ways as a person could count on ten fingers. My diminishment traveled with me throughout my childhood, my teenage years, my college years, my adulthood. I have been called disparaging things all of my life and I am stronger today than I have ever been before. That is my gift from a cruel world that tried to break me: I know that I am unbreakable. Nevertheless, I can still feel the sting of tears that a verbally and physically beaten gay Filipino boy feels upon being taunted and attacked by people he must see every day.
This morning, a friend of mine asked me WHY the prissy boys insist on being so faggoty? It was a genuine question based on the number of twinks that can be found on Youtube, lip syncing and dancing in their best high drag runway; these same boyz can be seen prancing around New York City in the spring and summer, their haute couture threatened by sweat stains and their pocketbooks in the crook of their Pan Am stewardess poised arms. Why, my friend asked, do they mince and lisp and snap and talk like every other drag queen on RuPaul’s Drag Race? Who, my friend wanted to know (most sincerely), told them that that was an attractive way to behave?
“Quentin Crisp” I replied.
Mr Crisp insisted on being absolutely who he was. After he, came the drag queens of Paris is Burning, showcasing their ferocity and individuality. Now we have RuPaul, telling people that they cannot love somebody else without, first, loving themselves, all the while, showing the world the fierce divas of drag who compete for the crown. Somewhere in between the two inexorable bookends that are Mr Crisp and RuPaul, straight allies like Madonna and Lady Gaga tell us to express ourselves because we are born this way.
When I was a child, I hid who I was. I did this in my teens and into my twenties. We were still hiding in the shadows. I would go into gay bookstores in Dallas, terrified that someone I knew would see me there, until I realized the irony of my thought process. We may not have been in the closet but we had been; and, in a way, we still were. The gay men of the world fought the ravages and stigma of the AIDS crisis. The phrase “straight acting” was a regular one used in personal ads and daily conversation. Judgment was passed at every turn. As time passed, we were allowed to hold hands but often with the fear of being seen. We were allowed to be couples but only in our circle of friends. Our walk into the light was more like a climb out of the abyss. We pushed and fought, scratched and clawed our way into the light and now we are here, able to be exactly who we are and do exactly as we please. Thanks to the sacrifices of men like Quentin Crisp, Harvey Milk and all of the other homosexuals of bygone times, there is a new generation of gay in town: the Gay in the Light. While the men of decades passed were unable to, fully, express who they were, the men of today are. Their self expression may be as a gay man who likes sports or a gay man who likes opera. Their self expression may be as a man in high heels or a man with an enormous beard. Gay men are redefining themselves, the rules and the world. This is our moment and we are going to live in it until it is so widespread that a man pummeling a runway in his mind that is only 8th avenue in real life is something that passersby don’t even turn a head for; and it’s wonderful.
I understand my friend’s question and authentic inquiry. When I was younger, I was a bit prejudiced regarding my brothers and sisters. I am not the most masculine of men but neither am I a gay with a bright flame. I am just a gay guy; I can queen out and I can GI Joe it — it depends entirely on which personality wakes up with me that day. In the 80s I was scared of drag queens, repelled by leather daddies and confused by trannies. As I grew, as a man, as a gay man, as a person, I broadened my thinking, my vision and the scope of my heart. I spent some time getting to know the different people who make up our not so little community. I came to love and respect them, to admire and learn from them, these different types of people with so much to teach me. I watched words like queer become de rigeur and words like tranny become de trop. People in our community and outside of it stand for what is right, oftentimes, together. We became a family. Butch lesbians were called dykes less and the world learned the term lipstick lesbian. The LGB community became LGBT. We became a family, all fighting for equal rights and those rights began to come and among those rights was the right to be exactly who you are. All of my prejudices from my twenties fell away and what was left was a man, leading from a place of love, an activist, fighting for equality and trying to spread a positive way of looking at all the flowers in our garden.
A famous actor hurt some of those flowers this week. He made some comments about his experience growing up gay and the members of our community who err of the more effeminate side were up in arms. The social media was all aflutter and he was losing fans at every turn. I thought his comments were ill phrased and poorly executed but I could not bring myself to condemn him, having, in my youth, felt a relief at being just the way I am. However, I grew older, wiser and made the excellent choice of never expressing my opinion allowed, until they had changed to loving opinions. I’m not a famous person and my opinions, once expressed, will hurt nobody. I wouldn’t mind being famous because, when you are famous, you have an opportunity to affect change in the world and to lead by example. I don’t understand the trend that the famous have for opening their mouths without thinking. Not everyone does it. Some people are quite good at saying just the right thing and never hurting anyone. Others are simply awful at it and they give the other members of their profession a bad name. I seem to remember a famous singer offending the transgender community with the word tranny. Only last week a famous television personality offended the African American community by making a comment about a famous black actress’ hair that was perceived as racist. A once famous actress went on Fox news to criticize an Oscar winner’s speech that included a plea for pay equality. Almost every day some famous person is issuing a public apology for having said something that offended a group of people. I don’t suppose that is surprising, since politicians, commentators, pundits and columnists say the most eye popping and appalling things about people, the world and politics and NEVER apologize for it. They set the tone and lead the way but the maddening thing is that these are paid public speakers. Artists have the luxury of governing their tongue, if they so choose. I don’t know why more of them don’t do it. There are certainly plenty of artists who are eloquent, educated and in a position where their passion and activism can benefit from their orations but for every one of those informed, well spoken performers, there are at least ten ill-informed, voluble celebrities who spout insipid and nonsensical garbage that cannot be retracted after someone has been hurt. Apologies are issued to mollify someone’s offense but the more humane focus should be on NOT hurting peoples’ FEELINGS, rather than assuaging their anger. I noted that the actor in question posted a series of backpedalling comments to his Twitter page and it simply would have been easier to stop and think, before speaking, “Is what I am about to say going to HURT anyone?” Nobody wants to be diminished. Nobody wants to feel unwanted or unloved. The effeminate men of the world want to express themselves as much as the next colourful member of our community – and without feeling disparaged, judged or diminished. As I said before, I don’t hold the actor in question any blame – after all he was expressing himself, too, and I guess he should be allowed to do so. Nevertheless, he made an unkind remark that hurt people and cost him fans. If he had had someone writing his dialogue for him it might have gone so much better (after all, some very unintelligent politicians have slipped under the stupid radar by having others write their comments for them, while some others have been given carte blanche to entertain and terrify us all by speaking extemporaneously). Sadly, he, like so many others, had nobody there to help him weigh the aftermath of his comments and he, like so many others, is suffering for it today, along with the people he hurt and the fans who, once, loved him.
If I were famous and giving an interview, I would want to tell my effeminate brothers that I wish I had a fraction of their style, panache and flair; just as I would say to my more masculine brothers, I wish they would teach me their workout tips. I would want to tell my transgender siblings that they are not alone and my lesbian sisters that they are beautiful, exactly as they are, butch or femme. I am not, though, famous, so I will leave it to the people with an actual platform to lead by example, show an expression of love and acceptance and maybe follow the lead of this middle aged, middle of the road, uncelebrated gay guy by, first, thinking before they speak and, instead, offering an outstretched hand of peace.