Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Gay Acting" and the Hypocrisy of Pointing It Out

So, is Marcus Bachmann gay? There’s a lot of speculation out there that the husband of presidential candidate and Tea Party darling Michele Bachmann is as queer as a three dollar bill. And, there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence to suggest it may be so.

But how can we tell?

Well, he has devoted his entire life and career to “curing” people from being gay. This gives me pause. We are often driven to do things in our lives because of who we are and what we experience. Someone whose sister died of cancer in childhood might find their life’s work focused on curing cancer. People who have perfect pitch often become musicians. And I know quite a few psychologists – not one of them would ever claim that they were completely sane.

So, Marcus Bachmann’s life work would suggest an inordinate fascination with gay people. On the surface, it looks like he doth protest too much.

Then there’s the way he walks and talks. Jon Stewart did an hysterical segment on July 13’s “The Daily Show,” pointing out that Dr. Bachmann “dances and sounds not only gay, but center square gay” – referring to the flamingly hilarious Paul Lynde on “Hollywood Squares.”

I totally agree. Marcus Bachmann does sound and look gay.

But wait a minute. Are we supposed to judge whether or not people are gay because of how they look and sound?

Kristen Chenoweth doesn’t seem to think so. A year ago, Chenoweth was one of the loudest voices in an outcry against Newsweek columnist Ramin Setoodeh, who posited that Sean Hayes was too gay to successfully pull off the macho lead in the musical “Promises, Promises” (in which Chenoweth co-starred with Hayes).

Said Setoodeh, who is himself gay: “Hayes is among Hollywood’s best verbal slapstickers, but his sexual orientation is part of who he is, and also part of his charm.”

Chenoweth called this “horrendously homophobic,” “small minded” and “bigoted, among other things. She was joined by “Glee” producer Ryan Murphy, and a host of gay and lesbian rights groups.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Don’t Stop Believing in a Hungry Heart

“Mom, what’s a hungry heart?”

Dixon asked me this a few days after Clarence Clemons died. We were in the kitchen, doing dishes and listening to an old interview with Clemons on the radio.

I looked at her, and marveled at how much more mature my children are at 8 than I was even at 18.

What’s a hungry heart?

I was introduced to rock n roll by my high school English teacher. Her premise, I believe, was to open up the world of poetry through the contemporary lyrics kids listened to every day on the radio. Her premise for our class—which I will admit was filled with a bunch of nerds—was to show us that John Donne was as much of a star in his time as Bruce Springsteen was in ours. Problem is, she first had to teach quite a few of us who Bruce Springsteen was. This was before Springsteen became a mainstream, top 40 idol, but after he had captured the hearts of true music lovers.

A couple of years later I was at Brandeis University near Boston, an eye opening experience for a girl from Las Vegas. Before we were all so connected, culture was as different from one side of America to the other as we were from England or Spain. Springsteen was a god to all of my Long Island and New Jersey classmates. I liked... Journey. And ELO. And the Little River Band. But I—green as green can be, with a slower pace and an unfamiliarity with such familiar East Coast things as fried dough—was seen as an oddity. Probably didn’t help that I was still unsure of my sexuality. And, despite the efforts of my high school teacher, I stuck to the music I liked.

This did not go over well.

One day in the cafeteria, a pinched-face kid named Keith implied sarcastically that there was something lacking in me because of my music preferences. I dumped my Coke on his head.

“Mom, what’s a hungry heart?”

“Well, everybody hungers for something,” I answered.

“You mean like love and power?” Dixon said.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Was I Born Gay?

Was I born gay? Did I come out of the womb hitting on my female nurse rather than the male doctor? Did I play sports as a child because I was genetically predisposed to later want to sleep with women, or because I was hyperactive and needed to constantly move? Do I have a deep voice because I’m gay? Or am I gay because I have a deep voice, and was therefore treated a certain way by the society around me?

These questions are almost impossible to answer. Perhaps that’s why most people—and certainly people representing gay leadership in this country—don’t even try. The prevailing argument is that we were born this way, and therefore we should have equal rights to every other human being.

I heartily agree that everyone is equal, no matter who they are. But here’s my answer to the question of whether I was born gay: I don’t care. And not only do I not care, I think the question is harmful. And I think a gay community that focuses on whether or not we were born this way is doing more long-term harm than short-term good.

Sexuality is an incredibly complicated thing. Who knows why we are attracted to the people we’re attracted to. It could be physical: strong arms, beautiful smile, small/big breasts. It could be a kind of look that comes out of someone’s eyes. It could be their attitude toward life, or their sense of humor. It could be that we sense that we have something to give that they need, and vice versa. We are attracted to people for a myriad of reasons, and we rarely question it. Until it jumps gender. Until the things that draw us and move us and speak to us are found mostly in people of the same sex. Then we crawl all over ourselves trying to find an answer to why we’re gay.

The question of whether we were born gay does not come from us. It’s a response to the prejudice surrounding us—to the prejudice we grew up with that still frames the way we see the world. It’s more directly a response to Christian nationalists, who have charged that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice and, therefore, we can change. This argument is patently absurd. Whether we are gay because of a genetic variance, or whether we are gay because of a lifetime of moments and interactions with the world—or some combination thereof—is beside the point. We still can’t change, no matter how we are raised or how much psychotherapy we have. Who we are is largely immutable, whether it’s genetic or not.

What I can’t figure out is why our entire gay identity is wrapped around responding to the bullies in the playground who insist on defining us. They say, “You can change!” and our response should be, “Yeah, that’s completely ridiculous. What rock did you crawl out from under.” Instead, our response is, “No I can’t! I was born this way!”

We’re playing their game, on their field, responding to the rules and parameters that they’ve set up. Who are WE? And why aren’t we fighting the battle against ignorance on our terms?