Sunday, July 7, 2013

Er... By the Way...

I was twenty-four when I first found out that some people assumed I was gay. I was shocked--not primarily by their misconception, but by their ludicrous reasons: I wore rings, I listened to classical music and I liked flowers.

Fifteen years later, when I began advocating for gay rights, I wanted to identify as straight because I saw the impression it made. Most people expected a straight guy not to know or care about gay rights. In defying that expectation I hoped to make people reframe their view: to see, through my eyes, that my passion should not be remarked upon, let alone rare.

The problem was one of perceived practicality. If people had assumed I was gay for reasons unrelated to sex, how wildly would they misconstrue my advocating for gay rights? And if I attempted to correct them, how quickly would the words "Methinks thou dost protest too much" spring to their minds? I felt that to tell people I was straight would be wasted effort at best, and counterproductive at worst. So for the most part I didn't bother.

And then the other day something embarrasing happened that made me rethink my assumptions. I was telling a co-worker about Chris Kluwe's new book, Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies. He didn't know who Chris Kluwe was, so I told him Kluwe is a famous athlete who had recently come out as gay. But as soon as the words were out of my mouth, I had a feeling that I'd just spread a particular kind of misinformation that I, of all people, had no business spreading.

Sure enough, when I Googled Chris Kluwe, I found that he's a straight athlete who's recently become famous in the gay activist community for his outspoken defense* of gay athletes. Boy, was I embarrassed. I set the record straight (ha) with my co-worker, and decided that I'd been silly in erring on the side of not bothering to let people know I'm straight. After all, if I of all people can mistakenly remember someone as gay just because they're outspoken about gay rights, I shouldn't fault others for making the same mistake, nor should I assume they're any less accepting of correction than I.

So. Ahem.

Chris Kluwe is straight. And so am I.

*If you haven't read his hilarious and incisive "lustful cockmonster" letter, then do so now. Trust me, it's worth reading.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

There's no such thing as bad publicity.

I spent my childhood lost in my head, exploring woods, fields and cow pastures. I had no sense of the world, no knowledge of politics. I can still reach back and touch the uneasy feelings of bewilderment that arose during my freshman year of college. I gravitated toward liberals, and people certainly saw me as a liberal. But it seemed to me that I was different from everyone else. I was so uninformed that it wasn't accurate to call me a liberal, a conservative, or anything else. I was a blank slate.

I'm not proud of my ignorance. But it provides a valuable perspective. I look at the Chick-fil-A controversy, and I don't see it the way folks on the right or left seem to. All I see is progress.

Gay people were one of the many things that didn't exist in my bucolic childhood world. Kids called other kids "fag" as an insult, and Eddie Murphy made a million dollars every time he said "faggot" during his routine. But I can only remember two instances when my parents spoke about gay people in conversation, and I think neither of them happened until I was in my teens.

One night my family went to dinner at Colosseo's, an Italian restaurant in downtown Oneida. There were two women sitting at the next table, talking loudly enough for the room to hear, about something I didn't understand at the time. It had something to do with "how they were" and how other people reacted to them. I could feel my father's seething irritation. Later I talked to my mother about it--that, or she was flustered enough to talk to me about it--and I got it through my head that they were lesbians, though I didn't know that word at the time.

Later in my teens, there was a lot of media attention given to the behavior of gay men in bathhouses. Ah, that makes sense. That was just about when AIDS was becoming a known quantity. Anyway, one day my mother took me and my sister to the Ponderosa restaurant in New Hartford. Somehow the topic of gay men in bathhouses came up, and my mother said, in her most aghast voice, "Can you imagine?!" Heh. Even at the time, I had some nascent liberal tendencies, because I can remember the reaction I had in my head: "No, Mom, I can't imagine. Why are you trying to?"

I can remember exactly where I was when I first saw two girls holding hands in a way that said "we're not just friends". It was during my freshman year at Cornell, and I was walking along the sidewalk between the ROTC building and the racquetball courts. There were two female students walking along the sidewalk at the northwest corner of Campus Road and Garden Avenue. Yes, I remember it that specifically. It made that much of an impression on me. It expanded my world.

And, not for nothin', lesbians are HAWT.

Where was I? Ah yes. Perspective.

Gay people were not part of my childhood world, and that's the way most folks liked it. The adult world knew they existed, but that existence made them uncomfortable, and they could afford not to recognize it. They got an occasional thrill from talking about gay people in scandalized tones, and since gays were mostly silent or closeted, their words met with little interference from reality. It was a win-win for them.

Yesterday, a whole bunch of adults from small towns across the United States got up, went out their doors, got in their cars, drove to their local Chick-fil-A's, and ordered them some sammiches. They probably smiled and winked at each other and OH MY GOD THAT'S SO GAY! But no, let's be fair... those particular winks were OK, because they communicated a sense of fellowship: a warm, communal assurance that they were fighting the good fight.

But what about their kids? Maybe they were at school. Maybe they were at home, or at the baby sitter. But most of those kids are going to know that mom and/or dad got off their asses and went to Chick-fil-A. Why? Because some queers were trying to shut down the restaurant, and because a bunch of pansy-ass bleeding-heart liberals can't stand to hear a Christian speak the truth.

Now you may rage about that. You may want to go have a protest of your very own on behalf of those kids, because you can't stand to live in a world where they grow up believing those distortions. But I submit to you that those kids are in a much better position than I was at their age.

Trust me when I tell you that average Americans will remain silent about gay people if they can get away with it. How many times have you heard people say that they don't have a problem with gay people as long as they don't "shove it in your face", as though they're being magnanimous in expecting other human beings not to inconvenience them with their existence? They want gays in the closet, because when they're behind that door, they don't exist.

People don't get off their asses for people who don't exist. They get off their asses for real people whom they consider a threat.

Folks, American society has crossed a goddamn Rubicon and no one sees it! People no longer have the option of pretending that gay people don't exist! Of course they're distorting the facts; that's how the human animal reacts to having its world turned upside down!

The fact that all those Americans came out in support of Chik-fil-A is yet another sign that we're winning. They probably don't see it... heck, most gay folks and their allies don't see it. But I've never been more sure of anything. We're winning. So we can afford to have empathy for those folks who lined up yesterday.

I know what you're saying. "Empathy? Why the hell should I have empathy for someone who supports a business that contributes to the deaths of gay people?" Well, ask yourself two questions.

"Can I feel empathy for them?"

"Is it strategically wise for me to feel empathy for them?"

You're the only one who can answer that first question. If the answer is a resounding "No" then I can't blame you.

As for the second question, I feel strongly that the answer is "Yes". Because if you come at those folks with a snarl in your throat and a rictus of self-righteous rage on your face, you'll win nothing but the argument, and lemme tell ya, winning the argument don't do shit. Even if they did listen to you until your throat was sore, they'd see you as nothing but a homunculus: a reinforcement of their image of the shrill, angry, self-loathing liberal who wants to take away their rights as Christians.

Understand that their world has been shattered. Understand that, had you been born into their skin, you might be taking the same actions, saying the same words, as they. Understand that if you comport yourself as a human talking to fellow humans, they will be less able not to see us as real human beings.

Understand that they're losing, and that we're winning. Not only can we afford to be gracious, but it behooves us to be so.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Perfect Microcosm

I try not to waste my time deconstructing idiocy, but this morning I just can't help myself. The Italian newspaper Il Giornale recently critized the IKEA furniture company for its Italian billboards showing two men holding hands. In a very few sentences, Il Giornale managed to achieve such a high density of puerile self-contradiction that they managed to touch on every reason why I'm a straight ally.

Here are the statements from Il Giornale, as reported by the UK Daily Mail.
Il Giornale, the newspaper owned by ruling prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has promoted himself as a defender of family values despite his involvement in a series of sex scandals has condemned the advert.

It labelled it as 'provocative' and added: ’What's behind all this? It's not awareness of gay rights for gay couples. It's just a brazen marketing strategy.’

The paper went on to say that it was 'not an isolated incident' but a clear attempt at 'Swedish Imperialism' that tried to make everyone equal by having the same 'cheap furniture.'

Il Giornale added:’One has to ask what is the point of such a campaign by IKEA in Catania - it's obvious that they are just trying to get themselves talked about.’

Berlusconi and his ruling People of Freedom Party have long championed family values and aligned themselves with the all-powerful Catholic Church which condemns homosexuality and same-sex relationships.

Il Giornale's website was inundated with outraged comments protesting at what they called a 'shock campaign' but gay rights campaigners in Italy welcomed the advert.
For me, the most obvious and galling fallacy is that the billboards constitute an attack, and that the people viewing them are victims. Il Giornale calls them "provocative", a "shock campaign," and... oh, this is wonderful... "Swedish Imperialism"!

When I think of imperialism, I think of Cromwell, whose heart filled with a Puritanical fire that cleansed Ireland of half its population. I think of the genocidal relocation of native Americans. I think of redcoats bayoneting Indians in that inimitably British way that gave Kipling such a manifest boner. I think of tank treads rolling over village greens, and over dissidents. And I think of IKEA, who erected a vertical piece of paper bearing the image of two men holding hands.

Those bastards!

Ahem. Yes. So, just to be clear: disagreement with me does not constitute an attack on me. Please, everyone, learn this simple rule. Because you will be tested on it. Oh, not by me; don't be silly. No, you'll be tested by your God. Or your gods. Or your lack thereof. We all have it comin', kid.

Now let's move on to the assertions of IKEA's "real" motivations, because they are revealing. Il Giornale says "What's behind all this? It's not awareness of gay rights for gay couples. It's just a brazen marketing strategy... One has to ask what is the point of such a campaign by IKEA in Catania - it's obvious that they are just trying to get themselves talked about."

Wait, what?

Il Giornale, you just said that IKEA was a bunch of "Swedish Imperialists". I imagined their hideously powerful invasion force carrying brown boxes full of ingeniously packed tank parts across the Alps for easy assembly in Italy. And now you're telling me that they're... they're businessmen who are so desperate for revenue that they've resorted to hollow sensationalism? Wait... so who's the victim here? Get your story straight, Il Giornale!

Now, consider the accusation that IKEA does not care about gay couples, but is simply trying to get attention. Do you see the implication? Il Giornale is saying that any "normal" person could not genuinely care about gay couples! In fact, the very fact that IKEA purports to care about gay couples is, to them, proof of their insincerity!

And now we've arrived at the core of why I'm a straight ally.

A while back I talked about my unselfish motivation: GLBT folks represent about ten percent of the human population, and no force in human history ever won out against nine-to-one odds. Therefore GLBT folks need help. They need straight people to stand up and say "I'm no more of a human being than they are."

But I have another motivation -- a selfish one. The folks at Il Giornale are not uncommon. There's a lot of people like them on this planet: people who have been steeped in their religion for so long that the free exchange of ideas is anathema to them. And if they ever get their way, then here's what will happen: they will get rid of the Muslims; they will get rid of the fags; and then I will be the next one up against the fucking wall. Because I have made it publicly known that I do not believe in God. And remember how, to many minds, disagreement constitutes an attack? Yeah. That's the mindset that puts bullets in skulls just like mine.