Which is exactly what homophobes have been sniggering and making fag jokes about with Le Fou since Disney released the animated version of the movie. Gaston is a parody of hetero hypermasculinity, and Le Fou is is craven, clownish sidekick willing to do anything at all to get the slightest bit of attention from Gaston. Le Fou’s lack of manliness in the animated film could be rationalized as being there to throw Gaston’s exaggerated masculinity into sharp contrast. Okay. Except that is exactly what the Hollywood sissy/coded gay sidekick has always been: he’s the example of what a “real man” isn’t. His whole point it to prove that unmanly men are jokes, at best. Not real people, but punchlines.
So they are taking the implicit hateful characterization and making it an explicitly hateful characterization. Thanks, but no thanks.There will be people who insist that we shouldn’t judge it until we see it, but they’ve given me enough information that I already know they have messed this up. The fact that they decided to announce it, for one. Just as if a person begins a statement with, “I’m not a bigot, but…” we all know that pure bigotry is going to follow, if you feel the need to announce you’re enlightened and inclusive, you don’t know what those words mean. The director has described the classic negative stereotype (confused, obsessed with a straight man) is what they’re going for. Worse, they’ve referred to it more than once as a moment. Just a moment. You know why it’s a moment? Because they are already making plans to edit that moment out of the international release, because they knew as soon as word got out that countries would start threatening to ban the film. Heck, Alabama is already up in arms about it!
That means that it’s a tacked on joke. It’s not part of the plot. It’s not a meaningful part of Le Fou’s characterization.
Even if they do something with it. Let’s say that at the end of the film they have a moment that implies maybe Gaston is ready to return his feelings? What message does that send? It tells us that hating women (Gaston’s exaggerated masculinity includes a lot of misogyny in the animated feature, just sayin’) or being rejected by women is what makes men gay. And, oh, isn’t that great inclusion?I mentioned that the Beauty and the Beast revelation was the second time this has happened this year. Previously it was Snagglepuss. Yes, DC Comics/Warner Brothers announced that the Hanna-Barbera cartoon character, Snagglepuss, was going to be reimagined in a new comic book series as “a gay Southern Gothic playwright.” Literally my reaction on twitter a nanosecond after I saw the first person retweeting the headline was, “reimagined? But that’s what he already was!”
Snagglepuss was a version of the sassy gay friend from the beginning. He was protagonist of his cartoon series, which wasn’t typical for the sassy gay friend (who is more typically a sidekick to one of the lead characters), but Snagglepuss broke the fourth wall constantly, addressing the viewer with his arch asides and sardonic observations. He was the viewer’s sassy gay friend, in other words. And he was cheerful and optimistic and always trying (but usually failing) to improve his life in some way. Despite the many setbacks, he remained cheerful and upbeat.
So the DC Comic (besides being drawn by an artist who has apparently never seen an athropomorphic character before—seriously, go hit that link above and tell me if that isn’t the worst comic book artwork you’ve ever seen!) takes the happy, upbeat fey lion and turns him into a bitter old queen. Again, thanks but, no thanks!
Coded queer characters have been appearing in pop culture for decades. Their portrayal as comic relief or as villains (and sometimes both) sent a clear message that they were not normal people. They are never the heroes. They can be loathed as villains, or tolerated and laughed at as sidekicks, but they will be lonely and unloved in either case. Neither of these supposedly inclusive announcements changes that homophobic message. It’s not, contrary to what certain evangelical hatemongers are saying, indoctrinating kids to be accepting of gays. It’s instead reinforcing the same old bigotry: we don’t matter, we are jokes, we are never the heroes, we are never loved.
Just another means of erasing the truth of our existence. No thanks!
I’ve written more than once about why I think it is important for all Queer people (by which I mean people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Genderqueer, Nonbinary, Pansexual, Genderfluid, Questioning, Polyamorous and their Allies) to be out about who they are. Because it can be dangerous to come out (kill the gays laws exist in many parts of the world, while here in the U.S. about 40% of homeless teens are children who were kicked out of their house by their parents for being queer or being suspected of being queer), there are some people who probably shouldn’t be out until their situation changes. But being in the closet is harmful in many ways. Studies and history has shown that the fastest way to get other people (and society at large) to accept and support queers is when queer people come out.
The more straight people who actually know queer people, the more minds are opened.
So, in case somehow it isn’t clear: I’m queer. Specifically, I’m a gay man married to a bisexual man.
Being in the closet takes an incredible emotional toll which affects your physical health as well. When you’re in the closet, you’re living in constant fear of rejection. Particularly if, like me, you grew up in a fundamentalist religious family and community. The fear of losing people you love—people who you have depended on—can be debilitating. The constant anxiety of what people’s reactions will be corrodes your soul.
The thing is, staying in the closet is no guarantee against that rejection. Someday someone is going to figure it out, not at a time when you’ve picked and prepared yourself.
Coming out was hard, and there was drama (oh, was there drama). I put up with all the wailing and the angry letters (28-page handwritten letter from one aunt outlining all of the words and topics I would not be allowed to bring up around her, explaining several times that if I brought my partner to visit we would not even be allowed to call each other honey, et cetera). But while many reacted badly to begin with, it wasn’t everyone. Another one of my aunts was the first to call to tell me she loved and supported me. She made it clear to folks on her side of the family that if they had a problem with me being gay, they would have a bigger problem with her.
If and when there is drama about your coming out, you have to treat said drama as your parents (or whoever) throwing a tantrum. They are trying to force you to pretend to be someone you aren’t for their convenience. And just as when a child throws a tantrum, you can’t reward that bad behavior. Dan Savage, the sex advice columnist and gay activist, puts it this way: the only leverage adult queer people have over parents and other family members is our presence in their lives. We shouldn’t fear losing them, they should fear losing us.
It took a few years for some of my family members to come around. I remain grateful that my mom and one set of grandparents did so before my first partner, Ray, died. He had only a short period of time of feeling welcomed into the family. Now, years later, my husband Michael isn’t just welcomed, I’m pretty sure some of them like him more than they do me. And I can hardly blame them!
A few of my relatives never became accepting before they died, and it was their loss.
There will be some surprises. Some people who you were certain before you came out would never accept you will become your biggest defenders. Some people who you thought might understand will disown you and go to their grave without reaching out. You will definitely learn which people really love you, and which only love the idea of who they think you ought to be.
The thing is, being loved for who you are, instead of the illusionary non-queer person you pretended to be, is wonderful. The sooner you are able to find those people the better. And remember the wisdom of Dr. Seuss: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”
And being out doesn’t just free you. Being out frees others.
HRC Celebrates National Coming Out Day 2016:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
I was hurrying to get to the bus stop on my way to work recently and as I started to cross a side street I was surprised at something I saw on the other side. It looked like someone had planted a bunch of new bushes along a construction fence. This new line of freshly planted greenery was on the exact spot that only a month or so before a hedge had been removed. Clearly the bushes were going to be in the way when workers needed to start demolition work. I had been sad to see them go, as I’ve been walking past that line of bushes for many years. It made no sense to plant new ones now, because they haven’t even begun to tear down the old buildings yet, let alone start the new construction. Why would anyone start planting new landscaping now?
I crossed the street and only when I got closer did I realize what I was actually looking at. They had cut down the old line of bushes, yes. But the roots were still there in the soil. And it was spring time and there was ample sun and rain, so new growth was vigorously re-asserting itself.
I was nearly past the bushes before I decided to stop and take a couple of pictures. Looking down at all that bright green new growth bushing out around the stumps, I couldn’t help think about how tenacious life is. Cut something down, and it will grow back.
It’s hardly an original metaphor, I know. But it’s a process I’ve lived through and witnessed more times than I can count. I was a teen-ager in 1977 when Anita Bryant led her first campaign to repeal an ordinance that would protect people from being fired or denied housing because of their sexual orientation. And when he supporters passed a law banning gays and lesbians from adopting or being foster parents. We weren’t even a decade past Stonewall, and getting a few anti-discrimination ordinances passed in some of the most liberal cities hadn’t been great progress, but it had seemed people were starting to come around. Then this happened.
As Bryant led successful campaigns in city after city to repeal those ordinances, it looked pretty grim. But queers and their supporters didn’t give up. People laughed when they found out that gay bars were boycotting orange juice (Anita Bryant’s primary source of income at the time came from making commercials for the Florida Orange Grower’s Assocation). Gay bars and restaurants removes screwdrivers from their menus and added a new drink called an Anita Bryant: vodka and apple juice. Reporters chuckled on air as they explained the boycott on local evening TV shows. Newspapers ran cartoons mocking the sissies for thinking that some cocktails would change anything.
But all the mocking put the information in front of people. And a surprising thing happened. Orange juice sales were hurt. People wrote to the Florida Orange Growers Association to protest their support of these anti-gay campaigns. The Association hadn’t been supporting Bryant’s campaign, but all that mocking coverage of the silly faggots and their boycott made people think they were. Not just silly faggots who brunched together and gossiped over cocktails.
And it put the issue of gay rights in the news in a different way than anyone had seen it before. Certainly I, as a seventeen-year-old living in a small town, had never been to a brunch with a bunch of queers, and I wouldn’t have known that there were actually places where the law might protect a queer person from some kinds of persecution. And the rhetoric of the anti-gay forces made a lot of people that you would never expect stand up for gay rights.
The result was that all over the country, queers and their allies formed new organizations to fight the anti-gay initiatives and referendums, and those organizations kept fighting. And people like me realized that they weren’t alone. There were people out there like us. There were people out there who wouldn’t hate us if we came out.
Unfortunately, we were then hit by the AIDS epidemic. It’s really hard to explain just how horrific that was to folks who didn’t live through it. As I pointed out in response to an online conversation a few months back, it was not simply that most gay people knew one or two people who died. It felt like everyone was dying. There were weeks when my (now late) partner Ray and I had to decide which of several funerals or memorial services happening on the same day we would be able to attend.
But even as we were dying, we fought back. We banded together into new groups like Act Up and Queer Nation and Q Patrol and many others. We banded together to take care of each other while White House press secretaries and reporters openly laughed and made jokes about our deaths. We buried our dead and we mourned and we got right back out on the streets and marched and demanded to be seen.
And the haters ran their anti-gay campaigns again. Initiatives to forbid gay and lesbian people to work in certain fields. Laws to criminalize our terminal illness (sadly still on the books in many states). Proposals to quarantine us in “medical camps.” Laws to ban us from adopting. Laws to ban us from putting partners on our insurance policies.
For every fight we lost, it just made us more determined. Like that hedge, you can cut us down, but our roots go deep. We come back, stronger, brighter, more determined to win the next battle. And every fight we won, when the opposition said, “Okay, fine, you can have those crumbs. Now be quiet!” we refused to go away.
Joe Jervis, who runs the Joe.My.God web site, every year explains why he thinks the Pride Parade is important, which he sums up by quoting the old Jewish joke about the true meaning of every Jewish holiday: “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.” Joe then gives his Gay version of the meaning of Gay Pride: “They wish we were invisible. We aren’t. Let’s dance!”
Care to join me?
And every year during May I start constructing a Pride playlist. It’ll be a mix of new songs and old. What they usually all have in common is that they are songs I like to dance to, and resonate in some way with the celebratory side of being out and proud but especially loud. Or, as Miss Coco Peru might said, a life lived out, proud, loud and just a little bit ridiculous.
Some years I feel like putting in songs that are a bit more dirty and flirty, while other years my include some ballads and either more serious or slightly darker in tone. I also throw in songs that are by artists I’ve been thinking about a lot this year. Which is at least part of the reason you’ll see both Prince and David Bowie make an appearance.
Not all of these songs will mean the same thing to you or even evoke the same feelings, of course. And you may see some familiar titles that make you ask, “How can he dance to that?” Don’t just look at the title, but try to find the exact remix by the same artist. You may find that the cover version of an old pop song you think you know has been transformed into something completely different in the particular track I’ve listed.
Anyway, this is my 2016 Pride Playlist:
- “Let’s Go Crazy (Special Dance Mix)” – Prince & The Revolution
- “Feelin’ Free” – Sirpaul
- “Spectrum (feat. Jo Lampert & Gyasi Ross)” – Ryan Amador
- “Rebel Rebel” – David Bowie
- “Reach out for the Stars” – Yehonathan
- “Revolution (feat. Levi Kreis)” – Matthew David
- “What’s It Gonna Be?” – Shura
- “Genghis Khan” – Miike Snow
- “Get Your Sexy On” – Lovestarrs
- “I Wanna Boi” – PWR BTTM
- “The Boy Who Couldn’t Keep His Clothes On” – Pet Shop Boys
- “Just Stand Up!” – Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige, Rihanna, Fergie, Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge, Natasha Bedingfield, Miley Cyrus, Leona Lewis, Carrie Underwood, Keyshia Cole, LeAnn Rimes, Ashanti, Ciara & Mariah Carey
- “How Deep Is Your Love” – Calvin Harris & Disciples
- “For You” – Quentin Elias
- “The Good, the Bad and the Dirty” – Panic! At the Disco
- “Desire” – Years & Years
- “We Don’t Have to Dance” – Andy Black
- “Feel So Good [Orignal Edit]” – Sean Ensign
- “Eddie Baez Donna Summer She Works Hard for the Money” – Eddie Baez Presents
- “Only Love Survives (Timothy Allan & Mark Loverush Remix)” – Ryan Dolan
- “You’re So Beautiful (White Party Version) [feat. Jussie Smollett]” – Empire Cast
- “Breathe Life” – Brian Kent
- “Try Everything” – Shakira
- “Halo (Gomi Club Remix)” – Beyoncé
- “You Are Unstoppable (7th Heaven Remix)” – Conchita Wurst
Whatever music you prefer, never forget: dance with joy, dance with abandon, dance without worrying what anyone thinks, because life is too short to waste time sitting still!
I’ve written before about how, after divorcing my wife and months of counseling and so forth I decided I needed to do something definitive or symbolic about coming out, so I went to a National Coming Out Day march. I didn’t realize until I got there that it was sponsored by Queer Nation, which was controversial for both their radical attitude but mostly (among the LGBT people I knew at the time) just for insisting on using the word “queer.” I marched, because, damn it, it was National Coming Out Day and I was doing it!
For a variety of reasons that don’t bear repeating at this juncture, my late partner, Ray, and a bunch of our friends saw me marching (actually, we were doing the Queer Hokey Pokey at that point) past a restaurant in the gayborhood. For a while I got teased mercilessly by those friends who despised Queer Nation. And while discussing why I wasn’t embarrassed to have marched with Queer Nation, I went from being ambivalent about that word, to saying, “I am going to call myself Queer if I want to, and fuck you if you don’t like it!” to one friend who was getting in my face about it.
I had been teased and bullied just as much as he had with that word (and many others) as a child. So I understood the reasons that friend (and many other people) didn’t want to embrace the term. But I had also been teased and bullied with a lot of other synonyms for “homosexual” including “gay.” And some of my friends who were girls or young women during those years had been harassed and bullied with the word “lesbian.” So if we could use those two words to describe ourselves proudly—hell, the official name of the Seattle Pride Parade at the time was the “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade, Freedom Day March and Rally”—then why couldn’t we use the word “Queer?”
Another reason I happen to prefer the term Queer is because of intersectionality and bi-erasure. I’m gay. I’m a man who loves other men. I am not bisexual, despite having once been married to a member of the opposite sex (no, seriously, I mean it!). My husband is a man who is married to me, a man. We’ve only legally been married a bit over 3 years, but we’ve been together for more than 18 years. People assume my husband is gay. He is not. He is bisexual. Saying that he is gay, at least to me, feels as if it is erasing part of his identity. And I love all him, not just half of him, so I take it kind of personally.
I have a rather large number of friends who are bisexual who have married members of the opposite sex. People assume they are straight. They aren’t. Some of them have told me they aren’t terribly bothered by that assumption, but some of them really chafe under the label. I have friends who have transitioned after marrying a partner who was opposite sex when they married, and they’ve stayed together since. Calling either of them gay or lesbian again, at least to me, feels like I’m erasing part of their identity or history. I have a few polyamorous friends who present as straight, and describe themselves as mostly straight… but who sometimes have threeways with their primary partner and one of the partners of their primary who happens to be of the same gender.
And then there’s one straight friend who once told me, “Describing myself as a straight ally doesn’t feel true, because I think I have a queer perspective—and I feel a closer connection to LGBT people—even though I don’t want to have sex with another guy.”
And as I mentioned recently, in the ’90s everyone in the LGBTQ community who wasn’t a cis white male seemed to be offended if we tried to use “gay” as an umbrella term for the whole bunch. So, for the record, I’m a cis white (and old and fat) same-gender-loving man who identifies as queer, uses queer to encompass the whole community (including allies who consider themselves part of the community), and I don’t intend to stop. I mean, yeah, if you tell me that you, specifically don’t like the term, I will try not to call you that… But I refuse to stop using the term in front of you. Because it is who I am.
We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re FABULOUS!
This week wasn’t quite as bad, but I also made an effort to spend less time browsing certain news sites just to avoid a bit of that. And this time I missed a couple of links that I meant to include, but somehow omitted:
Why the conservative war against transgender rights is doomed to fail lays out nicely why demographics are already against them. Yes, they’re winning some victories and causing more than a bit of pain, but they also have less public support than they believe. Even in North Carolina, which is fighting hard to protect its anti-trans law, less than half the voters support said law.
But crazy people will continue to say crazy things: Louie Gohmert: No Gay Space Colonies! I wasn’t aware that anyone was proposing a queer space colony, but Texas Republican Louis Gohmert is ready to stand agains this imminent threat. He says if Earth is ever under threat of destruction by an asteroid, Congress needs to make sure we don’t waste any resources putting queer people or queer animals on the space ark. Never mind that Gohmert has voted the gut the space program time and again, so the likelihood that if we detected such a threat that we would be able to assemble and launch such an ark in the time we had is exceedingly low.
And for anyone who is trotting out the argument that queer folks aren’t oppressed in our society, or at least are much less so than other groups, let’s remember that this happened this week: U.S. House Republicans read ‘death to gays’ Bible verse before voting against LGBT rights law. He was actually leading the caucus in a prayer, and quoting from a translation of the Bible that converts some text that in the original greek does not explicitly reference homosexuality into rather explicit hate speech. So this congressman was actually publicly praying for the death of gay people. And while some Republicans walked out of the meeting in protest, most didn’t. And as noted in this article, when contacted for comments, not one single Republican has apologized.
But they don’t hate us. How can we possible think that?
When I was a child, none of the words I knew to describe being a non-heterosexual were good words. Pussy, sissy, fag, queer, dyke, homo—they were all insults. Homosexual was both clinical and pejorative, at least the way everyone I ever heard use it said it. It was clinical, all right, and it was clear the people saying it thought it described a terrible sickness. The least insulting was gay. Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t hurled as an insult, it’s just we were also told it was what those people preferred to be called. Though even the people who admitted that much were pretty angry about it. I actually had more than one teacher in school talk about how terrible it was that those perverts had stolen a word that used to mean not just happy, but a particularly carefree and whimsical kind of happy, and then used it to describe their sad, loveless, deviant lives.
And a lot of those words got used on me.
Throughout grade school I didn’t think that the sexual part applied to me. I knew that I said the wrong things and acted the wrong way, so that’s why everyone (except the nicer teachers and nicer church leaders) called me a sissy and a crybaby and so on. I wasn’t tough enough or whatever, but there was nothing sexual going on.
By the time I was in middle school and puberty had come roaring into my life I realized that all of those people had been on to something. And it terrified me. The worst thing I could imagine happening to me was for someone to get proof that the words fag, queer, homo, and gay described me in more than merely a metaphorical way.
So in my mid-twenties, the fact that I was finally able to say aloud to a friend, “I think I might be gay” was a giant leap. Overcoming the aversion that I felt to all of those words, equally, had been a titanic struggle lasting more than a decade. Over the next few years I was able to say I was “gay” a bit more confidently. I didn’t cringe inside if someone called me “gay,” at least if it wasn’t in an angry tone of voice.
I was actually starting to feel all right with the label by my thirties.
Which was when I started getting yelled at about it, again—but not by straight bigots. No, the people who were angry about my use of the word were lesbians. “How dare you call me that word!” and even more viciously, “How dare you assume that you can use that word as an umbrella term to include all non-heterosexual people!”
I was literally yelled at a few times, before I developed the habit of saying “lesbian and gay.” And almost right away people started growling at me not to leave out the bisexuals or the trans people!
I’m not exaggerating when I say that some of my fellow non-heterosexual got angry and yelled. It was clearly very important to them.
So I just about died laughing a few days ago when I saw some trans activists in my twitter stream angrily assert that it was people like me—cisgender, white, gay, and male—who were the ones that had excluded lesbian, trans, and bi people from the “clearly superior umbrella term, gay.”
We didn’t exclude them. They were the ones who angrily and emphatically told us that we couldn’t use “gay” to describe them. During the late 80s and 90s, just as I was starting to get mostly all right describing myself as gay, I was being told that doing so was exclusionary. I was the bad guy for wanting to have a simple term than encompassed all of us.
It was during that time that Queer Nation came into being. Queer Nation was one of many groups formed to make a more aggressive push against homophobia and specifically homophobic violence at the time when both the violence and the media’s negative portrayal of homosexual people was escalating. The AIDS crisis wasn’t just killing us in vast numbers, it was fueling even more hatred than we’d experienced before (which is saying something!) Just one of Queer Nation’s goals was to take back the word “queer”; to make it a label we embraced with pride instead of an insult.
I was, at the time, ambivalent about that. So were a lot of the gay, lesbian, and bi people I knew. At the time, I was only slightly acquainted with a couple of trans people (or so I thought, but that’s a story for another post), so I wasn’t sure how they felt about it. I certainly understood why some folks were leery of the notion…
Then I decided I needed to participate in a National Coming Out Day march. And I only discovered after I had arrived at the assembly point (and made arrangements to meet friends on the Hill near the end point) that it was sponsored by Queer Nation. It was later, while being teased by some of those friends, that I moved out of the ambivalent stage to being vehemently in favor or taking back the word queer.
I’m queer. I’m a cisgendered white man who sleeps with other men. I’m also a queer nerd who loves Star Trek and Star Wars (and I bet I can still beat anyone who cares to challenge me on a trivia contest based on the original Star Wars: A New Hope) and Lord of the Rings (alas, I am no longer fluent in Quenya and Sindarin, Tolkien’s fictional elvish languages). I’m a queer geek who majored in Mathematics at University and have worked for decades in the telecommunication software industry. I’m a queer Taoist who is a both a recovering Baptist and recovering atheist. I’m a queer man very happily married to a bi man. I’m a queer writer who is still dismayed at how many of my earlier published works didn’t pass the Bechtdel test (but hope I’ve gotten better). I’m a queer godparent and uncle who squees over baby pictures and keeps cheering on the mostly straight romances on my favorite shows. I’m a queer man who watches football as faithfully as my favorite sci fi and mystery series.
I’m a queer, fat, old, white-bearded guy who welcomes any gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, asexual, non-binary, poly, straight ally, pansexual, aromantic, and any other kind of human who thinks all of us deserve equal dignity and rights regardless of gender, orientation, and so on, to join me under this umbrella term. And if you prefer another label, that’s fine, but please don’t try to claim that I have ever excluded you. Okay?
And it makes sense that some of those searches will land here, since I’ve written about this topic at least once or twice before:
- Bullied Bullies: Putting the bigotry into the school bathroom
- Dumb arguments against legal protections for transgender people
- Dumb arguments against legal protections for transgender people,
- Dumb arguments against legal protections for transgender people,
- Dumb arguments against legal protections for transgender people,
- Dumb arguments against legal protections for transgender people,
Setting aside some of the other ludicrous claims, the one take away that we need to return to, again and again, is that many states and cities have had laws that specifically allow transgender people to use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, and in none of those places as there been a single documented case of someone using that law in order to try to commit a sexual assault. Not one. Which is summed up nicely in the chart below.This chart (which was included in one of those previous posts) is a bit over a year old. Now, in addition to the original Media Matters nice compilation of statements from law enforcement officials and other experts from the 12 states that have had laws protecting transgender people on the books for year (some going back to 1993!) showing that there has never been an assault in a bathroom because of them, we have even more! Media experts, law enforcement, and real live trans people explain why the fear of men “pretending” to be trans to attack women and children in bathrooms has no basis in reality, and More Republican Lawmakers Arrested For Sexual Misconduct In Bathrooms Than Trans People.
But it’s important to note that in the 200 cities and 17 states with laws like this [allowing trans people to use the bathroom that matches their identity] already on the books, there are no examples documented of someone using it for nefarious purposes, of a transgender person who is this sex predator in the bathroom. It’s got no factual foothold. If anything, the irony in this is that it actually would require — and North Carolina now requires transgender men who have beards, who are muscular, to use the women’s restroom. So it actually creates the very problem that it claims to solve. —Dominic Holden, speaking on PBS’s Newshour
Why have I chosen today, the Day of Pink, which is supposed to be a day to raise awareness of bullying to come back to this topic? Because any time a law criminalizes or otherwise penalizes people because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender, it encourages bullying. Businesses, school officials, hospital workers, and so on will reference the law as justification when they discriminate against someone who is queer or gender-non-conforming. The laws foster the notion that it is okay to mistreat, demean, and bully some people.
Ironically, these bathroom bills increase the likelihood that there will be assaults in bathrooms. It’s just that the victims will be the queer kids (or kids who are perceived by their peers as being queer). And it’s not as if school bathrooms aren’t already a place of terror for kids who are perceived as gender non-conforming, let along openly gay or trans children! In my early elementary school days, most of the teachers were women, and so the boys’ bathroom was a place where other boys could gang up on the class sissy or freak (usually me) with impunity. It got so bad for me at one school, that I simply stopped going to the bathroom at school. I avoided drinking anything all day, to try to stay out. My mom kept asking why I was running home from school and rushing straight to the bathroom.
So you can imagine the horror I felt when I read the headline: Kansas Bill Would Pay Students A $2,500 Bounty To Hunt For Trans People In Bathrooms! Geeze, talk about dehumanizing children!I quote Dominic Holden (who used to write for one of our local weekly alternative papers, so I’ve been a fan for years) for his appearance on PBS’s Newshour above, and I’ve embedded a Youtube video of a snippet below (the link after the embed leads to a longer video and transcript, by the way). And while I agree with most of Dominic’s points, I think he gets one little bit slightly wrong. “…it’s really put LGBT advocates in a difficult place because they haven’t figured out how to respond to this. And for the most part, they have not taken it on directly.”
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
The part I disagree with is where he says that these laws have put advocates in a difficult place. No, we put ourselves there.
We were so giddy at the Supreme Court ruling, that we allowed ourselves to think the battle was won. I say “we” even though I was raising this concern back then. I raised the concern, but what did I do about it? Most of our official advocacy groups have been avoiding taking the issue on directly. They responding half-heartedly, if at all, to some of the earliest instances of backlash. They deployed a really generic fairness response in the Houston equal rights repeal, for instance.
And to imply that we don’t know how to respond is simply wrong. The current trans bathroom bill arguments are not substantially different than the arguments they have always made against queer people. The bigots have always claimed we are delusional—our orientation or gender identity is a choice we’ve made for sinful or other nefarious reasons, not an inherent characteristic. They have always claimed that we are dangerous sexual predators. They have always claimed that acknowledging our existence will cause confusion and harm to children. Exactly how they couched those arguments has changed. Which segment of the non-heterosexual population they were demonizing has changed, but the essence of the arguments are the same.
That is what they are claiming now. We’ve dealt with those arguments before. We have won battles in the court of public opinion against those arguments before. We can do it again. We just have to actually try. Marriage equality was only one touchdown out of a very long game. And it directly benefits only some of us, and only in some situations. The fight still belongs to all of us.
I already ranted last night about it: Blood stains on their hands, but it is really difficult to let it go. People I knew and loved went to early graves as a direct result of the indifference, contempt, and utter lack of compassion of an entire administration. It wasn’t just them, I know. One of the examples I gave last night was a preacher who had nothing to do with either one of the Reagans. But they were in a position of leadership. They were there when one of the world’s leading experts on epidemics made the case for why government action was desperately needed, and they responded by saying that it wasn’t actually a health crisis. Never mind that it is a virus, never mind that it was killing hundreds, then thousands of people. They laughed. Go listen to that recording I linked to last night, and think about it for a minute: hundreds of young people dying in horrible pain, and they laughed.
It’s hard for one ugly episode to stand out among so many ugly aspects of the Reagan administration, but Nancy and Ronald’s deliberate silence on one of the defining public health crises of the era is surely near the top of any list. What Clinton is saying isn’t just untrue, but erases the deadly legacy of the Reagan era.
I agree with each word of the headline. Especially the inexplicable part. Why? When Bill Clinton was running against George H.W. Bush for President in 1992, Bill and Hillary both talked publicly about the inadequate attention that the Bush and Reagan administrations had given to AIDS/HIV research, and assistance to people both inside and outside the U.S. suffering and dying because of HIV. Queers came out in unprecedented numbers to support and donate to Clinton’s campaign, because they made us believe that they saw us as human, which is something we didn’t see from either Bush or the Reagans. She knew that the Reagan administration had not just ignored AIDS, but actively impeded medical research and aid programs.
Hours later, Clinton offered a tepid apology: Hillary Clinton apologizes for praising Nancy Reagan’s response to HIV/AIDS. She misspoke? If it had been a brief comment where she had merely mentioned AIDS alongside Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, which were illnesses Nancy Reagan spoke out on later in life, breaking with Republican rhetoric against stem-cell research at the time, I might be able to believe that she misspoke. But Hilary had a long lead up to that. She said how difficult it was for anyone to talk about HIV/AIDS during the 80s, and so on. That wasn’t just a poor choice of words or a matter of mentioning one disease along with others. That was a well-thought out, planned talking point. And it was more than just a minor factual error, it was a whole pile of lies!
I know that there are other big things going on in the world that we could be talking about. The Nazi-salute throwing lady at the Trump rally, or the insane attempt by the big bully himself and his supporters to claim that their decision to cancel an appearance rather than face protestors means that they are victims (when they’ve been the ones literally attacking, punching, and violently tackling people who they only suspect might be protestors). Or people dying in floods in Louisiana and Texas. There are refugee crises and consequences and many more things to worry about, yes.And I know if I keep giving in to my anger over this, it does me no good. Fortunately, I was reminded yesterday that there are other ways to remember and mourn those we lost. Other ways to indict those who sat silently by, or laughed, or offered public prayers thanking god for giving such pain and suffering to us. A friend reminded me of this poem, which was published on a bronze plaque mounted in a park in New York City for many months back in 1990-91, where it was erected by Creative Time, an organization that sponsors public art. The friend actually saw the bronze plaque while it was on display.
“Black Sheep” was written by Karen Finley and intended as a public poem. It opens with:
After a funeral someone said to me –
You know I only see you at funerals
it’s been 3 since June –
been 5 since June for me –
He said I’ve made a vow –
I only go to death parties if I know someone before
they were sick –
cause – cause – cause I feel I feel so
sad cause I never knew their life –
and now I only know their death
And because we are members of the
Black Sheep family –
In the middle it observes:
We’re related to people we love who can’t say –
I love you Black Sheep daughter
I love you Black Sheep son –
I love you outcast, I love you outsider
But tonight we love each other –
That’s why we’re here –
to be around others like ourselves –
So it doesn’t hurt quite so much –
In our world, our temple of difference –
I am at my loneliest when I have
something to celebrate and try
to share it with those I love but
who don’t love me back.
There’s always silence at the end
of the phone –
There’s always silence at the end
of the phone –
The full text is available at the Creative Time archive here.
Every year on December 1st, because it is World AIDS Day, I post a list of names. They are the names of people I knew personally who died from complications of AIDS. Those names are: Frank, Mike, Tim, David, Todd, Chet, Jim, Steve, Brian, Rick, Stacy, Phil, Mark, Michael, Jerry, Walt, Charles, Thomas, Mike, Richard, Bob, Mikey, James, Lisa, Todd, Kerry, Glen, and Jack.
Let me be clear, that isn’t every single person I knew who died from the disease. Those are only the ones I knew well enough that I cry when I type their name. Yes, I’m crying now. I have been alternating between crying and shaking with rage since reading that Hilary Clinton said, “The Reagans, particularly Nancy, helped start ‘a national conversation’ about HIV and AIDS.” And then went on to describe her as an advocate for AIDS research!
I get it. Nancy Reagan just died, and Hilary’s a politician on a national stage and is expected only to say nice things about the recently deceased. Fine. Compliment Mrs Reagan on bucking the rest of the Republican establishment and coming out in favor of stem-cell research. Never mind that it was for selfish reasons, at least it was for a worthy goal. But the Reagans absolutely did not open a national conversation about HIV and AIDS. We in the queer community had been shouting, begging the powers that be to do something, anything about it for five years (while tens of thousands in the U.S. were infected, and thousands died) before President Reagan actually mentioned the name of the disease in public. It took another two years before he referred to it as a health crisis—and don’t forget that Reagan recommended a $10-million cut in AIDS research spending the same year that the U.S. death toll reached 5,500.
When the Reagans’s close friend, Rock Hudson, was dying of the disease, trying to get into a hospital in Paris to try an experimental treatment, Nancy, after receiving a desperate telegram asking for her help, wouldn’t even authorize a staff member to call the hospital on her behalf to ask if they might let Hudson (who wasn’t a French citizen, of course) in.
Listen to this recording of a Whitehouse press briefing when a reporter asks about the Whitehouse’s reaction to a Center for Disease Control bulletin about A-I-D-S, “also called the gay cancer” officially labelling it an epidemic:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
You almost can’t hear the reporter ask, “In other words, the White House looks on this as a great joke?” because everyone keeps laughing.
As I mentioned above, that list I post every year consists only of the people I knew well enough that I still cry thinking about them decades later. Through the early nineties, my late husband and I went to more funerals and memorial services than I can count. Many of them were people he had known before we met. Some of them were friends, lovers, or relatives of people one or the other of us knew, but we hadn’t been particularly close to the deceased ourselves. We went to the services to support the people who were mourning the death. We went to the services because sometimes the deceased’s own families wouldn’t attend. Sometimes we held services separate from the family’s because the partner/lover/life-long companion was barred from the official funeral by the family.
There was more than one time that we had to choose which memorial service to go to, because more than one was happening at the same time, and too far apart for us to attend a part of both. So many people were dying, we had to choose who not to comfort, because at the point when research and medical intervention could have limited the spread of the disease, people at the Whitehouse had been laughing at our suffering and dying.
And then to have Clinton, who has tried to portray herself as an ally of the queer community, praise Nancy for being an advocate for AIDS research? That’s when I lost it.
I was deeply closeted in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I had only a very small number of sexual encounters with other men during the time when so many were getting infected with the virus that no one knew existed. Even with that limited exposure, it is shear luck that I’m alive to bear witness to those years. Even though I wasn’t out, once the illness had been identified, I was keenly aware of how ordinary Americans perceived it. One of the most chilling moments for me came while sitting in a pew of a church in 1984. Our heads were all bowed in prayer, and the visiting pastor leading the prayer actually thanked god for the “plague of AIDS which you have sent to exterminate the homosexuals.”
Reading Clinton’s comments took me back to that moment. People like Nancy Reagan were not having a conversation about how to save people from AIDS, nor were they advocating for research for a cure. People like Nancy Reagan were thanking god for our suffering.
Never mind that Jesus commanded his followers to take care of the sick. He didn’t say to care for the sick that we deemed worthy. He didn’t say to care for the sick that lived a specific lifestyle. He specifically said to care for the sick, and people in prisons, and other outcasts of society. He said that the way you treated those outcasts was how you treated him. And he said that anyone who came to him on the day of judgment and had not cared for the sick, prisoners, outcasts, and the other “least of these” would be cast out of heaven and into the eternal fire; because they were not following his commandment.
But we’re not supposed to say anything like that about a famous person who has died. Even if she refused to raise a finger to help one dying friend get medical treatment. And apparently especially if she helped impede access to treatment for hundreds of thousands of people who were sick and dying. We’re apparently supposed to lie and say that she helped the very people whose blood is on her hands.