It’s been way too long since I spent part of a Saturday morning composing one of these posts about a news story that I learned about after already assembling this week’s Friday Five. Let’s just hop in:
More than one person I saw online (most of them either queer themselves or presenting themselves as allies) made a joke about the reason that so much of the LGBTQ community in the U.S. have rushed to get our vaccinations is because we’re all just dying to get out there and start hooking up for sex again.
And I know that is a sentiment many had expressed. Or that they missed going to bars or concerts and so on.
But I’m sorry, the friend I quoted in the caption of the graphic above has hit the nail on the head identifying not just why many of us got the vaccine as soon as we could, but also why most of the queer communities in various U.S. towns and cities, canceled 2020 Pride events mere weeks after the first lockdowns were announced.
For a lot of us, this isn’t the first time we have lived during a deadly epidemic.
In May of 2020, there was one of the Fox /(Propaganda/) network talking heads who tried to get a viral thing going about how all the queers and their liberal friends would stop supporting the idea of lockdown once late June rolled around at Pride Parades were cancelled.
She instead was dragged on social media and news sites with the fact that we’d already canceled the Pride Parades, on our own at least a month previously. I remember just weeks into the first lockdowns that on several queer forums people had already been posting, "We’re canceling in-person Pride events, right?"
I know I’ve told the following story on this blog and else where before: but there was one month in the early nineties where 12 people that I knew personally died from complications of AIDS. In a couple of cases, my late husband, Ray, and I had to decide which of the memorial services we weren’t going to attend. And that was after years of watching vibrant people we knew deteriorate before our eyes and die. It’s not that that was the only time a bunch happened close together, it just happened to be the worst.
For years we watching our neighbors, friends, acquaintances, community leaders, and more suffer and die with virtually no help from government health agencies. There were exceptions. Dr. Anthony Fauci famously (incognito) went to bathhouses and some other places queer men went looking for sex to get a better idea of the cultural reasons that a disease which could be transmitted sexually had spread so quickly. But most responses were like this:
The headline on that particular article at the site doesn’t mention what I think is a crucial aspect of those chilling recordings: most of the laughter you hear at the very idea that the government would concern itself at all with a deadly disease that was perceived as killing gays were members of the so-called liberal media.
In the early years hospital staff didn’t want to treat AIDS patients. What treatments that were offered were anti-viral medications most of which had been developed a decade or so before under military research grants because we were afraid future soldiers would face biological weapons in the field during conflicts. They actually hoped to develop a drug that would allow every soldier to be issued a few pills along with their other equipment and if they thought they’d been hit with a bio-weapon, they could take the pills and keep fighting. Didn’t quite work out.
But they were the only thing that seemed to slow down the virus, even though there were often some pretty severe side-effects.
In the early 90s someone came up with the idea of putting patients on not just one anti-viral, but three or more that each attacked different parts of typical viral replication process. By 1995, the so-called "antiviral cocktails" were approved for general use.
The result was startling.
It seemed like a miracle. Some people who were already very sick and looked like shadows of their former selves seemed to rejuvenate in a matter of months.
Unfortunately, those anti-viral drugs are very expensive. If you need three or more in combination, that makes things even worse. So the cocktails have only performed their apparently miracles in countries that have reliable health care.
And note that it isn’t a cure. It’s not really a miracle (unless you want to talk about the insane profit margins of the pharmaceutical companies). Because in order to stay alive and healthy, people infected with the HIV virus have to take those very expensive drug combinations (which still often have wicked side effects) every day for the rest of their lives.
We don’t have an HIV vaccine. Forty years into the epidemic that still kills hundreds of thousands of people world wide every year doesn’t have a vaccine.
Queer people younger than me, who don’t have the same personal memories of the worse part of the HIV epidemic, still had their lives overshadowed by the disease. Because despite the fact that most new infections in the U.S. these days are straight people (that’s right!), and most of the people who are dying in the so-called developing world are straight women and children, the perception is still that AIDS is a "gay thing." I linked a year or two ago to a poignant story a young cartoonist posted about how when he was 15 years old and had never had sex with anyone, he went to an anonymous clinic for an AIDS test–because all he knew about the disease was the gay people got it. Nothing he had been taught in school or seen in the news or what very few media portrayals of people dying of the disease there were at the time, had conveyed two very important facts: 1) any human can get infected by the virus that causes AIDS, 2) it is most often transmitted sexually.
And part of his story is talking about when he came out in in twenties and started meeting other gay people, virtually all of them approximately his age had gone through a period in their teens where, after realizing they were attracted to members of their own sex, they also assumed that meant they would die young because of AIDS.
My point is, that once these younger queers do find out that his horrible specter which was part of their trauma growing up queer and closeted is a disease that was ignored for decades? Well, their attitude about health issues is a lot like us older queers.
And so that is the real reason that so many of us rushed out to get vaccinated. We know what happens when a health crisis is ignored. And we damn well refuse to take part in ignoring this one.
I first began following Matt Baum when he was posting regular video news reports on what was then the fight over civil unions vs full marriage equality for queer people. A few years later he branched out into other topics, and over the course of those years I came to realize that we had a bunch of mutual acquaintances. And yet I still have never met him.
One of his projects is producing videos where he analyses ways the queer people and queer issues were handled in popular media, such as situation comedies of the ’70s, ’80s, and beyond. This week, he tackles one of the pivotal people behind the Muppets, who happened to be a gay man, and how that influenced and eventually changed the Muppets.
This isn’t the first I have hear of Richard Hunt and his contribution to one of my favorite media properties, but Matt weaves in video clips and quotes from people who worked with Hunt that I have never heard before. So give it a watch.
I probably should mention that a couple parts of the story made me cry. But I am a really big softie who is very easily moved to tears:
Assuming you’ve watched it, I want to expound a little bit on the topic that I put into the headline. It isn’t just that for many years the corporations controlling the Muppets as well as important performers from the troupe would insist emphatically that, for instance, Bert and Ernie were absolutely not gay. They would (Sometimes angrily) insist that because the Muppets were puppets, they could not possiblye *have a sexual orientation.
Despite the fact the Miss Piggy wasn’t just obviously heterosexual, but she was aggressively so from the nearly her very first appearance. A Piggy wasn’t the only one. Lots of female Muppets had (usually off-screen) husbands and boyfriends. A smaller number of male Muppets had wives and girlfriends.
Yes, technically, puppets don’t have a sexual orientation. But it is exactly equally true that they don’t technically have voices, either–those are provided by the humans operating them. Just as the personalities are provided by the operators and the script writers.
I’m glad that the people currently running the Muppets have finally begun embracing the truth the queer people are everywhere and that we’ve always been here. A lot of the world still doesn’t understand that when someone identifies they are gay, it is not about sex. Just as when a conservative businessman introduces people to his wife, we aren’t "shoving out sexuality down your thoart" — we’re just telling you about ourselves and at least one of the people we love.
Carl Nassib—former All-America football player for Penn State, who has since played in the NFL on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Cleveland Browns, and currently the Las Vegas Raiders—came out as gay earlier this week in a video in which he also announced he had made a large donation to the Trevor Project, and explained why people ought to also donate to the largest non-profit organization dedicated to the prevention of suicide among LGBTQ youth.
Members of his own team and leaders within the National Football League management immediately chimed in with messages of support and congratulations. The internet erupted with other people reacting with encouragement—given that other gay NFL players have never felt it was safe to come out, and the only gay player who was out before he was drafted was not met with anything that could be described as a welcoming attitude from the league just seven years ago.
So it was a bit of a surprise that the league seemed to be reacting supportively.
Not everyone reacted quite so well: While NFL player Carl Nassib comes out, homophobes go overboard pretending that they don’t care.
All of those homophobes have been screaming that they don’t care, and then making the angry bad attempts at sexual insults. Coincidentally, on one of my other blogs, another homophobe sent me some angry messages in response to my posting of several Pride Month images. The phrase, “No one f—ing cares!” was repeated several times in those messages, too.
First, anyone who angrily yells or posts a comment asserting that “No one cares” when a queer person expresses anything about their lives, has just admitted that they care entirely way too much. They have also admitted that they are hateful bigots who lose their temper any time they are reminded that not everyone is straight.
Nassib responded to the people those (disingenuous) questions asking why he has to make an announcement. “Studies have shown that all it takes is one accepting adult to decrease the risk of an LGBTQ kid attempting suicide by 40%. Whether you’re a friend, a parent, a coach, or a teammate — you can be that person.”
One of the first studies to show that was published by the George H.W. Bush administration. Bush tasked the National Institutes of Health with determining how to reduce teen suicide, and the conclusion was that the most teen suicides would be if parents were encouraged to tell their children that they would still love and accept them if they were gay.
This is one of the reasons I say every year around National Coming Out Day and during Pride Month that queer adults should be out. It makes your life better not to constantly hiding a secret and fearing discovering, but it also makes it more likely that younger queer people will live—period.
So, I’m happy for Nassib. Even if it does mean that I have to reinstate the search on my DVR to record Raiders games, again.
Last week I posted this story in the Friday Five: 5.6% of American adults say they are LGBTQ. Over half identify as bisexual – The number of LGBTQ Americans coming out and claiming their identity just keeps growing. Digging beyond the headline, a lot of people focused on the generational chart (pictured above): Millennials (folks born between 1981 and 1996) are about four-and-a-half times more likely to identify as queer than Boomers (folks born between 1946-1964), while Gen-Z (folks born after 1996) are nearly eight times more likely than Boomers to identify as something other than heterosexual.
The story was published early in the week and I kept seeing various hot takes on the results. I was a little surprised at just how many people were willing to leap to the conclusion that younger people are only saying that they are queer to be cool.
This ignores several facts that would disproportionately reduce the number of queer people in those less-young generations responding to this survey. Not the least of which is that many of them are literally not alive to respond. Twitter user @mike_i_guess sums up much of what I’d like to say on the matter, though I would use the term “contemporaries” rather than peers:
“The lack of boomer LGBTQ+ people isn’t because it’s ‘more popular now.’ Many were murdered by they peers, died from government inaction during the AIDS crisis, committed suicide due to lack of social supports, or have had to live in the closet due to their peers’ cruelty.”
I want to unpack that a bit. We don’t really have statistics on hate crimes before the passage of the federal Hate Crime Statistics Act of 1990, and even then crimes against trans people (or those perceived to be trans) weren’t counted until the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2010 was signed into law. But queer people have been subject to bashings and murder for decades. The longer one lives, the more opportunities there are to fall victim to such crime.
It’s been known for a long time that queer people, particularly queer children and teens, are far more likely to attempt suicide than their straight contemporaries, and the statistical analysis is that the disparity is entirely due to the stress of homophobic abuse and related issues. Preliminary studies show a slight decrease in those numbers for teens and children since about 2012, as growing acceptance of queer adults in society has given more of them hope of a happy future.
Then there are health care issues. Numerous studies show that queer people are more likely to experience interruptions in health care coverage, are less likely to be forthcoming with their health care providers, and less likely to receive the same quality of health care as their straight contemporaries. It’s a complicated result of both systemic and direct homophobia. Lots of people operate under the mistaken notions that bigotry only exists in a small number of people who actively hate others because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, et cetera, but it’s a lot more subtle than that.
For instance, let’s talk about the bit about interruptions in health care coverage. For years in the U.S. one’s health insurance (if you have it) is provided by your employer. Most people don’t get to choose their coverage, they have to take what’s offered by their employer. Which means if you get laid off or otherwise lose your job, your health coverage goes away. Queer people are disproportionately likely to be let go when a Reduction In Force hits a workplace. They are also less likely to get promotions and more likely to earn less than their straight co-workers who received similar job performance reviews and have similar experience. This is not because most managers are actively homophobic. It is a combination of a lot of unconscious processes.
For example, if a queer person doesn’t feel safe being out in the workplace, they will police themselves constantly to make sure they don’t let telling details of their personal life slip. While straight co-workers will be sharing stories about things they did with the children over the weekend, or a project they worked on with their spouse, or even issues with an ex-spouse or in-laws they don’t get along with, the closeted co-worker remains mum. The closeted working can’t talk about their partner freely or in detail. So they limit themselves to very vague generalities are just politely comment on the other person’s remarks. This is perceived as being unfriendly. Not sharing personal details after another person shares some of theirs is considered anti-social. So the closeted queer employee is perceived as being less of a team player, aloof, and so forth. This has a deleterious effect on every aspect of employment, including as mentioned above an increased likelihood of being one of the people let go if there are lay-offs.
Even more dangerous is the tendency of some health care professionals not to take as seriously symptoms reported by a queer person. I have a very personal example of this. In the very early 1990s I had a series of weird health events. It took over a year for my doctor and two specialists to figure out what the underlying problem was. Before that diagnosis, I had a number of incidents that required me going to an emergency room.
One time, I had been unable to keep any food down. Soon I was running a fever and it reach the point that even trying to sip plain wanter sent me running to the bathroom and left me curled up with horrible pain in my stomach after I threw up the water. Eventually, Ray (my now late-husband) convinced me to let him take me to the hospital.
We had one bit of good luck. As we were checking in, a nurse who just happened to be coming to the front to give the admin person some information related to another patient, noticed how bad I looked. She asked a couple of questions, then pinched my forearm, before telling the admin person, “He’s extremely dehydrated and need to be put on an IV right away.”
I was whisked off, put on an IV, had my vitals taken. Not long after another nurse came in and drew a bunch of blood, asked questions, and finished filling out the admission form. Some time later the initial nurse dropped by to say her shift was ending, but before she left she wanted to see for herself if the fluids they were pumping into me were helping. My fever was down, I felt a lot better, and apparently I looked a lot better.
Then we just waited. I don’t know how long I laid there. Ray got very impatient and went to ask when someone was going to check on us. I think I was on my third unit of fluid at that point. A doctor showed up, asked a bunch of questions, checked a few things, and told us they were still waiting for a couple of the blood tests to come in. Some time after that the doctor reappeared, alone with a nurse who changed out the fluid bag again. The doctor explained that the blood tests were inconclusive, but he suspected I had a rare form of ulcer that his caused by a particular kind of infection of the stomach lining, so he was prescribing some pills that would help with that. He said that as soon as I was rehydrated enough that I had to go to the bathroom, I’d been discharged. I should keep taking the pills for the rest of the weekend (it was a Saturday night), and see my regular doctor on Monday.
I fell asleep on the drive home. And pretty much slept through all of Sunday. I was able to keep broth, plain water, and tea down, so I thought the pills were helping.
The next morning, I left a message with my boss saying I was sick and hoping to see my doctor that day. I had just hung up and was going to look up my doctor’s phone number when the doctor’s office called us. They’d gotten the information from the hospital and my regular doctor was not happy. They wanted me to come right away, bring all of the paperwork the hospital had given me, “And if you haven’t taken any of those pills today, don’t take any more!”
My doctor wasn’t just unhappy, he was royally pissed. The pills I had been given had nothing to do with ulcers or infections of any kind. They were tranquilizers. Among the notes from the ER doctor was the phrase, “Gay male patient claims he doesn’t have AIDS.” His diagnosis was that I was probably just overreacting to “unremarkable symptoms.”
My doctor wanted to know why I had gone to that hospital instead of one that was much closer to my home (where he happened to be a resident, and would have been called as soon as I was admitted, instead of him finding it out when they pulled faxes off the machine Monday morning). I explained that my employer had recently changed our insurance plan and there was exactly one ER in the city that was considered in network. He explained that the particular hospital I had gone to had a number of doctors like this one guy who 1) assumed every gay male patient was infected with the virus that causes AIDS, and 2) there isn’t anything you can do for AIDS patients, anyway, so don’t waste a lot of time on them.
The blood tests that came back before they admitted me clearly indicated that in addition to the fever and other symptoms I did have some kind of serious infection. But the medicine prescribed wouldn’t treat any infections. Tests results that had come back after they let me go gave my doctor a good guess as to what kind of infection I did have, and he prescribed something that actually would work against. Then my doctor walked me through the process of filing a formal complaint. Which he was also doing.
The upshot was that I received a partial refund from the hospital of my out-of-pocket for the ER visit. My doctor pried a letter out of my insurance company saying that the hospital close to my house would be covered as in-network. But just to be sure, my doctor also got a letter from that hospital saying that if my insurance billed me as out-of-network they would cover the cost of the difference in out-of-pocket.
The initial incident happened in the city of Seattle, which most people think of as an extremely liberal city where virtually no one is homophobic. I was lucky that I had as my primary physician a guy who was ready to fight for his patients. Who know what would have happened if I hadn’t had him in my corner? And the doctor who sent me home with tranquilizers was simply appalled that anyone would think that he had allowed any sort of prejudice guide his decision to lie to me about his diagnosis and send me home with medicine that would just make sure I was too sleepy to do anything for a few days.
I bet to this day he would swear that he doesn’t have a homophobic bone in his body. Homophobia isn’t limited to people scream slurs while they beat you.
The takeaway: for many reasons queers are less likely to get consistent, quality health care. They are disproportionately less likely to experience good health care outcomes. Therefore, more likely to die younger than their straight contemporaries. And that doesn’t even include the hundreds of thousands of queer men in the U.S. who died starting in 1979 due to the AIDS epidemic (which is still ongoing, but the availability of multi-drug anti-viral cocktails beginning in the mid-1990s have met it is no long a death sentence, even though there is still no cure).
Then there is the phenomenon of people so deeply afraid of being outed that even on an anonymous survey they will not identify as anything other than straight. Any reasonably friendly out gay man who has ever logged into a hookup app, a gay chat site, or similar forum will have many stories of getting hit up on by men who are married to women (usually with kids), and desperately want to have sex with other men, but only if you can be discreet and guarantee that no one will ever know. If you can get them to talk about it, they will admit that they have wanted to have sex with other men since they were teens (or even earlier), but have always been afraid to be out, and they are convinced that their lives will end if their wife and family ever found out they were anything but 100 percent straight.
I remember one particularly heart-wrenching conversation with a guy who felt he was super lucky precisely because his first (and only) child was a son, so that his super conservative and religious parents and in-laws were all happy, and he was able to just stop having sex with his wife at all after the arrival of the first baby. And significantly, his wife was perfectly happy that he supposedly hadn’t been interested in sex at all for the next about 30 years (at the time I talked to him). He had been having lots and lots and lots of sex for all those years—it was just furtive, downlow sex with other men. And I have little doubt that if he happened to be surveyed by Gallup, that without hesitation he would describe himself as straight
Now while I have met a few younger men like him, the vast majority of these downlow closet cases I run into online now are middle aged or older.
It’s more accurate to conclude from Gallup’s generational information that younger people currently feel less fear to admit their orientation. We hope that, going forward, they will also experience fewer of the issues that have caused earlier generations of queers to die before their time.
Today is National Coming Out Day. If Ray were still alive, it would also be the day we’d be celebrating the twenty-seventh anniversary of our commitment ceremony (he promised to stay with me for the rest of his life, and he did). My (very-much alive) husband Michael and I don’t have any anniversaries that are close to this date, but this is the twenty-first National Coming Out Day we’ve lived together.
I’ve written many times about how important it is that queer people (lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, nonbinary, trans, aromantic, genderfluid, two-spirit, questioning, intersex, and so no) be out if they safely can be. Studies show that being closeted has several deleterious effects on one’s mental and physical health. When you’re in the closet, you aren’t being yourself. You are pretending to be someone who others wouldn’t guess was part of the LGBT. When you’re in the closet you’re in a constant state of anxiety—the very real fear that if some people knew your secret, they would reject you, shun you, or maybe even physically assault you.
That takes a toll.
Studies have also shown that the more LGBT people that a straight person knows, the less likely they are to harbor bigoted beliefs toward the community. And queer young people who have out role models in their community are far less likely to attempt suicide.
So there are many, many good reasons to get out.
There are reasons to be wary of being out. For instance, 40% of homeless teens are homeless precisely because they have been kicked out or driven from their homes when their families found out they were queer. And there are bigots in every community who pose financial, social, and physical threats to queer people. So I understand why staying in the closet sometimes feels like the safer option.
But I have to say from personal experience, that not living with that constant burden of fear is such a relief. Now, the relief don’t always come right away, because sometimes the people closest to you — even those that you are absolutely certain will be okay with learning this about you — don’t react positively. When I came out, several friends and relatives I thought would at least be tolerant absolutely flipped out. Two that I was certain had just been waiting for me to admit it categorically denied that they had ever suspect at all — and one of them insisted that the mere fact that I thought they knew already was somehow proof that I had been brainwashed into thinking I was gay.
On the other hand, there were family members and friends who I had thought wouldn’t take it well who turned into my fiercest defenders against the other.
The sad fact is that you aren’t going to know who will stand by you until you come out.
But the flip side of that is, the ones who reject you? The ones who through the worst fit when you come out? They never loved you. No matter how much they insist that they did, the truth is that they didn’t love you, they loved the straight person they imagined you to be. And their rejection demonstrates that their love had always been conditional.
Coming out was scary. But once the initial difficulties blew over, I made an amazing discovery: since I was no longer expending all that energy pretending to be something I wasn’t and scared to death people would find out I was pretending, I had a whole lot more time and energy to spend on the things I love. And the more time I spent doing the things I love, the more new people who were ready to accept me for who I was came into my life.
If it is safe for you to come out, you should. You’ll find that standing proud in the opne, being true to yourself, is so much better than hiding in the dark!
I was reading on two different services people discussing some problematic tropes, and for part of the conversation I found myself feeling attacked. By which I do not mean the funny meme-sense of that phrase where you recognize an unflattering truth about yourself in a generalized comment someone is making. No, I mean I felt as if the people discussing the issue were either dismissing my lived experience, or at least making the decision that people such as myself don’t matter. And for different, though related reasons. Which shouldn’t be that surprising since the problematic tropes in question are related to one another.
One of the troublesome tropes under discussion was that Old Canard, Bury Your Gays. If you aren’t familiar, the trope refers to the fact that often in fiction, queer characters are killed off and written out of series far more often than non-queers. I wrote about this a few years ago (Invisible or tragically dead… reflections on representation) in a year where over the course of the first 80 days of that TV season, 22% of all the queer regular or recurring characters across all network shows had been killed. And I pointed out that if the same rate of “anyone could die” actually applied across all of the casts of network shows regardless of orientation, that that would mean 2.5 characters being killed every single night of prime time television, and would mean that each season shows would have to replace more than 94% of their casts.
Many people have rightfully pointed out that a major contributor to the problem is that so many series, movies, novels, et cetera have at most one queer character (and rarely a pair of queer characters). In those cases that means that the only representation a show has of nonheterosexual people is erased by one character death. And even in those rare cases where there is a second queer character, since the second character is almost always in some sort of relationship with the first, that means that the sole queer representative left in the series is now an example of the equally bigoted/stereotypical Tragic Backstory Gay.
The lack of adequate representation is only part of the problem. Another very big part of the problem is that many writers think that queer characters are only suitable for queer plotlines, and so once the series has dealt with an incident of homophobia and an relative/friend learning to truly accept and support the queer character, that there is absolutely nothing else one can write for the character so they are now dead weight. But there are folks—most of them members of the queer community or allies—who genuinely think that the lack of realistic numbers of queer characters is the only reason Bury Your Gays is a problem. And unfortunately this causes other problems.
The discussion that I saw this week illustrated this well. One person was explaining what Bury Your Gays means, and went on to express their personal opinion that because they have read or watched so many queer characters get killed off so many times that they just don’t want to ever watch or read such a storyline again.
And people got very angry about that assertion. “How dare you say that I can never kill a queer character in my story!” “How dare you demand representation but also special treatment!” And so on.
Which is absolutely not what the person said.
Let’s switch topics for a minute. I was physically and emotionally abused by my father as a child. For that reason, I find it very difficult to sit through storylines involving abusing characters in stories I read or watch. This means that sometimes I stop watching a series or I put down a book never to pick it up again. I experienced a lot of that in real life and would rather spend my free time (which is what the reading of novels and watching of series or movies is, my free time) on other things. Similarly, many years ago a particular series I and friends were reading seemed to be obsessed with rape (and the gleeful humiliation and torment of vulnerable characters in general) as a plot engine. I decided that I didn’t need anymore of those kinds of scenes in my imagination, and I stopped reading the series (and when the editor of said series later became the author of an international best-selling fantasy series that similarly pruriently reveled in rape and torture, I swore off that, too).
In neither case am I saying that no one has the right to write such stories. Nor am I saying that people who want to read them should be legally banned from doing so. I’m just saying that I am done that that. I don’t want to read that. I exercise my right to choose what I read and watch and will go read and watch something else.
That doesn’t mean that I am weak. It doesn’t mean that I’m fragile. It doesn’t mean that there is something wrong or immature about me. I am making a choice and stating a preference. That’s all.
And yes, I’m generally in sympathy with the commenter who said she’d rather not read any more deaths of queer characters. For 59 years I have read stories in which if gay people like me were included at all we were the depraved villains or the tragic victims. And if I could go another 59 years of life and never, ever read or watch another story in which that happens, I would be happy (and not just because it would be cool to live to be 118 years old).
It’s not that I refuse to read stories where that happens. I do, even when I have been warned, sometimes. And full disclosure: in the series of fantasy novels I’m working on a lot of queer characters have bad things happen to them. In book one a canonically pansexual character appears to die (and his apparent death is quite important to the plot), though it is revealed later he survived. But as the series goes on I kill off an asexual character, a bisexual character, a genderfluid character, and (in flashback) a trans character. So as a queer author I’m doing this. But I also point out that there are a lot of other gay, lesbian, bi, pan, genderfluid, ace, and trans are in the story who don’t come to untimely ends. And as I’ve mentioned in blog posts before, I’m one of those authors who literally cries at the keyboard while writing a death scene, so I don’t take these things lightly.
So I’m saying that it is perfectly reasonable for a reader/viewer to make a decision about what kinds of stories they want to watch. And while writers get to decide what they do in their own stories—readers, viewers, and other writers are allowed to point out if we think they are portraying harmful stereotypes or perpetuating bigotry.
There was a second trope discussion where I felt attacked. People were lamenting the Gayngst trope. This is the tendency of many writers to portray all queer people as being unhappy with their lives, and specifically wishing that they weren’t gay. The people participating in this thread were unhappy with this trope because they were convinced that it is never true. One person asserted that there were no queer people anywhere who, once they got past the questioning stage and realized that they are queer, wished that they weren’t queer.
Which is where I really felt attacked. I realized that I was a gay boy at the age of eleven. Puberty hit like a freight train, as I said in that post, and finally I knew that all those people (including my father, some pastors, numerous teachers, and other adults in my life) who had bullied me for being a sissy, pussy, c*cksucker, and f*ggot had been correct.
I did not magickally become a wildly pro-gay activist at the moment of that realization.
To use the terminology of the the great James Baldwin quoted above, among the filth that I had been forcefed throughout my life up to that time was the absolute certainty that queers like me were going to spent eternity burning in Hell. And, since god is supposedly a Just Creator, we deserved it.
So, yes, I spent the next 13 years of my life frequently crying myself to sleep at night and begging god to take those feelings away.
It wasn’t until I was 24 years old that I started to believe that maybe, just maybe being queer wasn’t a curse that absolutely meant I would never know love, that I would constantly be fighting off depraved urges, and that I would ultimately deserve to be thrown into the Lake of Fire.
I was well past questioning for those years. And it wasn’t until I was 24 that I let a female friend talk me into the notion that maybe I wasn’t gay, but was actually bisexual. I would say that was the beginning of my questioning years, not when I first realized back at age eleven.
If some queer people younger than me really do immediately go from, “I don’t know why I seem to be different than what society expects me to be” to “Hey! It’s great to be queer” than I am very happy for them. I have my doubts that the transition is that instantaneous, but maybe it is.
Regardless, I know for a fact that millions of us spent a number of years mired in that self-loathing. And it isn’t just old fogies like me—earlier this year gay millennial Presidential hopeful Pete Butigeig admitted that “If you had offered me a pill to make me straight” he would have taken it.
So, while Gaynst shouldn’t be the universal portrayal of all queer people in stories and pop cultural, it’s okay to admit that some of us experienced that as part of our process of becoming who we are. And you should be able to criticize the stereotype without also erasing the queer people who experienced coming out differently than you.
It wasn’t until I was 31 years old—literally 20 years after I first realized and understood that I was a gay man—that I finally vomited up enough of that self-loathing and other filth to start walking this earth as if I had a right to be here. And the struggle of getting that point is something which should be honored, not erased.