Gay in 2011: How Homophobia Lost Its Cool
The other night my wife and I watched X-Men: First Class.
I hadn’t mentioned anything, but I wanted to see Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Mystique, which is another way of saying I wanted to see Jennifer Lawrence naked. We all know how Rebecca Romijn had perfected the role with her body in earlier versions of the franchise, but I wanted to see how the plain-spoken determination that Lawrence displayed in Winter’s Bone would translate into nudity.
I was optimistic.
However, very, very quickly I found myself utterly mesmerized by Michael Fassbender.
He was sexy. Jesus, he was dead sexy. And then there was James McAvoy. He was sexy, too. Sexy in a different way, but still sexy. Together, the chemistry they shared burned through the screen and I simply couldn’t take my eyes off of them. I mean, I wanted them to do stuff. Pulling myself together, I asked Rachelle, “Where’s Jennifer McLarwebender?”
Rachelle pointed her out.
“So she’s the blue one? Man alive, I just wish she’d get out of the way, sometimes she makes it hard to see Fassbender and McAvoy!”
Rachelle pursed her lips, “So, you want to have a better view of the guys, do you?”
I felt a little defensive at first and said nothing, but I couldn’t contain myself, “Yes! Look at them! They’re hot as hell! Way better than anything on “True Blood”! And don’t you judge me, you’d be in there like a dirty shirt in a second!”
And after just a moment of looking at one another we both nodded and returned to the movie.
Some 20 years ago when I was in high school, to say that you found another man sexy, let alone two of them, spelled certain doom. And it’s not that I grew up in an unusually parochial environment. As far as these things went, the school I attended in Ottawa — one of the larger Canadian cities — was relatively liberal minded. No matter, if you were gay or suspected of being gay, your life was to be misery.
A climate of unceasing and vitriolic homophobia completely smothered the culture in which we existed. This homophobia was more like a rampaging panic than it was anything else, and it trampled whomever might have been standing in the general vicinity of it’s path. This was the norm, not the exception, and with an irony that is almost too great to comprehend, the model of heterosexual masculinity to which we all aspired were the characters in the movie Top Gun.
Could there have been a queerer movie? And we thought this was the roadmap for what it was to be a straight guy? I tell you, those were some pretty mixed-up times.
Regardless of all the confusion, one thing was clear, if you were gay, if you even danced well, you were considered deviant by the mainstream. You were made fun of, avoided, insulted and sometimes you were beaten. That was the daily reality. It truly must have been a terrifying experience to go to school each day, and only the bravest and strongest of human beings could have survived that experience with a confident sense of who they actually were.
Many, of course, didn’t.
The wreckage of this is everywhere. I know men, now 40, who always seemed to have had an orientation unique from the mainstream, who have yet to freely embrace the core of who they are. It’s a secret they’ve kept from their families, churches, peers, and in some cases, even themselves, and typically it would manifest in all sorts of different ways.
You could see it in the man sitting at the local bar, his personality changing as he gets drunk and lets slip the rigid control he’d always maintained over the tone of his voice and the type of hug he’d share with another man. Or in the friend who suffers from chronic depression, plagued by migraines, chewing his nails to the quick and going for long walks at night, a man who never seemed at home in his own skin.
It always frustrated me to see this. A generation had passed, things had changed. Why did they deny themselves the happiness, the peace they deserved? But as a straight man who resided in the comfort of an accepting, even nurturing, mainstream, I have absolutely no idea what it must be like to have been shaped by such prejudice and to be burdened by the baggage those days imposed.
Not a clue.
I don’t know what it’s like to have been reared by an imposing Roman Catholic mother or a hard-ass military dad to whom your very nature is a disappointment and point of shame. To not have the opportunity to marry, to be in fact, denied basic human rights is beyond my ken. I can’t even begin to conceive of being reared amidst these constraints and pressures, and if I had, well, I have no doubt the closet would be a likely place to lock myself. Obviously, this denial of self is an immense tragedy.
The Dan Savage inspired “It Gets Better” movement is a stroke of genius. Hopefully, in the struggle for LGBT rights it sparks a great leap forward. The videos, all so well known now, are heartbreaking, beautiful and sincere. Made by geniuses and morons alike, each person tells their story, encouraging those who are going through the living hell that I saw so many live back in high school, not to despair, that things will get better. It’s impossible not to be deeply moved by these, and I honestly think Dan Savage should get a Nobel Peace Prize for so brilliantly placing these survivor stories in the middle of the Civil Rights narrative of North America.
Of course there are myriad obstacles before the LGBT community feels the right kind of invisibility in the dominant culture, and one of these obstacles is the Christian Right, which stands obdurately in the face of the very world in which it lives. At this point, their posture, and other antipathetic religions, seem ridiculous. We all know gay people, we all have gay people in our families, how can one sustain the belief that God hates these people? That they made some choice ( and so what if they did) to be who they are? My mind spins at the increasingly desperate, practically mystical arguments that get trotted out to defend a clearly untenable position.
No matter, things are changing. Making fun of gay people, threatening them or discriminating against them is no longer cool. Whether you think that Tracy Morgan was exercising the artistic freedom a comedian needs to explore dissonances in the world, or if you think he was merely a bigot with a stage, the result was the same. Contrite, he had to beg forgiveness:
“I know how bad bullying can hurt. I was bullied when I was a kid. I’m sorry for what I said. I didn’t mean it. I never want to use my comedy to hurt anyone. My family knew what it was like to feel different. My brother was disabled and I lost my father to AIDS in 1987. My dad wasn’t gay but I also learned about homophobia then because of how people treated people who were sick with that. Parents should support and love their kids no matter what. Gay people deserve the same right to be happy in this country as everyone else. Our laws should support that. I hope that my fans gay, straight, whatever forgive and I hope my family forgives me for this.”
Whether Morgan’s mea culpa was sincere, prodded by his boss and LGBT champion Tina Fey or merely an example of economic self-interest is almost beside the point. Power is shifting and the darkest days of fear and shame for those in the gay community are surely disappearing, and hopefully nobody will ever have to hide in the closet again.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
—Martin Luther King Jr.