Thursday, May 9, 2013

When Being Gay Is Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Be Gay -- Oh, Wait ...

I snapped at someone on Facebook yesterday about the careless use of the word "hate" and its sibling "love," but maybe I should also harp on the word "normal."  Like here, the author of a YouTube sitcom centered on LGBT characters in Vietnam:
Khoa said that he created the show because he was tired of the way gays had been portrayed in films and on television in Vietnam, where they're generally relegated to being either tragic figures or mincing comic-relief sidekicks. "I see my life as very normal," he said. "I see gay life as very normal. The gay community also has family, has friends, has love."
So what exactly does "normal" mean here?  (Or the Vietnamese equivalent -- was the interview done in English?)  After all, gangsters have families, have friends, have love; remember The Godfather, let alone The Sopranos?  Mass-murderers and war criminals too.  So do tragic figures and mincing comic-relief sidekicks; one of the things I love about Torch Song Trilogy is that it focuses on a character who could be either tragic or comic-relief, a sissy professional female impersonator, and shows him as a fully-rounded human being -- with (yes), family, friends, and love.  The word "normal" here seems to be almost completely empty, since it could be applied to just about anybody, no matter how abnormal.

I'm not saying here that to be gay is essentially to be an outlaw.  (Though it can be, when gay sex is a felony, and when the courts equate gay sex and gay people, as American laws and courts used to do.)  Drag queens and leathermen and leatherdykes and creepy old barflies and butches and femmes and fairies and all the stereotypes you like -- they're all people, usually with families, friends, and love.  Whether they're "normal" depends on what you mean by "normal."  My objection to certain respectability-minded gay people -- the kind I call "Homo-Americans" -- is that they evidently agree that various types of gay people are subhuman and deserve to be despised and marginalized, and they're willing to work with the worst elements in straight society in order to Belong.  This is the Room 101 strategy from Orwell's 1984: You can do anything you want to Them, the bad ones, the trashy ones, but not me!  Do it to them!  I'm with you!  I understand the psychology of this move, but I judge it harshly.  Drag queens and leathermen don't hurt anybody; collaborators with bigotry do.

So, for example, I look with funny-uncle approval on Jason Collins, the gay pro basketball player who just came out publicly.  It's been fun to watch some of the squirming by sport media and some straight liberals, and I haven't bothered to read the comments under most of the stories -- I'm burned out on dealing with bigoted frothers, thanks very much.  But Jason Collins won't give the "gay community" any additional respectability because he's a jock; if anything, we give that to him.  As numerous writers have pointed out, Collins isn't even the first professional male athlete to come out while still working in his sport.  (I stress "male" there because, as other writers have pointed out, part of the way for Collins was paved by out female athletes.)  When the baseball player Glenn Burke tried to be openly gay in the 1970s, straight sports media simply refused to hear him.  Being openly gay requires a context that gay activists created: straight society worked very hard to make us shut up and go away, but we refused.  And why?  We insisted that whether straights liked it or not, we are part of this society, and of every society.

It wasn't that straight society, if left its own devices, would never talk about homosexuality at all; far from it.  But straight society wants to use us for its own purposes, as tragic figures or comic relief or bogeymen who signify what will happen if children aren't forced to conform to proper gender norms.  (Just as white society is happy to talk about black people as happy-go-lucky children, Sapphires, strapping black bucks, and comic relief: whites only get restive if black people insist on being present in their own three-dimensional humanity.)  So those straights who complained after Collins's announcement that they didn't want to hear about gay people all the time were lying: they still want to be able to tell fag jokes and beat up the kid who isn't interested in sports, they want to denounce Sodomites from their pulpits and bring back the sodomy laws.  They want to be in control of the discourse, that's all.  But they don't get to be, not anymore.

One predictable element of the discourse about Jason Collins is that he breaks "the stereotypes."  I suppose he does, in a way, but gay activists have been chipping away at "the stereotypes" all along.  One of the weaknesses of the gay movement has been its ambivalence about that project.  It is important to challenge the notion that all GLBT people look or behave in certain stigmatized ways, and to point out that many of us are effectively invisible, gender-compliant, and so on.  But what about those of us who don't fit the straight stereotypes of what boys and girls, men and women are supposed to be?  (That's a bit of an oversimplification, I admit: the trouble isn't that many of us don't conform to the prescribed gender stereotypes, it's that we conform to the wrong ones.)  Sissies and butches don't hurt anybody; gender cops and other bigots do -- indeed, they consider it their duty and their right, as well as their pleasure, to do so.  Besides, if the current scientific consensus on the biology of homosexuality is correct, Jason Collins must have a little girl inside himself, trying to get out.  That consensus is probably wrong, of course, but it's embraced by the same Homo-Americans who want us to be, or at least pretend to be, gender-compliant.

Before I can decide whether I want to be normal, then, I'd like to know what "normal" means.  If it means being "like everybody else," then I need to know what everybody else is really like.  The traits extolled by Homo-Americans when they talk about normality are often a facade: the family lives in a nice home behind a white picket fence and Mom wears an apron and a string of pearls when she cooks dinner, Junior plays baseball and Betsy plays with her dolls, while Spot yearns for a Mrs. Spot so he can start his own family.  Even if Dad doesn't stop off at the park on his way home from work to get or give a blowjob in the restroom, and even if Mom doesn't tipple the cooking wine to alleviate her boredom and frustration, this is an incomplete picture of human life, and shouldn't be treated as a standard for all of us to meet.  Junior can play baseball and with dolls, as can Betsy.  The family might live in a trailer, or an urban apartment, and nowadays Mom works for a paycheck too.  The 1950s Madison Avenue myth of American family life doesn't need to be tweaked to allow for more superficial diversity, it need to be thrown out altogether.  There isn't one "normal."  But once you stretch "normal" to fit everybody it needs to fit, it no longer means anything.  We probably need another word, and another concept.