Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Beautiful People

With all the hullabaloo about gay marriage these days, all the focus on civil rights, all this Christophobia on the part of gay people who want to remove the right of god-fearing folk to discriminate, it’s easy to lose sight of an absolutely astonishing phenomenon taking place before our eyes – the slow but certain fact that homosexuality is becoming normal. No-big-dealization. What’s-the-wussitude. I’ll find the word some day. For now, being ORDINARY will do.

I remember once listening to Tales of the City author, Armistead Maupin, tell of the time he was with a gay baseball team that had gone somewhere to play the cops team and how they felt when they won. On the bus trip back, Maupin said, “There I was, a 36-year-old man sitting in the back of the bus and making out like a teenager.”

I’m not sure I’ve got the exact age and I may have the situation mixed up, but his point was clear. This was something he should have been able to do as a teenager, but couldn’t, and he was making up for lost time.

A lot of us resonate with that story. We look back at our youth and feel a sadness at the hole there where we were left out. We were deprived of the chance to experience the normal awkwardness of first love, and satisfying explanations for what the hormones were doing to us.

In the 1950s when I was in high school, while most of my friends were swooning over love songs and movie stars, sex for me was like the cheese in a mousetrap – one careless nibble and I was a goner. Don’t want to press it, but mousiness is not an unrealistic metaphor.

Gay kids today don’t all have it easy. Dustin Lance Black’s speech at the Oscars brought home the fact that they still have to fight the relentless bombardment of messages that they are “less than,” as he put it. But from my perspective, dealing with the tragic abuse by church, government and family that homophobia comes down to, is a whole lot easier by far when you’ve got the right posters and photos you can hang on your bedroom wall.

Much has been made of the fact that black kids all over America now have a model in Barack Obama their parents never had. It’s working. Have you ever seen so many African-Americans waving the stars and stripes before? They know they belong. Models are tremendously important.

Less conspicuous is what a gay black couple can do for gay black kids. I recently came across a picture of Keith Boykin and Nathan Hale Williams, who have apparently found each other. What a couple of beautiful people, I thought to myself. Well, yes. They are beautiful people. Black people. Gay people.

Two lawyers, no less. Keith Boykin went to law school at Harvard with Barack Obama. He also was the most prominent gay person in the Clinton Administration. Today he is an articulate supporter of Obama, and he edits his own political journal, The Daily Voice. Nathan Hale Williams is a model turned producer who also went to law school.

Like Armistead Maupin, suddenly I found myself the other day trying to catch up, not making out in the back of a bus, but googling around for gossip like a love-struck teenager in love with love, swimming with the beautiful people and the fantasy of Hollywood fame and riches and unending delights.

OK. Not really. But allow me a little rhetorical excess here.

My point is there are places to go for young people today to exercise their fantasies. Their dreams don’t have to end in mousetrap images any more. The church still continues to fail them, but they’ve got Dustin Lance Black to remind them God loves them. The government is much of the time a cipher to them, but it is increasingly less hostile. And now there is Keith and Nathan.

For that matter, Armistead Maupin married his partner Christopher in Canada in 2007. It’s never too late. Lt. Sulu (George Takei, now in his 70s) of the original Star Trek married Brad Altman in June of last year. The wedding – a quick aside here for Star Trek fans - had Chekov (Walter Koenig) as best man and Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) as matron of honor.

And for folks who think they were born to Darth Vadar, even the real Darth Vadar (Dick Cheney), it turns out, has a daughter in a lesbian marriage.

The beautiful people models are everywhere. Marc Jacobs of France and Lorenzo Martone of Brazil, for example.

And T. R. Knight and Mark Cornelsen.

And Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka.

Stop it, already. I get the picture.

But you don’t, if you’re old and you remember “I thought people like that killed themselves.”

That’s what the good folk of California are missing when they think there is a “reasonable” argument to Prop. 8 and “people have a right to vote their conscience.”

Whether they have a right to vote away gay people’s civil rights is currently loudly contested. But behind the desire for marriage, which is – make no mistake about it, very real – is all the stuff that leads up to it. Including the right to be fourteen years old and leaf through magazines and dream that someday you too can be one of the beautiful people.

Somebody once said that the greatest of all freedoms in a democracy is the freedom to be stupid. Not a noble goal, obviously, but an important one when you consider it simply means you need not be afraid to stick your neck out. You can recover from your mistakes and experimentation and risk are positive things.

Wanting to be one of the beautiful people isn’t noble either. It’s ordinary.

Ordinary is not the final goal.

But it is where the starting line should be.

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