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Pink Triangles and Rainbow Dreams
Essays about Being Gay in the Real World
John Arthur Maddus, Ed.D.
Table of Contents
Section 1: On Being Gay
Coming Out Is Essential
The Beauty Trap
How to Make It Work
So Who Is That Person Next to You?
They Say That Breaking Up Is Hard to Do
What About Us in the Country?
The Second Wave
Section 2: On Being Out, Open, and Politically Correct
I Try to Be Politically Correct
It’s Time We Grew Up
Monolithic Thought: Dare We Differ?
Civil Disobedience or Media Event?
Where Have All the Heroes Gone?
In the Schools
The New Radical Activism
Let’s Hear It for Religion!
Amos and Andy Meet Will and Jack
Section 3: On Being Gay in the Real World
A Heterosexual Questionnaire
The Two-party System of Politics
One Part Gay, One Part War
What Family Values?
Gay Marriage, Civil Unions, and the Destruction of Civilization As We Know It
A Need for Urgency
That’s All It Takes
11:59:59, 19-Old/12:00:00, 19-New
This book is intended for all people: Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and non-gay. The focus in the book is obviously from the perspective of a gay manhow could it be otherwise when written by a gay manbut many of the essays include discussions pertinent not only to gay men, but to lesbians, and the non-gay population. Most of the essays are specifically directed toward a gay male audience; since, after all, that is the experiential background and understanding of the author. Nevertheless, everyone can benefit from reading the essays in this book; they have been written with the Gay/ Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgender Community (hereafter referred to as the G/L/B/T community) and the majority community in mind. I am convinced that people of differing sexual orientations have the same hopes, fears, dreams, and desires.
The book is divided into three sections: On Being Gay, On Being Out, Open, and Politically Correct, and On Being Gay in the Real World. Section I: On Being Gay focuses on what it means to be gay, the kinds of discrimination we face in our daily lives, and how we react to issues of inequality, discrimination and bigotry (even within our own community). Section II: On Being Out, Open, and Politically Correct is directed towards contemporary issues within the G/L/B/T community, but can be read and appreciated by non-gays readers, as well. Section III: On Being Gay in The Real World focuses more on issues that affect queers living in the real world and who are constantly struggling for equality. Hopefully, the humor that permeates much of the book will not be lost on any readers.
My hope is that by reading this book the G/L/B/T community and all non-gay people will come to better understand not only the issues of discrimination and inequality that face gays and lesbians from day to day, but will shed light on some of the issues within the G/L/B/T community that have been hotly debated for the past several decades.
My apologies to bisexuals, and transgendered people: I do not attempt to speak for you, or about you. I have included the breadth of the G/L/B/T community in many of these essays because I am an unapologetic believer in equality and that includes all of us, who, unfortunately, have not always had the best working relationships. Indeed, discrimination and distrust exist even within groups of people who supposedly share so much in common. Still, I am convinced that most of the essays in this book address issues common to all people who identify themselves as part of the G/L/B/T community.
Many of the essays in this book originally were written as editorial commentary on “Alternating Currents,” a gay and lesbian radio program on WAIF-FM radio in Cincinnati, Ohio. Others appeared as commentary from a column I wrote for Nouveau, a regional G/L/B/T newspaper in the Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky tri-state area. Still others were delivered as speeches at various rallies, fund-raisers, and Pride events. Most of the essays have been rewritten, updated, and edited to reflect a more contemporary view of gay issues.
There will be, undoubtedly, some people who will become offended by some of the topics and issues discussed in this book. I have diligently attempted to address a wide-ranging audience, but to speak to people of divergent ideologies, sexual orientations, and political and theological sensibilities becomes nearly impossibleit is difficult to identify a specific audience when discussing subjects that are as monumental as many of these are. My intent is not to assume that every gay man, every lesbian, every bisexual, every transgendered person, or every heterosexual share similar feelings, emotions, or sensibilities. I believe that if a reader is offended by some of the issues dealt with in this book, then that person should look more deeply into his or her mind and soul to examine the prejudices that might cause dismay.
Before continuing with the essays, a word about the title. Most gays and lesbians and probably a good percentage of heterosexuals understand the significance of the pink triangleit has become known world-wide as one of the primary symbols of the G/L/B/T liberation movement. The pink triangle as a symbol in the G/L/B/T community stems from its use by Hitler’s Nazis in World War II. Just as the yellow Star of David was used to identify Jews in Germany and other Nazi occupied territories, the pink triangle was sewn onto the clothes of homosexuals sent to concentration camps before and during World War II. In the 1970s it was unofficially adopted by gays and lesbians as a symbol of liberation, rather than the oppression experienced in Nazi Germany, and continues as one of the two most recognizable symbols of the gay struggle for equality.
The rainbow flag, another symbol of the G/L/B/T liberation movement was first designed for the San Francisco gay pride parade by Gilbert Baker in 1978. The original flag was made of eight colors: red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, indigo, violet, and pink. Today, the freedom flag is composed of six stripes chosen from the following colors: red (life), orange (healing), yellow (sun), green (nature), blue (art), violet (spirit), indigo (harmony), and pink (sexuality). The flag has become flown world-wide and is recognized by the International congress of Flag Makers as the official flag of the gay liberation movement.
Using both symbols in the title of this book captures the political history of gays (dating from the holocaust and attempted extermination of homosexuals in Nazi Germany) and extending to the open culture of queerdom that typifies much of the twenty-first century world. The essays in this text discuss the fears, hopes, and dreams of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people everywhere; thus, Pink Triangles and Rainbow Dreams.
Read this book with an open mind. You never know what you might learn, or re-learn, from a new perspective. But most of all, have fun! Learning should always be fun; when it ceases to be so, our search for truth will be in vain. If any of usgay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or non-gay fails to listen to reason and candor, then our hope for social, environmental, and political evolution will certainly be thwarted and we will become no better than our ancestors who lived in intellectual darkness, surrounded by myth, legend and fear.
On Being Gay
Coming Out Is Essential
I don’t know how many times in the past few years someone has called my attention to a gay-slanderous editorial in a newspaper, a homophobic joke on the radio, the heterosexist rhetoric of a politician, or the negative and condescending stereotyping of gays and lesbians on television or in the movies. Of course we now have Will and Grace and an increasing number of queer and dyke characters on televisioneven though such characters perpetuate homosexual stereotypes and sexless queerdom.
Often, when people see or hear something homophobic in the news or entertainment media, they demand action from one of the G/L/B/T organizations that try desperately to counter such pejorative stigmatization. Usually local and national groups respond by writing letters, meeting with alleged offenders, threatening boycotts, picketing businesses, and lobbying legislators. Sometimes their actions meet with success. If someone were to record the number of times offensive comments or stereotypes appeared in the news or entertainment media, we could probably fill a score of file drawersthere seems to be no dearth of slanderous, homophobic humor and news, even during a time of supposed enlightenment.
There are several avenues of recourse open to the G/L/B/T community to counter heterosexism in the media, but the fact of the matter is, we can continue spinning our wheels, fighting joke by joke, story by story, and character by character and get nowhere fast. Or we can go the media one better and declare war on homophobia by coming out of our closets, standing up for what we know is right, and being counted for who and what we are.
Ignorant people will always criticize and attack what they do not understand, especially when fear and misunderstanding are deeply rooted in religious myth and social taboo. This ignorance is perpetuated by three attitudes: a fear of the unknown, the stubborn adherence to ethnocentric mythology, and the repudiation of cultures, ideas, or values different from theirs.
Consider racial prejudice as an example of ignorance. African Americans have long been feared and misunderstood by the prevailing white power center because of skin color. Dark pigmentation has been historically (and incorrectly) linked to lower intelligence, and it wasn’t that long ago that white scientists wrongly argued that blacks had smaller brains, and therefore, were less gifted and less capable of educated reasoning. For the most part, African Americans are still considered intellectually, economically, and socially inferior to Caucasians, and since they are physically different from the Anglo-Saxon homogeneity of American society, they must be inferior (as the argument goes). Thus, attempts to perpetuate white superiority have met with considerable success. The same can be applied to any other minority that has fought for liberation in this society: women, Native Americans, Latinos, religious groups, and various national and ethnic minorities.
Such can also be said for being gay. Gays and lesbians have long been unknown, ignored, and misunderstood by the majority of heterosexuals simply because of our love for persons of the same sex. We have been rejected by many Christian church organizations with their so-called Biblical prohibitions against same-sex orientation (even to the point of being persecuted, prosecuted, and executed in the name of God). We are most certainly different from the cultural norm of heterosexuality (thus, the fear, hatred, and prejudice we experience). And we are rejected because our social mythology does not adhere to conventional Americana. Accordingly, the majority of society feels justified in endorsing the silent approval of media and entertainment slander.
Because we are considered different we are open to attack; not only because of the reasons discussed above, but also because we seem too few in number to be taken seriously. Most minority struggles do not result in success until a significant percentage of that minority rises up to demand equality.
Consider again any of the various minority liberation movements that have taken root in the latter half of twentieth century America. Be they African American, women’s rights, Native American, or specifically ethnic or religious, the opposing media slander did not end as a result of legislation or executive order. It ended because sufficient numbers of minority persons stood up for themselves and their rights, rendering media slander socially unacceptable.
The absence of media slander against African Americans and women is not because of legislation alone, a newly discovered sense of morality, or humanitarian acceptance on the part of the prevailing majorityit is simply the result of numbers. Pure and simple numbers that warn society that enough members of a particular minority not only represent people with the same hopes, dreams, and fears of the prevailing majority, but represent numbers large enough to translate into significant dollars, which in turn translate into serious consequences for business. The G/L/B/T has made its numbers known also. For example, the G/L/B/T community brought pressure to bear on Coors Beer, Disney Enterprises, and The Cracker Barrel restaurant chain, causing a complete turnaround in their homophobic policies. In fact, economic indicators project that in 2007 gays and lesbians will spend twenty-one billion dollars in the United States alone. Again, numbers translate into money.
The capitalistic ethic that argues money makes the world go round ironically ends up benefiting some minorities in their struggle for equality. Women and African Americans are earning a little more money and gaining a little more equality these days, but that is not so with all minorities. Native Americans are earning less money and Native Americans are making fewer inroads towards equality. Consider how even in the twenty-first century proponents still argue for using Native American names as sports team mascots, claiming absurdly that the custom honors Native Americans and is part of sports history. As for those minorities that do achieve a bit more equality, it soon becomes unacceptable to make racial, ethnic, or gender slurs and misrepresentations in the media.
The lesson here is that we as a community must come out: vocally, physically, and spiritually. As long as there are just the few fighting for the many, no onepolitician, religious leader, housewife, or corporate executivewill believe that there are as many of us as there are. Only when society realizes that we are their teachers, ministers, bankers, truck drivers, plumbers, politicians, and ball players will we begin to win the battle, and only then will protective legislation be more easily enacted. It is sad, but true, commentary that human rights mean little, that financial opportunities dominateand that in economic battle, the conquering general utilizes all weapons.
Coming out of the closet means verbally acknowledging our homosexual orientation to those who immediately surround us and are important to us. It means telling our parents and siblings, our closest friends, and the other people whom we identify as being significant parts of our lives. Of course, each one of us has to decide who among our sphere of influence needs to knowno one can determine that for us. Coming out means facing yourself, acknowledging your sexual identity, and living your life in the open air of singularity; therefore, ending a life of duplicity and lies.
Coming out isn’t easy. By coming out we risk our families, our friends, our jobs, our homes, our economic security, and our safety. But staying in the closet is far worse, psychologically and emotionally for the individual, and for the community as a whole
Coming out means figuratively shouting from the rooftops that you’re queer, and realizing that every day for the rest of your life you will have to come out again and again and again every time you meet someone new; every time you become involved in a new situation. It means facing the reality that the process of coming out is one that will last a lifetimeit isn’t a simple decision that is implemented one day and then forgotten about the next. Coming out means living your life honestly from that point forward.
Coming out is unique to people in the G/L/B/T community; for the most part the rest of the world doesn’t know us for who we truly are. We don’t necessarily look, walk, talk, or dress gay; unlike most minorities we aren’t easy to identify. We can tell an African American, a Hispanic, and a Middle Easterner by the color of skin. Obviously we know the differences between a male and a female. But for gays and lesbians, there just aren’t any distinguishing physical, psychological, or emotional characteristics that indicate our sexual orientation.
I’ve been asked by sincerely interested heterosexuals what’s the big deal, why do you have to come out, what’s so important about announcing your sexual orientation to the world? We don’t! Can’t you just be quiet about it and still be who you are? As far as heterosexuals not having to announce their sexual orientation; well, of course not. The overwhelming percentage of the world’s population is heterosexual; why should straight people have to announce anything about their sexuality?
We must answer no, we cannot be quiet about our sexual orientation when we are discriminated against and lack the same civil rights that heterosexuals do. No, we can’t be quiet about it when we continue to be harassed, beaten, and verbally abused! No, we can’t be quiet about it when we are denied jobs, housing, and equal opportunity. No, we cannot be quiet about it when we continue to be the butt of jokes that are still socially acceptable. Why should we be quiet? Why shouldn’t we be proud of who and what we are? Coming out doesn’t mean providing people with every detail about your sexual life, individual interests, or personal proclivitiessuch is information to be shared only by the most intimate of friends; the entire world should not be privy to such information. That is neither appropriate nor necessary. But it does mean being honest to the rest of the world politically, intellectually, socially, and personally.
The decision to come out is certainly an individual choice; however, I wonder when we will cease being ashamed of ourselves and accept that we are valuable and equal members of this (or any) society. Is it time to guilt the closeted? Perhaps. Shall we endorse the practice of outing the innocent, a political practice that forces closeted gays or lesbiansespecially those of celebrity statusout into the open without their knowledge or consent? Certainly there are arguments in its favor. Does our struggle demand individual bravery and self-sacrifice? Absolutely. The success of any minority liberation movement is built upon the backs of those who sacrificed for the common good.
Coming out as a gay man, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered individual means far more than conveniently slipping in and out of the closet for a Friday night visit to the bar, and then slithering back into the closet before sun-up Monday morning. Coming out means more than attending a once-a-year black tie dinner, then returning home for another twelve months of secrecy. Coming out means more than paying lip service to the cause of liberation and the honor of self-dignity. Coming out means more than anonymously writing letters to the defenders of homophobia. Coming out means more than playing at being gay or lesbian, then steadfastly denying (by word or silence) our sexuality to family, friends, and employers. Coming out means more than simply casting a secret ballot for a sympathetic politician.
We can continue writing letters to offensive radio stations. We can keep boycotting offending businesses until there is nothing left to buy. We can persist in fussing and fuming until we turn lavender in the face, or we can take a giant step toward personal integrity, communal pride, and universal equality by taking that one step out of the closet, accepting who we are, and demanding that the nonsense we call responsible journalism and entertainment cease its heterosexist war against each and every one of us.
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