When Did Glee Become Gay?

Glee

Not that long ago we were having lunch with a couple we know from California.  They’re a straight couple, the husband is a pilot (which is a relatively macho profession, I guess), and they really enjoy the TV show Glee.  The husband was mentioning how much guff he gets from fellow pilots – the vast majority of whom are male – about this.  Of course, the running conceit of the show is that the glee club students keep getting bullied because being in show choir is “so gay”.  That got me to wondering, when did the idea of being in glee club become gay?

Male Performers

Consider examples of men singing through the ages: Think of the cowboys who had a guitar or harmonica, singing by the campfire.  Think of the family gatherings a century or more ago where different members of the family would play instruments or sing in the family parlour after dinner to entertain each other.  Think of the famous opera singers with their rich voices.  Think of the bad boys of rock and roll, hip hop, and punk.  Think of Bruce Springsteen, for goodness’ sakes. 

None of these strike me as particularly effeminate.  Sure, I can make the jokes about Brokeback Mountain (“wasn’t just the harmonica he was blowing…”) and there are the occasional Freddie Mercuries and Frankie Goes to Hollywoods as counterexamples.  But for the most part, being a singer was a sure way to get the girls.  So when did glee club in school get this negative association?

The good news is that, in an age when the arts budgets are the first on the chopping block in local school districts, it seems that the TV show Glee has sparked some new interest in show choirs at high schools across the US.  Both my mother and her father were music educators and I’m sure they’re happy for anything that renews interest in music at the school level.

 

A Wrong Finally Righted

Here is a list of 38 countries.  Think about what they have in common:

AlbaniaCzech RepublicIrelandThe Netherlands RussiaTaiwan
ArgentinaDenmarkIsraelNew ZealandSerbiaUnited Kingdom
AustraliaEstoniaItalyNorwaySlovaniaUruguay
AustriaFinlandJapanPeruSouth Africa
BelgiumFranceLithuaniaPhilippinesSpain
CanadaGermanyLuxembourgPolandSweden
ColumbiaGreeceMaltaRomaniaSwitzerland

Very soon, the United States will finally join this list of nations – most of the world’s most powerful and effective militaries – that allow gay, lesbian, and bisexual members of their armed forces to serve openly.

1285106065-gay-soldier

On Saturday, the United States Senate voted 65-31 to repeal the ban, known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which has resulted in more than 14,000 highly-skilled and dedicated members of our military being discharged for nothing more than being honest about who they are.

We will look back on this, much as we do the 1948 desgregation of the United States armed forces, with no doubt that it was the right thing.  In fact, many will come to wonder why it didn’t happen sooner.  Some of us already do.

 

What is Pride About?

Near the end of June each year, parades are held in cities throughout the US and elsewhere in the world to celebrate gay pride.  These marches began as a commemoration of the Stonewall Riots on June 28, 1969, in which patrons of a gay bar in New York City rioted in response to a police raid and continued harassment.  Originally these parades were knows as “gay freedom” or “gay liberation” marches, although over the last four decades they have come to be known more general as “Gay Pride”.

PRIDE gay-pride-float-men 

Pictures and stories in the media tend to focus on the most titillating aspects of the parade: the “Dykes on Bykes,” the naked or nearly-naked revelers, the fabulous drag queens, etc.  With a mixture of confusion and derision, many in the heterosexual community (and even a few in the gay community) don’t understand what these events are about and the displays of outrageousness provoke the common refrain that gays should just “keep it to themselves” instead of “flaunting it”.

In fact, a recent post on the front page of Xanga asked the question, “Why Gay Pride?”  Many of the responses echoed the themes of those who don’t understand what Pride is and its importance to members of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered (GLBT) community.

Let me share with you my answer to the question, “What is Pride about?”

88comingout

Growing up gay is, more than anything, about invisibility.  You don’t see anyone like you, you have nobody to confide in, and you often don’t realize that you are not alone in your attraction to members of the same sex.  This invisibility is debilitating and while there are many more examples of GLBT people in the media and in everyday life than there were a few decades ago, hundreds of thousands of young people around the world who are GLBT or questioning, continue to grow up feeling invisible.

A friend I interviewed in a university project shared this story with me: Growing up in a large immigrant family, he was convinced that his homosexual feelings were an illness, a sickness that only he had ever experienced.  He kept this secret buried deep inside and it was taking a toll on his health, his studies, and his wellbeing.  One weekend in June he took the subway into the city to do some shopping and as he emerged from underground, he found himself in the middle of a large parade.  As he stopped to watch, he had a dawning awareness that all of the people at the parade were just like him.  Suddenly he realized that he wasn’t alone, that there was a huge, colorful, and proud community of others who felt they same way he did.  Needless to say, it was a life-altering and possibly even life-saving event for him.

PRIDE 3120070624

Why the drag queens?  Why the blatantly sexuality?  The media loves to focus on the things that are most outrageous and that will make the best photos and headlines.  But these members of the GLBT community play an important role in Pride.  The Stonewall Inn, the gay bar whose raid led to the Stonewall Riots, was frequented primarily by the most marginalized members of the gay community: the drag queens, transvestites, transgendered people, and effeminate men. 

They were the ones who led the riots against the police, fighting back against years of abuse and oppression.  Embracing this outrageousness is a way to remember that it was the most outrageous members of the GLBT community who first stood up for all of our rights.  Plus, what’s a parade without some frivolity?

PRIDE 2627330472_0755cfbe75_o

In my mind, the most important and most prideful parts of Gay Pride events are the contingents of GLBT families, friends, and straight allies, a representation of every stripe of the larger community, fulfilling the promise in the Gay Pride symbol, which is the rainbow flag.  Is the man above a gay father?  The brother of a gay sibling?  The son of a gay parent?  The friend of a gay person?  Or just a member of the larger community who wants his daughter to appreciate the breadth of diversity in their community and to learn to respect each member of it?

We don’t know the answer to that question but the fact that there are so many possible answers tells every person who is still in the closet, who is still struggling with his or her invisibility, that he or she is not alone.  And that, for me, is what Gay Pride is really about.

 

My Parents’ Response

Most of you (some 200+) had already read the final installment in my coming out saga by the time my parents left a comment.  Instead of pointing you back to that entry, I’d like to share their comment with you here.  My mother wrote it:

1970-12-01Me and my parents in December 1970

“It’s my turn to respond. The thought that one of our children would have this sexual orientation was the farthest thing from our minds when you sat down to tell us. Your readers need to know, however, that our Christian beliefs led us to understand that if we are to follow the teachings of our faith, we must love each person in our lives for who they are, not because they fit some pre-condition that allows them to be loved or not to be loved.

 

“When you came out to us, while unexpected, it was not something to reject you for, but to realize that we had a journey to take together…you needed to continue your self discovery; we needed to discover how, as your parents, to support you while allowing you the space for your own discoveries. Once Dad and I became comfortable with our place in this journey, we were then able to take a stand with the rest of the family and invite them to join us or go their own way.

 

“You shared several things I didn’t know, but am happy that you felt comfortable sharing them. We would have been devastated if you had followed through with that suicide attempt. I wasn’t totally oblivious to a struggle going on with you, but probably chalked it up to being a teenager. Could we have helped if we had known what you were experiencing? I don’t know. Our individual road sometimes needs people helping us along the way other than our parents…hard to take as a parent, but we are too close to the situation most of the time for objectivity. Fortunately, you made choices that led you to a full life, including seeking out people to walk with you.

 

Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for the opportunity to add my ten cents worth.”

I was going to ask them to guest author an entry, but they beat me to it by commenting.

Coming Out – Final Chapter

Continued from Chapter 3

“I have to tell you something. And I want to you know that if I didn’t love you so much, I wouldn’t share this with you…”

I don’t remember who responded first. In my memory, it is as if my parents spoke simultaneously, when they said – in reference to the third college I was already attending – “Oh, we thought you were going to tell us you wanted to change schools again.” As if that would have been the most devastating news I could have shared. No, nothing that important.

I grew up in a very religious family, one where there was no discussion of homosexuality and one where we didn’t know anyone who was gay.  Because of that and because of the conflicts I had had with my father, I didn’t know exactly what to expect.  My worst fears and expectations never materialized.  At that moment – well, after the statement about changing schools – my parents said exactly the right things. They told me that their biggest concern was that I was happy and they would love me and accept me for whomever I was. Truly, I couldn’t have asked for anything more supportive than that.

To this day, I don’t know the full story of what my parents’ feelings and reactions were. Each of them has shared a little bit with me about the other’s reaction, but I’ve never asked in detail. I’m sure for them that it was a shock, something they probably didn’t see coming, and something that they had to struggle with in order to arrive at a full understanding.

For both my parents, with their strong roots in the Christian faith, praying and soul-searching was probably necessary. For my father, a consummate perfectionist and the type of person who spends a half-dozen years researching cars before finally buying a new one, a lot of reading and research was necessary for him to understand what all this really meant. Continue reading

Coming Out – Chapter 3

Continued from Chapter 2

In the space of the next few days, I turned a lot of thoughts over in my head. In the form of this relationship, I had found a vessel to carry me away from the uncertainty and anguish of my high school years. Now, I felt like I had been thrown off the side of the ship and had no land in sight. How long could I stay afloat?

After much deliberation, I came to a stark realization that if I were going to continue living, I had to come to terms with who I really was. There could be no more lies, there could be no more hoping for the right girl. The problem was I didn’t know how to find my way towards the door of a closet from which I desperately needed to escape.

I decided to quit UC Riverside and move back home. In fact, I still have the list of pros and cons I used to help me make this decision. In the next few weeks, I canceled my tuition for the autumn term, sublet my apartment lease, arranged to transfer my job and applied for school at Santa Clara University, a small Jesuit school a few miles from my parents’ home.

For all the pros and cons, there was one primary reason I chose to move back. Continue reading

Coming Out – Chapter 2

Continued from Chapter 1

During the final two years of high school, I had my first concrete thoughts of myself as a possible homosexual. As I started dating girls and gaining an adolescent awareness of my sexuality, it became clearer to me that while I had feelings for those girls, the feelings were not the same as the thoughts I was having about other boys. This recognition did not just suddenly shift into focus but was something that I realized over time. 

It is the same feeling as when you are putting together a picture puzzle and you manage to fit two pieces together, but deep down you know that the fit isn’t exact.  You’ve forced it.  Slowly, I recognized that the fit wasn’t right, that I was forcing it.  And this recognition was filled with self-hatred.  I remember thinking, maybe I am like that but even if I am, I would certainly never act on it!

It is hard to convey the anguish I felt, a sense of disappointment in myself that was so great that I came very close to committing suicide. Reflecting back on this time of my life, it is a little embarrassing to share. It seems so over-dramatic and is such a poor example of the person I’ve become. But at that time, the pain of self-hatred, of fear of being different, consumed me to such a great degree that I thought that ending my life might be the only option. Continue reading

Coming Out – Chapter 1

Introduction here

Coming out in seventh grade?  I can scarcely imagine coming out in my early teens, but it seems that more and more young people in America are recognizing and vocalizing their sexual identity at an ever-earlier age.  The NY Times Sunday Magazine did an in-depth story on this interesting phenomenon in late September.

The author of the article, who is also gay, had a hard time believing that people as young as 12 and 13 could possibly be self-aware enough to recognize their attraction to people of the same sex.  But, as he pointed out, he was engaging in a double standard. When 12 and 13 year-olds express their interest in members of the opposite sex, we don’t think anything about this is odd.  Why then would we think that someone that young couldn’t recognize their attraction to someone of the same sex?

Certainly, at that age I was starting to recognize those attractions in myself, even though I lacked the language to describe them.  Young people these days have a much more positive image of gays and lesbians thanks to increased visibility in the media and the powerful influence of the internet and social networking sites.

If you asked me at what age I first knew I was gay, Continue reading

Who Am I?

“Who am I?”  Meg, a DC-based blogger whose entries I always look forward to, took up the challenge from another blogger a few months back and wrote an entry answering that question.  Finding it an interesting challenge, I sat down and drafted my own answer to the question, “Who am I?”  I’ve never posted the response, but it led me to an interesting observation.  My being gay plays a much larger role in defining who I am than I expected.

2009-10-09Had you asked me before how big a part of my life being gay is, I would have said that it is just a part of who I am, not the whole thing.  While that is still true, I realize that the experience of struggling to come to terms with that aspect of myself has influenced many areas of my life and much of how I look at the world.

Instead of being just one aspect of my life, something that can be neatly segregated from the rest in the way that a divided cafeteria tray keeps the jell-o salad away from the enchilada casserole, my gayness is a theme that underlies my life, much in the same way that the saltiness of fish sauce provides a critical but subtle note of flavor in nearly all Thai dishes.

Sexual orientation as condiment?  It is either a brilliant metaphor or a crass one; I’ll let you decide.  Regardless, because it is such an underlying aspect of my life, I want to share a story with you.  I want to tell you my coming out story.

Coming out stories are something of a currency within the gay culture.  Being attracted to someone of the same sex, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily the criterion that makes for a cohesive community.  But the nearly universal experience of recognizing your difference and then blindly finding a path through the darkness to the closet door is a common theme for all of us, whether gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered.

Another blogger to whom I subscribe recently wrote that he doesn’t see why gay people need to announce that they are gay.  From his perspective, straight people don’t announce they are straight.  Why can’t we all be who we are, without having to share it with the world?  While I agree with his goal – universal acceptance – I disagree with his premise that straight people don’t announce they are straight.  There are markers aplenty that send the message that you are straight, from wedding rings to photos of your spouse on your cubicle wall.  When you are in the closet, you have to use fake markers or deception in order to avoid sending out unintended messages.  It can be stressful and tiring to constantly undertake such subterfuge.

Over the next few days, I’ll share my coming out story in the course of four chapters.  People who read this blog who know me personally have heard some parts of this story.  Few, I suspect, have heard the whole thing.  Among other readers, these next four chapters may provoke a wide range of feelings and reactions.  Some readers have had very little exposure to gay people.  Others have different attitudes than I about the rightness of homosexuality.  Others are still, to one degree or another, in the closet.  I look forward to discussing your feelings and reactions and invite you to share them.

Meanwhile, thank you for indulging me as I share this story and take a short break for cooking, travel and Thai culture entries.

Part 1 of the story begins here.

Del Martin – Honoring the Life of an Amazing Pioneer

There are people in this world whose work and life have positively affected our own, often in ways we may not realize, about whom we may not know.  On Wednesday, we lost an amazing person, Del Martin, at age 87.

Del Martin Described as a “pioneering lesbian rights activist”, Martin married 83-year old Phyllis Lyon, her partner of fifty-five years, in a ceremony at San Francisco City Hall on June 16, 2008 – the the first day on which same-sex marriage was legal in the state of California.

Right: Del Martin (in purple) and Phyllis Lyon are married on June 16.  Photo “courtesy” AP.

The label, though, could cause many of us who are not lesbians to mistakenly think her pioneering work did not affect our lives.  Rest assured, though, her tireless work resulted in greater freedoms, protections, and equality for all citizens of the United States.

The California Supreme Court decision in May of this year, striking down a law that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman, came about as a result of a lawsuit filed by Martin and Lyon and two dozen other couples.  Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi said, “We would not have marriage equality in California if it weren’t for Del and Phyllis.  They fought and triumphed in many battles.”

Martin and Lyon were involved in founding a San Francisco social group for lesbians in 1955 called the Daughters of Bilitis.  It became the nation’s first lesbian advocacy organization and one of the earliest groups to address the rights of queer people.

In the 1970s, Martin became the first out lesbian to serve on the National Organization of Women’s board of directors, a move that was highly controversial as NOW was concerned that her presence would be seen as too radical at a time when homosexuality was still seen by many as a deviant practice.

In just a few short months, the rights and equality Del Martin worked so hard for, will one again be challenged as California voters face a yes or no decision on proposition eight: “Change the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.” 

As San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who officiated at Martin and Lyon’s wedding, said, “The greatest way we can honor the life work of Del Martin, is to continue to fight and never give up, until we have achieved equality for all.”

Thank you to Del Martin for a lifetime of service to humanity, and the deepest condolences to her partner of so many years, Phyllis Lyon.