Saturday, June 05, 2010

Can we get one thing straight, as it were? Please?

So I'm reading the comments on a New York Times editorial about how men have become more accepting of gay people than women over the last ten years, or something like that, and one comment strikes me:

"I don't know what I'd do without my gay boyfriend! Every gal needs at least one!"

Every gal. Needs. At least one.

Like a "gay boyfriend" is a pet, or an accessory.

Or a Lay's potato chip: betcha can't acquire just one!

Or a Chia Gay! Watch him grow *fabulous* bangs!

Watch me reduce this person to a cartoon!

Gay men are not, and I can't believe I'm having to say this, things to be acquired. They are not cute little one-dimensional objects of amusement or unrequited crush or lust; they don't necessarily care if you paint your living room pink or blue or green. They may have worse taste in clothing than *me*, even. They are not there to butt-slap and help you accessorize.

Nor are they there to help you recover from every damn broken heart you have, or go shopping with you, or dance with you at the bar, or take you out for brunch (or whatever the convention is these days--has it changed since the mid-eighties?).

You can have your own personal Jesus, straight people, but you can not have your own personal gay. They might have their own lives, their own interests, and be sick to death of you. Your patronage does not do anybody any favors.

Gay people are not a commodity. Correction: gay men are not a commodity. I rarely hear straight women talk about how they'd love to have their own personal pocket-dyke around, to help them with plumbing problems and talk about how much other women suck. Funny, that, eh? Dehumanizing somebody is so much easier when they're portrayed as cute and nonthreatening in the media. It's much harder when they're threatening or invisible.

Friend Pens the Lotion Slut talks about her Gay Boyfriend David in a sardonic, tongue-in-cheek way. They're both born-again Christians who have a lot in common besides their relationship with their Christ.....but the people with whom they go to church see their deep and abiding friendship as just another straight-woman-with-gay-man-as-pet thing. Pens's use of Gay Boyfriend, with caps, is a dig at the veiled intolerance that she's encountered among the very people who claim to love everybody.

Because veiled intolerance is what it's about, really. As long as straight people see gay men and lesbians (and bi, and trans, and otherwise queer folk) as people that can be pegged into the best-pal, motorcycle-mechanic, crazy-drama-Nelly-come-apart role, straight people can keep a comfortable distance and not have to treat gay people as fully human. We straights can recognize one part--a tiny, stereotyped part--of a whole bunch of folks, and not acknowledge the parts that are complex, or sometimes point up our own failings, or make us think.

It's sort of like those people who insist they're fine, fine with gay people, as long as the gay people don't flaunt it. You know, like straight people flaunt it by wearing wedding rings. Or hold hands in public without fearing getting rolled and beaten. Or get myriad civil rights just by going through what's a very simple ceremony at bottom. Saying that gay people flaunt their gayness by being who they are with the people that they love means that you don't recognize your own privileged status. Either way, whether by having one-to-a-customer gay boyfriends or insisting people keep things quiet, you're contributing to inequality. You're refusing to recognize that folks, frankly, is folks.

I'm thinking about this tonight because I had dinner with two friends, one old and one new. They've had a solid, committed relationship for eleven years--longer without serious troubles than almost any straight couple my age that I know. One of the guys said the wisest thing I think I've heard ever about relationships: that the key to getting along for a long period of time is that the relationship is not on the table unless it's explicitly on the table. In other words, fights about who left the freaking toothpaste cap off this time are limited to toothpaste caps. You should never haul the entirety of your relationship into every. single. fucking. fight.

That stopped me dead, even after two margaritas, and made me realize what I've been doing wrong.

And I would've missed that had I been concentrating only on Rob's facility with show tunes or Adam's beaux yeux, and wondering if I could've gotten them to see Sex In The City with me. (In which case, you'd've had to have called the ambulance, because there was something toxic in those margaritas.)

It makes me sad, watching my otherwise well-meaning straight sisters and brothers screw this up. I have learned the best relationship lessons from gay couples, primarily because me and my ilk have made it so hard for them for so long. I've learned a hell of a lot about my own unrecognized privilege from gay, gay and biracial, gay and Buddhist, and trans women. Not to say that Gay People exist primarily as Teaching Moments, because they don't--who'd have time to go grocery shopping and mow the lawn if you were always Acting As An Example--but because I've paid attention, I've learned.

I've learned that love is too rare to be legislated against. Nobody should have to go through this life alone, and we shouldn't put barriers in each others' ways.

I've learned that people are not accessories. We should not reduce each other to the status of "betcha can't have just one".

I've learned that the crappiest situations mostly make for weirdos, but sometimes you get a jewel. And that I've been lucky.

We are all too valuable, and too valuable as we are, as we stand, to be reduced.

12 comments:

little d, S.N. said...

~claps~

Anonymous said...

Jo:

I have to agree with you. I have a gay friend I dearly love, and I don't use him as an accessory.

I have very deep affection for him because when I really needed him, he was there. He was a true friend, and being gay did not matter...and still doesn't.

terri c said...

Thank you. Well thought out, beautifully phrased. Thank you!!!

catchyseachild said...

You know... it's really odd. I used to work with a guy that was gay, and we were friends... but honestly the fact that he was gay NEVER crossed my mind. As a matter of fact, he used to do things like pull me aside at a quiet point in a shift and point out how *HOT* that guy over there was... just to see me have that moment where my brain went "huh?? Oh, yeah..."

Because I don't put people in those boxes, mentally. He was just my guy friend from work, and his relationship preferences honestly never crossed my mind.

People are just people. And, like you said, we all deserve to find love wherever we can.

AM said...

Brilliant post.

Crabby McSlacker said...

Thank you! Great post--couldn't agree more.

Although if you've got a few extra of those pocket dykes hanging around I'll take a couple off your hands. Not only do they come in handy for plumbing problems, but they're great if you're trying to put together a vegan potluck or a softball game.

The one that blows me away: we live in a town known for being a gay resort area. Some straight people will drive hours and hours to come here, past tons of other cute little not-gay towns, and then gawk and act all offended when two guys hold hands in front of them. Grrrr.

bdaiss said...

Beautiful.

I think you have another hidden message in there. Be open to all people. Use your ears more and your mouth less. You'll learn amazing things from all sorts of folks from all walks of life.

kelly.marshall330 said...

I couldn't have agreed more. My best friend is a lesbian. I met her while we were still in high school before she had figured out she was gay. Once we hit college (along with two other friends), we were submerged in the gay community since my friend was still feeling her way along. Our two friends....one became a "fag hag" (personally I felt like why would anyone want to be known as that? But that's how she refered to herself) And the other was jealous that she didn't have a gay boy. At the time I thought nothing of it, but didn't really understand the jealousy since she had friends. Now I see how messed up it was.

My friend has currently been in a relationship with her girl friend for 6 years now. Their relationship is a lot like any straight couples and I hope one day they'll be able to marry.

Anonymous said...

Love is to rare to be legislated against-- BRAVO!

You know, we've had gay marriage up here in Canada for a few years now and the nation did not crumble, our economy is one of the healthiest in the world, and marriage is still a wonderful thing regardless of what combination the pair may be.

Barb

Dale said...

Oh man, that gets on my nerves, too. Though I think it's a predictable stage on the path to really getting it. Gay men as pets is better than gay men as abominations, anyway, and real relationships have a way of undoing stereotypes. Sometimes at least.

Tonina said...

Thank you for saying this. I've heard the sentiment before, but I've never seen or heard it expressed so clearly and directly.

Anonymous said...

Stunningly well said. djs