A recent poll cited in the August 8, 1983 issue of Newsweek magazine, and done by the Gallop organization, included the following question:
|Do you have any friends or acquaintances who are homosexual?|
76% said no!! How can the tremendous explosion we call gay liberation, that has been steadily gaining momentum for some thirty years, only have touched 24% of the population personally? (The margin for error in this poll was plus or minus four percentage points in either direction.) But aren’t we everywhere? Yes, we are everywhere, or perhaps more accurately, we’re in closets everywhere. At least, some aspects of our lives remain hidden in closets.
The past five years have witnessed a major abdication of responsibility on the part of gay, men and lesbians in the area of coming out. One of the main ways we have copted out of this responsibility is by turning the voting booth into a closet and hoping that by electing “sympathetic” liberal politicians and pushing for “gay rights” ordinances a safe environment would be created for us. Subliminally we’ve been hoping our coming out would be done for us! It’s time we realize that being gay and lesbian is an intrinsic human attribute and not a right to be MAN-dated. We should also be aware that we can’t delegate the process of coming out (honestly – to ourselves and to others) to a political process, a societal institution, or to chance.
The recent election of Federico Pena as Mayor of Denver is a great case in point. I totally appreciate Mr. Pena’s sincere desire to assist the gay and lesbian community in achieving the recognition and acceptance it deserves (just like any minority deserves) , but what is important in his .-._ election is not what he’s going to do for us, but realizing instead what we did for him. It’s good for us to know that from our closet extension, the voting booth, we can have a powerful and positive effect on the course of our city’s politics and perhaps on our lives, but it unfortunately isn’t nearly enough to guarantee our evolution and survival as a people.
A classic example of what I’m speaking of here relates to the Black community and passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960’s. Anyone with their eyes open realizes that this did very little, if anything, to abolish the racism encountered on a daily basis for Blacks, nor has the economic condition of the Black community as a whole improved since passage of this legislation nearly twenty years ago. (You don’t ‘legisl ate’ people’s feelings, attitudes, or beliefs!) So, what’s wrong with gays and lesbians working for change only from the voting booth and then stepping out into the “wonderful” and “safe” environment created by our ballots? What’s wrong is that it’s not enough, nor is it the best plan to simply use the voting booth. There is another approach we can simultaneously exercise that is actually much more potent than the vote – COMING OUT – at least to your immediate blood family, your straight friends, and hopefully on your job to your co-workers. (The latter category mentioned being admittedly more difficult for some of us since it might result in the loss of a job!) However, for the vast majority of us coming out to mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children, uncles, and straight friends will not result in a loss of livelihood and will do a lot to significantly lower that “76% no” figure in the Gallop poll of this summer!
It’s simply not good enough for gay and lesbian people to assume (or hope) their families and friends will “know” and as a result further assume that their basic human rights will therefore be assured. That’s a pie-in-the-sky myth that can fall shattering to the ground as it did for our brothers and sisters in Nazi Germany 40 years ago. To continue to “assume” people “know” is to hand one’s own future and security into the hands and power of other. How totally irresponsible!!!
The phenomenal AIDS hysteria/paranoia sweeping the heterosexual community at this time is another reason we can’t wait on the slow, laborious, and to date, ineffective “gay rights” movement. Jerry Falwell wants us quarantined like “cows with brucillasis.” Mr. Falwell has attracted extensive media attention and is currently becoming more discredited nationally by the minute by his seemingly “nutty” approach to life and religion. We need to remember though that his kind only represent one extreme on the spectrum of reactions at this time.
The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Colorado deals daily with many local manifestations of the most recent sweep of homophobia. A classic example is the straight person who called recently wanting to know if it was safe to use the same trash dumpster (!) as the gay tenants in the building. I can’t help but believe that the amount of fear and reactionary behavior on the part of the straight community would be much less if 76% of the population knew they do have friends, relatives, and acquaintances who are gay and lesbian. Think about it for a minute. The negative reaction is quite understandable when you have a general unknown (what is a homosexual, really?) coupled with fear and misundersanding (because we can remain an unknown and invisible minority) and then you overlay all of this with the lack of knowledge about AIDS (cause, treatment, and prevention) and it’s no wonder gay people are misunderstood and oppressed.
So why are we so reluctant to take one important and helpf ul step and at least come out to our families. Reason one, of course, is that we have internalized society’s homophobic message about us: “It ain’t O.K. to be queer.” Even when we do “deal” with that one we frequently move to reason number two (which really indicates that we haven’t dealt honestly with reason number one): the acceptance of the BIG LIE that “the only difference between “us” and “them” is what we do in bed.” Most lesbians and gay men gave taken this BIG LIE and elevated it to commandment status. If the homophile movement of the 1970’s could have made an addition to the ten commandments number eleven would have been: “Thou shalt never forget that the only difference between heteros and homos is what they do in bed.”
Another interesting offshoot of this BIG LIE, and one that will probably be used to discount the 76% No response in the Gallup poll, is that “Well they know – I don’t need to tell them, it’s a private matter; what we do in the privacy of our bedroom is no one else’s business.” Bullshit! Try to tell that to a person with AIDS who has been thrown out of his apartment, is being hassled about SSI (supplemental income), and is being shunned by old “friends.”
That much of our community has bought this BIG LIE is in L evidence everywhere. It’s become very easy for us to say that the essence of gayness is sexual when many of us have spent the last decade with our eyes glued to each other’s crotch and failed to notice that it happens to be attached to a whole person. Part of the obsession with our sexual nature is, of course, rooted deeply in our oppression. The only space a patriarchal world allowed us was one that faciltated furtive, quick, and impersonal SEX (bushes, or tearooms – your choice.) To be gay or lesbian, or in days gone by only queer, was to “do it” with someone of the same sex. Unfortunately we haven’t come far from those old days.
It has been gay men particularly who have taken this BIG LIE and used it as the basis for the creation of a rather glamorous ghettoized world in the larger cities of this country. The blossoming of what is erroneously called “gay and lesbian community” is actually quite amazing and has had some very positive pe/sonal and social impacts. It’s even more amazing to realize that much of the trip, especially for the past ten years, has been based on this BIG LIE. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if we ever did realize that our gayness and lesbianism affects every facet of our personalities and our lives and involves much more than what we experience in bed.
All through the ]970’s it looked like maybe we were going to homo-genize ourselves to the point where we could just blend right into mainstream culture as those colorful little gay men and lesbians who were really just like everyone else. We almost pulled it off. The real kicker is that many of us were doing this without having shared with our parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents, straight friends, employers, and co-workers that we were gay or lesbian. Why should we tell them what we do in bed – this, of course, makes sense when you buy the BIG LIE, but doesn’t provide much basis for survival when confronted with a life threatening situation like “AIDS.”
To my knowledge no one talked of quarantining children in the 1950’s during the polio epidemic. No one talked of quarantining people stricken with multiple sclerosis during the 1960’s. No one talked of restricting the activities of the aged in the 1970’s (although society seems to have done a pretty effective job of developing “rest homes” for removing the aging from our presence a constant reminder of this dreaded “disease”.) The aged, the person with multiple sclerosis, and children, are all vital to the survival of the species! So are gay and lesbian people. Step one in helping the hetero-dominated world to realize this is to let them know we exist! And I don’t mean on T.V. or through votes – that kind of impersonal contact doesn’t hold up. We need to exist as their mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, cousins, employers, employees….and soon – before it’s too late. Come out, Come out, Wherever you are!!!