Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Everything Connects, Everything Matters

Exhibit A: Fried Green Tomatoes is released in theaters in 1991 (I am 10 years old). I will eventually own a VHS of this movie and fall in love with Idgie Threadgoode. It will be a while before I finally read the book at the library, originally published in 1987, and my world is forever altered with the realization that these women are Lesbians. (In fact I will learn this word by loving the movie and book so much I read it literally cover to cover, including the title page, which will introduce me to this word. Using the CARD CATALOGUE! I will look up this word and other related titles. Finally coming to the realization that this word describes the way I feel.)

Exhibit B: Matthew Shepard is beaten and left for dead 284 miles from where I live. I am 16. And all I can think is "that's what happens to gays." His attackers would use "gay panic" as their defense, because who wouldn't believe two good old boys were just totally freaked out and justified in killing someone for coming on to them. I would spend a period of years trying to ignore or correct my orientation before discovering other "options".

Exhibit C: From "Chocolate War" by Robert Cormier, which I will read around the same time Shepard is killed. Around page 200 Janza will taunt Jerry by calling him a fairy, "the worst thing in the world - to be called queer."

Exhibit D: The library saves lives. It's true for me. I was really in a dark place, struggling with these feelings and this lens of looking at the world (did I mention I was homeschooled, that I was Mormon, that we lived 7 miles outside of town). But I kept going back to that card catalogue, and I kept looking at the four or five books I could find in a small town library, the vague references that would lead further along a path I was hoping would lead me to happiness, or understanding, or at least some advice to deal with this issue. I would eventually find this documentary narrated by Tom Hanks but by then I would have discovered many of these same movie gems from my searches at the library.

Exhibit E: It's funny how an idea for a blog will morph into something different. I was having a conversation with a friend about how it's easier to see gay subtext in Batman and Robin than in Superman but you can do it. In fact, there was a time when they only way gays were able to connect with others like themselves was through subtext, because actually talking about it or mentioning it would get you banned or censored. Or arrested. (Remember: The American Psychiatric Association (APA) removed homosexuality from its official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1973.)

Exhibit F: Sometimes I wish I had a cool story to tell about a librarian who helped me find new role models and opposing points of view but the truth is I was always too shy to talk to my librarians. Instead I find resources in the appendix or 'further readings' sections of books. I'd follow one bit of information and examine it until I had a next step to take. Not always very fluid, sometimes having to back up a few steps and try a different avenue. I've always loved movies, and I was finding that in the 80s and 90s people were coming out loud and proud. Torch Song Trilogy and Desert Hearts being some great examples of positive, but low budget, projects that came out and if you were resourceful enough, you could get your hands on to watch. (I did want to point out the difference in these covers however because even though artists are making more direct and poignant statements about gay and lesbian lifestyles, the marketing of these stories could still leave you confused. I mean seriously, who is this dude?)

Exhibit G: The Children's Hour. 1961.  
This is one of those movies that had to deal with the Hays Code in Hollywood that made it impossible to talk about issues like homosexuality. It's one of those stories in which the one woman gets married and the other commits suicide. There is actually a reason suicide rates are so high in the gay community and it has to do with the fact that most stories about a gay character end with them committing suicide. This is the movie that Vanessa Redgrave and her partner Marian Seldes go to see in the opening segment of If These Walls Could Talk 2

Exhibit H: Compare that to the history of The Price of Salt (first published in 1952) which they just turned into the movie Carol. Again the setting of this book was before the APA had changed homosexuality from a mental illness. There are butch women at the time that have to count the articles of clothing they are wearing before leaving home to make sure they have purchased the corrected amount of "women's" clothes to not get busted for cross dressing, which is illegal. Police harassment of the Gay Communities that have established themselves in larger cities is epic, and getting arrested in a raid is on everybody's mind. The beauty of this current movie is that is retains those historic roots. "Look for the meaningful looks," an older lesbian friend advised me before seeing this movie. And it's true, how would you have found each other when to admit it was criminal?

Exhibit I: But slowly people do start to come out, and change is made and before you know it you've got characters like Matt Fielding on Melrose Place (an openly gay character!) and Rickie Vasquez on My So Called Life. These are not easy to pull off, anyone familiar with the history of The Golden Girls will know that in the original plan for the show, and in fact the original pilot episode shot, there is supposed to be a main gay character but he gets cut before the show is picked up and the original pilot reshot to take out many of his scenes. These characters are a great start but are still treated like bombs about to go off, Matt Fielding doesn't date the entire series and the one kiss he seems to get, the camera pans away from before contact.

Exhibit J: Because, let's face it, we had no idea how accessible and easy to store and share movies, books, music and images would be today, I spent the late 90s and early 2000s "collecting" news, movies and books about gays and lesbians myself. I had a large collection of movies, including films I didn't watch or feel were very good, but I had them because there was so very little to have and pass around as it was. When this article came out I was floored. Here was a MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENT petitioning his school to let him take his boyfriend to a school dance. I could not image the clarity and love a person like him must feel to be so confident at that age to just declare himself like that. This article came out in 2009, I was 27 at the time. And just starting to feel comfortable coming out to co-workers and people outside my friends and family.

Exhibit K: I have watched the issue of marriage equality build momentum, receive a devastating blow (Prop 8) and eventually be addressed by the Supreme Court. Now believe me, the fight is not over. There were over 200 restrictions and laws proposed to congress this last year to limit or take away equal rights of gays, there are still plenty of people who don't support my marriage and are fighting to get it nulled. I have seen Don't Ask Don't Tell end, and in 2013 when the Supreme Court handed down its decision I got married and started the process of helping my Canadian wife become a citizen.

Exhibit L & M: In what feels like a very short time I have seen gay characters in books and movies and television go from being something that was maybe hinted at or completely hidden in subtext, or two dimensional, or the butt of jokes (anyone remember that on Three's Company John Ritter's character had to pretend to be gay so the landlord would let him live with those two single women). Pretty Little Liars, Modern Family, Glee, all have gay characters who are rounded out characters with real relationships.

Exhibit N: In fact the dirty secret so many actors and artists were worried would get out is now so blasé  that people casual come out in interviews or act like declaring themselves is silly or pointless. There's even this new term "queer bating" for shows like Hannibal that play with gay subtext to draw in the gay viewers with promises and innuendos. Frozen 2 and the newest Star Wars characters Finn and Poe have also gained a lot of attention with their "first Disney princess" or "first Star Wars" gay character hype.

But then you have Exhibit O: A reminder that at the moment of a devastating rampage that will make you feel unsafe and the target of violence as part of an entire community, there will be those who will side with the hate. You will also have insensitive people try to intimidate and shame you further. It's still too raw to talk about Orlando, let's remember Exhibit B, Matthew Shepard, and how that made me feel. I'm still not safe, there are still lots of people who have no issue with condemning me to hell or wishing my death.

Exhibit P: This young man was my friend's nephew. He committed suicide last week. He was a teenaged gay man from Bountiful, UT who just couldn't put up with the bullying anymore and didn't see any happiness waiting for him in life. Again those thoughts and feelings from when Matthew was murder come up in me, again those thoughts that this is what happens to gays. And I wonder if he felt as scared by strangers' reactions to Orlando as I did. And I wonder if there was a librarian or teacher or book or movie or kind word that could have made a difference.

Exhibit Q: I don't like the term Queer. I'm a lesbian but my community word is gay. That's just me. But UC-Denver (and other places) used Queer Studies as their term and apparently that is how I'm supposed to identify or at least be okay with. So fine. Okay. Whatever. I'm just as happy to be here.

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