By: Abby Dees*/Special for TRT-
Have you become complacent about being gay? I have. As LGBT rights evolve, and LGBT life becomes more normalized to mainstream America, some of us have the good fortune to be blasé about being gay. It’s a normal response to progress, but there might be something else going on as well: overcompensation.
I live in a liberal neighborhood in Los Angeles, and except when I have a deadline for one of these columns looming, I do not think about being a lesbian. At no point in my day do I stop and think, “Oh, wait, I’m a lesbian – what’s our special gay laundry technique again? Despite what my straight guy friends hope, when I kiss my partner at the end of the workday, I do not think, “Let’s have a hot lesbian kiss now before we make dinner.” My lesbian life is boring, maybe even a let down. This is probably as it should be.
By contrast, though, many of my straight friends (who I don’t mean to keep maligning, really) think that I’m all-gay-all-the-time and perhaps oversensitive to the subject. I’ve written a book about communicating with your LGBT loved one, I’ve got this here column, and I am prone to screaming in a tic-like fashion at the TV when sweet-faced TV preachers say that God loves all his children, but probably loves straight people a little more. I get how this looks to my friends.
But I don’t really put that much energy out in a specifically gay-ish fashion. In fact, I probably babble on way more about a greater passion in my life: the Beatles, though one seems to think I’m oversensitive about John Lennon. So, even with people I care about, I find myself downplaying my already mild support for my own community. I confess that I worry my friends will say, “Oh, she’s off again,” just because I have to point out that however much you might like Rick Santorum’s economic ideas, he actually used the words “man on dog” to explain his opposition to same-sex marriage.
I know why I’m biting my lip: I’m showing that I don’t have a chip on my shoulder, that my lesbian identity is a joy-joy modern thing. I worry that if I make too many comments about injustice against LGBT people, people will think I’m – yes – an angry, miserable lesbian. I know better, but it’s an old, deep reflex against an old image that hovers around whenever I have a moment of righteous anger or am feeling emphatic. I see it there, in its mannish gray suit and severe hair-do, but others may not.
If you are too young to know what I’m talking about, first, let me say how happy that makes me. Second, it’s time for a LGBT history refresher. Please stop everything now and read Vito Russo’s seminal The Celluloid Closet (or stream the movie). When I came out in the 80s, I was only too familiar with the persistent message in the media that Russo so beautifully exposed: that all LGBT people were suicidal, homicidal, mistaken, or – in a strangely repetitive trope – vampires, before they got all cuddly. In movies from Basic Instinct, to Personal Best, to The Hunger, there wasn’t a feel-good lesbian character to be found. This was so routine that when the sweetly positive lesbian flick, Desert Hearts, came out in 1985 in L.A., every lesbian I’d ever met was in that ticket line opening day, it was so exciting. The audience erupted when the film’s lesbian ingénue arrived on the screen, defiant and joyful, driving backwards at 60 miles an hour in her convertible.
Now that we are moving quickly into no-big-deal-land, I sometimes feel like it’s my job to be the model post-liberation lesbian, to treat this recent history as quaint and silly – which is a mistake. Last month a 17-year-old boy was shoved and taunted in Tennessee for wearing a GSA t-shirt at his school – his principal reportedly egged his tormentors on. That same week 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer killed himself in Buffalo, New York after relentless bullying. Those old images are still around, giving permission to violence and stupidity. We’re not post-anything yet.
*Abby is a civil rights attorney-turned-author who has been in the LGBT rights trenches for 25+ years. She can be reached through her website: queerquestionsstraighttalk.com.