I hope I don’t offend anyone with what I’m about to say. But if I do, so be it. It certainly won’t be the first time I’ve been offensive.
It’s nearly Christmas and we’re hearing all those Christmas songs, including “Deck the Halls” with its now-rather-comical line, “Don we now our gay apparel.” I say “now” because in the days of my youth, gay meant simply happy, merry, joyous. In my lifetime, we have come not quite full circle in our views of homosexuality, but almost full. Maybe in the next decade the circle will be complete, with no one thinking much one way or the other about gays. When I was young, in the Forties, we didn’t really know much about homosexuality, and what little we did know led us to believe that only young males could be considered gay, or faggoty or fruity or fairyish or flitty. Odd how all those old, cruel words begin with the letter F. But the cruelest word of all was queer. Back then, any tendency toward flippy wrists was enough to brand you for life. Now it’s becoming more and more inconsequential. When I trace back the way we’ve come, I remember when Rock Hudson died and it was revealed that he wasn’t the manly hunk we’d all considered him to be. How shocking. No limp wrists there, no flittiness. How, we asked ourselves, could he be one of those? It became public knowledge that Cole Porter was gay, that Truman Capote was gay, to name only a few. In 1976, Renée Richards (born Richard Raskind) made headlines when she was banned from playing as a woman in the U.S. Open tennis tournament. She had undergone sex reassignment surgery in 1975. She protested the ban, which was overruled in 1977 by the New York Supreme Court.
Some films addressed the question. Midnight Cowboy in 1969 shocked my innocent eyes by showing for the first time in film male fellatio. The Crying Game in 1992 shocked me and much of the audience when it was revealed at the end that Dil was really a cross-dressing male. The Irishman Jimmy had fallen in love with Dil, who he believed was a woman. This film brought up the question of love between anyone, male or female. Love can come in many forms. For all of us who assume that homosexuality is somehow deviant, this film may have prompted us to look at the relationships between men and women in a different light. Is Jimmy, now in love with a man who he first assumed was a woman (and a very attractive woman she/he was), a homosexual? Or is he just a person who fell in love with another person, regardless of physical genders? That leads to the question about sex and love. Are the two synonymous? I don’t think so. But I’ll come back to that later.
In 1997 in In And Out, Kevin Kline played an English teacher who was mistakenly outed by a former student accepting an Academy Award. Much confusion followed and many in-and-out jokes about sexual stereotypes. Kline was described as “neat, organized, sensitive, loves poetry and Shakespeare, and his favorite female singer is Barbra Streisand.” Therefore, he must be gay. The same could be said about me. For all my career as a male English teacher, I wondered how many people questioned my masculinity. Quite a few, I suppose. In 2005, Brokeback Mountain shocked a lot of people by taking for a central theme the homosexual relationship between the two main characters played by Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. Homophobes all over the country could be heard screaming their disgust. In 2010, The Kids Are All Right explored the relationships between two women in a same-sex marriage, both of whom bore children using sperm donations, and the affects of that marriage on the children. The consensus was that they’re all right.
Television entered the debate in 1972, when “M*A*S*H” took a sideways step toward cross-dressing, with Klinger, supposedly trying to get a discharge from the army, enjoying his many female costumes. In 1982, cross-dressing is the entire plot hook in “Bosom Buddies,” in which Tom Hanks, disguised as Buffy, finds the joys of posing as a woman. In 1997, after coming out of the closet on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Ellen Degeneres did the same with her character on “Ellen.” “Will and Grace” in 1998 moved further, portraying Jack as an openly stereotypical gay and Will as a non-stereotypical gay who shares an apartment with Grace. Then along came “Glee,” the show that has, since its opening in 2009, opened wide the doors regarding homosexuality, homophobia, and bisexuality. Chris Colfer, who plays the gay student Kurt Hummel, has admitted to being gay. And in the last two seasons, we’ve seen the football bully Karofsky kiss Kurt, Brittany and Santana acknowledging their love for each other, Blaine Anderson admitting to being gay and the love angle for Kurt, the understanding between Kurt and his father. In other words, this show has done more for encouraging understanding of homosexuality than any other show thus far. And I’m an admitted Gleek.
Now, with all the film and television exposure, with the rescinding of the military’s DADT (Don’t ask, don’t tell) policy, more and more people are finding it easier and easier to come out of the closet (such an odd yet fitting way to say it). Which then leads to the question of same-sex marriage. Those people and those states that still oppose it, based on the Bible’s dictums about such matters, cite as their proof Leviticus 20:13: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them”; and Corinthians 6:9-11: “Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality . . . will inherit the kingdom of God.” I think those who believe the Bible to be the true word of God and not man’s interpretations of those words should be welcome to their beliefs. But that shouldn’t prevent those who don’t agree with them from being legally joined in matrimony.
Some last thoughts about sex and love, heterosexuality and homosexuality. When I was a young man, almost nobody got a divorce. It was a shameful thing to do. Young people who fell in love then were at least as much in lust as in love, because premarital sex was frowned upon then, and unwed mothers were shipped off to give birth or were hidden away like lepers. So, many people who married young, thinking that sex was the basis for a love between two people, often stayed together for their lifetimes. The same is true of those who would be classified as latent homosexuals, people who married but could never figure out why they didn’t feel fulfilled. Too often, for both homosexuals as well as heterosexuals, after the sex was appeased, love didn’t necessarily remain, and they were just two people sharing a life and a house. To successfully share lives forever, two people must be in love, not in lust. Even though the pleasure of sex can certainly be a part of love, it can’t be a substitute for love. Two people may be wonderful sex partners but absolutely awful full time partners. The sexual revolution four decades ago introduced the concept of “fuck buddies,” two people who enjoy each other’s company for brief sexual encounters but who part ways afterwards, still friends but not lovers. Even our euphemism “to make love” is inaccurate. It suggests that only people in love can have satisfactory sex together. Just not so.
And with that thought, I’ll say again, I hope I didn't offend too many of you. Merry Christmas, everyone, and I love you all.