07 September 2008

Role Models

And no, I don't refer to the type that walk down the runway, although those are rather nice. This is going to be a sort of meandering entry, so if you bore easily, just keep scrolling down until you get back to my usual rambling!

I was listening to the latest episode of Eat This Hot Show, where they were discussing who our GLBT role models are. I know I don't discuss being gay very often, because it's such a part of me that I don't really think about it, if that makes sense. Rather, I tend to go about my life, with my dear husband, and live in my New York City bubble. I'm not reminded of it until I hear something specific that makes me think about it. 

For the record, most of the planet, from what I've experienced, is still decidedly homophobic, and is hostile towards anyone who doesn't toe the line to the heterosexual norm. And yet, we're pointed to the gays and lesbians being shown in the mass media as some sort of giant step forward in the day to day lives of GLBT people. Think about it though. Your typical hetero young person has people that feel like s/he does being represented as the norm, and the gays in her/his life as the other. Your young gay person, on the other hand, is presented with images that really have little to do with reality, and are more of a caricature of gay life than anything else. 

Who do we look up to?

I'm not sure, because I'm drawing blanks on your "regular every day gay couple" who is in the public eye. The kind where the husband and husband, wife and wife, or whatever other combination (I don't want to leave out my transgendered folk who may identify with different terms), living together, taking care of each other, and doing typical day to day things. I'm not really seeing too terribly many people who do have that regular life out there that I did see with some of the shows that I grew up watching, like Family Matters, or Step by Step. 

It's that sort of lack of visibility that I think might contribute to the sentiment that people think that my civil rights are a matter that should be left up to the decision of the bigots who don't want them for me. My mother and I were talking about this. "If I can get married to your father, in the middle of some one-horse town in India, and then come to America and have it recognised, why can't you and Steve have YOUR marriage recognised if you go to London or whatever and come back here? Those aren't exactly little middle of nowhere places where stuff is hard to verify! What's wrong with this country?"

What's wrong, indeed. 

If I were to think hard, however, I'd come up with Ellen Degeneres, as did the ladies on Eat This Hot Show. She's always been classy, and understated. She's not out there drugging it up with reckless abandon. She's stayed with her partner since forever. Another one was Gianni Versace. He and his partner were also together for so many years, and obviously cared for each other. But where's the rest? I'm just coming up with people who are in the media spotlight more than anything else. 

If I think more about it, I come up with the people who I've known personally, like my friend De, who was the first openly lesbian person I'd ever met. I attended a workshop she did, where she had a panel of youths (around my age) discussing how their coming out of the closet affected them. Since I was still deeply closeted, it was a turning point for me. Then there's Mike. He is a junior high school English teacher. He was also very matter-of-fact about being gay, and at that time, that was exactly what I needed to see. I've got Eddie, who took me to my first gay club, and showed me that two men or two women together is perfectly normal, and that I'm not the only one out there. Then you've got all my friends in my senior year of high school. All of them were not only accepting of me, but downright loving. 

Weird how a simple question could have started the ETHS discussion, and how it got me thinking about my own journey. So what do I think we need? As much as it's important for people in the public eye to out themselves, I think it's equally important for people in day to day life to come out as well. This is NOT to say that coming out is right for everyone; that's a decision that each person needs to be able to make for herself or himself, with no judgement from anyone else.

I just wish I'd had someone to look up to sooner than I did.