|Fay's Rehoboth Journal|
|by Guest Columnist Eric Peterson
(Editor's note: Fay Jacobs' regular CAMPout will be back next issue. At deadline she was in Phoenix, Arizona where she won a 2008 Golden Crown Literary Society award for best short story essay collection for Fried & TrueTales from Rehoboth Beach.)
Revenge of the Happy Homosexual
"Show me a happy homosexual and I'll show you a gay corpse."
That's a line from the 1970 film The Boys in the Band. And believe it or not, it made for a very funny quip in its day. Nowadays, it's difficult to see the humor there; the sentiment is so bleak andlet's face it, 1970 was a time when most young gay men hadn't seen very many gay corpses yet, so the image made for slightly better comedy.
There's a brand of humor that's funny simply because it's true, and it would be nice to believe that maybejust maybethis joke isn't funny anymore because it's no longer accurate. Perhaps it was in 1970, but that was almost forty years ago. After all, I'm living proof of that: I'm a happy homosexual, and I ain't dead yet...right?
To make a long story short: yes, that's exactly right.
But it's a long, long...long story. In fact, it stretches all the way back to 1970...the year I was born.
So no, I wasn't first in line with tickets in hand when The Boys in the Band first appeared on the nation's movie screens. Nevertheless, that was the world that I was born into. Had my mother been told on the day of my birth that her bouncing baby boy was, even at that moment, gayshe would have likely shed many tears. Because in 1970, everyone knew what that meant. Homosexuals were sad, lonely people. Let's not forget that homosexuality was still defined as a mental illness then, and so it was easy for our heterosexual families and neighbors to assume that it was accompanied by a permanent, unshakable form of depression.
And it wouldn't surprise me a bit to learn that the rates of depression were higher among the gays and lesbians of the 1970s. Because if you hear a lie often enough, even if it's a lie about you and you know in the deepest corner of your soul that it's absolutely falseit might just come true. As human beings, we live with a powerful drive to become the person we are expected to be.
It happens to people of color in this country. When black children are told, over and over again, that they'll all grow up to be criminals, is it any wonder that many of them do? When young girls are told, over and over again, that the most important thing they'll ever achieve is a glorious wedding to a rich and handsome man, is it a surprise when so many women who never get that feel incomplete as a result? True, people have a responsibility for their own actions and expectations, but the distorted perceptions and outright lies that our white male society perpetuates aren't helping.
So, in 1970, gays and lesbians were expected to be miserable. And, from what I know about my own community's history, many of them were. At the very least, a line like "show me a happy homosexual, and I'll show you a gay corpse" actually worked.
And while I'd like to believe that we've made great strides since then, I have to wonder: what are gay people expected to be these days? It's true that young gays and lesbians living in 2008 see themselves all over the television and movies, literatureeven comic books. But how many of those images accurately reflect the lives of the real-life happy homosexuals that you and I know?
If I were to live my life according to the expectations of the culture around me, I wouldn't be the center of my own story. Rather, my entire existence would serve as comic relief for the benefit of the straight women in my life, giving them lots of excellent advice concerning their romantic woes in between bitchy bon mots while never going on a date myself, ever. And for a while, that was a pretty accurate description of my existence.
If I have a point, it's this:
1) Hooray for organizations like GLAAD, who ensure that our community is represented fairly and accurately in the mediait may not be such a big deal for us, but it will mean the world to the bouncing baby boys and girls who will one day grow up to be us.
2) Live the life you expect for yourself, not the life that others expect of you. It's easier said than done, but I truly believe that it's possible.
Finally, 3) Hooray for Rehoboth Beach. More than anything I've ever seen on television or at the movies, this town has shown me what a happy homosexual really looks like. Here, I've seen gay men and women in successful, loving relationships with their life partners, their wide networks of longtime friends, and even their own (mostly straight) families of origin. If we can't depend upon the straight culture around us to tell us the truth about our own lives, it's wonderful to know that there are places where we can do it for ourselves.
Eric C. Peterson is a writer, diversity consultant, and adopted son of regular CAMP columnist Fay Jacobs. He lives in Washington DC, visits Rehoboth Beach often, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 18, No. 11 August 08, 2008