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Jan 21 2013

They Are Us; We Are Them

Andrew Sullivan spotlights this quote from Todd Glass, a comedian who came out of the closet last year on Marc Maron’s podcast. He explains how he told girlfriend jokes for years while doing stand up by just turning his boyfriends into girlfriends:

“You know, at least I’m not lying saying “my girlfriend” anymore. And in all fairness, all my girlfriend jokes — for anybody who thinks, Oh, that’s sad, he had to make up whole stories — I didn’t make up whole stories; they were real stories, I just changed the gender. And by the way, if that doesn’t prove how much same-sex couples are the exact same as heterosexual couples, not once in my career did anyone ever hear a story I told and say, “Wait a second, that doesn’t sound like anything we … ” It’s all the same.”

Quite right. And Sullivan picks up from there:

On the hundreds of interviews and radio call-ins I’ve done on marriage equality over the last two decades, one question was very common. It was: “I’m not anti-gay, I think. I just don’t understand homosexuality. I have no real way to understand how a guy is attracted to another guy. It makes no sense to me.” I loved getting this question because it helped get closer to the core of the issue. My response was simply: “Yes, you do understand homosexuality very well. Because you’re a heterosexual. It’s exactly the same – but with the gender switched. It’s the same bundle of love, pain, misunderstanding, passion, anger, communication, frustration, happiness, joy, respect, and sadness that all true romantic and conjugal heterosexual love entails.

Every straight person already knows everything important there is to know about a gay person’s needs and loves and lives. Just look in the mirror. We are human before we are gay or straight. We are you.

When I was in college I went to see Melissa Etheridge in concert with my friend Sandy, who is lesbian. This was in 1988 or so, long before Etheridge had come out publicly. After the show, we stopped to grab something to eat and had the following conversation:

ME: Was I the only straight person at the show tonight?

HER: (Laughing) You might have been.

ME: Why does she have such a big gay following?

HER: Because she’s gay.

ME: (Loudly and incredulously) No she’s not!

HER: Yes she is.

ME: (Making my best argument) No she’s not. Listen to all of her songs, they’re all about love…and relationships…and breaking up…and…that was a really dumb thing to say, wasn’t it?

HER: (Cracking up as she watches it dawn on me what an idiot I was being) Oh hell, you straight people got nothing on us. Our breakups take drama to a whole new level.

It was that moment, at the tender age of 20 or so, that it suddenly occurred to me that gay and straight are irrelevant characteristics, that as human beings we all experience love and loss and longing and pain in exactly the same way. I don’t know why such an obvious thing hadn’t occurred to me earlier, but it hadn’t. And this is exactly why I’m so vocal in my support for equal rights for my gay friends. I don’t see them as a Them anymore; they are me, in all the ways that matter.

15 comments

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  1. 1
    jamessweet

    I love the Melissa Etheridge anecdote, funny and poignant at the same time. Just shared it on Facebook (with a link to this post, of course!)

  2. 2
    Marcus Ranum

    That does make me wonder something. If gay marriage is “a threat to marriage” why aren’t gay rockers “a threat to rock and roll”?? I mean, nobody was going around saying “Freddy Mercury RUINED Led Zeppelin” Thank goodness we were able to slip that one by the right-wingers without them noticing!! Imagine the endless whining when Freddy Mercury RUINED Garth Brooks.

  3. 3
    democommie

    Two words. Elton John.

    Back when I first learned that Sir Elton wasn’t interested in being the King of Rock’n'Roll I thought about all of his lyrics (well, Bernies, mostly, I think) and said, “Yeah, like a gay guy could NEVER talk about love like he knew what it was”.

    I think I was fortunate to work in the hospitality business for a while after I got out of the Air Force (yeah, I know, go figure) and worked with tons of gay people, both in and uncloseted. One bartender I worked with was getting a dose of crap from a couple of snickering bankers one evening and he walked to where I was waiting for cocktails, about four feet away, trayed my drinks and said (in a pretty loud stage whisper), “Heterosexuals are fucking sick!”. The bankers had nothing else to say.

  4. 4
    Draken

    Ed, you seem to have one reader who can’t get over this gay thing.

  5. 5
    Abby Normal

    Marcus Ranum @2
    You make an interesting point. Still, I think I like this part better without the context.

    Freddy Mercury RUINED Garth Brooks

    Hot House, please make this happen.

  6. 6
    eric

    Two more words: Rob Halford.

    Talk about breaking stereotypes, I think the hard rock/heavy metal fan base was probably a bit more gender-stereotype-focused than other groups of fans. Misogyny is/was practically a requirement of lead singers. I’m guessing Halford changed a lot of minds when he came out in the ’90s.

  7. 7
    magistramarla

    Wonderful post, Ed!
    The last paragraph says it all for me. As a straight ally since my mid-twenties, my break-through moment was much like yours. Having gay friends and observing their relationships can do much to help us to understand each other. I realized then that my lesbian friends’ relationship was very much like my own.

  8. 8
    otrame

    The confusion is understandable. In a thousand subtle and unsubtle ways we are told that gay love isn’t real love. That gay sex is icky. That being gay is very bad. Men are heavily indoctrination with the idea that being thought gay is the worst thing that can happen to a guy.

    Even very reasonable people can get tripped up. I had a very dear friend (since deceased entirely too young–he tolerated the chemo well, but unfortunately so did the sarcoma) who was an atheist, an ardent liberal, who had told me many times that he was firmly in favor of same sex marriage. Still, when I showed him a performance I thought he would enjoy (I knew he liked show tunes and liked tenors), all he could react to at first was that the song was originally written for two women to sing and when John Barrowman and Daniel Boys sung it they didn’t change the gender references. He admitted later that he could hardly hear the song, so surprised and thrown by two men singing I Know Him So Well. His own reaction shook him up. He was incredibly embarrassed. Cultural conditioning, like privilege, is hard to see in the mirror.

  9. 9
    sinned34

    I have a similar anecdote.

    When I got my first IT job at a call center (don’t laugh) I had a coworker who was about 6′ 1″ tall, probably 200 lbs or so. Used to wear jeans and leather jackets. He was a metal-head nerd like myself and a surprisingly large percentage of my coworkers. I recall he liked to craft chainmail shirts when he had spare moments at work. I’d recently realized that I was an atheist, five years after leaving my evangelical Christian church, but was still pretty conservative, politically and socially.

    We’re chatting away one day during a training class and he says, “Did you see Will And Grace last night?” I replied jokingly, “No, I don’t watch that show, because I’m not a homosexual.” He responded, a little offended, “Oh come on, I don’t just watch it because I’m gay.”

    He kept talking, but I didn’t even hear what he said after that, because my brain had exploded under the strain between my homophobia and self-image. Here was a guy that was fairly similar to me, liked a lot of the “manly” stuff that I liked, and he was gay. It seriously took me a week to come to terms with what he’d said.

    That moment was probably the biggest catalyst that has helped me to shed my homophobic attitude over the past decade.

  10. 10
    John Pieret

    Freddy Mercury RUINED Garth Brooks

    Hot House, please make this happen.

    What’s to ruin?

  11. 11
    Thorne

    Back in the 70′s, when I was young and newly married, I remember being with friends shooting pool in one of their basements, and listening to radio. (Yeah, it was THAT long ago.) For whatever reason, the radio station was featuring Johnny Mathis and at the moment they were playing “Chances Are” (I think. On of his love songs, anyway.) I was poised to shoot and the others were singing along (badly) when I said, “You know, this takes on a whole new meaning when you remember he’s queer.”

    The stereotypical moans and facial expressions of disgust were hilarious! But thinking back on it, somewhere along the line after that I realized that you couldn’t tell he was gay just by listening to his songs! Eventually I think it changed my whole outlook. When the house next to us was purchased by a lesbian couple, therefore, we never even blinked. They’re great people, our kids loved them, and their dogs, and you couldn’t ask for better neighbors.

  12. 12
    ohioobserver

    I grew up with a gay man.

    I didn’t know,of course, that my younger brother was gay. We were kids together, and we fought, and played together, and had a pretty good childhood. I remember in high school girls were hanging all over him (he got the looks). I didn’t find out until my junior year of college, when I came back from being overseas and he told us all one night, at dinner. Mom and Dad had a lot harder time with it than I did. He was still the same smart-ass I loved.

    I guess this is what having the gay infection in a family does. It turns you into a weak-willed woosy comsymp who thinks them gays are actually (gasp) real people. This is why Harvey Milk was so dangerous; that knowing gay people personally defused the myths.

  13. 13
    Artor

    My moment of illumination came sometime in Junior High. I’d been growing up in a redneck western city, so homophobia was pretty much the social default position. I used the term “gay,” for just about anything or anyone I didn’t like, regardless of what qualities I objected to. But I had an older sister whom I adored & admired most of the time. She had lots of cool friends who she worked with & did stuff with, and they all treated me well. Eventually, I made a stupid homophobic remark around my sister, and she called me on it. She proceeded to rattle off a list of her friends who I thought were all likable & respectable people that were gay, and I had to reevaluate my perspective on the spot. It was a few years later that I realized why my sister had so many gay friends, but by then I wasn’t so shocked at the revelation.

  14. 14
    Nemo

    In her early years, at least, Melissa Etheridge wrote her love songs in such a way that, without revealing her orientation, she never had to lie in her lyrics. It’s kind of striking once you know.

  15. 15
    Donnie

    My ephiphany came one night at a restaurant in DuPont Circle (the “alternative” lifestyle section of Washington, DC that has/had a great nightlife) in the early ’90s. I was having drinks with a friend and a man on the sidewalk talked about marrying his partner. I scoffed, outloud I guess, though I do not remember scoffing out loud. My friend was mortified and said, “Do you want to get our ass’ kicked?” I guess that the man with his friends were staring at us – intensely. I ignored the whole thing trying to forget about it to diffuse the situation for I was a young, naive midwesterner in my early 20s lost in the big city. However, as I was ignoring the situation, I was running through the concept of two men getting married in my mind. It was the first that I had heard of such a concept, and was confused as to why two men, or women, would want to get married. I thought about it, quickly, and said to myself, “So, big deal? Two men want to get married – they love each other – that is fine by me. Doesn’t hurt me, so fine” That was about a 5-second thought process.

    It took me longer to get around the whole “have a kid thing” because I always felt that a kid should have a “male father figure” and a “female mother figure” in his/her life. Again, by the late 90s/ealry 00s, I got better and realized that at the end of the day all that mattered was whether the child was in a loving, welcoming environment.

    I think that the bigots just never have had these types of experiences and never have had their preconceptions chanlleged. As Ed and all have said, these stories are important – and why Ellen scares the bejebsus (sp?) out of the bigots.

    Donnie…

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