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At 40, sharing a birthday with the Stonewall riots, I’ve lived through plenty of changes for LGBT Americans. After about 10 or so, I even started becoming aware of them.
When I was 12, for example, I was living in Tunisia with my father and stepmother, taking a break from Springfield, Va., where you’d usually find me living with Mom. My Dad had to take about a week back in D.C. for Pentagon work. Upon his return, he was debriefed by my stepmother, Robin. From the D.C. area herself, she was asking about any changes back home. Overhearing their conversation, the only part that stuck with me was his report on ”the fags.” As he told it, they were becoming more visible. It’s been many years, but I think I recall him saying something about two guys holding hands at a restaurant downtown.
Dad wasn’t particularly homophobic – if at all. He was probably jealous, till HIV hit, that gay men seemed to have access to loads of no-strings sex. Maybe it was just because I was still undercover as part of the straight camp, but I’m pretty sure the word ”fag” was used plenty more back in the early ’80s than it is now, and certainly without any thought.
So much was different.
Back then, trying to confirm that a celebrity was gay was like pulling teeth. You want to tell Grandma that Liberace’s gay? She’s not buying it. ”He’s just flamboyant. He’s a showman.” Elton John was married to a woman. The notion that “we are everywhere” was years away. We were invisible, save for the few and the brave who ventured beyond the closet. I remember kids whispering about the theme to M*A*S*H* in a tone better reserved for nighttime discussions of the power of Ouija boards. ”It’s called ‘Suicide is Painless,’ and it was written by a guy who was gay. So he killed himself.”
While that wasn’t true, what was true was that M*A*S*H* was huge and suicide was a commonsense cure for the gay that ailed ya.
Relative to today, those memories leave me dazed. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen has just told Congress that he believes gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly, acknowledging that they’ve been serving honorably all along. The nation’s capital is on the verge of realizing marriage equality.
With my advanced gay years, this sort of change could be frightening. The struggle has always been part of our LGBT culture. National marriage equality and the right to serve openly in the military are coming. There will be bumps and there will certainly be barbs, but they are coming. Once we’ve gained access to these bedrock institutions, what then? We can still have brunch, can’t we?
I’m sure the Pride festivals will remain. We will still have each other. And there will still be fires to put out here and there. LGBT people will still be bashed. There is a mountain of transphobia – both at large, as well as in our own ranks – to conquer. Looking beyond our borders, it’s comforting that we’ll be returning to the small fold of countries that are beacons for human rights. There are plenty more, though, where our LGBT tribespeople are beaten down, terrorized and murdered. The fight is long from over. We will have full, nationwide civil rights by 2025. Those rights will make it easier to live our lives, despite the homophobia that will linger. More importantly, however, it will make it easier for us to turn more of our attention to Jamaica and Russia and Iran and Honduras.
We are not the warriors coming home to lay down our arms. We’ll simply need to adjust our focus for the future. And, yes, we can still have brunch.
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