|Bowie - Alladin Sane 1973|
Someone asked me the other day why I'm so vocal about gay rights. So, I'm gonna write a little blurb about that.
First, I should note that I was raised in a home where intolerance was NOT tolerated. My parents raised me to not be racist, sexist or any other "ist." No hating people because of skin, religion, sexual orientation or anything else. You disliked people because they were assholes, but not because they belonged to any certain group. My mother was also raised this way. Her mother, as a child in the 1920's, specifically asked for a black baby doll and got it. So, part of my nature just comes with how I was raised and the family I come from. I should also note that, as some of you know, I come from the Lee family. The Lees of Old Virginia. Robert E. Lee. It KILLS me to see his face and the confederate flag being used by racist rednecks to further their agenda or to identify themselves as neo-nazi racist redneck morons. Anyway, I had to get that out there.
I can't remember when I became aware that there were gay people. As a young child back in the 80's, I was obsessed with Boy George and The Culture Club. We all know Boy George is a little gay and back then he wore tons of make-up and long braids with ribbons. I wasn't aware of it at the time, but BG was a giant David Bowie worshiper and sought to be like him. Cool. In the early 80's it wasn't uncommon for bands or musicians to have long hair and make-up. I remember asking my brother about it and he said some guys just like to have long hair and make-up. No big deal. I broke up with Boy George (and Michael Jackson) in favor of another, David Bowie. It was 1986 and Labyrinth was just released in the theaters. I remember actually thinking he was a woman from the movie poster and was surprised when the deep voice came out during his first scene (at 8 years old that giant bulge in his tights meant nothing - haha). Again, just another dude who wore make-up. Big deal. And I became a fan. Back then, Bowie was pretty reserved in his appearance, looking like any other dude (only way hotter and closer to God) with short hair, leather jackets and no make-up. In my early days of fandom I listened to his more current stuff...Let's Dance and Never Let Me Down (and I still remained a fan!). In 6th grade, I was introduced to his early work as the Rykodisc company began re-releasing all of his old stuff, starting with a greatest hits compilation, ChangesBowie. Rykodisc cassettes (some of you kids don't even know what that is) came with a foldout thing with pictures and sometimes lyrics. This is where I got my first glimpses of him as Ziggy Stardust, Halloween Jack and Aladdin Sane (to some of you, these 3 are all Ziggy, but they are actually different characters), dressed in some flamboyant leotard barely covering his man bits and with flaming red hair and out-of-this-world make-up. So, Bowie was definitely one of those guys who liked hair and make-up. Fine. My Bowie education continued that year and by 7th Grade I was quite the aficionado and well-versed in all his Gospels.
Back in grade school, where things were not awesome for me as you know from previous blogs, we would decorate our English/Creative Writing books with magazine cut-outs, drawings or pics we copied. Guess what I chose for 7th (and 8th) grade? Bowie. I also decorated my folders with his pictures. And these pictures depicted him in all his forms, including the more flamboyant. I'm pretty sure I had a picture of him fellating Mick Ronson's guitar. Ahhh, Catholic school. This is where the whole gay thing becomes relevant. By then, I was aware that Bowie was bisexual. And it was no big deal to me. You love who you love. It was a big deal to my classmates. This was the same year when Bowie's ex-wife, Angela, sought fame and notoriety by proclaiming, "I found him in bed with Mick Jagger," on the Joan Rivers show. The world was shocked (why?) and everyone assumed she found them fucking. And Angie let that assumption linger for years until she later clarified that she found them passed out drunk/high (coke), fully-clothed on the same bed. That's a much different scenario, but she wanted her name in the spotlight and wanted to sell her music and books (Oh, Angie? Epic fail). Anyway, back to 1990/1991 when the accusation came out. Bowie, never one to shy from admitting trysts with men, denied the report and brushed it off as "she is green with envy." Enough said. So, when my classmates saw those pictures on my books they started telling me he was a fag. A fucking queer. Fudge-packer. Fag. Fag. Fag. Faggot. I knew those words were hurtful to gay people and it bothered me to hear them. But then, the attention turned to me. Again, if you read a previous blog about my grade school days, you know the St. Anon kids were NOT nice to me, save a handful.
It started with me being called a gay-lover. Fag hag. Queer-fucker. I was also told I would burn in hell with the fags I loved. David Bowie would burn in hell, too. It evolved into me being gay, too. Since I loved the gays, I, too, must have been a gay. So I was called a dyke everyday until I graduated. Everyone whispered that I was a lesbian. Don't let Jenn touch you. She might want to feel your boobs. She might want to make out with you in the closet. Jenn is a queer-loving dyke. Everyday. Not only was I singled-out for being butt ugly and awkward, but I was told I was a lesbian and a dyke. Everyday I heard dyke or other gay slurs directed at me. Funny, here I was lusting after a dude, and they were calling me a dyke. And, hey, I have made out with a chick or two. Not because I'm a lesbian or even bisexual, but because teenagers experiment. So, hearing that everyday and getting the treatment gays get sometimes, I began thinking that it must really suck being gay. Not because being gay was bad, but that being gay meant you were tormented like this. I didn't like being tormented. It didn't feel good at all. I realized it was bad enough for me and it must KILL those who are really gay. It must hurt so bad to have people not understand you and tell you that you are an abomination and that you will burn, burn BURN in hell for eternity. I was able to experience what it was like for them. And that is a big reason why I am so much in support for them. I felt a small amount of pain back then and knew I could never imagine what it would be like to truly be gay and to hear this. I was already tolerant, but that experience really opened my eyes and I knew that it was not right to let anyone feel that way. In addition, I never believed that being gay was a sin. I have always believed it's the way you are born and that God doesn't make mistakes. And that the Bible verses people use are already so full of holes that those arguments have never swayed me. Not for a moment. By the end of 8th grade, I officially hated the intolerance thrown at gays. I knew that the real evil was in the slurs thrown around, the violence and the hatred towards them.
High school was different as the gay thing died down on my end. I was in Drama and Chorus, surrounded by quite a few closeted gays. But, I heard the whispers about them. I heard the damning of their souls for all eternity. I saw their pain when they reluctantly whispered about being gay, but made me promise to not tell anyone because they were so afraid their family would disown them or they would get kicked out of school or they would get beat up. And some did get disowned. Some were kicked out. Some had happier times, but there was still prejudice. And it hurt them. And things that hurt my friends, hurt me A LOT. I've always been that way. I feel other people's emotions like you would not believe. And so, I left high school still hating that intolerance. Hating the way it was presented in religion. Knowing that I believed we were all God's kids and he loved us all and that no one should be discriminated that way.
College years were the same. I joined PFLAG years ago and, more recently, the Human Rights Campaign.I have listened to stories and given advice. In recent years, I have become a lot more vocal. I don't know why, but it's just something that's in me. I have a strong drive to speak up for them. Being older and more politically aware, I am able to understand how gays have been affected by politics, religious hatred and bigotry. And it pisses me off. Another catalyst for "the way I am" is Matthew Shepard. I remember that story back in 1998. The 21 year old kid who was brutally beaten and then tied to a fence post for 18 hours because he was gay. He died a few days later and his parents have been gay rights advocates and crusaders since then. That also sparked something in me because shit like that shouldn't happen in this day and age. And I have been frustrated since then, seeing gays gain rights, being denied rights, being promised to and then lied to. I mean, in the last two years, Colorado actually repealed laws that said it was illegal to discriminate against gays. That's right, it's not illegal anymore in that state. And there are more states like it. And that PISSES me off. I have realized that I won't stand for it. Not just for gays, for anyone. Blacks. Jews. Muslims. Anyone targeted for being "different" than a WASP. Anyone who is beaten in the name of Christ. Anyone sent to camp to be "cleansed."
So there you have it. I could write a lot more but, lucky for you, I am out of time.
Benji Schwimmer on being gay in the Mormon Church