October 19, 2005
Invalidating choice? In the name of "validation"?
I found an interesting thought today expressed on the editorial page of the Philadelphia Inquirer:
Growing up a shy gay kid in Marcus Hook in the '60s, I found that my only hope of any validating identity was the boob tube. The gay subculture was invisible in Delaware County then, so my refuge was television. For some reason I was drawn to watch theJune Taylor Dancers on Jackie Gleason. Otherwise, I had to wait for the annual broadcast of The Wizard of Oz."While I'm truly sorry that anyone would need to find a "validating identity" for his sexuality (which shouldn't require any independent validation), I'm also surprised that this should come from anything on television -- whether from the June Taylor dancers or the Wizard of Oz. But the writer goes on to claim that television actually helped him "form his sexual identity." (Psst! Better not let the social conservatives hear about this, OK?)
For better or worse, TV helped me form my sexual identity and realize that there was a place for me. Time was when I scoured TV Guide for appearances of gay writer Truman Capote on The Tonight Show and The Dick Cavett Show.To each his own, I guess. I never thought to look for assistance in role modeling from the television set, and I hardly watch it now. As to Truman Capote, I regarded him as one of those lisping stereotypes who were more the exception than the rule. I had read (and loved) In Cold Blood, and when I read Capote was gay and had a crush on one of the murderers I was utterly intrigued. And yes, I did watch him on the Dick Cavett Show. But role model? It never would have occurred to me in my wildest dreams.
There weren't too many role models for me, which is probably why I'm such a nut. I was a fan of the Grateful Dead, and in my Marxist days I tended towards misguided idolization of the Black Panther Party leadership. Years later I came to adore a certain crazed junkie writer. But these weren't really role models. I thought of my own sexuality as crazy and uniquely non-conforming, and while I might not have always been comfortable with it, I always thought I had to be my own role model. I've never felt validated, and I never wanted to be validated. The conventional concepts of gay and straight annoyed me then, and annoy me now. Not only is the right to free choice in sexual matters being negated, it's increasingly being seen as an oppressive concept.
Imagine, freedom being seen as oppression!
Sexual freedom means the right not only to have consensual sex with whomever you want, but the right to disregard all sexual role models -- regardless of whether they are thrust upon you by drunken peers, busybody activists, or a pliant media.
Yet tragically, what used to be nobody's business now seems to be everybody's. Today, your sexuality is more someone else's business than it was during my youth.
This is not to say that sexuality was entirely a private matter when I was growing up. My fellow adolescent male friends annoyed me to no end with the notion that manhood was not merely defined by attraction to women, but somehow by an interest in large breasts, which were said to be everything. Now, once again, let me make it clear that I have no objection to anyone being turned on by large breasts. It's just that my peers' insistance that there was something wrong with those who didn't see it that way seemed strained, even phony. Some of them, I suspected, were lying in order to enhance public perceptions of their manhood. Unfortunately, this happened at exactly the same time my poor mom was undergoing a radical mastectomy. When I overheard my father's drunken friends' attempts to reassure him, I concluded that there was a vast conspiracy of sexual tyranny at work. Enforced by sexual bigots who needed to be called on it and put in their place. Years later, I see that I probably overreacted a bit, and for way too long. (It just wasn't a good time for people to demand from me a public display of enthusiasm for big tits.)
Looking back, I still don't think I was wrong in identifying peer pressure as the problem, and on a certain level that's probably just what today's editorial writer is complaining about when he speaks of "validation."
However, I think homosexual peer pressure can be just as bad as heterosexual peer pressure (these days it often seems worse), and I don't think the former is justified by the latter. Attempts to tell people how they should be, or what they should be, are tyrannical. Just as you don't have to be turned on by big tits if you're straight, you don't have to like Truman Capote or the June Taylor Dancers to be gay.
Lastly, what about those who don't wish to belong?
Who will validate them?
posted by Eric on 10.19.05 at 03:38 PM
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