Thursday, May 1, 2014

May 1, 2014

I struggle, Poppets, with the balance between feel-good fluffy articles and social justice articles. On the one hand, I don’t want to be the Pollyanna columnist who only sees the happy things and disregards very real struggles. On the other hand, I don’t want to be the angry, activist contributor to The Betty Pages who only sees the side that still needs work, and always manages to bring people down. I find people who live in either extreme to be tiresome, honestly.
So what’s this month’s struggle? On the one hand, we have the mess with RuPaul’s Drag Race using derogatory terms for transgendered people – and others’ defense of it. On the other hand, we have a new movie coming out on HBO next month about the rise of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s -  which, while hardly upbeat and happy, shows some promise that I find exciting.
In an attempt to find some balance, let’s start with the kerfuffle around terminology. Now, I have many issues with RuPaul’s Drag Race, but this doesn’t happen to be one of them. There. I said it. In the interest of full disclosure, let me be clear that, as someone who lives outside of the gender binary, I personally find RuPaul’s “She-Mail” segments clever wordplay. And I’m obviously not alone, because his personal use, and the show’s use, of she-mail and tr***y have been defended. Sometimes vociferously. The argument has been that drag is brazen and on the edge. In your face. Modern day punk. It is somehow above political correctness and therefore shouldn’t be policed.
But … that is awfully close to the “but I didn’t mean it that way” and the “but I mean it ironically” and the “it’s just a joke” arguments that have been used for years to justify using derogatory words to describe gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. They are insulting, invalid arguments when they come from outside the community; they are equally insulting and invalid when they come from inside it. The L,G, and B parts of our alphabet soup should be on the frontlines of bringing T acceptance, respect, and awareness into the mainstream. Yes, even the gay men who are also drag queens.
I’ve also read transgendered people coming out and saying “oh, so I have to tell my friends not to call me tranny any longer? Don’t tell me what to be offended by!” To which I, as someone else who isn’t offended, say “get over yourself.” If you aren’t offended, you aren’t offended. If your sense of humor allows this to be funny, great! Your friends can throw that word at you all day, every day. No one is making you stop and to pretend otherwise is being intentionally obtuse. Have some respect for members of your own community who don’t find it funny. Who are hurt. We aren’t dealing with a one-on-one situation. We are dealing with changing a culture – and that includes everyone.
Drag queens – and kings for that matter – are not transgendered people. They can’t reclaim the words any more than men can reclaim “girls” or white people can reclaim the N-word, because the words are not theirs to reclaim. And no amount of cool, radical, or edgy can change that. It’s time to start being respectful of the people we claim to support.
There. Which brings us to the movie, The Normal Heart, coming to HBO this month. Why am I excited about this movie? Lots of reasons. First – I love the play. It’s a beautifully, honestly written work about the rise of AIDS in the 1980s, so the source material is more than solid. Second, they have actually cast – shock – gay men to play gay men. Admittedly, in the 21st century, that shouldn’t be such a shocker, but it is. Matt Bomer and Jim Parsons actually getting to play gay men is an exciting change.
There are many aspects that make me a little nervous – a straight man still plays the gay protagonist, Julia Roberts is in it, and visibility does not necessarily equal upward movement – however! The script is brilliant, the trailer looks strong, and the casting is solid enough to make me excited to check it out later this month. Meanwhile, if you choose to watch it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, as well.

Until next month, Poppets, take care of you – and each other.

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