Why I Work in LGBT Affairs

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It’s simple, really.  I want people to be happy.

If you have time, watch yesterday’s episode of Tyra.  Jeremy has the videos laid out nicely over at Good As You (via JMG).

Basically, we’re introduced to a lot of gay self-haters.  These are the poor folks that those cruel Ex-Gay Camps try to recruit to drain all their money and traumatize their emotions.

The basic problem is this: society sucks.  We have a long way to go in terms of all kinds of equality, respect, and appreciation.  But the problem isn’t any person’s identity.

You should be able to be yourself, be happy, and have meaningful relationships.  The guy in the third clip, Elian, who had been married for five years is a great example.  While part of me feels like he is just tapping heterosexual privilege, I also respect that he’s found some happiness outside of the norm.  He knows he is gay, but he’s happy with his wife.  He knows he doesn’t have to be, and ultimately he doesn’t recommend it.  It was a special circumstance, he went with it, and he’s happy.

Being gay means I know what kind of relationship will bring me the most happiness: one with a guy.  It means life is harder.  It means I will spend my whole life defending my family from prejudice.  It means being scared to hold my partner’s hand in public.  It means a lot of things, but the most important thing it means is being HONEST with myself about who I am.

I think the guy in the second clip (Gregg) is the best example of what so many young gay people need to see.  Your sexual orientation does not have to define who you are, how you act, who you spend time with, or any other stereotypical nonsense.  I think I’m pretty lucky to be gay, because by overcoming the challenge of coming out, I can be more open and honest about who I want to be without feeling so compelled to conform to the gender binary.  Many times I do, but I do for the sake of being me, not of being “straight-acting.”

I also understand how challenging it is to find monogamy in the gay community.  I don’t think percentage-wise it’s any harder than the straight community; it’s just that our numbers are a lot smaller and we have a lot more negative media messages to fight against.  Here I am: I’m 23 and gay and single… and I want commitment!  I know that scares away a lot of gay men, but I don’t care, because I don’t have to conform to a hook-up culture to be happy.  I have to find someone who is confident enough to resist those gay cultural pressures the same way I and so many others do.

It was my college experience that helped me find comfort with myself, and the confidence to be myself in the face of an adversarial society.  I look forward to the opportunity to help young people like Shane (clip 1) realize that they don’t need to change who they are, only how they feel about themselves.

We should all be free to be ourselves.  What is gained by not?

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There are 2 Comments to "Why I Work in LGBT Affairs"

  • Fritz Liess says:

    If you’re familiar with Tyra, you know that this show is simply a variation on a theme. A few months ago, she did a show that featured people who claim to hate their own race.

    That show received a great deal of publicity and clips showing people of color calling other people of color “ugly” etc.

    So, the Tyra producers wanted to do something similar and chose gay people as the subject.

    What you have to ask yourself is how the producers would go about finding people to appear on these shows. Do you really think that they do a significant amount of research and interview hundreds of people?

    The fact is, these talk shows rarely explain how they find their guests. These people just mysteriously appear on the shows and follow what appeaes to be a scripted storyline.

    Here’s part of an interview with Joshua Gamson who wrote Freaks Talk Back, a book about tabloid TV talk shows:

    Question: The recent brouhaha about the Jerry Springer Show suggests that we ought to be suspicious about everything portrayed on these tabloid TV talk shows. What do you think? You talked to hundreds of guests, producers, and viewers in your research for this book. How much is staged? What’s credible, what isn’t?

    Joshua Gamson: The short answer is: a lot of it is loosely scripted, and there’s plenty of room for fake guests to make it on the air, but the vast majority of guests are “real” people who want to be on television. The producers are very competitive with one another, they have to produce multiple shows a week, they field calls from thousands of prospective guests, and they don’t have all that much invested in “the truth.” So it’s easy enough to fake them out. But from the producers’ point of view, the point is less to be credible than to be amusing and at least plausibly true.

    But getting all upset about fake guests heads off in the wrong direction. Talk shows live in between “fake” and “real.” The producers need things to be predictable; they need to know pretty much how things will play out, so they plan it and script it and coach people. But on the other hand, the talk shows want emotion; so you have to let people depart from the script to get emotion that’s spontaneous and real. Producers often rev up their guests; they keep them in separate dressing rooms, tell them how the other person said these awful things about them, encourage them to be aggressive and to get in there and say what they need to say. So in the end, people are playing themselves, extra-big, extra-angry. Fake-real. I think that’s some of the appeal. It’s real, but it’s a show; it’s authentic, but it’s also a performance.

    Question: Pain, pride, and disgust. That sort of recalls the word “freaks” in your book’s title. Do you see these shows as exploiting gays, lesbians, bisexuals—or anyone with a “different” sexual preference or lifestyle? Are you offended by how gay people are treated and portrayed on these shows?

    Gamson: Offended and thrilled and disgusted and elated. It’s a given that these shows exploit people. I mean, commercial TV, especially “reality” TV, including the news, is about exploiting people for profits. On talk shows it’s mainly the “different” who are used to attract an audience which is then sold to advertisers. And of course that often offends me. Nobody gets treated particularly well by the shows, and the way lesbian, transsexual, gay, bisexual people are often set up on talk shows—examples abound in the book—often disturbs and upsets to me. But exploitation is the starting point for me, not the conclusion, partly because so much else is going on at the same time. I’m interested in the fact that exploitation is exactly what has increased the diversity of racial and economic backgrounds of the gay people you see on the screen, for example, or in the fact that anti-gay bigots are turned into “freaks” by the show as well—often in ways that make the sex and gender outsiders look just fine.

  • Cory says:

    Zack,

    I’m finally taking time to catch up your blog. I’m glad I was able to meet you. You’re helping me to understand the world from yet another perspective. What’s the point of knowledge if it can’t be shared?

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