Thursday, July 7, 2011

Making history fabulous — Seriously?

It its infinite wisdom, the state of California may soon mandate the teaching of gays in history. The decision was based on the need for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students to have role models in their lives. So is that the reason straight people can't make it on Broadway? Because there are no straight role models there?

Gay people want to get married. I get that. Fine. They want to raise children. Go for it. They want the right to pull their partner's plug. I'm all for it. Clearly there are a great many people who have been done great injustice simply because of the people they ask out on dates. Remember "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"? That applies here. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are an oppressed minority in serious need of protection.
So now there's nothing left but to decide which month is the gayest (I always thought June was a little light in the loafers) so we can declare LGBT History Month, right? Not so fast.
This isn't a question over whether or not LGBT people need special recognition. It's about whether or not their history does.
Our benchmark is the tried-but-true Black History Month. We're going to use this as the test case for a series of questions that might help us decide if LGBT history should be highlighted. And on we go.

1) Have black people (African-American or otherwise) accomplished anything of note?
— Of course they have. Even without the obligatory citation of peanut guru George Washington Carver, we have astronaut Robert Lawrence, Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, baseball great Jackie Robinson, and SuperSoaker inventor Lonnie Johnson.
2) Was this history included in classrooms before it was mandated?
— Of course not, although not all the reasons are racist. You'll notice that the major figures in black history are not the top example of their accomplishments, nor are they originators or prominent inventors. Peanuts really don't compare to the lightning rod or the polio vaccine.
3) Is there a reason lesser accomplishments, in this case, should be distinguished over others?
— Yes. For all but recent history, it was often illegal or made all but impossible for blacks to reach the heights of achievements that the white minority managed with apparent ease. No blacks were allowed in Major League Baseball before Jackie Robinson. No black man was thought educated enough to become Supreme Court Justice until Thurgood Marshall (and that bigotry still exists today, although there are laws in place to prevent them from harming anyone).
4) Should we place emphasis on black history?
— The struggle of black men and women for freedom was monumental, but, in terms of the vastness of the obstacle to overcome, it pales compared to their struggle for acceptance and equality, issues that still persist, despite the election of a black man as president of the United States.

Now, we do the same thing with LGBT history and see how it comes up.

1) Have LGBT people accomplished anything of note?
— Well... maybe. There is yet no definitive history because there are so few verifiable homosexuals until the very recent past. The community claims Alexander the Great, Socrates, Francis Bacon, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Hans Christian Anderson (a slew of authors, really), Andy Warhol, Tchaikovsky, Eleanor Roosevelt, Marie Antoinette, Montezuma II, and three popes, Julius III, Benedict IX and John XII. I even saw a claim that the apostle Paul was gay. But, with few exceptions, most are assumptions based on anecdotal evidence interpreted with a heavy amount of bias. 
2) Was this history included in classrooms before it was mandated?
— Of course it was. I (begrudgingly) ready Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates in school during the unit on ancient Greece. We even discussed how it was common and encouraged for grown men to teach young boys to explore their sexuality through participation, which still sounds wrong to me. So many of the names on the gay list came up in class, but, again, who's to say which of them really was gay. I mean, the claim for Paul is based on his complain of a "thorn in the flesh" that reminded him of his dependence on a merciful god. Michelangelo was supposedly gay because drew men naked, but his were supposedly more telling than the others. Florence Nightingale was supposedly faking the illness she suffered late in life so she could not marry a man and be with a woman they never identify. We look back to our benchmark, meanwhile. Is he black? Give me a picture. Yup, black.
3) Is there a reason lesser accomplishments, in this case, should be distinguished over others?
— Absolutely not. There was nothing prohibiting an LGBT person from doing anything. All they had to do was not talk about their sex lives. Let me make this perfectly clear. Since the downfall of ancient Greece, the world has basically been living the "Don't ask; don't tell" rule. What kept a gay man from attending Harvard? Nothing, so long as he didn't let on who he shared his bed with. No while this may create an unjust double-standard, it in no way impeded anyone from succeeding despite homosexual attractions. Again, we check the comparisons. Are you gay? Nope. The end. Are you black? Nope. But your skin is black, so you're black. See the difference.
4) Should we place emphasis on black history?
Absolutely not. The object of your attraction has never and should never make one single difference in how we measure your accomplishments. Was George Takei entertaining before we knew he shared his life with his partner Brad? Oh my, was he ever. Does Elton John make fantastic music (as long as he gets a decent lyricist) regardless of how flamboyant he is? Sure, some may be worth noting, but only those who struggled for acceptance, those who came out to make a point, who followed the example of Martin Luther King. Folks like Harvey Milk and Ellen Degeneres and Elton John who showed all of themselves so that others like them could be accepted, that's notable. But let's be clear, the history of the gay rights movement is not the same as gay history, and California is pushing for the latter.

But let's take one last look at the reasoning behind this law. The California Legislature wants LGBT kids to have good LGBT role models. This is every bit as offensive as saying homosexuality should be illegal. Think about it. What they're saying is that, if you're straight, you can't be a good role model to a gay kid. If you're straight, you can't learn anything from the example of a gay man or woman. It's as categorically intolerant as those who fought to segregate black people from white people. And this is all based on the idea that, because we don't say someone is gay, we are leading people to believe they are straight.
You know where this should be happening? Hollywood. Do you know if Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was straight or gay? He was straight. Because he was married? Because he whored around a lot. And they taught you this in school? No, on that movie that won the Academy Award. Exactly. 
So gays, dykes, lezzies, cross-dressers, fags, faggots, queens, flamers, carpet munchers, butt pirates, or whatever other name you wish to self-referentially use (fabulously, of course), be loud, be proud, be yourself, be Cher, Madonna, Lady Gaga, or whatever else you want to be. Be a lumberjack in the real or the Monty Python sense of the word. Fight for your right to party or marry or anything. Just don't insist on infusing sexuality into places it didn't already exist.
Love who you want. Fuck who you want. But know when to leave well enough alone.

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