Saturday, June 26, 2010

Gay In America?

What does it mean to be gay in America? How would it be possible to tell that tale and include a comprehensive window into all the different colors, creeds, and walks of life that make up the gay community? But CNN has attempted to take on the task in airing its documentary series "Gay In America". The problem?...For a first episode, CNN chose a couple that many feel was the most stereotypical and market friendly choice to base its first episode on. The comment sections on several gay blogs are alit with flame wars and I myself admit to getting my hackles up once or twice. So whats the big deal?

These two men seem like sweet guys who are at a place in their lives where they are solid with each other and ready to be good dads to some very lucky kid. So how could this couple be the source of controversy and strife...not from anti gay groups(believe me they lost their minds about this as well)...but from other gay people?...really?
The trouble came from the scope of the story CNN intends to tell. To be gay in America is a multifaceted experience. The lives of two upper middle class men in New York is a far cry from that of a older Chinese man or a trans woman in middle America. And thats the point that seems to have people coming unhinged. Not all gay people are white..or male...or able to afford the expense of surrogacy. For a story that purports to give the American gay experience it was a rather tightly confined view of that experience.

Listening to the rumblings of the blogosphere you hear alot from gay men and women of color and from trans folk..that they feel very underrepresented within the community. Most gay Characters on T.V. and movies tend toward white males and the heads of most of our big gay lobbying organizations are again...white... and male...but thats not the only criticism leveled at this documentary...

Bill Browning of Bilerico Project wrote a very critical piece on "Gay in America" in advance of its airing that spawned a lot of controversy and caused a few of his fellow Bilerico contributors to respond back. Heres the part of his piece that got my knickers in a twist:

If the audience is the LGBT community itself, then the piece soundly fails since it highlights a tale so preposterously stereotypical that it doesn't resonate with the majority of American queers. It's gay parenting pablum masquerading behind an assimilationist ideal.
Assimilationism is a word that will get my hackles up everytime. The idea being, that gay men and women who want to have a family are trying to imitate or be absorbed into a culture they should reject in order to be considered good gays. What the Heck?! Gay people come from all walks of life and we grow up with dreams for a our lives just like everyone else. How is it wrong for them to make those dreams come true? How is that a denial of their essential gayness? Assimilationism is complete crap if you ask me. Its just people living their lives the way they see fit.

yet another commenter on Pam's House Blend made this statement:

I saw this. I must confess after the Kyra Phillips/Richard Cohen debacle I was riled up and did not have high expectations of CNN's coverage. And really nothing pinged my radar as objectionable about the coverage from an LGBT angle.

I'll grant, you're entirely right, it appears the subjects are setting out to imitate a heterosexual normative lifestyle.

But I'm disinclined to critique things based on what they are not, or should have been. Tony & Gary, being long-time activists, likely invited or even actively sought out the opportunity to tell their story. And their story is their story. And they can't be blamed for being white, or even, imo, criticized, if indeed they want to build a gay Brady Bunch.

Come on buddy, I don't think even heterosexuals live a "heterosexual normative lifestyle" anymore. Normal is a term relative to the person defining it. My normal will not be your normal.

Now a genetic profile would reveal that I'm a mutt...purebread mutt...I have just about everything in my family tree as apparently my ancestors didn't know how to reign in their libido's...that said.I am a white male married to another white male, with two adopted children. In the criticisms leveled at Gary and Tony I felt judged myself. My life is not heteronormative nor assimilationist...none of us can help being born the color or gender that we are....its what we do with those factors that counts. unfortunatly it seems that we more often use these parts of ourselves as tools to make others feel unworthy.

GLBT people come from all walks of life. for a people who are constantly accused of recruiting we don't get a choice of who is gay and who isn't. Gay people come into the community from all races, all faiths, all economic streams, all attitudes and prejudices. We are made up of the full spectrum of humanity. Our adopted symbol as a community is the rainbow flag. As a symbol it speaks more truth than we do. I have met gay Chinese men that will NEVER come out because the shame they would recieve from thier family is so great...yet there are as many gay men in the chinese community as there are in any other. How do you show your face to America when you can't even show it to your family. Yet this is dynamic is changing too, one generation at a time...where once some communities would not even acknowledge that gay people existed within their community(yes, someone actually claimed there were no gay if!) the voices of those coming out have shown us that the landscape of the gay community is as varied as the human race.

Their are a million stories to be told about what it means to be gay in America...Gary and Tony's is only one and the first of what CNN intends to present as a series. Perhaps this episode may not be the most enlightening to us...but to a suburbanite mom in Indiana struggling with the knowledge that her son may be gay...that story may give her a different future to think on for her son who she suspects is gay, instead of the "your gonna get HIV and die" line that most of us get. It will change someones mind even if we don't see ourselves accuratly mirrored in it...its only one story and hopefully will not be the last.

In closing I believe that it's not CNN's responsibility to teach America what it means to be us...its ours. If we don't let people know who we are than who do we have to blame when people believe the worst about  us. All the average American hears from are anti-gay groups who paint us as villains playing fast and loose with the lives of children. Don't let them tell our steer the debate...Its great to be on a platform as large as the one CNN can provide but in the end we need to tell our own stories and educate America...and gay youth about who we are. What is it like to be black and gay? Latino and gay? Trans in Arizona? name it. We need to  show a little compassion for the full range of what it means to be gay and human...even for us mutts.


  1. I don't know if this was written by Jay or Bryan, but the last paragraph absolutely NAILS the question - "Normal" in this context is entirely individual, and it's up to each one of us to represent ourselves to the world, and in doing that, accurately representing the gay community as a whole.

  2. That "no gay asians" thing is sad because it happens a lot. In college, one of my best friends (who is also Indian) told me "There are no gay Indians. That's just a white thing."

    I'm sure you can guess just how awesome that was for me as a closeted gay Indian trying really hard to figure out where I fit in.

  3. I agreed with your points Bryan.

    I really appreciate the efforts you and Jay put on the web and let us know your side of gay family.

    What is the mainstream of gay community? It is sad to see people stereotype themselves in certain group/type. I'm just who I am (which I failed...), and other people have their own life to live. still trying to figure out how to be myself (i.e. in a stronghold closet). Looking at US, it is still better than the place i come from (Malaysia) or the place i'm working now (Singapore). And be a boring engineer do not add any brownie point either, haha

    Keep up your good work and thanks again. And I wish one day I will become stronger and confident enough to build a family like yours.

  4. First of all, I haven't had a chance to see it. I've seen a number of clips. However, in criticizing these guys for being "heteronormative" is a laugh. It is being PC to the extreme. I can't imagine why anyone thinks they get to tell someone else how to life their lives -- whether or not they have paid their dues to the community as the two guys have obviously done.

    Obviously the money that they have spent to have a bio child is unavailable to but a very few. It's what they wanted, and they have the resources, all I can say that this child will be so wanted and cared for that I have every reason to believe that it will be a wonderful contribution to society as a whole.

  5. Female couple here, white, with 2 straight daughters (college and high school age). We aren't L-Word chic or dykes-on-bikes strong, just regular blue-collar working types. We try to show others in our quiet way that our life is as valid and valuable as any. We try to be a welcoming place for young GLBTs in our kids' circles. We try to be good people, period. If that isn't enough for the community, what can I say? My feeling is that we need to pull together against divide and conquer tactics, no matter how we look or how we live.

  6. Hi Bryan,
    It's indeed a video about 1 couple. And I have to say, I like the video. Whatever several other gay people think about it. But I agree, there's a variety of GLBTQ-people that also have to be heard and the rainbowflag is important.
    In any way : The ones protesting against the CNN-video have to understand and be learned that in the eighties movies about gays were nearly always depicting gay people in a negative way or only stereotypes. That CNN shows a positive video is in any way progress, when you compare with 30 years ago. The emancipationprocess is ongoing, but the work is not finished.

  7. And to add =
    There is a reaction of a male black person to his fellow brothers on Youtube about this also =

    And also interesting is what the couple says about being believing in God. You can find this here =
    Gaygreetzz from Steven from Holebis ♥♂♂,♀♀♥

  8. I can understand people getting very angry about this depiction, and I agree with you that we should wait just a bit to see what comes up next in this series before we start to crucify CNN for their portrayals. Perhaps they decided to start with a more benign and familiar image before wading into the more unique, murky waters of Transgendered and Bisexual communities, as well as racial Homosexual communities. One might even go so far as to say that they wanted to attempt to humanize Homosexuals in the eyes of the public: "Look! They want children just like many Heterosexual couples. They're not so alien after all..."

    However, the other side of the argument does hold some credence. Some are worried that this brief glimpse into a small section of the LGBT Community will be as "deep as CNN is willing to delve into the Rabbit's Hole." If so, it would be harmful not only to those uneducated within the Heterosexual group but more devastating to the young of all the groups not represented. This could promote the idea that they are truly alone in this world, or that they are wrong in some way. The oblivious understandings of there being no Asian gays or Indian gays (from Sameer's comment), agreed upon as accepted social doctrine in the society, are still prevalent and only reinforced by this first episode by CNN. Depression and suicide amongst the youth is always too high, and it is everyone's job to try and eradicate it from every corner of the globe.

    Furthermore, we don't want to start sending the idea that there is a "right" way to live, raise a family, etc. for any group of people. The American Dream's perception of the perfect family unit is a nice stylized ideal, but NO ONE should be trying to create a family to "fill the mold." Do what comes naturally and above all, create a family at to your own liking and not to others'.

    Finally, this whole idea of boxing people into groups that society is always pushing to more strictly define is oppressive and wrong, especially when people within the walls accept the forced definitions! I'll type it, write it, and even SCREAM it until life leaves my limbs: be who you are and not what others want or expect. Being gay means you are sexually attracted to people of the same sex, NOT that you have to be more feminine (or masculine for you Lesbians: I wouldn't forget), or wear tight jeans or big plaid shirts. You can even (GASP!!!!!!!) vote Republican if you want. Life is too short to worry about conforming with all this trash. ...and now I'm going to burn my soapbox before I feel the need to get back up and start ranting again.

  9. I can understand there being discontent about a general lack of representation of minorities when it comes to coverage especially mainstream of the gay community. How I too get my knickers in quite a twist when any gay couple who wants to have kids is called "assimilationist" or accused of "trying to be heteronormative" because to me even though I'm still singe that dose feel like an attack of the way I want to live my life, and have always wanted my life to turn out.

    Since I was little I can remember knowing that I wanted to have a family and kids when I grew up. of course at the time I did not know it was going to be with a man, but I know that's what I wanted, and I get quite irked by the accusation that to want that is to some how be a bad gay. In that to live the life I have always wanted is some how bad and damaging and that I should be ashamed of it as a gay person, that I should have to trade that life desire in for one designed for me by others because mine is to "heterosexual".

    I just hate that because what makes me gay is not how I chose to live my life, not what my life dreams and goals are, it is simply the fact that I am emotionally and physically attracted to other men, that's it. Just because of that dose not mean that I have to give up all of my dreams, and throw my self into what ever the so called "gay seen" is, and that I can only live the life and dreams set out by that. That is plain Bull, I can still be a "good gay" and live my life the way I want and that I have always wanted to, and most importantly the way that makes me happy because in the end that's all that really matters.

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  11. Years ago, in one of my moral education courses, I read an article called "White Privelege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" by Peggy McIntosh. I highly recommend it as a read, and recommend that people use the insights derived from it to understand how they make a means of viewing other, regardless of the colour of their skin.

    I can recall one part of it that struck me, which, though I cannot quote, still stuns me.

    As a white man, my actions and my personality are not misconstrued by the majority as representative of people with my skin colour.

    Minorities experience this all the time. Including sexual minorities. Including sexual minorities that pin this on themselves. I think this is a scenario where this is happening.

    I don't want to downplay the possibility that America is taking what they saw on CNN as representative of the homosexual community as a whole, but I do want the gay community to fight the urge to challenge CNN's perspective. What they showed was the story of two men in love and ready to move on with life by adding a child (or two) to it. Is that a bad thing? Should we be disappointed that this story was shown?

    We should adopt the ideal of individualism. Though I know this is a slippery slope to fall down, I think it is valuable in terms of judging people by comparison to other - or wanting people to be something that they are not. I hope that CNN's coverage is ongoing, and that it shows other lifestyles in the gay community. Including some of the less attractive aspects. And I hope and pray that the gay community can look at these moments and think of how it is representative of two individuals - and not get angry at them for being who they are rather than what they wanted them to be.

    I think I know what it feels like to not be represented. I'm not sure, but I think I do - and I understand that the feeling of being under-represented can be quite stifling. Silencing. As Bryan said - stand up and share your story. In doing so, break down any sense of what it means to be "normal" - and be proud in doing so.

  12. Hi, reading the last part of your messagge, Bryan, I want to point out a channel that is going to all the US-states and interview gay people of all race, male and female, etc...
    It is
    and the YT-channel is ImFromDriftwood, Grtz
    Steven fr Holebis-channel ♥♂♂,♀♀♥

  13. Isn't the whole point of the Gay Rights Movement that there will come a time where the only distinction between gay and straight relationships is the sex of the members? That we'll have the same rights, the same opportunities, and, if some want it, the same kind of lifestyle? They're members of surburban middle/high class....let them live like that if they want to! They don't have to live in a bohemian "love shack" listening to 70s disco all day long in order to be "true gays". Because the only thing that makes one a "true gay" is being attracted to members of the same sex.

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. I am surprised that anyone can take offense to the story. It is as you said, Bryan, a story about a couple's journey to realize their dream of having biological children. Lesbian couples do this all the time and I've never heard anyone complaining them of "assimilating" ... and what's with that word anyway? Does it mean anyone who "integrates" "harmonizes" with his or her surrounding society is losing their individuality?

    Perhaps some people in the LGBT community, or any community, need to take a look at themselves and their own agenda before condemning anyone. There are no boundaries to what LGBT people should or should not be, or look like. We are who we are, just the way we are. It is enough that straight people have stereotypes that pigeon hole us into certain careers, mannerisms, etc. I thought the whole point of Pride and liberation is to be free, to be whoever we are without criticism or condemnation.

    I can understand the desire for more representation of other peoples when telling stories of gay in America, but it doesn't mean we must stop telling stories of one large segment of America, the white middle class. We can celebrate all the holidays, without banning Christmas.

  16. pam was using psycho-babble when she said '....heterosexual normative lifestyle.' basically shop talk among academian psychologists/sociologists. its supposed to be an understood 'generalization.' i dont know if she was actually using it in that context internally but at least in the quote it is used appropriately.

    that said, it is still a wtf..i dont like 'their' reality so i will insert my own and those are the norms (psycho-babble) i will employ as much as i am able.