Saturday, March 24, 2012

Being Seen

This blog entry may not be specifically about gay issues....however, it is a beautiful story about equality that just happens to intersect with one of my passions...futuristic Sci Fi. In their zeal to support their favorite obsessions, Star Wars Fans and Star Trek fans have often battled it out over which of the two is the best...a debate that still rages. Now...I know that my readers know that I love Star Wars....perhaps some would say a little too much. But Like most kids my age I grew up loving Star Trek too. Anything that took me out into space was(and still is) a good thing. I watched it in syndication and dreamed of better tomorrows in which the noblest of human instincts carried us beyond our destructive capacities and into the stars. The fact that Both Star Trek and Star Wars carried an unspoken subtext about race and difference may not have been foremost on my mind as a kid...but the lesson was learned all the same. Star Trek just did it first and a bit more directly.

In absent-mindedly dusting my living room I was listening to a documentary on Television about Star Trek called "Trek Nation". It was hosted by Star Trek Creator Gene Roddenberry's son "Rod" Roddenberry as a tribute to the series his father created. It was an interesting show to watch....but I wasn't supposed to be watching, I was supposed to be cleaning...and so I listened while I worked. that is...until a segment with Nichelle Nichols(Lt. Uhura) discussing a meeting with Martin Luther King Jr. caught my ear and made me drop everything to listen....

(This was the only copy of this segment I could find. Sorry for the poor volume...Transcript below:)

Roddenberry:   I was pleased that in those days when you couldn't get even...Blacks on television, that I not only had a Black, but a black woman and a black officer....and that'll show em.(laughs).
Nichols: I told Gene after the end of the first season that I would not be returning to the show....that I wanted to return to my first love which was musical theater. But I didn't know that meeting a Star Trek fan would change my life...
I was told that a fan wanted to meet me and I turned and looked in the face of Dr. Martin Luther King....I was breathless. He says, "Yes I'm the Trekker..I am the Star Trek fan". And he told me that Star Trek was one of the only shows that he and his wife Coretta, and he would allow their little children to stay up and watch.
I thanked him and told him that I was leaving the show.....All the smile came off of his face and he said, " You can't do that." He said, "Don't you understand that...for the first time...we are seen as we should be seen. You don't have a black have an equal role."
and when I went back to work on Monday morning, I went to Gene's office and I told him what had happened over the weekend....and he says, "Welcome home. We got a lot of work to do."

As the last words of this remembrance were spoken...I sat in my living room with cleaning materials in hand and wiped a few misty tears away and my emotions threatened to overwhelm me. It was everything I had loved about the series....everything I hope for our  world...unfolding in one small, incredible, real-life moment. I couldn't help but give a silent little cheer. It was only one person..and one small choice...but it made all the difference to thousands to follow...and not just the fans. Not only was Nichols seen...but so were many other black actors in smaller but no less equal parts for the length of the series. Star Trek also has the distinction of featuring the first televised interracial kiss...something that would have sent much of the public into utter spasms and illicited cries that the very fabric of society was being torn assunder. Star Trek Broke ground for many shows that would follow in it's wake.

But as a gay person...I can't help but, as the unspoken meaning of Lt. Uhura was a victory for the visiblity of the black community...I wonder if the gay community has reached that point yet? Are we being seen as we should be?    There are many gay characters on Television, the news, and in politics. Modern Family even brings the notion of gay families and adoption to a prime time audience...and yet, sometimes it's still a big deal when a simple kiss is shown between two people of the same sex. Even Star Trek shied away from gay characters in all but the tamest and most general of plot circumstances....and then, only in the 90's.

Also, the gay experience is not exclusively male...or white. Even with all that our family does on YouTube to help raise aweness...we can't show you what it's like to be gay and a woman...or gay and black. The gay community comes from all races, all communities, all religions, all creeds...but is that facet of gayness also seen by the public at large? Is it even possible? With so many depictions of gay life out there...and so many permutations to LGBT life itself that could  be we have our own Lieutenant Uhura's to give a world an expanded...and non-caricature view of gay life? In my opinion, even though we have many famous LGBT faces...we still have a very long way to go if the goal is for the world to see us as we are and find a little piece of themselves in that view.

Case in point....

During my families recent trip to Disneyland this week, it was interesting to note the looks that our family would get from strangers. Nothing brings the disparate parts of humanity together better than a two hour wait for Splash Mountain. That day, the park was full of oversee's visiters and midwesterners, most of which were large traditional families with aunts, uncles, and kids in tow....And here we were with the kids calling us "Daddy Bryan" and "Daddy Jay"...we broadcast "same-sex" family pretty clearly. As we wound through the turnstiles I couldn't quite ignore the sensation of being watched as some people made no effort to hide there frank all. But I wonder what they saw? The paranoid part of me fills in the blanks with all sorts of negative judgments...and from some older folks they were very plain to see. For many others, we may have been the first gay couple with kids they had ever seen outside of television...I wonder what it meant to them? Alternately, they could also have been trying to figure out where our wives were and why the dads had the kids....It's impossible to say. It is equally as likely that they were watching us and thinking..."Those guys aren't nearly as funny as those guys on Modern Family. In fact....they're kinda boring." ...And then I hope a light turned on for them.

When I was a kid watching Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and Buck Rodgers....I didn't think about the race of the characters. It was all lost on me. I wanted to beam to far away places and travel the universe and I couldn't figure out why the rest of the world did not share my obsession with exploring the universe. I think it is because of shows like those that I got so frustrated with the world as it really was....divided and in conflict. It seemed that the noble visions of shows like Stat Trek would never happen in my lifetime.  After all, if we can dream it...why can't we make it happen? Beam me up Scotty, I want to go there...

Until next time dear readers...Live long and prosper......

P.S....for the Trek is better than Star Wars guys who will undoubtedly pop up here, please watch the following announcement from another gentleman who lives at the intersection of race, sexual identity, and Star Trek... (Sorry Twilight fans...I had to go there)


  1. i was named after i have to go with star trek!!!

  2. I have always loved both and agree with George, both are special in their own way. Star Wars more epic, Star Trek more groundbreaking. Truly there can be love enough in our hearts for both.

  3. Before I start, I have to say that life in SoCal is much different than it is in NorCal. Southern Californian culture is very isolated and divided, so a lot of people are not used to seeing a gay couple, let alone a gay couple with children. I think if anything they were more curious than they were anything else (or I at least I hope so). Regardless, I hope you guys enjoyed yourselves during your trip. Thanks to the both of you and your children for continuing to do what you do.


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  5. Star Wars effected me much the same way as it did you. I was 8 years old and my father got me out of school opening day second show at Grauman's Chinese Theater. The impact of that movie was unlike anything I've ever experienced and it changed my life. I ended up reading Carlos Castenda in high school, finding a teacher like Obi Wan Kenobi in real life, and went into Chinese medicine as an adult. Star Wars is very Daoist, Star Trek is very secular humanist. Both work well for me though I think star trek has worn better overtime but its a different thing, primarily a TV show, with character development, it changed as well as commented on the culture around us from the perspective of the future. And by the way I loved that kiss between Jadzia and Lenara on Deep Space 9. It was hot hot hot and one of the first major same sex kisses televised on a major network. I wish Star Trek had done more for gay visibility but I was glad they tackled it at all. It's too bad there was not a story line about two men.

  6. Your account of being stared at Disneyland immediately reminded me of a similar incident I witnessed walking through the Café Court of a major mall where I live. This happened about 10 years ago. I suddenly became aware of a gay couple walking directly in front of me. Unlike you and Jay, who are ultra-ordinary both in your look and behavior—and I’m the same way—these two looked quite unusual. They were teenagers, both pretty skinny, dressed punk rock-ish, with longer spikey hair, possibly were rather feminine—although I couldn’t be sure because I never saw either from the front—and they were walking side by side holding hands—BOTH PAIRS of hands. One of them was wearing bright pink fuzzy slippers. I couldn’t help but notice them, yet I wasn’t staring at them and I wasn’t reacting to them in any way. But I had a front seat to a rare performance of how others around this couple were reacting to them. All eyes were on them too, but probably in a more piercing manner and more intensely negative than what you experienced. And I could overhear someone muttering under their breath, “Not in public!” Had these two been walking outside holding both pairs of hands, they might have been attacked. Especially in a statewide Republican Madrassa named Nebraska....

    Back to your Disneyland stare-down, did you get a sense that Daniel and Selena could feel the stares too?

  7. @ Raffi and Dave....these weren't evil-eye stare downs, they were glances that said more in one second than an hour of bald faced staring ever could. Older couples would give that sidelong, "I don't approve" glance that says it all really...and younger parents would often give slightly more direct and appraising looks as if trying to puzzle it all out. occasionally...some of those would figure it out and the look they gave would turn darker....oftentimes it was just puzzled and curious.

    Coming from an area were you get those kinds of looks a lot less often, you notice that kind of stuff...or maybe I am just paranoid. Thankfully...the kids noticed none of it and played blissfully...which was a lesson for me to do the same :)


    1. When I see someone in public I’m trying to figure out, I spend much of my time looking away with a nonchalant “I could care less about anything” kind of expression. Another gay couple "incident" I remember was a couple of guys in front of me who had a shopping cart in check-out chuck full of urns and things to decorate their house or condo in a store like Home Goods. Unlike the first couple I described, this second pair looked ordinary with one exception: One of them had purple blemishes or sours all over his face and arms, which I speculated might have been HIV-related carposi sarcoma. It’s all those sores more than them buying a bunch of home décor stuff together that really set off my gaydar. The woman checker seemed completely oblivious to everything but, then again, she was too busy processing their transaction to even accidentally show any signs of “getting it.”

      Considering that you live in Santa Rosa, what I describe understandably would be a total yawner for you but, in Omaha, gays are normally completely invisible out in suburbia. We have a gay bar or two downtown, as well as one LGBT resource center, also downtown, but that’s it and we’re over 500,000 here. Total invisibility otherwise, so things like what I’ve just described would be more noticeable here.

    2. Hey Bryan, If I may be so bold, I'd like to give you an alternative perspective on your recent experience. In essence, your visibility was an education for onlookers of all ages.

      My understanding regarding the American education system is that students sometimes have to repeat a year if they don't learn all they were supposed to in order to progress.

      If anything, these onlookers were repeating a year, so to speak. The puzzled expressions in particular should be welcomed - because they represent a felt sense of disparity between what these people have been taught about gay men and what they are witnessing in reality.

      A quirky example: did you ever catch that episode of The Simpsons where Marge decides to train as a Realtor? She becomes somewhat disillusioned by the questionable marketing tactics used by property agents to shift houses.

      Determined to convince Marge that these practices are in fact completely ethical, her Real Estate coach shows Marge pictures of houses for sale which have been on their books for a while.

      Shown a photograph of a delapidated house, (the roof is caving in and one of the walls is missing), Marge protests: 'That house is falling down!'

      The Realtor, keen to develop Marge's marketing skills, corrects her by saying: 'Ideal renovation project', and turns the page.

      This time, there's a picture of a house going up in flames, with people running away screaming, in various states of panic. Horrified at what she's seeing, Marge exclaims: 'That house is on fire!!'

      Unfazed, the Realtor quips: 'Motivated Seller' before continuing with:

      'You see Marge, there's the truth, and then there's The Truth...'

      Best Always,

      Simon UK :-)

  8. I know those looks you guys got, heck I know the your disgusting looks too. I have received my fair share of looks from bored to your a monster simply for walking holding hands with boyfriends in the past. And I live in. Liberal western Washington just a stones throw from booth Seattle and Vancouver BC.

    I find it makes something that should be such a normal part of being a couple quite award and even uncomfortable.

    1. Being single, I don’t draw “the look” like you guys do but, if I did have a significant other/partner/husband, I would absolutely hate not feeling free to hold hands when out and about. I would feel so cheated not being able to do that. So, if I did find that I couldn’t conquer any issues I might have with PDA, I’d be damn sure to make up for it at home, and then some….

    2. I spend more time single then actually seeing any one, I have dated like 5 people and I use that pretty loosely as The longest relationship I have ever had was like six months all the rest where really only a 2-3 at the most.

    3. Well, don't give up. Your soulmate is out there somewhere.

      I should consider taking my own advice as well....

  9. The kiss between Jadzia Dax and Lenara Khan was tame? I thought it was pretty hot (and I'm not even interested in women!)

  10. Did you just have Daniel and Selena with you on the trip or were you shepherding all the kids (which would have made even more of an impression on anyone staring)?

  11. we had both kids and the new baby...well todler actually(he's two now)...who I have blogged about as "baby boy". Like I said, we practically screamed same-sex family....or amature daddy daycare.

    1. "amateur daddy daycare"? That's funny. So would we find you on :-D