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Posted by gustav at 09:01PM, Thursday, December 09th, 2004

What's sauce for the gay goose...

What's the distinction between when something's funny and when it's offensive? When it's gay, it's funny! Ha ha ha.

They all do that!
So, I was, like, at this party, and, get this, it was really, these guys, Jake and Hunter and Dylan, and Hunter's girlfriend Taylor, were all at this party, and we were looking at pictures of Dylan's boss, and he's like, you know, *really* black. So we were looking at his home page, and it was really funny. He had all these pictures! And he's just doing all these sort of black things in all of them. Anyway, we were laughing about how, you know, black his car was - it was like this riced-out Lexus with gold rims. And then Dylan clicked onto this picture of him with the sun on his very smooth face. "Wow, his skin is really good for a guy his age." He was right! And he's like 40, so it's weird, right? And then Hunter said "You know, watermelon's supposed to be really great for skin tone. It's got lots of antioxidants and shit." And I just cracked up. It was so funny. And he said like "Who has the time to do that, I wanna know. I mean, does he moisturize with watermelon extract, then straighten his hair, then do the workouts he learned in prison to keep buff, then polish his car and read the latest issue of Ricer Magazine?" And then, get this, Jake was like "Well, I used to straighten my hair in high school!" And Dylan said "Yeah but you're Jewish!" I almost peed myself, it was so funny!

But it wasn't like that. I was at this party. Dylan's boss isn't really, really black; he's very very gay. And Hunter claims they all moisturize - that's why they all look so young. And they all spend hours at the gym. That's why they all look like buff little college students, even when they're 35. And I wasn't laughing. I was sitting quietly, puzzled. Because, while everyone might have noticed had a black man been in the room, I guess these guys didn't expect someone they hardly knew but who was at a party with their cool friend to be gay - at least, they didn't expect me to be gay, if I wasn't flouncing about shirtless with a buff waxed chest and well-moisturized face while singing Cher, I guess.

As Tina, the hard-working real estate agent busting her chops to make her nest egg before the market bust, hopped into her car to drive away from the dreary building, she started talking to her boyfriend, Darrell. "So the couple in that apartment I'm showing, they're named Rodriguez and Gonzalez, right? I mean, they've gotta be PRs, don't they?" Darrell guffawed. And then had a coughing fit. His two pack a day habit was getting to him. "So, which one steals cars for a living, and which one forges welfare checks?" he asked. Ha ha ha ha.

But it wasn't like that. The real estate agent was speculating as to the sexuality of the tenants in the apartment that she'd shown. And she told her boyfriend she wanted to know which one played the girl and which one played the boy. So it wasn't offensive, it was funny, see?

Way back in 1965, Terrance and Renalda were really excited that they were finally eligible for a benefits plan through Terrance's job. They felt there was progress, after long years, in race relations; Terrance had this exciting new job; they'd gotten married, after waiting so long; and the world wasn't so bad after all. Then Terrance's manager called him in a couple days later and told him there was a problem. No, not with Terrance's work -- that was fine. It was the benefits. Yes, they lived in a state that recognized Terrance and Renalda's marriage. But the company wasn't based in that state. It was based down South somewhere, and, as Terrance's manager put it, down there, they didn't believe in "misconjugation." So, Renalda wasn't eligible for any of Terrance's pension if he was killed at the plant; she wasn't even eligible for the company health plan.

But it wasn't like that. Terrance and Renalda weren't "guilty" of miscegenation. They were guilty of being of the same sex and married, and living in the one state that recognized same-sex marriage. So this wasn't something for Terrance's company to be ashamed of. They were just playing by the rules, right? I mean, it's not like that "marriage" license means as much as yours or mine... It's just the new name for "domestic partnership," right?

It's funny. People say stuff, and don't even realize it's offensive. I don't think it's necessarily because they're malicious. They're just being funny - it's not mean, it's just cutting-edge. Or they're just looking out for the company's bottom line - it's not discrimination, they're just obeying the law. You know, the one that unconstitutionally attempts to override state's rights and squelch interstate commerce (not to mention equal protection.) The participants would probably be surprised to hear me describe the first conversation as offensive. Other people would be surprised I was offended at other times when, for instance, guests at a gay wedding complained about the crowd "acting too gay - too queeny." I'm sure they'd then bend over backwards to tell me how they didn't mean it to be taken that way, and I'm being over-sensitive; after all, it's not like they said "Queer" or anything.

But these people would never openly say such things about Jews or African Americans on Hispanics. In fact, I've witnessed them loudly and publicly rebuking others for doing so, long before those others uttered the words "Nigger" or "Spic" or "Kike." People who wouldn't be caught dead making racist jokes about welfare moms have no shame when it comes to getting all up in my business in the bedroom. Companies that would never want to be seen as denying benefits on the basis of race or religion are open about denying them to their gay employees - even those with a marriage license like anyone else's.

Behavior that's unacceptable (at least in the Northeast) for mocking any other group is still just fine when it comes to gays, and I find myself reminding friends and family, over and over again, that saying "That's so gay!" or "That's queer!" is never cool. Years of public school in the 80s inured us to the shock value of describing anything un-hip as "gay." And though gay rights are ostensibly further along than they were then, sometimes I wonder.

Don't think all that bad stuff is behind us, just because it's different now, it's the new century. The same old creeps are pulling the same old shit. The bigotry of class and race and religion is alive and well, just more of a dark secret in America than it used to be, only revealed by things like Katrina. The homophobia, though, is right out in the open. And while friends and acquaintences making mildly derogatory quips, generalizing about gays, may seem the least of worries when I'm fighting to get the same benefits rights as any other spouse in the Commonwealth, it's all part of the same thing. When's the last time you overheard a real estate agent making derogatory remarks about your romantic relationship - asking whether your girlfriend wore a strap-on, or you took her from behind? How far is that, really, from bitching about people looking "too gay?" Can't you see that that background noise, that implicit "gay = bad" crap that saturates our society, helps the people running companies, help politicians, deny benefits with a clear conscience? Helps juries say "oh, it wasn't a hate crime, he was asking for it, flaunting it?"

All I'm asking is that you be a little more aware of what you're saying. Yes, sometimes jokes can be both cruel and funny, and I've been bad at drawing that line from time to time. But sometimes they're just cruel. Sometimes what's funny to say to your best friend is offensive to a stranger. If you'd feel ashamed to say a joke in front of strangers if it were about Jews -- if it could be taken in a negative way, and you couldn't be sure it wouldn't be taken negatively -- don't fucking say it about gays or lesbians or transexuals. That's not me being oversensitive. That's just you not being stupid. Yes, it's PC. Yes, it's patronizing. So is telling me I'm overreacting when I hear this shit every fucking day for decades, the same now as it was in the 80s. It's not funny when I'm still denied the same rights you enjoy.

I don't want to piss you off, or lose your company. I just want to feel something novel: to feel like I'm equal. I want you to wake up a little and notice when you're not helping make that happen. Trust me: I've got enough shit to deal with from the gay-bashers in power here in Bush's America; you don't want to push me over the edge at your next party. Because us gays? Every single last one of us can be a royal fucking bitchy queen when we need to.
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