While watching NBC’s Bionic Woman last night (I know, hell of a way to start a post, right?), Isaiah Washington’s “faggot” debacle a few months ago resurfaced in my mind. And I have to tell you that I think we, “the gays,” may have gone a bit overboard. Crucified him for the cause, if you will. We were so damned MAD, we are so damned TIRED of hearing it, that we collectively snapped. While I think that’s an understandable initial reaction, I don’t think it can be sustained indefinitely without applying some perspective.
Yes, it was a hurtful thing to say, and an apology was deserved. And while some would say it was dragged out of him, Mr. Washington did indeed apologize and attempt to make public amends. Some would also say he “didn’t mean his apology.” I fail to see how that matters one whit. You can never honestly tell if someone “means” or “feels” something about any issue, you can only tell if you feel that they meant it. So it’s completely subjective, and I think a bit hypocritical to completely disregard any apology. No matter how you or I may “feel” about it.
I’d like you to take a moment and try to remember what it was like when you were still in the closet. I know that at least some of you must’ve been like me: overcompensating for your inner queer by being the most vocally antigay person in the room. The whole, “methinks he doth protest too much” persona, you know? Not that such behavior was right in any way–because it most certainly wasn’t–but I just want you to try and remember the mindset of the heteros you were trying so very hard to fit in with. Knowing how much I was willing to denigrate myself in order to be one of the (straight) guys, I find it hard to hold a grudge against someone who really is one of them. His remarks are, at least from my remembered experience, quite usual for his age group.
Yes, we should work to change that. But making people like Isaiah Washington realize how hurtful such things are is going to take effort, time, and repeated examples. Which is why his apology should be accepted, even embraced by the gay community, with the knowledge that it may be half-hearted, or it may not–we can’t know for sure–but at least it’s a baby step in the right direction. Ten years ago there wouldn’t have been an apology at all. Instead, the gay community–myself included–tried to crucify the man. When he repeated the word “faggot” at an awards ceremony we all went apeshit, even though it was a completely different circumstance than the on-set fight that started the whole thing.
I remember all too well the awful things I said about gays before I was willing to identify as one, and I also know that there are many times when I’ve said something that I felt was perfectly innocent that pissed a number of people right off, at which point the only thing I could do was apologize and hope for forgiveness. It seems to me that Isaiah did just that, and we should give him the benefit of the doubt. I mean think about it: there’s a reason that we perpetuate the stereotype of “bitchy queen” among even ourselves. It’s true. God knows there are times when I’m pretty damned menstrual (NDT, QUIT NODDING). For all of the empathy that we try to obtain from the straight community, we queers can be a stubborn and unforgiving lot. When we want change, we want it NOW. How petulant. How childish. How bitchy. Societal change for the better is never immediate. You’d think such a highly educated crowd could learn that lesson.
History shows that those who advocate “all or nothing” usually end up with the latter. I was reminded of that by the very first paragraph of a Washington Post article this morning:
There’s a saying in Congress about passing legislation: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The transgender community is learning that lesson the hard way.
In our discussions about ENDA, it occurs to me that our increasing level of comfort with ourselves and advocating our rights has come at the cost of disassociating ourselves from the realities of living in a hetero-dominated society. As Andrew Sullivan, The Malcontent(s) , and others have been saying, while we queers may feel empathy for the transgender community, we don’t necessarily identify with them, and don’t think we should stop our battle for equal protections to pick up hitchhikers along the way. But once again the usual suspects have thrown up their arms in disgust, and cast petulant glares at those who would dare to dissent from within. Barney Frank, who originally introduced the Trans-inclusive legislation, is now the one being crucified–branded a traitor–because he’s decided to try and get a less controversial version passed because the all-inclusive version was going down in flames. How bitchy. How childish. How . . . expected. And how quickly we seem to forget how much worse off we were only ten years ago.
When we talk about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” we almost immediately get into a conversation about how unfair it is without regard to what came before it. DADT is indeed an unfair policy, but it’s a damned sight better than the prior policy, where you COULD be asked your orientation and then dishonorably discharged for it. DADT isn’t perfect, and should be changed, but at least it was a step in the right direction. And so is a non-trans-inclusive ENDA. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing.
We should take a step back for a moment and realize what progress we’ve made so far in order to recognize our next steps forward. Ten or fifteen years ago, gay men were just beginning to be recognized as something other than freaks in the mind of the typical American. And in the mind of that stereotypically macho American male, “Transgender” equates with “wants to chop his own penis off.” It may not be fair, but that’s the mindset. And while we can help our Trans brothers and sisters to fight the preconceived notions that bedevil them, we don’t have to abandon our own fight for equality along the way.
I’m not heartless. I truly feel very bad that there is such opposition to a trans-inclusive ENDA, but in talking to many of my straight acquaintences and re-examining my own past, I have to honestly acknowledge where that opposition comes from. And I have to acknowledge that while both battles are worthy to be fought, they are not one and the same.