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Room For Squares
Being Anyone We Wanna Be
by Philip Wong on Jul 13, 2007
Now that Transformers nostalgia is riding high on the back of a blockbuster summer film, I find myself looking back to the childhood role models of the 80s. To be honest, I always looked up to Jem more than I did Optimus Prime. But come to think of it, as a gay kid growing up during the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic, you weren’t given that many role models to choose from.
Given the choice between a globally adored pop star with a secret identity and the bleakly negative (and almost non existent) portrayal of gay men in the media at the time, it shouldn’t be too difficult to see why a gay kid would choose to emulate the sort of joie de vivre Jem in her secret identity epitomized. But largely thanks to popular music and television shows, our culture seems to be experiencing a current boom in role models and public figures who are actually gay.
Gone are the matinee idols of old that hid same sex affairs behind virile Hollywood statures. In their place, we have openly gay pop stars like George Michael and Elton John, one constantly garnering headlines for his drug bust ups and the other for his reported diva-like behavior. Then there’s Rosie O’Donnell, whose charitable efforts are often overlooked in favor of her big mouth and even bigger penchant for igniting controversy. And if you buy into that “Advocate” article, even such heavy hitters as Jodi Foster and Anderson Cooper, though neither is publicly recognized as homosexual.
Visibility in popular culture seems to have reached such an unprecedented level that serious debates have arisen over how to use that spotlight properly and, dare I say it, responsibly. The argument stands on some firm ground. Presumably, if we want to be given equal rights, we first need to show that we are in fact equally normal -- after all, first impressions are the ones that last.
What would you think if your first encounter with a gay man involved circuit parties, drugs and sex in a public park? You might be thinking, “What’s wrong with that?” But take a second to imagine that you weren’t so inclined. In such a case, the argument calls for watering down the stereotype, even if it happens to be true. If this sounds suspiciously like some sort of gay double standard, that’s precisely because it is.
By and large, people of all creeds fall down every once in awhile and are allowed to get right back up. Look at Paris Hilton, Mel Gibson, Martha Stewart, Britney Spears and the list goes on. It may be scary to relate, but many people actually look up to these people. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, their falls are fun to watch and kind of endearing. They prove that money, fame and celebrity are no safeguards against ignorance, idiocy and irresponsibility; in short, it shows that they’re human, just like the rest of us. Therefore, their gay counterparts should be no different.
If Lance Bass wants to be shot up into space, I say give him a cannon. If Melissa Etheridge wants her kids to look like David Crosby, then I’ll lead them to the nearest sperm bank. If Boy George wants to flush down eight balls of coke, I’ll be there, plunger in hand. Likewise, if Doogie Howser wants the life of a normal gay man, that’s his right too. And if Clay Aiken wants to rest his foot on somebody else’s arm rest, then move over. Oh wait…he’s straight.
The truth is, if we want to be truly seen as equal, we have to consider ourselves to be equal first. Not better and definitely not worse. At the end of the day, we are all made up of the same things. That means our role models should not be held to a different standard for their shortcomings anymore than we all are just because we’ve put them on a pedestal. If there’s one thing we should all have learned by now, it’s that nobody, whether real life pop star or just one in a cartoon, should ever feel the need for a secret identity.
by Philip Wong on Jul 13, 2007