This post is prompted by a discussion that I have been having over with someone at Facebook. It is also based on my beliefs, at least some of them, in relation to culture, our cultural identities, and how most persons in society view others.
Adam Lambert, American Idol’s second place winner, for those of you who don’t know him, is on the cover of this week’s Rolling Stone magazine. In it, he definitively comes out as a gay man. His style is flamboyant, his singing brilliant, and his energy is contagious, my my opinion. Yet, there is some sense that his coming out does little good for the LGBT community; there are others that believe that his coming out is a great asset for LGBT persons everywhere. And, this is where that difference of opinion seemed to get stuck: his persona, or appearance.
For some in this discussion, they believed that it is all well and good that Adam is flamboyant, unique, AND gay, but that by being that way, he is not a good poster person for the LGBT community, because he doesn’t appear “mainstream” enough for the general public to tolerate that image. Others of us believe that he is unique, and youthful, and absolutely applaud him as coming out. That takes guts, no matter how comfortable you are with it. AND, that members of the LGBT community, whether celebrity or not, are not here to make our appearance or selves more “pallatable” to the general public, in order for them to feel that we are deserving of equal marriage, equal rights, hate crimes legislation, or fair treatment in general.
To associate one’s appearance, whether it be what we are born with or create our appearance to be, with what our sexual orientation is, to cater to that is to perpetuate myths, generalizations and stereotypes. It diminishes the fact of who we are as people, by thinking that if we are not in an appropriate enough “package”, we might not get the rights that we are looking for.
I just don’t see that as the best way to approach it.
If we respond to stereotyping, homophobia, heterosexism, whatever the issue is, by appearing in a way that our dissenters feel most comfortable with, rather than who we really are or want to be, then we are submitting to every one of those stereotypes. If Adam as himself, flamboyant dresser with black nails and a colorful story, says that he is gay and proud of it, is there a danger that some people may associate the LGBT community in general with that image? Possibly. They might also possibly associate it with Ellen Degeneres and Portia DeRossi, and the fact that they are married. They might associate it with Chastity Bono, who is now coming out stating that she is having gender reassignment surgery.
That doesn’t mean that we have to only present our most “mainstream” LGBT celebrities to represent our cause. I don’t think so anyway. I think what we need to do, instead, is to educate and inform the general public about what we are and what we are not. And, we are not in some predictable package.
American culture, of which sexual/affectional orientation is one part of, has historically be defined as a melting pot. America was the place where millions of immigrants came and thus this country became a melting pot of cultures, appearances, beliefs and the like. A cream soup, if you will. All the cultures come into one country, and eventually, even though there are many different types of cultures in the cream soup pot, all of the ingredients blend into one, so that the premise is that we are all the same, we are all one. There are no major differences.
The more current descriptor that is often used to describe American and the cultures within it is the salad bowl. The salad bowl is made up of several different ingredients, various colors, shapes, sizes, tastes and textures. When you mix up all of those ingredients, every one of those cultural identities, they become part of the salad, BUT, they also maintain their individual identity. They stay tomato, a cucumber, an avocado. Those unique qualities are intact, and only serve to enhance and add to the overall flavor of the salad, the culture, the society. Me, I’m a salad girl, for sure.
We all want to connect with human beings, with other people that we have common experiences with. We all want to be heard and understood. We may even want to know that there is someone out there in the world who represents part of who we are and what we are about. However, I believe it is dangerous to think that we should generally think that we need to put forth a certain image for others, on behalf of a segment of our cultural identity, especially if it is to make others comfortable, or to put forth our rights.
The civil rights movement didn’t become a movement by staying quiet, by complying with what others thought their representation should look like. It became mighty by many persons of many races and many different walks of life getting involved and stepping up.
So, think about it. Would you prefer soup, or salad?