It is not pretty when straight white guys experience the powerlessness of terror for the first time. They panic. They lash out. They speak rashly. They hide the gals. They get all manly man. Nobody can tell them anything. They don’t want to hear it.
With the threat/promise of a ground war, the Bush Putsch has conveniently revoked Clinton’s failed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the military. Not to worry, they have invoked it everywhere else.
When the unspeakably arrogant “spokesman”, Ari Fleischer warned, “Americans had better watch what they say” my sang froided. Is it cold in here or is it me? The mantra of Roy Cohn’s lovechild is generally an aggrieved, peeved, “How dare you ask that?”
Tom Ridge is now head of something that sounds like those hexagonal, blue signs people poke in their lawns. “This house is protected by Homeland Security” and we all know it’s not hooked up to anything. In his very briefings, he bug-eyes, “Don’t know, can’t tell.”
Attorney General J. Edgar Ashcroft, emphasis on the general, got his 500 page USA Patriot Antiterrorism Bill passed with little objection. The sound you hear is the shredders chewing up the fourth amendment. No one even knows where the Surgeon General is. Don’t care, go to hell.
And everywhere, any dissent is drowned out with hooligan chants of USA! USA! USA! – the new, politically correct way to say Shut-up! Shut-up! Shut-up!
To paraphrase some queen, it has been an annus horribilis. Since the red/blue polarizing presidential selection crisis of last November, I had already found, both personally and professionally, that it was easier to come out as lesbian than as a justice-loving progressive.
I first noticed this unsettling shift last December, when I did a show in Palm Beach, Florida -ground zero during the election crisis. The theater audience, a loyal subscription series crowd intermixed with my Florida gay following, was breath-held-in-whole nervous during my political material. I could hear all of them exhale “Phew!” when I talked about being a lesbian.
During my summer shows in Provincetown, since no one was watching television, except for West Wing, I refined my public service job as the Designated Bush Watcher. Someone had to do it. The only cheer I could spin was that perhaps this was the last blast of the blasted straight white guys. I worried aloud that the problem was they might take us down with them.
Often I would see people get up and leave during Bush Bash section of the show. I pretended they had small bladders or needed to go out for a smoke.
In September I had a light performance schedule and any shows I had in the weeks following September 11, were mercifully canceled. I couldn’t have gotten to them anyway. Including the one down on Broadway and 50th.
National Coming Out Day, October 11, was one of my first outings. I performed at a benefit in Boston for Speakout, a speaker’s bureau which for thirty years has been sending gay men and lesbians to schools, community groups, and churches to tell their stories about being gay Americans and to answer questions. They were gay toastmasters, long before people got toaster ovens for coming out.
Like all marginal groups which last more than six months, Speakout has changed tactics with the times and currently they are tailing hired signature-shaggers trying to put a measure on the state ballot to make gay marriage illegal and impossible forever in the Bay State. One Speakout volunteer told me how at an area mall she had shadowed a young guy with a clipboard, who told her he’d been kicked out of his house in Arizona, that he was virtually homeless, probably bisexual and tired of selling his body. For him it was a job. Her goal was to keep him talking so he wouldn’t get signatures. She said they are not all that easy.
On that month’s anniversary of September 11, I was shell shocked as we all were, emotionally speedballing between a freaky fatalistic serenity and blind murderous panic about nuclear war. When I wasn’t feeling, well, silly, about things gay. The courageous asking and telling of Speakout’s gay ground troops completely re-inspired me.
Audiences are traumatized. They are happy to be out, i.e., of the house. They laugh hysterically, glad for any release. It’s easy to go easy I could just do jokes, “Celine Dionne goes into a bar, bartender says, ‘Why the long face?'” The current comedy coda is to lay off Bush. Stand behind the president. Only if I can put fingers behind his head. I fight self-censorship. I am trying to see this as an opportunity for change. Help me out here. Ask. Tell. Scream. Yell.