“Oh, I Get It” Moment #2: The Ellen James Society and Gay Pride

June 26, 2015

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Waking up this morning to find out that the Supreme Court had established marriage equality in all 50 states was the greatest surprise. Tears streamed down my face as I listened to President Obama talk about the power of love and I realized that “gay marriage” would never be an issue for my daughter’s generation. We will look back at June 26, 2015 the same way look back at May 17, 1954. Some old people will scream that the world is coming to an end, just like they did after the passage of Brown, but go ahead and holler, love won over hate in both.

The occasion causes me to reflect on my own path to becoming an ally, gay rights activist and all around queer heterosexual. Like most journeys it wasn’t a straight line. Growing up in Georgia in the 1970s wasn’t the best place to practice acceptance. Most Southern Christians really aren’t. I think they would string the real Jesus up from a tree. So I got a lot of the homophobia as a kid. We’d play “Smear the Queer” on the playground and nobody stopped us. My father told me that homosexuals were sick (which I guess is better than evil), and I never asked for proof.

But my mind wasn’t committed to homophobia. There were some cracks in it from the beginning. I seemed to always know that San Francisco and Greenwich Village were cooler places than Stone Mountain. One of my first concerts was Queen in 1976 (with Thin Lizzy opening) and I loved their operatic approach to rock and Freddie Mercury’s flamboyance. I knew that the Beatles’ manager was gay and the Fab Four stood by him. TV was filled with plenty of people who were a “little light in their loafers,” as they used to say, who were favorites. From Paul Lynde to Rip Taylor, gay equaled fun. Billy Crystal’s empathetic gay character on Soap made more sense than John Ritter’s fake gay slapstick on Three’s Company.

The problem was if you acknowledged this, you got labeled the queer and you got smeared. When I began to embrace punk rock as my tribe in 1978,  my name at Redan High School went from “Hey, Blazak!” to “Hey, Gayzak.” I was gender non-conforming before that was a term. How I didn’t get beat up for wearing spandex with a velour purple and black striped top was a miracle. But I did get beat up other days. I remember in 1979, I was wearing a shirt of a cool Australian rock band that nobody had heard of yet, called AC/DC. Outside my Spanish class this redneck called me out. “Hey, Gayzak! ‘AC/DC’? That means you’re a fag, right?” (A year later he was wearing the same shirt.)

The problem was I didn’t know anybody who was gay. Actually, I knew lots of people at Redan High School who were gay, I just didn’t know it, many who came out as soon as they escaped to college. So it was really hard to develop empathy with the gay struggle. There was no Gay-Straight Alliance in school, no internet with somebody telling you it gets better, no history lesson about Stonewall. Basically, all the gay kids were cowering in a corner, hoping they didn’t get discovered this week and maybe could escape into Atlanta when they were old enough.

I did have the music. My love of The Who in 1980 led me to Secret Policeman’s Ball album to benefit Amnesty International. Besides Pete Townsend and Sting, the record had a song called “Glad to Be Gay” by Tom Robinson. I listened to it over and over. The idea that your sexuality could be criminalized by the state was just heartbreaking. If songs can change the world, I think that song did.

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Once I escaped into the punk rock world, I knew plenty of queer ass folks. I hung out at the 688 Club with Ru Paul and loved his shows and little movies. I worked in a record store in Ansley Park, the “gayest” part of Atlanta. In the summer of 1984, if a guy with a mustache in an undershirt came in, he probably wanted a cassette of Tina Turner or the Bronski Beat. I joke, but that music became another window into the subculture. That and La Cage aux Folles. When the punk clubs closed, we’d head to Weekends, the gay bar that stayed open until the wee hours. If I ever got hit on, I took it as a compliment (then probably grabbed the closest female). I wrote the first ever review of The Indigo Girls in The Emory Wheel and realized I should abandon my crush on Amy Ray, but continue to be a friend and a fan. The door was open.

Not being homophobic was a rebellion against redneck Georgia, but I still had plenty of homophobia in me. As a young male, a lot of my behavior was designed to publicly assert my heterosexuality. I think being “girl crazy” was part of that. But I had a real breakthrough moment thanks to an Atlanta band that I was a huge fan of.

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If the Ellen James Society had made the scene ten years later, they might have been lumped in to the Queer Core movement (Portland’s Team Dresch, one of the coolest bands ever), but in the late 1980s, they were just a killer underground band with amazing bass and guitar riffs and a few members who might have been lesbian. I saw them play lots, soaking in the passion and anger Chris McGuire and Cooper Seay brought to the music and vocals. So when I saw they were playing at Atlanta’s annual Gay Pride Fest in Piedmont Park I had a conundrum straight out of a Freudian psychodrama. (In this play, the angel represents the superego of societal rules.)

Devil on my shoulder: Yeah, I can see Ellen James for free fuck yeah.

Angel on my shoulder: But it’s at GAY PRIDE. If you go, people will think YOU ARE GAY. That’s not gonna help you with ladies or the churches or the church ladies.

My head being in the middle had to decide who to listen to. I remember this very clearly. I remember thinking this: WHO CARES? People who know me know my sexuality and people who don’t don’t matter and who cares if anybody thinks I’m gay. The gay people I know are all seriously awesome compared to some of the straight assholes I know. Fuck you, angel, I’m going to see The Ellen James Society. For free.

And I did. And I rocked out in front of the stage like a maniac with other music fans, gay, straight and otherwise. There were beautiful drag queens and suburban refugees and I’m sure a few kids from Stone Mountain who, for one afternoon in Georgia, felt free to let their freak flag fly. It was an awakening. We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.

Since that afternoon, I’ve felt that the LGBTQ tribe is also my tribe. My work on hate crimes has sensitized me even more to the struggle. I love my friends who are out and am there for those who are waiting for the right moment. (Facebook is a great place to track old friends who have opened the closet door.) I have had gay and trans students who have really helped me understand the whole spectrum of realities, perceptions and emotions that accompany existing as a sexual minority in America. I owe so much to all those people who have helped me leave smearing the queer behind and helped me to queer my own identity. (If you don’t know what that means, please refer to my previous post.) Here’s me in 2009, stating the obvious:

So today is a day to celebrate in America. There will still be hate crimes, discrimination, suicides, and people who are trapped in their closets. There are also places around the world that are light years behind America. This includes large chunks of Africa, Russia and the Middle East. (Everyone should watch the 2007 film Jihad of Love about being gay and Muslim). But today, there is a gay kid in deep Mississippi who feels the world is a little less hateful and that a basic right that straight people take for granted is available for them, too. They can be full citizens. And my daughter will grow up in a world where marriage equality will be one less battle to fight.

There will be one big gay party tonight and I’ll be there, waving my hands in the air.

Photo on 6-26-15 at 1.22 PM #2

“Oh, I Get It” Moment #1: B.B. King and the lady in the purple hat

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8 thoughts on ““Oh, I Get It” Moment #2: The Ellen James Society and Gay Pride

  1. I called Crystal Springs Uplands School
    400 Uplands Drive, Hillsborough, California, 94010 on December 1 & 2, 2015
    as they showed Laramie Project Play in Nov. 2015. I left messages for Maggie Fongheiser & Noelle GM Gibbs regarding how the Laramie Project gives ½ truths & omits ugly truths on who Methew W. Shepard was. That school told me that they didn’t want me calling again & their school head (believe Kelly Sortino) told me not to call the school again. So the school does a play & they don’t talk to citizens who tell the truths & not the ½ truths on who the victim was. Guess Guess Crystal Springs Uplands School thinks it’s OK for Methew W. Shepard to molest 8 year old boys & sell drugs.

    Metthew Wayne Shepard (1976-1998) was not the innocent as he has been portrayed by Laramie Project or films like Shepard is a Friend of Mine. Metthew Wayne Shepard was a junky who assoc. with drug dealers in both Colorado & Wyoming, was possibly a drug dealer himself (Methew Wayne Shepard could also possibly have been a drug courier or a lookout) & when he was 15 years old, he was arrested for molesting 2 boys & he got counseling by Natrona County Juvenile Court for molesting 2 boys.

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  2. Homosexual/lesbian conduct is bad for health like tobacco & needs to be treated like tobacco use by adults. If willing & knowing adults want to use tobacco & or do gay/lesbian conduct, then that’s their life, but it must be treated as harmful like tobacco is. I think that they must make it a crime to do sex changes.

    I’m a nonreligious person who sees something wrong with homosexual & lesbian conduct & I think that they must make it a crime to do sex changes. Even if orientation doesn’t change, it’s best for gays/lesbians to be celibate just as it’s best for a person with tobacco orientation not to smoke.
    There’s nothing any1 can say which changes fact that gay/lesbian conduct is result of bad things such as childhood sex abuse & possibly bad genes though they’ve not conclusively proven it’s genes. Never have I heard straights blame childhood sex abuse for reasons a man has sex with a woman and fathers children with her. Yet sometimes have heard gays and lesbians say childhood sex abuse is reason they do same sex behaviors.

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  3. I also want to comment on something I have found talking with gay bashers. Gay bashers are not dumb people. I’ll give a case I knew from 1989. @ 1 place I worked for 7 weeks in summer 1989 (LA Times telemarketer), there was an 18 year old boy who was there for 2 weeks or so (telemarketing jobs trying to sell newspapers bores alot of people). This boy talked of how he & friends would bash gay men. I asked him how he did it He told me that what he & friends had done before was go to a park where it’s known for gays to have sex in bathrooms & public places.

    He & friends would go to a park or park bathroom & when a gay solicited them to have sex in the bathroom or the park, then they’d bash the gay. Yes, the boys committed assault & battery, along with what could be a hate crime. The gay men were committing a crime (public indecency) having sex in bathrooms & parks. Since then, I have read of cases (in Russia but think it happens here as well) where men have gone on gay websites posing as 15 year old boys. Gay men reply, thinking they’re going to pickup a teenage boy, but instead get bashed by men who pretended to be teenagers.

    Yes, that is wrong. It’s the job of cops to arrest gays who have sex in bathrooms & molest teenage boys & courts decide their punishment. But you know the gays in these cases were committing crimes. There are gay bashing cases which don’t get reported to cops such as these because the gays know that they will incriminate themselves. Gay bashers who do this know the gays don’t want to go to jail for trying to pickup teenage boys on Internet or indecency for trying to have sex in parks. The gay bashers have no right but in these cases, the victims were not innocent.

    My guess with the Calif. case, those gays likely had an unreported history of having sex with teenage boys, were hoping in those cases to have sex with 16 or 17 year old boys but instead got bashed by them. Yes by law, the teenage boys & the men committed assault & battery. But these homosexual hate crime victims are usu. not going to report that because they don’t want to self-incriminate.

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