I overheard an offensive-to-me joke–that ole chestnut about insulting two presumably heterosexual men by insinuating they’re a couple. It’s the kind of “humor” that closet cases and straight people who are insecure about their own relationships use to feel better about themselves, blending the ick factor with a dash of gay panic. I do remember that shit seemed fresh in the locker room back in junior high, and did my best to laugh along. (My time in the junior high locker room was all about trying but failing to cover what made me ashamed.)
Instead of simply fuming about the latest telling of this joke, I got a chance to respond directly and in writing. Having some time to puzzle over the situation was helpful, as it usually is for how my brain processes information. I’m all for bringing the funny, and people have a right to say what they want. I’m even open to being the butt of a joke that’s actually funny. (Ha! I just said “butt.”) But when your tired words and ideas enter my airspace, prepare to engage. Free speech is about as multi-player as you can get.
The topic is important to plenty of people other than me in this age of openly pursued “bromances,” which are decidedly “no-homo” in contrast to civil unions or marriages, but not as “no-homo” as plain ole friendship. Gay panic seems to be cooling into gay anxiety, for some, at least. I encourage them to get help with that cultural shit. I probably wouldn’t be alive if I hadn’t.
For what it’s worth, I offer the bulk of my letter here, without identifiers, to inspire, entertain, infuriate, and/or bore my dear readers. Or pick a verb of your very own.
Two men in a long-term relationship? How scandalous! I keep forgetting it’s an issue for some people, and for whatever reason, I’m still surprised when those people are younger than retirement age.
Same-sex coupling is a concept that my parents, who were in their fifties when I came out to them 20 years ago, didn’t need much time to accept. It left them reeling for maybe a week, at most. Their concern wasn’t that my life would be an embarrassing joke, but that people who didn’t know anything about me would judge me, or even try to hurt me, simply because I wasn’t straight. I hadn’t even told them that I’d been attacked once, threatened numerous times, and called “faggot” and “sissy” more times than I could count. Back then, it was worse to receive the threats and attacks than to be known for playing the bully, so I kept all of that to myself.
Today, things are better overall, but for whatever reason, some people still find same-sex partnerships (and the people who want to be in them) funny, threatening, or both. I hear otherwise intelligent people using my identity, “gay,” to describe things they think are stupid or senseless. I hear some so-called Christians denouncing me and fighting to exclude my “kind” because their god only created us as some test against evil. I read news about young people offing themselves because they can’t take another day of this kind of hateful taunting.
And, of course, there are the politicians arguing over whether same-sex couples deserve rights. Are they “special rights” or “civil rights”? Well, they’re still deciding. Here’s my take: my partner and I have been together for 16 years. We had to have powers of attorney created so, in the event that one of us is incapacitated, the other can make legal, medical, and financial decisions for him. Without this paperwork, such power could go to relatives I barely know rather than to the person who knows me best. However, if one of us dies before the other, the survivor will have to pay inheritance tax on the house, cars, and other property we’ve purchased together.
These injustices are possible because we can’t marry, and more to the point, we can’t marry because enough people still think the idea of a same-sex relationship to be just plain laughable. Never mind that we’ve remained committed to each other for so long and participate in our communities and pay our taxes. It’s amazing how powerful an assumption can be. If enough people with the right kind of power assume something can’t be real, it isn’t.
Maybe you don’t give a crap about any of this. Maybe you think you think I’m being too PC for anyone’s good. I hope that’s not true, and that you’re willing to understand why your joke insulted a lot of people. As people become more open-minded and laws change to support equality, “ooo-they’re-gay” jokes are going to backfire more and more. Comedy will adjust, and so should the rest of us.