In the fight for LGBT equality, often it seems as if others don’t understand just how normal our lives truly are. The right-wing has been so effective in demonizing our community as something exotic, sexually-driven, and threatening, that the sheer normalcy of our existence has in large part been forgotten. By painting us solely as predatory beings, they have stripped us of our humanity. In truth, while we have sexual desires, we also work, play, sleep, eat, and breathe. Not much to call exciting, and certainly nothing that separates us from the rest. Those of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender are simply searching for our place in the world, like those around us.
In high school, I had the supreme pleasure of bastardizing the role of George Gibbs in Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Our Town. Since 1938, this piece has been performed on stages across the nation, likely in inferior productions such as mine, but–still–the play resonates. While drama teachers probably select it for its low budget appeal, the reason Our Town continues to succeed is that it speaks to elements each and every audience member desires, denounces, or values: family, love, human interaction, and the beauty and fragility of life.
What many may not know is that playwright Thornton Wilder was actually gay. Some may find it ironic that a gay man crafted something that speaks so centrally to millions of Americans, regardless of age, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, but it is not altogether surprising. We all share basic, primal needs, as Wilder illustrates so skillfully in the play.
Wilder, a multifaceted individual with a host of interests and desires, was not defined by his sexuality alone. Like many Americans, he served his country in the armed forces. Like others, he was a devoted teacher. Like many of us, Wilder was bullied for being different. And, yes, he was also a sexual being, as his relationship with Samuel Steward indicates. (Steward would later go on to write homo-erotica under the name Phil Andros).
The LGBT community, however, has largely been defined not from within, based on our varied attributes, but at the hands of others, often for political gain. Prior to Stonewall, we were considered predators. After Stonewall, we were labeled hedonists. During the turbulent battle to gain access to HIV drugs, we were stereotyped as angry activists. In our efforts to reclaim the word “queer” from our tormentors, we were labeled “extreme/other.” The advent of AIDS further reinforced the notion that we were somehow “diseased”, and our reluctance to explore how fully HIV impacted our community, allowing AIDS to remain a specter even now, only compounds the idea that who we are and what we do are somehow illicit. We have been made the boogeyman, time and again, and the toll that has taken on our collective psyche may never be known. (more…)