Like many other LGBT people, I grew up thinking that I was all alone in the world. I knew of no other gay folks, either in or out of the closet, and this absence of role models likely contributed to my then sense of solitude. It didn’t help that within my own dysfunctional family, I had secrets to keep about who I was, which created a wall between me and them. In those pre-internet days, I would scour every book and newspaper in hopes of finding the slightest reference that someone else might be gay like me.
At Christmas time, I have fond memories of watching The King Family TV holiday specials in the 1960s and 70s, where a large family of varied talents would gather together in a faux-living room to sing and spread holiday cheer. There was something so nurturing about the bonds the family seemed to share, which gave me not only comfort, but an idea of what family could actually be. Still, while I wanted to be a part of that family–to be loved and valued as one of its own–I didn’t see myself reflected in the faces staring back. Would it have made a difference to have known that one of the King Family was actually gay?
King Family member Cam Clarke was then only a child himself, but would go on to be a sought after voice-over artist and out gay man later in life. Indeed, as we celebrate the holiday season, it is difficult to separate the season from the LGBT individuals who helped contribute to it through their creations of song and craft.
You can’t get through the holidays without catching a refrain from one of renowned vocalist Johnny Mathis‘ countless Christmas classics, yet how many will know that Mathis is an out gay man? Think of the dazzling (if over-priced) ornaments created by famed designer Christopher Radko, also a gay man. Indeed, in towns all across America, audiences will flock to see ballet performances of The Nutcracker, unaware that its composer, Tchaikovsky, was gay. Writers as distinctive as Truman Capote and David Sedaris have shared Christmas memories through their books. Victorian poet Christina Georgina Rossetti’s “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “Love Came Down at Christmas” were both turned into popular Christmas carols, but most people do not know that her brother later burned the love poems that she’d written to women. Even as we shop through the malls, buying gifts for one another as Wham!’s “Last Christmas” plays in the background, most are likely not aware that the founders of Stonewall Kitchen, makers of tasty gourmet food items, are gay, or that Tim Cook, president of the ever-popular Apple company, creators of iTunes, iPads, and iPhones, is also gay.
Yet how much more powerful would it be if LGBT people proudly claimed our history, calling it out, and coming out ourselves in the process? We each have certain gifts to contribute to the world, both large and small, but key to giving is to give authentically, as out and proud LGBT men and women.
The most famous painting in the world, the Mona Lisa, was painted by a gay man, Leonardo da Vinci. The Sistine Chapel ceiling was conceived and crafted by another, Michelangelo. One of history’s most successful commanders, Alexander the Great, was gay. Gertrude Stein, of “a rose is a rose is a rose” fame, was lesbian, as are tennis greats Billie Jean King and Martina Navratilova. One of the most popular plays in America, the quintessential Our Town, was written by a gay man, Thornton Wilder, and one has to wonder how being gay shaped his views on small town life.
In my new fiction collection, Gifts Not Yet Given, the characters (particularly those who are LGBT) are each facing a moment in which their choices and actions will define them, for better or for worse. It is that way for each of us; the way in which we choose to operate in the world makes a difference. Do you have a moment to spare to help someone in need? Do you have stories which might assist others lead better lives? Are you living your life in truth and sharing your gifts with others? What do you have to contribute to society?
Regardless of what your gift is, the more important aspect is that you be honest in sharing it. Tell people who you are, as LGBT individuals, and show them that your contributions to the world matter. Without us, there would be no “Send in the Clowns,” “Come to My Window,” or Glee.
This New Years, revelers will celebrate the passing of one year and the dawn of another, and as they do, they may be listening to a popular song being sung by one of the top music superstars of his day. And while many may infer that he is gay, as the singer has yet to come out publicly, his is one gift that we can’t yet count.
Tell your story. Live authentically. And make the Yuletide gay…
Kergan Edwards-Stout’s new collection of holiday-themed short stories, Gifts Not Yet Given, was recently named a “Perfect book to give everyone this holiday season” by the nationally syndicated column, The Bookworm Sez. It is available now in paperback and e-book at Indie Bound (Independent Book Stores), Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or at your favorite book sellers.
If you follow my posts or have read my novel, you already know that I’m a Christmas fanatic. In our house, we typically put up three trees, have a gigantic nutcracker collection, and at one point had a holiday CD collection totaling over 200, which is kind of crazy, considering that you really only hear the same 26 songs over and over. While I’ve thinned out the collection dramatically, each season I still hunt for new and interesting additions.
The problem, thought, is that while everyone and their brother cranks out holiday CDs, rarely are they done right. Typically the arrangements are too pop or generic, or the artist tries too hard to create something different that it entirely misses the mark. To capture the warmth of the season, you must create the proper mood and tone, which is trickier than it sounds.
Being a fan of Patsy Cline, I was floored when I first heard Mandy Barnett sing. Barnett effortlessly captures the essence of Cline, and it’s no wonder: she played Cline onstage in a tribute play, worked with Cline’s own producers, and uses many musicians from “the good old days” in crafting her music today. I’d been a fan for some time, but just stumbled onto her 2010 holiday CD, Winter Wonderland, which is really wonderful.
She manages to capture the sounds of the classic tunes of yesterday (think folks like Perry Como, Johnny Mathis, Patti Page), but in a way which doesn’t feel dated. She sings flawlessly, bringing a timeless quality to all of the tunes you know and love. No surprises here, but that, in the end, is a good thing. Happy holidays!