Thursday, May 11, 2017

Gay Man vs. Great Man

I am pretty sure I lost the respect of a professor in graduate school when I wrote a reaction paper in which I mentioned that, in that class, I wished we could read poetry that was not about what the poets were; about being a woman; about being a man; about being African American; about being Jewish; about being native American...

In my head, I was just thinking that, while these subjects are always valid and usually interesting (and necessary) for literary exploration, there really are other quite worthy (and equally important) topics in literature. Again: it is not the topic of one's place in society based on race, gender, etc. is not worthy as a topic; it is just that there is a world of other things to write about, as well.

I thought of this today because of someone I follow on social media who daily -- multiple times per day -- posts about being gay or about the struggles of LGBT people. I really fail to find any posts from her that are about anything else. I actually don't know if I ever have. you have a dog? What else did you think about today; do you and I both like baseball; maybe you saw a funny road sign or came up with an idea for how to better organize your sock drawer? Did you read a book that got you thinking about mortality?

No callousness is intended here. I consider myself lucky by the roll of the cosmic dice, in a sense, that I am a white, male, middle class straight guy. I have not had to deal with the adversity that minorities and women and various other marginalized groups have. Their daily situation in the mosaic of society must often be foremost on their minds. I do, conceptually, if not personally, understand that it must be cathartic to express their thoughts and feelings and that it must seem the most worthy thing that they can do to fight for their respective causes...

...but, I still think that a constant adherence to these things as topics might, in the end, do more harm than good. At what point does "my love is as worthy as anyone's" and "we are misjudged" and "my Italian family is always eating" become "blah, blah, blah, blah..." in the ear of the reading world? -- whether that reading world is justified or not in its reaction?

Music is the foremost thing on my mind, most days. Often, I will talk my wife nearly into a coma with stuff she is not able to relate to. She listens, politely, and she sometimes even musters some real enthusiasm when I am prattling on about how I would be able to make my sampled string sounds more expressive if I had a long-throw MIDI fader controller...but, at some point, as important as music is to me, I have to realize that if I want to get her attention when it is really important, I need to administer my enthusiasm in small doses.

The teacher who yells all of the time gets ignored. The one who yells once a year gets undivided attention when he needs it.

I care about the suffering of individuals, but it is hard not to be desensitized by repetition. If I read Frost and Wordsworth and Eliot and Dickinson and then Langston Hughes, I am likely to be all the more moved by his "A Dream Deferred" as it stands out in relief against the other subjects.

I can see being challenged over this stance. As I said, I think a professor stopped liking me because of it. But, as I often do, I need to point out one thing: "Who the hell am I?" People can write about whatever they want, whenever they want, as often as they want. I would not dream of implying they have no  right to write whatever they feel. I can only relate the effect that repetition has on me.

I am not, despite having written a column under the name, the Emperor of the World. And, if I were, I would not decree that people are not allowed to talk every day and all day about their personal situation in life or about their most cherished causes. I just think, though, that I -- just this one cat and maybe a few others like him -- would be more moved, when they do talk about them, if it happened in a more strategically-timed manner. Saturation can be suffocating.

Sometimes, I think, less is truly more.

So, social media girl, I know you are gay and I know you support gay rights and I am right there with you. But perhaps the world wants to see you as more than a gay girl. Maybe we would like to see you as a woman. Maybe your cause would be better served if you, secure in the knowledge that everyone already knows you are gay, also showed the world you are a relatable and interesting person. It is possible to stereotype one's self. It is possible to turn one's self into a charicature.

It makes me think of an Elton John story. Everyone knows he is gay and he is admirably not shy about it, but this funny story about his 50th birthday costume is symbolic to me:

On the Parkinson Show, Parky once told [Elton] that his favourite costume was the Marie Antoinette one Elton wore in Australia. Elton had indeed donned a powdered wig and make-up to match, complete with beauty spot. But before he could get any further, Elton snapped back: "Marie Antoinette? That wasn't Marie Antoinette. It was bloody Chopin!"  They both roared with laughter, and Elton grinned ruefully: "To me, I thought I was Chopin. But everyone else in the world thinks I'm Marie Bloody Antoinette. That could be the story of my life!"

Maybe that is why Elton cut down on the costumes over the years; an echo of Emerson's old "what you do speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you say." Elton is a role model for reasons even a dumb straight guy like me can relate to; for me it comes down to his competance as a piano player and the beauty in his heart that comes through much of his music. When think of Elton, the first thought I have is not, "Gay man;" the first thought I have is, "Great man." Somehow, I think that is better.

Worthy causes are worthy causes. But even I get tired of music after awhile and want to talk about something else.

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