Friday, February 29, 2008

Gramley vs. Wilson, Round 147

(News-Herald, February 28) Can’t we all just stay out of each other’s pants?

I’m talking about the unending flap over the recent appearance of Namoli Brennet in Oil City (and yes, I realize that I’m now contributing to its unendingness—but there are certain things I have a professional obligation to make fun of).

As might have been expected, Diane Gramley and the AFA sent a mass mailing out to protest—well, according to the letter, to protest the false advertising.

I’m not exactly sure what the “false advertising in promoting the event” was. Namoli Brennet was advertised as a Tucson-based folk singer. Gramley did not contest Brennet’s residence, nor complain that Brennet, instead of performing folkie music, launched into an evening of heavy metal polkas.

No, the problem seems to be that Brennet was not clearly identified by gender and sexual preference.

Brennet is what’s sometimes called “transgender,” born a man and self-identifying as a woman. Even I, a middle-aged white heterosexual male, know that “transgender” and “homosexual” are two different kettles of fish (other than it raises the confusing question—if a biological guy crosses the road to identify as a woman, but still likes women, is that a newly-minted lesbian chick or an unusually-dressed heterosexual dude?).

Well, Gramley apparently wants all this identified up front. I shudder to think what this means for future performers in the area, who will apparently be required to publicly declare their sexual preferences. This revolutionary approach certainly could have shaken up the entertainment industry had it been implemented sooner. Imagine the advertising for Liberace or Jerry Lee Lewis. And I don’t even want to begin to think about what kind of inspection will be needed to certify a performer’s gender before taking the stage.

Of course, across the aisle through this brou-ha-ha has been Joe Wilson, who has decided in recent years to make it his personal crusade to straighten out (you should pardon the expression) all us poor backward hicks in Venango County. His promos for the concert breathlessly announce the concert that “will blow the closet door off its hinges.”

So apparently both sides of the issue agree that mere exposure to someone who’s not traditionally heterosexual will cause everyone in the room to be affected by gay cooties.

Call me crazy, but if I’m going to see a performer, all I really care about is how well they perform. A singer, dancer, brain surgeon, tree surgeon—all I need to know is how well the person does the job. The only reason I can imagine caring about the sexuality of performers is if I think a part of concert-going is to imagine having sex with the performer afterwards—and if that’s the case, I’m far scarier than anything happening on stage.

I’m old-fashioned enough to believe that none of this stuff is any of my business, and personally, I tend to resent anyone who insists that I make it my business. I always thought that “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was a good start for a policy; I would just add one more and that’s “don’t pretend.”

I’ll admit my bias—I tend to think that asking someone not to be gay takes us back to the days when left-handed students were coerced into trying to switch hands. Didn’t do anybody any good; did many people a bunch of harm. At the same time, announcing “Hey, I’m gay” strikes me about as useful as announcing, “Hey, I’m blond.” Thanks for sharing, but what do you want me to do about it? I’m going to love you as much (or as little) as I ever did.

So I don’t plan to ask, and I don’t feel the need to have you tell me. However, I also don’t feel the need to ask you to pretend. Nobody should have to go through life pretending that a big chunk of who they are doesn’t exist.

Ironically, this is something I think homosexuals and evangelicals have in common—both often find themselves surrounded by people who wish they would just pretend not to be That Way. I have no interest in going back to the days when Cole Porter felt the need to fake marriage, nor do I think the world would be a better place if conservative Christians had to meet secretly in basements. If you live your life as the person you are, that will tell me everything I need to know about you.

It’s an imperfect balance, hard both to strike and maintain. I’d prefer to lock the Diane Gramley’s and Joe Wilson’s together in a room somewhere and let the singers, dancers, and plumbers do their jobs. And maybe the rest of us could just spend a little more time minding our own business.

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