Sunday, 23 September 2012

I Never Met One, But...

I’m excited today to have author Dorien Grey visiting in my ‘house’. 

I love Dorien’s writing—whether it’s on his blog, his website or in his books. Mr. Grey has a wonderful gift of putting his heart into his thoughts in such a way that bring such tender yet vivid color to what seems to be ordinary life. I’m always amazed that he says exactly the complex feelings that touch most of us, things we long to say—only he says it in a way that makes one quietly just think, “Ah. Yes. That’s it.”

Here are some ways to link with this wonderful man:
And you can Facebook with him at:

Now, here is he is. Dorien Grey….

“I Never Met One, But....”
For Carol Zampa

I was thinking for some totally unknown reason of an episode of a TV show called The White Shadow, which ran from 1978 to 1981. It was about a high school basketball coach (Ken Howard) mentoring a group of all-American jocks. I watched it only when there was nothing else on that I particularly wanted to watch. But I'll never forget the episode in question, in that it got all sorts of buzz for being boldly daring. It seems that a new player on the team is suspected of being...well, you of those. (It turns out he isn't, of course, thank God, but...) The harassment of the poor kid becomes merciless until the coach bravely calls the team together for a lecture on tolerance. When the word “homosexual” or “gay”—I forget which one was used—pretty daring right there, comes up, the coach says, and I quote: “Well, I've never met one myself, but...” I switched channels and never watched the show again.

My immediate reaction to the coach's incomprehensible response was, You never met one yourself? Look around you, you idiot!
That one sentence fragment held the key to the repeal of D.O.D.T., the gradually-being-won battle over marriage equality, and the slow crumbling of intolerance over one's sexual orientation. Our society had been locked in a vicious circle: I'm sure many if not most straights honestly believed they'd never met a homosexual simply because they were unaware they did! And gays were so justifiably fearful of harassment or far worse, that they could not or would not correct this misconception. It was only when gays began coming out of the closet that the tide began to turn. The more straights were made aware that they actually did know gay people—that one of their acquaintances, or friends, or co-workers, or relatives was gay and did not fit the stereotypes society had cast them in, the less fearful, hostile, and judgmental they became.

I'd heard gays say we all hid behind those who did fit the stereotypes—they were our protective coloration: if you didn't fit the stereotype, you were okay. It was, and I'm sure even today is, not unheard of for gays to enter straight marriages for the egregious protection of “But he's married. He couldn't possibly be gay!”

I grew up at a time when homosexuality was a crime in many states, and where gays had no legal rights or protection anywhere in the country; where you could be fired, or be evicted from your apartment for being gay; where gay bars were routinely raided...the arrests providing a steady stream of income for city coffers in the form of heavy fines just for having a drink in the wrong place. I myself was the victim of entrapment in Los Angeles in 1966, when good looking policemen were routinely sent out to lure gays into approaching them, then arresting them for “lewd and lascivious conduct.” (In my case, I was approached by a very handsome young man who then arrested me when I talked to him. I had not propositioned him or said one single word that I could not have said in front of my grandmother. Yet the police report he filed on the incident sounded like the script for a porn movie. I of course protested my innocence, but who would believe the word of a faggot over a solid defender of public morals?

I have been gay since I was a child, but I was never bravely gay like those who fought the police at the Stonewall Inn, or in front of Los Angeles' Black Cat, where a patron had been beaten to death during a police raid. I have marched in gay pride parades, but I have never helped organize a protest march or physically manned the barricades and literally risked my life. 

But I don't fault myself too strongly. I have done what I could to show straights that gays are just as human and decent and worthy of respect as they, and that who one chooses to love does not matter so much as that one does love. I would like to think that John Milton was right when he said that “they also serve who merely stand and wait.”

I would also like to think that were The White Shadow to be on the air today, the coach would know far better than to say “I never met one, but....”


Kristoffer Gair said...

I remember that show, D. My father and I used to watch it. As good as the actors are, they can only recite the dialogue written for them and, considering the time, it sadly fits. But you're right, if it was on today, it would be different.

It's an odd feeling to realize we're living history right now. Could we ever have guessed gays would be able to get legally married? That protections would be offered us? That we might one day receive the same rights as everybody else?

I like being here during this time.

Elizabeth Burton said...

Considering the number of gays employed in film and TV, I have to wonder if that statement wasn't there precisely because straights at that time wouldn't get the irony. I know I wouldn't have, and yet viewing it now, in light of this essay, and knowing the caliber of writing available in Hollywood at the time, I have to wonder.

Victor j. Banis said...

Dorien - I did actively work to get things changed, but I am also well aware that not everybody could. In my case it didn't make a lot of difference, since it wasn't very hard to figure me out that way. But I agree absolutely with your point, that we (those of us in that generation) were all, whether we wanted to be or not, ambassadors for our people. We represented those "strangers" to the straight world, and I always thought every time I won the friendship of a straight person, "chalk one up for our team."

Lloyd Meeker said...

I'll bet at least one of the actors on that old show was gay. Imagine the self-loathing attached to a gay man having to deliver that line.

In all my years in the closet, I said similar things to support the illusion that I was straight. I've come a long way, baby! And so have we all. I'd say that if a straight man has never met a homosexual one, his life is horribly stunted. They need us at least as much as we need them.

NPT said...

Well said, Dorien.

joylene said...

My brother watched the show. I found the jocks a little too hard to swallow. It wasn't the only stupid depiction of gay tolerance, I'm sure. One of my BFF is gay and only came out in the 90s. It wasn't something we talked about, but everyone knew as early as grade 8. We were frightened for her and so the subject was never broached. I remember feeling fearful because I didn't know how to protect her from the unseen. The world is full of cruel stupid people. Too bad.

Dorien, thank you for all your wonderful books.

Hi Carol, you sweetie.