Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Tell, Don’t Ask

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt
Many moons ago, I was the token feminist columnist for what was essentially a libertarian newspaper, and the boys were pretty accommodating. They let me serve on their editorial board, write their editorials, even edit their editorial page — sans title, of course, because I was, after all, a damn liberal. And a damn willful girl. Their fessing up to the job I was doing — despite its being only until they could find another nice boy who’d work for bad coffee and book review copies (Smoking, Drinking & Screwing was one of my favorite acquisitions) — wouldn’t have been good for the paper’s conservative image or for all the publisher’s boy-centric golf outings and cocktail hours in local sports team owners’ boxes.

Regardless, I had a hell of a good time: Some readers loved me, some hated me, some wanted me dead. Most interesting, though, of all the reactions I received was the rumor that wended its way to the newsroom one sizzling summer day as I was bemoaning a divorce — that I had left a "perfectly good little husband" to become a lesbian.

Not the stuff of front page news, but this tidbit did explain a lot at the time: the men who scurried away from my provocative path; the puffy-sleeved, calico-covered Bible-toting women who shrinkingly avoided eye contact, apparently for fear of exposure to the abject horror of pure female sexuality.

Nonetheless, I considered that homosexuality might become me, and I wrote about the rumor in a column, rolling this new persona around my mind's tongue and relishing the unique flavors it might lend my life.

No longer would my social flirtations be perceived as platonic banter with the strong women who intrigued me. Instead, they would be known as the front they were for my lust for female flesh. I could graduate from the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays contingent to join the Dykes on Bikes at the next Gay Pride Parade.

I wrote of the supposed need to pin a warning to my chest when visiting my daughter’s elementary school — Mind Your Children — because hearsay dictated my primary purpose in life would be to convert them all to the homosexual lifestyle, my own daughter, the first protégé on my list.

Of course those readers who had previously informed me of the vigils they held, praying to their loving God to forgive me the error of my liberal ways and redirect me to a heavenly path, would instead shun me for the abomination I surely had become in the eyes of that very same God. (Amazing how a little shift in orientation can affect the Almighty. Kind of fickle for a deity though, eh?)

Despite my pending condemnation to Hell’s fires for the sexually perverse, this new role did bear with it some unexpected pleasures, not the least of which was the power to cast fear in the hearts of entrenched conservative homophobes. I anticipated the delicious moment when I would lean in just a little too close to tell my tight-sphinctered Assemblymember that I thought I might like to put my lips on women’s lips, if you know what I mean. Thank you for that image, Sweet Baby Jeeeesus!

All told, I was pleased with the possibilities this intended slur brought me, although I refused to declare affiliation with any orientation. Still, I embraced the suggestion proudly and lovingly — along with all the guys and gals it included as targets of its assault. Because, as my mother taught me, it’s better to be looked over than overlooked — no matter if it’s with loathing. But even more interesting than the rumor itself was that the topic of my sexual orientation didn’t end there, oh no.

It's human nature, I suppose. People hear what they want to hear, read what they want to read, and when the writer offers ambiguity — for the sake of a lesson, in hope of enlightenment emerging from confusion — many a reader is adamant in his or her certainty that a thing is, in fact, so or not so.

And, so, it turns out there were those who read my column and celebrated my coming out as though that made me more of a sister to them. There were those who demanded clarification of my ambiguity, praying for affirmation of the worst so they could put stamps on their appropriately outraged letters to the editor. And there were those who jumped right in and reviled me for revealing such a despicable, profane intimacy in a “family” newspaper, from which, by the way, I should be promptly fired — for being openly gay.

It was quite an array of interpretations, yet I was adamant that one's sexual orientation didn’t matter, at least until foreplay reared its head. But lo those many moons ago, the message that reverberated back to me was that it still did: They asked, I refused to tell, and they were pissed. They wanted to know, straights and gays alike. It was a good lesson, for me at least.

Today, the reaction would likely be different; actually, I suspect the rumor would never get started. And that’s progress, albeit inadequate progress, because still we allow sexual orientation to define and divide us, and I wonder when we will live in a world in which parents of gays and lesbians do not have to group together for support or offer that support to young people whose own parents have rejected them. I wonder when we will live in a world where mothers and fathers are regarded for their ability to nurture, no matter their sexuality. A world where homosexuals approach the altar just as straight couples, still gnashing their teeth over seating charts and with legal marriage licenses in figurative hand. A world where politicians accept and salute the gays in our military — serving with honor, distinction and dedication — and acknowledge they have the right to do so honestly.

As for me, though, I'm still not telling — and I won’t until we’ve learned to stop asking. I’m willful like that.

©2010 Kit-Bacon Gressitt


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