So 31 years ago this month I spoke to a guy I didn’t know on an actual landline. No, it wasn’t like that. He was a friend of a friend who was new to town and he had the soft, sexy voice of a young Robby Benson.
For those who don’t know – Robby Benson was a big film and TV star in the seventies with great hair, impressive acting chops and endless boyish charm. Extremely smart and fun loving with a talent for playing often troubled though never irredeemable characters.
Anyway, I agreed to take Robby’s voice to a party because It/He didn’t know many people in town and when he came to my door I was taken aback. He not only looked a little like Robby, by way of Italian heritage, but was smart, fun-loving and far LESS TROUBLED than any of the people he played.
This was Robby as you wanted him to be. Or so I thought. And it turns out I was right. That night turned into that morning and more than three decades later here we are, his voice still intact and my crush now my husband.
It is important to remember Robby my husband and I met in 1987 in the height of the AIDS crisis. The idea of finding a person with whom you could survive with 31 years later seemed…well, no one was thinking that far ahead. About a week or two was all you could manage, and even that was pushing it.
We were ending the horrible Reagan years where gay people were branded nationally as diseased sinners whom the public at large needed to be protected from. It wouldn’t get too much better in the four years of George H.W. Bush, though one of my favorite political moments of that time was when a former boyfriend gave a speech at the Democratic National Convention nominating Bill Clinton that chastised Bush, Sr. for willfully ignoring so many of the sick (nee gay) members of his (Note: Bush, Sr.’s that is) American family.
That boyfriend is long dead but his words linger in my mind. I think of him and so many others often, though not in tragic terms. I wonder – what would they make of Ellen coming out nationally? Will and Grace and the return of Will and Grace 15 years later? Could they have imagined RuPaul would not only have a high-rated show but win an Emmy and spawn a nationwide trend towards EVERYONE workin’ it 24/7 by simply being your true self?
This is to say nothing about gay marriage in the age of Grindr, gay parenting, #ItsGetsBetter, gays in the military and, well, pretty much gay everything, anything and in any way possible if you so choose.
That does not mean there are now zero consequences from family members, neighbors and the world at large for one’s choices. But pretty much every choice we make has consequences.
The fact that there is even this much of a level playing field felt like a quaint pipe dream in 1987. Kind of like your parents saying you were not even a twinkle in your mother’s eye five years before you were born. (Note: Okay, maybe my family were the only ones who spoke this way but nevertheless the star metaphor feels apt).
It is in this context that I tuned in NBC’s The Voice this past week and saw a gay male couple in their 30s – one African American, the other lily White but both super hot – talk about meeting, singing together, falling in love and forming their own singing group.
They then discussed their parents and siblings, families who were finally face to face for the first time at this about-to-be televised audition. Amidst all this we were also told they had an upbringing steeped in the church, information that would have been the whole point of their appearance even a decade or two before. Assuming, that is, they would have even been let on TV as their true selves, which they wouldn’t have been.
Never mind that I thought their musical act was kind of corny, albeit sweet – sort of Up With People trying to mix with vintage Temptations music. What was being broadcast here was in PRIME-TIME NETWORK TELEVISION. More than their music, their story had reduced their four heterosexual vocal coaches/International music stars to sighs of admiration and tears.
It was also pre-determined by a corporately held network, owned by a conglomerate, that this would similarly tug at the heart strings of America’s heartland. Why else make them the lead off act in the 8:00pm family friendly time block?
Heck, I wondered, what does my sometimes still stuck in the eighties self make of that? What would any of my friends, particularly the musical ones and specifically those who were long gone, make of it?
Answer – most of us around these days don’t think of it much at all. Those not around couldn’t think of it as real. At least that’s what I and my husband concluded.
None of this is a reason to pat ourselves on our collective backs and break out in cheers as a nativist movement sweeps the country and the world, imperiling minorities everywhere and even thumbing its nose at some MAJORITIES, nee WOMEN.
It is only to say, sometimes one has to look at where they came from as well as from where they started in order to gain perspective and energy about where they are now and in what way they are to proceed.
This year there are dozens and dozens and dozens of LGBTQ-themed films already or about to be released. Click here for a list
Sure, we are still a niche audience but so is pretty much EVERY audience these days. In 2018, it’s all about niche music, niche TV, niche radio, niche….don’t get me started. So much to catch up on, so, so little time.
But ultimately it’s more about subject matter and the lens within that niche. In the seventies and eighties it was acceptable for straight male characters to make “fag” jokes without retribution. The notable major LGBTQ crossover releases in 1987 were Maurice and Prick up Your Ears – two period pieces about a time when gay meant sick and in the shadows, and lesbian love or BTQ existence were barely an onscreen flicker.
It would be five years before Neil Jordan pulled off an international gender hat trick in The Crying Game. This was 23 years before TLC aired its first episode of a reality show focusing on a transgender teenager, I Am Jazz.
We’ve learned that the point is the lens from which something is viewed. We are offered the travails of a white suburban gay kid coming out in films like Alex Strangelove and Love, Simon (Note: L-O-V-E) and the oppressiveness but ultimately unapologetic victories young gay protagonists can have when their parents try to convert them to straight in movies such as The Miseducation of Cameron Post and the upcoming Boy Erased, all of them 2018 releases.
This doesn’t erase the tragic last days of Oscar Wilde in Rupert Everett’s The Happy Prince, now out at theatres. As its star, writer and director, Mr. Everett effectively reminds us that this literary giant served TWO YEARS hard labor for engaging in gay sex (aka sodomy) with the man he loved at the turn of the century and was damaged beyond repair, not to mention shunned by society, in the few years he had left after he got out.
Yet in 2018, it’s an openly gay artist telling the story about an iconic gay artist from the past to a world that in the great majority, at least in the U.S., are on HIS side. If that weren’t the case, you can bet Sony Pictures would have NEVER picked up the film for distribution.
Nor would a gay Black man co-write the screenplay to his own autobiographical story, Moonlight, and then watch his story become 2016’s surprise best picture Oscar winner.
So as we all deal with the Trump America of it all, the international Nativism that could be our ultimate destructions, not to mention the latest U.N. report on climate change and the tragedy of global warming that threatens the extinction of the human species, it’s nice to remember history, progress, regression, revolution, resistance and more progress is our legacy.
History can turn on a dime, either way, and many of us have lived through periods where all fights seemed in vain and the best we hoped for was simply getting through.
What we didn’t know was that the future could be brighter than we imagined, BLINDING so DAZZLINGLY as to be rendered un-seeable, with only inevitable dollops of dark.
And that dream Robby Benson can appear at your doorstep just when you thought there was never a chance.
If this last thought seems too LGBTQ Hallmark, check out what one member of our new generation just unabashedly posted on his YouTube Channel. Colin O’Leary you are 2018 Robby – reincarnated.