by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
February 27, 2003
PLEASE, JUST GET USED TO IT
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- In December, a New York Post gossip columnist ran a "blind item" (no names) about a retired baseball legend who cooperated with his biographer when the writer promised not to reveal his homosexuality.
The player turned out to be Hall-of-Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax, 67, who immediately threw a fit. He severed his rich and rewarding five-decadeconnection with the Los Angeles Dodgers because the team is owned by Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Post. The Post, which never apologizes, recently retracted the item - possibly because Murdoch is trying to sell the Dodgers and needs Koufax back.
Ordinarily this story would be of little interest outside the sporting world, but this week, in a rare burst of pop-cultural synergy involving Koufax, a television show, a car commercial and two extraordinary videos, I realized that our culture is still insidiously corrupt about homosexuality.
Monday night's "Boston Public" (on Murdoch's Fox Network - the guy is everywhere) had a story about a kid on the high school swimming team who is harassed and beaten because he is gay.
It also had a Mercedes-Benz commercial about a junior football league. In it, three little boys in football uniforms are harassed by larger boys from an opposing team who sneer and call them "girls." Then a SUV pulls up and the rest of the boy's team gets out, as large and swaggering as the opposition. We are supposed to be happy for the harassed little boys, I guess, but every time I see the ad, all I want to do is swipe both teams upside the head and teach them a lesson about gender equality and manners.
For "Boston Public," the solution was to start a gay and lesbian club joined by both straight and gay kids because they understand the importance of "being allowed to be who you are."
That goes in the right direction, of course, but it is nothing compared to a film I saw the same night, an award-winning documentary called "Georgie Girl," directed by Annie Goldson and Peter Wells in 2001.
The documentary tells the story of Georgina Beyer, a tall, stout, middle-aged MP who represents a conservative farming district in New Zealand. We see her judging at a country fair, attending the birthday party of a woman who has turned 100, and talking to her constituents. We also hear her constituents praising her honesty, decency, accessibility and good work.
The interesting thing about Beyer, however, is not that she's a good politician, but that she started life as a rural Maori boy. She went on to become a cabaret singer and a prostitute. Take note, Mercedes-Benz, here is at least one boy who thinks it is quite wonderful to be a girl.
In 1999, Beyer became the first openly transgendered woman - in the world - to hold national office.
In a marvelous scene, Beyer addresses parliament about a prostitution reform bill. She begins by saying, "I will take the liberty of assuming that I would be the only member in this house with first-hand knowledge of the sex industry, having been a sex worker myself." Nobody bats an eyelash.
Beyer's very normality, her acceptance by her peers, her honesty and her wry sense of humor are extremely heartening. She's here and not only has everyone gotten used to it, but they admire and respect her for who she is.
If only Koufax and his sporting world had half of the guts and integrity of Beyer and her peers. As Carol Slezak wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times, "I wonder whether gay people get hurt when someone writes a blind item implying they're straight. The point is that gay rumors will continue to be a touchy subject for as long as people continue to take offense to them."
And as the Mercedes commercial shows, the "offense" is being passed down from generation to generation, no matter how many hate crimes and hate speech laws we pass against it.
The very next afternoon, I watched what may be the best film I've ever seen. It's called "Ruthie And Connie: Every Room In The House," by Deborah Dickson. In it, two funny, forthright, politically active, working-class New York Jewish grandmothers talk about their life together as lesbians. One reviewer said the film was what would happen if "The Golden Girls" ever came out of the closet.
The two women were already best friends when, 27 years ago, they realized that they loved each other. Bravely, they suffered the rejection of their families and their own thoughts of suicide to forge a marvelous life together in their Brooklyn neighborhood, in their Palm Beach condo, in the Jewish religious community, and in the gay community. In fact, in a landmark 1994 court decision, they, along with two other couples, won marriage benefits for all same-sex partners from the Board of Education.
"What I love about Ruth and Connie is that you meet them and you realize they're just like your own aunts," Dickson said. "And then it's, 'Oh, yeah, and they're lesbians.'"
Homosexuality is normal. It exists in every culture in the world and has done so throughout all of recorded history. Machismo is homophobia, whether it's found in the Bible or on television.
Films like "Georgie Girl" and "Connie and Ruthie" break the stereotypes; they show us there is nothing to be afraid of here and much to admire. Please take note, Sandy Koufax, Mercedes-Benz, and America.< Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.