Monday, December 22, 2008

ernie & bert

My daughter entered this world the same year as Sesame Street. My son followed 2 years later. We grew up on that fictional inner city block, the characters our neighbors. So a few years ago, when a friend mentioned that Ernie & Bert were devised to desensitize the young to gay couples, I burst out laughing. Ernie & Bert! To me, they were the puppet Odd (not queer) Couple, a cartoon version of Felix & Oscar.

But what do I know. I have no gaydar. Nada. Well, almost nada. I catch on real fast if someone is a flaming, lisping queen. As for the rest, most of it slides right past me. I don't notice. I am gay blind. Some time ago, I asked a co-worker if he had children. He raised his eyebrows and replied: "They don't allow us to have children." (note to those who actually live in "real America": this is Florida.) I am silent. "Roberta, don't you know I'm gay?" No, I say, it never occurred to me. He walks away shaking his head.

Just recently, I pointed out to another co-worker that a young woman was particularly good looking. "Roberta, what do I care, I'm gay." I cover my mild surprise with: "Well, I'm not, and she's still a looker."

I went through this weird time at the newspaper, when women kept coming out (not necessarily "on") to me. I started to wonder if I was giving out some vibes I wasn't aware of and asked a (very hetro) colleague about it. He insisted it was less about sexual orientation than about my non-judgemental nature. OK, I'll buy that.

When I moved here, it took a little while before I realized I now live in what I've tagged "The Castro East," with t-shirts proclaiming: Two of a kind beats a straight." No exactly my kinda poker.

Why all this talk of gaydom? I saw Milk recently. And the film is everything you hear it is. Sean Penn, and perhaps the film, should take the Oscars (no pun intended). I can't quite seem to get the picture off my mind. And it isn't the personally tragic end to Milk's life. It's the time.

The poignancy of the film is almost unbearable, as it is set in the days just before AIDS decimates the Castro, and entire gay community. There is a lightheartedness to the sexuality in the film, that along with the bath houses, are gone forever. It's like watching those people in the 1920s innocently partying their way into the depression. Or even those or so assimilated Jews in Germany in the 1930s.

The present struggle for gay marriage pales in contrast to an era in which homosexuality was illegal, and coming out often meant losing everything. Harvey Milk was audacious enough to offer hope. Sound familiar?

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