Growing up in the 1980s, in a small town on the south coast of England, the choice of television programming was, to say the least, very limited. With only four channels we weren't exactly spoilt for choice. However, every Wednesday night at 8 p.m., my entire family would gather around the TV for the weekly television event: Dallas.
My mum would give my brothers, sister, and me each a bar of chocolate-covered toffee in the hopes that they might clamp our jaws shut and keep us quiet as we sat, sticky-handed, on our two paisley-covered sofas. My dad, who had finally found some peace and quiet after a hard day's work and the constant noise of four kids, usually would be asleep before the opening three vertical-striped cast credits finished. Compared to the grimness of British soap operas like Coronation Street or Crossroads, Dallas was a shining light of glamour, excessive wealth, and attractive men and women who lived their lives in constant sunshine. This to me was the American Dream. Their reality was so distant from our own that we would be hypnotized by every scene.
Whilst my mum shook her head with almost joyful disgust at JR's latest dastardly schemes to wrest control of Ewing Oil, to bankrupt Cliff Barnes, or to put his ever-suffering wife into the sanitarium, I would sit next to her mesmerized by my first real man crush. There are countless people in this world who believe that male homosexuality is the result of the way a mother raises her son. My mother made me suck on a hard bar of toffee and then put Bobby Ewing in my face. You connect the dots. Yes, mother, I blame you. Little did you know that while you were calculating how many cans of hairspray it would take to style your hair into the latest Sue Ellen 'do, I sat beside you with a heart that beat faster every time that dark-haired hunk of a man came onto the TV screen. Bobby Ewing was perfect. He was handsome in a kindly way, and had a body that filled out a cowboy outfit just as well as any business suit. He was sensitive but also had "a temper that would get that boy in trouble one day."
I was so young back then I didn't know or understand my attraction to him. All I knew was that I wanted to be with him -- close to him -- whether that meant mending fences with him, watching him brawl at the annual Ewing barbeque, or riding bareback with him in an open shirt across Southfork ranch. There was more to it than simply wanting to be in his company. I knew that my unnatural urges to wish the most horrid deaths upon Pam and Jenna were wrong. My crazed reaction at the screen when that crazy bitch Katherine Wentworth knocked Bobby down, killing him, was a little over the top. I stood up in my Transformers pajamas, screamed at the TV and sobbed, "I hate you! I hate you!" Maybe my dear old mum understood, since she was just as tearful, but her reactions were a little more age-appropriate. My love of American men didn't stop there. I wanted to go on wild adventures in the General Lee with Bo and Luke Duke, causing mischief and havoc all over Hazard County. I wanted to chase down criminals on motorbikes with the boys from CHiPs. I even wanted to do something with the Hulk -- though I didn't know what and I wasn't too sure why. He was green and really, really angry all the time.
As I grew into a young man and understood myself better, these American dreams of adventures changed. I wanted to find an isolated barn on Southfork where Bobby and I could have privacy. I wanted to find an abandoned off-road dirt track where Boss Hogg couldn't see the windows of the General Lee steam up. I wanted to ride on the back of John Baker's motorbike and steal a touch as I held on tight, whizzing down a California highway. The Hulk, well, I wanted to shave his eyebrows and turn off the lights. Once I hit my early 20s, those dreams died out with adulthood reality. I soon forgot about them and moved onto more obtainable British men. You know, like rugby players, builders, and cage wrestlers. But when I visited America on vacation, these fantasies rolled back to me. Unfortunately, however, my perception of these dreams came crashing down under the weight of a terrible reality.
I witnessed first-hand how Christian fundamentalists vilified gay people and condemned us all to an eternity in hell. I watched as politicians, and even the president at the time, all but damned gay men and women, justifying their denials of equality with the most ridiculous arguments. I even remember reading about an American claiming that "homosexuals are the real terrorist threat to America" after 9/11. Now don't get me wrong, I know Britain has its issues. But America was meant to be everything that Britain wasn't.
In disappointment, my attitude changed toward those American shows that hypnotized me as a kid. The Ewings became the rich, tax-dodging Texan oilmen who funded the gay bashing Republican party. The Dukes Boys were now uneducated rednecks who were likely to tie me to the back of the General Lee and drag me across Hazard County. And the CHiPs boys simply would have turned a blind eye to any hate crimes reported to them. The Hulk may have been okay, but with David Banner forever getting angry about not getting health insurance for his pre-existing condition, he wouldn't likely ever hold still long enough for me to shave his eyebrows. So for the third time my American dreams changed, but this time into nightmares. But I admit I still loved and held out some hope for Bobby Ewing being a good guy, though the idea of him 'riding bareback' now had something of a tainted and irresponsible connotation.
Then, in my late 20s, life threw me a curveball that changed my opinion of America for a fourth time. I met, fell in love with, and married an American Navy officer. He was also a Texan. Ding, ding, ding!
When I made the decision to move my life to America I admit that I was more than a little wary at first. It was the tail end of the Bush administration and I found it hard to believe that the America I knew in my early 20s would change any time in the next decade. But now, with recent events and the changes that have come at an astonishing pace, I hold hope that I am wrong. The end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," President Obama's endorsement of gay marriage, successful challenges to DOMA, and even the possible enactment of ENDA have all come quickly and changed the dreamscape.
In this time of more Americans favoring equality, I wonder if an American kid watching the new reboot of Dallas is looking at Christopher Ewing and wondering the same things I did about his father, Bobby. In an age when gay characters are so much more prevalent and accepted on television, over hundreds of channels, is it possible that they can identify and put a name to their feelings?
I watch the new Dallas and a 60-year-old Bobby Ewing. His voice still stirs me. Bobby woke Pam from her dream, and somehow, after all of these years, he has reawakened mine.
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