Gay. The word stirs up a mental picture for each one of us. Maybe it's the face of a nephew, a son, a grandson, brother, uncle, or husband. Maybe it's a co-worker, neighbor or friend that has opened up to share his story with you. If you're open minded and receptive, there is always a friendly face nearby to personalize the struggle inherent in being homosexual in today's America.
For gay men (and lesbian women) childhood is filled with horrors unimagined by straight people. The questioning, bullying, and sense of loneliness leave many young people torn and separated from mainstream society and their families. It's a sad fate that has been fed by personal ignorance and the teachings of the church.
Across the web and across America ministries promise to "cure" people of their sexuality, all the while homosexuals like Ted Haggard, and untold numbers of theologians are being called on the carpet for their hypocrisy and sex crimes against children. Still the church extols its rhetoric against homosexuals just like the KKK proclaimed its domain over black Americans not even a generation ago.
California's marriage equality decision over PROP 8 is due within hours. It's an embarrassment to America that we waste such time, money emotion on such a fundamental human right. I've often figured it was stupidity, anger, jealousy, or religious pomposity that fuels the fire of hate that has infected some of America's churches and the electorate. During California's PROP 8 campaign one propaganda pamphlet featured men in drag with the implication being that California was going to hell in a gay hand basket, with outlandish wigs and fake bosoms being the uniform of the devil. That ignorance will be stomped by anyone smart enough immerse himself in the disinfecting light of Barbara Benjamin Marcus' new self-published book featuring the men of drag entitled Inside Out.
Meeting Barbara Marcus is a refreshing ride into intelligence. She projects the strength, determination and a self-assurance for which we should strive. Barbara's past is littered with tales that she's not telling, but her eyes twinkle as she recounts her time in early television (she was a Goldwyn girl), then her fifteen years as Mrs. Robert Duvall. She is currently married thirty years to her beloved Fred. It's clear from the glow she projects that Barbara squeezes all she can out of every day.
During our recent lunch Barbara not only answered my round of questions, but she wanted to know more about me than anyone else I had ever met. Soon strangers at adjacent tables became friends because Barbara wanted to know about everyone. In her white linen blouse adorned with a remarkable coral necklace, she's a former beauty queen who is now a strikingly beautiful "woman of a certain age." She gives answers candidly and asks questions intently while filtering life through that rare quality of wisdom.
Her bold, fresh book opens with the quote from RuPaul:
"We're all born naked, everything else is just drag", then it swings into high gear as every page turns to show each man in and out of drag. Barbara took every photograph in the book, winning her subject's trust, then interviewed each man --- not just to learn about drag but to explore more about the world we all share. Forty souls are featured who fought against hate, bigotry, sexual confusion and alienation in their journey to find peace in a world that would rather they just go away or go to hell.
Calvin McNutt's story stopped me in my tracks - not because it was so sad, but it was so typical of the lifelong pain so many gay men feel simply because they are BORN differently:
" It was horrendous for me in School. I was absolutely tortured by the kids. When you're nine or ten years old, you don't know you're gay. The other boys don't know you're gay, but they know you're different. One day I went to gym class and out my gym outfit on. While I was in gym, the boys took my street clothes and urinated on them. At the end of gym, they held me down and put my clothes back on me. I had to walk to the office in clothes covered in urine to get my mom to come and get me. It was horrible, just horrible. The principal wanted to know what I had done to provoke it."
The insight and sensitivity of Dini Lamont who drags under the name of Musty Chiffon, pointed out one of the ills of our society that cares for the children but forgets the adults:
"You look at a brand new baby, you hold it, it's beautiful and precious. Then that baby grows up, it gets hairy, it gets fat, it gets ugly, that precious person is still there. I think that's what really screws us up, when we lose sight of the preciousness of the soul of a person."
Most of Barbara's subjects (now her friends) are from a religious upbringing, and every one of these tenacious men tell about how they are philanthropic in their own lives. Two Mormons, Scott Furhiman and Kelly Summers, don their alter egos by becoming Bonita Bitch and Beulah Bitch. In a narrative that's a profound and funny read. They proudly announce that together with their dog, Son-of-a-bitch they raised over $50,000 for a local AIDS charity at a single event.
For even the most religious reader, this coffee table book brings the dark, drag subculture out of the closet. The final narrative leaves us left not with a sense of how different these men are from the rest of America, but how similar each one of us is despite our own unique drag.
You can learn more about the book here.