Yesterday HuffPost Gay Voices published a piece entitled "The 27 Gayest Christmas Songs." The slideshow, which featured songs and videos that we deemed "gay" by virtue of "[being sung by] LGBT artists or allies, having a queer subtext (real or imagined) or [just being] too campy to resist," had only been up for a few minutes when we started receiving complaints.
One of the emails that landed in my inbox read:
I'm am very concerned about the editorial policy that HuffPost has that allows this kind of article to be published. The "gayest" Christmas songs ever? You're nearly using "gay" as an epithet here. Further, this article, by using the word "gay" to mean "camp" etc is pigeonholing the entire gay community. I find this extremely (!) offensive.
Some argued that the piece was ill-conceived because we would never allow a list of "the straightest Christmas songs," and they were furious that we were endorsing "dangerous stereotypes" about the LGBT community. Others were mad that we would spend time on a piece like this when there are "bigger battles to fight."
As the editor of what is not only the number-one LGBT site on the Internet but, as far as I know, the only queer site to exist within the framework of a mainstream news outlet of HuffPost's size, I'm used to people being angry with me. The queer community is incredibly diverse, and we all have different opinions about what is important, what is offensive, what we should be concentrating on, what we should be avoiding, how we should present ourselves and what we should or shouldn't be saying. For the most part my skin has grown incredibly thick, and either I'm able to gratefully process and use constructive criticism to constantly make Gay Voices a better, more vibrant and inclusive page, or I shrug off negative comments about how I'm running the site and concentrate on speaking to and about as many people in the queer community as possible.
But emails and comments like the ones above really get to me, because I believe they misunderstand -- or forget -- what it means to be queer and why it's such a brilliant thing. In the right hands (and mouths) "gay" isn't an epithet, and dubbing something "the gayest" is a celebratory distinction, for me at least. I see it as a way of looking at the straight world -- a world that we have not been welcome in or have forcibly been removed or erased from -- and saying, "This is ours." It's a rebellious emblem of our splendid discrepancies, our magnificent divergences, and it involves reorganizing and reimagining parts of the dominant culture (like Christmas songs) so that we can not only see ourselves in them but so that we can also see ourselves as apart from them and can thereby understand the pleasures and possibilities inherent in our differences.
I didn't always feel this way. For much of my life, the word "gay" terrified me. I will never forget the spring day in seventh grade when my best friend Krissy and I were blowing up marshmallows in her grandma's microwave after school. As she prepared to plop a scalding blob of sugar into her mouth, she blurted out, "Matt said you're gay. You're not, right?" I assured her I wasn't (unconvincingly, I'm sure -- I was a big ol' queen from the moment I slid out of my mother's womb) before making some excuse about why I had to leave, and then I ran home dizzy and queasy with a panic I have rarely felt since that day.
I spent the next six years of my life doing whatever I could to avoid the word and the horrors it held. I prayed that God would make me straight. I wanted nothing more than to be just like everyone else. I finally made it to college, came out and learned about all the warriors who came before me -- those who threw the first shoes at Stonewall; the brave, berserk men and women of ACT UP; visionaries like Larry Kramer and Kate Bornstein and Harvey Milk -- who were fighting for their places in the world and doing it without apologizing or pathologizing who they were or what they wanted. I realized that being queer was not something to be ashamed of but something to cherish.
As Sir Ian McKellan recently told The Huffington Post, "Part of being gay is that we were different." And, for me, part of being queer is that we use our startling wit, our disarming candor and wicked humor to stake our claim in the world, to say, "We're here, we're queer and we're not going anywhere." Is that a stereotypical view of the community? Perhaps. Are there queer people who have no interest in camp? Of course. But being able to write pieces like "The 27 Gayest Christmas Songs" is my way of lovingly critiquing culture and pushing my way to the table.
As much as I want to see queer people given all of the same rights and attention as straight people, I do not want to be straight or live a heteronormative life. I've never understood those who say, "My sexuality is a tiny small part of who I am. It doesn't matter." My sexuality -- and the tragedies and triumphs that it has brought, not to mention the specific vision of the world it has given me -- is everything that I am. Even when that bright holy day comes when we can marry whomever we choose (if we choose), when we can't lose our jobs simply for who we are or how we live our lives, when we are no longer intimidated or attacked or murdered because we love or simply want to have sex with someone who looks or sounds like we do (or nothing like we do), I do not want queer culture to disappear.
And just to set the record straight: There is no need for a list of "the straightest Christmas songs," because almost every Christmas song is already straight. We'd just be listing them all. That's the same response I give when some loudmouth asks why there's no "Straight Voices" vertical on The Huffington Post: Every vertical on The Huffington Post (and on every other mainstream website on the Internet) is filled with straight voices. We need a place of our own where we can exist, share, wonder, argue and support each other.
We have huge battles to fight -- and we're fighting them. Amazing, exciting things are happening every day, and Gay Voices will always cover our community's important stories. But we cannot survive on advocacy and anger alone. Sometimes we need a little fun and something as frivolous and lighthearted as "The 27 Gayest Christmas Songs." Because our senses of humor have made us fabulous -- and helped us survive. Because we aren't the same as everyone else (and we shouldn't want to be). Because we shouldn't be policing ourselves into silence for fear of angering the majority for not "behaving" ourselves. If we're only accepted on their terms and not for who we truly are, whatever that may be, that isn't much of a win, is it?
So, my dear queer brothers and sisters, lighten up! Fight the good fight, but don't forget that celebrating our differences and our ability to laugh at the world -- and ourselves -- is what has helped to keep us alive and will see us victorious in the future. Happy holidays! May they be merry and, yes, gay!