Hello to all the readers here at Truth Wins Out.
My name is Bruce Garrett. Michael has graciously invited me to do some blogging in your company, and maybe a little cartooning too while I’m at it. So let me start settling in here by giving you a wee idea of where I’m coming from…
I grew up in the Washington D.C. suburbs and came out to myself in 1971, a couple years before the AMA removed homosexuality from its official list of mental disorders. I was a teenager then, having my first schoolboy crush, and though I was brought up in a fairly strict Baptist household, when it finally dawned on me why I couldn’t get this guy out of my head I had a knee-jerk reaction that there was nothing wrong with me. How could anything that felt so wonderful (I was crushing pretty severely) mean I was mentally ill?
Well…okay…they do say love is a kind of madness. But it saved me from the kind of self-loathing so many others in my generation experienced. In a 1969 Jr. High sex ed class…which was taught by the gym teachers…I was told that homosexuals were mentally ill, sexually deranged and typically mutilated and killed the people they had sex with. That was all I knew about homosexuals when I came out to myself as one in 1971.
Love saved me from actually believing it.
Back in those days I was a little teenage art/techno geek who was either hanging out in the art room or with the A/V crew. I was cartoonist and photographer for the student newspaper and yearbook. When I came out to myself mid way though my senior year I quickly began to devour everything I could get my hands on about homosexuality. Problem was, back then there was very little for me to read on mainstream bookshelves, other then horrible stereotypes of gays as sexual psychopaths or pathetic mincing lisping limp-wristed sissies. Everything I could get my hands on in 1971 about homosexuals and homosexuality had been written by heterosexuals. There wasn’t much that was positive, nothing other then the novels of Mary Renault that I could read that spoke to my heart.
Finding and connecting with the larger gay community outside my door was a struggle. The only gay gathering place I knew of was a seedy looking bar…not the best place in the world for a teenager. I stayed away. For years the only place near to where I lived in the suburbs where I could get copies of The Advocate and The Washington Blade was a little adult bookstore tucked in dilapidated strip shopping center. There I had to walk a gauntlet of heterosexual pornography to get to where they had the gay newspapers and magazines. Don’t even try to tell me that gay people are sexually extreme in a way heterosexuals aren’t.
In the mid-80s if you were a techno geek like me, when you said ‘PC’ chances were you meant Personal Computer not Politically Correct. With the PC revolution sprouted hundreds of little amateur computer bulletin boards and networks. I saw the technology as a way for gay folk to reach out to one another, regardless of where we lived or how closeted we were. I got my first computer, a Commodore C64, and a modem, and eventually found my way to the first online communities where gay folk could relax and chat about this and that with each other. Exciting times.
Now I could feed my hunger for news and information about the gay community beyond my door. I did volunteer work on GLIB, the Gay and Lesbian Information Bureau, particularly in maintaining the community news section. I jumped into the online message boards to discuss anything and everything I’d ever wanted to with other gay folk. News. Politics. Where to meet guys! But it was more, much more then all of that. In those first online communities we no longer had to see ourselves through heterosexual eyes anymore. Those first BBS networks, and then later the Internet, gave us the means to talk to one another directly, regardless of now near or far to the urban centers, how in or out of the closet.
And what we saw weren’t monsters or pathetic weaklings or deranged sexual psychopaths, but simply other human beings like ourselves. Neighbors. Some plain, some fabulous, some…well…a bit geeky like me. And never again could we be reliably taught to hate ourselves. Maybe somewhere, in some forsaken corner of the nation gym teachers still teach kids that homosexuals usually mutilate and kill the people they have sex with, but if they try that most places now the gay kids in their classroom won’t stand for it…and neither will their families and their friends.
When that weight of fear and shame is lifted off your shoulders, what follows? Relief. Serenity. Joy perhaps…if coming out means finding the arms of someone to love, and be loved by. But often it’s anger too. Anger that what should have been one of life’s most perfect joys, discovering love and desire, finding someone to love, and being loved by them, was turned into a nightmare, into someone’s stepping stones to heaven. Your heart had to bleed, so they could be righteous. When you see the bottomless cruelty of it, it isn’t hard to become enraged.
Here I think, love saves us all. Anger does not generally turn into hate among gay folk, but into activism. Rage sometimes…yes. Righteous glorious outrage. There is nothing wrong with that. We have every right to be outraged at what hate does to us. But always with that promise land in sight, where the those first stirrings of love and desire within us do not have to die mangled, so that others can feel righteous about themselves. We keep our sights set on that day when we are all free to love without fear or shame and hate will never consume us as it has, sometimes, other oppressed people.
Back in the day, Jon Larimore, the sysop of GLIB, always kept the conversation on his BBS civil and courteous. Phobes were kept off and GLIB was a safe space for people to kick back, open up, talk about what was on their minds and feel understood. It was good, and it was necessary. But in 1993, when I got my first Internet account, I gravitated to Usenet and alt.politics.homosexuality, which was an unmoderated forum where bigots and gay people could argue to their heart’s content.
I saw it as an opportunity to confront the common everyday face of bigotry. The bar stool bigot babbling about how he doesn’t have anything against the homos so long as they don’t flaunt it. The bible thumper who insists they love the sinner but hate the sin. In 1977 Anita Bryant roused the voters in Dade County Florida to vote 4 to 1 against an anti discrimination law with the battle cry of “Save Our Children”. I was aghast. All I could think of the next morning as I walked to work was every four of five people I walked past hated me enough to deny me the right to even hold down a job. In 1979 I marched in Washington along with thousands of other gay folk from all over the country. And again in 1987. And again in 1993. But it was that year, on the Internet, that I felt had a chance, finally, to directly confront the prejudice I saw suffocating our lives. What I discovered was that Moritz Goldstein was right about more then antisemitism when he said…
We can easily reduce our detractors to absurdity and show them their hostility is groundless. But what does this prove? That their hatred is real. When every slander has been rebutted, every misconception cleared up, every false opinion about us overcome, intolerance itself will remain finally irrefutable.
As the saying goes, you can’t reason someone out of something they didn’t reason themselves into. But that doesn’t mean it’s pointless to argue with prejudice. For one thing it tells bigots we are not afraid of them. You can never tell that often enough to a bigot. But it is also true I am convinced, that engaging prejudice directly, without hate but without apology either, does eventually erode it.
Because bigotry is after all a kind of cheating. You don’t raise yourself up so much as hold the other person down and then call that the measure of your worth. And nothing gets angrier then a cheat caught in the act. So they wrap themselves in the trappings of religion, morality, tradition, not so much to fool other people, but to be able to keep fooling themselves. But underneath the skin are the common tools of the cheat: lies, propaganda, fear mongering. The more decent people see a prejudice for what it is, for what it turns a person into, the more they are repulsed by it. And also, the more they will come to know this: that it was gay people in our struggle for equality, who stood for decency and morality and all the virtues necessary for human civilization to endure and prosper, while our enemies sought to trash it all, so they wouldn’t have to look at what they’d allowed prejudice to do to them.
So. Hopefully now you know where I’m coming from. I feel very honored that Michael has let me have a space here to blog in front of everyone. I promise not to be quite so long winded…too very often anyway…and to speak my mind honestly and civilly, and not tell you something is true when I know darn well it isn’t. Thank you for having me here.
Oh… I’m 56, single, and live in Baltimore where I earn my living as a software engineer. I never lost my interest in cartooning and photography and examples of both pastimes regularly show up on my personal web site. I’m a big fan of the old school style of political cartooning, and my heroes of the form are Herblock, Bill Mauldin, David Low, Paul Conrad, Jeff Danziger, and Oliphant. I recently started doing political cartoons for Baltimore OUTLoud. As time goes on, I’ll probably post a few here too. Michael says I can.