Monday, January 28, 2013

On Gays As Public Figures

"I don’t understand why everyone’s making such a big deal out of the fact that Kathleen Wynne is a lesbian. I’m sick of hearing about it. Can’t we talk about something else?”

~ Every Single Heterosexual I Know

I’d like to show you some photographs.

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This is Kathleen Wynne, the new Premier of Ontario. As Premier, Ms. Wynne is now the most senior openly-LGBT elected official in the world. (Yes, Iceland has a lesbian Prime Minister. Iceland also has a population of ~320,000. Ontario has 13.5m residents. Advantage: Wynne.)

Before being elected Premier, she was one of the most successful Ministers of Education in the history of the province, and also had productive stints in a variety of other positions. Ms. Wynne is an accomplished administrator and politician, and has been widely credited as an outstanding consensus-builder.

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This is Jane Rounthwaite, Ms. Wynne’s partner of 23 years. Rounthwaite runs a consultancy firm, but was previously vice-president of a major insurance company, and has served on the boards of a variety of public and private-sector organizations, including schools, corporations, hospitals and charitable foundations.

In her spare time, she’s a Chair of her local PTA and heavily involved in charitable causes.

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This is Kathleen Wynne and Jane Rounthwaite together, just a few moments before Kathleen was elected Premier. (If it didn’t embiggen itself, click the photo to zoom in. You absolutely must view this one full-sized.)

They look like a happily-married couple. Because that is (for all intents and purposes) exactly what they are.

They look like a couple of grandmothers, of the type you’d run into at the gym or the grocery store. Because that is exactly what they are.

They look like the sort of people you’d be happy to live next to and have over for dinner once a week. Because that is exactly what they are.

In fact, when you boil it all down, they look shockingly normal. Because that is exactly what they are.

I cannot over-emphasize the degree of social change which was necessary to make Wynne and Routhwaite look this normal. This photograph (and the caption below it, and the article surrounding it, and the mindset of the reader who registers this state of affairs as merely normal) is the culmination of decades (decades!) of hardscrabble activist work—activist work in which Wynne and Rounthwaite often had a significant role.

And the fact that this is now normal? (So normal, in fact, that helpful straights have to swing by and sneer at it? “God, you said the word ‘lesbian’! How tacky!”)

That’s something worth understanding in context. That’s something worth celebrating.

Just as importantly, this photograph represents an immense opportunity.

The reason that gay marriage is now a completely settled issue in most of Canada is because of pictures like this, and this, and this.

Because that’s what gay marriage looks like in this country: not like a pride parade, or an orgy, or a white van parked outside an elementary school. It looks like boring, middle-aged people who love each other very, very much.

Only the most hardened homophobe can look at an image like these and conclude that letting these couples get married somehow weakens or undermines marriage. Instead, these are exactly the sorts of people who should be allowed to marry, and the fact that these photos have been the public face of the institution is extremely important.

Coverage of Kathleen Wynne which talks about her lesbianism in a normal way is a manifestation this exact same phenomenon: this is what a lesbian premier looks like. This is how normal she is. This is how unimportant her lesbianism is to her politics, to her personality, perhaps even to her interaction with her partner.

(Yes, yes, her relationship to Jane is heavily coloured by their lesbianism—but don’t we all hug the same way? And don’t we all feel the same sense of pride when our spouse accomplishes something truly tremendous? Can’t we all relate to that gleam of joy and happiness in Jane’s eyes? Are lesbians all that different from heterosexuals in these regards?)

If you’re already on-board with lesbians being normal, great: this is not for you. But there are millions of people—especially in the United States—who aren’t. This is a message worth sending into the world, worth driving home, and—yes—worth repeating until the word “lesbian” begins to lose all meaning.

If you find it all rather tiresome and tedious, fine. Nobody’s asking you to take part. But this coverage is a good thing because it helps to normalize queer people, and that’s been a major, long-term project of LGBT people everywhere for most of the last half-century.

This might be boring to you straights. But for us queers, this is payoff. This is what we’ve been working towards. This is the culmination of a major, decades-long fight. And, if you’d be so kind, we’d like to enjoy a few moments basking in this without your pissing all over it.

Notes

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    :’)
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