Last weekend I was visiting my significant in Portland (a happy story for another post), and I watched her do this pretty cool trick with her dogs: she set down their food bowls then held balled hands over their noses, a signal that cues them to hold their sitting positions until she opens her hands and says, “Release,” to which they spring to their separate bowls and gobble down their meals in seconds. I was impressed. Sort of a doggie delayed gratification thing. A hungry pitbull and another “bully” mix, raw meat (and veggies) two feet away, yet neither made a move for the bowls until the beloved caretaker gave word.
Waiting for release… I’ve done it a lot in my life: through a marriage, unfulfilling jobs, and a false sexual identity. And through each it seemed I was looking for some sort of validation before I could move on. Some sign in person or number that said, “This is right. You, Jan, are right with the world.” I suspect it’s common to some degree—who doesn’t like a little human validation? But at what cost? How many moments, days, years lost waiting for the moment of release that might finally come on the heels of what juicy morsel of truth that lay hidden somewhere?
I’m a little late jumping on the Jodie Foster bandwagon, mainly because I wasn’t sure I had an opinion, and, in fact, my opinion isn’t so much about Jodie as the viral response to Jodie. I’ve read some who were disgusted that it took her so long to come out, while others were championing the leap; some frustrated that she didn’t use the word “gay,” others basking in her eloquence; a few applauding her claim to privacy, many more snarling at it. So much to say about one woman’s coming-out speech—albeit one very famous woman, and really, that’s the point, isn’t it? We want the personal and political validation that comes with celebrity.
But do we really need it?
Similarly, does it matter that in 2011 researcher William Gates estimated the gay population at roughly 1.7% of those over 18? My first thought on hearing that number was a sort of panicked, “He’s wrong!” followed quickly by an over-the-top irrational fear, James Dobson and his misguided flock of wolves could pick us off one by one. And only slightly better, How long will it be before the needs of gay men and women are ignored utterly? Before gay marriage is taken off the table as a relevant issue when it represents the concerns of only 1.7% of voters?
I think there’s some notion out there that the formula celebrity + numbers = power is an indisputable truth like 2 + 2 = 4. But is it? I was in my mid-30s when Ellen came out, and in my neighborhood in central Denver the excitement was palpable. But the more tangible and powerful agents of my own change came not in the form of celebrity or number but in the form of neighbors: Linda and Wendy next door, Steve and Steve a few more doors south. In fact, the whole neighborhood was a peppering of gay and straight. Our neighbors took care of our first son, partied with us, and, in many ways, taught us. I owe little of my coming-out (late as it was) to the stories of celebrities, much more to those who lived their lives openly and honestly, refusing to hold out for celebrity validation. They weren’t waiting on Ellen, though we love her very much. And that number… 1.7. It doesn’t come close to any true representation of political power. Because each person represented in that percentage touches another 10 to 50 in their lives—people like me who are eager and listening and learning. Maybe a few of us figure out that we, too, are gay. And the rest simply learn that it doesn’t matter… that the mix of humanity is a beautiful thing.
When my girlfriend and I walk our dogs, we talk and laugh and touch… tenderly. Not for any political reason—we just can’t help ourselves. Sometimes the neighbors see us and smile, sometimes, perhaps, they just question. But living the raw joy of our own humanity, I’d like to believe we inform the humanity of others. It is the power of release.