I'm currently producing a movie, Predisposed, that stars Jesse Eisenberg, Melissa Leo and Tracy Morgan. I'm on the set with Tracy every day. I can't speak to Tracy's beliefs, or the outrageous things that comics sometimes say in order to shock people, but I know that Tracy treats everyone on our diverse crew with remarkable respect. Our crew contains a higher than average number of minority members, including several proud, out gay people, and Tracy interacts with everyone in the same gracious, generous, loving way.
I'm struggling to understand the disparity between Tracy's behavior on our set and the things he said on stage. I certainly can't dismiss nor diminish the pain his statements have caused. And I can't speak for him nor try to guess what he truly thinks about anything.
But it seems to me that Tracy -- who makes his living in the world of outrageous stand up comedy - has channeled the anti-gay anger in our culture and is holding it up for us to examine. The things he said are merely more outrageous versions of homophobic beliefs that all of us live with -- and silently accept -- every day.
It was reported that Tracy said gay people are a "mistake," they can't really love each other and that their "love" is a disguise for the fact that they actually "hate" the opposite sex. He wasn't making a speech on public policy. He was doing a comedy act that's built upon saying outrageous things about all kinds of people.
Barack Obama does not support gay marriage but "prefers" civil unions for gay couples. This is the same position held by Hillary Clinton when she was running for President. Both have said that marriage is meant for a man and a woman. Neither President Obama nor Secretary Clinton makes a living doing stand-up. They create and shape public policy that directly influences and impacts the way we live.
What underlying beliefs might President Obama and Secretary Clinton hold that inspire their public positions on gay marriage? Do they believe that being gay is somehow less right or natural than being straight? Is being gay some sort of mistake? Do they think that gay people are not capable of truly loving a person of the same sex or, at least, not as truly and deeply as people of the opposite sex love each other?
Would they deny these statements? I imagine they would. But how else can they -- or anyone, really -- oppose gay marriage? To hold to the belief that gay people are not entitled to the same marriage rights as straight people is to say -- in a much subtler form, of course -- some of the things Tracy said in his act. How else can anyone defend his or her opposition to gay marriage? Either we're just like you and just as capable as loving someone of the same sex -- as you are capable of loving someone of the opposite sex -- or we're not. To Barack, Hillary, Tracy, and the 47 percent of Americans who do not support gay marriage, I say: either I'm the same as you or I'm not. And if I'm not, what am I? A "mistake?"
I campaigned for Barack and wept with pride at his inauguration. I deeply admire Hillary and was greeted graciously by her at the White House. I support them, despite their stated opposition to gay marriage, because I don't believe they mean it. I think Barack and Hillary took a public stand against gay marriage because they wanted to win a public office. They're playing a political game, the same game Bill Clinton played when he created Don't Ask, Don't Tell and supported the Defense of Marriage Act. He needed to win back Southern voters in 1996 and he supported homophobic laws to do it. A lot of gay people, and gay supporting liberals, voted for Bill in 1996 (I didn't). And a lot of gay people, and gay supporting liberals, voted for Hillary and Barack in 2008. But the beliefs that motivate opposition to gay marriage are not so different from the things Tracy said last week. We wink at the former and condemn the latter when, really, we need to be done with all of it. Perhaps there's not much difference between politicians and stand-up comics, after all.
Yesterday, on the set of our movie, I sat in a minivan with Tracy Morgan, who wept as he told me about his violent childhood. I cannot understand the brutality of dire poverty or the soul-killing experience of growing up black in racist America. And Tracy cannot understand the pain of a gay child raised in homophobic America, under the constant barrage of taunts, threats of violence, and the ever-present fear of being exposed and rejected. His pain is not mine and mine is not his. Neither of us reached adulthood unscathed by the shared prejudices of our culture. We've arrived at manhood slightly distorted, wounded and limited by our battles. We have been hurt. We make mistakes. But our mistakes are made in a cultural context. Yesterday, while the world Tweeted away, issuing accusations and condemnations, a black, straight comic and a white, gay writer sat in a minivan, crying and trying to understand.
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