Click here to watch the TEDTalk that inspired this post.
10 years ago I wrote a book called Chicken, about when I was a 17-year-old prostitute/rent boy/escort/industrial sex technician. I was lucky enough to get a big splashy deal with a big splashy publisher who sent me on a big splashy tour. I was under the mistaken impression that people would ask me about my book, about what it was like sexually servicing middle-aged women for money, about the writing I worked so hard on. To my surprise, most readers, writers, bloggers and journalists wanted to know if I was gay or straight. And exactly how gay or how straight.
After careful consideration, I concluded I was 10% gay, 20% lesbian, and 70% heterosexual. But I always emphasize that those numbers are fluid. When I walk into a gay bar I immediately find myself flirting and being flirted with, feeling about 70% gay. When I go to a lesbian activist gathering (my mom was gay for about 2/3 of my life) I find myself listening and sharing and sharing and listening, feeling about 70% lesbian. When I'm playing with my chock-full of breeders softball team, I feel about 110% heterosexual.
So it was with great fascination that I watched iO Tillet Wright's TED talk: 50 Shades of Gay. Her story about the fluidity of her sexuality spoke to me in a very personal way. As I said earlier, my mom was gay. In her late thirties she transformed herself from an immigrant homemaker mother of four into a bra-burning consciousness-raising sandal-wearing Gertrude-Stein-haired lesbian. People are always asking me how my mother "turned" gay. Like she'd taken a pill, or eaten too many tofu, or read too many Simone de Beauvoir books. I can't seem to get people to understand that she fell in love with a woman. That's all it took to "turn" her gay. The woman she fell in love with was a much better listener, communicator, friend, partner, and lover than my father ever was.
I was 16 at the time my mother came out, and she seemed so much happier than when she was married to my cold, withholding, unfaithful father. So I was happy for her. She raised me to have an open mind about these things, and not judge people by the color of their skin, or who they loved, or what they worshiped. She raised me to judge them by their words and their actions. And her new partner was kind and smart and wise and compassionate in her words and actions.
As I listened to iO Tillet Wright's talk, and watched all those beautiful pictures of Americans on the LGTB spectrum: black, white, brown, tall, short, stout, skinny, shy and wild, I thought about my mom. She and her partner moved to a small rural town in Oregon, where she had a neighbor who absolutely hated them. Not because they were too loud, too messy, too nosy, or in any way bad neighbors. He loathed them with biblical fury because they loved each other. And they were women. He threatened, taunted, intimidated, bullied and made their life a living hell. My mom tried to give this bigot love, tried to reason with him, tried to show him what a great neighbor she was. All to no avail. He just kept hating and hating and hating. I was ready to go over with a baseball bat and beat the hate out of this ugly pustule. My mom, the lesbian, talked me out of it. Eventually my mom and her partner had to leave their bucolic paradise and move to lesbian-friendly Portland.
Watching iO Tillet Wright's TED talk I was struck by the statistic that a citizen of the United States can be legally discriminated against because of who they love in 29 states. That's downright un-American.
I am a man of action. So that made me start thinking about what is to be done. And made me admire how iO Tillet Wright is a tomboy of action. I just love how she took this idea of egregious gender inequality and did something about it. Just a small local action. With a camera. And I love how it spread into a grassroots movement. It gives me faith in human beings. Faith in America.
So, as a 10% gay, 20% lesbian, 70% heterosexual man, I rejoiced in seeing all the beautifully diverse LGBTish Americans, and hearing iO Tillet Wright's message about making this country a place where equality reigns everywhere for everyone. It made me think about why America was formed in the first place. Wasn't it so everybody could worship their own God? Pursue life, liberty and happiness to their heart's content, so long as they didn't hurt anybody? So why can't we make America a place where citizens are allowed to love who they want to love? Isn't that beautiful idea of what America can be?
We want to know what you think. Join the discussion by posting a comment below or tweeting #TEDWeekends. Interested in blogging for a future edition of TED Weekends? Email us at email@example.com.