Mama, whom I called a "reluctant lesbian," lived quietly in the shadows of suburbia. If she were alive today, we would have cried together over the Supreme Court's ruling making same sex marriage a constitutional right.
The 5-4 vote was a resounding and powerful example of the shifting climate on gay rights, a shift that has been increasingly reflected in pop culture. Thanks to Netflix's brilliant and explicit new series, Sense8, LGBTQ relationships are squarely in our faces. Unlike the status quo of my mother's generation however, gay, lesbian and transgender couples may never have to hide again.
My mother was shy but passionate, honest to a fault and protective of her privacy. She whispered her way out of the closet when I was 12. Like many of her generation, she did what she was "supposed to" by raising her family, remaining married and quietly suffering.
Though I'm straight (we can save an analysis of my failed marriages and plethora of boyfriends for another time) my mother's personal struggles became my raison d'être for becoming a gay rights and anti-bullying advocate and ally. Mama had always been honest with me about her feelings and identity, and I'd never been embarrassed by or judgmental of her sexual preference. There were no surprises in our life, until the day I shocked my reserved and unsuspecting mother by outing her to a prejudiced and ignorant civics teacher my senior year of high school.
My teacher had been leading our class through a mock legislative process and proposed a bill that included an ill-informed and highly misguided statement equivalent to "children of gay couples tend to become gay." It was his justification for opposing gay marriage.
When it came my time to speak, I looked him squarely in the eye and said: "you probably don't really know any children of a gay or lesbian couple, well guess what -- you're looking at one." KAPOW! Since then, if I ever heard or saw anyone who suffered discrimination or bullying for his or her personal choices and sexual orientation, I'd have something to say about it. To this day I display my Gen-X brazenness with a lot more fanfare than what my mother allowed for herself. What activism she only dared to reveal via a pen name, I share openly in my blog and any outlet that would have me.
But now, thanks to the extreme boundaries being pushed in pop culture today, I wonder how much longer I will even have to stand on my soapbox. People's sexual sensibilities have been pushed waaaayyy further than anything my blogs could do, and if Mama were alive today, she'd be blushing.
If you don't know what I mean, you haven't experienced one of today's hottest shows and watercooler topics: Sense8 -- a Netflix original series about eight individuals from around the globe who share nothing but a psychic-emotional neural pathway connection. When these people connect all boundaries, borders and inhibitions disappear. But gender, identity and relationships have become a growing trend beyond T.V. land. Athletes, politicians and actors are all declaring who they are, and even reshaping who they'd rather be.
Back in the day, before Modern Family's Mitchell and Cam, networks only hinted at homosexual lifestyles (Cagney and Lacey, Kate & Allie). It wasn't until the early '80s that episodics even began to cover the topic of gender and sexual identity, masking through humor (Archie Bunker's Place's "Archie Fixes Fred Up," Three's Company's "The Love Lesson" and Taxi's "Elaine's Strange Triangle"), what was simmering under the surface of humanity (Barney Miller's "The Child Stealers," Trapper John, M.D.'s, "The Straight and Narrow" and Hill Street Blues' "Trial by Fury"). My mother watched many of these shows, quietly and with tremendous pride, from the safety of her sofa. If she were physically here right now, she'd be shocked by some of the scenes blowing up prime-time airwaves lately.
To people like my mom, who generally disapproved of "gratuitous sex or violence" the steaminess of Sense8 could be misinterpreted as a normalized aspect of a media agenda exploiting the age-old marketing maxim: "sex sells." I disagree. If selling sex were still T.V.'s primary mandate, A&E execs wouldn't have cancelled their latest offering, Neighbors with Benefits, after airing only two of seven episodes. My gut says this goes deeper.
Sense8 is not just about with whom we have sex, or how we do it (Ok, even despite the rainbow colored . . . umm, just watch episode 2). This is about the shifting of our consciousness to a new and more expansive paradigm that affects everyone's sense and sensibilities when it comes to relationship. There is a greater human benefit to the airing of shows that openly and exhaustively present not just the IDEA of sexuality and gender identity, but parades the concepts with more color than the San Francisco Gay Pride marches I attended as a teen with my mom and her partner. As visionary Gene Roddenberry epically coined we are going where no man has gone before, only this time we're taking the lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders, questioning and intersex along too!
The explosiveness of this pop culture subject matter is less about being peeping toms into dirty little secrets (think 50 Shades), than ushering in a more global perspective in which all forms of human love, connection and acceptance are to be seen, supported and most importantly, celebrated. Consider the other awesome new Netflix original: Grace and Frankie. Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, clearly hetero actors, convincingly portray a gay couple, while co-stars Lily Tomlin (a lesbian in real life) and Jane Fonda echo the platonic BFF Kate and Allie vibe. It raises the question . . . is art imitating life, or the other way around?
The truth needed to be spoken out loud and proud and now it has. So sayeth the Supreme Court! LGBTQI issues have never been so prevalent or accepted in mainstream society. Gays are no longer exotic and exaggerated cartoonish Greenwich Village types. Today, there is hardly a public high school in most major metropolitan areas without a GSA (gay student alliance) and you can't tell which kid is "one of them."
So brava to she-ros Jazz Jennings, the newest TLC reality star and poster child for transgender youth, Caitlyn Jenner, Lana Wachowski, part of the brother and now sister, creative duo of Sense8, and Jamie Clayton, the transgender actress from its ensemble cast. Their fame, 15 minutes of otherwise, is built upon the shoulders of countless mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and children who will never shine on any screen. So please remember these people, like my mother of blessed memory, who raise their offspring with quiet dignity, step tentatively and sometimes fearfully into their truth, struggle to find their strength, and teach their children love, tolerance and the power of connection.