Wednesday, July 29, 2009
At Bloggers' Conference, A Revealing Moment
"If we're going to be damned, let's be damned for what we really are."--Patrick Stewart, as Capt. Jean Luc Picard, Encounter at Farpoint (Star Trek: The Next Generation, 1987)
Last night, I attended a meeting given by a New York City mayoral candidate's campaign for local bloggers. The purpose of the meeting was to introduce us to the candidate, and to encourage us to blog about him, so that he would gain greater presence on the Internet. LGBT blogger and radio host DJ Baker brought me up to the meeting, and we sat down to hear what the candidate's image makers had to say. After a brief introduction, the hosts went around the room, asking each attendee to say a little about themselves and their blogs. When my turn came, I said, without fear or faltering, "My name is Nathan James. I'm a novelist, activist, and blogger. I write a blog for and about the LGBT community, and the issues of interest to us."
No sooner had I uttered the words, "for and about the LGBT community", than one of the two young hosts at the head of the table did an epic face freeze. It was as if his face was about to crack open as I said those words. In that priceless, devastating moment, the thin veneer of tolerance was lifted from him, and the revulsion he harbored towards the concept of gayness was revealed. For me, it was an instant reality check , reminding me that even among those who profess acceptance of all (even if only to get their votes), there is still a radioactivity attached to the words "gay and lesbian" that cannot be hidden, covered up, or ignored.
It was at that moment that the campaign lost me. Up until then, I'd actually believed this candidate was gay-friendly, at the very least, open to the needs of our community. Perhaps I was foolish to mention that my blog was LGBT-oriented, in a room full of (ostensibly) straight men and women. But, as Patrick Stewart's quotation at the beginning of this post makes clear, I wanted to state myself without shame. Boy, was I mistaken in thinking there were adults in the room. As the host's face fell, so did the expressions of several other people in the room.
Retired FBI Agent Joe Navarro has written a book about body and facial language, the premise of which is that our faces and our bodies often broadcast much more than our words do. To say that I saw Navarro's principles in action last night would be an understatement. It was at once revealing and upsetting for what it reminded me about the average person's feelings about gays and lesbians, at the close of the 21st century's first decade. I admit, I do rant about the continuing bigotry our community finds in society, but yesterday's experience was something else.
In what I consider a true "teachable moment", I learned that even among educated, professional political operators, there are times when the mask slips off. True, it's back on again in a moment, but once that facade is cracked, there is no undoing it. What I found especially galling, is that several people in the room also reacted the same way our host did, at the mention of the letters "LGBT". Now, I understand that people aren't perfect, and some of my fellow bloggers may even be excused their brief lapse into their true colors--they weren't up there representing the campaign, after all--but the host gets no such free passes from me.
When political operatives host conferences such as these, especially when addressing those who report via the Internet to thousands, even millions of people, they know their words and expressions are being scrutinized. When you get a glimpse of what such a person's true image of you is, and it isn't pretty, then it reveals something about the candidate and his campaign, as well. If the senior staff of an important political organization reveal themselves as revulsed by the community you're there to represent, that lets one know what the tone of the campaign is. That's why they lost me last night, but I do value the sobering reality check they gave me. The journey towards equality and acceptance is far from over. Our work is not nearly done.