I was listening to a TED Talk on my way to work a while ago and wanted to share a segment that had an impact on me. I don’t know if it will impact you in the same ways, and I hope there’s some meaning in it for you. The presenter, Caroline Casey, talked about challenges in her life and her commitment to make a difference for people who are like her. The clip below should start at 12:11 (if it doesn’t, just fast forward to that part).
“All of the other 1 billion people affected by disability, but it’s not just about disability. We’re just people. We don’t have a Bono (e.g., DATA, EDUN, ONE Campaign, Product Red) or a Nelson Mandela… We need them. It needs to be talked about… Think about the James Bond movies. All the criminals have a disability.”
This part of the talk resonated with me because when marriage is part of the political spotlight, there’s a huge bump in talk of all things gay. Some of it is positive, microaggressive, passive aggressive, and most of it is just plain ol’ aggressive.
The top three aggressive comments usually go something like this:
- The gay lifestyle leads to AIDS/HIV and other horrible diseases. (Then insert something about STIs being God’s punishment on gay and lesbian people.)
- Gay and lesbian people have 100s of sexual partners each year. Promiscuity, bla bla bla.
- If we let people get gay married, people will also start having sex with their pets and want to marry them.
It can seem silly to be affected by uneducated comments like these. The heart of the issue sheds more light on why these comments can be so problematic when we know the people making the comments are jerks by trade. And the heart of the issue relates to Caroline’s comment:
We don’t have a Bono. We don’t have a Nelson Mandela.
I don’t want to trivialize the work of activists around the globe who do wonderful things. Groups that come to mind are PFLAG and The Treveor Project, to name just two. What I want to comment on is who are our Bonos and Nelson Mandelas when it comes to same-sex relationships? Who are our mentors? our examples? Not to say we can’t pull strength from the examples of our parents, friends, and co-workers because we do.
There just isn’t anyone out there like us — that we know of. As Caroline pointed out about people with disabilities in the media, they’re usually the villains. And we’re usually the villains. Gay people are most often the villains and examples of what not to become, examples of bad relationships.
Salon named a few back in 2012. From the shows I watch there’s Cam and Mitch of Modern Family. They’re not necessarily villains, but they fight a lot and rarely kiss. One BuzzFeeder crunched some surprising numbers:
There’s Nolan of Revenge. His relationships are portrayed as short-lived, obsessive, and a means to some ulterior motive in the plot twist that is Revenge. And there’s David and Bryan of The New Normal… We ate that show up and not because there was great acting, plots, or story line but because the gay couple represented a strong, committed couple. They’re difficult to identify with because hey, it’s Hollywood and the guys are rich, but they’re portrayed as fairly decent people.
And now there’s the question of what happened to The New Normal? It wasn’t popular enough. And if you don’t remember, it was so controversial KSL wouldn’t broadcast it in Utah. Later, KSL decided to air it after hours and/or on the weekend (when trashy shows air). And this gets to the other part of the equation: they’re aren’t as many narratives out there for gay people (in part because society isn’t welcoming).
What do you think? Have you noticed similar tends in the media? Do you disagree? Share your thoughts.