Like the “It Gets Better” videos and children’s book My Princess Boy, this project just naturally makes anyone who cares about equality and the human spirit feel awesome. As its founder acknowledges, it runs the risk of “furthering stereotypes” about queer people; specifically, that gay males are always “effeminate” and gay females are always “butch.” But he feels it’s worth it in order to counter the argument that gayness can be denied, suppressed or changed. If we see images of kids acting “different”—manifesting behavior outside of their “normal” gender role long before they can possibly have been influenced by some alleged gay agenda—maybe we will finally come to accept gender and sexual fluidity as part of the natural order. In my case, he’s preaching to the choir, since I not only merely accept queer people and culture, I honor and adore them. I don’t identify as gay (I’m not trying hard enough, I suppose), but I honestly feel as if my life would be sadder and less rich without gay people, places and things in it. And I don’t mean simply because I really like disco and feminism.
When you look at the pictures at Born This Way, you will see a lot of familiar gay themes: males in dresses, wigs, and makeup; females with short, shaggy hair in overalls; boys holding Barbie dolls and girls getting ready to play softball. They are accompanied by remarkably insightful, usually touching, and frequently hilarious stories of feeling different, or sad, or happy, or fabulous. Some express wonder that their parents didn’t catch on until they came out as teens or adults, while others admit that Mom and/or Dad clearly knew before they themselves did. Both the tales that could be accused of playing right into homophobes’ hands (the lesbian who recalls “trying to get the other little girls…to go behind the shed with me and play house. I was always the daddy”) and those that might stop them in their tracks (the gay man who “like[s] to build things…while lip synching to Lady Gaga”) fairly burst off the screen with the force of truth.
The subjects of the pics posted so far (the blog just launched on January 9) represent an amazing range of ages, from folks born in the 1940s to those who are still in their teens, and include people of every ethnicity, from around the U.S. and the world. The “markers” of their difference can be as subtle as a tilt of the head or a cautious smile (or lack thereof) or as obvious as jazz hands or a feather boa. There are certain specific generational commonalities, some predictable, some less so (who knew that so many lads were lusting after Grizzly Adams in the late ’70s?), but across the board, the pictures and their attached stories communicate purity and innocence; the children we see may or may not yet be aware of sexuality per se, but their individuality and their passions shine through. From the tween girl rocking her Sporty Spice Halloween costume to the little fellow doing the ironing in a tutu, the message is clear: even a child knows the difference between natural and unnatural. The former is what happens when parents, siblings, teachers and neighbors allow kids to do and be whatever gives them joy; the latter is what we get when politics, religion, and plain old meanness conspire to take that joy away.
Okay, so why should those of us not “in the life” care about any of this? Is it weird, or unseemly, or even (heaven forfend!) politically incorrect for a heterosexual woman to feel such a profound attachment to the culture of gay pride? At risk of being pigeonholed as just another sad and desperate “hag,” I declare my eternal solidarity with my queer sisters and brothers (and most of the time, they’re nice enough to accept it with an indulgent smile). This week, we celebrate the legacy of Dr. King, who famously looked forward to a time when children would “not be judged by the color of their skin.” Despite the fact that King’s daughter, also a minister, has actively worked to undermine the gay rights movement, I feel that he himself would additionally ask us not to judge people by the limpness of their wrists, or the butchness of their hairstyles, or their fondness for showtunes, or the pronoun by which they refer to their life partners. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and whenever someone tries to tell you that one kind of prejudice is “different” from another kind, well, watch out: he may have a bridge to sell you. As someone who has been “different” in all sorts of ways—some visible, some less so—since birth, I celebrate Born This Way in honor of Dr. King…and Harvey Milk…and Virginia Woolf…and Geoff.