No, I’m not thinking about myself becoming gay.
I’m thinking about what it is like to be gay after seeing Brokeback Mountain, after emailing back and forth with a relative who is.
I never met anyone who (as far as I knew) was gay until I went to college. I didn’t have much to do with gay girls at that point because I could never tell whether they were hitting on me or just wanted to be friends. I liked straight boys too much to understand where those odd girls were coming from. But the gay guys (well, back then the guys didn’t openly admit it)! But we all sort of knew. They were usually the best dancers and the most fun on dates. As far as I’m concerned, the same is pretty much true to this day.
In my professional life, I worked alongside of all kinds of gay people: male, female, somewhere in between, closeted, out, flaming, and subdued. As with all of the people I met, some I liked, some I didn’t, and some became friends of mine. One of my first cousins died of AIDS. Another cousin is still alive and kickin’ in his 80s.
And so I’m posting here a eloquent letter sent to Jay Leno by Jeff Whitty, a playwright who wrote the hit Broadway musical “Avenue Q.” The letter was featured on CNN, but in case you missed it, here it is:
April 20th, 2006
Dear Mr. Leno,
My name is Jeff Whitty. I live in New York City. I’m a playwright and the author of “Avenue Q”, which is a musical currently running on Broadway.
I’ve been watching your show a bit, and I’d like to make an observation:
When you think of gay people, it’s funny. They’re funny folks. They wear leather. They like Judy Garland. They like disco music. They’re sort of like Stepin Fetchit as channeled by Richard Simmons.
Gay people, to you, are great material.
Mr. Leno, let me share with you my view of gay people:
When I think of gay people, I think of the gay news anchor who took a tire iron to the head several times when he was vacationing in St. Maarten’s. I think of my friend who was visiting Hamburger Mary’s, a gay restaurant in Las Vegas , when a bigot threw a smoke bomb filled with toxic chemicals into the restaurant, leaving the staff and gay clientele coughing, puking, and running in terror. I think of visiting my gay friends at their house in the country, sitting outside for dinner, and hearing, within hundreds of feet of where we sat, taunting voices yelling “Faggots.” I think of hugging my boyfriend goodbye for the day on 8th Avenue in Manhattan , and being mocked and taunted by passing high school students.
When I think of gay people, I think of suicide. I think of a countless list of people who took their own lives because the world was so toxically hostile to them. Because of the deathly climate of the closet, we will never be able to count them. You think gay people are great material. I think of a silent holocaust that continues to this day. I think of a silent holocaust that is perpetuated by people like you, who seek to minimize us and make fun of us and who I suspect really, fundamentally wish we would just go away.
When I think of gay people, I think of a brave group that has made tremendous contributions to society, in arts, letters, science, philosophy, and politics. I think of some of the most hilarious people I know I think of a group that has served as a cultural guardian for an ungrateful and ignorant America.
I think of a group of people who have undergone a brave act of inventing themselves. Every single out-of-the-closet gay person has had to say, “I am not part of mainstream society.” Mr. Leno, that takes bigger balls than stepping out in front of TV-watching America every night. I daresay I suspect it takes bigger balls to come out of the closet than any thing you have ever done in your life.
I know you know gay people, Mr. Leno. Are they just jokes to you, to be snickered at behind their backs? Despite the angry tenor of my letter, I suspect you’re a better man than that. I don’t bother writing letters to the “God Hates Fags” people, or Donald Wildmon, or the Pope. But I think you can do better. I know it’s “The Tonight Show,” not a White House press conference, but you reach a lot of people.
I caught your show when you had a tired mockery of ” Brokeback Mountain,” involving something about a horse done up in what you consider a “gay” way. Man, that’s dated. I turned the television off and felt pretty fucking depressed. And now I understand your gay-baiting jokes have continued.
Mr. Leno, I have a sense of humor. It’s my livelihood. And being gay has many hilarious aspects to it — none of which, I suspect, you understand. I’m tired of people like you. When I think of gay people, I think of centuries of suffering. I think of really, really good people who’ve been gravely mistreated for a long time now.
You’ve got to cut it out, Jay.
New York, NY