Thursday, January 18, 2007

Using their powers for good

I "worked" from home yesterday. In effect, that meant completing my Wednesday post earlier in the day and checking out a lot of websites. I also managed to catch Ellen, though I think it was the episode from Tuesday. Which means I had a chance to catch her interview with T.R. Knight, who plays George O'Malley on Grey's Anatomy. In which he addressed the brouhaha from last Fall, which was reignited Monday night at the Golden Globes.

A summary (in case you don't want to click around or don't remember and to present my experience of the news):

1. I hear that there's been a scuffle between Isaiah Washington and Patrick Dempsey on the set of Grey's Anatomy. I don't think much about it, other than maybe, "How unprofessional!"

2. T.R. Knight comes out, citing "a few questions about my sexuality." "What questions? Where are these coming from?" I think. "How is this connected to Washington and Dempsey fighting?"

3. It eventually becomes known that Washington called Knight a f@ggot. Dempsey takes exception and the fight ensues.

4. Apologies follow. Issue seems done, though something like that never completely goes away.

5. At the Golden Globes, after the show has won the award for best drama, Washington grabs the mic at a Q&A session to deny he ever called Knight a f@ggot. Despite the fact that everyone on set heard it.

6. Knight appears on Ellen. He spends the first part talking about the award and generally chatting. But after commercial, Ellen asks about the incident. Knight talks about that, about the decision to come out. And he thanks Ellen for her own courageousness in coming out almost 10 years ago (in April). [Slight digression: 10 years?!? I feel so old. I remember when it all happened and how Trillian and I caught every bit of media we could on it.]

As angry as I am at Washington for what he said and his seeming inability to take responsibility for it, as bad as I feel for secretly cheering on Dempsey (I am so against the use of violence), what I took away from the interview was a reminder of the positive power of celebrity.

See, it says something that I remember when Ellen came out, I remember seeking out the magazine with her on the cover, watching Oprah, taping the episode. And I have had an easy time of being gay, relatively speaking. But it meant so much to have my life, in some small way, affirmed. From what Ellen has said, it has meant even more to others; she has talked about the letters she received from people who felt so alone and hopeless before they found something they could connect with in her experience.

And I'm very impressed with Knight, with his decision to come out on his own terms and treat it matter-of-factly, but also as not the most interesting thing about him. Perhaps he too will inspire others who are struggling.

To a certain extent, this is what I tried to do as a teacher. My students, and the students at large, knew that I'm gay. I not only didn't try to hide that information, I consciously made sure that I volunteered the information--easier to do when there is a female partner to reference. I treated it as a basic fact about myself, much as I would discuss my educational background or what I had watched on TV the night before.

I'd like to think I made a difference for at least a few students and it's something I hope to be able to do again. But when I look at those celebrities who have been honest about being gay/lesbian/bi and who then go on with their lives in a straight-forward manner, I think about how many more people they can reach and the difference, the huge difference, it can make.

So this is my long-winded way of saying "Thank you" to Ellen and T.R. and the other celebrities who are willing to live proudly in front of the entire world. Thank you for reminding me of how important it is to be true to yourself. Thank you for reminding me of the difference I can make when I do the same.

1 comment:

Lisa b said...

Wow I am so behind in my reading here.
That was a beautiful sentiment and wonderfully written. Especially as someone who works with teenagers I really appreciate how important it is for them to know that they are not alone. So whether it is you coming out or a celebrity I think it is equally important.