This is a long one, but some issues can’t be easily compressed. And even if they can, should complex issues always be compressed for simplicity? This video is closed-captioned.
Hello, Earthlings! You are watching Adam the Alien, and today we are going to talk about Kate Brown, Oregon’s new governor, and why it is important that she’s the first bisexual governor in the nation.
So Valentine’s Day has come and gone, and while I came up to Tacoma to spend the month and the holiday with my partner, my heart is in my home state of Oregon.
There were a lot of things in Oregon that I was sad to miss, coming up here.
February `14th, Valentine’s Day, was also the birthday of Oregon as a state. It was the day it was granted statehood.
Not only Oregon’s birthday, it also happened to be the birthday of a wonderful work trader and friend who’s been out working on Cedar Rock Farm since…the summer, pretty much.
And some new work traders were celebrating their one-year wedding anniversary the day after.
Perhaps most important to me and relevant to my own life, it is the day many years ago that my parents were granted legal guardianship of the little girl I already knew as my little sister.
But this year around Valentine’s Day, we had a bit of, uh, interesting news down in Oregon.
Governor John Kitzhaber just resigned amid a lot of unfortunate scandal.
And in his place, next in line to take the governorship: Kate Brown.
A lot of the news has been focused around the fact that this makes Kate Brown the first openly bisexual governor in the country.
And a lot of the response to that news has been, “Why does that matter?”
In fact, when I posted the news to my Facebook, an old friend of mine asked that very question.
So what I’m going to do is read you the response that I gave.
Please excuse me for looking off-camera and actually reading you, word for word, what I said.
Quick warning: in what follows, there are a few instances of hate speech used as examples. So if that bothers you, you’re warned.
It’s a big deal because representation, seeing people like oneself in a position of power or in the media, makes people feel better, more accepted. It makes people who aren’t straight, white, and male think, “Hey, I can do anything I want even though I’m not the sort of person I usually see up there, even though I’ve been told over and over that I’m not ‘normal’ and can’t have nice things.”
In this case, in the case of bisexuality? It’s a huge deal. People love to tear down bisexuals as not being “real” in some fashion. Straight people AND gay people have a tendency to tell bisexual people that they’re not really bi, they just haven’t “picked a side” or some other such nonsense. Having an openly bi politician helps, just a bit, to counteract that constant, daily, barrage of insulting “you don’t really exist” language that makes bisexual people feel less than normal, less than accepted, less than human. It’s a breath of fresh air in a society that keeps saying, even on the liberal side, “Go away, you complicate things, just be like everyone else and ignore who you really are so the rest of us can live easily while you struggle with depression, loneliness, and never feeling like you belong anywhere.”
Okay, this next bit responds directly to my friend, who spoke of the new marriage laws and, uh, tolerance lessons and such as being a reason that this isn’t necessary anymore.
You speak of the new marriage equality laws, but they haven’t reached all the states yet. In those states that have it, it’s still very new. And unfortunately, things don’t work as quickly as that. The effects of things that have been going on for some time tend to last for some time. The South has yet to economically recover from the Civil War, and that was some time ago. Across the world, many cultures are still coping to deal with the effects of events centuries past. More recently, the repercussions of WWI and WWII are still being felt on a cultural level, especially in Europe and the Middle East. Here in the US, we still have problems with racism that’s bound within our culture, leading to things like young black girls believing that they’re ugly because they’re not white. We still have glass ceilings, pay disparity, and people thinking that there are a great many jobs that women just aren’t capable of.
LGBTQ acceptance still has a long way to go. LGBTQ people are the butts of many jokes, still regularly mocked, beaten and murdered for being who they are, still have an alarmingly high suicide rate. People still think it’s acceptable to use words like gay, faggot, tranny, queer, dyke, lesbo, heshe, fairy, and so many more as insults. It hurts. It hurts more than other insults. These aren’t just insults that don’t have any real bearing, they’re insults that hit a person’s core. They’re insults that say, “What you are, WHO you are, is inherently wrong. You are a mistake. You are not natural. You are a malfunction. You are a disease. You are cancer. You are horrible. You deserve to die. You SHOULD die. Nobody wants you. Nobody likes you. Everyone would be better if you weren’t around. You don’t belong here. You’ll never amount to anything. You make me sick.”
It’s easy to ignore color, sex, sexual preference and such in actors and politicians and the like if you fit what you see a lot. It’s easy to think, “Well, I’M not racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or any of that,” and think that the problem’s solved. As a white guy, for instance, it’s easy for me to look around and feel accepted on that level, and not notice, for much of my life, that people who don’t look like me don’t have that experience.
If seeing people of a certain color, sex, gender, sexuality, or what have you in a certain position weren’t so rare, it wouldn’t be news. But it’s telling that Oregon’s soon-to-be governor is not only the FIRST openly bisexual governor in the country, but also only the second openly LGBTQ governor, and only the second female governor in Oregon.
Feeling represented in media and politics can do wonders. As a nerdy kid, it was easier to shrug off the “nerd” insults, because I look around me and see a lot of nerdy people in positions of power. That I was short and generally smaller than others didn’t impact me as much as it could have, because I looked around and I saw successful short people all over the place. As someone with white skin and a male body, even though I had and have some issues with gender roles and gender identity, it never even occurred to me that I could ever be restricted from something I wanted on that basis. And so it never occurred to me that others didn’t have as many public figures to look to to reinforce their identity, to give them hope that yes, they too could do anything they wanted.
But there were ways in which I was not represented. At the time, the debate over sexuality was very black and white: you were straight, or you were gay. I didn’t even know bisexuality was a thing. So I kept thinking, “I am straight, because I am definitely attracted to women.” I tried to shake off attraction to men. It confused and alarmed me, because at the time, nobody even mentioned that there were more than two categories for sexuality…and because, though I was always in support of homosexuality, I didn’t want to be seen in the light that other saw gay people in. While I wanted to be different, and I wanted to be weird, I wanted to be those things only in ways that I chose, in ways that I could consciously rebel. For the things I couldn’t control? I was afraid. I was terrified. I suppressed a great deal, often subconsciously, because I wanted to be some semblance of what was deemed to be normal. I wanted to be an ally to the alienated…but I did not want to BE the alienated.
So all those childish insults were devastating to me, because they hit home. Gay, girly, faggot, Adam Womanley, Sweetie, homo, pussy, and the rest…they hit the target spot-on, and I set my development as a person back many years in denying them, rejecting them, even rejecting within myself the parts that were a least a little bit true. I’m only now, in recent years and still today, coming to terms with aspects of gender and sexuality that I spent a long time pretending weren’t a part of me.
When someone you can identify with has a prominent position in society, culture, politics, even entertainment…it feels good. It feels wonderful. Because it provides hope. In this case, it provides hope to people who often don’t even feel accepted by large chunks of the LGBTQ community.
So why do people make a big deal about stuff like this? Because there are many of us who are standing up and celebrating, who are pointing and saying, “Look! Someone like me! I’m like that! If they can be like me and do what they’re doing, maybe I’m not a freak! Maybe I’m not alone! Maybe, just maybe, I *can* do anything I set my mind to!” It’s about hope. It’s about not being on the outside, looking in, but having someone open the door and say, “Come on in. You don’t have to watch from out there, and you don’t have to break in, or sneak in under false pretenses. I’m already in here. I’m here, and you’re more than welcome to join me.”
So that is the importance of someone’s sexuality, or race, or gender, or what have you being in a certain position of prominence. That is why it is a big deal that Kate is the first bisexual governor, and why it is especially a big deal for me, to have it happening in the state I was born in.
Because it’s hope. It’s progress. And as much as people like to pretend that, “We’re all done, we’ve got it all; we’ve got it all, everything’s done. Racism, hompophobia, all that stuff, that’s just a few individual people, that’s not part of our society anymore.” IT IS. It is.
And if it weren’t? We would stop making a big deal about it.
The fact that we are making a big deal about it is kind of why it’s a big deal.
Because it’s still rare, and we still need that hope and acceptance in a very public way.
And that’s the only way that we’re going to get to a point where it’s not a big deal anymore.
But for now, it still is.
Until next time, I’m Adam the Alien. Fare thee well.