Men Without Fear
When I was a kid, I read a lot of comic books. My dad would say it was ruining my mind and then drink a quart of whiskey, with no sense of irony. In the comics right always won. 19-page, full color, morality plays, which often compensated for the lessons real life was not providing. I loved them.
My favorite hero was probably Green Lantern. Hal Jordan, a man born without fear. He had a magical ring, which shot green energy that manifested the wearer’s will. While recharging the ring, Hal would recite an oath: “In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight. Let those who worship evil's might beware my power…Green Lantern's light!”
When unable to manifest my own will, I’d pretend I was wearing Hal’s ring. It compelled me to do what was best when I was not up to or just plain scared of the task at hand.
Now many of you, not the individual you, the amorphous you … the faceless, collective you of which you are just one component … that you, knows fear. But you don’t know my fear. I don’t know yours. No matter how empathetic we are, we can only know each other’s burdens to a certain extent.
It’s a two-way street. The traffic just happens to be heavier on Gay Street, Woman Ave, POC Parkway and Left-Handed Blvd. The roads less traveled.
People who are not, often tell other people who are, how to be what they are. How to make otherness palatable to the majority or more powerful.
Somehow, I ended up working at Disney, who although they bring the world talking mice, living toys and sentient carpets is seen by short-sighted people as a homogeneous melting pot. Less so now, but back in the 90s when I started, very much so. I worked in an oxymoron - a Disney nightclub doing PG-13 improv while people got drunk. A wonderful dichotomy. I was paid to laugh with my friends. The best job I’ll ever have. With inevitable exceptions.
I was pretending to host a TV talk show called Up Your Alley. My character was an insipid, blonde, obviously out, narcissist named Ricky Flake. We got to the point in the sketch where I asked the audience for questions. A guest raised his hand. I called on him. In front of 300 Disney guests, he said: “Ricky, do you want to go up my alley?”
He then hurled a few less clever insults my way – blatant homophobia.
Even though I had three other actors, two technicians, a stage manager and security guards with me – I was alone. No one helped me. I had no expectation they would. I didn’t even realize no one came to my defense until I started writing this story. The biggest surprise was that it hadn’t happened more often. Victim mentality – I thought I deserved it.
It was the most vulnerable moment of my professional life.
My livelihood. My future with Disney. My identity. Humiliation. All at play in front of an audience. Majority privilege without consequence for the perpetrator.
I pretended not to understand and did nothing.
I wasn’t wearing my power ring.
A few weeks later at the show, an ordinary looking guy, someone who would ordinarily be forgettable, started making jokes at my expense. He called me a fag, A few people in the audience laughed.
This time I had my power ring. I took a deep breath and said: “Folks I’m sorry to bring my personal life into the show, but this man is my life partner. Today is our 5th anniversary. He’s upset because I had to work. Sweetie, remember what I said at home. Just sit there and look pretty. I’m the one that gets paid to talk.”
He looked mortified. His wife looked thrilled. The audience cheered.
Fag for the win.
Nothing like that has ever happened to me again.
Each of us has some version of that vulnerability. An injured, bruised part of ourselves that the world tells us needs to change to make life easier for the collective us. To be fair, sometimes that lesson is on point:
Don’t be a serial killer.
Don’t be an asshole.
Don’t vote for assholes.
Other times, it's not a lesson. It's small thinking. It's the collective us having a tantrum. It's fear. In those moments be Hal Jordan. Live without fear.
Show the world your power ring.