What Did We Expect from Them?

Article excerpt

ANNE AND ELLEN AND JULIE AND MELISSA LIVED IN OUR SPOTLIGHT AND CARRIED OUR BURDENS, NOW IT'S TIME TO FIND OUR OWN WAY BY VICTORIA PRICE

FROM GEORGE WASHINGTON TO JOHN WAYNE, America is a country built on heroes--men and women who have modeled our greatness, mirrored our potential, and manifested our myths. Perhaps this is because our nation is a product of its own imagination. Built from scratch, having defined itself both by what it was not (an oppressive Old World monarchy) and by what it hoped to be, America invented its New World icons from the fabric of its dreams.

Like America, we gays and lesbians have defined ourselves both by what we are not and by what we wish to be. Our history too is peopled with icons. In the past we honored heroes and heroines who represented our struggles and embodied our strengths--from tragic figures on an epic scale, like Oscar Wilde, who were persecuted for their sexual orientation to larger-than-life rebels like the Stonewall queens, whose anger spurred them to defy unfair laws and fight for their right to love.

Lately, however, things have changed. The Oprahfication of America has spawned a new kind of icon: the simpatico celebrity, rich and famous but also down-to-earth, approachable, real, willing to admit their flaws. Virtually gone is the hero on a grand scale, replaced by someone a lot like any one of us, except maybe prettier, handsomer, or more talented--and generally with a bigger bank account. As homosexuality has found wider tolerance and even acceptance in mainstream society, our gay icons have undergone a similar transformation. Successful and celebrated in both the gay and straight worlds, they even fall in love, have children, and live happily ever after.

Ellen and Anne and Melissa and Julie have been just such role models. These popular celebrities not only proved to the straight world that gays and lesbians are entitled to and can create loving, lasting relationships, but they also acquired marvelous allies like Betty DeGeneres and David Crosby, who became straight ambassadors of gay goodwill. Even more important, these two couples showed the gay world that, despite the lack of support so many of us have suffered, we deserve and are capable of finding happiness with another person.

The only problem with icons is that they are human: Just when we have placed them safely on a pedestal far above the din of daily life, they disappoint us by tumbling down. When Charles and Diana split up, millions of people the world over experienced profound sadness, disbelief, betrayal, and even rage. …