Sunday, October 30, 2011
Masks have always intrigued me. Fascinated, terrified, and intrigued me.
As a child, clowns scared me. They still do. There is something evil and scary about clown make-up to me; it is a very obvious statement that what you “see” before you is not what is “really” underneath. Something is being prettified, or changed, or hidden; something awful is being presented as if it’s funny and joyful. I don’t like them.
I was drawn into the 1998 film, “The Man in the Iron Mask,” which itself was based on the Alexandre Dumas novel of an actual man imprisoned in the Bastille. In the movie, it is proposed that the prisoner was the twin brother of King Louis XIV - but he was kept hidden from view behind locked prison doors, his face encased in a locked iron mask so no one would recognize him as an heir to the throne. Had his true self been revealed, it would upset the established social and political order, and so the King insisted that no one be permitted to see him.
As a gay man living a closeted existence for several decades, I could identify with that.
Just as I can identify with the Phantom.
Of course, in the Phantom’s case, no one forces him to wear his mask. Rather, it is his fear of rejection, and the public's revulsion at his "differentness," his disfigured face, that causes him to hide. He voluntarily wears the mask to obscure his true identity, and lives in the shadows of the Opera House’s basement. There he can continue his life's musical work without fear of rejection. I can identify with the Phantom even more than with the Man in the Iron Mask.
I recall a heated discussion I had six years ago about the Phantom. I was admittedly sympathetic to him, understanding his perspective. The woman with whom I was speaking was outraged. “He is a monster! He’s a liar! He manipulates and uses people! How can you defend him?!” I suspected that she was seeing this from her very personal perspective, just as I was seeing from mine.
Which brings me to the main point of this blog post: the scrambling by Republican presidential candidates to shove masks back on our faces.
Here in New Hampshire, we go through the every-four-year sideshow of Presidential-wannabes traipsing through the state seeking a First-in-The-Nation Primary win. And as Primary day gets closer, each candidate tries to outflank the next in securing votes. This week, they tried to outdo each other on the issue of Marriage [In]Equality.
In August, Rick Perry had signed a pledge to support a Constitutional Amendment banning Marriage Equality nation-wide. This past Friday, at a dinner hosted by the extreme right-wing “Cornerstone Action,” Perry shored up his credentials, adding,
"As conservatives…We believe in the sanctity of traditional marriage, and I applaud those legislators in New Hampshire who are working to defend marriage as an institution between one man and one woman, realizing that children need to be raised in a loving home by a mother and a father."
Perry was referring to the current effort by the NH House to repeal the 2009 NH Marriage Equality bill.
Mitt Romney, despite pledging his personal support as an advocate of GLBT rights to the Log Cabin Republicans in 1994, turned around and signed the pledge calling for a federal amendment defining marriage as one-man and one-woman. Rick Santorum has stated that there is “no right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution” (50 years of Court decisions say otherwise), and called gay rights to the equivalent of another 9-11 terrorist attack in the Morning Call. This actually sounds like a remix of Michelle Bachmann’s letter in which she declared that legislators who oppose a federal Marriage Amendment to be like “soldiers who missed the Pearl Harbor warning signs.”
Speaking (or should I say ”pandering?”) to the Christian Broadcasting Network, Last week possible front-runner Herman Cain said,
“I think marriage should be protected at the federal level also…I used to believe that it could be just handled by the states but there’s a movement going on to basically take the teeth out of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act and that could cause an unraveling, so we do need some protection at the federal level because of that and so yes I would support legislation that would say that it’s between a man and a woman.”
Make no mistake: Theocratic political action groups such as the National Organization for Marriage and Cornerstone Action are scrambling to find ways to lock iron masks on gay men and women, lest the world see us for who we are: neighbors, teachers, firefighters, sons, daughters, architects, sports figures, secretaries, construction workers, accountants, warehousemen, drivers, and nurses.
If we can’t be seen, or acknoweldged, or recognized, they hope, we will be forgotten, as if locked in the Bastille.
As they attempt to re-introduce a climate of fear and loathing, they work on our psyche much as the crowds worked on the Phantom’s psyche: by convincing him that he was ugly, that he was different, that he would be attacked by ‘normal’ people...and just as he chose to live his life behind a mask so no one could see, so, still, do many gay and lesbian citizens.
After all, NH Rep. Ralph Boehm, the vice chairman of the House Education Committee, tried to gut the states new anti-bullying law, saying that
"Students need to be prepared for life...bullying is part of it.”
You see? We should hide...because otherwise we will be attacked. It's just "part of life."
But living behind a mask has repercussions worse than these theocrats understand.
In a 2008 poll of 260 openly gay men in New England, fully one half stated they used to me married to a woman…which, of course, ended in divorce.
They did not ‘change’ their orientation half-way through their lives. Rather, they tried to live behind a mask, where no one could see their ‘real face,’ or their ‘differences,’ and hope it would work.
And for those who claim to be on the side of “marriage,” they do themselves – and society – no favor by forcing men to live in ways they can’t.
Harvey Milk pleaded with us to drop the masks:
“…Gay brothers and sisters,... You must come out. Come out... to your parents... I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives... come out to your friends... if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors... to your fellow workers... to the people who work where you eat and shop... come out only to the people you know, and who know you… But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake. For the sake of the youngsters who are becoming scared by the votes from Dade to Eugene…”
No More Closets…No More Bastille Prison Doors…No More Iron Masks…No More Phantoms.
And no more two-faced, pandering, ignorant hateful Republicans as President, thank you.