I’ll never forget the first time I saw lesbians on TV (if you don’t count Wimbledon). In the early 1980s — years before our goddess Ellen cracked daytime TV’s lavender ceiling — Phil Donahue hosted a panel of unabashed, openly lesbian lesbians on his talk show. The Amazon grapevine buzzed like crazy. We all tuned in.
The host introduced his guests, all groomed and smiling in the TV studio’s swivel chairs, ready to chat with the affable, white-haired husband of Free to Be You and Me‘s Marlo Thomas. What could go wrong? Donahue was a respectable show. Phil would keep things civil.
The lesbian guests talked about themselves, their communities, how they were people like everyone else. Gays and lesbians, they said, all too often lost jobs, custody, homes — and sometimes their lives — because certain people considered queers a danger to society (same as now, only with fewer allies to raise a stink.)
What a thrill to watch confident out-of-the-closet lesbians advance our militant homosexual agenda of getting folks to stick up for us when our basic human rights are violated. Ya gotta give Donahue props for bringing it to daytime TV.
He turned to his studio audience. Someone in the back row had a question. Phil jogged up the theater steps and reached his mic across the row. The camera zoomed in on a husky 30-something guy in a baseball cap. The whole world was watching. His question? “Is cunnilingus still the main deal?”
I kid you not.
Keep in mind this was back in the pre-wardrobe malfunction day, a time of unbleepable nondelay live TV broadcast. Poor Phil Donahue. He was stunned. His erudite discussion had just plummeted straight into the gutter.
The chance of a lifetime to explore these amazing women’s insights into human dignity, equality and justice, and some tool reduces their entire life experience to genital stimulation. Hello? “I’m gay” does not mean “Let’s talk sex.”
That mentality should’ve been dumped back in the ’80s. But no.
Just last week, State Sen. Gary George explained why he’s cosponsoring a bill to repeal Oregon’s anti-discrimination law. And I quote, “My advice to the gay community is SHUT UP, just don’t talk about it. If you walk around talking about what you do in the bedroom, you should be on the Pervert Channel.”
I kid you not.
The Pervert Channel? Here is a supposed representative of the people pushing an initiative to take away people’s protection from discrimination, and he calls us perverts?
It’s so not about what we do in the bedroom, senator. A law dictating what my domestic partner and I do in our bedroom would have to regulate folding laundry, working crossword puzzles and flea-combing cats.
Sen. George and his Repuglican cosponsors have a bad case of xenophobia. Difference freaks these people out, and what differentiates gay from straight, by definition, is the gender of whom we have sex with — even though that criterion has its exceptions (Sen. Wide-Stance ‘I’m-not-gay!’ Larry Craig, for example). Still, you don’t see us obsessing over what heterosexuals do sexually. We don’t have to. That information is everywhere — New York’s now ex-Gov. Spitzer joining the pantheon of heterosexual public officials whose sex habits dominate the media one recent case in point. As I understand it, though, those antics didn’t take place in the governor’s bedroom.
Even so, curiosity is human nature. You can find lesbian sex info on The L-Word (fiction), bad porn (sexist), and Dan Savage (gay man), but when can you really ask a lesbian? I kinda see where the Donahue-audience guy was coming from. In honor of Sen. George telling me to shut up, I’ll tell you what I know.
Besides our struggle to end anti-gay discrimination, hate crimes, rejection from relatives and religious condemnation, I’d say most lesbians’ main deal is groceries, dishes, health care, work, family and community. OK, OK, and maybe sometimes, on a good day, cunnilingus.
Sally Sheklow has been a part of the Eugene community since 1972 and is a member of the WYMPROV! comedy troupe. Her column, which began at EW in 1999, also runs in several other newspapers and magazines around the country and Down Under.