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“Some might say that this is progress,” Matt Thompson, the interviewer, said. “That the fact that being gay is just one dimension of many identities your son could claim––”
Jackson cut him off.
It cannot be that we have fought back centuries of being stigmatized by religions, that we have fought battle after battle with our government, that we have disappointed our parents, all just to get our liberation so that we can say being gay isn’t a big deal. That would be heartbreaking. It would be devastating. I don’t want to celebrate being gay just one day at the end of June every year. I want to be able, every day, to say this is why I am as successful as I am, why I have a beautiful family—this is how I think, this is how I feel, this is how I crave. It all comes from this well of my gayness. If we’re going to get to our liberation just to say gay is just a matter of fact, then we’re colluding with our adversaries.
An audience member followed up.
“I'm the mother of an 18-year-old who has two moms,” she said. “He is profoundly straight. If your son were not gay, would you advocate that his straightness be as defining a characteristic or would you be okay with it just being a part of his life?"
He answered that Gay Like Me “is a permission slip for anybody who has something unique about them. And straightness is not unique. So many people have it.” Being gay is different, he continued, in that “we’re not taught to feel good about it. And to me, being gay is the best thing about me. It is the most important thing about me. And it’s been a blessing. He doesn’t have to make it the most important thing about him. He doesn’t have to say it’s the best part about him. But I do want him to think it’s a blessing. And that’s why I wrote the book.”
He regards his son’s statement that gayness is “not a big deal to him” as a sign that “he’s not taking full advantage of the gift that it is. And I want him to have faith in his gayness. I want him to rely on it, to invest in it, and that’s what the book is. Here’s how you build up your gay self-esteem. Here’s your permission to take what is special about you, what is unique about you, and hit the gas on it.” He added: “I hope we start making being gay the gift that it is. We’re 4.5 percent of the population. We’re not a defect. We are a gift. We’re chosen. And we have to make sure that it’s treated like a gift, and I want people to join me in that.”
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The convergences and divergences with Sullivan are interesting.
On the one hand, Sullivan urged “earning a living, raising kids in some cases, pursuing careers, sustaining marriages, and everything every straight person does without thinking twice about it,” and declared that he seeks, in that sense, “a kind of irrelevance for our sexual orientation—a world in which the hetero and homo categories define none of us, straight or gay, and the category of human includes us all.” On the other hand, he writes that “there’s more to the souls of gay folk than just this kind of normalcy.” Gay people remain a specific minority “with life experiences that do shape us differently, and a way of life that will always, in some ways, be a subculture, as well as a counterculture.”