Another season of Pride has all but come and gone, and before the false eyelashes could hit the floor, the great debate began anew. Why do we have drag queens in our parades? Why are they everywhere, making our entire community look like a bunch of faggy men playing slumber party? The great majority of gay men and women are just average Joes and Janes, chasing the American dream like all the “normal” folks, so why is it that we continue to fall in the shadows of men dressing up and acting like women?

Historically, drag queens have always been on the front lines of community activism. The stories told have now become legends, from the riot at Stonewall to the marches on Castro. Few would dispute that the first tentative steps the gay community took towards liberation were on three inch heels.

But, that was more than a generation ago. Today’s gay and lesbian activists are no longer content to simply be left in peace. Now, we are staking a greater claim, seeking for ourselves the same rights and privileges given without hesitation to non-gay men and women. We want to know that our homes and our jobs are secure, that our loved ones are acknowledged and protected, and that our future holds promise. In light of this new-found activism, is there still room for the drag community in the larger scheme of things? For that matter, is there room for the leather community, Dykes on Bikes, and any of the other “fringe” elements?

The answer, of course, is yes. Not only is there room for these groups, they are at the very heart of who we are as a community. We are diverse, and when we are united we can be damn near invincible. “Normal” looking and acting gay men and women must accept that the answer to the public image problem is not the elimination of those who are radically different.

So, what is the solution to the image problem? In theory, it’s very simple. It is putting it into action that will be difficult. The solution is not for the “fringe” elements to step out of the spotlight. Rather, what is needed is for more of us mainstream Joes and Janes to step up alongside of the drag queens and show the world that we, too, are proud to be a part of the lesbian and gay community. What is required of us – accountants and bank tellers, lawyers and law clerks, doctors and nurses, chefs and busboys, and all the rest of us who walk through the non-gay community unnoticed as gay or lesbian – is to stand up and be counted. We need to step out from behind the protection of feather boas and dark bars and make our own place in the sun.

Finally, we need to accept and support all that is unique in our community. What are we saying to ourselves when we place ads that read “straight acting seeks same”? For me, the most telling part of an ad like that is “acting.” If you are gay and masculine, or lesbian and effeminate, more power to you. And, if you seek the same in a partner, I wish you all the best. But, why can’t the ads read “effeminate woman seeks same” or “butch man seeks same”?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there is room in our community for everyone. But, there are also responsibilities that come with inclusion. We owe it to ourselves to support those of us whom we see as different and encourage those of us with whom we identify. Most importantly, though, we owe it to our community to take whatever our next step is towards our own place in the sun. We will get nowhere fast if we continue devoting our energies towards attacking ourselves.

Originally published in San Diego Gay and Lesbian Times, 8.15.96

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