Gabriel Rotello is something of a Gay renaissance man. He’s an author, editor, newspaper columnist, musician and documentary film producer. His op-ed pieces have appeared in The Advocate, The Village Voice, The Nation, and many other nationally-known publications. Among his film credits are The Eyes Of Tammy Faye, a film focusing on the life of the late evangelist Tammy Faye Messner, and Hidden Führer, which speculates on the sexual orientation of Adolph Hitler.
His best-selling books include Sexual Ecology, an environmentally-based consideration of Gay men and the AIDS crisis, and Keep On Dancin’, the autobiography of Disco impresario Mel Cheren. Rotello is probably best known as the founding editor of Outweek, a controversial magazine from the early 1990s that was affiliated with the direct action group ACT-UP. Pundit and talk show host Michelangelo Signorile initiated the practice of “outing” closeted public figures in Outweek’s pages.
I've been upset with Gabriel Rotello for a long time, and I've had good reason to be! He's the guy mainly responsible for so many LGBT people calling themselves "queers" in public. As editor of Outweek, he coined that odious word as an "umbrella term" substitute for the acronym "LGBT" and encouraged his contributors to use it. Over the last fifteen years, it has spread like cancer throughout Gay discourse! Now, Gay activist organizations blissfully add “queer” to their titles, Transpeople describe themselves as “gender-queer”, and Straight folk increasingly feel comfortable lobbing the slur at their LesBiGay friends.
Popularization of the Q-word has opened the door to an avalanche of oppressive idiom; not satisfied with answering to just one derogatory name, younger Gay people have begun “reclaiming" other offensive epithets like "f*ggot" and "b*lldyke". It’s a disaster! Mr. Rotello has a lot to answer for! However, as the New Testament evolution of Paul the Apostle demonstrates, even the most misguided among us can repent and change.
Gabriel Rotello has expressed regret for foisting oppressive idiom on the Gay diaspora, and he no longer uses the word "queer" in a casual way (see his 15 August 2000 op-ed in The Advocate titled “The Word That Failed”). Happily, he seems to have exchanged irresponsible action for profound thought. In a Huffington Post op-ed dated 4 October 2007, he presents an analysis of LGBT experience that's more profound than anything I've read to date. This compelling opinion piece was inspired by controversy over different versions of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA); these separate-but-unequal bills, designed to outlaw discrimination against Gay people on the job, are inching their way through the US House of Representatives even as I write these words.
I'm reprinting most of his brilliant essay here because it echoes much of what I wrote in a previous post called "Why Gay People Exist", Parts One, Two and Three. I must say, he makes the same points I made much more concisely, and with far more clarity and forcefulness! I haven’t quite forgiven the man for popularizing an anti-Gay slur, but I'm not nearly as upset with him as I used to be. I think he's just about redeemed himself! When you read the following excerpts, you'll understand why:
The decision by the Democratic leadership in Congress to eliminate Transgendered (sic) people from ENDA, the bill to ban discrimination against Gays (sic) in the workplace, has ignited a genuine firestorm in Gay political circles. It's heartening to see that LGBT activists are coming out of the woodwork to insist that any meaningful bill that does not protect the Transgendered isn't worth the paper it's written on. But criticism that the bill is a betrayal of the most vulnerable among us, while well-intentioned, doesn't go anywhere near far enough. A bill to protect Gays (sic) from discrimination that excludes Transgendered (sic) people isn't merely a betrayal of the Transgendered; it's a betrayal of all Gay people! Because (as I wrote in an Advocate column a few years back, which I will quote from liberally here), in a very real sense, all Gay people are Transgendered . . .
This idea stems in large part from the growing body of research into what sexual orientation actually is. The jury is still out on whether the roots of sexual orientation are biological or environmental, or both or neither, but this much can be said: Researchers have found that the heterosexual majority and Gay people differ in far more than just the most obvious sexual respect. Most heterosexuals (sic) tend to feel and act and desire and respond and present themselves to the world in what researchers call a fairly "sex-typical" or "gender-typical" way: Pretty much mostly male or mostly female. Gay people, on the other hand, exhibit a whole range of "sex-atypical" characteristics, meaning characteristics that are commonly associated with the opposite sex, at least among the heterosexual majority. These traits obviously, and perhaps most importantly, include our attraction to members of the same sex. But they also include our inner feelings of maleness or femaleness, our outward appearance as "butch" or "femme", the unconscious way we speak and move, even the way we throw a ball or change a tire.
For reason(s) yet to be understood, most Gay people exhibit sex atypical traits most clearly when we are very young. Many Gay boys, the vast majority in some studies, report that they identified strongly with girls when they were very small. Many even thought of themselves as more female than male. The opposite seems true for most Lesbians. As we grow older, these feelings tend to subside for many of us, so that as adults the only major sex-atypical trait that we retain is our sexual orientation . . .(but) some of us grow up to be mannish women or (effeminate) men. Some become occasional cross-dressers or "drag kings" or "queens". Some become Transgenderists (people who live full-time as the opposite gender without desiring surgery). And some become pre- or post-operative Transsexuals. Researchers now think that . . . Gay and Transgendered (sic) people occupy places on a continuum between the two main genders . . .
"The Angel Gabriel" concludes with Part Two.