Farewell to Joan Rivers
This might be hard to believe for the boring, politically correct homosexuals raised on GLAAD, Matthew Shepard tributes, and prudish platitudes like "marriage equality," but there was once a time when being a queer meant having a sense of humor.
With Joan Rivers gone, I honestly think our last bridge to that earlier age of gay culture is completely lost. She embodied what was most special about my butch lesbian mother as well as my uncivilized but adorable kiki-nanay gay friends. As a toddler in the 1970s, I was already learning how to laugh at everything because of her scandalous appearances on late-night TV.
Back then, gay couples with kids weren't suburbanized drones of the Washington political class, just back from a surrogate shopping spree in Thailand. Gay couples with kids were largely struggling widows and divorcees who just happened to fall into the situation my family was in by the mid-1970s. Christians thought we were going to Hell, other gays dreaded us because kids were a drag at disco parties, and the Democrats were telling women and minorities that family life was a patriarchal construct of white supremacy.
Joan Rivers taught me to say "screw all of you." Were we living in political hypocrisy? Yes, of course. My mom was an irreverent misfit who wore men's clothing and hiking boots to the mental health clinic she ran – the clinic where I learned, as a teenager, that she wasn't even really charging all the poor people for therapy because she didn't have the heart to turn away people who couldn't pay.
Yet my mom, who had such a marginalized existence, insisted that I go to an Ivy League school. She couldn't make up her mind whether she was tearing down the patriarchy or grooming me to take it over. Then she died, and I had nowhere to live when I was still a teenager.
All these grouchy, judgmental gay activists who keep lists of people who say bad things and then write letters to get them blacklisted today...let me tell you, they were nowhere to be seen when I was a struggling bisexual son of a lesbian. In 1985, they were closeted or they lived in high rises. They couldn't find Buffalo on a map; it was too far from Fire Island.
We didn't have the support of lobbyists or writers in the Advocate. There were no bloggers yet. But we had Joan.
Joan made us laugh. She was in many ways the voice-over for my crazy, unintelligible childhood and adolescence in the Reagan Era. When Joan was talking, there was no conservative, no liberal, no "trigger warnings," no sensitivity training. I remember her blasting Boy George in terms no less homophobic than the stuff that gets people fired by universities nowadays. It wasn't a source of hurt feelings – it was a kind of honesty about the nuttiness of living in a world made up of impossible rules. Christians had just as much of a reason to be horrified by her as feminists and joyless Marxists.
Rivers's satire was the ultimate equalizer, the truest form of democracy. Nobody is spared ridicule. Nobody is denied a chance to laugh at it all.
And let's face it: gays adored her, including me. I've seen a spate of standup comics line up to try taking her place – Cho, Griffin, Silverman, etc. – but those ladies are all cowards before the shibboleths of the gay community. They'd never cross the publicity officers of the Southern Poverty Law Center or the Human Rights Campaign. They tell gays what gays want to hear. Joan didn't.
Joan told gays what she told everyone else: screw you if you can't take a joke. There's nobody left to say that. Gays have lost a truly irreplaceable sage. With Joan's death, the hope of a gay sense of humor died, too.