Saturday, April 24, 2021

2. Now Is Our Time For Fun

I am a part of one of the fiercest and most resilient generation of queer folks that has ever existed.  Most LGBTQ individuals my age and older had to grow up in a time when society directed hostility and violence toward people who aren’t straight. We often had to compartmentalize our personalities, lower our voices, make sure we didn’t shine too bright as to draw suspicious attention.  We had to be afraid that our bodies could be deadly vectors of disease that could harm others. We had to grow up in communities, churches, and schools, that constantly instructed, “be less than you are.”  Not a lot of fun.

I had no queer role models growing up, no one to look up to or follow.  The gay and lesbian teachers in my high school had to remain closeted and couldn’t be a direct source of support or information even if they had wanted to be.  There were no representations on television that I can recall which portrayed an LGBT person as happy or successful.  I do recall an occasional movie here or there but they were mostly limited to the “Monty” stereotype in the movie Fame.  He was not as tragic as the doomed protagonists of Suddenly Last Summer or The Children's Hour, but not exactly someone you aspired to emulate either.  The insidious message was if your gay you’re doomed to be depressed, ostracized, lonely, and potentially a victim of violence.  

Those who overcame these obstacles in the 1970s befell another tragedy in the 1980s:  The AIDS crisis.  From seemingly out of nowhere, a cruel and deadly virus struck the U.S. hitting gay communities significantly harder than other populations.  The association was made clear to all of us:  sex can result in death, pleasure may lead to disease, vulnerability can give you a virus.  I came out during this time only knowing sexuality as something dangerous that must be protected by a latex barrier.
Sodomy laws in the U.S. made anal and oral sex a crime, and were enforced almost exclusively against gay men.  The Supreme Court upheld state rights to prosecute gay men for sodomy in 1986, and these were used to threaten, intimidate, and criminalize sex between consenting adults in many states up until 2003.  The message was clear:  Hide who you are, be ashamed of your sexuality, and if you don't you may face exploitation and  jail time. 
Many who were in a emotionally bonded relationships during these years faced an additional trauma: being separated by their partner’s family during and after their death.  There were no legal unions then, so even if you had been in a committed relationship for years, you had no legal right to stay by your partner’s side in the hospital.  Healthcare institutions could legally remove you from caring for your loved one without any cause whatsoever.  Their families could easily ban you from visiting as well.  After their death, there were no protections promising you would still have a place to live or any of the financial benefits that legal heterosexual marriages enjoyed, even if the deceased had made a legal will.  Every clinic I worked and volunteered in had clients who were homeless and destitute after their partner’s homophobic family had exiled them.  They simply had no legal claim on their beloved’s property or financial gains if the family disputed them.

In other words, things were rough.  

Throughout the 1990s there slowly increased representation in arts and entertainment.  Gays and lesbians were appearing more frequently, but still relegated to the supportive-best-friends in the main (straight) story, i.e, Single White Female or My Best Friend’s Wedding.  On television we would get “special episodes” on shows like thirtysomething, or tokenizing on shows like Melrose Place, but rarely had the central spotlight.

This literally shifted over night on April 30, 1997, after Ellen Degeneres’s main character came out as lesbian on her sitcom “Ellen.” The show received tons of positive publicity, received 44 millions views, and at least temporarily demonstrated that a strong funny LGBT person could headline a television series.  That show only lasted one more year, but the baton was picked up by Will & Grace in 1998 which prominently featured two gay male characters.  These representations all illustrated that gays and lesbians could be the center of our own narrative.  We could be silly, we could be scared, we could be vulnerable, we could be flawed.  Most importantly, they showed we could be.

During Barack Obama’s two terms as president several legal protections of LGBT protections were instated.  His legacy is most closely associated with the federal protection of Marriage Equality in 2015.  But in my work -- the other significant advancements was the rule in 2010 prohibiting hospitals from banning same sex partners from visiting.  As I mentioned above, this happened frequently in the 1980s and 1990s, as hospitals could eject same sex partners at will.  President Obama’s legislation changed that along with extending domestic partnerships, ending the military ban on open GLBT service members, promoting a ban on conversion therapy, ordering schools to protect GLBT students, and much more.  Implicit in all these advancements was the message, “Your lives deserve protection, you deserve to be here.”  

Advancements in HIV treatments and prevention shifted during this same time period.  The research on the effectiveness of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) was released at the end of 2010.  This proved that a daily pill could prevent someone from getting HIV by 99% or more if they were exposed through sexual contact.  I began using this regimen on July 19, 2011, and set out to help others around the learn the sexual and psychological implications of these biomedical advancement.  Soon after my colleague Bruce Richman launched a global movement to help people understand that U=U, or that someone living with HIV with an undetectable viral load cannot medically transmit HIV to their sexual partners.  Between PrEP and U=U we saw a new revolution of love, connection, and gloriously slutty behavior that allowed people to connect without latex barriers, without HIV.  

Donald Trump’s political ascendance threatened many of these legal gains, but he directed most of his savage energy and wrath against transgender individuals, seeking to do undo protections for transgender youth, implement bathroom laws, and ban people of trans experience from serving in the military.  The majority of his rhetoric focused on disparaging others, reinforcing historical discrimination, using retaliation and fear to make communities feel unwelcome and unsafe.  

And while we were reacting to that, a novel virus called COVID came to be.  It reintroduced trauma into our vulnerable spaces, fear into our affection, death into our embraces.  Loneliness was already prevalent in our community before the new pandemic, but it hit many single LGBTQ  folks hard due to fact that so many of us were already separated from extended families and support.

So when I say I’m part of a resilient group of fierce warriors, I mean it! 
Now I believe we are on the precipice of something different.  History is changing quickly, it’s already shifted a lot since I started writing these lessons 49 days ago.  More than 100,000 million in the U.S. have received at least one vaccine dose since I started writing this series on March 6th.  President Biden declared March 31st as Transgender Day Of Visibility, rolled back Trump era discrimination policies, and just yesterday reversed a ruling allowing homeless shelters to exclude people of trans experience.  
We have been through medical hell, emotional trauma, state sanctioned oppression.  We have worked our asses off to survive with some semblance of health and dignity.  We are nowhere near finished now, there is still a lot of fight ahead as people living with HIV and transgender experience continue to face inordinate legal prosecution and discrimination.   At the same time I believe now is the time to reap some of the rewards of our struggles and the struggles of those who came before us.  Now is our time to embrace our victories, now is our time to push harder for more equality and justice, and now it is our time for fun. 
"Fun" is anything that brings you joy, but isn't necessarily "productive" in a tangible way.  It could be sex, it could be sports, it could be travel, it could be baking, it could be exercising, it could be performing, it could be dancing, it could be protesting.  It can be something enjoyed on the level of the senses, the level of silliness, the level of pleasure.  Fun was not a luxury most of us were afforded when we younger, when our joys were forced to be clandestine, when we lived under the pervasive threats presented by AIDS, social ostracization, legal punishments. 

But today is different.  We are at the beginning of a new decade, with a different political administration, new safeguards from COVID, advancements in treating and prevent HIV, expanded legal protections, and increased social acceptance.  We have never had these variables come together like this before, we've never an opportunity to grow older like this before.  This means I am turning fifty and aging up with a generation in a way that hasn't historically been done.  For me this is incredibly exciting as I see my friends and peers growing, thriving, and contemplate this unique moment in time where we get to prioritize fun, play, hard Work, connection, peace, health, and joy.  This is it.  Now is our time for fun, now is our time to LIVE!

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist helping individuals and couples enjoy life with peace, purpose, and pleasure. His books "Absolutely Should-less" and "Rational Relating" help people experience connection with joy, serenity, and meaning. His work has been featured on CNN Health, The New York Times, MSNBC, USA Today and more. He can be reached at or 347-227-7707

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