These items aren't quite coherently connected, but they felt like they made a certain amount of sense together.

There's a good article about Rosa Parks from the Boston Globe last week. I thought someone had told me years ago that Parks didn't intend to make a big deal about not giving up her seat, that other people took advantage of her action and politicized it, but this article makes clear that that wasn't really true. It quotes Parks's autobiography:

People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that wasn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was 42. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.

The article also provides some context. Apparently the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP had been looking for a case like this for a while, and had already decided against suing in two previous situations due to "unsuitable" plaintiffs. Which again makes it sound like they might have manipulated Parks--except that she was the secretary of the organization (though she acquired that position because she was the only woman present, sigh), and she went ahead with the lawsuit with her eyes open, despite her husband's objections. (In fact, says the article, Parks only got on that particular bus that day because she was "preoccupied with planning for an NAACP workshop"; otherwise she would have avoided that bus driver, who had ejected her from a bus before.)

Anyway, good article. Though it looks like requires you to register with them if you want to view more than three pages on the site. Normally I don't mind free registration at newspaper sites, but this one asks for a lot more info than I'm happy with. And I normally don't approve of trying to bypass registration schemes, but in this case I'll mention that if you delete your cookies, you can view three more pages before registering.

Onward to item number two: Mary Anne pointed last week to an article about George "Sulu" Takei coming out as gay. He's 68 years old, and he's been with his male partner for the past 18 years. (They met through a gay running club called Front Runners. Takei, btw, has run six marathons.) The Wikipedia article on Takei says that "Takei's sexuality had long been an open secret among Trek fans, and Takei did not conceal his active membership in gay organizations"; but I had had no idea, nor had Mary Anne or Kam (both of whom are longtime Trek fans), so it wasn't all that open a secret.

I was surprised at how pleased I was to hear that news. I mean, mostly I'm happy that he's coming out; I'm always pleased when prominent people come out. But I also had a certain feeling of being happy that he's gay, which is just silly.

Btw, Takei has a blog. Well, okay, only sort of. It's labeled as a blog, but it was last updated in May 2005, with a longish entry that reads more like a newsletter article than a blog entry. Still cool, though.

Thinking about Takei made me wonder just who the first prominent Asian-American TV actors were. Turns out the first Asian-American to have her own TV show was Anna May Wong in 1951, but I haven't found much info about other early Asian-American TV actors. (And there aren't that many modern ones, for that matter. I found this article interesting, though I don't agree with all of it: "Why There Are 'No' Asians on Television," by Erin May Ling Quill.) So Takei certainly wasn't the first, but an interview in Frontiers notes:

Takei’s portrayal of Sulu is a watershed moment in television history--never had an Asian-American actor played such a prominent role in the national media, certainly not without a marginalizing accent or stereotypical job as a chef or servant or cook. In fact, Takei’s clear, booming voice and perfectly enunciated English as he helmed the U.S.S. Enterprise, flew in the face of traditional Asian male stereotypes prevalent even up to that time on TV and in film.

The interview also talks about Takei playing Dysart in Equus, one of my favorite plays. (Though it includes some quasi-spoilers for the play.) And about being in an internment camp as a kid, and about "feeling ashamed of who you are" in various contexts, and about marching in the civil rights movement and meeting MLK. Good stuff.

So I was already thinking about all that this morning when Beth sent me today's Mark Morford column from SFGate: "Where Are the Gay Pro Athletes?":

[W]e're looking at a grand total of well over 2,500 pro male athletes, all sharing locker rooms and showers and sweat and intimate moments and you really want to sit there and tell me at least a dozen of these guys aren't right now closeted homosexual? Bisexual? Something? Please. Get over it.

(Funny that he later uses the phrase "the last cultural frontier," given the Takei interview in Frontiers and that old "final frontier" phrase. . . .)

I think Morford misses one point about the lack of reaction to WNBA MVP Sheryl Swoopes coming out: I suspect a lot of Americans already figure female athletes are probably lesbians anyway. In fact, the most negative reaction to Swoopes coming out that I saw (in brief perusals of a couple of articles) was from a straight female athlete who felt this was going to perpetuate the stereotype. I'm amused at this comment from Swoopes: "The talk about the WNBA being full of lesbians is not true. There are as many straight women in the league as there are gay."

I don't buy everything Morford says in that column. For example, he mentions that there are "a handful of gay actors (though of course none who get straight roles)." Doesn't Sir Ian count? What about Rupert Everett? They're the most prominent gay actors I can think of, and they've both played straight men in prominent roles. (Though perhaps not especially manly straight men.) But maybe they don't count 'cause they're British.

Anyway, okay, fair enough, the general point holds: openly gay actors are still the exception, and still do find it difficult to land straight roles. So I'm just nitpicking.

Which probably suggests that this entry has gone on long enough.

6 Responses to “Trailblazers”

  1. David Moles

    Though it includes some quasi-spoilers for the play.

    If spoiler warnings really are required for a play that won a Tony thirty years ago, I fear for the humanity’s future.

    I was also pleasantly surprised and surprisingly pleased by the Takei news. And, y’know, while the Kirk/Spock thing always seemed kind of desperate to me, on the slash reader/writer’s part, the idea of Sulu being gay is kinda cool. (Now if we could just definitively establish his ethnicity…)

  2. Vardibidian

    Sir Ian has said (more than once) that coming out did not limit the parts he was offered, nor did it for his queer friends (I don’t remember the list, but it included Nigel Hawthorne, who was alive at the time I first read that comment, you know, and getting the juiciest roles an actor could want, if an actor wanted good juicy roles rather than crap, although if coming out didn’t limit his choice of roles, dying certainly did). At the time, of course, I thought (along with you) that it was all very well for Englishmen, particularly Englishmen who weren’t competing with Tom Cruise for romantic/action leads.

    It’s odd that Mr. Morford ends his comment with the idea of a gay race-car driver, since that is, after all, a sport that doesn’t involve a lot of contact, or showering together, or anything like that. A driver who comes out would not have to fear (I would think) being ostracized by his teammates, who presumably could either handle it or go work in someone else’s pit (er, yes). From what I’ve read, the real difficulty wouldn’t be with the public, but with the team-mates, as professional athletes form a sub-culture that is significantly more misogynist, homophobic and socially traditional (in a highly-sexed way) than the prevailing. Comments from ballplayers are pretty often obnoxious and harsh. There was, if I recall, a young fellow entering the high minors recently who had been raised by two mommies, as the parlance has it, who took a lot of grief about it, even though he was himself straight.

    Oh, another point about the gay athletes. It seems to me that self-identification happening much earlier than a generation ago, and that many if not most gay and bisexuals realize their orientation by the end of high school, or shortly thereafter. That is, the option is visible to young people and they consider it, which was not so much true for my generation and much less true for the boomers (for instance). By the time an Adam Dunn or a Steve Rolen gets to the majors, he has likely either found out that he isn’t gay, or found out that he is and made whatever compromises seem to him worth making. What you are less likely to get is a twenty-two year old second baseman who suddenly falls for the shortstop, and is all conflicted about it, and in the process of self-discovery decides to come out in public. That’s all talking through my hat, of course, but that’s how it looks from outside.

    Of course, that doesn’t mean that a Bonds or Barkley or Brady won’t decide that the compromises made when only a star are no longer the deal, but that could be a long time coming. For one thing, there are only a couple of dozen of them at a time, and given self-selection in a homophobic subculture, it wouldn’t surprise me if none of them at a given time are gay. For another, it’s reasonable that a Dunn or a Prior would, having lived with the compromise so long, keep thinking ‘well, I’m not a Bonds or a Clemens yet’ and live with it for another season, and another, until retiring.

    The most likely ice-breaker might be a whole bunch of gay not-quite-superstar athletes coming out all at once. Anyone want to write that story?


  3. JessieSS

    I know someone who wrote a documentary history of the Montgomery bus boycotts, and yeah, the project seems to have been about as clearly orchestrated as most of the ACLU’s cases lately, where you find a good defendant and take that case to court. The “I was tired” story is a good one, but I find I really like this one better, because it gives the whole community so much more agency. (Okay, I just realized I phrased that as though it were fiction, but you know what I mean.)

  4. joey

    Hollywood boggles the mind, because you’ve got all these leading men who are gay, and the producers and directors know they’re gay, but as long as the public doesn’t know – there’s no issue. When the public knows, though, there are issues of “believability” to have them playing straight leading men.

    I want to say that Hollywood is underestimating the public, but I think the public underestimates itself, too. I get emails from people who like my comics and my stories but won’t read Lockpick because they just ‘have nothing in common’ with the main characters. Which is to say that they have one thing very much NOT in common. These aren’t people who won’t read because they don’t ‘like’ gay people (or at least, this would be their belief), but because they have this idea that stories about gay people have no relevance to anyone but gay people.

  5. Jennifer Pelland

    Count me as one of the people who was in on the “open secret” of Takei’s sexuality. I found out about 10 years ago from a friend who’d met his lover at a convention. And I’d had my suspicions before that after reading his autobiography and seeing absolutely no references to lovers whatsoever. So I’m very glad that it’s official now. It’s nice not to have people look at me funny when I mention that he’s gay.

  6. Debby

    There’s a fantastic play called “Take Me Out” about what happens when a high profile baseball player comes out.

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