Thanks for coming out, America: Are pop culture and politics on the same queer path?

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In 2012, you can be gay at church camp. Well, on MTV's Awkward, anyway.
Waking up on November 7, I felt like a million bucks. A million bucks that could breathe again, knowing that my president was still mine, my uterus was in the clear, and so many people had exercised the right to vote. That part, the voting part, was the most exciting, because after months of the impending "voter apathy" spin put on 2012's election by both sides, we could see that it was just that: spin.

But something else came out of this year's election: gay. A whole lot of it, in the form of legislation, "out" elected officials and an overwhelming move toward the acceptance and embrace of gay that I didn't think I would see so strong in my lifetime.

See also:
- Breeality Bites: What a wonderful, genderqueer world!
- J. Edgar to 8: Dustin Lance Black's artistic triumphs for gay rights
- Mark Ferrandino chosen as Colorado's first gay Speaker of the House
- Death of the civil unions bill got you down? Just do what I'm doing, and marry a gay guy

It isn't that I thought the gay civil rights movement wouldn't come to this point; the ball has been rolling along steadily for a good century. But I didn't think I would see the kind of "mainstream acceptance" that is now in place in American culture.

In the entertainment world today, gay parents exist on television, pop stars don't have to act "straight" anymore, and kids can be gay, or straight or queer or however they see fit to identify themselves. (This isn't to say, however, that Hollywood didn't and doesn't still have a very shady, very discriminatory and misleading relationship with queer characters.) But now, more than ever, our political landscape is mirroring the positive progression that is happening elsewhere in our society.

The New Yorker's Alex Ross spoke to NPR yesterday about his piece on the recent political past and future of the gay community, contextualizing and commenting in a way that got me thinking about what I myself have seen. Growing up in a socially progressive home, I wasn't exposed to gay culture with any hint of a negative connotation -- but I also wasn't living in a time where something like my new favorite teen show, MTV's Awkward, could have fifteen-year-old gay characters making jokes about being a "top" or a "bottom." Things were different. Having a politically active, fellow-ally sister who is eighteen, I feel like I'm constantly giving her the "when I was your age" talk about how, when I was in high school in the '90s, "gay" barely existed in the pop culture that dominated the lives of those under thirty.

I feel like the first time I saw someone on television who identified as young and queer and wasn't stereotyped into the "kooky hairstylist" or "sassy caterer" role was when Rickie Vasquez on My So-Called Life appeared. Even then, he was a spectacle. He was one of the troubled ones, his life acting as an after-school special component of the show while main character Angela Chase got all the plot lines written about her supposedly horrendous, mostly melodramatic two-parent middle-class life.

Rickie wasn't the lone gay character on television or in movies, but he was the character who symbolized where gay culture was to me just a handful of years ago. He was gay, I was a progressive Courtney Love-mimicking teenager with a pink triangle pin on my leather jacket, and I didn't know a single gay kid my age. I learned later that I did -- my best friend from high school came out when we were in our twenties, along with many other friends -- but even if we both knew he was gay then, we didn't know anything about what it was like to be out.


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