Who deserves respect?
BY Charles Karel Bouley II
April 07 2005 12:00 AM ET
Run from it. Integrate it away. Homogenize it. Back-burner it. Do what you will, but it will always come back. It will always rear its head, coming directly from some unknown place inside, a place you might not even know exists or a place not often visited.What is this force that can work either for or against you at any moment? Your gayness.I know. It’s happened to me several times in the past year, and I’m still paying for it.I’m a talk-show host on major-market radio. As such, I have to appeal to the broadest audience and talk about things that are inclusive, things that matter to the most, not the fewest. As such, I often have to overlook gay issues. I can’t spend hours on this or that gay issue, because for a majority of my listeners (and my employers) I’m enough of a gay issue. It’s not that I shy away from the major issues, like same-sex marriage, but I couldn’t pick four stories from The Advocate each week and make them into topics. My audience just wouldn’t care.Also, an important part of what I do has been moving beyond being seen just as gay and showing the audiences and management alike that gay men think about everything their straight counterparts do when it comes to the world, including politics and current events, and that we have opinions that vary, that don’t toe some party line. I speak to my audience as a member of society first—a guy who’s trying to make it, just like them, dealing with the same things the world throws at them from a human point of view, not a gay one.Then something happens to remind me that I am in fact gay. Try as you will, you can’t escape the history, the responsibility, the struggle—and all that goes with it.Twice I have brought myself great professional grief because “feeling gay man Charles Bouley” went on the radio instead of “thinking talk-show host Karel.”The first was when Ronald Reagan died. All day long I heard everyone make this man a saint on TV and radio, and I couldn’t stomach it. I had a very different experience of this man, and that experience was most decidedly as a gay man. His disregard for AIDS, the tone he set in the country about how it was OK to let us die, the lack of resources that he provided, and the overall response of his administration to gay people were abhorrent.So when I went on air, all that came to mind was “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead,” so I played a piece of the song. I went on to speak of all the problems I had with Reagan and his administration. It was a spirited two hours. It was also on the day that he died.The following Monday there was hell to pay. Complaints rolled in. I was classless. I was evil. I was way off base. I brought disrespect.Now, maybe all that was true. But the fact is that as a gay man, I shed not one tear for Ronald Reagan. And as an American who had to live under his trickle-down economics and social conservatism to the nth degree, I shed no tear for the cowboy gone Washington. To say anything else would have been a lie, and I cannot lie to my audience. And yes, much of that opinion was forged in hospital rooms time after time in the 1980s, watching my friends die. Not hearing about people dying, not reading about them, but there, watching them, and having to deal with the prejudice, the lack of resources, and so much more that were a direct response of the tone of the Reagan administration.I ended up apologizing, not for what I said but for when I said it. I even wrote an open letter to Nancy Reagan, which is in my book You Can’t Say That.That incident was a definite case of Charles Bouley, gay man—with all the pent-up anger and frustration building from the 1980s coming out.After that, I reacted “normally” for most major events.And then the pope died.For two weeks the television cameras had been camped out in Florida in front of a hospice where Terri Schiavo lay dying in a vegetative state. Every religious nut in the country had jumped in front of a camera to talk about the “culture of life,” and the U.S. Congress, in my belief, broke the law by creating legislation to extend federal court jurisdiction into the personal decision-making of one family (which is constitutionally wrong). The president signed it and then the battles began—religious battles, it turned out, not legal ones, because the courts, both state and federal, stuck to the law and refused to go against existing statutes. Every judge refused overturn rulings in favor of Terri’s husband’s right to make her medical decisions.
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