Same-Sex Marriage, Overcoming Homophobia and Playing The Floor Is Lava
Houston Chronicle's Joey Guerra and Family
If I'd met Joey Guerra 15 years or so ago I would have spit in his face... which would have been very detrimental to my music career in addition to keeping me from a good friend and worthy colleague. It wasn't anything personal, it's just that he's full of the gay, and back then that got you spit on by me. This is my story of getting past that lunacy.
When I was a kid, and I'll bet my fez when you were as well, there was a game we all played called The Floor is Lava. Maybe you called it something else, or maybe the floor was full of poisonous snakes or piranhas or quicksand or something, but the point was that it was as deadly as the pits Mario would leap in Bowser's Castle.
So the object was to jump from sofa to chair to table to whatever in order to traverse the deadly obstacle. Sometimes you had to get creative. In my house this required unfolding a sofa mattress while on it, or teamwork to create cushion bridges.
Thing is, you had to really believe it to make it work. Oh sure, it was just an excuse to go all spider monkey on the furniture, but that's not the fun bit. The fun bit was falling and calling out brave final declarations as the lava burned you alive. Dramatic death scenes and "Tell mom I love her." I was still pulling this game after T2 came out, so we would go out with the Arnold thumbs-up. Good times.
As the IRS declared last week that that they would now accept married tax returns from same-sex couple regardless of their residence provided they had been wed in a state that allows it I realized that for my entire 30 year span on this rock, we have been playing The Floor is Lava on this issue. And now it's over.
Growing up in the barrios of east Houston, nothing had the power of the word "faggot." That word was a talisman. There wasn't a word for homosexual in my lexicon, certainly not as it now applies to consenting, normal adult people. Even gay was more of an indication of a girly weak way of doing something than an accusation of same-sex attractions.
But to be called a faggot was to fear being one, and none of us had any idea what the hell that actually meant. What does a seven-year-old boy know about any kind of sex except that it feels good to touch your penis? Faggots got AIDS (Whatever the hell that was). Faggots put things in their butts. Faggots were forever and it couldn't be cured and everyone hates faggots.
In other words, the floor is lava. Touch it and you die, but you have to really believe for the whole thing to work.
As I grew up, I got weirder. I cross-dressed for fun and shock value. I was attracted to girls, but had no idea how to interact with them aside from a clownish façade. As a teenager I spent every weekend playing at The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I took a 25-year-old woman to prom (I was actually grounded while dating someone who owned her own freakin' house). In other words, I had a very atypical physical maturity that understandably confused me a lot.
It took me a long, long time to come to terms with the fact that I was a homophobe because I started out being scared of something that was nebulous and almost completely fictional. The things that that aren't really there are the hardest to fight. No one ever sat me down to explain the concept of homosexuality before. I never really knew a gay kid, or at least never knew an openly gay one. All I knew was that the word and associated concepts were all spoken of as dirty, wrong, deadly, and to be avoided at all cost. Don't step there, the floor is lava.
My parents were completely non-religious, so I didn't have that hang up, but for 20 straight years of my life you could feel anti-gay sentiment throbbing in the air in a million little ways. Subtle jokes and throwaway lines whispered that gay was wrong, no argument necessary. They were at best to be tolerated, certainly not associated with. The idea that there were completely normal folks like my friends Naomi and Rachel and their twins pictured up there just never entered my mind.
It was cultural background noise all around me, like a song with melody you never forget but never learn the words to. Can't imagine what it must be like to be gay and have heard that song since you were born. Must be awful.
Because I was a somewhat atypical teenager who hung out in odd places I was always getting weird signals, hit on by strange people, and having very confusing erotic dreams. When you're seeped in that cultural game that pretends gays are pariahs, the idea that you might be one is frightening. And scared people lash out. Scared people are dangerous people.
Little by little, I met homosexuals because, you know, they exist and they just walk around in the daylight like other humans. It's as simple as that. One of my first bosses was gay. She was a good boss. Funny, a little weird but that's what you get at an art house movie theater. Then I'd find out that someone else I knew was gay, and realize that it didn't really change anything. A bisexual person here, a transgendered one there, even this endearing declared asexual girl who went only by J that I thoroughly enjoyed the company of.
It's really hard to live in fear of something that stands only five feet tall and makes you oatmeal raisin cookies.
The way I see it, there are two sets of rules. The first set we call laws, and we all have to live by them. Good ones like don't kill people, confusing ones that we don't understand because we're not in charge and can't see the big picture, and stupid ones because the government is like your parents in that they are just regular, fallible people.
I'm not sure there's a name for the second set. Norms? Customs? Taboos? It's the default guidelines of the majority in any given area. Everyone in town likes chili, most people go to the Baptist church, y'all coming to the football game on Saturday? That sort of thing. With those rules comes the vague idea that anyone who breaks them is just wrong. Is off. You can't point to any specific reason why, really, just as you cannot point to a single verifiably logical reason for the oppression of gays or the opposition of same-sex marriage. But you feel it in the air. They stink of difference, and difference is judgment when you're childish.
It's just a game, though. It's just pretending the floor is lava. The game is over now. It really is. The president of the United States has expressed his support of equal rights for all LGBT Americans and people abroad. The Supreme Court has ruled that discrimination of the same is unconstitutional. Even the IRS has had enough of us jumping on the furniture, knocking over lamps, and THIS IS WHY WE CAN'T HAVE NICE THINGS.
The time has come for us all to grow up. To quit being scared of the dark, and to put away the game. I know there are a lot of people that don't want to, and as we walk across the floor they'll scream that the lava is burning you. It's not though. It's just a ratty carpet, and we're not brave jungle explorers, and homosexuals have names like Susan and Murray and go to Kroger and file taxes and clean up cat vomit and stuff like that.
The floor is the floor, and rights are rights, and people are people.
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in Houston.
More Arts News
- Art League Houston Breaks Through Walls to Give Indebted Artists a Voice
Sat., Dec. 19, 3:00pm
Sat., Dec. 19, 7:00pm
Sun., Dec. 27, 2:00pm
Sat., Jan. 16, 8:00pm
- The 5 Best Things to Do in Houston This Weekend: Romeo & Juliet, Slade Ham and More
- The Elf in Tights is Back; Todd Waite Returns as Crumpet at the Alley