by David Gerrold
George Takei is everywhere these days. He’s all over Facebook with some of the funniest memes of all. He’s always in the news. And he seems to be getting work everywhere—he’s been on The Big Bang Theory, Hawaii Five-O, The New Normal, Pound Puppies, and a dozen other shows, all in the preceding year. Look him up on IMDB and you’ll see he’s getting more work than a Republican spin-doctor.
I’ve known George since 1967. We met in the unemployment line. We were both collecting benefits because Star Trek was not then in production. I had written a script for the series, but the dialog I had written for him had gone to Walter Koenig instead because George was off making a movie with John Wayne. Oh my!
George is one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood, capable of an enormous range of character. He’s also a great guy in person. He has an unfailing good nature. (His husband, Brad, is also a sweet guy and the two of them are blessed to have each other.)
Where I give George enormous credit is that when he came out, he came out big. He used his personal celebrity to take the point on a lot of issues important to LGBT people. Instead of, “That’s so gay!” he encouraged people to say, “That’s so Takei!” As in: “That’s fabulous!”*
And if I had to choose one word to describe George Takei and his great personal success, then fabulous would have to be it. George Takei is the personification of fabulous. And that’s good for everybody. His joyous pride in being Takei goes a long way toward disarming the uncertainties that many Americans might still have about LGBT people.
Having said all that, I want to put it into a larger perspective.
America loves stereotypes—and American television is telling us that gay men are sissies: Jack on Will And Grace, Bryan on The New Normal, Cam and Mitchell on Modern Family, Kurt on Glee, and a host of other characters from various TV series that have come and gone. American television seems incapable of recognizing the gay soldier, the gay doctor, the gay accountant, the gay truck driver, the gay anything at all if he isn’t in drag. According to television, gay people are still sex-obsessed sissies who love to prance and have encyclopedic knowledge of Broadway show tunes. (Okay, yes, in the spirit of full disclosure, I do have CDs of the original cast recordings of A Chorus Line and Les Miz. But I don’t prance. Ever. A hippo in a tutu would be more graceful.)
Actually, I’m in favor of all of us being unashamedly fabulous. Glitter, rainbow, unicorns, whatever. As Oscar Wilde (allegedly) said, “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” Being unique is the only adventure that is entirely your own. But not just LGBT people—straights should have the right to be fabulous too, and we can be great role models, showing them that fabulous isn’t fatal.
But…as much as I love fabulous, I also want more than fabulous. I want meat and potatoes. I want Harvey Milk and Bayard Rustin. I want Vito Russo and Larry Kramer. I want Michelangelo Signorile and Dan Savage. I want Barney Frank and Harvey Fierstein.
I want political leaders, too. I want leaders who aren’t afraid to speak up and speak out and speak to the heart of the matter. I want leaders who aren’t afraid of controversy. Yes, ruffle feathers, rock the boat, rattle the bars of the cage—whatever metaphor suits—once upon a time we were dangerous. I don’t want to lose that.
We are a minority. We will always be a minority. And yes, as a minority, we will always be out on the fringe. To be blunt, that’s a good place to be. It provides the most interesting perspectives.
Our value to the national conversation is that as outsiders we can see things that the mainstream isn’t conscious of. We can say things that will make people pause and think. We are moving toward a time when we will be accepted, when it will be safe to say, “I’m gay.”
But in my never-humble opinion, safety and acceptance are not enough. We are different than the majority. We need to use that difference to be responsible voices not just for ourselves, but for our entire culture. We need to be something more than what the culture thinks we are.
George Takei gets it. He’s put himself on the front lines enough times to prove that. I hope that every other LGBT person in the spotlight will also recognize the larger responsibilities that come with fame.
It’s okay to be Takei. It’s even more important to be gay.
*In 2011, when the Tennessee Legislature was considering a bill to ban the use of the word “gay” in Tennessee schools (it passed), George Takei created this video, offering his name as a substitute for the banned word.
You can buy “It’s Okay to be Takei” merchandise here; all proceeds go to charity.