Friday, July 15, 2011

Where Did My Camp Go?

So Thursday night, I watched "So You Think You Can Dance," the American version, and one of the guest judges was Jesse Tyler Ferguson.  (Can we talk?  Have you seen some of the guest judges this season?  Debbie Reynolds?  Are you kidding? Sweet and legendary, but, hello!, useless.  And Carmen Electra? What?  Since when do large breasts falling out of a top qualify one to be a judge of a dancing competition?)

Anyway, Jesse Tyler Ferguson appears on "Modern Family," a show I watched exactly...once (the pilot) and gave up on.  Sorry. Don't try to convince me otherwise.  I don't need to be tied down to yet another TV series.  Although, I sure liked Ferguson on Thursday, much more than I thought I would, who's gay because he mentioned he has a boyfriend (not that I needed to be told), and who had me thinking, at least for a moment, I may have been hasty in my assessment of "MF."

Without question, Ferguson is one of those gay men you'd invite to your house party because, well, for one (and a superficial one, at that), he's cute.  The ginger hair makes him look spritely, and the full beard makes him look oh-so-butch.  Not to mention the perfect smile of perfectly white, straight teeth, his tasteful and unique fashion sense (was he wearing a jacket with the pattern of corrugated metal on it?), and his vivacious personality.

It's his vivacious personality that sends me to my computer today because he has one, that's for sure, and what seeing him camp it up on "SYTYCD" did was remind me of what I once had.  Oh, I may not have been as vivacious as him, but I couldn't help but look up from the show at one point and realize something I never had before.  Truth is, I used to be funny, once, a hell of a lot funnier than I am now.  And I can't help but wonder where my camp went.

There was Ferguson, gesturing broadly, finding the perfect wise crack, bon mot, or observation to make (as though he'd had advance notice of what those around him were about to say), and using expressions that would only come out of a gay man's mouth--one who's comfortable with himself and doesn't give a damn what anyone thinks.  In fact, sometimes, he was so clever and so quick, both in wit and speech, that he lost the audience altogether, including me.  But, no matter.  He hit more than he missed, and you couldn't help but love him.  At least I did.

Once upon a time, I used to have a little Jesse Tyler Ferguson in me.  But he's long gone.  I remember when I was a bank teller in my mid-twenties.  I became familiar with the other ladies on the teller line, and I knew most of the regular customers on a first-name basis.  We laughed, man.  We laughed a lot.  Sometimes, we carried on like we were in a TV sit-com, especially on a crazy busy Friday afternoon, line-up out the door, and everyone so exhausted and so punchy, who knew what might come out of our, my mouth.    

That's when my outrageous came out.  That's when my unique way of looking at something emerged, prompting me to make an observation or a sarcastic comment that cut up everyone, including customers in the line-up who overheard us.  I admit, it was fun being the center of attention sometimes, for a change, not the one being laughed at (they weren't laughing at me, were they?), but the one who was making other people laugh.  Whose bizarre perspective and blatant moxie caught people off guard and turned them into putty in my hands.  Oh, those were the days.

Those were the days, too, when I moved to Vancouver in the late 1980s and met Dale, the most brash, acerbic, and outrageously hysterical real-life clown I've ever known.  Dale was gay, too, (so gay!), and, when the two of us were together and in top form, WATCH OUT!  Take shelter from the zingers, the jibes, and the cracks, because no one was safe with us around, least of all each other.  Yes, we were often cruel and inappropriate, but, hey, it was all in good fun.  We never tried to hurt anyone.  Not intentionally, anyway.

But camp doesn't appeal to everyone.  And, early on, I learned anything that pointed a finger at me--more than I did just standing in a room and doing nothing--and unmistakably told people I was gay had to be downplayed, if I didn't want trouble on my hands.  And I didn't, believe me. Camp has a time and a place--generally in the presence of other gay men who get it, won't judge you for it, and will likely join in, because it makes them feel carefree for a change--but not in front of just anyone.  

So part of putting an end to my camp had to do with survival, living up to others's expectations of me.  In fact, most of it did.  I've always had a wild sense of humor, and, when you get me started, and I feel comfortable, there's no end to it.  I'll have you in stitches faster than you can say homosexual.  But that was then, when I was much younger, on those occasions when I felt safe, when I could truly be myself, let the zingers fly, and not care if they landed where someone found them hysterical.

It was not after realizing, when I put a muzzle on it, I wouldn't be judged as harshly.  Not after spending nearly thirty years working in the conservative world of banking.  Not after being a supervisor and manager of anywhere from five to forty people, knowing my unique perspective and witty repartee wouldn't be appreciated.  Not after growing older and maturing, settling into the life I'd had to create for myself, void of camp, personality, and color.

The world has changed.  It appreciates people like Jesse Tyler Ferguson more.  It doesn't get as uptight about gay men who are flamboyant, who flail their hands and arms about, lisp, and mince, sashay, or prance when they walk.  And it looks at bright, clever, witty people, straight or gay, and sees them for what they really are--brilliant and gifted and valuable.  Isn't that the way it always should have been?  

And you know what?  I've changed, too.  I learned Thursday evening I celebrate the Jesse Tyler Fergusons of the world now.  Where they used to disgust me, because they were so obviously gay, because I thought they made all gay people look bad, and because they reminded me too much of myself, they now genuinely amuse me.  I've softened toward them.  I embrace them. And I recognize only too acutely what I lost by becoming something I wasn't, but had to be.                                    

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