This Guest Post is from a good friend of mine here in Champaign. N. Fredrickson earned his M.A. in Classics from the University of Illinois and his Honors B.A. from Saint Anselm College, N.H., with certificates in graduate teaching, Asian studies, and Russian studies. He has worked as a certified tax preparer, a certified pharmacy technician, an assistant in public and college libraries, a clerk in an antique store and a doughnut shop, and a graduate teaching assistant, and his interests embrace ancient philosophy and religion, myth, language, and other subjects.
The gay genius and Stephen Colbert
Now, there's nothing wrong with being gay. Some of my best friends are going to hell.
Since Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart have taken the week off and their fans have been left to contemplate reruns, now might be an appropriate time to reflect briefly on the character of their specific geniuses. Jon Stewart is straight, and his humor is equally straightforward. Jon Stewart’s character—for even he plays a character—is possessed of the confident humility which is the privilege and birthright of all straight, white, financially solvent men. As one might have guessed from his time as Chuck Noblet and as the voice of Ace in Robert Smigel's "Ambiguously Gay Duo," Colbert appeared, like Athena from Zeus’ head, in full command of the gay genius. In the premiere of The Colbert Report, for example, we observe without surprise a subtle queerness in the culmination of his statement of philosophy:
"I don't trust books. They're all fact, no heart. And that's exactly what's pulling our country apart today. Because face it, folks, we are a divided nation. Not between Democrats or Republicans, or conservatives and liberals, or tops and bottoms. No, we are divided by those who think with their head, and those who know with their heart.”
Colbert’s intuitive knowledge of his rightness, his truthiness, his absolute magnificence in all respects, is the only foundation on which those gay people who flourish in this world stand. They know they are fabulous, and no one who matters could think otherwise. After all, acknowledgment of their fabulousness is the foremost condition of social significance.
Both our allies and our foes make frequent forays into our camp. Under the guise of humor, our straight friends and those who casually mock things as “gay” engage, in spite of honest straightness and ignorant bigotry, in distinctly gay behavior. We’ve all seen, and sometimes benefited from, the puzzling behavior of adamantly straight men and women who, against their true sexual preferences, flirt with their same sex friends. But it begs the question: Why? Sure, it frustrates their friends who really are gay, but they must have a deeper, more selfish motive. Our frustration is like the penny in the plastic dish by the cash register; it’s so readily available, so common and cheap a coin, people forget to take it and would be happy to do without it.
When Colbert kissed Tom Hanks (as he did in his most recent episode aired on July 2nd, which contained footage from the week he spent in Iraq indulging his military fetish) and when he devoted almost an entire episode of his show to the treatment of LGBT issues (as he did on June 25th), he performed the role of Ally with distinction. Not only is he a good actor and thus able to perform all roles convincingly, but he’s also, somewhere behind the mask, a true ally—at least to everyone in our community but the bears.
Freedom and isolation are inseparably linked. The sense of alienation and otherness involved in being gay often leads to doubt, introspection, and close observation of human nature, and, while not a pleasant sensation, this can result in a new power to understand and express the human condition. Great humor consists in being free enough to state the obvious. Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and, yes, even Colbert owe much of their wit, sensitivity, compassion, and freedom of mind to the gay spirit.
One need not be gay to experience this liberty, but, to experience it, one does need the imaginative power to escape the confines of one’s condition. Colbert, of course, illustrates the fact that straight people can overcome their unfortunate handicap. Conversely, many gay people, generally those who have feared too much or have not suffered enough, have yet to find this freedom. The gay genius is subversive; it speaks in one language and communicates, for those with ears to hear, in another. The irony at the heart Colbert’s character is the native power of every gay person who lives long on this earth in anything like a self-aware state of mind. To speak the words demanded by one’s environment while perceiving the oppressive and intolerable weight of every syllable and yet to deconstruct them and, by deconstructing, infuriate, to dress and act in the costumes and characters assigned to one at birth and yet to playfully transgress, to see the tragedy at the heart of the divine comedy, this is the gay art. To call it irony or textual criticism or fashion or lying is merely to continue playing at the game.
The bigot who would never vote for marriage equality or robust hate crime legislation will still tell his bro how sexy he looks in the pink shirt (in the appropriate, joking tone) precisely because he wants the freedom to wear his pink shirt if he feels like it. When the entire human race is supposed to fit into two gender categories and is given only a handful of sanctioned roles for its diverse and exuberant sexualities, they will, all of them, remain empty because, although meant to hold the whole world, they cannot contain even one person. And so the gays will continue lending their genius to an often thankless world, but, on Colbert’s show, if I may be permitted to borrow his words, their voice will be heard, in the form of his voice.