Tennessee

To Be Takei. Or Not To Be? That Is the Question.

image

Some of us are afraid to be defined by some of our own features. It’s easy to imagine ourselves in caricature, like my childhood self who was ashamed of the freckles and big front teeth that surely would have dominated a comic sketch of my face.

George Takei is someone who could easily have let his life define him. He could have been a gay Asian man too ashamed of his orientation to pursue acting, and too burdened by the memory of being imprisoned by his own country for being Japanese-American to strive for anything more than to avoid further instances of racism.

Instead, he is a well known actor, activist for marriage equality and gay rights, and a devoted husband to his partner of over two decades. That certainly doesn’t seem like a man avoiding who he is.

In my family, George Takei is a household name. Unlike other children born in the 80’s my first major Star Trek experience was the original series instead of The Next Generation. That’s what happens when you live in a foreign country and have a VCR and the entire show on VHS, you binge watch episodes like candy. This normal for me and my parents.

So when George Takei came out in 2005, it was definitely interesting news for us, especially me, since Sulu was a childhood hero of mine alongside Spock and the gang.  Over the years, I watched as George stood up time and again, leveraging his reputation to advance important causes for gay people.

The documentary does a good job relating all of these things, not so much in chronological order as much as it tries to connect all of George’s pursuits to the reasons behind his passions. His family’s internment in concentration camps during World War 2 is a major inspiration for his current endeavor, the musical Allegiance. There is also his sexual orientation, which he had to hide during his early acting career, like so many others in that time.

While the documentary doesn’t showcase very much that was new, that can be attributed to the fact that George Takei is already quite open about himself. One point that did come through quite well was his sense of optimism he said he has maintained throughout his life. While it doesn’t hurt to be successful, there is something to be said for how much he attributes his own success to this optimism.

The fact that he is an activist for the gay community also shows that he understands that his success is something he can leverage to aid others who share his struggles. I still remember when he called out my home state of Tennessee, which attempted to outlaw the usage of the word “gay” in public schools. While my state still lags behind in the rights it extends to LGBT people, his campaign of “It’s okay to be Takei” still gives hope that even the most conservative states will be unable to conserve the bigotry that they hold as sacred.

image

Overall, it was enjoyable to watch. George Takei has overcome racism and bigotry, has found success, love, and still makes time to pave the way for others to share in the opportunities he has had. This single documentary doesn’t make everything better for everyone, but perhaps it still serves as a beacon of hope for those languishing in the dark places where mysticism and hatred oppressively flourish.

Remembering that George Takei is a household name for me and my parents, as is everything Star Trek, it reminds me of when I noticed my father had liked George’s page on Facebook. This was before I had come out to my parents, and saw that my father, who had also grown up with Star Trek, had been able to look past race and sexuality¬† to have a good laugh every now and then from the hilarious content posted there. This gave me a inkling of the acceptance I would eventually get.

On the other hand, at a wedding several months later, after I had come out to my parents, I had an uncle of the backwards and conservative type come up and try to be chummy with me. The way he mentioned that my father and I followed “that George Takahashi-or-whatever-his-name-is” on Facebook was dripping with such racism and disdain that I realized some people will never wake up from their ignorance.

image

It is people like that who can make us want to hide, or even change who we are. However, we all have a chance to be who we want sooner or later. While it may seem difficult to accept those things about us that others seem to hate, it starts starts with ourselves. If we all retreated from the truth of who we are, then there would be no documentary that charts the achievements of George, and it wouldn’t be okay to be Takei.

Advertisements

Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act… Shenanigans

image

HB 1547, a bill passed in my home state of Tennessee, proposes to protect the rights of religious students by granting them special rights that will allow them to freely voice their religious views and protect their religious views from discrimination.

Essentially, a person may use religion as a free pass.

Don’t understand that final answer on your biology quiz about evolution? God is the answer.

Why did you just harass the foreign exchange student from the Middle East? God is the answer.

Why are you wasting class time sharing the Gospel instead of studying Edith Hamilton’s Mythology? God is the answer.

Why did you just terrorize your classmate who is gay, or at the very least doesn’t fit in with the kids from your church’s youth group? God is the answer.

Why is God the answer? Because religion is sacred and should be above discrimination. And this is where I call shenanigans.

That’s right. Tennessee proposes to sanction religious based bullying as a protected right.

As a gay person who went to school in this state, I can honestly say that I didn’t experience any bullying because of my sexual orientation. Because I kept it a secret.

I lived in terror that someone would discover I was gay. I feared the ridicule I would experience for being gay. I loathed myself for feeling different in a way that others seemed not to deal with. I felt shame that other “normal” people were happy and that I was only pretending to be. I maintained this painful facade carefully for many years, and many choices in my young life were made based on this facade.

I avoided actively pursuing interests that would betray my attempt at deception. I acted contrary to my true self to uphold that false image. I let opportunities pass me by because they would make my identity harder to maintain.

Imagine living like that. And imagine that if you were discovered that “Christians” would have legal freedom to persecute you like a witch in the Dark Ages.

But it isn’t just about being gay. What of the intelligent young person with a mind of science, with a love of logic, and a future in discovering the mysteries of the universe? Imagine how ignorant young people will stall education because their “religion” forbids them to learn evolution or the Big Bang.

What of an aspiring young author who is unable to study Shakespeare or Keats in peace because her classmates are railing against the ungodly secular literature that offends their sensibilities?

To be clear, I am not implicating all people of faith as ignorant, because I have known many intelligent people who have coupled their faith with a love of learning. I have also known many religious people who are truly gracious and accepting of other people.

But those are not the people for whom this bill was written. There is a huge wave of equality rights sweeping this nation, and it has been cresting for decades. This bill is an attempt to thwart progress.

This isn’t just a war against equality. This is also a war against the mind. The very mind which can love a person is the same one that thinks and produces art and science that fills the future of our world.

Whether or not this bill is made into law, consider the implications of something like this. If Tennessee is willing to sign over the rights of its citizens to medieval theocracy, then what other travesties will follow?