Tuesday, March 18, 2008

How Do You Prove You're Gay?

Rock Hudson: Never photographed at a gay pride parade.

How do you prove you're gay? It's a question that's been troubling me since I heard about the case of Kulenthiran Amirthalingam, a gay man whose refugee claim was recently rejected by immigration muck-mucks in Canada when he couldn't provide sufficient proof of his homosexuality. Amirthalingam was sent back to Malaysia, a country known for its hostility to members of the GLBT community; he has already spent time in prison there for being gay. From a Canada.com article about the deportation controversy:
Michael Battista, a Toronto lawyer who has expertise in dealing with gay and lesbian refugee claims, says the problem is there is no consistency of analysis. If claimants have pictures of themselves at a gay pride parade, proof of participating in online gay-chat rooms or witnesses who can testify they have had gay partners, then the adjudicator has some evidence.
How many of us have never been photographed at a gay pride parade? (You can't see me right now—at least I hope you can't, because I'm so not dressed for company—but I'm raising my hand.) How many of us don't have proof of participating in gay chat rooms? (This is where I raise my hand again.) How many of us don't have witnesses who can testify that we've had gay partners? (No hand-raising on this one, but what about gay men and lesbians who've always been single or hidden their relationships from others?) Finally, how many of us are enormously, spectacularly, almost egregiously gay? (I started off raising both my hands. Now I'm bending my arms to form the letters Y-M-C-A as a disco ball that just magically descended from the sky shimmers beatifically overhead.)

Proving your gayness to Canadian immigration officials sounds even harder than proving your Jewishness to the rabbinate in Israel if you wanna get hitched. It got me thinking: if I weren't a US citizen, if I lived in a country that meted out harsh punishments to those found "guilty" of being homosexuals, if I couldn't furnish witnesses to testify that I'm a giant queer ("Hello, Canadian Refugee Board. I'm here to tell you about the time Cranky Lesbian and I kept rewinding Morocco to see Marlene Dietrich kiss a woman") and if I sought asylum in a country like Canada, how would I prove my gayness? It's not like we're tagged or chipped or an examination of our bodies would turn up the Mark of the Homo (which I imagine would resemble a miniature version of this).

Everything I came up with sounds like a lame joke. I'd probably point to my sneakers first. If that didn't do the trick, I might hand over my iPod. The problem with relying on your MP3 player to establish your orientation to a bunch of strangers—or rather, my problem with relying on my MP3 player to establish my orientation to a bunch of strangers—is that its contents point more to me being a drag queen than a lesbian. Mixed in with all the classic R&B and New Wave music, all the Beatles and Beach Boys and Ella Fitzgerald, you'll find Barbra, Bette, Cher, Judy, Madonna, a little Cheryl Lynn, some Donna Summer, the original Broadway cast recording of Gypsy, the classic Charlene campfest "I've Never Been to Me," Whitney Houston dance remixes, a curious cover that finds Liza Minelli turning "You're So Vain" into "You're Sho Vain," and more Nellie McKay and Rufus Wainwright than you can shake a stick at—and that's just off the top of my head.

What if the authorities still weren't fully convinced of my gayness? I could recite the plot lines from various episodes of Ellen: The Post-Coming Out Years from memory. (Remember the time Ellen and Paige and Audrey went to that Lilith Fair-type event and Rena Sofer wanted to hook up with Ellen but Ellen only cared about Laurie and hilarity ensued? Doesn't it warm the cockles of your heart just thinking about it? No? Yeah, me neither. That wasn't one of the show's finer episodes.) I could name my favorite transgendered character from a Pedro Almodovar movie. (That would be All About My Mother's Agrado, of course.) I could get online and show them a catalog of my book collection at LibraryThing, pointing out all the queer tomes I own and that my alias there is a tribute to my favorite Mink Stole character from a John Waters movie. If even that wasn't enough to convince them of my all-time champion gayness, I could tell them the exact moment Betty and Rita start to earn that R-rating in Mulholland Drive. (That would be 1:40:16. Or, as it's called in the Bible, Hotness 1:40:16.)

Other than that, what do I have? Coming out to my friends, coming out to my relatives, and accidentally coming out to all of the seventh grade when I wore that plaid shirt to school on picture day, those aren't things I could prove if I was alone in a foreign country. The Canada.com article continued:
With no witnesses, photographs, love-letters or other documents indicating a gay lifestyle, refugees are often left showing up before the refugee board acting flamboyant or acting on other gay stereotypes.
How are witnesses and photographs and love letters proof of anything? Witnesses can lie. Photographs can be faked, their contents misrepresented. Love letters can be forged. Sure enough, journalist Tiffany Crawford writes that "witnesses and letters are dismissed as hearsay and claimants are accused of fabricating lies to stay in Canada." Maybe one of you, in your infinite wisdom, someone who stumbles across this in cyberspace, can explain to me how you determine whether a person is gay. I don't want any smart-ass answers, any of that, "I don't know, ask if they've dated Penelope Cruz" business. Me, I can't figure it out.

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