Reba, Narvel and the Muppets: If They Can’t Last, Can We?
By Jonathan Shuffield, Co-host of the Pacific Northwest LGBT Radio Talk Show OUTSpoken
Ok I admit it, I follow celebrities. Not in the tabloid like way, I mean I don’t believe that Ariana Grande is pregnant with an alien baby and Donald Trump orchestrated it. I do have those celebrities that I am drawn to, though, and I follow their music and their movies, I take some sense of satisfaction when they are happy and feel sad when they are hurting. Before you start judging; stop, check, you do it, too. Contrary to all of the political stories we could follow, human beings long for a connection to each other and are naturally drawn to having them.
This week I was taken aback by two heartbreaking announcements in the celebrity sphere. First, the announcement that Reba McEntire and her husband of 26 years, Narvel Blackstock, are separated and that Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy have officially called it quits. How can this be? Can this world ever make sense again? Why am I reacting so big over two people I have never met and two…Muppets?
Seriously, why do I, and for that matter so many others, feel such impact over the break-up of celebrity relationships? Part of it is the fact that we want to believe someone has the answers, the answers on how to make a relationship last. We need to believe that there is some specific formula that if we can just decipher it then we can have that, too. We are hoping that if some “elite” group of people can make it work, than that is proof that a formula exists and knowing that it exists, we might actually attain it for ourselves. It’s an exhausting stream of logic when you look at it. It’s also a lot of pressure to put on anyone, celebrity or not.
I look at where we in the LGBT community are now after the historic Supreme Court ruling. Now every person in the United States; gay or straight, black or white, even Democrat or Republican, has the right to get married. We are relatively newbies at this; we want to succeed and may even have a need to save face in front of those who tried to keep us down. I feel the magnifying glass will be even more focused on gay celebrities who have married the one they love. There is not only an overall hope that their relationships will last, there is an unspoken demand. We need to believe it and you have to prove it to us that it can!
If you think I am exaggerating, think back to the late 80s and early 90s, yes for some of you this will take a lot of focus and imagination. Back then there was a couple (a gay couple) that everyone in our community knew. Rod Jackson and Bob Paris were two outspoken gay models and they loved each other and they didn’t care who knew it. They married in Canada, they wrote a book, they did talk shows and a lecture tour. They were our hope, our proof to the world that we could have a relationship and were worthy of a shot at marriage. So many of us young gay boys looked up to them, placed our hope in them and then the day came. The day it was announced that they were breaking up and a community felt its heart break. They could not be human because we needed them to be more. They were the personification of our deepest longings. We punished them by banishing them into obscurity.
As I contemplate marriage equality, I am struck by how much more pressure we will place on ourselves and others now. How many of us will feel the extra pressure to “make it work” so we won’t have to feel like we let each other down? In the past I could have boyfriends, the relationships might fail, but that’s just how it works when you are dating. Yet, I remember the amount of pressure I put on myself when I called my relationship a marriage. In just the word, the pressure mounted to make everything perfect. I would make that relationship last years longer than it should have because I could not give my family the satisfaction of saying my “gay” relationship didn’t work. I had to prove to them and myself that my love was not less than theirs.
How many of us will take on the responsibility of a community’s hopes and dreams and succumb to the pressure to prove our love worthy? Will we worry so much about what the world will think that we forget to just be in our marriage? You may think this is silly or that it’s the same pressure we have always had, but I disagree. It was a long battle to make it to this point in history and there are a million eyes on every gay couple around this country. Eyes from those who fought beside us and those who still refuse to stop fighting against us. The pressure is on and no matter how much we want to believe it won’t affect us, it is still lingering above our heads.
I write this not because I have the answer, but because I am curious about our human nature. I want us all to be safely tucked into our own coupledoms and only concern ourselves with making those work, but I know how we reacted to the breakup of a country music superstar and a couple of Muppets. I think the first public battle has been won and now our private pressure will begin. Why do we need our celebrities to give us hope? Maybe because we are not yet ready to give that hope to ourselves. I guess in the end we truly have found our marriage equality. We are all too damn scared to be human and let the world see our hearts.