On my way to work this week, I sat down on of the benches in the foyer of the Hollywood & Highland to scarf down a breakfast sandwich. It's fun to watch the tourists coo over the stars on the ground or get their photo taken with Jack Sparrow or Ghostface and I was so absorbed that at first I didn't notice the six-foot-tall drag queen opening up the MAC Cosmetics Store.
Dressed like Joan from Mad Men, she opened up the store's glass doors as a full on performance, as ritualized as Chinese opera, as flamboyant as Liz Taylor in Cleopatra. Task accomplished, she turned to me, gave a knowing look and walked back inside. If I were quicker, I would have leaped to my feet and applauded. The whole moment wasn't tacky, wasn't ironic; it was just fabulous.
If you're gay and live in California these days, chances are you don't feel that fabulous. Being a second-class citizen can do that to a person. In some ways, things have never been better for LGBT Californians; legal experts are optimistic that the Supreme Court will rule to overturn Prop. 8 (whether they do so in a way that benefits the rest of the nation remains a murkier question), it seems every pop song on the radio extolls the virtues of diversity and Google is airing ads about preventing gay teen suicide on the television show featuring an openly gay teen romance.
Yet, I found myself at a dinner last week listening to friends talk about how they wished they longed for the days before being gay meant being political. "In some ways, it might have been easier in the 50s, furtively meeting guys at bars using innuendo," one of them said, and while the personal histories of Tab Hunter, Roman Navarro and Anthony Perkins beg to differ, my friends have a point.
The last decade has shown enormous progress for the gay community in terms of visibility, political power and basic acceptance. It's also led to a community that's been Huxtablized. Like the Cosby's the gays have gone legit with a campaign to prove to the rest of America that we're just like you, but with better fashion sense and the ability to dance in tennis shoes on daytime TV.
Instead of the wild sexual revolution of the 70s or the righteous anger of ACT UP in the 80s, the civil rights struggle of our time's most visible icon is Ted Olson, the lawyer arguing for the overturn of Prop. 8, who also happened to be President George W. Bush's lawyer at one time.
No wonder there's some resentment, a longing for the days when West Hollywood was home to pansexual pools parties at the Garden of Allah or Silver Lake was a hotbed of pre-Stonewall political action via the Mattachine Society. One of the great ironies about the LGBT rights movement is that to sell the rest of America on the idea of diversity, we have had to become less diverse, more palatable to a skeptical country that still believes all we're good for is color coordination and cocktail trends.
Which is why Faux Joan over at the MAC store made my week. There, in the midst of Los Angeles' biggest tourist trap, she holds her own. Neither a gimmick nor set piece, she may be the most authentic thing in Hollywood, a person who is made whole not by stripping themselves to the bare essentials, but by piling on more contradictions, possibilities and ideas about culture until they combine and form something entirely new.
What could be more Californian?
Japhy Grant is a journalist who has written for Salon, True/Slant, The Advocate, OUT and The New York Observer. He is also the creator of the digital show, FOODIES and has directed music videos for bands like Grizzly Bear and online campaigns for brands like Max Azria. Read his commentaries on the LGBT community in Southern California every week on KCET's blog, SoCal Focus.