With Miss Ross' new CD "I LOVE YOU" coming
out on January 16th, I share a couple of
TESTIFY/PATRICK'S POP UP(DATES) from my
personal vaults to get us in the mood.
DIANA ROSS TAUGHT ME WHO WAS "THE BOSS"
I can't speak for all gay icons and why they resonate with the homosexual community, but in this life I'm growing to see why Motown legend Diana Ross is considered one. For background, she has definitively been my favorite performance artist since the late 70s when - at 8 or 9 years old - I had a chance to witness her HBO Concert "Live From Caesar's Palace". From the image of the hotel's exterior simply featuring the diva's nomenclature in black atop a white, brightly lit marquis to her dancers escorting her back into the big screen from which she popped out at the top of the show - singing "Ain't No Mountain High Enough". That plus everything in between surely equated to what many of my friends from around the way would call "fierce".
As a pre-teen who had not come to terms with my homosexuality, I wasn't exactly sure why I was drawn to this sparkling brand of beauty. Of course, I loved the way she looked and found her glammed-up aesthetic to be eye candy. More importantly, I found comfort in her thin, but strong voice. And the lyrical phrasings coming out of her mouth just made me melt like butter (even today). Did it mean I wanted to marry her? Though my own mother exuded traits that made me adore her fabulousness, perhaps I saw Miss Ross as a mother figure? At times, as I admired her finesse, aplomb, and je-ne-sais-quois, I wanted to be her or something supreme like her. She - in the words of one of her colossal hits with the Supremes (and the Temptations) - 'was gonna make you love (her)' - against
all odds. And now, over a more than 40 year span, she has been the dreamiest of Dreamgirls and 'boy, she's made us happy'. Curiously, it caught me off guard some years later when my sister quoted her room-mates' brother. In short, he
said "If anybody likes Diana Ross, they must be white or gay.". It was considered a mean-spirited joke of sorts, but more than 20 years later, I think I now know what he means.
As I ponder Diana's life and its soundtrack, I realize that she is a subtle,
yet high-wired symbol of what it means to be young, gay, and black in America. From "Love Child" to "The Boss" to less- heralded remakes she's made in the 90s like "I Will Survive" and "Carry On", Diana has truly demonstrated triumph over oppression, rejection, misconception, and misinterpretation time and time again.
Miss Ross' message is much more than her early 80s anthem "I'm Coming Out", which did speak passionately to her gay following, many of whom came out of their own proverbial closets to let the world know they were men loving men or women loving women. Initially, I never considered myself a part of that larger movement. Mostly, my sexuality for me has been a personal journey (much like
Ross' family and romantic life). Following Ross' lead, I've seen how cruel
people can be and have just opted to focus on the organic nature of my "love",
and leave the public guessing. But moving beyond my circle of closest friends to let the world in on the news (to some) has been vulnerable, but inevitable and better in the long run. Diana similarly handled the paternity of her oldest daughter Rhonda, who would not find out that Berry Gordy was her father until she was 13 years old, like that. She chose to
keep it on the down low because - as she has noted - "It was private. It wasn't
something that you talked about.". Still, Ross provided her with all the love
she had to give. Have you thought how many gay people feel forced to bury their
truth for years and years because of the misunderstandings and hatred that
people have towards you. With that, you still have to try to find away to love
and to be loved. In love, there should be no judgment or conditions. But
unfortunately, in our society, that is not the case. Usually, like Rhonda, 13
years into adult life, the truth just has to come out. And though there are
repercussions, most find relief in exposing the secret.
When you're gay (in the closet or out), it becomes important that you remind
yourself that "you are loved". If there is anyone in the business who has had to
be the sacrificial lamb for "self love", it's Diana Ross. She emanates from an
infamous legend that is Motown -- one that pitted her against her childhood
friends who subsequently became her background singers; one that pushed her into
the spotlight arguably at the demise of fellow label-mates; one that shot her to
the highest of heights in Hollywood and the music business, but hung her out to
dry due to racism, petty jealousies, ageism, and sexism; one that placed blame
on her for one of her former Supremes partners Florence Ballard's death. Through
it all, she's managed to spread love through her art. Whether reaching out and
touching somebody's hand or climbing to Mount Everest and beyond because "Ain't
No Mountain High Enough", Ross always managed to keep that 88-key smile shining
and those arms outstretched as if to say (and she did on her 1979 hit album "The
Boss") "I Ain't Been Licked". To be forced into believing the hype that "all gay
people are going to hell" is a huge part of what keeps homosexuals depressed and
without the love and support they deserve. On many occasions, it's that Diana
Ross tune that has gotten some of us through. And when she said in her third
1980 hit "It's My Turn" that "I can't cover up my feelings in the name of
love...", we knew what she was singing about.
Being Diana Ross means having a Mr. Diana Ross in life is not easy, yet she proved throughout her career to be a hopeless (and realistic) romantic. The early Supremes classics gave us all a dose of Ross' sense of reality in love. From "Where Did Our Love Go?" to "You Keep Me Hangin' On" to "Love Is Here and
Now You're Gone", never had break-ups and despair sounded so sweet. During her solo years, "Touch Me In The Morning" ('then just walk away') really rang true to the struggles a gay man has in finding a mate ("Wasn't it me who said that nothing good is gonna last forever".). Still, "Love Hangover" and "Endless Love"
showed clearly that Ross wasn't giving up on the amorous way of living. And I haven't either. In fact, it's my having found love that's inspired this writing and that further leaves me feeling connected to Diana who has had to venture out
of the periphery of society's norms to find her love. And whether she was
married to a Jewish publicist or Norweigian tycoon, the criticisms kept coming.
Whether she dated Ryan O'Neil or hard rocker Gene Simmons, people had something
to say. And let's not forget how much "hater-ade" she had to drink for her
involvement with Berry Gordy, a black man. Still, Diana seems to not have given
up on love. And that inspires me.
On the Lionel Richie-penned tune "Endless Love", Diana says "No one can deny
this love I have inside, and I'll give it all to you My love…". That's how I feel about that special someone in my life. And I'm hoping that it explains a little more of who I am - especially for my family who has expressed nothing but undying support for me over the years. Still, I've continued to bury this feeling that somehow I'm less than a person because I was born this way. Or that
perhaps I'm doing something wrong (And I do know of the convenient interpretations of the bible that banish gays to the lion's den for partaking in
this so-called "lifestyle"). A bit of insecurity comes directly out of the feelings that my siblings and parents have expressed about those people out there who they call "funny" or "faggots". Of course, my family is but a by-product of the society at-large which doesn't approve of two men being in love or two women in a relationship. As a result, many of us go through life living a lie, or keeping our truth so under wraps that we are so detached from the
families we love so much. It's the journey to try and get them to see that
certain realities (and subsequently choices you make for yourself via those
realities) have nothing to do with them or how they raised you. I think Ross can
relate as she has had to step out on her truth more times than not - whether
explaining herself to the black community about her marriages to white men or
justifying why she is still a real person in spite of her extravagant lifestyle.
Her flip side to the 1982 hit "Muscles" - penned by Michael Jackson - is a song
titled "I Am Me". She sings "Right or wrong, I will stand up like a tree. Happy
or sad. Good or Bad. I am me.".
If we could marry our self acceptance to our loved ones' acceptance of us, the world would be a better place. But since that -- in some cases -- may not happen,we've got to be vigilant enough to let "love teach us who is The Boss".
God - through each of us - is "The Boss". Not society's perception of who it thinks we're supposed to be. Not our family members' thoughts on what they'd
like us to be. And though it's not always comfortable to be who we are in the presence of people who aren't happy with themselves, we've got to "Carry On". And as Ross noted in one of her less-heralded tunes from 1995's "Take Me Higher"
album, "if your dream is strong enough, a door inside will open and a light will flood the dark. like a song too long unsung, or a soul forever young. we will find an answer in the voice of the heart". For the longest, I've been hearing
the voices of shame that come out of my sisters mouth whenever a family or church member comes up "gay". I'm hearing the toxic sounds of an industry that obsesses over someone's worth based on whether they are gay or not. I'm hearing the judgment of the many "macho men" who are gay-bashing out there while keeping a man on the side for their sexual pleasure. But as we fans follow the beautiful voice of Diana Ross, let's not forget that our 'heart' is calling for us to love ourselves and be ourselves...first. It's My Turn. It's your turn....to be happy. And for that inspiration, we can thank Diana!