My cousin makes fun of me; she is certain I am the last man alive in these days of e-mail and Face Time that still makes use of the post office. But I use it all the time. I still send letters and postcards and thank you notes and Valentines — I always need a stamp for something. And the first time I put a Harvey Milk stamp on a letter, I was surprised at the emotions it stirred up. Seventy years ago they put us in concentration camps for being gay; fifty years ago they still put us in jail; thirty-five years ago they binged on Twinkies and assassinated us for daring to participate in city government. Now George Takei rules the internet, Ellen is the darling of daytime TV, and they put Harvey Milk on a stamp. Much to the dismay of some Republican lawmakers, we have arrived. It’s enough (apparently) to bring a tear to the eye of a boy who came of age at the height of the AIDS crisis with the fear that just being gay would literally kill him. So when the Finnish post office announced their plans in 2014 to release Tom of Finland stamps, I had to have them. As in, I priced air fare to Helsinki so’s I could go stand in line at a post office and get some.
If you must know, Tom of Finland has never been my favorite artist. I like a nice round butt in tight pants as much as the next guy — probably way more than the next guy, actually — but for the most part his men are too muscled, mustachioed, and leather-daddy-ish for my tastes. Do they all have to wear that hat? But the fact that a whole freakin’ country could recognize Tuoko Laaksonen’s contribution to world culture (the gay part of it, anyway), and celebrate an erotic artist by putting some of his erotic art on stamps, without people feeling the need to rise up and pass a bunch of grandstanding retaliatory laws (one has a butt!) reinforcing their Jesus-mandated prerogative to, I don’t know, use different stamps — or not mail wedding pizzas with them or whatever — was huge, and I wanted in. And only recently did I learn that my friend in New York called her friend in Sweden and asked her, Hey, next time you’re in Finland, could you scoop up some stamps for my friend? A request her pal graciously fulfilled (Tak, Pernilla!), and I got my set in the mail a few weeks ago. They’re gorgeous and kind of sexy and subversive in a history-making way, and they deserve a fate better than getting sifted to the bottom of the pile of
crap priceless memories here next to (and on top of and underneath and behind) my friend’s old dining room table desk, and so off I went with them to Michaels to see about getting a mat cut and getting them into a frame.
To the extent that what I’m about to say could serve any purpose beyond perpetuating stereotypes, I present as gay. Like, as way gay. I look like I’m gay, I talk like I’m gay, I wear pashminas and toenail polish and, because I live with a drag queen, there are days that I leave an actual trail of hot pink glitter in my wake as I flounce through places like Michaels. And in case the people working in the custom framing department weren’t the type to pick up on not-so-subtle social cues, yesterday I was also waving around a sheet of stamps emblazoned with a naked guy and his butt saying “Frame these!”. First an unflappable young man offered help. When I told him I was hoping for a custom-cut mat to fit a ready-made frame, he assessed my artwork without comment, suggested a nice blue, and then produced a stack of mats from which to choose. While we were weighing the options, his co-worker approached the table. She saw what we were working with, and sure enough, she had something to say about it.
“Don’t use that velvet,” she said. “Use this silk.”
The silk did have a more interesting texture to it, and once it was cut (read: into a small border rather than a giant sheet, which was a bit much, color-wise) and inserted into the silver frame she also suggested, it was the exactly-right mat. Because it was the mat she liked best, she gave me a break on the price, and I had a coupon for the frame, and now the stamps are showpiece-fantastic, probably for less than it cost my friend to have them sent halfway across the world. At no point did she state or even hint that my sexual orientation might affect her ability to recommend, cut, or sell me a mat, and I neither inquired regarding nor did I attach my decision to purchase to her religious affiliation. She sells mats, I wanted to buy a mat — I gotta say all in all it was a pretty straightforward business, and I find myself thinking, Was that so hard?
She might be a Christian. She might not be a Christian. If she is a Christian, she’s one who understands that she’s not gonna go to Hell for providing a service — at her service-providing job — to a gay guy, even if it was for the obviously gay purpose of hanging a naked guy and his butt on the wall. It’s not my wall, she was presumably able to say to herself. What do I care what this person I don’t know does with these stamps? In other words, she gets that me going about my business is not an infringement on her rights. Like, any of them, the religious ones or the non.
Here’s a little bit my thing with this whole Indiana mess. And the possible Arkansas mess, and any other existing or pending right-to-discriminate legislation. Let’s say you do have the right to discriminate. Against me for being gay. Or against my friend for being black. Or against my husband for being fat. Or against this person for being poor, or against that person for being from China, or against anyone who isn’t just like you for — the nerve! — not being just like you. Not to get all jingoistic about it, but what the hell kind of American is champing at the bit to exercise that right? What part of our history must someone have missed to decide that the (perceived) right to exclude, to disenfranchise, to publicly and proudly treat someone as less than is the one he wants to rally ’round and fight to defend? If this is our culture’s definition of “freedom,” I’m not so sure it’s something we need to be in a big rush to “restore.”
Look, nobody wants to eat your tacky cake, and I’m certainly not going to beg anybody’s business to take my money. But nobody who has ever truly sat with the question What Would Jesus Do? has arrived at “Arbitrarily deny certain people their basic dignity when they come into his shop because they gross him out!” as the answer. You’re not being “religious” when you discriminate against people because of what they are or what they look like or what you just know they get up to in bed; you’re just being kind of a jerk. Which I don’t even really have a big problem with — that’s your karma, not mine. But call it what it is. When you write to your state senator (being sure to avoid the Harvey Milk stamp) or call into your talk radio shows, own that you’re an asshole. Fight to protect your right to be a shitty, judgmental, isolationist member of your community. Rally to uphold your ignorance and fear! But don’t hide behind religion. Don’t drag Jesus into this. Don’t spit on my cupcake and tell me it’s frosting.
Although I’d still sooner eat that than one a them Indiana wedding pizzas.