I had the opportunity to see Tab Hunter Confidential, and Tab Hunter (@TabHunterDoc) himself in Washington, DC, along with his partner of 30 years, Allan Glaser.
It’s kind of an amazing story, about a breathtakingly handsome actor (who still has a breathtaking quality), the last of the generation of contracted studio actors, playing top roles, but also hiding the secret of his homosexuality, in the 1950’s, along with many others. Some survived, some didn’t.
Beyond the impact to the person, there’s the impact to the generations of youth denied role models that could have supported their participation in society (or even saved their lives).
It’s never too late tell the story of the system that conspired against so many, and they serve as great role models today. Thank you, it matters.
Allyship in the 20th Century
In the 1950’s, being an ally included protecting someone from the discovery of their authentic selves by others, so that they could survive. As the documentary discusses, once Tab left Warner Brothers, the shield he once had from press scrutiny was no longer there.
Allan Glaser, Tab’s partner, chillingly said: “It may as well be 1928 in Hollywood today. Gay men who are actors are still reluctant to come out in fear of the impact of their career.”
The medical profession, as part of the same society, suffered from the same bias. And the far reaching impact was the same, many patients in the health system were denied empathy (the ones that survived), future physicians or physicians in training were denied role models and opportunity (the ones that survived).
Working to be an ally in 2015: Opportunity and Responsibility
We have great opportunities to do more in the 21st Century. With great opportunity comes responsibility, though.
Following the film I read these two pieces recommended by a mentor of mine, Garrett G, about what it means to work to be an ally (and note the phrase “work to be an ally”), in my case to the LGBTQ community, and specifically for people who are transgender or gender non-conforming.
So yes, it’s all the things working to be an ally suggests, and we can work to be them in a much more helpful way now, plus:
In No More “Allies” – BGD, Mia McKenzie says
It’s not supposed to be a performance. It’s supposed to be a way of living your life that doesn’t reinforce the same oppressive behaviors you’re claiming to be against.
So You Call Yourself an Ally: 10 Things All ‘Allies’ Need to Know — Everyday Feminism is extremely practical and to the point:
Stop Thinking of ‘Ally’ as a Noun: Being an ally isn’t a status.
..and there are 9 other things that I can relate to in my own journey.
And here’s what I’ve learned.
When I speak with Garrett and read and learn more, I realize that working to be an ally is confusing for some. What they might think is helping may not be, and may be attached to their own personal values, at the detriment of the values and needs of the people they’re trying to help. Garrett tells me about some of the behavior of people who identify as allies, and I am a little incredulous. It’s also easy for me to make that judgement from afar.
The reality is that I will never know what it is like to be a transgender person. Just as a heterosexual man will never know what it’s like to be me, and I’ve seen misguided attempts to become our allies, too.
I really like the idea of not using ally as a noun, and so I won’t do it anymore – I only want to be perceived as working to be an ally in the moment, and it’s not my call to make. I’ll always be working at it, which is great, lifelong improvement is what I signed up for.
It shouldn’t be easy, but one part of it is
Working to be an ally is hard – you will disappoint the people you are working to be an ally for – maybe because of a retreat into privilege, maybe a poorly thought through action or comment, a lack of humility at the wrong time (or any time).
At the same time, you’ll be the recipient of the bias heaped on the people you are being an ally for.
So? It would be much much harder to watch people, patients, members of my community, denied care, empathy, opportunity based on who they are.
The choice to work to be one is easy then, no complaints, piece of kale, it’s an honor.
There’s some science of relevance here…
Interestingly, I learned recently when studying for my Boards in Family Medicine (hooray!) about the “Developmental Model of Ethnosensitivity,” first written about in 1991.
When I apply it to the interactions I have, I meet people at all of the stages – lots of Stage 1 when it comes to people who are transgender. And maybe I was there too, a long time ago. Sub, or unconsciously I was/am, I have really noticed this fade in the last few years. You can review my implicit association test result here.
The idea is that we’re all in development, and progressing throughout our lifetime. That’s what the model says, what a coincidence….
The A word: Accountability
I am the accountable one for working to be a good ally.
And yet, Garrett has been great for me and to me. He is not obligated to review my work and writing, and he does. He’s not obligated to provide coaching and guidance and he does. He’s not obligated listen to my perspective and he does.
It’s a great, unexpected gift. It’s not required and I value it immensely. It takes a lot of energy to do, and I think only some people are capable/interested in doing it. Maybe this model might spread for the people like Garrett and people like me who want to learn and change.
1928, 1958, 2018, and beyond
As Tab Hunter’s life experience shows, even the most gifted (appearance, wealth, talent, etc) can be denied the opportunity to participate in society, and in their own lives. I’m so glad his story is one with a happy ending, because of the so many that were not (Anthony Perkins, Rock Hudson).
Today there are still people being denied the opportunity to participate in their own lives, at school, in the workplace, in their families. Some take their own lives instead of being who they are.
This is perfectly tuned to what I say about patient empowerment in health care:
- It’s the doctor’s job to bring the patient story into every conversation
- Then it’s the doctor’s job to bring the patient into the conversation
- Then it’s the doctor’s job to have the patient tell they own story and get out of the way
There’s no loss of power or professionalism in this approach, remember, the science above – not minimization, integration.
In this generation, we have the opportunity to do a lot more than protect someone from the visibility of their authentic selves, and I’d like to leverage it, of course, because I and we can 🙂 .
Thanks a ton, again to my mentor/trainer Garrett G. You can read more about our relationship here: WAIT = Why am I Talking? Learning how to be a better Ally
I wish all of this on every doctor and nurse in their lifetime, if not sooner….