05 December 2011

Alan Sues

As you may have heard by now, Alan Sues has died.  

Like many other people, I first learned of him from his performances on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In."  My family and I watched it every week.  I was a very young child then, so I didn't "get" a lot of the jokes or the visual or other kinds of humor that was in some of the show's rapid-fire sketches.  However, I found myself liking Alan Sues, and some of the other performers on the show, even if I didn't quite understand their characters.  It may have been the first time I had such a reaction to a TV program.

At that time, I had no idea of what "gay" or "lesbian" meant, though I had some idea that I wasn't, and never could be, the boy that I was told I was, and was conditioned to be. I also had the sense that I would never grow into a man, at least not one who in any way resembled the ones I saw, whether in person or in the movies or on TV.  As far as I know, the only thing people in my school, neighborhood or any part of my community knew about gender variance was that Christine Jorgensen had the "sex change operation."  (For a long time afterward, that's about all I would know, either.)  To be fair, most people I knew were limited by their experiences, which did not even allow them to conceptualize any other sort of experience but the ones they, their parents and their parents had lived.  It was a blue-collar neighborhood; most of the men left it only to fulfill their military service and many of the women never left it at all.  And their parents and grandparents knew only the "old country" until they came here.  Actually, about all they knew about the "old country" was the neighborhood or village they came from.  When they came to this country, they settled in that neighborhood, among people who came from the same sets of circumstances as theirs.

Although I didn't have a vocabulary, or any other way to articulate it, at the time, I understood that Sues and other "Laugh-In" performers like Lily Tomlin were living as men and women very different from the ones I was accustomed to seeing.  I realized that Sues was not "masculine" or "manly" in the ways, it seemed, that I was expected to grow into and the men were expected to be.  Likewise, although she didn't "come out" for many more years--and I wouldn't have understood what that meant, anyway--I sensed that Lily Tomlin wasn't going to fall in love with some guy, get married and have a bunch of kids.  For that matter, I wouldn't have expected such things of even the show's seemingly-straight performers like Goldie Hawn and Joanne Worley.

As far as I know, Sues never officially "came out," either.  But his "flamboyance" (It seems that everything written about him uses that word in reference to him.) showed me, and other people, that maleness and femaleness--and sexuality--weren't the neat, precise categories that had been presented to us by our families, schools and communities.  Plus, even when I didn't understand the jokes, his sketches and the show were a lot of fun.