I remember vividly those days in which I would stay home sick from school and spend time on the couch catching up on the latest episodes of The Price is Right and watching my leading ladies use their afternoon talk shows to discuss everything from skincare regimens to the latest child piano prodigy. These talk show hosts, almost all of whom are women and all of whom were successful in their own right, and Oprah foremost among them, represented the quintessence of my rural gay childhood fantasies–a life of elegance, fame, glamour, and respect.
Pop culture queens are defined by their embrace for femininity in its varied forms and popular success in spite of a society that is for the most part abrasively opposed to any form of successful femininity. From Oprah to Beyoncé to Liza Minnelli, these women are bestowed their gay iconic status not only because of their glamour, grace, and social prominence, but also for their strength through adversity and inspiring ability to overcome their own social challenges.
An appreciation for pop culture’s female figures is for many gay men, then, definitive of how we come to understand ourselves and our own identities. These pop queens represent to any young gay boy the victory of the non-masculine, of the feminine, of the beautiful and glamorous, over the burdensome and toxic weights of masculinity we fight to overcome. It comes as no surprise, then, that with the speculative rise of one of our very own queens to the highest political office in the United States comes a great deal of excitement.
Oprah Winfrey, a queen among queens, recently shook Twitter feeds and newsreels alike when she gave a beautiful and moving speech at the 2018 Golden Globes that was equal parts call to action and compassionate reminder and which left pollsters wondering where she electorally stood against such perennial politicians as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
By describing her own humble beginnings watching other black actors overcome oppressions in order to succeed, Oprah once again connected with her fans who, in many case, are not unfamiliar to their own racial, gender, or sexuality-based oppressions. In doing so, and in speaking to the importance of the #MeToo movement, Oprah gave us hope that things will, in fact, change as we work together to rebuff how men treat women and how society views sexual violence. Inevitably my Instagram was filled with the tears brought by these well-spoken and inspirational words, and we were all left wondering “What if?”
“What if our leader were Oprah and not Donald Trump?”
Inspiring words of hope and change, after all, have the power to lift us beyond our current context and to help us dream up the details of an inspired future. Oprah’s words led many to the conclusion that this brighter future demanded just such a queen: Oprah Winfrey herself; in fulfilling her role as one of our queens, the only logical next step seemed to be for her to challenge and replace our current oval office occupant and in doing so bring about the social justice we have all been craving.
But, do these qualities that make our queens able to be our icons equip them for the task of being president; are Oprah Winfrey’s moving words, intellect, and support of so many campaigns for social justice enough to qualify her to oversee one of the largest public institutions in the history of the world?
The presidency, as with any public office, demands a certain set of skills, knowledge, and wherewithal or, what Plato, Aristotle, and the ancient greeks would call technetranslated as technique or artfulness. In other words, when you think of the president you think of a certain number of tasks and jobs performed, all of which require skills and techniques gained by experience. While we certainly want a president who can inspire hope in the citizenry and who has a proven track record of campaigning for justice and equality, we also need a president who, in a very practical and much less sexy manner, knows how to achieve the policy outcomes that will ensure a more just society.
In short: Oprah, along with of the rest of our pop culture queens who readily promote the values of equality, hope, and resiliency, while brilliantly skilled at directing the public conversation on issues, lack the experience of, in practice, working within bureaucratic institutions to achieve policy outcomes.
And at base, real policy outcomes, and not mere rhetoric, are what are actually needed to concretely change the social conditions that impede justice and hope from proliferating. It is after all, policy initiatives founded on research and expertise, and fought for by activists both inside and outside government agencies, that made funds for HIV/AIDS research available after years of governmental failure and inaction, and it has been a series of fought for and won policy initiatives that have made conversion therapy illegal (in some states) and equal marriage rights a reality (in all states.) Social change needs policy change just as much as policy change needs social change.
Understanding the interworking of large governmental bureaucracies that oversee swaths of our day-to-day lives including healthcare, education, and social welfare, is a task that absolutely at base requires experience in order to succeed. The election of Donald Trump has taught us a lot about what it takes to be president and foremost among these is that the president needs to have experience working with and within governmental bodies because, contrary to popular belief, public agencies are not equitable to for-profit businesses. In short, the skills it takes to be a successful businesswoman or a successful talk show host are distinctly different from the skills it takes to be a successful public servant.
The recognition of this difference is imperative in order to continue fighting for the policy initiatives that are foundational to the political efforts of our community. While the awards speeches and public support by our queens such as Oprah are imperative to the success of LGBTQ+ and other political movements, these alone do not and should not qualify someone for the presidency. If the election of Trump has taught us anything, it should be that rhetoric and glamour, fame and fortune, do not a president make. As members of a marginalized community who stand to lose even more if we elect yet another inexperienced non-politician to public office, it is imperative to the success of our movement that we elect experienced, tried, and tested public servants.
Rather than focusing our attentions on the hyped up idea that one of these iconic individuals who we hold so dear to us should be our president, we should instead be taking steps that include forcing our current set of politicians to take our demands seriously and finding LGBTQ+ political icons who have the passion and inspiration of Oprah and the policy chops of a seasoned public servant. Our queens can and oftentimes have been at the center of our political efforts, giving voices to our cause and reminding us of our own abilities to overcome the adversities we face, but in these tumultuous and chaotic political times, it is not a queen we need, but a president.
Images via Getty
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