Gay People Don’t Need Your Approval
“Arthur, it doesn’t matter whether I approve or disapprove. They are human beings. They exist. It’s like asking me if I approve of dwarves.”
- Bea Arthur as Maude Findlay in “The Gay Bar” episode of Maude
When Bea Arthur dropped those four sentences in 1977, in character as her titular alter ego on the sitcom Maude, truer words had never been spoken on TV about gay people. Although the late Emmy- and Tony-winning actress has more gay cred for playing the equally sardonic Dorothy Zbornak on The Golden Girls in the ’80s and early ’90s, Maude may have gotten us even more than Dorothy did. (See the clips below for a comparison.)
Whenever straight people talk about approving of us, accepting us, or tolerating us, I want to throw Maude’s words in their faces. I know the ones who say they do (approve of us, accept us, tolerate us) think they’re taking the high and mighty road, but there’s something so condescending about their approval, acceptance, and tolerance.
It suggests that we’re something to approve, accept, and tolerate, and it implies that the person bestowing such kindness on us poor souls is somehow better for it.
I prefer Maude’s way of thinking. She doesn’t approve of us because there’s nothing to approve. We exist — not by choice, but because we do. I don’t always agree with Maude’s points of view, and I have some serious issues with the way she patronizes black people throughout the course of the series, but her view of gay people was decades ahead of its time.
Years before the nature vs. nurture argument applied to gays, Maude was calmly and casually supporting Team Nature as a matter of fact, as something that should have been as obvious as not buying into the creation theory.
Maude could be loud and obnoxious, the liberal yin to Archie Bunker’s conservative yang and not necessarily more likable for it. (The character debuted as Edith Bunker’s cousin in a 1971 episode of All in the Family, leading to her own series the following year.) But “The Gay Bar” should be required viewing for patronizing straight people who insist on giving or refusing us things we don’t actually need.