Fighting the Right for Rights.

lori-shepler-los-angeles-times

Photo Credit: Lori Shepler/ Los Angeles Times

The day before we went to the polls (and elected Obama, — whoo!), I wrote a little something on Facebook, pressing people in California to consider voting against Prop 8 and people with friends in California to consider talking with them about the need to vote no.  When the (overwhelmingly positive) responses to that piece started flooding in, I began to second-guess my decision to share, not (simply) because I’m semi-allergic to compliments (regardless of how much I crave them), but also because I wondered how truly I had represented my feelings on gay marriage. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I obviously believe that everyone has the right to choose how to express their commitments, and that no one should be denied that on the basis of sexual orientation or gender.  That’s basically a no-brainer for me, as it was for everyone else I know who voted in the state of California.  But my relationship to marriage remains more complicated than that.  On a personal level, I witnessed the deterioration of my parents’ marriage, in addition to their endlessly messy divorce (when I was eighteen), and to this day can’t really choose between the marriage and the divorce for the greater tragedy.  On a political level, I don’t really agree that the government has any right to determine which relationships “deserve” civil rights and which do not, since I know many cohabitating couples who are more commited than married folks, and many non-romantic relationships that will outlast marriages.  And while I wouldn’t impose my personal uncertainty about marriage or my political opposition to it on any other person — queer or straight — I feel that, when I wrote that piece, I played up my cookie-cutter-straight-self for the sake of an argument.  I’ve actually mentioned before that I don’t approve of this process, that I dislike the tendency in the lgbt community to try and adapt to heteronormative expectations, in order to convince the mainstream world that we are really just like them, plain American folks desperate for a white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and a golden retriever, but I see better now where that tendency comes from.  Reading the likelihood that Prop 8 would pass (or fail, barely) in the days before the election, I felt a little desperate to share why it couldn’t, and the argument I chose to make wasn’t a rational argument of equal rights, but an emotional “allow me to tug at your heartstrings” plea for my own future wedding (because I am, apparently, “just like you” and that is all I want.)  Granted, I’m not against an emotional punch here and there to achieve equal rights, but let me be honest: I have never picked up a bridal magazine.  I have never considered whether mine should be a summer wedding.  I have never considered colors for bridesmaids’ dresses or picked out flowers or conceived of a marriage ceremony as “my day.”  When I consider my future, although I desire relationships, although I daydream more and more about finding a girlfriend or even a partner, marriage isn’t something I picture.  It’s not impossible, but it ends up with status similar to… well… skydiving, for instance:  I won’t write it off entirely, but it doesn’t usually occur to me as an option, and I’m sure as hell not preparing for it.

Of course, the fact that it doesn’t occur to me as an option is part of a problem, the real problem, which is that as queer people, we deserve the same things granted to everyone else.  I don’t mean simply the same civil rights — which “civil unions” grant us, but also the same words, the same ceremonies, and the same social status.  Those of us who want weddings should not find the government standing in the way of that, but I struggle with the fact that I represented myself, in that piece, as one such person.  It’s the easier way to make the argument, but it’s only a partial truth.  Frankly, it bothers me that we have to sacrifice facets of ourselves — or feel we have to sacrifice those facets — in order to make progress.  David has mentioned at Love from the Asexual Underground that he represents himself as more traditionally masculine when speaking about asexuality (on talk shows, etc) than he might do otherwise, and he and I talked this summer about the fact that those places where his asexuality grows gray can be lost in a presentation he gives, because to some extent he becomes a symbol.  It’s hard for me to be comfortable with myself as a symbol, and in the days after I wrote that — I wondered whether it had been worth it.  I started to ask myself, if Prop 8 had failed, and I’d known my piece to play a part in that, would I have been ok with the way that I had fought?

Of course, Prop 8 didn’t fail, and mistakes are supposedly some of our best teachers, so I’m looking now at how I might have done things differently, and how we as a community might consider doing things differently.  Ily asked in her post on the matter if the lgbt community should consider re-focusing for awhile on other issues, perhaps bringing the world (or even the larger queer community) up to speed on trans issues, which —  let’s face it — we’ve thrown under the bus for some time now in favor of that cookie-cutter homosexuality we hope the normies will find easier to stomach.  A friend of mine in Florida — one of the three states that banned gay marriage this election — tells me that’s her sense of what needs to happen there: a sort of “wait and see” approach that gives an adolescent country time to mature.  My first concern with that strategy is that I’ve rarely seen time heal much, or even help it progress.  I don’t think we managed to elect Barack Obama this past Tuesday because over two-hundred years have passed since slavery; I think we elected him because of strong social action that has taken place during that time.  My second concern has to do with my own experience with that kind of social action, which has taught me to harness energy when it comes, and right now there is real energy behind marriage equality.  Gay marriage may not be my number one issue, or even my number one goal for queer rights — it may not be anything close to that — but right now, people across the country (and the world), gay, straight, bi, ace, poly, and beyond are horrified about discrimination over marriage.  People are taking to the streets, to the courts, and to cyberspace trying to change this, and I don’t think that’s something we should quell.  I think we should use it.  Sadly, there’s some truth to the idea that nothing unites people more quickly than a common enemy, and given that, I think the right-wing was stupid to help this pass, simply because they’ve given us such a clear enemy.

At least… I thought it was clear.  I thought it was clear that our fight here was against injustice, that we wanted not revenge but a restoration of our rights.  Instead, I’m finding fingers pointed at people, with a reported mentality that looks something like “let’s find out who was to blame, and let’s punish them.”  I don’t know how accurate this perspective is, how representative the articles really are that say we — as a community — blame people of color or blame the Mormons.  I know that I personally think these arguments are completely ridiculous and seriously flawed (respectively).  Last I checked, the vote cast by a person of color has never counted more in this country than the vote of a white person.  (Less, yes.  But more?)  So, I’m thinking that — regardless of color — the people who voted for Prop 8 are responsible for passing it, with the caveat that some of those people were talked into voting for it by the aggressive Yeson8 campaign, which was funded largely by outside interests, including a large number of Mormons.  I’m not going to claim I have not been pissed at “the Mormons” during the course of this battle.  You don’t supply an anti-lgbt campaign with (reportedly) more than $20 million, without garnering a portion of animosity from this particular ‘dork, and I did spend a day or two walking around asking people how long it’s been since the Mormon community practiced polygamy, and whether that really goes along with this notion of “traditonal” marriage between one man and one woman.  (Don’t get me started on how non-traditional that definition really is.  We’ll save that entry.)  Eventually, though, I realized that anger wasn’t doing anything, and that the best outlet for my frustration is action against its true source.  That source really isn’t Mormons, or any other particular group.  Rather, it’s the denial of rights by a government I expect to protect them. 

It may very well be valuable to look into who supported Prop 8, and in that regard, to whatever extent that religious communities played a part, religion needs to be considered.  But it does not need to be looked into so that we can start flogging Mormons in the streets or force the secession of Utah.  It needs to be considered so that it can be addressed.  I’d rather identify issues than individuals because issues can be discussed and resolved.  Whether it’s religious doctrine or a certain interpretation of religious texts, whether it’s pressure from leaders they have given authority or the reality of never having known an out gay person, information about what happened in California (and Florida, Arizona, and Arkansas) strikes me as significantly more valuable than a list of the people I need to hate.  I understand the desire to hit back with equal energy, and I do think we should launch a campaign to repeal Prop 8 as strong as the Yeson8 campaign was, if not stronger.  But ultimately, I’m not interested in fighting fire with fire.  I’d rather fight fire with water, and actually put out the flame.  I’d rather invest my anger and my energy in action that could secure for us the rights the government refuses to secure on our behalf.

And I want to keep in mind that President-Elect Barack Hussein Obama (I will never grow tired of saying that) spoke of gay people as a part of the American community immediately upon being elected.  Since then, he has stated that hiring for the new administration will not discriminate on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, and that said administration will pass a trans-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act.  I believe that we are making progress.  I want to believe that we will go still further, and that when he said these words on November 4, he wanted us to hear them as our own:

To all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright –tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.  For that is the true genius of America — that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

The hope Obama symbolizes is not something I’m willing to surrender quite so soon.  So, as a community, let’s continue balancing our hope (our disappointment, and our frustration) with a heavy dose of social action.  And let’s orient that action toward our true goals and the issues that stand in the way of them, so that our victory –when it comes — is not further division, but instead the renewed right to love as we love.

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8 Responses to “Fighting the Right for Rights.”

  1. pretzelboy Says:

    I think that to a real extent time will make huge changes in this issue–not time spent doing nothing, but I cannot imagine lgbt people to simply stop fighting for rights. There are two reasons I think this. The first is that there is a large generation gap on these issues. (I found some stats about these issues, with a particular emphasis on religion at http://faithinpubliclife.org/content/faps/) As younger people (who are more likely to support same sex marriage) become a larger part of the electorate and as older people (who are more likely to oppose it) become a smaller part of the electorate, I expect to see change on this issue. The second reason is that I expect that there will be a lot more people who change their minds from an anti-same sex marriage position to a pro-same sex marriage than the reverse. And with the second, this change will come about precisely because of lgbt activism, though there is plenty room for debate about what forms of activism are most effective.

  2. Ily Says:

    I agree with the generation gap being a big factor.
    And I like your idea of harnessing the energy that people have right now. I hope that can be done successfully.

  3. willendork Says:

    Pretzelboy: That’s a really good point about the generation gap, and how time will work wonders, in a sense. I’ve seen similar statistics to the ones you linked, and I think it will be exciting to see what happens as we become the majority and eventually the old fogeys who are so conservative in comparison to the younger generations. 🙂

    Ily: I hope it can be done successfully, too. And I wish I were still in CA for the more kickass protests!

  4. Dulcinea Says:

    LOL. i actually read your note on facebook and was a bit surprised by the…. sentimentality…. (i was also surprised that you explicitly demand “marriage” rights as opposed to civil unions.) interesting to hear that you feel you used the tone of that note almost to manipulate people (i don’t mean this in a bad way – i think this is kind of what you say here), and how you feel you had to play a role in order to make a point.

    this is slightly off topic but it reminds of something else. i am in a lesbian relationship but i was definitely NOT born gay, in fact, if anything at all, then i was born straight – because i CHOSE to be with my girl. she, on the other hand, is convinced that she was born a lesbian.

    last night i read this on wiki:

    “The Family Research Council, a conservative Christian think tank in Washington, D.C., argues in the book Getting It Straight that finding people are born gay “would advance the idea that sexual orientation is an innate characteristic, like race; that homosexuals, like African-Americans, should be legally protected against ‘discrimination;’ and that disapproval of homosexuality should be as socially stigmatized as racism. However, it is not true.”

    that makes me want to keep my mouth very shut about how i came to be with my girl.
    which sucks.

    sorry if that was off-topic but it came to my mind. 😉

  5. willendork Says:

    Dulcinea: Yeah, it was very sentimental. I look forward to sorting out a way to present these arguments — with an emotional layer — that doesn’t just flat-out misrepresent me. I mean, there was truth in that representation, but there was some non-truth as well. It would be nice to find another way to write about it, although I may just have to learn to be comfortable with writing-as-theater. I’m not there yet. (Also, I do believe we deserve marriage rights, and not just civil unions. I don’t personally give a shit about getting married, despite my emotional response when my sister was able to and I wasnt, but I do believe it should be either civil unions for all or marriage for all. Maybe it’s the English major in me, but I refuse to believe the word doesn’t matter.)

    Secondly, what you’re saying about “born” vs. “choice” is simply not as off-topic as you’re thinking. I think it’s the entry before this where I’m discussing that very thing. I personally don’t feel that I was born gay, although I think it’s possible I was born with some sort of “predisposition” (not liking the medical/ pathological feel of that term, but I think you know what I mean), but I also don’t think I chose my orientation. I think it was probably built, over time, by a combination of environmental and biological factors that were acting on each other. And while I understand why we feel the need to argue it’s biological, it bothers me that we’re making that argument. Anyway, you might be interested in http://www.queerbychoice.com … a whole group of people who are uncomfortable staying silent about the fact that they very much chose queerdom. And I’d like to tell you personally that while I can’t relate to the choice factor (any more than to say that if I’d had the option, I would have chosen this), I think ‘people like you’ are a boon to the queer argument (or would be if we were making the correct one.) Because the fact that someone would desire this, desire to be this way, for me serves as proof that it is a positive thing, which is very rarely how it’s represented. You know?

  6. queerunity Says:

    we must harness the energy, something is going on, and its good.

  7. Ily Says:

    *pokes you* Time for an update, Miss Venus! 🙂

  8. willendork Says:

    Ha ha, past time. I’ve been busy with our premature holiday celebrations, but there’s one up for you now! 🙂

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