to polemics and back

Here’s the polemical part:

I dread election season. I can’t believe another one is already upon us. This year – no doubt because of Bram – I’m especially weary of the ludicrous discourse that surrounds every bid for office. I’m thrilled with both of the supreme court’s recent decisions (well, I’m thrilled with health care; I can tolerate Arizona), and with President Obama’s newly “evolved” stance on gay rights. Still, it is demoralizing to have our civil liberties up for debate under any circumstances, and when that debate becomes near-daily front-page news, when people (including the president) tell us that legalized bigotry is “a states’ rights issue,” when lesbians are shot in parks and viable presidential candidates win votes by making clear just how inferior we “homosexuals” are, I get bitter and angry and want to scream. This was made worse for me last week when friends began a particularly degrading home study process in an effort to secure second-parent adoption of a child who is, obviously, already theirs. That this non-birth mama could be put through such invasive and humiliating questioning – along with dozens of other time-consuming and expensive hoops – while the rights of many (many. many. many.) abusive and neglectful parents remain secure and unquestioned is too much for me. It’s just too much.

Being forced to go through this implies that my friend is a little less than a real parent (which she’s not), just as having debates about civil liberties implies that whether or not whole groups of people deserve civil liberties is a reasonable thing for people to vote on (which it’s not). And because the bigotry that fuels all of this has been allowed to thrive, I’m now (as I know so many of you have done) steeling myself for the moment when we’ll sit our son down before he starts preschool, or kindergarten, or some camp or another to explain to him that some people don’t think his family should BE a family. That some of the kids he’ll encounter will have had their heads filled with arcane, pedantic, self-righteous bullshit. That those poor children will believe their family to be morally superior to his. That he will face people who want (and are willing to actively fight) to deny us rights, which by the way is a form of violence. Because I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it: the people who tried to run us off the mountain in Ohio were not substantially more violent towards us than the people who’ve walked into voting booths and voted to have us stripped of our rights. The latter behavior is more publicly sanctioned, but it feeds the former behavior – in its own way it sanctions it – and both behaviors are violent. It’s those people who should have to defend themselves as parents, not my friend, and not me. Those people are abusive. It’s abuse to teach people to hate, to abandon critical thinking in favor of dogma (which is what they’re doing, no matter how well they convince themselves of the soundness of their rhetoric). It should not be enough to say that their religion teaches it. We should not have to tiptoe around religious people’s hatred, to pretend that their faith excuses it. We should be allowed to say that we will not abide their violence no matter how they sell it to us. Their parental rights should be questioned, not ours. Instilling bigotry is abuse.

So I don’t grant the basic premise here: that civil liberties are up for debate. As we head into yet another election season where our worth as people is a daily public discussion, I find myself wanting more and more to refuse to participate. If a group of people today (including a presidential candidate) started publicly insisting that black people should not be allowed to marry white people, or that it should be legal to deny black people housing or jobs simply because they’re black, that would (with any decency) be shut down right away. Those people would be publicly shamed. The only reason anyone feels that LGBT civil rights are up for debate is because we’ve been surrounded by that debate for our entire lives. We’re used to it, and we’re used to the basic devaluation of human worth that comes along with any group’s discussion of another group’s equality. Just as we were used to slavery. Just as we were used to Jim Crow. Just as we were used to women not having the vote. It’s just as shameful; we just don’t see it that way because homophobia has been nourished in these past decades.

So when I see people engaging in a goodhearted debate about whether or not my wife and I deserve equal rights as citizens, I shudder. And that’s not misplaced; that’s just right. What I’m saying is, the conversation itself is a disgrace. That we allow it to go on is an embarrassment that we should feel keenly. My marriage is not recognized by the state to which I pay taxes. My name is not on my son’s birth certificate. And any of the activist judges in this state could take him away from me. My child, to whom I am wholly devoted. All because of a religion to which my family does not ascribe. That is a failure of profound proportions. I do not grant the premise that this is up for debate. I don’t think we should participate in these discussions because the discussions themselves do violence. There’s no nuance here, there’s just this: the laws are unconscionable. They must be changed. We should not grant anyone the right to a spirited discussion about our freedoms as American citizens. If we’re still here in another generation, this will be obvious. It will be obvious just as it’s been obvious in the aftermath of every other cycle of discrimination the world has ever known.

So that’s the polemical part. I’ve spent the past several months devoted to the belief that I’m done compassionately educating people on this issue. All done. That I will no longer carry signs that plead my equality. That I will take it as a given, and that I will seize it when it is not given to me because it is rightly mine.

But then, here’s the human part:

I got this comment on a blog post a couple of weeks back:

“Your story and the eloquent way in which you tell it, as well as some of the blogs I clicked to from yours, has for ever banished from my mind the last shreds of prejudice against same-sex couples. Thank you.”

And I’ll be damned if this didn’t make me feel pretty great. About all of us, really, this community of ours. Because I always think of us as helping each other, which we clearly do, but I’ve never – not even once – thought about the possibility that our communal voices are positioned to change people’s hearts. That our devotion to parenting, to partnership, to community, to love: that it all might actually do something external to us. Maybe the rest of you know that’s part of what you’re doing here. Maybe you’ve been writing in part to break down bigotry all along. But I swear: it never occurred to me that any of our audience struggled with lingering homophobia.

And then I got this message. From this wonderful, generous reader, whose life looks different from mine in some ways, and similar in others. And I thought: okay, then. That’s part of what we’re doing here. I could refuse this, but doing so would be selfish. It would serve only to protect me (a little). It wouldn’t protect my children, as it wouldn’t help change things. So I still don’t accept the premise. I’m entirely unwilling to see this as a states’ rights issue; I find that argument absurd. We must stop – immediately and without exception – allowing the majority to vote on the rights of minorities. I still believe all of that passionately. But this comment (for which I am immeasurably grateful) restored in me a willingness to join you all in the work of educating those who’ve been misled. So this is me, wearily picking back up the protests signs. This is me conceding once more that Black Power alone didn’t end apartheid, that Malcolm X needed Martin Luther King, that peace and education have a critical role in all civil rights movements.

But I do so with a heavy heart. So I guess I’m reaching out to ask: how do you stare these seasons down? Do you respond with patience and compassion? Does the discourse itself hurt you as much as it hurts me? Does it awaken any lingering internalized homophobia, or does it enrage you enough to help you squash what bits of that still haunt you? How do you walk through elections seasons and not let yourself become engulfed with anger?

* J and me at a post-Prop 8 election rally in 2008.

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28 thoughts on “to polemics and back

  1. My queerness is not visible to others since my marriage is heterosexual, even though I am not. That bit of privilege is something I try to be aware of every day, though I know I fail. I completely agree with you when you write: “What I’m saying is, the conversation itself is a disgrace,” and I want to crawl under a rock during election season when I hear people wanting to debate rights that they themselves take for granted. I also don’t know how I’ll get through election season, especially when teaching in a place where having a Safe Space sticker on my laptop has opened me up to numerous angry comments from students, where using inclusive non-hetero examples and language in class has put me on the receiving end of angry tirades that I’m pushing the “gay agenda;” I have no advice to give because I also wonder how I’ll get through this, though these laws don’t affect my rights directly, so I hope that my comments of support and empathy do not seem like I’m trying to minimize the pain and anger you feel or equate my situation with yours; I know I’m lucky, but I hate that I feel that. People shouldn’t be “lucky” to have rights; we should all just have them, period. However, I will say that the family you have and the son you’re raising gives me hope for our future, and I’m proud to know you and J. Wishes for strength and peace from this side of the states.

    • It’s bedtime, so I can’t respond fully right now, but Mick: you never ever have to worry that I’ll think you’re minimizing anything. I have a lot of respect for your subject position and your insights.

  2. In Minnesota, we’re facing an amendment to our constitution similar to the one dozens of other states have faced, that would define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. On Thursday, I volunteered at a phone bank to share my story as a queer woman, and my reasons for opposing the amendment. It really is surprising the number of people who are in that place where they don’t know what to think on the issue, where they love and support the queer people in their lives, but face lingering confusion about how to fit it into their moral frameworks. The organization here has done a really good job finding ways to discuss the marriage amendment with those people in a way that (I think) helps both parties feel respected.

  3. I hate election season. And I hate that all of the bullshit you mentioned erodes my deep-seated patriotism. I cannot get through the pledge of allegiance anymore because it isn’t true for me–I don’t believe in equality in America, and I find that deeply sad. One thing that’s sort of amazing, though, is how much our being a family seems to be making an impact on people who never really thought of gay families as ‘real’ before. We’re down in Florida and everywhere we go we’re out. My wife’s family (most of which self-defines as ‘redneck’) accepts us and some of them even tell us how lucky we are to have our setup as it is. I think that being open and out about our lives has a greater impact than we tend to realize.

  4. *Blush* I didn’t think my comments would have such a big impact, and I’m now doubly glad that I decided to write to you.

    I live in South Africa, a country with a fantastic constitution that guarantees equality for all. You can read about that here: http://mg.co.za/article/2012-03-09-sa-leads-un-on-gay-rights/. Unfortunately the reality on the ground is very different, and in some communities we have the horror of “corrective rape”, meant to change women’s minds about being homosexual. Official recognition of rights is a very important thing, but it does not absolve us of the duty to change people’s minds, one by one if necessary.

    I think you will like this: http://www.lionswhiskers.com/2011/02/what-is-social-courage.html. If you haven’t seen the video clip before, it’s really worth watching.

    Give that adorable boy a hug from Africa. :-)

  5. Really? You live in South Africa? Where? Did you know that Bram is named after Bram Fischer? Did you know that Nadine Gordimer and J.M. Coetzee are central figures in my dissertation (and my consciousness)? I know it’s problematic that they’re both WHITE South African writers, but there it is. Anyway, I’m so excited by this! I think a lot about the difference between American and South African civil rights, especially concerning timetables (how slowly we get to each new shift, how quickly, and yet how late, South Africa has). And I’m so horrified (and somehow hadn’t read about) corrective rape. It sounds like a physical embodiment of the treatment facilities we send people to to cure them. Heartbroken sigh. Anyway, I would truly love to know more about you and your experiences (not just with regards to these issues, but with your husband and child, as well). You have a ten-year-old daughter, is that right? I remember the circumstances for sure; I’m just fuzzy on age. Anyway, thank you so much for writing; I’d really love it if you wrote back with details.

    • I hope I don’t turn out to be an disappointing example of a South African. :-) I’m Cape Town born and bred, and apart from a 19 month stint in the UK have always lived here.

      I knew where Bram’s name came from, but not about your dissertation. What is the subject? Given how in-depth you must be studying Gordimer and Coetzee, you probably know more about my country’s history than I do.

      I’m a privileged white Afrikaans speaking South African. Privileged, because when I was at school in the 70’s and 80’s our schooling was great compared to the rest of the population, and I got a full bursary for tertiary studies at a time when companies were only just beginning to award bursaries to non-white people. I regret the fact that I grew up with a completely distorted view of the world in terms of race relations, and that I have had to purposefully work on myself as an adult to get past my prejudices.

      My daughter is still privileged, because the government is making a complete hash of education in this country. The previously “advantaged” schools are still doing well, and the schools in rural areas and townships are in many cases failing dismally to educate the very people whose grandparents and parents fought for freedom. The result is thousands and thousands of young people who are not equipped to function and work in a technology driven world, and for whom there is not much hope for the future. There are not nearly enough jobs (not even for graduates) and this partly explains why our crime levels are so high.

      My daughter is 10, yes, you remembered well. We had an unusual adoption. My husband met young M and her biological mother when M was 11 months old. He married her mom, who then passed away when M was just 2 years old. I met them 6 months later and we got married when she was 3 and a half. We adopted her together.

      • I’ve been meaning and meaning to write back, Heila; this (now-six-month-old!) baby makes the time just fly! Thank you so much, though, for your thoughtful reply! I love reading your thoughts about education in South Africa (though of course I loathe the realities). You would think that since Brown vs. the Board our public schools had integrated, but they’re mostly as segregated as they were when they were required to be so. Soul-crushing, really. But I LOVE that you two adopted your little girl together; what a fascinating and unusual parental perspective. If you ever (like: next week?!?) wanted to write a guest post about your particular experience of non-gestational parenthood, we would love it if you published it here! Really, any time; I just want to hear more.

  6. I’m am quickly replying not knowing how much longer our little Bean will continue with his nap.
    First, thank you for posting your thoughts on this topic. You always manage to articulate yourself so well in these posts. I’m honestly amazed. My thoughts are always scattered and in bits…

    As a Canadian, I have to say a lot of the time I just think to myself how thankful I am to live in a country where my rights as a person, partner and parent are recognized by the government and, for the most part where I live, by the public. That said, I have faced my share of discrimination. I left my church shortly after starting my relationship with Jen as I no longer felt comfortable there, knowing full well what some people thought of homosexuals and fearing how they and others would react when I came out to them. My mother change the locks on my when I was at school one day and I consequently went to live with my father in a less than ideal situation. Not that living with my mother was ideal. Obviously. My uncle disowned me. He has never acknowledged my wife or my son, and is unlikely to recongnize our next child. Yet, I don’t feel that politically there is much I can do.

    What do I do? –I live my life openly and honestly. I share my experiences with others. I try to show that what matters to most people, matters to me. Demonstrate that we are not really that different.

    The boy is awake -so quickly now-
    Being married to an American has strongly impacted our path as a family and my thoughts on the issues of equality. The system there is not ideal, but it seems there have been slight steps forward. I hope with all my heart that that continues. I think it takes families like ours to show others, those who are conflicted, that we are not that different. And beyond that, that the difference we offer provides a richer and and fuller lives for those touched by it.

    Off to fill a little belly and play in the sun.

    Love to you and your family. You are doing good things.

    • Wow, Allison. I always think jealously about your rights as a Canadian (and we always plot a move north), for which reason I’ve never even thought about what your personal coming out experience was like. [Wouldn’t it be neat, by the way, to all write coming out posts?!] Anyway, that’s heartbreaking to hear about your mom and your uncle, and all the pain that must have entailed. My (half) sisters have never recognized Bram (except to tell others how ill-suited we are to raise a boy), but otherwise, I’ve had nothing but family support. I’m so, so sorry that you’ve faced bigotry so close to home. :(

  7. I try to find small personal ways to talk to people. My students know that I’m a lesbian – as do any other members of the campus community who care to ask. Most of the students who spend a lot of time in our area have met my partner, and when they get back to campus they will know we are having a baby (you really can’t miss that now). Because my title is Director of the Center for Spiritual Life and they know that I am clergy I figure that does more for them than showing up in a clergy collar at a protest could. Because of the role that religion often plays in these discussions I’ve done my best to model a kind of respect that is curious, open and supportive of different views. Letting everyone on campus know that I support their rights to express their faith in the way that seems most genuine while also asking that in that expression we all respect each others rights to see the world differently. It’s a fine balance, and so far, so good.

    That said, when I finally came out at 29 I did leave my former denomination rather than continue to work for change. I just can’t handle the damage it does to my soul to have to demand that others accept me. Sometimes I feel guilty for not being more vocal, more of an activist, but it’s too harmful to me. Ultimately I believe that the way forward is through a willingness to accept one another and create governmental structures that support each other. Young Evangelicals in particular give me an incredible amount of hope. Some are still very invested in what you might call “traditional” perspectives, but many see the Christian message in new ways and I think that those young adults will finally change this thing.

    Clearly I loved this post. :) Thanks!

    • When I’m at my best, I certainly think that’s the fastest path to change: being totally open, yet being patient with people as they make their way through the baggage of bigotry. I’m glad that you’re out there doing just that, Kate, and helping those of us who feel inclined to write off religion altogether learn to have a bit more patience. Your thoughts on Young Evangelicals are super interesting to me! I always just assume they’re en masse anti-gay. Is that not right, then?

      • Nope. I think that the party line is still very much anti-gay in these communities, but there are evangelicals who are interpreting the biblical text differently and coming to their own conclusions. I’m always astonished by the variety of belief and experience even in the membership of organizations like InterVarsity and Cru, which have very clear doctrinal statements.

    • I’ve recently been thinking that telling people you’re not religious when you’re part of a community where most people are, and they think that you are too, must be somewhat like coming out in the sense that you use it.

      • I think there are some similarities in these “coming out” experiences, but I also see significant differences. I’m not aware of any place where letting people know you are not religious can compromise your physical safety or your rights within a society. For that reason I would argue that some experiences of coming out are more challenging than others. :)

  8. .rlg. I would love to write a post for you. (And not only because I will seize any excuse not to study, LOL). Can you mail me?

  9. I love this post and the ensuing discussion. I vacillate often between a desire to educate others about my family – including our TTC process – and a desire for privacy. Actually, sometimes it’s just a desire to be treated not as a curiosity or a specimen but as a “normal” or “regular” family. Which, honestly, is what we get from 80% of the people in our lives, and for that I’m grateful. But then, see, I don’t even *want* to be grateful. I want it to be a matter of course, that acceptance and recognition. I want to demand, to expect it, to take it for granted once in a while. I don’t want my love life or family life to be considered an “issue.” I have a conservative, uber-Catholic younger brother who once said to me, “I know we’re at different ends of the spectrum on this issue” (re marriage equality) and I spat back, “it’s not an *issue* for me, it’s my *life.*”

    We’re also gearing up for election season around here. In WA, marriage equality is up for vote in November, despite the fact that the legislature passed it into law in the spring. We won the right we deserve, and now we have to watch other people VOTE on whether or not we get to keep that right. Lump in my throat as I type that. I know, same old story, but I hate it. I hate that my relationship gets to be up for public scrutiny like that. I also hate the rhetoric that will surely be shoved down our throats come the fall: language like “traditional” and “natural” and “a man and a woman” and blah blah blah. I want to put my head in the sand and wait for it to go away. And yet, and yet. I want the bill to pass, the marriage act to be preserved, and I feel like the best route towards that is by educating others with the example of my family. The personal is the political again and always! I am envisioning reaching out to my various and sundry cousins, for instance, and talking to acquaintances and coworkers about the issue, trying to drum up their votes, which in most cases is just making sure they turn out.

    At the end of the day I know that we provide that example just by existing and being ourselves, and I try to hold onto that. For example, we’re getting married in two weeks, and many of said cousins will attend, and I think it’s good for them to see us make that public statement and will stick with them even if they weren’t politicized about the issue earlier. Anyway! Thanks for writing this.

    • Thanks for posting! I totally get the grateful/why-the-hell-should-I-be-grateful? dichotomy. I try to stay on the grateful side because I know it’s just a better way to live, but it’s hard to feel beholden for civil liberties. And wow, I did not know that about WA. I’m so sorry. I’ll be thinking of you three this election season, wishing you peace and your state’s voters common sense and human decency. Also: happy wedding!!!

  10. R, I am working on a post of my own about civil rights and a Christian defense of gay marriage that I will be more than happy to share with you. In the meantime, I found this article on NPR that I think is rather interesting: http://www.npr.org/2012/05/11/152466134/same-bible-different-verdict-on-gay-marriage. I’m glad to see Evangelicals beginning to discuss this seriously…in fact, one of the professors where The Chancellor did his undergrad degree in CA actually made a documentary about practicing Seventh-day Adventists who were gay and lesbian. It’s causing a stir in my faith community (and to that, I say, AMEN!).

  11. I was so moved by your most recent post.

    You know, I go through phases of intense anger. Where I can barely stand the thought of being in a country that vocally criticizes other countries for treating their citizens in some unequal manner and then finds no objection to doing the exact same thing here at home. I get so saddened that religious leaders preach of us going to hell while they stand idly by and hide true abominable acts done by their very own. Some days it seems like too much. Like I need to refuse any role in all of it.

    And then, I walk into te classroom where I teach fifth grade and I have these incredible conversations with ten year olds that move me in a way much more powerful than the hatred ever could. I tell them about my wife and I answer their questions about why I had to go to Vermon to get married and I hear their true, honest, genuine repulsion about the whole thing and I feel hopeful. I am not naive. I know they will have influences other than me who will put other thoughts in their heads, but I also know that when they hear the word lesbian, it won’t be a nameless, faceless thing. It will instead be their fifth grade teacher who thy knew and loved and who they knew loved them and that matters. It makes a difference.

    So maybe I don’t go out and join protests too much anymore. But I sure as hell am not gIving up the fight. I fight by being who I am and by sharing my life with my students and their families. And when I have suburban housewives who throw a wedding shower in my classroom for my wife and me, then that feels like progress.

    Thank you for bringing up these thoughts and emotions for me. It means so much.

    • Hi, Jess! I’m so glad you commented, and I’m SO excited for you at this stage of your journey towards parenthood! Thank you for these wonderfully articulated thoughts. I am so grateful for your openness with your students; that must be risky, but I know it’s paying off so much more than we can possibly know. I adore the thought of your students’ parents throwing you a wedding shower! And I know that you’re right – that to these children this bigotry just won’t exist – but it’s tough getting to the point where they’re the ones voting (though I’m a firm supporter of the Give Children the Vote campaign!). Anyway, thank you for inspiring hope. :)

  12. I’ve been reading your blog for a while and have always enjoyed your beautifully written posts. I just wanted to say to keep faith (in a totally karmic, non-religious way) and keep fighting for our rights in the USA. The rest of world watches you, when Obama came out in support of gay marriage it forced every other world leader to restate their policy on this issue and it brought attention to this issue in a big way. I am an Australian living in Germany. In Australia I am allowed to have children but not get married, and in Germany I can have a civil partnership but it is illegal for me to have children and any doctor who helps a lesbian couple conceive can lose their job. My friends now know this because I told them and they were shocked. But this kind of institutionalised homophobia makes me so sad, not only because it is there but because people are not aware of it. And if I start to try to make this information known I am labelled as the “angry lesbian”. But I think we should be angry! This is not ok and it needs to be known! So in the election season, harness this anger and be aware that the whole world is watching.
    PS this is part of the debate in oz. We are very lucky to have an eloquent and outspoken lesbian politician.

    • “Is it hurtful?” “Oh, of course it is. But I know what my family is worth.” WOW. Thank you so much for posting that; she is amazing! (And by the way? Smoking hot!)

      Anyway, I’m glad you’re a reader, and I’m even more glad you’ve written here yourself. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this encouragement, especially at the end of such a hostile week for gay rights here in the U.S. I cannot believe what you’ve faced: being limited first with regards to marriage, and then with regards to becoming a parent. Are there no ways around that in Germany? Of course you should be angry. That is an outrage. Just, an outrage. I am irate on your behalf. If you and your partner decided to take a long holiday to the U.S. to try to get pregnant, I’d be happy to help facilitate that (as I know many, many of us would) Just say the word. :)

      Please let us know more, if you feel up to it. And thanks for reaching out.

  13. I just managed to get into this discussion with someone who I considered a friend (and whose oldest kids I babysat for 7 years). She has decided that she is a “born again Christian” (despite the fact that she was a perfectly normal, sensible Christian to begin with). She posted this horrible “protect marriage” thing from Australia on her FB wall, so I watched it thinking that it was sweet she had posted something nice about how everyone should be allowed to marry whoever they want (boy was I in for a shock). She’s using her religion to decide MY fate. My last question to her was “WHY DO YOU CARE SO MUCH?!” I pointed out that according to the Bible, her marriage is also invalid (since they’re from two different cultures/ethnicities/countries of origin/languages), but I’m assuming THAT’s ok. She actually admitted to me that she hoped I wouldn’t see it, because she knew that it would hurt me. Um, wtf?

    I feel in the same boat as you, to the point where I’m often bitterly resentful that I have to keep explaining myself and my family over and over and over again. Why do I need to keep being so out and answering inane questions all the time, and then someone says something stupid, or pulls this shit that the above “friend” did, and it reaffirms my decisions and beliefs to be out and proud and ACT LIKE IT, not (as Dan Savage would say) that my lesbianism is like cancer, that it’s this terrible thing.

    My wife is currently in hospital for appendicitis, and I was really surprised at how many people *never* considered it a possibility that she is my legal wife. I even had someone ask me if she is my legal wife (because she’s my illegal wife?). I was too distraught and worried to get into it, but normally I do. I’ve corrected every single staff member I’ve encountered, people keep asking if I’m her sister, and today I was even asked if she was my mother (the person asking had never laid eyes on my wife).

    So frustrating, but so worth it.

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