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.