The Politics of Love
I don't write about my political beliefs much. I've debated them before and frankly, I'm sick of the mentality that allows people to judge my morality based on my acceptance or rejection of a given political doctrine. Also, I tend to be very apathetic about politics in general and my views are not cohesive enough to allow me to claim membership to either major political party...not that I'd want to. That said, there are several issues that I feel very strongly about and will openly opine upon, flames be damned. One of those issues is gay marriage.
My whole life I have been around gay people. My mother was a hairdresser for most of my growing up years, and gay people were able to find a measure of respect and acceptance in that industry. They were abundant at the trade shows and conferences that my mother often brought me to, and though it was never remarked upon, I understood that in the context of their profession at least, they were considered the same as everybody else. They were accepted.
My mother had a gay cousin, who was whispered about at family gatherings. When his partner stole all his money and ran off with another man, there wasn't much sympathy. Though I don't think it was ever said aloud, the general family consensus seemed to be that he got what he deserved. I was pretty young, but kids have a funny kind of perception that allows them to understand the emotional nuances of a situation even if they don't know all the facts. I remember thinking that they weren't very nice to him, except when they wanted his advice about covering that stubborn gray, or whether that fabulous piece they got for a steal at a garage sale was an authentic antique. When he could do something for them they were willing to overlook his sexuality. Otherwise, he was not openly persecuted, but subtly ignored. I felt sorry for the handsome, smiling man who had sadness behind his eyes, though I didn't really know why.
I also had a Lesbian cousin, though nobody knew she was a lesbian until she gave birth to a baby girl out of wedlock. On purpose. You would have thought she robbed the collection basket at St. Francis Xavier. The fact was, she realized she would never have a family through traditional means, and so, when she was financially stable and in optimal health, she and a gay friend decided to have a child together. The illegitimacy of the baby alone nearly gave my Catholic grandmother and all eleven of her siblings a collective stroke. When it was revealed several years later that my cousin was a Lesbian, there erupted a flurry of familial consternation and many assemblages were held with various and sundry religious leaders to decide what to do about it. Do about it? Twenty years later is still rankles me that anyone presumed they had the right to "do" anything about her sexuality or the choices she made as an independant adult.
Her mother, also a hairdresser, was largely nonplussed, but her father and step-mother were convinced she could be "normal" if only she would try. They constantly implored her to attend a series of religious seminars gauranteed to result in heterosexuality. My Dad, a lapsed Catholic, and somewhat of a black sheep, patiently tried to explain to my uncle that she was not broken, and did not need to be fixed. He tried to explain that her sexuality was not a choice, and therefore, beyond her control, or that of Jesus. "Who do you think made her that way?" my dad would ask, but my uncle would hear none of it. I haven't seen my uncle or my cousin in many years, but I would bet that he still hasn't made his peace with her "choice"; not if Catholicism has anything to say about it anyway.
In high school, my very best friend was a gay man. I didn't know he was gay, but I knew he was different. He spent a lot of time at our home, and it was my mother who gently pointed out to me that he was probably homosexual, and that he would really need a good friend to support him in the difficult times he would surely encounter in his life. I didn't let on that I knew his secret. One night, while walking aimlessly through the neighborhood together, he haltingly told me he was gay. My response was..."So?" He looked at me askance, as if he couldn't quite believe that his sexuality made no difference to me. I told him he was one of the best friends I ever had (it was and still is true) and that nothing would change how I felt about him.
Time and circumstance have separated us for quite some time, but I will always remember the relief in his face and the desperate strength of our shared embrace when at last he decided to share his burden with me. I will always remember how he struggled for acceptance in our small midwestern town. I will always remember the shame and fear in his eyes when he was assaulted with words like "queer" and "faggot" and "homo". And I will always remember the way he shrank into his own body as he tried to protect himself from the indignity of the taunts. A teenage boy should not have to be that strong.
In my early twenties, I had a boss who was a Lesbian. She was not a very pleasant person, which was of course, attributed to her sexuality. Sexual frustration was surely to blame for her irrascibility, and all she really needed was a hot beef injection, yuk, yuk. It certainly wasn't due to the fact that she was surrounded by ignorant intolerant good old boys who snickered about carpet munching and comfortable shoes in the break room. It couldn't have had anything to do with the fact that her enduring, monogamous relationship would never be viewed with the same respect as those of her heterosexual peers. I doubt it ever occurred to that retinue of rednecks (genteel, well educated rednecks, but rednecks nonetheless) that perhaps she wore her surliness as armour against the crushing disappointment of not being allowed to live and love with dignity.
I hadn't thought about any of these people for many years.
I have been a stay at home Mom for 11 years now, and though the issue of gay acceptance is still very close to my heart, the places that I frequent in my day to day life are not exactly havens of diversity. Oh...I'm sure there are gay parents on the PTA. I'm sure there are gay coaches and teachers. But they know better than to advertise their sexuality in a state that is as red as the blood of those who died building and then rebuilding the crown jewel of the South. Atlanta likes to think itself very progressive, but the truth is, it is just as mired in the prejudicial mud of the past as any of the tiny torpid little towns beyond its borders.
So why, after all these years, am I being deluged with memories of people and struggles long forgotten?
I watched Brokeback Mountain this weekend.
Yes, I've heard all the jokes. I've watched the shockingly irreverent but undeniably funny bunny parody. I've listened to more people parrot the "Quit you" line than I care to remember, in accents too horrible to recall.
Nothing prepared me for the stunning depth and beauty and sadness of this movie.
I was moved to tears, not just for Jack and Ennis, but for all the people who have not been allowed to love; all the people who have been hurt because they loved someone who was trying to love the "right" way, knowing deep in their heart that it was wrong for them; all those who hadn't the strength to face a life spent being reviled, and so, lived alone, unloved and unloving; wasting their lives trying to live up to some puritanical and bigoted ideal.
So many people have been hurt by the denial of one simple and harmless little privilege; one that doesn't violate anybody else's rights, or diminish anybody else's humanity. It's a privilege that doesn't start wars or end lives. It is a precious commodity, and yet it costs nothing. And still there are those who would begrudge others this right. They would rather condemn fellow human beings to lives of loneliness and sadness, than face having their beliefs challenged, their moral foundations shaken. Which leads me to ask...what can possibly be amoral about love?
If someone can explain this to me, without relying on some pat theistic postulation, I would very much like to hear it. Because L. Ron Hubbard says the Human Race is descended from Aliens. He also says that people with physical and mental disabilities are degraded beings. He has written a very widely circulated book about it and he has gained a very large following of devoted believers. He has disciples and he has centers around the world devoted to this "religion". He has everything that Jesus had, except, arguably, divinity. That doesn't make what he says true or right. So I want an explanation other than "Because Jesus said so."
Since I don't think any such explanation will be forthcoming, I will say this: We should be ashamed. We sanction abortion, war, torture, misogyny, and genocide. We watch other nations savage one another and our own people die of starvation and neglect. But we deny the right to love.
Could anything make less sense?
We've come a long way, it's true. But until the day that gay couples can stand up and say "I do" and be afforded all the same rights and privileges and protection as heterosexual couples, there is still grave injustice being done everyday. I can make a difference, you can make a difference. All we have to do is believe in the sanctity, the value and the goodness of love...any love.
I think we have it in us.