We’ve Got Work to Do

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“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” – Leo Tolstoy

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon hand down a decision on whether or not same-sex marriage will be the law of the land.  Let’s hope they don’t do something stupid (like Citizens United).  It would be a mistake to think that our work is done, even if the Supreme Court does the right thing and makes gay marriage legal in every state.  We still have a lot of work to do, much of it on a very personal level.  We won’t be in a post-homophobic era, just as we are not in a post-racial, post-feminist, post anything era.  To think so is incredibly myopic, and plainly insensitive.  We are right in the muck, where we have always been.

A prevailing statistic is that ten percent of the population identifies as gay.  My shrink believes it may be closer to 25 percent.  From my own vantage point, I think many, many people are at least a little bisexual (and I include myself in that category, as well).  So it is understandable that so much of the hate comes from so much fear. Fear of one’s own feelings.  Fear of what you have a hard time understanding, even in yourself.  We need to work on that.

Frank Bruni, a New York Times columnist, and a gay man, has made this call in a piece he wrote last week:  “Do Gays Unsettle You? Same-sex marriage, Republican Scorn, and Unfinished Work.”    

In his piece, he says we seem to have come so far, and yet.  And yet.  “When (my boyfriend and I) are walking down the street after a long dinner or a sad movie and he slips his hand in mine, I tense. I look around nervously: Is anyone staring? Glaring? I feel exposed, endangered, and I’m right to, even here in New York, even near my apartment on Manhattan’s epically liberal Upper West Side. Just two years ago and two blocks from my home, an inebriated young woman who spotted us shouted: “So you’re gay? These two are gay!” She went on and on like that, for what seemed an eternity.

It was the booze talking, sure. But sometimes alcohol is a truth serum, stripping the varnish of etiquette to reveal the ugliness beneath.”

Snark and shaming seem so often to go together.  Now I’m going to tell you some of my own stories.  They are not nice stories, but I want people to think about their own reactions to gay people, and for those who have similar stories to know that they are not alone.

Last fall sometime, I went to the opera with my father.  We were sitting up in the balcony in a middle row, my dad to my right, and some empty seats to my left.  While we were waiting for the show to begin, I heard very distinctly a young woman behind me to my left say “Big dyke”.  It was so clear that I’m guessing she would have had to lean down a little bit towards me for me to hear it.  I don’t think my father heard.  I just ignored the comment.  I don’t know if that was the right thing to do, but I thought reacting to it would just get ugly fast.

I live in a nice, upper middle class liberal neighborhood. I often hear words like “dyke” and other hostile discussions of gayness in this neighborhood.

Now, if you’re using the “d” word, (or any slurs used for gay men), that is not only rude and unseemly – it is aggressive.  You are aggressively putting down a whole group of people.  If you are loudly and belligerently trying to guess who is or isn’t gay – that is aggressive.  You are trying to shame someone for not conforming to some silly notion of how you think people should look or act.  And in all of this – it says more about you than the people you are targeting.  You’re a bigot, plain and simple.  Gay people (and people you think are gay) make you uncomfortable.  Not only do they make you uncomfortable, you don’t think they have a right to exist, in many cases.

More stories.

I attend a Unitarian Universalist church (UU) – the most gay friendly church there is, right?  Last year the youth group performed a song for the congregation, Macklemore’s “Same Love” which in its lyrics supports gay marriage.  It was nice.  They did a good job.  But – the girls in the group sang the first verse, when in fact it is Macklemore, a male, who sings it.  The verse goes like this:

When I was in the third grade I thought that I was gay,
‘Cause I could draw, my uncle was, and I kept my room straight.
I told my mom, tears rushing down my face. . . .

Now, it’s true, I don’t know the back story.  Maybe the girls wanted to sing the verse.  Maybe it was out of range for any of the boys.  Or – given the context in which we live, was there some fear of singing it because of the lyrics?  Afraid, even in a UU church, that someone would think they were gay?  That is how powerful this societal fear is.  It infects us all.

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(A side note here:  I saw on Facebook that Macklemore performed in concert in a Hasidic Jewish costume, with an exaggerated nose.  Obviously he is not bigot-free either. )

Once, in this UU church, I went to sit down before the service.  I heard some whispering behind me, but I didn’t hear what was being said.  When another friend came and sat down beside me, I heard the man from behind say loudly, “There’s another one.”  In a separate incident, I was leaving the church, and a young boy was holding the door open.  He said, “Here’s a big one,” to one of his friends, as I thanked him for holding the door.

I hope I’m not being petty for sharing these stories.  And I have a lot more stories than these.  My point is – even when you think you are liberal and open-minded, ARE YOU REALLY?  This is the kind of tough work I’m talking about.  This is the work we need to do.  We need to go to the (figurative) desert, wrestle with our demons, and come out the other side.

There are plenty of things I need to change about myself – not letting others’ bad behavior bother me so much, for starters.  I admit to being constantly disappointed in humanity, and I need to fight against that.  Still, I know each of us can be better.  We shouldn’t just rest on our liberal-minded laurels, but struggle with the darkness in our hearts.

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