Thursday, November 6, 2008

Power of the People

Free at last.

Obama's election was about freedom. Free from the divisiveness of the former (oops, I mean current Administration!) whose name like Voldemort I dare not even utter for fear of tarnishing the celebratory nature of this post.

Black Americans have won an incredible prize, and they richly deserve it, both as individuals and as a people united in a common struggle for the respect of their peers. This paragraph, and the celebrations around the country, belong to them first and foremost, and for few happy moments others are happy and eager to cede the limelight and the stage.

When those moments have passed, there are other freedoms from this election. Even as Blacks have found victory as a people (and start the slow process of doing without that identification), Whites have stopped acting like a "people", and found it had long ceased to serve them adequately. Latinos still identify weakly as a people, identifying as White and Catholic more than the mantle of La Raza that others keep trying to lay on them.

And then there are the Gays. Yes, we are devastated by the passage of Proposition 8. Yes, we admit that notwithstanding this we have enjoyed a meteoric rise in our struggle over the last ten years never before seen by any oppressed people in our country's history. Yes, we are a diverse group that but for the oppression might splinter and be absorbed by other self-idenfications.

But we are oppressed. We are still We. We are a people. In some ardent discussions I have been party to with some Mormons recently over Proposition 8, I repeatedly ran into a brick wall of understanding that crystallized the problem for us. Those who voted for Prop. 8 did so largely with the understanding that gays were not a people, and could therefore not legitimately take up battle for marriage in the name of civil rights, for these were names that a people used. We were individuals, whose plight to my surprise many Mormons seem strangely sympathetic to, but then it is easy to feel sympathy for individuals: an old woman crossing a street, a homeless man, a disabled veteran, a lost puppy.

Let lost puppies collect and identify as a group, and sympathy is gone. Barking in unison, angry as hell and not going to take the domination of humans any longer. Withholding affection until wet dog food is available at all times of the day. This kind of talk turns even dog lovers queasy. Dressing up your dog in drag, teaching him to walk on hind legs, and do calculus in the dirt, is a marvel. Having him decide to sit at the table and eat breakfast with you is not.

Not so long ago, having a Black entertainer in a nightclub was trendy, too. Having Blacks sit in the audience was not.

It is times like this when we must confront our innermost prejudices. When having the well-traveled wit of your gay best friend at a cocktail party is the definition of class, but having the validity of his marriage celebrated in your child's class is not. When straight women join with lesbians to obtain and defend reproductive choice, but run back home to husband and children before the validity of gender role choice is affirmed.

Will and Grace has been a great boon to gay men. We have proved that the Great Straight Mainstream (GSM) can laugh with us and at the rubes who hate us. But to a gay people, it is running on empty. One challenge of same-sex marriage is that there is nothing funny about it.

Gays have three great challenges left: to be treated as a people who don't have to entertain for their dinner, to act responsibly as a people once accepted as such, and then (like white Americans) to let go of identity politics and allow the full diversity of each individual to grow.

The election of Barack Obama has shown that these steps cannot be skipped, but that to advance requires a coalition of different people from all stages of social progress.

As the Obama Freedom Bus pulled away from the station, we cheered it on its way. Though there was not quite enough room for us onboard, we are hopeful and confident it will be back to pick us up later.

And if it does not, we are prepared to walk.


bjkeefe said...

Really well said.

Anonymous said...

I agree that it has become trendy to have a gay friend or family member but that when it comes down to really wanting to understand the heart of a gay person, most people are not up to the task.

I wonder what you'd think about my collection of three posts on gay marriage.... Hmm.

Very sorry to hear about burying your husband. I can imagine the grief. I can't imagine how it would change a person.

Unknown said...

@ Natasha,

Thank you for your condolances. But of course you can imagine the grief. If your husband died, you would feel similar to me. After a few years, you would pick up the pieces and move on. There is nothing particularly special about my experience (except to me).

What can I say? I read all three of your posts on gay marriage and decided not to add my own comments there. We do not overlap enough to have a fruitful dialog. I normally do not run away from a discussion, so here are just a couple of the showstoppers:

I believe the prophet of God has more insight into the future than we do.

Brava. You have abdicated your own right and duty to think for yourself. Clearly, it is President Monson I should be talking with, and he will tell you what to think in due course.

Having a bad relationship with either parent, having a non-present parent (ex. deadbeat dad) or being sexually abused as a child, can all play a role. This is the case with every gay person I know, except one.

Then you don't get out much. Maybe you should stick to writing about things you do know.

I do not think that homosexuality is disgusting. I completely understand it, more than you know.

And I do not think that heterosexuality is disgusting. It is amazing that you as a non-gay person understand homosexuality completely, though, when sexuality in general is a mystery to me.

Like I said in Part II: We have to agree to disagree.

No, we don't. We will never agree to less than what we deserve. I'm afraid your people and my people will continue to have an ongoing active disagreement until we prevail. No peace without justice.

Mormons paid for Prop. 8 at a per capita rate about 100 times higher than any other identifiable religious group. Given the high level of compliance to Church orders, I do not believe this was voluntary. The Prophet spoke, and you obeyed. Your church's hands are stained with the green ink of those bills.

If the above sounds too harsh and dismissive, let me soften it a little:

I get that you sincerely want to sympathize with gays, but (with all due respect), you are 20 years too late. Sympathy we needed in the AIDS epidemic. Tolerance we wanted in the 90's. Now we have moved on to complete and total equality under the law. If you cannot acquiesce to that, then I'm afraid your sentiment will be falling on inured ears. No one expected your support. No one cares why you can't give it.

And thanks again for taking the time to read my blog and comment on it. I always appreciate that. Thanks too for the link to that No on 8 video. I had been looking for that to post on my blog too!

Unknown said...

Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas Governer and Presidential aspirant, adds one more condition to being a "people": You need to be the victim of institutionalized and chronic physical violence.

If we can substitute "mental" for "physical" in the above prerequisite, I think we can easily meet Huckabee's condition. Gays' self-esteem is put through the meat grinder during puberty and adolescence, and the pain lasts a lot longer than dog bites and cracked skulls, especially as the damage is inflicted by loved ones as well as strangers.

I am glad at least that a major Christian Evangelical has at last revealed the roadmap by which gays will eventually be accepted by the New Evangelicals: we just need to get knocked around a little harder until people feel sufficiently sorry for us. I'm not sure I see God's hand in this plan, but it's a start, anyway!

Scott B. said...

"I completely understand..."

Let's file that under, "Things Mormons (and everyone else, too) need to stop saying."