Posts Tagged ‘let the soft animal of your body love what it loves’

post-election: on love

November 5, 2008  |  essays  |  35 Comments

How can I write about anything except politics right now? Obama, Obama, Obama. Fivethirtyeight had the projections almost completely accurate. I didn’t see too many major voting mishaps – aside from the long lines at polling places which, as we all know by now, are the new “poll tax.” Which is reassuring! In the last few days I kept hearing, “things are looking good for us, but remember: they cheat.”

So, thank the gods. I’m glad we all got to vote. I’m glad each of our votes counted. I’m so glad to see Obama victorious.

But … then there’s the gay stuff. Prop 8 in California, Prop 102 in Arizona, Prop 2 in Florida. Initiative 1 in Arkansas. Connecticut and Colorado were victories, but with the other four I’m feeling pretty defeated this morning.

I’m angry about this election. I am so grateful for Obama’s landslide win, don’t get me wrong. He ran a fantastic campaign and he did some incredibly gracious, beautiful things with the entire United States, in every place he visited – he wasn’t purely focused on the battleground states, he wasn’t ignoring the South just because it was a given that it’d go red.

But I’m angry about all the other propositions that passed. The literally millions of people who think that me, my relationship, my love, my orientation, my body’s wiring, my queerness is somehow a threat to them, somehow damaging to their way of life, somehow harmful, somehow detrimental to society, somehow bad and wrong and evil.

I take personal offense to these results.

It’s so hard not to. I try pretty hard to ignore the gay marriage activism that are going on in this country – ever since DOMA I’ve been only increasingly discouraged. I’ve written about this recently – my hesitation to think that the gay marriage fight is the end-all be-all of gay activism, that gay marriage is going to get us accepted into the “normal” club. Well, maybe I don’t want to be in the “normal” club.

But this time, I got involved. I got all crazy with 8 Against 8, I read every post Lesbian Dad kept eloquently writing, I researched the state of gay marriage in the US for weeks. I got invested. I named the puppy. I – in my liberal progressive hippie love-will-prevail idealist brain – was not prepared for such a defeat.

Gay marriage is going to revert to being illegal in California. Californians just voted to legally and specifically discriminate against a group of marginalized people. To explicitly and intentionally make us second-class citizens. Less than.

What about Phyllis Lyon, Del Martin’s widow, who just months ago made their more than fifty-year relationship completely equal, valued, valid, legitimate, in the eyes of California law? God I hope they had a good lawyer who put all sorts of forms and documents in place. How stupid and fucked up and time consuming and wasteful that Phyllis and Del even had to go through that, to do the research to figure out what rights and privileges, precisely, they were being denied because they couldn’t get married, and pay a lawyer to draw up the corresponding papers, and enter into a legal agreement with each other.

[It reminds me of If These Walls Could Talk 2, the first segment, with Vanessa Redgrave. Watch it, if you haven’t seen it. I guarantee it will break your heart, but kind of in a good way.]

I want to go back and study the history of interracial marriage – also called miscegenation, which is a great word I don’t know if I knew until today – and see how it was finally overturned. Was it state-by-state? So-called “activist judges?” Did this country watch as, one at a time, states added their own constitutional amendments banning interracial marriage? Were there Mayors who were radical enough to marry interracial couples anyway? How did it finally get overturned? I’ve never been much of a historian, really, I’m much more interested in what’s happening right now, in front of me, how this current system works – and of course it’s important to know where we came from to know how the current system works, but still, I didn’t understand history until I started studying the history of my people, the queers and gender-variants and radicals and revolutionaries.

But still, I don’t have a firm grasp on this particular American activist history, and I want to know how it worked before, because I want it to work again. Because maybe after I know one storyline’s success, I’ll be comforted. Because I’ll remember that it took hundreds of years to gain that particular right to marry, and then I’ll remember that this fight is young, that, despite our headway, there is much farther to go.

I know there is much to celebrate. Perhaps I am taking Obama’s win too much for granted. I know I have a particularly “biased” perspective because I grew up with activist parents in liberal communities; I spend my times in progressive activist circles and queer communities in big cities. There is a piece of me that is saying, “of course Obama was elected, how could it possibly be any other way?” But I said that about Gore and Kerry too, despite that Gore did win the popular vote (don’t get me started) and I’ve seen cardboard cutouts of people that have more personality than Kerry.

Clearly I don’t have a very good grasp on the reality of this country. On how conservative Republicans are capable of organizing people to vote against their own best interest in the name of “values.”

I’ve seen some posts around today already that say having Obama in office we are poised for a Federal lift on the ban on gay marriage, but honestly I don’t know if I believe that. Of course I’d like to think so, sure, but then there’s DOMA, and “37 states have their own Defense of Marriage Acts [and] … 27 states have constitutional amendments.” (source.)

Make that 30, as of November 2008: Arizona, Florida, California.

Times like these I wish I knew more about politics, and history. How can we lift these constitutional amendments out of the states? Do the voters have to vote again? Who can overturn DOMA at the Federal level? Do we need it to go through the courts, or through voting? Do we need certain Supreme Court members in order to have these things overturned? How do we get a Federal constitutional amendment that protects the rights of minorities?

We couldn’t even get something written into the Federal constitution that says that women are equal to men. Remember the ERA? Failed. Failed, failed, failed. It has been introduced in front of every Congress since 1982, and yet we still do not have anything official that says women are equal to men. Is that really so radical, so influential, that there is such opposition to it?

And correct me if I’m wrong here, I am not a constitutional scholar, but: I thought constitutions were for guaranteeing rights, not for taking them away.

Despite that I do understand what people say about the threat of gay marriage, I don’t really understand. I just don’t. Why? Why why why are we so threatening? On bad days – like this one, when literally millions of people voted against my very personal right, my very personal decision to get married – my heart fills up with emotion and I feel like a little kid after another kid yells, “I HATE YOU!” My eyes well up. I didn’t do anything to you. Just – why?

Here’s what gay marriage is: it’s commitment. Building a family, possibly taking care of children, or dogs or cats or hamsters or fish. Finding someone to share your life with. Taking care of each other. Being better together than you are alone.

And here’s what gay marriage is: love.

The simple act of loving another person. Maybe I forget how difficult love is for so many of us. Maybe I’m forgetting that love is often beaten out of us before we are even able to critically think about the world around us, just by nature of growing up in this culture. It really is revolutionary, isn’t it? Just the act of who I love could change the world, and is changing politics.

Despite my frustration at the horrible steps back that we are taking, there is hope. There is change happening.

Obama’s acceptance speech was especially moving. He slipped “gay” right in there with that long list of American identity descriptors – “young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled” – as if it belonged. As if it was no better or worse than any of those other things.

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It’s the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen, by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different, that their voices could be that difference.

It’s the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled. Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states.

We are, and always will be, the United States of America.

(Full text of Obama’s presidential acceptance speech here, though I do suggest watching the video – he is such an impressive orator.)

I just have to keep remembering: let the soft animal of my body love what it loves. I can do that. I have to do that. I will do that, despite that my government says it’s not good enough. I know, I really do know, underneath it all, under the pink of my skin, in the nest of my heart, that it is enough – that I am enough – that we, my beautiful community, are enough.


UPDATE, 7pm EST: I know, I know, it’s not completely 100% official yet: the No on Prop 8 folks haven’t given up, and a recount has been demanded. But last count, Yes on 8 was ahead 400,000 votes. Not an easy thing to make up.

Legal Groups File Lawsuit Challenging Proposition 8, Should It Pass: “The American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed a writ petition before the California Supreme Court today urging the court to invalidate Proposition 8 if it passes. The petition charges that Proposition 8 is invalid because the initiative process was improperly used in an attempt to undo the constitution’s core commitment to equality for everyone by eliminating a fundamental right from just one group — lesbian and gay Californians.”

Also: There’s a protest rally tonight in West Hollywood: We Shall Not Be Overlooked. Wednesday, November 5, 2008, 7:00pm – 10:00pm, San Vicente Blvd between West Hollywood Park and the Pacific Design Center (647 N San Vincente Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA).

October’s Queer Activism

October 11, 2008  |  essays  |  13 Comments

On October 6th, 1998, Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence in Laramie, Wyoming, beaten, and left for dead – because he was gay. He was taken to a nearby trauma hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, and died on October 12th.

I lived in Fort Collins at the time. I was not out, I was living with my high school boyfriend of five years. Nobody I knew was talking about it, aside from the brief acknowledgment in order to look away. There were protesters at the hospital. The Denver newspaper announced that he had died before he actually died.

I remember crying. I remember being so confused as to how this could’ve happened. I remember being terrified to come out in that environment, so I stayed in the closet for two more years.

Years later, after I was living in Seattle and came out and was building an amazing queer community, I saw Matthew’s mom Judy Shepard speak at my college. I’m paraphrasing here, but I remember a few things she said so deeply: “I’m just a mom,” she said. “I’m not an activist, I’m not a historian, I’m just a mom of a really great kid who died because he was gay. People ask me all the time, what can I do, and I always tell them: Come out. Come out everywhere, all the time. People discriminate because they don’t think they know any gay people. They don’t know that the guy they go bowling with is gay, that their office neighbor is gay, that their dry cleaner is gay. They think gay happens “over there” in big coastal cities. Until everyone starts realizing that gay people are just like them, discrimination will keep happening.”

I tell that to people a lot, especially baby dykes (or baby fags or baby queers) who are struggling with coming out. It’s our number one place of activism: to be who we are. To let the soft animal of our bodies love what it loves. It is not easy for any of us, but for some more than others, as there are still very real consequences to coming out and being out, not just with our families and parents (especially) but in our daily lives.

I was searching for some Judy Shepard direct quotes and came across this article from 2001, which relays more of the thoughts I’m trying to articulate:

Matthew came out to her at the age of 18, three years before he died. He decided in his own time and space when to tell his parents about his feelings on his sexuality and how that was important to him. After explaining how she and her husband dealt with Matthew’s coming out, Judy believes that “Your goal in life is to be the best and happiest you can be. Be who you are. Share who you are with the rest of the world.” Come out. Come out to yourself. Come out to your family. Come out to your friends. Be who you are and don’t hide in the closet of fear. Take pride in who you are through and through. [...] In closing, Judy illustrated her thoughts that if the corporate world of gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals would come out and be true to themselves, their lives, and the world we live in would be a better place. Maybe Matthew would still be here today. ‘It’s fear and ignorance that killed Matthew. If fear is shed, the violence will go with it.’ Acceptance of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals would not allow fear and ignorance to exist as hate.
- Erie Gay News report on Judy Shepard at Mercyhurst April 3 2001.

Years after I left Colorado, when I was in Seattle and studying writing, especially formal poetic forms, I wrote an acrostic poem about Shepard. The acrostic is a form you’ve probably played with as a kid, at least – you take a word and make each letter in the word the first letter of the line of the poem. In this case, the assignment was to write an acrostic about a place, capturing both the essence of the geographical space and an event that occurred there. The title is a reference to the date he was attacked.

    MATTHEW 10:6 (Acrostic)

    Framed in thick oak trees, equidistant, streets
    Open to fields marching toward undisturbed horizons
    Regulation-height lawns burn with summer’s oppression
    Tearing boys from youth, from breath. Behind

    Cinnamon foothills, anger and ignorance sprinkle
    Obstructions in the north winds. An easy tragedy
    Laughs. Tail lights disappear, tangled in this inevitable
    Last night – train whistles whisper, keeping company
    Infused with ghosts. Plucked from a fence,
    No one blinks – hospital doors swing shut.
    Shepard boy releases. The world watches the moon set.

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