So what have I been cogitating over the last few days?
The absolute insanity of the Roberts confirmation, the only slightly less insane question of Meiers, my fear for my friends and relations in Florida as Wilma gets bigger and angrier, how much I’m enjoying “Commander in Chief,” the high cost of being social, and the fact that I’ve somehow lost the thread of the whole Plame/Rove thing.
So many scandals, so little time…
One other hand, I read a great article on the whole mess, in which the author points out that scandal in the White House is not new—look at Jack Kennedy, Grant, Harding, Nixon, Lincoln, Cleveland… The question, I think, is what else has been done by the politician in question. Ted Kennedy managed to bounce back after Chappaquiddick, after all. What’s that? What’s Chappaquiddick? Oh, go Google it, child.
It’s hard for us to take a long view—we only live for 80-90 years (less if you’re into Krispy Kreme doughnuts), and so asking us to look forwards or backwards even a century is a lot to ask. This seems even truer of Americans than of, say, the French or Germans, or, heaven forbid, the Italians, who have ruins that are older than God. Americans want everything now, johnbrownit, not in fifty years.
I see this in the GLBT liberation/equality movement as well (yes, I am aware that those are two very different issues; but the reaction is the same, so I’m lumping them together for the moment). Even if you mark the beginning of the movement in the late 1940s, with the returning military and the dispersal from the farms and so on that led to the formation of the “gay ghetto” in many coastal cities (SF, LA, NYC, NO, Chicago, etc.), that’s only 60 years ago. It took 150 years for women to get the vote in the USA, a much more immediately logical idea for the average person. And we’ve come a great way in that time—coming out is painful, and may mean you have to leave your current job, or change employers (especially if that’s Uncle Sam…), but it’s not so usual anymore that you lose children, or access to them. You aren’t automatically slammed into a mental hospital. Granted, depending on your family and where you live, you may be expelled from family and/or church, and I’m not trying to pretend that’s a trivial thing. It’s not. But insane neo-Nazis aside, it’s not a given thing that you will be attacked on the street. Four nations now grant same-sex marriages. Even ten years ago that would have been thought out of the question.
I once had an HIV+ acquaintance tell me he thought that HIV/AIDS had a positive impact on the GLBT community. He wasn’t discounting the terrible toll the disease took—how could he? But he pointed out that the threat of death had done several things:
- It allowed gay men an “excuse” to settle down—many had felt they were ridiculed for wanting commitment and one partner.
- It drew the gay male and lesbian communities closer together, as the women often tended to the men—not because it was their “natural role,” but because they knew and loved these men from working with them on political issues, and many of the men had no families or partners to care for them. (an aside-- at a retreat shortly after I came out, I was thanked, “as a representative of all lesbians” for the care and love women had shown to PLWA (Persons Living With AIDS); I was so stunned I could only stutter a “we only did what was the loving, human thing to do”).
- It made all members of the GLBT community realize how fragile their bonds were with their partners, legally speaking. There are far too many stories of biological family members coming into the home of a dead son or brother and taking literally everything, even those things he had bought with his now grieving partner, let alone things the partner had brought into the relationship, to include the house itself. The exclusion of partners from the grieving, from the funeral, from inheriting what he and his partner had worked so hard to create together—this was so horrifying that it was probably a main impetus behind the same-sex marriage movement. I won’t even go into the denial of benefits to surviving partners from companies, governments, and the military.
- It also sparked an interest in a spiritual life for many GLBT people. In connection with this, I’ll make a partisan statement here that in the early (and not-so-early) days of the AIDS crisis, many pastors of mainstream denominations refused to visit church members with AIDS, even after the routes of transmission had been established. So who did the friends of PLWA call for spiritual support and comfort? MCC pastors, very often. OK, commercial over.
What I’m trying to say is that progress appears slow to us, living at the pace of one human life. But in the longer view, progress has been rapid. We’re not going back into the closet. We’re not going to settle for second-class citizenship. We’re not going to hide anymore. True, many folks still don’t come out. But more and more, the young folk are seeing it as not such a big deal. A friend of mine came out to her son and the response was, “Cool. What’s for dinner?” That cannot be taken away. It may be difficult to see how far we’ve come, when we still have so far to go, but we have travelled far enough down this road, we are never going back.