Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Musings of a Novitiate Ally, Part 2: In which certain words are said

OK, so I got defensive. Of course I got defensive. This is my sister we're talking about.

She had that tone in her voice. Most people with siblings probably know the one I'm talking about: the one like a hot wind of disapproval that makes your skin tighten, and before you know it you've shifted into a fighting stance because that's the only alternative to hanging your head in shame at whatever they're about to tell you you did wrong.

Essentially she told me that, since I'm straight, this isn't my fight; and that anyway, gay people may not want my help. It wasn't just the disapproval in her voice that got me, either. She seemed sure I'd never thought of this concept, when in fact it was one of the first concerns I had about the blog, and the one I'd spent the most hours thinking about.

So I told her how, since the very first, I've kept in mind the black civil rights leaders who said that their communities must accomplish their own goals without the help of white people. I told her about the article "Gays are the new niggers". I said that, so far, I'd gotten the impression that there was little of that "no help from outsiders" stance in the GLBT community, and that I think there are two main reasons for this: first, there are gay people of every ethnic, religious and political stripe, so exclusionist attitudes would seem contradictory; and second, gays only represent ten percent of the population -- they need our help! I told her that I was keenly aware of this question and would continue to keep it in mind as I learn how to be an effective ally.

I got more frustrated a few minutes later when the conversation resumed, and my sister said "I still don't agree with you." It seemed like she had already reached her conclusion, and all my logical refutations were bouncing off her emotional blast doors.

At some point I used the word "Helpless". Yeah, I know, poor choice of words, right? When I get defensive I tend to overstate my case. Anyway, Grace then jumped into the fray; in retrospect it's not fair to say that she was on my sister's side, but it sure felt at that moment like they were ganging up on me. I got more and more defensive, and more and more strident. I felt like I was being called to task for doing something that seemed to carry an a priori morality - never mind the fact that we're talking about defending the rights of people I know and love. Here's a hint, gentle reader: you know it's on when I start invoking the Battle of Cannae.

In 316 B.C. Hannibal achieved what's usually though of as one of the most tactically brilliant and overwhelmingly odds-defying victories in history when his army, outnumbered three to two, suckered the Romans into a full envelopment. Think of a cow being attacked by a constricting ring of meat grinders. Polybius writes that of the Roman and allied infantry, 70,000 were killed, 10,000 captured, and "perhaps" 3,000 survived. Historians have been pissing themselves over the thought of this victory for over two millennia. Don't believe me? Just wait until a historian friend of yours is distracted, then sneak up behind him and whisper in his ear "...316 B.C.... Cannae... double envelopment..." and watch his crotchal region for a dark, spreading stain.

As far as sheer numbers go, there are lots of victories more impressive than Hannibal's at Cannae. Consider the Battle of Issus where "the invading troops led by the young Alexander of Macedonia, outnumbered more than 2:1, defeated the army personally led by Darius III of Achaemenid Persia in the second great battle for primacy in Asia." Or look at the Battle of Marathon, where around 9,000 Athenians defeated a Persian force somewhere around 25,000 strong. These are some of most anomalous battles in recorded history. And we're only talking about 5:2 odds at the outside.

Homosexuals compose about ten percent of the population. That's 9:1 odds. And that, my friends, is why I think it's important to be an ally. But. I need to work on not going all defensively hyperbolic. Grace is right: nobody would take kindly to being called "helpless".

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