Wednesday, December 8, 2010

An ignoble question for my bendy friends

My argument with my sister caused me a lot of pain. But my reaction to the pain actually felt worse than the pain itself, because I saw something in myself that I didn't like.

In talking to my sister I felt like I was communing with the ugliest aspects of my family. There's my uncle Frank, sitting around the table loudly proclaiming that "Wherever there are niggers in the world, there's trouble." There's my uncle Stanley sitting within arm's reach of my nephew and niece, saying something nasty about black people, in a house where I'm not supposed to say the word "gay" in front of those same children.

And there's everyone in my whole family talking to anyone but the person they need to talk to. Did person A piss you off? Well then, bitch to person B or C about it, but never talk directly to person A. And if you should actually talk to person A, make damned sure that you don't bitch about what you're really mad about. Bitch about something else. If we actually addressed our problems we might solve them, and where would we be without our anger and resentment?

This is how my sister had reacted to me. And what did I do? I went ahead and followed the same damned pattern. And when I finally let out my feelings, it was like popping a balloon: I don't seem capable of just letting a little of the air out; no, I have to let it all out in a big explosion.

In the midst of all this pain, I had a desire. I wanted to say to my gay friends "Can I have a pat on the head?" I wanted them to know what I'd done. I wanted some recognition, some appreciation, some love that would dull the pain.

That desire is beneath me. It defies everything I believe about morality: that I do what is right because it's right, regardless of whether anyone is watching. A moral act done with the thought of any reward whatsoever ceases to be a moral act and becomes nothing but service rendered for payment.

Yet I want it. I feel small and... smaller than any creature that could even warrant the word "ugly". But I want it. So I have to ask...

Is it OK that I want a pat on the head?


  1. "A moral act done with the thought of any reward whatsoever ceases to be a moral act and becomes nothing but service rendered for payment."

    I once had an interesting conversation with someone much smarter than me who declared all acts, even the most charitable ones, selfish.

    We do these acts not because we want to do the act, but because we want the feeling that comes with having to have done the act. When you donate time to a good cause, you feel good about yourself for doing it, thus the act is selfish.

    It's all philosophy mixed with psychology though. For me, as a gay man, it's easy to avoid wanting pats on the head for activism when I see progress. Progress is the payment. I've always wondered, "What's in it for our allies?"

    So, here's a pat on the head Hugh - so that there's at least something in it for you.