I spent my childhood lost in my head, exploring woods, fields and cow pastures. I had no sense of the world, no knowledge of politics. I can still reach back and touch the uneasy feelings of bewilderment that arose during my freshman year of college. I gravitated toward liberals, and people certainly saw me as a liberal. But it seemed to me that I was different from everyone else. I was so uninformed that it wasn't accurate to call me a liberal, a conservative, or anything else. I was a blank slate.
I'm not proud of my ignorance. But it provides a valuable perspective. I look at the Chick-fil-A controversy, and I don't see it the way folks on the right or left seem to. All I see is progress.
Gay people were one of the many things that didn't exist in my bucolic childhood world. Kids called other kids "fag" as an insult, and Eddie Murphy made a million dollars every time he said "faggot" during his routine. But I can only remember two instances when my parents spoke about gay people in conversation, and I think neither of them happened until I was in my teens.
One night my family went to dinner at Colosseo's, an Italian restaurant in downtown Oneida. There were two women sitting at the next table, talking loudly enough for the room to hear, about something I didn't understand at the time. It had something to do with "how they were" and how other people reacted to them. I could feel my father's seething irritation. Later I talked to my mother about it--that, or she was flustered enough to talk to me about it--and I got it through my head that they were lesbians, though I didn't know that word at the time.
Later in my teens, there was a lot of media attention given to the behavior of gay men in bathhouses. Ah, that makes sense. That was just about when AIDS was becoming a known quantity. Anyway, one day my mother took me and my sister to the Ponderosa restaurant in New Hartford. Somehow the topic of gay men in bathhouses came up, and my mother said, in her most aghast voice, "Can you imagine?!" Heh. Even at the time, I had some nascent liberal tendencies, because I can remember the reaction I had in my head: "No, Mom, I can't imagine. Why are you trying to?"
I can remember exactly where I was when I first saw two girls holding hands in a way that said "we're not just friends". It was during my freshman year at Cornell, and I was walking along the sidewalk between the ROTC building and the racquetball courts. There were two female students walking along the sidewalk at the northwest corner of Campus Road and Garden Avenue. Yes, I remember it that specifically. It made that much of an impression on me. It expanded my world.
And, not for nothin', lesbians are HAWT.
Where was I? Ah yes. Perspective.
Gay people were not part of my childhood world, and that's the way most folks liked it. The adult world knew they existed, but that existence made them uncomfortable, and they could afford not to recognize it. They got an occasional thrill from talking about gay people in scandalized tones, and since gays were mostly silent or closeted, their words met with little interference from reality. It was a win-win for them.
Yesterday, a whole bunch of adults from small towns across the United States got up, went out their doors, got in their cars, drove to their local Chick-fil-A's, and ordered them some sammiches. They probably smiled and winked at each other and OH MY GOD THAT'S SO GAY! But no, let's be fair... those particular winks were OK, because they communicated a sense of fellowship: a warm, communal assurance that they were fighting the good fight.
But what about their kids? Maybe they were at school. Maybe they were at home, or at the baby sitter. But most of those kids are going to know that mom and/or dad got off their asses and went to Chick-fil-A. Why? Because some queers were trying to shut down the restaurant, and because a bunch of pansy-ass
bleeding-heart liberals can't stand to hear a Christian speak the truth.
Now you may rage about that. You may want to go have a protest of your very own on behalf of those kids, because you can't stand to live in a world where they grow up believing those distortions. But I submit to you that those kids are in a much better position than I was at their age.
Trust me when I tell you that average Americans will remain silent about gay people if they can get away with it. How many times have you heard people say that they don't have a problem with gay people as long as they don't "shove it in your face", as though they're being magnanimous in expecting other human beings not to inconvenience them with their existence? They want gays in the closet, because when they're behind that door, they don't exist.
People don't get off their asses for people who don't exist. They get off their asses for real people whom they consider a threat.
Folks, American society has crossed a goddamn Rubicon and no one sees it! People no longer have the option of pretending that gay people don't exist! Of course they're distorting the facts; that's how the human animal reacts to having its world turned upside down!
The fact that all those Americans came out in support of Chik-fil-A is yet another sign that we're winning. They probably don't see it... heck, most gay folks and their allies don't see it. But I've never been more sure of anything. We're winning. So we can afford to have empathy for those folks who lined up yesterday.
"Is it strategically wise for me to feel empathy for them?"
You're the only one who can answer that first question. If the answer is a
resounding "No" then I can't blame you.
As for the second question, I feel strongly that the answer is "Yes". Because if you come at those folks with a snarl in your throat and a rictus of self-righteous rage on your face, you'll win nothing but the argument, and lemme tell ya, winning the argument don't do shit. Even if they did listen to you until your throat was sore, they'd see you as nothing but a homunculus: a reinforcement of their image of the shrill, angry, self-loathing liberal who wants to take away their rights as Christians.
Understand that their world has been shattered. Understand that, had you been born into their skin, you might be taking the same actions, saying the same words, as they. Understand that if you comport yourself as a human talking to fellow humans, they will be less able not to see us as real human beings.
Understand that they're losing, and that we're winning. Not only can we afford to be gracious, but it behooves us to be so.
Many of you out there don't know anyone (or don’t think you know anyone) who is GLBT because of where you live. Some of you may think that all such people look or act a certain way, but this is simply not true. There are many lesbians that most people don’t recognize as such because they don’t fit the stereotype, and the same thing applies to gay men.
The folks on these pages were kind enough to let me photograph them, and to allow me to share their faces and their stories with you. Click on a few and see them as the normal people they are. I hope that this will help break some barriers, stop some ignorance within people, and help to spread a universal message of love.