I’ve been trying for two days now to write about the distress I feel around the reactions to the passage of prop8 and it’s just made me more and more wound up. So instead of the reasoned response I hoped for here’s a purge:
I am 48 years old. My birth certificate says I am black. My family says I am also white, Native, English and Irish. I say I am queer in the streets and pansexual in the sheets, to hopefully clarify what I believe the political dimensions of queerness to be. I don’t believe in God or organized religion, but I have had significant experiences in the midst of churches and temples. In 1998, I went to city hall and registered as a domestic partner with the man I had been living with for eight years so that I could secure health insurance for him. It was the same building my parents had gotten married in Thirty-eight years earlier.
When I was born, in 1960, it was illegal for my parents to marry in 16 states. Sodomy was a felony nationwide, punishable by prison. In my extended family there are people of various racial configurations at all points of the political spectrum. Some other queers, too.
So when I read gay men simplistically venting about how betrayed they feel by minorities and asking why they should have supported Obama if African-American’s weren’t going to support them, I can barely contain my fury.
I am not the only black queer atheist I know. There are queers of color who have been vocal for years about the homophobia of black Conservative churches. The fact that those churches would not support gay marriage and yet support a mixed race candidate for president should surprise no one. To take the actions and statements of individual members of a group and to assume that they represent the views of every other member of that group is, to me, a good working definition of prejudice. Black people didn’t betray you. Does it really need to be said again that there is no monolithic black community that issues position papers?
If you were casting your vote for Obama on Tuesday, you should have known that he had already declared that he doesn’t believe in same sex marriage. If you did, then you voted with your eyes open and decided that there were other factors that would allow you to overlook his statements. If your vote for him was part of some quid pro quo for black support of gay marriage, I hope that you informed blacks that this was the case so they could live up to their part of the bargain. If not, then I think you should question where your sense of betrayal is coming from.
It’s a sad truth that the experience of oppression doesn’t always breed empathy. If it did, then the shared experience of Jews and Queers in the Holocaust would be enough to silence any Jewish homophobia and queer antisemitism. And yet it hasn’t. How many times have I heard gay men mock lesbians? Experience tells me that saying “My pain is just like your pain” doesn’t persuade many people, especially if it’s the first thing you’re saying to someone. Equal treatment under the law is a basic human right, but helping people to see that may take more than saying “I’m oppressed too”
In my bleakest moments it has seemed to me that some people think Obama’s election now gives them a free pass on racism. As if one election is enough to undo the behavior of centuries. Casting that vote doesn’t prove that any of us are free from prejudice. We still have to do the difficult internal work of uprooting it from our thoughts and deeds. And if you ask “Why should I have to when I see someone else who isn’t?” then you are doing it for the wrong reasons. It has to be an end in itself or it is meaningless. Treating your moral struggle as a bargaining chip to control other people’s behavior is not only disingenuous, it’s futile.
To me the biggest problem in all of this isn’t religion, or race, or complacency, or lily-livered politicians; it’s the California ballot initiative system, which is ridiculously prone to manipulation by anyone with a big enough checkbook. In the years that I lived in the state I remember bracing for each election season’s new crop of idiocy. While calling for the revocation of the tax free status of certain churches, I think people would do well to work to reform that very broken governmental process. No state constitution should be amendable by a simple majority.
Finally, when you write, think twice before you issue blanket statements about people. As someone who can’t help but experience themselves as an ever shifting amalgam, I appreciate it when people extend me the courtesy of getting to know me before making assumptions about my actions. I feel that when we argue for human rights that is one of the things we are arguing for.
*Edit* What I meant to say when I rattled off all the stuff about my past, is that the America I live in has seen enormous change in the half century that I have been alive. I want all of my frineds who want to marry to be able to, and to have those committments treated the same way under the law. I believe it will happen through out the world. But I believe that it will happen as a result of people listening to each other.