Y’all, maybe it’s because it’s 5:40 a.m., a time I only pretend to wake up at normally (that first snooze gets hit right at 5:38) and I’ve been up forty minutes, maybe it’s the rosy fingers of dawn, maybe it’s just how damn cute my dog is, but I read a headline just now that said, “Obama says all the right things about gays” and, in retrospect, maybe that’s a stupid headline, but it made me feel hopeful.
It made me feel like what I want for the country is not too much to ask, you know?
It’s not too much to ask that, if the state is going to legally recognize what’s going on in some people’s hearts, it recognize what’s going on in everybody’s hearts.
It’s not too much to ask that people be free to move about their communities safely. That they be treated with respect and dignity.
We, as a society, owe a lot to gay culture, if there can be said to be one monolithic culture, that goes unacknowledged. But there are two big ones, in my opinion.
One is that gay people modelled for the rest of us this idea that you can make your own communities; shoot, that you can make your own family if the one you have is full of fuckers who wish you ill. It’s okay to choose your own happiness over familial duty.
America has always had this notion that you can strike out on your own, make your own way in a hostile world, but that story often ends with the rugged individual being reintegrated back into his home community or something like it. But we’ve all learned that you can leave home and stay gone and find a place and people to love you out in the wider world.
The second one is that, I think, the broader culture learned from gays, “fuck you, no, I won’t shut up about what happened to me.” Now, I want to make the point that there had already been various civil rights movements that had received national attention before gay people started popping up on television agitating for their rights.
But there was still this idea that there were some things we just didn’t talk about, some things that were shameful and secret and, if everyone would just pretend like everything was okay, no one would have to know our shame.
And what was more shameful than being gay?
But when gay folks started saying, “fuck you, here I am and I’m proud of who I am,” that was the start of a turning point. When gay men who were HIV positive or had AIDS said, “fuck you, I will not be quiet about what’s happening to me,” it seems to me that there was a seismic shift in the greater American consciousness.
Seriously, think about this. Having HIV/AIDS was supposed to be just about the worst, most shameful thing that could happen to a person. It marked you as an unclean sinner being justly punished by an angry god. People were supposed to be ashamed of being sick with it. They were supposed to stay hidden and keep themselves away from decent people, so that decent folks didn’t have to be burdened by the terrible thing that was happening to the person with HIV/AIDS.
That sometimes happened. But that’s not what happened all the time.
Sometimes, a person said, “fuck you, here’s the terrible thing I’m going through and I’m not ashamed of it and it’s not something I brought on myself.”
In the 80s, I was a little girl, and I heard that message on my TV in rural Illinois.
You’re going to tell me that that’s not in part why we see so many people willing to come forward about sexual abuse now? People willing to talk about their rapes? People willing to talk frankly and openly about shit that happened to them that even in my mom’s era you were supposed to keep quiet and ashamed about?
I just won’t believe you. I think this is an important piece of understanding how that happened.
Anyway, I need to go get in the shower, but I was just thinking about TV on the Fritz, how he was graduated from college and had never seen a woman’s cooter in person before.
When I was his age, I didn’t know any gay men my age who hadn’t slept with at least one girl because, at some point in their lives, they were desperate to be not gay.
And yet, not ten years later, a gay guy can grow up in Tennessee, of all places, and never feel that kind of pressure to try to change who he is.
That’s an invisible but enormous shift.
Change is happening. Too slowly, yes, but it’s happening.
And to that, I say, good morning.