I was born to two San Franciscan natives 29.93 years ago in suburby Walnut Creek, California. I grew up in California, and with the exception of a minor three-month stint in Seattle when I was 21, I haven’t lived anywhere else. So I realize this puts me in a bubble, a place where I can see what’s happening around me, if I choose to, all the while protected from some of the harsher realities of the world.
Being gay, for instance, was never a huge deal. I was not harassed by schoolmates (okay, maybe a little, but it really was all in good fun), my family is nothing if not supportive, and growing up in the shadow of the Castro, I had plenty of educational opportunities regarding the gay community and its history.
Speaking of history, I was thinking recently of my 8th grade history teacher. Let’s call him Mr. Harrigan, partially because I don’t want to use his real identity and partially because my mind is blanking on his actual name. He was honestly one of my least favorite teachers I’ve ever had, in part because if his sometimes creepy sexism, but mostly because of his fierce Nationalism. He was a southern man, spoke with a drawn out and powerful drawl, like an angry plantation owner who is constantly deeply offended. He was a very large and unhealthy man, spending the entire class period sitting behind his desk and if he couldn’t reach something with a pointer, asked one of the prettier girls in the front row to do it for him (see above re: creepy sexism). The only time he stood was during the Pledge Of Allegiance, where he would salute the outdated American flag hanging in his classroom with visible welling under his eyes. He wasn’t a bad man, really, but it was obvious early on that his ideals did not align with my own, and I was an intelligent enough 13 year old to not challenge him without good cause, because his severe and unwavering patriotism made him a very frustrating debate opponent, as he was unable to divorce his personal feelings from facts of the matter. As such, most of the year I sat in the back, did well enough on my homework and tests as to not get too noticed, but not so well as to get actively called on during class.
I mention him because after this year’s Independence Day, there is a little more about America I can actually be proud of. DOMA’s demise, for one, finally shows national support for the LGBT community, if only in the sense of repealing harmful and unjust laws, as opposed to passing inclusive and protective ones. California has been returned to allowing marriages for all, the ban of which I’m still appalled passed popular vote. But that brings me to my point: people call America the Land Of The Free, and I don’t quite agree. Sure, there may be opportunities here not presented elsewhere (for instance, as a gay man I am glad I am not in Russia, the Middle East, or South Africa right now) but we are not all free. We are still subject to the whims and preferences of the white, male, Christian, and privileged, and if we disagree we have to fight, fight, fight to not be buried in bureaucracy and negative and hurtfully ignorant ad campaigns. And even then, we are only fighting the first fight: to be heard. Not to change anything, just fighting to have our concerns taken remotely, and begrudgingly, seriously by those in power.
I wish I had an exact quote, but this is highlighted by one of the SCOTUS justices, who voted to keep DOMA in place, that it wasn’t the court’s place to manage these things and that civil rights would just happen, eventually. I beg to differ: it is EXACTLY the court’s place to protect the rights of our citizens from injustice and persecution. When I read that article, he might as well have said that Rosa Parks should have felt lucky to be allowed to ride a bus at all.
Recently, I stumbled upon an article on Twitter, where someone collected photographs documenting the happiest moments of peoples lives. I saw three prominent themes as I perused the photos: weddings/proposals, recovery from severe medical issues, and sports victories. Ignoring the last one for a moment, the other two highlight the exact reason DOMA needed to die. It not only prevented committed couples in love from experiencing the bliss that so many others not only take for granted, but specifically identify as the greatest moment in their entire existence thus far, as well as the ability to be there for loved ones during difficult times, such as a spouse recovering from an organ transplant or a child undergoing treatment for leukemia. No human being should be told they don’t deserve to find happiness.
I read another article (sorry, I’m realizing that not providing links to these articles is in bad form, but I don’t feel like searching for them again) that stated 71% of Americans (coincidence that about 76% of the population identifies as Christian?) felt that our founding fathers would disapprove of the America today. And I agree, but not for the reasons most do. While the article tried to remain unbiased, it was still obvious that they meant people felt that the founding forefathers would be disappointed in modern America because Republican and Southern values were not upheld. I think they would be disappointed because America was founded on the idea of a clean slate, where one could leave the shackles of their old way of life behind for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What I see now is an America that does everything in its relatively massive power to control everything else, whether it has juristiction to or not. Politicians try to enforce Christian values on a diverse nation, where not everyone is Christian. The Constitution has become the Political Bible, and politicians and lawmakers and many vocally abusive Christians, without Thomas Jefferson or Jesus Christ to pull them aside and say, “No, dude, that’s not what I meant…” take huge liberties in interpretation of these sacred documents and bend them to their own will, often in the vein of oppression. Homosexuals have to fight to get married, women have to fight to maintain control over their own vaginas*, and immigrants have to fight for the opportunity to live in a land supposedly founded on opportunities for immigrants.
*I’ve always been irked (to put it mildly) that women are subject to scorn and scrutiny for maintaining sexual and reproductive health and enjoyment, and are considered shameful and whores for getting pregnant out of wedlock, while drugs like Viagra and Cialis are prevalently advertised and sold to allow men to enjoy sex well beyond nature intended them to. But that’s another blog post all together.
America is supposed to be a country of change, and opportunity, where a person’s beliefs or way of life shouldn’t be a barrier to living a full and happy life. While I don’t agree with the following philosophy, take a look at me: I am caucasian, male, age 25-40. The hypocrisy of the value that is placed on my opinion because of those three things above, say, an African American woman in her 50’s, is amazing. But as soon as my homosexuality enters into the mix, suddenly I am a second class citizen whose personal life needs to be advocated in court, regulated, and controlled as if what I want for myself is of no consequence. People in power, whether it be politics, religion, or advertising, only care what my gender / age / ethnicity demographic have to say because they assume that since we make up a fairly large percentage of the population, we would intrinsically agree with them, and hold positions of power ourselves. But if anything, the 50 year old black woman’s opinion is exponentially more valuable than mine, because she can see in from the outside, and can provide honest feedback on how incredibly unjust this trust of “public opinion” can be.
For all its failings, America is not a bad place to live, and I don’t want anyone to think I’m some kind of turncoat. But if America held true to its purpose, to actually provide equality for all, there wouldn’t be a need to fight for love. The America I want to live in treats all its citizens with love, compassion, and understanding. It wouldn’t fear the unknown, but take the opportunity to learn from it and evolve. And that is worth fighting for.