Sunday, 9 November 2008

The Limits of Tolerance

I've been trying to think of what to say next since the election. I haven't figured it out yet but I'm posting today anyway because I just can't leave that picture at the top of the page forever.

I'm deeply happy about the presidential election. I remember the sense of joy and possibility of the first months of the Clinton administration (I'm not really that old, I was just a political nerd as an adolescent) and I think that, coming after the Bush administration, 2009 is going to be some kind of something for us as a political nation. I'm looking forward to it.

And, of course, I'm incredibly disappointed that the gay civil rights movement was handed a series of eviscerating defeats. To lose on marriage in California, Arizona, and Florida, and even more hurtfully on fostering & adoption in Arkansas, during a year of progressive change and hope is demoralizing. There's been a wealth of thoughtful writing about this in our beautiful little corner of the blogosphere. Honey captured my feelings particularly eloquently: "I am left with a feeling more of being impressed than proud, fascinated than inspired, an outsider to the excitement shared by so many of the people around me."

I'm not surprised by this feeling in myself; it's as familiar as rain. The world of people who might vote for Obama and against us does not strike me as foreign; it's the limits of liberal tolerance, the sense that gay rights are granted by a straight noblesse oblige, and that we can damn well play by their rules and at their pace if we want to be granted anything at all. I was raised to think that gay people, while inherently icky, should be tolerated as human beings--as long as they didn't flaunt themselves. (Straight PDA was also regarded dubiously but only in extreme cases.) Even now only one family member has contacted me after the election out of all that I made the case against Prop. 8 to; and even he said that, after all, gay civil rights might have to wait until we'd figured out 'survival' (the economy, the environment). Linaria said it well in a comment at Sugarbutch: "There are the people who actively oppose gay marriage, and there are the people who believe it’s a “special interest issue,” and those two categories encompass everyone who is not gay in this country..." I would expand her remark beyond the marriage issue, and suggest that it applies to the whole spectrum of legal and social discrimination and violence practiced against LGBT folks. Most people I know think the right thing, on a superficial level at least, but there's only so dirty they want to get their hands. There is a hard limit to their tolerance and we're walking right into it at the moment. No wonder it hurts.


Kyle said...

I'd like to disagree, respectfully, with the assertion that there are two kinds of non-gay people with regard to queer civil rights issues. I know some straight people, friends, co-workers and others who were practically in tears when they heard about what happened on Prop 8. They don't see our rights as special, or extra, or the cream on the top if things are going well for them. They were hurt by the fact that Americans voted away rights.

I'm not trying to convince anyone not to be unhappy with those who supported Prop 8 or any of the other hurtful measures that were passed on 11/4. I am trying to convince you that we do have allies amongst non-queer people. I know them, they are my friends and family.

One of them posted a blog entry to his myspace page, publicly declaring his disgust with his native state of California. Previously he'd been proud, knowing that CA was among the very few offering gay fellow citizens the same marriage rights he enjoys. Now he'd like to retract that pride and go back to not telling people where he came from.

As we continue this fight, let's not overlook allies such as these.

Leo MacCool said...

that's heartening, kyle. and actually, of course, i already knew that, if i'd thought about it, though i have to admit i know about these allies more through hearsay than personal encounter.

what's depressing to me is realizing that the people i do know personally, who are allies in the sense of saying and probably mostly voting the right things, are not allies in the deeper, more personal sense you describe. give your friends & family a sincere thank you from me, ok? and if you have any tips for converting mine, besides the slow slog of being me in front of them with warmth and patience and kindness, let me know.

Alexandra said...

For us up north it was like watching America take one giant leap forward, and then? Fall off the sidewalk flat on its proverbial face. Let's hope 2009 brings about a change of heart.

Kyle said...

Leo, I don't know any other way to really bring people over. I know it takes time when we're just solidly being ourselves, but we don't have an instant tolerance pill yet.