Trying to manage identity-related conflict
This has been a weird month for a Southerner of alternative sexuality.
There was the white guy who shot nine black people. There was the out-of-nowhere legalization of gay marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court. There are so many agendas at play, it’s hard to keep up! And even harder to know where to stand on issues that can be so hotly contested.
The shooting was explicitly racially motivated. No one’s contesting that. The media latched onto the shooter’s fascination with the Confederacy and used it to unleash an unholy shouting war by provoking ‘conversation’ (term used loosely) around the use and display of the Confederate flag.
Most rhetoric seems to fall to one side or the other of a razor-sharp dividing line. Either it’s a part of your family’s heritage, representing courage and pride; or it’s a part of your family’s heritage, representing abuse and legalized hatred. Either way, heritage and legacy are invoked. This makes it really, really hard for both sides to hear each other. Disputing the point of logic is equated with impugning your heritage – your legacy – your ancestors – turning what could have been a rational debate into a frighteningly vitriolic “yo’ mama” contest. It’s funny, and scary and sad, how conversations like these close our ears to the people we’re trying to talk to. I feel the same way, and I’m trying to find ways out of this hole.
For the sake of clarity, let me be honest: I believe that the Confederacy will always be a part of American history. We are it and it is us, and that will always be true. I also believe that it is a part of the American past, and that perpetuating its symbols is both really confusing and potentially dangerous. I believe that the flag as a graphic element for municipality, state and federal purposes should be retired, if for no other reason than that it reflects such a narrow slice of our history, and we have a lot more relevant issues to talk about now.
What more contemporary examples of courage and integrity can we find? Can we valorize them on our flags and in our courthouses? Can we turn neighbors into heroes, instead of vaunting the long-dead and interpreting their actions and motives according to present-day understandings? I say yes. And I say that the conversation would be so much more constructive. Not, is the flag okay or not? But, who are we today? I think this kind of conversation would find a lot more currency, and be a lot more practical. And it’s a way to honor and learn about one another through productive discourse, rather than erupting in flaming emotion that, frankly, really only serves the media.
So, okay. I am at peace with my Southern self.
And so I turn to the other part of myself, but actually, not myself today. I turn to the woman I was fifteen years ago.
That young woman had just entered a new relationship, her first true adult one, and oh, the world was a beautiful place. Moving in together! Cooking together! Working on finances together! Cleaning on Saturday mornings together! Owning a dog together! It was all new and fun and interesting. I failed flagrantly at some of them and did great at others. (Okay, let’s be honest. I was probably pretty bad at everything! But I learned a lot then, and am a much better partner now because of all those mistakes.)
We had fun building a life together, and as we were together for two, three, four, five years, we began looking at starting a family.
I will never forget the shock and hurt I felt when I discovered that the state would not recognize one of us as a parent of our shared children. And more than that, the more I looked into it, I understood that we’d be at particular risk for intrusion by others. We were at greater risk of being accused of being pedophiles. We were not protected at work from getting fired for simple disclosure of our relationship.
At 24, I felt betrayed by my country. I felt like I was at the receiving end of discrimination and, beyond the hurt, was totally confused: I mean, hadn’t we gotten RID of discrimination? Isn’t that what we learn in elementary, middle, and high school? That our country may have made some mistakes, but by golly we fixed all of them, and are living in a Golden Age of enlightened equality? That’s what I learned.
And I was devastated to learn that the American much-vaunted equality was still subject to religious disgust and archaic (and never-even-vaguely-correct) stereotypes.
I was broken-hearted.
I’d worked so hard to be the girl you’d be proud to bring home to meet your mother. I wanted to be a happy girlfriend, then wife and mother, and yet – I couldn’t. Through no fault of my own – through no actual problem. Except that the law told me I couldn’t, and equated my physiology with a chosen sexual orientation which was morally tantamount to fucking chickens or children. I’d had boyfriends before that relationship, and I’ve had boyfriends and girlfriends since that one too. I’ve been through a few false starts and breakups. But I don’t think I ever had a more broken heart than when my country told me that, according to its definitions, I could not be a wife or mother.
I want to hug that young woman. I want to tell her, I know why it hurt. You were right to respond the way you did. And you were lucky that a lot of smart, focused, effective people who felt the exact same way decided to do something about it.
Today, I feel conflicted in my joy. The victory is historic and huge. But that girl and everyone else like her could still be fired with no legal repercussions for disclosure of a nonheteronormative relationship in 34 states. And that girl would still not be recognized as a mother EVEN IF she was a wife in almost as many.
We have a long way to go before all citizens are treated equally before the law, and now I know to be grateful for all those smart, hardworking folks working as activists and advocates.
In the meantime, thank you to Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan for your courage and vision.
I, and the young woman I used to be, continue to hope for even more.
— Posted on 30 June 2015 at 1:17pm by jessicaletaw