It's been many years since I joined the throngs of fervent, angry, optimistic activists, carrying signs and candles, marching down Broadway in support of some cause or another. When I began taking my writing seriously--that is to say, when I began writing intentionally, for the purpose of writing--something in my perspective shifted, and I became even more of an observer. For better or for worse*, it has become increasingly impossible for me to include myself in the rants--"What do we want? Equality! When do we want it? Now!" My own thinking became separate from the We, and I always think of the protesters as They. What do they want? When do they want it?
But Prop 8 changed things. And last night, with more than 10,000 other people--from what I saw this morning, the AP reported roughly 10,000; estimates from within the crowd were at about 16,000--I marched in protest of California's decision to deny equal rights to thousands of its queer neighbors. We began outside the Mormon Temple at 65th Street--surely it was empty. Surely they were wise enough to go home early? When we first arrived on the scene, I kept thinking, Why isn't everyone spread out? Why aren't they blocking traffic? Why aren't they climbing the face of the temple and pouring buckets of fake blood down the front of it?** Once the energy and numbers came to a head, we marched slowly down Broadway and into Columbus Circle. People in cars cheered and honked. People leaned out of their windows and off their balconies and cheered. It was great.
My queerness separates me from the heteronormal relationship model, and that's the way I like it. A few years ago, when it became clear that gay marriage would be a huge dividing line in the queer and straight communities, I didn't really see myself as part of the movement. I don't exactly agree that "marriage" is our greatest need. In fact, I think the religious right picked the issue for us, as a way to force decision-makers to take a stand. And here we go again, unable to define our own movement, our own self-identity. The right to marry, in itself, does not serve the primary needs of most of queer culture--you could argue that it actually further marginalizes an already marginalized group of human beings. (Add that marriage is a religious institution grown out of patriarchy, and now existing primarily in the realm of capitalism and this bizarre notion that "we are just like you.")
The gay community needs to address the fact that its face is primarily one of gay white males, who--for various reasons: race, class, power--have become the loudest voice in the marriage movement. I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that our white male privilege has left us feeling more entitled to those rights, and therefore more affronted when they are taken away, or perhaps anger is a more acceptable reaction for white males. And in a state like California, people of color are going to have to get behind your idea. And I wonder if there was enough outreach into those communities--did a bunch of gay white men want to pass out information in a black church? And would they have been welcome? The gay community needs to address its own racism. The black and Latino communities need to address their homophobia--and true, most social movements in those communities begin in their churches.
But I wonder, too, about the choice to target Mormons, a religious group who's (arguably) been persecuted enough. But I realize the issues that are setting people off--the fact that roughly $20M of Mormon money was spent to fund advertising (among other things) that was made up of lies. And I think people are using Mormonism as a stepping off point to talk about the entire religious right's involvement in politics, and about any church's involvement in the state. I don't object to a religious group getting muscle behind an idea, but I do resent the money spent on absolute false presentations. If you're a Mormon in Texas who gave $50 to the cause, you should be upset, too, that in your name someone financed lies and signed hate into law. Did you know this when you signed the check? (It occurs to me that they probably did.)
All that said, the passing of Prop 8 in California is hateful, vengeful, disgusting, and wrong. It makes me sick to my stomach. No amount of talk about movements and faces of movements, about privilege and whiteness, capitalism and patriarchy, change the fact that what it finally boils down to is this: people want to love one another. And they want to say publicly that they are willing to take a chance. Even in the face of the fact that half--HALF--of all marriages end in divorce, that's how optimistic us gays are. We're willing to sign our names on the line for even a 50% chance at happiness.
I felt a part of something last night, as fractured as my feelings are about the issue. Kip and I held hands, we held each other. There were so many men kissing each other, both in greetings and out of love. One our way to the subway, I heard someone say, "New York is totally next."
*Sometimes I wonder if this ambivalence has made me a better writer, but a more distant person. Or the opposite. Probably, neither is true.
**Okay, theatrics. But hey, I'm one for drama. Kip kept reminding me that this was to be a "peaceful" protest. I heard some conservative news programs claiming that "gays" were "rioting" all over the country in response to Prop 8--so I figure, if they're going to report that, then hell, we might as well riot.