OK

I'm gay. So please refrain from flaming my seemingly inflammatory title. I'm allowed to use that word. And I have used it freely and openly in the last few years because the sting it used to have seemed to have died long ago. And even after yesterday's results, the word faggot will remain for me a quaint and impotent anachronism. However, what is far from quaint is the reality of how I, as a gay man, am viewed by the vast majority of my fellow Americans.

Let me first make one thing clear: I am not nor have I ever been what would be considered a gay rights advocate. Whatever I have done to contribute to our progress has been done in a quiet and personal manner, mostly by living as proudly and openly as I can as a gay man. Unlike some more vocal activists, I have rarely felt victimized because of my sexuality. Of course, I suffered the paranoia early in life that I would be discovered. And I learned to hide my natural tendency to want to contribute my decorating advice to my mother and her friends. But I know every person suffers their own humiliations and adjustments growing up and, if it weren't sexuality, some other obstacle would teach me that life is not always fair nor smooth sailing.

As a consequence, while I welcomed any progress we made in terms of gay rights, I never felt an urgency in my own life for these laws to be passed. In fact, with yearly opinion polls indicating we are slowly making progress, I always beleived the worst thing we can do is force this process too hard, before people have time to acclimate to our existence. Therefore, I never worried much about our progress in eliminating the stigma foisted on us. And I still feel the younger generations of Americans have our back and we will someday not be looked upon as deviants by vast portions of our country.

But yesterday's vote threw in our faces a hard reality: the fear and hatred of who we are is so strong and vast that millions of people would vote against their own self-interests to insure that portions of their fellow citizens remain less than full citizens under the law. Why? I can't tell you why. I look at my country and I can empathize with the citizens of Old Europe when they look at their old, formerly cherished ally and wonder: where is the America we loved and thought we knew?

I look back on the last few years when I felt that my sexual identity had become less and less an issue in my everyday experience. I felt like I had come to terms with this quirk in my personality and all its ramifications. But I feel like a good deal of that acceptance was just denial. Denial that others find me alien. Denial that I had to adjust my life because of other people's perception of me. I have to remember that the comfort I have found came when I retreated to those narrow slivers comprised of my own kind. I realize my own emotional well being required that I shut out vast numbers of my fellow Americans from my daily life. In some ways, I wish my denial remained intact. I was growing comfortable in it.

However, millions of my fellow citizens decided to send us a message and it was undeniable. Our neighbors and loved ones say they love us and care about us, whoever we are. I bet a lot of them mean it. Actually, I know they mean it. Unfortunately, I now realize that I had wrapped myself in these isolated pockets of love and acceptance and thought they comprised a far greater portion of the world at large than they actually do.

I don't like feeling like this. I have prided myself in not being a member of the victim class and in no way will I allow what transpired yesterday to change that. But I would be stupid and negligent to not admit that the overwhelming rejection of what I had previously viewed as a slightly trendy movement by a few of my comrades has few ramifications for my life, let alone thousands of gays and lesbians who have committed their lives to each other. I hate being all serious and righteous. Irony and flippancy have been my best defense against the discomfort of the truth. And maybe tomorrow I'll be able to dismiss the vast stretches of Red America as silly creationism-loving, polyester-wearing yahoos destined to the dustpan of history. Just not today. Nothing for now seems to soften the sting.

But you know what? It's all out in the open. People talk about tolerance when the cameras are on, but they played their hand and showed their true feelings in the voting booth. That's reality. But we are also part of reality and it's time we shake the denial of vast portions of our fellow Americans. No, Senator Santorum, I am not on par with terrorists. My private life does not threaten our national security. Demagogues who scare overworked citizens  into voting against their own economic well being are what threaten the fabric of society.

Some have said that this was not the best time for Gavin Newsom and the Massachusetts Supreme Court to push the issue of gay marriage. Before yesterday, I would be the first one to make such an argument, especially in such a perilous time in our history. But let's be real: when would the right time come?  When would there not be a backlash? I wish I knew how best to navigate among the dark recesses of human nature so as not to inflame in the population the inevitable fears of that which is different. But no matter how hard we might strategize to find a moment which would inflict ourselves with the least amount of political damage for taking such unpopular positions, not only could we not avoid the inevitable resistence to change but we all know that opportunistic Republicans would use these issues for their own personal gain.

So here we are. Fellow Americans in 11 states have overwhelmingly made clear that they do not believe the law should respect the private agreements arising from relationships in which men love men and women love women. As a consequnce, we progressives hold fewer positions in the new government. The question now becomes: where are we headed? How do we balance our party's tradition to right injustice with the reality that such fights best succeed when we win elections and shape legislation? Before yesterday, I would have offered my own suggestions. Today I won't. I realize I have a conflict of interest.

Originally posted to John Campanelli on Wed Nov 03, 2004 at 02:56 PM PST.

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