My spouse and I were talking today about how fortunate we are to have a relationship with a deep, bedrock level foundation of trust. We have realized that, when that foundation is solid, there is so much more time and energy one can devote to developing oneself and to doing more for the world around us. If the foundation is not solid, and the trust isn't there, then each person spends a great deal of energy just protecting her/himself from the other, and energy that could spent developing personally or professionally, or reaching out to others and doing good for the world around us, is wasted on self-protection.
Then we looked outward a little further beyond our own relationship.
You see, we got married in California this year, and our marriage is one of those 18,000 or so on which millions of people got the opportunity to pass judgment at the ballot box on November 4th.
My spouse's family are evangelical christians. They did not attend the wedding, and did not send gifts or cards. Instead, they sent a letter telling my spouse (I don't exist -- I was never even named or referred to in the letter) of their unconditional love (except-that-you're-gay) and that this was not a marriage and they would not attend.
Some of my family attended the wedding. My parents and siblings attended (no spouses or kids with the siblings, which makes sense in hindsight) and were relatively supportive. My family then reverted to homophobia less then a month later when they told us we could come to holiday celebrations, but only if we agreed not to be gay in front of the kids. Again. No, this wasn't the first time. But it'll be the last.
My spouse and I looked at the relationships with our families and compared them to our own. We realized that trust is the same facilitator with our families -- we can't trust our families to treat us with respect, and so rather than building on a foundation of trust and respect with our families, we're expending energy to protect and insulate ourselves from them. Social support is incredibly important for individuals and also for relationships. When family are supportive, individuals and couples can reach out from a solid family foundation knowing they're safe to do so. Marriages fare better, too. Again, all that time and energy that we spend going over what could have or should have been said in this conversation or that letter, all that time and money spent in therapy and on medication, all the time wasted because, when you're depressed, angry, and stressed out, you just. can't. get. going, could instead be spent growing and building a better life for us and a better world for everyone.
But it doesn't.
Then we looked a little bit further out than just our families and thought about gay people and society as a whole. Some gay people are fortunate enough to have supportive families. Unlike us, they at least don't have to exhaust themselves fighting people they know and, by definition, should be able to trust to respect them, just to be treated with dignity. What we and they have in common, though, is a community-wide, statewide, nationwide fight just to be treated like other people. Almost all of us face it. We see/read/hear it in the news. It's legal and structural -- not just whether or not we can marry, but whether or not we can be fired, denied housing, or (thanks to our latest present from Bush and HHS secretary Mike Leavitt) denied medical care -- even life-saving services -- because we're gay. We expend tremendous amounts of energy making sure we can just live like other people. Do you ask doctors whether or not they'll treat you before you see a new medical practitioner? I do. When you think about changing jobs, do you investigate to what extent the company discriminates against you? I do. When you think about moving to a new place, do you sit down and compare how safe you and your spouse are, legally speaking, before deciding whether or not the move is really feasible? We do. And it irks us. It should. We also spend money to protect ourselves -- we consult legal experts to make sure our assets and homes are safe if one of us should die (and even that's not always safe from families who hate us). We write extra contracts to assure that we can take care of one another in the event of a medical emergency. And, sadly, some of this is legally shaky in states which have constitutional amendments that not only ban our marriages, but anything that resembles or approximates marriage (we live in one of those...we'd like out).
And, of course, then there are the anti-gay ballot campaigns. People, most of them religious, spend millions of man-hours and dollars to hurt us, and we spend millions of man-hours and dollars just trying to protect ourselves from not only the passage of the amendment, but its aftermath. The most expensive of these, the recent Proposition 8 campaign, was a $70+ million campaign. Imagine what $70,000,000 could do, even in this economy. That'd stop foreclosures for thousands of families...or feed millions, just for a couple of obvious suggestions.
And, at the end of it all, it's still personal. People still spend years in the closet, not only trying to defend themselves from society, but in the end, from...themselves. Whether we're fully open with others about our sexuality or not, we still walk into new situations and wonder just how much we can share of ourselves. It's insidious. It's a constant chore, when starting a new job or walking into a party full of unfamiliar faces, or going to a movie, or going just about anywhere...we wonder how people will treat us and how safe we are to be ourselves, if we should hold hands or not, if that peck on my spouse's cheek is going to get us an ugly look, a nasty comment, or worse. We put boundaries around ourselves to protect us, but in limiting ourselves in response to that fear, we cost ourselves opportunities to grow, and we cost ourselves self-respect.
Imagine if all of that money and energy were spent on developing ourselves, our relationships, our families, and our society. Just imagine if millions of people could suddenly trust society to treat us just like anyone else, and we could rely safely on that legal, structural foundation as we reached out to family, church, co-workers, and people we don't even know. Just imagine if we could stop exhausting the energy and money of millions of self-aware, civically-minded people who know what it's like to need.
If we gain the equality before the law which our Constitution supposedly promises, anti-gay people lose nothing other than legal shelter under which to blame us for society's failures rather than work on being better people, better churches, better, stronger, more inclusive communities. It's easy to unite in telling people what you're not -- it's harder work to unite around who you are. We're told again and again by religious extremists (and "moderates" like Rick Warren) that if gay people gain equality, millions lose...something. That "something" is a highly variable, nebulous shell game. This is not a zero-sum equation. When we win equality, society wins.
[Update: Wow...rec list? I'm very, very humbled. And hopeful that, even now, more people might be listening. Maybe. Thank you for honoring my (our...my spouse is my best editor) diary.]