Taking the Pulse of My Community

Lub, Dub.

Nearly 50 years ago I went to a party wearing flip flops, fishnet stockings, and grapes. Period. Lub.

Because it was very cold the night of that New Years Eve costume party, my thin trench coat did little to keep me warm as I knelt in the back of a car on the way there. I could not sit. To do so would press the grapes, already a bit worse for wear (pun intended) because of the wires needed to get and keep them in place. I rarely talk about this particular evening and less often reveal my back-up (this truly is the gift that keeps on giving with puns) plan — I had a Speedo in the pocket of my trench coat. I figured that I could crash at the party afterwards if needed. I certainly could not take public transportation back to my downtown apartment, even donning a Speedo under my trench. Dub .

I truly never thought I’d be arrested on the way there or much less refused entry to the party, though it was at the straight suburban home of a straight parent of a straight friend of mine. The mom dressed for this soirée in a quaint version of the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. I was Bacchus and her event would be a paean to my character. I held two jobs back then besides being a university student, so I hardly worried about what my bosses would say should one of them learn of my tasteless attire. I had a 29″ waist, after all, so “fuck ’em!” Lub.

gary2014While reflecting on the killings this June in Orlando at the Pulse nightclub, New Year’s Eve 1968 vividly presented itself. Like the people shot that night at the Pulse nightclub, I had taken the pulse of my city and my community and deemed it adequately safe to just throw my head back and celebrate that moment in time. Tastefulness, improbable negative consequences, deeper social implications — none of that comes to mind in those moments pent-up need. Prudence would have us at home in our own safe versions of someone living in a shoe. But in our moment in time, liberty crowds out the rest. Dub.

In 2016, the rights of LGBT to marry and adopt children have been affirmed. [I distinguish the right to marry from its affirmation. I believe I have always had this right as a human, regardless of courts which consistently allow Justice to peek under her blindfold to check the pulse of the times. Our judicial use of polling and the increased reliance on referenda are incongruent, at times, with the very notion of rights. No one gives us our rights; we have them and they are unalienable.] It is, therefore, understandable that LGBT people would err in taking the community’s pulse on exercising our right to congregate. We had, after all, resolved that in the 1970s. Right? Lub, Dub.

Mary, Lois, Gary 1951I have long been schooled in the working of the heart. Sixty-four years ago this summer, I went with my sisters and brother-in-law to visit the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Amid the coal mines and huge machines, we got to walk through a paper mache replica of the human heart, replete with its pulsing lub-dub beat. By today’s standards, this display would be viewed as quaint and romantically inaccurate. Then, however, it was a thing of wonder to me, experiencing in a crystalline way a part of my own anatomy and that of my father. I knew the feeling of his heartbeat against my cheek as a baby laid to sleep on his chest. I also knew the terror of his falling to the ground helpless to the heart attacks that would certainly kill him one day or the next. In that exhibit, I got to know the heart both physically and emotionally. Perhaps, too, as those beats in the garish display resonated with my own pulse, I experienced some premonition of my own heart attacks. Lub, Dub.

I could not have imagined in the midst of that one-day outing, however, that my wanting to hold my brother-in-law’s hand, to be held aloft on his shoulders, was also part of a larger picture of me as yet to be revealed. I knew not to translate my preference for my dad, brother, friend Jimmy, cousins Larry and Dick, and Uncle Al into desire. But that desire would come later for Joe, Warren, Tim, Jim, Rick, and Paul. Desire would come. Lub

A larger community in which that desire is celebrated, accepted, permitted, even just acknowledged has still not arrived in 2016. Dub.

Facts, figures, social and physical sciences have progressed beyond the wildest dreams of my childhood. Lub.

The advance of religious bigotry and the pretense of righteousness have kept pace with science. Dub.

Shortly after we met

Shortly after we met

The Human Rights Campaign and other LGBT rights groups would have us measure the pulse of our nation in regard to LGBT liberation with a singular emphasis on the diastole of marriage, workplace climate, and other legal gains. These incomplete assessments of our communities are enormously useful. But they are also dangerous for several reasons. They ignore the systole of daily assaults on us as humans. In 1965, we knew the limits of voter rights legislation as a solution to racism, but we ignored those limits when we took our foot off the pedal that could continue to advance civil rights. Now some appear to be perplexed by the erosion of voter rights laws. They ignore that systemic and pervasive interpersonal racism has continued unabated since the inception of this country. I believe we will not learn to address LGBT oppression in any real way until we learn the lessons of racism and make comprehensive reparations for slavery and Jim Crow. Lub, Dub.

Pretending that marriage equality frees us miscalculates the dangerousness of the opposition, many of whom would have us dead. Pastors who take the pulpit to defame LGBT people will refute the significance of their hatred in fueling the hatred of others. Through their sermons that pretend to be about religious objections to baking our wedding cakes, they incite those who would murder us. Through their unlawful advocacy for unfettered gun rights, these pastors show an indifference for life and human rights. Even those clergy who remain silent or pointedly ambivalent on the issue of LGBT lives display tacit support for our deaths. No number of wedding cakes can undo their damage. Lub, Dub.

Pretending that marriage equality frees us confuses and isolates LGBT people into believing that our reactions to daily systemic oppression and pervasive interpersonal LGBT discrimination are idiosyncratic. If we believe that marriage equality, adoption rights, and workplace improvements address LGBT oppression, then why do we feel like crap? Why are we hiding? Why the substance use, suicide attempts, and intimate partner violence? We are either as fucked up as oppressive systems lead us to believe, or marriage equality has not resolved — nor can it resolve — the system of oppression intended to keep us powerless. Lub, Dub.

Paul and Gary 031814Pretending that marriage equality frees us fails to move white middle-class LGBT people effectively into a larger movement of human liberation. The enormity of our work for liberation deserves celebration along the way. Those who have been bystanders in our struggles can thus be brought into our joy as witnesses. Ignoring our progress as sexual minorities and/or as people of the global majority can contribute to our feeling powerless. But prematurely declaring victory gives cover to those who would kill us still. Lub, Dub.

Pretending that twice electing our beloved President, Mr. Obama, marked an end to racism denies the reality of the daily lives of Black and Brown people in our world, our country, and our city. Those who complain of the outcry of the aggrieved without acknowledging their anguish seek reconciliation without truth — a patently impossible task.

 

Lub, Dub.

 

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