My letter to those shell-shocked by birthers and townhall screamers
Ever feel like you’re looking around at your fellow citizens, wondering how the hell you’re so different from them that when they look at you, and at what you believe and live, they see nothing but devil red? Have you lately looked at the people on the television, the columnists in the paper and online, the folks talking about issues that you care about and that affect you deeply, and just stared, agog, because of the misinformation, the fear, the prejudice they’re spreading?
Have you seen political gatherings lately where there might as well have been torches and pitchforks in people’s hands, and wondered how close it came to you, or to someone else, getting hurt or killed that night for standing up for themselves and other people they care about?
Have you seen high-dollar hate machines pushing the idea that, if the outcome is what you fervently hope for, the government will step in and (INSERT TERRIBLE THING HERE) to everyone’s children?
Welcome to our world.Many of us gay folks live this. If you feel shell-shocked and are left wondering whether you’re an alien, or they are, we feel your pain. If the sheer, unadulterated, revivaloid FERVOR of the angry, willfully misinformed, asshat-wearing, screaming, fearmongering, heat-packing, righteously overentitled mobs scares you and makes you consider how you can protect (even isolate) yourself from your fellow citizens, then you have come to where we live. Welcome. We hope your stay is not as long-term as ours, and we hope you take away something good from it.
All my adult life (and much longer before I was aware), I and people like me have been subject to these kinds of campaigns – on local, state, and national levels. Everytime there’s a new hate campaign, people just like the drudgetastic diadems you’re seeing adorn townhalls across the country come out of the woodwork to dehumanize us. They do it in every medium possible, and in person as much as they dare. I am certain that lots of LGBT folks are watching the attacks on President Obama and on those who support this effort with little shock; it’s more sad familiarity. And it’s fatigue. Whether it’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on the federal level, or it’s marriage equality in Iowa and New York and Maine and California and the District of Columbia, or it’s domestic partnerships in Washington, or it’s civil unions in Hawai’i, or it’s non-discrimination policies in Gainesville, or it’s domestic partner benefits in El Paso…they overlap. They run together. It’s pretty much constant, and it has been for well over a decade. To see it played out in yet larger format is sometimes exhausting to watch.
I was never one for politics growing up, but found that I had to be aware of my rights, and therefore of policy and politics, just to protect myself. My husband is the same way. We dream of a day when we can be less politically aware, less politically active…or at least to have our activism be even slightly less personal. We dream of a day when the idea that ANYthing so personal as our marriage ending up before a Supreme Court, or any court, without our consent or intent becomes once again distant and foreign. We dream of a day when the energy and money we expend trying to defend ourselves against these horrific mobs can be directed toward environmental causes, and, perhaps, a little bit, toward developing and enriching our own persons so we can give more to one another, to our families, and to our society. These very folks you see ginned up into a rabid frenzy at town halls are the same useful idiots we have come to know all too well. If many of them look older and white, look at the stats on who voted for Prop 8 in California. They’re the same people. They’re led by the same calculating, moneygrubbing, odious parasites (the Family Research Council and Liberty Counsel, among others). We have fought them for what seems like decades now — not just for healthcare, but for the right to be treated just like anyone else. In many cases, we fight them to survive. I wish that statement felt like it was more hyperbole than reality.
If we’d only just shut up and stop fighting to be treated just like everyone else, and take what these hatemongers feel we deserve, then (allegedly) they’d leave us alone. That would be giving them what they want, and effectively ceding to them all of America and what the Constitution promises us. And they still wouldn’t leave us in peace. They’d still pursue us to our very doors, into our very homes – as they do now, by ballot, by legislation, by threat, and sometimes in person. The same is true of this healthcare battle, and every one that will follow – and that’s why the same pre-compromises we see from the Obama administration and people like Senator Baucus are sadly familiar to those of us working hard for equality. We’ve been there.
So if this jarring discovery of the wingnuts (birthers, deathers, Fox, and Friends) we’ve faced these many years — and how widespread, infuriating, ignorant, and sometimes downright terrifying they are – is a new look at your fellow Americans, well, don’t say we didn’t warn you that they’re here. They already came for us.
What I hope people will take from meeting them is that, most importantly, we can’t give up. I wish I could say that this is a short-term fight, but if we win on healthcare, they’ll get angrier, and they’ll get uglier. The more wins we LGBT folks score when it comes to our civil rights, the nastier they have gotten, and the things they say about Obama echo what they say about us. Perhaps Obama IS gay, and that’s why he’s a threat to children, families, old folks, and the American Way Of Life, because you know that’s what we LBGT folks are. Just understand that the wingnuts are going to get worse. Financial reform, immigration reform (oh my GOSH, that will be from Hell), pretty much anything put forth by That Black Guy In Washington that promises any sort of Change (!) will now likely be knee-jerk opposed by raving crowds of mostly old straight white folks who used to be damn sure they owned the place. From where I sit, it seems like the OFA folks and Democrats and many well-meaning activists just weren’t ready for this bunch, and didn’t see ’em coming – much like Equality California somehow missed the bullets headed their way with Prop 8. In both cases, it seems strange that people didn’t see the clue-nami heading their way. The writing has been on the wall, and people look like they’ve been rolled quite a bit. Looks like there’s been a wake-up call.
I guess what I also hope some will come away from all this with, for my sake and for other LGBT folks’ sake, is a little empathy (GASP) for who and how we’ve had to fight for many, many years. How that feels, how it shakes the security of your world, how it affects the way you look at your country and your fellow person and how it can on the one side galvanize and polarize, and also on the other side make you want to hold people you care for closely, treasure the good, bless the beautiful in every place you find it. And how it feels to see the first opportunity you’ve had for real, meaningful change that affects you and many others deeply – and to see that opportunity potentially missed, blocked, underutilized, in some ways ignored, by politicians and fellow citizens.
Now it’s my turn to bring back around what many (some on this site) have said when I and other LGBT folks been frustrated, scared, angry, and just out-and-out-exhausted by the relentless bigots.
We may not win this time, or we may only get a partial win. But given time, and continued work, things will change and this society will grow. It might not even be in our lifetimes that we see the change we seek, but we can contribute to it.
It’s true, and, watching this, I’m actually more optimistic than I’ve been about both civil rights and about the nation as a whole than I have been in quite some time, partly because I know that, eventually, these people will die off and leave us in peace (but not before they attempt to scorch the earth behind them). I don’t know how the healthcare fight will turn out. I don’t know how the rest of the year’s equality fight will go, either. I have started to wonder if there will be a public option. I have fears about the survival of domestic partnership law in Washington state and marriage equality in Maine this fall at the ballot box. I would still give my left arm just to turn away from all of this and live on a farm in some isolated place, working my fingers to the bone to feed my family and care for animals so that I have zero time to remember that I’m still more ogre than person to a large number of people. But now everyone else has had the chance to meet my tormentors, and more people are fighting them. I hope that means that when the wingnuts turn back to focus on us LGBT people, those who have now seen what we face won’t desert us, but will renew their commitment to change (as we LGBT folks must continually do) and help ALL of us win.