Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Keep Going, America - Yes, You Can

To say I can't stop myself from crying over last night's hard-fought victory is an understatement. The tears come in waves. Some are simply relief from holding the tension for almost two years -- the day-in day-out fear that America still wasn't ready to let go of the Old White Male paradigm. Four years ago, I could hardly go to work after Kerry lost. I wasn't that thrilled with Kerry. I just truly couldn't believe that a majority of the American people couldn't see the destructive and divisive politics of the Bush-Cheney administration. I couldn't believe that many people liked an us-them mentality. I mean, honestly, it doesn't feel very good to be put in boxes like that -- to be demonized, whether you're on the left or right, straight or gay, Christian or not. Here comes Obama who clearly doesn't need the boxes. Wow.

This morning I was afraid to turn on the radio and hear they took Obama's win back. I was afraid someone had shot him already. I was just afraid. When I listened to John McCain's gracious concession speech, I thought - wow, if he'd have campaigned like that (and of course didn't choose Sarah Palin) he might have had a chance. He was kind, compassionate, thoughtful and forward thinking. Hope is indeed audacious.

I thought of my grandmother, who would be I think mortified by a black man in the White House. I thought of the upheavals over forced integration by busing that I went through as a child in Charlotte. I thought of our neighbors who built a fence between their house and ours because we sold our home to a black couple in 1981.

The Onion, in its usual fabulous form, wrote this today:

"After emerging victorious from one of the most pivotal elections in history, president-elect Barack Obama will assume the role of commander in chief on Jan. 20, shattering a racial barrier the United States is, at long last, shitty enough to overcome."

Is that what happened? We finally collapsed enough to let go of a little bit of our entrenched racism? We finally collapsed enough to let go of our need to legislate one faith's morality at the expense of the rest of the population? I don't know what happened. I know that this is a turning point in America on so many levels. He has brought an involvement in the political process back to the people. He has energized young voters. He has energized minority voters (who, note to America, aren't so much minority anymore). He has done what "couldn't be done."

Which brings me to something we still need to do. Arizona passed Prop 102 yesterday. The happy tears that came with an Obama win were mixed with the sadness that I live in a state that feels the need to legislate discrimination. Prop 102 requires a constitutional amendment declaring that marriage is between a man and a woman. I checked Prop 8 in California as soon as I woke up this morning. I'm even more deeply saddened that Prop 8 is passing there. Prop 8 will undo the legalization of gay marriage that California enacted a few months ago.

In last night's coverage, reporters were quick to point out that in 1961, when Obama was born, his parents, a black father and a white mother, could not live legally as man and wife in 16 states. Discrimination may wear a different hat today, but it's still with us.

The picture at the top of the blog is of my friend Dex and his husband Paul after they got legally married earlier this year in San Francisco. Dex is the man without the glasses. It breaks my heart that he may now be forced to launch a court challenge to his lawful marriage. It breaks my heart that some people think love is gender-based. If we take an honest look inside ourselves, many of us may find that we have attractions to both genders. We may be more strongly attracted to one gender over another, but the human body contains both masculine and feminine qualities - Shiva and Shakti -- so that we may find balance.

Twenty-one years ago, on the night my father died, I called Dex to come sit with me at the hospital. He did, and his presence that night helped my own grieving process. We are rarely in the same state at the same time, but I will always love him for those few hours we sat in the dark in the presence of death. He is now fortunate enough in this challenging life to have found a man he loves deeply enough to share a life with. To think that if he were dying, or his husband were dying, that they might be kept apart from each other in the hospital at that most sacred of times, turns my tears of joy for an Obama victory into from the bottom of my heart sadness for him and for millions of Americans who don't fit the mold of an old testament myth. How can I stand as proud of an American as I would like to be after last night, if he and his husband are not afforded the same rights I am? How can it be OK that we are legislating discrimination? It can't be. We are not done.

We are a larger people than a single book. We are many faiths, and no faith. But under all the boxes, we are humans -- beautiful, fragile humans. We must meet each other in that place. In the words of Rumi,

There is a field beyond right and wrong.
I will meet you there.

This is where Obama is trying to go. He is opening the door to explore underneath our false selves and constructions of identity. He is opening the door for us to look at the illusion of America so we can find an America with a living heart. And for as many people who resisted releasing their labels, more showed up yesterday and said, "I'm ready to meet you there."

So I do hope (audaciously?) that I will soon see a time when people look back on the blatant discrimination against the GLBT community with horror. I hope that very soon their marriages will be honored. We have come a long way since 1961. Interracial marriage is now legal. It's rarely noticed. We will truly have made progress when we don't have to qualify "gay" marriage. We will just say married. And we will know that that word means, "I have found someone I love who loves me. I have found someone to be my friend."

We're not there yet, America. Keep going. We're on the precipice of true change. I didn't dare hope that Obama could win. Each month that passed, I felt the tickling of that hope, but pushed it back. It's too dangerous to hope. Things have always been "that way." The Old White Guys have always been in charge. The old testament religion has always been the way. But that tickling got stronger, and stronger, and stronger, and today feels like coming up for that first gasp of oxygen after being under water for 200 years.

Keep going America. Yes you can.


Dex said...

Thank you for posting this, Laraine. It's been a hell of a ride these last 24 hours or so. Elation to despair.

There's a song from the musical Hairspray that has been playing on my iPod all morning. It gives me some comfort:

"There's a dream in the future.
There's a struggle that we have yet to win.
And there's pride in my heart,
cause I know where I'm going.
Yes, I do, and I know where I've been."

This is the beginning of a new era. Yes, we can. But more, yes, we must.

Aviy said...

First off! Aviy = Krisanne. I'm surprised to find I even have a blogger account (I have been EVERYWHERE on the tubes at one point or another. apparently.) and am too lazy to go set up my real name, even if I only use this to comment to you.

Secondly! It's... very strange to see you commenting on politics and religion and sexuality, since that's all kinda no-go in classes. But I like it too. I'm very awkward about politics. I don't categorize well. Politics make me want to run away to Canada, where I'm told everyone is nice and non-judgmental and doesn't decide to insult, hate, or otherwise judge half of their country based on different political opinions. (Except I scare Canadians because I think guns are neat...)

Prop 108 is depressing as hell, and I hadn't even heard about 102 in Arizona. It's not very surprising. I saw more of a GLTB movement in Prescott than I did anywhere else in the state. Which is. Odd.

But man... I'd never considered a future where you might not have to explain your sexuality any more than you have to explain your color. Where if you go over to a friend's house and find out her spouse is a woman it's no more a shock than if you found out it was a black male. Perhaps it'll never be the immediate assumption, since it'll never be the majority. But it doesn't have to be something to comment on. What a nice thought.