Some random thoughts on recent events

The Seattle Pride parade was the Sunday before last, and some thoughts have been knocking around in my head since then. The events of the week before were earthshaking. The last time I felt the ground move beneath me like this was when the Berlin Wall came down and the Warsaw Pact passed into history.

Pride: First a bit of explanation about the notion of “pride”. Some ask what does pride have to do with being gay, why is there any reason to have “pride” parades. I think most of the time this question is in good faith and is asked out of real puzzlement, so I am going to answer it in that spirit: pride parades are an antidote to the lifelong shaming gay people grow up with. Pride parades are rejection of that shaming and they are often very important to young gay men and lesbians in getting over the self-hatred they have been taught growing up.

Let’s go through some scenarios to make my point clearer. Suppose you are in high school. You show some minimal interest in a girl. You get called a “cuntsucker” for making that slip. Being identified as a “cuntsucker” puts you at risk for harassment and physical threats from self-appointed enforcers of social standards. (In fact this tracks what high school boys do occasionally face, but from campus feminists. Yes, there are, even in high schools.) As a matter of fact, physical violence is still a risk when someone takes exception to your non-standard sexuality or gender expression, even here in cobalt blue liberal Seattle.

I could give others, but here’s a final one: what if from the age you were first aware of being white, you could never divulge that, not even to your mother, or she might very easily reject and deny you as her child – no one could ever see it and you could never say it? The fog of denial at the time prevented me from seeing what I now know, that I was aware I preferred males from about the same time I became of physical markers of ethnic difference.

That’s what growing up gay is like. Every day of your childhood. Some corrective measures are called for to clear that shit out. One of them is the gay pride parade.

The Supreme Court decision on same sex marriage: The events of the week before that I spoke of were the Supreme Court case overturning the legal impediments to same sex marriage in the United States. Twenty years ago or even ten I would have said I never expected to see that in my lifetime. But in the past ten years the barriers in the military and professional sports have fallen, and this was the third barrier to fall. Homophobia in primarily about misandry, and nothing else. it is gender norming in its rawest form. The raw hatred that is homophobia is directed primarily at men. I do not doubt that young lesbians catch quite a bit of shit growing up, but it is simply not as physically risky as being thought gay is for a boy. When Fundamentalist televangelists and opinion makers rail about homosexuality, it’s male homosexuality that has them all foaming and fired up, because male sexuality is the basis of society for these people. It’s to the point that actual Christians are speaking up to refute them. So the focal points in this war were the perceived bastions of masculinity – the military, professional sports and the married man.

The speed of the collapse of resistance is stunning, even when you take into account the decades of activism. Activists matter, but it’s voters, the majority, that ultimately make the difference. That majority is straight. Thank you, straight people. This is your doing and you deserve credit for it.

The focal points in this war were the perceived bastions of masculinity – the military, professional sports and the married man. The tipping point came suddenly but the signs of the erosion of resistance were there to see if you looked. The military in particular was learning forward in the foxhole on the issue of treating gay soldiers equally. Very senior people both retired and active were advocating repeal of don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and not only for the purely practical reasons which were compelling enough. These people were motivated basically by revulsion at the contempt for fellow soldiers that DADT embodied, and frankly the passionate arguments of civilian gadflies warning of impending doom counted for less to these men than honoring their gay fellow soldiers by acknowledging their whole person.

So after the Defense of Marriage Act was repealed and it came time for me to do my retirement paperwork at Ft. Lewis, I was met by real eagerness to get my partner taken care if with survivor benefits and all the rest. It came as a surprise.

Then various professional or aspiring to be professional athletes started coming out of the closet. It’s a long list. The response was either celebratory or indifferent. Yes, Michael Sam paid a price for coming out, but compare even his treatment to what he would have faced even ten years ago. The fact that no one came out back then tells you all you need to know about the difference.
This is really about a change in public attitudes, and I think it is mostly Millenials who are at the center of this change. Homophobia seems to bring the same social death among them that overt racist remarks have in my generation. Good on both counts.

As I said – random thoughts, first impressions. I am still digesting a lot of this.

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  • Walter Hunt

    Some real interesting thoughts. Thanks for sharing them, Jim.

  • David Pearlman

    “The speed of the collapse of resistance is stunning, even when you take into account the decades of activism. Activists matter, but it’s voters, the majority, that ultimately make the difference. That majority is straight. Thank you, straight people. This is your doing and you deserve credit for it.”

    Damn straight brother. You know I got your back. Anything you need, you just let me know. That shit is fucked up, what happened to you.

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  • YetAnotherCommenter

    Jim,
    I agree with you about the “gay pride” thing – most people who seem confused about Pride Parades are IMO confused in good faith. They aren’t homophobes – they simply think that “if being gay is a morally neutral thing, why be proud of it?”
    Alongside your point about the difficulties faced by gay children, I think the other issue is definitional; most people understand “pride” in terms of “feeling good about a personal achievement or virtue.” By this definition of “pride,” “gay pride” makes no sense.
    But there’s another definition of “pride” – an awareness of one’s own innate dignity as a human being. By this definition, “gay pride” is about a group of people who’ve been culturally stigmatized and legally persecuted asserting that innate human dignity; contrary to what society told them, they still have dignity/rights/humanity regardless of their sexual orientation.
    I wonder why the second definition of “pride” (i.e. the innate human dignity one) has become less well-entrenched in mainstream thought over time… Part of it is probably due to the fact that this understanding of pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Another may be due to the fact that most philosophies and belief systems do not embrace the ideal of a human being’s innate dignity in the first place.