Wednesday, January 18, 2012

My Simple Message for a Contentious Year

This will be a difficult year...

The reason why I said this is because we are at a crossroads as a nation. One side has been perpetuating a shoestring method of survival where only those who have money are doing what they can to spend it. Then, there are those who are less fortunate who are trying to survive. However, they are the ones that believe in a nation of equals where all citizens enjoy the same rights - even while there are still gaps that need to be closed.

Then, there's the other side. The side that would rather have a caste system based on cultural identity. The side who's angry that the nature of faith has been challenged because a different kind of coupling - one that is considered unnatural by religious texts - want to same legal recognition as their status quo counterparts. That side wants to put a stop to civil recognition of same-gender couples under the writ of marriage.

Last spring, as the state of Minnesota was about to lose its budgetary balance, the state's legislature voted to put on this year's Presidential ballot a measure that would amend the state constitution to permanently disallow the definition of marriage to be accorded to same-gender couples. In my mind's eye, the weight of measure goes beyond the legal status of same-gender couples. It is an invitation to reverse the progress my culture and community made since rioting on the streets of the West Village in New York City back in 1969.

It is heartbreaking to know that people would support such a change to the state constitution - people I consider friends, colleagues, acquaintances, former co-workers, etc. I understand that it is part of their lives and beliefs to see me and my people to be unequal as American citizens and residents of this state.

This goes against the grain of my upbringing.

My mother taught me the value of American citizenship. As Jews, we had our own battles towards religious freedom to deal with prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The most important value my mother taught us was in order to rise above the hate - however manifested against us - our love for this country must always rise above everything else.

This has never been easy. Not since coming out. Not when I am advancing my art as an out gay automotive writer/journalist in the face of this challenge by half the citizens of the state I call home. It is not just difficult, but very frustrating knowing I lack the fiscal resources to do something about it on another level.

Whenever I am angry at society, I always think of a passage from Armistead Maupin in one of the Tales of The City series books. Maupin wrote this letter for his primary gay character, Michael Tolliver, who decided to finally put an end of the charade with his parents about his sexuality within the context of his life in San Francisco. It is perhaps one of my favorite passages in literature.

What this letter does is calm me down. It sorts out my feelings towards those who could care less about their lives and environments and manifest their lack of care by encroaching upon peaceful citizens. It confirms my feelings towards humanity that would hopefully look at the character of the person and not the complexion of the skin or the gender of whom that person is intimate with.

Therefore, I share this letter with you all...

Dear Mama,

I'm sorry it's taken me so long to write. Every time I try to write to you and Papa I realize I'm not saying the things that are in my heart. That would be O.K., if I loved you any less than I do, but you are still my parents and I am still your child. 

I have friends who think I'm foolish to write this letter. I hope they're wrong. I hope their doubts are based on parents who loved and trusted them less than mine do. I hope especially that you'll see this as an act of love on my part, a sign of my continuing need to share my life with you. I wouldn't have written, I guess, if you hadn't told me about your involvement in the Save Our Children campaign. That, more than anything, made it clear that my responsibility was to tell you the truth, that your own child is homosexual, and that I never needed saving from anything except the cruel and ignorant piety of people like Anita Bryant.

I'm sorry, Mama. Not for what I am, but for how you must feel at this moment. I know what that feeling is, for I felt it for most of my life. Revulsion, shame, disbelief - rejection through fear of something I knew, even as a child, was as basic to my nature as the color of my eyes.

No, Mama, I wasn't "recruited." No seasoned homosexual ever served as my mentor. But you know what? I wish someone had. I wish someone older than me and wiser than the people in Orlando had taken me aside and said, "You're all right, kid. You can grow up to be a doctor or a teacher just like anyone else. You're not crazy or sick or evil. You can succeed and be happy and find peace with friends - all kinds of friends - who don't give a damn who you go to bed with. Most of all, though, you can love and be loved, without hating yourself for it."

But no one ever said that to me, Mama. I had to find it out on my own, with the help of the city that has become my home. I know this may be hard for you to believe, but San Francisco is full of men and women, both straight and gay, who don't consider sexuality in measuring the worth of another human being.

These aren't radicals or weirdos, Mama. They are shop clerks and bankers and little old ladies and people who nod and smile to you when you meet them on the bus. Their attitude is neither patronizing nor pitying. And their message is so simple: Yes, you are a person. Yes, I like you. Yes, it's all right for you to like me, too.

I know what you must be thinking now. You're asking yourself: What did we do wrong? How did we let this happen? Which one of us made him that way?

I can't answer that, Mama. In the long run, I guess I really don't care. All I know is this: If you and Papa are responsible for the way I am, then I thank you with all my heart, for it's the light and the joy of my life.

I know I can't tell you what it is to be gay. But I can tell you what it's not.

It's not hiding behind words, Mama. Like family and decency and Christianity. It's not fearing your body, or the pleasures that God made for it. It's not judging your neighbor, except when he's crass or unkind.

Being gay has taught me tolerance, compassion and humility. It has shown me the limitless possibilities of living. It has given me people whose passion and kindness and sensitivity have provided a constant source of strength. It has brought me into the family of man, Mama, and I like it here. I like it.

There's not much else I can say, except that I'm the same Michael you've always known. You just know me better now. I have never consciously done anything to hurt you. I never will.

Please don't feel you have to answer this right away. It's enough for me to know that I no longer have to lie to the people who taught me to value the truth.

Mary Ann sends her love.

Everything is fine at 28 Barbary Lane.

Your loving son,

...and, everything is fine in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, too! Just wished this damn ballot measure wasn't looming so fast upon us!

© 1977 Armistead Maupin All Rights Reserved. Permission to reprint for non-commercial purposes granted by author.

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