So I’m fresh off an excellent week hanging out with my girlfriend and the great people she knows up in the northwest. This will, I swear, not be a vacation slide show! Even though that would be easy and I’m pretty much never going to stop gushing over this week! This post is about the fact that, hey, you know what, it’s really refreshing to feel like I can be gay in public.
It’s been awhile since I have run into any up-close-and-personal Queer Oppression. I’ve faced down my share of bullshit, most of it family-related, but that was all some time ago, and has since been worked through. I’m fortunate to be able to say, six years or so after my original coming out, that my family loves and supports me and that I can be honest with all of the people most important to me. That’s the most important thing in the world to me, and outside of that, the occasional douchebag has not the power to harsh my mellow.
But I also live in Oklahoma, which is the state whose governor refused to extend same-sex marriage benefits to members of the National Guard last year, and in which sodomy was a crime until two thousand and goddamn three. Oklahoma state law doesn’t include any specific protection for the victims of hate crimes based on gender identity or sexual orientation. I live in one of the state’s more liberal pockets, being in a university town, but the fact is that the vast majority of the people in this state do not believe that I should have full rights before the law. A great many of them – though fewer than once there were – feel personally uncomfortable with the nature of my relationships, and of the way I experience attraction to other people. Precedent has been set that puts the law here very firmly not on my side.
This is not a post attempting to illustrate how hard I have anything. I don’t really have it too hard. I have never been on the wrong side of the law, fairly or unfairly, and I live my life without fear. But I didn’t realize the extent to which the knowledge of the context in which I am queer is a fact of my daily life until I went to a place where the context is different.
I remember when my girlfriend came to Oklahoma. We had a waitress in the restaurant where we went for our last-night date who was really, really excited about getting to serve a queer couple. She wanted us to have the best goddamn night ever. I wondered if she was eyeballing the other guests, like I was– if she was watching the older couples coming in and wondering if somebody was going to say something. (…I got the impression that she was waiting for someone to say something, but then again, she was wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a long skirt and a beanie that might well have been knitted out of hemp; I might have been stereotyping there! I admit it! But the Women and Gender Studies program practically has a uniform, okay.)
I remember that, the next morning, my girlfriend and I sat with our ankles wound around each other and our heads tipped together in the airport, and people looked at us as they passed. They did not look kindly, in many cases. I was watching for them, because I am used to watching for them; I noticed how they looked at us. I wasn’t afraid, but I noticed. I was seeing my girlfriend for the last time in months, and that’s what I was thinking about, as much as I was thinking about how lovely she was and how much I was going to miss getting to just turn my head and talk to her; I was thinking about the people around us, and wondering which of them were unhappy with me for being there.
See, I think it’s that, in a place where the law is not on my side, there’s power in their dislike. To some of them, my girlfriend and I represented… I don’t know, I guess the manifestation, before their eyes, of whatever it is they do not like about the idea of homosexuality, or homosexual relationships. And, likewise, their disapproval represented to me not only their personal unhappiness with my life choices, but the disapproval of the large majority of people in this state who consistently vote against giving me more rights. Unfair, maybe, to pin that much on one person in the airport who just didn’t much want to see girls cuddling in public that day; but an uncomfortable reminder nonetheless.
This week, there might well have been people in the restaurants or the coffeeshops or the streets where we sat and stood and walked, holding hands, our heads tipped together, who looked at us and were unhappy about it. But I didn’t notice it this time. I didn’t look for it. This week, they had no power over me. I have never lived in a place where that was the case. I didn’t know how good it was. But it was good, and important.
My great-aunt sent me an email last week, telling me how happy she was that I’d found a girlfriend, that she of course loved me and us and wanted someday to get to meet someone I was with. Then she went on for two paragraphs about how she didn’t understand why gay people felt the need to demand equal marriage rights; why they couldn’t be content with something that had a different name, the same basic premise but not exactly the same details, something that was their own and no one else’s. She didn’t get why they were making such an issue out of it. She didn’t see why it needed to be debated so hotly.
She meant well, but I didn’t know before this week how to articulate why I felt like she was wrong. I know now; it’s because the legal power not to be afraid of strangers dislike of your life is important.
AMERICA CRUMBLES BENEATH US.