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Point of View: I Will Not Be Ashamed

summer of our discontent - deposit photos

This is not a political post, but it does deal with things that are inherently political in nature, as issues in my life often do. If you are offended by this, my email list is probably not a good fit for you. But I wish you well even if you decide to unsubscribe from my list.

It was the summer of 1984. I was sixteen years old, and I was fleeing the scene of a crime, moving from Arizona to live in California with my father for a year.

The crime was being gay.

I had discovered my criminal tendencies two years earlier, when I had my first gay experience with another boy. We were both fourteen at the time. I’ve talked about him at length in other posts… suffice it to say that he saw something in me that matched something in him, and he took the first step to open me up to who I really was.

In 1984 in Arizona, gay sex was still technically illegal, even between minors. That would change in 1985 with an adjustment of the state’s sodomy laws, and in 1986 they would be wiped away entirely by the US Supreme Court ruling in Lawrence v. Texas. But what I did with my body in the early eighties was clearly illegal under state law.

I didn’t know any of this at the time. All I knew was that being gay was wrong. It was disgusting and perverted and one of the worst things you could be, outside of child molesters and murderers.

I don’t know how I knew all of this. My parents never talked about it, and I don’t think they knew I was gay. I dated girls and made all the right comments, always policing myself, aware that one slip up could spell disaster and reveal my true, shameful nature. But it was in the air. There were so few people like me visible in the world, in the media, in our entertainment. And often those who were seen were punished for their crimes.

And so I was ashamed. Deeply, soul-torturingly ashamed. While I never once considered suicide, I did beg God to help me change, and sometimes berated Him for letting me turn out like this. Instead of an adolescence yearning for someone to love and imagining what that life might be like, I vacillated between desire and self-loathing.

It wasn’t until I came out seven years later, years after the Supreme Court declared to all the world that I was not a criminal, that my own shame dissolved like the falsehood that it was.

I met Mark shortly thereafter, and he was a staunch supporter of my campaign to come out to my family, to finally speak my truth.

Flash forward to this hot covid summer, and the Supreme Court decision that will take away the rights of millions of American women.

Since the decision came down on Friday, I’ve been thinking a lot about the word shame.

It’s what was used to keep me and millions of others like me in line, to box us gays and lesbians in to a narrow, heterosexual-acting life. It’s the source of uncounted destroyed marriages and ruined lives, and it was used on our queer community intentionally to force us to conform to what society wanted us to be.

I naively thought we were past all that. That the arc of time truly did bend toward progress. That the Obama years and the Obergefell v. Hodges case that legitimized my marriage to Mark meant we could stop protesting and go back to our boringly normal gay lives.

And now here we are.

I am not a woman. I will never birth a child, or have to go through the agonizing decision of whether or not to have an abortion. I can’t imagine the pain and sorrow this would entail, much less how much worse it will be now that the right of a woman to choose what happens to her own body has been stripped away, as if it were no more important than a discarded paper coffee cup.

But I see what’s going on here.

Before you can shame someone into doing what you want them to do, you have to make who they are or what they do into something to be ashamed of..

You see, if abortion isn’t really a right – if privacy isn’t a right, which is what all of these rights are founded upon – then it can be redefined as wrong, and therefore shameful.

I’ve read with growing horror the descriptions of clinics shutting down as soon as the ruling was released. Of women who jumped through all the hoops set before them by conservative governments to get an abortion because their child would be born with a crippling defect, or because they already had two kids and couldn’t imagine how they could care for a third, or because they were raped and couldn’t bear to give birth to their attacker’s child.

And the message being given to them is the same as the one that they forced on me when I was in the closet, all those years ago.

You are doing something wrong. You should be ashamed.

This won’t end here. There’s now a better than even chance, imho, that the court goes after contraception rights, same sex marriage, and maybe even the sodomy law decision next. After all, as Clarence Thomas made clear in his concurring opinion:

“In future cases, we should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold [contraception], Lawrence [sodomy], and Obergefell [same sex marriage]. Because any substantive due process decision is ‘demonstrably erroneous,’ we have a duty to ‘correct the error’ established in those precedents.”

His meaning is clear: “We’re coming for you next.”

This Court, along with the Big Lie, form the gravest threat upon our Democracy and our personal liberty in generations. I am scared witless about it

But I will not bend. I will not give in to shame again. I will not forget my pride.

Instead, I will stand with women. I will stand with people of color. I will stand with immigrants and the lower class and all the other minority groups who are threatened by this right-wing extremism.

So choose a side. And then fight, because this country belongs to me and you as much as it does those who would try to force you back into shame.

To paraphrase a famous quote from Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the women, and I did not speak out—because I was not a woman.

Then they came for the immigrants, and I did not speak out— because I was not an immigrant.

Then they came for the queers, and I did not speak out—because I was not queer.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Or to put it more succinctly:

We stand together, or we fall apart.

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