Tuesday, June 14, 2016

doubling down on love

1. find out what it means to me

A common trope in the queer rights movement is “Children of LGBT people deserve to see their parents treated with dignity.” I’m not a huge fan of invoking “the children” (it’s cheap and it implies that non-parents…don’t need dignity?), but of course I agree.

After the Orlando shooting this past weekend, I tried to put myself in the shoes of a queer person’s kid. I tried to imagine what it would feel like, on a visceral level, to see my parents attacked physically, verbally or systemically. When I pictured my actual parents—when I pictured Chris and Valerie Klein—I felt immediately embattled. I wanted to throw myself in front of their tender bodies and souls.

Then I tried to imagine how Dash must feel about AK and me. At 16 months, it seems to be: Mommy! Mama! (Actually: Mama! Mama! We haven’t managed to make different names stick yet.) His invocation is a mix of delight and possession, often mixed with the need to tell us something very important, like did we know there’s a box of Cheerios in the grocery bag right next to his car seat?! But if someone tried to take Mama and Mama from him, he would be baffled and devastated.

Lady Gaga puts the L.A. in ORLANDO at last night's vigil.
I shared these thoughts with AK as we were getting ready for work. She said, “Yeah, but I think more about little black kids, and what it’s like to see your parents disrespected under the law for hundreds of years. With gay people, I feel more like we were doing great, and then there have been setbacks.”

Even though I refuse to play the Oppression Olympics (which is worse, to be part of a community that was treated like shit for centuries, or a community that didn’t even get to be a community for centuries? And what if you’re part of both?), I agreed with what AK was saying, and I was humbled.

Respect is a big deal in low-socioeconomic groups because when you’re denied access to traditional avenues of “success” (good jobs, property ownership, marriage, etc.), the little stuff becomes really important. Who you can lick in a fight. What you’re called on the street. A look. Words muttered under breath.

Jill Leovy writes about these factors brilliantly in Ghettoside, a book that makes the case that the black-on-black homicide rate is what it is because law enforcement has completely failed to hold killers of black people accountable, leaving “justice” to gangs and other vigilantes. Another way of framing this is to say that black people have been and still are so disrespected that their dead bodies mean nothing.

2. the secret garden of the self

I have no experience living under a multigenerational legacy of disrespect. But I do know what it’s like to feel like nothing. When I was a kid, I was determined not to be gay, because I couldn’t name a single queer woman that I knew of, let alone someone I might want to be like. Later these feelings of nothingness manifested more explosively when I experienced infertility and miscarriage—it’s hard to put into words, but a part of me believed that if I could be a mom (that somewhat heterocentric role our culture loves to exalt), I could “overcome” the nobody-ness of being queer. It would be, I imagined, my way of having my cake and eating it too.

But then the universe held up a NO CAKE FOR YOU sign, and I was left with my queer, bummed-out self.

During those difficult, searching years, I had to find something to hang onto when so many avenues of success and identity were closed to me. There’s a Tracy Chapman song called “All That You Have is Your Soul”; my mom said it resonated with her when she was going through cancer treatment. You can lose your job, your loved ones, your body parts, your dignity—but no one can take your soul (though some will try). It’s the one thing you have to care for above all else, and if you do, many of the other things will follow (though not all, and not always). And it is fucking HARD when there are so many shiny trophies to grasp for.

The problem is I really like shiny apples and cake.
When you find your soul or your higher power or whatever you want to call it, it will look like a quiet, shady courtyard—a kind of secret garden—in the center of your stressed-out body. Angry gunmen or schoolyard bullies or mean bosses or abusive spouses might assault your body and your busy mind, but they can’t gain access to the secret garden once you’ve found it.

I think it goes without saying that Omar Mateen had not found it. It was there inside him, but it was still a secret even to himself. Of course I don’t know the details, and I’m speculating WILDLY here, but I see someone who saw his sexuality condemned by his religion (his version of it) and saw his religion dismissed by a country that dehumanizes Muslims. Throw in mental illness, a big old gun and the spectacle of beautiful dancing boys who’d found themselves in music and love—at least for that night—and the intensity of the nothingness he felt must have been crushing.

As humans, we owe it to everyone—the Omar Mateens, the gang members fighting over street corners, the queer kids groping blindly for some kind of promising future—to open up as many avenues to success and respect as possible. As individuals, we owe it to ourselves to find that quiet, unassailable place when nothing good is possible.

Love is free. Coffee is $4.
My Facebook feed has been full of grief and calls for assault-weapon bans (I emailed my congressman), and there’s that one friend who seems to think conservative Christian gun-owners are the oppressed ones. But my favorite post was from my friend Dan, who does not shy away the very real possibility that our only choice may not stop the death toll. Shortly after posting a picture of his five-year-old son dressed as “the most beautiful lady in the whole world” (in a tiara and homemade necklaces), Dan wrote this:

All these poor kids were seeking was love, and they were murdered for it. So what do we do? Fight? Give in to the various flavors of hate and blame that are being sold to us (and there’s a flavor for everyone; hate works that way, customizing itself so it can sneak into your heart)? Or do we double down on love, and cope with the heartbreak - such heartbreak - whenever, and it seems to happen more and more, that increasing the stakes that way turns out to have yielded a losing hand. Again.

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