My therapist tried to bring it back to me, per always. [Yes, I just started a sentence with “my therapist,” which is about as fascinating as, “my acid trip” or “my dream last night,” like keep that shit to yourself, no one cares.] My therapist wanted to know if my anger about Maine [the only topic I was interested in speaking about on Wednesday night] had anything to do with last week, when my girlfriend Alex’s Mom asked us the night before Alex’s 21-year-old cousin’s funeral if we could lay off that “we’re lesbians and we’re proud and we don’t care who knows it” shit at the funeral home. You know. That Radical Lesbian Shit we do all the time to make everyone else feel weird and show them how out we are.
Like, for example — just so you know what Alex’s Mom was talking about, and what my therapist was referencing, and then I’ll get back to Maine — earlier that night at Texas Roadhouse (suburban artery-clogging steakhouse) my girlfriend had placed her hand on my knee under the table. A circumspect display of affection, you may think. No biggie. BUT NO! Even we did not sense the gravity of our actions! This was not an ordinary leg touch. This was a secret recruitment tactic. We weren’t there for gigantic beer-battered fried onion blossoms, we were there to let everyone know that we are lesbians and we don’t care who KNOWS IT! (Although apparently we look alike, so it’s probs more of an Incest campaign than anything.)
See, Alex begins at my knee, and before you know it, the waitresses aren’t singing about T-Bones anymore, they’re fingerblasting on the bar stools like alt-pornstars, equal rights for everyone forevs!
Let’s get one thing straight — we touch each other maybe one-fourth as often as straight people do in public, ’cause we don’t like the attention. I’ve had boyfriends; beginning to compare relative levels of comfort would make me depressed.
I felt like an asshole, but also paralyzed. Because that afternoon, being girlfriends meant we had to act like less than friends, and after a few uncomfortable hours at the wake, Alex and I decided it would probably be easier on everyone if I left.
But Mom insisted it wasn’t a gay thing, she didn’t like to see anyone ‘all over each other’ in public, like the time this older relative of theirs was making out with his young girlfriend on the couch. It hadn’t even occurred to her — and this is the worst part! that she didn’t mean anything by it!– that in fact straight people are OFTEN putting hands on each other’s knees, but it’s like seeing a car drive down the street. It’s peripheral. Or that comparing Alex’s hand on my knee to Lolita & Humbert dry-humping on the couch at Thanksgiving was incredibly offensive.
For example, at wakes, straight people touch each other. At a wake for a child who was killed in a car accident, a man might put his arm around his crying wife, or even a wife might put her arm around her crying daughter.
Not us. Nope. We got the message loud & clear and the next morning at the wake my hands were in my pockets. Granted; we know funeral etiquette, for Christ’s sake, but standing at a distance … like the ‘friend’ I was supposed to be, and aggressively introduced as … all I know is that when my friends are sad, I like to touch them, physically, because I’m not good with words about death. I felt like an asshole, but also paralyzed. Because that afternoon, being girlfriends meant we had to act like less than friends, and after a few uncomfortable hours at the wake, Alex and I decided it would probably be easier on everyone if I left.
Anyhow, I told my therapist, no, this wasn’t about THAT. “I spent an entire therapy session yelling about this in 2004, too,” I yelled. “And I was straight then, like I had a boyfriend, whatever. Like I thought it had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with me. Because then — it just blew my fucking mind that this was an issue. I hadn’t even thought about it ’til it was in the news ’cause it’d been legalized in San Francisco. And I had no idea that the country would react so negatively to it. I was in a bubble!”
See, I told her — my life is fine, relatively. I live in a tolerant area. I don’t want to get married any time soon. I don’t have to deal with racism, which is still OOC in this alleged land of the free, let alone racism & sexism & homophobia, as I’m sure many of you do. I live in a gay-friendly city. Most of my life if I didn’t like a law, I broke it. My parents were hippies, I was raised to revolt. So no, I told her, it’s not about me.
But I’m still angry, angrier than she’d ever seen me. “Our fucking government is condoning discrimination. You know what percentage of the country is gay? Do you?” She shrugs. “Maybe two percent. Two percent!”
I asked her if she knew about Maine before I’d brought it up, and she didn’t. I asked, “What’s your excuse?” and she said “I have a sick child,” and I felt like an asshole.
But also, then I knew — I knew it. If gay marriage had been on the ballot here, her sick kid would’ve been more important than voting in an off-year election. And that’s completely, totally okay, and also exactly why minority issues can’t be decided by a majority vote. On both sides, it doesn’t matter enough to enough people for the voters who show up to be an accurate representation of “right” or even “popular opinion.”
I continued: “How can we expect a majority of our citizens to rise above discrimination that’s like literally written into federal law?!”
“So it’s not about you at all?”
I left feeling it wasn’t about me or about what happened with my girlfriend’s Mom, but in a way I guess it is.
Because it’s about how you think change is happening and it’s not. You think little changes build up neatly like arithmetic; like a rolling stone. You think things have changed so much with your girlfriend’s family since last year. Her Mom did your hair, you’re a regular dinner guest, you debate politics and joke around with her father, she’s stopped passive-aggressively criticizing you when you’re not around, you’re actually recognized as her “girlfriend” now and the word lesbian isn’t frightening anyone anymore.
Because like I said, her Mom isn’t mean or homophobic, she’s just a messenger from the world we live in, and we live in a world that feels homosexuals are “others,” offensive objects to be treated delicately even by those who love them.
You think all these little things mean the big things are real, that signals indicate a transformation rather than a series of small separated events — like that they understand you and their daughter hold hands sometimes because you love each other, not because you want to send a political message.
I thought change was happening and it’s not. We are jumping sometimes and lying down sometimes but we — and by “we” right now I mean America — are not running together towards anything, we’re not climbing, we’re just sprinting back and forth. We haven’t changed enough if Maine happened.
I think this might be the actual turning point, the fight after the fight you felt peaceful about on the surface but still lingered unresolved in your gut. We had a radical right-wing President for eight years, and we’re gonna need some radical left-wing power to bring things back to anywhere near sensible.
I saw this congressman from Florida, Grayson, on The Joy Behar Show a few nights ago and he said something that stuck with me, because it’s true: “The Republicans activate their vote, but the Democrats don’t activate their vote … people elected Obama, they elected me, they elected other Democrats and put us in charge of government because they wanted to see change. And they need to see more of it. We need to deliver. We need to make sure that the people who voted for us with those expectations in mind have those expectations satisfied. It’s that simple.”
When we interviewed Dan Choi again at the National Equality March in October, I said to Alex & Brooke afterwards that he seemed much angrier than when we’d first met him, right after he’d come out on the Rachel Maddow show and was at the anti-equality counter-rally in NYC.
A few weeks after the NEM, Brooke ran into Dan at a Gay & Lesbian Task Force event in Florida. He actually asked her, out of the blue, if he seemed angrier now, because this was something he was noticing about himself. He told her that he felt angrier.
And I get it now. This is what happens when you’re out there being an activist every day or even just absorbing the news like I do now for this website. I admit I wasn’t angry enough before; last year I was too excited about Obama to get too sad about Prop 8. I had change I can believe in. I’m not discounting that, but this year I keep remembering that 45.7% of this country voted for the possibility of Sarah Palin becoming the next president of this country. 45.7%. That’s frightening.
I’m getting angrier too.
Something has to change. Last year I thought it was a revolution nationwide, and we’d just be riding the coattails, bringing up the rear, floating in on these ever-promised tides. Change isn’t a train we’re excited to get on anymore, this is a trail we have to lead, cuz it ain’t going to lezzie town without us.
Are you ready?
BTW, this is the first column for “Riese’s Pieces.” I did not pick the name but have accepted it under protest due to popular opinion. This is where I am going to share all of my feelings with you about stuff, like Ilene Chaiken, the troubles of being a broke lesbian starting a small business, gender theory, why people should stop hating on bisexuals, and why I need more vodka. Usually not politics, because that’s not my area of expertise. In fact, this here piece was supposed to be Friday’s news & politics fix, but then all my feelings got out of hand and time was running out.
So if there’s anything you want to hear me yell about, let me know!
Welcome to The Revolution, where the future is always bright and the girls stay up all night.