Cracks in the Sidewalk

More letters keep getting added. Not long ago, there were just three: L, G, and B. Then the Ts demanded inclusion. Soon others bravely emerged from the shadows. At last check, the full label was LGBTQIAP+, the plus being coverage for anyone missed.

Days after the Women’s March on Washington I got to interview three friends who went. Each of them traveled separately, from different backgrounds, with different reasons for going. Overall, the message was about demanding equal rights for all people. I’m still working on transcribing the interview, and I will post it here when I’m finished. Their experiences were inspiring. It was invigorating to know so many people were willing to stand up for equal rights. There is no doubt, diversity colors life.

Still, despite the best intentions, every time one more letter is added to the description I see it as one more discord, yet another sidewalk crack on which I must be careful not step. Offensive as my perspective may be, it has become obvious that it is no longer helpful to keep politely silent. Like the toddler who tests the boundaries set by his mother, it’s important that the advocates for equality understand when they’ve gone too far, otherwise they risk perpetual adolescence. As I watch the battles unfold, as I cheer for progress and denounce bigotry, I am left to wonder if this will ever end. I come to same conclusion each time. The flaw in each is that it does not recognize the rights of all. With this post, I will do my best to explain.

Deluded is the idea that true equality can prevail with such divisive labels. All of us, no matter where we come from, no matter what we have or choose to do, no matter how many achievements, mistakes, rewards, setbacks, accolades, misunderstandings, gifts, or shortcomings we encounter, are all just people.

Since so many haven’t learned that yet, the fight rages on. The close-minded, brutal, ignorant, heavy-footed, vengeful, and unkind still inflict cruelty. I have no issue with resistance to that. I am an ally to the equal rights movement of every alphabet. Cruelty to one is detrimental to all.

But true unity cannot happen when every off color, “marginalized,” or struggling group demands spotlight recognition. Gender aside, this also includes black lives. It applies to blue lives. Latinos. Immigrants. Refuges. Women. Muslims. Plus. Each time one shade of diversity shouts to be free of discrimination, another falls farther into darkness. Since I prefer not to choose, I have been given no choice. Instead of acceptance, in order to avoid treading on these forever-expanding obstacles, I freeze. Wanting to move forward I am forced to stand still.

Much of this comes from the endless campaigns to understand each and every splintered clan. It’s called political correctness, but the issue goes far beyond politics. The tensile strength of human compassion is reaching its limit. Too much vigilance is required to step gently these days. Treating others as I wish to be treated is no longer good enough. It’s just not that simple anymore.

Understanding

Peace and love are embraceable, but understanding seems forever elusive.

For instance, I remember the days when, in hopes of more fluid desegregation, whites were urged to stop seeing skin color. This I could understand. My first reaction to any person presented to me should naturally be that I’m looking at a person.

Then, this came to be considered a wrongful denial of blackness. “See me as black, because that is who I am.” This too I could understand. I value a connection to ancestry. We must all remained tapped into the lineage of who we are.

But honestly, is it really my role to identify, recognize, and understand the plight of every race which stands before me? In an age when even the seasoned anthropologist is questioning the ability to identify all the racial subspecies of the Homo sapien, how am I supposed to know the makeup and desires of every stranger? I still cannot differentiate with confidence the Asian people. Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese?

And is it really my role to identify–to even ask–what gender you identify with? Male or female, Vietnamese or Korean, how badly will you be offended if I get it wrong?

As a heterosexual, spiritual, middle-class, average, white American with European roots, I am left in quandary, a damned-if-I-do-or-don’t position. Inside the margins of the blank, white page, with hope for our community to be whole, these labels cripple me when I should be empowered to do the right thing. And that’s toxic to the equal rights movement. It is part of what has delivered to us a presidential leader who speaks to only his kind, further empowering the supremacist who believes only his kind is best.

Who doesn’t want their true self to be recognized as understood? Who doesn’t struggle to understand whom exactly that true self is?

Lesbian. Gay. Bisexual. Transgender, transexual, and transvestite. Queer. Intersex. Asexual. Pansexual. Thinning this alphabet soup, someone has produced MOGAI: Marginalized Orientations, Gender Identities, and Intersex, further testing my compassionate knowledge. It’s bad enough that we haven’t all caught on to the new label; how many among us even know what pansexual means?

The more each “non-confirming” individual seeks vindication in the popular vein, the more the issue of equality becomes clogged with idiosyncrasies. I cannot understand you until I’ve truly been you, and I cannot be anything other than who I am. Doesn’t that make me the same as you? Isn’t that enough? Isn’t that exactly what this fight is all about, being free to be who you are?

Sex

Moreover, I’m exceptionally tired of talking about sex. I’m tired of it as entertainment. I’m tired of it as news. I’m tired of it as a measure of our relationships. I’m tired of having to protect children from it. I’m tired of selling products with it. And I’m tired of it being used to identify a person.

“Gender is not sex!” and “This is not a lifestyle!” the misunderstood will shout in defense. Still, the letters mean sexual orientation, any way you spell it. And I don’t care about the position or the partner you choose. I don’t care what you possess underneath your clothes. I don’t want to have to think about it every time I look at you. I pray you don’t theorize when you look at me. All I want to see is the person you are, preferably dressed and smiling and free.

Plus, when do we stop adding letters? What about the sadists and masochists? The celibates? We have reached a point in which the most personal and sacred aspects of ourselves are not fully appreciated until we have branded them with a diversity-seeking symbol. If it’s equality we want, why this push for specificity?

And why this need for pride?

Pride

The past summer, while visiting Halifax, Canada, I was present for one of the country’s largest gay pride celebrations. People lined the streets to cheer as rainbow-decorated flatbeds floated down the parade route. There was a great unity in the messaging, on the sidelines and in the parade, mostly through body language, attire, and poise. The overall behavior was tremendously respectful. People were fully clothed. They smiled. They made eye contact. And glorious of all, they were celebrating each other. They were celebrating the lives of people. It was heartwarming and inspiring.

However, there were also people who I considered disgraceful. They flashed skin, seemingly for the value of shock treatment. Outlandish costumes screamed, “Look at me! I am outlandish. You are ordinary.” Off the parade route, I passed two men wearing nothing but gray, tight-fitting briefs. They each proudly pushed forward a hard bulge as their bare feet tramped along the filthy concrete. Out on the streets of society, where all measure of society is trying to raise children, in the admittedly lonely place that is normalcy, in order to appreciate each other on equal terms as equal people, I expect you to put your clothes on and act with respect. The size of and access to your prosthetic dick does not determine your worthiness, unless you prefer life in the jungle of reproductive beguilement.

Furthermore, I’m torn by these events, because pride is a sticky business. Christian gospel warns against it, which I think is for good reason. Pride is self-worship. And that too is divisive. The fact that you are proud means you have mentally raised yourself above one who is not. Even the atheist should be able to see the wisdom in the virtue of humility. To be humble is to open yourself up to accept that your life depends on other things, other people, in every moment of time. Plus, it is humility that dictates the universal truth of the words of Maya Angelou: “You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody.”

Acceptance and Love

Still, for most, I think the inarguable struggles come down to acceptance and love.

My advice for those looking for acceptance: do not base your happiness on my acceptance. Just be happy that I’m glad to let you be. There is this unwritten expectation that says, in order to accept someone, you have to like the person. This is a source of great animosity for me. There are simply people who I find abrasive to my personality. In this way, people are not (and never will be) equal to each other. I detest being manipulated, being forced to deny my emotions to accommodate a stranger’s desire. Current relations demand that I control my dislike when the target falls into any one of many impoverished categories. It is only when the target is exactly like me — the same race, class, gender, or creed — that I am entitled to follow my heart.

As for limiting love or instructing people about who they should love, this is not just sticky, it’s ancient. Arranged marriages and our mothers’ expectations are as old as society itself. Still, we may be conditioned; we may be influenced; but we are not gods. We do not control the universe or the genetics of attraction. It is not for me to dictate who you love. While a society may benefit from limiting hate, what benefit shall be derived from limiting love?

Well, for the betterment of American society as a whole, laws were created. Based on the morals of spirituality, these laws aim to prevent bigamy, to favor monogamy, and to characterize the pedophile as a predatory criminal. But marriage has always been known to me as an act of the church. In fact, Catholicism deems matrimony a holy sacrament. I’ve often wondered how, given the separation of church and state, marriage became so entangled in law. Unlike the biblical laws of killing and stealing, why is it necessary?

On the day that a military chaplain legally joined my husband to me on the lawn of a very non-religious bed-and-breakfast, I wondered how the true meaning of a religious marriage translated to that of our marriage certificate, our non-religious permit. I am spiritually committed to my husband for life, but I’m still not sure why I need legal documentation for this commitment to apply. Are not the emotional and financial entanglements of any who share a life the same whether married or not? When we force our legislators to define the boundaries of marriage, are we not forcing our legislators to follow our religion?

We also share a deep emotional need to be recognized as significant. We all struggle to make our mark with the physique, talents, flaws, and emotions with which we are born or have since acquired. I have no right to tarnish the significance of any other person. No law or public policy shall ever facilitate such an act. Those who believe otherwise are doomed to life of insignificance and distress.

Conclusion

Martin Luther King, Jr. led his people to higher ground. He opened the eyes of those who could not see the truth. However, the people outside his tribe were left to create their own opportunities. The lines were drawn: black or white. Lesbians and gays rose up behind Harvey Milk. The feminists had Billie Jean King. The list will continue, on and on, each group fighting to end the same evils of discrimination. Each campaign starting at the bottom, requiring the cultural psyche to first understand, then accept, and finally adopt. Progress is limited to the label of the day.

When will we learn that we are people? When will we come to the blanket realization that, despite what we think of each other, we must treat each other equally in the eyes of the law?

Let us drop the labels. Drop the relentless need to be understood by a society that doesn’t understand itself. Let us all simply be free to make our own way down the tricky, windy, bumpy sidewalk. Let us stop hindering each other by constantly measuring our racial and gender-bias temperature, and let’s just get on to the business of living a life that is, at its core, profoundly beautiful.

(Watch for my Women’s March interview to appear here soon.)

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