Friday, December 11, 2009
A Smiling Monster
I had a dream last night about a monster who never stops smiling. I know what inspired the dream. Furthermore, I know the name of the monster. His name is Richard Cohen and he sat smiling when Rachel Maddow told him his words were being used to kill gay people in Uganda. He smiled, and corrected her, as if she was a child, suffering from a misunderstanding. As if comprehension was at the root of the problem, but make no mistake, this man knows what Uganda has done, and is doing. His tone was gentle and admonishing. He said he advocated love and understanding, but smiled when told he had blood on his hands.
Uganda is not the United States, you may say, and you would be right. Yet, discrimination still flourishes in our country, and the battle is being fought to bring equality to all. Currently our laws support inequality. We do not extend Civil Rights to all, we are still meting out Equality, as if it is earned, or granted, rather than a right.
"If you sit silent, you are complicit." The man in the dream was telling me, and I was terrified, locked into a horror-scape within my sleeping mind. I know that I was thrashing in bed from the state of my covers upon awaking, I was drenched in sweat when I awoke, too.
I will tell you honestly that I was eighteen-years-old before I found out that anyone thought there was anything wrong with being gay. I didn't realize I had been raised in a liberal version of the Episcopal church until I was older, but I had been. A young man I knew through some work I was doing in theater was talking to me about the girl he was dating, and I was astounded. I had been sure he was gay, and said as much:
"Oh! I thought you were gay!" I was laughing at my own misunderstanding. I didn't know then that anyone would try to hide that fact, or that it was a source of pain for anyone. Was I a bit naive? Absolutely, but I genuinely did not know I was saying anything that might hurt, or upset him.
"I'm not gay!" He said, rather ferociously. I was taken aback, he sounded angry. Beyond that he sounded, and looked frightened. I didn't understand why.
"I'm sorry! I was wrong." I was frightened in my own turn. What had I done wrong? I honestly didn't know, but from that day forward, I was very careful with what I said.
It will come as a surprise to no one that when I met that same man again, more than five years later, he was living openly as a gay man, and he introduced me to his partner. If he had any recollection of that moment between us, five years earlier, he gave no indication of it. I will tell you that he was no longer frightened, or angry. He was in love, and happy. He introduced me to his partner with ease, and a smile. I liked that man, by the way, I always had. I'd hated the moment when I had upset him, and I was very happy to find out that he'd gone on to a happier life than the one he was trying to live when I was in school with him.
Do you know, I can no longer remember his name? I remember his smile. He had the most gorgeous smile. It would flash across his face, and it was impossible to not smile in return. I didn't have a crush on him, as I said, I had known he was gay from the moment I met him, but I always thought he looked a bit like a Disney hero, only much shorter. It was no coincidence that he was often cast as the hero of the plays he was in. He was exceptionally handsome, and his smile was beautifully freeing for all who beheld it.
I've studied a lot of history. I know the true dangers of discrimination. I've studied a fair amount of the history of gender politics and know this to be true also: Where I was born in our time-line has greatly determined my rights as a citizen. That I can vote, own property, marry of my own free will, and end or continue a marriage based on my personal feelings, all of that was determined by a fight that went on before I was born.
This is not a political blog, it never has been, and is unlikely to be so going forward, but silence in the face of discrimination is akin to condoning it. At present Gay and Lesbian citizens of the United States cannot marry, have equal protection under the law, one of the basic laws under which I was born excludes people. As if they are not equal. As if they are somehow second-class citizens, unworthy of Civil Rights.
That's wrong, and it needs to change. Holding onto discrimination in any form puts us all in peril. If I sit silent in the face of discrimination, then I am participating in that discrimination. Long, long ago, when men sought to deny women the right to vote they called forth the bible as reference material. A woman's place was to be subservient to a man. Those that came before me, who fought before I was born, helped guarantee me rights that should never have been in question.
Equality that is parsed, or meted out, is not true equality. We are the ones living a lie when we do not fight for the equality, a basic right of our country, for all.
Richard Cohen claims to have been cured of being homosexual. He claims that he promotes love, acceptance, tolerance, but his book claims that people can be cured of their sexual orientation as if he is referring to a disease. I think back to my friend, living his lie, the one foisted upon him by others, and I think of his smile the day he introduced me to the man he loved. Love is not a disease. Sexual orientation is part of who a person is, something with which we are born.
I knew that at eighteen. I know it at forty-two. I will know that until the day I die.
In my nightmare a huge screen loomed overhead. Richard Cohen's horrible, monstrous smile, belying his words was ever present. People were dying, all sorts of people. I was trapped in some terrible, dark factory of death and I was trying to flee. Everywhere I turned, there was Richard Cohen's terrible smile. The same one he pasted to his face as he denied that Uganda was using his book as proof for why it was acceptable to murder gay and lesbians.
In the dream I was running away, through twisted corridors. From where do dreams come? Our world around us. Our subconscious mind. In some cases, our conscience. In others, all of the aforementioned.
I went tearing around a corner in my dream, desperate for escape, and a man grabbed my arm. I turned, terrified, and saw the face of the man holding me fast. It was my friend from so long ago.
"If you sit silent, you are complicit." He told me, his tone admonishing. I know from where the voices in dreams come, they come from me. I know that to be true. If you see something you know to be wrong, and sit silent, you are participating in that wrong. If I am silent, I am participating in that wrong.
Freedom of Speech is another basic right. It can be a difficult one, it means we will have to afford the right to people with whom we vehemently disagree. It is part and parcel of that right. Richard Cohen both frightened and sickened me. Saying he promotes love and tolerance, but completely at peace with the fact that his words are being used to justify the murder of those he claims to love and tolerate. It is not in this land, but it is one of the inherent dangers of government sanctioned discrimination in any country.
I know why my sleeping mind selected the image of my long ago friend. I know that I put those words into his mouth, but I know something else. After he said those words to me, he smiled, and I woke up. Free of the monster in my dream, a man my sleeping brain did not create. A man who will claim love and tolerance, but is urging you to view Gay, Lesbian, Transgendered and Bisexual human beings as sick.
I know he is wrong, and the only way to fight him is to say so.
This is not my fight, you might say. My fight was fought by those who came before me, and now it is my responsibility to fight for equality for others, who need more voices. Who need my help, so that those born into this world will have guaranteed rights under the law, regardless of gender, regardless of race, regardless of sexual orientation.
If I sit silent, I am complicit.