By R.J. Beaumia
Blind item: Which popular deity might be catering that conservative homosexual pundit’s wedding this coming August? Wags around town are already imagining having to scarf down the tired fare of bread and salty fish said divinity is so infamous for. Maybe the pundit can get him to do that Evian/Chablis hocus-pocus act again. Maybe the pundit and his fellow Vatican-ites can get the deity to open up a couple of veins to help them wash down said boring cuisine.
If you were wondering, yes, the deity is Jesus; yes, the pundit is Andrew Sullivan; and yes, I am stocking up on sun block to help withstand the heat for which my eternal retirement community is so famous. However, I would argue that having to live in a world that not only gives the Spice Girls a career, but considers giving them a reunion tour as well, is hell enough to justify sending me to Purgatory credited with time already served.
I admit that I love blind items and a little bit of celebrity dirt. But while I get a cheap kick from seeing photos of John Travolta getting caught tenderly kissing his “manny” or of Britney Spears flashing her flaps, I understand that none of it has anything to do with my reality or the reality of billions of other people around the world. I am aware that all of the gossip and the time wasted on it are nothing more than diversions; no bread, no circus will keep me from working for progress and justice on this old planet.
On the obverse, I also know that no matter what I do, people are going to starve and people are going to die horrible deaths and there is only so much I can do to change that, if change is an option at all. Like Leonard Cohen says, “everybody knows.” You can adopt every kid in sub-Saharan Africa and buy the world a Coke, but you’re still going to find a lump under your arm the day your boyfriend leaves you for that 20-year-old drama major who changes the deposit bottle bins at Kroger.
What keeps me only drinking from the well of cynicism and not jumping into it and drowning myself, though, are the rare, beautiful, fleeting moments in life when things make perfect sense, like when a homophobic preacher gets caught with hooker’s big, fat dick up his butt, or when gay people get to be married in Massachusetts.
Now that Mitt Romney has packed up his magical underwear and taken his hate tour on the Republican vaudeville circuit, the good people of Massachusetts can go to bed at night knowing that in their small corner of the country they have proven that the American democratic system can still actually work, that the words “equality” and “justice” still have some gravity.
I’m very happy for the people of Massachusetts, and I’ll be happy for Andrew Sullivan when he gets married there to his fiance Aaron this coming August. But I got a little worried thinking about the poor boys when they have their honeymoon in the Smoky Mountains (I know, but just play along with me here). As they drive from Boston to Tennessee in their Camaro, they will travel through states where their marriage license is worthless. They can even be kicked out of their Super 8 motel just for being gay.
Then I got depressed when I thought about the countless other states across America where it’s legal to fire people because they’re gay or to refuse them medical services based on religious beliefs. I thought about the decent people right here in Ann Arbor who lost their health care benefits because a majority of woefully ignorant voters – not misinformed, not misled, but willfully, cruelly, and happily ignorant people – chose to pass laws that serve not to expand, but instead take away and limit the civil rights of its citizens.
I became perplexed wondering how it’s possible that a 40 minute drive east from my house could change my entire life, where I can be in Canada and get married to another man with all the rights, responsibilities, and privileges given to heterosexual couples.
I was even more confused when I heard that Colombia, and even Cuba (!), are considering granting gay men and women legal parity in marriage to their heterosexual peers. Apparently cocaine and communism aren’t as bad the Reagans said they were.
In the end, though, I got really, really pissed off when I read what blushing bride Sullivan had to say on his blog about the state of gay unions in this country in light of the decision to keep same-sex marriage legal in Massachusetts.
Before doing some understandable rejoicing, Sullivan began delegating some of the blame for the current, enormous, setbacks we’ve experienced nationally since the 2000 election. He grudgingly blamed George Bush and Karl Rove, but he also made sure to mention and blame the hateful, timid Democrats – the Clintons especially – and the ineffectiveness of many gay and civil rights organizations (which I’m sure will have the people at MassEquality and the ACLU scratching their heads). He made it clear that big government, big idea, big movement politics had nothing to do with the bliss in Boston.
No, Sullivan credited the success in Massachusetts to all the little people out there, the ones he called the “ordinary” gay couples and their families – “not the activists, not the lobbyists, not the intellectuals.” It was the legions of the great unwashed who made this wonderful thing happen, he said. Let’s have a cheer for the cults of populism “do-it-yourselfiteness”!
His privileged status as a member of what the insider media have so cutely dubbed themselves – “the chattering classes” – and an immigrant’s misty view of this country can be the only things that could possibly explain Sullivan’s silly, weepy paroxysm. That, and the white-knuckled greed of the laissez-faire federalist.
Fuck you and your aspirations to be an honorary member of the prairie-folk, Andrew. Nothing gets done in this country without political organizing, and you know it. “Grass-roots” is a meaningless term unless it’s attached to “organizing.” But you don’t like to think about that because the concept of grassroots organizing dictates that there are lots of other “ordinary” people banding together out here expecting, demanding what is rightfully theirs – things like worker’s rights and universal health care.
Conservative gay pundits like Sullivan and Chris Crain have had a small, but still significant part, in ensuring that gay men and lesbians remain relegated to second-class citizenship. Knowing very well that the political choices they made and the dogma they espoused were riskier for the gay community than a condom-free weekend at a bath house, they still glorified the Republican revolution and the legacy of their hero Ronald Reagan who, seven years into a devastating epidemic, refused to even mention the acronym AIDS until one year before the end of his second term because it seemed to affect mostly “the gays.”
In 2000 Sullivan embraced George W. Bush and his “compassion,” so now Sullivan’s marriage is useless outside of Massachusetts and Crain had to leave the country to be with his Brazilian partner because he can’t legally marry him here.
After he touted the newfound warm, open-armed love the we “ordinary” gay folks are drowning in out here in the heartland, Sullivan went on to admit that, “Yes, we still have to win over those who see our loves as somehow destructive of the families we seek merely to affirm. Yes, we don’t have federal recognition of our basic civil equality. Yes, in many, many states we have been locked out of equality for a generation, because of the politics of fear and backlash. But look how far we’ve come.” Or we can take a boat ride across Lake Ontario and see what it’s like to live in a real democracy.
If we’ve come far in some ways, I have to wonder how much further along we’d be had Al Gore been president. And by the way, Andrew, the way you use the phrase “basic civil equality” makes it seem like it’s some sort of quaint upgrade to living, like getting an electric tooth brush. I also take exception to the way you think that being locked out of a basic civil right for a generation isn’t such a big deal, because for some of us one generation is all we have left.
You can “win over” the bigots Andrew, but in the meantime I’ll be fighting for my rights. Whether any of us like it or not, the ugly fact is that sometimes we need the power of a big, strong government to help enforce those rights. Winning people over is simply not a viable option in this country.
Without the power of a big government and legions of “ordinary” people organized behind it, there would be a lot of black kids still standing on the front porches of public schools all throughout the American south.