In the wake of the marriage amendment, Dale Decker examines how shame can prevent that “personal connection” necessary for creating change.
I admit it—I really didn’t want to write this article. I can’t shake my anger about the passage of the anti-gay marriage amendment nearly a year ago now. I obsess about what went wrong and how I could have responded differently. Did I do enough? Would anything have made a difference? Heavy stuff. If I’m going to search for answers, I’m going to need some backup. Preferably something fabulous and fun. Let’s start by asking ourselves: WWGD (What Would Gloria Do?). Behold, the Gospel according to Ms. Gaynor.
I am what I am And what I am needs no excuses. I deal my own deck. Sometimes the ace sometimes the deuces.
Obviously, we lost. If that ain’t a deuce, I don’t know what is. However, my hat is off to anyone who bothered to play a card—even if it didn’t win. I’ve licked my wounds now for a year trying to figure out why there is so much despair in my mind. It always seems to come back to rooting out those lingering pockets of shame. Our society has done an excellent job of weakening our self-confidence and discouraging us. I’ll be the first to admit it: there were times when I was reluctant to speak up because I feared rejection and embarrassment. Let’s deal some aces by getting out of our comfort zone. Research done before the election found that people with a “personal connection” to someone gay were much more likely to support same sex marriage.
It’s one life and there’s no return and no deposit. One life so it’s time to open up your closet.
Opening up is how we provide that personal connection. Simply being open about our lives is a powerful political action that not only changes our society—it changes us. There’s no better way to find your own pockets of shame than talking about how you spent your weekend. I remember explaining what a leather bar is to straight co-workers. Awkward! But if I expect people to embrace my culture and its wonderful diversity, I must be comfortable with it too. You don’t need a therapist to work on your “shame issues.” It’s simply about being as open as possible about your life.
Of course, there are some very personal subjects that make it easy to hide in the closet and pretend that we are just private people. I’m always amazed by how open straight folks are about their marital lives—including sex. By staying silent about this very important part of our lives, we allow people who fear us to distort attitudes. Vivid images of sex can induce raw emotions—desire, guilt, disgust—that are very easily twisted into hatred and fear. Society has to examine those emotions, just as we did when we came out. Queer folks have learned to hide a huge part of themselves to avoid rejection. Talking openly about the issues involved with marriage, love, and sex teaches our society to accept us as full-fledged humans.
Now, am I advocating that you describe your sexual preferences in great detail to your grandmother? Of course not! Everyone must use common sense and be true to their own personality, but make sure that you aren’t hiding your homophobia behind a sense of privacy. We’ll know our nation has opened up the closet when a gay joke doesn’t garner a laugh on The Daily Show or the latest teen sex movie. Why exactly is gay sex funny? Because it makes straight people uncomfortable. Because it makes us uncomfortable. It’s that discomfort and internalized shame that causes us to hesitate when we have a chance to make a personal connection—a connection that just might change someone’s vote on the next constitutional amendment. The personal really is political and the simple power of sharing your life—all of your life—can and will make a difference. Ask yourself…WWGD?
Life’s not worth a damn till you can shout out. I am what I am.