A few months ago, my favorite journalist really got to me. I re-read the interview Rachel Maddow gave this fall at least ten times before I wrapped my head around what she was saying. In a nutshell, she supports gay marriage, but is concerned it could kill gay culture, so she’s not really sure how she feels about it. Wha…huh? Yeah, I still don’t get it, but to be fair to Rachel Maddow, here’s the full quote. She feels “that gay people not being able to get married for generations, forever, meant that we came up with alternative ways of recognizing relationships. And I worry that if everybody has access to the same institutions that we lose the creativity of subcultures having to make it on their own. And I like gay culture.”
First I was confused…was Rachel Maddow all of a sudden opposing gay marriage? No…but the point she was making still made me angry, and it sounded a little uncomfortably familiar to me. Once the appropriate neurons fired, I realized that her quote was very similar to something I had written, something I had one of the main characters Julie Callahan say at the end of my novel Three Fifths of Love…a novel I had written to show the importance of allowing gay people to marry. Did I need to rewrite the ending of my already published book? Had I sent a message that gay marriage didn’t matter by having Julie say “the only people that ever needed to recognize our love, cannot ever be forced to do so by the law. If our families and friends treat our love as the real and abiding thing that it is, and if we treat it that way too, who really cares what the rest of the world thinks? We built our family anyway.”
The character who spoke those words, Julie Callahan, had been shunned by her parents from the moment she started dating women, had her son stolen from her wife by those parents when Julie was injured in a car accident, and had seen the legal system almost destroy her own family because gay marriages are not fully recognized, but Julie ends Three Fifths of Love almost by saying that the right to marry doesn’t matter; it’s the will to dream that’s important, the determination to build your family…anyway.
There’s a lot of meaning behind that word anyway…it encapsulates a whole world of judgment that a million “it gets better” commercials never quite takes away and, at the same time, there’s also the immeasurable beauty in that word, the freedom in that word of finding how soft the ground under your feet really is when you trod your own path, no matter how scary it seems at the beginning. That is the unique thing about gay culture: the way alienation somehow breeds a community, the way that hate creates a kind of indomitable pride, the way that being dehumanized somehow makes us more human.
I agree with Rachel Maddow, I like gay culture too. There is something special about us, about our community, and about the culture we have built. Yes, there is an absolutely amazing light produced from the darkness we’ve all faced, but does that mean that we have to embrace the darkness? Do we risk killing gay culture by letting gay people get married? Do we get rid of what’s special about us by letting some gay people dream of being…gasp…normal?
Gay men and women have made staggering contributions to human culture for thousands of years, completely out of proportion to our actual numbers in the population. What words would we remember Abraham Lincoln by, if Walt Whitman had never penned “Oh Captain, My Captain”? What images of beauty would we have never seen had Michelangelo not picked up the brush? What discoveries of science and works of art would we miss out on had Leonardo DaVinci been made to serve time for his sodomy arrest? (Yup, that did happen.) As a writer, I can’t imagine this world without James Baldwin, or Virginia Woolf, or Audre Lorde, or Edna St. Vincent Millay. My ears shudder at the thought of a world without Freddie Mercury, or Leonard Bernstein, or Cole Porter, or k.d. lang, or David Bowie, or Ani DiFranco. Do we lose that vast expression of talent, do we lose our culture, when we lose our pain and gain our rights?
The idea that gay women and men could become ordinary is…well…its kind of funny actually. We’re not normal, let’s own up to it folks. There is a biological imperative to reproduce, and we have decided (or been born to believe) that love is more important than biology. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to have kids, but it does mean we have stepped off the track and out of the mainstream, and chosen our own fates, rather than allowing that fate to be dictated by even the survival of our genes. That is worthy of reflecting on because, to me, that’s what we all mean when we say that gay rights are human rights. It’s that simple. It’s the right to be human, because, in the end, the really cool thing about us homo sapiens is the fact that we think, we reflect, we make choices, we learn, and we have the capacity to be driven by more than biology. We have the idea of altruism, the idea of heroism, and we have all the various religions, because we can be inspired to action by so much more than instinct. Throughout history, human beings have chafed at any restrictions put on the freedom of each of us to make our own destiny, not just by building movements for civil rights, but by reaching for things denied to us by biology, not just by government. We fly when we have no wings because we are little primate toolmakers with a much bigger and way cooler brain, and we have never considered our abilities to be constrained by what we were born with. We dream, we plan, we build tools, we create, and we free ourselves. It is absolutely no surprise then, that some of our most outstanding humans have turned out to be gay or bisexual. When your life and your dreams no longer fit inside the boundaries of normalcy, room is created for the extraordinary.
But extraordinary things aren’t just produced in art, literature, music, and journalism, the way we live our lives is a tribute to the most extraordinary notion of all: that love is the most important thing in life, that it ennobles us, that it is worth sacrificing for, and fighting for, and being brave for. The ordinary people in our community who are getting married, or who want the right to be married, aren’t killing gay culture, they’re giving our artists another picture to paint, they’re giving people who are just realizing they’re gay a way to a normal future they thought they had no hope for, and they’re making our human society a more tolerant one. Every time a picture of one of these weddings that might kill gay culture shows up in the newspaper, somewhere someone was just inspired…to write, to paint, or maybe just to live a life, a whole life, a life without fear or shame. If you doubt the power of an image, close your eyes and picture a T.V. news anchor, in no time but ours could you easily be imagining the face of a gay woman, Rachel Maddow. Now, picture the President of the United States getting on Air Force One…
Sarah Warden is the author of the novel THREE FIFTHS OF LOVE: A Story of Gay Marriage in NY available as an ebook for 99 cents at http://www.amazon.com/Three-Fifths-Love-Marriage-ebook/dp/B005EZ3QU2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1318174116&sr=8-1