By The Plaid Adder
is unfortunately a tradition at the Plaidder ancestral home
for my mother to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday by formally
posing what the rest of the family affectionately refers to
as "high gainers." These are questions designed to force the
guests to reach deep into their souls and produce answers
that will stimulate interesting conversation, such as, "What
quality do you think is most important in a significant other?"
or "Who were your heroes when you were growing up?" And every
year at Thanksgiving, we can count on having to respond to
the question, "What are you thankful for?"
I will face the high gainer this year with a tremendous
amount of ambivalence. While the country heads toward hell
in its handbasket, the truth is that I personally have a lot
to be thankful for. I am still with the best woman in the
world. She and I are still gainfully employed. The suburban
neighborhood we moved into two years ago with some trepidation
has turned out to be very welcoming. If we didn't care about
anything but our own little world, our lives would not really
have had to change that much since Bush took office. And the
immediate answer that comes to mind, when I think about what
I'm thankful for this year, is "Lawrence v. Texas and Goodridge
et al. v. Department of Public Health." The first one is the
Supreme Court decision that struck down sodomy laws; the second
is the Massachusets Supreme Judicial Court decision that found
it unconstitutional for Massachusetts to deny same-sex couples
the legal benefits of marriage.
It's a very strange thing. Every single other issue that
I care about is in flames, belching smoke, and taking a steep
nose dive straight toward the center of Hell, and at the same
time the one that affects me most directly is making more
progress than I would ever have dreamed possible.
Now, it's not hard to understand why: it's because right
now the equal rights battles are being fought in the courts,
and not in Congress. The legislative branch, apparently, trembles
before the might of the Bush juggernaut; but Bush has no direct
control over the judicial system, and cannot prevent judges
from, once in a while, doing the right thing in spite of him.
Except, you know, by appointing judges who are so ideologically
blinded that they will never do the right thing even when
the law of the land supports it - which has been one of his
little projects since he got into office. So our newfound
freedom is liable to be short-lived; but we'll enjoy it while
But it's hard to enjoy this windfall knowing how much the
rest of the country, and the rest of the world, is suffering
this year. And it's hard to enjoy it knowing that Bush's party
is licking its chops, hoping that the issue of same-sex marriage
is going to become their newest, most powerful weapon against
the Democratic contenders. So this Thanksgiving, I'd like
to at least try to even the score by giving something back.
I've been a lesbian for almost 15 years now, and I've had
a lot of experience defending myself and what I love against
the religious right. For my Thanksgiving special, I would
like to give the Democratic Party and its presidential hopefuls
the benefit of that experience, and offer them some advice
about how to make this issue an asset instead of a liability.
Because if the party approaches this problem the right way,
it could actually turn out to be the beginning of a very important
party makeover. And God knows we need it. So may I humbly
suggest that the Democratic Party, when it heads out to the
battlefield, considers fighting by Plaidder's:
Eight Simple Rules For Not Getting Your Ass Kicked
Rule #1. Forget the fundamentalists.
I don't mean literally forget them; that will be impossible
to do, what with the shouting and the frothing and the calling
down of hellfire and brimstone upon everyone's heads. What
I mean is that you cannot waste good time and money trying
to bring them around to your point of view. You can argue
the Bible up one side and down the other and it will not make
a damn bit of difference to them, because from a fundamentalist's
point of view, the fundamentalist's reading of the Bible is
always right, and anyone else's reading is always wrong. And
as for arguing anything else, well, forget that, because the
fundamentalist's reading of the Bible always trumps science,
nature, community standards, compassion, tolerance, civil
rights, and common sense. There is no way to win an argument
with a fundamentalist and there is no point in trying.
Rule #2. Dignity is sweet, and appeasement gets beat.
There is nothing more humiliating or self-destructive than
sacrificing your own freedom, identity, and emotional health
in a futile quest for the approval of people who will not
only never give it to you, but will ruthlessly exploit your
own desire for acceptance. If you make decisions based on
what will gain the approval of people who hate everything
you stand for, all that happens is that you end up living
all the misery they have wished on you. When you're hated
by the extreme right as much as we are, it makes absolutely
no sense to concede, because they will only be satisfied when
you have been totally silenced. If the Marriage Protection
Amendment passes, and same-sex marriage is no longer an issue,
that is not going to get the extreme right off our backs;
it will merely embolden them to go after the next protection,
and the next, until we are back in the pre-Stonewall era.
Because as long as the enemy thinks you're retreating, they're
going to keep taking more and more territory.
The thing to remember is that while we cannot - and I emphasize,
this is not unlikely, it is impossible - make any headway
amongst the religious right, the way we fight the battle will
have an enormous impact on the spectators watching from the
safety of the trees. If we don't act like we believe in ourselves,
nobody else is going to believe in us either. So please, guys,
either show up ready to fight, or don't show up at all. Commitment
is always going to beat cowardice. If we want to win on this,
we have to be as passionate and powerful in our defense of
our position as the religious right is in theirs. We have
to get as fired up about equality and justice as they are
about hellfire and damnation. It can be done. And indeed,
Whether it's on the dating scene or in the voting booth,
nothing is more attractive to people than confidence. And
if you want to project confidence, then you are a lot better
off learning to love what you are than trying to be what you
aren't. I'm having a much better time now that I'm not trying
to pretend I'm a size 10 straight woman, and you Democratic
candidates will be a lot better off once you stop trying to
pretend you're moderate Republicans. Pride talks, and bullshit
Rule #3. The mainstream doesn't know how extreme the
religious right really is, and we can do ourselves a huge
favor by helping them find out.
We realize it because we have to deal with it all
the time. But the great straight American public by and large
are not paying attention to groups like the American Family
Association, and for them a lot of the right-wing fundamentalist
agenda is going right under the radar. If you are, for instance,
Christian yourself, you may well not see anything too terribly
wrong with putting a giant statue of the Ten Commandments
in a courthouse; after all, what's wrong with the Ten Commandments?
They're sensible rules, and it couldn't hurt our politicians
to pay more attention to them, especially the parts about
not killing and not coveting and not bearing false witness.
They don't get the significance because the erosion of the
church/state separation does not appear to threaten them personally.
But the same-sex marriage issue is going to bring that into
focus in a whole new way, and if we are smart we can make
that a huge advantage for our side.
In my humble opinion, the major reason that most religious
right-wing groups are so frightened by the prospect of same-sex
marriage is that it will weaken the Christian church's power
in this country by separating civil marriage from religious
marriage. Once we do that, the Christian right no longer gets
to dictate the structure and shape of the basic American family
unit. When the Christian right talks about trying to keep
marriage sacred, what they are really talking about is keeping
marriage under their jurisdiction. After all, if sanctity
was what they really cared about, shouldn't they all be picketing
the set of The Bachelor?
Well, it is at that point that the Christian right's agenda
starts to rub a lot of straight America the wrong way. A lot
of the right's anti-same-sex marriage propaganda is just as
offensive to a single parent as it is to a gay couple. When
they stray from Leviticus and Romans, the argument the religious
right's family defense brigade always makes against gay marriage
is that the only truly healthy environment for a child is
an intact nuclear family with one mother and one father who
are still married to each other. Now that rhetoric ought to
make a lot of hardworking divorced and single parents pretty
fucking angry. Why doesn't it? Because they don't know it's
Don't believe me? Try this simple experiment: next time
you're clustered around the water cooler with your fellow
straight co-workers, ask them how they celebrated National
Marriage Protection Week.
I will bet you a cool $20 right now that unless you have
gay co-workers, nobody at your place of business will even
know that President Bush declared National Marriage Protection
Week back in October. If they do know, they probably will
not have bothered to go beyond the relatively reasonable-sounding
announcement on the White House website to check out www.marriageprotectionweek.com,
which will lead them to the American Family Association, the
Family Research Council, and the other right-wing Christian
groups whose idea this was. So they won't know that their
nice "regular guy" is regularly catering to religious fanatics
who, if they thought they could do it, would probably like
to outlaw divorce, and then perhaps introduce stoning legislation
to deal with the problem of adultery.
I was startled last week to discover that my own brother,
who after all is a lifetime Republican, had never heard of
the Marriage Protection Amendment. Now, my brother is not
a Christian; he is a Republican because he is an affluent
white guy whose big thing is hating taxes and big government.
Once I had explained to him what the Marriage Protection Amendment
was, he refused to believe it would ever have a chance of
passing, because in his view trying to get the Constitution
amended over something like this was much too "aggressive."
Well, there are lots of Republicans out there like my brother,
and I figure it can only help our cause to wake them up to
the fact that for the crowd in charge now, "aggressive" has
become such a laughable understatement that it is high time
to start auditioning a different word.
I have seen this happen over and over in my own life: straight
people who have never had a reason to educate themselves about
GBLT rights routinely assume that things are better for us
than they really are. When my partner talked to her co-workers
about the Massachusetts decision she discovered that some
of them thought that same-sex marriage was already legal in
some states. My own family refuses to believe that it is legal
to fire someone for being gay. (This is partly a labor issue
- a lot of Americans don't understand the whole concept of
'employment at will' - but that's another rant for another
time.) And many of them have never really paid attention to
the right-wing nuts who demonize us for fun and profit. The
Christian right has, since the 1980s, made most of its progress
by operating through stealth. The same-sex marriage issue,
if we use it right, will finally force the phantom menace
to reveal themselves to the Jedi; and that is going to be
a big problem for Republican moderates, because...
Rule #4: Nobody wants their friends to get hurt.
And in the end, this is the thing that makes this issue
our wedge, and their nightmare. The 1950s are coming back
in every other area of American life, but for some reason
GBLT America has escaped the regression. More of us are living
honest and open lives than ever before, and that means that
there are more people in this country than ever before who
know that they have gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered
friends, family, colleagues, children, neighbors, and classmates.
Popular culture is finally catching up, largely because they
have discovered that they can make money off us - and that
means that straight people all over America are now used to
identifying and sympathizing with gay people, whether it's
the fab five from Queer Eye or the characters on Will & Grace.
And the more hysterical the right gets about the evil we represent,
the more straight Americans they are going to alarm and anger.
I've got neighbors who probably do not agree with me on a
single political issue, but would still jump to defend me
from someone who was attacking me because that's just what
neighbors do for each other. And once people realize that
this issue is not about us attacking marriage, but about the
extreme religious right attacking the people they care about,
it's going to be working for us and not them.
But, that will not happen unless we remember...
Rule #5: You cannot win a debate if you let your opponent
set the terms.
We have to be the ones framing this issue. To allow
ourselves to be defined into the defensive position, from
which we merely try to defend ourselves against the right's
attacks, is disastrous. We have to give them something
to defend themselves against. We have to start asking them
the questions. And we have to stop treating every single piece
of claptrap they come up with as if it is worthy of rebuttal.
We should not be in the humiliating position of having to
prove to people that we are not child molesters, that we are
not mentally deranged, that we are not unnatural and unfit
and incapable of real love. That whole line of argument should
be treated like the steaming pile of crap that it is, and
flushed without a second glance. We need to take the position
that no matter what twisted reading of the Bible it's founded
on, this kind of bigotry has no place in a civil society devoted
to liberty and justice for all, and anyone spouting it is
not to be given a place at the negotiating table.
Rule #6: There is no rule six.
Rule #7: Don't throw people to the wolves, cause it won't
really slow them down that much.
The GBLT community is finally learning this, but we'd have
made more progress if we'd accepted it earlier: you can't
protect yourself from hatred and prejudice by offering one
of your own as a scapegoat. To argue that you deserve to be
treated well because you are Just Like Straight People and
Not At All Like That Guy With The Feather Boa is to give away
the argument before you even get started. Because let's face
it, either our society is going to value tolerance and respect
difference, or it's not, and taking refuge in protective coloring
may allow you personally to ride out the storm, but it is
not going to advance the cause. All it does is divide and
demoralize your constituency, and turn you into the kind of
morally corrupt selfish weasel who will sell anyone downriver
if it advances your personal interests. Nobody wants to vote
for that. Got it?
Rule #8: Failure is not an option.
With the crowd currently in power there is no such thing
as a conditional surrender. If you give them an inch, they
just keep on taking; and even if you don't give them an inch,
even if you stand there and say, "Hey, that's my inch, let
go," they'll take it anyway. If you don't press forward, you
will be beaten back.
In the months to come, I hope to see the Democrats profiting
from some of this wisdom -all of it accumulated, I promise
you, through years of failed attempts at conciliation and
compromise. If we want to win over the people who can
be reasonable about this, we can't make ourselves the prisoners
of the people who can't. There are signs that the Democratic
minority in Congress is finally starting to realize that they
can't negotiate with an administration that is not interested
in collegiality, bipartisanship, or even what is good for
the country; that the Republicans' only goal or consideration
is their own power, and that the only thing that will matter
is coming together to make a stand for what's right. And if
that happens, then next year, we will all have something
to be thankful for.
The Plaid Adder's demented ravings have been delighting an
equally demented online audience since 1996. More of the same
can be found at the Adder's
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