The changes sweeping the United States regarding gay rights make me ecstatically happy. I still start to cry joyous tears, knowing that my gay friends and loved ones deserve to have the same rights as everyone else – because it doesn’t matter who you love, it only matters that you love. I am not gay, but I know that defending human rights benefits all of humanity. I feel blessed to live in such times.
I also feel the weight of history. The Stonewall Riots happened before I was born. I am overwhelmed by grief and gratitude for all of the people who were unafraid to be themselves in the face of adversity and condemnation. It’s been a long hard road and we aren’t there yet.
There are still many things that need to change. I have the solution, but no one wants to hear it… We need to eliminate all of the boxes we put ourselves into. That would make it easier to treat everyone with respect. It’s not a new idea, living in a society based on dignity for every individual, regardless of the countless ways we choose to express ourselves. This is what I advocate for: stop classifying yourself and just BE.
To be clear, I am deeply thankful to the many people who fought for me to have the ability to classify myself however I want. As writer Octavia Butler said, “People have the right to call themselves whatever they like. That doesn’t bother me. It’s other people doing the calling that bothers me.” What I am looking at now is the next step, the goal we set ourselves after gay marriage is legalized across the nation.
This is what we do: we let go. We let go of our closely protected identities. We work toward a society where everyone is embraced with dignity. We are all the same. We are all different. We are all one people. Remember the many paths we walked to get here, honor the souls of those who died for change, then let go of the things that box you in.
I know this is not an easy task. We all have a natural instinct to belong. We explore who we are by defining ourselves – gender, race, age, orientation, religion, medical condition, family status, wealth, privilege, profession, sexual interests, hobbies, style of dress… these all give us a handle by which to know ourselves. These categories fix an identity for each of us by which we think we know ourselves and by which others can believe they know how to relate to us.
Like most people, I have struggled with my own identity. At 20 I was whole-heartedly in love with a woman and ready to start a family. Neither of us was gay, but we loved each other. If we had managed to live together, we would have been perceived as gay. We might have joined the lesbian community to have the support we needed and been happy as long as we didn’t also date men. Obviously, you can’t date men and still be a lesbian. My girlfriend couldn’t stand the thought of being perceived as a lesbian and we parted ways. Even now, with my two husbands and five children, I think of the path my life could have taken. No matter who I am with, I am still the same person, still attracted to people of all genders.
Just in the sexual arena, I see examples of how limiting identity can be – lesbians who are shunned when they decide to date men, trans people whose orientation changes when they finally transition, gay men who simply adore breasts but have no way to act on that interest, and people who desperately want to explore a sexual fetish but can’t ask their partner for fear of being rejected as a freak. If we treated all people with dignity, we could minimize the pain associated with each of these situations. People are unique. We can’t assume that we know who someone is because we can read the label on their box.
Breaking the boxes has another benefit – personal growth. When you stop saying that you can’t, anything is possible. One of my favorite games is to prove Harold wrong every time he says he doesn’t like something. Limits are largely artificial. Identity might help make the world more manageable for a while, but often gives us information about what we shouldn’t be as much as what we are.
It’s not wrong to choose an identity. We identify out of fear or pride, out of love or hate, out of strength or weakness. It’s important to know who we are and the history of those who came before us. I want to honor the work that made it possible for me to be open about who I am and recognize that there are many places in the world where human rights are not granted to all people. Yet I am asking that those of you who are ready, take the next step in the evolution of humanity.
The world is not ready to embrace universal dignity yet. This is obvious. But that shouldn’t let that stop us from adopting it. The people who are ready are often distracted by our differences, our in-groups, our need to defend our niche against a hateful world. We have had a few role models, but they tend to die young. I’m not asking for martyrs, just people willing to break the boxes and live openly as themselves. People ready to stop agonizing over where they fit in and start figuring out how they can help. People willing to let dignity lead their lives. Will you join me?