Over at FaceBook (and I’m guessing around the interwebz) lots of people are changing their avatars to show their support for gay rights. Some I’m not one of those people. This is odd, because I’ve been quite vocal about my support for gay rights. This is a cause I agree with, and that I’m not shy about saying I agree with.
And yet I can’t quite bring myself to change my avatar. As I said over at FB around the time the pictures first started showing up: “I’m not doing this because I hope everyone reading this doesn’t need a change in avatar to know where I stand on this issue.” This flows out of something I talked about when Dan proposed his civility pledge The Biblical injunction to let your yes be your yes and your no be your no has always mattered a lot to me, and one lesson I draw from that is I shouldn’t have to take a special oath to do good; it should be evident to anyone who knows me that I will do the right thing. Apropos to the current situation, you shouldn’t need to see a little red equals sign by my name to know that I’m on the side of LGBT rights.
Now, I’m not blind to the power of a unified, symbolic action. I’ve been making my way through the Hunger Games books, and (Catching Fires spoilers through the end of this paragraph) I actually got misty-eyed when the tributes held hands together after their interviews before the quarter quell. I still cry at the thought of the three-finger salute Katniss gets from the people of District Eleven. A unified stance, a symbol saying here are all these people with you, that can be a powerful thing. And if I were a gay person, I can’t imagine looking on a FaceBook page full of those red equal-signs and not being moved by it. It would make me feel less alone.
But at the same time, I keep remembering how I became something of an advocate for LGBT rights. I wasn’t always. My longtime friends at LiveJournal probably remember a time back in my undergraduate days when I thought homosexuality was sinful. I hesitate to use the word immoral because even then I didn’t think homosexuality actually harmed people or was wrong for any other reason I might give apart from what I thought my religion’s Bible taught. I think I thought gay people were kind of cursed, that it was a great shame they were attracted to their own gender. I didn’t really expect them to be “cured” (even then I didn’t think we should a transformation of a person’s sexual attraction, because God didn’t seem to be in the business of removing our temptations toward the things I was taught were sins). Back in those days I’d try to explain why I believed the things I did, about homosexuality or marriage or the like, and some of my friends would listen to what I said and challenge it in the way friends do. The goal wasn’t to score points or convince each other that we were right; I really felt it was a place where I could sort out what I believed.
Getting from there to here was a process that took close to a decade.Part of this was rethinking what the Bible said about homosexuality, though that move actually came fairly late in the game. First, I started thinking about what effect if any my theology should have on other peoples’ legal rights, and for a long time I would have been happy to say that gay marriage should be legal without really believing what I once would have called the “gay lifestyle” was a healthy, good way to live a life. Then I slowly came to understand that there was no such thing as a gay lifestyle any more than there was a heterosexual lifestyle; it was really about lots of people living very different kinds of lives , and that the way I choose to structure my life might actually have more in common with a lesbian than another straight woman. The ways hetero- and homosexuals are similar is bigger and more important than the ways they are distinct. I also rejected the that sex had to be about procreation, and that homosexuality was really just about sex (any more than my heterosexuality is just about sex; it’s about love and partnership). And, recently, I came to realize that legal recognition isn’t nearly enough: that gay couples, in particular gay religious couples, need to be supported in the church, whether that’s through the sacraments or something else. I don’t think I understand the sacraments enough to make the call of whether sacramental marriage should be open to my LGBT coreligionists, but I certainly don’t think the sort of DADT policy lots of churches are stuck in is working, either for themselves or for their LGBT members.
My point here: it was an evolution. That’s such a ciche when it comes to politicians, but for me it really is true. It was a matter of giving voice to an idea, discussing it with friends and then going off and sitting with the way my ideas had worked and the way they hadn’t. Then changing a little bit and testing that idea. And at a thousand points along the way I didn’t fit neatly into either side on this particular issue, if there are only two sides. More than that, I needed the freedom to not be part of any dominant group. If you had told me on any given day that I had to switch from calling myself a “traditional family values” advocate to an “LGBT equality” advocate, I don’t think I ever would have made that jump. And I definitely think that I would have stopped pushing myself to think through this issue once I got to the ‘LGBT advocate” side.
So looking at my Facebook feed so full of those little red equals-signs, I am imagining my self of ten years ago, someone who was just starting to struggle with my thoughts on LGBT equality. Would seeing this unified front have encouraged me to keep thinking about sexuality and gender and love and political equality and ethics and all the rest? Or would it have pushed me to shut down, to say I agreed when I really didn’t or else feel like I could never be like all those people who seemed in agreement? And even if I agreed with what those avatars represent, what then? Would I still push on to better understand myself and perfect my beliefs? Or would I think this was good enough and stop there because I was at least in the right ballpark?
Thinking about this, I keep thinking about my gay friends from high school and my undergrad days. I remember in particular one good friend who came to me in tears because everyone was talking about the prom and she wanted to take her girlfriend but couldn’t do it without this becoming something it wasn’t – a political power grab rather than two teenagers who loved each other and wanted to do the prom scene together. It was painful enough that she was missing out on that, but when she saw how everyone around her was so involved in an experience she wasn’t going to be able to have, that just made it worse. And because everyone seemed so alike in something she couldn’t share, it made her feel like her relationship really was different than theirs. I’m not trying to compare FB avatars to that kind of exclusion, not by a long shot. I want to be perfectly clear on this point. In terms of severity, the two situations are worlds apart. But I think there is a basic similarity of the type of exclusion going on here.
The solution isn’t to tell different people that everyone else is alike and they are different. It’s to recognize the simple fact that we’re all a little bit different, and that’s okay. So this is one bandwagon I’ll be staying away from.
Besides: I happen to think my current avatar is pretty darned cute. :^) I’m keeping it.