The Political And The Personal
I came home from college a brash cliche — full of ideas, full of enthusiasm, full of confidence that no one had ever grasped right and wrong quite as firmly as I so recently had. Full of myself, in other words. (I will pause here a moment to allow you to contain your astonishment.) My parents watched with amusement, as parents usually do.
Among the things that I imagined I understood better than my parents was homosexuality. I rolled my eyes when my mother was uncomfortable with the Merchant-Ivory production of Maurice. When my father made the occasional mildly off-color joke, I reacted with the righteous indignation of the university-acculturated.
They let it pass.
Over the next few years, I actually learned things. I actually met gay people, and became acquainted with them as human beings and not as au currrant abstractions — meaning that I learned they were people, much like me, made with good and bad parts. I worked a summer at my father's law firm and learned that, for years, he had been quietly drafting estate plans and directives to physicians and other documents for committed gay couples, using his skill to achieve for them as much protection as the law would allow during a time when many such couples were being ravaged by AIDs. I learned that my mother, so squeamish at cultural depictions of gays, was the confidant of a few gay employees at the school where she was principal — after her funeral one gentleman confided in my that she was the most non-judgmental boss he'd ever had.
My father, now retired, resides comfortably to my political left; my mother's politics were a combination of Catholic upbringing, compassion, and practicality. But I never heard either express any opinion on the politics of society's treatment of gays. I did, however, observe and learn from their treatment of humans who happened to be gay. They favored the personal over the political. They treated people as individuals rather than as ciphers standing for some ideological end. I've spent the years since, with only some success, trying to live by that lesson. It's an ongoing process.
I support, unequivocally, the formal, legal, and social equality of gays in America. But I think I'm more persuasive an advocate for it when I view them as individuals and not abstractions. That's why I am particularly moved by, and grateful for, Patrick's post about his neighbors Gale and Elizabeth. This ought not be a surprise to me — I'm more effective as an advocate for my clients when I am able to view and portray them as individuals rather than as icons — "the criminal defendant" or "the wronged business partner" or "the censored blogger." So, too, am I more effective when I can see my client's adversaries as individuals rather than as archetypes.
The passage of Amendment One in North Carolina is a bitter disappointment, though not as bitter as the passage of Proposition 8 in my own home state of California. But it's not an end, any more than Proposition 8 was. There will be future votes. Perhaps there will be future legal developments, as there were in connection with Proposition 8. But I think the best hope for gay Americans is to be viewed as individuals, not as interest groups. For that matter, the best hope to engage people who oppose gay marriage is to view them as collections of individuals, not as stock villains. I'll do my best, on both counts.
I will close my expressing my admiration and thanks to my co-blogger Patrick for his series on Amendment One. I'd enjoy introducing Patrick to my father; I think they'd like each other.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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