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


  1. C. S. P. Schofield says

    As an antidote to the disappointment of North Carolina, let me offer you a few words about a community that Gets It.

    New Hope PA is right on the Delaware River, maybe 20 minutes from Philadelphia. It has been an Artists' colony since before the First World War, and a Gay hangout at least since the 1920's. It is also one of the more pleasant sort of tourist traps, and hosts a mixed population of Bikers, Goths, and assorted whackados. While there have been periods of friction, these mostly get along with each-other. There is something obscurely and wonderfully American about a grab bag of cultural mongrels getting blitzed on St. Patrick's Day at a bar called Havana's.

    Every year they have a Community Gay Pride day. If you were dropped into the middle of it you might be excused if you mistook it for the July 4th celebrations in Mason City, Iowa (which is the inspiration for Music Man). OK, there are a few ugly men in drag, but the atmosphere is amazingly free of any us vs them bushwa. One of the usual events is a footrace in high heels, which was won two (?) years ago by a straight friend of mine. Everybody is there to celebrate the community as a whole, and the Gays as part of the family. I think if the Westboro Bab-tists turned up they would be in serious danger of being tarred and feathered by the Hetero members of the community. And I think that if some Gay equivalent turned up, they would be thrown in the river by the Gays. Bigots are not welcome. Not even Politically Correct bigots.

    Drop in some time. It's quite a town.

  2. says

    It is the viewing of people as members of groups or cohorts, and as political ciphers and a means to an end instead of individuals that allows the most evil people to justify the most evil things.

    I'm aware of two Jews with whom Hitler had very close, friendly personal relationships during his life, to the point to where when the Holocaust hit, Hitler used his absolute power to grant those two men amnesty from the death camps. (One was the Jewish doctor who treated his mother during her bout with cancer, and the other is someone else that I don't remember).

    The point I'm trying to make is that when Hitler saw "jews" he saw evil, greed, filth, and the debauchery of a nation. When Hitler saw A JEW, he saw another human being whom he was capable of forming a personal, friendly relationship with, and did so on at least two separate occasions.

    Stop thinking of people in groups. Stop saying things like "african americans this…" or "Mexicans that…" or "white guys this…" Start saying things like "Bill W. is this" or "Frank J. that." It is easy, for example, to say that illegal immigrants are immoral criminals that should be thrown in jail, until you meet Juan down the street, who is a loving father and a hard working man that is busting his butt to get his kids ahead in life so that they can have a better life than he did, who pays his taxes, and who wants nothing more than to be left alone so that he can work for a day's wage – oh, and who also happens to have come here illegally because he couldn't allow his children to live in poverty for ten years while he was waiting on his work visa to be approved.

  3. says

    Well said, Ken. I share your sentiments. Unfortunately, I think that people like to tar all the voters for same sex marriage bans in the same way. They are individuals who have different experiences and viewpoints. I happen to think that a substantial number of those who vote for such bans are doing so more in strong reaction to the spectre of judicial fiat than in an actual animus to gays.

  4. C. S. P. Schofield says


    "I happen to think that a substantial number of those who vote for such bans are doing so more in strong reaction to the spectre of judicial fiat than in an actual animus to gays."

    I happen to agree with you. I used to consider this an argument against the lawsuit approach to legalizing Gay Marriage. But I've come to think that the approach isn't wrong, it simply is going to generate a certain amount of resentment and backlash. And that will have to be accepted and dealt with.

    One of the big arguments against broad acceptance of Gays is the apparent disfunctionality of the supposed Gay Lifestyle. And there is a kernel of fact behind that; the Gay Bathhouse, multiple encounters with comparative strangers, serially unfaithful aspect of the public perception of Gays has enough basis in truth to be very disturbing. But if society wants Gays to live stable lifestyles, society needs to make room for them to do so. And this, in the age of AIDS and in light of the high incidence of other STDs in the Gay community, is a matter of life and death. It is not something that I, NOT being Gay, feel I can honorably ask Gays to be patient about. So, they are going to go to the courts when they think that will work. And people who are tired of being pushed around "for their own good" are going to join the true bigots and push back. And that is simply what will be. Maybe it shouldn't be, but it is.

  5. C. S. P. Schofield says


    I sympathize with the emotion, but marriage has such a long history of government sanction that I don't think it can be extracted from the weave of British Common Law. What I would like to see is an arrangement such as is in place in Argentina; the only thing that matters there is a civil service; what you arrange by way of a religious service is your lookout.

    Everybody gets "Civil Unions"; those that want a religious Marriage make arrangements with their religious institution … and those arrangements have no effect on law.

  6. JSF says

    "and those arrangements have no effect on law." aka they're meaningless.

    "Everybody gets "Civil Unions";"

    Thats pretty much what we already have here in the USA in most situations. The state is intricately involved in marriage or civil unions. Many heteros don't get married by a church but by Elvis, a local judge, mayor, or city bureaucrat when they get the gov permission slip. The two terms are the same thing at this point. But some wanted to reign in on the marriage parade and make the word all inclusive. This cheesed off the folks that will likely never ever view gay marriage the same as straight marriage and thus the fight is on.

    I ultimately don't care what you call your union, marriage or partnership and I really dont want the state involved anymore. Gay marriage isn't hurting straight marriage but I've also changed my mind from 8 years ago when I shrugged my shoulders and voted yes for gay marriage in my state. I no longer view gay marriage the same as straight marriage and I doubt I'll change my mind again. Mostly because it pisses off the PC police types which makes me smile for a few reasons. I can't reconcile groups/individuals who promote anti family laws (feminist family courts) then wanting to join in on the gov approved family reindeer games. All just after pushing government out of their bedrooms by repealing sodomy laws. Pick a side dammit. Government all in or mostly out. Not back n' forth.

    Or perhaps things like hate crime legislation have made me a bigot, nah they've made me love everyone all the more. ;)