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Love Is Love

An education in what's "normal."

 

When I was a skinny, snot-nosed sixth grader, we played a dastardly game called "smear the queer." A complex game of strategy and skill, the sole point of the activity was to identify the weakest member of the herd and pummel him mercilessly with rubber balls. In rural New Mexico in 1975, the word "queer" didn't mean much to my naive 10-year-old ears, and I was just thankful when the target wasn't me.

It was a few years later that my friends and I heard rumors that there was a particular variety of boy that was prone to like other boys. These boys were "queers" and became the subject of much speculation and suspicion.

There were plenty of labels that we tossed about with the careless indifference of thoughtless youth — fags, queers, homos. Of course, we were positive that there were no gay people in our circles, because all of us were "normal." Each of us took pride in expressing our disapproval of anything remotely gay through increasingly boisterous displays of manly behavior. The word "gay" was a versatile insult.

When I went to college, I briefly worked for the student newspaper, with Woodward-and-Bernstein stars in my eyes. I met with the editor of the paper, a gregarious young man a few years older than me with a penetrating countenance and a rock-hard handshake. Curiously, he had posters of men on the walls of his office, which confused me a bit. However, he offered me the job, and gave me my first assignment, which I latched onto like a fat kid on a doughnut. After a few weeks, I got to know some of the other people on the staff, and when I asked about the posters, one of the writers blinked and said, "Well, duh. He's gay."

My first thought was: He's awfully normal for a gay guy. My second thought was: He didn't even try to hit on me. In the span of 10 seconds, everything I thought I knew about homosexual men was sliced, diced, spindled and mutilated. This vexed me for several days, and I came to understand that all the jokes and labels weren't so harmless, that they were constructs to give form to our fears that were born of ignorance. The editor was a helluva nice guy, and putting a label on him wasn't funny.

As decades passed, I met more gay people, men and women who were increasingly but cautiously trusting of their friends and families. Popular and political issues were constantly affecting these people, who pretty much seemed to be just trying to get through the day like I was. I remember a conversation between a group of my straight friends once that hinged on whether homosexuality was biology or a choice. This puzzled me greatly — after all, if homosexuality was a choice, why would anybody choose it? It's not like gay people brag about how much easier their lives are because of their gayness.

When AIDS was gaining notoriety and scaring the beejeezus out of the public, I saw a group of religious zealots celebrating the disease as God's judgment. According to them, AIDS was an acronym for "Anally Injected Death Syndrome." In 1998, authorities found Matthew Shepard's beaten body on a fence in Laramie, Wyo. The Westboro Baptist Church demonstrated at Shepard's funeral with a sign reading, "Fag Matt in Hell." The naiveté of my youth was stripped away, and I saw how fear leads to senseless hate.

 

Over the years, I have met gay couples who are remarkable in their ordinariness. They live together and pay bills together, they watch TV on the couch after a long day at work, and they sometimes bicker over household chores. How is this any different from any of us? I have met couples raising children in the same positive, caring environment I did, and guess what? The kids are "normal" and well adjusted. In fact, the only difference I can detect is that their parents aren't married, which is fine if that's their choice. Unfortunately, it's not a choice.

Why can't gay people be married? Because there are lot of people who are experts on tradition and morality and God's will who have decided basic human rights for certain Americans are conditional. Just like Jim Crow laws and the Japanese internment camps of World War Two, there are apparently times when it's okay to have different rights for different Americans based on fear. Gay people are going to screw up the sanctity of marriage that we heterosexuals have treated with so much respect over the years, so they shouldn't be allowed to take part in the philandering, cheating, spousal abuse, child neglect and marital dysfunction that we straight people have enjoyed for so long.

As Americans who supposed­ly subscribe to buzzwords like "liberty" and the "pursuit of happiness," it seems ironic that we are blasé about the denial of the right to marriage, the ultimate form of lasting love, to an entire sector of our population. As a people, how can we continue to rationalize this? Using legal precedent to justify discrimination doesn't work, as any legislation preventing gay marriage sort of flies in the face of the 14th Amendment. Using religion to justify discrimination doesn't work, either, as our nation is not a theocracy. Besides, if gay people are destined to burn in hell, I'm pretty sure the die is already cast. Marriage rights aren't going to change that.

June is Gay Pride month, and I have attended a couple of events over the years as a married man. I smile and laugh and talk with my friends, but I feel conspicuous and guilty, standing there with my wife. We enjoy a bond that gay couples can't, simply by dint of legislative fiat, and I just can't understand that. Our nation — hell, our world — has so many important problems and issues to tackle, and why we continue to expend a dram of energy preventing these people from being equal in our society is dumb. Love is love, and the world is richer place when there is more of it.

 

 

Henry Lightcap lives and lets live in Las Cruces.

 

 



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