I am a bundle of emotions. These past couple of days have been tumultuous, full of conflicting feelings and clashing reactions. There is joy and despair, satisfaction and discordance. I’m all wrung out, so excuse me if I jump around in this piece. Let me start at the start.
I spoke with a childhood friend this week who calls me Susie. My ears were going, “Wot??” Anyone who met me after I graduated and left Pittsburgh in 1965 knows me as Katz or as Spike or, at least, as Sue. But I guess I was Susie when I fell in love at age 15 with the new girl in class. I was 17 when we were caught and punished beyond what we could bear. In those days we were not just perverted: we were illegal and we were sick. Officially. In the books. On the mental illness lists.
When we started the gay liberation movement in 1969/70, we identified as revolutionaries, as diesel dykes, as radical faeries, as kick-ass queers. We challenged the very notions of gender and of marriage. For many of us, the family was a place where we had been repressed or from which we had been expelled.
For many gay kids today, it still is. For example, between 20% and 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ – although they make up only 10% of the youth population. The primary reason they’re homeless is terrible conflict at home, often because they are gay. By the time they’re 12 years old, they’ve experienced twice the sexual abuse as straight kids.
Congratulations to all who worked hard to achieve marriage equality in this country. Yesterday the Supreme Court made it the law of the entire land. This is a particularly heartfelt win for both romantics and for those with property to protect. First, romance: “Love has won!” screamed the headlines. “No union is more profound than marriage,” Kennedy wrote with ridiculous hyperbole, thereby putting down every person who is single, “for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family.” Second, property: Let’s not forget that the historic legal challenge of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) in 2013 by Edie Windsor was based on the requirement that she pay $363,053 in estate taxes on the death of her wife (married in Canada). And that was just the taxes!
I’m not sure that marriage addresses the most pressing issues for the kids on the street who have had the romance kicked out of them. Or for queers without an estate to tax. Or for the elders who are facing a level of isolation far above that of their hetero counterparts. With few children among those of our generation, with an estranged bio-family, with poor services from the medical world, living alone in high numbers, and facing possible hostility from those charged with our care, LGBTQ seniors are going to have to fight to stay out of the closet. And we are the pioneers. We created the language of “out” and “closet.”
However, it was undeniably exciting to hear the breaking news yeterday on the Supreme Court decision, even though my attention was focused on the Charleston, South Carolina funeral of Rev. Clementa Pinckney. How different the tone, in every sense, of the two different TV viewing experiences.
The coverage at the Court after the marriage decision set a slant that was hard to take. The network “journalists” couldn’t identify Mary L. Bonauto (the lawyer who has argued this and other major queer cases) or Rea Carey (the Executive Director of LGBTQ Task Force.) They just called everyone speaking “a plaintiff.” Then there was the lead plaintiff (strategically selected), Jim Obergefell, a white widow from Ohio in a bow tie, who became the main face of the day. Even President Obama gave him a congratulatory ringy-dingy in the middle of his interview by CNN. Where was the rest of the community? In fact, even jumping from channel to channel, I did not see a person of color speaking on camera until Barack himself made a speech.
A 30ish conservative activist was interviewed. She said that young conservatives urged Republican leaders to cut the homophobic crap (my words). After all, she said accurately, the gay movement’s agenda is a conservative agenda. They prioritize marriage and the family and the military. As if on cue, the DC Gay Men’s Choir burst out in the Star Spangled Banner. Yes, I’ll have nationalism with my queer, this group sang.
I’ve never been as invested in equality as in liberation. I don’t want my chunk of sucky institutions: I want to utterly transform those institutions. I don’t want to privilege people in relationships over single people. I don’t want the State to have the power to determine whose relationship is legitimate or not. I do not want the country to have an offensive military that messes up whole regions of the world, or gives gobs of money, training, and equipment to one country to occupy another people against its will.
The day before the marriage equality decision, the Supreme Court also kept the Affordable Care Act intact. That’s good. Of course that’s good. But really, what is this act about? It’s about codifying the redundant rapacious role of “health insurance” companies in our profit-based health system. How strange to have health care connected to employment at all – with so few jobs with benefits. “Oh goody,” say some queers, “now I can get my partner’s health care.” People should not have to marry in order to get health coverage from an employed spouse. If health coverage is a big payoff, we should be campaigning for single-payer Medicare for all.
There was another Supreme Court decision yesterday, an important reaffirmation of the 1968 housing rights law that provides protection on the basis of what actually goes down, whether or not the intention was to discriminate. This is a crucial tool in applying the Fair Housing Act. Insufficient note was made by the mainstream media of this very welcome vote.
When the funeral of Rev. Clementa Pinckney began, I switched to watching that. It was very moving, not the least the 30 minute speech of Barack Obama, written with remarkable expressiveness by his own hand on a legal pad. When he broke out in song with Amazing Grace, the dignitaries onstage and the thousands in the pews and the millions watching on screens were astonished. I found myself weeping and I’ve been teary-eyed ever since. It was a gorgeous speech, a mixture of politics and preaching, and for the setting it was pitch-perfect.
I’m no cheerleader for President Obama, not for his wars, his drones, his NSA, his support of nasty regimes, or his lousy trade agreements. But he is in his own way an extraordinarily special president. When will we see another Black president? When will we see such a cool First Lady? When will we have a voice in the White House that can speak so piercingly to the violent racism that is a poison in our lives? When will we have another orator who can speak so eloquently to the hearts of the oppressed?
Much as we’d like pure emotion, nothing is simple. As someone whose youth was spent as a closeted lesbian in the civil rights movement, I am torn between these victories and their limitations. The Fair Housing Act continues to be essential because racism continues to affect every aspect of the American fabric. The Affordable Care Act opens up health coverage to many more people – but codifies the unnecessary, nasty role of insurance companies in between us and our doctors/nurses. And the marriage decision allows queers to enter (and prop up) a failing institution that was born in men’s desire to protect their property by giving them power over women and children. (Ironically, South Carolina is the only state that still hasn’t yet fully outlawed rape of wives by husbands.) And then, last night, they lit up the White House, a symbol of the good and the very bad, in neon rainbow. What to feel? Sigh.
Sue Katz is a wordsmith and rebel who has been published on the three continents where she has lived, first working as a martial arts master, then promoting volunteerism globally, and recently working with elders. Her latest book Lillian’s Last Affair is a collection of short stories about the love lives of older people. Read her edgy blog “Consenting Adult” at www.suekatz.com, “friend” her at facebook.com/sue.katz, or write her at email@example.com.